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Lovingly lingering memories of Eighth Avenue sleaze…

Ah, sleaze fondly remembered. To start, here is a shot I took of 46th Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan on Sunday morning 9/25/16, looking northwest, with the new, recently completed, and rather monolithic RIU Plaza hotel in the middle of the picture.

46thandeighthavesept2016

 

Once on the very site of that hotel stood two very interesting adult video stores, crammed to the tops of their shelves not only with standard hardcore movies but also intriguing exploitation and grindhouse flicks on VHS and DVD. Also there was the Full Moon Saloon near the corner, one of my favorite hangouts back in the 80s and early 90s.

I seemed to stop spending much time in bars after a good portion of the adult magazine business shifted over to Magna Publishing in New Jersey in 1993, to where I commuted frequently to assemble titles like CHEEKS, GIRLS OVER 40, SEX ACTS, and LEG WORLD. Formerly I did all my editing and writing in Manhattan, and life in New York felt strangely off-kilter when I had to reverse-commute to New Jersey. Even though, since I was a freelancer, I didn’t have to do it everyday like most  of my associates, nonetheless there was always something discombobulating about it.

The old building on the left side of the picture was known back in the day to some of us sleaze aficionados as the “TV Hotel,” as in “transvestite,” because many transgender women used to ply their prostitution trade there, after meeting customers at nearby clubs and bars in Times Square. This went on back in the late 70s, early 80s. Now for many years the building has been just a regular tourist hotel.

Additional factoid, but not visible in the picture: at the vantage point from which I took this photo once stood three adult movie theaters: the Capri, the Eros, and the Venus. They are long gone and the space is now occupied by respectable bars, restaurants, and an outdoor shopping mall. If you want to read the definitive book about these theaters and the area, check out the classic volume Sleazoid Express by Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford.

The moral of my musings is simple: these builders can transform the neighborhood but never erase the lingering memories of the locals. We exist in two dimensions simultaneously: the current world of a better scrubbed, more staid New York,and the landscape of its more uninhibited and colorfully tawdry past.

 

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Annie Sprinkle gets me thinking: can a john take pride in hiring hookers?

Can a john take pride in patronizing hookers? This was the question set off in my mind after reading former porn star/prostitute/sex activist/performance artist/writer Annie Sprinkle’s review of Paying for It, Chester Brown’s memoir of being a john, in the New York Times Book Review for Sunday 7/3/11.

A “john,” as I’m sure most everybody knows, is the slang word for a prostitute’s customer. Also known as a “trick,” but we’ll stick to johns for the purpose of this discussion.

The book well captures the empty feeling that often results after a visit to a hooker.

A few weeks ago I looked at this book for about a half hour in the bookstore as a possible review subject for a column I do for an adult magazine. One thing that struck me was that Paying for It caught the loneliness of the “john experience” quite well and so I hesitated to read it. It brought back too many unpleasant memories. Over the years, I’ve had plenty of encounters with hookers. (By the way, I loathe the icy, emasculating word “sex worker,” and “prostitute” isn’t much better, although I can’t get around using it sometimes. Still, no form of positive thinking will ever salvage it from its harshness and judgmental tone.)

The number one emotion I have felt in connection with paying for sex is loneliness afterward–even when the experience itself was pleasant, as it frequently can be. Yes: emptiness, aloneness. Of something lacking in me. So I haven’t read Brown’s whole book yet. My impression of the style of the drawings in this comic strip-style memoir is that they are very detached, almost passionless. This artistic approach clashes with what I remember most fondly about my own experiences with hookers, which was of a fleshy excitement even when the encounter wasn’t so hot, of a tactile aliveness resulting from my pleasure and awe or just my fascination at this bountiful femininity being available to lil ole me for something as simple, and non-binding, as mere money.

I’ve written about this subject at length myself in fiction, short memoirs in adult magazines, and in X-rated screenplays. In film, The Masseuse 2 is from the hookers’ point of view, and The Masseuse 3 includes the customers’ angle more prominently. They were two of the best regarded X-rated movies of the 90s. A French critic recently wrote an interesting analysis of the film here; and here is the English version of that article, somewhat mangled in Google’s automatic translation but readable enough to make it clear that I treated the subject, and the characters, with seriousness. The fantasy of a masochistic man cleaning a domineering woman’s house, which figures prominently in my new ebook Learning to be CRUEL, pops up in Masseuse 2 as well.

Ashlyn Gere and Asia Carrera give memorable performances as the masseuses.

The complexity of man's relation to hookers is explored in the arousing context of this classic porn film.

Ms. Sprinkle, whom I know slightly from my work in the adult magazine business (although I haven’t seen her for many years), and who is a nice lady, makes the statement in her review that “There are millions of johns, but for one to come out voluntarily–with honesty, integrity, and pride–is rare indeed.” I had to shake my head at that. There are many writers certainly who have written well about this subject, with honesty and integrity if often in the somewhat veiled form of fiction. But Ms. Sprinkle, by her own admission on the Times’ ArtsBeat blog, rarely reads fiction. Still, I wonder if she is acquainted with James Jones’ great novel From Here to Eternity, which chronicled the interactions of clients and prostitutes with great skill, and to my mind is the best thing I ever read on the subject. Part of the story centers around a brothel that American soldiers patronize just before America enters World War 2.

Jones captures perfectly the obsession of a customer for his favorite hooker.

Jones certainly wrote with honesty and integrity. As far as “pride” goes, well, he wrote like a mature man of the old school, and about a subject such as this, his characters expressed the ambivalence any half-way sensitive guy would feel about falling for a woman who sells her favors for a living.

Having pride in being a john strikes me as oxymoronic. To my mind, the two don’t go together, because I’ll always have the sneaking suspicion that I couldn’t get for free what I just got for money. No, correct that–not the sneaking suspicion, but the knowledge, that I couldn’t get it without cash. That hurts my pride, doesn’t boost it.

Hey, maybe I will end up reviewing Paying for It at some point. I’m certainly qualified to do so and might have some interesting things to say further…and maybe I’ll even learn something once I get past my emotions about the subject.

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2011 in Erotica

 

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