HANGING OUT — MARILYN ARMSTRONG

Hanging out is a concept lost to modern youth. I think it’s a tragedy, personally. The best parts of my life were spent hanging out.

I was a teenager in college. Madly in love with my first boyfriend who was seriously into the “Village scene.” He brought me there for my first taste of cold chocolate at a MacDougal Street coffee shop. I took to the Village like the proverbial duck to water.

From the old Italian coffee houses that sold coffee along with a few other non-alcoholic drinks, to the tiny, dingy coffee houses where folk music was born, this was the Heart of Hip. Everything was a 15 cent subway ride from home.

The world was mine.

It wasn’t only the Village, either. A lot of New York was free back then.

Museums were free. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was a magical experience. For that matter, the huge New York Public Library behind the stone lions had basements full of original, ancient documents into which you could freely delve. You couldn’t take them out of the library, but they were free for you to absorb. (I have no idea if that’s true anymore.)

You could spent an afternoon at the Hayden Planetarium watching the stars. If you had just a little bit of money, afternoon plays on Broadway could be very cheap, especially if you could live with “standing room only.” In the afternoon, there were always seats available. A lot of things you pay big money for now weren’t expensive then … and this wasn’t just a matter of the change of the value of money through the years. It was a huge change in culture.

If you were a teenager, New York on your doorstep was heaven, but Greenwich Village in the 1960s on your doorstep? That was the stuff from which dreams came true.

From Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton, to Pete Seeger and Judy Collins … they were all there. The famous, soon to be famous and a few infamous people. All young, making music and passing the basket.

Caffe Reggio — the place where cappuccino (in America) was born.

I’d take the subway and get off at Bleecker Street, alone or in the company of friends. It didn’t matter whether you brought company or went by yourself. There were always people to meet. You didn’t need much money — good because none of us had any. We were kids, mostly without jobs and in school. Those of us not still living with parents lived in apartments shared with other people so we could make the rent and maybe afford food too.

All I needed was subway fare — 30 cents round trip — and a few more cents for a hot (or cold) chocolate at the Reggio. For this pittance, I could spend an entire day and evening in the Village. Hanging out.

“What do you mean “hanging out?” asks my granddaughter.

“You bought a coffee or a chocolate and just sat around waiting to see what might happen. You could read or watch people coming and going. Hoping you’d see someone you knew — or maybe wanted to know.”

“That’s it? You just sat around?”

“Yup. Just sat around. And we didn’t sit around with our cell phones because there were no such things. We just sat around. Talking or thinking or reading. It was a quiet place until the music started. That was hanging out. No one told you to hurry — or told you to buy something or leave. It was cool to simply be there.”

Bleecker and MacDougalI often sat with a cup of coffee or chocolate for a whole day. No one pushed us out the door to make way for ‘the lunch crowd.’ No one bothered you unless you looked like you’d like some bothering.

When it got dark, you went to one of the places where people sang. There were usually no entry fees. Hopefully you had enough money to drop something in the basket for whoever was performing. It wasn’t particularly odd to have no money at all. A lot of us walked around with empty wallets. Without wallets, too. Rich was having exactly enough money to buy a coffee and subway tokens. It was okay in the 1960s. Poverty was cool.

Not only were there no cell phones. A lot of people had no phone. People rode bicycles with naked guitars strapped to their backs. Cars? I think most of us didn’t have driver’s licences. I know I didn’t. That was a decade in the future.

People were friendly, funny, and we were sure we were going to change the world. I think we did, though sometimes when I’m in a dour mood, I wonder if all we really did was make denim a fashion fabric.

Out near Hofstra in Hempstead, where I was occasionally attending school and getting far better grades than I deserved, I was a music major and one of the perks were free concert tickets to Carnegie Hall. There’s the “main room” — but there are also a number of “recital halls” where up and coming musicians perform. I’m hope that’s still true.

Meanwhile, one of my soon-to-be husbands and his best friend decided to bring culture to Long Island. They opened the AbMaPHd (pronounced ab-ma-fid) coffee-house. It was a light-hearted reference to education — AB, MA, and Ph.D. Nobody got the joke.

They brought in the same people who were playing in the Village. Dave Van Ronk gave me my first good guitar strings. He even put them on the guitar for me.

Dave Van Ronk (back then)

What did I do there, in Hempstead? I hung out, of course. Sat around, meeting friends, drinking something, listening to music, meeting musicians. Hanging. I also played bridge upstairs in Memorial Hall instead of attending classes, but no one is perfect.

No one was texting, computing, or phoning. There was no electronic background noise (unless you count the squeal of feedback from the microphones). Nobody’s phone was beeping, dinging, or wailing. No one was going off into a corner to talk on the phone.

If you were going off into a corner, you were either making a date — remember dating? — or buying (or possibly selling) drugs.  All the noise was human. Talking, laughing, fighting, singing, discussing. Eating. Drinking.

It was an incredibly happy time for me, even though I thought I was deeply troubled, probably because I hadn’t really made the full breakaway from home to real life … and also because I’d read too many books about troubled youth and figured I must be one.

I know that whatever kids are doing today, they aren’t having nearly as much fun as we had. I feel sorry for them. We were adventurous, playful, willing to try anything at least once and most of us, more often. If I hadn’t been me during those years, I’d envy whoever had been the girl hanging out. If I miss anything of the “old days”? It’s hanging out. Just being there and doing nothing important.

Being there was enough.

28 thoughts on “HANGING OUT — MARILYN ARMSTRONG”

      1. Those were magical and, yes, more innocent times. I shared many of those same “hanging out” thingies except I was the quiet kid who sat in the corner and just absorbed it all. Those memories enable me to partially block out the white house mongrel and his denizens.

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  1. I remember hanging out in London. Take a ride on the underground to central London, just minutes away.. visit the museums, take a walk down Carnaby. Street or Kings Road Chelsea, it was the scene. Trafalgar Square with Nelson looking down at you and walking amongst the hundreds of pigeons. It was London at its best, genuine. Today it seems so clinically clean and it has become a dangerous place.

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    1. Pat, I was lucky enough to see key parts of Europe in the 60’s when our worlds were still young. London, Paris, Edinburg, Dublin. The Pre Social Media world. A good conversation was easily had if you were open and friendly.

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  2. Yep. Being there was enough. My own youth was a decade after yours, and in a ‘city’ that hadn’t become a real city (yet). Salt Lake in the late 70s/early 80s was a wonderland to a young person (IMHO anyway). There were the sketchy bars, the short-lived porno theaters, the Blue Mouse (oh the Blue Mouse)..where they showed ‘art’ films that were porno thinly disguised by the use of lots of foreign languages (French, Russian, German) and showing me that Utah was still in it’s Puritan phase…NOBODY then or now showed that much skin in a film. I remember sitting at a corner diner and people watching, like you did with your coffee houses. Relishing the freedom and the night life. It was safe then to walk about after 10 p.m. or drive around and around listening to the music of our youth. Now? Salt Lake is an official “big” city, it’s dangerous to go to certain places after dark even, and the cops will ticket you if you ‘cruise’ as we used to in the day. Yes, we had a LOT more fun than our current crop of young people, but then we made our own amusements and had to use imagination for flavoring. They’ve missed out on all that. Sad isn’t it?

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    1. Now that you mention it, New York was a LOT safer then. New York is so big that it’s not “a” city. It’s a lot of cities all smooshed together. The Village is a very specific area as is Wall Street and each area of downtown is a separate place. And different people live in them, too. AND there are five boroughs. There were dangerous places, but not like now. People — for one thing — weren’t so heavily ARMED. Fewer guns made life a lot safer.

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      1. They had ’em Garry…for about .5 of a second or something. Actually I remember being a teenager and my father getting ready to go picket one of them with his church group. I snuck into the last one standing when I was 19 (1979) with my best friend at the time. Some guy left her a present in her hair (stadium type seating there) and we left. I still never understood what the fuss was all about..

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