In May of 1986, Clint Cary, the Spaceman of Ocean Beach, was convalescing in a South Bay nursing home. It looked like curtains for him, after the sight in his one remaining eye was destroyed by a kick from a drnking companion. But today the Spaceman is reasonably healthy, although he’s completely blind, and he’s living on Bacon Street in Ocean Beach. He sends an update on his recent activities:
This Clinton Beveridge Cary. Sometimes known as the Spaceman of Ocean Beach. I came here to Ocean Beach about April 15, 1963. So I’ve been here about twenty-five years, and I’ve become very popular in that time. I’m a well-known painter, known all over the world, had shows all over the world. When I was young, I was a well-known musician, played in some of the biggest bands of the country. And a well-known character here in Ocean Beach, In fact, they consider me the living legend of Ocean Beach. That’s what they call me. I’m not bragging or anything like that, but that’s what they call me: the living legend, the fabulous Spaceman of Ocean Beach.
Now, the Mike Henson incident is a very, very important part of my life. [Mike Henson is a pseudonym.] This guy Henson I’ve known since he was a little kid out here in Ocean Beach. When I came in ’63, he was a surfer here, probably about ten years old. I knew him very well for many years, and we’re very good friends. But unfortunately, he let me down. Because here’s what happened. He was very fond of my paintings and he used to buy them from me whenever he could, so he had quite a few in his collection. He bought the cheaper paintings, you know, because he couldn’t afford too much. He was a contractor, been out of work, so he didn’t have too much money. There was a time when I live3d with Mark, he and his girlfriend, over in Hillcrest at that time, on a street that had an Indian name. Oh hell, I can’t think of it, but it’ll come to me.
So I lived there for three months and became very well acquainted with him. And just before then, I’d loaned him $1500 cash. Because his truck broke down and I felt sorry for him. I had a lot of money at the time, I just made a lot of money on silver. I loaned him the $1500, didn’t even take a promissory note or anything on it. Well, he did pay me back about $600. The rest of it I never did see again. He still owes me that. Now in the last five years, he’s come into the money. We found out through the motor vehicles department that he has about five vehicles registered there, a big truck, a big moving van, that he’s carrying my paintings in. That cost him about thirty grand. So he’s doing all right.
Now here’s what happened. I went back to South Dakota about a year ago. And in the meantime, he got this idea that he wanted to get this big moving van, put my paintings inside, the best ones I had, he got thirty-five or forty of my best paintings. Old paintings. Framed and everything. I spent over a thousand dollars just on the frames. I spent years doing these paintings. Some of them are mandalas. A mandala is a painting of my soul. He’s got two big mandalas, so he stole these paintings and stole my soul, also.
He promised me we’d have this traveling art exhibition, this show. He had these paintings all put up in the van like this little art gallery, with special black lights and stuff. He spent thousands of dollars on these lights in there. I said to myself, God, if he wants to do that, fine. He was putting up the money for the truck, and I was putting up the paintings. And I was supposed to get fifty percent of the proceeds that came in. Here he goes around to all these different towns, all these shopping centers, clear over as far as Phoenix, Arizona. The Lord only knows where else he’s been. And he’s been making nothing but money off these goddamn things. And I haven’t seen a cent of it. I mean, how do you like that?
He not only borrowed money from me, which he never paid back… he stole forty of my paintings, which are worth about $50,000 on top of that. And on top of that, he never even paid me a cent of what he’s taken in! So this guy has screwed me but good, baby he’s screwed me! And I’m tired of being screwed by someone who’s supposed to be my friend. So I’m gonna do something about it.
I called Spuds Hoffman up back in South Dakota. Spud is a very clever lock picker. And we thought we’d go out and steal these goddamn paintings back. We’re gonna get some tough guys from East San Diego and get some of these hypodermic needles that you shoot cows with when you want to stun ‘em, because [Henson] has a big Doberman pinscher, we’re gonna put his dog out, we’re gonna handle him and get these goddamn paintings back. ‘Cause we don’t feel that it’s stealing, from a thief who’s already stole the paintings. We’re not stealing, we’re just taking back what belongs to us, goddamn it.
But I’m a believer in God, so I prayed one night. I prayed, and God told me the answer. He told me to get ahold of Ricky Fortune, one of my public relations men, and let him handle it. Go on and let him and God handle it, keep your nose clean and stay out of trouble. We could have gotten into trouble doing that. It could have been a blood bath. I don’t know it’d turn out.
I’m in a position where I’m blind. Been blind for two years, can’t paint like I used to. I am painting, and selling a few at mediocre prices. I don’t get the big money like I used to. Christ, I was painting portraits in Hollywood in 1935 and making a hundred grand a year up there! I’m used to big money! But I’m not making big money right now that I’m seventy-eight, I’ll tell you. Because I’m not a great painter like I used to be. I’m just a mediocre blind painter that’s trying to make a mediocre living. If someone wants to stick up for a blind underdog, I can’t say that I blame them.
What we need is to bring the truth to the surface and let this guy squirm in his own goddamn blood. Christ, I may not live long enough to get my paintings back. This goddamn Mike Henson, he thinks that because I’m seventy-eight years old I’m gonna kick the bucket one of these days. He has possession of the paintings, and possession is nine-tenths of the law, he’s gonna get all those goddamn paintings. That’s his little game, I know it is. But he’s wrong! Because God told me that I’m going to be around for quite a while yet. I have no intention of kicking the bucket right away. So mike, I’m sorry, but what your plan is not going to work.
Now, I may be blind and I may be seventy-eight, but I’ve got a helluva lot of backbone, a helluva lotof courage, and a helluva lot of spirit. I’m still doing things, even though I’m blind. I’ve been organizing an organization lately, which is called the Space Cadets of San Diego County. It’s very much like the Boy Scouts, a streamlined organization on a very modern scale, that teaches these kids eight to sixteen about the good things in life. How to keep positive, how to keep away from marijuana, how to keep away from the bad guys and stuff like that, you know. Our slogan is “A good deed a day keeps negativity away.” And Lord only know, in Ocean Beach we have to keep negativity away because half this town is negative anyway. Christ, when little twelve-year-old girls come down to your place smoking marijuana and want you to go out with ‘em, there’s something wrong here. It happened to me the other night. I kicked ‘em off my property and told ‘em I was scratching ‘em off my list if I ever caught ‘em using marijuana again. We’re gonna straighten these goddamn young kids out! But how in the world can you straighten ‘em out when you got assholes like Mike Henson in the world settin’ a bad example for ‘em?
Mike Henson denies that he stole any painting from Clint Cary, and he denies there was ever any deal for splitting the proceeds for the traveling art exhibitions. But he refuses to elaborate on his dealings with Cary, other than to say he owns 304 of the Spaceman’s paintings. Oh, and he’d sell some, if anyone was interested in buying them.