On my street

Alvin Bernovich

Photo by Larry Dalton

I see him everyday. He lives on my street, literally. Well, actually it’s the sidewalk, and always the same sidewalk, along P Street between 21st and 22nd. Even when I don’t see him, I see his signs, hand-written screeds written on cardboard, leaning up against trees or fences, sometimes accompanied by pictures from magazines. The pictures are almost always of scantily clad women, asking questions such as, “Am I sexually tempting?” in his handwriting. You’ve probably seen him too, a shirtless, 35-year-old street person with a dark complexion and wild hair. We’ve been neighbors for more than a year now, but never exchanged more than a few words at a time, usually involving requests for spare change, which I’ll sometimes give, but not usually. Most of what I know about him, I know from the signs, which detail in stream-of-consciousness fashion his concerns about racism, sexism, the police and the sinister forces and elaborate conspiracies that swirl through his world. But last week, I decided to talk to him, and I learned that his name is Alvin Bernovich.

How long have you been on the street?

Since I was about 21.

In Sacramento the whole time?

No, I’ve moved around, like from Washington state over to fucking Minneapolis over to fucking, over to here.

How’d you end up here?

Just checking out the road.

How did you settle in this spot?

I don’t know. I really couldn’t tell you. National security reasons come out of that, so I can’t tell you that, that, that bullshit. But I’ve fucking traveled.

You really seem to like writing.

Yup, yup, it’s like a fucking poster, man. It’s like a reminder and it’s right up there. People go by and they fucking read it.

What kind of impact do you think it has on people?

So far, nothing. It has fucking no impact on them, nothing.

What kind of impact would you like to have?

Good, fucking good, man, yeah, right up in that shit!

The main reason I write is because somebody might mother-fucking come along and fucking see that sign and say, ‘There it is, bro, yeah.’

What do you want to accomplish with what you write about racism?

I want that black shit that went on, I want that shit to stop. Because black people, man, you put black people over here and they’re Caucasians, and then you fucking put black people over here, and they’re black people, yeah. Right there man, that’s it, that’s the fucking one, bro, they gotta fucking stop that shit, yeah.

What do you think causes racism?

At the moment, it would be, uh, you know when you go smoke a cigarette, and they say the smoke fucking kills you. But it’s not the smoke, because when you X-ray mother-fucking cigarette smoke, man, the only thing it is is mother-fucking cigarette smoke. That’s all it is. That’s the motherfucker that’s doing it. Yeah. It’s like that Ghostbusters shit. It’s just like that mother-fucking chicken, you cut that chicken’s head off and that little chicken runs around with his fucking head cut off, yup, without a mother-fucking brain. Yeah.

What are the best and worst things about being homeless?

The best thing—you’ve seen that fucking Rambo movie, right? And he’s doing that fucking Rambo shit when everyone’s inside their mother-fucking houses and like mercenaries they’ll go right by there and destroy that motherfucker. Yup, they’ll fucking destroy them.

And the worst part would be not getting my food, yeah.

Is it hard to get enough food?

So far it hasn’t been. Yeah, I just go over there and fucking dumpster dive, yeah.

What do you do when the weather gets bad?

There’s like little places up on the 5, yeah. There’s about three places that I’ve fucking found, yeah.

If someone offered you a place to live, would you take it, or do you like being outside?

I like being outside, fuck yeah, because everybody else is inside. Everybody is fucking inside and ol’ Rambo is going to go over there and he’s gonna fucking kill everybody, yeah, because they’re inside. They’re defenseless when they’re in there.

So do you feel safe outside?

Uh, no. You can’t feel safe nowhere. Yeah, but right at this moment, man, I feel fucking safe out here.

Do you feel safer outside?

Outside? Fuck yeah, bro. Because those dudes go right inside there, and they’re gonna be shot. Someone’s gonna take a mother-fucking gun in there and he’s gonna be a smartass and he’s gonna shoot that mother-fucking hole and it’s gonna ricochet off that mother-fucking thing in there and it’s gonna blast him. Yeah, that’s why I feel fucking safe way outside, bro.