Thursday, February 25, 2010

1965-6 A year in the house at 2408 Atherton Street

My grandmother, in front of 684 Church in San Luis Obispo, Xmas 1966 by my newly acquired car.

Left: 2408 Atherton (note column); Right: on UC Campus with Lorna's family
Atherton Street in Berkeley, CA, is only a block long, numbered in the 2400s, running N-S from Channing Way to Haste, with Fulton Street to its west and Ellsworth St. to its east—in other words within a block or two of other addresses I'd had on Haste. But 2408 Atherton, though it looked out east on the child development lab opposite it on Atherton, was back to back to 2407 Fulton St., only about 100 feet separating them, and, as you can learn from a search (, that was the headquarters of the Vietnam Day Committee, as I would learn very forcibly in March of 1966. In Eugene, OR, the university was much opposed to the war; the male students were being drafted unless their grades were high, and the student body as a whole objected to it, but the UO campus was still at the stage of protest that camped out on the lawn of the student union to dramatize the plight of migrant farm workers, using backyard play tents to sit in, though these weren't of much use when it rained, as it does twice as often in the Willamette Valley of Oregon as in the San Francisco Bay area of California. And I, in any case, was not then and never became an active public participant in defending or protesting anything. I said, it is likely to be counter-productive, by scaring people in general (which is true, but also I would not for anything have endangered my newly won academic position or disappointed everyone who had helped me). I had never heard of the Vietnam Day Committee and, without a television set or an FM radio, and disinclined to read the Eugene Register-Guard very much, I did not know how large a demonstration they had organized shortly before in Berkeley.
I had the lefthand half of the ground floor of a very nice old house, c. 1910, still today in fine condition.

Google Earth, last year, shows it light gray, newly painted, instead of light tan. And the picture of myself in my bright orange favorite dress, at the top of this post, shows the column on its porch.

It was an eventful year. I was teaching and working on Corinthian vase-painting. My sister Lorna and family en route again to the Northwest as civilians spent a day with me and somehow we had arranged to have my brother's two children with us as well. I was seeing my niece, Debby, for the first time. See the pictures in an earlier posting and the one at the top of this post. I found a nice 1963 red Beetle for sale by a German graduate student living in the same block of Atherton; he had brought it across but would not take it back. In Berkeley there was a driving school that would instruct four gear, manual shift VW driving, with defensive driving as part of it, and how to hold the car from rolling backward, using the clutch, on San Francisco and Berkeley hills, and how to deal with the bridges at rush hour, and much more. By Christmas I was confident enough to drive to San Luis Obispo and impress the grandparents. I was so enthused about knowing how to drive that I made my little sister, Linda, the gift of the course of lessons, and she learned to drive, too, though not in a Beetle. This was just weeks before my brother's life and his family fell apart (which is not for me to describe here). It was just a couple of years before that terrible year, 1968. I had a season ticket that Fall to the San Francisco Opera, something I'd never had before. One of my favorite Oregon students, Viv, was now at Berkeley, too, and I made the acquaintance of her wonderful Border Collie, named Ami. As I said in the last post, I read a lot, anything I pleased. Without anything like wealth, I had some money to spare.
And yet it was also the year of my brother's calamity, and on Good Friday, as if out of a clear blue sky, late in the evening when I was reading my way through one of the books of the Moncrieff translation of Proust, suddenly there was a terrible explosion: window glass was blown in and fell on my row of LP records (mercifully, tightly packed so that only the edges of the cardboard sleeves were hurt), plaster fell from ceilings and here and there from walls, the back door, which was locked, was blown off its hinges, and (as it turned out) such damage extended as much as a mile. But 'my' house took the brunt of it. The Berkeley police and fire department were quick to arrive, and the gas was turned off in case there were breaks that might cause fires. I called the owners, who lived in one of the communities east of Oakland, San Leandro or Hayward, I think, and they came as quickly as they could carrying with them their small children in their pajamas. They photographed everything for insurance, and I begged them to have plasterers replace the coved ceilings, which in the event they did, since the insurance covered it and I was willing to put up with plastering in progress. I would not leave my place wide open, lacking half the windows and the back door, so I called Viv, and Viv brought Ami, with whom we both felt utterly safe (and rightly so). Within a week the police and the FBI had identified the perpetrators, who were right-wing persons from San Jose. Already, I finally realized, the newspapers' and even Time magazine's coverage of Berkeley (as later of Columbia University in New York) had convinced some of the easily alarmed and aroused general public that UC Berkeley, our idyllic ivory tower where one studied vase-painting or Pindar or Sir Philip Sydney or Romanesque architecture (Viv's subject) hardly aware of a rougher, tougher world, blissfully lost in the subtleties of Proust or the author of your choice, was not what it was, liberal to be sure, unwilling to judge or be judged, but some hotbed of Communism. Of course, the slogans of activists did endanger the ivory tower image of a good university. Not that we intended to live off the labor of those tougher than ourselves; we knew that we were preparing to go out and teach languages and arts and sciences, which certainly is work, but that we needed no more excitement than our studies (and the beautiful weather of the bay area) gave us, and had no desire to dictate to those who, alas, could not enjoy what we enjoyed. In short, throughout the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s though there was plenty to worry about, my friends and I all had concentrated on treasuring what we'd hate to lose, tranquillity, thought, beauty. The Golden Rule covered ethics. When I stop to think, I wonder whether in part we were numbed by helplessness: what could one do about a bomb or about those who made them? But (here I generalize) the children born after the War were undaunted and were sure that protesting could work. Yet protesting had never made older parents consent to our staying up or staying out late at night. I thought, and I still think, that convincing friends who would listen was the only way to change anyone's mind, and even that probably wouldn't work: you'd never know. I never thought I could stop war in SE Asia, but I could give tutoring to help students who needed it to get grades to avoid being drafted. Be that as it may, the group from San Jose planted a bomb under the rear of the Vietnam Day Committee headquarters and shocked a whole square mile out of their idyllic way of life. Not that it made me more an activist, if anything less so, had that been possible, though I understood how others felt. Another thing happened that year and in that place: one evening at dusk when I ran half a block up to the corner to mail a letter to my grandparents, not locking the door after me, in the five minutes that I was gone someone came in and took some of my best clothes. When I came in I was surprised that the door was hanging open, which I thought had latched behind me, but when I saw the back door open, too, and some drawers half open, I was alarmed, even afraid that I was not alone, but I called the Berkeley police, who came immediately and listed what was missing. I said, of course I didn't expect to recover them, but I wanted to report that such things were happening. No, never before had persons just been hanging around where one lived ready to barge in and grab what they could. It had never happened to me before. Thenceforward, I locked doors, even in the peace of early evening, even for five minutes.