The Tom Tom

O.K. So we got a call from Downtown that the Mayor’s Office is getting complaints that the hotel is being used by a bunch of girls. New Haven is having a sweep so they’re probably from up there. We’ve been told to put an end to it.

With about a year and a half on “The Job” and only 2 weeks within the specialized Undercover Narcotics,Vice and Tactics unit I was as green as grass and constantly amazed at what human beings could dream up for pleasure or profit. It was with close attention and a vague premonition of dread that I listened to our squad leader, none other than, The Tom-Tom. At six foot three, 200 pounds, bald with an Irish- red face, Tom-Tom was a truly imposing figure. I would discover as a few years went by that fear was never present when Tom – Tom was by your side. And, I was about to soon discover that Tom -Tom, with his quick wit and Irish sense of mischief, could turn a routine assignment into a night never to be forgotten.

Eddie, Tom–Tom said to one of the senior squad members, I want you to work with The Kid. Come into my office.

A few minutes later Eddie came out and told me to follow him. Out into to the night we went to our unmarked car parked at the curb a short distance from our “headquarters” – a non-distinct building in an unremarkable neighborhood at the edge of town.

I’ve got to swing by my house to pick up some equipment, said Eddie. Then we can get something to eat. It’s gonna’ be a long night, Kid.

OK, I said. Actually, it was the only answer that could be given to a senior team member.

45 minutes later we pulled into the hotel parking lot to “Ron Day Voo”, as Eddie would put it, with the team. Tom-Tom explained that our “cover” would be that we were a group of surveyors traveling through the area and that we would hang out in the bar to see if any Ladies showed up.

Only hotel management knows we’re coming, he said. And, even though department regs say ,”no drinking on duty”, this is “on duty”. But, only 2 drinks for the whole night. Am I clear? Tom-Tom was very clear, it seemed.

So, off we went. Everyone moseyed up to the bar and ordered their favorite beverage. When the bartender asked what I was drinking it seemed that Tom-Tom’s eyes would bug out when I answered, Diet Coke, please. But then he got a certain little smile and said, Oh, this is going to be a good night.

Oh, boy, muttered Eddie.

It didn’t take long for The Ladies to arrive. There were two. One was wrapped in red silk, the other was in “Hardly Any” green. For working girls, our team of “Surveyors” must have seemed as manna from heaven.

Well, hello. You boys look like you’re having fun, said Red Silk as she sidled up to the apparent leader of the gang, Tom-Tom.

Yeah, we like to have fun, Honey. But, it sure gets lonely on the road. We’re working for the State surveying all the bridges. Been away from home almost three months now.

Oh, what a smooth operator this Tom-Tom is, I thought.

Well, why don’t we go somewhere quiet and maybe we could make you a little less lonely, offered Hardly Any.

Why, Honey, you know I’d love that but I’m a bit too old for that, especially with this new pace maker thing I have.

Oh, what a glib liar, I thought. The Tom-Tom was as strong as an ox and not too old for anything.

But, you know, my nephew over there could use some cheering up since his “old lady” left him right before we hit the road. And, with that Tom-Tom signaled Eddie to come over.

And, then it happened. That look of devilish mischief combined with absolute merriment came over Tom Tom’s face.

You know, girls, my son here has never been with a lady before. The iron strong arm of Tom Tom reached over and pulled me close to him in what appeared to all the world to be a fatherly embrace. I think he could use some special attention, don’t you?

With that, Red Silk and Hardly Any both erupted into convulsions of laughter.

Oh, Honey, I’ll take real good care of you. Oh, Lawd I will!, promised Red Silk

If it weren’t for the grip of Tom-Tom on my shoulder and the insistent tugging of Red on my arm, I would surely have collapsed.

Oh, no, Dad. I can’t, I pleaded.

It’s time son.

Oh, Lawdy, yes it is!, choked, Red.

But, Mom wouldn’t like me doing this. This time my plea sounded more like a whimper.

Mom will never know. And then Tom-Tom pulled me closer and whispered, It’s an order.

So, off we went. I being half pushed, half dragged by Red Silk through the hotel lobby to the bank of elevators and Eddie nearly sprinting. That Eddie, always ready to perform his duty!

As Eddie opened the door to a double bed room, my mind tried to work its way through every possible scenario where the job could get done without the actual labor, so to speak. Eddie had other plans.

Hardly Any was already down to her slip and Eddie, in a manor of seconds, had taken off his pants and shirt and lay on one of the beds, displaying the “special equipment” we had earlier stopped by his house for.

What the hell? I blurted!

What are you looking at? he said.

Nothing. I was speechless. For sprawled across the bed with his arms in back of his head was Eddie dressed in what he must have thought to be proper boudoir attire. And, I promise this is true, Eddie was wearing white boxer shorts with little red hearts, black over-the-calf socks and a stocking garter.

Now, I’m not in the habit of staring at men in their underwear, but this was a sight to behold. Apparently, our “dates” had seen their fair share of odd sights or maybe they had grown up in a circus. In any case, they didn’t bat an eye.

Part of the Outfit

Eddie continued to give me the Stink Eye and said to Hardly Any, Come on, let’s go. I’m ready! Indeed he was.

Red Silk says to me, Come on, Honey, take your clothes off.

My mind and heart were racing. Think, Billy. Say something clever. Aha!

Can we just talk for a while?

Red Silk responds, What you want to talk about? This ain’t talkin’ time, Honey. This is doin’ time.

Hardly Any: Talk??

Eddie rolls his eyes and through clenched teeth mutters, What the *!%#.

I start to pace the floor. Both girls begin to get jittery.

Let’s get out of here, Red says.

No, no, let’s just talk.

And then a look of sheer panic comes over both girls. Aaaa, Aaaaah, Aaaaaa. They start screaming, They gonna’ kill us! Aaaaaah, Aaaaaah. They start crying.

It then dawns on me that these poor girls think they have fallen prey to the slayer or slayers of a recent string of working girls.

No, no , I say. It’s OK. I just want to talk.

Aaaah, Aaaah. Oh, Sweet Jesus, help us!

By now, Eddie has lost all attention to this assignment. If looks could kill I would be murdered right then!

Both girls drop to their knees next to the empty bed and are now wailing: Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus.

My pacing becomes more frantic and so does the crying.

Red Silk opens the bedside table, grabs the Gideon and frantically flips through pages. The Lord is my Shepard…

Oh, are you a church girl?, I ask.

Eddie says, Are you kidding me? This is just great.

Aaaaah, Aaaah, Oh, God help us.

It’s OK, I tell the girls as I too get to my knees in an effort to calm them. God is with us. You’re going to be OK.

Aaaah, Aaahhhh

I glanced over to Eddie but between the look on his face and his outfit I thought surely I had entered into one of Dante’s infamous rings. Or a Fellini movie.

Just as I gave up all hope for an end to this nightmare there was an earthquake – like crash and the room door burst open. There stood The Tom-Tom.

You’re under…what the hell is this, a prayer meeting!

I suppose the open Bible and three of us on our knees might have given one that impression.

Both girls ran sobbing into Tom-Tom’s arms. Are you the police?

Yes, girls, I’m the police.

Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord. Thank you, Jesus!

The girls were ushered out into the hallway. Tom-Tom looked around the room and said, Eddie, what the hell happened?

I don’t know. I can’t begin to describe it.

Well, the other people on this floor thought that these girls were being murdered and called downtown. Patrol is on the way. We have to get out of here, but we can’t let them think this was a police operation so we’re going to put cuffs on you both and lead you out…now.

Off we went, not quite as we had entered a short time before. My head hung low as we were perp- walked through the lobby past a large wedding reception. And Eddie. Well, let’s just say he wore his special outfit, hearts and garters, proudly.

It would be a few months and several running street battles together before Tom Tom stopped shaking his head whenever he saw me. His little smile told me it was OK, but he never missed the chance to repeat those infamous words, What would mom say? And then laugh.

I think of Tom Tom often. And still laugh at that Night Never To Be Forgotten.

Dragon’s Blood and Baez

A voice. An image. A face. A song from long ago. There is no telling what will turn a distant recollection into a torrent of memories. For me it was a smell. Rather, the smell – of New York City’s Greenwich Village in the Spring of 1968.

What turned the Mind Spigot on was – soap. Recently I’ve been trying various hand-made natural soaps from soap maker, Emily Seaver. It was one of these soaps, Dragon’s Blood, with its incense scent, that sent me back decades into a world that fascinated, but would only be observed.

New York was just a bit over an hour away by train, but what had started out as a shopping trip became the catalyst for a life-long love of folk music and an admiration for one of the eras most honest artists and voices.

Washington Square

Walking along Bleeker, Thompson and MacDougal Streets and through Washington Square Park ones senses were constantly bombarded with the sounds of bongos, saxophones, guitars, flutes and voices both sweet and ferocious singing of protest or love. The smell of subway steam rising through street vents mingled with the scents of every food imaginable. The sweet, earthy smell of roasting coffee permeated the street in front of Porto Rico Coffee and from the countless coffee cafes that lined the streets of The Village. And, through it all rose the stench of unwashed bodies, garbage and omnipresent drugs. New York in the 60’s. Nothing quite like it and never to be forgotten.

Venturing into a small, colorful shop along Thompson Street I soon realized that I had entered another world altogether. What would later be learned was a Head Shop, this little store was jam-packed with pipes, bongs, clips, etc., etc. Not only were these things of no interest, I really had no idea what they were for. Such an innocent! But, what did interest me was the dizzying (truly) display of incense. Now, this was something I was familiar with. Incense sticks and cubes of various fruits and scents filled shelves from top to bottom. What really caught my eye were small bags of loose incense – including jasmine, patchouli and every Catholic schoolboy’s favorite, frankincense. A whiff of that and for sure you would feel on your way to heaven! After buying a small packet, it was time to further explore the neighborhood.

Ritchie Havens

Cafe Wha?, The Bitter End, Bottom Line, Cafe Au Go Go, The Gaslight Cafe, The Village Vanguard. Handbills plastered on the sides of buildings and construction fencing advertised both coming and just past appearances of The Stone Poneys, Ritchie Havens, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell -live nyc Little Green, Jimi Hendrix, Odetta, Peter, Paul and Mary, Tom Paxton, Judy Collins (click on hyperlinks) and – Joan Baez. What were these places and who were these people? Coming from a very parochial background (in every sense of the word) I was not in my element. But, the Genie of Curiosity was out of the bottle and while, somewhat sadly, I never got to go to any of the above music venues I did embark on a journey to discover who those musicians were and what they were saying. One in particular has kept my admiration all these years – Joan Baez.

Joni Mitchell
Joan Baez

Now, Ms Baez probably has a few views that are, shall we say, not simpatico with mine. But, her steadfast aversion to war, her respect and empathy for the common man and the downtrodden far outweigh those possible differences and have allowed me to appreciate her artistry without the distraction of politics. Her voice and songs remain both beautiful and meaningful. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvDyq66_lWY , Diamonds and Rust, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptxxq5PUHEk and There But for Fortune, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKq-nVdiQ8U are just a few of Baez’ songs that endure.

There’s no going back of course. But, I wonder, what happened … to the promise and optimism of those days and that generation? I just wonder.