Tales of Times Square

“Crusty old cadavers, flatback girls, midnight cowboys, old-time vaudevillians, brain-damaged evangelists, freaks, addicts, zombies—what’s not to love?”

“Times Square’s most miserable, ghastly forms simmer in a witches’ brew along Eighth Avenue from 39th to 43rd streets. Here are the official dregs of society, the scum of the earth, the low-life’s lowlives whom Mother Teresa wouldn’t bother to save. A Puerto Rican pre-op transexual stabs a trick in the eye with a sharp fingernail to grab his cabfare before he pays the driver. Brain-damaged evangelists rave aloud to themselves; 300-pound hookers flip out their hooters to stop traffic. Old shoeshine uncles give ‘spit shines’ with more phlegmy bile than polish- though some might look at you as though you were out of your mind if you asked for a shine. Near-dead human vegetation take root in their own excretion in condemned doorways – most of them have slit pockets from scavengers searching for their wind-bottle change. The drug-pitch skells would rather tear off with a wallet than transact an actual exchange, and they make the teenage chicken fags seem like the most discreet commodity on the street. Fifteen ghetto guerillas wearing Pro-Keds (what transit cops call ‘felony sneakers’) swoop down on a victim, then scatter back into subway oblivion.”

Josh Alan Friedman’s Tales of Times Square was first published in 1985. A chronicle of his young life spent hangin’ around The Deuce, working for the likes of porn kings Al Goldstein and Larry Levenson, Tales is a must-read for Mean Street cinephiles. It’s a collection of columns that Friedman wrote for Goldstein’s (ahem …) seminal porn mag Screw, which according to Friedman “outsold Life, Playboy, Newsweek, and Time on Manhattan newsstands.”

“My mother threw me out of our Manhattan apartment [in 1976] just before Thanksgiving—the one time in my life I was ever kicked out. I was 20. Reeling with self-pity, I trekked down to Times Square. I booked into a fleabag joint called the Sherman Hotel, which was located at 47th and Eighth Avenue, and I thought, This is where I belong!

“There were toenail clippings stuck in the old, seedy carpet, and there was a rotary-dial phone from the 1940s. Nothing joyous ever took place in that room. A window faced out over an air shaft, a little bit of moonlight coming through. I heard old men—probably elevator men—moaning, crying, hacking phlegm all through the night. There was nothing remotely romantic about this scene.”

It’s a story as old as Thomas Wolfe at the Chelsea, or John Fante in some broken down seedy L.A. motel crankin’ out Ask the Dust.

Paul Stone made a short film based on Friedman’s book, with lots of great reminiscences of old Times Square by people who worked in the “adult entertainment” industry.

Tales of Times Square / Short Film from Paul Stone on Vimeo.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, we bring you as a bonus feature CBS News 48 Hours’ 1992 report, “Tales of Times Square,” a window into a place that is now no more, alive only in the memories of those like Josh Alan Friedman who were there – and got their book title stolen by Dan Rather.

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