Saturday, March 7, 2015

A bizarre tribute to urban sleaze

The Last Porno Theater

By Nick Cato

Publisher: Grindhouse Press

Pub Date: July 2, 2013

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I don't get it. Whenever the politicians get cozy with the urban gentrification committees, they always talk about "cleaning up the city". In my mind that means voting out a few crooks but to them, it means busting the porn shop, peep shows and strip joints. At first glance, most people would stick their noses up, decry the immoral "garbage" and say "Good riddance!". But for some of us, it is still part of the colorful history of a city. Whether it is the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, the bad part of Sunset in Los Angeles, or New York's Times Square of Midnight Cowboy or Taxi Driver fame, there are still stories to be told. When Tom Waits sings about the night being "as cold as a ticket taker's smile at the Ivar Theater", The last burlesque theater in LA, you know he didn't dream up that line while watching a Disney film.

Nick Cato's funny-bizarre The Last Porno Theater is sort of a tribute to those areas. In this case, it is Times Square in 1989. Herschel Schwartzbaum is the owner of the last adult theater in Times Square and barely knows if he will still be there a year from now. Developers have bought out the other theaters and the advent of the VCR is spelling doom for the business. Yet Herschel Schwartzman keeps plugging away even when one of his employees disappear. What happens next will not be mentioned. Lets just say they don't call Nick Cato a Bizarro writer for nothing.

It is a good book all the way through but it is the first half of the novel that really shines. The author weaves a tight almost crime noir feel and covers it with a cynical yet almost nostalgic humor. He has a feel for the seedy side of the city and the residents of the down and dirty. It comes through nicely especially when Herschell meets a neighborly clothing store owner. There is both grit and affection in this book. it made me wish Cato continued it for more than the 90 pages of this too short novella.

The second half of the novel brings in the Bizarro part. it is weird and funny and manages to stay connected to the urban nostalgia of the late 80s. Maybe a little too weird at times but it still works. But overall this is a sharp little romp of the a book that evokes a time that was both sleazier and more innocent than now. I would like to read more of Nick Cato. In this work, he shows himself an excellent storyteller and a very strange man a good way.

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