In my world, there are two types of Masters. There is the Master whom I belong to, who does not bear the title of Master and is only called that by me and others like him who pursue M/s relationships. Then there are those who are so highly respected by their communities that their long years of service are acknowledged by giving them the title of Master. For me, it is often difficult to call someone else “Master X.” That word, Master is infused with so much weight for me. To me, it is often a bit like calling someone a god. A Master is someone in my world who has some power to them that I can’t quite describe or put my finger on. Words, for once, escape me when I try. Whatever it is, though, it inspires me to my knees. I feel it and I bow to it, almost intoxicated by the feeling of just being near it.
I’m conscious of the place the title has in Leather and I use it where it is appropriate. Usually, though, there is an awkward moment mentally for me, where I have to consciously shift gears from my perception of Master to a more Leather perception of Master. This awkwardness has everything to do with my own hang-ups and nothing to do with the honorable people who have been recognized with that title. I understand this, so I make the mental adjustment and then call them as they are. “Master X, Master Y.”
With Master Barry, there was no awkwardness, no moment of having to shift my perceptions. He was, simply, Master Barry from the moment I met him and in my mind he fit easily into both of my definitions of Master.
What I know of Master Barry, I know less from personal experience or his own words, than from those who respected and loved him. I began to come to know him even before I boarded my flight to Calgary this past November. I remember that people who barely knew me asked me to bring him their regards. They spoke with a mixture of fondness and respect and these were men who don’t give either out to just anyone. I was already intrigued as to what sort of man would inspire this. We flew up to Calgary just after a snowstorm, from Florida and I was embraced by a Community there that was warm enough to even warm us up in the Canadian winter. Almost the moment we got off the plane, though, it became clear, though, that this was a Community with a broken heart.
Over the weekend, I only briefly saw Master Barry until the contest itself. Still, from each person I spoke to, I got a slightly different picture of him. I learned of his great care for his Community from one, I learned of his soft heartedness and loyalty as a Sir to his boy from another. Each story was like a puzzle piece of this man, this man who was very, very sick and who’s illness had struck at the heart of the strong Community he was a cornerstone for. As the pieces combined, they did so against the backdrop of a Leather contest where I judged an incredible Sir contestant. The two storylines fed off of each other, as often happens, each of them giving me a glimpse into the hearts of these two men as well as the men who loved them. Both, I learned were men strong enough to feel and strong enough to open their hearts to the men around them.
When the contest ended, I set up to bootblack. I was still flying high from the fantasies and I was eager to play, hoping to entice some there into some hot boot scenes, if I could. When Master Barry came to my chair and asked me to do his boots, though, my pulse stilled and I became more meditative than playful. I could sense the great honor this was, even though I didn’t know then that previously he would never have let a girl do his boots. What began next was the greatest boot scene I’ve had all year and perhaps the most meaningful one I will ever have as a bootblack.
I breathed in deeply, centering myself. His boy stood next to him and the men were all around us. As I began cleaning his boots, I could feel his energy. It was strong even though his body was already weakened by hisillness. It was calm and strong even now and I knelt at his feet and began to clean his boots. I quickly noticed something very wrong. His boots were in terrible condition! They were dry and cracked, in contrast with his neat leathers. I wondered how they could have gotten in such a state, but I had a feeling there was a story there. Gently, I asked him about his boots. His eyes welled up with tears as he explained.
“These are my boy boots, ” he spoke with effort, “My feet are too swollen from the chemo to wear my regular boots.”
I felt the full weight of this settle quickly on me and I had to breathe deeply not to let my own tears fall. These were his boy boots, the boots he wore at the beginning of his Leather journey, likely the first Leather he had earned or been given. It was too much and I felt so small, there at his feet. Somehow, though, I knew that I couldn’t cry and that this was one of those times to be strong. I felt like the pain and tears of the men around me were held back by a dam and that if I cried it would poke a hole in that dam and they needed that to cling to. So, I breathed deeply and explained to him that I would like to condition rather than shine them because they needed it. He agreed.
I may be a hell-raising Buddhist Atheist now, but I was raised Catholic and the first image that came to my mind as I began to gently rub conditioner into Master Barry’s boy boots was that of Mary washing Jesus’s feet and drying them with her hair. I put all the love I could into my hands, all the good things I had inside me, I tried to put into my touch. I tried to channel all the devotion and love I had heard from the men around me about this man into that act…a simple act of caring for one man’s boots. I don’t know if he felt it, but for me, that act was elevated in those moments into an act almost of worship. I was attempting, in my own limited way to pay homage to all this man had walked and to his brave fight against a cowardly opponent. We spoke as I worked. His words were kind and his love for his boy and for his Community showed clearly in his eyes. His voice broke when I gave him the regards of those who had sent word with me, tears held back but there for old friends that he missed.
It was one of the greatest honors of my life to kneel at the feet of such a great man and be allowed to serve him. I think of him often when I come across people who just don’t seem to “get it,” who view Leather as just the wearing of cowhide or bootblacking as just caring for that cowhide. I think of him when I see a 20-something give themselves a title of “Lord Master Beauregard of White Castle.” I think of him when I hear the term “Old Guard” used simply as a way to justify one’s point or appropriated by people outside the Leather Community. When I think of him, I remember that I know what Leather is. I felt it in my hands when I touched his boots. I saw it in his eyes when he spoke about others. I felt it in the bonds of his Community and I feel it now when I speak to those in mourning. When I think of him, I also remember that I know what a Master is from the way he never used that title when introducing himself to me, but everyone else always used it when speaking or referring to him and in the way he put others ahead of himself, caring for his Community like a father cares for his family.
I am so glad that I made a trip up from warm Florida into the midst of a Calgary winter. I consider myself so fortunate to have been there in time to have met Master Barry and to, for even a short time, be a part of his world. I only wish everyone could have experiences like these because, to me, that boot scene, while definitely not my wildest and the boots did not turn out looking perfect from all their cracks and dryness, that boot scene was to me what this is all about. I have never felt more a bootblack.
Thank you, Master Barry.