Acid Heroes: the Legends of LSD

May 25, 2016

So you’re interested in a career as a writer

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 10:50 pm


Peter Labriola's photo.
One of the funny things about writing, about sharing your thoughts with the public: YOU NEVER KNOW HOW THE READERS ARE GOING TO REACT. You can never predict that.

Every now and then I’ll write about some controversial subject. And I’ll know there’s a good chance I’ll generate some heat. But then I’ll write about something that I consider fairly innocuous — like  a recent blog about a little old guy who worked in a booth  — and even that, somebody will get upset or offended or take issue with it. One of my Facebook friends wrote: “Did you ever think to stop and talk to this person? Without his perspective how can you even begin to comment on his life.”

Well, this is how. Probably 90% of the piece was just me describing how he looked and how he interacted with people. And maybe 10% of it was me speculating on what his life might (and I said “might”) have been like. And by the way, this is something that we all do, all the time. When I see some photo of a Facebook friend and they’re hanging out at their house with their family and friends at some kind of get-together, I’ll speculate from that as to how their lives might have turned out. We mostly do this kind of thing instantly and subconsciously without even realizing it. But we do it all the time.

But getting back to writing. Contrary to what I sometimes get accused of: I don’t go out of my way to push people’s buttons. But I’ve always had a weird knack for doing that. Of course that’s one of the exciting things about writing. This ever-present wild card. Never knowing how people will react. And every now and then I’ll be pushing a buzzer expecting a buzz, and I’ll get an explosion. . . .

And then you check to make sure you still have all your limbs. And you think twice the next time you start shooting your mouth off.


(This was the blog I was referring to: )


May 24, 2016

The guy in the booth

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 9:12 pm


Ace Backwords's photo.For years and years I’d pass this little booth every morning as I walked down from my campsite towards civilization (so-called). For nearly 10 years. And every morning I’d pass this little old guy who worked in the booth. He was probably in his 60s. Gray hair. But in pretty good shape. Road his bike to work every day. A chipper fellow. His job was pretty simple. He’d check to make sure that the people who parked in the parking lot had appointments at the eye clinic next door. But you could tell he was diligent at doing his job. When a car pulled up he wouldn’t just walk over to the car, he’d trot over there really quickly, with his ever-ready clipboard in his hand.

And I’d pass this guy every morning as I was staggering down the hill, hungover, my clothes disheveled, my hair strewn all over the place. And I’d pass this clean-cut, blandly normal guy, working away at his job. And it was like a study in contrasts. You could tell the guy had been on the straight and narrow path his whole life. Probably sat in the front row of every classroom as a kid and regularly raised his hand when the teacher asked a question and had a perfect attendance record. And he never deviated from the normal, acceptable route. Whereas my life went hopelessly off course at age 17 and I’ve been bouncing around following my own weird ever since.

I admired the guy in my own way. He had found a way to smoothly slot into society and have a productive life and not cause any problems (seemingly). Which is more than I could say for myself a lot of the time. And maybe his gig was a little dull, but it was a cushy deal in a way, working outside on the beautiful green campus, surrounded by vital young college students, and he probably got a good salary with benefits and retirement package.

Then one day when I passed the booth there was a big, blown-up photo of the guy posted on the side of the booth. With a caption that said; “In appreciation of 30 years of loyal service to the University of California. . .” and etc, etc. And then a week later he was gone. And I never saw him again. I guess he retired.

Its weird all the different paths our lives take in this world.


May 23, 2016

Semi-functional alcoholism

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 7:29 pm


Ace Backwords's photo.I’m generally a controlled drinker and a functional drunk. I usually drink the same amount of alcohol every night (around 80 to 100 ounces of malt liquor at 7.4% alcohol content) and usually at the same time every night. So I’m well familiar with the effects of the alcohol, and how to navigate safely through the ever-increasing state of drunkenness that, apparently, is my only remaining goal in life.

But every now and then I will slip up and go too far. I’ll drink a little too much, or I’ll drink a little too quickly. And I’ll suddenly (albeit dimly) realize: HOLY SHIT I AM WAY TOO DRUNK. And I turn into, technically speaking, a Stupid Fucking Drunk. I’ll find myself staggering down the street, bouncing off of walls, and shouting curses at passersby for reasons that make perfect sense at the time.

I remember one such night. WAY too drunk. I somehow managed to make it up to the general vicinity of my campsite in the Berkeley hills. But as I reached down to get the cardboard that I kept stashed behind a tree, I lost my balance. And fell face-first down the hill.

Fortunately, I had the cardboard directly under me. So it was a fairly smooth fall down the hill, like riding a toboggan. That is until I got to the creek at the bottom of the hill.

Fortunately for me, the creek was dry at the time. So the gods were on my side. But now the problem was, every time I tried to stand up I fell right back down. The ground was on a steep incline and the dirt and rocks kept crumbling under my feet. I made 7 or 8 valiant attempts to maintain an upright position. Until I finally concluded that the situation was hopeless. So I fell right down for the 9th time and wondered. What do I do now?

But then I came up with a seemingly brilliant solution to my dilemma. Why not sleep right there in the dry creek? I had my cardboard underneath me (which I used as my matting). And it was a warm summer night and I had a warm jacket on. So that’s what I did. I curled up and slept right there. And I slept rather peacefully and comfortably for several hours.

Until I was awoken a couple hours later by the sounds of my feral cats — somewhere off in the distance in the darkness — meowing loudly at me. Meows that no doubt translated into English as: “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING LAYING DOWN THERE IN THE DRY CREEK WHEN YOU SHOULD BE UP AT YOUR CAMPSITE FEEDING US DELICIOUS CANS OF CAT FOOD, YOU STUPID FUCKING IDIOT.”

By this time I had sobered up enough to master the laws of gravity. So I pulled myself up to an erect posture, crawled up the hill, made it to my campsite, fed my goddamn feral cats, and slept happily ever after.

But it wasn’t one of my finer moments.


May 22, 2016

My life as an artist

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 10:03 pm


When I was younger I thought I was a brilliant artist. I thought I was one of those rare people who come along every now and then who have a special vision.

Over a 40 year period I amassed this huge body of artwork. Sometimes when I look at it, it seems pretty impressive. Other times I ruefully think: “Its just a storage locker full of paper.”

Of course I’ve met plenty of no-talent dilletantes over the years who were convinced they were geniuses. And I admit I’m hardly objective when it comes to evaluating my work.

Now I’m an old man. And I’ll probably be dead soon. And my best work is probably behind me. And none of this stuff really even matters to anybody else. It was just a weird daydream I started with myself 40 years ago.

May 16, 2016

Backwords Tip for Today: Whenever possible start your morning with a purring cat on your chest

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 7:54 pm
Ace Backwords's photo.

There are many worse ways to start your day.


Ace Backwords's photo.

I’ve tried just about everything this life has to offer. But having your hand on a purring cat ranks up there with the best experiences there is.



Ace Backwords's photo.

Ace Backwords's photo.

This probably doesn’t make sense to normal people. But I have many, many non-verbal conversations with Scaredy Cat the feral cat. We banter back and forth on a non-verbal level. And what she says to me always makes perfect sense.


May 13, 2016

What I learned in a writing class

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 8:13 pm


I took this writing class once when I was a young man. I thought maybe I could learn something about how to write literature. Everybody in the class submitted a short story, and then the professor critiqued them in front of the whole class.

I wrote this story about when I was a 19 year old homeless bum in San Francisco in 1976 and hanging out in the Tenderloin district. One afternoon I was waiting outside of St. Anthony’s dining hall, lined up on the sidewalk with all the other bums waiting to get a free lunch. When these two bums got into a conflict. They’re jawing back and forth, cursing and shouting and threatening each other. Finally one of the bums reaches into the garbage can on the corner and starts pulling out all the empty wine bottles (Thunderbird) and throwing them at the other bum.  There was no shortage of ammunition, I can tell you that much. That Skid Row garbage can was loaded with empty wine bottles from all the winos on the scene. So wine bottles are exploding all across  the sidewalk like hand grenades. And the other bum is dancing back and forth trying to dodge the in-coming artillery.  Then the bum smashed one of the wine bottles on the ground so it had a jagged edge. And chased after the other bum, waving the jagged bottle in the air. And as they turned the corner and disappeared behind a building, it looked like the one bum was on the verge of catching the other bum and slicing him up with that wine bottle. . .

This object is a metaphor for a container in which people discard unwanted refuse.

After reading my story to the class the professor said: “What an apt metaphor. That the very wine bottles that the winos had consumed in the hopes of attaining satisfaction were now being utilized as agents of their own self-destruction. Its a symbolic statement of the ironic nature of their existential dilemma.”

I had never thought about that before. The empty wine bottles being metaphors and all that. I was just trying to describe something that I had seen and experienced. And hopefully it made sense and wasn’t boring.  And that’s pretty much all I hope for with this piece of writing, too.


May 12, 2016

The little old hippie lady of Berkeley

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 9:07 pm


Ace Backwords's photo.The other day I was hanging out with Hate Man at People’s  Park. Hate Man was talking about a guy who had recently slit his throat by the bathroom. “It was amazing how much blood there was on the floor. Its incredible how much blood there is in the human body!”

“That reminds me of when Jack Kerouac died,” I said. “He blew a big hole in his stomach. And it was like a dam bursting. Virtually all of his blood instantly poured out onto the floor.”

Suddenly, this little old lady that was sitting on the log across from us started shouting at me:


The little old lady had been on the Berkeley scene, off and on, for years. She was probably in her late 60s. She was wearing a brightly colored tie-dyed Grateful Dead tee-shirt and a long, flowing hippie skirt. She had lips like a fish. And was almost the perfect caricature of the kvetching Long Island Jewish grandmother.

“Hate Man, gimme some of your Coke. Gimme some of your soda,” she said. “I’m dying of thirst over he’ya.”

“No,” said Hate Man. “It would be a hard push.”

“I’m dying I’m dying,” she said.

“There’s a water fountain over there,” said Hate Man

“I don’t want watah’. I want soda!”

Lately, she’s been hanging out all day by herself on the steps of Sproul Plaza on the Berkeley campus. Occasionally she’ll start shouting “HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME!!”

The other day I passed her as she was walking up Bancroft from Shattuck. She was about halfway to the campus. Its several LONG blocks. All uphill. And she was inching along at a snail’s pace. In obvious bad health. Pulling this suitcase on wheels behind her.

“HELP ME HELP ME!!” she said as I passed her. “I NEED TO GET TO THE HOMELESS SHELTER!!”

I turned around towards her. And for a second I almost got roped into her drama. But then I thought: What could I do? Carry her up the street?

“You’re headed in the right direction,” I said. “Good luck.”

(Later in the day I was relieved to find that she had made it to the campus and was back at her spot on the Sproul Plaza steps.)

Often people end up on the street scene because they’ve exhausted all their options and there’s nowhere else to go. The streets are like an all-inclusive club. Virtually anybody can end up a member.


May 11, 2016

Hoop dreams

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 10:04 pm other night while I was watching the Warriors game at this sports bar, this guy sidled over to my table.

“We should get back out there on the court, bro,” he said with a smile. It was a guy I used to hoop with at Ohlone Park back in the day.

“I’m a little too old for that now,” I said.

“How old were you when you stopped hooping?” he said.

“Man, I musta’ been around 35, 36,” I said.

“I remember the last time you were out there,” he said. “I was there that day.”

“And you were a teenager back then,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. He was in his 40s now.

“It goes by so fast,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said.

We gave each other wistful looks. And then went back to watching the Warriors game.

Country Joe & the Fish

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 9:56 pm I graduated from Junior High School back in 1970 we all got to vote on what songs we wanted to sing at the big graduation ceremony. I think it was class bad boy Dave Parazone who came up with the plan to stuff the ballot box so our class song would be “The Fish Cheer” by Country Joe & the Fish. We thought it would be totally cool to have the entire 8th grade class up on stage, singing our hearts out to our proud parents in the audience: “GIMME AN F!! GIMME A U!!  GIMME A C. . . “

The other song we wanted to sing was “The Lemon Song” by Led Zeppelin. Because it had that line “I wanna squeeze your lemons until the juice runs down my legs.” We all suspected that line was really dirty, even though most of us didn’t know what it really meant.

But the damn Principal got wind of our plans and nixed it in the bud. The fascist. I realized at that point, you can’t fight The Man and that all the elections are rigged.

Instead we ended up singing that Youngbloods song, that hippie peace-and-love anthem, “C’mon people now smile on your brother, everybody get together try and love one another.”

But it was 1970 so it was too late. The ’60s were already over.



Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 9:40 pm

Somebody asked me: “Ace, if you could do it all over again would you do anything differently?”

I said: “Yeah. Just about everything.”

Ace Backwords's photo.
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