The Minyan

By Lawrence Schimel

Simon felt self-conscious as he walked down East 10th Street. He wondered if everyone could tell that he was going to a sex party, which was a ridiculous thought since it was a private party being held at someone's apartment. It wasn't as if he was going to one of those clubs where anyone watching him enter or leave would know what he was up to.

Still, he felt like it was obvious. Which may have simply been because he was nervous. He didn't usually go to sex parties, but one of the guys from Congregation, Uri, had invited him. Simon had spent the rest of the service wondering which of the other guys Uri had invited as well. He'd found himself mentally undressing the men around him, wondering what they would look like naked, how big their dicks were, if Isaac was hairy all over, thick matts of fur covering his body. He'd imagined them in all sorts of sexual poses and situations.

As if he didn't feel that these thoughts -- so improper in shul -- were sacrilege enough, Simon had been embarrassed by his body's behavior, the fact that he'd had a hard on pressing its way outward in his pants every time he stood. He'd felt like he was back in high school, getting a woody on the way to class and holding his schoolbooks in front of his crotch, as if everyone--especially all the other guys--didn't know what that meant. The instinct to shut the siddur and hold it protectively in front of his crotch, to sheild his erection from view, was still strong, but Simon resisted. He recited the responses from memory, his vision blurring as he nervously glanced to his left and his right, trying to see from the corners of his eyes if anyone had noticed his arousal. He was grateful for the fringe of his tallis, which hid his boner behind its white veil, although he was afraid that his hard on was making the fringe stand out as well.

Although he was not certain who among the congregation was also invited -- the way one did not know who exactly the lomed vuvnick were -- Simon had skipped services two nights ago because he felt too ashamed about seeing those men there and knowing what they planned to do this evening. Or what he imagined they planned to do; Simon wasn't quite sure what it would be like, since he didn't often go to this sort of party. In fact, he'd never been to one like this, although he had once been to a "sauna" when he was down in Puerto Rico on vacation. He'd been fascinated to be in the presence of sex, to watch men around him sucking and fucking in public, but he'd been too nervous to let anyone touch him, let alone do anything more. Men did touch him sometimes -- the rules seemed to be touch first, ask later -- but Simon always shied away from the groping hands, the men who tried to sink to their knees before him. He'd fingered his own dick behind the protective curtain of his towel, too afraid to show it off in public despite the naked bodies all around him, and he came almost immediately, shooting into the terrycloth fabric. He went back to his little cubicle room and turned the towel inside out, so that the cum-stained side was not against his skin, all sticky.

But he did not leave.

He had felt a compulsion to stay as long as his time would permit and to watch as much sex as he could. It had taken days of rationalizations and justifications to talk himself into coming there, and he'd done it only because he was so far from home--almost in another country, for all that it was technically a territory of the United States. He'd always been curious about the sex clubs back home in New York, but he was always afraid that if he went to one he'd run into someone he knew. It didn't matter that they would both be there for the same reason, Simon would just die of embarassment if that were to happen.

So now that he'd convinced himself to finally visit one, he stayed in the bathhouse in Old San Juan for hours, pacing the halls, exploring every room and alcove, always watching, silent, not talking to anyone--whether they spoke English or not. He just wanted to be there.

Hours later, in a backroom that was pitch black, Simon did let them touch him. He didn't know how many men there were--he couldn't see them, couldn't see anything. Somehow, as long as he couldn't see them, it was OK. It was like his friend Eric who talked faster and faster whenever he lied, as if he hoped that somehow God wouldn't hear his falsehood if Eric talked so quickly.

It didn't make any sense, Simon knew, but he stopped thinking about it. When a hand had touched him in the darkness, he did not jump back. He let it explore, slowly working its way down his chest to the barrier of his towel, tightly wrapped around his waist. The fingers pulled on the flap tucked away, and Simon grabbed the towel before it fell to the floor, clenching it in hands -- to give him something safe to hold onto as the fingers continued to explore, and touched his cock.

Because he couldn't see anything, Simon was able to imagine whatever and whoever he wanted. He was too afraid to do anything to anyone else, although he did from time to time reach out with one hand to feel the bodies of the men around him, the invisible men whose hands and mouths were touching his body, and there were always too many hands or mouths on him, always more than one man. His fingers would venture forth (the other hand still tightly clutching the towel like his own version of Linus' blue security blanket) and touch flesh, drop down to feel the man's cock, then retreat back to the safety of the towel, wiping off the droplets of precum that had clung to his palm.

Simon had wanted to pull back, when he came in someone's mouth -- he didn't know whose -- thinking, "This is unsafe, you shouldn't do this, you don't know who I am." But it was too late. Before he knew it he had crested over into orgasm, his hips bucking his cock deeper into the stranger's mouth, and the man grabbed his ass, pulling Simon toward him, not letting go until his body had quieted again and his cock had begun to grow soft in the guy's mouth.

Stumbling over the bodies around him in his hurry to get out of there, Simon had practically run to the showers and scrubbed his body pink, then went back to his hotel. That was all nearly two years ago now, and he had never been involved in any sort of group sex before or since. Until tonight.

Because he was nervous, and had been building up this moment in his mind for so many days now, Simon was sure that everyone could tell that he was on his way to have sex.

He was also horny. He hadn't jerked off for the past two days, even though he normally jerked off at least once a day. But he had developed this sort of superstition about not jerking off on the night before he was going to have sex, or when there was the possibility of his having sex, such as if he were on a date. Or going to a sex party.

Part of it was simply performance anxiety. By "saving up" he felt more secure that he would get hard quickly, no matter how nervous he was, and also that he would have an impressively thick cum.

He arrived at the building and stood before the door. This was his last chance to turn back.

But Simon wanted to be here tonight. For all his wanting a boyfriend, looking for a mate who'd be his life partner, for all his reticence at the sauna in Puerto Rico, Simon knew that he could so easily become addicted to such promiscuous sex. There was a part of him that craved that wild abandon, to have sex with many men in a single night, to not know or care who they were or ever see them again.

He hoped that tonight, among these men who he knew and who, moreover, were his people in so many ways--fellow jews, all with the same sexual desires he felt--that he'd be less nervous, more willing to let himself try things he'd only fantasized about. To be part of the groupings of bodies he had only witnessed last time.

Simon cleared his throat, hoping his voice wouldn't crack when he had to say his name, then pressed the buzzer. After a moment of waiting, he heard the click of the door being electronically unlocked, without anyone asking him who he was.

This made Simon a little more nervous. Just how many men were invited to this party, that they let anyone up? Or was he simply the last invitee left to arrive?

He rode the elevator wondering if men were already having sex or if they'd waited for him before starting. As he stared at the floor numbers going up and up, he shifted his hardon in his jeans, willing it to go down. He thought it would seem improper to have one before he arrived and disrobed, as if he were so hard up and desperate that he couldn't control himself.

Arrows indicated which wing each set of apartments was in. He pulled the invite from his pocket and checked the number, then put it away again. He stood before the door and rang the buzzer. Simon could hear men's voices inside, chatting. He wondered if soon the neighbors, anyone passing by the doorway, would be able to hear their sounds of sex.

Simon heard the flap on the eyepiece being lifted. He smiled, although he always felt he looked ridiculous through those warped fishball lenses. He took his hands out of his pockets. Uri opened the door.

It's strange to be greeted at the door by someone you know only casually who's wearing nothing but his BVDs. Especially when you're not used to seeing them in this state, such as if you went to the same gym and saw each other in the locker room all the time.

Simon couldn't help looking him over, up and down, staring at Uri's body. He was short but solid, with thickly muscled arms and legs. His skin shone like burnished bronze, and he had wiry black hairs in a line down his chest and covering his legs, like sparse grass poking up through desert sand. He'd grown up on a Kibbutz in Israel before moving to the US five years ago.

"Shalom!" Uri cried, leaning forward to kiss Simon on the lips in the typical gay greeting. "The party's just getting started," he continued, "come on in."

Simon reached out and kissed the mezuzah on his way into the apartment. Uri lived in a nice one-bedroom condo. He had a large abstract painting over the livingroom couch, under which sat three men, also naked except for their underwear. They all looked sort of nervous, and sat separate from each other even though they were all on the same sofa; nowhere did skin touch skin. Simon nodded to Benji, who he knew, and then looked away, blushing because of how Benji was (un)dressed and what they were planning. He had to suppress a barely controllable urge to giggle.

There were other men, also in only their underwear, standing with their backs to Simon, looking at the books on Uri's shelves. Two of them had kipahs on, pinned to their dark hair.

Uri led him into the kitchen. "Take your stuff off," he said, pointing to the stacks of neatly-folded clothes on the countertop. "What do you want to drink?"

At other apartment parties, everyone took their coats off and left them in the bedroom, then congregated in the living room. But tonight, the bed was going to be put to better use. And so, for that matter, was the living room.

There were six other guys there so far, besides Simon and Uri. Simon knew three of them from shul--Howard, Stanley, and Benji--although he'd never seen any of them naked--or nearly naked--before. They hadn't been among the guys he'd been mentally undressing that night Uri gave him the invite, but they didn't look bad without their clothes on, just sort of average: dark-haired, dark-eyed slavic Jews who didn't get much sun.

Of the rest of them, there was one guy, Darren, who Simon had met before at a gay Yeshiva dance. He was tan like Uri, but his body seemed hairless. It was only later, when Simon was closer, that he realized Darren had shaved it, even his crotch.

The other two guys, Ezra and Joshua, Uri knew from when he lived uptown and went to the gay congregation up there. Joshua was a redhead, whose arms looked too thin. Not at all Simon's type, but then he'd never understood the fascination many men seemed to have for redheads. Ezra, on the other hand, was the kind of boy who might catch his eye on the street, with his dark eyes and goatee and v-shaped torso. It was a surprise to Simon to learn that Ezra was so shy and unsure of himself, sort of nerdy, hiding behind his glasses the way Simon felt that he, too, did quite often.

Everyone was in their late twenties or early thirties. And they all seemed nervous, or unsure of what they were or should be doing. Everyone except Uri, the mastermind of this little get together, who walked about with complete comfort, unconcerned about his near-nudity and the sex that was on everyone's mind. He played the host, but also seemed completely at ease, chatting with his friends as if this were any ordinary get together.

Since few people knew each other, no one knew really what to talk about.

"It's funny," Howie said. "My mother is always after me, since all my boyfriends are blond and blue-eyed. If you have to have sex with other men, she asks, couldn't you at least find a nice Jewish boy? And here I am, in a roomful of guys she'd approve of, only not about to do anything she'd approve of!"

It was the wrong thing to say, really, Simon thought. No one wanted to be reminded of what their parents would think of they were about to do, for all that everyone there was eager for it all to begin. But what would happen when they ran into these men again in their regular lives? How could Simon ever go back to shul if he saw Stanley, tonight, with a stranger's fingers up his butt? He would never be able to see these men again without remembering what they looked like naked.

The silence stretched on uncomfortably.

Darren told a joke: "So this kid comes home from school and says, 'Ma, Ma, I got a part in the school play!' And the Mother says ,'That's nice dear, what part did you get?' So the kid tells her, 'I got the part of the Jewish husband.' The mother stops what she's doing and looks at her son. 'What's the matter,' she says, 'you couldn't get a speaking role?'"

Everyone laughed.

The buzzer rang. All noise stopped suddenly and everyone turned to stare at the door, even though whoever it was had to come all the way upstairs before they got to the door. They were all wondering the same things, Simon knew: would it be someone they knew or a stranger? What if this new guy was ugly? What if he was unbearably cute?

Even though only Uri knew everyone there, it was like they were all tired old regulars at some bar, just waiting for fresh meat to show up. Was that how things would happen: one time someone would come in and catch someone's eye and make their move, breaking the ice for everyone else to start having sex? Who would be the first to do something?

Uri looked through the peephole of the door, then opened it. Simon could see from where he was that there were two people on the other side of the doorframe.

"Aaron," Uri said, "what a pleasant suprrise. You should have told me you were bringing someone."

"It was sort of a last minute thing," Aaron said. "Jorge, meet my friend Uri. Uri, this is Jorge." He smiled at Jorge, then looked back at Uri and winked. "We met at Escuelita last night."

This was one of those moments of sex party etiquette. Or perhaps simply party etiquette. What to do if someone brought someone who hadn't been invited? At a normal party, this sort of behavior was usually more forgivable.

Uri looked over Aaron's friend and evidently decided he made the cut. He invited them both in and led them to the kitchen to unclothe.

The whole nature of the party seemed to change with Jorge there. It was the presence of foreskin in a roomful of circumcized gay men. It was the presence of a non-Jew.

Simon remembered how his uncle Morty used to always joke, "Shiksas are for practice," whenever he asked if Simon had a girlfriend yet.

Simon didn't doubt that this sheggitz would get as much practice as he wanted tonight, since every guy there seemed to be utterly entranced by Jorge's smooth dark skin as he stood in the doorway of the kitchen--to show off, still visible to the rest of us?--and peeled out of his clothes.

Once stripped down to their Calvins and 2(x)ist briefs and holding their cocktails, they came back into the other room. There were ten men now crowded into the small area, sitting or standing around awkwardly.

"Hey, we've got a minyan now," Howie said. You could tell he was happy to be the first one to notice.

"Actually, we don't," Ezra said. And technically he was right; Jorge didn't count.

But that was for prayer. For a sex party, ten bodies--regardless of their religion--was enough critical mass to get things going. Uri circulated, introducing people and drawing them into conversation. Not everyone could fit comfortably in the living room--at least, there weren't enough places to sit. So some of the guys had drifted into the bedroom. Where they'd started to get it on while no one--at least, not everyone--was looking.

Of course, the moment one of the livingroom group noticed, everyone rushed to the doorway of the bedroom to watch.

Somehow this didn't seem to be the right sex party etiquette, but it didn't stop anyone.

Simon watched the back of Joshua's head bobbing up and down before Stanley's crotch, as if Josh were davening, and perhaps this was like prayer for Joshua, lost in a trance of cocksucking.

With all of them crowded there at the door, growing hard from their voyeurism if they hadn't been already, it didn't take long for the rest of the guys to start touching one another as well. A hand on thigh or belly, fingers cold with nervousness. A hand cupping an asscheek through the fabric of his underwear. Simon didn't really know who was who but it didn't matter.

His heart beat faster, he felt a tight constriction in his chest from nervousness, then he took a deep breath and relaxed into the sensation of his ass in some man's palm. He thought for a moment back to that bathhouse in Puerto Rico, where even though he'd wanted to he wouldn't do anything except in the concealing darkness of the backroom, as if sex were something too shameful to be seen. Among these ten men, these other gay jews gathered together for the worship of the body, he no longer felt guilty about his desperate yearnings for sex with other men, as he had on the walk over here and on so many occasions previously. He looked around him, at the men who were so like him, now lost in their pleasure, the giving and the receiving of it, and he smiled. He was not alone, and he was glad to be part of something bigger than himself, this Minyan, which for him is what it was even if one of the men was not Jewish. A Minyan of desire, men who no longer needed to congregate in clandestine secret to worship, but who could love and pray without shame.

"Amen," he whispered, and pressed himself back against the man who cupped his ass, no longer holding himself apart.

Reprinted from Kosher Meat edited by Lawrence Schimel, Sherman Asher Publishing. Copyright 2000. All rights reserved.