Thursday, September 25, 2014


I started looking into the ten hours a month of volunteering required by the Sati Center chaplaincy program. In my phone interview, I asked Jennifer if the soup kitchen counts and she said cheerfully, “Everything counts!” But the main place you might see a chaplain is a hospital, so we’re encouraged at least to go shadow a hospital chaplain for a shift or two. I’ve long wanted to volunteer at San Francisco General Hospital, so I contacted Sojourn Chaplaincy, but their training program starts with three weeks full time and goes from there. I don’t have even one vacation day left unscheduled for this year, so that will not be possible.

On to Laguna Honda, another public hospital, where I spoke to the spiritual care coordinator, Bob. I told him I was in the Sati Center program, and he said I was welcome to volunteer there. The training would be informal, except that every volunteer must attend a general orientation session, which they do only once a month, and the next opening was not until January! I found this out from the volunteer coordinator, and called Bob back to let him know, and he talked to the volunteer coordinator, and they will try to get me into the October session, or November for sure.

I’m doing ten hours a month at the soup kitchen, so I don’t really need to do anything else, but I’d like to volunteer at a hospital, perhaps one evening a week, two or three hours.


A few weeks ago, I got a call from my best friend when I was 13, Mark. In the course of a 20-minute conversation, I learned that four people had died, three of them known to me: his mother, with whom I was friends in my teens; one of his two brothers; his father, whom I never met; and a classmate of ours, who committed suicide a couple of years ago, leaving behind three adorable children about five to eight years old. It was her children who found her body. Mark’s brother, who lived quite a rough and rebellious life, died a couple of months ago while living with their father in Chico, and while Mark was out here because his brother had died, his father died, too.

Mark said that he was coming out again, this time to scatter his brother’s and father’s ashes, and that his plane would be landing at 6:15 p.m. and then he and his remaining brother, Doug, would rush over to Golden Gate Park to play Frisbee golf, a venerable brotherly tradition, until it got dark, and then might we meet at the Toronado Bar in the Haight? I somewhat reluctantly agreed, as it seemed likely this might cause me to be outside my apartment after 8 p.m., and on the appointed evening, I didn’t hear from Mark until just about that magical hour. I was sitting in my chair reading Brideshead Revisited, and I said to myself, “I herewith declare I will not leave this house,” but when Mark said rather plaintively on the phone, “I just wanted to say hello,” I couldn’t bring myself to refuse. After all, he was my best friend once upon a time, and I hadn’t seen him in about 35 years. He comes this way from time to time, but stays with Doug in San Jose, and they normally only venture into San Francisco for Frisbee golf.

I went out to Valencia St. and hailed a cab and went to the Toronado Bar, which is a totally horrible place (though I’m sure beloved by its regulars). It was very loud and very, very crammed with people. I went in and looked around for Mark, Doug and Gabe, the latter being the best friend of the brother who died. I made my way through the entire bar and didn’t see anyone who could plausibly be Mark and Doug 35 years later, and was relieved to be out on the sidewalk again. It was now 15 minutes past the time we said we’d meet, and I almost wondered if they had come and gone, but no, here came two large, solid gentlemen and one small, elfin, very beautiful one with olive skin, this being Gabe. I would never, ever have recognized Mark. Doug looked a bit more familiar, but maybe that’s because I saw him on Facebook during my brief stint there a few years ago.

They stuck their heads in the bar and decided we should go eat instead, so we went around the corner to Squat & Gobble and had a riotous good time. Mark’s eyes are clear and he seems happy and relaxed. He has an infectious laugh, and is very affectionate. He frequently threw his arms around his brother and rested his forehead on his brother’s arm and said, “I love you, bro,” and just as often, one of them said to the other, “Shut the f*ck up! That’s not what happened! I was there! You weren’t. I think I know what happened!” Mark is easygoing. Doug, like me, likes things to be a certain way. They are very funny together.

Mark asked me, “Do you remember the time we smoked pot and you were lying in our driveway saying you thought your throat was going to close?” This I did not remember, but hearing Mark’s recollection of this event, I laughed harder than I have in ten years, probably. We were extremely ill-behaved teenagers. Now that I think about it, I’m sure I behaved worse than I might otherwise have, due to spending so much time with those crazy young men.

Mark, I’m happy to say, came out just fine. He stayed home with his and his wife’s three daughters, as his wife had the better job, and now that their girls are college age and older, he works, and bicycles, and plays Frisbee golf, and skis, and has dogs, and goes here and there with his wife. It sounds like he has a really nice life, full of things and people he loves.
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