At the corner of Stockton and O’Farrell

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, February 17, 2015 8:57 PM

The city of San Francisco is built on a hill so that it often appears to be rising out of the fog. Its streets are steep and treacherous, its people all seeming to still have a bit of the Haight inside. The Haight is Haight-Ashbury, the notorious drug scene at the intersection of the 1960s and 70s. It’s a liberal bastion, this city, but also historical and stunning. Situated on the Bay across from its nastier cousin Oakland, San Francisco is home to high finance and technology, rich cultures of art and food, and the fog. The north shore of the city, in Pacific Heights, is where the famed Fisherman’s Wharf is. Fresh seafood comes in daily and it is exquisite. Off the coast and to the east is Treasure Island, to the west is the famed Alcatraz prison, now a tourist spot. Further still to the west is the arching Golden Gate, crossing the entrance to the Pacific.

In the middle, tucked between highways 80 and 101, on the Bay side, is Union Square, one of the world’s premier shopping districts with a huge collection of retail stores, boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and salons. And in the middle of Union Square, near where the cable cars run, at the corner of Stockton and O’Farrell is a Macy’s Department Store. To most, it’s a typical Macy’s, with numerous floors filled with fairly nice merchandise for women, men and children. There are shoes and jewelry and perfume counters. There is makeup and skin care. It’s a nice store, and it definitely occupies prime real estate in the area that first came to be known because of the pro-Union rallies held before and during the Civil War.

At Christmas time, it is decorated like all department stores. Santa has a North Pole office where he sees children. And it has the most glorious window displays in the country, at least to me.

Now I realize there are still 310 days until Christmas, according to the Christmas clock but I’m already counting and here’s why: dogs and cats, puppies and kittens.

For the past 28 years (this will be the 29th annual), the Macy’s holiday windows for the Christmas season feature homeless animals who need to be adopted. Each year, for nearly three decades, the Union Square Macy’s teams up with the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to feature dogs, puppies, cats and kittens at play and taking well-deserved naps in holiday-themed windows. Each year the theme changes, but the windows always incorporate animals. The spaces are temperature controlled and safe, and give plenty of opportunity for window watchers to watch. SPCA volunteers are also on hand to answer any questions, and to monitor the hopeful pets. They’re also rotated frequently. Any animal not adopted during the day goes back to their bed at the no-kill shelter for the night.

The tradition began in 1986 when Gump’s Department Store was the first to offer pet adoptions at the holidays. Soon after Macy’s – the flagship store of Macy’s West and in San Francisco since 1866 – and the SPCA began teaming up for the holidays. To date, they’ve adopted more than 4,000 animals, 343 last year alone. They also raised over $100,000 in donations. The long-term goal is to generate enough support and education to help end animal abandonment in the city by 2020.

I didn’t know any of this until today when I stumbled on the story. I love San Francisco – it’s one of my top two cities in the country, along with Chicago – but when Kevin and I go, we don’t tend to do a lot of shopping. Instead, we walk and we go to galleries and great restaurants. Knowing this about Macy’s makes me want to shop there. The fact that it’s one of my favorite places in the country is also a plus. Maybe next year at Christmas, you’ll find us at the corner of Stockton and O’Farrell. Maybe we should book our trip now. After all, there are only 310 days left.

Hence the donut

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 19, 2014 9:09 PM

I love donuts. There. I’ve admitted it. Not all donuts, of course. I’m partial to certain types and especially anything with cinnamon and glaze, and particularly to cinnamon swirls and twists. I have them about once a year, as a treat. I would have them more often but they’re so bad for me. Even after I’ve finished my one indulgence for the year, I feel like I need a shower. It’s similar to how I feel on the exceedingly rare occasion that I have a Big Mac. Actually, the Big Mac is worse.

The last time I had one of those, about six years ago, I felt like I should shower for a week, inside and out.

Yesterday, I went to the mailbox and asked Kevin if he needed anything while I was out. He didn’t hesitate. A donut. He didn’t get one. Later, I was on Facebook and Roy had posted a picture of a donut. Evidently, they had splurged and I was jealous.

They had also indulged in a very heavy conversation about life. The kind of conversation we all often engage in. About money, about what we’re doing with our lives, where we’re going, what we can still accomplish with the time we have left. Like I said, heavy. When we were younger, the heavy conversations were different. What kind of career would we have, would we get married, would it last? Would we have children, did we want to? How soon could we change the world.

She told me a bit about what they had discussed, details of which I won’t share here. I paused and then said “hence the donut.”

This, I’ve decided, is a new rallying cry. When things aren’t going my way, when I’m down, or tired. When I’m mad at the world and can find nothing worth celebrating, I’ll just think “hence the donut.” Because a donut, like all comfort food, brings just that, comfort, an escape from the irritants of the day. Donuts, those marvelously nasty pieces of fried dough, can change the trajectory of any day simply by being. It can bring joy and resilience. It makes you feel better.

“Hence the donut” becomes a metaphor for good things are just around the corner; they’re coming. We just have to take a bite and let the sweetness of change and of life, run through us. I try to do it every day. I’m not always successful, but I do err on the side of positivity, trying to find the good and the reason for any situation no matter how dire, no matter how frustrating.

I was stuck in the airport the other night for hours, so long in fact that by the time our flight actually boarded for departure, the terminal was nearly empty save for my fellow journeymen and women. I was frustrated, and then irritated. I just wanted to go home. We got on the plane, finally and proceeded to sit at the gate for another 10 minutes or so, long after everyone had sat down and buckled in. My frustration and irritation grew. It had been a long day; I was tired. I had bought a sweatshirt and slippers in the terminal and changed so I was a bit more comfortable.  Still.

When Kevin picked me up and Cooper was in the car with him, I smiled, frustration and irritation gone instantly. It was the donut. Something good appearing out of the bad, something to make me feel better. My donut was in the guise of my husband and my dog. What’s yours?

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