I remember my last day at my vending table on the Cody’s Books corner. It was right before Thanksgiving, 2009. …
My friend Duncan had died 5 months earlier. And it just wasn’t the same without my old vending partner. Plus, the ruthless Telegraph mogul Ken Sarachan had recently bought the Cody’s building. So all the signs said that the party was over. And it was time to pack up my pop stand.
A big rainstorm was forecast to come in that afternoon. And you could feel it coming in the air. So I quickly packed up all my vending stuff before I got soaked. As I went to grab my cardboard “25 Cent Books” sign a huge gust of wind suddenly hit and sent the sign flying in the air down Haste Street. I considered running after it and trying to save it as a memento. But it seemed symbolic. Let it go. Cast your fate to the wind. One part of my life was ending. And a new part of my life would soon be beginning. Whatever that would be.
I managed to get all my vending stuff packed into my shopping cart just as the rains hit. This sudden outburst of pouring rain. I forget if there really were explosions of thunder and lightening. Probably not. But that’s how it seems in my memory. This sudden explosion of rain pounding down on the pavement.
I put a plastic tarp over my shopping cart, and stashed it in the corner under an awning, then ran to this doorway on Telegraph to get out of the rain. The doorway of the Kingpin Donuts shop, boarded up and vacant at the time. And I stood there by myself as the rain came crashing down. People were running up and down Telegraph frantically trying to get out of the rain.
And I suddenly started laughing. This loon laughter. Not quite hysterical, but almost. That kind of laughter where you’re so overwhelmed by emotion it just bursts out of you. And it’s not much different than crying. Laughing and crying are the same thing at that point.
And I thought back to all the memories of all the years at that vending table. 19 years ago when we had first started. With such great hopes. And now 19 years later it had come to an end. And I was overwhelmed by this flood of memories. It was like the tape of my life was on fast speed. And all the scenes rushed by me. One after another. All the dramas at that corner over all those years. The triumphs and the tragedies. The lives and the deaths. And it was almost too much for my brain to take it. Just overwhelmed by all the things I had experienced, it was mind-boggling.
And I stood there in that doorway. As the rain came crashing down. Laughing and crying and blubbering to myself.
And that’s how that ended.
I always get a wistful feeling when I walk by this corner. I’m so haunted by my past in a way. And a thousand random memories might pop into my brain. Some happy. Some funny. Some bizarre. Some heart-breaking.
Just now as I passed I was thinking about the Summer of 1982. Remembering dropping off a big stack of TWISTED IMAGE #1 — hot off the presses! — and leaving it with the other free newspapers by the front door of Cody’s Books. It was my first real success in the world, age 26. After mostly fucking up, up to that point. So it was a triumphant moment. And it was the first (and certainly not the last) time I would leave my mark on Telegraph Avenue. It was kind of like a dog marking his territory by urinating on the corner. I guess that’s what I was doing, dropping off a big stack of my newspapers on that corner (“I’M HERE, WORLD!”).
Or — like Billy Pilgrim traveling in time — my mind might suddenly fast-forward to December of 1990. And the CBS News film crew is there to interview me and Duncan about the latest issue of the TELEGRAPH STREET CALENDAR. And I’ll think back to all the characters that were on the scene back then. And wonder where they all went. And why the hell I’m still here. . .
And it’ll keep going back and forth like that in my mind. Until I finally get to the next block. And I can stop thinking about all that crap.
This is the side window of Amoeba Records on the corner of Telegraph & Haste. For 15 years they had a laminated copy of a San Francisco Chronicle article in the window. The article was about this CD I recorded in 1994. The headline was “Surprise Local Hit CD,” or something like that. With a color photo of me, Duncan and the Hate Man standing in front of Amoeba Records with copies of the CD. They sold a ton of copies of the CD at Amoeba Records. Which I guess is why they had the article posted in the window.
For years I walked by that corner. Thousands of times. My main hang-out spot, my vending table, was right across the street. And every time I passed by the window I would look at the article out of the corner of my eye. It was like a talisman. Like a sign that I belonged here. This was MY scene. But with this other weird twist. Over the 15 year period, I kept aging, kept looking older. But the photo of me kept looking the same. So, over the years, it was like actually watching myself aging before my eyes. As my past self, the 1994 Ace Backwords, kept drifting farther and farther into the past.
Then one day, I walked by Amoeba Records and looked up at the window and the article was gone. They had taken it down. And I thought: “Fuck. I’m gone.” And I felt sad. And strangely diminished.
I guess fame is fleeting. Especially local hit type fame.