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Goodbye to a Dear Friend

Jeff died Saturday. He wasn’t an average guy. For more than ten years, he sat on a bench at the corner of Rosecrans and Avenida de Portugal in the Point Loma area of San Diego. He was there for the millennium change. He sat there every Christmas morning. He rang in every New Year on the bench. Summers, winters, holidays, rain or shine, he was sitting on his bench. As you might imagine, he was different.

When darkness filled the night, Jeff would pick up the bag holding all of his earthly possessions and disappear into the shadows where he would stealthily spread his sleeping bag on the ground hidden away from any and all curious eyes. Shortly after first light, Jeff was back on his bench for another day of silent vigilance.

Despite the fact that my mountain climbing days are well behind me, I still try to stay in reasonable physical condition. Among my routines is my daily four to five mile walk, usually close to dawn’s first light. Lisa and I first saw Jeff on one of our morning walks many years ago and wondered why he was always sitting in the same place. We asked neighbors who’d lived in the area long before we arrived. As often as not, we were told they’d seen him sitting there for years, but knew nothing about him other than he was “. . . just some crazy guy.”

When people wandered by, Jeff would avoid eye contact, say nothing, look the other way and do his best to become invisible. It was clear he simply wanted to be left alone and he never bothered anyone. He never looked directly at us and never said a word. He did succeed in firing up my curiosity.

Day after day, we would walk. I began waving hello each time I passed. For weeks, there was no response. Finally one morning, his hand flicked slightly upward with a furtive response. He had acknowledged my greeting and returned it. Strange as it may seem, a bond of friendship was formed. For the better part of a year, we would exchange waves. After a while I would catch him actually initiating the act. He wasn’t very demonstrative, but he shared a small act of human kindness each day. To others, he remained invisible. We nicknamed our friend “the Mayor” and began referring to the corner on which he sat as his office.

Nearly a year passed without a word being exchanged. One morning when walking by a Winchell’s Donut shop, I wondered if the Mayor would enjoy a hearty bear’s claw. I bought one. On the return trip home I approached the Mayor and asked if he’d like a sweet roll. “Yea. That sounds good,” he said. “Thanks.” I handed him the roll, turned and walked away. From that point on and for many years to come, we’d buy him a sweet roll once or twice a week. Occasionally, we’d bring him a dessert after having dinner at one of the local restaurants. His favorite morning treat was a cheese bagel from the grocery store bakery. We usually tried to get him things that weren’t too difficult to chew. He only had one tooth.

The Mayor never failed to express his gratitude when given something. Over the many years we knew him, he never – not once – asked for anything. The relationship was pure. There were no expectations, no quid-pro-quo, no demands, no deals, no obligations. It was the perfect relationship. He gave us the freedom to do good things without any conditions. There were no hidden agendas, no politics, no debts; just acts of friendship and giving. The freedom to act without conditions was totally liberating.

When we got to know him better, we would engage in conversations of unparalleled intrigue. Many related to health in general and the Mayor’s health in particular. Although he had but one tooth in his mouth, he was in the process of growing all of them back. We never understood the details of the process, but it was apparently quite slow. He still had only one the day he died. He had a steel rod leading from his gall bladder to his heart. We never learned how it grew there, but he was certain it did. The best treatment for the condition was to eat lots of soup made of broccoli and Velveeta cheese. Another time, the Mayor was inflicted with antlers. He had to eat right to prevent them from developing into a full blown handicap. Many of his ailments related to anesthetic he had been given at some time in the past; he was certain of this. The last couple of weeks of his life, his hands were terribly swollen. We thought they showed some signs of fluid retention and congestive heart failure. We encouraged him to see a doctor. He assured us everything would be alright because the swelling was due to the bugs that were living inside his hands as a result of nuclear bomb testing in the past. Maybe he was right.

The Mayor would talk economics with us from time to time. I learned a lot on the topic from him. Did you know that some banks only let you open an account if you have a one million dollar bill? He even showed me a picture of one he had clipped from a magazine. Other times he would share with us the knowledge of the government spies that were coming in on ships to watch us. I promised him we would be vigilant.

He said his name was Jeff, but we’d heard his real name was David. One day I asked him if he had ever been “David”. He explained he’d always been Jeff. He went on to say it was possible to become someone else, but it took seven years and a series of strange rituals and activities. When the process was completed, you were in fact a completely different person. I suspect he was telling the truth. He had always been Jeff, at least ever since he became Jeff. I’m not sure what ever happened to the other guy.

His life view was a source of entertainment to us. Once, before leaving for England, I stopped and told him we wouldn’t be seeing him for the next month. I asked him if there was anything he’d like us to bring him back from England. He looked up from his bench with a curious look in his eyes and said, “I don’t know. What do they have?”

He always wore long pants, boots, a heavy, hooded coat and sun glasses. The sun glasses were in place even after the sun had long fled the sky. The coat was always on, even when the dog days of summer brought temperatures into the eighties. I’m sure he had his reasons, no doubt health related. Despite his obsession with health, he smoked almost continuously. I never asked him if tobacco affected him differently than it did others; I didn’t think it would make a difference. At times he would run across the street, leaving his bag of belongings behind. He would return with vegetables and other healthy foods. One time, my mother had given us a bag of Doritos loaded with salt and high fructose corn syrup, the kind of food we try to avoid. We took it to the Mayor. He thanked us and began reading the list of ingredients. He handed it back and said he didn’t eat things that were so unhealthy. Most people thought he was crazy. We’re not so sure.

The Mayor died suddenly in his office last Saturday. His name was Jeff. Few people knew him. Many feared him. Others suffered his presence silently. We were delighted he invited us into his world. Like you and I, he was a singular point in the fabric of life we call humanity. He was our friend. And we’re going to miss him terribly.

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27 Responses

  1. This article tells us more about Lisa and Allen than about Jeff. On behalf of the Mayor, thanks for caring.

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  2. Jeff Pastorino.
    Many years ago I would accept his social security checks although that soon stopped.
    Jeff was a prolific writer of nonsense to the White House and the Treasury Dept. He would take out express envelopes from the UPS drop box across the street. If fact for awhile he’d totally emptied the box! He would then address the envelopes and drop them in a Post office box.
    I finally had to hand him back about 50 letters and tell to please stop or put some postage on: He lived in his own world and indeed, didn’t bother people much. (Just the letters and yes, the Confederate dollar bills on occasion.)He could actually write quite well.

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  3. Thanks for posting this. I recall showing him the towers being smashed by jets on 9-11 about an hour after the news broke, on my portable TV. His reply, “Doesn’t affect me.” RIP big man!

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  4. I was at the corner that Jeff loved when the ambulance arrived. Prior to the arrival of the medics, I saw a neighborhood doctor stop and give “Jeff” cpr ( it was a touching moment I soon will not forget as this citizen could have easily looked the other way).

    Jeff was a part of Point Loma and he was accepted for who and what he was.He would not bother a sole. I would make an effort each and every holiday to get him something. I will miss his presense and truly hope he is in a better place now.

    My kids saw the flowers on the corner and asked why and wondered where the man that always sat there was…I was taken back and could only respond that he had to leave and the flowers were there because people miss him!! (what else could have been said????)

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  5. Bless this man, for gave nothing but his wave in parting. May he live forever in heaven.

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  6. This article is amazing, and extremely well written, I very much enjoyed reading it, and thank you, on Jeff’s behalf for putting the time into acknowleding a well-known staple of our roseville community. May he rest in peace

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  7. Thank you so much for your article. It gave me insight to a man that I saw almost daily yet never knew. I am very involved in the Portuguese Hall just 1 1/2 blocks from where Jeff sat daily. My daughter, Karinna and I always wondered what went wrong in his life to make him just sit on a bench day in and day out. Just the other day, she and her friends had eaten at Miguel’s and asked Jeff if he wanted the leftovers. After looking to see what they were he simply said “sure and thanks”. When I told her the news of Point Loma’s “Mayor” passing away she was saddened yet felt fortunate enough to have met him and helped him if only for a minute.

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  8. Perhaps a last word for Jeff from a churchyard tombstone:

    The wonder of the world,
    The beauty and the power,
    The shapes of things,
    Their colours,lights and shades,
    These I saw.
    Look ye also while life lasts.

    R.I.P.

    Like

  9. I found out that my twin brother who I have not seen or talked to since 1982 died on Aug. 24th. Someone (Howard) who knew and saw him daily somehow found me and called me yesterday. Jeffery was my twin brother even though we didn’t look alike. He was born on July 11, 1957. Our Mom and Dad had six sons, the oldest David (who died 2008 at 60) Michael who was killed in Vietnam (1969, he was 20), Peter,
    Jerry, Jeffery and Chris. If anyone has anything about Jeffery they would like to share, please contact me.
    I am still shaken by all of this. Everyone who brought flowers and showed that they care, I thank all of you.
    Chris71157@aol.com

    Like

  10. What a powerful insight into your character. This is a fabulous column.

    Like

  11. Thank you Allen for your compassion. You are a man of honor and compassion. Your friend, Bianca

    Like

  12. OMG, Allen- you found his twin brother?!?!??! You are so amazing. Your kindness and effort related to Jeff’s passing does not go unnoticed. I can only imagine how grateful his twin brother Chris is! The world is truly a better place because of people like you, Allen!

    Like

  13. There are characters in our lives that add a little something. That make us think a little bit more or care a little more without us even realizing it. Background players that affect our daily lives but basically go unnoticed. Jeff was one of those people. What really got to me was his birthday, 7-11-57. It’s also my birthday. Jeff and I were born on the same day in the same year and yet our lives could not be more different. He was a fixture there on that bench. The mayor will be missed.

    Like

  14. […] few days after Jeff Pastorino died, I wrote a column about him and posted it in this forum.  I was stunned when it seemed to be going viral and in less […]

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  15. In growing up, Chris Pastorino and my brother were friends. Chris ended up being our family’s friend. We saw Chris on a daily basis. I met and started dating his twin brother, Jeff, some 40 years ago. To this day, I am friends with Chris. To see Jeff sitting on the bench in the picture that was posted is baffling. I remember him as being very particular about everything; his hair, his clothing, his car, etc., etc. To just vanish, without a trace, and to live as a “crazy guy” is mind boggling. It goes without saying that Chris somehow feels fulfilled knowing what happened to his twin brother, after years and years of searching to no avail. Thank you, Allen, for contacting Chris. He finally found his other half.

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  16. I have been staying at the Cabrillo Inn & Suites now for over 5 years. I remember seeing this person each day, sitting or sleeping during the day, and then disapearing at night. He had many names some said it was Phil, and others said it was Mr. Mayor. Either way, this person dressed and looked homeless yet I wondered where he actually went at night. Some thought he stayed with the priests at St. Agnes up the road.

    I remember going up to him one time and asked him if he wanted some of my leftover pizza and he simply said “OK”. As I brought friends and my wife to San Diego later on, they too would go over and offer him leftovers from our meals and he accepted them. No thanks, no other comments, simply “OK”.

    I know the folks at Scripp’s would also bring him leftover food from the ships, and my friend Paul went out of his way many times to give him food or meals each day. I cannot help but wonder, how many others did the same thing for him. Paul once told me someone told him, he wrote articles for some small paranoid newsletter.

    When I arrived this September and saw the flowers at his bench and he was missing (notice, I said “His” bench…), I knew right away that he must have died. I crossed Rosecrans to read the letter that was there and was shocked when I found out he was actually younger than I am! He looked much older than he was, probably due to living in the extreme hot and cold temperatures each day & night.

    But I will always wonder- what drove this man to live a life such as this? I am a God fearing man and I would hope He will show the same compassion as others did for him.

    My respects to the family,

    Mike & Lisa Gagne

    Like

  17. Jeffrey Q. Pastorino a resident Point Loma, San Diego passed away

    Aug. 26, 2009, he was 52 years old. Born in Abington, Pa. July 11,

    1957 he was the son of the late Daniel and Catherine Pastorino.

    Jeffrey was preceded in death by his brothers David and Michael. He is

    survived by brothers Peter, Jerry and Chris (Donna). He also survived by

    many nieces and nephews. Interment will held in

    Resurrection Cemetery 5201 Hulmeville Rd., Bensalem, Pennsylvania on Tues. Oct. 6th at 10:30 am. Condolences may be sent to Chris71157@aol.com.

    Like

  18. Thank you for taking the time to write your article about Jeffrey.
    I often wondered where Jeffrey went to after he left Florida in the early 80’s. It was like he vanished and no one ever heard from him again. I often thought about his big smile and contagious laugh and was stunned to see how he spent the last 15 years alone and on a park bench. I guess we will never know what really happened in Jeffreys world.
    I thank everyone for the outpour of compassion. I now have comfort knowing where Jeffrey is.

    Like

  19. To all the family and friends of this man:

    I sincerely hope my comments here were not taken in the wrong way. I asure you motive for posting was pure and without malcontent. All of this being said, I also am glad that I did, as I can clearly see he was loved and had many friends both old and new.

    I have thought about him many times since arriving here in San Diego, and I have to say- reading all of this has made me be thankful for everything I have. This possibly could happen to anyone…

    My wife and friends are all taken back from hearing about his passing. But out of sadness comes some goodness-God does work in mysterious ways…

    Like

  20. I never knew Jeff and only brought him food a few times. Until I saw all of those flowers on the bench I hadn’t realized how much of an affect he had on me. I got so used to seeing him everyday. His corner seems and feels so empty now. RIP Jeff I hope you are in a wonderful place.

    Like

  21. My friend Anja would give Jeff food and he would always thank her. I remember one day she offered him fish and he said “no thank you, I don’t care for fish”. That made me think boy he sure is a picky homeless person, but after reading this story I understand why he did not accept the fish. Jeff, we all miss you and hope you know the effect your presence had on our lives. Another angel named Jeff is now in heaven.

    Like

  22. I am Jeff’s twin brother Chris, and I will be coming into the San Diego area Nov. 5th through 10th. If anyone would like to meet with me or have any insight on Jeff please call me during that time. I will spend some time on his bench and walking around the area streets.
    My cell number is 215-651-7742. Take care and thanks again for all who left flowers and messages.
    Chris Pastorino

    Like

  23. Through tears and laughter I read about Jeff Pastorino. My heart grew an inch when I thought of the good people of Pt. Loma. I have heard of other communities who reserve their benches for everyone except people like Jeff. Yet the community Jeff chose to live among, let him live in peace, gave him nutrients & kindness. This story is really about the goodness in our society, and the little acts of kindness that add up to make a difference.

    Like

  24. […] hearts of an entire community. When I originally penned my personal farewell to Jeff Pastorino, (August 25th, September 20th)I couldn’t begin to imagine what would follow. Neither did I understand how much […]

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  25. If I saw Jeff at all, he was always sitting at the bench, with 2 exceptions: once I saw him walk into the laundromat on Canon street to use the restroom; another time I saw him meticulously polishing the top of a garbage receptacle (across the street from the bench).

    One local said he his name was Jeff and he used to be a lawyer before he snapped.

    Another local said before Jeff took up his permanent spot on the bench, he would see him frequent Shelter Island along the boardwalk. He said he would talk to Jeff on occasion, and he seemed pretty normal, but was very quiet and kept to himself.

    Like

  26. […] a year ago, I wrote a piece about the death of a homeless, mentally ill man that became a good friend. When I wrote it, I knew my friend’s first name, but not his last. I […]

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  27. Enjoyed your interview on KPBS this morning. Rumor has it you will be signing copies of MOB at Wine Pub on July 15. Will there be complimentary wine for your readers?

    Like

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