#852: 6:30 a.m. at the Porno Shop

November 20th, 2017

He looked the exact sort of person who should be working at a porno shop at 6:30 a.m.

Unshaved, thick glasses, chainsmoker skin, he sat behind a raised booth in a Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship hat and smiled professionally at me.

“It’s $2 to come in and if you buy anything, we take that off the price.”

He was chipper and kind, like a proud barista. I asked if I needed to check my bag.

“You can just leave it in the corner. There’s no one here but one guy in the booths.”

In River North, in a strip developers moved heaven and earth to get fancy, among cocktail bars and restaurants where food is called “dining,” there is a squat, brown building with a crackling mosaic on the sidewalk outside. The mosaic brags of days when fine terrazzo tiles could be purchased at this establishment, but for the last as-long-as-I-can-remember, it’s been a menacing 24-hour porno shop I quickened my pace whenever I walked by.

The developers moved heaven and hell, but they couldn’t move this squat little porno shop.

“I’m surprised this place isn’t a trendy bar by now,” I said to the man.

He laughed.

“It helps when you own the building.”

A question I should deal with moreso than with the other 850-whatever stories I’ve written is why I’m here. After years of walking by, why on a whim I went in. It was what you expect, a clean, well-lighted place with racks packed to breaking with DVDs and walls lined with meticulous doodads for attachment to various bits. Overseeing it all was a seedy-looking guy who was as bright, pleasant and professional as a law firm receptionist.

“Oh, are you the owner?”

“Naah, I wouldn’t want the headache.”

But why am I here?

I have no interest in trying to justify or normalize the content of each DVD in the tight stacks ceiling-high. Some of them were quite indefensible, using race as fetish or lined with Dixie flags fetishizing racists.

The walls were lined with abuse. To some of you reading this, it was all abuse. To some of you, some of it was. But some of it was abuse, for certain. Picking any video up would be a moral Russian roulette. You could guess and hope that a video you grabbed involved fully informed, fully sober men and women acting out fantasies without regret, but the shoots that left the participants crying would look the same in post.

Two young guys came in. The overseer turned to give them the speech about $2.

“We just cruising,” one said.

The three chatted for a moment. They talked about how the oldies station just went to classic hip-hop. It could have been a talk at a Starbucks, or at a bookstore where the characters in the books get to keep their clothes on. It was simple, unashamed chit-chat over commerce.

Then the young guys went back to the booths.

So why am I here?

I’m here because this is here. I’m here because this site is a stab at charting the Chicago that is, not the one that should be.

I’m here not to foist my own suspect morals on a man whose job is to give people what they want, nor am I here to lionize a small business owner fighting the trends that want his shop gone, nor am I here to praise and normalize the abuse that powers the whole thing.

I’m here because a porn shop with a room in the back for people to touch themselves in is as much a part of our lives as the trendy bars along that strip or the corporate chain coffeehouse where I’m typing this up before work.

Should it be? That’s for others to figure. It is, and I write what is, even if I made the thing two dollars richer in the process.

I thanked the man and wished him a good morning. He cheerily wished me the same. I think we both meant it.

Read a three-parter on a fantasy-fueled con game

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