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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