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
Narayana has been hanging out by the old Cody’s Books building lately. She hangs there just about every evening, usually all evening. Sitting there leaning against the front door of the vacant building for hours, blankly staring out at her world. And at the end of the night she usually takes out her sleeping bag and crashes there. Often a couple of other street ne’er-do-wells hang out there, too, one on each side of her. And crash there at night. I’ll often pass them late at night on my way to the liquor store, laying there on the sidewalk in their sleeping bags like three bumps on the logs.
Like so much of my life these days, it’s a stark reminder of what once was, and now is. And such a bring-down from what once was. For many years Cody’s Books was one of the cultural centers of Berkeley. This dynamic hub of constant action and excitement. While today it’s mostly just the home for a couple of weary street people, sitting there killing time.
And for nearly 20 years, that Cody’s Books corner was one of my favorite hang-out spots. I used to half-jokingly refer to it as “my corner” (but half-serious, too). That corner was like my living room, my clubhouse, and my bar, as well as my work place.
When I pass that corner now it’s hard to even remember what it was once like. The countless dramas we enacted over the years on the stage of that corner. It’s so different now. It seems like it was all just a dream. A hallucination. Like it never really happened. It was nothing but a fading memory in the back of my mind.
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.
God, I can’t believe it. I just CAN’T believe it. Two days before the big People’s Park 50th Anniversary Concert. . . I walk up to Dwight and Telegraph. They got the whole block roped off with yellow police tape. Dozens of cop cars parked everywhere. Helicopter hovering overhead. I asked a friend of mine hanging out on the corner what was going on:
“It just happened in the park by the picnic tables. Guy walked up to another guy sitting at the table and shot him right in the head. Black guy with dreadlocks shot another black guy.”
“Is he dead?” I said.
“Most likely he is 99.9% dead.”
April 26, 2019
Walked through People’s Park today. The guys were all sitting at the picnic tables hanging out, just like usual. Sitting right where the guy got his head blown off just yesterday. And acting like nothing had happened. . . And I guess that’s just how it works. Life goes on.
Some people are going to be quick to blame People’s Park for the homicide the other day. But as far as I can tell the suspect had almost no affiliation with People’s Park. And the homicide has nothing to do with People’s Park, any more than it has to do with the OTHER three locations where this nut just happened to go on his shooting rampages.
April 28, 2019
Well, it’s the People’s Park 50th Anniversary Concert. Jimbow the Hobo got the show off to a rousing start, ranting out some street poetry in true People’s Park fashion. Then an all-female rock band that sounded a bit like Lou Reed & the Velvet Underground did a nice set.
I had a good time. Ran into Jay-Jay, Katie and the Infamous Bones. Then spent most of the show hiding at the top of the park until I finished off my first six-pack of Racer 5 and started shouting “PEOPLE’S PARK!!! PEOPLE’S PARK!!!” over and over for no apparent reason. . .
The rest of the show is a blur in my memory. I consulted the photos in my cell phone, searching for clues, and came across this shot of the great Moby Theobald so apparently I met him too (hi, Moby). All the rest of my photos have my big thumb right in the middle of all the shots so they’re no help. . . At any rate Happy Birthday, People’s Park!! The big Five-Oh.
April 29, 2019
People’s Park the morning after the big 50th Anniversary show, a little hungover but still there. . . I tried to take a photo of the new improved Free Box but some street people were camped out in front of it and when I asked to take a picture they said no and refused to move so I could get a shot. . . Some things will never change.
This photo of the Naked Guy popped up on the internet the other day. Probably around 1993. And it gives you some idea of what the Naked Guy’s life was like back then . For several years (before he got crunched by the authorities) he went around naked just about everywhere he went — to his college classes, to the store, to the park, whatever.
It was a surreal sight to see the Naked Guy suddenly go walking by the streets of Berkeley. And you can bet he inspired a wide range of reactions: shock, disbelief, laughter, outrage, as well as sexual attraction (for he was a really good-looking guy and his body was regularly compared to a Greek statue). And later, after he had garnered large amounts of media attention (including the TV talk shows and PLAYBOY magazine) he got the “celebrity” reaction (“Look Ethel, it’s the famous Naked Guy!!”).
But the beaming smiles on the two women’s faces in this photo shows how most of Berkeley reacted to the Naked Guy. Like the whole thing was an outrageous joke. But a GOOD joke. And we were mostly laughing WITH the Naked Guy, not AT him. Berkeley always prided itself on it’s hip streak of rebelliousness, thumbing our noses at conventional mores and values. Berkeley was ahead of the curve on many things — we had black mayors, decriminalized pot, supported gay rights, etc., long before things like that were accepted by mainstream America. And maybe the Naked Guy’s crusade to liberate the American penis was another one of those things.
But mostly we enjoyed the Naked Guy for the sheer zaniness and wackiness of the whole thing. It was hysterically funny.
It was only later in retrospect that we realized it wasn’t funny to the Naked Guy. In fact he was dead serious about the whole thing. It was a righteous crusade to him. And in his head he had this whole crazy manifesto where the naked thing was just a part of this life-or-death struggle to overthrow the “fascist racist patriarchal Judeo-Christian system” that led all the way to violent revolution and overthrow of the American government. He was THAT serious.
I don’t think hardly any of us were aware of that aspect of the Naked Guy as we were enjoying his shtick. And we mostly watched with sadness and surprise as his life played out to its grim conclusion.