Life is Strange, Isn’t It?

………..Or Maybe its Just Me and All You Other Motherfuckers Are Having a Normal Life

(Originally published November 7, 2007)

Like most people, I have had some very bad periods in my life. I look back on certain years and cringe. 1974. 1978.1984. 1992.1996. 2002 to 2007 (and counting). Everything seemed to collapse.

There were other years, magical years, where I really seemed to Have My Shit Together. 1980. 1982. 1987 to 1991. 1993-1994. 1997 to 2001. I seemed to be blessed by God. I was invulnerable and floated on a wave of grace.

During the magic periods, it was as if all my dreams were coming true. Or were on the verge of coming true. I’d be surrounded by beautiful young women, these sirens, circling around me, smiling upon me. I’d read about myself in the newspapers and hear how great I was. Opportunities were everywhere. Out of the blue, some stranger-in-high-places would ask me to put together an art gallery showing of my work. Producers from the network news would call about doing a feature on me on their TV show. Publishers would publish my books. Somebody else would print up t-shirts with my cartoons on them and get them in malls in New Jersey. I’d record a CD of my music and the radio stations would play it.

During those magic periods, I’d look at myself in the mirror, and momentarily I could look past my self-loathing and microscopic examination of all my flaws, and for once I wouldn’t look hideous to myself. Out of the corner of my eye I’d think: Ya know, maybe that guy (me) really IS kinda’ cool.

You wonder if its just an “ego problem.” There were times (and I kid you not) where I felt I would go down in history as one of the great artists of our times. I considered myself a genius. Considered it just an obvious fact, and had no reason to tell others or convince others. Was even slightly embarrassed by it. Like it was one more thing that was weird about me, and I worked to conceal it to maintain some kind of normal, Average Joe facade.

There were other periods where I felt I had “transcended my ego.” After several years of intense Siddha Yoga meditation, I felt I had pierced the mystery. That I was God Himself. That I was the Total Universe. And this Ace Backwords fellow was just a minor role that I (as God) was playing, along with playing all the other parts of the Universe, you and them and all the other critters and planets and stars and atoms and molecules. I was One With The Universe, as they say. Literally. (Of course, my ego would always re-assert itself and spoil it, jumping in their to take the credit: “What a great man I am, Ace Backwords, that I have so cleverly managed to transcend my ego and realize I am God.) (S’funny how there’s such a fine line — that “razor-sharp line” — between “transcending your ego” and going on “the ultimate ego trip.”)

Now, during this latest, hideous, 6-year period, where everything in my life seems to be going wrong, I’m going in the opposite direction. Where once, everything I touched seemed to turn to gold, now, everything I touch seems to die. Everything in my life is contracting. Its like I’ve painted myself in a corner. All my unresolved phobias, insecurities, and mental problems — things I felt I had resolved years ago — have all flowered at once in this hideous way.

I woke up this morning at 5AM, pulled myself out of the bushes, stashed my sleeping bag on the campus, and staggered down to the men’s room in the basement of Barrow’s Hall. Looked at my face in the mirror: “YUCK! Him again!” Tried to comb what was left of my scraggly hair. I look awful. Can barely stand to look at myself in the mirror. Remembering when I was young and cool-looking. Remembering another morning in 1995, in a similar bathroom, admiring myself in the mirror.Getting my look just right, like an actor just before he prepares to hit the stage, knowing he’s got a plum role to play, eager to Put On a Show. On that day, a sunny summer day full of magic, I went out to the campus with my 4-track recorder and recorded street musicians jamming on the Plaza. Beautiful teenage girls who smiled on me. Hip, cool street musicians. Capturing the magic of life. I still have photos from that impromptu recording session. I looked cool. I was cool. It sounds stupid and shallow to say it so baldly. But you probably know what I mean. “Life’s a stage,” and sometimes you got a great role to play.

Nowadays, I’m embarrassed by my show. I skulk out of the bathroom, go to a coffee shop on the Ave that’s just opening up. Drink my first cup of coffee of the day. Glance at a local newspaper. Nothing of interest happening anywhere.

Go and check my email. Nothing but 20 spams telling me how I can enlarge my penis and be hung like Ron Jeremy. Nobody writes me any more. Nobody publishes me any more. Well, I did get an indignant letter-to-the-editor published in the Berkeley Daily Planet yesterday. You know me: I’ll probably be bitching and moaning to my last breath. Or maybe the day will come when I even give up on that. And I’ll just sit quietly somewhere, staring into space. Thinking nothing. Or maybe thinking of everything all at once, all the scenes from my past playing at once, like tuning into 20 radio stations at the same time and getting nothing but static with no coherent thread.

4 thoughts on “Life is Strange, Isn’t It?

  1. I’m not big on astrology, but maybe it’s a virgo thing: my life has also been on the decline for the past 6 years. Every problem has been a double bind situation with no good answer & the worse part is that I have burned out, ran out of gas, & lost my fight. You book, Surviving on the Streets helped me put this situation into the proper context, instead of suiciding or some other equally stupid thing.

  2. BTW, I am heading out to Berkely & would like to do something nice for you, as your book probably saved my fucking life & put me back on the spiritual path.

  3. in the 80’s when youth culture split up into opposing camps, Ace Backwords was read by the “punks” in Maximum Rock’n’Roll and the”hippies” in High Times and both could relate for that I salute you!

  4. Ace, stopped by peoples park for a few hours. Had very animated conversation w Hate Man. Drop me a line @ jonathanhine227©msn.com. Jon

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