Friday, August 28, 2009

Sister's Wedding; Kittredge Street rooms

Self at Grandparents', San Luis Obispo, still Undergraduate
Having just reported, indirectly, that my sister and her Bill were married in 1954 and in that year were working at San Pablo Poultry, now seems the right time to report on movements in 1954-1955. I cannot remember whether I moved to Kittredge Street (between Shattuck Ave. and Fulton Street, into a curious two part, two storey house then next to—i.e., on the north side of the street—a United Artists movie theater) from 2622 College first or quit work at the poultry market first. The fixed points are that I entered UC Berkeley in the Spring of 1954 and that Lorna and Bill were married on December 1, 1954 and, shortly after their marriage, they too got a room in the building on Kittredge. Some time in 1955 that building was demolished to make way for a parking lot. Today, it seems from the Google map, the United Artists movie theater has been replaced by a Great China Restaurant, at 2115 Kittredge St., and there seems to be surface excavation where most of the parking lot was. The two part, two storey house , probably beginning of 20th century, had a corridor down the depth of each half of it on each floor, and the halves were joined by transverse halls about halfway from front to back, on which, as I recall, the shared baths and toilets also were located. I took a room just north of the transverse hall on the upper floor, and my friend Nancy took one nearer to the front, but just south of the transverse connecting hall, both of us in the western half. The structure can never have been anything but a rooming house.  Lorna and Bill took a room (or two rooms I think) at the rear, north end of the eastern half. Somehow, Lorna set up housekeeping and did her laundry; there were, I do recall, pulley lines running from an upper-floor porch or window. I think that Lorna and Bill found an alternative dwelling, with a bit more privacy, before I left Kittredge. I didn't leave until days before they began razing it. One night, in the course of its demolition, I could look, from Fulton Street as we walked past, into the building that had only the west wall standing and see the dark rose plaster of my room; I went and climbed over debris and got as a souvenir a hunk of the rose-colored plaster: the months at Kittredge Street had been personally momentous, and I fancied having something to keep. Each of us, for $5 power surcharge per month, had a hot plate in the corner by the wash basin in our room (but there must have been stationary tubs somewhere, either in the room with a bath or at the back, because Lorna did do real laundry). I joined the ranks of all the bohemian young women who had learned to cook, rather well, on a hot plate that hadn't even a heat control. Dishes were drained on a terrycloth towel on the same table as I, or we, by turns ate and drew and studied at. The rug was old, the furniture was large, heavy, and old, the walls (as I said) were a deep dusty rose; the ceilings were high, the windows tall. I remember now: there was a newer block-shaped building, unless it was a side-rear extension of the theater, between my windows and the theater (one doesn't forget the daily serenade of French horn and trumpet lessons; it all comes back, when, in memory, I look through the ecru machine lace curtains). It was perfect. It was everything that Mrs. Puerta's house was not. It was perfect for me, and for a while. It must have been hard on Lorna, but neither of us stayed there a long time. It afforded David and me an ideal, an idealized, romantic first love, a perfect atmosphere. The film, based on Jean Cocteau's Enfants Terribles, in English called The Strange Ones, with the 4-piano recording of Bach's 4-harpsichord version of Vivaldi's 4-violins concerto running through its soundtrack had been distributed by then, but I don't know whether we'd seen it yet. That kind of atmosphere. Besides David's being gay, we both were still adolescents, and I, for my part, was ready for loving but not for an adult relationship. It was quite consistent with going after that hunk of plaster as Nancy and I went back to Durant (see next posting) from, as I recall, what we called 'sinning', which meant hot fudge sundaes at Edy's on Shattuck, 'Sinning' because it was real hot fudge on real ice cream topped with real whipped cream and chopped nuts.
Through it all, my friend Nancy tried to find a job that was not like working in a cannery or a poultry market and wasn't too repetitious, since she was trying to free herself from parental control. I saw that living on a thin shoestring, so to speak, and knowing that I was responsible, and I alone, for every choice that I made was glorious freedom. And so it is, provided only one is young and in good health and has some reason for a modicum of prudence. Through it all, Lorna was a good young wife, steady as can be.
At this period, my mother had joined Trinity Methodist Church in Berkeley. Lorna, at least, went with her. As the holidays approached, the church asked families to invite young air force men from Parks Air Force Base to their homes. My mother (armed, of course, with a San Pablo Poultry turkey) invited four. One of them was my future brother in law, Bill. This was (necessarily, I calculate) Christmas 1953. Eleven months later they were married in the small chapel of Trinity Methodist, a rather nice neo-Gothic church near the UC campus and downtown. It was, in my opinion, as most weddings ought to be, nice, very nice, but not expensive. It was almost like a movie. My grandfather, driving back to the house to bring the bride to the church, could not find his way back to the house, and the ceremony was delayed more than an hour. Both the bride's dress and the bridesmaids' dresses were home made, Lorna's white and her high school classmates' yellow with the maid of honor a sort of rust color. All of them looked really pretty. Lorna's dress, just as in a story, barely got hemmed in time. Bill, of course, had his dress uniform. Lorna reminded me the other evening on the phone that she had pled with me to be her maid of honor, and I had refused. I had forgotten that. I see now, in retrospect, that taking 18 credit hours at UC Berkeley and working 20 hours per week, and having no spare money at all (also, no access to a sewing machine and no great skill in sewing, apart from handwork), I couldn't have done it . I did love her wedding, though, more than if I'd been in it. I always have tended to be a spectator. I never had been to a wedding before, either. And mercifully nothing catastrophic happened to ruin it for them. Lorna told me on the phone that she still has her dress.
So there we were. I'd had three semesters in art school and was completing my second semester at UCB; I had almost decided to change from a Painting major or an Art History major (it was still simply Art with History or Studio concentration at Berkeley then, but it was in College of Letters and Sciences with its requirements, either way). I had considered majoring in French; it was my eagerness to continue French that contributed to my leaving CCAC for the University, but Art History was winning the day, and the first courses I took at the university were those that CCAC did not offer: Classical Antiquity and Far Eastern, then numbered Art 1A and Art 1D. So it was in the course of my residence on Kittredge Street that my professional future also proved to have been decided for me. I never have regretted it. I can hardly imagine not having studied Greek, which had attracted me ever since the Gideon Society pamphlet had shown me all those languages.
I think that the snapshot by my grandfather that I placed at the head of this posting dates from about this time.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cado Flo-master; San Pablo Poultry Co.; CCAC; 2622 College Ave.

The author and a customer of the poultry market
We bought our sharp-pointed, felt-tipped, valved Cado Flo-Master pens and their ink at the supply store of the art school, California College of Arts and Crafts, to which I had won a scholarship on graduating from high school in January, 1952, and where I studied and loved life for three semesters. Shortly after entering CCAC, I left my mother's house at 1623 Kains Avenue with what I could take with me in two suitcases and moved into a room, shared kitchen and bathroom, room shared with another girl, too, at 2622 College Avenue. I could do this because, after briefly working in the art school library, I had found a job at San Pablo Poultry Co. on San Pablo Avenue, just north of Dwight Way, in Berkeley, so I had an income that couldn't get sucked up by the family household, where nothing was going to get better. And coming back to get some other things, such as books and memorabilia and other clothing, my employers helped me by coming with the pick-up truck. My mother, hopefully I thought then, assured me I'd be back in six months pregnant, something I hardly knew how to do, having never even kissed with a boy or dated at all. But fem lit had informed her as to what mothers were expected to say. The shared kitchen at 2622, an approved house for off-campus living at UC Berkeley, was truly approvable: persons of the male sex could visit only in the kitchen, which had a great round table, and only until 10pm. The landlady, Mrs. Puerta, was assiduous in maintaining the approved status of her ground floor; she had the upper floor for herself. Around that table, student nurses, student athletes (girls), girls who just roomed in this house, and one art student, me, from CCAC came with our friends and shared a lot of our lives. So my new friends, such as Nati Baldeon, a nurse from Peru, and my fellow art students, especially David and Burt, mingled surprisingly. My art school friends, as I'd only begun to grasp and to realize, were gay. The first San Pablo Poultry sketches, a job that made me nearly as peculiar as my gay fellow students may have seemed, all except the first two used here (the poultry job lasted longer than the 2622 residence), were all done in the space of an hour, to illustrate my account of San Pablo Poultry; the self portrait was done shortly before I got a job in the Loan Department of the UC library instead. The sketchbook was made from a large package of pre-punched unruled binder paper, ordinary school and college paper, placed between the stiff fiberboard covers of a binder made to hold, say, all the notes for a given course or all the drafts of one's first Masterpiece, say, and it was much cheaper than any manufactured sketchbook. Since the common paper has survived quite well for more than half a century, it was a good choice. The Cado Flo-Master was the favorite tool for the discipline of sketching directly. We didn't know that the ink was full of lead (which I just learned from Wiki) much less that in the 1960s and 1970s there'd be gangs that would used the largest, broadest Flo-Masters to write all over subway trains, plate-glass windows, buses, and anything else that afforded a visible surface, for that ink truly is indelible and truly does write on everything. It was great for marking boxes on moving day, for example. Sharpies after an interval replaced it, but are not so good for sketching.
If I had any photos of this period, I'd use them, but I had no camera and for the time being could not have afforded film and processing. Anyhow, the sketches, all done before I was 20, are as good as I'll ever do. That is background sufficient to show that the items in the odd heading of this post really do all go together.

Two sketches of Dolores, Mrs. Bertoni's daughter, who at work always wrapped her hair this way.
It occurs to me that it has been years since I saw poultry sold this way, brought live down from Petaluma, slaughtered, scalded, and plucked (on a rotating drum covered with rubber fingers) at the back end of the long building, one cageful at a time, wheeled into the walk-in refrigerator on a strong metal cart (see at right behind Dolores, where it is indicated), where it hung on hooks. The butcher-paper wrapping of the heads concealed the slit for bleeding as well as the head. The poultry was gutted only when sold, except for the stock that was ready-cut to be sold as parts. This is not to say that the parts were stale; stale skin looks stale, and good poultry was not kept "fresh" by packing in ice or otherwise keeping it wet. Our retail customers knew their poultry, especially (but not only) those who were African-American, about half of them. But parts were usually a day deader than the whole chickens. The price per pound of course considerd the weight of the extremities and guts. As in Sicily, so in Berkeley, the canneries whose products included soup and sauces knew the value of feet and combs; these parts were accumulated in a clean garbage can separate from the guts and lungs and small reproductive parts. A favorite stunt of fraternities, nonetheless, was to send freshman pledges to ask for (and they made them ask the youngest girls behind the counter) a fowl's penis (we did have some ducks as well as the chicken and turkeys): this was before Nature photography had shown what birds in fact do to make fertile eggs, and we just said we were busy but they could come and look through the innards till they found some. My little sister, red-haired and all of sixteen when she came to join me working there, took special pleasure, I think, in saying this to silly frat boys. I assure you the place was clean and proper, and everything was scrubbed and sanitized on a schedule. Just cleaning up daily at closing time was a major job for everyone. Easter, with cages full of little yellow chicks and ducklings, requiring regular vigilance to remove those that didn't make it, was a real pain, and I didn't like the 1954 addition of a fish counter. Brief but nasty was hunting season. Standard Oil had lots of land for the Rod and Gun Club to go out duck hunting, even mud hens (than which there is nothing nastier to clean, that I know of). These great hunters of course were not brave enough to pluck and gut what they shot, but brought them to us in gunny sacks. After hours, so as to clean up the blocks afterward, we stayed and saw to them. Nastier still was self-sustainers who raised pigeons but were too lily livered to wring their necks themselves. Ah, well, that wasn't every day.

Why do I think of chickens whenever I see an eagle on money? Actually, to this day I am fond of chickens and turkeys.
The first sketch shows Don B. selling a turkey, the next his mother (I think—or was it my sister, since the Bertonis wore smocks, and we wore aprons) selling a fryer; the third is a fricasee chicken (big adult white Leghorn rooster that wants a lot of stewing) hanging in the walk-in, and the last shows one of us carrying a couple of restaurant-size tom turkeys back to the walk in.
These sketches are no masterpieces but I thought some of you might like them; they are vivid and they are true. And now you know what a Cado Flo-Master is.
Our wage was just a dollar an hour, but we got a lot of chicken and eggs for free.
P.S. After posting this, I thought I'd check on my old job.  I found a web site named Yelp and a photo of San Pablo Poultry basically unchanged and notes from customers, mixed, partly reflecting the personalities of the customers.  The "old man" sold a wide variety of specialty meats, an adaptation to survive in today's marketing (but I remember kids and lambs for Easter even in the early 50s).  On the phone with my sister, who had continued working there later than I did, together with her husband, then and now, I learned that the "old man" said to be "eccentric", who was running the place alone, was indeed, as I suspected, Donald Bertoni (sketched, above,  in his twenties, pointing to the good qualities of a turkey).  On a trip to the Bay Area, my sister and brother in law had stopped by the store, to check in as I would have done had I not at that time been living far away.  And there was Don, who also took them out to dinner.  I wish I knew who now would remember them, so I could direct them to this posting.  A customer just last year reported coming by and seeing the store closed and empty, evidently permanently.  I guess Don, who must have been in his 80s, is dead.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Each Apathetic Generation?

Author at Bells console, Nov. 1961

It may seem habit forming to let some book or person from each weekend's BookTV (C-Span 2) prompt another topic for a posting. Certainly this weekend the 35th anniversary of Pres. Nixon's resignation seemed too much like just yesterday to inspire me. It was the much less well understood execution of the Rosenbergs and other events in the 1950s related to politics affecting my parents' generation, and my reaction, apparently, to them that a re-run of the program with the son and granddaughter of the Rosenbergs brought back to me.
The truth, which, as such, I remember perfectly well, was that I'd see a picture of, say, Robert Oppenheimer or the Rosenburgs or someone testifying before the House Committee, and usually turn away from reading about it. Or I'd read only the caption and feel some sort of distress. It wasn't that I was attracted to Soviet Communism or to Marx, both of which stood condemned by their own prose. Indeed, to this day, I have not read more than a page or two of Marx (and about the same amount of Mein Kampf). It wasn't that I thought that the Rosenbergs were innocent. It was that I thought I had no way of knowing. But I was deeply distressed by the charges brought against Oppenheimer, and the commemorations this week of his brother's creation of the Exploratorium in the Palace of Fine Arts, piled on top of American Prometheus two years ago, brought my own political inertia of my youth back to me. I was just a little too young to have been directly affected by the university's loss of a number of professors who refused to sign the Loyalty Oath, but among my teachers I constantly perceived that splits among them were related, in some cases (and I did not know which), to the crisis of the Oath. I would not ask anyone, either. It had happened that a fellow student who liked the bells in Sather Tower, the Campanile, had taken me up to see them played. These were the original ring of 12 bells, from C to E' with an F-sharp and a B-flat (so that one had a whole octave only in C, severely limiting the tunes that could be played). They were not a carrillon, nor were they an English ring with ropes for playing changes. That is, they were such bells, but they were played with oaken levers rigged with pulleys to bring the clapper against the wall of the bell. Thus they required energy and some strength but only very basic musicianship. In the event, I was taught to play them (there seems always to have been one or two students) and take my turn in going up the tower to the enclosure where the console of levers was housed. The bells were always played by a person, live, at 7:50 in the morning, at 12:00 noon, and at 6:00 pm. For the hours when the tower was closed to the public, and there was no elevator operator, one had to have the keys to the door at the base of the tower and to the enclosure of the console. To be issued such keys, one had to be put on payroll, receiving an hour's minimum wage for each time one played the bells, and to be employed by the university one had to sign the Loyalty Oath. On the form printed for that purpose was a list of organizations deemed Communist, besides the disclaimer that one had ever been or was a member of the Party itself. Most of these were from the 30s and 40s, such as the Lincoln Brigade; most of them I'd never heard of and could not recall now, if I had to. Certainly I'd belonged to none of them and could sign with confidence. But I knew that some people had been hurt, or their friends had been hurt, professionally, by that Oath, and I felt bad about signing it, even if only to have a key to go up and make a joyful noise on tons of bells audible in dry weather for a mile all around. As for the money earned, it became my mad money, money that could be, that should be (I told myself) spent on books and phonograph records.
I do not know how many others of my age cohort were haunted by inexplicable guilt (feelings only, since one never did anything or joined anything) and political paralysis. I simply could not think that someone who had been anti-Franco in the 1930s had to be a closeted Communist, or indeed that someone who had been a fashionable Communist in his or her youth had to be one in his or her middle age. That would be thinking like my mother, and, it seemed to me, the impulses that governed my mother would not pass muster as thought—even apart from her pill addictions. The first time I could vote I voted for Adlai Stevenson. To have voted, as my father would have done, for Henry Wallace would have worried me. Adlai Stevenson seemed just right, and everyone I knew also was voting for him. Thus, my first political lesson at the university was that whatever we believed, or even hoped we could believe, would be voted down by the others.
But what to make of students in their twenties who would not read political opinion, even in the daily papers? Who did not listen to any radio newscast? Who did not have television and didn't mind not having it? Who did not believe, except with serious reservations, anything that they read? Who thought, or at least boldly said, that one's ethics could go no further than to try to avoid hurting others, since trying to effect good was morally dangerous?
And yet I do believe that it was blind and stupid for Time in particular and then journalists in general to call those of us just old enough to remember Pearl Harbor, and too mindful of the economic constraints of the 1930s and the rationing of the War years to regard living off the margin of an affluent society as anything better than lack of pride, the Apathetic Generation. Confused we surely were, by the atomic bomb, by the Berlin Wall, by being forbidden to visit, e.g., Hungary, by the atomic energy signs on all the sturdy building which were supposed to afford shelter, confused in short by the rhetoric of the Cold War, and saddened by the quick loss of all the hope that to us eleven and twelve year olds the UN charter had engendered (for children of that age really can believe and hope) and the sudden reversal from Russia as an ally to Russia as an enemy (as if we really knew anything about Russia except for Tchaikovsky). Politically paralyzed, perhaps, if that isn't too strong a word.
If the Rosenbergs had been simply imprisoned, as some leading Nazi were, it would have been less troubling, but because they received the death penalty, both of them, and were executed, I never have been able to forget my great uncertainty about them. And with them I have never been able to be sure about condemning anyone else, quite, though the criminally insane certainly must be imprisoned. Or condemning, or condoning, my own worst shortcomings, such as regards housekeeping or dislike of cocktail parties.
Furthermore, I have never been certain whether my own withdrawal from political opinions in my youth is typical of youth, of a need to isolate oneself a bit for a while so as to grow up as well as one can, or peculiar to me and my family. I have noticed that my last students, generations x and y, were more like me at their age than they'd have thought by looking at me now.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Works that helped to form me

I just heard a good interview with Eva Brann in her home in Anapolis. I thought I'd write an entry here on work that has impressed me by persons either of my own parents' generation or, at the youngest, about my own age: Prof. Brann, born in 1929, is only five years older. I'll get my thoughts together and come back to this as soon as possible.
August 4:
The work of Prof. Brann that I've known is the one that she more or less dismissed, the volume on Geometric and Orientalizing (she wouldn't call it Proto-Attic) pottery from the Athenian Agora. It is, as she admitted, a beautiful publication. It was, however, other books, more in the tradition of her later ones, that her interview made me remember.
None of these were assigned textbooks, though one named "An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis" (as I recall) I liked very much, but the author of the current one doesn't ring a bell. Likewise Stephen Pepper's introduction to aesthetics, though it also worried me on some scores.
An evolved newsstand, with clocks showing times around the world over its display of newspapers from around the world, was at the SW corner of Durant and Telegraph; it was called UC Corner. From newspapers and weekly and monthly periodicals (how to learn French: Paris Match), including the Little Magazines, also carried Penguins, color coded conveniently. If an undergraduate didn't know whether an author was Greek or Roman, just look to see whether he was brown or purple. Eventually I owned a hundred or so Penguins of every hue.
But just as I went up to Berkeley (UC is literally up College Avenue from the College of Arts and Crafts) American publishers began their proliferation of quality paperbacks. And UC Corner continued to shelve them by publisher (and persisted in doing so); I wish everyone did. Doubleday, which had been the purveyor of bodice busters to my mother's Dollar Book Club, became my wonderful Doubleday Anchor (or, if religious, Image). Harcourt Brace produced Harvest Books. So The Common Reader was the first Virginia Woolf I read, and the book I nearly memorized, Erich Auerbach's Mimesis, as well as Huizinga's Waning of the Middle Ages, Geoffrey Scott's Architecture of Humanism, and Elizabeth Holt's Documentary History of Art, all were Anchor Books, and so was Panofsky's Meaning in the Visual Arts, whose final essay jolted me into thinking of our own universities relative to Europe's. I think that Lionel Trilling's The Liberal Imagination was Anchor, too. Harper Torchbooks brought me Panofsky's Studies in Iconology and Ernst Robert Curtius' European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Second only to Auerbach, Curtius was really formative. This book and Trilling's have been hard to hold onto, and I no longer have the copies I first purchased. They got 'borrowed'. What I want to report, by the way, is that the more than a dozen Anchor books from the 1950s, all more than a half century old, which have been moved and stored and shipped and shelved without much dusting and read over and over, are all intact and their paper almost white—and they weren't even sewn. The Penguins also have lost no pages, but to say that the paper is yellowed is an understatement. Another book of that period that I loved and still enjoy was eventually in paperback, but I read it, checking it out repeatedly, from two university libraries, Berkeley's and Eugene, Oregon's, was Jean Seznec's The Survival of the Pagan Gods. Like the other Torchbooks, it originally was Bollingen; not all Bollingen is Jungian, but all were beautifully published.
Neither paperback nor from those imprints was Hans Reichenbach's The Rise of Scientific Philosophy, then only a couple of years old, published by UC Press. He was UCLA, rather than Berkeley, and he died just as I transferred from art school to university, but he wrote like a born and practiced teacher; in this regard, think of UCLA's Eugen Weber in the justly famous PBS series.
Thus, between Berkeley's core curriculum and the curriculum offered by my favorite publishers in the Telegraph Avenue curriculum offered by UC Corner and the other bookstores on the Avenue and on Bancroft Way, you have the education of what those who were under 30 in the late 1960s called a 'wishy-washy liberal', rendered immune to both the radical left (available at a Maoist book shop on Bancroft Way and the Daily Worker on the corner newsstands—the only 'safe' place for it, since it suffered in comparison with even the Berkeley Gazette, let alone the SF Chronicle) and the radical right (readily available in Oakland and in most of the suburbs over the hills). Personally, I was shocked by the youngsters of about 1965 and later, because even when they liked and supported what I'd have thought were right things it was for the wrong reasons, I thought, and often in wrong ways, by publicly pressuring those who were, I feared, ineducable but likely to get hopping mad. Journalistic dismissal of the determinedly open-minded freethinkers as an 'apathetic generation' likewise seemed thoughtless, sometimes dishonest, perhaps dangerous to real liberality.
The question is, was mine the last cohort to be formed by those whose humanity had survived the pain and confusion of both world wars? By American universities richly salted by Berlin and Vienna, in aesthetics as well as every branch of philosophy? Because, there sat Eva Brann, in her last years of teaching at St. John's, Berlin born, talking just like some of the books I had read when we both were young.