By conservative estimates, there are currently enough wrongfully convicted people in prison in the United States to fill a football stadium.
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Coming down here: tunnel of freeways, of semis, left lane, embankment, passing at 80, 85, 90, an occasional unconscious suicidal 95, 100, thinking of the Missouri regiment marching up Canyon de Chelley (deep narrow canyon in northern Arizona) with the Navajos covering them from the crevices of the canyon all the way up but they didn’t know it: the Navajos had to admire folks with that kind of nerve, or at least wanted to figure out their number. They revealed themselves to the Missourians at the head of the canyon and the whole gang proceeded to a kind of transvestite bash, with the Indians and the White Folks trading clothes — about 1840 or so, can you imagine?
Instead of sheer rock walls, this canyon made out of semis and deep green trees, the growth a little malevolent, the way Oregon is sometimes, you know, when there’s too much growing for comfort sometimes. You might wake up one morning sprouting ferns and tough grass.
The dorm room is made out of cinder blocks. The dorm is quite a large item, you saw its picture back in the Good Ole Days, wings sticking out, kind of a flying spiral effect: I burned up its picture in the stove, thinking that would be a way to avoid living in it, but maybe it worked as a kind of prayer ceremonial. And of course things you fear always happen and turn out different than you imagined — this is not bad at all, a lot of things taken care of, a kind of confirmation of my student identity, when the whole idea seems like such a joke and a fraud that I need to be constantly reminded about What I Am UP To . . .
Luckily enough some previous occupant has left many green and blue decals on the cupboards and drawers of fishes and owls and butterflies to keep me in tune with nature. Also a huge light green pillow with arms on it to prop me up while I Study. And oddly enough a few posters like Come to Leningrad and Lithuania, with Russian subtitles. This seemed like some kind of omen. Signifying Something.
The elevator is painted red inside and says Craige is exploiting you all on the door. There are many signs about us all getting acquainted over coffee beer and wine and doughnuts depending on the time of day. I have been unable to get acquainted as I know this means asking and answering all sorts of searching questions which would plunge me into violent introspection.
The first night I went to the Dairy Bar to get something to eat. Pinto beans and turnip greens and a hamburger bun toasted. At a long counter by myself (9 at night) like in a Hopper Painting. Only I’m not a lonely man with a suit and hat, but frizzy haired with beads with strange accents like green teardrops, outfitted in the contemporary Hyampom-NYC style. Of course Marion’s favorite sandals which prominently feature my big toe.
Back in my room I dig on Music Next Door featuring Liza Minelli and American Pie played all the way through three times.
First day of classes. The teacher was raised in Oakland and got his BA and PhD at Berkface. He is a Chomsky linguist. I realize I will probably have to stay here as I begin treating out on his words. The class is a mixture of career students wanting to know his Method of Grading and career students who can hardly maintain a vertical position in their seats. I try to maintain an appropriately ambivalent slouch. At the end of the class he plays a tape of a Sioux lady telling a story. It is so far out that I am nearly prostrate on the ground floor with emotion. A student comments on its emotionless quality. The teacher agrees and makes some kind of crack about the stoic cigar store indian. I realize that he alternately changes between being a fish and a big bird that eats fish, like a pelican for example. He does like to be near water but is not too sure about jumping in — which is kind of a general statement about this place, four hours from the ocean and very humid.
In the midst of registering of course I encountered incredible unheard of difficulties as they thought I was coming some other time and was on no list.
My favorite part was when this guy said in a very heavy accent “Son of a Turtle” in the line in front of me.
Evidently football is very popular here, to say the least. I am very grateful that Michael took me to that Raiders game and explained it to me. It seemed a lot like poker, the way they splatter out and then stand still and see where they are. What the hand is. Short intense bursts.
All these Young Folks seem very dazed to me and at the same time Beady-Eyed. A strange combination of ambition and sloth. I imagine that is how I look too, as it is somewhat what I feel like.
I went to Quaker Meeting this morning. Kind of comforting, accents of Chicago and Berkeley. People are Very Friendly and are resisting this and that. And that good ole feeling of alienation as I scuttle out after the service. Don’t want to tell them about what I’m resisting or not resisting even though I like them a lot.
The Quakers here are a quiet bunch. At least today they were. In Berkeley everyone stands up and gives a few words: mad scientists, derelicts in suits and ties who sleep on the streets and mutter about Milton, derelict hippies who talk about yoga, old ladies who talk about flowers and birds, people who sing Jewish get-together songs, and the like and not like.
It is Pretty here. Very tall skinny pines in with the green-greenness and a lot of birds, colors, colored birds like red and yellow.
It rained all yesterday, but today is that perfect clear after rain — blue sky, and a little crisp.
Walking to campus I’m passing huge crowds going to the football game. It seems that they’re all in new clothes, the women in pants suits and dresses, their hair shiny clean and the men — their pants are a perfect fit! Wide belts, many in ties, each tie is different and yet each one is the same! The colors shine out of the crowd and I’m staring open-mouthed at the display — they’re walking kind of stiffly as if they’re afraid to crease their new clothes — and the couples look as if they want to be made for each other, if only they can maintain the perfection of their shiny walking and talking in their shiny shoes.
They all look, for all the discomfort of being careful in their new clothes and with that perfect date, to be very happy — deeply inwardly happy — to be doing that very thing they want to do — balancing Kentucky Fried Chicken boxes and thermoses in their hands with a kind of carefully contained joy. A group of older folks is spreading out a little lunch for themselves on a table in the parking lot complete with beautiful gauze covers to put over the cake and sandwiches.
The tone of the event is perfectly captured in the insistent return of one gesture — the fellows helping their ladies across streets and onto curbs, around corners, and in general, over all those little rough spots in the terrain, with a solicitous little curve of their arms and hands on the ladies backs, and the ladies arch their backs, just so slightly, responding to the feel of their dates’ hands and arms.
Back visiting a friend in the dorm. I’m sitting in the corner of her room on her desk, a fluorescent light on my back, somehow watching the outlines of the beds tables desks and chairs and feel like I’m waking up after I’ve been asleep for months. Wondering when I fell asleep — was it the first football weekend at UNC? Never been at a football school before. Never been to graduate school. Never lived alone in the city. Never took karate neither.
Feeling like I can feel my existence. It’s a little harsh, but it’ s definitely there. Here.
A girl comes in with real long hair an oval face and glasses. She has on hiking boots and a skirt and she smiles a mixture of self-consciousness and complicity. The door frames her perfectly and she seems to be making a presentation. She talks without stumbling and without choosing words — but of eccentric distance. She asks if we have any cigarettes. She’s given up smoking but needs a few cigarettes to write a paper. She’s writing on a poem of Wordsworth’s. Someone in the room criticizes her choice. She says she knows it’s dull but it’s never been written about before and this way maybe she’ll be able to publish it. She says she and her boyfriend just broke up. She says a few more things and bows out suddenly.
Why was it I felt so awake all of a sudden? Being awake until six in the morning taking that codeine laced with caffeine for cramps? Writing that irate letter to the Daily Tar Heel at 4 A.M. about exams (“What the fuck is going on . . .”) . . .?