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It must have been around 10 in the morning of Christmas 1981 and the beans and rice from last night’s meal had long since stopped filling our stomachs. Z and I had been on Telegraph since 8:00 or so feeling like Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man. You know–jingle jangle morning and all that. At least the sun was shining. It was California after all.
As the morning passed, about the only other people we saw on the street were some disgruntled policemen who preferred to be home with their families, a hobo or two, and some people going to the church near the university. Oh yeah, and the Persian guy who had a flower stand in front of Cody’s bookstore that was open until 2:00 PM Christmas day for those folks who had forgotten to buy a gift for their lover or their mom or someone else who appreciated flowers. Z and I didn’t have anyone like that, nor did it seem like there would be anybody like that in our near future.
It must have been around noon when a couple frat boys drove up Telegraph in their BMW and yelled something at us. I don’t know whether it was pleasant or not–after a while you just tune out people who have a history of harassing you and frat boys had that kind of history, as did people driving BMWs.
Anyhow, after that car drove by, we noticed the smell of fresh roasted turkey wafting down the avenue. You know how in the cartoons they show the aroma of good food floating like waves across the screen and into some character’s nose? Then the character floats on the fumes towards their source and, just before the dog or cat eats the meat, a human hand appears and takes it away.
Well, that’s how it was with us. That turkey aroma was pulling us in like a sugar donut pulls in flies. We were so hungry we followed the aroma up the street to a midscale restaurant where all we could do was stare at the people eating their Christmas dinners. Nice big slabs of turkey, piles of mashed potatoes with gravy, rolls and butter, pies of pumpkin, pies of mincemeat, all the good things in life. And bottles of wine and beer, too. I would do anything to get some of that food, but what I did instead was walk back down the street with Z and ingest the fumes.
If we weren’t depressed before, we definitely were now. I was ready to go back to the apartment and boil some more beans, if there were any left. Z was ready to just give up. We looked at each other and began to walk away from Telegraph Avenue when the Persian guy called Hey! I looked over, wondering if he was yelling at us or someone else. He looked right at me and beckoned me over to his stand. Bring your friend, he said. I grabbed Z by the coat and we walked over to his stand, wondering what was up. Maybe he was going to ask us to sweep for him and give us a couple bucks. He reached under where he kept his money box in his cart and pulled out two steaming styrofoam to-go containers.
I don’t celebrate your holiday, he said, I am of Islam. But you guys need, what do you say, Christmas cheer. Then he handed us each a hot turkey dinner with a slab of turkey, piles of potatoes and gravy, rolls and butter and a piece of pie. I took the mincemeat and Z took the pumpkin. We felt like two twentieth-century Bob Cratcheds in Ronnie Reagan’s America.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org