“Falling in love”


That moment when you realize quite clearly that you are completely fucked and there’s simply nothing you can do about it

Of all the weird experiences I’ve had in this life, one of the weirdest was “falling in love.” After all these years, I still don’t really understand what that one was all about. . .

I remember this one sunny summer day back in 1994, 24 years ago. I was hanging out at my vending table in front of Codys Books. Just another mundane day in a seemingly endless expanse of mundane days. When this young woman stopped by to say hi to me.

She was fairly new to the scene. She had just started hanging out on the Telegraph street scene. This young hippie chick in her late teens. She had been following the Grateful Dead tour. And now she was chilling in Berkeley for a couple months in between hitting the Rainbow Gathering in July (there was a whole circuit back then). And we had met a couple times previous and we were just at that stage where we were starting to “know” each other. So she stopped by to chat for a spell.

She was tall and willowy. And her body seemed to sway and dance all the time, even when she was just hanging around talking. And she was wearing this skimpy little halter top — this piece of cloth, basically, that she had wrapped around her chest. And this long flowing hippie skirt that she probably pulled out of the Free Box. But her most significant trait was this big beaming smile. This almost brainless, not-a-care-in-the-world smile. Like she was beaming with ecstasy and bliss and waves of pleasure, and that all was right with the world forever and ever (part of it was probably the good speed that was going around back then). And these beautiful translucent eyes that seemed to always reflect the sunshine. She was kind of cute, OK?

So we shot the shit for awhile. She had sort of a goofy, playful sense of humor, like life was an amusing lark basically. So she was fun to hang out with. And she also had a “spiritual” side — she would occasionally make portentous statements about “Mother Earth and the moon and the sky” and “good vibes” and “Babylon, man.” And that was amusing to a bitter old cynic like me.

So we chatted for awhile. And then she bid me farewell. And went bopping down Telegraph Avenue. And I didn’t think any more about our casual exchange. Until a couple minutes later. When I noticed she had stopped at this other vending table down the street. And she was chatting happily with this big, handsome, dashing hippie dude that ran that table.

And now I’m straining to see what they’re doing. I can only catch partial glimpses of them through all the crowds of people hanging out on the Ave. But they seem to be having a great time together, talking to each other.

And then I noticed he was giving her a back rub. She was standing with her back to him and he was massaging the back of her neck. And for some unknown reason this got me really upset. I even started to tremble a little. Which was a weird reaction. Because I barely knew this person.

So I kept staring off down the Avenue. Until I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head. In this very agitated state. Until she finally frolicked on down the Ave and disappeared from sight.

And just like that, I was obsessed with this person. And would be obsessed with her every day for the next two years.

Like I said. Its weird..


That house


I walked by this house today. And I always get a weird feeling when I walk by that particular house. This weird acid flashback back to 1980s. This woman that I was madly in love with for many years used to live there. So for many years that house was my most cherished and longed-for destination.

The house was more rundown back then. 1980. Faded paint job. Weeds growing in the front yard. And it had this haunted, macabre aura like the Addam’s Family mansion. Along with this punk rock ambiance (the band name “THE GEEKS” was spray painted on the front porch). That house was the one place where I wanted to be.

No matter where I happened to be in the world back then, in the back of my mind I was always thinking about that house. And I’d be measuring the distance from where I was, to where that house was. And plotting and scheming all the ways I was going to navigate the trail that led me back to her front door.

I remember the countless times I’d be walking down the street towards that house. And the closer and closer I got, the more excited and nervous I’d get. And I’d sort of be rehearsing my lines in my head as I walked (perhaps I had a witty anecdote that would win her over).  And then I’d be knocking on her front door. And she’d open it up and let me in. And I’d step into her living room. And it was like stepping onto a stage. And we’d immediately start enacting all the mad dramas and soap operas of our lives.





Love and Other Social Diseases

Originally published February 14, 2005)

Welcome to my special Valentine’s Day report. In honor of this auspicious occasion I’m going to pack this column with even more “love” than usual.  And not the phony kind of love you get from those other websites. But 100% REAL LOVE.  Feel the love beaming out from every letter and every sentence, emanating out into cyberspace in all its purity.

I can’t remember one Valentine’s Day in my 48 years on this planet where I celebrated it with an actual girlfriend. What a sad sack I yam. Ace Backwords: the Patron Saint of Unrequited Love. Once, I sat down and tried to analyze my sexual/romantic dysfunction. I tried to figure out what had gone wrong. I concluded: EVERYTHING had gone wrong. So I narrowed it down to that. Just about every psychological dysfunction or bad twist of fate was hurled in the direction of my pathetic heart. So it was almost an inevitable mathematical equation that I would end up ship-wrecked at this lonely harbor.

Over the years, I “fell in love” (certainly the ultimate human dysfunction) with 5 different women. Sometimes — even nowadays, years later — I would write their 5 names down in my journal. And their names alone would still have a special magic to me. It never worked out with any of those dames. Whatever I was looking for from them, in my hopelessly romantic delusions, never quite panned out. I did have some wild, surreal scenes with all of them. Something about the magic of love that elevated these encounters to this Other Level of intensity and meaning, even as the meaning so often turned sour (“Ace Backwords: loser again!”). The only consolation was that, years after I stopped chasing after them, each of these women would come back looking for me over the years; probably mostly out of morbid curiosity, or perhaps for one more hit off of whatever weird vibe I had transmitted in their direction. There’s something about the power of love that draws people to it like a magnet. Even the misdirected love of hopelessly mis-matched people.

(Sometimes it would work the other way, of course. The wrong woman would make the mistake of “falling in love” with me. I could only think to myself: “The poor dear. RUN!  FLEE WHILE YOU STILL CAN!)

But my romantic failure sort of came to symbolize, to me, where I ended up in this life:  searching for Something that I never quite found. It was the one thing I wanted — the fabled Girlfriend, the Soul Mate, whatever you call it — but I came up short. It’s weird how you can try so hard to GET something from this life, but life tends to GIVE BACK to us by its own weird accord. I guess that’s why they call it karma. This other sad sack romantic loser that I know often speculated that he must have been a Nazi prison guard in the last lifetime, who tortured and raped women to his heart’s content. And now in this lifetime, all the bitches were coming back for their pound of flesh, ripping out pieces of his pathetic heart, bit by bit. Who knows. That explains it as much as anything.

I’ve gotten my share of rewards out of this life. But somehow, my “victories” have had the feel of Booby Prizes, whereas my “defeats” have had a profound and shattering resonance to them. Somehow, I never got what I really wanted. Which was “love,” I guess. What we’re ALL searching after, I guess. As my great guru Swami Muktananda put it: “Without love, it’s all useless.”

Today, being Valentines Day, the booby prizes had a special resonance. I went to my P.O. Box like Charlie Brown, secretly hoping for the Valentine card that will never come (or worse, I’ll get one from Pepperment Patty instead of the fabled Little Red-headed Girl). Instead of “love” I got in the mail today a beautifully packaged (with ribbon and bow on it) collection of poetry mags from some guys in Chicago. Beautifully printed, wonderful stuff, they went to a lot of trouble to produce it and send it off to me. And yet, I’m “tone deaf” when it comes to appreciating poetry. It just goes in one ear and out the other. Somehow it symbolized the mis-connections that have dogged my life.

So I dragged my weary sad-sack ass up to Telegraph Avenue. This 19 year old kid, real nice guy, comes up to me: “Are you Ace Backwords?” (the question I MOST dread hearing). Turns out he had bought a copy of my book   (available from http://www.amazon.com) in a little radical bookstore in Minnesota. And so he drove all the way out here to see Berkeley. And here he is. “It’s weird how your book, the one copy probably in all of Minnesota, traveled all the way back here to Berkeley, and now my friends are upstairs at the Med reading it!” (kind of like a homing pigeon. Or my bad karma boomeranging back at me). And it was nice, and it was flattering, but it was also vaguely unsettling. You put this stuff out there, and you never know what you’ll get back.  And usually not what you particularly wanted (beautiful 19-year-old sex chicks who dig weird, burned out 48 year old losers, feel free to track me down at any time).

And it’s probably a disappointment and a letdown for the kid from Minnesota, too. Because I make myself come across better in my book than I really am. And it seems more exciting when you read about it in a book: you pack 30 years of life experiences into 200 pages, all the exciting parts, whereas most of my days are spent moping around looking for something happening that is never actually happening.

But I guess nothing ever really works out in this damn life. The mystics all say this life, this world, is like sinking sand. You want ANYTHING from this life, or from another human being, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Or as my hero Bukowski put it: “Humanity, you never had it from the beginning.”

Still, I’m convinced that this earth (and humanity) is nothing less than a ball of pure solid 100% Gold. Covered by the thinnest layer of pure dogshit. The surface shit is very compelling — and alas that’s what I spend most of my days wallowing in. But I’m convinced that if I could just penetrate one inch beneath the surface of this maya, of this illusion, of this mortal life, I would find that 100% solid pure gold that was always there, but yet, somehow, always just off in the distance.

I’m looking for a girl, just like the girl, who married dear old Dad…..


I’m getting old.  I realized that quite clearly the other day.

Last Sunday, I was hanging out at my vending table on Telegraph Avenue. I sell salvaged books for 25 cents each. That’s what I do for a living, or what passes for one. This isn’t really how I envisioned my life turning out at age 46, selling junk books on a street corner. But life has a way of throwing curveballs at you. Well, at least my life does.

Actually, its a pretty good gig; I make about $50 to $60 bucks a weekend; and sometimes up to $150 or more if I can scrounge up good books. And it’s low-maintenance. I stroll by the table every 15 minutes or so to collect the dough from the “donation” cup. I don’t even have to deal with the customers, which is a plus for an anti-social type like myself.

Anyway, I’m sitting there at the vending table by myself sucking on an Old English 16-ouncer, when this young chick shows up. She’s been hanging out on the scene for the last couple weeks, and she had immediately caught my eye, as all the young chicks on the scene immediately tend to do. She was tall and gangling but with nice curves, a cute, girlish face and a short, black Napoleon haircut. She wore blue jeans and a short, black halter top that showed off her bellybutton and her nipples to good effect, and she had a sleeping bag rolled under her arm. The first time I saw her I had her pegged as a junkie/stripper. She really reminded me of the strippers I used to hang out with 20 years ago when I used to work at the Mitchell Bros. strip club. It was the way she moved her body, the way she kept striking these sexual poses. She was one of those chicks who WANTED men to look at her in a sexual way. You could just tell. Some chicks are like that.

I had talked with her briefly last weekend; she came staggering out of the bathroom of Cody’s Books, glassy-eyed and wobbly, like she had just shot up a big hit of heroin or something. She just started talking to me, like she was sort of talking out loud to herself:  “I need to be loaded before I can talk to my Mom,” she explained. Then she talked for awhile to someone (her Mom I assume)on the payphones behind my table. Then she staggered across the street, sat down on the sidewalk, and fell asleep; her legs spread wide like a stripper, and her head slumped down between her legs, on the nod. I went upstairs to Moe’s book across the street and spied on her from the second story window. I’m kind of a voyeuristic bastard, I guess. But fukk, you sit there on a street corner for 12 hours selling junk books for a quarter and you’ll be looking for some way to amuse yourself also.

So anyway, the next week she comes up to my vending table again while I’m sitting there and strikes up another conversation with me. I have an extra folding chair, folded up alongside my table, so she asks if she can sit in it for awhile while she waits for her ride to show up and pick her up.  “Sure,” I said.

Now, on the streets, you learn to read people very quickly. Because strangers are always suddenly materializing in front of your face and you have to deal with them. You never know who, or what, they are. And first impressions can be very deceiving. I mean, the person in front of you could be a totally whacked out, hardcore street-casualty,  running from a broken home, or no home, where she’s been permanently twisted out of shape from being sexually abused by her “uncle” since she was 10 and she’ll steal everything you own the second your back is turned. Or…. maybe she’s a middleclass kid from a good suburban home who’s just playing at being the rebellious bad-girl for the weekend. You don’t know. Just like the other guy who comes up to you could be a kind, hippy, rainbow brother who will turn you on with his smile. Or…. maybe he’s a Charles Manson-wannabe whacko who will slit your throat the second he gets you alone. You don’t know. But that’s part of the fun of the streets; learning to spot one from the other BEFORE you end up  with a large, cylinder-type object rammed up your azzhole.

So anyways, we sat there for awhile at the old vending table, talking. She was polite. Friendly. Soft spoken. Sort of lonely. Seemed like she was looking to connect with the world but not quite sure how to do it. I’m sitting there, hiding behind my cool shades, drinking my beer and smoking her cigarettes. I’m nervous, of course, like I always am with cute young chicks. I kept wishing she was across the street so I could spy on her from a safe distance. Which is kind of weird when I think about it. But then, I’m a kind of a weird fellow.

She was one of those chicks that enjoy talking about themselves:  “My Father was in the Israeli army,” she said. “Both my Mother and Father are psychiatrists.” (So you’ve got to be nuts, I thought.)

“What do you want to do with your life?” I asked.

“I just graduated from high school. Eventually I’d like to be a lawyer so I can get paid to argue. What do you do?”

“Well, I was a pornographer, and a bike messenger, and a phone-salesman, and for 10 years I was a freelance cartoonist.”

“Wow, you’ve really been around,” she said, sort of impressed.

“And I was a homeless bum for the last 5 years. Some of the best years of my life actually.”

“Yes!” she declared happily, giving me the raised-fist salute of victory.

“And I recently had my first book published. ‘SURVIVING ON THE STREETS: How To Go Down Without Going Out.’ It’s sort of a how-to book for dealing with the streets.”

“So you, like, show how to keep from getting bitter and stuff.”

“Well…No. It’s a little too late for me to write that kind of stuff.”

“Oh. I guess I better write my book while I’m still young.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“You wanna see my new piercing?” she said with a happy smile. Before I could answer she pulled up her black halter top and flashed me her ripe, pierced, teenage nipple.

I looked at it in wordless amazement. It was sort of a surreal moment. Right there on a crowded street corner on a lazy Sunday afternoon. She pulled her shirt back down proudly, and we resumed chatting.

Then a car pulled up to the curb and she said goodbye and rushed off. But before she left, she folded up the chair she had been sitting on and put it back alongside the table.

Later, when I thought about the whole encounter, that was the thing that really impressed me: That she actually showed the good manners to return the chair the way she found it. That is so rare on the street scene. So many street people are so coarse and uncouth; all they care about is what they want; they have zero consideration for anybody else’s situation. I realized: I was more impressed by her good show of manners than I was by her flashing her 18-year-old titties in my face.

Man, I really am getting old.
rainbow building