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The International Writers Magazine: Campus Story

A Visit to Berkeley
• Martin Green
Tim Holcomb drove around the edge of the UC Berkeley campus until he found a parking space, then walked back to Sather Gate, the school’s main entrance.   He checked his watch, 3 PM.   He was early. His meeting with Professor Helen Clark wasn’t until 3:30. 

He walked along the path leading into the campus and sat down on one of the benches, not far from a pretty girl, a coed he assumed, intently reading a book.    She wore a blouse with a vest over it and what seemed to be the requisite jeans.   He was tempted to ask her what book she was reading but this simple curiosity might be misinterpreted so he decided not to.   It was a fine spring afternoon, blue sky, no clouds, the air crisp.   The trees were leafed out.   He could hear birds chirping.  It was good to get out of the office.

     Tim was an analyst in one of the Divisions of the State of California’s huge Health Department in Sacramento.  He’d talked to Professor Clark by phone several times.  She was interested in some of the teenage birth statistics in a report he’d made and had suggested he come down for a meeting.  He’d been recently promoted to section head so had been able to arrange it without too much bureaucratic fuss.   He was a New Yorker, had gone to a college there, had a couple of jobs, was tired of the crime citadel the city had become at that time and had gone West to California, ending up in San Francisco, where he’d landed a job with the State.  Then he’d married Amy, moved to Sacramento, where most State agencies were headquartered and, almost before he knew it, he thought at times, they’d bought a house, had two children and now he was enmeshed in the suburban routine of commuting to work, trying to keep up with the lawn, the yard, the house repairs, and taking the kids to their Little League and soccer games.

     “What?”   The pretty coed had asked him for the time.   He told her and she closed her book.   He asked her what she was reading.   It was George Eliot’s “Middlemarch.”    “Let me guess,” he said, “You’re an English major.”

     “That’s right.”

     “I was, too.”

     “Oh.    Did you go to Cal?”

     “No, to New York University.”

     She glanced at the thick binder he had with him.   “Do you teach here?”

     “Me, no.  I’m a visitor.   These are a bunch of computer printouts.”

     “I have to get going,” she said, and she was off down the path.

     Tim watched her; the jeans were tight-fitting.    At one time he’d thought of becoming a college teacher.   He’d probably teach English.  He liked to read, the Victorian novelists like George Eliot, the modern Americans---Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Irwin Shaw, Norman Mailer---he’d even taken a couple of poetry courses.   He’d imagined what it was like to be a college teacher, not in New York, but on a campus like UC Berkeley’s.  He’d teach his courses, a few hours a week, in between he’d write the articles he needed to get tenure, maybe try a few popular essays to get his name out there.  He’d go to the university gym three times a week, swim and play handball to keep in shape, engage in literary discussions with his fellow teachers.  He pictured his class sitting in front of him, the pretty coed in the front row.  Maybe he’d marry one of his students, after she’d graduated, of course.    They’d read books together, go to foreign movies, attend faculty parties, he’d become Professor Holcomb.

     He was lost in this reverie when he heard the Campoline bells chiming.  It was 3:30. He quickly stood up. Damnit, he’d be late.  Luckily, he found Professor Clark’s office quickly.  He knocked softly on the door and was told to come in.  She was behind a desk covered with papers.  He saw that she was a middle-aged woman, with a pleasant face and graying hair.  He didn’t know why he felt disappointed.  Maybe it was because her voice had been throaty and somewhat sexy on the phone.    He introduced himself and apologized for being a little late.  She said it was no problem and waved him to a chair.   He looked around the office.  It wasn’t large but it was nicely appointed, with bookcases and pictures on the walls. The desk, he saw, and the chairs, were of a nice wood, not the State-issued metal ones he had.

     The meeting was all business.  She looked over the computer printouts of teenage births he’d brought and they discussed them for about half an hour.  She asked for some more data, broken down by county, and said he could mail them to her.  There was no mention of another visit to Berkeley.   At 4 PM she stood up, said she had another meeting and thanked him for coming.  That was it.  

     He walked back the way he’d come.   It would be about six by the time he got back to Sacramento, too late to go back to the office; he might as well drive straight back home.   Driving back he had another reverie.   He was in his nice office, older this time, Professor Holcomb.   He was working on another article.   There was a knock on his door.  It was the pretty coed, here for a consultation on her master’s thesis.  She told him she’d read his book and thought it was brilliant.  He said modestly that it was adequate.  He read her latest chapter and suggested ways to improve it.  She leaned closer to him, her lips parted.  A horn sounded, some idiot who thought he was driving too slowly.

     As he came closer to Sacramento the green hills gave way to a flat dry dusty landscape.    His brief visit to Berkeley seemed to fade and he began to think of what awaited for him at home and then at the office the next day.  Then he entered the six pm commute traffic and had to concentrate on his driving.  

     It was almost seven by the time Tim arrived home.   As soon as he went through the door his six-year-old son Mark flew out and grabbed him around the knees.   “Daddy’s home,” he shouted.   Eight-year-old Steve came out from the family room and came over for his hug.   Then Amy came out and said, “You’re late.”

     “Yeah, the commute traffic was terrible.”

     “I’ll heat up the meat loaf.”

     Meat loaf was one of Amy’s standbys.    “All right.   I’m pretty hungry.”

     “Oh, how was the meeting?”

     “It was fine.”

     After he’d eaten, Mark played with the two boys for an hour or so, then he and Amy gave them their baths and put them to bed.  Tim read them what he called their nightly “chapter,” a long unending story he’d strung together from old books and radio shows he remembered.  The leading characters were coincidentally named Steve and Mark, who had landed on an island with The Professor, looking for a lost city and so far had found a savage tribe, pirates, a mysterious figure named Chang and a villain named simply X.  After this he and Amy retired to the living room and she told him her car had made a “funny noise” that morning.”  Also, the sliding bathroom door had come loose again and would have to be put back.   There were two Little League games in the next week.  They watched television until they started to nod off, then went to bed.

     After he’d kissed Amy, Tim lay on his back and stared into the blackness.  He remembered that he had a meeting with his Division head the next morning.  And a rush job from some assemblyman who wanted hospital expense information.   He closed his eyes.  He saw the UC Berkeley campus, green, pleasant, restful.   It had been nice to get out of the office for a while.

© Martin Green July 2013

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