Friday, January 22, 2010

Candy, Mandy and Sandy

I'm reading Adam Gopnik's book "Through the Children's Gate," about his return with his family to New York from Paris in 1999. He describes the ever-changing nature of the city, the buildings that disappear so new ones can be erected, the shops that close, the blandness that encroaches with gentrification.

I was reminded of the gentrification of my own neighborhood, which has undergone substantial changes in just the seven years I've lived there. The most vivid example of that gentrification is the story of Candy, Mandy and Sandy.

When I moved to East 29th Street in 2002, a rotating group of hookers used to hang out on a nearby corner, at 28th Street and Lexington Avenue. A friend who lived the next block up jokingly called them Candy, Mandy and Sandy. There were actually more than three, but several resembled each other very closely and we settled on that collective nickname.

I hadn't had much experience spotting prostitutes, and I always wondered if I would know one if I saw one. Well, let me tell you, with Candy, Mandy and Sandy, there was no question. They wore the most absurdly inappropriate clothing I've ever seen on the streets of New York -- stiletto patent leather thigh-high boots, miniskirts that failed to cover anything, cleavage-squeezing tube tops, sequins, feathers. They were cartoons of hookers. They were so blatant, I wondered if they were undercover cops.

Their behavior suggested not. I passed them on the sidewalk sometimes early on Sunday mornings, when they were finishing up their Saturday night shifts. They were often loudly and sloppily arguing or laughing with each other -- they seemed only capable of extremes. I wondered why they chose that particular corner, and assumed it had to do with the proximity of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, which funnels traffic from Long Island into Manhattan, and the taxi company offices on Lexington Avenue, where drivers would finish their shifts with pockets full of cash.

Within months of moving into my building, I had an alarming encounter with one of them: As I waited on the first floor for the elevator, the doors opened and inside was Candy, descending from an upper floor. She was counting money. I am not making this up.

Unfortunately for those of us who hate the tide of gentrification that has imposed a child-friendly suburban sameness on much of New York, Candy, Mandy and Sandy have all disappeared. I haven't seen a hooker on that corner for several years. It's possible they're still out there at odd hours when I'm in bed asleep, but I doubt it.

I hope they've moved on to greener pastures, however they define them.

(Photo: Street art in the Meatpacking District, with a rock tagged by Ricky -- perhaps a male counterpart of Candy, Mandy and Sandy?)


  1. I can't imagine a worse existence than being a prostitute. Besides all the creeps one would meet and the diseases one would be exposed to, the idea of getting money for sex would seem like a desperate way to make a living. I wonder what those 3 girls are doing today or if they are even still alive?

  2. And so it's time for you to move to greener pastures, too.

    What a GREAT picture, wow. And this story is beautiful.

    I love Adam Gopnik, though I've only read the things he writes for the New Yorker.

    As for gentrification and bland suburbanness, it's happening everywhere!

  3. interesting steve. I'd not have thought of NYC in terms of bland sameness at all, but then I only saw a little of it

  4. What a poignant slice of New York life. I also love the photo. Though I am happy for you and cheering you on in your reinvented life, I shudder a little at the thought of your giving up your piece of New York real estate. A good apartment in New York City is so hard to come by, even if the corner it looks out on has become a little more bland.

    On the other hand, if it feels like a tether to a life you want to move on from, there's plenty of other real estate in the world!

    Great post.