The City and Sex: Strippers Strike Back at Giuliani

Mayor Rudy Giuliani hath decreed that people can’t just take off their clothes and let other people ogle them or touch them. The courts have been taking their sweet time in giving the city the right to enforce the decree, but the other day, all the Times Square strippers were acting like it was a done deal.

On July 20, outside of Show World at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street, there were a lot of TV news vans and cameras scaring away customers. Inside, on the second floor, six women in negligees loitered behind a sort of ticket counter, asking men to pay $5 so they could enter a booth for a live show.

A guy was going around with a mop. The place smelled like Clorox.

Here was 22-year-old Nicole, a single mother from the Bronx who said she wants to be a nurse. She wore a pink bra-and-panty set from Victoria’s Secret. I tipped her and she removed her top.

“How many guys have you seen today?”

“Not that many. Eight. Tips are not too good today.”

Then a girl who gave her name as Peaches entered Nicole’s area. Within seconds, a Show World manager came in, saying, “Both of you can’t be at the window at the same time!” Exit Nicole.

Peaches, 19, a Nigerian with braided hair, wore an orange lace-up teddy and black heels. She hit me up for a tip and said she came to this country in ’92 to work as an au pair in New Jersey. She ran away from the au pair job, worked in McDonald’s for a while. Now she makes $1,500 a week-enough to support her 2-year-old child.

“What am I going to live on now?” she said. “$5.25 an hour?”

“Is this fun at all?”

“No, you have to compete your body. If you give me $40 right now, you can touch my butt, or I can give you a masturbation show.”

“That’s all right. What do you think of the Mayor?”

“I think he’s a bully. I think he’s getting paid off by the Disney people.”

In another window was Adrienne, a 23-year-old from Atlanta. Braids, bellybutton rings, busty. She came to New York with “stars in her eyes,” she said. Cashiering didn’t pay the bills, so she began stripping three years ago.

“What Giuliani doesn’t understand is there’s some of us not in for the long term,” she said. “We’re using this as a stepping stone to better ourselves. We’re not druggies, we’re not hookers, we’re not sleazy.”

She had arrived at work at 10:30 A.M. and had seen about 15 guys in six hours.

“What do these guys tell you?”

“They just tell me how nice I am, how sexy I am. Some of them tell me I shouldn’t be here, they wish they could take me out and support me, and some of them talk about their day, and for the most part the customers are married men. Some want me to rub their faces. Some will say, ‘Do you think it’s big?’ I have to lie sometimes to keep from hurting their feelings. Then you’ll get some people, it’s a psychological thing, where they’ll come in and they want you to humiliate them. Even if it’s large they want you to tell them it’s small .”

“What are the men like here?”

“Sometimes you get the most attractive guys, they come in here and they tell you these elaborate stories going on in their heads, how they get off on raping women or how they had this fantasy, and you’re the one that can sidetrack them from that-that’s another crime that’s being prevented. Sometimes you get guys in here, you’re like, Oh, my goodness, I didn’t expect this to happen, and they’re talking to you and you’re talking to them-it’s safe sex and of course you’re going to partake in it. You can have an orgasm-I’ve had several.”

“How do you feel about the Mayor?”

“I don’t understand him. He gets a lot of credit for supposedly bringing class to New York City and maybe he has, but he’s hurting a lot of people. It seems as if he’s so against sex for some reason. Yeah, there’s something going on with him … and it’s made him take it out on the whole sex industry.”

Now Tiffany. A blond beauty. If she weren’t wearing just a pair of white “T-bar” panties, which cover up a little more than a G-string, she might look at home in a Southampton country club. A five-year Show World veteran, she said she lives three days a week in Pennsylvania with her son and makes $1,500 to $2,000 a week.

“A lot of us, we support our children because, basically, we have to put food on the plate. This is not no whorehouse-they can’t touch our vagina, excuse my language. It’s only breast and behind, so I don’t see nothing wrong with it. O.K., I have a few clients who like to play daddy and I’m the little girl that he molests. Now what’s he going to do when he doesn’t have here to play that fantasy out-he’s going to hurt somebody. Where’s he gonna go? To his daughter.”

“Anything wild happen to you here?”

“We have couples who come in. Ladies are free and the lady and the man both touch us, and they usually end up having sex in here.”

“Does it excite you?”

“It’s my job. It excites me depends what the tip is.”

The Strange Odyssey

Of Frederick D. Up to 850 homeless men-drug addicts, unemployed day laborers, guys who are down and out-sleep on metal beds at the 30th Street Men’s Shelter on First Avenue. A while back, residents told of guards who roughed them up. A few weeks ago, it got a whole lot rougher.

According to homeless advocates, a dozen or so men were kicked out onto the street, and suspended from the entire system, for seven days. The men were kicked out for smoking. In the past, people have been kicked out for vandalism, fighting, carrying drugs or a weapon. Never for smoking.

The trouble started, strangely enough, with a small victory for the homeless men. For years, the old smoke-detector system in the building was malfunctioning. Now, an extensive new system had finally been installed. Everybody rejoiced.

But there was a problem. The men were sneaking cigarettes in their rooms and in bathrooms. Making things worse, the old building is infested with roaches, which crawled in and out of the smoke alarms, setting them off. Firetrucks came and went.

Shelter staff see smoking in unrestricted areas as a serious hazard-so they jumped into action. According to Patrick Markee, who monitors the shelter for Coalition for the Homeless, they began roaming the building in search of signs of smoking.

“They instituted a zero-tolerance policy,” Mr. Markee said. “If you were caught smoking in restricted areas, or caught with what they called evidence-meaning an ashtray under your bed or a cigarette butt on your floor-you were kicked out on the spot.”

Susan Wiviott, a spokesman for the city Department of Homeless Services, confirmed that no one had ever been suspended for smoking before the zero-tolerance policy, though she said only seven men had been kicked out. She was unapologetic about the stiff punishment.

“If you put people’s lives in danger, you have to find another place to stay,” she said. “Smoking is a huge ongoing problem. We take it very seriously. People cannot smoke in their beds. Period.”

The men fanned across the city in search of places to wait out their seven-day banishment. When you are suspended from a shelter, you’re not allowed back into the system for a week. One Bulgarian immigrant in his 60′s, a recovering alcoholic, told Mr. Markee he spent the better part of his week on the subways. Same goes for Henry, a 40-ish methadone addict who claimed to have been kicked out for having an ashtray under his bed.

But the strangest odyssey belongs to Frederick D., a methadone addict with a bad leg who had lived in the shelter for a year as he awaited public housing. This is the story he told Mr. Markee: First, he drifted north to Marcus Garvey Park in his Harlem neighborhood. He slept there for two days. Police told him to move on. Then Frederick D. hatched a plan. He decided to fake his way into a detox program in Staten Island. Frederick, who doesn’t drink, forced down a beer so he would have alcohol in his system. It worked. He passed seven days in a comfortable Staten Island hospital bed.

“It was the only way he could get a roof over his head,” Mr. Markee said.

Finally, on the Friday before July 4, he returned to the shelter. But, he told Mr. Markee, there was no supervisor there to admit him. He was told to come back Monday. So he drifted back up to Marcus Garvey Park, where he slept under a tree.

-Greg Sargent