A New York madam by the name of Polly Adler wrote a tell-all best seller about her 30 years in the brothel business. “A House is Not a Home” created a media sensation in 1953.
In 1949 I was 13 when I got an inkling that something was more than “a miss” on my city block. A twenty-year-old asked me if I knew where the “party girls” — said with a wink — hung out. “You know, kid. The whore house.”
That summer I delivered groceries for Samhat’s Market, a Muslim brothers-owned store, where I also learned a smattering of Arabic: Keef-hollic? (How are you?) Nish-good Allah! (Praise Allah!) Fee-kee honi. (Best left untranslated.)
I also encountered my first “sex worker”. Miss Blond Bombshell answered her door in a see-through nightie. I dutifully surrendered my bread, milk, cheese. And, not knowing what else to do, bowed. Instead of a tip I got a cleavage peek. (I would have preferred the tip.)
I’m sure her intentions were meritorious: to help me earn my Boy Scout Badge for exploring unknown, impregnable terrain. To be truthful, I wasn’t much interested in her kind of Tenderfoot instruction. (My motto: To light a fire, rub two sticks together. Hard enough. Long enough.)
Probably the most famous 20th century brothel was Salon Kitty. Established by German Gestapo in the fashionable west end of Berlin at the onset of World War ll. It was a high-class operation catering to Axis diplomats (German, Italian, Japanese), war heroes, politicians.
Kitty’s workers were glamorous machen, motivated not by sex for fun and/or profit but by a sense of patriotic duty to the Vaterland. Heil Hitler! Deutschland uber alles! (Germany over all. Or, more accurately: Germany screwing everybody!)
Kitty Salon was electronically bugged. Girls were trained to tease, titillate, twist classified information from clients. Fascist Italy’s Prime Minister Count Ciano was a frequent guest. He was rated an “indolent lay” by staff. Biff! Bam! Ciao, mam!
Few earthshaking diplomatic secrets were ferreted out at Kitty Salon, but everyone had a helluva good time, at least until the Soviet Rooskies came and raped and ravaged the city up one end and down the other.
As far as the spy brothel business goes, we Americans did the Germans one better. We set up a male brothel operated patriotically, cost efficiently, wiretapped, run by the FBI.
The brothel (or “peg house” as it was called) was located near — no big drop your soap! — Gay Street in New York’s Greenwich Village. Reports the late, prolific science writer Isaac Asimov, who dug up this steamy item for his “Facts & Figures” collection: “the decor was nautical.” (But nice!)
(Purportedly the expression peg house comes from the method male prostitutes were primed by sitting on different size pegs. Today they’re called butt plugs. Price range: Just4Us, $50.)
“The house was staffed with multilingual agents for extracting shipping information from foreign sailors. The FBI claims it was a very successful operation,” says Asimov. (Especially for those sailors getting their Caesar salads tossed in the process.)
Ship, ship ahoy! Bend over. Salute. Heil J. Edgar Hoover!