In a leafy enclave near Beverly Hills, behind an aging Tudor mansion, Snctm is hosting a pool party. The sun is radiant overhead, the sky is cloudless and blue; the therapeutic aroma from the eucalyptus trees mixes in the air with the scents of expensive perfume and hydroponic weed. Couples lie here and there on chaise longues or large blankets on the grass. A trio of topless young women, members of Snctm’s erotic-theater troupe, known as Devotees, float languorously on giant blow-up swans, sipping drinks through bent straws. Two more Devotees bounce on a trampoline. In a little while, the brunette will be tied up, the blond will employ a suede flogger and other toys, dispensing pain and pleasure. A waitress circulates, delivering food prepared by the French chef—a choice today of sirloin sliders or fish tacos, with a side of crisp steak fries.
Sitting poolside in a wicker chair, presiding over all, is Damon Lawner. A handsome man of forty-five with a lean and chiseled physique, he wears gauzy, low-slung pants and a necklace of fragrant mala beads he picked up during a sojourn in Bali. With his longish tousled hair and high cheekbones, his inner glow and sober mien, he looks like a hunky Hollywood guru. But the truth is Lawner never set out to save any souls besides his own. Four years ago, he was a cash-strapped real estate agent with a beautiful wife and two young daughters, struggling with monogamy, facing with dread the prospects of his fifth decade. As many men do when they reach his age, he began to ask himself, “Is this all there is?”
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