Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Ladies and The Cameramen

One of the enduring images I keep in my mind occurred when I was in my 20s. It was the early 1970s, and New York City was once again trying to clean up Times Square. In those days "clean up" meant to get rid of pornography and street walkers, two things Times Square had plenty of. In plain sight.

It was probably Mayor Lindsey, or someone who convinced the mayor, that taking pictures of street walkers in the area would embarrass them enough to keep them off the street. That, or the pictures would serve as some kind of evidence when it came to official proceedings.

Whatever was to be gained by it doesn’t really matter anymore. What it led to was tours of police leaving the West Side precinct with lightweight Polaroid cameras around their necks. With all that they carried on them, Polaroids were added. To me, there wasn’t a much funnier sight than seeing a squadron of blue coming down the station house steps outfitted as police paparazzi. I still laugh.

This all came back to me when the Eliot Spitzer story broke in early 2008 about his use of call girls. Prostitution is not the oldest profession because somebody backdated the options. And the story sells.

My chosen walk to work in Manhattan from Penn Station generally takes me along 26th Street, east from 7th Avenue, west at night. When you work, you go in one direction, then go home in the other one. I’ve been coming in and out of Manhattan for work now for over 40 years. Having done that kind of thing makes you a bit of the street furniture. You get used to seeing the same things.

Well, one night going home, it’s dark, but there appears to be at least a few people in jeans, carrying very professional looking cameras, and with some keen interest on a plain sidestreet doorway that leads into a very new high rise apartment house, "Luxury Rentals." It’s the kind of new apartment house that’s going up everywhere, especially that section of 6th Avenue. These buildings look very much alike, but are distinguished by the use of glass and windows that seem to make every unit have at least one corner view. They do look attractive.

Could not pin this flurry of presence on anything. Not until the next day.

We are a family of newspaper readers. I catch up to the Daily News I buy my wife each morning when I get home. So, that night, there’s the story, with pictures of the apartment that Eliot’s liaison lives in. Looks familiar. It should.

Morning walk east. Yes, definitely photographers. Equipment coming out of the trunk, long hair, scruffy, jeans, and NYP (New York Press) plates on the vehicle.

This gaggle of people is there to catch a glimpse, a shot of Ashley Dupree leaving her building. Or, going in, I guess. Walking home that night a somewhat different looking gaggle is assembled and I catch one asking the another how long have they been there. Calculating the length of time from the answer makes me realize that sleep is the only thing I’d like to be doing that long.

I really start to think to myself, "What do they expect to get a picture of? The woman dressed for work?" Don’t they realize that if they do spot her she’ll have a baseball cap on, sunglasses, jeans, and a baggy sweatshirt? She’ll look like them! (Okay, I do allow myself to think that if that sweatshirt had the fashion logo F C U K on it they might really have the shot of the decade, but do they really...)

I am sorely tempted, and actually stop and almost walk back to tell them that the last time I saw that many people trying to take pictures of a prostitute they were New York’s Finest and they were using Polaroids. And Lindsey was the mayor.

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