Laid back in Philly
In Philly, Mike and I lived in a tiny studio apartment near the University of Pennsylvania campus. Mike continued going to the Wharton School of Business, while I quickly found a job as clerk-typist for a surgical equipment company. We carefully and rationally split expenses. I made it very clear that money I earned was my money, and his was his, but we did establish what I am willing to call a home. My job was agonizingly boring, but not as boring as the job with the title insurance company in Winter Haven had been. At least there was lunchtime with my co-workers, Philly cheesesteak sandwiches and the Italian food I had come to love in Atlantic City. I soon went back to my normal skinny weight, complete with normal periods. The nightmares abated, somewhat, and in any case, I had trained Mike to wake me up out of them.
I had a hard time with the snow, having had zero experience with it since the age of five, but I experienced the first Spring I can remember. I still endured some teasing about my accent, but I was, by then, with Mike’s help, actively trying to eradicate it, having learned that nothing intelligent can be said in the north in a southern accent. I learned to ride the subway alone and guiltily enjoyed the flagrant capitalism of Wanamaker’s Department Store, its extravagant displays and noontime organ concert, all a fifteen-minute subway ride from home. There was little in the way of social life, although Mike had a friend or two who came to visit now and then. I waxed domestic and made curtains and slipcovers on my little portable sewing machine my mother had hopefully given me the year before. I made meatloaf, fried chicken and chocolate pies for Mike. It was the first peace I can remember experiencing that did not involve some kind of deception on my part.
Neither of us informed our parents of our living arrangements, letting both sets believe our joint address was our individual address. There was not much my parents could have done had they known, aside from bitter recriminations, but Mike’s parents were contributing financially to his education—they could always cut him off, and did, when they eventually found out he was living in sin with a shiksa.
Six months later, the new wore off and I realized that I was going nowhere and, as Roy had predicted, I was excruciatingly bored. I quit my job, left Mike and embarked on a chaotic journey with the vague goal in mind of establishing myself in Miami. I stayed with my sister for a few weeks on the Marine Base in Cherry Point, North Carolina, dating a Marine there, until it became clear that I was in the way, in several ways. From there, I went to Lakeland to seek a loan from my parents to get me to Miami and fund me until I could get a job. On the way, I detoured on the milk train to Tally and went to see Dean Warren to try and get reinstated. It worked, without my having to rat on my friends, but only after I endured some interactions Roy later claimed supported his theory that Dean Warren was a Lesbian. Nothing too overt, she claimed to have been swiping ants off my dress that I must have gotten leaning against a tree outside while I waited to see her. Stand still, smile back, whatever works, I had thought at the time.
In Lakeland, my mother rebelled against my request for financial assistance, snarling, “Oh, I know you’ll milk us for everything you can get.” My father, nevertheless, slipped me $80 on the sly and, added to what little I had saved from my job in Philly, it was enough for me to get on the Greyhound bus and aim for Miami. In reply to my mother I could have said, “I don’t want to milk for all you’ve got. I think I’ll just have a little justice please, put it right there next to the black-eyed peas.” But I did not. My brother and his wife were care-taking a house there for the summer and I was able to stay a few weeks there, working as a curb-hop while looking for a room I could afford. I soon realized I was also in the way there and moved out rapidly one day, over my brother’s objections, after a small disagreement with my sister-in-law. I just took the first shitty hotel room I could find near my job.
The curb-hop job was another class-consciousness experience. The place was called Jimmy’s Hurricane Restaurant. It was a drive-in located in Coral Gables, near the University of Miami and frequented by snotty rich college students even less worthwhile than the ones I had tangled with in the FSU women’s dorm. I worked nine hours a day, seven days a week for no salary, tips alone. If one of the cars made off with a tray, that was eight bucks out of my tips to pay for it. The college kids thought it was a great game to run off with a tray. Thankfully, we did not wear stupid uniforms we had to buy, as most curb hops then did, only pastel-colored shorts and shirts from our own wardrobe.
I lasted about a month before I attempted to call in sick one day and was fired over the phone. “If you can’t come in today, then we can’t use you,” the woman said. I had hoped to find an office job, given my experience and fantastic typing skill, but was informed that the job market had been flooded by Cuban immigrants and also that I did not look respectable enough, having no real address. I went to my old neighborhood in Miami and spoke to a neighbor who remembered me, asking her if I could give her address for job-hunting purposes. She agreed, but that did not work, either. I answered ads for waitresses on Miami Beach and spent a few days at a restaurant there, working the same schedule as at Jimmy’s Hurricane, for no salary, but being required to give the owners a cut of my tips to pay for working there. Once again, I was lucky in not having to purchase a uniform. I was allowed to use the ones I had left from Atlantic City. I quit when I realized I was working harder and earning less than I had as a curb-hop. I had ample opportunity to agree, in retrospect, with my Dad, about the value of unions.
Before I had left FSU, Bonnie had given me her number in Miami Beach, where she stayed in the summer in the small hotel owned by her family. I called her and she invited me to come stay with her, in her room, which I did until she left to return to FSU, having persuaded her father to let me live in her room in exchange for operating the switchboard. I thought that would be the solution to my problems and was eager to be trained. Her father said it could work into a permanent arrangement, but as soon as she left and before the training could start, her father backed out.
The problem was that I was being propositioned by pimps and dirty old men when walking around Miami Beach job-hunting and, desperate as I was, I was listening to them. It was hard for me to imagine I would make a very good prostitute or mistress, given my body shape, but, as one of the pimps explained, there were men who liked to have college-educated women as escorts, valuing conversation equally with sex. I found that hard to believe, but what did I know? One followed me back to the hotel, Mr. Friedman saw him, blamed me and asked me to leave before I ruined his hotel’s reputation. No amount of explaining would convince him that it was not my fault and I became convinced that he had never really intended to follow through. He had only pretended to agree to the arrangement to pacify his darling Bonnie. He always planned to kick me out as soon as she left. He called me on the hotel phone and asked me to leave “at my earliest convenience.” At least he did not throw me out in the street.
Meanwhile, Mike had followed me to Miami and found himself a job in Miami Beach for the summer. His waiting around at my brother’s until I got off work at the drive-in and then hanging out, making out, with me in the living room, where I was sleeping on the couch, is what so annoyed my sister-in-law. I admit we should have been more discrete. Her annoyance was justified. While I bounced around from pillar to post trying to fend off pimps and other kinds of immoral propositions, get a decent job and a clean room, Mike attempted to talk me into returning to Philly, even though he had now lost his parent’s financial support because of me.
Finally, after receiving Mr. Friedman’s request, I remembered Sidney. Sidney was a year younger than me, the little brother of a boy I had dated in high school. He was very strange and quite unpopular. I think now he probably had Asperger’s syndrome or something along those lines. When I first arrived in Groveland, Mr. Chesson had explained to me that Sidney was a genius and “that is his problem.” I had then made it my project to be as nice to him as possible, understanding so well what being an unpopular genius was like and also because I knew it would please Mr. Chesson.
Sidney was now living in Miami, sharing a house with some other young men and going to vocational school. I looked him up in the phone book, called him up and told him my story. The next day, I was ensconced on the couch in his living room, where he told me I could stay as long as I needed to, never mind paying rent. That lasted about two weeks, while I continued to job hunt, before one of the housemates, who had not, Sidney told me, paid his own rent in months, advised me that I could only stay there if I were willing to “put out.” I went to Sidney, who, it appeared to me, was being exploited by everyone there, including me, knowing that he would kick out the roomie long before he kicked me out, but then I could not bring myself to lay that kind of stress on one so socially disabled. I just told him I did not think I should stay there anymore, as it seemed to be causing tension among the housemates.
My choices, it seemed to me, were marriage or prostitution, since it appeared that I was as unlikely to be able to support myself with a real job as my sister had been. It was not that I had no skills or education. I had had a year of college and could type up a blue streak. It was my unconventional history, as short as it was at that point. I had no address and no local references and no one seemed to be in charge of me. I was completely unchaperoned. I had been expelled from two colleges and had a defiant attitude I found it impossible to conceal for long.
Both my sister and my brother had essentially thrown me out, or insulted me out, or made it impossible for me to stay and retain any dignity. But, they would both have helped me, if only I had concealed the fact that I was sexually active. It was still another family secret I was supposed to hide, but I had had it to here with the secrets. In terms of mendacity and the concealment of closet-dwelling skeletons, my family’s history could have been written by Tennessee Williams. I had really had enough of it.
By the hypocritical standards of the time, I did not have to be a virgin. I only had to act like I was a virgin. It is true that discretion would also have helped, at least in my sister-in-law’s case, but the basic problem, as I saw it, was that my post high school experiences had somehow robbed me of my former skill in hiding who I really was. Hypocrisy, in that time and place, was better than – whatever I was. My crime, it seemed, was honesty and it was unforgivable on all fronts. Honesty and, perhaps, a great need for justice, for myself and everyone else. Had I been male, those traits would have been problematic, but they would not have narrowed my options to prostitution or marriage. I could have more easily found work and not finding a steady decent job, in my case, was the circumstance from which all others flowed. I was supposed to be married by now, not job-hunting. For a 19-year-old male, having no address was no big deal, as the ease with which Mike had found a steady summer job demonstrated. For me, it was an insurmountable hurtle.
Mainly, though, I was just too damn smart. No one in Miami in 1961 – at least no one at the level of society to which I had access – knew what to do with a southern non-virgin with an IQ of 145 who read Kafka, typed 60 words a minute and had been expelled once for advocating integration and again for hanging with integrationists. In the words of a Bob Dylan song written a little bit later, I was “nobody’s child.”
Sid loaned me bus fare to get back to Lakeland, which I hasten to say I repaid sometime later, as I did the $80 my Dad had given me. I called my Dad, said I was unable to make it in Miami and asked if I could please have my old room back for just the time it would take me to find a job and a room in Lakeland, if I would be really, really good. He talked it over with Mom and she called me back. I went home, tail between my legs, a failure at 19.
In Lakeland, a new gigantic department store was not quite finished but already hiring. I went down to apply for an office job. The line was huge, at least a block long. As I stood in it, I realized that the number of jobs available was going to be far lower than just the number of people I could see in this line right now, and the office jobs were going to be precious, indeed. If I had any chance at all, I could not rely on my skills, grades, experience and pleasant appearance alone. I was going to have to stand out in some way. It was possible to see each applicant’s entrance and egress from the personnel office from my position in the line. I began to time them.
By the time it was my turn, I had figured out that the average person was in the personnel office for five minutes. When I went in, having no idea what I would face, I was relieved to find that it was only one man, Peter Ward, Personnel Director. Men, I can handle, I thought. I flashed him my best smile and said, “What can you possibly know about a person in only five minutes?” He was instantly all ears. It was a gamble. I was supposed to wait for him to ask me something and then grovel as much as possible, but I figured, with these odds, what have I got to lose? A half-hour later, I walked out with a job as his personal secretary.
People in line glared at me suspiciously, but I did not realize until later what it was they suspected. He had asked me during the interview if I had had “any affairs.” I had had to make him repeat the question because his British accent made it sound like “any furs.” I had not had any affairs at that point and did consider it a damn weird question, but I fancied myself to be now quite sophisticated, having been courted by pimps and all, so I had flirtatiously asked him to define an affair and had conversed in double entendre for a while after that. Bad mistake.
I held on to that job for about two months before he realized I was not going to sleep with him, no matter how many times he took me out to dinner in Tampa and hinted at the riches that could be involved were I to have “an affair” with him. One day, he found an excuse to fire me with no warning at all, then replaced me before I could get out of the building, being sure I would see my replacement on the way out. Unphased, I casually walked across the street to the restaurant where I had been spending my lunch breaks and had myself a waitress job ten minutes later, starting that night. I went home and kicked off the stupid red high heels I had bought a size too small because the store did not have my size and I was trying to maintain just enough sexy to keep the job. I breathed a sigh of relief that I would now have an honest job, probably making more money, counting tips, than I had as Peter’s secretary, since in Lakeland, the restaurants paid you a salary, and rested up for the night shift.
I was very happy at that job, low-status that it was, even when Peter made it a point to come in at lunchtime with his cronies to harass me. My boss, after hearing the story of my last job, found it very funny to come out of the kitchen in his cook outfit, waving wet rags around, and wait on their table himself while winking through the service window at me cracking up in the kitchen, explaining that he really liked his new waitress, she was top shelf, but she was busy right now, so he would be waiting on them. Some restaurant people have hearts of gold.
I kept that job until I left Lakeland a few months later. After my boss’ sterling performance, Peter never came back in, and my boss got off a few more good ones mimicking Peter’s British accent and manners. It is not wise to be British in central Florida, or was not then. My boss and I went through the Cuban Missile Crisis together, running the radio in the kitchen non-stop all day to catch the reports as they came in. That was a somewhat bonding experience. I received more than one call at home from various branches of the military, trying to recruit me to go to officer’s training school, since I had a year of college, which drove my father into a screaming frenzy when I told him. “The Navy! The Marines! All those women are whores! What did you tell them?” I assured him there was no danger at all of my joining the military.
During this time in Lakeland, where I did have days off, sometimes two in a row, I would get on the bus and go to Tally and stay with Roy. Mike was calling and writing me from Philly, urging me to come back. Roy was making love to me and meals for me and urging me to return to Tally. Mike won, saying he was coming to get me during Christmas vacation. It was not so much a contest between the two men as it was a contest between north and south. Roy was in Tally and would be there for some time to come. Mike was in Philly, which was not in the south. As it turned out, when Mike came at Christmas and I told my mother I would be leaving with him, she went into hysterics at the thought that I would live with him. By now, I was keeping no secrets and she knew I had lived with him before. She begged us to marry first. We discussed it and decided, just to keep the peace with my family, though not his, that we would marry on the understanding that we did not mean it between ourselves. I knew I was not cut out for marriage and Mike acted like he was not, either. We agreed, playfully, that we would cross our fingers while making our vows. I actually did that and Mike always claimed he did, too.
After all that, it almost did not happen because no one would marry us. The pastor turned us down. The rabbi turned us down. No interfaith marriages would they perform. At that point, my mother went to the Justice of the Peace, whose job, as I understand it, is to marry any damn body who asks, and he also turned us down, until my mother begged him, sobbing, “If you don’t marry them, they are going to live together anyway.” He finally relented and we were married in a private dining room at a local restaurant. It was as traditional as could be managed, given the interfaith problem. Mom made my dress. We announced it in the Lakeland newspaper.
My parents, at my Dad’s urging, paid for catered dinners and we had actual guests, most of whom came to satisfy their morbid fascination. My Groveland friends had probably never even seen a Jew close-up. Bonnie and Roy drove down from Tally and Bonnie played the wedding march on a battered piano, badly. The JP, as requested, left out the part where the woman promises to “love, honor and obey,” replacing that phrase with the same one the man says, “love, honor and cherish.” That change alone might have been worth the 40-mile drive from Groveland, for my high school friends.
Mike’s brother and both my siblings attended, the former having flown in, reluctantly, from somewhere up north. Mike and I partied down, dancing to the jukebox, as did Bonnie and Roy and my siblings and their families. Everybody else ate my Dad’s food, then gawked. We were able to scrape up a sufficient number of Jews and Jewish sympathizers to dance a small hora to Hava Nagila on the jukebox. Everyone left if not happy, at least placated. Meanwhile, according to Mike’s brother, my in-laws were arguing with each other in Pennsylvania as to whether or not to sit shiva. They opted not to, but I was later told my
mother-in-law was hard to convince. (Shiva is a Jewish ritual for the dead, sometimes observed for a child marrying out of the faith, I assume as a way of saying “you’re dead to me now.”)
Hello Philly, so long, New Jersey
We decided that, given the paroxysms our families were going through around religion, my grand plan to hie to San Francisco was a good one. Both families would have to dump on us from 3,000 miles away and I could go look for the beatniks, which was a main feature of my plan that I did not share with Mike. Plus, he had an uncle in the Bay Area who had also married a shiksa, so Mike could get some sympathy from him. My deal with Mike was that I would marry him, we would return for his last semester at Penn, and I would, this time, throw my salary into the community pot to help support his education, since he had lost his parent’s contribution. We were agreed that we would, after his graduation, work a summer in Wildwood, New Jersey, to finance our move to San Francisco. In San Francisco, he would then contribute a similar amount to my education, after which time we would negotiate further marital economic arrangements.
We were agreed that our relationship was not a marriage in any way other than that we had signed a paper and had a wedding. Specifically, neither of us would expect the other to fulfill the traditional roles of husband and wife. I would not expect him to support me. I fully intended to work. He would not expect me to bear children, though we left that option open. It was to be what is now called an “open marriage” sexually (more on this in the chapter on feminism.) While in Philly, I would attend the classes held at the synagogue for non-Jews wishing to convert, and I would then convert to placate his family, thereby making any children automatically Jewish, since, for reasons I still do not understand, being Jewish is passed through the mother.
Since I, by then, considered myself an atheist, I stipulated that I would only convert if I could do so without ever telling any lies. I did not know that the ceremony would require me to say “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is One,” clearly a lie for an atheist to tell, and Mike did not enlighten me. I went to and greatly enjoyed the classes, which were simply Jewish history and philosophy. I was actually the star of the class, having studied so goddam much Old Testament in my youth and at Norman. None of the other goyim had.
My second stint in Philly was very similar to the first, except that, this time, I had a job I actually liked. I worked as one of two assistants to the bookkeeper at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. I hated the work, but I loved my boss and the other assistant. We were three very similar women—smart, hardworking, unconventional and nerdy. We worked in a small office, each with her own desk. I became a whiz on the 9-key adding machine. We often ate lunch together. Mrs. Wherry, my boss, delighted in educating me as to the ways of the north, walking me through the golden leaves as I experienced my first real Fall.
I was fascinated by my co-assistant, whose name alone was enough to mark her as a wierdo. Irya Krishnaswami. She was a tall, blonde, square-faced Swedish woman who spoke with a heavy Swedish accent I found enthralling. She had married a short, dark man from India who was a graduate student at Penn. I suspected that, among their motives, was one to which Mike and I could probably relate. What would piss off a strict Brahmin family more than that their oldest son married a Swedish Lutheran? And vice-versa. Our in-law stories were very similar, though hers involved not only different regions and religions, but different nations, cultures and languages. I found that, behind her prim Swedish personna lurked a woman with a dark and irreverent sense of humor much like my own. Long periods of silence in the office could be broken in an instant by short periods of the three of us howling at something Irya had muttered under her breath. I was very sad when I left them.
This time, our apartment was bigger, on the top floor of an old house turned into student apartments. It was distinguished mainly by the fact that the first thing you saw when you came in the door was the bathroom, across the long, narrow hallway. If you were not alert and the bathroom door was open you might walk right into the bathroom before thinking to turn left down the hall. We thought that was hilarious and commissioned one of Mike’s more artistic friends to design an arrow with Hieronymus Bosch-like figures on it, to hang on the bathroom door, directing new visitors down the hall to the living room.
We did have visitors, this time, all friends of Mike’s, including Pete Kuhner, a folksinger he brought home, I thought, maybe, especially for me. Taking pity on me with my six-dollar guitar, of which he said, “You’ll never get anywhere with THAT ax,” Pete brought me back from his next visit to Spain, where guitars could be bought for much less than in the U. S., a low-priced Cordoba guitar, for which I paid him $30 with Mike’s approval. As Pete predicted, the improvement accelerated my guitar virtuosity tremendously and I will always be grateful to him for that mitzvah, as well as teaching me the folk song, “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” which came in handy often, later.
I went to my first live concert, Pete Seeger, on campus, but I tried and failed to get Mike to take me to the Second Fret to see Joan Baez. We both struggled mightily to not be married, but before long I was typing his papers, explaining my every absence and purchase, wearing what he wanted me to wear and I still had no friends but his. My correspondence with Roy continued unabated and Mike knew better than to interfere with it in any way. I briefly considered getting pregnant, but Mike, thank the Goddess, pre-emptorily vetoed that idea on the grounds that we were much too poor.
At the end of the semester, Mike graduated, just barely, and we left for Wildwood, where we got jobs readily, me as a waitress, him as a milkman. Our hours were such that we rarely saw each other awake, but we somehow survived the summer with our non-marriage still intact. My biggest problem was my boss, a huge, tyrannical, overweight fellow I now imagine might have had mob connections. I was once again working seven days a week, but you could appeal for a day off and that sometimes worked. When my friend, Sarah, now married and living in New York, wrote me and asked me to come visit her, I made such an appeal and succeeded in getting a day off.
I was still mad at Sarah for betraying me during the revolt at Norman and for not even inviting me to her wedding, but it was a hell of a letter. She had married badly and was now isolated, miserable and alone. He forbade her to work or even leave the apartment without permission. She would have to sneak to see me. Hicks that we were, we agreed to meet on a certain day at a certain time in “the women’s room” at the Port Authority bus station in New York. I would ride a Greyhound there and back on the same day, and visit with her in between. Neither of us imagined that the bus station would be so gigantic as to have many women’s rest rooms. I spent about seven hours wandering around from rest room to rest room in the bus station, hoping we would somehow find ourselves in the same one at the same time. After that, thinking, well, shit, I’m in New York, I ought to at least leave the bus station, I went outside, stumbled over a passed-out drunk on the sidewalk, tried to order a sandwich at a deli but was too shy to succeed, returned to the bus station and went back to Wildwood.
Exhausted, I overslept and was late to work the next day. This got the godfather’s attention and he soon noticed, or was told by one of his spies, that I was hanging out in the kitchen with the black cooks and busboys (more on this in the chapter entitled “The Road to the Promised Land.”) When he caught me red-handed taking a bite out of a busboy’s donut as he held it, he fired us both on the spot. I learned later that he had been asking around if I was a union organizer, so that probably figured into it. I had to ask Mike what a union organizer was. I also learned, to my great relief, that he rehired the busboy. I felt very bad about costing him his job. I made as much commotion as possible leaving, never realizing it might be dangerous to antagonize a boss with organized crime connections who suspected you of being a union organizer.
Within a day I had two jobs, waitressing at a restaurant down the street and as a sales clerk in a souvenir shop on the boardwalk. My restaurant boss was eager to pump me about my last job, having heard, he told me, that fraternizing was going on between the white waitresses and the black cooks and busboys. I lied through my teeth, lest he discover the story had started with me, and managed to keep that job until the season ended. At the souvenir shop, I met a guy who claimed to have been roommates with Bob Dylan in Philly the preceding year. He reported this to me with an air of great importance, as if it were the world’s best pickup line. To bad for him, I only knew Bob Dylan as the composer of that summer’s big hit “Blowing in the Wind,” as sung by Peter, Paul and Mary. I had not yet been impressed enough by Dylan to care who he was roommates with in Philly.
At the end of the summer, Mike and I got on a train headed west, which we had chosen over a plane because you got more baggage hauled with your ticket. It was a very long ride. I panicked coming out of the Sierras when I saw the hilly, grassy Central Valley, which looked exactly like unplanted places in central Florida. Omigod, I said to Mike, I came all this way and it looks just like Florida? But, then, we hit the Coast Range and I relaxed.
Not quite San Francisco
When I arrived by train in Oakland with my new husband in September, 1963, I fully expected that, within the next hour, I would finally be in San Francisco. During the summer, I had applied to San Francisco State University and also fully expected that I would be accepted for the Spring semester, that we would live in San Francisco and that I would pursue as much of a career in anthropology as a woman with no money could expect to pursue in those days. There were two important things I did not know that led to my ending up a student at Berkeley instead.
One was that the train does not go to San Francisco. It only goes to Oakland. There, you have to get off the train and get on a bus that takes you to San Francisco. I have no idea if that is still the case, but that was the situation then. As we detrained, we were met, much to my bewilderment, by Mike’s Uncle Bud and his family, who lived in Pinole, an East Bay suburb. Someone, maybe Mike, maybe his family back East, had tipped off Uncle Bud about our arrival and he had headed us off in Oakland to take us to Pinole. I never got to San Francisco. My in-laws prevailed on my husband to get us an apartment in Oakland instead, citing high rent in San Francisco and, more to the point, the fact that Mike’s cousin, Larry, could find us a cheap apartment near his own where we would be readily available to the family in Pinole. My protestations carried no weight whatsoever with anyone.
The other thing I did not know was that San Francisco State University had never received the transcripts I had requested to be sent to them from Florida State University and Norman College. I first went through several hells with the SFSU Admissions Office to merely locate my application, which they finally did, “under a blotter” they told me. Then, I had to go through several more hells trying to get the two colleges to send the transcripts. I had been “reinstated” at both colleges, both of which had informed me that I would now have no trouble transferring to other colleges, but at both colleges it had been either the Dean or the President who had reinstated me. Neither had informed the Admissions Offices of my reinstatement. Both Admissions Offices alleged that they did not send transcripts for students who had been expelled for disciplinary reasons. I had to prove to the FSU Admissions Office that I had been reinstated by the FSU Dean of Women and then persuade the President of Norman College to write SFSU a special letter stating that I had been reinstated there.
By the time I got past all of that, I had applied to Berkeley and been told that, in spite of the fact that my high grades were only high grades from a piss-poor junior college in where-the-hell-is-it Georgia and, in spite of the F and the incompletes to be seen on my transcript from FSU, I would be accepted at Berkeley if I could complete my sophomore year at Oakland City College with a 3.4 GPA or above. My anthro colleagues at Berkeley later joked that being expelled from two southern colleges probably was regarded as a point in my favor at Berkeley. Activist students I met at Oakland City College urged me to forget SF State entirely and head to Berkeley, which they felt would be much more to my liking. Excellent choice.
In Oakland, I got a job as clerk-typist for a small magazine distributor downtown. Mike, ironically enough, found a job as a claims adjuster for a major insurance company in San Francisco, having shaved off the beard he had grown for me in Philly. He went to San Francisco each and every day. We lived at various apartments in North Oakland, never very far from Larry and his wife, Pat, two very conventional people with whom we spent far more time than I would have wished. My pleas that we should seek an apartment in Berkeley, where it was at least a university town, were met by Mike with the argument that he was sick of student apartments.
We visited Uncle Bud and his family in Pinole frequently, where it was clear to me that I would always be the odd one out. I made a sincere effort to fit in, for Mike’s sake, even going so far as to accompany Pat into the suburbs to play mah jong with some old ladies she knew. But I came increasingly to feel that my goals, preferences, desires and opinions were of no significance to anyone and that that would always be the case. The only time I felt myself was at work. Since Mike left before I did in the morning, I was free to dress as I pleased to go to work, risking no sarcastic remarks about my choices and, once there, I knew no one cared what I said or did, within reason, as long as I maintained my work output.
My social isolation was relieved a great deal when I quit the Oakland job and restarted my academic career at Merritt College, which most people were still calling Oakland City College, even though it had just changed its name. I was working part-time as a reader for a blind student with whom I became close friends and I soon connected with a group of activist students with whom I ate lunch every day. While at school, at least, I could feel again the sensations of progress, achievement, respect for my opinions and friendship with friends of my choosing.
Just how much pressure was on me to conform is illustrated by something that happened to me in 1964, perhaps not long before I left Mike and moved to Berkeley. Mike and I were on a double date with Pat and Larry, standing in a long line at a major movie theater in downtown Oakland. I was wearing one of the decorous outfits Mike increasingly liked to see me in, high heels and stockings and modest make-up, with my waist-length hair wrestled into a presentable bun. In the line, about 20 people ahead of us, were two beatniks with long hair and beards, wearing sandals, jeans and bulky sweaters. As I stood slightly apart from my group trying to conceal my boredom with the conversation nearest me, one of the two beatniks left his place in line and came walking directly toward me.
Reaching my side, he then bent down from his great skinny height until his eyes were on a level with mine and said, incredulously, “Barbara, is that you?” At the sound of Roger’s voice, I recognized him behind the beard he had not always had at FSU and felt my head splitting right down the middle as I realized what I must look like to him. Unlike Roy, Roger was not a big hugger, but I was so overjoyed that I had to grab his arms, almost even to support myself and avoid falling over, literally, in surprise. As my companions and quite a few bystanders stared in wonder, Roger and I exchanged some rapid information. Yes, he was here now and so was Bob, who was now holding their places in line.
Hurriedly, Roger wrote down his phone number on a slip of paper from my pocketbook, I told him I was in the phonebook, don’t forget my married name, and he went back to his place in line. Five seconds later, the other furry freak brother came back to see me, overcame his shock at my appearance, and was hugging me openly while Pat and Larry tried to pretend they were not with me. The line began to move, Bob went back to his place, and Mike self-consciously tried to stifle my excited babbling. Failing that, he finally shut me down with one of his overbearing sarcastic put-downs, which stung even more than usual, now that I had been reminded who I really was.
Within a week, Roger had come to get me on his vintage motorcycle. I cut class and we spent the day touring Berkeley and Oakland, seeing the kind of out-of-the-way but highly interesting spots that Roger would characteristically have found early on but that I would never have seen with Mike. At every stop, we talked non-stop. I had thought I would never see any of my FSU friends again, though I had never abandoned my resolve to always look for people like them wherever I might go. To be reconnected with them felt like a philosophical lifeline had been thrown to me. Roger asked, with a minimum of judgment, just exactly what in the hell was I doing and I was forced to ask myself the same question.
Seeing Roger was one of three events that occurred while I lived in Oakland that served to direct me back to the path I had set for myself in Tally. The others were the Free Speech Movement and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Historians who have studied the student movements of the sixties have often considered the assassination of JFK to be some sort of starting point, an event that disrupted public feelings of security and safety emanating from the fifties. I think there might be some truth in this, even though my own personal political evolution had begun in 1960. It is only in retrospect that I realize how close the Free Speech Movement was to the assassination chronologically. For me, it came at a time when so much was happening on a personal level that I could hardly process what implications such a historically large event might have for my own life.
My JFK story goes beyond what was I doing the day he was assassinated. You have to start with Georgia. When JFK was running for president, I was at Norman, newly arrived, still trying to get the hang of it. Those Georgia students aware enough to care about voting, were eligible to vote because voting age in Georgia was 18. Florida students interested enough to care, could not vote because voting age in Florida was 21. The point is, I was keenly interested and had vehement opinions on the subject, even though I was not even eligible to vote. That is the start of my relationship to Kennedy.
I was probably the only supporter of Kennedy to be found on campus, or at least the only one who copped to it. There was only one issue and that was do you want a Catholic to be president. Baptists are the very most Protestant of Protestants. Catholicism in Baptist-land is only a step or two away from devil worship. So JFK was my first dig-in-your-heels political position and my defending him probably contributed to the values explosion that preceded my expulsion. When Kennedy proposed the Peace Corps, he did it only weeks after I had finished reading Burdick and Lederer’s The Ugly American. The Peace Corps seemed to me to be exactly the right answer to that book. So, after my second expulsion, from Florida State University, I applied for the newly-established Peace Corps, probably among the first wave of people to apply. Imagine my surprise when I was not accepted because of the two expulsions on my record that related directly to my contributions to making peace between races. In some degree, my public and dangerous defense of Kennedy, mixed in with my integrationist sympathies, contributed to my expulsion from Norman, and thus my rejection from the Peace Corps, started by the guy I had been defending.
As a result, I had intensely conflicted feelings about JFK and I really, really despised Jackie Kennedy, the absolute epitome of snob. I did not like his wife, I did not like the Kennedy dynasty and I did not like the unabashed and unapologetic conspicuous spending they represented. But, he invented the Peace Corps and then saved us from the Russians. I learned a lot politically from having to wend my way through all these conflicting issues. It was not until years after his death that I learned that some historians blame him for the Vietnam War, so I was doing my wending without the war in the mix.
At the time he was killed, I was working in Oakland, planning to enter Oakland City College the following semester. In the office were two other women and sometimes a male boss, in his private office off the main office. That day the boss was gone. Every day at about 11 or 12, a courier came and delivered tons of mail to us. He was a young man, probably another in and out college student like me. Every day he had some kind of joke to tell us, always starting with a deadpan. On that day, he came in and said, deadpan, “Did you hear about the President?” and we all thought it was the start of a joke.
But then, we really saw his face. He said, “No, I’m serious. The President’s been shot. Turn on the radio.” We immediately broke rules and ran into the boss’s office, where there was a radio and turned it on. The radio was playing a piece of classical music, one with which I was very familiar, because of my background in church. It is a piece played often, even in Baptist churches, despite its Catholic roots. One of the women turned to the next station and the exact same piece of music was playing. We all looked at each other, amazed, and went to the next station, where the same music was playing. We swept the entire dial before we finally found a station not playing the music but giving out the news. I later learned that Kennedy had once said that Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” was his favorite piece of music, so all the stations were playing it at the announcement of his death as a sign of respect. It is another one of those pieces of music I can never hear without remembering a life-changing event to for which it was the background music.
I was the first one to break from the radio. I grabbed my coat and said, “Hey, its my lunch break.” I walked out of the office, which was right downtown near the Oakland Tribune tower, into one of the strangest scenes I had ever been in and I had, by that time, been in a few. There was almost no noise. No horns honking, traffic sounds subdued and no speaking, in an area that was usually full of people and people noise. Groups had gathered in front of stores selling TVs and the stores had turned up the sound so that everyone outside could hear. I stood at the edge of a small crowd, listening. I could not see the screen because I am short, but I heard the newscasters.
It was a very silent afternoon of work back at the office. We were doing mindless repetitive envelope stuffing, so we could talk while we worked and we did talk about it some, but I was really stunned and unable to talk yet. That evening, or maybe the next evening, Mike and I decided we would like to go to one of the many memorial services being held in places of worship. We ended up going not to the synagogue we were thinking of joining, but to the largest synagogue in the East Bay, the name of which I cannot recall. The only place I had ever been inside that was as large as this synagogue was the First Baptist Church of Atlanta and the uniqueness of the building was part of the mourning experience for me.
The service included a cellist, a rabbi and the first cantor I had ever heard. There was a long period of the cantor reciting the Kaddish in Hebrew, which put me into a very trance-like state, since I certainly did not speak or understand Hebrew, and so it shocked me, physically, when I heard the words “John Fitzgerald Kennedy” in the middle of all the Hebrew. I am sure I even jumped a little and that is another memory that is seared into my brain from that time.
Oddly, though I cannot point to any way the assassination affected my political evolution, it did have the effect on my personal evolution of briefly shoring up my shaky marriage. It was something that had never happened in the lifetime of anyone living. No one seemed to know what might happen next. Assassinations were something that happened in Central and South American countries just before they fell apart. Would that happen to us? No one knew. Would we now have the nuclear war that Kennedy had so recently headed off? No one knew. I was not in school, so I had no access to the kinds of opinions I most respected, except through my correspondence with Roy. I had been afraid of the end of the world since I was a child. I had been raised on images of fire and brimstone. The Apocalypse was very real to me.
For a while, my husband was once again precious to me as the only family or friend I had. What he wanted most from me, aside from conformity, was my conversion to Judaism and I had been waffling on that point. But, the Kaddish service for Kennedy had been so beautiful and moving and I had felt so close to Mike during it, that it caused me to re-examine my position on converting. It occurred to me that if the end of the world was near, I would just soon face it in the company of the kind of people who were at that service as anyone else. Kennedy’s death had caused me to feel closer to Mike and more open to conversion than I had in a long time.
The feeling dissipated soon after I started college again and was not so dependent on Mike and his family socially. My year at OCC became a tug-of-war between my academic ambitions and Mike’s academic ambitions, as well as his desire to train me to be a lawyer’s wife. There was a point where he actually asked me, after I had reminded him of the part of our deal that dealt with my return to college, “Why do you need a college education? I’m going to be a lawyer. You will be a lawyer’s wife.” After all our careful negotiations and promises that we would not allow ourselves to fall into conventional husband-and-wife roles, I could hardly believe my ears. I was quite dumbfounded.
Meanwhile, I was spending more and more time at school with my activist friends and with my blind friend Charles, also an activist. When I, myself, became active in SLATE, a student political organization, Mike became both querulous and wary. When the civil rights sit-ins that preceded the Free Speech Movement began to happen and I began to express a desire to join them, our political differences became more defined. It became ever clearer that, while we were essentially on the same page with respect to our political views, I was more than willing to fight for them “in the street” while Mike would never do so, for fear of endangering his potential legal career. I was instructed that such participation on my part could also endanger his career, though I was never quite clear as to how, exactly, that would work. It was at that precarious juncture that I was busted in the Free Speech Movement.
© Jentri Anders, 2016