We love it when baby boomers blossom. And so it is with Mike Petrie, who has reinvented himself a few times. Which is precisely what he writes about in his new book, You’re The Only One I Can Trust. Mike has twice won the Erle Stanley Gardner Mystery Writing award. So we’re pleased to present this excerpt from his murder mystery with a boomer background of California Dreamin’!
Uncle Jack was, I suppose, the miscreant black sheep of our family. Standing out amongst all my uptight, conservative, hard-working, ambitious, God-fearing relatives, Uncle Jack shone brightly like some blighted beacon of bohemian unconventionality. Already well over thirty when the whole “hippie thing” was going on back in the late 1960s, Uncle Jack moved from our deeply-rooted hometown in Illinois toCalifornia, where he embraced that youth subculture anyway—in spite of the “don’t trust anyone over thirty” Zeitgeist dogma— shunning the mainstream, growing long hair and beard and “going with the flow” of the counter-revolutionaries. The family dismissed him as a crackpot, but I always admired him.
After graduatingfrom high school, much to my amazement my parents consented to letting me spend the summer with Uncle Jack, for what I’m sure they presumed would be the last few idle months of my life before starting college and advancing into the work world.
That summer of 1971 was a summer right out of any teenage boy’s fantasy. Two months of living on the beach in sunny Southern California! Uncle Jack taught me to surf the small but consistent wave breaks right in front of his house at Venice Beach. By then Uncle Jack would have been in his late forties, but you would never know it; he could surf with the best of them, bike ride along the beach bike path for several hours, and still manage to party long after we watched the sun sizzle into the Pacific right out our front window. He was more like an older brother than an uncle—certainly not at all like someone from my parents’ generation.
We would sit on the front deck of the little beach cottage, day after sunshiny day, listening to rock music and flirting with bikini-clad beach bunnies as they cruised past our door on roller skates along the paved path that parallels the ocean for some twenty miles.
So many of the local colorful characters for which Venice Beach is known were among Uncle Jack’s coterie of beach buddies and often stopped by to visit, each with their ownunique tales to share. Blond blues singer, Ricki Lee Jones, was a struggling artist in those days, frequently venting her frustrations with the music business on my patient uncle. Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson sat at breakfast with us one morning after surfing with Uncle Jack and told me about the frenetic “early days” with his famous band. Everything and everybody at the beach just seemed so damned exciting!
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Sadly, The Doorssinger Jim Morrison died that very summer. Uncle Jack sat up all night embracing a whiskey bottle— something that was actually rather out of character for my uncle— mourning the passing of the Lizard King, a man he called friend. “Jim lived just a bit down the beach, but often he’d crash right here,” I vividly recall my uncle saying, pointing a finger in my direction for emphasis and speaking with slurred words from grief and whiskey. “He’d just wander in, grab a beer from the fridge and crap out on that very sofa you’re sitting on. Jim often said ‘No one gets out of this world alive,’ guess he’s proven himself correct. I hope he won’t be remembered as just another fallen rock star,” my uncle lamented. “He was one of the warmest, most human persons you could ever know.”
I enrolled at Berkeley that fall and spent the next four summers with Uncle Jack at the Venice Beach house on Ocean Front Walk. College life was hard work, but fun. Summers were outrageous! Uncle Jack was always there waiting for me to drive down from school. Suntanned and trim, he never seemed to age. I jokingly told him that one day I would be a stooped old man and he would still be surfing the ocean out front of his beach house. He told me that old is more a state of mind than a physical reality and I think he truly believed that. Often he would say things like, “Time, my dear nephew, is merely an illusion perpetrated by the inane manufacturers of space.” Then he would laugh a hearty chortle. He was frequently spouting off one-liners like that, and I seldom understood their profundity, but always listened and laughed merrily along with Uncle Jack.
I loved my UncleJack and I loved the summers spent with him in that little beach shack morethan anything. But, in the summer of 1976 Uncle Jack took off to sailaround the world on a sailboat with some friends — a voyage that would take several years. For me, the fun times were over. Stanford Law School, studying for the bar exam and grueling hours spent working at the practice of law consumed my life. Offers arrived in the mail over the years from Uncle Jack, asking me to join him on his sailing voyages — but I was far too busy. I had become too grown-up to play with Uncle Jack anymore.