..................................FAR OUT, MAN!
................NOW THE MEANIE IS A BOOK
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Friday, January 18, 2013



The Blue Meanie’s lair crouched at the foot of the apartment complex’s main exit. If you wanted to go to and from the parking area you had to pass his front door. To say this was a scary journey does not begin to explain the peril, both imagined and sometimes painfully real.

When I took over management of the buildings, Mr. Cohen – who was the active partner in a “pink” mafia investment group composed of like-minded doctors, dentists, lawyers and real estate agents – warned me that he had one tenant who hadn’t paid his rent for six months prior to the purchase date, as well as the three months that followed.

“I can’t get him out,” he said. “The police won’t go there without a warrant. The marshals say the best they can do is post a notice of eviction, meaning it’ll take months to get a court order. From what everybody is saying, we’d require the forces of the fabled 101st Airborne to force him out. My investors aren’t going to be happy with a pitched battle, Allan. So, please, please, do something.”

When I finally set my sights on the Blue Meanie, I couldn’t imagine the “something” Mr. Cohen had in mind. When I laid eyes on him, I thought if Mr. Cohen didn’t want a nice sensible shoot-out, maybe a poison gas attack would do.

The man was huge – bigger than a mountain huge - with enormous arms and legs and a torso as thick and hard as a gorilla’s. His head was as outsized as the rest of his body and his hair and full beard were wild and stood out in all directions, as if he’d stuck his finger in an electrical outlet just to calm himself down. In repose, his eyes were set so deep you could barely make them out.  When he was pissed off, they were bulging red orbs that crisped whatever they looked at.

He always wore dirty blue coveralls over a hairy chest and flip flops on his bare feet. I doubt that except for secret military bestiaries where special troops are constructed to terrify our enemies, that there were regular shoes or shirts in existence that would fit him.

His size, general nastiness and the blue coveralls were what won him the moniker of the “Blue Meanie,” after the villains in the Beatle’s animated film, “Yellow Submarine,” which we'd all trooped to the Venice Fox Theater to see. 

Before trying to find a way to attack the problem, I asked a few of the tenants about him. The social security ladies just shuddered and ran off when I mentioned his presence. A junkie who lived upstairs was the first person to mention his nickname: “He’s the fuckin’ Blue Meanie, man. He’s fuckin’, fuckin’ with Pepperland. Shit, shit, shit, what a bummer, man. You don’t get rid of him, me and my old lady are gonna fuckin’ move.”

Of course, the guy never paid his rent on time and was so screwed up that I briefly considered trying to hire the Blue Meanie to drive him and his ilk out. But there were other people residing in the complex – nice people that I wanted to keep as a foundation to Mr. Cohen’s promising new regime. And they lived in constant fear of the Blue Meanie.

He sat in his ground-floor apartment, which as I said, looked out over the only exit to the parking area. To bypass him, you’d have to circle all the way around the block to the alley behind, which many people did to escape his wrath.

But if you were a single mother carrying a week’s worth of groceries you might hope that maybe he wouldn’t be there on shopping day. Maybe it’d be his day to replenish the cans of corned beef he ate and the jugs of Red Mountain that he drank. Where he got the money, the Good Lord only knew. If he was home, his front door would be open and he’d be sitting in an old Lazy Boy chair, with the stuffing pouring out. The only other furniture in the apartment was the dirty mattress on the floor.

The Blue Meanie slumped in that chair hour after hour, drinking jug wine and chain-smoking cigarettes, lighting one from the other and grinding the butt out with the heel of a flip flop. On a bad day you could smell the booze leaking from his pores and the cigarette smoke and stink of burning tiles and rubber flip-flops billowing out the door and windows. Sometimes he’d fall asleep and the snores would rock the building. People who dared to look in said they saw roaches running across his bare feet.

Once he got particularly mad at the shower door for glaring at him and kicked in the glass, cutting his foot. He sat on the chair and leaked blood for hours. Eventually it congealed and people said ants were swarming over his leg. Somebody called an ambulance, but when the medics showed up he rushed the door and roared at them until they fled. When he was sure they were gone he poured Red Mountain over his leg, cleaning the wound and killing the ants.

When other tenants passed his open door he would grab the arms of the Lazy Boy and rise up, growling and cursing curses no one exactly understood. They’d scurry away as he charged the busted-up screen door like a caged gorilla. And he’d scream after them, “You’re lurkin’ on me, asshole. You can’t fool me. I know you’re lurkin’.”

Didn’t matter the size, sex, or age of the victim: little kids, old ladies, full-grown men - they’d all run like hell. Then he’d grumble and groan, fart and belch, chug a quart of wine or so, then settle back into his chair to continue his vigilance.

It was apparent to one and all that the Blue Meanie believed the world was full of enemies and that they were just waiting for him to let down his guard and they would come.

I made a reconnaissance a few days after I took over the building. I covered my true intent by going door-to-door introducing myself as the new manager. If they weren’t home, I dropped an explanatory note in their mailbox. That’s when I first met Roger Gagne.

I was thirty feet or so from the target apartment, when off to the left I heard what sounded like digging. I turned to look down a narrow, weed-choked walkway. It was coming on to dusk, but there was enough light to see the rusted chain-link fence that marked the line between Cohen’s property and the right wing biker’s lot. (See Episode One: A Place Called Pepperland) I knew there was a pathway that ran along the entire property line. The digging seemed to be coming from just around the corner of the apartment unit – a large single. It was then I spotted the raw, exposed trench running along the fence on our side of the lot.

What the hell? Was Mr. Cohen having work done that he’d failed to mention? I pushed through the weeds, reminding myself to get the new gardener to add these dirt walkways to his landscaping duties.

In Venice, it didn’t do to just walk up on people. So I called out, “Yo. Coming through. Yo.”

Before I reached the corner, a short, muscular guy about my age stepped into view. He wore dirt-clogged jeans and muddy work boots. He had a rusty pick in his left hand and an unlit cigarette tucked behind his ear. His dark mustache was well-trimmed and his hair was short enough to get a job, but long enough to fit in with his peers.

I said, “Hi, I’m Allan Cole, the new apartment manager.” I looked down at the narrow trench, which was a good twenty feet long and led back to an electrical box. I said, “Is there some kind of repair work going on here I ought to know about?”

The guy with the pick flashed a dazzling smile. He had swarthy features  - due to Portuguese genes, I learned later – which made the smile all the brighter. It also helped that his two front teeth had been knocked out in a fight some years before and he had an expensive, forever-white bridge. The guy started to offer his hand, then hesitated, ostentatiously wiped it on his jeans, then proffered it again.

“I’m Roger,” he said. “Roger Gagne.” He indicated the unit we were standing behind. “That’s my pad.”

I searched my memory, identified the name with the proper unit and remembered that Mr. Gagne’s rent, which was seventy-five dollars a month, was a week overdue. I shook his hand, giving my own bright Irish smile back. “Nice to meet you,” I said.

Roger hesitated, then said, “You’re probably here for the rent. Got a note from the landlord saying you were in charge. I was gonna come around today or tomorrow and explain about the rent.”

I jumped in before he could lie to me. “There’s nothing to explain,” I said. “You have a fifteen day grace period, so you aren’t officially late.”

Roger looked startled. “I’m not?” he said.” He looked down at the trench, then back at me. “Well, shit,” he said. “Guess I jumped the gun.”

I studied the trench. Looked down the pathway to where it led. “Let’s take a look at this,” I said.

I retraced the path to an open electrical box. Roger followed. A wooden milk crate sat beneath it and two thick wires dangled down from brass connections that winked in the dying light. The wires ran through a recently drilled hole in the wooden frame and continued down to where the ditch started. Plastic screw caps covered the wire ends.

After studying the setup with the knowledgeable eye of the son of an electrical engineer, I said, “Looks like a good job. Are you an electrician?”

Roger’s teeth gleamed. “Not exactly,” he said. “But I was apprenticed to a Mexican electrician for six months or so. He was a real master electrician, but he was drunk most of the time, so I did pretty near all the work.” He looked up at the sky. “Got me interested in math and Ohm’s law and shit, so I took some courses at a junior college.” Shrugged. “Didn’t finish, but I knew more than most of the guys before I dropped out.”

Then he straightened, getting an idea. “Listen,” he said, “I’m pretty handy at a lot of things. Carpentry, painting, roofing, rough plumbing. You run into a problem in one of these units, I can mostly likely fix it.” He smile turned rueful. “And if I can’t… I can at least keep the assholes from cheatin’ the boss too much.”

“That’s an interesting offer, Roger,” I said, “but what about this ditch? And these electrical wires? What’s that all about?”

Roger shook his head. “I was short the rent money and I don’t get paid for another week,” he said. “Didn’t know I had two weeks… you know… grace. Figured I had to hustle up the bread.”

“Doing exactly what?” I pressed.

He jabbed a thumb at the little house where the right wing bikers lived. There was a flickering light in one window – a kerosene lantern I learned later. “The bikers have themselves a problem with the electric company. It started with a bill they didn’t want to pay on account of because the electric company refused to endorse George Wallace for president. So they got the electricity cut off. At first they didn’t care, but by and by they got tired of losing their dope in the dark and got the money up. Except the electric company told them to fuck off. No way would they turn the juice back on.”

I was more than mildly surprised. “They’re refusing them service?”

Roger laughed. “You would too,” he said. “They peppered the guys who shut the power off with birdshot.” He leaned against the building, amused at the vagaries of the human race. “We’re talkin’ real assholes, here, Al. But they’re willing to pay me $150 to hook them up again.” He patted his wallet pocket. “Half down, half on delivery.”

“In that case,” I said, “maybe you want to pay your rent now. Save up your grace periods for a rainy day.” I knew from my own poverty-stricken experience as a newspaper reporter that my creditors had to grab whatever money I had on hand fast, or their bills would most likely go unpaid.

“Sure,” Roger said. I could tell from the gleam in his eye that he appreciated my quick grab. Rog pulled out a wad of bills and counted out seventy-five dollars – two crumpled twenties; three tubular tens with white powder clinging to them; and one crisp five. “You can get a pretty good high if you licked the bills,” he laughed. “Biker money, you know. They use the bills to snort meth. But I wouldn’t recommend it. You might get some other shit as well.”

I hastily pushed the bills in my pocket and flipped open my receipt book. I made out a receipt for the rent, with a carbon duplicate, and handed it over to Roger.

“There,” I said. “You’re good for another three weeks.”

“You mean five weeks,” Roger said. When I raised an eyebrow he said, “Two weeks grace, remember?”

He giggled a little high-pitched giggle at my reaction. Hee-hee-hee-hee. It was the first time I heard that laugh and at first it seemed way out of character for a macho guy like Roger. At the same time, like everybody else that he hit with it, I realized that the giggle was something he was putting on. A high-pitched hee-hee-hee on me and you and the whole god-damned world. Hey, big shot, ain’t it funny when you get poked in the butt just like the rest of us assholes? It was Roger Gagne’s cosmic giggle.

“Don’t worry,” Roger said. “I’m about to go earn the next month’s rent.”

He returned to his pick. Within seconds he was lengthening his ditch.

“Hold on, Roger,” I said. “I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”

Roger stopped, leaned against his pick. “How so?”

“I can’t let you take Mr. Cohen’s electricity,” I said.

Roger clearly didn’t like this change in what he believed was an agreed upon plan. Apparently, he thought we had just made some sort of deal. “I paid you the rent,” he pointed out. “I mean, fair is fair.”

“Fair doesn’t include ripping off my boss, Rog,” I said. “A guy who will become your boss as well, if he takes you up on the handyman offer.”

I could see Roger was in some difficulty. Struggling with inner demons. He probably wanted to take the pick and use it on me. Then retrieve the seventy five bucks. Maybe bury my corpse beneath the box that delivered the purloined electricity.

“You’re probably figuring that if you don’t make good on the deal that the bikers will either want their money back or a good piece of your ass,” I said.

“Fuck that,” Roger said. “They’ll just fuckin’ kill me.” He sighed. “Got any ideas?” he asked.

The way he put it, I knew that a moment had passed. That Roger had successfully suppressed several primal urges. Now all I had to do was win his trust on a more permanent basis.

I indicated the apartment across the alley. All of them had electrical boxes sitting there in plain sight and none of them were owned by my boss.

“Can’t we steal it from someplace else?” I said, sealing our friendship forever.



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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