Another casualty of the Winter of 2017

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TIMBER!!

On this day in 2017 this big tree on the Berkeley campus collapsed and died. It was a casualty of the brutal rainstorms of the winter of 2017. We ended up getting 38 inches of rain that year — about 15 more than usual. The tree got water-logged and rotted out and died.

And it was symbolic to me. Because a week earlier Hate Man had collapsed and died, too. Another water-logged victim of the winter of 2017. A mighty tree and the mighty Hate Man. Gone gone gone.

Then they buzz-sawed the tree into a big pile of sawdust and left it sitting there. And whenever I looked at it I felt this weird synchronicity. Because Hate Man too had been reduced to a pile of cremated ashes.

First rain of the season

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Mini Scaredy

 

First real rain of the season last night and I got totally soaked. My impression was that the rain wasn’t gonna start until later in the morning. My impression was wrong. It started raining at 4am. The worst possible time for me. I’m sleeping at my campsite, still drunk, with no raincoat or rain gear. Basically oblivious.

Mini Scaredy wakes me up with her incessant meowing. Possibly as a heroic Lassie-like gesture to awaken me from my drunken stupor and alert me about the impending rain. Or, more likely she just wants to wake me up so I’ll get off of my ass and get up and feed her her breakfast before she gets soaked. At any rate, she woke me up in the nick of time.

I stagger out of my blankets — which are already getting soaked from the ever-increasing rain. Dump some catfood in a dish for Mini Scaredy. Then struggle in the darkness to pack up my blankets.

Then the real bummer. The long march back to civilization with no respite from the downpour. By the time I make it to an awning I’m completely soaked. And will remain in that state for the next 8 hours until the sun finally comes up and I can dry myself out.

Here we go. . .

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One more rainy night on Sproul Plaza

It’s fucking unbelievable! The weather tonight is like a middle-of-the-winter type rainstorm. On fucking April 6th. Sirens and firetrucks are blasting in my ears on the Ave. The wind actually breaks my umbrella in half. I start screaming “FUCK!! FUCK!!” at the top of my lungs as I’m walking down the street in the pouring rain. So I’m handling adversity with my usual maturity.

For a second I thought I was gonna completely crack up. But then I remembered I had cracked up a long time ago. So that was a relief.

I grab my back-up umbrella from my stash spot and head to my favorite late-night hang-out spot — this secluded awning over-looking lower Sproul Plaza.  But some other bum has already grabbed that spot. Fuck!

So I trudge in the pouring rain to my second favorite late-night hang-out spot — this little nook in the basement of Dwinelle Hall.  But wouldn’t you just know it??  There’s someone else hanging out there, too.  Fuck!

So I go to my third favorite late-night hang-out spot — the lobby of Dwinelle Hall. It’s almost 10 o’clock, but there’s still a fair amount of people hanging out.  But I find a spot in the back where I can probably get away with discreetly drinking my beer while I charge my cellphone.  So I take off all my wet jackets, plug in my cellphone, pull out my 6-pack of Racer 5, and reach into my backpack for my bottle-opener. But wouldn’t you just know it?  My bottle-opener is gone. Fuck!  I search through every pocket of my backpack.  Pull out everything in my backpack.  To no avail.  My bottle-opener is gone.  I briefly try to open the bottle of beer with a pair of scissors. But there’s too many people milling around to be able to pull it off discreetly.

So I pack up ALL my shit, put ALL my jackets back on, and trudge off in search of a bottle-opener. It’s been just an unbelievably weird sequence of events over the last half hour.  Where everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong — one thing after another after another after another.  Like the Universe is fucking with me for sport, or something.

As I’m heading for the door I noticed a discarded umbrella lying on the floor by the trash can.  I already got an umbrella, but I figure I might as well grab a back-up in case the wind destroys this umbrella, too.  But as I’m walking out the door, this college student sidles up to me, and he’s following me step-for-step as I’m walking, and glaring at me with anger. So I stop and face him to see what his fucking problem is.

“Did you just steal my umbrella!!” he said.

“You mean this?” I said holding up the umbrella.

“Yes!  That’s my umbrella!”

“Oh man, I just thought it was discarded and was gonna get thrown out.” I hand him his umbrella.  “I apologize.”

“OK. It’s cool,” he says, still glaring at me. And storms off into the storm.

So it’s unbelievable. How everything keeps going from bad to worse. And everything I touch turns to shit.  I mean, 90% of the time that would have been a perfectly good move, grabbing that umbrella — I ground-score all sorts of great stuff lying around that’s been abandoned. But when the stars are aligned against me — like they obviously are now — it was stupid of me to make any unnecessary moves. Because whatever I do is likely to back-fire on me. So I feel like an incredible fool.

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Now some Hindus believe that when a person dies, his spirit lingers heavily in the area where he lived for several weeks. Before it finally disperses and merges back into the Cosmos.  And for those several weeks, the spirit can have all sorts of effects on the area.  In extreme cases, it can rein lightning bolts down on it’s enemies. Or it can bestow gifts to it’s friends. Or it can just send out weird little signals as a way of saying good-bye.

So, as I’m walking in the rain, it occurred to me.  The whole bizarre sequence of events that I just experienced was probably being directly by Hate Man and his recently disembodied spirit (he had just died a couple days ago). I mean, the whole thing was exactly out of Hate Man’s playbook.  Battling with a rainstorm on Sproul Plaza.  Cursing in rage.  And getting into an angry confrontation that managed to somehow resolve itself peacefully.

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So I head to my fourth favorite late-night hang-out spot. This secluded table under an awning in the back of the patio of the Golden Bear restaurant on Sproul Plaza.

And — miracle of miracles!! — the spot is deserted and I can actually hang out there.

And there’s a metal grating on the side of the wall. I put the top of my beer bottle into the grating and pull the bottle cap off with ease. The beer foams up out of the bottle, like champagne when you pop the cork in celebration.  But I manage to pour most of the beer into my cup before it all spills out.  I take a big hit off the beer.  And it tasted damn good.  Things are finally starting to go my way.

I look in my backpack. Notice I have one last cigarette in my pack of Virginia Slims 100s that I bought yesterday in honor of Hate Man. I light it up, take a big hit. At that exact moment the Campanile Tower bell starts chiming as the clock hits 10 PM.  Just as it had done on the countless nights when Hate Man had set up his Hate Camp on Sproul Plaza back in the day.  Adding an other-worldly dimension to my smoke.  And I thought back to the countless nights I had spent on Sproul Plaza with Hate Man and the crew.    Thinking of all the memories. From all the years. . .

The rain kept pouring down for hours.  Pounding down relentless on the pavement. The over-hanging tree branches nearby me kept swaying back and forth in the fierce gale winds.  It was a pretty powerful storm. So there was really nothing I could do except hole up at my table under the awning and pop open 5 more beers over the course of the evening.  Mostly thinking about nothing.

Then — it must have been after midnight but I was starting to get a little sketchy on the details at this point, if you know what I mean — after having finished off all the beer. I took out a couple of slices of leftover pizza that I had also ground-scored earlier at Dwinelle Hall (and no, I didn’t “steal” it!).  And as I’m eating the pizza, completely out of the blue.  A skunk shows up.  And starts trotting towards me. Fuck. I have no idea what the skunk was doing back there.  He was probably holed up in the far back corner of the patio, huddling under an awning, waiting out the storm. Just like me. But the smell of my pizza had probably roused him.

So I tossed the skunk one of my slices of pizza.  Which he gobbled up readily. And then trotted past me. And disappeared out onto Sproul Plaza.

And then it occurred to me.  That skunk was probably also a manifestation of Hate Man’s spirit.  I mean, the similarities were striking.  The skunk was black-and-white. Just like Hate Man’s black-and white shoes and uniforms.  The skunk was kind of an “outcast,” mostly living on the fringes of human society.  Just like Hate Man.  The skunk had been huddling under an awning on Sproul during a rainstorm. Just as Hate Man had done countless times over the years. And I had shared a slice of leftover pizza with the skunk. Just as I had shared countless slices of leftover pizza with Hate Man, night after night after picking up the leftover pizza from Greg’s Pizza every night.

Even weirder. Just as the skunk disappeared onto Sproul Plaza. The rain suddenly completely stopped.

Which made me even more convinced that that skunk had been a manifestation of Hate Man’s spirit and magic.

Or maybe it was just a fucking skunk.  Who really knows.  But one thing’s for sure. This life is a hell of lot more mysterious than some people think it is.

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Life is ironic, ain’t it?

 

I tend to have an ironic slant on life.

I remember this one night, it was right in the middle of the winter rainy season.  Now when you’re living on the streets you do everything you can to avoid the rain.  Because once you get wet, once your clothes get wet, especially once your shoes and socks get wet, you could end up spending the next couple of days walking around in wet clothes before you finally manage to dry out.  And that can be very unpleasant.

So this one night I was congratulating myself.  Because it had been a major rainstorm.  It rained non-stop all day long.  But I had cleverly managed to stay dry all day long.  Managed to stay one step ahead of the rain.  Dry as a bone.  Huddling under awnings and in doorways and stuff like that.  Successfully finding shelter from the storm.

Finally, by the end of the night, it stopped raining.  So I got up from my nice, dry doorway and I walked over to these bushes on the Berkeley campus to retrieve my camping gear that I had stashed there.  And at that exact moment, their sprinkler system went off.  Suddenly I’m trapped within this exploding wall of water.  Spraying at me from every direction.   The water was completely unavoidable.  And I got soaked to the bone.  With a long, cold, wet night ahead of me.

I suppose you could call that ironic.

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The first rain of the year

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The first rain of the year last night.  Just a little sprinkle really.  But enough to inspire panic and dread in the hearts of the street people. . .  Its like spotting the first few enemy invaders way off in the distance.  But knowing the hordes are right behind them.  And they’ll be descending on you all too soon.  Wave after wave of them.  And it’s going to be a battle to the death.

I remember a couple of winters ago we got like  35 inches of rain.  And I was outdoors for every inch of it.  It seemed to go on forever that year.  This 8-month ordeal . . .  The worst thing is:  You make one mistake and you can end up spending the next several weeks staggering around in wet socks and sleeping in a wet sleeping bag.

Seems like every year there will be one old-timer that doesn’t make it through the winter.  I remember a couple years ago, 2009, it was New York, this little black guy who died of exposure in a doorway.  Right around Christmas, which added a poignant touch.  New York had been around the Telegraph Avenue scene forever.  About 50.  For a little guy he had this amazingly booming voice.  Like he had a megaphone in his diaphragm.  You could hear him from a block away.  And this explosive, braying laughter.  Usually smiling.  Started every sentence with “HEY!”  Often worked odd jobs for the street vendors and Tele businesses.  Sweeping sidewalks, etc.  Usually carrying his conga drum slung over his shoulder.  In the evening he’d find a quiet place to smoke his weed and drink his Olde English.  During the day he’d often hang out in the campus cafeteria with the black guy who was the head janitor at the Student Union building. . . .  I was out of town that winter so I asked the guy what happened to New York.  And he filled me in on the details.  “New York was my best friend,” he said.

Another winter is coming fast.

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