Gypsy and The Minstrel (an urban legend)
This special Wikidelphia page is about an urban legend known as Gypsy and The Minstrel:
There are Urban Legends abounding. Most are localized "myths" particular to a small area -- if they were not publicized, no one outside the radius of hearsay would ever know of them.
This is not so with the legends of Gypsy and The Minstrel. We can go from coast to coast, and even north a-ways into Canada, and find tales of these two. Granted, they are not quite the same from place to place, their trappings differ, but the essence of this pair underlies all of the many tales. For this study, we shall be dealing with the set of tales from the general Philadelphia area—the locale which is generally accepted as the "home base" and origin of this tale.
But before we go into the tales, let us first take a look at the many guises these two take on.
The two main characters
At first glance, they are a rather mismatched set. Gypsy is a petite (but sometimes a bit chunky) five-foot-two woman, never with blue eyes. In stark contrast, The Minstrel is a six-three scarecrow-like figure
Unlike The Minstrel, she is never referred to as The Gypsy; she is simply Gypsy. Most of the time she wears it as a name, like Gypsy Rose Lee.
(There is one obscure and dubious tale that may have originated out of the general Hollywood area where she does take on that particular name. The point is strongly made that she does not go by this name either to honor or in remembrance of the stripper — not at all. Instead, the Rose is from Axl Rose, lead singer of Guns and Roses, and the Lee from Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general. Her two great heroes, according to this particular tale)
Yet, there are instances where Gypsy seems to become her title. Unlike The Minstrel, who is always The Minstrel, Gypsy takes on names other than Gypsy, the most common one being Rosetta--or simply Rose.
Gypsy's Tarot deck
Gypsy is an amazing reader of the Tarot. She is never wrong; a bit off the mark perhaps, but never wrong. Some tales have her using the Thoth deck. (Personally, I believe the Thoth deck to be too masculine. Even at her harshest and most impersonal moments, Gypsy is ALL female. Perhaps it might even be said that she is all females). Others have her use a traditional "RWS" deck. (This deck seems much too mundane for one of her colorful character)
In the majority of the stories, Gypsy uses a deck of her own making—or, more likely, a deck designed by her and hand-drawn by The Minstrel. Strange and exotic, the scenes are colored on 3 x 5 index cards which she keeps in a pouch which hangs around her neck, and strapped about her at the waist. Unfortunately, there are descriptions of very few of these cards in all the stories—although some (such as The High Priestess) seem to have more than one variant.
Yet, no matter the type or style, cards of one sort or another are an important feature of every tale. There is one story included in this study that shows Gypsy’s amazing precognitive abilities—The Drips of the Last Drop Café. An amazing tale in which Gypsy shows that there is no reason to have cards for Tarot.
As to appearance… Gypsy runs through a multitude of guises.
The most common one, of course, is that of a gypsy, fully dressed in the old style. Most of these variants have her barefooted, usually with a loop of bells about her ankle, although there is a short string of stories that make particular mention of flip-flops.
On one hand, we find her as barely sixteen with large dark brown eyes and rich ruby lips kept in a perpetual smirk as if she knew something that no one else could even conceive of. She speaks with a heavy Hungarian accent that is sometimes hard to follow. On another hand, she is the fragile (only in appearance; there are many phenomenal feats of strength she performs) wizened crone, her green left eye slightly larger than the brown right one; it is said that no one can resist her glare. On a third hand, she is mid-aged and possibly pregnant.
There are hints in some of the more obscure tales of her son (or perhaps daughter). Though it is never confirmed in any way, the natural assumption is that The Minstrel is the father.
One small set of East Coast stories have the most bizarre depiction of Gypsy. She is nearing cronehood, thin to the point of emaciation. Her hair, long, waved and wiry is naturally white, but she keeps it dyed a brilliant pink. She has a red inverted pentacle tattooed on her forehead. Her eyes are emerald green sparkles, there is a sleeper earring piercing her left nostril and she wears a thin-lipped sardonic smile—almost Mona Lisa-ish. She wears a pink tank top over which there is an open denim vest. A lime green rosary is sown along the front edges of the vest so that it appears to be hanging about her neck. The back is hand-painted—The Minstral’s handiwork. At the top of the vest is a beautiful red rose in full bloom. At the bottom we find a skull and crossbones, the eye sockets have an smoldering red glow to them. Across the center, in bright neon pink, has been written “I love Axl”. She wears either denim shorts that are cut off higher than decency dictates or a very tight men’s bathing suit in an English flag pattern. She smokes a calabash incessantly.
This last variant is so outlandish that I cannot consider, if Gypsy is indeed more than simply a legend, that she would ever remotely approach this appearance. The imagination does not stretch that far. And yet, as these are an East Coast grouping, I have included one of these bizarre stories.
He is never referred to as anything but The Minstrel. It is much like the British sci-fi show “Dr. Who” where the major character, when asked his name always answers “I’m the Doctor”. Thusly, The Minstrel is simply The Minstrel.
Origins of The Minstrel's name
There are three basic legends of his “origin” and why it is he has no proper name.
The first, as far as I am concerned, is undeniably a copycat of one of the early Greek urban legends. In this small series of tales, the Minstrel is abandoned by his parents and left to fend for himself in the wilds — at the tender age of three A lone she-wolf finds The Minstrel and raises him as her own. The Minstrel is somehow wrenched from the she-wolf. Some say she is shot, others say that she dies. In either case, The Minstrel begins his aimless wanderings before teaming up with Gypsy.
The second, and in my opinion the “actual”, is that he either ran away or was stolen from home. In either case, his winds up being raised by a roving band of gypsies. There he meets the young girl Gypsy. She is Rosetta, he is called The Boy. As he is a piece of merchandise, a barely-tolerated outsider, by gypsy law he has no right to a name. Fascinated by Gypsy’s uncle’s amazing virtuoso violin, The Minstrel begins with a stolen guitar at the age of fourteen. By the time he and Gypsy leave the band, his remarkable skill had earned him the title The Minstrel.
The last and most popular version of their meeting, appearing in almost every city that has more than an isolated tale or two, has The Minstrel a roaming victim of complete amnesia that had wiped out all memories prior to meeting Gypsy. Here we have The Minstrel as a blank slate for Gypsy to mold into the man that The Minstrel became. I have my personal doubts as to the validity of this "happening" —yet no collection of their urban tales would be complete without including it.
The Minstrel's apparel
The one thing common to all depictions of The Minstrel is his ever-present hat. Large brimmed and slightly floppy, it is sometimes denim blue and sometimes black felt, but always has a light blue bandana as a hatband. Many times there is a feather stuck in the headband — one long and perfect raven’s feather.
A shirt of medium blue under a large, loose and usually black open vest with too many pockets for him to keep track of, with pants that are either black with high laced-up soft leather boots or battered blue jeans and sneakers is his usual attire.
He carries his guitar on his back, neck down. At times it is in a case, other times covered only with a plastic bag to keep it from the weather.
He wears either a simple denim shoulder bag or a near-neon orange messenger bag. Either way, it is a large and quite amazing thing. He calls it his magic bag—all manners of things come out of it at one time or another. His balls for juggling, his journal and songbook, a small refractor telescope and a stuffed rabbit are some of the many things that he has pulled out of his bag.
A best tale
Enough said on our two heroes for the moment. Before I continue my study of this remarkable pair, I present to you one of the most famous and well-loved tales of the two. There is here more of a direct focus on The Minstrel, but Gypsy is never satisfied to remain in anybody’s background.
- The Minstrel Discovers the Importance of Mercury
It was hot. Sweaty, sticky even in the shade hot.
Not missing a step, The Minstrel took off his hat, and, removing the light blue bandana that served as a hatband, wiped the sweat from his forehead once again. He fanned himself briefly and blew out a big puff of air.
“Now what is it?” Gypsy asked, keeping pace with The Minstrel, edgy with the heat herself.
“It’s hot,” Minstrel complained, verging on a whine. He hated when he started whining, and he tried not to slip into it. He hated his whining, but Gypsy hated it even more.
She gracefully spun around in front of him, skirt flaring out, and stopped him short. Eyes hard emerald slits that flashed hotter than the heat, feet spread and instantly rooted. Her right hand on her hip, her left rose up toward The Minstrel’s face.
“Shut up and cope,” Gypsy chided him with an accusing finger. “It’s not even seven in the morning and you’re complaining already.”
She gave him a wide mock-turtle smile. Tippy-toed reaching up, she slid her palm across his moistened forehead. “What do you think noon’ll be like?” she said, semi-sweet as her hand slid swiftly down and boxed his ear.
“Ouch!” The Minstrel drew in a quick breath, and pulled back wincing.
Gypsy leaned back and laughed, full and loud, breaking through the quiet of the morning
“Be glad I love you,” she softened, the smile real now. “Now put that hat back on and tie it to your head.”
The Minstrel pushed his hat on his head, fiddled with the brim, rolled up the bandana and tied it tight. He paused, wondering if he had had a feather stuck in it or not. A brief shrug and he reached into his neon-bright bag, rustled about and plucked a long, perfect raven feather out. He stuck it in the hat, and wriggled a bit to adjust the guitar.
Arms crossed, Gypsy jingled her bells as she tapped her bare foot impatiently. She did not wait well and she had no notion of improving it. She reached out and grabbed. She spun back, now in the lead, and tugged at him.
“Come on, we’ve got a few hours to go until we hit the city,” she tossed back at him.
The Minstrel half-hop kick started and took hold of the hand that threatened his shirt buttons. Two shuffles strides and he sided up to her. She was double-timing, head down and angling forward. Two more steps and they were in time. Arm-swingingly marching, they moved along toward the city. The Minstrel began to hum his humming as they one-two-three-foured along. Gypsy looked up. The Minstrel looked down. A quick spark jumped the gap.
The street corner was busy despite the heat. The buzz of secretary’s lunch rush was almost audible to The Minstrel as they chatterly flew by. Underlings with open tie-loosened collars eyed on by, hunting both food and femme. There was enough room against the corner wall for The Minstrel to start a noon sing. He put the open money-seeded case at his feet, strapped on the 12-string and quick glanced at Gypsy. She sat cross-legged behind the scarlet silk square that her cards shifted around upon.
He smiled down at her, wide and toothy like Gypsy taught him, then flashed at the hustle and played a random chord. Then another, and another. At the sounds, some on-lookers crystallized out of the super-saturated buzz-byers. The Minstrel started a tune, order dropping from mild chaos, hesitant but clear. A few more passer-bys slowed, creating a stop gap which bottle-necked into a nuclear audience.
“Hey there,” The Minstrel strummed out. “Damn hot, ain’t it?”
A few sweaty nods and bare murmurs echoed back, waiting.
The tune grew, took form and wound into the now crowd. Gypsy smiled up at him, without the tooth-flash, and turned over another card. The Magician — hand-drawn and looking like The Minstrel himself.
"Auspicious," she thought, covering it with the flip of The High Priestess.
The Minstrel minstreled...
:I am The Minstrel of the Streets—a wandering troubadour, Please stop and listen to me sing I ask, I do implore...
The crowd grew, quickly approaching critical mass…
:I’ll show you the most marvelous things and place wonders a'fore your eyes.
…and ran out, off the curb and into the shallows of the streets.
:But one thing I must ask you first... When was your last sunrise?
So it went for the next piece of timelessness. The Minstrel forgot the heat, Gypsy turned cards for the curious. The lunch broke, and the crowd shifted, then thinned and vanished. The Minstrel gathered their harvest from the guitar case, settled in the 12 string and smiled down at Gypsy.
“Ain’t so hot now, is it?” she smirked sweetly.
“Guess not.” He took off his hat and wiped across with his backhand. “Then again…”
A squeaky rattle grabbed their notice. Across the street a CartGuy pushed along. Short and stubby, long coat and finger-less knit gloves, he slowed to look at them. Roundy eyes in a roundy face, he wore an aluminum strainer a-top. His cart was full of scattered and jumbled papers held down by an ancient typewriter.
“Hey,” heyed The Minstrel.
“Hey yourself,” the man returned.
The Minstrel ambled across the street, Gypsy at his heels. He stopped, once-overing the CartGuy.
“I’m The Minstrel. And this is Rosey,” he introduced.
The CartGuy looked from The Minstrel to Gypsy and back to The Minstrel, big light blue wide-eyeing. He shifted the strainer, almost doffing to Gypsy.
“I’m Mercury,” the CartGuy announced, softened and asked: “Are you THE The Minstrel?”
“Of course he is,” cut in Gypsy. “There ain’t another.”
“Guess not,” said Mercury. He turned, finished with the pair, and pushed down the street.
Over the next couple of weeks, The Minstrel would see Mercury after every crowd clearing. A long look, then push away. Despite his usual detachment, The Minstrel had to know. And there wasn’t much time to find out — Gypsy was getting restless. She was ready to move along — west this time. Wilderness for a time she told The Minstrel. She was even considering a boxcar. That meant she was looking for a long way hop, a clearing and cleaning out of the city. The Minstrel had to act fast.
The next afterwards, Mercury was there as usual, starting to push off.
“Wait here,” The Minstrel told Gypsy. “I’ve gotta…”
“Of course you do,” Gypsy answered. “The High Priest covered The Magician a few days ago. You’re awfully slow sometimes.”
The Minstrel leaned down and quick-kissed Gypsy. He strode the street.
“Hey Mercury!” he called out.
The squeak stopped and the cart swung around. It re-squeaked, ambling along toward The Minstrel, pulling up next to him. Mercury paused, hands on the bar, waiting quietly. “Yes?” he asked.
“I have to know. I just HAVE to know.”
“Now that that’s clear,” Mercury drawled out, “what is the ‘have-to-know'?”
“Why,” The Minstrel started. “Why do you wear that strainer?”
Mercury smiled slyly. He looked around cautiously. Seeing no one too near-by, he turned to The Mintstrel.
“Because it’s better than tin foil,” he whispered.
The Minstrel was totally confused. Mercury laughed at the sight then quieted down, serious again.
“Aliens,” he said. “The aliens. They can’t get to you through it. It keeps my mind clear of them.”
He voice lowered a bit.
“You know they’re trying to get all of us, don’t you? Haven’t you heard your name suddenly called out in the middle of nowhere when no one was there? Hasn’t something just taken you over sometimes?”
The Minstrel shook his head — his voice didn’t work right then.
“I thought so — you look the type they’re most after. You ought to get one of these; you can control it better. Wear it under your hat and no one would know. And you better watch out for her. If they get her, there’s no telling what she might become.”
The Minstrel looked at the little man. Of course he knew about the aliens and the tin foil. But this was the first anti-alien he had met. He wasn’t sure what to make of him.
“Hey, can you watch my cart for a minute. I gotta go piss.” Without waiting an answer, Mercury headed off into the trees.
The Minstrel looked at the cart. He couldn’t resist — he lifted the typewriter and looked through the papers.
“Oh my God!” the saucer-eyed expletive bursted out.
Mercury seemed to appear all at once at The Minstrel’s shoulder.
“So you’ve seen it,” he said. “That’s what happens to me when I take it off. I can’t resist them entirely. I take it off and they make me write. And write. And get published. The alien’s propaganda. And I’m the one who writes it for them.”
“Yes, I mean. It’s all true — in a way.”
“I can’t believe it. You—you’re actually Robin Hindsight? The most famous science-fiction writer in the world?”
“Yep. That’s me.” Mercury said puffily, not at all humble.
“And it’s all true?”
“Close to it.”
“’Stranger than a Strange Land’??”
“Oh yeh! Real alien stuff under the guise of Martian invasion. Read it very carefully, and follow it closely. You can really learn to frok.”
“Frok is real?” The Minstrel was confused. “I thought it was a typo — should have been fork…”
“No. Frok it is. And the next book they made me write… All about immortality. It comes hand in hand with the immorality of the masses, but that’s their problem."
“The next book…?”
“Yes. It’ll be out soon, the publisher’s got it now. Enough time for love. The adventures of Last-a-lot Long. Do you have anywhere I could send you an autographed copy?”
It was all too much for The Minstrel. He felt like he had just fell into the Twilight Zone. Or maybe the Outer Limits. One of the better early episodes before they totally lost it.
"No, it can’t be," he thought, nearing the edge of panic. “It’s only too much heat."
“Well Mr. Hindsight," he stutter-stammered. “I… I’ve got to go.”
“All right my boy,” Mercury’s sly grin was slipping toward evil. “Don’t forget though.”
Mercury tapped his sleeve.
“They’ll be out for you for sure now.”
A chain of boxcars pulled out that night—heading west toward Denver.
- Wikipedia: urban legend