Asshole John is a long-time member of the Berkeley street scene. He’s been around for several decades. That’s the name he gave himself, by the way. Asshole John. And he often lives up to it. Ha ha.
Asshole John can be loud and braying and belligerent. Especially when he’s drunk. But when people call him on it, he just gives off a crinkly smile and shrugs. “What can I say. I’m an asshole.” Hard to argue with that. Ha ha. But he’s basically harmless and has a lot of heart.
When the cops hassle him, he’ll often start shouting at them and berating them. Calling them the n-word and the c-word and the mf-word, and any other words he can think of. But this time he went fairly quietly. “Hate Man, watch my stuff while I’m jail,” he said, softly, as he pointed to his backpack and sleeping bag and etc. . . Sometimes I think some street people actually look forward to a couple-week stint in Santa Rita. As a break from the rigors of the streets. Almost like a trip to a health spa. And they usually look better when they come out of jail than when they went in. The ole’ “three hots and a cot” routine.
Like a lot of street people — who often tend to develop, um, exaggerated personas — Asshole John often reminds me of a cartoon character. With his thick Texas drawl and cantankerous manner, he often resembles Yosemite Sam. “YOU CRAZY VARMITS!!” Or a drunken, brawling hillbilly from Dogpatch in the “Li’l Abner” strip.
One thing’s for sure. At age 66, Asshole John is a bona fide street survivor. And that goes even moreso for Hate Man at age 78. With me bringing up the flank at age 58. The streets are a young man’s game. It’s a very Darwinian mileau. The weak and the reckless are regularly pruned from the herd. But there are exceptions, too. The old-timers.
I’ve read that long-term stints of homelessness can take 20 or 30 years off your life-expectancy. And while I take most of what I read about “the homeless” in the mainstream press with a big grain of salt (because they’re usually wrong about virtually everything), there’s probably some truth to that. This analogy may sound a little crude, but street people often remind me of sperm swimming up-stream. And over the years I’ll watch so many of them fall along the way-side, one by one. Premature death.
But then there are others, like Asshole John, who not only survive on the streets, but thrive. Its a special breed of weirdness.