I'd like to make you believe that Jersey in the mid-1980s was a wasteland of asphalt and highways, of diners and parking lots, of abandoned warehouses and gas stations. I'd like to say that my friends and I were desperately bored, hungering for something to satiate our desire for excitement. Because if I painted this picture of three teenage boys who were absolutely disillusioned by their upbringing in suburbia on the outskirts of New York, then it would be easy to understand why we drove across the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan to visit the hookers.
But getting blow jobs was never just an act of sexual gratification. And since we bought one another the blow jobs, it was hardly even an act of love or friendship. It was merely a means for us to defile one another, in the same way we forced bourbon down our throats.
My two partners were a Christian and a Jew. We secretly loathed one another -- and loved one another in that sort of familial way of someone who holds your head up so you don't crack your teeth on the porcelain. I met Silver in the foyer of St. John's Church right after he got his driver's license. He was two years older than I. He had a remarkably youthful face, terribly pale, and elongated fingers that he dipped in the baptismal water after Communion. He was mocked for his youthful appearance. He was a virgin, and he was closer to Christ than I was. And even when we'd been smoking joints all night, if we drove by a church he made the sign of the cross, his face solemn. All the town knew his pretty marble-diamond sparkling eyes -- hence his nickname Silver.
Rod was my age, tall and lanky but older looking; we played in a band together. He was the only kid I knew then with a porno collection and a steady girlfriend. During the nights when we hung at Rod's place, we listened to Pink Floyd, and Silver and I snuck away to the bathroom with a magazine to jerk off in a Kleenex, always scared that the door would open. Rod's room was plastered with posters of Cheap Trick, and under the bed were sex letters from girls Silver and I had never met. Through Rod, I came to believe that Jews were supremely more advanced on the subject of sex than the rest of us, whoever the rest of us were. But among the three of us, Rod needed the blow jobs the least, since he had a girlfriend. My opinion, however, then and now, was that, as bold as he was, he was truly scared to get sucked off in front of anyone.
We weren't in the same classes, we didn't live near one another and we didn't even have the same circle of friends. We were an isolated triumvirate, this boys' club that met on Friday and Saturday nights. When I saw either of them, a sensation welled up inside of me, something dark and sinister, like the feeling when you're about to steal something.
From the get-go, our friendships were poisoned. They were based on drugs and drinking. We'd leave each other in the middle of a highway if it meant squeezing Jacob the drug dealer in the back seat. I stole porno from Rod, and Rod cheated me out of money and drugs.
When I met Silver he was a lonesome, pitiful kid with no friends, but he had a fantastic Trans Am with killer speakers and a love for the blues as strong as mine. Our friendship began with driving and smoking, and graduated to drinking and going to concerts and, finally, looking for girls beyond the borders of our hometown. But it was always slightly shrouded in lies, and therefore grew awkwardly, incredulously; we clung together if only to watch ourselves nod off and puke. But in this was the freedom to defile ourselves.
I don't want to paint an entirely grim picture, since we eventually grew to actually be friends. We had a hell of a lot of fun together while it was happening; only in retrospect does it seem kind of sick. One of our friendlier, quieter moments was smoking a joint and watching Little League baseball in some rich town north of us. We'd sit on the bleachers with the parents and pick out the players who'd grow to be the next Reggie Jackson or Graig Nettles. Other fond moments included visiting our grandmothers, whom we all loved dearly and spoke of often. And there was our pact to always buy extra tickets to whatever hot concert was coming to town: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Van Halen, Iron Maiden, whatever. The three of us could depend on one another.
Although Silver had a car and driver's license first, I can say -- for the sake of this story and that era -- that we were all mentally and physically 17, give or take a year. During the first year we met, we drove in Silver's car, holding Budweiser nips in our crotches and rolling joints on the inside of a Frisbee. We listened to Howlin' Wolf, unlike our friends, who were hooked on the Kinks and Journey and Joan Jett. When a cherry top drove by, our hearts would stop. We'd freeze in our skins. After a minute we'd glance in the mirror, then resume. The tunes went back on, we'd inhale the last of a roach and the cool breeze would blow with the stench of the mud flats of the meadowlands off the New Jersey Turnpike.
We drove endlessly, only to find ourselves eventually drawn to the George Washington Bridge, and to Manhattan. When we crossed the bridge with Silver driving, almost simultaneously and with an ease and dexterity that I'd come to admire, he would gun the Trans Am hard and push in a Stevie Ray Vaughan tape. The combination squash of the accelerator and push of the cassette into the tape deck was classic Silver. He cued up all his tapes to his favorite songs before leaving the house.
Before continuing, I have to say something: Everyone these days talks about how the city used to be, how everything has changed, how it's sad what Rudy Giuliani has done to 42nd Street, turning it into a mall in Middle America. Personally, I don't give a shit. Change is inevitable; change is good. People who lament the 1970s and 1980s neon-drenched 42nd are just that, lamentable sentimentalists who clearly are reminiscing about a life they more than likely never lived. And if they did live that life of indulging in the banquet of pussy and porn on 42nd and south of 42nd, then frustration is the least of their problems.
In the 1980s, the squeegee washers still worked the traffic lights. When we crossed GWB, we'd be surrounded by them: black guys in ripped coats, spitting on your windshield and wiping it off with their sleeves. Their efforts were worth a quarter, 50 cents. We could buy a nickel bag of pot from their brethren, roll a joint and smoke while cruising around upper Broadway. Three white boys in a Trans Am with Jersey plates cranking Stevie Ray actually didn't draw much attention. Washington Heights hadn't become the ravaged crack den it would soon be, and the cops were busy elsewhere.
At remarkably gay and buoyant Irish bars like the Blarney Stone in Washington Heights, our fave, we drank pitchers of Busch beer for $5. When we'd had our fill, we drove down to the hookers.
To say we stumbled on the hookers is the God's honest truth. We used to see concerts at the Pier, that old outdoor concert venue near the Intrepid aircraft carrier, docked around the 20s on the West Side in the Hudson. That was when the old elevated train rails were still up, hovering over the West Side Highway like giant charred matches, and you could climb up and listen to the music. After the shows, we drove home, and it was near the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel, near the Greyhound bus station, that we first spotted the hookers.
What glory, I tell you, to be 17 and to spot hookers. The streets in the 20s and 30s on 10th and 11th avenues were darkened corridors, with cracked concrete and parked 18-wheelers. The warehouses, mostly abandoned with broken windows, stood like cardboard boxes. The street lights didn't work, and it seemed as if the pavement was always wet. The girls would sparkle like Christmas lights. They wore mostly pink or red miniskirts, black high heels, sometimes stockings, sometimes no stockings, red or black bras and short coats, usually matching their skirts. And their hair made Jersey girls' high hair look flat. They always carried handbags, and they walked with a gait that seemed to communicate that they were hitchhiking, moving forward but looking back.
I remember the thrill of thinking I'd get a blow job that first night. I felt wild agitation at the thought of having to drop my pants down to the back of my knees, with my ass squashed on Silver's burgundy leather seats. Or of standing in a puddle of oil next to a green-colored Dumpster, in a truckers parking lot. DiBenedetto. I remember the name on that Dumpster, and the way that one of my black hookers avoided kneeling by squatting. The scent of her hair, teased and sparkling, and the skin coming out the back of her skimpy black leather skirt. Would I come too quick or not at all? Would it matter? My friends were there, looking over my shoulder. If they paid they had to watch, if they wanted.
Silver was nervous about driving down the block, but Rod was always supportive. In fact, Rod was really the point man. He always did all the talking. He said hello to the ladies, made introductions, asked them questions.
"Should we drive down?" Silver would always ask, steering slowly.
"Drive the fuck down," I'd say.
Then, as we approached a few hookers, Rod would tell Silver to slow down. "Hey, honey," Rod would say. I always liked to hear Rod talk to the women. He really had style; he had experience. He even changed his name and made phone calls to older women on hot lines. He had all the experience and Silver and I had none, so we let him do all the talking.
"Whatcha looking for tonight?" the hooker would say.
"How much for a blow job?" Rod would ask. And again, the question seemed incredible, just asking a grown woman like that. This was brilliant, so perfect; there was so little bullshit.
We'd always get the price, and repeat the scenario with a few others, but I soon noticed that the girls, like tugboats on the Hudson, communicated to each other, and if we weren't playing, then they wouldn't bother with us. But still, we drove for hours, around and around the Lower West Side, just looking.
I never thought much about getting a blow job from a hooker. I might've had a girlfriend at the time, I can't remember. If I did, it never bothered me to go see a hooker; it never made me feel guilty. I was with my boys, and that made it OK. For better or for worse, I will say, a blow job from a girlfriend was always better than one from a hooker on 11th Avenue -- mainly because we were never really sober, and had to wear a condom, but also because the thought of a total stranger sucking us off overshadowed the actual act. I remember standing in a puddle getting head and wondering what the point was. On more than one occasion, I wanted to tell the hooker to stop, to forget about it, but that would be worse than starting in the first place.
The Lower West Side, what they call Chelsea, 14th Street to 30th Street from Eighth Avenue over to the river, was just a blackened wasteland, at least near 11th Avenue. The old trains that delivered goods to the warehouses were abandoned. Here and there you'd see a rail car just parked on the side of the street, maybe on 26th or 27th Street. Years before, the piers were used to transport goods from New Jersey, or from the ships that came into the harbor, but with the use of planes and trucks, they were now defunct and so were most of the warehouses. At night this place looked like an oil slick atop the river, with lights from the buildings drooling on the pavement. The traffic from West Side Highway, now called Joe DiMaggio Road or something, raced past, either going to the Village or going uptown. No one stopped in this area unless he was cruising, or just plain old lost. God forbid if you got a flat there.
One night, after I got my driver's license, we went on one of our city excursions. I drove. I hated to drive because I was the heaviest drinker of us all, but somehow I'd used up my chances to get out of it and had to drive. I had my mother's Buick, a blue Regal with a sunroof. It was warm out.
Silver was the chosen soldier that night. He was going to get a blow job if it was the last thing Rod and I did for him that night. We turned onto Broadway heading south and went to Fat Eddie's for a dime bag. Fat Eddie's was not a person or an apartment, but a quaint and nondescript city park where drug dealers loitered just as parents swept their kids into their homes for the night. This was our spot if we didn't buy from the squeegee posse.
"Let's get a nickel." Rod said.
"Nickel, you smoke it all. You owe me anyhow."
"I owe you? Do you hear this, Silver? I owe him."
We stopped at a bodega for a six-pack and drank it in the car, driving downtown on the West Side Highway. Then we rolled a joint and smoked it. We then circled around for hours, along 42nd Street, east on 42nd, left on Sixth Avenue, back around 43rd, down to Ninth Avenue and back up 42nd Street. The lights glittered fantastically from the porn movie theaters, and we looked out for the oversize black hookers whose blubber fell from their tight fluorescent purple shorts and fluffy white jackets.
After an hour or two, nicely drunk, we stopped at an Irish bar where we knew we'd get served. Silver was a skinny kid, and though I was shorter, he weighed less, so he got drunk quickly. Which was the plan.
When we returned to the car, it was to head home, but with enough time to look at the girls on the West Side.
Silver, very drunk, sat in the back seat. I controlled the music, putting in Led Zeppelin. We drove to the spot in the 20s. On the damp and dark streets, barely lit, we saw them mostly lined up by the Greyhound station. There was one as we drove by who was entirely laced up in black.
My heart pumped quicker, and I lowered the music to hear their voices. They'd always call out as you passed.
"Slow down, man," Rod said.
"Shut the fuck up."
I finally pulled up to one.
We smiled stupidly. She was a white woman with enormous breasts and she leaned into the car. Her body being that close made me nervous. She swung her hand in the window and let it dangle just above my crotch. They would do this often -- reach in and grab your crotch. "What do you want?" she asked.
Rod always did the talking at this point. "How much for a blow job?"
"For all of you?" she said.
"My God!" I thought. All of us, at the same time.
"No, just him." Rod turned to Silver in the back seat. Silver's head was like a balloon in the wind bobbing back and forth, and his body was slumped.
"Him?" she said. She looked at Silver for a second and then at me. A few of her friends started to come over, and before we knew it we were surrounded. Hookers everywhere, poking their heads in the window, red lips, sparkling tops, flesh, stockings, high heels -- it was a freakin' banquet.
"Pull over there," she said, pointing to a little parking area that looked like a place where trucks pulled in to unload.
We pulled over. "Out," she said. "Both of you. I ain't doing it wit youse in the car."
By this time, Silver knew what was going on. He was all smiles and saying, "You guys ... are fucking crazy." But it was too late; the hooker was in the back seat with Silver, trying to get his pants down. Rod and I were just outside the car, making sure that nothing went wrong. I left the sunroof open. We'd heard that hookers would steal your wallet even while sucking you off. Plus, we had to watch a little and make Silver smile. After almost a minute of efforts to get the rubber on, it turned out Silver hadn't gotten wood yet.
"He's drunk," the hooker turned to us.
"He's all right," I said. I poked my head through the sunroof and looked down. I couldn't help smiling. It was so ridiculous, bargaining with the woman while she was holding onto his limp dick.
"If he's not hard in a minute I'm outta here," she said.
The street was getting crowded with cars. I backed off a few feet. Rod was always squeamish about watching. We could only see her head pop up in the window and then Silver's head bobbing to the side. It was strangely quiet, standing in the darkness. I felt removed, drunk and stoned, staring at Silver's face and then the street and then West Side Highway and finally the river and Jersey. I would have strange musings at these moments, when I thought for sure we'd be mugged from behind, maybe killed.
I can't tell you the thrill I felt when I saw him smile. It was absolutely the funniest thing I'd seen. When I heard Silver moan a little, I called out to him, cheering him on. "Go man."
The thing was, you couldn't take your time with these hookers; you had to perform and perform fast, or they'd take your money and leave you flat just like that -- especially if they knew you were drunk. They didn't like giving head to guys who were drunk because they knew it'd take them forever to come.
Silver's head was now flopping from side to side, and sometimes he'd look down, astounded by what she was doing. Then he looked up and put a thumb in the air.
She was gone quickly, out of the car and up the block. She had looked us over to see if we were interested, but neither Rod nor I wanted it. Though I had thought about it, it wasn't our night. That was sort of the rule, for what reason I don't know. The nasty thing was Silver whipping off the rubber and tossing it out the sunroof. It landed on the ledge and sat there, stuck.
We then drove around in the 20s for a while. Absolutely nothing was happening except at the post office near the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel, which was bustling with workers. Otherwise there were just hookers and bums.
I can't say exactly how many times we went there to be serviced. Later I came after concerts, always drunk or stoned, always with a few friends, never alone. Going alone was truly sad. There was no fun in that.
Silver and I eventually stopped hanging out. We grew apart. Rod and I hung on and off for years. The city changed too, even when we were still making our trips. Later on, cops were everywhere, and if you had Jersey plates you were bound to get pulled over. The hookers were pushed onto 28th Street and eventually right out of the area. They couldn't be found anymore. The city put up street lights and tore down the pier and the old el train to make way for housing. The gay community took over.
I'm not sentimental about any of this. Rod would like to see it come back, even so his own kids have somewhere to go. Silver is divorced somewhere with a daughter. I saw 11th Avenue recently and thought about actually moving there. It looks like a nice place to live.