by Irv Slifkin
It was 1973... and my parents definitely didn't know where their child was.
For a short, cheap vacation, me and three of my friends—Porky, Lambert, and Shuman— decided to take a ride to Atlantic City for some fun and adventure.
At one time, Atlantic City was one of the country's top resorts, a wonderful family spot with a white sandy beach front and a picturesque boardwalk where Mr. Peanut greeted customers at the Planter's Nut Shop, amusement rides thrilled kiddies, and the smells of fudge, popcorn, and salt water taffy wafted through the summer air.
But in 1973, the city was in bad shape. Urban blight had set in, and all of its once mighty art deco hotels were either shuttered or served as old age homes to the few diehards who still vacationed there. Gypsy-run fortune telling parlors had replaced the family-themed stores on the boardwalk, and Steel Pier, once a mecca of entertainment— where, for one admission price, you could see a horse dive into a pool of water, catch three movies and a talent show, and watch the Stones, the Temptations, or Sinatra perform—was reduced to a series of fifth-run movie houses and a place Pat Boone could get a gig when he wasn't hawking acne cream on latenight UHF TV. Even the rolling cars, mechanically maneuvered chairs which whisked people around the boardwalk for a quick sightseeing tour, were more rickety than rickshaws.
The only thing that could save A.C., residents and vacationers believed, was casino gambling which, if state and local officials would have it, was imminent.
For teenagers like myself and company, Atlantic City still had some charm. There was, after all, pro wrestling on Monday nights and roller derby on Tuesday nights—you know, the nights the seasonal Ice Capades had off. The prices at the guest houses—we couldn't afford real hotels, even at the much-slashed special rates—were affordable. And who could resist a $3.99 all-you-could-eat buffet, where Marc Scheffler's brother once gulped down an entire metallic bowl of instant chocolate pudding? Just for an appetizer.
Since I was 16 on this sojourn, and my compadres were all a year or two older, we also had other things on our minds—namely, members of the opposite sex. For the most part, we were all zeros in that department, each of us suspicious of the others' ribald stories of drive-in makeout sessions and the like.
So, to us, a day on the beach meant scoping out the hot chicks in bikinis, plotting a strategy to talk to them... then promptly rationalizing why the plans won't work and, finally wimping out. Our bodies heated by too much sun and too much playful fantasizing of seducing the bleach blonde goddesses who lay nearly buck naked on beach blankets in front of us, we returned to our guest house where we commiserated over our total incompetence in such matters.
Maybe it was the suntan lotion, or perhaps the seemingly endless array of Aphrodites who clanged clamshells in front of us that inspired a new blast of confidence after a particularly discouraging day in the sand. Whatever. All of us were finally determined to make our pick-up fantasies reality, and what better place to let this coming-of-age event occur than at the evening's roller derby match. "If we totally wimped out," we must've figured, "at least we got to see pretty Judy Arnold sock 'Moo-Moo the Cow' in the head."
Sitting in front of us at Convention Hall were three —count 'em— members of the opposite sex. They weren't pretty, they weren't cute. They weren't even attractive. If they had anything going for them, it was that they were slutty. Which, to four horny teens, sometimes beats pretty or cute.
We threw them a line like, "Say, don't you think Buddy Atkinson got ripped off in that match race against Vinnie Gondolfi?" and they were like butter in our hands. Or, at least, in the clutches of Shuman, Lambert, and Porky. I loyally followed my pals as they walked the chicks down the boardwalk, past this condemned pier and that dilapidated building, through the smell of rancid hot dogs and stale cotton candy to—oh no!—New York Avenue. New York Avenue was the place I was told to stay away from. Since I was out of the loop, I could have easily taken off; but nah, good soldier that I was, I could at least verify my friends' phony baloney stories about getting laid.
New York Avenue was the center of iniquity in Atlantic City, the street where bohemians, gays, hookers, and transvestites not only stayed, but lived all year round.
Me and the Casanovas passed male hustlers and prostitutes. Finally, we came to a ramshackle hotel. The guys were invited upstairs. What for? I wasn't sure, but at this time, the thoughts of getting schtupped or getting murdered ran about 50 - 50.
The seven of us crammed into an antique elevator, the kind with a metal cage, and creakily ascended to the second floor.
One of the girls—the blonde with more roots than Alex Haley and less teeth than a hockey brawler—swung open the door of their room, revealing another female friend. "Yes," I thought, laying five on Porky's hooves. And, guess what, she was the sluttiest of the batch, with a huge jaw and some bigass tattoos.
Now, what was going to happen? Hmmmm, let's see... Four gals, four guys. The marijuana smell was thick in the room. A bong lay on a nearby table. A neophyte, I once heard a rumor that pot was right up there as an aphrodisiac with oysters and the song, "Hold Me, Thrill Me."
The women congregated in another room, no doubt, we believed, to discuss who was going to switch with whom and at what time, as we four amigos looked at each other hopefully.
Suddenly, the front door swung open. Into the room entered four scary men in leather jackets. The smell of Boones' Farm Apple Wine and illegal substances from the Far East trailed them as they looked us over. Since their tee shirts were adorned with skulls-and-crossbones, and the back of their jackets said something about Satan's Saints with Atlantic City under some insignia, we figured they weren't card carrying B'Nai Brith members.
If these were our girls' boyfriends, why were we here? Did they want us to partake in some kinky arrangement or just rob us? My excuse was already decided upon: "Well, you see, Mr. Mean Biker Dude, sir, we're just cleancut Jewish guys from Northeast Philly who wanted to discuss the finer points of roller derby with your bitches. Want a Chicklet?"
The bikers glared at us, burped loudly, and joined their babes in the next room. We heard whispering, but I was too frightened at this point to even listen. We knew we had to get out and, on a Lawrence Welk count of a-one-a and a-two-a, we ran out on a-three-a, into the still open elevator—the s-l-l-l-l-l-o-o-o-w-w-w-w elevator down to the first floor. Visions of the bikers and their sweeties waiting for us downstairs, dangling chains and plucking olive loaf out of their mouths with stilettos were prominent.
But, hey, we were the chosen people, and so we got out of the dump and off New York Avenue. Thankfully, there were no further confrontations aside from a solicitation from Gigi, a transsexual hooker, who offered to take us all on for one small fee. Porky, the insatiable one, considered the deal solo, before we talked him out of it.
With the fantasy of contact with the female species still fresh on our minds, we wondered what our next move would be.
The incident may have instilled confidence, but our luck was still miserable. Lambert and Shuman tried some half-assed pickup lines on the beach that couldn't draw the monstrous horseflies hovering near the nearby pile of garbage, let alone a passing thought from a sunglassed siren. The gals all seemed attracted to lighthaired lifeguards with Steve Reeves-like physiques. I was packing twenty extra pounds along with Shuman, Lambert was tall and gawky, and Porky... well, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Charles Atlas didn't have anything to worry about.
But as distraught as we were, we weren't going to leave home without some remnant of a sexual experience.
Finally, we found the answers to our problems, right on the boardwalk, and it wasn't the back of Madame Souzatzka's fortune telling parlor. The Apollo Theatre, once a family-oriented movie palace where I saw Son of Flubber when I was a child, had gone porno. The marquee read: "In Its 25th Smash Week! Deep Throat Plus Strippers and Comics!"
I had never been to a porno house before, my experience with adult movies relegated to sneaking peeks of XXX action through the jalousie windows when neighborhood dads watched smokers each month in Al Weiss' basement. But all accounts—along with covers of Playboy and other national magazines, as well as smarmy monologues on The Tonight Show— told me this was the one to see. Of course, Porky, Shuman, and Lambert were all gung-ho, even though it was gonna cost a whopping $5 a head. Hey, it beat the medical bills we'd accumulate if we landed back on New York Avenue.
Unfortunately, there was a glitch in our plans. I was only sixteen and, according to the warning at the box-office, "All patrons must present I.D. before entering." Having snuck into R-rated movies before and being a shaving veteran for three whole years, beginning a few short months after my bar mitzvah, I didn't think I'd be that much of a problem. Shuman had a five o'clock shadow at one o'clock, so he was no problem either. Lambert towered over everyone his age, so he'd be cool.
The problem was Porky who, though a year older than me, appeared to be nine years old. Shuman could loan him his picture I.D., but I looked Porky-er than Shuman did.
We surveyed the situation. The bespectacled ticket-seller was a middle-aged woman who resembled Mrs. Webber, my second grade teacher. We decided that if we waited for other ticket-buyers to congregate at the box-office, ol' Mrs. Webber would be overwhelmed and not check I.D. too closely.
We were right, and so the four of us shuffled in as soon as the box-office drew a crowd of five patrons.
Inside, the Apollo stank of rubber goods and Lysol, and the popcorn looked like it could have been laying in plastic bags behind the concession stand for decades. Along with Raisinets and red licorice, the stand offered "French" playing cards, men's magazines, and condoms. Like little kids in a candy store, we surveyed all of the objects before we headed into the auditorium for the show.
This was not my first experience with hoochie-koochie entertainment in Atlantic City. When I was younger, my parents used to stay further down the boardwalk, past New York Avenue, when it was safe.
Leaving the beach at four in the afternoon with my father, we would pass The Globe Theatre, a gigantic burlesque house. I recalled purposefully trailing my father by a good ten feet so l could peek under the saloon-style exit doors to catch a glimpse of the stage action. Sometimes there were baggy pants comics other times I got lucky when women with garish, revealing costumes took to the stage...
But I was never that lucky, because my father always moved me away from the action just as it was getting good. He must have heard the snare drum or a musical cue, because he sent me on my way, back towards the hotel, as he surveyed the action for a moment or two himself.
Linda Lovelace - what she lacked in looks she made up for with her legendary oral talents.
I had no idea girlie shows had changed so little in the impending years. A baggy pants comic, resembling the one I recalled from my youth, took to the Apollo stage, told some off color jokes, and headed behind the curtains.
Me and my friends were easily the youngest in attendance. When a stripper sashayed onto the stage, the most elderly audience members moved closer, near a ratty catwalk, to check out her wares.
All of this was interesting to me, being a fan of old theaters, razzmatazz, and trying to cope with the lingering effect of my father's guidance from an earlier age. But it really got interesting when the stripper exited stage right, the house lights went dark, and a jumpy image unspooled in front of me and the guys. The rest of the audience took their places a few seats away from each other—proper porno palace etiquette. The four of us followed suit, spreading across an entire aisle.
For the next hour or so, we were fixated on a washed out, jumpy print of the most infamous movie in the world; a touching story of a woman who went very far to satisfy the tingle near her epiglottis. Men's magazines had nothing on the twenty foot high images of body parts we were witnessing, no matter how homely, ordinary, or beautiful they were.
There was just something special about watching people doing intimate things with their most intimate parts while sitting in a public place. Call us voyeurs. Heck, call us perverts. Call us anything, but don't call us late when the next XXX-rated movie opens in our neighborhood.
Nothing was taboo here. It was a no-holds-barred depiction of what we never thought we had the capacity to fantasize about. Of course, Deep Throat—which became the crowning achievement of what came to be known as "porno chic"—made all the hanky-panky palatable if not somewhat embarrassing by injecting a goofy storyline, dirty-joke-spiked dialogue, an (appropriately) organ-heavy score spoofing popular commercials of the era and a theme song that must be heard to be believed. Here, let me sing a few lines: "Deep Throat... Deeper than deep... Don't get your goat... That's all she wrote... Deep Throat." Director-writer-composer-producer GERARD DAMIANO was no Marvin Hamlisch, let alone Orson Welles.
And LINDA LOVELACE was no beauty queen, but what she lacked in looks—and I did find her attractive in a naive, girl-next-door way—she made up for with her legendary oral talents. So this is what JOHNNY CARSON was joking about...
The expressions on the faces of my compadres led me to believe they were enjoying themselves, although the humor seemed to go by them. They didn't laugh once, so riveted they were at the promiscuous proceedings.
During the movie, I became aware of how strange it is to watch a porno movie in public because everyone knows there's physiological things going on, but everyone ignores them. That is, my pals ignored them, but I wasn't sure about the older man in the third row who pulled out his red, polkadotted handkerchief. Guess the fan wasn't doing the job cooling the place off...
After the movie ended—it seemed abrupt at about an hour long—Shuman was the first to respond.
"Was that great or what?" he said.
We all "yessed" him, but said little about what we had just seen. It was as if we had been through some sacred rite of passage, you know, a "guy thing." It involved girls, it involved sex, it was our own little secret.
The next day, Shuman and Porky were nowhere to be found through the morning and the afternoon. Lambert and I were a little wary, thinking maybe they ran into those bikers or, even worse, their girlfriends. We even searched for them on the boardwalk, checking out the arcade and the beaches, too.
Finally, around dinner time, I asked the guest house owner if she had seen them.
"Earlier this morning," she said. "They told me to tell you they went to see that Peter Sellers movie and they were going to visit some friends. Be back after dinner."
Something didn't seem right. I checked the newspaper's movie listings. There was no Peter Sellers movie playing in the city.
"They went back to the theater," said Lambert.
Playing film critic even then, I countered, "But the movie wasn't that good."
Later, after dinner, Porky and Shuman quietly returned to the guest house. They said the Peter Sellers movie was lousy and they couldn't find the friends. Lambert was right.
Years later, Porky admitted to seeing Deep Throat and the strip show at least two— maybe even three—more times that day.
And he probably voted for Linda Lovelace for President, too.