The blog that reaches the wet, dark, secret places where other blogs fear to tread.
The blog that reaches the wet, dark, secret places where other blogs fear to tread.
The Christmas blues of 1970 morphed into the January blues of 1971. I and my fellow “cultural casualties” of the 1960s having dropped out of college and dropped far too many psychedelics were facing the prospect of a lifetime of blue-collar work in the Post Office. Yeah, yeah, it was a job-for-life with uniform and pension but not quite what we had envisioned for ourselves just a few years before. Back in college we were going to be actors, writers, musicians, poets, painters, philosophers even. But, the luster had faded from our Age of Aquarius fantasies as it had from the few sorry strands of Christmas tinsel that hung from atop the mail sorting coops.
We were a motley crew but not without our talents and charms. Alex was a half-assed genius and chess master. Mark was a poet and literate in Latin. Murray was a killer wit and killer blues guitarist. Sandy was trying to decipher the hidden codes in Dylan’s lyrics. And, Charles, our only Black member, was trying to convert everyone at the Post Office to 7th Day Adventism and vegetarianism. We were all from working class families and had discovered to our shock and horror that unless something miraculous happened we would not escape the gravitational pull of our caste. So, we embraced our fate.
As if on cue and without any spoken agreement, we took to wearing plaid, flannel work shirts, tattered jeans, garrison belts and battered work boots. We cut our freakish hair back to a moderately radical length. Less Woodstock. More Workers of the World. We trimmed our facial hair to Lenin length. And, we embraced the Grateful Dead’s album Workingman’s Dead as if it were written only for us. After all, we were nothing if not workingmen.
One of the worst aspects of being a trainee mail-sorter was that we weren’t guaranteed hours. If the mail dried up we were sent home. And, this often happened shortly after we had clocked on for our graveyard shift. There we’d be in midtown Manhattan at Midnight having planned to be up all night and having ingested amphetimines to help us be up all night but suddenly with no reason to be up all night. Luckily, Alex lived in a nearby East Side tenement so we’d pick up some munchies and beer and head over to his pad, there to smoke hash and listen to Workingman’s Dead till dawn’s early light. Or, at least, till Alex’s neighbors banged on the walls. We named ourselves the Dead Workingmen. (Okay, not that clever but we needed all the help we could get.)
Suddenly, it became embarrassingly clear that Tony, one of our Supervisors, was madly in love with Sandy. I don’t think this burly Italian knew he was gay and he certainly wasn’t swishy in any way. But, goddamn, he was as queer as a three-dollar bill for Sandy. Lovesick Tony was eager to demonstrate to Sandy how powerful he was by how many favors he could do for him. One big problem. If he gave Sandy a break he had to give it to all of the Dead Workingmen or his cover would be blown. We teased Sandy mercilessly about his conquest but he still generously connived to use his charm over Tony to the group’s advantage i.e. without “coming across” for the Italian Stallion, Sandy kept him sweet on our behalf.
Some nights Sandy would persuade Tony to let us get lost for a few hours. We’d head over to Alex’s while still on the clock and then sneak back in at 8AM to punch out. Some nights at Sandy’s behest Tony would let us hide and sleep on the filthy mailbags piled out on the loading dock. Other nights he’d put us on parcel sorting duty – a welcome break from the din and dementia of the sorting coops. We’d stand before rows of open mailbags and practice our basketball jump shots tossing boxes into the bags. Sometimes we even read the addresses and aimed for the right mail bag. Sometimes we even made a basket. But, truth to tell, we didn’t give a shit. We had come to hate the mail itself. Mark once tickled his throat until he vomited into the tray of mail he was sorting. (I know, I know, disgusting. But, you gotta understand that 99.999999% of the mail we were sorting was junk mail. And, the rest was going to Reverend Ike!)
Time Clock Confidential
I don’t know if anyone actually punches a time clock anymore. But when I first joined the world-of-work as a teenager, I was angered by the demeaning nature of this act. I was even more angered by the grown-ups who loitered by the time clock waiting for it to tic to a specific second so they could get a few paltry shekels more in their meagre pay envelopes. I was embarrassed for them and hated how they compared stories of time clock victories and defeats and of famous “time clock jockeys” of yesteryear. The Post Office was full of these lifers who stared in amazement and clucked with disdain as I strode past them and punched out without even looking at the hour hand. Wage slaves. Not me.
Meanwhile back at the Tony-Sandy love affair things became waaaay too strange and sad for this trainee mail-sorter. It happened one night when members of the Dead Workingmen were surreptitiously tapped on the shoulder and told to report to Tony’s office. There we discovered the other invited guests were the usually unfriendly Supervisors. Tony had set up a movie projector and hung a sheet on the wall. He greeted us conspiratorially then locked the door, turned off the lights and showed us a stag movie i.e. the type of fuck-film that was usually confiscated if sent in the U.S Mail. I wondered if this film had been caught by an eagle-eyed postal dick and turned over to Tony.
As the silent, grainy, 8MM black and white film unspooled on the stained sheet, the air in the room became noxious with nervous laughter, unfunny quips and cigar smoke. We’d been invited to a classic “smoker.” The film showed a singularly unattractive couple reclining on a singularly uncomfortable table and fucking in a singularly unenthusiastic manner. Watching their coitus was as erotic as watching the piston action on a Ford V8. But, I sensed that a bizarre male-bonding ritual was at play. The Supers wanted to show us that they weren’t such bad guys after all. Hey, they were like our fathers and uncles – just a bunch of older working-class fellas who liked watching fuck-films with a bunch of younger working-class fellas. This secret screening was an olive branch extended across the generations and a sort of test.
Would we make the grade and join their ranks of Merry (albeit horny) Mailmen?
Also, except for Charles, we were all White as were the Supers. I sensed they wanted to find racial solidarity with us since they spent so much time with obese Black women with whom they shared little cultural interest. Least of all watching fuck-films.
I’m sure that shrinks would highlight what they’d claim was clear homo-eroticism in this sweat-lodge soiree. But, I don’t think that was what was going on with the Supers. Except for Tony. He turned on the projector, pushed me aside and sat next to Sandy. As the couple built to their inevitable climax we all watched in silence. Except for Tony. He giggled and elbowed Sandy while peppering him with questions in hushed rabid whisper.
“You believe the size of the cock on that guy.”
“Wait. Wait. She swallows the whole thing.”
“Look at that bush. You like hairy twat, Sandy?”
“Hey, Sandy, you ever put it in a girl’s ass?”
Then, after the “money shot” in which the on-screen stud splashed his semen all over his fair maiden’s belly Tony gushed – “Yeah, that’s the good part, right, Sandy?”
The Supers must have overheard Tony’s pillow talk but they didn’t react. Meanwhile, the Dead Workingmen shared looks of amused horror. Mainly horror. Then the lunch horn barked, the lights came on and with eyes cast downward we bolted out of there muttering, “Holy shit, what the fuck was that?!”
Shortly after that night I was fired for telling an especially sadistic Supervisor to go fuck himself. The union jumped to my defense assuming that I wanted to keep my job. At the mediation meeting the union rep was dumbstruck when I told all present that the United States Postal Service could sort my job where the sun don’t shine. I thought about throwing the porn party in their faces but didn’t coz I knew that would make big trouble for Tony and the Dead Workingmen I was leaving behind.
Ten years later while walking in the middle of nowhere on Staten Island, I ran into Murray. (What are the odds?) We recognized each other even though he was now as obese as his female Black co-workers. Yes, he was still at the Grand Central P.O. but he was now a Junior Supervisor. No, he wasn’t playing guitar anymore. It was an awkward encounter and a painful one for him. Murray and I had come from similar working-class backgrounds, two Brooklyn boys who had arrived at the same point via similar paths. Then our paths diverged. I had followed my dream of being an actor. He had buried his of being a musician. We exchanged phone numbers and promised to get together. We never did.
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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 –
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 –
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.)
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 was too young to watch the strip-show at The Barracuda Lounge but sometimes I happened to be standing just outside the entrance at show time. From there, I heard the saxophone blare of Night Train and caught glimpses of bleach-blonde bouffant hair and sequined gowns. And, I spied spike hi-heels at the end of long, sinewy legs. Boy, was my face red when I discovered that all of that belonged to the Jewel Box transvestite revue. Guys in Drag! Very popular at The Barracuda. And, my unbigoted Granny mended the G-strings of all the strippers – male and female. Also popular were the Italian boy-singers who beat “Volare” to death. Less popular were the earnest folk-singers hoping that protest songs would make a comeback.
Surprisingly some top-name comics used the Barracuda to polish material for The Ed Sullivan Show. One night, I managed to loiter in a back hallway and see an unknown comic named Rodney Dangerfield read his jokes off a stained napkin. He was hilarious. I then saw him mercilessly heckle a then-unknown but now-very-famous comic. They almost duked it out right there. It was a vivid introduction to the vicious world of stand-up.
By far the most popular act to play the Barracuda was a comedy-harmonica ensemble that featured a midget. They had starred on TV and in Vegas but like protest-singers, comedy-harmonica ensembles that featured midgets had become passé. Showbiz is cruel that way.
“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.
What do they do for an encore?
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.
That’s why in 1974 New York and with hopeful hearts,my acting group dared to move into a rat’s nest flanked by porn shops. The customers of those shops received blowjobs for five bucks in the alley behind our theater. Those blowjobs were administered by Black trannies who resembled New York Giants linebackers dressed in hot pants and halter-tops. Our actresses had it extra-tough getting to and from our new home. They had to maneuver through pickpockets, pill-poppers and pimps while enduring wolf-whistles from Elvis Presley look-a-like diesel-dikes. If the actresses skirted the well-lit but obnoxious 42nd Street, they were easy prey on the dark and un-policed 41st and 43rd Streets.
When we compared travel-tips, we discovered that we had independently stumbled onto the same survival strategy. To avoid being maimed, mugged or murdered, we acted nuts. The primal animal in us instinctively knew that predators didn’t eat sick prey. So, we acted sick. We walked down 42ndstreet talking to ourselves and to Jesus. We laughed hysterically at everything and at nothing. We cried out to the Mayor and the Martians. We limped. We played retarded. Under serious threat, we had cerebral palsy.
Carrie was a year dead by the time we discovered this survival ruse. It might have saved her life.