Soon after my return from jail I began looking for an apartment in Berkeley, in anticipation of the resumption of my college career that Spring semester. Although I had been hoping that something miraculous would happen to save my marriage, I had also been preparing myself emotionally for the break-up since October, when our political incompatibility had begun to be highlighted by the advent of the Free Speech Movement. It was then that I had resolved to start looking for a studio apartment, suitable for one. My arrest in the Free Speech Movement and Mike’s reaction to it were the final blow that released me, ready to re-invent myself, into the freedom and fresh air of Berkeley in 1965.
Mentally and emotionally, I had come a long way from Tallahassee. My academic confidence had been re-established by my year at Oakland City College. The pressure to conform had been removed by my separation from Mike and by my placing a continent between me and my family. The Free Speech Movement had suggested to me the possibility that I might find a social life based on my true personality and values and that perhaps I would not always feel as crushed by senseless and arbitrary expectations as I had so far.
In more ways than specifically political ones, I was ready for battle and I certainly saw anthropology as a way to change things for the better, a point of view that would change drastically later on. In a sense, I was out to change the world although, in what would later become established hippie procedure, I was, for now, starting with myself. I did not know what, exactly, that meant but I knew that the next time a moral choice came by me, I wanted to be unencumbered so that I could make it.
All of my energies, however, were focused on being an anthropology student with the proviso about moral decisions over on the side, except insofar as I saw anthropology as what my advisor, Professor Gerry Berreman, later called “an acceptable forum from which to work for change” (personal correspondence.) The events that led me to Berkeley did not seem political to me at the time but I see, in retrospect, that I was operating on a principle that I have accepted, on some level, all my life–that how you live your life is as much your politics as who you voted for or what sign you are carrying.
A room of one’s own1
Neither Pinole, where I first experienced California, nor Oakland had fit my grand aspirations, but Berkeley was close enough. Once I moved, on my own, to Berkeley, there was no other place on the earth for me. The apartment I found in Berkeley was on Kittredge Street, on the second floor of an old building next door to a movie theater, that had evidently once been a medium-size residence later converted to apartments and office space. It was unbelievably tiny, which gave me a great advantage in that, because I was myself tiny and needed not much more than a space to cook, bathe and sleep in, I could live in spaces much cheaper than the larger apartments larger people had to have. Across the hall was a much larger apartment occupied by a much larger human, Dennis Coughlin, a political science major with whom I became good friends.
As tiny as my apartment was, the size was alleviated somewhat by the fact that the flat roof of the office occupying the first floor made a bit of a deck for me on the foreshortened second floor. All I had to do was climb out one of the enormous windows, ignore the fact that I was on top of roofing paper rather than redwood decking, and I had myself a lovely, if not very private, outdoor space. Between my ersatz deck and the huge windows, I never felt especially confined in my eensy weensy apartment, with its closet-size kitchen and half-size claw foot bathtub. What I felt was the exhilaration of having my very own space, all to myself.
My outdoor space was not very private because across Kittredge Street was a tall office building out of the windows of which male office workers enjoyed watching me sunbathe in my two piece bathing suit. Across a parking lot and Oxford Street to the east was the UC track field, Edwards Stadium, complete with very high bleachers. On track days, people sitting in the top row could turn around and also watch me sunbathing on my non-deck. Not long after I moved in, I enraged Dennis by hanging a huge banner I made out of butcher paper over my windows, where anyone watching me sunbathe had to look at it, that said, “Make Love, Not War.” He was also a peace activist, but, in spite of his own failed efforts to bed me, quite a bit of a prude or, perhaps, more accurately, a sexist. His objection was not the sentiment of the banner, but the juxtaposition of it with my sunbathing. He evidently felt I was either overly immoral or needed some male approval for such an overtly political independent action.
The banner resulted in a bit of an exchange between myself and the office workers by means of a tiny hamburger stand situated across Kittredge Street at the base of the building. I went there often for coffee before classes and work and the proprietor knew where I lived. When I put up the banner, he was quite amused to tell me that some of the office workers, who also patronized his business, had gotten into a huge, loud argument about it one day while sitting at his counter. I had been denounced as an example of the utterly depraved component of the student body but also soundly defended by an equal number of people against the war. It seemed that my purpose had been well-achieved by stirring up a heated discussion of the war as a sidebar to the heated discussion of my morals. The proprietor and I shared a good laugh about it and he, knowing of my waitress experience, joked that if I got kicked out of school I could always work for him.
Luck was with me in both finding the perfect cheap, tiny apartment and in finding the perfect half-time job. I had no difficulty whatever in proving myself eligible for the federal work-study program (federally subsidized jobs), which would be my only source of income for the duration of my undergraduate career. I was an ace typist, was almost as poor as you get, came from a poor family, and had quite a bit of office experience by then. The luck did not lie in getting a job. The luck lay in getting THE job. Although I had not officially listed my major as anthropology, I was fairly certain that that would be how it would shake down. When the woman interviewing me for a work-study job unexpectedly asked me what I thought my major would be—it was not the kind of question I was used to being asked at a job interview—I only hesitated a second before saying “anthropology.” She smiled an enormous smile, reached for a fat folder on her desk, opened it and said, “Well, since you are an anthropology student, how would you like to work for the Lowie Museum of Anthropology?” We sat and grinned at each other for a golden moment.
I passed the museum interview with flying colors, I learned later, when I read my own personnel file and found my boss’s note in the margin stating that I was a “very charming young lady.” I was hired as a Senior Clerk-Typist, along with Hazel Wald, another work-study woman who became my dearest friend and introduced me to the man who, much later, became my daughter’s father. We typed correspondence, museum display texts, ethnographic field notes and articles for publication. We answered the phone and acted as receptionists in the exhibit hall. We filed museum records on those occasions when we could not wiggle out of it. It was an office job, but it was an unusually interesting office job including highly interesting co-workers and visitors famous in the field of anthropology—Theodora Kroeber, Thor Heyerdahl, Jane Goodall, Michael Harner and many others.
However, somewhere along the line, as I became more and more interested in anthropology and began to believe I might someday actually be one, I came to envy the lower-paid preparators, who got to work hands-on with the collections and make the exhibits and seemed to be having a lot more fun than I was. About halfway through my two-and-a-half-year stint at the museum, I went to the man who had called me charming on my personnel form and charmed him into a deal. I first asked to be demoted to Preparator and said I would take the pay cut to be able to list Preparator on academic resumes instead of Senior Clerk-Typist.
He said it was against university policy to demote anybody, but he would assign me to preparator duties at the same salary and back me up if I listed that title on a resume, if I would promise to type in an emergency. From that day forward, I worked with collections and never typed. Maneuvering myself out of the office and into the collections made my job even more of a dream job, as I was assigned to process and catalogue the artifacts, photographs and human remains while engaging in riveting conversations with other anthropologists about everything from Otis Redding to Bigfoot.
My life was work and class. My friends were my co-workers at the museum and other anthro students I met through them and Dennis and the people I met through him. I soon had a more-or-less steady boyfriend, Gale Bach, whom I met at a party Dennis took me to–as a friend, not a date, I had carefully stipulated—in Stinson Beach in Marin County. I dated mostly him and he later proposed, but we had what is now called an “open relationship.” I dated others, but I do not know whether he did or not.
Like a rolling stone, like a complete unknown2
As I had realized during the FSM bust, I knew I was, in spite of outward appearances, basically alone and I was resigned to being alone in that way from then on. My jailhouse “rolling stone” epiphany had been a major turning point. I had only one friend left from my past who was physically present in my life, as opposed to Roy, with whom I merely corresponded. That was my blind friend, fellow activist and former employer, Charles Bird. When I had left him standing outside Sproul Hall to participate in the sit-in, he had said, “I’ll be waiting for you when you come out.” That had turned out to be true in more ways than one.
He was the first person to congratulate me, first on my status as an FSM bustee, and then for my choice to leave my problematic marriage, on the details of which I had kept him well- posted. During my last days at OCC, we had become very close, still attending rallies at UC and meetings of SLATE on our own campus. A memorable occasion for me was when he asked me to take him into what probably was the first “head shop” in Berkeley on “The Ave,” Telegraph Avenue. He told me he had gone by there several times and been intrigued by the sounds and smells but he dare not go in for fear of breaking something. I walked him slowly through the shop, handing him carved wooden figurines, brass incense burners, handwoven fabrics, hookahs, and imported jewelry, describing each thing to him in detail while assuring the nervous shop owners with my looks that we would be responsible for any damage. He bought an item on the way out and we giggled from there to campus about our adventure. It was the last time I ever saw him.
Soon after that, Charles was hit by a car near OCC and died days later. I learned of it because a mutual friend of ours from SLATE, remembering how close I was to Charles, called the number he had for me at Mike’s and was directed to my new apartment. But, that was as far as his kindness went because when he gave me the news, he could not face my grief and fled precipitously, never to be seen again. I raced to the library to find the news account in the Oakland Tribune, which provided details that did nothing to reduce my grief. According to the Tribune article, Charles had been crossing the street at a busy intersection, had hesitated and appeared confused, then veered out into the traffic on the street intersecting the street he was crossing.
I put this together with the further information from the article, that Charles had just been made chairman of the Free Speech Committee of SLATE, and with an exchange that he and I had had a month or so before and was devastated to think that I may have played a role in the accident. Charles had reminded me that he had to rely on his sighted friends to tell him if he was doing anything dangerous and he had asked me if I had observed him falling into any potentially dangerous habits. I had told him the only thing I could think of was that sometimes at intersections, he left the curb at an angle that was not a right angle. I said he always went in the direction of the stopped traffic but that if he went in the other direction he would go into the moving traffic.
After reading the Tribune article, I speculated that he had been distracted and thinking about his new role at SLATE, had started across the intersection and then suddenly remembered what I had said. Rather than altering course toward the stopped traffic, he had done exactly what I feared he would and walked into the moving traffic. Had I never mentioned the problem, I thought, perhaps the accident would never have occurred. That thought haunted me for decades, until I found articles online about the accident in newspapers published for the blind. According to their accounts, Charles had cleared the path of the oncoming car but then turned around back into it, in the direction of the crosswalk. Although Charles, according to these later articles, was inside the crosswalk when he was hit, the driver was not charged with hitting a pedestrian in a crosswalk, but only with violating the California White Cane Law, mandating that drivers yield to blind persons with white canes, no matter what they are doing. The law describes what constitutes a white cane and specifies that the handle be red, even though, take it from me, you cannot see the damn handle when the cane is in use.
The driver of the car was sued by a group of blind people on Charles’ behalf. Their goal was to establish stricter penalties for breaking the White Cane law. The driver argued that he did not realize Charles was blind because the handle of his cane had a green handle instead of a red one, an argument that infuriated me when I read it, since only a fool would not have seen that Charles was blind. The driver was charged with violating the law, then sentenced, to the utter dismay of California blind people, to one hour of probation, a decision mocked by legal authorities across the state. Reading this version of events served to lighten my long-standing guilt burden somewhat, and I was bemused by the thought that, even in death, Charles had been a part of a movement for social change.
Charles’ sudden death cut the very last source of emotional support not coming through letters that I had. Now, I felt that I was truly, truly alone. Aside from the sadness of losing Charles, however, I felt that my life was perfect and wide open to possibility. For the first time in my life, I was completely independent, emotionally as well as financially. For the first time in my life I was living in my very own space, which I was free to arrange and use with absolutely no input from anyone—no questions, no sarcasm, no criticism, no adjustments, no worrying about what husbands, house mothers, relatives, neighbors or roommates might think. It was now my taste or lack of it, my personal expression, my environmental preferences. I pierced my ears. I got a kitten. Both were things that Mike had strongly resisted my desire to do. I got rid of a whole lot of prim gray clothing suitable for office wear. I had already smoked my first weed but now I bought my first “lid.”
Much has been written about the background of both student politicos and hippie dropouts, presenting a picture of a bunch of spoiled brats, children of the middle and upper-classes, irresponsible, unwilling to grow up and face adult responsibilities. Needless to say, that picture is quite infuriating to me and I reject it utterly with regard to myself and large numbers of my fellow students and activist friends. While it is probably statistically true that student political activists of the 1960s and 1970s came more from the middle class than otherwise, my closest friends were, in fact, working their butts off to go to school, just like I was. I had some middle-class friends who did receive some assistance from their families, but they were also working half-time, and I had one or two whose background should have disqualified them from the work-study program, but they were not receiving assistance from their families and were working, at that point, as hard as I was. Most of my friends, like me, belonged to the upwardly mobile upper working class, had no financial aid other than the work-study program and worked half-time during the school term and full-time during summers to finance their educations. Like me, most of them had never had a vacation and usually could not afford to go home for Christmas. My friends were politically active out of idealism, just as I was. Spoiled? Me? Don’t think so. I had been working hard since childhood, first at home, then outside since the age of 13. I was the very definition of a working class intellectual and rejoiced in claiming that distinction.
My interests in Berkeley, at the beginning and throughout, were much, much wider than politics. I did attend noon rallies when possible and said to myself that this was my PoliSci 101 class and I was, as always, keenly interested in social justice and social change, but I was first and foremost an anthropology student. I had been accepted to one of the most prestigious departments in the world and was working at the largest anthropology museum west of the Mississippi. I was a student in good standing at one of the most prestigious universities in the world–well, in good standing until I flunked German at the end of my first semester, a blot on my record that was soon cancelled out by a C when I repeated the class, and by all the subsequent As I got in anthropology. As far as I was concerned, I had pretty much arrived in Mecca and I could not envision any situation that would cause me to leave, except after I got my PhD and landed a tenure-track position at some other prestigious university and maybe not even then.
I was in Berkeley from January 1965 to spring of 1971, a student for all but a few months of that time. Although I am listed as graduating with the class of 1967, I actually completed work at the end of the Fall semester 1966, entering graduate school in the fall of 1967. During the time between college and graduate school, I worked as a typist/ editor in the Art History Department. I am inflating my title to accurately describe what I actually did. According to the Personnel Department, which I had managed to circumvent in order to get the job, I was still a Senior Clerk-Typist, but the largest portion of my job description was typing the manuscript of an art history professor whose mother-tongue was German. I had been led to him through my connections in the Anthropology Department. He had insisted on hiring me, rather than the applicants sent by the Personnel Department, because of my three semesters of German, one of which I had flunked.
Having read some of my writing as part of my job interview, this professor hoped that I would be able to edit his manuscript, not only for grammar and punctuation as a typist would have, but also for style and to eliminate German-isms from his writing. This, I was very pleased to do, in spite of the fact that I was not being paid as an editor, because I liked the material, I liked him and I had my own private cubicle in which to work with very little interference from anyone else. Though the tiny space was partitioned off from a larger office occupied by two secretaries, it was on the third floor of the building and featured a large window through which I had a lovely view of all three Bay bridges.
No one paid much attention to me as long as I kept the output flowing and I was mercifully spared any contact with the public, including answering the phone. It was the only time I was in Berkeley that I did not feel buffeted by political events, job requirements or departmental politics. There is much to be said for a job wherein you are judged by your actual work rather than by a proliferation of expectations having little to do with your actual work. The job was not free of other problems however, a subject to which I will return in a later chapter.
I lived in several different apartments, moving from Kittridge Street to accommodate my relationship with my future daughter’s father and then again to accommodate his son and our daughter when she was born. All of these were near campus except for the one in a poor, mostly black area of West Berkeley. In spite of all my moving around, Berkeley was my home town for six years, during which time I was reluctant to leave it for more than the time required for a camping trip or a visit to my family back East. It was not until 1968 that I could even imagine, after being tear-gassed and shot at, living somewhere else and when I did finally leave it for good, it was because people I knew and respected in Berkeley had transplanted Berkeley culture to another location.
Footnotes for the entire chapter are located at the end of the last part.
© Jentri Anders, 2016