Like leaves on trees, the race of man is found,
Homer, Iliad, ca 750 B.C.E., translated* by Alexander Pope, 1716
Defying precedent, Annie and Brendan reached the campus lecture hall early, if hungry. They had planned to grab a bite at the Whole Earth but thought they should check out where they were heading first and were rather shocked to discover the place was almost full.
"This bodes well," mused Brendan, "Are you starving?"
"I ate lunch," pointed out Annie. "I think we should get seats."
"We could go to Joze afterwards."
"OK, but I'm half-famished already. How 'bout you grab a couple of seats while I get something to tide me over? You want anything?"
"No, go ahead, I'll be up there," agreed Annie, pointing three-quarters of the way up the center block.
Serendipity. Had Brendan not been hungry, Annie would not have had the next twenty minutes or so on her own and would surely have experienced them, and the hour that followed, differently. Set and setting would not have been the same, nor therefore would have been the psychic, and hence the physical, consequences. Perhaps some other concatenation of coincidences would have provoked a parallel track of action, reaction and building momentum could the author have found that thread? or perhaps the lines would have curved apart, until hidden by the shade of other mountains they faded into indistinct memories of possibilities lost, blurred by other geographies found.
Like it or not, and on some elusive principle she would have said not, Annie had been coupled. Not sutured together at the hip, no longer obsessed by passion, but generally taken as two. Work was different work was not life and hardly real, but that's a different tale to tell but away from that, what she did she did as part of a pair, including to be sure what she did alone, because that she did not least to maintain her individuality within the duo. She reacted with and against but forever around the fact that she and Brendan were living in tandem.
Naturally she thought about it. That was exactly the kind of thing she did think about, sometimes with an honesty so brutal it deceived, to reach a kind of truth stripped so bare of varnish and shaping qualifications that eventually it lost its meaning and turned into falsehood.
She was afraid, she was comfortable, she was bored ... but these were symptoms, partial realities at best. She was middle-aged and scared and no longer attractive to men ... and these were rationalizations and partial lies at least. Sometimes she hoped for an affaire, a blast of intensity to boost her sense of power and shock herself out of the rut, even a grand romance to change her life (but let's make sure Brendan's away for a week or two, at first, to keep the options open), but the logistics were hard to handle and there was something crass about the self-image involved in back-door rambles at her age. There it was again. Was forty-three really so ancient?
Looking around as the seats filled, she calculated with routine horror that the students were young enough to be her children, the babies of the American Cultural Revolution of '68'72. But for the Pill, and one awful experience with the abortion doctor, at least one surely would have been hers. She'd taken enough chances back then.
It wasn't her college days she remembered as the 'best days of her life' but the years that followed, when success wore the rags cast off by riches and risks were not to consider but to embrace, when the only rule was that there was none but the Golden and if that didn't add up, well math was for accountants and generals. In school, there were schedules to keep, a structure of sorts and a shared agreement that life on campus was worth a B average. When you graduated, the choices sharpened and a refusal to choose was the grandest risk of all.
The kids tumbling in, laughing and sullen, flirting and lonely, whispering to their friends and calling across the room they all seemed so ready. Automatically, she noticed the fashions; California caz ruled, largely unisex and heavy on the backwards baseball caps, with a surprising sprinkle of tie-dyed T-shirts to grate even further on her nostalgia. She caught a burst of valley-girl accents and did an aural double-take when instead of mall-speak she found herself eavesdropping on activism "He's like, let's get a permit and we're all, just do it, y'know, he's so-o bourgeois liberal." She envied the girls their confidence, their sense of who they were. Certainly they were self-selected for interest in a panel discussion about their parents' rebellious leaders, but they didn't seem awed, just interested, even excited. There was life in the room, and potential for the unknown.
The rows of seats focused down on a small stage, where tables were butted lengthwise in front of seven or eight seats in a row. Two of them had microphones in front of them, and there was a water jug and an upturned pile of paper cups, but otherwise the tables were bare. Behind them were a triptych of blackboards, with the confused remnants of several classes half erased. A skinny young man in tie-dye and Levi's adjusted the mikes, flipping his long straight hair behind an ear as he leaned forward.
"No testing, no testing," he muttered in each and earned a laugh.
As he moved to the edge of the stage, he greeted an older guy with a smile and shrugged in response to something as if to say, be my guest. The graybeard accepted a hand up to the podium, followed by a strikingly beautiful young woman with straight dark hair falling over her shoulders and subdued turtleneck and slacks. Typical older man, thought Annie (wrongly, as it happened, in this case), he can get away with it but I couldn't. Why not? went a little voice she hadn't heard for a while. Fears of failure haunted her thoughts of shame. Who cares? said that little subversive, her hippie conscience, why should anyone tell you what to do? or feel?
The woman on stage leaned awkwardly down to one of the microphones, tried to unclip it from its stand and finally lifted the whole apparatus and began to speak. Her tentative whisper boomed out, to her evident surprise, and quieted the room.
"Hi, I'm with the Students for Social Responsibility and we're, that is, we need help, we want to get a survey round to everyone on campus, students, faculty, everyone, staff, to see what they want to do if a war starts in the Gulf. Like, do we want to close the campus?"
There was a hearty "yeah" from part of the audience at stage left, echoed with a couple of cheers of "Right on!" and a general froth of mutter.
"No, no ..." she continued, "This is a survey, right? I mean, I think we should shut down for the duration and probably occupy it, but we want to know what the support is on campus and we need help to get the survey around. We want to get it to every class and every dorm, just for a start. Anyway, if you're willing to help, if you could come and see me afterwards ..."
The man next to her leaned over and whispered in her ear.
"Oh, yeah, right, my name's Sara, and my number's 5552024** I'll put it on the blackboard and you can call me, or come to the next SSR meeting, Sunday night at Stevenson. Seven o'clock. Thanks."
Hmm, thought Annie. These kids have got it together. Must be a grad student. [Do we detect an age-ist bias?] Good for them. Maybe there really is hope.
Sara passed over the mike to the guy with the short gray beard, who cleared his throat and looked out at the crowd.
"Uh, hi," he smiled. "It's really nice to see all you folks here and maybe we can learn something from history." Friendly groans of recognition erupted here and there. "I know, I know, it's not a seminar." That earned a derisive cry of approval.
"Anyway," he continued, "I came up here because we want to make a connection between the town peace groups and the campus, and we're planning a major action. Probably a lot of you were at the last rally, in San Lorenzo Park? A week, nearly two weeks ago?"
There was a widespread chorus of agreement. Annie felt rather out of it for not having been there. She looked bright and interested and smiled, trying not to make it look defensive. Sara finished chalking her phone number on the board and raised her fist in the classic power salute. Graybeard seemed slightly taken aback by the enthusiasm.
"Right. Great. Well, the next one's going to be even better. We're gonna blockade the Military Recruitment Center in Capitola. Shut it down!"
The enthusiasts over by the far wall rang out their cheers of "All right!" The first buzz was definitely favorable. Annie's little inner voice tip-toed to the precipice of agreement and edged back in concern about self-preservation. This sounded, well, heavy, and that was a word she hadn't used in a generation, and this was a scenario she hadn't pictured for almost as long.
"You won't have to be arrested," continued the speaker quickly, picking up on the second thoughts undulating through the audience. "Some people will be, there will be CD but most people won't do it, and if you want to do CD, please do a non-violence prep first. I think there's gonna be Sara? ... Yeah, SSR is gonna do some preps, watch for flyers I guess. Anyway it's going to be on Thursday, the 15th, lunchtime, starting 11:30. I've got some flyers here, I'll pass them around. There will be a community meeting on Tuesday, two days before, at Louden Nelson at 7 o'clock, to talk about what's going to happen.
"Anyway, that's it. Two weeks from yesterday. Shut down military recruiting! Thank you."
He went to put the microphone back down on the table but Sara reached for it and he passed it over.
"Thanks, Eric. And that weekend, two weeks from tomorrow, SSR is organizing a march from campus and a follow-up rally by the Mission ..." Eric passed her a flyer. "Oh, cool, it's on here. Far out. So if you can't make it to the blockade, come march with us on Saturday. It'll be fun. Thanks."
She set the mike down and the two of them walked round to the front of the stage and down to floor level. They split up the pile of flyers and started distributing them to the front rows and up the gangways, in smaller bunches. Annie took one and passed them on.
The skinny guy called for more announcements and a couple more people jumped onto the stage with meetings to promote and their own agendas to push but Annie drifted away. This sounded like the start of something. The energy around was intoxicating. She could easily get a Thursday off (her weekend work karma was excellent) ... this could be interesting.
*"It is a pretty poem, Mr Pope," commented Richard Bentley at the time, "But you must not call it Homer."
**Not in this continuum it isn't. Don't even try calling, it's a fake number. This is fiction, remember?