M Bar is in a strip mall, crammed like a dark little hole into an enormous two-story, L-shaped concrete monstrosity in the New Jersey section of Hollywood, at the corner of Vine and Fountain. It has a Jewish deli, a Thai takeout place, an Italian takeout place, a Mexican takeout place, a ramen/Japanese takeout place, a panini/tapas takeout place, a Cuban takeout place, a European-food takeout place, not to mention a travel agency, a hardware store, a convenience store and several more businesses, including a place with the words A-1 Therapy written on the door in a font only slightly more professional looking than masking tape.
Last Friday night, from the tiny stage of M Bar, a 75-year-old man wearing a dirty red satin baseball jacket, a black T-shirt emblazoned with a pot leaf the size of a spinning boomerang and hair like steel wool said to his audience, “I’d like to end on a note of hope, since I talked about a lot of negative stuff tonight.”
He then went on to discuss the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and how it had recently been moved from seven minutes before midnight to five minutes before midnight, midnight being the end of the world.
“The good news,” he said, “is that scientists are people just like the rest of us, and they’re probably just as neurotic as we are, so they probably set the clock to be 10 minutes fast — so it’s really only a quarter of.”
The room went crazy with applause and then everybody went outside to have their cars retrieved by the strip mall’s valet service. I stayed inside to watch person after person thank the man, Paul Krassner, for his performance — and his whole life.
Who the fuck is Paul Krassner?
When Jack Weinberg said, in 1965, “ . . . we don’t trust anybody over 30,” Krassner was 33, an old, old man. But with the gargantuan reputation of his magazine, The Realist, the flagship publication of the radical left at the time, perhaps of all time, and indispensable rag to the hemorrhaging bleeding heart of the Vietnam War–addled counterculture, Krassner was definitely an exception to the new adage. He established himself as the Walter Cronkite of the underground press and was considered the most trusted investigative satirist working in Amockrica.
“The irony is that I’ve always tried to uphold the virtues of the Constitution and I never took an oath to do it, while [the politicians I target] did take an oath, and they’re the ones trying to destroy the Constitution,” he said over lunch in Santa Monica, six hours before his M Bar appearance. With the passing of so many of his contemporaries — Timothy Leary, Lenny Bruce, Ken Kesey, Terry Southern, Hunter S. Thompson, Allen Ginsberg and, most notably, his fellow cofounders of the Youth International Party (Yippies) and Chicago Seven co-conspirators Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin (the Mork and Mindy of the ’60s, according to John Lennon) — it’s amazing that Krassner has not only survived but still seems to give a shit about everything.
How does he do it?
“Simple,” he said. “I’ve never taken any legal drugs.”
Having left Los Angeles nearly seven years ago for Desert Hot Springs, a hundred miles away, he was only in town to do the one-nighter at M Bar.
“I’ve never played a strip mall before,” he said. “I played the Brentwood Bakery once and anybody who came got a free pastry.”
Later, standing onstage under the spotlight, a mere 40 feet from A-1 Therapy, Krassner talked about his new home.
“Desert Hot Springs is not like L.A.,” he said. Every clerk at every retail shop he patronizes in his new hometown never fails to remind him at the conclusion of every business transaction, “Have a nice day!”
Have a nice day! Have a nice day! Have a nice day! It follows him everywhere.
“Just on the way over here tonight,” he said, re-capping an Arrowhead that he’d just taken a swig from, “I bought this bottle of water from a girl who was sitting behind a cash register looking really sullen. I figured that here was my chance to, you know, make her feel good with everything that I learned in [Desert Hot Springs]. So after I paid for the water, I looked at her and I said gleefully, ‘Aren’t you going to tell me to have a nice day?’
“?‘It’s on the fucking receipt!’ she said.”
The story gave him the biggest smile I’d seen on his face all day.