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4 December 2001

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 friends. 

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.

On Thursday 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 there. 

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.

21 December 2001

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 commitments?

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, 11:00?” 


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 Rinns Young.

29 December 2001 - Evening

The move is finished, everything is unpacked and put away. 

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.” 


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