Joanie and Luddy in Greenwich Village, 1967

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05/23/2021

Neighborhood: Greenwich Village, Massapequa

Hanging out in Washington Square Park

Joanie finished bending over the ironing board, her freshly-washed hair nice and flat. She pulled the plug out of the socket, wrapped up the cord, and looked in the mirror and smiled. Her own natural curls would be given free rein in a few years, but right now she wanted to match the long, straight hair of The Beatles’ girlfriends—part of the Mod look that she saw in all her magazines. Her carefully-planned outfit was a red jumpsuit, that her mother had sewn, complete with swinging bell-bottoms. 

Unbeknown to her mom, Joanie was going into the city. The Massapequa, Long Island high school senior told her mother she was spending the night at the home of her classmate and best friend “Luddy” (short for Ludmila), who had offered the same assurance in reverse to her own parents.

All they wanted was to be a part of the Greenwich Village scene. The cute, long-haired boys with guitars were out in full force, and the two friends—“good girls”—had recently met the three most fun, nice, and adorable guys of them all! The boys were kinda crazy and disheveled. One was wiry, had dark hair, and was a bit acerbic; the second was very tall and super-friendly, with a beaming smile and a peaches-and-cream complexion (not one pimple!); and the third looked exactly like Joanie’s favorite Beatle, John Lennon.

Would they see the boys in the park? Joanie had so much fun on the day that they’d first met Tommy, Bert, and Alan (“Pinky”) that she couldn’t wait to return. The girls exited the subway at West 4th Street, took a quick peek in Bloom’s shoe store window, and then continued on to Washington Square Park. She could hear Bert and Tommy before she even saw them. Bert’s voice in particular had a booming quality; he could definitely project and modulate while strumming his guitar. As usual, the duo had drawn a small crowd. Joanie and Luddy eased in, and were greeted with smiles by their new street-urchin idols. The guys remembered them!

It was summertime. The living was easy, and no one had any money. For fun, the five panhandled for subway tokens. Joanie had a couple dollars for the outing, enough for fifteen-cent cups of tea with cinnamon sticks at the Caffe Cock~n~Bull on MacDougal Street. When they got hungry, she fished in her large shoulder bag for the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches she’d made, and passed them around. Bert liked his Orange Julius too—a weird, foamy drink with a “secret recipe.” They sometimes walked over to the Orange Julius store on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street, where Tommy’s friend worked and sometimes slipped them freebies. All day and night Joanie and Luddy hung out with the boys, a small self-contained hub where everyone basked in the camaraderie—warm and safe, and accepted.

One of the first times that the two girls had been into the city, Luddy was stopped by the police on MacDougal Street. “What are you doing out so late?”  She was a tiny girl, four-foot-eleven. The officers escorted her to the LIRR and sent her home. Joanie, nearly seven inches taller, remained quiet while her friend was whisked off. She was now alone on the streets of Greenwich Village at midnight. “Don’t worry, you’re with us!” Bert, Tommy, and Alan assured her that they would stay with her all night, and that she could catch the early morning train back to Massapequa. That cemented the trust she felt with her new companions—three Peter Pans who had welcomed these two girls from Long Island into their freewheeling fold.

“Let’s take a walk, I gotta go to someone’s place. Not far, just over to West 4th Street.” Bert climbed the stairs after ringing the buzzer as Joanie held back a bit. The door cracked open. “Come on up!” he urged. Inside the apartment, a little business transaction took place. A few minutes later they were back on the sidewalk. “What was that smell?” she asked. Bert grinned, and they walked back toward the park. He did not make fun of her for not knowing. “That was marijuana.” Joanie couldn’t believe how just being with them made her feel—important!—as they walked the sidewalks of what surely was the center of the universe. “They knew everybody! People on the street, shop-owners, musicians.” The guys always stopped to kid around with Josie, an effeminate, sweet and funny fellow and a staple on MacDougal Street. 

Tired but energized, Joanie and Luddy returned home to Long Island on the commuter train the next morning. The city skyline retreated as they giddily made a list of all the boys they now knew. All because of their new friendship with a trio of musical musketeers.

[This is an excerpt of a  forthcoming biography of the musician Bert Sommer who two years later would perform a 10 song set at the Woodstock music festival.] 

***

Sharon Watts spent thirty formative years in New York City, soaking up street energy. She’s been, at different times: an art school student, a wine stewardess at a kosher-Chinese restaurant, a fashion illustrator, an assemblage artist, and a writer. For more visit sharonwattswrites

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§ One Response to “Joanie and Luddy in Greenwich Village, 1967”

  • Maxine Stone says:

    Thank you to Sharon Watts for this evocative slice of memory lane.
    Everyone had a favorite Beatle and a crush on someone “who looked exactly like______.”
    Mine was Paul and his doppelgänger, a lifeguard at summer camp-sigh.

    And Bert Sommer, who took these adventurous Massapequa teens under his threadbare musician’s wing ,
    went on to become quite a heartthrob himself.
    Just check out his love song, “Jennifer” as performed on August 15th, 1969 at the Woodstock Festival.

    Kudos on a great piece of writing about a more innocent time.
    Maxine

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