Getting bald at Berkeley
[mk1]To anybody who remembers me:
Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. I'm really alive and semi-well, having a lifestyle in Northern California where the streets were lined with gold 130 years ago. The miners have since been replaced with a more typical bunch of people -- the Bay Area people seem more heterogeneous, more "average-American" than people in Massachusetts.
But, of course, I don't really live in the "Bay Area" so much as on the fringe of the University of California campus. "Cal," as we call it, differs from MIT mainly in its abundance of undergraduates. There are a lot of graduate students, too, but they are far outnumbered by the undergrads. This made it all the harder for me to switch years -- going from being younger than 50 percent of the students at MIT to being older than 75 percent of them at Berkeley.
Growing old in graduate school was something I was always afraid of at MIT, where seeing all those bald, aging graduate students around was really depressing. I have these vivid memories of the Bald Graduate Students Dance Club (BGSDC) in La Sala de Puerto Rico where all these bald graduate students would hold hands in a giant circle and dance either clockwise or counter-clockwise, depending on how the music went. I was afraid of degenerating into their condition. When my hairline receded a little in my senior year, I naturally got pretty scared of going to graduate school.
But a conspiracy on the part of job recruiters forced me to come here anyway. And now that I'm here, well, maybe it's me, but the graduate students don't seem so old. It's the undergrads who seem to be changing -- getting younger.
Well, anyway, the city of San Francisco reminds me more of Washington, DC, than any other large city I've visited. Instead of foreign embassies around every corner, though, San Francisco has pornographic movie theaters, which seem to be all over the place and not confined to a few blocks as in the Combat Zone. Every time you turn around there is a sign for "Joe's Seafood Restaurant and Peep Show," or "Chang's Chinese Laundry and Massage Parlor" or "Guido's Car Wash with topless female attendants (vacuuming extra)." The whole city has sex on its collective mind much more than Massachusetts ever did, which isn't saying much.
Actually, my old home town of Pensacda, Florida, which is pretty small, has no porn theaters, and does not lack Moral Majority types still has a much sexier atmosphere than Boston and San Francisco put together. There's probably some lesson to be learned from this, although I'm not sure what.
You'll all be happy to know that MIT has a really good reputatin around Berkeley. Whenever I wear my MIT sweatshirt around the dorm, it draws stares and
comments from foreign students who think MIT is up there with Heaven or Nirvana. The American grad students are a little less impressed: "Yeah, I could have gone there, but it's a real high-pressure atmosphere there, isn't it?" they say. "Well, I dunno --" I object. "And the cost of living is really high there," they say. "Well, not really compared to around --" I dissent. "And everybody's bald at MIT, aren't they?" they say. "Yeah, I guess so," I'm forced to concede.
But MIT does provide a great pick-up line with "Hey, babe, wanna go back to my room and look at my brass rat?" Takers usually respond with a comment about it being "tubular" (a California expression) and marvel at the beaver on it.
Speaking of newspapers, there are three main papers in the area, all of which are adequate, but none of which is on the level of the Globe. The San Francisco Examiner is trying to increase circulation with radio ads about how William Randolph Hearst would be shocked at his paper if he were alive today. It's also hiring a lot of columnists who try to be "witty" by making fun of every city in the United States except San Francisco and, of course, New York. Even poor old Boston gets its share of blows.
The campus newspaper, The Daily Californian, runs "Bloom County" and editorial-type cartoons by some guy Oruc, and occasionally they have some interesting articles, but generally they have dry stories about things nobody cares about and really dull layouts, and I think on a day-to-day basis I'd rather read the Crimson.
When it comes to campus demonstrations, though, UC Berkeley is better than any other place I know of. They haven't even had their best ones since I've been here, but the ones they have had are still better than anything in my last 3 years at MIT. Almost any weekday (radicals go to Tahoe on the weekends) you can go down to Sproul Plaza, the center of campus, at lunchtime, and if they're not having a mini-revolution there are numerous believers proselytizing everyone in earshot. This gives the University an added dimension which MIT never really had, because even though every MIT student thinks he or she knows everything, none of them have the courage to make fools of themselves in public.
And speaking of fools, say hello to all my friends back at MIT: everybody on he Tech, whether they know me or not, Paul G. '54, Shirley M., Jim Olivieri, Hank Rattliff, and anybody else who can remember me.
Watch for my soon-to-be-published autobiography "Portrait of a Grad Student as a Bald Man." Maybe on the promotional tours I can swing by Boston and you can interview me for the arts section. Until then, hang in there.
P.S. Oh yeah, I saw Scott Chase [managing editor of Volume 104] the other day. He had joined the Hare Krishnas and was selling flowers on Sproul Plaza. The following conversation (if you can call it that) ensued:
Me: Hey! Scott! Big Guy. Hey, you shaved your head. God, I hardly recognized you.
Scott: Hare Krishna Krishna Hare...
Me: Well, I guess that's one way to take care of a receding hairline; you know, just shave it all off.
Scott: ... Krishna Rama Rama Hare...
Me: Hey, how 'bout that World Series?
Scott: ... Hare Hare Rama Rama...
Me (with my tongue in cheek): You know, I heard The Tech moved out of the old offices and into this really small room over in Walker.
Scott: ... Rama Krishna Hare Rama...
Me: And the ad revenues are down so much they can't even afford pizza on Sundays anymore.
Scott: ... Krishna Krishna Rama Rama...
Me: And they started printing in green ink on yellow paper.
Scott: ... Hare Hare Krishna Krishna...
Me: And they changed the Constitution, too.
Scott: ... Rama Krishna Hare Hare...
Me: Modified the membership clause.
Scott: ... Krishna Rama Hare Rama...
Me: Yeah, they're not letting anybody who wears polyester clothes be on the staff anymore.
Scott: WHAT! That is ridiculous! What a stupid thing to do! Whoever thought up such a thing? They should know that real men wear American-made polyester clothes. I remember one time when I was sitting in my room in Baker House when...
And he kept babbling on about something or other, but I left because I was going to the movies.
(Editor's note: The Tech received this column from Daniel J. Crean '85, who was opinion editor of Volume 104. He is on his way to either an MS or a Ph D degree, depending on how fast his hairline recedes. He writes: "Actually, my hairline hasn't changed in the past 8 or so months, but you never know.")