Sex in the City: The Playpen



Neighborhood: Times Square

As the token reverberates in the machine and the creaking panel slowly begins to lift, we awake from our stupors, throw down our magazines, and thrust forward our best commercial assets. 

Desperation sets in as the panel creeps up to unveil the face of a homely, unwashed, acne-laden man. Why do so many of them look like this?

My competition, Angel, immediately springs into action. “Hey,” she says, sauntering up to the window, much as a streetwalker approaches a car, “How are you, sweetie?” This is an obnoxious move, to say the least, for it is usually the first person making contact that scores.

The man does not answer, but he leers and keeps looking at us. Presumably, he is jerking off. Angel abruptly returns to her stool, sighs melodramatically, and flings on her robe, sarcastically buttoning it up to hide her body. I cross my arms across my breasts to support her punishment of this man. This is the kind of customer we despise most — the one who only buys a 25-cent token and gets off by staring at us.


It’s been a slow night. There’s nearly two feet of snow outside on 42nd Street in Manhattan — the only place in the borough where perverts outnumber rats  — and the bleak weather and chilling wind dissuade even our most loyal customers. With eight women working, two to a stage, and an average of three customers visiting our booths per hour, the effect is Darwinian. There is not even a semblance of politeness tonight. Losing a customer could mean the loss of five, ten, twenty, or even more, dollars. The competitive nature of the job motivates us to hate each other passionately. An audition for a Broadway play could not be more competitive. When the panel rises, the perv peers through the window and beckons to either you or your rival. That’s when the tipping starts and the money is made.

I work at a two-story adult entertainment establishment known as The Playpen. Across from Port Authority, the facility sports a pulsating sign overhanging the sidewalk that has a sparkly picture of a long, blonde-haired woman swinging on a half moon. Inside, there are two floors of blinking disco lights with racks of xxx videos, plastic sex toys, and porn literature. The second floor is reserved for the “live girl” kiosks, an inane euphemism for peep show.

In the pecking order of New York porno jobs, peep shows are the lowest echelon. The peep show worker in Manhattan is, in fact, a pseudo-prostitute. Like their sisters on the streets, peep show workers openly break the law. Our money is earned not by the stupid 25-cent token that allows the panel to open, but rather, by four specific sex acts. They include: 1) fondling of breasts ($4.00); 2) sucking of nipples ($6.00); 3) fondling of vagina (penetration of fingers not allowed) ($10.00); 4) rubbing the ass ($5.00). The window panel only stays up for 30 seconds, so the trick is to stall and tease the customer and, when the panel is closing, to instruct him to “put in another token.” That is how money is made. Each time the window opens, the customer has to pay you again.

A big no-no is to inform the customer of the price outright. Because what we’re doing is illegal. If an undercover cop pretends to be a customer and we give him or her a specific figure, the cop could haul us all away for prostitution and shut the place down. Or so I’ve been told. Rather, when asked by a client how much a specific act costs, we say “a generous tip.” If they don’t hand you enough money, you say, “You need to be more generous,” until they reach the right figure. Many times they’ll become confused and give you too much money. You’re supposed to give it back, but I never do and I don’t think anyone else would be foolish enough to either. Management, with its “Big Brother” cameras, warns that giving head to a customer is a fireable offense. Nonetheless, I have witnessed employees slip outside the wooden barrier, separating us from our customers, and do just that, camouflaged by a black curtain that hangs behind the customer.

The skills required for being a successful peep show professional are multifaceted. The most important thing, however, is your outfit. You will need a lacy g-string and 4-inch stiletto heel shoes complimented by hoards of cheap makeup. I always drown my lips in Elizabeth Arden hot pink lipstick, which I then outline in a fuchsia lip pencil, allowing my lips to look three times larger than they are. The cherry on top, if you’ll excuse the pun, is adorning my nipples with the same hot pink lipstick. Then there is the wig. The wig is all powerful You must have a long, long flaxen blonde or raven black thick-tressed wig. Only then will you be considered “hot.” The shallowness of our customers’ imagination cannot be exaggerated.

Several of my co-workers are ravishing. Some are aspiring models. A couple of them are porn movie actors. What the hell are they doing here? Many perpetuate the stereotype of the broken woman forced into a dirty business. One is trying to move out of a shelter for victims of spousal-abuse. There is a Latino woman working here who cannot speak a word of English. Angel has a huge dope habit. Others choose peep shows to promote their after-hour prostitution businesses, eagerly handing out beeper cards to clients before the sliding windows close and mangle fingers. Me? I work at a peep show for all the reasons above … and more. I kid. But honestly, this is easy money — no taxes and you can stay on welfare. You can be a drone and perform this line of work.

With all these stunning women, it is amazing and a little shameful that I am able to earn good money. Shameful because I will be teamed with a gorgeous Black or Hispanic woman, and still be chosen by some imbecile because I am white.

Believe it or not, there are few eventful experiences with customers. There is the occasional customer who bites too hard on something and makes me bleed. There are the couples out on a date that thought it’d be fun and quirky to go to a peep show together. There is the distinguished gentleman holding a crack pipe. Weirdest of all, however, was the time the window arose to reveal a fellow peep show worker who wanted to touch me. Didn’t she get enough of that on her shift?

As a professional peep show worker, it is taboo to experience any semblance of arousal. It is the only sin you can commit here. I learn that quickly when an amiable rotund man arouses me to the point that I turn to my fellow teammate and exclaim, “Oooh. This feels good.” If looks could electrocute…I am ostracized by my peers for days.


Angel sprays the stage with Money House Blessing Air freshener. She is superstitious and, for good luck, stomps her stilettos on the money that she’s amassed during the evening. She prays to Jesus, too, while cursing him at the same the time. Tonight, people keep choosing Angel, and I’m not even pissed about it. I’ve been here eight hours, I’m coughing hard, and it’s absurd to have this many people at the booths when there aren’t any customers.

I walk to the next stage to ask Raven, our supervisor, if I may leave. “No,” she says, “We’re going to need you tonight.” Preposterous — she just hates me.

I sneak out, never to return, not knowing how I’ll earn money going forward. I spot a woman on the street clad in a red polka dress and black felt floppy mouse ears. She is handing out coupons to the new Disney store. I wonder if I could do that too. No. When it comes to degradation, everyone has limits.


Madam X has chosen to use a pseudonym when writing about this period of her life. The events depicted in this story took place in 1996.

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§ 5 Responses to “Sex in the City: The Playpen”

  • TSB says:

    Very good. Amazed it is set as late as 1996. Reminds me of the story, “Cremains” by Sam Lipsyte, in his collection, Venus Drive.

  • David says:

    Thanks for sharing this story, Madam X. It brings back a lot of memories for me. I was one of the perverts, as you call us LOL, who was a regular customer at the Times Square peep shows. As 1996 was pretty much the peak of my peep show phase, I may well have been one of your regular customers. I think I even remember the snowstorm you are referring to, although I stayed home that day.

    I regularly visited all the peep shows in the Times Square area, although I didn’t get to the Playpen as often as some. I worked at a job in the financial industry on 45th Street and often visited the peep shows after work before walking home to my Upper West Side apartment. As the Playpen was a block or two south of some of the other peep shows, it was in the opposite direction to my home, so I didn’t visit quite as much. But I still got to the Playpen with some frequency and may well have been one of your customers.

    Thanks for sharing the point that customers who stared and presumably fapped but didn’t tip were very unwelcome. I made that mistake once at a different peep show, maybe Show World, and quickly learned my lesson. I was planning to eventually select a woman to tip, but when I took my time doing so, the women became very angry with me. After that I made sure to pick a woman and offer a tip as soon as I put in my token and the pane opened.

    At least from the perspective of this pervert, you and your peers definitely offered an enjoyable and valuable service, and in many ways I miss those days. I’d love to hear more stories about your work at the Playpen.

  • karl davis says:

    I`m from Maryland and Amtrak to New York often—shopping, Broadway shows and nightlife. Then I discovered Show World, Playpen, Peepland, etc. This was the TOP, the most fun and enjoyable moments being in NYC. I met so many girls and had so many HOT experiences back then. There was NO Aids. There was FREEDOM to do whateverm, HAVE whatever, FANTASY FULFILLED. The working girls were LIKE PRINCESSES. NOW today in NEW YORK CITY all the wonderful ENTERTAINMENT is GONE. DISNEY and big store chains have DESTROYED the REAL NEW YORK, and now it is BORING!!!!!!!!!! karl

  • Brian Pearson says:

    This place is legendary, a landmark in town . . countless great memories have been had here. The girls are stunning, friendly and always professional. They make you feel incredibly welcome. It’s an honor and privilege to visit.

  • Errol Byron Thomas says:

    Any reason why Playpen is closed? I’m still wondering why the sex shops in New York City have no more live girls.

§ Leave a Reply

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