The first time I met the legendary Berkeley street person the Rare Man

Ran into long-time Telegraph street person, the Rare Man, yesterday. And he mentioned that he was now 69-years-old. Which seemed hard to believe. Which reminded me of the first time I met Rare. Way back in the summer of 1982. Which now seems like another lifetime ago. And maybe it was. . .

I had just moved back to Berkeley from Eureka, and was staying with my friend Duncan at his little hotel room on the 4th floor of the Berkeley Inn. We used to stay up late into the night, working on our respective artistic projects, or talking, or reading underground comic books (Duncan had an incredible collection). They had a coffee machine in the lobby where you could buy cups of hot coffee for a quarter — the coffee poured out into these little Dixie cups with pictures of playing cards printed on the side of the cup, and you could add cream and sugar to your liking, and it was actually pretty delicious. And me and Duncan used to drink those coffees all night long and get wired as we worked away. I remember those late nights with a real cozy feeling — it’s like the whole world had gone to sleep, and only me and Duncan were still awake, in this fuzzy little cocoon, this time capsule, his hotel room.

I was working on what would become Twisted Image #1 — the first thing I ever did that would garner any kind of public acclaim. So I was pretty much completely unknown at the time. Which was nice in a way. Because nobody knew me, or cared about what I was doing, and there was a certain freedom in that. I was seething with dreams of glory at the time. And this feeling of, “I’LL SHOW THEM ALL WHAT I CAN DO!!” (I was really precious back then, ha ha). The work I was doing was mostly mundane — cutting out the photos and graphics and typeset and laying it out on these big lay-out sheets. But it took a certain amount of precision (so the coffee helped keep you sharp). And I was just figuring out how to do it. But the fun part was when you finally rubbed all the excess rubber cement off the page with the rubber cement eraser and the page was done and it looked nice and slick and glossy and really shined, with a cool design that you yourself had come up with, and you sort of sat there and admired your work and thought: “Yeah, this is gonna be good!”

Anyways, one night, around 2 in the morning, me and Duncan decided to take a break from our work and grab some fresh air (Duncan chain-smoked Camel filters with a cigarette holder back then, if you can believe it, so the room would get a bit smoky) We were also hungry, and the only place that was open at that hour of night was Giant Hamburgers — this 24-hour burger joint — way on the other side of the campus. So we made the trek across the deserted campus and ordered our burgers from the guy working behind the counter. He was the only guy working there at that hour. And there was only one other customer besides us in there. This young guy with no shirt on who was sitting at one of the tables. Though I don’t think he was an actual customer. I figured he was just some homeless guy who was hanging out there, all night long, at this all-night joint, just because it was the only place where he could keep warm until the sun came up in the morning. He seemed pretty manic — he kept talking non-stop to the guy working behind the counter. The only time he stopped talking was when he’d jump down on the floor and start doing push-ups. He must have done hundreds of push-ups while we were there. And he was very proud of his ability to do push-ups. He had fairly long straight hair parted in the middle like a hippie, and was in pretty good shape, with his bare muscular chest and arms. But slimmer than he would be later when he was kind of the hulking “Conan the Barbarian” of Telegraph. He immediately reminded me of Tarzan of the Apes — in part because he had this wild quality to him, like he was just barely able to maintain a civilized facade. I initially thought he was around 17 — because his talk reminded me of that of a 17-year-old kid. I would only realize much later, that he would ALWAYS talk like a 17-year-old kid. And that he was actually in his late 20s. The guy working behind the counter referred to him as Tom. . . But years later — after I developed a bit of history with the guy — I’d realize that that guy doing push-ups on the floor of Giant Burger at 3 in the morning and talking non-stop had been the legendary Rare Man.

Well. Me and Duncan quietly finished our giant burgers (they were delicious) and then walked back to his hotel room on the 4th floor of the Berkeley Inn. And then a bunch of other stuff happened after that. But I guess you don’t need to hear about all that right now.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.