Handing Flyers at Sather Gate
Cloyne Court, Episode 29
By Dodie Katague
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Rated "R" by the Author.
A creative memoir about Cloyne Court in Berkeley, California in the late 1970s
“Well, Derek, it’s about time somebody showed up. I told Casey not to wait until the last minute, but he always does. I can’t wait until the next house election.”
I imagined the Machiavellian plots churning in her head. “Ok, what do I have to do?” I asked.
“Help me hand out these flyers advertising the co-op system to people passing by. Oh, Casey may have told you the work shift is two hours of credit, but you can’t leave until all the flyers have been handed out.”
I looked at the stacks of flyers and counted four quires of paper, two hundred sheets, to hand out. I would have to hand out one hundred sheets an hour to finish in two hours, a daunting task. From experience of walking here at lunchtime, I calculated if I handed out 1.6 flyers every second, it could be done.
I grabbed a handful, stood in the middle of the bridge and held out flyers to students walking in both directions. People refused to take them. Most avoided eye contact and pushed through the crowd ignoring me. Those who did take a flyer, scowled. No one actually wanted a flyer. Why should they? Dozens of groups were handing out scores of flyers.
After fifteen minutes of limited success, I realized that I had become the same hawker who had annoyed me daily when I was commuting to Berkeley. I didn’t want to be there irritating people. A group of fraternity boys walked toward me. I held a flyer in front of them.
“Shove it up your ass,” said one.
“Live at Cloyne Court?” said the other. “Who would want to live in an anarchist hellhole like that?”
I watched other students walk past. Some were walking in pairs, talking and smiling. Most were walking alone heaving heavy book packs and displaying determined looks on their faces as they hurried to their next destination. I saw a young man sauntering slowly along the path.
I held out a flyer. “Hey, looking for a place to live on campus? Want to meet other students?”
He took the flyer and looked at it suspiciously. “You know, you’re the first person who’s spoken to me in a week.”
“You’re commuting to school, right?” I asked. “San Francisco. Taking BART daily?”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
Because I had seen the look on his face before, on mine. He was lonely.
“Check it out, OK?” I said. He walked off still reading the flyer. For a moment, I felt a moral quiver. I had done a random act of kindness by talking to him. I’d like to think because of that one moment, the guy moved into the co-ops, graduated with honors and is now a millionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur with a company employing thousands of people.
Then, like receiving the key to a Cryptex, I discovered I had learned an important lesson. I didn’t learn it in the classroom from some bigheaded, highly credentialed egomaniacal, Nobel Prize winning professor, but standing under Sather Gate in the hot sun.
To persuade people to do something, even as simple as take a flyer from your hands, you have to look at them, size them up and determine what their self-interest is. Their motivation can be fear, hunger, money or status. Whatever it is, people will do what you want if they believe it is in their self-interest. For that one student, it was conversation. He wanted someone to talk too.
I sized up the students walking in my direction and talked to them based on my assumptions. My presumptions may have been wrong, but the method was working.
If they were laughing and talking and seemed social, I said, “Want to live in a fun place?” Of course they did. They took a flyer.
If they looked poor and shabbily dressed, even by college student standards, I held out a flyer and asked, “Need a cheap place to live?” They took a flyer.
A group of engineering students walked toward me. They were dressed like the stereotype, short-sleeved shirts with pocket protectors, thick eyeglasses, poor grooming and a disheveled appearance. “Want student housing a block from Cory Hall (the engineering building)?” They took a flyer.
After less than an hour, I had handed out two-thirds of the stack.
Another group of men wearing fraternity T-shirts walked toward the gate. My first encounter with the frat rats had been a failure. Here was my second chance to prove the validity of my newly learned lesson. I thought intensely about what to say as they approached.
“Want to live in a house where men and women shower together and sunbathe nude in the backyard?” I said. The men looked at me as if I was crazy, but everyone took a flyer. “Single rooms and only one roommate?” They stopped in their tracks and waited to hear more. I had discovered their sore spot. These new pledges probably lived in a room with four or five other guys. Space and privacy was at a minimum.
“The food’s not bad either,” I said.
The men asked some questions, and I answered as honestly as I could. I looked over at Betty Sue. She had a dour look on her face. I guessed she was not pleased with my tactics.
 Like Gordon Moore, founder of Intel, who lived at Cloyne Court in the 1960s. He gave money to the USCA for Cloyne’s restoration work in the mid-1980s.
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