“Separator” by Radiohead was whispering through my headphones, and it was that part where the guitar kicked in — one of those parts of a song that holds an indescribable sway. There was still some chocolate ice cream left to dry on the underside of my right forearm, and my face and shirt were slightly sticky with sweat. Laughs, intertwined with a dull thumping tune, spilled out from a lit-up window to my left, and lovers, arm-in-arm, brushed past me as a homeless man with a bag slung over his shoulder rummaged through a trash can up ahead. Two girls swayed and slurred across the street. My steps were particularly heavy, particularly hesitant and deflated, particularly echo-y against the dimly lit windows of a closing-down cafe and the wooden bench that housed two cross-legged guys waiting for nothing in particular.
The separate microcosms — the distinguishable scenes, each contained and individualistically characterized — were to my left, to my right, up ahead and behind, as I walked home from a night of work. It was a Saturday, the night that holds particular weight and preconceived notions in a college town like Berkeley. But surrounding me was an example, a slight insight, into the indefinable nature of college itself. The various happenings across the town were making each and every person’s college experience different, despite the rigid notions prevalent in people’s minds about what that experience should be.
The laughters emitting from the lit-up window to my left harmonized with the half-empty wine glasses that sloshed in everyone’s right hand as they moved their Scrabble tiles with their left. One of them had jumped up and did a hip-thrusting move along to the beat of “Fancy,” hence the laughs, and the rumbling sound waves from the song spilled out and bounced down College Avenue, slightly vibrating the window pane of a sophomore boy who had headphones in, listening to a Sidney Bechet ballad as he tirelessly edited a short, five-minute romance movie that he made with dreams of red carpets dazzling before his eyes.
The girl on his screen, his old floormate whom he asked to be in his short movie, was walking up Channing Way at that moment with a friend she met in her History 7B lecture last year and was licking the melting ice cream in her CREAM wrapper on their way to her apartment to watch an episode of “Scandal” on Netflix. A bit of her ice cream dripped down and fell to the pavement in front of a frat house, where, inside, a freshman guy was staring up at the spinning ceiling in the middle of the dance floor, wondering why in God’s name he took those last two shots of acidic waste called Vitali vodka and what in God’s name he was going to do about his now disgusting, sweaty t-shirt, because he ran out of quarters to do laundry last weekend.
On the other side of that ceiling the freshman boy was cursing at, upstairs, was a junior girl leaning against the wall, making plans to go to an electro concert in San Francisco the next weekend with her fellow Greek-life friends, whom she had spent the day with outside in the sun raging on a gameday. She pulled out her phone and texted the guy she worked with at a restaurant on Shattuck, whose phone vibrated against his desk while he read “The Waste Land” and who was having a hard time concentrating because next door a group of friends tuned up and began to jam a short while ago in preparation for their upcoming show at a co-op — a co-op at which a girl was currently examining her sunburnt nose, a product of her day out in the Mission eating an El Farolito burrito and Bi-Rite ice cream, in her mirror before heading to bed early.
She peered out her window at the Campanile that had begun to toll, and the ringing from the bells travelled down College Avenue and swirled around the two cross-legged guys on a wooden bench waiting for nothing in particular as I passed by them on my walk home from work.
One’s Berkeley is drastically different from another’s Berkeley. Each have their own unique experience, their own unique Saturday nights. The combination of these events combine to form a college memory that is not so easily categorized as “the best four years of my life” or a four-year-long drunken stupor or any of the other expectations or perceptions that exist around any given campus. There is no right way to do it — there is simply your way, and that’s good enough.
Whether it be hip-thrusting to “Fancy” while playing Scrabble or swaying your head to a jazz tune as you silently pursue your passion, your Berkeley is yours, and no one can say otherwise.