Woke up 7 in the morning (long story). Christmas day. The only place open to get coffee is 7-11. So I head in that direction. Cut through People’s Park. There’s at least a dozen tents set up. They’ve been there all week. That’s one thing where the University always drew the line in the past — no tents or structures, and no overnight camping (10 PM curfew). I don’t know if they’re letting it slide because of the holidays. Or if they purposely want to turn the park into a rundown homeless shanty-town to justify tearing it down.
Get my coffee (guy in line in front of me buying a 24 ounce can of Olde English, off to an early start). Walk back up Telegraph. Pass various street people in different doorways. Some still sleeping. Some drying off their stuff. A couple guys lighting up a bowl, starting their Christmas cheer. And, of course, one guy panhandling me. . . The Ave is completely deserted except for street people. It’s like a homeless ghost town.
Now I’m sitting here drinking my coffee and thinking many, many thoughts. None of them particularly interesting. MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYBODY!!
I just had a slightly humiliating experience. One of those experiences where you feel like a bum. I just got rousted by three different cops. You KNOW you could be in big trouble when three different cops cars pull up, specifically to deal with you and nobody but you.
I’m hanging out drinking beer and charging my cellphone at one of my favorite late-night hang-out spots on the campus when it’s raining. This little nook of space in the basement of Dwinelle Hall. I’ve been using it for years and I’ve never had any problems because it’s usually deserted in the evenings, and especially deserted on the weekends. At least until now.
So around 9 o’clock I notice this cop car pulls up right outside (I’m in this little lobby area). And doesn’t leave. So I’m starting to get a little nervous. Finally this cop — this young black woman — comes in and confronts me. “We got a complaint that you’ve been lodging in here.” So I just figured somebody had complained that some weirdo bum had been hanging out in the building (there’s at least a dozen other homeless people that regularly hole up in the building when it’s raining — several of whom are a bit peculiar — and I probably got caught in the cross-fire.)
So I give her my ID card and she runs my name across the wire. And I figure after I’m cleared for not having any outstanding warrants she’ll let me go.
But then a SECOND cop car pulls up and a second cop comes into the building. It’s this Asian cop who got really heavy with me this one night a couple years ago. So now I’m really squirming, thinking I might be in hot water (turns out he was very cool and friendly and didn’t have an attitude towards me this time, thankfully). So he asks me a few questions. Then asks to see my cellphone. I give it to him. And he asks me several questions about my cellphone. Which is weird. So I’m trying to figure out what’s going on.
And then a THIRD cop car pulls up. So now I’m really thinking I’m fucked. He’s a big young white guy. And as he enters the lobby and approaches me he puts on these blue plastic gloves. And I’m thinking: “Is he planning on doing a full body search here??” Like what the fuck is going on? I was just sitting here minding my own business. And now all this. He’s asks me a few questions. Then he asks me about the jacket I’m wearing. Which is dark blue. “Is that jacket reversible?” he says. “I don’t know, I’ve always worn it this way,” I says. “Could I take a photo of you with your jacket reversed?” he says. “Sure,” I says. The jacket is tan when it’s reversed. He takes a photo of me and my jacket. And then goes back outside to his cop car.
So now I’m standing there in the lobby with the Asian cop and the black woman cop, feeling like a criminal. FBI’s most wanted list. (I also have a 6-pack of beer by my stuff, hidden in a black bag, two beers already drunk, four to go — so they can bust me for public drinking and haul me off to jail at any moment if they spot that, so I am a bit nervous).
“Am I in trouble?” I said to the Asian cop. Still perplexed by what’s going on.
“A student got her cellphone stolen and you match the description of the suspects,” said the cop. “White male, about 50, 6 foot, wearing a tan jacket, slightly balding.” (that hurt)
“That would be me,” I said.
(I’m realizing it’s just one of those deals where “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Which can happen often when you live on the streets. Because you’re usually in the wrong place.)
The big white cop comes back in and says, “Can I search through your backpack?”
“Sure,” I says. He pulls everything out of my backpack one by one. And then puts it all back in.
“Can I search you?” he says.
“Sure,” I says. “Is this how you do it?” I turn around and put my arms out by my side (I haven’t had a lot of experience with this sort of thing, thankfully).
“No. Put your hands behind your back.” I comply and he gives me the old frisk. Finds nothing. “Can I look through your bag, too?”
“Sure,” I says. Now I figure I’m fucked. “Thats just my 6-pack of beer. I was going to drink it later. I surely wouldn’t drink it here on campus property.” (he lies)
“What kind of beer is it?” asks the Asian cop.
“Racer 5,” I says.
“That’s good beer,” he says with a friendly smile.
“7.5% alcohol content,” I says.
(Fortunately I had put the bottle caps back on the two empties, so it looked like a full six-pack as long as he didn’t look too close.)
After a bit more chit-chat they say: “Thanks for your cooperation.” And I grab my stuff and get my ass out of there and off the campus as fast as I can. With a big sigh of relief. But humiliated too. And now this once great hang-out spot is burned-out and off limits. Sigh.
One of the fascinating things to me about homeless people is how every one of them makes their own unique adjustment to it, depending on their particular personality and situation. Being homeless is such a round-hole-in-a-square-peg situation that you have to make all sorts of unusual adaptations to be able to function and exist within the larger society (some doing this better than others)..
This long-time homeless fellow has made a particularly unique adjustment. About 50, he’s been on the Berkeley street scene for the last couple of decades. While never really being a part of it. In all these years I’ve never seen him talk to another person. Always sits by himself. And spends most of his time walking around and around across the sidewalks of Berkeley, on his own particular route. Usually stopping from garbage can to garbage can, looking for food or whatever else he can find.
He seems to be completely self-sufficient and independent, living totally outside mainstream society. Or any society. Aside from his own personal universe. I’ve never seen him go into a store — or any building for that matter — and I sometimes wonder if he’s managed to carve out an existence without using money of any kind. Imagine pulling that off.
His other unique traits is that he apparently carries everything he owns with him every step he takes. He always has his bedding, matting and tarps strapped over his shoulder. While usually lugging several other big bags with his other possessions.
Like I said, every homeless person makes their own unique adjustment.
I don’t know why, but I often get this feeling of wistful sadness when I look back on my life. Like this long-forgotten moment in 1992. Anthony, Yume, Hate Boy. And I’ll often get that feeling when I think of somebody that I knew who died. I’ll think back to the excitement of those times. How we were constantly rushing around chasing after something. Something that always seemed to be just out of reach. It was like life always seemed to be leading up to something. But then when the person dies, there’s sort of this empty feeling. Like it was all just leading up to death.
And this weird sense of incompleteness about so much of our lives. It’s like I rushed through my life cramming all these experiences down my throat, while never really digesting them. It seems like it should have added up to something more somehow. Something more than a barely understood, and mostly forgotten, dream.
And as an artist, always trying to capture and preserve the moment. While never sure why. This futile yearning to capture and relive the past. And there’s a photo of us, or a newspaper article of us, or a tape recording of us. And there’s the date on it. September 1, 1992, or whatever. . . As if I needed some kind of proof that it was real, and it actually happened, and I was there. Even as, one by one, the photos disappear, the newspapers end up in the trash, and the tape recordings wear out.
The spiritual types all say “live in the moment,” the eternal Now. The past is just a dream. The future never gets here. All that’s real is the present. Even as I’m haunted by my past in a weird kind of way.
Hate Boy was an enigmatic fellow. He hit the Telegraph street scene around 1992 and hung around for a couple of years before he got run out of town.
Tall, lanky, and athletic, fairly handsome, I’d guess in his mid-20s when this photo was taken (but who knows, just about everything about him was a mystery). Hate Boy talked very little. Sat there with his Cheshire Cat grin. He mostly presented himself to the public by his ever-changing colorful costumes, and by his peculiar movements and mannerisms. Somewhat of an exhibitionist, he reminded me of a mime (he would sometimes wear white pancake make-up), or a slightly malicious court jester or joker. With a strangely aristocratic manner, like a rich kid on a lark. Often had a sly, mischievous smile on his face, like he was enjoying some secret inside joke. Possibly at your expense.
He adopted some of the Hate Man’s look, as well as some of Hate Man’s philosophy. So for awhile they were like a matching set. Hate Man and Hate Boy.
Hate Boy wasn’t a verbal person. The few times I tried to engage him in conversation he responded with terse, one-sentence answers. He never talked about his background (and to this day I don’t know anything about him, where he came from, what his real name was, what he had been doing before he became Hate Boy, and what he did afterwards). He never explained himself, or what he was aspiring to be, or what it all meant to him. He just presented himself as a living, breathing piece of performance art. This inscrutible work of avant-garde that people could project any meaning onto, or no meaning. As he danced across Telegraph like a zany ballerina (I have a set of photos of him spinning and piruetting and posing down the Ave).
When the Naked Guy started walking around naked, Hate Boy would often strip and join him on his romps, penis dangling in the breeze, his smile slier than ever. Hate Boy liked to shock and push the envelope. And eventually that got him in trouble. After a series of episodes where he grabbed at different co-eds crotches, he was banned from the area. And left town suddenly one day — possibly one step ahead of the law — never to return. And that was the end of Hate Boy. One more legend of Telegraph
Generally I enjoyed Hate Boy. He added some color and life to the scene. Projected this attitude that life was just a game, and there was nothing better to do than to play all day long, if you could get away with it
Gina is a long-time Berkeley street person. Completely bat crazy. Doesn’t so much talk in English but makes these weird animal sounds.
I remember one New Years Eve we’re all hanging out on the sidewalk outside Larry Blake’s right after midnight, ringing in the new year. Everybody buzzed and mellow. And Gina starts coming on to this guy, caressing him and hugging him. It’s New Years Eve and everybody’s getting a little loose after all. And suddenly she grabs hold of the guy by the hair and won’t let go and starts screaming “RAPE! RAPE! RAPE!” Ha ha. And for a second — as they’re violently grappling back and forth and he’s frantically trying to escape from Gina’s clutches — everybody thought she was fending off this guy who was trying to rape her. . . Fortunately — before people started beating the poor guy’s ass — people figured out what was going on.
One time I was hanging out at my vending table listening to the radio on my boom box. And the song “Angel is a Centerfold” by J. Geils came on — this song about this guy who’s dismayed to find out that his high school girlfriend had become a porno model. Gina happened to be passing by and when she heard that song she came charging over at me with a big crazy smile on her face: “THA’S MAH’ FAVORITE SONG!!” she said. And she stood there by the radio, singing/yelping along to the song and laughing like a loon.
Gina always made me a little nervous because she was so unpredictable. She was like a wild animal. She’s wasn’t a bad person really. Just really damaged and “out there.” She has some kind of brain damage, and most likely coupled with childhood trauma and abuse. You meet all kinds of unique and unusual people on the street scene, that’s for sure.
Human beings are a territorial creature by nature. And homeless street people are no exception. The problem is that street people don’t have any personal territory to call their own. They live in the public spaces after all. You indoor people have the walls of your houses and the fences around your yards to clearly delineate your personal territory. But no such line exists for street people. So it’s a source of constant problems.
But there is a certain protocol that most street people respect. For example if some guy has been sleeping in a particular doorway every night, most (but alas not all) of the street people on the scene will respect that that’s his personal campsite. And not camp there. And a similar protocol governs hangout spots. If somebody hangs out at the same spot on the sidewalk every day, that’s generally accepted as their spot. Though it can get a little hazy. Somebody might consider a favorite panhandling spot to be their personal spot. But someone else might consider it first-come-first -served and they got there first so now it’s their spot. So like I said the lines are not clearly drawn. But these conflicts are usually resolved in a calm and reasonable manner; i.e. the one who is bigger and stronger and more vicious and capable of beating the other person’s ass usually prevails.
Which brings me to my latest conflict. There’s a homeless street person who’s been hanging out on the Berkeley campus for the last 20 years. And he’s got his own personal hangout spot (and I respect his space). And I’ve got my own personal hangout spot (and he respects my space). And we’ve coexisted all these years with no problems. Until recently.
Now I have a favorite hangout spot on the campus that I’ve been using for years. I usually only use it in the evening when that area is mostly deserted. And it’s a great spot. It’s secluded. It has an awning to protect me from the rain. And best of all it has an outlet where I can charge my cellphone. But that was also the source of this recent conflict.
It turns out about 6 months ago this guy got a laptop. So now he’s been eyeballing my hangout spot — and that outlet — with serious intent, as a spot where he can plug in his laptop. And whaddaya’ know, I show up one night and there he is flopped out at my hangout spot with his laptop plugged into the outlet. I figure it’s probably just a one-night thing. So I just let it slide and go off and find another hangout spot.
But whaddaya’ know? The next night there he is AGAIN at my hangout spot. So I go up to him and explain to him, in a very reasonable voice, that I’ve been using this hangout spot for many years, and it’s a very valuable spot to me, and there’s simply no room for two bums at this spot. He nods his head in agreement and seems to understand.
But whaddaya’ know? The third night there he is AGAIN hanging out at my hangout spot.
So now I’m realizing this guy is planning to make this HIS permanent hangout spot. And this guy is like the classic ne’er-do-well layabout. Once he attaches himself to a hangout spot he’s there ALL the time. He’s basically spent the last 20 years doing nothing but laying around, taking up space. Which is fine — everyone in this life is on the level that they’re on. But the problem is, now he is taking up MY space.
So the next night I’m ready for him. I’m sort of hiding around the corner. And when I hear him coming I rush over to the spot right before he gets there, and say to him: “This is MY hangout spot. And there’s not room for TWO! Now GO away and STAY away!!”
He turns on his heels and leaves. And apparently he got the message. Because for the next 6 months peace and harmony reigned in the world of Ace Backwords.
Until the other night. When I showed up at my hangout spot. And whaddaya’ know? There he is again flopped out at my hangout spot. He’s lying on his back on his matting with his leg crossed, and all of his stuff dumped out around him, and his laptop plugged into the outlet. And he’s like some guy leisurely enjoying a swell evening in the comfort of his personal living room.
I look down at him, glaring at him, not saying anything. He looks up at me and says cheerfully “How are ya’ doin’?”
“How are YOU doing!” I said with a sharp edge in my voice.
“I’m doin’ just fine,” he said. “How are you doin’?”
I didn’t say anything for a couple of beats. Just continued to glare at him. And then I turned and stomped off. And I hoped he got the message and it refreshed his memory about our previous confrontation 6 months ago.
But then the next night? Whaddaya’ know? There he is AGAIN.
So now I’m realizing I have no choice. I either take action. Or else my favorite hangout spot is now his favorite hangout spot.
So I said to him: “Dude, this is MY hangout spot.”
“I realize that,” he said.
“Well if you realize that then why are you here hanging out here at my hangout spot??”
“Well let me explain,” he said.
“No. Let me explain first and you can explain second,” I said. “The next time I catch you at my hangout spot, I am going to go to your hangout spot when you’re not there. And I am going to dump all your stuff into the creek. Do you understand me?”
“I hear you,” he said.
And I turned on my heels and stomped out of there.
And I hope he DID understand me. Because I WILL do it.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 . . . . .. .