Friday, December 11, 2009
How I Remember It
The opium came from Paul, the guy at the record store. He laid it on me just to be cool. He had worked in the kitchen of an ashram in India. When he invited me over for curry, he neglected to tell me that they had been making it a little hotter each day since they got back, twenty-eight days earlier. My entire digestive system, including my lips and tongue, were scorched.
You showed up at my place a couple days later. You were all fired up about a demonstration on campus. You heard about it from your Black Panther friend. I think that's when you were living in the rented room next door to Eldridge Cleaver's apartment-headquarters in the San Francisco's Fillmore district. Correct me if I'm wrong.
This particular wave of protest had begun on the California State University campus and spread to Berkeley instead of the other way around. Led by the Third World Liberation Front, a coalition of SDS and the Black Panthers, and others all representing the vast non-white communities, the student strike at State made S. I. Hayakawa, its president, a darling of the Right Wing. Before becoming President of SF State, Hayakowa, an English professor there, had led a voter's crusade against all digit-dialing, demanding letter prefixes remain. As a result of the Student Strike, he was nationally known overnight and went on to become a State Senator. It's gratifying to know that we still have all-digit dialing. His greatest moment was pulling the plug on the sound system and bringing in the National Guard.
The Third World Liberation Front were demanding, inter alia, an end to racism at the university, the creation of a Black Studies Department, and an end to the Vietnam War. Looking back, they got two out of three.
The demonstrators on the Berkeley campus eventually met the massed forces of the Berkeley Police and the dreaded Oakland Tac Squad, the Blue Meanies (named for their blue jumpsuits) with their body armour and heavy artillery. Who knows who all was there? The FBI, the National Guard, the CIA, the Red Squads, assorted provocateurs and plants and the just plain crazy, all mixed in with the ideologues who were there for cause.
The police flushed the demonstration off the campus onto Telegraph Avenue. Then they advanced down Telegraph Avenue in a solid phalax with guns and gas masks. Special cars preceded them, pipes coming out of their windows, pepperfoggers, spraying the crowd with tear gas. Hipper store owners left buckets of water and paper towels outside their doors; used together, they created a sort of protective mask. This show of support was also a propitiatory offering to the lords of window-breaking and looting.
The people who had earlier been marching in solid ranks wearing leather jackets and snappy dashikis, chanting "Ungh! Ungawa! Third World Power!" were now rampaging down the streets, hurling everything that came in hand, screaming "Power to the People!"
We skirted the edge, emerging on Telegraph Avenue at Dwight Way, several blocks from the volcano, but the chaos was spilling toward us like flaming lava. You picked up a brick and put it in the pocket of your jacket and said "let's go up there," pointing toward the rooftops overlooking Telegraph.
It wasn't hard to find the stairway to the roof. I had lived in the second floor apartment during my sophomore year. We climbed up past the third floor to the roof, which was flat save for a low brick wall on the street sides. In the rear the building abutted an uneven terrain of roofs and television aerials.
You edged toward the street, glaring down at the Police with fierce hatred. My outrage at injustice was beginning to fray; you were propelled by a more powerful engine.
The teargas preceding the confrontation had begun to reach us. There wasn't a lot of time to equivocate. You waited only until the first Police car was in range, and hurled the brick at it.
The impact was seismic, spreading in jolting, instantaneous waves. All eyes turned up. Within seconds Police were in the street door and pounding up the stairs. You looked at me and I looked at you, and then we both started running as fast as we could.
The Police hit our roof just as we hit the roof next door in a loud thud and sprawl. You tell me if their guns were raised; that's what I saw. There was a gap between us and the next roof, a gap that didn't seem to matter very much as we hurled ourselves at it.
About four buildings on we made it to the street and kept running all the way to your car, parked far enough that we could still get away once we got to it, a beat-up VW bug. We had to push it to jump start it and prayed there was enough gas to get us out, but once it fired up it got us to my apartment near San Pablo.
We were insane with buzz; sheer adrenalin, paranoia, exulatation. We smoked more pot and opium and had much sex and then some take out Chinese food.
It was the same roof where James Rector was famously shot after the Third World Riots ebbed and People's Park hit flood tide.
A few days later we ran into Kathy at the MDR in North Beach. She was with Jim, and they told us about The Advisory in the old Kingsbury mansion in the heart of Pacific Heights, and mayhem ensued.