Big Scaredy and little Scaredy

The mother Scaredy Cat and her little kitten Mini Scaredy. Around year 2016.

In a way I regret that I named them “Scaredy” cats. Because they WEREN’T scared little creatures (they just looked that way when they were little kittens, which is when I named them). In fact they were both proud, fearless, jaunty, masters-of-reality type of creatures.

There was a Scaredy lineage over the years. Starting with:

Scaredy Cat

Then Mini Scaredy.

And then Micro Scaredy.

And finally Nano Scaredy.

20 years at the old drawing board

I spent about 20 years as a cartoonist. 1976 to 1995. For about 10 years I did it as a full-time job.

I considered myself an underground/alternative cartoonist. Whatever that meant. I always knew my sensibilities weren’t orientated for a mainstream audience. I couldn’t do a “Peanuts” or “Dagwood and Blondie” type of comic strip (and the one time I attempted to do one, R. Crumb himself mocked me: “I’m dizz-gusted!! There are a thousand candy-ass suburban cartoonists that can do that stuff better than you. Get thee back to underground comix.”)

Even as I felt I was so brilliant — self-centered egomaniac that I was — that I would find a mass audience anyways.

But it never really happened. With my Twisted Image comic strip I set my sights on the “alternative weeklies.” Papers like the Bay Guardian and the East Bay Express here in the San Francisco area. Or the Village Voice — the granddaddy of the alternative newspapers. But I could never quite break into those markets. My strip generally appeared in the second-rank alternative papers. One step below the big time. I always felt like a minor league baseball player who was a star on that level, but could never quite break into the Major Leagues. (Though this one, printed in color, was from HIGH TIMES magazine, which was as close as I’d get to a mainstream audience — I’d walk into a 7-11 and see HIGH TIMES in the magazine section and say to myself “I’m in there!” Ha ha)

And I always accepted that. The audience — not the editors — basically decides your fate. What level of success you succeed at. A mass audience either wants to read your shit. Or they don’t. They’d rather read some other cartoonist. And you end up, at best, with a certain “cult status.” And that’s about it. That’s the game.

That corner on Telegraph Avenue

When I walk by this corner on Telegraph Avenue I sometimes get this pang of sadness in my heart. I’m not exactly sure why. There are a thousand reasons. A thousand memories. That all hit me at once.

That corner was like a stage. Where I enacted so many of the dramas of my life. For so many years It was the backdrop for so many of my greatest triumphs. As well as my most crushing defeats. . . But mostly when I walk past this corner, I think of Duncan.

This corner was where I first met Duncan back in 1979 (he lived right across the street at the Berkeley Inn). And its where I’d have his memorial 30 years later in 2009. And I’d bury his ashes a half a block up the street at People’s Park.

I remember periods of exhilarating hopefulness at the corner, where it seemed like anything was possible. And other periods of near total despair. And everything in between As well as plenty of mundane days where we quietly lived out our lives. And I remember how much fun I had on this corner. I was usually in the middle of this scene of bright, witty, inspired people. And we were all in the middle of countless exciting adventures and misdventures.

I often secretly thought of this corner as “my corner” (though I shared it with many other people, of course). It was where I worked, where I hung out, it was my living room, my private clubhouse, my personal bar.

That corner was ground zero for the Telegraph Avenue Street Calendar when me and Duncan started it in 1989. Me, still very much a young man of 33, with a full head of hair and no gray in my beard. And it was still ground zero 15 years later when we finally ended it in 2004. Me, no longer young, a grissled middle-aged man of 48.

I was hanging out on this corner on the afternoon in 2001 when the planes hit the World Trade Center (I rushed across the street to watch the smoldering buildings on the TV set on the wall of sports bar). I was there when the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl of 2008 with that incredible football-to-helmet catch. I was there in 2004 when Bill Clinton pulled up to the corner in his limo to sign copies of his book. And I was there on the night in 2008 when they first announced that Barak Obama had been elected President of the United States and firecrackers exploded in the night air. That corner was the backdrop for history unfolding.

The two apartment buildings that had been on the two corners on the other sides of the street both burned down, replaced by something else. And the Cody’s Books building is long-gone, replaced by a boarded-up, empty builing. All that’s left is Amoeba Records on the fourth corner. And that’s closed right now, and very well may be gone soon, too. An apt metaphor for the impermance a life. Nothing lasts for long in this world. Not building or businesses, or people either. So many of whom I once hung out with on this corner are dead. Though I can still see all their faces in my mind. As well as their ghosts bounding down the Avenue.

And maybe that’s the real source of my sadness. This corner, that had once been so full of life, so full of hustle and bustle and bright colors, is now almost completely dead. Gray, dreary and lifeless. And maybe that’s an apt metaphor for how my life turned out, too.