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Some might say I grew up in the most politically incorrect place in the world: Fort Worth, Texas, where the main road is “White Settlement” and “The Petroleum Club” still holds regular meetings. Yet now I reside in what must surely be the most politically correct place in the world: Berkeley, California, where the parking meter holiday is “Indigenous People’s Day”, not “Columbus Day”, and recycling has been taken to fetishistic new levels.

But of course I, like everyone else, really ‘live’ in my mind and it is there, in that place, that it becomes most difficult to comprehend the mundane exchanges taking place around me every day, here, in Berkeley.

I believe that this is because the Culture of Berkeley is, as the natives might say, “somewhat opaque”. To address this challenge, I have evolved a kind of simulcast translation technique that, with patience, renders even the most obtuse Berkeley encounter comprehensible. And so, gentle reader, it is in the interest of a kind of cross-cultural inner mind exploration worthy of Steven Pinker that I share the following moments of my life in Berkeley with you.

First Encounter: During my first week in Berkeley, I was in the café at Oliveto, which sits right under a veritable den of psychotherapists. I was drinking my coffee and reading the East Bay Express, marveling at the array of sexual proclivities displayed in its pages like so many species of Darwin’s finches, when the undertow of a kind of conversation that I find irresistible made eavesdropping imperative.

The conversation was between two lovely 30-something therapists who were both obviously dating men who had children from a previous marriage.  They were discussing what to do when the children came with their fathers on their dates and misbehaved.

One woman looked at the other, and with a deep yogic breath and dead-on eye contact said to her friend, very slowly, very quietly, with great ‘intention’: “Well, The Question Becomes… how to assert authority without rushing the bonding?”

In my head I am scrambling, “without rushing the bonding without rushing the bonding without rushing the bonding” — what the hell can that mean? — and then a light bulb goes off and I realize that if I was in Texas, this would be two beauticians in a Dairy Queen sharing tater tots and one would say to the other:  “Well, I wanna hit ’em but they’re not my kids”.

The exultation I felt can only be compared to Helen Keller’s famous water moment. I could do it!  I could live in Berkeley!

Next time:  When potty training becomes “oppositional”.

Kelly Cash, who has lived in Berkeley for eight years, is a writer who prepares ethically harvested foods for her companion animals, including husband and children, while working to save open spaces in the American west, one million acres at a time. This is the first in an occasional series of “Lone Star” columns.

[Photo Jock McDonald © 2009]

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  1. Fort Worth the most politically incorrect?

    Pfffft. That’s nothing. Porterville is the only California municipality to pass an ordinance supporting Prop 8.

    And before that, on a city-wide ballot measure, they officially changed the town’s motto from “100 Years of the Good Life” to “In God We Trust”. (Maybe because 50% of the town’s people now subsist on some kind of gub’mint check?)

    But Porterville officials didn’t even wait for the results of the ballot. They put the new flag with the motto in City Hall chambers before it even passed.

    City councilman Martinez said the motto doesn’t violate first amendment rights because the decision was up to the voters. “We’re not forcing them to do anything. Under the Constitution of the United States we give people the freedom to choose.”

    Don’t you just love their snake-eating-it’s-tail logic?

  2. Brilliant! It makes me wonder how the folks in Ft. Worth would respond to this scene I witnessed at the Berkeley Bowl:

    Man (wiry hair, Birkenstocks and Honduran pants) speaking to his friend/partner (woman in tunic, long gray braid down her back, pushing a cart piled high with sheaves of kale), picks up a box of hideous flax seed cereal and proclaims excitedly, “Now, THIS is good for the BOWELS!!!”

  3. I love those Dairy Queen Ladies! And I’m very much looking forward to hearing their take on “oppositional.” Thanks for this fun piece.

  4. As a Texan with long ties to Fort Worth and who has visited Berkeley a time or two, I laughed till I almost peed. Almost.

  5. Not only is Oliveto Cafe in Oakland, Oliveto is above Oliveto Cafe. But otherwise, I suppose it could reflect on Berkeley in some way.

  6. Reminds me of when I overheard someone in Cafe Trieste say: “My bio-rhythms are out of sorts.” Or the time we were sitting at the bar at Wood Tavern and our neighbour began taking photographs of the bartender. She asked him if he was a photographer. He responded: “No, I’m a human being.” All rather baffling to a resident alien like me.