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These Mad Monks Took Vows to Take to the Road

L.A. STORIES. A slice of life in Southern California.

April 13, 1993|IRENE LACHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Not long ago, Jim the Mad Monk was on the horn and in the altogether, selling ads for Monk the Mobile Magazine, his eponymous "try-quarterly"--"We try to come out quarterly."

Doing business buck naked might not be your average Joe's idea of doing business. But then your average Joe wouldn't be hanging out at a nudist colony waiting for his motor home cum magazine command central to emerge from the repair shop.

And besides, the Mad Monk is nothing if not a friendly guy.

"When in the Elysium Fields, do as the Elysiums," he observes cheerfully of the insouciant Topangans.

That's publishing in the fast lane--and sometimes the shoulder of the road. After seven years on the road, the Monks--Jim Crotty, 33, and Michael Lane, 43--have indeed come a long way: Their eccentric, cultish magazine tracking their trail across the continent has grown to a respectable circulation of 40,000. Their quirky ad base, seeded with such New Age must-haves as a magic parking charm--"Give the gift of space," has graduated to such blue-chip yuppie fare as Grand Marnier.

"Instead of begging bowls, we sell ads," says Crotty, who prides himself on being a '90s kinda monk. "Subscriptions--right?--instead of donations."

In June, Simon & Schuster will court Monk immortality with the release of the pair's official memoir and nod to their hero Jack Kerouac: "Mad Monks on the Road: A 47,000-Hour Dashboard Adventure from Paradise, California, through Royal, Arkansas, and Up the New Jersey Turnpike."

And now the Monks are doing L. A.

The Monkmobile, an aging Fleetwood Bounder, is camped on a bluff in Malibu, where it's outfitted with all a simple magazine monk really needs--futons, a teeny stove, a Macintosh computer, a phone and the Dolly Lama, the monks' cat on the move.

"It's our astronaut-in-training program," says Michael, the frail monk.

"Astronauts could basically not have to get up and run around," says Jim, the hale monk, a gregarious sort who bills himself as the front monk. "It's only two steps to the cutting board in the kitchen, and the computer's on the dash. All the basic tools for survival are right at your disposal."

"The world is our living room," says Michael. "That's why the magazine came into existence, because living in a small space forces us out. Our only form of entertainment is to leave our mobile home."

Their entertainment is your entertainment. Consider the workings of a monk invasion: in Phase One, the monks check out nutty places people have told them about. In Phase Two, they strike out on their own.

In Phase Three, Monk magazines making fun of Phases One and Two spontaneously blanket bookshops and newsstands around town. (Such serendipitous Monk sightings are not, however, the only way to go. Readers who call (800) GET-MONK can order a "lifetime after lifetime of episodes" for $100, making Monk "the only magazine to guarantee your subscription the next time you come around.")

Phase Three ought to hit L. A. in June, around the same time as the book.

"We're going to totally Monk this city," Crotty vows.

The Monking of L. A. begins at the Dudley Do-Right Emporium on Sunset, that hybrid shop and Mecca for those who still cherish the Mountie and his ilk after all these years.

"I'm Jim the Mad Monk from Monk, the Mobile Magazine," he says to a friendly looking woman behind the counter.

The woman has been spending much of her life in the shadow of a giant plaster moose, after all, so Phase One isn't fazing her.

"Nice to meet you."

Jim drags a giant cardboard Dudley into the center of the store and begins wildly waving various incarnations of the Dud's cartoon cousins--a stuffed Rocky and a Bullwinkle--as Michael snaps away.

And then it happens. The quintessential L. A. moment that will be crystallized and polished for posterity in the next issue of Monk. An Industry mom appears with 7-year-old progeny in tow and in search of a "George of the Jungle" tape. Jim immediately visualizes a Do-Rightian tableau.

"Maybe he'd want to be in the picture," Jim says to the mom. "He could be in front of Dudley Do-Right buying 'George of the Jungle.' "

Mom demurs. "He's a union child."

Jim: "He's a union child. Are you serious?"

Mom: "I've learned. I was a child actor. I learned a long time ago not to even give sound bites."

Jim: "Especially to monks."

It's a monk's life. And what exactly is a monk's life and, for that matter, what is a monk?

A monk is a Master of Nomadic Knowledge.

The monks' long, strange trip began seven years ago in San Francisco, not long after the gay couple's fateful meeting at an April Fool's dance in 1985. They stripped down their possessions and struck out on the road, detailing their adventures in a newsletter for friends that blossomed into the 70-ish page glossy magazine.

"This culture thinks it's nomadic because there are cars, but that's not nomadic because people go back home to a stable dwelling," Jim says. "What is unique about Mike and I is that there is no fixed place. The Earth is our home every night."

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