“Never Lie To the Gypsy Woman”
By Billy “The Pocket” Barner
It was a warm summer morning. I think it was 1963 or 1964. At any rate, I was about 16 or 17 at the time. Of course, I was still living with my parents at Dash Point (a suburb of Tacoma Washington). I needed to drive in to down town Tacoma (about 11 miles away) to pay my Union Dues at the Tacoma Musicians Local 117.
The Union Office and Hall was located on lower Pacific Avenue. This end of town had a bad reputation as “the seedy” end of town. The Union Hall was flanked on all sides by adult book stores, porn theaters, pawn shops and old store fronts where Gypsy families resided.
I was in an exceptionally good mood that morning as I got into my newly purchased used red 1959 Chevy Impala.
Driving to town was always fun, because Dash Point was across Commencement Bay from downtown Tacoma. There were lots of twists and curves winding down the cliffs toward the tide flats with three bridges that led to town.
Once down town I traveled along Pacific Avenue and found an on-street, metered parking spot a block or two South of the Musician's Union Hall. The parking spot was right in front of one of the store fronts the Gypsies lived in.
The (store front) Gypsy house had tall display windows in front and the tall entry door was on the corner of the building. The windows went down very low, almost to the sidewalk and had gold colored (thick) velvet curtains (like a movie theater curtain material) draped down on both sides of each window. On the corner front door, there was a picture of hand palm advertising Fortune Telling and all kinds of Astrology figures and pictures of Taro Cards in the windows.
I parallel parked the Impala, got out and locked the doors. As I walked around the back of the car to feed the parking meter, I glanced up and saw a Gypsy woman standing in the window watching me and motioning with her finger for me to come over to the window. She was like something from a movie. She had long stringy salt and pepper hair with a long colorful scarf on her head that hung down over one shoulder. She wore a long floor length calico skirt and a lace shawl over her shoulders. She had about a dozen silver and gold bracelets on each wrist, silver hoop earrings and all kinds of rings on her fingers and thumbs. Her fingers and nails were very long.
I didn’t want to make eye contact with her, but as hard as I tried, I involuntarily glanced in her direction briefly and my eyes were instantly drawn to hers. I quickly diverted my eyes away and walked straight to the meter. As I started digging into my pants pocket for change, I heard her start to tap on the window. This was a bit unnerving. Fumbling for the correct change, I dropped some change onto the sidewalk. As I bent over to pick up the change the tapping increased and got louder. Standing back up, I fed the meter. I’m thinking to myself, “Just ignore her and what ever you do, don’t look at her!” I turned to walk away when suddenly her tapping turned to harder rapping on the window. Totally against my will, I felt my head turn as my eyes made instant contact with hers again. My eyes were locked on her eyes and, as hard as I tried, I could not look away. It was like she had an invisible force that was controlling me. I felt like a gnat ensnared in a spiders web. Her summoning gaze and waving finger worked like paralyzing venom. Her invisible powers entranced me, controlling me and forcing me to walk toward her front door at the corner completely against my will.
The door opened as I approached. The next thing I knew I was standing within inches of her. Seeing her up close was mesmerizing and terrifying at the same time. She was old (but at 16, 45 is really old). She had a lot of make up on and she smelled exotic. She had wrinkles, but with a worldly beauty to her face. “Give me some money”! she demanded. “I don’t have any money” I sheepishly reply. “Never lie to a Gypsy woman! She demanded. “I just saw you drop money on the sidewalk and put it back in your pocket”! Suddenly a worse guilt than my own mother could ever instill in me overwhelmed me. I had lied to a Gypsy woman. Was I going to be cursed for the rest of my life?
I reached in to my pocket, grabbed the small handful of change I had and handed it to her. As I reached out to hand it to her, she grabbed my wrist. She started walking backward into the house leading me by my wrist and shouting “Bless you, bless you, bless you my son!”
Just that quickly, I was inside the Gypsy house and the door was closed behind me. I was terrified that I was in there against my will, but was oddly captivated by the way the inside of this place was furnished. It had beautiful gold leaf furniture. Sofas and chairs that were upholstered in diamond tuck velvet's and tapestries. There were all these beautiful, large Gypsy theme tapestries and large oil paintings and mirrors in elaborate gold leaf frames hanging on all the walls. There were large oriental carpets on the floor. The mysterious scent of incense permeated the air. This was pre “Hippy” days and I had only ever smelled incense at church.
The next thing I knew, the change in my hand was gone and the Gypsy woman had her hands all over me. She was saying “I bless your face, I bless your head, I bless your shoulders“… well you get the picture. She was shaking me down (Big time). The whole time she was still backing up with her hand around my wrist and I was still following her. All the while she was chanting blessings. “Bless your face, bless your head, bless your arms”, etc.
Still entranced, I followed her through the living room and through a hanging bead curtain into a smaller room. The room was a bedroom. There were women’s clothes draped over everything with open closets full of more exotic fashions.
There, right in front of me, was a day bed. Lying on the daybed was a stunningly beautiful Gypsy girl about my age. She was stretched out on this daybed in a most provocative pose, wearing nothing but panties and a bra.
I was completely engrossed in the vision before me when I suddenly realized that the Gypsy woman had my wallet in her hands and was blessing my money.
Snapping back into reality, I quickly snatched my wallet from her hands, turned and ran for the front door.
At that instant, a "band" of little Gypsy children seemed to come out of the woodwork and started hitting, kicking and screaming at me as I quickly bolted for the front door with these children pelting me all the way.
Once outside, I ran to the car. I was shaking so badly that it took several attempts to get the key into the Impala door and unlock it.
Finally getting the car started, I sped away. Once down the street a ways, I pulled over and checked my wallet. My Union Dues money was gone….now in the possession of the Gypsy woman.
Now my dilemma was how am I going to explain to my mom and the union boss what happened to that money and expect anyone to believe me?