One evening earlier this year I had just completed hosting a night tour with my company and had the driver drop me off in Union Square. This is my routine on those evenings, as I always walk up Geary Street to a taqueria where I place a standard order of a burrito with avocado to take away, and then I carry it the few blocks down Hyde Street to home, where Dorian and I split it while relaxing to a little night time entertainment on Netflix.
On this one particular evening, I was slightly delayed because I got into a conversation. I’d stopped at an address just short of the taqueria because there was an Aikido session going on inside, and I could see it through the front window. The owner had turned the place into an Aikido studio since I had worked there about six years ago, and he was standing inside while running a group of students through a session.
I knew him because he and a partner had opened a small security company in that space a few years back, and as far as I could tell, it had failed. I’d been hired as a security dispatcher because I had experience in that field, but I only worked there for three months before finding a better job and moving on.
The Aikido instructor is a San Francisco cop named Joe, an expert in several forms of martial arts, with a shiny bald head and arms like small tree trunks. I bet this guy could easily bench four-hundred pounds.
Joe was a silent partner in the security company. I barely knew him; he would pop-in on occasion while I was the dispatcher on duty, but his business partner did all the hands-on work and ran the place. I’ve seen Joe on occasion cruising the streets in his black and white while on duty.
I was watching his technique as he ran the students through their paces, and I was so transfixed and busy reminding myself that I never want to get arrested by Joe, that I barely noticed the weird little hippie dude and his lady friend watching the session along with me, standing about ten feet away.
Then I noticed the smell of the blunt.
Weird little hippie had lit one up and started to blaze away, but then he got very considerate and asked me if I minded him smoking a blunt with his friend there outside the Aikido studio. I assured him it was fine and I didn’t mind at all, and I was actually quite pleased with his courtesy. Then I mentioned I used to work for the Aikido instructor and his partner when they ran a security company there.
“I remember that!” He said. “I live across the street with my boyfriend, and I saw them turn this into an Aikido studio; I’ve been wanting to meet that guy and see if he’d be willing to take on a new student.”
I told him the guy’s name is Joe and that he’s a San Francisco cop, and sure, I guess I could introduce him but I hadn’t really talked to Joe in a handful of years. He got pretty excited about that and introduced himself to me.
“My name’s Peace,” he said. “It’s not my real name but I’m a very peaceful person and I’m against hate and violence and things like that, which is why I’m called ‘Peace.’ I want to take Aikido because it’s so tranquil and, well…”
“Peaceful?” I asked.
He laughed. “Exactly! I don’t even want it for the self-defense or to harm anyone, I could never do that. I just want to learn it for the meditation aspect and self-discipline.”
We had a fairly interesting talk about all kinds of things, including my belief that the Aikido studio was haunted. When it was a security company I’d worked there into the early morning hours and had seen some pretty strange things happen while locked up in the place all by myself.
Peace was fascinated with that part of the discussion, and our talk veered into subjects in the spiritual realm, but it was getting late so I eventually excused myself to continue down the street to get my burrito.
Upon my arrival home, I told Dorian of this ‘weird little hippie dude’ I’d met on Geary and the conversation we had. She knows me well enough to know that by ‘weird,’ I meant unique, interesting and wonderfully strange. She gave me a particular look and asked me a strange question. “Was he wearing any bells?”
“Why yes, he was wearing bells. He was about five foot five, a bit over forty, white dude with very little hair and HE HAD BELLS ON.”
“That’s my friend PEACE!” she exclaimed. “He goes to our poetry meetings here in the neighborhood! He’s amazing, and so is his boyfriend, Paul! You’ll have to meet them someday soon.”
I met him again a week after that when I came home from work one day to find him visiting in the apartment. Dorian had told him I’d be home soon and he was eager to see me again, having since found out that the fellow he chatted up in front of the Aikido studio was married to one of his poetry pals. Sometimes this big city of ours is wonderfully small.
I hadn’t met Paul until recently but I saw Peace once in a while over the next few months. We always made plans to get the four of us together sometime, for dinner or some drinks or whatever happened to come along.
The closest we got to that was a few days ago when Dorian managed to get the two of them on one of my bus tours. I comped them of course, so all they had to do was show up at the allotted time and off we went.
Peace seemed to be having a good time, but it was hard to tell because I knew he struggled with mental illness. Dorian had gotten to know him and Paul quite well through most of the year and had often shared with me about the mental roller coaster that Peace seemed to be riding most of the time.
He’d been in and out of treatment over the years and was often struggling with suicidal tendencies. In the short time I’ve known him, he’s been admitted twice for observation. Dorian has often spent literally hours on the phone with Paul, letting him voice his feelings, frustration, and angst to her. She’s a very good listener and her patience when it comes to such things is quite impressive.
When they took my tour on Saturday, Peace was kind of quiet but seemed to enjoy it. On Sunday he had reached a peak of exuberance and excitedly posted some very enthusiastic comments on Facebook, saying that he’d had a great time and was looking forward to doing it again as soon as possible.
“Yes Thank you so much Mr. Funny tour guide, you sure do give it your all….what a ham…. funny how empty the bus looks in the picture before everyone else got on it….you are very entertaining !!! Glad we all had a great time !!!! (Especially me/ and my frozen cranky ass lol ) love you and Dorian !!!! XooX Peace
He left a slew of other comments under that one, all with an equal amount of enthusiasm. But then on Monday, he plunged.
So goes the roller coaster. Paul was so aware of his peaks and valleys that he dropped by on Monday while walking home and asked Dorian if she’d walk with him the rest of the way, hoping to get an extra bit of support with a talk he was planning to have with Peace once he arrived. He knew inside that having a talk was his best hope, but there was always the chance of a worst-case scenario.
She readily agreed and met him in front of our building because his route took him by our place. I told her I’d be by the phone and to call me if she needed me for anything.
She called about twenty minutes later.
They couldn’t wake him up. They were too late. I hustled up to their apartment and arrived in time to let the police and medics in while Paul and Dorian stayed up in the apartment with Peace. He’d left Paul a note and a stash of empty prescription pill bottles.
Paul was trying to be strong and not show much grief as he pulled out his phone and started in on notifications to people who’d want to know, beginning with Peace’s mom in a far-flung state on the East coast. We all had to cope with a feeling of helplessness, and we kept telling each other that if we’d saved him this week, he might have pulled it off next week. But all we really know is that we’ll never really know.
After police officers had asked Paul and Dorian an extensive round of protocol questions and the white county van departed the building with the corporeal remains of our beloved Peace inside, we helped Paul make sure his apartment was locked-up and we took him to an all-night diner so he wouldn’t be alone. There were closer 24-hour diners, it’s a big city, but he opted for a particular place in The Castro that he and Peace frequented in happier times.
We offered for him to spend the night with us, but he wanted to take his time walking home through the city streets at night, alone with his thoughts. I get that. If Dorian and I manage to find sleep anytime soon, I know we will awake tomorrow gripped with sadness.
Meanwhile, I’m typing out my frustration and helplessness as I write this in the early morning hours of Tuesday, and my mind races with thoughts as I ask myself if I could have done anything differently. We’ve been home for hours and a melancholy pall has blanketed itself over our lives for the time being.
Dammit Peace. Why? I don’t understand, but maybe someday I will. All I can do for now to get past my own sadness is post what I’m posting below. Please save the graphic and the number at the bottom of this post and don’t hesitate to act if someone is struggling.
RIP you weird little hippie. I will never forget you.