Lower East Side
What do you like about your neighborhood?
I don’t like much about the Lower East Side, but I can’t afford to move to Bushwick. I do love that it’s possible to obtain a psychic reading, a vibrator, and a falafel all within two blocks.
Why do you wear elf ears?
It was 1992, I was in art school, and it had something to do with wanting to counteract all of the conformist nonconformity I saw. Plus, elves are pretty.
You’re known as the Bird Man?
I have African Grey parrots. One has a 300-word vocabulary. His name is Mr. Chauncey Gardner, after the movie Being There. He’s been with me for years. Subconsciously he thinks I’m married to him. They have the intelligence of a 5-year-old, but the emotions of a 2-year-old.
You take them to Fort Greene Park?
The families enjoy the birds. But there are two hawks there, so I must be vigilant.
Upper East Side
Your style would stand out even on Madison Avenue. What’s going on with this outfit?
This is made with bits and pieces from my supply closet, things I’ve been collecting for 30 to 40 years, including ribbons, fabrics, old candles, zippers … I’ve always dressed up, but as an older person I’m certainly not going to start dressing down, because it feeds me.
You must get all sorts of reactions on the street.
Oh, yes, and since I have pink hair, then, you know, a lot of kids look at me and point, and a lot of older women look at me and smile. I use style as an art form, and also as a healing form, because I believe that when you’re creative with your Self—capital S—then you are very fulfilled.
Tommy D Naked Man
Upper West Side
Naked Man is actually part of your name. Why go naked all the time?
This is what I believe in. I’ve made contacts all over the country with people that are like-minded. I’m working on the World Naked Bike Ride, which will be in June.
Do you ask in advance if you can remove your clothing at different places?
Well, that’s if I visit a gallery or a museum or something. All my poetry performances are naked. I also have the Naked Man Cleaning Service. I do it for chicks I know, but it’s not really a business. I have a day job—in music. But occasionally I get a call from somebody that wants a naked man to clean their house. I just charge a nominal fee.
What’s your living situation like?
We’re near Columbia. But we have to move because gentrification is coming in. I’m looking for something affordable, something safe. I’m on quite a low budget.
How did the nudity start?
Well, I’ve been doing it since I was 13, and I’ll be 52 in September. I’m down with it, and I hope other people will be down with it, too.
You’re known for your modern-day dandy aesthetic, including the occasional cape. How would you describe your style?
Sort of prep-school-headmasterish, where refinement meets utility. You know, so that one can hop from the trustees’ tea to the lacrosse match without concern. Seriously speaking, I simply dress appropriately. Dissolute behavior in a coat and tie is always more amply forgiven.
Where do you hang your hat, exactly?
On the unfashionable side of Carnegie Hill, for which Madison is the great divide between the haves and the have-jobs. Actually, we were considered East Harlem until gentrification annexed us to our southern neighbors. Still, I like that we’re just blocks from El Barrio. Everything in Spanish Harlem is cheaper, including cigarettes.
What makes a great neighborhood?
A really good joint that serves till four, which we sorely lack.
People must notice you all the time when you’re out.
I don’t pay attention because I’m usually hidden behind sunglasses.
Lower East Side
How long have you been downtown?
Fifty years. I lived in the West Village in the forties and fifties, and I’ve been on Ludlow for 30 years.
Where everybody knows you, even if not all of them have seen you in the old Warhol films.
Yeah. I love my small fame.
What would you say makes a great neighborhood?
Cheap rent. You know, in the early sixties, a three-room apartment was $15 a month. The rich have taken over; I went to the museum to see a movie about Candy Darling, and we went to the bar next door, and it was $18 for a Bacardi and Coke. The thing is, where I live, I’ve painted myself out of my apartment. I can’t, uh, function here. As a friend of mine said, “You can’t be an artist without a loft.”
So your apartment is full of canvases?
Yeah. And debris. I have several thousand pages of poetry sort of strewn all over the place.