Saturday, April 30, 2011

Both sides now and back again


Monday came quick, with a nine-hour shift rolling posters, two three-hour shifts under the health club, six chapters of medieval history, a study group for Psych 101, three pages of Latin translation, and a half day drilling Russian declensions and conjugations overlapping both ends of the weekend.  I rose at 5:00, organizing my study materials for the three bus, two-hour trip to campus.  I had learned to use this as scheduled study time, having become accustomed to the rolling stop-and-go of the buses, with their stifling closeness of people increasingly packing the aisles as the morning wore on, so that it didn’t make me carsick any more.

After Russian class and a psych lecture about what happens to baby monkeys when you give them artificial mothers made of steel, I had a two hour space before Latin, after which I was done for the day.  I didn’t have to work again until Tuesday night at 7:00, when I would put in one of the two hour-and-a-half shifts at the health club that I worked during the week.  The rolling harmony of the Campanile bells’ regular noon interlude now mingled with the shuffling chatter of students pouring out of class, as I made my way upstream toward the music to my meeting with Barb.

Walking up the incline onto the green behind the tower, I spotted Bob and Barb already there, sitting under a tulip tree on a wooden slat bench, backpacks next to their feet.  They were deep in conversation.  They looked up as I approached, motioning me to come over and sit down next to Bob.

“Barb here has had a big weekend,” said Bob flatly.  “Tell her what happened, baby.”

Barb had a drawn look, as if she hadn’t slept enough to really dream off the demons that had taken up residence since Friday night – either that, or she had invited the demons, if that’s what they were, in for a longer stay.

“Roger came to breakfast at Bernini’s Saturday morning and waited for me till the end of my shift.  Then we came over to campus and sat right here for I don’t even know how long.”

She paused, and was quiet for a good minute, looking at her hands folded in her lap, before she went on.

“He told me Edward wanted him to drop out of school and move to New York to work in the Center there.  He said that if he went, he would have a place to live and would never have to worry about money any more.”


“He wanted me to go with him.  And commit myself to Father.  Father is coming to America as soon as they’ll let him in, maybe by Christmas.”

“Let him in?  If he’s the Father, he ought to be able to come in whenever he wants,” I answered steadily, beginning to find Roger irritating.

“I don’t know what he means by that either.”

More silence, longer now.

“I said no.”  She sighed, looking defeated.

Tears started rolling down her cheeks, and she looked up at me.  “He begged me to go.  He started preaching to me about Father and the Kingdom here on earth and the unification of mind and body.  And that if we prayed, and worked hard, maybe Father would bless us.  Maybe.  If it was revealed to the Father that we should be blessed.”

“Blessed, bless you? What does that mean?”

“That’s when the Father picks who you’re going to marry.  And you wear a white dress and you stand with the rest of the group and you all marry whoever you’re told.  Because it’s a blessing, God damn it!”

Now the tears started rolling in earnest, sobs caught at the back of her throat.  It took another several minutes for her to compose herself.  We waited.

Finally, she spoke.  “I said no.  And then I told him that was the last time I was going to say it.”

“Good girl,” Bob replied in an encouraging tone.

“Thank you.”  He handed her a red square bandana and she blew her nose.

“I’m meeting him back here at three o’clock,” she went on.

“Whatever for?” I asked, incredulous.

“I don’t know.  Just to say good-bye, I guess.”

All at once she became deathly quiet, no tears, expressionless.  Bob and I exchanged glances.

“Are you going to speak Amharic?” he asked gravely.

 “Not right now.  Maybe later.”

Bob and I talked Barb into going down to the Student Union with us for pizza and to watch the bowlers until we had to go to class.  Bob headed off for Spanish at 1:45, and me for Latin, and we left Barb watching a hot game with two bowlers already over two hundred, hoping she wouldn’t do anything dumb before we got back.


When I got back to the bench by the Campanile around 3:45, Roger, Bob, and Barb were all there, Bob having arrived about five minutes before me.  Barb was in the middle, flanked on either side by Yin and Yang.  The sun had moved further across the lawn that ran along both sides of the promenade away from the tower, casting dappled shadows and hot, white patches on the faces of the three bench-sitters.  See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. I dropped my backpack on the grass across the little path from the bench and sat on it, my face turned sideways from the sun. 

Roger had his hand in Barb’s lap, her hand balled up in a little fist, his hand wrapped around it.  Bob had his right arm around her shoulders, and she was leaning into him, her face slightly downcast to avoid the probing rays of sunshine.  Roger tossed his hair back and looked straight at me, the light glinting off his eyes. 

“Hello, Roger.  Long time no see.”  There was a hint of a challenge in my tone; for some reason, I already felt protective of my brand new friend Barb, who seemed like she was in a little over her head.

“Shelley, right?” he answered back, cocky.

“That’s me.  I hear you’re thinking about splitting to New York.  Is that right?”

“Yeah, Barbara said she told you guys pretty much everything.”  A faint shadow of resentment crossed his face.  “But I think we have it all worked out now.”

“How so?”

“Well, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since Saturday.  I’m really grateful to Brother Edward for taking me in.  And I’ve learned so much from Father already; even though I haven’t met him in person, I feel like I know him, like he’s already been a father to me, the father I never had.” 

He stopped to take a breath.

“But I don’t think following Father is really for me.  Deep inside, I don’t believe he’s the Messiah.  I know he’s not.  His other followers aren’t like that – they’re sold out to him completely, body and soul.  Me, I have to be my own man.  And I won’t give him the right to decide who I can and can’t marry, or who I can and can’t love.  Only God can do that.  He believes we should step up the troops in Vietnam, too – did you know that?”

“I did not know that, Roger.  Did you know that, Bob?” I asked. 

“Did not know it,” Bob answered matter-of-factly.

Roger went on.  “It wasn’t a hard decision for me, finally, especially after Barbara said she wouldn’t go with me if I left.  And I don’t want to give up my scholarship, either.  God has big plans for me, I know it, and it’s not spreading the message of Father Moon as the second coming of Christ.”

“Right on,” Bob affirmed, winking at me.

“One very important thing I learned from Father, though.  Very important thing.”  He paused for a moment, considering deeply.

The sun was now blazing above Roger’s left eye. 

Without blinking, he looked me right in the face, apparently oblivious to the fiery shaft aimed just north of his cornea. “Sun Myung Moon received inspiration straight from God.  This inspiration overrode whatever is written in the Bible.  That’s the lesson of Sun Myung Moon – each man gets his own inspiration, revealed directly to him by God.  Including Jesus Christ – he had a divine revelation too.  His power to perform miracles came directly from God, as God’s son.  Everyone can have that power, to be the Son of God, his own Messiah.  That power places the one who receives it above the law, just as Jesus tells us that his way rises above the law.  Just as Sun Myung Moon has risen above the law.”

The three of us just sat there, pondering, wondering exactly what he meant by that, but afraid to ask.

He went on, “So I don’t need Sun Myung Moon to receive inspiration.  God will give me my own revelation.  He has given me a revelation today.  I’m going to walk away from Reverend Moon and stay right here in Berkeley and pursue my degree in zoology.”

“Well, that’s great, Rog,” I offered.

“Great,” added Bob.

“Barbara, tell Shelley what we worked out.  This is the best part,” Rog enthused.

Barb sat up a little and leaned away from Bob, her color gradually becoming less flushed as the sun moved further still down the lawn, away from her face.

“Well, you know I’ve been working a lot of hours, Bernini’s, the bookstore, and Pacific Gas and Electric, and I’ve been saving every dime I could.  You know I’ve been wanting to get my own place.”  She paused.

“Mary Moorhead is quitting school – she’s going back home to Iowa City to finish her next two years at community college.  She’s been getting a little crazy and worn out.”  Nothing like you, I thought.

“She has that great little flat right on University Ave., and the rent there is really cheap.  It’s going to be available in a week, and Ed Hunolt’s said they had a job for Roger as many hours as he wants, because one of the guys that works there is leaving, too.”  Where is everybody going, I thought?
“So we’re moving in together.”

The whole thing just felt kind of big.  It was hard to watch this girl get her heart slammed around so hard, with passion and probably sex and the Lord all mixed up in it, screwing up her ability to see anything clearly.  

There but for the grace of God . . .

“Barb, did you tell Roger about the bus?”

“No, not yet.”

“Don’t you think it means something, that Ethiopian guy sitting there ready to translate for you?  Christian obey Christ, Christian obey the Bible?  You know, you guys haven’t known each other very long . . .”

“I think God is speaking to me, Shelley.  He wants Roger to leave Father and stay here in Berkeley with me.  I’ll be the shelter for him he should have had all along.  He and I will find our revelation together.  It’ll be OK – it’ll be better than OK.”

“Alright, sweetie.  But it’s getting cold.  Bob, are you ready to head out?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” he said.  “It’s been real, Rog.  Barb, we’ll see you right here tomorrow, lunchtime?”

“I’ll be here,” she said.  “Peace.”

“Peace, my baby.  Maybe we’ll bowl.”

Bob and I headed down the incline, off through Sather gate past Ludwig’s Fountain, and waited all the way until we got to Bancroft to grab each others’ hand.

“God have mercy, Christ have mercy,” I said under my breath.

Bob remained thoughtful for a moment.  “He looked deep in my eyes, like he wanted something.  I don’t think he loves Barb as much as she loves him.”

“For her sake, I hope you’re right,” I replied.  “Giovanni’s for polpettine?”

“You’re on.”

We walked another block in silence till the sun went behind a building and a chill came over us.  Then Bob threw an arm around me tight, and we reveled in each others’ body heat, stepping out on the same foot and rocking in unison to our own beat, all the way to Shatttuck.


The following week, Barb and Rog moved into Mary Moorhead’s old flat on University, below an upstairs unit occupied by two herpetology majors and a vocal music major; and above the massage parlor downstairs, which featured a sign over its door reading, “Herein Lies the Rub.” 

The vocal music major was vigorously prepping for the annual auditions at the Met, and preferred practicing at home to the practice rooms on campus.  Her powerful operatic mezzo filled every corner of the building when she sang, even the muffled space in the bedroom closet in Rog and Barb’s apartment, even the narrow changing room between the towel cabinets in the massage parlor, but only when the Country Joe and the Fish and Jimi Hendrix Experience records had been put away for the day. 

One Friday night in December, about eight weeks after she had set up housekeeping with Rog, I dropped by Barb’s apartment.  She had asked me to help her shop for a special dinner she was making the next day for Roger and a couple he had met on campus.  Bob and I were now meeting her for lunch at the Campanile every day, and she was keeping us up to date with regular status reports whenever Roger didn’t tag along. 

Roger, she told us, tended to fall easily into conversation with whoever would listen, and he would tell them about his “vision,” which was taking on grander proportions by the day.  He had received a revelation that he and Barb would travel to a place across the world, but it was still unclear to him how.  The revelation came to him after Barb had told him about the episode on the bus with the Ethiopian boy.  He saw the episode as a sign that he, Roger, would receive further revelations and share them in a foreign land.  I was beginning to wonder how well Barb’s parents knew Roger, how they were doing with her new living arrangements, and how much influence they still had on her, if any. 

I climbed the narrow linoleum steps to the flat, the smoke and scent of the incense from the massage parlor hanging an inch below the yellowed, enamel ceiling all the way to the second floor.   Somewhere behind that odor hung the thick aroma of essential oils, patchouli in particular.  Barb had buzzed me in, so she was standing at the top of the stairs.  

“Come on up,” she said.  “Roger’s at work, and I just have to get a few dishes out of the sink before I go.”

At the back of the small entryway inside Barb’s apartment, I pushed through a beaded curtain to enter the living space, an ample room furnished with slip-covered dumpster treasures and a worn grey patterned carpet.  The mezzo was warbling at full throttle, her smoky voice grappling with something in Italian that she seemed to be stuck on: “il Signore è il mio pastore . . . pastore . . . è il mio pastore . . .”

The wall behind the sofa was decorated with Fillmore Auditorium handbills for Country Joe and the Fish, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Iron Butterfly, all of them for concerts that I knew neither Barb nor Roger had seen, just there for the color.  Inside the door past the beaded curtain was a Synergisms poster, from our warehouse, one Bob or Graham or I had probably rolled ourselves.  It was an intensely colored hyper-realistic airbrush of a modern Leda and the Swan, with the swan nestled comfortably between Leda’s plump, high-gloss pink thighs.  I had rolled a flat of 500 of those just the week before, hundreds of shiny Ledas rolling up into tiny spindles and disappearing into plastic, one after the other after the other.

“Come in the kitchen and have a glass of water before we go.  I’m almost done,” Barb beckoned from around a tight corner.  She was just rinsing off the last plate and putting it into the rubber-coated metal drain basket when I came in.  She handed me a green bubble glass of tap water that tasted faintly of pipes, giving it a mineral quality that I liked better than the hard, flat tasting water in Daly City.  Looking around, I tried to imagine what kind of a family had lived here years before, eating their dinner at the cramped banquette before the vinyl seat-covers were rubbed through to the backing, back when the little black and white hexagonal tiles on the counter were still toothbrush clean, none missing, and you could still read all of the little recipes, written in French, on the wallpaper that was now torn and dappled with grease stains.  I imagined children sitting at the kitchen table, trying to figure out what the ingredients were in the recipes by looking at the pictures that were printed beside them, while they waited for their plates.  There had probably not been a massage parlor downstairs – maybe a shoe store, or an ice cream shoppe instead.  Today, it was a bombed-out hippie wasteland – but a nice one, comparatively speaking.  

“Ready?” sighed Barb, sounding for all the world like a tired housewife rather than the schoolgirl she really was. 

“Ready,” I replied.  So off through the beaded curtain we went, down into the cloud of incense past the hookah-smoking caterpillar, into the Berkeley night.


The neighborhood grocery was just two blocks down University and one over, so we walked the short distance under the now naked tulip trees, their club-like branches sticking up like knobby fingers in the silvery winter moonlight, casting sharp-edged misshapen shadows on the sidewalk.  Our breath misted white in front of our faces, drifting up and disappearing as quick as it had appeared.  We chattered about whatever came into our heads – do you think the herpetology majors are having a thing with the opera singer, are Bob and I serious, what was Roger’s family like. 

Roger’s family was a topic off limits whenever he was around.  His father was a salesman who had had an affair with his mother one summer, when she was waiting tables in a Chicago cafe, and he was in town on a week-long sales trip.  He had come into the café every day, every meal she was working, after the first time he saw her.  One night after the dinner shift, she accepted an invitation to have coffee at his hotel room, and Roger was the result.  His mother had given birth to him when she was twenty-three and his father was thirty two.  All these years, Roger’s dad had been raising a family – his real family - on the other side of the country; to Roger, it may as well have been the other side of the world.

Finally we arrived at the market, warm yellow light spilling from the display windows and open doorway, puddling on the sidewalk, illuminating the piles of fresh produce brimming over the edges of the outdoor display bins. 

There wasn’t a lot of foot traffic in the store that night, maybe because it was getting cold and dark earlier now – there was only one tall figure toward the back of the store, popping in and out among the aisles of canned goods, bread, and toilet paper; and the old Jewish checker in his yarmulke, wearing a flannel shirt buttoned all the way up and a woolen vest over that.  He was seated on his stool behind the big metal cash register, cupping his hands and blowing into them, a little electric space heater glowing away at his feet.
“Eefningh, goils.  Vat can I do you for?”

“Just putting together a little something for some friends,” replied Barb, “mostly veggies, but I’ll come in for some Orangina in a minute.”

“I think I’ll make that vegetable stew Roger likes, the one that tastes like the ratatouille at that new restaurant on Shattuck,” she said turning to me, surveying the heaps of freshly misted broccoli, squashes, green beans, eggplant, artichokes, plump tomatoes, and sweet corn laid out in the bins.

“My favorite,” I said, and started picking out mushrooms, looking for the ones with the most perfect caps and no mushy spots.

Suddenly Barb stopped right where she stood, staring straight ahead of her, focused somewhere between the broccoli and the zucchini.  The color drained from her face, and she exhaled deeply.

“Uh oh . . .” I uttered quietly under my breath, sidestepping gingerly down to the end of the bin near the bok choy, where I planned to wait and observe from a distance until it was over, if I could get away with it. 

The sounds started low in her voicebox, rumbling up to her throat and overflowing her lips like the river water that had tumbled out of her in the bus that night.  At first it was so soft I could barely hear it, but gradually it became more clear.

She started slowly and deliberately, rocking back and forth.  “Näñ, näñ, näñ, näñ, näñ, näñ . . .”

The sounds were much less complicated and sounded more like just pure sorrow, bubbling up from deep inside, than what we had heard last time.  I began to inch closer to her, but just then, the tall figure from the back of the store emerged in the doorway with a bag of groceries, and seeing her, he walked right up and stood very close, looking right down into her face.  It was the Ethiopian boy from the bus.

“Näñ, näñ, näñ, näñ, näñ, näñ . . .” she continued softly.

“I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I am,” he replied.

“AT’a lela amalkt lay ǝnen, aT’a lela amalkt lay ǝnen, aT’a lela amalkt lay ǝnen,” she said more firmly now.

“Have no other gods before me.  Have no other gods before me.”

“Mǝkǝnǝyatǝ ǝne fägärä mäaat mälaw aaläm, mǝkǝnǝyatǝ ǝne fägärä mäaat mälaw aaläm.”

“For I so loved the world.”

A simple peace fell over the produce area, Barb remaining very still, head bowed, the young Ethiopian right by her side.  My feet unlocked and I walked over, just as she was looking up and opening her eyes.

“Hello again, my friend,” said the boy to Barb.

“Hi,” she replied shyly.

“You know,” he said, looking down into her face, “if I were you, I would listen very carefully to Him, and do exactly what He told me to do.  Exactly.”

“I will.  I promise.”

“He must love you very, very much.”

“He loves you too.”

Their eyes held for just a moment more, and a tangible warmth glowed between them as if from a source other than themselves.  The fine transparent down on his cheeks caught the light from the doorway, like an aureole against his mocha skin, making him appear vulnerable, approachable.  He touched her elbow, smiled gently, then turned away and walked around the corner, north toward University Avenue. 

Barb turned to me and found my eyes with her wide blue ones, still vague and teary.  “I can’t wait to tell Roger,” she whispered.  “He’ll know what to do.”

Something heavy inside me turned over, and then turned back again.

“Roger?  But He doesn’t talk to Roger.  He talks to you.  And that boy.”

“That’s only because we’ll listen.  Roger can’t hear if I don’t tell him.  Like I said, I’ll tell Roger.  He’ll know just what to do.”

“I think you already know what to do.”

Since I was beginning to tread onto forbidden ground, I bit my tongue, knowing that Barb was going to make up her own mind. Almost forgetting where we were, we had started to wander off, and I looked down to notice I was still holding a bag of mushrooms. And so we gathered ourselves together and turned back to the market, back to the business we had come for, all talked out for the night.

But on the way home, I had to wonder, is it just Barb, or does everyone turn a deaf ear when what’s best for them doesn’t match what they wanted, even when the clearest of voices is telling them, look over here, over this way?  And if so, what voice was I tuning out in my own head?  I had to wonder.


By March of that year, Barb and Roger were somewhere out on the fringe together, even for Berkeley.  Barb was still working the same three jobs, and Roger had burned through two and was working on a third.  

Roger’s grades were beginning to suffer, so he had lost two of the four scholarships that paid his tuition.  Times were tight, but they were getting by, barely.

One late spring day, while face down in prayer in the middle of their University Avenue flat, Roger received the revelation he had been waiting for.  It did not come over him suddenly, but had simmered within him for several weeks before it came, forming itself as he observed passersby on Bancroft, or while he was sitting on the steps at the edge of Lower Sproul, watching the conga drummers pounding out their wordless mantra.  He had missed more than 20 hours of class over the past two weeks, unable to concentrate on anything other than connecting with the revelation he expected, the one he knew he had coming.

He lay on the floor that day, both front and back of his shirt soaked with sweat in spite of the cool breeze coming in through the open, screenless window.  A bird had lit on the sill and was skittering back and forth on the painted surface, its tiny claws scratching out a delicate tattoo.  It made little peeping sounds here and there, then, suddenly, stopped and remained perfectly still, almost as though it were thinking.  Then, a slow warble began in the depths of its ruby throat, at first almost imperceptibly, then picking up volume and speed, at last bursting forth in full throttle, elegantly inflected notes, almost having the quality of speech.  Almost as if it were speaking a human language, foreign, yet somehow familiar.

That’s when it came to him.  It had been right there in front of him all the time, right there in Barb’s unconscious, seemingly innate knowledge of Amharic, combined with the returning presence of the Ethiopian boy who now happened to be enrolled in the same comparative literature class as Barb.  It was an unmistakable sign, directed exclusively to Roger.  He now had the answer for his life, and therefore for Barb’s. 

The answer lay in Jah Rastafari, born Lij Tafari Makonnen, later to become Ras Tafari Makonnen, now Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, and known by Rastafarians worldwide as Jah incarnate, the Messiah, the second coming of Christ. 

That had been it all along. Roger and Barb were called to become Rastafarians.  But it was to be several days before he was ready to break this news to Barb.

Once enlightened, Roger began to study the path to One Love feverishly, on his own.  He had taken a Black Studies course his second quarter at Cal, so he already had a head start.  His professor had introduced him to Ethiopianism, at the root of the Afrocentrist movement which gave birth to Rastafari.  He had learned that Haile Selassie - whose name meant Power of the Trinity in the ancient language of Ge’ez, the mother language to the Amharic that flowed like river water from Barb’s lips – this man, Selassie, was descended directly from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  Much more than a mere man, he was a being of royal Biblical lineage.  The symmetry of the circumstances was stunning to Roger, and clearly confirmatory of his revelation.
But problematic was the fact that, being white, Roger was not a candidate for blood membership in the Ethiopian family of descendants from the 12 Tribes of Israel.  Nor did it make sense for him to follow the Afrocentrist teachings of Marcus Garvey, even though Garvey was the one who had prophesied that Selassie would become the Messiah.  Still, what Jah Rastafari himself had said before the United Nations in 1963 was very clear: “ . . . that until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; . . .that until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; . . . until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.”  One love.

This opened the door wide for Roger, and he saw the alignment of recent events with his new knowledge of history as part of a master plan for his life.  He found the rasta worldview miraculously similar to his own. There was room in Rastafarianism to believe that only half of the Bible was written down, and the other half, stolen from the African tribes of Israel along with their culture, was written on the hearts of true rastas.  Jah Rastafari had come to earth to be the Messiah, the second coming of Christ, to free the people from the Babylon of the white western world and unite them under the banner of One Love. 

Roger had been sure of one thing from the beginning, with the certainty of one who has heard directly from God Himself.  He was sure that God had a very personal message only for him, and that this message rose above the Bible, even above the law.  It was written on his heart.  Roger’s path was clear to him now: he was to become a Rastafarian, and Barb was to become one with him, as Biblically prescribed since he was head of the family.  This was the reason, he now knew, that he had been led to spend a season as a Unificationist.  It had prepared him to hear the message of One Love, and to tell it to the world.

When he was sure that he had worked out all of the kinks and finally shared his vision with Barb, he was surprised to find that she had questions.  Many pointed questions.  In fact, he had not seen this side of Barb before.  She seemed somehow – oppositional.

“Isn’t that the group that smokes weed?” she demanded.  “I can’t smoke weed.  My parents will disown me.  It’s bad enough that I’m living with a man.  It’s taken them five months to speak to me since I moved in with you.  If I start blazing up and stop combing my hair, I doubt if I’ll ever see my family again.”

“Now, baby, settle down, settle down.  It’s not like that.  Sure, we’ll live the life of the natural man and woman, take the Nazirite oath, abstain from meat and other animal flesh.  But the women don’t have to keep the rituals, smoking the ganja or participating in Nyabinghi, because sisters are born enlightened to begin with.  They just need to be there for the men, keeping modest dress, and keeping the home.”

“What about working three jobs and paying the rent and the power bill?  Do sisters do that?  Because I don’t think you make enough for me to just keep the home.”

“That would be part of keeping the home, so that would be alright.”

The silence was palpable, and long.

“I cannot live in a house where weed is smoked.  I will not.  I will not lose my parents again.”

Roger’s brow became furrowed, and he rubbed two fingers into the creases between his wide hazel eyes, not even the strain of receiving holy revelation having dulled their warm depth and appeal.  Barb refused to look at them, knowing the potential result if she did.

Finally, he spoke. “I love you, baby.  My life is tied up in you.  My revelation is your revelation, and yours is mine.  I would die for you.”

He looked down, his thick lustrous mane falling forward, hiding that wide, expressive mouth.  Barb was grateful not to be confronted with his face for a moment, although the subtle curve of his delicately muscled torso and his warm, familiar smell were still an issue.  The passage of time was agonizing.

“Alright. I won’t smoke ganja in front of you, ever.  You will never see it in the house.  You have my word.”
Their eyes met, the sheer potential inherent in that moment almost overwhelming.  Barb felt the tears welling up in her eyes, her throat tightening, uncertain whether it was joy, or sheer, stark panic that she felt.  He held her gaze, his eyes limpid with hope and passion.

Barb sighed deeply, even her breath trembling.  “Holy crap, Roger.  You don’t ask much, do you?”

His eyes were unblinking now, his resolve clear.  Barb didn’t have a fighting chance.  Neither did the small voice at the back of her mind that nagged gently, this isn’t you.  It’s not too late to throw him out.  One gentle push, and he’ll walk away, turn the corner, and be gone.  You can do it . . .

She looked deep into him, completely self-composed now.  “Alright then.  We’ll make it work.  You know I love you.  You know I do, you know it, you know . . .” 

And with that, her composure dissolved into that long, clear expanse of deep green water that Roger invited her to swim in with him, beckoning her to dart in and out of underground caves and treasure ships hand in hand, free and clear of the reeds.


On July 13, 1972, Roger Elliot Fagin was arrested at a Durant Avenue apartment by an undercover officer for possession and sale of marijuana.  He had in his backpack two keys of sensimilla, twelve ounces of hashish, and paraphernalia.  He was apprehended when he attempted to make a sale to the officer.  His court-appointed attorney’s argument that he had a right to traffic in marijuana because he was a Rastafarian was unsuccessful, given that there was no evidence of any significant Rastafari worship going on anywhere in Berkeley, other than Roger and two other guys.  Roger was sentenced to five years in a California prison, with the possibility of time off for good behavior.  He was not, in the end, above the law.  He never saw Barbara again, at least not in the flesh.

So Barb was a free woman, for a time.  She kept her apartment, on her own, and lavished herself in solitude, focusing on her courses in poli sci and fleshing out her dream of becoming an attorney.  And perhaps best of all, wearing and eating whatever she pleased.

But by July, it was already too late for me.  That spring, Bob and I had come to the sad realization that we would not be paired for life, a discovery that still escaped our understanding, since it was clear to us that we loved each other with a depth and complexity that would remain unequalled for the rest of our lives.  And the voices that had clamored at me all year – Amharic voices, voices of baby capuchin monkeys with cold metallic mothers, the voice of exhaustion and endless bus rides and the worldviews of medieval prelates digested and regurgitated in my own voice, Moonie voices, roots reggae voices, Hare Hare Rama – the voices began to shout at me in my dreams, in their cacophony of languages, rendering me sleepless, directionless, fearful that I would become soulless.

In June, Barb came through on a promise to ask her Dad about a summer job for me.  I started the first Monday after my freshman year, eight hours a day, five days a week, and by the end of that summer, the apparent clarity and common sense of the “regular” employees’ lives was drawing me with a greater magnetism than the exotic intensity of Berkeley ever had.  And so it was that I climbed onto the raft of corporate sanity for a time, long enough to catch my breath before I went back down among the reeds.  

Friday, April 29, 2011

No vacant corner

“If you leave the smallest corner of your head vacant for a moment, other people’s opinions will rush in from all quarters.”  -  George Bernard Shaw


Bob and I met Barb during our anxiety ridden freshman year at Cal, in mid-October of 1971.  Barb was a radical born-again Christian, a Pentecostal who spoke in tongues, and had a boyfriend named Roger who was even more radical than she was.  Even at Berkeley, I remained unashamed about the fundamentalist Christian faith I had embraced in high school.  My girlfriend Lorraine’s father had been a Nazarene pastor, and the simple joy she took in her blood-washed purity had captivated my heart at first glance.  I was baptized in the ocean at Gray Whale Cove in Half Moon Bay at sixteen by an eighty year old pastor who nearly gave his life for me in the wild December waves. 

But then I had always swum in a sea of universal intention, having been told I had the same second sight as my grandmother Daisy, who could see through your soul and into the big picture of your future, when she relaxed into the galaxy-riding reality of the Holy Spirit that occupied her willowy frame.  My Aunt Shirley, her oldest child, used to look hard at me each time we met and remind me, “Shelley, never forget you have Daisy eyes.”
One fall evening that first year at Cal, I had been standing at the curb on Bancroft Avenue in front of the leather shop, waiting to cross over to campus at the corner of Telegraph.  The overhang of street trees was focusing the lowering sun into Jacob’s ladders in the waning hours of day, and the Falafel King was just beginning to fold his cart.  The Hare Krishnas banged out their last hurrahs for the stream of students as they made their way down Bancroft, headed toward Shattuck for a pizza or happy hour.

It was Friday, I didn’t have to be at work, and my intended destination was Moffitt Library, not because I was hell-bent on studying, but because I lacked anything more interesting to do.  A big yellow bus, parked a little way down Bancroft to my right, caught my eye, its original school district moniker painted out with a bad match of yellow.  A sandwich board emblazoned with big hand-painted red letters was positioned beside it on the sidewalk, proclaiming, “Lecture Night, Number 4:  The Answer for Our World Today.  Free Spaghetti Dinner.  Free Bus Transportation.”  A paper clock with movable hands announced that it would be time to board in fifteen minutes.

Right about then, Bob be-bopped up the sidewalk to join me, popping smoke rings, and the two of us turned to a conservative looking blonde standing nearby, a stand-out in the Berkeley crowd because of the knee-length skirt, collared blouse, and bright pink lipstick she was wearing.  She was about our age and, as it appeared, about our level of disorientation, so we asked her if she knew anything about the spaghetti dinner. 
“You mean that?” she asked, tilting her head to the sign. “Yeah, I’m going.  Who can say no to a free meal?  Besides, what have you got to lose?  Come, keep me company,” she said. 

The bus belonged to a church that her boyfriend Roger, a junior zoology student, was involved in, she explained. She had met Roger at a Campus Crusade meeting in July, when we were all just starting to roll into town. 

“Yeah, he says this guy Sun Myung Moon has churches all over the world,” Barb enthused.  “He told me that when he heard what Moon was about, it totally blew his mind.  Plus they were really good to him when he first came to town and didn’t have a place to stay,” she added.  Whatever they were about, Roger was convinced, already a true believer. 

Barb and Roger had been seeing each other off and on ever since.  He would show up where she worked, or be outside her classes when she was done, three or four times a week, sheepish and endearing.  “He’s such a sweetie,” she said shyly, blushing.

She had attended three classes at his invitation already, at the church Center on Ashby, where a tiny Asian woman had outlined how man becomes separated from God; Barb had trouble explaining this herself.  And Roger was going to be on the program tonight – he was already up there helping with dinner – so Barb had promised him she would go.

“It sounds like we’re kind of coming in on the middle – is that OK?”  I asked, not wanting to horn in.
“Just stay close to me – it shouldn’t be a problem.  Roger says they’re always excited to see people these days – I think there’s a big revival happening in the next few months and they’re getting the word out as fast as they can.  I’ve heard the Reverend might even come to Berkeley soon, all the way from Korea.”

While we waited there on the sidewalk, the three of us exchanged names and vital statistics.  Barb was a freshman poli sci major in pre-law, a former varsity cheerleader and salutatorian who had come to Berkeley on scholarships awarded by the local Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, the Athletic Boosters, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and an endowment left by a local matron who had an elementary school named in her honor.  Besides a part time job at the power company, she worked both weekend breakfast shifts at Bernini’s Café on Bancroft, and helped out at Ed Hunolt’s Berkeley Book when they had inventory or a big sale.  “I love my parents as much as the next gal, but I’m way past ready to cut the cord and get my own place, so I’ll work as many jobs as it takes to do it,” she said emphatically, laughing at herself.

Bob and I were also daily commuters, me from Daly City, and Bob from his mom’s new home in nearby Moraga.  Shirley had chosen Moraga for its wholesomeness comparative to Daly City.  We didn't mention to Barb the irony of Shirley moving the family there after marrying her new alcoholic, with Dad barely cold in the grave after his drunken crash on Alemany Boulevard.  Or that Bob’s exploration-du-jour into romance was with the 42-year-old  mother of a community college coed he had befriended there, a nineteen-year-old who lived across the street from the family, and who thought she was Bob’s only fling. 

Bob worked at his neighborhood Safeway as a part-time bagger and other-duties-as-assigned, and I worked in the basement of a health club in Stonestown as a telephone solicitor.  Graham had also gotten us jobs with him at a San Francisco warehouse-district poster factory for $1.65 an hour, which we held in addition to the other jobs.  Our mission was to slide one end of a finished poster into a long spindle and whirl it with a foot pedal, pulling a long skinny plastic bag over it. Then we would stuff the end of the bag into the hole and cover it with a label.  We took pride in the fact that we were well-oiled machines, and we would fill boxes with hundreds of these at a time while our bosses, Billie and Blackie, two gigantic Tongans in Hawaiian print shirts, would stand so close to us we could smell the musky warmth of their tree-like bodies. 

Commuters like Barb and Bob and I lived in a different culture than the students who lived right in Berkeley.  We were  outsiders, and therefore somewhat immune to the wild parties and the drinking; the streaking and other demonstrations related to Phi Kappa Whatever; the head trips inherent in tight-knit localized relationships, and on-campus protest politics.  We spent most of our free time either driving or on the East Bay Transit, and held down one or two part-time jobs in addition to our nightly regimen of read-five-chapters-and-be-prepared-to-discuss-in-the-morning, times four.  Because of this, we had little time for the luxurious angst that most Cal students swam in, day in, day out.  And as outsiders, the three of shared an instant connection.

Finally, the yellow bus puffed and flapped and opened its door.  And so began a magical mystery tour deep into Strawberry Canyon, all of us on a quest for a free meal, the decidedly earthbound Bob just enjoying my company and looking forward to a good laugh at my expense, and Barb and I hoping to find spiritual enlightenment. 

That’s how I met Barb Mayhew.  And she was to turn out to be far from conservative, in the end. 


We chattered on vacantly as the bus launched from the curb, not noticing the hard, cracked seats of the hand-me-down school bus tossing us in the air until the conversation momentarily wound down, our butts slapping down harder with each successive bump the higher we got into the canyon.  We were all three piled into one seat, intermittently thrown sideways into each other, first one way, then the other, each time the bus took a turn.  Barb’s hair smelled faintly of cheap perfume. The sun was fully behind a cover of trees by now, and a warm orange glow was beginning to overtake the sky to our right, cut out in rectangles by the row of half-open windows that lined the hull of our little space capsule.  Slightly drunk on the warmth of each others’ bodies, Bob and I began to sing quietly in unison,

We all live in a yellow submarine,
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine
We all live in a yellow submarine,
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine.

The others joined in, a few at a time, until everyone’s voice was one.  Bob threw an arm around my shoulder and leaned his cheek against mine, the crowd of relative strangers melting into getting-to-know-you chatter.   He sang softly, just for me, the music in his throat buzzing against my neck,

As we live a life of ease
Everyone of us has all we need
Sky of blue and sea of green
In our yellow submarine.


As we leveled off into a broad parking lot, a youngish man with the indeterminate age of a grad student, crowned by a stiff, kinky brunette mop flecked with grey, popped up at the front of the bus, where, miraculously, he had sat apparently unnoticed for the entire trip.  He had a face that was faintly reminiscent of a potato dumpling, and was wearing a hodge podge of odd, ill-fitting polyester garments that gave him the look of someone who had just emigrated from Eastern Europe, or of a computer science major. 

“Hey, everybody,” he chirped in a nasally voice. “You remember me, Andy.  We’ve almost arrived to the Haas Center, so I’ll give you a little background on what we came here to do tonight.  Oh, wow – newcomers!  I didn’t see you get on.”  He let out a high, nervous little giggle, looking straight at me and Bob through his thick black-rimmed spectacles.

Bob muttered under his breath, “I thought we came to eat spaghetti - and he was definitely not expecting you and me, was he?”  He cringed at the deep thrust of my elbow as it ground into his ribs. 

“Stifle,” I whispered, my face getting hot, hoping Andy wasn’t going to make us walk back down the mountain.

Andy collected himself and continued, clearing his throat, in a serious tone now. “I’d like to welcome you to the fourth lecture in our dinner series for the Unification Church.  Tonight, now that you’ve learned about the Divine Principles, you’ll learn about our Reverend Father himself, and what he means to us.  Remember one thing as long as you’re here:  with us, you are loved, unconditionally.  In the Unification Church, there is peace and freedom, and forgiveness, brothers and sisters - for you, and for the world.  We want you to feel that – feel it.  So enjoy the meal, friends.  We can’t wait to share God’s love with you tonight.”

The bus pulled up in front of the open double doors of the center and lurched to a stop.  The vertical yellow rhombi of the cathedral windows glowed in contrast to the evening sky, now streaked in deepening shades of moonless midnight blue and dark turquoise.
“Here we are!” chimed Andy, chirpy again, as the folding doors snapped open at the bottom of the steps.

“Kerry is waiting on the curb for you.  Just follow her inside, and we have a hot meal waiting, as always.”   He touched each of us as we passed him on the way down, some on the shoulder, some on the arm, some on the face, always grinning, eyes flat behind the glasses.  “We love you, brother.  Welcome back, brother, good to see you again.  We love you, sister.”

Kerry was indeed waiting for us as we set foot on dry land.  She was a muscular, short-limbed girl of no more than 20, with four long honey-colored braids rolled up in a loop and tied at the back of her head with twine.  Clad in a persimmon-colored smock top and faded dungarees, she wore no makeup, and her skin had a translucent quality that reminded one of a rosy-tinted golden apple after it’s just been washed.   She buzzed among us as we assembled on the stoop in front of the double doors, hugging each one of us and flashing a broad, milk-healthy grin.

“OK, everybody, follow me inside,” she lilted, and we all stepped through the doorway together in a tight-knit little herd. Bob and I caught each other’s eyes in silent communication, wondering what it was that invoked the conveyor-belt metaphor that linked our thoughts subconsciously.  Perhaps it was the latent mind’s eye image of Andy standing on the belt behind us, blocking any potential escape as we rolled inside.  Somehow, the other more experienced recruits – albeit not a whole lot more experienced - didn’t appear to know where they were going, or why, any more than we did.

The other buildings at Strawberry, which some nights were brimming with life, looked dark and deserted.  It began to cross my mind that the only ones up here were us fourteen or fifteen spaghetti refugees who had just climbed off the bus; by the look of the crowd already inside, about twenty-five church members; and, I guessed, one caretaker, nowhere in sight.  Then there was the bus driver, probably one of them, and of course Andy.  I reached in deep to draw upon my natural faith in human nature, which, while right now groaning under the weight of rapidly unfolding new experience, was as yet unbroken.  I had not yet begun to occupy the Charles Manson/Santa Susana mountains metaphor with my mind – not yet.

Bob, the proud possessor of an expertly wired bullshit detector, began to fidget visibly.  Barb, on the other hand, looked captivated.  She had also seemed oblivious to Andy’s reaction when he spotted Bob and me on the bus.

The ones who were already up there, surrounding us as we came through the door and introducing themselves for all they were worth, were a strange brew.  They were mostly 18 to 20-year olds who were obviously students.  But also among them were mixed in a few who occupied a grey area, who said they were students, and looked like they could be students, but who had one or two not quite plausible, can’t-put-your-finger-on-it characteristics that marked them as phonies – too out of step, too slick, too enthusiastic, too something.  Or maybe it was just the vibe of being in the mountains at night with relative strangers, or the glow from the yellow bug light outside the still-open double doors, that made it seem that way.  In any case, together they were a strange brew indeed.  Whoever they were, it was clear they were ready for us.

There were a few rectangular tables set up in the dining hall as we entered, laid out with checkered oilcloths, paper plates and plastic flatware.  With not quite twice as many hosts there to greet us as there were guests, we found ourselves all together just about filling the tables, seekers interspersed evenly with Unificationists, and us slightly outnumbered.  Some of the twenty-five were scuttling around now, running in and out of the kitchen and acting as waiters.  In seconds, there were steaming platters of spaghetti, served family-style, laid out in the center of each table, with baskets of rolls, bowls of head-lettuce salad with pink dressing, and pitchers of fruit punch and water.  The ones who weren’t serving food each sat down and took one of us on as a buddy, trying to act natural as if this had happened randomly, but painfully transparent in the effort.  It was evident that the oddballs in the group were calling the shots, some of them organizing the table sitters, others organizing the kitchen crew. 

“Home at last,” grumbled Bob, settling into the idea of being stuck up there for the next hour or so, and putting himself somewhat willingly now into the hands of our eager hosts.

“Usually they just give us brown rice and veggies, so we’re getting the deluxe treatment tonight, I guess.  Look, that’s Roger!” Barb whispered, poking me and jerking her head to the right.  “Which one?”  I asked under my breath, as she aimed her eyes discreetly and said, “Table across from us, third guy from the right, opposite side.”

She was pointing out a boy with an angular frame, and warm, deep hazel eyes with lashes you could see even from a distance.  He had a thick, shiny mane of chestnut hair with a natural, soft wave that both fell across his eyes and brushed his jawline.  His long-sleeved grey thermal cotton shirt revealed well-muscled arms and a solid flat chest, a body that could belong to either a tennis player or a swimmer.  It belonged instead to Roger – Roger who was so far, by all reports during my forty-five minute friendship with Barb, a lover of animals, champion of the environment, and man of chivalry.  Beautiful.

His eyes locked on Barb’s and probed deep, his wide mouth breaking into a grin that quickly dissolved back into serious conversation with the assigned “guest” beside him. Just as quickly, his eyes caught mine as Barb looked away to butter a roll, and hung on just a little longer than I felt comfortable with.

“Why isn’t he sitting with you?” I questioned her.
“I don’t think it works that way,” she replied softly.

She was right on the money about that, more so than she knew at that moment.


An older girl with pale freckled skin, copper red hair and a Boston accent had sat down to my left, apparently my assigned companion.  “You’re new, aren’t you?  And so is your friend there.”  She nodded her head toward Bob, the tiny muscles around her eyes tightening just slightly, almost imperceptibly.

“We came with our friend Barb.  She’s a friend of Roger’s over there,” I replied, again feeling distinctly like a party crasher, and like I had just thrown Barb under the bus.

“Oh, wow, Roger.  He is so together.  We’re super glad you’re here, of course.”  Her tone had swung abruptly to perky, in contrast to her faintly irritated demeanor just seconds before.

In my peripheral vision I saw that Barb and Bob had each acquired a soul mate, too - Bob a broad-faced, beardless bespectacled Asian boy in a blue flannel shirt, and Barb a plump Latina with deep acne scars.  I suspected the drill would be much the same, at least for Bob, as it was about to be for me, so I concentrated on my partner and didn’t bother to try eavesdropping.

“Shelley,” I replied, “and thanks for dinner.”

“You’re welcome, Shelley.  And what did you come for tonight – besides dinner?”

I could only imagine how Bob was answering this question.  Nevertheless, I struck out in my own direction.  

“Barb told me that you guys have a different perspective on God.  Is that true?”

“Are you a person of faith, Shelley?”

“Well – I’m a Nazarene.  So I guess I’m a Christian.”  Hearing myself say that was like listening to a disembodied voice, reciting empty words.  In reality, the dewy eyed wonder I’d found in the stormy Pacific that December day at sixteen had dulled considerably under the crushing weight of 18 to 20 hour days of bus commutes, low-paying jobs and marathon study sessions.

“Well, Shelley, that is just super.  What Father teaches will not be new to you, then.  But it will be much more than what you already know now.  You’re kind of jumping in midstream, but it’s obvious that you’re a very wise lady, or you wouldn’t be here, and I know you’ll pick everything right up, no problem.  I can tell just by talking to you, you are the kind of person Father is looking for – smart and together.  And wow, that’s sure a pretty top you’re wearing!  Where did you get it? It’s such a cool color with your eyes.”  By now, she had her hand on my arm.  Then, her voice lowered suddenly.  “Look, we’re starting.”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Roger rising from his seat, dabbing his mouth with a napkin.  Behind him to his right, standing back from the diners in a doorway I hadn’t noticed before, was a small, round-headed Asian man, old enough to be my father.

Roger cleared his throat and began to speak.  “It’s so good to have all of our new friends here tonight.  Brothers and sisters, let’s welcome our guests and show them how glad we are they’re here.”

I have to confess that the sound of enthusiastic applause aimed squarely at the few of us, with our heavenly hosts staring and grinning for our benefit, gave me a heady feeling in spite of the disconnect in my mind, causing an involuntary glow of self esteem to flood my cheeks and the back of my neck.  It was not lost on me that this feeling was at odds with what I knew, which was that they knew very little, if anything, about us, and that we had done nothing to earn their applause except show up.

Still, I remembered God well enough to know that I didn’t need to do anything but love Him back to earn His esteem – didn’t even need to do that – so, as an apparent prisoner of love, I decided to give our captors the benefit of the doubt.

Then Roger chimed in.  “I’m very proud to introduce the leader of the Unified Family Center, Brother Edward Dau.  I call Edward my brother because when I came to Berkeley a little over a year ago, I had no money and nowhere to stay.  All of my money had gone to tuition and books, and I couldn’t afford even to share an apartment.  I was sitting on the front steps of Sproul that day, with my backpack and a trash bag full of clothes, wondering where I would sleep that night, and Andy here (Roger glanced over at Andy, smiling and bowing his head slightly) sat down next to me.  He asked me if I was hungry, and when I told him I had no money, nothing to eat and nowhere to go, he picked up my bag and took me home with him. 

“When we got to the Center, Brother Edward met us at the door.  He invited me into his home, to be part of his Family, and shared with me the way of the Divine Principle.  His kindness and wisdom has changed my life.  If it were not for Andy, who found me, and for my Brother Edward, who enlightened me, I would still be in darkness.  And I would not have the loving Father I have today.  Brother Edward?”

Stepping aside, Roger extended his hand to the wiry, moon-faced man behind him, then turned to join in the applause with the others.  The man smiled shyly for a moment, lowering his eyes and bowing his head, but then he raised his hand to the crowd and said, “Enough, thank you.  I am not here to speak for myself tonight, but for Father.  You have learned about the life changing truths found in the Divine Principle over the last three lectures, and I can see on your faces that you’ve already been transformed into people of greater wisdom and enlightenment.  Now you’re ready to understand more about how it is that we are blessed to possess this holy knowledge.  And so I will tell you tonight about the life of our most beloved leader, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, our Father and mentor, and how these things were revealed to the world through him.”  Okay, I thought, let’s see what he’s got. 

“My Father has endured great hardship during his life here on earth.  But above all, he has been chosen by God for great blessings and has endured to see that these blessings are shared with mankind.  The Divine Principle is a revelation of Jesus Christ, given as a gift to all of us through Father, Reverend Moon.  This revelation came to him in Jesus’s own voice, in Father’s native language of Korean. 

“Earlier in his life, it had also been revealed to him, directly by God the Father, that he personally was given the mission to re-build Christ’s church here on Earth.  Can you imagine, being the one person chosen by God to re-build the entire church all over the world?”

Hard to imagine, I thought to myself.  Maybe even impossible to imagine.

He went on. “Because Jesus died on the cross prematurely, before it was God’s time for Him to go, Christ was never able to establish a Kingdom here on Earth, which was God’s plan.  Jesus was really not supposed to die, but to be crowned King.  This was revealed exclusively to Father Moon.”

Hmmm, I thought.  Haven’t heard that one before.

“Instead Jesus was stopped by evil from doing what he came to do.  That’s why the Lord has put Father Moon in this world today:  to finish the work begun by Jesus Christ, really to be the Christ, the second coming, in these last days.”

I thought to myself, here we go – this guy thinks Moon is the next Jesus. 

“I know that this will be a new concept for you,” he continued.  “The established church does not teach the truth about Father, because to the church, he is a living revolution.  What its leaders know, they don’t understand, because traditional religious education does not want for them to understand.  And what they do understand, they fear, and therefore conceal.”

He was intense now, fervent, and gesticulating with his right hand while he spoke.

“But you have been especially chosen to know the real truth about what God intends.  Father Moon is love in the flesh.  He has come to bless you and to heal you, to unify your mind and body so that you can live in harmony with the Divine Principle.  He’s come to heal the world, to unify the warring nations, to subjugate evil, to establish purity and the dominion of the blessed on Earth, and to do it in our time. To do it with you as His instruments.  Praise Him.”

Wow.  I glanced, stiff necked and shifting my eyes to the right, over at Roger.  The veins were standing out on his neck, and he was gazing raptly up at Edward with those amazing hazel eyes.  I turned my body slightly to spy on Barb, who was staring directly at Roger, caught somewhere between lust and incredulity.  A sidelong peek at Bob revealed that he appeared to be sleeping, having laid out produce at Safeway at five that morning before his eight o’clock class.

It had already dawned over me that more than half of the people in this building believed that a guy named Moon was probably God, and a few new recruits may have been moving across the line over to their side, right this very minute.  My regular seat on the 10:47 from Shattuck to the Downtown Terminal was growing more attractive by the minute.  I glanced at my watch: seven twenty, and counting.

Brother Edward went on.  “Father Moon was imprisoned for his bravery when the Japanese occupied his country.  But after his release, Father received a revelation that he was to go to Communist North Korea.  While there, he established the church of Kwang-ya, where he was commanded directly by God again, this time to keep people sexually pure and preach unity of mind and body. He was to require the young women to live in chastity until he, the Reverend Moon, gave them his exclusive permission to marry.  This is when he really came to understand the work on Earth that God had laid out for him: to represent God, and to rule over the people in every aspect of their lives.

“Over the years, he endured multiple arrests and persecutions, condemned to hard labor, and was finally reduced to preaching from a cardboard and mud hut.”  Not surprising, I thought.  Maybe the people didn’t want him ruling over every aspect of their lives.  “Through all of this, he was humble and faithful, knowing that the Lord had ordained him to establish God’s Kingdom here on Earth and rule over it.

“You are here for a reason.  There are no accidents.  You are here because God loves you, and the Holy Spirit has called you into the bosom of Father Moon’s love.  In Father, you can have peace within yourself, and join a movement that will bring peace to the whole world.”

There was a deafening quiet over the room.

“Won’t you come with us to learn more?  We are so honored that you have shared a table with us this evening, and we would be more honored if you would come stay at the Center tonight, and go deeper into Father’s love for you and your purpose on this earth.  Now I’m going to turn it over to Roger.  Brother?”

Roger jumped up, eager to please, trust written all over his face, and his eyes still focused on Edward.

He turned to the group. “The bus will make two stops:  one at Bancroft and Telegraph, where you boarded the bus with Brother Andy, and one at the Unified Family Center where we’ve met the last three times.  A warm bed, clean towels, teaching, and fellowship are waiting for you.  What you will learn there, will change your life forever. Ask yourself – do you know you are chosen by God to do His work?  Are you ready to be a part of changing the world today?  I know that you are, or you would not be here.  Who will join us?  Who will come and answer the call of the Holy Spirit?”

This is where our companions really kicked in, each one working his or her charge.  “Please come.  It’s Friday, and we can sit up and talk all night, or you can just crash in front of the fireplace.  Either way, we want you with us!  Please, won’t you come?”

We were lucky not to have been freshmen two years later, because by then Moon’s Berkeley church would be running buses straight from dinner to The Farm, a commune in Booneville where they didn’t let you out for at least three days, just like their sharper brothers and sisters in San Francisco already did.  And they would be using “heavenly deception” like them too, waiting until they had you isolated, far from home and exhausted, before they mentioned anything at all about Moon being Christ. We were lucky enough to meet the Berkeley Moon cousins, the black sheep of the family, before they had their act together, before the boss came to town. 

Three of our group gave in and said they would stay at the Center, two boys and a girl.  Part of me, the guilty part, was glad that they offered themselves up so the rest of us could go home. 
Bob’s head had bobbed back up now, wide awake.

“What happened?” 

“Shut up, I’ll tell you later,” I snapped under my breath. 

Barb, knowing that Roger already lived at the Center full time, as much as she wanted to spend all night with him, was both undone by the bizarre message, and stopped by her church roots from getting too close to any man she wasn’t married to.  As the three who signed up for the full treatment clustered around Edward and Andy, Roger walked up and reached in to cup Barb’s elbow.

“Will you stay with us tonight?” he pleaded, his gaze thick with what might have been desire, but could also have been fervor for something we didn’t understand. 

“I can’t,” replied Barb in a small voice.  “I have to work tomorrow, you know that.  7:00 AM, Bernini’s, for the breakfast shift.”

“I thought you were on later at Ed Hunolt’s for the used book sale.”

“No, that’s Monday night.  That’s Janet who’s on at Ed’s tomorrow.”

“Oh.  Well, maybe I’ll drop by and see her instead,” he said archly.

“You do that,” she shot back, turning to us and inclining her head toward the now open double doors, with the garish yellow familiarity of the magical mystery bus inviting us to climb safely aboard.

But we weren’t done with Roger yet – not by a long shot.


As we boarded the bus and glanced back over our shoulder, the silhouettes of the twenty-five were cast on the outer wall of the Haas building like Platonic cave-shadows cast in yellow bug light.  They were waving feverishly as the bus pulled away; we could still see them out of the back window, waving, becoming smaller and smaller until we rounded the hairpin corner and dropped down over the crest, out of sight.

Andy and the three volunteers were all seated together on two pews at the front of the bus, heads bent low, tops almost touching together, with Andy holding a Mickey Mouse newsprint tablet open to a prepared diagram he was sharing with his young charges.

Barb, wedged in between us with me pressed against the window and Bob on the aisle, was resting her face in her hands.  It was late in the evening now, and her streaked blonde hair had lost its luster, draped in strings over her forearms and lap, no longer smelling of perfume – just a blend of body heat and damp night air.  Bob absent-mindedly stroked the back of her head while, pretending to look out the window, he watched the reflections of the other riders on the insides of the windows across the aisle. 

At first I thought Barb might be crying, but instead she was praying softly, the words incomprehensibly rippling over her tongue in such low tones that I could not understand what she was saying. I leaned my head sideways down to hers, Bob’s hand sandwiched in between my cheek and the back of her head.

I could just make out what she was saying, but I simply did not understand it.  

“Amänä Agzab’r, amänä Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ.  Kǝrǝsǝtiyanǝ mätazäz mäTS’häfqdus, Kǝrǝsǝtiyanǝ mätazäz Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ.  Agzab’r mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä, Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä.”

“Barb? Are you OK?” I asked softly.  The words flowed again like river water from deep inside her.

“Amänä Agzab’r, amänä Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ.  Kǝrǝsǝtiyanǝ mätazäz mäTS’häfqdus, Kǝrǝsǝtiyanǝ mätazäz Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ.  Agzab’r mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä, Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä.”

Bob and I were eye to eye, heads up now, wondering what, if anything, we should do.  Neither of us had ever seen anything like it; not even the time Bob had lost touch with reality and begun talking to his father, in the voice of a little child as if his father were still alive and standing right there - not even that was quite like this complete departure from everything familiar.

I hadn’t noticed him before, but a student seated two rows up had turned around and was watching us now, his fellow castaways.  He was black, and had large intelligent eyes, aquiline features and pure flawless skin, covered with baby-fine transparent fuzz that caught the light. He didn’t look to be more than 17.  As his eyes and mine made contact, Barb’s words flowed again, this time louder and plainer.

“Amänä Agzab’r, amänä Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ.  Kǝrǝsǝtiyanǝ mätazäz mäTS’häfqdus, Kǝrǝsǝtiyanǝ mätazäz Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ.  Agzab’r mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä, Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä.”

“She’s speaking Amharic,” he said.

Barb continued to mutter in the background.

“What?”  I replied, unsure of what I’d heard.  “How do you know?”

“She’s speaking Amharic.  I was born in Ethiopia.  She’s speaking Amharic – bad Amharic, but it’s still Amharic - the same language my parents speak every day,” the boy repeated.

“Are you sure?” I asked, disbelieving.

“Of course I’m sure.  Listen, I’ll tell you what she says . . .”

“Amänä Agzab’r, amänä Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ.”

“Have faith in God, have faith in Christ.”

“Kǝrǝsǝtiyanǝ mätazäz mäTS’häfqdus, Kǝrǝsǝtiyanǝ mätazäz Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ.”

“Christian, obey the Bible, Christian, obey Christ.”

“Agzab’r mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä, Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä.”

“God have mercy, Christ have mercy.  It’s not quite right, but I think that’s what she’s trying to say.”

Barb raised her face from her hands, eyes glazed and teary from her out-of-body experience.  By this time, Bob had gingerly withdrawn his hand from the top of Barb’s head and discreetly hitched himself sideways to a seat across the aisle, from which he was observing the whole scene with birdlike intensity.

She looked the Ethiopian boy square in the eye.

“Do you know me?” she asked, still dazed.

“No, but I know what you’re saying,” he answered with certainty in his voice.

“Do you know Him, too?”

“I do.”

“Are you sure that’s what I said?”

“Yes, I know what you said.”

Barb leaned back in the seat and rested her head on my shoulder.  Not one of us uttered a single word the rest of the way back to Bancroft and Telegraph, not even the three who would not be getting off there with us, not even Andy.

Bob and I hugged Barb before she headed back to her car to drive home.  With our arms around her and her face still in my hair, she asked, “Do you think Roger is cute?”

“Sure, I think he’s cute, if you think he is,” I answered, amused by her centrality of focus considering the circumstances.

“Can you meet me Monday at noon at the Campanile?” She was standing back from me now, her eyes still a little blank, but clearing.

“Sure, I’ll be there.  Drive safe.”

Then Bob and I walked all the way down Bancroft to the bus stop at Shattuck, hands locked and swinging in unison with our steps, silent.  Just as the 10:47 pulled up, I said to Bob, “You’re coming with me Monday.  Noon, Sather Tower.”  He nodded.

As soon as he saw me take my regular seat, he was gone, headed for his little red Mustang, off to Moraga, back up out of the reeds to dry land.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

First they are small, but as they grow they tangle

My Friend Jacki's Diary, Excerpt #1
November 18, 1971

It’s been a long time since I wrote anything down in a diary - since junior year in high school at least.  But at 19, now that I know where I’m headed, and with all that’s changed in my life, it felt like time to start again.

I didn’t know the Peoples Temple used to be Jim Jones’s house when I first saw it. It’s in an open space with hills and trees all around, and a star-shaped stained glass window that makes colors on the wall inside.  When I found out that he had built the church out of nothing, right over his swimming pool, I thought, what a good man, to give his whole life, everything he has, even his house, for the people.  Now he baptizes people in that pool.

A little over a year ago I was hitch-hiking through Redwood Valley.  It’s a little backwater town near Lake Mendocino and the Russian River.  I hadn’t had a really good meal in, probably, two days, and I was sleeping wherever I could.   But I did get some good rides.  The best one was with a long-haul trucker – he let me sleep in the back of the cab and shared a bottle of Jim Beam with me. 

When I got dropped off in town, a sister from the Temple invited me to spend the night and share a hot meal.  It was a cold night, and that was the best meal I ever had – brown rice and vegetables and warm homemade wheat bread – plain, but good.  And the best bed I ever slept in.  That’s how I joined the Peoples Temple.  That and what they stand for.

My father is highly ranked in the Air Force.  I guess I’m proud of him in some ways, because he is a very important man.  But in other ways I’m ashamed.  When I think about third world children hungry and dying, and the bombs that are being dropped on their heads, destroying their villages, and all of the money being spent to make their lives a living hell when it could be spent to feed them and give them a future – I guess the biggest part of me loses respect for my father.  He’s never there for me anyway.

I was raised a born-again Christian by my mom, kind of – ironic. Funny how hard-hearted and cold a person who claims to be a Christian can be, when it comes to judging people, or putting a little girl in solitary confinement for hours and hours at a time, like my mother used to do to me.  She used to leave me locked up, sometimes in the dark, so long I would wet my pants, and my dad never even noticed.  I still can’t be alone in the dark for more than a few minutes, which is why I like having people around me all the time.  

In the People’s Temple I’m always surrounded by people, and they aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty to help a person out.  Tim is one of the elders, a lawyer who works in the DA’s office up here in the valley, and works down in San Francisco with me a lot now that Jim has me doing jobs for him down in the city.  He told me when he first moved to Redwood Valley, he was a brand new lawyer, and the bar association assigned him to remodel some offices to open a Legal Aid for the poor in Ukiah.  He was kind of a part-time Christian before he met Jim, like me, except he was a part-time Christian on purpose, and I was running away from my mom’s version of the Lord. 

He had hardly a dime to do the job, and looked everywhere for volunteers to work on the project with him.  He was about to give up when somebody gave him the Temple’s phone number.  After one call, Jim had 30 people down there with tools and everything, ready to work.  They didn’t quit till the job was done.  That’s how our people are.  If you need them, they are there, and they never let you down.  Jim won’t allow it.

Before we had the San Francisco Temple, Jim used to send Greyhound buses down to Oakland to the Macedonia Baptist Church and brought back hundreds of black people, families, to Ukiah to hear him talk about freedom and equality.  That’s when the church really started growing, when the good work started happening.  People would come without jobs and homeless, just out of jail, and the Temple would take them in.  They had a place to stay, clean clothes, and learned to interview for jobs.  When they got hired, a Temple member would follow them and support them to make sure they succeeded. 

When everyone saw what our future as a church community could really be, with everyone living as one and equal, they started bringing everything they had - their houses, their savings, their paychecks.  Now we have everyone’s lives in our hands.  It makes me feel humble, and proud.

November 18, 1972

It’s been a year since I last wrote, but here I am.  This book even has dust on it.

Jim started giving me more responsibility around Christmas last year, including with finances, and I haven’t stopped running since.  I’m on the road between Redwood Valley and the city almost every day.  I hardly sleep any more, but I love it.  We’ve gotten really close, and he’s even put me on the Temple Planning Commission, the PC. 

The Examiner ran a few articles in September that are driving Jim nuts.  They say that Jim’s faith healing is bogus.  Jim does put on a little bit of a show; that’s his strength.  What he’s trying to do is bring people along so they can believe in something bigger than themselves, so they can trust.  That’s the only way we can get anything accomplished, is if people trust enough to let themselves be led.

But people don’t trust by nature.  So Jim re-enacts healings with props, and brings experienced members on board to help out.  Of course most of the congregation doesn’t know that – just insiders. 

People come through for Jim whenever he needs them because he makes us sign our name on a blank piece of paper at the bottom.  That’s our pledge of trust with him.  We know that as long as we’re loyal and never let him down, he has our good name safe on that sheet of paper.  But if we let him down or do evil against him, we know that our good name is his.  We have to trust him completely, and he has to trust us, or none of it works.

So as for the healing, someone will help out by suddenly “not feeling so well,” and then maybe they get a little worse and people start to notice, and Jim will one day bring them up to the front of the congregation and they will be healed.  What they “had” all along was cancer, or a growth, and he pulls out some wet chicken liver, or maybe a gizzard if it was a tumor, and they are healed. He’s even raised the dead a few times – people locked up with rigor mortis and their eyes popping out and everything - and he just tells them to come to him, and they do.  Or maybe he’ll be touched by God and start speaking in tongues, and then he’ll touch a person with an affliction, let’s say they’re lame, and they’ll start moving their legs and get up, like this lady he made walk last Sunday, who was really a church secretary acting like she couldn’t walk.  These are re-enactments for the purpose of building trust.  When Jim re-enacts a healing and more members start to trust him with their lives, then we know it’s really working. 

Jim and I have this special look we share now, eye to eye, since we’ve gotten close.  Nobody can take that away.  I always sit right near the front so I can catch his eye when we really pull off something smooth.  He knows I’m there for him, no matter what.  And he would die for us, I’m sure of it.

As for the healing, in a way, the person is healed, of their selfishness and any lack of loyalty they may have had, and then they embrace the cause wholeheartedly.  This is for their good.  Most of our community is black. Without solidarity, they have nothing.  No power, no nothing.  But in the community, there is power.

It’s hard to take the kind of journalism we get attacked with.  The Examiner ran an article saying that a man yelled, “Jim Jones is God Almighty Himself!” during one of our services, and made it look like that was a bad thing, like we’re some kind of fanatics.  Yes, that happened, but isn’t that a good thing?  People believe what they need to believe to be free, and we let them.  We’ve made little signs that say, “I believe in Jim Jones,” and people carry them when we go out together to show solidarity.  That’s what Jim is there for, to help people believe enough to embrace their own freedom, and the freedom of all the people.  How they show that, is nobody else’s business but their own.

November 20, 1972

We heard back from the Scientologists again today.  Jim asked me to get in touch with them to see what they do when they’re under attack, which is a lot of the time.  Jim worries about the IRS because they still question whether we ought to be paying taxes, even with our tax exempt.

What the IRS doesn’t understand is that the money we're trusted with was earned by the people, and it has already been taxed.  We just take care of it for them.  That’s the principle behind any church.  The IRS keeps sniffing around anyway for some reason. 

They try to pull the same thing with the Scientologists, so now Gene (that’s our assistant pastor) and Vaughn (that’s their assistant pastor) are meeting to talk about how they handle it, with me doing the research and the backup.  We’ve all got to stick together, so it’s good to have the Scientologists to turn to, even though some of the stuff they believe is just pure crazy.  They think that if you hold onto two tin cans wired together and plug them in to a meter, all your bad memories will be blown away and you’ll be healed, or something like it.  They are nuts.  But they do charge a lot of money to get wired, or audited, as they call it.

Most people give us 25% of their pay.  The ones who are full time Temple, if they still have jobs, give us their whole paycheck.  Then we pay for everything for them, trips to the dentist, food, clothing, give them a roof over their heads.  They get an allowance, five dollars a week.  And like I said, that money has already been taxed.  But the IRS doesn’t see it that way. 

The people trust us with their money for the good of the community, so one day we can become self-sustaining and not have to send people off to jobs in the world any more.  They don’t give us their money so we can hand it over to the government.  So we don’t.

November 29, 1972

Jim is still tied up in knots over this Kinsolving guy.  He’s the reporter with the Examiner.  Even though his stories were more than a month ago, it just doesn’t go away.  Mildred, the little girl Tim helped to get married without her mother’s permission, has really turned into a PR problem, also because she tithed her welfare check to the Temple.  And then her mother kicked up a fuss about her being underage. 

Kinsolving made it look in his articles like the girl was forced to give us her check.  Because Tim is the Assistant DA, and a member of the Temple, this reporter is trying to make it look like an inside job or something, the fact that he helped her get her marriage license, and then that she signed over her check.  Like it’s some kind of conspiracy.  But Tim has a right to be a member of whatever church he wants, and still do his job.  And any church expects its members to give part of their income.  But most important, Mildred is safer in the Temple community than she ever was at home. 

Now people in town are starting to harass us and tell tales out of context, about all sorts of things, to the press. 

Here’s an example.  We’ve had people blow everyday discipline that Jim uses way out of proportion.  This started with one boy who didn’t feel like eating his dinner at the survival camp and complained to his mother because Jim made him eat it anyway.  It is true that he made him eat it two or three times - ha.  But seriously, why can’t people understand what we’re trying to do?  You can’t run a community without discipline.  Sure, Jim’s tough.  But that’s why all these other church communities are falling apart - no discipline. 

If someone in the Temple community gets out of line or gets lazy, there is hell to pay.  I don’t care how old you are, you’ll get a beating or worse, and you’ll have welts to show for it.  On Wednesday nights we have catharsis.  That’s when Father will call someone who has stepped out of bounds up to the front of the church and anyone could be ordered to spank them or kick them, depending on what they did. 

For instance, if you commit a sexual sin, like having sex that is not blessed by Father for the good of the community, then Father will pay the person back in kind – they’ll have some kind of sexual consequence.  Like this girl who tried to throw herself at him in a meeting one day.  She was made to take off all her clothes in front of everybody right there in the meeting, and then she was told what was and wasn’t sexy about her, to be throwing it at Father like that.  And Jim was there for all of it, so she knew that he was in control.  That’s how you keep discipline, one Father at the head of the family.

It’s good to get all this off my chest, just to stand back and see it in writing.  But I have to spend less time at it from now on, because I have a lot of work to do.  My responsibilities are huge and getting bigger every day.  So peace – see you later.

December 2, 1972

I think we’ve finally washed our hands clean in the Maxine Harpe situation.  We really thought she would be a good member when Father hand-picked her and sent Randolph in to work his magic.  That woman had no trouble taking her kids and leaving her no-good husband for Randolph, that’s for sure.  But she turned out to be a time bomb.  Still, we contained the situation really well, I thought. 

After Randolph broke off his relationship with her, the melt down she had went out of control, way far out.  But we had the situation in hand by then, with a few of her welfare department caseworkers on our team, and Tim as her attorney.  There was no way she was going to keep that divorce settlement, or keep Jim Randolph either.  Her trouble is that she just couldn’t trust and let Father take care of all her needs, like he would have done.  She had to go crying to the welfare department and making a stink so big everybody could hear it. 

That damn Baptist preacher Taylor thought calling the Attorney General was going to stop us from doing what we had to do.  But these people just don’t know who they’re dealing with.  Jim Jones goes high up.  They confiscated Taylor’s notes as soon as he got to the State Department.  Father and his Temple are a force for good that cannot be stopped.  How can we take care of the people if they don’t trust us with what they have?  Well, Maxine has to trust us with what she has now, since she’s dead.

Kinsolving had tried to mess with us on this one too.  But we sent two busloads to picket the newspaper office the day after he ran his story.  He was much quieter after that.  

The worst, though, is that Tim finally had to turn over all of our financial records to the paper after Kinsolving’s assistant saw the .357 magnum our guard was carrying and got a picture of it.  It would be like him to make something of that, too, so I guess Tim had to do what he had to do.  When the guy asked Debbie for the records, she told him absolutely not, but Tim felt he had to overrule her.  I guess the attorney knows best.

People have to understand that we’re trying to run a community where everyone is safe and free, and you can’t do that without some kind of order.  If we didn’t have a few arms, we would never be able to load buses full of people and bring them up here and guarantee peoples’ safety.  And we need arms to keep the community buildings safe at night, for the people who live here.  Every night we lock down and the fence is guarded.  This is an extremely right wing, racist community up here in the Valley, and there are a lot of hunters up here, and a lot of our people are black, like I said.  They know we’re socialists, and they hate us for it, and we’re not going to take any chances with our people’s lives.  But we’re still basically non-violent.  Jim has a friend who takes care of the arms.  He runs them into the city through Ray, who manages a little market on Russian Hill, among other things, and is always there for Jim whenever he needs anything “special” done.

With the new San Francisco Temple doing so well, I know we’re going to have to move our people out of Redwood Valley at some point.  There are just too many racists in this neck of the woods.  And Jim has lots of friends in the city.  The paper’s put a wrap on Kinsolving since Jim has worked with a few of his contacts, and the picketing after the Harpe story helped.  Herb Caen ran a nice column about Jim not long after that.  

So I think that’s what we’ll probably have to do, especially now that we’re working so hard on the overseas project.  That’s going to mean a lot of travel in and out of the country for me.  It’s time I learned another language besides English.  I talked to Jim about enrolling at Cal in the fall to learn French, and he’s OK with it.

This was a long one, but I’ve got a lot on my mind this week, and, like always, it was good to get that off my chest.  It’s three am, so I’d better lie down a while or I’ll be good for nothing in the morning.