During the phone interview I explained to Lance that I didn’t really like playing poker. Honestly, I didn’t even know how to play poker, but I feared the consequences of telling him that.
“I just really wanted to come for the group sex,” I admitted, panicking a little. The 35-and-Under Safe Sex Orgy was happening that evening and with my work schedule I knew that I wouldn’t have time to learn how to play poker before then. And aren’t poker players known for being very, very serious? What if nobody wanted to have sex with me because I didn’t know when to hold ‘em, or when to fold ‘em, or whatever you do.
Lance assured me that playing poker really loosened the guys up before the action started. Lance had a very sexy telephone voice, so I believed him. “We don’t even let people in the room if they show up after the poker starts,” he added with an undercurrent of firm authority.
The 35-and-Under Safe Sex Orgy was a monthly Boston-area event that shifted locations; on this particular night the magic happened at the Howard Johnson’s behind Fenway Park. I worked until 5 that night, which gave me just time to run home, shower and then drive the hour from Providence to Boston to meet my new orgy friends at the gay bar across the street from the motel. Getting to know each other in a bar sounded infinitely more relaxing to me than playing poker in a motel room, but I kept telling myself that these guys knew what they were doing. I tried to relax, and on my lunch break that afternoon even skimmed a “Poker for Dummies” book.
On the phone Lance went over the rules one last time: freely available lube and condoms of all sizes, and absolutely no drugs. Alcohol in the room was frowned upon but not forbidden. And there would be 30 minutes of poker followed by an hour of orgy-time, after which point we could feel free to stay or leave as we pleased.
Lance wasn’t Lance’s real name. I would learn that later.
After getting hopelessly lost on the winding and unmarked roads of the Back Bay — which happens every single time I attempt to navigate Boston by car — I found the bar, which to my surprise was completely empty. It was summer, and there was a group of guys sitting at a table on the sidewalk, but none of them really looked like they belonged at a 35-and-Under event of any kind. This was odd, because on the phone that morning Lance made it sound like the 35-and-Under Safe Sex Orgy would be packed wall-to-wall with horny college boys.
I ordered a beer.
A few minutes later an actual college boy arrived. He was not totally unattractive. He asked if I was there for the safe sex orgy and we started talking. It was his first orgy, too. I decided that sleeping with him might be fun, and it all felt like we were going on an adventure together. At this point in my life I was mostly having sex with middle-aged men I encountered in the park, so I was excited about the prospects of bedding someone in my own age bracket. Or several someones. As someone who had spent most of his life socializing exclusively with girls, there was something very tempting about a relaxing evening hanging out in the company of guys my own age. And the condom-only mandate only made me more willing to let loose, as it were.
Another man showed up, this time a genuinely cute one, hairy and a little chubby, maybe 25; a cub, according to the gay animal taxonomy. I like cubs, as a rule, and this guy looked fun. He asked whether we were looking for Lance.
I knew it! I thought. That sexy man on the phone is totally the dreamboat standing before me now!
But no. “Lance is outside,” he said. He pulled out his phone. “Hey, Lance,” he said into it. “There’s a couple of guys here looking for you. Yeah,” he said, giving us a very obvious and not unflattering once-over. “They’re cute.”
“I’ll take you outside,” he told us, hanging up his phone and leading us to the table of men on the sidewalk. It all seemed very formal, that a phone call would be required to maneuver us over to a table that was maybe 20 feet away.
Sitting down with the group, I knew instinctively that these guys were not into me. One man, I’m pretty sure, worked in the same office building in Providence that I did — he said rosaries every day on his lunch break — and before the night was over another guy who recognized me from Providence would convince me to give him a ride home. But there were no sexy vibes, least of all from Lance, who was apparently the world’s oldest-looking 34-year-old. His hair was badly bleached, his skin was the skin of someone who had spent many years partying, and he was wearing a pink polo shirt, which I believe is possibly the least arousing garment of our age.
Everyone looked very business casual, in button-downs and khaki shorts and sandals that were actual sandals and not flip-flops. Meanwhile, I was wearing tight black jeans that were completely inappropriate for summer, and probably my Mission of Burma T-shirt, which I thought might be attractive to young Bostonians.
A trio of clubby-seeming twinks showed up, in the right age bracket but not at all my type. I’m not as morally opposed to intensely skinny, razor-happy boys who spend all day on their hair as I used to be; I’m just more physically attracted to thicker guys who don’t feel the need to compulsively remove their body hair. Leg hair, for some reason, has always been a major turn-on for me.
I looked at everyone’s legs and decided that the only one for me was the friendly cub; I want to call him James but for a nagging feeling that his name might actually have been James, and you’re not supposed to use real names in stories like this. To be safe, I will just call him Cubby.
We all retired to the Howard Johnson’s.
In our room — two double beds and a mirrored wall — we all sat down so Lance could say a few things about orgy organizing. “First off,” he began, “I want to thank you all for coming. I really like this group and think that we’ve had a lot of fun over the years. But I just started a new job that will have me in New York four days a week, and I don’t think I can keep this group going. I’d like to select one of you to take over as the new Lance.” At this point he paused dramatically and everyone looked at one another anxiously, like we were all competitors on a new reality show that forgot to budget for cameras.
“Being Lance isn’t an easy job,” he continued. “I send out an email every month, recruit guys to come to the parties and book the hotel room. But you know, what really makes this whole thing possible is Evite.” He paused dramatically, again, and I looked around at the faces, all of whom seemed very attentive, even though this man had just referred to himself in the third person. I wondered if this is what it would be like to join a cult, or to agree to a 90-minute seminar about buying time shares.
In conclusion, he told us that whichever lucky fellow was selected to be the new Lance would be given the password to the Evite account, a very important responsibility since all names and email addresses on the list were of course held in the strictest confidence. He also hated it when people RSVPed with a Maybe, and that he planned to email people to tell them to be more definitive next time.
At that particular moment, I felt trapped in a way that I’ve never felt trapped in my life, before or since. And there was still the poker to get through!
When the speech was over there was a slight kerfuffle as my young college friend excused himself, declaring himself nervous and in need of another drink. “You won’t be able to come back,” Lance advised, testily, saying that the group wasn’t really friendly to those who couldn’t last 90 minutes on a Sunday evening without alcohol. The college boy was fine with that, and I thought about leaving with him. But there was Cubby to consider! And also I hadn’t driven an hour and gotten lost in Boston just to hear a lecture about Evites.
Cubby himself took over next. He dealt two decks of cards to every person in the room, and then held a third deck for himself.
And that’s when I lost all hope. Introducing himself as a representative of a local AIDS service nonprofit, Cubby told us that he had condoms and lube for everyone. “I think you all know how this game works,” he said. “And if you don’t you’ll figure it out soon enough.”
Cubby drew a card. “Seven of hearts,” he said. There was some giggling, and then the guy next to me took his shoes off. “Jack of clubs,” he said next. There was more giggling, and a shirt came off. I concentrated firmly on my hand, realizing with an already sunken heart that “a half hour of poker” actually meant “a group of grown men who will show up to an orgy but who can’t take their clothes off without playing Strip Go Fish first.” I couldn’t decide whether I was relieved or not. And still, none of my cards were called.
I looked around the room, to see if anyone else was as disillusioned by this process as I was. And then I realized that something odd had happened. Even though Cubby had only called maybe 10 cards, nearly everyone was almost naked. And there I was, the only one in the room besides Cubby that had all my clothes on. I looked at him and he looked at me; he actually stopped calling cards to ask me if I was OK.
“I’m OK,” I said.
“You don’t have to be nervous,” he said, and that’s when I realized my error: that you took your clothes off if your cards didn’t get called, not if they did. I was so consumed with despair about Evites that I hadn’t even figured out the simplest rules of this dumb, dumb card game.
I started untying my sneakers. In the meantime, Lance left — left! — to go to the bar across the street, to “recruit guys.” Which seemed odd, since there was only about a half hour of orgy time left and since the bar had been completely empty and since there was that rule about not being allowed in after poker started and since Lance was the one who had thrown this horrid party in the first place.
The twinks started playing with each other and the older guys leered because one of them had a really huge penis. I put an exploratory hand on another guy, and he didn’t seem to like it very much, and so I just started masturbating and hoped that someone might notice.
After maybe 10 minutes of the twink show, the one with the big penis left, because he had to go to work. His job, I overheard him saying, was to patrol the cruising gardens behind Fenway and pass out condoms to the guys who cruised there. I found this employment fascinating, and still do. I considered going with him, because at least people in the Fenway got laid, apparently. Instead, I just finished off in the corner while everyone else gave each other uninspiring blow jobs.
Then I remembered the man who had asked me for a ride. He told me, as I was washing my hands in the bathroom, that he had to get back to Providence. He also told me that he really, really wanted to be chosen as the new Lance, so he couldn’t leave early on the off chance that the current Lance would return to make his choice. In the car, on the ride home, he told me about how much fun these parties were, but about how I should not be offended if Lance didn’t invite me back. “Not everybody is right for this group,” he said, and I nodded silently in agreement, wondering how a one hour-long car ride could seem so very long.
I did get invited back, actually. But when the next Evite came, for a party that I swear to you was called Open Me Up and Stretch Me Out Deep Inside, I couldn’t even bring myself to RSVP with a Maybe.