The most unusual of the high priests is Roth, the Crazy Painter, the Famed Kahoona of Weirdsville, who originated the Weirdo shirt. Roth's first name is really Ed, but he doesn't dig it. "I want people to think that this cat has really flipped his lid," Roth says. Nobody who has ever met him is inclined to doubt it.
Roth's shirts, rendered in fluorescent colors, cost $5.50 each, and most are beyond description (see cover). His favorite shows, to quote him, "a head cut off at the neck being held up by a weird monster who has a straw going into the brain cavity, and he's sucking it like a sundae with a real funny-type look on his face." As Roth sees it, the shirts sell because they're "the secret little weapon each juvenile has to terrorize his parents and his environment." (Ernest Dichter scoffs at Weirdo shirts as "a detachable tattoo." He says, "It's a phony way to rebel. You can take it off if you change your mind.")
Roth takes only 15 minutes to airbrush a design on a shirt. "When a kid comes in to me, I take a good look at his face while I'm asking him what he wants," he says, eyes aglitter. "I do the face at the end. He'll have a little thing he wants, the beer he drinks, the girl friend's name or some favorite saying. Like 'It's the water,' from Olympia beer. 'My sister stinks'—I just did one yesterday. 'Flatheads forever,' or, 'I gobble Fords,' or maybe ' Corvette Eaters.'
Not all Roth's customers are hot rodders. Tommy Rettig, who was bounced off the Lassie show for growing too big to play Jeff, the small-boy hero, ordered a shirt showing Lassie being barbecued on a spit.
It was Roth who introduced me to Lou Schorsch, whom Roth described as a hot rodder of the old school. Whatever school he belongs to, Schorsch emerged as an archetype of hot rodder. Now 29, he is married with four daughters and makes a living here and there. A gifted inventor, he has drawn as much as $8,000 a year in royalties for some of his brain children. But he complains bitterly that he cannot get more of a hearing in the industry. "You have to go to college and get a piece of paper," said Schorsch, a high school graduate. "I've done things mechanical engineers said couldn't be done." One example is a carburetor that gets 36 miles to a gallon of gas for a big car like a Buick.
When Schorsch was younger, he used to drag-race a 1932 Ford sedan with a swastika painted on the door The name of the car was " Hitler's Mother." "I did it to more or less shake people up," he explained. "I'm Jewish, so no Jew could come to me and say anything." For the same reason presumably, Mort Zauss, a friend of Schorsch, used to race wearing a German helmet which came, he said, from the Gestapo.
Schorsch, who is now interested in show instead of go, estimated he had been in "maybe 2,000" street races. "I lost my license six or eight times," he said. "I won most of the races, but I got shut off, too. I'd say I won 1,500, lost 500." Schorsch has no fondness for police. "Quote me," he said. "The cops are trying to be big heroes to the kids. That's for the Little League. Real hot rodders don't dig cops. They give you a hassle. I don't know any guy of our age who likes cops. A cop can't even—quote me—handle a screwdriver. Police have no skills of any kind. The job takes no brains. All they want to do is stop you to be the big hero."
Schorsch is absolutely committed to cars. "Hot rodding comes first," he said. "It's above my home, anything. I'll take money out of the milk fund and the kids can eat beans for two months so I can have a new piece of chrome. I've done it. I'm doing it right now. I'm building a solar-powered car."
When his wife objects to his hot rod-ding activities, he walks out of the house. "The car's got gas in it," he said, "and after I go around the block I can't hear her any more. My wife has never told me that she was sorry she married me. Not that I give a damn—I'd just as soon be with a car."
Zauss agreed. "My woman said it was either my car or her," said Zauss, "so I said, 'Goodby, baby!" You take the best thing you can get because you can't have everything. Women are a dime a dozen, but cars, cars you want, are hard to get."