A gift of a fresh loaf of homemade bread got today off to a perfect start. The morning’s blue sky gradually surrendered to the usual gray. It was cold and windy but not raining, so I decided to walk to the library. I’m reading a terrific book right now, called Keep the Change by Steve Dublanica. It’s all about tipping, generosity and human connection. I know what my #1 New Year’s resolution will be. Maybe you can guess.

I had a couple of books to pick up and also a C-note to give away. I’d been carrying it around all week. On the way to the library, I passed my favorite bakery and looked longingly inside. No time for self-indulgence. I was on a mission.

Sam’s (Good Food and Drink) is on the next corner, and I glanced inside. I’ve only been inside once; it’s a real old fashioned bar and grill. It was about lunchtime, and the place was pretty busy. There was a woman sitting at a table by the window, reading a book. She had a cup of black coffee in front of her. I wondered what it would be like to slide into a chair across from her, but I kept going.

Billiards too

I took a peek in the laundromat before heading to the library. That could be a sad place to spend a Sunday and I liked the idea of brightening someone’s day. A woman and her daughter were talking quietly. I heard the girl say, “Maybe we’ll just do less drying time.” My ears perked up. Could it be they didn’t have enough money to finish their wash? How horrible would that be to have to lug home half-dry clothes?

The mother went out to smoke a cigarette and I sidled up to the girl. “Laundry day, hunh?” “Yeah, our washer is broken,” she said. “And the dryer here takes forever.” Through the window I could see her mom out front, keeping an eye on the situation while she finished her smoke. I kept a polite distance from the girl, who looked about 10. She was pointedly avoiding my gaze. “You’re right to be careful about talking to strangers.” She looked down at her shoes and started muttering, “Stranger danger, stranger danger.” It was really creepy.

I went outside and talked with the girl’s mom for a minute so she would know I wasn’t up to trouble. Part of me wanted to show them that strangers can be wonderful, but I worried that my actions would be misinterpreted. The enthusiasm drained away and I took off.

On the way home I passed by Sam’s again and the woman with the book was still there. I decided to go in. The door weighs a ton and, arms full of books, I had to struggle to get it open. I stepped into the dark entryway. The dimly lit bar to my left was empty. On the other side, light was flooding in through the windows and the occupied tables were abuzz with animated conversation. The woman was sitting by herself, her book open in front of her and her coffee cup almost empty.

The door to Sam's. Not exactly welcoming. But warm inside.

I walked over to her table and asked the woman if I could talk with her for a minute. “Sure,” she said. I noticed that the book was in large print. I sat down across from her as a waitress came over and put down a knife and fork in front of me. “Can I get you something to drink?” she asked. “Oh, no thanks. I’m just going to sit for a minute,” I explained. The woman was watching me, unfazed.

I introduced myself and said a few dumb things about the weather. Then I told her that I had a gift for her for the holidays, that I figured she could use it. I slid the folded up bill across the table. “Oh, no,” she said. Her eyes filled with tears. “Why would you do that?” I explained that I was honoring my mother and trying to rid myself of some wrong-headed ideas about money. And hoping to help some people at the same time.  I asked her name.

She said her name was Sharon. I could see she was struggling to keep her emotions in check and wasn’t going to share any more. The bill was still on the table, her hand on top of it. As I got up she said, “Just know it makes a really big difference. Merry Christmas. And God bless you.”

When I got outside I tried to catch Sharon’s eye, but the waitress came along just then and put a plate of food down on the table. I saw Sharon smile at her, then she tucked the bill into her purse.

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Thread, thread, thread. 30% off!

We’re on to a new quilting project, which always means there’s something we need from Fabric Depot. Louise is a quilting genius. She is prolific and indefatigable. I like to help out from time to time; I can sew a pretty straight line with the sewing machine and I have a decent eye for pattern and color combinations. I joke that ours is the only sweatshop that serves lattes.

If you’ve never been to Fabric Depot, I can’t begin to do it justice. For starters, it’s the size of the Convention Center. People come from all over just to shop there. BUSLOADS of them! When they have a big sale (which happens a lot) the parking lot fills up and busses line the periphery. If you are a quilter, seamstress, needleworker or otherwise crafty person – well, then you would feel right at home at Fabric Depot, like a kid in the planet’s biggest candy store.

Me? It makes me feel mildly ill. Lured by the promise of a meal out afterward or some other treat, I go with Louise sometimes. We like doing things together. I even get a little excited beforehand, thinking “this time it will be fun!”  By the time we walk in, I realize it won’t be long before I am looking longingly at the husbands in the “waiting room”. They sit on worn straight-back chairs and watch football while their wives scour the aisles.

For the hard-core Fabric Depot shoppers

Miles of fabric

 

We had a long list and each set off in opposite directions. I was quickly distracted by the crazy cartoon character fleece, rows and rows of lamé, sequins, buttons, and the rulers for all the different ways quilters need to measure an inch.

The people were pretty interesting, too. I would say that those who shop at Fabric Depot are a pretty focused bunch. You don’t just stumble in there; it’s a bit out if the way and, if you don’t have a plan, you could easily get lost or overwhelmed. Even pass out. Or pass away.

This was my state of mind as I wandered, somewhat unproductively. I saw a lot of women in pairs. Mothers and daughters selecting fabric for curtains or slipcovers. One woman had her cart piled high and was just finishing a phone call. Disgusted, she turned to the young woman with her and said, “Well, that makes it easy! She doesn’t like this kind of fabric!”  There were a few men accompanying their wives, pushing shopping carts with a stoic determination.

One guy stood out like a sore thumb. He was fondling fabrics in the Minky section and had a peaceful, contented air about him. Minky fabric is a genius invention of softness. Last time I shopped for a baby gift there were Minky blankets in the standard pastel colors. Now every color and pattern imaginable is out there. Babies everywhere are getting wrapped in this stuff, and it just seems they have a better shot at happiness as a result. It’s totally irresistible, and I found myself joining the guy. “Wow, these are really soft,” I said.

So soft...

“Are you making something?” I asked him. He smiled. “Yeah, I’m making a bed for my dog.” A mastiff, it turns out. I had strong opinions about which colors and patterns would be most appropriate and I didn’t mind sharing them. We fell into a comfortable exchange, and he told me about an invention for which he is making a prototype. It’s a really great idea, so I’m not going to give it away.

He said his name was Tyler and he told me some more about his invention and his business plan, which includes donating part of any profit back to the community. He said he got this idea after buying a pair of Tom’s Shoes. “You know about these?” he asked me, holding his foot up. “They give one pair away for every pair someone buys. I want to do something like that. So many businesses make money by selling stuff, but they don’t do anything for people. I don’t think that’s right. I want to do something that makes a difference. You Get, We Give. Like that.”

How could I not fall for this guy? “Here,” I said, pulling a folded up C-note from my pocket. “I think your plan’s great. I hope this will help you out a tiny bit.” “Thank you!” he said. “You didn’t have to do that!” Then I asked if I could take his picture and put it on my blog. “Sure,” he said. “What’s your blog about?” I told him it was about giving away $100 bills. “You gave me a HUNDRED DOLLARS??” He looked at the bill for the first time. “Wow, that’s amazing! Thank you so much!”

 

Tyler makes his choice. He seems partial to green.

He had a lot of questions about what I was doing and I found myself telling him some of my story. He got it right away, “Wow, that must be so heartening, to do that. That’s really cool.”

Tyler picked out an understated and dignified olive green, despite my suggestion that his mastiff might appreciate getting to express his feminine side. He gave me a big hug before we parted ways. This young man will go far.

Louise and I finished our shopping. I admit, I did spend the last 15 minutes plunked down in the waiting area while she had all the fabric cut. She took me out for seafood and beer afterwards. It was lovely, just like being in Baja.

 

Seafood at Puerto Marquez

Dillon Beach, California. Day 23 of My Month of Hundreds.

The day is socked in with fog, and the sky and water come together at the horizon in a gray blur. My friend Neysa’s grandfather and uncles built this amazing house in the 1960’s and the family uses it for weekend and vacation getaways. She spent much of her childhood here, playing on the beach with her sister and cousins. I always craved more family time than I had, and it sounds idyllic.

We wanted to go for a walk, despite the gray sky. There were a lot of people on the beach and even in the water – folks with their dogs, kids in shorts, and surfers with their boards bobbing into view in the distance. When we got outside we realized it was raining hard. The wind was whipping the rain into our faces and our glasses were soon shedding drops onto our cheeks. Neysa decided to take hers off and made her way blindly along the sand. “Is that a dog?” she asked at one point.

We were quickly completely drenched. As my pants got wetter they got heavier and heavier, and I kept having to hitch them up out of the sand. We thought of turning back a couple of times but Neysa had a destination in mind. She’s twenty years my junior and I was determined to keep up.

By the time we got to the boat launch the beach was pretty deserted except for a few stoic individuals fishing from the landing. We ducked into the bait shop to warm up for a few minutes.  I had the C-note in my pocket and checked to make sure it hadn’t gotten soaked.

 

Fishing at Lawson's Landing

A couple walked by with their dog. They all looked a bit bedraggled, which is I’m sure how I looked as well. I got curious and decided to see where they were headed. Neysa grabbed the camera and I dashed outside, following them into the trailer park.

Hot on the trail

When I had almost caught up with them I called out, “Excuse me!” The wind was wailing and I had to yell louder. They turned, startled, and let me catch up. “Nice day, isn’t it?” I asked. “I love it!” said the woman. We drove out here just to be in the weather. I just love when it’s like this.” They had come from Sacramento, about 100 miles away, to walk on the beach in the rain.

We were standing in the road and I started to explain what I was doing. “I’m honoring my mom by passing along a gift each day this month in her memory.” They were quiet. “This is a gift for you.” I held out the $100 bill.

“Oh, no! I couldn’t take that!” the woman said. “It’s a gift”, I encouraged. “You can do whatever you like with it.” After a pause she started to cry, took the money and gave me a big long hug. “I’m going to donate it to the SPCA. That’s how we got this little guy.” The dog was watching her adoringly.

“Are you sure?” she asked. I said I was. She wanted to know why I had chosen them today and I couldn’t really spell it out. “Something about the three of you just drew me in”, I explained. I said that they looked “interesting”. The man laughed and spoke for the first time. “That’s a lot nicer than what people usually say about how I look!”

With Mike, Heidi and Rocket

The woman said their names were Heidi and Mike, and Rocket the dog. We all shook hands and she hugged me again. She thanked me and said that she sometimes forgets that there are nice people in the world, which can seem like “a bleak place”.  Then she told me a story.

A few weeks ago she was in a parking lot loading up her groceries when her shopping cart rolled off, smashing into another car and causing some minor damage. She felt terrible about it and started to write a note to leave on the windshield. Before she could finish, the owner of the car came out of the store. Heidi explained what had happened and was surprised when the woman told her not to worry about it. “She said that when she was in college the same thing happened to her. The person whose car she hit told her not to worry about it, just to make sure that she passed along the kindness someday.”

That’s the thing about passing along a kindness. You never know when or where it will land.

I was unable to post yesterday but it wasn’t for lack of trying. We are at a friend’s beach house near Bodega Bay and I drove around in the foggy dark last night looking for an unsecured internet connection to upload my post. A few houses had lights on, and I could see people inside laughing and sharing a meal. I had my laptop on the seat next to me and drove very slowly, looking for the telltale sign of a network connection. It was so dark and so foggy that I thought I could easily drive right over the cliff, and I pretty quickly decided to abandon the effort and headed back to the beach house. This morning I am sitting at a small bakery with WiFi. Here’s yesterday’s story:

Janet at work

We left San Francisco this afternoon for a couple of days at a friend’s beach house near Bodega Bay. We stopped for groceries in Petaluma at Whole Foods and I could feel the C-note in my pocket. It didn’t seem too likely that I would find the recipient for my 22nd hundred in the store, so I was planning to stroll through the parking lot and adjacent area after we finished shopping.

I was a bit hungry, so I stopped for a couple of the samples that were being offered. Some kind of tofu dip, then dried gogi berries and mulberries. These were getting a hard sell: “they’re organic, sustainably grown, fairly traded, and full of vitamin C and reservatrol! Everything you would want in a mulberry!” I wasn’t disappointed, as I’ve never thought much about mulberries. But they were chewy and pretty tasteless.

A woman was passing out cups of fat ravioli, green and red. People were gobbling them up, which is sometimes a good sign. I stepped up to the table and the woman turned her bright eyes on me. “You’re here!” she said. “What?” “I was waiting for you to come!” she told me. I was startled. “Really? Why?” “Oh, I don’t know”, she said. “I just wanted to say that. But I can tell you are a very open person.”

She handed me my ravioli with a smile. I thanked her and then stood there for a minute. We were looking at each other, just kind of soaking each other in. Something clicked in my head and I said, “Guess what. I’m going to blow your mind in a minute.” “Oh! I can’t wait!” she said.

I stepped off to the side and ate my ravioli while she helped a couple of other people.  She looked expectantly back at me and I got closer. I started to tell her my story and she offered her condolences. When I put the $100 bill in her hand, she gave out a yelp. “Oh, my god! What a blessing!” She gave me a hug, saying into my ear, “I’m so sorry for your loss. I really am.”

She told me her name was Janet and she’s a dancer.  She said she just (just) lost a part-time job and is doing the sample thing till she finds another way to make ends meet. She said the money would help a lot. “You just did the right thing at the right time”, she said.

Janet said I could take her picture and she wanted to know all about the blog. She hugged me again and said into my ear, “I can’t wait to learn more about your mom.”

Gina would love that part! Amazing, simply amazing.

Beautiful Janet

Day 20 of my Month of Hundreds. Counting down now. I’m not liking that; I really don’t want this month to end.

Over the last 20 days I’ve definitely refined my process and gotten more efficient in selecting the day’s recipient once I decide to do the deed. It’s a little hard to describe what I’m looking for. I know that everyone has a story and most people could put $100 to good use. I get a sense about a person, that somehow I can connect with them and make a bit of an impact.

Even though I’ve lived in San Francisco it’s been a while and I forgot what it feels like downtown. So many people! I spent all day in a windowless conference room, so just getting outside was exhilarating. I had the $100 bill in my pocket and I started to walk.

As I walked I studied the passersby. There were a lot of folks around. Small clusters of workers on breaks, men in suits rushing by, panhandlers. A woman at the corner had a sign that said “Why am I sitting here? Because I don’t have any cents. Do you?”

After a couple of blocks I passed what at first I thought was a candy store. Pretty colors and bright lights! I looked again and saw the sign saying Brow Bar and realized it was some kind of makeup place (I have since educated myself somewhat utilizing the powers of Google, but I must say this kind of thing is about as foreign to me as an ammunition depot).  This gorgeous young guy was inside; I caught his eye and he flashed me a brilliant smile.

Danny

I went in and was greeted by a young woman at the door. “Can I help you?” I pushed right by, saying “I need to talk to that guy over there.” It felt urgent; I could hardly wait to get to him. He was standing at a counter with a bunch of makeup brushes and didn’t seem surprised to see me. “Hi!”, he said. I asked if I was interrupting him. “It’s okay”, he shrugged. “I’m just cleaning these brushes.”

We chatted for a minute and I told him I was visiting from Portland. “Oh! I love Oregon!”, he said. I started to tell him about my project and he listened intently. When I told him my mom had died he was very sympathetic. I said I wanted to pass along a gift and he smiled. “What is this?” Then I gave him the C-note.

He thanked me over and over. He gave me a big hug and told me his name was Danny. He had a lot of questions about what I was doing and why, and why I had chosen him. Then he told me that he had been mugged last night and struggled not to cry. “This is amazing, really. With all the bad things that happen, it really helps to remember that there are good people in the world.” He hugged me again.

Danny’s a really sweet, special young man. I think he’s one of those angels in disguise. I’ve already said that I don’t really believe in God, but I’ll be praying that he stays safe. And happy.

So many dogs

What a beautiful fall day! Especially at this time of year, a day like this seems a miracle not to be taken for granted. Louise and I headed out to Thousand Acres Park with our two mutts. The dogs can run off-leash there for miles; they love it no matter the weather. Of course.

I know it sounds awful, but I’m really not much of a dog person. I find their indiscriminate affection and good humor rather off-putting. Most of them smell bad. In considering dogs, however, I have to admit they have a lot going for them. I could learn something. For example, dogs seem to take good fortune and disappointment equally in stride. Filet mignon or a crumb of dry kibble? It’s all thrilling to them. Unless they’ve been maltreated, dogs expect the best at every turn. A dog would not be surprised to be handed a $100 bill.

We had a lovely walk. There were lots of people and lots of dogs. On our way back, a young woman and her dog walked by. “Have you seen a yellow lab?”, she asked. No, we hadn’t seen any unattended dogs. She didn’t seem too worried and we went on our way.

We were almost back to the parking lot when we saw an old yellow lab standing rather dejectedly by the side of the trail, clearly on the lookout for its owner. “I bet that’s the dog!”, said Louise. We decided we would lure the dog over, put it on a leash and find the woman. “C’mon, girl!”, we coaxed. It was still a ways away and didn’t budge. Just then the woman and her other dog came up behind us and spotted the lab. “Lucy!” The dog’s head popped up and she came running. “Oh, we got separated.” the woman explained with relief. The other dog sniffed Lucy’s face all over, nudging her affectionately.

Everyone headed to their cars. We chatted briefly with some hunters who were coming back empty-handed. “It’s too nice out. They can see the strings on the decoys. Oh, well. It’s a great day to be outside”, one of them said. I made a detour to the restroom.

When I came out I saw the woman by her car. She was giving Lucy and her other dog some water. “I’m glad she didn’t get lost”, I said. “Me too!” She had a really sweet smile. I hadn’t planned it but found myself saying, “Can I talk with you for a minute?” “Yeah!”, she said, without hesitation. I told her about my project and handed her the $100. “Oh, my god! For real?” She gave me a big hug. She told me she’s looking for a new place to live and could really use the money.

We talked about my mom for a minute and then she told me that her mother has been sick with a nasty form of brain cancer. It’s been really hard on the whole family. “It’s weird”, she said. “It’s like, when you lose your mother you have to become a whole other person.” She hugged me again. “Thank you”, she said. “This really brightens my day.”

Mine too.

Lucy and family

It was a day for miracles today. 33 men, trapped 2000 feet underground for 70 days, rescued without a hitch! I kept checking in on the news, and heard some of the family members on the radio driving back from my morning clinic.

At the end of the work day, I was heading to my car when I had the urge to turn back and peek in the window of Denny’s. I decided that if I saw someone sitting alone at a table I would go in and ask to sit down with them.

The place seemed deserted and I checked the sign to see if they were even open. Yup, till 1 AM. Then I saw that there was one table occupied, with two African American women sitting by the window holding hands. Their eyes were downcast and they looked serious. And maybe sad. Something pulled me inside.

I stepped right past the “Please Wait To Be Seated” sign and walked toward the women. One of them pushed the shreds of her leftover pancakes into a box to take home. They both watched me suspiciously. “Excuse me. Hi. Can I talk to you for a minute?” “About what?The woman glared at me and kind of rolled her eyes. I launched into a quick version of my story, thinking it might soften her to hear that my mama had died. It seemed to, maybe a little. I sat down at the next table and said I wanted to pass along a gift to them, reaching over to put the $100 bill on the table.

“Thank you, Jesus! Thank you!”, cried the woman with the pancakes. “Thank you, Mother and Father. Thank you for this!” They each grabbed one of my hands and started to cry. Then they told me their story.

One of the women (I’ll call her “Gloria” but it’s not her real name) got hurt at work, needed surgery, and was going to be off the job for months. She had been sitting in Denny’s for three hours, making phone calls to her insurance company and trying to figure out how she was going to pay her bills. She was going through a real bad time. The other woman (“Mary”) knew Gloria a little from way back and saw her sitting there. She felt like Gloria needed someone to pray for her, so she went in and sat down. She ordered pancakes. They held hands and prayed that Gloria would have her money worries lifted.

“Were you in here? You was watching us?”, asked Mary. I told her no, I was walking by and felt pulled to come in. “Oh, my God!” She said. “Thank you, Jesus!”

Gloria was pretty quiet this whole time but she was squeezing my hand real hard. She apologized for “coming on strong” at first. “I shouldn’t have been like that”, she told me. “I’ve said it a million times: ‘Be careful because you may be entertaining angels unaware.’ That’s from the scripture.” I asked her what that meant to her and she said you never know what gifts or burdens another person is carrying.

Mary was shy but had a lot to say. She wanted me to know that her prayers have worked miracles before. “Psalm 91 says, ‘I will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.’ That’s a beautiful one. I love that whole scripture.” She said she had been on her knees praying for the last two weeks. “I’ve prayed to God to heal this recession! Not just for me, for everybody. And to heal pain. And blindness. And don’t let The Man take my social security! Don’t let the rich be greedy!” “Mmm hmm”, said Gloria.

We talked for a long time and it was hard to say goodbye. Gloria told me she loved me. “You are a blessing. Thank you”, she said. They both gave me a big hug.

I can’t explain what pulled me into Denny’s. I don’t really believe in God. But I do believe in angels, and I am so thankful for the two I met today.