I just ran into Roberto at the pateo of the Golden Bear restaurant on the Berkeley campus. I said to him: “I was just thinking about how you guys used to play cards here every day at the tables back in the day.”
“Yeah,” said Roberto. “I was just thinking about that, too. And it made me feel homesick. If that’s the right word.”
I think he meant “nostalgic.” But actually, maybe “homesick” was a better word to describe it. For this was our home back then. And the tables were like our living room.
It used to be Roberto and about four or five other people, every day. Jaguar, Butch, Teddy, Asshole John. . . Quietly playing cards and smoking cigarettes and discreetly smoking pot (this was another era, the 1990s, where you could legally smoke cigarettes in public but you couldn’t legally smoke pot, now it’s the other way around). The card-players were like a quieter satellite to the more rowdy Hate Camp street people who hung out nearby on Sproul Plaza.
There was more intermingling between the street scene and the college student scene back then. We were accepted as part of the woodworks. The tapestry that made Berkeley what it was. And unless you were looking really hard, you wouldn’t even notice this table full of older men hanging out every day among the tables full of college students.
Roberto is about ten years older than me, in his 70s now. But even back then, even though he was a street person, he always carried himself with this dignified air of an elder gentlemen of leisure.
When I pass Roberto nowadays, he’s usually alone, sitting somewhere with his head down reading a newspaper, a cigarette dangling from his lips. And when I pass him, I’m always alone, too, making my rounds from nowhere to nowhere. We’re among the very last few people from the Telegraph street scene back in the day who are still here all these decades later. And when we look at each other, I can tell what we’re both thinking: “Remember when we were in the middle of this wild, crazy scene, surrounded by all these people, all these characters?”
And: “What happened?”
When I lived with my sister in Arizona for a couple months in 2009 her 8-year-old son (my nephew) was always asking me to play Monopoly with him. Every night. He loved playing with me. I found the game a little boring. But it was fun to hang out with my nephew. So I’d go along with it. And I always let him win. Let him get Park Place and Broadway and crush me. Because he got so much pleasure out of winning. And I figured it was good to build his confidence.
But then one night, for the hell of it, I played to win. I got Park Place and Broadway. And I crushed him. And he started crying and crying. He was really upset. So I always let him win after that.
Then one day he asked me to play computer games with him. I had never played computer games before. But I figured why not? Sounded like fun. It was this race car game. And he absolutely crushed me. He was a computer game master. And he would force my car off the road and lap me by like a hundred miles. He had no mercy. He humiliated me. He was laughing about how pathetic I was at computer games. It was embarrassing.
If we ever play Monopoly again the gloves are off. I’ll crush him.
Two months ago California Governor Gavin Newsom projected that 56% (nice precise figure there) of Californians COULD be infected with the coronavirus over the next two months. According to their own figures, that would have resulted in a projected 500,000 Californians dying from coronavirus.
Two months later?
About 3,000 Californians have died from coronavirus.
We can crunch these numbers any which way. But one thing is for damn sure.
Their projections were WAY off!!!
The Eucalyptus Grove on the Berkeley campus is another one of those odd spots where I’ll often get this vaguely haunted feeling when I pass by. I’ll see the exact spot where I was sitting on this afternoon in 1993, playing my guitar and tripping on acid. And it’s like being transported back into a time capsule. I’ll remember all these details from that day. As well as all the people I was involved with back then. I can see all their faces in my mind. And all the situations I was in the middle of in my personal life. As well as the entire world of Berkeley circa 1993 that I lived in back then.
All gone now. But that spot by that tree is still here.
I used to have this Facebook friend who thought very, very, highly of his opinions, and of the high level of his thinking in general. And whenever I posted an opinion on my Facebook page that was contrary to his opinions, he would invariably respond: “Ace, you stupid fucking idiot. . .”
It irritated him, nay enraged him, that other people had opinions different from his. It was a direct affront to all that he felt was decent and good in this world of ours. And he was forever eager to correct my faulty thinking. Attempts that invariably failed.
It probably never occurred to him that I had already heard, and considered, virtually all of his opinions hundreds of times before from others (originality of thinking was not one of his strong points). But apparently he felt this umpteenth reading of said opinions would finally win me over.
Eventually he concluded I was a hopeless case who was mentally and morally incapable of grasping reality from the true perspective. His perspective. So he unfriended me and blocked me.
I was never sure where he actually picked up this lofty view of his own opinions. As far as I could tell it wasn’t a viewpoint that was widely shared by others. And I can’t recall anyone ever being particularly eager to hear his opinions. And it was highly unlikely that (unlike, say, me) anyone would ever offer him money so they could publish his opinions so that they would reach a wider audience. And yet his high opinion of his opinions remained a deeply entrenched part of his character.
Occasionally I will pass this fellow on the street as I’m making my way across the town of Berkeley. He’ll usually grimace when he sees me, then pretend like he doesn’t notice me, and then hurry on by. . . I guess that’s the real life version of unfriend and block.
I consider myself a really really smart person.
I also consider myself a really really stupid person.
And I’m well familiar with both facets of my personality.
The problem is: I often can’t differentiate which is the smart side and which is the stupid side of my personality.
When I walk by this corner on Telegraph Avenue I sometimes get this pang of sadness in my heart. I’m not exactly sure why. There are a thousand reasons. A thousand memories. That all hit me at once.
That corner was like a stage. Where I enacted so many of the dramas of my life. For so many years It was the backdrop for so many of my greatest triumphs. As well as my most crushing defeats. . . But mostly when I walk past this corner, I think of Duncan.
This corner was where I first met Duncan back in 1979 (he lived right across the street at the Berkeley Inn). And its where I’d have his memorial 30 years later in 2009. And I’d bury his ashes a half a block up the street at People’s Park.
I remember periods of exhilarating hopefulness at the corner, where it seemed like anything was possible. And other periods of near total despair. And everything in between As well as plenty of mundane days where we quietly lived out our lives. And I remember how much fun I had on this corner. I was usually in the middle of this scene of bright, witty, inspired people. And we were all in the middle of countless exciting adventures and misdventures.
I often secretly thought of this corner as “my corner” (though I shared it with many other people, of course). It was where I worked, where I hung out, it was my living room, my private clubhouse, my personal bar.
That corner was ground zero for the Telegraph Avenue Street Calendar when me and Duncan started it in 1989. Me, still very much a young man of 33, with a full head of hair and no gray in my beard. And it was still ground zero 15 years later when we finally ended it in 2004. Me, no longer young, a grissled middle-aged man of 48.
I was hanging out on this corner on the afternoon in 2001 when the planes hit the World Trade Center (I rushed across the street to watch the smoldering buildings on the TV set on the wall of sports bar). I was there when the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl of 2008 with that incredible football-to-helmet catch. I was there in 2004 when Bill Clinton pulled up to the corner in his limo to sign copies of his book. And I was there on the night in 2008 when they first announced that Barak Obama had been elected President of the United States and firecrackers exploded in the night air. That corner was the backdrop for history unfolding.
The two apartment buildings that had been on the two corners on the other sides of the street both burned down, replaced by something else. And the Cody’s Books building is long-gone, replaced by a boarded-up, empty builing. All that’s left is Amoeba Records on the fourth corner. And that’s closed right now, and very well may be gone soon, too. An apt metaphor for the impermance a life. Nothing lasts for long in this world. Not building or businesses, or people either. So many of whom I once hung out with on this corner are dead. Though I can still see all their faces in my mind. As well as their ghosts bounding down the Avenue.
And maybe that’s the real source of my sadness. This corner, that had once been so full of life, so full of hustle and bustle and bright colors, is now almost completely dead. Gray, dreary and lifeless. And maybe that’s an apt metaphor for how my life turned out, too.
Managed to feed Fatty a big breakfast this morning. Which was my big accomplishment for the day. It’s getting harder and harder to feed Fatty.
When Fatty got run out of my campsite by Mini Scaredy, I had to feed Fatty down by the creek.
But then when Moo Cat got run out of my campsite, she ran Fatty out of her spot. So I had to feed Fatty at a spot even farther down the creek.
And then when Micro Scaredy got run out of my campsite, she ran Moo Cat out of her spot. And Moo Cat ran Fatty out of her spot. So I had to feed Fatty at a spot even FARTHER down the creek.
It was like a domino effect. Every time a cat got run out of my campsite, Fatty got pushed even farther down the creek, and farther down the line of the food chain.
At the rate things are going, I’m gonna have to walk a half a mile from my campsite every morning just to bring Fatty her darn breakfast.