I’ve been around drug and alcohol people for most of my life. So I’ve seen my fair share of damage over the years. Usually the damage is a cumulative affect over a period of years. Like this guy who was on the scene for awhile who went by the unlikely name of Happy Dave. About every year or so Happy Dave would have another drug-related stroke from doing too much crack cocaine. It’s like every time I saw him it was like another part of his body had become paralyzed. First he got around with a cane. And then a walker. And then a wheelchair. And then finally Happy Dave got so immobile they had to haul him off in an ambulance to god-knows-where. And that was the last I ever saw of Happy Dave.
But one of the more disturbing things is the people who burn out practically overnight. It’s like one moment they’re normal. And then suddenly they’re just not all there anymore. They took a batch of poorly-mixed drugs, or took too much of the wrong drug, and instantly and permanently burned out a part of their brain. You can actually SEE the brain damage in their eyes. This glazed, dulled, dead-eyed look.
I remember this one kid who was on the scene for awhile, went by the street name Booger. I forget his real name, it was a Latino name like Ortiz or something, though he looked completely Anglo. Fresh-faced young guy, All-American kid, stocky with boyish good looks, 18 or 19. Usually wore a black leather jacket. Always smiling. I didn’t know him very well — he hung out with a mostly younger crowd, the gutter punk kids who were prominent on the scene at the time. But he also hung out on the periphery of Hate Man’s Hate Camp scene on the campus, so I got to know him a little bit. He was usually full of enthusiasm. He hadn’t been on the street scene very long, maybe a couple months, but he seemed to be enjoying it. Young guys often hit the street scene for awhile, in between deciding what the want to do with their life, drawn to the “endless party” aspect of the street scene. Getting high, getting drunk, getting a little wild, hooking up and having sex with some of the wild street chicks, grooving to a drum circle, banging on guitars, howling at the moon, and all of that. There’s a certain freedom to the street scene. Booger liked to sometimes do chalk art on the sidewalk in front of Cody’s Books by our vending table, and he had some artistic talent. Did this one really nice cartoon drawing of a wild-looking punk guy will studs and a big mohawk and a maniacal grin, holding up a bottle of booze. I published a full-page photo of it in the “Street Art” issue of the TELEGRAPH STREET CALENDAR. And that was my only real connection with the guy. Just one more of the thousands of people who come and go on the Berkeley street scene.
Then one day I noticed Booger was sitting by himself on the steps of the Student Union Building with his head down. And he had been sitting there for quite some time. Even odder, it was the middle of the winter and yet he was wearing nothing but a t-shirt.
The next day I noticed he was still sitting there. And the next day he was still sitting there, too.
So a couple of us went over to talk to him to find out what was going on. He couldn’t even talk. Just sort of mumbled incoherently. And he seemed to be in some kind of partial catatonic state, like he had withdrawn into himself and couldn’t pull himself out. But who knows what had happened. And he certainly wasn’t going to tell us. We hustled up some blankets and draped them over him, and left him there.
For the next couple weeks I would see Booger staggering around from place to place like a zombie from a horror movie. But mostly just sitting by himself staring off into space. Sometimes he’d hang out with us at Hate Camp, sitting there in a silent stupor.
None of us really knew him. I think he had been living with his grandmother in some little town north of San Francisco before he hit the streets. But who knows. One person said he thought he had been snorting paint and his brains went snap, crackle and pop.
The other thing about the street scene. It’s very Darwinian. And when you start going down — unless you have some real close friends — there is usually nobody there to catch you when you fall. It’s like everybody on the streets is treading water just trying to stay afloat, so if someone starts sinking there’s not much you can do to help, and they might drag YOU down if you try to keep them afloat.
Booger ended up staggering around the scene like that for a couple more months. Sometimes they pull out of it and recover, especially if they’re young. While other times the damage is permanent.
After awhile Booger disappeared from the scene. Never to be seen again. And was pretty much instantly forgotten. His artwork and his photo in our calendar is probably the only mark he left on the scene.