Acid Heroes: the Legends of LSD

November 23, 2015

People who died


Remembrances of people past from good ole’ Uncle Ace.

Wayne-With-No-Brain got his nickname because he burned out his brains on speed.  You’d often see him shuffling around like a zombie late at night, dressed in rags, his eyes like two pieces of burned coal, staggering from nowhere to nowhere.  Near the end of his life, Wayne got straight and cleaned up his act.  Some agency got him a little room in Oakland. You’d see him on the Ave and he was always wearing a brightly colored, brand new tie-dye t-shirt.  And he did part-time work for one of the street vendors, helping them load and unload their vending stands.  But it was a little too little too late.  “The doctors told me I got two kinds of cancer,” he told me.  “I got a brain tumor and lung cancer.  So its kind of a double-whammy.  They told me there’s nothing they can do and I got one month left to live.”  “Man, how are you dealing with that?”  I asked.  “Well, I do get a little depressed some times late at night when I’m lying on my bed.  But what can you do.”  That was the last time I saw Wayne.

Frannie had been on the scene a long time.  She was probably around 50 but she still looked very cute and girlish.  “Cute as a bunny,” is how people described her.  She seemed pretty solid at first, but then I think she got into substances a little too much and it was like over-night she became daffy.  You’d see her sitting on the sidewalk surrounded by her big piles of stuff mindlessly pawing at her possessions (Frannie was famous for being a pack-rat who compiled big piles of stuff everywhere, usually piles of brightly-colored pastel-colored clothes, which was her trademark, and other tweaked out flotsam-and-jestsom that she’d find on the streets).  One day somebody told me that Frannie was in the hospital with some kind of disease.  And that was the last we saw of her.   I’d look at the spot in the Park where she always camped, and now she was gone.  And it was like she had just gone “POOF!” in a puff of smoke.  That’s often how it is on the streets.  Here one moment, then gone.

The Bubble Guy was in his 40s.  But he always reminded me of a big kid.  A lot of street people are like that.  Perpetual 17-year-olds.  Bubble Guy wasn’t so much an outlaw as a prankster.  He was the guy in high school that would blow up mailboxes with cherry bombs.  And he never out-grew this sort of outsider hostility towards mainstream society.  Gruff but congenial, with a sardonic sense of humor.  For many years Bubble Guy had a cute girlfriend with sad, puppy-dog eyes who followed him around silently everywhere he went.  Bubble Guy got his nickname because he had this soap-and-water-and-wand kit where he’d make these huge bubbles.  He’d stand on the balcony of the Student Union Building and blow these beautiful bubbles into the air while we did our Hate Man drum circle below.  The bubbles were multi-colored and sparkled and twinkled as they floated gracefully in the sky, adding a magical touch to many nights on the scene.  And when he was done he’d always dump his excess soapy water into the Sproul fountain, which turned the fountain into a huge bubble bath.  The campus authorities hated that, because they had to clean out the fountain every time, but for some reason it took them years to figure out who the culprit was.  And Bubble Guy ended up getting banned from the campus. . . The last time I saw Bubble Guy I remember shaking his hand and I was shocked that the skin on his hand was as hard as a rock.  It was from some kind of disease.  I guess the disease got him.  Because that was the last time I saw him.

Stairway was a street musician in his early ’60s.  He had been on the street scene for a long time.  He kinda’ looked like Santa Claus with cowboy boots and a Southern drawl.  He was a hardcore alcoholic who would get the shakes in the morning if he didn’t have that first beer waiting for him to calm him down.  One time he was sitting on the bench in the Park and he had just opened a fresh 40 when a cop swooped down out of  nowhere and gave him a ticket.  That didn’t faze Stairway in the least.  But when the cop started to pour out Stairway’s 40 he went ballistic.  “NO!! YOU BASTARD!!  YOU WORTHLESS COCKSUCKER!! GIMME’ THAT BOTTLE!!”  He actually lunged at the cop and tried to wrestle that beer out of his hands, like it was his very life-blood itself.  I thought the cop was going to taze Stairway, but I guess the cop could tell that Stairway was just old and feeble.  But man did Stairway curse that cop out the whole time the cop was writing up the ticket. . .  I remember another scene on that very bench.  I don’t know what caused it — I think Stairway was refusing to share his beer with this young gutter punk ne-er-do-well.  So the punk cold-cocked Stairway.  Punched him right in the head.  Stairway went down like a sack of shit.  Laid there face-down on the ground for some time, until some of his drinking buddies finally helped him back on the bench.  The street scene can get sordid like that, especially the alkie segment of it. . .  Stairway was sort of a bullshitter.   Always making up stories.  Though more blarnie than con-man.  “I was good friends with Lowell George,” Stairway often mentioned.  “I wrote half the songs on the first Little Feat album and recorded with them in the studio.”  Stairway told his stories so many times, I’m sure he believed them.  He wasn’t a great guitarist — generally he’d learn one or two lines and a couple of chords from a song, and then just scat-sing the rest of it.  But when Stairway showed up with his guitar and his 40s you knew the street party was going to get rolling. . . . The last winter in Berkeley finally got to him.  He’d pass out in his sleeping bag and lay there all night through a pouring rainstorm.  On top of that, he’d usually piss himself in his sleep.  So those wet, cold nights finally wore him out.  Shortly after Christmas when he got his SSI check, he bought a plane ticket to go back to North Carolina to see his family one last time before he died.  Which is how it went.



The streets

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 11:02 pm
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A cop recently asked Hate Man:  “What are you doing?”

“I’m working on my books,” said Hate Man.

“What do you mean you’re working on your books?”

“During the course of the month I loan out money to dozens of people.  And a bunch of other people have regular tabs with me.  So on the first of the month  I have to tabulate all the numbers to see where I’m at.”

“That’s the craziest thing I ever heard!”  laughed the cops.

The cop was dumbfounded at the idea that a 79-year-old homeless guy basically operated as sort of a communal trading post for the street scene.  Some people are often surprised to find that street people pretty much operate just like most other people and the other facets of society.

In truth, the streets are just like high school, except with rattier clothes and less teeth.


November 21, 2015

Here comes da’ judge!


I have a bit of ordeal in store for me tomorrow morning.  I have to get down to the courthouse in downtown Oakland by 6:30 AM to deal with my “open container” ticket.   So I gotta’ wake up at my campsite at about 5 AM.  Pack everything up in the darkness.  And walk about a mile to the bus-stop on Telegraph.  Then I take the bus to downtown Oakland.  Then you have to wait in line outside the courthouse in the freezing wind for an hour before they open the doors at 7:45 AM.  It’s important to get there an hour early because they only let the first hundred people on line get into the courtroom

I almost spaced out and forgot all about my court date.  You have two months to take care of your ticket before it turns into a warrant for your arrest (and that’s no fun).  And I just realized today that tomorrow is the last day I got left to take care of it.  So I better get my ass down there.  Part of my problem is that I procrastinate and put things off to the last minute.  But I was also shocked and surpised at how fast those two months flew by.

I find the whole courthouse scene surreal.  Waiting outside in the dark, half-asleep, with a couple hundred other offenders.  Going through the metal detector (I always struggle to keep my pants from falling down after I’ve taken off my belt, while I struggle to gather up all my possessions and not lose my place in line).  Waiting in another long line to get to one of the clerks at the window so they can schedule your appearance before da’ Judge (your Honor, it’s so nice to meet you again!).  Lounging around in the lobby waiting for the court session to begin (that’s the only part of the ordeal I sort of  enjoy, I can finally buy a cup of coffee at the concession stand, and I usually get a hot dog, too, and then I kill time for an hour reading a newspaper).

And then, finally, you’re sitting in the court room going through the motions of that well-oiled machine.  And its’ kinda’ like being a slab of meat on an assembly line.  As you mindlessly shuffle down the line.  And everybody gets to take a pound of your flesh at every stop.


November 20, 2015

An anecdotal demographic survey taken by my eyeballs

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 10:13 pm
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Somebody recently asked me about the “demographics” of the Berkeley homeless population.  One disturbing thing occurred to me.  Probably the fastest-growing segment of that demographic are young, white people in their late teens, early 20s.  Nearly as many young women as young men.  What’s disturbing is that there is virtually nothing “street” about most of these young adults.   They’re mostly clean-cut.  Don’t seem to be excessively using drugs or alcohol.  They just seem like average young people.  Aside from the fact that they’re flopped out on the sidewalks, staring blankly at you as you pass them.

Most likely, the primary reason they ended up homeless wasn’t because of any particular dysfunctional behavior on their part.  But quite simply.  There is no housing available for them.  They’ve been completely priced out of the Bay Area housing market.

This is a marked contrast to when I first hit the street scene back in 1976.  Back then, most of the homeless were “street” types. If you know what I mean.  Skid row alcoholics.  Druggies.  Mental cases.  Hippie adventurers.  Etc . . .

But nowadays, we have a whole new breed of people who are ending up on the streets.


A tale of two street people: A young homeless woman

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 10:00 pm
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I saw something this afternoon that depressed the hell out of me for the rest of the day.  I passed this young homeless woman as I was walking down Shattuck Avenue.  She was maybe 19 or 20.  A little on the frumpy side. Sort of plain. Just an average, bland-looking person.  And she had a big backpack on her back.  And she’s got bags of stuff over her shoulders up front.  And she’s carrying more bags in her arms.  She looks sort of like a pack-mule. She’s probably carrying everything she owns in the world.  Lugging all this stuff back and forth wherever she goes.

She’s wearing colorful but plain clothes.  Sort of the Raggedy Ann look.  The layered look.

But as she passed me I could tell she was crying.  Her face was contorted in this expression of pain and unhappiness.

For a second I considered turning around and going after her.  Ask her: “HEY, are you all right?” Maybe give her some money. Or give her the tough love lecture:  “Hey, it’s hard out here.  You gotta’ be tough.  Crying for yourself just makes it worse.”

But it was really none of my business.  And maybe she just wanted to be left alone.  So I just kept walking.  But I kept thinking about her as I walked down the street.  Wondering who she was.

I got the impression that she was coming from nowhere.  And was going nowhere.  And she was trapped.  With no way out.  No escape from the hell her life had become.

It can get like that.


A tale of two street people: Hate Man

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 9:42 pm
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Ace Backwords's photo.Hate Man never ceases to amaze me.  I’ve seen so many people hit the streets, young and strong, and they just sort of disintegrate right in front of you.  But Hate Man is 79-years-old , and he’s been living on the streets for decades.   And yet he’s still a pretty virile and vital guy.  Still has a twinkle in his eye and a skip in his step.

Even more amazing, Hate Man smokes two packs of Virginia Slims a day, and drinks gallons of coffee with 30 packets of sugar in every cup.

So he’s not exactly a health freak. I sometimes wonder how Hate Man stays so healthy.  Some of it is good genes, of course.  But I think a lot of it is that he really gets off on being alive, gets a charge out of being the Hate Man, and wants to keep being the Hate Man for as long as he can.  That’s probably the secret.  The ole’ life force.

Of course, like everybody, Hate Man has had his health issues.  About 10 years ago Hate got deathly sick one day.  I could tell by his gray, ashen complexion that it was serious.  For some reason he couldn’t piss.  So they rushed him off to the hospital and they put a tube up his dick (I apologize for not knowing the correct medical term) and he’s been fine ever since.

And then a couple years ago he suddenly had a heart attack and fell down and passed out on the sidewalk.  Again they packed him off to the hospital and put a pacemaker in his chest. And within a week or two, he was back at his spot in People’s Park, smokin’ and drinkin’ and pushin’ just like usual.

Last night Hate Man said to me, with a trace of alarm:  “I’ve been pissing up blood.”  But he decided to tough it out.  Made it through the rainstorm last night, sleeping on the sidewalk under his special set-up of plastic tarps.

But this morning he decided to get his ass to the hospital.  “The doctor told me I have a yeast infection,” he said.  “Which is weird.  I thought only women got that.  But they gave me some pills and I’m already feeling better.”

I can count the number of 80-year-old homeless people I’ve known over the years on zero fingers.  But Hate Man will probably be the first.

Knock.  Knock.


November 19, 2015

Moo Cat the misanthrope


Ace Backwords's photo.One thing I’ve never been able to figure out.  Why Moo Cat hates all the other cats.  What do they call a person who hates people?  A misanthrope?  Well, Moo Cat is a cat version of that.

What’s weird is, all the other feral cats mostly get along.  Live-and-let-live.  Especially if there’s enough food to go around.  And Moo Cat’s own sister, Scamp — same basic genetic make-up and social conditioning — gets along with everybody and is the most lovable and even-tempered cat imaginable.  But Moo Cat?  Whenever another cat shows up, she immediately starts in with this non-stop guttural growl of fear and hatred.  Often she’ll literally be shaking with rage.  Weird.

I don’t know where this trait comes from.  Just her in-born nature, I guess.  But it turns her into a pariah with the other cats.  . . Oh well.   At least she gets along great with me.

*                                             *                                               *


Moo Cat and Owl, facing off.  They have an adversarial relationship.  Mostly because Owl is the alpha male of the tribe.  And Moo Cat is such a bitch (ha ha).  Periodically, Owl will have had enough of Moo Cat’s shit and he’ll physically run her off the scene.  And Moo Cat will spend months cowering in the shadows.  Right now, Moo Cat is feeling very tough because she knows I’ll back her up.  Ha ha.  Cats.


November 18, 2015

My life in the Lady’s Shoe department

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 12:14 am
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Then: The Bamberger's at Garden State Plaza was rebranded as a Macy's store in 1986.

When I was 19 I moved back into my parent’s house for a couple months.  Which was weird.  Sleeping in the same bedroom that I had slept in as a child, only now I was an adult man.  But at the time I was going through a phase where I wasn’t sure what direction to go with my life (a phase that lasted approximately 40  years and counting).  So this gave me the opportunity to assess my options in life.  I basically had three options at that point:  a.) Go to college.  b.)  Hit the open road and have adventures.  Or c.)  Get a job and go to work.   I had already spent a year in college, and I was bored with that.  And I had already done a cross-country hitch-hiking trip, and I had realized that the adventures on the open road could get pretty fucking weird.  So I decided to give that work thing a try.

So I got a job working in the stock room of the lady’s shoe department at Bamberger’s department store, this big store that was a part of this huge mall located in the middle of this interlocking maze of freeways in up-state New Jersey.  I figured, maybe I could start out in the stockroom and work my way up to the CEO of Bamberger’s, Inc.  (stranger things have happened).

This guy named George was the assistant manager of the lady’s shoe department, and he showed me the ropes.  My main job was to put boxes of shoes on the shelves (a task I quickly mastered).  George was probably only around 60, but he seemed really old.  Everything about him was gray;  his hair, his face, his manner.  When George walked up to you, it was like he was engulfed in a gray cloud or something.  He had been working for Bamberger’s for 30 years.

My stockboy partner was a guy named Chuck.  And he showed me the real ins-and-outs.  Namely: what you could get away with, and what to watch out for.  “This one time I was up on a ladder reaching for a box of shoes on the top shelf,” said Chuck.  “And I lost my balance and fell off the ladder.  The ring on my finger got caught on the metal shelf.  So I’m hanging there by my finger.  Man!  That hurt like I bitch!  I was screaming like a motherfucker, dangling there in mid-air.  Finally George came by and rescued me.  But my finger got all mangled up.”  He showed me his mangled ring finger.  “But at least they didn’t have to amputate the motherfucker.”  (PS:  I don’t think I’ve worn a ring since that day).

All the saleswomen envied us stockboys.  Because we could hide back there in the stockroom.  Whereas they had to deal with the customers.  And boxes of shoes are a lot easier to deal with than people.  It was funny watching the saleswomen dealing with the customers.  Always big smiles:  “No problem!  I’ll be right back with your shoes!”  And then as soon as they got into the stockroom their smiles would drop and it would be:  “THAT STINKING CUNT!  THIS IS THE 30TH BOX OF SHOES SHE’S ASKED ME TO LOOK FOR AND SHE STILL CAN’T DECIDE WHAT TO BUY!!”

Complaining about the customers was a big past-time in the stockroom.  “I hate it whenever we have a big sale,” complained one saleswoman.  “The women all get so excited that they fart like crazy.”

Another odd thing the women customers would do.  They’d often try on 10 pairs of shoes that were a size too small.  Before they finally gave up and bought a pair of shoes that was their size.  I filed that information away in the back of my head, figuring it might reveal something important about the female psyche.  I didn’t know hardly anything about women at that point in my life.  So I was sort of studying the women in the lady’s shoe department in the hopes of figuring them out.

Another part of my job was this:  “Take all these boxes of shoes and write $20 as the price on the boxes,” explained George.  “Then cross out the $20 and write $9.99.”  That way, the customers saved a cool 10 dollars and one cent.  And that was a little eye-opening.  Because it had never occurred to me that stuff like that happened in the real world.

During our coffee break we’d hang out in this big lounge area, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.  The men would mostly talked about sports and sex (often in graphic detail).  I don’t know what the women talked about.  They rarely went into the lounge room when the men were in there. And I remember gray, ole’ George would  always sit in this one chair and he’d immediately fall asleep, his head slumping down on his chest, and sleep during the whole break.  And somebody would wake him up when the coffee break was over.

The story on George was:   When the boss of the lady’s shoe department retired, George figured — as assistant manager —  he was next in line to take over as the boss, because of his 30 years of loyal service to Bamberger’s department store.  But the corporate higher-ups at Bamberger’s decided they needed to infuse some fresh blood into the lady’s shoe department.  So they by-passed George.  And hired this hard-charging, up-and-coming young guy named Ken who had been flying up the corporate ladder.  So that was a big humiliation for George.  Ken was half of George’s age, but he was now making twice as much as George.  And  Ken got his own private office (where he’d sit and ogle the lady’s shoe catalogues all day).  While George puttered around with the rest of us in the stockroom.  Adding insult to injury, since George was the only one who knew the ins-and-outs of the operation, Ken would constantly have to ask George for advice about how to run the department.  And then Ken would boss George around.

So anyways, after working in the lady’s shoe department for about 3 months, I came to work one morning and George was gone.  “George is dead,” said Chuck. “He had a heart attack last night and died.”

So they made up a plaque with George’s name on it.  And it said: “In honor of 30 years of loyal service to Bamberger’s department store . . .” and blah blah blah.  And they hung it on the wall of the lounge room, right over the chair where George used to sleep on his coffee breaks.  And after a week or two, they took the plaque down.  And that was that.

I decided to give two-weeks notice.  And after I cashed my last paycheck, I packed up all my belongings into the back seat of my bomb of a ’69 Chevy, and hit the open road.



November 15, 2015

It’s all relative


Ace Backwords's photo.
Ham, swiss cheese, fresh sour dough roll, mustard, mayonnaise. . .  It cost me $3 to make this sandwich.  And yet it occurred to me.  Even if I was a multi-millionaire, I probably couldn’t buy a more delicious lunch . . .  There’s something weird about that.

November 12, 2015

A couple of war stories for Veterans Day



Both of my uncle’s (my father’s brothers) saw some of the worst fighting in the D-Day invasion during World War II (the Good War).  What they saw was so horrific, their minds both snapped.  After the war, one of my uncles, on a sudden impulse, left his home and took off hitch-hiking from New Jersey all the way to Washington state, with nothing but the shirt on his back.  When they asked him why he did this he said:  “Because THEY were out to get me!!”  He never specified exactly who “they” were.  They locked him up in a local mental asylum in Washington.  And he lived quietly there for the next 30 years.

*                                                          *                                                                                        *

Another war story:  In 1969 my 18-year-old-cousin (my uncle’s son) suddenly showed up at our house out of the blue, and started living in one of our spare bedrooms.  It turned out he had been drafted and was going through boot camp.  But he couldn’t take it and went AWOL before they shipped him off to Vietnam.   So he was hiding out at our house and trying to figure out how to get out of this predicament.  He said his drill sergeant was a sadistic lunatic who set out to break him.  And he did.  My cousin was a nerdy, wimpy college-boy type who was completely unfit for the military.  Which was why the drill sergeant particularly hated him.  If anybody saw the movie “Full Metal Jacket,” it sounded like that.  Only worse.  Plus, my cousin’s father had been ruined by World War II.  So my cousin was especially freaked out about the idea of going off to war.  Every night I’d hear him screaming in his sleep while he was having nightmares.

I wonder how many people remember what it was like back then in 1969, re Vietnam.  The heated emotions.  On all side.  Many people considered my cousin a deserter and a traitor who should be hung.  And President Nixon had the National Guard shooting and killing anti-war demonstrators at Kent State back then.  That’s how volatile the whole situation was.  It was a wrenching decision for 18-year-old kids to deal with Vietnam.  It split America in half.  It was practically a civil war in a way.

So anyways, this went on for a month with my cousin hiding in our house during the day and screaming from nightmares at night.  Finally, my father, who was a Methodist minister, managed to get him off as a “conscientious objector.”  The end.



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