whoever you are, forgive me

forgive me

Forgive me, whoever you are.
when puffy radiant clouds inhabited yesterday’s sky
I walked among them as an actor would
though they bled like shadows
over my speeding car
and otherwise provided
good cloud visual
when I stepped back I saw
what we aren’t given to see
this is indeed a large wet stone
in an empty space, adrift, alone
cloaked in an envelope of gathered air
a filmic matte painting overhung
only chemicals and steam
night “falls” across the dinner hour
and the entrapping firmament
has the aspect of a lazy dream

not with a bang, but with a bib. yes.


Some nights I’m possessed of a demon energy and I’ll iron a shirt, or two shirts. Other nights we sprawl and dawdle by lamplight and parse the dumbbell universe, a clear and present accident whose wit is often hidden from us, and whose largely inexplicable machinery has the charm of a tipsy blabbermouth mechanical engineer at the office bowling party. When I’m interested in hearing about Poisson’s Ratio you’ll know it, because I’ll be walking away at speed. But you can’t walk away from the universe. It hovers, a leering omnipresence. It doesn’t seem to know it is but a homely, if enormously complicated, machine. You don’t get magic just by adding more gears. The magic is in the wakey-wakey, and that’s us. But the Divine Milieu (as the howling emptiness of space has been called) is an immeasurably vast gulf of envy, and manages to choreograph our desperately fleeting lives into episodes of spirit-killing flapdoodle. You have the Hubble Deep Field over there, and over here you have a grown man masturbating into a cantaloupe. Same system, same entropic hoo-ha, and so on. How? Reality is a batshit sandwich, that’s how. What majesty we can muster is derived from our being able to eat it without blanching. I’m nowhere close.

Dave and I meet one evening at the Famous Fish Warehouse or whatever it’s called, a few blocks up from the beach. It’s one of those enormous restaurant/bars the size of a NASA hangar and tonight it is thronged and seething, the dank air tumescent with excited human congress. The World Series is hollering out of a dozen enormous screens hung about the place, the panicky-sounding, midrange hubbub of the gathered mob in here not unlike that viral Russian recording of the inadvertently-penetrated caverns of hell. Whole families are laughing with mouths full, throwing their heads back so that oral cavities become upturned, toothy vessels of sludge. And we’re supposed to eat around all this eating. Dave strolls ahead to our table, unperturbed.

The scene is alive with the twenty-something species to whom this loudmouth Breugel is a first home. The carefully unshaven young professionals and players lean in their dozens with hunched and easy panache over long glass-littered bars, they jostle and confer and grasp each other, neckties half-undone in front of the bathroom mirror, their short, upswept power hair shifted back on their scalps to show grooveless, Shatnernesque foreheads. They have vivacious but normal-seeming girlfriends and wives for the most part, though once in a while a guy will turn up with a date whose chest looks as startlingly swollen as a new contusion. A lot of the celebrants are wearing backward baseball caps, which on a good day are a thorn. Those that don’t wear backward baseball caps wear those stylish form-fitting club suits that seem carefully arranged to look like unbuttoned after-hours business dress. A few of the guys are sporting the Squashed Insouciant Beanie, the ubiquitous outlier symbol that crushes and droops a little at the apex, suggesting bohemian disarray. The look doesn’t really speak in this environment because everyone knows real Bohemia doesn’t watch televised sports, and so the beanie crowd look like fakes, and they are. The backward-cap guys and after-hours faux-business-dress guys are in their element, though. They make easy eye contact and chit-chat with bartenders and waitresses, and they all look like some version or hue of Ryan Gosling or Ryan Reynolds.

The baseball game has everyone excited. I mean scarily, phenomenally excited. The buzzed young guys and their significant others are wearing the collective ‘fuckyeahtheWorldSeries!’ mask and high-fiving each other, the men jerking their heads around and yelling incoherently every time one of the doughy millionaires onscreen swings a bat or jogs a little across the televised grass. All these wired guys are sporting Establishment tattoos and heroic eyebrows and are laughing loudly. The “I’m here straight from my important job in my unbuttoned suit” guys laugh angrily, like Billy Baldwin or Tom Cruise overplaying drunk because some acting coach somewhere told them that a drunk Young Turk looks at his gathered posse and angrily whips his hilarity-contorted face from friend to friend while laughing. “Haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw! haw!haw!haw! oooh shit, man! Haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!” Their girlfriends or wives could be the nameless and merely competent actresses on endless and interchangeable Law and Shooting shows and limply ironic internet ads; lookalike, neutrally beautiful young ladies with radiant curtain-hair like polished rayon and cackling, nose-wrinkling support laughter accessorized with a possessing paw fastened determinedly on the tattooed forearm of the backward cap.

During this last game of the World Series (all the games of the World Series, really. All baseball games, that is), doughy muscular men, some tallish and paunchy with a mullet-mustache set, throw the little white baseball around and occasionally sprint in expensive panic with their big fannies jumping. When they aren’t called upon to move they can be seen dramatically standing stock still in the outfield, waiting for the little white ball to drop like a speck of cotton from out of the arc lighting. Often the live feed will show a moth or gnat or other innocent fluttering around out there under the lights, unaware of the Moment, and sometimes the wealthy outfielder will drop an incoming ball after having waved away his colleagues, “I got this!”, and when he drops the thing which it is his massively overpaid job simply to catch and hold onto, he’ll chase after it with electric anger, like it’s the ball’s fault, and he’ll pluck it up and throw it towards home plate with all his strength and it’ll usually get about as far as the pitcher who will snag it out of the air and then strut around with angry eyes, clutching the little ball and looking all around. The whole affair is wrought with oddness and ceremony. All the while the “after hours business dress” phonies (there, I said it), and now even the backward-cap gangs in the restaurant are yelling and slapping hands and drinking and laughing and cavorting “haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!”, jerking their angrily laughing faces around to aim and fire their humorless barking at each other. Their potent little drinks have tiny colored straws in them.

Despite my misgivings I find myself wishing I were one of them. As I get older the desire becomes incrementally stronger and, I would suggest, more perverse.  Why didn’t God make me a guy who understands the appeal of sport-spectating and occasional boozing and loudness, a regular guy who can lose himself in this tumult and tribe-think and freeing conviviality, back-slapping with a group of like-minded men and dissolving like a drop in the placid Testosterone Sea? Down another quantum pathway I would’ve played sports in high school and pumped iron, had The Stones on my bedroom wall and not a stylized cartoon poster of big-hipped Elton John peering like an elf from underneath a top hat, I would’ve had one of those thick paperbacks of sports statistics on my bedside table next to my State Championship trophy, and would have followed my dad in his daily brow-furrowed examination of column after column of tiny numbers in the Sports Section, two guys following the stock index. Instead I sat by my Tensor lamp and pored over the beautifully bound and illustrated shiny hardcover of the complete lyrics of Bernie Taupin (thanks, Diana), surrounded by my Revell spaceship models and sketch pads and other such you’ll-never-get-to-first-base folderol. So on nights like this, and they are few, I fall into brief fits of a very potent reverie. Looking around in wonder at the backward baseball caps, I almost say aloud “how did I miss this boat so completely?”

Three guys at the table next to Dave and I are ordering drinks and being handsome and successful with their shaded jawbones and parted hair and general enviability. Enviability is a state, if not a word.  I spy on them in my peripheral vision and occasionally with one of those bold direct glances which, if intercepted, can be quickly reframed as admiration of the exposed duct work and celestially arrayed, dessicated starfish overhead. They’re watching the TVs with interest but no particular fever while they wait for dinner, chatting and laughing normally, holding their hands in Rodin shapes before their mouths as they cant their heads and exchange confidences, as men do in parlors and mahogany-paneled private libraries.

I turn back to Dave and we continue our conversation and about half an hour later I glance over at the guys at the next table and I gasp and I feel my face getting hot. Their dinner has long since arrived, it is lobster, and these three recent exemplars of mellow male reason and coolness are wearing enormous bibs which fasten snugly around the neck and cascade down and over the knees like the drop cloth on a picnic table. In the center of each bib, right over the solar plexus, is a grinning stylized cartoon lobster. I can’t tear my eyes away from these nitwits, and if they’re stupid enough to don gigantic fucking bibs in a mixed gender restaurant, they’re too far gone to notice my staring anyway. Did I not get the memo about the bib thing? I glance around and no one is staring at these vibrant clods.

To my utter amazement the Three Baby Hueys, now tipsy and blinking slowly, their little freak arms reaching with difficulty out from behind their expansive plasticized bibs, begin making time with the black-haired, classily-pierced babe waitress when she comes to check on their inebriated lobster-destroying process. From what should be the genital-shriveling humility of their bib status, they blearily regard her with naked lust and start coming on to her! The guy nearest me actually leans out toward her and struggles to free his bib-ensnared ass-pinching arms. It’s just awful. This is not Robert Pattinson standing around at The Cape in an Alpaca sweater with a hip little bib like a necktie, hoisting a Heineken and laughing at the lobster held aloft in his left hand. This is three grown men made idiotic by their decision to put on enormous castrating bibs. And before my stupefied eyes the hot waitress receives the bib-guy’s advances and warms to him. She is flirting back. SHE IS FLIRTING WITH THE BIB GUY. This is the world I can never join, the world I can’t even comprehend. It moved on without me when they were handing out membership cards. While I was timidly romancing the trombone player in marching band, the high school hotties who couldn’t even see me were just biding their time, waiting for these louche drunks to put on their huge fucking bibs and excite them.

“Dave, check this out,” I whisper urgently out of the corner of my mouth. “These guys are wearing bibs!” It’s less funny to me than fucked up, especially now that I see the waitress warming up. Dave is everything I am not and knows his way around, writes articles for Oracle, is built like a championship swimmer and takes business trips. He haunts the cocktail lounges of Manhattan when he is called there by his urbane, yacht catalog-perusing corporate masters. He glances over at the drunken flirts in their man-bibs and turns back to me.

“Yeah,” he says. “They ordered lobster.”

i know

farthest thing yet

So this is what it feels like to know Life ticking by.
Contrary to the excited stammer of the sages
in their saffron pajamas, there’s not much to it.
Given the ballyhooed scarcity,
the celebrated mathematical precocity of it,
it does sidle past at this moment without any pageantry at all.
If we are a child’s handful of diamonds scattered across the unlikely aeons,
you wouldn’t know it as I stand here, outside my dumb office,
and feel an ordinary unscented breeze;
watch an ordinary scrap of jetsam flutter around the sidewalk.
“Be gone, breeze!” (he gestures with ham-like arms, in silence)
Humorless birds wheel and holler and alight on stucco.
A cloud wanders by in a poetic vacuum.
O starlit Machine, O numb Dynamo, is this your epiphany?
You have emptied your stellar coin purse on cognition,
and then dressed it in a Sears-issue windbreaker.
I suppose you think that’s funny.

ascent to base

summit other time perhaps

This morning I pushed rinsed romaine lettuce
down into a pyrex bowl.
I patted the leaves with a paper towel
and was reminded of your tragedy.
We had gathered what was needed;
our Scarpa Phantom 8000 boots and heavyweight Balaclava
caused us to us stare and draw breath,
and the Windstopper fleece gloves and Arcteryx Alpha suits were pristine
and smelled of victory and packing silica.
Our lightweight titanium crampons promised life
and a victory picnic back home,
where, in glad repose under shade trees
we would say “escarpment”.
The Black Diamond Express Ice Screws scared us, though.
Our sherpas were named Pringle and Huffhurr, I think,
and they bridled at our giggling pronunciations,
brusquely asked to see our water-resistant gloves
“for the icefall.”
When we looked at each other
they looked at each other
with the flattened windburned faces of Shangri-La.
Even then we imagined summiting to Bacharach and David’s
“Living Together, Growing Together”.
Do you have a heat-exchanging wire mask
to prevent Khumbu-cough? Pringle asked peremptorily.
Yes, of course, I lied.
What should have been our foreboding
was subsumed in our egg-nog-emboldened braggadocio.
The night before the ascent your salad spinner broke.
Another portent.
Murdering Nepalese winds howled and clawed,
our Eureka Alpenlight 2XT flapping like a terrorized schoolgirl.
Nevertheless you patted the wet lettuce
and it cut you through the paper towel,
and Huffhurr shouted in a Navajo-voice
“why are you petting those leaves!”
Our wind-bronzed chaperones awakened me at dawn
and silently pointed, their hands over their mouths.
You were frozen, naked in your sleeping bag,
a solid-state adventure tourist,
the whites of your eyes dulled bargain ivory,
your laughing joy-face made stupid
by a profuse yapful of frost-blackened romaine.

The Taking of North Hall

%22We Have Your Mechanical Brain%22

photo courtesy UCSB

At 6am on an otherwise dull Monday morning in 1968, a group of 12 black students strolled without ceremony into UCSB’s Computer Center in North Hall and proceeded to make history by barricading themselves inside. They did it the old fashioned way, with stacked chairs and heavy furniture pushed against locked doors, with chains run through push bars. First, though, they’d had to clear the building. They’d surprised a handful of computer techs there and politely asked them to leave, to which the understandably uptight Guardians of the Nascent Age of Intel replied “Uh, yeah, right!”

One imagines the scene with wonder. The contrasting haircuts alone signified a coming tectonic shift in the zeitgeist.

But the horn-rimmed and outnumbered Spartans were hesitant to abandon their million-dollar baby to the black activists. UCSB’s vaunted IBM360/65 Mainframe was the pride of modern computing, a research machine that also was the keeper of student records and other invaluable data without which the campus would be sunk. The burnished, button-festooned beast featured a sweeping 1MB of memory and in photographs looks like an enormously complicated washing machine. Never mind that UCSB computing was associated with the storied ARPANET, forerunner of today’s internet, whose DNA does indeed trace straight back to UCSB. The computer scientists were, in the later words of reputed student ringleader, today’s Murad Rahman, “absolutely astounded by what was going on. They must have thought it was something out of a comic book.” Later accounts described the black student activists as comparatively polite and accommodating, even as they bounced on the balls of their feet and tried to hurry things along. But the black students did make one thing clear. Any attempt to forcibly dislodge them would result in a broken computer.  In a markedly postmodern threat, one of the students reportedly issued these words of caution.

“Look, leave us alone and we’ll leave the computer alone. We have your mechanical brain. Give us justice.” One official report typed up in the immediate wake of the takeover describes “…some of the students crouched in front of the computers armed with heavy hammers and large wrenches…”

The threat cast a chill on the proceedings. UCSB’s Chancellor Cheadle, whose previously elusive attention was the object of the students’ ire, briefly considered having the black students ejected by force. In his later written record of the day Cheadle explained the humane calculus that informed his decision to hear the black students out.

”The first option was to…persuade the occupants to leave the building peaceably. The second was to clear the building by force, an option involving predictable and unwelcome consequences. First, the substantial destruction of computer equipment valued at approximately two million dollars…second, personal injury….”

Yeah, the occupiers knew their audience.

UCSB: A History of Silence

UCSB is today a world-renowned research university, consistently ranked at or near the top of many of those cryptic “World’s Best Universities” lists that celebrate both academic firepower and actual contribution to human culture. UCSB’s campus has an almost unseemly number of clustered Nobel Laureates. You can easily spot them because they go everywhere with their medals on. There are but a handful of globally respected Institutions of Higher Learning whose topographical largesse allows the student to come in from the breakers and minutes later take a seat in a lecture hall where a medal-wearing Nobel Laureate is dispensing arcane, graduate-level brain food. Seriously.

But UCSB wasn’t always the enlightened bastion of liberal munificence it is today. The twelve black students who took North Hall and the Computer Center on the morning of October 14th, 1968 (namely Jim Johnson, Maurice Rainey, Arnold Ellis, Tom Crenshaw, Dalton Nezy, Ernest Sherman, Booker Banks, Mike Harris, Vallejo Kennedy, Stan Lee, Don Pearson, and Randy Stewart) were all members of the freshly-minted Black Student Union, which had itself evolved from an earlier black student organization begun in 1967, called Harambee (Swahili for “Let’s Pull Together”). Both these groups had been formed as a reflexive bulwark against what the few black students on UCSB’s campus found to be an institutionalized racism.  This wasn’t the ugly, hothouse racism of hooded, spelling-challenged Master Race morons on horseback setting crosses alight on people’s front lawns, beating and murdering with impunity. This was the quieter, happy-go-lucky racism whose infected perpetrators aren’t always aware they’re carriers of the illness, white college kids in blackface strolling down the street at UCSB’s 1966 Homecoming Parade in white top hat and tails and waving giddily at the camera, or taking up shoe polish and a fiddle to effect a bracing, good-humored antebellum jig. As recently as a couple years ago a yoga studio in town hosted a “ghetto fabulous class” replete with inner city garb and costume bling. N.W.A. they called it: Namaste with Attitude. Yes, even the Enlightened stumble. These people of course don’t regard themselves as racist and surely wouldn’t self-identify as a members of a Master Race. But racism isn’t always a belief system. It’s not always about what you’re feeling. Sometimes it’s just about what you’re doing. UCSB had a problem.

A Bulletproof Coach Under Fire

The proximal cause of the takeover of North Hall’s computer center that year was rising frustration with the rumored passive-aggressive racism of UCSB’s deified Athletic Director Jack “Cactus” Curtice,  whose unrivaled record of UCSB football wins, inconquerable passing game, and central role in UCSB’s football program achieving NCAA Division I status made him a living bronze statue around which the campus establishment gathered and covertly knelt. Complaints lodged against Coach Curtice by the black athletes in his charge fell on deaf ears, or elicited vague promises of investigation which never came to pass.  The complaints described a litany of slights that aggregated to something less than the strutting racism that could be called out by school authorities but which made the experience of the black athlete at UCSB feel like something less than the thrill of victory. One typical grievance was that of an athlete who was tired of being served his meals after the white athletes on his team had eaten. Black athletes’ luggage would be lost on trips away, the black athletes would be refused service in hotels with no recourse and no backup from coach Curtice. Black athletes complained of being called “boys”. In early October of that year the BSU had issued a petition signed by 22 black athletes accusing the athletic department of racism, charges which were quickly dismissed by the Intercollegiate Athletic Commission, frustrating the campus black population further. UCSB’s athletic program fleetingly became the actionable nexus of a subsurface campus racism that was a nagging, unsung feature of everyday life for black students there. By the time of the occupation of North Hall’s computer center, the 40 or so black students on campus (out of a total student population at that time of around 13,000) had futilely gathered the signatures of 4000 sympathizers who agreed that something was amiss, and that UCSB as a campus was maybe due for a change.

It Was Not a Very Good Year

1968 was a “year of change”, as is said euphemistically by those who have never been shot at or beaten up or chased across the quad by a phalanx of upset National Guardsmen. The conflagrations that year were large and small, characterized both by the fiery, deafening explosions of the watershed Battle of Khe Sanh In Viet Nam (which would see American troops ditch a besieged base for the first time in that war), and the brief lethal whisper of a.30-06 Springfield bullet crossing a parking lot to break a minister’s jaw on the Lorraine Hotel balcony in Memphis. In the wake of Dr. King’s death a visibly broken Bobby Kennedy calmed a surging, anguished crowd of hundreds in downtown Indianapolis with an extemporaneous speech and plea for unity that is now considered a classic of unrehearsed truth-telling. The crowd dispersed peacefully, and two months later Robert Kennedy was shot in the head while speaking at the Ambassador Hotel in L.A.  In May of that year radicalized French students swarmed through the streets of Paris in a spasm of disgust with capitalism and the established order, in time bringing that country to the brink of collapse, and the Tlatelolco massacre would see the Mexican army gun down 300 gathered student protestors. 1968 had the character of a denouement, an almost stage-written wrapping up of a decade that would see the global Establishment take a flurry of finalizing body-blows and be laid to rest ringside, supine in its grey flannel suit.

Wild-Eyed Radicals Read Out Their Wholly Unreasonable Demands

Within hours of “seizing” North Hall (as nearly every newspaper that day described the event, though the students had actually just breezed in and rousted those inside), the black student occupiers of the Computer Center issued their demands in classic revolutionary style; from high windows above a gathering crowd of onlookers, through megaphones. As the hours passed and word got out that some actual revolutionary drama was afoot on UCSB’s sunstruck campus (or as the October 17, 1968 edition of UC Irvine’s student paper put it: “Santa Barbara? The campus of parties and keggers and TGIF’s? The campus where more students learn surfing than calculus, where more money is spent on booze than books? Yes, friends, demonstrations have spread to that academic playground by the sea…”), a crowd of onlookers naturally began to gather around North Hall, skeptical and restive at first, then grudgingly supportive, and finally offering themselves as a massed 1000-strong bodyguard for the black activists should the state make good on its threat to send in forces to enter the building and bring the thing to a conclusion. There was one instance of disaffection as an apparent faculty member in the mid-afternoon couldn’t take the standoff any longer and with an unsuccessful rallying cry of “C’mon!” forced his lonely way into the building, his righteous fever quickly doused by a black undergrad with a fire extinguisher.

The occupiers had 8 demands whose sum expression was the desire for increased minority enrollment at UCSB, an end to institutional and academic racism on campus, and the expansion of minority-based studies in UCSB’s curriculum. A year later, UCSB’s Black Studies dept. would spread its fledgling wings and take off on a journey that has to date been characterized by constant change and interdisciplinary outgrowth. Chancellor Cheadle, who had so successfully dodged the black students’ athletic concerns in the months-long run-up to the occupation of North Hall, capitulated so completely in the end, it stunned everyone. Once the activists had secured the beleaguered Chancellor’s accession to their revolutionary demands, making campus history and setting paradigm-changing institutions in motion – they more timidly asked for one more favor. Could they please not be disciplined for this little dustup? Cheadle agreed, offering them a collective “suspended suspension”, a whimsical little disciplinary flourish that was the equivalent of the dad-like “It’s okay this time, but one more of these and you’re grounded!”

This further incensed critics of the blacks’ brazen lawbreaking and Cheadle’s enabling. The Chancellor’s acquiescence would royally piss off then-Governor Reagan, whose battles with UC Berkeley and Clark Kerr (whose namesake building is coincidentally right next to North Hall on the UCSB Campus) would soon enough prompt the Governor to angrily invent tuition (heard of it?) and begin the country-clubbing of university education. But Cheadle didn’t completely stand down. He did refuse one of the group’s demands – that of the firing of odious but indispensable Athletic Director Jack “Cactus” Curtice. Agreeing to reasonably mitigate the academic hegemony of Eurocentrism on the college campus is one thing. But you simply don’t screw with a successful passing game.  I mean, c’mon.

The Fruits of Determined Activism

Dr. Jeffrey Stewart, Chair of UCSB’s Black Studies Department, is about 8 feet tall and has the shambling gait of the “beloved outlier professor” who is always crossing swords with admin in those 60s movies about life-changing educators and the stiffs who run them down. Not to put too fine a point on it. When he speaks it is with the easy, laconic manner of a guy with all the time in the world, but as he talks his eyes fix you with a scholarly glare. In 2012 black students on campus again drew up a series of demands for the Chancellor (Dr. Henry Yang this time), with the result that Stewart was asked to oversee an installation at North Hall that today commemorates the events of that October day in 1968. He refers to North Hall as “sacred space”.

“The idea was to create something so that black visiting students could see that they had a presence, and were making a real contribution here.” Chancellor Yang asked Dr. Stewart to work with admin and students to make it happen. His team was comprised of  Director of UCSB’s Art, Design & Architecture Museum (ADA) Bruce Robertson, ADA Exhibition Designer Mehmet Dogu, and UCSB Facilities kingpin Mark Fisher, and together they helped make the students’ dream a reality. Former Executive Vice Chancellor Gene Lucas was a booster of the project and even authorized Dr. Stewart’s course in Curatorial Methods that would train the determined students in the mounting of an exhibit of this kind. Dr. Lucas’ successor, EVC David Marshall, likewise supported the installation.

With the help of Stewart’s team the students put the thing together, and it is a sterling example of the power of the image. The series of larger-than-life photo panels that line the breezeway of North Hall are eye-opening. One panel shows the excited black students draping the handwritten “Malcolm X Hall” out the second story window, while another features the inevitable black and white child looking at each other with that bewildered “what the hell is the problem?” expression that for ages has caused shame-faced adults to look at the floor.

“The research shows that right after the takeover you begin immediately to get more courses in the black experience, in sociology, in history, in English, in education,” Stewart explains. “Later, Chancellor Cheadle authorized a feasibility study and the Black Studies department was announced in ’69.” For the record, the Black Studies department had its budget slashed by $10k in the 70s, another story. Dr. Stewart continues, “Immediately after the North Hall takeover, there were courses offered in the urban experience, black literature –  suddenly you had the option of taking courses in black culture. Right away.” The atmosphere engendered by the episode opened conversations that led to UCSB’s Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, the Department of Asian-American Studies (the first such department in the U.S. to offer a Bachelor of Arts degree in Asian-American Studies), the Department of Feminist Studies – a culturally and politically varied menu of mind-opening disciplinary departments that may also be considered the fruit of the North Hall occupation.  Could the young occupiers of October 14, 1968 have really foreseen the culture-opening shock wave their passion play would set in motion? What if things had gone the other way, if Chancellor Cheadle has called in the troops? Ringleader and head event planner of the takeover, Murad Rahman answers this way.

“We were highly aware of the risks and  possible consequences of our actions if we failed to carry out our mission with skill and precision. We did not want to make mistakes or jeopardize the success of the operation. The consequences of failure would have been disastrous for those coming after us as well as African Americans in general.” As for Cheadle…

“Personally,” Mr. Rahman says today, “I was astounded by his graciousness and willingness to negotiate with a bunch of what he probably considered to be wild and crazy misfits who didn’t belong on his pristine campus. I will always remember him as a man for whom I will always hold the highest level of honor and respect. He could have ordered us to be forcibly removed from the building, which was in fact our expectation. The Chancellor took the high ground, which I believe was the most vexatious but prudent decision he could have made. May God and history reward him for that.” The Establishment, in the form of Vernon Cheadle and the finally sympathetic crowds who gathered, seem to have seen a glimpse of the light that day.

“To me that’s part of what ’68 is about,” Dr. Stewart says. “In ’68 though they did have, you know, black power, black students; it’s not just about black subjectivity, though, it’s about an inter-subjectivity. Look at the page of El Gaucho where they cover the North Hall takeover. That page also has a piece about ‘Berkeley going on strike against grapes’ – then over in the corner Eugene McCarthy coming to campus on an anti-Vietman War mission. All these things were in conversation with each other.”

The North Hall breezeway installation tells the tale of a group of sixties students taking over a university building at a time when boldness was the default and young people would leverage any opportunity to right a wrong. Truth and beauty aren’t phony ideals. Even cinderblock can be made new. Dr. Stewart has a final thought about the commemorative North Hall installation. “I always was interested in the aesthetics of this thing, as well as the history,” he says, then breaks into laughter. “And that space looks a lot better than it did before!”

But were Rahman and his activist pals really prepared to wreck the storied mainframe computer that day? A gee-whiz reporter wants to know. Mr. Rahman’s answer is brief.

“What do YOU think?!”

SB Sentinel – Volume 4, Issue 29, Oct 10 – 24, 2015

8th Grade Science Outrage


Back to school night
slumbering parents sag through rooms
look brightly at each other, wrinkling noses
then drop masks
plop into plastic saddles
their asses stir to remember
in history the teacher exults
“the kids didn’t mind the Mayflower!”
frightening me badly
in maths the teacher
is lanky and thick-haired and cheery
wearing a lanyard and i.d. badge
like a classified scientist
thoracic concavity and blousing shirt
conveying underfed youth
a distance runner
at the spring dance
in his excited kid voice he says
“we’ll study exponential variances.
So, geometry.”
I bark a weary laugh
look around at the parents
jaws open, dogs awaiting a tossed mercy-snack
worst is Physical Science
eyes bagged and non-responsive
grups looking tiredly at their iShit
the teacher is a former materials engineer
wonderstruck by her subject which is
the Crushing Vastnesses, plural
our real-time embrace of the growing void
things are moving away from each other
as one would expect in an explosion
but accelerating as the mess blossoms outward
teacher talks about kids finding passion
she calls it “their passion” like everybody does
a common mistake.
the dead are unmoved
occupy the eternal moment daintily moving fat hands
over phone screens with pinkies extended
“We’ll study what makes up the atom,” she says.
The Atom!
they stare at her through draping eyelids
my blood leaps like a synapse
I attempt to stand
I can’t wrestle myself free of the school desk
with its sanguine pencil groove
and perpendicular tubing
heads lazily turn
I’m momentarily constrained
unable to free myself I begin shouting
from a semi-crouched, prostrate position
legs held fast by gunmetal
“Oh! Are you bored of the Atom!
Space is a windless field of rocks!”
So self-righteous, I later realize.
Possibly being dumbstruck
is not a sound measure of spiritual wholeness.
We go home and microwave mini pizza
the first greedy bite fastens a scalding flap of cheese
to my hard palate
and I scream o god how I scream

jeffry through the chronosynclasticinfindibulum


I got to taking with a physicist friend of mine; I’ll call him “Joe”. We have a great relationship because I am his intellectual equal and he can bounce ideas off me as he can with only a very few people. By our third diet coke we were a little amped and Joe started going on about the Lense-Thirring Effect and Closed Timelike Curves, a line of discussion we’d touched on before. We started lazily sketching on a napkin and within a week we had built what is popularly known as a time machine. It achieves its effects through a common relativistic phenomenon known to math hotshots as Frame-Dragging. For reasons known only to our Danny Kaye-like Creator, when massive objects rotate they drag spacetime around them, twisting the surrounding real estate in such a way that not only are tremendous potential energies produced as the spacetime is torqued, space effectively bends back on itself too, creating what’re called “closed timelike curves” and the theoretical possibility of traveling through time. It was agreed that I would subject myself to the effects of the completed machine, becoming the first man in human history to be hurled backward in time through a knothole, or whatever they’re called.

I elected to go back to visit my 9 year-old self. At that age my fascination with the future was peaking. I read comic books voraciously and hurriedly built Revell models of jet airplanes and spaceships, my raised thumbprints mottling the gray surfaces of my flying machines in smeared Testor’s model cement. These small harbingers of my future manual ineptitude I hung from my ceiling with brown twine. How great would it be to go back to myself at 9 years old, reveal myself as Future Jeff and report on the ACTUAL future? Joe and I discussed Novikov’s Self-Consistency Principle and decided nothing I could say or do back there would produce any causal paradoxes. If I was going back in time next Monday, I had always been going back in time next Monday.

We designed the machine so that my quantum insertion into the past would happen as gently and as unobtrusively as possible. In the event, when I materialized in my old room I was announced by a bursting plume of green smoke and a sound like sheet tin being cut with a buzz saw; Margaret Hamilton in a meth nightmare. Jeffry jumped out of bed with a girlish scream and began a panicked running in place in his Davy Crockett footie pajamas, flapping his little hands in abject terror. Embarrassing. “Ssshh! Ssshh!!” I gestured calmness, an orchestra conductor damping the violins, my right hand knocking askance a hanging LTV A-7D CORSAIR ll, a modernist jet at the time which I’d elected to paint sky blue. Oh, yeah. That Jeffry. By the by, little noodle-man calmed down, staring at me as I stared both at him and at my old room. He scooted his tiny little ass up onto the edge of his bed, his pipe-cleaner legs dangling, clad in a motif of coonskin caps and tomahawks. Had I really ever left this place? And why? Momentarily he put it together. “You’re me,” he said.

I took a breath. “Yeah.”

“You’re…from the future.”

“Right.” I was stuck for stuff to say.

“Holy crap!”

“Language, Jeff!” I barked, then caught myself in a fit of mild dizziness. This must be the summer Gary Chapman taught me the word “crap” as an expletive, my dad laughing his ass off at the dinner table one night when I’d burst out with it. My dad.

“So, uh, listen. I wanted to come back and see you because, you know, I was always freaked about the future, what it would be like, what stuff would look like..” My stick-figured little counterpart started in, shifted his tiny pajama butt around the bed’s edge in a gesture of preparedness, his dumb little features crammed cruelly down into his lantern chin and crinkling with anticipation. “Well what’s it like? What year are you from?”

“2015,” I said falteringly. I could barely believe the sound of it as I spoke.

“2015! Holy crap!” Aw, what the hell.


“Yeah!” my stick-like little forerunner squeaked. “My sister took me to see 2001 downtown, but 2015?”

“Yeah, man. It’s very very cool. You wouldn’t believe the stuff we’ve got — “

“Flying cars?”

“…..uh, what?”

“Flying cars! What do they look like? How fast?” I thought of a local news story I’d seen a day or so before. “Car leaves road in fiery crash. Texting suspected.”

“Yeah, we’ve got flying cars, you kidding? What’s the future without flying cars?”

He grew quiet. “What about mom and dad?”

“Dad passed in ’97. He will pass in 1997, I mean. Mom is going to …  pass away in 2014.”

“Huh. 2014.” He looked down at his hands, then sneaked a look up at me. “Were you…will I be very sad?”

“Yes. Of course!”

“I know.” He reconnoitered. “Well, what do the spaceships look like? Have you been in one? Are they all over the solar system? In 2001 the airplanes fly so high they orbit the Earth. They fly all the way to the moon!” I vividly remembered the Kubrick movie and my big sister taking me downtown to see it, remembered the Space Shuttle design of the PanAm plane in the movie, the stewardess walking up the wall to serve drinks to First Class. The movie completely electrified my head jelly, especially the indecipherable, quasi-religious final reel of the movie, where the Future had been masterfully conflated with all the dizzying, indefinable wonder of a generation raised on space capsules and crewcut argonauts in flattering, sci-fi-friendly NASA pressure suits. Our space shuttles had been real enough, though I don’t know that they’d ever served cocktails aboard one of them. And anyway the shuttle program had been mothballed a couple years before, or about 45 years after debuting in Kubrick’s visionary movie. What the hell? Had I actually leaped backward in time from a Charlton Heston dystopia, a green-cracker-eating world of denuded resources and overheated cityscapes where ice becomes the new currency of the rich? Not quite. But I was starting to see the beginnings of a mothballing of all the stuff we’d dreamed about as a high-flying little 1960s bean-heads, who, while the sexual and rock revolutions and political assassinations and jungle wars raged around us, were fixated on Lost in Space and Star Trek and Fireball XL5, and just knew we were going places. But we didn’t think to screw down the lid tightly enough, and the dream shriveled, right there in the jar. I can’t lie to this kid. Maybe if he knows the score he can readjust the time flux, fiddle with the Destiny Dials, repurpose the chronosynclasticinfindibulum, as Vonnegut might suggest.

“Yaaa…uh, look, Jeff. Jeffry? We don’t have spaceships, actually. The last moon landing will happen while turtlenecks and mutton chops are still in fashion. NASA’s going to remain a pioneering outfit, but they’ll be pioneering ways to do space exploration on the cheap, dropping radiometric salt shakers on Neptune, stuff like that. They’re gonna give the spaceship-building over to a billionaire whose invention let’s us shop in our underwear. No space stations, no cloud cities, no giant robots…none of that stuff will happen by 2015. We…shifted priorities.”

“Well…whatta you guys got?” I took my Android Galaxy Edge 6 out. Android, baby!

“Have a look at that!”

“I already have an Etch-a-Sketch.”

“That’s no Etch-a-Sketch, Jeffry! That’s the future!”

He dropped off the bed and walked over. “Cool. What is it?”

“Um. It’s a phone.”

“…whaddya mean? Like a telephone?”

“Yeah. But, uh, look at all the other stuff it does.” There was no internet to speak of in ’69 so I flipped on a game. Angry Birds. He looked bored for a minute, then reached for the phone and started staring intently at the screen, trying to play. I saw the 21st century in that gesture, writ crushingly huge. “Uh, let me have that back, Jeffry. You’ll, uh, have plenty of time for this later.” He went back and sat on the bed.

“The future is a phone,” he said in a disappointed little My Three Sons voice, but petulantly. What, am I supposed to feel guilty about the flying cars?!

“The future is people, you little twerp!” I hissed. “Just like the past.”

“Jeffry!” my dad called suddenly from downstairs, and my head swam. “Hit the hay, pardner!” “Oh, Bob, leave him alone,” my mom said, as she always had. “Well, who the hell’s he talking to?” my dad said in his amused, loving voice. “He’s talking to himself!” mom said. The bean pole looked at me with a rapt expression as I listened, seated on the edge of his bed with his hands folded in his lap, watching. I could picture Bob and Aloha sitting by that lamp with the brown cork base. Somewhere, they were always alive and good naturedly sparring in the living room, sitting around that lamp. Somewhere. Is that what a continuum is? Note to self; ask “Joe”. Bob Wing had passed twenty years ago. In that way the past has of furtively moving away from us even as we think we’re hanging on to its largesse, my dad had become as remotely a piece of Yesterday as the graven image on a Lincoln penny. Jesus, to see him again. He would laugh and his face would crinkle into a squinty mask of homely hilarity. Like mine. Or vice versa. He’s here in the house, in this house! Our red brick house in Cheyenne, our white collie, Casey, probably laid out at his feet.

“Daaaad!” Jeffry called with his thin little-girl voice, and looking right at me. “Will you come up here a minute?”

“Sure!” my dad said. In the near household distance I heard him grunt lightly up and out of the tattered wingback chair he refused to have reupholstered, his feet padded to the foot of the stairs and started climbing. I hadn’t seen him climb stairs for years. He’d become somnolent late in life, no more laughter, no more talking. Alone in the tv room. I gestured. What the hell is this?! Jeffry raised his twig-like Davy Crockett arm and motioned me to the closet. Huh! I got in there and drew the door closed, grabbed the knob for support. Bob Wing made the top of the landing and lightly bounded onto hardwood, made the u-turn and began his easy lope down the long hall to my room. I looked at Jeffry through the crack in the closet door but he was out of frame. The sliver of him I could see was sitting at the bed’s edge, squirreling his little chicken butt around. Then he leaned his nondescript little face into my verticalized slot of reference. He wore that big-chinned idiot smile I’d always hated in the mirror.

“Here he comes!” he whispered urgently.

a version of this piece was

published in vol 4 issue 19 Sept 26, 2015 SB Sentinel