..................................FAR OUT, MAN!
................NOW THE MEANIE IS A BOOK
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Friday, January 11, 2013


I was taking a break on the back steps, smoking a joint and drinking a beer when Roger sauntered up. Roger was about my age, 25, short and powerfully built. He had that smirk he wore when the shit was about to hit my personal fan.

“Hey, Al,” he said, fishing a beer from the cooler, and opening it with the church key he kept on a chain around his neck. He’d started wearing one after he’d  learned that this was Paul Newman’s sartorial habit.

“Hey, Rog,” I said, passing him the joint.

Roger rarely got to things straight away, believing the longer the wait, the more delicious the joke. After taking a deep toke he held it in for more minutes than an Acapulco free diver. Casually as could be he indicated the large, battered table spool sitting a few feet away.

“That your new coffee table?” he croaked, leaking just a little smoke, but manfully holding in the rest.

In its previous life the wooden cable spool was used by shipmasters to store thick wire cable. In its present incarnation it had become an interesting piece of funk art. Relatively smooth on one side, the reverse was gray and pitted with termite scars and was the much more interesting side.

“That was my plan,” I said.

Roger exhaled long and hard. Took another toke, handed off the joint and said in his croaky, dope smoker’s voice, “What about the termites?”

I took a small hit off the joint and a very large swallow of my beer. Discussion of an engineering nature was in order here and I feared that dope smoking might hamper my explanation.

I gave the spool a kick and said, “I haven’t figured that out yet.” To my disgust, a handful of blind white termites fell out, squirming on the cement. Roger squashed them with a paint-spattered work boot. “I didn’t know there’d be so many,” I confessed. “I suppose I should have suspected that things might be worse. Sucker only cost a dollar fifty.”

I’d retrieved the cable spool from the muddy yard behind a boat shop on Lincoln Boulevard. I’d realized the spool was infested and had taken the precaution of rolling it the half-mile to my house, rather than putting it in the trunk of my 1960 Rambler station wagon. Rattletrap though it might be, a car was a requirement of my job and I sure as hell didn’t need termites exploring it for wood, or other insect delicacies.

But now I was stymied. If I cleaned the cable spool up it would look great in our apartment, which was decorated late 1960’s Venice Beach Bohemian – Power To The People - style. On the other hand, if I didn’t get rid of the termites, they’d chew the apartment down around my ears. Normally, I might not have worried that much, but I was responsible for that apartment, among many others.

“I’ll geek ‘em for a six-pack,” Rog said.

My eyebrows climbed. Roger was an all around handyman who could and would do everything from fine carpentry to ditch digging. Sometimes his methods were a little unorthodox, but if he said he could eliminate the termites, I had no reason to doubt his word.

I looked into the cooler. There were only five beers left. “Counting the one I already gave you?” I asked.

Roger shrugged. “Sure,” he said. “And when your beer is gone you can have another on me.”

“Deal,” I said.

He strolled over to the tool shed. “Let’s see what you’ve got in here.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Isn’t this job going to take some preparation?

“Fuckin’ A,” Roger said, dragging out an old tarp.

“I mean like termite-killing chemicals, or whatnot,” I inquired.

Roger made no reply. Instead, he fetched out a can of white gas that I used in our Coleman lanterns and stove during family camping trips. He shook it. “You’ve got plenty of whatnot,” he said, unscrewing the cap.

“Look here, Roger,” I said, getting anxious, but he was already splattering the cable spool with white gas. “What was the real reason you came over? I know it wasn’t because of the termites.”

Roger sometimes liked to affect a high-pitched giggle to underscore supreme sarcasm. He used it now, making my skin crawl. “Man, when you are right, Al,” he said, “you are fucking right. Wait’ll you hear what happened.”

“Tell me,” I said.

He tossed a match on the cable spool and a small fire started. I watched in awful fascination as the flames died down and seemed to be sucked into the tubular holes. Then the cable spool started to smoke. A minute later there was the revolting wormy/insect sound of mad scurrying and the entire table turned into a swarming and very disgusting white mass of fleeing termites. There were thousands of them – maybe even tens of thousands - struggling blindly across the rotted wood to rain on the cement. Roger poured more white gas around the table, cutting off their retreat, then tossed another match -- Whoosh! and the whole mass went up in flames. I could actually hear the greasy crackle and pop of the termites cooking. Like the cereal, but not so charming.

“I read someplace that down in South America the Indians set fire to logs and eat the termites like popcorn,” Roger said. He leaned down and picked up one. It was grossly swollen from the heat and greasy white. “Wanna try it?” he said, laughing. I waved it away, getting annoyed. Rog tossed the critter back into the flames. “Don’t blame you,” he said.

“Tell me,” I said again.

Roger gave me a look. He could see I’d had it up to here. That I would take no more shit. “The Blue Meanie’s gone,” he said.

I gaped. “You’re shitting me,” I said.

Roger shook his head. “Nope.”

He picked up the tarp and threw it over the burning cable spool. In a moment the flames were out and he whipped the tarp off.

“They should be all dead,” he said. “Leave it out tonight…”  he shook the gas can… “and I’ll give it another shot in the morning to make sure.”

“Jesus, Roger,” I said, “tell me this isn’t one of your nasty jokes. Is the Blue Meanie really gone?”

Roger touched his forehead with two fingers. He farted. “Scouts honor,” he said. Then he scooped up the cooler of beer and headed away. “Come on,” he said. “See for yourself.”

*     *     *

To explain the Blue Meanie, I've gotta lay in some background.

When Roger napalmed the termites infesting my cable spool it was the summer of 1968 – the worst of times and the worst of times. That was the year Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Also, some months before the Tet Offensive had revealed the hollowness of the war still raging in Vietnam, where many of our friends were fighting and dying. Meanwhile, demonstrators were demonstrating, poor people were marching on Washington, and after giving us all a whole lot of grief, Lyndon Johnson was forced to tell us on national television that he wouldn’t run for president again. Good riddance, was what we all thought then, not knowing that Richard Nixon would soon take up where LBJ left off – and double.

In other words, this was a stressful era and we dealt with things the best we could: smoking dope, drinking beer and cheap wine, getting laid while listening to really cool music and seeing fabulous movies like, “Bullet,” “2001 – A Space Odyssey,” “Night Of The Living Dead,” “Barbarella,” Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” and the Beatle’s animated classic, “Yellow Submarine,” where huge Blue Meanies threatened the good people of Pepperland, of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band fame.

Milk was $1.21 a gallon, not much less than a gallon jug of Red Mountain wine. Bread was maybe a quarter a loaf; hamburger, 39 cents a pound; a pack of cigarettes was about the same and pot was ten dollars a lid, which was one ounce of mild Mexican. Hash was also ten dollars a gram, which when mixed with the pot made the Mexican not so mild. Gasoline was 32 cents or so a gallon – which meant that when you got the dope munchies you could afford to cruise 112 miles to Santa Barbara for the best malt in the world.

I was making $160 a week (about $900 today) as an investigative reporter/editor at the Evening Outlook in Santa Monica, California. I had a pregnant wife, a 13-year-old brother I was raising and a bad ass eighty-pound German Shepherd, named Tasha, to keep us safe.

My rent was $135 a month, so to help make ends meet I managed a block of apartments – in three parcels – where Ocean Avenue met Washington Boulevard in Venice Beach. Which is where Roger and the Blue Meanie and all the other cool people, oddballs, criminals and just plain nuts who inhabit these tales hung their water pipes. In return, I got my rent free, plus another $100 a month. I also made extra money painting vacant apartments and repairing simple things.

The first complex, which is where I lived, was on the corner of Ocean Avenue. Directly across from me was a large Quonset-type hut converted into a boat house. It was far from an eyesore, thanks to a fabulous 80-foot mural. It was a real piece of Bohemian art, with portraits of jazz musicians, beach scenes and Venice street life.

There were four units in my building – all two-story townhouses, with a nice-sized living room and kitchen downstairs and two large bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. Besides my little family, there was Marita – the estranged middle-aged wife of a metal shop owner. She had the body of an exotic dancer and the face of a harridan and kept in shape by continually scouring her place from top to bottom, while drinking beer and popping prescription diet pills. Next to her was a UCLA art student. She was as talented as she was beautiful and the whole time she lived there she had a string of live-in lovers of both sexes. They were all interesting people ranging from artists to musicians to scientists. In the fourth unit, which overlooked the empty fields where the Marina Del Rey was being built, were two Toms. To be exact, one was Tom and the other was Thom.

Thom was a reporter for a semi-rival newspaper and he’d inserted the “h” to spice up his byline. He was so short he was practically a midget. Tom, known as “Stoner Tom” to the rest of us, was the scion of a very bizarre and very rich Ohio family. He was a modern-day remittance man. He was smart, handsome in a blonde, Germanic sort of way, and totally stoned out of his skull 24-hours-a-day. Stoner Tom was also probably one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. The opposite of Thom. More about Thom and Tom later.

The apartment building next door – which faced Washington Boulevard - was a two-story green stucco edifice with nothing to distinguish it on the outside, except that it covered the entire lot. On the inside, however, it was middle-class fabulous. There were only three apartments. An enormous four bedroom two bath unit downstairs, and an almost as enormous three bedroom and two baths upstairs. Tucked into the front of that unit was a tiny efficiency apartment consisting of one room and a miniscule bathroom. It was my guess that originally it had been separated from the rest of the dwelling to accommodate a very mean mother-in-law. It had a large window that looked out on Washington Boulevard. Remember that window.

A series of young, well-off couples inhabited the main units. People we’d call “yuppies” today. The efficiency apartment, however, was usually the building’s sore thumb. One I was never able to fix for more than a few months at a time.

The third parcel was the most complicated, the hardest to manage, potentially the most lucrative, and from time to time was occupied by people that I love to this day - although I lost track of most of them long ago.

It was a veritable warren of apartments, with thirty-two units. The complex consisted of several large, single-story two-bedroom apartments fronting Washington Boulevard; then a series of one bedroom and spacious single units sitting across from one another in a maze of walkways. Framing the back were two, two-story structures with rickety wooden steps leading up from the main walkway. The bottom levels consisted of one bedroom units and bootleg singles. The top levels held two large one-bedroom apartments.

I won’t try to list all the occupants just now  – especially since they continuously changed. When I first took over the buildings there was a mixture of struggling students and artists, a number of malcontents and drug addicts and two frightened old women living on Social Security and cat food.

This was the territory that the Blue Meanie terrorized. And why I was so thrilled when Roger delivered his news. For it was the Blue Meanie who stood in the way of improving the apartments and upgrading the quality of tenants.

Oh, yeah, before I forget, besides the three parcels my landlord owned, there was a fourth lot that jabbed its way into this bizarre mix.

The lot was oversized and the only structure on it was a small house built over a large garage. It was the dwelling place of a right-wing motorcycle gang and it was not owned by my boss, Bill Cohen, so it had nothing to do with me, thank God.

The gang members were ardent followers of Alabama Governor George Wallace and his American Independent Party. There was a huge AIP poster of the racist governor sitting next to one of the tallest flagpoles I’d ever seen. The gang members liked staying up all night, drinking and snorting meth. In the morning they’d troop out with the Star Spangled Banner blasting on a loudspeaker and raise the American flag. They always ended the ceremony by firing two shotgun blasts. Then they’d return to their clubhouse to swallow handfuls of reds to counteract the methadrine so they could sleep. You won’t be surprised when I tell you that the U.S. Post Office wisely declared it a danger zone and refused to deliver the mail there.

Across Washington Boulevard from us bulldozers were tearing up the green fields, making way for what would soon become Marina Del Rey – the largest and one of the most exclusive small craft harbors in America.

And so that was pretty much the lay of the land for the properties abounding Washington and Ocean the day Roger came to announce the end of the Blue Meanie’s reign of terror.

It was an historic day for Pepperland, no doubt about it, because after the Blue Meanie, everything changed – although not always for the better.


COMING MARCH 15-17: THE SECOND ANNUAL EMPIRE DAY Celebration! Fan Fiction Invited. Kilgour Jokes, New Recipes From The Emp, Commando Tips From Sten. Plus Prizes Galore! Click Here For Details

During the Vietnam war, GIs who managed to survive their tour of duty were flown home in chartered airliners, which they called “Freedom Birds.” This is the story of three young men – from  wildly different backgrounds – who meet on such a plane and make a pact to spend three days together in San Francisco. Their goal: to spend every cent of  their mustering out money in a party of  a lifetime. And they’ll get more than they bargained for: because when they land, it is July 1967 – in a time that would come to be known as “The Summer Of Love.” A place and time where each young man will have to confront the ghosts who followed them home from the jungles of Vietnam and contemplate a future none of them had imagined. 


The entire 8-novel landmark science fiction series is now being presented in three three giant omnibus editions from Orbit Books.  The First - BATTLECRY - features the first three books in the series: Sten #1; Sten #2 -The Wolf Worlds; and Sten #3, The Court Of A Thousand Suns. Next: JUGGERNAUT, which features Sten #4, Fleet Of The Damned; Sten #5, Revenge Of The Damned; and Sten #6, The Return Of The Emperor. Finally, there's DEATHMATCH, which contains Sten #6, Vortex; and Sten #7, End Of Empire. Click on the highlighted titles to buy the books. Plus, if you are a resident of The United Kingdom, you can download Kindle versions of the Omnibus editions. Which is one clot of a deal!
Here's the Kindle link for BATTLECRY
Here's the Kindle link for JUGGERNAUT
Here's the Kindle link for DEATHMATCH



Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.  



Venice Boardwalk Circa 1969
In the depths of the Sixties and The Days Of Rage, a young newsman, accompanied by his pregnant wife and orphaned teenage brother, creates a Paradise of sorts in a sprawling Venice Beach community of apartments, populated by students, artists, budding scientists and engineers lifeguards, poets, bikers with  a few junkies thrown in for good measure. The inhabitants come to call the place “Pepperland,” after the Beatles movie, “Yellow Submarine.” Threatening this paradise is  "The Blue Meanie,"  a crazy giant of a man so frightening that he eventually even scares himself. Here's where to buy the book. 


Diaspar Magazine - the best SF magazine in South America - is publishing the first novel in the Sten series in four 
episodes. Part One and Part Two appeared in back-to-back issues. And now Part Three has hit the virtual book stands.  Stay tuned, for the grand conclusion. Meanwhile, here are the links to the first three parts. Remember, it's free!

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