When I first met Blondie the feral cat 8 years ago, she wouldn’t come within 100 yards of me. But every week she would inch a little bit closer to me. To the point where now, she’ll occasionally brush up ever-so slightly against my hand. And when I’m lying down in my sleeping bag, she’ll sometimes walk on top of me if she’s in a hurry to get to the other side. Ha ha. “Don’t mind me, I’m just taking a short-cut across your body.”
Often, Blondie will sit across from me, watching me intently while I’m petting Moo Cat when she’s lying on my chest. And I’ll wonder if Blondie secretly wants to be petted. Maybe she’s jealous that Moo Cat gets all the personal attention. Or maybe, like with people, she’s yearning on some level to be touched. It’s hard to gauge the range of animal’s ability to feel emotion. She’s probably just pissed that, on a practical level, Moo Cat is closer to the food source (me) than her.
But sometimes Blondie will stand a couple feet away from me, staring at me, while she rubs the side of her head against this branch. Ya know that spot just below the cat’s ear that’s some kind of erogenous zone to cats. And she’ll be purring away while she stares at me. And it’s like she’s petting herself.
I’ve had a lot of odd life experiences. I’ve lived on Skid Row. And I interviewed the cartoonist Charles Schulz at his studio in Santa Rosa. And a bunch of other stuff in between.
After the interview I gave Shulz a bunch of underground comic books as I gift. I looked at it as a summit meeting. Underground cartoonists meet overground cartoonists. His studio was like a museum of the history of comics, with books of comics on shelves all the way to the ceiling. I wanted to add underground comix to his collection.
One of the comics I gave him was Dirty Laundry Comics by R. Crumb and Aline Kominsky. Charles Schulz leafed through the Dirty Laundry comic book. Until he came to the big splash panel where Aline is having sex and achieving orgasm while screaming: “AYEEE YI YI KILL ME KILL ME!!” with sweat pouring off her face. Schultz quietly closed the comic book. Put it on a shelf in his studio. We shook hands shortly after and said good-bye.
I always kind of wondered what Schulz thought about that one. Underground comix were a little outside the realm of his usual Hostess Twinkees, All-American middle-of-the-road world view. I felt a little bad, like maybe I had offended him or something. Or maybe he got a kick out of it. Who knows.
For the longest time I’ve been on a losing streak. I keep getting jammed up. Things keep going from bad to worse. One thing after another. It’s like the gods are fucking with me for sport. Or maybe some weasel Gremlin in the occult realm is putting roadblocks in my way at every juncture. Just to frustrate me. Who knows why.
But then, yesterday, I hit Hate Camp in People’s Park. And I asked Hate Man: “I’m going on a road trip and I need to get a sleeping bag. Do you know where I can get a sleeping bag real cheap?” “Gee, I dunno,” said Hate Man. Then, 20 minutes later, this guy shows up: “Hey, I’m free-boxing all these clothes, tents and sleeping bags if anybody wants them.” Perfect.
Then, last night, I was too drunk to find where I had stashed my cat food in the bushes. “Damn! My feral cats are going to be so disappointed. Oh well. Fuck it.” And then, I was so drunk I lost my way in the darkness when I was staggering up the trail to my campsite. Fell down and rolled down the hill into the bushes. And then I couldn’t stand up. So I figured: “Fuck it. I’ll just sleep right here.” I had my sleeping bag with me after all. So I got a good night’s sleep. But here’s the weird part. When I woke up in the morning there was a big can of cat food sitting there on the ground right near where I was sleeping. Evidently, last week I had accidentally dropped the can of cat food and it had rolled down the hill and I had forgotten about it. And now here it was, manifesting before me as if by magic. Perfect.
I don’t know what they call that. Serendipity? It’s just baffling. How sometimes things work against you for no apparent reason. And other times things work perfectly in your favor for no apparent reason.
I guess that’s why we call it karma. That supplies some kind of explanation. Some kind of method to the madness.
Typical Moo Cat reaction when two new feral cat showed up at my campsite this morning. Two little kittens. One gray and one black. Probably about 3 or 4 months old. I have no idea where they came from. Both of the female cats in my neck of the woods are fixed.
The kittens are adorable, of course. But it’s a little daunting. Two more mouths to feed. And two more potential breeders.
The kittens were too timid to get within 30 feet of my campsite. So I rolled a big chunk of baloney down the hill to where they were sitting. The gray kitten expertly nabbed the baloney in it’s paw, like a soccer goalie catching a ball. And spent the next 5 minutes happily munching away.
For example, for years I had a favorite stash-spot on the Berkeley campus, this big hedge. And I’d stash my cans of cat food and my jacket in the hedge so I wouldn’t have to carry it around with me in my backpack all day. Worked great for years. And then last week I showed up and the groundskeepers had pruned the hedge down to sticks and branches. So much for that stash spot.
And my favorite late-night hang-out spot got jammed up recently, too It was a great spot, hidden away on this big second-story balcony on the campus. It had a roof to protect from the rain. And almost nobody ever went back there after business hours. So I had the whole place to myself. It even had an outdoor socket that I could plug my cellphone into. Allowing me to babble on for hours to all my Facebook friends and enemies while I pounded my 40s of OE. Then a couple months ago this Cal employee started hanging out at all hours of the day and night in this office inside the building right where I hang out. The guy could see me sitting there every time he looked out his window. So much for privacy. I figured he’d eventually go away. But no such luck. And I couldn’t figure out what he was doing in there. He’d be there after midnight. He’d be there on weekends. He’d even be there on holidays. The guy was friendly when we interacted. He even turned out to be a fan of my comics when he found out I was “the Ace Backwords” as he put it. But for some reason he always seemed nervous whenever he saw me. Then it finally dawned on me. He was secretly living in his office. Here I had been worrying that he might call the cops on me. While he was worrying that I might call UC on him. At any rate, I decided to abandon that beloved hang-out spot in search of a more private spot.
Then there’s my favorite social scene on the streets; People’s Park. It’s often a pleasant and stimulating, as well as bizarre, place to smoke a few cigarettes and shoot a little shit with the local street characters. But then that got jammed up for a couple of weeks. First by this lunatic who kept threatening to kill me every time I sat down. And then by this person who was attracted to me and kept forcing her presence on me every time I showed up. (I couldn’t decide which type was harder to deal with; the ones who hate you or the one’s who like you)
And then I went through a period of about a year where I was constantly getting jammed up by the cops. Every time I turned around, some cop would be coming at me for one reason or another. I couldn’t figure out what the deal was. Did they have a photo of my face hanging up at the police station or something? With a caption: “Him. Ace Backwords. He must be stopped!” I ended up getting like 8 tickets in one year, for everything from “open container” tickets to “littering” tickets (I happened to throw a cigarette butt off this balcony and a cop happened to walking along the trail below me and the butt almost hit him in the head, which he took very personally and hit me with a $480 littering ticket for one cigarette butt.) (The cop also got pissed when he asked me if I was drinking and I bitterly complained: “No! I already drank it all!” Which was the honest truth, I was pissed that I was out of beer. But I guess it came off as a little wise-ass to the cops). But now, for the last two years, I haven’t had a single problem with the cops. So at least my cop scene is running smoothly nowadays.
And then there’s my campsite scene. That’s been a pretty problem-free scene for the last year. And then the other night I go up to my campsite, and some asshole had dumped out all my camping gear that I had stashed in two garbage bags hidden behind a tree. And it’s strewn all over the ground. Nothing was stolen, oddly. And even stranger, there were piles of miscellaneous electrical equipment strewn amongst my stuff. The next morning as I walked down the path I noticed this guy sitting across the creek, nonchalantly smoking away on a meth pipe. Now if there’s one thing that can turn a scene upside instantly, it’s a lunatic speed-freak in your midst.
So the next night, as I walked back to my campsite, I made sure to be carrying a big, hard can of cat food with me. It’s not only a delicious treat for my kitties. But it also serves the dual purpose of smashing lunatic tweakers in the head if they happen to decide to try and fuck with me while I’m trying to sleep.
Fortunately, there was no sign of the tweaker that night. Or the next. So, at least for the moment, my campsite scene is running smoothly. But that’s what it’s like on the street scene. Every now and then, I’ll get all my ducks in a row. But it very rarely lasts for long. If I can get any 3 out of 5 of my different scenes working smoothly at the same time, that’s about the best you can hope for.
My drinking has gone from “recreational” to “self-destructive” over the last couple years. I could easily quit drinking if I really wanted to. And now and again I’ll quit for a month, just to make sure I can still do it. But the thing is: I enjoy drinking more than I want those last 10 years at the tail-end of my life.
Yesterday I was drinking with this tragic, young guy, Denny. Now some people think alcoholics are all alike. But me and Denny are prime examples of two of the basic alcoholic types. Denny is what I call an “oblivion alcoholic.” He drinks non-stop. And he drinks the cheapest, strongest booze he can find. And no matter how drunk he is, he always wants to get even more drunk. Until he finally knocks himself out. He craves oblivion. He’s tormented by something in his psyche. So he wants to short-circuit his brain so he stops thinking. He’s also extremely sensitive, so he uses the alcohol to de-sensitize himself. Feeling less means feeling less pain.
Whereas I’m what I call a “measured alcoholic.” My drinking is measured. I usually start drinking at the same time every night (around 6 o’clock). And I drink the same thing (Olde English or Racer 5) at the same pace (about 80 to 100 ounces of booze over the course of the evening) every night. I’m more out for a buzz than oblivion.
Last night, Denny was lying on his back in People’s Park, smoking a cigarette and pounding cans of Four Loco — the drink of choice for the hardcore street alkies these days. When he suddenly rolled over onto his side and started puking into the dirt, as well as all over his hand and shirt sleeve. But in true alkie style, he kept his cigarette going. “That’s like the alkie who falls down a flight of stairs but doesn’t spill a drop of his drink,” I said.
I gave Denny a paper towel to wipe the drool off his face. And then he staggered off down the street to the liquor store in search of yet another can of Four Loco. In a seemingly endless series of Four Locos.
Everybody is talking about gay stuff this weekend. For a variety of reasons. Here’s a gay story for you.
In 1976 I hit the streets of San Francisco for the first time. I was a fucked up 19-year-old bum, basically. Sleeping on the Fremont St. off-ramp and eating at St. Anthony’s every day, this soup kitchen in the Tenderloin. Somehow I hooked up with this guy named Fearless Frank. He was another homeless bum on the scene. But he was kind and gentle and harmless. Which is something you couldn’t say about a lot of the specimens in the Tenderloin. And he had a good sense of humor. So we hit it off. Physically he reminded me a lot of Andy Warhol. Or a cracked toymaker. And he played up the swishy fag routine.
Originally he was from Utah from a strict Mormon family. His family spent a lot of money on various therapies to “cure” him of his homosexuality. To no avail. When he was 17 he got in a drunken car crash and severely fucked up the people he hit. His parents got sued and lost every penny they had. So he’s 17-years-old and he’s bankrupted his family. That was the kind of luck he had. Fearless Frank.
So he moved to San Francisco. The great gay mecca. He had a couple thousand bucks in his pocket. So he rented out a room at the Fairmont Hotel — this ultra-ritzy hotel on Nob Hill. He ordered champagne and caviar from room service every day for a couple of days until his money ran out. Then he hit the streets.
By the time I met him, Fearless Frank had pretty much given up on life. He’d panhandle enough money to buy a little bottle of Thunderbird wine — which was the skid row rot-gut booze of choice during that period — and drink himself into oblivion.
After eating at St. Anthony’s we used to like to hang out and talk at this park bench at the Benjamin Swig Pavilion at 5th and Market. In spite of it all, Frank was still bemused by life. And he kind of accepted with equanimity that he was doomed. And he had the fearlessness that comes from Not Giving A Flying Fuck. I was completely fucked up myself at the time. I Had Issues. But I genuinely enjoyed Fearless Frank’s company. We were just a couple of kooks. And he had more soul than a lot of people. If you know what I mean.
Every afternoon, Fearless Frank liked to walk from the Tenderloin to the Golden Gate Bridge. Just for something to do. To kill time.
“When I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge I’d look down and think of jumping off the bridge and killing myself,” said Fearless Frank. “But the view was so beautiful I’d always decide to walk back downtown to the Tenderloin.”
Then one afternoon, Fearless Frank didn’t come back.
This is a little weird. A twist in the plot amongst my feral cats.
For years, Moo Cat used to bully Blondie. She’d regularly hiss at her and slash at her and try to drive her off the scene. Blondie never fought back. She’s always been a pretty timid cat. She just took the abuse with a look of exasperation.
But lately it’s like the worm has turned. The pecking order has shifted. And Blondie is now the dominant feral cat of the tribe. Like this morning, I put out two dishes of cat food. One for Blondie and one for Moo Cat. Blondie starts eating from her dish. But then she decides, “I want Moo Cat’s dish, too.” So she pushes her face into Moo Cat’s dish and starts eating Moo Cat’s food, too. Blondie has taken over both dishes!
Moo Cat runs over to me, whimpering loudly at the unfairness of it all. I’m sort of like: “Well, that’s what you get, Moo Cat. What goes around comes around. The same cats you abused on the way up, you might meet up on the way back down.”
So now I have to put Blondie’s dish way over there. And Moo Cat’s dish way over on the other side. Just so they eat in peace.
But I wonder what happened. I think Blondie finally got sick of taking Moo Cat’s shit. And kicked her ass. Settled it once and for all. Or maybe she teamed up with this big new gray feral tom cat that’s been on the scene lately who she’s real friendly with. And they double-teamed poor ole Moo Cat.
I swear. Sometimes, feral cats can act just as uncivilized and poorly behaved as human beings.