The tall, skinny, ugly man

I'd set up my stand on the Ave, sold a few fish, and there were no Christians preaching, so it looked like a good or at least an ordinary day. Until I noticed the same tall, kinda skinny, kinda funny-looking guy I'd spotted a few weeks ago (5/26).

This time he wasn't wearing the baseball cap, but he has a distinctively ugly face, a face you'd remember, more memorable for me because the last time he'd hung around on Telegraph he'd trailed me all the way back to San Francisco, gotten off at the same station as me, rode the same escalator up, and followed me across the street before I shook him off.

Ever since, I've wondered if it had been my imagination, and then today he was leaning on a wall on Telegraph again. His pointed his head in various directions, didn't openly stare, but it felt like he was watching me. That's unlikely, right? Impossible. So I sat and sold fish, keeping an eye on that man who seemed to be keeping an eye on me.

In the mid-afternoon, I asked Umberto to watch my table, and headed for the basement boy's room in a tavern across the street, where they don't mind vendors peeing.

My route would take me past my watcher, and I was going to stop and talk to him, introduce myself, make a snide remark, and see what he'd say. After I'd crossed the street, though, he was gone from where he'd been leaning for half an hour. When I came back to my table, he was still gone.

He stayed gone for the rest of the afternoon, and it was a relief. It's all only been in my head, I figured, as I packed my cart and said good night to Umberto and a few other vendors I don't hate.

Rolled the cart to Jay's house, locked it up, then walked to the BART station, where that same man was sitting on the subway platform, reading a newspaper.

My heart leapt, my spirits dove, and I was suddenly certain none of this has been my imagination. From across the platform, I waved at the man, and shouted a friendly, "Hey, fucker!" I wanted him to know I'd seen him. He didn't respond.

We got onto the same westbound train, but in different cars. I wasn't sure what to do. I enjoy watching spy movies but never wanted to be in one.

A natural-born coward, I decided to put distance between us, and as the train rolled along I stepped through the doors into the next car, and then the next, further from my possible/probable pursuer. 

At MacArthur station, I transferred to a San Francisco-bound BART, and didn't see him step aboard, but he was on the train. I knew it. Exactly the same thing had happened two weeks ago. Exactly the same everything, actually.

For safety's sake, I did something different — rode past my station, all the way to Glen Park. I got off but stayed on the platform, scanning the crowd for the tall, skinny, ugly man, but he wasn't there. I boarded the next eastbound train, and stepped off at the station near my hotel. Didn't see him, and I did spend some time looking.

I rode the escalator up, and decided to walk away from my hotel, not toward it. Crossed the street and walked further from home, waited, then walked all the way around the block until I was back above the subway station. Still didn't see the guy, but I wasn't feeling good about not seeing him. It was all way too much, coincidence after coincidence.

It didn't seem wise to walk home, so I stepped into the cutaway entrance for a shop that was closed, and stood in the shadows. I hadn't even seen him coming, but almost immediately, the tall, skinny, ugly man walked briskly by, looking into the distance instead of seeing me in the cutaway, right beside him.

"Hey, motherfucker," I said softly, and he jumped but stopped. "Why are you following me?"

He slowly turned, found me in the shadows, and said, "I'm not following you, mister," but damn, he looked flustered.

"Bullshit. You're following me, and I want to know why." He didn't answer, and the situation started to overwhelm me.

Ever wondered what you're capable of, under the right or wrong circumstance? I've wondered. I was wishing my switchblade was with me, but it wasn't. I had my mace, though, and fingered its safety latch in my pants pocket.

"Look, asshole," I said to his silence, "the longer you stand there and say nothing, the rougher this is gonna go."

And still I was thinking it might be a big fat misunderstanding. Maybe I've been mistaken about all of it, today and two weeks ago. Maybe the man lives in my neighborhood, and he's headed home. Maybe this, maybe that. I wanted him to convince me I'd been wrong.

"I just," he paused and swallowed hard. "I just like your zine…" and I didn't even hear the rest of whatever he said.

I'd thought he was a cop or a pervert or simply a nutcase, but hadn't seriously considered that he might be yet another reader trying to get past the paper-and-mail wall, to meet me in the flesh. It's happened several times, and I hate it, but it's never happened like this before.

"You like my zine," I said, slow and angry. "Why didn't you say hello on Telegraph, like the other nutzoids?"

"You don't like it when people say hi on Telegraph."

"I don't like it when people follow me, either!"

My mind was whirling ahead of itself, stumbling around, falling flat on its face, trying to understand.

Is this John Bennett, I wondered — the jerk who used call-return to find me at the hotel's pay phone? (5/6)

Is he Mr Previn, the man who'd offered me a gig, but been a no-show when we were supposed to meet? (5/29).

Is he Mr Urgent, the caller who's called a dozen times to hire me, but won't say what for? (6/3)

Maybe he's some goofball whose zine got a bad review in Pathetic Life, and he's looking for bloody revenge?

So many possibilities, none of them good.

And another thought — this man had followed me home from Telegraph Ave, but on my way to the BART station, I always stop at Jay's house to lock up the fish cart. So this fucker might know where I live, but he definitely knows where she lives. I'll have to call her, and tell her to be paranoid and scared and worried, just like me.

"What's your name?" I demanded like a cop.

"Lance Collier." His eyes were reddening, like he was about to cry. Well, boo hoo, butt-head. 

"Give me your wallet."


I let the question hang there. It didn't deserve an answer. "Give me your wallet, you fuck, or you get a face full of mace."

He reached into his pocket, handed me his wallet, and I opened it and found his driver's license: "Lance William Collier," I said, and he smiled like we were pals.

"Sit down, Lance." He hesitated, so I pointed at the concrete base of the vestibule I was still standing in. He stepped over, put his back to the wall, and slid down until his butt was on the ground.

I pulled my notebook from my backpack, and wrote down his name, address, and license number, then put the license back in his wallet, and dropped it on his head. 

"Tell me, Lance Collier — are you sane?"

"Yes," he said, "I'm sane." He glanced embarrassedly at a few people passing by, and I can only wonder what they were wondering.

"Why are you following me?"

"I don't know," he said. "I— I just wanted to see where you live." Thoughts of John Lennon flashed across my mind.

"You are so far out of line, I ought to mace you just on principle."

He said nothing.

"And what were you going to do after you'd followed me home?"

"Well, nothing," he pleaded. "I'm not some stalker."

I gave that a single fake, exaggerated "Ha! You're not? Man, you do what stalkers do. You followed me from Telegraph, twice — hell, maybe more than twice. Twice that I've noticed. If that's not stalking me, what do you call it?"

"I'm sorry," he mumbled, and I sometimes call myself pathetic, but this guy really was. He was shaking, maybe starting to cry, rubbing his watery nose with his shirt sleeve. "Can I go now?"

It took a few seconds to think what to say. "You're not under arrest. You can leave any time you like." But I was standing over him, and the angle was perfect for giving him a hard kick to the nuts.

"Sorry," he said again, as if that mattered. He put his hands on the cement to start hoisting himself up.

"There's just one thing," I said, and he stopped mid-hoist. "I have your name and address, which I'll be sharing with a few friends of mine. Just know… you fuckin' schmuck… that if I see you again, ever, or if anything unlucky happens...  to me, or to anyone I know, there's not gonna be a knock at your door. You won't know what's coming."

"Jeez, I said I'm sorry," he said.

"But I haven't said all is forgiven, and it's not. Something to remember, Lance Collier — if there's a next time, I won't just be standing here, talking. If there's a next time, I will kill you."

"I said I'm sorry!" he said, now standing up.

"And I said I will kill you. So, do we understand each other?"


"Goodbye forever, Lance Collier."

He said "I'm sorry" for the enth time, promised he wouldn't bother me again, and then he walked off toward the subway station.

I stood where I was, and watched until he went down the stairs. Then I crossed the street and went into Western Donuts, bought two glazed and a big cup of coffee, and decided this would be the last entry in my diary/zine.

T H E     E N D

From Pathetic Life #25
Sunday, June 9, 1996

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.


  1. I remember this. I wasn't in SF yet, but was planning the trip.

    1. I remember it too...

      It occurs to me, when you got to SF, you should've dropped in on me unexpectedly on Telegraph — ha!

    2. Ha, you don't rememer. I did, or I tried to. But I couldn't find you. So I went to the roach hotel, and you had taken the day off from fishmongering to wait for me there.

    3. Hell, I don't remember that at all. I don't remember anything. Who are you again?

      Tell me I took you to El Castellito.

    4. Oh yeah. My first SF meal. Despite your boosting of the burrito, I had a plate of chicken nachos. It was fucking huge, full of chicken, and is still to this day the best nachos I have ever had.

      I later had the burrito, obviously, many times, but it was not my favorite. That would be Chavita's on 26th and Mission, across from the old Palace Family Steak house, below where Shawna and I lived for a bit.

    5. I remember your place near Cesar Chavez — cool old-time elevator — and I remember the steakhouse, but I don't think I ever ate at Chavita's.

      Frisco has so many great taquerias, I think the very best one is whichever is closest to wherever you live. For me, El Castillito was down a flight of stairs, then two doors to the right. It led to a lasting relationship.

    6. Looks really divey, especially with the bars on the windows. Looks perfect, actually. Who wants to eat anyplace where they waste money and hike the prices for 'ambiance'?

      Fuck ambiance. I want a burrito.

  2. The dream is over, man.

    Now what?

    #26 -- on paper!

    1. Actually, it would be interesting to start reprinting (here "online") the contents of Zine World / A Reader's Guide, now. With follow-ups on the reviewers/reviewed, etc. It could draw some traffic to the site, as many of the people involved no doubt google their own names once in a while. Let's get the old arguments fired up again. Man, that cover to issue #1 was GROSS! Why are you guys so MEAN? How can a book be PURE NOTHING?

      It would also highlight how the internet has ruined the world for creators and media, especially subversive voices.

    2. Captain HampocketsJune 12, 2023 at 11:16 AM

      Zine World reviews are my claim to fame - I'm proud to be " better known, however, for his harsh, dismissive reviews in Zine World: A Reader's Guide to the Underground Press."


    3. I don't know, Claude. Sounds like a hell of a lot of work, just retyping hundreds and hundreds of reviews.

      Plus, my collection of ZWs is far from complete.

      Early on when I was retyping PL, I googled around for just about every zine I mentioned or reviewed, and it just got sad. Almost every zinester I could find was no longer writing. One became a pastor. Ugh.

      What's next is, I'm hoping to finish the Breakfast at the Diner series, and maybe reprint all of those entries once a week on Saturdays or sumfin.

      Captain, what was your favorite of your famously harsh reviews?

  3. I have enjoyed the reprinting of Doug's zine because I kinda know Doug and much of it is very good writing. Obviously, everybody but me on these pages was a zine person or a friend of Doug in the last millennium or shortly after. It strikes me that printing reviews of other zines, written by people who are now old or dead or both might only be narrowly interesting. I understate. Seems to me a review of radio shows of the 30s and 40s and 50s would have similar appeal and might be more fun. I'd start with Bob and Ray, but I'm older than the other people who hang here, and actually remember Bob and Ray. They were funnier on a daily basis than SNL is 30 times a year.

    Radio was a more interesting medium than television. I speak of them both in the past tense.


    1. SNL is often the opposite of comedy.

      I haven't given BOB & RAY any intentional listening. Maybe I oughta.

      I'm way too young to remember old time radio, but I like it and listen to it on the internet. Lately it's been GUNSMOKE.

      Ever liking it, though, I usually only find time for it at bedtime, and I almost never make it through an episode before falling asleep and catching the rest of it the next night.

    2. Bob and Ray were the heart of comedy. Their medium was radio; they were a happy accident, one a newscaster, one a DJ, who shared adjacent radio time before and during WWII and, at the end of the war, emerged with a six day a week show together in Boston, all of which was impromptu. If you stumbled across them later in life, they had developed well-known routines like the Slow Talkers of America, but for the first 15 or 20 years it was a half hour a day (or more if the Red Sox got rained out) of what we now call improv that most of New England laughed at.


    3. You are very knowledgeable about a lot so you probably know this - I recently discovered (~3 years ago or so) that the criminally underrated Chris Elliott is Bob's son.

    4. I was a subscriber to Pathetic Life, but is everybody here really a zine person or a friend of Dougs from that time? I hope there are some pre-grey people reading and eenjoying these pages.

    5. Also I do wish you had kicked Lance Collier in the nuts when you had the chance.

    6. And Bob Elliot lived a long life -- he died in 2016 at 92 -- so he got to see much of his son's career. He appeared in one of Chris' TV shows and one of his movies.


    7. New England, eh? So Bob & Ray weren't yet nationwide... I've only heard a few clips in my gosh entire darn life, but after I finish the episode of GUNSMOKE I've been listening to since Sunday, I am gonna find some BOB & RAY.

    8. Knowledgeable I'm not, but I was always and still am a fan of Chris Elliott, watched GET A LIFE without fail, and his dad was on it, playing his dad.

      GET A LIFE is hard to find these days, but I watched an episode a month or so ago, and it's still funny.

    9. Most of the people who post comments also take Geritol, but once in a while I get an email from some youngster (under 40) who's reading this page.

      I don't think it translates well to people who carry the internet in their back pockets.

    10. Nutkicking was a temptation in the moment, but the wise old man in me is glad that we both walked away AOK, and had a chance to become better people.

    11. I'm hoping to reach 80, but I sure don't deserve it, not after what I've done to this body.

      Ever seen THE ABYSS? It's a calculated, slick, big budget sci-fi from James Cameron, and I like it. It features a small, semi-dramatic role for Chris Elliott, and he impresses me every time I rewatch the movie.

    12. I wish the comments were threaded - the "Knowledgeable" comment was directed at JTB, not you. I am aware of your ignoramous-ness. XOXO

  4. Sam I Am, IDK, but I have recommended this blog to maybe 4-5 zine people from that era with whom I am Facebook friends. That's how you know I'm old, I'm on Facebook. Though Doug is older than I am, and isn't...

    1. Semi-serious question, is Facebook no longer where the youth of today hang out? Where'd they go?

    2. Instagram and TikTok mainly I'd say. Snapchat is very popular as well, BeReal is the newest thing that has kind of taken off, and Discord for the more nerdy types.

    3. Yeah, Facebook has been passe for quite a while. The hot apps became Instagram and Snapchat, now I think it's Instagram and TikTok. I never use them because they are very video-centered, and I hate that. Also, I don't care in general. Also, literal Chinese Government spyware in the cas of TikTok.

    4. I especially agree with I don't care in general, but thanks (both of you) for the briefing.

      I have never even heard of BeReal — suspect you made it up, but don't care enough to click it and find out — and I actively hate Discord.

      I don't know why I should care about TikTok's Chinese spyware any more than the spyware in Facebook, Instagraham or Twitter, and I kinda like TikTok. It's where people act stupid for only ten or fifteen seconds.

    5. Maybe BeReal is just popular where I'm from (Germany), I don't know about American youth. It's essentially an app where you've got a random 5 minute timeframe each day, in which you can (or have to) post a picture with both the front and the back camera enabled. It's advertised as more "real" than other apps because of that random short timeframe.

      Regarding spyware, TikTok is way worse in a lot of ways than many other apps in my opinion. Most apps aren't as closely related to any government as TikTok is, they all abuse data, but most of the times just to maximize profits. It's especially interesting to me that TikTok isn't used at all in China itself, I'm not sure if its forbidden or just unpopular though.

      There are even theories that the Chinese alternative to TikTok pushes more educational content, while TT itself prioritizes less substantial content. I don't know about the truth in that however. :)

    6. Yikes, BeReal sounds creepy.

      All of social media is creepy, I guess, to me anyway.

      It's probably definitely stupid of me to even talk about such stuff, since I know nothing about it. Sometimes I click a link that takes me to Twitter, but almost never to any of the others.

      That said, I'm always happy to be stupid. Not doubting any of what I've read about Chinese spying via TikTok, I gotta assume the strategic value is in sweeping up other info off the users' phones or laptops or whatever. There seems to be no value in most of the videos posted.

  5. And a few people create, update and read blogs and reference Wikipedia. Here, for instance, is the last 4 1/2 minutes of the Apollo 11 flight to the moon. This is the best video I've seen of the actual landing. The link is to the Wikipedia article on Buzz Aldrin (who is still alive!). You'll find the last 4 1/2 minutes under the Apollo 11 heading in the article.

    Note the 1201 and 1202 computer alarms. These are the computer overload warning and computer overload fatal error message readouts, meaning that Armstrong and Aldrin (who is reading the capsule location in three dimensions for Armstrong) will be unable to use the computer assisted landing program -- they have to land by the seat of their pants. Note also that they're running dangerously low on fuel (they have about 15 seconds of landing fuel left when they turn the engines off).

    We watch TV shows and are used to scripted drama, and it's always a close call, whether it's a car chase or a rocket chase, but this was real life. The planned landing area was rock-strewn, and Armstrong had to find an alternate area to land. The landing assist computer program overloaded and failed, and they came damn close to running out of fuel to land. There were three lives at stake, but also the race to the moon between the US and USSR had implications for geopolitical warfare, including nuclear warfare. This was a big deal.

    I was 19 and a space program junkie. I knew what the landing assist computer failures meant, and I knew they were supposed to be "engines off" with at least a minute worth of landing fuel left -- not less than 15 seconds.

    It's easy to forget how relatively primitive all the technology was 55 years ago. This was life and death for the US space program and its three best astronauts (I've always been a huge fan of Mike Collins). If I didn't explain this well enough, let me know. I still get chills watching.



  6. Great memories with detail appreciated. Great video. Can't figure out how to post a better link, and lots of scrolling is involved to get there, but everybody should click and scroll about 1/3 of the page down and watch and listen.

    Beep. Beep. I remember the beeps so vividly. I was watching, of course, like everyone in the world who had access to a TV set. Still brings chills, and yeah, this was no scripted drama. Any of a million things could've gone wrong and watching the video wouldn't be nearly as much of a joy.

    "Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

    I can never forget how primitive the tech was. That's the most amazing part. They did it with tubes and transistors and data on big reels of tape, and then we stopped reaching for the stars.

  7. Retired NAZI Werner von Braun has been called the "Father of the US Space Program" for his contributions to rocketry. About Werner, it has been said that he aimed for the stars and fell short and hit London. For a while there, it was a competition between the Soviets' Germans and America's Germans.

    Then the seamstresses at ILC Dover hand-sewed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's spacesuits and helped win the race to the moon. Werner had more thrust, but the ILC women had more heart. This is a condensed version of what happened. I left out the part about Von Braun hitting Coventry as well.


    1. America fought a huge and justified war against the evil Nazis, and Nuremberg did all its famous finger-pointing, but everyone agreed to forgive and forget and welcome a great many great ex-Nazis among us.

      "Sure, he was a Nazi," I've heard and heard and said, "but there was great societal pressure to join the Party and you had no shot at a career if you weren't a member, and whatever *particular* person we're talking about wasn't really *active* in the Party."

      America needed the scientists, even the Nazi scientists.

      That's not your point, of course, and I wouldn't even argue the point, it's just an argument I've heard for all my life so it sprang to my mind instantly.

      Sure, Wernher von Braun was a Nazi, but...

      Maybe it's worth a stop and think. I'm tired of applying that but even to Republicans.

      Also, were the spacesuits really sewn? Never even wondered about it until this moment, but I'd think all the needle-holes might be a problem in space. Dipped in assorted cancer-causing chemicals after sewing, I guess without Googling.

    2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rWUVX0wlu4


    3. I played this record to death when I was a youngster. When Chad Mitchell left the Chad Mitchell Trio, he was replaced by a young man nobody had heard of named John Denver and the trio was renamed The Mitchell Trio. Here is their song, "The I Was Not a Nazi Polka".



    4. Herr Braun (fuck the von) designed and built weapons of war that were created as tools of death and fear to be used against civilian populations. Edward R. Murrow stood on the rooftop of his hotel and described the carnage. Braun hid behind social pressure to join the party, and squeezed a little icing on the cake by joining the SS.

      It's a complicated issue. To be sure, there was significant political and social pressure for high profile people to join the party. His work at Peenemünde is another matter. When he could have slowed the development of the V2, he accelerated it. It would have required finesse, something a Nazi Party member was not all that likely to possess. He undoubtedly accelerated the US satellite program and also contributed to the booster program that sent American humans into orbit and to the moon.

      Nazi hunters (people, not nations) searched the world for those who escaped their deserved punishment. A few are still searching. Our country kept Herr Braun away from Nuremberg and hid him in plain sight.


    5. https://youtu.be/8ZezvNWgi4M

    6. Oh god, how have I never heard "The I Was Not a Nazi Polka" before? That's splendid, man.

      The German is so cultured,
      he does not like to fight
      The peaceful life is what
      he most enjoys
      For years the German people
      were utterly convinced
      I.G. Farben manufactured
      children's toys

      I've been Googling, trying to figure out who wrote the song, kinda hoping it was John Denver. No luck in five minutes, so I'm giving up, but if you have the album, what's it say?

    7. Great moment from OCTOBER SKY. I've only seen it once. Maybe that's not enough.

    8. It's been a long time and it's not one of my big issues of 2023, but I'll never believe it was right for America to give so many Nazis a big hug and welcome to America.

      One or two or three, maybe, but it was 1,600 (that we know of), and that's just way too many welcoming hugs for way too many Nazis. Hidden in plain sight, as you say.

    9. Oh, jeez, here's the answer, right on the YouTube page you sent me to, John. "The I Was Not a Nazi Polka" — Lyricist: N. Martin

      Who the heck was N Martin? Wikipedia lists no Martins among the band's players, and "N" isn't much of a clue with the last name is Martin...

    10. His name is/was Norman L. Martin and he wrote a couple of tunes on this Mitchell Trio album and worked fairly extensively with the Muppets and with Diana Shore. It took a half hour to discover that, and I still don't know what he looks like, where he's from or whether he's alive, so I give up.


    11. I appreciate the half-hour of your life. With 'Norman' as an added clue I was able to discover what you discovered, the guy's work is now rather obscure.

      It led me to this oddly marvelous quartet of George Burns, Ginger Rogers, Nat King Cole and Dinah Shore, at the end of the clip.

    12. That quartet led me to Sinatra and Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine and Warren Beatty, the brother and sister act who are both still alive against all odds. Except for them, I see dead people.


    13. For all four of them, I would say the magic eludes me. Except maybe for young Shirley MacLaine, circa THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY. Any man woman or child who doesn't fall in love with her in that, has something wrong with his or her heart.

    14. I wasn't recommending them as actors or singers. Dean Martin might have been an actor, but then Robert Mitchum came along with El Dorado and Mr. Martin was left in the dust.

      And, as an ex-drunk, I'm not much amused by the career-long drunk act. The word is that he was, at most, a moderate drinker, but acting drunk as a recurring comic trope doesn't seem humorous.


    15. Foster Brooks made a living from pretending to be drunk. Maybe Dean Martin did too, but yeah, it's a joke that doesn't seem funny any more.

      And I never much liked Foster Brooks. One joke, and it's a rude one, and it was the only comedy he could do.


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