By Jack Brummet, 70's Ed.
Jerry Melin developed an almost foolproof system for forging Washington State ID's. I think the reason this slipped my mind is that I never actually had Mel make one for me. In his comments, Scooter pegs this to my having a girlfriend and being on a diet. However, it was something deeper than that I think. In those days I was never a particularly meticulous law-abider, but for some reason I don't ever remember going to a bar until I was 21. And I never attended a day at the Sundowner, as far as I remember. I don't know why, but it worked out OK in the end. I was able to spend plenty of nights in bars after I turned 21. However, to this day, I very rarely go to bars, and when I do, it almost always involves music. I always preferred a party at someone's crib to a bar. On the other hand, some of the craziest times I had in NYC were, naturally, in bars. Like the time we bumped into Allen Ginsberg at the Grass roots Bar on St. Mark's Place. We listened to a recitation of his latest poem and chatted, and he gave Mel a big, wet kiss on the forehead.
I remember Mel, sitting for literally, hours, working as Scooter details below, to alter a license. He was changing one digit in the birth year, and it took hours to get the perfect letter and get the registration just perfect. Even cops would miss the alteration. So, Phil, "Schubert," Spurge, Kevin, Mike Thies, et al, would have these nearly foolproof licenses. After I turned 21, I joined them in the bar wars. Still, we were college students, trying to live on $200 a month, so there were limits to how much we could even go out to bars at all, except for jazz night at Pete's, where you could bottles of wine for $4.99 and listen to jazz,
He would labor the same way to produce these fantastic Blake-ean drawings of ethereal winged, androgynous angels. . .none of which survives (at least I don't have any). We wrote a lot of poetry together in much the same fashion, taking hours to build up poems, usually focused on America, the police state, art, drugs, philosophy, sex, jazz, and rock and roll. And when he was serious about school it was the same thing: he would study for 12 hours straight, and whenever he decided he wanted to apply himself, he would pull straight A's. Jerry/Mel was the smartest person I ever knew who was constantly on academic probation (his first year...after that he became an A machine. There was nothing like seeing him engrossed in whatever project was at hand: art, poetry, forgery, calculus, economics. We would sometimes spend an entire night reading one of Blake's work's like America or Jerusalem, aloud, with endless bowls, digressions, and sidebars, and The Band, Lou Reed, Will the circle be unbroken?, or the Stones' Sticky Fingers on the turntable. More often we would collaborate on writings...ten page free association poems on a manual Underwood typewriter. All of these and probably fifty or sixty joint and solo drawings, other writings, mostly very short stories, sketches, and dozens of cassette tapes of us riffing, creating aural poems, improving playing fictional characters. . .these all formed The Archive. And sometime in the mid 80's, The Archive disappeared. It could have fallen off a truck, it could be still stashed somewhere in someone's parents's house, or somewhere. It would be pretty cool to discover them, but I don't hold out much hope anymore. But as an eternal optimist...you never know.
Scooter here. Usually I am happy just to sit back and enjoy the show at All This is That but Jack, we called him Johnny in 73, got me thinking. He says that I may have been depressed, maybe/maybe not, but I did have a lot of time to kill that summer and, as he points out, very few dólores to fund any meaningful diversions.
I had gone from tending dogs to the dogs in two summers and had nearly depleted my savings account after paying for freshman year at WWSC and my share of body work to repair Mel’s parent’s Pontiac Le Mans after Phil K, Kev & I put it into a ditch during a night of carousing while Mel prudently elected to ride shotgun.
Mel misdesignated drivers to his advantage on more than a few occasions in those years and when he didn’t the cops usually learned about it.
I played softball for a local men’s team in Kent that summer but Mel always joined me at the Downer on Thursdays. Phil K would come by regularly too but Johnny less frequently because he had a job and a girl friend and I believe adhered to a fitness regimen then that frowned on 12 hours of brews guzzling. Anyway, all of us, with the exception of David Fuller (RIP) were still underage in 1973 but we never, I mean never, had a problem gaining entrance to drinking establishments.
In the early 70’s WA had begun to roll out a new state photo ID that replaced the bifurcated WSDL and State Liquor Photo ID cards that folks had to carry previously. The new ID/DL used a process that impregnated a dense fibrous paper backing with the licensee’s vitals and photo and then sealed the face with a fine but durable laminate overlay. This new photo DL quickly made the State Liquor Card obsolete. While some youngsters purchased faked up generic out-of-state IDs from shops along Seattle’s 2nd Avenue they would only pass muster at skid row dives, so we relied on Mel’s obsessive compulsivity to create nearly perfect WA State issued DL’s with modified birth years.
For a few years Mel would periodically cook up some tea and then patiently scour magazines, novels, textbooks, trade and professional journals, telephone directories, and newspapers in search of the perfect pica/font to match the DOB stat on the WADL. He had assembled an impressive file of matches by 1973.
His strategy was simple. He instructed us to make a claim to the DMV that we had lost our license so that if we had a real run in with the heat we could always present a valid DL. Once the replacement DL was in hand he would set up shop. He worked at a brightly lit table fitted with a square of picture frame matting. He always used medical implements instead of paste up tools. I had had access to scalpels and hemostats from my year at the veterinary clinic and Mel had built a fairly extensive kit of medical supplies for this and other endeavors.
He affixed the license to the matting with two hemostats and set about altering the last figure in the birth year. He was a master in this procedure by the summer of the Downer. He would cut a tiny square around tiny figure, taking exquisite care not to pierce the backing of the card. He extracted the character and a slight layer of backing leaving a void that read 195 . He then embedded a perfectly matched “”0”, “1” or “2” into the void. Once the card was relaminated even we had trouble detecting the alteration. By the time we reached majority age most bartenders had learned that shining a flashlight through the back of the card would highlight the incision around the altered birth year so the jig was up by 74 or 75 but I don’t remember the cards failing any of us, ever. How about you, Jack?Oh, it's important to note that none of us could grow a respectable moustache until our thirties and most of us could have passed for high school students until our mid 20's. That's a fact and it proves the mettle of these IDs. To watch a bartender or bouncer go from scowling disbelief to incredulous befuddlement whenever we presented the ID for the first few times was priceless. Nobody believed to see us that we were of age but the cards didn't lie. And after we were established in the bar Downer and they never asked again.
Ed's note: A few other random ATIT stories about Mel (there have been quite a few):
Photograph: Jerry Melin At Mud Bay, Bainbridge Island, Washington
Jerry Melin, still missing, still missed
Mel, Part 1
Audioblogger Post::::Kevin Curran And Jerry Melin Meet The Poet Allen Ginsberg At The Grass Roots Tavern On NYC's Lower East Side
Senator Jerry Melin Speaks Out About 1979