When we climbed out of the Times Square subway station, I was mesmerized. I’d been to Coney Island plenty, but this was something else again, something electrifying. It was the lights – up and down and all around, lights neon, fluorescent and incandescent, lights all moving, all colors and all ablaze – even in daylight; lights that outshined the sun. The billboards were alive – a gigantic man blew smoke rings while Mister Peanut tipped his hat. I didn’t know it then but I had been rubbing shoulders with Diane Arbus and Bettie Page, both working in that 1956 Times Square world – a world of bustling strangers. A world of men in hats. Women with handbags. A world that smelled of Howard Johnson, Orange Julius, Nedick’s, popcorn and pussy. I was six and I could smell it; six and I could feel it; six and I could taste it. Times Square was a dirty dangerous place. And, I loved it.
Elvis blasted from the music stores and frigid winds blasted from the air-conditioned theater lobbies. I passed a newsstand and an excited man shouted “Extra!” I passed a doorway and a crazy man shouted “Cocksucker!” I heard the shuffle, scuffle and beat of the footfalls. I heard the horns, hollers and bleats of the cabbies – “Ya got wheels! Use ’em, Mac!” I saw my first “Street Corner Messiah.” He wore a sandwich board and was very worried about God. I was transfixed by him. I wanted to ask him why he was so worried but I was pulled away.
It was the bestest birthday party ever. We saw the Torture Chamber in Ripley’s Believe It or Not“ Odditorium.” Then we visited Hubert’s Museum – a freak show in a 42nd Street basement. It was even spookier and sexier than Ripley’s! We gaped at Hubert’s Cowboy Giant, midget, flea circus and Congo Witch Doctor. We gawped at Princess Sahloo and her sluggish snake. I determined that I would live in Hubert’s Museum as barker, caretaker and flea-wrangler. I would befriend the Witch Doctor, play pinochle with the midget and milk the snake.