Tee Shirts from the Collection: Roller Derby, Joan Weston, and the Babes of Wrath

Babes of Wrath Monterey Roller Derby Tee

My t-shirt collection is not without a few women’s roller derby tees.  I like them. They’re colorful, bombastic, and fun.

From these tees I’ve learned that women’s roller derby teams usually take tough-girl names — Harbor Hellcats, Boardwalk Bombshells, Cannery Rollers, Dames of Destruction, and so on.

One t-shirt in particular is my favorite:  it depicts a hard blonde with skates in her hand, gazing up at a dry California hillside. Her face is hidden. The league name is given as “Monterey Bay Derby Dames.”  The team name? “The Babes of Wrath.”

That name brings a smile to this old John Steinbeck fan. Monterey Bay here in Central California is Steinbeck territory, along with nearby Salinas where Steinbeck grew up.

I grew up in the same state, a little later and a ways distant. Still, the people who raised me were of the sort that Steinbeck described: cleaned-up and better-paid and working factories now instead of the fields. But in their youth they’d picked the same crops and drunk the same wine and fought the same fights.  Steinbeck celebrated them. To read his books was to read about where I came from.

So he was one of my early heroes.  One of the others?  We’ll get there.

Like Steinbeck, Roller Derby was big in the mid-20th century: Leagues, tours, television: the game was everywhere. By the early ‘70s it had lost popularity and faded: only to be resurrected by women who wanted to have what the old roller derby queens seemed to have.

Here’s the popular version of old-time women’s Roller Derby: all those wheeled woman warriors from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s were tough, gum-snapping working girls from rough blue-collar neighborhoods.  They joined the Derby for adventure, and because they were looking for something better than 50 hours a week on the bottling line at Blotz Beer while fending off the grabby foreman. They wanted to see the world, and they were ready for anything.

The truth was that the players — men and women — were of modest background. They were not famously bold or assertive.  But life could be hard; options could be few. And they saw a chance to do better in Derby than they’d do anywhere else. They found their inner toughness along the way, it’s true, or they didn’t last.

Those old Derby girls (and guys) worked for promoters.  Today’s Derby girls very often run their own leagues as non-profits, with fund-raisers and volunteer work weekends and all that.  They don’t usually get paid, or not much.

So, why do this? Because for women who spend their days behind desks wrestling spreadsheets and doing combat at budget meetings or contract reviews, it’s a chance to let your inner tough dame out to rage.

And so women’s flat-track roller derby was born and propagated.  Today’s derby queens skate on flat courses in gyms and auditoriums; the big portable banked tracks that that old derby teams hauled around are expensive to store and move and maintain.  Once you eliminate the banked tracks, fielding your own local league becomes doable.

Strap on the skates and pads. Position your helmet. Don a derby name like Neon Nightmare or Hell Louise or Skirt Vonnagut.  Glide out onto the track with your arms raised while the announcer shouts your name and the crowd roars. The spreadsheets can wait: prepare to do damage.  And take some.

Who knows? You might be the next Joan Weston: my other childhood hero.

Joan Weston, the Blonde Bomber. Queen of all jammers and women’s captain of the San Francisco Bay Bombers out of blue-collar Oakland, Calfornia.  The Bay Bombers were the finest Derby team ever, or so my 12-year-old self thought. They had my allegiance like the Giants never did.

I watched the black-and-white broadcasts religiously from 30 miles away on the old Philco.  Hell, they might have been color, but the the Philco wasn’t. Live local games at night, recorded games on Saturday afternoon, all on KTVU Channel Two, the big independent TV station.

Joan Weston was five foot eleven of yellow-haired woman athlete from a time when that was an impressive height for a man.  She was strong, physically accomplished, and a master of any sport that she tried her hand at. That’s who the woman on the t-shirt reminds me of.

Weston played pivot: she could break away from the pack like a jammer to try for a score, or hang back with the blockers and play defense.

The point was that in this mob of medium-sized drab-haired woman skaters there was this — no other words suffice — giant blonde Viking in a black helmet, dominating the game.

There was Joan Weston, bursting out of the pack to go raiding for points. There was Joan Weston, holding the line against enemy jammers swooping up from behind.  She could knock them off their skates with a well-placed hip- or shoulder- bump, or a hard forearm. She might even send them over the rail.  And when she was out jamming and the other team’s blockers knocked her off her skates, she was up on her feet in an instant to charge back into battle.

Baseball was fine. Basketball was fine.  But watching Joanie Weston was like watching a superhero.  She even had an arch-nemesis, the almost-as-good but unforgiveably sneaky Ann Calvallo.  People still argue about how how much of Roller Derby was pre-scripted, and that rivalry probably was.  But the rest? I’m not so sure.  Those games looked real. The damage the players took certainly was.

Amidst all the sweat and flying teeth and cheesy spectacle, Joan Weston  was a modest, kindly woman who just wanted to use her talents. She was a monster in college softball, but there was no good career in that game.  In her time only the Derby offered a woman of her physical skills a way to make good money in professional sports. \So she went out there and did battle, and well. She made her money and got out in one piece — as she often said, all she’d ever really wanted.

In the ‘60s, in fact, she was America’s highest-paid woman athlete.  With the caveat that Roller Derby wasn’t a “respectable” sport.  But when today’s  women look back in time for role models, they don’t look at the woman tennis players and golfers of old.  They look for warriors.  The times call for them.  And there is Joan Weston.  And the Derby.  And once again, the Derby is everywhere.

fter the original Roller Derby folded, Joan Weston kept busy with exhibition games and even a roller derby school in the East Bay.  Long unmarried, she finally hitched up to a fellow Bomber from the men’s squad  and taught derby and played softball until she died. The New York Times ran her obit.  Not bad for the star of a sport that wasn’t “respectable.”

So that’s why I imagine Joanie Weston staring up that hill in Steinbeck country.  For Steinbeck’s people, life was a challenge.  It might break you, it might not.  But you perservered.  You tried to be what you wanted to be, and to survive.

Besides, Ann Calvallo might be up there somewhere.  Plotting.

As for the Babes of Wrath, the team no longer exists.  But the Monterey Bay Derby Dames league is still there. These days they field a team called the Beasts of Eden. Stay tuned.

T-Shirts from the Collection: Hells Angels Support Tees

Big Red Machine HA Tee 1


This mid-90s t-shirt puzzled me for a bit: it looked like a biker gang shirt.  But what was the Big Red Machine? Never heard of it.

Well, I had. Just not under that name.

Tee shirts bearing the words “Big Red Machine” or “81” are published by chapters of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club to raise money for chapter operations. “Big Red Machine” is an alternate name for the Hells Angels, whose colors are red-on-white. “81” stands for H and A, the eighth and first letter of the alphabet respectively.

Hells Angels 81 Shasta County A Shirt 1

The Angels will not sell you a t-shirt with the actual words “Hells Angels” on it, or the club’s death’s head logo. Nor do they approve of anyone else selling such clothing. Because by club bylaws, only initiated members of the Angels can wear clothing bearing the club name and the club’s death’s head.

While this is by no means civil law, the Hells Angels have a well-documented reputation that gives pause to many. It is difficult to find any shirt like that on the open market. And if you do, you should think twice about buying it. Perhaps three times.

Ray “Spawn Till You Die” Troll, the noted Alaskan fish artist and t-shirt publisher, at one time designed and printed a t-shirt with the legend “Hell’s Anglers” and a drawing of an angry leather-clad gentleman riding a Harley while casting with a fishing rod. Not long after, some of Troll’s distributors in the lower 48 passed him the word that Hells Angels had complained about the shirts. Troll took the shirt out of distribution; the ones already sold became collector’s item.

Hells Angels 81 Shasta County A Shirt 2“Big Red Machine” and “81” tees are known as “support wear;” wearing them means that you support the principles of the Hells Angels, even though you’re not a member.

The words “Known Associate” often appear somewhere on the tee as well: police jargon for someone who’s known to hang out with criminals.

The chapter support shirts shown here are pretty typical; some get way more extreme.

In conclusion, I’ll say what I always say about message-bearing t-shirts: when you put on the tee, you become the message. You are supporting the principes of the Hells Angels, screaming skulls and all. The Angels wouldn’t mind that at all. But who else might?

Be advised. The t-shirt aisle in the thrift shop is sometimes a minefield.

One final note: the club’s name is properly written “Hells Angels,” without the possessive apostrophe.” The Hells Angels FAQ entry about the missing apostrophe simply says, “You may miss it. We don’t.”

Tee Shirts from the Collection: The Jimbo Phillips Gallery

Santa Cruz Star Bene Restaurant Tee by Jimbo Phillips

Santa Cruz is a town that supports the arts: the art of skateboard decks, of surfboard painting, of music posters. And t-shirts.  Tons and tons of t-shirts from local skateboard companies like NHS (Santa Cruz brand skateboards) and sportswear companies like O”Neill’s, of wetsuit fame. These tees are nationally distributed, as are the skateboards and other graphic products.  But many of the artists are local.  And it’s expensive here. And the artists need to keep busy. So some do tees for local businesses as well.

Enter Jimbo Phillips.  Jimbo is a second-generation Santa Cruz commercial artist who got into the business drawing eyeballs and grimacing faces on the bottom of skateboard decks for his father Jim, who was art director for NHS in the ’80s.

And he still does draw giant eyeballs and grotesque surfers with their eyes popping out and heavy-bosomed robotic waitresses toting blasters and serving drinks to aliens, and skeletons playing guitar.  And you’re welcome to go over to the Jimbo Phillips website and buy those tees (and posters, and prints, and hoodies, and so on.) I’m not; I get mine at Goodwill, and Jimbo wants $30.


But he’s freelance and needs whatever business he can get. So Jimbo’s also ready and willing to draw graphics for local businesses and nonprofits, and give ‘em what they want (usually includes fewer giant eyeballs).  The end products usually include t-shirts. And those I can find at Goodwill.

I pick up every Phillips tee I can find, because I like his style. It is distinctive, while also informed by underground comics, “low art” like the art of Ed Roth, and so on.  Like his mentors he draws efficiently and cleanly, with a good line.  And he’s always fun. If you put together a collection of Jimbo’s tees for local businesses, you get a pretty good idea of what goes on here in Santa Cruz.  And I have arranged that for you.

Valentine's Day Massacre Surf Contest Tee

There’s nothing more local than a surfing tournament, especially if it’s locals-only and sponsored by a venerable surf club like the Pleasure Point Night Fighters (yes, there’s a story there.) Pleasure Point is home to a few famous surf breaks, and I have no doubt that Phillips himself surfs there.

Santa Cruz Foam Ball Benefit Surf Contest Tee

The Santa Cruz surf community is kind of wild and wooly, but when one of their own needs a kidney, they’ll pull together and put together a benefit to try to make it happen.  This Phillips tee was for a “fun” surf tournament that was largely a fundraiser. Apologies foe the picture quality; I’ll try to take a new one.

“Foam” refers to the cheap foam surfboards used in this tournament — the kind you can buy at the beach, that can also be used as skimboards.  They’re not for serious surfing, just for fun — which was the point of this tourney.

Eat the Greedy -- Jimbo Phillips

I’m not sure what the point of this one was.  Jimbo Phillips is involved with a local artists’ collective called the Made Fresh Crew, and sometimes they just do independent tees to sell.  This might be one of them.  He’s done his own line of tees in recent days that leans heavily to Rothian/underground monsters: giant eyeballs with fangs, drool, all that good stuff.

Santa Cruz Ferrell Electric Jimbo Phillips

If you wonder why the surfing motif continues with this electrician’s tee, it’s because a ton of the tradesmen around Santa Cruz are dedicated surfers.  Electricians’ tees are also noted for bad puns.  I’ve got another one around here with the motto, “We’ll check your shorts.”

Lemon Tree Marijuana Tee by Jimbo Phllips 1

Lemon Tree is a brand of marijuana that tastes, well, lemony.  They hired Jimbo Phillips to do tees for a “Lemon Life” line of tees to promote their brand and”Lemon Life” and the “Lemon Lifestyle.”  It’s marketing.

Santa Cruz AAU Basketball by Jimbo Phillips

Phillips also does a lot of sports tees, like this one for Santa Cruz amateur basketball.  This tee has a lot of underground comix/Ed Roth attitude.

Capitola Skate Park Tee Jimbo Phllips 1

A new skatepark is a rare and precious thing in the Santa Cruz area, and it seems as if Phillips was commissioned to do a commemorative design.  Though a relatively low-budget one-color tee, this is actually one of my favorites.  It’s a nice, strong graphic, very evocative of a sunset in Capitola if you know the place.  The orange tee was well-used in place of a second ink color.

Oneill Skimboard Contentst Tee 2

One thing you’ll see on many of Jimbo Phillips shirt is what I call the Jimbo Leer: the semi-malicious grin of a teenage male enjoying himself to excess and living the adolescent dream of power and rebellion.  Here’s another;
Santa Cruz Skate Shop Tee

The tee below, for a local barbecue joinr, I’ve used in other posts.  But I’m repeating it here because it’s a truly awesome Ed Roth homage and also has that wondrous leer of rebellion and abandon.

Santa Cruz Coles BBQ Roth Style Tee by Jimbo Phillips

The tee below is actually rather old, commissioned of Phillips by local disk drive maker Seagate to have some cool to bring with them to Austin’s SXSW music/media happening about 20 years ago.

Seagate SXSW Tee by Jimbo Phillips

I worked for Seagate in those days, and their vision of the future was a media server in every home: siitting quietly in a closet and holding all your movies and music and pictures and books and games, standing ready to serve it all across your home network at any time.

And that was a future that didn’t happen.  It’s all about streaming these days, and the Cloud, and hooking it all directly into your skull through your smartphone or tablet. Oh, well.

Santa Cruz Water Polo Classic 2016 (Jimbo Phillips)

That’s about it for now.  This is only about two-thirds of the Jimbo Phillips shirts I have, and I keep finding new ones.  A working artist has to keep busy, and he does: showing Santa Cruz the way it wants to be seen.

Tee Shirts From the Collection: The Papal Rock Concert

Monterey Pope Festival 1987 Tee

Back in 1967, the Monterey Pop Festival took place at Laguna Seca Raceway outside Monterey, California.  It was the first ever real rock festival, pre-dating even Woodstock. Tens of thousands of rock fans turned up.

Twenty years later, in 1987, Pope John Paul II gave mass to tens of thousands of farmworkers at Laguna Seca Raceway; locally, the event became known in advance as….

Tee Shirts from the Collection: Popping Wheelies at the Temple of Roth

Dirt Rag Magazine Rat Fink Homage

ID big bad chevy1I am a congregant at the altar of Ed Roth, custom car visionary and cartoonist from the early ‘60s. While Roth built fantasy hot-rods out of fiberglass, Roth’s design studio deftly marketed stickers and t-shirts and plastic model kits of big-toothed monsters riding hot rods to the surly 12- and 13-year-olds olds of those dull and prosperous times.  If you’re not familiar, see right for some typical Roth:

ratfinkHe also came up with the Rat Fink, a giant, drooling, fanged rat covered with flies and a tunic bearing the letters RF.  Rat Fink was a symbol of that rebellious hot-rod culture that the 13-year-olds dreamed of.

Your mother would not approve of the Rat Fink.  That was the point.

So I get a kick out of the above bicycle-riding “Rat Fink” homage from the Dirt Rag mountain bike magazine.  It’s not local or important, but it’s All Roth.  It had to come home with me.

Roth’s studio had an impact on artists to come, and there’s much to say that I won’t at this time. Suffice it to say that as the years have gone by, Roth’s “car monsters” have been inspiration to many t-shirt artists for many different purposes.  Here are a few from the collection:

 Santa Cruz Rib King Barbecue Food Truck Tee 1

“Rib King” was a barbecue chef, butcher, and food truck operator named Loren Ozaki .  I remember a stocky Asian-American guy around 30 with a gold earring and cargo shorts. He tooled his diamond-plated chariot of ‘cue to workplaces all over Santa Cruz and mid-county from about 2005 to 2010 or 11.

He used to stop by my office on the West Side around noon, and while I never popped for the ribs he made quite a tasty pulled-pork sandwich. He sold the above tee out of his food truck along with the ‘cue and the coleslaw and the drinks. It’s an Ed Roth-inspired ‘60s Car Monster. Roth’s artist minions never drew a monster quite as grotesque as Rib King’s barbequed-pig food truck driver.

I paid full retail for this tee, one of the few times ever.  Yes, I’m cheap. But I had to have it, and thought I’d never see another one. And I haven’t, not in years of thrift-shopping. IThe Rib King left the local food truck scene somewhere in the early teens and took his butchering skills up to the Bay Area for awhile. I don’t know what he’s up to now.  Sadly, I can’t identify the artist of this shirt

USAF 554th Red Horse Tee

Monster t-shirts are common in the military; the idea is that the average grunt is a monster of battle, a bad mofo. It’s for morale.  Especially since a lot of military jobs are actually pretty boring, if vital.   And since enlistees are still mostly male and barely post-adolescent, monsters appeal. Or the brass thinks they do.

RED HORSE is a real acronym for a type of mobile Air Force construction battalion: “Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operations Repair Squadron Engineers.”  RED HORSE: I’d like to know how long it took some blue-uniformed bureacrat to put that name together. And how drunk they had to get.

Anyway, the Red Horse battalions repair and upgrade forward airbases and airstrips under combat conditions. They’re pretty bad-ass: they got guns, they’ve got heavy equipment, they rappel down from helicopters just to build things; they do whatever the base’s PRIME BEEF unit (Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force) needs them to do.

RED HORSE, PRIME BEEF — you can’t make this stuff up. But the Air Force can.  And does.  I wonder if they wear Rat Fink shirts to staff meetings.

Santa Cruz Coles BBQ Roth Style Tee by Jimbo PhillipsThis gleefully crazy tee was illustrated for Cole’s Barbecue in Santa Cruz by local “extreme” artist Jimbo Phillips.  Jimbo is the son of  skateboard/rock poster artist Jim “Screaming Blue Hand” Phillips.

The screaming blue hand is one of several iconic characters that Phillips Sr. came up with for Santa Cruz Skateboards in the ‘80s for the edification of the surly 13-year-old boys who are the the target demographic of the skateboard industry — as they were for Ed Roth.  Phillips Sr. admits to Roth as an influence on his skateboard work; his son Jimbo, who grew up drawing skateboard art with Dad, names Roth as one of his personal “old masters” to aspire to.

Gonzales Machine and Forge Ed Roth Homage Tee

Gonzales Machine and Forge is a machine shop and forge in the Salinas Valley agriculture town of Gonzales: they fabricate specialized tilling equipment for agriculture, barbecues, whatever you want.  I can’t find out much about them, but they deal with steel and fire and big hammers.  For such folks, I can see Ed Roth’s machine/monsters as part of their belief system.

Clutch Couriers Phillips

This is another Jimbo Phillips tee from Santa Cruz for Clutch Couriers the people who run bicycle messengers around town and staple posters to wooden power poles.  I swear you can’t see the wood for the rusty staples sometimes.

Jimbo Phillips is a working artist, and does many tee designs, logos, and so forth for local businesses.  This tee meets all the Roth criteria: Giant bloodshot eyeballs? Check? Mouth full of big teeth? Check. Generally grotesque? Riding a vehicle irresponsibly?  Double Check.

Santa Cruz Boardroom Racing Tee Color Design

This tee is a little different than the other Roth-type designs, because the horned monster “driver” is riding his car like a skateboard.  That’s because this tee is for a skateboard shop, the Santa Cruz Boardroom.  More precisely, it’s for the shop’s skateboard team.

Pacific Pinball Museum "Flip Out"

Pinball was a huge part of growing up in the early ‘60s; especially since the machines were often technically illegal for under-18s because it was “gambling.”  We played them anyway.  The Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, California, collects and restores pinball machines from that era and others; most of them are housed one roof where an “all you can play” day pass is yours for $25.  As a 10-year-old, I’d have thought I’d died and gone to Heavn.

This tee morphs a pinball machine with an early ‘60s hotrod monsters to capture the teenage male zeitgeist of the times.  Yes, I used the word “zeitgeist.” Sue me.Weird-ohs Digger Kit

By my best guess, the “monster” component is copied from the Hawk “Weird-ohs” plastic model kit, “Digger.” We had one around the house; my older sister bought and assembled it, which was entirely unlike her. I remember that she did a masterful job painting red veins on the eyeballs.

Primer Nationals Kustom Kar Show Tee

If Ed Roth were still alive, he’d probably stop by the Primer Nationals car show (later succeeded by the Ventura Nationals) in Ventura, California.  To enter, your car has to be American; it has to be older than 1968; it has to be either an old-school hot rod or a restored or customized car.

The Primer Nationals was a bastion of what’s called Kustom Kulture: the teen-oriented custom car and hot rod culture of the ’50s and ‘60s, and the design aesthetic that went with them.  Roth was hip deep in Kustom Kulture, both through artwork and through the design of his own custom vehicles; and this t-shirt is all outlaw and all Roth.

Kustom Kulture still lives; and as long as it does, Ed Roth will be remembered.

In the meantime, I’m going to stop stalling and pay full price for an Ed Roth Rat Fink tee — in the original black and white, in honor of 12-year-old me who looked at those Roth ads in the back of Model Car Science magazine in the junior high school library at lunchtime and wondered if I’d ever dare order one, and what the parents would say.

I never did.  Now is the time. Now more than ever.

Tee Shirts from the Collection: Shifty Vintners and the Rubber Monster Mask Supply Chain

(To long-time readers.  I’m continuing to churn out short posts about the tees in my recently-catalogued collection.  Please check past this post to see if there are any older ones you’ve missed!)

Santa Cruz BD Vinyards Sirah Tee 1

Here in Santa Cruz, my wife and I used to stop to a particular coffee house before heading off to work. The rear table pretty much belonged to a middle-aged guy in a tee-shirt. He had long, flyaway hair, Harry Potter glasses, and at all times a slightly confused expression.

In short, he fell into the category of Typical Santa Cruz Character/Middle-Aged Hippie Subtype: except for the big Euro-style brief bag stuffed with documents and his ever-present laptop. He’d shuffle paper and  intently tap the keyboard for awhile and then drive off in a 40-year-old Citroen station wagon, the kind that looks like it wants to launch into outer space. He had two of them, one red and one white.

Come to find out that he was Randall Grahm, rebel and dreamer of the world of winemaking and viticulture, and proprietor of the local Bonny Doon Vineyard for decades. He’s reinvented his business and methods several times over the years: sometimes radically, always subversively.

Santa Cruz BD Vinyards Sirah Tee 2

Grahm takes playful approach to the names of his wines, and to the wine label art. He employs talented and unconventional artists for his labels, and of course the label art appear on t-shirts in the gift shop, thank you.

The label for this syrah is pretty funny: wine-maker as Renaissance Frenchman, slyly tempting you with wines from within his cloak, like some seedy gentleman selling naughty postcards.

The best-known Boony Doon wine label is for Le Cigar Volante, a red blend.  During the flying saucer scares of the 1950s, a French wine-making town banned “cigars volante” (flying cigars) from hovering overhead and spoiling the vintage. As below:

Cigare Volante Label

Grahm makes a tee with this label, but I’ve never found one at the Goodwill; I may have to pay full price one of these days.

Haven’t seen Mr. Grahm lately, At one point he put a “for sale” sign on the white Citroen, though interest proved small. But I did see him as recently as last year driving around in the red one. Its vanity license plate reads “Le Cigare.”

(Click the link if you’d like to see more Bonny Doon Vineyard label art. )

On to the next t-shirt:

Santa Cruz Trick or Treat Studios They Live Tee

Sometimes I look at a tee hanging on the thrift store rack and ask myself, “Should I risk my $2.49 on this? Really?” In this case I did, and I’m glad. Because this tee is both local to Santa Cruz, and answers the question:

What do you do if you’re a supply chain manager for a disk drive company, making disk drive production run smoothly, but your lifelong passion actually lies in rubber monster masks?

Eventually, when it becomes a choice of what to do next with your life, you put those same supply-chain/Six-Sigma skills to work producing rubber masks of famous film monsters (and a few t-shirts). And that’s what the CEO of Trick or Treat Studios did.

Trick or Treat Studios is a typical Santa Cruz County entrepreneurial business; nly the product is not typical.  Trick or Treat directly employs ten or fifteen people at company HQ; it licenses the rights to copyrighted characters and images; it contracts with creative professionals to develop and prototype  products based on those characters; it makes those products at plants far from Santa Cruz; and distributes and sells those products through mail-order, other distributors and big retailers.

See? Just like making disk drives, except that rubber masks are way more fun. This tee portrays an alien from an old John Carpenter movie, the schlock classic “They Live.” Remember? Outer-space capitalists infiltrate and subvert our society on behalf of the galactic financial system.

I think I’ve got to watch that one again.

Tee Shirts from the Collection: Saloon and Bar T-Shirts, “Dive” and Otherwise

Kokopelli Moon Saloon Tee

(To long-time readers: I’ve got my t-shirt collection mostly catalogued, and I’m starting to write up descriptions of the individual shirts. This essay draws on some of my tee research.)

Some people call them cocktail lounges, or clubs, or saloons. To me, they’re all bars. Whether the drinks are mixed or beers the only tipple. Whether there’s one pool table or a dozen. You pony up. You drink — with friends, for company, or alone when you’re the only company you have or want.

There may be food. There may be ‘tude. There may be social life, or a darts tourney, or a pick-up scene. Or just locals who know each other, or want to know somebody, anybody, because they’re lonely or horny and home is just a bed. And if you buy enough drinks, at least the bartender will learn your name. Eventually.

And there may be a tee shirt, especially if it’s a dive bar. (Although about everything calls itself a dive bar these days.) A bar t-shirt’s purpose is to be worn proudly by regulars; but mainly to look somewhat cool, so that the bar looks cool, too. So that you, a stranger, might see the shirt and think about stopping by..

Johnny's Bar Busty Biker Tee

The question is, “looks cool” to whom? If you’re a certain kind of guy, “cool” may be a hot blonde with breasts spilling out of her clothes, a pool cue in hand, and a motorcycle. It’s a kind of visual pheromone; the scenario writes itself in the hopeful mind. And while the promise may never be kept, you never know. And there’ll be beer.

Johnny’s Bar and Grill, by the way, is a venerable small-town saloon in Hollister, California. There’s Monday Night Football on the big screen, dart tourneys, and karaoke nights, and probably a pool table someplace. And once a year it’s invaded by bikers; the whole town is, actually. Call it a festival. I really doubt that bosom-spilling centerfold models are on the premises nightly, but you can dream. They want you to.

So that’s one kind of cool. But elsewhere, “cool” may be a unicorn giving discreet oral sex to a griffin with a drink in its hand.

Griffin Bar Unicorn Sex LV The Griffin in Las Vegas doesn’t call itself as a dive bar; it presents as a classy, classic ’50s cocktail lounge. But if that’s the case I just… don’t get… the t-shirt. A griffin getting oral sex from a unicorn? Unless that’s a reference to Frank Sinatra or something. Just kidding. I never understood Vegas. Or maybe I understood it too well.

I could have dozens of tees like these, if I kept my eyes open: potential sex is a basic theme for bar tees. But I don’t need or want dozens. Though this tee from a bar in a touristy beach town near me has more fun with the idea.

Capitola Bay Bar Tee

They don’t have dive bars on the Capitola Esplanade (just down the road from Santa Cruz, my home), but Bay Bar and Grill is definitely a locals’ spot. There, any would-be Tiki God from the nearby Pleasure Point surf breaks can meet the home town wahine of his dreams,. Or that’s the story, if you believe what t-shirts tell you.

Again, back to dive bars: I don’t know what it is about college-educated young professionals, but in this town at least they want every bar to be a dive bar — a gritty, lively place full of “real” people and “real” alcoholics. The booze is cheap, the pours are big, and the bartender has seen the elephant. And Happy Hour never ends. Santa Cruz’ favorite dive bar is the Rush Inn,; the Rush Inn meets all the requirements. Plus heavy cigarette smoke.

Santa Cruz Rush Inn Tee

I don’t get the appeal, but who said that was important? Though I have to ask what a “dive bar” is anymore. The Lucky 13 calls itself a dive bar. But with a notably arty tee and a rotating selection of craft beers on tap. And it’s own tattoo parlor located conveniently upstairs for times when the craft beer has broken down your inhibitions.

Lucky 13 Devil Cat Bar Tee

A dive bar with craft beer on tap and in-house tattooing? In a comfortable neighborhood of comfortable Alameda, California? I think we’ve crossed the line into marketing and branding here.

But nobody could deny that the Alley Cat Lounge is “real.”

Alley Cat

The Alley Cat is an Indianapolis dive bar: the real thing, reaching back seventy years. I picked it up because the tee design is supremely good.

The Alley Cat is literally on an alley: walk past the dumpsters and the scruffy street punks to find the front door. Once upon a time cops and reporters and “the element” rubbed shoulders and downed stiff shots in its low-life environs.

Things have changed somewhat: the front room is now an attractive lounge with good lighting and good food. But head for the back room, where it’s still dark and spartan and the walls are old brick, the bartenders pour big, and the hard drinkers party like it’s 1949. That’s a dive bar, friends.

Not a dive bar, but I have to throw in this mystery entry: Wayne’s Cowboy Room.

Wayne's Cowboy Room Tee

I can’t find out a thing about this tee but… a vaccuum tube wearing a cowboy suit? You’re talking Hank Williams, old-school cowboy music, and maybe some rockabilly: the kind of cowboy and country music played in ‘50s honky-tonks on Martin guitars and tube amps. Wayne’s sounds like a great bar with a great music scene, but I’ll never really know. Unless someone tells me.

Hammered Shark Good Fake Bar Tee

That’s about it for right now. Although you’ll note I had nothing to say about the Kokopelli Moon Saloon t-shirt at the top of this article, nor about the Hammered Shark Saloon tee that you see above. That’s because they’re fakes: joke shirts. “Real” bar tees can be so over-the-top that joke shirts can pass for the real thing. I got snookered.

I keep them in the collection anyway, as a lesson: that sometimes it’s hard to make up something very much crazier than reality.

The Mansion that Nobody Wants

When something truly bad happens, people never quite forget.  The trauma, the dread, the revulsion:  these things never really go away. Wise men know enough to acknowledge what happened. Fools hope it’ll all blow over.

I thought about that the other day.  In the context of Santa Cruz real estate.

There it was, on a local social media board: “Unique Midcentury Home for Sale.” The link led to a high-end sales video that easily cost a couple of grand to produce.

And gentlemen and ladies, when you’re asking four million for a house, a couple of grand for the pitch video is chump change.

For your four million, you get an eleven-acre hilltop estate out in the hills above Soquel with free-form salt-water pool on a stone terrace; a tennis court and impeccable gardens and glades; top flight ocean views, and of course a mid-century Prairie School mansion.

The mansion offers 4000-plus square feet of rough-cut stone and natural wood beams and open-plan goodness. And glass.  Lots and lots of glass. And maybe, down in the wine cellar, the words “Frank Lloyd Wright was here” chiseled in the wall.  And if not, they should have been. Check it out.


And yet: it won’t sell.  It won’t sell in the world’s white-hottest real estate market, a black hole of a market that crushes the hopes and dreams of plebes like you and me and spits out ever-higher prices.

It wont’ sell despite the fawning feature stories planted in the big regional newspapers. Or all the well-heeled professionals from the big city with cash to buy other estates around here.

It won’t sell in a place where a tiny two-bedroom by the freeway just might break 900K. Priced-out renters are literally demonstrating in the streets — and it won’t sell.

It’s been two years on the market.   The sellers eventually cut the price by ten percent while all around it home prices shot for the stars.

And it still won’t sell.  It was a puzzle. But for me, the answer came from the address: 999 North Rodeo Gulch Road. The address rang a bell. A very, very faint bell from fifty years ago.  But I have lived in Santa Cruz more than half that long.  I called up a search engine and searched “999 North Rodeo Gulch,” Soquel and “murder.”

And there it was, at the top of the results: a terse account of quintuple murder out of the archives of a big east coast newspaper.

Today you might call it a home invasion: a wealthy doctor, his wife and children, and an employee were taken hostage at home by a man with a .45.  The man tied up each family member as they came home.

He raved at them all about materialism and a war to save the environment — aside from the house itself, a Rolls and a Lincoln sat in the driveway. Then he shot them all and threw the bodies in the pool. He paused to set the house on fire, and left.

Some say that the murderer heard voices in his head; others blamed LSD and radical politics. The jury found him sane and sent him to Death Row, but the state abolished the death penalty soon after and commuted his sentence to life in prison.  He died in his cell 30-odd years later, by his own hand. A more complete, if sensationalist, account of the matter can be found here.

A few years after that, the house went on the market.  And it won’t sell.

In this state, any death on a property in the past three years must be disclosed to prospective buyer.  Any earlier, and the seller need not volunteer the information. But they must still answer honestly if asked: “Anybody ever die here?”

Yet the murders really shouldn’t matter now — should they?   After all, 50 years have passed. The damage has been repaired; the blood, long scrubbed way; the pool, cleaned and cleaned again. The murderer is dead.

New owners purchased the place. Life went on.  Drive by 999 North Rodeo Gulch Road today and all you’ll see is a metal gate and an elegant stone wall.  Stylish steel letters spell out the street number and name.  Nothing suggests sadness, or madness, or death.

But people are funny.  Superstitious or not, most of them still don’t want to live in the memory of evil. Certainly not while paying $4 million for the privilege.

So they turn their back on this midcentury Mount Olympus and go inspect a remodeled tract home over by the wastewater treatment plant.

Sure, the real estate guys might keep their mouths shut. But every real estate broker and salesman in town knows about that house by now.  They can’t say they don’t. They are going to tell their buyers, law or no law.  Maybe they’ll give them a little time to fall in love with the place, but they’ll surely disclose long before the buyer picks up the pen.

Because, law or no law, not disclosing is not an option. The stain on that house will never go away. If this buyer doesn’t find out, the next one will, down the line. And lawyers exist for a reason.

And the outraged homeowners would howl “‘My broker Honest Bob Greedy let us buy a murder house WITHOUT TELLING US.”

It’d be tweeted and Facebooked and Yelped and Reddited and YouTubed and memed until Bob Greedy changed his name and fled town with an Internet lynch mob on his heels and an angry hashtag branded on his forehead in bloody red letters. Shameful truths want to be known.  They do not like to be concealed.

Whether the subject in question is a mansion with a bloody history, or a Supreme Court justice who just might be a rapist, concealment is the major evil here, beyond even the acts being concealed. Concealment puts a buyer’s treasure in the hands of a criminal; it potentially puts the law of the nation in the hands of a man whose character may, just may, be that of a criminal and brute.

It is all very expedient to rush someone like Brett Kavanaugh through a quick, orchestrated hearing and a perfunctory investigation and say, “See, this is now settled. The letter of the law is obeyed.”  And then airily opine, as Republican Senate Leader McConnell did, that “these things always blow over.”

But it is not settled simply because the letter of the law says it is.  As the real estate guys know, what you do within the letter of the law can still destroy the process’s integrity. It can still destroy the trust that the brokers need to stay in business.  And there are always lawyers.

And for politicians who rush through a flawed nominee, there may well be further disclosures from the nominees victims to contend with.  If more such victims are there, they will arise.

And there will be distrust, and revulsion, and demonstrations, anger and strife.  The hot-house subversives in the GOP underestimate just how fragile civil society is, while they swing sledgehammers at its foundations.

It could be that the thing to “blow over” will be Mitch McConnell’s oligarch-friendly Senate majority.  And perhaps even the legitimacy of the Supreme Court itself, and the White House beyond that.  I am not eager for that.  Legitimacy given up is not easily regained.

All this, because the character of their new Supreme Court judge is being concealed, glossed over. Again, this concealment is the real crime against America. Because without men of good character America’s law is just a dry set of rules to be manipulated for the benefit of the greedy and power-hungry.  As we have seen, and may well see even more of thanks to Justice Kavanaugh.

And that definitely won’t sell.  They will be shown that.

Whining in Paradise

It was hot here this summer. Maybe not by your standards, oh sweltering New Yorker.  Nor by yours, oh stoic Japanese watching Tokyo melt around you. Nor by the wide-eyed Norwegians who watched their paper-dry forests burn like — well, paper.  As the temperature hit 90 in Oslo and the rain ran away and cried.  On Finland.

But for us, it was hot.  We live in a misty seaside redoubt of cool air and mist on California’s central course: a small city of beaches and cliffs on the shore of a fortunate bay. “Heat” is not us.
A nice summer day begins with morning fog.  This is a good thing, because it freshens the air and clears by 11. Then comes a golden afternoon. The thermometer crests at a pleasant 73F under blue skies scalloped with thin fronds of cloud.

In many ways — not all — it’s Paradise. We live in the blower of a mighty marine air conditioner. Without it, California would be a desert.  The cool, gray clouds  keep the coast mild, and the inland valleys only tolerably hot. Hot enough to ripen tomatoes and almonds and kumquats. But not enough to hurt.

Yet when summer rolled around this year, the fogs did not come.  Every day dawned clear.  And our coastal Paradise hit the 80s day after day.  It was a disaster. No one has air conditioning; it’d be like a swimsuit on a penguin.  Normally.

And we griped and sweated like the weather wimps we are while Sacramento and Modesto and Red Bluff and all those places 100 miles inland hit 105 over and over again.   And the land was bone dry.
And then came fires.  Mother Nature said, “Oh, look, there are 14 million dead trees in the National Forests.  Let me… take care of that for you.”

Gee, thanks, Mom.  Yeah it’s “nature’s way” to burn land that needs clearing, but Mother Nature enjoyed it way too much.  Her senile cackle echoed ‘cross the sky while ash and smoke from three dozen fires made the daytime sky a bleary mess.  Cities burned.  You heard me: cities.

Our fault, of course, for not clearing the dead wood.  And for not letting the forests burn naturally, because they were full of our vacation and retirement homes. Mother Nature only hurts you if you don’t fear her.  Oh, she’ll teach you.

That was the first half of summer: abnormally hot.  Then came the second half: abnormally cold.  Temperatures dropped.  Our fog came back; thick and iron grey, Reluctant to leave before 3 in the afternoon.  If that.

And the inlands cooled, too, and the fire armies got the upper hand against the Carr Fire and the County Fire and the insanely massive Mendocino Complex Fire. They’re contained now.  Still not out, after two months.  But not spreading.

And today, and yesterday, and the day before, the weather here in Paradise got its feet back under it. The fog vanished in late morning. Gentle wind caressed the cheek, like an old girlfriend in a good mood.

Come afternoon the sunlight turned everything a mellow red-gold.  Down at the farmer’s market, the usual suspects sipping beer among the booths shone like some pantheon of surfer gods and old hippies. A warm wind blasted in from the west with the scent of flowers.  It flowed down the throat like wine.

This is the “old” normal weather here.  But is it normal anymore?  I haven’t seen it around much lately.

So I don’t know. If anyone knows what’s normal anymore, please tell me.  Before “normal” changes again.

I do know this: the rains weren’t much this year; not a drop has struck the ground since mid-April.  The hills and valleys are overgrown with “fuel,” trees and brush that have never been cut back.  If this were a normal year, September and October would be our hottest months.  We called them Fire Season: when California used to burn.

But now Fire Season never ends.  We had wildfires last December, if you can believe it. Our old balance of fog and rain and sun is in danger.  Nobody I know questions global climate change.  I question the sanity of those who do.

Yet I still fear Big October, and another heat wave; the land is dry, after all.  And perhaps another drought to come. And Mother Nature, that remorseless monster with a mirror for a face.

Till then, maybe, Paradise is back.  I should enjoy it while it lasts.

The Fall and Rise of Team Dead Cat

Team Dead Cat Walk for Life Tee 1

I’m a collector of stories. Every good collector is, no matter what they think they collect. Because a story lies behind every object that they lust after — or they wouldn’t lust.

And that’s why I had to have that “Team Dead Cat” t-shirt I spotted on the rack at Goodwill. Team what?

On the back of the tee: An extravagantly dead cat with crosses on its eyes sprawls across the green fabric. On the other side: the same cat, vomiting over the slogan “Cough it up for Lung Cancer!”  Dead and vomiting: nice trick.

Team Dead Cat Walk for Life Tee 2

This was not the usual charity t-shirt.  But then, Team Dead Cat was not the usual charity venture.

It goes like this: you’re 26 years old and you live in Bakersfield, California.  It’s 2009. One day, you get into a motorcycle accident, and after they x-ray you at the hospital they tell you that you have Stage 4 lung cancer.  Even though you don’t smoke. And that it’s spread to your brain. And that you’ve got three to six months to live, max.

You don’t exactly buy that, so you throw yourself into the chemo and other therapies and after awhile, you’re still here. And life could be worse.

But you do wonder why you smell bad. And you’re a guy named AJ Vaughn, being interviewed for the local paper:

After his first round of chemotherapy, Vaughn asked his doctor, why he thinks it made him smell awful. “Everything stinks, my breath, my sweat, food doesn’t taste good. I just have this funk. I’m always smelling. He’s like oh you have dead cat syndrome. He says imagine there’s this dead cat underneath your porch and it gets pulled out and every once in awhile you just get this stink around you,” explained Vaughn.

The stench stuck with Vaughn and he decided to name his cancer, dead cat.

“While I’m in the shower coughing and hacking up my lungs, my sister and my wife are listening and I just say don’t worry about it girls, it’s just more dead cat coming up,” he continued.

And though he was doing a fine job of just rolling with his situation, he had nothing to do in life.  Nobody would hire a terminal cancer patient.

So he found something to do. He certainly knew just how much hurt cancer brought into the world. Vaughn decided to raise money for cancer through the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life program.

Friends and relatives of folks struck down by cancer form teams to raise money for cancer research.  Somewhat less often does the victim organize their own team while still alive.

And so Team Dead Cat was born. Team Dead Cat raised money in ways usual and unusual.  It took part in Relay for Life Walkathons, which is normal.  It sold Team Dead Cat t-shirts, which is less normal.  It dumped purple toilets in acquaintances’ yards with a reverse ransom note: Donate $15 to cancer research and the toilet will vanish from your yard.  Or, donate $20, and name the next person to receive the toilet.

All in all, Team Dead Cat raised $26,000.  It’s a story you could call inspirational.  But what I’d rather say is, AJ Vaughn was a guy who’d know how to have fun in a zombie apocalypse.  And do some good for others at the same time.

Vaughn passed at the end of 2013, four years later than he was supposed to.  His mother asked his team members and friends to honor him by wearing their Team Dead Cat shirts to his memorial.  I’ll bet you a dollar that they did, too.

It’s a good story, gleaned from news media websites over the past few years.  The thing about good stories is that they want to live.  They’ll spread from person to person, place to place, website to website.

I tracked Vaughn’s story around the Internet beginning while he was still alive .  The story came and went on various Bakersfield sites, and after his death even popped up in New Zealand. His sister had moved down there.  She’d volunteered for a local cancer fundraiser; and she told the story of her brother, and Team Dead Cat, to the local newspaper.

And now, I’m passing it on.  Humans like stories; I suspect that we even think in stories. Not all stories are good; some promote greed and hate.  So it behooves us to keep the good ones moving along. Not that we could stop ourselves; a good story wants to live.