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By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Horses roam aimlessly in a meadow just around the block. There's a Boy Scout camp about a half-mile away.The green thicket behind the plain, ranch-style house prevents exposure to adjoining homeowners, one of whom waveswarmly at passing motorists as he mows his lawn. In this Duncanville neighborhood, there exists a rural serenity—or at least there used to, before Jim Trulock's home became notorious in North Texas and across America.His house, also known as The Cherry Pit, has grabbed headlines because of what has for years transpired behind its closed doors.
"We're swingers," says Trulock, smiling. "But we're not criminals."
Trulock, 59, and his sweetheart Julie Norris, 30, are avid participants in what swingers refer to as "the lifestyle," and are overseers of this controversial party house where men are urged to make "donations" to defray expenses, women are admitted free, and anything-goes debauchery is the raison d'être. For more than a decade before the police raids and the bad publicity, The Cherry Pit would draw 50 to 100 people each weekend; in the last year alone, it has played host to as many as 7,000 guests.
Trulock contends his slice of this mushrooming subculture is merely a family hangout where First Amendment rights are exercised in the form of saucy games such as "Naked Twister."
"We don't push it on anybody. We don't recruit. We teach people who want to learn," Trulock says. "We're an honest, loving, extended family."
The City of Duncanville, however, is not feeling the love. It sees The Cherry Pit as an illegal and immoral business gobbling up unreported income and sullying the neighborhood. City fathers couldn't have been pleased that The Cherry Pit maintains a Web site that encourages others to come to Duncanville to join the fun: "We are a group of like-minded friends who enjoy living the swinging lifestyle. We party on weekends and enjoy meeting new friends."
In September 2007, acting on a traffic-related complaint from a neighbor, the Duncanville police visited the house but did not arrest Trulock. Instead the city posted "No Parking'' signs in front of his home. On November 6, 2007, the Duncanville City Council enacted an ordinance making it illegal to operate a "sex club" in a residential area. A month later, Trulock received the first of five citations, each alleging three distinct charges: operating an illegal sex club, operating a sexually oriented business without a license and operating a business in a residentially zoned area. All 15 offenses were low-grade Class C misdemeanors, punishable only by fines.
Trulock's lawyers, Ed Klein and Garry Cantrell, wasted no time in attacking the constitutionality of Duncanville's new sex club ordinance, filing a civil rights case in state court alleging that the new law infringed on the free association rights of their client. "These are people who get together because they want to be with each other," Klein says. "It's not a business, there is no president or stockholders—it doesn't even have registered members."
In May 2008, the city of Duncanville again voiced its disgust with The Cherry Pit. It amended its sex club ordinance, says Klein, in what appeared to be an attempt to cure its constitutional shortcomings.
And things were just beginning to heat up.
Two Duncanville police raids, on July 19 and July 22, led to one arrest as well as the at-gunpoint confiscation of a variety of items inside the house. Based on an informant's tip, police executed search warrants, seizing thousands of dollars in "Fun Money'' (vouchers used like arcade tokens), $815 in real money, volumes of porn and "Cherry Pit business cards.'' (If it has business cards, isn't it a business?) Authorities also seized partygoers' cell phones, one man's Viagra pills and a bag of donation forms. (If the forms say "donation," isn't that what's being solicited?)
During the July 19 search, the Duncanville police allegedly found an assortment of tools of the sex trade: A stripper pole. A bondage room. Unclean mattresses on the floor. Porn. A dance floor. Panties hanging from the ceiling. A hot tub with an unsavory broth.
Police returned the second time to seize alcohol they had found the first time but failed to specify in their earlier warrant—582 bottles of liquor. In the first raid, Norris claims, she received a bruise to her forehead when she attempted to answer the door as the police broke it down with a battering ram.
"We tried to play nice,'' says Duncanville City Manager Kent Cagle, noting that over the last few years, Trulock was visited by the police chief, the fire chief and a city building official. "They spoke to him, [but] he came back with a new, even more defiant attitude.''
Cagle is leading the charge against The Cherry Pit and rattles off his city's well-publicized list of potential allegations against Trulock: Organized criminal activity, prostitution, narcotics trafficking, money laundering. He mentions that a home with a septic system is not equipped to handle a houseful of 100 people and that guests "walk around drunk'' in the front yard.
"It's 95 percent a legal issue,'' he maintains. "If your neighbor was raising pigs in a slaughterhouse next door, or running an auto-repair shop with junkers in the yard next door, they would be in violation. That's what's happening here, and when they claim they are not a business, they are not being honest.''
Each side accuses the other of engaging in pretense: the City of Duncanville in claiming this is not about sex but about zoning; The Cherry Pit in claiming theirs is not a business but a private dwelling where invited guests congregate.
Says Trulock, "This is no different from people getting together to watch the Super Bowl. Or people parking on a street in a neighborhood so they can attend a concert at a school.''
In a more candid moment, Cagle cuts through the legalese and gets to the heart of Duncanville's problem with The Cherry Pit: "It's just gross.''
Both sides agree that this tug-of-war might have been avoided if the issue hadn't become a public one. In September 2007, two local TV stations began reporting on the conflict, but the story entered a higher media orbit when Fox's Bill O'Reilly aired his January 16, 2008, "exposé" of The Cherry Pit. To some, the tale seemed a revelation. In her July 25 Dallas Morning News column, Jacquielynn Floyd wrote that she was surprised to learn that a "swing club'' can be something more than a venue to listen to big-band music.
Truth is, the lifestyle has roots much deeper than Duncanville, reaching back to the hedonism of ancient Rome. More modern times saw World War II pilots who, while stateside, cared for and bedded the wives of those flyboys who were in combat. While many of those outside the lifestyle view it as immoral, harmful or downright bizarre (the 1997 film The Ice Storm certainly painted it that way), 1969's Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice gave swinging a funny and satirical twist.
Adds Trulock, "It's going on everywhere. In every big city and every little town. People from all walks of life. People come here on Saturday night and then go to church on Sunday."
The Dallas Observer interviewed a dozen locals who agreed to speak frankly but anonymously about "swinging'' in the metroplex. Many of them view The Cherry Pit as being on the low end of a subculture in Dallas that includes thousands of people who embrace the lifestyle and its unique rules, values and mores.
They describe their avocation as something akin to what's portrayed on the freshly minted CBS show Swingtown. The hit drama reflects on a stylish 1970s America in which cul-de-sac couples dropped their keys in a fishbowl before dropping their bellbottoms. Locals make the case that Dallas, a reputed bastion of conservatism and the shiny buckle on the Bible Belt, has its own Swingtown.
"The schoolteachers are by far the freakiest,'' says Jerold Morgan (not his real name). "Teachers, lawyers, business owners—one guy is a district attorney. Another's a judge. A minister—oh, and cops. Lots of cops. We used to know a mother and daughter who came out together. Very attractive women. And, honey, remember Doc and his son? Doc was a Dallas doctor with a bad toupee. And his son was an Air Force pilot. They were like tag-team partners.''
Responds his wife Janet, "Yeah, that was a little over the top.''
The Dallas couple counts themselves as part of a lifestyle whose numbers are difficult to gauge. The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, renowned for its research in human sexuality, maintains 4 million Americans participate in the lifestyle, but if Web traffic is any indication, that number seems understated. AdultFriendFinder.com, the largest sex-and-swinger site (meaning it's not just swinger-specific), boasts a membership of 22,914,156, making it the 42nd most popular Web site in the world, according to Alexa.com, an Internet traffic watcher. Of its registered members, 1,076,158 are Texans. In Dallas, Jerold and Janet are "VIP members" at IniQuity, which bills itself as a "couples club," whose rules for its more than 23,000 members state, "Playful behavior is welcome.''
While the exact number of swingers may be difficult to discern, its definition is not:"Couples engaged in non-monogamous, consensual, sexually related activities," says marriage and family therapist Kim Hatley, the co-founder of the Coppell Counseling Center and past president of the Texas Mental Health Counselors Association. "It is abnormal in the social sense, maybe, but it has never been abnormal in the clinical sense. There is reason, in my position, to be an advocate of whatever helps a couple be happy and stay together.''
The Morgans live in Lewisville, have a 17-year-old daughter, and operate a successful construction business. Jerold is 41, muscular and fit, with stylishly spiked blond hair. Janet is 39, slim, pretty and a bit shy. The Morgans look 10 years younger than their ages. They've been together for 21 years, married for 19, and they say they are very much in love but deeply involved in the lifestyle.
They are close friends with Thomas and Tammy of Plano. Thomas works in PR, is a long-distance runner and wears a tiny earring. Tammy is a busty brunette with a successful career in the catering business.
Both couples stress that the bulk of their lives is as interesting, mundane and challenging as anyone else's. It's the other sliver of their time, when they participate in swinging that makes them something of a curiosity.
Or an abomination.
"It's not about sex,'' says Jerold, drawing a perplexed stare from his wife.
"I don't know what you're even talking about!'' she says.
He explains that for him, the lifestyle is an opportunity to avoid monogamy without cheating, to meet friends who are not judgmental and to see the satisfaction in his wife's eyes when she is pleased. "If she meets Brad Pitt and wants to sleep with him, great. My love for her, and my security in us, means that everything—even every sex act—doesn't have to be about me.''
Meanwhile, his encounters ultimately lead him once again to a realization:
"Nobody fucks me as good as my wife.''
To which Janet says, wryly: "Right. And that means it's about sex.''
The Morgans "go out'' once a week, to a club or private house party. But they agree that 95 percent of the time, their activity is limited to socializing, flirting and possibly what is called "soft-swapping'' (kissing, touching, possibly some oral contact). As committed to swinging as they are, they say that they have had sexual intercourse with someone else just once in the last year.
Both couples say they discovered the lifestyle by accident. Thomas and Tammy were on vacation in Mexico on a pub crawl when an attractive young woman complimented Tammy on her breasts and goofily asked her to lift up her top. Thomas playfully encouraged her to do so, and moments later, to the couple's surprise, the young woman plunged her face into Tammy's cleavage.
Tammy recalls thinking, "That was weird but fun. We should do something like that again."
The Morgans tell a similar story. Driving around lost in Dallas eight years ago, they pulled into the parking lot of a bar and asked the doorman about his establishment.
"Well,'' he said, "it's very different.''
The bar was a swingers club, Sans Souci (French for "without a care''). The Morgans recognized that the large number of women dancing with one another, the absence of men hitting on Janet, and the occasional female patron strolling around wearing nothing but panties was indicative of something....different.
"What we found,'' Jerold says, "were people—nice people, attractive people, normal people—who didn't care what sort of car I drove or what sort of watch I wore or what brand of shoes she wore. Normally in Dallas, it's all about status...meat-market stuff," he says. "We discovered a place where you cut through all that bullshit and get straight to the fun part.''
These couples say that one of the "fun parts'' is the death of infidelity. Thomas, 43, says he cheated on "every girlfriend I ever had'' before he and his new wife eased into swinging three years ago. "And if not for this, I'm sure I'd be cheating on Tammy now too.''
Tammy says her previous marriage was "weighed down by jealousy, distrust and, eventually, divorce. There's no cheating here [in the lifestyle], because it's not cheating if we both know about it, if we do it together, if we do it in control and as a choice. And you know, that's the biggest reason it's OK: Because it's our choice. Freedom of choice. That's in the Constitution, right?''
Among the swingers interviewed, there is concern about the stigma attached to their lifestyle decisions. But they are not at all ashamed of the decision itself or by their motivations. Also, there is a good deal of skepticism about monogamy, perhaps as a defense to the familiar barrage of questions they field from those who are not part of the lifestyle: Is it just about sex? What if your husband falls in love with somebody else's wife? Aren't you worried about diseases? About going to hell? And perhaps most troubling for swingers, "What, if anything, do you tell your children?''
Says Janet: "I would not want to have to tell my daughter, so I am very protective of it. Now, a couple of years ago, I was in the 'Women of IniQuity' calendar, and one of our employees happened to see the calendar. That created some gossip. So now, no more photos.''
Thomas says, "People drink too much. Do they tell their kids? Dad goes on a hunting vacation and shoots Bambi. Does he show his daughter Bambi's bloody head? When it comes to sensitive stuff, personal stuff, I take the same caution with my kid that you do with yours.''
Therapist Hatley says, "Children are not equipped to handle the intimate details of their parents' lives, no matter the nature of those details... Children want to see their parents be affectionate to each other. Anything more than that could be damaging.''
Such solid reasoning, however, provides little comfort to neighborhood parents who would prefer not having to explain to their innocents the tangled relationships between the people who party next door.
Swinging is also not without its risks for some adults. Mimi, who is 45 and lives in Coppell, says she understands the potential damage. The divorced mother of two had a boyfriend of five years who claimed that his busy work schedule had him based part-time in St. Louis and part-time in Dallas. Mimi recently discovered, however, that what her boyfriend had in St. Louis was a wife and two kids. When she confronted him, he attempted to calm her with what he said was the "appeal'' of having multiple relationships and even multiple families.
"He told me he is a swinger, as if suddenly that gave him a license to do what swinging really is, which is cheating on the original promise a couple makes to each other,'' she says. "When I'm ready to settle down with one man, I do that and I'm monogamous. These people want to do both. All that means is that something very critical was missing in our relationship or in his makeup. Everything he said is a lie, a self-indulgent lie, and eventually, I think for swingers, someone is going to get hurt. In this case, it was me.''
The Morgans say they are aware of these risks, which is one reason why they shun a weekly house party that is staged at a 7,500-square-foot mansion near Lake Lewisville. In fact, they know about dozens of homes all over the metroplex that regularly schedule private weekend swingers parties. For the couple, some of these house parties are too "intense.'' Jerold says attendees often stress a "hardcore focus'' on sexual encounters. He much prefers the atmosphere of the extensive couples-only club circuit in Dallas where he and Janet are allowed to participate as much or as little as they choose.
Customers quickly glean that IniQuity offers them something out of the ordinary when they walk inside the front door, where they are greeted by two comely women. One is dressed in business attire. The other is not dressed at all, except for the body paint that's been used to decorate her frame with Eden-like leaves and flowers.
IniQuity, located just east of Interstate 35 and sandwiched between Old San Francisco Steakhouse and the Cabaret Royale topless bar, is a "couples club"—which is essentially code for "swingers club.'' IniQuity promotes itself as a "members-only lifestyle club for couples and single women. Membership is not available to single men."
Of the 19 or so nightclubs in the metroplex that cater to the couples crowd, at least six are considered upscale, and of these, IniQuity is arguably the crown jewel. The interior is heavy on faux-Roman décor, features dark and rich colors, and is immersed in black lighting. Adorning the walls are silver and gold mannequin torsos, some with vaginas that are cartoonishly oversized.
Regulars at IniQuity follow the dress code rules posted on the club's Web site. Men are instructed to "be dashing,'' which they will not have the opportunity to do unless accompanied by a female. Women, who come to IniQuity with dates or in groups of other females, are encouraged to "dress as wildly sexy or as tastefully elegant as you wish.''
"We are years ahead of our time,'' says Rick Reid, 45, one of the owners of IniQuity. On this Saturday night IniQuity is overflowing with pretty, polished, early 30s couples who might just as well be hanging poolside at Hotel ZaZa or courtside at a Dallas Mavericks game.
Says Reid, "I don't want to embarrass Dallas. I don't want to be a black eye on Dallas. I want to protect Dallas. And I want to clean up the reputation of the lifestyle.''
Dallas, in turn, has been good to IniQuity where couples pay as much as $7,500 in annual membership dues, and the club's four partners, according to Reid, split a net of $20,000 to $30,000 a month. The owners have expanded their concept with new IniQuitys in Houston and Oklahoma City, and have plans to expand to Las Vegas, Chicago and Fort Lauderdale.
Civility is on display at IniQuity. There are no drunken bar brawls (IniQuity is bring your own bottle); no wolf packs of drooling males. There are far more women than men, and the only competition among them is for the honor of wearing the least fabric. The setting is provocative and private, though there was a sighting of Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez that was publicized in the Dallas Observer's blog, Unfair Park, in May 2007.
Kelly is a steel-blue-eyed blonde who met her fiancé Scott at IniQuity but remains a weekly visitor. "When we meet a couple, we both meet them, and we get to know them, all four of us,'' she says. "We become friends. It's not, 'OK, nice to meet you, let's go fuck.' We go to dinner, we go to the movies. Sex is part of it, but for us, and I think for most people, one of the rules is that it's supposed to be for fun and friendship.''
Owner Reid insists that IniQuity is "mostly just a regular nightclub for people to meet.'' While it might be a social club, where a hundred people laugh, dance and flirt in the main downstairs bar, Reid also concedes "the place reeks of sex.''
And indeed upstairs in the VIP rooms, decadence rules. But "actual sexual activity while at IniQuity" is unwelcome, and "no illegal activity will be tolerated," at least according to the official "rules" detailed on its Web site, which recommends "...a nice hotel right next door."
And yet on this Saturday night, an all-nude girl-on-girl sexual encounter unfolds. Reid says that recently, a police complaint was registered when a male VIP was caught receiving oral sex upstairs. The publicity was embarrassing for the gentleman, Reid says, largely because the customer is a government official with NASA clearance.
More private: The upstairs $250-a-night sleepover rooms, which are full of gadgets, mirrors, drinking glasses and Kleenex. (No condoms—that would be promoting intercourse, cautions Reid.) The "Swing Room'' features a $500 mechanical swing that dangles from the ceiling. The "Pole Room'' features, well, a pole.
"It actually needs to be there,'' Reid says. "In addition to whatever else, it's a building support.''
Couples such as the Morgans prefer the privacy and exclusivity of IniQuity to places such as The Cherry Pit, which they feel has damaged the reputation of the lifestyle and brought scorn on those who swing.
Says Thomas, "Those sorts of places, at least by reputation, cause [non-swinging] people to get scared, to put labels on things. And when people are ignorant about something, it helps them to be able to dismiss it. It makes them feel better about themselves and better about their conventional relationships, which, the last time I checked, wasn't exactly the be-all, end-all answer to happiness.''
While sitting at an oversized kitchen island in his Duncanville home, Jim Trulock is something less than telegenic. His appearance makes it easy to be drawn away from his conviction about The Cherry Pit ("Sounds strange, but he is a very principled human being,'' says attorney Klein) and toward the fact that he is a mess. His gray crew-cut is splotchy, as if he barbered it himself. The large bandage covering the gash on his forehead looks as if he doctored it himself. His grin reveals that he has more fun than teeth.
Trulock has never before granted a full interview and has never before permitted media into The Cherry Pit, where a room-by-room tour reveals that it is weathered and without frills—overall more dilapidated than disturbing.
He proudly announces that his home "has five levels''—true, if you count the sunken living room and the upstairs loft. He admits to being a "pack rat''—"You can't even walk through my garage,'' he says, "because both my parents died a few years ago, and all their stuff is out there, and I still haven't gone through it.'' The house, built in 1979, seems to have gone 29 years without an upgrade of paint, fixtures or flooring.
There is a bedroom (nondescript but for a series of adjoining beds), a makeshift office, a living-room dance floor and the loft, which features an L-shaped couch. The loft is also a snake's nest of wires. Trulock's partner Julie Norris claims a chemistry degree from Baylor and a law degree from SMU; the retired Trulock is a computer techie, which accounts for the wires. Wires to the massive sound system, to the strobe lights, to the Christmas lights. And one wire that runs across the ceiling from which hang dozens of panties.
The house lacks a certain feng shui, but Trulock says, "The feedback we get from our swingers is that ours is one of the cleanest places around. It's just like a frat house.''
While walking around the one-acre grounds of The Cherry Pit (valued by the Dallas County Appraisal District at $205,000), Trulock recounts stories of his Louisiana high school days in a rock band. He talks of how he's been involved in parties here since the early '90s and claims that he has taken the neighborhood's complaints to heart. There is a tin shed that tops the infamous hot tub, which, Trulock insists, "has chlorine and meets code." There are curtains covering all the windows. Only Trulock's hilltop neighbor has any sort of a view: a yard that Trulock filled with gravel to encourage his guests to refrain from parking on the street and getting a ticket.
"We know this is not for everybody, and we respect that,'' Trulock says. "As far as being dangerous, I'll tell you what's dangerous: Going to bars, getting drunk, random hookups, driving drunk. Those are the social problems, not us."
Trulock's attorneys claim that the City of Duncanville—"A Wonderful Place to Raise a Family," trumpets the city's Web site—is carpet-bombing their client with accusations in an attempt to find The Cherry Pit guilty of something. The extent to which Duncanville is prepared to fight is evident from the manner in which it amended its sex club ordinance in May. Included in the amendments are 37 findings of fact—among them, "The number of cases of gonorrhea in the United States reported annually remains at a high level.''—which are listed to support the city's legal argument that its compelling interest in regulating sex clubs trumps an individual's First Amendment claims. Duncanville won its initial skirmish regarding the constitutionality of the ordinance. Dallas County Court at Law Judge King Fifer dismissed Trulock's civil rights claim for lack of jurisdiction, says Klein. The case is currently on appeal.
In August, adds Klein, prosecutors representing the city asked a Duncanville municipal court judge to dismiss five of the 15 pending Class C misdemeanors against Trulock, stating their intention to re-file them under an ordinance that makes it a Class A misdemeanor (punishable by up to a year in the county jail) to operate a sexually oriented business within 1,000 feet of a residence, school or church. No arrests have yet been made—other than one on September 5, after Duncanville police charged Trulock with violating the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Code for possessing the 582 bottles of liquor police seized during their second raid in July.
Klein estimates that Duncanville's efforts to shut down The Cherry Pit will cost its residents around $500,000. "If I was a Duncanville taxpayer, that's the part of this story that I would find most outrageous,'' he says. "You can't tell what's going on there even with night-vision goggles...It'd be funny if not for the fact that it's all a very expensive civil rights fight, a very expensive moral crusade.''
City Manager Cagle insists that the city has spent "no more than $50,000 pursuing this case.''
Trulock's own crusade obviously appeals to some 694 people who are members of his Yahoo group. As they await a fall court date on charges from November 2007, the Pit partyers still visit Trulock's home in small numbers and safely assemble at local restaurants for G-rated "meet-and-greets.'' Trulock calmly notes that his "extended family'' will play board games at the get-togethers, but then he shifts gears to suggest, as he does on his CherryPit.org Web site, that Cagle is "power mad'' and says the city is motivated by nothing more than wanting to land-grab his "rural upscale'' property for selfish financial reasons.
"Ultimately, we're going to run out of money,'' says Klein, who has been unsuccessful at soliciting legal assistance from civil rights groups such as the ACLU. "So it is a war of attrition. The City of Duncanville has more money than [Trulock] does, more money than we do. So we're pushing a huge boulder up a steep hill.''
And when it ends? Then what? If Trulock and Norris and The Cherry Pit do leave Duncanville, that won't end the matter or their lifestyle. They will just relocate somewhere else in North Texas.
"Most people would've quit, but you've just met the world's worst hardhead,'' Trulock says. "I won't quit.''