Patriarch

There was nothing actually radical about most of us living at the Folkie Palace. Left-Wing, sure. While most of us were self-described as Anarchists, many argued that the description had more to do with our lifestyle than with actual political intent. Most of us disliked intensely the abuses of both the far right and the far left. But as one wag stated, sometimes even simple acts have political consequences. 

It took ages to get our landlord to fix anything. So to cover a cracked front window, a handy placard was taped in place one fall evening. It read – Fuck Communism.” The placard had been convenient, made of sturdy cardboard, and fit the window neatly. It wasn’t a political statement anyone thought about much, but it caused repercussions that were at least in part political.

One night soon afterward, we were all sleeping off our Friday evening excess; a member of a primitive communist group living across the street shot a hole in the window and the sign. The following morning we merely plugged the hole with a cotton T-shirt being more concerned with our hangovers than with the violent act.

It wasn’t till midweek that we sat down to think about how we should respond. We did what we were reluctant to do and called the cops. Our relationship with the police was mostly limited to noise complaints when they told us to knock off the party. We had on occasion been swept for drugs they never found. But the local constabulary was amazed when we approached them. Their investigation turned up nothing.

We had to take things into our own hands.

We were who we were so; the investigation began at the bar at the corner of Grove and Cambridge – the Harvard Gardens. In a night of intense study (drinking), we found out that the responsible party was Rafael “Rafe” McNichols. The Patriarch of The Root; a primitive communist collective. Rafe was planning on purchasing property in Maine or Vermont for the collective to live on permanently. In the meantime, a cramped apartment served as headquarters. Rafe, it turned out, was a product of a well-to-do family from Boston’s western suburbs. He could be seen on the streets of Beacon Hill parading like a great patriarch with a beard and a coterie of young “wives” – in the words of a later Mel Brooks film – “It’s good to be king!” 

A reasoned discussion with Rafe proved to be non-productive, so the Palace moved on to psychological warfare. My friend Bill was responsible for all the scatological, heretical, and blasphemous art decorating our quarters. He began producing satirical placards for our windows featuring Rafe in compromising poses with telling quips. One of these was Rafe’s caricature with money bulging from his pockets departing his family home – the caption read – “Rafe running dog Capitalist Fink!” Bill felt inspired, and new ones followed daily. We pasted smaller copies on the door to their building and placed them in the mailboxes. Juvenile? Sure, but within a week, Rafe was outside our building screaming for our blood. Within a few minutes, windows and doors opened along the street to allow all to witness a showdown.

Folkie Palace fielded all our members for the confrontation, as did the members of The Root. Screaming and yelling, chest-pounding, and dramatic postures were the order of the day. A primatologist would describe it as two monkey troupes meeting on the jungle trail, each trying to dominate the other through bravado. Someone from the Palace picked up a stick and a trashcan. Instead of using them to smash the opposition, he beat out a rhythm; a group grabbed the placards and began to dance about the street. Someone started a conga line. The Root retreated, yelling that it wasn’t over, but it was. By the time the police arrived, all the windows and doors were closed, trash cans neatly in rows and placards placed in them. The Root had lost the monkey troop battle of Grove Street, and folks now sniggered when Rafe went out to parade. No shots fired, no fists swung, just good old-fashioned childish shenanigans. Sometimes the best way to win a fight is to embarrass the hell out of the opposition while having a good time.