The return of Moo Cat

20190401_084442~2.jpg
Moo Cat is a tough old girl. She made it through her 10th winter living in the woods.

Moo Cat had been missing for over a week. Which she’ll do sometimes. But I was still starting to worry. I’ve seen so many feral cats come and go over the years. And Moo Cat is over 10 years old — which is pretty ancient for a feral cat. And one day I know Moo Cat just won’t be there anymore.

So it was a relief when she showed up this morning. And as wild and crazy as ever. And definitely hungry. Ate a big 14 ounce can of cat food and 3 big pieces of cheddar cheese.

The last time I slept in a bed

 

I was trying to figure out how long it’s been since I spent the night inside sleeping on a bed. . . It was May of 2015. . . So, according to my calculations, I’ve gone 1,398 days in a row sleeping outside . . . I’ve been out here so long, the Steph Curry Golden State Warriors hadn’t even won their first championship the last time I slept in a bed.

By life probably seems a little odd to some people.. . .

Probably the only real “rules of the streets” is: Whatever You Can Get Away With

Which reminds me of one of those inscrutable Zen koans of street life: “He who hesitates is lost. But look before you leap.”

I sometimes laugh when I hear somebody use a phrase like the “rules of the streets.” In fact just about every street person I know is operating under their own particular set of “rules.” I’ll give you an example:

Last weekend there was this big event on the Berkeley campus. And they bussed in all these high school kids for some kind of big convention. Anyways later that Sunday evening I was hanging out in the lobby of the building where they had the event. The event is over now, and all the kids are long gone, on the bus headed back home. So the building is pretty deserted and I got the place all to myself. When this janitor walks by and she plops this really nice, expensive rain jacket on the bench right near where I’m sitting.

I immediately figure out the most likely scenario. One of the kids spaced out and forgot to take their jacket. Then when the janitor was cleaning up after the event, she discoved it.. And now she’s leaving it here in the lobby on the off chance that the kid comes back for it.

Now I have my own particular ground-scoring “rules” when it comes to situations like this. Usually I’ll wait a couple of hours before I grab it, just in case the owner does comes back for it. Then at the end of the evening — when the thing is most likely just going to end up dumped in the garbage — I’ll grab it with a clean conscience.

So I’m sitting there for about an hour, sort of eye-balling the rain jacket out of the corner of my eye, like the great prize that it is. When my pleasant reverie is suddenly shattered. This other street person happens to walk by, sees the rain jacket, and grabs it, and walks off with a big happy smile on his face. . . Oh well. So much for THAT score.

Dude obviously has his own set of ground-scoring rules.

I can handle being homeless. I can handle being homeless in the rain. But being homeless in the rain AND being sick as a dog?? That’s pushing the envelope

FB_IMG_1548731159799.jpg

 

I’m sick as a dog. UGGHH!!

I fucked up. I got too drunk last night and forgot to take my sleeping bag to my campsite (uh duh). Shivered all night long under two ratty blankets. Woke up in the morning with the chills, couldn’t get warm. Had some kind of fever. And my entire body ached like somebody had worked me over with a 2-by-4. Laid there in a stupor at my campsite until 2 in the afternoon.

After much effort, I was finally able to hoist myself upright to a sitting position. When I stood up I was so dizzy I thought I was going to topple over. . . Dumped out a huge dish of cat food for my goddamn feral cats. And then SLOWLY packed up my campsite. Took me a half hour to pack up. It was like I was in slow motion. Then I staggered down to the campus, stopping several times to rest.

FB_IMG_1546728094482.jpg

And just my luck, a big 4-day rainstorm is just heading in. Which can be tough enough to deal with even when you’re on top of things. Let alone when you’re as sick as dog and barely have the strength to stand up. The entire campus is locked up for the Christmas break. So I’m desperately trying to figure out where I can hole up indoors for awhile and ride out this sickness before I get soaked by the rain and really break down.

And then I got a huge break (there is a God!). Virtually every door on the entire campus is locked. But I somehow managed to find the one door that was inexplicably and miraculously left unlocked. The backdoor of Dwinelle Hall. I curled up on this rug, hidden behind a barrier. And slept until 5:30 in the evening. And here I am.

I hid inside Dwinelle until 10 PM when it was finally late enough to hit the secret doorway on the campus that I crash at when it rains.

Image may contain: indoor

 

 

 

Managed to dump out my blankets and sleeping bag and curled up there in the doorway as the rain started coming down. But I was so sick, I couldn’t stay asleep for more than 5 minutes at a time. And then I’d wake up and spend eternity tossing and turning back and forth — alternating between shivering from the fever, and then sweating like a pig from being too hot. Until I finally managed to get another 5 minutes of sleep. Then I’d wake up again and repeat the same pattern. Over and over. All night long. Which seemed to last forever. I remember looking at my cellphone at one point and it was 2 AM. And I was wondering if this night would EVER end. And the weird thing was, during my 5 minutes of sleep I would dream the same dream over and over and over. All night long. This banal, pointless scenerio — I forget what it was. But I kept repeating it in my dreams over and over. The same pointless dream. All night long. Like being stuck in this endless tape loop. It was like a form of mental torture. And I remember thinking: “Wouldn’t it be horrific if my brain got permanently stuck in this weird loop and I got trapped in this nightmare state for the rest of my life?” Stranger things have happened to people’s brains.

But the worst thing was, as I laid there tossing and turning all night long, that horribly inane song by Ringo Starr — “The No No Song” — kept going through my head. Over and over. All night long. I couldn’t shut it out. “No no no no I won’t sniff It no more. I’m tired of waking up on the floor.” It was like an endless hallucination. Sheesh. God I hate that fucking song.

Now it’s morning and I’m sitting somewhere in a daze. And I’m almost beginning to feel like a human being again.  So I think the worst is over. Knock knock . . . . .. .

Some winters it’s a constant battle to stay one step ahead of the rain — this winter has been pretty easy so far

Woke up at my campsite around 3 AM when it started to sprinkle rain. The weather report said the real storm wasn’t supposed to come in until 7, so I decided to wait it out. Pulled this big blue tarp over my blankets and huddled under it. It wasn’t long before two of my feral cats — Mini Scaredy and Micro Scaredy — joined me under the tarp. They were purring wildly, no doubt impressed by my ingenuity that I could instantly produce this device (the tarp) that could protect us from the wet. And it was kind of cozy — like the three of us were submerged in this little submarine. As the pitter-patter of the rain on top of the tarp added this soothing rhythm. And it reinforced this feeling that we were all on the same team, the three of us.

Adding a melancholy note, off in the distance in the hills on the other side of the road I could hear some wingnut shouting over and over: “FUCK GOD!! FUCK JESUS!! FUCK ALLAH!! FUCK THE POLICE!! FUCK THE HOMELESS!!” He apparently had a long list of people and entities he wished to fuck. His cries went on for hours. In between these wordless shrieks of pure anguish. Evidently it was some homeless camper who had gotten stuck out in the rain and was displeased about it. I’ve been there. I call it “cursing the gods.” 

Around 6 the rain momentarily stopped. So I decided to make my move. Quickly packed up my campsite, dumped out some food for the cats, and got my ass back to civilization. And it didn’t start raining again until I was safely ensconced in a nice dry doorway. So my timing was perfect. For once.

The Mystery of the Stashed Cat Food Caper

FB_IMG_1546803156008.jpg

 

One of the toughest things about being really sick when you’re homeless: You’re mentally and physically impaired. So you should be safely in bed under the covers where you can’t get into any trouble. Instead you’re blathering around out in public where you’re dealing with all sorts of real-life situations. While you’re a danger to yourself and to others. Case in point:

My friend Mary had some cat food she wanted to donate to the cause. But we often have a hard time hooking up in person. So she hides it at the library. And I pick it up later. 

So the other day — sick as a dog with the flu or something — I get an email from Mary apprising me of her latest caper, along with detailed instructions as to how to find where she had hidden the cat food: “It’s on the 5th floor by the third shelf from the stairs, four shelves down, with the card number 720-B892 and …” It was was so complicated it was like we were planning a bank robbery heist or something. I’m not good at following instructions in the best of times. But I started getting dizzy just reading the thing.

And wouldn’t you just know it? The elevator is out of order. So I got to clod-hop it up the stairs all the way to the fifth floor. I was so exhausted I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. It was like my shoes were made out of lead. It was like an American saga. Man’s Search For Cat Food. As I climbed ever upwards in my quest for the Holy Grail.

FINALLY — after several lifetimes — I made it to the 5th floor. I put my backpack and my large to-go cup of coffee on a table. And then spent 15 excruciating minutes staggering through the aisles trying to follow Mary’s directions. Until I FINALLY found the bag of cat food hidden behind this shelf of books. VICTORY!!

But a very short-lived victory. When I went back to the table I noticed — to my chagrin — that my backpack had toppled over and knocked over my large coffee. The table and floor were covered with this huge puddle of brown coffee. I had some paper towels in my pack. But not nearly enough to soak up the ocean of coffee on the floor.

So I go to the Men’s Room. But of course they don’t have paper towels (I hate those hand-dryer things!). And some bum is camped out in the toilet stall, as usual. FINALLY he gets out of the stall. So I grab a big hand-full of those paper toilet seat covers and big wads of toilet paper. I’m down on my hands and knees, scrubbing away like a washerwoman. And I was mostly able to sop up the mess with that. The weird thing was. The whole time this was going on nobody else in the room even noticed what was going on. They all had their heads down staring at their laptops and cellphones. Computers are turning us all into zombies. Thankfully. So then I got my ass out of there.

Oh well. At least I lived to tell the story. And I do have a big bag of free cat food for my goddamn feral cats. The End

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE STREET PEOPLE IN PEOPLE’S PARK

 

 

As many of you know, the University has plans to destroy People’s Park in 2020, and replace it with student housing. I have always been a fierce critic of the University in this regard. But for a moment I’d like to address the other side of the coin: The street people of People’s Park.

The main reason that People’s Park has been able to survive all these years is because of the strong support it’s always enjoyed from the majority of Berkeley residents. But there’s every reason to believe that support has been waning in recent years. Whenever the subject of People’s Park comes up these days, invariably someone will chime in: “Pave that damn Park. It’s nothing but a cesspool of drugs, crime and bums!!”

Whether or not that sentiment is true — and it’s obviously an exaggerated caricature — that is the public perception in many quarters. And we urgently need to change that perception if People’s Park is to survive.

In fact, many Berkeley residents feel unwelcome and unsafe in People’s Park. You street people that consider People’s Park your “home”? That’s fine. But you better start welcoming the rest of the Berkeley community into “your” home if you want it to survive much longer. Because it’s just as much “their” home, too.FB_IMG_1534386558313.jpg

 

I’ll give you an example of what I’m talking about: For many years the Telegraph Avenue street vendors met in People’s Park every morning to sign up for their vending spaces and take care of business. Recently they moved out of People’s Park and now set up every morning on the corner of Telegraph & Channing. Why?? After one too many ugly scenes with one too many ugly People’s Park street people, they decided: “Fuck this place!” And moved out of the park.

 

This is exactly what I’m talking about. Many people who once supported the park no longer support the park. And we desperately need to start winning these people back to our side if People’s Park is going to survive.

I’m not trying to bust anybody’s chops here. And as a long-time homeless person myself, I’m the last person to be posting anti-homeless screeds. But this is the reality we face as People’s Park now teeters on the verge of destruction. If People’s Park is going to survive, we all need to up our games. Are we going to be remembered as the generation of Berkeley street people that LOST Peoples Park. I hope not.

Sincerely, Ace Backwords

Some photos by Paul “Blue” Nicoloff from the Telegraph Street Calendar 1999

0221181919.jpg

Wizard was a Berkeley Tarot Card reader for several decades. He always set up his vending table on the corner of Telegraph & Channing. Then last year I heard he won over a million in the Lottery. Last I heard he bought some land up north, and nobody’s seen him since. He won’t be setting up a vending table on Telegraph and asking for donations any time soon, that’s for sure.

In all these years, Wizard is the only person I’ve ever known who actually won real money on the Lottery. But I guess it shows, it can happen.

The other thing about Wizard, he was an incredible drummer. Most of us at the Hate Man’s drum circle would just sort of bash away. But Wizard set up the buckets and metal objects to simulate a real drum set, with a snare drum, bass drum, cymbal, etc. And he would wail away on his make-shift kit like Ginger Baker or Buddy Rich.

I hope Wizard is enjoying his newfound wealth. Money won’t buy you happiness, of course. But then, neither will poverty, either.

(P.S. I just heard from an acquaintance of Wizard that he actually won an SSI settlement, which sounds more plausible.)

…………………………………………………

0221181943a.jpg

Koko and Pork Chop were a cute young homeless couple who were on the Telegraph street scene for a couple of years back in the late 1990s. I always loved their names: Koko and Pork Chop.

Koko and Pork Chop stood out on the street scene because they always seemed happy and contented and relaxed — this just-happy-to-be-here demeanor. And they never caused and trouble or disturbances. That alone will make you stand out on the street scene.

The guy on the left is Shroom. He hung out at Hate Camp for many years, and then disappeared without a trace. Several of his friends have tried to track him down, to no avail. About 10 years ago he was squatting on a boat on a lake in Oakland with a bunch of other homeless people. But that’s the last we’ve heard from Shroom.

…………………………………………………

0221181959.jpg

I didn’t know these two. They were just a couple of youngsters who hung out on Telegraph for a couple of months in 1998, and then moved on. Like so many others who have come and gone. Faces in the crowd.

The guy was sort of the archetypal character that all the high school girls thought was cute and had crushes on. And he cut a dashing figure riding up and down the Ave on his skateboard with a distinctive bad boy swagger. . . All I knew about the girl was that she was really, really cute.

.

Popular misconceptions about “the homeless”

fb_img_1492473600436.jpg


Its funny, the stereotypes — and misconceptions — that so many people have about “the homeless.

My friend B.N. Duncan was a fairly eccentric-looking guy. He had a long, bushy beard down to his chest, and wild, unruly hair. And his clothes were often ragged and stained, and pitted with cigarette hole burns.

While I was fairly bland and clean-cut looking (at least compared to Duncan, ha ha).

And we’d be walking down the street together, and on many occasions, strangers would assume Duncan (who had never spent a day of his life homeless) was homeless, and offer him food or money or clean socks or etc.

While I (who had spent 13 years, and counting, homeless) rarely, if ever, received such largesse from the general public.

It’s a funny world, ain’t it??

img_20170515_182114.jpg
When my friend Moby was filming a movie about the street scene, he cast Duncan as “the homeless guy.” Unfortunately, I didn’t look “homeless” enough to get the role.