By Rex Weiner

          “I forgot my rubbing alcohol.”

Dominic’s 14—inch mauve mohawk rakes the top of the metal doorframe as he spins around and trots back up the carpeted corridor to his room on the 7th floor of the Venetian Hotel. What does he need rubbing alcohol for?
“To set a girl on fire.”
Of course! It’s fucking obvious. Why didn’t I think of that? Hashish dulls the brain immediately, but absinthe dementia so soon? Maybe I’m just stupid to begin with, coming to Las Vegas, the World Capital of Stupid, to attend a pornography convention with a guy who ties up naked women, whips them and sets them on fire. The awful truth: I am beginning to fear less for my mind than for my soul.
“You are going to Hell,” my Irish Catholic girlfriend said. She thought Dominic was “horrible” when he first showed up at the house with his magenta mohawk and punk tattoos to buy an old car I’d advertised. I had to admit, he did look pretty weird as kicked the tires, checked the oil, his mohawk catching on the car hood latch – but he knew something about cars, for crissakes. Naturally, of course – his father is a notorious San Fernando Valley car dealer of the Jewish persuasion. His mother is from south of the border. Further conversation revealed that the soft-spoken 30-ish Jewish-Mexican Valley dude performs onstage with thrash metal, punk and hip hop groups like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Cyprus Hill.
But Dominic doesn’t play in a band, as it turns out. He specializes in something called Shibari. “Sounds like some kind of sushi,” says my girlfriend doubtfully, but I explain to her that it’s actually the ancient art of Japanese Erotic Rope Tying. You see, Dominic claims that his artful placement of knots on his intricately tied hemp ropes can induce a girl to have an orgasm.
She’s not impressed, my girlfriend, but I am fascinated to learn that Shibari is the subject of a new feature film that Dominic has directed and in which he and his rope tricks play the starring role. It is premiering this weekend at the annual AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas and while he’s making up his mind about the car Dominic invites me to the premiere of his movie at the porn convention:
Well, why not?
“You are going to Hell,” warned my girlfriend as she chauffered me to LAX. In her opinion pornography is produced by idiots for idiots. Her only fetish involves wearing both the tops and bottoms of her pink flannel pajamas to bed and paying extreme attention to her two dogs, Emma and Harriet.
Now a little voice in my head is whispering: She was right, you fool! Abandon hope all ye who enter Las Vegas. My room at the Luxor has a window view of the Sphinx’s stucco ass. And the Venetian Hotel with its blasphemous replicas of San Marco and gondoliers plying indoor canals like so many desert-born Charons ferrying tourist souls across Acheron, is more than Dante could have imagined.
Sure, Dante was a Florentine and Dominic is no Virgil as he leads me down plush pathways of the Venetian Hotel. Even so, as we squeeze into the crowded elevator and Mr. & Mrs. Small Town America and their two little kids stare at my tattooed friend with the mohawk, the wild look in their eyes betrays the earliest glimmer of comprehension that this is definitely not Kansas anymore.
Beyond the Ninth Circle of slot machines, poker tables and endlessly suffering losers, their livers tortured by roaming cocktail waitresses bearing free booze, we come to the cacophonous center of the Venetian casino and the aptly-named Circle Bar. Here the drunks, perverts, pornstars, dirty movie producers, dildo merchants and usual crew of Las Vegas hookers stand five bodies deep at the bar. Off to one side, by the Wheel of Fortune, Dominic’s assistant and his slave are waiting for us.
The slave is a flame-haired, sulky-eyed girl in red and white striped stockings introduced as Arachnia Webb. She belongs to Dominic’s assistant Master Liam, a stocky fellow with a flattop mohawk topping a saturnine countenance.  He is clad in black pants, Dr. Martens thick-soled shoes and a black muscle shirt and he looks familiar… then it comes back to me, dimly: Master Liam was the one pouring shots from the un-labeled bottle of chartreuse liquid last night that turned out to be homemade absinthe. Or was it this morning? In Las Vegas time is a Salvador Dali clock wound backwards.
Purplish grains of hashish go into one of Dominic’s hand-rolled American Spirit cigarettes while Master Liam opens the leather case he’s been carrying. He extracts a leather collar with a metal ring. With the casual efficiency of adjusting a carburetor or dressing a mannequin in a shop window, he fastens the collar around Arachnia’s long, swan-like neck. Her skin is as translucent as paper, the subcutaneous latticework of fine blue veins visible on the rise of her smallish breasts above the pinch of her tightly-laced vinyl corset.
Master Liam hands the leash over to Dominic. Off we go, striding across the casino floor past the spinning roulette wheels and craps players tossing dice. Every head turns at the sight of the guy with the 14-inch mohawk leading the hot-looking girl on a leash. The whiff of hash and brimstone in our wake, Liam and Dominic are chatting like two guys talking about last night’s football game. But it’s not about football.
“We were in the hotel room last night and we were trying to roll some joints but we had no rolling papers. So we find the hotel bible in the drawer by the bed and ripped a page out to roll the joint… and the words on the piece of bible page just happened to say…”
“Shit, I forgot to brush my teeth,” mutters Master Liam, and it is somehow rather touching to think he’s worried that the slave girl he regularly whips, flogs and spanks might complain about his oral hygiene.
The tourists are snapping pictures. The slave girl stares neither left nor right, walking perfectly erect on her platform boots… then suddenly there are no tourists. We are in The Sands Convention Center and approaching the entrance to the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo.
“Hey, Nina Hartley!”
“Jenna – Jenna Jameson!”
The stars of adult cinema are everywhere. A Pornstar Parade, they come strutting up to the convention center entrance in high heels, breasts like melons in a wheelbarrow going to market and buttocks so animated that you’d swear left and right cheeks were engaged in political debate. The famous ones – the “featured dancers” who make smut films and travel the titty-bar circuit lap-dancing and twirling around brass poles for big bucks – smile and wave, the fans calling out their names. Pornstar coiffures vary in a wide range of styles from the just-raped-by-the-entire-football-team look to my-pussy-is-worth-a-million-dollars-so-don’t-come-near-me. The fans, perspiring guys with cameras and bad skin, are all over them like flies on raw meat.
A gauntlet of guards checks our official badges at the door. My badge says I’m the guest of Tightfit Productions, the producers of Dominic’s movie. We follow the Pornstar Parade inside and suddenly we are on the floor of a vast hall. The smell is of popcorn mixed with sweat. Exhibition booths festooned with banners and gargantuan photographs of naked women with enormous breasts tower over moving streams of people pulled from one booth to the next, alternately magnetized and propelled by aimless desire.
Wicked Pictures, Hustler, Pink Visual, Evil Angel Video featuring Belladonna, Tongue Joy, Hot Wendy Productions,, Naughty America….
“Want to adopt a clitoris?”
A bikini clad girl stops me with a flyer that talks about Clitoraid, “a non-profit humanitarian organization that raises funds for the victims of female genital mutilation in Africa who are now able for the first time in history to have their clitoris rebuilt, thanks to a new innovative surgical technique.”
The bikini girl says, “We’re trying to raise money to complete construction of the very first Pleasure Hospital in Bobo Dioulasso. That’s a place in Burkina Faso. Women can come and have their clitoris repaired for free!”
I give her a dollar to repair at least one clit, and continue wandering around the labyrinth of booths… Pleasure Productions, Bang Brothers, Lurid Entertainment, Kock Buster Productions, Porn For The Troops, Club Jenna… I’ve lost sight of Dominic and the slave girl.
At Kickass Productions (“Young Brazilian Cuties 2: All Anal!” “Stop or I’ll Squirt,” “Dead Man Cum Slam”) I run into Scott, the owner. He’s been running Kickass for nine years and says he makes a lot of money. DVD sales were a little flat last year. More people downloading on Internet. But he’s trying to stay ahead of the game.
“The new trend is MILF’s. I don’t know why. I guess you really can have too many cute young sexy girls. MILFS fuck better and they really are grateful to be having sex with these young studs. They would do it for free. They’re real moms, mid-30s to 50. They’re a lot more appreciative. They say sex gets better over the years. And it’s real – it comes through onscreen.”
            At another smut company I meet the managing director, a former British barrister. “Now I’m in a less sleazy profession,” he laughs. He married a pornstar, now retired. “She’s in the Porn Hall of Fame,” he boasts proudly of his wife.
            I finally find my way to the Tightfit Productions booth and a tall blonde in hot pants with her breasts spilling out of her shirt grabs my arm. She wants to be in my movies, she says. She says she’s done about fifteen films so far, but on the East Coast where she lives in New Jersey. Now she’s moving to LA and wants to work.
            “I do boy-girl, girl-girl, threesomes, light bondage and some fetish but no gangbangs.”
            She thinks I’m the owner of Tightfit and looks hopeful that I’ll put her in my movies. I’m about to audition the ingenue, but Dominic comes over and introduces the real owner, a punkishly tattooed young guy named Oren Cohen. The Tightfit boss takes over the interview. The pornstar repeats her resume and Cohen asks a few key questions:
“Are you over twenty-one and can you prove it?
“Do like anal or do you just, y’know – do anal as a job?”
“I’m working up to it.”
“What do you really, really like to do? What gets you excited?”
She says fellatio is her favorite thing in the world. Cohen gives her his card and tells her to call him when she gets to LA.
Meanwhile, a crowd has gathered. Dominic is going into action. He ties concentric rings of ropes around Arachnia Webb’s arms and legs, her wrists bound and pulled above her head by a rope tied to the cross beam of the Tightfit booth.
The hemp cords crisscrossing her torso intersect in a delicate pattern, an intimate macramé pressing symmetrically across the milky flesh, with a strand looped and knotted between her thighs, tied insistently against the soft bulge of her crotch.
She faces Dominic. He tilts her neck back, reaches down to part her legs gently, and flings the flail. He uses a rotating hand motion, at first merely brushing her chest and legs, but then with increasing impact. He grabs the other flogger and commences a two-handed lashing, the leather landing heavily on her groin. She jumps back a little, her lips parted, and she says “Ouch.”
“Ouch” the crowd flinches, watching raptly.
He’s really lashing her now, making her writhe and groan, “Aoww…”
 “Aowww,” responds the crowd.
The faces of the girls in the crowd betray a confused conflict. The spectacle of the slave girl’s ordeal disgusts them. How can she endure such pain, such public degradation? They want to look away, yet they cannot help but stare, secretly relishing the idea – what would it feel like to be tied up and lashed like that? How delicious to receive such extravagant physical attention. The affections of well-meaning husbands and boyfriends are nothing but clumsy bumbling compared to such ardor… such artistry!
Dominic re-positions the slave girl, makes her bend over, smacks her ass to prime it. He holds her down by the neck as he lashes her rump. She hops a little, like a bird. He flails her until her buns shake, reddening like a tropical sunrise. Then he pauses to tip the bottle of rubbing alcohol to his lips, gulps a mouthful and holds it behind his bulging lips. A cigarette lighter in hand, he leans over her rear end and spews a fine mist of the flammable liquid which, at the flick of his Bic, envelopes the slave girl’s ass in a billowing ball of flame.
Ahhh! The crowd steps back in audible awe.
Observing from the sidelines, her master is grinning evilly. “As a top I get turned on,” says Master Liam. “I get turned on when they get turned on. They get turned on by submitting.”
Dominic resumes the lashing and establishes a steady pace, using two floggers and over-and-under handed strokes, a terza rima with the slave girl’s cries echoed by the crowd’s guttural response.
Ahhh! Ahhh! Ahhh!
“Chemicals are releasing in her head right now,” says Master Liam, his running commentary like a sports announcer on the sidelines. “They’re called enkephelins which actually gets her high. She’s gonna come… watch. Especially flogging. They’re custom made for me, those floggers. My name is on the handle. It’s such as thuddy feeling, better than spanking. That was good… see? Anybody can just hit somebody with something but Dominic’s style is very Shibari. To change it into something erotic, there’s this exchange that’s happening between the two of them. You never just know what kind of people get into this whole thing.  She’s a college graduated psychotherapist from UCLA. Can’t tell you her real name. When I first met her she was really normal looking. Lives in Sherman Oaks. She came to the clubs where we all perform at and she was watching. I just looked at her and said:  Come here. She didn’t know – I mean, she didn’t know she could handle half the pain she takes.  I took a ten-inch heart syringe and sent it right through her breast the other day. From one side straight through to the other side. I put shark hooks through her chest and hung her up. The more I push her the better she gets.”
            She is trembling, quivering and with a nearly imperceptible cry she is overtaken by a series of orgasmic tremors as she glances over at her master.
            “Ah,” he says. “Even though she’s playing with him she’s always looking at me. It keeps her focused. It’s the longest foreplay you can go through. Look at her breathing. She’s in total ecstasy right now. It’s a trance-like state. Sound gets very muffled, and time – they don’t know if they’re up there ten minutes or ten days. She is in the sub zone. And afterwards they say, when are we going to play again?”
            The sub zone!
            Dominic nods. Master Liam steps over and takes a Tightfit Productions T-shirt from Tightfit’s owner and rubs it between his slave girl’s thighs to absorb her oozing flavors, then tosses it to the crowd to fight over. Releasing her from the ropes, knot by knot, he kisses the back of her head. He coaxes her follow him with her eyes to make sure she’s still focused. She drops to the floor and kisses his shoe, her arms still tied behind her back. He gently turns her around, takes the leash from his bag, folds the floggers gently back into the case. On her knees, head bent in submission, hands behind her head, she allows him to attach the leash and show her off to the photographers, cameras flashing.
            The crowd applauds. The psychotherapist from Sherman Oaks smiles, her master glad-handing friends and well-wishers. The owner of Tightfit is happy. He’s showing the trailer from “Control,” which is the title of Dominic’s movie. Dominic is trading jokes with his fans.
Somewhere beyond the ringing slot machines and whirling roulette wheels, beyond the fake New York of the New York New York Hotel, the ersatz medieval turrets of the Excalibur Hotel, the illusion of the Treasure Island Hotel and the colonial fantasy of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, real cities are burning. In secret prisons and hidden horror houses of government-backed militia, real people are beaten and flogged and burned alive. Here in Las Vegas we are in a cartoon annex of the Global House of Pain, a doorway into the feverish nightmares of America, from the trailer parks to the Beltway, in which the floggers and the flogged are the same.
Yes, there is actual Evil out there. We keep it at bay in Las Vegas, pretending to be evil, entering America’s SubZone and losing sense of time, place, self… submitting to the darkest sides of ourselves. And then we go home unscathed… almost.

And I am left with just one hope: that Dominic buys my damned car.