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Loose Change

Three Women of the Sixties

Sara Davidson (Author)

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Paperback, 381 pages
ISBN: 9780520209107
July 1997
$28.95, £21.95
This is a compelling story of the experiences of three young women who attended the University of California at Berkeley and became caught up in the tumultuous changes of the Sixties. Sara Davidson follows the three—Susie, Tasha, and Sara herself—from their first meeting in 1962, through the events that "radicalized" them in unexpected ways in the decade after the years in Berkeley. Susie navigates through the Free Speech Movement and the early women's movement in Berkeley, and Tasha enters the trendy New York art and society scene. Sara, a journalist, travels the country reporting on the stories of the sixties.

The private lives that Davidson reconstructs are set against the public background of the time. Figures such as Timothy Leary, Mario Savio, Tom Hayden, and Joan Baez are here, as are the many young people who sought alternatives to "the establishment" through whatever means seemed worth exploring: radical politics, meditation, drugs, group sex, or dropping out. Davidson's honest and detailed chronicle reveals the hopes, confusion, and disillusionment of a generation whose rites of passage defined one of the most contentious decades of this century.
Prologue
I. California Girls (1943-1963)
II. Blowing in the Wind (1963-1965)
III. Dawning of the Age (1965-1967)
IV. Fighting in the Street (1968-1969)
V. Busy Being Free (1969-1971)
VI. The Day the Music Died (1971-1973)
VII. Winterlude (1973-1976)
Sara Davidson's articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Atlantic Monthly and Rolling Stone. She is the author of Real Property (1980), Friends of the Opposite Sex (1984) and Rock Hudson: His Story (1986). She lives in Santa Monica, California.
"The book is witty, sad, incisive, and totally clean of sociological cant or the pomposities of a certain kind of generalizing journalism. . . . It has the resonance of a good novel." —Dan Wakefield

"Sara Davidson is the liveliest historian of her generation."—Malcolm Cowley

"Sara Davidson is an expert witness. . . . Now, more than 10 years after leaving Berkeley, she has followed up on some of her friends, and presents an absorbing and carefully detailed account of their lives up until now, especially her own life and that of two others, Tasha and Susie. Every bit of it fascinating."—Diane Johnson

III. Dawning of the Age

1965-1967

 

10. SUSIE

In Susie's memory, the years from 1965-'67 are a jumble of meetings, teach-ins, rallies, marches and talk, endless talk. Words were changing so fast. Negroes became blacks. Liberals became scum. God was declared dead. There was a New Morality, a New Journalism, a New Music, a new way of looking at everything and out of it all, a New Left!

Time magazine selected as its Man of the Year for 1966: "the man—and woman—of 25 and under." Even the establishment agreed: anybody young had more important things to say than anybody old. Time wrote, "Never have the young been so assertive or so articulate." This was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and people hustled to get with it. Skirts grew shorter. Hair grew longer. The Youth of America were leaving home.

Jeff Berman was operating, during these years, as a free-lance radical provocateur. He never joined SDS, VDC or any group but he was welcomed everywhere because he possessed a talent for finding a position that many could support. When Jeff rose to take the microphone at a meeting, Susie clenched her fists and hoped he would say the right thing. He always did. He was never booed down and, more surprisingly, never attached in the Barb, the Oracle or the other underground papers being printing in the Bay Area.

Susie stayed beside Jeff and kept him grounded. She never interfered in political arguments but she thought of herself as the voice of common sense, like Jiminy Cricket. During a candlelight march to the Oakland Army Terminal in 1965, Jeff had turned to her. "What do you think? Should we confront the police or turn back?" The marchers were chanting, "Forward, forward!" But police were waiting in flying wedge formations, and gangs of Hell's Angel's—the outlaw motorcycle thugs—were threatening to attach the "peace creeps."

Susie said, "Turn back, Jeff. People will get hurt. I don't want us all to get our heads bashed in."

Susie does not remember what happened next. The Hell's Angels attacked. The marchers scattered. There was another march the next morning or perhaps the next night. The details, like everything she lived through in those years, are blurred, but there is one moment that stands out. One moment is as clear to Susie as if it had happened yesterday.

It was a bright noonday in February. The year was 1966. Susie and Jeff were sitting on the lawn by the Campanile, eating bologna sandwiches from a vending machine. Susie was lettering a sign for a women's peace march. "We don't want to live in a world without men." Jeff nuzzled her neck. "That's nice to know."

Susie sighed. The Campanile bells which had been clanging for fifteen minutes suddenly stopped, and in the vacuum, subtle sounds were magnified: bird cries, insects buzzing, the fall of footsteps on marble.

Susie told Jeff a thought she had been rehearsing for some weeks. "I know I'm where I belong," she said, "but I didn't get here by myself. I didn't evolve. I'm here because of you. I might have gotten here eventually on my own but not as fast. I've skipped some steps along the way."

Jeff let his blue eyes light on her face and rest there, patiently. "It's not important how you got here. Everyone skips some steps at the beginning, when they first become radicalized. What's important, what's extraordinary, is that you're closing the gap between belief and action."

"I do believe—I know in my head these things are right, but, oh Jeff, why do I feel so confused? It's like I don't have the groundwork inside me. I want to help people, and I hate this warÖ"

He put his arms around her and told her how proud he was of her, how much she was growing, what a beautiful woman she was becoming. He slid his hand between her legs. "Let's go home and ball."


In June of '66, the went to Provincetown where the Bermans had a summer home and where Jeff had spent his summers since he was young. Jeff's mother, Elain, gave Suzie the weirdest book to read on the beach, The Story of O. At night, when Susie went to bed she could hear Elaine moaning and shrieking in the next room. "Oh, this is torture. Please, Don't stop!"

Jeff put his mouth to Susie's ear and licked it. She rolled over facing the wall. "I'm tired."

A few days later Susie mentioned to Jeff at breakfast that she was thinking of getting a tattoo. Jeff dropped his fork. "Wow." He stood up. "Hey, Mom, listen to this. Susie's getting a tattoo." He ran around the table with a whoop, grabbed her above the knees and lifted her.

The remark had popped from Susie by surprise. In the years that followed, she could only guess at what had given rise to the idea. It seemed like a stab, and attempt to make up for a secret lack. A tattoo might make her what she wasn't with Jeff—turned on.

That night Susie and Jeff, his sister, Becky, and her husband, Tom, went to Revere Beach to look for a tattoo parlor. "I was being a perfect Berman," Susie recalls. "Bermans do crazy things." They tried three places but in each stop, the proprietor refused to work on Susie. "Nice girls don't get tattoos," one said.

"Jeff, I don't want to do this, let's go home."

Jeff pulled her down the boardwalk. "Don't listen to that creep. He's full of bullshit. Let's try one more place. Oh, babe, it'll look so cool."

So they tried the one more place and found a man who would do it. It was late by now, he wanted to close his shop and hurried Susie to pick a design. She thought she wanted a tiny daisy over her heart, but he had no small flowers.

"Here's one," Jeff said, flipping to a rose in bright red and green ink.

"It's too big, I don't like it."

"Come on, it doesn't matter that much."

Susie undid her blouse. Jeff, Becky and Tom stood together watching. Susie didn't make a sound. It hurt and seemed to take an awfully long time. She felt nauseous. She hadn't known it would bleed. At home in Provincetown, Jeff took her to the bathroom, unbuttoned her blouse and murmured, "Incredible." Susie wriggled away. "I hate it. It looks like something from the funny papers."

The rest of the summer she would only wear bathing suits that concealed the tattoo. Jeff moped and Susie began to feel guilty for making him feel bad. So one morning, before he was awake, she started stroking him. When they had finished making love, he was back in high spirits.


Dr. Annis, a silver-haired lady psychiatrist at the Student Health Service, smiled across the room at her new patient, a slender girl with long brown hair parted in the center and pulled back in barrette. Many of the students who came in these days wore work shirts and jeans, but this girl had on a fresh white blouse, a black skirt that outlined her hips, nylons and neat black pumps. Her face, the doctor noted, had a wounded look.

"What is it that brings you here?" Dr. Annis asked.

Susie took a deep breath. She was not having orgasms. Everybody else seemed to be having a ball with sex. Everybody else thought she was. She wasn't. Every day, it seemed, there was some nude wade-in at the fountain. Susie had a model husband. She was doing well in graduate school. When it came to sex why was she so dead and dry?

She returned to see Dr. Annis once a week for the next four months but they didn't talk about orgasms. They talked about Susie's insecurity and her feeling that she was always empty or anxious. Empty was blank. Anxious was the hyper nervous wired crazy state, when it felt like she had a battery in her stomach that made her talk fast, laugh a lot and run fast.

After each session, she walked down the brick steps of Cowell Hospital to find Jeff waiting for a detailed report. Susie told him everything but the part about orgasms. He had read all of Freud's writings and could analyze neurotic symptoms although he didn't apply any of it to himself. He once said his inner life was a swampland he didn't want to get stuck in. When Susie tried to tell him about feeling anxious, he listened dutifully but she felt he had one eye on the clock and an ear turned to the radio news. "Do you understand at all?" she asked. "I feel like I'm shouting across a gulf."

He shook his head. "I don't know. Maybe I'm just more interested in historical forces than the mysteries of the soul."

Jeff and Susie had begun, during the period, to have brief affairs. Jeff had been first. At a party, he had watched a black girl from Oakland dancing to "Wild Thing." He had told Susie, "Shit, you know how long I've wanted to ball a black chick. What do you say?" Susie shrugged. She couldn't hold him back forever.

The next week when Jeff flew to Chicago for an SDS conference, he scribbled a note to Peter DuBrow on the back of a leaflet they had written together. "Dear Peter, I'm going away for a few days and if you and Susie want to keep each other company, that's cool." Most guys wouldn't have the guts to sleep with Susie without Jeff's consent.

When Jeff and Susie returned from their sexual adventures, they assured each other it had not been all that great. Everyone else seemed fucked up. All their friends' relationships were fucked up and weren't they lucky to have worked things out so well? Their marriage was like a circle that could encompass other people but would never be broken.

Over Thanksgiving, they drove to the Big Sur Inn to be alone. It had been Susie's idea. They stayed in the Franklin room which had a Franklin stove and a window looking out on the redwoods, but no window glass so it was cold. The waiters in the dining room were young beatniks who played their chamber music during meals. But it was funny, once Susie and Jeff took themselves away from all the demonstrations, meetings, movies, and news shows, they didn't know quite what to do. They played gin, took a nap, made love, had dinner, lit the Franklin stove and just started to undress Susie again. She moved his hand away.

"What's the matter?"

"I don't feel like it."

"You never seem to feel like it anymore."

"Well maybe if it weren't for all this pressureÖ"

"What pressure?"

"You keep saying you want to fuck twice a day."

"I thought that's what you wanted too."

"I know." She didn't dare look at him. "But I haven't really beenÖ" She stopped. "I haven't been liking it that much."

Jeff's face was wiped by a look of shock.

"No, listen, that was in the beginning. It hurt. I was afraid. It's just that if we could take things easyÖ"

He started to cry.

She was stricken with dread. She couldn't bear to see him crumble. "Please, let's make love now. Okay? Please, I do want it now, Jeff." She had to patch it up. It was a small price to pay: her sexuality for this lovely man. She could do a lot worse. Few women had orgasms anyway. This would be her secret she would carry to the grave.


STRIKE! One the first day of December 1996, thousands jammed the ballroom of the Student Union and voted to strike. All week navy recruiters had been manning tables on campus but when students had set up a table for antidraft literature, the police had been called. Heads had been cracked and twelve students arrested.

"Student Power" was to be the new slogan. As the meeting broke up, the chairman cried, "Implementation! Okay, you guys, let's get it together." People signed up for committees: leaflets, publicity, artwork, sound. Susie recalls, "There was always some jerky guy who'd been an electronics freak since he was little and he would take charge of the sound system." Jeff was appointed head of the leaflet committee and Susie was to organize a telephone campaign to call up students and ask them to boycott classes.

At noon then next day, Susie stood on the balcony of the Union and looked out on a sea of cheering bodies. A twenty-foot banner proclaimed, "Happiness Is Student Power." The Rolling Stones sang from speakers, "Time is on my side, yes it is!" There was a crack of thunder and rain poured down, but the crowd packed in. Susie remembers feeling it was one of those moments when the masses come together. "We were the student body presidents, the crème de la crème who were supposed to inherit the system. Only when it came time to step into power, we would change everything."

Jeff said over the microphone: "We're giving notice today, all of us, that we reject the notion that we should be patient and work for gradual change. That's the old way. We don't need the Old Left. We don't need their ideology or the working class, their chains. The working class in this country is turning to the right. Students are going to be the revolutionary force in this country. Students are going to make a revolution because we have the will!"

Susie felt goose bumps. The bodies surged in a burst of ecstasy and it was her husband who was standing there doing it to them. For the first time in ages she wanted to make love.

As the strike moved into its third day, however, it became clear that students would have no allies in their fight. The faculty voted not to support the boycott. "The liberals betrayed us," Jeff said angrily.

Kids were starting to cross picket lines because they had to take finals. Christmas was coming up. The strike leaders debated: should they keep up the fight and risk masive defections or call it off and try to save face? They bickered. In the past, they had always been able to hammer out a position to present to the kids, but this time they were deadlocked. Jeff proposed something radical: an open microphone. Let anyone who wanted to step forward and talk.

The result was amazing. At a mass meeting in the Life Sciences Building, a stream of people came before the microphone to say the same thing: the battle isn't over. We may concede now but there will be another round. After three hours of testimony the crowd felt stoned. Instead of closing with "We Shall Overcome," they grabbed hands and sand the chorus to "Yellow Submarine." They would not use a black song, they would use their own culture, the youth culture.

Leaflets for the next day pictured a yellow submarine and said, "This is an unexpected symbol of our trust in the future and longing for a world fit for all of us to live in." It was signed, "We love you." On the black was a yellow mask that people could cut out and wear to class.

Jeff and Susie wore the masks all day. Susie remembers, "It was like saying, fuck you, you're not gonna get us. We'll call off the strike but we'll wear masks like outlaws. We're outrageous and wild. We'll outlive you all."

The leaders, the heavies, now realized they had absolutely no idea how they were going to change the system. To find out, they would have to blow their minds.


January 14, 1967. Blow their minds! When Jeff and Susie saw the posters for the Human Be-In, "A Gathering of the Tribes at Golden Gate Park," they knew the time was right. They would go with Barry and Margie an take LSD. Their first acid trip. All the way in one day.

On the morning of the Be-In, this is the scene: Jeff slips on a pair of clown pants that bag around his spindly legs, a green flak jacket and a Liverpool cap. He keeps telling Susie he wants her to look outrageous. She wear red granny glasses and wraps a lace tablecloth around her as a shawl but she feels a little silly.

Margie arrives wearing black leotards with a pink feather boa. When they reach the Polo Field, the four of them place blue tabs under their tongues.

"How long will it take?"

Barry is the expert. "Half hour, maybe more."

Even before the drug comes on, the scene looks spinny. People dancing on the grass. Allen Ginsberg all in white, chanting OM. Hell's Angels parked about the stage like gunmen, guarding the sound equipment. The Angels and the hippies are friends now, thanks to Ken Kesey who convinced the Angels that both groups are outlaws from straight, washed America.

Susie notices a buzzing in her head. Girls with bare, jiggling breasts are carrying babies on their backs. Balloons, soap bubbles and hair, hair everywhere! Astrology, tarot, leather capes, Grateful Dead, Sufi dancing, body painting, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna.

Jamming on stage are a succession of rock banks with names that must have been conceived while tripping: the Freudian Slips; Big Brother and the Holding Company; the Hedds; the Chosen Few; the Jefferson Airplane; the Electric Train; A Sopwith Camel; earth Mother and the Final Solution; Moby Grape; the Only Alternative and his Other Possibilities.

A lull in the music. Timothy Leary ascends the stage and chirps, "What I have to say can be summed up in six words: turn on, tune in, drop out!" What's happening? Susie thinks she is hallucinating. Before her walk twelve men dressed in tuxedos and each of them has the same face. They pass, turn around and snake by her again, but this time the first man stops in front of her. She is scared. He is taking off his face! No, it's a mask. They're all wearing masks. The face turns out to be Rob Kagan. His eyes are all twinkles. Susie bursts into tears.

Incense and marijuana. Kitten popping out of a basket. So many funny hats: porkpies, stovepipes. A black man in a loincloth is juggling yellow balls. A toy collie leaps up and catches a ball in his mouth. The crowd slithers and laughs. They are passing around food, crusts of sourdough bread, oranges and jugs of wine. Everyone is photographing everyone else. Flash. Flash. Flash. A man in trunks is boxing to the music. Mimes in white-face are flouncing through the crowd. The scariest is a girl with black spider hair and a comb of red feathers like a rooster's on top of her head. Here she comes, look out! Jeff! We gotta get out of this place.

Back in Berkeley, safe in Barry and Margie's house, Susie lies on the rug, shuts her eyes and sees a picture of the plane crash that killed her parents so many years ago. It is a picture that is usually censored from her mind, but the censor isn't working and the picture springs up. She sees her mother all smiles at the airport. The black funeral car. She wriggles and screams, "Mommy, Daddy," but in some recess of her mind, she know it's safer to cry for her parents than talk with Jeff about what's wrong.

Barry and Margie nurse her through it, resentful that as usual, Susie is hogging the stage. Jeff is sitting close by but not listening to his wife. He feels one with the struggle of the people of the world. He wants to go back to the park and wash everyone's hands. The people with their hands can build a better world, a socialist world. He weeps from joy.

The next day, Jeff tells Susie he had though taking acid would be like going to the circus and watching pink elephants. What amazed him was that the show happened inside. Susie does not say this but she had been afraid that the drug would be like truth serum. She is relieved, her secret is safe.

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