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Friday, March 8, 2013


It  was Jan who announced the coming of Country Joe and The Fish.

It was about ten on a Thursday night when Jan came knocking at the door. Tasha didn’t growl or bark, but just crowded in behind us as we opened up. Jan had a fat joint squeezed between two fingers in a hand that also clutched a multi-colored ice cream cone from the new 31 Flavors across the street. She was holding a poster in her other hand.

“Country Joe is coming,” she said excitedly. She waved the ice cream and doobie to indicate the direction. “Right here in Venice.”

“Come on in,” Carol said, wanting to get the joint out of sight.

Jan came on in and proceeded to tell us in excited, albeit stoned tones, just how groovy it was that County Joe and the Fish would be playing right across the street from us. As she spoke she made wide, expansive gestures. Tasha, who adored Jan, followed her every move - watching the ice cream cone wave this way and that, sweeping to the left, doggie head going to the left, sweeping to the right, doggie head going right.

Finally, stoned as she was, even Jan noticed. “Oh, for goodness sakes,” she said. “I’m torturing poor Tasha.” She asked for a saucer, dumped two-thirds of her ice cream into it and fed it to Tasha while she went on about just how fortunate we all were – the people of Pepperland  – to host Country Joe MacDonald and his band.

For those of you too young, or too old, to know about Country Joe, in 1969 Country Joe MacDonald was deliciously infamous. As a matter of fact, he’s alive and well today, and you can check out his website where Mr. Country Joe announces that his new double CD album "Time Flies By" is out. Joe says, "...Co-produced by Tim Eschliman and myself, it has 25 songs from solo to full band covering a time period of 30 years of song writing."

Back in those days they were heroes to us all and everybody in Venice jammed to their albums. Our favorite song, of course, was the anti-Vietnam “Fixin’ To Die Rag.” Wild as they were, Country Joe’s guys were serious musicians and they were fearless with their songs. They had a Berkeley tradition of playing for free for causes that promoted peace, love and ten-dollar dope.

Jan reported that this gig was for real money and the fabled Country Joe band was going to be playing right across the street from us. She and Alita had been hired as go-go dancers, struttin’ their stuff in short white leather skirts, thigh high boots and white leather vests over string-bikini tops. Furthermore, the ladies had made friends with both the band members and the backup group -  The Jefferson Street Jug Band, with Kerry Fahey (nephew of the late, great master guitarist John Fahey) on the washboards and tub. After the concert she and Alita wanted to throw a barbecue for the group in the central courtyard of the Blue Meanie apartments.

Although I hadn’t known the details, I’d heard there was going to be a big to-do in our neighborhood. Builders had been busy on the opposite corner of Washington Boulevard and Ocean Avenue, where a mini-mall had been in progress for several months. There was a state-of-the-art Laundromat and cleaners, several restaurants, trendy boutiques, a wine merchant, a Thirty One Flavors ice cream parlor, etc. All aimed at the upscale crowd already gathering at the new yacht harbor in Marina Del Rey -  whose completion by the Army Corps Of Engineers was scandalously overdue and over budget.

About half of the mini-mall was owned by a couple of Venice eccentrics whom I’d recently profiled in my newspaper column in the Outlook. One guy called himself Fish Face Sam and he’d made his fortune in Alaska – a fortune he’d since grown even bigger by buying and selling the Sizzler Steak House chain, the proceeds of which he was now investing in mini-malls, which were called “vest pocket malls” back then.

His partner in the enterprise was “Circus Saul” Blumenthal, an eighty-something former carnival strongman who owned half-a-dozen pizza franchises and one fairly decent bar and grill near the Santa Monica Pier. They made a weird pair: Fish Face was six foot six or so, and admitted weighing over 350 very pudgy pounds. “I tried the Slim-Fast diet,” he told me, “but doggone it, I could drink three or four of those suckers and a couple cheese burgers and an order of fries and I lost nary a damn pound.” Circus Saul was about five foot four or five, weighed close to 200 pounds and there wasn’t a lick of fat on him. Even at plus eighty he was solid muscle with biceps you could bend bars over – a feat he’d once performed for Barnum and Bailey back when it was just Barnum - or maybe it was just Bailey - but he had the pictures and press notices to prove his claims.

Circus Saul and Fish Face were radical capitalists – that’s what they called themselves, anyway. They hated LBJ, despised Richard Nixon even more and had pledged ten thousand dollars each to the newly formed organization “Businessmen For Peace.” They also vowed to stage various concerts up and down the state to raise awareness and funds for their cause.

So, although I was thrilled when Jan told us Country Joe was going to appear at the mall opening, I wasn’t exactly surprised. It was the sort of a gesture I might have expected from Circus Saul and Fish Face Sam.

After checking the details, I made sure the entertainment editor got a little notice plus a file picture of Country Joe – provided by yours truly – in Friday’s paper. Unless you take a peek back at the times, you can’t understand what a big deal this was. The editorial policy of the Evening Outlook was somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun. However, the Funk Brothers passionately coveted the zillions of greenbacks being spent by that magic age group, 18 to 25. In other words, my "ge-ge- generation." So the entertainment editor, who was fatter that Fish Face Sam and just as short as Circus Saul, reluctantly agreed to post picture and item. 

The result was that on the day of the concert half of Venice turned out, jamming Washington Boulevard from the beach all the way to Lincoln Boulevard and spilling over onto our street.

Thom and Stoner Tom – whom I mentioned before - had recently moved into the corner unit of my building. Both were former medics back from a tour of duty in Korea. Thom was a reporter for the Daily Breeze, some ten or fifteen miles south of Venice, and Stoner Tom was an orderly at a local hospital. The upstairs master bedroom of their two-story apartment overlooked the square where Country Joe and the gang were due to perform. With all their windows open we had the best seats in the house. We also had plenty of food, drink and a generous quantity of various inducements – some straight from the medical locker at Stoner Tom’s hospital.

About twenty of us crowded into the apartment, including Thom and Tom’s girlfriends, plus Roger and Jack, as well as the lady artist and her latest lovers, a stunning black girl and a young blonde Viking boy. Also present:  Yours truly, Carol, my brother Charles and his girlfriend Lori Prang, a budding actress of much talent, and many, many more, including Marita, whose eyes were a dazzling Benzedrine blue. We had Jason propped up in his high chair to witness the historic occasion.

The Jefferson Street Jug Band struck up its first number, a rousing rendition of “Big Bad Bill.”

“…Big bad Bill don’t fight any more
Now he does the dishes and he mops up the floor.
Well he used to go out, jus' lookin' for a fight,
Now he's got to see his mama every night.
Big Bad Bill is Sweet William now…”

Jan and Alita looked marvelous in their sexy little white leather outfits and were just starting to really get into their go-go girl act. But before anyone got very far, I spotted a phalanx of LAPD cars pushing through the crowd, forcing themselves up to the outdoor stage. The crowd took immediate offense and loud voices were heard over the jug band’s amplified music. I could see this could get ugly really fast and instead of a joyous occasion we might be served up a riot, courtesy of the “Protect And Serve” boys of LAPD.

I raced down the stairs and was out the front door in seconds. I caught up with Bob Smith, the Outlook photographer assigned to cover the rally/concert. Smitty, a tall, heavyset man who could twist himself into impossible positions to grab a shot, was one of the very best all around news photographers in Los Angeles County – if not the state. Back in early August Smitty and I had been the first news people on the scene of the Sharon Tate murders, later to be known as the “Manson murders” when old Charlie and his girls were busted.

Smitty had shot the first pictures and I’d filed the first story, complete with the identities of all the victims, which no other news outfit got straight for nearly 24 hours. Smitty was also without par when it came to feature shots that described key moments in very human terms. And so when I caught up with him he was coming up behind the cop cars, snapping pictures of the angry faces of the crowd as the tension built.

I tapped him on the shoulder and waved for him to follow me. “Hide the camera,” I said as we weaved through the crowd. People have strange reactions to news cameras, video or still. Sometimes they’ll preen, or clown around. Sometimes they’ll turn away, hiding their faces. Sometimes they’ll become sullen and act out against the camera as if it were a tool of all they feared. At this particular moment, it was my professional opinion that if the crowd erupted any cameraman in sight would be fucked big time. There were rumors, mostly true, that undercover cops and federal agents were posing as news photographers.

The cop cars came to a stop, doors slammed open and the pigs took up various threatening positions as Captain Emory, the fearless commander of the Venice Division, climbed out of the lead car to confront Fish Face Sam and Circus Saul, who were poised in front of the bandstand, as if shielding it from attack.

On the stage, the washtub bass player – a tall, lanky young man with a pixie-like grin – leaned over and cranked up the speakers. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the pixie was Kerry Fahey. Meanwhile, Jan and Alita shouted encouragement and shook it up so hard that their various parts were in danger of flying off into the crowd. The main thing was that the louder music and boob and butt shaking worked its charm, momentarily diverting attention from the rude intrusion of the cops.

Captain Emory shouted something at Sam and Saul. Both men shrugged and made motions – we can’t hear you. Emory shouted louder, his face purpling with effort. Still, no dice. Frustrated, he reached out – he badly wanted to grab someone by the shirt front. His hand started toward the behemoth that was Fish Face, thought better of it, and veered for the much shorter – and way older – Saul. Mr. Blumenthal grinned an innocent grin and took the captain’s hand as if it were being offered for a shake. Then, with no noticeable effort on his part, he squeezed.

Emory’s face turned white.

At first he tried to match the handshake man-to-man. But soon he was so far outclassed that his jaw dropped and he tried to come in closer to relieve the pressure. Circus Saul stepped back and tightened his grip. I thought Emory was going to drop to his knees. None of his officers had any idea what was going down – they were too busy falling in lust with Jan and Alita. Emory’s left hand came around, trying to claw for his gun or club, but everything was on the wrong side.

I slipped forward, my press badge raised high. I caught Fish Face’s attention first, who nudged Circus Saul. When Saul spotted me he smiled a pearly denture-white smile and released Emory’s hand. Emory stood there gasping in pain and humiliation and he honest-to-God tried to get out his gun with his freed right hand but it was so numb he couldn’t maintain a grip on the butt.

Then he spotted me and my press badge and I could see the conflicting emotions running through his brain. Could he or could he not get away with really hurting some people? Maybe he could break my head as well. On the other hand, I was the press. And as that registered I saw that he was starting to wonder if this might be a setup.

I made motions at the deli/wine shop, which was only a few yards away, and mouthed the words: “Let’s all go talk.” Emory hesitated, then nodded. I led the way and soon the four of us were behind the thick glass doors of the deli, the music and crowd sounds reduced to a mere roar. With no orders, the police officers were just standing around enjoying the show. The crowd soon forgot their presence and everybody just got down and grooved, as we said in the days when vinyl records had grooves to accept diamond-tipped needles.

Emory got to the point. “This is an unlawful gathering. Shut it down voluntarily, or I will do it myself.”

Fish Face guffawed – a belly laugh from a protuberance King Kong would’ve envied. “Why, shucks, sheriff,” he said in a mock drawl. “What’s unlawful about folks jes’ havin’ a little fun.” He shook his head. “Shoot, I ‘member the time in Juno when the whole town turned out for a drunk that lasted a week-and-a-half. Nobody hurt, ‘cept some greenhorns who fucked with some sleepy sled dogs.”

“This is not Juno, Alaska,” Captain Emory growled. “This is Venice, California, where crime and drugs are rampant. Why, as I exited my car I smelled the distinctive odor of marijuana.”

In a thick Bronx accent, Circus Saul said, “Are you sure it wasn’t the barbecue you were smelling, officer? We’re barbecuing the hamburgers and the kosher hot dogs and the beef ribs. This is a day of music and food and celebration.”

Emory said, “I don’t care what you’re serving. There’s too many people here. It constitutes a mob. And on private property no less.”

Fish Face snorted. “This here’s our private property, sheriff. And if I have my druthers, you’ll get your ass and your deputies’ asses off our range pronto.”

“Don’t call me sheriff,” Emory roared.

Saul waved an admonishing finger at the giant who was his partner. “This fellow was never elected by anyone, Sam,” he said. He turned back to Emory. “If truth be told, and I always tell the truth, I didn’t even vote for your boss – Mayor Whatchamacallit.” He was referring to the less than honorable Mayor Sam Yorty. “But I did take the trouble to visit City Hall and get a permit for this event.” He nudged his big buddy. “Show him, Sam.”

Sam grinned hugely, pulling out a large document and shaking it in front of Emory’s face. “Shit fire and save the matches,” Fish Face said. “Seems this here ain’t no unlawful assembly after all.”

Emory’s face was expressionless. Sam said, “But you knew this already, didn’t you, Captain.”

Emory nodded. “It’s unlawful if I determine that a riot might occur,” he said. “And that’s my determination as of this minute.”

While he’d been talking, Smitty had slipped into the deli and was recording the whole tension-filled scene with his motor drive Nikon. Captain Emory suddenly realized that he was there.

“Who the hell is he?” he roared. “This is a private meeting. Official police business. Anything happens here is off the goddamned record.”

Smitty paused to adjust his angle, then kept on shooting, except he’d turned on his flash so it was going, pop, pop, pop – illuminating the rage of the good Captain Emory.

I said, “I’m sorry if you misunderstood, Captain, but I never mentioned anything about this being off the record.” I indicated my notebook, filled with many pages of my frantic scribbling. “But I have to wrap this up pretty quick and get outside before the riot begins.”

Emory stiffened. “Riot? What riot?”

Ignoring him, I turned to Smitty. “Looks like things are going to get pretty hot when Captain Emory starts arresting people. Maybe you ought to call in some backup.”

Smitty nodded. “That’s what I was thinking,” he said. He looked around, spotted a pay phone by the door and headed for it. “Shouldn’t take long,” he said.

I fixed my attention on Sam and Saul, ignoring the livid commander of the Venice Division. I said, “We’ve got a stringer for Time Magazine on the photo staff. Add Country Joe MacDonald to the equation and you guys are guaranteed national coverage.” I paused for effect, then added with unconcealed glee, “Congratulations, gentlemen. Through no fault of you own, you and ‘Businessmen For Peace’ are about to get a couple of million dollars worth of free national advertising.”

“Free,” Fish Face said. “My favorite word.”

“I like free and national advertising better,” Circus Saul said. He turned to Emory. “Be our guest, Captain. You’ll be doing us a big favor when you start that riot.”

Fish Face said, “Kinda odd, you know? Over in little old Woodstock, New York, the cops there just oversaw thousands of kids havin’ a good time for themselves. Listenin’ to music, dancin’, doing things kids do in the summertime.” He shook his head in mock sadness. “And here we are in sophisticated Los Angeles, with a bitty crowd at a vest pocket mall tryin’ to hear some tunes. And the cops are about to start a riot.” He looked at the heavens. “Have mercy on him, Lord. He’s just a poor ignoramus.”

Once again I saw a look on Captain Emory’s face that made me wonder if he was going to shoot us all. Instead, he growled an oath, turned on his heels and stalked out the door. A moment later all the squad cars peeled away.

Then there was loud applause for the opening band, followed by wild cheers for the featured act as Country Joe MacDonald and his band mounted the platform.

Joe roared into the microphone: “Gimme an F.”

The crowd shouted “F!”

“Gimme a U.”


“Gimme a C.”


“Gimme a K.” 


“What’s that spell?”


“What’s that spell?


“I can’t here you!”


I still can’t hear you!


Then he and the band broke into the Vietnam Rag:

“And it’s one, two, three…
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam.
And it’s five, six, seven…
Open up the pearly gates,
Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! We’re all gonna die…”

The crowd sang along in a thunderous voice the gods would have envied:

“…And it’s one, two, three…
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam.”

The concert ended at dusk and Jan and Alita led both bands across the street to the Blue Meanie apartments in a long, hip-shaking conga line.

Everybody turned out for the barbecue – even old Mrs. Williams, who goggled at all the kids in strange costumes and hairstyles while shyly nibbling on goodies. Country Joe and his boys were gracious, thanking everybody for attending the event and paying special attention to Mrs. Williams, who blushed like a girl as Joe took her plate to heap it full of food then gave her a kiss on the cheek.

Backed by the jug band, they played a few numbers, had a couple of beers and a toke or three, then hit the road – they had another gig in West Hollywood.

Things got a little hazy after that, with all the wine and beer and pot. But Jan shook me out of it at one point to introduce me to the pixie-looking kid I’d seen playing the washtub.

“Kerry Fahey,” he said, sticking out a hand, displaying a grin as bright and mischievous as Alice’s buddy, the Cheshire Cat.

“Kerry and the band want to rent Andy’s old place,” Jan said. “Wouldn’t that be cool – our own band for the Blue Meanie Apartments?”

Kerry looked puzzled, but maintained his grin. “Blue Meanie, what?”

“It’s a long story,” I said, rising from the beach chair and standing very still for the count of three until the world quit spinning around my head.

I got my bearings then indicated the way. Jan pushed between us, looping an arm through Kerry’s and mine and we walked side-by-side, Jan’s soft breast pressing against me, while her perfume, caught up on waves of exotic dance perspiration, nearly made me drunk again. Kerry surely felt the same, because he fell out of step for a moment, then stuck out his chin and bravely marched forward.

Andy’s place was a large, two-bedroom apartment with hardwood floors throughout and a huge kitchen. Andy was a pot dealer to the stars – offering only the very best stuff, including the first Thai stick I’d ever tasted. It was a thing of godly beauty, with little red threads of goodness running through and so sticky that the heady goo clung to your fingers. Then the question was, did you lick your fingers, or set them on fire and inhale as much peace on Earth and goodwill to men, women and whatever as you could before the pain cut in?

Old Andy was a cool guy and generous with his stash, gifting people with fat joints, giving them a toke of some really fine stuff if they happened to meet while out strolling upon an evening. Roger thought he was a prince, Alita was sweet on him but it didn’t go anywhere - Andy snorted so much heroin he couldn’t get it up with a splint.

He split one night – knocking on my door just after Sixty Minutes, so it must’ve been a Sunday. Sixty Minutes was not quite a year old at the time and the main guy was – you guessed it – Mike Wallace. In those days Mike’s voice was more familiar to me as the narrator of the old “Sky King” radio adventure show back when I was kid.

Anyway, poor Andy said he was expecting some unpleasantness that involved a subpoena and he thought it best to move his residence and business elsewhere. He apologized for the short notice and said, no sweat, let the landlord keep his last month’s rent and security deposit. What he was mainly worried about was the lease I had in my files.

“I was fucked up when I rented the pad, man,” Andy said, looking like Sorrowful Jones in the flesh. “You and your old lady looked so cool, man. Like together. Makin’ babies and you know. Healin’ the fucking Earth.”

“Must’ve been really good dope, Andy,” I said.

Andy sighed. “Beautiful, man.” Then he got down to business. “Problem, man, is that when I filled out the application I put some sort of true stuff in there and that could give me some real trouble if the law checked it out.”

“How true?” I asked.

Andy thought a minute. Then said, “I made up everything, except my social security number, man. I got confused, you know? Couldn’t remember the phony one. Thought and thought and you were sittin’ there waitin’ for me to finish and your wife was standing behind you… and her pretty little belly was all swollen up. It was beautiful, my man. Baby beautiful. Suckin’ thumbs and pissy diapers, it was all about to come down, man. And so you have to think of my situation. All this beauty. All this life. And here I am, writin’ shit down. All lies, man. So, I decided right then that I’d go straight. I’d transform, man. Turn into a cool guy sellin’ cool stuff, that would not be drugs. I couldn’t help myself, so I wrote down one true thing – my Social Security number.”

I understood immediately what he wanted. I reached over and opened up the stereo cabinet I’d made myself. On one side I’d built-in a special place for the rental business. I pulled out a manila folder, opened it, leafed through and found his file.

“Here you go,” I said, handing it to him. “Consider it lost.”

Andy was amazed. “Just like that?” he said. “You don’t want nothin’, man?”

I shook my head. “You were a good tenant,” I said. “You’re leaving early, but paying for it.” I brushed my hands. “If anybody asks -  rent receipts I got. Phone number, I got. Office number – well, you were self-employed, so it’s the same as for the apartment. Application – oh, shit, oh dear, I sent that on to Mr. Cohen. And since he can never keep anything straight – drives his bookkeeper nuts - they’ll never know if I did or not.”

“That’s really cool of you, man,” Andy said, his eyes misting. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a rolled up paper bag. It was sealed with fancy sealing wax you could buy in cool kits they sold at Akron, which, for some reason, they kept next to the incense burner display. I could smell the strength of the marijuana through the brown paper. “This is for you and your old lady, man,” he said. “Go forth and multiply your fucking brains out.”

Remembering that super smooth dope put a smile on my face as we approached Andy’s old apartment, Jan eagerly pulling us onward, her magnificent string-bikini boobs pointing the way. I unlocked the front door and let Kerry and Jan enter first. The living room looked great with its newly finished hardwood floors. In the dining area was a large round table made of polished wood.

“You didn’t say it was furnished,” Kerry grinned, walking over to the table.

“The previous tenant moved in a hurry,” I said. “The table is the only thing he left behind.”

“This is no ordinary table,” Jan said. “In fact, it’s probably the coolest table in Venice, which means, like the whole universe.”

She proceeded to demonstrate what made it so cool. In the center was a polished brass plate that swiveled to the side on a pivot, revealing a recessed bowl, which gave off the rich odor of marijuana.

“What’s this?” Kerry laughed.

“What does it look like?” I said. “It’s a built-in hookah. There’s a wide-mouthed jar beneath the table that you can fill with water or wine, or whatever.”

“And look at this,” Jan said, reaching under the edge of the table and pulling out a long, velvet-covered tube with a wooden pipe stem attached. She laid it across the table, then moved around the side. “There’s one for every seating place,” she said, pulling out five more hookah pipes.

“Does the table go with the apartment?” Kerry asked, a little overwhelmed.

Before I could answer, Jan said, “Alita had first dibs on it from Andy. But we don’t have any room in our pad. So, if we let you keep it, do me and Alita get to come over and listen to you guys groove and smoke dope with you at the table?”

“It’s a deal,” Kerry said. Then he looked at me, remembering… “Uh, that’s if you agree to rent us the apartment.”

“Take a look around,” I suggested. “Make sure it’s what you guys are after.”

He did, becoming more and more impressed as he saw the size of the bedrooms, the full bath and especially the kitchen.

“Here’s another little trick,” Jan said, opening a large pantry door.

She reached into the back, turned a crooked nail, then lifted up a long board. There was nothing but bare wall behind it, however it soon became apparent that the board was an ingenious locking mechanism. Jan leaned down and pulled up a trap door, revealing a deep cedar-lined insect proof box.

“This is where Andy kept his stash,” Jan said.

Kerry was impressed. “A dealer, huh?”

“Yeah, but a really cool one,” Jan said. “He wasn’t a greed head or anything, even if he did snort too much H.”

Kerry said, “Let me get Richard and the others.”

He exited and soon returned with a tall young man with a wispy beard and moody eyes. This was Richard, who Kerry said was a genius on the guitar. Richard only nodded, solemnly accepting the praise. I later learned firsthand that Richard was indeed a musical genius. With him was his girlfriend, Clara, a lovely, mother earth type with long dark hair and a willowy grace. She sang and played the pipes and several stringed instruments. The drummer was moving on, so he wasn’t in on the inspection. However, peeking shyly around Clara was a painfully thin and very pale young man in a wheelchair. This was Tim, a paraplegic, who was the band’s official mascot, transportation chief and financial backer.

Tim’s story was this: While on leave from the Army in San Francisco a few years before, he’d gotten stoned on LSD and tumbled off a roof. No, he didn’t jump, or try to fly like Superman. He was fucked up and fell off a roof, that’s all. Now he was on permanent 100% disability, which meant he got an enormous – by our standards – check every month to pay for his care. Richard, Clara, Kerry and Tim were school chums back in Takoma and when they visited their friend in a hellish nursing home where he was wasting away in mind, spirit and body, they vowed to get him out. Since he had nothing to spend his money on, Tim had loads of green stuff in the bank. So, they made a deal. Tim bought a special van, fitted out for a paraplegic to drive. Clara, who’d taken nursing in college, took over as his nurse. And Tim became a full-fledged member of the band - your basic Roadie in a wheelchair - touring the country, driving and helping to pay expenses when the gigs fell short.

A moment after I saw his pale face peek out from behind Clara, Tim urged his electric wheelchair forward and stopped in front of me, the shyness not so apparent now.

“Kerry says it’s first and last,” he said, meaning the rent of $125 a month. His words were a little slurred but perfectly understandable.

I nodded. “First and last and a security deposit of fifty bucks,” I said.

Tim nodded at Clara who dug into his bulging shirt pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. “We’ll pay cash,” Tim said.

I wasn’t impressed – meaning I wasn’t moved by all that cash. I said, “We have some other things to settle here, Tim. First off, Mr. Cohen – the owner – wants to change everything over to leases. Minimum six months. He’d prefer a year. So to encourage that, he’s set the rent at $135 a month for a six months lease, and $125 for a year.”

“That’s no problem,” Kerry broke in. “We can do a year.” He glanced at the others, who all nodded. He went on: “We’ve been on the road for a pretty long time and we’re into some serious changes.”

I said, “The road business is what worries me. How can you be on the road and maintain an apartment here in Venice? Most bands I know barely get along from gig to gig.”

“That’s certainly true, Allan,” Kerry said. Once again he made a silent check with the others and they all nodded advance agreement for whatever he was about to propose. Finally, he said: “Richard’s the real musician in this group and he wants to stop for awhile and experiment and record with Clara.” Kerry nodded at Tim. “Tim wants to hang out for a few months, but then maybe go on the road with another group. He’s made some friends – rock and roll friends – who are heading for Mexico. They’ve asked Tim to join them.”

“I’m for Guadalajara,” Tim said with a lascivious grin. “I hear the nurses in old Mexico give a helluva rub and tug.” Immediately he was embarrassed. Blushing an odd, liverish red, he looked up at Clara in abject apology. Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean…” She just patted him, cutting off the rest. But it was clear that Tim worshipped the ground that the saintly Clara trod upon.

Kerry said, “If you’re worried about our staying power, I’ve just taken a job with my cousin, John Fahey. He wants me to manage his record company – Takoma Records.”

John Fahey, as I mentioned, was one of the world’s great guitarists and it was well known in music circles that he had has his own label featuring the best in solo guitarists, such as Bukka White and Leo Kottke.

I said, “Then maybe you want the one year deal.”

“We definitely want the hundred and twenty five dollar special,” Tim said in his high, slurry voice. “If I have to run from a pissed-off nurse I want to have a place to hide out in.”

We all laughed – a lot harder than the joke warranted. But then, Tim had a way of tickling funny bones, even when what he said wasn’t particularly humorous. “I could never do that before I fell off the roof,” Tim told me later. “But now people think whatever I say is funny.”

He pointed at the right corner of his mouth, which was permanently turned up. “They think I’m laughing all the time,” he said. “But it’s just from a stroke, you know.”

He made some gasping sounds, which after a moment I realized was his way of laughing.

“You gotta appreciate the simple shit when you’re all fucked up like me,” he said. “You know – the old bit about other people being worse off. Like quadriplegics, man. Quadriplegics are jealous as shit about guys like me. They think all us paraplegics have life dicked, you know?”

More gasping sounds and I now really, really had to laugh.

And that’s how Kerry and the jugband came to live at the Blue Meanie Apartments.

The Mad Bomber, meanwhile, had been a busy man.



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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