Monday, January 22, 2007

The Forgotten Class

As a volunteer for One Brick, I had the privilege to serve the homeless at Glide Memorial today. Glide soup kitchen is in the heart of San Francisco's notorious Tenderloin District, and as I had the chance to experience today, is the heart of the Tenderloin.

The volunteers rotated responsibilities. I collected tickets in the disabled room, where people with wheelchairs, walkers and canes have easiest access. Many were amputees, and several others brought their children in strollers. Each person received two tickets, which allowed them two trays of food. I watched as a woman stuffed the food in a baby bottle. She handed me her ticket while another volunteer handed her a second tray of food. I took the ticket while a security guard in a yellow jacket stared at me. He had given us strict instructions. A ticket gets a tray. A person gets two tickets.

When I was in the clear, I placed the ticket under the woman's tray. "His ticket," I said, nodding my head toward her son's stroller like MacGyver making a time machine out of a styrofoam cup and a pepper packet. So what if it they were sneaking a piece of bread, some wilted lettuce and soggy zucchini. Humans shouldn't be desperate for food that looked like it had been through a garbage disposal.

If you've seen The Pursuit of Happyness, you know exactly where I was today. The long lines weren't Hollywood special effects, and the face of American hunger is indelable. When I first started volunteering, I wanted to have the coveted job at the end of the soup line. That person gets to say good morning or hello to every person and hand them a tray. I was three people from the end, and I could see the line that wrapped endlessly around the building. On every side, people's eyes were filled with survival. Their focus was on getting a tray and then devouring and hiding their food before using a second ticket. Anyone in physical proximity could feel their emptiness.

The suffering was so insatiable, at the second hour, I no longer wanted to be in the prized greeter position. I didn't want to be on the other end of that kind of gratitude. My heArtwork project, most of it having been anonymous, has sheltered me from its impact. As a volunteer, I get to be uncomfortably confronted with the type of human hurt I feel that my own best efforts and compassion cannot heal.

I had been told that one thousand people come through the Glide line every day. I spell it because although those citizens are a forgotten class, they aren't a number. One thousand hardly seems to meet the six heArts I gave out today.

But I was mistaken. The organizer told me that Glide feeds one thousand people THREE times a day. I spent most of my time next to a sixteen year old boy, who was doing community service. I knew he could see everything I had, through the filter of his own experience. As the steady stream of seemingly hopeless faces passed, I personally felt grateful for health insurance, my sister, a warm home, a good doctor, caring friends and two healthy parents.

The boy beside me looked up and nervously adjusted his plastic gloves. "Hey," he said, lifting his chin in a jerk and narrowing his eyes. "This is hard work, huh?"

I blinked hard and looked down. At that moment, we were just acknowleding each person, occasionally telling them we were sorry that we didn't have forks.

"Yes," I said. "It is."

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Walkie Talkie Time in the Mexican Riviera

Since my father retired, he's become a Cruise-aholic. He loves vacationing on cruises. My father's Christmas gift to my sister and I was a family vacation to the Mexican Riviera. It was a generous offering, and naturally we were thrilled. I previously thought that taking a cruise wasn't an authentic way to travel. Afterall, this adventure would be void of the usual stresses of worrying which youth hostel to stay at, if we could really trust the person "watching"our bags, or if their directions and money exchanges were any good at all. I've traveled alone in Europe like that, and have many adventurous stories about hip escapades that almost always revolve around an unexpected, exhausting detour. In another language, I might add. But after taking a different kind of vacation with my family aboard the Carnival Spirit for an eight-day voyage to the Mexican Riviera, I've opened my mind about alternative travel. We stopped off in Acapulco, Manzanillo and Ixtapa. I traveled by Mexican taxicab and drank out of a coconut that took the bartender fifteen minutes to find. I rode a horse along the beach on a wooden saddle. When I asked what the horse's name was, the man laughed. "Mary..." he stuttered, "....Juana." True to her name, Marijuana was a little slow. A woman in our group insisted on riding a pony. The poor pony looked tired after an hour. As soon as we turned around, the pony started to pick up and run a little.

My father and his girlfriend had dinner with my sister and I every night. Five course dinners. One course for each pound I ended up gaining that week, and so worth it. On land, my sister and I spent a few pesos on strong margaritas that contained "purified" ice. We prayed it wouldn't give us food poisoning, but we weren't willing to waste a perfectly tempting pitcher of margaritas.

We communicated with my father through walkie talkies while on the ship. Sometimes it the glass elevators, the deck, the dinner room or the theatre. Places you aren't prepared to hear your father say--full blast--"HOT DOGS ON THE LIDO DECK! GIRLS? REPEAT. WEINERS ON THE LIDO DECK! OVER."

I must have been a trucker in a prior life. Or perhaps it was all that construction work I did in college. With instinct, I said, "Copy hot dogs, Dad. No can do. Already eating in the Empire room. Over."

"Okay," my Dad's voice blared, "10-4 that."

It was my idea that we all got trucker names. You know, each of us our own "handle." My Dad already calls me Jay or Jaybird, so that would probably be mine. I wanted to be something more truckerish, like "Good Buddy" or "Beefcake." We couldn't think of a good name for my Dad's girlfriend, although I thought "The Lady Friend" was a real winner. My idea was vetoed, yet I couldn't stop my trucker tendencies to use "the lingo."

A few walkie talkie malfunctions aside, we had a blast. I got to wear all my big jewelry and no one could say anything. They had 24-hour ice cream cones, waterslides and free room service. I got a head to toe massage at the spa. We had a beautiful deck view from our room. They made towel animals and put chocolate on our pillows at night. I'm telling you with certain giddiness, it's the closest thing to heaven I could imagine.

I've been served like a queen and treated like a princess for a full eight days. After the harsh 2006, I'd be a fool if I didn't admit it's a little hard getting back on land--eating Mac and cheese, paying bills, and making my bed-- and coming down to earth.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Oops! I Did it Again.

Last night, I finished my last grad application, and worked through seven pages of writing toward the rockstar story. The past month or so, I have become a social shut in. I have left my phone off for days, and have a reminder bell that goes off every few hours to remind me to eat. Otherwise, day turns to night turns to morning.

Everything has been on hold. I had planned to go to Vegas to ring in the new year. Two of my friends had rented suites at the Palms and the Rio. When my girlfriend called me from the Palms I swear there was an echo. She said there was a hot tub in the room and a "pole" in one of the bedrooms. After that call, I was glad I chose to stay in California, celebrate low key and work on my writing.

I knew that Annette was meeting up with some friends at Pure. What I didn't know, was that I was on the V.I.P. list to Britney Spears party. When Annette arrived, her friends asked where I was. She said I was too busy to come to Vegas. She was then swept through bodyguards up to the roof deck where Britney herself was partying with about 70 friends. She told me all the fabulous details of their seven-course meal by Pure's Larkspur chef.

I'm sure I'll have another opportunity to see Britney, but this will go down in the books as the biggest V.I.P. Party I missed.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Who are you, and what have you done with my friend Jaynel?

I may have been M.I.A. for awhile, but I'm around. I'm not myself lately. I'm eating weird combinations of starches, consuming caffiene by the truckload, and staying up very very late. Even though I write every day, preparing applications is different. I didn't go home for Christmas, and I haven't gone snowboarding with friends. I turned down a free trip to Vegas for New Years. I've become a recluse, spending my winter sending out my writing samples and my personal statement to a few schools. I just know that getting an MFA is my calling after studying in Iowa City this summer. It's a degree I never knew actually existed before last June. But as easy as creative writing is for me, the personal statement is hard. You're supposed to write about yourself...for two or three pages. I can't wait to get back to "real" writing. After a hundred revisions, I am so sick of myself already.

Most of November and December was consumed in applications. As promised, I got an invite to GenenProm, Genentech's swanky annual holiday shindig. It was at the San Francisco Marriott. We were coralled in several lines and had to be scanned with blacklight laser beams and invisible ink stamps. (No telling if they simultaneously took DNA samples.) The party was akin to the Oscars, hosting at least 7,000 people. It had three dance floors with separate bands, a casino, free henna and temporary tattoos, and psychic readings. All three of my roommates work at Genentech, so they had tickets, and I scored an extra ticket for Andrew. I wore a Ralph Lauren gown with pearls and he wore...a suit. Really, it was stunning. We invented this new dance, and we drew a crowd and clap circle. We'll see if it catches on.

A couple nights before Christmas, Andrew and I met my friends Kimberly and Leland in Dolores Park for "Unsilent Night." It's an event that started in New York City in the early 90's. Each person brought a boombox, and the organizers handed out cassette tapes and CDs. Each has a different sound. We walked throughout San Francisco's Mission District with the boomboxes on our shoulders, as the music mixed into beautiful, unpredictable sounds. Andrew thought that he'd skip our CD ahead, but his boombox was super crappy, so it just kept playing the first part over and over. Even so, it was peaceful going through the city, watching people gather at their windows with their children to wave.

Here's wishing you all the best in 2007. I hope you get into the school you really wanted, are surrounded by laughter and good health, happy friends, and that you fall forget-the-world in love! ( that's what I want. Forgive me. I'm still in "personal statement" mode, where it really is 'all about me.')