“There was a feeling in the air that, if the world were going to change, Berkeley would either be the place to begin, the place that would do it, or something like that. There was an unspoken solidarity with all the college campuses all across the nation and around the world, for that matter, that Berkeley was one of those primary places.”
— Peter DuMont
By the time I entered West Campus, the re-named, newly integrated school for ninth graders, the Out Crowd was in its death throes. Pablo Menendez was now the uncontested alpha male of the group. Also, a growing awareness of our budding sexualities, the social changes rattling our little community and the increasing popularity of folk music in mainstream America dynamited the dynamics of the Out Crowd.
With the beginning of the new school year, another child of folk song royalty appeared on the scene, unknowingly igniting the fuse that obliterated the group forever. Judy Gottlieb was the daughter of Lou Gottlieb, co-founder of The Limeliters. The group had national fame, and their stock in Berkeley was particularly high. The Limeliters had recorded an album, “Through Children’s Eyes,” that included a chorus made up of kids from Berkeley elementary schools. Another album was entitled “The Slightly Fabulous Limeliters.”
Judy, however, was 100% fabulous. She was tall and willowy, with the kind of multi-ethnic beauty that came to be known as Jewish Gypsy. Judy sported dangly earrings, applied lots of black eyeliner to highlight her shining eyes, and wore clothes made from suede and corduroy, textiles of deep significance and sophistication. She had a warm and vivacious personality. I zoomed into Judy’s orbit with the same eagerness and intensity with which I had tiptoed into Pablo’s. For a time, they zoomed into each other’s orbits. And what a lovely couple they made.
Pablo and Judy spontaneously attracted other beautiful people into their shining auras, including former In Crowders who had decided that the answer was blowin’ in the wind of folk music-style cool. Former beach bunnies traded in their dippity-do ‘dos for long, straight hair with a part down the middle, big earrings, peace buttons and boots. Former surfer boys threw out their peroxide, grew their hair a couple of inches longer and exchanged their skateboards for guitars. These nouveau-folkies hadn’t quite mastered suede and corduroy yet, but they sure looked a damn sight better than most of us to the “If I Had a Hammer” born. The demographics of the Out Crowd began to shift, a Darwinian evolutionary tide washing over the playground. The fittest who would survive were those with good genes and good jeans, while the homely, the shy, the gawky originals drowned in their wake, clutching their kazoos as they burbled beneath the surface and into extinction.
Telegraph Avenue, “The Ave.”
Pablo, Judy and a number of other precocious kids started making the scene on Telegraph Avenue. “The Ave.” was Command Central for cool with its coffee houses, amazing secondhand bookstores and the Cinema Guild, twin movie theaters featuring mostly foreign art films. (Movie critic Pauline Kael started her career writing descriptions of the films to be shown there each month.)
David Mandel, who was popularly known as “The Mayor of Telegraph Avenue” told me, “Every day after school we would jump in a friend’s MG and drive from El Cerrito High School down to Telegraph Avenue so we could hang out and pretend that we were like the beatniks. We would steal caviar and get bagels and cream cheese from the Garden Spot Market and go to the Med [Caffé Mediterraneum coffee house] and get a cappuccino and sit up in the balcony. and say ‘Hey man, I’m cool, I’m hip.’ The folk music scene focused around the campus. So there was music playing.
“Franco and his brother opened The Forum [coffee house] on Telegraph. They were really sweet guys. They treated the hippies wonderfully. They spent a fortune opening The Forum. When they opened, six very shiny black Cadillacs pulled up out front. Twelve or fifteen big, burly, very mafioso-looking guys got out of those Cadillacs and put wreaths of flowers in front of the Forum. We all looked at it and thought, ‘Oh — this is a mafia money laundry operation.’
“Within three or four months Franco said to me one day, because I was the resident street guitar player, ‘Hey Dave, what do you think of the idea of me starting to have live music in here?’ The first group he ever had there, which the first gig the band had ever performed, was the Steve Miller Band.
At the top of Telegraph Avenue, the entrance to the University campus always had an array of hawkers, protestors and one very loud preacher known as “Holy Hubert. He would often draw large crowds as he regaled against hippies for their sins. People would passionately fight and argue with him. At one point he was almost killed when a member of the Black Panthers savagely beat him. A slight figure named Bob Weinzeimer was a common sight, hawking buttons with slogans on them that you would pin to your shirt, often in multiples. He had attached more than 500 buttons to big pieces of cardboard that he waved around. The top sellers included “Impeach Ronald Reagan,” “Gandalf lives,” “Reality is a crutch” and “Make Love Not War.” I used to wear a big button with a picture of Uncle Sam pointing a gun at the viewer, meant to protest the Vietnam War. One of my teachers saw it and exploded at me, calling the image “disrespectful.”
The cognoscenti gathered on The Avenue on Saturday nights to find out where parties were happening or to hang out in the Forum, the Mediterraneum and Pepe’s Pizza, the funky little dive sandwiched between the two coffee houses that was so crummy that it was always cool.
Dave Mandel said, “Pepe’s Pizza gave me a job making pizza and washing dishes whenever I felt like working. I didn’t have to keep regular hours. It was a Berkeley High crowd. It was a place where cute young boys were hanging out, and a lot of those cute young boys were starting bands. I was one of the better guitarists around the Avenue but I wasn’t a good guitarist. I mainly played the guitar to get laid.”
Also prowling The Ave. were Hell’s Angels and a group of “cherry-pickers,” men intent on relieving young girls of their virginities. One of the most notorious of these predators—not that we called them that—a lean African-American man with the deeply carved beauty of a statue, initiated a number of my girlfriends. I hear he’s still out there.
Judy started to spend weekends on her father’s property in Sonoma County, Morningstar Ranch. Lou Gottlieb was transforming himself faster than a speeding bullet. He had left both The Limeliters and Judy’s mother, and was living in an old egg shed with just enough room for a grand piano and a sleeping mat. He got involved with The Diggers, an anti-materialistic group that considered all notions of personal property and the profit motive to be the roots of all evil. The Diggers were famous for giving away goods for free, thumbing their noses at the capitalist system and laughing all the way. They distributed food on Haight Street in San Francisco and ran a “store” in which all the goods were free for the taking. They harvested apples from an old orchard at Morningstar Ranch and gave them away in San Francisco. Gottlieb invited the Diggers to build houses on the ranch for free.
Alexandra Jacopetti Hart told me about her time at Morningstar Ranch with her husband and child. “We went to Morningstar Ranch for a summer. By fall the Hell’s Angels came, and people were tearing the wood off one end of the house to feed the fire at the other end of the house to keep warm. We decided there was no place for children here, and we left. Poor Lou was one of the people who got trampled in a way through that. He got caught up in it. He deeded the ranch to God and the tax officials wouldn’t let him do it. The tax officials said he had to pay the taxes for God.”
Roland Jacopetti told me, “He wanted to do this religious agrarian act, deed the land to God, which had various repercussions. Somebody sued him, saying they were God and told him, ‘I understand I own property in Sonoma county.’ Someone sued him who had been struck by lightning, saying it was an act of God.
“The Diggers transformed the place and put in incredible gardens. But the more people who came the more the authorities hassled them. They finally bulldozed all the buildings. Sanitary violations, drug violations. Always out for a way to get them out. Lou always resolutely made it open to anyone, so some dopers and junkies and Hells Angels came in, the predators gathered.”
Alexandra Jacopetti Hart said, “I was cooking macrobiotic food for the scene there. I cooked more often because I had a kid to feed, so seventeen people would show up for meals and then disappear. Many years later I went to a party and Lou saw me, and fell to his knees and said, ‘The first goddess of Morningstar!’”
At the time, Judy’s life appeared to me to be totally blessed. How incredible it must be to have a father, a genuine adult and parent, who was not only a famous folk singer, but also light years ahead of everyone else in coolness? I had no concept that Judy might also be feeling out of her depth. I didn’t realize then that it might be confusing for someone navigating the snarky waters of adolescence to have a parent who was going through his own rites of passage.
Pablo Menendez’s mother eventually got wind of her son’s precocious activities. She spirited him off to a high school in Cuba to straighten up and fly right.
Back at school I slunk into humiliated isolation along with the other original Out Crowd. We no longer even had the heart to have a go at a few bars of “This Land is Your Land” for old times sake. Being a musically untalented soul who played and sang just for the joy of it was okay in eighth grade, but among ninth-grade sophisticates, amateur strumming and humming were not acceptable. The future looked bleak. To cap it off, a new girl in school from Boston invited me to, heaven help me, a Peter, Paul and Mary concert! How had my life come to this?
Not only did the new Out Crowd eclipse the originals in physical beauty, hip glamour and careless self-confidence, they held another card that was not yet in my deck: they were ready, willing and able to have sex with each other and with the older, edgier crowd on Telegraph Avenue. Rumors abounded that Pablo was now romancing girls from the Ave. who were twice his age.
I was way out of my depth and my feet could find no purchase beneath these muddy waters. My hormones were not yet going berserk. I still had essentially a child’s body. Although the phobias and fears of deadly diseases had subsided and I no longer saw Mrs. Finkle and my father had started coming home again at dinner time, I still felt emotionally fragile and vulnerable.
My progressive parents had made sure I knew the facts of reproduction well before a blushing, stuttering fifth-grade teacher delivered a sex education talk to a group of mortified eleven year-olds. But what did I really know? I had received the standard-issue sentence that was supposed to explain everything to inquiring young minds: “The daddy puts his penis in the mommy’s vagina, and this is something very special that they do because they love each other so much.” Even my fertile imagination couldn’t begin to sort out what such an implausible activity had to do with mommies and daddies loving each other. And one vital detail had not been included in the job description. The only penises I’d ever seen, on Greek statues and my brother, were at ease, so for the life of me I couldn’t figure out the mechanics of intercourse.
In early Sixties, inexpensive, 99% effective birth control pills had become available and rapidly gained popularity. There was now a group in the Bay Area called The Sexual Freedom League. Jefferson Poland, who legally changed his legal name to Jefferson Fuck Poland, organized the Sexual Freedom League, and brought it to the Bay Area in 1965. In 1966 he made Richard Thorne the main proponent. The SFL celebrated promiscuity, held orgies in Berkeley homes, encouraged women to publicly bare their breasts and appeared nude on San Francisco beaches. Although I didn’t know any members at school, we certainly had an awareness of the group and their activities.
On the schoolyard during recess one day, I listened to one of the nouveau folk girls assess the bedroom skills of her cherub-faced fourteen year-old ex-boyfriend.
“A broomstick would have been better,” she said, rolling her eyes and laughing. I was nonplussed. I quite liked the boy. Furthermore, my fantasies about sex did not include household cleaning equipment. Alas, that mean-spirited remark branded the poor guy for life. Whenever I ran into him over the succeeding decades I would instantly picture my mother’s old wooden broom propped up by the basement door. Still, I was impressed. This girl had to know what good sex felt like to realize that she was having bad sex, right?
Clearly, it was pointless to try to keep up with these people who had been sprinkled with some special sexual stardust. I only felt left in the dust. Anyway, the good sex fairy wasn’t rushing to put someone nice anywhere near my pillow. I was quite sure that no one would ever want to have any kind of sex, good, bad or indifferent, with me.
The Black Panthers
Race relations, always a thorny subject, was also taking a sharp turn. This time, the wave of change did not flow from the Civil Rights movement in the deep South, but came crashing down from next door in Oakland. The Black Panther Party was founded in Oakland on Oct. 15, 1966, by two former Berkeley High School students, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. Their inspirational idol was the militant leader of the Black Muslims, Malcolm X. I had heard Malcolm X speak on the University of California campus when I was twelve, and had been horrified by his denouncement, at the time, of all those with white skin as oppressors. I came to appreciate him later, when he softened his opinion on the subject.
A handful of former Student Relations Committee comrades-at-arms started taking up arms with The Black Panthers. A girl who sat next to me in English class at West Campus would eventually marry Huey Newton. One very light-skinned friend of mine suddenly placed paramount importance on the couple of drops of African-American blood in her veins. She joined The Black Panthers, tossed away her peace button, coaxed her mildly curly hair into a reluctant semi-Afro and started talking in an accent she never had before. She adopted a permanent scowl to show that she was one really bad mothahfuckah, and sneered at the honkie imperialist oppressors who had once been her closest friends.
Whites in the Bay Area who had been involved in the civil rights movement had an ambivalent relationship with the Black Panthers—not that the Panthers wanted any relationship with them. Judy Gottlieb joined a group called “Honkies for Huey.”
The next year, one of my teachers took a class to hear Black Panther luminary Eldredge Cleaver at San Francisco State University, where the English Department had invited him to speak. A large, predominantly white crowd sat on a lawn on a sparkling sunny day. The department chairman who introduced Cleaver was fairly gushing. He pronounced Soul on Ice to be a work of poetry. After he was finished heaping the most laudable laurels of English literature on the Black Panther’s head, Mr. Cleaver assumed the podium like a bomb about to explode. And then, without missing a beatnik, he did.
“Fuck poetry! I don’ relate to no poetry!” he bellowed. He proceeded to rant and swear at the audience, blaming them for every bad thing that had ever happened to a black person. I watched in amazement as the crowd jumped to its feet, crazy with excitement, lapping it all up, cheering him on with each new insult. ‘Yes! We are the oppressors! Yes, we’re honkie pigs! Right on, brother! We deserve your wrath for all the terrible things we did to you! Sock it to me one mo’ time! Tell it like it is, brother!’ I thought Cleaver was manipulating the audience and dishing out a pile of crap, but it was clear that I’d better mind my own beeswax in any future class discussions about the speech.
Other changes were afoot, and Berkeley was a fertile breeding ground for the best, the brightest and the weirdest. Anything new at the university or on Telegraph Avenue inevitably trickled down to those high school students with eyes to see and ears to hear. Hippies were beginning to hatch. Also, drugs were becoming a big part of the scene on the Ave. A handful of my classmates were experimenting with speed and pot. LSD was legal in California until October 6, 1966. Acid parties were held all over Berkeley the night before it became illegal. It was fairly easy to get prescriptions for dexedrine diet pills; fourteen year-old girls were not exempt from the pressure put on females to look slim. I was too frightened to ingest anything — yet.
Delano Grape Strike
While still a ninth grader at West Campus, a friend invited me to join the Young Democrats Club of Berkeley High School. Some members of the club wanted me to leave because I was too young, but fortunately the majority defended my participation. We had weekend meetings at the house of a member. At one of those meetings, Dick Broadhead, the dynamic faculty sponsor of the club suggested that we go to Delano and volunteer in support of the Delano Grape Strike workers.
The Delano Grape Strike and boycott was led by the United Farm Workers against growers of table grapes in California, with Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Richard Chavez at the helm. They were demanding wages for grape pickers that reflected at least the federal minimum wage. The strike began on September 8, 1965, and lasted more than five years. Through grassroots organizing including consumer boycotts of grapes, marches and nonviolent passive resistance the movement alerted the nation to the lives of some of its most poorly paid workers. My family joined the boycott. No grapes graced our table during those five years.
The Young Democrats enthusiastically decided to go to Delano. Mr. Broadhead and his girlfriend drove us there in the back of a pick-up truck.
sidebar: Seat belts were not in common use. People would sit on each other’s laps, pile three or four people in the front seat, crawl from the front to the back seat, or like us, crowd into the back of a pick-up truck. end sidebar
According to Val Greenoak, one of the participants, “We got there and I believe we stayed at the home of Dolores Huerta. I remember that some of us went out on the picket line and others went to a large building where we prepared a big community meal. The thing that has stuck with me to this day and one of the biggest lessons i got was when the potatoes I had been asked to peel were ninety-percent rotten. I told the woman who was in charge that they were rotten. She told me to peel the good parts. It was my first real experience of understanding poverty. Nothing was to go to waste. I left that place with a deeper understanding of poverty and injustice.”
I was one of those chosen for the picket line. We marched at the side of a road bordering a grape field that was being worked by scab labor. We carried picket signs and marched in a long oval with Mr. Broached in the middle. He led us in singing old union songs as we marched. One girl plaintively sang Chuck Berry’s “Nadine.” The scabs shouted taunts at us, which the singing drowned out.
At one point we were invited to a high school dance of the local kids. The girls were dressed in poofed-up hair-dos and fluffy dresses that we thought were very square. We arrogantly took the dance floor, feeling that we were much better dancers, doing the moves for soul songs current at Berkeley High. We were going to show those kid’s how to do it right. Very soon, one of the chaperones gently told us that this was a dance for the local kids, and that they all wanted us to leave. I felt sheepish and disappointed at the same time.
I drove through Delano a few years ago. It is surrounded by a hot, flat, dusty plain, with no overt signs of the momentous events that took place there in the 1960s. I am glad that I got to be a very small part of it.