Berkeley is a town full of ghosts to me

Every now and then I’ll pass this building on the corner of Telegraph & Dwight. And I’ll get a lump in my throat and feel like I’m gonna start crying. It’s where I met Duncan for the first time. Way back in 1978. It was a xerox shop back then. Krishna Copy. And I was making copies of some of my cartoons. And Duncan was at the xerox machine across from me making copies of the pages of this little 16-page zine he published, Tele Times. I can still vividly see the picture in my mind 42 years later.

I was 21 and just getting started with my life. I think I had only sold two of my cartoons at this point. And Duncan — even though he was a decade older than me and in his 30s — was just getting started with his life, with his artistic career (he had spent most of his 20s locked up in a mental asylum — “You’ll most likely spend your whole life in a mental asylum,” his shrink had told him). So Duncan was just getting started on his life too.

Duncan was the one who approached me. He had noticed out of the corner of his eye that I was xeroxing copies of original comic art. Just like I noticed out of the corner of my eye that he was xeroxing off pages of a comics zine. “Ahh, would you be interested in letting me publish some of your cartoons in my magazine?” said Duncan.

So that’s how it started.

I’m not sure why it makes me want to cry when I think about it now 42 years later. I guess because life can just be kind of sad, how it all unfolds over the years. . . Or maybe it’s just because life can be such an overwhelming experience. You’re flooded with so many emotions. . . Sometimes you cry not because you’re sad. But because you’re just overwhelmed by it all.

Looking back fondly (and otherwise) on the year that was, 2019


.

.January 2019: The University destroys over 70% of the trees, mostly completely healthy trees, at the top of People’s Park, for a variety of bogus reasons. (My favorite “reason” was: “The trees were blocking out light.” Yes. That’s what trees DO. They supply shade.)

February 2009: Ace Backwords spends the entire year as mostly a completely law-abiding citizen. .  . Well, two out of three.

April 2019: Against all odds, People’s Park celebrated it’s 50th birthday. And, among other things, Berkeley legend Country Joe McDonald reprised his “Fish Cheer” one last time.  “GIMME AN F!!!  . . . .  .”

. April 2019: The feral cats spent the entire year mostly slacking off. As usual.

.May 2019: One of the great highlights in the world of publishing in year 2019, was the publication of THE BOOK OF WEIRDO by Jon. B Cooke.

.June 2019: Artist R. Crumb is immortalized on the garbage cans of Berkeley.

.July 2019:  The Golden State Warriors basketball dynasty comes to a sudden end.

.August 2019: The Heterosexual Pride Parade draws a small, but raging, group of proud heteros.

.In a related aside, a trans woman, an asian, and a latino stage a three-person parade and march down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley in support of President Trump.

.September 2019: One of Micro Scaredy’s litter of kittens finally makes it’s way to my campsite — Nano Scaredy — the fourth cat in the “Scaredy” lineage. But alas, Nano Scaredy disappears a couple of weeks later.

.September 2019: Ace Backwords fulfills a life-long dream by finally becoming a trading card. Suitable for trading (two Ace Backwords and a Peter Bagge will get you a ’67 Mickey Mantle).

.October 2019: The “Blacks for Trump” movement fails to gain much traction.

.November 2019: Over a thousand angry — but mostly peaceful — protesters show up on the Berkeley campus to protest Ann Coulter’s speech on immigration.

.In a related aside, Ann Coulter dubs me her “Berkeley Man About Town” and tweets out two of my photos to her millions of Twitter followers.

.December 2019:  Ace Backwords does his part to unify the Bay Area community!!

.December 2019: More than a few people breathed a sigh of relief as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg made it through another year.

.
.

Christmas 2019

Image may contain: sky, tree, night and outdoor

Woke up 7 in the morning (long story). Christmas day. The only place open to get coffee is 7-11. So I head in that direction. Cut through People’s Park. There’s at least a dozen tents set up. They’ve been there all week. That’s one thing where the University always drew the line in the past — no tents or structures, and no overnight camping (10 PM curfew). I don’t know if they’re letting it slide because of the holidays. Or if they purposely want to turn the park into a rundown homeless shanty-town to justify tearing it down.

Get my coffee (guy in line in front of me buying a 24 ounce can of Olde English, off to an early start). Walk back up Telegraph. Pass various street people in different doorways. Some still sleeping. Some drying off their stuff. A couple guys lighting up a bowl, starting their Christmas cheer. And, of course, one guy panhandling me. . . The Ave is completely deserted except for street people. It’s like a homeless ghost town.

Now I’m sitting here drinking my coffee and thinking many, many thoughts. None of them particularly interesting. MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYBODY!!

“Telegraph people”

IMG_20170830_150653

Julia Vinograd passed away almost exactly a year ago today. And that got me thinking about “Telegraph people.” For Julia Vinograd was certainly one of the most renowned of the “Telegraph people.”

I used to see “Telegraph people” all the time back in the day. As I walked down Telegraph Avenue, I’d pass the same people, see the same faces, day after day, year after year, for decades at a stretch. Like the people who lived at the Berkeley Inn, or the other apartment buildings on the Ave, or lived in the houses and the boarding houses around the Telegraph area. And you’d see them day after day going about their daily business. And get to know many of them.

Or all the “Telegraph people” hanging out at all the coffee shops. The Berkeley old-timers at the Caffe Med. The younger, hipper crowd at Cafe La Botega and Wall Berlin.

Or you’d pass all the people who owned all the businesses on Telegraph, or the employees who worked in the stores and shops. Like Moe, the famous owner of Moe’s Books, forever slumped behind the cash register chomping on one of his cigars.

Or all the Telegraph street vendors, selling their colorful wares, set up at the same spots year after year, like a permanent part of the scenery.

Or all the whacky Telegraph street people, and the colorful self-created “Berkeley characters,” as well as all the street musicians and street performers and street orators that gave the Ave this feel of living street theater. Like the Hate Man — one of the more famous of the “Telegraph people,” and forever identified with the Telegraph scene (Hate Man would sometimes go years at a stretch without leaving the confines of Telegraph Avenue — “Everything I want is right here” — aside from regularly going to the courthouse in downtown Oakland to deal with his latest tickets, ha ha.).

When I first met Duncan — a quintessential “Telegraph person” — in 1978 he was publishing a little xeroxed magazine called “TELE TIMES: Telegraph Avenue’s Tight Little Monthly” to chronicle his little slice of the “Telegraph community.” And it really was like a community. Like this unique little village living within the larger confines of the city of Berkeley.

Tonight I walked back and forth down the 6-block radius that most people consider the “Telegraph scene.” The 6 blocks from the campus to 7-11. And I didn’t pass a single person I recognized. . . That’s just what it’s like now I guess.

Nano Scaredy the feral kitten

Last summer Micro Scaredy got noticeably pregnant for the first time. I watched as her belly grew bigger and bigger over a three month period.  Then one day I could tell she was no longer pregnant.  But her kittens were nowhere in sight. She had the litter stashed in a secret nest somewhere in the Berkeley hills. I could tell Micro Scaredy was nursing the litter because she had the distended nipples. And she’d show up to my campsite for breakfast, but instead of hanging out like she used to do, she’d immediately leave after eating to get back to her litter. A friend of mine — another homeless camper — told me he spotted the nest for a short time, hidden in between these big rocks, near the Greek Theater, about a mile from my campsite.

Then, about three months after Micro Scaredy gave birth, a little black feral kitten wandered into my campsite one morning. After hiding off in the distance for some time, she finally mustered the courage to approach the cat food dish.  I dubbed her Nano Scaredy — the fourth in the lineage, starting with Scaredy Cat, then Mini Scaredy, then Micro Scaredy, and now Nano Scaredy.

Nano Scaredy never quite trusted me. She would often hide behind a tree and watch me, like she was studying me, trying to figure out what I was. Friend or foe.

.

.

After about two weeks she started getting a little comfortable at my campsite. She was usually waiting for me when I woke up in the morning, and she’d often call out to me, meowing for her breakfast. And every now and then she’d even dare to curl up on my blankets for a nap after she ate breakfast. She let me pet her a couple of times. But usually she would run away if I tried to approach her.

.

I was just starting to make arrangements to take Nano Scaredy to the vet to get her fixed, when she disappeared. Mini Scaredy — the dominant cat of the tribe of feral cats — got into some kind of territorial conflict with Nano’s mother, Micro Scaredy. And ran Micro Scaredy off. And Nano Scaredy apparently went off with her, never to be seen again.

Such is the precarious life of a feral cat.

Gone but not forgotten, Nano Scaredy.

.

Feral cats in the rain

I always wondered how my feral cats handled living outside in the rain. On this day last year I got a little idea.

I was sleeping at my campsite and the rain caught me by surprise. It started at 4 AM and came down steadily for 3 hours. Not a heavy rain. But 2/10th of an inch. Which is a bit of water. My blankets all got soaked. And there were puddles of water all around my cardboard matting.

When the sun finally came up, I noticed two of my cats were sleeping peacefully on top of my blankets down by my feet. The rain hadn’t bothered them in the least. I think to some degree their top layer of fur acts as a rain-repellant. Their own built-in raincoat.

At any rate, this is the look Mini Scaredy gave me when she woke up that morning. Like, “Would you get your ass up out of that puddle and feed us our breakfast??” Ha ha.

Image may contain: cat

The Perils of Piss Jars

11041810_1554305091511376_6120251009841115955_n.jpg

For nine years (1998 to 2007) I rented out a little office in the legendary Koerber Building (Ramparts magazine, KPFA radio station, and many others had previously rented out offices in the building). . . $115 a month rent. And for nine years I secretly lived in my office (it was against the law, it was zoned for business and not residential, but I’m an outlaw, man. . . or at the least a border-line criminal).

Anyways I had just moved into the building in 1998. And I was trying to be as discreet and secretive as possible. For my big fear was that if they manager or the owner of the building found out I was secretly living in my office they’d give me the boot and I’d be back to being homeless and sleeping in the bushes or in doorways — a fate worse than life itself. So I was really trying to mind my P’s and Q’s.

So to avoid detection that I was living in my office, instead of using the restroom down the hall 30 times a day, I would urinate in a “piss jar” — this big gallon water bottle that I used. And then deposit the contents in the restroom toilet down the hall, every couple of days when the jar got full of piss. I was being discreet, you dig?

Then one night in 1998 — I think I’d only been secretly living in my office for about 2 months at this point — it’s around 2 in the morning. And the building is virtually empty aside from me (everyone else — the normal people — worked a 9 to 5 at their offices and then split). So that was the perfect time for me to take my gallon jug of piss and empty it in the restroom  (I’m playing it cool as usual).

Only SOMEHOW I managed to drop my gallon piss jar on the floor of the hallway. I forget how it happened. But I dropped it. And all I could think was “YOU STUPID FUCKING ASSHOLE!!” Especially when the cap to my bottle came off and all of my bright yellow urine began spilling out onto the floor of the bright red carpet of the hallway.

So now, suddenly, it’s 2AM. And I’m no longer “discreet.” In fact, I’ve just made a big fucking yellow stain on the bright red carpet.

So now I’m in a panic. There’s a big puddle of my personal urine that I’ve just dumped onto the hallway carpet of this nice pristine office building. I’m exposed. And in a very vulnerable position.

The only thing I could think of doing was getting a whole bunch of rags and getting down on my hands and knees and try to mop up as much of the urine as I could. 

Then I got a bucket of water and dumped that on the carpet. To try and clean up the urine smell. And I then I dumped a whole bunch of liquid hair shampoo on the mess. That was the only kind of cleanser I had at my disposal. So I’m scrub scrub scrubbing over and over.

And I spent HOURS on my hands and knees vigorously rubbing and massaging and wetting and drying and scrubbing that plot of carpet in the hallway of the Koerber Building. In the hopes of concealing my terrible blunder. I think it was 4 in the morning when I finally gave up and collapsed in a heap in my little office that I was still sleeping in (at least up to that point).

The first thing in the morning when I woke up I rushed out to assess the damage. You could still see the remnants of the wet spot. But when I stuck my nose in it, it didn’t smell of urine. And gradually the stain faded away. And I lived happily ever after for another 9 years in my office until I finally got thrown out. The End.

Feral cats pecking order

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.

 
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.
 

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.

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.