"Hui-k'o, the Second Patriarch of Zen passed on the bowl and robe to his successor, the Third Patriarch, Seng-ts'an, signifying the Transmission of the Dharma. Hui-k'o, who had received the seal of approval from Bodhidharma himself, then went everywhere drinking and carousing around like a wildman and partaking in the offerings of the brothel districts. When people asked how he could do such a thing, being a Patriarch of the Zen school and all, he would respond with: 'What business is it of yours?'"
HUI-K'O: SECOND PATRIARCH OF ZEN
I used to own a parakeet that couldn't have weighed two ounces. If you were dumb enough to stick your finger in his cage you took your life in your own hands because given the chance he could tear your finger apart like he was an 800 pound gorilla. That was what the El Rey Resort and Casino was like. It may have looked like it was small like a parakeet, but in the world of casinos, at least in Nevada during it's hey days, it was an 800 pound gorilla. It's reputation, positive or negative depending on how you viewed it, but mostly positive, carried it's rep way ahead of itself.
Me, I loved the place. Except for maybe wanting more physically because the El Rey was a little on the small side, it was everything a casino should be. Noisy, low ceilings, smoke, friendly atmosphere with a slight need to watch your step, satisfying pay offs, an ever present bevy of hostesses, hard to squeeze through, dark, and owned and operated by a person who was a relatively cool dude. Searchlight itself was a weird sort of a burg, a tiny little dump, sort of dead, but once you stepped into the El Rey it was another thing. Not so much wild west as much as a Terry and the Pirates type milieu, a milieu I've always been drawn to.
The first time I ever went to the El Rey was during the summer just before I started my second year in high school. Pancho Barnes, the famed aviatrix and stunt pilot, just had her notorious "Happy Bottom Riding Club," shut down by authorities through a series of unproven and unsubstantiated allegations. Her place was built right on the edge of Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of California. It featured a motel, an abundance of riding horses and thoroughbreds, a restaurant, three landing strips, a dance hall, gambling den, a world-famous bar which catered to military personnel from the nearby air base along with all of her Hollywood friends, and hostesses, lots and lots of hostesses. The ranch became famous for it's all night parties and high-flying lifestyle of her guests. Nailing up her place put a big hole in the type entertainment she provided in that part of the world for hundreds of miles around --- especially so the air base, re the following from the source so cited:
"In 1952, following a change of command at the air base, friction between Pancho and the base commander began to increase because of the number of flights in and out of the Club's landing strip and what the commander called an incroachment into the base's airspace. When the government attempted to buy her property allegedly to expand the air base runways and Pancho refused, a series of unproven allegations surfaced that the Happy Bottom Riding Club was, among other things, a brothel. The Air Force slapped an off limits on the ranch, effectively banning servicemen from going to the club. Falling on hard times and basically deserted when the government moved to appropriate the ranch, Pancho sued. Then, on November 13, 1953, shortly after she beat the government and won the lawsuit, the ranch, under very, very suspicious circumstances, burnt to the ground, some even say, although it was never proven, from a possible strike from the air.(source}
It was just after the 1952 Air Force off limits when my Stepmother, or ex-stepmother as the case may be as she and my dad had only recently divorced, stepped in. My dad and she had gone to Mexico and South America for two years and during that time their marriage deteriorated to such a point it couldn't be repaired. As for the stepping in part, in that my stepmother had only just returned from a two year absence she was looking to reestablish herself. When the Air Force placed the off limits decree on the Club, Pancho, hearing my stepmother had returned and knowing both her and her reputation contacted her.
My stepmother had a California liquor licence and owned several bars in the general Los Angeles area. Pancho, as a friend from their old Laguna Beach days, in a casual conversation with my ex-stepmother, who supplied hostesses for the club on and off over time, suggested she open a facility similar to Pancho's now, or soon to be, defunct Club --- only in a location far enough from the air base that they could not mess with it, but still close enough that it was easily accessible --- AND with NO known or on the surface affliation or ties with Pancho. So she did, opening the closest bar in those days to the air base south gate, somewhat east and south of Pancho's old place, duplicating almost all of the same amenities and wide open services except for an airstrip. The following is what I have written about her "ranch" and my affiliation with it:
"Even though she and my dad were no longer married I spent a good part of every summer while I was in high school on one property or the other she owned in the Mojave, most usually the one not far from Piute Butte. The short time I was there during the summer prior to high school, following the Tehachapi quake but before going to my uncle's in Santa Fe, she had only just bought the property or was in the process of buying it. At that time it was pretty much a run down former attempt at a dude ranch. One year later, during my first full summer there, what she called a 'ranch' --- even though as a ranch it was a little on the sparse side in what I would call standard ranch fare --- had been completely rebuilt and refurbished with a rather long fully stocked bar, food service facilities, swimming pool, dance hall, live entertainment, along with rodeos and boxing matches on the weekends. It also had at least two dozen one-armed-bandit slot machines in a secret hidden room, plus like I like to say, a flock of ever present hostesses --- several of whom took me under their wing and one or two that may have been slightly more friendly than they should have been considering my young age, the youngest at the time at the very least being six years older than me."(source)
It was during that period of time, i.e., while staying on my stepmother's ranch for the summer just before I started my second year in high school that I, as mentioned above, went to the El Rey Club for the first time. My stepmother had gone there to see the owner Willie Martello, who she knew in some fashion, and I went along. After a brief introduction, Martello set me up to have probably one of the best cheeseburgers I've ever eaten, while he and my stepmother receded to an area in the casino to talk where I couldn't go, me being too young and all.
Part way into my cheeseburger a really sharp looking dish of a babe probably about 32-35 years old, maybe a little older, hard to judge the teenager I was but loving the cleavage all over, stepped up to the table and without even saying a word pulled out a chair and sat down. She lit a cigarette turning her head upwards and in profile blowing the smoke toward the ceiling then turned towards me jerking her head almost like a mechanical robot or the bride of Frankenstein, asked how it was I knew the woman I came in with. When I told her she was my stepmother she seemed surprised, blurting out a loud laugh with overtones of being almost startled than anything, saying in a mockingly-sad way, "You poor boy."
Before I had a chance to push her face into the table she asked me what she was really interested in, why was my stepmother at the El Rey and why was she and Martello meeting. I shrugged my shoulders like I didn't know, mainly because I didn't know. Starting to get up she turned and told me she just wondered because at one time she worked for a friend of my stepmother's, a woman named Brenda Allen. When I told her I knew Allen she sat back down like we were long lost buddies wondering how I, the young boy that I was, would be in such a position that I would know Brenda Allen. Before I had a chance to respond in any depth my stepmother returned. When she saw me chit-chatting with the lady she didn't seem very happy, asking the woman just what exactly the two of us were talking about and why. With that the woman, the two of them seemingly knowing each other in an adversarial fashion, got up and said, "Fuck you Queenie, you don't mean shit around here!" while at the same time throwing the contents of a half empty glass of ice water in her direction, albeit totally missing. When it appeared the woman was about to lunge toward my stepmother following the water mishap, Martello, seeing my stepmother was pulling a nickel plated .25 semi-automatic Baby Browning out of her purse and with me ducking for cover, maintained the distance between the two by slightly nudging my stepmother around before she got close enough for contact, saying he would take care of it. With that, Martello hustled us both out of the club. He had a driver take the two of us and our pilot, who had been playing blackjack in the casino, back to the airport about two miles south of town. Waiting on the tarmac was the twin engine Beechcraft Queen Air we flew up in. However, instead of leaving like I thought we would, we just waited.
Unknown to both Martello and me my stepmother had reserved a room, and rather than me going back with her like the two of us may have surmised, I was going to spend the night at the El Rey. At first, as my stepmother told me some years later, the lady at the registration desk said there were no rooms, saying the place was sold out --- which was easy enough to do since the dump only had six or eight rooms, ten at the most. My stepmother quietly slipped a hundred dollar bill on the counter, then a second, then a third, but with no sign of a response forthcoming even after the third, my stepmother started gathering up the bills. With that the lady put her hand on top of my stepmother's hand saying she thought she may have a room after all, a guy just called in saying his car broke down out in the middle of the desert and he didn't think he could make it by check in.
After arrival at the airfield, the reason we were waiting rather than leaving, although I didn't know anything about the rooms at the time, was because my stepmother's ranch foreman Leo was on his way to Searchlight by vehicle. The idea was for he and I to camp out overnight in the desert then do some kind of an exploration type surprise the next day that Leo and my stepmother had put together for me.
As I was waiting, rather than sitting in the plane I starting wandering around the edges of the airstrip searching for lizards and stuff, and while I did my stepmother joined me. As usual for her she was dressed totally inappropriate for such happenings, having on high heels, more-or-less a matching suit like outfit and a little hat she kept having to hold on to because of the wind. But she was game and as I viewed it, true or not, she was more than willing to participate in such things with me as long as it was just the two of us and didn't diminish her façade in the eyes of others.
While we were exploring she told me how sad she was that she and my father had to go their separate ways but how much she had so enjoyed my brothers and me in her life those few years, especially so me. She was amazed that I had gone from a boy that continually ran away from home to someone who at least when I was under her custody, stayed and seemed so appreciative of it, even to the point of coming back on my own accord like I had done for the summer. She also like the fact, although she wasn't advocating it, how I had sought her out specifically when I had run away on a previous occasion a few years earlier.
Pretty soon Leo arrived, having driven all the way from south of Edwards Air Force Base in California to Searchlight, Nevada in the ranch pick-up truck. Seeing him I thought at least he wasn't driving the open top jeep --- which he and I had done a month or so earlier trying to keep up with a Baldwin built 4-8-4 Northern locomotive going almost 90 miles per hour out across raw desert land headed westbound between Ludlow and Barstow. When Leo drove onto the airfield I could immediately see he was traveling with another man, of which I would have no reason to believe why he should be. The man oddly enough, turned out to be a Chief Petty Officer I knew from China Lake Naval Air Station that hung around my mom's bar on the ranch.
As soon as Leo and the Chief arrived and my Stepmother and Leo talked in private for few minutes, she handed Leo the keys to our room back at the El Rey then boarded the Beechcraft headed back towards California. Leo, the Chief and I, with me riding in the back of the truck, headed toward the El Rey for dinner and a nights sleep. After dinner in the motel room the Chief showed me a number of trinkets and things like ID cards and stuff related to a German submarine crew, or at least prison camp internees he had somehow, explaining each item one by one as he went through them. The next morning, and the real reason my stepmother had Leo and the Chief come up to Searchlight, they took me across the desert to a location probably not even 20 miles away along the Colorado River to see where, in late 1944 a German U-boat was found and how the military went about hauling it out and taking it back to Muroc Dry Lake. Now, other than me staying at the El Rey that night to go see the submarine location the next day and the timing of the jeep ride chasing the 4-8-4 out across the desert that summer, neither are El Rey stories per se,' both being stand alone stories of their own. However, for those of you who may be interested in following up on either story in depth, they can be found in full by going to the following links:
THE GERMAN SUBMARINE ATTACK ON HOOVER DAM
SPIRITUAL ELDER AND THE SANTA FE CHIEF
ME, THE MAFIA, AND THE EL REY
The last time I was at the El Rey was the year before I was drafted. I remember it specifically. It was May 1st, the day after the final weekend in April, 1961. I had gone to Las Vegas for the SCCA road races at McCarran Field staying in comped rooms at the Freemont Hotel under invite of a really good friend of mine in those days, master Ferrari and Maserati mechanic Joe Landaker, now deceased. When the race weekend was over I took in Hoover Dam then drove down to Searchlight thinking I might take in a little gambling and maybe even partake in a few extra curricular activities on the side. Nine months later, on January 22, 1962, a few months before I was drafted, the El Rey Club burned to the ground, destroyed by a raging fire, leaving nothing but a tangled mess of former gambling machines, melted coins, burnt up paper money, heat shattered liquor bottles, and one time wooden framing turned to charcoal.
Navigating through the casino the day I was there in 1961, in an attempt to find a lucky machine, I bumped into the club's owner Willie Martello and introduced myself. He told me he remembered well the day my "mom" and I was there, turning to friend with him saying, "She pulled a fuckin' .45 out of her purse and pointed it at one of Daisy Mae's girls. I thought she was going to blow the shit out of her, the place, and everybody in it," my stepmother's pistol having somehow mysteriously morphed from a .25, which is barely even a gun, to being a .45, which is like a small cannon at close range. We talked a few minutes, shook hands, and jokingly as he walked away he asked if I was carrying any kind of a firearm. When I told him no he said as far as he was concerned it was all in the past, no harm, no foul. As soon as Martello left and I sat down to try and win a fortune than some heavyweight stepped up showing me he had a pistol shoved in his belt and wanting to know what my connection was with Martello, saying we seemed awful of chummy for a guy just passing through. After a brief explanation the man left. Within a few minutes he was back, and calling him by his mob name told me that Johnny Roselli, who I knew through my stepmother and who happened to be a big time major mover in the mob in Las Vegas, wanted to talk with me on the phone. Using a pay phone from a bank of pay phones in some dark hall in the back Roselli, who I had seen in Vegas only a few days before, asked the same thing as the man, although wanting a clarification if I was using his name, i.e., Roselli's, in any fashion in any dealings with Martello. I ensured him I wasn't, saying I had no dealings with Martello, it was strictly a friendly visit while informing Roselli the background story between Martello, my stepmother and me. I added as far as I knew Martello didn't even know I knew him. With that Roselli said, "He knows." Roselli told me he wanted me to distanced myself from Martello before it gets dark that day, permanently dark. Then, as requested, I handed the phone back to the man. After a couple of quick words over a couple of quick seconds the man hung up telling me that Roselli said to give his best to my mom. Knowing everything was cool between us with that remark I left that instant and never went back.
In several places throughout my writings I make references to the fact that my stepmother on occasion did in some fashion "provided hostesses" here and there for a number of reasons under a number of circumstances, but in most cases I have done so without further elaboration. A good example is below, an occurrence that happened well before I was even born, when my dad met for the very first time the woman that would eventually become my stepmother. My dad helped cover for her in an incident that involved law enforcement officials, in turn allowing her to dissolve anonymously into a crowd without being recognized or questioned, with the following results:
"A male driver came around and opened the door for her. She thanked my dad for the help, handing him a card and telling him the two women were 'hostesses' she provided for Bruneman at his bar, the Surf Club. She also told my dad, in so many words, that in appreciation for his help she could arrange for some fun times if he was interested."(source)
In the above main text I mentioned that my stepmother was known on occasion, if need be, to arrange for hostesses for Pancho's "Happy Bottom Riding Club." As well, as found in the Hoover Dam link above, I write in a couple of places of interactions I had with some of the hostesses on her own place after Pancho had to shut hers down. I only bring it up because my stepmother's business with Martello back in 1953 circulated around just such a subject.
On November 13, 1953 Pancho Barnes' place burnt down, totally destroyed by fire. In 1959 my ex-stepmother's place burnt down, totally destroyed by fire. On January 22, 1962 Willie Martello's El Rey Club burnt down, totally destroyed by fire.
As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.
SCENE FROM THE ORIGINAL TERRY AND THE PIRATES AS DRAWN BY MILTON CANIFF DATED JANUARY 27, 1935.
At the end of the summer of 1953, just as I was about to start the 10th grade or so, the August - September #6 issue of the comic book Mad came out. Inside #6 was a story, drawn by my all time favorite non-animator cartoonist Wallace Wood, that spoofed or satired big-time the long running comic strip Terry and the Pirates, with Wood in his spoofing, calling it Teddy and the Pirates.
Although I had followed Terry and the Pirates a good portion of my life, and knew how Milton Caniff, the artist-cartoonist of the strip, presented Terry's world that he and his so-called Pirates lived in, Wood's top-half opening drawing below, showing his version of an underbelly far east like milieu, real or not, that exemplified the Asian atmosphere along with the rest of the story hit me like a hammer, with me, the teenager that I was, sucking up his version as my version and as my version, the real version. Ten years later, thanks to Uncle Sam and his friendly Selective Service, found me in Rangoon, Saigon, and Chiang Mai, as well as other such places, even meeting warlords. Those ten years after high school, especially in and where I traveled, having gone from a teenager to an almost mid-twenties GI, my vision not only didn't wane, but was bolstered and grew. Notice the tommy guns, stabbings, hand grenades and exotic women. So too in the second panel, i.e., lower left hand corner, the two crashed P-40 Flying Tigers.
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Sometime approaching the very last day of June 1944 when I was around six years old or so, I was put on a passenger train in Pennsylvania headed toward Chicago, traveling with who I do not know. If it was or was not the same couple described in The Last American Darshan who took me to India without approval of my family and then, upon their return to the U.S., just dumping me off in Pennsylvania has never been determined.
In Chicago I boarded the premier all Pullman first class passenger train to Los Angeles, the Number 19 Santa Fe Chief. Toward midnight of July 3, 1944, between Flagstaff, Arizona and Williams, on a high speed downhill run and behind schedule, the Chief's locomotive, a powerful Baldwin built 4-8-4 Northern with 80 inch drive wheels and clocking out at over 90 miles per hour, hit a marked 55 mph speed limit curve, with the locomotive, bearing the Santa Fe identification #3774, derailing and sliding in the dirt on it's side off the tracks for nearly the length of two football fields before coming to a stop. The rest of the 14 car train ended up in various stages of derailment and wreckage on and off the track, some cars remaining upright with two actually staying on the tracks undamaged. The fireman and three passengers were killed. 113 passengers along with 13 train employees injured, among them the severely injured engineer, with me being one of the passengers escaping unharmed.
Nine years later, in July of 1953, during the exact same summer I was on the ranch and I flew to the El Rey Club, my Uncle, who lived in Santa Fe, called my stepmother to tell her he had been in Las Vegas, New Mexico, not far from Santa Fe, a few hours before sunset, and saw what he called a highly unusual set of circumstances.
What he observed was a steam locomotive, not diesel during a time when most of the steam locomotives had been sidelined, go through town headed west pulling a special Boy Scout train on its way to Santa Ana, California for the Boy Scout Jamboree. What made what he saw so unusual was that the locomotive doing the pulling was nothing less than the #3774, a locomotive that most would have figured had been put out of business. He didn't know if it was going to be the motive power all the way through to the Los Angeles area or not, but even if not it should be going at least to Barstow and possibly down into the Cajon Pass sometime the next day.
My stepmother, knowing the impact the #3774 had on my life, and all excited, immediately dispatched both the ranch foreman and me in a jeep out across the desert toward Barstow to try and catch it. We reached Barstow before the train, so we headed out on Route 66 to try and intercept it as far east as we could and follow it back. Which we did, the locomotive being, just like my uncle said, the #3774. Cutting across the desert in the jeep from 66 to the AT&SF mainline, then trying with all our might to parallel the locomotive over the barely discernible rock strewn and no bridges service roads into Barstow as fast as the jeep would go is a ride I'll never forget.
THE FATE OF THE SANTA FE LOCOMOTIVE #3774
"(I) met Roselli for the first time before I was even ten years old, and maintaining that knowing him on a first name basis for nearly three decades. So said, in that I originally met Roselli on the innocent side as a young boy, that is, outside of any mob affiliation or need, and maintained that relationship up through adulthood, our association and my access to him was on a different level than most."
THE WANDERLING: JOHNNY ROSELLI: Mafioso
When I was in Vegas for the race weekend that April I looked up Roselli to thank him for a favor he had done recently for my long by then ex-stepmother, a favor I had put into place through him on her behalf. The meeting between the two of us took place in a small back room behind the gift shop in the New Frontier Hotel, where I guess, he apparently held court on occasion.
When our meeting was over, just as I was leaving a very good looking well dressed clean shaven man was entering, with the two of us having to circle out of each others way as he was going in, neither of us realizing the other was there at first. As we passed in the narrow space of the doorway we made very strong close eye contact and even though I felt I should know him I didn't ... nor did I recognize him. Ten years later I was to meet the same man again under much different circumstances and although I didn't recall him initially as being the same man I squeezed by behind the New Frontier gift shop, after some time together he remembered me. When he mentioned the two of us barely getting by each other that night going through the door of the gift shop, in an instant the whole scene came flooding back in.
The man I squeezed by and then met ten years later turned out to be Dan Rowan of the Rowan and Martin comedy team. It seems those ten years before Rowan had developed what was said to have become a mutual infatuation between himself and Phyllis McGuire of the McGuire Sisters, headliners in Vegas at the same time Rowan and Martin were headliners there. It also seems as well that at very same time a major heavyweight mover in the mob, Chicago boss Sam Giancana, had also developed an interest in McGuire. Rowan was told in so many words to put a lot of distance between himself and her, otherwise there would be consequences. If Rowan going into the room behind the gift shop was related to any of that I don't know, but the only man in the room that night other than a couple of Roselli henchmen was Roselli, the mob's main contact and leading figure in Vegas as well as Giancana's right hand man.
DAN ROWAN: P-40 FIGHTER PILOT
PHYLLIS MCGUIRE CIRCA 1960
When Pancho first built her place in the high desert of California near Muroc Dry Lake prior to the war the air base for the most part didn't exist. As aircraft continued to developed and required more and more landing area and room for support facilities Edwards Air Force Base began to expand, eating up property all around Pancho's until they reached a point they were actually eating away at hers.
Following a change of command at the air base in 1952 friction between Pancho and the base commander began to increase because of the number of flights in and out of the Club's landing strip and what the commander called an encroachment into the base's airspace. When the government attempted to buy her property allegedly to expand the air base runways and Pancho refused, a series of unproven allegations surfaced that the Happy Bottom Riding Club was, among other things, a brothel. The Air Force slapped an off limits on the ranch, effectively banning servicemen from going to the club. Falling on hard times and basically deserted when the government moved to appropriate the ranch, Pancho sued. Then, on November 13, 1953, shortly after she beat the government and won the lawsuit, the ranch, under very, very suspicious circumstances, burnt to the ground, some even say, although it was never proven, from a possible strike from the air.
However, in regards to Pancho's place being a target for "a possible strike from the air," there is an article that was published on April 23, 1953, page 33 of the New York edition of the New York Times with a headline that reads: "Threats to Bomb Ranch Charged to Air General." To view the complete article requires a purchase of the article from the Times through their Order Reprints service. However, prior to any purchase of that specific article the Order Reprints page offers the following thumbnail sketch of the article which includes the headline and the first paragraph:
Threats to Bomb Ranch Charged to Air General
Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES APRIL 23, 1953
LOS ANGELES, April 22 -- Alleged threats by Brig. Gen. Joseph Stanley Holtoner, commanding officer of the Edwards Air Force Base, to bomb her resort ranch were related to Federal Judge James M. Carter today by Miss Florence Pancho Barnes, also known as a flier. She asks $300,000 damages for injury to her resort business.
I have however, for my readers, been able to retrieve a complete and unabridged United Press version that appears for all practical purposes, at least information-wise, to be basically the same as the Times article, albeit as it appeared in the Lubbock Evening Journal, Lubbock, Texas, Thursday, April 23, 1953, page 3, and presented here for educational purposes at no charge:
THREAT TO BOMB RANCH CHARGED
General Accused By Woman
LOS ANGELES. April 23 —UP— Florence Pancho Barnes, pioneer aviatrix, charged in federal court Wednesday that Air Force Brig. Gen. Joseph S. Holtoner threatened to bomb her out of her Mojave Destert dude ranch. Miss Barnes accused Holtoner of making the threats because of efforts to serve a subpoena in connection with her S300.000 civil suit for damages against him. Holtoner is commanding genera] of Edwards Air Force Base near Muroc, Calif., which adjoins Miss Barnes' dude ranch. "He said he'd bomb my place; burn it up with napalm bombs," Miss Barnes told Federal Judge James M. Carter. "I'd like Congress to answer for him," the round-faced aviatrix said. "They made him an officer but they didn't make him a gentleman." Mrs. Barnes appeared in court as her own attorney after her civil suit was transferred from state to federal court at the request of the U. S. attorney's office which is handling the general's defense. In her action. Miss Barnes accused the general of instituting a boycott against her as part of the government's effort to condemn the ranch she valued at $1,500,000 for only $180,000. She charged the alleged boycott in which service personnel were warned to stay away from her ranch was ruining her business.
Notice Pancho tells the Federal Judge, in court, that the good general had told her in no uncertain terms, "he'd bomb my place; burn it up with napalm bombs." Then what happens, the place burns down under mysterious circumstances with witnesses reporting they heard not only loud explosions but saw whole walls blown out. I'm with Pancho on this one, and as far as her place being a brothel, Pancho was no madam. That was left for others to do.