Tuesday, November 15, 2011


After dinner last Wednesday evening, I walked over to Sproul Hall for the Occupy Cal demonstration. There were lots of really pleasant kids, giving speeches, holding signs, sharing pens to write the number of the Legal Guild on their forearms for when they got arrested. I felt like I wanted to be outspoken and forthright like these kids. I thought I might participate in a revolution once it got rolling. Once it was a little less dangerous, maybe. I could definitely see myself join in then.

So I was sitting there at the Occupy Cal demonstration, nodding and clapping and accepting fliers and not knowing quite when I would find enough time to read them all when this lady I used to work with here at Cal years ago calls over to me. I'm forty-seven and I know she's older, but I'm not quite sure how much older. So I have to be careful what I say. I mean if she's only older than me by five years, she certainly wasn't protesting in the Sixties. But she could look older than she is, the way some people do, setting off all kinds of false old age alarms. So I slid toward her on the cement steps outside of Sproul Hall. She started mentioning the Sixties, but I didn't know if she was mentioning them from personal experience or just as a historical perspective, like how I might talk about the Russian Revolution although I've not personally experienced it firsthand. So I tried to steer clear of Sixties talk and demonstrations, but it's hard in that atmosphere. Finally I just flat out asked her:

Were you here at Sproul protesting in the Sixties?

Yes, I was there, she snapped, as if to say, You ninny, I was a revolutionary!

So, now I know she's old. Older. Oldish. And as she's telling me about how she'd been arrested, cracked on the head with batons, raped and pillaged and all that, I couldn't help but think, but you look like a librarian. Not that there can't be any bad ass revolutionary librarians out there, somewhere. I'm sure they are all over the history books. But she just didn't look the type, you know what I mean? And then because we were close to being the oldest, poorest dressers at the demonstration -- beside the crazy man mumbling from the bushes -- two other old, poorly dressed woman came over wanting to form an old, poorly dressed communist group and meet in some condominium rec room filled with musty National Geographics and romance novels. One of them, the little one with the homemade knitted scarf wrapped around her head, neck, shoulders and knotted at her waist locked onto me with two brown slightly bulbous eyes. Hypothyroid, I thought. Or was it hyperthyroid -- I could never get it straight. She talked about some meeting that she'd been attending for months in preparation for that night's demonstration. She was very, very earnest. Every direction my gaze drifted, hers followed. And I felt bad for looking away because she was so very earnest.

And I shouldn't have felt bad, because I'd only just met her thirty seconds ago. I really hadn't formed any kind of real relationship just yet. But still I felt bad. So I told myself to focus on whatever the hell she was talking about. But then I'd reach the middle of a sentence: "We've got to create our own paradigm..." and BAM!, I lost track and wondered who ordered all those boxes of pizzas floating around the crowd and why weren't they passing them in my direction -- Hey! Hey! I'll take a slice!

Like, I mentioned, everyone at the demonstration was so nice. Sharing food, water. I just felt bad for wishing she'd put a sock in it. And then my coworker friend from the Sixties came back and said she'd just signed up for Security Duty. She'd been assigned to patrol the perimeter for cops. Really, I said, And then what? She didn't seem quite sure how to respond and I could see her digging around in her cerebral cortex, dusting off decaying synapses to recall what exactly she would do when she encountered a cop at the perimeter.

We'll whistle, she said.
Do you have a whistle? I asked. I couldn't whistle without one.

What kind of revolutionaries were we? So we went looking for cops on the perimeter. I was excited and a little afraid. And to be honest a little pooped. It was 8:30 and I usually went to bed around 9pm because I have to get up at 6:30 so that I can be at my desk by 7am. What I'm saying is it's a long day. I don't have lot of spare time for revolutions. Seriously, I don't. We saw a lot of cop cars from different counties. And then my old co-worker friend bent down to let the air out of one of the tires on the empty blue school bus which would shortly be filled with arrested revolutionaries.

I need one of those metal devices, she said.

She squinted trying to think of the name of it, making a phallic gesture with her hands. The skin on her hands was wrinkled and thin. Her wedding ring looked caked in soap.

You know, those gizmos, she said, sounding a little frustrated with me that I didn't know what she was talking about. You see them at the gas station. If I had one, she said, I could just pop it on the tire and walk off.
Can't we use a stick I asked?

I leaned down to give a push with my finger to try to let the air out. We walked on some more. We approached the corner where the tents were located. I'd never seen any of the occupy tents up close, but in my mind I imagined them a little skankyer , perhaps with strips of electrical tape sealing holes. And a lot smaller. Christ, these things could house an entire Tibetan village.
REI is donating them, she said.
No kidding? I said.

Then suddenly she reached out and looped her arm around mine.
Form a barrier around the tents! she shouted and grabbed the person to her right.

So, there I stood locked arm in arm, protecting new $800 REI tents, way past my bedtime. There was wet mud beneath our feet and I wondered if REI would want the occupiers to return the tents afterward. Would they take them back if they were all muddy like that? I asked my friend but she didn't hear me. She cupped her hand in a half circle kind of like she was short stopping my words and throwing them into her ear canal.

A couple of cops stood next to us. They stood stiffly with their arms behind their backs with their feet slightly apart. They had white twist ties looped to their belt buckles. My friend asked them how they were doing?

I feel for your situation, my friend said. You're stuck in the middle of this.

They nodded. I tried to imagine them without their riot gear. Say, shopping at Costco for 20lbs of chicken wings. In that situation, they wouldn't seem threatening in the least. I might even have a casual conversation about the great deal I got on kitchen bags. But here, with their gear and their riot faces, they seemed threatening and alien. Then a kid came up to one of them and tried to get them going about the real reason they wanted to remove the tents. Turns out the occupation is about poop. One of the cops had got pooped slung at him by the stadium tree dwellers. He'd had it with poop. These kids weren't going to poop in Sproul Plaza, not on his watch. I could see his side of things. I've stepped in my share of cat poop. You can only take so much.

It was getting to the point, I just wanted to go home and sleep, so I unlinked my arms and broke the human chain protecting the expensive tents. It closed quickly behind me.

Before I headed home, my co-worker friend asked if I'd seen the Free Speech Monument in the center of the Plaza. I hadn't so we walked over toward a circular cement plate in the ground. She walked in a circle and read: "This soil and the air space extending above it shall not be a part of any nation and shall not be subject to any entity's jurisdiction".

When the cops come, we should all jump in the middle here, she said and jumped inside.

I left her there in her tiny bit of free air space. As I turned back to wave, I saw her sillhouetted against the lights of Sproul Hall, a sign above her head read "We are the 99%". A real revolutionary librarian.


Ippoc Amic said...

Still chuckling.

jen said...

Oh girl, you write so good! Loved it. Thank you :)