A Sproul Plaza Fountain story: part one

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The fountain on Sproul Plaza has been the backdrop for countless street dramas over the years. But I can only remember two times when the fountain itself played a part in the story.

The first story is kind of funny. A bunch of us were hanging out there at the fountain one night after the Hate Man drum circle had ended. We’re sitting there on the ledge, smoking cigarettes and chillin’ and etc. When this homeless friend of mine sauntered over and joined the conversation. And he‘s got this big green frame-backpack on his back.

Suddenly he notices all the coins on the bottom of the fountain. Ya know? People throw them in there for good luck. But it turned out they weren’t so lucky for him.

“Man there’s enough coins in the fountain to buy me another forty!!” he said, excitedly.

So he kneels on the ledge and reaches down into the water to grab some of the coins at the bottom.

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But as he bent over, the laws of physics and gravity took affect. And his frame-pack flipped over his shoulder and then over his head — sort of like a judo flip. And the weight of it — he must have had 40 pounds of crap in there — pulled him over the ledge and right into the water, headfirst. And dragged him all the way down to the bottom of the fountain, like someone had attached an anchor to him and thrown it into the water.

It was the weirdest thing. One second he’s sitting there talking to us. And the next second he’s completely submerged in the water. We could actually see him underwater swimming, doing the breaststroke, his cheeks puffed out like a blowfish.

Well, he pulls himself out of the fountain, sputtering and cursing, and soaking wet. And we’re all laughing, busting our guts because it was so funny.

Fortunately I had an extra set of dry clothes for him stashed at my office. So he didn’t freeze to death or nothing. But I can still see that picture in mind as clear as a bell, 20 years later. Him underwater in the fountain doing the breaststroke .

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Hate Camp: part one

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The Telegraph street scene of the 1990s was a magical scene to me.  And I remember it in my mind’s eye like an endless, blue-sky, sunny summer day.  The scene had a  colorful, bohemian quality back then.  Lots of writers, artists, poets, musicians, painters, etc.  And most of all, there were those “zany Telegraph street characters.”  Berkeley was famous for them, and the town took a lot of pride in them and actually celebrated them as a vibrant example of Berkeley’s culture and unique flavor.  Inspired eccentrics, you might call them

At the center of the Telegraph street scene was the legendary Hate Man.  And Hate Man had a big scene going back then, practically a cult, that he dubbed “Hate Camp.” Every day, usually all day long, Hate Man set up at the first two benches on Sproul Plaza on the Cal Berkeley campus.  And there’d usually be at least 10 or 20 people hanging out.  Hate Man set up milk crates for people to sit on, and there was usually a makeshift coffee table in the middle of the circle, with candles and flowers and decorations on it.

Hate Camp was a surreal scene.  Stepping into Hate Camp was like stepping into the other side of the mirror and entering this Madhatter Tea Party.  In a lot of ways Hate Camp seemed like an antecedent to Andy Warhol’s “Factory” scene in the ’60s.  It had a similar cross-section of artists, hipsters, druggies and  street people.  As well as some complete lunatics.  A volatile mix.  Hate Camp was a mixture of art happening, party, and street theatre.  As well as a form of public group therapy.

 

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And a very intellectual scene.  Hate Man was a former New York Times reporter.    Hate Camp regular Atari Slouch had graduated from Yale and was doing post-graduate Rabbinical studies at Cal.  Mambo had published a slick, glossy music magazine devoted to avant-garde music.  And my comic strip was reaching about a million readers every month in papers and zines all across the country.  So we were hardly your typical group of homeless street bums.

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 Hate Man considered himself a street sage and bona-fide philosopher in the tradition of Socrates and Aristotle. He had developed what he considered an original and cutting-edge philosophy that he dubbed “Oppositionality” — something he considered too radical to be taught in the universities (though he strongly believed it one day would be).    And he was ever-ready to expound and debate the merits of his philosophy to anyone who wanted to engage him.

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As a form of therapy, Oppositionality was part Gestalt and part Primal Scream therapy.  The idea was to act out any conflicts or disagreements.  Usually by screaming and yelling and cursing and calling eachother the worst names.  “FUCK YOU, I HATE YOUR GUTS!!” being practically the universal mantra of Hate Camp.  It was the antithesis of “don’t sweat the small things.”  The idea being that if you bitched and yelled and argued about every little thing, those hostilities wouldn’t build up into big things.

A typical Hate Camp argument/screaming fest — which went on for hours one night and involved at least 10 different combatants  — had to do with M & M candies.  Someone had donated a bag of M & Ms to the scene and Atari Slouch was upset because he wanted a green M & M but got a red one instead.  Several people  felt this was absurd “because all the M & Ms tasted the same.”  Atari Slouch countered that they were “invalidating his feelings.”  And the screaming match went on and on, until they eventually “resolved their differences” thanks to the miracle that was Oppositionality.  So it was an interesting form of conflict-resolution.  And considering how much difficulty human beings have in resolving their myriad conflicts, there’s always a value to somebody trying too come up with a new wrinkle.

“For 2,000 years Christian culture has tried to get along and  have a nice day,” Hate Man often opined.  “And look where it’s gotten us.”  Hate Man’s trip was:  No more Mr. Nice Guy.  No more false possitives. Lets deal with our shit.

One of the initiation rites into Hate Camp was, Hate Man would give you a “funny name.”  Or you could pick a “funny name” (for years I’ve been known as Chopper).  The reasons for this are two-fold.  One, when you enter Hate Camp you’re encouraged to leave your “normal” self behind.  You’re invited to act out the secret fantasy persona you’ve always longed to be.  And it wasn’t uncommon to see men wearing dresses and elaborate costume jewelry.  Or women with 10 facial piercings and nipple rings.  And it gave Hate Camp that surreal feel.  Like a cosmic masquerade.  And two, most of us were involved in quasi-illegal shit.  So if the cops happened to over-hear us talking about Bobo or Shroom or Jaguar they wouldn’t have the slightest idea who we were talking about.

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Contrary to what most people probably thought, almost none of us were getting welfare checks or going to the free, charity meals.  Mostly we wanted to live outside the system, and not have to answer to anyone.  We survived by street vending, selling weed, odd jobs and dumpster-diving.  We cleaned up our messes and didn’t ask anything from society except that they left us alone to do our own thing.  We were mostly too wild to fit into normal society (not that we had anything against normal society).  And this might sound corny or naïve.  But we really believed we were experimenting and developing new and advanced ways to be a human being.

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