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Talking the Shirts Off Their Backs

I’ve heard actors talk about getting to take clothing home from a movie or play, but that’s not the way I’ve gotten my favorite shirts.

I’ve talked them off the backs of friends and acquaintances.

One of my oldest memories of this dates back to when I was working in New York City at one of the oldest speakeasies in the West Village that dated back to the time of prohibition. The bar-restaurant still exists and was called Chumley’s when I worked there. It was in the heart of the West Village and and the bartender was named Perry Smith.

Perry was a football jock type and was one of the few non-aspiring actors working at the pub. Perry and I were both behind the bar one night when I noticed he was wearing a rather old and worn-out rugby shirt. So I said to him, “Perry, I think you should take off your shirt, give the bar patrons a thrill and give it to me.”

To which he replied, “No problem Kath,” and whipped it off much to my delight.

This started a long tradition with me of asking for shirts I liked that I saw people were wearing. Not to sound sexist, but it was always men’s shirts that I coveted. Not that it would be very easy for a woman to take off a shirt I liked.

Fast forward about a decade later and I’m living in Los Angeles. My dear friend Dana Mosbarger was tending bar at a popular place called “The Hollywood Athletic Club,” which in its heyday was an actual gym with a pool. Now the only things they were lifting were dinner items and drinks. He had this sweatshirt and once again I talked it off a guy’s back. It’s a somewhat ragged and fading old shirt now, but it has great memories and Dana and I are still friends today.

Now, in upstate New York I’ve found quite a few people who were willing to part with their shirts. The first shirt I remember getting from someone in Upstate New York was a green rugby shirt from Tom Garofalo, the owner of “Mr G’s” hair salon in Gloversville.

The next shirt I remember getting was a Calvin and Hobbes long-sleeved T-shirt worn by Gary Sprung. The front of the shirt has Calvin about to flush himself down the toilet and the back shows him whirling around in the toilet bowl. It always puts a smile on people’s faces when they see it and I try to always pay tribute to Gary when someone remarks about the shirt.

Then there’s local character Tony Ermie you may have seen riding around in his blue and white electric car. He was wearing a red T-shirt with the appropriate saying, “Don’t worry, I forgot your name too!” Tony also gave me another T-shirt with the saying, “I’m not opinionated, I’m just always right!” So Tony was a two-fer on shirts.

And then there’s the Corona hoody that looks like it’s made from a flour sack. My aide Terry made the mistake of wearing it to work one day and I had to have it. Terry’s is the one shirt I didn’t get off a guy.

The last shirts I want to tell you about were from retired principal Jack Payne. He is a dear friend of both Herman and I and was stopping by on his motorcycle one day with his wife Kaye. He was wearing an old American Eagle sweatshirt which I liked. I said, “Jack, I have to have it,” and he took it off without another word. Underneath the sweatshirt was a Saratoga 2001 T-shirt I also wanted. But Jack said he needed something to wear home on his ride and so he washed it up and brought it back another day.

Now that’s service!

About Kathryn Spira

Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland, OH who pursued an acting career in NYC and Los Angeles, now pursues freelance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County, New York. Previous columns may be accessed at her web site