Charles “Cheapseats” Goodwillie RIP

Got the word the other day that Charles died. Age 70. “Cheapseats” was his Hate Camp street name. . . I didn’t know Charles real well. But when you hang around with somebody on the street scene for years, and even decades, you get to know them in spite of yourself. Just like they get to know you. And you can feel a strange bond with your fellow street people, the ones who you spent long rainy winter nights together with, huddled under an awning, smoking endless cigarettes and talking endless talk, while getting through another night on the streets. It’s like being part of a secret society or something, far removed from mainstream life. And Charles was part of that club.

Charles was a good guy. Well-meaning. Basically decent. A little daffy, a little silly sometimes, a bit spaced out on ocassion, but quick to laugh at the absurdity of life. And almost no bile in him — something I really respected — one of those guys that just kind of shrugged off the suffering and craziness of life with a smile, and a “that’s just life” attitude (I’m picturing him now with his palms up and laughing and saying, “Whattaya’ gonna do, Ace??”).

I don’t know much about Charles’s background other than he went to high school in some suburb of Chicago (I believe) and showed up on the Telegraph scene one day when he was about 45. He was living at the apartment building right down the street from our vending table in front of Cody’s Books, so I’d see him going back and forth as he became a face in the crowd. In my journal I first referred to him as “Squinty Eyes” before I knew his name, because he’d look at you with this squinty expression which at first seemed vaguely shady, but was really just because he had poor eyesight. He was handsome in a blandly generic normal kind of way. His face reminded me a bit of Timothy Leary. And he looked like the kind of actor who would be cast as a Senator in a Hollywood movie. But his seemingly normal facade belied a much more skewed and scattered inner life.

Charles was like a lot of people you meet on the street scene who never seem to find a career, or a calling, or even a compelling hobby. And just seem to spend the years just sort of drifting along, endlessly hanging out. And, like a lot of those types, ended up getting drawn towards drugs, if only to have something to fill the space. If you don’t have any compelling interests, a good drug habit will provide you with one, whether you want it or not.

One memorable Charles story. One afternoon he got in a disagreement with some guy who was trying to cut ahead of him on line at one of the free meals in the park. Words were spoken, and the guy ended up stabbing him in the stomach. A friend of mine visited him at the hospital at Highlands and said Charles looked like a gutted fish, with a nasty line of stitches from his neck to his groin. Well, Charles healed up, and went along with his life with the usual shrug. And rarely talked about it, but no doubt carried the scar with him for the rest of his days.

And that’s life for all of us on the streets — it ends up leaving it’s mark on you, literally and figuratively. You patch up the wounds as best you can, and go back to endlessly hanging out, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, the gossip of the day, etc.

When people die, I often wonder what was the POINT of their life. Not so much their life in particular, but ALL of our lives. For it’s a universal question. We’re all basically going through the same thing — human beings walking across the planet Earth for 70 or 80 years (on average) before we croak. And it comes to an end as mysteriously as it started. And I can’t help wondering what was the point — if anything — of all the stuff that happened to us in between. All the strange dramas and passions as well as mundane shit that we went through over all the years. I guess it’s easier to think about it when a person dies, because now their story is a closed book, as opposed to the rest of us, the living, who’s lives are still a work in progress…..

At any rate, I think of Charles now. Here with us all those years, and now gone gone gone.

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away . . .

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