Heroes. It’s a funny word. Means a lot of different things to people. This is one of the most heroic things I ever saw.
It was at Duncan’s memorial. July of 2009. My best friend had died. So I was grieving. On top of that, I had to put together the memorial service for the guy. Which can be stressful. In spite of it’s grim nature, putting on a memorial is kind of like putting together a big party or a concert. Except you get no royalties, let alone a cut of the door. But it was a soulful experience. Hundreds of people expressed their love and respect for Duncan.
By the end of the night I was totally drunk and emotionally drained. But relieved. We had given Duncan a good send-off to the Next Life. So I started to pack everything up. But then I noticed — much to my shock and disbelief — that my backpack was missing. I had kept it stashed under my chair while I was doing my duties as toast-master general of the memorial. But, apparently, somebody had stolen it. Holy shit! Now one thing you have to understand: when you’re a homeless street person, you live out of your backpack. I had all my crucial items in my backpack. A hundred dollars in cash. A clean change of underwear. Both pairs of glasses (I’m half-blind without them). All my glaucoma medication (which cost hundreds of dollars and I needed to take on a daily basis to keep from going completely blind). All my toiletries and other daily-living essentials. Plus: my favorite porn mag (bastard!). But the most painful thing to me: My journal, my notebook, was in my back pack. Three months worth of immortal writings, hand-scribbled by me — Ace Backwords — now lost forever!!! An epic tragedy for me personally. And for the world of literature, which lost a bunch of crucial, irreplaceable shit that I had personally hand-scribbled from the depths of my goddamn soul. So I was bummed. Seriously.
I stood there on the corner of Telegraph and Haste in a complete daze. Completely fucked. It’s like when you’re at your weakest point. And then somebody comes along and kicks you in the nuts. The proverbial knockout punch. My friend had just died. And I couldn’t even properly mourn the loss without somebody stealing all my shit when my back was turned. So I was at a major low point in my life. I just felt like crawling into a hole and dying as Option A. I remember thinking: “I’m just going to pack up all my shit, and then tomorrow I’m gonna’ get on a Greyhound bus. I don’t even care where it’s going. Just anywhere but Berkeley.” I’m generally a fighter. But this was such a low-blow, it just felt like things just weren’t worth fighting for anymore. I mean, if you can’t even relax and let your guard down at a memorial for your best friend without getting stabbed in the back by some asshole. . . .Well, fuck it.
It turned out, this asshole that I had been feuding with for years — lets call him Snake — had stolen my backpack. “You snooze, you lose,” as he cleverly explained to one of his friends. He had been lurking around during the memorial. And, like a viper, he had been waiting, for years, to strike back at me. And so he finally got me when I was most vulnerable.
Basically, the two of us had been scrapping for years. We could both be kind of assholes, so it was inevitable that we would tussle eventually. Snake was one of those guys who caused trouble and got in fights virtually everywhere he went. One of those guys who was constantly getting banned, getting stay-aways, getting restraining orders, getting evicted, getting arrested, everywhere he went. Everywhere. Just one of those types. There are a lot of guys on the streets like him. They burn their bridges everywhere they go, so they end up on the streets because there’s nowhere else for them to go.
Snake was a big guy, about 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, about 30 years old at that point, had kind of a baby-face, often with a malicious, leering smile on his cute little face, in combination with a pea for a brain. A bad combination. He was basically a hulking piece of shit. An opinion widely shared by many.
One time we got in a fight and he hit me over the head with a chair and perforated my ear-drum. And I went deaf in one ear. Which sucked. And made me really, really mad. So I spit in his face and told him: “I’m gonna’ kill you!” And I meant it. So we were seriously scrapping. But then, after about three months of warfare between us, my ear started to heal, so I came to my senses. I figured (as I usually do eventually): “This shit ain’t worth it.” So I apologized. Made peace with the dude. We shook hands like bros. And lived happily ever after. Or so I thought. But actually, he still secretly carried a grudge. So he was just waiting to deliver the knockout punch when I was at my weakest ebb.
So anyways, like I said, at this point I was like some guy who had just been kicked in the nuts. For once I had no comeback. Completely defeated. I give up. Crawl into a hole and die.
But here’s the heroic part. My friend Danny heard about my sad and tragic plight. Which was bad news for Snake. Now Danny, he only had one leg (he lost the other in a motorcycle accident when he was 19). But he was as tough as they come. If you messed with him, he’d get in your face, smack you in the face, and say: “Do you want me to stick my foot up your ass?” A somewhat rhetorical question. But he meant it. But Danny was also a sentimental guy. Family and friends meant a lot to him. And he sort of saw the Telegraph street scene as his extended family. And I think think he was doubly offended that someone would pull such dirty shit on a sacred occasion like a memorial service.
So, on his own accord, Danny somehow managed to track Snake down in the middle of the night. By making a bunch of phone calls, he found out where he lived in downtown Oakland. And he burst right into his apartment. Pounded on the door and burst into his place and basically said: “What did you do with Ace Backwords’s shit?” Turned out, Snake had dumped most of it in the dumpster behind his apartment building. So Danny got Snake (“under duress”) to climb right into that fucking dumpster and he rooted around in the middle of the night, until he had retrieved all my crucial shit. My glasses. My glaucoma medication. My immortal journal. My change of clean underwear . . . Well, he didn’t retrieve my pornography or my hundred dollars in cash — that bastard Snake had pocketed that. But that stuff is replaceable. I got all my crucial stuff back. And lived happily ever after. Well, at least I didn’t crawl into a hole and die.
Is that heroic or what?
/0909/bnduncan_memorial.html (Here are some cool photos from Duncan’s memorial.)