Articles by

<L.B. Wilkenson>

10/28/09 4:00am

As much as I like my coworkers and making my Dad’s eyes bulge when I talk about what I do for a living at his church functions, all the love between me and the Pleasure Chest is gone.

It all started a couple of months ago when I got in “trouble” for writing this column. It wasn’t my obvious scorn for certain customers that was at issue, as one might expect, but the fact that in one article I made an absent-minded crack about how much I get paid. The big boss got mad because I said I make minimum wage, when in fact I make minimum wage + commission.

Apparently he reads this column, which surprised the hell out of me.

A muddled directive from him trickled down to me, but because it was filtered through three other people, the only clear point I got was that I “wasn’t allowed to write things anymore that made the company look bad.” There were some idle threats thrown around about me getting a written warning if I continued to do so.

At first, I was pretty contrite about it because I don’t like rocking the boat and because I was worried I was going to get my direct supervisor in trouble. But the more I thought about it the angrier I got. Let’s be real. I was just kidding around, but the truth is that even with that piddling commission my pay isn’t even remotely in the ballpark of a living wage. This tax year, I made a third of what I made in the one previous.

Of course, that’s not an issue to be had purely with sex toy stores, it just represents the terrible wage-to-cost of living disparity endemic to New York. If I wasn’t from NYC and if my family wasn’t here, I don’t think I’d have the stamina to make it in this city.

I pretty much ignored the big boss’s threat. What the owner of the Pleasure Chest fails to understand is that writing this column is what I liked most about working for his company.

I’ve been coasting through my shifts on autopilot for the last couple of weeks, doing the bare minimum just so I’d have fodder for this column, but because I’ve long since checked out mentally, it was getting pretty tough to come up with articles that concluded something other than a) there are a lot of maniacs in New York and b) I am snotty when I have to work retail.

Recently, our manager informed us that the company is being restructured and that if we want to stay at the PC we’ll have to reapply for our jobs. The big boss is coming from LA in order to re-interview us, which means that even if I reapplied, I’d probably get kissed on the back of the neck by a guillotine anyway.

As an employee at the Pleasure Chest, I think I provided a good service. I reminded people that there’s nothing shameful or dirty about sex (unless that’s what you’re into and if it, it’s cool), but I was getting pretty tired of having to pretend—to customers, employers and myself—that I found it to be even remotely fulfilling work anymore. I know what I want to do with my life and extolling the merits of a $100 vibrator is not it.

I was recently hired for a new job at an entertainment start-up and it’s been good so far. My boss is a pretty hardcore conspiracy theorist, but I like him and I hope things will go well.

I want to thank Jonny Diamond for giving me the opportunity to write for The L and you for reading.

I guess that’s it. See ya in the funny papers, kids.

10/21/09 2:00pm

The crazies remained at bay this week except for one old woman with drawn-on eyebrows, who came into the store just to inform my coworker Adriana and I that, “this will all be rubble,” when Jesus returns. She was mumbling, it took me a while to work out what she was saying, so she was already out the door by the time it occurred to me to roll my eyes up into my skull and shake like I was being possessed. Next time.

You know what else is a lot of pagan fun and would also probably make Jesus all frowny? Halloween! Dudes, All Hallows’ Eve cannot come fast enough this year. Allow me to list some pertinent truths:

1) Pumpkin pie is the best kind of pie (do not even give me any of your apple talk).
2) Halloween shows on sitcoms are also the best. The best of the best appeared on Martin, The Simpsons and Roseanne.
3) Carving pumpkins is fun for all ages.

Halloween got bumped into my top holiday spot when I hit my teenage years and Christmas became the biggest boner-breaking disappointment of a holiday ever. When I was thirteen, I spent a lot of time picking out gifts for other people, but received only one and it was wildly inappropriate for me. That Christmas, I cried in the shower and it has pretty much been downhill from there.

But back to Halloween. Last year, we had a costume contest at work and I put a lot of energy into making my costume because a cash prize was at stake. I bought some felt and dye from Pearl Paint, glued white balloons to the front of my costume and went as the Moment of Conception (click above right to enlarge). I walked around in my costume all day and while I was ringing up customers I’d point to myself and say, “Are you sure you don’t need any condoms?” It was a joke that, for me, never got old.

Working the closing shift on Halloween is kind of the pits, because I should be out enjoying my youth, not slaving away to put cash in somebody else’s pockets. Not surprisingly, everyone that comes into a sex store on Halloween night is drunk, is extremely annoying and is not there to buy anything.

But the morning shift on Halloween is the best day of the year to work because everyone, including me, is in an irrepressibly good mood. In the early evening, we stand outside and hand out candy to all the little beans scooting by in costumes and they are all so cute they make my ovaries Tex Avery out of my body. We’re nice to them and compliment their costumes but will not allow them in the store, which generally confuses them and weirds them out. Kids are fun.

Last year, we gave candy to the children of a couple CELEBRITIES. There was one in particular that I remember because of how it cracked her husband’s shit up when he realized that his kids were getting candy from a sex toy store.

I don’t think I can name her because I was told very clearly when I started working at the Pleasure Chest that I wasn’t allowed to discuss the celebrities that may shop at our store. This column has already gotten me in hot water (and funnily enough, not for the reasons you’d think) so I’m essentially hanging onto my job by a thread and don’t need to be breaking any more rules.

But on the other hand, rules are for fools, amIrite? And she didn’t come in to shop; it was only that one of her adorable little beans took a candy bar from our manager, so here is a hint:

Tate Modern.

10/06/09 4:00am

Despite that depressing article in the Times a few weeks ago about our fair city’s unemployment rate hitting 10.3 percent, I’m uncharacteristically optimistic right now. Sure, I can’t get a job interview to save my life and the same article said that New York still has a year to go before we’re out of the recession, but the weather’s been great, my job hasn’t been taxing at all (largely because I’m rarely there) and I have a houseguest with whom I’ve been having EXCITING ADVENTURES all over the city. Who needs a savings or good credit when I can be happy right now, eh?

While I was doing a little research for this column (yes, I actually do that) I came across this article about the high-end sex toy industry booming during economic downturns, which was sort of exactly what I’d intended this column to be about… (So does this show that I’m a New York Times caliber writer even though I talk about butts a lot? Yes.)

I’d like to corroborate the upshot of that article, which is that sex toys are a recession-proof business. Particularly if you’re hawking upscale toys in a welcoming atmosphere filled with attractive young people (like me).

Despite the overall economic climate in New York we made our* sales goal for the month of September, as apparently there are always people out there willing to pay $100 for a vibrator. Maybe it’s because the store is in a wealthy neighborhood or maybe people think an exorbitant price tag on a sex toy suggests a toe-curling sexual experience. Either way, sex toy stores are getting paaaaaaaaiiddd.

The only spending trend change I’ve noticed is that I haven’t seen too many International Big Spenders this season: people from the UAE, Japan, Europe and Russia (generally) who spend at least a grand like it ain’t no thang. My favorite of these customers was a woman from the UAE who came in last summer with her bodyguard to buy out the shop. I can’t remember exactly how much money she spent, but it was at least $1,500 and it was clear she was spending just to spend, for the thrill of it, not because she particularly wanted any of the items. That is the kind of relationship with money that I will never have and it boggles my mind to see it in action.

Sex toys pretty much sell themselves and it’s easy to talk someone into buying a high-end toy. However, I pride myself on being honest with customers. I never encourage anyone to buy something just because it’s expensive and I discourage people from buying some of the pricier toys that I genuinely think are no good (unless the customer is a complete d-bag in which case I let them buy stupid crap).

That said, for the most part, more expensive toys generally are better, particularly when it comes to dildos. People don’t hesitate to put jelly rubber dildos in their bodies but they’re all treated with a softener that’s a known carcinogen. The good stuff is all silicone, which is pricey, but generally viewed as being worth it.

Recently, a tall bald man in a business suit came in to ask me a couple of questions about the sex toy business. He said he was considering investing in high-end real sex dolls with some sort of robotic component, which meant they’d have to retail for several thousand. He wanted to know if we thought they’d sell.

I told him I thought they would. Not in a brick and mortar retail setting, but I definitely think people would by them online because I don’t think there’s a price cap on how much people are willing to pay for sex toys.

That’s why it’s an ideal business to get into. Future entrepreneurs are you listening?

* I hate that I just called it “our goal.” It’s their goal not my goal. Remember that, Wilkinson.

09/25/09 4:00am

So fashion week happened, which try as I might, has very little to do with working in a sex toy store. We’ve had a couple of models come in, but none of them were famous, none of them bought anything, all of them were being squired around by loud blowhards (it was uncanny, actually) and all of them seemed uncomfortable handling vibrators.

Fall is (sort of) here, which means business is slowing down and I’m making less money. But on the plus side, the cold keeps the maniacs and thieves away. Yesterday, I had to throw someone out for trying to steal three enormous hardcover copies of the Kama Sutra. I caught him trying to shove them down the front of his pants. I’m looking forward to the winter and for when that kind of thing happens less often.

I notice that I sell a lot more masturbation sleeves in the fall then I do in the summer. I’m not sure whether it’s because they’re considered a back-to-school item in some circles or if summer flings are breaking up and dudes are preparing themselves for a lonely autumn.

Yesterday, I sold a sleeve to a guy with a beard and a camera around his neck. As I was ringing him up he told me he was from Iran, that he was an engineer and that he was in New York to buy the very camera he had with him. We chatted about photography and then about literature. I’m reading Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers, and I want to talk about it with everyone because it’s making me feel feelings, man. He’d never heard of Genet. We talked about Tehran. He told me there were no sex toy stores in the city and I tried to feign surprise.

“Why did you become a sex worker?” He asked suddenly, with this round-eyed, adorable earnestness that made me want to tell him the truth. Usually when customers ask me about my job I tell little lies. Sometimes it’s fun to fuck with strangers.

I told him I took my job because I didn’t think it’d be super taxing work and I figured I’d probably be able to get some good stories out of it. He seemed satisfied by that answer, took his sleeve and left.

I thought it was weird that he called me a sex worker because I don’t consider my job sex work. I consider it retail work.

I’ve only had one job that I’ve considered sex work (Mom, stop reading now). Two years ago, I got a job as a phone sex operator because it seemed like the perfect combination of my love for fiction and my love for sitting around in my pajamas instead of working in an office.

The job got off to a bad start and went downhill from there: the very first guy who called me had a cuckold fetish that I will simply describe as being difficult to listen to, racist and extremely depressing. I gave up phone sex pretty soon after that.

My job is generally pretty dull and I think of sex workers as being people who, for better or worse, have lived. Genet was a prostitute who wrote his first book in prison. Plus Sartre and Cocteau were his friends. That’s a dude who lived.

That, of course, is a dangerous idealization. And it’s also pretty ridiculous that I don’t think my job is sex work just because it’s boring. When I was 18, I had a job handing out flyers for a strip club. Maybe it was because I went into the club in the early afternoon, but the strippers always seemed extremely bored. So did the bartenders. And so, for that matter, did the patrons who were always more focused on the televisions then they were on the ta-tas.

08/27/09 4:00am

I’ve been with my boyfriend for four years and I’ll readily admit that our longevity is chalked up to his patient, tolerant nature. A fair number of readers might assume I say that because I work in a sex toy store and therefore am sexually indiscriminate/a cheater, but that is not the case. No, I’m just neurotic and a bit of a loner.

Even though I can be emotionally taxing, our relationship is a cakewalk compared to what goes on between some of the couples that come in my store. An amazing number of people buying sex toys together seem terrible for one another.

If you have a spat in another retail outlet, say over a pair of pants, it’s not really that big a deal. But when you get in a fight about a sex toy, odds are you’re going to end up revealing some deep-seated sexual insecurities and anxieties. A lot of customers behave as if I’m a part of the scenery and really have no problem airing their dirty laundry in front of me.

Some people, for example, don’t mind embarrassing their partner. Once, while a couple was at the register, one of the guys asked me what Magnum condoms are for.

“They’re a little larger than a regular condom.”

“Oh. Well, he doesn’t need that.” The guy looked to his boyfriend, who was giving him a death stare and said, “Well, what’s that look for? You don’t.”

I’m convinced that I’ve witnessed the beginning of several relationships’ end.

08/20/09 4:00am

I want my mom to come visit me at work. She won’t.

To be clear, I want her to visit me because she’s my friend and it might be kind of fun, but I definitely don’t want her to buy anything when I’m around. There a few things worse than the prospect of my mom as a sexual being. I don’t even like it when I catch her sucking on a Popsicle.

I’m sure the feeling is mutual. Unfortunately for my mom, she reads this column regularly, so by now she’s been treated to a lot of butt-sex talk. My dad refuses to read this because it offends his sensibilities, but oddly enough he has been to my job. My parents are nothing if not consistently surprising.

My dad is a man who buttons his top shirt button. Relatively recently, he rediscovered Christianity and he likes making it pretty clear that he thinks I need Jesus. But while I was talking to him on the phone the other day, he asked me about work and made some crack about dildos and it struck me that he was just a little too familiar with them. I had to hang up.

I hate to break it to you, but some of your parents are freakier than you think. A young guy came in once and had to get his brown pants on when he saw the Liberator wedge.

“My mom has this!” he screamed. “She told me she uses it to watch TV! Aw this is sick!” For the record, the Liberator is essentially a medical wedge, which are devices sold for totally innocuous purposes. She very well might have been telling the truth. But MAYBE NOT.

One of my all-time favorite customers was a sweet, genteel looking woman (think Mamie Eisenhower, without the bangs) who came in and dropped several hundred dollars on vibrators. She said she was in town visiting her twin sons (who where in their thirties) and she was in a rush because if she wasn’t back in 45 minutes they would start to worry about her.

08/12/09 5:20pm

I’ve been drunk at work twice and, truth be told, it greatly improves my customer service skills. When I’m drunk, I’m as sweet as pie. Sober, it’s sometimes hard not to pull an oversized dildo off the shelf and bludgeon certain jokers to death.

Jokers like one gentleman who stumbled in to look around, make several unintelligible jokes about the lollicocks then ask for my phone number.

“No,” I said. “And you’re bothering me. I’m at work.” I tried to step away, but he put his brown-bagged can of Coors down on the counter and began making his case. He liked me, he said. It was his birthday. He thought I was pretty. And then came the pièce de résistance.

“I plan to take a bath, you know,” he said, wobbling where he stood. “I’m gonna take a bath now and then I’m gonna go to sleep and when I wake up I’m gonna take another bath.” He leaned over the counter. “I’m going to take two baths.”

“Get out,” I said.

I know it was a bit of a hasty response to perhaps The Greatest Pick-Up Line of All Time, but there were paying customers in the store and he was so drunk he was harshing every single mellow in the place.

For the record, I do like the idea of a grown man taking a nice, relaxing, lavender-infused soak after the end of a long day. That made me laugh. So wherever you are Bubbles, thanks for that.

Quite a few men get drunk before they come to the store, so they can get into some real talk about their penises.

“I’m small,” a man might say to me, dispensing with any sort of greeting. They always just launch straight into the meat of the issue, their eyes glassy and sincere.

I think it takes quite a bit of courage and consideration to say this. I generally like these men because they’re in the store in search of ways to augment their partner’s sexual pleasure.

And, even if they’re drunk, there’s a certain sense of pride that comes with having the kind of face that makes men comfortable talking about their size concerns. Some people will walk on the moon, some will save lives. Dick size confession-face is the hand I was dealt and I’m doing the best I can with it.

By far, the dumbest drunk customer I’ve ever had was a young woman who came in because she had a couple of questions about the Hitachi Magic Wand. The Magic Wand is a device that was originally designed as a back massager. It is literally the size of my forearm and you have to plug it into the wall.

08/06/09 4:00am

This summer I’ve been “working on my novel,” (read: sitting around my hot-ass apartment in my bra, making my bellybutton talk), playing the role of hipster flâneur and generally avoiding my job like the plague.

I took the other weekend off to go to San Diego Comic Con, which was a lot of fun considering I don’t like crowds or comics and I hate seeing men’s feet (San Diego is the Mecca for Men in Flip-Flops). And I took last weekend off because my BFF bought me a ticket to All Points West for my birthday.

I only went into work one day this week. On that shift, a woman came in and asked me why a blow up doll is called a “Dutch wife” in Japanese. The question was like a koan: I thought about it for the rest of the day and am still thinking about it. If anyone knows why, let me know.

I also pilfered a load of stuff from our free bin — a hideous butt plug, four kinds of lube and a purple dildo called the Paisley. Other than that, it was a pretty uneventful day.

Friday afternoon, while in line at the APW security check, I noticed the Paisley was still in my bag. The guard squeezed it through the little pouch it was in, but she didn’t take it out, thank God.

I should note that discovering a dildo in my purse is not unusual for me. I’d estimate that I have a sex toy, lube or at very least some condoms in my bag about 60 percent of the time, because it takes me weeks to get around to emptying out my purse after looting from the free bin.

For a little while, I was carrying a metal dildo in my purse. After a closing shift, my walk home from work is a pretty desolate one and I’m always a little afraid someone is going to lunge out at me from the shadows. I figured, “Would-Be Attacker Bludgeoned With Metal Dildo,” would make for an amazing headline.

Liberty State Park is beautiful and although we got there early, there was already a bunch to see and do. I figured it would be fun to treat the Paisley like a Flat Stanley and take it around the festival with me, showing it the sights and making magic happen.

07/28/09 4:27pm

I hate kids. Teenagers especially, because they roam the city streets like packs of smart-ass wolves. While it’s illegal for someone under 18 to set foot in a sex store, I don’t have to be a hard ass about it (most of the stores around mine aren’t), I just like to be. My greatest work-related joy is telling adolescents to get the hell out, which I’ve had to do an unusually high number of times this week. And it felt so good each time.

Of course, it’s not just teenagers that roam in packs. On weekend nights, women fresh from the bar often show up in groups of three to six. The Alpha Female asserts herself right away: she’s the loudest, the drunkest and the most willing to ask me questions. She’ll browse our selection of vibrators and exclaim over how adorable some of them are. We have vibrators shaped like rabbits, dolphins, butterflies, baby mice, baby bugs and baby ducks. She’ll point them all out to her friends and laugh and shriek.

Eventually the Alpha Female will decide on a vibrator, plunk it on the counter and sometimes, if I’m lucky, all of her friends will line up behind her and buy the exact same toy. I call this flying in V formation. Although I used to think it was a little weird, I get it now. The shyer ones — they’re women who are mortified to be in a sex store and don’t want to deliberate over vibrators — let the strongest member set the course, then fly behind her in the path of least resistance.

When the male of the species comes in, things are a little different. Some like to strut around the store, posturing and preening. Others will buy the most expensive toys in hopes of pleasing their partners and still others will go to even further (sometimes misguided) lengths to look like the ideal mate.

07/20/09 12:36pm

So there I was, last week going, “Aw shit, I don’t have anything to write about for The L,” because a lot of the time my job is as uneventful as I imagine working at the Gap must be. But then God heard me and He descended a plague of lunatics on the store and lo, it was good.

Sometimes a man will come in and he’ll flirt a little and I’ll flirt back — to get him to buy stuff — and as a pat little addendum to all that, he’ll throw in a box of Magnum condoms with his purchase. He’ll push them across the counter towards me with a coy little smile.

My first customer of the night was an older man with a set of obviously fake teeth who pulled this stunt. “I’ll be thinking of you when I use these,” he said as he left and I felt my hand ball up into a fist under the counter. How satisfying it would’ve been to deliver him a tremendous punch to the back of the head and send those choppers flying!

Next, came my first prank call of the evening. I could tell it was a prank because they put me on speakerphone and I could hear a bunch of kids giggling in the background. The kid asked, “Do you have any dildos for my girlfriend? “Yes,” I answered. Radio silence. “Yes,” I repeated. “We have dildos for your girlfriend. Loads of them.”

Obviously, he hadn’t thought the call out beforehand because he continued to sit silently on the line, struggling to think up something to say. “Boo,” I finally said. “Boo, this is a terrible prank call. Gong! Get off the stage.”

If you want to prank call a place and ask if they have dildos, wouldn’t it be better to call a place that doesn’t have them? Like a church or a Wendy’s or something? ‘Cause they’d be shocked by it and that would be funny annoying. Fucking kids these days, I swear.

We have vibrators out on display in what we call the petting zoo and a woman (who looked totally sane) came up to me to ask if there was a place where she could try one of them out. I wanted to drop kick her out of the store.

In the life of a display vibrator, thousands of people will touch it — gross people, people with sticky hands, people who were just scratching their butts or picking their noses. And she wanted to try it out.

“Lady,” I said, “you better learn to treat your genitals a little better than that, or one day they’re gonna walk out on you in a huff.” She didn’t like hearing it, but I have to call ‘em as I see ‘em.