Public Comment

Crazier Than Thou

By Ted Friedman
Thursday July 17, 2008 - 09:56:00 AM

If cities were comedians you could say Berkeley and San Francisco are riffing on each other. Each claims to be crazier. Why they would claim bragging rights is unclear. 

But that some sort of crazy image battle is being waged between the Goliath (San Francisco) and David (Berkeley) shows through the fog. Items: a satiric (and fictional) off ramp sign “Berkeley/making SF lass crazy since 1876” (Chronicle, Jun. 30) is not far from truth and may be predictive. Fanciful? Then how else to explain the yearly parade (How Berkeley Can You Be?) in which “eccentrics” compete for honors under police protection; or Berkeley’s weird jay-walking, skateboarding, bicycling, running in streets pattern which causes honking motorists from dullsville to think they’ve entered some twilight zone (who would say they haven’t?). Warning, twilight zone ahead. 

San Francisco, as depicted in SF Weekly in July, counters with a front-page article, “Non-conformity still reigns.” For non-conformity, read the less euphemistic “crazy.” 

Put up or shut up. Our crazies versus theirs. 

They nominate “the crooner” who addresses the San Francisco Board of Supervisors with a song medley, “a dreamy gleam in his eyes.” We’ll see that and raise with Ricky Starr and Rare. Ricky is long gone, banished from campus by those tsk-tsking UC authorities for whom intonation trumps spectacle. Rare, still active (like a volcano); his roar has a tonality beyond anything Rick could belt. What is he roaring about? “How do you like your meat…then comes the roar, “R-A-R-E.” His athletic prowess (25 chin-ups on a street sign) has declined but the roar rises to compensate. 

San Francisco counters with “The Exhibitionists,” two Castro-ites, nude males wearing “cock rings and the occasional hat.” Oops. Berkeley may be on the ropes here, having clothed its most notorious nudes. Some referee might award them points for the rings, though, (or the hat). 

San Francisco also has “The Good Samaritan,” who mocks snobs in the Castro between “good deeds.” Lame. Besides, Berkeley wins with our Jesus freaks at Haste and Telegraph, who mock religion while performing the good deed of proffered salvation, albeit as a pre-payment on their own heaven ambitions. 

San Francisco’s “Dog Father” seems nothing more that a Schnapps sipper with a dog and a death wish. But if they want to brag about their tippling (and haven’t they for a century?), Berkeley has a distinction or two in socially approved drinking, its students besotted from dangerous experiments. (For example, the student who fell to his death this year from his roof after his commencement.) And does anyone recall the notorious renegade dorm, the Chateau, where not too many years ago they climbed en mass to their roof, brazenly challenging an electric storm, yelling, pounding their chests—defiant, very drunk, then scampered down as the first lightning crack came close? Just when their last gasp of the ’60s peaked, they clashed with the Hillegass neighbors, were purged, and entered into Cal history, a curiosity. 

It’s not even close. Berkeley owns crazy or eccentric, Berzerk, weird, funky. Berkeley’s just more. Bring on the signs, just get it right. This is one screwy place and we love it. 


Forty-year Berkeley resident Ted Friedman has been a newspaper reporter, university instructor, and a syndicated feature writer.