Where the Wild Ones Are

Had any close encounters recently? Tell Josie about them at [email protected].

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So last week I was sitting down at the tables near The Bear's Lair during one of my breaks, listening to my headphones and trying to get some studying done.

Ninety minutes of "not studying" later (don't try to study in a place where you have a good view of jugglers), I got up to leave when I noticed a woman sitting at a table near mine. It looked like she was talking to these other women at a nearby table. But then I realized that she wasn't talking to them; she had actually been talking and gesturing at me for the entire time. I took off my headphones and passed by her on the way out, only to hear her muttering how "evil your people are."


Whatever. I gave her the eye-roll and shrugged her off.

Later, I was telling this story to a friend, and she was surprised that I wasn't angry about it. I thought about it later and realized there's a skill that everyone at UC Berkeley develops eventually: We learn to brush off the weirdos.

For some reason, Berkeley is a magnet for strange behavior and even stranger people. Aside from the Sproul Plaza usuals (the Yoshua guy, Stoney, etc.), you're sure to run into someone strange at least once a day. Weirdos will flirt with you and try to hug you or kiss the top of your head as you walk by.

At the Friday noon concerts on Lower Sproul Plaza, they sometimes kick around cardboard boxes and harass the band members. Occasionally they'll ask if you and your boyfriend want to have a foursome, or they'll just tell you dirty jokes. They preach to you, condemn you and shout "Bagel!" when you walk by eating a bagel.

The weird thing is, you eventually just stop noticing it. When you first moved here, you would giggle with a friend every time you saw really hairy armpits. Now, you just shrug it off and go on with your day. You develop a kind of tunnel vision, getting you from point "A" to "B" without stopping to notice what would make people stop and stare in any other city.

Recently, a friend from home came to visit. She is a student a smaller university in a more conservative town, so I tried to warn her about the weirdness. As it turns out, I didn't even have to say anything at all.

I tried to be good hostess and show her all of the obligatory "weird Berkeley stuff," like the hundreds of bongs you can purchase on Telegraph, the variety of hemp products available on the street and the "Abort Bush" sticker vendor. But, for my friend, the weirdos needed no introduction.

On BART, a man asked me if "this was the Richmond stop."

Nine or 10 times.

We stopped at Cafe Intermezzo to have some salad and sandwiches. Some guy cut in front of us to yell at the workers behind the counter. Apparently, the croutons there are too soggy. And soggy croutons are unhealthy, damn it! (And when the workers told him to leave, he asked if he could have some water first. Bold!)

But the winner had to be this little get-together at People's Park. There was some kind of festival or memorial (or both?) about police brutality. Now, this alone wasn't too bad. It's just your usual Berkeley-hippie-protest type thing. Only, this one had a band accompanied by a few dancers. And these dancers were naked. Not "hot Playboy bunny" naked. More like "old, flabby, wrinkly" naked.

And the best part is, this isn't the first time something like this has happened. Last September, another friend of mine came to visit. As I was showing him around campus, who happened to walk toward us? Old, blindfolded, protesting naked people, of course.

I didn't know whether I should be embarrassed or just laugh.

Now, it's just part of life at UC Berkeley. It's something I hardly notice until I see it through the eyes of a visitor. The shock wears off until it's just part of the scenery. Some may call it apathy; others might call it a survival skill.

Whatever you call it, its something you'll probably learn only here at UC Berkeley.


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