"Listen," I said to Nemo the other day. "A couple of things, make that three, tumbled me back over the decades this week to a time when I was young."
The first, I told him, was a trip to Oxford last Tuesday afternoon to visit with my friend of more than 40 years, Barry Hannah. It was a good day for a bike ride, and talking with Barry made me think about our college days.
Barry and I didn't hang out together, but we knew each other fairly well, and talked on occasion. (He was the only other person on campus I knew who had read Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and one night in the fine arts building after he had practiced his trumpet and I had logged a couple of hours in the painting studio, we talked about "Coney Island of the Mind.")
Seeing Barry brought back flickering images of those dark, dangerous when I was a senior in college (1963-64). There were not many on our Baptist college campus, either among the faculty or the student body, who were disgusted with the evil of segregation, but there were some.
As spring came that year, there burned in my heart a desire to flee the South to some new place, a place where strife and fear didn't blanket the entire spiritual and intellectual landscape, where everything wasn't so chaotic.
So, I decided to go to California. I packed my car with scores of paperback books, all my clothes and art supplies, and a case of motor oil (my car required another quart with every fill-up), and headed westward, across Louisiana, and Texas (all two-lane highways back then), up though the mountains of Colorado and across the Great Salt Lake Desert of Utah and then Nevada. I rolled into the San Francisco Bay area late one night.
I only had a few basic goals: to visit City Lights Bookstore, to hear Miles Davis in North Beach, begin a mission church somewhere, and, of course, go to school some more and learn everything I could about the Bible.
Which all brings me to the second backward-tumbling thing this week. Sandi and I watched the 1967 movie "The Graduate" on television Monday night. Much of the movie was set in Berkeley, where I was a student 1966-69, and where Sandi and I spent a lot of our courting days.
As we watched the movie, both of us were more interested in hearing the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack and seeing the scenery ("Look, that's Telegraph Avenue! There's the bay. I would love to take the grandkids there.") than we were with the story.
We recalled how it was to be young during those days. Everyone was so passionate about righting the evils in the world and speeding up those ever slow-turning wheels of justice. Today, the scenery and especially the "scene" is not the same.
Neither, Sandi reminds me, are we the same. (My beard was red, not gray, in those days, for starters, and her long black hair fell all the way down her back.) But, as with everyone, while the clay shell crumbles daily, the inner spirit is unchanged and as hearty as ever. At least we like to think so.
"Have you ever noticed," Nemo said, interrupting me, "how old people tend to talk about the past all the time?"
"And just as I was leaving for Oxford I had a phone call from a guy I used to live on a houseboat with in Sausalito back in 64 ..."
He walked away before I could finish.
John Armistead is the Daily Journal religion editor.