Tuesday, April 14, 2015

It’s Alive

In February, my chaplaincy class went on a two-day retreat at the Insight Retreat Center, in Scotts Valley. I took the train down to Redwood City on a Thursday evening and one of my classmates picked several of us up there for transport to the retreat center, which is a beautiful place and has luxurious accommodations, relatively speaking. It was once an old folks’ home, and there is one bathroom per two bedrooms. (At Spirit Rock, there is one bathroom per about 10 bedrooms, though each room has its own little sink.)

I’d never gotten a response to my email to the fellow who made the remark considered by most to be racist, so I approached him in the dining room that evening to say I hoped I hadn’t made anything worse. He was very warm and friendly, and said that my note had been fine; there had been a death in his family. He and I sat together at one meal and chatted away, and he also gave me a very nice compliment during a group session. We addressed the topic one final time, to see if anyone had anything more to say, but by this time, it was pretty clear we were past it, and not only that, we were tighter as a group for having worked through something difficult together. The mood was relaxed and congenial.

On Friday, we went to the anatomy lab at Cabrillo College to see their cadavers. They had two, one quite intact (if you don’t count being dead), with tattoos and chest hair visible, and one that had been very thoroughly dissected. The last dead body I saw was Carlos’s, and when they wheeled in the first body bag, I cried. One classmate never entered the room at all, but stayed outside with one of our teachers. I and one other student took up a position as far as possible from the cadavers, and the rest of us, including our other two teachers, examined the dissected human with interest. It wasn’t a large room, so I could easily see what looked like (and in fact was) a pile of little scraps of meat. At one point, the anatomy teacher who was hosting us (a very stylishly dressed woman) sort of casually heaped up the bits of meat and laid a big dried-out flap of skin over them. The heads of both cadavers were concealed, but my classmates wanted to see the face of the dissected cadaver, so the teacher removed the covering. I ventured closer but couldn’t see the head, which was just as well—I gather it looked like a lump of meat with eyeballs in it—and then the smell and general horror of the whole thing overwhelmed me and I left the room.

We had nearly a full day of class on Saturday and then my buddy gave me and one of the teachers a ride back to San Francisco, and then she and I went out to dinner at Esperpento.

The next day I noticed that one effect of seeing the two cadavers was feeling thrilled to be not dead. Noticing my aging body in the mirror, I thought, you know the great thing about this body? It’s alive!

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Manopause

Several months ago, I wrote about spending an evening with the person who was my best friend when I was 14, Mark, and his older brother Doug. They had recently lost their father and their only other brother, and their mother died years ago, so they were the only two members of their family remaining. At the end of January, Mark called in tears to report that Doug himself had suddenly died! Mark and I are 52, and Doug was just 54, dead of a heart attack.

The following day was incredibly beautiful, like the most gorgeous Ann Arbor summer day. I was ironing and listening to the Brothers Johnson. When “Stomp!” came on, I got a vivid image of Doug way, way above us in the brilliant blue sky, dancing, joyful. Since he was so close in age to me and Mark, I have many memories of him from when I was a teenager.

That evening, Tom and I picked Mark and his wife Beth up at the airport and took them to San Jose. We went to their hotel so they could drop off their stuff, and stopped by Doug’s apartment, the door sealed by the coroner. Per the recommendation of a friend of Tom’s, we went to Santana Row for dinner, a strip of glittering high-end shops, including a Tesla showroom. We had burgers at the Left Bank Brasserie.

(Burgers? Yes. I decided to be a non-vegetarian just for Thanksgiving, and it has turned out that the slope between being a non-vegetarian just for Thanksgiving and being a non-vegetarian, period, was exceedingly slippery. But that’s OK. I still am a vegetarian at home, and I still care about the welfare of animals, but hanging around the soup kitchen has made me feel that being rigid about what one eats is unseemly, and so now if I feel like having meat when I’m eating out, I do, but not without guilt.)

++

During a phone date, my friend Margaux in Orange County whispered, “Hold on, I have to walk away from her before I say this,” and then she told me that her dog is at her heaviest weight ever: 13 pounds. It was considerate of her to step out of Khoi Loa’s earshot before dropping this bombshell.

++

Our administrative assistant at work told me she deals with pain very poorly, so when she left the house knowing she was going to the dentist to have a crown started, she told her sons, “Boys, if I don’t make it back, remember that Mama loves you—be strong.” She told me that once when she had a splinter in her hand, she went to the emergency room.

++

At the soup kitchen, I took a plate, bowl and spoon over to the bussing station and started to scrape them, but then saw that another volunteer was doing that task, so I joked, “I’ll let a professional handle this.” The other volunteer answered, “If you see one, tell him I’m working over here.”

I’ve noticed that many of the soup kitchen’s guests have unusually clear eyes. Maybe this is from having to look so hard for what they need, and from having to be so alert for looming dangers. (Or maybe just from not being able to afford a lot of junk food?)

One guest had his own police sheet laminated and hung around his neck; it features a photo of himself looking entirely deranged. To that he had added some religious images, and the word “Manopause.”

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Foul Oath

Shriek heard from the nearby tennis court: “Son of a beeswax!”

++

One Sunday in January, I put on my work clothes and walked down to the symphony hall to swoon over principal trumpet Mark Inouye. I didn’t really enjoy the musical selections (John Adams’ Grand Pianola Music, conducted by the composer, and Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat), but Elvis Costello was there as a narrator for the latter piece, which was a minor thrill. The young fellow next to me sat down and opened his legs wide, so I told him, “Young man, I’m sure you’re not intending to crowd me, but you’re kind of in my space.” He looked dumbfounded, but he moved his leg. His smart phone was nestled between his legs—even off, I guess it’s a source of comfort. It’s great to have attained the age where I can call other adults “Young man.”

++

At the soup kitchen one day, someone’s bicycle was parked in front of the magazine rack, with a fishing pole lashed to the bicycle, extending fore and aft. A guest pointed out its owner. “Is that your bicycle?”, I asked, and the owner glared and said, basically, “Yes, what’s it to you?” I ignored his tone and asked, “Can you please move it so I can get to the magazine rack?” I had a few magazines to put there, plus the two Chronicles I always pick up on my way over. He got up and moved the bike, while threatening, “If you tear up any of my stuff, I’ll [insert threat here].” I wasn’t listening to the details of what would happen if I damaged his property, but I replied, “I don’t doubt you’re telling the truth.” The guest who had pointed out the owner came over and apologized profusely, explaining that the bike owner is mentally ill. The executive director has told me that the guests often feel protective of the volunteers. Later the bicycle guy asked me for a favor, and I did it, and he thanked me.

++

I was getting ready to leave the break room one day at work and encountered a fellow getting ready to come in. I politely motioned for him to do so; I would exit after he came in. He politely motioned for me to come out; he would enter after I came out. We stood there in a mannerly standoff until I lost my temper, turned on my heel, and went out the other door. I had probably instantly applied a feminist analysis: the girl can only be the recipient of politeness and not the benefactor, but I think it comes more from many a similar cycling situation, where a motorist assumes I will run the stop sign and motions for me to go ahead.

But the vehicular cyclist does not go when it’s not her turn to go, and so I have often obstinately sat at an intersection until the motorist finally proceeds, sorry to say. Such a motorist is doing a kindness, and these days I try to remember just to accept it graciously, even though it reinforces the idea that cyclists are somehow incapable of comprehending and obeying traffic controls.

After the small incident at work, I was instantly remorseful and knew I would have to apologize the next time I saw the other party, though I wasn’t sure what words to use, since it’s rare that one corporate employee treats another with blatant rudeness. However, when I saw him next, the right words appeared: “I’m sorry I gave up on our game of who would go through the door first. I felt bad about it later. I apologize. Next time I’ll let you be the polite one,” and I extended my hand and introduced myself, and he was very nice about it, smiling and telling me his name. Whew.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bugwalk and the Father of Bugwalk



This car bumper makes Bugwalk's father look a bit more jauntily curved than he is in real life. Notice how our heads appear a second time at the top of the second photo, not to mention a third time, in the bumper fastener head / retainer bolt head / “round thing.” This is a fantastic photo, if I must say so myself!

(Click photos to enlarge.)

Monday, March 02, 2015

Medical Device Handily Repurposed

Speaking of Sayadaw U Tejaniya, he is coming to Spirit Rock in April to lead a retreat, so of course I applied the minute registration opened, and though it was a lottery, I was sure I was going to get in. I had to! I’m Sayadaw U Tejaniya’s biggest Bay Area fan! But, alas, I ended up #102 on the waiting list. Since the whole retreat will probably be a hundred people, it’s safe to say I’m not going to be there, though I sent the registrar a note asking if person number #102 ever actually gets into the retreat, and she said, “Yes!” and as of this writing, I’m #81, so you never know.

While SUT is here at Spirit Rock teaching, a handful of Western teachers will be at Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts leading a retreat based on his style of teaching. Last year it was the reverse: he was in Massachusetts and Steve Armstrong and Carol Wilson were at Spirit Rock teaching in his style. (Plus I hear from my dharma buddies that SUT is being mentioned at a lot of retreats lately.) Therefore, I could actually just go to the retreat in Massachusetts (which is about a quarter of the cost of going to Spirit Rock—even including airfare, I’d probably come out ahead), or wait until next year when Steve and Carol will likely be back at Spirit Rock, or go on some other retreat at Spirit Rock or somewhere else. Like Hawaii! Or, contemplating those who sleep under the freeway, I could decide that intensive meditation practice is a luxury and go without, in solidarity, at least for one year.

I’d been going to Laguna Honda to volunteer as a chaplain on Saturday mornings, but in mid-January, I started going on a weekday, after work. Bob, the hospital chaplain and my boss there, said he thought I’d find more people in their rooms. It seemed about the same to me in that regard, and it’s more cheerful to be there when it’s broad daylight, and people seemed more agitated and upset in the evening, but Saturdays are probably not sustainable. I don’t want to end up quitting the whole thing, and maybe it’s more of a service if I’m there at a time of day when people are more fretful.

C., who was beaten nearly to death for $60, was celebrating his 66th birthday that week, so I took him a card and a pretty piece of polished amethyst. He was happy because the hospital had given him two hats and a jacket. The latter is orange and looks very nice against his dark skin. He had carefully written out some questions to ask his doctors about the proposed brain surgery. He said he can’t always understand things now—for the first time, I noticed a substantial concavity on one side of his skull, nicely healed over—so he said he would take someone along who could help listen to the answers and write them down.

E., who has necrotizing fasciitis, had discovered that various hard drugs could be shot into the port through which his antibiotics were being administered, and thought that was why he was suddenly being discharged to an SRO in the Tenderloin, or possibly it was his habit of yelling angrily at the nurses. He obviously felt bad about the latter. I could completely relate. I never want to lose my temper with someone who doesn’t deserve it (or even with someone who seemingly does), but sometimes I do, and I always feel awful afterward. E.’s wound needs cleaning three times a day, but they’re only going to send a nurse once a day. He fears he is going to end up dead; it sounds like he knows that drug use and caring for his wound are not going to be compatible. I felt bad for him. I had only one substantial chat with him, but liked him a lot right away.

Before I left, I looked him right in the eye and told him I had noticed three great things about him. The look on his face while I said what they were was very touching. I said, “First, you’re extremely honest. That is an asset. And you have a wonderful sense of humor. That is an asset. And I can clearly see your intention to be kind and patient. Maybe you can’t do it at every moment, but I see your intention.” His friend, an excitable fellow resident, chimed in, “E.’s a good guy.” I said, “I can clearly see that.”

I can relate to getting frustrated and speaking in a harsh manner. I can relate to really, really not wanting to take an action that is self-destructive and discovering that the only thing I want more is to do that very thing. I’m afraid E. may be right that he is now on a downhill slope that is very steep and very slick. I told him I’d be thinking about him, which I will be. Beyond that, there’s not a thing I can do.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Dictator

Sorry; a bit in arrears here. Here’s a hugely long post to start the process of getting caught up!

At the soup kitchen one day in January, a guest was sitting on a chair outside eating a bowl of soup. On the ground underneath his chair was a second bowl, empty, with some debris in it, likely left by someone else. “Shall I take this away?”, I asked, and without waiting for an answer, I bent down to take it and the guest glared at me, clearly enraged. He said, “Sure, go ahead—Hitler.” Perhaps in the future I’ll wait for an answer.

In November’s chaplaincy class, one of my classmates made an evidently racist remark, which no one, including our three teachers, flagged in the moment. A good deal of angst arose in the hours and days after that class, for teachers and students alike. In December, we had a long discussion about it, but the person who had made the remark wasn’t there, as he had previously arranged to be away on retreat. In January’s class, we were all present and our teachers said the person who had made the remark wanted to say something to us all. That could have been, “There was some unseen racism in what I said—I’m really sorry.” I time that at approximately six seconds, and it would have fixed the whole thing, but instead what we got was about a six-page essay he had written, about some of his own suffering, and overall quite the reverse of an apology, and after he read it to us, he left, though one of our teachers asked if he would sit silently with us for ten minutes before he went, and he did do that.

So then we had another long discussion about the whole thing, very emotional for some; there were tears. That discussion also made it obvious whose sympathies lay where. While most had perceived the remark as racist, some didn’t, and agreed with the remark-maker that he was being persecuted by us, his classmates.

We had done the council process, where each person speaks briefly, preferably from the heart, with no crosstalk: certainly no interrupting, and no responding directly to what someone else has said. It is optional to speak, and we went around the circle three times. By the third time around, most people had nothing more to say, but just in case, we left the “talking stick,” in this case a microphone, in the center of the circle and just sat in silence while we waited to see if anyone would have any further urge to speak. A couple of people did.

While people were literally weeping for the suffering in this world, including that of the remark-maker, I felt quite the opposite, and wondered if there was something wrong with me for feeling judgmental and, in general, for not easily sharing deep emotion in this kind of setting. However, those who were very visibly emotional were in the minority, not that it should really matter, and I decided that how I am is fine. Or, at any rate, it’s how I am.

In regard to not feeling compassion for the remark-maker, I shared that fact, and said that I could see that my mind and heart had snapped shut, and that while I hoped they might soften—I would like my mind and heart to be open to everyone—at the least, I could try to be aware of and acknowledge my reactions.

The day after class, I went to Laguna Honda and visited all my regulars plus a couple of new people, one exceedingly anxious, continually gulping water. Someone had told him he was going to have an appointment that morning and it had thrown him into a panic: What appointment? With whom? When? About what?

C., who I have visited every time I’ve been there, who has had surgery on one eye and is awaiting surgery on his other eye and then on his brain, told me and Bob that he was mugged—beaten nearly to death—for $60, which he would gladly have given his muggers. He was happy to have reached the point, after months in the hospital, where he can walk on his own, just using a cane, and in fact he was moving at a good clip. He looked very steady and hardly seemed to need the cane at all. He told us that the brain surgery, unfortunately, is risky. If it works, it will stop chronic bleeding in his head, but if it fails, it will erase his ability to see and speak. He’s trying to decide whether to go ahead or not.

I notice I’m feeling a bit more paranoid, or more cautious. I find myself more carefully looking both ways before I cross a street, for instance, now that being at the soup kitchen and at the hospital has made me more aware of the many ways life can really get messed up. I’m more aware that some people out there are genuinely dangerous. C. was beaten by strangers; A. was shot in the back by a stranger; another hospital resident was hit over the head with a baseball bat by strangers. Three lives changed permanently, and so many more like them, here and everywhere. I sometimes have bad dreams lately, where I’m in a room full of people with dreadful, alarming problems. I think these arise more from the soup kitchen than the hospital.

In some cases, no doubt people are engaged in activities that bring them into contact with those who incline toward violence, but in others, people may live in crappy, dangerous neighborhoods because of the systemic effects of racism.

Sunday of that weekend, I did my cooking and found myself thinking about a guest at the soup kitchen, H., who so far has tended to do most of the talking when we visit. I was pondering how he obviously wants me to see him as having this and that good quality, and I was thinking that this is because he values those qualities and aspires to have them, and even if he has done the reverse up until now, and even if he fails 90 percent of the time from now on, that very aspiration is beautiful and touching.

That caused me to think about my classmate and how he wants to be seen. Obviously no one wants to be seen as a racist. No doubt he wants to be seen as tolerant, kind, and fair-minded. He wants to feel respected, understood and liked by us, his classmates. Therefore, how excruciating it must have been for him to sit alone at home, listening to the recording of the discussion we had at the December class, while he was on retreat. And what a shame he wasn’t able to hang in there for the emotional discussion at January’s class, which made many of us feel much more connected as a group. Wouldn’t it have been great if he had been there at the end of the day, sitting with us all, feeling connected to us all? And so, voila! Compassion for the remark-maker.
 

After my epiphany, I sent him this email:

Dear [Classmate],

After you left, we had another discussion about your original anecdote and about the written piece you shared with us on Friday, using the council process—attempting to share from the heart.

It was quite emotional and also made the spectrum of opinions and feelings much clearer. Therefore, it was surprising to me that there didn’t seem to be any residue from this discussion, with people of evidently opposite sentiments visiting in a friendly manner during the rest of the day. By day’s end, there was a noticeable feeling of group togetherness, which I think was due to the more emotional sharing. While I completely understand that self-care required your leaving in the morning, I was sorry you weren’t there. It would have been wonderful if you had been able to share in that feeling. (Which is not to assume that you would necessarily have felt that way if you had been there.)

I must be honest in saying that I still think the original remark was racist; however, I acknowledge that I may be wrong about that. I therefore was further inflamed by much of what you read, though also shocked by the dreadful mistreatment you have received in the past.

However, in sitting with it since then, it became palpably clear to me how utterly excruciating it must have been for you to sit by yourself listening to the discussion from the prior month. I can imagine feeling very, very upset in that situation, and very, very angry. I salute the courage it took for you to come to class this most recent Friday.

Friday’s class made it clear (once again) how much every single one of us aspires to be kind, and how we can care for and feel safe with those whose opinions we couldn’t agree with less and those who have not at every moment acted or spoken precisely as we would prefer. [Smiley face.]

I hope you will be with us in February, and I hope that we will as a group reach a sense of friendliness, understanding and togetherness. Based on Friday’s class, I can easily envision it.

With best wishes,
[Bugwalk]

Lately I have been not listening to music while I cook. Listening to music is an immense pleasure, and I’m sure I will get back to doing so, but thanks to Sayadaw U Tejaniya, I’m now aflame with curiosity to notice just what is happening in the mind in as many moments as I’m able to be aware of it. I doubt I would have had the insight about H. at the soup kitchen and my classmate if music had been playing.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Warm

I recently had my three-years-after-DCIS mammogram and, even though the risk of a recurrence is low, I was relieved to get an all clear. Also, the bathroom off the waiting room was particularly pleasant. It was warm, and smelled of the greenery just outside the window.


(Click photo to enlarge.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Best That Can Happen

I have the idea that it’s good to do things on New Year’s Day that symbolize what you’d like your year to be full of. If that’s true, this is going to be a splendid year, but in any event, it was a great day from beginning to end. I got up at 6:30 and did some writing and put up a post here, meditated, had breakfast, did my physical therapy exercises and had an excellent chat on the phone with David and Lisa for an hour.

Then I went for a walk with the friend I walk with from time to time. For about two and a half hours, we wended our way through the Mission and down Market St., coming back via Folsom, talking all the while. We ran into a fellow, known to my friend, who told us about the place where he lives. It was brand-new when he moved in, so no one had lived there before him, and he has his own kitchen and bathroom, and a two-burner stove, and free wi-fi. It costs one third of his monthly “income”—his General Assistance check. That comes to about $265. I was delighted for him. It sounds truly perfect. I wish every homeless person could have the same.

I had two writing assignments due for my chaplaincy class the following week and was starting to be worried about having enough time to get them done, but after I got back from walking and after I had lunch, there was enough time to do a good solid draft of both assignments, and they both ended up being done on time.

Then, on New Year’s Day, it occurred to me I hadn’t talked to Margaux in a while, so I gave her a call and we had a really nice talk, for perhaps an hour. She is a strongly faithful Christian, and I had never understood how that happened, since when we met, at 13, she was a nice little Jewish girl, so I asked about it and she explained the whole thing. It’s entirely due to my chaplaincy class that I was interested in learning about this. It turns out that Margaux was already a stealth Christian when we met. Amazing that it took 40 years to actually have a conversation about it. One aspect of her faith is a very strong commitment to service. Whatever job she has is always well aligned with her desire to serve others, plus she does a good deal of volunteering. She says if things are going well in your life, you should be giving back constantly, giving all you can. That is inspiring, and getting caught up with Margaux was a lovely way to end a very perfect day.

A few days later, I went to volunteer at Laguna Honda. During one of my visits in December, Bob had conversed with a resident solely in Spanish after apologizing for having a rather rudimentary capability (“Tengo pocas palabras” — “I have few words”). When we left the person’s room, he asked me, “Do you think you could do that?”

On my first visit early in the new year, I ran into that same resident in the hallway and did indeed converse with him entirely in Spanish. I’d prepared a cheat sheet that included several of the things Bob had said in his simple conversation. I didn’t have to look at it, but it was helpful as a mental reference, and the resident had to say only one word in English for me. I’m excited about this opportunity to improve my conversational skills.

After I got back from Laguna Honda, Carol Joy came to visit. We went to the Mission Creek Café and played two games of Sneaky Pete, the rummy-type game we often play. We were literally the only people speaking in the café. There were 10 or 15 other people in there, but every last one of them was staring at a laptop. Kind of creepy, like being the only living people in a morgue, until the end of the afternoon, when a man with beautiful long blond hair sat down next to us and asked what we were playing and was generally very friendly. We gave him the printed instructions for the game when we left. Carol Joy always brings them along, because I always have to reread them before we play.

Then we walked over to Hecho, on Market St., a restaurant co-owned by Carol Joy’s next door neighbor in Novato. It was quite loud and, for $24, I got enough food to constitute dinner only because I ate 99 percent of two bowls of complimentary tortilla chips and salsa. In addition, they like to bring dishes out of the kitchen in a large, dramatic cloud of choking chile smoke. The next day, my glasses were coated with a sticky film that had to be removed using soap and water. That’s fine, since I was in there for only an hour, but isn’t everyone who works there going to end up with a horrible respiratory illness? That is to say, I won’t be returning, but what we had (fish tacos and fried avocado tacos) was delicious (if tiny), and I could certainly recommend trying the place once. Maybe bring a discreet gas mask.

I am rereading I Am That, a collection of interviews conducted by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, and came upon his advice to let one’s entire personal life sink below the threshold of consciousness, a rather thrilling idea. He says that we don’t have to think about how to breathe or how to digest food, and that we don’t have to think about a lot of other stuff, either. He doesn’t mean that we would be unaware that we are making a phone call or walking down the street, but that we can let go of the story that generally accompanies our every move. Things will happen without our doing so much conscious management.

Yvonne Ginsberg said something similar the first Tuesday evening in January, when she was filling in for Howie. She talked about noticing thoughts as they arise and not following them to their oft-repeated ends, which simply digs the grooves in our brains that much deeper. When we can notice a thought and let it go (probably most easily accomplished by putting our attention on some aspect of our physical experience, or by just noticing that we’re thinking), we have a chance for a fresh, unconditioned encounter with the world.

She said the best that can happen in any situation will arise from the intention to pay attention. Our very best move is to notice this moment, and this one, and this one. “Let’s see how much well-being we can tolerate before we make trouble for ourselves,” she advised. She also pointed out that we Bay Area meditators are living indulged, luxurious, wonderful lives, which could not be more true.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Let the Invisible Hand Work

Over the holidays, Howie was away, and Yvonne Ginsberg filled in for him for three weeks in a row. The first week, she said that we are actually more powerful when we let go of our defenses—when we are at our most vulnerable—because then we have access to more of our interior resources. I have a feeling that’s going to stay with me. (She once said, regarding impatience and wanting things to be as we prefer, “Let the invisible hand work.” I’ve never forgotten that.)

She also said that the awakening to which the Buddha refers is awakening from the trance of thought. I guess I’d never thought about what specifically the awakening was. Maybe I thought it was awakening to direct knowledge of our cosmic oneness or some such. However, I do believe that any moment when we’re not lost in thought is a moment of enlightenment, so I loved what Yvonne said. Fortunately, the idea of “becoming enlightened” didn’t persist long into my meditation career. I think that idea causes a good amount of misery for some.

On Christmas Eve there was a splendid luncheon party at the soup kitchen, which had been decorated for the holiday. There was a Christmas tree. Instead of standing in line, the guests were served a special lunch at their tables, complete with cake for dessert. Usually the soup kitchen doesn’t serve sweets (or coffee). The executive director had told me they’d have live music, which I interpreted to mean a folksinger with a guitar, but in fact it was a wonderful Latin-flavored band, complete with percussion and trumpet player.

There may be 20 volunteers there for a typical lunch, but on this day, there may have been 80 or more volunteers. It’s a major undertaking, both the preparations and the day itself. I was a busser, and with the surfeit of volunteers, I didn’t have all that much to do. There was one lone, brave woman—tall and skinny, in tight red trousers—dancing expressively all by herself. She saw me tapping my foot and came over to encourage me to dance. I’m not that intrepid, but then I spotted a fellow volunteer, a sweet person who often wears one enormous comical hat or another. On this day, he was wearing a lavender jacket and a huge bamboo hat that came to a point at the top. I asked if he’d like to dance and we turned out to be perfect dance partners. We danced for several songs in a row, and for one of them, the executive director came out and joined the tall woman, so it was the four of us. Very fun.

Then Tom and I drove to Sacramento in dense traffic, four hours to get there instead of two. We and Ann had a lovely dinner at Steve and Julie’s. Steve received Ann Patchett’s book of essays from Ann, which I immediately borrowed. I gave Ann Rod Kiracofe’s latest book about quilts, which is gorgeous. Tom and I slept over at Ann’s and in the morning we all went over to Paul and Eva’s for stockings, and got to see Chris and Kristin, and Sarah and Farid.

The Saturday after Christmas, I made Egyptian Bean and Vegetable Soup from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, which is delectable. On Sunday, Ann came from Sacramento and she and Tom and I had lunch at Thai Street Food, and then we saw Red Hot Patriot at Berkeley Rep, with Kathleen Turner in the starring role. I never regret going to see live theater, but this show will not be remembered as a favorite. I did get some sense of Molly Ivins’ career, but I don’t know if the idea of using Molly Ivins’ relationship with her father as the framework for the whole show was a good one. It didn’t seem quite organic, and Turner seemed stiff and uncomfortable, even unsure what to do with her hands. Watching her was not a relaxing experience.