Berkeley, the Sixties and Me, Part 15 … ALCATRAZ, INDIANS AND OCCUPATION!


You just never knew when or where Bill might show up!

Bill was a singular kind of person … the kind who’d show up in unexpected places doing unexpected things.

I suppose if pushed I’d call him a promoter, but at times I had to wonder whether he was either a performance artist or a con artist.

I once ran into Bill in a large scrap metal yard trying to make a buck or two on a bunch of assorted who-knows-whats. Another time I found him at my apartment door late in the night in Berkeley carrying a tray as big as a coffee table piled high with sandwiches and finger food … leftovers from a San Francisco Giants media event celebrating one of the great Willie Mays’ remarkable athletic achievements.

On yet another occasion Bill stopped by with a gift, a promotional copy of a soundtrack album from a new flick called Woodstock. This movie was a highly anticipated boomer event and a copy of that album was no small treasure. I felt suitably appreciative, but also mystified as to how Bill ever managed to become the Bay Area promo man for a major new film and its album spin-off. It was as far beyond my comprehension’s it was beyond any reasonable explanation.

Bill was a fast talking, articulate fellow from India, around forty years old, of medium height with a swarthy complexion and a wiry frame … the type you’d have to watch out for in a brawl. His personal hygiene habits were at best problematic. For instance, if he asked to use your shower you’d be glad that you could give him a chance to clean-up and, by so doing, contribute to his general well-being, not to mention that of the public at large.

On the other hand you’d shy away from that salutary opportunity when picturing the general bathroom clean-up you’d face once he completed his toilet, one that included the replacement of your toothbrush since he’d inevitably use it. Bill had an eccentric attitude about “personal space” and stuff like that.


If only Al Capone could see this!

But in the end you could never refuse the guy. He was too personable, generous and remarkable … and he knew it. He knew how to push all the right buttons, and he’d push his way into your life whether you wanted him there or not. For a guy who made his living hand-to-mouth he led a damned successful life.

Considering all I knew about Bill I really shouldn’t have been surprised on the evening in November 1969, but I’ll admit to downright astonishment when I emerged from my studies around midnight looking forward with mouth-watering anticipation to my week’s gastronomic highlight … fresh baked bread lathered with real butter and smothered with expensive boysenberry jam!

To say my partner and I lived on a tight budget at the time would be an understatement … it was tighter than bark on a tree. Nevertheless we splurged once a week on fresh-baked bread and jam.

That evening I’d delayed my epicurean pleasure to work on an essay … and I got lost in it … so lost that I blocked out any and all peripheral distractions, including Bill’s arrival with a dozen or so Indians.

These stalwarts had, a few days earlier, landed upon, claimed and occupied Alcatrazaka The Rock, home of the infamous prison that the feds had abandoned several years earlier.



These braves of Berkeley were raiders of a nascent organization called the Indians of All Tribes’ (IOAT). They’d just returned to town after re-claiming The Rock for the Indian nations. They’d declared Alcatraz abandoned federal land which, according to their interpretation of certain treaty rights, reverted to Indian ownership upon its abandonment.

Be that as it may, how in the world Bill, an ethnic East Indian, had hooked up with them was beyond me. But, as always, with Bill nothing stood outside the realm of possibility.

However, that paled in significance to the strange and painful sight that greeted me that evening, one so bizarre as to defy the inventive powers of a Dickens or a Jules Verne. A bunch of Indians were sitting pow-wow style the middle of my living room eating all of my fresh baked bread lathered with real butter and piled high with expensive boysenberry jam!

Why he’d brought those radical reds to my place I’ll never know, but it wasn’t a sight I’d ever expected to see … even in Bezerkely!

So, dazed and bewildered, I sat down and joined the pow wow listening to their stories of the conquest of The Rock. And as they described their heroic deeds I kept wondering “What the hell?” stealing, from time to time, a sneak a peek at the bread crumbs, the vanquished butter dish and the empty boysenberry jam jar and let loose a muffled sigh accompanied by a sorrowful growl from deep down in my belly.



About Joe Illing

I hope you'll find my posts entertaining, occasionally edifying and worth whatever time you can spend with them ... Joe
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1 Response to Berkeley, the Sixties and Me, Part 15 … ALCATRAZ, INDIANS AND OCCUPATION!

  1. Pingback: Berkeley, the Sixties and Me, Part 16 … JANE FONDA, RADICAL CHIC AND ALCATRAZ | FINDING MY WAY

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