Tag Archives: Times Square

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Full Report in Manhattan is home to a very special place that combines two of the best pastimes imaginable: Enjoying an adult beverage and playing vintage video arcade games from the days of my youth.

This is a magical place that transported me back more than 30 years to a time before Wii, online gaming, Xbox and all manner of other sophisticated game systems.

The premise of video arcade games was simple: You stood in front of a machine the size of a refrigerator with a screen, a set of buttons and, depending on the game, a joystick.

I try to explain this concept to my sons and they look at me the same way they do when I speak of black-and-white television, rotary dial phones and hard copy encyclopedias.

I was struck by a sense of nostalgia in seeing some of my old (OK, very old) favorites like Donkey Kong, Asteroids and, of course, Pac-Man.

For myself and members of the About Men Radio posse, it was a daily after-school ritual: Go to the five-and-dime store in the Bronx on Castle Hill Avenue called Kress.

Some of us were players and some of us were watchers.

A knot of kids would collect around the machine as if we were metal and it was a gigantic magnet.

Players would wedge a quarter atop the buttons or line them up on the screen, upright, as a way of holding their place in line.

Hard to believe this was the way it was done.  But this was organized on the honor system and each player waited for his turn, which could take a while depending on how advanced the current player was.

Another odd memory: Players would put their lit cigarettes (yes, this was long before indoor smoking bans) either atop the machine’s “roofs” or rest them against the buttons, where they would create small burn streaks on the machine’s dashboard.

The arcade games were in few places, mostly what we would refer to as “candy stores,” which were a combination of newsstand, cigar shop and/or ice cream parlor, complete with counter and swivel stools.

Back in the day, the mother lode of these machines, as measured by quality and diversity, was only to be found in Times Square.

So every once in a while, the fellas and I would trek down on a Saturday morning with rolls of quarters to play games we could not find in our Bronx neighborhood.

Of course, later as we got older, we would trek to the then far-seedier Times Square with quarters for other nefarious purposes in mind, resulting in one particularly memorable and hilarious field trip that I have written about in a previous blog post.

The occasion for the visit to the Barcade was to see old work colleagues, including April Hunt,  who I wrote about in a previous blog post. (She is a die-hard, champion Ms. Pac-Man player.)

I turned my attention to some old-time favorites, such as Asteroids and even a Star Wars game. Sure, the graphics and sound effects were clunky and dated compared with today’s almost-holographic games, but that is part of their charm.

But just like old times, I died inglorious deaths pretty quickly on the first rounds of almost every game l played.

With these old arcade games, it pays to have fast fingers.

Unfortunately, for me, I’m all thumbs.

New Year’s Adventures at my Midtown Penthouse

You read that right. I once shared a “deeeluxe apartment in the sky” with my brother.

So what if it was technically a poorly constructed addition built across the roof of two tiny brick buildings with absolutely no heat in the winter and hallways so narrow we could never get adult-sized furniture up the stairs?

The mailbox read “PH.” It was a penthouse.

The flat was located exactly two blocks away from Times Square, Crossroads of the World, in a neighborhood dubbed Hell’s Kitchen.

Clinton — the area’s less colorful designation — was once a notorious Irish and Puerto Rican slum that slowly gentrified over the decades. The transformation dramatically picked up steam when Times Square shifted from a sleaze pit into a family-friendly tourist trap…um, attraction…in the 1990s.

The only thing “hellish” about the area these days is the traffic heading into New Jersey and the heart-stopping rents.

Of course back when I lived there, it was still a bit rough and tumble (just the way I like it) and never more so than on New Year’s Eve.

If you weren’t blessed with the opportunity to grow up in New York City I’ll let you in on a little secret: Most dyed-in-the-wool “New Yawkers” wouldn’t be caught dead in Times Square on a New Year’s Eve.

What you have in the area every 12/31 are tourists and the bridge-and-tunnel crowd freezing their asses off, acting like fools and getting blind-stinking drunk.

Not necessarily in that order.

My first New Year’s Eve at the penthouse was relatively uneventful— once we cleaned up the debris from the eight-foot copper pipe some drunken jackholes smashed through our skylight.

The next year my brother and a few of his more burly friends acted as sentries by the roof door while I toiled away at work. As I battled my way home through the revelers, I caught site of a guy in the small entranceway of our building.

I could only make out his top half since the door was one of those half-glass, half-metal jobs popular in the “iffier” areas of the Big Apple at the time.

He was bracing himself with his hands against the inner and outer doors in a half crouch, alternately looking down at the floor and staring at the ceiling. I made a quick dash toward the door thinking, “This putz is NOT gonna take a dump in my doorway.”

As I made my approach, ready to drag this slob into the gutter, an older woman, of shall we say “questionable morals” who plied her trade in the area, suddenly popped up from down below and gave me a wave and a wink through the glass.

She very casually walked out leaving mystery-man fumbling with his pants.

I’d see her work the corner of 43rd Street and Eighth Avenue most nights on my way home from work and she greeted me with her usual line.

“Honey, you are so cute, I’d do you for free.”

To which I gave my standard reply: “Coco, my heart couldn’t take it. You are too much woman for me.”


 

The Times Square revitalization continued unabated and as a result, the drunken year-end slobs became noticeably less shabby.

As I headed home from another late holiday shift, I was ready to party like it was 1999 (it was) and I was hoping the party my brother was hosting was still in full swing at 3 a.m. (It most DEFINITELY was.)

While the last stragglers stumbled home from the bacchanal, my brother and I made a quick garbage run to the basement where we found a guy passed out between two of the filthier pails down there.

This dude was not your run-of-the-mill wasted schmo.

He was wearing what appeared to be a $5,000 tuxedo, plus a real Rolex and gold and diamond cufflinks that probably equaled the Rosado brothers’ combined yearly salaries.

I’m proud to say we resisted the urge to roll him and, like the good Bronx boys we were, proceeded to poke him with a broom handle and yell obscenities until he woke from his slumber.

Richie Rich gave us a slight bow from the waist and stumbled out of the building. He never uttered a word.

Class and good breeding always shows.

The most memorable New Year’s Eve at the penthouse was actually the last one I spent there. The specter of massive Y2K computer meltdowns had most Americans fearing a global collapse of both the banking system and the electrical grids.

With true New York moxie,  my brother and I had a “Y2Chaos” celebration on the roof of our fabulous penthouse. The lights stayed on and our money didn’t go poof but the spectacular view of the fireworks going off directly over our heads is a memory I will carry with me forever. A real New York City moment.

I really do miss that place.  Hmmm…I wonder if I’m still cute enough to qualify for the Coco discount?

Wild Oats and the Old Times Square

I am reasonably sure that the statute of limitations has passed that this story can now be told. And if it hasn’t, oh well. It’s only going to embarrass me and my best buds — as if we haven’t already made that a lifetime pursuit!

I spent some time recently walking through Times Square on successive late weekday nights and was gobsmacked by what I saw:

Brightly lit storefronts.

Clean sidewalks.

Tourist traps of every assortment.

The horror of it all!

The Times Square I recall as a kid was the seedy one that, when I would be with my dad and we were cutting through it, he would tell me to keep my head down and to walk quickly.

You know the pre-Rudy Giuliani Times Square I’m talking about: Peep shows, porno palaces and panhandlers.

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As a college student, I worked at what was then New York Telephone Company’s HQ on 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue.

Times Square was still, as my father would describe it, “schkeevatz.” (Translation: Dirty and repulsive.)

I’d meet Pedro or Rich (who were each at the time working jobs in Manhattan) for lunch at Bryant Park across the street.

It too at the time was schkeevatz – overrun with drug dealers, homeless and rats.

But, you know, by this time we were older and more adventurous so the rundown, dirty nature of Times Square had some allure for us.

We were young men sowing our wild oats and would make, um, fact-finding missions to some of the venues offering adult entertainment (read: the peep shows).

Like women going to the bathroom at a restaurant, we would go in pairs or sometimes as an entire pack.

Our most memorable visit was to a showroom by four of us: Yours truly, Gary, Rich and Pedro.

The room was circular, each with a private booth and a window that afforded you a view. You put your quarter in, and a slow-moving panel would mechanically lift to give you a view of the performance.

An important detail: The room was set up in such a way that you could look across and see the faces of the patrons framed by the windows as they looked in.

Rich was on the opposite side of the three of us.

We could clearly see him: Rich was getting a front row view of this hot performer whose back was to us.

Then this performer removes whatever excuse for covering she was wearing, and then we see Rich and he’s just dying laughing.

Laughing?

The three of us are trying to figure out why, when the performer turns around to face us.

Let me pause here to ask: Have you ever seen “The Crying Game”? Know of its surprising twist?

Go ahead.
Look it up.
I’ll wait.

Are you back? Yep, well, you guessed it.

The joke was on us because this performer was sporting a package the size of a Sears refrigerator box.

Rich: I can still see the horror on Gary’s face.

Gary: And, yes, I still see it (and Rich’s laughing face across from me) in my nightmares.

We bolted – screaming — out of there. There are some things that cannot be unseen.