The Continental Baths was the most exciting club of the lot and host to the social register on Fridays. The Baths were on the West Side above Columbus Circle, in an old building: eleven dollars entry. The dance floor was alongside a very large swimming pool with fountains, surrounded by beach chairs. Off to the side was a labyrinthine white-tiled Turkish bath whose corridors ended in pitch black; the scalding steam took your breath away. In the darkest recesses a continuous orgy was under way, but the heat was so searing only the most intrepid could get it up. Besides the Turkish bath, there were saunas, a hundred bedrooms, a restaurant, a bar, a games room, and a hairdresser’s, back-rooms with bunks, pitch-black orgy rooms and a sun-roof; on a weekend it would be packed. It was possible to live there–and at eleven dollars a night cheaper than a hotel or apartment. I met one young man who had lived there for three months; he had only left the building a couple of times.
Like the desert, though, the Baths played disturbing tricks; down there time dissolved you in the shadows. An afternoon passed in seconds.
It is regrettable that such places for erotic experience—for limitless anonymous encounters—do not yet exist for heterosexuals. For would it not in effect be marvelous to have the power, at any hour of the day or night, to enter a place equipped with all the comforts and all the possibilities that one might imagine, and to meet there a body at once tangible and fugitive? There is an exceptional possibility in this context to desubjectify oneself, to desubjugate oneself, to desexualize oneself by affirming a non-identity through a kind of plunge beneath the water sufficiently prolonged that one returns from it with none of this appetite, with none of this torment one still feels even after satisfying sexual relationships.
So simple, the appearance of night in a room full of strangers, the maze of hallways wandered as in films, the fracturing of bodies from darkness into light, sounds of plane engines easing.
Published in 1970, Gerald Walker’s novel Cruising centres on a New York City undercover cop who infiltrates the nascent S/M leather scene in the West Village hunting for a gay serial killer. In 1979, William Friedkin adapted the novel for his film of the same name, drafting into the storyline interviews with Randy Jurgensen, who had worked a similar sting in the early 1970s, and articles in the Village Voice by Arthur Bell regarding brutal unsolved killings of habitués of leather bars in New York.
I conceived The Mindshaft as part of my ongoing interest in alternative cultures and its publication naturally follows my previous books – Allen Ginsberg: A Biography, Grave Desire: A Cultural History of Necrophilia, Notes from the Sick Room and Death Mort Tod in its study of transgression, society and the individual. It is also the furthest I have gone so far in my interest in the creative use of collage, appropriation, sampling, sequencing and remixing in literature – a form of literary transgression. It will be an integral part of my overall work in the investigation of being and happiness.