Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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Beyond Anarchism

When I moved into 984 57th Street, I was miserable. It's not fun living for three months with someone who has already broken up with you and wants her "space" to pursue a new relationship with your good friend who has been hanging out with you and her all summer in ironic poverty. Love that second person. Because I know that you would also have devoted as much half-hearted energy to "scraping the screen of life" as I did under those trying circumstances. Right?

Never mind. I'll try to stay on point. Due to the fact that I had made very little effort to find new housing over that summer of 1989, Annalee grew increasingly concerned that I wouldn't have a place to go when the time came and pressed Josh Gold into service finding me a new place of residence. His solution was to wrangle me a spot in the anarchist household he was living in. In happier times I might have been excited to move in with real live anarchists. Tormented as I was by Werther-style melancholy, however, I didn't welcome the change. I was young, surly, and disconnected from everything but my own pain.

After a couple weeks, I did start to hit it off with Jim and Roham -- the story of how I fell out with those two is a tale for another day -- but still didn't feel that I truly belonged. Billy Nessen, the dominant male of 984 57th Street -- between Market and San Pablo, if you're interested -- regarded me with what I took to be suspicion. I was convinced that he was judging me, distrustful of my youth and my lack of concrete political experience. I was probably right.

Eventually, I warmed to Billy. He dealt it to me straight. Unlike those other two housemates mentioned above, he did not seek to wrest my personal effects or girlfriend away from me in my own house. And, though he never lost that wary glint in his eye, I believed that he had respect for me as a person, if not as a political activist, when we parted ways.

Billy Nessen was in the news a lot last year. By the time his Indonesian odyssey was over -- covering a rebellion for the San Francisco Chronicle, hiding from the Indonesian Army in the jungle, turning himself into the authorities to face prison time -- he had once again proven that he lives more dangerously as a matter of course than I would ever live off course. I'm glad he made it out of Indonesia alive and trust that he has found yet another way to fight against global oppression. The world needs more people like Billy.

But I'm not writing this for political reasons. This is personal.

After the night of debauchery that began on October 30th, 1989 at Spats and ended on October 31st upon the floor of my absurdly cluttered room at 984 57th Street -- more exhaustively chronicled here -- I accompanied Kim on the 88 bus to North Berkeley BART. As we parted, she gave me neither her phone number or a promise of another meeting. Although her long-term relationship had coagulated like month-old milk, she was understandably reluctant to sacrifice her privacy to someone who had been a stranger twelve hours before. So I gave her my number -- 510-653-2407-- and implored her to call.

The problem was that the residents of my answering machine-free house were terrible at taking phone messages -- they were mostly anarchists, after all -- and could hardly be relied upon to record the all-important information that Kim might leave on what might well be her only call to my house. Since I was outside of the house most of the time -- I wasn't happy there, after all -- I needed them to understand that they were not allowed to flake this time. What to do?

I decided to tape up a note:

Because Billy was both the housemate most likely to be home and the one least likely to take a message, I made a special plea to him to follow my instructions. I can still picture the slow grin -- the one in the photograph above is a not-so-distant relative -- he made as he wryly assented to my request.

I can picture it so well because it was exactly the same grin with which he greeted me a few days later. As I walked in the door, he came to the top of the stairs.

"Someone called for you." I confirmed that it was Kim. "But I forgot to. . ." My heart imploded. Then I realized that he was holding something behind his back. As he slowly brought it to his chest, I realized that it was my note. He had been kidding.

I climbed the stairs to get it. My own large, blocky printing was now complemented by Billy's compressed handwriting, in which a phone number -- I've circled the spot in red on the image above -- I would rapidly learn by heart was scratched. My first impulse was to go with the clichéd, "Little did I know. . . ," but the truth is that I did know, or at least sense, as Billy handed me the precious sheet of paper, that my future had changed irrevocably. I had my opening and I wasn't going to blow it. Or, rather, I had -- better to end this entry Laurence Sterne-style, don't you think?


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