Someone mentioned that being offended is the new national past-time. I upped the ante by being offended by her offended-ness

Dude almost has the concept down. He’s got the cardboard matting, but he’s still sleeping on the cold sidewalk.

Right after I took the picture, this very righteous Berkeley women stopped and said to me:

“I often give a dollar to people like that.”

“I often do, too,” I said.

“Especially if I take their picture,” she said. Then she righteously walked off, having done her good deed for the day by helpfully suggesting that somebody else do a good deed.

PS. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if I’ve given out a hell of a lot more money to my fellow street persons over the years than this person ever did. Call it a hunch.

Feral cats pecking order

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Mini Scaredy — it’s good to be the queen.

Mini Scaredy has established herself as the alpha cat at the top of the feral cat hierarchy. By dint of her superior strength, athleticism, aggression and overall fighting ability.

And there’s really nothing I can do about it. These are wild animals after all, with their own inner-species society with it’s own unique rules and bi-laws. You can’t really “train” feral cats in the wild. Because they react to any attempts to “discipline” them — or any aggression directed at them — as a life-or-death attack on their personage.

So I just let the cats sort it out among themselves.

So this morning I fed Mini Scaredy — the ruling queen — her breakfast at my campsite.

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Micro Scaredy — banished from the kingdon.
Then I went down to the creek and fed Micro Scaredy — who Mini Scaredy banished from my campsite — her breakfast down there at her spot.
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Fatty — banished and then further banished.

And then I fed Fatty — who’s been banished from the creek by Micro Scaredy — her breakfast at her spot about 30 yards down the trail from the creek.

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Moo Cat — at the end of the line.

And somewhere — even farther off in the distance — is Moo Cat at the bottom of the feral cat pecking order, waiting at her spot for me to bring her HER breakfast

Sheesh. Cats.

The joys of smoking

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“I’ll give you 50-cents for a cigarette.”
“OK.” (I take out a cigarette)
“Can I pay you the 50-cents later?”

“Can I use your lighter?”
“OK.” (I hand him my lighter)
“Now could I get a cigarette to go with the lighter?”

(guy comes up to me smoking a cigarette) “Spare a cigarette?”
“What do you want a cigarette for? You’re already smoking one?”
“I want another one for later.”

“Do you have a spare cigarette?”
“No, my pack only comes with 20. Doesn’t come with any spares.”

“Can I get a cigarette?”
“You certainly can. They sell them in that store right across the street.”

Michal Overhulse: 1922-1986

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Stumbled across this photo of Michal Overhulse, this little old lady I knew in the 1980s. She was a friend of Duncan’s which is how I met her. Duncan and Michal had the same shrink, they were members of the same therapy group, which is how they hooked up in the first place. She was around 60 when I first met her.

Michal was typical of a certain kind of person you sometimes meet on the fringe of society. Michal couldn’t find any purpose or direction for her life. Couldn’t find hardly anything to connect to or plug into. Mostly just existed in this void. She had no career, no family, no hobbies, virtually no interests. She spent most of her time just sort of existing, killing time in her apartment, sitting by herself on her bed, watching day-time television (game shows) with her two siamese cats, Mish and Mosh (who mostly just laid around like part of the furniture). Smoking endless cartons of menthol cigarettes, and drinking endless 6-packs of tall-can Budweiser, which she’d wash down with a chaser of a big glug of NyQuil cough syrup. By the end of the evening she’d reach some zonked-out state that would knock her out. And then she’d wake up in the morning and start the cycle all over again.

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Michal had a great studio apartment on Bancroft Avenue on the second floor, with this big picture window that was like a solar panel when the sun hit it in the afternoon, and a great view of lower Sproul Plaza on the Berkeley campus. On the weekends the sounds of the Sproul drum circle would waft up to her apartment, adding this exotic, hip Berkeley soundtrack. The other thing I remember was she had these bookshelves with these dusty old books from the ’50s and ’60s. The most dead books you could imagine — obscure theories on Fruedian psychoanalysis from some quack you had never heard of, unreadable poetry books, sociology tracts from the ’60s. You got the feeling Michal hadn’t looked at any of the books in a decade. Everything in her apartment was like that. Like a mausoleum. Lifeless, untouched and covered with dust.

Duncan said that he thought Michal was an unpracticing lesbian. She had made this one attempt to hook up with this one woman she was interested in when she was a young woman. But when that didn’t work out, she just gave up on the whole thing. Which was sort of her life-long pattern. Periodically she would take a half-assed stab at dabbling at something, but it wouldn’t amount to anything and she’d pretty quickly give up on it. For awhile she dabbled in poetry — writing this string of words that didn’t make much sense or have a point. But quickly gave up on that. By the time I met her Michal had pretty much given up the ghost on everything. Just sort of quietly killing time as she waited for her string to play out. She had a phrase that she would sometimes repeat — “I’ve been waiting all my life” — that had a haunting feel to it. For you knew that whatever she had been waiting for in her life would never arrive.

Michal was also the first person I ever watched disintigrate right before my eyes (there would be many more later). She was a somewhat frail person to begin with. And the never-ending series of cigarettes, beer and NyQuil began to take it’s toll. But it was really the ennui that engulfed her and weighed her down and crushed out her life-force that really did her in. It was like everytime I saw Michal she looked worse than the time before. And she got locked in this pattern of staying in the hospital for awhile and then returning to her apartment. And the stays in the hospital grew longer each time. And the time she stayed at her apartment grew shorter each time. You could see she was locked into a downward spiral leading to an inevitable conclusion. At one point they had her on oxygen tanks for her failing lungs, and 12 different kinds of medication (that god knows what affect they had mixed with the beer and NyQuil).

The last time she was in the hospital they told her if she went home she would surely die. But she insisted on leaving. She had made her choice. She wanted to die in her apartment. I went to check up on her that night — I had a key to the building because I fed her cats when she was in the hospital. When I got to her apartment that night the front door was wide open. The apartment was dark except for the eerie gray light eminating from her television set, that was jammed between channels and squawking static. Her bookshelves and several other things had been knocked over. Michal was lying on her bed on her back, sort of vibrating and making weird animal sounds, still alive but no longer really there. I backed out of her apartment, shut the front door, and made my way out of the building .

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1.) Halloween (one of the rare holidays with a much-needed touch of evil)
2.) Fourth of July (you get to blow up stuff and shit)
3.) New Years Eve (a grand celebration of alcoholism)
4.) Thanksgiving (I’m always down for stuffing my guts with meat and gravy and pumpkin pie)
5.) Ace Backwords Appreciation Day (not nearly celebrated enough as it should be)
6.) April Fool’s Day (everybody plays the fool, no exception to the rule)
7.) Easter (you get to hunt for eggs and candy, which off-sets the depressing religious aspect of Jesus being crucified for our sins and all that)
8.) Valentine’s Day (I’m a loser)
9.) Mother’s Day (I got issues)
10.) Christmas (you get presents and there’s jolly old Santa Claus, but it’s so over-blown for an entire month that when Christmas finally comes around it’s invariably a let-down)

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A Berkeley cop retires

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Officer Aranas, Hate Man, and Asshole John, in one of the many, many interactions between the police and the street people.

Officer Sean Aranas was a ubiquitous presence on the Berkeley street scene over the last 25 years. And I’d regularly see him whizzing back and forth on his bicycle, responding to one call or another, or maybe just on his rounds looking for some action . . . It’s one of the weird things about cops and street people. Cops are one of the few non-street people who are privy to our world. They live alongside us as a constant presence, seeing us where we live at our campsites, and rousting us at our hang-out spots after midnight. So they are part of our world, even as they are mostly an adversarial presence. We’re like two teams, two armies, locked in a constant state of conflict or detente.

With most cops (at least here in Berkeley) it’s not personal with them when it comes to the street people. Some are even sympathetic. For they get a good look at the squalor in which many of us live. Most of them also realize the hopelessness of the situation, which they understand better than most. For they are constantly called in to solve a problem for which they have no solution. And they witness the dreary cycle over the decades where they roust a homeless campsite from one block, only to have it pop up on the next block.

One of the things that truly distinguished Officer Arenas from most of the other cops over the years was his willingness — nay, his EAGERNESS — to get physical with people. And the sight of Aranas on the ground, wrestling and grappling with a suspect that he was attempting to handcuff and arrest, is no doubt one of the enduring images many people have of Aranas in their minds. Whereas most other cops go out of their way to avoid these kind of physical situations. Because, frankly, they’re dangerous. To the cops as well as the other person. And plus, the cop has to exert a lot of effort. And, frankly, most cops are just doing their jobs to get a paycheck, and strive to avoid any added aggravations. But I suspect with Aranas, he felt that was one of the things he was good at — he was big and strong and a natural athlete, always in great shape. And maybe by getting physical he was trying to over-compensate for not being so strong in the mental aspects of the job. . . One enduring Aranas image: This wingnut, tweaking on meth, was in the middle of the Haste & Telegraph intersect, stomping back and forth around in circles, and raving at the top of his lungs as cars whizzed by him from every direction, honking their horns and trying to avoid hitting him. . .Aranas pulled up on the scene on his bicycle. Carefully surveyed the scene from a distance for several minutes, like a predator stalking their prey. And then, at the exact moment when their was a split-second break in the traffic, Aranas made his move, dived at the guy at the legs, took him down to the ground with a text-book perfect NFL tackle. Handcuffed the guy and pulled him off to the safety of the sidewalks in a blink of an eye. A perfectly executed move. And I had to admire the pure athleticism of it.

On the down side, one time this friend of mine — a perfectly peaceable fellow who never caused any problems — was doing a busking routine in front of the Berkeley market, rapping out poetry and rap beats. As i passed him, I noticed Officer Aranas making a bee-line towards him on his bicycle. When I came back to the scene about 15 minutes later, the entire block was roped off, cop cars everywhere, with Aranas and multiple other cops on top of the guy, handcuffing and practically hog-tying him. . It was a scene completely and needlessly escalated by Aranas. The type of thing that most other cops would have resolved peacefully.

Myself, I rarely had any serious interactions with the Berkeley cops. I strove to stay off of their radar, and mostly succeeded. I don’t think I spoke more than 10 words to Officer Aranas in the 25 years he was on the job. And he mostly just ignored me. Accept for this one time. I was sitting on a bench at People’s Park one evening. And I can’t even remember what the minor violation I was committing (if anything) that called myself to Aranas’ attention in the first place. But he suddenly came at me on his bicycle and started angrily haranguing me over some perceived offense. He was so needlessly amped up and over-reacting to the situation, it really made me wonder about his mental stability. For usually he strove to adopt this bland, emotionless Mr. Spock facade — “just a cop doin’ his job” — often in the midst of highly-charged scenes.

Aranas’ other claim to fame in the history of Berkeley. In the last weeks of Hate Man’s life, Aranas hit him with a stay-away order from People’s Park, for some completely bogus reason (according to Hate Man). So Hate Man, who was a legendary People’s Park figure, spent the last weeks of his life exiled from his beloved (or is it behated) park.

At any rate, Officer Sean Aranas is “retired” now. You got the feeling he stirred up shit one time too many. And his bosses figured he was a liability, and they had better cut their losses before he really got them into trouble. You got to figure it was one of those deals where they gave him the choice of “retiring” or being “fired.” Officer Aranas.

“You know, you look JUST like. . .”

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My other canned line when someone says I look just like somebody: “I don’t know who should be more insulted, him or me.”

The other night I was sitting at this sports bar watching the Warriors get blown out in the first game of the season. When yet another person — some young man who was drunk and feeling extroverted — comes up to me and exclaims: “YOU KNOW? YOU LOOK JUST LIKE THIS GUY!!” (I forget the guy’s name — I think he’s a famous guy who has a nature TV show on PBS or something).

My canned line is: “Well I assume he must be an extremely handsome young fellow.” (ha ha)

So he whips out his cellphone and shows me a video of my doppleganger. And the weird thing is: The guy DOES look just like me. He’s got the baseball hat and the glasses and the beard).

“See? He looks just like you,” he says.

“He does look like me,” I agreed.

But I’ll feel much better when people start coming up to this guy and exclaiming: “You know, you look JUST like Ace Backwords!!”