Finding Mendocino (March 16, 2005)

At UC-Berkeley in the mid-60s the issue was survival for if a student movement couldn’t speak, petition, hawk literature, and take contributions on University turf, it couldn’t exist. We might not have been good at anything else, but we were real good at talking. We were very conscientious at that moment that the purpose of much of our education was to make us a social managers and integrate us into the IBM machine world of corporate America. To many of us, that world had lost its appeal. We didn’t know much about biting but we sure could bark. 

The entrance to UC from Telegraph Avenue was traditionally an area where anyone could get up on a soapbox and speak. All the campus political groups set up their tables and disseminated literature, sold buttons and stickers, and in general had a merry time attempting to rouse the rabble. It was all Left. The Goldwater-ites were active that year. I do remember them striking with the rest when Chancellor Strong ordered the Commons closed to free speech. 

A gutsy socialist, Jack Weinberg, would not fold up and the police were sent for. When the car and cops captured Jack they were surrounded by a sea of students who captured the captors. Checkmate. The battle began. We occupied the administration building and blocked deliveries to the university. Clark Kerr, the Liberal university dean, may have been ambivalent, but call in the heat he did, and the numbers of arrested mounted, as the Oakland police and sheriff’s deputies arrived to retake the administration building. 

Then came the rallies, the marches, the huge demonstrations. For a short time the Teamsters and elements of the AFL-CIO were respecting our picket lines. The teaching assistants and much of the faculty went out. For a twinkling of an eye, it appeared the general strike was going to happen, and from Berkeley the flame of revolution would ignite the Bay Area, California, the nation, the World! 

It all seemed like an Eisenstein movie, with the students in the street and the final rush being prepared for the palace gates. I was convinced this was the final conflict. I threw my energy into the effort. I rented out cars with my still existing credit cards and distributed them to various movement people, bought survival goods and supplies for the coming battle — all on credit. I was in a constant state of elation. 

All this ended when the strike was settled. Everyone went back to class and my phone never stopped ringing. My creditors were screaming for blood. My unemployment claim gave out. My wife was pissed, my mistress despondent. I started flirting with suicide. The revolution didn’t come, but the creditors did. 

All the excitement left the world. My irresponsible acts during my manic period had dripped into all facets of my life. I had infringed on all my friendships and comrades, owed, sold and hocked everything. The only honorable way out was suicide. I rode my motorscooter to the entrance of the Golden Gate Bridge, got off, hiked a mile or so to the walkway entrance and found the gate locked and no way to get over it. My attempt to jump off the bridge foiled, I slunk back to Berkeley.

My lover’s best friend was a humanitarian psychiatrist. He suggested I commit myself to Langley-Porter. First I had to go to San Francisco General (Snake Pit Arms), then I would be transferred. So there I was at the bottom of the barrel! 

Langley-Porter, the University of California’s own loony bin, was a blessing. I was issued the best, most compassionate and constructive psychiatrist in my entire career as a lunatic. Dr. Shapiro convinced me that what I needed at that point in life was to have a real-world success. Then, no matter what what path my conscience or inclination would take me, I would at least have proved to myself that I was indeed capable of making it in the straight world. The thing was that my concept of my self-worth was below zero. Even though the thought of filling a slot in the straight world was sickening, I had to prove to myself that I could do it. 

So after six weeks of confinement, light mood elevators, and every available form of social therapy, I was told I could leave if I got a job. I was, in effect, paroled for a stretch of time. In terror, I scanned the papers for employment opportunities. The first place I went to was selling heater cleaning jobs. You’d arrive in the neighborhood with a group of pirates and you knocked on doors offering a free heater inspection. Naturally, you’d find the heater needed cleaning. If the heater happened to be clean, the inspector would dirty it, and proceed to shakedown the occupant. This was too much for an erstwhile socialist. 

The next job I applied for was as a clothing salesman in Alameda. I was tested and measured for corruption and found to fit perfectly. Hungry and in terror, putting every bit of energy I could muster into the job, my success was close to immediate. The first month I outsold all the salesmen in the store. I got praise and my first raise ever. With my nose to the grindstone, I progressed rapidly. I suggested a new western department. It worked. My suit sales were magnificent. My attendance, punctuality and zeal were rewarded. I kept getting a steady stream of raises. The job was my life. My wife, Spring, went back to teaching and we prospered. 

The company sent me to the Dale Carnegie course for fine-tuning in con-manship and employee exploitation in preparation for managing the firm’s Oakland store that was going belly up. I was given the managership of this sinking mercantile establishment. I pumped my vital juices into this decaying edifice, inspired the personnel, won huge increases in our volume and large smiles and many compliments from the general manager and owner. I was called “prince” — short for “merchant prince.” My mother was ecstatic, my father proud. My wife knew I was going to pop. I did. 

As the Vietnam War raged, it became more and more uncomfortable for me to conduct business as usual, when the business profit was being used for genocide. All my previous commitments to the peace movement weighed heavily on my conscience. I started having nightmares about me being a Nazi administrator during the Holocaust. I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. It became increasingly difficult to take off my tie. I started going to peace walks. My extra time was spent chasing fair young maidens and peace demonstrations on my newly acquired BMW motorcycle. 

My past habit patterns begin to reassert themselves. My choice seemed to be between finding some way to rationalize and continue my present mode of economic and social stability or to throw the dice one more time and hope to achieve a lifestyle which would enable me to be my own hero. 

An old pal from Canyon (a hippie enclave a few miles east of Oakland) came into my life with a potent dose of LSD. This accentuated all of my feelings and frustrations. The month was April, the year 1967. The hippies, the diggers, the alternative culture were singing a song of a new way and a new day. All the idealism of my previous life was being acted out. Of particular attraction was the back to earth movement which seemed to engender all the positive and constructive elements of change and hope that seems so lacking both in the world and in my life. 

My wife, on the other hand, a had a satisfying and constructive life already. She was a teacher at a Neillian school in Berkeley, which espoused an anarchist and non-violent direction. She was surrounded by a set of compatible contemporaries and we had a beautiful nest in the Oakland-Berkeley hills. She was not going to bail out of all that for the desperate gamble of her deranged and unfaithful mate. 

My plan was simply to chuck it all, move up to the woods in Mendocino County and carve out a new life and direction. I had some friends who had moved up in 1962 during the Cuban blockade and their existence seemed both serene and revolutionary. 

The Mendocino Coast, one of the truly beautiful spots on the earth, provided a lot of open space both physically and psychically. There, with like-minded brothers and sisters, I could find meaningful and constructive work, harvest my own food, build my own house, love freely and develop a non-violent and creative direction. Together we could blaze new frontiers in communal living and egalitarian distribution that would be both supportive and challenging. Doing this we would hurl down a challenge to the war economy and our example would stimulate others to drop out and form more spores in the emerging alternative culture. Besides, it seemed like fun. 

How many times had I said, referring to my job, “I’m not doing this for my health.” Well, I really wanted to do something for my health. 

About a month before dropout day, I loaned a considerable part of my fortune to an old friend and her husband who had gotten a magnificent estate between Fort Bragg and Willits that was in danger of foreclosure. The only way into their property was on the California Western Railroad, aka “The Skunk.”

Back at the store, the general manager, seeing me tottering on the brink, suggested a few days of rest in an attempt to restore me. I probably was living almost entirely in fantasy land during my brief sojourn at Lost Ranch on the Skunk Line. Euphoria, mania, and revolutionary zeal contributed toward making up my alleged mind. I was going to save the world and myself and live in ecstasy forever, surrounded by beautiful women, fearless men, huge gardens full of marijuana and vegetables. There probably was a whisky spring there, too. We were going to show the world how to coexist. Timothy Leary had merged with Kropotkin, Marx and Christ, and Heaven was going to take place on earth.

2 Responses to "Finding Mendocino (March 16, 2005)"

  1. Jonah Raskin   June 22, 2020 at 8:04 am

    This is a lovely, beautiful, honest piece of writing. Excellent to republish.

    Reply
  2. William Ray   June 22, 2020 at 10:22 am

    I don’t remember credit cards in 1964-5 among Cal demonstrators at FSM. I do credit the author’s self-descriptive manic-depression pattern and deplore the euphemistic ‘bi-polar’ replacement for that vivid term, which has been documented as applicable to some of the greats in human creativity. The Free Speech Movement phenomena he mentioned in passing was an outburst of idealism among the young American educated elite, expressing commitment and values few of them have relinquished since. At the same time Erik Eriksen (who taught at Cal until the Loyalty Oath became mandatory, so that leading successor to Freud told Authority to bug off) was in India studying the non-violent demonstrations of the Gandhian era. Gandhi’s theory and example formed the model for both the Civil Rights and the student political rights movements. Eriksen wrote of his approval that a major group transformation and enlightenment had occurred here as had there in the previous generation. Such cross national, episodic, and ecstatic explosions of consciousness obviously continue today and more power to them.

    Reply

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