Sunday, November 29, 2009

Remembrance of Sleaze Past

I ran across this image recently and was seized with nostalgia. When I moved to New York in the late '80s, this fine theatrical establishment was just 'round the corner from my tiny flat, part of the great, messy, tawdry, crime-and-drug-laced spectacle that stretched out from Times Square and 42nd Street.

All these years later, that same neighborhood is Tourism Central, a cacophonous mass of souvenir shops, chain restaurants, and Disney musicals. The dim, cheap railroad flats like the one I lived in have been gentrified, and Hell's Kitchen is just another post-porno pomo-boho district. Of course, because of the Internet, these physical redlight districts have given way to their digital successors - meaning, in a way, that the old Times Square is now, to an extent, in all of our neighborhoods.

But I still miss passing Rhonda Jo Petty and her ilk on the way home from the grocery store on a rainy November evening. The muggings and the crack dealers, not so much. Pop-up ads and phishing schemes may be their contemporary counterparts, but there's nothing like the neon, carnie atmosphere of the old Eighth Avenue online, and in an odd way I can't help think that we're the poorer for it...


  1. I'm with you on the fond memories, Muscato. Thanks for he trip down memory lane.

    My friend Ellen and I took a train ride in to town one night while in high school (circa 1982) to walk around the old Times Square. Tawdry and edgy, a little scary, and lots of fun.

    Two Catholic school kids from the suburbs who were supposed to be at the library studying but were instead exploring the very heart of sin city.

    Ellen bought a braided leather whip from a street vendor. A gift for her brother's birthday (perhaps inspired by the then new Raiders of the Lost Ark movie).

    A young, street-wise fellow watched the haggling and Ellen's ultimate purchase. As we walked off up 8th Avenue with the whip in hand, he followed us chanting, "Whip that white boy! Whip that white boy! Whip that white boy's ass!!"

    I was scared to be followed, thrilled to be the subject of his chant, delighted by the attention we were drawing, and titillated at the thought of maybe...just maybe... someday being (lightly) whipped by just the right fellow.

  2. Ah, youth! We used to escape from suburban Pennsylvania to wander the mean streets - I remember one particularly vivid weekend that included a trip to the Mudd Club, an unintended appearance on public-access television, and a brush with the Chinese mafia. And porn, but that goes without saying, I suppose, when it's 1980 and you're 17.

    Good times...

  3. I unabashedly love and miss sleaze. As a teen in New York in the 80s, yep, dammit.