Michal Overhulse: 1922-1986

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Stumbled across this photo of Michal Overhulse, this little old lady I knew in the 1980s. She was a friend of Duncan’s which is how I met her. Duncan and Michal had the same shrink, they were members of the same therapy group, which is how they hooked up in the first place. She was around 60 when I first met her.

Michal was typical of a certain kind of person you sometimes meet on the fringe of society. Michal couldn’t find any purpose or direction for her life. Couldn’t find hardly anything to connect to or plug into. Mostly just existed in this void. She had no career, no family, no hobbies, virtually no interests. She spent most of her time just sort of existing, killing time in her apartment, sitting by herself on her bed, watching day-time television (game shows) with her two siamese cats, Mish and Mosh (who mostly just laid around like part of the furniture). Smoking endless cartons of menthol cigarettes, and drinking endless 6-packs of tall-can Budweiser, which she’d wash down with a chaser of a big glug of NyQuil cough syrup. By the end of the evening she’d reach some zonked-out state that would knock her out. And then she’d wake up in the morning and start the cycle all over again.

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Michal had a great studio apartment on Bancroft Avenue on the second floor, with this big picture window that was like a solar panel when the sun hit it in the afternoon, and a great view of lower Sproul Plaza on the Berkeley campus. On the weekends the sounds of the Sproul drum circle would waft up to her apartment, adding this exotic, hip Berkeley soundtrack. The other thing I remember was she had these bookshelves with these dusty old books from the ’50s and ’60s. The most dead books you could imagine — obscure theories on Fruedian psychoanalysis from some quack you had never heard of, unreadable poetry books, sociology tracts from the ’60s. You got the feeling Michal hadn’t looked at any of the books in a decade. Everything in her apartment was like that. Like a mausoleum. Lifeless, untouched and covered with dust.

Duncan said that he thought Michal was an unpracticing lesbian. She had made this one attempt to hook up with this one woman she was interested in when she was a young woman. But when that didn’t work out, she just gave up on the whole thing. Which was sort of her life-long pattern. Periodically she would take a half-assed stab at dabbling at something, but it wouldn’t amount to anything and she’d pretty quickly give up on it. For awhile she dabbled in poetry — writing this string of words that didn’t make much sense or have a point. But quickly gave up on that. By the time I met her Michal had pretty much given up the ghost on everything. Just sort of quietly killing time as she waited for her string to play out. She had a phrase that she would sometimes repeat — “I’ve been waiting all my life” — that had a haunting feel to it. For you knew that whatever she had been waiting for in her life would never arrive.

Michal was also the first person I ever watched disintigrate right before my eyes (there would be many more later). She was a somewhat frail person to begin with. And the never-ending series of cigarettes, beer and NyQuil began to take it’s toll. But it was really the ennui that engulfed her and weighed her down and crushed out her life-force that really did her in. It was like everytime I saw Michal she looked worse than the time before. And she got locked in this pattern of staying in the hospital for awhile and then returning to her apartment. And the stays in the hospital grew longer each time. And the time she stayed at her apartment grew shorter each time. You could see she was locked into a downward spiral leading to an inevitable conclusion. At one point they had her on oxygen tanks for her failing lungs, and 12 different kinds of medication (that god knows what affect they had mixed with the beer and NyQuil).

The last time she was in the hospital they told her if she went home she would surely die. But she insisted on leaving. She had made her choice. She wanted to die in her apartment. I went to check up on her that night — I had a key to the building because I fed her cats when she was in the hospital. When I got to her apartment that night the front door was wide open. The apartment was dark except for the eerie gray light eminating from her television set, that was jammed between channels and squawking static. Her bookshelves and several other things had been knocked over. Michal was lying on her bed on her back, sort of vibrating and making weird animal sounds, still alive but no longer really there. I backed out of her apartment, shut the front door, and made my way out of the building .

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A minor dispute regarding the relative merits of “opinion” versus “truth” on legendary Bench One

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The legendary Bench One — formerly the scene of many a vigorous sessions of shoulder-pushing and hand-slapping (long story).
The weather in Berkeley has been sweaty and sweltering lately. And I guess it’s starting to get to me. Because I’m lacking my usual cheerful disposition (ha ha).

So I go to sit down on this empty bench on the campus. There’s one of those hard-plastic reusable water bottles sitting on the bench. On the part of the bench that’s shaded where I want to sit. So I put the bottle on the ledge behind the bench so I can sit there. This guy — who is standing clear on the OTHER side of the plaza walks over and scolds me.

“You shouldn’t be moving other people’s stuff,” he said.

“How was I supposed to know it was somebody’s stuff?” I said. “Something left sitting on an empty bench, I just assumed it was discarded.” (PS. I find these discarded water bottles ALL the time.)

“Most people wouldn’t think that way,” he corrected me.

“Most normal people WOULD think that way,” I corrected him.

“That’s just your opinion,” he said.

“And that’s just YOUR opinion,” I said.

“No it isn’t, it’s the truth,” he said.

“Good one,” I said. “HAH!!” I gave him a good blast of the patented Ace Backwords Snort of Derision as he shuffled off into the sunset.

But that bit always kills me. MY perspective is “opinion.” While HIS perspective is “truth.” HAH!! (ha ha)

Later I notice he has a bicycle with a “JESUS IS LORD” sign attached to it, and he’s handing out Jesus fliers. Geez. If I had known he was such a great man I would have been much more respectful.

A Telegraph Avenue hallucination

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I was just hallucinating about classic Telegraph Avenue.

Moe was at the cash register at Moe’s Books, smoking a big fat cigar, as he nonchalantly rang up customers.

Across the street Julia Vinograd was at the Caffe Med, strolling up to the various tables, hawking her latest book. “Would you like to check out my latest book of poetry?”

Down the street at Cody’s Books, Andy Ross — the Woody Allen of Telegraph Avenue — was nervously fidgeting back and forth as a world-famous author gave a talk to a large crowd of people. Later, a long line of people would wait on line to get their books signed by the great man.

Around the corner Food Not Bombs has just served a delicious free meal in Peoples Park — it’s “Tasty Tuesday” by Judy the cook — and now all the street people are happily lolling on the grass under the sun, strumming on guitars and smoking pot.

Up the street in front of Cafe Botega, the Naked Guy is sitting on the sidewalk, buck naked of course, selling bumperstickers that say “IT’S JUST A DICK.” And the Rare Man is shirtless and doing chin ups and roaring: “HOW DO YOU LIKE IT?? RAAAARRRREEEE!!!”

Across the street St. Paul — the world’s most fanatical and brain-damaged Deadhead — in his brightly colored tye-dye t-shirt is flashing peace signs and shouting at the bewildered pedestrians over and over “JERRY GARCIA GRATEFUL DEAD!! JERRY GARCIA GRATEFUL DEAD!!”

On the Berkeley campus Rick Starr is crooning out his oldies into his fake plastic microphone. And Hate Man is hanging out at Bench One with Jaguar, Warpo, Krash and the rest of the Hate Camp crazies, getting into loud arguments, cursing at each other, pushing shoulders, and smoking many cigarettes. Until it’s time to bring out the drums for the drum circle and the nightly tribal stomp.

Meanwhile, Backwords and Duncan are hanging out at their vending table selling weird underground shit in between drinking many 24 ounce cans of Olde English.

Its ten o’clock and the Campanile Tower rings out ten times — that haunting, melancholy sound — and it’s one more weird and magical night in Berkeley. . .

Hate Man and the concept of “pushing shoulders”

One of my Facebook friends asked me to explain Hate Man’s concept of “pushing shoulders.” No simple task.

Hate Man fancied himself as a philosopher and a therapist who specialized in different forms of “conflict resolution.” He developed the “shoulder pushing” thing along those lines: One person wants one thing, and the other person wants another thing. So they push shoulders to resolve the conflict. Whoever wants it the most, and is willing to “push shoulders” the longest, got there way.

Hate Man was willing to “push” about virtually everything he owned. For example, if you didn’t have any money but wanted to bum a cigarette, you could “push shoulders ” with Hate Man for it. Hate Man would stand side-by-side with the other person, and they would push against each other’s shoulders. It wasn’t a matter of who could push the hardest — you couldn’t just bowl Hate Man over. It was a matter of who would push the longest. You applied a steady, constant pressure. And whoever wanted it the most, and was willing to push the longest, got their way. If it was something fairly trivial — like a rollie cigarette — Hate Man would usually only push for a minute or two before he gave up and gave the person a smoke. But if it was one of his beloved Virginia Slims cigarettes, it might be a longer push. Or if the person was starting to hit Hate Man up too frequently, Hate might dig in and make it a longer push to discourage the person from becoming too much of a pest.

 
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Shoulder-pushing freaks!
Hate Man pushed shoulders with people constantly, all day long. For example if Hate Man had 5 bucks, one of the street people would invariably say “Push for the 5 bucks, Hate Man.”

Hate Man would usually say to something like that: “It’s going to be a hard push.” And they’d commence to push shoulders. It could last minutes. Or it could last hours. Depending on how much the two people wanted their way. Eventually one of them would get tired of pushing and give up. Or often they might compromise: “Hate Man, I changed my mind. I only want 2 of the 5 bucks.” And Hate would say “OK that’s an easier push.” And he might give in after a couple more minutes of pushing and give him the two bucks.

Hate Man to his dying day believed that “pushing shoulders” would revolutionize the world and become a common practice.

He was a bit nutty.

At his peak he had about 10 dedicated followers — disciples, really — who adopted shoulder-pushing as a daily practice. As well as thousands of bums who did it when they wanted to hit up Hate Man for some of his stuff.

Hate Man used pushing for virtually everything. Like if you were boring him he’d say “Push shoulders if you want me to listen to you.” And you’d have to push with him if you wanted to get in your two-cents. Ha ha.

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Private Pepper

Liz Spring sent me this photo today from 1994. As always I do the math in my mind — 24 years ago for those of you keeping score at home. Sitting at Bench Two on the Berkeley campus.

As soon as I saw my face I thought: “I was taking way too many drugs back then.” Pot, acid, crack, speed. My brain was going in multiple directions. I’m glad I cleaned up my act nowadays and am just a straight up alcoholic. It’s much more linear on my thinking.

I had this hare-brained idea at the time of “making it” as a musician. I had had some success as a cartoonist, writer, graphic artist and photographer, so I thought maybe my artistic talents might also transfer to the medium of music. What I mostly wanted to do was write and record songs. Which I loved doing. My dream was to record a classic psychedelic album. Call it Private Pepper. A pun. Because music had mostly been this private thing with me that I mostly kept to myself.

I ended up recording a demo of about 10 of my songs on 8-track reel-to-reel tape with some over-dubbing and psychedelic special effects. Had sort of a moody, melancholy, early Pink Floyd sound. I have no idea if it was any good. How can you be objective about something like that? But I can tell you it sounded fantastic to me when I listened to it on headphones played on recording studio-quality equipment while peaking on acid. So it passed my personal acid test.

I still have the original reel-to-reel master tape stashed somewhere in my storage locker. Maybe some day I’ll dig it up, take it to a real recording studio and finish it. Over-dub some drums and bass and moog synthesizer and tweak out the effects for the proper mind-bending properties. And then press it up on vinyl. Because that’s what I always wanted. My own record. Just to be perverse.

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.