John Fergus Ryan
Excepts from the novel, Watching
Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 101 in 1998.
Before I retired, I left my apartment in the daytime only because I had to be at the factory at seven-thirty in the morning to begin an eight hour shift stamping pickle jar lids out of sheet metal.
Now that I do not have to be anywhere during the day, I stay inside most of the time, never going outside until it is dark. I do not even go out to shop for groceries. Bernie gets what I need when he goes to the store, once a week, and he picks up small odds and ends for me at the Korean deli on the corner of 48th Street and 9th Avenue.
I am especially fond of those tiny Cuban bananas they sell along 9th Avenue, tiny little things, they are, and much sweeter than the usual size banana.
During the day, I stay inside, dozing and listening to phonograph records which I have bought at the Salvation Army. I have about two hundred albums, all in excellent condition. I read about three books a week. I like biographies, especially those of entertainment personalities, and I read some poetry. But not just any poet. My favorites are Thomas Hardy and William Butler Yeats. I also read the TIMES every day and sometimes try to work the crossword puzzle.
Afternoons arrive and slowly pass.
I eagerly await sundown and the fall of darkness.
Every night, I go to one of the adult movie arcades on 42nd Street. I miss a night only if I am sick with a fever or if it is too cold to walk through the snow
I leave my apartment building about nine p.m., turn left to 9th Avenue, then south to 42nd Street, where I turn left at the Empire Coffee and Tea company, and head in the direction of Broadway.
Eighth Avenue in that part of town is mostly titty bars and hookers. Broadway is mostly dingy souvenir shops. Forty-second Street is porno movie houses and Africans selling charms. It is supposed to be dangerous but I have never felt it to be.
There are two arcades I patronize most of the time. One is on 42nd Street and is called the Bon Joy. It has nine booths with coin operated movie projectors and only shows hard core bondage mov ies made in Germany. The quality of projection is excellent and the place is always spotlessly clean. It is a small scale operation, with bondage video tapes for sale displayed on one wall and bondage magazines on the other. There is a shelf just insid e the front door where copies of bondage newspapers, containing advertisements from people who want to meet others who are into bondage, are stacked for sale.
To the right, just inside the door is a counter where sits an impressive looking gentleman, whom I have decided is from India. He is so large and so dignified and looks so high born that I have named him The Maharajah. He has been making change for me, changing ten dollar bills into tokens, most nights for the last seven or eight years, yet he has never spoken a word to me, nor I to him, beyond the first few visits when I handed him the ten dollar bill and said "tokens".
Everything about the Bon Joy is clean and new looking. It is the only one of the arcades in this area of which that could be said . Wait! I must take that back. There is another arcade, the palace of all arcades, across the street. It is called the Crystal Video Theatre and it has four floors and a two hundred seat movie theatre and sixty coin operated video machines and a live s tage show featuring naked women. It, too, is very well kept, but I do not go there, for reasons of which I am not sure, but which are probably connected with my being happier in smaller and quieter places.
The movies at the Bon Joy are truly hard core bon dage, showing behavior between people that is sometimes too grim to watch. They run the same movies for months and months at a time and I have watched all nine so many times I have come to think of those who appear in them as friends and I have made up biographies for each one, and I know their faces well enough to recognize them in the street, if we were to meet.
Here is a brief description of each of the nine movies now showing at the Bon Joy:
One: a woman wearing a cat costume, black vinyl with a long black tail and a cowl with ears that stick up, whips a naked woman tied to a wall with her hands over her head. The movie starts with the naked woman already tied to the wall and her back already red with welts. It is never clear why the woman is wearing the cat costume or why the naked woman is being whipped. The whipping is unmerciful and absolutely real. The movie runs twelve minutes and I do not see how the woman being whipped can survive, so intense is the punishment.
Two: A man knocks at the door of an apartment and is admitted by a young maid servant, who shows him into the room where the "mistress" is waiting. The mistress is furious because the man is ten minutes late and she orders him to strip and lie down on his back on the floor. He does. She pulls her chair close to him and digs the spike heel of her shoes into his breasts, almost standing on them. Then she beats his flaccid penis with a short leather whip.
Three: The movie opens with a fat young man, naked, tied facing the wall with his hands over his head and his legs pulled apart and tied. From a distance of ten feet away, a woman wearing a black leather vest and black leather boots is shooting darts into his hips with a blowgun. She laughs, inserts the darts in the blow gun, then PF FFFT! and another one is hanging in his buttocks. The places on the man's hip where the darts have entered begin to bleed. Soon, his hips are covered with blood. The woman wearies of the game with the blow pipe and sets it aside, picks up a ping pong pa ddle and starts swatting the man's hips with it, driving the darts in deeper.
Four: A man, dressed in black dancing slippers, tight, black pants, a white silk shirt and full cut, leg-o-mutton sleeves with ruffles, is whipping a naked woman, who is on her k nees, facing away from him. He orders her to pull her legs in so her buttocks will be higher. She complies. He whips her methodically, appearing bored with the work. After a while, he stops and she is taken into the arms of another naked woman who has b een off camera. The two women kiss and-make love for a few minutes, the second woman remarking to the first, "Heinz has torn you to pieces." This is spoken in German with an English subtitle. The first woman returns to the position on her knees and the m an resumes whipping her.
Five: This one is allegedly filmed live in a famous Sado/Masochistic bar in Hamburg. A man selects two women who are sitting at a table and they are taken to a back room where they are stripped and tied together. The whole movie is devoted to the mechanics, as it were, of tying two women together. There is no action beyond this.
Six: A man is in a room with a naked woman who is standing on her tip toes with her hands tied over her head and attached to a ring in the ceiling. Be neath her feet is a stack of popular magazines, among them Der Sturm. He lashes her hips with a cat-o-nine tails, stopping now and again to slip one of the magazines out from under her toes. After he removes three or four magazines, she is off her toes a nd swinging from the hook in the ceiling. He picks up a thin cane and lashes her in a frenzy. Then he lowers her to the floor, unties her, drops his pants and she gives him a blowjob.
Seven: This one shows a man in a green suit entering the room in a brisk, military fashion with a whip in his hand. Two naked women are bent over a railing. He gives each a few swats on the ass with the whip then attaches ropes on pulleys to them and pulls them up off the floor. He pulls more ropes and their legs are spread apart. He lowers the women, attaches other ropes to them, pushes a throttle and the women are bent into arcs.
Eight: A naked woman is tied to a wheel, her legs spread apart. The wheel is turned until her head is at the bottom of it. A man in a white coat pierces her vaginal folds with a surgical instrument and inserts a metal ring in her flesh then he repeats the procedure until there are three rings there. The wheel is turned again until the woman's head is at the top and it is noted that she has a ring in each nipple. The man hangs weights on the rings and pulls her nipples down.
Nine: A naked young man is tied to the wall with his hands over his head. A naked young woman sits on the floor in front of him and is masturbating him with her bare feet. Another woman dressed in black leather is overseeing the activity and warns the girl on the floor, in German, not to permit the man to have an orgasm. He does, which infuriates the woman in black leather and she lashes both the man and the other woman with her whip.
The other arcade I often visit is called the Sultan Adult Book Store and it is at the other end of the spectrum from the Bon Joy.
You enter it off 8th Avenue and the first thing you see is a display case containing a meager assortment of s exual appliances. A woman, maybe thirty, perhaps some sort of Gypsy, sits behind the display and will sell you the tokens you need to use the video machines in the back. This place is shabby, it smells of urine and the disinfectants they use to clean the primate cages in small town zoos. There are a few video tapes for rent, a few adult magazines, their pages stapled together.
If the Sultan had to depend on the merchandise on its shelves for profits, it would have gone under long ago. The merchandise is just window dressing. The real purpose of the Sultan is to provide a place for people to have "quickie" sex relations. Behind the display case and the Gypsy woman is a long hall with private video viewing booths on each side. Each booth has a chair in it and a door that can be locked from the inside. This is more window dressing. The partitions between the booths have holes in them, some big enough to walk through, some big enough to stick an arm through and some just big enough to peek through.
The Sultan is a voyeur's paradise. One can watch others having sexual relations, either by looking through the peepholes or by actually entering the booth with them.
I will go into detail later about what goes on in the Sultan, that urinous smelling, sticky-footed Temple of Enlightenment.
Other than those who live in my apartment building, the only people I know well enough to talk to are the other older men who regularly visit the arcades. I may have given you the impression that I am the only one wh o goes to the arcades every night but that is not true, for there are many men just like me who stay in the arcades for hours every night, hoping they will be lucky, that they can watch through a small hole in the wall as attractive people on the other side have some sort of sexual union.
There is actually a sort of camaraderie, for instance, at the Sultan, among the older regulars. They visit with each other in the darkness when there are lulls in the action and share experiences and I even know the names, the first names, that is, of several of them.
Last night, I was at the Sultan along with four or five older regulars and we were all watching and waiting to see if the young man with the long blonde hair that hung past his shoulders would make a connecti on with anyone he considered worthy of him, when one of the regulars, a man I know as Jimmy, slipped up beside me in the darkness and said, "Ted's gone!"
I knew Jimmy well enough to know Ted was the fellow he lived with. Ted came in the Sultan once in a while. Everybody liked him, he was a gentleman, polite and courteous.
"Where'd tie go?" I asked.
"He's gone! Killed himself!"
I was shocked. Ted was one of the group. Both Ted and Jimmy, roommates, mind you, both old men, would come to the arcade together and share the gropings and the peepholes.
"Killed himself?" I asked.
"Hung himself!" said Jimmy.
He told me the story. He and Ted were in their apartment getting ready to watch one of those old movies on their VCR. Johnny Sheffield in Son of Tarzan, it was. Jimmy was popping corn, pouring Cokes when he heard Ted in the next room moving a chair. The telephone rang. Jimmy heard Ted answer it. "No," said Ted. "They don't have this number anymore. They have a new number. If you'll hold on for a few minutes, I'll be happy to look it up for you in the directory." Jimmy said he heard Ted give the party calling the new number, then he heard the chair being moved again, then he heard Ted sigh but he thought nothing about it, then he heard the chair fall over and he went into the next room and there he saw Ted hanging from a steam pipe in the ceiling with his bathrobe tie knotted at his neck.
"I got him down as fast as I could!" Jimmy said, "but it was too late."