March 2016

Honoring a holy man of the cloth

By Art Goodtimes

FATHER JOHN … It’s almost a given with modern American life. We change our situation. Move away from home. Lose touch with old friends. Rarely do we get a chance to reconnect with our past lives from 50 some years ago. But thanks to cyber connections with members of my grade-school class from St. Joseph’s Grammar School in California, I got to do just that last month … Our local parish priest – one of those selfless Catholic holy men for whom Christ’s gospel was about serving the poor, not beefing up the collection plate – was celebrating his 90th birthday. So classmates Ray DiFazio of San Francisco and Gary Shara of San Jose assembled a dozen former altar boys and a sprinkling of Catholic schoolgirls from our old Mountain View days (circa 1952-59) to take the good padre out to lunch at the Bay Café beside the Palo Alto Municipal Airport … It was a beautiful meal, with a lot of reminiscences and catching up. Father John Coleman was alert and as kindly and admirable as ever, ministering still to a mostly Hispanic flock in his East Palo Alto parish … “Arthur McArthur,” he used to call me, and he did again. Talking of the days when my Dad was altar-boy director and all of us were idealistic young people, with our lives ahead of us — before we’d gone off in different directions. Had become lawyers, teachers, politicians. One a falconer, another a college provost, another a jazz musician. Most retired, or soon to be. But Father John’s loving example had brought us all together for a moment once again, where it wasn’t so important what we’d done, but how we all still honored how we’d helped shape each other’s lives.

THE TALKING GOURD

beside the sunflowers
naked, except
this strand of what ifs

- Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
Western Slope Poet Laureate

SAN FRANCISCO … The nicest part of taking off for California to honor my old parish priest was spending time with my daughter Iris Willow and my sonin- law Bertrand Fan. We did three major theatrical productions – the nationally renowned American Conservatory Theater’s “Satchmo” at the Waldorf in the ornate Geary Theater and the workingclass Marsh Studio Theater’s production of Echo Brown’s “Black Virgins Are Not For Hipsters” in the Mission District. Both were extraordinary … We decided to go for broke, and paid $100 each to see a traveling version of a Broadway musical as well.

JERSEY BOYS … I’ve never made it to Broadway, although I’ve seen my share of musicals. But never as professional or polished a production as this. Watching it in the landmark Orpheum Theatre helped … I had a vague memory of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. But soon as I heard “Sherry Baby,” it all came flooding back. That classic early Sixties sound. Part of my adolescent yearning. And that later hit, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” … These weren’t world-changing songs. But they were pop hits. It’s about that great American dream of success. And Valli does succeed. But the story is a sad one. Yes, he and his buddies made it from street kids to pop sensations, but at quite a cost. Betrayals. Suicides. Huge disappointments. So, in spite of the fame and fortune, it’s a bittersweet story … But nothing bitter about the production. It was fantastic music, dancing, costumes, staging, everything. … And it taught so many lessons as only theater can do.

SCOOT … Maybe the most surprising and fun activity Iris and I had were renting electric motor scooters and tooling around the San Francisco hills, visiting friends, going to museums, taking in some of the great restaurants that seem to be as prolific as San Juan boletes in a good year. Scoot, the name of the service, uses smart phone technology to actually run the scooters. You get one at one site, drive it around, take it to a battery-replenishing site or park it and use another. The smart phone keeps track of everything and takes the money from your on-file card. You don’t deal with people. Just machines. They have a range of 20+ miles … But we drove all around Golden Gate Park. Visited the new De Young Museum, thanks to poet buddy Dennis Dybeck. Met up with poet Paul Fericano and sem buddy Kerry Yates. Toured museums, including the Contemporary Jewish Museum and a great show, Chasing Justice – artwork depicting the union organizing of some Russian-Jewish activists in the automobile industry in the 1930s … Easy to park. Gasoline-free. We even found Vermont St. – the roadway in Bernal Heights that’s as crooked as Lombard Street but without the tourists … Let me recommend Scoot as the best way to tour San Francisco on one’s own.

HOMELESS … That was the biggest downside of returning to San Francisco. There were tent cities under freeway overpasses and along other thoroughfares. Bums, we used to call them, sleeping in the street. Or in parks. Cardboard for covers. But these days both sexes. And sometimes whole families … Of course, I had no defense when someone asked me for money. I’m from Norwood, where we help each other out, even if we don’t particularly like one another. I had a roll of ones in my pocket, just for that occasion … Still, I wasn’t naïve. I kept my eyes averted walking in the Tenderloin. The Mission. Better to pretend you were deep in one’s own thoughts than to register anything even faintly hinting of recognition. That’s the urban way … But if someone asks me, I have a hard time saying no. As long as I have enough to share, and someone asks, it feels like it’s my duty to oblige … My daughter got mildly annoyed with me, as we walked the night streets. If asked, I shared. It made for slow walking on some jaunts … Maybe the worst example (although it felt like compassion to me) was entertaining a homeless sort while Iris went to a class nearby. An older woman, but not elderly. Asking strangers odd things, questioning stuff, ranting about her last hotel, and her aunt, and others who had wronged her. I was in a trendy hipster yogurt shop off Polk Street. I was typing a column (like this one) while enjoying a bowl of rice pudding (like my mother used to make). Lady GoneGone (or whatever her name was) sat at an adjacent table. Soon she was plying me with queries and telling long stories that made little sense. … I guess she reminded me of my mother, who had lived in the City. And had only been saved from homelessness because I moved her into an apartment in Noe Valley I’d rented for a half-dozen years. The landlord was a good-hearted sort. The rent was affordable for someone on Social Security and food stamps. The second-floor railroad flat wasn’t pretty. But it was clean. And livable … She stayed her last years there until the cancer took her. Lady GG reminded me of what might have become of Blanche, if I hadn’t been around to watch out for her. So, before long, I was buying GG a pudding. Telling the waitron it was okay. That GG wasn’t bothering me … For about an hour I half-listened, half-typed. Not only was she a talker, but she scratched her arms and legs ceaselessly. Finally explained she had lice, about the time she got moved out of her table by other customers and sidled in next to me. … Finally, the time came to meet up with my daughter a couple doors done the street. I detached myself from GG, wished her well, and scurried off. My compassion tested. My heart a bit sore, thinking of where GG would spent the night. And the next day. And the rest of her life.

Art Goodtimes is a five-term county commissioner in San Miguel County, Colo.