Thursday, October 8, 2009

Diasporic Dining: Episode II

The one-time peep show gardens, with their topiaries of prostitutes and porn palaces, like Les Gals and the famed Triple Treat Theater, with its mesmerizing XXX sign, are all gone now. In the halcyon days, there was the GG's Barnum Room, where pre-op transsexual prostitutes swung from trapezes. There was Legz Diamond, which still exists in neutered form, where totally naked lap dances led straight to the VIP room.

Peep show booths with their smell of disinfectant; the change belt of the shills; tokens going in the slot; girls there for the asking twenty-four hours a day; women with lactating breasts. The antecedents reach further back, to Depression-era America with its travelling carnival—bearded women in cages, phrenological singularities, prodigious dwarfs whose feat was to hoist their own monstrous heads.

Evenings ended at the Terminal Bar opposite the Port Authority, with its Fellini cast of zoot suits and collagen lips.

The deterioration of Times Square is complete. The hookers and hustlers are gone. There are no gay movie theaters populated by characters from Midnight Cowboy, no world out of which Martin Scorsese could steal the immortal lines of Travis Bickle.

42nd Street has been overrun with chain stores, the New Jersey mall at the intersection of Routes 4 and 17 transplanted into the middle of Manhattan, clothed, depersonalized, stripped of its stripping. This is one transplant that the body politic has not rejected.

The girls no longer stream into the Port Authority, Joyce Carol Oates characters from upstate ending the journey at Phoenix House. Now the streets are so crowded with glazed-eyed gawkers it’s impossible to move. Junk is what they called heroin back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but now there aren’t enough rehabs to accommodate all the junk food addicts wandering the streets on their trans fat highs.

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