"Bob Levey speaking."

"Bob, I'm a reader of yours from Southeast Washington, and I'm really burned up by what's going on down on 14th Street."

"You mean that heavenly stretch of 14th Street, where the massage parlors and the X-rated movies are, ma'am?"

"That's exactly what I mean. Now, I'm no prude, mind you. I'm 67 years old. I had four children, two boys and two girls, and a husband, of course. So I know a little something about the birds and the bees. But I went down 14th Street the other day on my way to the post office. I hadn't been there for years, and I couldn't believe what I saw. It's so blatant!"

"Are you talking about the girls in the massage parlors who stand in the doorways and invite the men to come inside? 'Hi, there, handsome,' and all that?"

"You must have gone past the same place I did. A man was walking right in front of me, and one of those girls did that. I thought I would die! I can't believe the police don't close those places down."

"What would the charge be, ma'am? You've got to be very careful about this sort of thing, you know. We live in an open society. People have a right to make a living, even in massage parlors. Unless the cops can prove that laws are being broken, they can't just command a place to close. It's not against the law to be blatant."

"Of course it isn't. But look at the kinds of people those places attract."

"You think only sleazy guys go to massage parlors? I couldn't disagree with you more, ma'am. I've never been inside one, mind you. Just past them. But every time I've seen somebody go into one of them, he's been wearing a jacket and tie. Looks like a conventioneer, or an office worker on his lunch hour."

"Well, do you have any ideas about how to stop this? I mean, you know as well as I do that there's prostitution going on in these places, not just massages. And prostitution is still illegal in this city, the last time I checked."

"I'm sure prostitution's going on in these places all the time, ma'am. And I've always thought it would be easy to prevent. How about if we pass a law that forbids massage parlors to have private back rooms? Insist that whatever goes on be right out in the open, or you don't get a license. After all, if you've ever been to a professional masseur or a masseuse, that's the way they operate. If you said 'No back rooms,' I'll bet you'd chase half the so-called massage parlors in Washington out of business overnight."

"Wouldn't you just delay the prostitution, Bob? I mean, OK, nothing could happen right then and there. But what's to prevent the girl from making a date for later?"

"Nothing. But what's to prevent her from doing that right now?"

"Not much. You're right about that."

"There's another thing we ought to do, ma'am, now that I'm thinking of it. Why couldn't we create a 'Combat Zone,' the way they did up in Boston a few years ago? Put a fence around it and make it the only place in the city where sexually oriented businesses could operate. The only condition would be that no one under 18 would be admitted. Wouldn't this help keep residential neighborhoods from being invaded by X-rated movie theaters, for example? And I'll bet the cops would love it. Easier to keep the peace."

"I'm surprised at you, Bob. Wouldn't that be just another way of making prostitution legal? Wouldn't you be saying that prostitution is OK in the Combat Zone, even if it's not OK anywhere else?"

"No, it would still be illegal. But you could also put some bite in the law for a change, because the 'no back rooms' requirement would make prostitution not only illegal, but inconvenient, too. Remember, if a man comes to the Combat Zone looking for a prostitute, he's looking for her right then and there. He doesn't want to make a date to come back next Tuesday."

"But don't you think a Combat Zone would accomplish just the opposite? I mean, fine, you make it inconvenient for prostitutes to work there. So they work somewhere else."

"That, unfortunately, is very likely, ma'am. Prostitution isn't the oldest profession for no reason, is it?"