They call New York the naked city, but on Times Square, there's only room for one naked man.
For 13 years, that man has been Robert Burck, the Naked Cowboy. Out there in all weather, wearing nothing but a Stetson, white cowboy boots and tiny, tight white underpants, he's a tourist staple almost on a par with Times Square's jumbo screens and the glittering New Year's ball.
But Mr. Burck is the lone ranger no more. Naked Indian has come to town. Dressed in a faux feather headdress, tasselled suede boots, and underpants every bit as tight as those of his rival, the Naked Indian describes himself as the new naked king of Times Square.
"There's more vitality, energy in me," the Naked Indian, who would not give his real name, but is reportedly called Adam David, told AFP. "The cowboy, his legs look weary. He's in a very vulnerable position right now. He's a hurting man."
The two nearly naked men are an uncomfortable few yards apart as they vie for attention from tourists. It's a battle in which either man could lose his shirt, if he were wearing one.
Mr. Burck insists he's not worried. The imitation is "flattering," he said. But Mr. Burck used a legal threat to force his rival to remove the logo "Naked Indian" from his underpants, saying this infringed on his trademarked "Naked Cowboy," written by hand across his own Fruit of the Loom tighty whities.
Strumming a guitar along the traffic-and-tourist-clogged thoroughfare, the Naked Cowboy is approached every few minutes by grinning, mostly female fans. He poses with them for two pictures -- front side and back -- and invites tourists to place hands on his bulging chest. One portly British woman grimaces when he urges her to put a hand on his backside. Then her grimace becomes a smile.
The Naked Cowboy says he earns up to $1,000 a day, the bills going right into his guitar. The veteran street performer, who says he is 41, believes the Naked Indian, who only showed up last month, will not last. "I have a thousand little tricks that he doesn't," he said, breaking into a country-style song about "feeling edgy, because I've just had a wedgie," and then flexing his biceps at a group of giggling women.
Naked Cowboy has built something of an empire over the years, including a line of T-shirts, cowboy boots and underpants. Somewhat bizarrely, he's also the face of a Long Island oyster company, whose logo appears on his guitar. Mr. Burck even invites would-be Naked Cowboys and Cowgirls to join him in a franchise. He says the Naked Indian would be welcome too. But the Indian, who combines muscle flexing with some ragged drumming and pseudo Indian chants, has a darker tale.
"He was planning on tricking me, using me, then taking me to court and basically making me his slave," he said. "The cowboy cares about the cowboy. The cowboy is a narcissist." The Indian says he currently earns between $200 and $500 a day and that "a little marketing" will double that.
As for his boots-and-spurs-wearing cowboy competitor, he'll fade away, the Indian says. "He's had his glory days."
The duo's naked ambition leaves hard-bitten locals nonplussed. "There's so much going on in New York," Leslie Richmond, 46, said as he walked to his nearby office. "This is really for the tourists, not New Yorkers." Indeed, tourists are astonished.
"You don't get this in France, not at all. I'm not even sure it's allowed," a blushing Samia Coeugniet, 57, said after she and her daughter Julie had snapped pictures alongside the Naked Indian. "In France, people are egotistical, introverted. Here, people are incredibly open, friendly."
Times Square is not always friendly. Even the huge Disney store cannot scare off all the oddballs, like the man seen wandering about with a cardboard box over his head, inscribed: "I am sexy and you know it." The Naked Indian said he faces insults, threats and drunken ravings. "This is like working in an insane asylum," he said, and, as if on cue, a man leaning from a passing car screamed: "He's a phony!"
But then, gesturing with his bare arm up at Times Square's blaze of electronic billboards, the Naked Indian turned poetic. "It's considered the centre of the universe by many," he said softly. "Look how magnificent this place is. There's a million and one lights here.