Micro Scaredy (sister of Thurston Owl) was very distrustful and wary of me right up until around 7 months when she finally began to accept me. Aggressive and assertive she wakes me up every morning at 5 AM and won’t stop pestering me and haranguing me until I fix her her breakfast. Purring loudly the whole time she’s abusing me. Ha ha. She’s a hellion. The third Scaredy of the lineage.
Thurston Owl the Third was from Scaredy Cat’s second litter. He was a dead-ringer for Mini Owl in both looks and personality — fun-loving and playful. Almost as if he was the reincarnation of Mini Owl. And like Mini Owl, he too disappeared from my campsite at 9 months.
Mini Owl (seen here with sister Mini Scaredy) was one of the most lovable and happy and goofy of the cats. Loved to romp around and play all day long. Unlike a lot of feral cats (who you have to gradually win there trust) Mini Owl immediately attached himself to me from the first time he met me as a 2 month kitten. Mini Owl disappeared at 9 months and I missed the little guy for a long time.
Mini Scaredy (along with her brother Mini Owl) was from Scaredy Cat’s first litter two years ago. Mini Scaredy has become incredibly attached to me. She waits for me to show up every night, hiding in the bushes two blocks down the road from the trail to my campsite. Then she happily trots along side me as I make my way up to my campsite. And as soon as I lay down my cardboard matting she rolls over on her back and looks up at me like “You MUST pet me now!!” Ha ha. Sleeps with me all night long. Then hangs out with me all morning right up until I finally pack up and leave. And she’s the most generous of the feral cats, regularly gifting me with a dead mouse. Mini Scaredy.
Fatty (sister of Scaredy Cat) is the softest and most gentle and least feral-like of all the cats. Fragile and dainty, she’s the most human-like of the cats. And often gives me this soulful look, like: “If only I could talk the things I could tell you.” She got run out of my campsite by the more aggressive Mini Scaredy. But at 4 years old is alive and well and living on the fringes of my campsite, usually waiting patiently every morning 30 yards down the trail, waiting for me to bring her her breakfast.
Scaredy Cat was from Feral Tammy’s first litter in 2014 (along with sister Fatty and brother Crier). Scaredy Cat immediately established herself as the alpha cat at my campsite. The most intelligent of the cats with the largest vocabulary (a remarkable array of different-sounding meows) Scaredy Cat was a natural leader who the other cats naturally gravitated towards. With the exception of Moo Cat who picked a fight with her in a misguided attempt to impose his dominance, and ended up getting run out of my campsite. From that point on it would be the Scaredy lineage at my campsite (seen here with her first kitten Mini Scaredy).
Feral Tammy was another one of the totally feral cats. She was already several years old before she showed up at my campsite and her feral instincts were already fully engrained. She usually watched me warily and kept a respectful distance. But now and again she would make herself at home on my blankets. Here she is with one of her look-alike kittens who sadly didn’t make it through the winter.
After I got all the feral cats at my campsite fixed in 2013, I figured that would be the end of that and Blondie’s lineage would eventually come to a close. But then one day this battered old warhorse of a feral tom — who I named Owl — showed up at my campsite, attracted to my cat food dish. And decided to stick around. Next thing I knew Owl had hooked up with this saucy wench who I named Feral Tammy. And they started popping out feral kittens left and right. The remaining …
Tuffy was from Moo Cat’s one-and-only litter before I had her fixed. And, like Moo Cat, she was a character. Unusually brown-colored and especially beautiful, she also ended up adopted by another homeless camper. When he left town for 6 months, Tuffy immediately marched back down to my campsite and sat down on my chest, claiming the center of my campsite as hers and declaring herself the new dominant cat of the tribe (much to Moo Cat’s righteous indignation). Eventually Tuffy returned to her owner (much to Moo Cat’s relief) until she disappeared mysteriously last year.
Mick and Keef were from Blondie’s second and final litter (she became infertile after that). They were a matching set who looked alike and acted alike and went everywhere together. With Keef — naturally — always one step slightly in the lead. When I left town for a year in 2013 they both disappeared from my campsite. But years later Keef would turn up several miles down the road living happily with another homeless camper
Scamp is Moo Cat’s sister from the same litter. While they look alike as tuxedo cats, they’re personalities are polar opposites. Whereas Moo Cat is neurotic and anxious, Scamp is always calm and self-satisfied with a master-of-reality grin on her face. A true cosmic cat. Scamp was adopted by a homeless friend of mine who lives on the other side of the hill from me, where she lives happily to this day.
Moo Cat was from Blondie’s first litter in 2008. High-strung, excitable, over-emotional, Moo Cat is the drama queen of the scene. And she’s always picking fights and stirring up trouble. But extremely affectionate. Hates all the other cats and fervently wishes it was just me and her. Often when I’m petting her she’ll get so excited she’ll slash at me with her claws. Girl can’t help it. 10 years old and going string Moo Cat is the oldest of the tribe. All the feral cats are special to me. But I have a special bond with Moo Cat.
In honor of NATIONAL FERAL CAT DAY I’m gonna remember some of my favorite feral cats.
Blondie was one of the first feral cats I hooked up with. She already was living in the woods with two other kittens from that litter when I first showed up in 2007. Blondie was very regal and dainty. Very much the queen. She lived to be almost 10, and I never touched her or petted her once in all those years. Except for one time. I was lying on my back in my sleeping bag and out of the blue Blondie jumped up and laid down on my legs. She laid there for about 5 minutes. Like she was thinking “I ALWAYS wanted to try this.” Then jumped off and resumed her usual position sitting about 3 feet away along side me.
Bizarre weather last night at my campsite. These powerful winds blasting all across the Berkeley hills. The tree branches swaying madly back and forth creating this booming sound. And it went on all night long (by the morning I was covered in leaves and dirt and branches).
And it was this witchy, warm tropical wind. It was so warm I had to take off my jackets, hats and gloves. And I was STILL hot. This balmy, sweaty heat. I tossed and turned all night long feeling slightly crazed from this strange pressure in the air.
Mini Scaredy took it in stride. But Micro Scaredy freaked out. Periodically she’d get spooked by the booming winds and the crashing tree branches, and she’d run down the hill in a panic. Only to find it was just as windy down there. So she’d run back up to my campsite and nestle on my chest, like “SAVE ME!! SAVE ME!!” (And usually she acts like such a tough guy — sheesh)
The next morning the cats were still freaked out. Mini and Micro were eating at the food dish when Moo Cat comes charging up the hill, runs right past the two cats, and then cowered behind me (she had never done anything like THAT before). Then Moo faced off against the other two cats, snarling fiercely (the other two cats just stared at her like “What’s gotten into THAT bitch??”).
Then later Mini and Micro climbed up on a long tree branch and got into a screeching, slashing cat-fight. Weird.
Witchy weather does weird things to the wild critters.
The population of the tribe of feral cats at my campsite usually ranges from about 5 to 10 cats. This number of cats has afforded me a look at many of the “social” aspects of cats. How they interact and relate to their fellow cats.
And the social dynamics can usually get as complex and convoluted as a tribe of humans. And, as with human relationships, they have friends and enemies and rivals and lovers and acquaintances and sibling relationships, and etc.
Scaredy and Fatty are a case in point. Two sisters from the same litter four years ago. For their first two years they were best friends and inseparable companions. Sleeping together, romping in the woods together, licking and grooming each other, etc.
But then after Scaredy Cat’s first kitten was born — Mini Scaredy — a change gradually took place in their relationship. Mini Scaredy asserted herself as Scaredy Cat’s new best friend and inseparable companion. And it was the age-old story: “Two’s company, three’s a crowd.” And Fatty was gradually ostracized by the tribe. And eventually run out of my campsite by Mini Scaredy — who was much more aggressive and athletic than the passive Fatty.
Sadly, even Scaredy Cat would sometimes take part in the ostracism and run Fatty down the hill and up a tree. Though I always felt her heart wasn’t really in it. She had simply thrown her lot in with Mini Scaredy and was going along with her program.
Still, I remembered how close Fatty and Scaredy Cat had once been. And would feel bad for Fatty when I’d see her roaming like a pariah, alone and lonely on the outskirts of my campsite. Life is a soap opera I guess. Even for feral cats.
I distinctly remember where I was on 9-11. My Surviving on the Streets book had just been published the day before. And I would turn 45 on the day after. I considered my Street book one of the best things I had produced. So I felt I was on top of my game back then. With new peaks yet to come.
And the Telegraph Street Calendar was a hit that year, too. It was the one with Hate Man and Hatred on the cover. It sold well. And it recaptured a bit of the zany, fun-loving spirit of the Telegraph Avenue in the early ’90s. So that was looking up, too.
Everything I touched worked. And I’d been doing daily kundalini yoga meditation for 7 years years. With no drugs or alcohol. So I was sharp as a tack, both physically and spiritually. It even seemed like I was finally resolving some of the demons that had bedeviled me all my life. And I was actually turning into the person that I had always wanted to be. So I really felt like I was on a roll. And I had every reason to believe things would just keep getting better and better.
And my little sister, at age 42, had managed to finally have her first child. So it was a new beginning for her. So that’s what I always remember about that period of 9-ll. The birth of my sister’s baby, and the birth of my “Surviving On the Streets” book. It seemed like things were really looking up on all fronts. . .
Of course I didn’t know at the time — one rarely does know at the time — that this would in fact be my peak. And it would pretty much be all downhill from this point onward. And maybe not just for me. But for America, too.
One of the best jobs I ever had was pumpkin salesman. Every year for 2 months around Halloween this guy would set up 6 or 7 pumpkin patches at different lots in the East Bay. And he’d hire guys to run the lots.
It’s hard to be depressed when you’re surrounded all day by beautiful bright orange pumpkins. And little kids joyfully romping across the lot (the kids all got to pick out their own pumpkin and they were all convinced they had scored the most special pumpkin of them all!).
The guy who ran the gig would spend the day driving around from lot to lot to make sure everything was running smoothly, and to collect the dough you’d amassed. Often you’d have a big wad of cash in your pocket, a couple of hundred bucks. And the guy was no fool. He didn’t trust any of the guys who worked on the lots. So periodically he’d send in an undercover guy posing as a customer to buy a pumpkin with a marked 20 dollar bill. And then later when he came by to collect the dough he’d look through all your bills to make sure that marked bill was in with the wad. And if it wasn’t, you were in trouble. (One time he thought he had me because the marked 20 was missing from my wad. But what actually happened was, another customer had paid with a 50 dollar bill. And I had given him the marked 20 as part of his change.)
An even better gig was: He had these little campers on all the lots. Bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette. And he’d hire homeless people to stay in them overnight to guard the pumpkin patches from thieves. How’s that for the ideal job for a homeless person. Getting paid money to live in a home.
After Halloween the guy would do the same basic gig for the next 2 months setting up Christmas tree lots. He tried to talk me into taking that job, because I was a pretty good salesman. But Christmas trees was a whole ‘nother gig than pumpkins. You had to lug the big heavy trees over to the customers cars, and strap them down to the top of the cars. And hammer the stands to the bottom of the trees. Often in the pouring rain. So I passed. It was too much like work for me.
But selling pumpkins was great.
I remember one of my favorite Craig memories. It was 1994, and I decided to record a compilation CD of street musicians. And Craig was one of the first people I approached for the project. For Craig was the quintessential street musician after all. Braying out his songs to the midnight moon with his battered street guitar as he belted out druggy versions of every Rolling Stones song you could think of. And wiith all the anguished, tormented soul that Craig was famous for.
The recording sessions for the CD took place in this abandoned bank building on Shattuck & Bancroft. A friend of mine who worked for City Hall had given me the key to the building. And we set up a make-shift recording studio in there (great acoustics inside the bank vault but you sure don’t want that big round door to shut and lock on you).
I had invited about 20 street musicians for the first session. And when I showed up early that morning to unlock the building Craig was already there waiting for me, with a big smile and his guitar slung over his shoulder. Craig was so excited about the project he had gotten up at the crack of dawn to get there first. Or, more likely, he had been up all night doing speed and hadn’t even gone to bed yet. At any rate we were both thrilled at this once-in-a-lifetime chance at playing at being rock stars. And who knows maybe we’d get lucky and come up with a hit record — stranger things have happened. Or at the least maybe we’d get one of out songs played on the radio (we actually managed this one).
The two engineers with the recording equipment hadn’t shown up yet. So me and Craig took our guitars into the men’s room — where you get that great echo-y sound — to warm up. Craig went through his repertoire of Stones songs. And they sounded great. And for the first time I started to think that maybe this crazy project of mine — this crazy pipe dream (literally) — was actually going to work. I had a cheap-ass tape-recorder and i recorded Craig singing and playing in that dark and dank men’s room (most of the sockets in the building didn’t have light bulbs). And one of these days I’m gonna have to dig up that tape. It’ll probably make me cry.
When we got all of our recording equipment set up Craig was the first person we recorded. He had written an original song that was a parody of an Alice Cooper song that he titled “The Ballad of Isy Jones” (Isy Jones was one of Craig’s many street aliases — Sic Pup was another). He had reworked Alice Cooper’s lyrics into a dark and zany first-hand account of life on the streets (and jails) of Berkeley. I was proud of Craig — he had come up with a weird little underground classic. And Craig’s ravaged singing voice let you know he had lived out every line of the lyrics of the song, and then some.
When the recording sessions finally came to a close well after midnight, me and Craig and Monk (another crazy street rocker who could have been Craig’s brother from another mother) were hanging outside the building on the dark sidewalks of Shattuck. We were all definitely buzzed. But when I pulled the keys out of my pocket to lock up the building, the blotter acid in my pocket also came flying out and fluttered off in the wind.
“Oh fuck!” I said.
“What’s the matter?” said Craig.
“I just dropped my acid on the sidewalk.”
So the three of us are down on our hands and knees fumbling around on the dark sidewalk of Shattuck Avenue looking for that strip of acid.
“Found it!” said Monk.
Monk popped the acid in his mouth. And then happily bounded off down the street. And me and Craig bopped off in the other direction.
Just one more night in a seemingly endless expanse of nights on the streets of Berkeley. And we were all young and strong and just crazy enough to love the whole mad misadventures of our mad, mad lives.
That’s how I’ll always remember Craig. Bounding off down the street with his guitar slung across his back, off to his next adventure on the streets of Berkeley.