From the time he was a young boy, Mark Hawthorne understood the power of words. His father was a reporter for the Associated Press and his mother was a school teacher. So when Hawthorne landed his dream job and became a reporter for The New York Times, everything seemed to fall into place. Except that it all fell apart.
These days, Hawthorne uses the power of words in a different way. Mostly, it's to say, "fuck you" or "I hate you." For the past 25 years, Hawthorne has lived on the streets of Berkeley, where he's developed a following and is known by the moniker "Hate Man," or simply "Hate," as he prefers. But Hate isn't hateful, per se. Rather, he believes that people are most caring when they're upfront about their disdain for each other. Only then, he says, can people trust one another.
For his belief in so-called "oppositionality," Hate has amassed a small but devoted group of adherents who he refers to as "oppies." While they also seem to linger around him to get things from him — chiefly, his cigarettes — it's obvious that he also holds a kind of magnetic power. Not quite a guru, he's nonetheless something of a celebrity at People's Park. And he clearly likes it that way.
Approaching his so-called "Hate Camp" in the southeastern corner of People's Park on a recent afternoon, six people lingered beneath a cluster of trees, trying to avoid the cold rain that was beginning to fall. Several sleeping bags were arranged next to each other, with a few crumpled beer cans nearby. Most were men who appeared to be in their twenties and thirties, and smelled of alcohol. One woman sat on a log reading a book. A couple dogs were wandering around. One man was talking on a cell phone.
"Excuse me, but I'm looking for Hate," a reporter said to one man.
"Oh, Hate? He's sleeping right now," he said, pointing to a lump underneath a blue tarp. "Hey, Hate!" the man yelled. "Hate!"
The tarp twitched, then stopped.
"Hate! Wake up, man! Someone's here to see you!"
A minute later, the tarp moved some more. Then arms came out, and a bleary-eyed older man with a scraggly white beard emerged. He sat up for a moment, then grabbed what looked like an old couch cushion and put it beneath his knees to prop them up. He put a white sneaker on one foot, then a black sneaker on the other. Thin and wiry, he wore black baggy pants and what looked like multiple layers of black jackets and sweatshirts, affixed with safety pins and binder clips. Atop his head was a bucket hat decorated with a woman's leopard-print thong underwear and a pin for Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington. Another man approached him and helped him. Almost as soon as he stood up, Hate and the man were engaged in a "push" for a cigarette. Lining up shoulder to shoulder, they pushed their bodies against one another. It lasted for just a moment, then ended.
"Hi, Hate," the reporter said. "Um, fuck you."
"Hi, fuck you, too. I hate you," he responded, without hesitation or an ounce of vitriol.
Before agreeing to talk, Hate said there had to be a "push." He put out his fingerless-gloved fist, knuckles toward the uninitiated reporter, who extended knuckles to his, and pushed gently. Hate pushed back. "Okay, okay," he said.
Despite his name and appearance, Hate isn't what you might expect from a homeless person — especially one that greets others with "fuck you" and eats out of garbage cans. He is kind, and his gentle eyes belie the hardened life of decades spent on the streets. He is also thoughtful and clearly educated — not to mention quite a talker.
Some of his followers say they help keep the peace in People's Park. Hate says he doesn't like to take handouts from anyone, doesn't drink, and no longer does drugs. His only vices appear to be Virginia Slims cigarettes, the smoke of which engulfs him in a perpetual halo, and coffee, which he carries in a glass jar and loads up with sugar.
How he went from reporting for The New York Times to leading homeless people in Berkeley as a pseudo prophet involves a long, strange trip and a string of failed relationships. It may sound like a fall from grace, but Hate says he's exactly where he's always wanted to be.
He has crafted a persona he says is modeled after Jesus, except that he says "fuck you" instead of "I love you" and dispenses cigarettes instead of miracles.
From the beginning, Hate appeared to have a destiny with language. He was born Mark Hawthorne in Washington, DC, in 1936. Until he was eleven, he and his family lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, then moved to New York for year before settling in Stamford, Connecticut, for Hate's junior high and high school years. A distant relative of writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, his father was a reporter covering the Justice Department for the Associated Press and once went on an expedition to the South Pole. His mother was an elementary school teacher. "Both my parents were very verbal and revered print," Hate said. "We didn't have a television set until I was in high school, so I was very print-oriented."
With his parents as role models, Hate aspired to become either a reporter or a teacher. His first brush with journalism came in the seventh grade, when he was chosen to be "troop scribe" for his Boy Scouts troop and got to submit a write-up in the local weekly paper about what they had learned. "I was so thrilled to get something in the newspaper," he recalled. "That was a rush."