Sex in the Suburbs — Any (Even) Number Can Play
Peering into the hallway with squinting and blinking eyes, he was greeted by two vacuum cleaner salesmen, one tall and the other shorter, who beamed with all the toothy friendliness of a country club doubles team. Greene, troubled by ennui, had less to offer. He appeared as if he had endured one of the seasonâ€™s best orgies, which, of course, he had.
â€œWell, ah, we were next door,â€ began the shorter fellow. â€œTalking to your neighbor there. Showing her the vacuum and the attachments. Well, we came to the special mattress cleaner . . .. â€œ
â€œYeah, man,â€ Greene said with an impatient pursing of the lips. â€œSpit it out.â€
â€œLike I say, we recommend it highly, very highly. See, Iâ€™m recommending it and she says I should see you. You would, ah, be a good one to see.â€
â€œShe said you probably have a lot of dirty mattresses around this apartment.â€ â€œDirty mattresses? What is all this crap, man?â€
â€œWell, she said that anyone who had a sex club as large as yours must have a lot of dirty mattresses.â€
Greene rubbed his belly, tugged at the beard and eyed the salesmen. The two looked at him eagerly, their grins fading, but hope remaining that it was all good information and not a joke. It wasnâ€™t that they wanted to make a sale. Hell no! This was more important than a sale. What they wanted to meet was a real, live captain of sex. In their minds they sought a baron who lorded over orgies with a thick, evil laugh to match a sexual appetite that was insatiable. They wanted to know a man who did what they only dared dream. They stood there, trying to ward off the apprehension that Jerry Greene began to stir in them. A loose black robe hung over his ample six-foot body, which is not impressive when sexual vicissitudes, are considered. He presented a confusing image, standing there barefoot, bespectacled and baldish with a beard that gave him the Satanic appearance that some might imagine a debauchee to possess.
After considering them for a moment and weighing their eagerness against his ire. Green gave off a laugh, a kind of friendly chuckle that has only an octave of evil, but is fluid with an unctuous and ingratiating quality. He nodded at them to enter.
Pleased at his invitation and eager for ribaldry, the salesmen collided at the portal, the taller one giving way to his smaller, but more aggressive partner.
â€œWhoâ€™da thought that it was going on here, right in a place like old Warrensville Heights,â€ said the shorter of the two. He had already taken his place on one of the imitation leather couches in the living room. He had not waited to be invited to sit, but had perched himself as if he had just completed a victorious dash for the remaining vacancy on a crowded bus. He was breathing hard, too.
â€œWell, it ainâ€™t just good old Warrensville Heights, man,â€ Greene said as he lit a Benson & Hedges. â€œItâ€™s all over town. You guys want any coffee?â€
â€œHow long, ah, have you been into this â€” group sex thing?â€ the short salesman asked.
â€œIâ€™ll have some coffee, black, please,â€ said the tall one.
â€œAbout two years,â€ Greene said, fumbling with the coffee pot. â€œWe had our big anniversary party last month. Itâ€™s the biggest blast of the year other than the three-day thing we have to celebrate New Yearâ€™s and my birthday.â€
â€œHow many belong to the group?â€
â€œWeâ€™ve got about 110 couples in the movement. Thereâ€™s a lot of people into swinging in Cleveland. The town is changing, itâ€™s opening up, itâ€™s getting out of its shell. We probably have room in this city for three or four groups.â€
â€œEver have any trouble with the cops?â€
â€œWeâ€™re all consenting adults. I donâ€™t know whether the cops have checked us out or not. Theyâ€™d be crazy if they didnâ€™t check to make sure there wasnâ€™t any prostitution involved. And like, there isnâ€™t. They may have been to one of our parties, I donâ€™t know. I never noticed anyone with a badge on their jockeys.â€
â€œHow do you join?â€ the tall one finally asked. â€œNot that Iâ€™m really interested myself, but I think itâ€™s kind of interesting. You read about it all the time, but you know, I never met a real guy like you. Wow! All those broads.â€
â€œHey man, Iâ€™m no deviate, Iâ€™m no different that any other guy,â€ Greene said in somewhat of a protest. â€œWe just believe in sexual freedom. No hang-ups. None of those cocktail-lounge games. We respect human beings and we want to do our thing. Thatâ€™s what itâ€™s about.â€
Jerry Greene is not a sex freak, but he is the impresario of the largest group sex organization in Ohio. He has managed the group, carefully applying what he likes to refer to as â€œorganizational skillsâ€ into a vibrant situation that, among aficionados, has given the area a better national sex image, an accomplishment that has generally gone unrecognized, especially by the Greater Cleveland Growth Association. Greene considers his work a very positive achievement for the area and says: â€œAll I did when we started out was to ask myself how General Motors would do it.â€
Sitting in his $165-a-month apartment, the headquarters of his Sexual Freedom Movement, Greene tells the two salesmen all they want to know about the group. They keep shaking their heads in disbelief. Greene knows they will have a marvelous story to relate around town and he figures they may pass the word around to some couple who may be interested.
In Cleveland, even though the Sexual Freedom Movement can be found in the telephone book, word -of-mouth advertising has sustained the group. â€œCleveland is a hush-hush city for swingers,â€ says a 28-year-old mother of two who has been involved with group sex for eight years and recently moved here from California. â€œUntil we found Jerry, we were having a miserable time locating couples. It is so secret here. In California, we even had bumper stickers.â€
â€œWe do alright out of the phone book,â€ Greene says. â€œYouâ€™d be surprised how many people look up â€˜sexâ€™ in the phone book. I know, because I get the calls from the legitimate and the nuts.â€
There are times when those who are interested in group sex contacts in Cleveland find it even more difficult. Those times generally result when Ohio Bell shuts down Greeneâ€™s hotline, which occurs over a moment of forgetfulness. â€œSometimes Iâ€™m not too good remembering the bills,â€ he admits.
Despite financial difficulties (the Internal Revenue Service experienced similar oversights on Greeneâ€™s part) this 36-year-old endomorph has done much for Clevelandâ€™s national image. For instance, the Cleveland swinging scene has become so recognized on a national level that Greene can make a telephone call for a member couple going on vacation and arrange visitorâ€™s privileges with other sex clubs in almost any major city in the nation.
While Greene denies any extraordinary sexual abilities, arguing that there are no sexual superstars, one young divorcee smiles and disagrees:
â€œJerry is great. He is a kind, thoughtful person. He has respect for people and donâ€™t let him tell you heâ€™s not a superstar. If they ever have a swingerâ€™s Hall of Fame, his bust would be rated double-X.â€
Back in the early 1950s, it did not look like Jerry was going to attain any kind of fame. He was a lumbering, second-string tackle at Shaw High School and enjoyed a gridiron career that was as futile as his attempts to shape a DA out of wiry hair that refused to be greased into place. He did not know many girls, nor seem to care much about them. His mother had hoped that he would become a doctor or lawyer or anything but commander of a sex battalion.
Greene probably could have made it at the Cleveland Clinic or Squire, Sanders and for sure at Merrill Lynch. His friends say he is bright enough for any of these callings and no doubt he is, but the facile ability that brightness often carries with it is not always an asset. It requires a certain equilibrium with motivation, and in Jerry Greene there is some question about his enthusiasm for work.
Greene did set out from high school with ambition. He attended college for three weeks at Ohio University before he packed up and left. His faculty adviser insisted that he had to take an anthropology course and one day, while enduring a droning lecture of anthropoids, a thought struck him: this was all bullshit.
â€œIf theyâ€™d had hippies then, Iâ€™d have been a hippie,â€ he says. â€œIt was a bad time to grow up. Everything was so conservative. As far as sex went, all you had to do was walk around with a Trojan in your wallet and you were a big lover. All that kind of stuff is considered nostalgia now.â€
After a year of pumping gas and getting by on a gift for glibness, Greene joined the U. S. Army. He got the usual battery of aptitude tests and found he had a knack for languages. They sent him to California and offered either German or Polish. â€œThe German was a six-month course,â€ he said. â€œI liked Calfornia, a great place to be in the Cold War. The Polish was a 52-week course. I took the Polish so I could stay in California longer.â€ Greene has met only one woman at a group sex party who spoke Polish.
Stationed in Germany, Greene translated Polish radio intercepts, telephone conversations and broadcasts. The most important of these were stuffed into envelopes and addressed to Alien Dulles, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency. It was pretty dull stuff. The most excitement that he recalls came one night in a bar near the base. He overheard a man speaking Polish on a telephone say: â€œThey are here now. Come and get them.â€ Greene thought that Russian agents were going to kidnap him, so he and a buddy made a hasty and frightened departure from the bar. â€œLater I found out the guy was talking about a couple of women they were trying to pick up.â€
Upon completing the service, he returned to Cleveland, got married and began making a living as a salesman. His marriage lasted only five years, an interlude, he says, that was marred by a lack of understanding. When Greene speaks of his marriage he does so in quiet and reflective tones. There is no bitterness. He likes to think that he and his wife could still be friends.
â€œWhen I was young I wasnâ€™t aware of the outside world,â€ he says. â€œI didnâ€™t know it existed until I was pushed out into it. Until then, I lived in a shell. When I got into life it was a shock. Maybe itâ€™s like that for everyone, I donâ€™t know . . ..â€
What followed, then, were endless days and nights on the road selling. The ceaseless ribbons of freeway, the chrome, the Formica and small talk of motel bars, the one-night stands that began with exuberance and maybe a little hope, but ended devoid of everything except fatigue and loneliness, all added up to nothing. One day he stopped and figured it out. He made $20,000 a year, but when he subtracted all the expenses it came out like the anthropology class, a big zip.
â€œI was knocking myself out for nothing.â€ he said. â€œI figured out that I could work a little and relax the rest of the time and make as much money because my expenses werenâ€™t what they were on the road. Hell, Iâ€™m a hustler of sorts. I guess thatâ€™s my nature. Iâ€™m not employed full-time at anything. I run the club, but I donâ€™t make money on it. I end up subsidizing it half the time. Whenever Iâ€™m low on money I go out and hustle something.â€
When the weather gets nice Jerry hustles a little yard fencing. He sells furniture, womenâ€™s soft goods and a few other things that come along. All legal things, he emphasizes.
His new liberated way of life gave him a lot of time to think and more time for recreation. He got into golf (he shoots in the mid-80s), and poker, and then one day he met a girl who introduced him to some neighbors who commuted back and forth to Detroit for group sex. The thought intrigued him and they invited him along for one of the parties.
Attracted by what he called simply â€œprurient motives,â€ Greene said he was frightened during the drive to Detroit. He did not know how he would react to taking his clothes off in front of a lot of people. The thought of an orgy added to the tension, but by the time the night was ended his initial fears were calmed, never to recur. After that, Jerry was a frequent visitor to Detroit.
But after a time, his old disdain for the road, his seemingly inherent tendency to avoid energetic labor and, perhaps, the possible glimmerings of a good hustle led Greene to the decision to found a chapter of the Sexual Freedom League in Cleveland.
â€œI felt there was a need for a sexually liberated group of people who could communicate both on a mental and physical level,â€ is Greeneâ€™s public relations harangue. He comes on with a mixture of largess in his liberal rhetoric that makes the group sound as if it were funded by the Office of Economic Opportunity to develop a new social program. He will catch himself coming on too strong and back off with a laugh.
In both his public and private appearances to discuss the group, he stresses the theme of mutual respect among the members of the organization. It is a theme that swingers themselves often refer to when speaking of the movement. There is also much discussion of relating to others and helping them rid themselves of hang-ups.
In the midst of all the talk of mutual consideration, several members of the group began to suspect Greeneâ€™s motives. A splinter group, headed by a former ministry student, struck out on its own after concluding that Greene was making money on his humane efforts to liberate a sexually frustrated society. The unhappiness centered around Greeneâ€™s decision to drop out of the nationally organized Sexual Freedom League and form his own independent group, the Sexual Freedom Movement.
Membership fees are $20 per couple and there is a charge of $10 per couple for each party, $15 for non-members. â€œWe had to pay dues out of this money to the national organization, Money that I felt could go to good use here,â€ Greene says. â€œSo we dropped out. There were people unhappy. I suppose they thought I was making money on it. I wasnâ€™t and Iâ€™m not now. I lose money on it.â€
Greene pays for refreshments, linen (his closet contains nearly 100 towels), a newsletter and other miscellaneous needs. He says the dues and party charges barely cover costs, and notes that the dissident group, too, learned there was no bonanza in organizing a club. (Early last month Greene moved his headquarters to a larger apartment in Bedford Heights. Some of those who split from Greeneâ€™s group feel that he had to move to more spacious quarters in order to keep his membership, which was being offered an alternative by the new Sexual Freedom League chapter based in Berea. â€œA lot of us got tired waiting for our turn when he would have 40 people crammed into that place in Warrensville Heights,â€ said one former member.)
Greene acknowledges that there is disagreement within the group, but he says not everyone is going to like everyone else in any group. â€œWe get a lot of different people in our organization and thereâ€™s bound to be difficulties,â€ he says.
The need for new members is almost consuming in itself. â€œThe name of the game is changing bodies,â€ said a young businessman who is heavily involved with the group. â€œMy wife and I figured out that at least 300 couples have gone through Jerryâ€™s group in the time weâ€™ve been involved. Weâ€™re always trying to get other couples interested in it.â€ â€œItâ€™s not always easy,â€ said his wife. â€œIt takes time to adjust to swinging. It took us a good five years. The beginners are not so much fun all the time. They get nervous and clammy because they donâ€™t know what exactly to do first.â€
When Greene launched his group, he initially advertised in Da Da Boom, a local underground newspaper, for a month. He received about 100 responses, but few solid leads. When he appeared on a television talk show, the responses jumped to nearly 400 calls, most of them kinky. About 50 callers turned out to be legitimately interested in joining.
The group was officially dedicated on June 14, 1971, when 20 couples, charter members, celebrated in Greeneâ€™s apartment. Since then some 70 parties have been held with hundreds of persons participating at one time or another. Greene says there are 2,000 couples in the area that would seriously consider joining his group and- another 2,000 that engage regularly in wife swapping or smaller, more restricted group activities. One imagines Greeneâ€™s neighbors with ears pressed to the walls, eyeballs bloodshot from peering from behind peepholes, whispers hoarse with the false edge of indignation panoplied over raw curiosity. But upon checking, one finds the reactions of the neighbors are cold and noncommittal in the way Americans have learned to avoid involvement in things like murder and also mass sex.
â€œWe donâ€™t know the man,â€ said one woman. â€œWe donâ€™t know what he does. We are not aware of anything unusual. We donâ€™t know a thing.â€ The voice sounded as if it was in a hurry to gargle after the conversation.
Another inquiry brought further indignation. â€œIf you ever call back and ask me about sex clubs Iâ€™ll call the police,â€ said one man in the building. â€œIâ€™m sick of seeing all those sex magazines like yours in the stores.â€ But finally there was some absolution for Jerry Greene and his sex club.
â€œWe all know itâ€™s going on,â€ said another man. â€œAt first we thought that he was a guy who really gave a lot of parties. Then the word began to get around the building. Iâ€™ve talked to the guy a couple of times and he seems alright. I was in his apartment once. I did get to see the mattresses on the floor, though.â€
One woman, a 60-year-old schoolteacher, aware of the gaiety below, told a new tenant of the rumored mysteries that took place on the first floor. While confiding this to her new neighbor, a single woman of 27, she didnâ€™t protest the morality of it as much as she complained of insomnia. The shower runs all night in Greeneâ€™s apartment on the weekends and she canâ€™t sleep.
Curious about Greene and the aquatics below, the younger woman called the SFM number. Janie, a buxom blonde who is one of Jerryâ€™s female assistants, answered the phone and invited her down for coffee. She ended up joining.
Greene shrugs his shoulders when it comes to the attitudes of his neighbors and others who know he runs the SFM. â€œLook, letâ€™s just say that Iâ€™m not looked upon as the Holy Ghost,â€ he says. But while he may not be divine, some of the single women in the group at least consider Greene their father confessor. He in turn sighs and admits that sometimes he feels as if he is running a nursery school.
The group inevitably presents riffs, sullen differences and hurt feelings for Greene to assuage, and maybe it is his ability to tend to these difficult moments that has enabled it to endure. Many of the women feel he has a particularly avuncular manner about him and he appears to have an inordinate number of female friends. â€œI know Iâ€™m not that attractive, but sometimes I really amaze myself when it comes to women,â€ he says.
But there are times when even Greeneâ€™s benevolence canâ€™t belay unpleasantness. Last spring he hosted a marathon porno film festival that involved something like 26 different films and nearly eight hours of continuous viewing. Since porno films are part of the accouterments that go with group sex, many couples possess their own private collections and are very proud of their cinematic tastes. (Most of those interviewed felt that Deep Throat, the first porno film to take the country by storm, was not erotic enough and that its star, Linda Lovelace, ranked only sixth or seventh in their list of all-time porno greats.) Part of Greeneâ€™s festival involved a contest in which a panel of naked judges chose the films and awarded the prize of a vibrator to the winning couple.
After hours of viewing, the judges rendered their opinion and the results immediately offended one couple. They complained that their films were the best and the judges obviously had no taste. Before Jerry could negotiate tranquility, the couple put on their clothes, grabbed their films and left in a huff.
There have been other difficulties. Overly aggressive participants have to be tempered, drunks are not tolerated and no liquor is to be served at a party, timid housewives have to be cajoled and assured by Greene, who has to carry on his agit-prop campaign to keep the bathroom door open when it is not in use. When you entertain 20 couples, lines tend to form. Once he had 28 couples crammed into the apartment, a near miraculous achievement in group sex.
In Greeneâ€™s public presentations, he notes that parties are alternately held at the homes of members. When pressed, he admits that virtually all of the parties are held in his apartment, a suite painted in various shades of peach and pink and decorated with Greeneâ€™s functional touch, exemplified by the three vinyl couches, a mattress-lined room known as the community room and a bed that has the superstructure of an aircraft carrier. One man explained it would be difficult to hold parties at the homes of the others. There were kids to consider and they must never find out, plus there were the neighbors. The fear of discovery lurks heavy in the minds of most all who belong and they insist on secrecy; however, most of the regulars know each other well and from time to time invite one or two couples to their homes.
The fear of discovery can be maddening, as one man testified. He thinks his business partner has some idea what he and his wife may be doing, but is not sure. He fears discovery more for his wife than for himself; however, at a party he is known to brag about his wifeâ€™s sexual ability to the point where it becomes boring.
Once, while Greene was attending a gathering of various independent swingers at an East Side motel, an irate man approached him. â€œWhy donâ€™t you have better control over your group, especially over them talking outside the group? Thereâ€™s some guy who belongs to your group that works in my factory and heâ€™s been going around telling everyone how good my wife is.â€
While many couples drift in and out of the group, there is a hard core of regulars who attend the majority of the scheduled parties, which generally are held every other Saturday. Greene says he tapers the parties off around Christmas and Easter, explaining that the group is fairly religious and people do give up swinging for Lent.
Greene identifies most of the people who attend as white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. There are no blacks, although Greene says there were some in the beginning and there is no objection to having them join.
Among those who regularly attend, one can find a couple of lawyers; a 42-year-old doctor and his 24-year-old wife; a building contractor and his wife, parents of four children; a 38-year-old single woman who holds an excellent position in a downtown business and usually brings a date; a 40-year-old data processor and his wife, the parents of three children; and several others including a couple of policemen and parole officers.
They all appear unextraordinary people and few raving beauties are to be found, although Greene says that the women are generally better looking in his group than the men. The age group involved varies, generally those in their thirties and early forties. There are exceptions to this, however: both younger and older people may be found at a party.
â€œIf you were to see most of our people on the street you wouldnâ€™t look twice,â€ Greene says. â€œWeâ€™re really a slice out of society. One fellow, who attended only one party, said that he just as easily could have been attending a Weight Watchers meeting. â€œThere was a lot of flab,â€ he said.
Some group members feel that Greene is too firm and too conservative in his operation of the parties. There is heavy emphasis on consent and if there is not mutual consent there is no encounter. Consequently, not everyone is totally satisfied at the end of an evening. â€œIâ€™d like to see us get games going so more people get to know other people,â€ said one 30-year-old man who feels that the group is a bit conservative. â€œI mean there have been some parties that take forever to get off the ground. If people can choose their participants itâ€™s not a real group scene.â€
Greene says that consent, respect for other people and the realization that all people are sensitive creatures seems to be more important to members than the mass aspects of sex. There are no orgies, he says. There are group encounters by consent and he says none of the kinkier sexual twists are allowed. â€œWe donâ€™t allow sadism and masochism because our insurance doesnâ€™t cover it,â€ he says.
The strictest rule of the organization is that persons must attend the parties as couples and because of this problems sometimes arise. A fellow may hire a prostitute to gain entry to the party or, more commonly, a man will force a girlfriend or wife into the situation. â€œYou canâ€™t fake wanting to be here,â€ Greene says. â€œWithout your clothes there is nothing to hide behind and you can just feel the tension when something like this happens. Weâ€™ve had some sad things happen. Once some guy brought a 300-pound woman who just sat in the corner, ignored and terrified. We finally asked them to leave.â€
To head off this kind of embarrassment, Greene holds orientations a few days before a party for couples who have never been to a party. Sometimes he invites an experienced couple or two to help answer any questions. The orientations are held in his apartment and it is not uncommon for a new couple to back out at the last moment. Others are so eager that one woman showed up on crutches for a party and another man lost his artificial leg in a friendly melee in the community room. Greene had to ask him to move it to the side so no one would trip on it in the dark.
At 8:20 p.m. the first couple arrived. They were married, in their late twenties, and had been here several times before. The woman was a moderately attractive blonde and her husband was stout and balding. Jerry yelled out a greeting to them from the kitchen and Peggy, an attractive but husky woman of about 28, smiled and reminded them of the standard sign-in procedure. She held out a clipboard to the man who read the print sheet: I hereby attest I am over 21 years of age. I am not a member of any law enforcement agency on official business. I am not under the influence, nor do I possess any illegal drugs or narcotics. I will not hold the owner of the premises, party host or Sexual Freedom Movement responsible for any personal injury. I am aware of the nature of the above stated activity. I also understand there will be no coercion (no means NO), no drunkenness, violence, profane or abusive language or excessively loud noise permitted. I agree that the rights of privacy of others will be respected. I also understand that anyone not complying to the above conditions will be asked to leave immediately. The man nodded and signed without a word. Then the couple stepped into the living room, which was lighted by an amber globe strung in the corner near the stereo, which was playing almost inaudibly. A coffeemaker was perking merrily and Jerry invited them to help themselves to a soft drink. They declined, shying toward a corner of the room as Peggy went to answer the door.
Within a half hour the three red imitation leather couches were occupied with people chatting about Watergate, their kids and the gasoline shortage. One woman was telling another about her sewing and two couples in their late thirties complained about the Cleveland weather and talked of their upcoming vacation.
â€œThatâ€™s funny about all the talk about Watergate,â€ Jerry said. â€œYou never hear much talk about politics at the parties. Maybe Watergate is different because it was the Republicans who screwed the Democrats and this is a sex party and they talk about it.â€ There was some laughter followed by some comments about President N
12:00 AM EST
January 2, 2008