Friday, April 29, 2016


When Santa Barbara's finest pulled Asa Allen over on Veronica Springs Road, Santa Barbara, on the evening of May 11th, two years ago, they were in for a shock.

The avocado grower and marijuana dealer, then aged 61, blew a .34 on the breathalyzer.

What amazed police on the scene most was that Allen was still standing.

That's because only a fraction higher, say, a .35, means you should probably be in a coma and may die.

In othe words, Allen was drunk as a skunk; certainly, as drunk as anyone can get and remain conscious.

But that wasn't all.

The police found a loaded firearm in Asa Allen's vehicle.

(In California, a firearm inside a vehicle must be unloaded and locked in a container and ammunition locked in a separate container.)

A source privy to the report filed by police says Allen was also in possession of two large bags of marijuana and $10,000 in cash.

Allen reportedly offered all ten grand to officers on the scene if they would "make this go away."

It didn't go away.

Twelve days later, the DA's office filed charges against Asa Gustav Allen for Driving Under the Influence and Carrying a Loaded Firearm.

More to follow...


Ace, sitting to my left, vents about his girl-friend problems. “I haven’t had sex with her in two years,” he says.

“Not much of a girlfriend,” I comment.

Right now, he says, it’s hard enough just to talk to her.

“She called me, wanted me to come by her house tonight and explain our relationship,” says Ace.

“Then why are you here?”


An organic avocado rancher, Ace used to supply Piatti with avocados and firewood for their pizza oven, and now he does the same for the Wine Bistro, even if they call their pizza flatbread.

“I’ve been delivering since they opened a month ago and still haven’t got paid.”

Ace is a collector: gold nuggets, old guns, slot machines, and vintage americana. 

First time he meets someone new, he drawls, “Got any old guns you want to sell?” and then he pulls from his pocket a couple gold nuggets, lays them on the bar.

“I want one that weighs exactly twenty-one grams,” I tell him.

"You can't afford it," says Ace.  "Nuggets cost a premium of three times the price of gold."

I shrug. “okay.”

He closes one eye. “You checked the price of gold lately? and why twenty-one grams?”

“That’s the weight of your soul,” I say. “Mine, too. It’s the weight of everyone’s soul. When you die, in a split second your body is twenty-one grams lighter.”

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Carpinteria resident Asa Gustav Allen, avocado rancher and marijuana dealer, passed away earlier this month, on April 15th, at the age of 63 under circumstances that remain murky.

Some say the oddball Asa, who went by the nickname Ace, died of a sudden heart attack.  

Others say he drank himself to death.

But all agree that the stress of a DUI conviction stemming from an arrest on 11 May 2014 contributed heavily to whatever took Allen's life.

There has been no obituary in the newspapers and, as far as we understand, no funeral notice or memorial service.

Only a Petition for Probate filed in Santa Barbara Superior Court (on April 20th) that is as odd as Asa Allen himself.

More to follow...

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Four years ago this Saturday, Rylan Robert Boyle was born.

And his cousin and best friend Oliver is three months behind him.

Thursday, December 24, 2015


A Christmas present from Thomas Van Stein.

Excerpted from Surreal Bounce:

October 2001

I want to mark the passing of another year with my best friends around me, at Lucky’s, an aroma of seasoned pine as Montecito nights grow chilly.  

We lounge on the front patio beneath a pair of palm trees, smoking Cohibas, sipping martinis.

“So what do you do?” Van Stein asks Reek Pisserin.

The Englishman hems and haws.  Finally he comes clean.  “I’m a private eye.”

“I knew it!” Van Stein howls.  “You’re all spooks.”  He looks around, lowers his voice.  “Sorry.  But what are you doing here?

I wink at Floater and puff my cigar.  “We didn’t want to get into it so soon.  But you brought it up, so here goes.  We’re here to recruit you.”

Van Stein is chewing an olive; a sliver of red pimento dangles from his lower lip before he slurps it in, better than spitting it across the table, like last time.  “For what?”

“An assignment.”

“What kind of assignment?”

“We need you to paint a nude woman playing a violin.”

“What woman?”

“Doesn’t matter.  Young. Good-looking. Nice figure—you do figurative work, don’t you?  And playing a violin.”


“After we visit the Lights of Marfa.”

“The what?”

“You don’t know about the lights?”

Van Stein shakes his head.

“They appear out of nowhere,” I say.  “Dancing lights, in the west Texas desert.  Near Marfa.   Perfect for a nocturnal artist such as yourself.”

Van Stein pulls out a stick of dry vegetation.  “We need to celebrate.”

“Are we supposed to smoke that?” I ask.

Floater looks around nervously.

“Nope,” says Van Stein.  “It’s supposed to smoke you.”

“Excuse me?”  Reek Pisserin, jet-lagged, isn’t sure he heard right.

Me, too, for that matter.

“It’s sage,” says Van Stein, as if that should settle it.

“You’re going to cook ravioli with cream sauce?” asks Floater.

“No.  The Chumash use it for purification.”

“Who?” I ask.

“Purify what?” asks Reek Pisserin.

“The Chumash are our local Native Americans,” Van Stein lectures.  “They were here—in Santa Barbara—before anyone else.  There’s a lot of ancient stuff going on around this area. They used sage to purify their souls, by smudging it on themselves.”
Van Stein lights a match and begins burning his dry vegetation, which he waves around, then purifies each of us, one by one, right ankle, up the leg, thigh, torso and shoulder, over the head, then down the other side, sage smoke filling the air around us.  After snuffing the flame, he smudges our foreheads with ash.

We depart Lucky‘s before they insist upon it, shift our party westward to downtown Santa Barbara, the Palace Grill, to re-commence our communal brain-oiling with a quart of Cajun martinis “for the table.”

Friday, November 27, 2015


I opened my eyes feeling somewhat serene—and immediately faced my old friend, Eddie the bartender, in Wonder Bar, Asbury Park, New Jersey.

He looked at me with sore eyes, flicking them back and forth between a person to my left and myself.

I turned.  “Whoa!  You’re really here!”

Jesus looked around Wonder Bar in, well, wonderment.

The bartender shook his head crossly at me.  “You can’t bring him in here!”

“Are you kidding?” I said with incredulity.  “Do you know who He is?”

“Doesn’t matter.  I’m under strict instructions not to allow homeless people in this bar, under any circumstances.  I’ll lose my job, boss.”

"But... but He's mot homeless.  He's..."

The bartender cut me off.  “Where do you live?” he demanded of the figure.

“Wherever the will of God takes me.”

The bartender glared at me.  “Ya see?”

“Go ahead, “I said to the figure.  “Introduce yourself.”

“I don’t have time for this!” snapped the bartender.  “Okay, I give up, who the hell are you?”  

“I am Jesus of Nazareth.”

The bartender rolled his eyes.  “Okay, Jesus—time to go.”

“But He really is,” I said.  “I just brought Him back with me.”

“Oh, really?  From where?”

"The Last Supper."

“I give up.”  Eddie turned to grab something and plunked a pitcher onto the bar.  “If you’re really Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, turn this water into wine for me.”  He poured water into a glass set it before the bearded figure.

Jesus closed his eyes and moved his lips in prayer.  He opened his eyes and nodded.

The bartender put the glass to his lips, sipped.  “Water.”

The figure shrugged.  “I guess I’m a little rusty.”

“That’s good.”  The bartender snickered.  “A little rusty.  You could do stand-up, man.  The ocean’s that way.”  He pointed with his thumb.  “So please leave quietly and go walk on it.”

A minute later, Jesus and I stood on the corner of Fifth and Ocean. It was just past three in the morning.  He plucked a shot glass from his robe.

“You took that?” I said.

The figure nodded.  “I always said I’d arrive like a thief in the night.”  He looked up.  “Thank you, Father.”

I looked up and saw a moon face with a toothy smile, a cross between Howdy Doody, blue eyes and high arched eyebrows, and Alfalfa—the middle-part haircut—from The Little Rascals. 

“I’d like to take you to meet Dr. Stendahl, my psychiatrist.” I said.

“You think I’m crazy?” said the figure.

“No.  He thinks I’m crazy.”

“What do you think?”

“I’m not sure what to think anymore.”

“Do you believe you are real?”

I looked down at my feet, checked the palms of my hands and held them to my face, not unlike Bizarro in The Scream.  “Yes.”

“Do you believe that what you have done is real?”

“Should I?”

“Without you, I would not have arrived here."

“Does that make me sane?”

“Maybe, maybe not.  There are principles of the universe we are not clever enough to understand.  You should look at this—you bringing me here—as a miracle that cannot be explained.”

“But what if you’re not real?” I said.

“What if you’re not real,” He replied, “but just a character in a book that’s supposed to guide me to my Second Coming?”

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


I shook my head.  “Your proverbs, your parables your prayers—they work to your advantage right now, among your crowd, the apostles—and, I can tell you, your wisdom endures for very many centuries, at least twenty—and you are one of the most enduring figures in human history.  But if you showed up in my time, as promised, I don’t know if your wisdom and spirituality would cut it.”  I paused, considering this, spawning a new idea.  “Why don’t you come back with me?  Save yourself from the horrible death planned for you, return with me to my time.”

Judas, nearby, stirred.  He wanted his thirty pieces of silver.

“I must accept my fate,” said Jesus.

"What are you, some kind of masochist?"

“No.”  Jesus drilled his eyes into mine.  “I had a vision of your arrival.  I cannot allow you to change history.  I know what we must do.”

The apostles twitched with excitement.

“But we will do this after my crucifixion,” said Jesus.  “So if you don’t mind, I have a Eucharist to conduct.”

When Jesus was done with His last supper and His Eucharist, I watched His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane; I watched as Judas betrayed Him with a kiss, and then as one of His disciples drew a sword and cut off the ear of one of the Romans on hand to arrest Him.  

It reminded me of when Paul Gauguin severed Vincent van Gogh’s earlobe.

Jesus turned on his disciple and rebuked him for violence.  “All who live by the sword shall die by the sword.”

And I watched Jesus led away.

The next thing I recall was Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate, who adjudicated the matter.  

Pontius announced that Jesus had done nothing wrong and was innocent of all charges brought against Him—and then condemned Him to death by crucifixion.

Next thing, I looked up and saw Jesus nailed on the crucifix, a crown of thorns upon His head to mock His claims.  

The sky began to darken, and the earth rumbled, as if experiencing an earthquake.

A voice instructed me to look down.  I did, and saw a silver cross about four inches long on the ground beside me.

“Pick it up,” the voice instructed.  “All twenty-one grams of me.”

I did so.

“Put me in your pocket,” said the voice

“You were declared innocent,” I said.  “So why did you get the death penalty?”

“People in authority don’t like to be challenged,” replied the voice.  “Church and state prefer status quo hypocrisy—it’s more comfortable for them.  Plus politicians always play to a crowd.  Ready?  Let’s get on with power and glory.”

Monday, November 23, 2015


And suddenly I was there, facing Jesus Christ.

He looked up, startled.  “Do you come in need of food?” He asked.

I stood speechless, not knowing what to say to one of the world’s most famous personages of all time.  I shook my head.

“Do you carry a message?”

I shook my head.

“What is the reason for your presence among us?”

“Why?” I asked.  


“Yes, why?  Why did God the Almighty create a world so full of pain and suffering?  A world where great artists—the angels of universe—are scorned and humiliated and live in poverty?  A world in which a young innocent girl can die alone from sickness?”

The apostles hushed to silence.

Jesus finally spoke.  “You’re asking me?  I’m about to be betrayed and as a consequence will suffer the most excruciating death.”

“And why is that so?”

“I must die for the sins of humankind.”

“But why?”

“So that we can be forgiven and go with the Lord.”

“Forgiven for what?  Pinkie never sinned.”

“We all sin.”

“So why did the Lord create a world of sinners?”

“He wanted friends,” replied Jesus.

“Well, I didn’t ask to be born.”

“No one does.”

“Exactly,” I said.  “No one asks to be born.  Yet here we are.  We get pushed out into the world and, if we’re lucky—and I mean the luckiest of the lucky—we’re born into a good family with shelter and food on the table.  Yet as soon as we’re a few years old, we’re forced into school, where we have to listen to boring teachers yak their heads off all day about boring stuff we don’t really need to know and we’ll never use.  And then…”

“Pardon me, if you will,” said Jesus.  “But this is supposed to be my last supper.  There isn’t exactly a lot to eat here.  And someone…” Jesus cast an irritated glance to his right… “Someone forgot the wine.”

“And then,” I continued, “When you’re eighteen, you’re pushed out the door and told you have to toil eight hours a day doing hard labor or mindless stuff, ordered around by lunk-heads, just so you can afford someplace to sleep and food to eat.  I mean, who asked for this?  And most people feast on the flesh of animals.  Living beings!  With real feelings!  And real nerve endings!  And these living creatures—God’s creatures—are bred in horrible conditions and slaughtered and sold to everyone as food.  And if that isn’t enough, human history is a wreckage of brutality and murder on a widespread scale.  Constant wars!  Constant suffering!  Humankind is like an army of germs killing the very organism on which they live.  They consume without replacing and they scatter their poisonous waste, suffocating the earth—just like cancer does to a healthy cell.

“And if you’re lucky, you grow old.  But what good is that?  You lose your ability to do things, to think properly.  Your loved ones cast you out to become someone else’s problem—people paid to humor you, only you don’t think anything is funny anymore.  And then maybe you get sick, cancer, and you suffer, in terrible pain.  

“God could not have created mankind, certainly not in his image, unless he is the devil.  So whose child are you really?”

All eyes of the apostles turned to Jesus in shock and great anticipation.

“Are you finished?” he asked.

“No,” I said.  “The only thing we have going for us is love.”

"Exactly..." said Jesus.

“But here’s what happens:  We fall hopelessly, desperately, obsessively in love—and most of the time the objects of our love and desire do not feel the same way, cannot reciprocate our feelings.  Or they do, but only for a little while, before they lie and cheat and break our hearts.  But let’s say two people find true romantic love.  This is a physical and chemical reaction in the body that releases endorphins and makes us feel good.  But it wears out!  It’s short term!  Studies have shown that love has a shelf life of between fifteen and thirty months.  After that, it’s more about patience and tolerance than genuine love. And though we con ourselves into believing otherwise, it’s always the same.

“And here I am, in love with a girl in a painting from over two centuries before my time, tortured by her image because her family shipped her out from Jamaica, where she was born and which she loved and longed for, shipped her to England, where she caught whooping cough because London back then was dirty and disease-ridden, and there she dies alone at the age of twelve.

“Why her, Father of Heaven and Earth?  Why Pinkie?   And why must I suffer this, this absurd situation?”

“Why not?” said Jesus.  “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

I shook my head.  “Your proverbs, your parables, your prayers—they work to your advantage right now, among your crowd, the apostles—and, I can tell you, your wisdom endures for very many centuries, at least twenty—and you are one of the most revered and enduring figures in human history.  But if you showed up in my time, as promised, I don’t know if your wisdom and spirituality would cut it.”  I paused, considering this, spawning a new idea.  “Why don’t you come back with me?  Save yourself from the horrible death planned for you, return with me to my time.”

Judas, nearby, stirred.  He wanted his thirty pieces of silver.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


I packed my bags and flew to Milan, Italy, and bee-lined to the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie.  

This was where Leonardo da Vinci, in the 1490s, painted his famed mural on a dining hall wall.  

I entered the church and lit three candles—one for Fou-rou, one for Bizarro and the third for Pinkie.  (I’m not religious, but I believe in respecting the traditions of others when inside their homes.)

And then I approached the twenty-nine foot wide mural.

I ‘d learned from my past encounters with paintings to focus on swirls or texture or eyes.  And so it was with The Last Supper.

Within a couple of minutes I found a rhythm based on the trinity: 

At the table, disciples are bunched in groups of three; and there are three windows behind Jesus.  

Christ, himself, is shaped like a triangle, draped in blue and orange, Van Gogh’s favorite colors, looking down at the open palm of His outstretched hand.  

In DaVinci’s depiction, Jesus has just announced that one of the apostles would betray him; He looks sad and resigned to his fate.

I felt my heart accelerate into a rapid beat as giddiness consumed me.

And suddenly I was there, facing Jesus Christ.

He looked up, startled.  “Do you come in need of food?” He asked.

I stood speechless, not knowing what to say to one of the world’s most famous personages of all time.  I shook my head.

“Do you carry a message?”

I shook my head.

“What is the reason for your presence among us?”

“Why?” I asked.  


“Yes, why?  Why did God the Almighty create a world so full of pain and suffering?  A world where great artists—the angels of universe—are scorned and humiliated and live in poverty?  A world in which a young innocent girl can die alone from sickness?”

The apostles hushed to silence.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


“Where are we?” I asked this strange man from The Scream.



“Near Kristiana.”


“You catch on quick.”


“September, of course.  You can tell by the blood red sunset, no?”

"I mean, what year?"

“Eighteen ninety-two.”

For a mad moment I thought it might be 1794 and I could make a run for England, and Pinkie.

Bizarro studied me.  “Have you come to take me away from this misery?”


“Pity.  Perhaps this calls for a drink.”

In a blur, we suddenly appeared at a corner table in a large bar.

“Where are we now?” I asked.

“The Grand Hotel, Kristiana.  This is where I used to drink with my bohemian buddies, the anarchists and nihilists.  This was our headquarters.”  He looked up at a hovering waiter.  “Whiskey and soda for two,” he said, waving him away, reverting to me.  “My ideas as an artist were developed right here, with my friend Hans Jaeger, borne out of the great Russian thinkers.  This is where we wrote our Nine Commandments, on a paper napkin.  The first was Thou shalt write thy life.  This is what I do.  I write my life in paintings—the Frieze of Life, I call it.  The ninth commandment was Thou shalt kill thyself.”  

Bizarro turned introspective.  “Hans drove his closest disciple, Johan Fleischer, to his suicide—and wanted me to replace him.  He’d sit where you’re sitting now—this very table—raise his whiskey and soda and say, ‘Metaphysics or suicide.’  We used to have drinks before breakfast just to sober up.  Later we drank to get back into a stupor.  I’d sit here barely able to think, trying to get rid of a worm gnawing at my heart, and I thought I was going mad.  Screaming saved me.  So…” Bizarro studied me.  “Suicide or scream?”

“Right here?” I looked around the large cafĂ©-bar, at all the people drinking around us.  

Bizarro nodded.  “Here—and now.”

From my midsection I felt it coming on.  I opened my mouth wide to let it out—a high-pitched howl, a terrible shriek that continued until my lungs were completely empty.  I gasped to fill them with air, and opened my eyes.

A bar full of patrons stood watching me in wonderment.

Behind the bar, a person I recognized shook his head.  “Do I need to call an ambulance?” asked Eddie the bartender.  “Like last time?” 

I looked around, mortified.

Wonder Bar.  Asbury Park, New Jersey.

“Uh, no,” I mumbled, embarrassed.  “Sorry.”

The young patrons returned to their conversations, all titters, giggles and whispers.

The bartender leaned in.  “Are you all right, boss?”

I nodded.  “Actually, I am.”  I considered this.  “You should try it sometime.”

“Try what?”

“The scream.”

“Did you ever find Pinkie?”

“What do you know about Pinkie?” I demanded.

“Your last visit, boss, before the ambulance arrived, you were really upset and crying about Pinkie.  You kept saying over and over that you loved her and lost her.”

“Just a painting.”  

“Next thing, we all had to get vaccinated for whooping cough.”

I looked up and down the bar.  “Why do you suppose I keep coming back here?”

Eddie shrugged.  “Asbury Park is making a comeback:  This place, and Tim McCloone’s Supper Club.  I was there last night…”

Last night, supper club…

Eddie the bartender’s words juxtaposed in my brain, synapsing by neurotransmitter into a new phrase…

The Last Supper.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


On a piece of blank paper I had scribbled Pinkie so many times—handwritten, printed large, and small—that there was almost no white space left on the page.

I turned it over to start again, but instead wrote my feelings:  Despair, melancholy, anxiety.  

This prompted a new thought:  I entered all three words into Google and searched images.

There, before my eyes on the computer screen, I saw the embodiment of how I felt:  

The Scream by Edvard Munch:  A lost soul holding his head in his hands beneath a blood red sky, delivering a primal scream.

I Googled The Scream and found a better, larger image of the iconic painting.  It filled my screen in such detail I could discern it had been painted with pastels.  

The longer I studied it, the more caught up I became in its swirls, until my eyes got stuck in the center of the painting, above the screaming figure, just below the sky, a puddle of sunlight surrounded by darkness.  My broken heart pounded.

What is the poor fellow screaming about?

“Existence,” said a voice.

I blinked.  And when I opened my eyes I stood before the painting’s ghostly figure, which looked like something akin to an alien from outer space.  His arms now rested at his sides and his mouth had closed.

The tall dark figures on the left of the painting slowly trudged off in the other direction.

“I thought maybe you were screaming about them?”  I said.


“Those men in black, coming for you.”

The figure shook his head.  “No.  I was actually walking with them.  But I could not go on.”

“Why not?”

“I’m tired.  And I had this strange feeling that nature was screaming at me.  So I screamed back.”

“That’s how I feel,” I said.  “Who are you?”

“They call me Bizarro,” he replied.


“Because of my paintings.  I do not paint women knitting or men reading.  I paint real people who feel, suffer and love.  Also, my paintings look unfinished, but this is deliberate.”

“You are the artist?”

He nodded.  “You can hear the screams, no?”  He pointed at the hillside to the right of a body of water.

I strained my ear.  “Yes,” I said, quite amazed.  I heard grotesque screams, barely audible.  “What are they?”

“Two separate places,” he said.  “One, a slaughterhouse.  This is where they send moose and reindeer and sheep to be butchered for food.  The animals smell death, and they scream before it is their turn.   Two, Gaustad.  A hospital for insane women.”  He paused.  “My sister, Laura, was there.”  He lowered his voice to a whisper.  “Schizophrenia.  People think I am mad, too.  And perhaps I am.  For certain, I am almost mad.  But I feel better now, after screaming.  The walls are down, the floors are up, and only the chimney remains.”

“That’s how I feel.”

“Have you screamed?”


“You might try it.  But first you must be stretched to the limit, a breaking point.  And then.  Shrik!  He did it again:  A loud piercing cry that vibrated my bones to the marrow.  “You feel?” he asked.

I nodded, trembling.

“I paint the secret life of the soul—and the suffering of sickness and death and poverty.  And sometimes I just need to scream—to let it all out.”