Throughout the 1980’s I had a column in ADAM magazine called “Veronica Vera’s New York.” Here’s one of the treasures from my archives. I look forward to sharing more with you from my past as well as my present. Your comments are most welcome. I invite you to subscribe, and if you already have, thanks a lot!
The ladies are out in full force tonight. But then they are always out walking the streets. They stand on the corners in certain districts of Manhattan dressed in less than the bare minimum of clothing. Their short skirts just cover their asses, their spandex pants leave no room for air. Sometimes in the winter they wear jackets but these never go much below the waist. It’s important that the merchandise always be displayed. That’s an important rule of business and these ladies are in the business of selling their bodies.
It is midnight and Annie Sprinkle and I are driving through the area that surrounds Lexington Avenue between 25th and 30th Streets. Mr. Vera is also in the car. He will be our protection should we encounter any unfriendly reactions. We have been warned to watch out for the pimps.
Mr. Vera and his beloved Mark VII L.S.C will also serve as our bait. Time is money and these ladies are not going to waste their time walking over to a car in which they see only two women. Besides, he wants to be a part of this. The whole story was his idea. He is as fascinated as any other man by these legions of prostitutes who compete for his attention and his cash.
I am fascinated, too, because like these women and all women I have a body and that body has an economic value. Whether I choose to sell it or not makes no difference. The fact that I can trade on my body effects me every day of my life.
We drive slowly through the area making a reconnaissance run. Twenty-Seventh Street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway has the most activity. There are a lot of black men in suits standing outside an elegant bistro called Mr. Leo’s Southern Cuisine and a dozen fair-skinned bleach-blonde hookers who solicit business from the traffic that passes by.
Mr. Vera calls on of the black men over to the car. He makes introductions all the way ‘round. The man’s name is Maurice. He wears a double-breasted navy blazer with gold buttons. Mr. Vera explains that we would like to interview some of the ladies and photograph them for ADAM. I show him the column. Maurice is interested in only one thing. Are we paying dollars?
“Not if we can help it,” fires back Mr. Vera. “These ladies are all very busy,” responds Maurice as he bid us good night and drifts back to his look-out spot with the other men near the club.
A block later, at the corner of Park Avenue and 28th street, we meet Queen Bee and Kitty. They are friends. They share the same corner. But in many ways they are opposites. Queen Bee is big-big dark eyes, a wide full mouth, long legs with big solid thighs. She is flamboyant. She wears white short shorts to show off her ass and a white top that bares her midriff and fits real tight over her big round breasts.
Kitty’s outfit is more demure. A blue cocktail dress trimmed with blue sequins that comes down to her knees. Her manner like her dress is more cautious. She is hesitant about being photographed.
Queen Bee is very open. She has a lot to say. When I ask if this is their particular corner, she tells me, “yeah, we like this corner. But it’s not our corner, baby. Anybody can work right here. There’s enough for everybody.” As we spend more time on the streets, we notice that everybody keeps moving. No one spends more than a few minutes at a time in one spot. Its part of what hustlin’s all about.
The sky is threatening rain but Queen Bee is unperturbed. “They come out when it rains.” She says. “Everybody gets horny when it rains. We take ‘em to the Senton Hotel off 27th between Broadway and Sixth where the room costs $12.” Its one of the many small old transient hotels scattered throughout the area that owes is continued existence to the hooker traffic. “We have a good time.” Queen Bee adds. “Whatever turns you on, we’ll do it…”
“Who is this guy here?” Kitty wants to know. Mr. Vera makes it really easy for her to understand: “I’m her man.” Kitty asks him for a stick of gum.
“What’s the approach?” I want to know. Queen Bee explains. “I say to the guy, ‘Hi, Darlin! You want to go out for a date?’ They say whether its yes or no. Then I ask, ‘Okay. What you want to do?’ And they tell me what they want to do. And I say, ‘How much you got?’ And they tell me. Some guys, they’ll beat around the bush and when I say. ‘How much you got?’ They’ll ask (she says in a whining voice), ‘How much you w-a-ant?’ Then I’ll say, ‘Forget it, baby, because we ain’t going through all this. Just tell me what you want to do and how much you’re gonna spend or were gonna take our business somewhere else… a lot of guys want different things. It’s not all sex all the time. It’s a lot of fantasy. You know what I’m sayin’…?
Though I’m already sure of the answer, I ask what is the biggest seller. “Blow jobs,” they answer in unison. “Everyody wants their dick sucked,” adds Queen Bee as we all laugh.
Annie starts taking photographs. Kitty is no longer shy. They are both really into it — getting off under the bright lights. “I’m gonna be in a movie that’s coming out in November” announces Queen Bee. “It’s called Cooky with Julie Newmar.” Queen Bee likes the idea behind Cooky because she thinks that the film may show that all hookers are not bad.
“People on the other side, square people,” she explains, “they don’t understand. They think we’re all mean and evil people, and that we’re all junkies. It’s not always like that. We do this because it something that we gotta do. It’s like a job. Its just something’ we gotta do.”
Queen Bee and Kitty are having a good time but they’ve got to get back to work. “Look for me in November,” Queen Bee reminds us. “I’m the girl that falls out the car with her titties hangin’ out and goes runnin’ up to the street from the poh-leeese!”
The classiest ladies we see are not ladies at all but two queens, Francine and Marcy. The queens undergo hormone injections, which help their tits to grow and their beards to disappear. The queens hang out near the West Side highway. The ones who are into drugs are usually near 42nd street. Francine and Marcy work in the Village. Sometimes they travel up to Adam’s Apple, a singles bar on the upper East Side. “ I love to terrorize those straight men,” laughs Francine.
I comment on her beautiful necklace. She lifts her soft blonde hair to reveal matching earrings. “You have to do it right or you can’t do it at all,” she declares.
Francine and Marcy are roommates. They work a few nights a week for about an hour at a time and take home about “a bill to a bill and a half” a piece. They are very choosy about who they go with. They avoid anyone who is into a heavy drug trip. “We are not into that hostile type of individual,” says Marcy. “Even though I am out here,” explains Francine, “it doesn’t mean I go around the world in 20 minutes… my body is my temple.”
They tell us that 69 is the most popular sport, and that often a guy will give them a “windex shine” with his tongue over their high heels. The area is well known as a spot to find queens and if a guy is unsure, he usually finds out soon enough. Marcy explains, “ A lot of the straight men are just amazed by the fact that you have breasts. And if you’re the type of queen — transvestite — who takes care of yourself and live your life like a normal woman… they’re more turned on by the fact that you are living your life as a woman that by anything else. To them that is the ultimate kinkiness.”
“Do the cops bother you?” I ask. “Not really” answers Francine. “They usually say something like, ‘you look good, honey, but just keep it movin’.’ So,” she adds with a cover girl smile, “we just keep trippin’ along.”
It’s two a.m. We drive around the block and see a pile of egg cartons that look like they just slipped off a truck. Four enterprising young men attempt to sell them for $1 a dozen to the drivers that pass by. Behind the egg peddlers are three more transsexuals. On the next corner we photograph the two queens, Melissa and Yvette, then we head uptown.
Thirty-ninth Street between 11th and 12th Avenues is the most bizarre scene yet. It’s also the scariest. The street is so crowded with cars that we are forced to move very slowly as we follow the line of traffic. One side of the block is a barren lot. The other side is lined with loading garages. The garage doors are open and we can see the shadows of hookers in the darkness. There may be some johns back there, but I have my doubts. The wise man would do best to stay in the safety of his car on this little stretch. There are lot of guys on bicycles just hanging out and more just walking along the block. Not all of the hookers are in the garages. Most are out on 39th Street approaching cars in little more than their lingerie. There are so many prostitutes here that the block cannot contain them all and they spill out onto Eleventh Avenue. Soon a police van circles the area and the voice of the cop warns over the loudspeaker: “Get off the corner and into the block. You can work easy or you cannot work. Get into the block.”
Business goes on undisturbed. The hookers walk into 39th where the air is so thick with carburetor fumes that it looks as if we are driving in a dream. But this is all real. In New York this is about as real as it gets.
Forsythe Park off Delancey Street is where the baby hookers stay. The babies are about twelve years old. Some are turning tricks before they have their periods. The Park is quiet when we get there. Maybe they’ve recently cleaned it up. There seems to have been a general clean-up on the Lower East Side, probably as a result of the war on drugs. But the babies have to be somewhere, the runaways whose families are looking for them, the throwaways that nobody wants. What we’ve seen on a few nights of prowling the city only scratches the surface. The streetwalkers are part of The Life that stretches like a spider web and ensnares many people, from the cops, to the pimps, even to, as Queen Bee might call them, the people on the other side, the square people.
A woman walks home from the office and gets propositioned because her skirt’s a little short. One man sees the hookers as detriment to his neighborhood. He is so crazy with anger that he bombards them with beer cans from his twelfth floor window. And every night there are the carloads of young boys who discover their first sex between a hooker’s experienced thighs.
There are many more stories to tell, and we will find them out on the streets. I feel myself being let by my curiosity, getting sucked down deeper. You’re welcome to come along for the ride. Just follow me.
Photos by Annie Sprinkle