“Telegraph people”

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Julia Vinograd passed away almost exactly a year ago today. And that got me thinking about “Telegraph people.” For Julia Vinograd was certainly one of the most renowned of the “Telegraph people.”

I used to see “Telegraph people” all the time back in the day. As I walked down Telegraph Avenue, I’d pass the same people, see the same faces, day after day, year after year, for decades at a stretch. Like the people who lived at the Berkeley Inn, or the other apartment buildings on the Ave, or lived in the houses and the boarding houses around the Telegraph area. And you’d see them day after day going about their daily business. And get to know many of them.

Or all the “Telegraph people” hanging out at all the coffee shops. The Berkeley old-timers at the Caffe Med. The younger, hipper crowd at Cafe La Botega and Wall Berlin.

Or you’d pass all the people who owned all the businesses on Telegraph, or the employees who worked in the stores and shops. Like Moe, the famous owner of Moe’s Books, forever slumped behind the cash register chomping on one of his cigars.

Or all the Telegraph street vendors, selling their colorful wares, set up at the same spots year after year, like a permanent part of the scenery.

Or all the whacky Telegraph street people, and the colorful self-created “Berkeley characters,” as well as all the street musicians and street performers and street orators that gave the Ave this feel of living street theater. Like the Hate Man — one of the more famous of the “Telegraph people,” and forever identified with the Telegraph scene (Hate Man would sometimes go years at a stretch without leaving the confines of Telegraph Avenue — “Everything I want is right here” — aside from regularly going to the courthouse in downtown Oakland to deal with his latest tickets, ha ha.).

When I first met Duncan — a quintessential “Telegraph person” — in 1978 he was publishing a little xeroxed magazine called “TELE TIMES: Telegraph Avenue’s Tight Little Monthly” to chronicle his little slice of the “Telegraph community.” And it really was like a community. Like this unique little village living within the larger confines of the city of Berkeley.

Tonight I walked back and forth down the 6-block radius that most people consider the “Telegraph scene.” The 6 blocks from the campus to 7-11. And I didn’t pass a single person I recognized. . . That’s just what it’s like now I guess.

Julia Vinograd RIP

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Julia Vinograd defined Telegraph Avenue in a way. As the co-publisher of the Telegraph Avenue Street Calendar for 15 years, I made sure there were three people who’s photos were in every issue:  Hate Man, B.N. Duncan, and Julia Vinograd. For they were icons of Telegraph. Walking, talking embodiments of the scene, along with the Caffe Med, Sather Gate, and the Campanile Tower. Tourist attractions unto themselves.

Julia Vinograd came of age during the ’60s hippie counterculture. And that, too, defined her. For she embodied some of the best qualities of that, too. Light-hearted, whimsical, off-beat, experimental, clever, thoughtful, insightful, “Weird But Proud,” as the button on her hat always proclaimed. And she always seemed to proclaim this unspoken message. “We the Sixties Generation will prevail. Not because of our ideology, or rioting in the streets, or proselytizing. But simple because we know a better way. And the world will eventually catch up with us.”

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(photo by Tom Dalzell)

How I met the famous poet Julia Vinograd

 

Oddly, the first time I met Julia Vinograd I scared her.

It was 1978 and she lived in a little hotel room on the fourth floor of the Berkeley Inn. My friend Duncan lived down the hall, and often published her poems in his zine TELE TIMES. He also published my underground comix in TELE TIMES.

So one afternoon, after visiting with Duncan, I was getting into the elevator. And Julia got in at the same time.

So I introduced myself. I figured we were both hip underground artists getting published in Duncan’s hip underground zine TELE TIMES. I happened, at the time, to be holding in my hands one of my hip underground comix. I had brought the original art up there to show Duncan. It was some weird, bizarre underground sex cartoon that I had just hacked out. But I figured Julia was a fellow hip bohemian artist. So I showed it to her as we rode on the elevator together.

She took one look at the cartoon. And she instantly had a horrified look on her face. She moved to the farthest end of the elevator. And wouldn’t look at me or talk to me for the rest of the elevator ride.

And when we finally got to the first floor, she bolted out of that elevator and headed for the front door as fast as she could, never once looking back.

Ha ha. What can I say? I was 22 and not particularly bright and just figuring out how to present my artwork to a breathless public.

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Julia Vinograd

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This was the last time I saw Julia Vinograd on Telegraph Avenue, some time in the summer of 2017.

For at least 40 years the poet Julia Vinograd — “the poet laureate of Telegraph Avenue” — was synonymous with Telegraph Avenue.  She was a constant daily presence on the Ave. But when I just now spotted her today on the corner of Durant & Tele, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen her up here in a long time.

I couldn’t help wondering what it had all meant to her. All the years on Telegraph. And what, if anything, it had added up to.

Julia’s picture is on at least four different murals on Telegraph.  So ubiquitous was her presence on the scene.

Julia Vinograd  put out a new book of poetry just about every year for nearly 50 years. And my pal Duncan collected nearly all of them. And when he died I inherited the collection. Well over 50 of them.

But it’s not something I’d read for pleasure. They’re a little too light and cutesy for my tastes (though there are a handful of her poems that I think are really great). I like my art a little grittier. And there was virtually no development over the years. It was the same thing every year, with a slightly different-looking cover. Me and Duncan used to joke that she could probably re-publish the same collection of poems every year with a new cover and almost nobody would notice.

But that really wasn’t the point. The literary merits of her poetry. Julia Vinograd was a Berkeley Telegraph icon. Like the Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars were San Francisco icons. And people bought her books more as tourist mementos — like a “GREETINGS FROM BERKELEY” postcard — than as a work of literature.

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Julia Vinograd in the Top Dog mural. If you look closely you can see her famous “WEIRD BUT PROUD” button.

Her personality was an odd dichotomy. The public Julia Vinograd — as presented in her poems — was usually light-hearted, playful, care-free, zany, amused. While in person she usually came across as more than a bit standoff-ish, self-absorbed, curmudgeonly and even grouchy (“Julia Stalingrad” as Aaron Cometbus dubbed her, ha ha).

FB_IMG_1541824565856~2.jpgI remember one time she was talking to Duncan about something at our vending table, sort of grousing about it. When a reporter showed up who wanted to interview me and Duncan for a story he was doing on Telegraph. Instantly Julia’s whole demeanor changed as she talked to the reporter. And she transformed herself into the light-hearted, whimsical Julia Vinograd as advertised. Launched into the story she must have told a thousand times over the years about how the National Guard and the police all had their weapons drawn at some tense demonstration in the 1960s. And she was inspired to blow bubbles — which would become her trademark over the years — to lighten up the situation and add a touch of magic to the scene, and how even the cops — the Blue Meanies — were won over and started blowing bubbles and playing around with her bubble blower.

Maybe I’m being a little too harsh in my assessment. But like I said, I like my writing a little grittier. But the fact is, she did add a touch of magic to the scene. And it would have been a much lesser scene without her. And when I was publishing the Telegraph Street Calendar, the three people I made sure their photos were in all 15 issues were B.N. Duncan, Hate Man, and Julia Vinograd. Because they were the three great icons of the Telegraph scene.

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The People’s Park bathroom mural — 1992

 

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Brand new, 1992.

I just stumbled across this photo on the internet of the mural me and Duncan painted on the People’s Park bathroom in 1992 (everything ends up on the internet, don’t it?).

It was a seminal moment in the history of People’s Park (for those of you keeping score at home). The installation of the People’s Park bathrooms (as well as me and Duncan’s groovy mural).

The People (for lack of a better word) had seized the property from the University back in 1969. And defiantly held on to the property for 23 years ( long story short: “the 60s,” “the hippies,”  “the liberal Berkeley,” “the Revolution, man!!” etc etc).

Anyways, after 23 years of conflict — this power struggle — this Cold War between The People and The University over who actually controls People’s Park — the University finally admitted defeat in 1992. “OK. We’ll keep it as a Park.”

So the University built bathrooms, basketball courts and volleyball courts.

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2017. Fading, fading, fading. . .

The People basically said: “OK. We like the bathrooms and the basketball courts. But we don’t like the volleyball courts.” And they basically tore the volleyball courts down. (It was The People basically saying to The University: “OK. We like that you conceded and are going to keep it as a Park. But that doesn’t mean we’re gonna arbitrarily let you do whatever the fuck you want. Because we don’t trust you as far as you can spit. We, The People, still rule People’s Park. And right on, and etc).”

And that’s basically how it’s remained for the last 25 years.

Until last week. When The University basically announced: “FUCK THIS SHIT. WE’RE TEARING DOWN THIS FUCKING PARK.”

And that’s where we’re at as of this moment.

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