JUNIOR YEAR—1969-1970 Chapter 32—"San Francisco"
“Do you want to take over Ginger’s room?” Marty asked when we arrived home after the trip to Woodstock. “It’s warmer in the winter.”
“I’ll keep the attic.” I couldn’t imagine leaving it. It was my place and I loved it. “But we need to find another roommate. Preferably not a senior so I’ll have someone to live with next year and preferably a female to even out the odds.”
Later that week Marty came home with a proposition. Waited to tell me when my hands were in dirty dishwater so I couldn’t choke or pummel him. “How about a twenty-nine-year old sociology professor, male, unmarried?”
I turned to look at him, rubber gloved hands still in the water. The right glove had a hole in the thumb. “I asked for a junior female, Marty. I did not, repeat, did not ask for a 29-year old male. And I definitely don’t want to live with a sociology professor.”
“You’ll like this guy.” He took a towel and started drying the dishes. “He’s coming from San Francisco.”
“That’s supposed to make a difference? I don’t care where he’s coming from. I don’t want to live with a sociology professor or be stuck with one when you graduate.”
“You don’t know anything about him or about sociology professors. You’re not a sociology major.”
“Have you met him?” I asked.
“Not exactly. I ran into a professor on campus who told me their new hire was looking for a place to live.” Marty finished a dish then threw the towel on the counter.
“That’s it? You’re going to accept someone without even meeting him? No sociology professors. Period.” I turned to finish washing the last few pieces of silverware in the bottom of the sink.
“How can you say that when you don’t know anything about him?”
I turned to face Marty. “I know a lot about sociology professors. Tom Garson was my advisor. Remember? And by the way, Garson deserted me and I need a new advisor. That’s what sociology professors do.”
“You can’t blame Garson. He got a great job at a big university. And there was nothing wrong with him. You have no argument.” Marty put the last fork in the drawer still wet.
“It isn’t just Garson. R.J. was a sociology major. We went over to Professor Stinson’s house once. I learned everything else I need to know about sociology professors there.”
“You can’t judge sociology professors by Stinson. He only lasted a year. I took his Sociology of Politics class and he was crazy.”
“Exactly my point,” I said. “How do you know this guy isn’t like Stinson. You’re assuming he’ll be like Garson. What if he’s not?” I pulled the plug from the sink, took off the rubber gloves and drained the right one. I dried my hands on the towel hanging over the refrigerator door handle. It needed to be washed.
I sat down and put both hands on the kitchen table. “Let me tell you about sociology professors. It will definitely change your mind about having one live here and then we can look for a junior female.”
Marty stopped me briefly, went to the stove to pour boiling water into our teapot that played “Tea-For-Two” when you picked it up, provided you remembered to wind it beforehand. This time it didn’t play anything. He handed me a cup of hot water with a peppermint t-bag in it, a mason jar full of honey and a wooden honeycomb. “Enlighten me.”
“Remember my job as a journalist is to observe and investigate. Apparently, all good hippies major in sociology and professors think it’s groovy to interact with them and find out what makes them tick.” I poured some honey into the tea straight from the jar, ignoring the honeycomb.
“You actually expect me to take this conversation seriously when you just said groovy?” Marty reached for the honey. I slid it over to him.
“It’s a sociological experiment. The professors are searching for the hippie ideology and I don’t want them searching here.”
“Whatever that means,” Mary poured too much honey in his tea. “Go on.”
“These hippie sociology majors sat around the house putting down some dope. I don’t think I’ve ever been at a party with that much dope.” I blew on the tea and took a drink.
“That’s saying something. I saw you put down some dope last fall.”
“Beside the point. In the middle of the kitchen table, Stinson had the biggest jar of Vitamin C I ever saw. Something about Vitamin C depletion and marijuana. I don’t think there’s a shred of truth in it. By the way, and this point is important, throughout all of this, Stinson is nowhere to be seen.”
“So now you’re all stoned and Stinson is nowhere.”
“Nowhere. That’s the point. He is nowhere and we’re in his house. I got really stoned. Actually, I was stoned before I even got there but that’s also beside the point. Everyone had pink halos around their heads, except for R.J. and for some reason his ears were green. Weird Buddha statues with burning incense stood on every counter.”
Marty laughed. “Stop right there. Having a sociology professor live here does not mean that people will have pink halos around their heads. That’s the dope you smoked and not the professor. And I like Buddha.”
“The point is that they did it at the professor’s house and I don’t particularly want a bunch of sociology majors with pink halos smoking dope and hanging out in our house all the time.”
“You have a lot of points and I’m still not convinced.”
“The incense made me nauseated. God, I hate incense. Sitar music played on the record player. I remember wondering why they weren’t listening to the Beatles. I think I even asked that question but it’s hard to remember because I was pretty stoned at the time. I realize the Beatles got into sitar music but I’m not talking about Beatles sitar. I’m talking about sitar sitar. All kind of twangy with no real tune. God, I hate sitar music even more than I hate incense. Can you imagine constant sitar music playing on our stereo with raspberry smelling incense filling the house?” It was then I realized that I was telling Marty about what happened at Stinson’s house. If Hook were still alive I’d be telling him and we would be laughing about it.
Marty looked at me, drumming his fingers on the table. “Becky, back to sociology professors.”
“This is about sociology professors. They play sitar music. The only good thing was the gallon of Pisano. They don’t drink Ripple. Everyone smokes cigarettes or joints. The room is filled with smoke. I don’t want cigarette smoke in my house all the time. Reminds me of my freshman roommate. And I hate incense.”
“You already said that.”
“I know. But I want you to know how much I hate incense. It gives me a headache. Over in the corner there’s a big water pipe, probably bought on a research trip to Turkey. There must have been two dozen jars filled with various nuts and grains on the shelf in the kitchen.”
“I like nuts and grains. Vitamin C is necessary for life. You haven’t convinced me yet.”
“Okay. This will get you. They eat Vanilla Wafers.” I got up, walked over to the counter that separated the kitchen from the living room and picked up the Winnie-the-Pooh cookie jar. I took it to the table and pulled out five Oreos. “Can you imagine Winnie-the-Pooh filled with Vanilla Wafers? It would be sacrilegious.”
“Still not convinced.” Marty put an Oreo in his mouth whole and got up to pour more water into the teapot.
“This will do it. Remember Stinson isn’t around. Everyone is stoned and making out or having sex on the couch or on the bean bag chairs on the floor in the living room.”
“That doesn’t have anything to do with sociology professors.” Marty stopped and looked at me, his tea cup half-way to his mouth.
“It does because it’s what happens at their houses that’s important. Do you want all that happening here?”
“Stick to Stinson. I don’t need to hear what you and R.J. did there when you were stoned.”
“That’s the point. I never saw Stinson. He let it happen. I mean, what professor in their right mind would allow people to smoke dope in their kitchen and then have sex on their living room floor? Do you want weird sociology majors coming over here to hang out with this guy from San Francisco who you know nothing about? They smoke dope, eat sunflower seeds out of mason jars, down Vitamin C and then start making out.”
“Like I said. I don’t need to hear what you did with R.J. on the couch.”
“I told you before. It isn’t about the couch. It’s about the weird people at Stinson’s house. Anyhow, it was on a bean bag chair not the couch.”
“I told you I don’t want to hear about you and R.J.” Marty stood up and started pacing back and forth behind the table, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans.
“Calm down, Marty. I’m only giving you a warning. If a sociology professor lives here all sorts of weird things will happen right in front of your eyes.”
Marty looked at me. “In fact, I don’t really give a shit about R.J. at all.” There was an edge to his voice. He was beginning to piss me off.
I looked at Marty. “I told you a million times, this has nothing to do with R.J.”
“By the way, someone told me he got shipped off to Nam.”
“Who told you that?”
“Can’t remember. Why do you care?” Marty was staring at me, glaring at me was more like it.
“Cool your jets, Marty. I’m curious. He was my friend for a while. He got me through some tough shit.”
Marty slammed his hand down on the table and leaned across so that he could look at me eyeball to eyeball. “Your friend? You call that man your friend? That man destroyed you. I hope he dies in Nam.”
I pushed my chair back so hard it fell over. I stood up but didn’t pick it up. “That is unbelievably cruel. Why do you even care what I did with R.J.? It’s none of your goddamn business. I don’t ask you what you do when you go out with someone. I don’t give a shit what you think about R.J. and me making out on a beanbag chair in Stinson’s living room. And this isn’t about him anyway. It’s about sociology professors.”
“Shut up about R.J.”
Marty had crossed the line. I hated R.J. for what he did to me and what I allowed to happen. That wasn’t the point. It was none of Marty’s business. I walked over to the other side of the table and stood right in front of him. He wanted eyeball to eyeball, I’d give him eyeball to eyeball. “Yeah, and maybe we had sex right there in front of everybody. What do you think about that? Maybe we had sex two or three times in front of everybody. Maybe it was a big orgy and I was having sex with everyone at the party. Why do you even care who I have sex with?”
He wouldn’t answer. He turned to walk away. I stopped him with my voice. “Don’t you walk away from me, Marty. You started this.”
He turned towards me. “I told you to shut up about R.J.”
I wanted to pummel Marty. I wanted to hurt him in some way. I don’t know why. Why was I even defending R.J.? “You shut up about R.J. He was the best goddamn guitar player I ever heard.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“It has everything to do with everything. You don’t have a clue what I was going through last year.”
Marty picked up the first thing on the table his hand touched, the “Tea-For-Two” teapot, and slammed it down. The last three notes of “Tea-For-Two” played. “I lived with what you went through last year. I know every second of what you went through. And R.J. didn’t help.”
“How do you know if he helped or not? Are you God? Do you know everything about everybody? And by the way, where were you when I was going through all that shit last year.”
“No, you weren’t. You were stopping wars and campaigning for people and writing letters and getting petitions signed. You weren’t here. So fuck you, Marty. And no sociology professors.”
The fight was up. I had no more in me. I ran up to my attic room and slammed the door. It wasn’t true, of course. Marty was there for me every day in every way. But right now, I wanted to pound his face. I wanted to put my fist through the wall. I didn’t give a shit about R.J. That wasn’t the point. But I couldn’t quite figure out what the point was.
Thirty minutes later there was a knock on the attic door. I opened it. No one was there but on the floor was a plate of Oreos. We never mentioned that conversation again.
Twenty-nine-year old sociology professor Rick Barton moved in. A few early grays peppered his full beard and the long dark hair braided down his back. When Rick Barton sat, he didn’t just sit. He set. He plopped himself down as though he meant to be there for a while. They do that a lot in the South. He didn’t come from the South but he sure knew how to set. Wherever he was he belonged there for a long time even if it was only for a moment.
An incurable pot smoker and lover of incense, Rick quickly placed a jar of Vitamin C in the middle of the kitchen table and insisted everyone take one every morning, dope or not. I still indulged every now and then. Peter and Marty never. Pretty soon I learned to tolerate incense. I never grew to love it but I did grow to love Rick Barton.
Rick came to Lake Forest College after receiving his doctorate from one of the University of California campuses. Childhood memories of the Midwest brought him back to Chicago.
Rick moved all his stuff into the downstairs bedroom the last week of August. All his stuff is what he could fit in his VW van for the trip from the West Coast. A new stereo system, a bunch of big pillows, a great batch of records that he put on the board and brick bookcase that held our entire collection, some serapes he’d picked up in Mexico, a bean bag chair, a couple boxes of clothes and lots of books. Best of all, he brought in the third seat of his VW van and we used it as an extra couch in the living room.
Over Pisano wine, marijuana and the nauseating smell of incense, we spent the last few days of summer talking about Berkeley, Haight-Asbury, free speech, campus takeovers, and student strikes. One night, Rick handed me a Life Magazine. I opened it up to faces of the week’s dead in Vietnam.
“Oh, my god,” I said as I touched each picture. “They’re all my age.” Page after page of faces. Two hundred and forty-two faces. Yearbook pictures. The war wasn’t hundreds dead or thousands dead. It was one person dead over and over and over again. Russell and Charles. Elmer and John. Keith and Michael. Robert and James. That person and this one. All had a family who loved him. One by one individuals, each once a living breathing human being. Each one dead. Two hundred and forty-two black body bags with white name tags.
U.S. Soldier Body Count: 44,781