The traffic on Third Avenue was congested, requiring me to run a tricky gauntlet to get to the other side. Diving in, I swam across the ocean of asphalt, giving wide berth to the terrifying creatures surrounding me as they belched toxic clouds of monoxide from their blackened gills. A lethargic pod of buses loomed high above the fray, majestic as whales; taxis darted between lanes like skittering yellow jack; and bicyclists, minnow quick, wove their way through all of it, one nearly flattening me as I stepped off the curb. I hadn’t gotten much rest over the past few days, and my eyes were starting to play tricks on me.

I’ve had issues with sleep for a long while. It started in my mid-30s, when the disturbing realization that I was no longer remembering my dreams began to take hold. Before then, my slumbers had been elaborate, florid affairs from which I would arise imbued with deep insight and full recall. I’d been the dormant philosopher king, privy to God’s true intent; I’d heard the voices of the angel’s choir relaying to me cryptic messages in four part harmony until I’d thought my head would burst with welling crescendo. Then at once, it was taken away from me. Nowadays, the various states of my consciousness all run together on a flat plane, like a sloppy watercolor painted by a disturbed child. It’s a murky sensation which often used to throw me into major panics – and still does on occasion. In the end, I came to deal with it by learning to not give a damn where my head was at, as long as I could still feel my heart beating. It’s a bummer though, not knowing for sure whether you’re awake or asleep, it’s like not knowing whether you’re alive or dead.

“Well, folks, the incident happened at Al’s Porno Emporium. We found him stabbed to death with a sharpened dildo. He was still clutching a copy of Buttman’s Big Tit Adventure.”

I walked on at a steady clip, doing my best to ignore the weather which kept searching up my pant legs and coat sleeves for naked flesh to bite. My feet drifted beneath me, stiff-arched but perseverant, carrying me across Park, Madison, Fifth Avenue, Sixth, and Seventh. Along the way, I bumped into a few old acquaintances: St. Patrick’s – still a dour, grey-faced prig; Bergdorf’s – pale and aloof, she barely acknowledged me, the rich bitch; Radio City – her bright neon smile was as sexy as ever. It had been a long time since we’d seen each other – that was my fault, I guess.

When I first moved to Manhattan, I would go out all the time; my salad days of dating random women, taking them to museum exhibits and Shakespeare in the Park, engaging them in deep, philosophical discussions on the mellow wood benches by the East River. But as the years wore on, I realized that there were only so many neighborhoods of consequence to explore and a finite number of times I could strain my calves flitting about the MoMA just to impress some chick I would inevitably get tired of anyway. I guess I gave up on the city, the same way I gave up on myself.

After an hour or so of aimless roving, I found myself standing in front of Gray’s Papaya on 72nd and Broadway. All the exercise had worked up a pretty decent-sized appetite, so I dropped in to get a couple of hot dogs and a papaya drink. When I was a teenager, my friends and I would go there all the time, and have contests to see how many of them we could stuff into our faces. I was never able to swallow any more than six at a time, but my best friend, Tommy Gallucci, once devoured an impressive total of 11 dogs. His feat would be forever marred with an asterisk, however, when he blew major chunkage out the back window of my ToyotaTercel on our drive home to the suburbs. It was all the toppings he’d ordered that had done it. When it comes to my franks I’m a purist: I won’t even get ‘em with mustard.

It’s ironic, nowadays I very rarely wander past Park Avenue, but back then, the West Side was where it was at. There was Gray’s of course, Tower Records a few blocks south, and then later if we had built up the nerve, sometimes we’d even hit Times Square to pick up some X-rated video tapes.

I remember those porn runs all too well. Five or six horny nerds speeding down the Henry Hudson Parkway with high expectations, evading the homeless Windex washers and patrolling squad cars, before screeching to a halt outside some sleazy sex shop.

Once we’d parked, one unlucky fellow was chosen to go make the purchase; that was always a lot of pressure. First off, the area was sketchy as hell, filled with a lot of shifty-looking men in overcoats and intimidating thugs; then, there was the enormous responsibility of making the right selection. After all, these tapes were expensive, and as none of us ever had any money, a lousy choice would incur the wrath of the entire geek posse.

You always understood that entering one of those places was going to be awful, so some mental preparation was necessary to gear yourself up for the act. In the end, you’d just have to hold your breath and take a running cannonball into what I can only describe was something out of Dante’s Inferno. Harsh, fluorescent light would expose your every move as you sped through the aisles, avoiding eye contact with all the perverts. One thing was clear – time was of the essence. The longer you stayed in the store, the higher your probability was of getting murdered. I always pictured some straight-laced policeman explaining it all to my parents.

“Well, folks, the incident happened at Al’s Porno Emporium. We found him stabbed to death with a sharpened dildo. He was still clutching a copy of Buttman’s Big Tit Adventure.”

You didn’t want to leave your friends out there too long with all the junkies, hookers, vagrants, and pimps, so you made your choices as quick as possible, paid an exorbitant amount to the guy behind the counter, and sprinted out of there clinging to your sack of smut for dear life. The drive back would be high-spirited, all of us screaming with laughter over the sheer seediness of it all. When we would find a home free of parents – usually Tommy’s – we’d all crowd around the VCR to review our bounty. As soon as the tapes had all been gone through, the haggling would begin as to who’d get first dibs to jerk off to them.

“I went in and got it!!”

“Yeah, but I put the most money in!”

All of it would be worked out, one way or another, then we’d say our goodbyes, and finish off the rest of the night in privacy to bop our baloneys. It’s incredible to think what we put ourselves through just for a little sexual release. Of course, it didn’t help that we were all socially repressed misfits. I suppose back then, laying our lives on the line to buy a fuck tape in some sleazy den of inequity had seemed far less risky than, you know, asking a girl out.

It’s crazy, but I kind of miss Times Square the way it used to be. The city I once knew as a youth now only exists in my mind’s eye. Tower’s long gone, and most of all the old movie theaters and music venues – the Limelight, the Tunnel, The Cooler, Brownies, CBGBs, the Palladium, the Bottom Line. While I chewed the last remaining bits of my second dog I made sure to savor the occasion.

There was no way of telling when I’d be back that way again.


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