Acid Heroes: the Legends of LSD

March 30, 2015

Charles Bukowski and John Martin

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 9:21 pm

 

One of the oddest collaborations in the history of literature is Charles Bukowski and John Martin.  Martin had never published anything in his life.  But in 1965 he became so enamored with Bukowski’s poetry (which at the time were only published in obscure chapbooks with print-runs of about 100 copies) that he told Bukowski:  “I’ll pay you $100 a month for the rest of your life if you quit your job and write full-time.”

Even odder, John Martin was a straight-laced Christian Scientist and a tea-totaler who never drank.  And here he is publishing Charles Bukowski, the patron saint of Skid Row drunks.

You could say it was a successful collaboration.  Eventually, Martin would be paying Bukowski $20,000 every month.

Bukowski was a compulsive writer; a man who had a powerful need to write.  “Writing saved my ass,” he’d often say.  Anyways, for whatever reason, John Martin got it in his mind that he wanted to publish Bukowski.  So he made arrangements to meet Bukowski in person at his hovel so they could discuss matters.  “Do you have any new poems I could publish?” asked Martin.

“Yeah,” said Bukowski.  “Look in the closet.

Martin opened the closet door and was dumb-founded to find that the entire closet was full of poems. Stacks and stacks of paper pile practically to the ceiling.  Martin scooped up a bunch of them and started publishing them.  And they never looked back.

Bukowski used to like to sit at the type-writer every night, drinking red wine, listening to classical music on the radio and writing poetry.  “It’s the best party in town,” said Bukowski.

When he finished a new batch of poems he’d send them off to Martin, his editor-publisher.  Martin would go through the poems.  They’d usually start out really good, and then get better and better.  Until they’d start to trail off.  Bukowski would just be babbling gibberish.  Writing just to write without really having anything to say.  Probably those poems were from the end of the night when Bukowski was too drunk to make sense.  Martin wouldn’t print those poems.

Bukowski never asked Martin about that.  He just sent the poems to Martin and let him pick whatever he felt like publishing.  The whole thing seemed to work out pretty well.

.

 

 

My introduction to literature

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 8:36 pm

 

'The first book I ever read. 1961.  Age 5.  1rst grade.</p><br /><br />
<p>I've read several other books since then.'“Fun with Dick and Jane” was the first book I ever read.  6-years-old, the first grade, 1962.  After reading it, I gave it a big thumb’s up.  The book had good character development.  And situations that I, as a modern 6-year-old could identify with.  Plus, Spot the dog.

Those first “Dick and Jane” books were pretty rudimentary.  “Look, Jane, look.”  “See Spot.”  “Run, Spot, run.”

But I vividly remember one of those “Dick and Jane” books that came along  a little later in the series.  This book was a little more sophisticated.  It had an actual plot.  The story started with Dick wishing he was big and strong.  He wanted to get big muscles and be a big he-man.   I guess to impress Jane with his manly physique.  So Dick asked this man in his neighborhood, Mr. Jones, if he had any ideas about how he could buff up.  Mr. Jones was lounging around in a lawn chair in his back yard.

“Hmm.  Let me think, Dick, think,” said Mr. Jones.  “But while I’m thinking I want you to do me a favor.”  Mr. Jones pointed to a big pile of fire wood in his backyard.  “While I’m thinking I want you to saw that wood for me.  The sound of the saw helps me to think.”

So Dick started sawing away.  While Mr. Jones sat there thinking away (though it looked suspiciously like Mr. Green was actually sleeping, enjoying a nice afternoon nap).

This went on for a couple of days. Dick sawing away. And Mr. Jones thinking away.

Finally Dick says:  “I’m tired of sawing wood.  Did you think up and ideas for how I could get big and strong?”

“I did,” said Mr. Jones. “Look, Dick, look.  Look at your arm.”

Dick looked at his arm and was surprised to find that there was a big muscle on his bicep.  From all the wood-sawing he’d been doing.  That crafty Mr. Jones had been pulling a fast one on ole’ Dick all along.

I got a tremendous kick out of this story.  It must have made a real impression, because I still remember it clear as a bell, 53 years later.  I think because it was the first book I had ever ready that had an actual plot twist to it. It was one step advanced from the old “Run, Spot, run” schtick.  It had an actual point.  A concept.  Like a surprise punchline to a joke even. It was my introduction to conceptual thinking in literature.

I concluded that this whole reading and books thing had a lot of potential, and it might be something I might want to keep pursuing over the years.

.

March 28, 2015

My life in the porno business, Part 2

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 5:59 pm

 

It was some time in 1980, age 23, when I got a letter from this guy in San Francisco.  He had just started this porn tabloid, the San Francisco PLEASURE GUIDE, and he was interested in running my “Sexley’s  cartoon and my “SIN FRANCISCO” column every month in his paper.  So we made arrangements to meet at his office in the Castro district of San Francisco to discuss business.

His “office” was actually the size of cubicle that he rented out in this bigger office.  So we went downstairs to this coffee shop to talk.  His business card said he was in the “real estate” business.  But basically he was an older and more practical version of me.  He was coming up with all these different business schemes, throwing them out there and seeing if any of them stuck.  Besides the porn tabloid, he also published a tabloid that focused on the gay bar scene, and some other publication.  But you could tell that publishing wasn’t his real love.  He just used his publications as cash cows to generate income which he would invest in his other schemes.  I can’t for the life of me remember what he looked like.  He was probably in his early 30s.  And he sort of dressed like a hip  entrapenour, or one of those Marin County swingers that used to be all over the Bay Area back in the ’70s and ’80s.

Anyways, he came up with the basic format for the PLEASURE GUIDE from the first issue.  And never deviated from it in the 15 years I worked on it.  Semi-nude young woman on the cover.  Two generic porn photo layouts (he bought all the photos cheap from some agency).  A big centerspread.  Personal ads in the back.  And on the first page, always, was this sex advice column, “The Knight Lady” written by this hot chick.  There was a photo of the Knight Lady that always ran on the top of her column;  this sexy, young, dark-haired, dominatrix-looking sexpot wearing a tight, black halter that showed off her bosoms to good effect.

It was a completely generic porn paper, the PLEASURE GUIDE.  It was sort of the “cookie-cutter” approach, designed to put out a commercial publication with the least amount of money or effort.  My column and cartoon would be the only real wild-card of  creativity and imagination in the whole paper (uh-hum).

Since he was publishing a heterosexual porn paper, it never occurred to me at the time that the guy was almost surely gay, having his office in the Castro and hanging out with all  the clones, etc.  But for a guy that was working in the porn business, I was surprisingly naïve and innocent about sex back then . . .   Still am.

My “Sexley’s BELIEVE IT OR NUTS!!”  strip started out as a basic parody of “Ripley’s BELIEVE OR NOT!!”  But over the years I expanded the format so it encompassed just about anything that combined sex and comics.  I’d do  strips about the sex lives of historical figures like J. Edgar Hoover and Ted Kennedy.  Or I’d do stuff about the sex lives of celebrities like Madonna or Donald Trump or Lucille Ball or god-knows-who.  I was constantly going to the library and checking out dozens of books in my endless research for new material.  And sometimes I’d do autobiographical comics about my own sexual experiences, and the sexual issues I was grappling with.  Sometimes I’d delve into serious issues; like examining the psychology of sexual psychopaths like Ted Bundy, the famous serious killer.

Occasionally I’d delve into controversial, and even taboo, subjects.  I did a strip on Prof. Peter Duesberg, the Berkeley micro-biologist, and his controversial theory on HIV/AIDS.  That one turned out to be too “radical” for the PLEASURE GUIDE.   They refused to run it, printing one of my old-reruns in it’s place.

And after Jim Mitchell shot and murdered his brother Artie Mitchell, I did a  harshly critical and even scathing strip about the Mitchell Brothers in particular, and  the exploitive and de-humanizing nature of the porn business in general (just like me to bite the hand that feeds me).  The PLEASURE GUIDE refused to run that one too, I guess out of fear of ruffling feathers in the porn biz.  But, fortunately for me, a competing porn tabloid was eager to run that one.  Evidently the managing editor had an axe to grind with the Mitchell Brothers — I think Artie Mitchell stole one of his girlfriends or something — so he was happy to get in some digs at them.  (I had come a long ways from the light-hearted “Bitchell Brothers” type comics I had started out doing back in 1979.)

Whenever I started getting too serious, or started getting writer’s block, I would always remind myself of some great advice I once got from the great “Peanuts” cartoonist, Charles Schulz:  “Draw funny pictures.”  You’d be surprised at how many of the cartoonists on our daily comic strip page have completely forgotten this immortal piece of cartooning wisdom.   I’d always eventually revert back to the classic slapslick burlesque comedy approach that has always been the bedrock of the comic strip medium.

Sometimes the PLEASURE GUIDE publisher would come up with assignments for me.  He offered me this gig writing this humorous version of a sex horoscope column.  But after 3 or 4 months I had exhausted just about every one-line joke I could come up with about sex and astrology.  I hacked it out for a couple more months until I had to tell the publisher that I couldn’t come up with any more material.  So he handed the assignment to some other faceless freelancer who cranked out the column in like 5 minutes and then happily cashed his $50 check.  The publisher didn’t care.  All he wanted was copy to fill the space in between the ads.

So I kicked myself for blowing such an easy-paying gig.  But that would be my problem all throughout my freelancing career.  I actually had standards.  Or, more to the point, I had standards that were usually very different from the standards of the editors and publishers who were paying me.  In truth, I strived with every piece of art that I produced, to push the limits of my talents and my imagination.  I don’t know why.  But I wasn’t pissing around.  I was doing it for real.  In truth, I primarily saw creating art as a way of exploring this vast and glorious universe of ours.  And hopefully expanding my knowledge of it.  And if I occasionally got a cheap laugh out of my audience, well, that was icing on the cake.

At first I would go to San Francisco every month to hand-deliver my latest cartoons and writing, and pick up my monthly check.  But after awhile I got preoccupied with self-syndicating my comics to dozens of other publications all across the country.  So I just mailed it in.

Things were going great until around 1994.  I began to get really sick of doing the “Sexley’s” comic.  After  15 years I had pretty much exhausted everything I had to say on the subject of sex (you know you’re in trouble when even sex has become boring!).  But the deadlines kept looming.  And getting deadlier every month.. What had started out as a joy akin to winning the lottery (“I can’t believe I’m getting paid money to sit here and draw these goofy comics!”) had turned into a dreary chore (“I can’t believe what a crappy job this is, and a lousy-paying job at that!”).

I would put off doing the thing until the very last minute, the night before the latest issue went to the printer.  And I’d pull an all-nighter, staying up all night drinking endless cups of coffee, trying to come up with any scrap of an idea that I could scrape into a minimum-standard piece of commercial art that people would actually pay money to look at.  By the time the morning sun was coming up, I’d usually have a finished cartoon in my hand.  It was too late to mail it in, so I’d have to take the first BART train to the Mission district in San Francisco where the PLEASURE GUIDE had their office, to hand-deliver the thing.  They’d have the whole paper laid out and ready to go, except for the blank space where they could slot in my cartoon.

The “office” was actually the apartment of this middle-aged white woman who put the paper together.  She was very nice and sweet and incredibly over-weight.  She looked like some bland housewife who sat on the couch all day eating bon-bons and watching soap operas.  So the first time I met her it was kind of a shock.  She was hardly the type of person you’d envision running a porn paper. In fact, she was practically a one-man-band.  She wrote most of the copy, picked all the photos, laid the whole thing out, and delivered it to the printer.  And she, of course, was the Knight Lady.  So it was sort of like “The Wizard of Oz,” seeing the little man behind the porn screen.

By this time, I really wanted to quit doing “Sexley’s.”  But it was like a vampire that would not die.  The legendary cartoonist and publisher, John Holmstrom, was the managing editor at High Times magazine at that time.  And he put together a benefit comicbook for NORML — the “legalize marijuana” group — and used about 10 pages of “Sexley’s” in that thing.  Another guy, a comicbook publisher in Chicago, wanted to put out an entire “Sexley’s” comicbook, and he had all the pages laid out and ready print.

And then one day I got an urgent phonecall from John Holmstrom.  “Ace!  Bad news!  I just got a call from the lawyers at Ripley’s BELIEVE IT OR NOT!!  Apparently some of the corporate big-wigs at Ripley’s got wind of our comicbook.  And they were not pleased to see you using a parody of their logo.  Now they’re threatening to sue us.”

“Fuck!” I said.

Holmstrom assured me that he had a crack team of lawyers at High Times, and that he was prepared to battle it out with the team of lawyers at Ripley’s.  We’d take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if need be (slight exaggeration).  Eventually, Holmstrom would agree to trash the entire press run (*sigh* That was a very cool comic book!).

A couple days later I got an angry and threatening letter from the lawyers at Ripley’s, demanding that I immediately cease and desist from infringing on their copyrighted, trademark, logo and/or patent-pending intellectual property, etc. etc.  Ergo and forsooth.  Esquire.

I immediately wrote back the lawyers and told them I would never again sully the righteous and noble name of “Ripley’s BELEIVE IT OR NOT!!” with my goddamn smut.  And I quit drawing comics.  And I quit working in the porn business.  And that was pretty much the end of that particular period of my life.

March 26, 2015

My life in the porno business: Part 1

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 11:06 pm

In 1979, age 22, I moved from San Francisco to Berkeley.  I had this dream of making a go at a career as an artist or writer or cartoonist or freelance journalist.  Something like that.  I knew I could never adjust to mainstream society.  So I was trying to come up with some alternative way that I could make a buck and keep a roof over my head.

So I rented out this studio apartment ($115 a month, 1979 prices) at the fringe of a funky neighborhood.  In the small, cramped, kitchen area  there was a fold-out ironing board built into the wall.  So I jerry-rigged the ironing board into a make-shift table.  My drawing board.  And from there I began to hatch all my mad plots and schemes.

I had 7 or 8 of these manila folders for the different projects I wanted to do.  A folder for the comic strips I wanted to draw.  A folder for the books I wanted to write.  A folder for the publications I wanted to publish.  A folder for the rock’n’roll album I wanted to record.  And so forth.  And I would regularly stuff the folders with doodles, sketches, shreds of ideas, first-drafts of writing, song lyrics, etc.  Until they were all bulging with scraps of paper.  Eventually, over the years, I would end up completing virtually every one of the projects in those folders.  I’m obsessive, if anything.

But in the beginning it was slow sledding.  Anyone who has ever tried for a career as a freelance artist or writer will tell you how difficult it is.  Aside from the limits of my God-given talents, I had this stupid notion that I wanted to be an “artist.”  Without wishing to sound pretentious, I felt as an “artist” I was primarily on a mission to express the truth as I saw it.  Which just about killed any chances I had in the freelance market.  Because if there’s the last thing the media in general wants, it’s anything having to do with  the “truth,” much preferring whatever bullshit happens to be fashionable at the moment.

Even further limiting my career (so-called) was that, for some reason, I always defined myself as an “underground” artist.  I could never put my finger on exactly what that meant.  And the term — “underground” — became even more nebulous to me over the years.  But it had something to do with delving into the forbidden or repressed aspects of reality that were usually beyond the pale of mainstream society.  So I was a doomed loser from the word go.

At the beginning I managed to sell a couple of cartoons and graphics to different publications.  But it seemed difficult if not impossible.  I felt like the “Myth of Sisyphus”  pushing the boulder up the mountain, only to have it come crashing back down again.  And I’d have to start all over again at square one.   Squarely behind the eightball.  I knew I needed to develop some kind of regular gig.  So I was sending stuff out to all these different publications hoping for a score.  Just sort of throwing it all against the wall and seeing if anything would stick.  Mostly I just kept getting rejection slips, or no response it all.

Every morning I would look in vain at the empty mailbox on my front porch — on which I had written my name and the three or four other aliases, psuedonyms and pen-names that I was experimenting with.  It was like I was hoping for The Answer from God Himself.  Or at least from some fucking editor that realized what I budding genius I was.  But I just kept crapping out pathetically.

Then one day there was a postcard in my mailbox with a handwritten message from some guy named Phil.  “I really like the cartoons you sent me.  Will be printing some in the next issue.  $50 check forthcoming.  Send more stuff.  Let your imagination run wild!”

I still remember that postcard to this day!  Because it was like the first real encouragement that I had gotten to date.  The first sign that this maybe wasn’t just some delusional pipe dream I had conjured up while smoking a bunch of marijuana.  But maybe I actually had something of value to offer the world.  Stranger things have happened.  I read and re-read that postcard over and over.  And it did indeed enflame my imagination.  Heh heh.  Which didn’t need much enflaming at that point.

“Phil” worked for this sleazy porn tabloid in Los Angeles.  The rag used to be in the newspaper racks up and down University Ave and all over the Bay Area.  There used to be DOZENS of these different porno rags in the racks, back in those ancient days before the internet came along and ruined everything.  Bastards!

Phil’s porn tabloid was filled with ads for massage parlors, escort services, hookers of every possible stripe, along with some grainy black-and-white porn photos.  Some of the personal ads were so sleazy and potentially-criminal, I often wondered how he managed to stay in business.  And one day, in fact, “Phil” would disappear without a trace.

Anyways, my feverish imagination suddenly came up with an idea for a comic strip.  “Sexley’s BELIEVE IT OR NUTS!!”  patterned after the old “Ripley’s BELIEVE IT OR NOT!!” comic.  Only my strip would exlusively deal with weird sex facts.  “Sexley’s” would be my first “hit.”  Well, I would end up cranking it out regularly for the next 15 years.  So, at the least, I was off and running.

My second idea was to write a regular column.  So I came up with “SIN FRANCISCO: Your Bay Area Porno Review.”  I drew up a really cool-looking logo for the column.   And just like that I was in business.  I would write that stupid column for years to come.  The column started out as sort of a consumer guide to San Francisco’s sex industry, for lack of a better word.  And I would review the local strip clubs and the latest porn movies and interview porn stars and god-knows-what-else.

In one issue,  I did a comic strip-parody about the porn moguls, the Mitchell Brothers (who I cleverly dubbed as the “Bitchell Brothers”) which they were so enamored with that they gave me a free press pass to their O’Farrell Street strip club and porn emporium.  So I was now a “professional journalist.”  I was moving up in the world.  Or maybe down in another world.

I always remembered something the NY Daily News columnist, Jimmy Breslin, used to say:  “Your column is like your real estate.”  And, just like actual real estate, that space in the prints was valuable and could be turned into money in all sorts of ways.  I always reminded myself:  “Advertisers pay a lot of money for that space.  And I’ve been given it for free to do whatever I want with it.”  It was kind of like that book title by the author Norman Mailer, “Advertisements for Myself.”  You could promote yourself to your advantage in all sorts of ways.

So anyways, I was doing a regular comic strip and a regular column every month for this sleazy porn tabloid in Los Angeles.  And “Phil” would send me a hundred dollar check every month.  Every now and then “Phil” would be strapped for cash, so he’d send me a big box of sex toys instead.  That was another side-line mail-order business “Phil” was running.  I’d open up the box and it would be filled with dildos and vibrators and rectal enhancers and god-knows-what.  I still remember this one amusingly grotesque item.  It was this huge, plastic, flesh-colored dildo, with this sort of accordion thing built into the middle of it.  It was battery-operated with this nifty remote control switch.  And when you turned it on, the accordion part would make the dildo go up and down.  For awhile I kept that thing mounted  on my living room table in a position of pride.  It made for a great conversation piece.   And, at the least, it helped me manage my social life.  Anyone who was horrified by the thing, I immediately weeded them out of my life. . .   I was an “underground artist” after all.

.

March 24, 2015

Renting a room

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 8:00 pm

 

Went to Oakland this morning to see about renting out a room in a hotel.  This joint by Lake Merritt.  I’m one of those nuts that actually PREFERS to live on the streets.  But I’m having eye surgery (again!) on April 2nd, and after the surgery I have to spend two weeks lying face down on a bed in a dark room while my eyeball recovers (that should be fun).  So I desperately needed to get a room.

This morning I met with the manager of the hotel.  This zany, little, older Asian woman.  Now there are few things I dread MORE than having to walk into a room to talk to a total stranger and try to convince them to do something for  me.  For one thing, I give the worst interviews of all time.  I always feel like I’m making a bad impression.  And usually I am.  I usually start pouring sweat.  Even worse, my face always goes beet red from blushing.  I can’t help it.  I’m a blusher.  I can actually feel the blood rushing to my face.  It’s bad enough to feel embarrassed.  Even worse that they KNOW you’re embarrassed.  It blows the whole “cool” act that I’m trying to project.

And when they ask me questions, even when I’m telling them the truth, I FEEL like I’m lying.  Or I assume the other person thinks I’m lying.  So I try too hard to convince them I’m telling the truth.  Which makes them THINK I’m lying.

I told the manager about my impending eye surgery and how I needed to lie face down on a bed for two weeks.  She joked:  “I hope the surgery is a success and your vision is saved so you can see how beautiful I look.”  I said:  “If you rent me a room, you’ll look even more beautiful to me.”   That got a big laugh out of her.  Like I sad, she was a little zany.

And she rented me the room.

.

March 23, 2015

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Kitties

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 8:20 pm

 

Moo Cat and Feral Tom, making their cat noises.

Feral cats are generally very quiet.  They go out of their way to not call attention to themselves.  For obvious reasons.  They are “stealthy” personified.

But they do have their sounds.

First and foremost is their urgent “MEOW MEOW!!” feed me sound.  No mistaking that one.

Then there’s a similar variation to that with, with a clucking, purring sound added.  “MMMMMMM!” that translates into English as:  “Hey!  Give me a little attention.  Would it kill you to pet me a little bit?”

Then there’s the angry, guttural, whining, warning sound when a rival cat dares to approach their territory.  “OOEEEEEEERRRGGGRRRR!!”  Translated into English as “If you come one step closer to me, bitch, I’ll claw your eyes out!”

Then there’s “RRRRRAARARRRR!!!!!!!!!!”  Which translates as “You stepped on my foot, you big human klutz and that really hurt!!”

Then there’s all the weird, eerie sounds cats make when they’re in heat and feel compelled by Nature to have sex.  The female will wail:  “OOOOEEEEEE!!”  Which basically translates into English as “I’m hot and bothered, I got ants in my pants and I wanna’ dance.  I got this itch I can’t scratch, in other words, let’s get it on, Tommy, I think I love you.” . . .    The tom cat will answer back in kind:  “OOOOOOEEEEE!!”  Which I think means, “We got a beautiful thing goin’ here, baby.  Let’s not blow it.  Your eyes are like limpid pearls.”  Then, both the male and female start wailing together.  “OOOOOIIHHHHH!!”  Like they’re singing a love song in harmony.  Like Sonny and Cher singing a duet to each other, “I Got You, Babe.”

Then I won’t see me feral cats for a couple days.  When they finally drag their asses back to my campsite they’re exhausted, and they lounge around quietly like they’re enjoying a post-coital cigarette.

.

March 22, 2015

Friends

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 10:20 pm
FRIENDS
plural noun:
  1. a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.
    synonyms:  companion, soul mate, intimate, confidante

'I basically hate myself and wish I had never been born.'I’ve been grappling a lot lately with the issue of “friends.”  Sometimes I wonder if I really have any friends.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know a lot of people that I really like, people that I feel friendly towards.  People that I’ve known 20, 30, 40 years.  I’m happy they’re a part of my life,and I hope they always will be.

But I’m not really close to anybody these days.  It started around 10 years ago.  I started getting more and more withdrawn from other people.  It’s like my defenses went up and I got really guarded.  Instead of revealing my real to others, I started putting up this façade.  For protection, I guess.  But it added this superficial quality to my relationships.

The irony was:  In my art and writing I got more and more brutally honest.  While getting less and less so in my real relationships.

For most of my life I had “best friends.”  People I could be myself with.  Which maybe is one definition of authentic friendship.  But one by one, those friends died, or drifted out of my daily orbit.  And I never got around to replacing them with new friends.

 I wonder if part of it is a symptom of growing older, and getting closer to death.  Realizing:  “You’re born alone, you live alone, and you die alone.”   Maybe as you age you realize more and more that you’re “not of this earth.”  That all too soon your soul will be taking a solitary journey to another part of the Cosmos.  And none of your friends will be traveling there with you.

.

March 21, 2015

More violence

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 7:24 pm

 

Peter Labriola's photo.For some reason I got to thinking about violence on the streets.  All the crazy scenes I’ve seen over the years.  I could write a book. Though nowadays I’ll settle for writing a couple of half-assed blogs.

I remember this one odd scene a couple years ago.  It was a peaceful, sunny afternoon in People’s Park.  And all the street people were lazing around at their particular stations.  When this lunatic staggered onto the scene.  Nobody in the Park had seen him before.  Or since.  He was babbling this crazy talk.  In an oddly cheerful mode.  He just got out of Santa Rita or the nut-house or godknowswhat.  And now he was in the mood to fuck shit up.  He looked sort of like a greaser-biker-hippie.  Straggly hair.  Greasy jacket.  Crazed eyes.  Was he drunk or drugged or just crazy?  Or possibly an odd combination of all three?  Who knows.

He hit Hate Camp at the top of the Park first.  Babbled at Hate Man for a bit.  Most of the people paid him no mind.  There are so many weird-crazy people on the street scene, you got to really stand out to draw any attention.   Though you could see a couple of the more perceptive street people looking at him out of the corner of their eyes, and silently factoring in that oh-so-crucial meter in their minds:  “Harmless crazy or dangerous crazy?”

'People's Park.'So then the dude staggered off in the direction of the picnic table by the bathroom.  About 8 street people were hanging out there, playing chess, smoking pot and enjoying the sun.  And then, for no apparent reason, the guy picked up this big chunk of asphalt — about half the size of a basketball — and flung it in the direction of the picnic table.

The chunk of asphalt hit Sang right in the forehead. Sang was this mild-mannered, Vietnamese street person who often hung out with the fellas’ at the picnic table. They said the blow cracked open a hole in Sang’s skull to the point where you could see his brains right inside his head.  It was a direct shot.  And Sang dropped to the ground like he’d been hit by a bullet.

“WHAT THE FUCK!!!” everyone shouted.

And then they all chased after the lunatic.  The lunatic ran out of the Park and down the street.  And it’s a good thing for him the fellas’ didn’t catch the bastard because they would have stomped him into protoplasm.

Everyone was particularly stunned and outraged, because Sang was one of the nicest, most beloved people in the Park.  Sang was soft-spoken and even-tempered and well-respected by everybody.

Now normally, street people don’t cooperate with the cops.  But in this case, when the cops showed up, everybody wanted to help them catch this lunatic.  This tall, skinny black guy named Slim — one of the People’s Park regulars — immediately volunteered to jump into the cop car and help the cops find the asshole.  Slim had gotten a good look at the guy.  He’d  been sitting right next to Sang.  And he knew that, there but for the grace of God (or whoever is in charge of this shit) it could have just as easily been his noggin that took the blow.

After driving around the streets of Berkeley for about an hour, Slim spotted the piece-of-etc-etc.  Pointed him out to the cops.  And the cops tackled him, handcuffed him and dragged him back to the cage that he sorely deserved to be locked up in.

But here’s the weird part. The very next day, for no apparent reason, Slim was standing by the dumpsters down at the bottom of People’s Park, when he suddenly clutched his chest and keeled over dead from a heart attack.  Just like that.

We always wondered if it was the stress and trauma of the whole Sang situation that caused the heart attack.  Or if it was just one more random thing.  Just like the Sang attack in the first place. Life is ultimately mysterious, ain’t it?

And why was Sang singled out?  Just a matter of the ole’ “wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time”??  If there was one guy who didn’t deserve to have something like that happen to them, it was peaceful, loveable Sang.  So it messed with your head on the baffling karma angle.

Anyways, it was one more weird scene on the streets. . . . I still see Sang to this day, hanging out in People’s Park.  He always wears a baseball hat.  I guess to cover up the nasty scar on his forehead.  But otherwise he seems OK.  Still as mellow as ever.

And, of course, poor ole’ Slim remains dead.

.

March 20, 2015

Violence

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 6:22 pm

 

Peter Labriola's photo.Violence is a constant on the street scene.  There are ebbs and flows, and periods of relative calm.  But violence is always lurking right under the surface, ready to explode at any moment.

The Berkeley street scene is relatively lightweight, compared to a lot of street scenes.  I mean, drive-by shootings and gun violence are relatively rare.  But the street people regularly bash the shit out of each other.   The Berkeley street scene often reminds me of a bunch of brawling, drunken, drugged-out hillbillies.  Or maybe a gypsy campsite where somebody might pull out a knife and cut you at any moment.

The other night I was sitting on this log in the park, in the dark of night,  minding my own business (or at least trying to) hanging out with a bunch of street people, quietly nursing my 40 of OE and smoking many cigarettes.  This guy behind me was lying in his sleeping bag, talking to himself.  Loudly.  This sort of crazed rant that he often does.  And after every sentence he’d loudly shriek “FUCK!!”  It was a little annoying, but you get used to crazy people on the streets.

The problem was:  the guy was about 300 pounds.  This man-mountain of a dude.  That bad combination of being very big and very crazy.  He was kind of a hippie dude.  Liked to tap out mellow rhythms on his conga drum.  Half the time he was putting out righteous good vibes.  And the other half he was threatening to rip people’s heads off and shit down their necks.  But I generally liked the guy and got along with him.  He was basically just a troubled young guy who was trying to get along and avoid going completely insane and killing somebody and getting locked up in a cage for the rest of his life.  So he basically meant well.

Unfortunately, this other guy who was on the scene that night, this friend of mine, a nice guy, but who sometimes takes too many drugs and often lacks “impulse control” — him — suddenly got fed up with the Man Mountain constantly shrieking “FUCK!!”  Got on his nerves, I guess.  And he snapped.

“WOULD YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP??!!” he shouted.  A hypothetical question.  And to accent his point, he threw the magazine that he was holding in his hands at Man Mountain.   Hit him right in the face.  Mistake.

The big behemoth immediately jumped out of his sleeping bag and knocked my friend to the ground.  Got on top of him and started punching and kicking him in the head.  They’re both rolling around in the dirt like whirling dervishes.  When violence erupts, it usually happens so fast, it’s like there’s a lag between what you’re seeing, and what your mind is comprehending.  Weird like that.

I jumped up and started shouting:  “NO NOO!! STOP STOP!!”  Among other things, this sudden outbreak of violence was harshing my mellow OE buzz.

“HE THREW SOMETHING AT ME!!”  explained Man Mountain.

“He fucked up,” I said (trying to placate him by letting him know I wasn’t blaming him).  “But STOP!” (trying to subtly convey the point that even though he may in fact be in the right, being hit by a magazine would not justify stomping someone to death, and at the very least it wouldn’t hold up in court as justifiable homicide)  (I always try to present the most reasonable option in these kind of situations)

Man Mountain seemed to grasp the wisdom of my position.  He grudgingly pulled his bulk off of his hapless victim.

I knew that it was just a matter of time before the cops would be showing up.  So I cleverly made my exit stage left.  And, as usual, my attitude, if somebody asks me, is:  “I didn’t see anything officer.”  And this blog, of course, is strictly a fictional enactment of fictional events, presented for entertainment purposes only.

My friend ended up with a cracked rib and a ringing in his ear from one of the kicks to the head.  But he wisely decided to not press charges. And hopefully he’ll heal up soon and live happily ever after.  And life on the streets goes on.  THE END.

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March 18, 2015

Harvey Pekar

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 9:32 pm

 

Jeffrey Clemmons's photo.
Jeffrey Clemmons's photo.
Some guys on Facebook were talking about Harvey Pekar’s appearances on the David Letterman Show back in the late 1980s.  That got me to thinking about ole’ Harvey . . .

I thought they were a good match, Harvey and Letterman.  They both enjoyed the verbal jousting.  And Harvey was always the instigator of the insults.  So you could hardly blame Letterman for firing back in kind.  And, to his credit, Letterman kept inviting Harvey back right to the end.

I think Letterman was genuinely amused AND genuinely repulsed by Harvey at the same time.  I think it blew Letterman’s mind that Harvey was so UNIMPRESSED about being on television.  Slouching in the guest chair like he was lounging in his living room.  I think Letterman found it both refreshing and perverse.  Since “television exposure” is the life-blood to most of the celebrity-whores in Letterman’s orbit.  What could me more important than BEING ON TV??  It was almost sacreligious to Letterman how cavalier Harvey was about being on television.  Harvey rightly saw TV as the exercise in greed, vanity and vacuity that it is.

I got a special kick out of Harvey’s Letterman appearances.  Because I had known Harvey since 1979 when he started contributing literary reviews to my pal Duncan’s zine, TELE TIMES.  At the time I had Harvey Pekar pegged as kind of a loser (shows you what I know).  He wrote this obscure literary review column that almost nobody read, for a xeroxed zine.  And self-published an equally-obscure comic book that sold about 30 copies (one of Harvey’s big complaints back then — and you know Harvey ALWAYS had complaints —  was his storage locker full of boxes and boxes of unsold copies of AMERICAN SPLENDOR).

So when Harvey appeared on Letterman, it was stunning to me for two reasons:   1.)  The kick of seeing “somebody I know” on television.  And 2.)  He absolutely KILLED.  Harvey got more genuine belly-laughs than just about any professional comedian who ever appeared on Letterman.

I still got a VCR cassette tape (remember those?) stashed in my storage locker somewhere, that Harvey sent us of his first two Letterman appearances.  Along with a bizarre interview he did with his friend Toby, who worked with him as a clerk at the VA hospital.

I never knew Harvey Pekar that well, personally.  But, like I lot of people, I felt I knew Harvey Pekar, because he revealed so much of himself in his art and writing.

Near the end of his life, Harvey made one last appearance in Berkeley at some kind of promotional event.  Duncan was in the audience.  And Harvey called out from the stage to Duncan, asked him how he was doing, etc.  That was pretty cool.  That was just like Harvey.  Wherever he was, he seemed to act like the whole world was his living room.  Or should be.  Ha ha.

But I always get this weird feeling.  One minute it’s this dynamic thing with all these dynamic people.  And then you blink your eyes and it’s all over.  Harvey is dead, and Duncan is dead, and Letterman is retiring, and even VCR cassette tapes are a thing of the ancient past.  And the whole thing seemed so full of life, and then in a blink of an eye it’s all gone, gone, gone. . . . As if it never even happened.

I remember one of the last stories Harvey wrote in AMERICAN SPLENDOR, about his mother and father.  Near the end of the story he wondered if they had ever really been happy.  Then he mused (words to the effect):  “I guess it really doesn’t matter whether they were happy.  This life is over so quickly I guess it really doesn’t matter if you’re happy or not.”

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