Wednesday, May 20, 2015

San Quentin

Near the end of April, those in my chaplaincy class who were so inclined went on another field trip, this time to San Quentin State Prison, just north of San Francisco in Marin County. We’d had to submit our names and driver’s license numbers weeks in advance to get clearance, and Gil, our teacher who took us on this field trip, told us that even with clearance, we could arrive and be denied entry, if there had been violence and the prison was on lockdown, or if it proved to be foggy, which impedes the ability of guards to see inmates in the yard from their towers and shoot them if necessary. Gil also warned us that, in the event we were taken hostage, we would not be recognized as such for bargaining purposes.

There is a strict dress code for visitors, which prohibits the colors that make up 99% of my wardrobe: green, blue and yellow. No denim of any color is allowed. I zipped into a thrift store a few days before our visit to pick up a tan men’s shirt to wear with my black work pants.

Our group of about 12 met in the parking lot and walked to the first guard station, where our host, Jacques Verduin, advised us to stay together, to stay out of the guards’ way, and to follow any of his instructions immediately. We entered the campus, which is pretty, with handsome old buildings ringing open spaces with grass and flowers. Odd that from that pleasant spot, we could see the Adjustment Center.

We went into the chapel, where we sat in a big circle for the weekly mindfulness meditation group led by Jacques. Besides us, there were maybe 35 inmates in the room. As inmates entered the room, they shook hands with us and told us their names. Jacques had told us visitors to spread out, so almost all of us were sitting with an inmate on either side. Most wore jeans or navy sweatpants, most of which, but not all, had PRISONER running down one leg in big letters. Many wore blue shirts of a particularly lovely hue, a bright sky blue. I was interested to see that no two pairs of shoes were the same—I guess you get to keep your own—and hairstyles also varied.

Jacques led us in a brief meditation, and then those who wished to shared about how their meditation practice helps them. Jerome, sitting to my right, said that his practice helps him distinguish the stories he tells himself in his head from reality. I was impressed. I think it took me about 15 years to get that. Many of the prisoners had very clear, insightful things to say about their meditating, and many also said they love coming to the group each week, where it’s peaceful and quiet and where they can do something that is constructive and leaves them feeling calm. It sounded like everyone in the room has a daily sitting practice.

Jacques seems to be doing a remarkable job, somehow getting right to the heart of the matter in short order. A reading was handed around, and people took turns reading aloud a paragraph, and then they or others could comment on that paragraph. It is clear that one of Jacques’ priorities is to help his students understand how feelings and thoughts are experienced in their bodies. Part of the reading said, “It’s exactly in perceiving how I hold an experience in the body that I come to understand how I attach meaning to it and I become able to see it in a wider perspective.”

Then Jacques invited us chaplaincy students to ask any questions we had. He told us not to be polite, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask, “So, uh, what kinds of crimes did you commit?” One of us asked for a specific example of a moment when a prisoner’s meditation practice had been helpful and one inmate shared an anecdote about that. Another question was about racial tensions in the prison, but someone said it’s not really a problem there—it helps that 85% of the inmates are African American. Another questioner noted the feeling of camaraderie in the room—is it very different outside the meditation group? The answer, which was surprising, was that there is a feeling throughout the prison population that the inmates are brothers.

Toward the end, we meditated together again and then Jacques asked us visitors to stay seated and for the prisoners to walk around in a circle and bow to each of us, which they did. He said we were simply to receive this, but I saw some of my classmates bowing in return, so I did the same, but I didn’t need to, because next the inmates sat down and we visitors walked around the circle to bow to each inmate. I looked into the eyes of each person I bowed to and smiled and tried to see him as if I were the person who most loved him in all the world. Most inmates politely bowed back, but some followed instructions and just received our respect and good wishes, though nearly everyone whispered, “Thank you.”

A second post on our trip to San Quentin is forthcoming.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Hammett barfed once or twice a month or so ago, so I decided it was time to go to the vet. I skipped his annual check-up last year because two years ago, he went so berserk when I put him in his carrier that he cut his head open. At his recent visit, it turned out that he had lost a pound and a half, which is a lot for a ten-pound cat, and that he has hyperthyroidism. This might explain some of his more crazed behavior in recent months. I’m sorry now that I didn’t make him go to the vet last year; maybe the diagnosis could have been made then. Dr. Press said his life expectancy may not be affected at all, but said he’d need to take a pill every 12 hours for the rest of his life. Actually, he didn’t quite say that. He said “a pill every day” and left it to the person I picked the pills up from to clarify that it’s actually half a pill twice a day.

After I picked up the pills, I used a pill shooter to administer Hammett’s evening dose and did the same the next morning. At Rainbow, one of the workers showed me some soft salmon treats his cat likes, and it turned out Hammett was happy to take his pill concealed in a couple of cat treats rolled into a ball. For five days. Then he decided he hated that kind of treat, and it was back to the pill shooter, which he doesn’t hate, but which I’m sure is not much fun for him, and which definitely is not fun for me.

I called Dr. Press to ask a few questions: Does the pill have to be given precisely every 12 hours? How early or late can it be? What about when I go on vacation? What side effects of the medication should I watch out for?

Dr. Press said if I made a compelling case that I simply could not medicate Hammett every 12 hours, he would agree to a once-a-day protocol, but twice a day works better. Therefore, it’s fine for the morning or evening pill to be very early or late, and it’s fine for him to get his daily dose all at once while I’m away. As for side effects, he said to watch out for vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite.

That very night, Hammett vomited four times, and the following night, between 1 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., he vomited 13 times. I was upset, feeling I had failed the dearest cat there is by skipping his check-up last year, and by not noticing sooner that he was losing weight. He has always been skinny and from time to time, I have thought that he doesn’t have much leeway when it comes to losing weight—he wouldn’t have to lose his appetite for very long before he’d be at death’s door. Death’s door is what he seemed to be approaching, and he’s only just turned nine.

Dr. Press said the vomiting was presumably due to the pills, so to stop the pills and switch to a transdermal gel, which is rubbed on the inside of the ear twice a day. The first time I administered the gel, it got all over my bare skin and all over the inside and outside of Hammett’s ear. I found a video online in which a fellow demonstrates how he puts gel in his cat’s ear. It was helpful, but on the other hand, the feline star of the video is shown placidly lying down, happy to have the gel applied.

But the second time I applied the gel, it went a bit better, and I also ran into J.J. from Mission Pet Hospital that evening or the next and she demonstrated on my hand how well the gel has to be rubbed in, which was instructive.

Unfortunately, a week after starting the gel, Hammett barfed again. Dr. Press happened to call out of the blue just then and said he was afraid of that—Hammett may also have something going on with his intestinal tract. However, it may also just be that his thyroid levels aren’t normal yet. Hyperthyroidism can mask kidney problems, so once his thyroid levels are OK, we
’ll have to see how his kidneys are. Dr. Press said he’s rather young for kidney problems.
Well, we shall see. I invited his cat sitter over to learn how to apply the gel, but as soon as Hammett saw her, he ran away in a panic. I picked him up and he was trembling with fear. I have never been very fond of this person myself, but figured that if Hammett was always alive when I returned from vacation, that was the main thing. However, he was so terrified, it was impossible to do the demo, and so I decided it’s time to find a new cat sitter, preferably one who is also a veterinary technician, so the search is underway.

His old cat sitter said he was freaking out because he associates her with my being gone, and maybe that’s so, but it’s hard to believe that he was thinking, “There’s that person I really, really like, and she’s with my mother, who I also really, really like, but usually when I see her, it’s when my mother is gone, so now I don’t like her.” My mother said that sounded like rather complex thinking for a cat, and I agree.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

A Resounding Silence

Late in March, I came down with a cold and lost my voice completely for three and a half days. Fortunately, my job can largely be performed without actually speaking to anyone. Tom needed a ride to the airport at 4:45 a.m. on one of the mornings I couldn’t talk, and my first impulse was to say “No!” Actually, I did ask, “Are you morally opposed to SuperShuttle?” (this was before I lost my voice) and he explained that they wanted to pick him up at 3 a.m., which I could sympathize with. He does favor after favor for me, so I agreed to drive to the airport with him and return the City CarShare car to its pod afterward.

At night, when I go to bed, I ask myself, “What did I do today that was great? What do I feel remorse about? What am I grateful for?” These all have to be interpersonal events, things that happened with other people. I had asked Tom to pick up the car in the morning and swing back by our building to fetch me afterward so I could sleep for as long as possible, but I ended up being awake at 4:20 a.m. and decided to walk over to get the car with him, so he wouldn’t have to go alone. When he came out of his apartment, I smiled instead of frowned. And when we couldn’t figure out how to do this, that and the other in the Mini Cooper and he was getting stressed out, not being able to say anything whatsoever prevented me from asking, “Why did you reserve a car for just going to the airport that’s so hard to drive (and is also more expensive than some of the other choices)?” So that’s what I did that day that was great, and it was fun driving back from the airport with my arm hanging out of the window into the cold morning air, with the musical stylings of Metallica coming out of the sound system.

I looked online to see what to do about laryngitis and saw some advice to chew up and swallow an entire clove of raw garlic. This I did, against my better judgment, and will not do again. However, chewing raw ginger seemed to shock a few syllables into emerging.


One afternoon, I spilled the better part of a cup of hot chamomile tea onto my desk and watched awestruck as it soaked a bunch of papers, sloshed underneath my turntable and around my computer and a box of Puffs with Lotion, and dripped down onto my shredder, some electrical wires, and the floor. Wow. At least it wasn’t a chocolate milkshake, one more argument for avoiding sugar.


At the soup kitchen, I sat handing out numbers, consciously feeling my chest and stomach area, and mentally encouraging myself to relax and make space for what was felt there. Suddenly the guest sitting next to me said, “You’re a nice lady. Thank you for letting me sit next to you.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pleasure Dome

Mid-February, I went to the Mindfulness Care Center’s monthly grief and loss support group. The first time I went was months prior, and I found it very helpful, ditto on the more recent occasion. It’s such a balm to be among people who are speaking in a very sincere manner, straight from their hearts and from the depths of their most profound feelings, and to be able to do the same myself and feel completely safe and comfortable. My partner for the evening’s dyad exercise was a woman who is a member of Howie’s sangha. I’d never spoken with her before, and she proved to be just the loveliest, kindest person. I experience very little sorrow about Carlos these days, with very few tears, but I still fairly often feel a mild shock and disbelief that he isn’t here.


Seen at the soup kitchen: a pit bull in a tight, slightly torn wife-beater undershirt. I know we
’re not supposed to think of pit bulls as menacing, but this one really did look like someone to avoid.

While I was at the laundromat, a homeless woman came in and sat at the little table and watched with interest as I folded 26 navy t-shirts. “You like dark colors,” she observed, adding, “Well, at least you know you’re not wearing the same shirt every day.” It had actually never occurred to me that people thought I was wearing the same t-shirt every day.

Then we discussed hair. She asked if I ever braid mine—it’s not long enough—and said that she has always had layers and just recently let her hair grow out long enough to pull back into a ponytail. I told her it looked nice: “It shows off your face, and then you have the nice ponytail in back.” She beamed at that.

At times, she mumbled rather incoherently, but I could tell she was saying something about needing $13.95 more in order to be able to sleep in a shelter. I told her she was welcome to whatever quarters I had left over after my 11 loads of laundry and two trips to the laundromat. That turned out to be only $2.25 and she thanked me for it, but started to cry, saying as if to herself, “Where will I go?”

At home, soft touch that I am, I fetched a $20 bill and went back to the laundromat and gave it to her. She was pleased and moved and said, “Can I have a hug? I don’t bite.” I gave her a warm hug, as the executive director at the soup kitchen freely gives his guests. It’s interesting how right after you give someone a generous gift, they also want a hug, but it’s because being treated kindly touches our hearts and reminds us that what we all really want is love.


One of Hammett’s high-spirited activities is to hop up on the kitchen counter near the sink and sit down, right where I often set food down. I usually nudge him off the counter (and then feel like a jerk, because he clearly would prefer to sit there) or, in a more tolerant mood, pick him up and set him on the floor, which sometimes has to be done five times in a row.

One day, I decided to investigate my feeling of annoyance rather than act on it and was going about my business nearby when a tremendous perturbation occurred behind me. I turned to see Hammett attempting to claw his way out of the window above the sink, which was nearly but not quite open enough for this, and either he was standing in the plastic container full of diluted dish soap or landed in it after releasing his hold on the windowsill. In any event, he ended up soaked to the knees in dish soap, which I didn’t want him to ingest while cleaning himself, so then I had to take him into the bathroom and try to run warm water over his hind legs, which action was vigorously and successfully opposed. I put warm water in a plastic bin and set him in it long enough to rinse the soap off, and then dried him as best I could.


After chaplaincy class in March, I had dinner with a classmate, as always, this time at Udupi Palace. When she asked if I’d have dessert, I said, “No, my body is a temple,
and she replied, “My body is a pleasure dome.”


I took a walk with my walking friend. Now and then he has a cup of coffee during our outings, so I asked, “Would you like to stop for a cup of coffee?”, but he said, “No, I’m still releasing my first one,” which struck me as hilarious. We found ourselves down at the Civic Center, where we saw part of the St. Patrick’s Day parade, which featured a tremendous number of police officers (marching) and nearly as many cute children. It was pretty sparsely attended, making it a nice alternative to the Gay Pride parade. We had lunch at Ananda Fuara and then walked back to the Mission and went to sit on a bench at the top of Dolores Park, which was extremely crowded. It was a very warm, sunny day. All told, we spent six pleasant hours together.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Big Pink

Early in February, I went to the San Francisco airport to pick up a very special, much-anticipated guest, my father, who’d decided that he wanted to go to the wedding of his brother (my Uncle Joe) in Bend, OR, and also to spend some time in San Francisco. My mother isn’t much of a flyer, so he came alone. Standing at the airport watching people arrive, I felt a tremendous sense of fondness for my fellow humans. It made me think of the sequences at the beginning and end of the movie Love, Actually.

There was a woman waiting near me who didn’t seem friendly, but when her people appeared—a younger man and woman and a baby—she snatched the baby from its parents and turned beaming to me, showing the infant off. I smiled back, appreciating, with her, this particularly excellent baby.

On the way back from the airport, my father and I saw a double rainbow, very wide and very close to the ground. Both ends could be seen all the way back to town. Dad pointed out how all the sky visible between the two rainbows was perfectly grey, which he thought was unusual.

I had some photos to drop off with a guest at the soup kitchen, but had forgotten what day it was, and so found the place deserted, except that the executive director had by chance stopped by, along with one of his housemates. The housemate yelled, “Hi, Dad!” and gave my extremely reserved father a big hug.

The next day, Dad took a long walk to Buena Vista Park and back. We went to Esperpento for lunch together, and then he came with me on my regular walk.

Since we were going to Bend, it had occurred to me that we might as well go to Seattle to see my cousin and her husband and daughter and mother-in-law and David and Lisa, and if we were going to Seattle, then we might as well go to Portland, where neither of us had never been. I proposed this itinerary and I was sure Dad was going to say he’d prefer just to go to Bend for the wedding and otherwise hang out in San Francisco, but he said, “Sure!”

I think he probably came to regret that, as it turned out to be, using his word, quite a hectic undertaking. We flew to Seattle the day after our lunch at Esperpento, took the light rail downtown and the monorail to our hotel, then walked over to the Row House Café for lunch and back to our hotel via the Center for Wooden Boats. In the evening, we drove a rental car to Shoreline for dinner with the aforementioned crew.

The next day we drove to Portland, which struck both of us as gloomy. We did have a tasty lunch at the Portland City Grill (recommended by David) and appreciated the expansive view from the high floor of “Big Pink.” Our server was raving about how lucky we’d gotten with the weather, though if that was good weather, I don’t want to see the bad weather. That evening we made an attempt to visit Willamette Falls, but couldn’t find it, plus the traffic going back into town was awful.

I’d brought a number of maps and printed out many pages of driving instructions, nearly all of which were useless: we got lost over and over and over. It turns out the best use of a paper map is to cause someone with a smart phone to rush to your assistance. One day as we were driving on the freeway, I thought, “I’m going to have to get a smart phone” (though I subsequently decided it would be simpler and cheaper just not to travel) and just at that moment, Dad said, “I’m going to have to get a smart phone with GPS.” Mom has long wanted one, so I gave her a call from my dumb phone to give her the good news: soon she will have a smart phone! She was happy.

The next morning, we had breakfast at Milo’s Café on Broadway in Portland, across the bridge from downtown. Dad got a little plastic giraffe with his hot chocolate and kindly turned it over to me. We drove that day to Bend, passing Mt. Hood, which I think was a highlight for both of us—so beautiful. The wedding was held at the performance space for an arts complex. Of course we got lost on our way there, but made it just in time. Another guest told us that if the weather had been typical for that time of year, there would have been too much snow for us to be able to drive from Portland.

Uncle Joe’s bride, Roxanne, is short and pillowy and laughs a lot and is a fantastic dancer; Uncle Joe said she was actually not even showing off all her moves. I joked, “That’s low gear?” and he said it was.

The invitation had said 3:30 – 6:30, with reception to follow, but it turned out that the entire event took place between 3:30 and 6:30. The ceremony itself took about five minutes, and included a mention of my father's mother, my Grandma Helen (whose birthday it was), which made me tear up a little. How odd to hear her, last seen 45 years ago in her bed in her house west of Ann Arbor, mentioned in February of 2015 in Bend, OR.

The next day, we drove from Bend back to San Francisco and had dinner with Tom on Valencia St. Dad’s final day in San Francisco was Valentine’s Day. He took a long, long walk to Ocean Beach and back, and I went over to the soup kitchen to drop the aforementioned photos off with the guest. That day was expected to set a heat record in San Francisco and a cold record in Ypsilanti, MI. Dad said that while he was strolling on the beach in the warm sunlight, Mom called to see where the ice scraper was.

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


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.