Not long ago, I sat at a cocktail lounge in the East Village with a realtor friend as she extolled the virtues of Le Trapeze, a swinger’s club in midtown. The experience, she swore, had cured her of “body image issues.” Which I took to mean that everyone else there looked worse. It didn’t really sound like my scene, to be honest, until she mentioned the buffet.
Now this was interesting. The scent of sterno mingling with lustful ardor. Ziti. Potato skins. Prime rib …
When she added that proper swinger etiquette requires all attendees to wear tube socks, I was officially intrigued. The fanciful vision of naked swingers wandering around in tube socks while gnawing on buffalo wings captured my imagination.
I resolved to write a restaurant review of Le Trapeze, picturing myself describing in florid detail the hint of dill in the green beans, the spicy chipotle sauce, the subtle saffron aroma of the rice pilaf. Rushing home to check out the website, I learned that tube socks are required at all times (whether for reasons of hygiene or aesthetics was not made clear) and that the club doesn’t serve alcohol, though a variety of mixers are on hand and patrons may bring their own booze. Which is how I came to be dashing out for footwear and vodka.
My bag bulging with swingers club supplies, I enlisted a friend and headed over to 17 East 27th street on Saturday night. Club rules stipulate that single men are not allowed inside, so as we neared the door, a guy stepped over to us.
“Do you want any company?” he asked.
“No,” I replied as we were buzzed in. “We’re just here for the hot buffet.”
We each paid our $30, and then the cashier delivered some bad news: “No hot buffet tonight.” When I expressed dismay, the bastard just chuckled, counting my money. Crestfallen, we decided to go in anyway. After all, we’d bought the socks. The cashier then issued us locker-room passes with names on them. My friend was thrilled with her trashy new name, “Krystal.” I was stuck with Sara. (It didn’t seem like an occasion to insist on the proper Finnish spelling.)
The lounge itself was a low-rent libertine paradise. There was a sign proudly proclaiming that Le Trapeze was established in 1980, which may well have been the last time it was decorated. There were plastic lamps in the shape of nude female torsos that flashed green and pink, dusty fake plants, mirrored erotica and wall-to-wall raspberry colored carpet. Why anyone would elect to have carpet in a place like this is a mystery.
Turning the corner, we spied the dance area, which consisted of a smudged, brass stripper’s pole, a disco ball and a pasty-white naked couple (in a moment of transgression, they’d even doffed their tube socks) rolling around on a black vinyl couch. The sight shocked me. For some reason, I’d expected the actual sexual activity to be separated from general view, quarantined in what is referred to as the Mat Room. Discombobulated, Krystal and I headed for the bathroom. Big mistake. The bathroom is connected to the locker room, which is next to the Mat Room, all of which were separated only by a few scraggly curtains, giving us a sudden glimpse of some muscle-bound champ enthusiastically pounding away at an unseen partner.
So we scrambled off toward the dining area, a collection of tables and vinyl chairs. The empty hot buffet bins sat sadly in the corner, near a wooden counter festooned with red curtains and fake flowers. Above the counter someone had placed a sign: PLEASE COVER LOWER TORSO AT FOOD BAR. I guess that sounds more official than KEEP YOUR DICK OUT OF THE TATER TOTS.
It turned out, there were a few meager food offerings after all. A bespectacled bald man in saggy white underpants was piling his Styrofoam plate high with potato chips.
Perhaps all was not lost! I’ll just put on my tube socks, I thought, and review the food that is available. As “Krystal” loaded up her plate with everything on offer, I made way for the coffee, sidestepping the Decaffeinated Folgers Crystals for the hard stuff. Then I grabbed a plate of my own and sat down to eat my way though entire menu, scribbling the following assessment:
REVIEW OF THE BUFFET AT LE TRAPEZE SWINGER CLUB
TOSTITOS CORN CHIP: Arriba! The Mexican flavor transports me to Tijuana. Muy bueno!
RUFFLES POTATO CHIP: The hearty crunch and salty deliciousness is evocative of a lazy summer afternoon.
BBQ CHIP: The delicate BBQ flavor dances on my tongue like a Southern belle at a county fair.
OREO: This sublime medley of crispy chocolate cookie and soft vanilla filling is a delightful juxtaposition of textures and flavors.
WINT-O-GREEN LIFE SAVER: A refreshing, breath-enhancing conclusion to the meal. Minty; chalky.
As I was conducting my review, I noticed a guy on a nearby couch playing with his limp penis with one hand while eating Tostitos with the other. A sleepy nude woman next to him was gazing at the hard-core porn on the monitors like she was home watching a Law and Order rerun, munching on a bowl of Ruffles. Another woman was sitting with her legs splayed open, as if airing herself out.
None of them were wearing tube socks.
The club manager walked over. We probably looked a little down: slumped at our table, fully clothed, sipping warm Kool-Aid mixed with vodka. (KOOL-AID: Cloyingly sweet, artificial strawberry overtones, unpleasant aftertaste.)
Eyeing the white tube socks that I’d pulled up to my knees, he spoke in a professional tone: “Would you ladies like some fresh popped popcorn?”
“Why, thank you. That’s very kind,” I replied, channeling Scarlett O’Hara. Buoyed by his generosity, I decided to brave the bathroom, where I heard some guy shout out to the woman in the next stall:
“Hey Ange—you in there?”
“Yeah. I’m peein’. I’m tryin’ to decide if I should go naked or not.”
“Oh. Hey, Ange—they got any rubbers in there?”
On my way back, I peered into the dance area, where the Jackson 5’s “ABC” was playing. A mustachioed man was swinging his dick back and forth between two blondes, who each caught it in her mouth in turn and sucked on it to the beat. The trio’s choreography was admirable.
Upon my return to the table, the manager presented us with a steaming package of microwaved popcorn. (POPCORN: Hot, not too salty, not too greasy, reminiscent of an office break room.) Almost immediately, a topless woman bounced over, holding out a cup. “Word around the club is that you two have fresh popcorn.”
We poured some into her cup, and soon other swingers flocked to our table with their cups. Watching popcorn spilling all over bare boobs as people greedily shoveled it into their mouths, I was reminded of the Le Trapeze website, which claims, “NYC Swingers are the most glamorous in the world!”
Perhaps if you’re Orville Redenbacher.
The popcorn was a good icebreaker, sort of like at the first Thanksgiving. I asked a woman in a red kimono what happened to the hot buffet.
“Oh,” she sighed. “The Health Department made them remove it.”
This prompted everyone to begin waxing nostalgic about the good old days of spaghetti and chicken fingers. We gazed at the empty buffet bins wistfully. They looked a bit like the abandoned steel mills of Youngstown, Ohio. Still standing, yet defunct. Whispering memories of a bygone prosperity.
At this point, I spotted a young guy strutting around with a towel hanging off of his hard on. No one else seemed to find it funny. It occurred to me that this might be something he did all the time. Probably gets old.
Just then a dark-haired man shuffled over to us. He’d taken a liking to Krystal and invited her to stop by his fried chicken restaurant in Queens.
“It’s good chicken,” he said. “You’re really beautiful.”
Her face froze. I quickly swooped in. “We’re here together,” I said.
“Oh yeah?” he replied with a hint of defiance.
I slammed my tube-socked foot up on the chair next to Krystal, marking my territory. Running his fingers through her hair, he looked at me and said, “You’re lucky. She’s so beautiful.” Then he turned and walked off to the Mat Room.
“Can you believe that asshole?” I shrieked. “Running his greasy fried chicken hut fingers through your hair?”
My outburst attracted the attention of a cranky swinger in rimless glasses who slid down next to us. “Stay away from that guy,” he said. “He’s a slime ball.”
He popped a Lifesaver. “This is a bad night to be here,” he continued. “It’s 90 percent paid—women who get paid just to come into the club, then the guy goes off and does his own thing. They’re the bottom of the barrel. Like that woman over there. She’s paid.”
He gestured in the direction of an immensely overweight woman spilling out of her white negligee, who was eating fistfuls of Oreos. I thought it would be a wise business plan on her part to get paid by the pound. Then I felt bad.
“These people tonight have no respect,” he continued. “They don’t follow the rules.” He pointed down at his feet. “Like wearing socks.”
Hallelujah! Finally, someone wearing tube socks. I was about to ask a follow-up question when a sweaty swinger couple sat down beside us. “Yeah,” said the male half of the couple, “I call those people who bring in paid escorts ‘swinglers.’”
The cranky swinger got up and left without warning. I thought maybe he didn’t like anyone tonight.
The male shrugged and said, “Swinging is like yoga. It looks weird from the outside, but it’s great when you’re in the flow.”
The female leaned in: “That’s where we met. At his yoga class.”
“She’s a Leo,” he offered. “I’m a Scorpio.”
At 2:15 a.m., the smell of pizza wafted through, and soon the staff started putting out boxes. I grabbed a couple slices. (PIZZA: A whiff of oregano in the tomato sauce, tasty dough.)
Suddenly, there was a stampede of half-naked people toward the counter. I imagined them in midorgasm saying, “Wait—did somebody order pizza?”
Before long the Fried Chicken Hut Swinger, the Towel Hanging From His Hard On Swinger, the Optimist Swinger and the Red Kimono Swinger rejoined the buffet crowd. Everyone seemed really happy that there was pizza.
After that, the energy began to lag. Krystal and I decided to call it a night. I realized, it’s true what they say. There are no strangers here. Just naked people I haven’t met yet.
As Le Trapeze’s door clicked shut behind us, a voice rang out: “Hey, Ange, you want pepperoni or sausage pizza?”