TALES OF THE BLUE MEANIE
By Allan Cole
BUY THE BOOK
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.
The Sample Chapters:
I was taking a break on the back steps, smoking a joint and drinking a beer when Roger sauntered up. Roger was about my age, 25, short and powerfully built. He had that smirk he wore when the shit was about to hit my personal fan.
“Hey, Al,” he said, fishing a beer from the cooler, and opening it with the church key he kept on a chain around his neck. He’d started wearing one after he’d learned that this was Paul Newman’s sartorial habit.
“Hey, Rog,” I said, passing him the joint.
Roger rarely got to things straight away, believing the longer the wait, the more delicious the joke. After taking a deep toke he held it in for more minutes than an Acapulco free diver. Casually as could be he indicated the large, battered table spool sitting a few feet away.
“That your new coffee table?” he croaked, leaking just a little smoke, but manfully holding in the rest.
In its previous life the wooden cable spool was used by shipmasters to store thick wire cable. In its present incarnation it had become an interesting piece of funk art. Relatively smooth on one side, the reverse was gray and pitted with termite scars and was the much more interesting side.
“That was my plan,” I said.
Roger exhaled long and hard. Took another toke, handed off the joint and said in his croaky, dope smoker’s voice, “What about the termites?”
I gave the spool a kick and said, “I haven’t figured that out yet.” To my disgust, a handful of blind white termites fell out, squirming on the cement. Roger squashed them with a paint-spattered work boot. “I didn’t know there’d be so many,” I confessed. “I suppose I should have suspected that things might be worse. Sucker only cost a dollar fifty.”
I’d retrieved the cable spool from the muddy yard behind a boat shop on Lincoln Boulevard. I’d realized the spool was infested and had taken the precaution of rolling it the half-mile to my house, rather than putting it in the trunk of my 1960 Rambler station wagon. Rattletrap though it might be, a car was a requirement of my job and I sure as hell didn’t need termites exploring it for wood, or other insect delicacies.
“I’ll geek ‘em for a six-pack,” Rog said.
My eyebrows climbed. Roger was an all around handyman who could and would do everything from fine carpentry to ditch digging. Sometimes his methods were a little unorthodox, but if he said he could eliminate the termites, I had no reason to doubt his word.
I looked into the cooler. There were only five beers left. “Counting the one I already gave you?” I asked.
“Deal,” I said.
He strolled over to the tool shed. “Let’s see what you’ve got in here.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Isn’t this job going to take some preparation?
“Fuckin’ A,” Roger said, dragging out an old tarp.
“I mean like termite-killing chemicals, or whatnot,” I inquired.
Roger made no reply. Instead, he fetched out a can of white gas that I used in our Coleman lanterns
|and stove during family
camping trips. He shook it. “You’ve got plenty of whatnot,” he said,
unscrewing the cap.
“Look here, Roger,” I said, getting anxious, but he was already splattering the cable spool with white gas. “What was the real reason you came over? I know it wasn’t because of the termites.”
Roger sometimes liked to affect a high-pitched giggle to underscore supreme sarcasm. He used it now, making my skin crawl. “Man, when you are right, Al,” he said, “you are fucking right. Wait’ll you hear what happened.”
“Tell me,” I said.
He tossed a match on the cable spool and a small fire started. I watched in awful fascination as the fames died down and seemed to be sucked into the tubular holes. Then the cable spool started to
smoke. A minute later there was the revolting wormy/insect sound of mad scurrying and the entire table turned into a swarming and very disgusting white mass of fleeing termites. There were thousands of them – maybe even tens of thousands - struggling blindly across the rotted wood to rain on the cement. Roger poured more white gas around the table, cutting off their retreat, then tossed another match -- Whoosh! and the whole mass went up in flames. I could actually hear the greasy crackle and pop of the termites cooking. Like the cereal, but not so charming.
“I read someplace that down in South America the Indians set fire to logs and eat the termites like popcorn,” Roger said. He leaned down and picked up one. It was grossly swollen from the heat and greasy white. “Wanna try it?” he said, laughing. I waved it away, getting annoyed. Rog tossed the critter back into the flames. “Don’t blame you,” he said.
“Tell me,” I said again.
Roger gave me a look. He could see I’d had it up to here. That I would take no more shit. “The Blue Meanie’s gone,” he said.
I gaped. “You’re shitting me,” I said.
Roger shook his head. “Nope.”
He picked up the tarp and threw it over the burning cable spool. In a moment the flames were out and he whipped the tarp off.
“They should be all dead,” he said. “Leave it out tonight…” he shook the gas can… “and I’ll give it another shot in the morning to make sure.”
“Jesus, Roger,” I said, “tell me this isn’t one of your nasty jokes. Is the Blue Meanie really gone?”
Roger touched his forehead with two fingers. He farted. “Scouts honor,” he said. Then he scooped up the cooler of beer and headed away. “Come on,” he said. “See for yourself.”
To explain the Blue Meanie, I’ve gotta lay in some background.
When Roger napalmed the termites infesting my cable spool it was the summer of 1968 – the worst of times and the worst of times. That was the year Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Also, some months before the Tet Offensive had revealed the hollowness of the war still raging in Vietnam, where many of our friends were fighting and dying. Meanwhile, demonstrators were demonstrating, poor people were marching on Washington, and after giving us all a whole lot of grief, Lyndon Johnson was forced to tell us on national television that he wouldn’t run for president again. Good riddance, was what we all thought then, not knowing that Richard Nixon would soon take up where LBJ left off – and double.
In other words, this was a stressful era and we dealt with things the best we could: smoking dope, drinking beer and cheap wine, getting laid while listening to really cool music and seeing fabulous movies like, “Bullet,” “2001 – A Space Odyssey,” “Night Of The Living Dead,” “Barbarella,” Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” and the Beatle’s animated classic, “Yellow Submarine,” where huge Blue Meanies threatened the good people of Pepperland, of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band fame.
Milk was $1.21 a gallon, not much less than a gallon jug of Red Mountain wine. Bread was maybe a quarter a loaf; hamburger, 39 cents a pound; a pack of cigarettes was about the same and pot was ten dollars a lid, which was one ounce of mild Mexican. Hash was also ten dollars a gram, which when mixed with the pot made the Mexican not so mild. Gasoline was 32 cents or so a gallon – which meant that when you got the dope munchies you could afford to cruise 112 miles to Santa Barbara for the best malt in the world.
I was making $160 a week (about $900 today) as an investigative reporter/editor at the Evening Outlook in Santa Monica, California. I had a pregnant wife, a 13-year-old brother I was raising and a bad ass eighty-pound German Shepherd, named Tasha, to keep us safe.
My rent was $135 a month, so to help make ends meet I managed a block of apartments – in three parcels – where Ocean Avenue met Washington Boulevard in Venice Beach. Which is where Roger and the Blue Meanie and all the other cool people, oddballs, criminals and just plain nuts who inhabit this book hung their water pipes. In return, I got my rent free, plus another $100 a month. I also made extra money painting vacant apartments and repairing simple things.
The first complex, which is where I lived, was on the corner of Ocean Avenue. Directly across from me was a large Quonset-type hut converted into a boat house. It was far from an eyesore, thanks to a fabulous 80-foot mural. It was a real piece of Bohemian art, with portraits of jazz musicians, beach scenes and Venice street life.
There were four units in my building – all two-story townhouses, with a nice-sized living room and kitchen downstairs and two large bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. Besides my little family, there was Marita – the estranged middle-aged wife of a metal shop owner. She had the body of an exotic dancer and the face of a harridan and kept in shape by continually scouring her place from top to bottom, while drinking beer and popping prescription diet pills. Next to her was a UCLA art student. She was as talented as she was beautiful and the whole time she lived there she had a string of live-in lovers of both sexes. They were all interesting people ranging from artists to musicians to scientists. In the fourth unit, which overlooked the empty fields where the Marina Del Rey was being built, were two Toms. To be exact, one was Tom and the other was Thom.
Thom was a reporter for a semi-rival newspaper and he’d inserted the “h” to spice up his byline. He was so short he was practically a midget. Tom, known as “Stoner Tom” to the rest of us, was the scion of a very bizarre and very rich Ohio family. He was a modern-day remittance man. He was smart, handsome in a blonde, Germanic sort of way, and totally stoned out of his skull 24-hours-a-day. Stoner Tom was also probably one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. The opposite of Thom. More about Thom and Tom later.
The apartment building next door – which faced Washington Boulevard - was a two-story green stucco edifice with nothing to distinguish it on the outside, except that it covered the entire lot. On the inside, however, it was middle-class fabulous. There were only three apartments. An enormous four bedroom two bath unit downstairs, and an almost as enormous three bedroom and two baths upstairs. Tucked into the front of that unit was a tiny efficiency apartment consisting of one room and a miniscule bathroom. It was my guess that originally it had been separated from the rest of the dwelling to accommodate a very mean mother-in-law. It had a large window that looked out on Washington Boulevard. Remember that window.
A series of young, well-off couples inhabited the main units. People we’d call “yuppies” today. The efficiency apartment, however, was usually the building’s sore thumb. One I was never able to fix for more than a few months at a time.
The third parcel was the most complicated, the hardest to manage, potentially the most lucrative, and from time to time was occupied by people that I love to this day - although I lost track of most of them long ago.
It was a veritable warren of apartments, with thirty-two units. The complex consisted of several large, single-story two-bedroom apartments fronting Washington Boulevard; then a series of one bedroom and spacious single units sitting across from one another in a maze of walkways. Framing the back were two, two-story structures with rickety wooden steps leading up from the main walkway. The bottom levels consisted of one bedroom units and bootleg singles. The top levels held two large one-bedroom apartments.
I won’t try to list all the occupants just now – especially since they continuously changed. When I first took over the buildings there was a mixture of struggling students and artists, a number of malcontents and drug addicts and two frightened old women living on Social Security and cat food.
This was the territory that the Blue Meanie terrorized. And why I was so thrilled when Roger delivered his news. For it was the Blue Meanie who stood in the way of improving the apartments and upgrading the quality of tenants.
Oh, yeah, before I forget, besides the three parcels my landlord owned, there was a fourth lot that jabbed its way into this bizarre mix.
The lot was oversized and the only structure on it was a small house built over a large garage. It was the dwelling place of a right-wing motorcycle gang and it was not owned by my boss, Bill Cohen, so it had nothing to do with me, thank God.
The gang members were ardent followers of Alabama Governor George Wallace and his American Independent Party. There was a huge AIP poster of the racist governor sitting next to one of the tallest flagpoles I’d ever seen. The gang members liked staying up all night, drinking and snorting meth. In the morning they’d troop out with the Star Spangled Banner blasting on a loudspeaker and raise the American flag. They always ended the ceremony by firing two shotgun blasts. Then they’d return to their clubhouse to swallow handfuls of reds to counteract the methadrine so they could sleep. You won’t be surprised when I tell you that the U.S. Post Office wisely declared it a danger zone and refused to deliver the mail there.
Across Washington Boulevard from us bulldozers were tearing up the green fields, making way for what would soon become Marina Del Rey – the largest and one of the most exclusive small craft harbors in America.
And so that was pretty much the lay of the land for the properties abounding Washington and Ocean the day Roger came to announce the end of the Blue Meanie’s reign of terror.
It was an historic day for Pepperland, no doubt about it, because after the Blue Meanie, everything changed – although not always for the better.
Enter The Blue Meanie
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 realtors – warned me that he had one tenant who hadn’t paid his rent for six months prior to the purchase date and hadn’t paid rent three months hence.
“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 shoot out, 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 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.”
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 new era. 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 deadly 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. I knew there was a pathway that ran along the entire property line. The digging sound 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, “Hello. Coming through. Hello.”
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 of 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.
I didn’t actually help Roger steal a neighbor’s electricity. However, I did turn my head the other way, which is really all Roger cared about. That, and a chance at earning money legally as a handyman for Mr. Cohen’s buildings.
My first job, however, was to pump him about the Blue Meanie. Roger’s initial reaction when I asked about the guy was vast amusement.
“You’re gonna run him off are you?” he said. Then he giggled his high-pitched giggle. “Let me know when you try. Wouldn’t want to miss it.”
“I’m not crazy, Rog,” I said. “I’m not going to like, pound on his door and demand that he leave. But I have to figure out a way to get rid of him, or I’ll be stuck with dope fiends for tenants until Mr. Cohen gets disgusted and fires me.”
I looked down the walkway to the dark hole that was the open door into the Blue Meanie’s apartment. “What do you know about him? Hell, there isn’t even a rental form left over from the previous owner. Shit, we don’t even know his real name.”
Rog thought a minute, then said, “He leaves the place once a month, or so. Catches the bus out front. And he’s gone most the day. Always seems to be around the first of the month. Why don’t I keep watch, tip you when he’s gone, then you can change the locks real quick.”
I just looked at Roger. I was quickly cuing in to his weird sense of humor and could see the little gleam in his eyes, waiting to see if I’d take the bait.
“Give me a break,” I said. “He’d just bust in when he got back. Then Mr. Cohen would be out the price of an old door and a new lock, plus your labor. Right?”
Roger giggled, nodding vigorously. “That’s what I thought too,” he said. Before I could chew him out for fucking with me, he raised a hand. “How about I follow him,” he said. “See where he goes. Might help you work out a plan.”
“You’re on,” I said.
Although this was no solution, it made Mr. Cohen happy that progress of any kind was being made and he didn’t mind throwing a few bucks Roger’s way to do the job.
It was a good thing, because the mystery of the Blue Meanie took many weeks to solve.
During that time the Meanie seemed to fall into an even blacker mood – if that was possible – and only left his apartment to lumber down the street buy a jug of Red Mountain. Or to trod over to the Venice Circle in his rubber flip flops to collect a few pieces of mail from the Post Office. From what we could gather, mail was sent to him General Delivery, in care of whatever name he used. Like the bikers, the very sensible administrators at the Post Office refused delivery to the Blue Meanie’s lair.
Meanwhile, two young Marines just back from Vietnam rented the apartment adjoining his. They were big, brawny, friendly guys, who decided to edge back into civilian life by spending the summer as lifeguards, drinking beer and chasing girls. They planned to attend Santa Monica College in the fall on the GI bill.
Did I mention that they were big? Well over six feet, maybe 195 to 205 pounds. Lean and mean – in a nice, all-American sort of way – they were direct from the jungles of Vietnam.
The guys decorated their beach pad bachelor style: straw mats, beach chairs, waterbeds, and a mix of Playboy art, Marine banners, and Vietnamese market place items, including a fake tiger head, with plastic teeth bared in a snarl.
On one wall was a makeshift poster – a map/montage of Vietnam, obviously made by the guys - with skulls-and-crossbones, pictures of nude girls, both Oriental and Western, photo cutouts of Marines on patrol… that kind of thing… the legend on the poster is common now, but it was the first time I’d ever seen it:
"Yeah, though I walk through
Recently released from the watchful eyes of Marine master sergeants, the young men were uncommonly neat. Barracks-room perfect. Everything clean and ship shape, their water beds made up so tight you could bounce a quarter on them – no matter what athletics had occurred the night before. The kitchen was also spotless, although the only time I saw food there is when they brought girls home, along with five pounds or so of hamburger for the chicks to fry up. They drank a lot of beer, of course, but kept a trashcan in the alley for empties.
The kitchen overlooked the alley - their only view – so they hung an American flag there as a curtain.
Remember that curtain.
These were healthy, hearty, patriotic young men who kept their hair short, even though it wasn’t the current style of their peers. With their Greek statue physiques, aw shucks ma’am U.S. military service gentility, even the hippie chicks lined up to soothe their war-torn nerves. In short, it was the perfect little apartment, at the perfect time, for the perfect guys to have a well-deserved helluva good time. It was the R&R the two guys had promised themselves during all those months slogging through the jungle, dodging enemy bullets and mantraps.
Unfortunately, there was a big fat fly in the R&R ointment.
A fly wearing oversized blue coveralls stretched out of shape by way more muscles than fat.
For reasons no one was ever able to determine, the Blue Meanie decided to hate their guts.
Roger and one of the other tenants I befriended, Jack Lishman, reported that Mr. Meanie had taken to creeping around the building, peering through the windows at the young men, or hiding behind bushes watching them set off to work in the very early morning. Moreover he was always hiding and watching when they came home at night.
And all the while he was growling like a dog, muttering, “Lurkers. Fuckin’ lurkers.”
I would have loved to have gone over there to point out to the Blue Meanie that he was one who was “fuckin’ lurkin’,” not them, but he didn’t seem the sort who appreciated being corrected.
The final confrontation was witnessed late one Saturday morning by Roger and Jack, who were working on Jack’s old black Cadillac hearse, which he wanted to turn into a camper.
Suddenly, they heard someone pounding on the Marines’ door. The pounding was accompanied by vicious, Blue-Meanie type growls. Our intrepid duo investigated, staying well out of sight. And lo and behold, there was the Blue Meanie – mountainous as ever in his blue bib overalls and flip flops.
As they peered out, he hammered on the Marines’ apartment door, bellowing, “Come out, you fuckin’ lurkers! Come out!”
The door opened and one the guys emerged, rubbing bleary eyes. He’d obviously been out late partying and was in no mood for shit.
“What the fuck you want, man?” he demanded, clearly unafraid, although the Blue Meanie towered over his powerful, six foot plus frame, and easily weighed 80 to 100 pounds more than the ex-Marine.
“You better quit lurkin’ on me, is what I want,” the Blue Meanie thundered. “You’re getting’ me really browned off, mustard shorts.”
The ex-Marine was confused. “Mustard shorts? Browned off? Lurkin’ on you? What the fuck you talking about, man?”
At that moment his roommate, who was slightly taller than his buddy, came out to see what the hell was going on. His roomie explained, “Guy says we’re lurkin’ on him. Say’s we’re browning him off.”
The bigger guy took this in, albeit sleepily. “Sure,” he said. “My old man said ‘browned off’ when he meant ‘shit.’ And mustard short’s sort of the same – mean’s you shit your drawers. They didn’t curse same as us in the old days.
Suddenly, he woke up enough to be insulted. “Hey,” he said, “You callin’ us shit asses?”
“Damn right,” the Blue Meanie growled. “I been watchin’ the two of yuz. I know what’s goin’ on. Think you’re so smart, don’t you? Couple of lurkin’ son’s-of-bitches, is what you two are.”
The taller guy snorted – deciding to cut to the bottom line. “We don’t lurk on people,” he said, flatly. “Now, get the fuck outta here.”
He turned to go back inside. It was a big mistake.
Later, Roger and Jack told me what happened: “You should’ve fuckin’ seen the Blue Meanie, man,” Rog chortled. “Never knew a guy that size could move so goddamned fast.”
“He grabbed them both by the backs of their necks,” Jack Lishman broke in, eyes aglow at the memory. A serious young man – a biology major at UCLA – even Jack was moved by what followed. “And then he just sort of… well… smacked them together.”
I goggled at them both. “Smacked them together?” I said. “What in the hell do you mean?”
Roger howled laughter. “He banged their heads together six or seven times and threw them back into their fuckin’ apartment,” he said. Then, in total amazement - “There was blood all over the place.”
“Jesus,” I said, alarmed. “Should I call an ambulance, or something?”
“I treated their wounds,” Jack said. In time he would become a sort of unofficial medic to the apartments. Fixing cuts and scrapes, bringing people down from the dope crazies. “There was more blood than hurt,” he continued. “Head wounds bleed a great deal, you know. I think they were more humiliated than anything.”
“Christ, I have to go over there and apologize to them,” I said. “Make amends somehow.”
“Don’t bother,” Roger said. “They already moved.”
As you might imagine, I was rather surprised. “You’re kidding?” I said – succinct as ever.
Roger and Jack looked at each other. Who goes first?
“Loaded up their cars and took off right around noon,” Roger said, taking the ball and running with it, eyes dancing with evil delight.
“But they have a deposit coming to them,” I said.
Jack sighed. “They were pretty embarrassed,” he said. “My bet is that you’ll never hear from them again.”
He was right. I never did hear from them. All my hopes sank along with the departure of the Marines. It seemed like the Blue Meanie would be there forever.
|Last Revised: January 29, 2011|