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The Death of Harold

Description: A description...

Click below to see Harold in a clip from My Big Fat Homeless Berkeley Movie (he starts at 1:35).


Long-time Berkeley street person Harold died last week. For 10 minutes he was the gossip of the day. And then he was pretty much instantly forgotten.

“Did you hear Harold died?”

“You’re kidding? That guy had been around forever.”

“I heard he’d been on the Berkeley street scene since the ’60s.”

“I used to always see him bounding up and down Telegraph.”

“He was a great dumpster-diver. He’d find all sorts of great stuff and then trade them with the vendors. He was never greedy or a hustler. He always gave you a good deal.”


“Hey, how about them ’9ers . . . “

Harold was tall and lanky, about 6 foot 4. He had a bushy mop of hippie hair that would have fit right in at Woodstock in 1969. He never seemed to change much over the years, except for his beard which went completely white. He always wore the same basic uniform no matter what time of year it was. Bland, earth-color sweatshirts, usually brown or green, and a corduroy vest on top. It gave him the air of an aging Peter Pan. Which in a way he was. A lost boy who never grew up. His mental development seemed stunted at about age 12. I don’t know if it was because he was slightly retarded, or brain-damaged or drug burned-out. He talked in a soft-spoken, hushed, rushed jumble of words and non-sequiturs that only sort of made sense. Usually he was mellow. But on a regular basis he’d stand on a street corner and angrily rant and curse, as if angrily haranguing some unseen nemesis. Or maybe just cursing out the gods. Blowing off steam from his somewhat cramped existence.

People knew almost nothing about Harold, what he did, where he came from, or what his last name was, or even if he had a last name. Harold was one of those street people who lived almost completely out of the system. As far as I know he never got a check, and I never saw him at any of the free meals. He was almost completely self-sufficient, surviving on what he scrounged. He seemed perfectly at home on the homeless street scene, and it was hard to imagine him fitting into any other milieu.

“One thing I know about Harold,” I said. “He loved to smoke. That was his number one hobby. He was always smoking something. Cigarettes. Cigars. Pot.”

The story I got was that Harold got bit by a spider up at his campsite in the Berkeley hills. It got infected and he was paralyzed for several days, couldn’t move. By the time he got to the hospital the doctors told him they’d probably have to amputate his foot. Nobody saw Harold for about a month. Then one day he was back on Telegraph, hobbling around like an older, quieter version of his former self. He was like a shadow. I noticed him once or twice over the last month, and then we got word he was gone for good. Somebody probably bundled up Harold’s ratty possessions in a small garbage bag, dumped it in a dumpster, and that was the end of Harold as far as this world was concerned. He was one of those guys who lived without a past or a future. Just a nameless, faceless face in the crowd. Whenever somebody dies, I can’t help wondering what their life was for. That's assuming human life is for anything. As an artist I have this big neurosis about “my name living on, my work living on, not being forgotten” and all that crap. Which is ridiculous, I guess. We’re all forgotten amidst the eternal void of time and space. Entire civilizations are forgotten. Somebody like Harold, he kind of reminded me of an anonymous bubble that momentarily bubbled out of the ocean only to merge back into the ocean. I guess we’re all like that. Momentarily bubbling up from the primordial mud, only to return to the dirt all too soon.###

All contents © 2011 by Gene Mahoney