“Well,” Tim said,” this ought to satisfy your medieval soul.”
Fate had determined that I would live in this castle with its tower. It was that simple—I was going to live in a keep.
If you looked down Dwight Way, you saw the Bay and the Bridge and the sunlight shooting under the bridge, flowing like liquid gold up the street. The house was brown with a gray slate roof. Bay windows hung from the turret. It was an ancient walled city and Tim and I were soldiers in an army setting up a siege and in the sunset, the high crenellated walls glowed red with sun-fire, the stone hard, impenetrable. I checked my sword, felt it hang heavy off my hip and then I heard a voice. A chatelaine singing? Oh. Oh. Oh! At the window gazing over distant fields before she ducked back inside …
Sun danced off the street, reflected off glass. Mounting the steps to the third floor I was a knight mounting the victor’s dais to receive the gold key and Tim, ahead of me, a conqueror, measuring each riser with the firm step of El Cid meeting the Moors face to face. Using the key like a spear, Tim unlocked the door to a narrow hallway.
The smell of mold, of decay, of dying and dead things and … I smelled death, the dank odor of the monastery, dungeons and wooden doors, cells, stone floors, unforgiving walls and I was ready to dedicate my life to Christ—to leave my worldly possessions, to relinquish it all—and then, two monks, cowls darkening their faces, walked by with the flagellant wearing a crown of thorns, scourging his back with an iron-spiked flail and blood flew and he groaned the language of the undying soul … Son of a bitch. A living room the size of a banquet hall. Curtains drawn. Tim yanked the curtains back. A blazing bath of sunlight burst into the room with a blue velour sofa, two red ratty easy chairs, and a low-slung coffee table furbished with a shiny new Pontiac hubcap ashtray. A worn carpet covered the floor from the twin bay windows to the center of the room. A Murphy bed opened out from the east wall.
To the left, the kitchen. A white porcelain sink in a long countertop buttressed with a huge white humming refrigerator—coil on top like a relic from a ’30s movie. An electric range with four burners. The floor was black-and-white tiles like those I’d seen in Vermeer paintings but feet had worn a path through the tile leaving a gray streak from kitchen to living room. Bay windows looked straight into the apartment next door, where the curtains opened and a guy appeared at the window. He was bare-chested, long hair, a cigarette dangling from his lips. He glared at me then snapped the curtains shut.
Two large bedrooms branched off the hallway, each with twin beds. The bathroom was set at the end of the hallway. Off to the right of the bathroom there was a smaller bedroom with twin bunk beds. Wooden desks, chairs, curtains made of red burlap.
Tim flopped down on one of the beds. He bounced, folded his hands behind his head and lay staring at the ceiling. Then he looked at me and grinned.
“Blind me with a hammer. We stumbled into a real, honest-to-Jesus Berkeley pad.”
“It’s huge,” I said.
“Too huge for us. We’ll need roommates. But right now I’m hungry. Let’s go up to Telegraph.”
As we stepped into the hallway the door to apartment 302 opened and a wave of perfume and cigarette smoke rolled out into the corridor. A barefoot woman emerged, walking on tiptoes. Her long black hair hung like lace over her face. She wore a black smock with red hibiscus flowers. It was cut to mid-thigh, opening onto a swatch of black pubic hair. The dim light masked her features. She started to turn back, but then pressed her face against the wall, brushed past, slid into the bathroom.
Passing the half-open door to the apartment, I looked in. A mattress lay skewed in the middle of the floor where a pair of feet protruded toward the door. A man, face down on a pillow, bare butt, bare shoulders. A bottle of wine beside the body’s left hand. Another bottle with a lighted candle in it.
“Berkeley,” Tim said.
He led. I followed. Down on the front porch, Tim took his time scanning the mailboxes with names on them. One by one, he gave me a report–
“We live in an international zoo. In apartments one, two and three on the first floor you’ve got three women—Judy, Carolyn, and Claudia. On the fourth floor you’ve got Ian Mitroff, Electrical Engineer, in apartment 401 and Francisco Diaz in 402. In apartment four on the first floor, you’ve got Guy DeBoischaut. Sounds Froggish to me. We’re on three along with Corva Nekros the Black Magnolia who obviously shares the bathroom with 303.”
“How do you know all this, Tim?”
“You been in Berkeley as long as I have, you get a nose for it. Gimme a dime.”
I handed him a dime. He flipped the coin, caught it, slapped it on the back of his hand.
He said, “Heads or tails?”
“What do you mean, she’s mine?”
“Black Magnolia. Corva Nekros, Our Lady of the Dark Hair. 302. Your first apartment in Berkeley and you win the woman.”
“You can’t win a woman with a toss of a coin.”
“This is Berkeley,” Tim said. “Oppenheimer was here. Teller was here. Chamberlain was here. Huxley was here. This is where you change the world.”
“But she had a guy in there.”
“That will be you in a week.”
“She’s a woman,” I said. “Books or broads, right?”
Tim pointed his finger at me, made with the trigger finger and clicked his tongue.
“We’re on the same page, my man. We’re on the same page.”
In the driveway I mounted up, kicked the K-Model over to a low soft purr. I followed Tim up Dwight Way. As we turned left onto Telegraph, the sun, washing the street in an ocean of light, disappeared, and we entered the dark canyons of Telegraph Avenue.
The K-Model howled in concrete counterpoint to the BSA, engines screaming at the shadows of primitive beasts on the prowl. Rumbling—the beat, the rhythm of horses and side by side we owned the town, triumph, steel, horses hot, sweaty, the smell of blood and leather filled my nostrils, the last vestiges of battle swallowed like mouthfuls of mead, trampling banners strewn on the ground and in the distance the trails of dust from a retreating, defeated, decimated, disbanded army. My shoulder ached, stiff from the lance, heavy, tip drooping to earth; it had done a terrible day’s work. James, arms caked with blood, visor raised, sword in his right hand so much a part of him he had forgotten to sheath it, his shield with his lion and black Eagle still high, we rode, death twins, sweeping into the village and at the corner of Haste and Telegraph, Tim pulled up at the stoplight and said,
“You go to the Mediterraneum if you want espresso and Creed’s Bookstore for old tomes, but if you want newborns, you shop at Cody’s Books and you go to foreign films at the Cinema and Guild because they’re art houses.”
The light changed. Tim goosed the BSA. In his sunglasses, black jacket and boots, he was the angel of death and I was his demigod washed in the blood of white insects, anointed by the hand of a Berkeley landlady, baptized by sun setting over the Golden Gate.
At Telegraph and Bancroft, another light stopped us and Tim, idling the BSA, said,
“Robbie’s is Home of the Charbroiled Hamburger but if you want scrambled eggs and bacon and toast, you sit down in Jules, and there, that’s the Smoke Shop, the best, the most perfect tobacco store in the universe and that’s where you buy Danish Whiffs and Philippine Tabalaceras and Gitanes and Gauloises—the best tobacco France has to sell.”
I was living in the hour of Revelation and Apotheosis. Nothing that had gone before mattered. My rebirth had begun.