David Cook, 63, lives on the cold-cemented sidewalks of Hayes Valley. He leans against a fence allowing the golden sunlight to beam over his aged face. It illuminates his bright green eyes. A stuffed tiger lies next to him. It resembles Cook’s rugged, worn out look. The tiger’s striped coat mimics Cook’s head-to-toe camouflage suit. A white cup is tied to a fishing pole reading, “Go Fishing.” Cook is fishing for change.
I’m not concerned in the money that goes into the cup, as long as I have a book and a beer,” he says.
Cook has lived in San Francisco for nearly 40 years. He moved from San Antonio, Texas, in 1967 with his sister and the renowned Janis Joplin. His memories of her convey emotion in his face.
Cook is full of anecdotes. Some he tells blissfully, some he tells miserably. Regardless of the emotion, Cook’s life is eventful and his passion for reading stories reflects his love for telling his own.
Sitting peacefully on the ground, as the nearly empty paper cup swings wildly from the harsh winds, Cook tells the story of when he was thrown into a concentration camp.
“I was jammed in a 3 by 3 by 3,” he says, “I couldn’t stretch out my legs.”
For Cook, living in the open is a blessing. Being physically confined by the Cambodian Military is one of Cook’s many experiences during his service in the US Army. He fought the Vietnam War for 6 months and spent 3 months fighting in Laos.
“If I was going to be a soldier, I was going to be a good soldier. If I’m going to be a bum, I’m going to be a good bum,” he says.
Cook considers himself a positive person. Though many of Cook’s memories are tormenting, he stays positive. “If you’re a pessimist, there’s not hope, “ he says.
His vivid appearance and welcoming smiles has won him the respect of Hayes Valley residents. Known as the “Fisherman,” Cook has become quite popular.
“If you’re bored, go see Cook. He will brighten up your day with one of his many stories,” said Sandra Crockett from the Mission District.
Crockett is a sidewalk artist who’s second home is on the corner of Octavia Street and Hayes Street. She spends most of her days underneath the beaming sunlight and negotiating prices with strangers for her artwork. Cook and Crockett’s hang out spots are within 100 ft of each other. Often times, they hang out together and catch up on life.
“Cook is really interesting to talk to. He’s been in this area for years,” she says.
Cook’s first act of homelessness was on Gough Street between Golden Gate Avenue and Turk Street.
“I swept the streets and kept the area clean,” said Cook, “I filled 18 bags of garbage one day.”
He said people were impressed because he was doing something rather than sitting there doing nothing.
“Pavarotti walked by one day, saw what I was doing and handing me a thousand dollars, cash,” he said.
He kept the streets clean and wrote a sign that read “Compliments of the Alley Cat.” He believes in the act of sharing, or as he says, “a hippie concept”. He considers these his religious views. “I share, it’s a good thing, unless you’re a Christian.”
Cook always seems to find humor in everything. He tells stories while at the same time laughing. Sometimes, it’s hard to understand him, but his contagious smile and squinty eyes makes one laugh along.
The street he sits on is particularly eventful. As Cook tells another story, his friend, Werner Rowe, is yelling at a little Asian man who insists on staring and smiling at him.
“I’m going to get up and hit you if you don’t leave,” says Rowe.
Cook continues to tell his story though there is obvious commotion in the background.
He pauses for a moment looks back at Werner and says, “That’s my friend and he has anxiety attacks.”
Werner is always trying to find a penny older than Cooks’ large collection. “The oldest penny I have is from 1893,” said Cook.