Apr 18, 2014

San Francisco (13) --- A walk across the Berkeley campus (Teaser: "Freedom Fries")


University of California, Berkeley---market stand near the entrance


So we're visiting Berkeley across the bay and in particular the campus of UCB, because our first, still unfinished novel "Freedom Fries" is partially set there, with Pamela Woods (fictional) as the dean of Berkeley Law School, John Yoo (real; the legal brain behind the Bush/Cheney waterboarding policy) on the faculty of said school, and a harebrained subplot to abduct Yoo and somehow press him to confess to evil deeds, preferably not by waterboarding. In order to execute the plan we need to know where Yoo parks his car. Zack, Leona and Liz are co-conspirators, and Justin Bieber (fictional) is the school's vice dean; the plot is set in 2009, the year (or more precisely the week) that Justin Bieber, the Canadian singer, finally breaks through.

Not the parking lot of Berkeley  Law School ...

They need to know where Yoo parks his car; else the plan would not work. He has stopped using the parking garage in the basement, and the rumor mill---a defective tool in Yoo’s case with his few friends---the rumor mill has it that he is upset by hostile bumper stickers on his Lexus and scared of water-boarding related scratches.
... but the parking lot of the physics department (you can read it, right: it says: "Parking space reserved for Nobel Laureate.") 

Zack and Leona are at Barbara’s cabin, Liz is studying Supreme Court opinions, Jim is helping her, somebody has to find out. It is fairly urgent. She collects the secret phone---Zack could call any minute now---hides it in her bag, and leaves the office. She will take up position in the lobby, where she will play the Populist Dean. The populist dean is expected of her anyhow, occasionally, and her performance is not without merit (despite mixed reviews), especially on Friday afternoons when people want to go home early, an inclination she applauds with one hand and dismisses with the other. Anyhow, there she stands, expansive as always (not always, only since twenty years), dispensing kisses, Hi’s, compliments (“you look great”), compliments (“you look great”), feedback (“we missed you at the budget meeting, where were you”), more compliments (“where did you get that tan?”), as her academic subjects are drifting toward TGI weekend.


Berkeley Law School, west side

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, Pamela is waiting for Yoo to go home to his wife and two children, his wife the estranged daughter of the Pulitzer prize winning face of the first gulf war, Peter Arnett, his children the estranged grandchildren of the Pulitzer prize winning face of the first gulf war, at least, that’s how she assumes Yoo’s family works. But perhaps she is wrong, Arnett looms large in her own life since it had been him, the CNN correspondent in Baghdad, who had watched over her final fall from svelteness during one month of uninterrupted couch attendance in the run-up to the war. Tragically, she was on sabbatical leave at that time; planning to write another law book, she had turned down visiting appointments elsewhere and was stuck in front of the TV with an excessive supply of macaroons and productive procrastination. She had gained twenty additional pounds when the war was over, twenty pounds that had tipped the balance of her life.

Parking garage of Berkeley Law

She has already sent six faculty, twelve students, and three staff into the weekend when Vice Dean Bieber descends the stairs. A small, middle-aged man of nondescript appearance, Justin Bieber Jr. is the son of Justin Bieber Sr. and the father of Justin Bieber III. She opens her arms wide---he is scared of big women and will keep a certain distance. “How’s going,” she cheers, “haven’t seen you in fifteen minutes.”
“Great, Pamela, great going,” Bieber replies, “I’ve just taken a few minutes off my vice-deanly obligations to check on my blog.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t have a chance to catch up with your blog recently, but I promise.”

Bieber laughs lightly. “That’s not it, Pamela,” he says, “although you should. Lot’s of good stuff. It’s really coming along great. Especially during the last couple of days. The blog is taking off, all of a sudden. You won’t believe it. You know how many hits I had yesterday? More than TEN thousand. We’re up by four orders of magnitude. In the space of a week. Hitwise. It’s incredible.”
“You’re so talented as a blogger.”
“No no, that’s not it,” Bieber replies. “Although, lot’s of the hits are actually for me, Justin Bieber, or variants thereof, quite amazing, really, how many ways there are to misspell my name.”
“Interesting,” Pamela says.

Bieber is supposed to understand the meaning of "interesting" and hit the road. He doesn't. She blinks to no avail, he's still there.
“Lot’s of hits. All of a sudden. And it’s highly international. Lot’s of hits from Canada. Strange stuff, too. Justin Bieber One Time. One Time Justin Bieber. As if I were unique. Mysterious, really, but that’s what blogging is all about. Discover yourself in the mirror of others. I always say.”
“Yes, I know.”
“And adult stuff, too. Like, like, Justin Bieber Undressed, Justin Bieber Naked. And that’s not all. I can't go into details.”
“I understand.”
“Justin Bieber’s Mother in Playboy. Do you understand that?”

Pamela takes a good look at Bieber. “No, I don’t Justin, I really don’t.”
“God moves in mysterious ways. I think it’s ultimately for the retirement money campaign. You know, I’m using the blog as a platform. It’s important for both of us. More for you, actually.”

Pamela remains silent; the conversation is supposed to die. “You know that our pension plans are capped at 240 kay, annually,” Bieber continues (yes, she knows). “You earn more, it doesn’t translate into higher pension payments. The university’s regents promised to lift the cap but have now changed their minds, using the Californian budget crisis as a pretext.”

Pamela, not listening, still surveys the stairs. Yes, there he is. Yoo. He has seen her of course, and shifts his trajectory slightly to stay out of her greeting perimeter. He tiptoes stridently towards the exit. Then he is gone. She has a few seconds. “I suddenly feel as if I need some fresh air,” she says to Bieber and turns herself towards the door. Bieber’s body language fails him but he follows.


Off the parking lot of Berkeley Law

Like any undercover agent, she has to calibrate her distance. Too little, and she will risk discovery, ridicule, and perhaps prison, as Yoo might go to court and accuse her of stalking---he is exactly the kind of person to do that. Too much distance, well, obvious, she will lose him. As she exits the building, Yoo has already progressed across the parking lot and down the drive in the direction of Haas, the business school. She speeds. Bieber speeds. “The pension plan is an important part of offering the competitive compensation packages that help us hire and retain the faculty and executives required by the excellence component of Berkeley’s mission.” Bieber snaps.
“The excellence component,” Pamela echoes (there are always linguistic clues).

Yoo could get through here

Yoo has reached the end of the drive and turned left. Pamela widenes her steps. Bieber widenes his steps. Pamela turns left. Bieber turns left. Yoo is about to disappear behind the west corner of the optometry building.
“You know, fresh air, it’s so important,” Pamela says.
“Pamela,” Bieber coughs, trying to hold on to her ear, “Pamela, together we have spent almost seven years battling successfully to hire and retain the best possible faculty and the strongest possible administrative team. Pensions are an importunate issue.”
“Justin, I don’t think we need more pension money. The university is in a fullblown budget crisis. The whole world is. They would have to fire people for our pension.” They have reached Hall Road; Yoo is forging ahead westbound.
“Pamela,” Bieber says, breathing faster. “Hiring people. It is the most difficult, satisfying, painful and important part of our job. My experience has made me absolutely certain that paying competitive total compensation is necessary if we want to sustain excellence. If Boalt and Berkeley had not been interested in that excellence, I---like most faculty and students---would not have come.”

Yoo turns right on Sather Road. “Dunno,” Pamela says, “isn’t excellence compensation in itself? Being around brilliant, bright, people, luminous, radiant”---her inner thesaurus gets going---“dazzling, sparkling, gleaming, shining, people like you, it should compensate for a lot of compensation.” They turn right on Sather Road. She hesitates for a moment, then adds: “I’d gladly give ten percent of my salary to work with you, Justin.” Over the top. Over the top. Let him eat cake!
“And so would I, and so would I”---Bieber eating the cake.
“Working with yourself?” Pamela can’t help it.
“To work with you.”
“But we are already working together.” What’s the name of this fallacy, she thinks. Blame it on me, Justin, blame it on me! Walking and chewing arguments at the same time.


Dwinelle Hall, entrance

Yoo turns left, unexpectedly, apparently heading for the north entrance of Dwinelle Hall. “Some deans report the signal that UC may not keep its promises is already having a chilling impact on recruitment and retention of faculty and top administrators,” Bieber said.
“Report the signal,” Pamela echoed (there are always linguistic clues).

In the meantime, Yoo has disappeared inside Dwinelle Hall. “I’m so thirsty, aren’t you? Let’s go get a Diet Coke from the dispenser in Dwinelle.” She almost runs. Bieber almost runs.
“Simply put, I believe in the institutional principle at stake and, therefore…” Bieber chokes. Pamela has entered the building. No Yoo in sight. A kingdom for a thought. Yes. If he is heading for a parking lot, he could use Dwinelle as a shortcut. There's lot is right behind it, on the other side.
“The’ve run out of Diet Coke, let’s try the dispenser at Life Science,” she calls out to Bieber, and runs toward the south exit. Bieber runs toward the south exit. She almost crashes through the doors’ glass pane. Bieber almost crashes through Pamela. Outside, Yoo stands still, apparently in conversation with his cell phone.

Dwinelle Hall, exit south side

Has Yoo seen her? She turns her face away from the door. It is a good thing that Bieber is always puzzled by her moves. “I’ve changed my mind, Justin,” she says, “I’ve been unfair to you. Tell me more about your blog.” She blocks the exit with her impressive body. “How many hits did you have in the last fifteen minutes. Show me.”
“Right now?” Bieber asks meekly, but he brings out his Iphone. Pamela turns her head halfway toward the door. Yoo has already finished his phone conversation, and sets off again. Behind her shoulder, a scream.
“Pamela,” Bieber yells, “I got four hundred fifteen hits in the last fifteen minutes.” Pamela opens the door, throws “why don’t you google yourself,” at Bieber, and leaves. The vice dean, lost in cyber space, stays behind.


Hidden trail plus parking lot off Dwinelle Hall

Has Yoo seen her? Not seen her? Together with Bieber? Canoodling in the lobby of Dwinelle? Small man, fat woman? Yoo won’t dare to spread the rumor. In any event, he isn’t spreading it now, heads instead along a hidden trail straight to the parking lot where he disappears inside a silvery sedan of nondescript design, well-polished, no scratches, and departs. Pamela has no sense of cars and cannot tell a Lexus from any other brand, but the vehicle has an air of A-minus luxe about it that is, as Liz has informed her, the hallmark of the brand.

Biber's lines about the pension plan: Yes, the are real, all enunciated by Christopher Edley, Jr, the real dean from 2004 - 2013, in two open letters to the community of his school.

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