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SkipWilliamson

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The Corridor

1 min read

The corridor of the low rent thin-walled hotel was loud with adolescent prattle from the hood; brawling squawk and pre-pubescent bravado amok.  And down the hall a group of charismatic pentecostals were having a vociferous  prayer meeting.  Not only were they talking in tongues they were also shrieking in tongues.


We were in the red room, the din pounding through the walls. But with the music of our fuck we silenced the chaos outside the door.  We shut it down by making love. 


And everything's been pretty relaxed since then.

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In late 1969 i was headed to meet Jay Lynch on Wells Street in order to hawk copies of Bijou Funnies to the great unwashed.  But I had a stop to make along the way.

It was getting dark as I walked through a Chicago neighborhood. The weather was grisly  raw, the temperature was dropping and the wind was howling and whipping tiny pellets of ice into my vulnerable  flesh. The El rumbled by, its iron wheels squawking and screeching, and the wind howled in cadence with the iron groans and squawks .  Ice was forming in my mustache.

My coat collar was pulled high and the woolen scarf wrapping my neck was flowing behind me, whipping like an angry snake at the whim of the Hawk, my gloved hands jammed deep into my pockets. I was leaning into the cold wind and hunched as I pushed through the ruthless twilight.

I was headed down a typical Chicago residential street, brownstones fronted by sidewalks fronted by the street. It was a neighborhood of stoops with the prescript bar on the corner.  I headed up a stoop  halfway down the block, and rang the doorbell.  I was buzzed in and  I quickly headed up the stairs to the third floor.

I banged on 3A and Digger Mike opened the door.  Digger Mike was a scrawny, wild electric-haired, bearded guy.  And this night he was naked.  

"Digger Mike!" I greeted.

I peered into the room behind him and  I could not help noticing his -- also naked --wife, Sunshine.  Sunshine was a fat, white fleshed redhead. She was broadly smiling at me.

When I'd run into Sunshine out with Digger Mike she seemed like your average chunky street hippie. But naked she was gorgeous.  She was meant to be appreciated without clothing.  She was rotund,  soft as a marshmallow and glowed like moonshine.

"Hey, Skip," Digger Mike replied.

"Hope I'm not interrupting anything," I query. making note of his nudity as well as that  of Sunshine, all soft, milky and generous ---  and her fiery orange bush, and her affectionate smile.

Sunshine gave me a little wave and beckoned me in.
 
"Not at all," says Digger Mike.  "We were expecting you. Come on in."

I stepped into the apartment, a comfortable thrift store furnished hippie pad. A worn sofa, a bookcase made from bricks and 2 "x 4"s , a record player on a side table strewn with the requisite albums: The MC5, The Beatles White Album, Their Satanic Majesties Request, John Coltrane. Next to the table stood a standing lamp.  A cone of red incense burned in a small brass incense burner next to a copy of The Chicago Seed on the coffee table, along with scales and a kilo of loose marijuana in the process of being stuffed in one-ounce portions into baggies.

Digger Mike seated himself on the sofa and said "Take a load off."

I sat next to Digger Mike.  Sunshine stood across from us, by the record player.

"What can I do for you?" Digger Mike asked.

"I need some weed," I said.

Digger Mike fetched a fat doobie out of the ashtray on the coffee table.  He lit it and passed it to me. I took a deep hit, filling my lungs with intoxicating smoke.

"How much do you need?" asked Digger Mike.

Coughing out a cloud of smoke I wheeze, "An ounce oughta do me".

"No problem, brother.  One lid comin' up."  Digger Mike weighed out an ounce, put it in a baggie and handed it to me.

"Fifteen dollars," said Digger Mike.   I reached into my pocket and handed him a ten and a five.

"Cool," I pronounce.

Digger Mike asked, "Would you like a beer?" and I answered "Sure".

Sunshine left the room and returned with two bottles of Old Style, one for Mike and one for me.  She was standing behind the couch next to Digger Mike.

Digger Mike said, "Sunshine and I have decided not to wear clothes at home.  It's such a straight thing, wearing clothes.  We need to be free."

"I can dig it," I concurred.

Digger Mike passed the joint and said "You can fuck Sunshine if you want."  Sunshine grinned.

I turned to Sunshine and said "Maybe a rain-check?"  She nods her head in the affirmative. "Tonight I'm on my way to Wells Street to pedal comix."

Then Digger Mike asked "Can I fuck your wife?"

"Okay by me," I answered. "But you'll have to run it by her.  She's having a little trouble with men right now."

"Or maybe it's just me," I added.

I took another deep hit off the joint.
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THE EXCEPTION

2 min read
I'd roll into Playboy around 10am and work until noon.

Then it was off to lunch with one of my fellow art directors, usually Bob or Roy or Norm. We'd try to get back to the tenth floor by 3pm.

I'd usually return with a six-pack of beer that I'd whittle back throughout the remainder of the work day. I had a sign prominently displayed on my office door that said "No Beer, No Work!" And also a reproduction of the Revolutionary War banner that featured a snake and the slogan "Don't Tread on Me." Mine had the snake but the slogan was "Don't Fuck With Me!"

And, for the rest of the afternoon I'd roll and smoke.

The Art and Editorial Departments shared the 10th floor.

My office was the first stop after the reception desk, where the elevator deposited anyone doing business with editorial and the art department. Daily, the entire reception area stank of reefer smoke. A couple of editors complained to Hefner about my flagrant drinking, dope smoking and grab-ass during business hours.

Hefner said "Leave him alone. He's a exception to the rule."
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As anyone with a sense of history knows, the link between Organized Crime and Organized Politics in Chicago was so solid it was often difficult to discern one from the other, especially during the reign of Hizzoner, Richard J. Daley.

So it was that Chicago's First Ward (The diamond necklace on the Windy City's North Side) was booty to be plundered by those wielding peremptory power. Ergo Chicago's ward heelers were in cahoots with Chicago's racketeers so they might mutually fleece the fuddled public. So massage parlors -- blowjob bordellos – began to sprout like venereal warts throughout the First Ward and later into other neighborhoods.

About midway through my tenure at Faces magazine (By that time I'd taken to calling it "Feces".) it became apparent that, in order to make ends meet, I needed to supplement my income because Francy's drug habit was out of control and if I didn't provide the money she'd be doing whatever she needed to do to procure her pharmaceuticals.

My friend, Bob Rudnick, had taken a job at the Harem, a massage parlor on LaSalle Street literally around the corner from the Chicago Avenue police headquarters. Bob told me that they could use someone to work the desk, that the perquisites were intrinsically libidinous and that a clever boy could easily skim extra bullion from the cash-only business.

I took a job working three nights a week. My duties were to work the desk, count the money and make sure everything tallied, protect the girls from aggressive customers and sniff out cops in case of a raid.

Of course the law and the outlaws were in league. But occasionally the police were required to put on a show of feigned force in order to assure the gullible public that local government was doing its job. It was explained to me that – if raided –we'd all be paraded down to the local police station but within an hour we'd be bailed out and back to work.

The night I started at the Harem someone tossed a bomb through the window of a massage parlor a few blocks away. Like any family the Chicago Outfit experiences sibling rivalry. And, like wild dogs, the kin are territorial beasts, alpha-males snipping and snarling at others of the brood when encroachment is perceived. Such was the bombing of the nearby parlor. A minor spat between brothers. Like children fighting over a toy.

At the Harem you could purchase a blowjob for 20 bucks. If you wanted a fuck it would cost 40. The girls weren't supposed to fuck but they all did it anyway. Part of my job was to keep an eye on what the girls were up to via closed-circuit tv and to let my Mafia overlords know if they were porking. I enjoyed watching them have sexual intercourse and I never turned them in. In return for my silence I was affectionately fellated nearly every shift I worked.

I'd had a slight connection to the massage parlor business before I became an employee. Toward the end of the Gallery run the magazine was going to do and article and/or a pictorial about Chicago's massage parlors. An editor and I met with Vince Gerace, a proprietor of a parlor at Belmont and Clark Street.

But one day Vinny turned up missing. I suspect his bones rest with those of other unfortunates in the polluted silt of the Chicago River.  Vinny had tread on the wrong toes. And perhaps because he was not a member of the immediate family, he was not afforded the protection generally reserved for the immediate family. It was Vince Gerace who became the model for Neon Vincent, a comic strip character I'd later serialize in Playboy magazine.

My job at the Harem only lasted a couple of months. Shortly after I arrived I was assigned the desk at Gentleman's Retreat, a new parlor that was being opened in a more blighted neighborhood than the Harem. The Harem was fairly upscale. The girls were attractive and the patrons were lawyers, priests from the Archdiocese, off-duty cops and Michigan Avenue businessmen who needed to relieve the stress of the workaday world. However the girls working at Gentleman's Retreat were more like biker chicks – snarling, jailhouse-tattooed, acne-scarred and fucked up on barbiturates and angeldust. And the neighborhood was the kind place where anyone with the price of a blowjob in his pocket would be ill advised to wander around after dark. I was provided a pistol and advised I'd probably need it. So Gentleman's Retreat went bust about the time Rudnick was caught pilfering.

Bob was taken into a back room were his head was wrapped in towels (so's not to leave marks) and he was beaten with a telephone book. "Good thing for you we're reasonable guys," he was told. "Anyone else woulda broken your legs." Seemed like the right time to give notice.
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In the early days of the 1890s the valley between Pike's Peak and the Sangre de Christo mountain range was largely uninhabited. But by the time Cripple Creek was incorporated in 1892 there were 5,000 residents in the district that included Cripple Creek and the town of Victor ten miles due south. By 1900 the gold-rush was on and the population of Cripple Creek had swollen to 35,000, and Victor to 5,000. At that time Cripple Creek had 49 grocery stores, 20 meat markets, 14 bakeries, 5 livery stables, 90 doctors, 2 undertakers, 73 saloons and 16 churches. 15 newspapers were published in the district -- 8 in Cripple Creek, five of which were dailies.

But by 1965 Cripple Creek was largely a ghost town. There were maybe 650 residents but the physical town remained as an abandoned grid of homes, businesses, whorehouses, churches and a jail -- like history suspended in amber. It was the country's largest inhabited ghost town.

During the Summer of 1965 I was in Cripple Creek, Colorado, working as the publicity director for "Daddy Was a Lady," a summer-stock stage-play about murder and transvestites. The star of the show was Rae Bourbon, a 72-year old cross dresser who produced pansy party records, and was a crony of Mae West's.

Shortly after "Daddy was a Lady" had opened, playing to audiences of two or three a night, Tony Aleman, the Sicilian who managed the bar and food service facilities for the Grubstake Hotel, pulled me aside and said he wanted to put a couple of working girls and gambling upstairs in order to increase revenue.

"Or maybe, just out of habit," I thought.

Tony and I were in the room behind the bar area, and he was fiddling with a large kitchen knife.

"I've put a call in to the Boys in from Hot Springs," he said. "They'll arrange everything. Put in the slots and a roulette wheel and get a couple of whores out here. I'll bring in Upstairs Rose to keep the girls corralled. We'll manage it all from this end. They'll make boodle and we'll get a decent taste," Tony oozed.

"It's time someone generated some green in this fuckin' shithole!" he snarled, and added emphasis by chunking the knife across the room and embedding it into a door jam splintering wood and my nerves.

"Hot Springs is sending representatives to check out the operation this weekend!" spit Tony.

The following Saturday three toughs in sharkskin suits and dark glasses sauntered through the swinging doors into the Grubstake and took seats at the bar. Tony poured drinks and the four of them hunched together as Aleman, in low tones, revealed his plan.

Tony was hardly into his scheme when Pat Lee, Rae Bourbon's 18-year old lover, minced into the barroom and squealed "Oh, my stars! Look at the BIG STRONG MEN! It makes a young girl's heart skip a beat!"  he warbled breathlessly.

Pat Lee took the stool next to one of the thuggy yeggs, dramatically crossed his legs, grabbed hold of the mug's arm and cooed "Oh mercy me. What BIG muscles you have!"  Lee's grip moved from the gangster's arm and up his inner thigh as he chirped, "I'll bet you're big ALL OVER!"

God knows why Pat Lee wasn't cold-cocked off the bar-stool and beaten into perfumed hamburger? Certainly immediate primal retribution was currency here at the top of the mountain, where yahoos in buckskins openly packed firearms and Indians fueled by firewater and historical issues roamed skittish with nothing left to lose. And the Hot Springs toughs had no aversion to violence.

But it didn't happen. Maybe it was because there was a substantial wide-eyed audience seated transfixed at the saloon's tables.

We all knew that the mobsters were scheduled here on this day and we didn't want to miss the entertainment. Cecilia and I were there. As was the director, Larry Fisher.  Also present were Octavia Powell, Dean Gattis, Princess Bodeen and the usual grizzled prospectors or two.

Not that there wasn't an explosion. But it was aimed at Tony Aleman.

The three thugs collared Tony, redressing their outrage for wasting their time in this backwater ghost town. Time that would be better spent extorting businessmen or pipe-bombing rival thugs back home. It wasn't so much that a flaming queen groped them as it was that there was clearly nothing here for them. No business. No loot to pillage.

The acrimonious three stormed out of the saloon warning Aleman to never contact Hot Springs again. And that, if he did, he would be dealt with harshly, with deadly malice.

He'd end up in the Spring.

Pat Lee pranced off. And Tony's Aleman's options -- in his field of criminal endeavor -- were rapidly diminishing.

***

Before Stonewall the queer lifestyle was clandestine, closeted away for reasons of self-preservation.  This was especially true in conservative and religiously fascist enclaves like Colorado Springs. There were no rainbow flags, no inter-mutually sanctioned Gay Pride parades.

"The next great civil rights movement will be for homo rights" Rae Bourbon told me. "J.F.K. had fairies in his inner circle," he smiled.

Rae was full of stories about old Hollywood. Who was a fairy, who drank too much. James Whale, Roman Navarro and Spring Byington. James and Roman, fairys. Spring, alcoholic.

"I played a shepherd-girl in "Th
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