"No matter what happens here tonight, Kreme, we ain't knockin' boots," declares my sometimes Sapphic, sometimes stick-happy sidekick, Jett, as we're parking the Impala near Club Chameleon, the PHX's premier palace of swing. "So don't get any ideas!"
"Hell, girl, you can keep 'em on," I smirk as we head straight for the still-locked front door, past a line of 10 or 12 peeps awaiting entry when the club opens up at 9 p.m. "Your upper half will do me just fine."
Before the J-unit can shoot back a retort to my crudities, the door pops open, allowing only the Sifl and Olly of Valley nightlife to swagger into the swap meet, being that it's still a quarter 'til. Immediately before us is a waiting room that could pass for a dental office, with lengthy membership forms for newbies to fill out, stating all the club rules in detail, and a cash register where those 20 and up can pay the $25 yearly membership fee, and whatever the cover for the night happens to be. Saturday nights, like this one, are couples' nights.
Club Chameleon, which has been in operation since 1997, is in an industrial district near the dead ends of 29th Avenue and an almost impossible-to-find road called Cheery Lynn. Though the club is 12,000-square-feet large and well-lit on the outside with plenty of security, it's a bitch to find, even on the second and third return trips. In fact, truth be told, I doubt the J-girl and I would have found it, or have bothered to find it, had it not been for the Phoenix City Council, the City Prosecutor's office and the Phoenix PD's vice unit.
See, the city passed a law back in 1998 aimed at closing the handful of het and gay sex clubs in the Valley, making it a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in the slammer to operate a nightspot where someone might get it on while someone else is watching. Reckon the city fathers and mothers couldn't out-and-out ban bonin', group bonin' or watching either. But they did want to put the swing clubs out of business. Hence the enactment of Phoenix City Code 23-54, which you can read more about in two stories by New Times reporters David Holthouse and Paul Rubin ("Moral Sex," December 31, 1998, and "Civil Libertines," March 18, 1999).
Seems the law was drafted by the City Prosecutor's office with the help of this wing-nutty outfit of Jesus-huggers called the National Family Legal Foundation, and the city has since that time spent gobs of taxpayer chedda defending all the constitutional challenges while the PD's vice coppery spends even more dolo raiding these spots, trying to catch someone doin' the nasty or whackin' off. Currently, the owners of nearly all the swing clubs in town have been charged on one or more counts of the new law and are each scheduled to go to trial in the next month or so.
Which brings me back to why the Jettster and I are at the Chameleon tonight. I figure if there's some freakin' goin' on somewhere in clubland, it's the duty of this Valley's dissolute Daredevil and Elektra to dive headfirst into that carnal cesspool while we still have the chance!
But boy, were we in for a surprise. First off, there's no firewater at any of these places, including at CC. Yeah, they've got Red Bull, but no Skyy to go with it. (I knew I should've hidden us a flask of Stoli in the J-girl's handbag.) And though they do have pornos playing on TV screens all over the place, the large, main room is otherwise like any dance hall in downtown or Scottsdale, with tables and chairs, a shiny DJ booth, and a couple of mirrored disco balls. Off to one side is a big buffet, with fresh shrimp cocktail, cheesecake, cold cuts, lemon squares and fruit salad. On this evening, there's even a fella carving off slices of prime rib and frying up omelets to order, though CC usually only has these during special events.
The Jettster and I take up residence at the bar and observe as the generally well-heeled crowd files in, hoping that we'll see 'em rip off their clothes as soon as they enter and jump into a big ol' pile of nekkid flesh. But there's none of that. Even as the night progresses, the wildest thing I witness is a couple of gals losing their tops, which is something you can see almost anywhere on a Saturday night. But maybe because of the slightly more mature crowd (most folks are in their late 20s, 30s and beyond, with very few in their early 20s) or the lack of jungle juice, the place seems subdued, cordial and very adult, kinda like the key party depicted in The Ice Storm, if you've ever seen that flick.
As far as looks go, a Scottsdale scene like the Pussy Cat Lounge is an eye-candy Nordstrom's by comparison. About 15 percent of the chicklettes and studbuckets in da club that night were in the hella-fine category. The rest were like anyone you might run into at Albertson's, ya dig?
We get a tour of the joint from a husband and wife we'll call Richard and Sue, handsome for their age, which I'd guess must be early 50s. Married for 15 years, they've raised six kids together. They tell us they've been "in the lifestyle," as they call the swing scene, for almost six years.
"Sue brought me here the first time for my birthday," explains Richard. "It's the gift that keeps on giving. We'd had no lifestyle experience, but we were curious because we'd seen that HBO special Real Sex when they had a thing on swing clubs. I just wanted to see what it was like. We kept coming back. She decided she had an interest in women, and explored that. And now we're full-swap."
"'Full-swap'? What's that?" queries a suddenly demure Jett.
"That means we exchange partners," says Sue. "Everybody has their own preference with that. Some people just play in the same room. I prefer not to be in the same room with him because I don't want to worry about whether he's having a good time or not."
"We've reached the confidence level where I know she can take care of herself," continues Richard. "It was something we had to overcome where we were looking at each other [during a group encounter], thinking or saying, 'Is this OK?' We've gone beyond that. We make love to each other. We have sex with other people."
"I understand completely. Jett and I are working to get to that stage in our relationship," I josh.
"Yeah, but Kremey Boy here's still practicing on inanimate objects," jests the Jettster, rolling her eyes.
Richard and Sue take us through Club Chameleon's warren of theme rooms, all running the length of a long, L-shaped hallway hidden behind the main area. The way it usually works is clubgoers make a connection and reserve a room, or vice versa. The room's yours for about an hour or so, and you can have up to six people per room. (Unlike the way things were before the law changed, doors are closed and locked.) After you're finished, the staff changes the sheets on the beds and otherwise hoses everything down so it's ready for the next set of occupants. Fresh towels and bowls of condoms are set out all over, as safe sex and cleanliness are encouraged by the management.
Beaucoup time and effort have been put into the decor of the various chambers. There's a French Quarter-themed "brothel room" with wine-red walls and a mechanical device called a Sybian, on which women can pleasure themselves with a variety of sanitized attachments. A room filled with mirrors, and one with S-shaped chairs perfect for yoga enthusiasts. A doctor's office, with medical chairs outfitted with stirrups, as well as a jungle room with African masks and a bed overlaid with sheer curtains. A massage room with a massage table, and a "fish bowl" room, painted with an undersea theme populated by oversexed mermen and mermaids. No Sponge Bob here, though at one time the painted-over windows were one-way, and people could watch whatever action was taking place on the bed inside, without those inside being able to see out.
Richard and Sue cut us loose after showing us around, and we hang in the "couples room," where there are couches, a bed and a big round black leather ottoman. The DJ makes an announcement that New Times is takin' on all comers, and we chat and relax with the various folks who come by to conversate with us.
It'd take a whole 'nother column to do justice to every confabulation we partake in, but highlights include meeting Club Chameleon's "Cutie of the Year," the 23-year-old Dawn, who works as a performer at Christie's Cabaret, and later let us photograph her all over the club; Leejay Williams, a stunning, cinnamon-skinned Jamaican lady in town to promote that island's swinger-friendly Hedonism Resort; and Tucsonans Moshe and Brandie, a duo who make the drive from Tucson on a regular basis because "There's nothing like this in Tucson," according to Moshe.
As we're speaking to a married couple who opt to go by Dick and Doris, Doris makes like Felix the Cat and pulls out their bag o' tricks to show us, including a blue strap-on that the Jettster eyes with envy. Shortly thereafter, another couple enters a room, a fella who looks like the Nutty Professor, and his Guatemalan/French wife. They tell us four they're in from Colorado, then get down to brass tacks.
"So," he says, "why don't we close the door and get going?"
"Hey, I wouldn't mind," I say.
"Are you crazy, Kreme? What part of the word 'No' don't you understand?" Jett huffs at me.
"Aren't you two swingers?" he asks.
"Sorry, homie," I sigh. "Just journalists."
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"Don't journalists have sex?"
"Yeah!" laughs the J-rrific one, spitefully. "But in the case of Kreme, only with himself."
(For more info on Club Chameleon, please see www.clubchameleon.com.)