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.
Midtown Manhattan isn’t a minefield only for out-of-work actors. Civilians are also under constant threat. I learn this as a teenager walking across 42nd street on a summer morning in 1965. Suddenly a long, thin, black object shoots silently down through my peripheral vision. An impression. A blur. Then I hear women scream and see that a crowd has gathered on the sidewalk directly in front of me. I work my way through to the center of the crowd and wish I hadn’t. A woman is dead on the sidewalk. She has been speared through by a window-pole; accidentally dropped by someone many floors above; dropped by someone who merely wanted to catch a bit of breeze.
The window pole has plummeted to earth, brass-hook first. A javelin. A lance. A guided missile. The dead woman had the worst luck in the world. One step in either direction – she lives. One missed elevator – she lives. But, someone held the elevator door for her. I look down on her obscenely splayed and skewered form, her face now covered by a man’s suit jacket. She was a valued employee. A wife. A mother. A New York woman who went to work this morning in a summer dress with a pattern of small flowers on it. Dead. The police and ambulance arrive. I walk away.