Careening through another one of the nuits de terreur that have have come to define my Manhattan weekends, I find myself in Times Square at 4am, standing outside an adult bookstore. The neon-framed poster in the storefront announces the arrival of the DVD "Ghetto Gangbang #35". I'm uninterested, because after "Ghetto Gangbang #29", the director seems to have lost the narrative thread.
The bars are closing and Times Square is in full rut. The confluence of Saturday night, a holiday weekend, and Fleet Week, have morphed the regular carnival of predators, prey and curious rubes into a coalescing scene which if described as Felliniesque, would only be stating the hideous. Drunken, corpulent tourists waft across Broadway in clouds of floral shirts and moral outrage as grimy lunatics assail them with bizarre vulgarities.
Step slightly away from the focal point of Times Square, where Broadway crosses Seventh Avenue, where the Jumbotron orgy of messages from accounting and stock firms instill inadequacy and self-loathing in the people standing in line for half-price theatre tickets, and you slide greasily though a lateral culture portal to a world to where Times Square's more traditional industries - porn, drugs and S-E-X!, roil and boil in a festering stew of availability, opportunism, and anticipation.
Inside the adult bookstore, my friend is purchasing the neccessities to lubricate a hastily agreed upon social engagement, just made outside the bar misfittingly named Therapy. Desperation smells like Wet Platinum, and neither comes out of your sheets.
Small groups of sailors roll past me every couple of minutes. They all look so young, so impossibly young. The unseasonal chilly weather has rosied up their whiskerless cheeks, rendering them even more the high school boys that they were only a few months ago. As they pass me, they are speaking loudly, confidently, with swaggering bravado, releasing obscenities probably just learned, or at least never spoken without parental reprisal. I watch them make their right turns at 42nd Street, towards the Hudson, where their ships (and possibly, their demise) await. I hope that Times Square has at least sent them home with a blow-job, probably the only worthy commodity being sold at this hour.
During the 15 minutes that I wait (15 minutes! To buy LUBE!), I'm offered a wide array of personal services, recently "found" items, and various illegal substances. The sidewalk vendors hiss out their inventories in dramatic stage whispers whenever a customer that seems to fit their product demographic wanders into range, and it's quite apparent that a middle-aged white guy standing by himself is considered a carnal jackpot.
"Hey buddy! We got sexy girls upstairs. Ready for you now. No cops. Hot pussy ready now."
I decline, trying to do so in a cheerfully non-judgmental way. I move down the sidewalk a dozen feet, where a whithered, spotted hand tries to shove a business card into my pocket. The hand's owner purrs at me, "Don't go home alone. Pretty girls to your hotel room in 15 minutes. You want a pretty girl, I get you one in 15 minutes."
I toss his business card to the ground. Somehow I manage to not fire back that I'd rather have a pretty boy in 15 minutes, which is so not like me. The old me would have snarked that leprotic pimp right out of his leopard-spotted felt loafers, jumping on the chance to reveal myself as a faggot, even though I've never had interest in "pretty boys"... even when I was one. Ahem. But the new me, the new OLD me, is so uncomfortable with being seen as another preying troll, however incorrectly, that I won't even let this scumbag consider me as one.
I turn to head back to my position in front of the bookstore, but my elbow is grabbed from behind. Without turning around, I jerk free and lunge forward several feet. I look back to see I'm being tailed by a thuggish black woman wearing a scowl. She is wearing a hugely oversized white jacket, a white ballcap worn askew, and enough bling to shame P. Diddy. On Christopher Street I would probably take in her gender-fuck dyke drag and give her silent props as I pass. But here, on this street, at this hour, I feel an instinctual fear of her. I step into the street as if I'm going to hail a cab, but the woman follows me off the curb.
"Did you just beep Chantelle?"
"No," I say and look up the street for the cab I don't need.
"You sure? You didn't just beep Chantelle?" she persists, looking at me skeptically and moving closer.
"No, I didn't. Leave me alone."
The woman step back a foot, "I think it was you. Yeah, it was you. Why you trippin?"
"Look, I don't know anybody in New York, so I didn't beep anybody," I lie, bafflingly myself with that response.
"OK, OK den, it's cool, it's cool. But since you from outta town, you definitely should hook up with Chantelle. She will suck your dick AND your balls for only twenny-foh dollas an hour!"
For a moment, my mind wanders away from my situation as I ponder the Times Square ho pricing schedule, and I wonder whether the unusual price point of $24/hr is a more a function of the location, the day, the hour... or possibly, the targeted customer. Then, I wonder if this woman might actually BE Chantelle, operating under some misapprehension that offering her services in the third person isn't actually breaking the law.
I put my hand up to Possibly Chantelle, "Sorry, I'm really not interested."
Surprising me, she nods meekly, "You have a good evening."
I watch her retreat and think if that isn't Chantelle, then Chantelle really needs a better agent. With a weak sales pitch like that, she wouldn't last 3 days in the blood sport that is the Bloomie's fragrance floor, and this is Times Square, bitch.