If you’re like me, you have boxes in your closet or garage filled with “precious” memorabilia from your past. Letter from long ago lovers, international correspondence sent by friends and family written on tissue-thin, blue-toned stationary, curios collected at roadside attractions, photographs, foreign stamps and coins, elementary school report cards, certificates of commendation and graduation. You save these things because you can’t throw them away, knowing that when you die that’s exactly what will happen.
In 1980 I was a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley, majoring in Conservation of Natural Resources. After an intensely lonely freshman year, I’d became mesmerized by John B. Anderson, who was running against George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan to be the Republican Party candidate for President. Anderson was a straight-talking socially liberal fiscally conservative Republican, in favor of gun control and raising gasoline taxes. The kind of politician that’s now extinct.
At Berkeley Anderson attracted a dedicated group of volunteers, some of whom became my closet college friends. Brad, a talented graphic artist cum mechanical engineer, retired early after a career at Hewlett-Packard. Karen, like me, went on to attend graduate school at the University of Michigan before shifting to landscape design. Donia pursued a doctorate in political theory, for a time disappeared into an East Coast cult, reemerging late in life as a music director at a Unitarian Church. Warren installed a television in his car’s dashboard so he could watch shows while he drove long distances. Jonathan, with whom I later lived in Washington, D.C., works for the U.S. State Department, posted around the world. In various formations we stumbled through our young adulthood together, making mistakes and having the profound, funny, fantastical experiences that gave birth to who we ultimately became.
On my 20th birthday, after a day volunteering at the campaign’s San Francisco headquarters – Anderson had lost the Republican nomination and was running as an independent – I drove to my in-law apartment in the Berkeley Hills. As I hit the northern edge of campus, I started to see placards affixed to telephone poles. They were like campaign posters, but instead of pimping a candidate they shouted, “Happy Birthday, Steve!!” Dozens of them, block by block, leading me home. Brad had silk-screened them, my friends had stapled them to the poles, sometimes, I learned later, standing on car hoods to do so.
I smiled all the way home. I’m still smiling, more than forty years later.
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