A retired La Jolla mailman who worked as the morning bartender at a pub in Pacific Beach may seem an unlikely local legend.
But Jack Macpherson earned a permanent niche in the history of Southern California beach culture, thanks to the loosely organized group of surfers and other beach-area denizens that he co-founded in the early 1960s -- a crew whose logo was an abstract rendering of a mushroom cloud and whose name became synonymous with “huge beer orgies.”
Macpherson was the Mac in the Mac Meda Destruction Company, the party-loving “underground society” immortalized in “The Pump House Gang,” Tom Wolfe’s famous chronicle of the teenage surfers who hung out at Windansea Beach in La Jolla.
Macpherson, who when he wasn’t tending bar at London’s West End on La Jolla Boulevard made the rounds of other bars on his beach-cruiser bicycle, died of liver and kidney failure Nov. 16 in a La Jolla hospital, his son, John Macpherson, said. He was 69.
“He definitely killed a few beers in his time,” John Macpherson said of his father. “He lived the old-school, ‘50s surfer life -- the kegger parties that never really ended.”
Macpherson was not mentioned by name in Wolfe’s story for the New York World Journal Tribune’s Sunday magazine in 1966; neither was his friend and roommate at the time, Bob “Meda” Rakestraw.
They were older than the young surfers who hung out at the sewage pump house at Windansea, but their Mac Meda Destruction Company was already a part of local lore when Wolfe showed up. His references to the group in “The Pump House Gang,” a classic piece of New Journalism that became the title story in the writer’s 1968 collection of stories, gave the Mac Meda Destruction Company widespread, enduring recognition.
Wrote Wolfe of the young surfers at Windansea in his inimitable style:
“Ooooo-eeee-Mee-dah! They chant this chant, Mee-dah, in a real fakey deep voice, and it really bugs people. They don’t know what the hell it is. It is the cry of the Mac Meda Destruction Company. The Mac Meda Destruction Company is ... an underground society that started in La Jolla three years ago. Nobody can remember exactly how; they have arguments about it. Anyhow, it is mainly something to bug people with and organize huge beer orgies with.”
The genesis of the Mac Meda Destruction Company lies with the sometimes outrageous behavior of Macpherson and Rakestraw, whose nickname came from his habit of crying out “Mee-dah!” instead of swearing.
When the pair would go to a party, Macpherson recalled in a 2003 interview with the La Jolla Light newspaper, Rakestraw “wouldn’t just walk into a house, he’d run through the door and jump out through a window. People would say, ‘Here comes Mac and Meda. They’re a walking destruction company.’ ”
Rakestraw, the unquestionably wilder half of the duo, reportedly was given to getting his thrills by breaking things -- from doors to park benches. Both he and Macpherson, according to a 2004 story in Longboard magazine, stomped on the hood of Rakestraw’s 1954 Mercury “until it bent over the carburetor,” and they sawed out the window posts.
And, drunk on wine while parked outside tennis courts in La Jolla, they decided to light a quarter-stick of dynamite in the front seat. As the tennis players ran over to look at the smoking heap, Rakestraw and Macpherson lay down and played dead.
Over beers one night, the duo came up with the idea of forming a fake “destruction company.”
“It was a goof, a joke, and it just got out of hand,” Macpherson told The Times in 1990.
Macpherson soon began stenciling Mac Meda Destruction Company on T-shirts with red paint. And Mac Meda bumper stickers with the mushroom cloud logo began appearing on cars and windows all over town.
The phony destruction company even had a fake president. Rakestraw was obsessed with Albert, a gorilla at the San Diego Zoo, and would watch him for hours. So Albert became the group’s president: Albert Mac Meda, whose name they put in the local phone book.
“The police always wanted to find Albert, not realizing it was a gorilla at the San Diego Zoo,” said Doug Moranville, a longtime friend of Macpherson’s.
Macpherson and Rakestraw’s penchant for breaking things reached a climax of sorts when land in Sorrento Valley was being cleared for construction of Interstate 5 through San Diego. As Macpherson told former longtime girlfriend Jamie Nay for her unpublished history of the Mac Meda Destruction Company on the wall at London’s West End, with old photos and other Mac Meda items:
“There’d be 10 or 20 of us who would go out with sledgehammers, axes, and football helmets and wreck an old house. Of course, we asked the original owners first. Once we did five houses in one day. Pat Shea, one of the original [San Diego] Chargers usually helped out. The guy weighed 280 pounds. He was huge. I saw him run through a wall once. After we finished with the walls, everyone would climb onto the roof and get the whole house swaying back and forth. I mean, the whole thing would be moving until it caved in with all of us on top of it.”
The Mac Meda Destruction Company was also known for its “conventions,” as they called the big parties they threw at Windansea and other locales.
One vintage photo of a major Mac Meda party at Windansea that included beer kegs and a rock band shows the presence of 10 police cars, two police motorcycles and two paddy wagons.
“Back then,” Macpherson told Longboard, “the cops hated us so much that you could get arrested for walking down the street in a Mac Meda shirt.”
Four decades after Macpherson and Rakestraw’s heyday -- the heavy-drinking Rakestraw died in 1996 -- the mystique of the Mac Meda Destruction Company lives on.
Moranville’s T-shirt shop, the Branding Iron, sells Mac Meda shirts with designs, including a mushroom cloud and an Albert Mac Meda gorilla head. He also sells Mac Meda stickers.
“In town, you see them on car windows everywhere,” he said.
John Duncan Macpherson III was born in La Jolla on Oct. 20, 1937. His father was a Navy surgeon, and the family was living on base in Hawaii at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. Macpherson, his mother and sister returned to La Jolla in 1942.
Macpherson, who began surfing at age 11, became an all-around waterman, who “spent his whole time around the beach area,” his son said.
Twice married and divorced, he retired from the post office in 1991 and then tended bar at London’s West End. “Everybody knew him,” Moranville said. “He was really the kind of guy, you go in there and meet him and he’s your friend.”
In addition to his son, Macpherson is survived by his sister, Jill Higgins, and two grandsons.
A Hawaiian-style “paddle out” in Macpherson’s honor will be held at noon Dec. 10 at Windansea beach.