What do you think of when you here that magical name? Times Square, the center of excitement in New York City…. Of course, there’s New Year’s Eve. Then there is the glitz… great restaurants….lights, Billboards… the heart of the great city.
I’m sure all these pictures come to mind when you hear Times Square mentioned, and, you would be right, they all fit. Many of you reading this may have had the pleasure of visiting New York and experiencing the pulse of this landmark spot. Many perhaps, have only seen it in movies or on television. Maybe even only watching Dick Clark or Ryan Seacrest on New Year’s Eve. Whatever your exposure to Times Square, I’m fairly certain that that the word picture we tried to paint above comes to mind in one way or another.
Flash back to another time…. A different world, so to speak. Flash back to the mid-60”s early 70’s when Rob and I were growing up within reasonable walking distance of Time Square. (Remember what I mentioned in a previous entry…. EVERYTHING appeared to be reasonable walking distance to our family.)
Unlike today, one would not consider taking one’s family to Times Square on a Saturday afternoon to see a movie. One would certainly stay a safe distance away on New Year’s Eve. A tourist visiting the City would be advised to stay clear of Times Square.
You see, back in the day I am speaking of Times Square was a cesspool of XXX rated movie theaters, Strip clubs and prostitutes. The bars were places to score some LSD and perhaps an afternoon “quickie”. In the majority of cases these were not your “high class” prostitutes of “Pretty Woman” status, these were both young and old, Black, White, Hispanic and Asian…strung out on drugs, needing their next fix. They walked the streets, stood on street corners and in alleyways and called out their offers to willing (and non-willing) potential “customers”. The Cops, in general, left them alone. Sure there was the occasional “round-up” and bust, but the ladies would be back stalking the streets within hours. The pimps were pretty brazen in the day; not hiding in the shadows. One would see them talking on corners with the members of their stables, taking in their money, offering a quick fix…. Letting the girls know they were running behind on quota…They had better pick up the pace. The locations that the girls performed their services ranged from customers cars, to alleyways to horrendously dirty and dangerous “hotel rooms”.
One could not walk around Times Square without being propositioned repeatedly. Do you remember the haunting lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel’s masterpiece, “The Boxer”?
“… Asking only workman’s wages
I come looking for a job,
But I get no offers,
Just a come-on from the whores
on Seventh Avenue
I do declare,
there were times when I was so
I took some comfort there..”
The 7th Avenue referred to in this classic song is 7th Avenue and 42nd street: Times Square.
And how true those lyrics appeared to be. Hopeless people trying to survive. Young boys and girls coming to the Big City to “make –it” found themselves alone and cold walking the streets. More often than not, there would be a Pimp very willing to help them out. He had a place for them to stay, some money to offer and some nice colored pills to make the pain go away. Times Square was a sad place.
Every 30 or 40 feet there would be another XXX rated Movie Theater. “Barkers” would stand outside the theater and invite you in to experience the pleasures that awaited. Black and White photo’s lined the walls of the entrance way of the theater, offering brief and tantalizing photos of the visual stimulation that awaited all those who would enter the dark and, most likely, filthy theater. One could be sure willing girls awaited one’s exit of the theater to bring to life what one had just seen.
No, Times Square was not the place a Mom would want her son’s to be around, though my friend James Lawyer, who I have mentioned in another post, and I would sometimes walk up and down the street, just to get a peek at the forbidden black and white photos in the theaters lobby. We never should have been there, I know, and we obviously never told our moms. But we would light up out Lucky Strikes, which we clearly bought well under-aged, but no one cared in Times Square, and think we were “big shots”. Sadly, even at our very young age we would be propositioned by the girls. We would, turn red and walk quicker, feeling awkward and stupid. The pimps made their offer as well. They told us we could make big money if we wanted to. At the time, it never crossed our minds what they had in mind.
Time Square was once a sad hopeless place. I’m glad in has turned into what it is today.
“Then I’m laying out my winters clothes
and wishing I was gone,
Where the New York winters
Aren’t bleeding me,
Going Home… “