08 October 2011

Life in Berkeley

What, after all, did we do in Berkeley?  We lived there for nearly two years, after all.  I have talked about fish.  I was, of course, a full-time student at the University, and, as well, worked part-time in the language laboratory, and at computer programming.

I am ashamed to say that, again, my self-centredness comes to the fore when I say that I am only rather vaguely aware of Edna's life during those times.

She worked.  She worked hard, and, I think, in frustrating circumstances, because, rather than having a permanent job, she 'temped' - worked for agencies that supply a person here for two weeks, there for a month, somewhere else for two days - that sort of thing.

But ... she may well correct me to point out that she did get a permanent job - my ignorance of which tells you something about me.

And she was Kathleen's mother.  Kathleen was just about thirteen months old when we moved to Berkeley.  We put her into a day-baby-sitter - who almost killed her.

The woman was, I'm afraid, the sort whom your great-grandmother would have called 'slatternly.'  She was our age, I think.  She lived in a flat that was always messy.  I remember once she said she had tried to get the company that picked up the rubbish to agree to pick up her rubbish bin later in the morning - it was just intolerable that they came along making noise at ungodly hours like 7AM (or whatever it was) when people were asleep!

The accident that caused us to change baby-sitters was, I think, a consequence of her sleeping habits.  Edna dropped Kathleen off on her way to work - about 8AM, I suppose.  Well, the lady had to be up then, of course.  But I think she just went back to sleep, leaving Kathleen to play.  With whatever was lying around.  With, in this case, a US one-cent piece - a 'penny.'

13- or 14-month-old babies play with things principally by putting them into their mouths.

Thankfully, no surgery was required to dislodge the coin, and nor did she choke to death.  I assume it was lodged in her oesophagus rather than the trachea, or she would have died.  The doctor was able to remove it through her mouth.

We changed baby-sitters.  I think, but am uncertain, that the next arrangement was with a proper day-care centre rather than an individual baby-sitter.

I think it was in Berkeley that my first exposure to the world of illegal drugs happened.

To modern ears, my awareness of the world of illegal drugs must seem astonishingly naive - and so, indeed, it was.  The use of chemical means of altering consciousness is, I suppose, nearly as old as mankind - at least as old as Noah, as the Bible tells us (Genesis 9:20-21):
20And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: 21And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
At various times, governments have attempted to regulate the use of such substances.  My own awareness of such matters stemmed almost exclusively from a film shown to us (twice, I think, in successive years) in high school, about the dangers of addictive drugs.  The film was not the famous 1936 "Reefer Madness" - though the date of that film shows how far back the problem goes, and how far back the fear on part of governments that 'ordinary' people might be involved.  The film I saw showed men starting with soft stuff - marijuana, I suppose, though I think that I didn't even understand that at the time - and then going on to hard stuff - heroin - followed by withdrawal symptoms.  The film was intended to frighten us.  It frightened me.

So that when my Best Man Harry Frank offered to get me to smoke 'pot' - encouraged me, I think, though I may be wrong - I had two fears:

  1. Fear of not being well thought of by him (be refusing);
  2. Fear of the drug.
The second fear was by far the stronger.  I remember getting together, then, with him - was Edna there?  I do not remember - taking one or two puffs on the joint offered to me, assuring him, nervously, that I was now 'stoned' - and finding an excuse fairly quickly to leave.

It was not until late 1968, under very different circumstance, and in very different frame of mind, that I smoked marijuana again.  That time I did not limit myself to one or two puffs.

May or June, 1966 came around.  I had passed my final exams - with very good marks, all through (better marks than I had been beginning to receive for my astronomy studies).  I had been accepted to enroll as a Master's student to study linguistics at the University of Hawai'i in Honolulu.  In my application I expressed an interest in "Micronesian languages" - I had Marshallese in mind.  Don Topping, writing to accept me as a grad student, had asked whether I would be interested in a summer job, from June through August, at $800/month - a much higher salary than I had ever earned before - to prepare language teaching materials for "a Micronesian language" to be used in instructing Peace Corps Volunteers.

"Would I??!!"  An income, a high salary, work in exactly the area I wanted to occupy myself with - I responded with alacrity, unregrettingly dropped any idea of attending my graduation ceremony, hastily dumped on Edna the responsibility of disposing of our furniture and car and of shipping our belongings - including those tropical fish - to Honolulu - and flew forthwith to Honolulu.

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