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You Smell the Grass But Can't Make Flowers Grow

The People on University Road

By David N. Hollander and Carol R. Sternhell

"It's a melting society, it melts everybody's ass alike-but if the pressure gets too hot you can turn back and say 'mumsy, daddy, get me out of here'...When you're born, I'm hard as a brick."

The old woman took a long time to answer the door. She thought it was someone trying to sell her something, and she said she didn't need anything. When she found out we just wanted to talk, she withdrew even further back behind the partly-opened door and said she didn't know anything: "Go away." A Building and Grounds man was in the hall, on his way to the basement to try and fix the washing machines that the occupants of the University Road apartments are afraid to use. He nodded at us. "You're in a bad area. A girl was murdered here, two entrances over."

We went to see the building, and talk to its people--the building and people everybody at Harvard had heard so much about since the bust last week. We went confused, not knowing what we would find, and found everybody at University Road as confused as we. The old ladies didn't hate Harvard kids, and the hippie painters didn't love them. And nobody was too sure of what the strike could mean.

In the end we are all Puseys:

"WHY DO you go to Harvard? For status, right? Why are you asking me these questions, what do you care? Why are you coming out here? You came to Harvard, did what the perfect kid was supposed to do--what do you care if they throw people out? You're sort of saying Harvard is wrong, but what will you be doing 20 years from now? You've already been above the borderline--finally the richies are turning around and saying I don't like it up here. But if we start getting what you have you'll say, 'Hey, goddamn it, I had that place when I was born....'"

He never let us past the front entry hall. He was a high school senior, a black high school senior, visiting a friend's apartment. He thought he spotted the phony white liberal-radicals in us in a second, and we could not change his mind.

"What is a radical? Status, man. I'm a radical, man, I'm cool, my head's more together than yours. In the end I'm gonna be a Pusey-radical, liberal, what's the difference, man?"

"You don't have to get your skull busted--it's a big decision for you to make, an admirable decision in the all-American tradition. If you can convince me of why, I won't have these ideas about middle-class whites. You're the protest set instead of the jet set. How are we gonna change jet set. How are we gonna change the way we are, the whole country. Like in Yellow Submarine--is there a guy who can walk down the street and make flowers grow behind him?"

HE SAID he was a photographer. He would have come to Harvard and photographed the kids during the occupation last week, but didn't want to get his head busted in. We agreed. He didn't think much of our strike; he distrusted our motives.

"You do this because it's the in thing to do. Where they're at at Harvard is unclear to me--you should sit down and examine what you're talking about and what you're doing. The whole nation is in an uptight bag... the police have got to go in there and break some heads to fit in with the norm of the nation. You're angry because you saw what happened--I've seen that all my life."

"Look at yourself and see if you really want to change things. It's a melting society, it melts everybody's ass alike...but if the pressure gets too hot you can turn back and say 'mumsy, daddy, get me out of here."

"Why were there 2000 people in the Harvard chapel the next day? Because Harvard's number one in the nation, that's why--you can't have the police coming in and pushing people around. But those people in the chapel don't care about what Harvard's doing--they're all going on to get their degrees and make their money."

HE THOUGHT SDS was a bunch of phony white radicals, and he thought Afro was a bunch of phony black radicals, and he didn't think the fact that they were united behind the same eight demands did much good for either movement.

"One thing that bugs me is the way that radicals and liberals relate to blacks. They've changed the direction of the black movement, used it for their own purposes without changing at all themselves. What kind of blacks do you get at Harvard anyway? Those guys wouldn't have related to the black movement at al before...I don't knock anybody down for that--life is like that in America. I'm not saying you should want to put your life on the line, but don't be a phony about it."

"I think that if Harvard wants to tear this building down what we do wouldn't mean anything, a few isolated, poverty-stricken people couldn't do anything. I don't want to move into a housing project - I'll have nightmares."

He cared if they tore down the building, but knew we didn't really, he knew we were just looking for something to write. "When you're born, you're melted--when I'm born, I'm hard as a brick," he told us we were leaving. And whatwere a bunch of melted-ass people doing making revolution?

A purple mat matching the curtains covered the rotten section of floor around the toilet in another apartment. The man pulled up the mat to show the splintered piece of plywood which separated the bathroom from the basement. The buzzer system in stalled after Jane Britton was murdered is already falling off the wall. "It's crazy to raise the rent--the place is a dump." He said the kitchen is full of roaches every morning.

"The building should come down. It's dangerous--it's a matter of finding new housing." The girl, a grad student, is afraid to answer her door. "But what do you except in a building like this? The service is quite good, actually."

Rain was beating down on the skylight. The smell of grass drifted up and down the stairway. The light on the landing was burning, but the man said it had taken eight weeks get it replaced. Action on a complaint of roaches had taken less time--a month and a half. "I think it helped. We haven't had so many lately."

I even hate to kill a cockroach:

"IT's TOO BAD this business happened at Harvard, but it's not the students. It's trained agitators, Communist agitators out undermine this country like they've done to everything else. Harvard was right in calling in the police to get those people out-there are people there to get an education. It's not right in a democratic society to go into secret files. It's none of their damn business-they just want to stir up trouble."

The old lady had lived in the same University Road apartment for 10 years, paying 70/month the entire time. She let us in suspiciously, but quickly warmed up, seemed glad to talk. The apartment was scrupulously clean, with cheap Renoir and Degas prints on the walls.

"They've never gone up on my rent, I don't know why. Of course that's all it's worth, it's a crummy apartment, a falling-apart building. If Harvard tore down this building I wouldn't know where to go...there just isn't the housing for most of us working people. This a lower middle-class building. Where would we go?"

"I think that if Harvard wants to tear this building down what we to wouldn't mean anything, a few isolated poverty-stricken people couldn't do anything. I don't want to move into a housing project, I'll have nightmares... but it should be clean at least, don't you think?"

SHE explained to us how important it was to keep things clean, and how difficult. She didn't really blame anybody thought, she said had no ill feeling toward Harvard. She only blamed the dirt itself, just as in Harvard's bust she didn't blame the students or the Administration, but only outside agitators. The students and her landlord both had good intentions, but only she could really keep things clean.

"The dirt just pours in here. I sometimes think I need a cleaning women--are you going to get me a cleaning woman now that I've given you all this information? This hall is the one hall that is painted, we fuss so. I called the agent and told him, if I'm going to wash the halls at 2University Road would e mind providing the mop? He said, what? I said the student next door to me will help, I can't stand to see Mrs. Wetzel mopping, she's over 70...since then the hall has been washed once a week."

"As soon as I see one cockroach I call the janitor and have the fumigator come. I even hate to kill a cockroach--they must have a purpose on this earth."

SHE worried about having to move out, and about keeping her building clean, but she didn't really believe tat any of it connected with the strike at Harvard.

"I don't know ... maybe there should be changes made. Maybe we shouldn't encourage military training to make rich men richer. There are probably things wrong with the administration, but the ill feeling is just too bad. Those kids had no right-I hope they take every damn one of them and expel them."

"Jessie Gill's a self-appointed authority-she worries about us old people. She's very well-meaning, very anti-Harvard, I guess. I don't have any anti-Harvard feeling; it's the whole country I'm worried about. Why put a fence around the U.S? That's just what they're doing with the damn ABM, it's asinine. If the bombs are coming let them come, that's what I say-why spend all that money?"

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