In a recent interview with Time Out New York, director Ang Lee lamented, "I feel ashamed to say this, but I miss the old Times Square. It was sleazy. But I miss that. I hate what happened. I absolutely hate this, this...Times Square Land."
Don't be ashamed, Ang Lee, you are not alone. Many of us miss the sleaze of the old Deuce. Over the past couple of weekends, I have ventured into the nightmare of Times Square Land searching for a little sleaze. And that's what I found. Just a little.
the playpen: handbags instead of handjobs
I visited the Playpen, but the exterior demolition had begun. The marquee was gone, the scaffolding was up, and the "watch out for fleeing rats" signs had been hung. In front of the former sleaze palace, a street fair attracted tourists and families, inviting them to stuff their faces with funnel cakes and shop for socks and knock-off handbags.
Down the block, I managed to spot this rare specimen of whitefish. An endangered species, now almost extinct, the Times Square breed of whitefish once swam by the multitudes along this thoroughfare. Today, their numbers have dwindled considerably.
Times Square whitefish
As I was lamenting the loss of sleaze, a guy dressed in denim from head to toe asked a young backpack-toting fella if he was looking for call girls. He was. "You don't know about Joe's?" the denim guy asked the john. Apparently not. They took off together heading uptown and I followed on the sly.
They turned into the Edison Hotel and stopped at the hallway pay phones. "Sixty," the denim guy said to the john, "Now I gotta get the ticket so you can get in. Don't worry! You're gonna go where all these other guys are going and nobody's gonna stop you."
I loitered in the lobby among the beached tourists and waited for the two guys to head for the elevators. Finally, some real-life sleaze! There are still prostitutes in Times Square -- maybe even right here, in the family-friendly Hotel Edison! But the john chickened out and the deal did not go through. I headed back outside, bereft.
sexy sadie and her lovely lumps
On 42nd Street, amid the Disney theaters and chain stores, with Hello Kitty and Applebee's, I encountered this scene at the new Ripley's, all that's left of the Deuce's old freak show: an animatronic bearded fat lady and her bionic geriatric buddy. They were lip-syncing to the Black Eyed Peas.
As children and their parents looked on with delight, the old coot asked, "What you gon' do with all that junk? All that junk inside your trunk?"
And Sexy Sadie responded, "I'ma get, get, get, get, you drunk, get you love drunk off my hump. My hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my lovely little lumps."
It was the sleaziest show in town.