Friday, September 25, 2015

The Posture Pictures by C. Davis Fogg

C. Davis Fogg tells the story of how as a Yale freshman in the 1950s he and his friends conspired to steal the notorious Ivy League nude posture photos from Vassar.

I stood buck naked, arms by my side, in front of the camera. The short, hunched, wizened photographer leered at me with a crooked smile and said: "Arms down, front to the camera. Click. Turn ninety degrees. Click. Turn. Click. Turn again. Click. You're finished. Next."

This was not a picture for the Yale class of 1959 freshman directory. Nor do I think that there were a bunch of perverts or pornographers who sold our pictures to Vassar or Wellesley girls so they could pick a date with some well-hung guy. No, they were posture pictures - images taken to see if our posture was correct, or if we had curvature of the something or other, an unbecoming lean, or some other skeletal distortion that we didn't know we had. I've forgotten what my breach of "posture etiquette" was, but it was apparently serious. I was assigned posture class for a semester. They hoped to make us military erect, not that any hormone-driven freshman ever minded being fully erect.

The "posture" class was anathema to everyone that flunked "Spine 101." We all knew through the grapevine that the class involved walk-with-a-book-on-your-head parades to martial music, posture strengtheners like hanging from a vertical bar, push ups, sit-ups, chin-ups, weight lifting and other tortures. Most of the class just wanted to get on with campus life - studying, partying, trips to girl's colleges and, in today's parlance, just hanging out.

Let me tell you what this is all about. It's the mind, body, spirit thing. Some far-out-there Harvard Professor had the theory that one learned better with superior posture. That, combined with physical fitness, addressed the middle part of this mythic triangle. No one would have gotten into Yale without the mind.

The posture pictures weren't limited to Yale. Most of the Ivy League and Sister Seven colleges participated including Princeton, Barnard, Wellesley, Vassar, Columbia and Smith. That meant there were a lot of nude pictures of 17-18 year old guys and gals out there. Somewhere. And we knew that there were pictures of the future famous and rich - ambassadors, academicians, artists, poets and writers, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, financiers, college presidents, and politicians among the collective photos from all of the colleges and universities. This turned out to be a highly important fact, as we will see later.

Of course schemes were hatched. As a sophomore, I was at a typical drunken party at the DKE fraternity house, that bastion of jocks, the smell of sweat and "Gentleman's Cs". It was a Saturday night and my band, the Shire-Fogg Quintet, was playing. David Shire, my partner and the band's pianist, was slurringly singing, "I'm in the nude for love." John Galway, a future Ambassador to Germany, pulled out a .45 and shot the moose head on the wall. Dead. It rained dust, petrified hair and fleas. Antlers crashed. A glass eye popped out and rolled on the floor among the dancers who had hit the floor at the sound of gunshots.

Well, it was about that moment when Brodie Henderson proposed that we gin up a raid to get the posture pictures from Vassar, our nearest target of opportunity. A number of us were dating Vassar girls, so we might be able to find the location of the golden trove. We figured that possession of the pictures would make us Campus heroes. It would, at the very least, be a vehicle for picking dates, pin-ups for the wall, and dartboards where we could score, so to speak, with impunity. Maybe we could make some money on the pictures. $100 for a pack of hot prospects at Vassar? Maybe grade the beauties and non-beauties "ABC" and charge accordingly. I vaguely recall the conversation that led us to one of the signal events in Yale history.

"Let's go to Vassar and get the pictures," Brodie slurred.

"How, you idiot?" I responded.

"I'm dating a Amanda Sperling, a girl who works in the registrar's office. We got drunk and had sex in the front seat of my Jag XK 150. Do you know how hard it is to have sex in the front seat of a sports car with a stick shift in the middle? My spine is still bruised. But all for the cause."

"Oh bullshit, that girl would never go near you," I said.

There was silence and a happy satisfied smile on Brodie's face, as he mentally relived the event.

"Anyway," Brodie continued, "in that warm, delicious post-coital moment when you're having a cigarette and in an 'I'll do anything for you, darling' mood, she drew a layout of the register's office. There's a big vault in there, as well as lots of academic and student records in locked cabinets. That's where the pictures have to be. Couldn't be anywhere else."

"You're nuts," I retorted. "We'll get caught and thrown out of school."

"Not if we have a Yale-brained plan, and I have one. We do this during Christmas vacation when no one is around. The office is in Main Hall, just inside the front gate. We can make a quick getaway if we need to."

"How in hell are we going to crack a safe and file cabinet locks?"

"Easy, we get a safecracker,"

"You have to be kidding." I noted. "A safecracker? Where in hell would we get one? From the mechanical engineering department? You must be kidding me."

"You belong to the Musician's Union don't you?" Brodie noted.

"Yeah."

"Aren't the members mostly Italian and aren't some of the 'more connected' club owners Union members?"

"Yes. I'll look into it."

Eddie Fraterelli was president of the New Haven Musician's Union, local 400. He was a kindly man, and a fine piano player. He ran the dominant "boom-chicka" society band in the area. Sounded like Lester Lanin, the king of New York society events, but 50% cheaper. Eddie looked like a skinny version of Santa Claus. He had a reddish nose, from drinking on the job no doubt. Eddie's twinkling and embracing eyes were as warm as a Bobby Hackett ballad. His beard wasn't as white as Santa's, but close. I think, under the beard, he probably looked like a dockworker. He was tough enough, but had a soft spot for Yalies. His musician brother went to Yale, and Eddie looked out for struggling musicians trying to make a buck. He would bail us out when we got into trouble, usually when we were caught not reporting out-of-town jobs and didn't give a cut of our earnings to the Union. I knew Eddie pretty well as we got into trouble at regular intervals. I asked for a meeting.

"Hi Eddie, how ya doing?"

"Fine Dave, what kind of shit have you gotten yourselves into now? I can't keep bailing you out forever," he said with a half laughing smile.

"We've been good Union members and have paid every cent that we owe, yes-sir-re-bob. But I do have an unusual request."

"What this time?"

"Nothing to do with music."

"What?"

"Uh, Eddie, I know that you have a lot of connections in the Italian community. You're really one of their more successful sons - son of an immigrant, product of the spaghetti ghetto and all that shit."

"Yes, I'm a direct descendent of Christopher Columbus, the first big band leader in North America. Chris had a hell of a horn section. Great rendition of 'New York, New York'."

"This is odd, but I wondered if you could put me in touch with someone in the underground trades? You see, I'm doing a sociology term paper on the Mafia and their culture. If I could get a good confidential source for an interview, I would score a big grade which I desperately need to boost my flagging average."

"Look kid, you're treading on dangerous ground. You realize that don't you? You could end up dead or as a dishwasher in Mafia restaurant. I should tell you that the Union funeral fund is depleted so we couldn't send you off with much of a ceremony and fancy casket - assuming that they find your body. You still want to do this?"

"Yes," I said with more bravado and confidence than I felt.

"Okay, there's a guy named Tony Rosa. He knows the 'wise guys' better than anyone in the North End. You go to him and ask him whatever you want. You tell him that I referred you to him about getting some gigs at Italian weddings and church dances. If you happen to bring up 'other matters', you're on your own. Capice?"

"Yes, Okay. Thank you."

"You can find him at the Milano restaurant on Broadway. He hangs out there and does business from lunch through the wee hours of the morning."

I went to Tony, and the bottom line is that I recruited Angelo Ricci who had done two stints in the New Haven Correctional Facility for breaking and entering and safe cracking. We had our key man.

Well, Angelo, Brodie, Harry Johnson, Larry Lawrence, Rubin Stein and I set out for Vassar around midnight. We were dressed all in black, had black balaclavas at the ready, and commando-blackened faces - the makeup provided by a friend big at the Dramat, Yale's undergraduate theater. Angelo had his compact tool kit. We brought a lot of stuff that we'd seen burglars carry in movies - crowbars, hacksaws, a ladder, blowtorch and rope. Angelo laughed at our amateurism and told us that he could get in any window or door and open and any safe even if he had to resort to the small store of dynamite in his own bag. We told him on no uncertain terms that explosives were out.

Now Vassar trips were known as six-pack-a-person journeys. That meant that, in normal times, we drank four bottles or so on the way down to ease the boredom and fortify ourselves for our dates. The rest was saved for the return. We took Larry's 1955 Chevy station wagon on the tortuous trip to Poughkeepsie. It was a very snowy and icy drive, dicey, windy, narrow two-lane route through Danbury, the brass capital of the civil war and focus of the dwindling US hat industry.

We stopped at the Danbury Diner, the famous half way stop, where one could get a day-old Danish, beer, and couple of cups of oily sobering coffee 24/7. The diner itself was once an art deco beauty made out of ribbed stainless steel with horizontal windows punctuating the façade. A trolley-like roof capped the concoction and "Open" and "Schlitz" signs blazed in the window. It was trimmed in pink neon, and scabbed with decades of soot from the local factories. Basically it looked like a dirty dining car from the "20th Century Limited." When we walked in, we were hit in the eyes and lungs with a blue-gray fog of vaporized grease, cigarette and cigar smoke. Our military garb drew a few puzzled looks and snide remarks from the few semi-conscious denizens of the diner. We said that we were coming from a Halloween party, even though Halloween had passed three months ago. No one really cared.

The inside of the joint had typical diner accouterments - stools with red vinyl seats, some patched with electrical tape, a string of booths, a twangy, gum chewing, skinny, "what'll you have boys" waitress. The owner-cook hovered in a once white, now slopped apron that looked like he'd just come from a chicken-plucking factory. We ordered coffee, Schlitz, and eggs all around. The waitress profitably ignored the fact that we were well underage for buying alcohol.

We huddled in a booth to discuss our plot once again. Sam, leaning his elbows on the table, chin in hands, and having gotten mental cold feet blurted:

"Look guys, I don't think we should do this. I'm scared. I don't wanna be kicked out of school."

"Yeah," Rubin added. "We might go to jail. I'm about to inherit a bundle when my hanging-on-to-life grandparents die. They'll cut me out of their will. Why don't we go down and just get a date and party?"

Tony patronizingly patted him on the back and said: "Look guys, in 100 break-ins, I've only been caught twice. The odds are 98:2 that we'll succeed.

"What if we're in the 2% group?"

"We won't be. For Christ's sake, take a risk. You're not going to get odds like this in any football pool or horse race. Don't be chickenshit. Let's go." Heads nodded, some reluctantly, in agreement.

Confident with more Dutch courage, we arrived at the stern granite and iron front gate of Vassar that oversees the goings and comings of all of those luscious young (mostly) virgins. We drove straight through the gate and pulled up behind "Main." Larry was our getaway driver. We were ready to go. The night was fortunately as black as a moonless midnight. So, when we got out of the car, we blended right into the tree-shielded surroundings. There was no one in sight.

"Main" is a formidable 'Charles Adams' Victorian eight story brick and granite building. It looks more like a 1850's mental institution than a finishing school for academically inclined young women. Four spooky towers posted the building, and viper-like vines snaked up the façade. The front was punctuated by sixteen tall windows, so dark that they looked like the entrance to the coal mines of hell. It is said that, during a severe storm, lightening shot up from the windows into the clouds, not visa versa. Myth has it that Charles Adams, on seeing the monster, fled mumbling, "too God damn much."

The entrance hall in "Main" was always monitored by an "attendant", a spinster sex cop, who made sure that the "girls" were always signed in and out, and that no males violated the parietals - i.e. they stayed in the entrance lobby waiting for their date. In the rare occasion that males were allowed into the dorm rooms, they were logged in by the beady-eyed "monster mom," who considered them little better than horny criminals. Suspension or getting kicked out of school were punishment for the most flagrant violations.

We were so hyped up on our own cleverness that we lost sight of the possibility that we might get caught. Of course we avoided the front entrance, and went to the back where the registrar's office was located. With the stepladder, we could barely reach the windows. Cracking wood and bending metal screeched and groaned breaking the ethereal silence as Eddie jimmied a window with his crowbar. We froze, waiting for a campus cop to hear the ruckus and run us out, or take us to the city cops. Silence. We all piled in.

The rest is secretly guarded history. Eddie opened the records cabinets in the office with a few swift twists of his lock picks. Nothing of interest was in them. He cracked the ancient safe in a couple of minutes simply by feeling and listening to the lock's tumblers clicking as he turned the dial. We had our feast. The pictures for the four current classes were locked in cabinets at the back of the safe. We scooped up the lot. Oh, we also nicked their personal files so that we could put a little "descriptive flesh" on the flesh.

We were careful to make sure that we had pictures of the daughters of the rich and famous, just in case we needed to blackmail ourselves out of trouble. Among lots of others, we gleaned the Harriman, Rockefeller, Mellon, and Roosevelt girls. We got the niece of Miss Witt, the virginal Calvinist president of Vassar, who always looked like she was sucking on a lemon. The poor niece looked just like her aunt with her stringy, anorexic, and bony body like the women that Tom Wolfe later described in Bonfire of the Vanities as "boys with tits." Not a good prospect for our "potential date deck." We also scored the daughter of the president of Yale just in case we needed some leverage if caught. For good measure, and to keep the bloodhounds off our trail, we left a sign "Princeton was here." We stuffed the 2000 pictures into three gym bags, and scuttled out of the back window.

To celebrate our newfound treasure, we hauled off to New Haven, a fresh beer in hand, and congratulated ourselves on our battle spoils.

When we got back, around dawn, the question came up, where do we hide this shit? More importantly, what do we do with it? There must be a pony in this pile somewhere; a way to make money or trouble.

It dawned on us that Rubin was a member of Skull and Bones, that world- famous secret, secret, secret society. Surely there was a place in Bones' formidable Tomb where we could lock up our trove. The Tomb itself is a fort-like windowless red stone building, about four stories wide and very deep. It has a one and one half story granite entrance with a thick oak door that looks like it could withstand an onslaught by a thundering horde of Huns outfitted with tanks and rockets. They say that the place is "vapor" alarmed to detect the smell of any non-Bonesman and call the Bones' secret police. Graduates of this esteemed club include, of course, the elite of the elite - future power guys and influencers. They become famous judges, financial wizards, presidents, ambassadors, authors, musicians, artists, businessmen, Secretaries of State and so on.

High on our heist and a lot of beer, Rubin took me into the building, a place that only Bonesmen and a few sworn-to-secrecy staff members have seen. We entered the main room used for meetings, rituals and dining. I gasped. There were skeletons lining the walls. Dozens of bleached skulls hung from chandelier frames made of femurs, and lit from the inside by candles. Yellow light flickered through the eye sockets, and wisps of smoke curled toward the ceiling as if the unfortunate stranger was straining to get out. There were glass cases containing the skulls of Geronimo, Poncho Villa, and Martin Van Buren. God knows who else was interred in the dark, ill-lit tomb. The table was set with, guess what, bone china. The setting was completed with skull-shaped sterling silver goblets with Yale-blue sapphire eyes, and sterling silver table ware with two crossed bones on the handles.

Rubin yanked down on a skeleton's jawbone. With the eerie whine of industrial hydraulics, a large hidden door slowly opened in a wall. We entered a huge cavern carved beneath the Art School and Gallery. In the middle of the first room was a crude dining table. Around the table were thirteen skeletons, all dressed in ratty, disintegrating, flowing robes. A golden radiating halo of neon light glowed around the middleman's skull. There was a pottery wine jug, and each dinner guest had a sterling silver souvenir wine chalice. There was a stuffed, scrawny "legs up" guinea pig on a platter at the center of the table.

Before I could say "boo", Rubin jerked me into another room lined with cabinets containing the most secret of the Secret Society's relics and records. He picked the lock of one, and laid the pictures at the back of a drawer with plenty of space and marked "Members 1859-1869 Closed". We got out of the Tomb as fast as we could. Rubin settled the matter with his fellow Bonesmen by offering them pictures of 50 of the best babes if they'd let us store the cache there. Being men of honor, we know that they wouldn't touch or steal them. I later heard that they held drawings at their Sunday night meetings to pick potential dates for the next weekend.

When you come right down to it our marketing scheme was simple. Without Facebook or YouTube or custom web sites, we had to develop a system fit for the "paper age." After much discussion, and a lot of beer, we came up with a simple method. We made photographic copies of all of the images in the batch. They were graded "A" too hot to imagine. "B", ravishing. "C," nice, you might not want to take her home to mama, but enjoy the night. We culled out the "D's" figuring that they would destroy our image. We also attached a brief description of each potential date gleaned from their personal records. The information included weight, height, hair color, bra cup, hips, academic major, grades and extracurricular activities. It turned out that the female jocks got the most attention, and the medieval history majors the least.

The cards were priced at $150, $100 and $75 respectively for a six-pack, three-pack and two-pack of pictures, respectively. We threw in a box of six lubricated, reservoir tipped Trojans as a "gift with purchase" to help the "buzz" about our product. To get some exposure and kick off the campaign, we offered two pics free to the head of each of the ten secret societies and twelve fraternities. This was all of the marketing we needed to do. Word was out, and we were on our way to getting rich. Indeed, the pictures were so popular that they became like baseball cards - traded for a new player every weekend.

Our clients had a 90 percent hit ratio with their picture dates. We even provided a bus service to Vassar every Saturday night. We sold beer, sandwiches, coffee, and extra condoms for those who felt really lucky. We gave each man a map of the college dorms so that they could find their date and the location from which the bus would leave. We even stopped at the Danbury Diner for a rest stop on the way and on the return trip. We got a percentage of the Diner's take.

Later on, we got more entrepreneurial. We offered discount hotel and restaurant deals and subscriptions to Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler and Sports Illustrated. Viewing ourselves as a successful startup and heady with success, we figured out that we could franchise. If a coffee and donuts diddley shit outfit like Dunkin Donuts was doing it, why not us? We figured we'd milk the Harvard-Wellesley possibilities next. We offered a complete package to our franchisee - experienced franchise manager, safecracker, advertising flyers, copying photos, stealth black outfits, and Wellesley blue windbreakers with the logo "I LOVE WELLESLEY GIRLS" on them.

The franchisee provided the muscle to carry out the scheme. We even had a third year Yale law student handling contracts and legal affairs. An accountant kept the financial records and took care of tax returns. After all, we didn't want the Feds in on this. We got 25% of the Harvard take. We made $250,000 after expenses on the entire Yale-Harvard venture. To put this in perspective, this would buy 200 new Volkswagens. We were already grooming new management so that we could rake in residuals while all of us attended Harvard Business School. After all, Smith, Barnard and Holyoke were untapped,

We got caught, alas, when a couple of Harvard snitches went to the police and spilled the beans. They were unhappy with the results of the "packages" that were sold to them because they didn't get laid. We only promised a date, not a thrash in bed. We were charged with breaking and entering, grand theft, and possession of pornographic material. We were jailed in New Haven until all of our families made bail.

But we had the last laugh and got off the hook. We threatened to release the pictures of the daughters of Yale's and Harvard's presidents (too ugly to be graded), the Secretary of State, the Mayor of New Haven and the Governors of New York (who was Averill Harriman if I recall correctly) and Connecticut. We went home free.

Oh, by the way, I married the stunning highly intelligent blond, number 159. She was graded AAAA by any dimension you care to choose.

I should mention that Rubin Stein's grandnephew was a guy named Mark Zuckerberg. He attended Harvard for a brief period of time.

6 comments:

  1. Totally believable - and an unfortunate reflection of the antics of privileged young bucks, then as now. The story is told with alacrity and is, I hope, more than a little 'tongue in cheek'?! It is certainly more sardonic than some of the current reportage of the Oxbridge stunts and initiation rites of the great and the good in the political classes in the UK,
    Thanks,
    Ceinwen

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    1. True story, insofar as Wellesley took nude photos of incoming freshmen women, including Hillary Clinton. By the way, am wondering if I ever drank in that Danbury diner.

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  2. I could visualize myself in the Danbury Diner all right - sitting on one of those electrical tape-repaired red vinyl stools and gazing at the soot-scabbed ceiling, but I found the anecdotal and sub anecdotal passages sometimes over-explained. The narrative style seems to hover above territory somewhere between memoir and after-dinner speech...maybe one or the other? Clever idea though and sure, social media was around even in 18th C London and just as covert!

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  3. This is a nicely told story. It evokes memories for those of us growing up in the 50s when schools, public and otherwise, would require students to strip for allegedly medical reasons. Good job!!

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