Vivid flashbacks are something to avoid. However, I found over the last decade that a few movies and television shows tend to trigger some incredibly real flash temporal relocations; I feel like I’m in the process of being transported. One of these was an early episode of the Incredible Mrs. Maisel. Unfortunately, it was set in a New York City which was entirely too recognizable to me.
While watching, my mind filled in the blanks and recreated the streetscape from long-lost memories. Finally, I had to get up and leave the room before being ripped from the current time and dropped somewhere near Greenwich Village, where I might run into a younger version of myself.

Just thinking of this is giving me an anxiety attack.

Around the same time, a movie about a cat and a folksinger on the run came out. Parts of it are set in the Village. I started having evil Deja Vue watching it. It was popular, and I saw clips all over the internet. Friends, knowing my history, asked if I would see it. I just shuddered and said no.

It wasn’t that the times and scenes were so awful, but they were traumatic. As a result, I have no desire to “enjoy” the urges, fears, and joys of a teenage me. Part of the fear was knowing what was in store. The future held the Vietnam War, the drug overdoses of friends, bad relationships, and much joy.
Being an aficionado of Science Fiction, I couldn’t guess if I’d be able to change things or just tag along for the ride. Either situation scares me.

Time is the distance I’ve put between me and past events. So I think that in parts of my mind, I see those things as still going on; just I’m no longer there to take part.
Time is thin scar tissue that allows me to move on, but as Cormac McCarthy said: “Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.”

By Thumb

You’re going on a cross-country trip. Airplane, train, bus, car, or bike?

From the Road-Trippers Guide, Vol2, no3, 1965- Thumbing It!

So you’ve made the big decision to see the opposite coast. Congratulations. Now comes the big choice. How? Air travel is expensive, and we’ve heard bad things about baggage handlers destroying guitars. This is a major bummer if you plan on making some bread while playing in coffeehouses, busking in bars, or on the streets.
Conversely, travel by train is not what it used to be as little as ten years ago. As a result, railroads are cutting back on passenger service to less well-traveled locations and sleeping in a coach car with old smelly upholstery stinks. So we advise it only in emergencies.
The bus remains a perennial favorite, with Trailways and Grayhound providing excellent service across the continent. Watch out, though, for connections that turn out to be locals. While picturesque, a tour of small-town America can get old over several days. Also, remember that while traveling on the bus, you are always at the mercy of the bus company for where and when you eat or go to the bathroom (if the onboard facilities are not working).
You guessed it. We won’t even suggest a transcontinental trip using your fat-tired Schwinn or three-speed Raleigh. Leave the bike at home for the kiddies. Someday they’ll have better bikes for this, but for now, let’s be serious; unless you want to take a year to cross the opposite coast, the bicycle is not a prime choice.
We are left, of course, with the easy preference of the professional road tripper, fraternal brother of the road, Pius itinerant, and kings of the road – the thumb. By thumb, you’ll discover that local diners are among the best places to eat, sunsets are more intense, and a bottle of cola at a service station more quenching of thirst. In short, you’ll get up close and personal with America. You look out at the scenery in all the other methods and wonder what’s happening. By thumb, you experience it all up close. You’ll meet people and exchange experiences.

1.) leave the stash at home. Toking up at night by the campfire is not worth a trip to the poke with officer Opie.
2.) Keep a sufficient supply of cash on hand to pay for bus rides out of unfriendly towns. Memorize this phrase: “Hi, officer! Just waiting for my bus. What a lovely town you have! I wish I could stay, but Mom expects me in LA by the fifth.”
3.) when asked about your political leanings, say that you don’t have any, but you’ll be glad to listen to theirs while driving to the next town. Nod and say Uhuhuh to make it seem like you are listening rather than counting the telephone poles.
4.) always remember to pack a towel.

Have a great adventure!

It’s Not You…

Unless you have been fortunate in love, you have probably heard some variation of the following phases at some point:

  1. “It’s not you; it’s me.”
  2. “It’s complicated.”
  3. ” Please be patient with me.”
  4. ” Can we just be friends?”

Not being a lothario, nor even deeply into lasciviousness, you might wonder how a clean-cut young folkie like myself wound up hearing these and many more with such frequency that I could reel them off by the handful. Surprisingly it was because I wasn’t as I presented. 

On the outside, there I was, scruffy mid-length hair, blue jeans, with Galouise French cigarettes cuffed in the rolled sleeve of the T-shirt. I lived out of a backpack, always had a guitar, and sang a long list of blues and salacious ditties. 

According to self-reportage, I was infamous in ten states or provinces, was from New York’s Greenwich Village, and perhaps tomorrow would decamp for the West Coast; grab some while you can, ladies! I am always available.

I attracted those looking for a bad boy, a rebel, and a challenge. There was only one problem, underneath the Folkie threads, music, and all that travel was someone looking for a nice staid domestic relationship.

The kiss of death was that after a bit, the young ladies found that many parents liked me once they knew me. All I needed was a good job and to settle down.

Ahhh, the double kiss of death!

And so I got a lot of:

  1. “It’s not you; it’s me.”
  2. “It’s complicated.”
  3. ” Please be patient with me.”
  4. ” Can we just be friends?”
  5. You’re not who I thought you were.”
  6. “We need to talk.”
  7. “Can we just start over?”

Dirty Money

A Flashback Friday Presentation

Money has done an excellent job of standing off a ways from me without encouragement. I do remember the night ,though, that I won a thousand dollars in poker, much of it in silver dollars and American gold pieces. We were at a private gaming night outside Baltimore. The sack of coins was a pleasant weight to throw into my pack as my friend, and I made a getaway from the private party where we had won the money.

Being creatures of habit ( most of it bad), we began hitching home. I can only plead idiocy. There we were with enough bills in our pockets to have hired a limo to take us back home, and we were traveling on the highway with our thumbs out. Our luck did not hold. After entering the city proper, we found ourselves walking through sections we neither knew nor wanted to be found in. After about an hour, trouble found us in the form of a gang. We were rapidly stripped of what was in our pockets. They had no interest in the pack. The one boy who investigated it almost gagged on the combined odor of dirty clothes and some Garlic Venison sausage (hefty on the garlic). Laughing loudly at the two stupid jerks they had robbed, we were told to run and run fast. We did. We ran most of the way to Monument Square and the little apartment I had above the Buttery Restaurant.

Dumping the backpack’s contents onto the floor, we were both almost overcome by the odor. But sitting there at the bottom of the bag was the sack of coins. We promptly dumped the money onto the floor and counted it out. Just then, my girlfriend came in from work, ” What the f— is that odor?” “Gold and silver,” I replied. ” Well, you better wash it off. That money is dirty and stinks.”

Knowing that my girlfriend was studying Roman history and knew Latin, I decided to be a wag and replied, ” that’s not true – gold has no odor…or as Suetonius says, “Pecunia non olet” money does not stink!

We washed the money. I got to sleep on the couch. And over the next several weeks had some great parties.


I had a friend in Greenwich Village who employed an effective method for handling hecklers. He was a linguistics student at one of the city’s universities and had happened upon a formula that generated plausible but meaningless, four-letter words that followed the rules for such terms in Anglo-Saxon – you may have noticed that many of our juicier curse words derive from Anglo-Saxon?
So some drunk would start at two AM about something, and Todd would start a machine gun recitation of fake curse words and graphic gestures. The drunk, unable to make a discrimination between the real and the fake, would grow incensed as the audience began to howl with laughter.

This little stunt was so valuable that it became a regular part of his nightly performance, with me or some other friend filling in for a drunk. When he started appearing on a local radio folk music show, he wasn’t allowed to do the routine for fear that complaints of profanity would take the show off the air. As Todd began to perform at better-quality venues, they refused to allow the routine even though the words were a total fabrication.

At the time, we decided it proved how uptight and puritanical our society was about body issues, sex, and curses. But we were all sobered when in 1966, comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested for saying nine words deemed offensive.

Here we are in 2023, and I wonder what the reaction would be to Todd’s routine. The words, many with apparent sexual and excretory implications, even though fake, might continue to prove that smut is in the eye of the beholder rather than in words themselves.

Please note that I kept this entire diatribe clean! No twilight messing about in the gloaming for me!


My most memorable gift stands right behind me as I write. In 1962 My parents gifted me with my Harmony guitar. Over the years, I’ve owned Martin’s, Gibson’s, resonator guitars, banjos, and various other music-making equipment. None has had the endurance of my Harmony, Charlie – the worried man’s companion, the name came from a Kingston Trio song.
Charlie was coddled on road trips when it rained or got cold- clothing and waterproofs were wrapped around it by preference to human warmth or dryness.
It was the cause of more than one nasty fight with people trying to steal it. Steal from me, and you might wind up hurt. Used strategically, it felled drunks in bar fights, which is part of why I avoided performing in stews. Several women have accused me of loving the Harmony more than then – if they couldn’t take the heat in the kitchen, they should have gotten out.

Life for the Harmony probably started as a less expensive copy of a Martin guitar. But the makers overdid it, and the tones accurately imitate a Martin. So it sits in my office today, ready to be picked up and tuned. After all these years, it is enjoying a partial retirement. But every once in a while, the strings seem to chord by themselves. It’s like it’s saying, “hey, remember that road trip down from Montreal in ’69? Damn, it was cold!”

around four Am

Four AM is the best time to catch me playing guitar these days. And I just remembered that it was around four AM that my “day” used to end when I was performing as a folksinger.

So, since August, I’ll have these waking periods while it’s still dark. Then, unable to get back to sleep, I’ll slip into my office, pick up my old guitar and start practicing.

I used to distinguish between practice, which I did daily for two or so hours, and rehearsal, which I did to prepare for a gig. When I lived in Boston, I liked to practice in the kitchen but rehearse on the apartment building’s roof. The two things are similar but different. Practice was playing the guitar. Rehearsal was that, but it was also planning how each set of a gig should be structured because warming up was a lot different than a more mellow set when many in the audience had heard the first set and were interested in what you had. The final set was for winding down, relaxing, and sending home. There were variables you planned for if the house you were playing had a lot of inter-set churn, was rowdy or drunk.

Then there was the patter, the amusing, sometimes dubious stories and anecdotes you told while tuning or just for fun between songs. One of the old goofy ones was the ancient ( among folksingers, anyway) monolog about there being three ways to remove peanut butter from the roof of your mouth. This one was golden if the house was in a goofy mood that evening. Don’t try it in a bar room.

When I traveled, practice and rehearsal happened wherever I was staying. I often stayed with married friends, so “Uncle Wes” was a source of merriment. Dave Van Ronks’ children’s song “Oh Mister Noah” was a hit with many, but I rarely performed it in a set unless there happened to be kids in the audience. Kids in the audience made my life hard because I had a lot of “adult” material in my repertoire.

So here I am, coming on like some Folkie guru of folk music. But that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ with it.

Saint Louie Tickle

Being a bit brazen paid off in the Village. Performers cultivated idiosyncrasies to distinguish themselves . But there were many Dylan, Peter Paul, and Mary, or Joan Baez wannabees. . Walking down Bleeker or McDougal at any given time there were blue Chambray shirts and jeans for the Dylanesque and black turtlenecks and jeans for those more closely allied with the Beats in the neighborhood. The straight ironed-out hair of young women making the scene as Joannie added some visual appeal to Ithe landscape.

I was more of a hardship case. Mr. Dylan was not a role model for me. 

I had casually met and now emulated Dave Van Ronk. Van Ronk, later called the “Mayor of McDougal Street,” was an outsized presence in the Village. His raspy voice is a trademark, and his guitar virtuosity was well known among everyone. Faking Dylan was easy. Emulating Van Ronk, let’s say my friends thought I had a chrome-plated pair even to be at attempting it. I think Van Ronk thought it amusing.

There I was, seventeen and very skinny without the growling chesty voice that was a Van Ronk specialty and rather totally inadequate on the guitar. But the bold in your face put on gathered attention. I was not a clone of the typical stars of our constellation. I had chosen to emulate a real nonpareil.

Then one night, I met “Mother Hibbard.” He was a not-very-successful poet of the Beat Generation in Greenwich Village. We started sharing tables in the back “music room” of Cafe Rienzi. He would work on his poetry, and I’d work on my guitar. One night we were both frustrated by a lack of progress. Looking over at me, he said, “You’re never going to be Dave Van Ronk, and I’m never going to be Ginsburg. But we can take them as inspiration to become better us’s. So if you promise to stop making a mess of Saint Louie Tickle, I’ll promise to stop trying to write Howl.”

Now I realize that this might seem pretty obvious. Of course, we can’t be what we emulate. But it’s familiar enough for people to strive to be what they can’t ever be and never wind up becoming who they indeed are. 

We did not succeed at this right away. But slowly, we drifted away from our models and became ourselves. 

Once in a while, around midnight, I pick up the guitar, stumble across a few bars of Saint Louie Tickle, and then move into a piece I wrote years ago that I genuinely like.

The Great Turkey Piñata

Over the years, I’ve seen some funny stuff done to Thanksgiving turkeys. Big birds with extra legs “grafted” on, toy aliens breaking through the breasts of the turkey, and birds with potent marijuana rubs. Delivered to the table for carving, these holiday turkeys distract from anything that might have been done to side dishes.

All these thanksgiving turkeys were spectacular, yes, but safe. I recall one Thanksgiving in the sixties when the turkey was weird and almost lethal.

To start with it has to be remarked that holidays were not big at the Folkie Palace. Most habitues went home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, so there was usually only a cadre on hand who couldn’t afford the trip, were unwelcome at home, or had other pressing reasons to stay on Beacon Hill. The principal winter holiday was New Year, and the less said about that, the better. Not that many of our recollections of those blowouts were very clear.

However, it looked like we’d have a pretty full house in one year. I was unwelcome at home after a fight with both parents. One of my friends had moved back in due to marital problems, and most of the other regulars similarly had reasons that they’d be around. This encouraged our erstwhile chef and sometimes spiritual leader, the Monk, to plan a great blowout of a feast. Wishing to involve as many of the residents of our little end of Grove Street as possible, he thought big. Yes, there’d be an incredible dinner, but with a crew of our “experts in spectacle,” the plan was to make an impressive thanksgiving display.

The idea developed was a gigantic turkey piñata filled with candy for the neighbors, their kids, and passersby. For days we mulched newspaper, smeared and mixed white glue, and molded the birdie. It filled the living room, and eventually, the project had to be completed on the roof because it was too large to fit through the window – our original plan.

After a while, our experts conferred and concurred that the bird could not be broken apart to release the candy by normal means. In making it so large, we had structurally reinforced the construction. It would take a bazooka to blow this birdie to bits. This was where our pyrotechnics experts got involved and the beginnings of all our woes with the project. The Folkie Palace was ransacked for every firecracker, cherry bomb, or other fireworks available. We placed charges strategically, ensuring that the birdie would blow when lit.

We stuffed the paper mache bird full of candy on Thanksgiving morning and prepared to lower it into the street below at sunset. Then, completing this task and believing we had covered all our bets, we went downstairs for the feast.

The Monk had gone for traditional for the feast, no extra legs, aliens, strange sauces, or tricky devices. So there would be plenty of leftovers for days to come. The dinner was anti-climatic, considering that all the while we were eating, we imagined the fun that turkey piñata would be.

As soon as we finished, we hurried to the roof and checked our preparations. The Canary acted as the official timer and started a ceremonial countdown to sunset. At that precise moment, we lowered the giant piñata towards the street, and the crowd waiting below to beat at it with baseball bats.
It was, of course, the battleship of piñatas and barely yielded to the assault. So we decided to ignite the charges. The following events are disputed among the witnesses, but the consensus is that fire and smoke first came out of the turkey’s mouth. Next, the wings appeared to flap, and a giant puff of exhaust was emitted from the tail. Finally, the bird seemed poised to fly off but exploded into a shower of paper mache and candy. The crowd had begun to panic at the smoke and flames but thoroughly enjoyed the barrage of candy. Our giant exploding Thanksgiving piñata was a great success.

Someone ratted on us. Later that evening, Officer Cappucci knocked on the door. While he had no proof, he strongly suspected we were behind the great piñata explosion. It was suggested, firmly, that the City Department of Sanitation find Grove Street in a state of extreme cleanliness on Monday morning, or unavoidable repercussions for littering, shooting off fireworks, creating a public nuisance, etcetera, etcetera would be lodged. And that’s how we spent the weekend following Thanksgiving, sweeping, mopping, and cleaning our block of the street. When the police cruiser swept by Monday morning, Grove Street gleamed.


“if you don’t want to do time, don’t do the crime.” This was the advice given to street punks in New York City when I was growing up. I often heard this take on the law from Freebie, a local hustler, sometimes dealer, and loudmouthed critic of everyone else’s behavior. Freebie was called this in the Village because he always sought a free meal, coffee, place to stay, or “touch.”

Now the streets of the Village teamed with people whose intent was to make it big somehow. There were “no talents” who thought a good enough hustle would take them someplace. There were also the wannabees, who believed imitating someone else would allow them to ride the coattails to success. Of course, there could only be so many Joan Baez or Bob Dylan clones, but they seemed not to notice.

But to get back to Freebie, he had his favorite bits of advice, which he’d soulfully share while looking you square in the face. He’d get this intent and piercing look while reciting something like, “if you don’t want to do time, don’t do the crime.” Freebie, it should be mentioned, did enough time for minor offenses in the Tombs, New York City’s infamous jail, that he should have followed his own advice.

On Sunday’s Freebie could be found on stakeout in Washington Square, participating in the free-for-all music, poetry, and political rant that was the Washington Square experience in the early sixties. He’d wander the crowd looking for young people with that lost look in their eyes, offer to take them under his wing, and show them the “real” Village.

I think I fell into a different category than the wannabes or the no-talents. I eventually settled on second-rate talent performing in third-rate dives. After a few months in the Village, I had adopted the same world-wise point of view as all the other habitues of the folk music clubs and coffeehouses. We were all seventeen or so but thought we had seen it all. But at our inception into this life, we had all had our doings with Freebie or someone like him. Freebie gave us our first real tour of Bleeker Street, explained the differences between West and East Village, and introduced us around. We “outgrew” the Freebies and wanted little to do with them after we had become hip. But there was a relationship.

If we wanted a quick drug connection, we would go to Freebie. If you needed to know about local law enforcement, you went to Freebie. It wasn’t like someone like Freebie was a favorite or favored individual. It was just that Freebie was so indisputably useful.

People like Freebie came and went, just like many of the rest of us. We’d sweep into the neighborhood one fall and hitchhike out one spring a year or two later bound for Boston, the Haight, Denver, or Yorktown. For Freebie, it was the luck and bad luck of being a known conduit of information and goods. Sooner or later, something or someone will catch up with you.

In the spring of ’65, I headed for Boston. A year later, I revisited my old digs, and the word at the Rienzi was that Freebie had been caught with his fingers too deep in a drug deal. He was now doing a stint upstate in New York State’s exclusive prison for the incorrigible Sing Sing.

That Sunday, I went to Washinton Square Park to watch the performers, political ranters, and the crowd. Working the mob were Freebie wannabees, ” Hey! You from Uptown? Never been to the Village before? Wow, what a great time you can have. Hey, can I offer a bit of advice?”

Some things never get old, and some roles will always need to be filled. Erase one person filling the role, and another appears.

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