by Milt Montague
In the late 1950‘s Sivia and Milt were married and living Sivia’s dream of operating a fashionable retail Ladies Boutique in Manhattan. It was located on the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 55 Street in the center of New York City.
One lovely spring afternoon when the store was devoid of any customers, Milt was feeling restive and decided “to stretch his legs a little”. The sun felt good on his face and his body slowly unwound as he headed south on Sixth Avenue, recently renamed The Avenue Of The Americas and passing the Warwick Hotel, a well known “secret hideout” for many Hollywood Stars on a trip to New York.
On the corner of 53rd street he was confronted by a strange spectacle. Standing there was a slim, tallish, man with a short, curly, black beard with grey streaks and wrapped from his neck to his toes in an army blanket and wearing a fake viking helmet. The hat was conical, made of black leather, with a cow’s horn attached to each side with the tips pointed upward. It was the popular portrayal of a “viking helmet” in comic strips, the movies, or on the stage. [It is generally accepted by archaeologists that the Vikings did not wear horns on their leather helmets.]
As Milt approached he realized that the man was actually wearing two army blankets, one wrapped around his shoulders and a second one tied with a length of twine around his waist. From his waist hung an obviously hand made leather case, somewhat smaller and slimmer than the average schoolboy’s briefcase, containing some papers and on the front of this “briefcase” was a sign that read “5 cents”. This anomalously garbed person stood on the corner and gazed straight ahead as if he was communing with otherworldly spirits, or studying a phantasmagoria that no one else could see, or perhaps he was peering into a private vision of the future, or perhaps he was………… just blind.
As MIlt observed this phenomenon, a young woman approached this unusual man. She spoke a few words, and then gave him some coins. He answered her and then reached into his briefcase and gave her a sheet of paper, all the time not moving his head or eyes from their fixed focus, straight ahead. Milt waited till she almost passed him before he very softly and politely inquired if she knew anything about this very unusual person. She did, and this is what she recounted,
“His name is Moondog. I haven’t the faintest idea what it means, or even what it stands for, or where he comes from. All I know is that he is totally blind, homeless, and penniless. He stands there, on the same corner, all day, listening to the sounds of the city and elsewhere. Then he composes poems and songs based on what he believes he hears or imagines that he does. Since he is blind, his heightened hearing can detect sounds that ordinary people, such as ourselves, can never hear. If you give him some money, he will insist on giving you, in exchange, one of his compositions from his briefcase. I can’t read music and I can’t make any sense out of his poems. He never asks for help or money, just stands there, silently communing with his private universe. I just cannot pass him without donating some change and wishing him well.”
Many years later, around 2010, when Milt recorded this story for his memoirs he became curious and decided to research the story of this strange man. Wikipedia easily supplied the following information under the search for Moondog,
“Louis Thomas Hardin was born in Maryville, Kansas in 1916, lost his eyesight at 16 in a farm accident, studied music at Iowa School For The Blind, and won a music scholarship in Memphis. He arrived ln New York City in the late 1940’s using the name Moondog. He lived on the streets while composing music. His music was acclaimed by Philip Glass, Arturo Toscanini, and Leonard Bernstein. He moved to Germany in 1974 where he continued writing music until his death in 1999.”
About the Author:
Milt Montague, native New Yorker, survived The Great Depression, public school system, World War 2, college, marriage, several businesses, helped raise 3 lovely daughters. Discovered writing at 88. Now at 94 has almost 200 published poems and 28 memoirs so far……