Behind the scenes with the Men of Westerly

This is a cropped, suitable-for-work version of Men of Westerly Calendar man Mr. August, Matt Behan of Behan Family Farm an oyster farm in Ninigret Pond that supplies regional restaurants and markets.
This is a cropped, suitable-for-work version of Men of Westerly Calendar man Mr. August, Matt Behan of Behan Family Farm an oyster farm in Ninigret Pond that supplies regional restaurants and markets. Courtesy of Seth Jacobson Photography

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include locations where the calendar is available. See last paragraph.

The Men of Westerly Calendar is a bold demonstration of community spirit that has to be seen to be believed.

A more capable writer could probably get through this feature without resorting to puns, winks and sexual innuendo. I have, however, never pretended to be that writer. So let's get to it.

The 2013 calendar, organized by the Greater Westerly Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce, features 27 local gents from area businesses cleverly posed with the tools of their trade concealing, well, the more private tools of their trade.

"These men have really been great sports in the interest of raising funds for charity. The calendar will promote their business and their sense of humor," said Chamber President Deb Turrisi.

Proceeds from the $10 calendars benefit the Adult Day Center of Westerly, Rhode Island Center Assisting Those in Need, the Westerly WARM Center, and the Jonnycake Center of Westerly.

This is not a publication which prizes subtlety. No joke is too obvious — "The boys at Valenti (Toyota) will really fill up your tank," one blurb reads. And when it comes to making sure the calendar keeps its PG-13 rating, no object is too weird to be strategically employed: pizza boxes, beer kegs, a life preserver, a kettlebell, even a pineapple.

Four professional photographers donated their services to the fundraiser, including Ronald Cowie Photography of Charlestown, Christine Corrigan Photography of Pawcatuck, Maria Scaglione Photography of Westerly, and Seth Jacobson Photography of Saunderstown.

I was on hand for two of the calendar's photo shoots in September and was struck by:

1) how much time I was spending around naked men that month

2) how totally at ease the guys were. At both shoots, the naked people were the least nervous people there.

Shoot #1

Precision Fitness at 37 West Broad St. in downtown Pawcatuck offers strength and conditioning training, corrective movement and kettlebell instruction, sports massage and nutrition consultation. The guys on staff work hard to stay in great physical shape.

From an artistic, aesthetic and intellectual perspective, I think this kind of athletic commitment to the human form should be celebrated. From the perspective of someone standing three feet away from them at their calendar shoot, I was horrified to discover that they were about to disrobe in front of me, photographer Maria Scaglione, and Chamber Director Lisa Konicki, whom I was job shadowing for the October issue of Grace.

As the guys were staging their props, I found myself carefully studying the schedule of classes, the stats on the wall; I think I may have even complimented owner Todd Cambio on the moulding around the windows. It's all a blur.

Should I look? Not look? Is looking for more than two seconds a compliment, or a reason for one of their girlfriends to hunt me down and stab me with a fork? I had no idea.

As the sound of gym shorts hitting the floor hit the air, Lisa indicated, mercifully, that it was time to leave.

Though this scenario was unlikely to ever recur, I vowed that if it did I would cast aside my Puritanical misgivings and greet the occasion with a liberated, worldly nonchalance. In short, like less of a dork.

Postscript: Be careful what you tell the universe, because as it turns out, the universe is usually listening. And waiting to test you.

Shoot #2

Matt Behan (pictured above) and his dad, Gary, are the owners and proprietors of Behan Family Farm, an oyster farm in Ninigret Pond that supplies regional restaurants and markets. You might recognize Matt from The Oyster Club in downtown Mystic, where he worked as a shucker this summer. His Nantucket Nectar oysters are also featured at The Twisted Vine's raw bar Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 6-9 p.m., 3 Canal St. in downtown Westerly.

Grace freelance photographer Seth Jacobson had volunteered his services for Matt's calendar photo. One late September day, Seth and I had wrapped up an assignment when he asked if we could swing by Lavin's Landing in Charlestown, R.I. for a quick meeting. They decided to shoot Matt standing in the water near his oyster beds, and Seth mentioned something about needing another person to hold a light.

"I'll do it!" I exclaimed, entirely too quickly.

A few nights later, we set out from the marina in Matt's motorboat, a working, no-frills vehicle. The early autumn sun was setting in breathtaking flares of color. "Wow! Look at that sky," we shouted appreciatively over the roar of the boat, and the waves which sprayed over the sides every few minutes, drenching us. There was little to do but smile and surrendur to the damp, chillly adventure, and look forward to a blanket and a hot cup of tea.

As we bounced along, an irony emerged. The guy who was about to take off his pants in front of a complete stranger was relaxed, chatting about the farm permitting process in Rhode Island. The photographer, on the other hand, looked as though a complete stranger had just asked him to take off his pants. Seth was crouched over in the prow, using his body to shield his camera bag and its thousands of dollars of equipment from the blasts of salty water.

So thanks to Seth, and his determination to protect his livelihood, I was the least anxious person on the boat.

Once we dropped anchor and Matt dropped trow, the whole shoot took less than five minutes. My job was to stand behind an enormous white umbrella and hold it as still as possible on the pitching boat. Matt's job was too look hot and relaxed in the cold ocean water. Seth's job was to take a photo both he and Matt were proud of.

Mission accomplished. Matt generously sent us away with a bag of his exquisite oysters. (The perfect combination of sweet butteriness and salty tang. The guy has a gift.)

And I didn't have to feel like a dork, because from behind that big umbrella, I couldn't see a thing.

Thanks, universe!

Visit www.westerlychamber.org to purchase a calendar online. The 2013 Men of Westerly Calendar is available at the Greater Westerly/Pawcatuck Chamber of Commerce office as well as many businesses along Route 1 into downtown Westerly, including Bella Vita Salon, Bogue's Alley, Carrie's Shoes, Dick's World of Wines, Dunn's Corners Market, Dylan's Exceptions Consignments, Nigrelli's Jewelry, Other Tiger Books, the Pizza Place, Prime Time Cafe, Seven Eleven, Subway, The Devine Touch, Vesta Bakery and the Warm Shelter.

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