Yesterday we were wandering around in Berkeley, and I found myself at the mid-campus Campanile just about the time that nature was calling. So I ambled over to an interesting academic building where I knew a bathroom could be found.
When you’re sightseeing on a college campus, finding a facility is not difficult, if you know what to do: just act like you’re any other student or professor whose cerebral deliberations are caught up in the clouds of knowledge-pursuit; walk right in the nearest building like you belong there. Before you can say fool on the hill you’ll discover that magic sign, “Men” or “Women”, as the case may be, which offers assurance of imminent deliverance.
It is really a very simple prospect, much easier than, say, finding an appropriate place to do your business in a moment of need in the downtown area of any major city. Although in the downtown predicament, your troubles are over if you can locate a McDonalds. God bless MacDonalds. I mean, I didn’t really appreciate McDonald’s until I stumbled upon one in Rome while searching for a cup of identifiable American style coffee.
But I digress. So there we were at Berkeley yesterday and I walked up the stone steps of a lovely old building called Moses Hall. I immediately understood after entering the place that I had stumbled upon the hallowed halls of the Philosophy Dep’t. It seemed a little unusual that the old Hebrew, Moses, would be associated with philosophy, which is Greek thing.
Nevertheless, slipping with no trouble at all, into my accustomed perpetual-student identity–just, for a novelist, like putting on an old glove–I ascended the well-worn marble stairway with its absolutely smooth wooden handrail, then turned a few corners, and located, within a minute or less, the appointed place for bladder catharsis.
I stepped inside the bathroom, and oh, what a philosophical experience it was.
Indeed, a time warp it was. Suddenly, I was back in a bathroom in Allen Hall at LSU, where I had studied as a clueless English major back in the day, 1970 or thereabouts. This bathroom in Berkeley was almost an exact duplicate of the one I had made frequent use of when I was a student:
Marble walls, perfectly illuminated in the bright sunshine through large, old wooden sash windows with brass handles. White and gray streaky, dappled marble, and not only on the walls, but also the large partitions between roomy toilet stalls. Chrome fastenings on the partitions, well maintained and not rusty nor grimy. Pristine white fixtures: large, sparkling urinals, and toilets with chrome handles.
Ancient, rounded lavatory white fixtures with separate hot valve and cold valve, shining with seasoned chrome anneal that was old enough to reveal at its spout edges and knobby handle-ends the brass integrity beneath.
An entire floor of solidly grouted 1-inch hexagonal white ceramic tiles. I mean, an Interstate gas-station bathroom this was not.
It was a perfect place for a philosopher to productively continue his pondering, even while enduring the interruption of a trip to the bathroom.
And I thought: this place was built in the ’30s, just like the bathroom in Allen Hall, where the main hall walls had been painted, old Post Office style, with murals that depicted for posterity those swarthy, 1930’s-style agricultural workers who had heard America singing while they coaxed fruitful productivity out of the land of milk and honey, between rows of wheat 0r barley or corn, back in the day when our parents and grandparents were working themselves out of the “Great” Depression. This was my memory of the halls, back at the ole alma mater, LSU where I first learned how to think too much: Allen Hall, shaded by stately oaks that reside perpetually in the verdant groves of academe. So very similar in appearance and feeling to the campus I was now exploring.
Sure enough, as I exited the building a few minutes later, there was a brass plaque on the wall in the vestibule entryway: Moses Hall was built by the University of California in 1931.
Since I am now a Republican who resides in North Carolina, I have heard, from time to time, a critical word or two about Roosevelt and his New Deal. But one thing I can say for those NewDealers–the WPA, CCC, etcetera etcetera etcetera–they sure knew how to do bathrooms with aesthetically exceptional sustainability.
And I walked out of there relieved.