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Nearly 30 years after Reagan's war on poor people* and defunding of mental health facilities began it's hard to write about homeless people without being full of cliché, a cynical bastard, or sounding like a prep school photography student looking for gritty urban realism. So bear with me.

I was walking down the street and heard what I thought was an argument. Then I realized it was only one angry, raised voice. If I had to describe the accent, I'd say hungover, bitchy queen after a couple of decades of cigarettes. Piercing and mocking. Tired and witty. But definitely loud.

I didn't hear the intro so at first I thought crazy street preacher when I heard:
"SOME say the world will end in fire!
Some say in ice!"

Somewhere in my memory I knew I had heard that before. I realized it was a poem when I heard
"From what I’ve tasted of desire

I didn't know that I knew it, maybe it's because he was my Mom's favorite poet, but immediately I thought, "That's Robert Frost."

"That's Robert Frost people!" he said to the folks within hearing distance who were trying to ignore him. "And I'M SORRY, I can't remember the rest,** I'm really sorry. But it's really GOOD. Go look it up! It's a good fucking poem and you don't even care. ROBERT FUCKING FROST. Read a book, IT'S IMPORTANT"

I applauded but I was the only one and either I was too far away or he was too addled to notice and he started walking in the other direction. It was right across the street from the last homeless performance artist I wrote about. I'm sure that somehow there is an artist lifeforce there, emanating from beneath the concrete. Or maybe a performance artist ghost muse of encouragement. The recycling center is obviously just a coincidence.

*A continuation and reaffirmation of the war on poor people that has been passed down from generation to generation but was slightly disrupted during the '60s and '70s.

** I looked it up. Here's the rest:
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
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There’s a ventilation fan on the Mexican restaurant. It’s well over my head but it has no screen so it still scares me a little as I walk past. There used to be a mural there too, green hills and birds, but it’s gone now, painted white. Across the street is a used car lot that was picketed for almost a year for discrimination issues but the (obviously) paid picketers refused to answer even the most basic question. Since I wasn’t in the market for a used car I just walked on by after my first couple of attempts at support seemed unwanted.

An old apartment building is next door, one of those markers that times have changed. It has one of those beautiful, old, outdoor stairways that all the apartments share. It’s easy to envision families hanging out on the stoop after work, catching a breeze in what is the hottest part of the city. Of course it has a huge, ugly security fence now. I’d probably want it if I lived there too. Just saying.

Homestead Ravioli was on this block until a couple of years ago, replaced now by a building that’s part of the Sheriff Department, handy for busting pot smokers in the street, not that I have any reason to know why people would be smoking pot in that area. It’s an ugly building on a dirty street, making it even more amusing that their packages (which I can’t find a link for) had an incredibly bucolic farmhouse scene on them. The building also used to have a huge Holstein cow sculpture on it. German friends were saddened and appalled when they discovered that Big Cow = sausage in the USA, and not Milk Chocolate like they were used to back home.

This is the part of the Mission that floods a couple of times every winter. Grey water with grease slicks and visible remains of turds and tissues floats up when the tide is right and the rain is hard. I almost lost my car last year when I drove to work because of the pouring rain. It was sheeting down and nothing asks for catching the sick like getting soaked on the way to work and then receiving cheese in a walk-in cooler all day. One day last year we didn’t open until about 3 PM because the waters were so deep. When I saw cars floating in the Office Max parking lot I went and checked on mine, only to find the water too high to make a direct path there. Walking through Eerie Alley and down South Van Ness back to 14th St. I found the water up to the doors. I got in, started it up and starting driving through Foods Co before I realized that would be the stupidest thing I could possibly do. Their parking lot dips and peaks for drainage but their was no way of telling where because the water was too high already. Plus I couldn’t remember if there were parking headstones strewn about. I picked the highest spot I could find and hoped for the best.

There’s a USPS storage box on this block that always seems to have a Gay Shame poster on it. I love the idea of Gay Shame and have supported them in the past but they’ve been pissing me off for the last couple of years. Their blockade of a certain street during the War protests was commendable if poorly planned, but some of their "awards" recently have seemed more based on personal fights than good politics. Their "funeral" for San Francisco after Gavin Newsom was elected was pretty unforgivable though. It’s like what, you’ve been in San Francisco five minutes, lose an election, and declare it the end of everything? Whatever. San Francisco, besieged by bad from many directions will survive Newsom just as it survived all the other mayors of the rich. The problems are bigger than who’s in City Hall. Duh.

Leo’s lot is on the corner. Leo was the "Mayor of Folsom St.", a sweetheart of a guy who worked on old cars until he was killed at that bad intersection when he pulled out in front of a beer truck. There was a huge memorial there for months, our bouquet in a Bulgarian Feta can even made the Chronicle. I wanted us to buy the property and put up a statue of Leo. I like statues. But someone else bought it, keeping it as an auto shop, saving a little of the neighborhood’s old character.

This brings us back to where we started 10 months ago with an Anarqueso post Hope you enjoyed my walk.
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I was walking to work, crossing market at Duboce like almost always. Market is a busy and loud street. Usually are you here are cars, and honking, and the occasional singer from the karaoke bar if it’s late enough at night and hot enough that they open the doors.

But it wasn’t hot and it wasn’t night so I didn’t expect to hear singing. But there it was. I was across the street, (and for out-of-towners market is two big lanes in either direction, a bike lane and parked cars on each side and a big median with palm trees in the middle.) so I couldn’t quite make out the song at first. But the homeless guy singing it in front of the closed karaoke bar was really belting it out. As I walked in the opposite direction I kept trying to figure it out. It was obviously rattling around somewhere in that poorly allocated brain matter of mine. Something by the Rolling Stones…

I looked back at the singer and I got it. He was re-enacting all the dance moves from the "Start Me Up" video like a Black Mick Jagger. I stopped to watch the rest of the show. Luckily I was going to work at an absurdly early hour* so the cross traffic wasn’t blocking my view too much. He finished his solo rendition with the occasionally vocalized guitar part then raised his arms and thanked the imaginary crowd. He hadn’t noticed me.

He did the whole thing. Fake crowd cheering, "yayyyyyyyyyyhhhhhhhhh", "yayyyyyyyyyyhhhhhhhhh", "Thank You" , "yayyyyyyyyyyhhhhhhhhh", "Thank You San Francisco!" Goodnight", "yayyyyyyyyyyhhhhhhhhh"

I turned to walk away, thinking it was all over. But then he started heckling his Jagger self. "Fuck you Mick Jagger! You racist shithead! You stole all that music, Motherfucker! You stole it all from Black people now you’re rich! Fuck you!"**

Because this is 2004, I looked around for TV cameras but saw none. As I headed down the Duboce hill towards 13th Street, I couldn’t help thinking of the nature of performance art and that what I just saw was the most unpretentious and concise work that I’ve seen in years. Karaoke is truly the performance art of the exploited. How come Homeless Mick can’t get a grant?

*Cheese never sleeps
**As a rule I try not to write about the antics of homeless people. It’s too much the trope of the sensitive young artist discovering sadness and unfairness for the first time. But this was truly spectacular.

Fess up

Sep. 17th, 2004 06:08 pm
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Ok, so which one of you yelled "CHEESEWHORE!" at me as I was leaving work yesterday? Don't you think I'm more of a Cheese pimp? Did I mis-hear you calling me a "cheesy whore"? Or maybe I really am just a whore to cheese and I've been lying to myself about who really has the power in the relationship? Please tell me what you meant, you've gotten me all confused.
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Visible while crossing Mission street are the shells of the old sausage factories. Butcher Town is a few miles away, but I guess 14th and Mission used to be Where-We-Encase-Those-Parts-of-Animals-You-Wouldn’t-Eat-If-You-Could-See-‘em Town. But not anymore.

They were active until a few years ago, despite animal rights paint bombs and the old glue in the lock trick. Walking to work in the morning I’d often see some old guy on his knees in front of the door cleaning out or changing the cylinder. Finally the one on the west side went. A few years later the east side one put up ‘For Rent" signs. I kinda miss the spicy smell. I don’t miss the nasty rotting flesh smell. You never knew which you’d get.

At the corner was a bar that always scared me. When I moved to San Francisco I wasn’t city savvy enough to tell whether it was a dangerous place or whether I was being racist, but I crossed the street to avoid it. When it closed suddenly, the new tenant found guns and drugs hidden in secret compartments throughout the bar.

You can find that tenant wearing shorts and tank tops and chain smoking outside her converted bar apartment. Don’t say hi from me, she doesn’t know who I am. She’s usually shouting into her cell phone anyway.

Down the block there’s a great café run by one of the sweetest guys in the world. That space is cursed though. Some artists used to live there until the house got bought and they were evicted. The new landlord removed all trace of them including the Freida Kahlo mural on the side of the building. It was vacant for awhile until someone moved in with the worst business plan ever; hairdresser/café. I mean, I see the idea of serving someone coffee if they have to wait for their hair appointment, but can you imagine ordering food there?

Patron: "Excuse me, there’s a hair in my soup."
Counter person: "Duh."

They also had a really nasty display where they made a pyramid out of bagels then left it there for a year uncleaned. Not yum.

After another period of vacancy, a cafe moved from Hayes Valley to that location. They were fun but also had cleanliness issues. Roaches boiled by pouring coffee over them is not appetite-whetting.

But the new guy is great, I swear.
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The meanest used car lot in the world sat at this corner. It was one of those places that was hopeful and desperate at the same time. Hopeful because there were always cheap cars that anyone afford to buy. Pieces of crap for sure, I wouldn’t take ‘em onto a bridge or anything, but available for a couple of hundred dollars. This hope, however, was tempered by the personality of the owners.

They had a little raised shack in the middle of the yard. They’d stand at the railing at the top of the stairs and glare at anyone walking by. Occasionally they’d take sips out of paper bags. Sometimes they’d yell at each other, only the cuss words comprehensible to the passerby. They obviously hadn’t accepted the post-industrial news that customer service had become a constitutional right. Sometimes they’d have helpers because they weren’t really in condition to sweep the lot or pick up garbage. I’d see people work there for a week or so then they’d either disappear or get in a huge fight with the owners, usually involving the phrases "You owe me money!" and "Prove it, asshole!"

I had my sole verbal interaction with them during one of these blowouts. I was across the street but the argument took a turn. One of the owners ran down the steps and got in the face of one of the helpers. I stopped to see what would happen. The other owner saw me. "What the fuck are you looking at?" he said.

Somehow these guys managed to get Nash Bridges filmed in their lot one week. Their name for the business was Trader Joe’s Used Cars and the Nash Bridges people decorated the entire lot in tiki stuff. Fake palm trees, totem poles and, if memory serves, a fake gorilla. It was like Modesto or something. The decorations that the TV people didn’t want back stayed up for months until they finally rotted away.

This corner became even more cheery when a Discount Casket Outlet opened across the street. Despite the location-location-location storefront between two projects, it failed as a business.

Further down the street is the Armory (scroll down to landmark 108). Now we all know why the armory is in the Mission right? The armories always went up in working class strongholds so that working people could be more easily killed when class uprisings came round. Long abandoned, it was severely damaged in the 1989 quake. Last I heard, It was available for $1 if the buyer would take on the retrofitting costs. We went to look at it when we moved our store, but the 1996 price for getting it up to earthquake code (forget putting in fixtures, power, etc for a grocery store) was over $20 million. The lake and rivers that run under The Mission had reclaimed the basement and there was at least a foot of standing water.

If you can ignore the rich against poor class war symbolism, it’s a beautiful building. Huge, brown-red uneven brick, turrets, tall skinny windows for shooting at workers, it has it all. During the dot-com boom, some Dallas company wanted to refurbish it. I happened to be at the North East Mission Business Association Meeting for my workplace when they came in to get neighborhood approval. They were incredibly arrogant and managed to alienate even the non-communist workplaces. The truth can now be told, I called the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition and left a message telling them about an "Open House" the development corporation was hosting for the "business community" that night. By the time I left work, the cops were out in force and a huge group of protestors had already joined the party. I’m sure the demo was already planned, but I like to think my spy mission helped.

Across the street from the armory, behind the sweatshop and the junk shop that I never saw opened once, is Woodward Street, one of the hardest streets in the Mission. It used to be Woodward’s Gardens and I can’t even picture the idyllic scene pictures in the link. I assume it’s looking from Mission Street towards Valencia. Wow.
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My favorite part of my walk to work is on this block. A light-up cross sticks out from a church. Calling out to the passersby, it proclaims "God is not Dead!"

Kinda defensive, don’t you think? Then again, it makes sense that churches are a little defensive in San Francisco. Is there a more godless city anywhere in the country?* And then, you’d also expect a church to be a little defensive when it’s elbow to elbow with a queer sex club.

I often walk on another street home when I get off work on Saturday nights. By the time I would walk by, many men are already discretely making their way to club in full cruise mode. Normally, I like being cruised, but after eight hours in the cheese mines I couldn’t feel less sexy. I smell of pungent cheese and bleach, my pores are full of dairy molecules and my hair feels heavy, greasy, and gross.**

The worst night was some Pride event when there was a line half a block long of people waiting to get in. Usually it’s more of a get-out-of-the-cab-at-the-next-block kinda place and discretion is called for, but on this night there was a gauntlet of guys, dressed all shiny for a night out. I walked by with tired steps in my soiled sweatshirt and cheesy hands as they checked me out. When guys say they’re into cheese, this is not what they’re talking about.

Further down the block, I’ve never figured how Socialist Action managed to rent out the bottom of the subsidized senior housing that was built a couple years ago over the vacant lot which served as a x-mas tree lot and pumpkin patch when appropriate. Since this is San Francisco, I hope there’s a couple of old CP members who live there who spit at the door and mutter, "Damn Trots" under their breath when they walk by. There’s never anyone in their "bookstore" and I can only imagine the meetings where cadre are forced to rationalize this.

Embarrassingly for Marxists, they also have signs in their windows to "Stop the Freeway Rebuild!" Seems rather insincere and anti-progressive, in the original sense, to me. What a colossal waste of money though. First they retrofit that freeway so it wouldn’t pancake like the Cyprus Structure did in the ’89 quake. Then they tear it down. Now they are building it back up slightly differently. Still, it is a pretty good jobs program, I guess. You’d think the Socialist Action folks would appreciate that. I wonder if the national organization knows.

Oh yeah, Needles and Pens, the cool new zine store, clothing store, and art space is also on this block, where Black and Blue Tattoo used to be. It has Epicenter-like hours so it’s rarely open when I walk by, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

*Attempts to find the answer to this question sent me on an half hour-long internet tangent. It seems that this title is claimed by many, usually negatively by a local religious groups seeking adherents. But according to this website , SF is nowhere near the most godless in ratio of adherents to population, though still well below the national average. Check out Medford! Who knew?

** Speaking of the smell of cheese, while cooking the other day, my housemate came into the kitchen. "What’s that smell?" she asked, "It smells like a pussy with a yeast infection." Oh, Antique Gruyere, how I love you.
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There’s not much to speak of or react to on this block. It’s a hill and almost all residential. My acupuncturist lives on one of the connecting side streets. I once saw an flyer from someone saying they were getting a free wireless connection and offering to chip in on the cost. A couple of windows are interestingly shaped.


I once saw the middle of the street weeping from a broken underground pipe. It created a crack perpendicular to the roadway, and because of the steepness it was cascading down the block like a little waterfall. With slightly different timing it could have looked like a warning against our town’s godlessness or a sign of Armageddon. But the road crews were already there so it just looked like a broken water main

I do remember the apartment which had anti-apartheid posters in the windows for years until the National Party bastards finally were removed from power. The flag of the new South Africa immediately took the place of the posters. I admit that when I saw it the first time I got all teary. I’m not much of a flag person, but after years of activism against apartheid and years of seeing protest posters that seemed permanent, it was a reminder that things can change for the better … that sometimes we can win.

At the end of the block there’s a storefront. It’s a reminder that a marketing concept alone will not make you a successful businessman. Like the "Q Brew" guy before him, the "Gay Java" guy thought he could make money using private labeling and a target niche community. Both saw my store as the cornerstone of their retail strategy, albeit the Q Brew guy was hedging his bets with the gay bar business and the Gay Java guy had his own café.

Neither were successful of course. The Gay Java guy was upset when we wouldn’t give his non-fair trade, mediocre coffee the 4’x 8’ space where we sell Equal Exchange. He was also shocked when his product didn’t sell at all when we did find a space for it. Q Brew we actually tried harder to sell, if only because it came onto the market the same month as we got our beer/wine license and it seemed like a fun thing to do.

There were some hard feelings however when I read in a local paper that Q Brew guy was donating 10% of the profit on every sale to the charity of the retailer’s choice. He hadn’t told us that or asked where we wanted the money to go and I smelled scam. In retrospect I think he was just overwhelmed and disorganized. He also wasn’t making any profit so it didn’t really matter anyway. And the beer was crappy.

Gay Java guy’s café was called "The Red Cat Café" which I always suspiciously thought was trying to garner confused tourists looking for Red Dora’s Bearded Lady Café and Truckstop which was much more established and only about 100 yards away. It closed within 6 months of opening and had that about-to-close look about it from about six weeks after it opened.

Neither of them became the Navratilova Card of their respective industries. Identity politics has its retail limits and seems to work better when backed up with the money of large trans-national corporations.
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The parrots live on the Dolores Street median. Not on the median, of course, but in the palm trees that grow up out of the raised, grassy, and concrete embankments. Palm trees run the length of Dolores, well over a mile, so there’s lots of room to frolic and fly. It’s long enough so that you never know if you’ll get to see them on any given day

The palm trees have their own story of course. The Dolores Street ones are well established and part of the tourist infrastructure. They’re included in the 49 Mile Scenic drive so they’re here to stay. The ones a block away on Market Street, however, are relatively new. Planting them might be the one good thing that Frank Jordan ever did, though the local Left, in one of it’s* sillier moments, opposed the palm trees,** saying the money should be spent on AIDS.

The parrots give me hope. Parrots can live longer than 50 years so they often outlast their owners, especially on this street so close to the Castro and the early death years of the ‘80s. . I don’t know how it started, but survivor parrots and strays formed an avian community in the trees of Dolores Street. Faced with foster homes and resentful estate liquidators, they chose risk and freedom; life smack in the middle of noxious, honking cars, church goers, and real estate brokers.

It’s hard to get a look at them, but I know they’re not all parrots per se. Other domesticated avians hear the call through the windows of their homes and plot their escape. Cockatiels, parakeets, budgies, and lovebirds have joined up with the pioneers and the more visionary warblers, blackbirds, sparrows and Pygmy Nuthatches who were born free. Parrots is more like a gang name, really. It’s tough and intimidating, at least for birds, because of the whole pirate/parrot connection. I’ve seen them attack when provoked too, swooping down at the heads of passerby who’ve come too close.

When the Parrots are there, you can hear their singing at least a quiet block away.*** It doesn’t make it feel like the country, or a small town, it makes it feel like a city where good things are possible.

*Should I say "our"? I consider myself part of the Left of course, but I argued strenuously against my more "militant" friends on this one.

** Don’t even start with that "native species" argument, by the way. I love my ice plant, eucalyptus trees, and all my friends from New York.

***I feel like I should make some kind of obligatory Brigadoon reference here. Consider it written.

Block 4

Mar. 4th, 2004 08:39 am
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It might be that living in San Francisco has diminished my expectations for certain things. When I walk down the streets, the houses that I imagine buying are the sad ones, the ones that have obvious problems, the ones that no one could love unless they had to.

On 14th Street, there is a little pink house. It may have been cute and sweet at one point but now it is dwarfed by the surrounding apartment complexes. I say now, but without going to the County Court office and checking, it’s likely been dwarfed for 40 years. It’s pretty much even given up on being pink. It’s a dirty, faded pink, like the color you find below a few layers of paint when your apartment kitchen paint job finally gives way to the trapped moisture and grease and pulls away from the wall.

I’ve never seen the sun actually hit it. During just the right alignment the neighboring shadow line might stop a couple of feet from the garage, but it never gets closer. There’s a big private property sign posted there and you can just picture the 100 or so people who live next door just "pulling in for a minute" to unload groceries or pick up friends. And you can picture this happening 50 times a day.

I want to live there. It’s small but there’s enough room for me and my books. I’d make friends with the apartment dwellers and dog sit for them when they go away on vacation. I’d get rainforest plants that thrive in the dark. I’d buy a lot of nice deco lamps. I’d explore the tiny little alley created by the apartment developer building right up to the property line.

Maybe that’s it. There’s a fine San Francisco tradition I could take part in. Back in the old days, one of the people who became rich selling things to people who came looking for gold wanted to build a mansion bigger than all his friends. Unfortunately, an immigrant undertaker wouldn’t sell his part of the block that Mr. Crocker was buying up. Crocker responded by building a fence on three sides of his house, blocking the light and trying to force the undertaker out.* The undertaker fought back by using the tools of his trade to curse the banker** but to no avail. Crocker*** didn’t succeed in buying out the block until the undertaker finally died.

These are the proud traditions on which our city is founded.

*A fictionalized version of this can be found here by one of my favorite San Francisco authors.
**When I was about 10 my parents insisted that I set up a bank account with a $25 birthday check I got from my grandparents. It was at Crocker Bank, now owned by Wells Fargo.
***Patty Hearst had a fondness for Crocker Bank as well.

Block 3

Mar. 3rd, 2004 07:18 am
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On the last description of my walk to work I ignored the Safeway. I was going to write something about the UFCW strike in the Southland, but since it just settled, I think I’ll leave it for now. After that strike disaster, I doubt if the Norcal locals will be out after all, but who knows. My workplace, non-union but worker-owned and run, had just started an optional payroll deduction for the UFCW strike fund when the union voted to accept the last contract offer.

Where the Safeway sits used to be the main farmers market for this part of the city. Of course by that I mean like the Alemany farmers Market, not the Ferry Building one. You have to admire capitalism sometimes the logic is obvious. "People are already buying there food here, if we buy the land and put in a grocery store, we’ll pay the farmers less, charge the customers more, and make all that profit in the middle!" The rest is history.

At an anti-Gulf War ’91 rally that tried to march from Dolores Park to Duboce Park, the cops closed off Duboce St. right before we hit our destination. It was the calmest rally of that two-demos-a-day week, mostly because all of us were so tired.* Still, when they moved in to make arrests, a large contingent broke through the police line and ran into the Safeway parking lot, causing mass confusion among cops, rent-a-cops, shoppers, and car drivers. [livejournal.com profile] jactitation and I escaped arrest and ended up across the street for a breather, right in front of the Art Shade shop that’s in that Deco, altered-to-fit-Market-Street triangular building. When I looked up I realized Irish Matt was standing there.

He was in full white boy non-flashy hip-hop wear. Down for the Cause gear with a just slight nod towards his punk roots: baggy black pants, black slightly puffy bomber jacket, black angled Oakland A’s hat with the ‘s blacked out so it stood for anarchy. I knew Irish Matt from his ’88 anarcho-tourist days of chasing the Democrats and Republicans around to their conventions and chasing neo-Nazis wherever they turned up.

When I moved to SF, I got involved with Bay Area Anti Racist Action,** the group he was organizing for awhile with some other East Bay anarchists. It was centered around the punk scene because that’s where the Nazis and the people who wanted to fight Nazis tended to hang out. But in 1990 everyone of youth that I respected politically was listening to Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions rather than the (Canadian) Subhumans and MDC. I ended up drifting from the group because it was oriented towards street battles and beat-downs of stupid white supremacists. We did have some good times rousting the Nazis from a planned "White Workers Day" May 1 rally on Haight Street and an appearance at Union Square a few days later though. I do think that is the way to deal with Nazis, for the record, but I didn’t have the heart for non-spontaneously violence, even when people obviously deserve it. Besides, the action was mostly across the bay and you know how that is for the West Bay peoples.

When I lived at 16th and Valencia a few years later I ran into Irish Matt and didn’t recognize him. He’d dropped 30 Lbs. or so and was selling heroin on the street. Somewhere along the line he had gotten into needle exchange organizing and became a junkie. Or maybe he was a junkie all along, I’ve been dense to that kind of thing before. He ended up in prison for a bit before getting clean. I still run into him from time to time. He works just up the street from the Art Shade Shop has a kid and a sweet wife and seems to be doing well.

Usually when I see someone, even if only infrequently, my mind doesn’t fix them in one location. And usually if I pass by the same place every week, my memories are jumbled and diverse. Maybe it’s because I rarely walk on the south side of Market at 14th, but for some reason I always picture Matt there, smoking a cigarette and smirking, laughing at how we got away from the cops yet again.

*Spawning the memorable Rhetoric Factory slogan "We’re tired and we’re cranky and we don’t like the government!"
**They changed their name to Bay Area Revolutionary Action one month, but changed it back when everyone admitted they had been too embarrassed to use the more militant name.
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The house where the woman would buy a wheel of brie every year for the Open Studios days has been taken over by punks. They leave a Santa Cruz-based music zine outside in a little stand whenever a new issue comes out. Sometimes they leave their stuffy-apartment door open and I see them drinking cocktails. I picture them having a full tiki-retro living room with all the hipster accouterment. But really that’s just my imagination filling in the blanks from the little glimpse of something red and furry I get through the cracked door sometimes, and what looks like a full bar.

Between the two intersections were most of the drivers make illegal left turns, and across the N Judah tracks, there’s a house where a tenant held a protest vigil against the selling of the house he lived in. It was during the dot-com mass-eviction boom and when the apartment was due to be shown he stood outside with a picket sign and fliers, detailing how long he’d lived there and how he wouldn’t be able to afford anyplace in the city if he was evicted. I watched him try and talk to potential buyers and a lot refused to go even go inside and look at the place. Of course that probably meant he got a real heartless asshole as his new landlord. After a few months of this vigil I saw his apartment was empty and the "For Sale" sign was gone.

Church Street used to have massive street sales all the time until someone, probably my neighborhood association,* cracked down. I once found a bunch of Re:Search books there that I was quite willing to buy for a buck or two each, but the homeless salesman was nowhere to be seen so I had to take them for free. I asked a few passed out drunks, but no one knew whose sale it was.

There’s always an AA or NA meeting at the church there by the taqueria. The recoverers stand outside in huge smoking clots during their breaks, flirting with each other and ignoring those of us trying to walk through their blockade of sobriety. Death feels all around me right now so I’ll mention that was the last place I saw my almost-housemate Krystina. She was a smart and hot** Latina dyke who had "Working Class" tattooed across her back in gothic letters. [livejournal.com profile] jactitation, [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso and I were about to ask her to move in when someone I trusted implicitly told us it would be the worst mistake we ever made. I don’t know whether or not she was clean at the time, but allegations of missing money by ex-housemates were on the grapevine for plucking if you knew who to ask.

It kind of broke my heart a little because I liked her a lot. Over the next few years she would always bring it up whenever I ran into her, which was often because she worked just a little farther down Church. "That was really weird, I thought you were gonna ask me to move in." But I learned to deflect it and we had a nice neighborly chatting-in-the-street/running-into-each-other-at-parties relationship. Despite the fact she was not in great health she was always telling funny stories and tasty community gossip. She died at 28 from complications of leukemia.***

Above the taqueria, lived my friend Mick and his kids. I didn’t know Mick until he came to the party Jactitation and I threw in the Mendocino Woods for our tenth anniversary. He came with another AK Press boy who I had invited and Mick brought his oldest daughter. He had her name tattooed on his neck and was preparing to get his newborn’s name next. He is one of the few people I know to leave AK Press on good terms, but that was probably because he quit to move back to LA before things turned bad. I miss seeing him and his friends and family hanging out on the roof of the taqueria and drinking beer. It was incredibly homey for such a busy street.

*The same one that opposed a queer youth center for a Boston Market years ago because the neighborhood was over-served by social service agencies and under-served by fast food.

**She was one the cover of "On Our Backs" once. Go back and check your porn collection.

***Ida Acton did a really good piece about her called "Beloved" but I can’t find it online anywhere.
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In a post that should have been copied by more people, [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso detailed her walk to work. I started working on my version almost immediately but got caught up and distracted by one of my favorite urban pastimes, using the strorefronts and streets as a way of remebering the history of unimportant things. Well, unimportant when taken individually, but taken as a whole, the type of things that present a view of times that pass frightenly quickly in an easily gentrifiable city going through an economic boom.

A friend once described me as the most nostalgic person she knew, but acknowledged that I can get just as easily nostalgic for last week as for last decade. In a city like this, where knowing what store occupied a building five years ago makes people treat you like an old-timer, writing down my own unimportant memories feels like something I need to do. It doesn’t really matter that few people remember what I remember, and that no one will have the exact same triggers.

But I guess that’s what makes me nostalgic person, eh?

I’ve written a lot about 13th St. so I decided to detail my walk down 14th for a little change of pace.

My most hated new urban architectural features are the anti-pigeon spikes. Slowly most of the houses near mine have started installing these anti-avian lines of razor-sharp knitting needles on all their moldings and below their windows.. They stick straight up and make every home look like a military institution or like it’s filled with valuables to protect.

And that’s the thing. While I know they’re sold in order to keep bird shit and pigeon lice from ruining people’s homes and investments, they almost certainly have a dual purpose. Instead of putting bars up which block the occupant’s view, installing these thin spikes prevents break-ins and only pedestrians and neighbors have to see them. Well, until all one’s neighbors install them too. In the old days, and there are some holdovers, people used to just make their own irregular, but functional, versions with nails. The traditional nail method gets all rusty too, adding possible tetnus to the is-it-worth-it factor for a would-be burglar. The new mass-produced spikes have been going up so fast that the first thing I look for when I leave the house is any new converts.

At the end of my block, there’s a large apartment building that is sinking. The pigeon spikes glisten off the sun, when it’s sunny, and make the lack of level lines even more apparent. The shining metal make the moldings look like mini roller coasters. It’s the kind of house you look at and think, "Well, that’s going down in the next earthquake. Glad I don’t live there."

The union hall at the end of my street is a strange place. It’s the most conservative union in the city and I keep running into people I knew in high school there. One I worked with at the photo lab while he was trying to make it as a male model and had the hokiest stage name ever. At first it was just "Tor" but when people always laughed at his one-name, craggy rock pretentiousness, he started using his real first name with it. Paul Tor, Male model. He did get some gigs and was used a couple of times as the basis for illustrations in some old-west romance novels. He nearly got fired when he told a customer to fuck off when she called to make sure our free-photo, x-mas Santa wasn’t Black.

Another union member and ex-classmate was one of the CMP* skate punk clique. They were all working class kids who grew up together rightfully resentful amidst the wealth of our county. One year, someone’s cousin visited from England and over the Summer they all became Mods instead of skaters. This ended, and I may have written about this before, when a bunch of them saved up their money to go to England. They got really drunk and when the pubs closed they started singing, "We are the Mods, We are the Mods …"** really loud until they were set upon by real Mods who kicked the crap out of them. The next fall they were punks again.

Every weekend the same street vendor has been having an open air junk sale on the benches in front of the hall. The merchandise doesn’t change much. So I sometimes wonder how profitable it is for him. Mostly he sells bad artwork thrown out by thrift stores and books and clothes that were left on the street. But people are always there haggling. And since the cops started rousting everyone of Church St., it’s the only regular street sale around these days.

(To be continued, I haven’t even gone a block yet.)

*Corte Madera Punks! Isn’t that intimidating?
**You know, like in "Quadrephenia".
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I apologize to regular readers that I haven't had the time or energy to write a real entry in awhile. Soon, I promise.

Walking to work today, I saw that someone had graffitied, in thick, black junkie scrawl, "Fuck Matt Gonzalez" along many different billboards, mailboxes, and street signs from lower Duboce to 13th and South Van Ness. I actually giggled at the placement on Valencia under the anti Halloween-drinking ad with the drag cop saying "No Booze, No Bashing, No Bad Costumes, Fuck Matt Gonzalez!" I had to admit that showed a tad of creativity.

Weirdly though, Gonzalez's Mission District campaign headquarters, which was directly in the path, was completely untouched. The campaign headquarters was dark and empty this morning too. I bet Matt knows how to throw a victory party.

I forgot all about the graffiti until I came upon it again on the way home from work. But just as I passed the first "Fuck Matt!" a truck pulled out of the electrical supply parking lot. It was a flatbed with huge Newsom signs on both sides. The side I could see had everything but Gavin Newsom crossed out but with a big "Fuck" written above it. The truck turned the corner and I saw it just had a big swastika drawn over the poster with "Gavin is a Nazi" written in smaller letters.

It’ll be a fun month.

*In the course of reading Gavin’s website, I found out that not only did we go to high school together, but he was born just 5 days before I was. [livejournal.com profile] ctrhotpink was checking out her old yearbook yesterday and saw that on the "Senior Superlatives" page where Gavin was voted "Most GQ", I was voted "Most Liberal". Maybe I should be running against him in 2007.
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I still don’t know what to think about the tearing down of the Octavia Street off-ramp. The main construction, or really destruction, is on the route which I walk to work and back every day. Longtime readers will remember my many 13th Street entries.* And now my favorite street is changing.

I don’t want to romanticize the olden days, mind you. Huge sections of pavement which haven’t seen light for generations are now bright and sunny. The freeway overpass that made my street 10 degrees cooler and shady is now gone and the pavement radiates heat for the first time in my lifetime. I had to stop at the corner of 13th and Mission and just stare today. I honestly didn’t know exactly where I was because all the landmarks had changed. And this on a street I walk on everyday.

It reminded me of Los Angeles because without the Freeway overhead the whole intersection looks 50% bigger and the streets are still void of pedestrians because of continuing construction. The pillars are gone along with a decade of street grime and collected graffiti. The metal freeway decks that sheltered the homeless and the shitting pigeons are gone too. The drippy green mold is browning and flaking off to dust. The puddles of piss and mysterious urban liquids that had become permanent, like isolated mountain lakes, are dry now. The whole area just seems too bright and off-balance and I still can’t focus on the particulars.

Having walked these streets so much over the last seven years, it’s still hard to realize how much of the environment the freeway overpass formed. It’s undeniably "nicer". People, besides me, are going to care about this street now. Then what will happen? Somehow I don’t think all these new vacant lots are going to become parks or cheap apartments.

*Here’s some 13th St. nostalgia for you. Since the whole freeway isn’t being torn down, some of this still applies.
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It was hot last night. It was one of those 7-10 nights a year in San Francisco with no fog, that makes you feel like you should never go to sleep, that you have to enjoy as much of it as possible. When you can walk outside with no coat after dark, you also know that the streets will be full of people looking to make friends and find reasons not to go home.

As I approached the bus stop, I noticed the clown too late. Shit, made eye contact. She, (though at that moment gender ambiguous in her plaid clown smock), had full face paint and a huge pink wig. I could smell alcohol. I tried discreetly to change the direction of my glance. That never works, but I always try.

"Hey, where ya going? Don’t you wanna talk to Pinky?"

"No Thanks," I said. Keep walking, keep walking, I thought.

"Wait! I know you. Do you still work at the Guardian?"*

"Uh, I’ve never worked at the Guardian."

"That’s right. You work at XXXXXX. You’re lucky. I got fired from there. Don’t you remember me? How are you? What’s going on?

"Um, who are you?" I respond. I still don’t know if this is a scam or what. Sigh. Working with the public makes me paranoid.

Pinky realized she was in full clown and there was no way I could tell her true identity. She pointed at her face with both hands. "Oh shit, it’s me XXXXXXX. You know, that crazy Puerto Rican chick! Did you ever hear why I got fired?"

Of course I had, but the polite answer here is always "no".

She continued, "Yeah, that wheat grass delivery chick was fucking my boyfriend and she came through my line. She started to mouth off to me and I told her to shut it ‘cuz the only thing that mouth was good for was giving bad head. I guess I said it too loud."

"Ha," I respond. It’s the only thing I can think of because I know that’s not really the reason she got fired. "Hey," I said, pointing to the long tube she was carrying. It was decorated in bright colors and primary shapes. "What’s that thing?" I asked to change the subject.

She giggled. She might have blushed but I wouldn’t have been able to tell through the face paint. "Want an enema? Oh, there’s my bus. Seeya!"

Now, I know it was probably just something that blew up balloons, but no doubt someone out there is willing to pay for an enema-clown fantasy. Clown sex work is a growth industry and she was drunk and heading to a job well after dark. Who knows?

I just made it to the SF Buffoons show before they closed the doors. More on that at a later date. One of the highlights included a buffoon attacking an audience member when his cell phone went off, trying to wrestle it away from him. I thought the audience member was a plant until I saw he was really pissed and walked out soon afterward. A non-attacking buffoon said from the stage, "Thanks Buddy, I’ve only been working on this monologue for months."

On my way out I hung out with a couple of co-workers while they unlocked their bikes. I realized slowly that the yellow ‘70s Lincoln Continental parked in front of us had a passenger standing in the driver’s side doorway. He opened the car door just enough for the car light to go on so I could see his leather chaps and bare ass. I couldn’t see his hand but it seemed to be busy. There was a shiny leatherman across Mission Street with whom he was making long-distance friends but he was showing me his butt. My co-workers, both women, didn’t notice any of this, which is probably metaphorical.

The streets were packed the rest of my way home. Suburbanites rushing through the dark streets to Power Exchange, wearing coats despite the heat so that strangers didn’t see their expensive, mail-order fetish gear. Karaoke "professionals" too cool to hang out inside the Mint listening to others perform.. A large, friendly gathering at the homeless encampment behind the Safeway, too busy enjoying themselves to offer outfits. The 12-steppers just down the street were enjoying themselves also, discussing loudly how they would be spending the night if they still drank.

And I just wanted to walk around enjoying it all.

*SF Bay Guardian is an independent, liberal/left, free weekly newspaper.
gordonzola: (Default)
I haven’t written about my travels on 13th Street recently. I guess nothing that interesting has happened. It still smells bad. The junkies, homeless vets, and I still say hello when we pass each other. The cars still seem to stop randomly in the middle of intersections when they’re not trying to kill me.

But Fall is approaching so 101 now serves as my umbrella as I walk underneath it. The rain waterfalls out from the drainage holes so powerfully that it would be reminiscent of Hawai’i if Hawai’i was covered in concrete, noisy from car horns and the rain couldn’t quite manage to drown out the smell of human shit and urine.

It was strange slogan day on 13th yesterday. First I walked by the new ACT UP SF wheatpastings shouting HIV doesn’t equal* AIDS to the passerby. That’s just so. . . late ‘80s? I mean I know that their message is that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, but HIV doesn’t equal AIDS was the slogan of treatment-oriented health groups attempting to tell HIV+ people that their deaths weren’t necessarily imminent, that they could live years before coming down with full-blown AIDS if they got the right drugs. It seems a rather funny slogan for the HIV-denial joke of an organization that ACT UP SF has become. Surely they would have disappeared by now if they hadn’t had the foresight to start a pot co-op to fund their "work".

Immediately after rolling that slogan around in my brain, I saw a bumper sticker on a car that was honking and trying to merge into the highway on-ramp. It said, "Animals are people in little fur coats". Nothing else. No "PETA". No "SPCA". No "NRA". No "Webfurs.com".


*It was actual a equal sign with a slash through it. I don’t know how to make that symbol on a computer.
gordonzola: (Default)
Wow. If you’re around 14th and Harrison, behind the new Butt-Ugly Best Buy, check out the mural on the new condos going up. A burning apartment. Who OK’d that? I know I’d think twice about moving in. It just seems like an invitation to a budding arsonist. Provocation even.

It’s not done yet so it’s a little hard to tell what it’s supposed to represent. I thought at first it was 1906 earthquake-related, but it’s on the wrong street to represent the fire break.* I’m hoping it actually might be a political statement about landlord arson in the Mission, another benefit of the dot com nightmare. To be fair, landlord arson is actually fairly cyclical, but it’s been on a big upswing since 1998 or so.

Or maybe there was a historic fire at that address at some point. It is just a block away from the famed building collapse at the Big Game, written about in Murder Can Be Fun, where spectators at a Cal/Stanford football game fell into vats of molten lead when the roof of a Metal foundry they were sitting on collapsed. I’d love to see a mural honoring that.

* The Mayor of San Francisco in 1906 ordered all the houses on 20th Street demolished to make a fire break to stop the Great Fire roaring through the city from downtown after the earthquake. Coincidentally, his house sat on South Van Ness between 20th and 21st. Bringing it full circle, there is much evidence to point to landlords arson starting the great fire as owners set fire to their own earthquake-damaged buildings in order to collect insurance money. No one had earthquake insurance in 1906.
gordonzola: (Default)
Found by my housemate on her car window (XXX’s where I didn’t feel comfortable using the actual info):

(outside of folded paper)"Do policemen have honor?
(inside of folded paper) "Melinda Ng stated Chris Ng killed himself and cursed me.
XXXXXX Wong was raped.
Told me to drive carefully.
Susie Cal Fed Bank claimed her
cousin Kiang rear ended me.
She simply asked were you in
a car accident? Sinister smile
. . .that was my cousin.
Melinda dared to call me insincere. Melinda said her
Family will kill m ine

Police have been informed

Does Calfed have honor?
Or do they support the terrorist Ng family?
Raymond Lai

1. I have a friend named Ray Lai. It is not his phone number.
2. Chris Ng not Charles Ng, the serial killer, http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial/ng/. It had me checking the internet to make sure.
3. The lines "She simply asked were you in / a car accident? Sinister smile / . . . that was my cousin" show promise, imho. Better than most poetry zines I review for Zine World, that’s for sure.
4. I wish he had included the Cal Fed phone number if he was gonna bring them into it. I've hated them ever since they closed my local branch.
gordonzola: (Default)
I had another day where I love 13th street.

Partially I love it because it has an identity crisis. Up where I live it’s called Duboce. From Mission to Potrero under the highway it’s 13th and from then on it’s Division. 13th is a little traveled, neglected pedestrian area for the most part. The traffic signs are so dirty people actually write "wash me" on them with their fingers.

My walk to work started with an old guy carrying a heavy-looking toolbox asking me how far Marina Green was. "Driving?" I asked. "No, walking," he replied.

"It’s a few miles and up and down hills. But you can catch the 22 right here and it’ll take you the whole way"
"No thanks, I wanna walk."

On 13th proper, I saw a new political poster with an old slogan. There’s a big anti-war protest scheduled for the Golden Gate Bridge. Unbelievably, the slogan "No Business as Usual" is under the date and time. And it’s not even an RCP poster; it’s an All-People’s Congress one. Careful readers will note my nostalgia for the No Biz posters that used to be under the freeway (see my 4/6/02 entry). In fact, those posters were one of the first things that drew me to 13th Street. And I love it when political rhetoric gets recycled. The poster also asserts "The anti-war movement ain’t playin’!" Oh, if only that were true.

While waiting for the light to change I get passed by a SF Minibus. I don’t really know what they are or who uses them, but I still kick myself for not getting a picture when they were the "SF/SM Minibuses". The SM stands for San Mateo, but I pictured minis filled with tourists and a tour guide pointing out Soma leather sites, important alleys, Stormy Leather and maybe ending at the monthly sex toy swap at the Women’s Building.

I burst out laughing when I see that the most disgusting corner on my walk (and in the running for most disgusting in the city) has been adopted in one of those highway-cleaning programs. The corner of 13th and South Van Ness is a freeway entrance, an underused parking lot and generally neglected no-man’s land. The stench, of too many people pissing, shitting and puking in the streets, often makes me gag and I work with cheese all day. Who’s adopted this corner or nastiness? This monument to gentrification, capitalism, and substance abuse? The California Department of Corrections, of course. Ironic or systematic?

Ah, the questions that 13th Street calls forth . . .



gordonzola: (Default)

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