Not my cup of tease

Jill Neimark

October 01, 1993|By Jill Neimark

I NEVER wander into my neighborhood porn shop, but lately I've been curious. That's because I've just written a novel that, according to some, you might as well stack on the shelves next to "Dixie Dynamite" and "Dark Interludes." When it was published last week, the Los Angeles Times praised its "dark but ecstatic eroticism" and Mirabella damned its "halfhearted smut."

So I went over to Crazy Fantasy in the Village to see if, indeed, I belong among the smutmakers. I figured it would be a place with a primal undertow, a place that might spark some unacknowledged taste of mine for sordid pleasures. And I had uneasy fantasies of men following me from the street, as if just by walking in I'd be confessing some kind of hunger.

But the most interesting thing about the porn shop was that nobody bothered me. Sex -- that edgy mix of titillation, craving and hope -- was not in the air. The place seemed utilitarian and almost benign, a place of transaction, not transcendence. The guys there let me be. They were doing their own thing. There was a bouncer on a stool by the door, but he was daydreaming, just like the clerk behind the counter. Then a tall, clean-cut guy came in and headed straight for the peep shows.

I'd always been curious about peep shows. A boyfriend had told me once how he stopped sometimes at Times Square, and he'd described it as a secret, sweet compulsion. I'd spun a fantasy in my own head of some New Jersey stockbroker who couldn't stay away from one elfin, sad-eyed stripper. I have no idea what these places really look like, but in my mind there were a hundred portholes in plasterboard, divided like bathroom stalls, and in them, a hundred men peering through like shipwrecked sailors, gazing at a darkness lit by a single bulb, and a single woman.

So I kept hesitating at the row of yellow, red and green stalls and the flashing "Peep Show!" sign. A couple of guys had gone in and there was tinny, carnival-like music floating toward me. I edged toward the back, pretending to look at the posters. A middle-aged Latin man had gotten eight quarters and entered a stall with an air of calm efficiency, as if he knew exactly how long he wanted to stay.

But the sad truth is, the biggest thrill I got was opening the narrow door and slipping inside what seemed a vertical coffin. I checked the floor the way you check bathrooms at gas stations, but it was clean. It was the size of a confessional -- and not nearly as interesting. There was a 13-inch video screen, a slot for my coins and a digital clock. I put in a quarter, and saw several orifices with a blurry, green tinge -- I simply couldn't fathom how anyone could find this the least bit arousing. I'd rather just stay home and close my eyes -- aren't your own fantasies a thousand times better? The most exciting part of the peep show turned out to be the countdown on the digital clock, like some kind of high-tech hourglass on speed.

Still, walking out I felt a peculiar mixture of pride and contempt. The pride was in daring to tread on this seedy male turf. Now I know: Porn is no big deal, it's not the dark underbelly of sex. A peep show's not much different than smoking a cigarette or eating a Mars bar. A sudden craving. You do it, and it's done. That's far removed from what I attempted in my novel -- an erotic awakening that changes a woman for the rest of her life, the kind of pas de deux that imprints itself on every nerve and membrane. Now if they could put that on camera, I'd be waiting in line with my quarters.

Jill Neimark is a New York journalist and the author of "Bloodsong." She wrote this for Newsday.

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