Sunday, May 24, 2015

My First Trip to New York City

So I have had many memorable trips to New York since my first in 1972, but the first was like none of the subsequent trips except that it involved theater.

The Shakespeare class at my college, of which I was not a member, was going to New York to see Much Ado About Nothing and Two Gentlemen of Verona. There were extra tickets available so I was invited along. The trip conflicted with a final exam in one of my other courses, but the professor said I could make it up.

“I do have an additional request,” he said. “I want to make sure you see all sides of New York City. Bring back a pack of pornographic playing cards.”

Well, many of the finest coming of ages stories have a quest myth and this was to be mine.

Our group stayed at The Times Square Motor Hotel which was cosily seedy or seedily cozy depending on how you see these things. When we first walked in a guest and the person in charge of the registration desk were insulting each other. Alas, I can’t bring myself to type what they were saying, but you can fill in with any number of colorful ethnic slurs. There was also a gentleman at a bank of pay phones going from one phone to another, picking up the receiver and shouting “Hello. Hello.”

We had some time to kill before the performance so we checked out the club attached to the motel. This was in the midst of Superfly craze and people were dressed as if they were movie extras. People ground their hips together and I sipped sherry. We couldn’t figure out why people were peering into the club. It was only later that we realized there were signs promising topless dancers.

The production of Much Ado About Nothing was wonderful. It was probably not the first live theater I had ever seen but it was the first that stayed in my memory. It starred Kathleen Widdowes as Beatrice and a wonderfully goofy Sam Waterston as Benedick. I can’t find that guy in the actor I’ve seen on Law and Order. The play was set in America at the end of the Spanish-American War and featured a marching band that came down the aisles and on to the stage. I was entranced all night but I had to get my sleep because there was hunting to be done the next morning.

So a small group of us set off in search of pornographic playing cards. We came to a promising location and went in. I didn’t know where not to look first. The guys on the trip, who I thought might make the request for me, headed toward the back of the shop. I went up the counter and and said, “I want to buy pornographic playing cards.”

The gentleman behind the counter took umbrage.

“I do not sell pornography. I do not sell pornography.” He took a breath. “I sell position cards.”

He slapped a plastic container on the counter. Yep, playing cards with people in positions. I thought I was set.

“That’ll be five dollars.”

Alas, my entire budget for the trip was eighteen dollars. No sale.

Our next stop was the musical version of Two Gentlemen of Verona. While I later saw a wonderful version of this play with Larry Kert in Washington, D.C., this production in New York seemed tired and the actors were playing to each other and not to the audience.

After that it was time to go. Much Ado About Nothing had been fabulous, Two Gentleman of Verona had been pleasant enough but I didn’t have the pornographic playing cards.

As we were about to leave, one of the women on the trip noticed that the motel had a gift shop. She went in and came running out.

“Stephanie! Stephanie! Look what I found.”

There for the low price of two dollars was a key ring with a small plastic container attached. Sure enough there were playing cards that featured a series of bare breasted women nestled in what looked to be kitty litter. (I’m sure it was supposed to be sand).

Pornography? Not really. But if my professor wanted proof that I had been in a part of New York that was sleazy, this was proof enough.

You know what they say. It’s a helluva town.

© 2015 Stephanie Patterson


  1. I just read this before even my cup of A.M. tea - it made my day!

  2. Replies
    1. I thought so. I saw that musical production of TGofV that summer in Central Park. I loved it. It was the debut of the great Raul Julia, and I found him irresistible. I still listen to the recording. I didn't know that they brought in indoors. I am not sure it would have translated well to a more "serious" venue. Or with a different cast. It was irreverent in the extreme, especially the anti-Nixon tropes. But then again, those were days when a professor could get away with asking a female student to bring back a pack of pornographic playing cards. He'd go to jail for that now.