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[W r i t e r' s N o t e b o o k]

Sketches of Those We Have Known: BERKELEY PEOPLE

She was picking colorful stones off the beach and sealing them in her hand. He thought about the night before and her impossible solution. He sat on a stack of driftwood that had been thrown against the rocky knoll overlooking the beach and watched her now dancing out of the way of the rippling tide running tiny furrows of water over her feet and, now, out away from the receding line broke wave after wave, white-foamed with bits of blue in them. Eternity, he imagined. For a moment he was nostalgic for a simpler time in his love for her. It was hard to tell if it was love. He had been reading and listening to tales of the obsessed and wondered if he had fallen into the most devious trap humans fell into. Nature had constructed the brain to sic itself in the form of another. And in the entanglement, their vicious bites would become pleasurable and predictable; habitual. And so they would be joined in eternal torment and misery.

The complexity of the simple, naive gestures along the beach filled him with another desire; carnal and yet not carnal as though she would be raised above herself and he, too, raised ideally through the physical love they had enjoyed in the damp cove. But he knew in himself it was the delusion of the romantic. Even at his young age he knew it was a delusion that must play itself out as much as the planets orbited the sun without a choice in the matter. The birthright of delusion, he thought. He would use it in something he wrote or say it at a party when the guitar players stopped playing.

Then came the moment he always dreaded. The realization that what he was looking at in the simple young woman was of his own making and that the only solution to the problem that had developed between them was one of subtle power; power that he gathered each night in the pretense of sleep and boiled in mad thoughts during the day to try and figure out how to make the young, simple woman became what he wanted her to become.

Once the illusion of the simple love had been broken, a previously unconscious desire entered awareness; to find the limits of her vulnerability and exploit them until, he hoped, her own hidden illusions would be self-evident. But the few times he had allowed himself to experiment with this kind of power he realized she wouldn't recognize her own illusions but, begin to defend herself against attempts to find her secret. And eventually, he thought, a simple but nonetheless powerful revenge would be born.

* * * * * * * *
There's always one who assumes the shame of the family; who is born with a natural, active intelligence but without guidance and nurturing the intelligence falls back on itself. So, at last, the intellect rears itself for one last look around and sees, in a moment of extreme excitement and panic, the broad vanity of the world and the evil running through every gesture until, finally, he withers back into the provinces of the spirit and spends the rest of his natural life creating vast tracks of rationalization over the moment of truth. The man so fated, so victimized by the worst nature in families surrenders to his fate and spends the rest of his life grumbling half-wild, half mournfully at the world passing by.

And yet, what strength and beauty in the soul! What great nobility still remains in the body of someone this unfortunate! What hope radiates out of the smallest gesture! What beauty can be snatched from the ruins! What blasts of humor have emptied the soul of its darkness!

* * * * * * * *

Anne had kept her promise by coming to the corner of Telegraph and Dwight Way on a particularly cold winter day. In fact, it was the day before Christmas and all along the avenue came and went hundreds of people buying from the sidewalk venders or else ducking into a door entry and ringing up a purchase for a friend or relative. And then others simply enjoyed the best day for mingling; everything became an attraction. And soon enough one felt that they were the attraction. Well, it was all free with musicians playing and people talking in hurried, confident voices, venders on chairs pushed back, singing, paying as little attention to the things they were selling as possible; eyes narrowed, faces aging.

The musicians played violins or drums in front of small crowds who listened with great interest before moving on. And every few minutes two old friends would bump into each other, cry out and embrace, laugh as though now everything was right then pass into the crowd along the sidewalk.

Anne watched nervously at the corner wondering now whether she had done the right thing. She kept reminding herself that now she was in California. Berkeley, California to be exact, her wayfaring taking her this far; so far, in fact, that it seemed all the places she had traveled through fused together to form a kind of passionate colony she was now discovering for some imperial kingdom.

First, there had been the coast of Maine, then the mountains of Colorado, then the coast of Oregon and finally the Bay Area and she had only come to the Bay Area at the request of her former lover who she hadn't seen or hear from in two years. But he had reported that the Bay Area was a fine place, a place to free oneself of all the youthful dreams which were captured in psychological nets elsewhere.

She stood rather tall and thin, girl-like in the middle of rogues and creatures from the alley who came up and bothered her for a quarter or a dime. She would look at them with a confused expression on her face that covered the disdain she felt but which she fought as well. The image of disdain was the last image she carried of her mother. Not simply the last impression of her mother but an impression gathered over the whole period of her life; twenty-six years.

Anne remarked to herself, "If mother were here she would look like this," and then in her minds eye she pictured her fragile, Catholic mother walking down Telegraph Avenue with her head tilted back and her eyes slightly closed. Poor, poor mother, Anne thought. Dead before life could reach her.

Now she saw Tex passing over an island which separated traffic on Telegraph Avenue in each direction. She felt her body contract and chill for a moment as though she were seeing something other than the man. But as he came closer she smiled and waved her hand. Tex, too, smiled and waved his hand.

They sat self-consciously and finally agreed to go to the Mediterranean Cafe and have a bit of coffee before they looked for gifts. They found a table in the rear of the cafe, spacious and painted blue, filled with people so it took fifteen minutes before they could get their coffee and go back to the table. He told her the history of the cafe, that in the previous decade had been a gathering place for the radicals, poets, musicians and assorted characters of the time.

"Ginsburg wrote Howl in this cafe," he told her.

* * * * * * * *

There had been no one to talk to for a long tine and so, one day, he decided to do something about it.

The effects of not speaking for a long time were visible and can be charted in the face by the way the eyes fall back into the hard bone and the mouth closes like the mouth of a cartoon character; a straight line across the face.

He had made no conscious decision to stop talking but merely, things fell into place. After awhile he had learned about all things and had listened with rapt attention at the experiences of others; the opinions, thoughts, and feelings of anyone who passed him by.

He had talked, often, before he fell silent. One time he had spoken to a crowd in front of a large building and had exhorted the crowd to take what was theirs or, at least, what was rightfully their duty to act on.

It had been a spontaneous gesture on his part. And for the effort he spent several days in jail until his case was dismissed as an "act of forgiveness," the Judge had said.

To talk, everything had to seem fresh and vital and worth talking about. But then he began hearing the same things over and over again, even songs- the same thing- over and over until the brain ran hot with the glut of it and all the sameness became very painful.

So, one day he stopped talking. And when he made this decision it suddenly became clear to him that by no longer speaking, he was impervious to others speaking to him or at him out of the radio and television or noise in general.

He would walk down the street, his head erect and aloof, projecting a royal, kingly sort of attitude; a feeling others passing him 'got' and so glared at him as though he were a nut.

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David Eide
eide491@earthlink.net 
2002 David Eide. All rights reserved.