Posts Tagged ‘memory’

Memories of Mary Jane

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

In my thirties, I smoked marijuana, occasionally or regularly, depending on life’s circumstances. I know people who never liked it or never got much of an effect from it, but I liked getting stoned. It’s been decades since the last time I even saw any grass (as we called it back in my day—that and “dope”). I can’t even remember when that would have been.

I voted for the recent ballot question legalizing “recreational” marijuana use in Massachusetts, based on my belief that the drug is less dangerous than alcohol and that people should be free to choose how they want to enjoy life, even when there are risks involved, assuming the risks are not too great and can be evaluated.

I might say more about that question some other time, but here I want to write about two singular events—mental or spiritual events—that I experienced when stoned on marijuana. I am not selecting two out of many. There were only two in all the time I smoked grass (how quaint that word seems now). They were different from each other, but both were very powerful, unforgettable, and came out of the blue. I have no idea how unusual my experience is, but I know I am blessedly susceptible to epiphanies. There is really no way to convey the power of such an experience, but I’ll try to make clear what was revealed to me in each instance.

The first experience was something akin to a Proustian onrush of memory. Proust (or rather, Marcel, the first-person narrator of his long work) famously described how his tasting the crumbs of a petite madeleine cake in a spoonful of warm tea triggered a mental event which suddenly took him back to a time and place from his childhood, not merely reminding him of it, but mentally immersing him in it, as though he had traveled in time. Marcel recounts a few other such events, which seemed to nullify the passage of time and which inspired him to write the book in which he is the narrator.

All of Marcel’s “involuntary memories” came about because of a fortuitous similarity that his immediate physical circumstances, as mediated through his body and its senses, had to some others in his past, which circumstances had been stored away in his memory, awaiting just the right correspondence to the present ones to suddenly evoke the past, not just as a remembrance of similarity, but as a vivid experience of the earlier time and place. Well, you’ll have to read Proust to see what I’m floundering around to convey.

The point I want to make is that Proust discovered that the mind, the brain, whatever you want to call it, holds the past in a detailed and holistic way that we couldn’t expect it to, since we cannot voluntarily, intentionally retrieve our earlier selves stored there.

My Proustian-like experience while stoned was triggered by nothing at all that I can recall. It just came. I don’t even remember where I was (vaguely seems to be Berkeley) or whom, if anyone, I was with. I’m almost sure I didn’t tell anyone about it at the time it happened. In any case it was years after my maternal grandparents had died. I have told at least one person about the experience, but it had happened years before I met her.

The time of my memory is when I had only one younger sister, and we were the only grandchildren my mother’s parents had. They lived out in the country in Northeast Texas. My family usually went there for Christmas. In the summer, my mother, sister, and I would spend weeks at a time there. Children, if they are lucky, as we were, can take the love of parents and grandparents for granted. It is only when we grow to adulthood, becoming ourselves a part of the older generation, that we can really understand, internally, the love that a parent has for a child, a grandparent for a grandchild. I know that my sister and I went through a period as older children where we could be quite disrespectful to my grandmother. Even now, I wish I could take that back, but, of course, I can’t.

The scene from my past into which I was thrust out of the blue takes place in the driveway under the bois d’arc tree (board arc, in the local vernacular) in front of my grandparents’ house. My sister and I, both quite young, are in the back seat of our family’s Ford. We are about to depart, about to be driven back by our father to our home 300 miles away, to be gone from here until the next time we visit, months in the future. My sister and I are not alone. Sitting between us is our grandmother. It is her presence that struck me so forcefully. I had totally forgotten how she would get into the back seat of the car and sit with my sister and me until the very last minute before our departure, just to be close to us for that much longer. Love so strong and deep, love that suffered so from parting, oh so many years ago! What a wonderful gift it was to have recovered that memory! To have received once again that love from her at an age at which I could appreciate it! As I still can. That is something precious I received in a state induced by marijuana, and I have no reason to think it would have happened otherwise.

The other experience is of a different sort. It is more like a revelation, though the truth that was revealed was something I knew already, in theory. What happened was a sudden insight, a stripping away of an old unconscious way of thinking to, in effect, show a miracle taking place. I do remember where this happened. It was in Cambridge in a Peabody Terrace apartment. One of the benefits of being stoned, to those of us that marijuana works on, is an enhancement of aesthetic pleasure. At this particular time, my attention was caught by the gorgeous geraniums we had growing in pots. I looked at them intently. The green stems and leaves. The red flowers. Not roses. Not carnations. Geraniums. Beaming beauty into the room. Growing out of the nondescript dark brown soil. Suddenly—for the first time in my life—I realized what was happening. The dirt was being turned into flowers! It was a stunning, joyful recognition. I had somehow managed to live my whole life still thinking as a child thinks, that the dirt was basically just holding the flowers. They needed to be stuck in something that would hold water, and dirt was what they needed to be stuck in. Of course, I knew about “nutrients” in the soil, about soil becoming exhausted, about the need to fertilize soil, etc., but the wonderful transformation that was actually occurring had somehow not made it into my consciousness with its full significance. It was like discovering God! Actually, it was discovering God, but I didn’t realize it at the time. Could I have had that insight without the aid of marijuana? I suppose so. But the fact is that the marijuana was instrumental in the event.

I’m writing about these experiences just as I’ve written about other intense experiences, both good and bad, just because I feel like sharing them for the first time, as my time becomes shorter, I guess. I’m not advocating anyone try marijuana in the hope of having a similar experience. After all, I have only two to report, and it’s not like there’s no such thing as a “bad trip” on marijuana. Also, the marijuana around these days is reportedly a lot stronger than it was back when I smoked it, and I really don’t know whether that makes good or bad experiences more likely. I should distinguish these experiences from the sort which I gather (only from reading, not personal experience) are induced by hallucinogens. Yes, I was stoned, but I was still myself, and I just happened to get lucky, or maybe I should say I received undeserved blessings, which is pretty much the story of our lives, isn’t it?

A Valentine Memory Revised

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

In a Valentine’s Day post I made here in 2010 (A Valentine Memory: Art, Love, and Pain in the First Grade) I recalled an incident from back when I was in the first grade. At least I thought it was the first grade. I went back and forth trying to decide whether it was the first or the second, finally deciding to go with my longstanding conviction that it had been the first grade. My mind has evidently continued to work on the problem in the unconscious background, and I am now almost completely sure that I combined two strongly remembered events, separated by a year, into one, which was the source of my uncertainty. I recommend to anyone that wants to understand fully the rest of this post that they go back to the original post, linked to above.

The emotional truth remains. The terrible dread I felt as I had to make and then present the “I love you” cards to all the girls in the class was real. The pain of disappointment I felt as Carol tossed my card aside disdainfully was true, and I can still feel it. My mind knitted together the two events into a narrative that enhanced the story in a way.

I did have to make the cards for the girls in the first grade, but Carol was not the girl I “claimed” in the first grade. Linda Jane was. Linda Jane had moved across town before the second grade and attended a different school that year.

Carol was the girl whose esteem I most valued in the second grade, which seemed right as I was trying to decide before, since I knew Linda Jane had been every boy’s dream girl in the first grade. But in order to sensibly make the two events become one, I had pretty well convinced myself that by the second semester my affection had been transferred to Carol. The thing that really made me realize I’d been wrong is that I clearly had the feeling that I was in my second grade classroom, as I watched Carol look through her stack of Valentine cards. I am totally sure of that now, in a way I could never explain. Somehow that vague feeling of the room I was in kept getting stronger to the point of certainty. Yes, I was seven years old, and not six.

I was tempted not to make this confession of my having joined together into one the two episodes from my early life, but the very fact that my mind came up with a plausible way to do it is interesting, and full adherence to the truth demands disclosure to the few that have actually read the original reminiscence. I imagine—not saying I remember now—that I did give special care to the card I made for Linda Jane, wanting to please her and gain her attention.

I also imagine that there was something special about the card I gave to Carol, something that would distinguish it from the silly “Bee mine” cards, even though it was not handmade, as all the first grade cards had been. Yes, I’m feeling that. It must have been a more expensive and expressive card of the type a boy would give to his girl friend. I would not have been watching so expectantly for her reaction otherwise. That makes it even worse, as the intent would have been more obvious. Yes, I feel pretty sure that was the case now. There’s really no reason for me to have been so interested in her response otherwise.

So, all I got wrong was my hope that my artistic talent would win favor with Carol, but that is only wrong for the imagined card. I certainly did hope to impress with my drawing ability. Naturally, the only boy in the class that could draw as well as or better than I was Philip, the boy Carol really liked. I might as well illustrate that with another memory involving Carol and Philip. We learned cursive handwriting in the second grade, and our ability to form the letters beautifully was a great point of pride. Cursive writing, as we saw it, fit into the category of artistic achievement. I know we also viewed it as a step into maturity to master handwriting.

Philip, Carol, and I must have had seats in the classroom very close to each other. I recall a time we were working on our cursive writing. I was evidently very impressed with my results as compared with Phillip’s and saw an opportunity to gain an advantage over him in Carol’s eyes by drawing her attention to our writing and asking her to judge which was better. This was entirely my doing. Though only seven years old, Carol was diplomatic. They were both really good, and she really couldn’t choose one over the other. I knew she was just trying to spare Phillip’s feelings, but I was not letting this opportunity slip by. I insisted that she choose which got the prize. Seeing that I would not relent, she reluctantly admitted that Phillip’s was just a little better. I was dumbfounded.

That is the merciful end of the memory. I have no memory of any expression on Phillip’s face. Or Carol’s. If I argued the point further, the memory of it has been mercifully obliterated. Nor can I begin to make out what our writing samples were like. Probably they were similar. At the time I was sure Carol’s decision just showed how much she preferred Philip to me, since I could see, as anyone could, that my handwriting was clearly superior to his. Thus gross injustice was added to the disappointed hope of winning favor, which made it even more crushing, because it meant there was no hope for me with her.

But did I really abandon hope? Which came first—the handwriting contest or Valentine’s Day? In any case, I know I really fell for Carol Ann, Snow White to my Prince Charming (walk on role), in our class’s stage production of Books Are Our Friends before the year was over. Sadly, she moved out of town in the summer. But the memory of regret is weaker than the memory of rejection.

So strange to enter again into my seven-year-old mind and feel once more the staggering smackdown of the handwriting judgment. I can never know how my life would have been different, if in any significant way, but for that hard lesson, but I know that it taught me not to be so sure of myself, perhaps at the everlasting expense of my self-confidence. In any case, those memories of painful disappointment (along with those of great joy) are among the few that persist.

ADDENDUM (February 15, 2013): My mind has not stopped trying to complete my memory of those long ago Valentine’s Days and has come up with yet another version that brings the two events closer to the single one I described three years ago. I have come to believe that I did make a Valentine card for Carol in the second grade. I’m sure it wouldn’t have said “I love you,” but it might have said “Be my Valentine.” It would have been the only one I made by hand that year. It’s a little hard for me to imagine myself having the courage to do that, but when I think about how I watched to see Carol’s reaction and how crushed I was when she tossed it aside with hardly a glance, I feel that it had to have been a rejection of more than a card I had bought. As I mentioned above, I did rate my artistic ability highly, never mind how accurately. It would also explain how I so easily conflated the two events when I first wrote about them. As of now I’d say I’m 95% sure that the making of cards for all the girls at the insistence of my mother was in the first grade and 95% sure that the watching for Carol’s reaction when she looked at my card was in the second grade. I’m at a somewhat shakier 90% certainty that it was an artistic creation of mine that Carol disdained. And that is the last I will have to say about it.

A Valentine Memory: Art, Love, and Pain in the First Grade

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

Since Valentine’s Day is here it seems the appropriate time to delve into my past and relate one of my first memories of that holiday, one that has stuck with me through more decades than I care to think about. St. Valentine’s Day is a quasi-holiday, not really a day on which anyone gets out of work or school, but which is still widely celebrated because it relates to ineradicable (wonderfully animal) feelings between individual human beings. It’s a very old holiday that to this day sometimes mentions its “Saint.” We learned in elementary school of St. Valentine’s celebrated love for his friends, though the holiday is much more devoted to romantic love than to the kind they were saying St. Valentine was known for. I seem to recall he wrote letters to his friends from prison, which was supposed to be the origin of Valentine cards, a tradition that figures crucially in the memory related below.

As anyone that has read any of the reminiscence posts to this blog before will have already noted, my memory is very selective, which is another way of saying it’s totally blank for most of my past. I don’t remember anything in any detail at all except events that made a strong impression at the time they happened. As it turns out, a lot of those memories are painful ones. Since a good portion of the others are of the sort I’m not going to write about, readers may obtain a false picture of my satisfaction with the life I’ve had, but that’s not something I’ll worry about.

The Valentine memory I’m about to relate is a painful one, but I wouldn’t want to give the impression that all my early Valentine associations are bad ones. My father would always get a red, heart-shaped box of chocolates for my little sister and me to give our mother on Valentine’s Day when we were little. The special shape of the box and the pleasure of giving it and then of sharing in the eating of the candy, each individual piece a new mystery to be solved by taste and sight after we’d bitten into it, made this family ritual one whose memory I cherish enough to have renewed the tradition with my current family.

When I started to write this piece I had no doubt the memory in question was from my first year of school. Then, as I began to dig the details out, I started to wonder if it hadn’t actually been a memory from the second grade. I went back and forth on the year, using clues of the details to try and nail it down. In the end I realized that process was not only futile but foolish. Why try to determine the year by clues and reasoning when I really had no doubt that over the years my memory had always placed the event in the first grade? Trust the earliest record.

There was never any doubt about which girl was the central figure in the story. It was Carol. One of the things that characterized the nascent social life of those first years of school was that the concept of “claiming” a girl was presented to a boy (and that of claiming a boy to a girl). “Who do you claim?” was a question of great interest. There was not in fact anything at all proprietary in these claims, as it required no acknowledgement or even knowledge by the person being claimed, and any number of boys could claim the same girl without antagonism. Actually, most boys did claim the same girl. In the first grade that girl was Carol. It seemed obvious that only one boy—Philip—had actually won her heart, and Philip is one of the few people that I must admit to having envied in my life. I always kept secret from everyone, even friends, the name of the one I claimed, I suppose from not wanting to be seen as one entertaining false hopes, though uncertainty as to what might be required of me should the girl I claimed claim me back may have played a role.

Carol lived near the municipal swimming pool. I think her father was the pool caretaker or something. I can halfway picture her house up on the hilltop across the road from the pool. I vaguely remember attending a birthday party there once. Naturally, Carol could swim like a fish. That fact and her being so completely comfortable at and in the pool, which I liked to go to, but could not yet actually swim in, was somewhat intimidating. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear she was athletic in her high school years, but my family moved away in the fifth grade, so I have no knowledge of her after that. I really have no memory of her after the second grade, now that I think of it, which just means she doesn’t figure in any more intense memories. I don’t believe I was ever completely comfortable with Carol, who was more mature and self-assured than I. Though I was never one to make public whom I claimed, I secretly joined with the majority in asserting my wishful title to Carol.

The question of what “claiming” a girl meant to me is not an easy one to answer now. I can’t remember having had a strong crush on Carol really, and I had experienced that phenomenon at an even earlier age. It’s just that somehow my embryonic yearning for the female of the species had become focused on her. This was, from the standpoint of my consciousness, a presexual phase of my life, in that I had no inkling of even the existence of copulation as a phenomenon of human or animal existence. I knew girls liked boys and vice versa (no other possibilities were mentioned) and that there was some silliness involved in their pairings, and that they kissed and of course got married. I even knew that my friends and I were fascinated by pictures of pretty women without much clothes on, but I had no idea why. All this is worth a lot more contemplation, but now I just want to make the point that, while it was a time of innocence, yet I felt a sort of attraction to members of the opposite sex of my own age and was susceptible to their charms. In addition to this attraction there was a prestige that went with being liked by the prettier, higher status girls. And at the top of that list in the first grade was Carol.

While I was still trying to decide on the year in which this story took place, one of the strongest arguments in favor of the first grade was that I didn’t think my mother would have been able to make me do what I’m about to relate by the second grade. Since I was in the minority that hadn’t gone to kindergarten, which was not mandatory then, I had not been assimilated into the general culture of my small Texas town’s children before I started first grade. I had to contend with being slightly different from and uncomfortable with the other kids. In some ways my mother made it harder. She had her own ideas about what a first grade boy should wear, for example. I was one of only two boys (the other being the son of one of my mother’s friends) sent to school wearing shorts and sandals. It was hot in the fall in Texas, so this was a reasonable choice from the standpoint of the weather. And no doubt I was “cute” wearing them. The problem was that every other boy except for Billy (I was so grateful there was one other!) was wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes (as we called sneakers in those days, assuming anyone still knows what sneakers are). I felt intense discomfort from this deviation in my attire from the standard and was eventually able to get my mother to buy the regulation outfit, to my great relief.

Unfortunately, as my first grade Valentine’s Day approached, my mother had an idea which my strong and prolonged resistance proved unable to overcome. She had somehow arrived at the notion that I should make every girl in the class (not to hurt any of their feelings for having been left out, always one of her prime concerns) a Valentine card. I mean literally a hand-made Valentine card, a heart cut out of red construction paper and with a lace border. That was bad already. Very bad. Hand-made was bad. Heart was bad. Just for the girls was bad. A hand-made heart to each and every one of the girls was very bad. The final detail that made the proposal insufferable was that each card was to bear the hand-printed message “I love you.” I don’t know how my mother could have been so out of touch with the reality of first grade life as to think that was something for a boy to do. The charm of the idea was so great for her that she would not yield to my objections, and I, a six-year-old, had to accept this unfortunate whim of hers.

How I dreaded that day when Valentine cards would be distributed in class! All of the cards other children were giving were of the five-and-dime store humorous sort: silly puns like “bee mine” with a bee pictured. I’m almost sure I only had cards for the girls. It’s my duty to say that a big part of my reluctance to giving such cards was my dread of the ridicule and teasing I might receive from having given “I love you” cards to the least esteemed of the girls. Anyway, there was that fear of ridicule which went beyond the already strong desire not to be the odd, possibly sissy, boy with the hand-made cards for the girls. I dreaded hearing one of the boys say to the class “Hey look! Bobby gave a card with ‘I love you’ on it to Thelma!” (Not a real name.)

The fateful day of our class Valentine party arrived. Full of dread, I dutifully took my cards to school and handed them over for distribution when the time came. Did I actually meet with ridicule for my cards? I can’t remember anything distinctly about it, which probably means I didn’t encounter much, and none from a class opinion leader. But there is a very strong memory associated with the cards which has flooded other details, leaving them submerged under murky water.

The absurd thing about this Valentine card episode is that, despite my struggle against having to make and present these cards to the girls, at some point, possibly at the last moment, I had begun to hope that it might actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise in regard to Carol. Here was the opportunity, though one I would never have chosen, to show off my artistic talent to Carol through my card. Certainly hers was the one I had truly taken care with, while striving to make it beautiful. Surely hers was the one for which the words in some sense spoke truth. I had no doubt that the card was beautiful. How could Carol not be struck by that beauty? What a thrill it would be if she looked over at me and smiled with pleasure after admiring my card! I could picture her complimenting me on it as she thanked me for having created it. Perhaps my card would so impress her that its message of love would be met with favor. Perhaps she would even start to “claim” me. What a boost it would be to my status in the class when her new fondness for me became known!

I watched intently as Carol went through the pile of Valentine cards on her desk, casually examining each one. Anxiety, anticipation, and hope mounted in me as she came to mine—and instantly tossed it aside! Discarded my masterpiece with scarcely a glance! It was hand made. It was ugly and unworthy of a second’s contemplation. It had a contemptible message from an insignificant boy.

I don’t know how far away I was from the scene of my secret rejection or whether Carol had been aware that I was watching. There was no look my way. I’m sure she never gave it a second thought or had any idea of the pain her indifference had caused. But to me it was a rejection, and nothing is worse for a man’s ego than being rejected by a woman, even when the “man” and “woman” in question are only six years old. Nothing had really changed, but, in the split second it took to dash my unwarranted hopes, the acid of disappointment became so concentrated that it etched the memory deeply in my mind.

The memory of Carol’s indifference to my art work and its message of love is still painful, much as my baseball misadventure related in Show Me Where It Hurts is painful; but it’s pretty much the nature of my lasting memories that, as the song goes: “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.” So I’m grateful for this memory that is strong enough to place me back in my first-grade classroom, once more that six-year-old boy full of watchful hope—even unreasonable hope that I know now is about to be demolished.

ADDENDUM: Since I wrote this I have realized that I almost certainly combined two events into one, which was the source of my uncertainty about which year I was trying to recall. See my later thoughts at A Valentine Memory Revised.

Show Me Where It Hurts: Memory Illuminates a Few Moments of My Baseball Career

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

This is going to be another brief example of how the survival of ancient memories depends, not on the real significance of the remembered events, but on the intensity of the feelings associated with them at the time they took place, a subject I’ve touched on before (Something on Memories). I was fourteen years old on that evening of which some small portions have stuck in my mind. Few, few are the moments that come to memory from that far back.

The occasion was a baseball game. I was on a Pony League team, which in my Texas town near Dallas was the step above Little League, played on a bigger field, but one which I believe was still smaller than a full-sized one. Despite my having come to love baseball (listening to the 1952 World Series between the Yankees and Dodgers was the turning point at age ten) a few years before, I had never played in an organized league before the age of thirteen, not having lived any place that had organized youth baseball until I arrived in my new town for the seventh grade. Baseball was a big sport in this town, the Little League all-star team having made it to the State tournament the summer before I arrived to start school in the fall.

Before then, I had done my best to acquire baseball skills without the benefit of organized play or coaching, most of the time without the benefit of a partner to play catch with. I was not that bad at fielding and catching. My arm was weak though, and I had never batted against fast pitching. My hitting skill level was low, and my confidence in it was even lower. In truth, I had been one of those kids that hoped for a walk whenever I was at the plate in a game important enough to have an umpire, such as the sixth versus fifth grade softball game with a teacher umpiring. Yes, I can remember a painful called third strike I took in a crucial situation!

Despite being conscious of my below-average baseball skills, a condition which I still hoped was temporary, I was eager to play at last on a real team, so I had signed up at the first opportunity and had gone to the tryouts, which were conducted on a real field under the lights and open to the public. I don’t remember much about the tryout beyond being nervous, dreading to hear my name called, and then getting ready to field ground balls from one of the league officials, as all the coaches waited to judge my performance. I recall no details of the tryout, just the feeling that went with the knowledge that I had done poorly, worse than I had hoped, and being relieved it was over.

In addition to making the jump to a high-level baseball culture, I had experienced substantial culture shock in this new town and school due to the advanced boy-girl relationships compared to what had known before. There were lots of couples going steady. They danced to “cat music” (more on that some other time). I was not part of this social scene and had slipped into a low status slot, which I was not accustomed to, having the previous year been, in a small school, very popular with the boys and girls alike. I was really quite intimidated by the social scene, and my self-confidence had been battered.

But in that spring of my first year in the new town, I recall that my mere trying out for baseball had evidently impressed one of the fairly high-status girls, who was a baseball enthusiast (perhaps a bit of a baseball groupie). She had approached me with a smile and a glowing face saying she’d heard (I think) that I was playing baseball. Rather than accepting this as a good icebreaker, I had evaded the subject, though I can’t recall the awkward details of how. I felt ashamed of how poorly I had done, and I think I was afraid that she had only heard I had tried out, without getting a performance report, so that it would be better for her not to view me as a “real” baseball player, especially since she valued baseball so highly. I was realizing just how far I was behind the good players in my new league. But for all I know—it would not be surprising—she had been in the stands during the tryouts. Perhaps just being on a team (like playing in a rock band for some) was enough to give me prestige in her eyes. Or maybe she had been wishing for a way to approach me before. Maybe she just relished any chance to talk about her favorite subject. I’ll never know. Though I can picture very well how she looked those many years ago, I can’t recall her name. I do feel a certain tenderness toward her now, though; and retrospective gratitude.

When I started writing this piece I thought that the remembered events I was going to relate had occurred in my first year in Pony League, but on reflection I feel sure they were in the second year. That’s the strong feeling I got from picturing the catcher on my team on the night in question and then remembering who the catcher was on my first team. Catchers are central to the game, so I guess it’s not surprising I can remember them.

Speaking of memories, I might as well relate another that just popped up. It was during an intra-squad game of some sort on that first team, so that half our team was playing the other half. I had just come to the plate to face one of my teammates, a pitcher from the previous year’s all-star team. The catcher was into the game and said to the pitcher the same thing he would have said when an opposing batter came to the plate in a real game: “OK, this guy can’t hit!” Then he must have realized just how true that statement was in my case, and that I might be stung by those words, so he quickly added “Just doubles, triples…” Of course, I understood what had gone on in his mind, and it would have been better for my ego for him to have treated me like anyone else, since the change revealed just how lowly he estimated my batting prowess. It was an attempt at kindness that made things worse, leading me to mutter something in protest of the supposed compliment to show I knew better. Still, I had to appreciate the tough thirteen-year-old catcher’s consideration for my feelings, and I haven’t forgotten it. Thanks, Gary.

After I had been in town for a while and gotten to know more neighborhood kids, I started playing baseball with some of them in a vacant lot practically every day. I enjoyed that a lot more than the organized baseball. I got plenty of batting practice in those games, but our rule was not to throw full speed. We could only try to get people out with pitch location. Other than that it was like batting practice. I’m sure my batting eye and swing improved over time. I was comfortable hitting in those pickup games. Of course a real game with fast pitching and game pressure was something else.

Anyway, the Pony League game I’m going to talk about was one of those in which the other team only had eight players show up. As a coach, I’ve always hated those games and tried to make sure the game just got rescheduled before teams showed up at the field. That only works for anticipated absences though. Once the players, coaches, and umpires have arrived at the field, possibly for a night game which requires a lot of electricity for the lighting, it’s hard to just leave and reschedule. No, if one team is short and the other has more than it needs to field nine, the frequent solution is for the team with a surplus to lend a player to the other team for the night. On this night, I was that player. As a coach, I made it a point not to choose the worst player on the team as the automatic substitute for the other team, but that’s not the way it usually goes.

On this night long ago I was certainly being offered as a substitute because I was deemed by my coach (whose name and face even are lost to me, though I can remember those of my first-year coach) as the worst on our team. It was embarrassing, of course, to have that distinction, even though I imagine I was asked to volunteer and probably thanked for agreeing to. I was performing a service and I would definitely get to play the whole game this way. I can’t remember any details about the team switch; just the fact that it happened and that it was embarrassing. Nor can I remember anything about the game until the first time I came to bat.

So here I was on this night facing a pitcher named Bud, who was wearing the same uniform as I. I can’t be sure if I only remember one pitch or if it was in fact the first pitch I was thrown (as it seems) which I lined into right field for a clean single. I do remember it was very satisfying to be standing at first base, especially under the circumstances. I remember the coach of my temporary team saying “He wasn’t supposed to do that, was he?” to my regular coach.

The next thing that I remember distinctly is being on third base after that hit. I can’t recall the exact details of how I got from first to third base: some forgotten sequence of events drawn from the possibilities of hit, walk, error, and wild pitch. I just remember being on third when the batter took ball four to bring me home: yet another contribution I was about to make to this my adopted team-for-the-night.

As I proceed in my trot toward the plate, the catcher (my “real” team’s catcher) evidently decides to start playing psychological games with me. Or is he just having a little fun with a teammate? But he looks serious and irritated, as though I were rubbing it in that I was helping the other team. It’s not my fault. I’m just playing the game! He’s glaring at me and faking throws to third base. What’s the point of that?

Soon, but not soon enough to escape the terrible destiny Fate had prepared for me, I realized my situation. The bases had not been loaded! I could not walk home. The throw was made to the third baseman. I was tagged out. Shame and ignominy fell on me like heavy shrouds! The Earth did not open up to let me escape through an underground passageway, so I must have trotted to the dugout, but I have no memory of anything beyond the realization of my mistake, not of the tag nor of who was playing third. Did anyone on either team or any coach say anything to me? Did I bat again that night? Did I make any plays in the field? Who won the game? All of these details have been wiped clean from my memory.

All that remains is the humiliation of being the player given to the other team, the brief glow of satisfaction from my clean hit, and the anguish of comprehending my boneheaded mistake. Was there no third base coach? I suppose not. Did anyone suspect that I had deliberately made an out to help my real team? I would probably have preferred that to the felt certainty that everyone had clearly seen my mistake, one that a “real” player would never have made, so that in the commission of it I had thereby amply justified my selection as the giveaway player, my blunder having effaced that beautiful single. I don’t remember anything about the rest of the season, before or after that game. Just those few moments have survived. Such is the way of memory.

Something on Memories

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

This post is going to be about memories, at least as I experience them. I just tallied up the number of posts to this blog that are what one could call reminiscences. I think they are the ones that resonate the most with people, and the majority of the “Best Of” posts are in that category. I was a little surprised that there were only ten. That’s out of a total of thirty-four posts since I started this blog at the end of last February. That’s somewhat encouraging since I know that the number of memories I can use here is easily countable, though I can’t know the actual number.

Just to categorize all the posts so far, there have also been ten posts devoted to recent personal experiences, including three in the special category of computer troubleshooting experiences and one dream; five that were partly in the nature of research articles (e.g. on Ronnie Knox and the Large Hadron Collider critics); two commercial announcements about my science education software; two in the broad social/political observation category; one science observation; two that were basically thanking other bloggers (might have been included in recent experiences); and two miscellaneous ones, including the short introductory post.

I’ve thought a lot about memory lately, not just from reading Proust, but more from writing here. I’m realizing something obvious: it’s as though most of the events of my past life lie in darkness or in semi-darkness, where all the daily details are irretrievably lost, and only the rough outlines of routine can be distinguished, except for scattered spots of illumination, and even they are sometimes more penumbra than clear light. I remember something of my first day of school, for example, but nothing of the first day of second grade. I remember saying goodbye to my parents in the parking lot of the rundown private dorm I stayed in during my first semester at the University of Texas, but nothing about the first day of any other year as an undergraduate, or even much more about that day. Where did I eat that evening? I have no idea.

For me, looking into the past is like stumbling through a completely dark house and suddenly coming to a place where a magic window lets in enough light to illuminate a small area, allowing me to see, not just a place, but across time. For example, I remember clearly what the woman I would marry the next summer looked like for a moment at age nineteen in the backyard of her family home near the Texas coast. The memory is like a one-second film clip, complete with weather conditions, locale, and my feeling at the time; the rest of my first visit—how long I stayed, what we did, etc.—has fallen into oblivion.

For the past few months I’ve been jotting down events from my past that I might want to write about here. I scan the list for ideas, and I never know when a particular one (say the FBI interview) will become the one that bubbles to the top to take my attention. What I’m realizing is that practically everything I can remember, excluding things I would not write about for reasons of privacy (mine or others’), is a potential topic for a blog post, for I just don’t remember much that wasn’t significant in some way in my life, or at least seemed so by its novelty at the time.

How accurate are my memories? There’s nothing to compare them with in almost all cases, so I can’t really know for sure. Still, I feel certain about almost everything I write, and I note when there are uncertainties. Just a few days ago, I wrote (My Appointment with the FBI and a Long-Delayed Connection) that I couldn’t remember whether, in advance of my interview with the FBI, I had considered that they might have been calling me in to seek information on the SLA. Now I feel almost certain that I had considered that possibility and had actually been hoping that was the reason. Almost certain; but, since I wasn’t certain at first, I have to wonder slightly if it’s not reasoning more than memory at work. I now think I felt relief but no surprise at the sight of the SLA photos. The surprise of having my name linked to the handwriting of Nancy Ling Perry and an SLA safe house may have washed back over the original view of the photos in my memory, thus making me uncertain about whether I’d considered the possibility beforehand, as I tried to recall the event. I wrote that last post while I was still recovering from a bad cold, which may have affected my power of memory and discernment.

When writing about my bicycle accident in Times I Might Have Died, I kept going back and forth on whether to report that I had gone flying over the handlebars when I hit the wall. I could vaguely picture it, but I couldn’t convincingly feel it, so I decided it might not have happened; and I couldn’t in good conscience describe it, even though I thought it might well have happened. Perhaps it happened some other time. It doesn’t matter except that I would like to know and tell just to have that detail correct. I wish some particular detail would come back to nail down the candidate memory as a true memory or to definitively reject it.

There are some memories of habitual activities, I’m realizing. The thought of biking in my childhood in Eastland, Texas, has brought up the memory of a metal culvert that lay partly above ground, and over which my sister and I had to ride our tricycles when we circumnavigated our block; but we went over it many times. It was along a stretch where there were no houses fronting the street and no sidewalk, as I remember it.

OK, scratch the hasty assertion of the previous paragraph. Having had a short time for the memory to complete itself, I’m now sure the reason that the culvert came so clearly into my consciousness is that the first time I encountered it on my first tricycle trip all the way around my block, it appeared to me as an unexpected and formidable obstacle in my path; and I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I halted. What to do? Turn around? Could I get over it? I can’t remember if I rode over the culvert or walked my trike over it. I can’t remember that, but I know right where the culvert was on the block; and I am certain about being thoroughly disconcerted by its presence the first time I came to it. So the first encounter with the culvert was in fact a significant event to the child I was, and that is surely why the culvert came to mind. I wonder if I had just taken off around the block on my own, having grown tired of staying on the sidewalk in front of our house? I’m pretty sure my little sister wasn’t with me, though we definitely triked around the block with my mother’s knowledge after that first time. Years later, I wouldn’t have let my kids ride a tricycle around our block. What about all the driveways? What about sex offenders waiting for such an opportunity? We rode our trikes around the block in our little Texas town, just as I later rode my bike all over town and even on the highway beyond the city limits. We had so much freedom!

So how did an unconscious chain of thought link those two events (as it turned out) so many years ago? Was it just the easy mapping by association: encountering an obstacle (wall, culvert) as I rode a pedaled conveyance (bicycle, tricycle) while a child in Eastland, Texas? Yes, I imagine that was it. That was not a full-fledged, immersive Proustian involuntary memory triggered by some physical sensation, but it was still an unexpected, unpredictable arrival at a place in distant memory which I hadn’t visited in decades. Yes, I can feel the quandary of that preschool boy encountering the unexpected obstacle in that unexplored part of the world. It had been smooth sailing until then. Now I’d become anxious. Then I forged ahead. Good for me. And the child that I was then still lives, strangely, just as the young woman I mentioned earlier does also, though untold thousands more have fallen into unmarked graves.

Try as I might, I couldn’t recall any of the details of the physics demonstration that changed my life (The Second Most Important Event in My Life). I have a clearer memory of using a manometer, of the kind with a slanted arm, to make some pressure measurements along with a lab partner (faceless, nameless), though I can remember only the the look and feel of the apparatus, not the details of the measurements. That is, in fact, as close as I can come to a memory of doing any experiments in my physics class, though I’m sure we had new experiments at least weekly. That probably means that the pressure measurements with the manometer were my first experiences with physical measurements, which also makes it likely that the physics demonstration central to the blog post was also the first class demonstration by the teacher.

The memory that is very possibly my earliest one is vague and dreamlike, but I feel certain it is a true memory. I don’t remember any of my great-grandmothers, though two and possibly three were still alive when I was born. My memory is of looking across a faintly lit room, possibly from a doorway, trying hard to make out something I feel sure was the body of one of my great-grandmothers. The room was one at my maternal grandparents’ house in the country in northeast Texas. I imagine I was two years old. I’m not aware of any other people in the room, though someone may have been at my side. I just know I was straining to see something I couldn’t understand from some distance. It’s almost as though there was a gauzy tent in the room into which I was trying to peer. I don’t know if this could have corresponded to something real about the way bodies were displayed or not.

I think we had either just arrived to find things thus or I had stumbled upon it by myself, my parents possibly not having meant to expose me to it. It may have been a relatively brief look; perhaps someone took me away from the scene when they noticed me. I imagine it was the solemn behavior of the adults and the change to the room that made the scene so memorable, but I must have heard some words related to death to be able to associate the image with death and with my great-grandmother later. What was I thinking? I think I was trying to comprehend something new that was beyond my capacity. Perhaps they had told me that was Great-Grandmother, though I doubt it. Somehow or other I knew that death, a new concept, was involved and remembered it, though I was very young; and that hazy, mysterious image is still inseparable from my idea of death; so strongly do first impressions last.

I recently saw something about a man who had total recall of every minute of every day of his life, which sounds like a terrible affliction. Though I often wish I could retrieve greater detail of events from the past, I think that, without the filtering action of selective memory, focusing on, and possibly even identifying, the important events in one’s life would be very difficult. I haven’t really talked to others about the nature of their memories, so I may be unusual in only remembering certain, in some way impressive, events. I should add that I am talking about the events I remember, which doesn’t mean I can’t remember other things such as the layout of a house I lived in many years ago.

Having such vast lacunae in my memory of events in the past, I might as well have been etherized for months at a time, as far as my ability to recall details of my life goes. My memory is like a dark summer evening, where only here and there a firefly shows light and life. That makes the memories that I retain seem positively miraculous and the events associated with them all the more significant to have survived the almost universal destruction by time. I am thankful for the memories I have, for they are of the sort that take me out of time. The necessity to pull those memories up from the well of the past in order to have something to write about here is the main justification for keeping this effort going, I guess.

My Appointment with the FBI and a Long-Delayed Connection

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

You don’t just open the door and walk into the Berkeley FBI offices. You don’t get into the offices at all. You ring a bell and someone opens an inner door, which he closes, certainly locked, behind him. Then he opens the outer door and you are let into a sort of antechamber, which contains a small table and a couple of chairs. It was May 17, 1974, and I was there by invitation.

A couple of days before, or perhaps the day before, I had gotten word from the secretary of my group at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab (still called the Rad Lab by most of us), where I was a grad student research assistant, that someone had called and left a message for me to call him: someone from “the government” he had said. I thought she emphasized the word a little ominously, but it was probably just the word itself. What government agency would refer to itself as the government? That didn’t sound like an income tax question. It made me a little apprehensive.

My fears were not groundless. The man whose call I returned turned out to be with the FBI, and he was asking me to come talk to him about something, which he didn’t go into, and soon. I took whatever appointment he suggested, which, when I started to write this, I thought I remembered as having been in the morning. Based on some research into other events with a known time, I reason it’s more likely to have been in the afternoon. I remember waiting in a cafe or drugstore across the street from the offices for the appointed time to arrive.

Why me? Why now? I tried to think of any possible reason for the FBI wanting to talk to me. True, I belonged to a radical socialist group, but I was not by any stretch a leader at that point, nor could I think of anything that would have made me or my group stand out. The days in which our group had served briefly as a point of contact between the Berkeley student movement and the early Black Panther Party were well in the past. Our small organization’s leading role in organizing the Peace and Freedom Party (PFP) and the drive to get it on the 1968 ballot in California had been a major achievement, and members of our group had also been instrumental in bringing the PFP and the Black Panther Party into an electoral alliance. There was nothing illegal about it, but with J. Edgar Hoover still in charge of the FBI, it’s a safe bet that we had gathered a lot of attention from the FBI back then. We had been involved in some illegal demonstrations over the years. No one doubted that our office’s telephone was tapped, and we pretty much assumed our own phones were too. But I had never heard of anyone being called in to talk with the FBI. So why me now?

By May 1974 the mass student movement was long since dead and so was the Black Power movement. US troops had been withdrawn from Vietnam. There were a few organized remnants of the student-based movement, largely made up of people who had decided to devote their lives to political activism when it was exciting and seemed historically important, and who were now faced with mass political apathy and smaller memberships.

Since our group was for overthrowing not only capitalism but also bureaucratic communist rule and thus had no more allegiance to Mao or Fidel than to Richard Nixon, we had always been a small minority on the left and were scarcely acknowledged as being part of it by the Maoist groups and Maoist-flavored “crazies” that had dominated the movement and who would have certainly put us up against the wall, along with many others, if some catastrophe had ever put them in power. The group I was in probably wasn’t significantly smaller then than it ever had been in the past eight years (excepting a few brief periods of recruitment, which had always been followed by sectarian splits to reduce the number again).

Our “purist” positions for democratic rights such as free speech, free press, and the right of workers to strike (real socialism as we and Marx, we thought, viewed it) and belief that revolutionary change had to come through the activity of the working class had never held much appeal to many student radicals. We didn’t even like Che, and most student radicals didn’t like workers or any Americans, really, that weren’t oppressed minorities or student radicals like themselves. The worst of them basically thought that any white American that hadn’t thrown off “white skin privilege” (as they had) by joining the Black Struggle was a “pig,” worthy of being murdered and mutilated, a sentiment so memorably captured in the Bernadine Dohrn (soon to be a visitor in the White House?) “dig it” speech eulogizing the Manson gang murderers.

It’s probably hard for people that didn’t live through it to understand how deeply pathological was the hatred toward almost every aspect of “AmeriKKKa” by many in the American student left; or to understand at what a low intellectual level, despite their academic credentials, those people operated—truly a Nazi level of both hatred and intellect. Directing their hatred against the overwhelming majority of their fellow countrymen was not likely to be a winning formula, but I think they equated destruction with winning and overestimated their own strength by several orders of magnitude.

The recent appearance of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a violent, radical microcult with a charismatic (to them anyway) Black leader, Donald DeFreeze (SLA name Cinque), a convicted armed robber recently escaped from prison, showed that the militant slogans were still capable of inspiring in 1974 a few fringe characters—heroic in their own eyes and those of a lot of spectator radicals—to acts capable of gaining enormous publicity. In relationship to the mass upheavals that had occurred a few years before, they were like the last kernel of popcorn that pops a few seconds after all the rest have finished popping in a sustained eruption. They had in a short time assassinated Marcus Foster, Oakland’s popular first Black school superintendent (agent of the oppressor to them for his “fascist” decision to require student identification cards), and kidnaped Patty Hearst. They were very audacious and cruel, if not overly bright.

The organization I belonged to had decided to “industrialize,” that is to have everyone get jobs in important unionized industries such as auto and steel in order to attempt to influence and recruit workers, largely through supporting or starting rank-and-file organizations to fight for union democracy and militancy. Some in the group had already moved to a few industrial centers such as Detroit, where the national headquarters was now located. Yes, it sounds extremely quixotic, but it was at least logical from the Marxist analysis of the working class as the key actor in this stage of history. I didn’t think I was going to go to work in an auto plant, but I had been helping put out and distribute a dissident Teamster newsletter, while still trying to finish my Physics PhD thesis at Berkeley. It would soon turn out that my estimate of how much political work I could do would not meet the standard of some others, who of course were feeling their own personal conflicts about sacrifices, and I would leave the group.

I knew that several years earlier the FBI had visited a woman who had just broken up with our group’s most prominent leader, hoping that they might catch her in a weak moment in which she might be willing to reveal a few secrets out of spite, I suppose. It had been pretty creepy that they had that kind of knowledge in the first place. Also, a year or two before, my landlady had told me the FBI had come by looking for the previous tenant who was also a member of the organization, a real (as opposed to a converted student) worker with a skilled trade. I had made a long distance (payphone to payphone) call to pass that information on. I never knew why they were checking on him; maybe they just didn’t like to lose track of some people. I doubted this coming interview had anything to do with that. But I was worried because there had to be some reason they wanted to talk to me, and I figured it had to be about something political, yet I didn’t have a clue what it could be. Was the Teamster paper the best bet? It seemed too insignificant by far. The situation seemed more than a little Kafkaesque, to use a term that used to be in vogue.

Although I can’t remember whom in the organization I talked to about the interview beforehand, I know that I talked to some experienced person in the leadership both to get advice on how to proceed and to let them know about something that might turn out to be important. I definitely don’t remember being given any hint of what it could be about, and I don’t remember any advice anyone gave me. It never even occurred to me to consider getting legal advice. I was going to have to play it by ear.

The FBI agent was friendly and motioned for me to sit down. He sat down opposite me and pulled out a stack of what turned out to be photos and put them on the table. Who? What a relief! They were pictures of SLA members. Of course I knew who they were, as almost everyone did then, both real name and SLA name, because of the enormous publicity around the Patty Hearst abduction and the subsequent public demands and responses.

I thought the FBI was being awfully thorough though to have brought me in to talk about the SLA, as I had never had any contact with any of them that I knew of. All I could think of was that, since one of them, Nancy Ling Perry (SLA name Fahizah), had worked as a lab assistant in the same lab in which my wife (from whom I was now separated) had done graduate research at Berkeley, they had made some sort of computer match of all conceivable connections between members of known radical groups and SLA members. My wife did of course know Ling, as she called herself then, and had mentioned her having quit her job to do political activity or something and having said goodbye to everyone, quite some time before the SLA had gone public with the Foster murder. But I had never even met Ling. I remember my wife saying “There’s Ling” once as we were driving down a Berkeley street, but I didn’t see anyone and didn’t slow down.

Ling had been a Berkeley student but had never been involved in politics at all during the height of the student movement when many thousands in Berkeley were drawn in. About the only thing I can remember hearing about her, and it’s quite striking, considering her future path, is how terribly she agonized over the necessity for killing animals (very primitive ones, I think) for some of the lab’s experiments. I knew my wife had not had any involvement whatsoever with Ling’s new associates and hadn’t talked to her since she’d gone underground, so I didn’t have to worry about what I should say from any standpoint I could think of.

I clearly remember my feeling of relief upon seeing the SLA photos, but I can’t remember whether the sight of the photos came as a complete surprise, as presenting something I hadn’t even considered. Given the prominence of the SLA in the news, such a possibility, however unlikely, may have occurred to me, since everything seemed unlikely. Thirty-four years leaves little of certainty. In any case, it turned out I was wrong, once I’d seen the SLA pictures, to have assumed they’d called me in because of that distant secondhand connection.

The FBI agent asked me if I recognized any of the people in the pictures, and I told him that of course I recognized them as the same ones that were in the news every day, but that I didn’t know any of them personally. The next question he asked me took me by surprise. “Can you think of any reason why your name and place of work would be in Nancy Ling Perry’s handwriting on a slip of paper left behind in an SLA safe house?” He may have said telephone number or room number as well; I’m not sure. Well, that explained why he had called me at the Rad Lab. Despite being totally surprised by this news, I was able to come up with a plausible answer pretty quickly by telling about the lab connection and how Nancy Ling Perry could easily have heard where I worked and what my name was.

The FBI guy seemed satisfied immediately. “Yeah, we already knew about the lab connection,” he said. “But for all we knew she could have been your girl friend.” We were done, and it had been so easy. He was definitely in a good mood, and, before I left, he added that, from what he was hearing, they had the SLA cornered in Los Angeles at that very moment. I think he was basically viewing it as a closed case already.

I had heard, as everyone had, about the previous day’s bizarre events in which the SLA had surfaced for the first time in Los Angeles. One of the SLA members had been caught shoplifting a pair of socks and had only escaped along with his wife when Patty Hearst, now known as Tania and acting as an SLA member herself, had shot up the front of the store. Luckily no one had been hurt then, and the inept SLA group had left a parking ticket on the van they’d been driving, which gave away the location of the gang hideout. After stealing a couple of cars, the SLA trio found a new place to stay rather than returning to the original place. Before the police arrived at their haven, the other six SLA members in LA, including Ling and Cinque, alarmed by the failure of the foraging party to return, had fled in the wee hours of the morning and forced their way into another house, which seems to have been a place for people to wander in at all hours to get drunk or high.

I’m sure I first heard from the FBI man that the police definitely knew where the SLA members were hiding. As I mentioned before, I first thought I recalled my meeting at the FBI offices as having taken place in the morning, but from some online research it doesn’t seem the police discovered the exact house the SLA members were in until early in the afternoon, when the mother of the woman in whose house they were called the police to report it. They had already learned in the morning the general neighborhood since they had identified the SLA members’ parked vans. In any case it was late afternoon before the press knew anything, so it’s likely I got the news early from an FBI agent that saw no need to keep it a secret, and possibly couldn’t restrain himself from telling someone.

I’ve been imagining the FBI man could have just been going through the motions in an interview that now seemed to him less significant than it might have before. He had asked me no follow-up questions that I can recall, not even what my wife’s name was. Now that I think about it, he could well have reviewed a couple of files before the interview, learned of the connections, and have thus been waiting for me to give the expected answer, watching only to see if I got flustered and seemed trying to hide something. Who knows?

Insightful PS to the above paragraph: The more one writes and thinks about something from the distant past, the more one remembers, and the more one may then understand. I only just now added the word “connection” to the end of the statement recorded four paragraphs above “Yeah, we already knew about the lab connection” because that final word had became very distinct to me in my memory, and its absence in the written report of my meeting was something I felt I had to rectify. I heard the FBI man say “connection,” but its significance had never been apparent to me. He was saying that he had known that I had a connection to the lab Ling had worked in even before he called me. From the time he said it until just before this moment, I had not realized the obvious meaning of his words, and had interpreted them as equivalent to “We knew Ling worked in a lab. So that makes sense.” So my speculation (made before I added the “connection” and understood what it meant) in the previous paragraph can now be taken as proven, as it is the obvious way to interpret his words. The dumb thing is that I had always realized that there was something funny about the way he’d expressed himself, since that “connection” didn’t exactly fit with my interpretation.

Why didn’t I analyze this logically at the time? I guess that I was just so relieved to be out of there so easily that I wanted to leave the whole thing behind me, even mentally, as soon as possible. The surprise revelation about how my name had come up probably played a role also. It was confusing new information presented in a stressful situation. I had to find a reasonable explanation that would satisfy the FBI man. I was really only interested in that result, and my mind set about solving the puzzle. It was an easy puzzle, but, under the circumstances, probably all I could deal with.

How many other words that didn’t quite fit at the time I heard them spoken are waiting to be understood? How many readers immediately understood what the meaning of “Yeah, we already knew about the lab connection” was when they first read it? Probably all or almost all, I’m now guessing. Yet I, the only one to whom it was relevant, have waited thirty-four years to get it. I feel like shouting Eureka! And then Duh!

Why had Ling, whom I had never met, written down my name and workplace anyway? She may have had nothing specific in mind. Maybe it was just something she’d thought might come in handy in case they ever wanted to plan an attack on the Rad Lab, which was falsely viewed as some kind of weapons research place by some radicals, who probably mixed it up with the other Lawrence Lab in Livermore, also run by the University of California, which was indeed used for designing and building thermonuclear weapons. In any case, there is no doubt that some people would have liked to bomb the Rad Lab as a symbol of an oppressive system if nothing else. The very fact that it was a large government-funded facility up on a hill overlooking the Berkeley campus was enough to make it an appealing target. Perhaps a fake id card with a real person’s name on it would have been thought useful? I can’t see any use my name could have had really, and I guess they didn’t value the information very highly or they wouldn’t have left it behind.

I distinctly remember one other thing about that day so long ago. I heard the news on the radio that all the SLA members that had been in the house in LA were dead, either shot or burned to death, while I was riding across the Bay Bridge to a meeting in San Francisco that evening with a few others, one of whom felt one of the deaths personally.