I swear I get all the winners. I’ve got a computer at the library reserved, but when I go to the cubicle there’s this stocky, crazy old woman who’s sitting there. She’s got headphones on and 5 big bags of stuff piled near her — including a big potted plant — and the desk is full of her papers and crap.
“Excuse me, I’ve got this computer reserved,” I said.
She turns around and glares at me and says: “YOU AGAIN!” (which is weird because I’ve never seen her before)
“I’ve got this computer reserved for 3:22,” I said.
“You’re lying. I don’t believe you,” she said.
“Well, I’ll go double-check, ” I said.
“You go do that,” she said.
I go to the computer on the librarian’s desk and check. Yes, I have that computer reserved. I go back and tell her: “Yes I do have that computer reserved for 3:22.”
“And at 4:22 will your reservation come to an end??” she said.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Well I need to know! I MUST know!” she said.
“Well there’s no way of knowing,” I said. “Sometimes they extend your reservation for a second hour.”
“Very well,” she said. She FINALLY gets up and starts moving all of her stuff to another desk. Then she adds, “I’m taking the chair with me.” And she drags my chair off to the other desk.
At the library today the guy sitting at the computer cubicle directly across from me kept making all these weird noises while he listened to his headphones. The guy sitting next to me repeatedly told him to stop making the noises. But he kept making them. So they started jawing back and forth.
The guy sitting next to me gets up and goes to complain to the librarian. The librarian approached the guy and said: “Excuse me, sir. If you don’t stop making noises and stop threatening people, we’re going to have to ask you to leave the library.”
“I wasn’t threatening anybody,” the guy explained. “I just told him I was going to stab him.”
Well, it’s good that he cleared up that misunderstanding.
You get the feeling with some people, their reputation precedes them. . .
This afternoon I’m at the library. And the Berkeley Library can often resemble an open air mental ward (needless to say I feel right at home). This guy is on one of the computers, listening to headphones. Black guy, about 30, with bleached blonde hair. He’s got his back to me, so I can’t see his face. But I can sure hear him. Everyone in the room can hear him.
He’s making these loud, wailing, anguished crying, sobbing sounds. Then he starts laughing hysterically, this loon laughter. Then he starts babbling to himself in this loud, discordant voice. Then he goes back to crying. Back and forth like that. Non-stop. For quite some time.
So I’m wondering why one of the librarians doesn’t go over there and tell him to be quiet. Then I notice these three guys standing about 20 feet behind him by the railing. Staring at him intently and talking into walkie-talkies.
About 5 minutes later three cops show up. They walk up to him very cautiously. Sort of surround him — one cop to the left, one to the right, and one right behind him. The cops tell the people sitting at the computers nearby him that they need to get up and leave. Then one of the cops softly says;
“Excuse me sir, you’ve got to get up and leave the library.”
The guy ignores the cops. Continues to babble away on his headphones.
The cop repeats: “You’ve got to leave.”
“No no, it’s all right,” says the guy.
You can see the cops stiffen. For a LONG solid minute it looks like a stand-off and that he’s going to resist the cops.
Finally, he stands up. And they surround him and quietly escort him to the stairs and out of the building.
You get the feeling they’ve had previous dealings with that guy.
It is completely crazy at the library today. It’s like half the people in here are completely insane. MORE than half. Cute-but-crazy Chanel is at a computer at one of the cubicles, listening to music on headphones. She’s standing up, dancing wildly, and singing along at the top of her lungs. Adding to the effect she has white pancake make-up on, and dark black eye shadow around both eyes. Giving her face a mask-like ghoulish affect . . .
This gray-haired woman at another computer stands up and shouts: “THIS IS A LIBRARY! THIS NOISE HAS GOT TO STOP!!” She approaches an elderly black guy at the cubicle behind me and shouts at him: “YOU’VE GOT TO STOP! YOU’VE GOT TO STOP!!” He looks up at her with bewilderment and confusion. He’s just sitting there quietly minding his own business. The gray-haired woman suddenly realizes that he’s not the culprit (uh duh). That the noise is coming from Chanel dancing wildly in the next aisle. “Sorry,” she says and goes over and confronts Chanel. They have a brief shouting match. And then Chanel takes off her headphones and storms off to another part of the library, singing loudly and wildly the whole way, her voice echoing across the library.
Meanwhile, the guy sitting next to me is repeatedly punching himself on the head. Hard! I grimace every time I hear the sound of fist connecting to skull. The gray-haired woman starts shouting again:
“WHAT IS GOING ON HERE IN THE LIBRARY TODAY?? EVERYBODY IS COMPLETELY CRAZY!! NOW THE GUY SITTING NEXT TO ME KEEPS HITTING HIMSELF ON THE HEAD. WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT?”
I went to People’s Park this evening to hang out with Hate Man. This strapping, young street ne’er-do-well has this big pile of basketball-sized boulders. And he’s picking up the boulders, one by one, and holding them high over his head, and then smashing them down on the other boulders. Over and over again. In some kind of frenzy. For no apparent reason.
“Why is that guy throwing them rocks?” I asked Hate Man.
“He’s been nutting up lately,” said Hate Man.
Then he walks over to the bench. Picks up a big plate of food that was sitting there. Looks at it. Then dumps it on the ground. I guess he didn’t like it.
Then he makes a bee-line over to where I am sitting. Sits down on the ground right in front of me, and says:
“Got a cigarette?”
“No I got this one from Hate Man.”
Then he starts babbling at me in this matter-a-fact tone: “Hey remember that time when you blah blah blah and that other guy said blah blah blah. . .”
Most of which I can’t understand. I don’t even know the guy. But the disconcerting thing is: As he’s calmly talking to me, looking me right in the eye, he’s got this stick in his hand, that he keeps stabbing into the dirt, over and over, like the stick is a knife that he’s stabbing into something.
“Oh yeah, right,” I said. Agreeing with what he was saying. Whatever the hell it was that he was saying. . . .
“Well, I gotta go use the restroom.” I said. I grabbed my backpack and my beer and left.
It’s 7 PM, dusk. I often find dusk to be slightly eerie and witchy. That twilight period where it’s transforming from day to night; light to darkness. It’s like reality is up for grabs or something during those in-between moments of twilight.
Anyways, for lack of anything better to do I go to People’s Park to hang out with Hate Man. I buy a cigarette from Hate for 50 cents (Virginia Slims, naturally), light it up, and survey the scene. This hulking guy I call the Walrus — because he always wears 4 pairs of pants, 3 of which are always inexplicably hanging around his ankles — is sitting on a log across from Hate Man. I smell something odd in the air. Look around to see if somebody is smoking some weird drug. It’s the Walrus. He’s flicking his cigarette lighter across the back of his head, setting bits of his hair on fire. That acrid smell of burnt hair. Dude’s a little peculiar.
Another wingnut is pacing back and forth aimlessly, pointing his hands as if he’s holding a rifle, aiming them at the people in the park as he pretends to shoot people dead. Everybody needs a hobby, I guess. Another nut is staggering around in circles, talking to himself. Cackling wildly. I think to myself: Why did they do away with mental asylums. It seems like such a valid concept.
“Oh fuck a fight just broke out,” I said to Hate Man. Across the way on the other end of the park this black guy and this black woman are facing off against each other, shouting and cursing. The woman lands several solid punches to the guy’s head (excellent boxing form). Then she picks up a big rock or a stick. The guy is backing away with his palms up. “They’re a couple,” said Hate Man. “I think they’re married. She hits him all the time. And if he hits her back she calls the cops on him and has him arrested.”
“PUSH FOR A CIGARETTE, HATE MAN!” shouts the Walrus. He suddenly jumps up from the log, starts moving towards Hate Man, but loses his balance, tripping on the pants around his ankles, almost falls down, hops and staggers and bounces to keep from going all the way down, before he retains his equilibrium. At least for the moment.
I put out my cigarette in the dirt. Wondering what the hell I’m doing here amidst all of this. Worse possibility, I belong here.
I get up in search of a quieter place to drink my 40 of OE.
People seem to be flipping out more and more these days. This morning I was in McDonald’s for only about 20 minutes, and I witnessed two different ugly, weird scenes.
The first one was, I was waiting on line to order. And just when it came my turn, this guy, this big lug, jumped in front of me.
“You gotta’ wait in line,” I said, stepping in front of him.
I think he did it more out of confusion than from being an asshole. There’s sort of a semblance of a line at McDonald’s, but there are also all these other people milling about, waiting for their orders. So it’s sometimes hard to tell where the line is. At any rate, the guy stepped back. Which was a relief. Because I’ve seen fights break out over less. And like I said, the guy was big. And he was grinding his teeth like he was under some kind of mental strain. Ya’ know? Like he might be drunk or drugged or mentally unbalanced. Or some strange combination of the three.
So then I’m waiting by the front door for my order to be filled. I guess the big lug got into some other kind of complication while he was trying to order his food. Because suddenly he turns from the counter and comes rushing towards me. As he passes me, he lunges at the door with this flying kick. Kind of one of those flying karate kicks. He bashes against the door with the bottom of his boot. WHACK!!! The door flies open and smashes against the wall, and he storms off down the street . . . . No Happy Meal for that guy.
Then I’m huddled in the back corner drinking my dollar large coffee (an excellent deal, by the way). When I hear another commotion coming from the front counter.
“GET OUT OF HERE OR I CALL THE POLICE!!” It was the manager’s voice.
“WELL THEN, FUCK YOU !!! GO AHEAD AND CALL THE POLICE, MOTHA’FUCKA’!!!”
From the sound of his voice — this gravelly, raspy drawl — I knew exactly who it was. Spider. (I’ve known Spider for years on the Berkeley street scene.) I spot him as he’s strutting away from the counter. Doing what I always call “the Jailhouse Walk” — this very distinctive strut where the person walks really jaunty with their chin jutting out and their fists clenched on their sides, like they’re the toughest, baddest asses you ever did see — I can always tell they’ve done a lot of time in prison when they do that walk. It’s mostly a bluff, by the way. I think the scared ones use it to try and bluff off the predators. But one thing’s for sure. Spider’s done his jail time. One of his favorite conversational gambits is to give you a guided tour of the countless prisons and jails he’s been incarcerated in over the years, all across this great land of ours.
I’m sort of hiding behind my cup of coffee, hoping Spider doesn’t see me as he passes by and decides to engage me in conversation. (When we pass each other on the streets, we always push knuckles together as we pass — this sort of manly handshake. Spider likes me, and he’s generally a friendly guy in between fucking shit up). Fortunately, Spider doesn’t spot me. Struts out of McDonald’s and down Shattuck in search of god knows what (one of Spider’s distinctive character traits is that he walks around in a seemingly permanent state of inebriation).
The first time I met Spider I found him more than a little unsettling. He looks exactly like a neo-Nazi skinhead. With his arms and chest (he often struts around bare-chested) covered with tattoos. Including numerous spider web tattoos, including a big one across the side of his neck.
But, as so often is the case with street people, there’s often more under the surface than you’d guess. When I was doing my vending table on Telegraph, I always had a big ghetto blaster for music. And I’d play lots of rock and metal and punk and even rap (when I felt like shaking things up a little). But I’d also play the classical radio station at times. Spider, by the way, is a total music freak. And he’s always drawn like a fly to a light bulb whenever there’s music around. So, of course, he made a bee-line to my table, and stood there, quietly but intently listening to the classical music I was playing.
“That’s Wagner,” said Spider. And he even pronounced it correctly. Vogg-ner. “He’s always one of my favorites, because it reminds me of my Mom. She use to listen to Wagner all the time when I was a kid.” Spider stood there listening to the music with this wistful, faraway look on his face.
“Did you know my Mom conceived me right up there on Durant Street near the Food Court about 40 years ago,” said Spider. “I’ve been hanging out on the Telegraph street scene from before I was even born, man”
Turned out his mother was a Jewish hippie in the ’60s and ’70s. Don’t know about his father. I’m not sure Spider knows much about his father, either.
But the point is, things on the street scene, often things are quite different than they seem on the surface.
There used to be this wingnut in Berkeley who always walked around talking to himself. So my friend asked him: “How come you’re always talking to yourself?” And he said: “Because nobody else will listen to me.”