#HeartsinSF: On Wings of Love
When I was offered the chance to “make a heart” for an annual fundraiser for the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation, I hesitated for a moment. I’d never made a three-dimensional mosaic, per se. It had to have technical issues — that point at the bottom, for example, where everything converges? That cleft between the two upper chambers?
But a challenge is a challenge. And besides, I have a special feeling about San Francisco General. In the mid-1980s, as a rookie reporter for the old San Francisco Examiner, I spent an afternoon in what was then called “the AIDS Ward.” It was the height of the AIDS epidemic, people were dying in droves in cities like San Francisco, and those who weren’t yet ill were in a panic. But every Saturday, a skinny blonde woman from the Midwest called “Rita Rockett,” who had come to California looking for the Hollywood dream and found only waitressing jobs, volunteered in the AIDS Ward to “give back” to the gay men who had made her dislocation tolerable. She cooked massive amounts of food and the hospital allowed her to wheel it up to the ward, where so many were wasting away. The patients invited their friends, family, lovers and ex-lovers. Everyone ate a non-institutional meal, and for at least that one day out of every seven, it was almost a party. Many of the patients had nowhere else to go in their condition; it would be their last ‘home.’ So the sense of community established by this crisis ritual was essential in staving off the terror: the terror of those who would tumble importunately into eternity, and of those who would lose them.
I remember learning that a handsome, green-eyed visitor who conversed with me in a deep baritone voice was the star of many a gay porn video; he said he felt a deep responsibility to “be there” for the fellas. And I remember that the squeamishness I had to repress when pushing the ‘up’ button of the elevator, was very much gone by the time I pressed the button to go down.
So yes, I said yes, and started the project. Thirty days we were given, to turn it in.
Soon a little box arrived from the HeartsinSF campaign offices, incredibly heavy for its dimensions. Inside, I found a pure white cast heart on a stand. The mosaic equivalent of the white page. I loved contemplating its possibilities.
It didn’t take long to decide I was going to make a cockatoo. People asked me: how did I come to that? I have to confess: it was the color of a piece of stained glass I found, ranging in shades from deep orange to white through the spectrum of peaches and corals — it just said “cockatoo” to me. Which brought to mind a white cockatoo named “Marilyn,” who I used to visit in a Modesto flower shop.
From there I began to cut and sort the tesserae, and pencilled the bird on the virgin heart. With the very first pieces I laid down- the cockatoo’s face — I knew it was going to work. The project was a pleasure from start to finish, although fitting the pale blue tile into the upper crevice of the heart was indeed very difficult.
The pale gray grout tended to tone down the bright oranges and blues (see before – above- and after- below.) But it was the best possible choice, I think.
Eleven hearts designed by San Francisco artists will be displayed in the windows of the Neiman Marcus department store in Union Square and four in Wilkes Bashford, until February 16, when they will hopefully be sold at auction to benefit the new Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.
It is indeed a very good thing that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife gave $75 million to this cause. But I gave my heart.