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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.


A Way of Life

I continue trolling thrift stores for interesting t-shirts. It’s a hobby; it keeps me off the streets. But once, I had other hobbies.

Celesticon 1

And that’s why I was so pleased to find a tee bearing a crudely-drawn picture of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise (1701A) with the full original crew.  I emphasize “crudely” here.  It’s amateur hour all the way.

And above it all, the title “Celesticon 2013.”

Call it a phaser blast from the past: those three little letters that spell “con.” This tee invokes a whole subculture that I, and my wife, used to inhabit.  It’s called fandom, and for some it’s a way of life.  And if you want to understand it, you must go back, back to the past.. Where, in the time of  Coolidge Augustus, on the river called Hudson….

…there was Hugo. Hugo Gernsback.

Hugo published many magazines, among them Modern Electrics, and Science and Invention.  Hugo was a radio enthusiast himself. And besides, it seemed in the 1910s that every young man with an idea and copper wire and a soldering iron and a dry cell was trying to make a breakthrough.

You, know: to perfect the wristwatch television or the electric chicken plucker and Make Your Fortune.  In your garage. This garage start-up thing goes way back.

Or beyond that: perhaps, communicate with Mars.  Or preserve food with electrical impulses.  Or design giant radio robots to play ice hockey at 200 miles per hour.  Something.

Yes, it was the Dawn Time of the Geek, the rise of NerdNation: big ideas, grandiose dreams, large and fragile egos, awkward social skills, and all.  All these people needed was someplace to be: to be themselves, or somebody they dreamed of being.

This would soon be arranged.

Because it was All Good. Good for Science and Invention, certain.  And since Hugo’s readers were dreamers, and dreamers like a good story,  Hugo began to publish imaginative fiction in the back of the magazine — he called it “scientifiction.  About bright young men who traveled to other planets, and levitated magnetically, and rescued green princesses — all with the power of Electricity, and Rockets, and good old American spunk.

And this also was Really Good.  So good that Hugo started another magazine for scientifiction alone.  And it was amazing.  Truly: it was called Amazing Stories.  And around it grew a virtual nation of science fiction fans that eventually named itself Fandom.

Fans showed creativity, enthusiasm, an ability to organize, and a fetish for shortening words. (Like “scientifiction.” That didn’t last long.) They jammed Amazing’s letters column (“lettercol”) with their opinions.  Opinions about the stories, opinions about science, and opinions about other opinions.

And soon there were more science fiction magazines, local fan clubs, and sci-fi fan magazines (to be called fanzines, and later just ‘zines.) All this fan activity, or fanac, lead to bigger meetings of the “fen:” whole conventions of fen, everywhere.  And yes, they shortened the word to “con.”

The flagship science fiction con, Worldcon, launched in 1939 in NYC, and not long after came big regional cons like Boskone, Westercon, Norwescon, and then dozens of other state and local cons run by fans, for fans.  Because the fen were everywhere.

Some of the cons based themselves in one city; others, big ones like Worldcon and Westercon, change locations each year, and fan societies in different cities compete to host and run them.  Worldcon even leaves the country from time to time, and of course other countries host their own cons.

Girl Fan Tee 1And at these cons the fen would conduct much fanac: they would talk, and drink “bheer,” talk to authors, exchange ‘zines, feud with one another, and speculate about science and the future, After all, they were mainly young and male and had a lot of futures to consider.

A few women were there at the beginning, of course, because they dreamed, too, and not just about a house and a husband and 2.3 children.  Though if you wanted to find an intelligent young man in your life with a future ahead of him: well, the odds were good, even if the goods were slightly odd.Girl Fan Tee 2

Eventually women would reach parity in fandom, in power if not always in number.  I have a tee for a women’s science fiction community that proclaims women’s absolute equality, if not superiority, in geekish fandom.

Meanwhile, back at the cons: the fans brought their bad fan artwork (except for that which was very good) and competed in the con’s art shows; or their amateur Buck Rogers or Dejah Thoris costume  for the con’s costume competition.  And yes, wore them around the con, often.

Or sat up late at night sinking punny “filksongs” about science fiction — or other fans — which they’d written themselves.  They invented their own fantasy games, too; Dungeons and Dragons and the like evolved from fannish gaming.  As well as the themes that inspire modern computer games today.

All this because cons are a place for the geeks and the nerds and the dreamers to be themselves. Around people who are just like them, don’t mind, and might even applaud.

And don’t think that fans didn’t stay up late at night trying to make all this creativity and differentness into a career for themselves. And some of them succeeded, and are Guests of Honor of today’s cons even as we speak: as professionals producing science fiction and fantasy for print, video, movies, games, and beyond.  Others went to space or designed advanced technology..

Do you watch the television series Game of Thrones? Millions do. It is based on the works of the fantasy writer George R.R. Martin, who has been a serious fan since childhood. He climbed the whole comics/science fiction club/fanzine/con ladder into the professional science fiction magazines and beyond.  And there are others like him. From the zines to your screen: so much of what you watch and consume has made that journey.

And some fans achieved within fandom itself: the skills gained from active fandom are not inconsiderable.  My wife was in on the ground floor on Trek fandom and helped organize and run a Worldcon. She even founded a con herself: for ‘zine publishers. She ran it for two years and sent it on its way as a wandering convention that moves from city to city.  It’s been sustaining itself for 34 years now.

She also founded a public access TV show about science fiction, where I met her. We traveled to cons and pushed video cameras into the faces off big-time authors and showed the results to the indifferent denizens of San Francisco.  I remember interviewing a famous author at poolside at some regional con while a unicorn danced in his lap. Okay, it was a one-horned goat pretending to be a unicorn … but that’s even better.  Good times.

Persistent fanac like this is its own reward, because if you stay in Fandom long enough you’ll become a Big Name Fan (BNF), known and blogged about and respected by all.  That’s not nothing.  Some Big Namers stay in Fandom all their lives, even those who became professional creators of one type or another.

There’s an old fannish acronym: FIAWOL. “Fandom is a way of life.”  Truer words were never abbreviated.

Fandom is verging on 100 years of age, and it has never grown up; that’s the point. But it has become known throughout the land.  And the innkeepers of the land say, “Verily, these fen be tight with a dollar, but at least they don’t smash up the place like those Shriners, yea, it is written…”

And here’s where fandom has gone truly science-fictional: like some alien creature that reproduces by fission, it split up.  The tradition science fiction cons remains, big and small. But new fan groups and cons have appeared that specialize: they’re only about fantasy or horror, or only about costumes, or only about artwork, even only about filking, or only gaming, or only media.

The comics cons arose; the Trekkies organized their own cons as well, as did fans of other TV and movie franchises.  Some people even run cons as profit-making businesses, but noble committees of geeky volunteers still organize and run most cons.

And yet while fandom split, the pieces stay in alliance.  A fan might still go to the old school Westercon for traditional written science fiction action, where you might have found me, once upon a time.  But now they can also go to CostumeCon for the cosplay, or God help them even to a filking convention, or a gaming convention, or the World Fantasy Con or the World Horror Con.  Or acquire armor and a sword and join the Society for Creative Anachronism. There’s a feminist con, too.

Fandom has changed from one big department store to a gigantic mall of fandoms.  And you, you shy person who dreamed big, were welcome at all of them. And might see your friends there, or make new ones.

Which brings us to Celesticon, which is about gaming only: an entire extended weekend of nothing but gaming out on the far edge of Silicon Valley named Fremont. Dungeons and Dragons and role-playing games; card games, board games; games in costumes and games without; giant strategy games played on beautifully-detailed dioramas with hand-crafted figures to make a model railroad fan gasp with envy.

And in your gaming, be who you are, or who you want to be:

Celisticon 2

Gaming all day. Gaming all night.  Gaming for the kids and yes, you can check the latest games out of the con library and play them without buying them — although maybe later, you should.

I had to grab the Celesticon tee shirts when I found them at Goodwill because frankly, most cons don’t issue tees.  Fans love printed tees, but they usually wear their own to cons, chosen carefully to express their chosen image or subgroup:

League of Gamemakers
I looked up on Celesticon online, and such a classic group of fan/geeks you’ve never seen. All the more classic because many had developed their own games and gathered groups to play them and give feedback. Fans create.

Celesticon is a classic local con: 400 to 500 members, more or less nonprofit and volunteer-run, in a medium-sized city where nothing much happens.  This is where fans are at their best: if nothing’s happening, they’ll try to make something happen. And draw in like-minded people from the hinterlands for a gathering of the tribes.


And yet — there is no more Celesticon.  The organizers cancelled Celesticon 2016, because the con committee could find no venue that their fans could afford.  The price of rooms helps fund the use of the hotel’s convention space, and the local hotels’ quotes were sky-high.  The rising price of everything in the Greater San Francisco Bay proved too much for a small-timer like Celesticon.

And yet, there’s always hope.  The organizers keep the Celesticon website alive, just in case.  There are other gamer cons not too far away. And frankly the fen are nothing if not inventive. Something may arise.

For example: there’s an annual con in my town, at the university.  Its organizers would not call it a con. They call it a “social fiction conference” and got the university to sponsor it. Notice the letters “con.”

The  conference runs as an academic event using university facilities. The cost is small; ten dollars gets you two days of activities.  There are panel discussion of popular science fiction books and games and movies, and how they reflect modern society. There are demos of games; group role-playing games; “augmented reality’ games; an escape room; tabletop gaming; cosplay on the lawn with cookies and lemonade; and featured speakers on technology, sex and technology, and UFOs.

Yep.  It’s a con.  There will always be cons, because there will always be dreamers who need to be fans. And gather together.