I hate Hate Camp. And I hate you.
It was a place, an idea, and a thing. I say "was" not because it no longer exists, but because I am no longer there. It was one of those times when you don't fully appreciate the awesomeness of a scene until you have left it behind, until you're no longer even the same person you were when you were there. And what I can contribute to everything's knowledge of it is only a tiny slice, a small hint at what I could have known if I had stayed longer. But I was not forced out... there is no forcing out at Hate Camp. I... changed.
The University of California at Berkeley is a rectangle studded with buildings, covering many acres. Physically speaking, at least. Telegraph Avenue, the old freak street of the college town, hits Bancroft Way and dies. On the other side of Bancroft, Sproul Plaza, Berkeley's busy public square, runs between the main administration buildings. Busy... in the daytime.
At night, the mists roll quietly in from the hills and the air is cold and damp. Two am, three am roll past and the few straggling students going home from the library--going back to their mattress on the floor or their soft Twin-size covered with stuffed bears--vanish at last. But not everybody is gone.
You see a few tattered rags-wearing bums sitting around a large wax candle that is stuck onto a piece of aluminum foil supported by a milk crate. Most know them as the crazy drummers who whack and bash their improvised sets from 8 to 9 on most nights--whack and bash and sometimes holler until a policeman on a bike comes by and puts an end to it--the old tradition of this drum circle. Some students are even aware of the interesting detail of this tradition, acknowledged on both sides of this cop/bum divide. When the policeman breaks up the drumming, the wearers of tattered rags get up ceremoniously and kick the living shit out of the plastic jugs and twisted garbage can lids they've been drumming on. Hoarse, proud yells rise from the circle. Then it is quiet again. A wrinkled, quietly dignified white man of an indeterminate age--somewhere around 50--wrapped in a black shawl covering the back of his head, his neck, his shoulders, going down to his legs which are wrapped in multicolored stockings--leads the rest of the band in cleaning up the debris and packing up the instruments, putting them carefully behind the bushes behind the Golden Bear Cafe. The group--three of them, ten of them, on a wild night fifteen of them--move their sitting crates and the crate with the candle to the side, somewhere they can sit in peace next to a wall. On a wild night, one of those nights when the mists seem too thick for Berkeley, when the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the Berkeley hills lights up the sky above it with weird purple alien colors, they stay out in the middle of empty old Sproul.
They are the Hate Camp. And the old man is Hate Man, the (anti-)Jesus Christ, the (anti-)Buddha, the (anti-)Muhammad of the scene. He sits quietly with legs folded. He is bisexual. He speaks few words, unless he is in one of the all-night-long philosophopoliticocultural arguments that Hate Camp specializes in. He is small, no taller than five-five, but around him is a feeling... an aura... a certain sense that he is the nicest guy in the world, and that if you attack him physically he will kick your ass no matter how big you are or how many thugs you've got with you.
I found out few personal details about him. He told me his real name, but I've forgotten it. He was a low-level reporter at a New York newspaper in the 70s when he got sick of it and came out West, gave up material comfort and, in '85, "started" Hate Camp. I don't know how he started it or whether "started" even applies to the formation of a social scene, a tiny subculture like this one. But what he started was still going earlier this year, when I left Berkeley and came to lifeless Las Vegas, though what he started was much reduced and somewhat dispersed by trends or forces I did not identify. He is wise, though not always right. "Give me some tips about hitchhiking" I told him once. "Don't do it unless you have to" he said. I didn't follow his advice, and had some of the most righteous times of my life as a result.
The scene around him consists of three or four long-time regulars and many transient participants. Real names are not used much. Everyone who comes gets a Hate Camp name from Hate Man, or comes up with one on his own. The monickers change often--sometimes every week. You change it whenever you feel like changing it. Hate Man isn't his name, the guy points out sometimes, it is his occupation. His own Hate Camp names change often. "Dick in a Pickle Jar" he called himself one week, having named himself after a strange article in a local paper about a processed foods mishap. The other regulars... well, there is a fortyish bearded man, there is a tall and handsome acidhead, there is a brilliant and dangerous painter of exquisitely detailed multi-scenes that cover yards-square canvasses about whom rumors of murder are sometimes muttered. The transients are sometimes punks, sometimes runaways, sometimes the occasional student like me.
Hate Camp has no articulated philosophy, but there is a philosophy of some sort hanging in the winds around it, something vaguely deducible from the way they behave there--the way we behaved.
1. "I hate you" is what you say to Hate Man to "join" the group. He will say "I hate you too" and walk away. But there is no hate. "I hate you" is what you say to anybody in the group on a regular basis. "I hate you" is one of the most-spoken phrases at Hate Camp. Somehow, saying the words "I hate you" on a regular basis without meaning it dissipates the hate that is truly there in your heart. Hate Man is a rare magician who has turned the bullshit of Big Culture on its head, though he will not talk so philosophically, in his rather modest way. Instead of hate and greed disguised as love, kindness, and affection, at Hate Camp there is comradeship and affection deliberately and mockingly disguised as Hate.
2. Say that Stupefied has a couple of rollie cigarettes, or maybe a joint, that you want, or maybe you want to kiss him or even have sex. You come up to him and say "Give me that" or "Have sex with me". Always a command, never a request. Stupefied says "No". Game over... unless you ask again... but that's rarely done. Or he says (which happens much more often) "Give me two quarters or push". You want to pay? Pay. You get the good stuff. You want to push? Here is what you do: you say "Push". Stupefied turns his side to face you and you turn your side to face him. You both grind your legs into the ground and push shoulders together as hard as you can. You keep pushing until Stupefied says "OK" or "Done". He gives you the cigarettes. You have exchanged money for product, or physical and ceremonial contact for product. Two hours after you first come to Hate Camp, you will want to Push as much as possible. It seems the best thing to do. I got my first hit of acid ever for a push. "Five bucks or a push" the tall, handsome man said. "He's gotta be kidding me", I thought, "the guy's poor and he says five bucks or a push". "Push", I said, thinking it was a joke. We pushed for thirty seconds or so, then he put the acid blotter in my hand. I ate it... but that's another story. At Hate Camp, desire for material things, for words spoken, for services or actions is spoken directly and shamelessly as a command, and answered as directly and as shamelessly, as a blunt and dignified reply.
3. "Don't do anything which will make the cops crack down on us." Simple, and understandeable enough. If you insist on badgering the cops, the Hate Campers won't try to stop you. They'll simply and quietly and immediately, without a nasty word or any fuss, pick up camp and move it fifty feet or so away from you. If you come back to camp... then they will probably yell at you. Simple, and understandeable enough. The only crime at Hate Camp is destroying Hate Camp. And there is no crime at Hate Camp, except the occasional petty theft by a transient.
4. Want to make noise, or announce your presence, or just do something for the hell of it? Open your mouth as wide as you can and bellow your lungs out, sending a tremendous roar into the night. If Hate Camp has dispersed, the participants wandering the streets of Berkeley alone, the tremendous roar will often be answered by another tremendous roar from a few blocks away--primal, vigorous animal communication in the night: more pleasurable than all but the most satisfying telephone conversations, and cheaper too. There is also that indescribeable (unless you've experienced it) thrill of hoping you've scared the living shit out of somebody in a second-story apartment, hoping that with your animal roar you've made their lives more exciting. But that was my motivation... not theirs. They were not angered by the outside world, or bemused by it, or jealous of it, or impassioned in any way by it. They acted unconcerned by it, somewhat curious about it in a detached way, basically content with their lives. Hate Camp must have seemed inordinately violent to outsiders, but it was the most psychologically mellow place I've ever known.
5. If you want to sit quietly and meditatively by the candle fire, do it. If you want to talk God, or Bush, or aliens, or philosophy, do that. If you want to leave, do that. If you want to come back, do that too. At Hate Camp, you have no responsibilities. While away the night, as some of the Hate Campers do, by arguing violently for five hours about a useless and long-forgotten point of imagined protocol, fully knowing that there is no protocol, and that you are arguing for the pleasure of arguing, and yet arguing with all of your heart. Yet few insults ever pass around the candle fire... If you don't like Varangian, turn to some fellow next to you and say "Varangian is pissing me off".
6. Hungry? Doesn't matter if you're dirt poor or a passing millionaire. On most nights, Hate Man will bring a box of pastries culled from the day-olds of local donut joints. Anybody can take some. You take a delicious eclair without saying thanks, saying instead simply "I'm taking a pastry, Hate Man", and Hate Man says "Right". It is right not to say "thanks". It Feels right not to show gratitude or even to feel it. You want another one, but are restrained by a sense of fairness to the rest. Yet you do not feel yourself to be restrained. You feel free and unjudged. You love taking as many pastries as you take, and no more than you take. Hate Man looks at you and knows you're a trust-fund student. But he doesn't hold that against you one single bit. It doesn't matter if you're not poor, if you have a bed and a place to stay and money. They know about it and they simply don't care. You have the sense that most of them, and all of the permanents (that is, the Hate Campers who like Hate Camp most), are there because they want to be there. You are there because you want to be there.
The mists roll thick and heavy at around 5 am, when it is getting light. Most have already left for their little places in the bushes around campus where they can sleep. Hate Man has probably already disappeared, I don't know where... gone quietly clattering away down the street, down Sproul, down Bancroft, down Telegraph... with his rolling bucket full of mops and blankets and brickabrack, vanishing into parts of Berkeley that, as fate has it, you will never explore. In a way, you don't want to explore Hate Man.
In a way, I don't want to explore Hate Man. The way he is, a quiet ZM of the mists, a man of few words who manifests no extraordinary thoughts and yet is a man of deep and profound society, a legend... is better for me. The ways of his Camp leave their mark on those who pass. His was the only society that has ever made me understand what anyone could see in society at all. His was the only culture where I was free. His generosity was among the only generosities that has ever felt true to me.
In a megaculture that understands the words "I love you, Big Brother", there is a phrase, a noble phrase, a dignified and clever and amazing phrase, that blasts it all to bits.
"I hate you, Hate Man."
And so, Hate Man and his Camp stay forever in my mind and memories as part of the wild, amazing, gorgeous West of myth I have been cobbling together out of bits and pieces of nostalgia, rumor, imagination, adventure, and, as in this case, reality: golden Cali, the desert and Vegas, vast romantic LA, the forests of the north, the long thumber's paradise roads, San Francisco and cold, lonely Ocean Beach and the places between... my landscape of desire and sweet remembrance, my landscape castle-in-the-clouds... and out there in the night, may it long remain, is Hate Camp.