58. Why National Muffin Day?


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People ask me, “why National Muffin Day?”

I should begin by saying that National Muffin Day is meant to be fun. This is the easy answer. Baking muffins is fun. Muffins in and of themselves are quite a bit of fun: you can use any zany ingredients you want and you’ll almost always come up with something delicious and genuinely interesting if you use your imagination. Even the word “muffin” is kind of fun to say. And giving out muffins to those in need is fun and rewarding.

I, for one, love fun and everything it stands for. I also love feeling accomplished and making other people smile. This does not make me special; this makes me human. The happiest people in life are those who are able to devote their lives to making others happy, while still affording to pay the rent or mortgage and cover their other expenses. I am extremely jealous of these people.

I’ve been told that well-off folks like me who perform charitable acts are “selfish” and “only giving [muffins, money, etc.] because it makes you feel good about yourself.” There is some merit to this argument; I (and I assume, most others like me) do give in part because it makes me feel good. Other than work, that’s the reason I do most things, right?

So yes, giving muffins is fun and can make us feel good about ourselves. But on National Muffin Day, we are doing ourselves a huge disservice if we forget for one second that homelessness, poverty, and hunger are not remotely fun. In fact, they are incredibly abhorrent conditions that bring about a level of suffering that is extremely difficult to comprehend, let along relate to, for the average city dweller. Homelessness is the cumulative manifestation of all of our society’s deepest insecurities, darkest secrets, and paralyzing fears: inequality, mental illness, depression, filth, hunger, and violence.

In a city like San Francisco, where those who are not homeless are, by and large, disproportionately affluent (compared to people in most other cities throughout the country and world at large), the negativity encapsulated in homelessness is difficult to take. Thus, most people develop a two-pronged defense system in order to avoid acknowledging that the most dreaded aspects of humanity are occurring en masse everyday just a few blocks (or steps) away.

The first defense mechanism is denial, or selective sensory intake: seeing and hearing only what we want to see and hear. This is a skill that we have all been honing since we were children. You’ve witnessed this before: kids run around completely carefree, totally oblivious to the fact that there’s a whole world around them, filled with people and other dangerous obstacles. Awareness only comes when a little runt accidentally runs head first into an adult’s leg.

Nonetheless, selective sensory intake is something so innate that most of the time we are unaware of its existence. I first became conscious of the concept in my high school drama club (yes, I was a “drama geek”), when our teacher presented us with an exercise on “everyday walls.” “When you walk through the halls of this school,” she explained, “you don’t realize it, but you’re putting up walls all around you. You see your destination and your friends if they are in the area, but you don’t notice everybody else around you—all of their conversations and troubles. You wouldn’t want to notice them—if you tried to take in everything that happens around you all the time, you’d go crazy. But tomorrow, at some point during the day, try to let down your walls—try to take it all in.”

And so I did, just for one morning, walk through the crowded corridors of Redwood High School without any walls, trying to hear every tidbit of the teenage angst-laced din. The goth kids making snarky comments, the pimply-faced nerdy kid letting out a loud guffaw at something he saw in a comic book, the cute “popular” girls giggling at a sexual joke, the freshman dropping his books at his locker and looking around, embarrassed, praying that nobody had seen him. I distinctly remember seeing a girl crying, too—a chubby-but-otherwise nondescript girl that I had never seen before. It was an extremely intense journey through the halls—halls that before had felt so familiar, but that at that moment were barely recognizable. I never tore down my school walls again—at least not consciously—but from that day on I was constantly aware of their existence.

The walls don’t go away when you become an adult. In fact, they become stronger and thicker as you develop responsibilities with real consequences. If you live in an urban environment, there is far too much stimulation on every block for you to possibly aborb it all. You have to filter out 90% of the people around you out—and the first ones to go are often the homeless. The homeless are easy to not see because most people do not want to see them. Eyes naturally seek out the beautiful; if there is nothing beautiful around, you focus on your destination…or on your iPhone.

I used to put up walls to avoid seeing the homeless in San Francisco. The first time I tried to give out muffins walking down Market Street from Page to Front, I could barely find a dozen hungry people. As I did subsequent muffin runs, I would find more and more hungry recipients. Now I usually see at least 50 on that route, because I’ve reprogrammed myself to perceive them. Every now and then I’ll do a muffin run with a friend, and I always have to point out hungry people to her, because her eyes aren’t trained to see them—she’s put up her walls.

Of course, when you have as large of a concentration of homeless people as we do in San Francisco, walls aren’t necessarily enough. Even if you don’t see 90% of the homeless people around you, you’ll still see the woman in the wheelchair crossing your path, or the man on drugs who jumps two feet in front of you, or the mother and child sitting in front of the trashcan directly in front of your office building every single day. That is where the second defense mechanism activates itself to protect you

The second defense mechanism is judgment. Once a person’s walls are torn down and he is forced to confront the fact that thousands of people all around him are trapped in a living hell of cold, hunger, discomfort, boredom, and often literal madness, empathy may kick in and he may be tempted to empty his wallet on every walk home, passing out cash to the dozens of people on the street begging for money and the hundreds who are too ashamed, too angry, or not physically capable of asking for assistance. Such a task would be draining on one’s wallet, let alone one’s sanity.

You can’t donate to every single needy person you see, at least not in San Francisco. So when you see somebody sitting on the gritty sidewalk, cutting into you with painful eyes that convey the bleakest depths of despair, and you just can’t give him anything, you have two options: (1) get really bummed out, or (2) fabricate an internal justification for not giving. Some common justifications include:

  1. He’s just gonna spend the money on drugs or booze.
  2. He’s on drugs.
  3. He’s dirty and he defecates in the street.
  4. He should get a job.
  5. He’s mentally ill—my money’s not going to help him.
  6. The city already provides enough services for him.
  7. He’s choosing to be homeless.

To address these arguments:

  1. As if you’ve never spent money on drugs or booze. You can always give him food if this is a concern.
  2. People on drugs need to eat too.
  3. Sadly, showers and toilets are not readily available to those without a home.
  4. I agree that he should get a job eventually, but it’s virtually impossible to apply for a job when you don’t have a food, clothing and shelter first.
  5. Mentally ill people need to east too, and if you hadn’t noticed, the mental health services he needs simply aren’t available.
  6. In San Francisco, you can get one free meal every day. One meal is two meals fewer than most people eat in a twenty-four hour period.
  7. No he’s not. Nobody “chooses” to be homeless. Being homeless totally sucks—talk to him and you’ll see. If he’s young, there’s a chance that he’s homeless because he ran away from home. Ask him about how his home life was, and you’ll see that the “choice” to be homeless was made for him. These are not “trust fund” homeless kids. Believe me—I went to high school with the trust fund kids. They are not living in tents in Golden Gate Park; they are living in the Marina and wearing a lot of J. Crew.

But truthfully, some of those rationalizations are not without merit. I’ve encountered plenty of homeless folks who are, frankly, repugnant. I’ve yelled at a dude taking a dump ten feet away from a children’s playground, been mocked by the homeless hippies in the Haight, had my arm grabbed by an angry short woman demanding I give her money in the TL, and been violently shoved off of MUNI by a guy most likely on crack. Everybody in San Francisco has, at one point, or more likely at many points, had an unpleasant experience with a homeless person. So why have any sympathy at all?

Because there before the grace of G-d go I. If you have any sort of support system in your life, it is very difficult to become homeless. Every person in this human’s life has turned on him, or more likely, hurt him. Every institution has failed him. Besides, I’ve also encountered many non-homeless people whom I find to be repugnant—I’m not going to write off the entire human race because of a few bad apples.

But if you don’t pass judgment (or try to limit the judgment passed), this will often force you to take the other option: getting really bummed out. And getting really bummed out sucks, and makes you wish there was a solution to the homeless problem.

What is the solution? After Salt Lake City came up with the simple-yet-brilliant idea of getting rid of homelessness by giving homeless people homes, a group of progressive-minded folks were inspired to hold a “Town Hall to End Homelessness” in San Francisco to discuss implementing a program similar to Salt Lake City’s in San Francisco. While the event was well-attended and some interesting ideas where exchanged, there was a collective reality check when everybody realized that (1) SF has far more homeless people than SLC and (2) housing in SF is (far)7 more expensive than in SLC.

So there goes that idea.

Right now I’m less interested in coming up with a solution to the “homeless problem” and focusing on how I, or you, or all of us collectively can help just one person break the cycle of chronic homelessness. Here’s the challenge: this person has no material possessions, likely no education, is possibly mentally ill and/or addicted to drugs, doesn’t have a social security card or driver’s license or any of those other symbols required to navigate the American bureaucracy, doesn’t have any friends or family, and has already tried to take advantage of all of the available social safety nets (to no avail).

I recently tried to help somebody. And I failed. And it sucked. And it still sucks. I don’t like failing.

For now, I bake muffins and hand them out to hungry people on Market Street. It’s my way of letting them know that I see them, that I believe that they are human beings, no more or less flawed than I, and that I care about them. And, if I may say so, my muffins are damn tasty. I am well aware that it is not a “solution” to the homeless problem, but I can’t imagine establishing any system for helping homeless people until we can collectively treat them with dignity as human beings, and make them understand that we truly acknowledge their existences and troubles and want to help them. Home baked goods is a good first step for that.

I encourage you to join me for National Muffin Day, or for longer, in handing out muffins to those people whom have been dealt the crummiest hand life has to offer. And I encourage you to make your muffins good. If you’re not sure how to do the latter, that’s definitely something with which I can help. National Muffin Day may only come once a year, but if you’re open, it can have an impact on you that persists through the seasons.

57. Little Rants


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  1. To the apparently discombobulated, balding gentleman waddling slowly down the stairs to the MUNI platform in front of me and moving back and forth ever-so-slightly just enough so it’s impossible to walk past him and it looks like I’m going to miss my train.

Dear apparently discombobulated, balding gentleman waddling slowly down the stairs to the MUNI platform in front of me and moving back and forth ever-so-slightly just enough so it’s impossible to walk past him and it looks like I’m going to miss my train, and sure enough I got down to the platform just in time for my fingertips to brush against the train doors the moment after they were sealed, and now I have to wait another goddamn 3 minutes for the next one and I’m gonna be late to work,

Fuck you.


  1. To the four tech bros sitting in the table behind me in Little Griddle who have been talking for the past twenty-seven minutes (no joke—I’ve been timing you) about how Snapchat is, and I quote, “the ultimate in scalability.”

Dear aforementioned tech bros,

I have an idea for your next startup—how about you develop an app that makes you shut the fuck up? I’d pay $1.99 for that.


p.s. I also heard you talking about an advertising platform that allows Facebook friends to send each other, and I quote, “the most bomb ads.” If such a product ever comes into fruition, then I swear on the grave of my father, Domingo Montoya, that I will hunt you down and shove this “Instant Grati-Fication” burger so far up your ass that you’ll be coughing up Niemen ranch beef, griddled onions, crimini mushrooms, swiss cheese, and aloha sriracha sauce for a week.

grati burger

  1. To the young woman who rolled through the stop sign on Page Street and almost hit me because she was looking at her cellphone and not paying any attention to the goddamn road.

Dear really hot dark-haired woman in the black romper driving a Subaru Outback,

I really admire the way you wear that romper—not all women can pull that off. In any event, you need to either (a) learn how to get off your fucking phone when you’re driving, (b) move to a remote location where you’re not around any other human beings, or (c) attach a siren to your car that screams “WARNING! REALLY SHITTY DRIVER AND AWFUL HUMAN BEING!” at all times, so we know to run as far as possible in the opposite direction when we hear you approaching.


P.S. My mom, circa 1998 called, and she wants her Subaru Outback back. Are you even old enough to know who Paul Hogan is?

  1. To the genius working at the Walgreen’s on Market and Van Ness who thought it was a good idea to stop carrying 5th Avenue bars in stock, despite them being the greatest candy bar ever (way, way better than Butterfinger).

Dear that guy,

Fuck you.



  1. To the chick who, when the bouncer pointed to me and asked “is that him?”, replied, “no way, the dude I’m meeting is way hotter than that guy.”

Dear woman who is not very good at controlling the level of her voice,

My face may not be as pretty as what you’re looking for, but my ears are fully functional. And if your Tinder date is anywhere as shallow as you, he’s in for a rough night–let’s just say that unlike the woman who almost hit me in the Subaru, you are not pulling off that romper.

No love,

Bonkers 4 Rompers

  1. To the ostensibly professional journalists who penned pieces this last week entitled “Shoppers Literally Lost Their Minds When Balmania Hit H&M,” “Linebacker Jayon Brown fills a new role, literally, for UCLA,” and “Bernie Sanders doesn’t like Uber; uses it literally all the time.”

Dear linguistically-challenged friends,

There’s a term “contranym” (also sometimes referred to as an “auto-antonym”), which is used to describe a word that has two opposite meanings. Examples include “cleave” (to cling or to split apart), “screen” (to show or to conceal), and “trim” (to add edging or to cut away at edges). “Literally” should not be a contranym. The word means “actually” or “without exaggeration”—see this cartoon [http://theoatmeal.com/comics/literally] for visual aid. But for some reason, you and thousands of others have decided to misuse this word for the past few years to the point that it allegedly has a second meaning: “not actually” or “with exaggeration.”

I’m calling bullshit here. We already have a word for the opposite of “literally”—and that word is “figuratively.” Try it on for size:

“Shoppers Figuratively Lost Their Minds When Balmania Hit H&M”
“Linebacker Jayon Brown fills a new role, figuratively, for UCLA”
“Bernie Sanders doesn’t like Uber; uses it figuratively all the time”

Was that so hard?


  1. To the guy on MUNI who is standing in front of the train door at Powell Station.

Dear guy on MUNI who is standing in front of the train door at Powell Station,

Do you realize that there are a number of people who are trying to get out of the train car now, but they can’t because you’re blocking the door? That’s why everybody is saying “excuse me” and giving you dirty looks. You’re not wearing headphones right now, and unless you’re deaf, you should be able to hear them. And even if you are deaf, unless you’re blind you should be able to see that everybody else who was standing in front of the door has exited the car temporarily. They know they have nothing to fear because we’re going to let them all come back in after everybody trying to get off at this stop is out of the train. That’s how we do it here—this isn’t Mumbai, where people figuratively have to fight for their lives to get a space on a train car.

And if you are deaf and blind, then I commend you for taking the MUNI, but you should really carry a white cane or something to indicate your blindness, so people know to give you proper space. But realistically, I don’t think you’re deaf or blind. I think you’re just an asshole.


p.s. And now you’re blocking the people who did this correctly from trying to get back into the train, and the doors aren’t closing and I’m going to be really late to work.


  1. To the dude gabbing away on his cell phone to his dad about how his company has been valued at $100,000,000 while riding on the fucking public bus.

Dear dude gabbing away on his cell phone to his dad about how his company has been valued at $100,000,000 while riding on the fucking public bus,

I have an idea for an app that would be even more valuable than yours: one that makes you shut the fuck up. I bet it would be worth at least a billion dollars.


p.s. Once you’re super rich, please (a) donate 99% of your riches to charity and (b) use the rest to pay somebody to cut that fucking mullet. Seriously, the starting line of the 1985 Edmonton Oilers called, and they want their haircut back.

oilers hair

  1. To the teenage girls who create/perpetuate modern slang.

Dear young ladies who are responsible for such hits as “on fleek,” “squad goals” and “YOLO,”

Thank you for making me feel extremely old. That’s hella groovy of you.


P.S. At the very least, you did inspire this classic joke:

Q: Why do teenage girls always walk in groups of 3, 5, or 7?
A: Because they can’t…even…


  1. To the supports of Trump, Carson, and the other Republican candidates.

Dear Freedom-Loving Patriots, Christian Soldiers, and other Real Americans,

Words fail (or, as the kids say in today’s modern parlance. “I…can’t…even…”). Actually, they don’t. Here are some words that describe what I’m feeling right now:

I devote a significant chunk of my mental energy to convincing myself that you don’t exist. I have chosen to live in a city and state that might not be as socialist as I’d like, but that is, at the very least, not chock-full of unabashedly overt racists, sexists, homophobes, and other bigots.

But you all exist, in very large numbers, and now you want a president who is of a similar ilk.

Fuck you guys.


E 352697 015 Usa Professional Wrestler: Hulk Hogan And Andre The Giant With Donal Trump.  (Photo By Russell Turiak/Getty Images)

Note: to be clear, that photo above is absolutely not meant to in any way disrespect Andre the Giant. In fact, if I hear about any of you punks dissing Andre the Giant, I’m not gonna bother writing a rant about you, I’m just gonna hunt you down and break your kneecaps. That’s what Andre would do—and he sure as heck wouldn’t vote for Trump.

  1. To Rebecca Solnit

Dear Rebecca Solnit,

I have a ton of respect for you and everything you do, but I was a little disappointed today when, during the panel discussion you were moderating at the CCSF Howard Zinn Bookfair on new interpretations of masculinity, you completely dismissed my question about the blurring of the dichotomy between the masculine and the feminine and whether there still is a purpose to gender differentiation or whether, as an evolving society, we should strive for something close to androgyny. While I understand the need to stay politically correct in the university environment, I worry that not having any open discussions amongst mixed crowds about the key social issues of our time, including the transformation of gender roles, will stifle any progress and ultimately be a detriment to the feminist cause. Anyhow, let me know if you want to meet offline to discuss.

Best regards,

P.S. We should also discuss the Google Bus phenomenon. While I agreed with your initial essays on the subject, I think the circumstances have changed and it’s time for us progressives to re-evaluate both our tactics and our rhetoric.


  1. To any able-bodied human being who uses the elevator to go up or down one floor.

Dear lazy-ass,

This building comes equipped with stairs, and The Good Lord gave you a pair of legs, so use ‘em!


P.S. If you’re an atheist, that doesn’t excuse you. You still have those legs, whether or not they came from an invisible deity. And in the time you just took to complain about how I’m impinging on your religious freedom (or, more specifically, your freedom to not have a religion), you could have just walked up the fucking stairs. Instead, I have to wait for the elevator to make yet another stop, and I’m already late as heck because of those aforementioned assholes on MUNI.


13. To the little black fly that is buzzing around me as I sit typing up these rants in a café and keeps landing on my face.

Dear fly,

Once you land on the table, I’m gonna fucking smash you.


Epilogue: The fly landed on the table and I fucking smashed it. The elderly Japanese woman sitting next to me eating vegan lentil soup gave me a fierce nod of approval.


56. J’s 2015 San Francisco Voter Guide!


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Mayor: Stuart Schiffman, Amy Farah Weiss, Francisco Herrera
Sheriff: Ross Mirkarimi (or write-in for Sheriff Lobo)
District 3 Supervisor: Aaron Peskin
Other Candidates: Unopposed or do whatcha feel
A: Yes
B: Yes
C: Yes
D: Yes
E: No
F: Yes
H: Yes
I: Yes
K: Yes

Full Version

Unlike my other posts, this one is not really built to last. If you go back and read my piece on the Neighborhood Wars of San Francisco, written nearly four years ago (Christ), it still holds up, except that now the Mission is the new Marina and SoMa is even worse. But this piece is going to focus primarily on the upcoming San Francisco city elections, which will take place in about a week. Also, if you’re not in San Francisco, a lot of this might be lost of you. Don’t worry—I’ll try to make it funny. And educational! We’re not only here to laugh, we’re hear to learn.

Before I discuss the election, it might help to give a brief explanation of San Francisco politics. In most of the U.S., the two main political groupings are “liberals,” who generally support expanding government to provide more services to those with less at the cost of those with more, and “conservatives,” who prefer to keep government small and reward those who work hard at the cost of those who don’t. There’s also this bizarre conservative obsession with Jesus that has somehow infiltrated every facet of their political leanings, but I don’t have the time or the inclination to explore that any further in this post. A liberal who wants extreme change is a “radical.” A conservative who wants things to go back to how they used to be (in the good ol’ days—when men were men) is a “reactionary.” Most liberals support the “Democrat Party,” while most conservatives are “Republicans.”

In San Francisco, nearly everybody is already a liberal Democrat who abhors organized religion (except for certain strains of Paganism), so the population is divided into “progressives” and “moderates.” Progressives are similar to reactionaries in that they want to revert San Francisco to the way it was in the past, except in this case “the past” is 1967, when everybody smoked a ton of pot, wrote profound poetry, and constantly copulated in the streets. Everybody who is not a progressive is a moderate (although of course there are plenty of “moderate progressives” and “progressive moderates” thrown in the mix to spice things up). See if you can spot the progressive in the following photograph:

rcrumb copy

Needless to say, I am a progressive. Also, to put things in perspective, the most right-leaning moderate in San Francisco would still be seen as a baby-killing, queer-loving, G-d-hating, gun-stealing, pinko commie Obama Bernie Sanders Eugene Debs Jew bastard by the vast bulk of American conservatives.

The city is split up into 11 districts, each with a District Supervisor. The Board of Supervisors makes all major decisions in the city and arguably wields far more power than the mayor. Generally, the wealthier and quieter districts (Marina, Richmond, Sunset, Twin Peaks, etc.) tend to vote moderate, whereas the poorer and louder districts (Haight, Tenderloin, Mission, Castro) tend to go progressive (setting aside the fact that the current supervisor of the Castro, Scott Weiner, might be the most moderate supervisor in the history of San Francisco. Harvey Milk is rolling in his grave).

Conventional wisdom dictates that in the U.S., there are cumulatively more liberals than conservatives, but most cantankerous old people who like voting are conservative, thus liberals do better in presidential election years when everybody votes, and conservatives do better in mid-term elections when only those with a lot of time on their hands make it to the polls. Similarly, there are more moderates than progressives in San Francisco, but most cantankerous old people who like voting are progressives, and so progressives have the best chances of victory on years when Obama or Hillary are not up for election (e.g., 2015). Considering that the largest growing demographic in San Francisco is the crucial young-nouveau-riche-who-work-for-tech-and-whom-progessives-hate block who, if they cared at all about their self interests, would always vote moderate, we progressives really double down our efforts in the odd years.

I know that it’s not normal for the younger crowd to be less left-leaning, or for the left-leaning contingent to be less populous, but you need to understand that San Francisco is not a normal city. That’s why I love it here so much!

So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, shall we? Here’s what’s happening in the upcoming election, to take place on Tuesday, November 3rd:

Mayoral Race

Our current mayor is Ed Lee, who was appointed mayor 5 years ago when Gavin Newsom resigned to become Lieutenant Governor of California. Ed Lee rose up in the San Francisco political scene in the late 70s and early 80s, when, as Managing Attorney of the Asian Law Caucus, he fought to protect elderly tenants in Chinatown from being evicted by their greedy landlords who were genuflecting to wealthy developers. Here is my favorite quote from Ed Lee in that era (borrowed from David Talbot’s Season of the Witch):

“You can go to law school to make money, or you can go to help the community. I fought landlord-tenant battles where I could face off against people I went to law school with. They were working for corporations trying to evict people, and I was trying to stop them. Landlords—many of whom were absentee, and many of whom were Chinese—hated my guts. They saw me coming and said, ‘there’s that communist Ed Lee!’”

Here is Ed Lee being a straight-up badass in 1978:

edlee78 copy

Then, at some point in the past 10 years, Ed Lee befriended Ron Conway, a superstar tech investor who is essentially the Koch Brothers of San Francisco (although probably without the whole Jesus thing). Ron Conway had this great idea that if we let Twitter build a huge office on Market Street but don’t make them pay taxes, then Ron Conway would make a shit-ton of money. From a political perspective, this was somehow very beneficial to Ed Lee, and thus the firebrand communist was welcomed into the world of cut-throat capitalism.

To give Ed Lee credit, he has done amazing things for the city of San Francisco. San Francisco is now “world-class,” with the best restaurants, bars, and shops around for people with lots of money. Millions of people want to live here, all major conferences want to be held here, and if the world is currently undergoing a “tech revolution” as many claim, then San Francisco is at the center. Or in tech parlance, San Francisco is the “epicenter of paradigm disruption.” On top of that, the city has become much cleaner and was featured in the newest Terminator movie.

On the other hand, Ed Lee has done not-so-great things for the people of San Francisco—or at least those who have lived in San Francisco for more than 5 years. With all of the monetary success, normal human beings can no longer afford to live in San Francisco, and thus the city now faces a critical shortage of artists, teachers, police officers, nurses, and waiters, while the city is experiencing a sharp uptick of people whom I want to punch in the face as they speak very loudly into their Blueteeth about their latest valuations in the queue at Fresh Roll when I’m waiting to order an overpriced banh mi. For more on this, read every single entry in my blog in the category “San Francisco,” or just get me started talking when you have a few hours to kill.

The bad news is that there are no major candidates opposing Mayor Lee. The kind of good news is that this guy who goes by the moniker “Broke-Ass Stuart” (who is sort of like me but with a web site that people actually read [http://brokeassstuart.com/]) has come up with a plan. The plan is to vote for people who are not Ed Lee. In SF, you get to put in your top three choices for mayor, so the catchy pneumonic to remind people of this plan at the ballot box is “1, 2, 3, anyone but Lee.” You can sing it in your head to the tune of the classic Bobbettes song (which I first heard on the Stand By Me soundtrack):

I think technically for the plan to work you’re supposed to put Stuart Schuffman, Amy Farah Weiss, and Francisco Herrera in the top three spots (in any order). That’s what I’m doing.

Sheriff’s Race

Our current Sherrif, Ross Mirkarimi, was charged with domestic violence, battery, child endangerment, and dissuading a witness for an incident with his wife a few years ago, and pled guilty to false imprisonment. His opponent, Vicki Hennessy, is endorsed by Mayor Ed Lee and the evil District 5 Supervisor London Breed, my supervisor of whom I am not particularly fond.

So really, it’s a lesser-of-two-evils type of affair. The teachers support Hennessy, but the Tenants Union and League of Pissed Off Voters support Mirkarimi. Mirkarimi is also pro-pot and anti-gun. I guess you can say Mirkarimi is the more progressive option, so I’m supporting him, because I’m a knee-jerk progressive like that.

Other Candidate Races

The candidates for City Attorney, District Attorney, Treasurer, are running unopposed, and I have no idea who the people running for Community College Board are. I thought Thea Selby was but I don’t see her name on the ballot. I’ll vote for her for ANYTHING.

As you know, I support Aaron Peskin for District 3 supervisor. He is the O.G. baby-killing, queer-loving, G-d-hating, gun-stealing, pinko commie Obama Bernie Sanders Eugene Debs Jew bastard.


America has this great system of representative democracy, in which we elect people to make decisions so that we don’t have to–because let’s face it, people are idiots and should not be trusted to choose anything. However, in California, for whatever reason, everything important is voted on directly through ballot initiatives, and once something is approved it’s extremely difficult to reverse (except via another ballot initiative). And in San Francisco, because we (think we) are so darn smart, we have more ballot initiatives every year than possibly any city in the country.

This year there are eleven ballot measures—and bear in mind that this is an odd year with no state or federal candidates or initiatives on the ballot. I’m not going to discuss all of them in detail. In fact, I’ll skip the measures that are de facto unopposed. If you’d like to know which measures fall into this category, look at the ones for which “Dr. Terence Faulker, J.D.” has penned the opposition argument. Faulkner is a self-professed Republican, so you can imagine that none of his views are very popular in this town. G-d bless him though—being the lone voice of opposition against the tyranny of the majority is a thankless job, but somebody has to do it. In theory.

The measures Faulkner opposes (and on which I am therefore voting YES) are:

Prop A: Should SF issue $310 Million in bonds to raise money for affordable housing?

Prop B: Should City Employees get the paid parental leave they deserve?

Prop C: Should lobbyists be regulated?

Prop H: Should SF kind of try to use renewable energy? Note, Prop H is tied to Prop G, which at this point is a mistake and on which everybody is voting NO.

So thank you, Dr. Faulkner, you made this whole process a bit easier.

Next up: Props D and I, which are both related to building more housing. To discuss these, we need to dive into what has become possibly the biggest argument between moderates and progressives: how can we lower rents in San Francisco? Ever since rents have skyrocketed in the city, the rallying cry of the moderates has been “it’s because of San Francisco’s draconian laws that place restrictions on building heights.” The moderates love to use that word—“draconian.” Admittedly, it is a beautiful choice; my fifth-grade teacher would have probably referred to it as a “seventy-cent word.” And I will concede that San Francisco has a lot of laws that limit the heights of buildings—this is a fact. Believe it or not, but back in the 1970s when these laws were drafted, nobody anticipated that San Francisco would suddenly become the most popular destination in the country for extremely wealthy youth, and thus city officials, desiring to preserve the beauty and charm that came with San Francisco’s small-town feel, placed limits on how tall buildings could be. Now, thirty years later, there is an unprecedented influx of skilled twenty-four year olds who are willing to pay $3500 per month in rent, and no place to house them.

The moderate solution: build, baby, build! Build as many housing units as possible in all neighborhoods, and eventually supply will meet demand and rents will decrease. And while you’re at it, get rid of rent control!

The progressive solution: Stop letting rich techies live in San Francisco and let us maintain the beauty of the city!

Neither solution is particularly realistic. The moderate approach would work if demand outweighed supply by maybe 10,000 or 20,000 units, but the truth is that San Francisco would have to build somewhere between 100,000 and 1,000,000 additional housing units before rents would decrease to pre-Twitter levels (the numbers I’ve read vary dramatically so I can only give you that range—and bear in mind that right now the population of San Francisco is roughly 800,000). In the mean time, every new housing development is for luxury apartments, and the influx of rich people to formerly not-super-rich neighborhoods drives up the prices of food and household goods for all those who live in the area.

To me, the moderate solution sounds a lot like “trickle-down economics,” the notion that if you give the rich more money, it will some how trickle down and benefit the poor. If we build enough luxury apartments for the ultra-rich, then eventually we’ll be able to house all of the ultra-rich so we can build some housing for the not-quite ultra rich, and so on down until we’re finally ready to build a few buildings here and there for the middle and lower classes. By helping the rich, we help the poor! As you may recall, the term “trickle-down economics” was coined in the 1930s to describe the economic practices of the Hoover administration…and now Herbert Hoover is routinely categorized as one of the worst U.S. presidents of all time. Here is another champion of trickle-down economics, demonstrating the theory in action:

bonzo copy

The progressive solution probably won’t work, because we can’t actually keep rich tech kids out of the city. That’s not actually something that can happen. I know we really want it to happen, but that’s not how the world works. Period. There’s also something in the progressive playbook about building more affordable housing, but nobody is convinced that that’s truly a viable option.

Most progressives, myself included, have now conceded that we need to allow some building to occur in San Francisco. I personally think that we should build thousands of luxury apartments in the Marina. We could make all of Chestnut street into a wall of 30-story, ultra-modern, super-sexy highrises for the tech elite. Also, SoMa—most of the community in that neighborhood was already destroyed by Justin Hermann in the late 60s/early 70s, just please preserve the Filipino area and 6th Street.

Yes, I know this makes me a “NIMBYist,” but you know what, greedy developers and the techies who love them already built in my backyard. In fact, they built the ugliest fucking building in all of San Francisco literally across the street from me, where once stood a very charming community farm:

avalon copy

People throw around “NIMBY” like it’s an insult, but there are neighborhoods in San Francisco that are charming, with tasteful architecture, and that have actual communities—where people leave their homes and interact with local business owners instead of having everything delivered to their apartments and where children exist and want to play in local parks and attend decent schools. These neighborhoods should not be corrupted by hideous developments packed with wealthy newcomers who have no desire to belong to a community that isn’t virtual.

So on that note, let’s discuss the propositions:

Prop D: Should we develop on top of an old, creepy parking lot out by the ballpark? This is a perfect candidate for development for us NIMBY progressives because it’s not in an area where building is likely to adversely effect an existing community, and even if the development is heinous, it’s probably better than the existing parking lot. I give it a YES (as does most everybody, except the Sierra Club, for some reason).

Prop I: Should we set an 18-month moratorium on big, ugly luxury apartments in the Mission District? For those of you who don’t live in San Francisco, the Mission does actually have a strong community (it has historically been the Latino center of the city) and charm, so it is not a good candidate for building housing for the ultra-rich. However, the Mission also has good weather and is quite walkable, so many ultra-rich people really want to live there. The only way to keep them from ruining the neighborhood (more than they already have—just go to Kilowatt on a Saturday night and you’ll see what I mean) is by passing this law.

Just to give you an idea of whose interests are being served, here are the supporters of Prop I:

David Campos (Supervisor for the Mission)
Committee to Save the Mission
San Francisco Tenants Union
Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco
Mission SRO Collaborative
The Women’s Building
Mission Neighborhood Building
Latino Cultural District

In other words, the people and organizations that actually exist in the Mission.

Here are the opponents of Prop I:

Scott Weiner (see above)
SF Association of Realtors
Professional Property Management Association of San Francisco
Residential Builders Association
Mayor Ed Lee

I’m sure these people have the local tenants’ best interests in mind.

Note: that was sarcasm.

Other note: There are other opponents of Prop I who probably aren’t as bad (SF Young Democrats, UA Local 38, Plumbers and Pipefitters, etc.) and who genuinely think that the time has come to just build everywhere, as much as we can, in order to hopefully lower rents. Also, to be fair, by law 12% of all new housing must be “affordable,” so a moratorium on new luxury apartments is estimated to also prevent 70-200 affordable housing units from being built. However, given that the vast bulk of organizations that advocate for people who actually need affordable housing are for Prop I, I will stand with them and vote YES.

Next up: Prop F, a.k.a. the “Airbnb law.”

Prop F: Should we make life worse for Airbnb and a number of other assholes?

I’ll begin by saying that when I first heard about Airbnb, I liked the concept. I had friends who took a three-week vacation and were able to use Airbnb to easily find a short-term sublettor so that they could get a little cash for their apartment when they were gone. But then I learned that people were using Airbnb to convert their buildings into hotels, because renting out a room for $300 a night was more profitable then renting it out for $1500 (or $2000 or $3000 or $4000) per month. This led to even more of a decrease in available housing in San Francisco.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed, and the Board of Supervisors passed a law saying that you could only rent out a room for short-term rentals for 90 days per year.

Then, just a few months later, the people of San Francisco got together and prepared a revised version of the law that:

-reduces the allowed days of short-term rental to 75 per year
-prohibits short-term rental of in-law units
-includes notice, registration and reporting requirements and other enforcement mechanisms in order to actually enforce the 75 days of short rental limit and to make sure that proper taxes get paid
-allows neighbors to sue each other for violations

This revised law is Prop F. The main arguments against the proposition are that it’s poorly-written and that laws passed via ballot proposition are virtually irreversible and we need to wait to see how the current law works before trying to fix it. While these are valid points, in absence of the reporting and enforcement provisions included in the current proposition, owners who convert their apartments into hotel rooms are essentially telling the city “scout’s honor,” and we’re hoping that this is actual deterrence. I call bullshit on that, and so I’m voting YES.

As a side note, for those of you who don’t live in San Francisco (or simply don’t pay attention), we need to discuss Airbnb’s $8 Million campaign against this proposition. Last week, the following image started floating around the Facebookosphere:

airbnb copy

This was supposedly an ad posted on public bus stops around the city. After we all expressed initial outrage at this completely tone-deaf, arrogant, “let-them-eat-cake-cuz-we-pay-our-taxes” attempt at somehow garnering some sympathy for Airbnb, there were various posts suggesting that this was Photoshopped, or that those ads were put up by anti-Airbnb groups looking to poke some fun at the corporation.

Then it came out that no, those were actual Airbnb ads. For those of you who don’t work in a mid-sized tech company like Airbnb, you need to understand that a great deal of thought went into those ads. It wasn’t just the decision of one rogue copywriter, there was an entire marketing team, and potentially even an outside marketing firm, involved in creating them. Furthermore, it’s highly likely that somebody very senior in the organization, potentially the CEO of the company, had to give those ads the greenlight before they were put up. And still, not a single person in the chain had the wherewithal to say, “you know what, using these ads is really shooting ourselves in the foot at a time when we need all of the support we can get.”

In Airbnb’s defense, it’s impossible to know what is appropriate for an ad displayed in a public bus stop when nobody in your company actually rides a public bus to work.

Are you really still reading? There are just a few more, and I’m only really going to talk about one, which is Prop J.

Prop J: Should we give subsidies to “Legacy Businesses” that have been around for 30+ years, and the landlords who support them?

If you care about community at all, then you get a little sad when the old Italian restaurant around the corner you’ve been going to forever closes, or when the funky antique store two blocks away that has been there since you can remember announces that it’s going out of business. Businesses close—that’s part of life—but sometimes they are forced to close when a landlord raises the rent, and, to quote Marcel Proust, that sucks donkey balls. Unlike residential units, there is no rent control for commercial spaces in San Francisco, so if there’s an old business that you like a lot that isn’t a super-popular restaurant or bar, chances are that it only exists today because the owner is on excellent terms with the landlord. Prop J is designed to create a fund that will give grants to business owners who own “Legacy Businesses” that have been around for 30 years that contribute to the neighborhood’s history or identity, and to landlords who grants leases to such businesses for at least 10 years. This will hopefully incentivize landlords to let our favorite old businesses stay…just a little bit longer.

The two main arguments against Prop J are that the criteria for becoming a “Legacy Business” are more difficult than the existing criteria (there is currently a registry for Legacy Businesses, but not the grants), and that the grants will cost money. Regarding the first point, most of the businesses that would be affected don’t seem to mind, so I’m not concerned. Regarding the second point, I’m a tax-and-spend liberal, so this doesn’t bother me. Further more, I’m terrified at the prospect of Rookie Ricardo’s record store and Noc Noc closing (they’re both currently 29 years old, and I think next year they should both be eligible to be Legacy Businesses). So I’m voting YES on Prop J.

There are two more propositions:

Prop E: Should there be all kinds of crazy broadcasting and comment requirements for public meetings?

Prop K: Should the city expand the uses of surplus property to include affordable housing?

Both the ultra-moderate SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, or as I call it, Supposedly non-Partisan, Ultimately Republican) and the ultra-progressive San Francisco League of Pissed Off Voters vote NO on E and YES on K. That’s enough to constitute a city-wide consensus in my mind, so I’m voting accordingly.

Jeebus, that was longer than I thought it was going to be (that’s what she said!). If you actually read this, I love you forever. And most importantly, whether you agree or disagree with me, I don’t care—just vote. It’s really, really, really important. Of course, if you don’t agree with me, I guess I’ll let it slide if you skip the polls this time.

For wee bit more information (like you really need it), I present to you both sides of the story:

SPUR voter guide: http://www.spur.org/sites/default/files/publications_pdfs/SPUR_Voter_Guide_November_2015.pdf

League of Pissed Off Voters voter guide (same picks as me, but with different explanations): http://www.theleaguesf.org/guide

I think this classic from Mr. Young is an appropriate outtro to this post:

55. On my First Published Essay and the Ensuing Fifteen Minutes


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I’ll warn you in advance: this blog post is 40% my first published essay, 60% me name-dropping and jerking myself off. Enjoy!

*            *            *

I’ve considered myself to be a writer for over 20 years, but until earlier this week, I had never actually had anything published. Crazy, right? Contrary to the popular phase, it is for lack of trying. When I was 15, I submitted an amazing short story about affirmative action in a dystopian future to Merlyn’s Pen, the literary magazine for teens, and got rejected. Then two years ago I submitted one of my blog posts to The Bold Italic and never heard from them. I honestly can’t remember which piece I sent and I can’t find the email in my Gmail sent box, which suggests that I may have felt so dejected by the lack of response that I deleted any trace of my efforts.

Until this month, those were the only two times I had ever attempted to submit any of my writing for publication.

In any event, after batting .000 for so many years, I decided to step up to the plate again when I received an email from my aunt informing me that David Talbot had issued a call for San Francisco writers to submit pieces for a pamphlet entitled “Save Our City!” to support Aaron Peskin, a progressive politician who was running for Supervisor of District 3 (North Beach, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Russian Hill…what tourists think of when they think of San Francisco (minus Haight-Ashbury)). David Talbot, in case you don’t know, wrote Season of the Witch, which is the greatest book on the subject of recent San Francisco history that I’ve ever read. If you live in San Francisco, you need to read it. If you have any interest in San Francisco, you need to read it. If you work in the tech industry, you absolutely need to read it. This is what it looks like:

seasonI didn’t know much about Aaron Peskin, but fortunately a little Wikipedia research gave me all of the information I needed. In short, he’s a progressive former Supervisor who is so pissed off at Mayor Ed Lee’s techellatio (yes, I just made that word up, and you know exactly what it means) that he’s throwing his hat in again against Lee’s most recent appointee/pawn in the chess game of evil, Julie Christensen. I was pumped up—this certainly seemed like my kind of fight! I shot David Talbot an email that said I was an up and coming San Francisco writer who specialized in Juvenal/juvenile satire and wanted to submit a piece for the pamphlet. I included links to a few of my favorite posts from this blog, which I’m totally sure David must have read, because the next day he wrote back and said I should send him an essay. He noted that it would be nice to have “some mordant humor in the mix.”

After looking up the word “mordant,” I was ready to write my piece. And write I did! And then I sent it to a friend who shot it down, and so I re-wrote it! And then I sent it to another friend who also shot it down, and so I re-wrote it again! And then I just sent it to David Talbot because I was up against the deadline and I didn’t want it to get shot down again.

The next day David sent me an email saying that he thought my piece was, and I quote, “fucking brilliant.” He added that it was going in the pamphlet and invited me to read it at a gathering for Aaron Peskin. Not to sound all fanboy/starfucker, but it’s a pretty amazing feeling when somebody famous whom you really respect as an artist gives you a compliment. Especially when he uses expletives for emphasis!

Fast forward to two nights ago, when the Peskin party took place. It was held at Café Zoetrope, a cute Italian wine bar/restaurant in North Beach that is owned by Francis Ford Coppola. David Talbot was hosting the event, and Gary Kamiya (author of Cool Gray City of Love, which is in my current stack of books to read) was right in front. The pamphlet’s name had changed to San Francisco, Lost & Found:

L&FTony Robles (nephew of Al) read a poem, as did Alejandro Murguia, the current Poet Laureate of San Francisco. Laura Fraser (I admit I’d never heard of her before, but she’s rad, trust me) read a beautiful piece about rent control, and Aaron Peskin read a new poem that Lawrence Farlinghetti wrote for him (at least, I think that’s what he read—I was standing in the far rear of the restaurant and missed the backstory). Rebecca Solnit was conspicuously absent, which surprised me—this would have been right up her alley.

As the event went on, David Talbot kept calling on authors who were in the pamphlet to come up and read their work. The pieces were all fabulous, and the crowd of…let’s face it…older San Francisco progressives grew more and more boisterous with each bottle of wine collectively consumed. I watched from the back, hoping that David Talbot would notice me from across the room and ask me to come up to the stage—he had asked for a headshot so I was hoping he knew what I looked like. Alas, that did not happen, and after one last stalwart ex-hippie read a piece about his disdain for Ron Conway (a rich capitalist who one author referred to as the “Koch Brothers” of San Francisco), David said, “well, it’s getting late…” and I figured that my essay was not going to be read aloud. But hey, it was in the pamphlet—maybe somebody would skim it. Then David looked at his watch and said, “oh wait, it’s only 6:30. Have I forgotten any authors in here tonight?” I shouted out from the back, “YES! Me! Muffin Man!” “Oh, Muffin Man, you’re here! Come on down!”

I shoved my way through the crowd and stepped onto the tiny stage. Before I read my piece, I turned to David and said, “I’ve been writing for over 20 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever had anything published, so thank you.” Then I turned to the audience and gave my introduction:

“Tonight we’ve heard a lot of people bash Ed Lee and Ron Conway and evil real estate developers and tech CEOs, but the truth is that these aren’t the only people who are…er…changing San Francisco. If you go to your old favorite bar in the Mission, or the Tenderloin, or Haight Street, or South of Market, you won’t find those folks…but you’ll probably run into this guy…”

And then I read:

*            *            *

Come Out And Play

by Muffin Man

Oh, the joys of being young! Three years out of college with a B.S. in Comp Sci from Stanford, the best university in the world. Developed a fairly successful app with a linguistics Ph. D. my junior year. “Lecturnality” – you probably heard of it. My algorithms analyzed a professor’s vocal inflection and word choice to determine the optimal vocabulary and sentence structures to use in term papers for guaranteed A’s. Great for liberal arts majors. I had buddies at Columbia and Michigan who were going to help me expand to their schools, and Rolling Stone was gonna do a story on us, but then campus shut us down. Fucking fascists. Shoulda taken Peter Thiel’s advice, amiright?

That’s all in the past though, and as some guy once said, “all’s well that end’s well.” Got a job at @twitter doing programming with a kick-ass team. I really could have gotten a job anywhere—let’s just say there were a lot of offers. Hashtag winning. I went with Twitter because I didn’t just want to work at a company, I wanted to be part of a greater force that’s changing the world twenty-four seven. Remember Tahrir Square? Euromaiden in the Ukraine? Twitter has literally caused all major social upheaval globally in the past 5 years.

And of course, there are the perks. Twitter provides three meals a day, and the guy who used to be the number two chef at Michael Mina just became DOC (director of culinary) so the food is amazing. Coming from Boston I’m used to good food, but in San Francisco, I’m in hashtag FoodieParadise. On Fridays we have happy hour—the company has connections with a few microbreweries so we get the latest IPAs before they’re released to the general public. And let’s not forget Margarita Mondays and Wine Wednesdays! On top of that, there are snack stations every thirty feet or so with nuts and beef jerky for protein, chocolate to satisfy your sweet tooth, and mini-fridges stocked with Red Bull, Monster, or Rockstar—so you can pick the perfect energy drink depending on your mood. We also have weekly yoga classes—Ashtanga I believe. Yoga harmonizes the mind and body, which is key for developing products that speak to people on a visceral level.

Hashtag DreamJob.

What else do I love about San Francisco? I love the quirkiness—the amalgamation of people from all walks of life and all corners of the earth who make the pilgrimage here to express their individuality. San Francisco accepts all, just as it has since the Haight-Ashbury days. The city loves to party, and every month there is some excuse to dress up in costume and get cheerfully inebriated in the streets. This year for B2B my team from work dressed up like The Warriors—not the basketball team, but from the movie with all those crazy street gangs in New York. We had the burgundy vests and everything! Maybe the reference is too obscure for you. Anyway, we made our own bacon-and-cauliflower-infused Everclear and drank it out of Vitamin Water bottles. SF has all sorts of public events like that, but a lot of the best parties are more exclusive, so you need to be well connected to get in. The black-tie launch party for SquidPlus with free bottles of Hanger One? Epic.

Hashtag YOLO!

Folks say it’s difficult to find a place to live in SF, but I scored an apartment across the street from work at @NEMA. The space is hard to describe—I mean, on the outside, it just looks like any other large, black, glassy edifice you’d find in the financial district, but on the inside, it basically sums up everything that is San Francisco: tech, creativity, originality, and appreciation of the finer things in life. Luxury furniture made from reclaimed wood, digital touch-screen message boards in the lobby, an energy solarium, a 60-foot heated rooftop pool, terraces inspired by Big Sur and Muir Woods—it truly is the quintessential SF residence. A lot of people who don’t live in the city think it’s expensive, but take a step back and look at the details: 4200 per month for a good sized one-bedroom, plus a free gym (with classes), and no commute—I’d say that’s a pretty good deal.

The other thing I love about NEMA is the social aspect—there are rec room-type spaces with pool tables, couches and board games, activities and gatherings, and organized trips to Napa and Tahoe. They’re really building a community here, which falls in line with the San Francisco spirit—one thing that drew me to the city was exploring the different neighborhoods and seeing all of the strong, diverse communities.

There are these signs in front of my building that are representative of SF:

“Tech Savvy, Not Shabby”

“Social And Local”

“Innovate, Don’t Imitate”

I think that last one is my life philosophy in a nutshell, a perfect description of what tech should be: innovation. You don’t become successful by improving on what has already been done, you do it by breaking new grounds and disrupting the paradigm. That’s how we roll in SF: just as the Industrial Revolution made London the center of the universe 200 years ago, the Tech Revolution is doing the same to SF now. Everything past generations have ever learned is no longer relevant in the city of San Francisco. And I tell you, for this newcomer to the city…let’s just say there’s a famous quote by some San Francisco icon that resonates with me: “One day, if I go to heaven…it’ll be San Francisco.”*

Now I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes, I am working on my own startup in my free time. It’s still in the early phases, but think social media meets instant delivery meets podcasts meets kombucha meets globalization. Hashtag synergy.

And if you’ll kindly sign this NDA, I’d be happy to tell you more…

*            *            *

Please, just this once, let me pat myself on the back and say that I fucking killed it. Remember when I tried to do stand-up comedy three years ago and nobody laughed at my jokes? This was the total opposite–the crowd laughed at all of the right times, hell, they also laughed in a bunch of places I wasn’t expecting any laughter at all! As I walked off the stage, David took back the microphone and said, “great job Jacob—this is your first published piece, but it won’t be your last.”

I reminded David that he had said he’d buy a drink for all contributors for the pamphlet, so he ordered me a martini. As I waited at the bar for my drink, everybody who walked by stopped to shake my hand and tell me they loved my piece. A woman asked me for my autograph in her pamphlet—the first of five people who would make such a request during the night. Crazy fucking shit, man! A bunch of people asked me what it was like working at Twitter, or when I graduated from Stanford, and I had to explain to them that my piece was a joke. “No no, that’s not me—it’s fiction. He’s not a real person. He’s a caricature.”

My performance was the final one of the evening, so after some brief closing words from Aaron, the pizza came out and people were free to mingle. It was fun seeing all of these feisty artistic types from the older generation, talking about the good old days when San Francisco was affordable. It made me think though—Aaron Peskin first ran for Supervisor when he was 35, and he had plenty of progressive contemporaries in the city to support his cause. Now, no young San Franciscans seem to give a fuck about city politics. At 34 years old, there were only 4 people in the packed bar who were younger than I—the two bartenders and two of Aaron’s staffers. Peskin might win the election based solely on the fact that none of the young techies, who would probably actually benefit from Christensen, are actually going to vote.

Last weekend I went for a walk in Golden Gate Park with a friend, and after talking about everything else in the universe, we got on the subject of Donald Trump. I asked why so many folks supported Trump, and my friend replied that all of Trump’s supporters are old people who don’t like the fact that America looks different now from how it did when they were young. In a way, aren’t Aaron’s supporters the same way?

The answer is no, not at all. Don’t be fucking ridiculous.

Near the end of the night, as the bar was clearing out, I pulled out my copy of Season of the Witch and asked David to sign. This is kind of my favorite thing ever:

seasonsignSo there you have it, folks. Your old pal J is officially a published writer. Here’s to that prophecy uttered by David Talbot as I walked off the stage coming to fruition.

And if you happen to live in North Beach, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Russian Hill, Nob Hill, or anywhere else in District 3, PLEASE VOTE FOR AARON PESKIN ON NOVEMBER 3RD! http://aaron2015.com/

Also, if you have any interest in San Francisco politics (or if you live in San Francisco and just want to know more–and goddamn it, you should want to be an informed citizen), this is a terrific guide. Although it’s 3 years old and thus slightly dated (two words: Leland. Yee.), it’s still pretty accurate and interesting.

*This is the one joke that really fell flat. He’s supposed to be flubbing that quote from Herb Caen, the famous San Francisco columnist: “One day, if I go to heaven, I’ll look around and say, ‘it ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.’” You know, like when Dubya tried to say “Fool me once, shame on you…”

54. On Safety and Freedom


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“First they came for the subway jumpers, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a subway jumper.

Then they came for the smut shops in Times Square, and I did not speak out –
Because I didn’t go to the smut shops in Times Square (that often).

Then they came for the people pissing in the streets, and I did not speak out –
Because I did not piss in the streets.

Then they came for CBGBs, Kim’s Video, M&G Diner, Bleeker Bob’s Records, Max Fish, Big Nick’s…you know, pretty much every place I ever liked to go in Manhattan, and then the whole island was just one giant grid of Chase locations and overpriced “gastropubs,” and then they did the same to Brooklyn and the next thing I knew, the only place I could afford to live was in some crappy shoebox in Queens with 4 roommates. And it’s not even in Astoria, it’s in one of those weird parts of Queens you’ve never heard of. Fuck this shit.”

–Pastor Shmuel Horowitz III

Hi sports fans. I know, I know, it’s been waaayyyy too long since I’ve exercised my creative writing muscle, but between National Muffin Day, Muffin Man Tours, and other muffin-related happenings that I need not get into right now, I haven’t been inspired to sit in front of my typewriter-with-a-TV screen and write for quite some time now. However, since I now plan on researching and writing a San Francisco-related book in the next two years (setting a deadline for completion by my 36th birthday—and now that it’s online, I’m bound to it), I need to keep generating as much of my particular brand of mumbo jumbo as possible. All skills go stale if you stop performing them, and creative brilliance with the written word is no exception. Or in my case, mild creative wit.

Every year I celebrate my birthday with a karaoke party. This year, it looked a little something like this:

karaoke me

I am now 34 years old. Mid-thirties. An “adult,” by most traditional metrics, although I still act like a child occasionally and think like one most of the time. For example, I’m watching the baseball game in the background right now and I definitely chortled audibly when the announcer asked, “do you know what the ‘B.J.’ in ‘B.J. Upton’ stands for?” But despite my lack of maturity (which I assure you manifests itself in various ways beyond my enduring fascination with sexual innuendo and double entendres), my body is certainly 34 years old, and has become the case annually, my post-birthday hangover was worse than the one from the previous year. It’s agonizing and also irritating; I’ve reached a point where my seasoned tolerance allows me to guzzle down a large amount of beer without getting drunk, but I still wake up feeling like I was simultaneously trampled and shat on by an excited parade of mid-sized pachyderms.

Getting off the couch was clearly not an option that day, so I did what any other red-blooded American would do: I binge watched a TV program. My coworkers had recommended Wayward Pines, so I gave it a shot, and burned through 9 episodes over the weekend—needless to say, I enjoyed it. For those of you not yet in the know, it’s about a guy who wakes up in a strange place where everybody is paranoid and nobody is allowed to leave. It’s certainly derivative of The Prisoner, although it has a big reveal in the fifth episode that changes the course of the show (the brilliance of The Prisoner was that there was no big reveal, but that could be the subject of an entirely different post). I don’t want to give you any spoilers, but at one point the main antagonist says something to the effect of, “you can be free, or you can be safe…but not both!” Coincidentally, I had been dwelling on the freedom-safety dichotomy that day…and nearly every day for the past 11 years since I first set foot in the robotic wet nightmare* that is Japan. Now it’s high time I wrote something about it.

Freedom is something that everybody wants (or so says Party of Five). In America, freedom has become a bizarrely perverted (or pervertedly bizarre) political obsession, with liberals and conservatives frequently claiming a monopoly on freedom and stating unequivocally that the other side abhors it: liberals strive to abolish freedom by forcing the populace to submit to a metaphorical prison of cameras, regulations, and other instruments of the nanny state, while conservatives yearn to eviscerate freedom in America by placing as many people (of color) as possible into literal prisons. Nonetheless, while governmental policies and societal mores may reflect otherwise, it’s a fact of life that humans want to be free to do what they want, any old time.

When people speak about the battle between freedom and safety, they traditionally discuss this split on a personal level: I can be safe, or I can be free. If I follow the rules then I am less likely to get hurt, but if I take risks I am more likely to feel liberated. There’s an enticing mystique surrounding freedom—everybody knows what safety entails, but due to our worldly constraints, few people, if anybody, can comprehend what it would mean to be truly “free.” This concept is succinctly summarized by Louis Sachar in the “Freedom” chapter of “Wayside School is Falling Down” (one of the greatest children’s books of my generation). Myron, former class president who was demoted when he was late to class, is sick of being caged up in his desk and, after recess, goes into the basement instead of retuning to the classroom on the 30th floor. There he encounters three strange older men, who present him with this classic pseudo-Faustian bargain:

“Well, do you want to be free, or do you want to be safe?” asked the bald man.
“Huh?” asked Myron.
“You can’t have it both ways,” said the bald man.
“Do you want to be safe?” asked one of the men with a mustache. “Do you want to sit in the same chair every day, and go up and down the stairs every time the bell rings?”
“You’ll have to go to school five days a week,” said the other man with a mustache. “And you’ll have to go to bed at the same time every day.”
“But first you’ll have to brush your teeth,” said the other man with a mustache.
“And you won’t be allowed to watch TV until you finish your homework,” said the other man with a mustache.
“You’ll have to go inside when it rains,” said the other man with a mustache.
“But first you’ll have to wipe your feet,” said the other man with a mustache.
“Or you can be free,” said the bald man.

Myron chooses freedom. Because the Wayside School books focus on a different character in each chapter, we don’t hear much more about Myron’s freedom, except that Myron decides not to go to Mrs. Valoosh’s tango class and regrets his decision when he learns from his classmates that it was simply the most fun event at school ever. This was to be expected—freedom includes the freedom to make stupid decisions; indeed, that is often its predominant characteristic.

penn freedom stupid copy

When we talk about freedom and safety on a personal level, we often think of the dual “conservative” vs. “liberal” comportments. I hesitate to use those terms because at this point they carry heavy political connotations, but imagine that a “conservative” person is one who cares deeply about her future economic well-being and thus takes a “safe” educational and career path that will provide her (and her future family) with long-term financial security. Provided that she works hard and diligently, she will have a steady and strong income. She’s a lawyer, or a doctor, or maybe she works in finance. She’s probably happy with her life choices—her type-A self wanted to be married with child and a nice house by the age of 33, and she’s achieved that goal.

The “liberal” follows his dreams and takes more risks. He went to film school and does freelance advertising work to pay the bills while working on his experimental pieces at night. Or maybe he makes a lot of apps and hopes that one day he’ll strike gold. He’s probably happy with his life choices—he doesn’t make too much money, but is doing what he loves, and has a large group of friends with whom he can guzzle cheap wine and bitch about the decline of culture in San Francisco. Perhaps he’s polyamorous too. That could be a lot of fun.

The “conservative” lives a “safer” life. She occasionally dreams of a life less ordinary but is not about to go pursue that. The “liberal” lives a “freer” life. He often wishes he had more money, but wouldn’t trade his freedom for a buttoned-down existence (and couldn’t if he wanted to).

Of course, you get the not-so-rare character on either side who wishes for more of the other. The starving artist who has the talent to get a high-paying job as a designer in a tech company but who fears being ridiculed or even ostracized by his friends if he follows that path—the label of a “sell-out” is potentially a scarlet A in his community. Or the corporate lawyer who fantasizes about quitting his 9-5 (which is more of a 9-10) and working full-time on his writing, but can’t pull the trigger because he needs income to stay in San Francisco, which is such a fucking expensive city, even if you have decent rent control.

But I wouldn’t know anything about that. Besides, that’s not the main point I wanted to raise in this post.

And I also don’t want to talk about the Wayward Pines/Brazil/1984/Brave New World archetypical universe where the government controls everybody and allows them to be “safe” from harm as long as they live a life with minimal freedom, constantly paranoid that they will be “disappeared” if they don’t conform. According to a not insignificant number of American “conservatives” (in the political sense of the word—not to be confused with the use of the word in the preceding paragraphs…actually, let’s just call them “libertarians”), this is the future of the United States of America if we do things like provide health care to the poor (because if the government provides healthcare, this is tantamount to them controlling what we do with our bodies), place restrictions on people with histories of mental illness purchasing firearms (because this is one step away from the government stealing all of our guns, which are necessary to maintain things like our freedoms of speech, religion, and states’ rights), and increase taxes on the rich (because the freedom to accumulate obscene amounts of wealth is a fundamental principal upon which this great nation was founded). The word “Orwellian” is often tossed about to describe any “liberal” positions. I once even heard a conservative claim that allowing same-sex marriage is “Orwellian,” because it takes away his freedom to use the word “marriage” as it has been used for thousands of years, and instead places the word into the dictionary of “newspeak”—the nomenclature of oppression devised in 1984. In the minds of these folk, liberals think they must save us from ourselves, and with every regulation that supposedly increases our “safety,” such as requiring bicyclists to wear helmets or forcing factories to undergo environmental reviews, the government is taking away our precious freedom.


To these people, I’d like to point out two things: number 1, George Orwell was a socialist. He would have gladly supported any measure that empowered the working class and the downtrodden, even if it meant taking away from the aristocracy. Hell, especially if that’s what it meant—Orwell was quite supportive of Lenin and Trotsky. Like any sane human being, Orwell recognized that Stalin’s Soviet Union was far from being “socialist,” and that the line between socialism and fascism was quite thick. 1984, the novel from which the term “Orwellian” was spawned, was meant to depict the latter.

Number 2, George Orwell’s “socialism” in 1984 sure as hell was not safe. It entailed a whole bunch of people getting kidnapped, tortured, blown to smithereens, and otherwise injured, maimed, and assassinated. It was a world with neither freedom nor safety, which is not really the goal of anyone.

On the contrary, the goal is to live in a society that is both free and safe, where you can do whatever you want without the fear of getting hurt…and on that note, we get to the meat of this post. In San Francisco circa 2015, this goal is becoming a reality for many people. This is because San Francisco is becoming an island of affluence, and affluence brings you both freedom and safety. Freedom to, as an adult, dress up in costume and get belligerently drunk in the middle of the day with no societal repercussions. Freedom to eat and drink the best that the culinary world has to offer, any time you want to do so (and not just on special occasions). Freedom to have any external need met with the click of a button or swipe of a screen. All with the knowledge that you will not be harmed, attacked, mugged, raped, hurt, or killed, because San Francisco is a very safe city (as long as you stay out of certain neighborhoods).

Of course there’s a flip side to this utopia. In an environment where money buys freedom and safety, the lack of money leaves one without. More freedom and safety for some means less freedom and safety for others. Without an affordable place to live, artists are not free to create as they wish, and those of us who patronize the arts are having more and more of a difficult time experiencing the liberation that brilliant creation can bring. Very few people who are not rich can afford to pay more than $8 for lunch every day—a store clerk working in Hayes Valley is not really free to eat at any of the establishments in the area. As more and more of the wealthy choose to take Uber or Chariot, the waning investment in Muni has led to its disrepair, so people who are not wealthy are not free to move about the city in an efficient and clean manner.


Without money, San Francisco is not a safe place to live. There are fewer and fewer options for housing in safe neighborhoods if you are not rich, and those without a ton of cash are often pushed into less desirable locations. Yes, San Francisco does have unsafe neighborhoods. There was an uproar about a year ago because some company had developed an app that helped people identify and avoid “sketchy” neighborhoods (with “sketchy” calculated based on crime rates). People attacked this app as being everything from “racist” to “douchey” (I certainly agree with the latter accusation). But I’ll tell you this much—I know two people who were mugged at night on the eastern edge of Alamo Square, and I try to not walk past there too much after dark.

Of course, just as New York managed to Disnefy seedy Times Square, San Francisco is doing its darndest to aristocrify its poor neighborhoods. Setting aside what happened to Hayes Valley (a snarky comment from this HV resident who recognizes the irony), one thing that makes me uncomfortable is the recent rash of super-swanky bars in the Tenderloin, traditionally one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city (for those of you who are not San Francisco residents, it’s called the “Tenderloin” because cops working the beat there got paid extra, and thus could afford better cuts of meat). It started with Bourbon and Branch, which admittedly has been in the neighborhood for a long time. B&B calls itself a “speakeasy,” which is somewhat irritating (they have a liquor license, for chrissake). You need to make reservations to go there and drinks are VERY expensive. Still, I guess you could say it is an “experience.”

That is more than can be said about Rye, Swig, Redwood Room, Tradition, and Chambers (in the Phoenix Hotel), trendy drink spots in or near the Tenderloin where a hand-crafted gourmet cocktail will set you back $14 or more. I’m generally not into this type of establishment, but it really burns me up when there is a bar nestled amongst SROs, a huge fuck-you to the people who actually live in the area. Nobody who lives in the TL (or I suppose nobody who lived there three years ago) can afford to go to these places—you get a bunch of you-know-whos who live in SoMa or the Marina who want to go to the TL and “slum it” at these over-priced waterholes. The next day, they will tell stories about how they had to dodge crackheads and human feces in order to get to the bar. Such bravery! However, once these adventurous drinkers can get through the gauntlet, they are treated to an overly-sanitized imbibing experience. It’s very safe—at the cost of the freedom of the locals to go to bars on their own damn block. And if you want to tell me that Tenderloin residents are “free” to go into these fancy bars, then you haven’t met the bouncers.

redwood room copy

When I moved to New York in 2000, it seemed like everybody was thanking Giuliani for “cleaning up the city,” but that was because I was talking to young people who moved to the big city seeking adventure but wanted the kind of adventure that came with cocaine, champagne and pretentious modern art, not the kind that came with crack, homeless people and poetry. A city that’s both liberated and safe—what more could you want? Then I started talking to older folks who missed the days of Lou Reed and Patti Smith and Andy Warhol and Allen Ginsburg and Gil Scott-Heron, and who lamented the sanitized version of a once very real city. It dawned on me that, while safety, growth and opulence brings a sense of “freedom” to many people, it leaves some behind. And I liked those people—the ones who were left behind. They had much richer sense of humor.

10 years later, Manhattan was out of control and everybody hated it. The house that Giuliani built had become a three million dollar penthouse that nobody could afford except for Demi Moore, and honestly, what has she done worth watching since Nothing But Trouble? My G-d I love that movie.

People talk about the “Manhattanization” of San Francisco—hell, they’ve been talking about it since the 80s. Is Ed Lee our Rudy Giuliani? Or was that Willie Brown? Neighborhoods that were formerly “sketchy” are being rebranded – the Fillmore is now “Lower Pac Heights,” Western Addition is now “NoPa,” the area south of the Civic Center is now “Mid-Market,” the Mission is now “Hipster Marina,” Hayes Valley is now “Hayes Valley, but with Brass Tacks.” The reaction among old people is mixed—those with businesses appreciate the influx of young people with plenty of discretionary income who enjoy spending it, those without miss all of their artistic friends. In 10 years, or maybe 3, there won’t be many people left in San Francisco who care about the loss of the misfits.

Except for me. Cuz I ain’t no goddamn son of a bitch.

I’m a bit hesitant to post this piece. It kind of fell apart at the end, and I anticipate, if anybody actually reads it, that there will be a barrage (i.e., one or two) comments to the effect of, “what do you know, you straight white male yuppie lawyer Marin County Hayes Valley Jew-boy hypocrite?” To anybody who wishes to make such a comment, I give you my reply in advance:

old lady middle finger copy

*A “wet nightmare” is a wet dream that is also a nightmare. You wake up with a gasp of terror, your heart beating with panic and your body covered in sweat, and then you notice that your sheets are also sticky.

53. On the Rain


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On Thursday, December 11, 2014, a colossal storm hit the city of San Francisco. I had to wake up at 6:30 AM and when I looked out the window, the sky was all yellow (please don’t sing Coldplay. Please). It was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in the past month (well, maybe second most beautiful thing…but that’s another story for another time), and the soft pattering of rain on concrete below sounded like a cat purring, but in a way that enticed me out of bed. I threw on my black wool pants and black jacket, the same jacket I wear every day, with this pin:

imaginary copy

I have a small black umbrella I’ve had for a few years now. Many other umbrellas have come and gone out of my life, but for whatever reason I keep losing them and returning to this one. The release button popped off last year and so I have to jam a pen into the handle to open it, and one of the spines is broken and juts off at an awkward angle so that whatever body part is directly under it will not be protected. I initially forgot the umbrella when I left my apartment but I ran back upstairs to retrieve it when I arrived at the front door and realized that, indeed, it was raining outside. When I finally stepped out the front door with umbrella in hand, the rain instantly ramped up from a “stage 4 drizzle” to “raining large marsupials and pachyderms.” My feet got wet.

Nobody was on Muni. Usually Muni is packed and I have to push my way on, reminding people to step back into the middle of the train cars. “Come on San Francisco,” I sometimes yell, “if you can still breathe, we can fit one more on. Nobody needs to be left on the platform!” I sometimes get laughs; I always get stares. Today there were only four or five other people on the train: one really beautiful woman in black tights and a faux-fur coat (at least I hope/assume it was faux) and three or four other people to whom I wasn’t really paying any attention. Oh, and a Muni employee, who announced in a surprisingly high and squeaky voice (he was a big dude) that the Montgomery stop (which happens to be my stop) was closed due to power outage. I got of at Powell instead and decided to walk the extra few blocks. The station was filled with homeless people sleeping—the police often kick them out of the train stops but on this day they made an exception.

When I emerged above ground, I found myself in a hauntingly mesmerizing world where thick black rain enveloped me, drowning out all noise so that the city was filled with an eerie silence. There were no cars on Market Street and no other people except one young man in a 49er jacket who bolted past me at top speed. The street lights weren’t working, but the gaudy obnoxious LED snowflakes on the lampposts were all lit up—I guess auxiliary power in San Francisco is used for ornamental purposes only.

A gust of wind inverted my umbrella, and as I felt my arms and chest getting wet as my jacket and purple Banana Republic dress shirt became saturated, I remembered that at home in my closet I had a perfectly functional rain slicker. At that point, I really needed a fucking donut. I quit eating sugar for the most part a few months ago, and out of everything, I miss donuts the most. I used to have a tradition called “donut Fridays,” in which on Fridays I’d walk to work and stop at Happy Donuts on Sixth. Although I quit sugar and it wasn’t a Thursday, I decided that, given the circumstances, I was entitled to one chocolate and one glazed donut. Besides—going inside Specialty’s would give me shelter from the storm.

But Specialty’s was closed. As was Razmindi, and Venue, and Lee’s. I realized that I was getting neither my comfort donut nor any respite from the torrential downpour, which by that point had escalated into a Class-3 Kill Storm.

I finally made it into my office building, but the power was out and the security officers were not letting people use the stairs to go to their offices. During the changing of the guard I snuck into the stairwell and climbed up ten flights to my office to retrieve some documents I would need in order to (ostensibly) do some work from home. On my way down a bleary-eyed red-haired woman who looked to be in her late forties/early fifties told me she was an AP reporter and asked if she could interview me about the storm. For some reason I had always pictured AP reporters as young and hyperactive.

I’ve been Googling my name even more than usual since then, but I don’t think she used any of my mildly witty quotes. The only one I remembered was when she asked why I didn’t stay at home and I responded, “I’m a lawyer—you know the old saying, ‘neither rain nor sleet nor snow,’ and so forth.”

Then I took a cab home, put on my Star Wars pajama bottoms, ordered some Indian food to be delivered, and plopped down on my couch, where I remained for the rest of the day. I spent a fair amount of time on Facebook to see other people’s reactions. This was the best one:

storm twitter copy

Yes, it’s funny. Our worst storm during a particularly nasty El Niño is a joke compared to the weather much of the country experiences every year. In fact, I mentioned to a friend of mine from Minnesota that I was going to write a blog post about the rain and she let me know, in no small words, that I didn’t know shit about weather. While that may be true, it doesn’t make the fact that a third of the city was without power for much of the day any less scary/fun (a large transformer exploded during Union Square—not really the same as Hurricane Sandy). In any event, I loved the downpour. The sound of fat raindrops on my windowpanes has a soothingly romantic quality that makes me reminisce back to the days of my youth, when I first fell in love with the rain. Now, to fade back to the early ‘90s in the most appropriate manner possible…

By 1992, we Californians were getting pretty darn fed up with the drought situation. For me, it had been going on since second grade, which constituted the vast bulk of my cognizant life. Oh sure, it was fun at the beginning, when “if it’s yellow keep it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down” became a state-wide mantra and everybody had “navy showers” with quick-stop valves installed.   But by year four, when “Shower Together Tuesday,” “Waterless Wednesday,” “Thirsty Thursday” and “No-Flush Friday” had become the laws of the land (thank you very much, former governor George Deukmejian), many of us were mighty fed up.   When they threatened to take away our golf courses and swimming pools—basic human rights to which all residents of Marin and Orange Counties—that was the last straw.

Realizing that the government was intentionally holding back the rain in an effort to take away our Constitutional freedoms, the California State Militia [http://cal-militia.com/home] instituted a state-wide program of firing silver iodide into the clouds out of nineteenth-century cannons that were originally used in the Mexican-American War. This practice, combined with a bizarre new dance craze known as the “El Niño” (popular with teenagers at sock hops and box socials), inspired the rain g-ds to piss all over our fair state. The northern half of it, anyway. Palm Springs then went ahead and stole a sizable chunk of it–SoCal folks have always been mooching off of us.

WATERUSE gallons 020914

As a twelve year-old who had not yet discovered girls or intoxicants, the great Storm of Seventh Grade was a watershed moment in my life. Get it? Watershed? I slay me. A large creek ran through my entire hometown of Ross/San Anselmo (we lived on the border), and when enough rain would fall the waters from the creek would rise up to the bridges that were supposed to span them and overflow into the road. So first you’d get this:

sa bridge copy

and then you’d get this:

Storm 123105

Streets were flooded. Cars were ruined. Schools were closed. There’s nothing worse for a parent than to have a son who is on the verge of a hormonal explosion stuck in the house all day with hyperactive cabin fever, so my mom sent me out to go play in the rain with my friends. I didn’t own rain boots or rubber pants or whatever the hell else people in places with inclement weather wear, but my torn black jeans, gray hoodie and Converse One Stars were just fine for whatever elements the Bay Area storm of ’92 had to offer. By the way, I owned the same pair of black Cons from fourth grade through ninth grade. By the time my parents finally threw them away, they had turned green from grass stains and the soles were 75% torn off, the last scraps barely held in place by the thinnest thread of rubber. I guess I have trouble letting go of things.

I met up with a couple of friends who lived nearby. One of them had a crush on a girl who lived one town over. Her family had a large house on a hill with a hot tub, so we decided that it would be a fun rainy-day destination (this was before anybody told us that hot tubs are not good places to go when there’s a chance of lightning). Umbrellas were useless, as the rain was not falling from the sky, but rushing towards us from all sides, parallel to the ground. Although the Quick Stop parking lot was completely flooded (as we discovered that day, many parking lots in Marin were unfortunately designed to be slightly concave), the store itself was open. While others were stocking up on bottled water, batteries, and canned goods, we bought Icees (cherry coke, of course). Even as a young lad, I enjoyed this type of contrarian humor.

icee copy

We walked along the main road until we reached the Post Office, at which point we decided that the quickest route was to cut down the bike path that goes alongside the damn creek until we reached the College of Marin parking lot (which was concave, surprise surprise), at which point we would cross a freakin’ marsh to get to the girl’s house. About 5 minutes in, we reached a puddle that was impossible to step across, so our feet got soaked. 5 minutes after that, there was a mini-lake and we waded through, our jeans becoming saturated with water and instantly weighing us down. By the time we reached the marsh, we were already swimming in our clothes (despite the hood, my cotton sweatshirt did not actually do a good job of repelling water), so there was nothing left to do but dive head first into the mud and trudge our way across. When we reached the opposite edge of the marsh, but clouds parted and the sun beamed upon us, instantly baking the mud into our clothing.

The girl wasn’t at home—she had gone to another friend’s house. Her mom flipped out when she saw the three of us, looking like little mud monsters, and yelled of us to get off the fucking porch.

mud monsters copy

Naturally we hadn’t bothered to tell the girl we were coming over—this was an era before cell phones, and even before pagers. I miss the days of random drop-ins. If any of you in San Francisco are reading this now, please feel free to come visit me without warning. My doorbell doesn’t work, but if you wait a short bit you can always find somebody entering or leaving the building who will let you in, and the door to my apartment is always unlocked if I’m at home.

That’s my earliest memory of an unrelenting rainfall—clinging to the last days of innocence with one last adventure in a swamp-like land. To this day, rain awakens my inner child (who, let’s face it, was never a big fan of naps anyway), and when it pounds against my window I want to completely disregard my jacket and booties and go outside and get sopping wet. While we’re on the subject here are some of my fonder, if not more hilarious, rain-related memories that help explain how I grew to love the storm:

–At Jew camp in upstate New York, an impromptu slip-and-slide made out of garbage bags during the warm summer showers.

–After hearing that Ricky Martin song, taking my clothes off and going dancing in the rain. To music other than that Ricky Martin song.

Storytime! When I was at Columbia, I was in the Columbia Bartending Agency, which meant I got paid a good deal of money to serve wine at swanky Manhattan shindigs. One client threw an annual fourth of July party in a ritzy Upper East Side penthouse. She was on the board of a nonprofit that provided aid to victims of spinal injuries, so a number of the party attendees were in wheelchairs. I was in charge of cooking burgers on the expansive balcony (we were a pretty full-service bartending agency), and many of the party-goers converged around me, anxiously awaiting their delicious grilled meaty treats. I enjoyed wielding that kind of power and the attention that came with it.

One of the wheelchair-bound party attendees was a rather portly fellow, who needed to be lifted out of his wheelchair (by several people) in order to make it out the door to the balcony. The whole operation took several minutes. He was incredibly eager to get his burger and managed to shove his way to the front of the food line. As I handed him his beefy reward, there was a loud crack of thunder and the skies lit up with violent purple streaks of lightning. The air pressure plummeted so fast that my ears popped and seconds later rain was pouring down. A mass of people in wheelchairs pushed towards the tiny door, and somehow the aforementioned portly man got to the front and bellowed to anybody who would listen to come and help him inside. We bartenders did our best to lift him out of his chair and through the door quickly, as he was creating a log-jam at the door and several dozen other party attendees were getting soaked, but as the leather of his wheelchair became wet it was difficult to slide his massive body out of it. The whole operation ended up taking nearly five minutes, with the man yelling at the top of his lungs the entire time, and by the time we shoved him through the door, everybody else who had been stuck on the balcony was completely soaked (and several electric wheelchair motors had short-circuited). We eventually got everybody inside, and the band struck up a lively rendition of “Purple Rain.” Very few people danced.

–For two years I lived in Toyama prefecture, which is the second-rainiest prefecture in Japan (after Niigata, directly to the north). Staring in September we had typhoon season, which in December finally bled into Winter, during which we had some snow and a lot more rain. After Winter we had a 2-week Spring before “rainy season,” which directly preceded Summer, which was also rather rainy. Then it was back to typhoon season.

In Toyama, bicycles and umbrellas were communal. You’d park your bike at a train station and somebody else would take it, but then when you needed to ride home you could just take somebody else’s. Because we all knew that we were likely to be trading bikes, everybody rode the same model, which was affectionately known as a “Mama Cherry.”

mama cherry copy

Similarly, whenever you went into a building, there would be a bucket to deposit your umbrella. While you were inside, somebody would inevitably grab your umbrella, so when you left you’d just grab one that somebody else left behind. You were disincentivized to buy a nice umbrella, so everybody just used this crappy number you could buy at a conibini for 300 yen:

jap umbrella copy

There’s one typhoon moment I’ll never forget. On my way to the train station, I popped inside of a conbini to grab some breakfast (shyake onigiri and peanutsu bread), and when I went to leave my umbrella was gone and there was no replacement. I bought a 300 yen plastic special, stepped outside, and opened it up in the pouring rain. One freaking second after I opened my umbrella a tremendous gust of wind shot into me and my umbrella exploded, with plastic and metal spines flying everywhere. I ran to the train station and arrived at work sopping wet—there was no way around it. I loved every minute of it.

–On the first night the Bay Bridge lights were activated (March 5, 2012) it was raining, not too hard, but raining nonetheless. I was with a pretty girl and we didn’t have an umbrella, and there was nowhere we could go where could see the lights and be sheltered from the rain at the same time, so we stood in the rain when they turned the lights on and we kissed.

baybridge copy

Even without the drought, even when I get wet, I still love the rain. Something about the sounds, the smells, the memories.

Stay damp, San Francisco.

52. On Movies


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I started working on this post about a year ago (at least conceptually) but, for whatever reasons, put in on the back burner. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I was invited to a “Film Chat” group on the Facebook. I participated in a few of the threads (e.g., “Best movie of 2014” (Nightcrawler), “Most Overrated Movie of the Past Few Years” (Children of Men), “Favorite Soundtrack of All Time” (Singles), “Favorite Movie of All Time And You Only Get To Pick One” (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?—yes, I’m not joking)). On one of the threads somebody mentioned Strange Days, which made me giddy with excitement. I only saw that movie once, when it came out in the 90s, but I remember it being one of those flicks that made me feel like I was on crystal meth after watching it. I’ve never actually done crystal meth, but I can appreciate a movie that gets me so amped up I want to run around the block and break things (hey, I was 14 years old—what do you expect?). Despite having only watched it once, I remember the movie very well, in particular, the kiss at the very end. I was actually going to write an entire blog post entitled “On The Kiss At The Very End of Strange Days.” As far as I’m concerned, it’s the single greatest kiss in cinematic history, beating out the “purest kiss in the history of kissing” in the finale of The Princess Bride, Han and Leia’s smooch before Han is frozen in carbonite at the end of Empire, and, dare I say it, even trumping that scene with Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly in Bound. For those of you who don’t remember, let’s take a look (and I apologize–I couldn’t embed the video):


First of all you have Ralph Fiennes, who is coming off of serious roles in Schindler’s List and Quiz Show to transform into a washed-up, heartbroken, drug-addicted (if we can call SQUID a drug) loser with long flowing hair and a “fuck it all” ‘tude. Is there a heterosexual man in the 90s who did not have a man crush on Ralph Fiennes after watching this movie? And then you have Angela Bassett, who taps her inner Pam Grier to portray a seriously badass limo driver/bodyguard wearing a tight black cocktail dress while kicking ass and inciting a riot—the stuff adolescent fantasies are made of. It’s New Year’s Eve, the ball drops (so to speak—the movie actually takes place in LA), confetti is flying everywhere, and Fiennes puts Bassett in a car as if to send her away. At that moment, my buddy with whom I was watching (on VHS in his attic) yells out, “aren’t you going to fucking kiss her?”, and Ralph Fiennes turns around, opens the car door, pulls Basset out, looks in her eyes, and kisses her like only Ralph Fiennes can. I’ve had a number of New Year’s Eve kisses since then and I’m ALWAYS thinking of (and trying to emulate) that passion. Not sure I’ve ever quite gotten there, but I’d probably go the extra mile if Angela Bassett were involved.

I’m just setting the mood here—this post is going to be broader in scope than that one kiss. Movies have affected me profoundly throughout my life, providing inspiration, entertainment, and distraction, making me laugh hysterically, lock all my doors and sleep with the lights on, and shed more tears than I’d like to admit (damn you, Armageddon!). Without giving away too much here (because I do want you to actually read the damn post, and none of this “TL:DR” bullshit), I’ll say this much: if you’re in your early-to-mid thirties, be prepared to be nostalgic as fuck.

One more note before we begin our stroll down celluloid memory lane (not to be confused with “cellulite memory lane,” which is the subject of a much different post). I use the word “movies” and not “films”; unless you’re British, I find use of the latter term to be obnoxiously pretentious (and this is coming from an insufferable snob). I remember back in college there was this one girl I thought was really cute, and near the end of sophomore year we had to declare our majors and she explained her decision. I don’t recall her exact words, but it was something to the effect of this: “Yeah, at first I was thinking I wanted to be a history major, then I wanted to be a lit major, then a science major, and then I decided on film because it’s really a combination of all of those and all the other majors. Majoring in film is like majoring in life.” After that, (1) I didn’t find her to be so cute anymore and (2) I became repulsed every time I heard that particular f-word.

I just Facebook stalked her. Okay, she’s cute—in fact, I probably lied when I said (1) above. Also, she has the same last name she had in college (not that that means anything in the year 2014).

But I digress. When you’re talking about movies with a child of the 80s, you need to start with the 3 greatest children’s movies of all time from the 80s. You know what they are already, and if you don’t, I’m embarrassed for both of us.

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I already mentioned the first one above. Although it might not have the best movie smooch of all time, there is no doubt that no post on movies would be complete without


When this movie first came out, the film critic for the SF Chronicle gave it an empty chair, thus sparking my life-long hatred of film critics and distrust of SF’s daily rag. It’s difficult to express in words how much I love this movie. Oh wait, no it’s not: I love this movie “a shit-ton.” Is there a human being among us who does not think of this movie every single time we hear the word “inconceivable”? Have any of us never looked into our love’s eyes and said “as you wish”? And when was the last time you went a month without being prompted to shout “my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

And then there was

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Actually, if we’re gonna talk about this movie, we really need to include the theme song:

That’s gonna be stuck in your head all day. You’re welcome.

For some reason I saw this movie in various pieces when I was younger and never watched the entire flick from beginning to end until I was around 12. Because of the weird time lapses, I think I was convinced that the movie was truly never-ending (my older sister probably also convinced me of that fact—she managed to trick me into thinking all kinds of crazy shit when I was younger, but that’s another story for another post). Also, Gmork (the wolf-servant of the Nothing) scared the bejeesus out of me and gave me all sorts of nightmares. Other movie bits that scared the bejeesus out of me and gave me all sorts of nightmares in the 80s: the end of The ‘Burbs, Large Marge from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and the opening library scene in Ghostbusters.

Speaking of “bits” in movies:

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Obviously this rounds out the trio of important childhood movies of the 80s. When I was in the drama club in high school, I was in an artsy interpretation of Maurice Sendack’s “Outside Over There” and I’m convinced that this book must have been an inspiration for Labyrinth. In fact, according to Wikipedia, “The closing credits of the film state ‘Jim Henson acknowledges his debt to the works of Maurice Sendak.’” Go figure. If you haven’t read OOT, check it out—it’s actually the third in Sendak’s “childhood development” trilogy, after “In the Night Kitchen” and of course “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Speaking of Jim Henson, when I first started doing this blog I at one point contemplated doing a piece “On the Muppets,” but instead I decided it would be more fun to intersperse Muppet clips throughout various posts. For this post, I include my favorite Muppet movie clip, which happens to come from my favorite Muppet movie, The Great Muppet Caper:

Down the street from where I grew up there was a woman named Betsy who owned a video store called Intavideo. I think Betsy was the first crazy cat lady I ever encountered, and her feline companions would often be strolling among the VHS racks, popping out and surprising you from behind a copy of Caddyshack II. Betsy knew each of her customers likes and dislikes and would make individualized recommendations. You’d come in and say “Betsy, I’m kind of sad today, give me something to cheer me up” and she’d recommend LA Story. Or you’d tell her “Betsy, I want to laugh harder than I’ve laughed in months,” and she’d hook you up with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Or maybe you’d confide in her, “Betsy, I want a movie that I’ll watch dozens of times right now as a nine year old, and then when I’m 33 and watching TV at 1 AM on a Thursday it will be on FXX and I’ll get super-excited to watch it, even though it’s kind of stupid,” and she’d point you to Three Amigos.

Wait a minute—did Betsy recommend all of these Steve Martin movies to me because she knew I liked him, or did I like Steve Marin because of Betsy’s recommendations? I suppose it’s a chicken-and-egg question.* All I know is that my parents were mighty confused when I approached them in my Darth Vader PJs after watching The Jerk and said, “I was born a poor black child.”

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Betsy had a huge projection TV in her store that was always playing one of her favorite flicks (if you’ve ever been inside a video store you know what I’m talking about, but it just occurred to me that my 6 year-old nephew may very well never actually set foot in a video store). One day, when I was maybe 6 or 7 years old, I went into Intavideo with my dad and Betsy was showing The Empire Strikes Back (speaking of my Darth Vader PJs—so yes, chronologically, this was before I first watched The Jerk). We walked into the store during that scene where Darth Vader has just finished talking to the Emperor and the mechanical arm places his helmet back on his head. I was really confused, and my dad tried to explain what was going on, but my pops has never been very good with details and he mistook the Emperor for Darth Vader (I know—I know). Needless to say, the only solution was to rent the whole trilogy.

It’s cliché to be obsessed with Star Wars, but I can safely say that the study of the Jedi and the Force has been somewhat of a lifelong obsession of mine. During middle school and high school, my father and I had a tradition in which, the night before my first day of classes, we’d rent the trilogy and begin watching around 9 PM. My dad would usually pass out during the Battle of Hoth but I’d stay up until 3 AM watching, and then arrive at school 5 hours later ready to face another year of painful organized education. Ironically I was a straight-A student in middle school and high school—perhaps I should have kept up the tradition in college and law school.

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But there was more than that, of course. You’d better believe that I read the Timothy Zahn novels and Dark Empire comics and owned/memorized the Star Wars Encyclopedia. Rebel Assault was my favorite video game when it came out (by that point, I had finally gotten over Day of the Tentacle and Sam and Max). I had a friend in high school who broke up with his girlfriend because she had never seen the trilogy and refused to do so. This instantly became part of my battery of litmus tests (along with “name all four members of the Beatles.” On an unrelated note, I’m still not married). Episodes I-III came and went—I saw each one once and immediately forgot about them. I’m mildly excited about Episode VII, but I did not watch the teaser that came out last week and I have no intention of doing so.

Other than Star Wars, my father’s main contributions to my cinematic upbringing were introducing me to Hitchcock, Mel Brooks, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (we had a VHS tape with an IAMMMMW / My Cousin Vinny Double Feature—arguably the most hilarious 5 hours ever), and A Thousand Clowns, which is my favorite black and white movie ever (and don’t worry, it has nothing to do with clowns). My sister tried to introduce me to horror films, but I was a scaredy-cat and couldn’t fully appreciate them until I was older (now horror is my favorite genre—but the only time I will ever lock my door when I’m home is after watching a scary movie). By the time I was 10, I was ready to develop my own tastes. After a rather disastrous/embarrassing foray into the Police Academy movies (“Why do you think I took you to see all those Police Academy movies, FOR FUN? I DIDN’T HEAR ANYONE LAUGHING, DID YOU? except at that guy who made sound effects”), I discovered Monty Python (and Terry Gilliam in general), and those films gave me years of enjoyment until 1994 came around, bringing Pulp Fiction and Hudsucker Proxy into my life. These introductions to Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers would, of course, be life changing.

I’ve seen Reservoir Dogs well over 20 times. I owned the screenplay and used to read it non-stop. There was a time when I had memorized the entire opening diner scene, and would recite it on command (or usually, not on command).


And then there’s The Big Lebowski.


David Lynch fits in there somewhere too. Mulholland Drive is probably my favorite, followed by Blue Velvet. When the former came out I was in college and Lynch came to my campus to promote it. He spoke in the big physics lecture hall and the administration allowed him to smoke cigarettes while giving his talk. I remember thinking he was so badass because he could smoke in the classroom while nobody else was allowed to do so. He talked about the new movie (which I had already seen in a preview screening) for about 5 minutes and then spent the next 55 minutes talking about Dune and how although it was the biggest failure of his career, he learned more from it than any of his other projects.

My movie interests would eventually become more obscure. While I was at Columbia they opened a location of Kim’s, formerly the largest independent video store in New York, right by our campus and I burned through all of the cult movies I had time to watch (with a focus on Troma films). I spent three years of Japan and watched dozens of Japanese horror films—not just Ringu (The Ring) and Ju-on (The Grudge), but also a bunch of esoteric shit of which you’ve never heard. These days I’m mainly watching random independent thrillers on Netflix. I think Pontypool is my favorite so far.


For the most part, though, my favorite movies, the ones that had the most impact on my development and understanding of pop culture and the world around me, were those I mentioned above before that last paragraph (oh, and during the Steve Martin years, there was also a healthy amount of Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Eddie Murphy). I think this is common—most people my age can identify with these movies—and I believe they are, in part, what defines our generation.

My screenwriting instructor at Columbia is the one professor I had in college with whom I am still in contact (and bear in mind that I majored in math, not film). He grew up with classic romantic comedies like All About Eve and His Girl Friday and gangster films like White Heat and Rififi. He still watched most interesting movies (read: non-Hollywood blockbusters or cheesy rom-coms) that come out, but when he was trying to give us inspiration in class he would always reference his classics—and I always thought it was cute that he assumed that Columbia students had actually seen all (or any) of those films. When somebody would sheepishly admit that he hadn’t actually seen Bringing Up Baby (you know—the classic ‘screwball comedy’ with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn?!), the professor would shake his head and say “the ‘generation gap’ is a misnomer. It’s really a ‘generation abyss.’”

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While this may sound like the desperate rant of a senile curmudgeon, I can definitely relate whenever I talk to somebody younger than I. Think about it—how can you possibly pretend to relate to somebody who doesn’t see a hole in the desert and immediately think of the Sarlacc Pit? How can you make any meaningful connection with somebody who doesn’t understand what you’re doing when, at a campfire, you take a bunch of marshmallows and form them into a little humanoid figure and say “Look, it’s the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man!” And in the legal world, how can you expect me to work with somebody who doesn’t catch the reference when I refer to a pair of teenagers as “two yutes”?

For all you parents out there, this is why you must teach your children well. Raise them on a steady diet of Transformers (the original cartoon, of course, not the Michael Bay travesties) and The Secret of NIMH in their infancies. Introduce them to the most important cinematic trilogies (Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Back to the Future) long before you corrupt their minds with Lord of the Rings or, G-d forbid, The Hunger Games. Show them Coming to America, Animal House and Strange Brew and shout to them “THIS, MY CHILDREN! THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO LAUGH!” But don’t take it too far: when I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy (which was a completely boring, trite, pathetic drip of monkey spum), I was seated next to a man in his forties with a son around 12 or 13. After the “bonus scene” at the end of the credits, the son asked “who was that” and the father answered “that was Howard the Duck–we’ll have to see if they have it on Netflix.” Absolutely not necessary.

And there you have it: my musings on movies. In short, I don’t know about y’all, but I’m sure as hell glad I was a child of the 80s.

I know this piece was kind of jumbled and didn’t really move in a linear manner, but I’m not going to apologize. Did you miss the part where I talk about how much I love David Lynch?

*A chicken and an egg are lying in bed when the egg pulls out a cigarette and lights it up. The chicken says, “well that answers that question…”

51. On Arguments I Have with Myself


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A while ago there was a list floating around the Facebookosphere of “23 Hilarious and True Pie Charts.” Of the 23, I would say that only one was truly hilarious, and that was the chart entitled “What Happens in the Shower.” I know what you’re thinking: it must have contained some kind of masturbation joke. That’s what I assumed too. This was not correct: the chart instead had one small section (roughly 5%) that said “washing my body” and one larger, encompassing section that said “winning fake arguments.” I suppose you can say that the latter is a form of mental masturbation—which happens to be my second-favorite type of masturbation. I’d show you a picture of the pie chart but the only one I could find on Google is tiny and I’m pretty sure my explanation was sufficient.

I am a huge fan of the imaginary shower argument. It is in the shower that I am at my most witty and persuasive, whether arguing the merits and shortcomings of the current American intellectual property regime, the best season of Temptation Island, or my favorite argument, the income gap (or really, the income abyss) in San Francisco. Indeed, I often find myself coming up with brilliant retorts as I’m rinsing off lavender-scented body wash, leaving my imaginary opponent (a libertarian who fancies himself as the heir apparent to Ayn Rand) speechless with my air-tight logic and melodious rhetoric (because I also like to sing in the shower—I’m a man of many talents). Then again, occasionally the devil’s advocate throws a curveball I can’t hit, and I find myself questioning my particular brand of recycled liberal bullshit.

For this point, I’m going to try to piece together an example of a more-insightful-than-usual shower argument I’ve had with myself. It’s really a composite of multiple shower arguments, since we’re in a pretty serious drought in California and are encouraged to take shorter showers (or to skip the whole ridiculous ritual altogether). For this argument, let’s call my usual, bleeding-heart lefty, outward-facing self “A” and the imaginary conservative friend/evil twin “B.” If it helps, try also imagining me, naked, in the shower, with soapy lather glistening in my manly chest hair. Now there’s an image you ain’t gonna forget anytime soon. You lucky dog, you.

* * * 

A: Oh man, did you see that new place on Market Street where they sell $6 french fries?
B: No.
A: It’s on maybe 8th or 9th.
B: Oh yeah?
A: Yeah. At some point, when we weren’t paying attention, fries and ketchup became a $6 item.  Sorry, not “fries”—“baked potato wedges,” and not “ketchup,” “pesto ketchup” or “garlic and black pepper mayo.”  They don’t taste quite as good as McDonald’s fries, but supposedly they’re healthier.  Frankly, I say if you want a healthy snack, you should eat fruit. 

Note: When I said “fries” and the whatnot, I was definitely making air quotes.

B: So you’re not a fan.
A: No, I’m not, for two reasons: number one, the fries really don’t taste that good.
B: Maybe you don’t know how fries are supposed to taste?
A: Screw you, I’m a fry connoisseur. But more importantly, the number two reason I don’t like it is because it’s an obnoxious, brightly-colored yuppie/tourist attraction built on Market Street, when it is more suited for–I don’t know–Fisherman’s Wharf.
B: Now that you mention it, I do know the place you’re talking about and I actually think they have a location in Fisherman’s Wharf—no joke.


A: Perfect! Meanwhile, Kaplan’s, which had been there for 75 years and actually brought real, genuine character to the neighborhood, can’t afford to pay rent and they’re putting in some fancy boutique hotel.
B: I thought Kaplan’s was closing because the Kaplan family finally sold the building, voluntarily.
A: Whatever. The point is that Market Street, which used to be an affordable, albeit colorful, part of the city is being completely Disney-fied by Twitter, Uber and the other techies, and it sucks.
B: What do you mean by “colorful”? Does “colorful” mean having to play “dog or human” when I’m walking to work? 

Note: For those of you who don’t live in San Francisco, “Dog or human” is the “game” of guessing whether feces you see on the sidewalk is of the canine or human variety.

A: “Dog or human” is such a tired cliché. If you see a piece of shit on the ground, why does it matter whether a dog or human produced it? Are you insinuating that you’d happily step in dog shit but that human shit is off-limits? Or will you gladly step in human shit if it comes from $6 french fries?
B: Baked potato wedges. And the people who shit on the street aren’t eating those. They’re probably eating McDonald’s or 7-11 hotdogs or other crap like that.
A: Yes—because that’s all they can afford. And it’s not just homeless people, people who aren’t rich in general, who live in the Civic Center area, need affordable food, not $6 “baked potato wedges” designed for self-professed “foodies” who work at Twitter.
B: People who work at Twitter eat Twitter food.
A: You know what I’m talking about. It’s bullshit to put in expensive eateries and bars in poorer neighborhoods. It’s like Rye, Swig, and those other new, super-shishi bars opening up in the Tenderloin, where anybody who actually lives in the TL could never afford to drink.
B: Neighborhoods change—that’s just the nature of the city. North Beach used to be the bohemian center of the city, back in the beat poetry days. Then, as land there was getting more expensive, the city threatened to build a freeway through the Panhandle and property values dropped there—that’s why the bohemians emigrated to the Haight. 

Note: Clearly, my evil conservative alter-ego knows his shit.

A: It’s one thing when the change is gradual and organic (although it’s not that much better), but putting the swankiest establishments in town amongst the poorest neighborhoods in the city is a huge fuck you to the people who live there. It’s made worse by the fact that you then have these rich tech kids who say they “like to hang out in the TL” but don’t like dealing with the poor people who live there, playing “dog or human,” etc.
B: Well I’m sorry—I like to be able to go out with my friends without having to worry about getting robbed or stabbed or stepping in human feces. Excuuuussseee me.


A: Also, you do realize that the widening income gap is actually making the TL, Mission, Haight and other areas less safe, as more and more people who before were just barely getting by are now having to resort to crime? Crime is actually on the rise in those neighborhoods.
B: So we need to get more police.
A: That’s difficult to do, because cops in SF, despite being the highest-paid in the country, still have trouble affording to live here.

Note: The starting salary for an SF cop is $80k. For somebody who just moved to SF and doesn’t have rent control, this salary is limiting. I know, I know—that’s pathetic, but true.   

A: Not to mention the fact that the city can’t pay for more cops because certain companies that we need not name—

Note: E.g., Twitter

A: don’t have to pay payroll taxes, despite taking up extremely large swaths of prime real estate and pulling in a shit-ton of money. The worst part is that the few cops we have in this city are focused on making sure that “Mid-Market” is “clean” for the Twitter-folk who don’t want to see those “unsightly” poor folk.
B: I’m not saying that I think poor people are “unsightly,” but the streets of a city should be clean—go to NY. That’s how a city should look. We seriously need a Giuliani.
A: We have Lee—and he’s doing his best. But the problem is that homeless people are people, and people don’t just disappear if you kick them out of one area. The homeless people who used to be in Mid-Market are now creeping up into Hayes Valley.

Note: No joke.

B: Boo-fucking-hoo. We spend more money on services for the homeless here than any other city in the country, and all that does is draw more of them here. Seriously, the homeless people here have it great.
A: Sure, if being constantly hungry, having to sleep on the street, getting beat up, abused, raped, and looked at like animals by people like you means “great.”


B: Fine—so get them more help. But give them actual mental health services, not just food and money that they’re going to spend on booze and drugs.
A: We tried doing that before, until your hero Ronald Reagan decided to close all of the state hospitals because of his utter contempt for the poor.
B: So build more.
A: It’s going to be nearly impossible as long as California is bankrupt, as it will remain as long as Prop 13 is in effect. 

Note: Prop 13 was an amendment to the California constitution in 1978 that caps property taxes at 1%, by far the lowest in the country.   

B: Sorry, I paid way too much for my shitty condo, it’s ridiculous if you’re going to tell me that I then have to take out a second mortgage to pay my fucking property taxes. 

Note: Of course B owns a condo.

A: You don’t have to take out a second mortgage. Everybody else in the country handles 2-4%, you can too.
B: This city is so fucking expensive, the condo cost me an arm and a leg. I’m not even making it all back from the rental units, even though I’m charging $2800 each for one bedrooms.
A: …
B: Not to mention the pain in the ass I had to go through to evict the tenants when I bought it.
A: Are you fucking kidding me?
B: Am I fucking kidding you? They were paying $800 a month for one-bedroom apartments in the Mission! Because of your stupid rent control, I couldn’t afford to let the tenants stay in their units. I would have lost a shit ton of money.
A: How long had they been living there?
B: I don’t know…the one old Mexican dude had been there for like 20 years. Whatever, he was a shitty tenant. I offered him 20K to leave, and he refused. I had no choice but to evict him.
A: You could have let him stay—that was his home. You do realize that when you kicked him out, he can no longer afford to live in the city.
B: I’m sorry, since when does renting an apartment mean you have the right to stay there forever?
A: So how should it work—somebody who has never lived in the city and has no ties here, but who is rich, has more of a right to live here than somebody who has lived here his whole life? 

evict yuppies

B: That’s the way free markets work. It’s not my problem that he didn’t buy a place here. He knew when he moved in that he didn’t automatically have a right to stay there forever.
A: And because he doesn’t make enough money to live anywhere in SF without rent control he has to leave, just so you can own a condo here?
B: Dude, rent control is the reason that rents are so high here! If you have units in your building pulling in below-market income, you need to increase the rent in the other units to make it worth your while.
A: Not really—your mortgage doesn’t go up.
B: Why should you not be able to make more money as an owner? That’s the reason you buy apartments in the first place—as an investment to make money. And furthermore, as a new buyer you shouldn’t be forced to inherit tenants with ridiculous rent control.
A: Why not? It’s like when you buy a patent, you need to take it subject to any licenses that may have been granted under it that are still in effect.
B: I don’t understand your analogy. At all.
A: And furthermore, removing rent control would not decrease rents in the city. There are enough folks at Google and Facebook and wherever who want to live in SF that even if they got rid of rent control today, all rents citywide would still be ridiculous.
B: So let’s build more housing in SF!
A: We can try, but (1) there are tight building codes in SF that restrict all kinds of development—
B: so get rid of those anachronistic laws—
A: you know that takes forever, and greedy developers who control Lee’s govenrment don’t want that because the artificial scarcity means they can sell condos for much higher prices. More importantly (2) so many wealthy people want to move to San Francisco right now that even if the city’s housing stock doubled, rents still wouldn’t decrease. You see it now—there’s tons of construction, and it’s all for luxury apartments and condos. The city’s infrastructure is not equipped to handle that many people.
B: Okay, then fix the city’s infrastructure.
A: It would take forever.
B: So start now. Don’t you remember the beginning of the first new Star Trek movie, where it shows Riverside, Iowa in the 23rd century and it’s a thriving metropolis? That didn’t happen overnight, but San Francisco can undergo the same size increase.
A: I don’t understand your analogy. At all.
B: And all of these new buildings come with required BMR housing.
A: “Required,” unless you can finagle your way out of it. Which you can. And even if you can’t, there are plenty of people who make too much money to qualify for BMR, but not enough to afford to live in the city otherwise. You know—teachers, waitresses, nurses, artists, cops, entrepreneurs who don’t have trust funds…
B: There are plenty of those people in SF.
A: Not for long—they’re moving out because they can’t afford to live here anymore. Or in Oakland, for that matter. Now you have nurses who live in Tracy and have to drive an hour and a half each way to come work at UCSF every day. People who were born and raised in SF but now must move to fuckin’ Tracy to let the Twitter folk move in. Or the Google folk, who of course live here but take the free bus to work—the bus, I might add, that uses SF public resources. 

tech not culture

B: And Google pays for them now, as you know. Not to mention the fact that Google donated millions of dollars to allow kids from low-income families to ride the bus for free.
A: A small price to pay if it justifies gentrifying the hell out of low-income neighborhoods. In not too many years there will be no low-income families left, and then Google won’t have to pay for buses anymore.
B: Ah, now he finally mentions the dreaded G-word.
A: Google? I was talking about Google hours ago (or minutes ago, whatever).
B: No, “gentrify.” I can’t believe it took you 5 pages to bring it up. Listen, I’m sick of people talking about gentrification like it’s a bad thing. I like living in places that are safe, have restaurants where I actually want to eat, and where the streets aren’t lined with piss, shit, vomit, and heroin needles. What you call “gentrification” is really just “neighborhood improvement.”
A: Or maybe “urban renewal”?
B: Something like that.
A: You realize that by making the neighborhood safer for you and your white friends who are afraid of all things “sketchy,” you’re often tearing apart a community of color. Like James Baldwin said when the Fillmore was torn apart in the 60s, “urban renewal means negro removal.” Now the same thing is happening to the Hispanic population in Mission, thanks to you buying up buildings and charging $2800 for a one-bedroom apartment.
B: Dude, you live in Hayes Valley. 15 years ago you wouldn’t have dared to walk down your street.
A: Hey, I played no part in the gentrification of Hayes Valley—it was like that when I got there.
B: Which is precisely why you went there in the first place. You didn’t choose to live in Bayview.
A: Bayview isn’t very convenient to where I work.
B: And where is that? In a fucking technology and internet lawfirm downtown, where you represent all of the tech companies that you claim are ruining the city so much.
A: Well, I would be a public defender if you people didn’t make it so fucking expensive to live here. 

Note: Also, public defender jobs are way more competitive than biglaw jobs in San Francisco and I probably couldn’t have scored one if I’d tried.

B: I don’t understand what you’re suggesting? Where should all of the Google employees go? To Tracy?
A: That’s an idea. Why not Mountain View? Most Google kids don’t appreciate San Francisco’s city, politics, culture, or anything the city has to offer except for new expensive restaurants and new “hole in the wall” restaurants that are also expensive. You can build establishments like that much closer to the Google campus. Seriously, the suburbs should be bedroom communities for the cities, not the other way around.
B: You’re the one who doesn’t appreciate San Francisco’s culture. The tech industry has brought a new kind of vitality to the city. There is more creativity here than you can possibly see sitting in your swanky Hayes Valley gentrification cubical typing away on your MacBook. 


A: Creativity? Try homogeneity. You’re not “creative” if you’re doing the same thing everybody else is doing, like putting on a Santa costume and getting drunk or dressing up like Mad Max at Burning Man. And please don’t tell me that EDM is a viable form of music. Even if there is a “new San Francisco culture,” that’s no excuse for forcing out the old culture and the people who created it just because they’re not rich.
B: And what culture are you referring to? The Black jazz culture of the Fillmore that died in the 60s? The hippie culture of Haight that really died in the 60s? The punk rock culture that died in the 70s?
A: The Dead Kennedys and D.R.I. were still thriving in SF in the 80s…
B: The Latino culture that died in the 90s? The gay culture, that is still strong today and not going anywhere?
A: Well, they did close down Marlena’s and replace it with a totally cheesy Marina-style bar. 

Note: Marlena’s was a drag queen bar that was a Hayes Valley institution since the 1970s. Two years ago it was replaced by one of the douchiest bars in the city, and that’s saying a lot.

B: A, get over yourself. You’re not Black. You’re not Hispanic. You’re not gay. And you’re definitely not Punk Rock. You’re a straight white male lawyer from Marin County who works in the tech industry, just as bad as (if not worse than) the rest of us.
A: Don’t forget Jewish.
B: How are you not just as bad as everybody else you constantly rant about?
A: It’s about empathy, dude. Just because you’re not undergoing the same shitty experiences as somebody else doesn’t mean you can’t try to understand how he feels.
B: You’re the least empathetic person I know.
A: Not true at all. Did I mention that I give culturally-aware walking tours of San Francisco, and hand out muffins to homeless people on my way to work every Monday?
B: Only every five fucking minutes for the past year. 

*            *            *

So there you have it folks—an argument I often have with myself. I know that I left a ton of shit out, but we’re already over 7 pages and there’s only so much I can write about these issues without citing (or researching) a single fact. I’m guessing that, no matter where you fall on the SF political spectrum, I’ve made some point that has pissed you off and you can’t wait to tell me all about it. I welcome your opinion—please feel free to leave a comment or email me at sfloveaffair@gmail.com. Or we can have yet another obnoxiously-long flame war on my Facebook wall. Whatever works for you.

And now, your Muppet clip: 

50. On the Great Ones of San Francisco


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My fiftieth post! The big 5-0! My oh my that’s a lot of love. I think this milestone calls for something BIG, like those old Mad magazine collectors’ edition Super Specials.ss011I’d like to do a listicle, and it should definitely be San Francisco-based…something that will make those Bold Italic folks regret not hiring me when they had the chance (i.e., before I went to law school, which was likely before the website even existed). 50 best burritos in SF? So cliché, probably done before, and now not as special because of that whole Nate Silver thing. 50 best record and/or bookstores in SF? Could be fun, but I really only ever go to two stores from each category. 50 best murals in SF? Great idea, but I don’t think I’m knowledgeable enough to pull it off (although if you have any interest in the murals of San Francisco, I highly recommend this site).

I think I’ll go with something that will appeal more to the history buffs than the hipsters, more to the natives than the naives, and more to the intelligentsia than the no-common-sensia. And since a quick Google search reveals that nobody has done this before, I now present to you, in alphabetical order by first name, the definitive list of THE 50 GREATEST SAN FRANCISCANS OF ALL TIME!!!* Yes, it’s a damn long list, and this post is thus far longer than any I have posted before, so don’t feel like you need to read through all 50 at once.

*Note: I’m using a broad definition of the term “San Franciscan.” Somebody need not be born in SF to be a “San Franciscan”—if San Francisco was a significant location in his or her life, that’s enough to make this list.

1. Al Robles


Al Robles was a brilliant poet and a powerful community organizer who was instrumental in the fight to protect the International Hotel, the last bastion of San Francisco’s once large Filipino population. When Robles witnessed the “urban renewal” that was destroying the black community in the Fillmore, he galvanized low-income Filipinos to protest and resist the development of Little Manila (Jim Jones was a key ally of Robles in this battle, but he sure as hell does not make this list). Eventually, the bad guys won: all residents of the I-Hotel were evicted by the end of 1977 and the building was razed in 1981, with much of San Francisco’s Filipino population being shoved into Daly City. Today, the non-wealthy residents of San Francisco continue to be threatened with eviction, and the poets are fleeing the city in droves for cheaper pastures. In times like these, San Francisco needs another Al Robles.

2. Alice B. Toklas


Leave it to San Francisco to name a street after the culinary mastermind who invented the pot brownie—Alice B. Toklas’ true claim to fame, beyond being Gertrude Stein’s lover. Further, San Francisco’s ultra-liberal LGBT political group is called the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club (not to be confused with the more centrist Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club). You don’t see a “Gertrude Stein” street in SF or Oakland…apparently the Bay Area values pot over poetry.

3. Andre Nickatina


Although the Bay Area at large produces a fair amount of hip hop hits, most of the rap talent is concentrated in Oakland (and then of course there’s E-40 in Vallejo). However, at least one hip hop star did come out of SF proper, from the Fillmore district at that (okay, RBL posse came out of Bayview, but they were pretty much a one-hit wonder). I’m not the biggest fan of all of Andre Nickatina’s songs, but he was prolific enough that there are a few gems here and there.

4. Ansel Adams


Ansel Adams grew up in the Western Addition, and supposedly broke his nose in the 1906 earthquake as a young boy, giving it that crooked shape that lasted the rest of his life. Obviously we all know and love Adams for his photographs of Yosemite—honestly, I’m on the fence as to whether the Sierras are more beautiful and majestic in real life or through the lens of Adams’ camera—but he also took some pretty stunning pictures of the San Francisco Bay.

5. Bill Graham


If it weren’t for Bill Graham, then the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin never would have reached the heights they did. Some people may argue that this would have been a good thing, but to hell with those people.

6. Bill Russell

Bill Russell

There was a time when defensive players were recognized as the lynchpins in successful basketball teams. There was also a time when the University of San Francisco had a successful basketball program. On top of that, there was a time when black players were not welcome in sports or in certain parts of country. Bill Russell was instrumental in bringing about the first two of these eras and crushing the third. Sadly, USF’s basketball program has never been as dominant as it was during Russell’s tenure there, but believe me, they still talk about him north of the Panhandle. A lot.

7. Bruce Lee


Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco. Therefore, San Francisco wins.

8. Bruno Mooshei


I love Zam Zam, and will often take friends or dates there for a late-evening martini. Sadly, I missed going to what was then called Persian Aub Zam Zam during the reign of Bruno, the Soup Nazi of martinis, who was apparently a bitter, hippie-hating, straight-laced one-man unintentional comedy show for nearly 50 years. If you ordered beer, he’d kick you out. If you tried sitting anywhere but the bar, he’d kick you out. If he didn’t like the way you dressed, he’d kick you out. But if you managed to stick around, you’d get a delicious martini for $2.50. That’s the kind of quirkiness we need more of in present-day San Francisco.

9. Cosmic Lady


If you mention “Cosmic Lady” to anybody who lived in San Francisco in the 60s, I mean, anybody who was cool who lived in San Francisco in the 60s, he or she will inevitably smile. Cosmic Lady was the personification of the ultra-consciousness of the era, of the time and place where people realized it was time to question all of the bullshit. She’d stop strangers on the street to ask, “Are we civilized yet?” I really want to start doing that, but I’m a little too self-conscious. Damn you, society and corporate job!

10. Dave Righetti


Truth be told, I go the idea for this post when I was at a Giants game a few weeks ago and Dave came out to talk to Lincecum on the mound. It occurred to me that all of the success the Giants have had in my lifetime has come from their superb pitching (when the pitchers are on, of course), and this excellence on the mound can be attributed in great part to an excellent pitching coach. So although I could have chosen Willy Mayes (really more associated with NY Giants), Juan Marichal (never won a World Series), Barry Bonds (too controversial), or Buster Posey (too young, too soon), the San Francisco Giant to make my list is Dave Righetti.

11. DJ B. Cause


I have a love-hate relationship with mash-ups. On the one hand, Bootie SF, which is basically a bunch of white people getting really excited when they realize that they recognize which songs are being mashed together, makes me kind of nauseas. On the other hand, DJ B. Cause’s mixes of soul and disco with Hyphy are insanely dope. After the second Night of the Remix came out, DJ B. Cause was doing “first funk Fridays” at the Elbo Room and I saw him once and bought him a drink. I was totally star-struck and awkward.

12. Dick Vivian

Dick Vivian

When I first started going research for my Haight Street Muffin Man Tour, I interviewed Dick, owner and proprietor of Rooky Ricardo’s Records, because a friend told me that he was friendly, and most other people I tried to interview had no desire to speak with me. Since that interview, I have gone into Dick’s store nearly every week for records and, more often than not, some kind of therapy. I encourage everybody to go to his store and learn why it is that human beings truly love music. And if you don’t believe me, read this article GQ ran about Dick and his store. One note: when you walk into Dick’s store, don’t you dare utter the word “awesome.” That kind of language is not tolerated in Rooky Ricardo’s Records.

13. Emmett Grogan


Emmett Grogan is one of the founders of the Diggers, a radical group of improvisational actors and other hooligans who decided that capitalism was a crock of shit and attempted to do away with the antiquated practice in the Haight-Ashbury of the late-sixties. The Diggers threw concerts in the Panhandle and distributed free food every day—hungry hippies could eat for free, as long as they were willing to walk through a giant yellow picture frame known as the “Free Frame of Reference” in order to receive their meals. There were several other founders of the Diggers (including Peter Coyote and Peter Berg), but Grogan made the cut for this list because he is the founder memorialized on the “Anarchists of the Americas” mural on the side of Bound Together, the Haight Street anarchist book collective.

14. Francis of Assisi


Francis of Assisi never actually made it to the New World, let alone northern California, but we did decide to name our town after him so I think he makes the cut for this list. Francis was a rich spoiled brat who, after suffering an injury in combat, decided that he would devote his life to helping the poor. He’s pretty much the most charitable saint in the canon and it’s no coincidence that Jorge Mario Bugoglio, who is pretty much the best pope ever, chose “Francis” as his papal name.

15. Frank Chu


If you go down to the Financial District on any given morning or weekend afternoon, you’ll probably find a handful of men holding signs packed with gibberish that seems to be preaching awareness of some odd conspiracy, but make no mistake, there is only one Frank Chu, harbinger of doom wrought by the aliens of the 12 galaxies. Apparently (or at least according to Wikipedia) Frank was an accountant before he quit that humdrum life for the exciting world of eccentric protest. Makes sense.

16. Harry Callahan, a.k.a. “Dirty Harry”


I’m not going to say that the size of a man’s gun is directly proportional to the size of his wang, but if that axiom has ever been true, it was with relation to “Dirty” Harry Callahan. I know he’s not a real person—but I don’t believe there’s a rule that all entries on this list must be real people, is there? I always loved the end of the first movie when Dirty Harry chased the bad guy into Marin, because when I was little I would watch it and say, “whoah! There’s a bad guy in Marin!” I’m from Marin, by the way.

17. Harvey Milk


My favorite Harvey Milk anecdote (which I stole from Season of the Witch by David Talbot—required reading for anybody interested in SF culture) is from a debate in his 1977 race for supervisor against Rick Stokes, a very conservative gay man. Rick Stokes said “I’m very concerned about Harvey Milk. One time I was outside his camera shop, and a man and a woman walked by with their child, and Harvey used a profane word…I don’t want to be referred to as the gay candidate for supervisor. I want to be known as the candidate who happens to be gay.” Milk then stepped up to the microphone and said, “Fuck that shit, motherfucker! I’m gay!” 

18. Herb Caen

herb caen

Beyond the overly-repeated “heaven” quote and that quip about LA in the picture above, Herb Caen had plenty of other choice reflections on our fair city. Here are two I particularly like:

“Old San Francisco – the one so many nostalgics yearn for – had buildings that related well to each other.”

“A city is where you can sign a petition, boo the chief justice, fish off a pier, gaze at a hippopotamus, buy a flower at the corner, or get a good hamburger or a bad girl at 4 A.M. A city is where sirens make white streaks of sound in the sky and foghorns speak in dark grays. San Francisco is such a city.”

19. George Moscone


He got high with the Haight Street hippies in order to prove that he had street cred, and then he became the most liberal mayor San Francisco had ever seen in a time when San Francisco, believe it or not, was actually not all that liberal. Much to the dismay of SF conservatives, Moscone appointed women, racial minorities, and gays to a number of city commissions and advisory boards, and an uncommonly soft-on-crime cop as police chief. Yes, he also appointed Jim Jones as chairman of the SF Housing Commission. Mistakes were made.

20. Hibiscus (George Harris)

Layout 1

You’ve seen the famous photograph of George Harris inserting flowers into gun barrels, but Harris went on to do even greater acts, transforming into Hibiscus and founding the Cockettes, one of the premier drag acts in the psychedelic San Francisco of the 60s and still today. Hibiscus was an early victim of AIDS in 1982, back when the disease was still referred to as GRID (gay-related immune deficiency…yes, they really called it that), but his memory (and the Cockettes) lives on today.

21. Inez Burns


Inez Burns, nee Brown, came to San Francisco from Philly in the early 1900s with her mother after her parents separated. She had an unwanted pregnancy and, although abortions were illegal at the time, met an elderly physician named Dr. West who was willing to perform the procedure. Seeing a market from the practice, Inez had Dr. West teach her the part of fetus removal and opened up an abortion shop in the Lower Haight. To make a long and very interesting story short, Inez Burns soon was the proprietary of the most successful abortion mill in California, performing up to 30 abortions a day and pulling in $50,000 a month—over $600,000 by today’s standards—while (allegedly) servicing such high-profile clients as Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth.

22. Janis Joplin


I know she was from Texas, but can we please claim her as one of our own? Living out of 122 Lyon, giving impromptu concerts with Big Brother and the Holding Company in the Panhandle, sharing her bed with Country Joe McDonald and half of the Haight-Ashbury (as the old saying goes, “everybody knew Janis, or knew somebody who had slept with her”), Janis Joplin was the ultimate flower child. Also, go back and listen to your dusty old Janis records—the girl had serious pipes.

13. Jay and Ron Thelin


If you go to 1535 Haight Street today, there’s an establishment called “Big Slice Pizza,” which was formerly “Fat Slice Pizza” (I assume that there was some dispute with the original Fat Slice in Berkeley that led to the name change). But before pizza, for a very brief time (less than 2 years in fact), the storefront was home to the Psychedelic Shop, the world’s first-ever head shop, which sold art and literature related to psychedelic drugs as well as drug paraphernalia. There was also a back room where you could buy (and take) acid, although I only know about this from the accounts of friends and relatives. The Psychedelic Shop may have been the most important business in the entire hippie movement, and it was run by the Thelin brothers, Jay and Ron. I can’t do them justice in this measly paragraph, but I highly recommend reading this interview with Jay to get the full story.

24. Jello Biafra


It bothers me that, with all of the renewed discussion about wealth inequality in San Francisco and the roles that tech newspeak and addiction to electronic devices play in our everyday lives, there is no Dead Kennedys equivalent in the year 2014. The city has pretty much (d)evolved into everything that Biafra stood against in the 70s. He’s probably rolling in his grave—even though he’s still alive.

25. Jerry Garcia 

jerry garcia

Let’s get something straight—I’m not a huge Grateful Dead fan. I’m more of a medium-sized fan; I’ll listen to my American Beauty record every now and then, but I’m not lining up for tickets to RatDog or Phil and Friends or Further Festival or whatever the hell the remaining members of the Dead are doing these days. However, I know if I don’t include Jerry Garcia on this list, I’m going to get all sorts of angry “oh my G-d how could you include Janis and the fucking Residents on this list and not include any member of the Grateful Dead!!!” type of emails, and I just don’t want to deal with that.

26. Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice

There are a number of cities have multiple professional sports teams, but that, in the end, choose one sport above the others. New York is definitely a baseball town. From my experience, LA is a basketball town. Apparently Detroit has tried to brand itself as a hockey town (although a friend of mine from there is vehemently opposed to the notion, saying that Detroit has always been, and will always be, a baseball town). Since the 80s, San Francisco has been a football town, largely due to the brilliant play of number 80. I will echo what many others before me have stated: Jerry Rice was the Greatest Football Player of All Time. It is truly an honor to have him associated with my fair city.

27. John McLaren


 If you ever enjoy Golden Gate Park, you have Mr. McLaren to thank, as he helped design the park and then presided as its superintendent from 1887 until 1940. When he took the job, McLaren declared that there would be no “keep off the grass” signs in the park. John McLaren displayed rare longetivy—the city wanted him to retire when he turned 70 but he stayed on for another 23 years because he was a badass crotchety old man.

28. Joshua Norton (“Emperor Norton”)


When Joshua Norton first arrived in San Francisco from South Africa in 1849, he was wealthy with inheritance from his father and prepared destined to expand his fortune. After a misinformed investment in Peruvian rice and a subsequent legal battle left him bankrupt, he did what any Horatio Alger-following American would have done: he exiled himself from the city for two years, then came back, declared himself Emperor of the United States, issued orders to disband the U.S. Congress by force, and became a celebrated hero in a city that embraces eccentrics. Patrolling the streets in an ornate uniform donated by military officers in the Presidio, Norton was beloved by all in the city, and although he was penniless, he was often invited to eat at the fanciest dining establishments San Francisco had to offer. Norton’s greatest accomplishment (in my humble opinion), more than dreaming up the idea for a bridge and tunnel system connecting San Francisco to Oakland, was issuing the following imperial decree: “Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abominable word ‘Frisco,’ which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of a High Misdemeanor, and shall pay into the Imperial Treasury as penalty the sum of twenty-five dollars.”

29. Lawrence Ferlinghetti


Recipe For Happiness Khaborovsk Or Anyplace 

One grand boulevard with trees
with one grand cafe in sun
with strong black coffee in very small cups.

One not necessarily very beautiful
man or woman who loves you.

One fine day.

30. Magnolia Thunderpussy

Note: I was unable to find any photos of Magnolia Thunderpussy, so admittedly I have no idea what she looked like. If anybody has a photo of her, please hook me up! 

Born Patricia Donna Mallon, Magnolia Thunderpussy was a prominent SF burlesque dancer and radio personality who, among other things, set up a bakery on Haight and Masonic in which she sold eroticly-shaped desserts (and yes, she is the namesake of Magnolia). She had that free spirit, razor-sharp wit, and raunchy sexuality that makes me nostalgic for San Francisco of the 60s (even if I wasn’t actually alive at the time).

31. Marc Beniof

beniof No matter what your feelings on tech are, I think we can all agree that the few who have made billions from tech should, not out of obligation but out of the kindness of their hearts, partake in philanthropy. Marc Beniof certainly feels that way, donating $200 million to children’s hospitals in SF and Oakland and developing the 1/1/1 model in which companies donate 1 percent of their profits, equity and employee hours to bettering the communities they serve. He’s doing his best to get other high-up tech types in the Bay Area into the giving spirit…I really hope they listen to him.

32. Marian and Vivan Brown


When I was an undergrad there were twin sisters a couple of years below me who lived together, were almost always seen together, and often wore matching outfits. A lot of students described them as “creepy” and/or “weird.” And yet, nobody ever said anything about Marian and Vivan Brown, who were seen together around San Francisco in matching outfits for over 40 years. Why not? Because the Brown twins were freaking adorable and you always felt special when you’d see them in person, that’s why not!

33. Mark Twain


Mark Twain never said “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”—this is a common misattribution. However, he did launch his writing career in San Francisco (where he wrote “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”). He also coined a plethora of brilliant quotes. The one that most speaks to me is: “I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

34. Mel Blanc

mel blanc

Seriously though, how the heck did one dude voice Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Elmer, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Pepe Le Pew, Wile E. Coyote, Speedy Gonzales, Tweety, Sylvester, and Taz?

35. My Grandfather


Note: I know I have a better picture of my grandfather somewhere, so this one will likely be updated.  Or not, because I’m lazy.

When the Contemporary Jewish Museum opened in 2008, there was an exhibit on “Jews of San Francisco,” in which a large swath of wall was covered in a collage of photographs of well-known members of the San Francisco Jewish Community. Featured there was a picture of my grandfather, in his Sunday jacket (tweed with leather elbow patches—no irony intended) helping a child hang a pomegranate in a sukkah. That photograph really said a lot about my grandfather. I mean, he really loved that jacket. If you haven’t read the piece I wrote about him yet, I highly recommend it.

36. My Grandmother


I’ve mentioned my grandmother a few times in this blog—she was a world-renowned poet and translator of Israeli legend Abba Kovner, she attended the first reading of “Howl” (unconfirmed) and was friends with Gary Snyder, and City Lights still carries more than a few of her poetry collection (I think). Although she composed the bulk of her printed ouvre in Jerusalem, she got her start in San Francisco. In fact, her first poetry collection was entitled “The Floor Keeps Turning,” a reference to the pendulum at the California Academy of Sciences. Check out this letter George Oppen wrote to her upon reading it.

37. Nancy Pelosi


I loved it when she said, “today we made history. Now, let’s make progress,” although it got kind of old after she repeated that sound bite for the sixth time during yet another interview. Still, you gotta love Nancy Pelosi—I mean, she keeps Ghiradelli chocolate in her desk drawer in Washington! I know a lot of people who don’t like Nancy Pelosi, but they’re pretty much all men who are afraid of women.

38. Pablo Heising


Ten years after the Summer of Love, the Haight was pretty deep in the dumps, and Pablo Heising, nostalgic for the glory days of one of the most storied neighborhoods in the city, started the Haight Street Fair to remind people about peace, love and understanding. The street fair craze took off, and now every single neighborhood in the city tries to emulate it. Heising was dubbed the “Mayor of Haight” and ran the fair for 29 years until he died of a heart attack much too young at 61.

39. Penn and Teller


My parents saw Penn and Tyler at the Phoenix Theater when the two were just beginning their collaboration, and then took me to see them at the Golden Gate Theater years later during the “Refrigerator Tour” (in which they introduced “MoFo the Psychic Gorilla,” if you remember that particular bit). Up through about 2008 I think I had seen all of their movies and TV specials, read all of their books, and were generally pretty well-versed in all things P&T. I should probably catch up on what they’ve done in the past 6 years soon—apparently they’re now doing the ol’ “catch the bullet in your teeth” trick both ways.

40. Phatima Rude


What qualities do you look for in a drag queen? Should she be beautiful, provocative, abrasive, deep, gritty, shocking, repulsive-yet-magnetic? All of these adjectives can be used to describe Phatima Rude, to whom I was recently introduced via a documentary made by a dear friend of mine. For those of us living the privileged life in the corporate world, Phatima Rude reminds us that San Francisco once was, and should still be, a refuge for people who don’t quite fit in anywhere else.

41. R. Crumb 


Every man in my generation remembers that day that his father, or his perverted uncle, or a friend who had a perverted uncle, first handed him a book of Zap Comix, R. Crumb’s comic creation inspired by his living in San Francisco and having a front-row seat to its counter-culture. After meeting Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, and a multitude of amazon women performing various intriguing sex acts on caricature-like men with giant, highly-detailed cartoon shlongs, his life was forever changed.

42. The Residents


I know that The Residents is a band and not really a singular “San Franciscan,” but I would argue that they kind of operated as a cohesive unit. I remember when a friend with much more obscure (and therefore “cooler”?) musical interests than I played me the Eskimo record when we were 13 years old. The walrus hunting scene (or whatever the hell that was) gave me nightmares for weeks. The best thing about the Residents is that, 45 years later, we still do not know for certain the identities of the men behind the eyeball masks. Sometimes when I see an older, weirder gentleman on Market Street, humming to himself, I like to think that he just might be a Resident.

43. Richard Brautigan


There are a few poets on this list, because poetry is an intrinsic part of San Francisco and if you don’t agree than I don’t want you in my town. I didn’t include Allen Ginsburg because even though he did first read Howl in San Francisco, let’s face it, he was a New Yorker through and through. Anyhow, here’s a little sampling of Richard Brautigan, one of my favorite San Francisco poets:

The Pumpkin Tide

I saw thousands of pumpkins last night
come floating in on the tide,
bumping up against the rocks and
rolling up on the beaches;
it must be Halloween in the sea 

44. Rose Pak 


It’s pretty awesome that the most powerful political force in San Francisco for the past decade is this badass, cigar-smoking little old Chinese lady. Since the 1980s, Rose Pak has fought for the rights of Chinese immigrants, protecting old Chinatown (and its poorer residents) from evictions and development while helping Asian-Americans move forward in city politics (although she would deviously deny it, many attribute the fact that the mayor and 5 out of 11 supervisors are Asian to some of the workings of Pak). I just wish she’d do a bit more to whip her boy Ed Lee into shape…

45. Dr. Rupert Blue


Little known fact: San Francisco was hit with the bubonic plague—twice. Once from 1900-1904, when it was confined mainly to Chinatown, and again in 1907-1909, where it was city-wide. To combat the plague, Surgeon General Walter Wyman dispatched Dr. Rupert Blue to San Francisco. Holed up in a Lower Haight (woohoo!) house affectionately known as “the Rattery,” Blue developed a system for tracking the outbreaks and educating the public that eventually drove the plague out of the city forever. It’s a fascinating story and I encourage you all to read more about it. For his valiant efforts, Dr. Blue was rewarded by being appointed the fourth Surgeon General of the U.S.

46. Thea Selby 


By now, you may have noticed that people associated with the Haight (Upper and Lower) have disproportionately high representation on this list. What can I say—I play neighborhood favorites. Thea Selby is a Lower Haight political leader, and if you’re anything like me, you probably agree with her political views: pro-public education, pro-environment and biking, pro-public transportation, pro-small business, pro-affordable housing, etc. I’m only a little bitter that I tried to get her to give me an interview when I was planning my Haight tour and she rejected my advances through three different channels. I’m sure she’s a very busy woman.

47. Tony Bennett


Although Scott McKenzie’s 1967 hit was the anthem for the Summer of Love, the true theme song for the city was written and sung by Tony Bennett 5 years earlier. I don’t care if Tony was actually a New Yorker and never lived in SF. When the Giants win, they play Tony’s song, and they even made a bobblehead in his honor.

48. Vince Guaraldi


Back when North Beach was an Italian neighborhood known for its hoppin’ jazz clubs, an Italian-American named Vince Guaraldi played jazz there. Go figure. As a former (although not that great) jazz pianist who loved old Peanuts comics and cartoons, there was no way I could leave Guaraldi off this list. Reading his Wikipedia page, I was clued into the fact that he did a cover of Eleanor Rigby, which is so darned incredible that I need to link it here.

49. Virgina Ramos

tamaleYou probably know her as the Tamale Lady (and admittedly, so did I, until I Google’d her real name just now), but Virginia Ramos is a true SF icon, and her tamale cart is an institution. I’ve been all over the world, and I’ve eaten some of the best drunk food humanity has to offer, including pizza in NY, danger dogs in LA, kebabs in Sydney, and 7-11 fried chicken in Tokyo. These are all delicious, but when I’ve had 5 pints of IPA in the back of Zeitgeist on a freezing San Francisco summer night, there is no delicacy more tempting than one of Virginia’s chicken tamales, served hot in the husk and doused in hot sauce.

50. William Sleator

william sleator

Young adult science fiction seems to be a perennial hot genre, and as far as I’m concerned, William Sleator is the best YA Sci-Fi author who has ever been or will ever be, and House of Stairs might be the greatest novel in any genre on the subject of the human condition. Sleator grew up in San Francisco, and when he was a kid his dad taught him how to navigate the city by driving him to a random location, pushing him out of the car, and telling him to find his way home. And this was before iPhones with GPS and all that. Kids today are too darn spoiled.

So there you have it, folks. If you actually read all fifty of the entries, then you are a true trooper and I respect and love you. It’s important that we recognize that San Francisco is not a great city due to its geography or its weather (that’s for damn sure), but by virtue of its amazing, inspiring, creative, and eccentric inhabitants of the past, present, and hopefully future that have put their hearts into creating magic in the city.

49. On My Grandfather


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A few weeks ago I went to the symphony.  It was quite an incredible show: a solo performance by a German violinist named Christian Tetzlaff, who performed 6 Bach sonatas (5 of them from memory) over the course of 2 hours.  This is Christian:

Going to the symphony is a very different experience for me than going to a rock concert.  At a rock concert, if it’s a band I love I lose myself in the music, sing along, dance, cheer, and become completely immersed in the moment.  I immediately go home and listen to the band’s CDs or watch their Youtube videos, and become obsessed with them for a week or so because I’m in denial that the show is over. At the symphony, on the other hand, I often get so mesmerized by the music that I almost cease to hear it.  My mind wanders to a different place and the music acts as my guide.  With rare exception, I can’t remember the music after the show is over—I can’t hum the tune unless it’s something recognizable to the point of being cliché (like the time I saw MTT conduct Beethoven’s Seventh), but I remember the journey on which it took me.

I saw Christian Tetzlaff with a beautiful young woman.  I’ve found that it’s best to go to the symphony with a beautiful young woman, especially one who is likely to wear something sexy yet classy.  Besides, I’m nearly 33 years old, and I don’t have that many years left when I can still bring beautiful young women to the symphony without seeming creepy (like the man in front of me who looked to be 20 years my senior, with a woman who was likely 10 years my junior).  My date was wearing a gorgeous little black dress.  Let’s be clear here–there are little black dresses and there are little black dresses.  She was wearing the latter. Her brown jacket lay draped across her shoulders for the entire evening—the dress was sleeveless and she was covering her tattoos.  Her tattoos are simple and elegant and it was a shame to keep them hidden, but on the other side of her was an elderly growling man with angry, twitching eyebrows, and we both knew that he would be offended by the side of her young, lithe, bare shoulders even without the ink, so it was better for my date to play her hand conservatively.

When the music started, I slid my hand up her leg and took her hand in mine.  She had tiny hands, and as the playing got more intense and I became more immersed in my journey, I practically crushed her hand in mine and she yanked it away.  Shortly after Christian Tetzlaff took his bow after the first half, she asked me what I was thinking about during the concert that had caused me to grip her hand so tightly.  I tried to look into her eyes but I was still coming back from my mental stroll and it was difficult to focus on anything in the real world.  Eventually I stammered out the answer: “My grandfather.”

My grandfather passed away 6 years ago.  For the first six months or so after he died, I thought of him every single day.  That was back when I was in law school, when I was always looking for a reason to not focus on what I was supposed to be doing.  Gradually, my life got busier and my grief waned, and eventually I got to the point where I was only thinking of him on the weekends, then every other week or once a month.  Now I only think of my grandfather every now and then, maybe once every other month when I ride my bike up to Forest Hills where he used to live, or when we have a large family gathering for a Jewish holiday in which he would have played a patriarchal role had he been alive.  2014 would have been my grandfather’s 99th year on Earth, and although I don’t think about him all that much these days, when I think about my grandfather, boy do I think about him.

And now I’m going to tell you about what I was thinking during the symphony.  This is not an obituary about my grandfather—the J Weekly already wrote a nice one about him so that need not be done again.  I’m also not going to re-post any of the three eulogies I wrote about him when he died—if you’re a close friend or family member, you’ve probably already read or heard at least one or two of those.  No, for this post I’m going to tell a story, because if there’s one characteristic I inherited from my grandfather, it’s a love for spinning a good yarn.  Towards the end of his life, my grandfather began writing his memoirs.  He published two volumes, covering mainly his experiences in World War II and 50+ years of practicing medicine.  There was, however, at least one story that did not make it into those books.  I think my grandfather would be happy to know that his grandson, who is not nearly as good a writer as he, is at least attempting to do this tale a modicum of justice. 

Since I know you’re going to ask, I’ll just come out and say it: I’m going to take a few liberties with my grandfather’s story.  This is okay—my grandfather himself was a master of adding exciting and fascinating elements to otherwise mundane occurrences. We once ran the numbers and determined that approximately 85% of my grandfather’s stories were bullshit.  He made exaggeration into an art—indeed, this is a trait shared by the majority of extremely interesting people whom you meet.

Just as the symphony had two halves, this story has two parts.  The first part was narrated to me by my grandfather about a year before he died.  I was staying with my parents in Marin for a few weeks in between returning home from Japan and starting law school, and I had a friend who needed a ride from San Francisco to Marin so I decided to drive into the city, pick her up, and bring her back over the bridge.  Since I was in the city and I knew my grandfather was getting old, I decided to have dinner with him, and my friend came along.  My friend, incidentally, was a beautiful young woman, and my grandfather was chatting with her in a flirtatious-yet-adorable manner, as was his wont in his older years.  I think there’s some rule under which from the ages of 35ish to 75ish you’re creepy if you flirt with beautiful young women, but after you reach a certain age it becomes endearing.

He was asking my friend about herself, and it eventually came out that she was a violist.  “Is that so?  You know, I grew up with Yehudi Menuhin.  In fact, he was a childhood friend of mine.  Our mothers were very close.”  My friend was quite interested—“really?  I love Yehudi Menuhin.”  I just smiled and nodded, pretending to know how Yehudi Menuhin was.  My grandfather explained.

Yehudi Menuhin was born in New York to Belarussian immigrants, and his family moved to San Francisco when he was still an infant.  Like all Eastern European Jewish immigrants, upon arriving to a new city they immediately found the local synagogue and became prominent members of the Jewish community.  Yehudi’s mother, Marutha, took a liking to my great-grandmother, and the two quickly developed what my grandfather described as a “tenuous friendship,” mainly because Marutha was a nut-job.  Not to say that my great-grandmother wasn’t a little crazy herself—when my grandfather was a toddler, she dressed him up in little girls’ dresses to confuse the Ashmedai, the Jewish demon who kidnaps little boys.  Yehudi was two years younger than my grandfather and when my grandfather outgrew his dresses, my great-grandmother gave them to Marutha, who used them to dress up Yehudi when he was old enough to be a potential kidnapping victim.

Yes, that’s right.  My grandfather and world-reknowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin wore the same little girls’ dresses when they were toddlers.

When my grandfather was a little older, he became friends with young Yehudi.  Actually, that’s not quite true.  His mother insisted that he play with young Yehudi, because Yehudi’s mom was worried about Yehudi not having any friends.  This was ironic, because Yehudi’s mom did everything in her power to make sure that Yehudi would never become a normally-socialized young boy.

My grandfather was already not thrilled about having to hang out with a boy two years his younger.  Really—when you’re nine years old, is there any bigger pain in the ass than a seven year-old?  But Yehudi was even less fun than other younger boys, because when one had a play date with the prodigal son of Marutha Menuhin, his options were limited.  Yehudi was strictly prohibited by his mother from doing anything that would befoul his immaculate, violin-playing hands.  Yes, Yehudi was a seven year-old boy who was not allowed to get his hands dirty.  That meant no playing in mud, dirt, sand, or grass.  That meant no throwing balls or playing sports, no fighting, no cartwheels.  I suppose that today, many 7 year-old boys just play video games all day and possibly (and pathetically) keep their hands clean, but in the year 1923 this was not an option (and Marutha Menuhin probably would not have been a fan of video games had they existed).

When my grandfather did actually find an activity to do with Yehudi Menuhin (perhaps playing jacks…no wait, that wouldn’t work…perhaps playing Snakes and Ladders), Yehudi was required to keep his hands engaged on a practice fingering board, constantly repeating the hand positions for various different classical sonatas, overtures, and fugues.  My grandfather would be in the street playing with his stick and hoop, like this:


Yehudi, meanwhile, would be sitting on the sidewalk, playing “air violin” while humming to himself.  I bet my grandfather would get some pretty nasty wedgies if the older boys found out he was friends with that weirdo Yehudi Menuhin.  

There was one day that Yehudi was visiting my grandfather’s house for tea and my grandfather convinced Yehudi to put down his fingering board and come kick a ball around for a while in the back yard (my grandfather was a soccer player. He would eventually play on Stanford’s varsity squad, which won three games in the four years my grandfather played for them).  Suddenly, out of nowhere, Marutha Menuhin, who was in the parlor with my great-grandmother, appeared in the yard, yelled “YEHUDI!  WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” followed by a string of Eastern European cursewords, snatched Yehudi’s fingerboard with one hand and his ear with the other and yanked him all the way home, not letting go of his ear for three blocks while poor Yehudi squealed in agony.

Yehudi Menuhin would go on to do incredible things. 

There was this:

And then there was this:

To Marutha Menuhin, I’m sure the ends justified the means.  It makes me wonder how many brilliant musicians, dancers, athletes, and other performers would not have achieved greatness had it not been for overbearing, borderline-psychotic parenting and a lack of a true childhood experience.

What is written above is all I learned from my grandfather about Yehudi Menuhin.  Although it’s not much, thinking about my grandfather and Yehudi, and in particular my grandfather shouting “YEHUDI!!!” to imitate Marutha’s voice, kept me occupied over the course of the first half of the symphony.  During intermission, I bought my date (the beautiful young woman in the little black dress—you haven’t forgotten, have you?) an $11 glass of shitty red wine and we discussed how the Warriors would improve in the 2014-2015 season.  Or rather, she discussed and I smiled and nodded, pretending to know about basketball.

When we returned to our seats and Christian Tetzlaff took to the stage again, I went back to thinking about my grandfather.  Before I get into the exact nature of part two of my music-inspired mental trip, I’d like to take a moment to discuss an important part of being a heterosexual male in the age of television: the “what kind of man are you” choice.  The most famous WKOMAYC came about in the 1960s, when men around the world were suddenly faced with the epic quandary: are you a “Ginger man” or a “Mary-Ann man”? 


By the way, I don’t think that is the correct use of the term “litmus test,” but what do you expect from a Google image search? Anyhow, in the 1970s, men were once again forced to make a choice… 

chrissy janet

and again in the 1980s… 

Bosom_Buddies_Hanks_Scolari and the 1990s…


and so on…

Betty-Draper-Joan-Holloway (1)


mariah nickiDon’t be fooled, though—the WKOMAYC existed even before Gilligan’s Island.  Yehudi Menuhin had two younger sisters, Hephzibah and Yaltah.  Both were brilliant and accomplished pianists before they reached double-digits, to the point that famed French piano instructor Marcel Ciampi noted “Mrs. Menuhin’s womb is a veritable conservatory” (overlooking the fact that it was the nurture just as much as the nature that contributed to the musical successes of the Menuhin children).  However, even more than their talent at the keys, the Menuhin sisters were known for their beauty, to the point that the question was regularly asked, “Are you a Hephzibah man or a Yaltah man?” 



or Yaltah:


My grandfather was a Yaltah man—I learned this shortly after his death.  When we were sitting shiva for him (a Jewish tradition wherein, after a family member dies, you have a 7-day long somber brunch), I picked up a small leather-bound volume my aunt had put on the coffee table.  It was my grandfather’s journal, in which he started writing while in London during World War II when he was 29 years old, and picked up again 50 years later.  After eating, I retired to my aunt’s childhood room with my grandfather’s writings—fortunately his penmanship was much better than mine, so I could actually read his words.  The first entry was about how my grandfather was smarter than everybody else in the army, and that he was thus without friends and lonely.  I used to blame my own loneliness on similar circumstances, but my intelligence pales in comparison to his so my problems must lie somewhere else.  

The second entry was entitled “Girls and Music” and was about five of my grandfather’s early romances.  The piece takes up 36 pages of his journal, and 20 of those pages are dedicated to one particular woman: Yaltah Menuhin.  Yes, not only was my grandfather a “Yaltah man,” he actually fulfilled the fantasy by dating her…kind of.

My grandfather had known Yaltah in her infancy, but reconnected with her years later, when she was 19 and he was 26.  Yaltah, recently divorced (married at 18, divorced at 18 ½), was living with her family in Los Gatos, and when my grandfather went to visit Marutha (I struggle to think of why) one weekend, he became reacquainted with, and instantly attracted to, Yaltah.  At that point Yehudi and Hephzibah were already world-renowned musicians, and although Yaltah was no slouch at the piano, she was focusing mainly on her poetry, which she wrote in six different languages.  Sadly, I cannot find any of her poems online, or even find any references to any of her collections (according to my grandfather’s journal, she was getting a collection of her French poems published while he was courting her, but that collection does not seem to be presently available on Amazon).  

Yaltah and my grandfather became friends, and after a number of weekends spent together in San Francisco and Los Gatos, they took a trip together to Santa Cruz.   After dancing cheek-to-cheek in a fancy nightclub just off the boardwalk, they retired to their bed and breakfast, where they had gotten separate rooms.  As my grandfather lay in bed, unable to sleep, Yaltah came into his room, wearing nothing but a sexy pink nightgown.  She crawled into bed with him and began showering him with kisses.  My grandfather wrote this about his feelings during the experience: “I for my part was gradually slipping into a state which in the Bible is described as ‘causing a man to forget his Father and Mother.’” 

For the record, he did not have sex with her. I’m not exactly sure why he abstained.  My uncle once spoke of my grandfather upholding the proud “amorous tradition” of males in my family, and it’s known that after my grandfather got married, he indulged in extra-curricular activities with ladies whom my aunt described as “the loose Jewish women of San Francisco.”  This is all to say that refraining from carnal indulgences was not exactly my grandfather’s forte. However, when he was in bed with the goddess-like Yaltah Menuhin, he resisted.  From his writing, it appears that he refused her advances in an attempt to demonstrate that he had willpower, so as to assert his dominance.

In the end, his strategy backfired; Yaltah interpreted his actions as rejection, and no longer wished to spend time alone with him.  I’m reminded of a recent scene from the show “Louie.”  I think the show is starting to go downhill this season, but there was one hilarious moment a couple of weeks ago when Louie’s elderly Eastern European neighbor tells him, “In Hungary, we have a saying: if you didn’t screw the cow, she’s not your cow.”  

On top of unceremoniously dumping my grandfather, in an act that may go towards proving the old adage about hell’s lack of a certain kind of fury, Yaltah eloped with a man named Bud Rolfe.  Not long before that, my grandfather had introduced Bud (then a friend) to his younger sister (my great-aunt, for those who are getting confused by the genealogy), and the two of them had started dating somewhat seriously.  Yaltah snatched Bud away from my great-aunt, and my grandfather was convinced that this was an attempt to further hurt him, as he was quite close with (and protective of) his little sister. 

Yaltah Menuhin’s second marriage lasted only slightly longer than her first.  My great-aunt met another nice Jewish boy shortly after Bud slighted her, and they were married happily for over 50 years.  My grandfather married another poet (or “poetess,” as female poets were called at the time).  His wife (my grandmother) may not have been as famous as Yaltah Menuin, but at least you can find her poems easily on the Internet (she’s also, as far as I know, the only person in my immediate family to have a Wikipedia page).  Also, I’ve seen photographs of her in her younger years, and she was way hotter than Yaltah Menuhin.

My grandmother published 9 books of poetry and wrote enough poems for one more collection before her dementia took over and left her a shell of a human being.  When I visited her in Israel four years ago she read me the following poem, which has never been published before today: 


How many people  no I mean women
young women  do you know
no I mean understand  which is
different  very  from just plain
knowing  well enough to write
about them  even a poem  something
serious as that  and if you don’t think
poems are serious  you’d better
stop reading right now.  That’s if
you can  because I’ve probably
hooked you like any fish on my
line.  Though I didn’t plan to write
about fish.  I never plan to write
about anything and certainly not
about fish which are cold and slimy
until they are cooked and I wasn’t
planning to cook one for dinner
tonight.  I  wasn’t even planning
to cook. If I can’t help it. Which
I probably can’t.  Because every
loud mouth around here is
always clamoring to be filled.
And it doesn’t matter with what.

Despite the fact that they were both amazing human beings, my grandfather and grandmother did not have the best marriage.  I’m sure they were in love at one point—each was the kind of passionate individual who would never subscribe to a marriage of convenience—but I’ve heard enough stories from my mother and her sisters to know that their love died early on and their divorce after 26 years was not a huge surprise to anybody (except my grandfather, who was completely shocked).  My grandmother met an Israeli, fell in love with him, and moved to Jerusalem.  My grandfather met a German woman, a Holocaust survivor, married her, and she died not too long thereafter.  Then in his 80s he met a beautiful young(er) woman (she was in her 70s!) and although they never married, they were quite the hot item in the San Francisco Jewish seniors scene until his death.  She’s Hungarian and still alive, but I don’t think I’ll ask her about the cow-screwing thing.

My aunt told me that the younger Hungarian was the first woman with whom my grandfather had truly been in love, but I wonder if that’s true.  In my grandfather’s journal he devoted several pages to listing the reasons why he’s happy that he didn’t end up marrying Yaltah Menuhin.  He called her “unworldly” even though she could write poetry in six languages. He said she lacked persistence and was unable to carry her endeavors to completion.  My grandfather was also annoyed at her competitive, argumentative approach to their relationship.  “There was nothing that irritated her more than to have to admit I was right and she was wrong about something,” he wrote, “and I was very seldom wrong.”

I’ve seen this kind of list before.  When I was going through my last hard break-up, a friend instructed me to write down all of the things I disliked about my ex.  I wrote about her crappy taste in music, her superficial obsession with expensive bars and restaurants, and her inability to make decisions.  On a quick glance, somebody might read the list and think, “wow, you really dodged a bullet there,” but anybody who knew me at all would have taken one look at that list and known that I was on the verge of tears when I wrote it, struggling desperately to come up with a few minor annoyances that I could stretch into reasons to feel happy even though my heart had been shattered.

I knew my grandfather well, and believe me, his petty reasons for why he couldn’t marry Yaltah Menuhin were a thin attempt at convincing himself that he was over her—the 20 pages devoted to her spoke wonders about his true feelings, as did the fact that he prefaced his narrative/diatribe by noting that he could write an entire book about her.  When he met my grandmother 3 years after his courtship with Yaltah ended, was he over her? Or was he still fawning over his beautiful poetess and trying to use my grandmother as a replacement?  Is that why my grandfather’s marriage with my grandmother ultimately failed?  Because she wasn’t Yaltah Menuhin?

My grandfather is one of the smartest human beings I have ever met or likely ever will meet.  Did that make finding love more difficult to him?  Did his genius breed loneliness when it came to women in the same way it stymied his ability to make friends in the army?  Shortly before he died he stated “my regrets are as high as a mountain.”  Was his unfortunate affair with Yaltah a regret he carried in his heart for the duration of his life?  Believe me, friends, these questions are quite a lot to ponder during the symphony, even while holding hands with a beautiful young woman…