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Friday, May 10, 2013



NOTE FROM ALLAN: I'm taking next week off. The Blue Meanie will return, Friday, May 24 with: The Magical Mystery tour. And now, this week's episode:

Of all people, Steve Lenzi was the next person in our little group to run afoul of the law. 

The Poet Of Pepperland called me early one evening and said, “Allan, I have been incarcerated by the Venice police. Would it be inconvenient for you to come bail me out?”

“How much?” I asked.

“The fascist bastards require fifty dollars,” he said.

“What’s the charge?” I wanted to know.

“I was arrested for refusing to drive a car,” he replied.

“But you don’t have a car,” I pointed out, confused.

“Exactly so,” Steve said. “Therefore I must walk. And that is what they arrested me for. For some reason they call it jaywalking, although I have no idea why it is called that. Are large birds deemed law breakers in this state when they are afoot?”

I had no answer. Imagine my astonishment. I’d never in my entire newspaper career heard of anyone being arrested for jaywalking. But this was not what he wanted to hear. What he wanted to hear is my assurance that I was on way to the Venice jail to rescue him, so that’s what I said I’d do.

Unfortunately, I’d just done the banking for Mr. Cohen so the only money I had on hand was my own – a meager thirty dollars. I need twenty more. A few minutes later I knocked on the Cat Lady’s door and when she opened it, I got a whiff of what Thom had been bitching about. The odor was so stringent that it could have peeled paint. Several furry bodies dashed past us and she stood there staring at me, guilt written all over her face.

“Thom’s been complaining about the pussy cats, hasn’t he?” she said.

“He has,” I agreed.

“He’s just being an asshole because I won’t ball him,” she said.

“Probably so,” I said. “But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a point about the odor and that he can’t make a lot of trouble.”

“Steve’s been complaining too,” she admitted. “I asked him to move in with me, instead of us, you know, getting together on the bus. But he won’t because of all the cats.” 

I was pretty sure Steve wasn’t into living with any woman just now, much less one burdened with so many cats. He seemed quite happy crashing in our converted camper/school bus. But I didn’t say anything. (See The Poet And The Biker for details about the bus.)

“Actually, the reason I’m here is about Steve,” I said. “He’s in jail.”

She gasped, a hand going to her mouth. “What for?”

I shrugged. “He said jaywalking.”

The Cat Lady’s eyes widened. “I’ve never heard of such a thing,” she said.

“Me neither,” I said. “Bail is fifty bucks and I’m twenty short. I was hoping maybe you could help out.”

Immediately she ran to get the money and drove with me to the jail. On the way she said, “I’ll talk to my mom about taking the cats back.”

“Great,” I said.

At the jail we found Steve fuming in a holding cell. “Fucking jackbooted Nazis,” he said. Steve rarely cursed, so we could tell that he was really, really upset.

“Shh,” the Cat Lady admonished him. “They’ll hear you.”

“I want them to hear me,” he said, raising his voice. “This is America, isn’t it? One ought to be able to walk where one chooses want and speak one's mind.”

We hustled him out of the cop shop and on our way home Steve calmed down enough to explain that he’d been in LA a year before and had received a ticket for jaywalking. He’d continued his travels, forgetting about the ticket entirely.

“I’m a New Yorker,” he said. “New Yorkers walk everywhere and if we have to cross the street and there isn’t a lot of traffic, we cross the street where we please.”

“This isn’t New York,” I said.

“No, it is a police state where one can be arrested simply because one doesn't have a car,” he said. “I mean, those Nazis fuckers actually issued a warrant for my arrest.” He looked totally indignant. “Me? A warrant?”

“Oh, well,” I said, trying to sooth him “At least it is over with. The fifty dollars will cover the fine.”

“Oh, it certainly is not over with,” Steve said. “I don’t intend for them to get away with such tactics. I will plead not guilty and complain to the judge about what a fascist city this is.”

“Jesus Christ,” I said. “The judge will put you in jail.”

“He wouldn’t dare,” Steve said.

I gave the Cat Lady a look. “Tell him,” I said. “Reason with him. He’s just going to get into more trouble.”

“Allan’s right,” she said. “Let it go.”

“I’d rather expire a martyr defending the barricades of basic human decency,” Steve said.

There was no point arguing with him, but there was another subject we needed to discuss.

“You know we’re going on vacation pretty soon,” I reminded him. Carol and I, along with Jay and Jack, were planning a two-week bus trip up the coast of California. “We’re going to have to start working on the bus to get it ready,” I added.

Steve nodded. “It was nice of you to let me crash there,” he said. “I’ll vacate whenever you say.”

“You can stay with me, baby,” the Cat Lady said. “I’m gonna call Mom about the cats and me and my sister will really clean the place up.”

I stared straight ahead, mentally crossing my fingers.

After a moment, Steve said, “Perhaps I could stay for a little while.” I breathed a sigh of relief. Another problem solved. “But just until the trial,” Steve added.

“What trial?” the Cat Lady wanted to know.

“My jaywalking trial,” Steve said and the look on his dark, Italian face was a portrait of pure stubbornness.

*     *     *

They say that God watches out for drunks and sailors. Well, He must have added poets to the list because Steve’s crusade against LA’s Nazi jaywalking laws was practically a headlong rush to certain disaster.

On the day of the trial I drove him downtown to the courthouse. Along the way Steve observed the city streets and made frequent comments about how cars were obviously favored over people in Los Angeles. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I couldn’t disagree. He became more and more pissed off as we drove and I started to get a little worried about his upcoming encounter with the courts.

Instead of dropping him off, I went inside with him and waited for a couple of hours for his case to be called. The place was packed with dopers, hookers and felonious miscreants of every variety. In his corduroy sports coat, with its professorial leather elbow patches, and neatly creased slacks and sturdy shoes, Steve looked very much out of place.

Steve kept his hair trimmed – although not so much that he still didn’t look like a poet – and his overall appearance quite tidy. I’d taken him to temp worksites where there was nothing but hard labor on offer, and he’d calmly removed his sports coat, his shirt, then pulled on work gloves that he always carried and dived in with the roughest guys doing the toughest jobs. Later, I’d pick him up and wait while his hosed his upper body off, then he’d don his shirt and sports coat, wipe off his shoes and he’d look like a teacher, exiting the schoolyard. The transformation was simply amazing.

He said that it helped him get rides when he was hitching across the States. Also, if there was a temporary office job he wouldn’t be spurned, especially since he could type at a tremendous speed at great accuracy. Steve’s appearance and manner didn’t seem to bother his fellow laborers. He was quite openly the poet, spouting lines as they worked – usually clever refrains that insulted the bosses. Steve said the only time he got in trouble with his blue-collar colleagues was when he was in Arizona.

“It was a job picking oranges, Allan,” Steve said. “I’d never picked oranges before – or gathered produce from the fields of any kind. However, I didn’t think picking oranges could be any more difficult than carrying hundred pounds sacks of cement at a construction site for ten hours. Besides, I hadn’t dined for two days and it was in my mind that the very worst thing that could happen was that I would manage to eat my fill of oranges before I was dismissed.”

When Steve showed up at the farm, however, the battered bus carrying him and forty or fifty other laborers was immediately attacked by a large crowd of angry Mexican laborers. Stones were thrown. Windows were smashed. Steve suffered a large gash from a stone that struck his forehead. He barely managed to scramble off the bus, before the Mexicans turned the vehicle over and set it on fire.

“I had just arrived in Arizona and had no idea that a farm strike was in progress,” Steve said. “Those working men and women were quite properly attacking our bus because we were strike breakers. Of course, if I had known I would rather have starved than cross their picket lines.”

He sighed. “It was a long and hungry walk back to town, Allan,” he said. “Fortunately, I encountered one of the Mexican families who had attacked the bus and they gave me water to drink and to wash the blood from my face and they shared their tortillas and beans with me. So I got to eat after all.”

Back in Arizona Steve had encountered the kindness of fellow poor people, never mind that his poverty was voluntary. And soon as he said he was a poet their eyes glowed like he was a priest or a minister with special words, secret words, that would reveal all and heal all. They used to beg him to recite his poems, which our multi-lingual poet would do, both in English and Spanish. And they would forgive everything and think of Steve as one of their own. (In my experience the poor are much more generous than the moneyed class. Doesn't even matter if your plight is your own damned fault. Isn't everybody's?)

In this courtroom, however, I feared the worst. And as we sat on the hard bench and he thumbed through a volume of Wallace Stevens poems, I tried one more time. I whispered that he ought to just pay the fucking fine – no more than the fifty dollars that me and the Cat Lady were already out – and call it a day.

Steve did not reply. He only stared harder at the pages of poems and when a bailiff came by and spied Steve reading and admonished him for not paying attention to the dignified court proceedings in progress, Steve curled his lip and said, “My good man - I’m reading poetry, if you don’t mind.”

The bailiff looked confused, then shook his head and wandered onward a row or two, where he had better luck intimidating some hippie whisperers.

After the guy passed by, I told Steve that I thought the bailiff believed that Steve had said he was reading the bible and was scared off. Steve disagreed.

“I used the word ‘poetry’ quite clearly, Allan,” was his reply. “His reaction proved to me that even the jackbooted lackeys have some appreciation for finer things.”

Jesus Christ, I thought. If Steve keeps this up he is going to be screwed big time and although I considered him a friend, I wasn’t sure how far I’d be willing to go to keep him out of jail. Newspaper influence? No problem. Money? I had no money other than Mr. Cohen’s and I sure as hell wasn’t going to "borrow" from my boss. I’d juggled money in the past to help people out, but in the end it was always to Mr. Cohen’s benefit. If found out, I could explain it away. But Steve was living on my bus, which Mr. Cohen did not collect rent for and had no responsibility for.

They called Steven’s name. As he rose, I desperately thought of different ploys, such as faking his tenancy as a roommate of the Cat Lady. She didn’t have money, but her mom did and the Cat Lady’s mom was on the lease so if I threw myself on my knees before Mr. Cohen…

“How do you plead, Mr. Lenzi?” the clerk said, cutting through my panicked reverie.

“Not guilty, Your Honor,” Steve said in a loud, clear voice. And with that, he withdrew a sheaf of papers from the inner pocket of his coat. “And I most definitely have evidence – logical evidence – to support my plea, Your Honor.”

The judge was bored, he didn’t even look up, but waved a hand as he shifted his downward gaze from one sheaf of papers to another. “This is a jaywalking incident, Mr. Lenzi,” he said. “You either jaywalked or you didn’t and clearly you did, so why are you taking up the court’s time?”

Then he noted something in the report before him and looked up to glare at Steve. “There are two jaywalking incidents noted here, Mr. Lenzi,” he said. “Accompanied by a warrant from the first incident that compelled your appearance before the court.”

This judge, a jurist in his late middle age who had seen it all, paused while he removed and cleaned his glasses. Clearly he was not impressed with Steve’s interference with his day. He returned his glasses to their place above his long, thin nose and studied Steve. I could see that he was taking note of my friend’s neat appearance and saw him glance to either side to take in the rabble that made up his normal day.

“Mr. Lenzi,” the judge said, his voice becoming less irritated. “Let me advise you to rethink your plea. If you twice walked illegally across those streets, just admit it to me now. I’ll only fine you for the first instance and we’ll forget the warrant. I see you were previously a New York resident, so I’ll assume that in the former matter you returned home meaning no harm to the State Of California.”

He raised his gavel and said, “The fine will be twenty five dollars for the first offense, I’ll declare you not guilty for the second event as a courtesy to my judicial colleagues in New York.” The judge looked about, gathering in the attention of his sycophants. “And the next time I jaywalk trying to get to the theater in New York, perhaps they’ll return the favor.”

The sycophants laughed, as did some of the other people in the crowded courtroom. There were a few jeers from the miscreant gallery, but not too many.

The judge banged his gavel, “Twenty five dollars, Mr. Lenzi… Which I’m sure you’ll agree is a bargain. The clerk will refund the excess.”

You can’t imagine how relieved I was. Twenty five bucks we could manage - barely. If you haven’t been listening before, listen now. Fifty bucks, the amount of Steve’s original fine, was a lot of money in those days. One third of my weekly salary at a major Los Angeles daily newspaper, for crying out loud. But twenty five bucks was half that and maybe we could put the dough together to keep Steve out of jail. Think of it this way, the thirty bucks I’d put up to match the Cat Lady’s twenty was more than a week’s worth of groceries. So, for the twenty five dollar fine I was thinking I could put up $12.50 and the Cat Lady could do $12.50 and Steve would be free and clear.

I was running all that through my mind, along with the price of hamburger – the staple of poor families and the families of newspapermen in those days – and getting my head around some form of optimism, when Steve dashed my budding hopes.

“I beg your pardon, Your Honor,” he said. “But I believe that I pleaded ‘not guilty’ to all charges. Before you make your ruling completely official, might I not speak to the charges? This is America, after all, and I do believe that I do have that  right.”

In my mind’s eye, I saw the judge explode into a fury and order a squad of policemen to descend on Steve to gag and shackle him and carry him away after first clubbing him about the head and shoulders. Instead, to my utter amazement, the judge lowered his head and considered Steve over his spectacles. Then he raised his glasses and peered at some papers on his desk.

“I believe you list your occupation as a poet, isn’t that correct, Mr. Lenzi?” he said.

“It is, Your Honor,” Steve said. “I was a high school English teacher for a time, but I found that the distractions of the classroom were harmful to my poetry.”

The judge chuckled. “I can see how it might, Mr. Lenzi,” he said. Then he turned serious. “Very well, sir. I won’t allow it to be said that this court denied a poet his right to express himself. Proceed.”

If my jaw hadn’t have already been touching the floor, it would have dropped. I couldn’t believe what was happening here.

Without hesitation, Steve proceeded to launch into his defense. “To begin with, Your Honor, I believe the charges against me are a violation of my Constitutional rights as someone who prefers to walk, rather than drive. In fact, in my view this is the case throughout the city of Los Angeles.”

This astounded the judge so much that he removed his glasses. “How so, Mr. Lenzi?”

“Well, Your Honor,” Steve said, “I’ve noticed in my two visits to Los Angeles that when a man is afoot, he is immediately regarded with suspicion by the authorities. I have been detained for curbside questioning in the middle of the day on numerous occasions because I was afoot.”

Steve indicated his clothing. “This is my normal attire, Your Honor, and I do not believe that I look like a suspicious person, but merely a person going about his business. In my case, that business might be looking for work. Or, since the Muse seems to grace me when I am walking, I sometimes walk for hours while considering lines for my poems.”

The judge said, “Were you doing just that, Mr. Lenzi, when you were stopped on two occasions for crossing the street in the middle of the block.”

Steve smiled and I have to say that when I just wrote that line I vividly recalled that smile. It was a smile that graced you with his full affection – and admiration – for coming upon – and understanding - his point.

“It was indeed what I was about, Your Honor,” Steve said. Then the smile was replaced by a frown. “But I don’t want to plead artistic temperament as an excuse for my actions, Your Honor,” he added.

“Heaven forefend,” said the judge. “Proceed, Mr. Lenzi.”

“It’s a well-known fact, Your Honor,” Steve said, “that Los Angeles residents are rightfully viewed far and wide as worshipers of the automobile. Therefore, there are very few arrangements made for anyone who must walk, or prefers to walk, rather than ride in a car. In some places, I’ve strolled more than a mile before I encountered even a crosswalk. And in so-called wealthy neighborhoods, such as Beverly Hills, there aren’t even any sidewalks and unless you are a resident walking your dog you will be stopped and possibly arrested for vagrancy.”

Steve paused and lifted the lapel of his coat. He unpinned a ten dollar bill and held it up. “I carry this with me at all times, Your Honor, so as not to be charged as a vagrant. Even so, there have been moments when the gendarmes have tried to bully me and threaten me with incarceration.”

The judge stared at the bill as if hypnotized, then with a start he glanced up at the wall clock, realizing, I assume, that his docket was getting larger, not smaller.

“Pardon me, Mr. Lenzi,” he said. “But the court has other business to attend to. I find your argument most compelling – in fact, I shall personally present it at the next session of the Bar Association and suggest to my colleagues that one of them might look into your complaints about our fair city.”

He raised his gavel. “Therefore, sir, this court finds you not guilty of all charges. See the bailiff for return of your fifty dollars.”

But before he could bang the gavel, Steve raised his hand. “Please, Your Honor,” he said. “One more thing.”

The judge sighed. “Yes, Mr. Lenzi?”

Steve withdrew a sheaf of hand-scrawled notes from his pocket. “I’ve prepared a poem stating my views in meter and I would appreciate it if I had the opportunity to read it for the record.”

The judge flushed an angry red. I thought he was going to lose it and send Steve to away to the funny farm. But then he got this odd look on his face.

He said, “Read on, Mr. Lenzi.”

And so Steve read on.

I don’t recall any of the lines, much less the title, but I do recall that the entire courtroom; lawyers, clerks, bailiffs and all those miscreants I mentioned, were absolutely riveted. From time to time Steve’s poem was interrupted by applause and the judge did not hammer his gavel to order that decorum be maintained. He only nodded in appreciation and waved for Steve to go on.

The reading took a full fifteen minutes. Afterward, when I followed Steve to the bailiff’s table to get the bail money back, I watched in astonishment as uniformed court personnel stood in line to shake his hand. I could barely speak on the way home, beyond mumbling a few congratulatory inanities.

But just as we exited the freeway and headed toward Pepperland I turned and said, “Thanks, Steve.”

He was surprised. “Why are you thanking me, Allan?” he asked.

I would have loved to explain that I was thanking him for all us stumbling, tongue-tied, chicken shit people who just let the assholes run over us. I wanted to thank him for standing up to and confounding the Institutions Of Power with his artistry. There were all kinds of things I wanted to say, but you know, although I’m a pretty good writer, I am no poet.

So all I could say was, “You know why.”

His smile said he did.

*     *     *

Roger was next in line to be serenaded by the siren call of, well… sirens. We used to call him “Roger The Dodger,” because he was usually so good at escaping dire circumstances.

I mentioned before that at a young age Roger had fled a dismal orphan life and had spent his early years with a roofing crew, following hurricanes across the south. He used to tell me that roofing was one of his favorite jobs.

“When you are up on a roof with a stink pot of tar,” he used to say, “no home-owning asshole is going to crawl up the ladder to check on you.” He laughed that high pitched laugh of his. “That’s how I got my education,” he said. “Reading books and chewin’ tar.”

Since he was small and asthmatic – witness the SCUBA incident I mentioned earlier – Roger had also prepared himself physically. While he was monitoring college courses, he also became a dedicated gym rat and martial artist. He had a black belt in karate and the bulging musculature of a weight lifter. To my disgust Roger consumed rare liver and onions whenever possible – internal meats being the sacred food of the era. Of all the meats on earth, liver, in my view, is right up there with haunch of skunk.

Skunk haunches aside, Roger had intervened on several occasions when I’d been confronted with impossible odds. When a big redneck and his three even bigger teenage sons tried to squat at one of the apartments he helped me run them off, after laying out two of the sons. When an asshole terrorized Carol when she was walking home from Shanahan’s, with Jason and a stroller full of groceries, Roger spotted what was going on and gave the guy such a kick he was singing high “C.”

In other words, Roger was a man dear to my heart. There wasn’t a great deal I wouldn’t do for him. So you can imagine my consternation when, not long after Steve’s plea for bail, Roger made the same desperate call. It was 2 a.m. and the phone rang many times before Carol elbowed me awake to stumble downstairs to answer.

I was in a bad mood, because I had to be at work at 6 a.m. and had only gone to bed half hour before, on account of an evening of deep philosophical discussion and dope smoking and wine drinking with our friends. Roger had been with us for a long while but then had disappeared saying that he had to do his laundry.

Laundry at midnight? And Roger performing same? You express amazement and possibly, dare I say it, disbelief? It’s like this: Roger’s true love, Nancy, had taken her little boy back to Salt Lake City for a visit with her mother. This would not be a good visit. Nancy was a rebellious Mormon living in sin with a man not her husband with a child who had no father whom she would name. Why she agreed to the trip is one of those  mysteries to men like Roger and myself who wonder why daughters go so willingly to their mother’s ax. But then, as they say in these times, guys have “father issues,” so maybe we ought to keep our big mouths shut. Yeah?

Screw a bunch of issues, Roger had an enormous load of dirty work clothes that he needed to get clean.

Roger might have been Mr. Macho Man, but he’d taken care of himself his whole life and like Steve prided himself on being clean at all times. So he made his farewells, rolled a joint, which he stuck in a mostly-empty Camel cigarette packet, which he then shoved into his shirt pocket. Then he gathered up his dirty clothes from his lonely apartment, checked out his bomb-shelter and then wandered across Washington Boulevard to Fish Face Sam’s and Circus Saul’s vest pocket shopping center.

Everything was closed at that hour, except the very clean and very modern Laundromat - and a 31 Flavors Ice Cream Shop. Roger dumped his clothes into the washing machines then, stoned to the gills, went over to peruse the ice cream selections at 31 Flavors, licking his lips all the way.

The franchise owner was a nice old guy who’d recently retired from Hughes Aircraft. Not long after he opened for business, he noticed that in the early evening long haired kids came streaming into the store by the scores. And he discovered that the later he stayed open, the more kids came by. Eventually, he added a late night shift, staying open until 2 a.m., which he usually worked himself.

“I don’t know why some folks are so down on young people today,” he’d told me when I’d complimented him on his good business sense. “They’re the nicest kids - polite as can be.” He chuckled. “Course, sometimes it takes awhile for them to make up their minds about what flavors to buy, but that doesn’t bother me any.”

He was such an innocent fellow that he didn’t realize all those peaceful kids, with smiling faces and blood-shot eyes, were stoned on marijuana or acid, or both. And that they were truly grooving on all the choices, man. I mean, weighing which of thirty-one or more delicious flavors to buy - ranging from French vanilla to mint chocolate and rum raisin to mango cream - is pure doper’s heaven.

Anyway, it was those visions of cool nirvana that were dancing in Roger’s head when he entered the ice cream shop. Fifteen minutes of indecision later, he emerged carrying a huge sugar cone loaded with three, count them three, delicious flavors. Pumpkin might have been among them, but I won’t swear to it.

Intending to return later to collect his clothes, Roger strolled across the midnight street, empty of all traffic, happily munching on his cone. Suddenly, a long, dark shadow screeched out of the parking lot. There was a sudden blare of a siren and a big spot burst on, blasting Roger with hot light. He just about jumped out of his skin and the patrol car brushed against him, sending him staggering a few steps. Roger dropped his ice cream on the street.

“I looked at all that good ice cream, Allan,” he told me later, “and then I looked at those fucking pigs grinning at me through the windshield like it was some big joke and I just fucking lost it.”

Roger kicked the patrol car and shouted obscenities. It was mother fucker this and mother fucker that. The cops out of the car and approached – albeit cautiously. But Roger was too mad to get physical, he just cursed those cops up and down.

They demanded ID. He told them to go fuck themselves. They pointed out that he hadn’t used the crosswalk – crossing about ten feet down from the parallel marks. Never mind that at this hour there wasn’t a single car on the street. Roger told them to go fuck themselves twice. They said if he wouldn’t show them his ID they would take his ass in. Roger said they had no right to see his ID, he was peacefully minding his own fucking business and was fucking walking anyway.

Well, they cuffed him and put him in the back of the patrol car and drove him to Venice Division. Roger sat in the back trying out every curse word he ever knew on the cops. He was creative, having recently borrowed my Dictionary Of American Slang.

Finally, they arrived at the cop shop. They sat Roger on a bench while they went to get some coffee, or whatever. Their object, obviously, was to inconvenience Roger for being a fuckhead – even if they were fuckheads first for even stopping him, much less making him drop a triple-by-God-cone of Baskin Robbins’ best. Personally, I think they should both get thirty years extra in Purgatory for the latter offense, but I haven’t got the ear of Saint Pete.

“I was sitting there, starting to calm down,” Roger told me later. “And I’m thinking, this is sort of stupid, but what the fuck. They shouldn’t have fucked with me. Then I realized maybe I was kind of lucky because in most cases the LAPD will beat the holy shit out of you for cussing them out. And I’m thinking, shit, maybe these pigs aren’t so bad. Besides, what could happen to me? I cussed them out and I jaywalked. Fucking Steve got off on the jaywalk charge, so I might not even have to pay a fine. Fuck it. It was worth it to tell those mother fuckers what mother fuckers they are.

“And I started getting pissed again and I needed a cigarette in the worst fucking way. I looked at my pocket and saw my Camels and I was wondering how to get at them – what with my hands cuffed behind my back and I suddenly remembered the fucking joint I’d rolled before I left your house. It was there, right in the pack of mother fucking Camels. Oh, fuck. Oh, shit, oh, dear. I was fucked, fucked, fucked.”

It was during this period of agitation that the cops returned, cardboard cups of coffee in hand and instead of being satisfied at this point with just fucking with Roger, they’d apparently decided to fuck with him some more. I mean, okay, sure they were pigs. But Rog had said some pretty nasty things about their mothers and their wives and so on and so forth. So, maybe a little more butt kicking was in order. Make the guy sweat, show him who is boss – that sort of thing.

They got Roger to his feet and took him to the desk, intending to put him through the pre-booking procedure, just to teach him a lesson. Maybe fingerprint him and not give him anything to clean off the ink and make him sit around, while they ran various checks on his ass. Shit, it was a light night, they could spin it out until the fresh doughnuts were hitting the cooling racks at Dunkin’ Doughnuts.

One cop took off the cuffs and they told Roger to empty his pockets. Roger’s rage was starting to build again. Deep in his heart he believed the pigs already knew that he was carrying, albeit only a single joint, and they were intent on wringing the last drop of humiliation out of him.

He took out his wallet and put it on the desk. Then his house keys. Then…

“I just couldn’t take it anymore, Al,” he told me. “I thought, these assholes want to gloat, then let them fucking gloat. So I took out my Camels, waved it in front of their faces and said, ‘There, you go mother fuckers. You got me. I hope you’re fucking satisfied.’”

The cops, now including the desk sergeant, were confounded. They just stared at Roger. What on God’s green Earth was he talking about?

“Okay, okay, so I was a dumb ass,” Roger told me. “I didn’t fucking get that they didn’t fucking get it. So I grabbed the camels, ripped the pack open and shoved the joint under their noses. I said, ‘You can’t fuck with me, you assholes. You knew it was there all along.”

That’s how Roger found himself in jail, through no real fault of the pigs whatsoever, except they had inadvertently lit a fuse that was Roger Gagne. A guy who normally kept his cool under all circumstances, but was off that night on account of because his lady love was in Salt Lake City and the pigs had made him drop his triple cone of Baskin Robbins onto the dirty street.

It cost Roger ten thousand dollars to get out of that jam. One fucking joint, equaled ten grand. Or, put another way, three thousand, three hundred and thirty three dollars and point 33’s unto infinitum for each scoop of ice cream on the dropped cone. Like I've said, back in those days they could fuck you big time for the smallest amount of dope, even marijuana, the near-beer of narcotics. According to the online Cost Of Living Calculator, that ten grand would be worth $49,458.76 in today’s money. Let’s call it Fifty Grand.

Fifty grand for a guy who in the past had fled across state borders, following hurricanes and college courses and karate schools going literally, wherever the wind blew. All Roger had to do was stand up, flap his wings and he’d be gone to the next state, the next roof, the next job, the next college classroom or local gym.

After I bailed him out, there was nothing holding Roger. The bail money was a thousand dollars, against ten grand. I had gathered up all the rents on hand and knocked on every door for the entire block to get the thousand dollars to bail Roger out. The Mad Bomber tried to donate an experimental high altitude bomb he was working on – suggesting I auction it off - but I refused and made him cough up a hundred bucks, which was a tough thing to do because he’d planned to spend it on some badly-need blow.

Anyway, the stage was set for Roger to hit the road, like the Filipino waiter, except maybe not so far as Manila. But he was determined to stand his ground and to make a home for Nancy and a child he'd come to regard as his son.

I found Roger a high-priced LA-Law type attorney who had a great track record beating dope busts. His fee, as it turned out, was ten thousand dollars – the amount of Roger’s initial bail. To earn that kind of money Roger hit the ground running, painting and fixing everything in sight. However, he didn’t just go plunging into the night, cutting his prices and doing quickie jobs. Instead, he appealed to his few high-powered customers. First on the list: the Yuppie ladies whose boutiques he’d remodeled also owned homes, or high-end apartments, that needed custom paint jobs and additions. They also had parents with nice homes in Beverly Hills or the Pacific Palisades, and Roger said he used to let their mothers squeeze his muscles, then pad the bill with their approval.

“The new rich pay the best,” Rog told me later. “They like to have you over during the holidays, like Christmas, or Hanukkah, Thanksgiving… family shit, you know? They get you to start a few days before the holiday and then the day before I go them and I say, ‘Mrs. Kelly, or Mrs. Shwartz, or whatever, the holiday is coming, I’ll clean up and come back the next day. Let you enjoy your family.’ They’ll say, ‘No, no, Roger. You keep going. This remodeling is very important to me. My family and friends will understand.

“Then the day comes and they’re bringing people in for dinner, or the barbecue, and as they go by me, the owners point me out – the asshole painting the stairwell, or whatever – and say, ‘So, sorry for the inconvenience, Sarah. But our painter is a little behind. It’s a custom job you know and has to be done from start to finish, without stop.’”

Roger learned to print up “custom painting and cabinetry” business cards for those occasions, which he’d hand out to people who then always hired him during holidays so they could do the same thing.

“It’d never work if I were a spade,” Roger used to say. “People think, you know, slavery or shit with a black dude havin’ to work the holidays. But I’m white as a Portugee can be white in this country, so they can brag that they got a white guy on hire. Shit, Al, I double, even triple the bill, but as long as it is the holiday season, they don’t give a damn. Pay like the blazes. I’m thinking about working up a flyer of prices that point out that I won’t rape you on price off holiday. Otherwise, if this keeps up I’ll be making God money, but only a few times a year.”

In the end, Roger got off. He paid the attorney and within time he got the money back doing custom painting and cabinetry during various holidays at the attorney’s Pacific Palisades home.

Bottom line: Roger changed his view of life. (A) He realized he was committed long term to Nancy and the kid. (B) He didn’t need to be a grubby-looking working stiff to make a living. And, (C) People pay big for bullshit.

I’m not saying Roger totally changed his personality. He was still Roger the Dodger through and through.

Stay tuned to see how that worked out.




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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!

Coming soon: Part Four,
The Grand Finale 

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