A plastic zip strip cut into my bound ankles, and my wrists were shackled behind me. The blindfold was so tight I could feel my contact lenses shifting. A thick gag left only part of my nose open to breathe. Underneath was yet another layer of duct tape. But it was the synthetic sleeping bag zipped up over my head--that was the disturbing part. I was burning up, sweating heavily, squirming underneath all the gags and ties...
And the fucked up thing is that I asked someone to do this to me.
I got the idea to arrange my own kidnapping from a friend. We were discussing Brock Enright, who runs New York City's Videogames Adventure Services (semagoediv.com). It's a business wherein Enright and his partners are paid thousands of dollars to perform custom kidnappings on their bored, wealthy clients. These arrangements often include extreme and violent scenarios. My undergraduate thesis (on "blood symbolism," no less) had sidetracked me into an academic interest in power-dynamic fetishes--like bondage and sadomasochism. Because of this, I was intrigued by the intensity and versatility of a full-on, engineered kidnapping.
For one thing, kidnapping doesn't necessarily have to be sexual--unlike the highly sexualized and ever-popular BDSM scene of fashion and polyamory. Platonically, kidnapping could distill an intense experience of voluntary helplessness... without the necessity of a boyfriend! So I resolved to discover firsthand what people were not only asking for, but paying for. I logged onto the personals on craigslist.com and answered an ad that said: "Kidnapper Seeks Captive."
MY KIDNAPPER IS KIND OF CREEPY
Surprisingly, getting to know your kidnapper prior to being kidnapped doesn't really kill the buzz. My kidnapper and I corresponded by email over the course of several months. For the most part we were negotiating safety measures ("If I'm gagged, my non-verbal safe word will be snapping my fingers, okay?"). We also mapped out a few guidelines ("Mild physical abuse is okay, like slapping or hair pulling--but no spanking."). But despite these somewhat clinical exchanges, he still managed to creep me out.
First of all, I was troubled when he adopted a flirtatious tone--commenting that I was "cute" and suggesting I wear a miniskirt for the kidnap. This made me paranoid, and I made it abundantly clear there was to be no sexual contact whatsoever; even reprimanding him for making what I considered "rape jokes." One night he followed me after leaving work and in the morning I found an email from him reciting the exact route I had taken to the grocery store. On another evening he followed me to the bar where I was having after-work cocktails with some coworkers--an activity he later admitted doing more than once. When I left, there was a hokey little note taped to my bike ("Did anyone ever tell you that you make a sexy kidnap victim?").
Be warned: if you ever decide to try this form of recreation, not everyone will admire your bravery. Boys you are dating will look you straight in the eye and say, "You are a fucking moron." Your roommates will start compulsively locking every door of the house. And your mom will have just a great sense of humor about it.
(The following is a three-way phone conversation wherein my father tries to convince my mother that my employer isn't trying to kill me via this story.
Dad: "The Mercury is a business, honey. They have an investment in Marjorie. They're not just going to let her die."
Mom: "WELL, I BET YOU COULDN'T FIND THEM IN THE BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU!!!")
The only other thing that can make you feel as bad as a mom is the soulful friend who says she knows a girl who was held for three days and subjected to beatings and rapes: "I don't know why anyone would invite that into their life."
The closer it got to kidnapping season, the more paranoid everyone became. My publisher and editor, my friends, family, me--even The Kidnapper was getting uptight about furnishing information about himself, designed to insure my safety. We reached a stalemate and came to a compromise: We would meet in person, in public, prior to the kidnap. (This is what the guys in New York do.) This was both a relief and a bummer--but it afforded the opportunity to play spy games with my friends.
I met The Kidnapper at a downtown bar, and for my protection, I had two cronies--Manu and Shannon--act as "plants," pretending not to know me while subtly scoping out The Kidnapper. Manu articulated the degree of our tense giddiness when, the day before the meeting, he suddenly seized my arm and said, "Oh... fuck. What if he has plants to see if we have plants?!"
Manu and Shannon had two tasks. 1) Visually identify The Kidnapper, so if something went wrong, I would have witnesses. 2) Follow him out and get his license plate number. Thanks to a combination of over-thinking, misreading, and the spliff Shannon smoked while she was looking for street parking, they failed. They lost The Kidnapper, and didn't get the plates. We had resolved to meet at a different bar afterwards, several blocks away. They were to show no sign of recognition towards me until safely ensconced in a booth--that way we would throw off any plants The Kidnapper may have planted to see if we had any plants. Once there, Manu really started to beat himself up, bitterly repeating between inhalations of a cigarette, "Man, I've never lost a tail."
Despite all the preparation and advance knowledge, I was still looking over my shoulder everywhere I went, eyeing every car that passed. Knowing it was coming gave me time to chew on the possibilities. I was intentionally putting myself in a life-threatening situation. Every time I stepped out in public I was thinking about dying, or worse. Being in that state--preoccupied with the value of your life--is not a bad exercise, and one of the best phases of the experiment.
ABDUCTED AT LAST
When the moment finally came, it wasn't what I expected. I had predicted I would be snatched walking home at night, with a screeching van and brief struggle, just like a Nancy Drew book. Instead, my editor and The Kidnapper had conspired to trick me while I was working late one evening. As I plunked away on my computer, I heard footsteps I assumed were my editor's coming up behind me. Then hands gripped my shoulders and The Kidnapper's voice said, "Why hello, Miss Skinner... "
It was kind of awkward, considering the last time I'd seen him we were high-fiving over martinis. I just wasn't scared, especially on my own turf, in my own frigging cubicle.
"Uh, do you mind if I get my stuff?" I asked.
He waited patiently as I shut down all my computer programs and buttoned my jacket. When we got outside, where his SUV was parked next to the back exit, he opened the car door for me.
(Later, my editor, who was watching from the window, said, "When I saw him holding your purse I figured you would be all right.")
Before starting the car, The Kidnapper paused, probably thinking the same thing I was: This is lame. What kind of jalopy, no-budg version of a scintillating NYC trend was this? It was worse than falling asleep listening to an ex-Portlander brag about parties in Williamsburg.
"Alright, this sucks. Get in the back," ordered The Kidnapper.
In the back of the SUV, I let him tie my ankles and wrists with zip strips, duct tape my mouth, and blindfold me. Then we went for a long drive. Periodically, The Kidnapper stopped the car to intensify my bindings. He ran rope through my wrists and ankles, and attached it to the floor of the vehicle. I was very aware of my vulnerability at this point. Friendly or not, The Kidnapper had my life in his hands, and I could not have escaped. Plus, I realized if he got in an accident, with me tied across the floor, my spine would probably snap in half.
I had read about the submissive experience, which often appeals to high-level executives and others whose day-to-day life is fraught with responsibilities and control. Many people find immense release in being physically restrained, and forced into a docility where they have no real control over the situation. Lying with my face planted on the floor, I did feel somewhat peaceful, the blindfold forcing me into a slight doze. If I thought too much about the situation, chewing on all the maybes and what-ifs, I would start to panic--but accepting an uncontrollable fate had a remarkably soothing, Zen-like effect.
After what seemed like at least an hour of driving, The Kidnapper pulled over and mummified me in the sleeping bag, adding a larger, more suffocating gag to boot. I was perturbed to realize it was being zipped all the way over my face, and even more so when I heard him tying the strings in knots. I tried to stay calm, but was breathing heavily, wondering how much air was in the bag. How responsible was this kidnapper... really? Surely he calculated how much air I would have with how much time he would need for whatever came next... right?
As we continued to drive ("Where the hell are we going?"), I got sweatier and more nervous. I tried to calm myself while at the same time freaking out over how difficult it was getting to breathe. I was getting mad--but not as mad as when he stopped at a restaurant's drive through window. When I heard him order a Chinese chicken salad from the teenage girl, I started to thrash. I was not going to suffocate back here while he ate his damn Chinese chicken salad dinner! Still, I waited until he had pulled away from the window before kicking the back of his seat, making angry grunting noises, realizing he couldn't hear me snapping through all the insulation. Obligingly he pulled over and unzipped the sleeping bag.
"Whoops," he said.
INSIDE THE KIDNAPPER'S CONDO
After crossing the river several times, driving in circles, and making mysterious pit stops in parking lots and storage sheds, we arrived at The Kidnapper's condo. To avoid attention, he untied and un-gagged me, guiding me blindfolded into his unit. Once inside, I took the opportunity to ask if I could go to the bathroom before getting tied up again. Leading me into the bathroom, he put my hands on the toilet, then the sink, and left me alone. I came out from the bathroom beaming; impressed with my success at peeing blind, even finding soap and washing my hands.
"Dude, I'm just like Helen Keller!" I announced.
And then... well, there just wasn't much to do. We amused ourselves for a while as I groped around the apartment, trying to glean clues as to where I was ("It sounds like the ocean... or maybe the freeway?"). Then he duct-taped my mouth shut again, and tied me into a sort of upright fetal position, with my wrists connected to my ankles.
Apparently he decided it was more interesting when I could talk, so he removed the tape and we started to chat. I suggested we take some photos. We spent the next hour and a half arranging me in positions of restraint--which was actually pretty fun. At one point, as he arranged my bound limbs across his bed, he said, "This is like the most fun date I've ever had! ...and it's not even a date!" After about 50 digital photos, I coaxed him into taking off my blindfold to see them. As I flipped through them and came to the end, some of the pictures included... puppies? So much for fearing for my life.
I spent the rest of the evening unfettered and un-blinded, as we talked about his ex-girlfriend and his past experiences with bondage play, which turned out to be pretty extensive.
"On several occasions, complete strangers have come to my home for the sole purpose of being my captive," he claimed. "Soccer moms, business execs, school teachers, college girls, nurses, actresses, models--even an opera singer once."
Over a bottle of white wine, he asked me for my opinion on prospective business ventures, and we compared opinions on films. We laughed about our correspondence, and his stalking maneuvers. I considered escaping, but what was the point?
By around 2 am, I was nodding off in a chair. He insisted I sleep in his bed--with him--because I'd "be more comfortable." I relented, but told him if he tried anything I'd karate chop him. To his credit, he was a model of restraint (the moral kind) and didn't lay a finger on me.
In the morning, we played a game. He tied me up in complicated poses, and left me alone to see if I could escape. When we tired of that, we lounged around drinking absinthe and looking at books. He kept repeating he had meant for the experience to be much more sinister, almost apologetically. I tried to make him feel better by saying that in lots of movies the kidnap victims end up palling around with their kidnappers.
Eventually, he drove me to my neighborhood, where I had him drop me off on a corner less than 10 blocks from my house. I shook his hand, smiled, and thanked him.
After all, it was kinda fun.
FEAR IS FUN
"You slept platonically in your kidnapper's bed and he was like, 'That's cool; I respect your space?!' That's not a kidnapping!!"
My roommate Chelsea was cackling on the couch as I recounted my tale. I hadn't slept well or eaten, and my muscles were sore from being tightly trussed up--but otherwise I was in good spirits. After all the stress and grave consideration that went into the planning of the kidnap, I felt a renewed sense of luck it had turned out so ridiculously vanilla.
A few days later, I emailed The Kidnapper, wanting to talk about our experience--what worked, what didn't, how he might do things differently given another chance. Would he take a cue from the gang in NYC, and start the West Coast ("laid back") version of a kidnapping business? I pitched the idea to him.
"I would consider it," he said, "although I'd first have to overcome the uncomfortable image of it all. Telling friends and family what I'm doing would be rather awkward. But if it were profitable and enjoyable, why not? (Wanna be part of my team?) Personally, I have no interest in kidnapping guys. The kidnap thing is sexually based for me, so it just wouldn't appeal. However, if this were a business, and I was kidnapping for profit, absolutely [I would kidnap men]. I'd probably keep a couple of gay men on staff just for those abductions which required some sort of sexual play or touching."
Okay, fair enough. But I was also curious as to why he was so polite with me, after I'd given him permission to rough me up a little and toy with me psychologically.
"I do regret not being more forceful with you," he admitted. "Knowing that my actions would be put into the newspaper made me a bit gun-shy. Had I crossed the line and done something questionable, not only would it have created an awkward situation, but it would surely have made the paper as well."
Between the two of us, The Kidnapper and I managed to over-prepare for the kidnapping in every respect, except for what we would actually do during the 24-hour window allotted. What was supposed to have been a scary, exciting experience degenerated into casual chumminess--which is presumably why people in New York are turning to professionals.
And who's to say there isn't a market for this kind of adventure on this side of the country? As The Kidnapper explains it, "The fear of abduction is something most Americans experience daily, and the media tends to foster that fear. News reports focus on missing children and violence against women, television crime dramas use the same issues for plot scenarios--even our milk cartons remind us of those who have actually fallen victim to abduction. With so much pent-up fear over something, it's no wonder some people would eventually have an interest in facing that fear."
Now that there are bondage clubs and amusement parks in every city--where people go to make toys of fears like pain and heights--perhaps kidnapping is the next level of entertainment. It could be a profitable enterprise, so long as you were convincing and organized. (If I'd paid money for my kidnapper's amateur performance, I'd be demanding a refund.) For the customer, there's a rush and a pleasure in being placed in harm's way and surviving it.
Caught up in the materials and duties of our daily lives, we all too easily forget our basic sensations and instincts. Getting a thrilling, affirming blast of life is both invigorating and addictive. While I got a taste of that with my kidnapping, it also reconfirmed another basic fact of life.
If you want something done right, hire a professional.