All methed up

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I remember this one time, I had been binging on crystal meth for a couple of days straight, and I happened to be walking across Sproul Plaza later that evening. And I drank the last bit of water in this bottle I was carrying (always important to stay hydrated!!) and tossed the bottle into a nearby garbage can. This guy, who happened to be sitting in the shadows on the Sproul steps, said to me: “Hey man, you shouldn’t be tossing your bottles into the garbage can. You should put them in the recycling bin.” . . . I was just about to tell the guy to mind his own fucking business, when I realized that there was no one sitting there. It was just a shadow. I had hallucinated the whole thing.

Another time, during another meth binge, I was lying on my back on my bed listening to the radio. It was a news show, and the broadcaster was reporting all about this latest news story that was all about me, Ace Backwords. And he was reporting on different things I had done that day, as well as speculating on different problems and complications I was dealing with in my life. It went on like that for about 20 minutes. I laid there listening to the radio broadcast in rapt fascination. I knew the radio wasn’t actually on and I was hallucinating the whole thing. And yet I could hear the whole thing as clear as a bell. As real as anything. It was like somehow my brain was picking up a radio frequency from some other dimension of reality.

Meth hallucinations were different than acid hallucinations — which sometimes had this pure and almost quasi-spiritual aspect to them. Meth hallucinations were more eerie and witchy and occult-like. I’d sometimes hear this weird cacophony of sounds just off in the distance in the wind, like the sound of dark angels and doomed spirits singing this haunting music.. It was like maybe you were accessing parts of your psyche that you weren’t meant to be accessing. . . Or maybe you were just accessing your brain cells going snap, crackle and pop.

An eerie “coincidence”

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18 years ago.

This is so bizarre it’s almost like a hallucination.

The other day I happened to be thinking about, and writing about, this 20 year old kid named Ortiz who was on the Telegraph scene back in 2002. This guy who was on the scene for a couple of months back then. Just a vague memory from the distant past that happened to pop into my head the other day. And I haven’t seen the guy since he disappeared from the scene nearly 20 years ago.

So just now, the next day, I’m sitting at a secluded spot on the Berkeley campus. Drinking my beer. And this guy approaches me. He’s standing in front of me asking me questions. But he’s talking so softly I can’t hear what he’s saying. Finally out of frustration — some stranger is bothering me while I’m trying to drink my beer — I shout: “I CANT HEAR YOU!! SPEAK LOUDER!!”

He says “Fuck you. Push for a cigarette.”

I immediate recognize that as a catch-phrase from the old Hate Camp days. So he’s obviously somebody who knows me from way back when.. I take a closer look. I almost can’t believe it. That it’s him. Suddenly and inexplicably materializing in front of me nearly 20 years later.

“Are you Ortiz?” I said.

“Yes I am,” he said.

“Wow that’s unbelievable,” I said. “I recognized you. You still look pretty much the same.”

“Do you have a cigarette?

“No I quit smoking. But I have something for you.” I scrolled through my Facebook photos and found the photo of him I just happened to post the other day. I showed it to him.

“Yep that’s me,” he said. “I was 20 years old back then.”

This is getting more and more surreal.

“Did you know my mother,” he said.

“No I didn’t,” he said.

“I just got out of the mental hospital,” he said. He showed me the wrist bracelet on his wrist that they ID the mental patients with.

“I was just writing about you on Facebook the other day,” I said.

“What did you say about me?”

“I was writing about how you used to do sidewalk chalk art and how I published your art in our Street Calendar.

“I don’t remember that “

I gave him a copy of the Telegraph Street Calendar (that I just happened to have in my backpack) from the old days as a gift.

“How’s Hate Man?” he said.

“He passed away a couple years ago,” I said

“Sounds like the work of Satan,” he said

“No he was 80 years old. He had a good long life.”


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“Well I got to get back to work,” I said.

We pushed knuckles. And Ortiz wandered off into the night.

I have no explanation for that one.

One of the problems with doing drugs is, you only get one brain, and if you screw it up you’re in trouble

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I’ve been around drug and alcohol people for most of my life. So I’ve seen my fair share of damage over the years. Usually the damage is a cumulative affect over a period of years. Like this guy who was on the scene for awhile who went by the unlikely name of Happy Dave. About every year or so Happy Dave would have another drug-related stroke from doing too much crack cocaine. It’s like every time I saw him it was like another part of his body had become paralyzed. First he got around with a cane. And then a walker. And then a wheelchair. And then finally Happy Dave got so immobile they had to haul him off in an ambulance to god-knows-where. And that was the last I ever saw of Happy Dave.

But one of the more disturbing things is the people who burn out practically overnight. It’s like one moment they’re normal. And then suddenly they’re just not all there anymore. They took a batch of poorly-mixed drugs, or took too much of the wrong drug, and instantly and permanently burned out a part of their brain. You can actually SEE the brain damage in their eyes. This glazed, dulled, dead-eyed look.

I remember this one kid who was on the scene for awhile, went by the street name Booger. I forget his real name, it was a Latino name like Ortiz or something, though he looked completely Anglo. Fresh-faced young guy, All-American kid, stocky with boyish good looks, 18 or 19. Usually wore a black leather jacket. Always smiling. I didn’t know him very well — he hung out with a mostly younger crowd, the gutter punk kids who were prominent on the scene at the time. But he also hung out on the periphery of Hate Man’s Hate Camp scene on the campus, so I got to know him a little bit. He was usually full of enthusiasm. He hadn’t been on the street scene very long, maybe a couple months, but he seemed to be enjoying it. Young guys often hit the street scene for awhile, in between deciding what the want to do with their life, drawn to the “endless party” aspect of the street scene. Getting high, getting drunk, getting a little wild, hooking up and having sex with some of the wild street chicks, grooving to a drum circle, banging on guitars, howling at the moon, and all of that. There’s a certain freedom to the street scene. Booger liked to sometimes do chalk art on the sidewalk in front of Cody’s Books by our vending table, and he had some artistic talent. Did this one really nice cartoon drawing of a wild-looking punk guy will studs and a big mohawk and a maniacal grin, holding up a bottle of booze. I published a full-page photo of it in the “Street Art” issue of the TELEGRAPH STREET CALENDAR. And that was my only real connection with the guy. Just one more of the thousands of people who come and go on the Berkeley street scene.

Then one day I noticed Booger was sitting by himself on the steps of the Student Union Building with his head down. And he had been sitting there for quite some time. Even odder, it was the middle of the winter and yet he was wearing nothing but a t-shirt.

The next day I noticed he was still sitting there. And the next day he was still sitting there, too.

So a couple of us went over to talk to him to find out what was going on. He couldn’t even talk. Just sort of mumbled incoherently. And he seemed to be in some kind of partial catatonic state, like he had withdrawn into himself and couldn’t pull himself out. But who knows what had happened. And he certainly wasn’t going to tell us. We hustled up some blankets and draped them over him, and left him there.

For the next couple weeks I would see Booger staggering around from place to place like a zombie from a horror movie. But mostly just sitting by himself staring off into space. Sometimes he’d hang out with us at Hate Camp, sitting there in a silent stupor.

None of us really knew him. I think he had been living with his grandmother in some little town north of San Francisco before he hit the streets. But who knows. One person said he thought he had been snorting paint and his brains went snap, crackle and pop.

The other thing about the street scene. It’s very Darwinian. And when you start going down — unless you have some real close friends — there is usually nobody there to catch you when you fall. It’s like everybody on the streets is treading water just trying to stay afloat, so if someone starts sinking there’s not much you can do to help, and they might drag YOU down if you try to keep them afloat.

Booger ended up staggering around the scene like that for a couple more months. Sometimes they pull out of it and recover, especially if they’re young. While other times the damage is permanent.

After awhile Booger disappeared from the scene. Never to be seen again. And was pretty much instantly forgotten. His artwork and his photo in our calendar is probably the only mark he left on the scene.

A tense confrontation with some total stranger at two in the morning

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It can get a little spooky sometimes, heading up the road to my campsite in the deep dark woods late at night every night. It’s one of the reasons I usually have the place all to myself. You never know who might be lurking about at that hour. People like me for instance.

Every now and then some stranger will confront me while I’m walking up the road at 2 in the morning. And that can get a little tense. A couple weeks ago I had a weird scene. I was walking up the road to my campsite. Mini Scaredy was waiting for me in the bushes, as usual. And she jumped out and started following me from behind as I walked up the road. About half way up the road, this car that was driving by suddenly stops in the middle of the road, right along side me, for no apparent reason. The guy gets out of his car and starts to approach me.

“What do you want!!” I said, with a sharp edge in my voice. I don’t like ANYBODY approaching me at two in the morning in the deep, dark hills.

“Is that cat all right?” he said.

“What??” I said.

I turned around and saw Mini Scaredy darting across the road. Apparently she had jumped in front of the guy’s car, so he was stopping to make sure he hadn’t hit her.

“Oh. Yeah. The cat is fine,” I said. “But thanks for stopping to check on it, cool cat.”

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He got in his car and drove off. And me and Mini Scaredy continued on our way up the trail. And when we got to my campsite, I gave Mini Scaredy a long, stern lecture about the dangers of the road and the cars. Though I’m not sure how much of it she understood. English is her second language, after all.

Questions from Stacie: Part 2

1.) Do you think all children should be exposed to some sort of organized religion to help form their moral compass?

I don’t know much about child-rearing, so I really can’t say. Religions in general can  be a mixed bag of nuts when it comes to imposing their particular “moral compass” on others. Though generally I think it’s good to expose children to religion. At some point later in life most of us start asking the religious questions: “Why are we here? What is this life all about?” And religion is a good starting point for investigating into these questions.

2.) What effect does religion have on your daily life today?

Not much, I consider myself as a spiritual person, more so than a member of any particular religion.

3.) Are there any negative aspects of religion that have affected you in the past or that affect you now?

When I was in college, my roommate — who was a pot-smoking, guitarist in a KISS cover-band — suddenly became a Born Again Christian, cut off his hair, and spent the next semester tormenting me that I was going to Hell if I didn’t renounce Satan and give my life to Jesus.  So that was annoying.  Other than that, I can’t think of religion impacting on my life one way or another.

My 19th year

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One of the weirder periods of my life was my 19th year. It was like being trapped in a twilight zone. I had flamed out after one year of college. So, for lack of anything better to do, I moved back in with my parents in their house in the suburbs of New Jersey. And that was weird. Being an adult physically, but sleeping in the same bed I had slept in as a child. It was an apt metaphor for my stunted state at the time. Physically grown up, but still a child.

I was having a nervous breakdown, basically, and would sometimes slip into this almost catatonic state. I would lie for hours on my back in my bed in the darkness of my bedroom, staring up at the ceiling, seething with rage and unhappiness and confusion. Periodically my Father would trot into my bedroom to offer me his council. Which always boiled down to: “It’s all in your mind. Your problems really aren’t that serious. Everything is fine.” Then he’d trot out of my bedroom with a perky smile on his face, having solved all of my problems yet again. And I would sink back into my catatonic misery.

Another weird thing. All my friends from high school had left town and gone off to college. So it was like living in a ghost town. There was this feeling that I had been left behind. Everybody else was off somewhere making lives for themselves. While I was already moving backwards.

The misery I experienced during this period was so intense and so prolonged, it was like it was permanently imprinted on my psyche. And I would be a much different person than I was before. I’ve talked to other people who have had shattering experiences, and they said they were never the same afterwards. Their psyches were like a ceramic tea-pot that had been shattered. You could never glue the pieces back together exactly as it had been before, and there would be these jagged, sharp edges sticking out.

Eventually my parents told me I would have to get some kind of job and pay for my expenses if I wanted to live in their household. I somehow managed to get this minimum wage job working the graveyard shift as an orderly in this home for retarded children. But that only added to the weird twilight zone aspect of my existence. Starting my day by getting up at midnight driving off to work in the darkness, while everybody else was ending their day. This vampire existence. And the retarded children added another eerie dimension to the mad dreamscape that was my life. They all slept in this big, dark room, eerily illuminated by night-lights so we could keep track of them. And they often made these weird, haunted sounds as they talked and babbled in their sleep. I particularly remember this one black kid named Charles who would shout over and over: “CHARLES GET BACK IN THAT CLOSET!! CHARLES GET BACK IN THAT CLOSET!!”

I was completely lost. Only barely functional. With no way out. It was like there was simply no options for me. There was nothing any good that was available to me in this life. My 19th year. It would take me years to finally start digging myself out of the hole I was in that year . . . Sometimes I wonder if I ever dug myself out of it.

Questions from Stacie

1) Do you consider yourself religious, spiritual, or any other creative source?

I’ve always considered my life a spiritual quest. I’m a seeker by nature. At times I’ve felt like I was gaining hard-fought spiritual wisdom. While at other times I’ve felt like a spiritual cripple.  I’ve checked out most of the world’s religions. But don’t belong to any of them. Practiced yoga and meditation for many years. But I suppose those would be considered more as a form of spiritual science than as a religion. I’ve probably most been influenced by Vedanta and Hinduism.

2) Have you ever had a religious or spiritual experience so intense it changed the way you feel about the universe that you’d like to share?

When I was 19 I was heavily into LSD and Alan Watts and books about Zen. And at one point, peaking on acid, I had what I considered to be a pretty intense mystical experience. Experiencing God, experiencing myself as a manifestation of God, experiencing Oneness with God, Oneness with the Universe. I transcended my individual identity and experienced my Universal identity. Though later I came to question the authenticity of the experience. And to question the validity of psychedelics as a spiritual tool . . . .  My spiritual life sort of hit a dead-end after awhile, and was dormant for many years. Until I was 40 and a friend of mine gave me for a Christmas present a copy of this book by Swami Muktananda — an Indian guru — titled “Where Are You Going?” (good question) And I had an instantaneous “Shakti” experience just from looking at the photo of Muktananda in the book. “Shakti” is the experience when an enlightened spiritual master directly transmits his divine spiritual energy into a devotee. It’s like the ultimate “contact high.”  Where the guru gives you a taste of his Divine state. That experience kick-started a renewed interest in my spiritual development. And I would spend the next 7 years reading all of Muktananda’s books and practicing daily kundalini yoga meditation and mantra repetition. And I had many spiritual experiences from those practices.

3) What do you think happens when you die? If you believe in heaven do you think there are certain criteria that must be met to be worthy? Do you believe in redemption?

I believe in reincarnation. That we all go through many lifetimes — as a process of purifying ourselves. Until we ultimately reach the highest state and merge with God. Though the mystics regularly point out that in fact we’re already one with God, even though most of us haven’t realized that fact yet.

4) Do you believe that objects like crystals, symbols like tarot or ouija, have any power?

I believe that different objects, and places, can be blessed as well as haunted or cursed. There is spiritual power emanating from all the points of this universe of ours. Personally, I’m not very familiar with crystals, tarot or ouija, so can’t really comment about that.

5) Have you ever had a paranormal experience?

One of the unusual — and dangerous — side effects of practicing kundalini yoga is that as you get more advanced into it, you start to gain these occult powers. The powers are along the lines of “whatever you think will manifest.” The more purified and powerful your mind gets from the yoga, the more you’re able to make things happen simply by willing them to be. Which can get you into all sorts of trouble if you start using these powers. Especially in the early stages. Because you’re like a baby who has been given this extremely powerful (and volatile) toy to play around with. And I severely retarded my spiritual development because I couldn’t resist indulging on the occult level.

6) How do you think all this was created? Big bang, evolution, a higher power?Does your personal belief system help you act with higher standards of morals and behaviors? Was your first exposure to religion a positive one, or was it used as a judgment with unreachable standards or harsh punishment?

I believe God created this entire Universe in a blink of an eye, primarily for sport, for His own amusement and cosmic kicks. And one day God will blink his eye again and dissolve this entire Universe back to nothingness. And that the entire Universe is nothing less than the body of God Himself.

7) Do you think there’s only one “Right and true religion?” Can an atheist have a conscience and similar high moral integrity without religious rules or the punishment of purgatory, or hell?If you do believe in an afterlife or higher power, when did you first find your faith? Have you had more than one religion that you Identified with? Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

I think most of the world religions have something of value to offer. Different people feel comfortable with different religions depending on their temperament and cultural background. But there’s a common mystical thread that runs through most of them. And that’s the primary facet of religion that has always interested me. I started out primarily interested in Zen Buddhism (the satori experience) and Taoism. But was later drawn primarily to Vedanta.

I appreciate your questions. Spirituality isn’t something I talk about very much. It’s a personal thing with me. And not always easy to communicate with others about. And like I said, I primarily consider myself a spiritual seeker. So it’s not really my place to be a spiritual talker or teacher.