(originally published June 5, 2015)
Yesterday, me and Charlie Cheapseats were hanging out with Hate Man in People’s Park, talking about the old days.
“When I first visited Berkeley in the summer of 1974 there was always a huge street scene happening on the Berkeley campus,” I said. “Back then it was hard to tell the street people from the students. ‘Hippie’ was definitely the style.”
“Yeah,” said Cheapseats. “Nowadays the campus is almost completely dead.”
“Yeah. There are just a few loner-type street people that mostly keep to themselves.”
“There used to be tons of street musicians, too,” said Cheapseats. “Remember that guy Rick Starr who used to croon those Frank Sinatra songs while singing into that fake plastic microphone?”
“Yeah,” I said. “And Larry the Drummer. He used to drive everyone nuts bashing away on those buckets all day long.”
“All those characters are gone. Whatever happened to Paul of the Pillar?”
“Even the Christian preachers don’t show up any more. They used to be surrounded by huge mobs of people heckling them. It was great entertainment. Like a Roman amphitheater where they threw the Christians to the lions.”
“Even that nut the Happy Guy is gone. The guy that used to stand on a bucket saying ‘Happy, happy, happy’ all day long.”
“And if you started heckling him, he would point his finger at you and shout, ‘CIA!! CIA!! CIA!!’”
“Remember the lower Sproul drum circle every weekend in the 1990s?”
Suddenly, Hate Man had had enough of our reminiscing.
“I hate your guts with all this talk about the old days!!” said Hate Man. “I wanna’ kill you. I hate people who constantly dwell on the past. I prefer to live in the present moment and appreciate what’s going on now. Instead of all this lame nostalgia for the good old days.”
I realized recently that, nowadays, I live in a permanent state of mourning for my past. I remember when I was a young man, this old guy once warned me about the danger of living in the past as you get older. “You can get stuck in a rut if you don’t keep evolving with the times,” he said. “You stop growing as a person. You turn into a fossil. You end up yearning for the return of the Good Old Days that will never come back.” . . . I never thought I’d fall for that trap. Because (in spite of my pen-name) for most of my life I was a very forward-looking person. Whenever I finished an art project, my first thought always was: “Yes. But the next project is going to be the Best Thing Yet!!” But then suddenly, a couple of years ago, it was like there no longer was a next project. . . *sigh*
“I knowdja’ mean, Hate Man,” I said. “It’s like that famous scene in the book ‘Be Here Now’ where Ram Das is constantly talking about his past adventures or his future plans. And his guru says: ‘The past and the future are an illusion. Only the present is real. Be here now. Live in the present moment. That’s where all the action is.’”
“Yeah,” said Hate Man.
“My problem is, I yearn for the past. I fear and dread the future. And my present moment usually sucks. So I got all the wrong bases covered.”
Hate Man chuckled at that line.
Now I’m sitting here looking back fondly at that conversation I had with Hate Man and Charlie Cheapseats in People’s Park. It seems like only yesterday . . . Actually, it was only yesterday.