For many years this was one of my favorite late-night hangout spots on the Berkeley campus. It was a very secluded spot. And it had an awning to protect me from the rain. And it even had an outdoor outlet so I could charge my cellphone and post crucial late-night drunken babble on my Facebook page. So the spot was ideal for my needs.
For a couple years they were doing construction on that wing of the building and it was blocked off from the public. And the building was completely vacant. So I had the entire area all to myself. Which is how it should be in a perfect world.
You see, when you live on the streets, you crave these little pockets of privacy. Because generally you live in public and you endure constant public scrutiny. So you truly cherish these little spots where you can get a little privacy.
But then two years ago my happiness — and my privacy — was shattered when a University employee set up his office in one of the rooms right by my beloved hangout spot. Bummer.
So the whole dynamics of my once-private hangout spot had instantly been changed.
Even worse. This guy, instead of just being in his office during normal business hours — like I assumed — he was in there virtually ALL the time!! He’d be in there after midnight on a Tuesday night. He’d be in there on the weekends. He’d even be in there on the holidays. He’d be in there on Christmas Eve for crissakes.
So every night, when I approached my once-cherished late-night hangout spot, as soon as I saw the lights were on in his office (yet again!!) I would trip out into this mindless rage.
“KILL KILL KILL!! It’s HIM!! What is he DOING in there?? Does he work 24 hours a day?? Why doesn’t this dude get a LIFE!!”
I’d constantly have to remind myself: “Ace, get a grip. He’s a valued University employee. While you’re a useless bum getting drunk and babbling on Facebook. He has more of a right to hang out at this spot than you.” (so I’d be forced to concede that killing him wasn’t a viable option)
And I could understand this on an intellectual level. But an animal level. On a gut level. It was like a primal territorial turf war. For many years I had claimed this space as mine. But now this guy — this interloper — had come along and taken it from me. So I was displeased. As well as disgruntled, dismayed, and discombobulated.
Eventually I got to meet the guy. We’d occasionally run into each other when I was walking toward the spot. And he was walking in and out of the front door. And it turned out he was a nice guy, a friendly guy. He was a bland sort of middle-aged, mid-level, corporate drone employee. And occasionally we’d briefly chat and exchange pleasantries.
“So what are you doing here hanging out on the Berkeley campus?” he asked me, pleasantly.
“Oh I’ve been hanging out on the campus for years,” I said. “For many years I worked for the Daily Cal the campus newspaper. I used to do a daily comic strip.”
(I would sometimes name-drop this little tid-bit when talking to UC employees and UC cops to convey the impression that I wasn’t just a useless bum hanging out on the campus, but that I was also a useless bum who had some kind of tenuous connection to UC Berkeley. I was part of the “UC Berkeley community” (so-called).
“Oh really? What was the name of your comic strip?” he asked.
“Twisted Image,” I said.
“Oh wow. Are you Ace Backwords?” he said.
“Yes I am,” I admitted.
“I’ve been following your work for many years!” he said.
He shook my hand vigorously. He was happy to meet me. As well he should be.
So that changed the dynamics of my relationship with the guy. I was happy that he was supportive of me and probably wasn’t going to call the cops on me. But I was also nervous that he knew who I was and knew more than a bit about my life. And that knowledge could come boomeranging back at me at some point in a painful way.
But mostly we just accepted each other’s presence at the spot. And co-existed.
But one weird thing was: Every time we chatted he always seemed to have a nervous look in his eye. Like he was paranoid about me. Which was weird. Because he was the UC employee. And I was the bum. And he was the one who had standing, not me.
But then I noticed another odd thing. Late at night people would often knock on the window of his office. And he would get up and open the locked front door of the building and let them in.
Eventually I figured out what was going on. He — and the other people — were secretly LIVING in the offices. That’s why he was nervous and paranoid about me. He was afraid I might alert the authorities and bust HIM!!
I had to laugh at the irony. The delicious role-reversal. Because usually I, as homeless street person, was the one who was paranoid about being rousted and busted.
Anyways, the reason I’m thinking about this stuff now is because the other night I just noticed his office was vacant. It was the beginning of the new school year. And evidently the University had moved him to a new office. He was gone.
So, once again, I now had the space all to myself. Thank God. And once again, for no apparent reason, I had prevailed. The End (at least for now).