Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Shift at the Soup Kitchen

A couple of weekends ago, Lisa M. and I took a glorious walk in Tilden Park on a sunny day. Dinner was a shocking amount of extremely delicious garlic noodles with soft tofu at Sunflower, on Valencia near 16th. In the evening, I took my Bianchi up to Tom’s so he could start getting it ready to sell. A couple of days later, I took a broken shredder to e-waste, at Howard and 2nd St., and I gave away, on Craigslist, a nice, sturdy card table that I never use.

That week, Howie was away, and Elad Levinson was our guest teacher.

On Thursday, using four of the 16 community service hours my company pays for each year, I walked over to the soup kitchen I donated the kitchen stuff to and met a kind and friendly crew of volunteers preparing soup, salad and bread to serve for lunch. I chopped vegetables—lettuce, cilantro, cucumbers, celery, kale—which was simple, satisfying work for a worthy cause, and when that was done, the crew chief said I should go out and mingle with the guests, who were in the courtyard with their shopping carts and dogs and collections of stuff, and, in one case, a frightening-looking knife, unsheathed. There were a handful of women, but it was mostly men.

I got a chance to chat with the executive director later and he said that if he’d seen the knife, he would have asked its owner to put it away. He also said that some volunteers like to be with the guests, while others never leave the kitchen. As the self-appointed greeter at Mission Dharma, I was delighted to walk around saying hello and chatting. I had extended conversations with a man from Arkansas with lovely blue eyes and also with a fellow who started by explaining that his fit and trim appearance was due to a low-carb regime he adopted some weeks ago. He said he was planning to have one bowl of soup, and no bread or salad. He was extremely friendly. I enjoyed talking to both of them, as well as to a man who told me he thanks God each morning for giving him another day. It is always humbling to meet someone who has so few resources and yet so much gratitude. It makes it seem particularly ridiculous that I should ever feel dissatisfied about anything.

Knowing that Carlos used to have lunch there (and also avail himself of free massages, should the massage lady be there), that he’d eaten soup with some of these exact same people, he seemed very near, as if I’d catch a glimpse of him if I turned my head fast enough. I could picture him so vividly, in the crowd with everyone else, moving serenely along in his baggy Tibetan pants.

Vegetable chopping took from nine until about 10:15, and then socializing was until noon, when lunch was served. The guests lined up and received their fresh-cooked soup—chicken or vegetarian bean, both full of vegetables—and a rectangular paper cup of salad, and stopped by a counter piled high with sliced bread, and then sat at a table indoors or outdoors, most eating slowly, no doubt enjoying the chance to sit and to be with others (or maybe just to sit) in a safe, welcoming place. One woman fell sound asleep with her head next to her soup bowl, bread still clutched in her hand.

I walked around fetching guests more soup and salad, if they wanted it, and taking away empty bowls. I really loved the whole thing: simple work that is needed and appreciated, and getting to meet both the volunteers and the guests.

On my way there in the morning, I received a proposal of marriage, and as I walked home, another fellow said, “When I see you, I’m in love!” On top of those unusual occurrences, I spotted Lynn Breedlove, former front lady of Tribe 8, on Mission St. I’d seen her in the mesmerizing documentary about the band, but never before in person, so that was exciting. I said hello to her. She was friendly.
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