I am to stand guard at the entrance to the Mat Room – a small room with a wrestling mat on the floor and… well… that’s all. I guess if the sophisticates in attendance aren’t in the mood to “party down” of an evening they can hold a tag-team match. But, I must enforce the strict “couples only” policy; namely – if one-half of a couple leaves the Mat Room the other must follow. This is to avoid an unbalanced male/female ratio of swingers. However, Mat Room etiquette does allow for consensual gangbangs. So, I will be janitor, bouncer and Poet-In-Residence in this bordello. No problemo. My resumé attests to the fact that I am man enough for all three jobs.
I will also be tasked with tidying up the “Adam and Eve Rooms.” These airless closets are barely large enough to hold a mattress, an ashtray on the mattress and a bare, red light bulb hanging over the mattress. Once Adam and Eve have left their closet Eden and retired to the disco to feast on the sumptuous buffet nightly, it will be my appointed task to squeeze into the cramped closet, squeeze a clean sheet onto the mattress and squeeze a few squirts of Air-Wick into the now funky air to restore its paradisiacal aroma. Oops. Almost forgot. Have to empty the ashtray.
My agent finally found my phone number and told me he had a friend who managed the leading male strip show of the era – The Plantagenets. Its current Master of Ceremonies had lost his voice (as had every previous MC) due to the impossible task of screaming over the screaming women in attendance. But, this MC gig had definite merits –
Very good money
Very good money – in cash
Only four shows a week
Late show times so I could do a play and then do the strip show – not that I had any hopes of being in a play
Problem was that after one night of non-stop screaming I’d have no vocal cords to do a play with for the rest of my natural life. Another problem was that The Plantagenets’ show was crap. But, the main problem was that the MC had to not only scream but also scream whilst on roller skates and scream stinko jokes like –
“Ladies, our next gorgeous hunk of man is a Jewish butcher’s son from Brooklyn and believe me that meat is all kosher!”
“Girls, this Italian Stallion says his favorite pastime is playing hide the salami.”
But, I was hungry for a bit of salami myself, kosher or otherwise, so I agreed to catch the show. I immediately realized that the women had whipped themselves into a lather before the first man had unzipped his first zipper. And, that lather had nothing to do with what was happening on stage. And, what was happening on stage was surprisingly tame – no full nudity, just a succession of oiled men with fake tans wearing dumb costumes, dancing awkwardly and stripping clumsily. (Imagine the Village People spazzing around in their jocks.)
Naïve me later learned that the real action happened backstage where desperate women paid for the privilege of blowing the strippers. (In our still coarser age, young ladies don’t bother to retire backstage to get “up close and personal” with their favorite danseurs érotiques.They blow the strippers right on stage in front of their cheering girlfriends.)
In those golden days of yesteryear, there were strict codes of conduct in porn theaters and dirty bookstores. In the latter, it was thought rude to pick up a porn magazine immediately after another sticky-fingered voyeur had put it down. The girl in that magazine was still his girl. It was best to let some time pass and allow the couple to come to terms with their recent break-up. Then you were free to paw over Teenage Enema Bandits.
In porn cinemas, as in all cinemas, it was held inconsiderate, threatening and sexually provocative to sit right next to, directly in front of or (worse) directly behind someone when there were other seats available. It pains me to report that some lost souls went to porn theaters expressly to jack-off or to be jacked-off. I was never among their number. My preference was to sit far apart, all the better to enjoy the mise en scène. And, to avoid being hit by recklessly extruded seminal fluid.
Porn theaters, like strip-shows, were remarkably somber affairs. The men hunkered down to watch and/or wank in silence. No chitchat. No popcorn passing. Definitely no eye contact. You didn’t want to risk being recognized.
“Murray, what the hell are you doing here?”
Furthermore, a wisp too much eye-contact with the flaming Black fairies who walked up and down the center aisle, licking their lips while looking into laps, might suggest you were happy to let them get a lip-lock on your love-monkey. No. And again, no! Eyes straight ahead.
As a fifteen-year-old messenger in Times Square, I get a whiff of the newspaper game by making deliveries to the New York Times. I get to hang out in the newsroom – full of smoking men banging away at typewriters, and in the proofreading room – full of smoking men squinting away at galleys. The paper’s underground printing presses literally shake 43rd Street when they run at full tilt. The pressmen come up to the street for air wearing admiral-style hats formed out of that day’s front page – a bit of old New York life that is gone forever.
I make regular deliveries to the offices of Broadway producers and to the apartments of gossip columnists where I get a flavor of “the business they call show” and the Public Relations racket. And, I see the ad campaigns unfold in Times Square for the blockbuster movies of that summer. Of course, I’m more interested in the brabusters of that summer. My pace slackens as I inch past the marquees for Orgy at Lil’s Place or Sinderella and the Golden Bra or the many nudist movies like Goldilocks and the Three Bares. I spend three months walking around midtown Manhattan with a perpetual teenage hard-on. No wonder I attract creepy, confusing attention from creepy, confusing men.
We ad agency messengers fight for the uptown deliveries because they take us past the Metropole Bar. During the day, its doors are kept wide open so passers-by can watch the rock bands play but, more importantly, watch the caged and fringe-skirted go-go girls shake their money-makers. We gawkers must stand behind a yellow line on the sidewalk to let pedestrians pass. Tourist husbands pretend not to look as outraged wives pull them past this go-go Gomorrah. At night, the Metropole closes its doors and the girls go-go topless.
My favorite band of the summer is the Eggheads. They wear monk cowls and have their heads shaved like Friar Tuck. And, man, they put on a show that is clean outasite. (That meant “very entertaining” in 1965 parlance.) They and the go-go girls dance the Monkey, Frug, Swim, Jerk, Hitchhike and Watusi in perfectly synchronized moves. It is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I can tell from the way they look at each other that the “with-it” guys in the band are “making it” with the “swingin’ chicks” in the cages and I seriously consider taking up the bass.
I spend the clammy days delivering invoices and sample ads to midtown bars, eateries, niteries and the new style of sexy nightclubs called discotheques. Picture this scene straight out of Mike Hammer–
Sunny day. I go into a cave-like club where the chairs are on the tables, the janitor is sweeping up, the bartender is taking stock and a chanteuse is auditioning for the owner. He is seated alone, tie undone, sleeves rolled up, working on a highball and worrying over the receipts.
I live this scene in the world-famousPeppermint Lounge, “the Home of the Twist” – plus the Copacabana, Latin Quarter, Roundtable, Roseland, Arthur, Upstairs at the Downstairs, the Rat Fink Room and, my favorite, the Santa Claus Bar.
In 1965, I land a messenger job with a penny-ante advertising agency in the Paramount Building in Times Square. It holds the theater where Sinatra had sung to screaming Bobby Soxers in the 1940s. In 1965, the Beatles movie Help! is playing there. To get into the elevator lobby, I have to fight my way through the screaming daughters of those Bobby Soxers.
“Angel” is another Southern Belle come to Times Square. The strip club MC tells us so when he announces – “Put your hands together and give a big New York welcome to this Sweet Peach from Georgia – Angel.” Enter a very bruised peach with a tubercular cough and emerald green teeth. She might just meet the age requirement for removing her garments in public for the delectation of paying male customers. When she places a small square of rug on the stage and lies down upon it to spread her legs and show us her vaginal cavity, her cough continues unabated. Cough. Anal and vaginal sphincters contract. Relax. Cough. Contract.
So, this is what it’s like to be a gynecologist,think I.
Before you condemn me, hear me out. I haven’t come to this den of debauchery to see Angel or her anal contractions or anyone else and their anal contractions. God as my witness, I am here as a student of theatrical history. To be precise, it is my especial interest in the performance technique of the ecdysiast that has drawn me to see an all-too-rare appearance by the legendary practitioner of that art – Miss Tiffany West. Tiffany is quite rightly the headliner. I am here to see her twirl tasseled pasties in opposite directions on her humongous jugs, do a “bump and grind” to the classic stripper tune Night Train and exit Stage Right. I am neither interested in nor prepared for the opening acts – especially Angel’s opening.
The show comprises the aforementioned “Angel of the Anal Contractions” and a Live Sexxx team – Missy and Major Motion. Missy is a light-skinned, high-buttocked Negress. Major Motion is a sullen, dark-skinned Mandingo who sports a penis the size of my Rocky Colavito model Louisville Slugger. I suspect that Major Motion is his stage name. Missy enters to an anonymous disco vamp. Then the Major enters and then the Major enters Missy. I mean, they proceed to make the “Beast with Two Backs” not five feet from my astonished eyes.
I’m walking across a sizzling 42nd street to a morning rehearsal when I see what I’m sure is a “Live Sexxx Team” sauntering to work. I’m also sure they are a married couple so, unlike me, they don’t have to rehearse their act. But, I hope for their sake that their Love Stage is air-conditioned. The distaff side of the Live Sexxx Team is beautiful – Crystal Gayle hair, Crystal Gayle face and Crystal Gayle legs that go all the way up to her Crystal Gayle ass. And, she has thigh-high boots on those Crystal Gayle legs. The boy half of the team isn’t much to look at, but who’s looking? So, he opts for an ensemble of flip-flops, gym-shorts and tank top. I know Crystal can do better than fucking this loser on a Love Stage even if it is air-conditioned. I hanker after Crystal and long to tell her so. I just know, know that we can find happiness as long as she always wears those boots. I am sure she is Southern.
It is 3 AM on a rainy night and I’m walking down the deserted, darker stretch of 42nd between 6th and 7th avenues. The wet pavement reflects the neon lights from the two porn stores still open. As I approach one of these, I see a man exiting while clutching to his chest a paper bag filled with photos of female flesh. I immediately detect something odd about his gate. It isn’t the usual overly-casual yet dartingly-furtive walk of men as they enter and exit dirty bookstores and movies. No. This man’s body seems permanently shaped into a posture of “shying away” as if he is flinching before a punch is thrown.
As I get closer to him, I see that he is wearing a plastic medical mask in a pitifully unsuccessful attempt to conceal that he has no face. The mask is the color of Pepto Bismol to suggest flesh tone with features crudely painted on. The lips are much too large and much too red. The eyebrows are even worse. I follow him at a distance and note the practiced, heartbreaking way he avoids the gaze of passing strangers and finds shadows and darkened doorways by which to pick his way down the street and home.