Category Archives: Bay Area

Entering the path of do-goodery

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All kinds of changes are afoot here at Chez LazyBuddhist. In addition to becoming a half-time college student, I’ve started down the path of do-goodery.  In my mind, I always thought of myself as a do-gooder, but it was all intent and not much action.

Living in Richmond, California, I can see around me a lot of need.  Less than a mile away from my cozy enclave of Point Richmond is the neighborhood of the Iron Triangle and the community of North Richmond.  Richmond’s reputation as being a dangerous place to lives mostly comes from the crime, gangs, poverty, addiction and hopelessness in these two areas. In addition, both are directly downstream from the Chevron Refinery, so the health of the neighborhood is not good – the pediatric asthma rate in those neighborhoods are so high, hospitals may as well hand out an asthma inhaler with every new birth.

Three years ago there was a crime committed that got nationwide attention: the gang rape of a 15-year old girl at a school dance at Richmond High. Even now as I write this, my heart hurts for the girl, for our youth, and also for the community. At the time, I wanted to find some way to help to stop the cycle senseless violence that so many young people in our city seemed to be involved in. But, nothing presented itself in a way that made sense for me.

Fast forward three years later. This week I started volunteering at Richmond High as a writing coach through an amazing program called WriterCoach Connection. (Go ahead, click the link and go read about them, especially those of you in the Bay Area who are looking for a well-organized, worthy group to volunteer with. I’ll be here when you’re done.)  I had learned about the organization from a couple of writer friends of mine who had volunteered with them in the Oakland schools.  They both seemed to really enjoy it. So, when I learned they were expanding their program to Richmond, that’s when I knew I found my foothold into community do-goodery.

Most of the volunteers I trained with were Richmond residents – parents, grandparents, retired educators, writers – who, like me, wanted to find some way to help their community.  Even after six-to-eight hours of training we were still nervous about our initial encounters with the kids. Would they like us? Would they see we had no idea what we were doing? Would they even be willing to accept our help? How am I supposed to help a kid compose a thesis statement when I barely remember what one is myself? Oh sweet Buddha, what in the hell have I gotten myself into?

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Retreating

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On his way out of the office yesterday, one of my staff members stuck his head in my doorway.

“Have fun at your retreat! Bye!” he said before dashing away.

Fun? Is that really the operative word for what one does at a silent meditation retreat? I decided to I simply thank him for the kind wishes rather than debate whether ‘fun’ was the correct word. As a matter of fact, a number of people had said the same thing to me as they were leaving.  Perhaps, it being so close to the holiday season, they were under the impression I was off to some kind of Buddhist version of Christmas.

I’ve worked with this group of people for the last three years so they have grown accustomed to my occasional trips to Spirit Rock to go dwell in silence for a week or so. I would say there are three basic opinions of my desire to do retreat:

  1. Slightly envious. There are a couple of people whom I consider my work sangha (aka “The Namaste Bitches” – it’s not as harsh as it sounds, it’s all in the enunciation).  When we have the luxury of time, we talk dharma, turn each other on to teachers, and generally support one another’s spiritual endeavors. When I’m debating whether or not to do a retreat, they are always firmly pro-retreat.  I think they see me as their retreat proxy. One of them has young children at home, and right now she just can’t be away for days at a time. The other is too young, cute, and gay & living in San Francisco to be spending time in silence in Marin with a bunch of mostly middle-aged straight people.  He calls me boring and I call him a slut.  But hey, we’re sangha, we can do that.
  2. “Not my cup of tea, but if it makes you happy.” I would say most of my colleagues fall into this category. They can see some appeal of spending quiet time someplace pretty, but a week in silence meditating six-to-seven hours a day, plus another two or three hours zombie walking, is not something they would choose to do for themselves.
  3. “Why don’t you go somewhere fun instead?” One of my colleagues, someone whom I now consider a good friend, really tries to be supportive and mostly holds his tongue when it comes to my spiritual quests, but still asks me, rather gently, “wouldn’t you rather travel with your partner and see someplace you’ve never seen before, and you know, maybe talk?”  He loves to travel and would someday like to find a boyfriend with whom he could go to exotic, romantic places.  I think he thinks I’m wasting a perfectly good boyfriend by insisting on going to retreats by myself rather than spending my vacation time with my beau.  The other colleague is not so gentle. When I told him I was going on retreat, he screwed up his face and said “another one? Didn’t you just do one of those last year?”   He’ll then ask how much these things cost and then tells me how much of a vacation I could get ‘somewhere fun’ for the same price. And when I tell him I happen to enjoy going on retreat, he’ll once again screw up his face, and ask “whyyyy?”   It’s at this point I tend to get really distracted because he looks so much like an ex-boyfriend of mine. That is, if my ex was gay and Asian. They have the exact same hair cut, vocal inflections and gestures.  It’s really uncanny, and a bit disturbing too.

So, tomorrow I head over to Spirit Rock for a week-long Metta retreat with Sylvia Boorstein. I’m looking forward to it. Who knows? Maybe I will have fun. But, if I can find a few moments of peace and love in my mind, that will be worth the price of admission.

Weird happenings at Chez LB

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You know you still may be a wee bit too relaxed upon returning from a  meditation retreat when you encounter a noose hanging from your walnut tree and instead of saying “holy shitballs! it’s a fucking noose!”, you simply go “Huh. I wonder what that noose is doing there?” and then head off to work as if you didn’t have a fucking noose hanging ten feet from your back door.

It’s not a very big noose.  You couldn’t hang a person from it, though you could  fit a cat or small dog.  But, no question, it’s a noose, complete with a hangman’s knot.  I guess my immediate thought was that it had been there for a while, hidden by the leaves that had recently fallen.  Perhaps it was left by my landlord or some arborist during a tree trimming adventure.  That really is, by far, the least alarming theory, and this morning that explanation sufficed.  Though, I figured I’d make a few phone calls to my landlord, the Boyfriend, and a neighbor, who are the only people who have any reason to be up near my back porch.

It wasn’t until I started hearing back from those folks that I started to become alarmed.  My landlord wants me to call the police. A little extreme, I think, but I’ll consider it.  My neighbor was thoroughly creeped out and may be a little frightened to associate with me now.  But, it was the Boyfriend’s reaction that made me realize how crazy this is.

“Hey hon, do you recall seeing a noose hanging from the walnut tree lately?” I asked nonchalantly.

There was a pause of several seconds. I thought maybe we had lost our connection. Finally, he sputtered, “What? Did you say . . . noose?”

“Yeah, a noose. A small one, but a noose. Have you seen it before?” I blithely asked.

“A noose?  Like with a hangman’s knot? A fucking noose?”  he asked incredulously.

“Yeah, yeah, a noose.  I figured it’s been there for a while and we just didn’t see it because of the leaves.  My guess is that a tree trimmer left it there.” I said as if everyone had a fucking noose hanging from one of their trees.

“A tree trimmer wouldn’t use a hangman’s knot. They would just use a loop” he said with some impatience as if I should be fully familiar with the type of knots used by arborists.

“Oh, OK.  Just checking.  I’ll look at it in the morning and figure out whether I should inform the police.  Talk to you later. I have to go to a meeting.” I said rather abruptly.  I just didn’t want to hear his conspiracy theories as why I would have a fucking noose hanging from my walnut tree.

Maybe it’s the inner stillness that remains from the retreat or maybe I’m fooling myself, but I’m not that worried.  I like my story that it is the remnants of a tree trimming adventure, and I think I’m sticking to it.  But, in case you never hear from me again, please tell the police about that stupid fucking noose hanging from the old walnut tree.

Update: Even though ignorance was indeed bliss in this case, I decided to break my bliss bubble and follow up on my theory that it was simply some rope left over by a tree trimmer.  So, I Googled “Aborists, Marin County” and called the one that sound vaguely familiar.

LazyBuddhist (LB):  Hi.  Uh . . . I have a kind of weird question
Aborist Chick (AC):  Oh, aren’t they all?  Shoot.
LB: OK, so . . . uh . . . well . . . OK, so during the course of an aborist doing his or her job chopping some limbs off a tree, would they ever use a hangman’s knot on the rope they use to grab the limbs?
AC: A hangman’s knot?
LB: Yeah, you know, the kind they use when they make a noose.
AC: A noose.
LB: Yeah, a noose. Do they ever create a noose type loop when working on a tree?
AC: Nope. No nooses.
LB: Are you sure?
AC: Yep.  So, ya got a noose in your tree?
LB: Yep.  It’s not a human size noose though.
AC: Squirrel sized?
LB: What, are you implying I have suicidal squirrels?
AC: No, not at all. I’m sure your squirrels are very happy.
LB: They are, thank you very much. No, I would say it’s kind of Corgi sized.
AC: I think I can safely say we never make Corgi sized nooses during the course of our work.  Anything else I can help you with?
LB: No, I guess I need to go call the police now.  Thanks for your help.
AC:  No no no, thank you. This story has made my day and will no doubt provide much laughter to colleagues.  Good luck with that noose.

My neighbor thinks I’m an asshole

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I’ll admit it.    I’m a bit of a people pleaser.  Not pathologically so, but it does matter to me if most people like me.  So, that’s why it bugs me that my neighbor thinks I’m an asshole.

It all started a couple of weeks ago when Pretty reappeared after a month’s absence.  I was outside watching her eat.  She tends to feel safer when I am standing nearby, and since she already seemed pretty fragile, I was taking my job as protector fairly seriously.  Next thing I know, a neighbor’s Chihuahua comes barreling towards her, which causes her to dash for cover.  I said, to no one in particular, “god damn it!”  and when I looked up, my new neighbor was a few feet away from me.  He looked a bit taken aback by my reaction.

“She wasn’t going to hurt the cat. She just likes to chase them” he said.

“No, I didn’t think she was going to hurt her. It’s just that this little cat is really fragile right now . . . ” I started to explain. 

He called for the dog, then picked her up and walked back to his house without saying much else. 

For the rest of the day I felt bad that I had come off so rude to this new neighbor who had seemed so nice when I met him the first time. I thought about writing a letter apologizing for my rudeness and to ask him if he could kindly keep his dogs on a leash when walking through my (OK, my landlord’s) property, or carry them in his arms so that they don’t harass my Pretty.  After all, he does pass through my yard while walking his dogs. 

But time passed and I never left that note.  I watched a few times from my window as one or the other of his Chihuahuas made a beeline for the area where I feed Pretty.  If  it wasn’t him and his two Chihuahuas, it was another new neighbor and their Chihuahua.  In the last two months, there has been a Chihuahua explosion in my immediate vicinity: five freakin’ Chihuahuas within a 50 yard radius.   Look, I have nothing against Chihuahuas – they’re dogs and they are going to do dog stuff like chase cats and eat their food.  I get it.   What I don’t appreciate is how people let them go unleashed, figuring they’re tiny and harmless and don’t need to contained.   But, for the sake of being neighborly, I refrain from yelling out my window “keep your goddamn Chihuahuas out of my yard!”

In the meantime, my landlord started working on my house.  After a few days, noticing how people were constantly using his property as a through way to get to an alley that serves as a shortcut, he decides to fortify a fence to make it more difficult for people to pass through, and then slapped  No Trespassing/Private Property sign on both sides of the property.  While I have sometimes been annoyed by people cutting through, I thought his approach was a bit heavy-handed and less than neighborly. 

Apparently the neighbors got the message, though.  I didn’t see the Chihuahua Man crossing by anymore.  That is, until this morning.

As I was guarding Pretty I saw one of Chihuahua Man’s dogs a few yards away. She was barking in my general direction, but she didn’t get too close.  Knowing that her owner couldn’t be too far behind, I waited until I saw him so I could talk to him.  I still felt bad about our previous interaction, and I’m sure all the No Trespassing signs that went up shortly thereafter didn’t help the situation.

“Hi!” I waved and smiled.

“Hey” he nodded sans a smile.

“Listen, I wanted to apologize for our interaction a few weeks back. I didn’t mean to be rude.  I was just upset because the cat is really skittish and she had just come back from being missing for a month.” I explained.

“It’s not like she was going to hurt her. She just wanted to eat her food.” he said sounding somewhat defensive.

“No, I didn’t think she was going to hurt her.”  I started, but opted to change the topic since he clearly didn’t grok the whole feral cat thing.  “Also, despite the new signage my landlord put up, you’re free to pass through.  I haven’t had any problem with it.”

He continued to look at me impassively. 

I nervously continued. “Considering our last interaction and the timing of the signs, I just wanted to let you know that I have no problem with you or your partner passing by.  Those signs were not directed at you.”

“Yeah, well, that’s how we took it.” he said with no sign of softening.

“So, feel free to use walkway, but if I could just ask you to either have your dogs in your arms or on a leash when you pass through so as to not bother the cat.” I said in a manner that was probably more pleading than firm. 

“Yeah, fine. Thanks.” he said with no emotion. 

Never once did he break a smile.  I mean, this was all a silly misunderstanding. I’m a good person, really, I am.  Like me, won’t you? 

So, we’ll see where this goes.  Hopefully, all will be well in the neighborhood. But, if he continues to let his dogs harass my Pretty, well . . . you think I’m an asshole now? 

Dear so-called “anarchists”

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Fuck you.

Seriously, fuck you.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, that’s not very Buddhist of me. But, well, tough shit.

I’m so sick and tired of these spoiled white kids all decked out in their hoodies and  black bandannas attaching themselves like some parasitic fungus to valid protest events and movements.  Their sole purpose is to wreak havoc and destroy any private property in their path. They’re like two year olds who don’t get what they want and throw a screaming tantrum.  But instead of just laying on the floor kicking their legs and screaming, these punks run around and toss bricks through windows and light trash cans on fire. They purport to be mad at the “the system”, and by smashing windows at Foot Locker or Starbucks, they’re sticking it to “the man”.  Whatever, dude.  You guys are idiots.

I used to see these fools on the periphery of the anti-war protests of the Bush years.  They were the ones who broke off from the peaceful marches and started destroying shit, bringing in a heavy police presence.   And in the media, the tens of thousands of peaceful protesters and their message becomes a mere side story while the more mediagenic story of a dozen or so punks destroying a Starbucks takes the lead.   Thanks for helping out, guys.

There hasn’t been much for the last few years in terms of organized protests.  No marches, no rallies.  These days people just sign a petition or two online and call it a day.  At least that’s what I do. Who knows what the so-called “anarchists” have been doing for the last few years.  But, I can imagine the major collective boner  they got when it came to the protests surround the Oscar Grant shooting and the Mehserle trial.

Around 2:30-3:00 last Thursday, it was announced that the verdict was to be read at 4:00 pm.  People in my office who took BART into work made a beeline for the door in hopes of getting on the train before the verdict was read. The company I work for evacuated – yes, evacuated – their downtown Oakland offices and told everyone to get the hell out of Dodge – the sooner the better. Based on the riots that ensued about a year and a half ago shortly after the shooting, people were nervous about potential violence.

But, Oakland – community groups working in conjunction with the City – did some serious planning and communication. They made space for people to gather and vent their frustrations and anger.   And it worked.  Once the involuntary manslaughter verdict came in, people started gathering downtown.  There was heavy duty police presence to keep it contained. People were angry and frustrated with the verdict. Who can blame them? But, the protest itself was peaceful.  Despite the constant media messages that it was going to get ugly, it didn’t.

That is, until night fall, when the anarchist cockroaches  came out to play. And an event that should have been seen as a powerful protest and show of community solidarity became just another damn Oakland riot.

Do they care a whit about Oscar Grant? I doubt it, otherwise they would have heeded the family’s pleas for non-violence. Do they care about African American community and their tenuous relationship with the police? I don’t think so, otherwise they wouldn’t have done their damnedest to make it worse.  I seriously doubt they give a shit about anyone except themselves.

So listen, you so-called “anarchists”, no valid movement for peace and change needs your help.  But hey, I hear the Tea Party may need some help at their gatherings.

Sittin’ on the dock of the bay

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A Friday late afternoon on what feels like the first day of Spring and a trip to a Ferry Point Park is order. I find myself a bench facing the water and simply jot down my observations. All is quiet except the electronic bonging of the buoys on the bay. The sun warms the side of my face and my right arm. In the distance is San Francisco.

I watch a couple of young dudes who have hopped the fence on a dock that has been deemed dangerous. They hang out and just goof in their over-sized shorts. A sailboat ambles by letting the subtle breeze dictate its pace.  Further down the trail an old couple argue their old arguments, their voices slashing at the quietude.  Three young people in matching magenta hair are all “dude” and “shit” and one of them proclaims her belief in aliens as they walk by.  A pregnant woman and three small children (possibly more as their other children straggling behind) make their way towards the old ferry landing with their fishing gear. The little boy hides behind the stroller and then peeks out and says “hi”. A white guy in a cabbie cap, a neat blue button-down shirt and dockers walks by smoking a cigarette. He doesn’t say “hi”. Perhaps he had a long week at work and is not feeling up to forced pleasantries.

Two kayakers paddle into view, their boats close enough to converse without shouting, but mostly they are silent and the only sound is the rhythmic splash of their oars. A pair of trim women, probably in their 50’s, walk by looking comfortable and serene. I imagine that perhaps they are yoga buddies, but today since it was so beautiful opted to go for a walk instead. And then it is quiet again.

Soon a young Asian woman comes along pushing a young boy on his bicycle. The bike looks new, modern, but his metal training wheels with the chipped yellow paint look like they may have been passed down or found at a garage sale.  A few minutes later an older Asian gentleman is pulling a very young girl on a very tiny bike with even tinier training wheels. The man has the bike on a make shift leash pulling the girl along as her legs dangle idle.

At the beginning of the trail, right at the water’s edge, I see a lanky adult in a vest and a Tilley hat pulling a  neatly dressed small boy close and whispering in his ear. I can’t tell if the move is to comfort the child or to admonish him.  Their dog, still listening to ancient instincts, starts to point at what I can only guess is a bird in a bush.  As they walk closer I see the lanky adult is probably the child’s grandmother.  As they walk by the woman greets me kindly and the child turns to watch me write.

“She’s writing a ticket” he says getting the older adult’s attention.

“No, silly, she’s just writing.” she says as she turns to me,  “he’s a little obsessed right now with getting tickets.”

“I got beat up by a bully today” the boy tells me.  Looking at his outfit it looks like he may attend a private school where those sort of things are not supposed to happen.

“Oh, that’s awful” I said.

The older woman once again pulls him close. “He did the right thing and told the Principal”. The boy looks up at her. “Didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess” sounding a bit worried. “But” he said changing the subject “I knew she wasn’t writing a ticket. I was just joking”. He stepped away from her as if to establish his autonomy.

The grandmother doesn’t fall for his attempt at changing the topic and continues “I asked him how he was going to deal with that bully and he said he was going to change schools.”  The hopelessness in that statement stunned me. “But, we’re not going to do that, are we?” she said changing her focus back to the boy.

“No. I’m going to go up to him and tell him he owes me an apology”, he said somewhat mechanically but with confidence.

“OK, well you take good care of yourself and know no one deserves to be bullied and it’s not your fault.” I said with some conviction even though I had no idea what I was saying.

The boy waved good-bye and they walked off with the grandmother’s arm once again wrapped around his shoulder.