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We know the truth, not only through our reason, but through our heart. It is through the latter that we know first principles, and reason, which has nothing to do with it, tries in vain to refute them.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 1670


Annie knew the Central Valley the way asthmatics know pollinating plants. Every memory of growing up there was filled with suffocating desperation. College had been her way out and she had never wanted to go back. She couldn't remember ever having wanted anything except to split. Thinking back over thirty-some years, she figured she must have absorbed the desire for escape by some kind of familial osmosis from her mother, who had been stuck there to the day she finally turned up her toes. Jack Handley, her dad, had family scattered down Route 99 from Lodi to Fresno; she had cousins dotted east from there up the Sierra foothills towards Yosemite and Kings Canyon, the kind of rednecks who ran the Best Westerns and Union 76 stations and looked on the nature lovers of the coast as sheep ripe for regular fleecing. When Annie headed for the wilderness, as she sometimes liked to do, she studiously avoided her relatives; they no longer went hunting hippies on the weekend, but they couldn't forgive her for her inadequate consumption of meat, beer, gas and garish souvenirs. Her sort just wasn't wanted, and the feeling was entirely mutual.

Her mother Belle was an Oklahoma refugee who had a pretty good time in San Francisco in the early forties and basically lost touch with her family, which had scattered out of the dust bowl, not exactly on old-Joad wagons but not far off. Pregnant and hitched, she found the road to Turlock a greased downhill slide. It was so easy to let her mother-in-law help and so hard to make her stop. By the time the old witch's powers were waning, Belle was marooned in the mildest of mindless comfort and ready for not much more than television and cheap port wine. Jack totaled the truck and walked away twice in the year after his parents passed on, celebrating his inheritance, but on the third attempt he lost a fight with an eighteen-wheeler and left the women-folks to fend for themselves, as they figured they had been for years.

Kennedy was President, trouble was brewing with the coloreds (and Castro and, though the fact was not yet widely acknowledged, with faraway Uncle Ho) and Annie was a freshman in high-school who already felt no part of the Central Valley. Raging hormones no doubt, and none the worse for that, but as happens more often than the world likes to admit, they hit her brain as well as her womb. Sure she wanted boys and she wanted them to want her (and, yes, she wanted to want them to want her too; fitting in always matters) but for her life it was more vital that her emotional attitude to society was fixed. The straight world, she concluded, was repulsive. To redefine her analysis in abstract terms comfortable to a later generation, Annie saw the culture she was raised in as racist, sexist, classist, nationalist, ethnocentric, species-centric, egocentric, insupportably hypocritical and indefensibly immoral. In a word, fucked.

It is important to remember that this was an emotional response. Annie was no more of a fool at fourteen than at forty and there was certainly an intellectual component to her point of view but her principles predated their justification. They also predated her daddy's death – she once earned herself a whipping by asking naively what was wrong with Communism if it meant treating everyone the same – but the emotional and financial turbulence that arose from Belle's attempts at single motherhood certainly helped to cut her loose. Some people find themselves in adolescence, others simply discover who they are not; maybe they get the best of the bargain.

As graduation approached, her grades stayed high and she began to wish that she was too. The football team didn't think she was cute, the homecoming crowd thought she was weird, the rich kids thought she was poor, the poor kids thought she was too clever for her own good, and most everyone thought she was a nigger-loving Commie. She didn't have to say anything, they just knew. It was grossly unfair, since by and large she kept her opinions to herself, but they were of course right. Nevertheless, although she heard about the Gulf of Tonkin incident in '64 and vaguely thought it was wrong to send big planes to drop bombs on peasant rice farmers, the controversy that really engaged her was the one that swept the nation: George, she insisted, was the Beatle she wanted to marry.

Shortly thereafter, Belle made her big mistake. She nixed Berkeley. Belle was all in favor of Annie's going to college as a way of escaping the Naugahyde® Hell™ that preserved her once lively self, now encased in a body as cracked and wrinkled as the couch. Private schools and out-of-state tuitions were off the board; the University of California was at its peak, but so was the Free Speech Movement. Inevitably, Annie thought Berkeley was where it was at, and Davis, the great agricultural school that attracted her brighter classmates, an absolute no-no. But there was this campus opening in Santa Cruz.

You never can tell what woulda or shoulda or coulda but here's a guess: If Annie had gone to Berkeley, she'd have been engaged in fighting the war, and through it the system, and might have ended up as so many did, completely tied in to what she wrestled with. She would naturally have been a charter member of the Free Socialist Republic of Berkeley, and subsequently become identified with the loyal opposition and grown up to high culture, universal day-care, Chez Panisse organic gourmet dining, neighborhood policing, Peet's coffee, shrink raps and silk (not shrink-wraps of plastic), and all the impedimenta of East Bay upper-class (oops; intellectual) life in the Reaganbush era. In the long run, Belle's ghost might not have thought it so bad an end.

Instead, she schooled in a beautiful wooded vacuum, where the students were jammed into temporary trailers, the acid and grass flowed like blood, the concept of the college was scarcely more solid than the buildings that were supposed to rise from the mud, there were no grades for any class ever, the only graduate program was the History of Consciousness for crying out loud, and the rest of the universe was far, far away and long, long, gone.

This Berkeley view of UCSC is unfair but not totally unrealistic. A lot of very bright kids elected to go to school in the redwoods and of course their surroundings affected their attitudes. Still, most of them got over it and became respectable œnophiles, intelligent attorneys, sensitive parents, conservative liberals and conventionally oxymoronic purveyors of the status quo. Even those who truly felt cut loose from mainstream society generally found a line to hold, often in the university system itself. It's hard to argue with the proposition that what's good enough for Angela Davis is good enough for some white kid (more accurately, it's hard to argue against it successfully, though it would be fun to hear her try) and it's worth reminding the Sproul-centrists that the Santa Cruz campus is where the sweet black angel eventually took up residence.

Annie spun out in college. Turned on, tuned in, and avoiding dropping out solely by virtue of native charm, narrative evaluations, and a complete inability to think of anything better to do. Like Blackie in London, like Juanita in Rome, like Klaus in Heidelberg, like Skip the Beard in Brooklyn, like Sebastian (well, if you must, Jimmy at the time) in Oakland, like thousands of others she might or might not some day meet on the avenue, she was learning that the old rules no longer applied and the new ones hadn't been written down yet.

You could hear them, though, you could hear them loud and clear if you turned your radio all the way up into the mystic.

College was just a place you lived while you found out this stuff. Professors professed but no one thought they taught. The students were too busy experimenting, with each other in the age-old games, with new and thrilling choices of what to eat and smoke and drink and wear, with a million different thoughts they thought had never been thought before. And if most of it was not new to the world, all of it was new to them – much having been hidden deliberately by the conspiracy of convention – and the joy was in the discovery. There was plenty of learning going on amid the chaos and the laughter.

The wages of that particular time of sins were life.