The bungalow was built in 1926, when the outer, outer, outer Excelsior was even farther from downtown than it is now. They insulated the house with rolled up old newspapers.
The house wasn’t blue at the time. In fact, when the bungalow found us in 1999, it was mustard yellow, with brown trim. The summer that we moved in, we painted it the color of Batman’s cape. One of our new neighbors asked, “Was there a mistake at Home Depot?” and we knew we would live there happily ever after.
In the winter of 2001, Tim moved in with us. He was dying of AIDS, though none of us knew it at the time, and he moved into the small bedroom. In March, it started raining and we learned the roof leaked. In April, we hired a roofer. Five days later, the contractor said, “We’re almost finished. All we have to do is solder the seams on your gutters.”
You know that I’m Irish, which means superstitious, and the fact that this Friday was the 13th and Good Friday as well struck me as a particularly bad omen. But Brian was dancing with ODC/San Francisco, and it was opening night, and this was long before children, so Tim said, “Go. Have a date night. I’ll watch the contractor. I’ll take care of the dogs.”
The performance ended, and as Brian handed me a glass of champagne, the phone rang. Our friend Jon (long before he earned his status as uncle): “Come back now. Your house is on fire.”
Brian, grabbed his backpack, and hurtled to the car. We raced to the outer, outer Excelsior, where sirens wailed and lights flashed, and a half dozen fire trucks stood in the intersection, Tim sitting on the sidewalk, four rescue dogs in his lap.
The firefighters extinguished the blaze quickly, but to do so, they flooded the old gumwood dining room. Brian walked in, sat on the floor and cried. Three in the morning, still in his dress velvet, he mopped the floor to get rid of the excess water, Wolfcub’s tail occasionally flicking the ashes. Every towel, every t-shirt, every pair of socks smelled like soot.
Jon was married at the time, and his wife’s boyfriend had recently moved in. The three of them blew up air mattresses, so that Brian, Tim, me, Wolfcub, Miss Grrrrl, Daphne and Diva could all sleep in his living room, with one very nervous looking parakeet hung in a cage above us.
Jon woke up the next morning, brewed a pot of coffee, and handed me a cup, just as four hounds howled that they needed to go out. As I searched for leashes, I said, “Thank you for doing all this.”
To which Jon replied, “We’re all neighbors.”
The Chronicle has great reporters who tell us the news. But I am not a reporter; I am a columnist who tells stories, some of them true. I cannot fathom the scope of the hurricanes in Puerto Rico, the earthquakes in Mexico, the shooting in Las Vegas. I understand only this,that great tragedies are made up of little tragedies.
There is an order of nuns called the Ursulines, who follow the teachings of Saint Angela Merici, a mystic who believed that service to the poor was service to God. The Ursulines are dedicated to teaching, and since 1880, they have maintained a chapter house in Santa Rosa. Last week, the Tubbs Fire burned that convent to the ground, leaving in its ashes only one thing intact: a statue of Saint Angela herself. Sister Shirley and Sister Lil, who run the school that Aidan attends, drove up that day, and spent the next fifteen hours working with their community to find homes for all of the displaced nuns.
Both of them showed up to work at Saint John’s school the next morning at 630.
Another hero is Lindsey Margett, who got a call that there were two mares in a pasture with the oncoming fire. She went to rescue them, only to return to find her own home burning. She and Lisa O’Connor of Sunrise Horse Rescue have evacuated hundreds of horses since.
“We’re all neighbors” and Santa Rosa, Napa Valley and St. Helena are as much a part of San Francisco as the outer, outer, outer Excelsior. So donate clothes and blankets. Or money. Be kind to a nun. Go to www.sunrisehorserescue.org and buy a horse a cup of oats.
Or just make a friend a cup of coffee.