The wild animals of the forest

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I’m told the term “co-ed” is archaic, sexist and offensive. So I apologize to anyone who is offended. I just like to use it because it’s so short and terse and only 4-letters.

My campsite in the Berkeley hills is pretty secluded. And people rarely come up there. Especially during the late-night/early-morning hours that I occupy it. But every now and then I’ll run into somebody. Like this one unfortunate interaction I had with this young Berkeley co-ed this one time.

I woke up one morning and I noticed somebody had left these dinner plates on the ground near where I sleep. And the plates had a layer of white powder on them. I just figured somebody had had a picnic lunch there the day before and hadn’t bothered to clean up their mess. So I tossed the plates in a garbage can down the road. And didn’t think anything more about it. Until:

A couple hours later when I was approached by this UC cop, and this young Berkeley co-ed who appeared somewhat distraught.

“Did you happen to notice two dinner plates that were lying on the ground here?” asked the cop.

‘Yeah,” I said. “I thought they were litter so I tossed them in the garbage can.”

It turned out the plates were part of a science project the co-ed was doing for her science class. She was trying to determine what kind of wild animals lived in the deep, dark woods, by seeing what kind of foot-prints were left in the wild powder, and then matching the foot-prints to the particular animals. And now I had done destroyed her darn science project. So that was fucked.

I went down and retrieved her plates from the garbage can. And then packed up all my camping stuff and left, because the cop told me I couldnt camp there anymore (camped somewhere else for a couple days and then moved right back).

But I always thought the co-ed should have written that all up in her project report. Because she had indeed discovered a wild animal that was living I the woods thanks to her plates. Me.

Mini Scaredy tracks me down

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Later I realized Mini Scaredy had probably tracked me down by following my scent. When I spotted her on the campus,she was only about 100 yards from where I was hanging drinking beer. . . I suspect pretty soon I’ll spot her hanging out on Telegraph Avenue. Ha ha.

Walking through the Berkeley campus last night on the way up to my campsite, I spotted this cat darting across the lawn and into the bushes. This shadowy blur in the night. I figured it was a feral cat. So I hung around for a bit to see if I could give it some food. But no sight of the cat, so I turned and headed back up towards the hills.

But then I heard the cat meowing at me. Which was weird. Feral cats are pretty stealthy and rarely approach strangers. So for a second I thought maybe it was one of my long-lost feral cats. Scaredy Cat or Mini Owl. Who recognized me from the past.

But no sign of the cat. So I turned and headed back up the hill.

But then, after I had gone across the campus and was headed further up the road, I heard the cat meowing again. It was following me. So I stopped and opened up a can of cat food, dumped it on the sidewalk, and then headed back up the road. And when I turned back to talk a look to see if the cat had made it to the food, there was indeed a cat there, nibbling at the food. It was MINI SCAREDY!! She took a few quick bites of the food and then followed me the rest of the way to my campsite (so that was a waste of a can of food).

I was surprised Mini Scaredy had ventured all the way down to the Berkeley campus. That’s at least a mile from my campsite. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. She’s the best hunter and the most adventurous and wide-ranging of my cats.

Rule Number One: NEVER throw a cigarette butt at a cop (inadvertent or otherwise)

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I offer up these savvy tips for successful street living, virtually free of charge.
Whenever I’m drinking late at night at this secluded spot on the campus — this second-floor balcony over-looked this trail below — I’ll think back to this time I was hanging out here 7 or 8 years ago.

I happened to toss my cigarette butt over the railing to the trail below. Something I normally don’t do. I loathe litter. But I was in a bad mood. It was after midnight and I had just drunk my last beer and smoked my last cigarette and I was flat broke and it was the middle of the winter and it was pouring rain. So now I was trapped on this balcony for the foreseeable future with no beer and no cigarettes and no nothing and my life was just a piece of shit that had amounted to nothing. So I was in a sour mood. So I just flung the cigarette butt over the railing in an act of defiance like “FUCK THIS WORLD!!”

Unbeknownst to me, there happened to be two cops walking on the trail below me. I don’t know if my cigarette butt hit the cops on the head. But at the least it must have come very close. Because the two cops immediately made a bee-line to where I was sitting on the balcony. And one of the cops was raging mad as a hornet. As if my tossed cigarette butt was an affront to his very manhood. And I — homeless degenerate lurking on the campus — represented everything vile and evil and wrong with our current society. In other words, he took it very personally.

“DID YOU THROW THAT CIGARETTE BUTT??” said the cop.

“Yes I did,” I admitted. The butt no doubt had the DNA of my saliva on it. So there was no way to avoid the rap.

“ARE YOU DRINKING??” said the cop.

“No. I already DRANK it all!!” I said, with real anger in my voice (I was still pissed about being out of beer).

“ARE YOU BEING A WISE-ASS??” said the cop.

“Not consciously,” I said.

So the cop started writing me up a $450 littering ticket.

“You’re not going to give me a littering ticket for one cigarette butt are you?” I said.

“I SURE AS HELL AM!!” said the cop, thrusting the little yellow citation at me.

So I ended up doing 45 hours of community service picking up litter and thousands of cigarette butts in the park to repay my debt to society. All because of that one lousy cigarette butt.

And it didn’t end there. That cop developed a personal vendetta against me. Every time I turned around he would show up. Catch me in the act of drinking in public. And hit me with a $250 “open container” ticket. He must have hit me with nearly 10 tickets over the course of the year. And one night he even gave me the flashlight treatment and hand-cuffed me and arrested me and hauled me down to the Berkeley police station where I spent the night in the drunk tank (the weird thing is I wasn’t even drunk at the time, I had just started on my first beer).

But then, over the course of the next year, over the course of all our interactions, I finally wore the cop down with my fabled charm. Or maybe he just forget what he was mad about me in the first place. And he actually started to feel friendly towards me. And whenever he’d see me he’d say “Hey Pete, how ya doin’?” with a beaming smile on his face. And we’d banter back and forth with a little friendly small-talk before we went our separate ways.

“Thumping the tub”

 

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When I was plugging my SURVIVING ON THE STREETS book (my book about homelessness) back in 2001, my publisher set me up with about 30 interviews with radio stations all across the country (and one in Canada). And that was like a fantasy come true. Because all my life I had watched the movie stars and rock stars and famous authors going on their media tours to plug their latest product (“thumping the tub” as Marlon Brando famously put it). And now I was one of them doing it myself. Albeit on a smaller scale. Most of the radio stations were smaller markets like St. Louis. So it wasn’t like I was doing Howard Stern or the Johnny Carson Show. But still it was a kick.

Though I came to dread doing them. For a number of reasons. Number one I was always nervous as shit, stage-fright and all that. The other thing was, I did the interviews over the phone, and mostly in the morning, and often very EARLY in the morning, due to the different time zones. I was living in my office at the time, and the phone would usually wake me up from a sound sleep. Often it was still dark outside. It was the producer of the radio show. And I’d have like 5 minutes to fix up a quick cup of coffee, and then I’d be on the air. Still half-asleep. And babbling off the top of my head to thousands of people out there in radioland. So most of the interviews weren’t very good. And to tell you the truth, I much prefer being the interviewER. It’s a lot easier to come up with questions than it is to come up with answers.

The other thing about the interviews that was a pain in the ass: I’d have to figure out where the D.J. was coming from on the fly. And try to adjust my answers to their schtick. For example, some of them were “shock jock” types, and they were just using me as fodder for their dumb jokes. So it was pointless to try and have a serious conversation. While others of them had serious attitudes about the homeless issue. Considered the homeless a blight on their cities, just a bunch of smelly bums and drug addicts. So they wanted to use me as an excuse to do their axe-grinding. And then there were the super-serious and sincere bleeding-heart liberal types, who wanted to use me to publicly sob and weep over the plight of the homeless. And then ask me about my big and grand solutions to this pressing social problem. Something I usually wasn’t very good at articulating at 5 in the morning.

So it was pretty much of a mess. But at least it sold a couple of books. And that’s show business I guess. I’ll be right back right after this important message. . . .

So many people have this stereotype view of “the homeless”

Ran into Ben the other day on Telegraph. I asked him if he had any luck finding a new place.

“No, I’ve been couch-surfing,” he said.

Ben is 76 years old and he recently got thrown out of the place in Oakland where he’d been living for like the last 20 years. Can you imagine that?? Being 76 years old and having to start all over from scratch?? Welcome to the Bay Area.

For years he had been just able to pay the rent with the combined Social Security checks from him and his wife. But when his wife passed away last month that changed everything. So now he’s scrambling to come up with a Plan B. And I hope he has one.

So many people have this stereotype view of “the homeless.” That they’re mostly just drug addicts and alcoholics and bums and mental cases. When in fact, people like Ben — and his situation — are typical of a large percentage of the homeless these days.

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Hate Man, Yoshua and Ben, having some fun on Sproul Plaza back in 1991

A long forgotten moment in 1992

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I don’t know why, but I often get this feeling of wistful sadness when I look back on my life. Like this long-forgotten moment in 1992. Anthony, Yume, Hate Boy. And I’ll often get that feeling when I think of somebody that I knew who died. I’ll think back to the excitement of those times. How we were constantly rushing around chasing after something. Something that always seemed to be just out of reach. It was like life always seemed to be leading up to something. But then when the person dies, there’s sort of this empty feeling. Like it was all just leading up to death.

And this weird sense of incompleteness about so much of our lives. It’s like I rushed through my life cramming all these experiences down my throat, while never really digesting them. It seems like it should have added up to something more somehow. Something more than a barely understood, and mostly forgotten, dream.

And as an artist, always trying to capture and preserve the moment. While never sure why. This futile yearning to capture and relive the past. And there’s a photo of us, or a newspaper article of us, or a tape recording of us. And there’s the date on it. September 1, 1992, or whatever. . . As if I needed some kind of proof that it was real, and it actually happened, and I was there. Even as, one by one, the photos disappear, the newspapers end up in the trash, and the tape recordings wear out.

The spiritual types all say “live in the moment,” the eternal Now. The past is just a dream. The future never gets here. All that’s real is the present. Even as I’m haunted by my past in a weird kind of way.

Hate Boy

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There were several different “Hate Boys” over the years. Guys that were Hate Man’s primary side-kick and second-in-command. Sancho Panchez to Hate Man’s Don Quixote…. But Hate Boy was the first.
Hate Boy was an enigmatic fellow. He hit the Telegraph street scene around 1992 and hung around for a couple of years before he got run out of town.

Tall, lanky, and athletic, fairly handsome, I’d guess in his mid-20s when this photo was taken (but who knows, just about everything about him was a mystery). Hate Boy talked very little. Sat there with his Cheshire Cat grin. He mostly presented himself to the public by his ever-changing colorful costumes, and by his peculiar movements and mannerisms. Somewhat of an exhibitionist, he reminded me of a mime (he would sometimes wear white pancake make-up), or a slightly malicious court jester or joker. With a strangely aristocratic manner, like a rich kid on a lark. Often had a sly, mischievous smile on his face, like he was enjoying some secret inside joke. Possibly at your expense.

He adopted some of the Hate Man’s look, as well as some of Hate Man’s philosophy. So for awhile they were like a matching set. Hate Man and Hate Boy.

Hate Boy wasn’t a verbal person. The few times I tried to engage him in conversation he responded with terse, one-sentence answers. He never talked about his background (and to this day I don’t know anything about him, where he came from, what his real name was, what he had been doing before he became Hate Boy, and what he did afterwards). He never explained himself, or what he was aspiring to be, or what it all meant to him. He just presented himself as a living, breathing piece of performance art. This inscrutible work of avant-garde that people could project any meaning onto, or no meaning. As he danced across Telegraph like a zany ballerina (I have a set of photos of him spinning and piruetting and posing down the Ave).

When the Naked Guy started walking around naked, Hate Boy would often strip and join him on his romps, penis dangling in the breeze, his smile slier than ever. Hate Boy liked to shock and push the envelope. And eventually that got him in trouble. After a series of episodes where he grabbed at different co-eds crotches, he was banned from the area. And left town suddenly one day — possibly one step ahead of the law — never to return. And that was the end of Hate Boy. One more legend of Telegraph

Generally I enjoyed Hate Boy. He added some color and life to the scene. Projected this attitude that life was just a game, and there was nothing better to do than to play all day long, if you could get away with it