Christmas 1996

10 days until Christmas and I’m starting to think of some Christmas memories. . .

Christmas 1996 was one of my favorite Christmases. I remember I set up my vending table in front of Cody’s Books for the helluvit’. Everything was closed, and I didn’t have anywhere else to go, so I set up my table and a bunch of chairs so that I’d have a place to hang out with Duncan and a couple friends on Christmas day. Smoking and drinking and talking, and listening to Christmas songs on my boom box. When you live on the streets, you become adept at creating your own living room wherever you are.

And then, one by one, more and more street people began showing up. Hanging out with us. All the ones just like me who had nowhere else to go on Christmas day. Until the whole corner was filled up with people hanging out. It was a real Christmas party that just spontaneously emerged out of nowhere. I had a case of beer hidden under my vending table, which added to the festive mood. And when that beer was gone, a pool of money instantly popped up to buy another case of beer at the 7-11 down the street. And when that case was gone, another case soon showed up after that. And then another. And the ones that were into weed were regularly circulating their pipes around the crowd. And if you wanted a nip of whiskey on the side for a quick shot of warmth, there was always somebody offering that. And the cigarettes flowed freely, and somebody was always readily available to offer you a light for your smoke. And of course the guitars came out, and everybody started singing and playing music and banging on hand drums. Though given that the crowd tended more towards street freaks and gutter punks, the music was more Death Metal than your traditional “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” type Christmas songs. Ha ha.

It was just a real nice, cozy, happy, mellow vibe all around. That nobody expected. Like all the street people — who figured they had nowhere to go and no Christmas parties to be invited to — suddenly had their own do-it-yourself street Christmas party. And we were all strangely grateful for that.

I had made a lot of money that season, selling these beautiful sets of hand-painted homeless Christmas cards that we printed up on a linoleum press. So I was flush. Kicking back and enjoying the fruits of my labor after busting my ass for several months. So I was sort of savoring the moment.

And I was hanging out at the time with this guy, Mike Pond, who just had this magical vibe, this magical effect, on whatever scene he was part of. (Mike sold these colorful hand-made magic wands and they really were magical), And in a way Mike was the one who created the whole vibe. He was one of the first people to show up, and as soon as he saw me he said, “I KNEW you were going to set up your vending table!” Ha ha. Mike was also the guy who first turned me on to my “Om namah Shivaya” mantra.

Then Claire Burch showed up with her video camera. Claire was famous for documenting the Telegraph street scene. And she spent a couple of hours filming all of us cavorting around. And that added a special touch, like it was a special occasion worth commemorating. And she went around with her camera asking everybody what their “favorite holiday memories were.” And everyone started reminiscing about their favorite Christmas memories. Until she asked crazy old Cosmo what his favorite holiday memory was, and Cosmo said, “The Fourth of July!” Ha ha. That got a big laugh. . . And people had such a good time, it became a tradition for many years after, to set up a street people Christmas party in front of Cody’s Books every Christmas.

But I’ll tell you, I’d love to look back on the footage Claire shot that day. I looked at the footage once, all of us milling about in a big group with big smiles on our faces. Except for one guy, this one street person, who showed up sometimes in the background of the footage, this one street person sitting by himself across the street the whole time. Which added this weird, poignant “loser Charlie Brown Christmas” vibe. Which is always an under-current of the street scene, even at the best of times.

I’ll bet somebody could edit all that video footage into a very poignant little Christmas movie some day. . . . Christmas On The Streets. 1996.

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