At the end of the month, Sean Keane is moving out of his apartment of four years, a South Berkeley four-bedroom apartment known affectionately as "Ward Street D." This week, Zembla will present pieces involving or inspired by Ward Street D over its long, uninspired, mediocre run. Ward Street D: The Mike and the Mechanics of West Berkeley apartments.
It was a delightful Giants game, that warm April afternoon in 2001. The boys in black and orange triumphed, and we headed out of the parking lot with spirits high. Mom was explaining why the struggling Alan Embree would remain in the Giants' bullpen (Dusty Baker likes a second lefty) as we arrived at Ward Street.
"Hold on," said my dad, Dennis. "I'm gonna use your bathroom" he said, and hopped awkwardly out of the minivan. Instantly, I became worried. Dennis was going to come upstairs, to my apartment, on a weekend afternoon? Think of the filthy bathroom! Think of the unswept floor! Mainly, think of the roommates smoking weed in the living room!
Not an unrealistic expectation. At the time, it wouldn't have been shocking to find the living room a smoky, dank cave at 5 pm on a Saturday. Ward Street D was even the temporary home for a friend's elaborately-engineered smoking device, an Alhambra water cooler bottle converted into an enormous bong through the addition of valves and plastic tubing. It was so massive that it could only be used in conjunction with a bathtub, or possibly an inflatable wading pool. It had the Nietzschean moniker of The überbong, a bong that destroys old ideals and triumhs over nihilism. Because the designer of überbong was moving home temporarily, he stashed his creation in our home.
So when my father full-bladdered father emerged from the vehicle, I began talking loudly, making noise, trying to alert my roommates to the presence of an authority figure. If we'd had the budget, my warning would have been accompanied by sirens and claxons, and a deep robotic voice intoning, "GROWN-UP ALERT! GROWN-UP ALERT!" I stalled, fumbled with the key, gave them time to hide whatever needed to be hidden, spray whatever needed to be sprayed. I opened the door anxiously, but the Ward Street bong, "The Age of Reason," was nowhere to be seen. Dennis jogged to the bathroom, said hello to the roommates and was quickly on his way, without a word. I breathed a sigh of relief and made a mental note to look up claxon prices online.
Fast forward a few months. Tom Petty is playing the Concord Pavilion, and Dad has bought tickets for the whole family. During an early lull in the show, the old couple in front of us lit up a joint and began passing it back and forth. Megan made a joke about it, to break the tension, and then Dennis said something to the effect of that while tempted, he couldn't very well smoke weed in front of his kids. We all laughed, and Petty launched into "I Won't Back Down."
I ventured my own weed jibe. "Maybe we should have gotten you a bong for Father's Day," I said. Dennis parried immediately. "What, like the one in your apartment?" he asked. My jaw dropped. When you're caught, you're caught. There ain't no easy way out. Still, I was sure the Age of Reason had been hidden. I tried to stand my ground.
"What do you mean?" I stammered.
"You know." replied Dennis. "That big thing in the corner with the plastic tubes coming out of it."
He was referring to the überbong, forgotten in the corner. Now, Dennis not only saw me as a marijuana user, but as a user so addicted and depraved as to require a space-age, futuristic marijuana delivery machine. Dennis knew from years of watching me struggle with Pinewood Derby cars, shoebox dioramas, and countless woodshop projects how incompetent I was with tools. To create an überbong, his son must be enthralled in a perilous addiction indeed.
No one said anything further, but I didn't make eye contact with anyone else during "Mary Jane's Last Dance" just in case.