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

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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.

The perennial search for an asshole-free zone

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Sometimes I find people very easy to hate.

So it’s 8 o’clock and I’m hanging out at one of my favorite late-night hangout spots on the Berkeley campus — this little niche of space away from everything. And I’m sipping on my beer and listening to music on headphones and working on some stuff on the internet.

When this person is suddenly standing in front of me. He’s some nut. One of my “fellow street people.” And he starts babbling at me. But I can’t understand a word he’s saying (did I mention he’s a nut??). But from his gestures I can tell he wants to plug his cellphone into the outlet that I am using.

“NO!!” I said forcibly. “I don’t want any company. I just want to be alone. There are plenty of other outlets right down there on the plaza that you can use.”

But does this dirtclod respect my wishes and respect my space?? HELL NO. He pulls out his cellphone and some chords and starts doing various inexplicable gestures (so as usual I’m contemplating that age-old question: ” Is he a nut?? Or is he on drugs?? Or is he just an asshole?? Or some strange combination of the three??”).

I stand up and glare at him. Give him the ole Ace Backwords Death Stare. Hoping I can scare him off with my chest-pumped-out Cowardly Lion routine. But he’s completely oblivious. Continues to fumble around with his cellphone and a bottle of something in his hand. I imagine in my mind how satisfying it would be to just punch him in the head right now with all my force, and watch his useless bulk bouncing around on the concrete. But, alas, there are laws against that.  Plus, he’s just as big as me and probably 30 years younger. So maybe he could take me. Plus I’m getting too old for this shit anyways. And punching people in the head — as satisfying as that might be in the moment — can sometimes turn out to be counter-productive (so I’m gaining a modicum of wisdom and maturity in my old age).

So instead I quickly pack up my stuff, give him one last death glare, and then stomp off.

But that’s what it’s like in Berkeley EVERYWHERE nowadays. EVERY square inch of space is being contested by SOMEBODY!!

Now I’m actually hanging out at a better spot. My eternal motto is: “It’s a big world. And the point is to occupy a part of it that doesn’t include the asshole.” THE END

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

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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.

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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.

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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 . . . . .. .

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

First rain of the season

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Several people warned me it might rain on Tuesday. I checked the weather forecast and they said strong chance of rain on Tuesday. I reminded myself I better start preparing in case it rains on Tuesday.

So last night I’m awoken from a dead sleep in the middle of the night. My blankets are soaking wet. “WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON??? ITS RAINING!!! . … Oh. Right. It’s Tuesday.”

I never cease to amaze myself.

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Hate Man’s coffee bottle

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Hate Man’s legendary coffee bottle, which he always dolled up with colorful objects. Hate was one of those people who drank coffee all day long throughout the course of the day (I used to be like that back when I was a productive citizen — now I’m just one large coffee first thing in the morning to kick-start my engine and that’s it). So his coffee bottle was never far from his side.

One time Hate Man asked me to get him a large black coffee to-go at Peats. “And take a second cup to the condiments table and fill that half-way up with sugar.” Hate Man liked a LOT of sugar with his coffee.

Guy lived to be 80.

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Hate Man and his stuff: Part 2. Hate Man tells the University to stuff it

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When Hate Man moved to People’s Park and set up Hate Camp there, his battles with the police and the University over his “stuff” really intensified, and became virtually a daily form of warfare that was waged for over a decade. It wasn’t uncommon for Hate to have a dozen “stuff”-related tickets at any given moment. Virtually all of which Hate defeated in court.

The problem the police had with nailing Hate over this issue was that there was very little legal precedent to go by, as well as the difficulting of exactly defining what “too much stuff” entailed. A fact that Hate was able to exploit in court.

The cops would arbitrarily attempt to come up with different definitions — one was “you could only have as much stuff as you could carry.” But Hate would argue that this discriminated against older, smaller, weaker people who couldn’t carry as much as younger, bigger, stronger people.

Or the cops would try to give street people tickets for having chairs, which they considered a form of “lodging.” To which Hate countered that this discriminated against the homeless, because normal people were allowed to bring lawn chairs to the parks when they had their picnics.

Hate had an excellent legal mind. And he enjoyed using it. He enjoyed the gamesmanship of the battle. And never took it personally against the police or the University. He saw it as part of his life-long mission to learn how to deal effectively with nemeses and people who were in opposition to him. And most of the cops didn’t take it personally either. Aside from one or two who REALLY hated Hate Man’s guts and went out of their way to make Hate’s life miserable.

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And to be fair to the cops, it was necessary for them to periodically crunch the homeless street people over having too much stuff. Because many of them compiled huge masses of crap and made huge messes. And if the cops didn’t periodically prune the herd, they’d turn our public parks and public spaces into private squats and homeless shanty towns.

Hate Man, though, was in somewhat of a unique position. He served as sort of a communal store and trading post for the street community. And among his stuff he’d have things like a “medicine chest” where street people could get things like aspirins and cough medicine and band aids. And if you needed to borrow a screw driver or an extra blanket or the proverbial cup of sugar, Hate would usually have it among his mounds of stuff. And Hate also let other street people store their stuff alongside his stuff — he’d keep an eye on it while they had to take care of some business. Which added to his mounds of stuff. And, of course, he usually had several big garbage bags of recycled cans and bottles.

Every now and then I would ask Hate if it was really worth it to go through the daily grind over his stuff, and wouldn’t he consider “flexing” and lightening his load. But Hate Man was always adamant about living his life on his own terms. And if society wanted to stop him, well, good luck doing that. Ha ha. Hate was never shy about pushing the envelope. And wherever the line was drawn, he’d extend it by a couple extra feet. And it would be from that point that he’d be willing to start negotiating. Ha ha.

Finally, in a last-ditch attempt to get rid of Hate Man and all his stuff, as well as all the other homeless people who were basically living in Peoples Park, the University arbitrarily came up with a ban on all cardboard and tarps in the park. Hate Man, realizing this would make it virtually impossible for street people to exist in the park, decided to go on the offensive. And he — and his noisy band of fellow street people — set up a big 24-hour-a-day protest on Bancroft Street, at the foot of the campus and directly in front of the University police station. And he managed to create such a public uproar, that after several weeks the University backed down and relinquished the ban.

And Hate Man prevailed once again. THE END

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