I’d never seen anything like it. Sure, for the natives, the whole thing was a bore, but for me?
I had grown up in a “nice” neighborhood, which meant that each house had a large lawn, one or more flower gardens, a stay-at-home mom who baked her own bread and experimented with new recipes. There was the wildly thrilling new casserole that would appear, for example, with water chestnuts!
The height of adventure!
So I stepped out the door of the Ritz, and bam! How even to get into the pedestrian flow? I knew, for example, that I wanted to get down to Times Square, and that required a left turn out the door on 60th Street? But how to turn left, when the constant stream of passerby were trotting in the other direction?
‘Go with the flow,’ I thought, and so I went right, turned right, and turned another right, until I was on 59th street. And so I walked on, trying not to appear like too much of a hick. But the city! The cabs—everywhere! The people, so well dressed, so sophisticated! I watched as one beautifully dressed woman came out of a brownstone, stepped to the street, and hailed a cab. A bore to her—one more cab to hail down. But for me, a marvel! Would I ever learn to do that? Or did you have to be born here, grow up here, get the rhythm and pulse of the city into your blood, or maybe jeans? Whatever, I couldn’t imagine it.
The buildings were like nothing back home. The brownstones that still remained were a novelty—I peered in windows when I could, and imagined the lives that were lived there. He was a doctor, I decided, and she was a social worker—they came home each night into that elegant living room, with the grand piano that had been played by his grandmother, a concert pianist in Czechoslovakia. They had a leisurely martini by the fire, and then popped out of their door. The husband, his wife on his shoulder, hailed the cab, and then they were off to the theater, to be followed by a late supper…
“Get off the rag, bitch, ‘ cause you is not the only Niggah on the block. And if I catch you messin’ with mah shit one more time, girl, I’m gonna be wiping the floor with that Niggah face of yours!”
Right—my reverie had been interrupted. The people in front of me were tall and willowy—they both wore extravagant high heels, the tightest of miniskirts, and makeup my mother would never have dreamed off. The eyelashes were nearly whisk broom length and lushness. The eye shadow was magenta on one girl, a violent crimson on the other. The lipstick was a wild, though complimentary shade, and both wore the darkest of lip shadows. Have you seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show? Well, these girls made Dr. Frankenstein looked like a school librarian.
I followed behind them, fascinated. Where were their mothers? Who could have let them out, looking like that? True, they were older than me, but I would never have dared…. I knew it was rude, but I couldn’t help staring at them. All of a sudden, they erupted in laughter, and in song:
“’There’s a new kid in town!”
“I don’t wanna hear it.”
“There’s a new kid in town!”
Right, I’d been spotted. Should have known—I was wearing Madison, Wisconsin all over my West High School face.
“OK—you got me,” I told them. “Do you know the way to Times Square?”
“Girlfriend, do we know the way to Times Square! Why little miss thang, we virtually IS Times Square. We is know up and down Times Square for our vast beauty, wit, and repartee! Yes’m, the mayor herself got into a hissy fit, when the entire city council chose to up and sit at out table at 21. Why, those boys couldn’t stop ordering us drinks! Fortunately, they was a squad of limousines, ready to haul our Niggah asses back to our humble abodes. Which would be your average penthouse, overlooking the river!”
“Mine’s overlooking the park!”
“Don’t you listen to little miss Thing, dear, ‘cause she got less than the cockroaches scampering over the kitchen floor of the Hell’s Angel tenement that she crashes!”
“Bitch! One more word, and I is sending your fat Niggah ass straight into that traffic!”
“Yeah? Well you can eat out my black Niggah cunt, bitch!”
“Oh don’t you wish!”
“Look, I’ sorry if I upset anybody, or anything…”
The most flamboyant grabbed my arm, and addressed me in a stage whisper.
“You must excuse the outrageous behavior of my sometime companion, the former Manuela de la Puta Madre, as her whorish mother called her, when she was born into the humblest of circumstances, down there in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Yes, that was the spawning ground of señorita Manuela, and my, did she live up to that name! Though it could have been Lingüela, or Bichuela or even, two or three days a month, Culoela! Because not everyone is as refined as you and I dear….”
She patted my hand as she said this, and looked archly at her companion.
“No, we is ladies of refinement, is we not? Not like some, who slept their way from the bottom to the top and then down to the bottom again of San Juan society. That is, after she got done doing all the jibaritos up there in the mountains. So she accepts my gracious invitation to accompany me on my very numerous forays into the very highest circles of New York society….”
“Bitch couldn’t pay her half of the rent on that basement dive she calls an apartment….”
“The Rockefellers, the Carnegies, you know. Lovely people of distinction and refinement…”
“So she start whoring to pay the man, and then she gets the idea—call her childhood friend. So I fly up here, and what do I find? Girl’s laying tricks left and right, with every dick’s got twenty bucks in his pocket. On the ten most wanted list of the Venereal Disease Board. Known to every precinct captain in the borough!”
“Pay no mind to Miss Manuela,” whispered the other, though people across the street could easily have heard it. “She is suffering from various mental conditions, which I am laboring daily and nightly to combat. Oh, not a day goes by that I suffer for my generosity! How I am repaid for my kindness!”
She had assumed the voice and mannerisms of a southern belle—one of Scarlett O’Hara’s dear friends….
“Anyway, it is providential that we should meet, because who knows what unspeakable things dear Miss Manuela might do, down there in Times Square! I force myself, dear, to go with her me, for I fear for her safety, I most assuredly do! “Cause don’t you know, Miss Manuela gets near anything in pants, and she completely LOSES control. All but knocks them over and into the curb, hits ‘em so fast they don’t never feel the clothes being rips off their backs, and then, girlfriend, is she on ‘em! Nearly tears the balls of ‘em, so desperate she is!”
“You cunt! You stop that jive-ass Niggah mouth of yours, or I’ll rip the balls off’n you!”
“What does she mean?”
“Delusions, dear. Part of her sickness. She is uncertain and insecure of her feminineness, and so questions…”
“Huh—that why you wearin’ that thong? You know what you got taped up there up to the brown eye!”
“Please excuse her…”
Oddly, it didn’t seem to matter, this fight between them; it had the familiarity of dirty dishes in the sink. And so it continued all the way down Broadway. And just as curiously, no one paid the least attention to us. In Madison, Wisconsin, there would have been a fleet of police cars tailing us….
“And now, dear—prepare yourself, as we is about to enter the rarified world of salon society. Those writer and thinks and captains very especially of industry! Scions of the very very-ist of societies! Gentlemen by the scores await our highly critical eyes, all very much desirous of making our elite company. This dear, is Times Square!”
It was a visual riot, an assault on the senses. There were billboards flashing everywhere, neon lights in ever window, people ducking into and out of shops, others thrust pamphlets into our hand, rats scurrying in the gutter. And every blinking, flashing, pulsating sign?
“Busty Babes Live for You!”
“Male Only Bookstore!”
“What is this!” I asked.
“Here you is, girl friend! You have arrived, sweet miss thing, into the very creamiest of cream of New York society! “Cause the very same gentlemen who denizen this here square will be taking their wives to the Metropolitan Opera Ball two hours from now. But now, they seek relief! They seek distraction! They seek the discerning judgment and cultivated good taste of young ladies like moi, and the former miss Manuela de la Puta Madre, late of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Yes, we is here! The gentlemen await!”
And here, she grabbed my arm, and led me into the Triple XXX Arcade.