Had she not been so high-strung things probably would’ve turned out better for her. Maybe it had something to do with her fiery Italian temperament or her recent divorce or the relentless demands of running a boarding house filled to overflowing with young men who’d reached the apogee of their know-it-all stage in life that began about the time they learned to tie their own shoes.
But for whatever reason, the boarding house chapter in the career of our unfortunate Landlady of Durant Place, mistress of the domicile just south of the University of California’s Berkeley campus, suffered a needlessly messy end.
Like so many in business she was a victim self-inflicted wounds. Her authoritarian management style bordered on fascism, an inexplicable failure to try to reasonably explain seemingly arbitrary decisions and a menu of high carb, low protein meals that stirred a paroxysm of protest from even the meek among us.
And to make matters worse a particularly virulent form of the foul virus called Rat F**k (RF) had found Durant Place!
Defining RF is a bit tricky. It can be a noun (e.g. he staged an RF) or a verb (e.g. he was RFd), and funny or tragic depending on whether you happen to be the RFor or the RFee … for a legitimate RF inevitably hurts someone. Of course there’s always the possibility that, like a crocked arrow, RFs can sometimes fly off course.
The RF is, in essence, a practical joke on steroids, one that represents the dark side of the endless series of fads and social aberrations that swept the youth of the nation in the late ’50s and early ’60s … fads like the hula hoop and Barbie dolls with fashionable clothing and sexy breasts; bizarre events such as stuffing dozens of students into tiny payphone booths and college panty raids; dangerous pastimes such as drag racing on public roads or driving towards each other in high speed games of chicken; and, of course, Elvis and rock ‘n roll, a fad that changed music and swept the world.
Of course our elders called such things frivolous, dead ends and spectacular wastes of time. “You’ve got to put your nose to the grindstone!” they’d sputter in vain. But they were talking to Benjamin Spock’s babies, the most pampered, spoiled kids humankind had ever coddled.
Of course their intentions were noble. They wanted us to work hard … as hard as they and their ancestors had done for millennia in order to make the world a better place for their progeny. But, when many of us progeny examined our lives objectively, we realized that they’d done it! “Bravo! Mission accomplished! You made our lives perfectly grand!”
I truly couldn’t imagine a life better than the one I was leading, especially if measured by metrics vital my existence while growing up in Vallejo … free food and shelter; Pendleton shirts; Levi jeans; Clark Desert Boots; Chuck Taylor High Tops; good buddies and, if lucky, bad girlfriends; not to mention baseball, basketball, football, golf and tennis; plus cheap gas and a pink slip; all of which only occasionally interrupted by short periods of employment.
I figured, rightly, “It just couldn’t get any better than this!”
It was a mythical time of unprecedented prosperity following a war that destroyed most of the world’s industrial capacity, with the notable exception of the United States. We had a prodigious, functioning manufacturing base, the resources needed to fuel it and the know-how to run it.
We had a skyrocketing stock market, television filled with imagination, innovation and information … from Douglas Edwards and national news at suppertime to I Love Lucy before bedtime. We had electricity everywhere that freed women from the day-to-day drudgery of household chores.
And we had an ace-in-the hole, Ike, the gifted warrior-statesman-bureaucrat leading us … the rare president blessed with common sense, vision and matchless courage. In the sixties we liked Ike … and for damned good reason! We had it made!
But as all coins have two sides, it wasn’t all milk and honey! Every garden has its serpent, and the snake slithering through the halls of Durant Place that year was a nasty virus called the Rat F**k!
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