Thursday, February 16, 2012

Book Review: When Sex Was Dirty (Feral House, 2005) by Josh Alan Friedman, 133 pages.

Sean Tajaratchi’s provocative cover opens the way for Mr. Friedman’s entertaining and illuminating series of essays and articles told in two parts. The first section throws open a portal into the colorful pre-AIDS days of the New York flesh trades and its epicenter, Times Square. We then delve back in time to Dallas, when Jack Ruby, (yes, that pistol packing Jack Ruby), added his own brand of swarm to the adult entertainment industry in those pre-Kennedy days.

For those of you younger than Disney’s infestation of the Big Apple, Times Square, ‘The Crossroads of the World’, was a place very much with its legs uncrossed. This was the place to get laid; to see people get laid; and to discuss the ‘laying’ process. X-Rated films, Live Sex Shows, hundreds of peep booths and street walkers graced the gates to the ‘Great White Way.’

In those pre-Internet days, you could actually travel to the center of the adult entertainment universe to find the choicest hookers and the funkiest pimps, the grandest whore-houses and have your pornography and condoms all wrapped up in a tidy brown paper bag that you hid under your coat as you skulked homeward. Everything was on the down low then, and so seedy that you needed the best scotch-guard on your raincoat to keep your clothes from getting sullied.

“When Sex Was Dirty” a la New York introduces us to the real players of the day: ‘The Stud’, a man who could have and maybe did have any woman he wanted, with the exception of then super model, Carol Alt; Kellie Everts, Miss Nude Universe, also known as the stripping preacher; the hot Meg Calendar; Miss Annie Sprinkle, the Queen of the X-Rated; and last, but not least, the engine that seemed to drive it all, the larger than life, Mr. Al Goldstein and his SCREW Magazine.

Mr. Friedman is a former Senior Editor of SCREW, who paints through anecdotes, lush strokes of the days when porn, Studio 54 and the sex trade were hip and hardcore, before it all became demystified, dilettante and dumbed down.

I must confess that growing up in Fairfield County Connecticut, this kid spent time walking to and from the train to Madison Square Garden, was a devotee of The Daily News and Channel 2 Crime reporting, so I am familiar with many of the subjects and places in this section. Even later in life, I met and spent considerable time talking with - just talking with - two guest stars in this section, both actresses whom I will leave unnamed. In an odd, deja vu sort of way, reading this was like old home week for me.

But even if you are a newbie, Mr. Friedman captures the swagger and rebellion of the era, tracing its rise and fall through the narrative and from the perspective of each “character”. His writing is crisp and honest, capable of humanizing the everyday trials and tribulations of these Adult World Icons and guest stars. The writing achieves some memorably touching moments, without romanticizing the people or sex trade. It was a raw business with tender feelings.

Then there’s Texas. Just try to make it through a conversation with Jack Ruby without getting your teeth punched out and then pub crawl out to Massey’s and Winedale. Here is the documentation of some of the roughest and most famous Texas hot spots of their time. However, the material our author is working with is thin: snippets of information and recollections gathered in the present from old timers. Thus, the story telling technique is different in Dallas and unfortunately not as entertaining as New York, but again, this is not to fault the author.

While I was perfectly drawn in and at home in New York, I felt I was a tourist in Dallas where considerably less ink was spent. I personally wished that the text would have stayed in one place or the other. It just reads and feels like two different books.

In all, this collection is a most marvelous piece of history. A documentation of a very real time, place and ethic in American culture that the current politically correct would prefer to ignore until it disappeared into oblivion. It is a morally “bad” depiction of America. But it is small pieces like the content of this book that will enrich the re-telling of American life and history in the future.

My feelings of disjointedness should not dissuade anyone from this read. It’s simply good, entertainingly told history of one of the seedier sides of mid-twentieth century American life.

Buy it Here

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