T-Shirts from the Collection: Truth, Beauty, and a Naked Woman with a Spoon

Everyone’s heard of the Institute for Advanced Study, even if they don’t know much about it.  One day an IAS t-shirt appeared on the rack at Goodwill, and of course I had to have it. I mean, look at the thing:

Institute for Advanced Study Tee 1

The question I had: why was there a naked woman on the t-shirt? And why was she holding a giant spoon?  I emailed the Institute at once.

The IAS is an independent postdoctoral research institute where leading scholars — and flashy up-and-comers — are invited to reside for awhile and pursue whatever theoretical research they prefer in mathematics, physics, economics, and more. The advancement of knowledge for the advancement of mankind: that’s the mandate.

And the Institute is rolling in money.  Snagging Einstein as a permanent fellow in the ‘30s sure didn’t hurt.  So the IAS actually had the time and staff to respond to some rando t-shirt question from the West Coast. In detail.

An IAS archivist solemnly informed me that the design on the tee was the Institute Seal, commissioned upon the institute’s founding in 1930.  With input from the institute’s director, the renowned French medallion designer Pierre Turin produced an Art Deco design of the twin entities of Truth and Beauty holding hands in front of the Tree of Knowledge.  For only Truth and Beauty working together can make the tree bear fruit.  It’s a concept drenched in 19th-century romantic poetry.

Truth and Beauty

That Truth is a naked woman while true Beauty is clothed in artifice, however, is a world view so deeply French that I can barely stand it. Truth holds a mirror to reflect reality back to the world.  It only appears to be a giant spoon. Even on the actual medallion.

I love this shirt. The design is delightfully weird: like peering into the  id of another era.
And I’ve been tempted to wear it around town, which I rarely do with any shirt in my collection.

But sadly, it doesn’t fit.  It may not even fit the IAS anymore.

T-Shirts from the Collection: T-Shirts from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake

The year 1989 brought Santa Cruz the Loma Prieta earthquake: at 5:04 pm on October 17, just as the crowd at Candlestick Park in San Francisco prepared to sing the National Anthem for Game One of the Trans-Bay World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics.

They postponed the series, but it came back ten days later.  In the end, Oakland won it in four.

quake aftermathSanta Cruz took a bit longer to come back. Call it years. The downtown core along Pacific Avenue, built of fireproof 19th century brick buildings, proved anything but earthquake-proof.  Old brick walls cracked like eggs. Even some that seemed intact were fatally damaged; the wrecking ball knocked them down.

And Santa Cruz wasn’t the only town to suffer.  San Francisco, Oakland, even our neighbor Watsonville: all took significant damage.

Which is where this here shirt came from:

Santa Cruz 89 Quake Watsonville Chamber of Commerce Tee

Right after the quake, everybody with silkscreen capability was making earthquake commemorative tees.  The Santa Cruz Sentinel put out the most popular one in these parts: “5:04 PM,” it shouted in huge caps.  They were everywhere.  But I haven’t seen one in decades.

So, I’m glad to get the Watsonville tee at least. Besides Santa Cruz isn’t the center of the universe, after all, and other people had the right to punch the air and metaphorically shout, “We’re still here….”

Unlike the workers at the Moss Landing Power Plant.  Their tee says, basically, “Holy Shit.”

Moss Landing Power Plant 1989 Earthquake Tee 1

This plant, which at one point powered the entire Monterey Bay Area, sits on the bay’s the eastern shore. Its most striking feature is a pair of 500-foot smoke stacks that you can see for ] 20 miles down the coast. But there are also huge generator buildings, high-tension lines, and copious amounts of natural gas fuel under pressure.

When the quake hit Moss Landing, those towering stacks  danced like hula girls.  And the generator buildings shook and the high tension lines snapped like whips while alarms hooted and roared the and the natural gas fuel… didn’t blow up. In the end, there was little damage; power was back up in 24 hours.

But it was a scary thing to go through, and remember. Those memories brought out the artist, sort of, in some power plant worker who needed to celebrate survival in his own way: him, and his friends.

So, YAY! for Moss Landing. But downtown Santa Cruz had  collapsed storefronts, blocked streets, temporary wooden sidewalks with roofs, DANGER signs.  All it needed was zombies, but those wouldn’t be in style for awhile.

Dozens of displaced businesses needed a place to be. So in a burst of energy, the city and the merchants and the civic groups threw together a plan to house the displaced businesses in seven giant silver fabric shelters like think squashed zeppelins.

These would squat in the abandoned parking lots and the businesses would set up inside and continue to function.

Two Tents and a Hole

They were desperate, okay?

The union construction workers volunteered to erect all seven shelters in a single weekend. And on one sunny Saturday, several hundred of them showed up to do it.  Each was issued a t-shirt.  I found one of them, 30 years later, at Goodwill.

Santa Cruz Phoenix Pavilions 1989 Tee 1

They succeeded: all seven structures went up in two days.  I watched them do it, in white helmets and those red tees.

The Phoenix Pavilions, the city called the shelters.  Everybody else called them The Tents.  The squat, hulking structures were only a limited success, but they kept businesses alive for a couple of years, and gave people a reason to keep coming downtown while rebuilding took place.

Tent C

And now few remember them.  But… there’s still this shirt…

There’s one final quake shirt— commemorating the time that 532 guitarists played “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” simultaneously in the half-deserted ruins of downtown Santa Cruz. Is this a great town, or what?

Santa Cruz Shake Rattle and Roll Event Tee 1

Union Grove Music, a local music store still operating from its building, orchestrated this strange and quixotic attempt to set a Guiness book world record while bringing people downtown. Five hundred and thirty two guitarists showed up and set the record, first time out in 1990.  The proceeds went to earthquake relief.

Santa Cruz Shake Rattle and Roll Event Tee 2

Union Grove staged the event two more times (the tee is from the second try): to raise money and also to regain the world record. It had been quickly snatched away by crazed Ohioans.  Sadly, Santa Cruz never got it back.

Somebody took a video of the original event, and if you want to see it, here it is: Santa Cruz in its flaky, crazy, late-20th-century glory.

I miss that Santa Cruz; the town’s much more buttoned down and irritable now.  But at least it left a shirt behind.

Tee Shirts from the Collection: Arnold “Mixed Message” Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenneger appears on more t-shirts than God could count: as bodybuilding icon, as big-screen barbarian warrior, as buff robotic Terminator from the future, and as general bad-ass. But I like him best as the Governator.

How Arnold Schwarzenneger got to be governor of California is a lot like Brexit: nobody really meant it to happen. But through screw-ups by politicians of both parties — it did.  He produced at least one t-shirt as governor, and I am proud to have it.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Trip to Mexico

Yep, there he is in all his smug Hollywood glory, leading a trade mission to Mexico.  If there had to be a t-shirt for this venture, whose face should be on it? Who’s the star of this epic? Need you even ask?  This is the guy who mounted the Conan sword in the governor’s private conference room.

Occasionally an Arnold tee bears a different kind of message, like this Terminator-themed tee from around the turn of the millennium:

Terminator Terminate Violence Tee

But the message… is unclear. Terminate violence — with what? A humanoid killerbot from the future? Or are we all supposed to be mini violence-Terminators? If so, where’s our cool weaponry for destroying violence?

Or maybe Arnold’s simply telling us that violence solves nothing? (After starring in so many movies where violence solved everything.)  This is as likely as anything.

I’m sure Governor Schwarzenegger meant well.  That might make a fitting epitaph for his administration.

As of 2019, by the way, a new Arnold “Terminate Hate” tee is readily available online. Arnold never terminates. That said, maybe he’s learned something: this time, the tee shows flowers peeking out of the barrel of Arnold’s shotgun.

Arnold Schwarzenegger writes "Let's terminate hate.

T-Shirts from the Collection: Memories of the FireGod

Ebbets Pass FD 2

My brother-in-law was every mother’s nightmare: a short-tempered, leering hot rod guy with no money, no prospects, really nothing except a cool ’57 Ranchero and a string of manual labor gigs that paid under the table more often than not. In the Mother’s Dictionary, a picture of his face appeared alongside the definition of “Trouble.” With a capital T.

And he was five years older than Mother’s beautiful, accomplished daughter, my sister, who’d fallen for this, this entity before even graduating from high school.  They married soon after she did graduate.

Flash forward ten years.  They were, inexplicably, still together. Sis had earned a master’s in public education and had just begun a long career as a take-no-prisoners vocational education bureaucrat.  And Brother-in-Law — he’d become a firefighter.  I credit Sis in part; Brother-in-Law had wanted it, but hadn’t organized how to get there. Sis was organized.

Brother-in-Law was good at firefighting: he loved it, in fact  Even after seniority came to him, he always chose the busiest stations, the ones that took the most calls.  No quiet ‘burbs for him: he wanted the inner city: flammable old houses! Knife wounds! Frail old people with coronaries!  He even delivered babies.

Life and death, 24-on and 24-off! If Brother-in-Law’s company didn’t ride out on ten or twelve calls in a day, his life wasn’t worth living.

Somewhere along the line, other firemen started calling him FireGod. Firemen tend to be “into” being firemen, but nobody was more into it than FireGod.

FireGod added a massive brass eagle to the peak of his standard-issue helmet.  FireGod had an encyclopedic knowledge of all the hardware on his fire truck and would make sure that you knew it, too.  At home, he had a huge collection of firefighting memorabilia that  he housed in a museum-like room called the Hall of Flame.

FireGod even collected firefighting t-shirts: over 200 t-shirts with firefighting themes. He dedicated a 20-foot-long closet to them.

So there’s a t-shirt connection between me and FireGod. Though his interest long preceded mine. Still, there’s always a place for a good fireman’s tee in my collecction. They all address the things that FireGod obsessed with: the history, the trucks, the traditions, the gear, and most of all the firefighters’ self-image.

In short, the firefighting culture. I can’t tell you how many engine company tees identify firefighters with Batman. Hence this cool shirt, from a fire department that I can’t identify:
Engine 6 Fire Company Tee 4

I get it, of course: firemen roar out into the dark night to save lives with their mighty weapons of water and fire and steel: to protect the helpless against implacable dangers.  They’re proud of that.  FireGod used to say, “When I see people, they’re never having a good day.  But they’re always glad to see me!”

The emblem on the front of this tee is the St. Florian’s Cross,  the “firefighter” symbol used by American firefighters — well, slightly modified to look like a bat. How could you not imagine yourself a superhero?  Especially since, every so often, you just might be?

Engine 6 Fire Company Tee 1

Take the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District. It had quite a few lean years and had to make do with old equipment: tired red fire trucks.  But when better times finally came, the Oakley station house got a huge, brand-new ultra-capable fire engine.

Oakley FD Green Machine

It is green.

Not everybody who fights fire stays on the ground. This California Division of Forestry Fire Protection (Cal Fire) air tanker unit flies out of an airstrip about 40 miles from where I live.  We hate to see them coming, because they’re the harbingers of trouble.

Santa Cruz Local Air Tanker Tee

It’s just another day, and suddenly comes the ground-shaking drone of old military propeller planes. Overhead, a repurposed patrol bomber orbits above the hills and you can’t but think: what’s burning up there? And is it heading this way?

And the crews risk their lives to keep us safe.  Just… seeing them is like getting a friendly wave from the Angel of Death.  The forest comes almost down to the ocean here.

t’s a common problem everywhere in the west: more and more people moving out into the forests and country to live, where there is no good fire service.  Where this happens,  at first they depend on the state firefighters when fires get out of control.

But to keep things from getting to that point, volunteer fire departments rise up. They become the first line of defense.  And it’s true that not all of them are exactly professional.

Hobson Creek FD Angry Moose Tee
But give them time.  I like this shirt from the Ebbetts Pass Fire Protection District, up in the Sierras.  It’s very down-home and home-made — like the EPFPD.

Ebbets Pass FD 1

Ebbetts Pass is an obscure mountain pass through the Sierra Nevada range, 8000 feet up in the sky. State Highway 4 traverses Ebbetts Pass through sparsely-populated territory. Fifty years ago, the few locals along a stretch of 4 felt that they needed structure fire protection in the winter, after the summertime Cal Fire crews went home.

So the citizens taxed themselves and bought an old engine and raised some volunteers.  And after awhile, a few more engines, and a full-time chief.  Over the years,  the population grew and so did the crowds of summer visitors: and so the fire district needed more and better engines, more stations, more paid firefighters to anchor more EPFPD volunteers, and then paramedics and a patient transport wagon, and  a service area that expanded to over 200 square miles.  And of course, more taxes to pay for it all.

It just goes to show: a settled civilization wants firefighters.  It needs them. Without enough firefighters, and good fire prevention strategies, civilization doesn’t stay settled for long.

National parks and forests also had to raise their own rural emergency services organizations. The year-round visitors need protection.   I particularly like this tee from the paramedics at Glacier National Park.  It has just the right tone of weary cynicism:

Cynical National Park Medics Tee

Finally, 9/11 and the World Trade Center: the death of hundreds of firemen in the terrorist attack generated — I must say — several hundred metric tons of fireman-oriented t-shirts: mostly with themes like “Lest We Forget” or “Heroes of 9/11.”

I don’t buy most 9/11 tees: fireman worship became something of a fetish for awhile, and many of these tees weren’t even generated by firemen.  But I couldn’t pass up this one, from an FDNY engine company in Brooklyn:

Engine 201 FDNY Memorial with Jesus

Firefighting culture is a complicated thing, and not completely admirable (what is?).  But I do like the over-sentimental — and irreverent — image of Jesus behind the heavenly bar, mixing drinks for the precinct’s fallen firefighters. As if to say: truly, they’re in a better place.

I never heard FireGod say a thing about 9/11, oddly.  Maybe it was because New York was 3,000 miles away. He was the kind of guy who thought about what was in front of him, first and foremost.

So he worked his career and rose in the ranks — but never to a desk job. He’d have hated that.  He even sat on the the board of the local fireman’s association.  He resigned from the board when he realized that it was illegally syphoning money from  “charitable fundraisers” to buy favor — in the form of fatter contracts — from local politicians.  When the district attorney  exposed the scheme, FireGod thumbed his nose at at the board from the sidelines.

FireGod knew: the best reward for being a fireman was that you wanted the life.  He worked that life hard — too hard, as I’ve described.  He didn’t keep himself in the best of shape, either.

He finally took a medical retirement. Parts of him hurt all the time. He just couldn’t do it anymore.

And one night, a year or two before age 60, an respiratory disease or condition came up out of nowhere and killed him in 12 hours.  The doctors never did figure out what it was.  Men in his family die early, but — jeez.  You have to wonder.

A few months back one of our home smoke alarms went off around 3 a.m.  I smelled nothing, but that’s meaningless.  I called 911 and a fire truck arrived in five minutes.

They could find nothing wrong; they concluded that the fire alarm just went whacky. Some of the older guys were a little pissed off to be turned out of bed for a non-fire.  But when the fire alarm sounds, you call 911.  And 911 dispatches the trucks, and the firemen make sure all is well.  Don’t grouse, boys, it’s the system.  And it’s a good one.

FireGod knew that. I imagine he wouldn’t have minded a bit.  He probably would have given me an informational lecture on the ins and outs of fire alarms, too.  Miss ya, BIL.


Tee Shirts from the Collection: The Tees of Mystery

Lemon Tree 1

Not long ago I found myself in a t-shirt shop that calls itself a men’s clothing company.

Here in Santa Cruz, that’s not reaching.  Hoodies and tees imprinted with bold designs are big with the teen-through-twenties crowd.  We’ve no shortage of old surfer dudes and Peter Pans who are still “twenties” in their mind, either.

This particular store prints its own tees and hoodies, with designs and messages aimed at locals and their interests.   Mostly, I get the messages, or just understand that skulls and tentacles and fangs are “in” this year

What I didn’t understand:  a whole  wall of t-shirts printed with cartoons of leering, humanoid lemons.  And the worlds “Lemon Tree,” or “Lemon Life.”

Lemon Life

I stared at them for a few minutes.  Enlightenment didn’t come.

I’m a card-carrying introvert, so I didn’t even think of asking the clerk.  I went home and hit the Internet instead.  But it didn’t help.

I found a website or two for “Lemon Tree” and the “ever-more-popular Lemon Lifestyle.” There’d been an outdoor Lemon Lifestyle Concert.  Lemon Life tees were being pushed. There were boasts that the Lemon Lifestyle was taking America by storm.

They just didn’t say what “Lemon Tree” or the “Lemon Lifestyle” actually was.

Defeated, I returned to the store. The clerk said one word


Recreational marijuana is lately legal to all in California. All sorts of new companies now breed and sell one strain of cannabis or another: as herb, in candy bars, in  cookies, in any form that you want.  Just head to your local dispensary.  No prescription required, but bring your ID.

Lemon Tree 2

For the fastidious pothead, cannabis strains are now reviewed in much the same way as wine, right down to the jargon. From an industry website:

“Lemon Tree cannabis strain is an award-winning evenly balanced hybrid with a THC level that can reach a whopping 25 percent. It is known for its sharp diesel scent and similarly sour flavor, accented by subtle notes of lemon and citrus.”

More bluntly: Lemon Tree makes you pucker while it puts you under the table.  That’s just what consumers of haute cannabis want to know.  Along with exactly where under the table you’ll end up, and how you’ll feel when you land there.

The clerk explained that “Lemon Life” is just a clothing line that the Lemon Tree’s developers launched along with their cannabis products.  (I found out later that the clothing store prints the tees for them.)

He also said that tie-in businesses are pretty common in the cannabis trade.  One entrepreneur even uses his cannabis business to promote his career as a rapper.

It made sense. If people will buy a t-shirt with the name of their favorite beer, why shouldn’t they buy one bearing the name of their favorite cannabis strain?  With suitable cool illustration? It’s what Americans do.

Since then, I’ve learned to identify cannabis tees, though they’re more difficult to ID than, say, wacky craft beer tees.

Craft beer tees always display the word “brewery” or “beer” or “ale,” even if the beer in question is Icthyosaurus Pale Ale (“Gimme an Icky!”) or Moose Drool.

Cannabis tees rarely display the word “cannabis” or even “marijuana.” What you get is a funky cannabis strain name that nobody but a user would understand. And a funny graphic.  It’s a lot like a death metal tee, except that the name is always something vaguely edible.  For example, Golden State Banana:

Golden State Banana

Say the experts: “Golden State Banana is a fruity indica cross of Ghost OG and Banana Kush. This semi-sedative strain fills the consumer’s mind with euphoria while wrapping the limbs in a warm, relaxing sensation. The aroma is a mixture of Ghost OG’s pungent, citrus terpenes and Banana Kush’s tropical scents, creating a rich bouquet with bright floral sweetness.”

A refined statement, though a stark counterpoint to the implied YEE HAW from the t-shirt’s banana-waving, dancing ape.  Oh well, everybody’s got pretensions.

Both Lemon Life and Golden State Banana tees are the work of Jimbo Phillips, the Santa Cruz commercial artist whose work I admire. Both companies are local: probably.  Cannabis entrepreneurs don’t put their contact information on the web, and frankly I wouldn’t either.

My favorite cannabis tee, however, features a three-eyed cow in a bowler hat. And it has a story.

Korova 3 Eyed Cow Marijuana Tee

Korovoa Edibles is a long-time player in cannabis-laced candies and baked goods for the California market: first for the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries. And now for the completely legalized California cannabis industry.

The name “Korova” means “cow” in Russian.  In the movie “A Clockwork Orange,” the droogs visit the Korova Milk Bar to quaff milk packed with powerful drugs. In the movie, Malcom McDowell wears a black bowler hat.  As for the third eye, you’re on your own.  But you get the general idea.

Back when marijuana could only be sold by medical prescription, Korova’s motto was “unrivaled potency.”  They used to make something called the Black Bar, a candy bar loaded with 1000 milligrams of THC, and another called the 5150 with “only” 500 milligrams.

That much THC in one sitting is basically unthinkable. Massive overkill. A Black Bar was meant to be eaten a little bit at a time, and labelled as such. But not everybody reads labels.  “It’s just a candy bar — right?”

If you were a newbie, and didn’t pay attention, a Korova bar wouldn’t just put you under the table; it’d dig a ten-foot hole under that table and drop you down it.

When Colorado legalized marijuana, Korova-strength bars went on the market there. And they seriously screwed up some naive new users.  So when California legalized,  the THC in one discrete edible was limited to 100 milligrams.  That was the end of the Black Bar, and “unrivaled potency.” Korova’s motto is now merely “Unrivaled.”

But Korova will still sell you a bag of ten cannabis laced cookies — each with 100 milligrams of THC.  And it’s legal!

Just don’t get the munchies.

To close, I just want to say that marijuana is fast becoming part of mainstream above-ground America, and I’ve got the t-shirts to prove it.  From tees for the local dispensaries, to tees for marijuana-themed clothing lines, and even tourism tees.

It’s here, it’s everywhere, it’ll never go away. Smear a little marijuana butter on your toast, and lax out.

And check out some more marijuana-related tees.

Roswell NM Alien with Marijuana Tee

Roswell NM Tourist Tee with Pothead Alien

Seedles Clothing Marijuana Tee

Seedless is a California-based clothing company that sells marijuana-themed tees and provides marketing services to marijuana-based events and projects.


Emerald Goddess Marijuana Hydroponics Tee

Emerald Goddess, and other Emerald Harvest products, don’t on the face of it claim to be anything but general-purpose plant foods and fertilizers. But their website emphasizes marijuana cultivation. The tee’s illustration hardly seems aimed at the backyard gardener. Unless that gardener is growing his or her allowed six marijuana plants under California law.

Greenway Santa Cruz Marijuana Dispensary 1

Santa Cruz Greenway was a first-generation marijuana dispensary, from the time when marijuana was available only for medical reasons and by prescription. The dispensary has changed hands and is now known as Kindpeoples. Even after legalization, dispensaries cultivate a public image of responsibility. Local control of licensing laws means that dispensaries must maintain good relationships with the community if they want to stay in business.


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.