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Sex: The Multiplicity of Desire


The Lyghthouse Inn, Sheepshead Bay.  

The truth is she would give anything to turn back time, to be back with her husband. They’d met when she was dancing on 48th Street; he’d given her a $50 tip and his business card. He was in the printing business, nothing like her. Together they were crazy. They were married blissfully for 25 years. They had two kids. Eight years ago, he developed pancreatic cancer. For two years, they fought it together. As he lay dying, he told her she was the happiest person he’d ever known. He urged her not to change.

Over on the dance floor now, the lights swirl, Lady Gaga warns that “he can’t read my poker face,” the man in the tweed jacket targets another Asian woman, the ballroom man is with a new partner—plump, brash, wearing polka dots, she’d approached him, their aesthetic more lambada than merengue—while the others look on, like Lydia, 59, a widowed secretary from the Bronx who recalls with nostalgia crazy nightclub parties in the eighties but who, now, would settle for someone to sit next to at the movies; or George, 74, a retired military man and lifelong bachelor who long cared for his sickly mother and feels horrible about recently breaking up with a girlfriend ten years older who’d begun increasingly relying on him for help physically.

Tina tousles her blonde hair and smiles. She says, “I’m trying.”

Dark Mist Rolling In off the Water, a Beacon, Brief Is Enough
At a short-stay Sheepshead Bay motel.

In the parking lot outside the large, squat Lyghthouse Inn not far from Coney Island, the cars trickle in and out, Jaguars, SUVs, taxis. Inside, beneath a brass-leafed recessed ceiling, old nautical oil paintings and photos of iconic New York scenes on the walls, the men do the talking between thick glass at the front counter. “How much for a short stay?” asks one. He has a black plastic bag with a bottle of liquor inside it. His accent sounds Lebanese. The man behind the counter points to the sign without saying anything: $60.

“I have a girl in the car,” the man replies.

There are fixtures with flickering orange bulbs. An African-American couple with many black bags, including one overflowing with off-brand chips, approach the counter side by side. Sometime later, a man with a purple silk button-down, dress pants, and black ponytail walks to the counter, slips $60 beneath the glass, and receives his key, with neither he nor the clerk uttering a word. The woman, a blonde in her fifties with a big chrome-colored purse, her eyes circled in blue makeup, had come in and walked near the vending machines and out of view. She follows him now down the hallway to the fetid, windowless room that for the next four hours will be theirs. Simultaneously, a different kind of guest emerges from a room, a family—a man, a woman, and their three children, all speaking Russian—glancing only briefly at the couple as they pass them on their way out.

Men Are More in Their Heads Than You Thought
A “polite” S&M dungeon, midtown.

“Go ahead and pour some wax on him,” Rebecca suggests to Natalia, who is sitting next to me on a pleather couch in the Red Room. Nearby hangs an elaborate harness and suspension system, numerous paddles and switches and instruments, a device from which weights of ten, twenty, or 50 or more pounds can be hung from the testicles, a gigantic wooden platform with more chains and hooks, hoods, boxing gloves, and a bottle of Purell. Natalia is 24, from a conservative family, and very beautiful, with bangs and big doe eyes. She lights a red candle, turns it horizontal, drips its melting wax onto my naked forearm. She also caresses me with sparks via a terrifying device that ends with a softball-size globe swirling with electricity, and spanks me with a large black paddle. She asks if it’s okay to spank harder. I tell her it is. None of it particularly hurts. Which can be, apparently, the point.

A giant Rottweiler is dozing on the couch in the living room. I’d arrived about an hour earlier—Rebecca, 48, who rents the massive Chelsea loft, had sent the elevator down and let me in—there is a lull in business right now, and the girls and I have gathered to talk. They are a most agreeable, most articulate group: Rebecca and Natalia; plus Alexandria, a thin, redheaded, hard-looking woman with a New England accent in a plastic nurse’s outfit who settles on 35 for her age; and, suffering from a cold, Betty, 24, part Asian, Rubenesque, tumbling out of a billowy, cream-colored nightgown, a recent hire and art-school graduate from the Midwest who seems to be struggling to marry her didactic ideas about sexuality and gender with the job’s on-the-ground realities (i.e., clients consistently choose the conventionally attractive Natalia over her).


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