Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Times Square Memory

As it is annually, the TV focus tonight at midnight will be on a huge crowd jammed into the heart of Manhattan to ring in the new year with revelry.

The other day, the New York Times recalled the days "when X-rated theaters and burlesque joints shared the street with Howard Johnson’s" and stirred up the memory of an embarrassing rite of passage there.

At 12, my best friend Manny, in an acute attack of puberty, kept nagging me to take the subway from our Bronx neighborhood to a Times Square burlesque house and see (gulp) naked women.

In the lobby after buying tickets, we were pressured into checking our coats (another source of revenue for the house) before heading for seats.

As we watched the high-energy comics and listless ladies of the chorus, Manny started whispering into my ear that he may have left an envelope with his name and address in his coat pocket, which the management could use to put him on a list for salacious leaflets that his mother would find in the letterbox.

I was barely aware of the bumping and grinding on the stage as my friend went into a full-scale panic attack, forcing us to leave early, retrieve out coats (with, as it turned out, empty pockets) and head back on the subway, more aroused by fear than lust.

Watching the throngs tonight, I'll be wishing them better luck on their Times Square visit than I had with mine. But I'll also be thinking about how the legendary night club comic Joe E. Lewis, who built a career on joking about his alcoholism, always claimed he abstained that night.

"Drinking on New Year's Eve," he insisted, "is for amateurs."

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