I found myself one early Saturday morning working at the food pantry with two delightful older men, Clive and Stuart. They were old enough to have children my age and had lived full and rich lives.
Clive was a lawyer from Upstate New York, who had lived in San Francisco for quite some time. Now retired, he enjoyed taking long walks in the city. Stuart was newer to the city than I was, still trying to make a mental map of this densely packed warren of hills and houses. So far, like me, he mostly lived life in his neighborhood, trekking to the Safeway at the top of the hill and exploring his little piece of urban forest.
The two men’s banter made the time fly by quickly though the chatter was apt to make them forget to put their assigned items in the bag.
“Slow down. You’re working me like a government mule,” Clive said, when we attempted to whisk away boxes he hadn’t yet supplied with rice.
“Isn’t that the name of a band?” I asked, sending us down a musical rabbit hole.
I mentioned that I was from Texas, and that prompted Clive to bring up John Wayne (who’s not from Texas but Iowa).
“John Wayne walks like a woman,” Stuart chimed in unprompted.
“Wait a just a minute,” Clive cried after recovering from the shock of Stuart’s impromptu musing.
Stuart was undeterred.
“Just watch him walk away in a movie some time. You’ll see.”
“Now Stuart, you’ve gone too far. I mean, John Wayne … he’s my hero.”
Stuart just shook his head, completely convinced of the truth of his observation.
Meanwhile, my sides were nearly splitting with laughter over this strange, unfettered observation.
And so, as the morning rolled on from one topic to the next — movies, music, city life — I kept a close eye on quality control and basked in the camaraderie of complete strangers.
Outside, the long, long lines of people filled their bags and walked away a little less empty. Inside, we filled our hearts with the joy of laughter and human contact made so precious in this strange pandemic world.