I always had the taxi driver leave me out ten blocks away from Times Square. I liked to walk through the dark city streets. I liked all the people, all the movement; I liked the glittering neon of the signs and movie marquees, and the way the lights reflected off the trolley grids. I liked the hotels, the emporiums, the scalloped pleasure palaces, the sewer pipes, the power lines, the trolley grids, the endless lines of yellow taxis. Advertisements for Maxwell House Coffee, Ever-Ready Razors and the Ziegfeld Follies drowned out the stars!
Whiffs of the distant Hudson River occasionally penetrated the manmade landscape like the sighs of a woman whose demon lover has cast her aside.
Nestor was manning the ticket booth when I got to the Orpheum. Nestor was an enormous, bigheaded man, handsome, a Greek who could always use a shave. I knew that he came to the Orpheum after working all day on the docks, so sometimes I would sometimes let him fuck me against the wall near the garbage cans out back after the Orpheum closed at two o’clock. He never presumed anything from it.
“Busy tonight,” Nestor said.
“Limey ship docked in the Port Authority early today. Portagee ship bound for Cape Horn in the morning.”
Sailors and other itinerants made up the majority of the Orpheum Dance Palace’s customer base. Girls who supplemented their dancehall pay through earning by the hour were wise to be wary: Maritimers carried pox and clap so virulent that no amount of arsenic or magic bullets could cure it.
The rest of the Orpheum’s clientele consisted of hunchbacks and widowers; fugitives who’d stabbed their fathers; maniacs who’d strangled their first-borns; married men whose wives had shriveled; a small quota of Negroes, Chinese, Italians, Polacks, and Jews.
And rich men. Slumming.
The Palace was a profitable venture. Customers approached through an unobtrusive alcove, located—innocuously enough—between a Child’s Restaurant and an all-night newsstand. The alcove was decorated with photographs of busty young women with straight white teeth, none of who worked at the Palace. The customers hit a buzzer when they wanted entrance and then the locked door might open on to the ticket booth where Nestor worked.
The young women who worked at the Palace came and went. Customers had their favorites, but those favorites were hair colors. When I was a blonde, my regulars were diseased poets, elderly men who lived with their mothers, drunken students in the process of being expelled from Columbia University. When I dyed my hair a hue so black, it shone blue under the dim electric lights over the horseshoe pit where the girls gathered and waited to be asked to dance, my regulars metamorphosed suddenly into men who wrestled with complex moral issues.
We wore silk stockings and spike-heeled slippers. We tapped our toes to Yes, We Have No Bananas. We sipped ginger ale and lied to the men who wanted to dance with us, telling them we were drinking champagne.
They bought us more champagne.
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