One of the “Big Mysteries of Life” at the Folkie Palace was how we came up with the rent every month. We were a slothful lot and devout attendees at the local bar; hard work was against our constitution. So it was a true miracle that somehow, a check was waiting for the landlord when he came around.
Sometimes this involved taking short-term and unsavory jobs. For example, I did a month running a steam cleaner hosing out garbage cans at a local hospital. And a friend worked in a large institutional laundry. But the only genuinely regular income came from the Teahead of the August Moon’s job at a public relations firm. We ate well because one of our roommates, the Monk, was an urban forager, and his hunting ground was the Haymarket and the pushcarts that inhabited it. The Monk was a failed monastic. The vendors all thought he had taken vows of poverty, but he now sought enlightenment in lifestyles other than the monastery and was our general provisioner.
Our lifestyle was chaotic but straightforward. Most of us rose late in the morning, went out to the Tarry and Taste Donut shop on Charles Street, had coffee and donuts, and read the Boston Globe. Then, we’d idle over to the Boston Common and watch the working world go by. From there, I’d often head back towards Cambridge Street and visit the branch library. Then, around two pm, I’d head back to Grove Street to practice guitar for two hours. Finally, most of us wound up back at the Palace around six pm to eat, and then it was off to the Harvard Gardens to drink, talk about the day, and lay plans. Slothful, you say? Well, I did warn you at the outset that we were not 9-5 go-getters.
Sometime around the middle of the month, we’d awaken to the need to stop picking the flowers and make some cash. There were rules to this: no begging, no theft, no drug dealing, and indeed no dependence on girlfriends for the rent money. We had scruples. The morning read of the Globe took on a particular frenetic nature as we’d tear apart the Help Wanted pages, ask friends who was hiring, and in general, desperately sought funding for our otherwise lazy lifestyle.
We visited the laundromat to spruce up our working wardrobe, visited personnel hiring firms, and tried to look like the eager beavers that we weren’t.
We had to get creative about our address after a while. Even with a robust economy, we received many fewer calls for interviews. We had to start our business. Thus was born Top Job Janitorial – no job too filthy. And we certainly got filthy jobs, but we were paying the rent every month and only working about three hours a day.
We were strictly cash upfront. Our friend and roommate, the Canary, estimated the jobs, and we’d show up and remove the rubbish and sweep and mop. We got fifty percent upfront and the balance on completion. We split everything evenly but threw in a bit extra for the Canary for finding and estimating the jobs.
We might have kept up with this for years, but we were using the payphone at the Harvard Gardens as our business phone, and our waitresses tired of taking messages for us. Finally, we got told that we either quit or be expelled from the Gardens. Knowing that no other barroom in the area would put up with us, we reluctantly closed the business.
The following month we were busily back to seeking solutions to the mystery of how we would raise the needed money for the rent.
But the idea of Top Job Janitorial came back to me years later when I ran across this quote by Agatha Christie, “I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention. Invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness—to save oneself trouble.” Yup that strikes close to home for the minions of the Folkie Palace.