Platonic Play

At a swingers club, the customers trade more than memories

They were tossing out plenty of sleazy disco songs like K.C. and the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way" and cracking lame jokes that put everyone at ease. When they switched instruments, Perdomo took the drums and Medina the bass to play one of their originals.

Cintron quipped, "This is our version of swapping."

"I'm feeling frisky," remarked 23-year-old Perdomo.

Jim Campbell

"Come on, what do you guys want to hear?" Cintron asked, gesturing impatience with his sticks. "Oh wait," he interjected, his attention turning toward the screen. "The money shot."

We all stopped to look at the girl with the milk mustache that wasn't milk. Whoa!

Later, I asked Medina: How did he feel going in to the club?

"It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I thought couples would be banging each other against the pole while we played. No pun intended, but the place gave me a warm feeling."

DC-3 gave Plato's a warm feeling too, which is why, according to Medina, they were invited back to play once a month.

When I went back on Friday to see what the club was like in full swing, no pun intended myself, it became clear that there was a bit about Plato's that DC-3 didn't see.

A crowd of 40 or so people gathered around the bar in the corner of the room for a wet T-shirt contest that included eight women who ranged from the hot, young, and stylish to the middle-aged and slightly overweight.

After a fairly typical display that involved a minipool and some cold water, the three hottest girls were deemed the winners. All of the contestants paired back up with their partners, and several started trailing off toward the back of the club and the hot tub.

One hefty man wearing light slacks and a black shirt, clearly in his 30s, was staggering around the dance floor, tapping girls on the arms to initiate contact. He must have tapped my arm four times in passing before he finally started making out on the dance floor with a heavyset woman with brown, curly hair. He followed her over to one of the leather couches and started petting her over her underwear as her slight, mustachioed male companion looked on.

Then, he got down on his knees in front of the couch and put his face to her crotch for a couple of minutes. The brief encounter ended, and he started cruising again.

Meanwhile, the female half of a tall, thin pair was leaning back on the edge of the small, nearby stage, with her partner kneeling between her legs.

Surrounded by people who were so comfortable with what they term the "lifestyle" made me forget what had seemed so shocking before I walked through the door. I was watching live sex, and it somehow didn't affect me one way or the other. I was neither turned on nor grossed out. After a few hours in the club, the charged inner space had become my temporary reality, but I still could not identify with the participants engaged in the activities.

Orgies, partner swapping, and exhibitionism don't signal the end of civilization. Many people I've known have participated in such activities and whisper about them during cathartic games of "I Never," but they don't sit around boldly expressing their illicit sexuality like the topless and leashed pixie-haired brunet who was sitting over at the bar awaiting a partner during my second night at Plato's.

I asked Claire Pernice to help me understand the "lifestyle." Inside her office, behind a well-kept kitchen, she told me that she took over the club when her husband, Frank, who opened its infamous New York predecessor, Plato's Retreat, passed away. Then she folds her hands and drops her chin on them and says: "Now, let me make this clear. Most couples who come to Plato's are married for five, seven, maybe ten years. They get out of the house; the wife dresses sexy. Other people are looking at them, and usually they get to see each other in a different light. They come here to enhance the relationship, and many of them never go into private rooms. But when they go home, they tell me, they have the best sex of their lives.

"And another thing," she adds, leaning forward, "these marriages last. In the end, it's all about honesty."

Come 3 a.m., the dressed were outnumbered by the white-toweled crowd. And it was honestly time for me to do what every nonparticipant in the alternate sexual lifestyle should do. I ducked out and put the fleshfest out of my head.

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