Doing My Homework at Plato’s Retreat

by

03/23/2021

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

It’s the swinging 70’s. Everyone I know has tons of sexual partners. I am 28 and only lost my virginity two years ago to a farm boy I met at The Guthrie Theater. The romance continues for a while when I get back to New York, but then, he writes me a Dear John letter. I’m sobbing hysterically when the phone rings. It’s Danny Ramirez, a teenager who works as an intern at a theatre company where I’m doing a show.

“What time is rehearsal tomorrow?” Danny lives just around the corner and we often walk to the theater together.

”I don’t know. My boyfriend just broke up with me.”

“That’s terrible. Why don’t you come over? My mother’s at a parent-teacher conference. I’ll make you dinner.”

I throw on my coat and hurry over to Danny’s apartment. Dinner is chicken stuffed with hamburger meat and wilted lettuce, served in a Sealtest ice-cream carton. I sniffle all the way through it. After dinner, Danny tries to cheer me up by giving me a hug. Suddenly, he hears a noise in the other room.

”Un momento.” He runs out and then I hear a loud bang. Danny comes back.

“I just shot a rat.”

Somehow I find this thrilling. I jump on him and we end up having sex on his kitchen floor. Afterwards, he says he’ll see me soon, but he’s not at rehearsal the next day, and he doesn’t call in the days to come. I curse men—even 16-year-old ones. Why do they always lie to me, reject me, abandon me? 

I beat myself up for anything I might have done to drive them away and decide to blast through whatever is keeping me from having a decent relationship. A friend suggests I take a weekend workshop called “Tantra—Finding Your Higher Self through Sexual Pleasure.”

I enter a darkened loft in Soho with candles and incense burning. A voice wafts out from the darkness.

“Om Shanti. Come in, sit down.”

I join a group of people sitting in a circle. The leader is a Long Island housewife who shares that she used to be named Betty Schwartz. Then Tantra changed her life, and she took the spiritual name Govinda.

We go around the circle and talk about our first sexual experiences. Everyone else started having sex when they were barely into their teens, and has been going at it hot and heavy ever since. When it’s my turn, I lie and say that my first sexual experience was when I was 21. Even so, people can’t believe it. “You mean, like when you were a teenager, you didn’t even like masturbate?” asks a man who looks like Jesus’ younger brother.

“No. I didn’t know about it.”

“Bummer” he pats my arm. Then he tells the group he’s here to break through his addiction to prostitutes.

Another woman confides that she hates her body in spite of the fact that she recently lost 200 lbs. Govinda tells her to take off her clothes. Then she has each member of the group tell the woman something that they like about her body. Her flesh hangs on her bones in wrinkled saddlebags. I try not to stare. When it’s my turn, I tell her ” Uh… I like your… eyes.”

Then it’s the turn of a couple from Queens who wear matching polyester pants suits. The wife complains her husband can only do it three times a night. They want to go for the gold. Govinda suggests the husband anoint his penis with honey and black pepper. She also says if he stops himself right before ejaculating, he can have orgasms that go on all night long. I try to imagine this. My sexual encounters usually last five minutes, after which I get up and change the sheets.

When I tell this to Govinda, she says “Your sexuality is blocked by your kamachas—the armor that prevents you from experiencing sexual bliss. Everyone has kamachas, and they have to go.”

So, we write our hang-ups on slips of paper. Then we burn them in a dhuni fire that Govinda sets in a hibachi grill on the fire escape. On my slip of paper, I write “My overwhelming hatred of the evil, disgusting male sex.” Then I decide it’s not spiritual enough, so I cross it out and write, “Fear of letting go.”

After some guided meditation, we are given mantras. Mine roughly translates into “I’m ok, sex is ok.” At the end of the day, Govinda gives out a homework assignment: “Do something tonight to break through your kamachas.”

We are given handouts, portable copies of the Kama Sutra, and aphrodisiacs. For the men, there is a powder of dried peacock bones. The women get dried monkey turds. These will supposedly cause us to have a transcendent sexual experience.

I stop for dinner at Howard Johnsons.  Wracking my brains for something that will cure me of my sexual hang-ups once and for all, I order some juice and mix in the monkey turd powder. Although Govinda claims it has awakened her inner tigress, after a couple of sips I feel nauseated. I run to the bathroom and heave up the monkey turds.

I sit on the floor, breathing hard when I notice a sign on the wall of the stall. “For a good time, go to Plato’s Retreat.”

I suddenly remember reading about it in The Village Voice. It’s a sex club in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel. I decide it’s the perfect place for me to do my homework. But I don’t want to go alone. I swallow my pride and call Danny.

“Are you ok, I haven’t seen you for a while?”

“Oh yeah, my mom grounded me because I failed Math.”

“Are you still grounded?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Well, I was thinking of going to this sex club called Plato’s Retreat tonight. I’m uh… doing some research for a class, and I thought you might want to go.”

“Wow, sounds cool. I’ll sneak out after my mom goes to bed. See you around 11.”

I go home to dress for my night of passion. My wardrobe consists of Village Store skirt and sweater sets and Laura Ashley dresses. I picture Plato’s Retreat like a Greek Temple full of beautiful people wearing togas and loincloths and crowns of olive branches in their hair.

“I have nothing to wear,” I wail to my cat. Finally, I settle on a flowered Laura Ashley frock with a lace collar. In order to break through my kamachas, I undo the top two buttons. I also buy a red rose and stick it behind my ear.

At the witching hour, Danny and I rendezvous at the Ansonia. We walk down a long staircase with black walls with blue lights. At the bottom is a Morticia Adams clone in a booth.

Although there’s a sign that says, “No one admitted under 18,” she doesn’t give Danny a second look. She tells us, “Give me $50 and sign in.” To my surprise, Danny pays for both of us. Then he signs “Daniel Ramirez.” I am so moved by his generosity that I sign “Chiquita Rodriguez.” He is given a set of keys, one for the front door and one for our own private sex room.

The doors swing open. It looks like a scene out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Everyone is naked, but far from being the beautiful people, most of the people there are seriously out of shape. Danny grabs my hand. He’s trembling and running his other hand through his Afro.

On our left is the pool. We notice two women in it comparing shades of nail polish while they are being rammed from behind by a pair of hairy, pot-bellied bald guys.

Danny gulps and averts his eyes. Then he nudges me and points out a stage on our right. A singer who looks like a beat-up Olivia Newton-John is belting out, “Those Were the Days.” In the audience a woman with a red beehive jerks off an elderly man in a wheelchair in time with the music.

In the center of the room is a buffet table with deli platters and cans of Cheez Whiz. We look at a woman with Jodhpur thighs with her legs spread while a man squirts Cheez Whiz into her.

Danny pulls on my hand, “Let’s split.”

“Now Danny, you paid $50. We have to get our money’s worth. Let’s go to our private sex room.”

When we find it, neither of us is in the mood, but we go through the motions, just to prove to ourselves we are swingers.

“Can we go now?” Danny asks.

”No. I have to break through my kamachas. Let’s take off our clothes and go for it.”

I drag Danny back into the main room. A middle-aged couple wearing lots of gold chains approaches us.

”Hey hot-stuff.” The man stares at my naked body.” I’m Fred and this here’s Myrna.”

“Nice to meet you.” He reeks of Canoe and the Pabst Blue Ribbon he’s got in his hand.

I search for something to say. “Where are you from?”

“The Bronx. Nice tits,” he says.

Myrna looks at Danny’s crotch “Does el niño want to play?”

Danny takes a step behind me.

I try to change the subject “The Bronx. How interesting. What do you do there?”

“I’m a fireman, ladder company 99. The whole station house is here. We’re celebrating. Last week we put out a big fire up on Fordham Road. Saved a bunch of people. Want to get it on, baby?”

“We’re… uh, taking a break.”

Fred belches. “Well, then, wanna watch Myrna and me do it”.

“Uh.”

“We’ll be up in the orgy room.”

Fred points to an elevated platform behind us. The floor is covered with mattresses and the ceiling is mirrored. People are going from body to body, having sex like they’re on an assembly line. Fred and Myrna climb the stairs. Danny’s eyes bulge out of his head. He starts after them. I pull him back.

“I don’t want any part of this. But I’d like to get a closer look. Let’s go up there. Just lie on top of me and let me watch.”

As I lie under Danny, I see men jumping from woman to woman, sperm dripping from them. Women going down on one man after another, panting and whooping. The temperature must be 100 degrees. It smells like that spoiled meat I took back to Shopwell last week.

Danny whispers, “Flip.”

We roll over so that he can get an eyeful. After what seems like an eternity, he finally says, “I think I’ve gotten my money’s worth.”

We make our way to the door. On the way out I pick up a matchbook that says Plato’s Retreat.

The next day in the Tantra workshop, Govinda asks, “Who did their homework?”
Hands shoot up.

Young Jesus confides that he’s overcome his need for prostitutes. He and the woman with saddlebag arms practiced some of the exercises in the Kama Sutra last night and now they are one soul in two bodies.

The Queens couple tells of their trip to The Pink Pussycat and show everyone their French tickler.

Then it’s my turn. I hand my matchbook from Plato’s Retreat to Govinda. “Pass it around,” I say

She gasps, “Wow, you went to Plato’s Retreat. You of all people. I’m sure you destroyed a whole bunch of kamachas. But weren’t you afraid?”

“No. I was just doing my homework.”

***

Prudence Wright Holmes is an actor, author, monologue detective, acting coach, playwright, seeker, Mom, Sister Goddess, and former resident of Bexley, OH. Find our more about her and her work at: prudencewrightholmes.com

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