It had been a perfect first day back in Berkeley. There was a Sunday street fair on Telegraph. The street was blocked off and bands were playing and people were dancing in the streets. So there was a festive atmosphere in the air, as if perfectly staged for my welcome-home party. I bought a big pitcher of Racer 5 at Pappy’s sports bar, took a window seat, and watched all the faces parade by. Many of which culled up memories from all the by-gone years. I put on my headphones and turned on the radio. And as if by magic, the third song they played was “Paco Bell,” my all-time favorite classical song, and a song with a hundred Berkeley memories attached to it. If my life was a movie (which it is in a way) I’ve always said I wanted “Paco Bell” as the theme song. So it was perfect synchronicity. I took it as an omen that everything in my life had fallen perfectly into place, and that everything would be fine from now on. I even started crying from all the emotions.
I went to People’s Park and the lawn was bright green and beautiful and the sky was pure blue and nobody in the Park was getting beat up or acting weird. For once. So it was a perfect day. I sat on my old, favorite bench in the back of the Park by the playground, and quietly nursed my forty as the sun set and the sky grew dark.
There was a large crowd of people hanging at Hate Camp with good old Hate Man. He always liked to be surrounded by a court, with him lying regally under his blankets in the very center of it, of course.
“Fuck you, Hate Man,” I said with a smile as I approached him. “Sell me a cigarette?”
“Yeah. This is my first cigarette in 7 months.”
“You’re kidding?” said Hate Man. He could hardly grasp the concept of not smoking.
It was around midnight by the time I made my way to my campsite up in the hills. I sort of glided effortlessly in that state of inebriated grace, marveling at how everything in my life had fallen perfectly into place.
And then everything went to hell. It was pitch dark in the woods and I couldn’t find where I had stashed my sleepingbag! Stashing your sleepingbag in the woods is a subtle art. For it has to be concealed enough that people won’t be able to see it in the daylight. And yet it has to be accessible enough that you can find it in the dark. Which seemed like a simple enough task earlier in the day when I had stashed it. Just walk past the three trees, make a left at the shrub, make a right turn at the second clump and there it would be hidden under a big pile of branches.
Except that the combination of my drunkenness and the near ink-dark blindness of the woods completely bewildered me. Any step in any direction would cause me to completely lose any sense of where I was. After banging my head on several tree branches and scratching the hell out of my hands on various thorn bushes I began to realize the hopelessness of my situation. After much pointless thrashing I finally conceded defeat and curled up on the hard, cold ground wearing nothing but my shirt-sleeves (I had cleverly stashed my nice warm jacket with my sleeping bag). I tossed and turned and shivered all night long. Every now and then I would catch 20 minutes of grog-like sleep, only to quickly wake up again and start the whole miserable routine all over again. It was a loooong night.
Finally, as the alcohol slowly wore off, I was able to get my ball-bearings and track down the whereabouts of my sleeping bag. As I put on my jacket and crawled into the bag it was the most comfortable feeling I had experienced in years. AAAHHHH! It was like going from sleeping on a block of ice, to sleeping on a heavenly cloud. I caught about an hour of solid sleep before the sun came up.
But that’s what happens when you’ve been off the streets for awhile. You get soft, and you let your guard down. But “the streets” is like a harsh and demanding dominatrix who swiftly and ruthlessly doles out her rewards and punishments. Like a slap in the face that says: “WAKE UP, STUPID!! PAY ATTENTION!!”
Now it’s my second day back on the streets. And believe me, my guard is getting back up.