Peeping Back At Sleazy Times Square

May 17, 2024 | Miss Rosen

By the 1970’s, Times Square had become a veritable Sodom and Gomorrah. As the red light capital of the eastern seaboard, the Great White Way offered a new kind of Broadway show any time of night or day, peddling pleasures of the flesh on the streets, XXX movie theaters, strip clubs, brothels, and sex shops that lay as far as the eye could see. Rebels, outcasts, misfits, hustlers, criminals, artists, and libertines flocked like moths to a flame, in search of promises untold. But few survived to tell the tale, their stories disappearing into oblivion.

For a brief, lurid moment the underworld arose and dominated the landscape of New York, inspiring legions of movies, TV shows, books, and urban legends that fueled fantasies while widely missing the mark — as outsiders so often do. Far more rare are the true insiders like DEUCE 42, who was in the life for 12 years, rising from porter to performer at Show World, the legendary sex emporium that reigned supreme from the corner of 42nd and 8th. Open 24/7, Show World offered four floors of fun, catering to all comers (no pun intended).

In a world where truth is stranger than fiction, local history might otherwise disappear were it not for the long awaited publication of DEUCE 42’s literary debut, Peep Man, an intoxicating trip back to Times Square in the ’80s. Blessed with the gift of recall, he weaves together cinematic tableaux featuring gangsters, brujas, strippers, managers, and the sundry clientele cast in a frenetic blend of romance, lust, beauty, trauma, dissolution, and hope. His memoir is a natural extension of the work he has done with Show World Legacy, a guided tour inside a world that no longer exists but for the stories and photographs.

Where Show World Legacy is a lush catalogue of the business featuring photographs by Bill Butterworth, Matt Weber, Miron Zownir, Sue Kwon, and Gregoire Alesandrini, Peep Man is a walk on the wild side, the likes of which go far beyond a single book, let alone a thousand words. “You go into your memory, but you also might not come back,” says DEUCE 42. “That’s the problem. I had to weave in and out kind of like a snake going from side to side because I didn’t want to get trapped in a bottomless pit. When I finally left, I wanted to get out of that business but at the same time, I wanted to document it. I didn’t want to end up six feet under it because a lot of people are disappearing for various reasons.”

Born in Manhattan in 1961 to a Filipino father and American mother whose family came over on the Mayflower, DEUCE 42 came of age during the height of the Vietnam War. At the age of 4, the family moved to Bethlehem, Connecticut, to live in his mother’s childhood home amid a open racist community. The target of hatred and abuse at school, he felt a profound sense of isolation and alienation only further exacerbated by his parents’ disastrous relationship. After their marriage collapsed, he followed his father to Manhattan and studied at the High School of Art and Design. But for all his talent and success, something remained amiss until the day he cut school and headed for Times Square.

Ensconced in majestic tableaux of decadence and dissolution, DEUCE 42 felt something he has never known before: a sense of belonging. Surrounded by grandiose theaters that had fallen on hard times and resurrected as all-nite movie houses, he was surrounded by pathos and desire that refused all semblance of shame and guilt. There was only adventure to be had and fortune to be made. Amid the drama and chaos, he found kinship among those cast to the margins of society that will go down swinging before they roll over and give up.

It is here that Peep Man began four decades ago, with a chance encounter that transformed his life forevermore. “I became acquainted with a woman who worked in a private booth who would give me $1,” DEUCE 42 says. “Then one day she says, ‘I would like you to meet someone’ and it turns out the booth next to hers was her daughter’s, which was kind of shocking. The girl, Misty, and I became friends. She was the one that predicted I would write a book.”

And write a book he did — but as Peep Man unfolds, it leaves far more questions than it answers, leaving readers keen for the next episode. His breathless tales of live sex and drug addiction flash in neon lights, each chapter promising scenes of debauchery that recall the indecorous glamour of Channel J at midnight. Come for the live sex shows, stay for the mafia subplot and spiritual interlude because here in a world of fantasy anything is possible.

“I knew my destiny and I started to write,” says DEUCE 42, who soon found work as a freelance illustrator. “I was lucky to get published by adult magazines like Screw,” he says. “I could actually do a cover, and that made me realize this is what I wanted to do. I expanded to magazines like Hustler. I will never forget getting a check to Larry Flynt, how fucking beautiful that was. I wanted to frame it.”

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