Two years ago, I came upon the idea of resurrecting
an old Castro tradition: queer
bingo. When I started the project, I had no idea how much work
it would take before we could even open the doors on the first game.
It took thousands of dollars and eight months to clear San Francisco’s
endless government bureaucracy, and at every turn it seemed that one of
several city departments could put an end to our quest. Persistence
and a little luck pulled us through, and we obtained the elusive permit.
On opening night, I anticipated a crowd of fifty
or sixty people. Instead, I arrived at the bingo hall to find a line
over a block long, with everyone from leather queens to straight yuppies
waiting to get in. That line has been there every month since we
started, rain or shine, winter or summer.
I often find myself filled with a sense of humility
and gratefulness at the generosity of this community. Each month,
a cadre of unpaid, dedicated volunteers show up to make the event happen.
They’ve done it so often they move about the work without direction, always
smiling, always cheerful. While they work, the players line up outside
- the line is now longer than ever - and the joy in their voices fills
the air of the street. Once the doors open, the space fills with
the energy of hundreds of people gathered in a small space, not only to
play a silly game, but also to enjoy the company of their neighbors and
I find myself amazed to watch all this activity
– realizing that no one person makes this happen, but that it only happens
through the conscious and deliberate actions of many people – from the
volunteers, to the nuns, to the players, to the church. Some actions
are small, some are large, but every one is essential to the task and every
one contributes to the success of this funky event.
As part of this event, we created a scholarship
fund that provides money to pay for the education of people dedicated to
creating social justice. This year, we gave out ten scholarships,
providing assistance to a diverse group of people across the country.
The success of this effort points to a larger lesson: We have the
amazing ability to impact our world in new and vibrant ways when we pool
our talents and efforts.
night, we celebrate the finale of our second season and I wish I could
properly thank each and every person who has contributed to make this game
a success. I wish I could point to each of the tens of thousands
of dollars we’ve raised now circulating in the community and say:
your actions made this possible. There would be so many people to
thank, from the permit inspectors who gave us the benefit of the doubt,
to the church who gives us the space, to the volunteers, to the players,
to the nuns, to the anonymous donors of prizes, that I would miss someone
who has played a vital role. So instead, I offer a simple prayer
of thanks. If god is listening, I offer my thanks for what this event
has become, and I am immeasurably thankful for all the people who made
it happen. For however long it lasts, thank you for this gift.
5 December 2001
Someone fixed me breakfast this morning while
I stayed in bed. It was the first time in years that someone, other
than room service at a far flung hotel, has done this. Thinking about
it, I’m not sure anyone has ever done this for me before.
I drifted in and out of sleep, wandering back
and forth between the dreams and reality, carried along on the smell of
sage, cinnamon and olive oil. At some point, I rolled out of bed
and wandered to the shower. When I finally wandered into the kitchen,
he put his arms around me and I stood, captured by arms and food and light.
When I pray, I often stop using words and simply
allow the emotions of my heart to rise up to God. I figure God knows
what I’m going to say, and somehow removing the words I used to filter
the emotions makes the prayer seem more authentic.
Standing in the kitchen, embraced by the hands
that have made the food for me, I wish I could somehow share that same
communication I do with God. I wish I could simply stand back, open
my heart, and let the other person experience the depth of my emotion.
I took him to the airport and he vanished through
the doors, trailing a bit of my prayers behind him, like streamers on the
back of a Chinese dragon.
15 December 2001
Here is a dirty little secret: I’m a queer
person who believes in God.
You don’t have to tell me I’m out of my mind,
I’m quite well aware of it, thank you.
Queer people have suffered quite a bit at the
hands of organized religion, although the Christians have done an especially
good job of it. Queers aren’t alone in this suffering of course,
which is why the Pope has had to issue so many apologies over the last
decade. (Although he’s yet to get around to us.) I only wish Pat
Robertson, Robert Fallwell and their ilk would join the parade of mia culpas
being issued from on high.
Once, years ago, when I was at sea on a Navy cruiser,
I woke up in the middle of the night and knew that there was no God.
It was simple and clear. God did not exist and all the silliness
I had been taught as a child was pure smoke, smog that had whirled around
my head and was now clear. Being an atheist fit me pretty well.
It allowed me to feel intellectual and smug. I got to judge all those
people who walked around claiming they received direction from an unseen
and all-powerful force. Without religion to excuse their behavior,
I surmised, we’d lock all these people up for their own safety.
I once saw a bumper sticker that said: “You’re
just jealous the voices talk to me.”
Like a complete idiot, I agreed to go to church
with someone I was dating. I don’t know why I did it, I just did.
Maybe I thought I would get laid, or maybe I thought it would somehow make
him love me, or perhaps, somewhere deep inside, I was kinda’ hoping there
was a God, because damn I was lonely.
God saw me coming down the street and kept the
door open on the bus long enough for me to get on. I didn’t want
to get on, in fact I preferred just to walk, because the bus was big and
scary and smelled like my childhood.
I can’t say I understand God, because my head
still knows that it’s a crazy idea to believe that some big force out there
is tinkering with the operations of the world down here. People die
and get blown up and none of that makes sense. No, I don’t understand
God. But I do experience God.
About a year ago, I started going to Quaker meetings.
Quakers are this funny little group who meet in complete silence – no clergy,
no music, no fanfare. They just sit and wait for God to speak.
And then they go out in the world and carry out what they believe God is
leading them to do. Without judgment. Without blame.
Without hatred or hellfire or brimstone or bible bashing or scary street
corner preaching. They act from their hearts and the light they find
I’d been attending the Quaker meeting for a month
when someone asked me to fix a leaky sink in the Meeting House. Laying
under the sink with grease covering my hands, I had the complete and unshakeable
understanding that I was home. I was at peace and God was flowing
through me like the water through pipe in my hand.
I cringe when I hear the word “Christian”, I don’t
particularly like the Bible, and I’m not fond of admitting any of this
in a public venue. And yet, I understand my connection to the divine
isn’t dependent on any of these things. As I sit and wait in silence
with the rest of the Quakers, I trust that God will tend to me in due time.
In the interim, I just need to be quiet and experience a connection to
the universe that I lost so long ago.
19 December 2001
Yesterday was a banner day for the War on Terrorism.
First, there is the guy who made the mistake of telling someone on the next Stair Master
at the gym he wasn’t too keen about George Bush. The FBI came knocking
on his door later to make sure he wasn’t a terrorist.
Then, we have Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh
Air, putting forth her belief that Osama Bin Ladin and Mullah Muhammad
Omar are actually
homosexuals who, because of the repressive society they live in, exercise
their homosexuality in the form of terrorism. Her head nodding guest
Robert Lifton notes that Hitler was thought to be gay too. No evidence
to support this notion, other than the reports of plastic surgeons sneaking
into Afghanistan, I suppose. Thanks to Terry, we now add terrorist
to the list of stereotypical gay occupations. Florists, interior
designers, ballet dancers and terrorists.
The world has become very strange, very quickly.
It is just after midnight, and I’m just sitting
down to write. The router for my server was out for the past 18 hours,
making it impossible to access or update the site. I wanted to write
about forgiveness, for that subject has filled this last week in many different
forms. After several attempts to write something meaningful, I realized
this a subject too complex and important to try and write quickly, so I
am setting it aside for now.
Before I set aside the task of writing about forgiveness,
I went to the Faith and Practice book looking for a good quote. What
I found was something different, but I will share it and then go to sleep:
“Healing – the healing of a cut or wound of any
kind is an experience of personal miracle. The healing moves from
inside out and takes as long as it needs to knit the rupture together.
It may take days or weeks...that is why we do not see it as a miracle.
But it is a job of inner work doing its work with patience. We often
overlook the mystical work of own bodies.” - Robert W. Edwards
23 December 2001
Today I bought the sole gift I’ll be giving on
Christmas day. Having accepted an invitation to Christmas dinner,
I learned the event included a compulsory gift exchange. With the
strict spending limit of ten dollars imposed by the host, I set out to
find something within this price cap that I would find both nice to receive
and worthy to give.
Christmas is an odd holiday. On one hand
our culture claims to honor the birth of Jesus and on the other we do so
with orgy of indulgent consumption that strips away most the meaning from
the holiday. San Francisco’s local newspaper carried a column today:
“Don’t know what to do with the time leading up to Christmas? Here
is a list of local malls!”
I’m not much of a biblical scholar, but I’m willing
to bet that if Jesus were here, he wouldn’t ask us to celebrate his birth
by eating at Orange Julius and shopping at Sunglass Hut.
While we gather around trees filled with expensive
ornaments made in Chinese prison factories, tear open boxes holding
electronics from workers in Mexico who lack adequate drinking water, try
on clothes from Gap and Old Navy that are produced by children and women
kept in near slave-labor conditions, and while we pile up wrapping paper
to truck to the dump by the ton, I think we often forget all the people
that Jesus talked about most – the poor, the suffering and the needy.
We are an enormously wealthy nation, and we have
the resources and ability to create a truly just world. At this very
moment there is enough food to feed the entire planet, and yet people will
go hungry next door to us. At this very moment we have the money
to house every person in the world, and yet people sleep on our doorsteps.
At this very moment we have the ability to reach out to those in need around
us, and yet we often choose not to.
To see the face of the Divine, we need only to
look at the people standing next to us on the bus, waiting in line at the
store, sleeping on the sidewalks. While we pray for solutions to
the problems of the world, we miss the opportunities we have every single
day to be the answer to that prayer. I don’t think Jesus expected
us to change the entire world. But I think he did hope we’d try.
Wide spread transformation of Christmas from a
consumer holiday to one of peace and justice is not likely to happen
soon, if ever. But, as individuals, we have the ability to make our
own transformation, however small. We can reach out to those around
us and start the work of implementing the radical ideas that were born
in a barn two thousand years ago: equality, love, forgiveness and
peace, to name just a few. That would be a pretty cool present -
nice to receive and worthy to give.
24 December 2001
My Christmas present came this year in the form
of a sign. It said: “For Rent”.
San Francisco is an expensive place to live.
Over two thirds of San Franciscans rent, and most people I know have multiple
roommates to make the rent affordable. My first apartment in San
Francisco I shared with a crystal-meth addict who wanted to have his drug
dealer boyfriend move in without paying rent. My second apartment
was a wonderful flat on the side of Twin Peaks, where after a year the
landlords threw all the tenants out so they could sell the building.
Evicted and facing a city a vacancy rate of less than one percent, I wondered
where I could find a place to live that I could afford. I ended up
moving to the Tenderloin.
The Tenderloin is the dust bin where the city sweeps
its refuse. Surrounded on all sides by nicer neighborhoods, its decaying
edifices look down on a population of the homeless, graffiti artists, drug
dealers from the East Bay and a few remaining prostitutes. A flock
without a place to land, they wander the streets in endless migration from
one block to another. Many of the apartment buildings are “Single
Room Occupancy”, where for the cost of your entire welfare check, you can
have a single room, a shared bathroom, and perhaps a hot plate for a month.
Moving to the Tenderloin, I entertained the naive
fantasy that somehow I would learn something important living in this poor
neighborhood. I thought I’d learn the names of the prostitutes I
passed on the way to the gym in the morning and say hello as they waited
for tricks. Somehow I thought living here would be a quaint, interesting
existence filled with quirky characters like Steinbeck’s “Tortilla Flats”.
Looking back, I feel incredibly silly having entertained those thoughts.
Walking to the gym in the morning, I didn’t meet
the quaint prostitutes. I saw the elderly Asian women with plastic
bags digging in trash bins for aluminum cans. I saw prostitutes shivering
in the cold while they tried to smile at passing cars. I saw blood
pooling around the dead body of a building superintendent who jumped from
top of his building.
Poverty sucks. It isn’t pretty and it isn’t
quaint. It’s a soul and hope crushing monster that leaves its prey
standing in bus shelters next to ads for Nokia telephones and CNBC.
On Friday I was walking through a neighborhood
that I always wanted to live in. There, on the door of a building
was the sign: “For Rent”. It was a building I thought I could never
afford, one that was only designed to taunt, to tease, to entice, but never
to deliver. I called the number. I looked. And yesterday
I got the keys to what, at first appearances, is the apartment I have dreamed
about for all the years I have lived in San Francisco.
Sitting ten stories above the Tenderloin in an
apartment I will soon leave, I am filled with a question I cannot answer.
By leaving this place, am I abandoning, in some way, my belief that we
are called to create a more just and peaceful world? Does my flight
reflect a surrender to the powerlessness that often creeps around the edge
of my vision when I swerve to avoid the human feces on the sidewalk?
This place, the Tenderloin, is just one of many such places which are symptoms
of a larger, systemic problem that we call our society. By leaving
here, will I carry with me the motivation to create change, or will I succumb
to the gentle comforts of a neighborhood virtually free from the gross
inequality I currently witness daily?
Perhaps this points to something larger.
With the colossal issues facing our world, it’s easy to feel powerless,
to feel that what we have to contribute won’t, in the end, make a difference.
Perhaps that’s true. Maybe we will never have a huge or lasting impact.
But as I write, I am reminded of Mother Teresa. She didn’t change
the world, she didn’t end poverty or starvation. But I imagine her
work was important to the people she touched, including those of us who
watched from a distance.
A week from now, I’ll be sitting in my new apartment,
and still pondering these questions: Just what is it that I am called
to do in this world? Why? And how?
24 December 2001 - A little later
A special thank you to Becky,
who put a very nice note on her website about me and also sent me a very
nice bit on forgiveness.
25 December 2001
San Francisco can feel like a ghost town during
Christmas. Walk the streets during the holidays in some neighborhoods
and you could swing a shopping cart without hitting another person.
I rarely meet a San Francisco native, and I suspect many people make annual
pilgrimages to hometowns in the far east, like Nebraska or Ohio.
The day before Christmas ranks as one of my favorite
days of the season, and one of two days a year that Sister Betty wears
a full formal habit. (You’ll have to come back to find out when the
other day is.)
What makes Christmas Eve special is the annual AIDS
Emergency Fund (“AEF”) Christmas Eve Dinner. Utilizing the spectacular
War Memorial Building, the AEF throws the best dinner party in down.
1,700 people with HIV or AIDS can bring their families for a meal that
rivals those cooked in San Francisco’s best restaurants, and which a quick
look at the guests tells you they would not otherwise get. Hundred
of local entertainers, from the casts of hit shows to torch singers, donate
their time to perform in a rotating vaudeville-esque talent show.
Santa mans the North Pole, and the children each leave with presents in
their hands. The entire event is funded with donations, the staff
is all volunteer, and the guests pay nothing and leave satisfied at least
for one day.
An elderly woman working the volunteer booth at
Santa’s chair remarked this was the first year she volunteered for the
event. She said to me: “I only hope I live one more year so
I can do this again.”
It’s a bittersweet event of course. This
event is a major effort created out of love and compassion that happens
year after year. Unfortunately many of the guests don’t make it as
long. As much as I love working at the dinner, I hope someday we
can close the doors for good.
After the AEF dinner, I headed over to the Castro
Theatre to help usher for all three shows of the annual Gay
Men’s Chorus. This too is an amazing event. All 1,550 seats
in the theatre are sold out weeks in advance for this Christmas tradition.
Ticket holders line up hours in advance to get the best seats. The
chorus fills the stage with their presence and the theatre with their voices,
and the show ends with the audience singing along.
Christmas itself feels a bit anticlimactic, as
if we were all really just waiting for Christmas Eve and the holiday is
merely the few pages at the end of the story where the characters finish
their dialogue. It was nice tonight to sit with friends, laugh and
tell stories and just be together.
Lately it seems that my heart fills constantly
with great love for those I encounter and joy at the beauty of the world
we inhabit. It sounds corny, even to me, but I often find myself
quietly reflecting on the miracles that surround us each day. I try
to hold on to this when my heart feels a bit heavy or sadness creeps in
around the edges. The amount of love a single human can create is
astounding, when we do it together, almost beyond comprehension like the
ability of a humming bird to hover in one spot or the never ending size
of the universe.
26 December 2001
Fair warning: I’m about to rant.
When do people learn it’s okay to dishonor time
I have to move on Friday so I called the moving
company to schedule workers and a truck. I’ve used this company at
least once a year for the past five years – either for myself or for work
or for friends, so they know who I am. The salesperson needed to
find some paperwork so he said he’d call me back in fifteen minutes – an
hour ago. Should I call him back now? Wait for him to call?
How difficult would it be for him to pick up the telephone and say:
“I’m sorry, I had something else come up, could I call you back at say,
I often find myself waiting for friends who promise
to be somewhere at a certain time and then just show up late. If
we agree to dinner at 7:00, then dinner is at 7:00, not 7:30 or 7:45 or
even 8:00. Gay men are famous for being late, so famous that people
refer to the situation as “running on Gay Standard Time”. Being famous
for something doesn’t make it any less annoying.
Clients do the same thing. Schedule a meeting
at 9:00, and you’ll be waiting in the lobby until 9:30. I’ve just
started the practice of billing for this time. Participants in classes
I teach routinely walk in fifteen, thirty or forty five minutes late, disrupting
the class without any sign of apology.
Those who are chronically late will argue something
vague about being busy, having unscheduled requests pop up at the last
minute or some other meaningless reason. I’m not talking about the
person who is late once because the Muni train was really stuck in the
tunnel, the car really wouldn’t start or they really did get an important
phone call. I understand that from time to time life does intervene.
But, most people who are late have none of these real excuses.
Disrespecting time commitments points to a deeper
disregard for the people in our lives. We place other desires, priorities
and requests above the commitments we have already made, and expect the
rest of the world to be waiting for us when we show up. It’s narcissism
and it doesn’t wear well on anybody.
27 December 2001
Tomorrow is moving day. Today is for packing.
If I gained anything from my years in the Navy,
it is a certain tolerance for frequent relocation and the accompanying
compulsion never to acquire too much stuff. I often feel uncomfortable
in homes filled to the rafters with stuff, I can't imagine having that
burden waiting to be moved. I shy away from dating men who have too
much stuff - lest we get involved and then that stuff attaches to me.
We're a society that likes stuff - we have so
much of it that we rent storage units and fill our garages with it.
We dedicate huge amounts of closet space and cupboard space for it.
Sometimes it sits in boxes for decades until we sell it on Ebay or our
survivors throw it out.
There is a big high-rise building a block from
me. Each unit has it's own balcony with stunning views of the city.
You never see anyone standing on the balconies - in most cases it would
be impossible because each balcony is completely filled with stuff.
27 December 2001 - Slightly Later
Silke Tudor of the SF Weekly wrote a really
nice piece this week about my pet project Bada-Bingo.
Thanks for the kudos, Silke!
29 December 2001 - Very early morning
It’s 1:30 a.m. and I’m done moving and unpacking.
The new apartment is wonderful, although the cats are still somewhat intimidated
by the new digs. I think they’re hiding under the recliner.
Reflecting on yesterday’s entry about accumulating
stuff, I realize it sounds more than a little judgmental and bitter.
There is a point in it somewhere, and a rewrite will flush it out.
Until then, here is something interesting:
“Why with all our labor-saving devices and
fast transport, are we so short of time? Is it because we are greedy
of experience for its own sake? – to see more, go farther, earn more, learn
more, than is feasible in one short lifetime? The human soul needs
time, needs to take time, unless experience is to become mere accumulation,
bearing bad fruit, like any other kind of ambition.” - Mildred
2001 - Evening
The move is finished, everything is unpacked and
One of my cats isn’t quite ready to accept the
change yet. She hid in the bathroom until nearly midnight and then
snuck into the bedroom. She burrowed under the blankets and stayed
there all night. This morning I gently encouraged her to explore
a bit, but the moment I went to take a shower, she promptly turned into
a lump under the blankets once more.
I remember as a child wanting to hide under the
blankets. It’s a universal rule: scary monsters cannot get
you if you are hidden under the blankets. Warm and dark, slightly
stuffy, that space provides refuge from the scary things outside.
Perhaps, if we’re lucky, by the time we emerge, the monsters have retreated
rather than face the advancing sun or the arrival of a loving parent.
The desire to hide from the world doesn’t go
away when we reach adulthood. There are times when the world is too
frightening a place to face, so we crawl under the blankets, perhaps figuratively,
perhaps in reality. We pull the covers over our head and we imagine
and hope that all will be well when we come out.
Unfortunately, the rule we learned as a child
doesn’t carry over into adult life. Monsters often wait patiently
for our emergence, and we have to face them down.
Maybe the purpose of hiding under the blankets
is less about not having to face monsters but rather not having to face
them right now. From time to time, our souls and our bodies
need time to muster the strength it takes to rise once more and look the
world in the eye. And sometimes, just like my cat, we venture out,
only to see we weren’t quite ready, so we dive back under the blankets
again, for just a little longer.
When we have loved ones who choose to hide under
the covers, it’s a matter of love to know when to let them stay hidden
away and when to gently encourage them to come out. Sometimes we
need to walk by the bedroom, look in with compassion and smile. Sometimes,
we need to gently pull back the covers and say: “It’s safe to come
out, I’m right here.”
Maybe, just maybe, we’d hide under the covers
less often if our world was filled with more people who would say, in an
honest voice: “It’s safe to come out, I’m right here.”