Sunday, June 13, 2004

The most interesting place I ever lived was Barrington Hall. There was a saying there that "Those who know don't tell, and those who tell don't know." (I think it was our equivalent of "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."). I guess this entry means that I don't know. Oh well.

I attended college at the University of California at Berkeley. After a year in the dorms, a friend and I decided to seek housing at the UCB Cooperative system. The Co-ops were like a cross between a dorm and a commune. They're a group-living situation for students where everyone is supposed to chip in work-wise. Every resident had to perform 5 hours of work per week for the co-op. Typically this was cooking or cleaning duty, but other jobs included house management or some other co-op overhead position. There were 18 separate houses in the co-op system, and aside from a small hired staff, the students ran the joint (joint is an appropriate word). Aside from the groovy vibe one got from living in a co-op, the main advantage was price. They were half the price of the dorms.

As you can imagine, a cooperative housing system in Berkeley is a bizarre place. In any university town, the co-ops will attract the funkiest and the left-est. In Berkeley this was true too, but the funkiest and the left-est of Berkeley take it to a whole other level. Now, among the 18 houses, several were themed. One was vegetarian, another celebrated African American culture, a couple were women-only, and then there was Barrington. I think its theme was drugs although that was not explicitly indicated in the brochure. So, many of the residents of Barrington were the hardest-core hippies that UC Berkeley had to offer.

You with me so far? Berkeley attracts the funkiest hippies among universities. The co-ops attracted the funkiest hippies among Berkeley, and Barrington attracted the funkiest hippies among the co-ops.

That's where I lived. I was a nice clean-cut boy from the suburbs.

I didn't really choose to live in Barrington. When I signed up for the co-ops, the application asked me to put the 18 co-op houses in order of preference. I was well aware of Barrington's reputation, and it was obvious to me that this was not a place where I would fit in. Consequently, I listed Barrington dead-last. Apparently comedy trumps rationality in the co-ops, so I was assigned to Barrington.

Some pictures of Barrington can be found here, but they don't really do it justice.

So, a few days before my sophomore year, I reported to Barrington hall. I wandered the halls and noted that virtually every inch of wall space in the halls, common areas, stairwells, and dining rooms was covered in murals. Maybe "noted" is a poor choice of words. That kind of implies that some level of observational skill in my part. Let's just say that the murals jumped right out at you. Barrington was many things, subtle wasn't one of them. I believe I only stepped over one collapsed/sleeping body in the hall that day.

I reported to the office to get my room assignment and met Gerg. Gerg had a certain punk chic going and his name was Gerg. Gerg. I suspect his name was actually Greg and his spelling/pronounciation was a form of rebellion, but Gerg is all I ever knew him by. Gerg seemed friendly enough and didn't actually appear alarmed by my suburban non-chic. I filled out a form and Gerg handed me a room key, saying that he had found a room I'd like. Gerg gerg gerg (I can't stop typing his name).

I went off to find my new home. I was stunned by it.

The door to this room led directly into the room's closet. I exited the closet and entered the "main" room itself. It was about 6 feet by 12 feet in size and had one small window overlooking a narrow alley.


The only furniture in the room was a dinghy half-deep mattress, and three dressers. The mattress was laying directly on the floor. I'm not quite sure why there were three dressers, but I assume a couple of them were to make up for the absence of a desk, which should have been present in a student's room. These pieces of furniture almost completely filled up the floor space. Had the window actually overlooked anything cheerful, it still would have been awkward to vault over the furniture to get there.

Oh, and the walls. They were painted totally black. The ceiling too. Black. Technically the floor was not black, but years of grime and abuse made it close enough. The whole room was completely black. Except... Except on one wall, painted in blood red, were the lyrics to the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black". Seemed like a lot of effort for a mediocre statement, but there it was.

Over the next several weeks, I tried to explain what this room looked like to various friends. Eventually, each of them wanted to see it in person. Without fail, each time I brought the person to the room, (having already explained exactly what the room looked like), they'd double up in laughter and exclaim, "You told me what it looked like, but I never believed it was this bad!". I always found that exchange to be satisfying.

I lived in Barrington for a year (most of it not in that room) and at the end of that year, I sought out Gerg (gerg gerg gerg) and asked him about my first day there. I reminded him that he had assigned me that room and he had said that he thought it was a room I would like. I asked him if he had been screwing with me. Gerg said no. He said he thought it was a cool room. I suppose it was. Much cooler than I was.

My year at Barrington was a hoot. I always wanted to jot down the bits of it that I found most amusing. I'll probably occasionally add chapters to this thread. Thanks, Blogspot.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

What year did you live in Barrington?

electra

Mike said...

Hi Electra,

I lived there from fall of 1987 through the end of the school year in 1988. I'm not sure if it felt like longer or shorter.

QBert said...

I was at Barrington around the same time, the year before it was shut down.

I don't remember Gerg, but there were a lot of memorable people there. I remember a lot of incredible murals, especially a floor-to-ceiling reproduction of Van Gogh's Starry Night.

There was a vegetarian-only kitchen, and it had a giant mural of The Last Supper, but each person had a vegetable for a head. I think Jesus was a carrot.

My favorite part was the Hidden Staircase. How it came to be, I'll never konw. One of the doors on the 3rd floor, which looked like all the other doors, opened up into a stairwell instead of a room. The Hidden Staircase was filled with fantastic murals. You could take the stairs all the way to the first floor, but the only doorway that was opened was on the 3rd floor. It was a blast to take people inside this staircase during parties; it would just flabbergast people.

If you never saw that staircase... well, I'm sure it's gone now.

Marshall

Mike said...

Hi Marshall,

I remember the Last Supper picture. I have a copy of it in my photo album (physical, not virtual). I do not, however, remember the Hidden Staircase. I wonder if I just forgot about it, or never knew in the first place. Crazy.

Anonymous said...

Oh man, I'm the one who had that room before you and I painted it black and wrote the lyrics on the wall. So you have me to thank for your truly cool room!!! I loved it there!!!

Andrea K.

Mike said...

Andrea, your comment on my blog post finally proves without a doubt the value of the Internet. Finding you is like finding my biological parents (except that I wasn't adopted).

Anonymous said...

I lived there in 2006-7 when it had already been Evans Hall for awhile. The craziness I was hoping to still find secretly lurking was nowhere to be found. The basement was abandoned and full of old spare desks that I spent an afternoon going through. All staircases, balcony access, roof access was locked up and closed off except the main staircase. The Last Supper mural was the only one I found with exception of a few in the basement. I wish I had thought to take a picture. Jesus was a carrot.