Sometimes when I don’t sleep enough I start remembering buried things
Here’s one memory that just rose to the surface: the first time I got locked up in the psych ward as an 18 year old, the thing I was most upset about was that there wasn’t a recording of my performance for the gods. The last few weeks of my manic brilliant vision quest I was convinced everything I was doing was being recorded, and that I was making my grand exit from the material realm to be able to join the spirits on the other side. It was some cruel trick of fate to wake up in a padded room, with a spinning head and a sore ass from being shot up with big needles, and no record of my epic journey. No one to understand what had actually happened the way I understood it. And soon I couldn’t even remember myself.
There’s something so powerful about having witnesses. Being seen. Knowing that you’re not alone, that others can see through your eyes. That others can remind you when you can’t remember yourself.
It’s 2015 and I can hear the garbage trucks moving up Durant Avenue in Downtown Berkeley. It’s dawn and I’m in a kind of fancy hotel room, I was speaking at a conference at the university, and in a few hours I’ll be on a plane back to New York City. I’m 40 years old.
In the summer of 1991 I was a 16 year old kid coming to Berkeley for the first time to go to summer school. My mom was desperately trying to get me out of New York for the summer because I kept getting arrested for battling with the police around Tompkins Square Park and keeping the company of a bunch of runaway kids and anarchists. I dropped out of Bronx Science and went back to a private school in Brooklyn called St. Anns. But to graduate on time I needed to take an American History class in the summer so this was an attempt to keep me on track.
The dormitory they put me in was across the street from a place called People’s Park which was filled with homeless people and freaks and anarchists. In fact, it was really similar to the scene I had just left on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and I soon made a bunch of new friends. Back in the late 1960s People’s Park had been a parking lot that was torn up, planted with grass and trees, and declared “People’s Park” amidst the heyday of the anti-war movement and counterculture. Ronald Reagan, who was the Governor of California at the time, sent in the National Guard to break up the massive protests, and ended up killing a UC Berkeley student in streets full of blood and tear gas. But the park remained, and was full of interesting characters and life.
I had the most formative summer of my life in Berkeley as a 16 year old. I fell in love for the first time with this beautiful crazy woman who lived in an apartment with a bunch of punks right off Haste and Telegraph. We both got arrested in the People’s Park riots and I ended up in Oakland Juvenile Detention Center. The punk scene was so vibrant back then, it was a few year before Green Day was discovered and blew up so big, and it was still a genuine counterculture with direct roots straight back to the vibrant protests of the 60s and 70s. Every weekend there were shows at a club called 924 Gilman and it was so fun to dance, to feel a part of that wild scene, to be an outsider from a similar counterculture and welcomed in like family. Tons of people hung out at this place called Cafe Mediterraneum on Telegraph Avenue.
Anyway the sun is rising and that was so long ago, this early buried chapter I have no photographs from, before I kept a journal, before it was so easy to record our lives and share them with each other. I’ve been walking theses streets for the past two days feeling so at home and grateful there’s a place that hold so much history for me.
This is just a little note maybe to myself, to remember part of why this place tugs on my heard strings so hard.
And to honor the culture that nurtured me and made me feel like it was okay to be crazy. Berkeley is my baby.