Sometimes I really don’t know what to say

Was just sitting on a bench on the campus when old Roberto sat down next to me.

“I got some good news,” he said. “I think I might finally be able to move into an apartment.” He paused for a moment and then said, “But it’s a little ironic. Because my lung cancer is really starting to act up. So I don’t think I’m going to make it.” Roberto rubbed his hand on his chest.

Sometimes I don’t know what to say.

Me and Roberto talked for a bit. It was one of those things where it started out a casual conversation and then suddenly wasn’t so casual. It was life-and-death stuff.

“It happens to everybody,” said Roberto. “Life comes to a bad end.”

“Well you know what they say,” I said. “Life is a lingering sickness cured only by death. But at least there’s a cure.”

“That’s pretty good,” said Roberto. “Who came up with that one?”

“Me,” I said.

“It happens to everyone,” Roberto said. Taking it philosophically.

“Sometimes it seems like 90% of the people I’ve known over the years are dead,” I said. “It makes me wonder why I’m still here. Everybody else is gone and yet I’m still here.”

“You drink all that beer,” said Roberto. “It pickles you. It preserves you.”

“Ha ha. I believe when we die we go to heaven. Or at least we’re reincarnated on a higher plane.”

“I hope so,” said Roberto.

“It’s got to be better than this life.”


I said goodbye to Roberto. As I was wandering off I wondered how many more times I’d see him. Or if I’d see him again. You never know.

All methed up


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.

A minor dispute regarding the relative merits of “opinion” versus “truth” on legendary Bench One

Image may contain: outdoor
The legendary Bench One — formerly the scene of many a vigorous sessions of shoulder-pushing and hand-slapping (long story).
The weather in Berkeley has been sweaty and sweltering lately. And I guess it’s starting to get to me. Because I’m lacking my usual cheerful disposition (ha ha).

So I go to sit down on this empty bench on the campus. There’s one of those hard-plastic reusable water bottles sitting on the bench. On the part of the bench that’s shaded where I want to sit. So I put the bottle on the ledge behind the bench so I can sit there. This guy — who is standing clear on the OTHER side of the plaza walks over and scolds me.

“You shouldn’t be moving other people’s stuff,” he said.

“How was I supposed to know it was somebody’s stuff?” I said. “Something left sitting on an empty bench, I just assumed it was discarded.” (PS. I find these discarded water bottles ALL the time.)

“Most people wouldn’t think that way,” he corrected me.

“Most normal people WOULD think that way,” I corrected him.

“That’s just your opinion,” he said.

“And that’s just YOUR opinion,” I said.

“No it isn’t, it’s the truth,” he said.

“Good one,” I said. “HAH!!” I gave him a good blast of the patented Ace Backwords Snort of Derision as he shuffled off into the sunset.

But that bit always kills me. MY perspective is “opinion.” While HIS perspective is “truth.” HAH!! (ha ha)

Later I notice he has a bicycle with a “JESUS IS LORD” sign attached to it, and he’s handing out Jesus fliers. Geez. If I had known he was such a great man I would have been much more respectful.

The Chuck & Hate Comedy Hour — starring Rev. Chuck and Hate Man

Dueling theologies.

Hate Man heckling Rev. Chuck on the Berkeley campus around 1993, surrounded by a big crowd of onlookers, as usual. Hate Man used to mimic Rev. Chuck. If Chuck stood on a chair, Hate Man stood on a crate. If Chuck sat down, Hate Man sat down. If Chuck paced back and form, Hate Man paced back and forth.

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting, shoes and outdoor

One of the odd things about Rev. Chuck was his obsession with sodomy. Virtually every one of his sermons featured a long harangue on the mortal sin of sodomy, often going into graphic detail. According to the theology of Rev. Chuck, the sin of sodomy was a sure-fire way to earn eternal damnation in the fires of Hell.

The odd thing was, I don’t ever remember Jesus even mentioning sodomy in the Bible. And to my knowledge He never once expounded on the Gospel According to Anal Sex. But one thing was for sure. Rev. Chuck had spent a LOT of time thinking long and hard about the subject of sodomy. And there was probably a reason for that.


(A recording of Hate Man heckling Rev. Chuck on the Berkeley campus: )

Another casualty of the Winter of 2017


On this day in 2017 this big tree on the Berkeley campus collapsed and died. It was a casualty of the brutal rainstorms of the winter of 2017. We ended up getting 38 inches of rain that year — about 15 more than usual. The tree got water-logged and rotted out and died.

And it was symbolic to me. Because a week earlier Hate Man had collapsed and died, too. Another water-logged victim of the winter of 2017. A mighty tree and the mighty Hate Man. Gone gone gone.

Then they buzz-sawed the tree into a big pile of sawdust and left it sitting there. And whenever I looked at it I felt this weird synchronicity. Because Hate Man too had been reduced to a pile of cremated ashes.

The perennial search for an asshole-free zone


Sometimes I find people very easy to hate.

So it’s 8 o’clock and I’m hanging out at one of my favorite late-night hangout spots on the Berkeley campus — this little niche of space away from everything. And I’m sipping on my beer and listening to music on headphones and working on some stuff on the internet.

When this person is suddenly standing in front of me. He’s some nut. One of my “fellow street people.” And he starts babbling at me. But I can’t understand a word he’s saying (did I mention he’s a nut??). But from his gestures I can tell he wants to plug his cellphone into the outlet that I am using.

“NO!!” I said forcibly. “I don’t want any company. I just want to be alone. There are plenty of other outlets right down there on the plaza that you can use.”

But does this dirtclod respect my wishes and respect my space?? HELL NO. He pulls out his cellphone and some chords and starts doing various inexplicable gestures (so as usual I’m contemplating that age-old question: ” Is he a nut?? Or is he on drugs?? Or is he just an asshole?? Or some strange combination of the three??”).

I stand up and glare at him. Give him the ole Ace Backwords Death Stare. Hoping I can scare him off with my chest-pumped-out Cowardly Lion routine. But he’s completely oblivious. Continues to fumble around with his cellphone and a bottle of something in his hand. I imagine in my mind how satisfying it would be to just punch him in the head right now with all my force, and watch his useless bulk bouncing around on the concrete. But, alas, there are laws against that.  Plus, he’s just as big as me and probably 30 years younger. So maybe he could take me. Plus I’m getting too old for this shit anyways. And punching people in the head — as satisfying as that might be in the moment — can sometimes turn out to be counter-productive (so I’m gaining a modicum of wisdom and maturity in my old age).

So instead I quickly pack up my stuff, give him one last death glare, and then stomp off.

But that’s what it’s like in Berkeley EVERYWHERE nowadays. EVERY square inch of space is being contested by SOMEBODY!!

Now I’m actually hanging out at a better spot. My eternal motto is: “It’s a big world. And the point is to occupy a part of it that doesn’t include the asshole.” THE END

After midnight you can’t always let it all hang out


When you live on the streets you’re accutely aware that a different set of rules comes into play after the stroke of midnight. I’ll give you an example.

Last night at around 20 after midnight I headed up to my campsite in the Berkeley hills. Half-way there I decided to rest my drunken bones at this bench in front of the Campus Eye Clinic. I hadn’t even been sitting there for a minute — hadn’t even had time to take out my goddamn cellphone — when three cop cars suddenly come barreling towards me and three cops come rushing at me.

Even worse, one of the cops is this guy who hates me for some unknown reason. I had had an extremely unpleasant encounter with him a couple months ago in a similar after-midnight situation where he really gave me the third degree and tried his darnedest to come up with some reason — any reason — to slap the handcuffs on me and lock me up in the old hoose-gow for the night.

So my mind is racing to try and think of what I might have done wrong to get myself in trouble this time (after a beer or 12 I’m not always keenly aware of the fine line between decent, normal civilized behavior and criminally aberrant acts).

But when two of the cops went rushing by me and into the Eye Center I quickly guessed what the problem was. Somebody had probably accidentally set off the burglar alarm. And I just happened to be Suspect A sitting there like a chump in front of the joint.

The cop that hated me asked me a few questions, asked for my I.D., ran my name over the wire, and managed to contain his contempt to a reasonably professional level. And after about (a LONG) five minutes the cops signaled I was in the clear. So I grabbed my pack and made my exit stage-left up the road with a big sigh of relief.

Only to have the cops call after me “HEY YOU!! HEY YOU!!” and I’m thinking “Oh God NOW what??” The cop called out “You dropped one of your cards from your wallet when you took out your I.D.”

I trotted back, grabbed my card from the cop and said “Thanks men!!” Good law-abiding citizen that I am, and they, after all, are there to serve and protect and retrieve my cards.

But that’s the thing about after midnight. You can easily get in trouble simply by being at the wrong place at the wrong time. And when you live on the streets, there are a LOT of wrong places and wrong times.


Day Two of my 14-Day Sobriety Plan

Image may contain: 1 person

Day Two of my 14-Day-Sobriety plan. Like last night, I suddenly got COMPLETELY exhausted this evening. I guess my body is conditioned to be getting the energizing buzz of alcohol starting around 6PM. And without it it’s like I’m out of gas.

Staggered to this secluded little balcony spot on the campus where nobody is at on the weekends, unfolded my piece of cardboard and took a 2-hour nap (one of those naps where you’re dead asleep two seconds after you lay down).

Woke up 2 hours later and all the lights in the building were on and there was a big classroom full of students having some kind of Sunday night study session in the room right where I’m sleeping. As I wake up I realize they’re all looking out the window at me lying there like a typical homeless bum. I quickly pack up my stuff and get the hell out of there.

So far this sobriety thing has been nothing but trouble.


A slightly embarassing late-night encounter with an officer of the law


Had a slightly embarrassing scene last night. It was well after midnight and I was quietly drinking my beer at a dark secluded spot on the Berkeley campus. When I suddenly got the dreaded cop flashlight in my face. It was some UC cop riding one of those electric golf cart things they use on the campus.

“Is it after curfew?” I said innocently.

“Yes it is,” said the cop.

“Well I’m out of here,” I said, earnestly. Good law-abiding citizen that I am, always eager and willing to comply with the laws of the land, and to cooperate with the officers of the law in any way I can.

I quickly packed up my stuff, grabbed my 6-pack of beer (hidden in a black bag) and my half-drunk coffee cup full of beer, and made my exit stage left.

“You have a good night, officer,” I said cheerfully.

“You too,” he said cheerfully.

And then I did what I usually do. I walked off the campus and walked several blocks up the street (far enough out of the cop’s range). And then snuck back on the campus so I could find another dark secluded spot on the campus to continue my drinking.

Except — by luck or design — the cop in the electric cart just happened to have followed me up the campus. And now was driving right towards me. As I was walking right towards him. Carrying my 6 pack of beer and my half-drunk cup of beer.

“I thought you said you were leaving the campus,” said the cop (not so cheerfully this time).

“I thought I was,” I said sheepishly.

I turned on my heels and headed towards the border-line that separated the campus from the city of Berkeley as quickly as I could before I got a fucking ticket for drinking my fucking beer on the fucking campus after fucking curfew.

And this time I headed even farther up the road until I got to a part of the campus that couldn’t be accessed by those fucking electric carts. And drank the rest of my beer in peace. The end.