Sunday, October 10, 2010

Horn of Plenty

The automat was the precursor to the peep show. At Horn and Hardart’s, hot dogs nestled in baked beans and casseroles of macaroni and cheese vied for our attention the way naked girls and guys would a decade later. Curiously, both just required quarters, though the automat also offered a nickel cup of coffee. Peep-a-Live on the west side of Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street had a turntable on which spread-eagled girls spun, much like dessert turntables on which cakes and pies revolve in most diners. The automat, like the peep show, was a place to go for people who had nowhere to go, and both offered anonymity in that they did away with intermediaries. To this extent, both experiences furnished the kind of solitude sought after by the chronic masturbator, who wants to be in a position where he can indulge his fantasies without having to interact with humanity. The peep show booths did have phones, but hardly any models (or patrons)—except the notorious dominatrix who worked in the peep show opposite Citicorp Center and smashed her hand against the plexiglass window—used the few that worked. Even though the peep show resembled a confessional, it was the last place you wanted to go to unburden yourself, particularly because the electronic shade that covered the window was designed to end conversation before it started. Both the automat and the peep show offered a little window into an inner sanctum that made the sights of forbidden nudity and the smells of food all the more desirable. Alas, with a few exceptions, automats and peepshows are a figment of New York’s colorful past. 

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