Whatever Happened To The Kid Who Boiled John Crouse’s Head?

I was a freshman theatre major at Syracuse University when I scribbled this in my journal one bright spring day in 1988:

I’m writing at Oakwood Cemetery, where we are sitting on the steps of the Brown Mausoleum. People might think it’s morbid to hang out in a cemetery, but I love it here – so beautiful and peaceful. If we were sitting in the Quad, with radios blaring and frisbees flying around, I couldn’t relax – it always feels like a fight is just waiting to break out. There’s no judgement here. Other kids walk by every so often but it’s very quiet. I’ve heard that drug deals go on here at night though.

So young. So innocent. So little insight. Then again, I was 19 years old and this was before that kid boiled John Crouse’s head.

Hanging out with friends at the mortuary chapel in Oakwood Cemetery (Spring 1988)

Oakwood-cemetery_1909_syracuseOakwood is an 160 acre cemetery adjacent to the Syracuse University campus. Their website advertises “a grand array of monuments and mausoleums which form a virtual outdoor museum of funerary sculpture and architecture while mirroring the lives of Syracuse’s Victorian families.”

The cemetery was an alternative hangout for us – actors and artists clad in vintage chic attire, toting journals, sketchbooks and cameras. PICT0018 copyWe didn’t come to SU for the sports or fraternity life. The typical campus hangout spots weren’t always the best places to relax so we went to the cemetery. We were respectful,  but not everyone else subscribed to the ‘Take only pictures, leave only footprints’ credo and this is why we can’t have nice things.

In October of that year, freshman art student Kevin McQuain thought it would be a good idea to steal a human head from a mausoleum “to use as a model for sculpture class.” He brought it back to his dorm – the nearby Flint Hall – and proceeded to try and clean the odious noggin by boiling it with bleach in a trashcan placed on the stove of the 3rd floor common area. Residents were alarmed by the stench and even more so when they discovered the source. McQuain and two of his friends were arrested.

Flint and Day Halls – two Syracuse University dorms – are adjacent to Oakwood Cemetery

Two factors helped this to become a national news story: John Crouse

a) It was Halloween season.

b) It wasn’t just any old skull in the trashcan. 

The vandalized mausoleum contained John and Catherine Crouse and their two sons. The Crouse family was a wealthy philanthropic clan that loomed large in the area for generations. A fair percentage of the city of Syracuse bears the Crouse name. John created the University’s Crouse College to honor his wife. Their son, John J. Crouse served as the mayor of Syracuse. All of the coffins in the tomb were vandalized, but the cranium in question belonged to John Jr. 

From The Syracuse Herald, 10/21/88 and a 1920’s postcard for Crouse College:

By the time McQuain and his friends went to court in early 1989, national news outlets had lost interest, leaving reportage to the local Syracuse papers. McQuain pled guilty and was properly contrite under advice of council. The charges against his accomplices were dropped, yet all three received the same sentence: 200 hours of community service.

From The Syracuse Times, 1/26/89:

Universities tend to frown upon students who cook the heads of their benefactors. Following McQuain’s sentencing his scholarship was revoked. Follow up newspaper articles state that he left Syracuse due to a lack of funds, but he did complete his undergraduate education at Alfred University, which is not exactly the Dollar Tree of higher education. Perhaps it was best for all concerned that he made a fresh start outside of Onondaga County.

Universities tend to frown upon students who cook the heads of their benefactors.McQuain court Following McQuain’s sentencing his scholarship was revoked. Follow up newspaper articles state that he left Syracuse due to a lack of funds, but he did complete his undergraduate education at Alfred University, which is not exactly the Dollar Tree of higher education. Perhaps it was best for all concerned that he made a fresh start outside of Onondaga County.

There is a 2002 follow-up piece from the Syracuse Post Standard that keeps getting… ahem… dug up… every few years and reprinted around Halloween. It’s about how poor Kevin McQuain got stuck with a nickname that he could not shake. His friends dubbed him “Skully.” And he decided “to embrace it.” He went on to form a Goth/Rockabilly record label called Skully Records, which he apparently still runs himself as a side hustle to his every day technical services job.

In 2015, he self-published a vampire/punk novel under the name Kevin Skully McQuain. He also designs t-shirts.

Somehow this unavoidable handle does not force itself onto his professional resume: it just leaks into his side projects where the macabre notoriety might help bump things up a notch.

But oh, how the nickname plagues him! He CANNOT escape it.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been called several things throughout my life that I have hated. I assume that you, dear reader, have had one or two nicknames as well. But I don’t know yours and you don’t know mine… because we did not hyphenate them into our names.

How contrite is a person if he is still trying to milk the last ounce of notoriety out of something he stupidly did over 30 years ago? If you made a mistake at 18 – and who hasn’t? – would you allow that thing to be the defining moment of your life? Would you still call yourself “Farty” because you once let one rip in gym class? Is that all ya got?

McQuain is married and a father now, and I can’t help but wonder: at what point in the dating process does one explain the origin of “Skully”?13221477_10156961022720441_5205862542119871686_n Third date? Over dinner? And what is the appropriate age to sit your child down to explain that you once desecrated a corpse? “Yes, Jayden, Skully-daddy did boil the mayor of Syracuse’s head, but listen…. that was a bad idea, ok?”

Back in 2002, McQuain said “That was a mistake I made when I was young, and I’m fortunate that it didn’t stigmatize me for the rest of my life.” And yet, at 50 years old, he still holds on to the “Skully” nickname, with the backstory tucked into the pocket of his aging punk-rock jeans, ready to whip out and exploit whenever he has a new artistic endeavor that might need a little publicity boost.

In 1988, Kevin McQuain walked out of Oakwood Cemetery with the head of John Crouse in a paper bag, intent on using it as a prop for his art. Over 30 years later, he still finds it quite useful.

Ted Starkowski: Artist’s Muse

Although photographer George Platt Lynes passed away of lung cancer at age 48 in 1955, it took another 30 years before the majority of his male nude photographs were celebrated and widely released. Virtually every collection of his work now features photos of a model named Ted Starkowski. His nude image is featured on the covers of several collections of Lynes’ work – in solo shots or posed with Mel Fellini:

So who was Ted Starkowski?

Lynes biographer David Leddick wrote: Ted Starkowski George Platt Lynes

Ted Starkowski worked the streets. Hustling by night, he regaled  Bernard Perlin and George Platt Lynes with his adventures while he posed for them during the day. They created unique images with his cat-like face and lithe body.

 

(Above) George Platt Lynes photographed Ted Starkowski flanked by Bernard Parlin’s sketches.

Ted Starkowski Lynes 1950 clothed2Teodor Francis Starkowski was born in Hartford, Connecticut on April 4, 1927- the eighth child of Polish immigrants. His Army registration in September of 1945 indicates that he had attended three years of high school and was working at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield.

After his stint in the military he relocated to New York City, where he became a favorite subject for Lynes and his circle of artist friends, including Paul Cadmus and Jared French.

(Above) Three images of Ted Starkowski by Jared French.

Thomas D. Baynes of The Univeristy of Western Ontario wrote extensively of one particular George Platt Lynes 1954 photograph in his thesis More than a Spasm, Less than a Sign: Queer Masculinity in American Visual Culture, 1915-1955:

Ted Starkowski Lynes 1950 clothedFew other photographs by Lynes do as much to cast the model as an actor. In his tight jeans, bulging conspicuously at the crotch, fisherman-rib sweater worn without an undershirt, and workaday watchman’s cap relegated to the status of an ornament, Starkowski looks like a longshoreman snatched from the imagination of Tom of Finland … Lynes’s studio provides only the minimum furniture required to support Starkowski in a posture that manages to be solicitous and pensive at the same time, welcoming an evaluating view despite being absorbed in thought.

This photograph extends rough trade as a portable structure of fantasy that discovers erotic opportunities in ambiguities of dress and pose…. Evidently, Starkowski had a knack for acting like a straight man, or at least like a fantasy version thereof.

Ted Starkowski as drawn by Paul Cadmus (Male Nude, TS5, 1954)

Another model who posed for many of the same artists was fellow ex-military man Chuck Howard, George Platt Lynes’ live-in boyfriend. After their split in January, 1951, Howard and Starkowski became involved in what David Leddick described as “a tempestuous affair.” The couple were photographed together on Fire Island while vacationing with Paul Cadmus, Jared and Margaret French: artists who called their collective photography work PaJaMa, an acronym of the first letters of their first names.

Ted Starkowski by Paul Cadmus 1963Thanks to a wealthy benefactor, Starkowski traveled extensively in the second half of the 1950’s. Leddick relays a story of Starkowski showing off his new diamond ring – a gift from his wealthy friend. He asked artist George Tooker if he thought it was too big. Tooker replied “Yes, it is too large for a woman to wear.”

The Paul Cadmus drawing on the left shows Starkowski at age 36 in 1963.

And then… the trail goes dark for the next 14 years. If more images or information come to light, I will update this post. What we do know is that on Friday, May 13, 1977. Ted Starkowski was leaving a New York City bar when he was struck and killed by a car. He was 50 years old.ted-starkowski-obit

An obituary ran in the Hartford Courant on Tuesday, May 17th. He was buried in Mount Saint Benedict Cemetery in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

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It was a sad end to a man who had inspired many artists.

You can see my earlier post about George Platt Lynes models / bedfellows John Leapheart and Buddy McCarthy here.

The Comfort of Repetition & The Ultimate Christmas Playlist

I am not alone in saying that I always take comfort in the annual repetition of the holidays – revisiting holiday-themed music, film, television… and now internet posts as well. This feeling is in overdrive this year, as I occupy myself at home and skip other annual holiday traditions that involve leaving my apartment. The Rockefeller Center tree looks very nice on my television – and that view will have to suffice this year, thank you very much.

I feel bad for this year’s Rockefeller Center tree – sacrificed to become the most famous Christmas shrub in the world at a time when nobody is allowed to actually go near it. It’s the Just Sam of Christmas trees, which makes the displaced owl Ryan Seacrest.

I find it interesting that we immerse ourselves in certain pop culture favorites for exactly 6 weeks of the year and then pack them up in mothballs with the ornaments until next year. I mean, Bing Crosby, Brenda Lee and Johnny Mathis are rock stars from Thanksgiving through New Years. Are any of them on your 4th of July playlist? They aren’t on mine.

The film A Christmas Story has an even shorter (Elf on the) shelf life. We binge-watch the repeated broadcast for exactly 24 hours each year. I own it on Blu-ray and I’m not sure why: I have never opened it. To pop it in at any other time feels like a betrayal.

In keeping with this revisiting, blog posts of Christmas past are back to haunt you like A Christmas Carol, Mr. Scrooge:

This was my Canine Christmas Tail – a true story about my dog Sunshine and her appetite for tinsel.

Here is my take on the 1987 Motown Christmas Special – which featured few Motown acts.

Last year marked the 85th anniversary of March of The Wooden Soldiers – here are 10 things you may not know about the holiday classic.

Have you watched Christmas In Connecticut yet this year? How about that delivery woman?

Unfortunately, due to copyright issues all the links are broken on my 60 Degrees Girl Group Christmas piece. This also keeps me from posting other episodes of the radio show – hopefully only temporarily, as I find a work-around.

However… I have this to share:

Way back in 2002, when Limewire was a thing and people listened to music on silvery discs, I started creating Christmas CD mixes that I would mail out or give to people. These were received with a combination of feigned delight, veiled indifference and deafening silence. None of these CDs had a pressing of more than 20 copies. I’d like to call them “much sought after” – but no, that’s not really the case, although every once in a while, someone really got into them and would ask for copies of other volumes.

And so, I’m offering this simple playlist…. for kids from 1 to 92. Unfortunately many of the tracks on these dozen CDs are not on Spotify, but I keep adding songs that would be on the current CD volume… if there was one. And now the playlist is over 14 hours of holiday tunes. I recommend listening on shuffle – there’s something to irritate everyone. Enjoy!

Some Thanksgiving Treats For You

Ok – I admit it: I am one of those people who started playing Christmas music last week. Yesterday the Christmas lights went up. I don’t normally rush this, but 2020 has been the pits and I am comfortable enough in my middle-aged fruitiness to freely quote Auntie Mame at you: We need a little Christmas. Now.

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Baron von Munchausen is ready.

One of my favorite holiday CDs of recent years is Tracey Thorn’s Tinsel & Lights – a smart collection of originals and non-traditional holiday-themed songs perfectly suited to the Everything But The Girl singer’s melancholy voice.

The lead track, Joy (written by Thorn) has been on repeat in my home every December since its 2012 release. But when I dug it out of the mothballs this year, the song feels like it was tailor-made for the current climate as we navigate a pandemic holiday season while anxiously looking forward to a brighter 2021.

The opening lyric:
When someone very dear / calls you with the words “Everything’s all clear.” / That’s what you want to hear / but you know it might be different in the new year. / That’s why / That’s why / We hang the lights so high: Joy.

Here are some other Thanksgiving-themed goodies I originally posted in 2018:

When it comes to holiday music, unfortunately Thanksgiving is lost in the long shadow of Christmas. There’s a severe lack of Thanksgiving songs, aren’t there? All we’ve got is Let’s Turkey Trot by Little Eva, and even then it is not really about Thanksgiving at all. The song’s title refers to the Turkey Trot, a dance step popular back in the early 1900’s.

Dimension DollsLet’s Turkey Trot was Eva Boyd’s third single, released in 1963 with the hopes of recapturing the #1 success of her debut platter, The Loco-Motion. Let’s Turkey Trot gave Little Eva a respectable showing on the charts, peaking at #20, although it should have been billed as Little Eva & The Cookies, as the backing group is as much a part of the success of the record as the lead. Group member Earl-Jean McCrea delivers solo lines echoing their own hits Chains & Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby, which also featured Little Eva on background vocals.

Here’s an abbreviated performance by Little Eva on Shindig in 1965. Darlene Love and the Blossoms stand in for the Cookies in what must be one of the proudest moments of their career. Gobble Diddle It!

The Dollyrots also covered this track in 2014. Besides using footage of Little Eva’s Shindig performance throughout the video, they also namecheck “Little Eva back in ’63”:

Want some Mashed Potatoes with your Turkey Trot? Here’s Dee Dee Sharp with her own ode to a Thanksgiving staple / dance move:

Aaaaand some Gravy for your mashed potatoes:

On the darker side… one of the faux trailers from Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse is the hilariously spot-on Thanksgiving, directed by Eli Roth. It is entirely plausible that someone would have jumped on the bandwagon of grade-z holiday themed horror films that followed the success of Halloween. But this one is a fake. As of now. Who knows…. maybe Roth will film it one day.

During the Thanksgiving episode of SNL in 1997, Lilith Fair stand-up comic Cinder Calhoun (a recurring character played by Ana Gasteyer) & singer Sara McLachlan paid a visit to Norm MacDonald and the Weekend Update desk, singing the Thanksgiving classic Basted In Blood. It would not be nearly as funny if they didn’t sing it so well.

https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/weekend-update-segment—cinder-and-sarah/n12937

Unfortunately this segment seems to have fallen off the annual SNL Thanksgiving Eve prime time special. The whole segment can be seen at the link above – here’s the song:

In 2019, Ana Gasteyer released a holiday album: Sugar & Booze. Highly recommended!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Guys with iPhones. In Masks. On Subways.

Earlier this year, I began posting photos I snapped around New York City – just as the pandemic was taking hold and then again when it started to reopen. As we teeter on the edge of another necessary lockdown, lets pay tribute to these intrepid commuters – men who have navigated the subways sporting face coverage while still putting forth a sense of style as well as a certain…. je ne sais quois.

This post goes out to KennethInThe212 blog, which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. Prior to the pandemic, Kenneth Walsh (who lives in Manhattan so you don’t have to) regularly featured snapshots of stylish men photographed in transit. Alas, he doesn’t need to take the subway while working from home, so I began taking photos that I imagined would have fit comfortably into his oeuvre (despite a lack of mustaches and singlets).

Then again… who knows what facial hair grows behind these masks?

Congratulations to Kenneth on 15 years! Stay safe New York.

Mme. Spivy: 100% American Girls

“Our country is so fine, it will really be divine, when we get everyone but us to move away.”

Ladies and Gentleman, it is time once again to revisit that late great dynamic lady of song, Madame Spivy LaVoe (1906-1970), also known simply as Spivy. A lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I add “…. if he had been born in Brooklyn as Bertha Levine.” You can read earlier posts about her here: Madame Spivy’s Alley Cat, The Tarantella and Auntie’s Face.

Film Spivy Manchurian Candidate2Given the current political climate, it’s a perfect time to have a listen to 100% American Girls, a stinging satirical composition by Charlotte Kent which reminds us that nationalism, xenophobia and gentile racism have been marching hand-in-hand across this great land for generations. God Bless America.

The opening line addresses the “Daughters, Aunts, Mothers and Second Cousins of the War of 1812…” – a not-so-subtle swipe at the exclusive, ultra-white & conservative Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

Grant Wood’s 1932 painting Daughters Of Revolution.

The line “You’re supposed to be keeping THOSE people out of Constitution Hall…” refers to the Washington DC concert hall owned by the DAR.  In 1939, they denied African-American singer Marian Anderson the opportunity to sing before an integrated audience, causing First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to resign her membership in protest. The Roosevelts then arranged for Anderson to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. The result was an historic performance before an integrated crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions.

Some notes on other references in the song:

Westbrook Pegler was a columnist at the time who opposed labor unions and The New Deal.

Note that Consuela – the only ethnic name mentioned – is directed to be “the rabble,” or disorderly crowd.

Alfred M. Landon was the Republican presidential candidate in 1936 who lost to FDR in a landslide vote.

First Lady Dolley Madison was a world-renowned hostess who, according to lore, was the first to serve guests ice cream at the White House.

100% American Girls

Members of the Daughters, Aunts, Mothers and Second Cousins of the War of 1812, form into double file.

Stop twitching at that bunting Carrie and smile. Take off that feather boa, Mary Louise this is a parade, not a charade.

Vera, you go right back to Washington, you’re not supposed to be marching at all! You’re supposed to be keeping THOSE people out of Constitution Hall.

Please… you on the float there. Lord Calvin is sagging. Yankee Doodle is flat. Your powder is wet. And your Mayflower is dragging.

Oh thank God here’s George III. Alright Lizzie, stand right there and sneer.

Please Consuela, someone has to be the rabble. You throw the Boston tea right in this little box over here.

Remember the things we said we’d never abandon. Remember we’re still true to Alfred M. Landon.

Remember when the Bill of Rights…. HMMMM ….. tried to get fresh with me!

My Westbook Pegler ’tis of thee. Ah ha! The bugle! Formation girls:

Nelly pull your belly in – it’s for the U.S.A. We’ve got to be adorable today.

Oh aren’t you excited? And isn’t this a binge? Lets unfurl every curl in our lunatic fringe.

Tilly, Queenie, Magnolia, Hillaire… to arms!

Nelly pull your belly in and hold your chin up high. We’ll give the crowd a treat as we pass by.

The Pricker unit forward, the Bilbo club behind….And Bessie you keep waving what your grandpa signed.

All together now: Comb your hair for California, wash your neck for Io-way.

Our country is so fine, it will really be divine when we get everyone but us to move away.

Take a Benzedrine for old Virginia, where our daddies sniffed their snuff with dukes and earls.

We are for the human race, which is lovely (in its place). We’re 100% American Girls!

What? Do I see one of you lag when before you is marching the flag?

Did Washington crossing the Delaware say “Let’s call it off, boys – I’m not in the mood for rowing”?

Did Betsy Ross say “Fold up the banner girls –  I hate sewing”?

Hmmm. Really girls! Eyes up! Curls up and away!

Annie pull your fanny in  – it’s for the U.S.A. We’ve got to be adorable today.

When Valley Forge was icy and up to here in snow… did Dolly Madison say “No”?

Myrtle, Cissy, Prissy, Mamie – to arms!

Annie pull your fanny in  – it’s for the U.S.A. We’re 100% American Girls!

This song – along with Madame’s Lament – were the two Charlotte Kent compositions featured on Spivy’s 1947 album An Evening With Spivy. Kent had several songwriting credits in film and on Broadway throughout the 1930’s. In 1939, she contributed to the book & lyrics of the musical Sing For Your Supper along with John La Touche, another composer with whom Spivy collaborated. We will get to those recordings at a later date. Stay tuned!

1991: Homo Alone

In May of 1991, I completed my first professional theatre job – playing the Corwardly Lion in a national children’s theatre tour of The Wizard Of Oz. It was a whirlwind experience full of laughter, adventure and romance that ended as soon as I was dropped back into my parent’s house on Long Island. I felt just like Dorothy – unsure if what I had just experienced was real or a Technicolor® dream.

The Cowardly Lion on the road: Spring 1991. This photo is featured in Dee Michel’s 2018 book Friends of Dorothy: Why Gay Boys and Gay Men Love The Wizard of Oz.

While Dorothy may have felt that there was no place like home, if you think about it… the Lion, with his newfound courage, remained in the Emerald City.

I was determined to stay connected with New York City – my Emerald City – and continue my life as a working actor. I purchased a Long Island Railroad ticket for the month of June to ensure that I would go into the city to audition, search for a job and find a place to live.

The Wicked Witch from the tour had mentioned that her sister was curating an evening of performances called Homo Alone in the East Village on June 3rd. She suggested that I go see it and be sure to introduce myself.

So I hopped on the LIRR, a homo alone, to go see Homo Alone.

My own journal from the time reads:

Just went and saw 3 performers – somewhere between single-person one acts and stand-up comedy…. I’d love to do it. This journal would serve me well up there. Hmmm…

I then continued to write for 6 pages pining for the tour that had just ended and planning out my transition into NYC. But I remember how the performances that night made me feel: this was where I belonged, in a little theatre in the East Village, getting up in front of people with a notebook full of stories. To speak in my own voice with confidence and… yes, courage. To trust that what I have to say is unique and worth sharing and maybe even funny or touching or meaningful. Hopefully some combination of all those things.

By the following month, I had found a job and was sharing a leaky 5th floor walkup on East 6th street with Glinda The Good Witch. By the end of the summer, I had lost the job and Glinda turned out to be a clinically depressed nightmare person, but another tour loomed in the Fall and I was on my way. I had made the move to the big city and the life that I was looking for.

Fast forward to 1998: I read David Sedaris’s Naked and absolutely loved it, so I picked up his previous book Barrel Fever, which I had somehow missed. A fbarrel feverew pages into “Parade,” the first story in that collection, a light bulb started to flicker on: I know this story. How do I know this? I didn’t read this… I have heard this. Where did I hear this? Wait. This was the guy from Homo Alone. Back in 1991. That was David Sedaris reading onstage that night. 

I mean, how do you forget the tale of a guy who breaks up with his boyfriend Charlton Heston to start dating Mike Tyson and then one night after strenuous sex, he accidentally swallows Mike’s gold teeth?

Something like that stays with you.

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David Sedaris does the laundry in his Astor Place apartment on June 28, 1993 (Photo: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

In 2017, when David’s selected diary entries were released in book form as Theft By Finding, the first thing I did was flip to June of 1991 to see if there was any mention of that night, but it skips from May 15th to June 22nd. It was interesting to read about this period of his life though: he had moved to NYC the previous October and worked at SantaLand in Macy’s that Christmas. In 1992 he would gain national exposure reading “The SantaLand Diaries” on NPR.

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Later in 2017, my partner Chris and I went to see David read at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a sold-out multi-night engagement. He is known for meeting and autographing books for every single person who is willing to wait in line to see him after his readings. This can take hours.

 

When it was my turn to get my book signed, I stepped up and launched into the statement I had waited 20 years to say: “In June of 1991 I saw you at some little place in the East Village in an evening of solo performances called Homo Alone and you read the story about Mike Tyson out of a notebook….”

He said “Oh. It wouldn’t have been a notebook.”

I redirected. “Uh… it might have been a notepad. Or some papers. I’m not sure but I always remembered that night.”

He didn’t. “You have a really good memory.” He said without looking up from signing my book.

I mean, what did I expect to happen? Was he supposed to throw his arms around me and exclaim “My GOD that was a magical night! Your laughter and applause meant so much to me! And here you are! My biggest fan! After all these years!”?

Photo Oct 07, 8 24 54 PM

And yes, my memory might be good, but it’s not GREAT, or I would have also remembered that “the little place” was The Club at LaMama and  another one of performers that night was Lisa Kron, who would go on to win two Tony Awards for the book and score of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

The third performer, Dominique Dibbell, has also had an impressive career. Kudos to Heidi Blackwell for collecting this trio.

I only know all this now because I unearthed the original program & promotional postcard from my mother’s basement this summer. And while I cannot say that I have a flawless memory bank, I will accept being called “A pack rat with decent recall.”

Note the “Thank You” to David’s partner Hugh Hamrick. According to Theft By Finding, they had only met three months prior. “This spring” David wrote, “I am, if I’m not mistaken, in love.” 29 years later, they are still together.

Had I unearthed this program sooner, I could have gone up to Lisa Kron at the 2015 preview of Fun Home that I attended – one of the most memorable Broadway experiences I ever had – where she and Alison Bechdel were sitting two rows in front of me. I could have said “I saw you with David Sedaris in 1991 and I don’t remember what you did but I know I really liked it and now I think you’re awesome!”

Lisa Kron with her two 2015 Tony awards for Best Book and Score of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

But I didn’t. And again, what is the anticipated reaction? What do we expect of people we admire when we reach out to them? When the shoe is on the other foot and someone mentions that they were moved by something that I did or wrote, I am grateful… but I don’t have a proper response other than to just say “Thank you.” It can easily become an awkward exchange, but the impulse is strong to make a connection with someone whose work motivates us and/or makes us feel something.

The next time I attend a David Sedaris reading, I will bring that old program along to show him and say; “I was at this show. You read Parade and I never forgot it. You inspired me to write. Thank you for all your work over the years.”

Maybe then I will get a different reaction. Then again, maybe not:

Buddy & Johnny: A Historic Photo Shoot

Last week I posted this photo on the Vintage Workingmen Beefcake Facebook page and people lost their minds: Over 2,200 likes and 200 comments from members young and old, tripping over their tongues… and not a negative post in the bunch, if you can believe that. “Who is he?” many wanted to know.

It’s hard to place the date just by looking at the photo – the hirsute young man looks modern – this could be taken today and filtered in sepia tone. And while many a vintage photo of presumably heterosexual men are co-opted by gay men who like to spin fictional tales speculating the circumstances surrounding an image, there are a few clues here that give the subject away: The artwork – on the wall and nightstand – seem to corroborate that this guy is very well aware of who he is and why you are looking at him.

The model is Robert X. (Buddy) McCarthy – a WWII veteran described by author David Leddick as “a former gymnast from Boston with a sharp Irish wit.” The photo dates 1952 and was taken by George Platt Lynes in the boudoir of his own NYC apartment. The painting on the wall behind Buddy is Conversation Piece by Paul Cadmus (1940) and depicts Platt Lynes with museum curator Monroe Wheeler and writer Glenway Wescott, a couple with whom he was romantically involved. In the background is Stone-Blossom, the New Jersey farm the three of them shared for over a decade.

In his letters, Platt Lynes referred to McCarthy affectionately as “The Baby Blacksmith.” He writes to friend Bernard Perlin; “(He) does me the honor of declared infatuation. And I purr like a tiger puss.”

While it is McCarthy’s body hair that garners immediate attention in this and a couple of other studio photos taken by Platt Lynes, the photographer apparently was not happy with the results.

He wrote in November, 1952: “Months ago I took nudes of Buddy… told him at the time that all that hair, though fun to play around with, wasn’t photogenic and under it he (probably) had a beautiful body.

George Platt Lynes Robert (Buddy) X McCarthy 1952b

“We made a vague date to remove some and to re-photograph… I meant, of course, to strip him except for the armpits and pubic bush. IMAGINE MY HORROR when he turned up on Friday evening with his pubes shaved clean like a baby’s. It wasn’t pretty…. It took two hours to get all (the rest of) that fuzz off him… contrary to expectation, it was neither a pleasant or erotic occupation.

“Halfway through the job Johnny phoned… I asked Buddy if he’d be willing to pose with him. A little to my surprise he said yes.”

Portrait of John Leapheart by George Platt Lynes

“Johnny” was John Leapheart, an African-American model who was equally familiar with Platt Lynes’ bed and photography studio. The resulting photos of Buddy and John are now some of the most popular of Platt Lynes’ work, although they were not published until decades after his death. David Leddick’s Pioneering Male Nudes notes “Their black and white bodies, interwoven, create strong abstract shapes. The photographs were particularly daring because they broke nudity, homosexual and racist taboos of the time.”

George Platt Lynes recounted the photo session in a letter:

“I photographed them together in all sorts of close-contact suggestive sentimental sensuous poses—-but no (what Dr. K. [Kinsey] would call) action pictures. (Leaphart) would have been willing, but I thought (Buddy) wouldn’t…But then we all went back to (the apartment) where everything did happen…and the sight of that big black boy screwing that super-naked little white bundle of brawn was one of the finest I’ve ever seen”

I was unable to find additional information about John Leapheart (sometimes spelled Leaphart), aside from his professional and personal involvement with Platt Lynes, where he is always described in the most flattering terms.

Buddy 1997

Buddy McCarthy is easier to trace, as there is a current (1997) photo in Pioneering Male Nudes along with an update on his life after his association with Platt Lynes, who died of lung cancer at age 48 in 1955.

In 1966, Buddy and his partner Ned Kell opened Treasures and Trifles, an antique shop on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, where they stayed in business for 44 years. The website Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York covered their retirement in 2010.

The note in their shop window at 409 Bleecker Street read:

After 44 years in the village, East & West, and 26 Years at this location, we’ve decided to fold our tent and move-on to the next phase of our lives.

It’s not because of a vindictive, greedy landlord, nor because of a Shylock Attorney. On the contrary, our landlady is every storeowner’s dream come true! An honest, caring landlady, a true Villager -born and raised in the Village.

It’s too bad that this generation never experienced the Village of yore. Bleecker Street was world-renowned for its variety of antique shops, visited by the likes of Jackie & Ari, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, etc. Bette Midler lived up to her name: “Divine!”.

We’re saddened at leaving our friends and neighbors such as Leo Design’s Kimo, John, Ed & Kyle, and Barry & Arlington. They all helped us, shoveling snow and lifting the gates.

Adieu, Ned & Buddy

Ned Kell died 2 years later. Buddy McCarthy passed away at the age of 91 on 11/19/2017. They are buried together in Peabody, Massachusetts.

You can see my post about Ted Starkowski, another George Platt Lynes model, here.

More Toilet Papers Of The World

Last month I posted my ongoing tribute to toilet papers from foreign lands that have washed up on our shores. Six months into the pandemic, the U.S. supply chain continues its struggle to catch up with the pooping demands of a terrified nation. Exotic papiers de toilette have found their way onto the shelves of our local supermarkets, bodegas and pharmacies. In honor of these quirky lifesavers of dubious quality, I posted an 8-part video series here. Today I present to you three more entries honoring Toilet Papers Of The World!

Domino – Dominican Republic

Más suave! From the Dominican Republic, here’s Domino, with an acento agudo over the “O” that I can’t get my keyboard to duplicate. Joining the parade of furry TP mascots like the shitting Charmin bears, Bulgaria’s Emeka pooping panda and Poland’s crapping Camilla Almusso cub, Domino brings you their BM bunny. Welcome!

Stratus – China

I’ll be honest – I did not buy this one. Things are not so bad that I have to resort to bamboo toilet paper, although it is a nice metaphor for 2020.

Sufy – Turkey

The word on the street in Ankara: Sufy is super ëmici with extra yumuşak! Who am I to disagree?

Newsday article, November 16, 2020 – Besides the photo of Regio (video #7), Vogue (video #4) was also mentioned. (Thanks for sending this, Mike Turner!)

That’s all for now. If you come across any exotic TP’s that you would like to share, please do!

Never Forget This:

Remember when the New York Times ran “Portraits of Grief” – a series of profiles of those lost on 9/11? They didn’t cover every single person who perished, but these were published daily for months and later compiled in a book – 1,800 individual stories. It was hard to grasp the number of lives lost.

We are now losing a 9/11’s worth of lives every 2-3 days. Over 190,000 people in this country have died. If the New York Times were to profile one person each day, it would take – are you ready? – over 520 years. And that’s if COVID “magically went away” and didn’t claim another life after today.

Where are these people being honored other than @facesofcovid? At the very least, why aren’t U.S. flags flown at half-staff? Is it because they die in solitude and not on a clear day, live on television?

To those who aggressively wave their flags and yell “Never forget” as an angry cry for revenge – still calling for the blood of those responsible for the 9/11 attacks even though we got them long ago – let us never forget this:

Trump dismantled the Pandemic Response Team that was already in place.

He threw out the Pandemic Action Plan given to him by the previous administration.

He purposely downplayed the virus and lied to the American people.

He continues to put concern for the economy over the safety of the public.

He continues to put us all in danger by ridiculing those taking precautions for their own lives.

Other things to never forget:

Remember that he invited Taliban leaders to the White House while simultaneously withdrawing our troops from Iraq.

Remember that he still has not condemned Putin’s bounty on the heads of U.S. soldiers.

Remember that he refers to service people as “suckers and losers.”

These are just the highlights.

Never forget what this traitor has done – and continues to do – to us and to the country.