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.
One of my socially distant pastimes of 2020 has been searching for jpegs of WWII U.S. Navy Pre-Flight Training photos. These images of naked or jockstrap-clad cadets were taken at St. Mary’s College in California when it was requisitioned for the war effort between 1942-1946. I first became aware of these black and white 5″x7″ triptych photos through posts on the Vintage Workingmen Beefcake Facebook group. Listings also turn up on eBay and other auction sites, where the photos are often accompanied by an index card which was used to record the physical training progress of each cadet.
It has been speculated that this was tied to a study on race purity/eugenics, as were the infamous Yale student posture photos. I choose to believe that it was merely a matter of recording alignment and physical fitness as part of the overall medical examination process.
Call me naïve, but if we are to appreciate the photos of these fine young men who were training to fight for our country, it’s a lot less icky to ignore a potential ulterior motive on the part of those taking the photos.
The earliest photos – dated June 13, 1942 – feature the men completely nude. When the subjects were photographed in profile, they appear to be holding hands with someone off-camera – presumably to help them obtain proper… positioning?
All subsequent photos feature the cadets in jockstraps, standing behind some sort of grid fence to better detect misalignment and spinal curvature.
Most of the photos shown here were gathered from various sources around the internet with the subject’s name cropped out: God forbid someone ran across a picture of near-naked PeePaw and suffered conflicting feelings.
My collection includes nearly 200 jpegs of different cadets with the names intact. I have taken my pastime a step further by researching who these men were and where they ended up. As expected, some did perish during the war – just a year or two after these photos were taken. Others reenlisted for the Korean War and did not survive that conflict. But the largest majority went on to successful careers, families and lived to ripe old ages. Any surviving cadets would now be in their late 90’s.
Whether the photos of these handsome young men are literal snapshots near the beginnings of their lives or tragically close to the end, all of the subjects are equally, timelessly captured here in prime physical condition as they trained to serve our country. 75+ years later, we salute their fine forms and dedication.
“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.
Given 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).
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!
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.
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 few 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.
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.
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!”?
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!”
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:
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.
“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.”
“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 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.
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?
That’s all for now. If you come across any exotic TP’s that you would like to share, please do!
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.
After nearly 5 months of working remotely from my home office in the lovely borough of Queens, I was summoned back into Manhattan on August 10th. This was the first time I had been there since March 18th, when everything was shutting down and downtown NYC was eerily quiet. I posted the photos I took in March here.
Upon my return, I quickly figured out that everyone else didn’t get the memo that we were supposed to come back – both in and out of the office. The quiet took me by surprise, but was not unwelcome. My fear of being trapped in some close quarters subway rush hour (so far) has not been the reality.
There will never be another time quite like this, so I am taking pictures once again. These were all taken at what would normally be high traffic times of day: weekday rush hour or lunch hour. And while I do notice an uptick in the amount of people over the last 3 weeks, I still find myself, at 8:50am, walking in a long stretch of the Fulton Street subway station… and I am the only person there. At rush hour. On a weekday. So, no. New York is not a total ghost town, but it’s still pretty close. Here are some photos from the past couple of weeks.
I just got back to the office after 5 months of working from home. Naturally there’s a pile of spam faxes that has wasted half a ream of paper. I take the time to unsubscribe from these because, in previous experiences, it actually seemed to work.
Most spam faxes have an “unsubscribe” phone number to call, but this particular one only had a website listed in tiny print. So I went to it….
The website has a vintage GeoCities feel with a stock office photo containing a finely mixed interracial group of 10 imaginary co-workers here to assist you with your fax removal. Let’s not pretend that the reality isn’t some half-dressed schlub in a basement home office clouded with cigarette smoke.
Please note the repeated instruction to make sure that you are AUTHORIZED to unsubscribe from this fax list… because that’s a thing that happens, right? Unauthorized fax unsubscriptions are rampant and millions of co-workers nationwide are missing out on valued fax opportunities because of it.
Think of all those leaky roofs.
I enter our fax number and pause over the button verifying that I have Proper Authorization to Unsubscribe Our Fax Number. Yes, I am authorized. But they had to ask again because… really… they got nothin’ else.
I am also reassured that there is No problem if I turn back now.
Should I be thinking harder about this decision?
I click Submit. And… BAM! A pro-Trump page pops up on my screen:
Why am I surprised? Of course it’s Trump spam… because your Fox News-lovin’ Dad made this webpage on Angelfire. I had the sound muted on my computer but this page was probably auto-playing a midi file of God Bless The U.S.A.
This unanticipated assault took me by surprise though. And yet I scroll down further…. because I am a glutton for punishment.
BAM! Here’s another finger in your eye, snowflake!
Note the vintage counter on the bottom that clocks me as sucker #342 who actually landed on this page. Not a whole lot of other unsubscribers out there, I guess.
What is with the “Like & Share” nonsense – as if this was pulled from Facebook? Didn’t Dad have his readers on when he cut and pasted this? Or is the advanced internet lingo just beyond his comprehension?
Perhaps I expect too much from a site brought to you by the people who send fax spam for a living. And – if you think about it – it makes perfect sense that a person with a fax spam company would be pro-Trump. They are upset that you do not want their faxes – the world is leaving them in the dust in more ways than one. So they are angry dinosaurs.
I would be surprised if Trump didn’t have a pro-fax platform. Just like his stance on coal – its another dying industry that he would only try to prop up if he was fossil-fueled by financial backing from fax machine manufacturers.
International toilet papers from faraway places have come to rescue us! As the U.S. supply chain continues its struggle to catch up with the pooping demands of a terrified nation, exotic TPs of dubious quality have found their way onto the shelves of our local supermarkets, bodegas and pharmacies. In honor of these quirky lifesavers, I bring you an 8-part video series: Toilet Papers Of The World!
Milde – Bulgaria
We begin in Eastern Europe with the strong & soft Milde, makers of Emeka (see below). Both feature “elastic fibers” that are probably causing some plumbing issues that we will have to contend with in the near future.
Suavel – Mexico
Ricooooo….. Admit it – you thought Gerardo as well. Even if you couldn’t remember his name. Why is there a baby in a baseball cap on the label? Do you want your toilet paper to smell like a tropical paradise? Is this TP orange or pink? So many questions.
Emeka – Bulgaria
Who needs the shitting Charmin bears when you have the Emeka pooping panda? I don’t know if it’s “paradise” or not, but there isn’t a single part of a coconut that I want in my toilet paper.
Vogue – Mexico
Strike a pose… Mexico is en Vogue with this chamomile-scented beauty of a bathroom tissue. And beauty’s where you find it. So let your body go with the flow – you know you can do it! (Surprisingly, most of the lyrics of Vogue easily take on a scatological context).
Camilla Almusso – Poland
Ok – so scratch the shitting Charmin bears… and the Emeka pooping panda. Who needs ’em when we have the crapping Camilla Almusso Cub! From Poland. And delicate!
Good Choice Trading – China
Good Choice: Quality. Confidence. And Wood Pulp. Primary Wood Pulp. None of that Secondary Wood Pulp for your tender tuchus.
Regio – Mexico
Regio = Royal. For when you sit on your throne. And the improved new texture yields maximum durability. Long may you reign.