Naked came the burglar; or, the cruel winds of fate

There are a thousand stories in the Naked City -- but almost none of them involve the Lord of Flatulence.


Douglas Cruickshank
May 20, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Do you love Stanley Heiserman as much as I do? I love the guy. I mean how can you not? C'mon, don't be embarrassed. He's inventive, a virtuoso, an improviser, an authentic outside-of-the-box thinker with an oblique sense of humor, and he's taken Yankee ingenuity just as about as far as it can be taken, and at considerable risk. Heiserman doesn't deserve jail -- he's currently facing an eight- to 40-year prison term; sentencing is set for June 14 -- he's due some type of award. A government sinecure perhaps.

Here's the deal: Heiserman, an honorably discharged former Marine from Allentown, Pa., developed an abiding interest in robbery. His distinctive approach resided somewhere between hobby, vocation and performance art. Now, simple robbery is nothing to compliment, but when a bloke takes the base, the ordinary, the offensive, even, and imbues it with a bit of magic and inspiration, then it's time for a toot of the horn. Let us not forget Le Pitomane's fine example.

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From 1892, when he premiered at Paris' celebrated Moulin Rouge dance
hall, to 1914, when he finally decided to give it a rest, Joseph "Le Pitomane" Pujol was an entertainment sensation. Le Pitomane's renown was based on his ability to perform astonishing feats of what might best be termed gymnastic flatulence. He was France's, and the world's, leading "fartiste." Relying solely on the apparatus that the good Lord gave him, Le Pitomane blew away standing room only Moulin Rouge audiences for three years running until, in a hurricane of lawsuits, he blew off the dance hall's owner and opened his own club, where his whirlwind success continued for almost two more decades. Le Pitomane, who had extraordinary control over his nether region noise-making machinery, could use his dusky orifice to produce melodies (a physician of the day confirmed that the performer possessed, ahem, a "musical anus"), do impressions of celebrity voices, extinguish candles from several meters distance, smoke cigarettes and spout water up to 15 feet. Referring to Le Pitomane, "Nausea" author Jean-Paul Sartre is said to have exclaimed, "He gets it!"

Our friend Heiserman, the artful thief, hasn't had the same luck marketing his talents as Le Pitomane did, nor has he produced a body of work equivalent to that of France's most famous blowhard, but I believe a case can be made for Heiserman's cultural significance. His singular approach to robbery was this: He did it naked -- except for minimal accessorizing (he liked to wear his underwear at a rakish angle on his head). "It's nuts," Lehigh County District Attorney James Anthony remarked last week. "You don't hear of things like this happening too often. But this is what happened in four separate robberies."

Heiserman never used a weapon in the commission of his crimes, though he claimed to be carrying a shotgun in one instance and a pistol in another. Nor did he ever injure anyone. Indeed, Heiserman tolerated the disrespectful sniggers of his victims, such as the two cashiers who handed over the loot he demanded, glanced at his Fruit of the Loom chapeau, then burst into laughter at the goose-bump covered robber's disguise, or lack of same. "His logic," Anthony explained, "was that the last time he did some robberies, he had clothes on and was identified by his clothes."

Makes exquisite sense. I say parole Heiserman to a job with Chippendales. Why break a butterfly in his birthday suit on the wheel? Besides, he gets it.

Banana Bana Bo! & the Dept. of Corrections: In last week's column, I identified Herbie Blitzstein as one of the key figures in a mob-related trial now taking place in Las Vegas. But I neglected to include his middle moniker: "Fat Herbie." I regret the error.

But whatever you do, don't confuse His Late Corpulence with Kenneth "Boobie" Williams, alleged leader of Miami's "Boobie Boys" gang. Boobie was b-b-busted last week by the Miami-Dade heat, whose director says he and his "cocaine cowboy" colleagues "are probably responsible for 35 homicides and 100" non-fatal shootings. One "Boobie Boy" is still at large: "Cuban Mike" Harper, who never tires of hearing cigar jokes.

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The Vegas trial notwithstanding, the mob's been doing so well in the legit world lately, it must be tough to accomplish any old-fashioned gangstering. In addition to HBO's hit "The Sopranos," Court TV has a 13-part documentary about underworld lords in the works, and there are no less than seven other wiseguys projects that will be lighting up living rooms later this year. Art Bell, head of planning for Court TV, told USA Today that mob media gets the eyeballs because the Mafia "operates in a parallel universe ... These guys kiss the wife and then go to work and beat people up. They do stuff we would never think of in a quadzillion years." Is that so, Art?

In the same story Scot Safon, marketing director over at TNT, seems to suggest that gangstervid is in fact little more than an alternative to Harvard Business School or the latest CEO bio. "They show how people acquire power," Safon says, "become successful and make their mark in the world."

But it's not just money or power they want. In today's world people crave respect, and gangsters know how to get it instanter, though it may not follow them to the afterlife as it did Le Pitomane. In a fine and detailed article about the glorious French windbag, Garrick H.S. Brown reports that "a Parisian medical school offered Pujol's family the sum of 25,000 francs for the privilege of exploring the late, great entertainer's," uh, equipment. But the offer was turned down because, as his eldest son Louis explained, "There are some things in this life which simply must be treated with reverence."
Indeed.


Douglas Cruickshank

Douglas Cruickshank is a senior writer for Salon. For more articles by Cruickshank, visit his archive.

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