his domain: Bob Alexson
Sex! With Strangers!
the coverage of a Schenectady B&B’s controversial swingers
gatherings, a few central points have gotten lost in the rhetoric
thought it was nothing but fair,” said Bob Alexson carefully.
Alexson, the owner of a bed & breakfast on Schenectady’s
Union Street, was commenting on media coverage about some
of his neighbors attempting to shut down his inn because of
the swingers parties he hosts there on weekends.
Laurie, a lawyer from the Albany area who was quoted in the
Times Union story “Erotic Revelers Share Secrets,”
mostly agrees, though she’s quick to point out that the story
ignored her and other swingers’ insistence that the socializing
is often much more of what goes on than sex. And, she noted,
the reporter’s characterization of “palpable sexual energy
in the air” as he met with some of the regulars prior to a
party was entirely in his head. “We were talking to a reporter,”
she said, amused. “There was no sexual tension.”
The coverage of the B&B controversy, which went public
two weeks ago, has been complex. There have been a fair share
of phrases that reinforce the opinion that swinger parties
are de facto unsavory affairs. The parties have been described
as “tawdry goings-on,” and the participants, “so-called swingers.”
A couple of news sources have repeated that “state law says
the club [sic] could be contributing to the spread of AIDS.”
The law in question prevents any establishment that charges
for entry, membership, or goods and services from making its
facilities available for the purpose of sexual activities.
It’s a big leap from a proscriptive law to an accusation that
these parties are spreading AIDS, said Susan Wright, a spokeswoman
for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, a group that
defends the rights of swingers, polyamorists, and the BDSM
community. Wright noted that swinger gatherings tend to emphasize
safe and responsible sex more than the general population
On the whole, however, bias in the coverage of the B&B
controversy has been more subtle, a matter of omission rather
than commission. As Alexson said, the Times Union’s
exploration of the swinger lifestyle was quite accurate as
far as it went. But some readers noted that it stuck to a
“Guess what? People do this!” level, leaving out many questions
that might have allowed readers to make a more nuanced judgment.
Such details might include policies about secrecy, safety,
and drugs. Cheating, for example, is not condoned. Alexson
said he has thrown about 150 people off his mailing list for
indicating that they wanted to attend without telling their
spouses. He insists on safe words and discussion of limits
ahead of time for anyone wanting to use his small basement
dungeon to act out fantasies. He encourages condom use (though
he says he can’t force it); drugs and paying for sex are not
tolerated; and he will throw out anyone who isn’t respectful
or gets too drunk (he doesn’t serve alcohol and says few people
drink at all).
would say 50 percent of the people who come here don’t even
have actual sex,” Alexson said, explaining that instead they
use the parties as a safe place to flirt. As societal expectations
might predict, husbands often talk reluctant wives into showing
up, but “once they get here and see how laid back and relaxing
atmosphere it is, he wants to go home and she wants to stay,”
Perhaps a more serious problem in the general news coverage,
however, is that there are a few basic aspects of the public-policy
debate that have gone basically uninterrogated. For example,
what is the actual problem neighbors and the city have with
the inn? Dana Swalla, the across-the-street neighbor of the
inn who started the campaign to close it, has claimed that
she doesn’t care what people do in their private lives, and
that her problem was from the noise of the parties when they
spilled out on the porch.
She started off making a convincing argument, giving detailed
descriptions of being awakened at 4 AM, even with her windows
shut, and being told “This is Schenectady, go back to Scotia,”
when she politely asked that musical instruments being played
on the porch be brought inside.
However, Swalla blurred the line between what could be a legitimate
quality-of-life issue (although even that is a matter of he-said-she-said,
as the police say they have never found a noise problem when
responding to her complaints), and the question of what’s
happening inside the walls of the inn. “I don’t want people
coming into my neighborhood and paying a fee to have sex,”
she said, and she frequently mentioned the proximity of schools
to the inn as another reason the parties (which happen Friday
and Saturday nights) are inappropriate.
Others are willing to go farther. “Everybody wants to be politically
correct and say you can do anything you want. I don’t think
so. I think ethically what they’re doing is not right,” said
Richard Rheingold, president of the Eastern Avenue Neighborhood
Association. “Really, [the parties] shouldn’t be anywhere,”
Mayor Brian Stratton told the Times Union.
Following up on this willingness to blur the lines, city and
county officials have made blatant statements to the effect
that they plan to go after the inn on any technicality they
can drum up. “We’re researching how much they can fined,”
County Attorney Chris Gardner told the Times Union.
Other city officials have been described as poring over ordinances
looking for ones the inn might violate, and the city has sent
letters to neighbors seeking any complaints they might offer.
It seems they are following the advice of attorney Sal Ferlazzo,
who ominously told the Times Union, “They’re [sic]
always ways to do things. . . .”
Such behavior is a common part of politics in any city. “Politicians
love to get on the antisex bandwagon,” notes Wright. The silence
from the news media on whether this is an appropriate slippery
slope for city government to so proudly start down has been
deafening. The officials haven’t even been asked what their
statements imply about neutral application of the law, for
example. (When contacted for this article, Schenectady officials
told Metroland they are no longer commenting on the
The central legally relevant question for Schenectady at this
point is this: Is Bob Alexson running a sex-based business
out of his B&B, which would likely put him in violation
of the zoning code, or is he, as he claims, just hosting private
parties in his own home as part of his social life? This question
has been all but ignored by every major media outlet except
the Daily Gazette’s first article on the topic, and
even the Gazette has since followed the path of the
others in writing about it as if the matter were decided—for
example, calling the inn a “sex club” or “swingers club,”
even in headlines.
There are two major arguments that point toward the parties
being part of a business. First, Alexson advertises them on
his B&B’s Web site, on a page with the business name displayed
at the top. Second, he not only has a fee for the parties,
but that fee is different for single men ($40), couples ($30),
and single women (free).
On the other hand, Alexson argues that using those two things
to define him as a business would be a clear double standard.
Political parties host events they charge for and advertise
on their Web sites all the time without being defined as a
business or being required to pay sales tax. The same thing
goes for Union College students who post on the Internet about
parties that they charge entrance fees for.
Alexson continues to maintain that the fees are donations
to cover supplies and cleanup fees. He says they are not
required for entrance—some people don’t pay, and he doesn’t
force them to—and that he charges the differing fees to encourage
the kind of demographics he prefers. “Most single men don’t
know how to be a gentleman,” he explained.
Alexson is more than ready to take the issue to court—he’s
fought the city several times before and never lost. And he’s
got plenty of people—including neighbors and self-identified
nonswingers—who have contacted both him and the local papers
to stick up for his right to host the parties.
Of course, the question remains whether the people who say
it’s the zoning code and the noise that bother them will be
satisfied with any resolution that leaves the parties happening.
When asked if she would be happy if the noise abated and Alexson
stopped advertising and charging for his parties, Swalla responded,
“I’m not interested in finding ways for him to creatively
get around the law. . . . If he had been more respectful of
our neighborhood, then nobody would even know. Now that we
do know, we don’t want it here.”
Talk of the Union
According to reports from Knight Ridder newspapers
and The New York Times, President Bush’s
State of the Union promise to reduce 75 percent
of imported oil from the Middle East and simultaneously
research renewable energy sources shouldn’t be
taken, um, literally. Bush’s energy secretary,
Samuel Bowden, told reporters the day after that
“This was purely an example.” He went on to explain
that decreasing oil imports from any one region
would be difficult due to the free market. The
New York Times has also reported that the
Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy
Laboratory has scheduled layoffs of people researching
wind and ethanol, energy sources that Bush said
in his speech he wants to encourage.
Warrant? We Don’t Need no Stinking Warrant!
According to the Boston Globe, a librarian
in Newton, Mass., has been under attack for demanding
that the FBI abide by the law. Kathy Glick-Weil,
director of the Newton Free Library, told the
FBI they needed to produce a warrant if they wanted
access to all her library’s computers to find
out who had e-mailed a threat to Brandeis University.
Glick-Weil did allow them access to computers
that were likely used. Glick-Weil has been the
target of public scoldings by conservative talk
radio hosts and U.S. attorney Michael Sullivan.
Sullivan insists that getting a warrant is time
consuming, and discovering who sent the threat
was urgent. Said Glick-Weil, “I believe in the
rule of law.”
James Bond Gadget, or Harry Potter Magic?
Russian professor Oleg Gadomsky may be on the
verge of something so huge, people may not see
it at all: the world’s first invisibility cloak.
He’s been busy at Ulyanovsk State University applying
his knowledge of quantum and optical electronics
to make any object placed behind a certain area
become invisible to any observer. As of now, the
technology works only for still objects, but the
scientist is confident that soon a “cap of darkness”
for moving objects will be created. The scientific
theory behind this new invention may be opaque
to most, but the implications of such a gadget
should be plain to see.
History, Celebrating the Present
before this Monday’s Albany Common Council meeting began,
the crowded meeting room of City Hall was full of activity.
Many of the people there had gathered because, in honor of
Black History Month, the first half-hour of the meeting would
be dedicated to recognizing 14 of Albany’s African-American
citizens who have worked to improve and unite the city. Pictured
are (l-r) 10th ward councilman James Scalzo and Dennis Mosley.
Nearly all of the individuals recognized worked with youth.
Councilwoman Barbara Smith (Ward 4) said the recognition was
a way to do something more meaningful than the usual simple
resolution recognizing Black History Month. The ceremony ended
with a unanimous decision to make the ceremony an annual event
Justice in the Prisons
learned that a book is like a child,” laughed Sister Helen
Prejean last Thursday (Feb. 2) at Union College. “You give
it life, and when it starts to walk, it will go wherever it
According to Prejean, whose experiences with death-row inmate
Patrick Sonnier inspired both her 1993 book Dead Man Walking
and the Oscar-nominated 1995 film of the same name, decades
of work within the nation’s prison system have made it clear
to her that criminal justice in America is “95 percent politics
and only 5 percent justice.”
The New Orleans nun has become one of the country’s most prominent
opponents of capital punishment, acting as other death-row
inmates’ spiritual advisor—even accompanying some to their
executions. Her second book, The Death of Innocents: An
Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, chronicles
the life and eventual execution of two men she believes were
her speech, Prejean commended New York for suspending the
state’s capital-punishment statute, and had a few words for
politicians who invoke the Bible to defend the death penalty.
would like to say, ‘Excuse me, God agrees with me,’ ” said
Prejean, “but when you go through the Bible finding words
that support what you already believe, you’re ignoring the
Something bad happened there.”
—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion
of haunted houses.
Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting
Alice Green, in response to a question about how
Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate
in a debate.
St. Patrick’s Day Four [“Blood
for Blood”, Sept. 29, 2005] were sentenced
last week after being convicted of trespassing and
destroying government property in September (they
were found innocent of larger conspiracy charges).
Teresa Grady was sentenced to serve four months,
Peter DeMott was sentenced to four months in jail
and four months of community confinement, and Danny
Burns and Clare Grady were sentenced to six months.
The four also face fines for contempt of court and
for damage done to the recruitment center where
they poured their blood in protest. . . . The Regional
Farm and Food Project has completed its directory
of places to purchase locally grown foods,
including restaurants that serve it [“Local Is Luscious,”
March 31, 2005]. The directory is available online
at farmandfood.org/directory.html. . . . Saratoga
Springs is proceeding with the plan to draw its
water from Saratoga Lake, rather than joining
a countywide system [“To the Last Drop,” Dec. 2,
2004]. According to the Jan. 18 Times Union,
city engineers say the connection should be working
by 2007. The city’s new mayor, Valerie Keehn, had
made supporting the lake plan one of the major planks
in her platform.