A constable in a small New York community slapped the Naked Cowboy, a well-known street performer, with a summons for being shirtless in public.
Robert Burck, 39, was strumming his guitar Saturday and posing for photos in his iconic tighty-whities, cowboy boots and hat when some Port Jefferson residents complained to city officials, calling the performance "disgusting," said Wally Tomaszewski, the code enforcement chief for the town, an incorporated village of 8,500 people on Long Island's North Shore.
"It's not conducive to our environment," Tomaszewski said, adding that his sergeant on the scene said some mothers were whisking their children away.
According to Tomaszewski, village code sergeant Charlie Gennaro asked Burck to "take it somewhere else." When he refused, Burck was issued a summons saying it was a violation for "any male" to appear on a public street "without being attired in a shirt or comparable clothing."
Burck, who cut back his travel schedule after settling on New York's Times Square as his unofficial headquarters, said that before he arrived in Port Jefferson on Saturday to promote the Naked Cowboy Oyster Festival, people were just "walking around bored." Local officials should embrace anyone who can bring a little life to an otherwise sedate weekend, not bring charges against them, he said.
The performer, who has built a small empire marketing himself, said he has grown accustomed to being hassled by law enforcement — it's just part of being the Naked Cowboy.
"Nobody was unkind or anything,” Burck said of his latest brush with the law. “They were apologetic the entire time because they didn't believe they had to execute what they did. They said there were complaints."
Over the years, Burck estimates that he has been taken into custody or been issued summons more than four dozen times. Usually, if authorities don’t drop the charges, he ends up paying a small fine.
"If authorities and law enforcement want to stop you, somewhere in the paperwork there is an ordinance where they can prosecute you for disorderly conduct, lewd conduct, whatever," he said. "Fighting it just costs you more paperwork, time and money in the long run."
Some locals at The Catch, the waterfront seafood restaurant that hired Burck to appear as the Naked Cowboy as part of a celebration of Long Island oysters and locally brewed beer, were left wondering why his antics were such a big deal.
Burck reportedly packed up and moved on after receiving the summons. If found guilty of violating the ordinance, he could have to pay a fine of up to $250.
Although he is most-recognized as the long-haired, shirtless, guitar-playing, almost-naked cowboy, Burck cut his hair and put on a dress suit last month to announce that he plans to run for president in 2012.