I was in Times Square only once, back in the 90’s. I’d just been rejected by the Air Force, but I decided to hang around for the weekend. Sometimes I like to reminisce over the photos from that day. Bob is in this one, wearing brown shorts and tube socks, standing outside the Venus, which was showing a triple adult special that day. Cat’s eyes on the marquis wink back at me.
Maybe it was the fragrance of pretzels and burgers mingling with stink of the winos and their rancid hangovers that freed me up somehow, giving the neon and the lurid signs so much promise in that late afternoon light.
Like me, Bob was there for the weekend, a kindred spirit with a need to melt into the pulse of life amidst the film processing places and porn shops.
The photos bring it back. Here’s one of a gorilla suit hanging in a window. It’s like seeing ghosts when I go through them, sweat and animal yearning haunting me. Times Square was dying when it was new. It dies and it lives again, bleeding through bright reds and dirty yellows. I trace each and every brick, calculating the origin of the grime that covers the mortar between them. Can I merge with that simpler time, when I was twenty-five, and life didn’t weigh as heavily on me? Can I sit at the Howard Johnson’s and have drinks with the dead?
I close my eyes, remembering the hum of dollars going into peep show slots and watching people fuck, the floors sticky, the smell of cum ever-present.
• • •
Up in the hotel room we clinked cans of Schlitz and waited for the hooker. Bob got the room. They didn’t need a name, just cash.
I think she was Peurto Rican, but I can’t recall. She started demanding more money than we agreed to on the street. Bob began shouting and shoved her against the wall when she came clawing at him. I didn’t say anything, just sat there on the bed as she gave us each the finger and stormed out.
The door swung halfway shut, offering an easy out that I never took. Bob broke out some angel dust and put his hand on my knee. We were both feeling kinda filthy good. I remember the peeling wallpaper and the sirens wailing outside.
• • •
Then all I remember are sensations: pulling and squeezing something, and the exquisite pain of an orgasm. I woke in a corner, my head pounding. Bob was slumped facedown over the bed, pants around his ankles, sheet twisted about his neck. His glazed eyes looked back from a bloated, purple face that no longer felt the pain of being different. I flipped, grabbed my shit, and left.
• • •
I passed the hooker as I headed towards Port Authority at a fast clip. She glowered at me, and I stopped. We faced one another a moment, taking in the other’s loneliness. Then I pulled out a hundred-dollar bill and handed it to her.
“No hard feelings,” I said.
She thanked me, stone-faced. New Yorkers are nice people.
I got on that bus and never looked back.
• • •
You move on, at least you think so. Whenever I see Bob in that yellowed bit of emulsion, I relive it and realize it was part of eternity.
I sweated bullets for a month, and then I sweated less. No news came from New York. I was far away by then, and it was all like a dream. Shit, I didn’t even have any proof, but I do now.
I’m married with kids, but my job keeps me on the road a lot. That’s where I am now, in a shitty hotel looking at my photos, letting the bloated corpse of the past resurface.
My phone rings.
“Hi, honey…Yep…OK…Sure…Uh huh, be home by six.”
I end the call and look down at the face of the young, blonde kid laying on the floor like a broken starfish.
“Time to go,” I say. He keeps giving me that silent stare. The old Time Square may be gone, but it remains in me. I slip the photos into my briefcase and head home for dinner.