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Cloyne Court, Episode 27
By Dodie Katague
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Rated "R" by the Author.
A creative memoir about Cloyne Court in Berkeley, California in the late 1970s.
Alan had just finished making an enormous Dagwood sandwich when I walked into the dining room for lunch. He had piled a gelatinous slab of ham, salami rounds and turkey slices between four pieces of wheat and rye bread, slathered it with mayonnaise and Grey Poupon mustard and was headed out the door.
“Did you leave any for me?” I asked, as he stuffed an unripe banana into his left front pocket.
“You snooze, you lose. I’m a growing man. I need my protein.”
“You didn’t eat all the white bread, did you?” I asked, as I searched through the several plastic bread wrappers.
“Derek, get real,” Alan said. “You know the house doesn’t stock white bread. It’s unhealthy or politically incorrect. I can never remember which one.”
He picked up an open basket of bay leaves from the spice rack and pushed it toward me. “Here, eat this. It’s organic and doesn’t exploit migrant farm workers.”
The bay leaves were homegrown, harvested from the bay tree outside the back kitchen steps. Beneath the tree was the house garbage Dumpster that swarmed with flies and occasional vermin. Fresh muddy footprints were always on the Dumpster lids just under the bare branches where the leaves had been harvested making me wonder how sanitary our condiments actually were when they were in stock.
“We’re out of ketchup,” Alan said. “What Third-World hellhole are we living in? This isn’t France.”
Ketchup was never in stock.When it was, the containers were the puny, personal-sized bottles that had been watered down to pour easily.
I grabbed two slices of wheat bread from the serving table and went out to the back courtyard. Several men were playing a basketball pickup game.
“Want to join our game?” the tallest guy, Hadas, asked. He was more than six foot and towered over me. The Mohawk guy, Kyd, was also there with the guys I had met at dinner, Peter, Miguel and Dan, along with others.
“Depends. How hard core are you?” I hated playing jungle ball back in Briones Valley where the only rule was ‘no blood, no foul’.
“We’re easygoing,” Kyd said. “A few sprained ankles and bruised elbows, but nobody has ever thrown any punches out here. That’s not what it’s about.”
And he was right—for now. I introduced myself and took a position as guard. A cute woman walked by on her way to the dining room. None of the players took a second look or paused in their play except me. If this had happened on the streets in my hometown, the guys would have whistled and elevated the play to a peacock strutting level.
“Hey, she was checking you out as she walked by,” Miguel said to Kyd.
“Yeah, it’s the Mohawk. Women dig it.”
“You get dates because of your Mohawk?” I asked. If he had said yes, I would have seriously considered shaving my head like his.
“Not yet. I’m waiting for a woman who is more than skin deep. Wow, look at the tits on her.” He nudged Miguel, as he pointed to Sue Summers.
Sue and her live-in boyfriend, Ben Gaskins, were sunbathing nude on the grass, as they did daily during the spring, summer and fall. They lay naked on their beach towels turning lobster red, like British citizens on holiday at Brighton Beach.
They were lying near Jeff’s graduate thesis art sculpture, the mound of grass with the cave in the ground and the two poles aimed skyward in a spread eagle pattern. A posted sign read, PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH THE WOMB. However, Mother Earth had already been penetrated by a long cylindrical nitrous oxide tank left from an earlier Saturday night party. The tank was inserted halfway into the hole with two inflated balloons tied to either side of the top end of the gas outlet controls giving the sculpture an artistic symbolism the artist had not intended.
Sitting on top of the mound was Mary Jewell. She was playing her guitar and singing Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi. As I guarded my opponent, I peeked at her hands as she played the chords. She was playing barre chords and was a skilled guitarist with her resonant hammer-ons and mournful string bends. I wished I were as proficient.
“Derek!” Kyd said. I looked up as the ball popped me in the face, knocking me to the ground.
“You OK?” Kyd asked. He held out his hand to pull me off the ground.
I stood sheepishly. “Yeah, but I should take a break. Keep me in mind for another time.”
I moved to the lawn where I watched Mary Jewell without distraction. She saw me and smiled for her audience of one. She finished the song with a turnaround flourish.
“That was impressive,” I said. “Was that in the key of A minor?”
 In the winter, they found their dose of ultraviolet rays under the UV lamps set up in the basement next to the clandestine hydroponics bins used to grow a certain cash crop for house sale in the vending machines upstairs. At least, that’s the story they told the police one year, denying they had any idea what was growing in the basement.
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