I tend to downplay birthdays. Especially my own. My standard line is: “I only celebrate birthdays that end in zeros.” But that got me to wondering about some of my landmark birthdays.
I was born in September of 1956. So that’s literally my birth day. Don’t remember too much about that one.
I turned 10 in September of 1966. Just starting the 5th grade. That was a great period for me. I was like king of my class and the undisputed leader of a big gang of after-school kids. My childhood was kind of a cross between “Leave It to Beaver” and “The Little Rascals.” And I was kind of a cross between Spanky and Alfalfa (both of whom I resembled at different times). I often tell people: “My life peaked in the 4th, 5th and 6th grades. And its been all downhill from there.” And I am not kidding.
I turned 20 in September of 1976. I was homeless and living on an offramp in San Francisco and my adult life was really just starting then. I had my Alan Watts books and I was taking a lot of LSD and I was just starting to work on my so-called career as an underground cartoonist. It was the Bicentennial Year, so there was a weird synchronicity. I was turning 20 and America was turning 200. So it was like we were both starting with a fresh slate.
I turned 30 in September of 1986. That would be another landmark year for me. I remember my friend Teresa who was living with me at the time, staged a surprise birthday party for me. I still have a photo of me walking into my apartment just as all my friends yelled out “SURPRISE!!” Everybody should get at least one surprise birthday party in their life. I got a big break that year when I got a paying gig with the Daily Californian newspaper to do a daily comic strip. So I was able to quit my day-job for the first time and concentrate on the art. I’d spend the next 8 years at the drawing board cranking out the work non-stop. It was an incredible period for me. It was like I got a big, new idea every day. And every one of them worked.
I turned 40 in September of 1996. I remember I was homeless again because Gordon bought me some cake, ice cream and soda and we celebrated my birthday on the steps of Sproul Plaza. I had spent the previous two years trying to make it as a rock musician/songwriter/recording engineer. And that had ended in dismal failure. So all of a sudden I was getting big, new ideas that WEREN’T working. But then a friend gave me a Swami Muktananda book for a present and I would spend the next 6 years meditating and chanting heavily and developing a high spiritual state for the first time in my otherwise wretched, miserable life (ha ha). So things were going great again.
I turned 50 in September of 2006. That would be another landmark year in the life of the Backwords. I can’t remember my actual birthday (which is annoying) but I remember a bizarre week in August where virtually every aspect of my life fell apart at once. 1.) My publisher, Loompanics (who I was counting on to publish my next book) went out of business, 2.) The office building where I had been secretly living for the last 9 years got sold and all the tenants got kicked out, and 3.) Cody’s Books, which was the main hang-out of my social scene, went out of business. All in the same WEEK! (If I was into astrology I’d HATE to see the order of my stars during that period). Then, a week later, this asshole hit me over the head with a chair and perforated my eardrum and for awhile I thought I was going to be deaf in that ear. So everything was going from bad to worse. Then the Naked Guy — who had been the star of one of my biggest hits, the “Telegraph Street Calendar 1994” — committed suicide while locked up in prison. Which tarnished what had been one of my favorite and light-hearted memories of a cherished period in my life. So not only was my present and future going into the toilets. The gods were even fucking with my past. This would be the start of a tailspin in my life. Which hasn’t abated as of this writing.
So now I’m 57. So I’ve got 3 years until I turn 60 (knock knock). I’ll be sure to get back to you then.