Monday, March 1, 2010

It Coulda Happened this Way -- Big Dub, Bad Stamps and a Horny Dog

Record stores all over the country wanted our records and we needed a way for them to get in contact with us. Giving out our phone numbers wasn’t an option. Or addresses also, we weren’t too keen on handing out. Getting a post office box wasn’t a good idea either, because you have to give the postal people your address to get the box and the FBI, cops and PIs could get that info and then they’d be right at our doors. And besides, even if the post office people would guard our addresses from those who wanted to put us permanently out of business or in jail even, it wouldn’t make much difference, because all they’d have to do is simply wait for us to pick up our mail and they’d have us.

We wouldn’t last long with a PO box, that was for sure.

Not unless we could figure out some way to give the mail people a fake address and be guaranteed they wouldn’t ever verify it. And not unless we could figure out a way to get our mail without ever going to the post office, because there were going to be watchers watching that box.

Enter Dub’s dad.

Big Dub had worked for the Postal Service his whole live. A veteran mailman he was. He got us a box in the Glendale Post Office, and he picked up the mail every night, from inside the post office, so the bad guys (or good guys on the other side, depending on your point of view), could wait till the cows come home, but they’d never catch us.

Big Dub brought us the mail everyday, with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. He just loved the fact that he was helping us put something over on the man. Not only did he bring us the mail, but when our business got bigger and it was no longer convenient for us to work out of our homes, he let us store the records in his basement, which had been Dub’s room when he lived there.

Actually it wasn’t really a basement, because the house was sort of on a hill. The front of the house faced an upper middle class Glendale street, the back of the house was actually down a level and opened on a large backyard. Dub’s old room was the whole bottom floor of the house and had its own entry from the back. You could also get to that large room, which we converted into a warehouse, with record bins on all the walls, by taking the stairs down from the kitchen above.

This moving the business to the basement didn’t happen overnight, it was sort of a gradual thing. I was there a lot and Big Dub, Virginia and Tammy the poodle, who ate better than most humans, all made me feel like I was part of the family. Well, Tammy didn’t make me feel like I belonged. She actually hated me. But the feeling was mutual.

This pampered poodle got a bath at the vets at least twice a week, was talked to by Virginia and Big Dub as if it were a baby, cuddly and cute, and she was cute, but she was evil. Virginia was a good cook, I know, because I ate an awful lot of meals with them before Dub and I would retire down to the basement to pack and ship records. But before she cooked for the humans, Ginny cooked for the dog, grinding her steak just so, not too chunky, not too fine, then cooking it just perfect for Tammy.

And if she didn’t make it just the way Tammy liked, the pedigreed pup would turn her nose up and Dub’s mother would dump the food in the trash and start all over again.

One day Dub surprised his parents with a month long holiday in Europe. One of those motor-coach affairs, where if it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium. They were going to see the Continent in style. First class all the way for Dub’s folks. Dub wasn’t cheap. As the time drew near to day when they were supposed to get on the big airplane, Virginia got more and more nervous.

“What about poor Tammy,” she would whine.

“Tammy will be fine,” Dub would answer. “Don’t worry.” I think, like me, Dub hated that dog, only he couldn’t say it out loud. Well, actually I couldn’t either, not if I didn’t want to incur Ginny’s wrath.

In the end, Virginia didn’t trust us to take care of the dog, so she found a kennel that sort of met her approval. One of those places where the stars took their pets. This was a wonderful gift Dub had given his folks. I don’t think they’d ever been out of the States. However, four days later they were back. Ginny had called the kennel while they were in Rome and learned that Tammy wasn’t eating regularly. Apparently those kennel people didn’t sauté Tammy’s steak just so.

I swear, and may lightning strike me dead if I’m lying, that dog went around the house for the next weak or so with a smug look of satisfaction on its poodle face. I think Dub would have killed the dog if he could have gotten it alone, but that wasn’t possible, Ginny was in constant attendance.

One day shortly after Big Dub and Virginia got back from Italy I went by Lewis and picked up a couple hundred copies of Birch and Freeze Out. The records without covers were packed fifty to a box, so I had eight boxes of records in the back of my small car. I drove straight out to Dub and Virginia’s to off load the records. Which was normal. I figured on dinner, then a couple hours stamping covers and stuffing records, then I’d planned on hitting the freeway, getting home around 8:30 or 9:00.

But that’s not what happened.

When I got there dinner wasn’t on the table. Virginia was out walking Tammy. Dub wasn’t home.

But Big Dub was there and he wanted to talk. He told me he thought Dub was responsible for the records being as successful as they were, because of all of his state of the art stereo and recording equipment. The records were actually assembled in Dub’s old room and Big Dub was the guy who was paying the rent, so to speak, for storing our records. In fact, the way he saw it, I wasn’t really doing very much at all. I wasn’t carrying my weight, it wasn’t fair to Dub. Dub needed a partner who could move the business forward. I was dragging him down.

Bottom line, I was out, Big Dub was in.

To this day I don’t know why I didn’t attack the man, then burn down his house with him in it. But I didn’t. I got in my car with those four hundred records in the back seat and drove home, getting angrier and angrier as I sat in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic.

When I got home I’d calmed down some. I told Vesta what happened. My friend Dick came over and I told him.

Richard MacPartland, was just about the best friend I ever had. He was raised in Boston, was an incorrigible kid whose parents took him to reform school when he was eight years old for stealing a pack of Oreos. And there he stayed till he was sixteen.

Out, he got involved with the wrong kind of people and he shot and killed a man with a flare gun. Dick’s story was that there were three guys who wanted to take him down, after he shot the one, the other two fled, but he was caught by the cops and sent back to reform school without a trial.

He got out again on his eighteenth birthday. A couple weeks later he saw a man beating a dog with a cane. Dick pushed the man over a row of hedges, took the dog and set him free a few blocks away. However, unknown to him, beating your dog was not against the law, but dog napping was and so it was back to jail for skinny Dick MacPartland till he was twenty-one.

Out again, he figured he should get as far away from Boston as possible, and you can’t get much farther away and still be in the United States, than Los Angeles, so that’s where he headed. In L.A. he met some guys who were into counterfeiting and in no time Dick was hawking counterfeit copies of Smoky Robinson’s My Girl. My dad bought a lot of ’em, knowingly or unknowingly, I never knew, but my father took a liking to Dick and he sort of became part of the family.

However, Dick was always going away on vacation for small peccadilloes like, Interstate Transportation of Counterfeit Securities (he’d moved up from Smoky Robinson forty-fives to American Express traveler’s checks), Grand Theft Auto (he was part of a car theft ring), Drug Smuggling and a host of lesser crimes. During theses enforced vacations my brothers and I would send him cigarettes and fifty or sixty bucks a month. Dick was out at the time and when he heard about what happened, he wanted to go out and pay Big Dub an immediate visit.

Once, when I was working for my dad, I forget to order the third Doors LP. Dick said he needed to borrow my car. He took it (without my knowledge) over to Cal Racks, a major rack jobber, parked it next to one of their trucks that was about to make a delivery and off loaded a couple hundred Doors records from their truck into my trunk. He’d committed a daylight robbery, just so my dad wouldn’t know that I messed up and forgot to order the hottest record in America, and he got away with it. Dick got away with a lot of stuff back then. But he got caught for a lot of stuff too, which is why he spent so much time behind bars.

I was mad at Big Dub, but I didn’t want him dead.

“But I need to help somehow,” Dick said. “What do you need?”

“If I could borrow your car tomorrow, that would be good.” I needed jackets for the records. Big Dub kind of fucked up, he should have waited till after I unloaded those records before instigating his coup.

“No problem.”

The next day Dick came over bright and early. He’d been out to Dub’s with me a couple of times and he’d been out to Big Dub and Virginia’s as well, so I don’t know why I was surprised when that’s where he headed.

However, when we got there nobody was home and that was a good thing. So, next we went out to the pressing plant, because I wanted to talk to Kaye.

We got there right after Big Dub left. He’d been there to inform Kaye not to press any records for me. He was his son’s new partner and he and his son were the only people who were going to be making bootlegs there.

Kaye was an alright old gal. I never went there to pick up records without spending time with her. She had a smoker’s voice and maybe she drank too much on occasion, but she had great stories she liked to tell and I liked to listen. I had some stories too, and she liked to listen to mine.

Dub, when he went there, just grabbed the records and went. He was a nice guy, one of the nicest people I ever knew, but he had faults, faults he’d inherited from his parents. He talked about Catholics and Jews as if they were inferior. He didn’t mean it, he just didn’t know any better. He acted like he was superior to others as well. Again, he didn’t know any better. But when Kaye met his Daddy, who was not such a nice guy, she learned straightaway why Dub was the way he was.

She and Dick were like two peas in a pod. After only a few minutes together, they’d worked it out that Kaye would make me mothers of everything Dub had in there, stampers too. And she’d do it for free. Plus she’d keep pressing for me. And that deal went on forever. Whenever Dub took something in there, she’d make me a set of plates gratis. When he ordered records, she’d ask me how many I wanted.

Okay, so I was still in business, thanks to Big Dub’s arrogance, Dick’s smooth talking and Kaye’s sense of what was right and what wasn’t. We left Lewis and went to pick up the jackets and with them safely in Dick’s trunk, we got on the freeway and lit up a joint.

Back then you went to jail for a long time if they caught you smoking dope, so we figured the safest place was on the freeway at about seventy-five miles an hour. If a cop pulled up behind you, you could toss it out the window. Fat change a cop was gonna find it. What could they do, shut down the freeway?

We got home around 3:30, easily beating the rush hour traffic which is a big deal in L.A. However, after we off loaded the records, we realized we had another problem. I didn’t have any rubber stamps. Pigs I had plenty of, because we used to make up the records in my living room. But I needed a Birch and a Freeze out stamp pronto.

“I know a guy,” Dick said. He asked me what I wanted the stamps to say, then he made a call. “We can pick ’em up in a couple hours. He’ll call when they’re ready.”

The kids were at my fathers for a couple days. Vesta used to do that, drive them out there and leave them for three or four days, because my dad and his new wife had a girl a year older than my son and a year younger than my daughter. They loved it, because they spent most of the time in his pool. We didn’t have a pool.

So without the kids we had no reason to maintain. We had a couple hours with nothing to do, so we fired up a joint, put "Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues" on the turntable and waited for that call. About halfway through side one Dick mentioned that he had a hit of acid and maybe we could split it three ways.

This is the kind of suggestion that under normal circumstances one would laugh off at 3:30 on a Thursday, especially if you have to go outside and deal with normal people. But we were already stoned and besides, we were gonna split it three ways, what could happen? So I went out to the kitchen, got a coke, popped the tab and Dick dropped the acid in. Vesta got the rum out from the cabinet on top of the refrigerator, got three glasses and made us each a drink.

Funny thing about LSD, I don’t think it’s the amount of the drug you ingest, but how easily it is to open that doorway. You know, the one in your mind most people like to keep closed. We were all veteran drug takers and we were all pretty used to seeing what wasn’t there. In fact Dick used to be a junkie, but my brothers and I introduced him to acid and he never went back. So, really a third of a hit, three hits or four, it made no difference, our doors were blown right off the hinges and we had no business going outside, much less getting inside of a moving vehicle.

However, when that phone rang we piled right into Dick’s old car like it was the most normal thing in the world. And he drove us down to the Pike. The Pike was an old amusement park full of barkers, hustlers, carny people, tattoo parlors and it sported the greatest roller coaster on the planet, "The Cyclone" or as those not from Long Beach Called it, "The Cyclone Racer".

“We’re going to ride the coaster.” Vesta sound enthused.

“No we’re not.” I might have been floating above all that’s holy, but I wasn’t so stoned that I didn’t know that we’d never get off that beast alive if we got on it in the condition we were in. It had killed before, I didn’t want it killing tonight.

Dick parked in front of a tattoo place and lead us to the business next door where he introduced us to Bob, a guy with a Santa Claus white beard that attempted to hide a ruddy drinker’s face, but Bob’s bulbous, blue veined nose gave the game away. Bob wore a sailor’s hate just like the Skipper wore on Gilligan’s Island.

He held out his hand, I shook it, was about to say I was pleased to meet him when something clamped itself around my leg.

“What?” I looked down and son of a gun if Tammy’s twin wasn’t dry humping my right leg.

“His names Brucie, he likes you,” Bob said.

“I don’t care. Get him off!” Tammy and I never hit it off and I could see that Brucie and I weren’t starting off on the right foot either.

“Down, boy,” Bob said, but that just got Brucie humping harder.

“Knock it off.” Bob grabbed Brucie by the scruff on his neck, tossed him across the room. This dog wasn’t mollycoddled, but he had a problem with no, because in an instant he was right back on my leg. Bob grabbed him again, went behind the counter, set Brucie on it. “Behave!” he said.

Then he handed us the stamps.

They were horrible. Neither stamp said GWW on it. The Birch stamp didn’t have the square outline around the title. The printing was too small. The typeface was different.

“We can’t use these,” I said. Though we did use the Birch one a few years later, probably stamped five or six hundred records with it, but the Freeze Out stamp never saw ink.

“I made ’em just like you ordered,” Bob said to Dick. And that was true. Dick told the man what he wanted the stamps to say over the phone and Bob made ‘em up.

I explained our problem and Bob was very understanding, especially since I told him we’d pay for the bad stamps. Bob said if we could get him an impression, he could have the stamps made up the way we wanted in a couple hours. He’d stay open, do ’em special tonight. You can’t beat that for service, so we drove back home, a major feat in our condition, got a copy of each of the records for Bob.

So here we were, three very stoned people at the Pike. The last time I’d been here I’d been arrested by the Shore Patrol for being in uniform without a tie. I’d been drinking too, so they turned me over to the cops, which under normal circumstances isn’t a very nice thing to do. But they were sailors and saw a chance to stick it to a Marine.

The cops handcuffed me, one of them put his hand on my head, guided me into the back seat. This wasn’t good. They drove away from the Pike, then the officer riding shotgun turned around and smiled.

“Where’d you park?”

Not my car. I had a 1960 Ford Starliner, candy apple red, white tuck and roll, 352, Holly four barrel, Hurst four speed on the floor, racing slicks. Not the fastest car in Southern California, but I’d won my share of races on Cherry between those two big cemeteries, the Catholic All Souls and Forest Lawn. We raced in the dead of night, the dead cheering us on. I really loved that car and now these guys were gonna tow it away. I felt like shit.

“Relax, Ken, we’re not taking your car.”

How’d this guy know my name? We hadn’t been introduced. He hadn’t check my ID when they chucked me into the car.

“So where’d you park?”

“John?” It was John Ogden. Though he was a cop, he also owned Ogden’s Judo and Karate School on Cherry and Anaheim. Unlike most of the Marines at the Pike that night, my home was local and my brother and I had studied Shotokan Karate under Kaylor Atkins at John’s school. I only stuck with it for about six months, but it was like a religion for my brother.

“So, I’m not going to jail?”

“Think you can drive home without wrecking the car?”


“You are going home, not to Pendleton, right?”

“Yeah, home, I go back tomorrow.”

They dropped me at the car. I was with a couple other guys that night, but they’d seen me stuffed into that cop car, so I didn’t think they were counting on me for a ride back. Because I was going to Camp Pendleton that night. However even back then I wasn’t a complete idiot, I took the car to my mother’s and she drove me to the Greyhound Bus Station, where I met my pals, who were, needless to say, pretty surprised to see me.

Now, I was back at the Pike with my wife and my best friend and we were all flying Trans Love Airways. We had a couple-three hours to kill. Vesta still wanted to ride the Cyclone. Dick knew of a crap game we could get in. I didn’t like either of those ideas. If the Cyclone didn’t kill us, Dick’s illegal pals were for sure going to slit our throats and take our money. At least that’s what my drug indulged brain was telling me.

“You decide, Ken,” Dick said. Dice or the Coaster.”

“I vote for pinball.” There was a pinball arcade right across from Bob’s. We wouldn’t have to go very far at all. I headed to the arcade, hoping they’d take my lead and follow. They did.

I cannot say enough about the virtues of pinball when you’re on acid. It’s more fun than you could ever dream of. Plus it tends to keep you rooted to one spot. The game is always changing, every ball different, so you don’t get bored. I mean if you can trip out on a few grains of sand on the tip of your shoes, imagine what you can do with bells, whistles, targets popping up and down, flippers and the Who’s Pinball Wizard playing around in your head. Fun, fun, fun, that’s what you get when you mix pinball and LSD.

Things were going good, I’d managed to master the art of grabbing the ball with a flipper and holding it in place, taking aim and getting fairly close to what I wanted to hit. We stayed on one quarter eating machine, getting to know it well. After a couple hours we were all pretty good, then something grabbed my leg.

“Brucie,” I said. “Get away.” But the dog was humping to beat the band. I wondered if he smelled Tammy on me. Maybe that was it, he thought I was a big, attractive poodle.

“Trouble here?”

“Oh crap,” Dick muttered.

It was the cops.

And that’s just about the last thing you want to see when you’re out having a good time on acid.

“Are we in trouble?” Vesta said.

“Ken is that you?”

“Don, Don Berans?”

“Yeah, it’s me.”

I’d met Don in the service. We were clerks. Yeah, a lot of Marines carry a rifle, but Don and I, we could type and back then they didn’t have computers or even Xerox machines. We used carbon paper and you had to be a dead on typist, because if you made a mistake, especially on a promotion, or anything remotely important, you had to do it over. We’d never been pals, but we’d worked together, been drinking together.

I don’t know if he knew what kind of condition we were in. I hadn’t seen him in years. I’d changed a lot. I had long hair, a beard, was obviously part of the counter culture and he was obviously part of the establishment. But he seemed so dammed glad to see me. He pumped my hand like we were long lost brothers. Then he wrote out his address on the back of some kind of business card, said we should get together sometime.

Twice in my life I’d had a close call with the cops at the Pike and twice I’d gotten away by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin.

“Don, do me a favor,” I said.


“Shoot the dog.”

He laughed, then he and his partner left.

“The stamps might be done by now.” I pulled the dog off my leg and we went back to see Santa Claus Bob.

“Finished.” Bob handed me the stamps and I handed over his dog.

“Perfect,” I said.

And they did look perfect, but when we were back home, still flying Trans Love, Vesta noticed something wrong as we were stamping the records.

“They’re different,” she said.

“They’re not,” Dick said.

“The quote things on "Birch", they’re straight and the type on the others is off.” She was right. We stopped stamping the records, because I wanted the stamped covers to look exactly like Dub’s.

The next day Dick and I drove out to Glendale, where Dub and I had the original stamps made. I ordered another Birch and Freeze Out, plus I ordered a new one. GWW Royal Albert Hall, and I paid him for all three stamps. The stuff on Burn Some More was the last Dylan stuff that I got from Waterford that I gave Dub, actually I mastered that one. I’d held back RAH because I wanted to listen to it a bit, before we put it out.

The next day I went back to pick up the stamps. The guy there wasn’t happy to see me. Big Dub had been in and told him not to make any more stamps for me. The guy gave me the three stamps I paid for, then told me not to come back.

On the way home I wondered if he told Big Dub about the stamps I’d made there and if he’d told him about Royal Albert Hall. I could only assume he had, but Big Dub wasn’t into the music. He wouldn’t have know how important that record was going to be. How necessary it was to my comeback that I have it and he didn’t.

But what I didn’t know was that I wasn’t the only bootlegger in L.A. with that tape.

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