Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
March 2, 1972, Vol. XVII, No. 9
Meeting two hustlers: the doorway & the sofa
By Arthur Bell
He stands with his hands in his pockets slouched in the doorway of a shuttered seafood restaurant on Third Avenue in the 50s. The prototype. It’s damn cold and he shivers and I approach him.
I tell him I’m doing a story on hustlers and ask him if he’d talk to me. He agrees. He suggests we go to the Corner House, and tells me his name is Eddie.
Minutes later, we’re at a floodlighted joint where we take a table in the back. Hustlers everywhere. Eddie nods at a few. He asks me for a cigarette. He shouts “two apple pies and coffee” to an aproned waiter. I take out my notebook, and pry.
Eddie’s been a hustler since 15. A friend in Buffalo got him started. It was mostly pickups on the street and at the train station. But Buffalo’s small and Eddie got known, so he shuffled off and joined the service. On leave, he’d hustle at the Greyhound station in Chicago. The uniform helped, and he scored good, sometimes making more from a john in a night than he’d earn in two weeks from the U.S. government.
He came to New York a couple of years ago, started hustling Third and 53rd, met a woman somewhere along the way, and married her. They still live together in a hotel in the East 30s. She works a schlock job during the day while Eddie sleeps off the night. She knows what he’s doing, doesn’t care, it’s his profession.
Eddie hasn’t seen sunlight in weeks. At 6 p.m. he gets up, drinks a glass of tomato juice, has a couple of eggs if his wife is around to scramble them, then usually goes to a 42nd Street movie. He liked “Shaft” and “House of Wax.” He seldom hustles 42nd. By midnight, he’s at Third and 53rd.
He calls himself bisexual. Would he go with a guy for nothing? “Only if I had enough bread, but I never have enough bread.” Eddie says his rate is $20 a trick; $15 if he’s hard up. “A lot depends on how long I spend with them, and how much I made the night before. Sometimes they’re too fucking demanding for the prices they pay. They try to corrupt you. They talk you into staying with them all night or they want you do do something you won’t do. There’s one guy I visit every Friday. He’s into a bit where he likes to get beaten. He pays me to give him freak orders and it gets me nauseous but it’s a guaranteed $20 weekly and I’d rather have that than this hustling around on the streets.”
Cash is penicillin to Eddie’s nausea and he takes his shot beforehand. “It makes it easier that way. If a guy doesn’t pay, I pity him. Someone’s going to be in bad shape, and it’s not going to be me. It’s like a contract, I keep my part of the bargain and I expect the person I’m with to do the same thing. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, that’s when it’s sticky.
“A lot of people around here roll. I’ll tell you how it’s done. They go to a bar, not in this neighborhood, but someplace they’re not known. They case the place and they spot a guy who looks as though he has lots of money. Then they sit down and drink with him and try to get him drunk, so drunk that once he’s home he’ll fall asleep. If that doesn’t work, they’ll put him out by slipping a Tuinal into his drink. Then they’ll rip off the apartment. If it’s done right, the john won’t remember or he’ll be too scared to point the cat out or get the cops after him. If someone did that to me, I’d have his legs broken.”
We’re interrupted by a tubercular-looking hustler. He slumps over the table and makes a deal with Eddie. There’s an exchange of an envelope and $10 and whispering and while this is going on, I’m giving Eddie’s appearance a hard once-over. Sexy, in a bruised way, with the pushed-in nose of a punch drunk fighter, a receding hairline that prophesies baldness at 30, a neck the size of Twiggy’s waist, bad teeth, good skin, and dart eyes that look at me for a moment, then shift to the hustler he’s dealing with, then to the hustler at the next table, then to the door, then to me again. His hair is medium length and straight and the short pea jacket he’s wearing is open, revealing a thin turtleneck sweater and thin bell bottoms with plenty of anchorage at the crotch, anchorage being his stock in trade.
The skinny hustler moves on. “You’re pissing yourself wondering about that,” Eddie says. “I don’t freak with smack. It was a down deal. Keeps the bread coming in. Amphetamines, ups, downs, grass, poppers. Speed — all of us take speed.”
I ask Eddie if it bothers him what he’s doing. “If I didn’t really dig it, I wouldn’t be doing it,” he says, talking to the untouched pie and coffee. “Sometimes it’s really hard. Like with an old or ugly trick. If their personalities are good and it doesn’t take too long, I don’t mind it, but sometimes it’s shit. I do it because I can get more money hustling than working. In the summer I can pull three or four bills a week. I might get out of it if I had a job, but where could I get a job that would pay this bread?”
If it’s only money, then, where does the money go? “I don’t know. It goes. My old lady, food, the movies. I don’t give a shit about clothes or jewelry. I don’t need a ring or a watch to live. I get watches and I lose them. I hustle, I guess, because I like it. I get along with the hustlers. Everybody’s together here.”
I ask Eddie about gay liberation and its effect on the hustling scene. A spray of four-letter words comes out: the movement doesn’t understand hustling, those guys don’t give a shit about hustlers, hustlers are an embarrassment, they can take their liberation and shove it. Plus, he doesn’t need gay lib’s protection, he can handle himself.
Does Eddie think prostitution should be legalized? “If it was, everybody would have to carry a card with a license number and report their salaries and pay income tax. Prostitution is one thing the government will never stop, no matter what they do, so why pay them? If it’s legalized, it’ll make it tougher for us. The government is always worried about the clap. I’ve never had the clap. I go to the clinic every few months for a check-up, and I only go with guys who look clean. It’s no hassle for me.”
Looking into the future, Eddie projects himself a year from now as a male madam with his own place. He’d rent out the best hustlers in town and have them do all the work while he just sits and collects. The fact that successful madams, male or female, have a certain regard for their customers, a regard that Eddie lacks, is no bother, it can be acquired. It helps when you’re not giving of yourself. “I wouldn’t look for customers from the big Fleetwoods that ride around here. They pay $10 and dump on you. I’d go after the working ones who don’t have too much money, and I’d see to it that my boys gave them a good time.”
Warmed and ready to work again, Eddie walks to the seafood doorway near the subway stop and I park myself a couple of doors away. Ten minutes later, a 1971 Olds cruises by and Eddie opens the door and disappears. I return to the Corner House. Less than an hour later, Eddie comes in and sits down next to me. “Ten dollars from that bastard,” he says. He orders a cup of coffee, it sits untouched, we talk some more, he leaves again, determined to make a bill by hook or by crook before the night is over…
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