Thursday, June 09, 1977

The Battle of Lexington

In the night, the long white frock coat and plantation hat of the tall man gave him a shepherd’s bearing as he stood in the light of a coffee shop and kept a proprietor’s eye on the women standing on the corners hawking themselves to motorized streams of men.

There were dozens of women at 4 am last Saturday in a 16-block Manhattan grid centering on Lexington Avenue and 26th Street, working the curbs with prancing invitation as cars passed slowly. They jammed the corners of what local residents call the all-night meat market.

A prostitute took a break to order fried eggs and she had to admire and green-and-white ring, ugly as a jungle insect, that was extended for inspection on the fist of one of the pimps.

The view from the driver’s seat of a passing innocent could be intimidating, as a creature in hot pants materialized at a red light like a fantasized hood ornament, blocking the way, actually rubbing against the fender. The car’s steel shell held and after a terrible stare through the windshield she yielded to a green light.

The sky softened to blue-black after 5:00 o’clock. A local resident lifted his window and his shade three stories above Eng’s laundry just north of 23rd Street. He looked down on the new day, his bald head all pink dome at the window, and there were a half dozen prostitutes all about his front stoop. To newly returned from transactions exchanged the hand-slap greeting of athletes. The man made no sound and watched.

Across the street, in the shadows of an armory, the uniform of the day appeared. Olive drab, it blended in better than the hot-pants parade. It was worn by weekend Army reservists arriving from a field trip. Four of them were quiet as scouts as they stood and watched the market across the street. “Damn!” one very young tropper said loudly and appreciatively toward the women. But the two groups kept their distance and when a beautiful blond prostitute in shorts turned the armory corner and walked past, her legs long and pastel in the first light, she looked down, passing the men in apparent shyness.

By 6:00am Captain Witherell’s men outnumbered the prostitutes . Hungry, the captain eyed the coffee shop and stepped out with an aide, crossing over, his boots shiny in the street. The man in the white frock coat and white plantation hat stood outside the coffee shop, judging what was left of his night. He looked the captain over and stepped aside, two men of natty rank passing in a dawn of shifting bodies.

NYT Clines 6/9/77

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