A Moving Experience

<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">She challenged me to list all the addresses and cities I had lived in during the 1960s. I had to labor over it. I came up with over thirty in the six years since leaving my parents home. I did not count serial inhabitance – I moved in and out of the same properties countless times. The Folkie Palace on Boston's Beacon Hill most frequently, but it received only one notice on the list. Sometimes I was running from or to something or someone. Usually, I was seeking a change.She challenged me to list all the addresses and cities I had lived in during the 1960s. I had to labor over it. I came up with over thirty in the six years since leaving my parents home. I did not count serial inhabitance – I moved in and out of the same properties countless times. The Folkie Palace on Boston’s Beacon Hill most frequently, but it received only one notice on the list. Sometimes I was running from or to something or someone. Usually, I was seeking a change.

I was embarrassed. The friend who had challenged me to create the list was aghast. She had spent her entire life within fifty miles of the city in Maine, where she had grown up. She asked me what I remembered most of them. Not much, I confessed. The memories were of the journeys between locations. Of “moving to and fro in the earth and up and down in it.”

“So now you identify with the Devil?” she quipped. “No, not exactly. It’s just a good response to people when they ask you where you’ve been traveling.”

“The real moving experience isn’t where you wind up. It’s how you get there.”

This is not Narnia

<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">We don't think about it much anymore, but the "urban renewals" of the late fifties and sixties swept aside entire communities. When Boston decided to undo Scully Square and the West End, the adult entertainment industry migrated to Washington Street in a run-down section of Downtown Boston. The people, the West Enders, scattered. Clumps moved across the Lechmere Causeway into East Cambridge, and some migrated to Boston's North End. We don’t think about it much anymore, but the “urban renewals” of the late fifties and sixties swept aside entire communities. When Boston decided to undo Scully Square and the West End, the adult entertainment industry migrated to Washington Street in a run-down section of Downtown Boston. The people, the West Enders, scattered. Clumps moved across the Lechmere Causeway into East Cambridge, and some migrated to Boston’s North End. 

But lots migrated up to Beacon Hill. On Beacon Hill, they added to the complex variety of life that included one of Boston’s oldest Jewish Temples, an African Methodist Episcopalian church, and the State House. Health care workers, Folkies, near do wells, and people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds all congregated in a neighborhood that couldn’t have been much bigger than a square mile in size. And on the Hill’s front side, facing the Boston Commons, were some of the City’s wealthiest blueblooded residents with illustrious names dating back to the City’s earlier times. The people of the backside and those of the front mixed as well as oil and water.

So far as I could see, Pinckney Street was the dividing line. Head closer to the Common, and you were in elite territory. Head downhill towards the hospital, and you were in the working-class part the Hill, apartment houses, single room boarding houses.

There was little switching back and forth. The income difference was steep. Perhaps the social distinctions were steeper. My friends and I would periodically cross over to the elite side to look at Mount Vernon’s mansions or the neat row houses on Louisberg Square. 

The house I rented in on Pinckney Street had a closet connecting two studios. I had never paid much attention to the back of the closet until one day; a seven-year-old barged into my space. He looked disappointed. Instead of Narnia, he had wound up in the studio/ residence of Beacon Hill’s finest woodcarver ( nobody on the Hill knew it yet). He spent that afternoon watching me carve until his mother, Sarah, came through the closet door and apologized. Sarah was divorcing her husband and was now deep into single mom poverty. She had moved from the front of the Hill to the dividing line on Pinckney Street. Sarah and her seven-year-old son were waiting and hoping for a divorce settlement. Until then, she fell into the same lot as most us, too much owed, not enough coming in. 

Over the next couple of months, my friends and I taught Sarah how to shop in the Haymarket from the pushcarts at closing time. We showed her where to find fresh bread in the North End and the intricacies of cooking a hotplate meal. The most challenging part of this resocialization was teaching her a new social etiquette with people she would never have socialized with before her divorce. 

In the Harvard Gardens on Halloween, you didn’t stare at the men in drag. You didn’t drink alone – always in a group. You weren’t bashful and shy about a direct sexual advance – you made it very clear that you weren’t interested, physically, if needed. There were lots more. Through it, Sarah proved adaptable to all her abusive husband and fortune threw at her. She always wore a single strand of pearls when we all went out socially, which gave her the nickname Pearl.

In the spring, her divorce was final, and she received a settlement. It wasn’t much but enough to allow her to move off the Hill and into a decent Cambridge apartment. She found secretarial work at a Boston law firm and rarely guested at the Folkie Palace. Eventually, she quietly slipped away from us.

Over time we all slipped away. The Hill changed, and most of us moved on. One day I was in line at the Harvard COOP Bookstore. In front of me was a woman wearing a single strand of pearls; her scent was Tea Rose. I automatically thought back to Sarah, who had also worn that scent. Perhaps I breathed in too deeply or sighed too loudly, but the young man standing beside her looked in my direction and stared at me. He quietly commented to the woman something that I missed. She turned to face me. I was afraid that I was coming across as some pervert who went around sniffing random women. Then she smiled. “Wes?” Yes, I was startled. By this time, no one called me Wes anymore, and it took me by surprise. “Sarah?”

We caught up over coffee at the Blue Parrot Coffeehouse. Sean, her son, was starting at Harvard that fall. I was teaching at a college north of Boston while making up my mind to finish my Ph.D., or not. Sarah had completed a law degree and was living in New Jersey. Our final meeting was as much a matter of chance as our first had been.

Sean looked over at us. ” do you remember that first day I wandered into your studio thinking I was going to find Narnia?” Sarh laughed, ” A rather strange sort of Narnia. Shopping at closing time for food that might otherwise be discarded by the pushcart owners. The wall to wall mattresses at the Folkie Palace. The strange Halloween Trick or Treating on Beacon Hill where there were more Tricks than Treats!”

Thinking about that time of our lives, I replied: ” in a lot of ways, it was much more like Through The Looking Glass.” 

Sarah looked at me again and said: “Hell, it was a heck of a lot more fun than Narnia!”

Confrontation

Winter on Beacon Hill was one long slip & slide down the slushy streets. Landlords didn’t seem to care if tenants fell flat on their back coming out of their apartments, and most tenants felt that if it were the landlord’s duty to keep the sidewalk clear, they’d be damned if they’d do it. So everyone slipped and slid.
One morning feeling particularly civic-minded, my friend Billie got me out of my warm sleeping bag to go downstairs and shovel the walk in front of the Folkie Palace. While doing it, we attracted several guilty looks as windows opened, heads popped out, and people scrutinized the strange sights and scraping noises of a sidewalk being cleaned.
In a few minutes, we attracted a few more assistants, and after clearing our sidewalk, we moved along to the building just downhill from us. That building was an infamous location where you’d almost certainly risk plunging into the street from a slip.
From across the street came a snowball hitting Bill square in the back of the head. In no time, a snowball fight erupted between the two sides of Grove St. Our side had excess workforce, and we rapidly deployed that excess in constructing defensive ramparts. Cries went out across the street of “No Fair!” They doubled down and called forth reinforcements from inside. Bill decided to sally forth from our defensive position behind parked cars and high snow berms. The offensive got beaten back by the concerted efforts of a battalion of mothers and their children. Our skirmishers returned to our side of the street. They were refreshed by the Folkie Palace Auxiliary’s hot cocoa.
By this time, the combatants easily numbered thirty to a team. Through traffic had slowed to a crawl as valiant groups of sappers, skirmishers, and heavy infantry used the traffic to veil thrusts into enemy territory. Not a single garbage can on the street had a lid as we snatched them up to use as shields.
It was inevitable that someone would call the Fuzz. And somewhere into the half-hour mark, we heard the approaching siren of a police car making its way through the congested streets of Beacon Hill. Bill called a hurried truce with our valiant opponents. All action ceased as everyone stood around peacefully. Eventually, the squad car pulled up, a window opened, and out came Officer Cappuchi’s head. “What the hell’s going on here?!”
From across the street came the cry of ” get the Fuzz!” Both sides erupted into a fusillade of snow as the squad car got pelted with dozens of snowballs.
As rapidly as it had started, the entire street emptied of combatants. Officer Cappuchi knocked the snow off his cap, looked directly at the windows of the Folkie Palace, and hollered out – ” and don’t do it again, you worthless bunch of hippies!” As the squad car moved down the street, Bill opened the window and hollered back, ” and that’s Folkies to you, Officer!”

Stay Just a Little Bit Longer

It was a very in-between time. I was mostly on my own, spending time in the Village, but still traveling uptown to my friends in the Bronx and Riverside. I was still very much in love with Danielle, Danny, but she had her sights firmly set on Harvard while mine was set on, well I don’t know what. I was between visions of the world and would be for several more years. In the meantime, I was experiencing a life my academically inclined friends would never comprehend. In college, they would read “On the Road” by Kerouac. I would live on the road and tell you where Jack cut out the good parts. But that was still in my future.

Tonight I was on my way to my last date with Danny. We both agreed that it was time to end it. Reluctantly on my part, firm and resolute on hers. Harvard was only part of it. Her parents dreaded the though to me as a possible son in law. Danny, could not see a future in which I behaved like a responsible adult. And I couldn’t see a future in which I acted like the responsible adult they expected. So the end.

As a group, we were going to a dance. Looking back to that time, it’s interesting to see all my friends emerging from adolescence into adulthood. Clint had a job at Xerox. Michelle was continuing her study of dance, and Danny was looking forward to the fall semester at Harvard. Young adults in the offing.

I have few memories of the dance itself. Things resolved into focus when the band began to play the song “Stay.” That song made whole my feelings about the night, the relationship, and my hopes for a future I was cut off from. One part of me wanted to drag time backward to have again what we all had had together, but of course, I couldn’t.

None of us could “stay.” We were all little eighteen-year-old rocketships bound to see the universe.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWRtyAgt-u4

Blather

Lefkowitz moved from something similar to a Bach fugue to an interlude that morphed into a 12 bar blues. Mitch provided some impromptu lyrics, and Sue did some neat things with her soprano voice. I had a bad cold and sore throat, so I just sipped my extra-large tea with honey. After Lefkowitz finished up, Mitch picked out one of his tunes for us. Sue followed up with one of her favorite Scottish ballads. 

It was a quiet Monday night in the Village. Monday and Tuesday tended to be slow, and on Wednesday, things picked up heading into the weekend. Monday was a good time to experiment with friends. Several other groups at the Rienzi were doing likewise. Over in a corner, a clutch of poets was critiquing a colleague’s latest work, and near the door a pair of sketch artists were drawing the scene in the Cafe Rienzi’s music room.

A clearing of the throat announced a stranger at our table. He snubbed the men at the table while shuffling in a chair between Lefkowitz and Sue. Portly, bearded, and looking like a down at the heels professor of lit, he began to take issue with Sue’s diction and accent on her version of “The Bonnie Earl of Moray.” He was in full blather about how the McEwan version was the one she should emulate. Sue sat there smiling slightly, apparently not knowing if this was the intro to a come-on or just another deranged Village tourist who couldn’t find his tour bus and was now stuck in the inmates’ asylum. On he went, and when we all assumed he must come to a pause, on he continued.

Mitch picked up a discarded New York Times and began finishing the prior reader’s crossword puzzle. Lefkowitz started to miming “yada, yada, yada, yada,” while pretending to be before a class delivering a lecture.

Mitch looked up at me and loudly asked, ” Wes, what’s a 12 letter word for an idiot who endlessly natters on about uninteresting topics?” This one I knew. When he isn’t playing coffeehouses, Mitch is a grad student in sociolinguistics. Mitch is my primary source for obscure words that might sound insulting, and this was his word of the day for me on Friday. I pretended to think deeply about this while everyone at the table watched. “Why, that would have to be Blatherskite!” I croaked.

Mitch looked pleased with me, but looked over to our unwanted companion and said, ” It is derived from the 17th century Scots Bleatherskate, but of course, sir being all-knowing on things Scots, you knew that.”

Sue began laughing, Lefkowitz picked up his harmonica and began playing the Bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Loman as a blues. I choked, and Mitch slapped me hard on the back. Our unwanted guest had the wits to take his chair to the corner and bother the poets.

Bright, Hot Lights

The guitarist spent time warming up while I prepared my video and audio recording equipment. Finally, a chord rang out. ” Your high E is just a bit sharp,” I said, not thinking for a moment that I had not performed for about fifty years. She grinned and checked that string; ‘just a bit sharp,” she agreed.
We were recording in the old Meeting House. They designed the buildings as centers for religion and to be the center of Town government – in those days, in much of New England, religion and Town government were the same. Being that a significant part of the Town population might squeeze in, they designed for good acoustics: no microphones, no amplifiers, and no speakers in those days. These days it’s used mostly for weddings and performances.
Acoustics aside, air currents, hot lights, and temperature differences create problems. The lower end of your guitar lives in one temperature zone, and the tuning heads at the top of the neck live in another. The lower tension, more heavily wound bass E, A, and D strings seem less affected. The treble strings are under more strain and are thinner – they seem to be the source of most issues.
For a while, I am back in the music room of Rienzi’s Coffehouse in the Village. The wound G string rather than breaking on my classical guitar always let’s go gradually as its outer wrapping unwinds. I am hurriedly placing a new string and stretching it out as carefully as I can – new strings have lots of excess stretch, and will go out of tune at the worst possible moment; in the middle of a song. The B and high E both need replacement, but that will have to wait until I buy new strings. Being that I am pretty busy at the coffeehouses this spring, that means almost every week.
When I get to my gig at the Dragon’s Den, I can almost feel the treble strings go out of tune as I step into the hot lights that shine down on the performer’s little stage. Our “green room” for preparation is a barely heated cubby with a draft. You know that any tuning you do here is a waste of time in February.
I am back in 2020, the guitarist and I discuss how capo’s change tuning and how you have to retune after placing it and after taking it off. Capo’s are little adjustable bars that fit over your guitar’s neck. They help change the key while staying in a fingering style you prefer. but there is a cost to everything. Your tuning ican be affected. Even more so if the neck of the guitar is not absolutely straight.
It is pleasant to just for a moment, step back, and realize that some things have not yielded to either technology or years.

Corticimancy

This strange little box was the box that foretold great things.

My friend Bill asked me to make it for an “experiment” he wanted to perform. He gave me some general instructions, and I whipped it up with the few available tools. It was supposed to look crude, but it is crude. My skills were nothing to brag about in 1968. He filled the box with scraps of birch bark on which he had scraped a series of symbols. I knew right away that he would get involved in another one of the hair-brained physic bunkos he had picked up from our sometimes con artist friend John.
But no, Bill insisted that he had thought of this one himself. He called it Corticimancy – telling the future from pieces of bark.
You always want to test something like this in a friendly environment. So Bill decided to try it on a Friday night, at our friends Bob and Chris’. John had prepped Bill on the sort of techniques stage mentalists used to inform the “fish” of things you should not know about them. Bill would spice it up by lighting pieces of the birch bark on fire after they asked for some future prediction. Of course, he’d make up the answer.

Everything went well initially. We had moved outside to the roof for the bark burning part of the Corticimancy. Bill asked for the future prediction question. Our friend Abby asked, “What’s going to happen at the Democratic National Convention?” Bill smiled, lit a match, and applied it to a long curling strip of bark. The bark flared up brightly, and Bill promptly dropped it onto a pile of someone’s newspapers, We now had an actual fire on the roof. The answer to the question was forgotten as we worked to put out the fire. After this, we lost track of the fortune-telling and went downstairs for beers.
Two days later, the 1968 Democratic Convention opened, and the streets of Chicago erupted.
We never heard another word about corticimancy.

Dirty Money?

Money has done a perfectly 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, a hundred of it in silver dollars and American gold pieces. We were at a private gaming night outside Baltimore. The sack of coin was a pleasant weight to throw into my pack as my friend Bill 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 money stuffed in Bill’s pockets to have hired a limo to take us back home, and we were travelling 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 all the bills Bill had on him. 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 contents of the backpack onto the floor, we were both almost overcome by the odor. But sitting there at the bottom of the bag was the sack of coin. We promptly dumped it onto the floor and counted it out. Just then, my girlfriend came in from work, ” What the f— is that odor?” “Gold and silver,” replied Bill. ” Well, you better wash it off. that money 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 said “Pecunia non olet” money does not stink!

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

The Author Steps Out

Over the past months, I returned to the 1960s and ’70s for some good and not so great memories. I’ve always tried to keep within limits of what could have happened when I took a frolicking detour from what occurred. I cleaned things up. We were very profane. Trust me; stranger things happened than I wrote. Most of my peers of the Folkie Palace days have permanently departed, but out of regard for the few remaining, I have had to hold lots in reserve. All the individuals existed, and the nicknames used were theirs. They were a flashy lot that lived to party and create trouble. The backside of Beacon Hill was the place to do it too. Landmarks may still exist, but they gentrified the character out of the entire neighborhood. As one of my friends put it, “elites don’t join communities, they rip the guts out of them.”
Many not so beautiful things happened on Grove Street that would make this blog X rated if I included them. I decided that they were not needed, and wandered no farther than some R rated occurrences. As I’m writing this, some of those memories are kicking to be set free…get back in the cage, damn you! If my friends were alive to review the stories, they’d be getting the red pens out to include the salacious details.

We did use the Mass General Hospital ER as our roll down the hill medical facility. God bless the compassionate ones who saw us through STD’s broken knuckles, overdoses, colds, and suicide attempts. I feel the pain of the folks in billing who kept sending bills to the fictional addresses we always gave. Things were not so tightly screwed on then.

The Adventures in Coastal Living stories are based on actual events, but like the Folkie, stories events are the departure point. The Cap’n was portrayed pretty much as he was. He’d stand there, look at you, stuff his pipe full, light it, and slowly puff it alight, then poke the stem at you and tell you how it would be. He was an impressive figure who I roundly detested and admired. My first wife was a talented writer, and later in life, a loving mother and wife to someone else. It’s a shame that she died so young. We were not suited for each other.

If you haven’t read it elsewhere on my blog I can tell you now that I don’t like fairy tales. None of my stories start out with once upon a time, and they’re not the they lived happily ever after type either. I write sea stories. Sea stories start out with -” now listen this is no shit. I heard it from my buddy who was aboard the USS whozzix when it happened.” In other words a bit of a tall tale.

One final note: Psyche, well where ever you are loved, and I miss you.


Lou – who was Wes.

Reviewed: a day in the life

First things:

It’s seven, get up before Jerry and his dad, quick shower and outta here. Poppy bagel at Reuben’s? Plain cream cheese or schmear? Oh, I need that coffee bad. Jeez just went to bed at four-thirty. I’ll get a nap between jobs this afternoon.

At Reuben’s: 

Damn, that coffee’s hot. ” Hey Joey, could you make sure next time that you really toast that bagel?” Can’t get good help. Snicker. Who am I to talk? Damn, she’s hot…” hey watch it buddy, hot coffee here!” where’d she go? No place to sit now.

On the IRT subway:

Look at that dude in the corner, man, what’s he on? The guy next to him, like he’s going to Maiden Lane. Some stock market place. Ow! There goes the corner dude falling asleep on Mr. Stock Market’s shoulder. Must be some potent shit! Too early to visit the Magical Kingdom.

This car stinks. Hey, some cool new graffiti. My stop next.

Mid-Town:

I wouldn’t say I like these crowds.

Three deliveries later: “let’s see pick up at Harmon, Marx, and Tobias, drop off at LevinFabrics.”

“Hi Mister Levine, sure I’d love some tea. How’s the family? Arthur’s decided on CCNY. That’s great. Those guys from Columbia would be a bad influence on him. How do I know? I see them drinking every night in the Village.”

Five deliveries later. In the back of the dispatch office- a two-hour power nap, followed by the last two deliveries of the day.

Five pm:

Pick up my ax (guitar) at Josie’s, head down to the Why Not. Check with Jerry or Toppa about tonight’s sets.

Might as well go to get a bit to eat. Got a buck, eating cheap tonight.

Six pm the Village

Settle in at the music room at Cafe Rienzi’s. So quiet, I can hear my guitar while I tune. I really need to put some cash aside for new strings. Ah, here’s Sue. “What’s up, Hon? Where are your sets? I’ll come and fill up the crowd. No, I haven’t seen Lefkowitz yet. I’m hoping we can play together later.”

Eight pm till ten – sets at Cafe Why Not, Dragon’s Den and back to the Why Not

The first set of the night

“Oh no, he’s back. Shit, Jerry, you booted him out last night, why’d you let him back in tonight?” ( in the background) – “I’m sober, want ta hear me recite the preamble to the Constitution? How about the Tridentine Mass?” Jerry- ” Look, Mister Terry, you have to quiet down, or I’ll call the cops like I did last night.”

” Welcome to the Cafe Why Not. I’m Wes, and I’d like you to tune out Mr. Martini over there – bad day at the office, huh, Bud?, and I’ll sing a couple of songs for you. The first one is Wild About My Lovin’.”

” Well now, listen here people

I’m about to sing a song

 goin to Saint Louis

And I won’t be long

Cause I’m wild about my lovin

I like to have my fun

If you want to be a gal of mine baby

bring it with you when you come

Well now, Jack of Diamonds told

the Queen of Spades

Come on honey stop your foolin ways

Cause I’m wild about my lovin

I like to have my fun

If you want to be a girl of mine

You got to bring it with you

When you come”

Ten pm – Minetta Tavern

“Guinness Toby. Oh, that’s good. I bet they don’t put up with drunk jerks at Gerdes or the Gaslight. The idiot tried reciting the preamble to the Constitution, and when he couldn’t get past the first line, he settled on the Our Father. Strangest prayer I’ve heard for a while. I never suspected that God’s name was hollowed, the way he pronounced Kingdom come made it sound a lot more like King Kong’s cum. The tips in my basket were good, though. I think they liked how I handled him.

Ten twenty until eleven twenty pm final set performed at the Dragon’s Den

Same old Same old made some money.

Eleven thirty pm – Rienzi’s 

Louie Lefkowitz, Sue, Mitch O’Brien, and me howling like it’s a full moon. Singing songs. Ah, Listening to Louie play the blues harp. He’s one of a kind. I’ll play Roll in my sweet babies’ arms next. Sue’s hot tonight. We’ll head over to Tomkins Park afterward, head of to Sixth Avenue, and get some food. Got enough for new strings, maybe a new capo.

Three am – Christopher Street

“Hey Tom! You up? want ta let me in? Shit. I’ll sleep right here.”

Six thirty am-

“Wes? What the…why are you sleeping here. I left the door open for you.” Me – ” can I use the shower, I have to get ready for work.”

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