'Let's Push for It'

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Last Thursday night, when most people I know were running around the Castro wearing fairy wings and having random body parts groped, I was standing in People's Park watching Hate Man sleep.

When I finally interviewed the man who was voted "least likable street personality" on the Cal Alumni Association Web site, I was a little apprehensive. He made me yell "I hate you" before he would talk to me and insisted that we sit directly face to face. He made me "push" him, meaning I had to lean against him as hard as I could so he could feel the energy of how badly I wanted the interview. Perhaps the weirdest moment occurred when he politely urinated in a jar while simultaneously giving me a quote (I turned around for that part).

Despite these strange beginnings, I soon grew fond of the guy that everybody loves to hate.

Hate Man's real name is Mark Hawthorne. He is coherent. He is witty. He worked for The New York TImes. And he graduated from college. Many of the other People's Park residents boast about him.

"This guy has three Ph.Ds," one told me.

"Naw, no Ph.Ds, just a B.A.," Hate Man corrected him.

While I had initially thought getting quotes from him would be like pulling teeth, it actually proved extremely simple. He doesn't have any-teeth, that is. And he's chattier than Jay Leno.

You see, Hate Man has a philosophy called oppositionality. Put simply, it means caring about the people around you even though you are in a bad mood. The most interesting part is that you can get anything you want from someone by "pushing" for it.

If Hate Man feels like you want a cigarette badly enough, he'll give it to you. If it is one of his beloved Virginia Slims, you'd better be willing to push hard. I found that his die-hard followers are willing to push for anything.

"You can push me for my shoes, the shirt off my back, or even my wallet," said a follower who goes by Backfire, one of the main facilitators of the Hate Camp drumming circle. Backfire's real name is Christophe, and he says he used to be an art dealer. When he discovered Hate Man's philosophy, he burned his art and moved to the streets. Now he dances and plays his flute in skintight beige pleather pants and a red beret.

"I find that pushing avoids negative conflict," he told me. "I don't have to rob you or con you or sweet talk you if I want something-I just say, 'Give it to me,' and we determine who wants it more."

Hate Man introduced me to his "core group" of Hate Campers-a group of six who are willing give up anything they own for a push.

I met "Five Alarm," whose real name is Scott Novins and who looks and talks like a rabbinical scholar. After graduating from Yale and discovering that Baja California and the Sinai Peninsula are connected through plate tectonics, he came to UC Berkeley as a geography graduate student, he says. When he met Hate Man, he says he gave up his Regents fellowship, apartment, car and meals in the Gourmet Ghetto.

"People were calling me a disciple just because I wanted to live simply and deal with basic shit," he said.

Call me gullible, but I believed him. As the evening wore on, the whole philosophy started making a lot of sense. Why should I be nice when I don't feel like it? A clean-cut fellow standing off to the side disclosed that he comes here from San Francisco to relieve his pent-up aggression that comes from working at Charles Schwab.

Hate Man's philosophy makes everything easy. Whenever I asked a question that someone didn't want to answer, they would say "tell me to tell you" or "let's push for it."

"Tell me your real name!" I found myself demanding. "Tell me where you live! Tell me what happened to your family!" Surprisingly, it felt really good. I have begun to think that maybe these guys are onto something.

Maybe this is aggression management therapy-with a group leader who drags around his belongings in a box. Hey, whatever works. All you need is hate, man.

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