Cover Story: Exile on Seventh Street

(Chronicling the city's invisible people)

Nov 10, 2004 at 2:06 pm
Cover by Paul Neff

The news that young male prostitutes regularly worked the corner of Seventh and Walnut streets downtown, directly across the street from the construction site for the soon-to-open Aronoff Center for the Arts, was a shock to some and old news to others when the cover story "Lust Boys" ran in the issue of Aug. 24-30, 1995.

For the numerous johns who repeatedly circled the downtown streets late at night in their cars — east on Seventh Street, south on Walnut for a block, head west on Sixth, turn right and go north on Vine Street and finally back on Seventh for another shopping trip — the lust boys were a longtime fixture of a downtown business district that emptied out at 5 p.m.

Aronoff administrators were appalled to learn that street hustling was occurring nightly at the doorstep of their new theater complex, a center whose purpose was to energize downtown after hours and attract new people to the planned restaurants and bars in the surrounding Backstage area. Male prostitutes weren't part of the big picture.

Andy, a rail-thin man with short-cropped hair, watchful eyes and a thick Northern Kentucky accent, understood that nights on Seventh Street were coming to an end for himself and the other male hustlers. But they'd moved before; shifting from one downtown block to another either when road construction made driving by difficult for their johns or when Cincinnati Police pushed them to a less conspicuous spot.

Andy and his fellow lust boys worked Sixth Street before shifting a block north. With the Aronoff Center's towering brick walls and glass façade rising directly behind him, with the theater complex's doors scheduled to open later in the fall, Andy was preparing for another relocation.

What he never spoke about over the numerous evenings we met on Seventh Street — right outside CityBeat's newly opened offices inside the Provident Bank Building — was the possibility for him to give up street hustling.

Andy had been arrested. He'd been beaten up.

He worked legitimate daytime jobs to get by, but the hustling money was too good to pass up. Actually, by his accounts, "good" didn't accurately sum up his night work.

He hustled because he needed the money to live and couldn't figure out what else to do. Hustling was a quick and easy solution, and he joined a regular pack of young make hustlers working the block.

Andy always emphasized during our late-night interviews that hustling was strictly a job for him.

"I'm not gay," he said repeatedly, listing a strict regime of what he would and wouldn't do with his regular customers, always emphasizing that intercourse was out.

On this subject, Andy — a forgotten downtown laborer who doesn't officially exist on tax records or business directors — had something in common with the average American worker. He was unhappy with his job but stuck with it in order to pay the bills and survive.

One core agenda for an alternative newsweekly like CityBeat is to place the spotlight on people who normally live and work outside the public eye. Readers expect to discover something they've not heard about elsewhere, a secret often left unmentioned.

Andy is the quintessential invisible man, but his story was one worth telling for numerous other reasons. Cincinnati politicians and downtown business leaders promoted the Aronoff Center's opening as a significant turning point for downtown development, a bold step toward making the city's center a 24-hour neighborhood attractive to new residents, suburban visitors and the day-to-day workforce.

Andy and his fellow lust boys were a tragic reminder of what downtowns — Cincinnati included — were all about. There's attractive stuff you put on postcards, and then there's everything else — panhandlers, flophouses and prostitutes — that can't be completely eradicated no matter how hard anyone scrubs.

The lust boys were gone by the time the Aronoff Center opened in October 1995, thanks to a police cleanup to make the new theater district as attractive as possible.

Andy later told me he and the others were pushed north to Court Street. He had come for an unexpected visit to the CityBeat offices six floors up from many of our interviews.

He'd just been released from the Justice Center and wanted to stop by and say hello. He wanted a little money. He also revealed that work was harder on Court Street and his arrival didn't sit well with the street prostitutes who already called that stretch home.

Andy was going home, back to Newport, to work with other male prostitutes along the levee. Of course, he had no way of knowing that development would follow him in the form of Newport on the Levee's shops, movie theaters and restaurants.

Inevitably, Andy was pushed aside again, which is always the case with society's forgotten people, no matter what they do for a living. ©