People's Park

I just knew something would go wrong when I stepped into Berkeley's bureaucratic labyrinth to obtain a vendor's license. They'd demand a background check, a urine sample, or a note from my mother — something impossible.

See, for years I was a libertarian, and I'm still about 20% "get your damned rules out of my way," so dealing with a government office is a guaranteed indignity. As indignities go, though, it wasn't bad at all. The big surprise was that there were no surprises.

I stood in the wrong line for 15 minutes — entirely my fault. There was a sign that made perfect sense, but I read it wrong. After my own screw-up, it only took 25 minutes in three lines, and everyone behind every counter acted approximately human, and now I'm legally permitted to sit in the sunshine on Telegraph Avenue, and sell blasphemous fish to make a living. Thank you, City of Berkeley.

♦ ♦ ♦

After that, Jay and I drove around Berkeley and walked Telegraph Avenue, to judge the customer flow on the sidewalk. I've been to Telegraph many times, and occasionally bought stuff from the vendors. Now I'll be selling.

We strolled through People's Park nearby, mingling with the mix of students and homeless. It's a marvelous place, all the more so if you know something about its history. I don't know much, but I will now enlighten or bore you with that knowledge:

In the late 1960s or early '70s, the university down the street, U-Cal Berkeley, used eminent domain to seize and destroy a block of houses. They were planning to build some kind of facility where athletes could sweat, but then they ran out of money, so instead of a sweat-house, it was just an ugly swath of mud near the city's downtown.

That's when the hippies moved in. They made the mud into a park, without permission, of course. They built trails, planted grass and flowers, smoked weed, and spoke of peace and freedom.

After that came one-sided warfare, with hundreds of cops rioting and shooting at hippies and locals and anyone who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Police killed one man who was eating a sandwich and watching the mayhem, utterly uninvolved.

The story is everything you'd expect, except an unexpected ending: The park is still there, still beautiful, and the university's student-athletes sweat elsewhere. It's not officially a city park — the trails, gardens, and compost bins at People's Park are maintained by volunteers. The signs are hand-painted. The rules are easygoing. There's a free lunch daily for anyone who's hungry, and a big shed full of clothes, free for the taking.

When you come to San Francisco, stick a damned flower in your hair, sure, but you should also BART over to People's Park in Berkeley. It's a tiny slice of hippie paradise, and one of the bay area's most beautiful places, marred only by the tragic volleyball courts.

Jay is incredibly outgoing, and she struck up a conversation with a couple of teenage drifters in the park. They were friendly, just finishing their Food Not Bombs free lunches, and told us how the local cops love to hassle anyone who doesn't look like a shopkeeper or customer. "Of course they do," I said. "That's the unspoken mission of every American police department."

Leaving the park, we wandered into a few cool shops, and Jay seemed to know everyone. That's what it's like being an extrovert — everywhere you go, people know you. I shudder at the thought.

She introduced me to a few spike-haired friends and pretty women as "Doug, who does the Pathetic Life newsletter," which was embarrassing. Of course, most of these people had never heard of the zine, but one of them had, which really surprised me.

Afterward, I asked Jay to keep my zine identity quiet. I like writing about my life, but the whole arrangement only works because nobody around me knows I'm writing.

♦ ♦ ♦

The fish work will be four or five days a week, so on my way home, I stopped at a phone booth and called Stevi at the shop, to tell her I'm quitting. Friday will be my last day, at least as a regular cast member, though she asked and I agreed to come back occasionally as a special guest flyer-boy, as needed.

♦ ♦ ♦

Well, that was an ugly few minutes at the apartment. Pike wasn't home, but his girlfriend Terry was. She's always here, and she always gets on my nerves.

Tonight she was sitting on the floor right outside the bathroom, blocking the entrance when I needed to pee. I could've said "Excuse me" or something, but it seemed like such a stupid place for anyone to sit, and I don't like Terry, and I don't like talking, so instead I stepped over her, except I misjudged the distance and my foot came down on her toes, and she screamed.

I will insist until eternity that smashing her toes was an accident, but I do despise her, and her scream startled me, so it took an extra moment for me to mumble, "Sorry."

"You could say you're fucking sorry!" she yelled at my backside as I walked into the john.

"I did say I was sorry," I yelled back, "but I don't yell every word like you always do."

"Fucking fat ass!" she screamed.

"Impressive vocabulary," I said through the bathroom door. "Did you go to Yale?"

"Fuck you!"

"No, fuck you!" 

She kept screaming while I peed and flushed, and we screamed at each other as I walked through their room to get to mine, and she screamed at my closed bedroom door for a few minutes more. Now there's blissful silence, as I ponder what happened. It was an ugly few minutes, as I already said, but also it was delightful.

I've hated Terry for as long as she's been here, which was about Day Two after Pike and I moved in. Tonight was our first exchange of profanities, though, and it's about time. My first argument with my flatmate's awful girlfriend, and it won't be the last.

My patience is threadbare now. I've always tried to remain civil with Terry. I've talked with her but not much, laughed at her jokes that are never funny, but mostly I've tried to ignore her. No more ignoring. 

♦ ♦ ♦

My room is a shambles, like my life. Haven't made even the slightest effort at tidying up since the day I moved in, so now there are zines, old newspapers, dirty dishes, skidded underwear, and empty envelopes scattered everywhere. Almost typed 'disaster area', but it's such a cliché  and my thesaurus is buried under the rubble. The room is starting to have an odor, so it's time for a spring cleaning.

Not tonight, though.

Instead I stupidly poured half my heart into a letter to Sarah-Katherine. I wrote it, then read it too many times. Can't decide whether it's sweet or stupid, whether it reveals too much or not enough. It doesn't really say what I'm feeling, because how would I know what I'm feeling?

There's a lady. I like her. That's what I'm feeling.

Some things aren't for public consumption, though, so I'm not printing my letter here. Three bucks for a copy of the zine does not get you absolutely every thought in my fat stupid head. Most of them, yeah, but not all of them.

From Pathetic Life #12
Wednesday, May 31, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.


  1. What I like best about this site and your writing is the almost lyricsl prose (today, about People's Park and your friend Sarah-Katherine) juxtaposed against relatable politics and the crude but funny argument with your roommate's girlfriend. You say"I will insist until eternity that smashing her toes was an accident" but you never really say it was an accident.

    1. It's been a long time, but I remember it as an accident.


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