Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Scribbles & Sex Comes to the City of Brotherly Love

The city was changing, but not in a positive way. By 1969 I had gone to school, worked and lived in Philadelphia for a decade in various ways. I really liked the city. It had history, charm, culture, a vibrant art scene, generally friendly people and was great for walking. Despite the civil rights riots and the antiwar protests that had sometimes sputtered up, Philly always seemed safe to me.  It was relatively clean.
One day, not long after we moved into University City, I was returning from one of my strolls downtown. Crossing the campuses somewhere in the area between Drexel and Penn, I happened to look up toward nearby rooftops where there were some billboards. Billboards were not an uncommon sight, but scrolled across the front of one was a word that was unusual, although it soon wouldn’t be, and that word was “Cornbread”.
It wasn't part of the ad. It actually obliterated part of the slogan. It was not professionally made at all, one could easily see how amateurish it was.
What in the world was it?
It wasn’t a “it”;  it was a person and the Nickname “Cornbread” began appearing as a spray-painted scrawl everywhere. Over the next few years it was joined by Cool Earl, Chewy, Cool Kleppo Kid and others, although those were the most prominent. A lot of people wanted them found and arrested , and to be forced to clean up their defacing and maybe get some jail time as well. Yes but, you know how it is. There are a lot of morons everywhere, especially in universities and soon a lot of college kids took up the scribblings as a cause. Then a group of egghead academics and noodle-brained elitist from the museum community actually labeled this garbage “Art” They called the disrespectful property damagers, "Graffiti Artists”; instead of seeing them for the vandals they were.

Philadelphia became the graffiti capital of the world. This ugliness spread from Philly to New York, and from there to other U. S. cities, then oversees.
My feeling was put a stop to this at once End it in its tracks before it grows bigger. Some scoffed, it was a little thing,  they said, kids being kids. I said take care of the little things and the big things will not become so big. Instead, these pathetic youths were made into some kind of cultural heroes, and the art world even embraced and displayed some of the growing graffiti. And what was the result? Graffiti everywhere on private and public buildings, subway corridors and trains, rolling stock on the rails, delivery trucks, walls and tunnels besmirched with crude drawings, course words and faceless names. It became coded messages for drug deals and markings for gang territory and activity.

These scrawls of sometimes unreadable signatures were not the only stain spreading in the city. The other was something that quickly drew me into its swamp.
Again, on one of my many walks about the town, I was striding West on Walnut directly across from Rittenhouse Square. This was a nice neighborhood, generally quiet, unless a protest hit the park on any particular day. That block of Walnut was lined with boutiques and usually pricy shops  (or should I say "shoppes"), which  I guess it still is. At any Rate, in the ‘sixties it was something of a tony neighborhood.

Some of the shops were on two levels; that is, you would have a half-story stairway going down to a shop just below ground level and another half stairway going up to partially above the sidewalk. I was passing the display window of a basement shop that sold jewelry, and oddly, potions. From what I recall it actually had the word “witch” or “witching” in its name, somewhat surprising for that area. It looked more like it escaped from South Street. I had no particular interest in this downstairs shop, but there was a new upstairs establishment recently opened and I went up the steps to check it out.

It did not have a fancy entry way. It was rather plain, kind of a sandstone color and I believe gray. I went inside and there were some separate rooms, so unfurnished and homely it looked like the rooms of an incomplete picture gallery. That would not have been unexpected. There were several snobbish art galleries around downtown, except this place had no paintings displayed on its mostly empty walls or any statues on pedestals here and there. All it had were a few ancient-looking machines scattered about in each room.
They were kind of old-fashioned Nickelodeons. You know, about waist high boxes with viewers like cutoff binoculars on top. I only knew what they were because they had similar machines in the Penny Arcade at Dorney Park. You put a nickel in a slot and could watch old time silent comedy films through the lens. These particular bosses didn't accept nickels, though; the coin slot was made for quarters. There was a machine attached to one wall that would exchange dollar bills for quarters. These were peep shows, the first I had ever seen about the city.

These weren’t showing old silent Charlie Chaplin’s for your quarter either. The signs were distinctly smaller than that on the photo to the right and the titles were a bit obscure, like “What she learned in Egypt” or “Taking off, a Flight of Delight.”
I dropped a quarter in one machine's slot and pressed my face down against the viewer. In a couple seconds a title flickered across the screen and then this woman appeared in the frame. There was no fancy background, just a black backdrop. There were no props, only the woman, who began to dance about, somewhat awkwardly. She stepped about in little circles from one edge to the other, and then she reached forward and began unbuttoning her blouse. She unsnapped the last button and blam! The screen went black. A little caption popped up asking you to drop another quarter to continue.
After a second quarter dropped, the film picked up where it had left off. The woman slipped off her blouse and then snapped her skirt and let it drop. She writhed about for several minutes, occasionally tugging at the waist band of her panties. Finally, she reached behind and undid the clasp of her bra and then what! The screen went black again and asked for another quarter.
Now the woman let her bra drop and began tugging suggestively at her panties and then she struggled out of these to prance about in just a G-string and pasties right before the screen did its black thing. The fourth quarter got you further dance moves, which ended with her tossing aside the pasties, shedding the G-string and standing there briefly in her altogether or sometimes rolling about on the floor. 

Someone told me that Ira Einhorn (left) owned the shop and the peeps. I don’t know if that was true or not. Einhorn was something of a guru in the Philly of the 1960s. We'll talk about him more later. Looking back, it was pretty tame stuff that quite frankly might show up on your TV today. It 1969 it was really daring.  The ‘50s had almost acted as if sex didn’t exist. You would have been hard pressed to find peep shows out in the broad daylight when I was growing up. People seldom even spoke of sex. Philly certainly had its secret places in the ’60 (go ask Ronald), but they were not easy for the average person to find and the Quaker City was still pretty straight lace. It was very clean, a situation that wouldn’t last.
First came the peep shows there on Walnut, and I admit I kept stopping in and probably saw all the little films they had to offer. The one I remember most distinctly was where this woman was completely naked by the end of the third quarter and spend the entire fourth reel frolicking about in a pile of rose petals. This one stood out because there was actually a prop and not just the stark background. Most of these little enticements were alike, a woman slowly stripping and dancing before a plain white or black background curtain.
That was only the initial step. Not too long afterward came the first so-called “Adult Bookstore”; on Market Street I believe. I don’t think any of the magazine articles featured there ever showed up as blurbs on any North American poster. A lot of my money disappeared into that bookstore, those magazines were expensive compared to your normal newsstand offerings, and often a lot thinner; 
Gradually, two things happened. First, more and more Adult Bookstores began to open. Eventually the whole block of Race on both sides became infested with these merchants, one after another. In fact, sex shops of one kind or another  ended up running up 12th and 13th Street and probably Race, too.

I visited that first Adult Bookstore on Market out of inquisitiveness. I’ve done a lot of things just out of an insatiable need to know. That is the definition of curiosity: “A strong desire to know or learn something.” Boy, did I learn something! And yes, I know the saying, “Curiosity killed the cat.” You seldom hear anyone finish that couplet, though. “Satisfaction brought him back.”
The problem was, there was no satisfaction. You know, when Eve bit the forbidden fruit, she didn’t say, “Oh, okay that’s what it tastes like. Fine, I’m satisfied.”  No, once she bit it she not only wanted more, she wanted to share and she did, with Adam. For me, scanning through that first pornographic magazine was like the old Lay’s Potato Chip ad, “Bet you can’t eat just one.”
Now it is true that when the store first opened most of the magazine issues simply featured female nudity. I was not a neophyte to displays of female pulchritude. As an adolescent I diligently searched for such images; I stole to get them.  As a teen I found a slippery, slimy character willing to sell magazines of so-called art poses to an underage boy.  But in the merchandise of this shop on Market, the pictures of the ladies on display showed a lot more and nothing appeared airbrushed. With “Playboy” or “Evergreen”, what relatively tame pictures were there, you could claim you got the magazine for the articles if you wanted a purer motive. For something like “Avant Gard”, why, I’m only interested in the art. There were no such fig leaves (should me call them “Fib leaves”) to hide behind here. You would buy these publications for one reason and one reason only and it wasn’t edification.
Just as when I was 13 or 14 and I copped the “Girlie” magazines at Sam Charles and started with one, then a couple and finally stuffed whatever I could under my shirt, I bought one magazine here, then came back for a couple and was soon a regular buying as many as I felt I could afford. Truth be told, I couldn’t afford that first one, but I was hooked and these photos became something I felt I needed. I constantly was drawn to the racks.
After a month or two, the magazine content began to grow more sexual. It wasn’t just posing nude models, now it was photos of couples in the act. Looking at some pretty woman standing there in the flesh wasn’t enough anymore, now there was some need for action, for some semblance of movement and activity in the photographs.
Here is the thing with pornography, and I imagine it is similar for alcohol and drugs. With booze some people are fairly impervious to it. You know there are a lot of people who can take a drink or several, who don’t become alcoholics, don’t have a problem with it at all. I was like that. I can’t say about drugs because I never did any. I know most things I have tried in my life I could easily walk away from. I gave up smoking cold turkey without ever experience an urge, whim or wish for tobacco again. It was the same when I quit drinking booze
 I thought I wasn’t allowed to drink coffee because of a medication I was taking and I quit on the spot. I did not have nervous twitches, no headaches and no difficulties staying away from coffee, even thought it was something I had really enjoyed for years and years. Nothing soothed me like a nice hot cup of Java in the morning. Yet, when I thought I had to give it up I stopped drinking it. Fortunately, after about a year of abstinence I discovered I could drink it and enjoy my morning Joe again. However, the pornography wasn’t that way.

For me, and many people (yes, there may be less, but there are women) pornography is as insidious as alcohol to an alcoholic once they have had a taste. A sip of beer is not enough and then a beer isn’t strong enough and then a sip doesn’t cause any thrill. What starts out as a minor titillation grows into a consuming obsession. And all the time you keep needing something stronger and more outrageous to feel any kick. 
And it is everywhere, just like graffiti.


Anonymous said...

I understand that you've had a bit of a health scare. Best wishes for a quick and full recovery.

~ F

WARPed said...

I agree with Anon...get well soon!