Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Berkeley Background (A word from Dr. J)

In case you think I’m fantasizing, or slumming, or making fun of them, when I talk about how the Murphys live -- just two rooms, crates for furniture, TV in hock -- that’s exactly how I lived in Berkeley, for several years. Actually in just one room, and I couldn’t hock the TV because I didn’t even own one. Didn’t own a phone. Didn’t own….I dunno, What? What do people own, anyway? I owned one pair of shoes, and two pairs of socks. Had a radio for a little while, left over from the relative affluence of college, but it was soon stolen; then no radio for a long time after that. Of course no car; transport was by a one-speed bike I bought, used and abused, for ten dollars. -- Actually very practical for Berkeley. Anything fancier got stolen. This thing I didn’t even have to lock. (Not that I owned a lock.)
No medical care, no dental. And if you think the Murphy penchant for pizza is down-market, think about it: they get a large, with everything on it. Me I couldn’t afford so much as a slice. Lived on brown rice and carrots, period, for the longest time. (That was partly a would-be spiritual thing in any case; I was in mourning for a lost girlfriend. And it is myself I am mocking, in that story about Murphy becoming a vegetarian.)

And… How did I feel about all this? If you imagine you detect a note of resentment here, that’s a misreading. My mind was simply elsewhere; I was thinking, intensely, about other things. And if anyone had pointed to the boring issue of material conditions, I would have looked around, puzzled, then said: I live like kings. In the Middle Ages, nobody owned as many books as I owned, used-paperbacks though they were. No one owned a typewriter (ah yes, I’d forgotten that, that I did own, in fact an electric: but that was not a possession, it was more like owning hands.) And as for gathering acorns and thistles in the snow, as our forefathers did -- heck, this was California. Fresh carrots! I -- Lived -- Like --- Kings..

No comments: