BERKELEY by @cloudypianos


I suppose everyone will read this completely  sober and cranky over a cup of coffee in the morning. I just felt like unloading a memory, or a small batch of memories, and it’s late so I’m not sure what this is going to sound like but here it is, an early/late night Throwback Thursday:

My first college summer:

In high school my ski team voted me the “hippie chic”. I was a little perturbed by that. Why am I the hippie? I was pretty good. “But you’re like out there.” But I hardly ever smoked pot. “That’s just the way you think.” So I thought, fuck everybody, I want the I don’t know, I can’t think of anything, but the better other awards, one of those. But looking back on it I can see their point. I had instinctively chosen five potential colleges and they were all hippie schools. One in North Carolina. One in Oregon. Two in California and one in Mass. They were every single one of them “granola schools” known for Birkenstocks, and organic cereals and rallies and weird street musicians.

When I was 19 and it was my first summer after my first year of college, I moved to Berkeley. Since I wasn’t accepted to UC Berkeley and I felt like that’s where I would have gone if I’d had a choice, I decided to spend the summer there instead.

I stayed at my friend’s house. Her parents were millionaires and had a place half an hour east of the city in Lafayette. They had a pool, a golden retriever, a grand piano. I played Beethoven for the dad, a ship captain on the bay, and he accepted me into the home, as long as a I played him a song occasionally. My friend spent her days riding her horse. I woke every morning, took the BART into Berkeley, canvassed door to door for ten hours, and took the BART back.

The second day of work my trainer was a Berkeley psych student named Loren. He was Latino-American with a shaved head and small silver glasses and behind them were dark black glowing eyes. His skin was olive and his clothes were tight enough to see his biceps and the curve of his back. When I first entered the room I looked right at him, laughing with a blonde girl. He was wearing a bright yellow shirt and I thought hell this is the bay area, he’s probably gay. But fuck he is hot. And he was. My description doesn’t do him justice. He had a charisma, a charm, an energy.

As the director to the new canvassers he told us our turf and we giggled like idiots on the first day, nervous, running up to make some money. “Hi, we’re with CALPIRG the environmental grassroots agency…did you know that there are ____so on____acres of forest being ___so on” and I wanted to impress him, and look smart so I memorized the page speech in the morning. Other people couldn’t get it down, couldn’t make any money. Didn’t smile enough or know what houses to try first, and they failed and they were fired. Sometimes it was sad. Most of us were college students. My friend Andy from New York with his girlfriend at Berkeley. My friend Ray the DJ. Celene, the blonde with the Cate Blanchett smile, was a sorority girl and law student at Cal. They were just making some money like me. Other people would come in 40, 50 years old, single parents, struggling, unable to keep a job. They immediately felt alienated and they usually had trouble memorizing their lines and they would disappear within the week.

After the first couple of weeks Ray told me to come along to party for the night. That’s when I stopped making it back to Lafayette. I’d miss the Bart. I’d stay at a house. There was a big soccer game and everyone bought forties. I needed a place to stay and Loren told me to come back to his frat. He had a little room in the corner in the basement by the pool tables. It was lit up with black lights and smelled like hookah. We were drunk. Ray was feeling Britta up. (She’s married with a baby now, I saw it on facebook.) Loren and I had sex. It was my second time. Ever. “You make my head spin” I remember him saying that. I remember thinking it was romantic and later telling him I wanted him inside me and thinking ohmigod that sounds creepy and I think he thought so too. But not then, and not at that moment because we were in the middle of having sex and it felt perfectly natural, not at all like the first time in the dorms on a bunk bed under an asbestos ceiling.

The first time was a frat boy too from my anthropology class. Thor (yes Thor) had also been charming and I only after knew that he had a bet to see how many girls he could fuck. And a girlfriend. Sounds really stupid, I know. Why didn’t I find out about that? But I’ve never been good at finding out these details until after the fact. No. I was a freshman and I had been good for eighteen years and I needed to remedy that immediately.

But then with Loren it was different because he was the first one I spotted in the room and I already had an idea of what I wanted. And so I knew what was going to happen. And he missed his soccer game. Fuck. He really wasn’t looking for anything, but I wasn’t sure what he wanted. We started to party more, and we slept together again and this time he would get a worried expression on his face when we were drunk and playing pool. This time it wasn’t ok for the BART to stop running before I could get home. And Ray said, “oh knock it off, we’re all friends” and we were sitting around the hookah and Ray invited me to a party. Not just any party, an X party. Well, I don’t know. The only drug I knew was pot. And alcohol if that counts. I’d had plenty of that in Oregon. But this sounded intimate, a small group, a room, Ray the DJ, and Loren. Loren would be there. So I said yes, and Loren looked worried, but he said ok.

I realized he was the one finding the drugs. Ray was the one who knew what they all were. The red alligator. The white pure MDMA. The green. The blue. I don’t even remember what. One had speed. One had coke. One had acid. We would buy it all from Ray which was fine because we were all making the most money at work, door to door, walking Bernal Heights, talking about the forests. So this first time with the X crew. And two other girls were there. I won’t mention everyone, to many names for a short post. But Britta was there again. And a couple we worked with. They took the X and went to the bedroom. There were about 8 of us left.

We were really really happy, like wow, I didn’t know that I could be happy, ever, (I’ll talk about my childhood another time), I don’t think I had ever felt that before, ha! The thing was I didn’t fucking care. I didn’t care about death, or sadness, or heartbreak or money or anything! We danced, sweating, waving our arms and our hips, and we went barefoot in the park, and later I was sitting on Loren’s lap on the deck and it was probably 3 in the morning and everyone else was rolling around on the carpet listening to Portishead and Massive Attack, and touching each other.

Loren rubbed my back. He kissed my neck and he told me what I had wanted to know and kind of already did but didn’t understand. “I can’t like you.” “But. Why?” I have a way of talking like a little girl. I imagine my eyes were huge, my palms and fingers were spread wide tracing his back and his receding hairline. I was looking into his eyes a lot because not only were both of us staring wide-eyed like children, and my were the pretty and his glasses were off, but also I knew that it was a psychological fact that looking for long periods of time into a lover’s eyes would increase the love and I was determined to do that. So I stared. And so he explained. He told me how his best friend had been having sex with his ex and now he felt “anti-girl” and he couldn’t be with one girl. He hated all girls right now. But hate sounds ridiculous coming from someone rolling on ecstasy.

In the morning we all rallied to go to the gay pride parade. We had upset stomaches. Somebody puked repeatedly. I made it an hour at the parade, with all of the glitter and floats and make-up and colors, ohmigod get me out of this circus and I was so down this had to be the biggest joke life had ever played on me. Exhausted. Hopeless. I boarded the Bart and fell asleep. Landing in Fremont at the end of the wrong line I turned around and went back to Lafayette. My friend gave me a look. She didn’t like these new coworkers. She didn’t like Loren. Her parents thought who is this girl coming in and out, staying here for free? Only her little sister didn’t care. Her little spoiled 16 yr old sister with the slut clothes and the shiny new car. She took me out to smoke pot and said her whole family was a bunch of turds and she was glad I was there and she couldn’t wait to do X too and get out and go to raves and have a blast. And she already did some but not really. I liked her the most because she was the most alive. Her and the dog.

And more time passed, and we did more X and one night I did so much X I think my head exploded. It felt like it flooded with waves and I might die and Loren still was anti-girl but he held me and held my hair back while I vomited on my feet. And he looked like even if he hated all girls that he hoped I wouldn’t die on him. Ray watched us too. Poor Ray. He never had any luck with any of us girls and Britta hated him and wouldn’t go near him after his one heroic attempt to land her on a sofa. Plus he was street and a little older and didn’t read and no one wanted to date him though he was fun to party with and knew how to handle the drugs.  (So, tangent, one day he moved to NY with a girl from the internet and they had two babies and one was suffocated on the bed in his sleep and later Ray died. I also saw that on facebook, when I went to leave him a Happy Birthday! (That’s why as much as I complain about Facebook I want everyone I know to be my friend there.))

There is no ending to this story but it’s getting late so I am going to wrap it up. The summer ended and two summers later I returned. There were many stories in between those two summers and it took me awhile to get over Loren because I had decided he was the love of my life. And the first time you decide that you’re in love you believe you might actually know the truth. And I really did think so. (Loren’s married now, I think he’s in Sausalito, working for a hospital? I don’t really know, he’s not on facebook.) But yes two summers later I stayed at a frat. Me! After all of these guys I am in a frat. But it was Cal’ architecture house, and it was very posh. The summers were just deserted rooms and boarders. Two were girls from the all girl’s university and they got me a job at the pool. They ate cheese and crackers for dinner and bleached their hair and reminded me of 50s housewives.

And the first week there my boyfriend came and I decided to break up with him after seeing Eternal Sunshine and he flew away and I was relieved. And then Loren and Britta and Heidi came by, oh and Keyon. All these people you don’t know because I’ve only told you such a compact story, but they were all a part of the old “crew”. The crew doing X, the crew going door to door in San Francisco and Oakland. The crew that drank forties and laughed and had sleepovers. The crew with Celene too, the law student. She’s the one who got me the room in the frat. her boyfriend’s frat. Celene with the beautiful Cate Blanchett smile and white-blonde hair. She was the girl Loren always laughed with, and I hated her. I hated her so much, and envied her so much, until we rolled and she came up to me and said I reminded her of herself, like this bright wild part of herself, like maybe who she would be if she wasn’t the perfect student and the sorority girl and the one guys wanted to get to know first and then date. I thought she was clever. And so she got me this room, and I brought all my art and set it up around this huge old room with stained glass windows overlooking the bay and frat row. She would take me rock climbing and tell me about her professor’s law book and her thesis. And we didn’t roll anymore except one time, and she was very grown up and sophisticated and blonde. (She’s married too and in Colorado according to FB).

This one time exception everyone came over and my friend from Oregon came except she was really from LA and she was very loud and very demanding. And curious about this Loren. And her and Loren went to talk in the sauna and I was like oh well whatever fuck it, and everyone else including myself ran around outside, barefoot in the grass, climbing trees, and we were the crew again for that night, and we were like children, because nothing fucking mattered, and we were happy.

I’d forgotten how nice it was to feel wanted and have someone open doors for you and look you in the eye and ask you questions about yourself and be curious for more and want to kiss you. I don’t think I want to be alone anymore.

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