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Nothing worse than a rat

Berkeley, California, Summer 1998 —

I met Jim at the Berkeley Men's Shelter, a place where one is allowed 30 days bed and meals. I was staying there because I'd rolled into town from Seattle, having gotten a lift with a friend who was leaving — and because I'd arrived with only $50.

The safe

Jim and I helped move a massive ancient safe down the sidewalks of Berkeley....

The washroom at the men's shelter closed at 8:30 AM and one of the residents would go in to clean it. A fellow had just begun to do so when I went in to quickly brush my teeth. He was a surly fellow, a mid-30's burly black sad-faced guy who carried a guitar around town and always had a scowl. Anyway, he left the washroom briefly; I finished up and slipped out, to find myself before the supervisor who scolded me that the washroom was closed.

I just looked at the washup guy, and asked "You ratted on me?" We had a bit of an argument that didn't amount to anything, the supervisor tried to get me to shut up, and I said something about free speech. Ah, this was Berkeley — and it may have been 1998 and not '68, but I had to mention it. "Not in here," she said. Big deal.

I walked away, and that's when I noticed Jim. He was standing a few feet back, arms crossed watching. A tall thin grey-haired gentleman figure with a steady gaze, he just watched. We talked later. He and I would both agree that there's not much worse than a rat, and this petty encounter introduced our friendship.