Sunday, June 14, 2009


[The College stories start here.]

Mary and I got into quite a few political arguments back in college. She was all for justice for the oppressed peoples, and I was all naive in other ways. I had got firmly into challenging everything I was told, and even when it was a counterculture authority I questioned it. So I questioned her too.

One of hot topics that year was the Angela Davis case. A year or so before, the activist young assistant professor had been fired from U C L A just for being a member of the communist party. Now she had been implicated in supplying guns for a courtroom shootout. Many left wing college folks thought it was a frameup, and Mary was one of them. I should have seen how strongly she identified with the studious socialist woman but I didn't. I just thought it was a bad idea to supply guns to anybody.

Mary and I had talked about the subject several times without changing our minds on it. Somewhere in the archive of the Columbia Daily Spectator is a letter to the editor that I wrote on the subject. I have to mention it for the sake of this story, but I don't want to see it again. Luckily it's not online.

Mary saw it of course. I didn't see her for a couple of days, but she barely spoke to me the next time I did, the next Saturday when we worked together. She said something about "that letter" and that was about all.

This wasn't good. Luckily our friend Lisa was there that day too, and when I covered her break in Philosophy Library I asked if she'd wait for me outside after work so we could talk a little bit. One of Lisa's favorite things was giving advice. Whatever plans she might have had weren't till later, so we were on.

I'll grant that Mary was polite all day. We closed up and went downstairs and out the main door of the building, and Lisa was there ahead of us. She looked at both of us and asked what we wanted to talk about. Mary must have called her while I wasn't around!

"Nothing", I lied. "I wanted to say hello", Mary lied. Lisa started walking and we both followed like sheep on each side of her. I think Lisa was playing the gambit where you can get people to talk by making them uncomfortable with silence. She just looked at us with a Mona Lisa smile. I think I said "um" at one point. Mary and I both normally walked east from the door to get to our residences but Lisa was leading us west toward Ferris Booth Hall. When we got to the end of the library building, Mary said what she usually said, "I have to go study", and peeled off toward the gate.

I said goodbye to Lisa and caught up with Mary. As we walked along the street she looked straight ahead as if I was not there. "I was thinking about the Angela Davis case a lot because of all the talking we did about it." Oh, that's not a good start. It's almost blaming her. "I just wanted to put down what I thought of it. I didn't do it to get you. It's just my opinion." I couldn't back down from just having an opinion different from hers. That wasn't quite what was wrong here either. She was always annoyed at me having different opinions but she would never deny that someone could.

I had to go for it. "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings." I didn't know what else to say. We were at her building by now and I knew I wasn't going up. She finally said something. "I know. I have to go now."

I was now at the gate at the other end of the library building. I went back on campus there and completed a circle around the library building back to where we left Lisa. She was still there as I half expected, sitting on the stone wall outside Ferris Booth. How could Lisa resist finding out what the two of us wanted to talk to her about? Maybe one of us would come back. She knew it was worth hanging out for a little while.

I jumped onto the wall next to her. As I did so I happened to glance toward the gate and I think I saw Mary appear and immediately turn back, as if she'd walked back along the street side as soon as I was out of sight. I wasn't sure it was her. I told Lisa. "I'll see her later. She usually takes longer." Whatever that meant.

I wasn't sure Lisa knew what was going on so I started talking. There wasn't much to say. "Did you see the letter to the editor?" and "She won't talk to me" and "I apologized just now but I couldn't read her reaction". "Oh, you never can read people." Freakin' Lisa. She was right, but still.

She jumped off the wall and said, "We should see if Robin is home".

Robin lived in Furnald. This was the cool dorm. You could make it first choice when you applied for next year's housing, but you didn't have much of a chance. It took luck and maybe something else to get in. The artistic free-spirited people lived there. If you lived in Furnald you were almost automatically interesting. No, I never lived there.

Robin liked to use all three of his names plus the "III" that came at the end. That was both arty and pretentious, but Robin knew how to play pretentious so that you enjoyed him doing it. I'm sure he was the gayest person I ever met in college, but we didn't really have gay people in those days, so he was just kind of different. A little theatrical, like a hammy actor whose life was his performance piece.

He was home. What a room he had. He had painted it black, except for the wood trim which was red. I always wondered what the dorm people said to him after he turned in the room at the end of the year. How many coats of paint would it take to change it back to the standard off white? As you might be guessing, I wanted to do the same thing. Maybe not black and red, but something. But I lacked the energy, or the nerve. Still, I liked people who went and did things like that. A victory for the human spirit, right?

I'd been to Robin's before with Lisa. Once the two of them got going their mood infected me too. We had had some laughs in the black room.

Lisa filled Robin in on why we had come by, and I realized she knew more than I thought she did. Mary must have supplied some of it. I brought the story up to date with what had happened today. We couldn't stand each other, but what should I do to make peace with her, because it was important to me that I do.

These were the two wizards about to apply their legendary skills to a tough case. Legendary, I tell you. I never really knew what the hell I was doing. But they would know. They would put their fingers right on the solution. I expected deep insight here.

Robin spoke. "I have no idea. What would you do besides talk to her? This is the strangest relationship I've ever heard of. "

Now coming from him that was quite a statement. All I could do was start laughing, and so did we all. We ended up all right that day. There was just nothing else to say about it. Later on after we broke up for the evening, maybe Lisa went to see Mary. I never found out for sure.

The next day I went down to the Metropolitan Museum with my friend Rachel from Art History class. We had an assignment to write about medieval paintings. We spent a long time looking at every single thing in the large medieval room and talking about the styles and symbolism and which works spoke to us across the great divide of the centuries and cultures. We spoke the same language, Rachel and I. When we went out a guard commented that we sure must like medieval art. Yeah, that or something.

Rachel was a nice Jersey girl. I really liked her. She at first thought that I had an advantage in our course because I'd been Catholic and she was Jewish. That is, unlike her I would know who the saints are. She was learning it all from scratch. That was funny, but I had to tell her that even though I went to St Catharine's School (so spelled), I was not aware that I could identify St Catherine as a woman resting her arm on a broken wheel. The nuns had not taught us the attributes of the saints. Imagine. The museum labels told us who each saint was.

So there we were talking about things and trying to understand them together and losing track of time. It was a good day, one of two or three we spent at museums. You're wondering why I am not writing more about Rachel, but she had let on to me before long that her dream was to find a nice Jewish boy. By an accident of birth, this was not something I could fulfill for her. We were doomed but we had a few nice times.


This song and video, Anthem, captures my mood as I journey through the past. I'll write more about it in another post, but you can check it out now. Maybe you're not into Trance music, but stick with this. It's got a lot of heart.

(That's . Archive readers: If this has dropped from Youtube, search for Anthem by Filo and Peri, featuring Eric Lumiere, the 3:21 video version. Song, vocal, guitar are by Eric Lumiere.)

[The next college story is Dinosaur.]

Next time: Walk.

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