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Zip II: I Am The Trick

Nothing stays the same. But a lot stays pretty much the same.

I went back to the Gaiety Theatre nearly twenty years after my audition. This was now the post-Giuliani New York, if not quite the completely sanitized Guiliani New York. The age-old perpendicular of sleaze that had been Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street was now a schizoid 'L'; Eighth was still an arcade of crumbling mansions of porn, but 42nd had morphed into somebody's coked-up idea of DisneyWorld's Main Street. Gargantuan new hotels took up entire city blocks, serving as warehouses for the tourist trade. Yet die-hard hookers of both sexes dotted the stretch around the corner, guarding menacing entries like uninspired doormen with cravings for potato chips.

New York, New York. Then, more than ever, its slogan should have been: Name Your Poison.

It wasn't exactly lust that took me back to the Gaiety and it wasn't precisely nostalgia, but it was definitely something of the two. Once again I turned the corner onto 46th Street. Once again I pushed open that discreet door to the stairs. And I felt like Ebeneezer Scrooge revisiting the school of his childhood, courtesy of a redeeming spirit. Do I remember this? Why, I was a boy here!

It was a Friday night. And, man, the joint was jumping. Not only did it somehow look larger - which I knew quite well it was not, with the Howard Johnson's below probably obstinate in its unwillingness to lose a row of booths to a condom machine arcade - it was swarmed. The sea of middle-aged suits from - ahem - my day had grown into hurricane force. Just maneuvering through the bodies to find a seat was an enormous effort, and it struck me that the legitimate Broadway houses all around us, desperately trying to fill seats for soulless revivals or spine-chilling marriages of pop music and theater, could do worse than to take a page from the Gaiety book.

Another thing: everything seemed to be far more...well, stylish. The strip show itself was downright stunning, at least as these things go. On stage a beautiful young man moved through a carefully choreographed routine, subtle and only marginally erotic. He was lit in dreamy blue light and, to the strains of Madonna's Rain, posed like a wholesome and disarmingly shy muscle model of the fifties. Who was just a little embarrassed by the tree trunk of an erection he was sporting.

Most definitely worth noting is that there was not a whit of activity or even cruising amongst the members of the audience. It was as though some old-fashioned sense of propriety was in effect; the seaminess, if there is to be any, will be on the stage and nowhere else. I was astounded. I'd been to a few more such places in the twenty years since I debuted on the Gaiety stage. The gay man's understandable impulse to grope anywhere within a gay and grope-able milieu was a given. But not there, men.

Another dancer took the stage. He was less refined, as his music was less pretty. Not to put too fine a point to it, his entire ten-minute performance was a celebration of his hard-on. It was as though the rest of his body was a May Pole congregation, circling and celebrating the object of the festivities.

Still feeling an unwarranted trace of guilt from my lapse in manners a generation before - what, after all, were the odds that a dancer from the '70's was still at his job there? - I moved into the 'lounge'. This is and was the wide hallway wherein fish and fisherman meet. The boys go directly for it after dancing, to see and negotiate with just whom they have drawn out of their seats and minds.

There were few about, that night. Well, of course. This is where serious money changes hands, and the majority of patrons are content to buy a ticket and exit with the sex safely and economically in their heads.

A young man with an astounding collection of muscles on his frame came out. I'd seen his routine, too. Lots of flexing, not a lot below the waist. He was in essence not much more than a big walking pec. But so much of gay sex is built upon myth, muscle above can more than compensate for non-impressive dimensions elsewhere, as an exquisite gilt picture frame can class up a mediocre painting.

Besides, he danced badly. No rhythm usually means straight. The turn-on was complete.

Pec sauntered my way. Of course he did. He saw me as certain cartoon characters see more vulnerable ones: I was in his eyes a sack of burlap with a dollar sign written large upon it. He strutted over - not an easy chore, with those walnut-crushing thighs as means of locomotion - and uttered what passes for 'hello' in such settings.

"Are you a cop?"

I wasn't. Honestly.

We chatted. It is a strange thing, making small talk in that circumstance. Yet one does. Both parties know full well what needs to be discussed, but a patina of spontaneity is brushed on. Then - and I treasure this - another boy appeared down the hall from us. Pec turned and called out to him in a booming voice.

"Hey, man, you make enough money to get back home yet?"

It was beautiful. I would never have believed that such antiquated baiting went on. Of course one knew that enough cash had gone into enough stripper pockets to transport all of Manhattan, by private jet, home to anywhere they wanted home to be. In the last month or so alone, and several times over. But no matter. It was hopelessly transparent and altogether thrilling to hear.

Pec then moved into high gear, sales-wise. I made noises about being unsure, about not quite knowing if I was indeed feeling frisky enough to contract his services. And he was all over me like a slick used car dealer over a hick scratching his head in the middle of the lot.

"Where would we go?", I asked, knowing full well that action took place behind the theater's stage. I was being coy. See, I was playing for time as I decided. Very shrewd. Meantime, Pec was reeling me in like a sea bass.

"The hotel around the corner. Keep a room there."

Oh. Well, this is different. It adds as well a sexier aspect to the negotiations: complete privacy, and the likelihood of getting a bigger bang for my buck. "Don't know," I said. Oh, I'm a tough customer, all right. You bet.

Pec flexed a half-assed winning smile. "It'll be great," he said. He didn't drop the price. He didn't even encourage very encouragingly. When the fish is in the net, playing the line is a little unnecessary.

I looked around. There were other men talking with other boys in that dark lounge, but not all that many. Of course. Real tricks must be a relatively low percentage out of all those guys packing the theater. As with any other business dependent upon sales, the seller has to focus on his potential market. In this case, men like me who think they're just shopping around and don't yet realize that the sale won't be their decision.

Then I suddenly and vividly recalled my own audition there, years before. It wasn't horniness on my part, then, that compelled me to shake hands with Pec and cement the deal. It was a sense of fitness, of seeing things come full circle. I would buy Pec for fifteen minutes to an hour. I would atone in this way for never having shown up on that Friday, so long ago. This wasn't sex for money. Hell, this would be noble.

 Jack Mauro, All Rights Reserved.
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Jack Mauro