The Boston to Berkeley 40 Blahs Blues


As I LEFT my sister's apartment in San Francisco, for the last time, my brother-in-law shouted after me, "I hope some red-neck driving along takes a pot-shot at you. That'll teach you!" I didn't say anything, it may just have been one of his lawyer's tricks. I just hoped he didn't find out my sister had lent me $20 to hitch back home.

I'd only been in San Francisco about three or four weeks but I was tired of looking for a decent job, tired of living with my relatives, and tired of the beautiful people and the beautiful scenery; it all seemed like a misplaced setting for a big Hollywood production called "California Dream."

I DROPPED OUT of school suddenly, three weeks into the term because I couldn't manage and within two days, I was in San Francisco. The day before I left I went to University Health Services to hash it out with a psychiatrist. But I was slightly disappointed in the tiny man with a heavy German accent who sat me down and began to ignore me. He wrote notes continually during the session, using a thick, phallic Mont-Blanc pen that was twice the size of his hand. After I told him everything that was happening, he turned to me and said, "It seems to me you are running away from yourself."

I managed to overcome my guilt feelings for having left poor, little Dr. M. all alone with his pen the minute I stepped on the airplane. I had never been west of the Mississippi. I thought San Francisco seemed like the promised land. Finally I would find out about the legendary west coast. The minute I got there the whole myth began to materialize. There were my sister and her husband, both deeply tanned, waiting in their MG. I climbed into the back, and we sped through South San Francisco into the city. Fortunately, it was dark, so I didn't see the heavy industry or the huge sign painted on rocks and set into a dull green hill, saying, "Welcome to South San Francisco."

The next couple of days my brother-in-law, Ray, kept the legend in tact. He took me around to the best parts of San Francisco. We started with Presidio, one of the most exclusive sections in town; the streets wind around each other, and the houses look out over the Pacific where it meets San Francisco Bay.


Ray just graduated from BOLT, Berkely's Law school, the previous June. He told me, someday he'd like to live in Presidio, maybe after he got into San Francisco politics. He said politics in 'Frisco are though to get into, you need the approval of the city's aristocrats, and they've been running San Francisco since before the California gold rush.

Then again, Ray was a pretty ambitious guy. He'd gone to Ohio State in the mid-1960s, dropped out for awhile, and worked on Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign. He still prizes a picture of himself shaking hands with Kennedy, and sometimes he gets depressed when he thinks of how it all ended. Eventually he went back to college, and after graduating he joined VISTA. That's where he met my sister, Barb. They got married just three weeks after they first laid eyes on each other.

HE FOG was just beginning to lift from the ocean when we went to Point Lobos. In the sun, it looked like baskets of cotton tumbling over; a light golden haze, mixed with the green and brown of Marin heights across the channel. Ray and I climbed down on the deep-scarred rocks and went into a small cave hidden between a deep cut in the rocks. We could hear the small waves smack crisply outside, but inside the small grotto our voices were dull and hollow. Ray began talking about school.

"You know, I didn't think much of Ohio State when I was there. It was a big place, and it was easy to get lost in. The whole time I was there, even after I came back feeling strong, I never got to know a single prof."

He waited a minute for some reaction, but I just nodded. I wanted to hear more before I jumped in.

"You shouldn't have left school, though. That was a bad mistake. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't drop out, even for a little while. It wrecks the continuity, and you go back without any sense of commitment.

"The only reason I made it back was Kennedy. That man gave me something to hold onto."

His speech ran on like an early epistle of Saint Paul, full of the vigor of liberal martyrdom. I never did jump in.

Barb and Ray led pretty simple lives. Their apartment on Fulton Ave., right across from Golden Gate Park, is just barely furnished. They spend most of their time working on class action suits and civil rights cases.

But there was always their underlying ambition, and a lot of quarreling over the grants project. I couldn't take it for very long. Unemployment wasn't making the situation any better either. I went to several employment agencies but they all said the same thing: "You can't get a full-time job if you're going back to school, and we all know you're going back to Harvard, even if you don't."

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