My Life at Age Twenty

Aerial view of the Presidio, San Francisco, California
San Francisco from the air.

During spring break at age twenty I hitch-hiked with Dimitri von Hagen from Seattle to San Francisco. As a junior at the University of Washington, I was taking not only ancient Latin and Greek, but also some economics courses. In the Spring Quarter I took a beginning French course in the basement of Parrington Hall.

Around the end of my junior year, my friend whose codename is "Aardvark" for reasons I cannot remember, introduced me to his co-worker Detlef Stark at the University Book Store. Detlef was a student in the English department and he was from Germany, so Aardvark assumed correctly that Detlef and I would hit it off. Detlef made some remark that caused me to quote for him two lines from Goethe's Faust: "Bin weder Fräulein weder schön, kann ungeleitet nach Hause gehn." ("Am neither miss nor beautiful, can walk home unaccompanied.") Detlef was delighted that I knew some literary German, and he sought help from me in improving his already perfect English. With his eager approval, over the next year I would often interrupt his talking and point out to him any Germanicism that he had uttered. For instance, one day he said that somebody was "only twenty _YEARS_ old", with emphasis on the word "years". I told Detlef that we do not speak that way in English. We would say that somebody was "only twenty years _OLD_" with emphasis on the "old". We would emphasize the "years" only if we were trying to distinguish the measurement of time from, say, months or days, as in, "Your brother is twenty YEARS old but my brother is twenty DAYS old." I also corrected Detlef when he wrote something down as "item Nr. 10". I mansplained or geeksplained to him that in America we use a Latin abbreviation and we write "item No. 10," where "No." stands for "Numero" in Latin, so that we are talking about "item 10 by number." Detlef was extremely glad to get about twenty of these corrections over the course of a year, and your humble "Besserwisser" pedant was glad to enlighten him.

Detlef Stark told me that he was not happy with a course he took from the visiting scholar Colin Wilson of Great Britain, who had written the book The Outsider, which had made a strong impression on me because I was coming to the conclusion that I myself was very much an outsider to society. To me it seemed that a person might be a really good writer but not perform well in front of a class full of college students. I believe it was Detlef who gave me a copy in German of Der Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse, which became one of my favorite books because I identified so strongly with Harry Haller, the protagonist of the book. I used the name of the female protagonist, Hermine, as the codename for a UW coed, a friend of my sister Anne (but they were both named Anne), who hung out a lot with me during my senior year in college, so much so that when I took Second Love to meet my grandmother Annie, thus revealing the presence of a Human-Bondage hetaira in my life, my birth-mother was said to exclaim, "What about [Hermine]?" When I reported this funny anecdote to Second Love, she made sure to accept an invitation to a party where she got to meet Hermine. Third Love, in turn, years later suddenly asked me, "Do you still love Melody (Second Love's imaginary name for herself)?" My hesitation with "Uh..." in response was enough for Third Love to go downtown in search of Second Love at a stock-brokerage where she presumably worked, and to state that she (Third Love) wanted to open an account, meanwhile looking all around in hopes of espying Second Love, who apparently was not apparent as a back-office employee. But when I found valuable coins and jewelry in Green Lake and sold them for enough money to buy some silver stocks and tried to call my broker, I was surprised when Second Love answered the telephone, because she had become the assistant to my stockbroker. We chitchatted about one of my two sisters both named Anne, whose baby had to return to the hospital with jaundice. Second Love assured me that jaundice was quite common in newborns.

In the Summer of Love -- here I must say that falling in love is wonderful -- my friend Aardvark and his nursing-student girlfriend "Den Mother" and Detlef Stark and I went to Be-ins and Love-ins in Seattle. At one event in Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill, a fire broke out near the reservoir. Aardvark organized an immediate fire brigade of people who put out the fire.

My friend Larry Parr insisted one day that I go with him to a large new coffee shop called the Last Exit that was opening up on Brooklyn Avenue in the U. District. It was the first of countless days and countless hours spent there over decades, until "Irv" the owner passed away and the Exit had to move to the upper Ave, where it dwindled away and closed down, just like when Shorey's Book Store had to move from Third Avenue in downtown Seattle. Larry Parr loved to talk about the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand and he was a major fan of Governor Reagan of California, before people found out that the star of "Bedtime for Bonzo" was a major racist who called up President Richard Nixon and inveighed about those "monkeys" from Africa who could not get used to wearing shoes.

One morning at my parents' house at 11810 I woke up and walked out towards the kitchen. A beautiful girl was sitting on the carpet in the hallway with a dog. I sat down and started talking with her. The dog started licking my arms. We decided that the dog was trying to lick salt from my skin. An Army doctor friend of my father was staying overnight with his family. The No. 10 beauty of a girl was way higher than I even deserved to talk to, but we talked easily and casually. It was The Summer of Love, and nothing can be done. But she and her family left to continue their travels. Alone again, naturally.

Except Ardvark and Den Mother and Detlef and I drove up by Marysville to water-ski in Aardvark's speedboat on Lake Goodwin. We slept over on Saturday night with friends of Aardvark, including a young mother complaining about too many flies buzzing around her newborn baby. I showed her my anti-fly trick of clapping my hands just above the motionless fly, which immediately flew up between my clapping hands and never bothered another baby. On Sunday morning I said that I wished I could go to Catholic Mass, and Den Mother volunteered to drive me to a church in Marysville. After Mass we were walking back to her car, and the beautiful No. 10 girl from a week or two earlier in Seattle miraculously appeared and said hello to me. Obviously, the stars of fate wanted me to get her mailing address and correspond until death do us part, but I was too stupid and too non compos mentis. Many such weird coincidences kept happening all through my life, making me wonder sometimes if I was living in some kind of Keanu Reeves Matrix.

In that summer I took fifteen credits of intensive second year Russian, while my friend Mikhail took five credits of Chinese 101 down the hall. I also took five credits of English novel with William Moffet Dunlop. We were reading "The Secret Sharer" by Joseph Conrad, and I wrote a paper punksplaining or geeksplaining the story in terms of the theory of consciousness that I was working out independently for my Mentifex AI project. Professor Dunlop gave me an "A" on the paper, but he expressed doubt that I had actually written it myself. I was getting used to people doubting me and Mentifex-bashing me and putting me down.

Detlef Stark lived in the Laurelhurst neighborhood east of the UW and he would invite me home with him to have dinner. At QFC (Quality Food Center) in the University Village we would buy romaine lettuce and meat and tomatoes and whatever. Detlef was a bon vivant par excellence and he taught me to sprinkle black pepper on sliced tomatoes. Otherwise I never put pepper on anything. Since then I always put pepper on tomatoes and I think of good times with Detlef.


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