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The City That Was: The Chris Radcliffe and An Evening of Proustian Graffitti

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In The City That Was, Bohemian Archivist P Segal tells a weekly story of what you all missed: the days when artists, writers, musicians, and unemployed visionaries were playing hard in the city’s streets and paying the rent working part time.

Proust on garbage can

Among the many colorful personalities that have passed through my life, the affectionate award for No, 1 Shit Disturber has to go to the force of nature known as The Chris Radcliffe. Radcliffe might appear at an event as Chris or Christine, altered or not, but always with a cheerful vengeance.

My first recollection of him was at a Cacophony event, The Charles Bukowski Support Group, organized in “protest” of The Marcel Proust Support Group. It’s unlikely we’d met before, because he’s not the sort you forget; he has been described as a man who sucks all the air out of a room.

One of Radcliffe’s s favorite games was starting some totally false rumor about someone and waiting to see how long it took to get back to him. The record was 8 days. He was once driving a cherry picker around town, one of those trucks that elevates sign installers high above street level, and he decided to knock on the outside of Larry Harvey’s Alamo Square apartment windows to bum a cigarette.

In spite of his difficult aspects, he’s a great friend. For years, he made sure I got to Burning Man and back, and later with all the stuff for the café (in the years when it still fit in a single large vehicle). He made mischief there, or was suspected when any happened, and the only reason he wasn’t booted on principle from the desert completely was that he was my friend and transport. He stopped coming of his own volition when suddenly there were too many rules.

The picture above documents one of the many bizarre adventures Radcliffe talked me into. No one has ever talked me into so much weird shit. That’s a stencil of Proust’s face on a Baker Street trash bin near 1907.

This adventure began when we heard that the writer and philosopher, Alain de Botton, had just published his book, How Proust Can Change Your Life, and was coming to Berkeley for a book signing. I was incensed that someone wrote this book before me. But I admired de Botton for thinking of it first, and it was certainly good, in its way.

Radcliffe showed up at 1907 the night before the Berkeley reading with a stencil he had cut of Proust, from a painting by Dean Gustafson, and said we should leave a trail of Proust images from 1907 to the bookstore where de Botton would appear. There was no other eccentric thing happening that night, so we loaded up some spray paint and a carload of friends in the late night hours, the only time for such things.

We sprayed Proust on freeway overpasses and construction sites, utility poles and dumpsters. Wherever we saw a non-intrusive blank spot along the route, we improved it. And what was the point of that, you ask? Well. It was different. It was an experience. Perhaps one person would see it and decide the time had come to finally read Proust. Radcliffe talked me into it.

The following night, the Marcel Proust Support Group showed up in force at the Berkeley reading. We listened, clapped respectfully, and after it was over, I said hello. The author hadn’t seen our stencils, but he noticed us, and told Lingua Franca Magazine, a few months later, that we were a scary looking bunch of people.

Proust obviously didn’t change de Botton’s life all that much, or he would have found us no scarier than some Proustian characters paid to rough up masochists. I leave it you to decide: does this man, The Chris Radcliffe, look scary to you?

radcliffe

The photo of Proust on the trash bin was one of mine; the photo of Radcliffe was taken by Nicole Rosenthal, and conceived by Hugh Chrysler Jones.

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P Segal - Bohemian Archivist

P Segal - Bohemian Archivist

P Segal is a San Francisco native, writer, therapist, and life coach. Literary agents have called her a clever niche writer, but none of them can figure out what the hell her niche is.