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.
When not exchanging pleasantries with prostitutes, I cleaned the apartments of their pimps, namely one Demetrius Jones. It may not surprise you to learn that Mr. Jones was a Negro gentleman whose teef… er, I mean teeth were jewel-encrusted. Every surface in his pad was glass or chrome – the better to facilitate coke sniffing by Mr. Jones and his bitches. (He frequently had female houseguests.) Many’s the time I would look up from mopping his kitchen floor to see a naked wench drinking orange juice straight from the carton. (I ask you!) She would then paddle to the toilet and use it without closing the door. (Some people!) She would then paddle back to the bed of Demetrius Jones yawning and sniffing all the way. (I just mopped there!) Did I imagine it or was she cruelly humming the tune to Cinderella? (Bitch!)
The New York summer of 1973, the summer of Carrie’s murder, simmered like every other New York summer – over-heated cabs, over-heated buses, over-heated subways, over-heated apartments, over-heated offices, over-heated people. Olga, the least talented of the untalented avant-garde actresses in our building, got very over-heated about a White hooker and her Black pimp who lived across the street. They looked like a super-hero team that had fallen on threadbare times. He squeezed his fat ass into gold-lamé hand-me-downs from Superfly while she favored silver-latex unitards. Unfortunately, the unitards did not favor her full-figured frame. This girl had been around the block several times. And, I don’t mean St. Mark’s Place. (I wouldn’t fuck her with your dick!) But, why/how this dumpy duo got on Olga’s untalented tits escaped me.
This is the seamy, sordid, demeaning crap they don’t teach in any Temple of the Dramatic Arts. And, actresses have it much harder than actors. There are more of them chasing fewer roles in fewer castable years. The casting-couch offers them a horizontal method of climbing up to stardom. As long ago as the silent film era, the saying among the liver-lipped movie-moguls was: “Don’t cast ’til you see the whites of their thighs.” And, that’s how so many of the ambitious, naïve, venal, vulnerable women who are drawn to show business become damaged goods. Many of them develop a carapace of iron. But, look closely and you can tell from the way they carry themselves and smoke their cigarettes that they are anguished creatures. You see them at movie premiers working as escorts for powerful industry trolls. You see written in the thought bubble above their expensively coiffured heads, “It wasn’t meant to be this way.” Tough broads. Walking wounded.
One of Manhattan’s top socialites says to me as we look over a glittering crowd at a charity gala, “There’s a lot of midnight-money in this room.” The room teems with failed actress/model/beauty queens and their troglodyte husbands – their former tricks. Midnight-money. Great phrase.
By 1984, thanks to AIDS, the no-holds-barred striptease and live-sex shows of the ’70s are gone. I get a primer on the new rules in a desert dump called Wendover, Nevada. You’ll find it a few desolate hours West of Salt Lake City, Utah across the Bonneville Salt Flats. I’m acting in a play in Salt Lake and drive over one night to lose some money.
Wendover, aka Bendover, consists of three crappy casinos smack dab in the middle of the Devil’s rectum. The card dealers don’t even bother to shave. And, they are women! And, they are pimps!
“What the fuck are ya doin’ down here playin’ poker? Go spend your money upstairs. We got some good-lookin’ ladies up there. Anything you want, they’ll do it. Through that door. Mention my name, Cookie.”
1984. I’m in Paris for the first time and having coffee with an American ex-pat lawyer. I timidly begin to ask him if he knows how…
“Stop,” he says, pulling out his yellow legal pad. “You wanna know how to approach a French prostitute. You guys are all the same. Don’t tell me, you read Henry Miller.”
“Uh, yes, but I not only read him, I feel a deep and abiding…”
“Yeah, right, so here’s what you do…”
And, he writes down the appropriate phrases that will signal to a “working girl” that I’m not a diaper-wearing, ax-murderer. Great. With legal paper folded in my pocket, I set off for the Rue St. Denis. It’s where the girls hang out and I do mean, “hang out.” They have so few clothes on there’s nothin’ left to hang in. They drift about the Rue lounging in doorways and smoking in that French way that makes all other smokers look like sissies. If you can’t find what you want on the Rue St. Denis you must be blind. In fact, I see a blind hooker with her guide dog. Who knows? Maybe Rover turns tricks, too. The Rue is the set of Irma La Douce in Technicolor and Smell-O-Vision – more kinds of prostitutes than Heinz has beans. Black. White. Yellow. Red. Fat. Skinny. Short. Tall. Nurse. Nanny. Housewife. Harlot. Granny. Girl Scout. Honest to God, I see a Granny-Girl Scout in handcuffs! The variety makes me dizzy. The ambiance scares the merde out of me.