This is what I remember about Times Square ...
I remember the girls, all in a line, like a stage call. Sex everywhere. In the sky. In the street.
I remember their mouths, shining, and their skin, all different colors. I remember long eyelashes and poison-green dresses. I remember satin and cheap silk, tight around big hips and breasts. And their shoes. Oh how I loved their shoes. Loud platforms and Nancy Sinatra over-the-knee boots.
All those girls just standing, searching back and forth in the moist hot air, hot from soot and trash and summer.
I remember smelling food. And perfume. And sweat and cigarettes .But mostly, I remember wanting to get a look, just a little longer.
But no. My daddy, he held my hand tight when we approached, walking fast past them, keeping me on the outside, keeping me away. I would try to turn my head, hoping to get a glimpse at their lipstick ...so different from my mother's, and their short skirts and big curls and chain belts. How I wanted to break from my father's grip and run to them, just to stare, or maybe to touch them.
But he held me so tight, I knew I could never break free, so I savored what I could steal, realizing, even then, that these girls were different and this place was different, maybe in a bad way, or a dangerous way, but definitely exciting and for that reason special, very special to me, a five-year-old girl walking with her family on a typical Saturday evening through Times Square on our way to the theater as we often did, in that summer of 1965. And now that place is gone. And the prostitutes are gone. Dead, moved out, pushed aside, forced west, to the edges by the highways, under the tunnels, away from the lights, the crowds, the tourists, and the real money, which is now Times Square.
Sometimes I still go there, but I feel nothing for the place. The sex is gone. The colors are gone. I can't seem to smell anything.
Sure there is still fantasy. But it's Kodak's and Viacom's and Disney's and Calvin Klein's and it leaves me cold, all that corporate control.
In a year or so, people that make a living saying such things will proclaim Times Square a great success. It will be hailed as a showpiece of urban renewal. It will be totally devoid of imagination.
It will be scary in its congested emptiness.
It will look like a place on T.V. And no doubt make a few men a great deal of money.
I only hope that something remains to suggest that Times Square was once an intensely sensual place, chaotic and electric, full of dreamers and dirty dreams, where strangers could go and kiss strangers, where it was OK to play or just watch, where crowds filled the streets unconfined by police barricades and where at any given moment there was more theater in the air than on all the stages of Broadway ...and where a five-year-old girl got her first peek at life.
©1996 Nina Berman
Howard Greenberg Gallery, "New York In Color, " 2012
Museum of the City of New York, "New York Now 2000"