I hated it. "You're going to have to learn to live with the fact that we live in a different world today.
You have every right to speak your mind of course, but you have to be prepared for the consequences of doing so. You have to face the fact that there are people who are hurting, who aren't going to want to argue the finer points of Constitutional law when their lives are at stake.
We're in a lifeboat now, and once you're in the lifeboat, no one wants to hear about how mean the captain is being."
I barely restrained myself from rolling my eyes.
"I've been assigned two weeks of independent study, writing one paper for each of my subjects, using the city for my background — a history paper, a social studies paper, an English paper, a physics paper.
It beats sitting around at home watching television."
Dad looked hard at me, like he suspected I was up to something, then nodded. I said goodnight to them and went up to my room.
I fired up my Xbox and opened a word-processor and started to brainstorm ideas for my papers. Why not? It really was better than sitting around at home.
I ended up IMing with Ange for quite a while that night. She was sympathetic about everything and told me she'd help me with my papers if I wanted to meet her after school the next night.
I knew where her school was — she went to the same school as Van — and it was all the way over in the East Bay, where I hadn't visited since the bombs went.
I was really excited at the prospect of seeing her again.
Every night since the party, I'd gone to bed thinking of two things: the sight of the crowd charging the police lines and the feeling of the side of her breast under her shirt as we leaned against the pillar.
She was amazing. I'd never been with a girl as...aggressive as her before.
It had always been me putting the moves on and them pushing me away. I got the feeling that Ange was as much of a horn-dog as I was.
It was a tantalizing notion.
I slept soundly that night, with exciting dreams of me and Ange and what we might do if we found ourselves in a secluded spot somewhere.
The next day, I set out to work on my papers. San Francisco is a good place to write about.
History? Sure, it's there, from the Gold Rush to the WWII shipyards, the Japanese internment camps, the invention of the PC. Physics? The Exploratorium has the coolest exhibits of any museum I've ever been to.
I took a perverse satisfaction in the exhibits on soil liquefaction during big quakes. English? Jack London, Beat Poets, science fiction writers like Pat Murphy and Rudy Rucker.
Social studies? The Free Speech Movement, Cesar Chavez, gay rights, feminism, anti-war movement...
I've always loved just learning stuff for its own sake. Just to be smarter about the world around me.
I could do that just by walking around the city. I decided I'd do an English paper about the Beats first.
City Lights books had a great library in an upstairs room where Alan Ginsberg and his buddies had created their radical druggy poetry. The one we'd read in English class was Howl and I would never forget the opening lines, they gave me shivers down my back:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night...
I liked the way he ran those words all together, "starving hysterical naked." I knew how that felt.
And "best minds of my generation" made me think hard too. It made me remember the park and the police and the gas falling.
They busted Ginsberg for obscenity over Howl — all about a line about gay sex that would hardly have caused us to blink an eye today. It made me happy somehow, knowing that we'd made some progress.
That things had been even more restrictive than this before.
I lost myself in the library, reading these beautiful old editions of the books.
I got lost in Jack Kerouac's On the Road, a novel I'd been meaning to read for a long time, and a clerk who came up to check on me nodded approvingly and found me a cheap edition that he sold me for six bucks.
I walked into Chinatown and had dim sum buns and noodles with hot-sauce that I had previously considered to be pretty hot, but which would never seem anything like hot ever again, not now that I'd had an Ange special.
As the day wore on toward the afternoon, I got on the BART and switched to a San Mateo bridge shuttle bus to bring me around to the East Bay. I read my copy of On the Road and dug the scenery whizzing past.
On the Road is a semi-autobiographical novel about Jack Kerouac, a druggy, hard-drinking writer who goes hitchhiking around America, working crummy jobs, howling through the streets at night, meeting people and parting ways.
Hipsters, sad-faced hobos, con-men, muggers, scumbags and angels. There's not really a plot — Kerouac supposedly wrote it in three weeks on a long roll of paper, stoned out of his mind — only a bunch of amazing things, one thing happening after another.
He makes friends with self-destructing people like Dean Moriarty, who get him involved in weird schemes that never really work out, but still it works out, if you know what I mean.
There was a rhythm to the words, it was luscious, I could hear it being read aloud in my head. It made me want to lie down in the bed of a pickup truck and wake up in a dusty little town somewhere in the central valley on the way to LA, one of those places with a gas station and a diner, and just walk out into the fields and meet people and see stuff and do stuff.
It was a long bus ride and I must have dozed off a little — staying up late IMing with Ange was hard on my sleep-schedule, since Mom still expected me down for breakfast.