Signs & Portents





Chapter 7

The Grape that Can with Logic Absolute

Carl had a suspicion that it was another of Sharif Mark's wild goose chases, but you never knew. A small stipend for a couple of guest lectures would not have gone amiss, and in the spirit of student participation in the educational process, input from students was sometimes acknowledged. But with real money allotted for this input, of that Carl was dubious. Especially for input from Sharif's class of student. Sharif was, as usual, pursuing his favorite occupation, crashing classes that appealed to him, and therefore was a nonpaying guest from the University's point of view. Carl's contact with Prof. A. Palmer had been brief, the man had only grunted out a few noncommittal sounds when Sharif shoved through the crowd of milling students to introduce Carl. Sharif insisted there would be a better chance at the meeting.

"What kind of meeting?" was swallowed up in the noise of the multitude now making its way to other meetings and classes. The mob in which the two were enclosed finally emerged onto the campus grounds and spread out. Carl's common sense suggested it might be a good chance to miss, he was tired, and just a little hungry and cast a wistful glance in the direction of the student union coffee shop. The meeting appeared to be in the opposite direction on the steps of the Administration Building. The bobbing head of Prof. A. Palmer could be seen making its way up to the top of the stairs, bullhorn in hand.

Quite a number of Khaki clad individuals wearing fatigue caps were likewise trying to mount the stairs. Carl suddenly recognized the red stars in the front center of the caps which marked them as members of the New Marxist United Workers Party. Bullhorns appeared in the hands of individuals on both sides of the stairs and began to blare. The mob in which Carl was enclosed suddenly began to sit down on the grounds and stairway.

Carl settled with them but cursed the vicissitudes of fate that had brought him to this turn of events. The consideration that he might still get away and make his way to his car in the Telegraph Avenue parking lot was disrupted by the squawk of a disgruntled bullhorn from the NMUWP side which suddenly shrieked: "LOOK AT THE SUPPORTERS OF THE CAPITALIST REGIME—THESE ARE THE BLOODSUCKERS WHO DRAIN THE ENERGY FROM THE WORKERS' CAUSE!!!"

Carl realized that he had been classed among the crowd of bloodsuckers. The rain, at least, had stopped. His shirt felt a little clammy under his coat, but it could be worse. By this time, he had abandoned any thought of an interview with Prof. A. Palmer, but he still hesitated to make himself conspicuous by standing up in the middle of the crowd and attempting to leave. To do so might cause hostile attention to focus on him and the mood at activist rallies like this was notoriously volatile.

The bullhorn on his side of the stairs took a more dispassionate tact: "WE ARE ALL ON THE SAME SIDE IN THIS, BROTHERS AND SISTERS," it suggested. "WHAT WILL BE LEFT FOR ANY OF US IF WE DON'T FIGHT TOGETHER TO STOP THE POISONING OF THIS PLANET?"

"YEAH," sneered the antagonist, "IS THAT WHY YOU'RE CRASHING THE WORKERS' RALLY?? WE PAID GOOD MONEY FOR THESE STEPS! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?"

Carl knew that the University, in these difficult economic times, had taken to renting out available space for meetings such as these. Someone must have goofed, he decided, renting the same space twice.

"WHAT I'D LIKE TO KNOW," screamed a voice right next to Carl. "IS WHY WE'RE BEING PUSHED ONTO THE STREET SIDE! WHY ARE WE HAVING TO BREATH THE WORST FUMES?"

"WE PAID FOR THESE STEPS, OURSELVES," shrilled a woman near the front. "YOU GET THE HELL AWAY FROM HERE!"

It was the last bit of clever dialogue that Carl heard. The crowd was up on its feet. He was being shoved this way and that, as irate indignant comments echoed around him. Members of the two groups began to translate their tensions into physical action. In one direction, he witnessed a United Workers Party member shove down a member of the Society for Pure Food and Human Habitat (whose ranks had been reluctantly increased by himself) and kick him soundly in the head.

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But the SPF&HH were not to be discounted. The bully from the NMUWP enjoyed his ascendancy for all of 30 seconds before the hurtling vaguely feminine form, which Carl suspected to be the mate of the victim, crashed through the restraining arms of those who still thought peace might be possible and impacted with kicker. The kicker went down beneath a clawing, screaming attack that any leopard would have envied. Over the din, Carl heard an eerie high pitched scream that seemed to issue from that source, but the movement of the crowd abruptly blocked his view of the scene.

This is serious, Carl decided, feeling a sense of chagrin, normally he avoided situations like this. Quietly, he cursed Sharif, and began to do some shoving of his own, trying to make his way to the edge of the shifting and pressing bodies. He caught sight briefly of police cars drawing up on the street fronting the plaza, their occupants observing the crowd action from behind smoked glass windows. Obviously, he was not the only one to conclude the situation was out of control. Probably, a frightened University administrator had called them, probably the very person who had made the rental in the first place.

The Berkeley police were seasoned veterans, they would probably do nothing at first, least their intrusion be the occasion for more violence. Carl had heard that most arrests for crowd confrontations like these were made at the hospitals where the injured were taken after the skirmish was over. Carl renewed his efforts to push through the crowd, he had no interest in participating in the conflict, either verbally or physically, he was not interested in the either side's crusade.

Over the scene, the sky flashed magnesium flare white and began to disgorge a torrent of rain. Carl found himself released suddenly from the press of bodies, but felt himself slipping on the wet pavement and frantically tried to right himself. He did not see the object that struck him forcibly across the forehead, but he did feel the agonizing impact of the heel of the running foot that came down on his hand which he was using to lever himself to his feet. Cursing, he sat up on the wet pavement nursing his wounded hand and discovered blood running down his face along with the rain, and he gingerly probed his scalp with the fingers of his pain free hand. He found no serious harm. Where was Sharif? He peered around the dwindling numbers of the crowd, but couldn't see him. Ambulance sirens sounded in the distance, and the remainder of the crowd, as though taking this as a signal, hastened their departures, leaving the wounded on the wet pavement, occasional ones attended by more faithful friends, and others being assisted up to join the exodus.

Carl still could not see Sharif, perhaps he had already fled. He regained his feet and staggered toward the building to find respite from the downpour under the eaves and clear his thoughts. An eerie apparition crossed his line of sight, a shaven headed man wearing a sodden Greek chiton and chlamys ran past.

"Brothers, brothers, you are hurting each other," he chanted, "Peace, peace."

Carl was just able to bring him into focus before he went down, beaned by a thrown object. He was a member of the New Sons of the Platonic Light. Carl yanked back his foot when the missile that had brought down the would-be peacemaker rolled toward it. A bottle of yellowish liquid sealed only with aluminum foil? Carl caught the smell of gasoline, kneeling closer, he saw the rag wick stuffed in the neck and assorted scraps of Styrofoam floating in the gasoline. A Molotov cocktail, harmless in its present condition, but he disliked the thought of it alighting in the midst of a crowd that contained him.

His hand ached fiercely, and he entertained some black thoughts about his absent friend. It was possible to live a peaceful life in Berkeley, but that depended on studious non-attendance at functions like this one. It was then that he spotted Sharif through a ground level window that opened into the basement. Sharif was lying in the broken remains of the basement window, obviously unconscious. Whether he had jumped or been thrown could not be discerned. He lay face down, one arm beneath his head as if he had fallen asleep. Scraping aside the remains of the glass on the bottom sill, Carl jumped down beside him.

Sharif did not stir. Carl fumbled for the jugular pulse, but could not find it. Carl attempted to find the temple pulse, again without success. Well, I'm no expert pulse taker, he reflected.

He had picked up a suitable piece of glass to hold under Sharif's nose to see if it would be fogged by breath, when another body suddenly landed in the basement beside him. Adrenalin flooded him and he whirled to defend himself, but found he was about to strike the black face of a paramedic from one of the ambulances, who held up an open hand and crooned reassuringly.

"Easy, friend, easy. Why don't you let us handle this."

Nodding and wordless, Carl gratefully leaned against the wall as Sharif was probed and stirred and finally expertly tumbled onto the stretcher and passed back through the window to waiting hands.

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A helpful arm reached down to give him an assist back into the rain. He no longer saw the stretcher bearing Sharif, it had obviously already joined others being efficiently inserted into gaping back doors of the ambulances which had pulled onto the campus to load the wounded.

Carl was still too dazed to be aware that he was being guided toward the same destination until he caught sight of the impassively observing police cars across the street. A chill ran through him. He watched while one of the officers emerged from the beetle shaped cars and ran out through the rain. For a heart stopping moment he feared that the policeman and many other police would be charging what was left of the crowd. But the policeman bent toward the open window of his fellow officer, talking on and on, apparently engaging in a conversation that he did not wish to relay by radio.

Coming back to the sense of where he was, Carl pulled quickly away from the helpful guiding arm of the paramedic. The last thing he needed was to spend the night in jail. Almost surely, the police would be at the hospital in view of the number of injuries, and would possibly make some token arrests among the less seriously injured. That could mean him

The paramedic made a small effort to coax him, but Carl demurred, muttering that he was all right. Sympathetic black hands slipped a prefabricated bandage over his head, murmuring, "All right, friend, all right, it's your problem. But you ought to get that looked at." Carl carefully worked out a route that skirted the police cars by a wide margin, as he made his way toward the parking lot for his car.

It is written that the Prophet told his flock to rejoice that they now had a prophet to speak to them in plain Arabic tongue. He laid on them the adjuration of alcohol at all times. When the gift of prophecy was on him, he warned them that his own plain spoken religion would one day break up into seventy-two sects, and the Jews and Christians, whom he also deemed to be religiously correct, would break up into seventy-one and seventy-three. In the eleventh century, Omar, the son of Ibrihim the Tentmaker, was inspired to write the lines:

The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The subtle Alchemist that in a Trice
Life's leaden Metal into Gold transmute.


In a work called: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Omar was not, however, truly appreciated in his Persian culture. He was considered far too heretical until his work was translated nearly 800 years later in an alien culture where it won acclaim.


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