Monday, October 26, 2009

Life at 2308 Haste St.

Sophia in 1959 in Athens with the Dolls
It was after the Panty Raid semester, and perhaps only at the end of 1956, that I acquired a roommate to share the apartment in the brown-shingle fourplex. I think it was the semester after I first read exams for the freshman-sophomore course in Comparative Mythology. One student's essays had impressed me, as if there were one student who had gone back to take a wide-ranging course purely for pleasure having completed the requirements for a degree in, for example, English Literature. I think it was C. who introduced M. to me, explaining that her arrangement at one of the cooperative dorms, where the residents shared the chores, was not really satisfactory for her. I imagine that it was noisy and disorderly. She was (and still is) several years younger than me, but self-disciplined and considerate. We both tried to be considerate, and we managed. She was not the sort of girl who had all sorts of cosmetics (later, much later, a niece stayed with me with the horrifying use of hair spray; at art school, when we used fixative, we went outdoors to use it). We both used our own drawers for folded things and kept our skirts and dresses hung up (for the life of me, I cannot remember where, in that compact apartment, a closet was). She brought with her, besides, only a 12" replica of Willie, the Metropolitan Museum's Dyn. XII hippopotamus, her replica of one of the lovely daughters of Nefertiti, one of those in the Berlin Museum, a 12-inch "Madame Alexander" doll, beautifully dressed, and an 8-inch little-girl "Madame Alexander" doll with a boxful of clothes. This was the time when the McCall magazine and pattern company had marketed Betsy McCall, the direct ancestress of all those American Girl dolls that are sold now, as well as of Barbie. But the "Madame Alexander" dolls were fully jointed, naturally proportioned, and delicatedly detailed. They could be purchased fully clothed as storybook characters or only in underwear and shoes and socks. The best place to buy them was I. Magnin. It has a Wikipedia article now. It was a lovely place to shop, even if you only wanted a little doll, and it wasn't overpriced unless you really wanted to spend a lot. I. Magnin wouldn't carry junk, no matter how fashionable (it left that to the next generation's store, Joseph Magnin). The 8-inch dolls are still used for the Storybook series, I see, but we bought them ready to be dressed ($8) with an envelope of patterns for 8-inch dolls of such proportions (Betsy McCall patterns were too skinny).
M.'s doll was blonde. She bought me a brunette one, called Melanie (we both took Greek; M., in fact, was majoring in Greek). She taught me to take pains with the tiny details that make tiny doll clothes good: minute snaps and hooks and eyes, extra fine thread and needles, proper miniature hemstitching. This was no easier than learning to wedge clay and throw pots or to stretch and prime canvas, but fortunately the Girl Scouts had made me do a needlework merit badge and I had plenty of practical experience mending clothes; I could even darn socks. And it was a lot more fun to sit and talk or listen to music while making doll clothes than to gut and chop up chickens, not to mention turkeys. Up at the hotel in Yosemite, M. probably had worked harder than I had, but each of us had done things that the other had never thought of. And I had never seen such beautiful dolls as those 1950s Madame Alexander ones. I took a fancy to the dolls and to M.'s high standards in sewing for them. Willie the Hippopotamus and Nefertiti's daughter were placed on top of the corner loudspeaker enclosure, where the cats wouldn't (and didn't) disturb them.
Here is where the picture at the head of this post comes in. When I went to Athens in 1959 and lived in Loring Hall, the maid who was assigned to the women's quarters was Sophia, and she was only 26, a year older than I was. I had taken the Melanie doll with me, and I set her on top of the chest of drawers in my room. She enchanted Sophia. So I begged M., married by now, to get me an 8-inch doll, like her blonde one, for Sophia: I'd gladly pay the import duties on it. She not only got the doll but dressed her for Sophia (see the photo, where Sophia has put a flower beside Melanie's cheek and holds her own). Then for Easter, using pins and toothpicks for knitting needles, Sophia knit a Greek traditional dress for my doll; somewhere, I dare to hope, I still have the photo I took of the doll in it.
Now have you guessed that the student in Comparative Mythology whom I'd taken for an older woman, even influenced by her Slavic name, was in fact a young undergraduate? In fact, her ancestry was largely English, but her given name had been chosen to chime with her family name. It has been a very good, complementary friendship all these years, though just as when we were young, whenever we visit, we have to be somewhat careful. It still is easier for me (the eccentric one) to try to adjust, but I don't always do very well. We still are the same persons as we were. We do value each other. When I was in the convent in NYC and taking my first vows, it was M. who came to the ceremony. Not that she was an Anglican, either. Not all the way from California, but from one of the D.C. suburbs. It is she who has remained a close friend of C. and his wife, too. Again, we all like good music and art and books. And cats. If, 50 years later, M.'s white cat looks a little unhappy, it is because a feral, outdoor cat had bit her ear.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Date pegs; panty raid; UC Berkeley library

It was very hot in mid-May of 1956 in Berkeley. On the evening of May 16, I was sitting, on a towel, at my desk at 2308 Haste; I think I was writing a term paper. All the windows were open; all over the neighborhood all the windows were open. The sound of a crowd was heard. No street demonstration beyond an AFL strike in downtown Oakland had occurred. It was not football season, and Berkeley hadn't won much since 1950; parades were nice and well planned—for the town, mostly. But it was the sound of an unplanned crowd; one knew it from the movies. It never came into the "independent" students' realm, south of campus and largely west of Telegraph, but it was large and loud. There was no 24/7 radio or television (and I had only my little KPFA FM radio), but this was stupendous raucousness. It had crescendos and lulls. The next day, morning paper headlines and the campus Daily Californian reported the unheard-of vulgarity of a major Panty Raid. The whole Bay Area was shocked. I read, nearly in disbelief, what had happened. If I'd been advanced enough in Greek, I'd have thought of the Bacchae and been familiar with comparing it with St. Vitus' Dance (its origins). I did know vase-painting, but surely fraternity boys didn't have satyrs' tails, and satyrs had never been so cheaply fetishistic as to go after underwear (if ancient maenads had any). It was the common cheapness that shocked me, and their going into the women's dormitories where the girls hadn't parental allowances such as allowed replacing the losses of a night's hysteria. We'd believe anything, almost, of the "Greeks", but the university administration, and the city of Berkeley, would never have thought that what had begun in a few water fights, understandable in the heat, could quickly turn into common and stereotyped mob actions. It was too large and confused to pin down primary blame; some restrictions were placed on the living groups for the rest of the year, but I don't know what they were. Nothing like it happened again. The Free Speech movement and then all the other activism, while more disruptive, were quite different.
This was my last undergraduate year, and all the excitement in my life was in the way my studies were shaping up into a lifetime in history of art and, already, especially in classical archaeology. That is why I was taking Greek and, in the following Summer Session, doing a year of Latin in six weeks. I loved these languages (actually, I loved all languages) from the beginning. So far as this blog is concerned, it was largely a very routine time. I made friends and all that, but I was working in the Loan Department of the UC Library at least 20 hours per week with a full 'load' of five courses. Even the loan department was interesting, being Search Clerk for part of my time, coming in the morning to run the IBM machines, with their long files of cards, one for each book charged, to sort out the overdues with the 10-brush sorter, key punching the faculty charge cards so that they could be sorted at the end of the semester, wiring the steel plate with a few dozen short cables so that the big machine could read the prepared cards and punch in the additional information. The computing power of these machines was negligible, except that you can't neglect the importance of the job they did for us. But I've never forgotten dealing with the simple 1 and 0, contact and no contact, wire brushes reading through the punches to the metal cylinder, the absolute rudiments of digital computation in palpable, visible form. The rudiments of programming for a simple routine job with a few dozen little colored co-axial cables plugged into a steel tablet with numbered rows. At the Service Bureau Corporation in San Francisco D.S. showed a couple of us the wonderful big steel tablet they had wired up so that when you ran it, with paper rather than cards to print on, it made, out of letters and type symbols, a sort of a picture of a pin-up girl. The regular work of those machines was to print out all the accounting for companies like Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
The loan department also had pneumatic tubes to carry book requests up and down to the 8 tiers (I think it was 8, two per storey) of stacks, where pages scurried to get the books, placing the book(s), each with its IBM card in it, in a sturdy tub and clamping them into the conveyor that took them down to the desk. Only graduate students and the faculty at that time actually had access to the stacks. Each page had a number and wrote it in one corner on the IBM card before going for the book, marking NOS if it wasn't there and in that case sending it back down the pneumatic tube where more experienced student library employees (SLEs, we were) would check the circulation and then, if need be, the Missing Book files, adding his own SLE number to the page's. Some books were in special collections, locked rooms. The joy of my life, the privilege above all privileges, was being given keys to the Classics and Art History seminar rooms on the 3rd floor of the library. This happened when I began to take advanced courses, especially in Greek vases. In these rooms the most needed periodicals as well as sets of reference books and essential specialized monographs were kept together and non-circulating. Only occasionally did someone page something from the desk for use in the library reading room itself. Access to this paradise may seem privileged, but it was earned for the explicit purpose of enabling real learning by the persons who had a vocation for it (no other word will do). This is how scholars were made.
Now, apart from describing how a few things worked, like how pneumatic tubes and early IBM machines worked together, 19th and 20th century technology jointly, half a century ago, this blog is not about my studies. I might write about them elsewhere and otherwise. And it is not about my social and sexual development (unexceptional—and I will not talk about my friends and companions, anyway). As in childhood, I only want to try to record the concrete things that I remember, to see whether they can give their own kind of truthfulness about one kind of living at one particular time and place. The professors and the fellow students whom I came to know in the 1950s at UC Berkeley were exceptional, interesting, kind, learned, wise, delightful people, almost all of them, and these years I have to mourn their passing one by one. I cannot write well enough to evoke them fairly. I can only write what is within my compass.

Monday, October 5, 2009

2308 Haste Street a&ie=UTF8&gl=us&ei=uZHJSuvkOIvmM5DqqPIH&hq=&hnear=2308+Haste+St,+Berkeley,+California+94704&t=h&z=16
This is the house, still brown shingle, evidently quite unchanged. If only the link to the Street Level view works. This technology is a wonder, but anyhow you can enter 2308 Haste Street, Berkeley, CA, and you'll get the map and can select the satellite and then the street level. Only in the mildest part of the mildest climate that I know would this brown shingle of the first quarter of the 20th century still not only stand but with its original shingles.
It was divided into four apartments, and in exchange for sweeping the stairs and porch regularly and showing an apartment when one was vacated, I paid $10 less per month, $35 instead of $45. A laundromat was only two blocks away on Telegraph Ave.
I find that basic facts are hard to pin down: When did I move here from Durant Ave.? Was it when C. joined Seabees (but I think I mean Merchant Marine) that he let me have the apartment, its privilege of managing the building, and the use of much of his furniture while he was away—and let me move in immediately, while he got a room a couple of streets over till he shipped out? I remember his coming over for supper almost daily one summer: was it at this time? Was it at this time that, while I still had the apartment alone, we got three black kittens from a friend of his? I kept two, one with a Greek name, Makron, the other with a Japanese name, Kochon (Japanese being C.'s field of study; I had met both him and P., my longhand USPS lifelong correspondent in ART 1D: India, China, and Japan, in Fall, 1953, my first semester). The third went to my neighbor in the rear upstairs apartment at 2308, which he shared with his sister, and was named Richelieu for the Black Cardinal. I was taking more advanced Asian Art courses myself, and I pored over the fine, large chart of the Chinese radicals that was under glass on C.'s coffee table, which occupied the whole center of the bed-sitting room. With German, Latin, and Greek on my plate, though, I had to choose, and I did not pursue Asian languages further. In the street level view of the house in Google, that was upper left; upper right was the kitchen-study. It was delightful to sit in the corner with windows on both the west and north. I had potted African violets there, too, but I find that the only sketch I have of violets dates from the time at 2622 College Ave., so they belonged to Nati Baldeon, not to me. A student desk set perpendicular to the wall just east of the eating corner had bookcases, I think brick-and-board or apple boxes or liquor boxes (then of stout wood and quite smooth: orange crates were rough), which lined the corner walls behind the desk chair. On the narrow strip of wall between the north window and the bookcases, I had prints, about 9" X 12", of the poets Walther von der Vogelweide and Tannhäuser from the famous Minnesinger book.
The door to the apartment opened on a landing (the rear apartment's door faced it); running west of that, was a kind of wide hall or narrow room and at its end the bathroom, which did have a window. The apartment below mine was just like it, except for the position of the door. It was occupied by D.S., whom both C. and I knew from the UC Library. D. was in electrical engineering, and from him I learned the essentials of good high fidelity components (and assembling amplifiers from Heath Kits, so that they really worked) and good performances of lots of recorded music that I hadn't heard before. I didn't mind at all that he was studying French Horn. When he went to work for Service Bureau Corporation in San Francisco, a wholly owned IBM subsidiary, and worked till midnight, when I heard him come in, if he put on music I'd go down to talk and to listen.
Eventually, the rear ground floor apartment was occupied by my friend S., a fine pianist, and her first husband, J., a cantor. Her second marriage was to a gentile mathematician. It worked. They had two wonderful children, one of whom became a professional musician. I tried to visit them whenever I came to Berkeley and kept in touch even in Louisiana. Now she has died.
You will have concluded that apartments that were a pleasure to live in were never advertised; we might just pin a For Rent sign on the porch for a couple of days if no one we knew was in need of a good place with us as neighbors (lovers of Classical hi-fi and French horns preferred). Not that they were spacious apartments by present-day standards or had improved plumbing or heat except from the oven of the cooking stove or AC except by opening windows. The cooking stove was the kind on four legs, with oven and broiler high, and matches rather than pilot lights for the gas (safer, as I explained in describing the 1930s).
Best of all, my apartment was painted a rich brown, except for the ceiling. The windowless hall room was green, not pale, I'm nearly sure. And I had, from this time forward, the olive, rust, and black cotton corduroy drapes inspired by the colors of the Kabuki theater.
I think that I lived in 2308 Haste from sometime in 1955 to 1959, when in June I sailed to Europe and to Greece.
It will take me some time to find pictures that go with my first real home; this is just the period for which the box containing all my prints and negatives was trashed by my brother in law Ch. But I do have one. Someone took it with, presumably, a Brownie Hawkeye, or the like. It shows me holding my very new first nephew, B. III, when my sister Lorna and her Bill brought him to show my mother; it was taken at my mother's place, and this was the only time I was there, so I can only say that it was somewhere in the Berkeley flatlands.

Aunt Pat with Bill III, about six weeks old.