LOOSE ON THE DEUCE III: LIFE IN THE SLEAZY LANE
by Brian O’Hara
Reading time 23 Minutes
In 1980s New York I worked and sometimes hung out
In 1980s New York I worked and sometimes hung out in the Times Square/42nd Street area. I’d been cutting fuck flicks for about a year and a half when I ended up employed by NIBO Films, operated by Jimmy Bochis in a penthouse office at 505 Eighth Avenue near 34th Street. Jimmy was a pleasure to work for, totally professional and very much a gentleman.
NIBO had quite the operation, shooting four films at a time and overseeing a staff of four editors – that is, when they could find four competent editors willing to work on X-rated stuff. My salary was $500 a week and Jimmy was even known to throw in a bonus if you worked quickly. So in 1984 dollars I was flush. NIBO became best known for a continuing movie series--Taboo American Style, which was something of a porn sensation. When I found out Jimmy was paying $2,000 per script for his productions I attempted to write one. But try as I might, I just couldn’t turn out something that shitty – a soap opera sensibility mixed with hardcore sex. Fuck, now I could write something that shitty with my eyes closed.
The only thing out of the norm that happened during my time in the penthouse was a raid by IRS agents. Accompanied by police, they showed up to what to them must have seemed a smut sweatshop. Everybody kind of mingled around for a few minutes while papers were served. Apparently, adult film director Ron Sullivan (aka Henri Pachard) hadn’t paid his taxes. As a joke, in the editing room somebody had hung up a left-over prop from one of the movies--a huge rubber dildo. The cops pointed and laughed; the IRS agent wasn’t amused. Then the police escorted us out, padlocked the door and the agent posted a notice stating the premises were sealed. Jimmy had to pay off Sullivan’s fines and we were back in business within a day.
Couple of weeks later Jimmy informed us NIBO HQ was going to be moving to the Pussycat Theater, a 600 seat porn house on Broadway at 49th Street. Rumor had it that Jimmy leased it from a mob guy named Mickey Zaffarano. Well, I had my standards. I said hasta la vista. No way was I working in a porno theater. So my last film for NIBO was to be the one I had just finished, Pussycat Galore. Less than two months later I ate crow and was in the basement of the Pussycat cutting Supergirls do General Hospital.
I was in a bad mood most mornings in those days, as I really didn’t like the fact I was editing smut in the cellar of a porn theater. Guess I somehow thought I deserved better. Not sure where I got that idea. Here’s an example of my workday back then– well, one particularly eventful workday.
On the subway ride uptown I was suddenly assaulted by a stink the likes of which I had never smelt before. The source: an exceedingly grimy derelict who’d shit his pants. A trail of liquidy fecal crud ran down his tattered trousers. He was filthy ragged, way beyond unkempt--pretty disgusting. And the stench from his wasted bowels was like when a dead calf is pulled from its mother’s womb after festering inside for two days – not that I’d know what a dead calf smells like after it’s been festering inside its mother’s womb for two days. I’m just guessing on that one.
Myself and the rest of the passengers on the subway car became one. A mob. We crammed, jammed and rammed one another, desperate to get away from that gag-inducing foulness. Everyone strained through the portal to the next car, but the train was crowded and there was only so much distance we could put between ourselves and this reeking, leaking sack of human shit - no disrespect intended.
So the untouchable was now by himself in the cleared car. He looked kind of depressed, or maybe just lost. At the next stop he got off, and we, jam-packed in the next car, started to giggle, then laugh outright. Of course it was cruel. But fuck it, this was just one of those shared traumatic human experiences, like when your buddy gets his head blown off in Nam.
As I watched the shriveled derelict stagger away on the platform I shook my head and thought, “At least I’m not him.” It brightened my day for a moment. But I try not to look down my nose at or belittle homeless/destitute types. For one thing, I consciously make eye contact with them, but rarely hand over money--“There’s nothing I can do for you. You’re not my problem, but at least I acknowledge that you exist.”
As was my usual routine before heading to the bowels of the Pussycat, I stopped at a deli on the avenue. They had a coffee-and-egg-on-a-roll special I always went for. So I'm in the deli waiting for my breakfast-to-go when I notice this tall, skinny, long-haired, stupid-looking fuck sizing me up. I'm not sure why he's eyeing me, but it makes me uncomfortable. It always makes me uncomfortable when another dude looks at me. I mean, there’s only one reason for one guy to eye another guy, far as I’m concerned. And I don’t walk on that side of the street, if you know what I mean. Plus, this guy had that vague look of a mental patient.
I was carrying a book, it being my practice to read on the subway.
"Good book?" long-hair asks me.
Now I really don't want to answer. I got nothing to say to this piece of shit, but I'm a well-mannered person. So I give a civilized reply, "It's okay.”
I shrug then look away. I'm trying to give off a certain vibe, through body language, which says, leave me the fuck alone, don't say another fucking word to me.
But long-hair's a born communicator. "What's it about?" he wants to know.
I look him in the eyes and say, "I don't know".
The book was titled Blood and Money. So long-hair reads the title and says, "Money. That what they teach you in school?" He said it with a sneer. I realize this lip-flapping asshole must think I'm some kind of college boy with his text book.
"I don't go to school," I tell him, thinking maybe that'll be the end of it. But he's got things he wants to relate, things he wants to share with me, "Money's your God. You think money's the answer to everything, don't you?"
There it is. Now I got him figured - a Jesus freak. I'm a bit amused, a bit relieved. I was thinking maybe this guy was some kind of dangerous psycho. And who needs a psycho pestering you in the A.M. before you've even had that first cup of Joe? He could still be a psycho, but a psycho for Jesus. And they're almost always docile. No big thing. I ignore him. But I guess he sees me as a possible convert. Big mistake. I’ve been an avowed atheist since the age of twelve.
Unlike most people I’m no fan of Jesus or his cockamamie philosophy. Love your neighbor? Try telling that to the guy who lived next door to Jeffrey Dahmer. Mr. Fanatic Asshole Jesus prancing around, bragging about how great his daddy is. Motherfucker sounds like a Babylonian Donald Trump Jr. Shoot me now, boil me in a vat of acid and burn all my synapses, I want nothing to do with spending eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven with that Bible-humping drama queen.
"You think money's gonna save you?" is the gem that long-hair comes up with next.
I'm starting to tense up. My mouth gets a little dry. I get a tight feeling in my stomach, my body's standard physical reaction whenever I'm contemplating going on the offensive. "Don't talk to me," I warn him. But he's a real determined shit-stain for Jesus.
"You can't accept the truth. Jesus died for you sins."
That's it. That is fucking it. "Listen buddy, I'll tell you something about your big, bad Jesus. He died on the cross with a fuckin' hard-on."
Silence. Long-hair is in a state of shock. The expression on his face was priceless. His eyes had a dazed look like he'd been kneed in the balls. The Puerto Rican flipping my fried egg looked a bit shocked himself. I felt pretty good. Here was this asshole trying to force his holy roller bullshit on me and he thought I just had to stand there and take it. Well, I sure as fuck burst his little bubble. He stood there, his mouth hanging open like he'd just had a face to face encounter with the anti-Christ. I took my eggs on a roll and coffee and went to go cut fuck and suck with a smile on my face and a lightened heart.
I’d like to say the following incident happened later
I’d like to say the following incident happened later that same afternoon but it was on another day. Near the subway entrance at the corner of 42nd and 8th Avenue, where the chickhawks and chickens rendezvoused, I happened upon a collapsed man on the sidewalk. He was either recently deceased or dying before my eyes. And speaking of eyes, his were open and glazed. Kind of creepy.
He was a big man, Caucasian, dressed in neat work clothes, maybe a construction worker on his day off. Two skinny and fidgety black fellows - common denizens of the old 42nd Street - took it upon themselves to assist the stricken man. They decided to play paramedic. One of them took out his Afro comb and debated whether or not he should insert it in the prone man's mouth. He looked a lot like Huggy Bear from the Starsky and Hutch TV cop show. Obviously, he'd seen this done in the movies or on TV when someone is having an epileptic fit. It reminded me a circus animal cutely mimicking a human task. Wait, that sounds racist. I take it back. Maybe he’d just watched too much television. Or maybe he was trying too hard to live up to the stereotype of a street skell on the Deuce.
So this toppled man, who'd most likely just had a massive heart attack, spent his last precious moments on earth being tended to by a duo of lower-class ignoramuses doing their good deed for the day. It was a bizarre spectacle, but perversely humorous all the same. Other skells quickly arrived and one shamelessly attempted to lift the man's wallet while the others played Marcus Welby, MD. I walked away and found a policeman.
To get into the Pussycat in the morning I had to tap on one of the plate glass doors with a quarter. George the porter would arrive holding a mop and open up.
At first I was self-conscious about entering and exiting an X-rated movie theater several times a day, but I got used to it quick enough.
The Steenbeck flatbeds were set up in the basement, a large space running under the seats in the theater above. It had a low ceiling, was rather dark with hanging naked light bulbs - a bit gloomy. The space was filled with boxes and 35mm film reels trailing off into the abyss as far as the eye could see. There were usually three other guys diligently cutting away, the moans and groans emanating from their Steenbeck speakers a form of greeting. Incidentally, even though the NIBO productions were shot in 35mm, we worked with 16mm reduction prints - cheaper and a lot less bulky than 35mm.
In the mornings the Pussycat was a ghost town, and with its faux opulent decor it reminded me of The Overlook Hotel in The Shining, but by the afternoon patrons started showing up. The biggest dilemma I had to face while working there was where to take a leak or, Heaven forbid, pinch a loaf. The Pussycat had a huge bathroom accommodating a row of twenty urinals, toilet stalls with doors removed and cute little glory holes emblazoned with arrows and helpful hand-written instructions: INSERT HERE.
The second or third time I used the bathroom some guy was hanging out in there. A guy loitering in a men’s in a fuckin’ porno theater! That was enough for me. I was going to use the projectionist’s bathroom from then on. Now, there was no stated policy against using the projectionist’s bathroom, but I knew it was frowned upon. Projectionists were a weird lot – mole-people alcoholics. They also had a strong union and Jimmy B didn’t want headaches. So like I said, using their sanitary facilities was frowned upon. But I wasn’t about to piss my pants.
There was an employee-only staircase leading to the projection booth which was catty-corner from Jimmy’s office. The booth was actually a small room with two huge projectors aimed through ports overlooking the auditorium below. To enter, you had to pass through a steel wire mesh door. The bathroom was in back. The projectionist wasn’t happy to see me invade his domain - a nasty glance and a grunt informed me of that.
One particular day after I did my business in the projectionist’s toilet I turned the doorknob and the friggin’ thing came off in my hand. What the fuck? I bang on the door. Nothing. I bang louder. Finally the projectionist opens the door and we stare at each other. I think he was Hungarian, could have been Bulgarian. I wouldn’t know the difference. So I hand him the doorknob, “Here, hold this.” His bloodshot eyes got wide and his frizzy hair got even frizzier, like he’d stuck his finger in an electric socket. He resembled Tor Johnson, the wrestler turned actor who gave such a stellar performance in Plan 9 From Outer Space. And now he’s incensed, “You broke my bathroom!”
Well, that was laughable as far as I was concerned. Being a bit of a wiseass back in those days I said the first thing that popped into my head, “Fuck you and fuck your bathroom,” then skirted around him. I didn’t give much thought to how he might respond. But when I glanced back I saw him charging like a mad bull--a really mad, mad bull. He spat out some expletives in his native tongue – probably something about my mother’s loose morals. My pathetic life flashed before my eyes – it was a blank screen. I ran, slammed the door and the latch caught in the nick of time. The mad bull bounced into the crosshatched wire door and gnarled.
Jimmy heard all the commotion and rushed out of his office. Annoyed patrons in the theater had started shouting about the noise coming from up above. Poor little me, just trying to take a leak in peace and I nearly getting ripped to pieces. I slinked away.
Being in the neighborhood so often and also being a fan of exploitation films I’d constantly check out the marquees on 42nd Street to see what was playing - almost never first run pictures, but the classics like Werewolf Woman or Dr. Butcher MD. The old Forty Deuce had about five or six theaters that showed double-feature exploitation fare. There was The Lyric, The Liberty, The Seldwyn, The Harris, and a couple of others whose names I've forgotten. One of the theaters constantly played Hong Kong Kung-Fu triple bills, which I normally eschewed.
Up the block by 7th Avenue was a porn theater
Up the block by 7th Avenue was a porn theater. I only went in once. The usher ushered me inside for half price and pocketed the money rather than trifling with the box office method. The movie I saw had an actress I recognized right away. I had used her in a short film I made after being thrown out of film school. The short was titled Psycho Wimp and there was my female lead sucking Harry Reem’s dick on the big screen. Small world.
The beauty of the rundown 42nd Street movie palaces was the clientele you mixed with. That area of Times Square was the entertainment strip for the lower-income types of New York City back in those days. Double and triple bills played for $3.50. Inside the theater you could smoke and drink – normal rules of etiquette required that you kept your bottle in a bag paper, although not everyone did. Usually an entrepreneurial gentleman would walk the aisles calling out, “Loose joints for a dollar.” Every once in a while a fight or shouting match would break out. I usually went in the afternoons, when the audiences were tamer, and I avoided the bathrooms - muggings were a distinct possibility.
A lot of the fun came in the form of audience participation. The brothers always had insightful remarks to holler at the screen. One of my fondest memories is of watching the mondo documentary Savage Man Savage Beast. As the voice-over explained, the African tribesmen were doing a yearly fertility dance, hoping Mother Earth would grant them a bountiful harvest. First they jumped up and down in the river, arousing their sizable manhoods. Next they moved to a mountain where they dug holes in the earth using hand-carved wooden spirit implements. And then they proceeded to hump lucky Mother Earth. A lovely helicopter shot caught the action as dozens of black tribesmen rhythmically pumped their tube streaks into the hillside. You better believe the audience, comprised mainly of persons of the darker persuasion, had something to say--"Fuck that mud, nigga! Fuck that shit!" and the like.
Over the years it was sad to see the old movie palaces close one by one, eventually replaced by the mions of Disney: Mickey Muffy, Donald Dicky and Cinderfuckie. But progress marches on.
The last time I stepped into a 42nd Street cinema was to check out the new fangled technology known as video projection. George Lucas’ THX 1138 was playing on a quadruple bill in a funky mini multiplex called The Roxy, or maybe it had been renamed something else by then. The ticket booth attendant was encased in thick bulletproof glass – which kind of surprised me. I entered a small theater – more like a screening room. It had none of the anonymity I felt in the old movie houses on The Deuce. I immediately felt like I was being sized up. Most of the customers, barley in their teens, had the look of future Rikers Island inhabitants. There was a bad vibe in the air. I quickly took a seat. A guy who was the spitting image of Son of Sam David Berkowitz was drinking a tallboy. Some of the brothers behind him wanted a sip. A tug-of-war was about to start. I hunkered down, watched the VHS of THX 1138 for a while, waiting for my opportunity to abscond unnoticed.
I’d been in confided spaces with types like these before and I didn’t enjoy it. I’m talking about aggressive little predators. A few years prior I had committed a youthful indiscretion that ended with me in jail for several days--actually the jail was a prison in Nassau County with numerous tiers, just like in the movies. (In fact the prison scenes for the 1972 movie The Hot Rock were filmed there.) I had to go through the whole strip search bend down spread your cheeks, say cheese and cough routine, with two heavily-tattooed inmates checking me out the whole time.
Initially I was put on an isolated cellblock reserved for newcomers and veterans awaiting release. In adjacent cells two loquacious inmates were engaged in a game of sexual banter. From their conversation I learned one of them had a Penthouse magazine which he was jerking-off to and the other wanted to watch. Didn't quite comprehend the entertainment value in that myself. From the characteristics of the voices I was able to deduce that the jerk-offer was white and the wannabe voyeur was black. The gentleman of the darker persuasion was attempting to sweet-talk his neighbor into positioning himself near an opening where the plumbing pipes cut through the wall, so he could get a view. The Caucasian was obviously enjoying himself, taunting and teasing the hard-up soon to be ex-convict. Eventually they both got what they wanted. And I heard more than I wanted to. I dropped to the floor and started doing push-ups, thinking this was a good time to try and get in shape.
Through the cell bars I noticed a white mop-boy with shoulder-length hair shuffling down the corridor. He reminded me of one of the half-man/half-ape creatures in the old black & white film Island of Lost Souls starring Charles Laughton – much superior to the dreadful remake with Marlon Brando. I heard later that mop-boy was supposedly gang-raped by a pack of black inmates when he first entered the facility. It seemed likely. As far as I could tell, he was mute. I watched him as he swirled his mop in a huddled, paranoid fashion - and was glad I wasn’t him.
Back in the video theater on 42nd Street I waited until there was a loud action scene in the movie to cover my exit, and tiptoed out, never to return.
Thanks to Ashley Spicer/The Rialto Report for some illustrations. www.therialtoreprt.com
Brian O’Hara is an admitted loser who’s worn various hats in film production. His accomplishments include having written screenplays for some shitty low budget movies and some better screenplays which were not (and never will be) made. His claim to fame: mastermind behind Rock N’ Roll Frankenstein. He also made a documentary short about notorious pornographer Phil Prince which features outtakes from Phil’s rather sleazy bondage and discipline films circa 1983. O’Hara now attempts to eke out a living (aka slow death) as a sound editor in LA.