Bill Clinton comes to Berkeley

Bill Clinton gets to meet Dan McMullan.

Probably the last great moment for Cody’s Books was when Bill Clinton came to Berkeley to sign copies of his just-released autobiography. I forget the date. 2004? And I forget the title of the tome. Something very original like “My Life.” The thing was something like 900 pages. I couldn’t imagine anybody actually reading the thing.

But a HUGE crowd showed up for the event. We were all thrilled that a major celebrity and actual historical figure like Bill Clinton was visiting our humble little burg.

I was stationed at my usual spot on Telegraph and Haste. And I immediately spotted Bill Clinton when he made his entrance. He was a block away. But you couldn’t miss him. He had the white hair that shown like a spotlight. And this unmistakeable aura and glow. A lot of celebrities are actually “smaller than life” when you actually meet them. Not Bill Clinton. He had that unmistakable star power. That you can see from a block away. As soon as he stepped out of his limo he was surrounded by a mob of fans. He was like the center of a hurricane as he waded his way through the crowd.

My friend Danny — who is a savvy motherfucker — figured out in advance exactly which side entrance of Cody’s Books Clinton would likely enter on arrival. And stationed himself there. Which is how he got this great shot of him and Clinton right before he disappeared into Cody’s Books.

Event on 6/29/04 in San Francisco Former President Bill Clinton autographed his long-awaited book about his presidency today at Book Passage book store in the Ferry Building. The event drew a huge crowd of admirers. Chris Stewart / The Chronicle Photo: Chris Stewart

The line of people waiting to get their books signed stretched all the way down Haste Street. And down the next block. And up the next block. It was a HUGE crowd of people.

Somebody actually offered me 50 bucks if I would wait on line with their book and get it signed. And as much as I was intrigued at the once in a lifetime chance to look Bill Clinton in the eyes. I passed (I HATE waiting in lines).

So a huge crowd of us are milling around outside Cody’s Books as Clinton is inside signing books. We’re all waiting around hoping for a brush with greatness. But after about four hours they announce the event is over. Clinton has to move on to his next scheduled event at some other bookstore. So everybody outside is disappointed. There are still hundreds of people waiting outside hoping to get their books signed.

But then suddenly out of the blue Bill Clinton comes walking out of the front door of Cody’s Books. And we’re all in a state of shock. THERE HE IS! It’s actually Bill Clinton himself walking amongst us. Walking amongst the crowd. And he looks just like Bill Clinton. So it’s a surreal moment. But a totally joyous moment. Because we all realize we’re getting a once in a lifetime moment to breath in the same air as Bill Clinton.

Clinton is methodically working his way through the crowd. Quickly signing as many books as he can. And it’s one of those “above and beyond the call of duty” moments. He knows all these people have been waiting and hoping to get his autograph. So he’s trying to accommodate as many as possible before he’s whisked away in his limousine. But you can also tell Clinton is loving it too. He’s lapping it up. That he can’t get enough of being in the midst of this adoring crowd of people. The whole thing is like this big love-fest .

And Andy Ross — the much maligned owner of Cody’s Books — was right by his side. In his best suit and tie. Escorting The President Of The United States through the crowd. Andy Ross was one of Berkeley’s favorite villains at this point. But you can tell this is his one last shining moment (Cody’s Books would go bankrupt two years later).

It was hard to get a good look at Clinton as he was milling through the crowd. But I happened to have one of my folding chairs from my vending table. So I climbed up on it so I could get a good look at Clinton. This black guy that was standing next to me asked if he could climb up on the chair to get a good look, too. And I said “Sure” and I held the chair steady so it didn’t get knocked over by the crowd as he gazed at Bill Clinton in the flesh.  And he had a big smile on his face. And it struck me that there were a lot of black people at the event and Clinton was one of the few white people that black people actually liked.

And then I looked up and noticed all the Secret Service agents that were on the roof of the apartment building across the street from Cody’s. Keeping an eagle’s eye on the crowd. As Clinton made his way through the throng. And they no doubt had their fingers on the triggers of their guns in case anybody did anything weird. And I reminded myself not to make any sudden movements.

And then Clinton got in his limo and was gone.

And we all felt joyous and thrilled and buzzed. It was a bit of an extra kick than the usual afternoon on Telegraph Avenue. Seeing Bill Clinton hanging out on the corner of Telegraph & Haste.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, suit and outdoor

Hate Man and his stuff: Part 2. Hate Man tells the University to stuff it



When Hate Man moved to People’s Park and set up Hate Camp there, his battles with the police and the University over his “stuff” really intensified, and became virtually a daily form of warfare that was waged for over a decade. It wasn’t uncommon for Hate to have a dozen “stuff”-related tickets at any given moment. Virtually all of which Hate defeated in court.

The problem the police had with nailing Hate over this issue was that there was very little legal precedent to go by, as well as the difficulting of exactly defining what “too much stuff” entailed. A fact that Hate was able to exploit in court.

The cops would arbitrarily attempt to come up with different definitions — one was “you could only have as much stuff as you could carry.” But Hate would argue that this discriminated against older, smaller, weaker people who couldn’t carry as much as younger, bigger, stronger people.

Or the cops would try to give street people tickets for having chairs, which they considered a form of “lodging.” To which Hate countered that this discriminated against the homeless, because normal people were allowed to bring lawn chairs to the parks when they had their picnics.

Hate had an excellent legal mind. And he enjoyed using it. He enjoyed the gamesmanship of the battle. And never took it personally against the police or the University. He saw it as part of his life-long mission to learn how to deal effectively with nemeses and people who were in opposition to him. And most of the cops didn’t take it personally either. Aside from one or two who REALLY hated Hate Man’s guts and went out of their way to make Hate’s life miserable.

And to be fair to the cops, it was necessary for them to periodically crunch the homeless street people over having too much stuff. Because many of them compiled huge masses of crap and made huge messes. And if the cops didn’t periodically prune the herd, they’d turn our public parks and public spaces into private squats and homeless shanty towns.

Hate Man, though, was in somewhat of a unique position. He served as sort of a communal store and trading post for the street community. And among his stuff he’d have things like a “medicine chest” where street people could get things like aspirins and cough medicine and band aids. And if you needed to borrow a screw driver or an extra blanket or the proverbial cup of sugar, Hate would usually have it among his mounds of stuff. And Hate also let other street people store their stuff alongside his stuff — he’d keep an eye on it while they had to take care of some business. Which added to his mounds of stuff. And, of course, he usually had several big garbage bags of recycled cans and bottles.

Every now and then I would ask Hate if it was really worth it to go through the daily grind over his stuff, and wouldn’t he consider “flexing” and lightening his load. But Hate Man was always adamant about living his life on his own terms. And if society wanted to stop him, well, good luck doing that. Ha ha. Hate was never shy about pushing the envelope. And wherever the line was drawn, he’d extend it by a couple extra feet. And it would be from that point that he’d be willing to start negotiating. Ha ha.

Finally, in a last-ditch attempt to get rid of Hate Man and all his stuff, as well as all the other homeless people who were basically living in Peoples Park, the University arbitrarily came up with a ban on all cardboard and tarps in the park. Hate Man, realizing this would make it virtually impossible for street people to exist in the park, decided to go on the offensive. And he — and his noisy band of fellow street people — set up a big 24-hour-a-day protest on Bancroft Street, at the foot of the campus and directly in front of the University police station. And he managed to create such a public uproar, that after several weeks the University backed down and relinquished the ban.

And Hate Man prevailed once again. THE END



Back in the day when pay phones ruled the earth.

Some time in the year 2001.


I spent many years standing there like a dork at my vending table in front of Cody’s Books.  19 years to be exact. I have no idea where I got that dorky shirt. But the photo reminded me of some of the misadventures we had over the years with the pay phone behind us.

This one time a friend of mine was hanging out with us. And he spots this hot young chick loitering around on the corner. “Man would you look at the tits on that one!” he said. “Boy would I like to fuck her!” and etc. etc. Going on and on in very obscene details about the things he’d like to do to her.

Little did we know her boyfriend was talking on the payphone right behind us. And when he got off the phone he was mad as a hornet. And he was a BIG guy, too. He got in my friend’s face and he’s ready to kick the living shit out of him. He’s got him backed against the wall of the Cody’s building. And my friend is fishing in his pocket for the can of mace he carries. And it was about to get really ugly.

When I somehow managed to talk the guy down. “We apologize,” I said. “We meant no disrespect. You have a very beautiful girlfriend, etc. etc.” Which somehow placated him.

He even said as he was leaving: “You have class.” But couldn’t resist adding: “But your friend is a dirty old pervert.”

He’s lucky he didn’t get a face full of mace from my friend. Who could do some damage, too. Ha ha. But that was a close one.



The Twisted Image Benefit Concert


This issue of Twisted Image from 1982 (I was 26 years old at the time) was one of the first things I did that generated a bit of attention within “the scene” (as we used to call it back then).

After the issue came out this guy contacted me about putting together a Twisted Image benefit concert at a local rock club. The guy was all fired up about the idea of becoming a big-time local rock promoter and thought this would be a good vehicle to launch his career as impresario. So he rented out this large lesbian club on Telegraph Ave (Ollie’s) for a Saturday night. And I used my contacts within the “punk rock community (so-called) to get The Lewd, who were pretty popular back then, to headline the gig.

But then a couple days before the show, disaster struck. I get a phone call from the lead singer of The Lewd telling me the band had just broken up (welcome to Spinal Tap). And to add to the disaster, Iggy Pop was playing in Berkeley the same night as our show. So that would pretty much siphon off most of the audience that would’ve went to our show.

So the night of the show — the big, big Twisted Image Benefit Concert — the would-be rock promoter, undaunted, has signed up 7 bands that nobody has ever heard of to play the gig. So there’s 20 or 30 musicians milling around in the club, and maybe 3 paying customers. A bad performer-to-audience ratio.

But we’re still cautiously optimistic at that point. But would get less and less so as the evening wore on.

Then about an hour into the show, FINALLY some good news. This guy comes rushing up to me and says:

“Hey are you Ace Backwords?”

“Yes I am,” I admitted.

“Well I just want to tell you I LOVED the cover of your latest issue of Twisted Image! Loved it so much. I work in a print shop and I blew it up to poster size and printed up a bunch of them. So I wanted to give you 3 of the posters as a token of my esteem!”

“Well thank you much,” I said. “We’ll hang one of them up on a stage as a backdrop.”

And I had a sudden surge of optimism about the prospects for our big show.

“Cool,” he said. “OK I gotta go. I just wanted to drop these off before I went to the Iggy Pop show.”

And I realized even HE — our big fan — wasn’t going to stick around for our show. So at that point I knew we were doomed.

So the show grinded onwards grimly for several more hours. After the bands finished their songs there would be a “smattering of applause.” If that. But it was mostly very quiet in that club. The main sound I remember was the anguished cries of the would-be rock promoter, exclaiming with hand on forehead: “I’M GOING TO LOSE HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS ON THIS SHOW!!”

But what the hell, the poster was very nice. And it hung on the wall of my studio apartment in Berkeley for 10 years.



Blind Tony



Tony has been on the Telegraph street scene for at least 20 years.  I have a personal connection with Tony because we were both diagnosed with glaucoma around the same time back in 2009.  So we used to regularly check in with each other about our respective conditions. Tony went completely blind.  And I ended up going half-blind (my right eye still works). So when I see Tony nowadays, I often get that “there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-goes-I” kind of feeling.

When the eye doctor first diagnosed me with glaucoma, he tried to impress on me the seriousness of my condition: “Ace, if you end up out there living on the streets, blind and homeless, you’re going to be in a world of hurt.”  And I often think of that line when I see Tony.  Tony is black, blind, and homeless.  So he has his issues to deal with for sure.

The other day, Tony was panhandling on Telegraph.

“Hey Ace, do you gotta’ cigarette?”

“Oh, no man.  I quit smoking after Hate Man died,” I said.


“I miss ole’ Hate Man and them Virginia Slims.”

“Yeah, me too,” said Tony.

I gave him a buck towards the cigarette fund.

“Thank you, Ace.”

“You hang in there, Tony.”

“I am hanging in there,” he said, firmly.


img_20170418_195330.jpgAnd he is. I don’t know how he does it.  But he does. He looked pretty solid. He’s hanging in there.

For years Tony got around with the help of a cane. And he moved around pretty well. You’d often see him bounding up the lawn of People’s Park in the direction of Hate Camp, bellowing: “HATE MAN!! GET YOUR DIRTY ROTTEN ASS UP AND PUSH SHOULDERS FOR A CIGARETTE, YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE!!”

And Hate Man would shout back:


The shouting back and forth was a way for Tony to know which direction Hate Man was at.

Then they’d push shoulders for a couple of minutes. And then sit down, light up their smokes, and hang out together smoking their cigarettes.

(my life probably doesn’t make a helluva’ lot of sense to normal people on the outside looking in).

Nowadays Tony has ditched the cane and gets around in a wheelchair. Probably because it’s easier. And plus, he always has a place to sit. Which can be hard to find sometimes when you’re on the streets.  A place to rest your ass.

Later that night I ran into Tony on Dwight Way.  “Hey Ace, would you push me across the street to Regent Street?

“Sure thing, Tony,” I said.

I pushed him across the street to Regent Street. It made me realize how the simplest things — like crossing the street — could be an incredibly difficult ordeal when you’re blind.

“Are you going to be all right, Tony?”

“Yeah.  As long as I’m on Regent Street I’ll be all right.”

I left him there, sitting there in the middle of the sidewalk in his wheelchair.  And I just wondered how the hell  I would be able to find a crash-spot for myself if I happened to be sitting there in total and complete darkness.