Time warp

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Ghosts of Sproul Plaza past.

It’s 1AM Friday night. And for some inexplicable reason I’m sitting by myself on top of the Sproul Plaza steps.

And if I squint my eyes real tight I can see the ghost of Mario Savio standing on top of a cop car in 1964 and sticking his ass into the gears.

Or I can see Charles Manson on the steps of the Student Union building down there with his guitar in the fabled Summer of Love (so-called) of 1967, wooing his first Manson Family member hippie chick.

Or I can see myself as a kid coming to Berkeley for the first time at age 17 in 1974.

Or I can see myself 20 years later in 1994, bashing away on the drums in Hate Man’s drum circle.

Or I can see myself still sitting here in year 2018. . . .

 

It’s like I’m stuck in a time warp.

Gamesmanship

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One of the things I truly loved about Hate Man was his sense of playfulness.

For many years he would dump out big buckets full of sticks and buckets and metal objects And we’d all gather in a circle for a drum circle. And just bash away. To make a hellacious racket. For the pure fun of it. Just like a bunch of kids playing in a sandbox. I cherish that.

Hate Man had a sense of gamesmanship. Even when he was going to court and dealing with heavy legal issues. He always looked at it as a chess match. A game.

Hate Man had his serious side for sure. ‘It’s a battle! It’s a war! All that is other than me is out to DESTROY me!!!”

But he didn’t have a grim, battle-to-the-death outlook. He always respected all of his opponents and enemies and nemesis. Like sports. They were the other team that he competed against. Never took it personally. Looked at life as a game and a riddle to try and figure out.

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A Sproul Plaza Fountain story: part two

 

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My other Sproul Plaza fountain story is a little sadder.

Again it was right after the Hate Man drum circle had been shut down for the night. Around 10 PM. And we’re all lazing around on Sproul. Except that Elizabeth — more commonly known by her street name the Sea Hag — is causing a big ruckus.

Elizabeth got stuck with the Sea Hag moniker because she was skinny and boney like the Popeye character. And because she could get incredibly obnoxious when she was drunk — which was most of the time. She had this loud, shrieking incredibly discordant voice. And she wouldn’t shut up. She’d get right in your face and keep squawking and shrieking at you — this hideous obnoxious drunken babble — until you were finally gonna have a nervous breakdown..

On the particular night she kept inflicting her bad act on Panther — this burly, but generally good-natured street hippie who was part of the scene back then. Elizabeth was in full Sea Hag mode

“Elizabeth. PLEASE!! Please just leave me alone!!” Panther kept imploring.

But Elizabeth just wouldn’t leave Panther alone. She kept getting right in his face and screeching her madness at him at top volume.”AAACKKKK!!” she’d screech over and over. Followed by “OOORRKKK!!’. And ” AAUUGGHHH!!!”

And finally Panther snapped. He grabbed Elizabeth the Sea Hag in his burly arms and dragged her to the fountain and dunked her head right into the water. Held her head under the water for a couple of long seconds before he finally released her.

Elizabeth pulled her head out of the water. Shook the water off her hair dramatically. Cursing and squawking and sputtering loudly — some incoherent gibberish as she spit the water out of her mouth like a floundering fish. And then she mostly sat there quietly by herself for the rest of the evening. So at least it succeeded in shutting Elizabeth up. For once. So we were all grateful for that.

But later when Panther calmed down he expressed serious regrets over what he had done. “Boy, I came close to seriously fucking up. If I had accidentally whacked Elizabeth’s head against the side of the fountain? I could have gotten arrested for assault and done 10 years in prison!”

Elizabeth.

Myself? I’m a male chauvinist pig. And I’m an advocate of the “dunking stool” where the Pilgrims in the days of old used to strap ornery women into this contraption where they’d dunk the women into the river as punishment and to cool them off.

On the other hand, I always had a soft spot for Elizabeth. She’s been on the Telegraph street scene longer than anybody. She was one of the first street hippies on Telegraph back in 1968 when she was a teenage runaway way back when. And she’s still here. And she’s constantly longing for the good old days just like me. And we’d often reminisce between the two of us about Telegraph street characters past. “Remember Gypsy?” “Remember Pallidan?” Etc. And everyone came and went. Except for Elizabeth who was left behind. So she’s kind of tragic just like me.

I actually published some of Elizabeth’s photos of the street characters in the last issue of the TELEGRAPH STREET CALENDAR 2004. And another time — to shut her up — I bought her a copy of Terry Compost’s photo book about People’s Park. And she sat there very quietly (for once) and soulfully for a long time. Looking at all the photos of all the Berkeley street characters over all the years. Every picture conjuring up a dozen memories in her mind.

And it occurs to me I haven’t seen Elizabeth in at least a year. Last I heard she was living in a little room in Oakland. I hope she’s doing good wherever she is

A Sproul Plaza Fountain story: part one

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The fountain on Sproul Plaza has been the backdrop for countless street dramas over the years. But I can only remember two times when the fountain itself played a part in the story.

The first story is kind of funny. A bunch of us were hanging out there at the fountain one night after the Hate Man drum circle had ended. We’re sitting there on the ledge, smoking cigarettes and chillin’ and etc. When this homeless friend of mine sauntered over and joined the conversation. And he‘s got this big green frame-backpack on his back.

Suddenly he notices all the coins on the bottom of the fountain. Ya know? People throw them in there for good luck. But it turned out they weren’t so lucky for him.

“Man there’s enough coins in the fountain to buy me another forty!!” he said, excitedly.

So he kneels on the ledge and reaches down into the water to grab some of the coins at the bottom.

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But as he bent over, the laws of physics and gravity took affect. And his frame-pack flipped over his shoulder and then over his head — sort of like a judo flip. And the weight of it — he must have had 40 pounds of crap in there — pulled him over the ledge and right into the water, headfirst. And dragged him all the way down to the bottom of the fountain, like someone had attached an anchor to him and thrown it into the water.

It was the weirdest thing. One second he’s sitting there talking to us. And the next second he’s completely submerged in the water. We could actually see him underwater swimming, doing the breaststroke, his cheeks puffed out like a blowfish.

Well, he pulls himself out of the fountain, sputtering and cursing, and soaking wet. And we’re all laughing, busting our guts because it was so funny.

Fortunately I had an extra set of dry clothes for him stashed at my office. So he didn’t freeze to death or nothing. But I can still see that picture in mind as clear as a bell, 20 years later. Him underwater in the fountain doing the breaststroke .

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Ace Backwords 1994

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A seemingly youthful Ace Backwords before all the malt liquor started kicking in.
I stumbled across this photo of myself from 1994.  And then I’m doing the math in my head.  “Holy shit, that was 20 years ago!”  And I think:  “How can that be possible?”  Because it seems like just yesterday.  But the math never lies.  20 years.  7,120 days.  Give or take a couple days.  60,880 hours ago. . . .. It doesn’t seem like that long ago.  60,880 hours ago?  Seems like only about 50 thousand hours ago.  But that’s the strange thing about time . . .

Tick tick tick.. . .

And I don’t know if you do this.  But I look back on my Youthful Self … And its like looking back on somebody else.  I barely even remember who I thought I was back then.   Let alone who I actually was.  I have to assume it was me. The Ace Backwords of 1994.  Even though I can barely remember who I was, or who I thought I was, at that particular juncture of history.

Part of me wants to look back on my Youthful Self like I was a cool guy.  Because, well, frankly, it was me.  So I’m sort of rooting for myself.  Even as another part of me looks back at my Youthful Self as a total asshole. Because I was certainly that, too (and I could catalogue all the fucked up shit I did, if you really want the details).

But the strangest thing, re looking back on my Youthful Self, is that it really feels like I’m looking back on somebody else.  I barely even remember who that person was.  The Ace Backwords of 1994.  Even though I have to cop to the fact that it was in fact me.  Same social security number and finger prints and DNA. Even as, I swear to god, its like looking back on somebody else.

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