VANISHING: July 29, 2007
Two days until closing and the Playpen is having a "blowout" sale on all sex toys and DVDs. The live girls, however, are not on sale.
For $10 + $20 you get a strip show, and for $10 more, you get the "full masturbation show." Since this would be my last visit, I let Marilyn, the girl behind the plexiglass, talk me into the full treatment. She sat back in her chair and spread her legs. I asked her what her future plans were, now that the Playpen would be closing. She told me she was depressed to see the Playpen go, and that she planned to move down the block to the peep booths of Gotham City while she looked for "something legit." Together, as Marilyn kneaded her breasts and touched herself, we lamented the changes that have leveled Times Square.
Next stop, the Funny Store. The owner, Arnold Martin, was there with his assistant, Stephanie. They were kind enough to chat with me and let me take plenty of pictures. Stephanie worried about what she would do after the Funny Store is gone. "I can't work in a magic shop," she said, "I'm not a professional magician, and there's no more stores like this one anymore." I asked her to recommend an item for purchase and she suggested the 24" Horror Rat, a popular item. "This is the last one," she said, "You can say you got the last rat at the Funny Store." I opted instead for an ice cube with a bug in it and a pair of X-Ray Specs.
"You know these don't really work," Arnold warned me when I made my purchase, "When I was a kid these were a major disappointment. We thought we were gonna see through girls' skirts, see right through our skin. You remember? The ads said 'An amazing illusion.' What kid understands the word illusion?"
Arnold pitched the fake vomit to me, "It's great for airplane rides. You're stuck in those tiny seats, right? You don't want some smelly person crowding you. So you just put this on the seat next to you and no one's gonna sit there."
"The stewardess would try to clean it up," Stephanie countered, "and they'd see it was fake."
"No, they wouldn't," Arnold said, "The stewardess would just throw a paper towel over it and leave it for the clean-up crew to deal with after they land. It's perfect. It'd go right through security, too. You just tell them it's an artistic sculpture. They won't give you any trouble." Two customers walked in and asked for a shocking hand buzzer and Arnold directed them to the shocking section by the register, the same area where he keeps the phony knives, mustaches, and beards.
The beards became a big seller a while back when Arnold closed the passageway that led next door to the Playpen. Men liked to enter the adult emporium through the Funny Store, to be discreet, but sometimes when the door opened Arnold's younger customers caught glimpses of things they shouldn't have. After he closed the passageway, he pitched fake beards and dark glasses to the men, a move that gave his business a boost.
A customer came in and asked for a whoopie cushion. Stephanie pointed out the rubber chickens hanging from the ceiling and made sure I got a picture of them. I considered buying a whole bag full of items: squirt lighters, packets of itching powder, fake bloody fingers, snake nut cans, fart candy and sweaty cheese sweets, snapping gum and books on how to deal guns, grow marijuana, become a secret agent, or change your identity and disappear overseas. But I held myself back. You can't take it all with you.
When Stephanie left to get her nails done, she hugged Arnold goodbye and he told her everything would work out and not to worry. He and I talked a while about the lost Times Square, how every low-rise building was slated for eventual destruction. "Soon this will all be nothing but towers," he said, "You won't even be able to see the sun."
I told him I didn't want to leave, that I wanted to spend all day at the Funny Store. He joked, "Why don't you come back on Sunday when I block the wrecking ball with my body? You can help me." I told him, "I wish I could." On the way out, I snapped this last picture, a phony eviction notice that seems a bit too real.