Remembering the Basketball Diaries

I was a junior in high school when I first read Jim Carrol’s famous book The Basketball Diaries.  The book is about his adolescence, a descent into sex and drugs after being raised in Catholic schools.

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At about that time, I had some friends in school who got their own apartment in the south end of Denver, down on First and Broadway.  Back then, the neighborhood was pretty sketchy.  There were lots of drugs on the street, and plenty of adult stores, XXX theaters, and prostitution.  It was also something of a gay ghetto, attracting a large number of gay men, and supporting consumer and retail outlets for their needs.

Just the other day, I was walking around South Broadway again.  I was in Denver visiting my family for the holidays.  I was a little overwhelmed with a house packed full of mothers and fathers and children and cousins, and needed to escape.  I went to this old stomping ground to visit some bookstores and photo galleries, and to reaquaint myself with the lay of the land.

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The neighborhood felt less sketchy, but still seemed to host some of the same marginal lives.  There were still the gay fetish stores, drugs, and the likes.  I was walking around, shooting a few photographs, and trying to think back to those earlier days.  To satisfy some of those perpetual curiousities, I walked into some of the porn and fetish stores.  I visited the Crypt, a store full of leather and bondage supplies.  I found myself a bit uneasy, and made a quick exit.

Right next door to the Crypt is a store called Needz.  I walked in here too, and found myself less intimidated by the goods and the clientle.  Basically, Needz sells underwear for men, in all shapes and sizes, and for ever possible sort of interest.

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Not ready to go home just yet (I’d already finished my visits to the art galleries in the area), I decided to look around.  And besides, I really need to some new underwear.  So I looked around for a while, and found something cheap that looked comfortable.  I walked to the register to pay, and was surprised when the merchant asked if I would like to try them on before purchasing.  Never having been asked this before, I was a little surprised, but said that I would.  He pointed me to the dressing room.  It was a small booth in the middle of the store, for all practical purposes, with two small swinging doors with wide slates, and no latch or anything to provide privacy.  The merchant was quick to notice my uneasiness, and pointed me towards another dressing room in the back.  He said I should feel free to come out of the room and view the undies in the full length mirror outside the room.

I walked into the second room, and locked the door behind me, thanking him for his help.  Just a minute or two later, there was a knock on the door.  He asked how they fit, and then asked when I was going to come out for a look.  I said I was fine, got dressed again, and made my purchase before leaving.  I was struck by the store’s catering to exhibitionism, and even more by the aggressiveness of the cleark.  He clearly wanted to see me in my underwear.

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