One more full moon Friday night in Berkeley

Just had an odd scene on the Berkeley campus. It’s 11:30 at night and I’m drinking by myself in the basement of Dwinelle Hall and I figure it’s time to get my ass out of there because the security guards will be coming in soon to lock up the building.

So I make my exit and start walking up the path by the Music Department building, headed towards Sather Gate. When two motorized carts — those electric golf cart type of things that the grounds-crew rides around the campus on — comes puttering up the trail. One of the carts is making a hellacious racket — it’s got something stuck on one of the wheels, a piece of metal. And it’s spewing a harsh smell liked burned rubber. As they pass me I notice there are two young black men riding in each of the carts. I don’t think anything more of it — just figure they’re campus employees. Until one of the carts suddenly stops. And one of the black guys gets out of the cart and starts running directly towards me.

I glare at him menacingly as he starts to approach me. A reflex-action honed from decades of living on the streets and suddenly having some stranger confronting me in the darkness of night. He takes one look at me. Apparently decides to change his plan of action (whatever that was) turns on his heels and jumps back in the cart. And they continue puttering up the trail.

But as soon as they get up to Sproul Plaza they notice a UC cop car parked directly in front of them.

All four of them immediately jump out of their carts, abandon their carts right there, and go running back down the trail as fast as they can.

I have no idea what it all means. Just one more full moon Friday night in Berkeley.

The Exciting Adventures of FramptonMan

Image result for "Peter Frampton" 1976

Whenever a Peter Frampton song happens to pop up on the radio or the internet, it’s like I have an acid flashback to 1976. I was 19 and driving cross-country from New Jersey to California to be a hippie (that was the plan). I had this bomb of a ’69 Chevy that spewed a thick black cloud of exhaust for 3,000 miles. And an AM-FM radio that played all the hits of the day. And Peter Frampton was one of the guys who’s songs regularly popped up on my radio (the other songs I remember was “Dream On” by Aerosmith, “Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright, and the hated “Take It to the Limits” by the Eagles).

When I got to San Francisco, Peter Frampton was on the cover of ROLLING STONE that month. He was like the mega-star of the moment. And his live album was selling zillions of copies and setting records. So it was like Peter Frampton was “it” in 1976 (though not for long).

Anyways one of my big dreams at the time was to become an underground cartoonist. So I rented out this little room in this flophouse, the Empress Hotel (I think the rent was $15 a week) deep in the heart of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. And there was a little desk and a chair and I had my art tablet and my pens and pencils. And I worked on various comic strips that I hoped would bring me fame and fortune.

And one of the comics I was working on was this parody character FramptonMan — Peter Frampton as this do-gooder, crime-fightin’ superhero (I was hoping to cash in on the latest trends — pretty smart, huh?). And FramptonMan’s arch-enemy was the Stones Gang. Mick and Keith and the rest of the Rolling Stones as this underworld crime gang. In the first episode of my FramptonMan comic, Donny and Marie Osmond are doing their TV show and the Stones Gang bursts onto the stage with their electric guitars and executes Donny and Marie with heavy metal power chords on live TV. And that’s as far as I got with my FramptonMan cartoon. Thank God.

Image result for San francisco tenderloin "eddy street"

So anyways one night I’m heading back to my room on the 3rd floor of the Empress Hotel. And as I’m walking down the hallway I passed these black guys who had been loitering around in the hallway. . And suddenly they all turned and run after. So I put it in high gear and went sprinting down the hallway towards my hotel room as fast as I could. I rushed into my room, and slammed the door shut. Only one of the guys managed to stick his foot in the doorway and wedge it in there before I could get the damn door shut. So now I’m pushing on the door to try and shut it. And they’re pushing on the door to try and open it. Like this crazy tug-of-war.

Finally they managed to over-power me and flood into my room. So now I’m suddenly dealing with that.

One of the guys stationed himself by the window as a look-out. One of the guys stationed himself by the door. And one of the guys grabbed my knife that was lying on my desk and puts it up to my throat (it was obvious they had done this sort of thing many times before because they were well rehearsed). The knife, by the way, was razor-sharp. I used it to sharp my pencils. And now it was pressed up against my adam’s apple.

The guy with the knife had a crazed, wide-eyed expression on his face and he’s sweating like crazy and he keeps ranting about how “MY GIRLFRIEND HAD JUST BEEN KILLED BY A MOTHERFUCKING WHITE GUY!!” I think that was his justification for killing me. So I was realizing that I could be killed at any moment.

The weird thing was — I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation like that but — I wasn’t feeling any fear. It wasn’t that I was so brave. But that the scene was so bizarre and sudden and unexpected that my brain couldn’t even process what was happening. Like being in a state of shock. Meanwhile the other guys are rifling through my meager possessions for anything they could steal. While the other guy is contemplating whether or not he should slice my fool head off (and I could tell that part of him very much wanted to do that).

I remember at one point I actually had an out-of-body experience. It was like I rose to the ceiling of my room and I was looking down, dispassionately, at the whole crazy scene from that perspective. And then, for lack of anything better to do, I said to the guy with the knife: “Listen, can I show you something?”

“WHAT??” he said.

I pointed to my desk. “That.” I said. I cautiously walked over to my desk and picked up the piece of paper with the cartoon I was working on at the time. The FramptonMan cartoon. And I picked it up and held it in front of me sort of like a shield and said: “I just want to draw cartoons.” I guess it was my way of trying to appeal to our common humanity. He looked at the Frampton Man cartoon with anger and perplexion. And so we were all frozen in time and space for several moments like that. Until one of the other guys said:

“We got the stuff. Let’s go.”

The guy with the knife paused for a beat, like he was still debating the merits of to kill or not to kill. And then they all went rushing out the door and down the hall. And I breathed the biggest sigh of relief I had ever breathed, like, WHOOSH!!!

The weird thing is, of the stuff of mine they stole — a couple of bucks, my knife, a cheap radio — the only real thing of value I had was this really nice $100 down sleeping bag. And they didn’t bother to steal that.

And the other take-away was, from then on I NEVER used a knife to sharpen my pencils. I always used a little pencil-sharpener after that. And whenever I happen to hear a Frampton song on the radio or the internet I’ll remember that whole scene in the back of my mind.

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2002_11_12 Interview with Loompanics Author Ace Backwords

Who are you?
Basically, I’m a 46-year-old homeless street bum.

How did you end up homeless?
Well, it’s a long story, it would take about 195 pages to answer that. Basically, I was a free-lance cartoonist for 10 years, and then one day I sat down at the drawing board and nothing was funny. The next thing I knew I was sleeping under a tree in a sleeping bag. That’s the short version. The long version is, for most of my adult life, nothing worked. No matter what I tried, nothing made me happy. So finally, at age 38, I just gave up trying , and hit the skids. And, ironically, that’s when my life finally started working. Not that I recommend the homeless street life as a form of therapy. But that’s one of the weird, ironic twists to my story. Better living through “downward mobility.”

Why did you write your book, Surviving on the Streets: How To Go Down Without Going Out?
It’s sort of a how-to book for surviving the streets, and it chronicles the many misadventures I’ve had in my career as a homeless bum. I sort of envisioned the book as all the things I wish I had known when I first hit the streets at age 17. I guess I hoped to spare some other homeless kid from learning the harsh lessons of the streets like I did; the hard way. I also wrote it to educate mainstream people about the realities of the streets. All of society is grappling with the homeless issue, so a better understanding of what’s really going on out there couldn’t hurt. Most of what I’ve read about “the streets” has been bullzhit. So I wanted to set the record straight. But most of all, I just wanted to give the people a good read. And I think I’ve done it. There’s some hella interesting stories in the book. Because what street people experience is just bizarre beyond belief.

What kind of response have you gotten to the book?
Pretty much everyone who’s read it has raved about it. And all the press reviews have been raves. Which surprised me. I thought I was going to be savaged for some of the stuff. Which disappointed me in a way, because, frankly, its boring: Nasty reviews make for much more interesting reading.

Certainly, your chapter on black crime sparked some controversy?
One reporter who interviewed me for a local newspaper said that his editor told him specifically to ask me about the “racial bullzhit” in my book. They sort of acted shocked that this was really happening. Like it’s news or something. It’s certainly no mystery to anyone on the streets that blacks are committing violent crimes at a hugely disproportionate rate. But some of these mainstream people, I think they may live “sheltered” lives in more ways than one. That said, I don’t think any race has much in the way of bragging rights when it comes to being non-violent — think World War II, Vietnam, etc. My comments were only meant in the context of street crime.

Another controversial aspect of your book was your on mass immigration, which you maintain is the primary cause of our present homeless crisis.
We’re adding 3 million people to the U.S. population every year, almost entirely because of recent immigrants and their offspring. Do you happen to know where the 3 million new homes we needed last year are? Or the 3 million new homes we need this year? Or next year? Or etc? Well, if you don’t happen to know where these endless millions of new homes are, then maybe you should listen to what I’m saying. And yet all the geniuses are scratching their heads wondering where all the housing “disappeared” to, and why we have millions of homeless flopped out on the sidewalks, their numbers growing every year. I mean no disrespect to any immigrant — my father’s father was an Italian immigrant. But if we want to do anything about the homeless crisis, this issue has to be addressed and discussed.

2002_10_10 The Third Ace Backwords Report

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Hello again, and welcome to the third Ace Backwords Report. So far, according to our email survey, we’ve already had up to one hits on this site already! So join in on the fun.

Nothing much of interest happened to me today, aside from one odd incidence at the Bancroft bus stop. This respectable-looking little, old lady is standing there yelling: “HELP ME! HELP ME! PLEASE HELP ME!” I looked around to see if I could get away with walking away un-noticed. Because face it, on these city streets, you’re CONSTANTLY being hit on by people who need your help. Or want your help. Many of whom are fukking bums who want you to wipe their asses for them because they don’t want to do it themselves. So one’s Good Samaritan impulse tends to get worn down very quickly by the attrition of city living. And this is doubly true when you’re also part of “the street scene”, for you’re veritably surrounded by the helpless and the hapless and the tragic. As well as endless predators and sharks. You come to instantly recognize that predator sheen in their eyes just from one quick glance, before they even open their mouths and appeal to you for your money, your resources, your assistance and/or your soul.
But geez, it was a little old lady and she was hunched over her cane and she had two deformed legs. So I said:
“What can I do for you, ma’am?” in my best Jimmy Stewart accent.
“I need help walking to that bus stop a half a block down the street. Let me lean against your arm.”
“Okay,” I said, holding out my arm.
“No, not like THAT!” she whined. “Like THIS!”
“Oh, okay.”
She grabbed hold of my arm and we started inching down the street.”
“NOT SO SLOW!” she whined. “WE’LL NEVER GET THERE AT THIS RATE!”
“Okay.”
Then she started yelling at me: “NOT SO FAST! NOT SO FAST! I CAN’T MOVE THAT FAST!” like I was the biggest idiot of all time. Her whole demeanor was that of a sneering queen who just can’t find good servants nowadays. This nice, sweet-looking little ole lady. I had to check my impulse to pull away from her and watch her topple over like a bowling pin into the gutter. But that would be wrong. I think.
She continued with her complaints and harangues and whining as we inched down the street . Now, I’m pretty close to being a bitter old crank myself, and I’m only 46. So I’m sorta sympathetic to this poor old biddy with bad legs, in pain, stuck in this world o’zhit she never made, surrounded by idiots — me — who don’t even know how to walk her down the block correctly, and etc. etc. But her act was seriously wearing thin from my perspective. Finally we make the bus stop.
“How far is it to Dana?” she whined.
“I think that’s about a block and a half away,” I said, not wanting to encourage the idea that I would walk her any further.
“NO IT ISN’T, YOU IDIOT! ITS RIGHT DOWN THERE THE NEXT BLOCK!”
“Oh yeah, you’re right,” I said. “Well, I gotta get going. Good luck.”
“No! Stay with me until the bus comes!”
“No, I gotta go. So long.” I was sort of amused by this creature as a character study, but not amused enough to take further abuse. So I left her there, no “thank you” from her part, of course. Just one more bitter old fukk. And I guess you just expect more in the way of manners and maturity from older people. But that’s really not the case, is it? Some people manage to live 60, 70 years and learn nothing. In fact, that get more twisted out of shape as they get older. In fact, I’ve seen more than my share of “childish” behavior from so-called adults than I’ve ever seen from children, so I’m not even sure that’s the right word to describe it.

I’m not sure what it all means; what the message was. I suppose I could project some moral onto it. but one thing seems to be for sure: This world of ours seems to be filled with angry, bitter, hate-filled people. More of them every day. And I’m often one of them. Help!!