San Francisco – 1966
Ten-year-old Julia rounded the corner of Irving Street and Third Avenue. First, she stopped to peek and make sure David O’Leary and the gang weren’t hanging out waiting to catch her. David’s little brother Benjy stood behind her as she looked.
Sunshine mixed with fog filled the air as the two of them trudged up the steep hill of Third Avenue towards Parnasus Street, and UC Hospital loomed above them, its shadow covering their entire neighborhood.
Julia had made signs with materials she found in her mom and dad’s closet. Each sign said, “Free Stubs!” in huge, colorful letters with designs around them. Stubs was the three-legged guinea pig from the pet store. She was supposed to take care of him. Her dad finally said yes, but Professor Fentley managed to swoop in and purchase him. Julia was sure he’d experiment on Stubs and most likely he would encounter an unfortunate early death. That’s what they did up in the lab, experiment on animals such as innocent guinea pigs and who knows what else.
Old houses crammed the sides of the streets built to fit neatly into the steep hill, some were Victorians, some built just a little after. The laboratory was really an old house that was converted into a lab, as some of the others on that block right below UC Hospital.
Julia, still wearing the clunky shoes she borrowed from her mom along with a floppy hat and big sunglasses to hide her identity, stopped in front of the laboratory and breathed deeply. She felt a rush through her body and some itching too. She scratched. When she got nervous she itched.
Benjy who was only seven, but a cool tough kid which he had to be because he was David O’Leary’s little brother, said, “Well, here it is!”
A wooden sign sat in front of the house which said, “UC Laboratory,” nothing elaborate. Julia looked up into the three story-house. Stubs is in there somewhere. We have to get him before something bad happens.
“Yeah, this is it.”
“So, what do we do now?” said Barry.
“We protest! Like this!” Julia held up her sign and yelled, “Free Stubs!”
She marched around in a circle on the wide sidewalk in front of the house turned laboratory.
Benjy followed Julia and also yelled, “Free Stubs!” holding up his sign as well.
“Do you think this will help?” Benjy asked Julia between yelling “Free Stubs!”
“Yes, it will get their attention for sure,” Julia said, worried that it might also get the attention of David O’Leary and the gang. David O’Leary wanted to beat Julia up for yelling at him and kicking him in the shin. Of course, he deserved it, but that didn’t matter. And nobody would keep him away from her. She told her Mom about it, but apparently, she had to solve her own problems. That’s just the way it was.
Soon, a young mom with toddler kids walked by along with a couple of hippie guys who looked like Julia’s dad.
Soon, they were yelling, “Free Stubs!” along with others as well. A couple of guys wearing white jackets from the hospital, and people who happened to be walking by.
Julia made sure to tell them Stubs was a three-legged guinea pig who was about to be experimented on. Everyone felt bad for Stubs.
Finally, the gigantic wooden door at the top of the steps opened slowly and someone peeked out. He emerged on to the porch and shouted, “What’s going on here?” He wore a lab coat like Professor Fentley, but it was definitely someone else.
“Free Stubs!” Julia shouted and everyone else shouted too. “Free all the animals!”
The group stopped marching and stood together in a large group. There’s strength in numbers, Julia thought. Maybe this would scare them enough to give Stubs back.
“Who or what is Stubs?” I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Professor Fentley took him from the pet store, and Stubs belongs to me!”