jayellebee's Blog

November 5, 2010

College

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 10:34 am

     Some might call me “straight-laced.”  This is true, but those laces are attached to a suggestive undergarment.  What I mean is, the fun layer exists – it just isn’t always visible.  But these pundits should’ve known me before I spent my formative undergrad years getting loosened-up at Cal during the tumultuous sixties.

     My parents, both Berkeley grads, raised me from an early age to know I would attend the mother of all UCs – whether I liked it or not.  At barely 17, I was much too young (Mom and Dad’s opinion, not mine) to go away to school at some scary, faraway place like . . . Davis?  So, in the fall of 1966, good girl that I was, I obediently presented myself for freshman orientation.  Pink cheeked.  Appropriately adorned in wool skirt, crisp blouse, nylons, and low-heeled pumps.  Ready to E Plurbus Carborendum.  My father claimed that phrase meant, “wear the bastards down,” and often sent me to face a new challenge with the words ringing in my ears.

     I did not, however, arrive at the campus my parents so fondly remembered from the 1930s.  The country was not recovering from The Great Depression.  The university sponsored no proms.  The coeds did not wear corsages to football games.  The freshmen males were not forced to wear identifying beanies and submit to frequent harassment from upper classmen. 

     Instead, Mario Savio’s Free Speech days had ebbed, giving way to the Protest-du-jour era.   My first three quarters each hosted its own anti-something-or-other issue.  Bra burning was big.  Drugs were bigger.  Sexual experimentation was rampant.  Or so I was told on the evening news.  I was a commuter, allowed each afternoon to flee the craziness of Telegraph Avenue and Sproul Plaza for the safety of home in the Oakland hills.

     “What did you learn today?” Dad would ask at dinner.

     “The government shouldn’t be spending tax dollars on Vietnam,” I answered, quoting the pickets through whom I’d had to thread my way to get to class.

     “This,” Dad made the newly popularized peace symbol with his index and middle fingers, “is the footprint of the American chicken.”

     “You can’t say that,” I argued.

     “I just did.”

     I grew to dislike my college experience so deeply that my only thought was to get it over with as quickly as possible.  To this end, I enrolled in summer quarter. Much to my delight, the campus population dwindled to half its normal size,  the National Guard was nowhere to be seen, and even the weather improved.  I actually enjoyed attending class and stayed in Berkeley at the end of the day to swim at the student facility in Strawberry Canyon.   But, like all good things, summer ended and those rabble-rousing hippies returned.

     My second collegiate fall I took to enjoying a comfortable lounge chair in the Student Union building while studying between classes.  I was doing just that one day when a hoard of stampeding rioters crashed through the doors followed by a battalion of campus cops wielding batons.   The stacked binder, books, and purse beside my chair were trampled as I pulled myself into fetal position, hands covering my face.  The melee ended as abruptly as it began.

     “What did you learn today?” 

     “I need to find a better place on campus to study.”

     That winter, university faculty spearheaded the protest.  Probably something to do with Teaching Assistants’ pay/duties.  I don’t really remember, it was a long time ago.  What I do remember was the boycott.  Not one of my professors deigned to convene class on campus.  One met in an apartment on the south side.  Another in a church basement on the west side.  I got my only inside look at a fraternity on the east side thanks to a third disgruntled educator.  The logistics of walking from one location to another meant leaving class A early to get to class B not-too-late.  Stand in the hall at B, since the space was too small, trying to catch some of the anti-administration ranting until it was time to leave for class C.  And all the while, the rain fell.  The winter of ’68 must have set records.  I know my boots never completely dried. 

      That was also the quarter I convinced Mom I could wear pants to school.  It was way too wet  for skirts.   Then, just to be a little rebellious, I adopted my brother’s discarded Navy sailor’s, thirteen-button, bell bottoms.   He had joined the Navy minutes before being drafted, found his way to Officer Candidate School in Rhode Island, and no longer needed the remarkably warm trousers. 

     “What did you learn today?”

     “Sailors must have to plan their bathroom breaks.  Undoing thirteen buttons takes time.”

     In fairness, I do have a few pleasant memories of my three years at Cal.  That very first quarter there was a guy in my Chem 1A lab, Aaron, who could whistle like a canary sings.  He serenaded us as we toiled with our vials, beakers, and bunsen burners.  Once in a while I’d hear him in the distance somewhere on campus and his music always made me smile.   There was the French instructor who, for four consecutive quarters, never spoke a word of English until our final session.  That day she announced, with a hard Bronx accent, she had just become engaged.  Heaven only knows how Bronx-ish my French sounds!   And then there was the day I left campus for the last time, accompanied by the chiming campanile bells.

     “What did you learn today?”

     “I’m stronger than I thought I was.”

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6 Comments »

  1. Loved that take on UCB! I attended Fresno State during the Iran situation we had many of those students protesting on campus. Very interesting times we got to experience.

    Comment by lizbooks — November 5, 2010 @ 10:45 am | Reply

  2. Loved it as usual! Brought back our conversation last week. Berkeley in the 60’s must have been a trip, and not necessarily a good one. I was safely ensconced in the Boston Area at the time.

    Bee

    Comment by Bee Hylinski — November 5, 2010 @ 3:05 pm | Reply

  3. You and I are the only two coeds I know of that commuted to college although on different coasts. I think we missed a lot but turned out okay after all don’t you think? :0)

    Great story Joanne.

    Comment by nina bucchere — November 5, 2010 @ 4:40 pm | Reply

  4. Loved this story! Whomever might call you “straight-laced” doesn’t know the “real” you. Great trip down memory lane.

    Comment by Diana Tryon — November 5, 2010 @ 4:48 pm | Reply

  5. Charming, Joanne! I love the structure to carry meaning through Father’s question: What did you learn today? I am reminded of those “salad” days.
    Jean

    Comment by Jean G — November 5, 2010 @ 5:59 pm | Reply

  6. Very nice remembrance, Joanne! I liked the lacy-racy beginning, and agree with Jean G. about the structure. Sorry your college experience wasn’t more fun for you, but it will provide fodder for lots of good stories, I’m sure.

    There was a small, framed quotation hanging in my Walnut Creek suburban ranch-style kitchen in the sixties, “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” Your Dad would have called me a “Peacenik.”

    Keep up the great blogs,

    Ann

    Comment by Ann Damaschino — November 6, 2010 @ 3:39 pm | Reply


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