Acid Heroes

May 6, 2014

The last days of the Duncan

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 7:01 pm
Tags: , , ,



I was thinking of one of my last interactions with Duncan.  Must have been  the summer of 2009.  This guy was working on a documentary about the Naked Guy and he had used a bunch of the photos Duncan and I had taken in 1993.  So Duncan was screening a rough edit upstairs at Christeen’s apartment.  Duncan was in terrible health by this point.  It was agonizing watching him creaking up and down Telegraph. His body had betrayed him.  He was locked into that descending spiral that I had seen some of my other elderly friends get locked into:  his stays at the hospital kept getting longer, and his stays out of the hospital kept getting shorter.

Anyways, it was night time. I was across the street working my vending table on Haste and Telegraph.  The spot of so many past triumphs for Duncan and me over the years.  Could it have really been 30 years?  Remembering when Duncan had lived across the street at the Berkeley Inn.  Before it burned to the ground in an arson fire in 1986.  The barren, vacant lot being sort of a sad symbol of what had once been, and what our lives were becoming.

Duncan came out of Christeen’s apartment building and waited for a cab.  He had been living in a motel for the last week.  Some welfare agency had set him up with an apartment in downtown Oakland, but it was on the second floor and his legs were so bad he could no longer climb the stairs.  So they had temporarily set him up in a Berkeley motel.  And his life was like that now.  Like a relentless regression.  His situation getting narrower and narrower.




I could tell he was in bad shape, so I went across the street to see if there’s anything I could do.  Duncan  had his back to the apartment building as he waited for the taxi, leaning against the wall for support.  The dark shadows and shifting street lights played across his face adding an eerie and urgent intensity to his facial expression.  As Duncan broke down for one  of the few times that I knew him, broke through his usual stoney reserve and English stoicism.  “I’m scared!”  he blurted out in a jumble of words  Almost on the verge of panic.  “I’m really scared that I’m not going to be able to make it!”  He seemed almost hysterical.  Like he was being driven to madness by his suffering. And I could tell it wasn’t just the fear of death (which is heavy enough) that really scared him. But the fear of dying.  The fear of losing control of his life, and all the terrifying uncertainty that went with that.

I ran across the street and fetched an extra folding chair for Duncan to sit on while he waited.   The taxi drove by and I ran out into the street to flag it down.  As Duncan was staggering into the backseat of the cab I slipped him a $20 in case he needed anything.  My attempts at “help” seemed so futile in the face of the hopelessness of Duncan’s situation.

It’s weird how my memory works when I think back on it now.  I remember  things like a vivid snapshot in my mind.  Duncan leaning against the wall of that apartment building.  The look on his face.  I can still see it clearly in my mind.fb_img_1490224731571.jpg

Duncan’s dead now, of course. And even the apartment building he was leaning against is gone.  Burned to the ground in another fire. And it seems now like the whole thing wasn’t even real. It was just a hallucination.  Nothing is left of the whole episode aside from my fading memory.  And soon, I’ll be dead, too, and even that fleeting memory will be gone.  And it’ll be as if it had never even happened in the first place. . . .  I suppose  you could take a nihilistic message from all this. “Everything ends up as dust in the end.” But there’s a strangely up-lifting message, too.  Like, no matter how bad life gets, no matter how bad the suffering, it’ll all be over soon.  And it’ll be as if it had never even happened in the first place.   Its like nothing is solid or real.  Not even the buildings.  Its all just a hallucination.

But there was an amusing epilogue to the story.  The next morning I was still worrying like crazy about Duncan. Had he made it to his motel room in one piece?  Was he dead or alive?  What new and terrible crisis was he in the midst of?  So I popped my head into the Café Med to see if he was around.  And there he was, sitting at a table with his friend Richard, heartily eating away at this huge breakfast.  A typical Duncan breakfast.  Ten sausages, four eggs, toast, orange juice, plenty of coffee.  Not a care in the world. Or at least temporarily oblivious. As if the whole scene last night had just been a bad dream.  It was so Duncan.  That was one of the last times I saw him on Telegraph.  And that’s how I like to remember him.




1 Comment »

  1. In hindsight it all seems like a hallucination & I take comfort in that. But at the time, especially during intense suffering & strong emotions, at the time it just seems so real. I can see why Schopenhauer said that pleasure was an illusion, that only pain was real, and during emotional upheavals & crisis, nothing seems more real, then once the dust settles & time passes does the nonreality of the situation become obvious. If only I could have the awareness that everything is a hallucination during the painful situation I would be set.

    Comment by Jon — May 7, 2014 @ 1:33 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: