Telegraph Street Calendar 2004

“You’re hypnotized! You’re under my power! You WILL buy a copy of the Telegraph Street Calendar for 10 dollars!”


This is me, near the end of our run with the Telegraph  Street Calendar.  The last issue, 2004.  I’m subliminally trying to hypnotize a potential customer into buying a damn copy of the thing. Ha ha.   Like I said, it was the end of the run and we were finally running out of gas.  As a joke I sent out a big press release announcing that the Calendar “just isn’t selling” in a futile attempt to boost sales.  But that ad campaign turned out to be a dismal failure.  I guess we should have thought through our “Nobody’s Buying This Thing!” ad slogan a little more carefully.  Ha ha.

But it had been a very weird and interesting 15-year run.  1990 to 2004. . . . . Like most things in my life, it started out as an accident.  My original idea in 1989 was to print up 50 copies and give ’em out to my friends as Christmas presents.  It never occurred to me that I’d end up printing up 2,000 copies every year for the next 15 years.  And the thing would practically become a full-time job.

Right from the beginning it was considered odd.  And the press picked up on the zaniness of it, with their jokes about a “homeless pin-up calendar.”  But it was also treated seriously, too.  At least in the beginning, when society still had hopes of coming up with a solution to the relatively-new social problem that was “homelessness.”  Course by the end of the run the attitude was more in line with:  “We’ve gotta’ get rid of all these bums that are ruining our nice shopping district.”  But in the beginning I was treated like some kind of heroic, do-gooder “homeless activist” or something.  And I had a canned line I used to use and repeat in a lot of the early interviews (that became sort of a sardonic inside joke between me and Duncan) spoken with suitable earnestness:  “And the irony is, most of the people featured in our calendar don’t even have a wall to hang their calendar up on!”

My partner and co-publisher, the great B.N. Duncan, fancied himself as kind of a scientist or professor.  He viewed himself as an anthropologist studying this strange and exotic subculture:  The Streets.  He had his little notepad that he always kept in his breast pocket.  And after taking a photo he’d jot down the time and date and location, and maybe a quote from the specimen, um, er, I mean subject.  “AHH, AHH, that’s very interesting what you say,” Duncan would say.  “AHH, mind if I take a couple more shots?”

Myself, I looked at myself sort of like a documentary film-maker.  And I was documenting every facet of my life in whatever medium happened to be available.  Photos, writing, comics, music.

Probably one of the most interesting things about the Telegraph Street Calendar was that Duncan and I were part of the street scene ourselves.  Almost everything else you read about the homeless street scene is written by some journalist  or sociologist, viewing the streets from an outsider perspective.   We were insiders, so you got more of an unedited and unfiltered view than what you normally get.

(from left to right) Long-time homeless activist J. C. Orton, B.N. Duncan, Michael Comatoes, and the inimitable Elizabeth.

We had a little vending table in front of Cody’s Books where we hawked our wares.  And we became almost like a homeless Chamber of Commerce.  Whenever a new homeless person would hit the scene, they’d often check in with us first.  To sort of get the lowdown as to where the scene was at.  And to many people on the scene it became almost a cherished rite-of-passage to get their photos featured in the Calendar  (I used to joke:  “The two major complaints we got were:  ‘Why don’t you put me in your calendar?’  and ‘Why did you put me in your calendar?'”).  Many street people lack a sense of belonging to anything.  But being represented in the calendar gave them a sense of belonging — of being an accepted member in good standing — of the legendary Telegraph Avenue street scene.

When we started the thing in 1989 I was 33 and still on the cusp of being a young man.  By the time we ended it in 2004, I was 48 and on the verge of being an old man.  So it’s like I wasted the prime years of my life working on the damn thing.   Of course I would have just wasted it on something else if I hadn’t gotten so fascinated and immersed in the Calendar project.





3 thoughts on “Telegraph Street Calendar 2004

  1. What’s weird is the stupid things I remember. Like, I remember that jacket that I used to wear back then. And I wonder: What the hell happened to that jacket? And I remember that checkered table cloth. If I remember right, Kim gave it to us. Which was sweet of her. There were often a bunch of dames back then that were circling around us. Duncan in particular. We were both like two art-fuck-ups that couldn’t really keep up with the practical matters of life. Duncan could barely dress himself. He’d be dressed in rags just because he was too preoccupied with other shit to take care of mundane details like clean clothes and etc. And women would sort of mother him and bring him clothes and stuff. And I think that’s how Kim contributed the table-cloth. Guys know what that’s like. We’re kinda’ dirt-clods when it comes to interior decorating and that stuff. Women are always chiming in with helpful suggestions like table-clothes for our vending table and doilies for our end-tables and girly-stuff like that. God only knows why I still remember stuff like that 10 years later.

  2. PS. The chick in the photo actually did buy a copy of the calendar. But I don’t think it was because of my hypnotizing routine. But because there happened to be a reporter and a photographer there at that exact moment. So I think she was under the mistaken impression that that Calendar thing might be important or something.

  3. PS. The woman in the photo actually DID buy a copy of the Calendar. I think because she saw the reporter and the photographer there, Covering The Story. So she figured the thing must be important or something.

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