By Ernest © 2010
The first time I went to Times Square I was tripping my balls off.
I was visiting my friend who was housesitting his art professor's huge apartment/art studio in Tribeca for the summer. On our first night in town, a group of us went to the last strip club left in Manhattan that didn't charge a cover. You get what you pay for. It was a dingy joint called Satin Dolls. Like a rookie, I bought the first round. Forty bucks for four Buds for four buddies. Yikes. The talent was less than stellar. The anorexic, bruised strippers would actually emerge from a trap door on the stage. I imagined a dirt floor dungeon shooting gallery down there, where feral stripper junkies would prowl around hissing at each other until it was their turn to go above ground like a bunch of dope sick C.H.U.D.S. I'm really surprised that a stripper didn't come up with a needle still hanging out of her arm. There was a back room/pay phone alcove where strippers would occasionally lead fat old men in stained wife beaters to do blow or get blown. It was basically in plain view of the bar. All you had to do was lean back on your stool and you had a clear shot of all the disturbing nefarious activities. My friends were cheap as shit, and only two of us were tipping the strippers. At one point, a particularly strung out stripper with protruding ribs leaned over the bar from the stage and started screaming at us "Tip! Tip! TIP!!!" as little flecks of spittle formed in the corners of her chapped lips.
After the screaming incident, the club's gigantic bouncer came over to us at the bar and put his arms around all four of us at once and said in a Barry White-like voice: "You boys will be having another beer."
We believed him. He was wearing more jewelry than Mr T. and his breath smelled like Hennessy and beatings. We shelled out another forty bucks and drank our second beers quickly as Alanis Morrissette blared over the speakers. I shit you not. Alanis fucking Morrissette. As if the place wasn't depressing enough. Whatever happened to Def Leppard or Motley Crue? My friend Bamboo and I decided that the only proper reaction to the scarring experience of Satin Dolls was to drop some of the acid that I had smuggled on the plane to New York in the waistband of my boxers. We went into the men's room that I really, really don't want to talk about, and swallowed the little paper squares. I don't know why we bothered to go into the bathroom, drug use was everywhere out in the open. We washed the acid down with the last of our $10 Budweisers as we walked past Mr. T and out into the muggy New York evening.
The subway ride was mercifully short, and as we walked up the stairs into Times Square, we were really starting to trip. Times Square is already sensory overload when you're sober, and on LSD it was like ground zero of a neon atomic bomb. Everything was flashing color and vertigo as we stumbled down the sidewalk trying to maintain. This was right before the Disney-fication of Times Square. Most of the peep shows and porno theaters were already deserted, so the city had sponsored an art exhibit. The lobbies and display cases of the theaters were filled with crazy sculptures and graffiti pieces, and all the marquees had cool phrases or haikus on them. I was too fucked up to remember any of them, but it was cool Basquiat type shit. Everything was all a blur as we made our way a few blocks down to the Manhattan Center where the Melvins were playing. We got some beers at a bodega and hung out on the steps of the Post Office across from Penn Station before smoking a joint and heading into the show.
The Melvins psychedelic sludge was incredible, although some drunk dude mistook me for the bass player of the opening band, Season to Risk. He kept asking me about "the new album" and "what touring was like." He was relentless, even though I insisted I wasn't the bass player. Later I found out that my friend TB had told him that I really was in Season to Risk, but that I was humble and shy so he would have to be persistent. Thanks TB. Fuck with the guy who is tripping. What are friends for.
By the time we left the show, it had cooled off outside, thank god. We enjoyed a typically insane New York City cab ride as we headed back to the loft. I remember thinking that I felt bad for people who grew up in New York, because all of this would be the norm for them. Every place they went after this would be a let down. We grabbed some beers at the corner store at 3am (was this place heaven or what?) and headed up to the apartment. After we hung out on the fire escape for awhile listening to the sounds of Manhattan at night, I went into the living room and lay down on the couch that would be my bed for the next few nights. As I looked out of the huge floor to ceiling windows, I had a perfect view of the Twin Towers framed by the moon.
A lot has changed since then, but that first whacked out night is how I'll always picture New York.
Ernest is a writer currently living in Maine.