Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Good Man Is Hard To Find You Always Get The Other Kind-The Diary Of Ms. Josie Davis

A Good Man Is Hard To Find You Always Get The Other Kind-The Diary Of Ms. Josie Davis  


 

From The Pen Of Bart Webber 

There was always something, some damn thing to remind Josie Davis, Class of 1964, a fateful year in her life and not just because that was the year that she had graduated from Hunter College High School in the heart of Manhattan (yeah, the famous one for the intellectually-gifted girls from the city who showed more promise than to be someone’s wife, mother, cook, although that happened too, happened to many of the Josies back then including Jose herself on the wife now co-educational). She had recently (2014, and if you did the math you would know that represented the fiftieth anniversary of the her graduation from that esteemed institution) gone through something of a serious traumatic experience which left her numb every time something came up about that year, some remembrance. If you knew Josie, with her two divorces and several affairs although no children as her career, her life, and her world-view when young kept her away from that option although more recently with small pangs of regret as she has gotten older and, well, just gotten older and things like that, decisions made young keep popping up, you would know that it was about a man, always about a man, she eternally afflicted as old, no, make that mature, as she was.

Now that Josie was no longer running the day to day operations of the small social services consulting firm she had established back in the late 1970s in Cambridge in conjunction with her Sociology teaching job at Tufts University after she had finally wormed her way through to her doctorate at Boston University she had time think back about those man problems, the ones that caused her eternal grief in the end. So to keep things straight in her head as she tried to reassemble her past she would keep a little diary, no, not a diary so much as a series of notes when she decided to write everything down which she had always been most comfortable doing when anything bothered her. She had initially made a list in no particular order of her “men,” some of them anyway, and why they had slipped away (or why she pushed them away in some cases including that latest one, Bradley, which had acted as a catalyst for the whole exploration). When she looked over the list she noticed that she neglected to put her two husbands on the list which she chuckled to herself at. That seemed about right, seemed to be some kind of poetic justice as she decided to keep the list as she had created it in the moment and throw the husbands in her notes as their existences had some part in the story.   

Staring at that list of names though Josie Davis had to admit, had to finally admit, that she never had much luck with men, never had much luck at all as she sat there in her bedroom cleaning out the stuff he had left behind, that last he, the stuff that certainly would have tied him down as he fled the scene, literally fled the scene with no good-byes and no sorrows either. But that he will get his moment of glory later and need not detain us right here. Right her being the hard thought that it was not as though Josie had started out life with man trouble, certainly in high school and a little in big amorphous college at Wisconsin she had had her pick of good guys, guys who brought gifts, guys who didn’t mind picking up the check although that trend was going out of fashion back in the 1960s even before women were expected, as part of their liberation, to pick up on occasion previously male-responsible dinner bills. Guys who made her laugh, guys who provided her with dope for a good time, guys who knew more than her in the sex department and were willing to teach her a thing or two. One Josie Davis, a quick learner that way, caught on fast, worked her way through a good segment of the Karma Sutra and enjoyed most of what she experienced except maybe that S&M stuff that she got a little too frisky with at one time or another. With those thoughts in mind she started writing her little notes on her iPad in the third person which she was also more comfortable with although she had spent years in therapy working through her own identity crises. Here is what she ahd to say:

Sounds Of The City 

 

Josie was afraid of New York City, had been made mother-afraid as she was growing up. You know the usual mother talk “don’t talk to, much less take candy from, strangers, (and maybe not from known parties either)” “don’t go into darkened areas at night, in fact don’t go out at night,” “avoid the subways at all costs and always have taxi money available in your well-guarded pocketbook.” So she was smart afraid and silly afraid and it was not always clear which one prevailed. In addition to that Josie had always been afraid, been made Josie-afraid of the tall buildings in Manhattan which dwarfed her 5’ 3” height, had made her afraid even of looking down to the pavement in the Stuyvesant Town building where she and her family lived in an eighth floor apartment. Afraid to go along with the rest of the afraid-ness of the usual eternal car honk noises of the bustling city that never slept, afraid to cross the zooming streets and afraid to take that early morning subway trip to Hunter College High School and would as often as not take a cab if her mother had given her enough money for the fare. That an iffy thing since her mother, a teacher in the city school system, would often have left before Josie had a chance to ask for taxi fare but was always provided on request. 

 

So Josie as soon as she finished high school fled, there is no other way to put the matter, to bucolic (bucolic by New York City standards anyway) Madison, Wisconsin to attend the well-regarded university there (along with many other New York City and Long Island college age ex-patriates who has the same hectic feelings about the pace and scale of life in the big city). After college she had moved to Boston, another lesser scale city, to pursue her advanced degree programs (eventually Master’s and Doctor’s degrees so we could properly call her Doctor Josie but she did not stand on such ceremony except at professional conferences where to be called familiarly rather than doctor among the brethren who attended was a well-known social and academic snub so just Josie here) and decided after that to stake her career prospects on that city.                 

 

And so she remained in Boston but would every once in a while have a hankering to go back to New York, to get the feel of the pulse of the city, to see what was happening (that hankering very distinct from the necessity of going home to family for certain holidays, Jewish high holy days, Thanksgiving and the like obligatory since as a dependent student and budding professional she depended on their “monetary subsidies” as she called them to keep her head above water financially). That feeling would come back to her especially when something would remind her of Washington Square, Washington Square in the early 1960s when she learned to hold her fears in abeyance for the time she spent there. This time, the time we are talking about, the tripping point had been her reading Henry James’ novel Washington Square which while it spoke of a much earlier time in the 19th century and centered on the ill-fated romance of a proper New York woman and a cad, made her think of the first time she had gone to the Square and taken in the life there.

 

Josie had had as much teenage angst and alienation as any member of her generation which had been feeling squeezed in by the cautious, “keep your head down” life of the post-World War II Cold War night. Until she was about sixteen she handled those hurts by internalizing them, by working like a dog at her studies and keeping indoors and safe most of the time which satisfied her mother’s dictates as well as her own predilections. But sixteen is a funny age, a funny age in teen world and in teen sexual desire world and Josie was not immune to those thoughts. Thoughts egged on by the talk in the girls’ lav at school and by her best friend the precocious Frida Hoffman. Frida had her tales of sexual exploration and of getting around town that filled Josie’s ear with a certain wonder. Some of those tales were not true. Like the one, the reputation one, about not letting boys “go all the way” with her which Manny, Frida’s first boyfriend told her was a lie had told Josie that Frida  had practically “raped” him one night after they had  had some wine from his father’s liquor cabinet when his parents were out. And Manny had no reason to lie since he had been the one, after Frida moved on to be a Washington Square denizen attached to another Washington Square hangout guy, who “broke” Josie in to the delights of sex when she was sixteen and had been very interested in becoming a “woman” like a lot of the other girls in Monday morning lav talk land although some of the them, the Jewish-American Princesses (JAPs) lied as baldly as Frida about their escapades.

 

Josie at least had had sense to be quiet about her “broken in” non-virginal status to avoid being hit on by every guy in Washington Square.  Getting back to Frida who really was something else if her tales were not complete lies then some of Frida’s tales were only half true. Like Frida making a big deal in Monday morning girls’ lav before school talk about refusing to give a boy [not Manny] a blow job because it was nasty which she maintained she still had refused to do even after a guy on a date told her to chew gum to kill the taste. The truth had been that after that “tip” Frida had begun to like to “play the flute” as she called it when alone with Josie but still steadfastly held to her horror of the act in the lav talkfest. Josie had, at one point just to see what it was like, tried “playing the flute” with a guy at Madison who had said he had sexual dysfunction and could only get hard that way but she thought the whole thing really was nasty, too nasty, gum or no gum and would only do it years later when a guy had a condom on to prevent any jimson getting in her mouth.  

Josie was especially enthralled beyond the sexual exploits by Frida’s talk of the doings in Washington Square, the folk scene that was just budding, or rather breaking out of the confines of some clubs in Greenwich Village.  So one Saturday afternoon, Josie did not want to venture out at night even after Frida told her that the place was lit up like daylight at night, Frida and Josie took a cab from Josie’s apartment building to the Square. After being let off Frida noticed a crowd around a guy singing with a guitar and told Josie they should head over there since that was where the action was for the moment. As they reached the edge of the crowd they, Josie, heard the guy (who later she found out was Guy Vander, one of the lesser lights of the New York folk revival) singing this mournful tune, The Cukoo Bird, followed by another one, East Virginia, and as they settled in she told Frida that while she had heard something about folk music she thought it was all Yiddish stuff from the old country back in Russia before both sets of grandparents had migrated at the turn of the 19th century that her parents’ were trying like hell to get away from. This music she liked.      

 

What got to Josie was the simple message of the music, the simple melodies that evoked an early time and while the themes could range from the gruesome murder in Tom Dooley to forlorn love in Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies to the foolery of the Banana Boat Song she had the feeling that the music spoke to her. She, along with Frida and a few other girls from school who were recruited by Frida, were along the cutting edge of the folk revival minute of the 1960s when the old stuff on the rock radio stations was not enough to satisfy that craving for roots, for something different.

 

Oh yeah it didn’t hurt that a guy, a guy in a short beard and beret, shod in sandals, Morris Stein, a sophomore at nearby New York University,  came up to her and asked if she was a folksinger, if she planned to sing that afternoon. Whatever the value of that line in the history of male introduction lines, and it was not bad if you think about it, it got him two, no, three things. Got him to spout forth for the entire afternoon about the this and that of the New York folk scene, more than she ever needed to know about some guy in Kentucky named Hobart Smith who played the fiddler; got him to escort Frida and Josie back to Josie’s home; and, got him a real live date for the next Saturday night, if you can believe this, to go to hear this guy Dave Von Ronk playing at the Gaslight in the Village. And they did although Morris in the fog of the folk world blizzard left her shortly after those few dates for a real woman folksinger from New Jersey he had met on another Saturday afternoon at Washington Square. And before long she had met another guy too who at least didn’t give her two thousand facts about Hobart Smith like Morry did. And whose “toes she liked to curl”, an expression she had picked up from some old-time blues song and liked to use when she asked a guy if their love-making had been good.         

 

On Wisconsin

 

Josie had to laugh, an ironic laugh to be sure, about the days when she had met her beau, Jeff Patterson, freshman year at Wisconsin. Of course coming from the big city she had to get used to the smaller scale of things on campus and the more sanitary slower life-style but after a few weeks she adjusted, an adjustment made easier by her roommate from Chicago, Susan Phillips who was totally unlike girls like sex-crazed Frida and the JAPs from Hunter College High who were catty and devastating to those who were not JAPs. Susan was the daughter of a kosher meat butcher, a working class Jewish girl a type of Jew except for Uncle Rudy, her father Nathan’s older brother who was a bricklayer, that she was not familiar with.

 

Susan was smart but also less pretentious in her manner than any girl at Hunter, including Frida, who were using that institution as a resume builder to catch some rich Jewish husbands from Long Island, something like that. Susan was different as well in that she did not eat, drink, breath her Jewishness unlike Josie and her brown-eyed world crowd but had a boyfriend, a blue-eyed blonde boyfriend, Jason Robbs, from Racine who was into folk music, illegally drinking at the constant frat parties, and involved in a campus project against nuclear proliferation and whose friends were too. Normal Midwestern kids.

 

Susan had met Jason at the Rathskeller, the hang-out for all Freshman since officially they could not go into the bars that dotted the Quad, where he was tuning up his guitar to go out into the Quad and sing for a crowd that would gather anytime a singer who could actually sing, some couldn’t, would strum a tune, something from the protest songs that were becoming a staple of the folk milieu. Susan had asked him what he would sing and among the songs on his playlist he listed Pete Seeger’s Where Have All The Flowers Gone which she had only heard once on the campus radio folk hour on a Sunday night but which she liked. Jason said he would dedicate the song to her and that gesture, a few more like it, a few coffeehouse dates, cheap college dates to be explained more fully as the things move along, a few tussles under the sheets, Susan doing the tussling sometimes since she was a bit more experienced than Jason if you can believe that, eventually led to that boyfriend status.

 

So Susan certainly was a pleasant roommate to have around but here is where the laugh part of what Josie was thinking about came into view. It was through Susan, or rather through Jason that Josie met Jeff Patterson, Jason’s roommate from a small town outside of Milwaukee who was even more political than Jason since he organized stuff on campus through Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and was building a reputation as a radical in the Quad. He was a blue-eyed brown-haired guy, slender and could talk a mile a minute which fascinated her. More importantly Jeff seemed to pay special attention to her and while he was a campus big shot politico he had rather shyly asked her for a date.

 

Here is the funny part their first date almost didn’t happen, or rather lead to a second date. Of course in those days rich or poor the guy, especially on the first date was supposed to ante up the dough for the date (although that tradition was thinning out in spots even then before the big women’s liberation push since young women had more discretionary spending money that earlier generations but then it played out as “Dutch treat” more than the woman paying the whole bill). Jeff though was a dirt poor kid, a working class kid at Madison on scholarship and financial aid and so had to borrow a couple of bucks from Jason to go on the date. Otherwise he would have had to cancel because no way was he going to ask Josie to either go Dutch treat or pay his way. Jesus no way he would never live it down. 

 

So date night came and he picked Josie up at her dorm (they had originally intended to double-date with Susan and Jason but Josie said she would rather not since she wanted to talk to him about what was happening in the world, campus, him, well everything okay) and headed the Boar’s Head one of the cheap coffeehouses that had sprung up around campus once the great folk revival moment hit the Midwest, hit it hard. The beauty of the Boar was that you could sit there and listen to what they called the “open mic” performers, amateurs who wanted their folk minute in the sun without you having to throw anything in the basket unlike with performers who were putting on show or set and who were trying to make a living at it. So you could listen all evening as long as you had a coffee in front of you.

 

Easy enough to do and Jeff had dough from Jason for a shared brownie as well as the coffees so he thought he had survived the twenty-ninth financial crisis of his young life. But see Josie didn’t know about the lingering single coffee in front idea and drank her cup in about ten minutes and then toward intermission mentioned that she was kind of tired and could use another cup of coffee if he didn’t mind. Rudy immediately got a pained expression on his face, and expression that Josie could read as a “no dough” situation like when she was in high school and Arthur Goldman had taken her to a place, the Café Dubois, in the Village and he had the same expression on his face. But get this Josie really was intrigued by Jeff, wanted to see him again and so she quickly said that maybe she better not have another cup since it might keep her up all night having more coffee that late. Jeff brightened at this, and brightened even further when she told him that on their next date she would pay so he could use his money for his various political projects. Treat her paying like a donation to the cause. Nice touch, and you know that sealed the deal for a next date, no question, and a round of laughter when Josie explained what she knew of his pained expression when she had asked for another coffee, when they finally hit the sheets together in her dorm room a few weeks later (and yes she knew that she was not supposed to have male guests in her room unchaperoned but, but remember that cool gal from Chicago Susan who covered for her, lied to tell the truth, when the floor dorm monitor got all crazy about the matter).                                  

After You’re Gone-An Interlude

Thoughts of bright blue-eyed blonde and sexy Jeff though got Josie all melancholy, got her distracted about all the relationship disasters that happened after she graduated from Madison in 1968. That start-up with Jeff seemed so simple a way to show a man she understood things, understood things were changing, understood that not everybody, not every man had the same breaks she had received from doting if uncomprehending parents (and received aid for a long time after most men who were expected to pay their way while she was working on her equally eternal doctorate). It seemed that once she left Madison, left  the bucolic campus life where the hardest task seemed to stay focused on graduating with a high enough GPA to get into that increasingly necessary set of advanced degree programs to avoid some clerical job in some rustic Department of Social Services or worse, the humiliation of waitressing with its sloppy drunks and leering looks the male hunters in the eternal male-female dance that ruled her life (ruled it since that first time she had sex in high school with Manny and liked it, liked it enough to have periodic erotic dreams where she got herself into some strange sexual situations when study, work or some project took her too long away from mankind but that was something that she was working out, eternally working out with her own psychologist) always turned out to be less than they looked like, a lot less when it came right down to it.

She knew she had never been a great beauty although guys who wanted to get next to her would flower her with such praise, knew though that what one guy, Max, sweet old Max from Sociology 201 class, she wondered where he was now all these years later having dropped out of school to go “find himself” after sophomore year and had not been heard from since, someone said Mexico the last anybody heard of his doings, called her “fetching,” meaning that her brand of prettiness, smarts and pleasing personality meant that she would not have to spent too many lonely nights by some midnight telephone. And whatever else she never had to sit by that dreaded midnight phone that even someone as popular as Frida, or better Dora Denny who was a social butterfly at Hunter had to deal with on occasion.

What she had going for her whether that fetching business was anything but bluster or the latest line of male “come on” which Max usually picked up very quickly was nice straight long dark brown hair which in those days, slave to fashion that she was, slave to folkie fashion after the “queen” of female folk singers Joan Baez got on the cover of Time and sent every girl with short hair or long to the dorm ironing board to emulate her (because every folkie guy would swoon uncontrollably when pretty straight long-haired girls passed by she had noticed in the coffeehouses). She had a pleasing body which when she usually felt comfortable with since she did not worry about the other fashion statement of the day razor thinness like ones you would see in all the fashion magazines which still were the way that young women caught the latest fashion statements whether they followed them or not, that Josie figured out where she belonged in the universe before the days when women’s liberation said “fuck all that.” More intriguingly, and guys would comment on the subject, one of her soft brown eyes was just ever so slightly cross-eyed and so she appeared like some exotic flower especially after a day at the beach when her brownish skin turned dark brown.    

But her run of luck, maybe her fetching looks, maybe that slightly cross-eyed look turned evil-looking outside of campus life, something happened, seemed to sour out of the friendly confines of some campus, soured when she came to Boston to make her mark in the world, the world of sociology, really in the end social psychology, where she would begin her advanced degree programs, including a nice stipend after her first year’s  Master’s program as an intern (along with the inevitable family treasury back in Manhattan supplementing that nice stipend, nice as far as academic stipends went, which would not pay for extras like clothes, trips home and away, and that car that she just absolutely needed to get to her clinical sites). Still after all these years not able to figure it out she returned to her list, her wistful list. 

Gee, But It’s Hard To Love Someone When That Someone Don’t Love You

“Hey, turn that record over and play Empty Bed Blues will you,” yelled Stanley Peters to his sweetheart of a couple of years now Josie Davis. Of course if any records were being turned over that day, by “pretty please” request or not, any long-playing records that meant that this pair, Stan (his preference) and Josie, was in the midst of their periodic all stops out listening to the four double record albums, Columbia Records version updated from the Vanguard Record series (less scratchy and clearer tone of voice coming through the marvels of modern audio technology) of Bessie Smith, the Empress of the blues. That title, that royal title disputed by the likes of Mame Smith and a bunch of last name Smith black female blues singers from say 1923 to 1933 the year when the market went crash for blues as well as everything else people who had previously been willing to pay for hearing when they had discretionary funds in their pockets was not a common situation at the end of that period. Disputed too by Memphis Minnie although not one would deny that she could hold court as the Queen of barrelhouse blues and Miss Sippy Wallace bringing down the high lord Jehovah against her soul singing the devil’s music and not comfortable with the title princess not when big old Bessie was strutting her stuff about how she was number one and step aside sisters, step aside.

Leaving the question of genealogy aside for the aficionados to ponder over that periodic all out recording playing unto the night and early morning part bears some further explanation. See a couple of years before, maybe late 1969, early 1970 a little before they had met Josie had heard a blues singer, a woman blues singer on WNUB the low- watt radio station over in Cambridge that she listened to at night while working like crazy on her Master’s degree in social psychology. She had started out all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed coming out of Hunter College High in Manhattan that she would wound up being an English Lit major and eventually teach that subject, hopefully at the university level, but once she got to Madison out in Wisconsin, out to the well-regarded Big Ten campus there she realized that going in that direction with ten thousand budding liberal arts English Lit majors in the making who would wind up driving taxi cabs or waitressing that she did not want to be number ten thousand and one on that pile. Fortunately she tested very high in sociology tests and decided on that as a major with the idea of being a Sociology teacher, hopefully as well at the university level but when she looked around on the matter senior year she saw that same ten thousand and one pile on that path and so moved on to the at least employable profession of social psychology.

Josie was just then attempting to finish up that Master’s degree program at Boston University on her way to a doctorate since anything less would put her on that well-worn pile and into the steamy white uniform of a waitress in some roadside diner, if she was lucky. That extra degree decision (which perplexed her parents they then were both high-level management types in the city with bachelor’s degrees which seemed enough to get a job but what did  they know) since had been made for her by the democratic explosion of kids born, like her, 1948, within few years of the close of World War II who were filling up the nation’s colleges and universities creating a crowded field of fiery liberal arts students who had honed in on that discipline as a place to make their mark, that soft-soap sociology, after being frozen out, totally frozen out, of the English Lit market by the endless lines of applicants.

But a Master’s degree could only be a stepping stone. Otherwise all that blood and sweat for the Master’s degree provided was a chance to wait on tables at some swanky bistro in the Back Bay or downtown for tips and some leers. And on a good night maybe an off-hand tumble in the hay (she was subject to periodic exotic sex dreams when she was grinding out some project and one such dream had her waitressing and getting caught up in a threesome thing with a guy and his wife and so thoughts of the tumble but let her psychologist deal with those issues). But the reality of high-end waitressing from what one of her classmates told her who was working at swanky El Cid’s downtown to help defray her tuition costs which she was footing  herself (making Josie thankful as hell for those uncomprehending parents and their monthly checks for odds and ends ) was usually not the case since the bistro scene was either guys loaded up with a date who expected said date to come across in the hay after that expensive meal and the date expected to come across since the guy had class enough to buy her an expensive meal and all after she had had to deal with a string of coffeehouse coffee and pastry guys or worse, guys whose idea of a cool date was coffee minus the pastry watching the winos, con men, hipsters and other nighttime riffraff at the Hayes-Bickford. A little roll for a very good meal seemed a good trade-off under those circumstances as more than one girlfriend of Josie’s had told her after they graduated from cheapo campus dates to the real world. Or maybe married guys from out of town with a wife and three kids in some leafy Connecticut suburb who wanted to set you up as some kind of concubine as he sat in his single chair table making a play for you.

Josie had been through that whole routine since her arrival in Boston except the not the waitress stuff her cross to bear being visiting professors, married with requisite three children in some cloistered Ivy League town, New Haven, Princeton, clamoring for close work with interns like her- and pillow talk. The guys from out of town at the sad sack bistros might have been more honest about their desires anyway and the couple of time she went to downtown bars to have a drink, maybe get picked up when she was feeling horny and got picked up the guys were better in bed than the hoary old professors who wanted to talk about the one bright idea that they had had about thirty years before, a lifetime before in social psychology circles where a new “theory” comes off the press every other day and thirty years’ ago big idea is now relegated to the catacombs, and had in any case worked that idea to the bone for all expenses paid trips to conference in exotic locales. Or, like one well known, very well-known professor in the field, trying to impress a younger woman would let slip how they personally knew Emil Durkheim or something. And maybe they did, did know Emil but he was strictly in the catacombs as well.    

The radio, that station, and Jim Miller’s American Folk Show at night on that station was her way of staying focused pouring over the endless statistics that she had culled over the previous two years in order to fill out her thesis about the close correlation in the year 1968 between those kids who dropped out of high school and their ability to spent a lot of time tied up in the justice system. About the psychological stress that combination put on their self-esteem and their ability to function in society as productive citizens. (According to Stan later, later when things had already gone awry between them he had to agree that Josie did a very good job of proving her point and her research would not look shabby even later much later in the 1980s when tracing the fates of lumpen kids, projects kids really, went out of fashion, along with the liberals who had previous championed their cause.) 

About ten o’clock in the evening on Wednesday nights Jim Miller would have an hour of blues, usually featuring a single performer or group, although Josie no fan of blues despite her love of folk music ever since high school, starting back in about 1962 when she got caught up with the folk minute craze running through the campuses and urban oases and hung around Washington Square Park and the Village seeing what was what. Usually tired, having to get up early the next morning she would pass on Miller’s show that late at night, couldn’t see what the big deal was all about with old black guys from Mississippi or hot shot younger black or white guys pushing their electric guitars to some netherworld. But as she was beginning to head to the radio on the shelf above her refrigerator to shut it off she caught the beginning Bessie Smith’s Down-hearted Blues and decided to listen until the end of the song since the words “spoke” to her, the words about some two-timing man who spent all her money on whiskey and dope, ran off with her best friend and left her sad and blue.

Josie didn’t know about the whiskey and dope part but she certainly knew about her guy running off with her best friend. Before she had come to Boston and just after she had graduated from Wisconsin her best friend from way back in high school, Frida Hoffman, had taken her boyfriend, blue-eyed, blonde hair, Midwestern “aw shucks” Todd Morgan whom she had met in the Quad one afternoon when he was playing his guitar and she went up asked if he knew Oh Had I A Golden Thread by Pete Seeger and he did and they thereafter “did,” right from under her nose when she had lived with Frida in her Soho apartment for the summer with Todd in tow. They had run off to summer of love San Francisco. Later Frida and Josie would reconcile after Frida had after a couple of years out in Haight-Ashbury with Todd who eventually headed north to Oregon while she wound up with a drug-runner for a while before she headed back East and went to law school at Boston College although Josie always looked over her shoulder when she was with a man and Frida was in sight before she got married to a partner in the law firm she got snagged up by when they were looking to, under pressure, increase the number of female lawyers in the firm. By then though Frida had dropped the folk-singer male hunt and only cared about potentially rich lawyer-types so there was not threat from that corner and they are still good friends, very good friends as they age gracefully, or that is what they tell each other although Frida with a group of maladies for all occasions has as a result declared to one and all that “aging sucks,” and look back at the old days.      

So the song hit home and as Josie reached to finally turn the damn thing off on came Empty Bed Blues and she was hooked, listened to the whole hour and heard that soulful melancholy voice all night in her sleep. Here is the funny part, the part that ties everything together as she listened she found that she got more and more into the music, that it kind of grew on her, she didn’t want it to end. Josie was haunted by the whole experience and the next day she ran over to Central Square in Cambridge, got off at that stop on the Red Line anyway and walked up to Sandy’s Record Shop heading toward Harvard Square to see if he, a connoisseur, the guru of all things folk unto the Child ballads if not before, which if you think about it really encompasses the blues and asked him, since in those days he ran the store himself mostly, if he had any Bessie Smith records available for purchase. Sandy gave her a big smile and said-“I have got a not bad condition, not too scratchy used complete four album eight record Columbia vintage set of her stuff that you won’t want to turn off.” Sold.

Sold after Josie explained that effect that Bessie’s feature on Jim Miller’s show had on her. Sandy gave a sly nod. Needless to say that weekend she perhaps drove her fellow tenants on Commonwealth Avenue batty, or murderous, playing the compete set while drinking wine to drown her sorrows. Drinking her blues away and it was six, two and even which of the two drugs was chasing her blues away.                        

Bessie safely in her grasp Josie got more interested in other women blues singers available for sale at Sandy’s like the newly “discovered” Sippy Wallace who told one and all in her time not to “advertise your man,” good advice if the man was anything worth keeping like Stan who had helped her get through the male fright Todd blues,  Big Mama Thornton who did the original version of Hound Dog which she had heard Elvis cover when she was young and was crazy see him do with that swagger and snarled look on his face and whose version put Elvis to shame and a whole bunch of women named Smith, or so it seemed beside Bessie. Got into those little old guys from hot-house Delta Mississippi too although she was still stand-offish toward those bad ass Chicago blues guys with the wicked bad lyrics of lust, dope and booze.

One afternoon at Sandy’s while she was looking for a Skip James recording she saw a sign that Big Tommy Johnson who was reputed to be the latest reincarnation of blues legend Robert Johnson, Robert Johnson the max daddy blues man according to Sandy but whom she could take or leave, was playing at a club in Inman Square a few blocks up from Sandy’s called Joe’s Place. She asked Sandy about this Johnson and about the place, including about whether she was going to get hassled if she went alone and sat at the bar. Sandy told her he was not that familiar with this Johnson (don’t ask, please don’t’ ask Sandy about Skip James as Josie found out because you will get harangued for an hour or more with every arcane fact known to man about that bluesman) but that she would have to take her chances, as always, when guys see a single pretty young women after they have had a few drinks.    

So that Saturday night feeling a little blue about her progress on developing a master theme for her thesis, a little fearful about going alone but also a little man hungry if she was honest with herself especially if a guy knew something about the blues and wasn’t just sitting there at Joe’s leering at his next “conquest” she went into Joe’s and sat unmolested at the bar while Johnson was playing. As it turned out he wasn’t what she was interested in for blues music but she wasn’t hassled, half damn it, either.

She would go there a few more times until the night she met Stanley who had walked up to her and told her he had seen her in the place before, did she like the blues, did she know the blues and about six thousand bits of other information. And not once did he “hit” on her, didn’t ask her what she was doing after the show. What did get him somewhere, get him two years of loving as it turned out, although not that night when he left, half damn it, her at the door of the club with a “hope to see you here again” was a date after he mentioned about three thousand stray facts about Bessie Smith. Including this observation-“You know when you start listening to Bessie, especially if you start at Volume One of the Columbia record set, you half want to shut the thing off but as you listen more you don’t want it to end, want to play the thing all day and night.”  Yes, Josie thought, a kindred. A kindred who she was getting ready to go to her record player and turn over the vinyl so Stan could hear Empty Bed Blues.             

Variety Is The Spice Of Life, Maybe

You would be surprised, or might have been surprised if you were a certain age (funny expression that Josie’s mother had repeatedly used to cover up her age, or the ages of her friends, into a mishmash of just indeterminate mature women and now she was using that same expression to cover up her age, weren’t we supposed to have gotten over that in the enlightened 1960s when truth will out ruled the roads), at the kind of talk that you would find in girls’ lav, locker rooms, at female table, or on the ubiquitous phone, the telephone now the cellphone, about men, about sex and about what women would tell each other that would never cross over to the ears of men, even if they were with them for fifty years. Josie was thinking of the various times when just like the long straight black hair craze which Joan Baez started and which everybody who could was emulating making iron companies rich in the process, when peasant blouses were the height of fashion having sex with certain categories of men was a craze among some young women once they started to have sexual relations (called “going steady” in high school, “going out with” in college and “one night stands” in the post-graduate world).

In high school for Josie (and her friend Frida as well) it had started with just Jewish boys but that soon became wearisome when they had more neuroses that she did, came from that same stinking brown world that she came from (brown eyes, brown skin, brown hair, brown, brown). So the fad after that was to snag a Washington Square folk-singer (at least that was what Frida and the JAPs at Hunter College High were experimenting with), a rough-edged, raggedy muffin blue-eyed WASP was the goal (and she had got her wish, Frida too and some JAPs did too if the Monday morning girls’ lav rumors had any truth). What Josie didn’t know until much later, and Frida had heard the same from some guy she had gone out with, was those WASP folksingers were learning their three chord songs to snag pretty Jewish girls when they got tired of Muffy and Buffy WASP this and that out in the suburbs. Heard that Jewish girls were “easy” too so there.          

Later in college, at Madison during the height of the civil rights movement, and a little after, it was black men, the blacker the better to check to see if it was true about their manhood size, their penises, and just to do it as a flavor of the month kind of thing. That “little after” part stopped things between black men and white women when black nationalism, the Panthers swept the imaginations of students but they also called on the “brothers” to be fruitful with their black sisters and keep the black nation alive and well and not go after honky women (which didn’t stop many of the brothers, brothers at Madison she knew from personal experience, from bedding white women, “easy” Jewish girls or blonder than blonde Swedish girls it did not matter- on the QT). There might have been other flavors of the month but between WASP folk-singers and black men she kept herself as busy in bed as she wanted.

But she was always willing in her dreams to explore further and when she arrived in Boston, a city that she thought was all Irish from what her parents had told her trying to dissuade her from going among the Irish Catholic heathens who still in their hearts believed that Jews had killed their Christ, their Messiah, she had thoughts of trying one out. Not the city-bred ones she had had enough of those black-hearts and drunks at Madison and in New York where some of the girls at Hunter had these awful red-faced snaggle-toothed Irish boyfriends who liked to swear and drink without end as young as they were. When she got into Boston by the early 1970s the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bravos were making noise over in Derry and other hotspots in the North (not Londonderry, not if you didn’t want an argument, a serious argument about British imperialism and naming thing their way in a foreign country not their own, male or female) and some under British ban were heading to Boston in exile, to lick their wounds or to raise funds for the “struggle.” And so her new flavor of the month, although if she had known what the end would be like she would have hunkered down with some poor Wasp folk-singer around Harvard Square or nice Jewish boy from Long Island like her mother always wanted for her.      

So take Jack Donovan (please do), an Irishman who had only been in the country for a few months when she, curious about the night life in Boston ran into him at the Plough and Stars in Cambridge a favorite watering hole for the ex-pat Irish fleeing the turmoils in the old country. She, a Jewish girl from Manhattan via Hunter College High School, had fled that overwhelmingly sad city for Madison and now Boston, had been intrigued by his accent and by his winsome manner and although she knew nothing about his Irish heritage having been immersed in finding her own Jewish identity of late she had decided to take the ride, decided to see where things would lead. And for a while they were great, a few months of going out several nights a week to the Plough or some other Cambridge bar, lots of laughs and lots of singing, good times and pretty good sex.

Then the other shoe kind of dropped which Josie, the queen of social psychology and so supposed to know something of human nature in the raw should have seen it coming, Jack lost his job down at the docks where he had been an alternate (a B-man he called it as opposed to an A “steady” man who still had work) but there had been plenty of work which suddenly dried up and he began to drink more heavily, lost his small shabby room where he had to share a common bathroom on Beacon Hill and moved in with her. Got more morose as he could not find work, working class job work since he had left Cork without a high school diploma. Then the beatings started, at first just a belt to the shoulder or someplace soft and hidden but it hurt and she thought it was just his frustrations at not having a job and basically living off a woman although he never articulated the matter that way.

Then he belted her in the eye and she had had to stay in the apartment for a few days while the swelling went down and she was embarrassed when she went back to work and her girlfriends quizzed her about the residue black and blue around her eye and of course she lied, lied and said she had hit her eye on the eternal door. Said to herself that he hadn’t meant it, hadn’t been himself and for that one forlorn minute asked herself what would she do without him, how before the drink caught up with him, maybe his whole life caught up with him, he had loved her so. One night in a rage, loaded to the gills, smelling of vomit and whiskey he pummeled her which required her to go the hospital where she had to make a report, a police report, and while she did not want to be the reason Jack went to jail (and would later be deported after building a criminal record) she had no choice, she did not want to go on that way, for love or not. She was sour on men for a long time after that, was going to see her psychologist more often than once a week because after Jack lost his grip on her she was totally immersed in finding out why she had taken the beatings, why she had not left him high and dry after that first hard “meant it” punch toher shoulder that hurt for several days.               

 

Maybe Happier Blue-With Blue Guys In Mind

 

Who knows when love fades like the morning dew as the old Child Ballad, or one version of it sung by Marianne Le Bert on her Tramps and Trips album, had it. Certainly Josie Davis knew when she pushed Stanley Peters out the door after a two year hot and cold love affair that the love had faded, the love that was pleasing and teasing when new had turned to ashes in her mouth in the six months previous to lowering the hammer on her ex-lover, pushing him not so gently out that condo door not physically but with her wildcat tongue. It hadn’t started out that way, hadn’t started out like it was going to fade as both sensed in the other a kindred, a soulmate he had called it one night when in bed they had made a game out of how many common interests they shared and above all their love of the blues singers on the radio or record player that were always forming the background music in the condo day and night.

They had met at Joe’s Place in Cambridge across the river, the Charles River, from Boston University where she was trying to finish up her Master’s degree in social psychology as prelude to pursuing the doctorate necessary to get anywhere in a field crowded with liberal arts graduates like her who needed to find some niche in academia outside of the over-the-top English Lit programs which only produced a surfeit of waitresses and taxi cab drivers. Joe’s Place at that time had probably been the outstanding blues club in Greater Boston, a place which drew the better blues performers still alive and working and hence the serious blues aficionados. Josie had only then recently become a serious blues enthusiast having for years before, since high school at Hunter College Hunt in Manhattan under the guidance of her then best friend Frida Hoffman whom she had not spoken to in a couple of years since Frida had run off to California and the Haight-Ashbury summer of love scene with her boyfriend, Todd, an up and coming folk-singer from Wisconsin where Josie had gone to school as an undergraduate, been a traditional folkie.

One night she had heard Bessie Smith, the self-styled Empress of the blues, 1920s and 1930s barrelhouse blues featured on Jim Miller’s American Folk Hour on the local Cambridge radio station, WNUB, had been so enthralled by her style and lyrics (and having just been two-timed by a guy she had recently met and thought was on the level, Gene Solomon, so very amenable that minute to Bessie’s bitter-sweet memories of her two-timing guys who left her high and dry, took her hard earned dough too), and decided to pursue the matter further.

After a few inquiries about where to get that old time blues material Josie had gone to Sandy’s over outside Central Square in Cambridge heading toward Harvard to grab some albums, used as it turned out but serviceable, and through Sandy, the owner and one of his blues-crazy staff found out about other artists, mostly female but a few males too like Skip James whose piano riffs grabbed her. One afternoon she saw a poster as she walked into Sandy’s advertising that Big Tommy Johnson, one of the last of the old-time country blues singers from down South, from Alabama, would be playing at Joe’s Place that weekend. Not having gone to a blues club before she was not sure what to expect having been strictly a coffeehouse denizen in the Village, later in Madison and then after she moved to Boston to Harvard Square, the Club Nana being her main hang-out since Tom Rush and Jack Elliott played there on a regular basis. After asking Ted, the blues-crazy clerk at Sandy’s whether Joe’s was the kind of place where she could go and sit at the bar alone not happy with Sandy’s kind of old-fashioned response about single pretty girls and guys who have had a few in a bar,   have a couple of drinks and not be hassled by guys looking to “hit” on her and he told her she was big girl and could handle any blues-crazed guys who came her way, and if not Red Radley the bartender would make sure that things were right she decided to check the place out. (That not hassled by guys, by the way, somewhat half-hearted since she was “single” and frankly a little horny but really did want to hear Big Tommy’s act without being bothered, unless she wanted to be.)       

That Saturday night she showed up just before Big Tommy’s opening set, sat down at the bar and ordered a scotch and soda, without being molested. In fact that night and the next several times she went there over the next couple of months she had not been not bothered, including a couple of time when she saw guys who she might have liked to have bothered her. In the meantime she learned a lot about various blues song, traditions and players, lately many white who were carrying on the tradition since young blacks were mainly not into their heritage music, were screaming Motown stuff, urban love stuff. Then one night, a Thursday night, Buddy Guy was playing and she had taken her customary seat at the bar and ordered her scotch and soda from Red (who had only made a couple of half-serious, half in jest passes at her when serving her liquor to her), when Stanley Peters showed up at the seat next to hers. Not by accident. He introduced himself and told her that he had noticed her several times before as she seemed a strictly “no-go” ice queen but that she seemed to enjoy the blues and he was an aficionado. Was she.        

After blushing somewhat over that ice queen remark (she couldn’t believe that her demeanor showed that way in public since she considered herself a free spirit of sorts, maybe that damn degree-clinching thesis she was working frantically on was getting the best of her) she gave Stan the details of her stepping into the blues scene. He in turn gave her about three thousand facts about Bessie Smith from cradle to grave (an untimely early grave due to serious racial animosities in the deep South where a hurt in an accident black woman, famous or infamous, could not get aid at a white hospital and was turned away and got help too late elsewhere) and then about six thousand facts about the blues tradition in general, not all of the information she felt she needed to know. But he was pretty charming, funny, and well she still had that unresolved horny thing so she expected that he might take her home, or at least ask for a date. No deal, he only expressed the hope that she would come back to Joe’s again. So no go that night anyway although she found herself going to Joe’s a couple of times expecting to see him.

Then one night, Bonnie Raitt, who had gone to Radcliffe and then gave it up for the iterant blues mama wanderer, was playing, playing blues learned at the feet of Mississippi Fred McDowell a name she knew now, Stanley showed up next to her at the bar a little stoned, nothing serious but she could tell from her own bouts with weed, mainly at Wisconsin where you could hardly turn a dorm or apartment complex corner without the whiff of ganga filling the night air and said hello. Got a little brave and asked her if he could buy her a drink (yes, but only if she could buy him one in return) and once that was settled they sat listening to Bonnie as she played some very complex notes, and talking in a low voice to one another while she was playing.

At intermission Stan asked Josie if she wanted to step outside and have a few hits of a “joint.” At first she was undecided but then she said what the hell and then went out in the back alley of Joe’s where others were also lighting up and split a joint. She was mellow for the rest of the evening and when he asked if she wanted to go to his place and listen to a new Little Walter album he had purchased at Cheapo’s she took the bait and went with him. (The next morning Josie made him laugh when she told him she thought it funny that he had used a variation on the “come and see my etchings” come on with that Little Walter come on and so some things don’t change in the boy-girl world.)      

So their affair started held together by the music, by their mutual interest in film noir, their love of the beach and long autumn walks among other things (you know favorite colors, food, cars, etc.) and eventually Stan moved in with her. Stan had always been a little vague about what he did for a living, although sometimes he would say he was a painter (he did show her his work which was quite good although she was not sure whether the subjects he painted would earn him a living) at others a handyman but he for most of the time they were together up until that last awful six months before she called it quits he pulled his share of expenses.

Then he just stopped, stopped paying his share of expenses, stopped painting and stopped making love to her. What she didn’t know was that Stan, beautiful, charming, funny Stan had “graduated.” The more than occasional Stan joints was being supplanted by sister (his term), by cocaine that she knew was making the rounds at Joe’s and other places as the drug of choice of the month. It had become “hip” (and easier to conceal and carry than reefer) to do lines with dollar bills before blues concerts and Stan had joined the mob.     

They constantly argued about the drugs, Stan tried to have her do a line or two but she refused, and she was getting angrier each day, getting blue as blue could be is the way she confessed it to a fellow worker at the social service office she worked at as part of gaining information for her dissertation. Then one night in a rage he hit her, not hard but hit her. That was the end, or the start of the end since they still had several more days of arguments before she started wild tongue screaming, screaming she would be happier blue, much happier. Then she pulled the hammer down.  Out.  Damn these men and their idea that a woman is a punching bag. Again gist for the mill of her twice weekly therapy sessions.  

Down In The Dumps 

After Jack, after Stan, Josie was shy around men for a while, wouldn’t you be if you had previously been a punching bag for gone losers, didn’t want to get involved playing the percentages of winding up with another wrong “gee” (an expression she had picked up from Stan who was addicted not only to sister cocaine but to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler 1930s hard-boiled detectives who did not see the irony of his own being a wrong gee when she mentioned that hard fact to him after the first time he swatted her), hell, had been afraid to get involved with almost anybody after the Jack black eye incidents, that on top of Stan’s abuse too, his made worse by the drugs which laid him low just when she was beginning to believe in men again, believe in Stan who knew so much about the blues that the words about doing his honey wrong must have sunk in to his brain, but she like a lot of women needed intimate relations with a man and so one day her friend Susie from the clinic where she worked introduced her to a guy whom Susie had known back in college at New York University, Jeff Goldman, whom Josie hit it off with right away. (Susie one of the voices she listened to when deciding that Jack would wind up a bum and who knows what would have happened to her if she had stayed with him any longer that she had and later that Stan’s drug habits were social psych 101 evidence that she needed to ditch him).

Both Jeff and Josie had cultural (a serious taste for art, Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism in particular), ethnic (both had been raised secular Jews, vanilla American assimilated Jews, who once the Holocaust, Shoah, began to be a topic for fit conversation rather than awful denial or something by their parents’ generation to be put aside and left unspoken were among those who wanted to know some Jewish history, know the shtetl, know Yiddish, know that Eastern European Jewish culture that their grandparents had fled in the dead of night from, fled from the ever present pogroms) and musical interests in common (he had tried out as a folk-singer in New Jersey, out in a Tenafly folk venue where they had “open mic” nights and later helped run a coffeehouse off McDougall Street while he was in college and we already know Josie’s long resume as an aficionado).

Jeff had told her from the beginning that he lived on Long Island and so would only be able to see her when he came to Boston on business (he ran a small accounting firm looking to get bigger, to expand into the Boston market where a lot of small high-tech geeks he called them and she knew what he meant needed stable financial help before they went belly-up no matter how cutting edge their ideas were, he told her where he could then see her more often was the hook he had used this time), or when he decided to take her on some whirlwind weekend in some secluded resort where they would have a great time. And they did going to places like the Bahamas when she mentioned to Jeff that she could use some sunshine one winter day, down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras on another jaunt, several romantic trips to San Francisco just to see the Golden Gate Bridge and eat some clams. Shorter trips closer to home too. Nice times, nice times indeed.    

She slowly really did think that she was onto a guy who would treat her right, 100% right. Then the other shoe dropped, again. Jeff started making excuses for why he couldn’t see her, said he had business in Chicago, was making deals that required his serious time just then. She wondered a little about that since he had been so gung-ho about making a splash in the Boston market to be with her but she let it slide.  When he called from Chicago or Los Angeles Josie would hear muted voices in the background and at first did not think anything of it but after three consecutive brush-off weekends she started to think he was having an affair with another woman and that she had better head for cover. She did not know how right she was when Jeff did finally come by to see her and after they had made love she and he had fallen asleep she fished through his wallet and found a photograph of his wife and two children smiling in front of their large Long Island home. Adieu, Jeff.            

Dumps Redux

During Josie’s studies at Boston University as part of her doctoral program she had worked as a cross-discipline, multi-campus experiment for the summer at Harvard University for the famous Doctor Samuel Potter, academically famous anyway, who was the king hell king of the latest trends in sociology. The idea was to put the latest findings of empirical research in social psychology to the test, you know, stuff like if you put twenty people unknown to each other and who did not know each other’s individual profiles and personalities would you replicate the social divisions in existing society over time; whether there was an innate social desire to create an ordered world out of an anonymous mass. Josie’s input was to create the theoretical social psychological model that would support either conclusion. Exciting stuff at least in the world of academia, although life would have sorted the thing out easier and with no need to pile up more paper on the ocean of that material which already was afloat on such subjects.

Potter’s claim to fame on this whole project was that he had actually been granted a government subsidy from the Department of Defense back in the 1950s to do an experiment based on the negative conclusion of that premise, that people would create a new class society, and was continuing to subsidize his work while Josie was an intern(the source of the grants unknown to Josie whose anti-war views may have made her take some second thoughts about helping out the war machine then still very much involved with burning or otherwise trying to send the small country of Vietnam back to the Stone Age). The good Professor had been using the sparsely drawn conclusions from his work to lure ever fawning students to his studies since and had been filling up every possible academic journal which would publish him with his statistics despite the fact that about ten subsequent studies had showed his so-called definitive results were at best inconclusive.  

Professor Potter had never paid much attention to Josie since her field was social psychology a field that despite this joint experiment he had determined was so much hot air and since he was bedding Susie, another intern, Josie’s closest friend in Boston then and was preoccupied with that hellion (Susie’s term about herself confessed one drunken night when she and Josie were both in the dumps after Josie had ditched Stan and she had made a play for Josie who was just too shattered to response to any sexual advances, male or female, then although later they did have a short fling but both decided that they needed a man, at least for their beds)  until either he broke it off or Susie sensing that he was smoking way to much dope, doing too many lines of cocaine the new drug of choice among hipsters around Cambridge saw the writing on the wall. Whichever reason was correct, or if they were both correct, Professor Potter then honed in on Josie. (Later Susie confided to Josie that it was because the dope was making him a lousy lover and she began seeing an old boyfriend again who could deal with her urges, her hellion urges.)

Now in the world of academia this honing in process is something of an art form and here is how it worked, maybe still does even with almost forty years of women’s liberation to cut through the bullshit. Let’s just confine the observations to male professors, the vast majority on most faculties then, and high gloss professors like Potter worked the thing to a science. Professor Potter would personally interview and load up his intern staff with women, a little easier to do since sociology and social psychology acted as a magnet for young women wishing to make a name for themselves in academia or research. Of course the women he picked would be the kind that would be so excited to be working with the Professor Potter whom they had been required to read about in their 101 textbooks that he could have a field day with whomever he wanted and if nothing happened just move on. Or there might but a woman like Susie who had taken dead aim at the Professor figuring that for a few romps in the hay she could move up in the pecking order more quickly. Susie admitted as much to Josie when they first met and almost from day one she was on the good Professor’s trail. It didn’t hurt that he was pretty good looking and soft-spoken as well.            

Josie was betwixt and between about the Professor, Sam as he insisted she call him since as he put it in that pseudo-democratic way some men in authority have, they were colleagues not professor and intern, not in his offices, because she really was ready to be off men for a while, wanted to get that dissertation she was about half way through done but he began to make it clear that she had better pay attention to him if she wanted any kind of career in the profession. This in the days before such behavior against female subordinates was strictly off-limits, and even then if Josie or any young woman had pressed the issue, and not every woman would, she would have had said professor in front of a very big carpet complete with rack, and maybe a noose. So she dabbled with the good professor, took his threats seriously until one day after she had not seen him for a week Susie called and told her on the QT that Professor Potter had flipped out on some hell-bent mixture of dope and hubris and  had been checked into posh McClean’s Hospital in Belmont until further notice.

Josie’s reaction, after all that had happened to her, was that she felt sorry for him, hoped things worked out. They didn’t as the family held him in seclusion for a number of years afterward and Josie was not quite sure what had become of him except that he was no longer the king hell king of the latest trends in sociology, especially after it came out that the experiment that he had initiated in the 1950s had been compromised since about half the subjects, gathered through a university-wide ad, had known each other a question that the good Professor had not bothered to ask about in his interviews and only came out because one of the subjects was in McClean’s with Potter and spilled the beans in the patient’s lounge and some sharp-witted young doctor overheard the conversation.            

Remembrances Of Things Past

 

Josie was in one of what she called her “frets,” her can’t get something off her mind, times. If this writing of hers is her diary then she wanted to break away and think once again about that disaster with Bradley since it was still a fresh wound that drove her to write all the other entries. Here is where the “frets” came in like a storm. She had decided that each entry would have a little title for reference, for her reference and since this was to be about Bradley she thought that “you can’t go home again” snatched from the title of one of Thomas Wolfe’s novels would suffice. But that didn’t get to the depth of her despair in naming what might very well have been unnamable, not an uncommon occurrence in Jewish religious lore and philosophy. She thought “what goes around, comes was too cute” and discarded that. Then she though back to old Proust, Marcel Proust, and how he was trying to consciously, very consciously remember every detail of what was important to him, and write it all down endlessly. She toyed with the idea of the alternative title she would see in some versions of his work-“in search of lost time” but that seemed a bit too precious under the circumstances. That former would do as she scrambled to re-write some stuff about Bradley, about how in the end men let you down, easy or hard, but they let you down.        

 

She couldn’t help but thinking, getting red in her brown world face that there was always something, some damn thing to remind Josie Davis, Class of 1964, a fateful year in her life and not just because that was the year that she had graduated from Hunter College High School in the heart of Manhattan. She had recently (2014, and if you did the math you would know that represented the fiftieth anniversary of the her graduation from that esteemed institution) gone through something of a serious traumatic experience which left her numb every time something came up about that year, some remembrance. If you knew Josie, with her two divorces and several affairs along with a few flings, one night stands a couple of afternoon trysts, you would know that it was about a man, always about a man, she eternally afflicted as old as she was.

 

About a man this time, this eternal time  named Bradley Drury (not Brad or worse Lee  no way he was not anything but a proper Bradley-type, who held maybe some Oxford don or Boston Brahmin Beacon Street savant with three names as his model, even in high school) whom she had had a brief puff of air affair with in that same 2014 but which had seemingly vanished in her dust of memory until she went up into the attic to clean up some stuff, get rid of most of it in anticipation of selling her house in the leafy suburbs of Boston which she had lived in since that last ill-fated marriage to Alfred who had split for California with a younger woman, a much younger woman and had left her the house (and the mortgages and maintenance) as the booby prize of their arrangements and move into a more manageable condo in Cambridge.

 

Funny old Cambridge where she had started out her life away from New York City which she had fled right after high school and had been fleeing ever since (occasional trips back to see her parents before they passed away and 5th Avenue shopping sprees notwithstanding) when she first came to Boston to work on her Master’s Degree and later her Doctorate (Social Psychology). She had found a faded tattered copy of her high school class’ remembrance card. You know those time vault cards that card companies like Hallmark, the source of this one, put out so that people, or this case the whole class, by some tabulations, can put down favorite films, people, records, who was President, and other momentous events from some important year like a graduation to be looked at in later years and ahhed over. That yellowed sheet brought back not just memories of that faded long ago year but of Bradley in the not so faded past. So, yes, it was always some damn thing.      

 

But maybe we had better take you back to the beginning, back to how 1964 and Bradley Drury had been giving one Josie Davis late of New York City nothing but pains. Josie, although always urged on by her fellow classmates Dora Denny and Frida Hoffman who she had kept in touch with over the years had been for many, many years agnostic about attending class reunions, had early on after graduation decided that she needed to show her back to the whole high school experience and to that monstrously isolating New York town. A lot of that teenage angst having to do with her beginnings as a daughter of a “brogger,” a father who worked in the garment factories that used to, still do, dot Seventh Avenue when there was work since most of it was drifting to New Jersey or the low-wage (really low-wage) South for which that part of town was then famous and which represented the low-end of Manhattan society. The low-end which others in the city including her fellow classmates in high school who were as socially class conscious as any Mayfair swells. Especially the Jewish-American Princesses (JAPs) who were using their Hunter High resumes as a calling card to find rich Jewish husbands and move to Long Island unlike her and the other “grinds” who were using the place to get out from under, who made her feel like a nobody and a nothing for no known reason except that she was the daughter of a brogger which after all she could not help. (Of course those social exclusions played themselves out under the veil of her not dressing cool, living off the leavings her father brought home after the clothing was out of fashion, living off of Rudy’s Discount Center rejected materials on Third Avenue not even cool when purchased, you know, white striped shirts with blue stripes when that was not cool, black flouncy dresses like some farmer’s Saturday night barn dance daughter when tight form-fitting skirts were cool, ditto, dinky Elizabeth Bennet shoes with buckles for Chrissake, just as her younger sisters lived off of hers as they got older in that tight budget world of the desperate working poor, of her not having money to buy nice dresses, sometimes any new dresses, for dates even with fellow broggers’ sons, and hanging out Friday night in the library on West 20th Street with Frida also in the same situation and with fellow odd-ball brogger outcasts (although Frida would gain non-transferrable cachet in school when she introduced Josie, and half the girls in school including some social butterfly JAPs to the New York City Village folk minute through the folk-singer she was dating whom she met in Washington Square). Later, toward the end of high school, her father got involved in the start-up of serious electronics and computers through his brother Larry and that would allow them to move up in the world a bit and have enough extra money to support her (and those younger sisters) in their academic endeavors, or when they needed financial help. But the early slights, hurts, and deprivations lingered on, still touched a sore spot.

 

So Josie had no trouble drifting away from that milieu, had no trouble putting dust on her shoes to get out and head west to Wisconsin (Wisconsin west as everything west of Manhattan was west as a famous Saul Silverstein cover on the New Yorker magazine acerbically pointed out for a candid world to understand) when the doings out west were drawing every iterant youth to the flame, to the summers of love.

 

And there things stood in Josie’s Hunter High (remember that is really Hunter High and Manhattan joined together eternally in her mind) consciousness for many years until maybe 2012, 2013 when very conscious that a hallmark 50th class reunion would be in the works and with more time on her hands as she had cut back on the day to day operation of her successful  consultant practice in Cambridge she decided that she would check out the preparations, and perhaps offer her help to organize the event. She had received notification of her class’ fortieth reunion (which she had dismissed out of hand only wondering how the reunion committee had gotten her address for while she was not hiding from anything she was also not out there publicly since she did not have clients other than other professional sociologists and social psychologists whom she wrote research articles and the like for, until she realized that as a member of the American Sociological Association and the American Psychological Association  she would have had that kind of information on her professional profile page. And Frida had despite Josie’s best efforts told the committee her address when they were soliciting for the twenty-fifth class reunion as she found out later). So via the marvels of modern day technology, through the Internet she was able to get hold of Donna Marlowe (married name Rossi) who had set up a Facebook page to advertise the event.

 

That connection led to Josie drafting herself onto the reunion committee and led directly to the big bang of pain that she would subsequently feel. Naturally in a world filled with social media and networking those from the class who either knew Donna or the other members of the committee or were Internet savvy joined the class’ Facebook page and then were directed to a class website (as she found out later her generation unlike later ones was on the borderline of entering the “information superhighway” and so not all classmates, those still alive anyway, were savvy that way). On that website set up by tech savvy Donna (she had worked in the computer industry at IBM during her working career) each classmate who joined the site had the ability to put up a personal profile next to their class photograph like many other such sites and that is where Josie saw Elizabeth Drury’s profile (nee Kelly), the classmate who eventually married Bradley, and a flood of memories and blushes.            

 

In high school Josie had been smitten by Bradley, a student at Bronx School Of Science, who had been  dating her friend, Dora, before she took up with Danny Ross, and was a son of a couple of school teachers who worked on Long Island (and would eventually move there) and therefore stationed well above the “broggers” of the city. But in things of the heart obstacles like class distinctions, especially in democratically-etched America, are forgotten and sometimes make one foolhardy. That had almost happened to Josie, except for close friend Frida who was wired into the Monday morning girls’ “lav” grapevine about who did, or did not do what to whom, over the weekend and other exotica, made up half the stuff that got around when she was in one of her bitchy moods about the JAPs that ran the social butterfly world in school and had communicated some stuff that would make a cooped-up CIA operative or an NSA techie blush with envy, put her wise.

 

Josie and Bradley had seen each other several times when he was dating Dora during senior year and sat across from each other, eying each other, in their coffeehouse double-dates when he was with Dora and she with Max or some other folk aficionado. Both loved literature and were in their respective schools recognized as such and they had certain other interests in common. So they talked, talked in what Josie thought was very friendly manner about folk music, art, and pleading ignorance various aspects of science which she had had trouble getting her mind around (or as she thought recently after the flame had burned out maybe she just hoped that was the case) and she had formed an intention once Dora had dumped him for odd-ball Danny to ask him to join her some afternoon even if only to Stein’s Drugstore for an after school soda and a listen to the latest platters on the jukebox which had all the good stuff that kids were dancing to in those days. She figured from there she could work up to prodding him to ask her for a real date. But sometimes the bumps and bruises of the brogger life left a little sense in their progeny and so before making attempts at such a conquest Josie consulted with Frida to see if Bradley was “spoken for.” (Josie’s term if you can believe that). See Frida, the queen of the budding folk set so a new force to be reckoned with even if a brogger’s daughter got something of an exemption from the rigid routine of the social structure of the Senior class just by being able to get dates for girls with guys who could strum three chords on a guitar and not make the subway sound symphonic in comparison when they sang and take them to the Village coffeehouses had that excellent “intelligence” on the whole school system’s social network, in other words who was, or was not, spoken for. (By the way that “grapevine” any high school grapevine, maybe middle school too would also put the poor technicians at the CIA and the spooks at NSA to shame with the accuracy of the information. It had to be that resourceful otherwise fists or something would fly.) The word on Bradley, forget it, off-limits, he was “spoken for” now by Elizabeth Kelly, an “ice queen,” but whose parents ran the Kelly line of kitchen products and had plenty of dough. So Josie saved herself plenty of anguish and she moved on with her small little high school life.

 

Seeing Elizabeth’s name and profile with her own telltale divorced status listed though that many years later made her curious, made her wonder what had happened to Bradley and since Josie was now “single” she decided she would write Elizabeth a private e-mail to her profile page. This private e-mail exchange slot something which the website was set up to perform and which the reunion committee was recommending alumnus to do rather than take up a lot of space on the main page yakking about personal stuff that nobody else but the two correspondents gave a damn about. That “single” status, a condition that Josie now considered the best course after two shifts of fighting for equitable alimony payment made her realize after that last battle with Alfred that it was infinitely cheaper to just live with a man and be done with it, indulging that way her still very keen sexual appetites. Not if Bradley retained any of his youthful good looks, maybe even if he had turned to dust if he still had his humor and his interest in the literary life.

 

Josie wrote a short message asking Elizabeth whether she remembered her and how things were going and what had happened to Bradley whom she referenced by saying that she knew him from when Dora Denny had dated him in high school and they had double-dated going to Village coffeehouses.  Elizabeth replied that she very well did remember her and their “great” (her term) conversations about Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingway and Edith Wharton in English class. (Josie did not remember any such conversations although the three authors mentioned were then in her firmament so it was possible since she would talk anybody’s ear off who would listen about the not so subtle allusions to “sex” and abnormal sex problems in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises that seemed kind of timid back in the 1960s, and when such veiled references to get by the publisher responding to the public censors and their lawyers would be ridiculed now).

 

Elizabeth also wrote that several years back after the kids had grown up that she and Bradley had agreed to an amicable divorce since neither could think of a blessed reason to stay together. She corresponded with him (about the kids, family stuff) up in Connecticut where he lived outside of Hartford doing some archival literary work now that he had retired. Elizabeth had sent an e-mail to Bradley after getting Josie’s message and Bradley had asked her to send Josie his e-mail address so they could talk about those old times at the coffeehouse (although he said as part of his message via Elizabeth that he would rather not talk about Dora Denny since she had ditched him for dopey Danny Ross and he could never figure out why except that she had developed a liking for cuckoo contrary guys that were as thick as flies in the Village).       

 

That short message with the e-mail address and Josie’s quick reply “sparked” something as Josie and Bradley began a flurry of e-mails giving outlines of their subsequent history, including the still important one to Josie of whether he was “spoken for.” She made it plain that she was not but had been busy in her career as a consultant with several major universities and a couple of high-tech start-ups which she was now letting a younger associate handle so she could do other things. Somehow these messages back and forth led Josie to tell Bradley about her talk with Frida Hoffman about him back in high school. And he laughed (signified these days by the ubiquitous lol in e-mail and cyberspace land) not at the “intelligence” which was correct as usual with Frida when it was not about some snooty JAP but not for the reasons that she gave (his father was an abusive “asshole” and drunk, his term, so he was shy and reticent around other people for a long time) for his standoffishness and reputation as “ice queen” Elizabeth Drury’s boy.  (Elizabeth as it turned out had similar problems, her father’s drinking problem, the curse of the Irish despite all their money and good luck, as she would tell Bradley when she asked him to pick her up at the corner rather than at the front door). He wanted to get somebody with dough and although he did have some interest in her then she was after all a daughter of a brogger and that said all he had to know then. Sorry, sorry now.

 

Bradley laughed (lol, okay) because despite his being slightly flirty, at least that was what he thought he was attempting to do because he certainly was interested in her before he latched onto Elizabeth’s train when they would talk on those long ago double-dates he had never asked her out and then one day she just stopped talking to him for no known reason. Damn. Now post hoc he knew why. Double damn.                   

 

They say, or at least Thomas Wolfe did in the title of one of his novels-you can’t go home again but neither Bradley nor Josie after that last furious exchange of e-mails about the fateful missing chance and subsequent cellphone calls when all they thought they had to say to each other seemed too cumbersome by e-mail would heed Wolfe’s message. They decided to meet in Cambridge one night to see if that unspoken truth had any substance. They did meet, got along great, had many stories to exchange and it turned out many of the same interests (except golf a sport which relaxed Bradley when he was all wound up but which Alfred had tried to teach her to no avail). And so their little affair started, started with great big bursts of flames but wound up after a few months smoldering out and being blown away like so much dust in the wind once Bradley started talking about marriage. Josie was willing to listen to living together but her own strange marital orbit had made her very strongly again any more marriages. So this pair could not go home again, not at all, and after some acrimonious moments they parted.           

 

Josie knew that was the best course, knew she had to break it off but it still hurt enough that any reference to 1964 made her sad. As she took a look at the sentiments expressed in that tattered yellowed document she had a moment’s reprieve as she ahh-ed over the information presented. Had she really forgotten that there was not Vice-Presidential succession then when Lyndon Johnson became President after the assassination of Irish Jack Kennedy? That My Fair Lady was popular then as now. That the Beatles had appeared on Ed Sullivan’s Show and done a film that year, and that the great Chapel of Love by the Dixie Cups had been a hit that year as well. That 1964 was the year the Mustang that every guy she knew (except Danny) would have died for came out into the world. That gas was only about thirty cent a gallon, and that another Elizabeth, Elizabeth Taylor, married one Richard Burton for the first time (although not the last). On that note she put the yellowed tattered document in the trash pile. She would remember things past in her own way. 

 

I’d Rather Be With The Devil Than To Be That Man’s Woman 

Even when a thing, a fling, okay an affair is over there is always, always some residue, some flash back point that gets the blood boiling especially when a guy takes the walk on you, leave’s you flat. Josie Davis certainly had been down that road ever since she left the friendly confines of her family’s New York City apartment and had chosen to go to the wilds of Madison, Wisconsin and go to the university there (friendly in that she hardly went out of the house to face any heartbreak, and went to Hunter College High where she was a nose-to-the-grindstone drudge until she got immersed by Frida in the burgeoning folk scene in the Village and even then there was a lot of drudge about her since she wanted to go to a good, faraway school and would she thought at the time need a lot of scholarship money).

In the space of a few short months at Wisconsin she, tutored by her Chicago born roommate Susan Phillips, had gone from drudge to an aficionado of the budding folk scene there that had heated up and replaced the be-bop “beat” scene that had dominated the big city café life until that faded out in places like the Village, North Beach, Harvard Square about 1960 or so. That folk scene had led to her first serious dates, dates with one Jack Kiley, her own blue-eyed blonde Irishman from Boston who also was the first to show, really show her, the niceties of sex (the dates with the one-size-fits-all with nice Jewish boys from the city or from Long Island picked by her mother or the same picked by some classmate don’t count since she could see that they were nowhere, nowhere now that she was a woman). But Jack had left her high and dry, no, not really high and dry but had left school to “find himself” out in the 1960s cultural wilderness. She had hoped he would come back but the new Josie, now that she was that woman she claimed for herself was not going to wait.

Enter one James Prescott from Racine, a guy she had met one night at the Dusty Dog, the local coffeehouse hang-out for budding sophomores (the class structure, school class, and in effect social order class, would baffle any half-bright sociologist since Freshmen hung at The Grog, Sophs at the Dog, Juniors at the Hungry Hawk, and Seniors at The Club Algiers and while there were no obvious roadblocks for anyone to enter any of those establishments without the appropriate escort it wasn’t worth the hassle or the evil eyes which bore into the offender stuff that would not go down in big city life but was tolerated in campus towns). He had spied her (and she him) knowing each other slightly from American History class (along with about two hundred other students filling the big hall) since he had a running battle with the professor conducting the class about George Washington’s place in the American pantheon and she had congratulated him on his efforts after one class. So they talked a bit, or rather he talked a lot since he was hot that night on the subject of country blues from down South, down in the Delta in Mississippi now that folk-singers or archivists had gone down there and “discovered” a bunch of old black guys who were famous and influences on the development of the blues, electric blues that everybody knew about. Guys down south that everybody was going crazy over. Guys like Sleepy John Estes, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Son House and James’ favorite, Skip James.             

And so their thing started although Josie was a little put off by James’ habit of cutting her off before she was finished with her thought, and more put off by his off-key singing which was pretty bad for a guy who knew some of the most esoteric information about folk and blues music she had ever heard. Put off because he would sing at the drop of a hat even in the streets which embarrassed her. Especially when he tried to do a falsetto version of Skip James’ most famous, or infamous song “I’d rather be with the devil than be that woman’s man.” She assumed everybody would think that he meant her, the gal he was walking with as opposed to some bitch in a song who did her man wrong, tangled with whiskey and with his best friend neither of which she at that moment could be accused of. Although if he kept it up she might need a quick shot of booze and take a run at his friend Tyrone just for good measure. So they went along for a while until she tired of his ways, tired of being treated like some rag doll with no opinions of her own (checked Tyrone out too although he proved to be a one night stand, maybe a couple of nights but knew from nothing about blues and it showed in his whole self-righteous pose).

After she had given him his walking papers she found herself for a while humming that Skip James’ song except she would sing-“I’d rather be with the devil than be that man’s woman.” Yeah, two could play that game but she sorely wished that Jack Kiley would find himself soon and come clutter up her doorway.   

At The Crossroads

This crossroads business was not really Josie’s story except around the edges, around the place where she intersected her friends’ love lives although the cheap date scene she was all too familiar with once she got out of the friendly confines of “nice Jewish boy” New York and Long Island and came in contact with the “from hunger” boys as America democratized its institutions of higher learning with the great push to get the post-war baby boomers, the great unwashed, moving a step or two up from their parents.

Danny Ross was a born contrarian, young as he was to take on such a burden along with his studies as a college student, or what would pass for such a contrary person until a more contentious one came along. You know Danny was the kind of person who if you said an orange he has to say an apple if you asked for a preference in fruits even if for all of his life he had had oranges every day and hated the very sound of the word apple. Better, better example, and this was pure Danny since he was enrolled as a biology major, if you said some scientific study had shown that something like pomegranates helped stop lesions he would cite some obscure study by some half-baked researcher, a study that had been proven to be bunk about one hundred years ago, about how that same fruit caused cancerous growths. Yeah, pure Danny.

And that contrariness extended beyond purely personal preferences and scientific niceties. Listen to this. Danny, despite his obtuseness showing that he had the minimal social skills to survive in this wicked old world when he would let them shine, had this very pretty, smart, sympathetic and convivial girlfriend, Dora Denny whom he had met in Washington Square Park on one afternoon while listening to folk music of which he, she, they were very interested in at the time when it was beginning to blossom out from some Greenwich Village exotica in the early 1960s. Dora went to school, Hunter College High, with Josie and along with Frida Hoffman were three famous friends almost allthrough school. Dora had just picked up the interest through Frida and listening to WMNC, a station which was beginning to mix up some folk programs along with its basic rock and roll formal but Danny as was his wont when he got enthusiastic about anything had become something of an aficionado.

Aficionado meaning for Danny that if you say you liked the Weavers version of Goodnight, Irene as Dora did then Danny would almost compulsively tell you that Leadbelly’s version was infinitely better, cleaner, more nuanced, more mournful or whatever he was feeling at that time to oppose your proposition. But you can never tell about the influences of attraction, of budding romance because Dora, remember she is the sympathetic, convivial type, thought Danny was being cute when he said that contrary information to her that first afternoon.

Dora at the time of this story had graduated, as had her friend Josie Davis, a couple of years before from high school in New York City, the esteemed Hunter College School in Manhattan where she had gone to school. Her friend Josie Davis would then go as an undergraduate to Wisconsin while Dora stayed in the city to attend NYU. Dora couldn’t remember whether Josie was a sophomore or a junior at Wisconsin just then since she had taken some time off to “find herself” read; get over an affair with a budding folk singer, Todd Whiting, whom she had met when she had gone to Washington Square one summer vacation Saturday afternoon. You might have heard of Todd Whiting, you can still get his records on Amazon or at places like Sandy’s in Cambridge, since he was something of a hot coffeehouse act out in the Frisco scene before the acid-etched rock of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and the Doors took the town over by a storm in the summer of love, 1967. Josie had met Todd, had met and fallen hard for him while she was still in high school, hell, he was only nineteen but things moved fast in the 1960s, when he had dedicated a song, Angel In The Mercy Night, to her after Frida Hoffman had introduced her to him that one Saturday afternoon(Frida was the Hunter College High true insider on the blooming folk scene down the Village way and knew plenty of Todds to the delight of the grasping JAPs who previously had snubbed her).

Todd eventually left Manhattan for the West Coast after the on and off long distance affair with Josie had run its course to as the farewell expression went to “find himself” which he had apparently done with that local success he achieved out in the West before the furies came and ate him alive. (Josie had selected, if you are interested about the why of that “long distance romance” that was bound to expire, Wisconsin like a lot of other New York City and Long Island kids just because it was not either of those locales, that it was far from the homes which were driving them, and not just them, crazy.)    

This is where Danny and his odd-ball ways came in. Josie had been close, very close, friends with Dora, closer than with Frida at one point, since they both were seriously into English Literature, complete  with capitalization of the L in literature to show how serious they were. One day after she had been seeing Todd a few times Josie took Dora over to Todd’s apartment to hear him do his rendition of Angel In The Mercy Night that song which he had dedicated to her that fatal day at Washington Square and which he was to perform that next Saturday night when he was the feature at Murry’s Coffeehouse across for the Gaslight in the Village. (Everybody was almost forced to use that “Murry’s Coffeehouse across from the Gaslight” designation for Murry’s or Murry got his feelings hurt since his business, his coffeehouse success had depended for a long time on grabbing the overflow from sold-out shows at the Gaslight to come in and listen to the new talent that performed three songs and then out at the “open mics” he presented at his place.)

Dora, after hearing the song, deemed it very good, very good as an example of what the new folksingers she had been hearing of late should be doing instead of just covering old traditional songs from God knows where about people who seemed to be clueless about doing anything but killing, boozing, and having worthless romantic relationships. Todd’s song she said spoke to the new wave folk listeners like her. And she told Todd so, and he told her to come hear him Saturday at Murry’s with Josie. She said she would try except she had a date with a guy, Danny, who she wasn’t sure had enough money to cover expenses. Jesus, Todd thought then and as he mentioned to Josie later, the guy couldn’t cover a couple of coffees and a shared pastry, and a couple of bucks for the “basket” to keep him and his date in Murry’s seats, the cheapest of cheap dates none cheaper than that except just hanging around the Hayes-Bickford across from the Square watching the weird mixture of winos, rummies, con men, drifters, low profile poets, mad monk writers and flipped-out singers buzz around. Yeah, Jesus.            

As it turned out Danny, a financially struggling student at New York University since his father worked for the railroads which were in a dying cycle then and so not many weeks with fulltime work, and hence the reason behind the “no dough” status somehow pulled enough money to take Dora to the show. (He had borrowed the money from his older sister who had forced him to baby-sit her two children while she and hubby went to the movies downtown for a few hours relief in return.)

The way the show, the “open mic” nights worked at Murry’s Coffeehouse (we will dispense with the “across from the Gaslight” since you already know the reason for that designation), the way they still work now if you are near any of the fading remaining folk centers still around like Boston, Frisco and LA and still kicking out the jams with the greying population who have not heard the news that the folk minute had passed a while ago, was that performers would sign up as they came in to sing one, maybe two depending on the number of performers, for an hour or so and then the featured performer (the person those two coffee and a shared pastry people were really there for) would come out to do two sets and close the joint. Things went well enough for the “open mic” section and then Todd came on to do the first of his two sets. This first set was all the classics, the old time traditional stuff folk audiences expected to hear. Tom Dooley, East Virginia, Cuckoo Bird stuff like that. Pretty well received.

The second set Todd came out and sat on the stool placed on the small stage which some performers used and began to fiddle with his guitar. What he was doing was plugging his guitar into an amplifier in order to get more sound out of the instrument although nobody could see the amplifier from the front of the house. Then he started playing Angel In The Mercy Night with the amplifier on. Sounded good from what both Josie and Dora said later, later after the new world was crushed.

See Murry went crazy when he heard what he thought was going to be some rock and roll song when the decibel level went way up as Todd started Angel, really had believed the thing was some rock and roll song what with the amplification, and had gone in back of Todd and pulled the plug so he never finished his song in that manner. Murry made it clear that Todd, or any entertainer, had to play acoustic or else forget Murry’s, go to Coney Island and weep sounds on the corners or something. So Todd finished up that night playing his usual acoustic guitar. Weird night.

Here is the not so weird part though Danny born like all of them to the sound of the rock and roll night sided with Murry, sided with old time impresario who maybe grew up with Duke Ellington or Frank Sinatra bop Murry against Dora, Josie and from the startled applause after Todd finished Angel most of the rest of the audience. Danny said folk music was only worthy of that designation when the juice was off. Jesus.      

Looking For Beulah Land- With Mississippi John Hurt In Mind 

One night Josie Davis “discovered” a little old man in a soft felt hat, a well-worn brown suit, a little shinny from plenty of wear, maybe his Sunday best down wherever he came from which she heard was Mississippi, Mississippi that was all in the news since it was the place where Negroes, blacks, she was not sure what they called themselves in public since she would see about six different words, a couple nasty like nigra in reference to their racial identity were being denied everything under the son by Mister James Crow, his skin black as coal sitting on a small ill-lit makeshift stage at Murry’s Coffeehouse across from the Gaslight. The little old man just sitting on that stage getting ready to tune up a gnarly ratty-ass old guitar that looked to Josie’s eyes like one she saw one time in a Sears& Roebuck catalogue when she was thinking about taking up an instrument in elementary school and her mother told her to look in the catalogue since she did not know what a lot of the instruments the music teacher mentioned looked like. Or maybe better, a better description of what the guitar looked like, was that it had that beat up look that you would see when looking in pawnshop windows at the walls where about ten guitars were hung waiting to be redeemed by the junkies and alkies who owned them which would never happen in ten thousand years once they got on their “wanting habits” on (that junkie drug stuff learned later from a guy, Brad, she met at Wisconsin where she went to college so no she was not some high school whizz about the world, far from it).

Yeah, that little black man, and he was little, wizened with age and dried like a prune by the daily sun from a life of working in Mister’s cotton plantations as she would learn in a few minutes when Murry, the owner of the coffeehouse and as he termed himself a folk aficionado, filled the crowd in as to who the heck the guy was, was just sitting there fretting over the tuning of that guitar and would look up every once in a while with a great big smile from his very white teeth, except the couple that were missing which accentuated that whiteness.

But maybe it is best to go back a few hours, a couple of days even to find out how Josie and that little old black man wound up in the heart of the Village, McDougall Street, in the heart of the great folk revival of the early 1960s which would bring a bright Jewish high school student and an ancient Mister James Crow cotton-picker to the depths of New York night life. Josie, a junior at Hunter College High, was besides being a very good student (a drudge as the Jewish-American Princesses, JAPs, who also went to school there but only to build their resumes in the rich husband search and transit to Long Island out of the smelly, smoky city called her and her kind who sought, well, something not Long Island) was also restless as most sixteen year olds, bright or not, were in those times maybe now too. Her best friend Frida, who skirted the world between the JAPs and the drudges with some dexterity, got her interested one afternoon in going to Washington Square down by New York University where all kinds of performers would do their thing and maybe grab a few dollars from appreciative passers-by to keep the rent-collector at arms-length. (They all had their buckets out from ex-cardboard coffee cups to some sand pail restored from some parents’ garage to do duty as a collection agent along with their vagrant smiles, with the look of the unfed whether true or not, usually “not” down at the Square.) At that time the overwhelming majority of performers were singers, and not pop singers like Frank Sinatra or rock singers like Elvis but folk singers who with guitar in hand would play what they called traditional ballads and stuff like that (a few but not many that day would sing protest songs against nuclear weapons, Mister James Crow, the whole ticky-tack vanilla experience that most kids from suburbia faced in those days).

One guy, Ted Higgins, tall, blue-eyed, brownish blonde hair and so not from their brown everything Jewish enclave Manhattan world of tall apartment buildings and fears  sang 500 Miles as she and Frida entered under the arch and they stood and listened for a while. He gave Josie a big smile, pointed to her and said he was dedicating his next song, Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies, to her. That introduction and some conversation after he finished that set and sat down on a bench with them to have a soda to quench their thirsts (really his since singing for him dried his mouth something awful he said) led to a few dates but the thing never worked out because Ted was a rolling stone like a lot of young people then and told Josie that while he liked being with her he had to “find himself,” find out whether he was cut out for the iterant folk life like his hero Woody Guthrie and head west, west to California which was drawing young and old to the continental end of the line or go back to school at Ohio State and finish his engineering degree.

It also did not, or would not have worked out, because Josie’s parents while professing secular beliefs were dead set against Josie dating anybody but Jewish boys, nice Jewish boys, from Stuyvesant Town or Long Island where they had friends with nice Jewish boy sons. After Ted left though, after she got over the usual drama of first serious love and pandering around the edges of sexual experience, at least that “pandering “ was how she expressed the matter to Frida who arched her big brown eyebrows on that one, with an older man (he nineteen almost twenty to her sixteen so older man in that very age conscious time) Josie was still caught up in the folk scene, liked the music and listened to a radio show on Sunday nights, WMAD, which featured three hours of straight folk music to meet a growing demand in the New York area (Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Old Town Chicago, Harvard Square and a bunch of other oases too).

That continued interest was how one Josie Davis from Manhattan wound up with a nice Jewish boy date, Jeffrey Goldman, a son of a friend of Josie’s mother, Rebecca, sitting in Murry’s having the obligatory coffee and pastry for the under-aged patrons listening to the amateur performers who had signed up to perform that night in the weekly talent search Murry’s sponsored who filled up that make-shift stage before the little old wizened black man stepped on the stage after their fifteen minutes of fame was over. And the only reason they wound up at Murry’s a couple of hours before and wound up listening to guys and gals polish up their acts is that they had been shut out of the Gaslight which featured the better acts in town (the distinction being those at the Gaslight were paid and those at Murry’s worked for the “basket” or whatever object was sent around to collect dough so they could make a few bucks to keep that afore-mentioned rent collector away from their doors).

The wizened old man’s story was as different as night from day than that of Josie’s travels to Murry’s. See he had been a folksinger, made his living at it for a while as a young man down in the Delta, down in hard-boiled Mister James Crow Mississippi, had made a few records, “race records” the record companies called them, pitched to a mostly Southern black audience that sold some but come the Great Depression nobody, or hardly anybody, had money for the luxury of records when there were plenty of hungry mouths to feed and anyway you could heard the stuff for free on the radio as long as you could stand the commercials and so he went to work for Mister doing the best he could. Doing the best he could being picking that damn cotton out in Mister’s broiling sun. And that for better or worse was how he had planned to finish up his days.

But then as the dry rot 1950s turned into the flowering  1960s between a lot of white kids going down South from the North trying to register blacks to vote (and would hear whiskey-etched  Saturday night juke joint sing and contrition Sunday high Jehovah hymns when they settled into the rural communities they were sent to) and students who were looking for what they called “roots music” (having made some cosmic connections with guys who had gone down there before in the 1930s and 1940s like the Seegers, the Lomaxes, and Harry Smith) who started rooting around the depths of Mississippi to see if any of the guys they heard were still around (as they would have on that wizened little black man who was on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music) or guys that they had never heard of  who might know some blues. And lo and behold that little man was still around, still working Mister’s damn cotton. More importantly could still play some very good Delta blues on the ratty old guitar he had on the wall of his family’s cabin. So through the magic of money, of impressarios and booking agents and of air flight that little old man got some bookings up North. Made audiences clap in wonder at his playing and at that gentle foxy voice that beguiled everybody.

That little old black man who played so well, who played Creole Belle, Candy Man, Frankie and Albert, and went home to Beulah Land had been “found” down there in goddam Mississippi by among others, Murry Stein, owner of   Murry’s Coffeehouse and while that black man, Mississippi John Hurt by name, required more money than Murry could pay John said he would show his appreciation by playing a set for the crowd at his place that night in between sets at the Gaslight. And so that was how Josie “discovered” the legendary bluesman that night.   

Al Fin

A half a dozen years later now safely in the profession, now with the designation name doctor in front of her name and after having at most had a few dates with men after the litany of failures, of dead-beats and the cruel, nothing substantial, noting that ever worked out past a few dinners and concerts, nothing that would have led anywhere she met the human dynamo, Peter Grogan. A financier he called himself when she had met him at Jack’s where she occasionally stopped for a solo bar stool drink before heading home after a busy and trying day setting up the first group of contracts for consulting work with some local universities and colleges as a reward for that doctor designation that she hoped would finally pay off after abandoning first love, English lit and second love sociology. It had been a while since she would go to Jack’s with a date, or fellow workers to see what new small stage acts were working out their routines before heading to bigger venues, or bust since the demise of an active and larger enough folk scene to make it worthwhile for the ownership of Jack’s, Jack himself to book such acts. That dynamo part was right since he swept her off of her feet with the force of his personality.

Half Irish wit, half smooth operator, half, wait a minute that is too many half, so part guy who knew two thousand facts about lots of things, and a little about her bailiwick social psychology although that would only come out later after he was long gone. That was Peter Grogan in a nutshell. He did not come on strong though, was rather tentative about asking if the seat next to hers was open, it was and so were half the seats at the bar so there was a little mischief brewing in her when she said yes. Maybe it was just her time to get back in the ring but she fell hard for him like some drunken sailor pining for some faraway hometown girl. That took a while though since that is where the Peter smooth part came in. He hooked her by being the very soul of modesty, she had had to when they time came nudge him into her bed (she wasn’t aware until later that his preoccupations were not about sex but about other things and so bedding her was presumably far down on his list-smooth though on its face since Josie had decidedly given up on rushing to bed with every guy who did not seem going in the sheets like a mass murderer).    

Here ’s where things went awry though after several months, after he had hooked her good, Peter kept insisting that he could set her up with a nice institute, a place where she could do all the research she wanted. Naturally a person, a woman with limited personal resources looking to break from the parental financial stranglehold which they held over her like a sword would listen attentively to such an offer, an offer which dovetailed with her dreams. Here’s the come on though, although having very little experience with serious con men she was not wise to that world when he said he just needed some dough to tide him over on a deal and could she lend him some few thousands to close the deal and then they would be as he said “in the clover.”

She, the fool, took his words as good coin and lent the bum the dough even though it would take a serious chunk out of her cash reserves. And lent more money a couple more times until her account and stocks (given by her father to be saved for a rainy day) were almost depleted. Even then he had flim-flammed her enough that she was not suspicious when that deal that was supposed to be a piece of cake to close kept keeping more, rather than less, complicated. Then while she was away at a two week conference/retreat in San Francisco she let Peter use her place while she was gone, for a business deal he said which couldn’t be concluded at his office, or his home. When she came back from Frisco the whole place had been denuded of every saleable item, and to boot Peter had tried to sell the condo she owned to some poor snook who gave him a $5000 down payment. When they caught up with Peter in Rhode Island it turned out the only financing he was doing was financing various losing horses at local race tracks with whoever’s money he could grab (well over a quarter million dollars at least that was the total from those who were not too embarrassed to keep quiet about their loses).      

Yeah, Josie sighed as she bundled up Peter’s debris, a few clothes, a couple of books, some utensils, to be thrown away in the garbage with her love, she had crumbled up a thousand man thoughts over her life to find one truth-a good man is hard to find, very hard to find.

 

 

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