Scenes from the Southside (First Person)

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Friday September 06, 2013 - 10:11:00 AM

I've recently come to regard myself as the Patron Saint of Telegraph Avenue. Hardly a day goes by that I don't get up to Peet's Coffee or Bateau Ivre. Sitting contentedly over a café au lait, I watch pretty girls with blue hair and young guys with tattoos on their sturdy calves come in and pour sugar in their drinks. 

The Mills College Bus goes by every day, and quite often I see the local poet, Julia Vinograd, in her familiar brown and gold tam limp across the street, peddling her book. Firetrucks and paramedic wagons go by regularly, and handsome young officers come in for coffee. 

Oh, yes, it's a scene I never tire of. Only on Telegraph Avenue! 


I get up every morning at 6 a.m., a habit I can't break! I cross to my 6th floor window on Dana Street to check the weather. The fog is often so thick I usually can't read the time on the Campanile. Sitting in front of my television set, I watch the morning news, generally ABC. That news is mostly about Syria, a grim subject if ever there was one. 

Let us hope that President Obama and John Kerry can bring an end to the violence and bloodshed in this troubled area. Meantime, I chomp away on my TV dinner (Sesame Chicken) and pray to the Good Lord above that peace will be restored to our land! 


Having nothing better to do on a beautiful September afternoon, this afternoon I walked up Bancroft Avenue to have a look at Boalt Hall School of Law, where I worked for more than 20 years as an administrative assistant— a metaphor for "secretary." I hardly recognized the place for all the renovations and improvements. Believe me, those were hectic days, as our beloved Governor, R.R. called in the National Guard (for reasons known only to him) and sprayed Manville Hall with tear gas just as students were about to take exams, hardly an ideal situation!

I had the privilege of working for several brilliant law professors—Stefan Reisenfeld, Albert Ehrenzweig, former Austrian Judge. and a poet of some renown, Herma Hill Kay, Robert Cole, Willie Fletcher and Frank Newman—all of whom became famous judges.

These were turbulent times, particularly in People's Park. I narrowly missed being struck by a brick at the Bank of America. A non-student was killed, as I recall.

Much as I enjoyed my job, I had the rather tedious task of typing letters of recommendation for students seeking clerkships with well-known judges. Having typed more than 100 hundred original letters (xeroxes not permitted), I threw in the towel and resigned my job. But, as I said, these were exciting times. Anthony Lewis and Archibald Cox were visiting scholars, and the Bakke case was a cause celebre.

As mentioned previously, some of my job was downright tiresome; I had to administer examinations, call time and collect blue books. None the less, I was proud to be part of the University of California Law School; I still serve on the Retirees Committee
and attend several meetings a year. This University, I'm happy to say, is regarded as the finest one in the Country, a fact which thrills me no end. 


"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need; by sun and candle-light.......

"I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith,
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,— I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life— and if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death."

—Sonnets from the Portuguese

I recall seeing Myrna Loy portray Browning several years ago in a
play in a San Francisco Theatre. This may sound somewhat amazing
as Loy generally played sophisticated roles. None the less, she
recited beautifully lines from Browning's poetry. 

In the final scene of this play, Loy sits in an armchair, a scarf
draped over her shoulders. The scarf slips from her shoulder and
falls to the floor.

Is it any wonder I was reduced to sobs? Do we have any poets
today to match Browning's tender and moving paeans? Offhand,
I can think only of Billy Collins and his contemporaries.

Let us hope that a new generation of poets will inspire and bring
joy to our society.