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Excerpt: 'The Book of Vice'

The Book of Vice Cover

Chapter One

Swinging or Dinner Parties Gone Horribly Wrong

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when a couple at a swingers club announce that they are there merely to observe, and not actually to swing, everybody loses interest in that couple pretty quickly.

"Research?" said one young woman, her enthusiasm for further conversation with Beth and me shrinking and disappearing like that little point of light on old vacuum-tube TVs. "Research?"

Well, uh, yeah. Beth and I had been assured by Ross and Rachel, owners of the Swingers' Shack, a private, invitation-only club for participants in what is called the Lifestyle, that it would be just fine if we wanted only to observe, to talk to people. "No pressure," we were told. "It's actually much better than a bar," said Ross, because at a bar, you know, there was anxiety, there were expectations you didn't necessarily want to meet. Here, everything was cool, laid-back ... we, the merely curious, could happily interface with the avidly active. Except the real difference between the Swingers' Shack and a bar is that at a bar somebody you meet might have come just for a drink or to watch a game on TV. Here, you had to bring your own liquor, on which you wrote your name with a Sharpie, and the only TV in the place was showing hard-core porn, adding a sometimes discomfiting bass note of grunts and moans to the peas-and-carrots babble going on around us. No: with apologies to Ross's nice spread of Hershey kisses and a $29.95 chocolate fountain, the only reason people came to the Swingers' Shack was to get it on.

Except for us, which we made clear as soon as we had to, which was pretty early in any conversation. And then our interlocutor's eyes would go vacant, and soon he or she would wander off to talk to somebody else. Or, once, a man indicated his boredom with us by idly reaching out and palpating his wife's breast.

I don't blame them: this April night was the last party at the Swingers' Shack, maybe for the summer, maybe for the year, maybe forever. There was no time to waste with people like me. But still: in a lifetime in which I've been to all kinds of sexual marketplaces-bars, parties-this was the first time that I was going to get ignored because I wouldn't put out.

I had contacted Ross through his website, asking for permission to come interview him, his friends, and his "guests" because of all the varieties of deviant behavior, the Lifestyle seemed the most wholesome. In it, we are told, consenting adult couples ... well, consent. The events at the Shack, like at almost every other club within the swinging community, are for the most part couples only, for various obvious and subtle reasons. And these couples have agreed that each partner can have sex with other people, within whatever confines they've set for themselves, and in each other's presence. It offers all the pleasure, security, safety, trust, and stability of monogamy, without the monogamy.

In fact, it sounded perfect, a model of what most men, and many women, would want from their sex lives-not for nothing was Plato's Retreat, the swingers club of the seventies, named after the inventor of the Eternal Ideal. And of course, to my mind, it was utterly impossible. How could stable, happy marriages survive adultery as a hobby?

We are told, via their occasional interviews in the press, that swingers or Lifestylers or whatever are no different from you and me ... they meet up to socialize, talk, drink, and dance with their good friends, old and new. And then they have sex with them. Which makes me stop, and consider the various good friends my wife and I have, and then consider how it would be if one of our suburban dinner parties ended with us removing our clothes and performing sexual acts, and I have to put my head between my knees and take deep breaths.

Ross told me straight up that he had been the recipient of some bad press, and was a little nervous about opening his club to a writer. We agreed, eventually, that I would first come and interview him and Rachel at the club, which was also their home, and then, if everyone felt good about it, my wife and I (Couples Only!) would attend one of their parties.

I asked him via e-mail: "And it's all right if we're there merely to observe, and not to participate?"

"Absolutely," he replied. "We encourage that. Nobody has to do anything they don't want to. No pressure at all. Although I looked up your picture online. I don't think you've got anything to worry about."

Excerpted from The Book of Vice by Peter Sagal. Copyright (c) 2007 by Peter Sagal. Reprinted with permission by HarperEntertainment, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Peter Sagal
Peter Sagal is, has been, and perhaps someday will be again, a husband, father, playwright, screenwriter, author, journalist, columnist, marathoner, Jeopardy contestant, dramaturg, podcast host, documentary host, foreign correspondent, wedding officiant, and magician's assistant.