Sather Gate, UC Berkeley, CA
Cloyne Court, Episode 28
By Dodie Katague
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Rated "R" by the Author.
A creative memoir about Cloyne Court in Berkeley, California in the late 1970s.
Thanks,” she replied. “No, it was a dropped down tuning in E. Do you play guitar?”
“Not as good as you.” Her voice reminded me of Joan Baez, but her music reminded me of home. When the country relatives came to visit, they’d bring their guitars, banjo, fiddle, and mandolins, and we’d sit around and jam, each musician naming a song to play and leading it. The youngsters would bring out their instruments and follow along. The cousins who couldn’t play were given a jar of beans or a tambourine to keep time with the beat.
“All it takes is practice and desire,” she said.
“And the ability to form barre chords.”
“Everyone has that within them,” she said. “Look at your hands.”
They were unblemished with the fingernails neatly trimmed. They hadn’t experienced what it took to compose music that moved people with emotion. “You’re good enough to play professionally,” I said, still staring at my hands.
“Thanks for the compliment, but that’s a far cry from playing at Cloyne parties.”
“All it takes is perseverance and desire,” I said, mimicking her.
She laughed. “You’re funny.”
“You should see me play guitar.”
“I’d like that. Let’s get together sometime.”
With her encouragement, I practiced my guitar in the privacy of my room every evening before dinner. I forced my hands to form the barre chords until they ached and my fingertips were raw and bleeding. Alan would sometimes come into the room and hear me strumming.
“Was that John Denver you were playing?”
“Yeah. What do you think?” I asked.
“I hate John Denver. If you sing Back Home, Again while I’m around, you’ll be leaving on a jet plane.”
It took several months before I played barre chords that resounded with unity. My tender fingertips hardened into calluses in the same way my adolescent views changed into adult thinking, microscopic and imperceptive.
On the second-story balcony, Dick Fine was watering the plants, while talking to his newest love interest, Tina Weston. She was leaning out of his second-story porch room window, which meant she was kneeling on the mattress of his bed that took most of the floor space. She was a student reporter for the Daily Californian, and wrote muck-racking exposés on the University’s financial ties with multinational corporations doing business with the government of South Africa.
I watched her staring at him goo-goo eyed, her cheeks flushed pink in anticipation, waiting for him to finish pulling the dead buds off the marigolds that lined the porch as camouflage for the cash crop and come deflower her.
Casey, the house-manager, came out to the backyard and addressed us. Because the house members had elected him to be the titular leader, he expected he might have some influence and respect.
“Hey, guys, I’ve noticed not all of you are up-to-date on your housework shift hours. If anybody would like to earn an easy two-hour work credit, the signup sheet has a work shift starting now to hand out flyers at Sather Gate. Anybody interested?”
Nobody had the courtesy to stop playing basketball or put down their textbooks and look at him. He waited.
“Ok, I’ll do it,” I said, needing another two hours of work credit for the week, and it sure beat cleaning bathrooms.
“Great. Go meet Betty Sue at Sather Gate. She’s at a table with the flyers. She’ll update you on what needs to be done.”
Sather Gate, a Beaux-Arts archway between four columns, designed in 1910 by John Galen Howard. Embedded on top of two stone columns were blank stone tablets on each side of the pillar.
I arrived to discover that workmen had cordoned off the area with caution tape and were using a cherry picker to install eight bas-relief panels of four nude men representing the disciplines of law, letters, medicine and mining and four nude women representing the disciplines of agriculture, architecture, art and electricity. The panels were recently discovered stored in a warehouse where they had been for the last sixty-seven years. They had been dispatched after public outrage over the nudity caused Mrs. Sather to demand their removal from the original design.
Betty Sue was sitting behind a flimsy card table near the gate. Several other card tables were in rows on both sides of the bridge that acted like a funnel channeling the foot traffic through the narrow passage. It was the prime place for an ambush or to have a flyer shoved in your face.
Betty Sue was a fat, bespectacled, curly-haired woman. She was unattractive and knew it. To compensate for the horrific treatment (she told me after smoking two reefers) she had endured in high school, she set out to be involved in politics, social issues and the Co-op student internal structure that included the Co-op Board of Directors, the Judicial Administrative Committees and the Future Planning and Building Endowment Board. She was the assistant house manager under Casey. She aspired to become the house manager.
“Hi, Betty Sue. I’m here for my work shift,” I said.
 She would graduate with the highest honors in journalism and earn her master’s degree from UCLA. Decades later, she would win a Pulitzer Prize for her work on a presidential candidate.
 Originally the gateway to the South Entrance of the University, where Telegraph Avenue ended and trolleys coming from Oakland turned around, Sather Gate now divides the beginning of Sproul Plaza with the original university north of Strawberry Creek.
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