Sometimes when my feral cats are lazing around at my campsite, laying on top of me, they have a look on their faces like they’re on top of the world.
And maybe they are.
The mother Scaredy Cat and her little kitten Mini Scaredy. Around year 2016.
In a way I regret that I named them “Scaredy” cats. Because they WEREN’T scared little creatures (they just looked that way when they were little kittens, which is when I named them). In fact they were both proud, fearless, jaunty, masters-of-reality type of creatures.
There was a Scaredy lineage over the years. Starting with:
Then Mini Scaredy.
And then Micro Scaredy.
And finally Nano Scaredy.
I spent about 20 years as a cartoonist. 1976 to 1995. For about 10 years I did it as a full-time job.
I considered myself an underground/alternative cartoonist. Whatever that meant. I always knew my sensibilities weren’t orientated for a mainstream audience. I couldn’t do a “Peanuts” or “Dagwood and Blondie” type of comic strip (and the one time I attempted to do one, R. Crumb himself mocked me: “I’m dizz-gusted!! There are a thousand candy-ass suburban cartoonists that can do that stuff better than you. Get thee back to underground comix.”)
Even as I felt I was so brilliant — self-centered egomaniac that I was — that I would find a mass audience anyways.
But it never really happened. With my Twisted Image comic strip I set my sights on the “alternative weeklies.” Papers like the Bay Guardian and the East Bay Express here in the San Francisco area. Or the Village Voice — the granddaddy of the alternative newspapers. But I could never quite break into those markets. My strip generally appeared in the second-rank alternative papers. One step below the big time. I always felt like a minor league baseball player who was a star on that level, but could never quite break into the Major Leagues. (Though this one, printed in color, was from HIGH TIMES magazine, which was as close as I’d get to a mainstream audience — I’d walk into a 7-11 and see HIGH TIMES in the magazine section and say to myself “I’m in there!” Ha ha)
And I always accepted that. The audience — not the editors — basically decides your fate. What level of success you succeed at. A mass audience either wants to read your shit. Or they don’t. They’d rather read some other cartoonist. And you end up, at best, with a certain “cult status.” And that’s about it. That’s the game.
When the Berkeley campus first went into lockdown, it was great for me. Because I had the whole campus to myself. But gradually, more and more people realized there was this big expanse of unoccupied green space right in the middle of the city. So more and more people are hanging out here every day. The campus is now like this huge, unsupervised park.
And there are more and more sketchy people hanging out in the shadows every night, too. People who couldn’t have gotten away with making the scene when school was in session. Like at one of my favorite late-night hang-out spots on the campus — this secluded patio. It used to be that almost nobody hung out there after 10 PM and I had the place to myself. But nowadays there are usually weird people doing weird things at all hours.
The other night I approached the place, and it’s pitch dark so it’s hard to see if anybody is hanging out at the tables. And the last thing you want to do late at night is startle somebody when you approach them in the darkness. Especially if they’re nutty or doing drugs. So I cautiously approach the tables. And I didn’t see anybody sitting there. But just as I was about to sit down on a chair, I noticed there was a homeless guy sleeping there. He had arranged the chairs as a bed. And I came very close to sitting right on top of him!!
So last night I was doubley cautious as I approached the patio. But the coast was clear. Nobody around. So I sat down at a table and I’m hanging out, drinking my beer and etc. When I smell some strange smoke coming from off in the distance. But I can’t tell where it’s coming from. Then I hear someone cough from somewhere in darkness. Finally I spot this orange flame from somebody firing up a cigarette lighter. Somebody is sitting UNDER one of the tables getting stoned. I decided to get the fuck out of there.
But that’s what it’s like nowadays. I guess the coronavirus thing has changed everything. Changed all the normal rhythms of our daily lives.
I just ran into Blind Tony. He was standing in the darkness on Sproul Plaza at 10 o’clock at night. I wouldn’t have even recognized him. Except I spotted his cane.
“Tony how you doin,” I said.
“I’m doin fine,” he said. “Who is this?”
“It’s me, Ace,” I said.
“Oh,” he said.
“It’s good to see ya, Tony,” I said.
“It’s good to smell ya, Ace,” he said.
Ha ha. That was probably the line of the night. After being homeless all these years I’m a little ripe these days. Needless to say, blind people can recognize me. Ha ha.
“You need anything, Tony?” I said
“I could use a smoke,” he said.
“Oh I quit smoking,” I said. “But here’s some bucks to buy a pack.” (I’m probably guilty of virtue-signaling here. But when you see a blind homeless person you want to help them SOMEHOW. Even as you really can’t help them very much. All you can do is give them a couple of smokes.)
“I miss Duncan,” said Tony.
“Me too,” I said. “And I miss Hate Man. If Hate Man was here we could get some Virginia Slims.”