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.
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.
A few years after my exposure to photographs of kinky sex, I become addicted to visual depictions of violence. Every Thursday night I get my twenty-five cents allowance and hot-foot it to Rocco’s Candy Store to buy the latest comic books. I have no interest in sissy stuff like Archie or Richie Rich. I crave Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. Actually, what I really crave are the skin mags on the top shelves. I crane my neck to see them until Rocco suggests that I leave his establishment, “Get da fuck outa here kid before I tell ya muddah.” I then hunker down on a stoop under a streetlight and read. So strong is my desire to escape the din and dysfunction in my home that I sit on the stoop even on winter nights.
Ah, alone in my study at last. All I need are my pipe and slippers.