One more reason why I make a point to avoid eye contact in public



Another wonderful day at the Berkeley Library. The guy sitting down at the cubicle directly in front of me, two words out of his mouth and I got him pegged as the Just Out Of The Joint type. White guy about 30 with a tight, black ponytail, long-boned, chest and arms covered with tattoos showing through his sleeveless t-shirt. Plops down his huge frame backpack and immediately gets into it with this old guy sitting at the cubicle next to him.

“What you doin’ staring at me, boy?? Is this some kind of faggot shit. You got no right to look me over like that just because I’m wearing a tracking device!!”

The old guy looks back at him, completely perplexed. Like: How did I get myself into THIS? There I was just minding my own business . . .

Now the guy is glaring at the old guy with daggers. “You look at me one more time and I’ll take you outside and cut you up. You thinking I’m playing? You don’t know me. I’ll cut you up. You wanna go outside?”

The old guy stands up and backs off, you can tell he’s pissed that this complete asshole is going off on him in public for no reason, but you can tell he also doesn’t want to escalate the situation.

Then three library employees, including a burly black security guard, are hovering over him, trying to calm the guy down..

“Are you telling me I gotta leave??” he says. “I wasn’t doing nothing. You just heard the second part when I was going off on that white cracker. But you didn’t see the first part when he kept staring at me and my tracking device. . . No I’m not leaving until I talk to my parole officer. I gotta check in with my parolee whenever I get into a confrontation.”

He takes out his cellphone, calls his parole officer and tells him the same basic story he told the security guards. I can faintly hear the parole officer’s voice squawking on the other end in an official tone, no doubt offering sage, sensible advice that translates in the real world as: “Don’t cause any more trouble, you stupid fucking asshole.”

“OK, I talked to my parolee and now I’ll leave,” says the guy. He hoists his big frame backpack on his back, and another big pack on his chest, and the security guards escort him down the stairs and out of the building.

I think he had been in the library for less than a few minutes before he got into his confrontation . . . Guys like that, you wonder how they make it to the end of the day.



Wake up and smell the McDonald’s


I made the mistake of going to McDonald’s at around noon today. Lunchtime. So the place was packed. And the line was long. But I’m a cheap bastard. McDonald’s is the only place where you can get a large coffee for a dollar. So I decided to put up with the madness.

But I swear, half the people in there are INSANE (conservative estimate). This one lunatic is having a long and angry conversation with the soda dispenser. Another guy repeatedly marches up to the counter and angrily demands: “GIMME MORE NAPKINS YOU MOTHERFUCKERS!!” (he’s very displeased with the service) The cashier gives him more napkins which he clumsily drops on the floor. Which he blames on the cashier: “GIMME SOME MORE DAMN NAPKINS!!”

Meanwhile every other person ordering their meal turns it into a bizarre ritual that goes on and on for an ENDLESS amount of time until they finally get their order straight.

Then this guy and his girlfriend sidle up to the guy waiting on line ahead of me. “Hey Joe how’s it going?” he says. They shake hands and start making small talk. Evidently they’re friends. And it becomes clear that they’re planning to use their friendship with Joe as a pretense to cut in front of the line (which is LONG at this point).

Generally I just let these low-level assholes slide. It’s not worth the hassle. And I’ve seen people get gutted with a knife for confronting line-cutters. But I’m just not in the mood for this shit this morning.

“The line starts back THERE!” I say curtly.

He gives me a blank look. Lingers for a minute or two in the spot on the line ahead of me. And then, wisely, says goodbye to his friend Joe. And he and his girlfriend leave the McDonald’s.

I think sometimes even relatively thick people can sense when I haven’t yet had my first cup of coffee in the morning. And that I very well may kill them if they prevent me from getting it in a timely fashion.



Chanel makes her presence felt

Chanel hanging with Hate Man during a quieter moment in her life.

It is completely crazy at the library today. It’s like half the people in here are completely insane. MORE than half. Cute-but-crazy Chanel is at a computer at one of the cubicles, listening to music on headphones. She’s standing up, dancing wildly, and singing along at the top of her lungs. Adding to the effect she has white pancake  make-up on, and dark black eye shadow around both eyes. Giving her face a mask-like ghoulish affect . . .

This gray-haired woman at another computer stands up and shouts: “THIS IS A LIBRARY! THIS NOISE HAS GOT TO STOP!!” She approaches an elderly black guy at the cubicle behind me and shouts at him: “YOU’VE GOT TO STOP! YOU’VE GOT TO STOP!!” He looks up at her with bewilderment and confusion. He’s just sitting there quietly minding his own business. The gray-haired woman suddenly realizes that he’s not the culprit (uh duh). That the noise is coming from Chanel dancing wildly in the next aisle. “Sorry,” she says and goes over and confronts Chanel. They have a brief shouting match. And then Chanel takes off her headphones and storms off to another part of the library, singing loudly and wildly the whole way, her voice echoing across the library.


Meanwhile, the guy sitting next to me is repeatedly punching himself on the head. Hard! I grimace every time I hear the sound of fist connecting to skull. The gray-haired woman starts shouting again:


“Tourettes,” he says.


“I’m taking it,” he says.”


And how is your day going so far?



Life on the streets



Life on the streets: I go to People’s Park this morning. At the top of the park this young woman is lying on her back in the gutter. Her eyes are closed and her arms and legs are splayed in a weird, crucified posture. At first I think she’s seriously whacked on drugs. Or dead.

“Hey are you right?” I said.

She opens her eyes just barely

“Hey are you all right?”

She nods her head weakly.

“Hey you should get out of the gutter. A car could pull over to park and run you over. You should lie on the grass there by the sidewalk.”

She lays there stiff as a board not moving a muscle.

“Hey are you all right?”

She nods her head again.

Jack, a park regular, is sitting on a bench nearby. I go over to him and ask: “Do you know that woman.” “No,” he says.

I head back to the young woman in the gutter. Another woman is standing over her talking on her cellphone.

“Are you calling 911?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Do you know her?”

“No,” I said.



A small crowd has gathered around her. The woman with the cellphone reaches down and strokes her face. Somebody else offers her a bottle of water. There’s nothing else we can do now except wait for the ambulance. Which always seems to take an eternity. I put a cardboard box in the road ahead of her just to make sure a car doesnt pull over, and wait off in the distance.

The ambulance pulls up and eventually she’s able to stand up by herself and sit on the stretcher with her hands in front of her in a praying posture. And they haul her off. And that’s that.

She’s been on the park scene for awhile. She’s an odd duck. Sometimes I’d see her standing for long periods of time in weird, contorted yoga postures. It was hard to tell if she was on some weird spiritual trip or on drugs or in some kind of catatonic state. Some people’s minds just work differently. She’s also very pretty in a girlish way.

Mostly she hangs out all day at the bottom of the park at a picnic table, quietly drawing away on an art tablet along side this older black man she’s befriended who’s also an artist. I’ve never seen her speak. And I’m not sure she can.

All kinds in this world of ours.



The end of the Serial Flusher



They finally ran the Serial Flusher off the campus. And I was surprised to find that I missed him. Even though I had had only two interactions with the guy over the years. And they were both bad.

The Serial Flusher had been hanging out on the Sproul Plaza area for at least 20 years. Mostly sitting by himself staring off into space with a contorted expression on his face. In all these years I never once saw him talking to another human being. He was an odd duck.

My first encounter with the Serial Flusher, I just about wanted to kill him. I was sitting in a restroom stall in the basement of a virtually empty building early one morning. Quietly taking care of my business while I recovered from the night before. When suddenly there was this EXPLOSION of toilet-flushing sounds. And it went on, non-stop, for several minutes. And I could hear the nut, the Serial Flusher, giggling like a schoolgirl as he romped from toilet to toilet, urinal to urinal, flushing each one over and over and over. Later I got in his face and told he better not EVER pull that shit ever again when I was in the restroom.


Years later he pulled that shit on me again. And I REALLY let him have it that time. He got the message that time. And, as far as I know, he never did his toilet-flushing routine again.

I guess I miss the Serial Flusher, as crazy as he was, because he was one of the last links to the 1990s when the street people ruled Sproul Plaza. And there would be hundreds of us hanging out every day, all day long. And all night too. And after midnight we pretty much had the entire run of the campus all to ourselves. It was like our personal playground to romp around in.

But over the years, one by one, most of the Sproul Plaza street people died or moved on. To the point where there were only a hand full of quiet, loner types like me and the Serial Flusher who were still around. And now one more is gone.

Oh well. *sigh*

Maybe tonight I’ll flush a few toilets in his honor.



A young woman goes nuts. Literally


The scene of the crime.

People seem to be flipping out more and more these days.

So I’m sitting there at a cubicle in the library, at a computer, screwing around on my Facebook page, and minding my own business (what could possibly go wrong?). The person sitting at the cubicle next to me is this little chick with a shaved head. She looks like she’s about 17 or 18. And she’s got all of her stuff in one of those luggage-on-wheels things. So I got her pegged as a homeless teenage runaway type. But who knows.

So anyways, when her session at the computer ends, she suddenly bolts up from her chair, knocking her chair over, and then she slams her luggage thing to the floor, which makes this loud WHACKING!! sound. That gets everyone’s attention.

Then she takes her cellphone and some other stuff on her table and throws it against the wall. Smashing it to bits.  She’s got tears in her eyes, she’s crying, she’s obviously upset about something. Did she recently suffer a traumatic experience? Or is she just nuts? Who knows. All I know is that she’s nutting up right next to me.

She starts to leave, slamming her luggage thing on the floor with every step. But then she comes running back to her cubicle (and at me). Takes some more stuff from her table and smashes that against the wall. She repeats this process 2 or 3 more times where she starts to leave and then comes rushing back to smash up more stuff.

I’m giving her a sympathetic look. I feel bad for her, and wish there was something I could say or do that would make her feel better. But I’m also looking to make sure she doesn’t have any sharp objects in her hands.

Then she takes out a big bag of shelled peanuts and starts throwing them at us. This old guy who is sitting across from me — who is taking the brunt of her peanut assault — starts to complain.

“Hey! I’m just sitting here at my computer! I don’t deserve to be pelted with peanuts!”

But that only pisses her off even more. She throws some more peanuts at him, shouting over and over:


“Quit it,” whines the old guy. “Where the heck are the security guards when you really need them?”

She smashes one more item against the wall for good measure. And then FINALLY makes her exit. I hear her going down the steps, loudly whacking her luggage thing on every step.

And I went back to screwing around on my Facebook page.

The street scene can get a little wingy-dingy at times




My backpack was falling apart. So this friend of mine, who had an extra backpack, offered to give it to me. Along with a bunch of cans of cat food for my goddamn feral cats.

So she brings the stuff up to the Park. But, unfortunately, when her back was turned this street nut who hangs out in the Park all day long, walked off with it. He’s one of those wingnuts who walks around barefoot and talking to themselves, with a blanket draped over their shoulders. You might know the type.

The next day when she confronted him about it he admitted that he had “borrowed” the backpack and gave it back to her.

“What happened to all the cat food that was in the pack?” she asked.

“I ate it,” he said.

















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I’ve always considered myself kind of nuts.  When I was younger I had a somewhat romantic view about insanity.  Ya’ know?  The old “mad genius” routine.  And, as an artist, you’re encouraged to develop an original  perspective. A unique mental point of view. Which can push you in the direction of “eccentric” at the least.  And “crazy” at the extreme.

I always operated under the premise of “insanity is the only sane reaction to an insane world.”   So I wore my “insanity” as almost a badge of courage.  When I was younger, if I felt I was right about something, I would not budge an inch even if the whole world told me I was wrong.  It was the world that got it wrong.  Or, as Bukowski once put it:  “Humanity, you never had it from the beginning.” So I was never afraid to deviate from society’s version of reality.  An attitude which can lead you down a slippery slope.

I think most people generally try to adhere to the cultural norms, re their thinking and behavior.  They’re leery of coming across as a weirdo, or as “anti-social.”  For society can, and will, inflict punishments on those who don’t conform to the social norms.  Ostracism at the least, and padded cells at the extreme.  When I was younger, I at least felt I knew what the social norms were.  I just chose to deviate from them.  But I at least knew how to fake being “normal.”

But lately I’ve been getting more of an un-moored feeling.  Like I’ve went on so many mental tangents, I’ve strayed so far from the mental norm, that I’m on the verge of becoming hopelessly lost in the wilderness of my mind.

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Living on the streets certainly doesn’t help you to stay mentally-grounded.  For one thing, you’re surrounded by many people who would be considered “mentally insane” by almost any definition.  The people who talk to themselves all day.  The people with obvious weird behavioral compulsions (cutting themselves with razors, walking in the rain with no shoes, etc.).  The people who imagine that they’re Napoleon or Jesus Christ.  Clearly delusional people who have lost the ability to separate their delusions from reality. (Whatever “reality” is, OK?  But since we can definitely say that some outlooks are delusional, that implies that at least there’s a “reality” out there somewhere, even as most of us can never agree as to what exactly that is.)

For example:  There’s this one guy on the street scene who’s famous for going up to total strangers and screaming in their faces:  “STOP BOTHERING ME!!” You could try to explain to this fellow the faulty logic of his thinking.  That he is in fact projecting his inner madness onto the world at large.  But, alas, in the layman’s terms, he has shit-for-brains.  It would never even occur to him that his delusions are in fact delusions.  He’d be the last to know.

One friend of mine makes this distinction:  “At least I know I’m nuts.  The ones who are really crazy are the ones who are nuts but don’t know it.”  There is probably some wisdom to that perspective.

Peter Labriola's photo.I suppose any behavior taken to it’s extreme might be considered a form of insanity.  “Shyness,” for example, is probably a common neurosis.  But if one becomes so shy and paranoid and afraid of other people that they feel compelled to lock themselves away in a little room and strive to avoid any contact with their fellow humans, you could probably say they’ve crossed that line from “neurosis” to “psychosis.”

For whatever reason, this morning I started to feel like I was truly losing my mind.  Slipping into some form of madness.   For lack of a better word.  I’ve tried various different therapies over the years.  But the only thing that really helps me is to sit down in front of a keyboard and write about it. Try to explain it.  Try to take the whirling dervish in my brain and at least string it out in a linear series of words.  That often helps me to get a grip on it.  I guess that’s why I’m here right now, typing away.


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I was thinking about K for some reason, this crazy street chick I used to know.  This one specific moment.  When we were walking down this wooded path on the Berkeley campus.  I had dreamed about it last night, which is probably why I woke up thinking about it this morning.  It seems more dream-like than real in my hazy memory.   It was the sky that I remember most of all from that afternoon . . .

It was some time in early 2000.  How symbolic that was.  One century was ending while another century was beginning.  I was 43 at the time, so I was no longer a young man, but not quite an old man yet.  It was near the end of the Winter rainy season, or near the beginning of Spring.  It was still early into my relationship with K.  I was still making a play for her in my own inimitable and spastic way.  Still viewing her as the Girl of My Dreams (and all that nonsense).  Still hoping I could “save” her and make her mine.

I forget the exact circumstances of that day.  K had been panhandling on Telegraph earlier, huddled under a ratty blanket.  And I offered to buy her a cup of coffee.


(I think this was the day after that emotionally-charged night I had spent hanging out with her at her main panhandling spot on Shattuck Avenue.  As a gift I had given her a laminated photo that Larry the photographer had taken of her when she had first hit Berkeley a year earlier as a runaway.  17 years old.   It was a beautiful portrait.  When she looked at the photo of herself, K burst into tears.  “My green jacket!!” she kept saying.  “My green jacket!”

It was the jacket she had been wearing when she first came to Berkeley.   I could tell it aroused these feelings of sort of painful nostalgia.  Looking back at the jacket, and the person she had once been.  And how far she had fallen in such a short time.  Later that night we got into an intense conversation where K kept trying to make sense of her life’s dilemma..  “Its so hard to explain!!” she kept repeating over and over.  “It’s so hard to EXPLAIN!!”

She wasn’t yet completely ruined at this point, and there was this small part of her that was still “save-able.”  It was that brief moment when she was still trying to pull herself up, and I was trying to offer her my hand.)


Anyways, the next afternoon we sipped coffee on the steps of the Student Union building.  She was groggy like she’d just woken up, or was sanded-down from coming off a speed-binge.  We made sort of dull small talk.  Me, just madly in love with this person for some stupid, hopeless reason.  This 19-year-old elf.  How did she used to describe herself?  “I’m part troll and part wood nympth.”  Exactly.

Then we walked throught the wooded part of the campus towards Shattuck.  She was going to meet somebody by the BART station.  And I was headed to my office.  Just a mundane afternoon.  Two lonely people walking amongst the crowds of faceless city  people.  One of those moments, just a slice of time cutting through the dramas of our unfolding lives.  Our karma.  Our destiny.

A rain-storm had recently ended, so everything was still wet.  And the clouds were just beginning to break and little patches of blue sky were just beginning to appear, along with little slivers of sunlight that would occasionally peak out from behind the dark clouds.  So it was perfectly symbolic.  It had been a long, hard Winter. But you could see the first little,  promising signs  of Spring, and hopefully better days.

For some reason I vividly remember that sky as we walked down the wooded campus path towards Shattuck.  I guess because we were walking directly into the glare of the sun. It was around 4 o’clock and the streets were just starting to fill with people getting off work, and the sun would be setting over the Pacific in another hour.  That feeling you get in the Bay Area during sunset when it seems like the sun is setting on all of Western civilization.

We were two little, mundane human beings, walking through the afternoon of our weary dramas.  And the incredibly dramatic sky over head  —  with its purples, blacks, grays, blues and shards of  yellow, shining sunlight — made me feel both grandeur and insignificant at the same time.  The drama of the heavens above us, as we trudged through the wet dirt of planet Earth.  That feeling I sometimes get when the sun is peaking down from behind the clouds, like its God Himself hiding up there in the heavens, looking down on me.

Its hard to explain in words.  It was one of those quasi-mystical moments.  And a mundane moment at the same time.   As K put it:  “It’s so hard to explain.”