Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Winter 2022    poetry    all issues


Joyce McCown

Kristina Cecka

Jeremy Glazer

Richard M. Lange
Night Walk

Eleanor Talbot
The Calamitous Consequence of a Small Thing That Gets Big

Christopher Mohar

Nicholas Darmody
All Those Not Seen

Darcy Casey
A Hard No

Weston Miller
Dystopian Lit

Chelsea Dodds

Michael Sadoff
The Day I Saw Janis

Jeannie Morgenstern

Writer's Site

Michael Sadoff

The Day I Saw Janis

This might be my last chance to see her, I was thinking that day when the gear shifter on my old Beetle broke off. I was in the far-left lane on the Bay Bridge, the broken shifter in my hand, my foot on the clutch, the car in neutral and starting to decelerate. My friend Vic was in the passenger seat singing along to The Byrds on the radio, crooning “A time to laugh, a time to weep.” He didn’t notice what was happening and just kept singing, so I held the metal bar out to him.

He stopped midline and said, “Far out man.” He was my old fraternity brother from Brooklyn College and part of the reason I had moved to California. Someone I couldn’t help but follow. He rolled down his window, leaned his head out and waved at the other drivers, his hair gyrating in the wind. “Get back! We gotta pull over!” He turned to me. “You got it now. Quick.”

I cut across three lanes and rolled to a stop, horns blasting behind us. San Francisco perched above the water in a halo of overcast sky, beckoning.

I pulled up the parking brake, climbed across the front seats and squeezed out of the passenger side. A tailpipe somewhere backfired. Light flashed across steel beams. Traffic merged from four lanes to three, and I thought, where the hell did the time go? It felt like I’d only moved here yesterday. Except that was 1967, and this was 1969, and the times they had a-changed.

Not for the better. Still the war raged. Utopia had failed to materialize.

Outside the car, the stench of exhaust and gasoline started to make me dizzy, like I was levitating, and my eyes watered from the glare off the bay. People swore at us through their windows. “These people are out of their freaking minds,” said Vic. He had chestnut brown hair and a beard, which grew shaggier as the war dragged on. It had been years since I’d last seen the divot of his pointy chin.

He was still clean cut when my wife and I moved out here. We would go on double dates or to parties. Back then, we thought street marches and folk songs would make a difference. You could feel the energy in the air. Then, Leslie got pregnant with our daughter, and Nixon got elected. The party was over, for me anyway. Wouldn’t you know I’d get one night out and have car trouble.

Vic leaned into the road waving for help. You would never try this in New York City. In California, a light blue Ford Fairlane coupe stopped, and a woman with long, straight hair and a plaid button-down called through the window in a sing-song voice, “You guys can ride with us.”

Inside the car smelled of menthol cigarettes. A raspberry blond, Robert Redford looking dude in a gray suit was driving. He pulled into the next lane and with patience broke loose from the traffic snarl. He made eye contact with me through the rearview and asked where to drop us off.

“Can we go back to 1967?” I asked.

“I never heard of 1967,” he said. “Sounds quaint.”

“Dennis here remains steadfast in the 50s,” said the woman. “He even kept the suit.” She ran her hand down his jacketed arm. “Show them your elbow patches, Denny.” A dimple appeared on her cheek as she grinned at me and batted her blue eyes.

As far as I could remember, no woman had ever batted eyes at me, not even my wife. I thought it only happened in movies.

Most of my life, I had done basically what I ought to have done and what people expected. I had fallen for Leslie in college and had married, a little earlier than intended, but there was the deferment. I taught elementary school and worked on my graduate degree and every Sunday morning would put little Cynthia into her carrier and stroll to the park.

“Give me your hand,” said the woman in the car. She was a rosy-cheeked California doll. No make-up required. Chiseled nose, girlish grin, perfect teeth. A picture of innocence.

Before moving to California, I hadn’t known that women like this existed. I had never even seen a woman get her hair wet in the swimming pool.

“Come on,” she sang.

“I’ll give you my hand,” said Vic.

“Not you, silly. Not that you aren’t cute.”

Her hand felt cool when I took it. She said to call her Kat and asked my name. “It’s okay to want things for yourself, Henry. You know that, right?”

“He doesn’t know that,” said Vic. “You need to tell him what he wants. It won’t occur to him otherwise.”

Dennis cleared his throat. “Sounds like a grave responsibility.”

The tires rumbled on the ramp to Fifth Street. Kat rolled up her window against the cool, damp air of downtown San Francisco, and we rode past Rincon Hill’s abandoned factories and warehouses.

Twenty-seven years of my life had gone by already. Still young, I know, but it all happened too fast, and no one had ever asked me what I wanted. One day I was a kid collecting stamps, the next I was someone’s dad.

“I take it very seriously,” said Kat. “I only want what Henry wants.”

“You may be waiting awhile to find out,” said Vic.

She studied my face. “He wants love.”

“He wants to watch baseball,” said Dennis.

It was a good guess. I had been a Giants fan since they were the New York Giants, and they were playing the Padres that day at Candlestick. Anyway, the Braves had already clinched it, and what I wanted that night was to hear Janis sing the blues. I had always loved the blues, and she was the real deal. She could sing away all that longing and regret.

We were stuck in traffic again. I didn’t know what to do. The plan had been Chinese food and the show at Fillmore West. My car was back there on the bridge, and the concert was at eight. I needed to call a tow truck. On Market Street, women in flared pants crowded the crosswalks.

“I can drop you gents off at the next payphone if that works.”

Vic was watching the girls. “Sure, anywhere.”

Kat pressed in the cigarette lighter and fished a pack of Newports from her handbag. “I think we should invite them along.”

After a moment, Dennis said, “I don’t think they would satisfy the dress requirements.” She smiled and swatted him on the shoulder. When the lighter popped out, she lit her cigarette and cracked her window as she exhaled. Menthol billowed through the car.

“Where you two heading?” asked Vic.

Dennis and Kat glanced at each other, a secret in the air. Her cheeks colored, and he began to hum “Ode to Joy.”

She took another drag from her cigarette and peeked back at me, fully blushing now. I was craving a smoke too, even if they were menthols. I thought maybe the two of them were going to a love-in and that Kat wanted me to join her. I felt like I was on a carnival ride.

“Do you mind if I have one of those?” I asked. I had quit smoking the year before when Cynthia was born.

Kat lit another cigarette off the end of hers and handed it to me. The menthol cooled my throat. The clouds opened, and sunlight splashed across the street scene. Truth be told, I had never made it with a total stranger. Not that I hadn’t thought about it before.

“I have grass,” said Vic.

Dennis hung a right and started up a side street. “Always good to bring a party favor.”

“We don’t want to crash your party,” I said.

“Nonsense,” said Kat.

We stopped at a traffic light, where a mustachioed man in a skintight leather vest crossed the street singing in a falsetto.

The city got weirder every time I went there. It felt like I was missing all the excitement. I spent most of my time at home or in the classroom.

“Let’s check out the party,” said Vic.

There were warmup acts playing that night. I wondered if maybe we could stop by the party, leave in time to catch Janis and worry about the car later. But how would I get to work in the morning? And what would I tell Leslie about the car? “I don’t think so,” I said.

Kat pouted her lips.

“Come on, stop in for a drink,” said Dennis. “We’ll pretend it’s 1967.”

We arrived at an enormous brick home in Pacific Heights with views of downtown and the bay, its pastel blue water dotted with sails. Kat smiled, bittersweet it seemed, like she was remembering something great that would never happen again or maybe imagining something that would never happen in the first place. “At least come inside and use the telephone.”

“I definitely want to use the phone in this place,” said Vic admiring the facade. “Get you unstuck, right?”

Inside, The Mamas & the Papas sang from a record player. Men wore dark suits or checkered blazers, and the ladies bell bottom pants and crop tops. A woman in a black cocktail dress and tiara greeted us, kissing Dennis and Kat on the cheeks. “Where did you get these two young men?” she asked, spilling drops from a martini glass. “They’re so authentic.”

“Yes, very authentic,” said Dennis. “We found them on the Bay Bridge.”

“How serendipitous. I’m Bianca. Would either of you like a drink?”

“I’d love some red wine,” said Vic. He held his hand up before I could answer. “My friend drinks whiskey on the rocks.”

“Oh, a real man’s drink,” said Bianca gazing up at me.

“Should I have worn a jacket?” I asked.

“Don’t worry about that. That’s what the men wore when I started throwing these parties. Times changed, but they kept wearing the suits.” She pinched a lock of Vic’s hair. “Until you two rebels showed up.” She smiled and turned to get our drinks. Dennis and Kat had already started mingling.

“We’re only staying for one,” I said to Vic.

“I know.”

“We shouldn’t be here.”

“It’s like the song. There’s a season for everything, a time for every purpose under heaven.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s not what they meant.”

“I know what they meant, and you know I want peace more than anyone, but there’s also a time to love, and this is that time.”

In the living room by the picture window, we drank and smoked grass. “You should have been at Monterey,” Vic was saying for what felt like the fiftieth time. “Holy smokes. Hendrix. It was like a UFO came and flew us to outer space.”

Dennis crinkled his nose. “Hendrix is a great showman, but we’re not talking about real musicality. These hacks can’t even read music.”

“Dennis listens to classical,” said Kat, “so when Hendrix learns to make UFO sounds from an oboe or clarinet, it may pique his interest.”

People were slipping upstairs or down the hallway in pairs or in threesomes.

I drifted off to find a bathroom. No one answered the knock, so I pushed it open. A man was on the commode with his sleeve rolled up and a band around his arm. Sweat dotted his face and stained his armpits. “It’s occupied,” he said. I closed the door and hung out there in the hallway, waiting for my turn to use the john. The counterculture was rotting from the inside.

Kat appeared in the hallway. “Oh, dear. You seem a bit stressed.”

“I have to pee and this guy’s taking a while.”

The toilet flushed, and he came out looking pale. Blond hair stuck to his forehead. “The lock is broken.” He rounded the banister and trudged zombie-like upstairs.

When I came out, she was still standing there, a little sheepish. She leaned against the wall with her fingers in her jean pockets. Turned her face to the side and grinned, narrowing her eyes. “Would you like to fool around?” She came closer until our lips almost touched.

If I could just undo the top button of her shirt, maybe it would be enough. “My lady and me. We’re a steady thing.”

She spoke softly in my ear. “You shouldn’t limit yourself. So many great friends and beautiful people. Love is everywhere.” My heart raced when she took my hand. She kissed my cheek and whispered. “Such a sweet man. I only want to give you something to remember me by.” She led me to the stairway.

Letting myself get pulled along. “I think maybe this is wrong.”

“But here you are and here I am and what a wonderful accident. It’s really the right sort of wrong, don’t you think?” She led me upstairs and down the hall, opening a door that was ajar. Inside, a couple was balling on a four-poster bed. “Oops, sorry,” she said casually and closed it. At the next door, a girl in a cherry red tunic dress and ripped white stockings slipped out, her Mary Jane shoes in hand. She wasn’t more than eighteen.

“Hey, baby, where you heading?” asked a shirtless man from inside.

“I told you I wasn’t into this,” she slurred.

“What’s the matter, you don’t like me?” His voice set me on edge.

Kat glanced over her shoulder at me looking unsure.

Patchouli overtook the dim hallway, and a woman in a paisley dress and headband appeared from inside the room, nudging the guy out of the way. A motherly expression on a sun-weathered face. “What’s the matter, honey?”

“I want to go home,” said the girl.

“Let’s talk about it inside and let these nice people go by.”

The girl sniveled and looked at her feet.

“She said she wants to go home,” I said.

The shirtless guy popped his mophead into the hallway. He had a red bandana around his neck. “Hey, you Big Brother or something?”

“Just a concerned citizen.”

“You look like a square to me.” His big brown belt was the only thing holding up his pants.

“Let her go home.”

The girl turned to me wide-eyed, her pupils dilated. “Big Brother?” she said.

I was a vessel drifting without instruments. “Just trying to help,” I said.

“Yeah? Well, get lost,” said the woman in the paisley dress.

“Come on, Henry, let’s go,” said Kat.

“Henry,” said the shirtless guy. “Look at you, cool cat. What’s the matter? Think your shit doesn’t stink? We’re all trying to get our rocks off here, right?”

Growing up in Canarsie, Brooklyn, I’d defended myself against some tough guys, and this twerp didn’t scare me. I inched closer. “Say another word to me.”

Heads poked out of doors to see what was happening. I had marched for peace seven times and now I wanted to rearrange this guy’s face.

And there it was. I wanted. Wanted to bang a foxy blonde. Wanted to hang loose at the party. Wanted to smoke cigarettes and drink whiskey. Wanted to hear Janis Joplin sing the blues. Wanted to punch this loser in the nose. The anger tasted metallic. Kat tried to take my hand again, but I pulled away.

The shirtless guy’s crooked mouth formed a smirk, and he squinted, one eye smaller than the other. He had a faded scar on his cheek like the threads on a baseball. “Hey, man, don’t flip your wig,” he said. “Come on, babe,” he said to the girl. “Let’s hang out.” He took her by the elbow and started to lead her back into the room.

I aimed for the scar when I threw the punch. The pain shot to my elbow. The woman in the paisley dress shrieked. The girl ran out of there. He hadn’t seen the punch coming and wobbled sideways to the opposite wall twisting like a rubber band. He steadied himself, straightening to face me, no longer smirking. Lowered his shoulder and lunged, slamming us both against the wall. I heard my head thud against plaster. He spun away before I could hit back.

When he came at me again, I grabbed the stupid bandana from around his neck and yanked it. He went bug-eyed and gagged, his hands going to my wrist. How easily I could snap his neck. What was I doing? I let go. That’s when they pulled us apart.

Half-dressed people were in the hallway. Most had only seen when I nearly choked the guy. A welt formed on his cheek. People came to his aid. He panted but looked satisfied. Tears ran down Kat’s rosy cheeks. Bianca’s face, which earlier had been flushed with booze and giddiness, was colorless. She looked at me in astonishment. “I have to ask you to leave,” she said apologetically.

“Ah, Hank,” said Vic. “What did you do?”

I beelined for the front door. Kat tried to follow, but I shook her off. I was a married man and a father and shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

The sun was setting, its orange fingers stroking the bay’s water. I crossed the street and sat at the curb. At least I had gotten out of there without cheating on my wife, however ungracefully. My hand was starting to throb, my left shoulder too from where he threw me against the wall. A knot was rising on the back of my head. That dirtbag was still inside milking it for sympathy.

I barely noticed when the signal red Triumph TR turned onto Divisadero and started speeding down the hill. The sound of its engine drew my attention. Gorgeous car. Its top was down, the driver in a plaid golf hat and wrap-around sunglasses, gaining speed.

And that’s when the girl in the ripped stockings stumbled from between two parked cars down the street. The Triumph careened toward her, me jumping up and waving my hands, shouting for him to stop. Tires screeched. The car skidded a few feet from where she stood oblivious. Burnt rubber filled the air.

“What are you doing?” the driver yelled at her. “Are you crazy?”

She looked at me like maybe she knew me from somewhere. Then she realized what had almost happened and the color drained from her face.

“Come on, let’s get you off the road,” I said and started to lead her away.

“What in god’s name?” said the guy in the sports car. He had a clean shave and a buttoned-up polo shirt with stripes down the front. His tailpipe made little puttering sounds. Seemed like he cared more about his car than he did about people.

I shook my head and went back to helping the girl, who shuffled to the sidewalk, her stockings threadbare, her shoes nowhere to be seen. The last few rays of sunshine poked at us from between two houses.

“This is why I don’t like hippies,” said the guy in the car.

This, from a man who wears leather driving gloves. “I’m not a hippie. I’m a teacher. And you’re a pretentious asshole.”

He shook his head and grabbed his perfectly intact gear shifter. “To hell with you.” He sped away, sticking in first gear too long so the engine revved. He rolled through a stop and cruised toward the bay, shrinking to a tiny red speck and dipping below a ridge.

The girl gazed into the sky. “The light’s so beautiful,” she said. She had paper flowers in her hair. She turned to me with wonder, her pupils like two dark caves. “I almost died.” She started to sob.

Vic was outside now too, standing across the street. I had no idea how long he’d been there. “I see you’re still winning friends and influencing people,” he said. He crossed the road. “I called a garage in Oakland. They’ll tow your car if it’s still there.”

“I’m glad you got to use the telephone. I heard it was nice.”

He squinted at me with bloodshot eyes. He had been a good friend for almost a decade, but I’d relied on him too much, believing that life for him was somehow easier. It wasn’t true. He wanted to live in a world where all that mattered was your soul. Wanted to find bliss. Wanted to love lots of women and for them to all love him back. Wanted to end the war. Wanted the will of the righteous and the power of good to overcome greed and evil. He’d be disappointed. The false promise of drugs, the bad habits that eventually caught up with him. “What happened to you in there?” he asked.

“Figured out what I wanted.”

“Yeah? Did you get it?”

“Some things were mutually exclusive.” I didn’t explain.

It had been my choice to get married and have a kid. I needed to stand by that decision and couldn’t go through life wondering how it happened or letting other people lead me around. Every minute of every day, I had to decide for myself what kind of man I wanted to be.

The girl was slumped now on the sidewalk. I squatted down and talked to her. Her name was Sandy. She lived just north of the Fillmore District and couldn’t remember how she’d gotten to the party. We rode the bus with her and eventually found the three-story apartment on Pierce Street where she lived with her parents. At least one good thing would come out of the day. “Tell your mom you have a headache and go crash,” Vic advised.

She wrapped her boney arms around me. “Thank you,” she whispered and turned toward the gracious Victorian with its yellow spire, walking up the front steps and through the wooden door to whatever life she would end up living.

When we arrived at Fillmore West, a crowd was waiting to get through the door. They had moved the venue the previous year to Van Ness in what used to be the Carousel Ballroom. I remember a bored looking copper, his hand on his nightstick, his mind elsewhere. I can still picture the auditorium with its glass chandeliers, wooden balconies and velvet curtains.

Janis was late taking the stage that night, and everyone got restless. They started stomping and shouting her name. I thought maybe she was too high to perform. Finally, the lights dimmed, and she strutted out and broke into an Eddie Floyd song, a horn section blowing behind her. Her eyes were rolling back in her head, and she stumbled when she tried to dance. I wasn’t sure if she would make it through the set, but she kept going like nothing else mattered.

Vic drank more booze and smoked grass during the show and after a while didn’t look so good himself. His eyes were red slits. He was slurring and not making sense, and I had to steady him from falling at one point. He had that same look on his face like the girl at the party. Lost. At the mercy of others.

I guess everyone just wants to feel better in the moment no matter the cost.

When the show ended, the cool fresh air was a relief. Steam rose from our sweaty clothes, and billows of smoke escaped the front doors, catching in the intersection of Van Ness and Market and swirling in the cross breeze, while all of us stumbled bleary-eyed into the night. I had to lead the way for Vic and figure out our way home. I had never seen him this far gone. Finally, we pushed onto a crowded bus and rode back to Oakland together in silence.

They said Janis was past her prime. A junkie. A shadow of who she was in 1967. It was still the best show I ever saw. Even on a bad night, the woman could sing the blues like no other. Sure, maybe she was strung out. Maybe the whole thing seemed unreal to her like the day had seemed to me. One day she was a girl singing in the shower, the next she was a rock star. Still young, but everything had happened too fast, and no one had ever asked her what she wanted.

Michael Sadoff is author of the novel The Greatest Unit of Value and is currently at work on a short story collection entitled The Hotel Motel. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in South Carolina Review, Barely South Review, Main Street Rag and others. He has an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. In his spare time, he works full-time because there’s no money in fiction writing. For more information, please visit

Dotted Line