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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cloyne Court- Excerpts 23 and 24

Photo from motifake.com
Cloyne Court, Episode 23
By Dodie Katague
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Rated "R" by the Author.

A creative memoir about Cloyne Court in Berkeley, California in the late 1970s.

I walked into the dining room at 6:01 p.m. I would not make that mistake again. The place was crammed tight, one hundred and fifty people seated elbow to elbow at every table like livestock in a feedlot. I saw my roommate, Alan, at a table with several men and two women. He waved. “Over here, Derek.” He pulled out a chair he’d saved.

I grabbed silverware and a plate from the side table near the entrance. The plate was still warm and moist as if it had just come from the dishwasher. Its surface was scarred with grayish linear knife gouges from years of abuse. The edge had a tiny hairline crack running from a chipped indent to the middle of the plate in the supposedly durable melamine composite material. It looked useable but the underside had some food encrusted on it. I grabbed another plate and checked my silverware carefully.

I also needed a cup, but there weren’t any. Instead, I found a tray of recycled screw-top glass jars in several sizes—the largest, a Mason jar used for canning. I looked around and saw people drinking from jars. I picked an eight-ounce size that looked like it once held strawberry jam.

As I was to discover later, the house bought new plastic cups each quarter, but they kept disappearing. Nobody knew where they went.

I made my way through the crowded room. Dinner had not yet been served. I sat in the empty chair and looked at the woman seated across from me. It was her! The woman I had noticed sitting on the window ledge at the women’s meeting. I hoped she remembered me.

“Hey everyone, this is Derek,” Alan said. “This is Miguel, Hadas, Mike, Fred, Polly, and Dan and Katy.”

Dan was sitting to Katy’s right across from me. Alan introduced them as a pair, Dan and Katy, as in Gilbert and Sullivan, Anthony and Cleopatra, The Captain and Tennille. The introduction was clear. She and Dan were a couple.

“I’m Katy Lord. I saw you at the meeting the other night.” She remembered me. I leaned toward her to hear better and looked at her eyes as she spoke. She had long russet-colored hair and some pinpoint freckles on her face. When she turned to talk to Dan, I could see she had a prominent nose. The way her eyes looked at me and her constant smile, made me feel comfortable around her. She was like the girl next door, who you wouldn’t give a second glance if you were looking for hotties. Not because she wasn’t pretty, but because she was familiar. Maybe that’s why she stood out among the women I had seen at the meeting.

Dan said, “That took a lot of guts to invade the women’s meeting like you did the other night.”

I blushed as the others at the table made comments of disbelief at the sheer gall of a man attending a women’s meeting.

Mike Zambrano was seated next to Dan. He was wearing a gray pullover hooded sweatshirt and wrinkled gray sweatpants. He looked and smelled as if he had jogged a few miles.

“Learn any lesbian secret techniques you want to share? I’d do anything to get into her pants.” Mike motioned with his head toward a table of women and pointed with his eyes at Joan, who had a striking resemblance to Stevie Nicks, the female singer for Fleetwood Mac. Also seated at the table was Carrie, who had told me to go fuck myself at the meeting, and her lover, Sonya, a butch-looking woman with short crew-style hair wearing a lumberjack shirt and army-surplus pants. The other women at their table were talking and laughing until a male student from an adjacent table asked for some water from the pitcher on their table. The women’s demeanor went from genial to indignant, as if an intruder had invaded their secret garden.

“How do you know she doesn’t like men?” I asked. I made assumptions about people based on their appearances and whom they associated with. I assumed Joan was lesbian, since she was sitting at a table with lesbians.

“Already tried.” He sighed. “I asked her out, but she said she wasn’t interested in men.”

“What exactly did she say?” I asked. “Perhaps she didn’t like you, rather than men in general.”

I hadn’t meant it as an insult. It was an observation. Maybe he wasn’t Joan’s type. Miguel, Hadas and Fred chuckled at my inadvertent put-down.

“Hey,” Mike said, “I met you two minutes ago, and you’re already insulting me. She doesn’t like men. Her exact words were, I’m not interested in penises with attitudes.”

I regretted my remark even more when Dan used the opportunity to razz him. “Didn’t she say she’s not interested in ‘small penises’ with attitudes?” He smiled.

Mike was only five feet tall. I think because of height, he was cocky to the point of being churlish and arrogant. He reminded me of a miniature toy terrier hanging out with the big dogs and first to bark and snarl to show his loyalty to the pack.

Dan wasn’t about to stop. “You’re too short,” he said. “She needs a man with a few more inches. I have ten she’d like.”

Cloyne Court, Episode 24
By Dodie Katague
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Rated "R" by the Author.

A creative memoir about Cloyne Court in Berkeley, California in the late 1970s.

Katy winced. I guess the last words you want to hear from your boyfriend is that he wants to play ‘hide the salami’ with another woman. She smiled like a Cheshire Cat and delivered her zinger. “I didn’t realize this was ten inches.” She held up her thumb and index finger apart the length of a pack of chewing gum.

The men at the table roared with laughter. If anyone would know about the actual size of Dan’s private parts, I guessed it would be her.

Dan glared at her in disapproval. Her smile vanished.

Polly was the other woman at our table, and she wasn’t smiling either. She was a rare commodity, a female engineering student at Cal. I think she was uncomfortable with the sex jokes. She saw Dan’s look at Katy and quickly changed the subject.

“Derek, are you into anti-establishment like sit-ins and nonviolent protests?” she asked. “There’s an antiapartheid rally next week at Sproul Plaza. I heard a bunch of students are going to take over Sproul Hall until the University stops doing business with companies that do business in South Africa.” She sipped from a can of Coca-Cola, which ironically did a hell of lot of business in South Africa. “I’m thinking about joining the sit-in. If you’re interested, you should talk to people at that table.”

I looked at a table at the far side of the room. The men and women there were dressed in black with red armbands. One was wearing a black beret. This was the table for the radical militant leftists. Most were members of the Revolutionary Student Brigade, but during meal times, they welcomed Trotskyites, Leninists, and some Maoists, who sat in the middle of the table to separate them from the members of The Spartacus Youth League, wearing yellow with a black-fist emblem, who sat at the other end of the table.

I looked around the room. I saw a table of residents wearing yarmulkes sitting at one table. I assumed it was the Jewish group. At another table were the vegetarians, who were already eating a rice dish. Their group cooked separately from the house kitchen. They set up menus and cooking schedules and sat by themselves eating their tofu and bean-sprout casseroles. They looked like a congenial group. I was to learn later, they had serious disagreements on whether eggs and milk were a violation of the vegetarian code.

The druggies sat a table across the dining room closest to the exit. They had glazed eyes or were staring into the distance or nodding off, their heads jerking up whenever they leaned too far, and some were twitching and shaking from the early symptoms of withdrawal. Fortunately, the house had a no smoking policy in the dining room. The potheads would have to wait until after dessert before lighting up.

The center table caught my attention the most. This table had six men and six women, regular looking people, slightly older, probably juniors and seniors, engaged in polite conversation. There were two empty chairs at the table, yet no one coming in late approached them.

“What’s so off-limits about that table?” I asked Katy. “No one else is sitting there.”

“That’s the committed couples table,” she said. “The couples there like hanging out with similar committed couples. It’s as near to married as you can be here.”

As far as I knew, there were no married couples living in the house. Sitting there were Casey and Lisa, Kimberly and Ren, Chet and Jenny and other couples I didn’t know.

“There are two empty chairs,” I said.

“Yeah, Dick Fine and Julia used to sit there, but they split. I knew it wouldn’t last. Dick isn’t that type of guy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Julia and Dick were together for two months,” Katy replied. “Almost a lifetime around here. When she and Dick started sitting at the couple’s table, she made sure everyone in the house knew about it. I think it was a signal to the other women to keep their hands off her boyfriend.”

Polly’s ears perked at the mention of the word ‘boyfriend’. She turned from the engineering discussion and joined the gossip. “I heard that the other men at the table didn’t want Dick sitting there anyway.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because he’s slept with most of the women at the table before they coupled up with their current boyfriends. The men were too uncomfortable knowing their girlfriends had experienced Dick’s enormous appendage.”

Looking around the room, I realized the groups were like high school. The social stratification was still there. Nothing had changed. There were the geeks, the jocks and the stoners. Yet everything was different. Now there were political divisions, religious and ethnic groups, and sexual relationship groups. It was college level Social Skills 101.

I was a failure at social groups in high school. I hung out with my friends, and we were labeled misfits, geeks and nerds. Nothing had changed. That bothered me, because I did not know how others would categorize me. I wanted a dining table that I could call home.

There were, of course, groups of people who sat together because the seat was available at the table. Later, Alan told me he picked the table we would sit at nightly because it was nearest to the kitchen, and the food arrived first. Others at our table had also figured this out and in later years, there would be a rush to fill the eight seats at ‘my’ table.

It was now 6:20 and dinner had not yet been served. I was hungry and so was everyone else. Some students stomped their feet and banged their dinner plates on the table like a scene from a prison riot movie and our table joined in. Now I understood why the plates were chipped.

As the banging and drumming had a rhythmic beat, Mary Jewell, our resident music artist, began singing The Who’s Magic Bus to the beat of the pounding.

“I think we’d get our food faster if we drummed out Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk,” Miguel said.

“That song has been banned,” Polly said. “It’s USC’s theme song. We hate USC as much as we hate Stanford.”[1]

Peter, the kitchen manager, came out of the kitchen and stood on a chair. He knew why we were pounding the tables. We quieted to listen. We were that hungry. “Listen up, fuck heads, the fucking dinner is ready! The fucking serving trays are fucking hot! So fuck you very much!”


[1] Too bad this was 1977. Queen’s “We Will Rock You” would have been fun to do.

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