There's a lot not to like about today's Times Square. When I'm elected mayor, first thing I do is bulldoze Bloomberg's pedestrian park and let the traffic flow through again. Beep beep!
But I don't buy the "I miss the sleazy Times Square of the 70's and 80s" lament. I suspect those who employ it of dilettantism. Like those guys you used to run into in bars who'd tell you long stories about their covert missions behind enemy lines in Laos and after a few drinks you'd get the sinking suspicion they were never in the service, or if they were they probably spent the Vietnam War on desk duty in an armory in Cleveland.
What do you really miss? Gonnorhea?
I ran away from home in the late seventies and lived the life of a starving artist / boy idiot / runaway street rat for the next ten years or so. At some point in the eighties I lived in a tenement walk-up on west 42nd street and 10th avenue (horrible little dive, walls painted black). For a while I worked in the old New York Times building on west 43rd street in a phone sales boiler-room, selling Times subscriptions to Chinese people who didn't understand English. After one particularly eventful office Christmas party my over-enjoyment of the festive occasion resulted in the entire operation getting thrown out of the building. At another point in the eighties I was a bouncer / bartender / gofer at a Times Square sleaze joint, the Satin Ballroom.
Life on the streets has it's ups and downs. Mostly downs. One particularly down night I needed to make a few dollars and I needed to make it right away. I probably hadn't eaten much in a while, My big plan, such as it was, was to find some cash employment fast.
Times Square seemed the logical place to go for this kind of high-level employment opportunity. I took a gig, briefly, as a "check it out" guy. Standing on the corner handing out little flyers for a strip joint. "Check it out, live girls...Check it out." I wasn't very good at it. I think people walking by could sense I wasn't really invested one way or the other if they, in fact, checked it out. I was a particularly apathetic "check it out" guy. I quit after twenty minutes and never collected my money. I didn't like being a "check it out" guy. Too much interaction with the public.
I needed indoor work.
The Satin Ballroom had been a dime-a-dance joint in the depression. By the time I got there it was thirty eight dollars a dance. This always struck me as a hilariously incongruent denomination, one never considered by Lorenz Hart. "Thirty eight dollars a dance, that's what they pay me, gosh how they weigh me down...Come on big boy, thirty eight dollars a dance..." Another intriguing element of the Satin Ballroom was the sign promising "Amazon Women! One flight up!" Early and frequent exposure to the culture of Times Square had left me, in my own innocent way, fairly jaded about human sexuality. I knew this much: whatever sexual act you could conceive of - and several you couldn't - there was someone out there willing to exchange good, hard American cash to do it or watch someone else do it for them.
But what were these "Amazon Women"? Were they actual giants? Ten feet tall? Twenty? What kind of Ray Harryhausen creatures were lurking up there, just "one flight up"?
I walked up the stairs. At the top of the stairs was a door, locked, behind which no doubt these giant women lurched about in stop-motion animated splendor. Above the locked door was a mirror, reflecting back the sad men who lumbered towards the locked door. To the right of the top of the stairs was a small booth. An older, plump woman sat in the booth, behind scratched plexi-glass, peering at the mirror. She was the gatekeeper.
"Thirty eight dollars!" she said.
"A dance. Anything else you work out with the girl."
I explained that I wasn't looking for a dance, I was looking for a job. Work. She gave me a long look. She was a short woman with a hard face. "Okay. There's an old juicer that comes around to mop up. Come back in an hour. He was supposed to be here already. If he doesn't show up, the job's yours."
This was thirty years ago. Characters in Times Square still used phrases like "old juicer". No one says "old juicer" anymore.
I hopped down the stairs. I was happy. I would come back in an hour, mop the place up, and the short, older, plump woman with the hard face would give me some cash. That would solve some immediate problems.
Dave Konig is the author of the novel Good Luck, Mr. Gorsky.
"Dave Konig is a great comedian and this is a great novel. It will really take you back to grimy, dirty pre-Giuliani New York. I love it because I love reading about New York City in the '80's." - Mark Simone, WOR Radio