Of all the weird experiences I’ve had in this life, one of the weirdest was “falling in love.” After all these years, I still don’t really understand what that one was all about. . .
I remember this one sunny summer day back in 1994, 24 years ago. I was hanging out at my vending table in front of Codys Books. Just another mundane day in a seemingly endless expanse of mundane days. When this young woman stopped by to say hi to me.
She was fairly new to the scene. She had just started hanging out on the Telegraph street scene. This young hippie chick in her late teens. She had been following the Grateful Dead tour. And now she was chilling in Berkeley for a couple months in between hitting the Rainbow Gathering in July (there was a whole circuit back then). And we had met a couple times previous and we were just at that stage where we were starting to “know” each other. So she stopped by to chat for a spell.
She was tall and willowy. And her body seemed to sway and dance all the time, even when she was just hanging around talking. And she was wearing this skimpy little halter top — this piece of cloth, basically, that she had wrapped around her chest. And this long flowing hippie skirt that she probably pulled out of the Free Box. But her most significant trait was this big beaming smile. This almost brainless, not-a-care-in-the-world smile. Like she was beaming with ecstasy and bliss and waves of pleasure, and that all was right with the world forever and ever (part of it was probably the good speed that was going around back then). And these beautiful translucent eyes that seemed to always reflect the sunshine. She was kind of cute, OK?
So we shot the shit for awhile. She had sort of a goofy, playful sense of humor, like life was an amusing lark basically. So she was fun to hang out with. And she also had a “spiritual” side — she would occasionally make portentous statements about “Mother Earth and the moon and the sky” and “good vibes” and “Babylon, man.” And that was amusing to a bitter old cynic like me.
So we chatted for awhile. And then she bid me farewell. And went bopping down Telegraph Avenue. And I didn’t think any more about our casual exchange. Until a couple minutes later. When I noticed she had stopped at this other vending table down the street. And she was chatting happily with this big, handsome, dashing hippie dude that ran that table.
And now I’m straining to see what they’re doing. I can only catch partial glimpses of them through all the crowds of people hanging out on the Ave. But they seem to be having a great time together, talking to each other.
And then I noticed he was giving her a back rub. She was standing with her back to him and he was massaging the back of her neck. And for some unknown reason this got me really upset. I even started to tremble a little. Which was a weird reaction. Because I barely knew this person.
So I kept staring off down the Avenue. Until I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head. In this very agitated state. Until she finally frolicked on down the Ave and disappeared from sight.
And just like that, I was obsessed with this person. And would be obsessed with her every day for the next two years.
Like I said. Its weird..
I spent many years standing there like a dork at my vending table in front of Cody’s Books. 19 years to be exact. I have no idea where I got that dorky shirt. But the photo reminded me of some of the misadventures we had over the years with the pay phone behind us.
This one time a friend of mine was hanging out with us. And he spots this hot young chick loitering around on the corner. “Man would you look at the tits on that one!” he said. “Boy would I like to fuck her!” and etc. etc. Going on and on in very obscene details about the things he’d like to do to her.
Little did we know her boyfriend was talking on the payphone right behind us. And when he got off the phone he was mad as a hornet. And he was a BIG guy, too. He got in my friend’s face and he’s ready to kick the living shit out of him. He’s got him backed against the wall of the Cody’s building. And my friend is fishing in his pocket for the can of mace he carries. And it was about to get really ugly.
When I somehow managed to talk the guy down. “We apologize,” I said. “We meant no disrespect. You have a very beautiful girlfriend, etc. etc.” Which somehow placated him.
He even said as he was leaving: “You have class.” But couldn’t resist adding: “But your friend is a dirty old pervert.”
He’s lucky he didn’t get a face full of mace from my friend. Who could do some damage, too. Ha ha. But that was a close one.
For the 15 years that me and Duncan published the Telegraph Street Calendar, we were a fixture at the Christmas Fair every year. I used to always get heavily depressed during the Christmas season. But the years we were doing the calendar, I was always so busy, working so hard, that I didn’t have time to get depressed. And I loved how the season built up to a peak. With every day that we got closer to Christmas, bringing more and more people to the Ave, and more and more of a shopping frenzy. Until it finally peaked and exploded on Christmas Eve day. When everything would suddenly die around 4 PM. As everyone packed up to go home and start preparing for their holiday.
I don’t know exactly why I get so melancholy around the Telegraph Avenue Christmas Street Fair. I guess because I wish that I could go back in time and do it all over again (and THIS time I’ll get it right, dammit!).
The thing I miss most of all: Me and Duncan were in the middle of this big and very dynamic circle of friends back then (I’m pretty much a total loner nowadays). And we used to bring out 5 or 6 extra chairs for our friends to hang out with us. We used to joke that it was kind of like hosting “The Tonight Show.” With Duncan as Johnny Carson. And me as Ed McMahon, the side-kick. And, one by one, our friends would show up — characters all of them — and take their place on the couch . . .
(Originally published August 1, 2005)
You see it all hanging out on a street corner. There’s this guy who’s been setting up his vending table across from ours. He’s a big, dark-skinned Pakistani guy. He’s a pretty nice guy, soft-spoken, congenial and friendly. But at his vending table he’s selling a beautifully-printed, self-published book entitled “JESUS IS SATAN.” The full-color cover illustration shows Jesus on the cross with Satanic horns coming out of his head.
To advertise his book, he has a big sign at his vending table that says: “JESUS’ MOTHER WAS A WHORE!” Well, that gets their attention. The vendor hadn’t been around for a few months, but he showed up again yesterday with his stand. I noticed that his front teeth were missing. I’m sure there’s a story behind that, but I didn’t bother to ask him. Instead I asked him: “What do you get out of doing this?”
“I want to make people think,” he explained. That can be a dangerous thing, considering the process that passes for “thinking” in most people’s brains. In truth, most people (including me) don’t “think.” We “regurgitate.” Often someone will come up to me and breathlessly explain to me — in some detail — their latest theories regarding politics, world affairs, or religion. Usually “their” thoughts are just a regurgitation of something they heard on a very exciting television show. Usually, ten seconds into their spiel, I already can predict exactly where their steamed-up little minds are going. It’s like listening to someone tell a 20-minute joke when you’ve guessed the punchline within the first 10 seconds. Fortunately, all they demand of you, the listener, is the response: “Yes, that certainly is a brilliant and original observation on politics, world affairs, and/or religion, and you are surely a bright and astute fellow.” That invariably satisfies them.
Anyway, yesterday, these three teenage black chicks (and very cute I might add) took umbrage with the vendor and his “JESUS IS SATAN” book.
“You’re goin’ to hell, you motherfuckin’ punk-ass bitch!” exclaimed one.
“I should kick your motherfuckin’ ass right now!” exclaimed another.
“You shouldn’t be talking no motherfuckin’ shit about Jesus Christ!” exclaimed the other.
The three black chicks stood there, screaming and threatening and having this motherfuckin’ theological discussion for about 20 minutes, until they finally stormed off in a huff.
But I still couldn’t help wondering about the vendor’s motives. Was it that he didn’t get enough attention as a child, and now he was making up for lost time? And of course, I wondered about my own motives, having spent 30 years pushing my own alleged “thinking” — much of which flies in the face of the commonly-accepted wisdom — out at the world at large. It is a strange thing: this relationship that all of us lonely, individual souls have with the World Out There.