Cloyne Court, Episode Seven
By Dodie Katague
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Rated "R" by the Author.
Based on a real story that took place in Berkeley, California in the 1970s. A decision was made to jump-start chapter two and post it early( From Chapter 2).
I never heard of Cloyne Court Co-op before that day on the BART train. As I stood at the corner of Ridge Road and LeRoy Avenue, one block from campus, and within sight of the Campanile, I felt a pang of anxiety. This was my last chance to go back to Briones Valley.
Outside, on the front lawn of overgrown weeds, to the left of the massive four-foot wide Craftsman-style door, several men were clearing a patch of dirt and installing a five-foot tall yellow plaster banana. I stood in front of the massive three-story, wood-shingled building and watched them use a large level to balance the sculpture in its base.
“What are you staring at?” said a guy with a bushy mustache and mop-top haircut, who I took to be the actual sculptor of the giant Musa sapientum.
“Nothing. I was just looking at it,” I said. "What does it mean?"
“That’s the whole point,” said the sculptor. “Art is supposed to mean anything you want it to be. It's supposed to make you think of things you never considered. What do you see when you look at it?”
“A giant phallic symbol,” I said.
“See, I told you, Jeff,” said one of his helpers. “That’s exactly what I thought when I saw it."
The helper turned to me. "You should see his master’s thesis project in the backyard. It’s a dirt mound with a hole large enough for a person to cocoon, surrounded by ornamental grass mounds and has two pink wooden legs installed in a V shape pointing at the sky. That looks like a woman's …well, you know.”
Jeff looked at his helper and me with disdain. “You’re both morons. All you ever see in my sculptures is sex. Is that all men ever think about?” He ranted about the ivory tower, the bourgeoisie, the natural wellness of being and other topics I had never heard about. I lost interest in the conversation after ‘you’re both morons’ and headed inside.
As I discovered later, Cloyne Court was the largest residence hall owned by the University Students’ Co-op Association (USCA), housing one-hundred-fifty students. In its heyday, back at the turn of the nineteenth century, it was considered a classy modern hotel boarding University faculty, visiting professors, famous guests like Susan B. Anthony, and people waiting for their Northside Berkeley homes to be built.
The Co-op survived the 1906, San Francisco Earthquake and the Berkeley Northside Fire of 1923, which destroyed seven hundred homes several blocks north of campus. Years of college students and time had taken its toll on the building. In 1977, at seventy-three, the building needed more than a paint job to bring it up to its fabled past. So, in 1982, the City of Berkeley declared it a historical landmark making it eligible for restoration funds. It is the only Berkeley City Landmark with my initials still carved on the inside doorjamb in the downstairs photography darkroom.
As I entered the building, I saw a glass-protected bulletin board called the Rogues Gallery mounted on the hallway wall. Inside the case were one-hundred-and-fifty, black-and-white mug shots of the residents with a script calligraphic nametag under each picture to identify them.
Beneath it was a long ratty couch. The couch color had once been yellow, but now was a dirty dismal, one of the few colors found in nature that is not on the PANTONE standard list.
I developed a love-hate affinity for that couch, the central gathering place for residents who wanted to interact with others. Residents like Betty Sue and Krista would do their class reading assignments there hoping for a human distraction between chapters. It would also be the starting point for our impromptu get-togethers, the late-night discussions, and the assembly place to gather before we headed to Fenton’s ice creamery or LaVal’s pizza. It was the same couch where I first saw that look of yearning in a woman’s eyes.
Lying on the couch was a student with a large Mohawk haircut. He was reading Descartes’ Discourse on the Method and eating a bag of Doritos. I looked at the Rogues Gallery to discover his name. How hard could it be to find a black-and-white photo of a man with a Mohawk? However, of the hundreds of photographs, there were no Mohawks. I saw that one square was missing a photo. It had a name, Kyd Byzzarre.
“Hi, are you Kyd?” I asked.
“Depends on whose asking,” he said. He looked me over suspiciously.
“I’m Derek. I’m moving in,” I said. I held out my hand to shake, but he didn’t budge. “How come your picture isn’t up here?”
His eyes lit up as he put down the book. Someone had finally taken an interest in the reason for his reflective reticence.
“I don’t want my picture taken, because I believe every time a photo is taken of me, it captures a little of my soul’s essence I can never get back. We have a limited amount of essence, you know. Some African tribes believe the loss of photographic essence is a religious sacrilege. I see it as a constitutional freedom. I don’t believe the government has a right to steal my essence.”
“How did you get a driver’s license?” I asked.
“I don’t drive. I ride a bicycle,” he said. “But I intend to go to law school and sue the Department of Motor Vehicles for violating my constitutional rights.”
That is, if a car didn’t flatten him while he pedaled to school. I would learn later that except for this oddity and his Mohawk, he turned out to be an intelligent guy, a capable basketball player and a sensitive and caring soul inside the punk exterior. I also discover that he had an outstanding misdemeanor warrant for driving on a suspended license in Nevada, which gave him an additional reason for his ardent religious fervor.
 When the USCA bought the property in 1942, it was a male-only residence and provided additional housing for the Post World War II veterans returning to school under the G.I bill. In 1972, the Co-op went coed, changing its character forever.
Watch out for Excerpt 8 tomorrow!_____________________________________
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