My dad was a wholesale meat salesman and he once told me about a butcher he knew who had been caught overcharging customers.
“It was an honest mistake,” the butcher cried to a dubious city inspector. “It was an honest mistake!”
“So what happened?” My father asked.
“What happened?” The hapless merchant lamented. “I’m talking; he’s writing!”
Now I know how that butcher feels. I recently made the mistake of walking into the wrong place, which is how a lot of stories begin and how a lot obituaries end.
I was making my way down 42nd Street on a very cold Saturday night to meet up with some friends at a horror-theme bar called Times Scare.
Much like Grand Central Terminal, Times Square has improved exponentially since the 70s, when pimps, prostitutes, and drug dealers lurked on every corner and porn theaters and peep shows lined 42nd Street and the neighboring blocks.
People ran Three Card Monte games right out in the open as if it were a perfectly natural thing to do. I witnessed a brawl one Sunday afternoon when a player claimed he had been cheated.
And I’m sure he had been. That’s the whole point of Three Card Monte-cheating.
The victim chased the dealer down Broadway and one of the con man’s accomplices smashed the aggrieved player across the stomach with a large umbrella. The guy took it in stride, though, and continued the pursuit.
“I’ll fucking kill you!” the player shouted.
Yes, back then New York was a great place to bring your family—as long as your last name was Manson.
However, all that debauchery is gone now. People bring their children to this former No Man’s Land, and Times Square is so squeaky clean it could double for Disneyland.
Or so I thought.
When I reached the Port Authority Bus Terminal I looked across the street and saw a sign advertising Times Scare. Great, I thought, I have arrived.
I crossed the street, walked through the door, and immediately felt something was off. This was supposed to be a club, and yet it was so quiet. Yeah, as they say in the old westerns, too quiet.
A man walked toward me and I greeted him, assuming he was a club employee. But he put his head down to avoid any eye contact and scurried out the door.
Okay, pal, whatever. I walked cautiously down the hall until I reached a doorway, poked my head into the adjoining room, and saw a row of booths. I was completely confused for few a seconds and then I got it.
I was in a peep show joint.
Right This Way
It was an honest mistake, it really was, but who in the hell would believe me?
I’m the star of this little melodrama and even I don’t believe it. It’s like “accidentally” walking into the women’s locker room at the gym, which I’ve also done, but I’d rather not talk about it.
I stood staring at the line of booths. For one insane second, I actually thought that this was part of the club’s atmosphere, a kind of urban theme park: come see Times Square the way it was in the bad old days!
But I quickly realized that this was the real McCoitus and I did some scurrying of my own, right out the front door.
I didn’t know these places still existed, especially now when you can download the most perverted material imaginable straight into your smart phone. Or so I’m told…
I stepped out of the building and immediately made eye contact with a rather shifty-looking young man.
You should never lock eyes with anyone on 42nd Street—not even Santa Claus.
“Yo, chief,” my new friend cried, “you need a woman?”
“No, thanks,” I said, while increasing my pace.
Not to be deterred, this street corner capitalist fell in step right behind me, probably assuming that anyone coming out of a peep show was in need of all sorts of funky stuff.
“How about some weed?”
“I’m good! I’m good!”
I shifted into overdrive and made my escape. Now I have to wonder what else this enterprising fellow had for sale besides prostitutes and narcotics. Rocket launchers? Lose nukes? Anatomically explicit chia pets?
I turned the corner on Eighth Avenue and saw the huge marquee announcing Times Scare that I had somehow managed to miss when I first arrived. I walked in and joined my friends for an evening full of fun and free of porn.
Times Square really has changed over the years. There are plenty of family-friendly things to do in a location that has been justifiably described as the crossroads of the world.
But just be careful not to walk into the wrong place. You don’t want to make any mistakes—honest or otherwise.