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Friday, August 31, 2012


"If you can't do the time, don't do the crime." (Robert Blake in Baretta - 1975-1978.)
Chris braked hard to avoid T-Boning a produce truck that had jumped the light. "Fuckin' Robert Blake," he growled.

You couldn't blame Chris for his mood. It was one of those hot LA days, where smog and road grime seem to reach right through the car's AC vents to claw at your eyes and throat. Even so, I was puzzled.

"I don't get it," I said. "Was Blake driving that truck, or something?"

"Might as fucking well be," Chris said. "It's his fucking fault we're stuck somewhere in the middle of East LA on the hottest fucking day of the year."

I had to admit he had a point. Our agent had originally set up a pitch meeting with Blake at a perfectly reasonable time, at a perfectly reasonable place, but Blake's assistant had called back at the last minute to reschedule.

"Blake thought it would make better use of his time if you met him on location," the agent told us. "You can make the pitch in his trailer when he's taking a break."

What could we say? The meeting was to pitch a two hour episode for the new PI series, "Joe Dancer," starring the above mentioned Robert Blake - or, "that little fucking Mickey Gubitosi," as he was known and loathed by more than a few.

Big bucks were at stake, and so it was that we found ourselves a few days later edging Chris' prized BMW through the traffic in a rough, gang infested area of East LA. The signs were all in Spanish, which is okay if you've lived in LA any sort of time, because you soon develop a kind of Spanglish understanding of the language. On a positive note, mixed in the cavalcade of vehicles, were a few really cool-looking low riders and one absolutely dynamite vintage truck painted a lacquer white with huge red fighting cocks decorating the sides.

Chris cheered up a little when he saw the rooster illustrations. "What the fuck," he said. "How bad can it be?"

We got to the location with nary a scratch on Chris' pride and joy. A narrow street lined with a few small businesses and the alley that serviced them had been barricaded for the shoot. Gang members with jail tattoos manned the barriers. In bad neighborhoods, it's common practice for location managers to grease the palms of local thugs to act as "security."

The film permit would have included an LAPD officer, or two, but to guarantee peace the location guys paid off warring gangs not to war, plus promised them bit parts. Even the nastiest felon is turned into a purring pussycat when he hears the siren call of, "Wanna be in pictures, kid?"

A guy with a couple of blue teardrops tattooed under one eye grunted at us when we told him we were the writers here to see Mr. Blake. He pulled the barrier aside and waved Chris into a makeshift lot, where Teamster drivers hung about the vehicles in their charge, smoking cigarettes, swatting flies, and cursing the smoggy heat.

Got out, locked the car, then headed to a group of people who were milling about a battered shop with a "Mercado" sign overhead. There were lights, and sound booms and camera equipment, so we figured that's where the action was. We asked where we might find Blake, or the director, but all we got was shrugs. Finally we came upon an art director fussing over prop fruit and vegetables stands. Pointing at the mouth of an alley, he said Blake was in his trailer.

As we started away, he said, "Are you the writers?" We said were. He gave us a sympathetic look. "Well, be careful dears, She's in a terrible state."

"What's wrong?" I asked.

The art director gave a snort of exasperation. "Everything is wrong, according to Little Miss Greta Grumpy. The location is wrong. The sets are wrong. The props are wrong." Another snort. "The only thing that's really wrong is that She didn't learn Her lines."

As we walked away, Chris said, "Is Blake gay?"

"If you mean his sexual orientation," I said, "Beats the hell out of me. If you mean his mood, apparently it is anything but gay."

"Shit!" Chris said.


We had one thing going for us, though - NBC. As a series of two-hour movies, they were taking a huge financial risk with Dancer. Not trusting Blake's story sense, they'd given him a short list of "approved" writers, such as our old buddy from Quincy, Robert Crais, a name many of you will recognize as the author of the hard-boiled Elvis Cole/ Joe Pike novels.

Also on that list were the names of our personal favorite writing team - Bunch & Cole. In other words, if he passed on our pitch, he'd have some explaining to do to the Guys With The Big Telephones at the Network.

We got to the trailer - actually a large RV - and knocked. Somebody shouted "Come," so we opened the door. The blast of cold AC air that greeted us was not welcome. It bore the odor of a men's locker room so thick and gamy our stomachs clenched. A producer friend had warned us that Blake's sanitary habits were right out of the Middle Ages. But as a producer we knew him to be typically prone to exaggeration, so we were still unprepared.

"I can take it if you can," Chris muttered.

We entered.

It was a gloomy atmosphere. The curtains had been drawn, and besides an overhead reading light above a dining alcove, the only other source of illumination was a small, flickering TV squatting on the table, sound off. Blake sat beside it, turned out to face the aisle. There were some implements on the table, whose purpose was not immediately apparent. He was wearing jeans and a dirty muscle shirt, with an adequate display, but certainly no threat to Sly or Arnie.

Blake waved us over, saying, "Bunch and Cole?"

I said, "Guilty."

Blake sighed as if we were presenting an additional burden to an already weary day and motioned for us to sit in the little foldout bench opposite him. He called out to somebody and pretty soon a dogsbody of indeterminate gender scurried out and placed a white plastic tub of steamy water on the floor in front of Blake.

"Got some stories for me?" he said.

"We do," Chris said.

He waved, "Well, get to them then."

Apparently there wasn't going to be any foreplay, much less a hello, or heard all about you. We got out our steno pads and leafed through our notes. But both of us stopped as we observed Blake doing the strangest thing. He kicked off his shoes and peeled - and I mean PEELED - his socks off of a pair of really dirty feet.

It was a good thing we were sitting, because the smell would have knocked us down. He stuck his feet in the tub, swirled them about a bit, slopping soapy water on the carpet. Then he put a towel on his lap, lifted one foot out and placed it on a knee. He reached into the array of implements pulled out a set of nail clippers, and started clipping his toe nails.

He looked up at us, impatient. "Go ahead," he said.

Chris and I looked at each other. He flipped his notebook closed. I did the same. Blake stopped clipping long enough to scratch his head, puzzled.

"What's the problem?"

Chris and I eyed his feet. He looked down. Then up again.

"What, this bother you or something?"

"Or, something," Chris said.

Blake glared at him.

Chris glared back. There are few people who could give glare as well as Chris Bunch.

Bobby folded. "Touchy," he said.

He got up and padded into the back and disappeared into a room. A minute later the dogsbody reappeared, stuck the shoes and offensive socks under an arm, grabbed the tub and scurried out.

Beat, Beat, and Bobby returned.

Stopped in front of us. Motioned to his feet. He was wearing a pair of old black ballet-type slippers, a toe sticking out of one of them.

"Better?" he said.

"It'll do," Chris said.

Blake nodded and sat. And we began our pitch.

An hour later we were pushing our way back through the East LA traffic, a sale under our belts. Chris said, "Old Freddy told us that if Blake tried to get a leg over, to tell him to fuck off."

I said, "Well, you certainly did that, partner mine."

Freddy's cure worked a treat. We wrote that episode, then sold and wrote another without further unpleasantness. Even so, we watched Blake make other people's lives miserable, thus undermining his own success. Pretty soon the show was cancelled, but we were already off to nicer people and better things.



Kathryn and I had just come home late from dinner at Madam Wu's (See Tom Selleck Meets The Ugliest Dog In Hawaii ) when the phone rang. It was the producer buddy mentioned in the previous episode of these MisAdventures.

He said, "Quick, turn on Johnny Carson."

I said, "Jesus, man, it's almost midnight."

He said, "Johnny Carson wouldn't be on if it wasn't. Now, go turn it on." He hung up.

I went to the TV and turned it on. And who should I see sitting in the guest seat next to Carson, but none other than Robert (I got that Old Son Of A Bitch Feeling Coming On) Blake.

He was doing his old act, whining and moaning about how he had been an abused child actor (Our Gang Comedy, Red Rider), who had been ripped off by his parents and had fallen into drink and drugs and through no fault of his own had become an intolerable human being. Now, he had seen the light, found solace in dance therapy and green tea enemas, or whatever, and was ready to take up his career anew with kindness and charity in his heart for one and all.

"Hot damn," I told Kathryn, "I think we might be in for another job."

She laughed. "From that little rat?" she said, pointing at the tube.

"It's Blake's MO," I said. "It's like Country Western stars. C&W guys make a public confession on Grand Old Opry and find Jesus. In Hollywood, you go on The Tonight Show and find Green Tea enemas."

Sure enough, a couple of days later Chris and I were busy working on the next Sten novel when our agent called. I don't remember who it was, probably The Weasel. (SeeWe Save Flipper From A Tuna Can) In fact, I'm sure it was The Weasel because I distinctly remember Chris cringing as the guy's squeaky voice came across the speaker phone.

He said, "Listen, fellas, I've got a job lined up for you. I've been working real hard on it, and I didn't want to say anything too soon, but it finally all came together and I'm not bragging if I tell you-"

I broke in before Chris reached through the phone and strangled the little shit. He couldn't stand the guy.

I said, "Let me guess, it's Robert Blake, right?"

A long pause, then. "Well, yeah, Allan. As it happens it was Bobby's office that called, but I've been trying to-"

Again I broke in. This time to prevent Me from murderilizing him. The Weasel was one of those agents who claimed credit whether it was due, or not. If you've been in the business more than six months, you know the breed. We had brought the Blake contact to The Weasel, not the other way around.

I said, "What's the show?"

Another pause of surprise, then he said, "It's called Hell Town and Bobby plays a priest, and it's really a very unique premise and - "

Chris could stand no more. He cut in. "It can't be VERY unique, God Dammit! Unique is as fucking unique as unique can get."

"Whaaat?" came the squeaky voice of confusion.

"Never mind," I told the agent. "Just set up the meet and we'll be there."

"Tell them no fucking meetings on location," Chris growled. "And no washing of stinking feet!"

Another confused cry of, "Whaaat?"

I said never mind and give us a call about the meeting. After hanging up, I looked up the number of the producer buddy to find out what this Hell Town series was about. While I was calling, Chris got out the glasses and ice for Scotch and water, easy on the water, because we were about to once again enter the weird, grubby world of little Mickey Gubitosi, King Of The SOB's.

Long story short, we met with him and his story exec - a guy named E. Nick Alexander, who couldn't put two words together without making three, because he had to put a "fuck" or a "fucking" or some other version of the "Eff" word in between. I won't repeat the conversation, because it fucking offends even me.

Blake's office was in a newish building in an industrial area near MGM. It was two stories, with an underground parking area, one side partitioned off for a garage. Blake had the suites on the ground floor, and a new action-adventure series called "240 Robert" had the top floor. They shared the parking area and the garage, where Teamster mechanics worked on vehicles used by both shows. (Tip for you poor saps drawn to the production side of Show Biz: When producers land a new gig, they immediately get the mechanics to totally overhaul their cars, up to and including new engines, upholstery, tires, paint, etc., then bill it to the show. Any under the table money to doubly grease the mechanics' palms goes onto the Location Scout's cash budget.)

We knew the Show Runner on the super cool action/rescue series - 240 Robert - so after we made the Hell Town sale, we wandered upstairs, shot the bull, then sold a script there as well. With two deals to our credit, Chris and I were happy writer-guys as we drove the short distance home to Venice Beach. Making us happier still - the 240 Robert sale was for a "backup script," so we got paid double.

Later, when they were shooting the Hell Town episode, we were called out to the location to make on-the-spot script changes. I forget what they were, but it's usually because necessary time cuts will affect dialogue, plot, or both - jobs, only a writer is authorized to handle or the WGA will whack them good.

Whatever the reason, it's always fun. We expected no different with Hell Town. The location was the Standing Set they'd built on the ass end of LA. Two old buildings had been converted into a small church exterior, with an attached orphanage.

Blake played a Father Noah "Hardstep" Rivers - the ex-con Catholic priest who oversaw both. He was supposed to be a rough and ready type priest, up from the streets. In the tag of every episode he'd be sitting out on the steps of the church at night, drinking a beer, smoking a cigarette, talking to "the man upstairs." If that image makes you all hypoglycemic, blame Blake, not me.

Anyway, the set was pretty impressive. While we were waiting for Blake - in his trailer grooming his feet, or taking his semi-annual hip bath, no doubt - the production boss showed us around. The dorms in the little orphanage were perfect, but he was particularly proud of the communal kitchen.

A smiling set man greeted us when we entered. And it was something right out of a Norman Rockwell image of an American Big Family Kitchen. Long wooden table with benches for the kids and the nuns to sit around. Battered pots and pans hanging from the walls. A fabulous old butcher's block. And a huge, old-fashioned cooking range, with a cast iron grill.

"Wait'll you see this," the set man said, pulling us over to the range. "There hasn't been gas service in this place for years," he continued. "But, see, this thing even works." He turned dials and flames leaped up from the burners. "We got a kitchen scene coming up later today and we can actually cook on this thing when they shoot it."

He showed us how he and his team had constructed a pantry where propane tanks were cunningly hidden. Just to prove his point, he slapped a frying pan on one of the burners, got some bacon out of the prop fridge (there was an ice chest inside), and soon had it sizzling.

But apparently there was more. Much more. "That's nothing," he said. "Easy shit for my guys."

He took us through doors that led into a by-god kitchen garden. Bean vines twined up poles. Tomatoes heavy with fruit were staked in the corners. And the rest of the garden was taken up by row after row of towering corn plants, with ripe ears clinging to the stalks. As we exited, one member of his team was busy wiring ears of corn to the plants.

The set man explained, "Mr. Blake wanted everything as real as possible." He indicated the beans and the tomatoes. "Of course, you can't just grow this shit overnight. But, it was easy to get the plants from a hot house and set them up here."

He turned to the corn. "Now, that was the really hard part. It's the middle of winter, so where the hell are you gonna get corn growing on stalks? And Mr. Blake was just dead set on making it not just look real, but feel real. He says it makes it better for him to find his... whatchacallit - motivation."

The production boss rolled his eyes. "Whatever," he said.

The set man was too proud to notice. He said, "So, I stayed up two nights making those stalks. Then I went out before dawn to the Central Market and bought fresh unshucked corn. Now we just have to wire them on, and there you go."

It really was impressive and we said so. The guy looked like a little kid, he was so proud. This is one of those key elements that can make or break a project. I don't mean just the craftsmanship, but the attitude of the film crew. If they feel this is just as much their movie, or TV episode, as the actors and the directors and the writers, then something magic can happen.

Came a familiar voice: "What's this shit?"

The set man jumped. It was Blake. He came storming on the scene, dressed in his priest get up, including the collar. He was flanked by two big stuntmen, one in a Gold's Gym muscle shirt, the other - a little older, just as big, but with graying sideburns - wore a red T-shirt emblazoned with a skull and crossbones. It was touting some stunt driving school - maybe Stuntman Mike's, but maybe not.

I'm not sure, but one of them might have been the boyo who testified years later that Blake tried to involve a couple of stuntmen in his wife's murder. Eventually the testimony was recanted and Blake was acquitted of the murder. However, like O.J. Simpson, a jury in a civil suit, believed otherwise. They awarded the children of the dead wife $30 million, later reduced by a judge to $15 million.

Anyway, here was Blake, with two big stunt men hovering at his side, spitting fury at the poor set guy. He batted at one of the corn stalks, knocking it down.

"I cannot believe this shit?" he shouted. "I wanted real fucking corn! On real fucking corn plants! This is fucking wired!"

The set man shrank under Blake's abuse and the threatening glares of the stuntmen, who moved in to loom on him. "But, Bobby," he said. "It's winter."

"I know it's fucking winter," Blake shouted. "I got a calendar. I watch the news. So what? Send somebody down to Mexico, or something. Use your fucking imagination. Or, is that too much to ask'

"No, Bobby, right away, Bobby," the guy babbled.

Then Blake and the stuntmen trooped into the orphanage kitchen, the set man and production boss in tow. Chris and I idled along, taking mental notes. You never know when you might need a good scene about an asshole.

Now, Blake was screaming at the guy about the kitchen range. He'd flicked it on and he was shaking his finger at the flame. "This is shit!" he said. "It doesn't look real! There's hardly any fucking fire!"

"But, Bobby," the set man protested, "we just tried it out. We even cooked some bacon on it, see?" He indicated the frying pan holding several rashers of nicely browned bacon.

Blake swept the pan off the range onto the floor, spattering pork products and grease everywhere. "Don't fucking tell me about bacon," he said. He thumped his chest. "I know all about goddamned bacon."

What this meant I haven't the foggiest, but it maybe it meant something to the set man, because he bobbed his head, babbling, "Sure, Bobby. Sure. We'll fix it. Don't worry."

"I'm not fucking worried," Blake said, jabbing his finger at the guy. "You're the one who should be worrying!"

He looked around the room, sneering at what he saw. Then he must have realized that Chris and I were standing there, because he finally turned to greet us. But, now he had a completely different look on his face. Like Jekyll and Hyde, he transformed from a raging Robert Blake to a sort of friendly Bobby Blake.

"Hey, guys," he said, shaking our hands in turn. "Thanks for coming by." We said sure, no problem. He started away, motioning for us to follow. "I got notes for the changes in my trailer."

He shot Chris an amused look. "Not to worry," he joked."Already cut my toe nails."

Okay, so we got our notes - no trouble, no outbursts. Everything gentleman like. We made the changes on the spot, using a computer in Blake's trailer. We went home.

A week or so later Blake called us in to do a "special" two-hour episode of Hell Town. "I want it to be a movie," he said. "We need something to goose the ratings."

Did that job. Then bingo, he wanted yet a third script. A regular one-hour episode, but with a touch of comedy. I think it was called, "Willie The Goat," or some such.

We were just finishing the Goat Script when The Weasel called. This time, he kept it short. "Hey, guys," he said, "just got your check in from Blake. You know, for the two hour Hell Town movie?"

"Yeah?" I said, suddenly wary. "What about it?"

"It's five thousand dollars short, is what about it," he said. "I called his business manager to alert him to the error, but he said it wasn't an error. He said that Bobby had decided to split the movie into two, one hour episodes. You know, show the first part one week, then put "To be continued" at the end, and then put the final part on the air the following week."

I said, "So, you're saying he's paying us for two one hour episodes, instead of a fucking two-hour movie, which is what he ordered and what we wrote?"

A long pause. Then, "That's about the size of it Allan." Another pause. "What do you want to do? Send the check back? Then you could call the Writer's Guild and complain?"

I looked at Chris, who had been listening in. I shook my head. He agreed.

It wasn't like we had a signed contract to back our act. Television moves so fast that the show is written and shot and you are on to other projects before the contract ever catches up to you many weeks later. This weird ass honor system in a Town rather short of the substance pretty much works - until you run into an SOB like Robert Blake.

"That'll take two small forevers," I told The Weasel. "And the most that can happen is that the Guild eventually makes him pay, then maybe fines him one percent for being tardy. Big deal. We'll have gray beards down to our ankles by then."

"My inclination would be to cash the check," The Weasel said, quite sensibly. "And argue about the shortfall later."

"I have a better idea," I said. I looked at Chris, who nodded. He knew how my mind worked. "Cash the check, yeah. But then call Blake's people and tell them we are sitting on another script that Bobby specifically asked for. And that if they want the script, they'd better messenger a check for five thousand dollars to my house or they can go fuck themselves."

Chris broke in. "One other thing," he told the speaker phone. "I don't trust the son of a bitch. We want the five grand, plus the full price for the pages we're holding. Then, and only fucking then, does he get the script."

The Weasel said, "Jesus, guys. You sure?"

We said we were, hung up, got a couple of pops of Scotch, then wrote Fade Out on the Willie The Goat script.

A day passed. We were working with a guy on another project when the phone rang. It was Bobby Blake. I figured we'd get the Robert Blake raging inferno guy, but instead he was all little Mickey Gubitosi, whining on the phone and sounding a lot like the character he played on the Little Rascals.

"Gee whiz, fellas," he said, "I really need that script. I told the Network the story. And they just loved it."

I said, "We know. They called us about it. And we told them we've got the script right here, ready to go."

"They called you?" Blake said, sounding alarmed.

It was true, so I didn't have to lie when I said, "Yeah, Bobby. They called."

A pause, then he said, "So, shall I send somebody to pick it up?'

"Fine with us," I said. "But make sure they bring along payment in full for this script, plus the five grand you owe us for the movie."

"It wasn't a movie," Blake whined. "It was two one-hour episodes. Sure, it started out as a two-hour movie, but things changed, you know."

"I'm not going to argue with you, Bobby," I said. "You owe us five thousand bucks. Period. Plus twenty for the script we're holding. Cash, or check, makes no never mind to us."

"This is blackmail," Blake said, heated.

Chris broke in. "No, it's fucking extortion," he said. "Send a guy around with the dough, and we'll give him the script."

"How do I know it's any good?" Blake tried.

"You know," Chris said.

Finally, Bobby said he'd send somebody over and hung up. We got back to work with our friend, who was laughing about the whole conversation.

About an hour later, just as we were wrapping up, the doorbell rang. This was the house in Venice with the glass window in the door that I mentioned in the episode about the FBI. (See The FBI Only Rings Once.)

Large as that window was, it was completely filled by a red T-shirt emblazoned with a skull and crossbones. I opened the door to find the stuntman we'd seen with Blake, plus his buddy, he of the Gold's Gym muscle shirt.

They rippled their musculature and glowered at me. "Mr. Blake sent us for the script," Red Shirt said.

"Sure," I said. "Come on in."

I led them into living room where Chris and our friend sat. The stuntmen glared at them, but to little effect.

Red Shirt addressed me. "Where's the script?"

I said, "Where's the check?"

He said, "First, the script."

I said, "No, first the check."

The two men loomed on me. And a very impressive job of looming they did. Chris and our friend laughed, which pissed the stuntmen off.

Red Shirt shifted his glare to our friend. "Who are you?" he demanded.

Chris came in before the guy could answer. He told them the guy's name, which I won't repeat because he might not appreciate it. Then he added, "He's the former president of the LA Chapter of the Hell's Angels."

Our HA friend raised an admonitory hand. It was covered with tats of all sorts of wicked things. "Not former president," he corrected Chris. "Retired. There's a difference."

Chris said, "You guys will get a kick out of this. We're doing a pilot for a comedy series about a motorcycle gang family."

Our HA friend further explained, "It's sort of like the Munsters, but with bikers instead of Frankenstein types. Instead of bolts through the neck, we've got tats on the neck."

All of this was true and the stuntmen looked like they either believed it, or weren't so rude as to question the word of the recently retired president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Hell's Angels. And every scarred and tattooed inch of him looked the part. Sure, these guys were big. But you need more than big going for you if you piss off the Angeles.

Red Shirt said, "Yeah, I saw that Harley chopper outside. Nice tank. Peanut, huh?"

Our friend said that his Hog did, indeed, sport a peanut gas tank.

Red Shirt turned back to me. "Maybe I'd better talk to Mr. Blake," he said.

"Maybe you'd better," Chris said.

He lifted the speaker phone's receiver, punched a memory button, and there were dialing sounds. Somebody answered, and that somebody passed the call on to somebody else, until finally we heard Blake speak. "Yeah?"

Red Shirt addressed the speaker phone, "Little problem, here, boss," he said. "On that script pickup? They want me to give them the check first, or they won't hand over the script."

Blake said, "That's fucking ridiculous."

Chris came in, saying, "That's how it is, Bobby. No checkee, no scriptee."

"Fuck," Blake said. Then, to Red Shirt, "Give it to them. But make fucking sure you get the script." And he hung up.

Chris passed me the script and I turned and offered it to Red Shirt, sticking out my other hand for the check. He got it out of his pocket and showed it to me, but didn't hand it over. I looked. It was for the correct amount, including the five thousand dollars.

Then he pushed the check forward and got a hand on the script. So we were both standing there, me holding one end of the check, him holding the other end of the script. He tugged at the script. I held firm and tugged on the check. A couple of tugs went back and forth. It was actually pretty funny. Finally, he said, "Aw, shit." And let go of the check. Only then did I loosen my grip on the script.

Without further ado, the stuntmen lumbered for the door and then let themselves out. Shoulders hunched as our laughter followed them into the night.

After the laughter died, our HA friend said, "Guess that asshole Blake won't be calling you again anytime soon."

I said, "In Hollywood, you never say never."

And proof of that came, when:



Chris and I are hard at work. Phone rings. Chris picks up. Soon as he hears the secretary say who's calling, he slaps on the speaker phone.

I hear a familiar voice. It's chirpy.

"Hey, fellas, it's me, Bobby. Bobby Blake. How ya doin'?"

Chris says we're doing just fine.

Bobby says, "Look, I got this notion I need a writer for. And I thought of you two right away."

Chris says, "Bobby?'

Blake says, "What?"

Chris says, "Fuck off."

And hangs up.





The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 (we've now nearing the 175,000 mark) I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort. However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out. Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think? And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!

Told in four parts, Episode Two now appearing in Diaspar Magazine, the best SF&F magazine in South America! And it's free! Here's the link. 
Sten debuta # 1 en español! Narrada en cuatro partes, Episode Dos ahora aparece en la revista Diaspar, la mejor revista de SF & F en América del Sur! 

Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.    

Friday, August 24, 2012


Hollywood joke: The producer of a low budget film is wooing a hot young director by touting the big names they've landed for the project.

"First of all," he tells him, "We've got Pitt in the lead."

The director is surprised, "You got Brad Pitt?"

"Well, no," the Producer responds, "we got Jeremy Pitt, he's a distant cousin who lives in Queens, but he's very up and coming. And besides, we've also got DiCaprio."

"You got Leonardo DiCaprio?" the director asks.

"No, we got Vinnie DiCaprio, but he's very talented and has lots of acting experience from years of dinner theater. But," he says enthusiastically, "we've got Carey and in a singing role."

"Mariah Carey?" he asks.

"No, Betty Carey." The Producer responds. "But she's sexy and has a great voice. AND we've got Blake."

"You got Robert Blake?" the director asks.

"Yeah," the producer replies glumly, "we got Robert Blake."


Our producer buddy said, "So, you're gonna meet with Bobby Blake." He shook his head. "You poor schmucks."

"Hey," Chris said, "we're not looking to marry the asshole; we're just looking for a paycheck."

"You've worked with him a lot," I said. "We were hoping you could give us a couple of tips."

"Sure, sure, anything to help my boys," the producer said. "It's for that new Joe Dancer deal, right? Big Fucking Bucks, right?"

We said he was right on both counts.

Joe Dancer was a PI series starring Robert Blake. This was in the days when Blake's public image was more like the character you see on Baretta reruns, not the creepy accused wife-murderer dude you see featured in "Whatever Happened To XYZ" segments of Entertainment Tonight. NBC/Universal Studios had commissioned six two-hour TV movies so we were, indeed, talking "Big Fucking Bucks."

Our producer buddy - who shall remain unnamed for reasons that will soon become obvious - told us to "hang loose, a sec." We were standing in an auto detailing lot just off Victory Boulevard in Burbank, where our friend was dropping off his car.

He waved a kid over, peeled a hundred off a thick wad, and stuffed it into the kid's shirt pocket, saying, "Take good care of my girl, okay?" The girl in question was a red XJ-S Convertible (Jaguar, if you have to ask) He returned the wad to his pocket and motioned for us to follow.

This was an area of Victory where narrow residential-type streets intersected the boulevard. The streets were lined with old Day Of The Locust era cottages, set around small, gardened court yards. But if you thought anyone actually lived in those cottages, you'd be mistaken. Most were production offices - some leased by Independents, both legit and porno - others owned or leased by the Studios to handle production overflows.

Our producer pal was heading for a corner cottage, with red bougainvillea vines crawling over the arched entranceway, and twining around the security bars guarding the front windows. The word "quaint" comes to mind. The door was painted white with a leaded glass sunburst window cut into it. Beneath, there was a brass knocker and a small brass plate inscribed with the moniker of someone I'll just call Freddy.

The producer worked the brass knocker, saying, "Freddy was best damned hair-man in the business before he retired. Now he just takes care of a few friends so he can stretch the pension, know what I mean?" We were too young to give a damn about pensions, but we nodded wise agreement. "I drop by every Saturday before lunch," our friend added. "Get the Jag and my head detailed at the same time."

The door opened to reveal a spry little old man, wearing a barber's smock over pinstripe suit pants. He was so deeply wrinkled his face looked like one of those dried apple doll heads they sell in Ozark tourist shops. Even with the thick patch of black hair and bushy black eyebrows, I guessed he was pushing 80.

He flashed a gleaming set of dentures to show our friend how glad he was to see him, meanwhile shooting us a suspicious look.

The producer reassured him. "They're good boys, Freddy. Brought them along so they could pick your brains about a deal they're trying to land."

Freddy, relented, and favored us with the white denture treatment. Then he said, "Writer fellas, am I right?"

The producer laughed at our expressions of surprise, explaining, "Freddy's been in the business since before God got his DGA card, so watch your asses."

He escorted us into a little room just off the entryway. There were two stairs leading down into a space that had rich, old wooden paneling, like something out of a Gentleman's Club. The walls were decorated with antique movie posters from the days of Cagney and Bette Davis. There was a single barber chair, very old, but with polished chrome and well-cared-for leather. A small, marble-topped cabinet behind the chair held the tools of his trade, plus a couple of bottles of some nice single-malt and some glasses.

Our friend took up residence in the barber's chair, and Freddy tucked a barber's sheet around him. Then he poured a couple of glugs of Single Malt into a glass and handed it to the producer. He motioned for us to help ourselves, which we did.

After our friend had imbibed, and got himself settled, he told Freddy, "The boys are supposed to meet with Bobby Blake. You knew him, right?

Freddy stopped clipping long enough to make with something that was somewhere between a chuckle and a tubercular cough.

"Little Mickey Gubitosi?" He croaked. "Sure, I knew him."

"That's what Blake was called in the old Our Gang Comedies?" I guessed.

Little Mickey Gubitosi
"Yeah, yeah, that was him," the barber rasped. "First it was Mickey Gubitosi. Then it was Mickey Blake. And I don't know when the hell he got to be Bobby."

"What was he like?" Chris asked.

Another strangled chuckle. "Whiny little shit then, and a whiny little shit now." He shook his head as he worked his scissors. "He was always boo-hooing about this or that. Except when the director wanted him to boo-hoo for the picture. Then he couldn't turn on the waterworks for shit. Had to stick an onion under his schnoz for each take."

"Besides the Our Gang stuff, wasn't he in Treasure Of The Sierra Madre?" I asked.

Freddy thought a minute, then nodded. "Yeah, he was the Mex kid that sold Bogie the winning lottery ticket. I dated the girl who had to make him look Mexican." Another fit of coughing. Then, "She said he was an obnoxious little prick. Drove everybody nuts. Houston almost smacked him a couple of times. Only reason he held off is because Bogie got some real Mexican kids who used to hang out at the set to kick his ass."

He paused in his work, sighing deeply. "Bogie always said that the problem with a lot of people is that they never got their ass whipped. So, he probably thought he was doing the kid a favor. In Bobby's case, I guess it didn't take."

He stepped back from our buddy, looking the job over, then started snipping again. "You say you boys are going to meet with the little creep?"

We confirmed this fact.

"Okay, well, my best advice is to hook a chain to your wallets," he said. "He's a cheap son of a bitch and is always looking for a way to get something by you. Big bucks, or, nickel and dime shit, it's all the same to little Mickey Gubitosi.

"Thinks the world owes him because his folks fucked him out of his Our Gang money. And, I mean, I'd feel sorry for the little fucker... just like I feel sorry for most of the kiddie stars. But, he was such a shit, you know?"

He snorted in distaste. "And dirty, my God, sometimes I think he didn't take a bath for days on end." He shrugged. "But, he's grown up, so he's probably got over that by now."

Our producer friend came in. "Not by a long shot," he said. "He's still a pig. Last time I worked with him, he had this jeans jacket he took a liking to. One morning he gets egg on the jacket from his breakfast." To demonstrate, he tapped the place where the breast pocket would be. "Right here, you know? And son of a gun, every day I see him he's still got that jacket on, with the yellow egg yolk sticking to it.

"I finally said, 'Jesus, Bobby, I know you've given up bathing for Lent, but do you have to wear clothes with garbage on it? Makes me sick just looking at it.'

"Well, he gets all pissed off at me and stomps around the trailer. Then, all of a sudden he tells me to go fuck myself and storms into the bathroom. Minute later, I hear the shower going. And it goes and goes and goes. Finally, it stops and Bobby comes stomping out, still in his clothes, which are dripping wet, cause he showered with them on. And he says, 'I hope you're fucking satisfied.'"

Our friend laughed at the memory. Then added, "At least the egg yolk was gone... And he didn't smell as bad for a couple of days."

Chris said, "If he's such an asshole, how come he's managed so many comebacks?"

Our producer friend shrugged. "Bobby finally learned how to cry on cue."

We must have looked puzzled, because he added, "I'm sure you've seen him on Johnny Carson and all the other talk shows crying about how he was fucked over by his parents, right?"

Chris, who didn't watch TV, just shrugged. "So was every other Tom, Dick and Jackie Cooper. What the fuck's new?"

Freddy paused as the producer leaned forward. "You forget, Bobby is an actor. And not that bad a one when he's behaving. And boy, does he milk it with the audience. Tells them how he was screwed over. Tells them that he was so traumatized that he turned to dope and booze, which really destroyed him.

"But, now he's seen the fucking light. Turned the god damned page. And he's ready, The Good God Willing, to face life like a man. " (For more on the art of the comeback see The Silver Bullet Sanction.)

The producer settled back so Freddy could resume his work. "Next thing you know, you see in the trades that Bobby's got a new project on offer. Movie, TV series, whatever."

"Which is where Joe Dancer came from," I said.

The producer nodded. "Me and Bobby and a couple of other guys were at Morton's when that deal came down." (Morton's Steak House was a favorite Hollywood lunch stop in the days when the populace of La-La Land still admitted they were carnivores.)

"Bobby was in his full fucking glory," the producer continued, "giving us all the business about how he knew what a bastard he'd been in the past. That he regretted all the misery he caused 'The Little People' who came to the set every day to make him look good, but had to put up with all of his shit. Said he was sorry, so sorry.

"'I can be a son of bitch, I admit it,' he told us. 'But, no more. I'm a changed man, boys. A changed man.... You'll see... God willing... and if I ever get a shot again.'"

Our buddy laughed in memory. "About then," he said, "the waiter comes over and says that Mr. Blake has an important telephone call. So, Bobby excuses himself, gets up and goes with the waiter to wherever the phone was.

"While he was gone, the other guys started saying, Wow, maybe he really has changed... Shit like that. Then Bobby comes back. Huge smile on his face. Rubbing his hands together. He tells us that was his agent on the phone. They'd just done the deal for Joe Dancer. And Bobby was working again.

"Then he sits down, big as you please, looks us all over with a huge shit-eating grin on his puss. And he announces - 'Boys, I've got that old Son Of A Bitch feeling comin' on.'"

Well, we just roared laughter. Sputtered the line again, and again - "Boys, I got that old Son Of A Bitch feelin' comin' on." But then, as the laughter died, we started realizing what we might be coming up against in the near future.

Freddy, bless him, caught our shift in mood.

He said, "Fellas, besides the money, the main thing you've gotta watch out for is to never let Bobby get his leg over you. He says 'Jump,' you don't say, 'How high?' You say, fuck off."

Chris grinned and said, "We can do that."
Postscript: You'll note that in recent days Blake is making an attempt at yet another comeback. He's been on Pierce Morgan's show, among other, plus has self-published a book about his tale of woe. And thus you can see for yourself that "old son of a bitch feelings" in full bloom. Will it work this time out? Stranger things have happened.





The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 (we've now passed the 150,000 mark) I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort. However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out. Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think? And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!

Told in four parts, Episode Two now appearing in Diaspar Magazine, the best SF&F magazine in South America! And it's free! Here's the link. 
Sten debuta # 1 en español! Narrada en cuatro partes, Episode Dos ahora aparece en la revista Diaspar, la mejor revista de SF & F en América del Sur! 

Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.    

Friday, August 17, 2012

Joe Piscopo And The Beach Police

I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my Uncle George, not kicking and screaming and clawing at the backseat like my cousins. - Old Teamsters Joke
We were tooling along Hollywood Boulevard on a bright, only semi-smoggy day, when Chris said, "Isn't that the movie joint that almost killed us?"

He was indicating the Pantages Theater, where we had once fallen a little too deeply into our cups with a girl whose name I'm too much of a gentleman to remember. I don't remember the movie either, but it was so bad we had nipped at a flask of brandy more than was good for us.

"We ought to have taken a fucking cab," Chris said.

"With what money?" I said. "We'd already hocked my accordion and your Luger and even if we'd had anything left there wasn't a pawn shop open at one in the morning."
The near early demise of Bunch & Cole that we were speaking of had occurred sometime in the early - going on the mid - Sixties. Chris was home on leave from the Army and we had gone on a royal toot that had left us physically and financially whacked out.

On the way home from the Pantages, we were all stunned into silence by the booze and the awfulness of the flick, and after a bit the girl fell asleep, head on my shoulder. Soon I, too, drifted into nearly permanent Slumberland.

At some point Chris - who was driving - nodded off as well. Suddenly, I was jolted awake by a horrible screech of brakes and one of Newton's Really Scary Laws Of Motion was shoving me and the girl forward. I dug my knees into the glove compartment, held tight to the girl, and looked up just as the car met the freeway's chain link fence.

Chris' car was a 1960 Bonneville which weighed well over four thousand pounds, not counting the weight of two big lugs named Bunch & Cole, plus the girl, who although shapely, was not petite.

We were probably going at least 65 mph when the Pontiac and the Chain Link Fence decided that a First Date was more than enough time to get to know one another, and attempted to mate.

The car plowed on and on, ripping through the fence, a suddenly conscious Chris grasped the wheel, meanwhile doing his damndest to ram the brake pedal through the floorboards.

My knees felt like they were buckling the dash, but I held onto the girl, pushing away, away, away from Newton's firm desire to mash us against the windshield. (Did I mention that in those days nobody outside a race track possessed seat belts, much less wore them?)

I looked up just as the main cable running along the top of the fence cut the roofline - right where the roof and the windshield met.

It went through it like a cheese-slicer through Mozzarella, and I watched in awful fascination as it transformed into a horizontal guillotine, just missing our heads, but taking off the roof.

And then we were motionless. No sound but the ticking of the engine cooling in the night air.

The girl said, "Wow!"

My reaction, but in fewer words and cleaner language.

A wild thought of great selfishness popped up: at least we were in Chris' car, and not my brand new tastefully blue Ford Ranchero with the black vinyl interior and really cool radio that automatically hunted for the best rock and roll stations.

Then reality and a modicum of humanity returned and I said, "Everybody okay?"

Everybody was, including Chris, who said, nonsensically: "I thought you were fucking driving, Cole."

I heard sirens in the distances, so I started plucking leaves from trashed freeway landscaping, saying, "Chew some leaves quick. Maybe they won't smell the booze."

Thankfully, the cops who showed up just seemed happy that the three shaken kids who looked like they came from nice homes, were miraculously unhurt. Underscored by the car roof that was peeled off all the way to the trunk, with the freeway cable still taut against the underside of the remains.

Eventually, Chris' mom and dad came to get us - accompanied by their pretty 13-year-old daughter, Kathryn, whom I would marry some fifteen years later.

Those events flashed through my mind as we passed the Pantages Theater, former venue of a film so awful that it had almost killed us. I know Chris was thinking the same thing, because he said, "What a stinkeroo."

Then we were turning left on Cahuenga and a minute later we were surrendering the BMW (the successor, many times over of the ill-fated '60 Bonneville) to a valet outside the Cahuenga Theater, where Joe Piscopo 's new movie - Dead Heat - starring Joe and Treat Williams - was being screened before a group of Hollywood Big Shots.

We non-Big Shots were there by invitation of the two producers who had hired us to write the next Joe Piscopo movie. As I mentioned in the previous episode (Screwed By The Mouse ), we were under the gun timewise because of the looming Writers Guild strike.

Dead Heat proved to be a very funny movie and when it was over, Joe was there to shake hands with everyone. When he got to us, one of the producers said, "These are your new writers, Joe. Chris Bunch and Allan Cole."

Grinning, Piscopo asked, "Which is which?"

Chris pretended to look confused. Turned to me, saying "You're Bunch, right? So, I must be Cole." Shook, his head. "Wait, wait, you're Cole and I'm Bunch. Or, is it my turn to be Cole? And your turn-"

Piscopo laughed, clapped my partner on the back, saying, "I've heard all about you, Chris. And I see that every word of it is true. We chatted briefly, then he said, "How about you guys come out to Jersey and visit with me? I'd like to set the movie there, and we could scout locations, drink beer, shoot the breeze, and get acquainted. What do you think?"

Chris mock frowned, replying, "Gee, I don't know, Joe. We only just met. Hope you don't think we're that easy."

Then Piscopo did the damndest thing. His features started to change and suddenly we were looking at somebody who sort of resembled Robert De Nero. DeNero/Piscopo fixed us with a glare and shook a finger at us. He said, in a perfect De Niro voice, "What? You lookin' at me? You lookin' at me? 'Cause if you're fuckin' lookin' at me, then youse'd better get this straight... I'm the fuckin' comedian around here. Get me?"

We broke up. Laughing to beat the band. Finally, Chris managed to gasp through laughter, "Gotcha, Bobby!"

Piscopo transformed again - back into himself. Huge grin on his face. This was when Joe was at his biggest - ripped with muscle. But instead of looking menacing, or formidable, he came across as a big goofy kid. We liked him immediately. And it was quickly agreed that we'd visit him in the wilds of Jersey.

The nice thing about flying on the Studio's dime is that it's champagne and canapés all the way. Rich Piscopo, Joe's younger brother, met us at the airport and soon we were humming along in Joe's spanking new, tricked out 4X Ford Bronco that had all the trimmings... tow package, roll bar, chrome running boards, power this and power that, topped off with a blast-the-windows-out stereo system.

Remember that Bronco.

As we drove along the turnpike, we filled Rich in on the project. Basically, the storyline was about a small town Jersey kid, who ends up being a cop in New York, mainly working undercover. (Using Joe's formidable talents as an impressionist.) He burns out there, nearly loses his partner in an operation, does lose the bad guys, then quits and heads home. This all happens in the first few minutes, because the real story - and adventure - takes place in his home town, which is being ruined by big city developers.

Rich said, "Joe's notion is to turn Long Beach Island into his character's home town. It's practically empty in the off season, plus the Pine Barrens are right across the Causeway."

"The Pine Barrens?" I said. "Chris and I are in the middle of researching that area back during the Revolutionary War days. It was a total wilderness. And full of pressed German soldiers who'd deserted the British Army."

"It's still pretty much a wilderness," Rich said. (A former teacher, he was helping to manage Joe's career.) "Smaller of course. And those German soldiers married into a lot of Irish families, and some of their descendants still farm the area. There's bogs all over the place. Some wild, but most run by cranberry canneries. Ocean Spray is big here. And the people... well, wait until you meet them. You'll never know you're only a few minutes away from big city life."

"Bogs?" Chris said. He grinned. "Don't the Wiseguys use Jersey bogs to dump people they've whacked?" Rich agreed that they did. Chris looked back at me. "We can do something with those bogs, Cole," he said.

I said, "Remind me not to eat any cranberries while we're here."

Soon, we were driving through the pine barrens, and they were just as Rich had advertised - the woods were thick, the air scented with pine, the road was empty, and besides the lights of a few farm houses off in the trees, the sole illumination was the bright moon overhead.

Then, it was across the Causeway, pleasure craft and fishing boat lights winking in the distance, and a sparkle from the homes of the natives. And then we were moving down quiet avenues, through the shadows of empty beach cottages, until we finally came to the Piscopo family retreat.

When we exited the car, Rich said, "Hope you guys don't mind, we're just going to get some pizza for dinner."

At that moment the cottage door opened, and we heard - quite distinctly - the voice of Jerry Lewis call out, "Ehh, you want we should have some anchovies with that?"

The light came on and there was Joe Piscopo, wearing a muscle shirt, big arms crossed like Mr. Clean. But when he spoke next, out came the voice of Dean Martin, singing:

"When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore..."

Well, we were just floored. Goggling at him like fools. But before we could speak, he strode toward us, and in the dead-on voice of Frank Sinatra he sang, "Strangers In The Night, exchanging glances...."

But Chris had his moves back and before Joe could go on, he said, "You wouldn't want my mother to hear that. She hates Sinatra. My Dad, on the other hand, thinks he's great. So you'd be stuck in the middle of a big Bunch family fight."

Joe was caught short. Then he started laughing and it was bear hugs all around. We trooped into the house, where Joe popped some beer and we gathered around a big dining table, drinking, and exchanging insults, while Rich called for some pizza - with Bunch's order fresh in his mind that there was to be "... no fuckin' anchovies... I hate anchovies...."

We stayed up to all hours, unaffected by jet lag, swapping stories and lies. Chris and I were intent on getting a really good handle on Piscopo. The movie we were doing had to be tailored just for him, calling on his comic repertoire to the Nth degree. It wouldn't be a role that anyone else could step into.

Joe told us that he and Rich were the sons of a successful attorney, whose dad had his heart set on Joe following him into the business.

"When it was obvious that their son was a clown, and would always be a clown," Joe said, "they got behind me all the way." He drank some of his beer, reflecting. Then grinned, "Course, my dad still teases me sometimes, asking when I'm going get a real job. And I come back with...' Come on, Dad. I need people, not law books. And then I give him this..."

And Piscopo's face takes on a whole new look - very feminine and somehow familiar, but not Joe Piscopo familiar. And he belts out in a perfect impersonation of Barbara Streisand: "... People who need people.. Are the luckiest people in the world..."

Another slug of beer. Back to normal voice. "Stops him cold every time."

There was a National Enquirer-worthy scandal percolating at the time about Joe and his former baby sitter, and he said that, yeah, he understood why people were mad at him. But, he really loved the girl and intended to marry her - when his divorce was final. (We met her later at their engagement party at Spago's in LA and she was/is a knockout!)

The only thing going around that really ticked him off were rumors that his muscular physique was due to steroids. He told us he'd been lifting weights since high school (West Essex High in Jersey - Go Knights!), and that in the early 80's he'd been stricken with a deadly form of Thyroid cancer. Underwent all the treatments, chemotherapy, etc. and was told that even if he was cured, there was a good chance his voice would be ruined forever. And there would go his career.

"Never mind that I hate all drugs," he told us. "But anybody who thinks I'd put steroids in my body, fooling around with the chance of tumors, or whatever, has got to be just fucking crazy, or ignorant, or both."

... I hear somebody doing a bad job of trying to be very quiet moving about the cottage. Whirr of a blender. (Protein shake?) Beat, beat... Front door opens, closes, car engine fires up. Back to sleep. Awakened by the smell of coffee some hours later.

Chris was grumpy and red-eyed, ditto yours truly and Joe's more sensible brother, Rich. Joe, meanwhile, was whizzing about like a hyper active kid. Informing us that he'd already been to the gym, lifted weights, then it was on to a five-mile run in the sand.

He did a couple of impersonations, but stopped when Chris raised a hand. "Do anybody you like," he said. "Andy Fucking Rooney. Barbara God Damned Streisand. Whatever. But if you make with the squeaky-assed voice of Jerry Lewis - hung over though I may be - I will double turkey stomp your Jersey ass and sink your body in some fucking cranberry bog along with the stinking Wise Guys."

"Here, here!" Rich and I chorused.

It had been a long speech for a hungover Chris Bunch, and he staggered to the fridge, got a beer, popped the top and gulped the whole thing. Stood very still for a couple of beats - arms outstretched for balance - while the world revolved around a few times.

When he felt steadier, he said "Okay. You can do Jerry now... if you absolutely, positively feel fucking compelled."

Joe chuckled. "What's the matter, don't you like Jerry Lewis?" he said.

Chris glared. "Let me put it this way," he said. "Anybody the French love, I loathe. And dumb... Jesus... the Froggies are dumb... after all these years living next to the Germans you'd think the French would've learned that if you invite a German for dinner, better set the table for ten thousand."

In a Froggie waiter's voice, Joe said, "Will monsieur require one tank, or two with his café mélange?"

The day commenced with a trip in the Bronco across the Causeway to the Barrens. It was an even more amazing place in the daylight. Impenetrable forest, broken here and there by country lanes, stretches of cranberry bogs, and a whiff of manure coming from some farmer's field off in the distance.

Chris said, "Man, some of these woods look really old. Wouldn't be surprised if a forest buffalo stuck his head out of the bushes. Not how people think of Jersey at all."

Joe, who was driving, said, "We get a bad rap. We're like second class citizens, stuck between two major cities, New York and Philadelphia." Waved an expansive hand at the wilderness, "But look at this, man." Took a big breath of the pine-scented air. "Beautiful. Beautiful. Love to ride my bike here."

Chris perked up. "That's right," he said. "You're into motorcycles." Chuckled. "You and Springsteen. Ought to start your own club - the Jersey Outlaws." He turned to me. "Maybe put the character on a bike," he said. "Make it his main ride."

I glanced around, liking what I was seeing. The twisting road, occasional farm vehicles lumbering along. "We could get a good car versus bike chase out here," I said. "Put it at night, and it could get really scary." I was thinking of sparks shooting out, as our hero's bike leaned into a curve, metal parts grinding against the pavement.

Here and there we happened upon small, wood-framed businesses tucked into the trees and we stopped to visit a few of them. The people were agog that a famous Star had happened among them, and addressed Joe shyly. A few came up to him not just for autographs, but to thank him for the nice things they'd heard him say about his native state in TV, magazine and newspaper interviews.

We lunched at a restaurant next to a country store and the waitress was almost giddy in Joe's presence. But, he was amazingly gracious; the perfect gentleman, coming across as just an average... well, you know... Joe.

The general store sat well off the ground and it was ringed by a big porch, where the old timers hung out in bib overalls, smoking pipes, or spitting tobacco. They eyed us warily, although they clearly recognized Piscopo. They reminded me of taciturn old timers I'd met in remote little villages in Wales.

In other words, they took a bit to warm up. Joe did it gently, buying a few things in the store, then we sat on the steps drinking soft drinks and chatting quietly. When he thought it was time, Joe addressed a few questions at the elderly gentlemen, cracked a few jokes, and pretty soon there were toothless smiles all around and we were made welcome.

One of the men passed us a clay jug of what proved to be home brewed cranberry brandy, and it was amazing stuff. Chris honked some down, eyes tearing up, and he passed it on to me, gasping, "That'll clear the grease."

Off we went again, winding our way back to the island, laughing and joking, a little high on the cranberry brandy. We started talking cars and Joe bragged on his Bronco. His first four-wheel drive vehicle. It soon became apparent that when it came to cars, he was strictly a city boy.

And that became doubly apparent a minute later, when he shouts, "Let's try this baby out!" Whips the wheel over, and charges off the road.

I shout, "Wait, Joe!"

But, he keeps going, bounding into the underbrush. And I mean, bounding. Rich and I were in the back, and the Bronco's springs were more than a little lively and we go bouncing, bouncing, bouncing, and Joe goes faster, the Bronco jerking back and forth, and our heads are being slammed against the roof.

"Fucking stop, Joe!" I shout. "You're gonna kill us!"

Then Chris realized that Joe had sort of lost control, and he reached over and turned the ignition off.

We came to a sudden stop.

"Aw, Jesus," I groaned. Then, to Chris, "Take the keys, Bunch. You fuckin' drive."

Joe was chagrined, as you might imagine. He apologized, but couldn't help but giggle now and then; reminding me of Mr. Toad in Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Finally, he cozened Chris into handing over the keys and he very... gently... eased out of the woods, onto the road again.

All was forgotten, except for the bruise on the crown of my head, and pretty soon we were cruising back along the Causeway onto Long Beach Island.

We poked around here and there, checking out different sites for possible locations. There was a little Marina and we decided on the spot that Joe's character would have an old boat, which he would live on. So, this was really coming along. He was a burned out ex-cop, who drove a motorcycle and lived on a boat. Throw in a love interest and the bad guys and we would have our movie.

Joe said, "I know just the place for the bad guys."

He took us to the back end of the island where there was a huge old house crouched on the dunes overlooking the Atlantic. Joe said that it was a (very expensive) summer rental, and that we could probably get it pretty cheap off season.

The rear entrance of the house was surrounded by tall fences, perfect for our Mr. Big villain to post his thug guards.

"For the big blow off," I said, "you could maybe bring that little boat in at night, swim ashore and rescue the girl."

Joe laughed. "Hey, that's right. Us Leading Men get the girl, don't we?"

"Bang my partner's head on the car roof again," Chris warned, "and you'll have to settle for a nice lady sheep with long eyelashes."

"Remember what I said about who the comedian is around here," Joe admonished him.

"Okay, okay," Chris said. "I get it."

But I made him trade seats with me, just the same, and climbed in next to Joe. Piscopo reversed out of the alley and headed to a sign that said: Beach Access. There was a smaller sign beneath it that I couldn't quite make out.

When we got there, I thought we were going to park, then walk across the dunes to the front of the house.

Instead Joe gave another one of his mad laughs, shouted, "Four Wheel Fucking Drive," and stepped on the gas.

Now, anybody who has ever driven on sand knows that four-wheel drive isn't worth a diddly squat, unless you stop, let some air out of the tires, then proceed on flattened out, sand-gripping tires. It soon became obvious that Joe was not cognizant of this bit of automotive lore, because he continued forward, barreling toward the sand just as I shouted - too late:

"Joe, wait!"

He didn't wait. Kept going, and now I could see the smaller sign, beneath the one that said, Beach Access.

The words flashed by me, something about pedestrians only, and much larger letters reading: $200 Fine For...

And again I made with the, "Joe, wait!"

And he didn't, and now he was moving out on the sand about forty feet or so, waves crashing ahead, and he gives another wild laugh, gooses the accelerator, and suddenly the rear tires start to sink.

Again, with the rules of driving on sand. If you start to sink, stop! Don't accelerate! The faster the wheels turn, the deeper you'll dig in the vehicle.

One final, futile attempt: "Joe, wait!"

But he tromps on the gas and a split second later we were dug all the way down to the crankshaft. Wheels spinning uselessly in the sand.

"Shit!" Joe said.


We piled out of the Bronco. Looked things over.

"Oh, man," Joe said. "We are really stuck!"

We all agreed with his diagnosis. Looked around. Every house on the beach showed nothing but empty windows. Nobody home for miles.

"Okay," Joe said, "we just need to find a phone, you know?" (These were the Neolithic Eighties, when we had barely mastered fire, much less invented cell phones.)

We tromped off the beach, then started investigating the neighborhoods, moving along several streets, all of which presented the same houses with empty windows.

Joe said, "Maybe we should make this a zombie movie." Waved at the spooky houses. "Perfect place for it."

Finally, we saw a house with a kid's bike outside. Hmm. Another good sign: the glow of a TV set reflecting in the window.

As we walked up the steps, Joe said, "Maybe I'd better go first. They'll think we're a bunch of thugs, or something."

He knocked at the door. A minute later, a pretty young woman opened it. She looked at Joe, then at us. A little tentative at first.

Joe said, "Excuse me, ma'am my name is..."

The young lady broke in, eyes going wide. "Oh, my Gosh," she said. "You're Joe Piscopo."

Joe blushed. "Yes, ma'am," he said. "See, we're in sort of a fix. My car's stuck out there on the beach and..."

The woman said, "Come in, come in. Oh, my. Oh, my. Nobody's going to believe this."

We entered and Joe said, "If I could just use your phone, ma'am. We'll get right out of your way."

But, the lady wasn't having any. In a flurry, she told us that (a) she was sorry the house was such a mess. (actually, it was spotless) (b) Her husband wasn't going to believe it when she told him. (He didn't) (c) Her kids were asleep. (They were, but not for long) and (d) Would we like some coffee or something. (Yes, please) And finally, (e) The phone's in the kitchen.

She led us to the kitchen, where we sat around the table, gratefully accepting coffee, while Joe looked up the number of a towing service. There was only one and since this was an offseason weekend, the Yellow Pages said this would be an emergency call. He called. The guy who answered didn't believe it was Piscopo talking, so Joe put the lady on who knew the guy and told him it was okay.

Then the call was done and while Joe joined us over the coffee, the lady phoned her husband. Much excited chatter. Now it was her turn to hand the phone to Joe to swear to hubby that he was who she said he was.

Minutes later, we going out of the house to meet the tow truck. By now, the kids were up and dancing up and down in excitement. As we stood on the front steps, we suddenly started seeing people coming down the street. Whole throngs of them. Cars were coming up, and dumping still more people out.

I whispered to Joe, "Maybe we're actually in that zombie movie!"

The people crowded around Joe, grinning shyly, snapping pictures, shoving scraps of paper and notebooks forward for him to autograph. He was very gracious to one and all. Signing his name. Standing beside people for the pictures. Making jokes about how stupid he was to get himself stuck in the sand.

At one point, he indicated me, and said, "My buddy, there, told me to stop. But I didn't listen."

Then we went down the street, the crowd following us, numbers swelling as we progressed. Joe joked that he didn't know that many lived on the island full time. More laughs. At the Beach Access sign the tow truck was waiting.

A Fat Boy got out. Too-short tee-shirt, belly hanging out. Smiling, but it was one of those avaricious smiles you recognize right away. Like one of those greasy losers from high school, who would just love to stick it to you if they had the chance. And this guy was seeing his chance, in handsome, successful Joe Piscopo, with his adoring crowds, and expensive new Bronco stuck in the sand up to the floorboards.

Turned out he was the only guy in miles with a tow truck built to rescue folks dumb enough to drive - illegally - on the beach. And that'll be three hundred bucks, Joe.

We were startled. Three hundred dollars!?!

Joe shrugged, reached for his wallet, "Okay, I was stupid. Guess I deserve this."

He whipped out a credit card, but Fat Boy shook his head. "Cash," he insisted. "Only take plastic from locals."

"But we're locals," Rich broke in. "Our family has been coming here for years."

Fat Boy chuckled. "Well, I don't know you."

Some of the people came forward. "But, he's Joe Piscopo!"

Fat Boy shrugged. "I hear lots of famous people are broke. Maybe he's broke." Turned back to Piscopo. "Gotta have cash. Upfront."

Joe patted his pockets. Didn't have that much cash on him and it was a long way to the island's sole ATM machine. We all dug in and came up with the necessary. Joe handed it over to the driver, who grinned, climbed into the truck - fat bobbing in a way that reminds you that gelatin is made from the by-products of elderly herd animals.

We were about to follow the truck, when a four-wheel drive black and white police vehicle pushed through the crowd.

I heard Fat Boy shout, "Oh, yeah. Forgot to say. I called the cops."

Joe tried to look good natured about it. He even made with a Cagney impersonation: "This is it, boys. I'm for the Big House."

Laughter from all of us, including the two cops who came strolling over from their vehicle, huge grins on their faces.

Well, they joked with Joe, who joked back. And by the time the Bronco was hauled out of the sand, and he'd signed the ticket for the no-driving-on-the-beach $200 fine, plus gave the cops autographs, the local press had shown up: a young reporter, bearing a camera.

Joe said some amusing, self-depreciating things to the reporter. Let the cops restage the ticketing for the camera, then posed more shots.

And then we were on our way, waving out the window at the nice people of Long Beach Island.

When things had calmed down, Chris, who was not easily impressed, told Joe, "You are a gentleman and a scholar, Joe Piscopo."

For a change, Joe didn't have a comeback. He seemed bewildered by this out of the blue compliment from a guy who was clearly not one to throw around compliments.

Joe said, "What'd I do?"

Chris said, "Everything right, babe. Everything right."




The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 (we've now passed the 150,000 mark) I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort. However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out. Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think? And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!

Told in four parts, Episode Two now appearing in Diaspar Magazine, the best SF&F magazine in South America! And it's free! Here's the link. 
Sten debuta # 1 en español! Narrada en cuatro partes, Episode Dos ahora aparece en la revista Diaspar, la mejor revista de SF & F en América del Sur! 

Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.