Puttin’ on the Ritz

Poster for Putin on the Ritz with Fred  Astaire

Okay, so it was the mid-1970s and I was acting in a play in Indianapolis which is in mid-Indiana. Always looking to pick up some spare change, I auditioned for a commercial slated for local TV. Make that slated for “late-night TV.” Make that “low-budget TV.” Very low budget. The ad was for a local tuxedo rental joint. Let’s call it PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ. All tuxedo rental joints in America are called PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ, or TOP HAT. It’s the law. 

I got the gig coz I was a size 38 regular so any tux off the rack would fit me. And, funnily enough, the ad called for me to wear 38 different tuxedos while reciting the same spiel 38 times and using identical vocal inflections and identical hand gestures.

“Hey, come on down to PUTTIN‘ ON THE RITZ and we’ll put a ritzy tuxedo on you!”

Then thanks to “state of the art” circa-1975 video editing, it appeared that all 38 tuxes changed on my body as if by magic. (Stanley Kubrick eat your heart out!) 

1970s pink tuxedo
Right color, wrong fabric.

Now, mind you, this was the mid-1970s aka the decade style forgot. (Do you remember that unfortunate 1940s fashion revival, or the dreadful Liza Minnelli in Cabaret look? Or, how ‘bout those “street urchin, shoe shine boy” get-ups? What the fuck were people thinking?)  So, true to the fashion zeitgeist, all 38 tuxes were made of crushed velvet. (It gets worse.) Crushed velvet in lime green, shocking pink, powder blue, canary yellow and zebra stripes. (Wait, there’s more.) The cut of the jacket, ruffled shirt and massive bow tie suggested a Mississippi River boat gambler. Sort of Yancey Derringer on a bad day. 

1970s yellow tuxedo jacket
The cut is close but where’s the crushed velvet?
1970s plaid tuxedo jacket
Again, close but no cigar. No crushed velvet either!

The owner of the shop was nervously watching the shoot and the clock. But, I was a fast line-learner and more importantly a fast clothes-changer so he took a liking to me. While adjusting a vomit green jacket on my person, he confided in reverent, hushed tones, “Jackie Boy, this is our most popular cut. We call it the Tony Orlando.”    

album cover for The Best of Tony Orlando & Dawn
From Fred Astaire to Tony Orlando. And, you tell me, over and over and over again, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

Being seen on TV, even just late-night, local TV, made me a local celebrity. All the decrepit old ladies living in the decrepit old apartment building we actors called home treated me like I was a movie star and argued over whether I was more handsome in blushing peach or midnight purple. 

And, the married couples who made up most of our audiences were also ritzy dressers. They favored the matching he/she leisure suits that were then all the rage; matching leisure suits in lime green, shocking pink, powder blue, canary yellow, blushing peach, midnight purple and (yes) zebra stripes. Anytime I had to look directly at the audience, I put on welder’s goggles!

Vintage 1970s ad for leisure suits
The leisure suits came in crushed velvet, too.
Available at J.C. Penney and Sears.

Ahhh, the 1970s in America! Ya had to be there!

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A Dance to Dance

Cartoon of typical New York modern dancer of the 1960s and 1970s

Don’t ask me how but in 1970s New York, modern dance had become the “New Rock & Roll.” Choreographers were so famous that they starred in cigarette ads. (And, you thought ballplayers selling Luckies was a nutty idea!) Photographs of these elite artistes, dressed in black and lounging on ballet barres, were splashed across billboards that towered over the streets of Manhattan – 

After a day of improvised gesture and motif development, there’s nothing I like better than getting lung cancer.

Martha Graham doing lamentations
Martha Graham “dancing.”
Now, imagine her holding that pose forever.
Bored yet?

But, the new-found popularity of modern… oh, no, excuse me, I meant to say contemporary dance coincided with the stylistic pretension known as “minimalism” in which the last thing any dancer wanted to be caught dead doing was dance. I attended dance performances in which a “dancer” just rolled an orange across the stage very, very slowly or opened and shut an umbrella over and over again or sat still in a chair – for an eternity. Stillness was the ultimate movement in the “new” dance. When one choreographer had his dancer stand, walk around the chair and sit down again, the debate raged in NOHO as to whether this represented a retrograde step or a daring leap into the choreographic future. This minimalist-dance craze swept across SOHO and NOHO even faster than chlamydia.   

Merce Cunningham with a chair on his back
At least this guy brought his own chair.
Hey, what a minute, I think I saw him move. That’s not DANCE!
Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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I Changed My Shorts

Poster for I Changed My Sex - Glen or Glenda by Ed Wood
Ed Wood got there long before “Jack” did.

As long as we’re on the subject of female torsos… we rented our Bowery loft to a yoga instructor who was transitioning to yogi, i.e. a female to male transsexual. (Mind you, this was 1976, so the current “I was born in the wrong body” dementia-mania is nothing new.) “Jack” was fresh from having her breasts sliced from her female torso and was wrapped in more bandages than Tutankhamen. This creature was so cranked on pot, painkillers and testosterone that she floated several feet off the ground, vibrating in midair like a hummingbird. (You know the scene in the horror movie when the actor transforms via time-lapse photography from man to monster? Imagine a stop frame of that process mid-way. That was what “Jack” looked like – suspended between male and female, between past and present, between serenity and suicide. Unsettled and unsettling.) “Jack” was so uncomfortable around men, I was sure she would evaporate whenever I got near her. I, of course, delighted in torturing this psychosexual misfit by getting “up close and personal” as often as possible. 

Vintage side show banner for a Half-man Half-woman
Whatever became of Jack, I wonder?
I fear the worst.
Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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A Dance to Noho and Soho

Vintage print of Whirling Dervishes
At least they didn’t wear tap-dance shoes!

Lynda was slogging through a series of bottom-feeder jobs, too. No surprise that we needed extra income to pay our rent. So, we converted half our loft into a rehearsal space and rented it to every NOHO-SOHO “boho” who ran classes, conducted seminars, held séances, burned incense, massaged feet, manipulated skulls, channeled angels, cleansed auras or chanted om, aum, or papa oom mow mow. Honest to God, we rented to a troupe of world-famous tap dancers and a troupe of not-so-famous whirling dervishes. That was the last straw for our downstairs neighbor – Fu Yu. He was a world-famous photo-realist painter who worked ever-so-meticulously with an airbrush on his wall-sized paintings of female torsos. (Now, ya ask me, if ya seen one wall-sized, photo-realist female torso… but… what do I know?) 

Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's
Fu Yu doing his famous Mickey Rooney impersonation. That Fu, such a kidder!

Fu Yu was mega because along with cocaine, punk and disco, photo-realism was all the rage in the soulless Seventies. But, all that whirling and tapping upstairs shook the building and shook Fu’s airbrush all over his torsos downstairs. When this happened (And, it happened lots.), he would storm upstairs and bang on our door like the long-suffering Mr. Yunioshi who lived downstairs from Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. (Yeah, yeah, I know, Yunioshi is Japanese and Fu Yu is Chinese. Don’t get me started again on the Yellow Peril.) 

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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The Wimp of Wall Street

1960s computer
“Hey, I got an email. No foolin’.”

An actor friend abandoning New York for L.A. offered me his job. I was to deliver bicycle-wheel sized reels of computer tape from one end of Wall Street to the other. These tapes contained that day’s stock market trades or something equally toxic. In 1976, computers were the size of Montana. They generated so much heat they had to be kept in refrigerated rooms behind glass walls and were lovingly tended by white-coated computer technicians. We Untermensch, relegated to the outer-office, pressed our faces against the glass and stared at the large whirling wheels feeling we’d fallen into a James Bond movie and sure we were staring at America’s affluent, computerized future. We shared the legend of the Wall Street office boy who years before had read an investment memo he was delivering which advised – “BUY SHARES OF CONTROL DATA.” He did and made millions by “getting into” computers early. 

I was to make one tape-reel delivery a day, five days a week. Just one delivery. Just one problem. That delivery happened in the middle of the night. And, it happened at a different time in the middle of every night. And, with no mobile phone, I had to be chained to my home phone waiting for “the call” all night long. 

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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Actress Slain

Dead End Street sign

Carrie’s body was found at 5:30 AM by a milkman. Imagine. Brooklyn still had milkmen in 1973. A tenant reported hearing something at about the time of Carrie’s murder. It wasn’t a scream or a scuffle, just a “something.” There were reports of suspicious cars seen in the area but the cops checked and dismissed that angle. Remember Carrie’s street was a Dead-End so a getaway car was unlikely. No. Carrie had been followed from the subway. The cops were sure. They questioned people who’d been on her train, “See anything strange?” 

No. No one had. The murderer had probably been lurking near the subway station in Brooklyn Heights. A crime of opportunity. Of impulse. 

Committed in a minute. 

Carried out in a frenzy.

Actress Slain

That was the headline. 

Tell me I’m dreaming. This is a movie, right?

The Daily News and New York Post ran the story big. For a few days. Carrie’s smiley 8×10 photo filled their front pages. For a few days. A pretty someone I knew was a tabloid headline. A pretty someone whose death I foresaw. A pretty someone from Indiana. Slain. The streets of New York became a B-movie nightmare-montage in which I saw Carrie’s face everywhere. She smiled at me from every newsstand I passed and from every TV screen in every bar. I found her smile abandoned on subway seats. Discarded in trashcans. Thrown in the gutter. 

Mayor John Lindsay of New York
Mayor John Lindsay _ he made David Dinkins look competent.

Mayor Lindsay took a big interest in the case. For a few days. Crime and New York had become synonymous under his libtard administration. He appointed extra cops to the hunt and invited Carrie’s parents to stay in the Mayor’s mansion. I could give him the benefit of a doubt but I won’t. He felt guilty and obligated. 

“Dear God,” Handsome John Lindsay whined to his campaign manager “not another Kitty Genovese, not on my watch, not in ‘Fun City’.” 

Then the faces of other murdered girls pushed Carrie’s smile from the front pages and from memory. 

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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Janitor in a Whore House

Vintage pulp cover for The Orgy Inspector
I wonder if he doubles on sax?

I am to stand guard at the entrance to the Mat Room – a small room with a wrestling mat on the floor and… well… that’s all. I guess if the sophisticates in attendance aren’t in the mood to “party down” of an evening they can hold a tag-team match. But, I must enforce the strict “couples only” policy; namely – if one-half of a couple leaves the Mat Room the other must follow. This is to avoid an unbalanced male/female ratio of swingers. However, Mat Room etiquette does allow for consensual gangbangs. So, I will be janitor, bouncer and Poet-In-Residence in this bordello. No problemo. My resumé attests to the fact that I am man enough for all three jobs.

Orgy in an on-premises swing club
Wait a minute, you’re my wife!

I will also be tasked with tidying up the “Adam and Eve Rooms.” These airless closets are barely large enough to hold a mattress, an ashtray on the mattress and a bare, red light bulb hanging over the mattress. Once Adam and Eve have left their closet Eden and retired to the disco to feast on the sumptuous buffet nightly, it will be my appointed task to squeeze into the cramped closet, squeeze a clean sheet onto the mattress and squeeze a few squirts of Air-Wick into the now funky air to restore its paradisiacal aroma. Oops. Almost forgot. Have to empty the ashtray.

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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Kung-Fu Love

Newspaper ad for Fists of Fury starring Bruce Lee
The undisputed King of Kung-Fu movies

I hear a Black teenage couple arguing. He has been dragging her into movies on 42nd all day. She pleads, “Do we gotta see another kung-fu movie, Jerome?” They later pose for souvenir photos taken on the street corner in front of painted backdrops of the African jungle and ancient Egypt. A lop-sided rattan chair salvaged from a garbage heap serves as King Jerome’s throne in both locales. In one photo, he holds a rubber spear and in the other a cardboard sphinx. Yvonne stands beside her seated Lord. In the jungle, a leopard-skin print drapes her torso. In Egypt, a Cleopatra-crown rocks unsteadily on her Afro. Jerome pays extra to have the photos framed. 

King and Queen fall asleep on the subway back to Bed-Stuy and miss their stop. Tomorrow, after Yvonne leaves for work, Jerome tapes the framed photos to the boom-box radio that is permanently attached to his shoulder. And, he returns to 42nd to see another kung-fu movie. 

Black teen with a boombox radio
He prefers to hear his Brahms on a boombox
Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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Who you callin’ crazy?

19th century British mental asylum residents
Times Square residents in the 1970s

In the late 1960s, the mentally ill of America were caught in a political pincer movement. The tightwad Right wanted to close public insane asylums to save money. The moronic Left decided that the insane were the only sanepeople on the planet and had to be liberated from “captivity.” Yippie fuckwits scaled asylum walls and attempted to “free” the petrified inmates. The result of this Left/Right détente was that many of the mentally ill were pumped full of drugs and dumped onto America’s streets. 42ndStreet being one. Aunt Rosa being one. (Ya ask me, insane people should be locked up and kept warm, safe and fed but as far away from sane people as possible. This “care in the community” and “mainstreaming” crap doesn’t work. All it does is create jobs for parasitic social workers while exposing the sane and insane to attacks from each other.) 

Thorazine suppositories
How’d ya like the job of inserting these?

My family did what we could to help Aunt Rosa but it was impossible to help her. She was crazy. She wouldn’t take her medicine. If we gave her money she gave it away or flushed it away. If we had taken her into our homes she would have burned them down. She needed asylum. As in “insane asylum.” There was no asylum in Times Square for anyone. It was insane to inflict Times Square on the insane and vice versa. Correction. It was criminally insane. The Left and Right should have been given hot-lead enemas for using helpless lunatics as pawns in their political game.

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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Come and meet those dancing feet!

Peep Show performers in the 1970s on 42nd Street, Times Square, NY
Our neighbors on 42nd Street

That’s why in 1974 New York and with hopeful hearts,my acting group dared to move into a rat’s nest flanked by porn shops. The customers of those shops received blowjobs for five bucks in the alley behind our theater. Those blowjobs were administered by Black trannies who resembled New York Giants linebackers dressed in hot pants and halter-tops. Our actresses had it extra-tough getting to and from our new home. They had to maneuver through pickpockets, pill-poppers and pimps while enduring wolf-whistles from Elvis Presley look-a-like diesel-dikes. If the actresses skirted the well-lit but obnoxious 42nd Street, they were easy prey on the dark and un-policed 41st and 43rd Streets. 

Black-trannie prostitute in NYC
All yours for $5

When we compared travel-tips, we discovered that we had independently stumbled onto the same survival strategy. To avoid being maimed, mugged or murdered, we acted nuts. The primal animal in us instinctively knew that predators didn’t eat sick prey. So, we acted sick. We walked down 42ndstreet talking to ourselves and to Jesus. We laughed hysterically at everything and at nothing. We cried out to the Mayor and the Martians. We limped. We played retarded. Under serious threat, we had cerebral palsy. 

It worked. 

Carrie was a year dead by the time we discovered this survival ruse. It might have saved her life. 

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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