Talese discussed the idea with Doubleday. He eventually signed a two-book contract with the company. The first book was to be about sex in America, both in and out of massage parlors; the second was to be about Frank Sinatra. The total price agreed upon for two books was $1.2 million. Talese was paid $200,000 on signing. Doubleday then sold the paperback rights to the sex book to Dell for $700,000. Talese has not yet written one word. (Talese does not know what the new Supreme Court obscenity ruling might do to his plans.)
To research his book on America's sex change, Gay went to work managing not one but two massage parlors. He served as the day manager at one and as the night manager at the other. Gay defends massage parlors by saying, "It is obviously better to be masturbated by massage girls than to masturbate yourself."
His day would start about noon, when he would walk over to The Middle Earth, at 51st Street and Third Avenue, and open up. The Middle Earth stands around the corner from the Random House building where Nan Talese works as an editor. While Nan sat her desk on the eleventh floor of a glass-and-steel skyscraper, Gay would sit at this desk on the second floor of a brownstone. While up above Nan flipped through the pages of manuscripts, down below Gay would flip through the pages of a photograph album displaying pictures of the girls he had available. When the customer selected a photo he liked, Gay would call the girl's name and then ask for $18. The girl chosen would appear and lead the customer into a massage room. Half an hour later, she would say goodbye to the customer, stuff the sheet in a garbage can that served a laundry hamper, and go to the bathroom to wash her hands.
At 7 p.m., Gay would leave The Middle Earth and proceed to his second job at The Secret Life, at 26th Street and Lexington Avenue, where he not only took the customers' money ($15), but frisked them before he let them have a girl. He twice removed guns from men who had come for massages (one was a policeman). Gay held the guns at the desk until the men were finished with the girls. He did not want his book to turn into an In Cold Blood.
Amy relaxed her grip on Gay. She had been only kidding about wanting to injure him. He had hurt her pride by not making a pass at her at The Middle Earth, but she still considered him a good manager.
Amy said, "I doubt I would have stayed there if it hadn't been for you."
Gay, flattered, told her, "I always said you were the star—an Everyman's Myrna Loy."
Stephan, the massage parlor manager, said, "Gay, of all the managers, you are the only one who was sincere."
Gay said, "There is nothing wrong with being a massage parlor manager if you do it well."
And he had tried to do it well, applying his belief in hard work to his job as massage parlor manager just as he had always applied it to his writing. He had wanted The Middle Earth to be a success the way he had wanted The Kingdom and the Power and Honor Thy Father to be best sellers. If a customer came in and found his favorite girl occupied, Gay would charm him into waiting. If a neophyte crept in but lost his nerve and was on the verge of bolting, Gay would try to put him at his ease. Since Gay had worked so hard at the business, he had expected the girls to work hard, too. He had once fired a girl who didn't, who sent customers away early.
Stephan said, "The girls were in competition with Gay. He dressed nice. They had to look nice, too."
Amy reminded Gay that he had told her to go to an orthodontist. He had reasoned that with better teeth she would make a better masseuse. Gay had wanted to straighten Amy's teeth the way he wanted to straighten out his friend David Halberstam's prose. Halberstam listens to Talese and says he has learned a lot. Amy didn't listen. Gay could not understand people who did not make an effort to be better.
Gay, a fight fan, told Amy, "I wanted you to go for the record. The record was eight sessions. I wanted you to do nine. You coulda been a contender."
Talese and the people with whom he had once worked reminisced at pool side about the business: