What the student strike had in worthy causes — the escalation of the war and the killings at Kent State — it sometimes lacked in organization. With no cell phones and no social media, trying to mobilize people to their respective corners was a challenge. Each speech or every time 50 people walked in one direction on campus took on guerrilla importance.
I reported to my parents that I was learning more from teach-ins and caucuses than I’d ever learned in classrooms. This no doubt pleased them abundantly. They humored me, thinking it was a phase. I dug in harder, adding a new –ism to my vocabulary every few hours. Imperialism, paternalism, asceticism. You get the idea. I don’t think I yet knew the word “dilettante,” which might have slowed my roll a bit.
On the second day of the strike, tensions were high. More speeches. Much more chanting. Fewer peace signs, more angry fists in the air. I was taking a shortcut through the Old Main building and passed by the auditorium just as a loud eruption of applause came through the doors. I should probably know about this, I thought, not having any idea what this was.
Behind the podium was one of the strike leaders. I recognized him by his long curly hair, which I’d admired the day before. Whoever he was, he was igniting this crowd. His wire-rimmed glasses rested on his prominent nose as he spoke without notes. I thought he was brilliant, and — looking back — he may have been. One thing was clear. I’d never passed him in the hallway of a fraternity party.
During one of the audience’s loud chants and extended cheers, I asked the person next to me if she knew his name.
She said “Paul Goldberg” as if maybe I’d spent the semester in a cave.
A couple of days later, Cortland — knowing it had lost control of all the students now yelling, “Strike! Strike! Strike!” — announced it would close early for the semester. And, in triumph, everyone began making arrangements to leave campus and travel to other places and be radical and revolutionary in locales that mattered more.
I set out to meet Paul Goldberg before he left town.
I was walking downtown when I spotted him a block away. If that sounds one single bit coincidental, it was not. I believe the latter-day word for what I did is classified as stalking, about which there are now laws in place.
He was alone. I began to follow him. I was rehearsing opening lines when he turned onto a residential street. It looked like the part of town Paul Goldberg would live in. A little seedy, but he might call it “being with the people,” or any number of phrases I thought he might say. Then suddenly he took another turn. I realized he was walking to the door of his apartment.
He was five steps away from being gone forever.
He turned, and there I was. All at once I could tell this was new territory for Paul Goldberg. My guess is that never in his life had the pretty blonde girl who dated lacrosse players moved in on him quite so aggressively. Or moderately aggressively. Or at all.
“I just wanted to tell you that I was in Old Main when you were giving your speech the other day. And it was the greatest speech I’ve ever heard.”
It wasn’t much but it was all I had. Specifics or critique would have just gotten me in trouble. I went with the broad stroke.
He was wide-eyed.
“Well, that’s it really.” I paused a bit but his mouth was still slightly open, and he didn’t look like he was going to say anything more.
“So, uh, have a good day,” I said as I turned and started back toward Main Street.
With every step I was silently saying, Please Please Please Please. Please, Paul Goldberg, this is our last chance to be together until the end of time. Say something.
“Wait a minute!”
[Up next Thursday: The Phone Call That Didn’t Go Well]