Early on during our stay, Mike told the three of us about a record store called Disc-O-Mat that he found a few blocks up from Times Square on Broadway. Jeff, Lloyd, and I made a handful of trips there during the week. I made one honest-to-goodness trip there to see what they had for sale. The rest of my trips were to see the giant poster that promoted a new album from Carole Bayer Sager. I had heard her name and of her connection to Burt Bacharach on some television show and had no interest in her or her music at all. This poster, though, was changing my mind. She was gorgeous and I couldn’t get enough of her. My fifth trip to the record store to see her finally opened my eyes to a difficult truth – I was just as bad as those weirdo horndogs hanging outside one of the sex shops in Times Square.
Time Square was home to what should have been the city’s seedy underbelly. Entire blocks were full of shops and theaters devoted to the lusty desires of men and women alike – mostly men though. Weirdoes employed by these places lined the streets like carnival barkers trying to separate people from their hard-earned money. One of those weirdoes managed to stop me and the guys outside a place that purported to show live sex shows. One of my buddies suggested that we should go take a look. I eyed him skeptically while the third member of our party protested. I called my buddy’s bluff and the two of us made our way up the long, funneling and very dark entrance while our other buddy was still voicing his opinion from the sidewalk. We made it about halfway up the entrance when our little game of chicken ended as we both stopped and turned around to leave, laughing about it as we left. The weirdo, who no doubt thought he had reeled in a pair of easy marks, questioned our manliness. The two of us laughed even harder at him.
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Culturally, New York City has always been ahead of the curve compared to the rest of the nation. The city is usually ground zero for new trends. New York in the late seventies and early eighties was the hotbed for a ground swell of impending change in music and culture, a combination that seems to run hand-in-hand. Disco was on its way out. New Wave and Dance Pop were on their way in. Accompanying the change in music was a change in fashion and personal style. The hairstyles and clothing of the disco-era were slowly being replaced by a style that was a little bit wild, a whole lot more colorful, and accessorized to the hilt. While the new music was turning me off, the new look was having the opposite effect.
The fourth (and final!) young woman to catch my fancy that week – a cashier working in the gift shop of the Hotel Edison – appeared to be in an early, transitory stage into the new look. She was easily the friendliest and most interesting person I had met in the entire city that week. During the morning of one of our free days I stopped at the gift shop to buy a pack of gum and saw two New York City buttons that would look good on my “Go to Hell” hat back home. As I laid them next to the gum the cute cashier asked if I collected buttons.
“Yeah, I do,” I sheepishly responded. Her question surprised me and made me more than a little nervous. Not knowing what to say or do, I rambled on telling her about my hat that was festooned with buttons. When I was finished I felt like a dope and could feel myself starting to blush.
She told me, “That’s neat! I have a bunch of buttons at home that you’d probably like.” With that, she removed a button from her work vest and handed it to me. “Here’s one you won’t be able to buy anywhere in the city.” The button was for a sightseeing company called New York Helicopter.
“Oh, I can’t take this,” I told her as I tried to hand it back.
“Nope, I insist. I don’t work for those guys. We just sell tickets for them. Besides, I can get as many of those that I want,” she insisted with a smile.
At that point, I was done in. I would have stormed the gates of Hell had she asked. I thanked her for her generosity, smiled as I nodded at her, and then went on my way. Naturally, I thought about her the rest of the day.
I walked past the gift shop looking for the cashier each day and at every opportunity during the rest of our stay. It was all to no avail until the day we were leaving. I went to the shop one last time to buy a pop for the bus trip home and was surprised and delighted to see her behind the counter. Overcome with shyness, I sat the pop down and got out my cash to pay without saying a word. I expected to pay and leave.
“Well, hi there!” she said. “Are you with that group that’s checking out to leave?”
“Hmm?” Caught completely off guard by her question I looked up at her, then to our group in the lobby, and then back to her. “Uh, yeah,” I answered with a shake of my head. “Yeah, I am.”
“How was your stay? Did you have a great time?”
“Yeah, it was… great. Yeah.”
“Did you find any more buttons for your hat?”
The oddity of this situation caused me to hesitate for just a second. “Oh. Uh, no,” I replied with a grin. “No I didn’t.” The lady on the Oh! Calcutta! billboard, the auburn haired girl, and Carole Bayer Sager were becoming fleeting memories.
“Ohh, that’s too bad. You’ll just have to come back and see us again!” she said with a smile that was killing me. I desperately wished for time to stand still at that moment. The guy standing behind me probably felt otherwise.
“Thank you,” I told her as I grabbed my pop. I started to turn away then looked at her one more time and thanked her again, though not for any reason that she would have suspected.