Looking back fondly on the year that was, 2017, from the Ace Backwords perspective

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JANUARY: Donald J. Trump is sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States of America.
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JANUARY: Massive rainstorms across the state of California — one of the wettest Januarys on record — result in the end (at least for the time being) of the Drought.
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JANUARY: As predicted by virtually all the polls, political pundits, and media experts, Hillary Clinton wins the presidency by a landslide in an alternate universe.
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FEBRUARY: Milo Somethingorother — a boring political gadfly who apparently makes a living saying stupid things to upset people — attempts to give a speech on the Berkeley campus and is shut down by massive protests, violence, fires, and destructive of property.
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FEBRUARY: The Mario Savio Free Speech Plaza is officially re-named the No Free Speech For Fascists or People Saying Stuff I Disagree With Plaza.
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MARCH: Rightwing Conservatives attempt to hold a rally in downtown Berkeley, and are met with massive resistance and street-fighting violence, and the likes of “Moldy Locks,” the “Stickman,” and Antifa get their 5 minutes of fame.
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MARCH: Taco Bell opens up a franchise in Berkeley. Millions rejoice.
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APRIL: Legendary Berkeley street person, the Hate Man, transcends.
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APRIL: Ace Backwords takes yet another, in a seemingly endless series of, selfies.
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APRIL: The feral cats continue to mostly lay around and goof off.
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APRIL: I finally decide to cut off the goofy wings on the sneakers I had been wearing for months.
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APRIL: Life goes on.
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APRIL: People’s Park makes it to 48 years old.
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APRIL: President Trump continues to govern the land with a firm, even hand.
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MAY: The liberal media continues it’s fair and balanced coverage of the Trump presidency.
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MAY: One final casualty of the long and wet Rainy Season of 2016-2017 (ended up with a total of 37 inches in Berkeley): A water-logged tree on the Berkeley campus collapses and dies.
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MAY: Ace Backwords continues to slack off and fade away.
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JUNE: Fatty the feral cat, is banished from the tribe after losing a territorial pissing war with Mini Scaredy, the alpha female of the tribe.
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JUNE: Two of the guys who had been running the ill-fated Ghost Ship wharehouse, are arrested and charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the 36 people killed in the fire during a rave.
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AUGUST: People’s Park, for all its faults and shortcomings, still remains as a fairly cool place.
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AUGUST: Feral cats, mostly still just goofing off.
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AUGUST The city of Berkeley honors the great man, that asshole Hate Man.
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AUGUST: Julia Vinograd is spotted on Telegraph Avenue.
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SEPTEMBER: Mini Owl, the beloved one-and-a-half year old feral cat, disappears never to be seen again. *sigh*
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SEPTEMBER: An unexpected visitor shows up at my campsite.
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SEPTEMBER Record heat wave in the Bay Area with temperatures reaching 108 in San Francisco. Meanwhile, the Berkeley street people handle the situation with their usual aplomb.
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SEPTEMBER: Ace Backwords is honored with a plaque, a statue, and a set of commemorative dinner plates.
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SEPTEMBER: Milo Whatshisname heroically returns to Berkeley, and, thanks to about a $million dollars worth of police protection, is finally able to give a 20 minute speech on Sproul Plaza, where he mouthed some dull slogans and canned one-liners to a rapt audience of about 30 people.
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SEPTEMBER: Berkeley reaffirms its commitment to free speech, though it wasn’t actually free since it ended up costing the City about a $million.
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SEPTEMBER: Further proof of the existence of God.
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SEPTEMBER: Against all odds, Fatty the feral cat manages to sneak back to my campsite and resume her rightful position as a member of the tribe.
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OCTOBER: Feral cats? Still slacking off.
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OCTOBER: The Baby Boomer Generation continues it’s long and impressive march on the way to oblivion.
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OCTOBER: Major media mogul Harvey Weintein creates yet another multi-media sensation and inspires a new movement in America..
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OCTOBER: Massive wildfires in Northern California cause incredible tragedies. *sigh*
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OCTOBER: Super hero movies continue to rake in big bucks at the box-office, proving that the genre is no flash in the pan.
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OCTOBER: The cats finally decide it’s time to quit slacking off, to get organized, and take bold, direct action.
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OCTOBER: Donald Trump’s popularity soars during the Halloween holiday.
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OCTOBER: Moo Cat — the elder statesman of the feral cat tribe — turns 9 years old, but remains as ornery as ever.
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NOVEMBER: Senator Al Franken makes one joke too many.
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DECEMBER: Christmas 2017 comes and goes, and it looks like another year is pretty much shot to hell. HAPPY NEW YEARS everybody!!

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The hallowed halls of academia

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There are many geniuses that walk among us in the Halls of Academia. And then there’s the other kind. . . About 10 years ago somebody decided they should have a clock in the lobby of the Student Union Building. So they brought in these workmen. And they installed the clock. Built it right into the wall of the lobby. Looked great.

But then, 6 months later, when it was Daylight Savings Time, and they had to turn the clocks back an hour, they realized — to their chagrin — that there was no mechanism to change the time.

So they brought the workmen back. And they tore the wall apart so they could get to the inner workings of the clock so that they could correct the time. So that was great.

Except 6 months later, when the clocks changed again, they had to bring the workmen back again to repeat the whole routine of tearing the wall apart.

After a couple of years of this they finally concluded: “Fuck this. This is too much trouble.” So they just left the clock the way it was.

But the good news was: For many years the clock in the lobby of the Student Union Building had the correct time for at least half the year.

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The end of the Serial Flusher

 

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They finally ran the Serial Flusher off the campus. And I was surprised to find that I missed him. Even though I had had only two interactions with the guy over the years. And they were both bad.

The Serial Flusher had been hanging out on the Sproul Plaza area for at least 20 years. Mostly sitting by himself staring off into space with a contorted expression on his face. In all these years I never once saw him talking to another human being. He was an odd duck.

My first encounter with the Serial Flusher, I just about wanted to kill him. I was sitting in a restroom stall in the basement of a virtually empty building early one morning. Quietly taking care of my business while I recovered from the night before. When suddenly there was this EXPLOSION of toilet-flushing sounds. And it went on, non-stop, for several minutes. And I could hear the nut, the Serial Flusher, giggling like a schoolgirl as he romped from toilet to toilet, urinal to urinal, flushing each one over and over and over. Later I got in his face and told he better not EVER pull that shit ever again when I was in the restroom.

 

Years later he pulled that shit on me again. And I REALLY let him have it that time. He got the message that time. And, as far as I know, he never did his toilet-flushing routine again.

I guess I miss the Serial Flusher, as crazy as he was, because he was one of the last links to the 1990s when the street people ruled Sproul Plaza. And there would be hundreds of us hanging out every day, all day long. And all night too. And after midnight we pretty much had the entire run of the campus all to ourselves. It was like our personal playground to romp around in.

But over the years, one by one, most of the Sproul Plaza street people died or moved on. To the point where there were only a hand full of quiet, loner types like me and the Serial Flusher who were still around. And now one more is gone.

Oh well. *sigh*

Maybe tonight I’ll flush a few toilets in his honor.

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New experiences

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Of my many character flaws, one of them is that I don’t like to have new experiences. I basically like to do the same thing, day after day. Year after year.

I’m not sure exactly why I have this animus towards new experiences. Part of it is that I’m a nervous person, and a control freak. And I hate being in unfamiliar situations where something unexpected, and potentially unpleasant, might happen.

Also too, I have so much madness and turmoil churning around in my head. My inner world is so unstable. That I at least like to be grounded in a dull and predictable outer world.

One of my least favorite experiences in this life is when I have to knock on somebody’s door, and meet somebody new, and put myself in a new situation. I DREAD that like you wouldn’t believe. I guess I would have made a piss-poor door-to-door salesman.

And whenever I go to a bar or a restaurant, I always want the seat in the back, with my back to the wall. So that nobody can sneak up behind me.

People often say to me: “Ace, what’s happening?” And I’ll say: “Nothing. And that’s a good thing.” Because when something is happening, it’s usually bad. Ha ha. (“No news is good news!”)

I often think to myself: “It’s a fine line between a rut and a groove.” And my life usually feels like both at the same time.

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One more rainy night on Sproul Plaza

It’s fucking unbelievable! The weather tonight is like a middle-of-the-winter type rainstorm. On fucking April 6th. Sirens and firetrucks are blasting in my ears on the Ave. The wind actually breaks my umbrella in half. I start screaming “FUCK!! FUCK!!” at the top of my lungs as I’m walking down the street in the pouring rain. So I’m handling adversity with my usual maturity.

For a second I thought I was gonna completely crack up. But then I remembered I had cracked up a long time ago. So that was a relief.

I grab my back-up umbrella from my stash spot and head to my favorite late-night hang-out spot — this secluded awning over-looking lower Sproul Plaza.  But some other bum has already grabbed that spot. Fuck!

So I trudge in the pouring rain to my second favorite late-night hang-out spot — this little nook in the basement of Dwinelle Hall.  But wouldn’t you just know it??  There’s someone else hanging out there, too.  Fuck!

So I go to my third favorite late-night hang-out spot — the lobby of Dwinelle Hall. It’s almost 10 o’clock, but there’s still a fair amount of people hanging out.  But I find a spot in the back where I can probably get away with discreetly drinking my beer while I charge my cellphone.  So I take off all my wet jackets, plug in my cellphone, pull out my 6-pack of Racer 5, and reach into my backpack for my bottle-opener. But wouldn’t you just know it?  My bottle-opener is gone. Fuck!  I search through every pocket of my backpack.  Pull out everything in my backpack.  To no avail.  My bottle-opener is gone.  I briefly try to open the bottle of beer with a pair of scissors. But there’s too many people milling around to be able to pull it off discreetly.

So I pack up ALL my shit, put ALL my jackets back on, and trudge off in search of a bottle-opener. It’s been just an unbelievably weird sequence of events over the last half hour.  Where everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong — one thing after another after another after another.  Like the Universe is fucking with me for sport, or something.

As I’m heading for the door I noticed a discarded umbrella lying on the floor by the trash can.  I already got an umbrella, but I figure I might as well grab a back-up in case the wind destroys this umbrella, too.  But as I’m walking out the door, this college student sidles up to me, and he’s following me step-for-step as I’m walking, and glaring at me with anger. So I stop and face him to see what his fucking problem is.

“Did you just steal my umbrella!!” he said.

“You mean this?” I said holding up the umbrella.

“Yes!  That’s my umbrella!”

“Oh man, I just thought it was discarded and was gonna get thrown out.” I hand him his umbrella.  “I apologize.”

“OK. It’s cool,” he says, still glaring at me. And storms off into the storm.

So it’s unbelievable. How everything keeps going from bad to worse. And everything I touch turns to shit.  I mean, 90% of the time that would have been a perfectly good move, grabbing that umbrella — I ground-score all sorts of great stuff lying around that’s been abandoned. But when the stars are aligned against me — like they obviously are now — it was stupid of me to make any unnecessary moves. Because whatever I do is likely to back-fire on me. So I feel like an incredible fool.

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Now some Hindus believe that when a person dies, his spirit lingers heavily in the area where he lived for several weeks. Before it finally disperses and merges back into the Cosmos.  And for those several weeks, the spirit can have all sorts of effects on the area.  In extreme cases, it can rein lightning bolts down on it’s enemies. Or it can bestow gifts to it’s friends. Or it can just send out weird little signals as a way of saying good-bye.

So, as I’m walking in the rain, it occurred to me.  The whole bizarre sequence of events that I just experienced was probably being directly by Hate Man and his recently disembodied spirit (he had just died a couple days ago). I mean, the whole thing was exactly out of Hate Man’s playbook.  Battling with a rainstorm on Sproul Plaza.  Cursing in rage.  And getting into an angry confrontation that managed to somehow resolve itself peacefully.

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So I head to my fourth favorite late-night hang-out spot. This secluded table under an awning in the back of the patio of the Golden Bear restaurant on Sproul Plaza.

And — miracle of miracles!! — the spot is deserted and I can actually hang out there.

And there’s a metal grating on the side of the wall. I put the top of my beer bottle into the grating and pull the bottle cap off with ease. The beer foams up out of the bottle, like champagne when you pop the cork in celebration.  But I manage to pour most of the beer into my cup before it all spills out.  I take a big hit off the beer.  And it tasted damn good.  Things are finally starting to go my way.

I look in my backpack. Notice I have one last cigarette in my pack of Virginia Slims 100s that I bought yesterday in honor of Hate Man. I light it up, take a big hit. At that exact moment the Campanile Tower bell starts chiming as the clock hits 10 PM.  Just as it had done on the countless nights when Hate Man had set up his Hate Camp on Sproul Plaza back in the day.  Adding an other-worldly dimension to my smoke.  And I thought back to the countless nights I had spent on Sproul Plaza with Hate Man and the crew.    Thinking of all the memories. From all the years. . .

The rain kept pouring down for hours.  Pounding down relentless on the pavement. The over-hanging tree branches nearby me kept swaying back and forth in the fierce gale winds.  It was a pretty powerful storm. So there was really nothing I could do except hole up at my table under the awning and pop open 5 more beers over the course of the evening.  Mostly thinking about nothing.

Then — it must have been after midnight but I was starting to get a little sketchy on the details at this point, if you know what I mean — after having finished off all the beer. I took out a couple of slices of leftover pizza that I had also ground-scored earlier at Dwinelle Hall (and no, I didn’t “steal” it!).  And as I’m eating the pizza, completely out of the blue.  A skunk shows up.  And starts trotting towards me. Fuck. I have no idea what the skunk was doing back there.  He was probably holed up in the far back corner of the patio, huddling under an awning, waiting out the storm. Just like me. But the smell of my pizza had probably roused him.

So I tossed the skunk one of my slices of pizza.  Which he gobbled up readily. And then trotted past me. And disappeared out onto Sproul Plaza.

And then it occurred to me.  That skunk was probably also a manifestation of Hate Man’s spirit.  I mean, the similarities were striking.  The skunk was black-and-white. Just like Hate Man’s black-and white shoes and uniforms.  The skunk was kind of an “outcast,” mostly living on the fringes of human society.  Just like Hate Man.  The skunk had been huddling under an awning on Sproul during a rainstorm. Just as Hate Man had done countless times over the years. And I had shared a slice of leftover pizza with the skunk. Just as I had shared countless slices of leftover pizza with Hate Man, night after night after picking up the leftover pizza from Greg’s Pizza every night.

Even weirder. Just as the skunk disappeared onto Sproul Plaza. The rain suddenly completely stopped.

Which made me even more convinced that that skunk had been a manifestation of Hate Man’s spirit and magic.

Or maybe it was just a fucking skunk.  Who really knows.  But one thing’s for sure. This life is a hell of lot more mysterious than some people think it is.

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Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away . . .

(originally published June 5, 2015)

 

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Me, Hate Man and Cheapseats enjoying the Good Old Days.

Yesterday, me and Charlie Cheapseats were hanging out with Hate Man in People’s Park, talking about the old days.

“When I first visited Berkeley in the summer of 1974 there was always a huge street scene happening on the Berkeley campus,”  I said.  “Back then it was hard to tell the street people from the students.  ‘Hippie’ was definitely the style.”

“Yeah,” said Cheapseats.  “Nowadays the campus is almost completely dead.”

“Yeah.  There are just a few loner-type street people that mostly keep to themselves.”

“There used to be tons of street musicians, too,” said Cheapseats.  “Remember that guy Rick Starr who used to croon those Frank Sinatra songs while singing into that fake plastic microphone?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “And Larry the Drummer. He used to drive everyone nuts bashing away on those buckets all day long.”

“All those characters are gone.  Whatever happened to Paul of the Pillar?”

“Even the Christian preachers don’t show up any more.  They used to be surrounded by huge mobs of people heckling them.  It was great entertainment.  Like a Roman amphitheater where they threw the Christians to the lions.”

“Even that nut the Happy Guy is gone.  The guy that used to stand on a bucket saying ‘Happy, happy, happy’ all day long.”

“And if you started heckling him, he would point his finger at you and shout, ‘CIA!! CIA!!  CIA!!’”

“Remember the lower Sproul drum circle every weekend in the 1990s?”

Suddenly, Hate Man had had enough of our reminiscing.

“I hate your guts with all this talk about the old days!!” said Hate Man.  “I wanna’ kill you.  I hate people who constantly dwell on the past.  I prefer to live in the present moment and appreciate what’s going on now.  Instead of all this lame nostalgia for the good old days.”

I realized recently that, nowadays, I live in a permanent state of mourning for my past.  I remember when I was a young man, this old guy once warned me about the danger of living in the past as you get older.  “You can get stuck in a rut if you don’t keep evolving with the times,” he said.  “You stop growing as a person.  You turn into a fossil.  You end up yearning for the return of the Good Old Days that will never come back.” . . .  I never thought I’d fall for that trap.  Because (in spite of my pen-name) for most of my life I was a very forward-looking person.  Whenever I finished an art project, my first thought always was:  “Yes.  But the next project is going to be the Best Thing Yet!!”  But then suddenly, a couple of years ago, it was like there no longer was a next project. . .  *sigh*

“I knowdja’ mean, Hate Man,” I said.  “It’s like that famous scene in the book ‘Be Here Now’ where Ram Das is constantly talking about his past adventures or his future plans.  And his guru says:  ‘The past and the future are an illusion.  Only the present is real.  Be here now.  Live in the present moment.  That’s where all the action is.’”

“Yeah,” said Hate Man.

“My problem is, I yearn for the past.  I fear and dread the future.   And my present moment usually sucks.  So I got all the wrong bases covered.”

Hate Man chuckled at that line.

Now I’m sitting here looking back fondly at that conversation I had with Hate Man and Charlie Cheapseats in People’s Park.  It seems like only yesterday . . .  Actually, it was only yesterday.

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Yet another weird and odd scene in a seemingly endless expanse of weird and odd scenes

So there I was last night. Hanging out by myself. Minding my own business. Trying to write a story on my cellphone. Way in the back there. In this fairly private and secluded spot. This cul de sac. When these three guys show up. Standing over me. And announce they want to hang out back there with me.

WHEN THERE ARE PLENTY OF OTHER GODDAMN SPACES IN THIS BIG UNIVERSE OF OURS WHERE THEY COULD ALSO HANG OUT!!!!

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I just had yet another weird and odd scene. In a seemingly endless expanse of weird and odd scenes.

It’s 8pm on a Sunday night. And I’m hanging out at this little nook and cranny on lower Sproul Plaza on the Berkeley campus where there’s an outdoor outlet where I can charge my cellphone and sip my beer and babble on with my latest Facebook post (Telegraph Ave 1982).

When these three high school-age kids, probably about 17-years-old or 18-years-old, and as big as me, are suddenly standing over me.

“Hey is that an outlet? I need to charge my cellphone,” says one of them.

“Yeah it is,” I said. “But don’t charge your cellphone here. I want to be by myself right now.”

“I want to charge my cellphone in that outlet,” he said. “There are two outlets. We can both charge our phones.”

“No. Not here. There are a dozen other outlets right down there,” I said, pointing to the dozen or so other outlets they could use.  ‘I’m trying to write something. I need to concentrate. I don’t want any company.”

“No I want to use that outlet,” he said. He takes out his battery charger.

“No you’re not,” I said

“Yes I am,” he said.

I stood up and gave him a good look at Ace Backwords. “Listen. There are all sorts of outlets right down there by the benches on lower Sproul. Go use those ones.”

“No I wanna use this one.”

“No. Go somewhere else. I’m trying to write. I don’t want people around.”

“We’ll be quiet.”

“No go away.”

“You want me to swing on you?” (so the possibility of physical violence has now been added to the equation).

“No I want you to go away.”

“Dude. Sit down.”

“DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” I said with an extra edge to my voice.

“Sit down.”

“DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO.”

“Dude, stop looking at me ”

“YOU STOP LOOKING AT ME.”

He averts his eyes for a moment and then says. “I stopped looking at you. But you’re still looking at me.”

“WELL YOU’RE STILL LOOKING AT ME.”

One of his toadies says. “Hey you don’t got to make a big drama out of this.” (the dynamic is that there are three of them and only one of me — these punks wouldn’t have been very brave if it was just one on one)

“Listen I’m gonna plug my cellphone in,” he said moving his charger toward the outlet.

“NO YOU’RE NOT.”

“Yes I am.”

“NO YOU’RE NOT.”

So we’re standing there facing off.

But then I realized my cellphone is already 97% charged. And I had finished writing my Facebook post about Telegraph 1982. And I’m almost out of beer. So I’m ready to leave anyways. But it was just a face thing. So I said:

“Oh for crissakes. You can charge your damn cellphone. I’m leaving.”

I pull my charger out of the outlet and start to pack up.

“No you can stay here,” he says. He puts his charger back in his pocket and the three of them start to leave. Which surprised me. I guess it was a face thing with them, too.

So I quickly pack up and head off. But as I pass the three of them — who are still loitering in the general area — I say:

“Hang tough, men ”

“You too, ” they said

I wanted to let them know that every conflict doesn’t have to end in a macho battle to the death. And I have a grudging respect for anyone who is willing to stand up to a monster like me (but they’re usually more stupid than brave).

And they headed back to the outlet to charge their cellphone.

And I headed off to a part of the Universe that didn’t include those three assholes.

So the story had a happy ending for all concerned.

Ha ha.

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