LES of a man

Can a nice boy from South Carolina claim the title at the ninth annual Mr. Lower East Side pageant? TONY tapped Web editor Dustin Goot to find out.

Regular Dustin

Photograph: Beth Levendis

The calling
When approached about entering the Mr. LES pageant, I accept immediately. And not because my mother wanted a girl and used to dress me in costume jewelry. The opportunity for ego gratification is simply too great. My initial consult is with TONY copy chief Noah Tarnow, who has competed twice before and was once named second runner-up. The scene he describes at the four-round competition (which includes such wild-card awards as “Best Male Tits”) is a cross between Chippendales and a livestock auction—a raucous crowd of mostly women and gay men, lustily objectifying the helpless contestants. “You absolutely cannot be afraid to make a fool of yourself,” he advises. Act a fool? That I can do.

Photograph: Beth Levendis

Round 1: Talent
The one-minute talent round is the biggest obstacle to my victory. Like Phil Collins, I can’t dance or sing. And I don’t twirl batons. I was debating between origami and (shoot me now) an interpretive reading when inspiration strikes: the subway bucket-drummer guy! Everyone loves that dude! At the Times Square station, I am fortunate to meet bucket virtuoso Will, of the Drumatics jazz ensemble. After I drop down a $4 goodwill gesture, Will tells me that the trick to winning over a crowd is reading its mood. “You’re not the artist,” he says. “You’re the painting.” Hmmm...

Round 2: Swimsuit
If you’ve snuck a peek at my swimsuit photo (below), you know I have this leg all sewn up. (Those guns aren’t registered, thanks for asking.) But to see how someone less genetically gifted might handle this situation, I ring up former Miss New York Kandice Pelletier, who passes along some pageant tricks. She suggests a spray tan because “tan fat looks better than white fat.” She also says I could shade in muscles with an eyeliner pencil or—no lie—smear my flabby parts with Preparation H and wrap them in plastic overnight. This supposedly tightens the skin on a short-term basis, while eliminating unsightly shreds of dignity.

Photograph: Beth Levendis

Round 3: Evening wear
Preparing for this round, I feel very confident in the dapper quasivintage ensemble I pieced together from my Halloween box. But why pass up the opportunity to consult with yet another Miss New York, this time ’06 winner Bethlene Pancoast? Exhibiting the savvy of a pageant veteran, she tells me to “acknowledge the judges by making eye contact with them.” Then she adds, “Suck your abs in tight.” With my choice in pants—polyester bell-bottoms about three sizes too small—this wasn’t going to be a problem.

Round 4: Q&A
During our pep talk, former contestant Tarnow tells me that the question-and-answer round (in 2002, anyway) focused more on neighborhood trivia than open-ended pageant crap. So I call the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and ask guide Kate Stober to give me a crash course. Apparently, the LES was occupied first by farmers, then by Germans, then Italians, then Eastern Europeans and Jews. It was a cradle of socialist and anarchist activity. At its core, the neighborhood is an immigrants’ refuge that sprang to life with the opening of Ellis Island and began to decline following immigration clampdowns in the 1920s. As a Euro-mutt with a weird last name, this makes me feel more connected to the district. Why shouldn’t I win, dammit?!?


Photograph: Cinzia Reale-Castello

*If there’s justice in the world, he will be. Catch the competition live (or enter it yourself—you don’t have to live on the LES) on Nov 15 at the Bowery Poetry Club. E-mail evjen@revjen.com for details. And don’t even think about copping Dustin’s nut-hugging poly-steeze.