Tales of the Blue Meanie by Allan Cole
Dr. Rana Ayzeren's
Laura Shepard Townsend and Destiny's Consent
Lighthearted Beachhead pieces
People of Venice (from Beachhead)
Windward Avenue Articles from Beachhead
Art in the Beachhead
Venice institutions from the Beachhead
Allan Cole (above) and a few of the covers of his many books (below)
Tales of the Blue Meanie
by Allan Cole
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: THE LIGHT BULB IN THE BALLOON
Mrs. Mad Bomber was nearing her release date and her husband, who was feeling increasingly guilty about his affair with the Upstairs Junkie's Girlfriend, wanted to do something special for his wife's return.
He put it to Roger like this, "If I don't figure something out quick, she's gonna shoot my nuts off."
Roger wasn't ready to test his bomb shelter just yet, so with visions of flying bullets castrating him instead of the Mad Bomber, Roger convened an emergency guy's meeting, which included himself, Jack Lishman and the Mad Bomber. I was considered management, so I wasn't invited.
After consuming a great deal of smoke and Christian Brothers - courtesy of their host - their minds started to wander off onto unhelpful tracks, like what the hell did women want, anyway?
"I didn't mean to fuck that chick," the Mad Bomber said. "She kept comin' on to me, you know?"
"Saw her knocking on your door nearly every day," Roger agreed.
"This would be easier," Jack observed, "if there had only been a one-time occurrence. I mean, the two of you were going at it pretty regularly, from what I could see."
The Mad Bomber sighed. "She always got me right after I'd done my wake up," he said. "First toot of the morning and I'm hornier than hell."
"I can understand that," Jack said.
"Pass the joint," said Roger.
They kicked around more ideas, sharing the joint and the brandy until it seemed that they would pass out before a solution had been found.
But then Roger slapped his forehead and said, "Fuck, I forgot to tell you guys. I know how to put a light bulb into a balloon."
The Mad Bomber goggled at him, then said, "No shit?"
"Hell yeah," Roger said. "I worked on it for weeks. For a long time, I kept ripping the balloon, or busting the bulb, but I finally got the hang of it."
"Show us," Jack urged.
Roger adjourned to his house and returned a few minutes later with some lightbulbs and a bag of balloons. Everyone watched with great anticipation as Roger sat on the floor crosslegged, then armed himself with a long honk of brandy and a hefty toke of the evil weed.
The he fished out a balloon and commenced to stretching it this way and that. He was very careful with these exercises, stretching just a little at first, then harder as the rubber loosened up. Then he blew the balloon up - almost to the bursting point. He let out the air and did it again a few more times until he was satisfied the balloon was primed.
Now it was time to insert the lightbulb. Jack and the Mad Bomber bent close, but Roger gave them a warning look. Like, please, this is a trade secret.
He turned to the side to hide what he was doing, made some twisting motions, accompanied by squeaking sounds like you get when a magician makes balloon animals for the kids, then he put the balloon to his lips and huffed and puffed.
Finally, he turned back, tied the neck of the balloon and held it up. Sure enough, the light bulb was rattling around inside.
"Fuck me," the Mad Bomber said.
"Ditto," agreed Jack.
The Mad Bomber's grin faded and he frowned. "Then what?" he asked.
Roger sighed. "Beats the shit out of me," he said. "But, I thought you know " and his grand idea hovered on the edge of disaster.
More smoke and spirits were consumed as the great men continued their council of war. Eventually, when all seemed lost, Jack's face lit up with a smile.
"What if we " and he leaned forward and explained his plan.
"Goddamn, but that's good," the Mad Bomber said.
"Holy shit," said Roger.
It was the breakthrough they needed.
"Fuck," Roger said. "And after that we could "
Then the Mad Bomber had the most brilliant idea of all and when he told them, awe was definitely struck. More inducements were consumed in celebration, until soon the pungent smoke wafting through the open windows drew other celebrants and the party got bigger.
But before they got really whacked out, Roger drew the Mad Bomber and Jack aside.
"We have to promise not to forget," he told them.
And this they solemnly swore.
* * *
While the gang worked on the problem of doing something nice for Mrs. Mad Bomber so as to avoid getting their nuts shot off, I was trying to deal with trouble from the least expected quarter: the woman who had replaced Pepperland's resident artist.
Our beautiful bisexual artist had moved in with her professor shortly after completing her master's project - a life-sized lion carved out of scraps of different kinds of wood that had been glued together. It was a marvelous creation and later sold for over three thousand dollars when she had her first one-woman show in Westwood. Her professor specialized in enormous tin doghouses, which he usually painted red and sold for twenty or thirty thousand a go, so it was an affair made in pop art heaven. Although, I must say, her lion was a helluva lot cooler than his dog houses. I've often wondered what happened to her. Surely, lions beat doghouses any day of the week.
The tenant who followed became known to us as the "Cat Lady." Not because of the lion - which, as I said, had been sold - and not because she looked like Batman's slinky nemesis. (She was good to gaze upon, but she was more round than slinky.) The nickname came from the numerous cats who eventually took up residence in her apartment.
When she rented the place she'd asked about her two cats, which weren't a problem. Within reason, Mr. Cohen allowed pets - witness my Tasha. What she didn't tell us was that she owned a whole colony of felines, which she kept temporarily stashed with her mother. After she moved in, she slipped the kitty cats into her apartment little by little.
Eventually, the odor of too many cats alerted her neighbors: Marita on one side and Tom and Thom on the other. Now, Marita could smell dirt a mile away, but when she was ripped on bennies and beer - and in the middle of one of her cleaning jags - she just scrubbed all the harder; assuming, she said later, that the odor was left behind by her alcoholic husband during one of his rare conjugal visits. (He sometimes confused closets with toilets).
Stoner Tom had limited schnoz abilities due to, well, being constantly stoned. Thom Mead, on the other hand, had a perfectly good smeller and caught on right away. But he had designs on the Cat Lady's virtue and kept his observations to himself until a poet by the name of Steve Lenzi beat his time and then the green monster reared its creepy little head and he turned fink.
On or about the time the sages of the Blue Meanie Apartments were concocting their scheme, Thom came knocking on my door.
When I answered he blurted, "I thought you knew what was going on around here."
I'd been about to invite him in to share some wine and a bowl, but his tone was so challenging I changed my mind. "Apparently not," I said. "But you're going to enlighten me, right?"
"It's that chick next door to me," he said. "She's got cats."
I nodded. "Yeah? So?"
"No, I mean she really has cats," he said, throwing his arms wide. "Like maybe twenty or thirty of the suckers. You can smell them in our apartment."
"No shit," I said, getting a little worried.
I wasn't a lot worried, because Thom tended to be an alarmist. It went with his hypochondria. Ever since I'd known him - we met in our senior year in high school - he'd been convinced that he was going to die any minute. I told him then that eventually he'd be right, so why worry? It didn't make him feel any better. In fact, in recent times he'd become considerably worse. After a tour of duty in Korea as an Army medic he was now gifted with whole volumes or rare and wonderful illnesses to dread.
Thom said, "Cats carry diseases, you know. Diseases that humans can get. Especially when there are so many." He cupped a hand over his mouth and coughed experimentally. "As a matter of fact, I think I'm coming down with something."
Oh, oh, I thought. Lawsuit city here we come. Thom could be a tight-fisted little stinker. The kind of guy who kept his money in one of those tiny squeeze 'em change purses, so when you were both buying a couple of beers, or whatever, he'd be fumbling with that squeeze 'em thing for two small forevers, which meant that ninety nine times out of a hundred his buddies got stuck with the whole bill. No big deal. What's a couple of beers? But when it gets to be every time it gets sort of tiresome, you know?
Anyway, Thom was always looking for ways to skin a flint so I knew I had to do some serious bud nipping just as fast as I could.
"You didn't just find this out, did you," I said, making it a statement, not a question.
Thom looked shocked - Shocked! "What are you implying?"
"Everybody knows you're hot for that chick," I said. "You've been knocking on her door practically every night. With twenty or thirty cats, you must have noticed something was up when she was making excuses about washing her hair and shit."
"Okay, okay, don't get nit picky, Al," Thom said. "I'm just being a good tenant, you know? Reporting a problem that I recently became aware of. But now you've got to do something, right? I mean, so many cats in one apartment isn't healthy."
I sighed. This was Thom's not-so-subtle way of letting me know that he could call the Los Angeles Health Department. As a newsman he could go straight to the top to make his complaint.
"Don't worry, Thom," I said. "I'll take care of it."
Immediately his attitude changed and he was back to being an old high school chum again. He looked over my shoulder to see if he could spot Carol, who had also been a classmate. I shifted, blocking his view.
"See you later, Thom," I said. "I've got the early shift at the paper tomorrow." And I firmly, but politely, shut the door.
Carol saw my gloomy look when I returned to the couch. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"Apparently we have a cat lady," I said.
"Thom says the new chick has twenty or thirty cats," I explained.
"That explains Steven's new poem," she said. "It's called, 'Le Chats.'"
"Is it any good?" I asked.
Carol shrugged and said, "Who knows? It's in French."
* * *
While Thom was fretting about cat piss, the sages of the Blue Meanie Apartments had sobered up enough to complete their preparations.
Mr. Mad Bomber drove out to pick his wife up at the gates Sybil Brand. Their reunion, I was told, was joyous. Mr. Mad Bomber promised his true love a magnificent evening as he drove her home.
As for me and mine, we were contemplating a different sort of night.
"The Graduate" and "Patton" were playing as a double bill at the Venice Fox Theater and Carol and I had arranged for Marita to baby sit Jason for us. It had been many years since the Venice Fox had anything to do with 20th Century Fox. It was an independent theater at the bottom of the film food chain and much prized by all of us Venice rats because the tickets were cheap - 50 cents for a double bill, plus cartoons and coming attractions - and the counter food included cool things like freshly made sandwiches, organic veggies and carafes of wine for a buck. They also had a glassed-in area for parents to sit with children and what sounds strange as all hell now, but was considered a luxury then, was that smoking was allowed in that room. People used to take their toddlers to the movies just so they could light up. On that night, however, Jason had the sniffles and we didn't want to expose him to the night air - never mind the tobacco-filled room. Boy, talk about things Dr. Spock never warned us about.
Just as we were about to head off for the movies, Roger suddenly appeared, knocking on the car window. When I rolled it down, he shoved a joint in my mouth, then started chanting like a carnival barker, "Come one, come all, see the 8th Wonder of the World. It walks, it talks, it crawls on its belly like a reptile."
Carol pressed fingers to her temples. "Please, Roger," she said. "I'm already getting a headache." I handed her the joint. "Thank you," she said, taking it and proceeding to reduce it - and her headache - to ashes.
"You don't want to miss this, Al," Roger said, pulling another fattie from his shirt pocket. "We've been working on it for days. It's a big welcome home party for the Mad Bomber's wife."
"I don't know," Carol said, clearly meaning no way in Hades.
She liked Mrs. Mad Bomber enough - I never told her about the offered rent for sex incident - but she was adamant about staying clear of their apartment.
"If I get blown up," she'd said in the past, "Jason won't have a mother."
I couldn't argue with her there and I was about to give Roger the brush off, when he leaned into the car and said in a whisper that hinted of deep dark secrets, suitable for the hushed halls of ancient Aztec temples: "I figured out how to put a light in a balloon, Al."
"No shit," I said.
Roger gave a very wise nod and I realized that he was stoned to the gills, but holding up very well.
"No shit," he said. "Come on. You fucking gotta see."
"What's Roger talking about?" Carol said, getting instantly stoned off her toke. "Some kind of balloon?"
"A light bulb in a balloon," Roger corrected.
Carol thought about this for a toke and a half. As she passed the joint she asked me, "Do you think he could really do that?"
Roger snorted. "We did fuckin' better," he said. "Come and see."
He opened the door and with that we exited, leaving the Venice Fox double bill behind for another evening to troop down the alley where we were met by a whole contingent of Blue Meanie Apartment partiers.
As near as I can recall from the fog of years and narcotics, there was the Guest Of Honor, Mrs. Mad Bomber - shyly hanging back with her beaming hubby, Mr. Mad Bomber; Roger's girlfriend, Nancy - sans hyper child; Stoner Tom and his latest girlfriend, a largish, very cool chick, whose name I don't recall, but she was a dynamite reporter for the Daily Breeze, the first woman police reporter in that part of LA; Jay and a date; Kerry Fahey and his latest girlfriend; and last, but not least, Jack Lishman and a tall, slender girl he'd been dating of late. Jan was also there, but she was flying solo.
As we approached, Jack came leaping out of the crowd, grinning like a madman. "Onward," he cried. "Onward and upward."
We all cheered and headed down Washington toward the beach.
Mr. and Mrs. Mad Bomber led the parade, cuddling each other and giggling like school children. Clearly, they were delighted to be together again. The Mad Bomber had a large object - square in appearance - draped over his shoulder. It was covered with a poncho liner, so we couldn't see what it was. However, he did carry it in the crook of one finger, so I knew it wasn't very heavy. Jack had a rolled-up paper bag under his arm, while Roger was temporarily empty-handed. When we passed Shanahan's, however, he dashed inside just before it closed and grabbed a jug of Red Mountain and some rolling papers, which he passed to Jay, who was an expert at what he called "twisting a fattie."
We paused at the Grand Canal bridge to drink wine, smoke dope and ponder the lights rippling on the water. A kid paddled a surfboard under the bridge, shouting "peace" to us and down the street the Greek's jukebox was playing Otis Redding's "Dock Of The Bay."
A mellow, magical mood descended upon the bridge and for some reason Jack decided to lecture us about how the canals also provided Venice with electricity. Although his explanation didn't make any sense to me the next day, at the time it was supremely profound. Witness the lights shining in the eyes of Jack's adoring girlfriend. Or was she just whacked out of her skull?
We continued, passing the Greek's place and hooking it across the sands to the rickety Venice Pier. As usual, there were fisherman gathered at the rails - during the summer it was a prime place to catch halibut. South of us, a few boats were making their way into the Marina Channel and to the north we could see the blackened remains of POP pier, lit up by the not so distant Santa Monica Pier.
Pacific Ocean Park was an old amusement park built out over the water that had more downs than ups over the years. Long ago Lawrence Welk had broadcast his radio show from the main building on the pier. Years later, the Jane Fonda movie - "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" was filmed there. During my senior year in high school - at Mira Costa in Manhattan Beach - we used to flock to POP for the one dollar admission price. But after changing hands one time too many, it had burned down. Arson was suspected.
In fact, the prime suspect was among our group - the Mad Bomber, himself. We all looked at him as we filed along the Venice Pier boardwalk, unconsciously taking in the ruins of POP and the Mad Bomber's long stride as he headed toward the end of the pier.
The rumor in Pepperland was that the Mad Bomber had burned down POP. A few said he did for the money - the bankrupt owners had crossed his palms with silver. Most said he did it out of hippie civic duty - a kind of early "Monkey Wrench Gang" intervention on an offense against nature. I never thought the rumor was true, but if it had been true, I guarantee you that the Mad Bomber would have done it for altruistic motives. Money just wasn't his bag, you know?
Now, to understand what happened next, you have to put your mind back to the summer of 1971. The baby boom generation was at its youthful height. If you were my age, wherever you looked, there were hordes of other young people with similar ideas, clothes and music. Surfing was a big deal and during the day, the waters off the California coast were as crowded with boards and kids as any freeway was jammed with cars at rush hour.
When we set foot on the Venice Pier it was a balmy summer night and hundreds upon hundreds of kids were sprawled out on the beach, eating, drinking, making love and smoking a shit pot lot of dope. The air on the pier was so thick with the lovely smell of marijuana that it wasn't necessary to roll a joint. You just took a deep honk of the sea breezes, Venice style.
The three wise men of the Blue Meanie Apartments went into action. Roger got busy stuffing a light bulb into a balloon, while Jack reeled out thin strands of wire, which he attached to some batteries, then to the lightbulb. The Mad Bomber peeled the poncho from his burden, revealing a magnificent kite. They huddled over the contraption, doing this and that - all of which they hid from us.
Finally, it was time. They stepped back, holding the kite up high. Amazingly, the lightbulb was glowing inside the balloon. We were all very impressed. But the show was far from over.
Since Jack was the fleetest of foot, he was given the honor of launching the kite. He took off down the boardwalk and when Roger and the Mad Bomber thought he'd gotten up enough speed they threw the kite into the air. It soared into the night sky, the glowing balloon bobbing up and down. Then the breeze caught the kite, lifting it higher. Jack unreeled string as fast as he could, until the amazing contraption floated just off shore.
First one beach goer, then another, spotted the balloon.
The crowd gasped in amazement and a ghostly "Ohhhhh," floated across the beach.
Jack manipulated the string and the kite flew down toward the booming seas, then at last moment he sent the kite aloft again.
"Ahhhh," went the crowd.
He did that for awhile, the balloon swirling up high, then diving down, only to recover at the last minute.
Then the Mad Bomber shouted, "Hit it!" And Jack hit it, flipping a little switch.
Immediately there was a spectacular explosion and the balloon and kite shattered into fiery bits of light so bright that when they were gone you could still see them flashing in your mind.
"Ohhhh," said the crowd. "Ahhhh."
And Mrs. Mad Bomber turned to her husband, tears streaming down her face. "That's the nicest get out of jail present I ever fucking had," she said, throwing her arms around him.
It was an amazing evening. Made even better the next day when I got to work and the police reporter called in to say that people had swamped the Venice cop shop switchboard the night before with reports of UFO sightings just off the Venice Pier.
© 2005 Allan Cole, used with permission