Gawker contributor and New York Post reporter, Shelia McClears tells of working at the Times Square peepshows in her new book, The Last of the Live Nude Girls.
“The girls are not allowed to touch the customers. It is the number one rule. There must never be contact.”
Live. Nude. Girls. I used to be one, and so did Sheila McClear. That’s why when I spotted her memoir, The Last Of The Live Nude Girls, I knew immediately what it was about. What I didn’t know was that it takes place in Times Square, and that one of the peep shows she worked at is the exact same one I used to work at. As a writer, I remained skeptical until I started reading. It is unquestionable that the book is beautifully written, adorned with authentic melancholy, and bolstered by a unique voice. She writes about strip clubs where she worked, as well:
“We performed the same tasks every night, naked and nobody seemed to care. We could go across the country and do more or less the same job in various strip clubs or peepshows, but it wasn’t freedom. Nobody here was winning.”
Sheila McClear is without a doubt a good writer, but there is a cold distance between McClear and her own material. Part of that does, indeed, serve to express how McClear felt during her stint at the peep show, but the content as a total package is peepshow-light. The distance is a successful writing device on one end but also something to hide behind on the other.
The Last Of The Live Nude Girls follows McClear through her aimless trek among the seedy remnants of Times Square. While, I wasn’t looking for shock value, I did find the lack of visercal detail about what goes on in shows a bit disappointing. I also felt that she wrote the most about the least interesting people, except for a pulsing chapter, entitled “The Most Popular Girl In Times Square,” about the ultimate fantasy girl, “She was Playpen’s biggest star, the highest earner by far. There was just no contest.”
She also mentions three girls who were sisters, but that’s it. As the reader I wanted to know more about these girls. The idea that there is a Bronte-triad of peepshow girls is beyond fascinating. McClear simply concludes that the whole thing was odd, “But it was true. There were three sisters at the Playpen, like Chekhov. And they all did the same damn thing with their gum.”
McClear has a gift for dialogue. I had to smile to myself when she writes about a girl who has to leave early and the manager says, “Curfew? She in fuckin’ high school?” I’ve heard this person say the exact same thing before, and McClear captures his tone with perfection.
McClear’s story is genuine and poignant when it comes to her own personal experience and the insights she gained, but it seems to be written from an outsider’s perspective when it comes down to the electricity and nitty-gritty of the peepshow world. It’s an account of the peepshow from the perspective of a wallflower or a ghost. Even so, it’s a worthwhile read because of McClear’s voice and sheer intellect, but if you’re looking for a definitive account of what it’s like to work in a peepshow, this is not it. The book is more of an account of loneliness. The peep show rather sets the stage for McClear’s late bloomer coming-of-age story.