The building formerly known as Cody’s Books

 

Narayana has been hanging out by the old Cody’s Books building lately. She hangs there just about every evening, usually all evening. Sitting there leaning against the front door of the vacant building for hours, blankly staring out at her world. And at the end of the night she usually takes out her sleeping bag and crashes there. Often a couple of other street ne’er-do-wells hang out there, too, one on each side of her. And crash there at night. I’ll often pass them late at night on my way to the liquor store, laying there on the sidewalk in their sleeping bags like three bumps on the logs.

Like so much of my life these days, it’s a stark reminder of what once was, and now is. And such a bring-down from what once was. For many years Cody’s Books was one of the cultural centers of Berkeley. This dynamic hub of constant action and excitement. While today it’s mostly just the home for a couple of weary street people, sitting there killing time.

And for nearly 20 years, that Cody’s Books corner was one of my favorite hang-out spots. I used to half-jokingly refer to it as “my corner” (but half-serious, too). That corner was like my living room, my clubhouse, and my bar, as well as my work place.

When I pass that corner now it’s hard to even remember what it was once like. The countless dramas we enacted over the years on the stage of that corner. It’s so different now. It seems like it was all just a dream. A hallucination. Like it never really happened. It was nothing but a fading memory in the back of my mind.

Elizabeth

 
Elizabeth and Annie, 2003.
Was wondering whatever happened to Elizabeth. I haven’t seen her, or heard anything about her, in at least 3 or 4 years. . .

One of Elizabeth’s claims to fame: She was one of the first of the Berkeley street hippies, hitting the Telegraph street scene around 1967. And remained a part of it down through the decades. The ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s, the ’00s. While almost everyone else came and went, Elizabeth remained. And it gave her a poignant, tragic aspect. Like everyone else had moved on, while Elizabeth had been left behind.

Often loud and cantankerous, especially if she was drinking, she was given the nickname “Sea Hag,” due to her skinny, boney figure and ornery manner. She usually didn’t talk to people so much as screech and squawk at them. Her brains were somewhat pickled from all the drugs and alcohol, and she was hardened by all the street years — hard as nails with an inpenatrable surface armor (as well as generally being oblivious of what anyone thought of her). Picture a squawking, abrasive hillbilly woman from the mountains, and that was her demeanor.

But she had a soulful side, too. One night when she was in one of her moods and particularly acting up, I gave her a copy of Terri Compost’s photo book of People’s Park. And Elizabeth spent the entire evening quietly leafing through every page, every photo. Each picture, each face, conjuring up a thousand memories of the years gone by. Elizabeth had a strong identification with the Telegraph street scene. It was probably the only community she had ever been part of. And sometimes we would both reminisce about all the people and places past (much to Hate Man’s annoyance, he HATED that “Good Old Days” crap, ha ha) and Elizabeth would get a wistful, faraway look in her eye.

Though she could be hard to take, I always had a soft spot for Elizabeth, and was always courtly towards her, lighting her cigarettes and referring to her as “my dear.” Which she enjoyed, remembering the days when she had been a beautiful young hippie woman with the men circling around her, seeking her favors.

Like many Telegraph expatriots, Elizabeth ended up living in Oakland where the rents were cheaper. Living in a little room somewhere in Oakland in her later years. But she’d regularly return to Telegraph, as if driven by some homing pigeon instinct. And you could usually hear her coming from a block away, squawking and screeching. Ha ha. She always came to the scene alone, and left the scene alone. Until a couple years ago when she stopped coming.

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Hate Man: All American football fan

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“The Bear will never die!! The Bear will never be defeated!!

 

This might surprise some people — because Hate Man wasn’t exactly your typical jock — but Hate Man was a huge Cal Bears football fan.

Some of my fondest memories of Hate Camp are hanging there on the Saturdays that Cal was playing. And I’d be listening to the game on the radio on my headphones. And since my radio didn’t have speakers I’d be doing a play-by-play so that everyone at Hate Camp could follow the game. And we’d all be avidly into it. Especially Hate Man.

“And the quarterback is dropping back to pass . . .AND THEY CAUGHT IT!! . . . No wait . . FUMBLE!! . .. I’m not sure who’s got it . . CAL GOT THE BALL BACK!! . . . First and goal with 40 seconds left in the game!!”

It could get really exciting. And I’d really ham it up as the play-by-play announcer.

But one odd thing. We were about a mile away from the football stadium listening to the radio in Peoples Park. And every time Cal scored they’d shoot off the cannon. And I’d hear it first on the radio. And then I’d hear it a second later in real life. It took that long for the sound to travel a mile. Weird.

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Hate Man and his stuff: Part 2. Hate Man tells the University to stuff it

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When Hate Man moved to People’s Park and set up Hate Camp there, his battles with the police and the University over his “stuff” really intensified, and became virtually a daily form of warfare that was waged for over a decade. It wasn’t uncommon for Hate to have a dozen “stuff”-related tickets at any given moment. Virtually all of which Hate defeated in court.

The problem the police had with nailing Hate over this issue was that there was very little legal precedent to go by, as well as the difficulting of exactly defining what “too much stuff” entailed. A fact that Hate was able to exploit in court.

The cops would arbitrarily attempt to come up with different definitions — one was “you could only have as much stuff as you could carry.” But Hate would argue that this discriminated against older, smaller, weaker people who couldn’t carry as much as younger, bigger, stronger people.

Or the cops would try to give street people tickets for having chairs, which they considered a form of “lodging.” To which Hate countered that this discriminated against the homeless, because normal people were allowed to bring lawn chairs to the parks when they had their picnics.

Hate had an excellent legal mind. And he enjoyed using it. He enjoyed the gamesmanship of the battle. And never took it personally against the police or the University. He saw it as part of his life-long mission to learn how to deal effectively with nemeses and people who were in opposition to him. And most of the cops didn’t take it personally either. Aside from one or two who REALLY hated Hate Man’s guts and went out of their way to make Hate’s life miserable.

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And to be fair to the cops, it was necessary for them to periodically crunch the homeless street people over having too much stuff. Because many of them compiled huge masses of crap and made huge messes. And if the cops didn’t periodically prune the herd, they’d turn our public parks and public spaces into private squats and homeless shanty towns.

Hate Man, though, was in somewhat of a unique position. He served as sort of a communal store and trading post for the street community. And among his stuff he’d have things like a “medicine chest” where street people could get things like aspirins and cough medicine and band aids. And if you needed to borrow a screw driver or an extra blanket or the proverbial cup of sugar, Hate would usually have it among his mounds of stuff. And Hate also let other street people store their stuff alongside his stuff — he’d keep an eye on it while they had to take care of some business. Which added to his mounds of stuff. And, of course, he usually had several big garbage bags of recycled cans and bottles.

Every now and then I would ask Hate if it was really worth it to go through the daily grind over his stuff, and wouldn’t he consider “flexing” and lightening his load. But Hate Man was always adamant about living his life on his own terms. And if society wanted to stop him, well, good luck doing that. Ha ha. Hate was never shy about pushing the envelope. And wherever the line was drawn, he’d extend it by a couple extra feet. And it would be from that point that he’d be willing to start negotiating. Ha ha.

Finally, in a last-ditch attempt to get rid of Hate Man and all his stuff, as well as all the other homeless people who were basically living in Peoples Park, the University arbitrarily came up with a ban on all cardboard and tarps in the park. Hate Man, realizing this would make it virtually impossible for street people to exist in the park, decided to go on the offensive. And he — and his noisy band of fellow street people — set up a big 24-hour-a-day protest on Bancroft Street, at the foot of the campus and directly in front of the University police station. And he managed to create such a public uproar, that after several weeks the University backed down and relinquished the ban.

And Hate Man prevailed once again. THE END

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Art about art about art about art

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Today I was going through my storage stuff that i hadn’t looked at in 20 years. This weird artificially-preserved time-capsule of my past. So that threw me into these odd emotional spaces.

This big painting by Frederike Rheinheimer from 1986 was painted from a photo by Duncan, of Rick, me and Vince. Rick had just driven us in his truck to the printing press in Fremont to pick up the bundles of the latest (and last) issue of the TWISTED IMAGE tabloid (#10). Hot off the presses. Literally. Now we’re celebrating at a coffee shop.

Being a man, seeing one of my publications rolling off the presses is probably the closest I’ll ever come to that feeling a woman gets when she has a baby.

I’m also struck by how convoluted my art career got back then. This is a painting. Of a photo. Of a publication. And later a newspaper would turn the whole thing into a newspaper article. And now I’ve turned it into a blog.  It gets to be like playing 3-dimensional chess.

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The secret origin of Hate Man’s philosophy of Oppositionality!!!

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Hate Man’s life had a weird kind of symmetry. He spent about 40 years being normal. And about 40 years being weird.

Over the years Hate Man systematically developed this whole philosophy — this whole way of life — that he dubbed “Oppositionality.”

It all started around that fabled year of 1969, when Hate Man was around 42 and he got hit by a massive mid-life crisis. Up to that point Hate Man had lived a fairly normal, conventional life, and had done all the things the way society had told him to do it. And by most measures he was a “success.” He had a prestigious job, the wife, the kids, the nice home, the whole bit. Except for one thing: he was miserable.

So he started “nutting” up, as he put it. Playing by society’s rules hadn’t worked. So he starting questioning everything society had told him. And doing the exact opposite.

Society told him he shouldn’t tell people “Fuck you I hate your guts.” So he started telling people “Fuck you I hate your guts.”
Society said men shouldn’t wear skirts and bras. So he started wearing skirts and bras.
Society said you were supposed to talk to people. So he went completely silent.
Society said you were supposed to look both ways before you crossed the street. So he started randomly running across the middle of the street.

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After he got hit by a car chasing after a frisbee in the middle of the street, and ended up in the hospital for several months with his leg in a traction, Hate Man decided that maybe society had gotten that one right. So from that point on Hate Man always looked both ways.

And that’s pretty much how Hate Man developed his unique and peculiar philosophy. By trial-and-error.

So I guess you could say he developed his philosophy more experimentally than ideologically. If something worked, he kept it. And if it didn’t work he tossed it out.

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Berkeley street characters (#947 in a series): The Yoshua Man

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The Yoshua Man, as confident as ever that he’s about to make his first convert to his one-man religion.

What’s that line?  “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over even when you keep getting the same bad results.”  Nobody embodies this bold trait more than this soap-box orator known as the Yoshua Man.
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The Yoshua Man has been out there on the street corners of Berkeley virtually every day for the last 25 years, preaching, and handing out fliers, and trying to convert people to the truth of his home-made religion.  And as far as I know, he hasn’t made a single convert over all these years.   But that doesn’t stop him from trying.  I just passed him on a street corner today, still firing on all cylinders.
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The Yoshua Man’s one-man religion basically revolves around one key — and endlessly repeated — theological notion.  He came up with this unique theory.  Jesus’s real name was Yoshua not Jesus.  And all the people who believed in Jesus were going to Hell.  Only the people who believed in Yoshua would find their true place in Heaven beside the one true God.  Yoshua’s Dad, natch.. . . . Uh huh . . . .

For a year he was convinced the World Was Coming To An End on May 21, 2011.  Of course, only those who believed in the name of Yoshua would be saved.  The rest of us poor bastard would be doomed to Eternal Damnation for our grammatical error.   So the Yoshua Man was out on the Berkeley campus every day with a little chalkboard counting down the days.  Starting at 365.  364.  363.  And so forth . . . When he got down to zero he disappeared for awhile.  Eventually he slunk back to the campus, in the face of much mockery and abuse.  Undeterred, he came up with a new date for the End of the World.  And started yet another countdown with his chalkboard.   Ha ha.  . .   Like they say:  “Winners never quit.”

I tried to explain to him once:  “Jesus and Yoshua?  It’s like water and agua.  They call it ‘agua’ in Mexico.  And we call it ‘water’ here.  But it’s the same substance.”

He looked at me earnestly and said:  “You’ll think differently when you’re rotting in Hell.”

Hah!  Shows you what he knows.  I’m going to Hades.

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