|I shudder to think about this crew|
Yes. It really was real. Wife Swapping was a "THING".
Back in the 70s, as I remember it. In the 1950s, it would have been a bit avant guard. But in the seventies, all sorts of stuff was happening in homes with shag carpet.
When I was in or about fifth grade, Wife Swapping, however, was all the rage. Or so the magazines would have you believe. My friends and I would go to Campus Drug and pick out our dime candy bars and our quarter (.25) cans of cold pop and stop off look at magazines to see what we weren't supposed to know about. The covers talked about all sorts of things that we were clueless about. "Weed". "Giving yourself permission to look at your vagina." "Premature ejaculation" and "How to make him feel like a potent man." All of it, in the seventies, was on magazine covers.
But, according to Cosmo, Wife Swapping was empowering. "It's a BLAST" the headline read. Playboy's cover was all IN for girlfriend swapping. There was even an article on one cover that asked "Why Swap? Orgy Instead!"
My friends and I would take our candy bars to the vacant lot across Fairmount Boulevard and sit on a pile of rocks left over from some house that never got built, eat our .50 cent horde of pure sugar when one of the boys in the neighborhood wondered aloud about the topics we were reading in the headlines. The Wife Swapping topic proved to be as puzzling to our uninformed minds as any other topic.
But we knew from the word "Swapping" that this somehow involved trading.
"Why would you want to do that?"
"Swap your wife?"
"Because you're tired of her. It's like trading your car with a friend because you want to drive his convertible, but he needs your station wagon."
"Hey," said Ann Douglas to Beth McClatchy, "You aren't going to mix pop rocks and Pepsi together are you?" Beth, her mouth full of pop rocks, wide-eyed, nodded
"It's certain death," admonished Ann.
Ann was such a buzz kill.
"What if she's tired of him?" Colin, Beth's younger brother asked.
"In our house my parents just sit in different rooms, sleep in different rooms and grumble about going places together." Brad Silverman said.
"Why don't they get a divorce?" asked Colin.
Sally Wilson said "Because stupid, they are staying together for the sake of the children. So Brad and his sister's can come from a happy home. Don't you know anything?" Beth nodded in agreement.
I chimed in reminding them that my parents were divorced.
"But my mother says your father is a "hound" and a skirt chaser." Sally had a point. My father loved women. He didn't love my Mom. But women, yes. My father loved women in every shape and flavor.
Ann Douglas, who was a sixth grader who "knew" things said, "I think they do it to spice up their marriages and love lives. It's like watching every episode of the Walton's and expecting something different at the end and always getting "G'night John Boy." Sometimes you wish someone asked, "Who farted?"
I asked, "None of our parents would do that, would they?"
At that point all everyone else's parents became suspect. Every last lawyer, accountant, den mother, and housewife could be into "Wife Swapping" and we would have no way of knowing. It was my first and only Mexican Standoff. The crinkle of candy bar wrappers stopped. All was silent as we look at each other, asking in our minds "would Chuckie parents have sex with Colin's parents, or would they peel off with Ann Douglas' parents?
Then, someone broke the tension. "NO!"
One friend from Colby Road said to me "Your parents are divorced, so they can't swap. Your mother could become a Swinger, I guess. Then again, your father remarried so he could be a wife swapper."
Secretly I knew that my father's wife was promising men sex in bars because both of my parents had first names that began with the same letter (M) and my mother was in the phone book as "M Cookie, and my father was in the phone book as MA Cookie. So drunken men were calling the first "M. Cookie" house asking to speak to "Bessie" because "Bessie promised to masturbate me off."
The first time it happened, I went to my mother said "there is a man on the phone who wants to talk to Dad's wife."
My mother replied, "Well, she's not here, give them your father's phone number. He ought to enjoy taking that call." It seemed like the thing to do. So I did.
Mom came back into the room and asked "What did the guy want?"
"He said that Bessie was going to mastersomething him off. I don't know the word or what it means."
My poor mother. She was expecting that. "What did you say?" I started to repeat what I had said but she cut me off.
"I only said it because you asked what the guy on the said it."
"Don't say that word again."
"What word?" Needless to say, Mom sat me down and she gave me the talk. I was appalled. I was appalled that I had spoken to the guy, I was appalled that my mother had to explain "masturbation" to me, and I was just appalled, but curious...
But back to my mother being a swinger. We all knew that was as unlikely as mankind exploring Pluto because my mother would never have sexual feelings. Or muss up her hair. None of our mothers would, well, because they were our mothers and that would be gross.
"Do you think that anyone in our neighborhood would become a Swinger?" I asked.
Beth chimed in and said: "I think it could happen, but if the membership committee at their country club found out, then they could kick you out."
"Why would they do that?" I asked.
"Because you can't get in until they judge you. Getting into a country club means you have a good reputation, and someone is willing to sponsor you into the 'the club'. And getting caught sleeping with someone else's husband or wife is not the kind of thing that looks good. That's how reputations are ruined."
Ann had a point.
The Rosensteins went to Israel and came back raving about living the Kibbutz lifestyle. They gave their house a name: "Kibbutz Rosenstein" and became vegetarians. They even had their son oldest Gary enlist in the Israeli army. But Beechmont Country Club kicked them out when they insisted that they help with the day to day operations of the club in lieu of annual dues, which they felt was a capitalist concept.
"If," my friend's sister started to say, "anyone in this neighborhood is going to swing, it's going to be the Shipley's. Mr. Shipley is, according to my mother, 'handsome like a news anchor' and Mrs. Shipley can wear hip-huggers."
John Wise added in "And she has big boobs."
We all talked about Mrs. Shipley's boobs until Ann pointed out that damning bit of evidence: "They have that modern house."
Well then; That was the key to everything. They looked the part, and they lived it, so they had to be honest God real wife swappers. The nail in the coffin though to securing our decision that they were both on the road to living the lives of a Jacqueline Susann character lifestyle was the house. It was big, and bold and had an all-white interior with huge plate glass windows. And they had no children.
"So they can swap without worrying about finding babysitters."
"And they ski. There's a lot of drinking and sex at a ski resort."
How would you know, I asked - never having been skiing myself.
It was, of course, a foolish thing to ask. "Chuckie Turner's father reads Playboy, and the evidence was under the mattress in his parent's room. Playboy was a magazine of nude women and cartoons showing escapades at ski lodges that took place on bearskin rugs," said David Wright. David was mostly silent, so when he spoke up it was something.
After deciding that all wife swappers could be swingers, but not all swingers would be into wife swapping, I asked - having my our silent yearnings even at that age and wondering what Mr. Shipley looked like without his shirt - "Why do they call it 'wife swapping'? Why not 'husband swapping?" Now I could see a couple of the male camp counselors at Weehawken doing it. But I was smart enough not to say that.
And the answer my friends proclaimed was one of major importance:
"Can't happen. Because men are men, duh!"
This is when they told me that it was OK for two women to do it together because that was hot, and men got off on that. But two men having sex was "totally homo."
"So women never think about two guys together?"
Beth let out one of those pre-adolescent girl growls - "GAH!"
And with that, Sally put an end to the salon on the rocks having finished her Pop Rock's, and moved on to Hubba Bubba, the absynthe of eleven-year-olds. "Look, you guys are just gross," which is kid speak "Oh, fuck for fuck's sake." And thus our enchantment, our kiddie salon, ended.
"What are we going to do now?"
I announced that my father gave me a tape recorder. "We can go to my house and swear into it?"
Ann Douglas proclaimed that as something she wanted to do. "I love saying fuck. And now I'll be able to hear myself fucking say it. Fuck, I mean."
And that's what you did when I was a kid in the 70s. You made up life as you went along. From candy and cola to solving the question on Wife Swapping, and the answer was "gross" to swearing into tape recorders, that was a summer day in Shaker Heights.
And I still have those old cassettes with us swearing on them.