There are a few people who are doing what they can to at least keep alive the memory of what the Forty Deuce used to be. There've been art exhibits and documentaries and books and photo essays and hundreds of magazine rants. Hell, I guess Screw is still around, too.
The newest effort to keep the ghosts of the old Times Square's sleaze and spunk around is a local website calling itself Virtual Times Square, which premieres this week. While VTS is ostensibly, yes, another porn website?it touts itself as "the only all-amateur hard core sex site that gives Mayor Rudy a woody"?it aims to be something more. So while there's plenty of skank to be found on the "Supersluts" page, there are also pages devoted to exploitation movie producer "Mr. Creepo" (aka Tim Beckley), essays about Times Square past and present and interviews with the people who worked there in its heyday. The inaugural issue features a short piece by New York Press alumna Mistress Ruby, and, next month, a longer story by artist Guy Gonzales, who used to work the live sex shows (and who's also been featured in New York Press). And as the tag line suggests, there's a political bent to it all as well, with recurring references to the effect Mayor Giuliani has had on the neighborhood, the sex industry and local mores in general.
The site is the brainchild (or something like that) of a couple of guys who are currently employed at one of those slick mainstream porn magazines, and who?because of the potential conflicts that might arise?insist on maintaining their anonymity.
"We're bringing our professional experience into this project," one of them told me, "but are using only all-amateur models and a painter who happens to dabble in photography and who loves porn."
Fortunately the painter/photographer/porn lover in question, Rettep, was free to talk. Rettep, by the way, was also once profiled in New York Press, for his art photographs of women shitting. It's those photographs that, in their own way, led to the stint at VTS.
"With the project that I'm working on," he said, explaining the connection between his artwork and the straight porn, "I needed a lot of female nudes. I've been doing that for five or six years, though for a totally different purpose. Some of it was pretty graphic, although the original shots never get seen."
I asked Rettep where?and how?he finds the models to do some of the things he asks them to do. It's very simple, he told me. All he does is put up fliers, take out small newspaper ads and talk to people on the street.
"I walk around with something that I might put up," he said, "and I just start talking to somebody to see if they're interested. I'm always real polite about it. Now, at this point, other models who've worked with me liked working with me, so they tell friends and I get people calling."
Beyond that, Virtual Times Square also features its own call for, um, Supersluts.
"I'm pretty good at finding models," he says. "It's fun. I work hard at it. You really have to make your life about trying to find the models. After a while it gets easier because you have a network built up. I can usually find any person to do pretty much what I want them to do." (And do so safely, he emphasized.)
He also makes a point of emphasizing that he won't use children in any of his photographs. "I'm totally against any child ever being used in pornography. As long as someone's over 18?and for me, I personally wouldn't care if they had to be over 21. As long as someone's an adult and chooses to be involved, then we can have a lot of fun with it."
"Amateur work is much more exciting than the pro stuff," one of the anonymous pornographers told me. "You're dealing with real tits, real sexual situations. Realism is more exciting for a lot of people than fantasy."
Since Rettep admits that he's only been doing this kind of photography for the past five or six years (and only the last few months in preparation for VTS), I asked him how familiar he had been with the Times Square of yore.
"I've been studying the adult market in video and pictures for probably 30 years," he told me. When I went on to ask him about his favorite old haunts, he explained, "There were so many shops, I just knew where they were, I didn't care what their names were. I used to check out all the different shops. Peep Land used to be great, when you could actually touch the women. But it's all boring now. Hopefully one day it'll come back. You can't keep it down forever."
The Virtual Times Square homepage is designed to look like an old porno theater front?the Harris or the Selwyn, say?with the different sections (the regular cartoon feature "Pork Me Pig," the chat room, etc.) lit up on the marquee. To be honest, though, it looks a lot cleaner and more inviting than the actual theaters ever did. Until, of course, you step inside. The only thing that's missing is the sharp reek of Pine Sol.
For those more interested in celebrating the new cleaner, safer, friendlier Times Square on the Internet, there's always the live EarthCam (located at Broadway and 46th), which will show you live pictures of a very nice Panasonic billboard 24 hours a day.