Hate Man’s shed

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It really does feel like the end of an era. Hate Man occupied this shed for nearly 40 years. And today we moved the last box of Hate Man’ stuff out of it. So his last physical presence on the scene is gone, gone, gone.

I spent a few moments lingering in the empty shed this afternoon. The only thing left were a few pictures and nick-knacks that Hate had tacked to the walls. I shut the door and locked the lock for the last time. And that was that.

I had had a key to the shed, off and on, for the last 6 years. It started when I was working the recycling gig with Hate. I would regularly ferry his big garbage bags of recycling from his campsite in the Park to the shed. And Hate let me store some of my stuff in the shed. Which is a great luxury when you live on the streets — to have some of your valuables behind lock-and-key.

And it felt good that Hate Man trusted me with the key. Because, with the incredibly public life Hate led, the shed was his one private space. Hate Man was a man who literally welcomed the entire world to be part of his life. But the shed was the one place where he tried to keep the world at bay.

 

 

I remember the first time I heard of Hate Man — God, it must have been around 1980. And when they told me he lived in a garage, that seemed like one of the craziest things I had ever heard. “How does a grown man live in a garage? Where does he go to the bathroom? How does he cook his food??” Ha ha.

I remember a favorite period where me and Duncan and our friends would go down to the shed every evening to hang with Hate Man after we packed up our vending tables at the end of the day. And we’d pound a couple cans of Olde English as we quietly unwinded from the day. And the conversation around Hate Man was usually pretty lively and entertaining and often very funny. And those were some golden moments.

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My last interaction with Hate Man involved the shed. He had suddenly rushed off to the hospital with a medical emergency. And he’d left all of his camping stuff on the sidewalk. I got an urgent message to pack up all of Hate Man’s stuff (and anybody who knows Hate Man knows that Hate Man had a LOT of stuff, ha ha) and haul it all to the shed before it got soaked by the rain or thrown out by the groundskeepers. And I managed to get it all stored safely in the shed just before the rain started to come down.

Unfortunately Hate Man died shortly after that. But at least all of his crap lived on. Ha ha.

But it was a weird feeling. After all the years of experiencing Hate Camp — the decades of this wild, crazy, free-form, street circus — which was dutifully packed up every night at the end of the day. I had packed up Hate Camp for the last time.

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Christmas on the streets

 

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The holidays on the street scene are often sad and depressing. Especially the family holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. Many street people come from broken homes, or no homes. So it’s like salt in the wounds to see everybody else celebrating precisely what they lack.

Inevitably, fights will break out. Its almost a holiday tradition on the streets. As I’m walking towards the scene on Christmas day my first thought usually is: “Who’s gonna get beat up this time.”

Invariably, one of them will approach me almost immediately after I show up. They’ll stagger towards me with a drunken leer. Muttering angry comments under their breath. They’ve gotten a raw deal in life, its so unfair, and now somebody must pay. They’ll stick their jaw in your face, almost inviting you to take a swat at it, making angry pronouncements, usually ending with “…and fuck you TOO, buddy boy!!” Its almost a sexual thing, like a mating ritual, like they’re looking for somebody to dance with. You have to explain to them as gently as possible that they must have mistaken you for someone who could actually tolerate breathing in the same air as them. And you steer them in the other direction. Off they go, jutting their jaws out in challenge to other prospective dance partners. Until they finally jut their jaws at someone who is jutting THEIR jaws back at them. Beautiful! Finally they have found each other. Later in the day you’ll spot them with black eyes and bruises all over their faces. And they are strangely quiet and subdued now, almost satisfied, or at least their passions have been exhausted. They sit there quietly for the rest of the afternoon, as if basking in a post-coital afterglow.

The drinkers all start drinking earlier than usual. Usually from the first moment they wake up and get out of their sleepingbags. Everyone is straining to “party.” Everyone is desperately seeking something “more.” This is a day we’re supposed to be “celebrating” after all. And getting increasingly bitter that in fact its mostly just another day of the same old shit. As if we’ve been denied something that should be rightfully ours.

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Even worse than the fighters and drinkers are the compulsive socializers. People I barely know will attach themselves to me, harangue me with loud, shrill talk attesting to some great camraderie and brotherhood that we must have shared in some distant past. It is as if people are afraid to admit they’re alone on Christmas. They must share in the warmth and intimacy of deep friendship, even if they have to artificially manufacture it in the moment.

Alas, there is something about the holidays that forces one to take stock of their lives.  Often painfully so.  When I’m walking alone down the street on Christmas day, I’ll almost feel ashamed. Like people are looking at me thinking: “Look at him, poor slob. Alone and friendless and family-less on Christmas.”

I remember one lonely Thanksgiving back when I had an apartment. I went down to 7-11 (the only store open) and bought a frozen turkey TV dinner for my Thanksgiving meal. I could almost feel what the clerk was thinking: “LOSER!”

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 I distinctly remember last Christmas. The Christmas of 2012. It poured rain all day, adding to the general gloom of holidays on the streets. Even worse, I had been storing my rain gear and sleeping bag in Hate Man’s garage. But wouldn’t you know it? The padlock on the front door breaks. The lock jams and I can’t get the damn thing open. On Christmas day of all days.
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I have a friend who will loan me his bolt cutters. But they won’t do me any good unless I can find another padlock to replace the broken one. Try finding a store open on Christmas day in Berkeley that sells padlocks. Believe me, I tried. I spent hours trudging up and down College Avenue and Telegraph Avenue in the pouring rain, looking for such a store. While the rest of the world was presumably celebrating the glorious birth day of Christ Himself. Horray horray.
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Finally I gave up and took shelter from the storm under an awning of a building on the completely deserted Berkeley campus. The rain continued to pour down for hours, so I was trapped there in my lonely refuge.  With no raingear and no sleeping bag. So there was nothing I could do but hole up there under the awning until the storm finally ended (which wasn’t until the next day).  I wormed around in my soggy backpack and found a leftover peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the day before. And I sat there eating it. And that would be my Christmas dinner for that year.
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Its hard not to take stock of your life and what it’s all amounted to when your sitting alone, under an awning, in the pouring rain, on Christmas day, eating a goddamn peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You feel like you’re living out a Charlie Brown episode from some long lost Peanuts special.

And that’s all I remember about that Christmas. Thank God.