Chasing Massage Parlors Out of Times Square (Also: A Fateful KISS Ad)
Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives. December 14, 1972, Vol. XVII, No. 50
New York's 100 kneadiest cases by Joanna Mermey
"For only $20 a gentleman can be mentally masturbated at Relaxation Plus, a swank East Side massage parlor," says manager Harry Dushey. "A man goes to a bar to find a woman," Dushey explains. He stares, longing to make contact, to unleash his troubles, but frightened and insecure, he departs. Relaxation Plus gives him security with beautiful masseuses trained by our staff to massage the weary body and questing psyche." But testimony at City Council hearings on massage parlors last week indicated that the majority of the midtown places were specializing in things other than the cerebral.
The Mayor, pressured by real estate interests to get rid of the whores, pimps, and junkies taking over the Times Square area, requested that the City Council introduce a bill mandating the licensing of both massage parlors and those men and women who "stroke, knead, vibrate, or tap the human body with their hands, vibrators or other methods."
Under the measure, sponsored by Council members Greitzer, Friedland, Burden and Cuite, the Department of Consumer Affairs would issue licenses, after approval from other government agencies, at a fee of $100 a year. Parlor employees would be required to be licensed by the State Department of Education. Under state law, applicants must be at least 18 years of age, of good moral character, pass an examination, and in addition to a high school diploma complete no fewer than 500 hours in a state-registered massage school.
Proponents of the bill, including Broadway producer Alexander Cohen, Commissioner of Consumer Affairs Bess Myerson, and spokesmen for the Police Department, feel it will eliminate the massage parlors, which Inspector Charles Peterson of the Midtown North Patrol describes as filthy brothels, where drugs, guns, knives, and illegal sex abound.
Those in the massage business sneer. "It's a bunch of hogwash," says Philip Dushey, also of Relaxation Plus. "The illegitimate places will close and re-open as body painting and nude photography studios."
Sergeant Sidney Patrick of the 18th Precinct Task Force told me that if massage parlors re-opened as nude photography studios "the police would have a better foothold. It's hard to make an arrest in a massage parlor," he explained, "since the girls don't usually make an offer until after the men take their clothes off. The police just don't want to take down their pants. In a photography studio the offer is made as soon as the man picks up the camera."
Inspector Peterson disagreed with the thesis that the parlors would revert to havens for nude modeling. "Body painting is definitely out," he said. "It's just not lucrative The stripping down of the male and the physical touching is what whets the appetite for more. If the male is dressed, well, it loses something."
Mrs. Shoshana Kahn, a licensed masseuse, felt she was taking the punishment for the prostitutes. "A $100 license is not going to stop the ladies of the afternoon from collecting $800 a week. I am treated with disrespect and carry a stigma because I am a professional. Why doesn't the city enforce the laws it already has on the books?"
Owners of Relaxation Plus and the Fifth Season, a private co-ed health club for the "sophisticated avant-garde person who wants to be pampered and pleased in a private environment," testified that the bill would drive them out of business. One employee said a lot of the women were showgirls and actresses who massaged between shows, and weren't about to enroll in a course for 500 hours. Another commented that most experienced licensed masseuses weighted more than 200 pounds and wouldn't' provide any visual excitement for the customer.
Taking the economics of the businesses into consideration, Commissioner Myerson introduced an amendment to the bill calling for permits to be issued by the Consumer Affairs Department. Deputy Commissioner Henry Stern explained that the permittees would be people not educationally qualified to take an exam or those waiting to take the infrequently given exam. He indicated that the permits might require less education and a clean record.
(On the other hand, prison reformers have been fighting to do away with licensing requirements that stipulate clean records, thus limiting jobs for ex-cons.)
Councilman James Smith couldn't understand how the Council could support a homosexual bill and be against something so normal. Councilman Alvin Frankenberg, who mentioned that in his youth he used to cut classes to see burlesque shows, felt the government was trying to legislate morality. "If we are to ban them from Times Square," he said, "they might wind up in Carol Greitzer's neighborhood. Why not go whole hog and license prostitution?"
Alexander Cohen, intent on getting the whores off Broadway, threatened to close down theaters on March 31 if the bill wasn't passed. Cohen liked the idea of a red light district. "Put them all on one of those empty piers and then hope it collapses," he suggested.
Several Councilmembers were disturbed that police had been removed from their districts to clean up Times Square (500 additional patrolmen have been transferred to the midtown area.) Councilwoman Greitzer charged that Cohen was using his and the real estate industry's influence with the Mayor to secure additional police at the expense of other neighborhoods. She attacked Cohen for using his power to get the whores off his turf, but not giving a damn if they moved elsewhere.
Obviously, licensing massage parlors will not eradicate the world's oldest profession. The racketeers are more ingenious than the city thinks. Although the bill will allow the city to shut down massage parlors that sell illegal sex, it won't prevent them from re-opening under different guises. Licensing will probably only force the more visible and nefarious establishments out of Times Square -- and possibly drive them into your neighborhood.
The Voice Classified (p.96)
LEAD GUITARIST WANTED with Flash and Ability. Album Out Shortly. No time wasters please. Paul 268-3145.
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