Right after high school, when four guys in our group were all at least 18, we set out for an illicit red light adventure. Jason, the oldest of the group, explained with great excitement that on Liberty Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh, there were these places were you could go into a booth, pay some money and a naked lady would appear behind glass. We were going to the peep show.
It wasn't as if I didn't know peep shows existed. I maybe didn't have the street smarts of The Artful Dodger, but I knew my way around the world well enough. I knew that money could quite often lead to naked ladies in one capacity or another. And now I was setting off to confirm what I already knew. Not wanting to seem like a full-fledged pervert, I eschewed an outfit of ripped jeans and a black t-shirt with motor oil stains. Instead, I wore nice jeans and an argyle sweater. I could've been going to the mall, I could've been going Christmas caroling or I could've been going out to see every part of some strange woman's exterior anatomy.
Although the entrance was at ground level, the nakedness was on the second floor. Possibly to make customers feel like they were ascending to heaven. Although...I might not be the religious sort, but I am positive that the stairway to heaven is not narrow, dark, dank and lined with a railing that people should not touch under any circumstance, even if they lost their balance and are about to fall face first down the stairs.
When you make it up that flight of stairs, immune system intact, you immediately realize that you are most definitely not in heaven. No, you are in a 150-square foot room that is cramped with pornographic movies, pornographic magazines, pornographic books, pornographic ideas and a general pornographic air. Marital aids of all shapes, sizes and colors line three of the walls, including some gleaming black numbers that rivaled Gigantor in size and intimidation. Along the fourth wall iss a wooden counter staffed by a man who knows that you are so desperate to see naked women that you are willing to pay for it. The counter is tall enough to hide any number of objects, from a secret cache holding the greatest porno of all time to a sawed-off shotgun to a bonus, off-menu half-Thai, half-Irish woman that only regulars know to ask for. And quite literally, there is nothing you can show this man that he hasn't seen before, including four fresh-faced 18-year olds, one of whom looks like he's dressed for church.
Once inside this cozy den of sin, a person has two options. Head back down the stairs to freedom and hygiene...or press on down a narrow, dark, brief hallway to one of three doors. The church I went to as a young lad also had three doors off to the side, but those doors were for confession and what I was planning on was the impetus for confession.
Two of three doors were active that night. This was Crystal's evening to stay at home with the New York Times Sunday crossword, apparently. I didn't know what was behind those doors, although I was certain it wasn't a cable knit sweater, despite the chilly weather outside. I chose the door on the right.
Upon opening the door, the first thing I noticed was a paper towel dispenser hanging on the wall. At first, I praised the establishment's dedication to cleanliness, but when I noticed a small trash can that was simply overflowing with wadded up paper towels, I realized that I was not standing anywhere close to godliness. There was one paper towel splayed across the floor by my feet. When I tried to kick it out of my way, it didn't move. It was glued to the linoleum with material that thankfully never became a human baby struggling to read in eighth grade.
Besides dead semen, the booth's most predominant feature was a large pane of frosted glass. If you put a dollar into a vending machine-style bill eater, a light bulb on the other side of the glass would illuminate, making the glass transparent for one minute. If you slid in a fiver, this optical magic would continue for five minutes. I decided to start off slow, engage in some peep show foreplay and only buy a minute of this woman's time.
As the light went on and the glass cleared, a woman we'll call Kitty McNamara got up from her stool in a back hallway and climbed into her display box. She cracked a smile and let loose a small laugh when she saw a neatly-pressed, crisp and clean, fresh-faced youngster in her presence instead of the normal homeless alcoholic. The fantasy was already ruined. She got naked in short order, which was no feat as she didn't start off all that clothed. Soon the minute was up, the glass was frosty again and I was back in the hallway. How I turned the knob to open the door after seeing used paper towels everywhere has been washed from my memory.
Out in the hallway, I learned that a new friend has joined us. We'll call him Rusty. I'm not sure if Rusty was homeless. I certainly hope he was because if he lived next to you, he would cripple your property values. Like most males in the presence of other males, Rusty wanted to talk women with us. However, Rusty had different ideas than most about what women liked from a man. A veteran of the peep show scene and most definitely a veteran of drinking hard, cheap liquor that would make an ordinary man's hair fall out, Rusty took us under his wing, as if an old man staking a sapling in his yard. With a voice that redefined raspiness, Rusty told us of his favorite strategy. "I like to go in there (garbled) and Jack Lambert the bitch! Ha ha ha ha ha!" For those of you not in the know, Jack Lambert was linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their four Super Bowl titles in the '70s. Missing his two front teeth, Lambert was renowned as the most fearsome and toughest player in the league. Rusty, our new mentor, was advising us kids to go into that booth and tackle to the ground some poor woman as hard as we possibly could. In optimal conditions, we would hurt her. Somehow, according to Rusty, this would lead to fellation.
Like most men, I could not be satisfied by one single woman. So with the wisdom of Rusty ringing in my ears, I entered the door on the left. This booth was not nearly as cluttered with paper towels as the first. Most likely because the occupant of this booth, call her Lola Ponchartraine, was not nearly as attractive. Whereas Kitty was strawberry of hair and curvy and young and at least a little friendly, Lola had stringy blond hair, a hard, lean body and a face that didn't fake for even one second that either one of us should be enjoying this. She was also wearing thigh high white patent leather boots. Kitty was soft, like a piece of birthday cake. Lola was hard, like a skirt steak.
By the time of my second return to the hallway, all four of us had sampled both women and Rusty and a general consensus was formed. Kitty was preferable to Lola, stepping on a hypodermic needle at the beach was preferable to hugging Rusty. Emboldened by Kitty's new popularity, I went back for another minute. This would be a good time to mention that the booths also contained a tip slot. If the dancer did something you particularly appreciated, you could feed dollars through a slot and they would tumble into a heap inside the box. Clearly, this money would help the girls with their college tuition. Although she didn't do anything remarkable beyond not mocking me, I stuffed my last few dollars through Kitty's tip slot.
The peep show adventure was on its last legs, but I had not experienced all the premises had to offer. I had only "enjoyed" one minute dances. I needed to try a five-minute dance just in case things really came alive at the two minute mark. I borrowed $5 from a friend since my own pockets were empty and decided to give Lola another shot. If you're wondering why I decided to go for an extending viewing of the woman I had already decided placed second of two, my only explanation is that I was 18.
Before we continue, may I make a suggestion? Turn to the side and stare at the wall for five minutes. Time it so you can know just how long five minutes is. Although frequently bandied about as a brief measure of time, five minutes can sometimes be interminable.
Like, say, when you are staring at a naked Lola Ponchartraine. At the 61-second mark, I realized why the one minute viewing is the choice of champions. I was bored, I felt awkward, Lola was out of suggestive dance moves and we had four minutes left with each other. She laid down and did some stuff, she got up and did some stuff and time had seemingly screeched to a standstill. If she was more of a creative thinker, Lola could've gotten dressed and then restripped, but any creative thoughts Lola had were long ago washed away by the drugs that had since leathered her face.
About three minutes into the performance, I heard a fierce banging. At first I thought my friends were rapping on the door, begging me to come out so we could leave. But when I opened the door, two of my friends were enjoying further Moments With Rusty, and the third man was most likely with Kitty. I certainly wasn't pounding on anything, so the source of the noise remained a mystery. Until I finally realized that Lola's repeated leg kicks were not a chance at some exotic cervical glimpse. No, she was kicking the tip box with her boots, demanding a little something for the effort. I had no money. I had to borrow five dollars to even subject myself to this torture. I simply pulled my pockets out, allowed the proverbial moth out and shrugged. Lola gave a look that betrayed the one feeling she had left at this point in her life, anger spiked with disappointment. We still had two minutes left. She wasn't getting any tips out of this flash in time, but she couldn't stop dancing lest this punk kid tell the manager he got ripped off. I might have demanded a free copy of Oui to compensate and that would've eventually come out of Lola's under the table paycheck and it would've been a whole thing. It was easier to keep dancing. Standing up, back on the floor, back standing up. She never did take her boots off, though.
Finally, the five minutes was up. I was free. Free to never go back to the peep show as long as I live.