Getting off the streets

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It was a lot easier to get off the streets back in 1978. I had been homeless and living on the streets of San Francisco for a year, sleeping on this offramp on Fremont St. But I started to burn out on that. So I applied for, and got, this job as a bike messenger.

For the first week on the job I slept in the bushes near the bike messenger building. Then when I got my first paycheck I rented out a room at this flophouse on 2nd St. for $17 a week. That’s how easy it was.

And I was off to the races. Literally.

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St. Patrick’s Day

 

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I don’t remember too many St. Patrick’s Days (most of them are a blur in my memory by the next morning, if you know what I mean, ha ha). But I remember one.

It must have been around 1983. Because I remember I was carrying around copies of this punk rock tabloid that I was publishing at the time, to show off to people to try and impress them. Ha ha.

The sister of my best childhood buddy was living in the Mission District of San Francisco at the time. And my childhood buddy was going to be visiting San Francisco for St. Patrick’s Day. So she called me up out of the blue and said why don’t we get together for old time’s sake?

That sounded like fun (I was much less shy back then). But I felt a twinge of fear as I knocked on the door of her apartment. Because my buddy’s mother was also visiting. And she always scared me when I was a little kid. She was this big, brassy woman who towered over you. And she was always loudly shouting at, or threatening, her children, or any of the other neighborhood kids in the vicinity of her vocal chords.

Sure enough, as soon as the door opened came the familiar booming voice. “PETER!!! PEEE-TER!!!” (that’s my real name). She had a big smile on her face and she gave me a big bear hug. But I was slightly shocked and surprised at how TINY she was. I guess I was expecting the towering figure of my childhood.

And then my childhood best buddy and another childhood friend showed up. And that was another shock. I barely recognized them. I hadn’t seen them since they were little kids after all.

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Market Street

But an interesting transformation took place as we sat there in her living-room sipping on our drinks and talking about the old days. The more we talked, the more I recognized them as the kids I once knew. So after awhile it was like talking to these little kids who just happened to be inside these gigantic adult bodies. Which was cool.

We went to an Irish bar on Market St. And drank many mugs of green-colored beer as we watched the parade go by. Which was fun. And afterwards, as we walked down Market St., I noticed much festive green-colored puke on the sidewalks and gutters. And that’s what the holidays are all about, man! Adding a little color to our day.

And that’s all I remember about that day.

HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY EVERYBODY!!!

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If you’re goin’ to San Francisco . . .

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For about 9 years, from 1976 to 1984 I mostly considered myself a “San Franciscan.” I lived and/or worked in San Francisco during that period. And it was the center of my professional and social life.

You read Herb Can every morning and you felt you were a part of this special community. There was still a real charm and magic to San Francisco back then. It was filled with like-minded people like me, who had come from all over the U.S., drawn by this vision we had in our heads of what San Francisco was. And it largely lived up to that vision.

Nowadays, I haven’t been to San Francisco in years. I wonder if I’m missing out on anything.

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The Gay Freedom Day Parade 1976

A Facebook friend of mine was in San Francisco at this time last year. And he was checking out the Pride Parade. And he mentioned how surprised he was at all the corporate participation in the parade. Bank of America and McDonald’s and god knows who else. And I guess that surprised me a little, too. It reminded me of how quickly things can change in this world.

In a way, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Because what was “underground” culture to one generation is often “mainstream” culture to the next generation.  But still, it’s amazing how fast things can change.  As recently as 1972 you could legally be fired from your job in San Francisco simply for being gay.  And back then, to a large percentage of the American public, being gay was looked at as either criminal or a form of mental illness.  So to stand up in the middle of a city street and publicly declare oneself as gay took more than a little courage back then.

I went to my first Gay Freedom Day Parade (as it was called back then) back in 1976 as a wee lad of 19. Actually, I didn’t go to the Parade. I was living on the streets of San Francisco back then, so it was more like the Parade came to me.

Anyways, the one thing I vividly remember was this big, flatbed truck slowly tooling down Market Street. And there were about 20 practically naked guys who were chained to all these wooden posts. And these other guys, shirtless and wearing black leather chaps, were pretending to whip them on their backs. At least I think they were pretending. It was pretty frenzied scene. Most of the guys looked like they were buzzing on speed and had been partying non-stop for several days. And there was this palpable wildness in the air. You could see it on the wild eyes of the smiles of all the people buzzing up and down the streets of San Francisco.

Anyways, I don’t remember that particular float with the guys in chains being whipped bearing any particular corporate sponsorship. I guess those were different days.

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What I learned in a writing class

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I took this writing class once when I was a young man. I thought maybe I could learn something about how to write literature. Everybody in the class submitted a short story, and then the professor critiqued them in front of the whole class.

I wrote this story about when I was a 19 year old homeless bum in San Francisco in 1976 and hanging out in the Tenderloin district. The story starts out with me  waiting outside of St. Anthony’s dining hall, lined up on the sidewalk with all the other bums waiting to get a free lunch. When these two winos got into a conflict. They’re jawing back and forth, cursing and shouting and threatening each other. Finally one of the bums reaches into the garbage can on the corner and starts pulling out all the empty wine bottles (Thunderbird) and throwing them at the other bum. One after another.  There’s no shortage of that kind of ammunition in the Tenderloin, I can tell you that much. So wine bottles are exploding all across the sidewalk like hand grenades. And the other bum is dancing back and forth trying to dodge the in-coming artillery.  Then the bum smashed one of the wine bottles on the ground so it had a jagged edge and chased after the other bum, waving the jagged bottle in the air. And as they turned the corner and disappeared behind a building, it looked like the one bum was on the verge of catching the other bum and slicing him up. The End.

This object is a metaphor for a container in which people discard unwanted refuse.

After reading my story to the class the professor said: “What an apt metaphor. That the very wine bottles that the winos had consumed in the hopes of attaining satisfaction were now being utilized as agents of their own self-destruction. Its a symbolic statement of the ironic nature of their existential dilemma.”

I had never thought about that before. The empty wine bottles being apt metaphors and all that. I was just trying to describe something that I had seen and experienced. And hopefully it made sense and wasn’t boring.  And that’s pretty much all I hope for with my writing. And with this piece of writing, too.

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The Sound of Music

Punk1 Mostly forgotten today, the Sound of Music was a funky, dirty, little San Francisco punk rock club in the 1980s.   Located at 162 Turk Street, deep in the heart of the Tenderloin.

I guess you could call the Sound of Music an “entry level” club.  Just about anybody who could print up a bunch of fliers could land a gig there.  Bottom of the food chain in that grand world that is Show Business.

I remember one show I went to at the Sound of Music in 1982.  My friend Neil Anderthol was playing with his band the Geeks — this art-damage band.  Eight people on stage — drums, guitars, saxophones, trombones, god knows what else.  Everybody playing at the same time, non-stop, for an hour, everyone wailing away at top volume, all the amps cranked up to 11.  This mind-wrenching, incomprehensible white noise.  Feedback on top of feedback. . .   The Geeks completely cleared the club in 5 minutes.  Ha ha.  The only person left in the club was the guy running the sound board.  Because he had to be there.  And he was gritting his teeth and cursing the band under his breath the whole time.  I guess it was art.  But it was painful to listen to.

Neil Anderthol (we all had cool punk rock name back then) later went on to acclaim as a member of Polkacide — this punk polka band.  Go figure.  Me and Neil were both madly in love with the same punk rock chick at the time — Mary Mayhem — so we were always running into each other.

The other thing I remember about the Sound of Music.  It was a transvestite bar when they weren’t doing punk shows.  And some of those trannies would have knife fights outside the club on the streets of the Tenderloin.  You had to be pretty tough to put on a dress and lipstick back then.  1982.

The other thing I remember about the Sound of Music.  The guy running the sound board showed me the recording studio he set up in the basement.  He was supplementing his income by offering to record the bands that played there.  I salivated when I saw his set-up.  Because you could record a pretty high quality demo on his equipment.  And, like a thousand other idiots, I had this dream of being a rock musician and recording my genius rock album.

Across the street from the Sound of Music was this rehearsal space where hundreds of degenerate rock’n’roll wannabes jammed non-stop in their individual, semi-sound-proof cubicles.   And that was a scene.  You’d walk down the halls and hear the muffled sounds of every genre of music imaginable.  Half the people dressed like rock stars or Keith Richards.  People laying around smoking pot and drinking and doing drugs.  It was Dante’s Inferno.  It was like stepping into Rock’n’roll Hell.

There used to be what they called a “thriving underground artist community” in San Francisco back then.  The rents were still cheap enough that you’d get these pockets of weirdo bohemian types, pursuing their mad dreams to be musicians, painters, poets, performers,  and what-not.  I don’t know if such scenes still exist nowadays.  It could just be that I’m old and out of the loop now.

The hills are alive with the sound of music!

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My life in the porno business, Part 2

 

It was some time in 1980, age 23, when I got a letter from this guy in San Francisco.  He had just started this porn tabloid, the San Francisco PLEASURE GUIDE, and he was interested in running my “Sexley’s  cartoon and my “SIN FRANCISCO” column every month in his paper.  So we made arrangements to meet at his office in the Castro district of San Francisco to discuss business.

His “office” was actually the size of cubicle that he rented out in this bigger office.  So we went downstairs to this coffee shop to talk.  His business card said he was in the “real estate” business.  But basically he was an older and more practical version of me.  He was coming up with all these different business schemes, throwing them out there and seeing if any of them stuck.  Besides the porn tabloid, he also published a tabloid that focused on the gay bar scene, and some other publication.  But you could tell that publishing wasn’t his real love.  He just used his publications as cash cows to generate income which he would invest in his other schemes.  I can’t for the life of me remember what he looked like.  He was probably in his early 30s.  And he sort of dressed like a hip  entrapenour, or one of those Marin County swingers that used to be all over the Bay Area back in the ’70s and ’80s.

Anyways, he came up with the basic format for the PLEASURE GUIDE from the first issue.  And never deviated from it in the 15 years I worked on it.  Semi-nude young woman on the cover.  Two generic porn photo layouts (he bought all the photos cheap from some agency).  A big centerspread.  Personal ads in the back.  And on the first page, always, was this sex advice column, “The Knight Lady” written by this hot chick.  There was a photo of the Knight Lady that always ran on the top of her column;  this sexy, young, dark-haired, dominatrix-looking sexpot wearing a tight, black halter that showed off her bosoms to good effect.

It was a completely generic porn paper, the PLEASURE GUIDE.  It was sort of the “cookie-cutter” approach, designed to put out a commercial publication with the least amount of money or effort.  My column and cartoon would be the only real wild-card of  creativity and imagination in the whole paper (uh-hum).

Since he was publishing a heterosexual porn paper, it never occurred to me at the time that the guy was almost surely gay, having his office in the Castro and hanging out with all  the clones, etc.  But for a guy that was working in the porn business, I was surprisingly naïve and innocent about sex back then . . .   Still am.

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My “Sexley’s BELIEVE IT OR NUTS!!”  strip started out as a basic parody of “Ripley’s BELIEVE OR NOT!!”  But over the years I expanded the format so it encompassed just about anything that combined sex and comics.  I’d do  strips about the sex lives of historical figures like J. Edgar Hoover and Ted Kennedy.  Or I’d do stuff about the sex lives of celebrities like Madonna or Donald Trump or Lucille Ball or god-knows-who.  I was constantly going to the library and checking out dozens of books in my endless research for new material.  And sometimes I’d do autobiographical comics about my own sexual experiences, and the sexual issues I was grappling with.  Sometimes I’d delve into serious issues; like examining the psychology of sexual psychopaths like Ted Bundy, the famous serious killer.

Occasionally I’d delve into controversial, and even taboo, subjects.  I did a strip on Prof. Peter Duesberg, the Berkeley micro-biologist, and his controversial theory on HIV/AIDS.  That one turned out to be too “radical” for the PLEASURE GUIDE.   They refused to run it, printing one of my old-reruns in it’s place.

And after Jim Mitchell shot and murdered his brother Artie Mitchell, I did a  harshly critical and even scathing strip about the Mitchell Brothers in particular, and  the exploitive and de-humanizing nature of the porn business in general (just like me to bite the hand that feeds me).  The PLEASURE GUIDE refused to run that one too, I guess out of fear of ruffling feathers in the porn biz.  But, fortunately for me, a competing porn tabloid was eager to run that one.  Evidently the managing editor had an axe to grind with the Mitchell Brothers — I think Artie Mitchell stole one of his girlfriends or something — so he was happy to get in some digs at them.  (I had come a long ways from the light-hearted “Bitchell Brothers” type comics I had started out doing back in 1979.)

Whenever I started getting too serious, or started getting writer’s block, I would always remind myself of some great advice I once got from the great “Peanuts” cartoonist, Charles Schulz:  “Draw funny pictures.”  You’d be surprised at how many of the cartoonists on our daily comic strip page have completely forgotten this immortal piece of cartooning wisdom.   I’d always eventually revert back to the classic slapslick burlesque comedy approach that has always been the bedrock of the comic strip medium.

Sometimes the PLEASURE GUIDE publisher would come up with assignments for me.  He offered me this gig writing this humorous version of a sex horoscope column.  But after 3 or 4 months I had exhausted just about every one-line joke I could come up with about sex and astrology.  I hacked it out for a couple more months until I had to tell the publisher that I couldn’t come up with any more material.  So he handed the assignment to some other faceless freelancer who cranked out the column in like 5 minutes and then happily cashed his $50 check.  The publisher didn’t care.  All he wanted was copy to fill the space in between the ads.

So I kicked myself for blowing such an easy-paying gig.  But that would be my problem all throughout my freelancing career.  I actually had standards.  Or, more to the point, I had standards that were usually very different from the standards of the editors and publishers who were paying me.  In truth, I strived with every piece of art that I produced, to push the limits of my talents and my imagination.  I don’t know why.  But I wasn’t pissing around.  I was doing it for real.  In truth, I primarily saw creating art as a way of exploring this vast and glorious universe of ours.  And hopefully expanding my knowledge of it.  And if I occasionally got a cheap laugh out of my audience, well, that was icing on the cake.

At first I would go to San Francisco every month to hand-deliver my latest cartoons and writing, and pick up my monthly check.  But after awhile I got preoccupied with self-syndicating my comics to dozens of other publications all across the country.  So I just mailed it in.

Things were going great until around 1994.  I began to get really sick of doing the “Sexley’s” comic.  After  15 years I had pretty much exhausted everything I had to say on the subject of sex (you know you’re in trouble when even sex has become boring!).  But the deadlines kept looming.  And getting deadlier every month.. What had started out as a joy akin to winning the lottery (“I can’t believe I’m getting paid money to sit here and draw these goofy comics!”) had turned into a dreary chore (“I can’t believe what a crappy job this is, and a lousy-paying job at that!”).

I would put off doing the thing until the very last minute, the night before the latest issue went to the printer.  And I’d pull an all-nighter, staying up all night drinking endless cups of coffee, trying to come up with any scrap of an idea that I could scrape into a minimum-standard piece of commercial art that people would actually pay money to look at.  By the time the morning sun was coming up, I’d usually have a finished cartoon in my hand.  It was too late to mail it in, so I’d have to take the first BART train to the Mission district in San Francisco where the PLEASURE GUIDE had their office, to hand-deliver the thing.  They’d have the whole paper laid out and ready to go, except for the blank space where they could slot in my cartoon.

The “office” was actually the apartment of this middle-aged white woman who put the paper together.  She was very nice and sweet and incredibly over-weight.  She looked like some bland housewife who sat on the couch all day eating bon-bons and watching soap operas.  So the first time I met her it was kind of a shock.  She was hardly the type of person you’d envision running a porn paper. In fact, she was practically a one-man-band.  She wrote most of the copy, picked all the photos, laid the whole thing out, and delivered it to the printer.  And she, of course, was the Knight Lady.  So it was sort of like “The Wizard of Oz,” seeing the little man behind the porn screen.

By this time, I really wanted to quit doing “Sexley’s.”  But it was like a vampire that would not die.  The legendary cartoonist and publisher, John Holmstrom, was the managing editor at High Times magazine at that time.  And he put together a benefit comicbook for NORML — the “legalize marijuana” group — and used about 10 pages of “Sexley’s” in that thing.  Another guy, a comicbook publisher in Chicago, wanted to put out an entire “Sexley’s” comicbook, and he had all the pages laid out and ready print.

And then one day I got an urgent phonecall from John Holmstrom.  “Ace!  Bad news!  I just got a call from the lawyers at Ripley’s BELIEVE IT OR NOT!!  Apparently some of the corporate big-wigs at Ripley’s got wind of our comicbook.  And they were not pleased to see you using a parody of their logo.  Now they’re threatening to sue us.”

“Fuck!” I said.

Holmstrom assured me that he had a crack team of lawyers at High Times, and that he was prepared to battle it out with the team of lawyers at Ripley’s.  We’d take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if need be (slight exaggeration).  Eventually, Holmstrom would agree to trash the entire press run (*sigh* That was a very cool comic book!).

A couple days later I got an angry and threatening letter from the lawyers at Ripley’s, demanding that I immediately cease and desist from infringing on their copyrighted, trademark, logo and/or patent-pending intellectual property, etc. etc.  Ergo and forsooth.  Esquire.

I immediately wrote back the lawyers and told them I would never again sully the righteous and noble name of “Ripley’s BELEIVE IT OR NOT!!” with my goddamn smut.  And I quit drawing comics.  And I quit working in the porn business.  And that was pretty much the end of that particular period of my life.

One of the things I liked about the bike messenger job

One of the things I liked about the San Francisco bike messenger job ….. Most people in San Francisco experienced a limited sphere. But the bike messengers went everywhere.  We delivered items to Herb Caen at 5th and Mission.   Then we delivered graphic art from the San Francisco Chronicle to the Mitchell Brothers on O’Farrell St.  Then we went to Melvin Belli’s law office near the Transamerican Pyramid to deliver legal briefs to Mayor Dianne Feinstein at City Hall.  Then we picked up a mysterious 3 pound package from Planned Parenthood to be delivered to an un-named clinic south of Market.  Then after a quick lunch at honorable Harvey Wu’s on 5th & Folsom it was back to the TV stations on Battery Street to pick up a package to deliver to the Hollywood actor Kevin Bacon who had a suite at the Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill (and I always hated that bitch of a hill but at least I was now 7 degrees from Kevin Bacon) ….  And round and round we went.

I always felt the bike messengers were like the bloodstream of San Francisco.  Coursing through the veins and making the connections with all the other organs.

I used to get a kick out of going to Bill Graham’s office on 11th Street and seeing all those original Fillmore posters on the wall and hearing Graham in the back office cursing and screaming at some poor slob on the telephone.  Being a bike messenger was like continually walking in on somebody else’s movie . . .  Then we’d deliver Graham’s package to the backstage of the Old Waldorf (was that Eddie Money hanging out there with that skanky rocknroll chick!).

Then I’d go by 11th Street a week later and notice that Bill Graham’s office had burned to the ground.  One more mysterious arson fire. In fact, anything that happened in San Francisco, there was a good chance you’d be riding by while it happened.  If there was a mass shooting at a One Market Plaza office, there’s a good chance you’d be riding by and see the building roped off, and SWAT teams entering, as a crowd of worried on-lookers gathered around outside.

Bike messengers got to see the entire spectrum of San Francisco.  From the lowliest wharehouse jobs, to the CEO in his swanky office atop the Bank of America building.  And everything in between.  I remember one time delivering a package to the house of the cartoonist William Hamilton.   If I remember right, Hamilton’s house was somewhere near Fisherman’s Wharf.   Hamilton used to do these one-panel cartoons that lampooned the upper-class for the New Yorker magazine — which happened to be one of the most prestigious gigs for a freelance cartoonist.  I was an aspiring cartoonist myself back then.  So it was a thrill to see Hamilton there in his house, which I could tell also doubled as his art studio.  It was like walking into the exact vision of my cherished, hoped-for future.

I used to hitch-hike home to Berkeley every night at the end of the working day.  The 5th & Bryant Street offramp was right across the street from the Special T Messenger garage where I worked.  And it was quicker  (and cheaper) to just hitch-hike home rather than take BART.  I remember one night I got picked up by this  rich, hip lawyer in a brand new Mercedes Benz.  He had the most incredible and expensive sound-system in his car.  And he was blasting the Aerosmith album “Toys in the Attic” at top-volume.  It was like recording studio-quality sound.  He lit up a tai-stick joint and passed it to me.  And it was just about the strongest weed I had ever smoked.  Half-way across the Bay Bridge I was already starting to hallucinate, what with the combination of the weed and the Aerosmith.    And I always remember something that lawyer told me, amidst our casual,  stoned-out conversation.  “Right now you’re getting paid to deliver packages for other people.  But who knows, maybe some day you’ll be paying other people to send out your packages.”

Years later, when I was actually working full-time as a cartoonist and in fact sending my packages out there all across the world, I would often think back to that conversation.  Life is so strange.  Its kind of like a masquerade ball where we’re always trading costumres and trading roles.  Kind of like the bike messenger job itself.  Where you slip in and out of every scenario imaginable.

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Bike Messenger Days 1983

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Pull up a chair and let ol’ Uncle Ace tell you a story about the Good Old Days back in 1983….1546381_814545661896312_2100578201_n.jpg

It was 1983 and I was deep into my career as a fabulous San Francisco bike messenger. Now, bike messengers are a breed apart. They’re a lot like street people, with the crucial difference that bike messengers are still young and strong, and they pay their rent BEFORE they buy their drugs. And many of them would indeed have fabulous careers waiting for them as homeless street people as soon as they ran out of energy, or got drunk and stoned one time too many.

But Friday evenings were fabulous times on the bike messenger circuit. We all got paid on Friday night. So generally we’d all cash our checks at Honorable Harvey Woo’s grocery store on 5th and Folsom and pound down big meat-and-cheese sandwiches and drink a beer or 12 in the back parking lot. One of the great things about the bike messenger job was, you could eat 5 meals a day and not gain a pound because you burn off so many calories. The job was the closest I’ve ever come to being a professional athlete. It was a lot like running a high-speed marathon and an obstacle course 10 hours a day, with the added excitement of dodging Muni buses which will squash you like a bug if you’re not very careful. And you got paid by the delivery — which is why messengers rode their bikes like madmen through red lights and down one-way streets and across the foreheads of pedestrian’s heads. So there was a lot of competition amongst us as to who was the fastest bike-rider and the most skilled bike rider and the number one Gravy Dog. We took a lot of pride in our expertise on our bikes. We were the wild men, the freaks, the Evel Knievels of the Financial District. And all the secretaries and three-piece-suits envied us (in between fearing us and despising us) because we were big kids who got paid to play on our bikes all day long, while they had to work.

 

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Anyway, we were kicking back in the parking lot that Friday night, a big gang of us, drinking beer and smoking pot. Among the crowd were Jimbo and Fred. Jimbo was one of the coolest guys I knew, and greatly respected amongst all the messengers as the top Gravy Dog at Special T Messenger. He was a cocky guy with a swagger, but very cool about it.  He had an “I’m-okay-you’re-okay” ambiance that made you enjoy his cockiness. He just dug his life; was very into it. (Later he would achieve acclaim as an illustrator and animated cartoonist). On every social scene I’ve been on, there’s usually only one or two people whose company I seek out. And Jimbo was the one, of all the messengers. He looked a lot like the actor Kevin Bacon, with his pug-nose and tousled hair. (In fact, later that year, Kevin Bacon himself would come to San Francisco to star in a Hollywood film about the bike messenger scene. We were all excited about it, and there was big talk about some of the bike messengers being hired as Hollywood extras or consultants. But it turned out that the movie was typical Hollywood bullshit. They came up with some hokey plot-line about how the bike messenger (Bacon) accidentally gets ahold of some kind of top-secret spy material and gets in the middle of an international espionage ring or some such crap (car chases with bicycles up and down the hilly streets of San Francisco — you can imagine). Which is weird that they have to come up with such contrived plot lines, because in truth there were about a million amazing real-life stories amongst the bike messenger scene. So you wonder why Hollywood has to retread the same old dull phony pabulum. But maybe it’s like the premise of this column: that what’s interesting and funny in real life often doesn’t translate into art.)  (Though I’m sticking with my first theory that Hollywood is just lame.)

So anyway, we’re all sitting there relaxing on a Friday evening with our paychecks in our pockets,  in this big, deserted parking lot South of Market, drinking our beer, smoking our pot, and feeling no pain. Eventually, it started getting dark, so we started organizing ourselves for the trip back to Jimbo’s place in the Haight-Ashbury to continue the party. One of Jimbo’s friends had a pick-up truck, so he offered to give us a ride, which was certainly appreciated since it was a 20 minute bike-ride to Jimbo’s, all up-hill. So we threw our bikes in the back of the pick-up. Jimbo, cocky bastard that he was, said: “Watch this!”

Jimbo leaned a thin, narrow board from the back of the pick-up truck like a ramp. Then he hopped on his bike and pedaled around the outskirts of the parking lot at blazing speed. When his lap had come full-circle, he rode his bike right up the plank at top speed, blasted right up there, and into the back of the truck, stopped on a dime, and hopped off his bike with aplomb, like a rodeo star dismounting from his horse. We all burst into applause at his impressive stunt of dare-deviltry.

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Fred said: “Oh yeah?! Well watch THIS!” Fred jumped onto his bike. He was going to top Jimbo’s stunt.

Now let me tell you a bit about Fred. He was a good guy. But somehow he had been stamped Loser by the gods. Like he was always fated to be on the short end of God’s cosmic practical jokes. Fred was stocky and well-built, and looked sort of like Fred Flintstone with a duh-uh demeanor. A nice guy, but a fuck-up. A typical Fred stunt was: Once all the bike messengers got invited to the Boss’s house for his daughter’s wedding party. Fred got drunk and walked right through the Boss’s glass door. Fred’s paycheck was docked for the next 6 months before he finally paid it off. That was the kind of luck he had.

Another night we were at Jimbo’s apartment for a big Friday night poker game. Now poker’s an interesting game, because the results are totally reflective of a person’s basic personality (You can guess what happened to Fred). Now, we mostly played poker for fun, for small stakes; usually at most somebody would win or lose $20. We were only making, if memory serves me right, about $100 to $150 a week (depending on the messenger’s speed, agility, and street savvy). So a $20 loss was substantial enough. This night, SOMEHOW, Fred managed to lose $250, the equivalent of two weeks salary. It was the most unbelievable streak of bad luck I’d ever seen. He kept losing hand after hand, even when he had good cards. At one point, near the end of the game, Fred finally got a great hand, I forget what it was, three Kings and a pair of Jacks, or something like that, the kind of hand where you just COULDN’T lose. So he bet everything he could on this hand in the hopes of somehow salvaging the evening, as the pot built up higher and higher. Double or nothing. Triple or nothing. . . .  Finally, Fred triumphantly flipped his cards over. Only to have Jimbo beat him with an even MORE unbelievable hand; 3 Aces and a pair of Queens, or something like that. We couldn’t believe it. It was so stunning we were rolling around the floor busting our guts in laughter. We couldn’t help laughing, even as we felt guilty about wiping Fred out (though not guilty enough to give him his money back). That was just the kind of luck Fred had.

So anyways, on this one particular Friday night, Fred was going to top Jimbo’s stunt with an even more impressive display of bike-riding virtuosity.  “Oh YEAH??  Watch THIS!!”  So he placed the plank back on the back of the pick-up truck, hopped on his bike, and sped around the parking lot at top speed. We’re all standing there, watching in anticipation. Fred’s stocky little legs are pumping and churning like pistons at top-speed like Fred Flintstone in his go-cart. But before Fred even makes it half-way around the parking lot, before he even gets NEAR the truck, he wipes out on the third turn. Just wipes out. His bike skids in a cloud of dust and Fred goes flying over the handlebars with a loud “WOOOOO!!” scream, and his bike, and Fred, go rolling and cart-wheeling and bouncing across the parking lot in a big huge cloud of dust. We’re all stunned at first, because it was such a spectacular wipe-out. Fred picks himself up from the ground, slowly, groaning and moaning and rubbing his left arm. “OH, MA-AN!” And we all just burst out laughing. Because it was so funny. I mean, here he was going to show off with this incredible, impressive feat of bike-riding, and he wipes out just riding his bike in a simple circle, before he even GETS to the stunt.

But we’re also concerned because he’s in pain. “Are you alright, Fred?”

“MAN OH MAN! That HURT like a motherfucker!” And he’s dusting himself off and groaning and his pants are torn and his bike is kind of bent out of shape. So we can’t help laughing.

Fred stiffly throws his bike into the back of the truck and we all pile into the cab up front. As we rode up to the Haight, Fred would grimace in pain every minute or so. “O-o-oh!”

“Are you alright, Fred?”

“Man, I think I broke my arm!” And he would groan, and we’d all burst out laughing. We couldn’t help it, it was so funny. We were biting our lips to keep from laughing. It was like when somebody farts in church and you have to bite your lip to keep from laughing. I mean, he was really hurting, so we felt bad about laughing at him. But then Fred would groan again and rub his arm: “Oh, ma-a-an!” And we’d all burst out laughing again. (In fact, his arm WAS broken. But the good news was that Fred would later tell the boss that he had hurt his arm on the job earlier that day, so he filed for Workman’s Comp and collected a full salary for doing nothing for the next 4 weeks while his arm was in a sling.  So the story has a happy ending.) But for that whole ride back to Jimbo’s, we kept trying to keep from laughing as we’re all squeezed into the front seat of that truck. But then Fred would groan again: “O-o-o-HH!” And we’d all burst into laughter again. And it was like that the whole ride back, and the whole night at Jimbo’s. Suddenly someone would remember the whole image of Fred flying in the air over his bike and bouncing across the parking lot in a big cloud of dust. “Man, when Fred made that second turn — ” And we’d all burst into laughter again and again. Just gut-wrenching, bust-a-gut, fits of hysterical laughter. And it was one of the funniest things that I’ve ever experienced.

But when I TELL people about it, when I tell people the STORY about what happened to Fred in that parking lot back in 1983, it’s never funny.

See? I told you so.

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