In the spring of that year a new cycle (quarter) of classes started. I went to school all year long, even in the summer. By then I was taking the advanced level Journalism courses.
I took many pictures at that time. Once I wondered into the Veterinary Medicine building and at that very minute an operation called a cesarean section (C-section) was being performed on a Holstein cow. The cow was brought to the University that day because it was unable to deliver her calf normally. The owner was in the room also. He was wearing overalls and had mud on his boots.
Later, a doctor who was a professor, and who was the person who directed the operation called the Journalism school. One of the teachers asked if the person in their taking pictures was me. They said the doctor wanted me to go to his office, and explain my presence. I went. He was a diligent man who was concerned because the floor wasn’t clean. He wanted to see the photographs. I was directed to show them to him. Also, he was upset that I didn’t say who I was. I apologized and said I was an undergraduate student trying to get some grades. That put him at ease.
The photographs were a black and white sequence of the whole operation. After it was over I left without saying a word. The best single photograph in that series was one where several people with masks, coats, and rubber gloves were hauling the calf out of the side of the cow. Everybody was bunched together with a singular purpose. One person who was helping in the foreground of the picture had an upturned empty hand that couldn’t grab onto anything. The hand was in the light against a black background. Never was somebody’s hand so willing to help. I handed the whole thing into the Lantern “city desk” as a possible “photo page”. It appeared several days later.
In one course on main campus about Elizabethan plays I always sat next to a Journalism student who at first I did not know, but I recognized her as one of the mainstream journalism people. I always sat next to her because we had certain camaraderie. We were the only Journalism students in the class far from the Journalism building. The day the C-section photographs appeared in the paper. She asked me how I thought it came out. I said it was very nice, but I asked her what happened to the hand. The photograph was displayed in such a way that the hand was not included. She asked what hand? I told her. She groaned and said they worked on it for a long time. She said I should have been there. It was nice of her to say that, but I knew when they put the paper together there was no other opinion allowed but the staff’s in order to minimize confusion. It had to be done quickly.
Soon after that I handed in several photographs and a small amount of words that was titled “Backwoods Ohio”. It showed old barns, corncribs, old tractors, cats sleeping on woodpiles, and an outgrown pony. The page appeared without changes.
I went to the University of California at Berkley that summer. The administration of that university said a person didn’t have to be enrolled there to take summer classes. I wrote the people in charge of the GI Bill, and they agreed to pay my tuition. My only expense would be a room, food, and travel. I knew someone from Cincinnati who went to that school. She was renting a big house with several friends on Benvenue Avenue near the University. It had a guest room. I stayed there until I found a place of my own.
I had never driven across the country, and I was looking forward to that as much as anything. I left a week early so I could take my time getting there.
My first overnight stop happened when I had a wreck in St. Louis, Missouri. I exited off the expressway, and the accident resulted when I moved to an inside lane. I was going to turn into a gas station to ask directions. It was during the hour when everyone was trying to hurry up and get home. The person in the other car couldn’t stop in time when I changed lanes, and his car collided into the rear driver side corner of my car. The impact spun my car around across the oncoming lanes. Fortunately, there were no cars coming the other way. They were at a stop light a short distance down the road.
A policeman came and wrote up the accident report. He didn’t give either of us a ticket. He said he didn’t know who was at fault, and he said that is why there are insurance companies.
The person at the gas station said I could sleep in my car. The next day I worked on the car from dawn until the middle of the afternoon. I had most of the tools I needed to fix the car, but the person at the gas station had whatever additional tools or help I needed.
The day after the accident I called the person whose car collided with mine. He gave me the telephone number of his insurance agent, but he told me not to call. He said they might come and get me. I only had liability insurance so I had to handle this myself. The insurance agent seemed to know all about the accident. I asked him what he wanted to do. He didn’t say anything. I said I would fix my car, and he could fix his. He replied, “That is not the way it works”. Apparently, his idea was that he wasn’t going to discuss it with me so the telephone call ended.
A year later I got a letter saying that Missouri and Ohio had a “reciprocity” agreement and if I didn’t appear in court in St. Louis on such and such a day Ohio would suspend my drivers license. When I got the letter I was out of school. Two friends from work and me drove to St. Louis so I could have my day in court. It was hot outside. We had all the windows rolled down in the car.
In court the lawyer representing the insurance company wouldn’t let the other guy answer any of the questions I asked him, but when I got up there they let me say what happened. I told them I was on my way to California and I exited in St. Louis because I wanted to go to Gaslight Square. Little did I know that Gaslight Square had been razed. All kinds of unsavory people passing through town went there. To me it was a place I remembered from years before when I worked on the racetrack in Collinsville across the river. The other groom and me went there one time. I was too young to go inside any of the places. The street was narrow and it was full of people walking in both directions. There were many colored lights. One bar had someone out front in a Panama hat with a cane trying to interest anyone to go inside.
That was the Gaslight Square I remembered. The second time I was old enough to go inside. I never got there, and later I heard the whole area had been torn down.
When I was in court and I said why I was in St. Louis I wondered why the person who collided with me tried to contain his amusement. The lawyer with him in the courtroom wouldn’t let him talk with me, or even respond to a simple question about how he was doing.
I told the judge that I called the insurance agent, and that his exact words were, “that is not the way it works.” After the court session ended the judge told us to try once more to make a settlement. I went up to the lawyer and said, I fixed my car; he could fix his. He was looking over my shoulder at the judge. He didn’t say anything. It was just like before.
Several weeks later I got a letter from the court saying the judge ruled in the other guys favor, and that I had to pay the insurance company the six hundred dollars they spent fixing the other car. I noticed that I had five days to appeal starting whenthe decision was made. It was mailed on a Friday so the weekend was two of the five days. I called the judge to ask him why, if the police could not attribute any fault, was he able to and he said, “I call them like I see them.” I politely terminated the call without bring to his attention that he didn’t see anything. He heard about what happened. That was the way it worked.
After the wreck I took the shroud off the radiator at the gas station. The radiator was in the rear of the car. When I was in Kansas the next day the motor over heated and all the water blew out. I had my trusty Boy Scout two-quart canteen with me. I stood between my car and the road and dangled it by the shoulder strap to indicate I needed water. After awhile someone stopped with a big jug of water. I was pushing the motor to hard when it overheated. I didn’t go so fast when I got started again, and it didn’t over heat anymore.
Things started to look different in a big way once I got to Colorado. The vegetation became thinner and less green. I often slept in my car in a place beside the road where other people were sleeping in their camper or truck. It wasn’t the most comfortable place in the world, but it worked as an inexpensive place to sleep that was not far from the highway.
The road wasn’t the main East-West turnpike, but it was a major two-lane highway that more or less went parallel to the turnpike. The morning sun shown on cliffs that were far off in the distance. I could see them through the windshield off to the right. They were reddish-brown and were striking the way they appeared in the sunlight.
There was a gravel road that went off to the right. It was just beyond a hillside along the highway. I saw it at the last possible second and pushed down hard on the break pedal. The gravel road wrapped around the hill and went off into the distance until it disappeared behind another hill. Utility poles marked where the highway went. I could not see the road surface from where I was.
I stopped on the right side of the gravel road, opened my car door, put my feet out on the road, and sat there looking at the cliffs. On the highway a car or truck occasionally went past at a high rate of speed.
Right away another car pulls off the highway and stops a short distance behind me on the left side of the road. Four adult people are inside. I sit there looking at the cliffs. I didn’t hear their car on the highway. They must have been traveling behind me and turned after they saw me turn. Their car has out of state license plates. I raise my hand to say hello and none of them make any response. They are close enough that I can see two people in the front seat talking back and forth. They look at me. There is a chance they are planning on ruining my day. The only other earthly reason for them stopping in such a lonely place is to urinate, but if that is what they intended why don’t they go further down the road where they will have some privacy.
I decide they aren’t friendly. I lean back into my car hopping they are watching and pretend to get a gun out of my glove box, and tuck it in my belt behind me. I want them to think I have a gun and that if they try anything a lot of us are going to die.
I get out of my car to get the tripod in the trunk. I am wearing a loose shirt that hangs down over my waist. I walk across the road and, set up my camera. When I am standing up it is impossible to tell if I have a gun or not, but when I am bent over looking through the camera I am careful not to let them see my back. If they see there is no bulge where the gun is supposed to be they may carry out their evil deed if that is what they are about.
I go about my business focusing the telephoto lens on the cliffs. The person driving the car opens the door, gets out and looks at the cliffs also. He has a camera like they sell in drug stores and he holds it up to his eye.
He stands there awhile beside his open car door looking through his camera. He is to the left, and down range from me. I see him look over at me between the times he holds the camera to his face. Then he walks over to the front of his car and leans back on the hood. He has on a white undershirt. It looks like his belly gets in the way. It is dirty there. He is mostly bald, but what hair he has is slicked back. We aren’t close enough to exchange words, but we are close enough to see each other clearly. I don’t look directly at him. They might be tourists, but I don’t want to find out. I hope they leave.
Then a strange thing happens considering how desolate that place is. A pick-up truck that rattles, and is covered with dust turns off the highway. It goes past both of us with out stopping. It goes off in the distance down the gravel road. There is one person in the cab who looks like he belongs there. His skin is the same color as the cliffs. He has one hand on the steering wheel and the other is resting in the open window. After he goes past I hear the woman in the front seat yell at the man. He walks around to the door, and gets in the car, and they leave. Soon I also leave.
Somewhere on the road, going west the highway went through a little town where I stopped for lunch. There was a rack of post cards. One of the cards pictured the biggest ball a string in the world, and that ball of string was located in that very town. It was something anybody could see, and it was something only that town had. The biggest ball of string in the world was there. It was ten feet in diameter.
When some people have a little piece of string, rather than throw it away, they save it in a pocket or put it on a fence post. Then, when it is convenient, they put that piece of string with all the other little pieces of string they have saved. Did one person do this ball of string? At some point did they come to the realization that this was really big? It was a magnificent post card.
I bought it and sent it to someone I had met several weeks before in Columbus. Before I left for California she said she collected post cards. We first met on High Street. She was sitting in a bar with several girl friends. It was the end of a hot day. The laughter and fun she was having was what I saw. I was hoping some of it would rub off. She lived in an apartment nearby and grew up in Columbus. She worked for a bank in that city. She didn’t look exceptional but she was. One time we played softball with her friends. She would heckle the batter and say, “Hey batter, batter, batter.” The way she ate a cheeseburger was equally captivating. Back on Frambes it was the way she scooted across my bed, the way she reached, the way she turned her head to the side and closed her eyes. It was the way she was.
I was going, more or less, in a straight line to Berkley, California when a hitchhiker sitting beside his backpack on the side of the road talked me into going by way of Reno, Nevada. I had plenty of time to get to where I was going so I took that detour.
The principal business in Reno was legalized gambling. There was one main street through town. I got out of my car, and the hitchhiker and me walked down the street. It was in the middle of the afternoon. The street was busy with people walking both ways. One woman passed me on the sidewalk. She was noticeable. She was dressed in a very tight dress. She was in a big hurry to get down the street like she had just been called, and if she didn’t hurry she might miss whoever called her.
There was one place with big wide doors and inside on the street level there were rows and rows of chrome plated gambling devices called slot machines. Into these machines, money in the form of a coin was put by a person who hoped the machine would take their one coin and return many coins.
One coin activated the machine one time. A lever randomly spun three visible wheels on the same axis. When the wheels stopped the machine would do nothing more until another coin was deposited. When the wheels stopped in a certain way, money came out of the machine. That possibility is what attracted people. They voluntarily put their money into the machine with the hope that a far greater amount of money would come out.
I was at the end of two rows of these machines watching many people who were feeding money into them. When I moved a camera up to my face to take a picture they went in the other direction like it was rehearsed.
Seconds later I felt a tap on my shoulder, and I turned to see two large women standing side by side. They were over six feet tall, and large in all other respects. One of them said to me without the least expression on her face that I would have to leave. She said it was against the law in the State of Nevada to take a picture of people gambling. They didn’t say I had to give them the film in my camera, but they did escort the hitchhiker and me out of the building. Soon after that I left Reno, and said good-bye to the hitchhiker.
Several years later I worked for a small town weekly newspaper. The co-chairman invited me to a church festival. He wanted the event to appear in the newspaper.
Before I went home I went to the church grounds to the festival. I had my camera with me and I was taking pictures as I walked past all the booths. I didn’t think anything except that when I was finished I was going home. I was there to mirror in the paper what was happening so people in the town would know what it was like. At most I thought one picture with a few words would tell it all. I didn’t plan to write a story about the festival.
When I was almost ready to leave the co-chairman who invited me there came up to me, and said I would have to leave at that moment. He said several people there were upset because I was taking pictures. I said in a rejected tone that I would leave if that is what he wanted me to do. I said, “What exactly is it that you do not want me to take a picture of.”
And he said, “of the children playing beat the dealer.”
I was jolted back to Reno, but this wasn’t Reno. It was a small town that, for all practical purposes, was in the middle of a cornfield. Then it hit me that this was wide open gambling.
I left and when I got home that evening I called a person who lived in that town. He worked nearby on another weekly newspaper owned by the same person who owned the paper where I worked. He grew up in the same religion as the people conducting the festival. I told him what happened, and asked his opinion. He said it sounded like I had a good story. We never discussed that this was not the first instance. Gambling at church festivals was a tradition in the United States. They were trapped by tradition. The paper printed more than one picture with a few words. Perhaps the festival was normal, but if I was paid to capture what was happening then that was what I was going to do.
The next day in preparing the story I called the religious leader of the church where the festival took place. The first part of his name was Father. I asked him where the felt tables and other gambling equipment were kept. There was a long pause, and then he said that I would have to ask one of the festival co-chairman. I thanked him for his help, and that was the end of the phone call.
I called the town police chief to ask him if what went on there was legal. I liked him. He read comic books at his desk. This police chief was not overly aggressive. He took care of business in a straightforward manner. But when I mentioned the festival he said, “no comment.”
Next, I called the Hamilton County Prosecutor. He was a professional politician who constantly went against the wind maintaining his own sense of morality. I expected he would give me an answer. I talked with someone in his office. That same person said he would call me back with the answer, but he never did. I thought it was odd that both the local police chief and the county prosecutor would not comment on so simple a question.
I couldn’t believe what was happening. I called the State Attorney General at the capitol and I explained to someone on the telephone what I was all about, and that I was simply trying to find out if it was legal. After a few minutes of looking this person read me something. He said games of chance and schemes of chance are legal if all the proceeds after expenses go to charity.
Then he said the Attorney General was aware that companies travel around the State with all the paraphernalia associated with gambling, and some of them take advantage of the law regarding expenses.
Right after the report about the festival was in the paper several people, some of them school age children in tears, stopped by the newspaper paper office, and said how could I do that. Some adults said I was against that particular religion. People who went to that church school, or had children who did, told me in one way or another that the gambling and the entire festival generated money to help pay the operating expenses of the school. They reminded me that their kind of school, unlike state financially supported schools, did not receive any money from the state.
When I heard this over and over again, as if it changed what was or justified what was, I couldn’t help but think that if that reasoning were carried to its logical conclusion then it was quite understandable for a person to do anything they wanted if their objective was to get money. They could even destroy themselves if that is what it took.
One bright-eyed young girl who didn’t go to that school said she didn’t see anything wrong with gambling. She asked, “What is wrong with gambling? I really want to know because I don’t see anything wrong with it.” I didn’t know what to say. When she asked that question it was her sincerity that got me, and she thought I was supposed to have an answer on the tip of my tongue. I didn’t answer her. I walked back to my desk in the back, and sat down.
I thought about that question off and on, and when the next edition came out a week later I put an editorial in the paper that gave an answer. In part here is what it said: “Gambling is merely trying to make money with money. People probably came up with the which-shell-is-the-pebble-under game, and set out to make their fortune long before anyone came up with the wheel or fire.”
“Gambling offers a tantalizing and effortless return on one’s money. All that is needed is to win. As simple an ingredient as to win may seem it overwhelms the reality that the simple and needed ingredient is to lose. That is the design of gambling, that a person lose, not that they win. This obvious, but forgotten fact explains why there are so many more losers than there are winners out there. Then it is the losers who having been beat at another man’s game, start their own game having learned well that all that is needed to win is a loser. What their game may be is anybody’s guess; another money game, a prostitution game, a mugging game, usually it is anything that goes well with losers or the creation of losers thereof. For gambling to be successful people must lose, and the more they lose the more successful the game. Gambling doesn’t have much caring for anybody else, and that is what is wrong with gambling.”
The following year I didn’t work for the newspaper any longer, but along the roads where I traveled I noticed signs advertising festivals at different church schools. At all those festivals the primary fundraiser was gambling. No longer did the gambling booth operators make a pretense about not letting children place bets.
From Reno, Nevada I went directly to my friends house on Benvenue Avenue in Berkley, California. I stayed there for a few days until I found an apartment. During that time I occupied the guestroom. It wasn’t very big. The entrance was under the stairs that led to the second floor. In all the time I was in that house I never went upstairs. There were two steps down into the room under the stairs. That room was slightly bigger than the mattress, which was a large size rubber bladder filled with water. It was on the floor, and popularly known as a waterbed. I had seen them many times before, but that was the first time I slept on one. Once the water calmed down it was better than sleeping on the sidewalk, or on the floor. When I moved so did the water. It was like sleeping on the floor of a rubber life raft.
That summer four people lived in the house. One person was rather decisive without being overbearing. She took it upon herself to run the place. It is a good thing she did because no one else seemed concerned about details.
After I was there a week the girl I knew from Ohio left for a job in another state. I knew her whole family growing up. Her father died several years earlier from a terminal disease. Years after Berkley I had the job of mowing fields, and plowing snow at her mother’s house in Cincinnati.
Three or four times her mother was there. She would stop me to say don’t overdo it when mowing around the trees. She liked some long grass. Another time when someone bashed in her mailbox all she had to say about whoever did it was that they were thoughtless. When I was shoveling snow on her paddle tennis court she was walking in my direction through a field. She stopped a hundred yards from where I was and stood there looking around for a long time. There was fresh snow everywhere on the trees and in the field.
About twenty years later I didn’t work for her any more. When she was in Cincinnati we invited her to visit us one afternoon. I was married by then and had three children. She seemed to know I had big questions about religion. I told her I was struck by the fact many wonderful people were being misled, and that there were some absolute truths after all. It was like she thought I had a particular point of view. She cut me off and said, “When I die they will take me to Spring Grove, and off I’ll go.” Spring Grove is a burial place in Cincinnati. When she was driving away that afternoon a blood vein in her brain got blocked, and she ran into a woodpile. Five days later she was dead. At the funeral I saw her daughter from past days on Benvenue Avenue. She was married and had children also. It was the first time I had seen her in many years. We didn’t talk much except to say hello.
That summer at Berkley another person who stayed in the house on Benvenue was a friend of the girl I knew from Ohio. She was from the East coast. There was one class we had at the same place and time. After I got my own apartment I would walk to the house on Benvenue, meet her, and we would walk together fifteen or twenty minutes to the classroom. One time I asked her if she wanted to drive to the hills that overlooked San Francisco bay. It was quite a view. She said no. Once after class we stopped at a store to get ice cream. She got a trendy flavor. She said I was boring because I chose vanilla.
Half way through the summer she said her car kept over heating. When I looked at it I said her seals were bad. I knew about French cars. When the radiator cap was off the coolant level would rise and overflow when she accelerated the engine.
I thought it would sway her opinion of me if I was able to reveal to her my intimate knowledge of the internal combustion engine. We were standing by the front of her car. It was parked on the street and the hood was up. I looked her in the eye. I said there is a high-pressure situation created when atomized gasoline mixed in a two-hundred to one ratio with household air is ignited in what amounts to a controlled explosion inside each cylinder.
I figured this was my last chance to get to her. I was deliberately making it more complicated than it was. I wasn’t really thinking about her car at all. I wondered what it would be like to kiss her.
I said the explosion pushes a piston down. I told her the over heating problem in her car was happening because some of the pressure from the explosion was escaping into the water jacket. I said the cylinder sleeves weren’t high enough above the top surface of the block where the engine head is fastened to the block. I told her the head gasket wasn’t able to do its job, because the seals at the bottom of the cylinder sleeves were mashed down to much.
I slammed the hood down, and that was the end of that. I could not detect any change in her demeanor. She didn’t believe me.
The fourth person who lived in that house that summer lived there all year long. He had a golden retriever dog. I was told by the person I knew from Cincinnati that when he had a girlfriend the dog, although still there, was like history.
When I left California to go back to Ohio I went over to that house to say good-bye. They were all sitting around the table having supper. He and the others hardly broke stride with what they were doing, but the girl from the East coast put the side of her cheek up, and pointed to it in a way that said I was to kiss her good-bye on the cheek. I leaned over and gave her a big Italian kiss on the cheek. The person with the dog looked at her in disbelief. He said her name and exclaimed, “you slut”. No one seemed to mind, and that included the girl from the East coast.
Before classes started I moved out of the house on Benvenue Avenue. I rented the upstairs front room in a house under shade trees. The woman who owned the house lived downstairs with her daughter. Another person rented another room upstairs. I think that person attended the University, but I never asked her. We seldom talked.
After I was there awhile the lady who owned the house gave me a talking to about how the people who I met in her house may not be the kind of people with whom I was familiar. I thanked her for her telling me this.
She was probably referring to the night before when she and several friends of hers were having a little get together in the main room downstairs. I was invited since I was there. One person I talked to a long time was much older than I was. At one point she asked the lady who owned the house if she thought I would like a certain friend of theirs who was not there. Without replying the lady who owned the house left the room. I think that is what prompted her to talk with me the next morning.
I met that friend of theirs who was not there. She was recently divorced, slightly older than I was, and a very good cook who had gone to a famous cooking school in France. I ate very well when I was at her house. I met her there. It was a large modern building on a hillside. I could see San Francisco and many other areas from the window. Her kitchen was extensive. The refrigerator was a large commercial type. It had a large see through glass door with a brushed stainless steel frame.
Many times on the weekend I stayed there all day and all night. She cooked and pruned roses growing on lattice beside the back door. I would watch her. We would talk while she was doing those things. She was extremely calm. We went to a nearby park where a brightly painted Merry-go-round was stopped, and all the lights off. We went into San Francisco quite a few times. I saw many sights there. One vendor had a sign that said he was selling live Maine lobsters, but when I asked him why the lobsters had no claws he didn’t answer me. That city smelt different. I spoke the same language but it could have been another country.
The woman who owned the house where I rented the room told me that her friend who I talked with that night in her parlor was the divorced wife of the person who made LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) a well known substance. He and a group of people experimented with it in up state New York. He was a college professor at the time. Soon after that he lost his job, and spent the rest of his days in jail or avoiding the Federal police. One English language dictionary says LSD is an organic compound, C20-H25-N3-O, which induces psychotic symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia. I ingested a half a dose of LSD once in my life, and while I saw things I had never seen before I felt like I didn’t belong there. It was as if I went right up to the edge of solid ground and looked down. It was as if I could not see the bottom. It was as if I was fortunate not to be afraid of heights and make it back. That is how I would describe the event, however that was not my trip. My trip was something else. I was with a person who was like a tour guide. That person was experienced with “acid.” When I did some he did not.
I was at home. My parents were both gone. It was winter. I was about 21 years old. I “dropped” the “acid” sitting at our kitchen table. When I stood up I knew it had taken effect, because I looked back at myself sitting in the chair. The part of me that had gotten up was not touching the ground. I regained my composure. We went outside, and got in an old black pick-up truck named Jed. I was fascinated by the dirt on the windshield. Jed had one windshield wiper that moved the dirt out of the way where the wiper went back and forth. I could see very clearly through that part of the windshield, but the rest of the glass was covered with dust. I drove around to the back of Peterloon Farm and down the dirt road farmers used. We parked in the clearing, and got out.
There was snow on the ground. Most of the trees on the far edge of the field were bare, but several Maple trees close together still had their leaves. They were brown. When I looked at them they became a waterfall the color of polished gold in the sunlight. I didn’t question it. I simply stood there and looked. It was making spray the same color that rolled up in the air. It didn’t stop. It was quite something. I looked away like it was there all the time, and bent over to peer into a thick bush. The bare branches at the base were covered with smooth ice. The branches turned into big stone Greek columns, and in the distance a beautiful lady with a long flowing veil wrapped around her body stepped from behind one of the columns. The veil was pressed against her side by the wind. She raised her arm in the veil, and made a wave in a beckoning way. I looked away just like I did with the trees. Those were the two main things I saw that day. We walked across the snow-covered field. Occasionally we stopped in long conversations, about what I do not know.
The next day I resolved never to drop acid again because I was so close to the edge. I could have gone over-the-side very easily. At the same time I remembered the words of a self-proclaimed junkie who wrote books. He wrote about the possibility of people metabolizing their own junk and about being a metabolic junkie. When I was on acid the down side far outweighed anything else, but I was made aware of how acute human sensibilities could be, like seeing the dirt on the windshield. I wanted to develop those isolated perceptions on my own.
When classes began at Berkley I was enrolled in an American Literature class, a theatre class, and a criminology class. It was a light load compared to what I was used to at the Ohio State University.
One of the papers I got back from the English teacher had a note in red ink. Even 2000 miles away teachers use red ink. It said I had problems with fundamentals, and if that was a background problem, see the teacher. My background was not lack of schooling. It was what it was. I didn’t see the teacher.
The English literature class was in the early morning. I always walked there with the girl from the East coast. We would always sit together in the same seats. Thirty students were in the class, and there were not many more chairs than there were people. Regardless of when we got there the same two seats were empty. They were toward the front and in the center. She generally got much higher grades than I did. She never voluntarily showed me her paper, and she never gloated over the fact she always got good grades. She was confident about what she did. I wondered if she ever got a little bit mixed up.
The student riots that swept the Country also touched that place. When we walked from the street onto the South side of the campus there was a large sign that said in so many words that the State University was not public property even though it was paid for by taxpayers. It said the campus belonged to the Board of Regents, and trespassers would be prosecuted. It sounded to me like they found a loophole.
Right away the teacher in the criminology class tells us he is a Marxist (a political persuasion opposed to the politics of the United States), and how he wrote this thick book about criminals, which we didn’t have to buy. It was interesting what he said day after day. What he talked about was academic.
Our first assignment in the theatre class was to walk in front of the class, identify ourselves (name rank and serial number), and proceed with a soliloquy of our own choosing. I was terrified. I always felt like that when I got in front of people. In grade school I couldn’t recite a poem although I knew it very well. I had to stand in front of the whole class. The teacher told me to go out in the hall, and write it out which I did perfectly. When I went up in front of the theatre class at Berkley I didn’t hide the fact that I needed to loosen up both inside, and out. I took some deep breaths, and bent over to touch my toes. The teacher was sitting in one of the student seats in the first row. He made a highly audible exhalation and combined laugh. I walked rapidly back to my desk, got my books, and left, never to return. I dropped out of the theatre class.
During the time I attended the university at Berkley the girl I knew from Ohio came back. We took a long weekend drive to Southern California. Her sister was enrolled in a college there.
Since we were going south I wanted to see the State University at Santa Cruz. I don’t know why I wanted to have a look. It was primarily known as a school for languages, and I was never any good at learning a language. We walked around the campus, which for the most part was on a hillside. It wasn’t open that summer. We proceeded South after spending several hours in Santa Cruz.
Her sister and the man she eventually married and subsequently divorced left soon after we arrived. They wanted someone to watch their house. There were fruit trees in the back. Some of the fruit was drying on screens in the sun. It didn’t rain that time of year. The house was in town and from a window he pointed to a building across a parking lot, and said there was good live jazz music there. They were gone for two days. One of the afternoons the girl I was with left to do something. I was alone in the house that afternoon. An instrument smaller than a guitar, but like a guitar was there. I think it was a ukulele. When I was in New York I heard a man from India play a sitar. It was different. I sat cross-legged on the floor and plucked the strings with both hands the way he did. I played with it for a while, and soon I wanted to tell a story punctuated by the sound of the strings. On the shelf was a recording machine. Six or seven times for a few minutes each time I plucked the strings. The recording began and ended with music.
The story was about a lone mountain in Vietnam called Lui Ba Din. Actually there is a mountain by that name in Vietnam. It begins with a girl named Mai Ling who lives in a village at the foot of Lui Ba Din. The mountain sees how much she loves a boy named Lo and it sees how much he loves her. Lui Ba Din is very happy because of them. Then hands covered with blood kill him. Mai Ling walks up on the side of Lui Ba Din where there are no other people. There is water dripping down from the side of a big overhanging rock. She is sitting under the rock with her arms wrapped around her legs. Her forehead is against her knees and she is rocking back and forth. Lui Ba Din is not happy when Mai Ling is so sad. Mai Ling decides she will never go back, and at that moment the mountain opens a great opening. Mai Ling goes inside and the opening closes. Lui Ba Din holds her, and tells her someday everything will be all right when the sadness caused by the foolishness and stupidity of people is over.
That was the end. I left the recording for them in their house. Several years later I saw them in Cincinnati quite by chance. I hadn’t seen either of them since I stayed in their house in Southern California. There they were. I said hello, and right away he starts talking about the tape which at first I didn’t remember. He talks like I had a lot of nerve using his stuff. Then I remembered that day.
The only other excursion I made from the San Francisco bay area was to a rodeo in Salinas. There were as many exhibitors as there were spectators that afternoon. I was by myself. There was a barrel race, calf roping, and all the events associated with a rodeo.
There was one young lady on a good-looking gray quarter horse. It seemed like the two of them went together really well. She was in several of the events. I wondered if she ever read about the cowpony named Smoky. The person who wrote that story said that as far as he was concerned a
big mistake was made when they said man’s best friend was a dog, and not a horse. He also said he could always tell most of what he wanted to know about a person by the horse they rode. I wanted to go back to the barns, and ask her if she ever read that book. Then I didn’t. It was hot out there in the sun. Late that afternoon I bought an iced drink and went back to Berkley.
When I left Berkley to return to Ohio the woman who owned the house where I stayed was gone, but her daughter was there. My car was packed, and when I went to get my bicycle I told her through an open window to have a good life. I tied my bicycle down to the top of the car, and left.
I went down the California coast with the lady who pruned roses. We went through a small town called Guadeloupe. There we stopped for lunch. The place had a high ceiling. It was large inside with white walls. There was a Spanish language song coming from a radio by the window. A Latin looking person was walking around with a fly swatter swatting a fly every now and then. I really felt at home. There were many fields outside town. In one field there were a dozen people working on rows and rows of full-grown cabbage.
Further down the road I slept on a beach. She slept in the car. There was a large utility pole on the ground to keep cars from going on the sand. I was sleeping near the pole in front of the car. In the middle of the night a spotlight from a police car woke me up. One of two policemen said I could not sleep there. He said I might get run over. He said if I wanted to sleep in my car it was fine with him. She woke up, and when the two policemen saw her they didn’t seem to care where I slept.
She flew back to San Francisco soon afterwards. When she was gone I stopped at another beach and went in the water. I was amazed how far out I could go, and still be in shallow water. There was one other person there. I didn’t talk with her, but when I was in waste deep water far from the shore I heard her yell to me although I didn’t hear what she said. When I looked in her direction she was going toward the shore. She got out of the water and left. Right after that I felt a very solid bump against my leg. All my weight was on that leg so it didn’t move. I had never felt anything like that, and I thought it must be an under water log. But then I had to admit that it didn’t stay there. Without thinking about it any longer and for no particular reason I started to walk toward the shore in slow deliberate strides. Many years later I was watching a television show about sharks and it said that before a shark dines it bumps its prey.
My car picked up a slight ticking noise that could only be heard when standing over the engine, and moving the throttle back and forth. When the engine RPM dropped suddenly the noise could be heard. It was what a helicopter mechanic would call a one to one vibration. When I got to the city of Los Angeles I wanted to find a dealership to learn what the noise was. I spoke with a telephone operator and she explained the city was divided in two sections. She could only locate whatever I was looking for in the North half of the city. She said she didn’t have information about the other half, and that unless I had a directory of the Southern part of the city I could not find what I wanted. I was in a phone booth and there was no directory of either kind in there. There was a dealership for my type of car in that city. It had an open area in the middle and two rows of one-car garages on two sides. The garages were once horse stalls. I stood with two or three people, and asked them if they knew what the noise was. I revved the engine over and over again so they could hear the noise. None the people knew what it was. Then a person with grease on his hands walked up, and without hearing it again says it is a rod bearing. The other people moved out of his way, and they didn’t interrupt him. He said they couldn’t do the work until after the weekend, but he gave me the name of someone who might be able to do the work over the weekend. He didn’t have to tell me it was extensive engine repair. I said my destination was Columbus, Ohio. He said it was anybody’s guess if I could make it that far. I found the house of the person who could possibly do the repair. It was on a dead end street. All I could see when I looked at the house was weeds over six feet tall. There was no one there. I decided to continue on and hope for the best.
That engine didn’t give me any trouble until I got to Columbus, Ohio where it started to knock in a big way. It spun a bearing, and a tow truck pulled the broken down car the last five or six miles to Frambes. It was late at night. I was glad to be back, going to sleep in my own bed.
The next day I took the engine out of the car quickly as I could. There were a few weeks before school started, and I wanted to get to Maine. The car was parked on the side of the street. One journal on the crankshaft was messed up and so was one connecting rod. I took the crankshaft to have all the journals resurfaced. I got a new connecting rod, and on the front porch I put the engine back together. When I got the engine in the car it started right up, and was ready to go.
I called the “big house” in Maine to find out who was there, and ask if I could go. Asking was a formality that the management liked everyone to exercise. The only person there other than the help was my mother’s stepfather, the wealthy industrialist, who was like a grandfather to me. Someone else was about to arrive.
The other person who arrived was not actually a relative, but I called him my uncle. My mother’s half sister and him were once married and they had three children. When they were married my mother’s stepfather asked that man to run the chemical factory, and he was still doing that job that summer. He had been divorced for several years. Several relatives, who owned stock in the chemical business, told me that sales grew during the time he ran the company.
I was there a few days before he arrived. The only time my grandfather and me saw each other was at dinner. When my uncle arrived things got down to business. He was a forceful executive. He came in a private plane to discuss business. He was talking about the trip up there, and he told me it was none of my business when I asked him if the plane was his. I didn’t mean to be rude, but he did.
There was a big fireplace in the room where we sat before diner. Having that fire going was very important to my grandfather, not just that summer, but always. He didn’t ask just anybody to stoke that fire either. We sat in that room until someone in a uniform opened the glass doors and announced, “diner is served.” That was our cue to get up and go into the dining room. The first course was keeping warm on a table in the corner. The bowls were on plate a warmer. He got one for each person, and put in several ladles of soup. I didn’t have to make a point of not eating before he or anyone else sat down. The rule was, eat while your food is hot. Also we didn’t say a prayer. Occasionally, over the years I went to church with him, but in all the time I knew him I never heard him mention God. I was not aware of God either so that made two of us.
He had a very strong sense of decency and goodness which he attributed to his upbringing. He didn’t concern himself with why his parents were that way. They instilled it in him. He in his children and his children in their children.
One of the nights the three of us ate diner together my grandfather asked me if I wanted a job. He was eating his soup with the larger than normal spoons he and my grandmother liked. He didn’t look up from his soup when he asked. Before I answered the executive who ran the chemical business said, “I think they should get whatever they can get on their own.”
It is not like the executive and me didn’t like each other. I respected him because he was operating the chemical company, and a man who I liked chose him to do that. I don’t know what the executive thought of me. Maybe I was an intrusive relative. The fact that I was there might have bothered him. They were the two highest-ranking people in a large company with thousands of employees.
My grandfather didn’t look at the executive when he made the comment about how I should find what I could find on my own. My grandfather knew of my assorted past. I don’t think the executive had any idea how close we were. There was a mutual respect there.
On a previous night that summer when there was just the two of us he had told me that everywhere he went he knew which way North was. He asked me if I knew which way was North right where I was sitting. He said one of the most embarrassing moments in his life was when he was an officer on a United States Navy war ship patrolling Long Island Sound. An enlisted man asked him which way North was. He didn’t know, but ever since then he did.
When he said that about the job I put my soup spoon down. He did not look at me. I said my chosen profession was journalism, and that I wanted to do something with that training. I was going to graduate soon at the end of the winter quarter, December 1972. He provided jobs in practically every area of work. One building he owned was the tallest and largest building in Cincinnati. He owned so much property in addition to the chemical operation that he was once reported to be the “largest tax payer in Cincinnati.”
He probably had a public relations department where journalism majors could work. If I had forced the issue of my working for him I don’t know what would have happened that night or with my life. I bowed out, and he never mentioned it again.
During the day I went on long walks “down island”, skipped rocks on the water, and befriended one of the maids in the bungalow. She worked almost all day long. She said she had been on the island all summer except on her day off when she and the other “help” went to the mainland. Sometimes on her day off she went to a place in the woods that she described in an intriguing German accent as a ledge covered with a thick blanket of moss all surrounded by ferns. She said once, in the middle of the afternoon she fell asleep there. She said it was a lovely place with severe solitude.
There was a place on the bigger island where people gathered with beer mugs in hand to talk about things. One person knew us both. He lived on the big island all year long. He had a full beard and long hair. He had done some work on the island where she was working, and that is how he knew her. He sat with us in a booth, and we three were having a merry time. I got up to go to the men’s room and when I came back I heard the words “money talks”. Even if he cared I don’t think he thought I heard those words. After I sat down I tried to pick up where we left off, but it was not the same. She would not even look at him. There were no smiles between them anymore. He got up and left. I asked her what he had said. She said, during the summer he asked her several times to go with him to that place. She said she didn’t go. She said I was the first one that summer, beside him, who expressed an interest in her.
That place closed one or two years later. I don’t know why. My grandfather for one didn’t like the place, and maybe some other people felt the way he did. Many people from around the country who went there in the summer were like him. He wouldn’t have acted alone. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn what happened was a group of them simply bought the place, and closed it for good.
When I was there at the end of that summer he asked me many questions about the place. It had opened earlier that year. I’m sure if he was that curious he would have asked a cousin or two the same questions, but he was asking me as if it were the first time. I told him I went there, but I didn’t say I went with one of the “help”.
The fact that summer people were socializing in the same place as local people is exactly what he didn’t like. If left to continue, what were to him, two very different groups of people, would mix, marry, have children, and that would be the end of the ruling class. That was his upbringing.
He felt anyone not from his background had a different ethics, morality, and code of conduct than him. He felt that he and others like him had a responsibility to take care of people. Years later he had a stroke, and was in a hospital in Cincinnati. His son told me he was talking about the past like it was the present. From his bed he looked out the window at the rooftops. His son (my uncle who liked guns) described the sight and made it sound like there were laundry lines between the buildings. My grandfather, his father, told him they had to clean up that area, get rid of those buildings, and build new ones.
The maid and me became very honest with one another. She was not unpleasant to look at so I was curious how my grandfather related to her. In the late summer she and a cook were the only help there. What she said in so many words reminded me of a song: “Had I been made the partner of Eve we be in Eden still.” That was his upbringing.
I got back to Ohio State University shortly before classes started. My formal education was almost completed. I took some advanced level Journalism courses such as J-641, which was about reporting governmental affairs. The teacher who taught me the news style of writing conducted the course. I still didn’t get very good grades. She was a very matter of fact tough cookie. I couldn’t spell worth beans, and that was a fact.
I took a history course from a full professor on main campus. There were about twenty students in the classroom. The teacher was talking about the trade routes in the days of the commercial European sailing ships. He talked about Europeans this and Europeans that. He had a really high opinion of Europeans considering he wasn’t one. I didn’t want to seem rude. I had to speak as tactfully as I could. I waited for a break in his talk then I raised my hand. It still interrupted him. He asked me what I wanted. I said I read a fiction book with a story built around how the Western half of the world wanted silks and spices from the Eastern half of the world, but nobody in the Eastern half wanted anything the other half had. I said there was nothing to trade, and their money was no good. I said in the story, European sailing ships stopped in Malaysia to take on a narcotic named opium. I said in the story there was no central Chinese government only provincial chiefs who were easily corrupted. I asked him, did Europeans introduce opium to the Chinese? I asked him, aside from the legal-illegal question were the European merchants big time drug suppliers long before the drug cartels of Latin America?
He said he was getting to that in awhile. Several days later I was thinking about something else as he talked. He stopped, and said, is that what you were talking about the other day? I had been looking out the window wishing his lecture was over. I said yes, and he resumed talking to the whole class. I wondered what he had said, and then again I thought about something else. A week later before class started the person beside me in the row of desks said she liked what I said. I had to think back to the last time I said something that she heard. It would have been about the opium trade. I said it was a fact. I pointed to the front. He didn’t say it wasn’t. Did he?
She and I talked some more. She was small, very proper, and young. She was industrious. Her singular intent was to excel in the grading system. To her, going to the University was a golden opportunity to be somebody.
She was serious and smart. She was like the tiger chasing its tail: everything was exactly the way it should be because that was the way it was.
I would guess she thought the University was right through and through, but what she appreciated about what I said was that it put an inkling of an idea in her that we weren’t getting the straight scoop.
A few months later I graduated and received a rolled up piece of paper that said I had a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism. The graduation exercise was held in a gymnasium. The place was full of people. My parents were there although I did not see them until the end. The only other time they came to Columbus to see me was when I was in the Franklin County workhouse. They went past Frank Road on the expressway. The visitation time was almost over when they got there. It was a wet winter day. The guard wouldn’t let me have several books they brought. The uniformed person who inspected them probably thought they were rubbish, or that hack saw blades were in them. It was funny talking to them through wire mesh with a nearby guard. I don’t think they thought I was very accomplished.
When I graduated from the university they thought I had accomplished something. My degree was proof I had traveled through a certain area and paid all the tolls.