a chicken, a drag and 96

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Tue Sep 23 15:24:14 UTC 2003

Jim Landau's message of the other day reminded me that I had left a loose end after my original posting.  I had noted "I do not find "social vagrant" in the on-line OED."  I also haven't found it in the LATimes before this particular episode, nor after, except in a few follow-up stories regarding the people involved.  Evidently it was a euphemism concocted by someone at this time, one that never took hold.

Jim remarked "I find it difficult to believe that "reciprocal anal intercourse" is physically possible."  I suppose that "reciprocal" does not imply "simultaneous".

He further pointed out that "M-W, both 10th and 11th Collegiates, dates "606" as 1910.  "606" is one of the names of the drug arsphenamine, the first drug specific against syphilis---it refers to it being the 606th drug tested for activity against syphilis.  Is it possible that this group of transvestites named their organization "The Anti-Syphilis Club"?" --

Perhaps not an "ANTI-Syphilis Club" -- there was a notorious gay bar in late 19th C NYC called Paresis Hall.  (Though I doubt that that was the name on whatever licenses the bar carried.)  I also recall, vaguely, probably from reading about James Boswell, who was frequently clapped, that among rounders of the 18th century, gonorrhea was accepted, or passed off as, "an honorable scar of battle".  Perhaps the "606 Club" was a wry allusion to the likelihood of contracting syphillis through such activities as the club encouraged?  I will say that an allusion to syphillis would seem to me to be counterproductive in a pick-up line.

As I recall, "Paresis Hall" is discussed at some length in Gay New York : gender, urban culture, and the makings of the gay male world, 1890-1940, by George Chauncey (1994).  I can't put my hand on my copy and don't recall whether he supposes that the patrons called it that.  There is also an interesting glimpse in "A Cop Remembers", by Cornelius Willemse, early 1930s.  Willemse was a cop who before he joined the force had been the bouncer in a low bar across the street from Paresis Hall.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

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