The Play Pen is one of New York City's few remaining gentlemen's clubs, survived by decades of neighborhood improvement committees, and former mayor Rudolph Giuliani's anti-pornography campaign.
Perhaps one defense is location. Away from the main traffic of Times Square, and on the fringe of faux-gritty Hells Kitchen --one more neighborhood to experience upward mobility South of 125th Street -- The Play Pen stays open for business day and night. In 2001, as residents scrambled to find affordable neighborhoods, newcomers used anti-pornography laws to force The Play Pen to clean up its act -- or get out of Manhattan. Club owners replaced their racy marquee in response.
It is ironic that The Play Pen's new image rose, shortly before The World Trade Center (the real Twin Towers) collapsed. Advertising one of the last porn shops in Manhattan, are two symbols of New York's most horrific event.
Living in Hells Kitchen, I pass this porn shop everyday, I wonder where the anti-porn rhetoric lives now. Its hard to believe such a fierce battle between "clean-cut" residents and "raunchy" business owners joined at silence.
Why would vocal residents let this slip past? Has the subject of porn itself become as taboo as 9-11? Or, is it possible, that no matter what the neon represents, these Twin Towers hold new meaning to the neighborhood now?
Stalin once said that a single death was a tragedy, 1 million deaths is a statistic. He was a man no one would credit for understanding Manhattanites' psychoses, but I've struggled with his argument for two years.
It is impossible to grasp the World Trade Center collapse on the morning of 11 September 2001 -- South Tower at 10:05 a.m., and the North Tower at 10:28 a.m. It is impossible to fully grieve for the humans lost that day. For the first time in United States' history, we witnessed a man-made catastrophe so immense, that I can only refer to it by date, by time, or by any other moniker of locale, and the image of life itself seems small by comparison.
Using mathematics, a reasonable, factual, account for statistics, I attempted to put this into perspective and challenge Stalin's remark. I'd find myself doing calculations on the margins of a paper pad, just trying to make sense with numbers... 3,000 dead; equates to my high school graduating class multiplied by 25. It is the seating capacity of Lincoln Center.
I can imagine Lincoln Center empty, but who were these people that will never fill their seats? I try to prove Stalin wrong. Whether it is 1 dead, or 1 million deaths -- isn't his equation flawed? How can I understand 3,000 deaths ten blocks away?
During New York's blackout in August 2003, I found the answer. After wandering this dark city with friends, I stumbled upon The Play Pen marquee. Lifeless and wilted without power, the Twin Towers were nothing more than gray hollow tubes against a black city skyline. This sign, I realized, was an image I could not live without.
We Manhattanites have pushed on since 9-11, as our government ordered. We tend to our jobs, our ambitions, and our lives. We spent winter 2002/2003 selecting new designs for the former World Trade Center acreage. We were given ink-blot-tests in architectural form, to envision implausible designs, and to rid our future of fear. The new and improved World Trade Center matches our aspiring attitude. We chose muscle. We chose the (proposed) tallest man-made structure in the world. This is our new focus.
Our inability to cope with lives lost, draw us to fixate upon an icon, a symbol, something that reminds us of our sorrow without being compulsive. Those two fallen Twin Towers transcend martyrdom, and adorn simple objects today such as laundry trucks, McDonald's menus, and, a porn shop marquee.
These twin symbols have become therapeutic touchstones while writing-off this tragedy to world history, and allowing us not to forget. We've come to realize that we, as New Yorkers, can't grieve 3,000 neighbors lost. In the dearth of understanding, we grieve those Twin Towers daily. The mathematics are more communal, more comprehensible, when remembered in terms of two.