The Great Race

We did not hop trains; it was much too dangerous. The railroads took the concept of private property to extreme levels, and the cars themselves were unsafe. Bill’s choice of travel techniques might have seemed a sort of road bum purity of method, but it was all carefully planned. It was the weekend of the Great Race. Four teams of hitchhikers set out from the Harvard Gardens’ barroom at the foot of Boston’s Beacon Hill at precisely midnight. The first team to enter the taproom of Cicero’s bar in Baltimore won. We were the defending champs two years running. 

The shun path along the tracks was our secret sauce for winning. Back in the “War Room” at the Harvard Gardens, the planning team had carefully laid out a string path between pins on gas company road maps, measured distances with calipers, and calculated mileage. The team consumed much beer planning the route. The “brain trust” said that this was the route that would get us from one not-so-good hitching spot to a perfect one. A ten-mile slog, for a hundred-mile gain. Everyone was sworn to secrecy regarding the victory plan. sitting around the barroom before the race, we’d toast – “Here’s to the secret sauce!”

On race day, we stopped at the cafe near the tracks for breakfast. We were reviewing our route and having breakfast when we noticed a uniformed gentleman overlooking our packs and my guitar. “You guys hitching through?” We smiled and replied, ” Just passing through, officer, we’ll be out of town ASAP.” He smiled at us and casually mentioned, “that’s right you will, but don’t let me catch you puttin’ a thumb out in my town.”

Having cleared the air, he sat down on the next stool and reviewed the map with us. ” The last place you want to be is on those tracks; it’s an electrified line, and those trains whip right through there. Whoever planned this route was either smokin’ funny weed, drunk, or both.” We thought back to all the beer stains on the map at the local bar during planning sessions. “No,” he said, “after you clear my town, your best bet is to jog down county 128 for two miles to here.” His substantial thumb indicated the exact spot we were headed. Unfortunately, we’d now have to walk out of town and hope that officer Blake did not feel mean enough to report us to the next town’s police. After this, he got up and left us to our breakfast.

After eating, we walked out of the cafe and began walking, officer Blake’s patrol car slowly pacing us. After a mile or so, he flashed his lights, and we walked back to the car. “Hop in the back.” Figuring we were busted, we silently put our stuff in the car and got in. Pretty soon, we were out of town in the countryside. About ten minutes later, he pulled over and told us to get out. We waited while he finished talking on the radio. Then he looked at us and said: ” This is where I turn around. That right ahead is County 128. By the way, two of your teams have already gotten stopped a few Townships over. They were hitching on the Interstate, not too bright.”

We thanked officer Blake for his kindness. He offered us a business card and said. “Now, when you get to Baltimore, call this number and tell the dispatcher the time you arrived. A bunch of us have a pool going on if and when you guys make it there this year.”

We made it. Back at the Harvard Gardens, the brain trust toasted their excellent route planning capabilities. We silently sipped our beers, except to announce that now that we were Aces, we would retire and allow others the honor of winning. We made no mention of the actual secret sauce that secured our victory.

Sacrilegious Roulette

In the sixties, I hung out with an interesting cast of characters. We sang folksongs, played guitar, held forth loudly on topics about which we knew little, and held in contempt those who we knew were not as cool as we.
We amused ourselves with simple, sometimes stupid games. One of the games we enjoyed playing was called sacrilegious roulette. It was best played by candlelight after all higher thought processes had gotten shut down by beer.
The rules were simple: we sat around in a circle and blasphemed. The first struck by lighting won. Many of my friends were Boston College dropouts, and had a Jesuitical knowledge of what was deemed blasphemous. one of my friends had even lost his “vocation” as a Jesuit. It was the former Jebbie who came up with the most astounding blasphemy. But, we remained unsmitten.

One day while driving to Newport, Rhode Island, for the Folk Festival. We were playing a particularly vicious round of sacrilegious roulette when we suddenly blew a front tire and swerved off the road into a rock outcropping. The car was a wreck, but the five of us were not hurt.

We all agreed that we had played our final round of sacrilegious roulette. Fortunately, we had come out with a draw.

False Prophets

“The Monte, cards tricks, the wallet scam – all those are quick ways to make a bit of fast money. But the spirit world and religion, now those are the real way to wealth.” “But,” chimed in my friend Bill ” people are getting caught all the time doing that.” We stopped to open fresh bottles of beer. Our con artist friend John is visiting us. And we are, as usual, dubious of his grand claims. When we see him, we always seem to buy the beer.
“People get caught because they fool around with the organist, get too greedy with the collection tray, or make too many false prophesies.” Then he doubled down on his perpetual theme that the true con artiste “enrolled” the fish into the con. The fish became so invested that even if they were a bit suspicious, their level of involvement discouraged them from whistle-blowing. “So,” he asked, “can I stay on the couch for a few days?” I looked at him and asked: “Sure, but what happened?”
“I was sure that Marcia, that’s the organist, was cool with the whole deal. It just goes to show you can’t trust anyone anymore.”


I’ve known many people who need to come clean about the ’60s and ’70s. Come on, folks, your kids and grandkids won’t flip out when they find out that you wore a pair of love beads, gave the peace sign, or dropped a tab. Well, OK, if they are very conservative, you may have to go to counseling sessions. But in general, they’re likely to look at you with a new sense of discovery. After all, the most exciting thing they’ve done is attend college.

Let me pull on your chain a bit. If you actually want OUTRÉ, you need to back a bit further to the Beats, Folkies, the folk rediscovery folks like the Weavers in the Village, and people like Woody Guthrie. Go back a bit further, and you find Harlem roots, Jazz clubs, and the Lost Generation. Even further back and you see the Ur outer limits of the tribe – the Bohemians. Uh, you didn’t think that we just invented this stuff in the late forties, did you? So that’s the begats – just like Genesis but for Hippies.

So remember, a Hippie has an impressive cultural lineage. It’s not a shameful thing. Get out your love beads, snap your fingers and come back to the mothership! Don’t consult the oracle. Do something Other!

Stealin’, Stealin’

I was obsessed with themes in my earlier life, well I guess I am still. The principal feature of some was the brevity of their influence. Weeks, or months. But others provide enduring backgrounds to life. I can slip into different mindsets because they are mine, having experienced them.

I’ve noticed some people lock away their experiences. A friend who made it big in finance prefers not to be reminded of an old lifestyle in the 1970s. Another was a budding artist, but she likes to conceal the past in her current career as a corporate climber. One, staunchly Conservative, prefers not to associate with me at all; afraid that I’ll out him for his left-wing past? So it goes.

The trouble may be that it’s not all sweetness and light in our pasts. We have dark nooks and crannies, and embracing the past can be a challenge. Years ago, when I was deep into my life as an upcoming practicing anthropologist, an old friend showed up on my doorstep. He and his girlfriend were directly out of my Folkie past – complete to the gigantic straw “Mad Hatter” top hat he was wearing. For several hours while they visited, I had a sort of existential double vision. My wife discovered who Wes was (me in my on the road days); my two-year-old son found enchantment with the huge top hat, and I began a long process of reintegrating my old persona.

Here’s some advice. Embrace it, make yourself complete by rolling the old you’s into one. And if you haven’t had the time yet to mess up, you have a lot to look toward. As Wes the Folkie would put it:

Stealin’, stealin’, pretty momma don’t you tell on me

I’m stealin’ back to my same old used to be.”

The Movement

Joey was attempting to recruit Bill and me to “the Movement.” Friends had indicated with the twirling finger by the temple that Joey was nuts. In that decade known for the outre, Joey was a further outlier. His movement sought world peace by population reduction. His claim was that an excess demand for limited goods caused all conflict. So the way to world peace was to reduce the population below demand. His path to do this was through abstinence, sterilization, and the use of drugs that reduced the urge for ” depraved communal interdigital coitus.” Joey was vague on this last item’s definition but claimed that it alone accounted for the First Romano – Sabian war.

My friend Bill asked Joey how he intended to convince people like him who enjoyed depraved communal interdigital coitus to excess to forgo the practice. Unfazed, Joey responded, “chanting Hymns derived from the ancient Mesopotamian practices of the goddess Inanna.”

But Bill pointed out Inanna was the Goddess of procreation and love. Bill then sat down for several hours and gently pointed out the more glaring doctrinal movement errors. He illustrated these by quoting from the Book of Jeptha, Macrobious’ Saturnalia, and authoritative-apocalyptic works. Bill then attacked the doctrine of Limited Goods, suggesting a corrupt translation from the original Glagolitic for Limited Good. Thus he demonstrated the cause of the First Romano-Sabian War was a dispute over who was good enough to steal the Sabian brides, not that the Romans had a shortage of brides. With this, Bill and I walked off, leaving Joey with his mouth wide open in dismay. Q.E.D. as the Romans were wont to say.

Joey had spent several weeks annoying many people in the Baltimore area with his movement‘s precepts. But nobody had seen Joey since that evening. It seemed that Bill’s meaningless babel had driven him away.

While enjoying some free Iron City beer one night, a tapping came at the door. Our friend Bob opened the door only to be swept aside by an ecstatic Joey and a troupe of movement adherents. Kneeling by Bill’s bare and hairy toes, they proclaimed his sanctity. 

Extolling the Truth of his mission as the new prophet of the movement, they clustered around him, begging for revelation. Bill, a well-bred and gentile atheist, had no idea how to react. Our friends Bob and Chris reacted firmly and booted them out of the house. I grabbed our backpacks and ushered Bill out to the back alley.

Somewhere on our way to Boston that evening, Bill began to muse how Jonah had been a reluctant prophet also. Perhaps he was called to prophesy? I reminded him of his love for depraved communal interdigital coitus and how unsuited for celibacy he was.

“Perhaps you’re right, Wes, but oooh! I feel the power of prophesy welling up!” I responded: ” You sure it isn’t that bag of spicy beef jerky you got at the truck stop?”

The Rev

One night I borrowed his custom-made Guild guitar for a gig. Of course, I forgot to ask. The next day he discovered the greasy smear on the finish and lectured me on exactly how custom it was: ” all the glue and braces are carefully weighed before they get fitted.” My response “Why” just made him madder when he couldn’t think of why this was important. Then there was the night he brought home a girlfriend, and Billie walked off with her and the Valentine’s Day chocolate he had bought her. We were not ideal roommates, and I am at a total loss about what was on his mind when he allowed us to continue living with him.
Eventually, we came “home” after an extended frolicking detour to a friend’s house somewhere in Ohio to find our belongings piled on the landing outside the apartment door. We moved in with another friend. Our friends Bob and Chris lectured us on our inconsiderate behavior, and we felt enough remorse that we attempted to visit him to apologize. He refused to open the door.

That was where it lay for many years. Billie died. Other friends in Baltimore died, Bob died, and eventually, Chris died too. Reading the final obit, I found that my old roommate was the reverend who gave the eulogy. I was amazed. And I decided to reach out.
Reaching out takes doing when trying to reach someone that does not want to be contacted. I decided to leave a message: “Hi Ed. It’s Lou, but you probably remember me as Wes. I heard that Chris died and that you did the eulogy for her. I’m sorry that I couldn’t have been there. By the way, I’m sorry for all the grief I caused you back when we lived in Chinatown. The things I pulled were idiotic and childish. I can’t speak for Billie, but I know I made your life miserable simply because it was easy for me to take care of myself first and anyone else last. I understand that I probably am one of the last people that you want to catch up with. I am sorry.”

I had almost forgotten about the message when one day I found a voicemail on my cellphone; it was from the Reverend Ed: “Wes, I forgave the both of you years ago. I understand the difference between the acts of a child and an irresponsible adult. Getting beyond the anger and resentment took a long time. But I learned an important lesson; I allowed the two of you to take advantage. I thank God that you understand the hurt you inflicted and that you’ve moved beyond those things. I hope you’ll realize there is forgiving and forgetting. I sincerely hope you have a good life.” and that was it. No, let’s talk, or any other invitation for dialog.

I thought about it for a while. At first, I was miffed that bygones were not going to be just bygones. Then I realized the Rev was right. It’s one thing to forgive and another to invite someone who has caused a lot of discomfort into your life again. The Rev’s faith called on him to forgive, and he had- he also graciously responded to me. He was under no obligation, years later, to invite me back into his life. Forgiveness is a process that frees us from the burden of pain. Forgetting negates that process. Not remembering lets nasty things happen to us. Repeatedly.
My thanks to the Reverend Ed for making me think about this.

Songs Your Mother Never Sang to You

I had moved to Portland to get away from Boston. In those days, the late 1960’s, Portland was a hike from Boston and was in an entirely different cultural world. Growing up in New York City and being traveled, I felt that my “urban sophistication” and guitar playing ways would shine there. That was when I met Mrs.P.
Portland came well equipped with a small church-run coffeehouse that I could habituate when not working. The Gate Coffeehouse became the center of my social life. After work in the afternoon, I’d go there for coffee. Again in the evenings, I’d be there.
I filled out a small group of folk singers from the area that also centered parts of their life on the Gate. Round Robin song sessions were the norm, and it felt as good as it gets.
One afternoon my friend Jim started singing a slightly salacious bit of doggerel. I began to respond with selections from my not insignificant repertoire of the semi-obscene. Up to this point, I had behaved in consideration of it being a church-sponsored coffeehouse; but once started my history as a ribald Folkie was exposed. About ten minutes into my singing about cheating, violent drunk men, improbable erotic acts, and loose women, Mrs. P walks over.
I figured I had done it now. I’d get expelled from paradise. Instead, she sat down and asked me, ” have you heard this one?” What followed was five minutes of what she informed me was bawdy British Music Hall tunes from her “Salad Days.” I was humbled and mumbled something along the lines of ” I never expected that from a church lady.” She winked at me and said, ” if you like mollynogging ( running around with fast women), you should remember what’s good for the gander is also good for the goose.” with that, she got up and swept away.
After that, when we were alone in the coffeehouse, I’d start with, ” have you heard this one?” and she’d respond in kind.

Being There

Lots of fictitious nonsense is written and portrayed on the screen about the 1960s. Everyone is familiar with the Woodstock numbers. Enough people report being there that the earth might have wobbled on its axis if they had been there. That’s not all; Dylan going electric, Altamont, the March on Washington, or Chicago in ’68.
Truthfully, enough was going on that anyone could have a full dance card if you were within a hundred miles.
Me? I was in Newport when the man went electric. We couldn’t afford tickets, so we were perched on the side of a hill outside the grounds listening; we couldn’t see squat, and listening was not great either. Being with a great group of friends from the Folkie Palace, we hooted and hollered and carried on terribly.
I was in Harlem and very close by when Malcolm X got assassinated. The group I was performing with had a gig at a church that night. We were hustled into hiding because two of us clearly were outsiders in the Harlem community, and the church members feared for our safety. I guess my point is that I was nearby, but not there.

Most of the jive you hear is about people being there. Bull. They were home, in their beds, living the inane life that 99 percent of the public always do.
In the 1960s, the one percent bore little relationship to the one percent of today’s political rage. The one percent were largely outcasts, Beats, Bohemians, and Folkies. I did not say Hippies; that was “a precocious affectation of disenchanted middle-class youth” to quote Mr. Lee. Mr. Lee was the proprietor of the New Era Bookstore in Baltimore. His bookstore was dedicated to socialism and communism in all its sundry manifestations. His clientele ranged wider afield than that. Yes, there were the Anarcho-Syndicalists, Trotsky fans, and all that jazz. Due to the eclectic nature of what he procured for his shop, it was where you went for classics, works on economics, current events, and small press publications. All this presided over by Mr. Lee, always genial, even to the National Socialists who came to picket the shop. By the way, on your way out, wave to the nice FBI agent keeping tabs on all of us. Coffee is welcome.

Being there, in the scene, was much better than being at some individual event. The scenes that I belonged to included those in the environs of Boston’s Beacon Hill and Cambridge – sort of a Folkie Grand Central. But also Baltimore and New York’s Greenwich Village. Of course, being a Pius Itinerant ( Brother of the Road), I traveled widely.

Many people in our society are stuck on Instagram moments. Here I am on the Great Wall, soaring over the Grand Canyon, getting a selfie. So much focus gets spent on the moment. Little interest or introspection gets expended on the process or experience of how we got there.
Be more than an Instagram moment. Be there.


John was a con man. He reveled in the description. He claimed that he did nothing illegal, and his goal was to educate consumers. There was, however, a tuition fee for that education.
He tried to teach his approach and techniques to my friend Bill and me. It amused him greatly to watch us flounder through one of his pitches. He had the best luck with Bill. He was interested in the occult and was actually interested in John’s mystic claptrap. Me? Well, I’d go through some drill he had on poise and use of speech, and John would howl with laughter. Seeing a skinny 19 year old Folkie trying a confidence scam must have been amusing.

John was not an ignorant grifter. He regarded his skills as a gift that he was obliged to master through hard work and determination. He was studious in his study of the English language and the mechanics of physical poise.
He maintained that what the eyes don’t see was an essential part of the con. John was a fan of “enrollment.” The fish, never the victim, became part of the scam and didn’t see the con coming because they were in it. John told us that this was the reason why so many scams went unreported to the police.
Recently, with all the political upset in Washington, I recalled John’s later career on Capitol Hill as a political consultant. It makes things a lot clearer to me.

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