A Son is Not a Clone: Meditations on the Threshold of Fatherhood


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Late last night I watched a movie called Possessor with the dog on our couch as my 37-weeks pregnant wife was upstairs trying to sleep.  The movie was written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, son of David Cronenberg, and the apple does not fall far from the tree in that the movie is a bloody, unpleasant, jarring, and generally fucked-up sci-fi horror ride.  The senior Cronenberg’s most classic films – The Brood, Videodrome, Scanners, The Fly, and Dead Ringer – all came out shortly before or after I was born, and I watched many of them in my teens and twenties, sometimes alone in my dorm room, sometimes with a friend or two in a dirty apartment with beer cans stacked on the floor and a bong on the coffee table.  There was a subculture of guys like me, cinephiles with a taste for the macabre who were born slightly too late to contemporaneously experience the beauty that was 70s and 80s horror but who then caught up in our late teens and early twenties.  How many nights were spent devouring the oeuvres of auteurs like David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, Roman Polanski, George Romero, and Brian de Palma? I’m sure that there are a lot of women out there who were also into these movies – I mean, there must be – but for me at the time it was very much a boys’ club.  Boys who didn’t play sports and weren’t very popular in high school, to be more specific.

As I walked the dog after the movie ended, I had a vision of my future son in his dorm room at Yale with his two best friends (Eric the ginger kid and Manny the Nuyorican, both of them half-Jewish).  Probably passing around a joint; marijuana will be completely legal everywhere in the U.S. by then (not that they’d refrain otherwise).  My son informs his friends that the grad student T.A. of his Intro to Film Studies course (a pasty fellow named Colby with long hair dyed jet black who wears a trench coat over his Melvins T-shirts) had recommended this total mindfuck called Possessor that came out the year before they were born. He then uses his Mentalink® to pull the movie up on the giant monitor that takes up half of the dorm room wall, and they watch in silence, shaking a little during the more gruesome scenes.  When it’s over, they give a collective nod of approval and then pull out their personal devices to research similar movies for their next viewing party.

But what if, unlike Cronenberg and Son, Kaufman and Son do not share the same interests?  I recall a piece of parenting wisdom I received about 7 years ago reflecting this concept.  While still working at the big law firm, I had flown with a partner to Seattle for a long day of negotiations. We had co-counsel on that deal to focus on some tricky patent-related issues. He was a character – mid-50s, 5’6” (but only due to his platform soles), tan seersucker suit that perfectly matched his mustache, and he was a smoker, which is not something I often saw among the lawyer crowd.  During one of our negotiation breaks, we went outside to discuss strategy while he had a cigarette, and after a few minutes of lawyer talk we started chit-chatting and the subject of kids came up.  The partner with whom I had flown up had expressed a little concern because his 6 year-old son dreamed of playing football; this was during that era when all of those exposés about concussions were being released and it was in vogue for parents to say that they’d never let their sons play football.  I half-jokingly mentioned that the partner should try to expose him to other, less-dangerous sports, like hockey and WWE, so that maybe the boy’s interests would shift.  In between drags, our smoking co-counsel asked me if I had children.  When I replied in the negative, he laughed.  “Anybody who believes in the whole ‘nature-nurture’ bullshit probably doesn’t have kids,” he proposed.  “You can maybe smooth down the rough edges a tiny bit, but kids are really their own people: they do what they want, they act how they want, and they turn out like they turn out.”

Not too long after that, a father of a close friend of mine would convey essentially the same message in a more concise manner: “a son is not a clone.”  As easy it is to say those words out loud, I find myself struggling to truly internalize the concept.  I have detailed plans of the music, books, movies, TV shows, political manifestos, philosophies, and abstract concepts to which I want to expose him, with a timeline that is probably not remotely age-appropriate.  But what is “age appropriate” anyway?  Isn’t my son going to be abnormally mature for his age?  I want my son to be able to relate to me as soon as possible, but there’s a part of me that dreads that he will never follow in my footsteps culturally, intellectually, or even politically. 

When I was a kid I loved Shel Silverstein, and I’m going to do my best to ensure that my son does too.  Starting from when I was young – I mean very young, seven or eight years old – I had anxiety-related insomnia.  Shel Silverstein has a poem about this that resonates with me:

by Shel Silverstein

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems swell, and then
he nighttime Whatifs strike again!

After not thinking about this poem for decades, it has re-emerged in my psyche, as I find myself feeling anxious about my not-quite-yet-born son.  I was really good at school as a kid, a precocious young lad, as they say in Britain (I’m assuming).  What if he’s not?  I was obsessed with music from my third birthday, when my parents gave me a Fisher-Price record player and every late-era Beatles record from Revolver to Let It Be.  What if my son is not musical?  I could probably write my own poem about all of these fears:

Whatif he’s not too bright?
Whatif he can’t sleep through the night?
Whatif he isn’t nice?
Whatif he has to do fourth grade twice?
Whatif he’s not funny?
Whatif his nose is always runny?
Whatif he isn’t groovy?
Whatif he won’t watch classic movies?
Whatif he doesn’t sing?
Whatif he’s obsessed with material things?
Whatif he’s a jock?
Whatif he’s not into rock?
Whatif he won’t play with puppets?
Whatif he doesn’t like Simpsons or Muppets?
Whatif he has stubby fingers?
Whatif he votes for rabid right-wingers?
Whatif he’s not woke?
Whatif he can’t get a job and is broke?
Whatif his face is busted?
Whatif he doesn’t turn out well-adjusted?

One of my biggest but also pettiest and least rational whatif fears is that my son shows no interest in the arts but instead is obsessed with sports and resents or disrespects me because I’m clearly not as good at throwing a football as Peter’s dad or Jared’s step-dad.  And I’ll be like yeah but can Jared’s step-dad play piano and he’ll be like no but he plays electric guitar and he’s also a surgeon who feeds starving kids in Kenya.  Perhaps the solution is to keep him away from Jared, which of course will never work.  “We don’t want you hanging out with that Jared kid – he’s a bad influence on you!” That will just make him want to hang out with Jared more, and do some drugs that didn’t even exist when we were kids.  But Jared probably doesn’t even do drugs, the little goodie-goodie.   

In retrospect, I don’t think my own dad particularly cared what interested me.  He did introduce me to some old movies that I love to this day (in particular, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World) and he and my mom did play plenty of good music for me, but I’m not even really sure what my dad was into as a kid.  He was tall, handsome, and athletic in his youth, but he never told me what sports he played – and he didn’t seem to mind when I showed little athletic prowess.  He never encouraged me to follow his lead of joining the military (my dad was an officer in the army, although you’d never guess that from talking to him), and he certainly didn’t try to convince me to go down a similar vocational path by getting into real estate.

Here’s another example.  I’m fairly sure that my dad was into cars, mainly because whenever we would watch a movie made in the 1940s – 1970s, he would claim that he could tell the exact year the movie was made by the models of cars in the streets.  Of course, this was before the Internet existed (let alone smartphones), so I never could fact check him.  I’m sure I believed him at the time; while I didn’t worship my dad like some boys do, I assumed he was usually correct when he stated something.  He also would change his own oil and do other work on the family cars, often entering the house with a face and hand blackened with grease after an afternoon of doing lord knows what on his Audi. Despite all that, my dad never tried to teach me about cars or basic automobile maintenance (although I certainly wish he taught me at least a bit about the latter).  Was that neglect, laziness, or…good parenting? Perhaps he caught on that I wasn’t interested and did not want to push me. I’ve been told that once you become a parent, you quickly forgive your own parents for what you perceived as shitty parenting at the time.  Maybe my dad was onto something with his lack of desire (or effort?) to make me more like him.

Of course, worrying about not having common interests with my son is just the tip of the iceberg.  Equally as anxiety-producing (if not more so) as my fears that he will not be like me are my concerns that he will be like me – that is, that I’ll pass on my character traits of which I’m not particularly proud.  Don’t get me wrong – I’ll certainly schep nachas for my son if he does well in school, goes to a top-rated college and grad school, gets a good job, marries a wonderful woman, devotes a significant portion of his life to charity, tzedakah, and tikkun olam, and manages to make more money than I ever did (all feats that I accomplished, the last one vis-à-vis my own father).  But behind all of my successes were decades of insecurity, a disparaging lack of empathy, and ugly displays of toxic masculinity – in each case resulting in hurting people I cared about – and I am genuinely worried about my own son experiencing these same phenomena.  I was talking with a friend the other day, a girldad who hopes he will stay that way even if he and his wife bear more offspring, who said this: “Boys are bad.  Really bad.  Think of the worst thing you’ve ever done – something you’re so ashamed of that you never told me, and sure as hell never told your own dad.  Okay, are you thinking of it?  Your own son will do something ten times worse.”

So now I’ll admit that I was not-so-secretly hoping for a girl. I know what its like to grow up as a boy and I didn’t want the pressure and responsibility of steering my child away from the making the same mistakes I did.  In the #MeToo era, there’s a lot of messaging around teaching your daughters to be strong and your sons to be respectful.  I fear that the latter is going to prove much more difficult for me than the former.  I don’t recall my dad putting much effort into teaching me those kinds of lessons; in his defense, that was not expected of fathers at the time.  If anything, fathers from the baby boomer era and before were conditioned to teach their sons a form of misogynistic (and often violent) chivalry that they touted as “respect,” but to be fair I don’t remember my dad trying to teach me that either. I probably learned it myself from all of those John Hughes movies.  If there’s one thing we learned from Breakfast Club, it’s that if you’re a cool, rebellious boy who mercilessly mocks and sexually harasses/assults a pretty girl, she’ll eventually see your tenderness and vulnerability and become “yours,” whatever the hell that means.

Goddammit – what old movies that we grew up with will be appropriate for our own kids?  Any of them?  Gone with the Wind is out.  As is Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and any other Disney film portraying women as helpless beauties who desperately need to be rescued by Prince Charming. Blazing Saddles is probably still okay though, right?

Sigh. Cancel culture is moronic, pathetic, and a necessity if you don’t want your kid to screw up like you did.

I suppose it’s a blessing that I’m in a place where I have mental and emotional room to be concerned about my son growing up to be empathetic and respectful.  For most of history, a father’s primary concern regarding children was making sure they were fed, housed and clothed, and I’m pretty sure (kinehora) that won’t be a problem for us.  The fact that I’m already aware that I want my kid to be a good human being is probably the first step to making him become one.  And frankly, there’s a direct connection between letting my son become the person he wants to be and him becoming empathetic. We did learn things from our parents, whether we’ll admit it or not, and in theory our kids will learn from us. It follows that showing empathy towards our own children is the best way to set the example for them to demonstrate it towards others. 

That doesn’t mean that he’s off the hook for piano lessons, of course. But even if he does not stick with piano or any other instrument or any other interest of mine, this will have zero bearing on my love for him or my efforts in raising him.

At least, that’s what I hope.  The rubber is about to hit the road for me when it comes to parenting theory versus parenting practice, and I pray that I can maintain focus on what is important.  If not, perhaps my aforementioned wonderful wife can kindly remind me to re-read this essay every now and then.

62. A day in the life of a San Francisco tech lawyer who wakes up at 5:30 AM, sometimes eats green things, and watches Netflix in his free time


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Note: this entry is inspired by this Business Insider piece about an HSBC executive who lives life as it should be lived—to its fullest!

I wake up at 5:30 a.m.

5-30 alarm clock

At approximately 5:30 a.m. nearly every day, I wake up because I have to pee. I try to stumble to the bathroom in the dark because if I turn on the light, it will wake me up just a bit too much and I won’t be able to go back to sleep. I’ll often pee sitting down and fall back asleep on the toilet.

My alarm goes off at 7:00 a.m., and then it’s time for meditation.


I have this great meditation app on my phone called “Headspace,” which provides a number of different guided meditation modules to help with everything from maintaining focus at work to eating mindfully. I haven’t actually used Headspace in months, but it’s nice to know it’s on my phone. Usually I just hit snooze three times (at nine minutes a pop, this takes me to 7:27), and then I get out of bed and head to the shower. The duration of my shower depends on whether I (a) wash my hair and (b) masturbate. I do the former roughly every other day.

I don’t actually eat breakfast, but if I were to eat it, I’m sure it would be a high-protein, healthy, California-style omelet, with eggs, mushrooms, cashew cheese, and nutritional yeast. And I would also drink a lot of water, because it’s important to stay hydrated.

Around 8:30 a.m., I head to work.

happy commute

I take the train to work most days. Sometimes I listen to one of my favorite podcasts, which is always “Guys we Fucked.” “Guys we Fucked” has two female comedians in New York talking to other comedians about their sex lives, and it’s really the only podcast I can stomach. And yes, I’ve tried Serial, This American Life, Radiolab, and Planet Money.

I get into the office around 9 a.m.

 Group of happy business people

Once I get into work, my day is full of staring at my computer screen and telling my clients not to do things.

I also have meetings, and I spend a significant amount of time trying to book open conference rooms. Sometimes it takes longer to find an open conference room for a meeting than to actually conduct the meeting itself.

At 10:30 a.m., I have a snack.

a bowl of fresh fruit set on a wooden table

I’m usually pretty hungry at this point, because I skipped breakfast. At my company we have a kitchen on every floor that is fully stocked with fruit, kale chips, and other healthy snack options. I’ve also discovered that if you bend down and open the lowest drawer near the floor, we have Kit-Kat bars. 10:30 a.m. is not too early for Kit-Kat.

It’s time for lunch around noon.


I work for one of those tech firms that provides free, nutritious lunch to all of its employees. There is a salad bar with fresh seasonal produce, and given the general theme of this article, you can probably guess how much time I spend there. There is also Taco Tuesday.

Around 12:21 PM, I go back to work.


I meant to take a full hour for lunch, but I completely forgot that I have a call at 12:30 and I need to allow 9 minutes to find a conference room. The call is to plan a planning session in which we will discuss the future of planning.

As I continue work throughout the afternoon, I sometimes take a break to have a snack and refuel.

 green smoothie

In the drawer to the left of the one with Kit-Kats (also at the bottom), there are those Lindt chocolate truffle balls. My favorite are the white chocolate ones. I know, I know—“white chocolate” is not really chocolate. But it is really delicious!

A big believer in continuous learning, I read articles and watch videos that my friends post to Facebook for at least 2-4 hours each day. young man with backpack having behind a classic building with bi

While that may seem like a lot of time, some of those exposés in the Atlantic about the rise of conservative fascism in America can take upwards of 40 minutes to read, and then of course I have to watch John Oliver, Samantha Bee, and Jimmy Kimmel.

Later in the evening, I work with an organization in the Philippines to promote educational opportunities for children in poor, rural areas.

laptop pic

And by “work with an organization in the Philippines to promote educational opportunities for children in poor, rural areas,” I mean “watch Big Mouth and Bojack Horseman on Netflix.”

In my spare time, I try to give back.

At 7:30 p.m., I do my P90x video for exercise.


Yeah fucking right. I did that shit for like a week, maybe 6 years ago. At 7:30 I’m still watching Netflix, yo.

Still, the best way to wind down after a busy day is cooking with my girlfriend and experimenting with new recipes.

couple cooking

Did you know that there are three different ways to reheat food from House of Dumpling? Microwaving is obviously the fastest way, and the stovetop works well too, but we’ve found that the toaster oven has a significant rejuvenating effect on four day-old potstickers.

After dinner, we set aside time to read, which has become our evening ritual.


The setting aside time part, that is. We haven’t actually read in months, but let’s face it, nobody has ever actually ever gotten past page 172 of Infinite Jest, and I’m sure as hell not going to be the first one to do it. We usually spend this time that we’ve allotted for reading watching more Netflix. The Good Place is kind of corny, but strangely addictive.

Then, sometime around 11 p.m., after looking at our respective phones while lying in bed next to each other for a good 30-90 minutes, we’ll turn out the light and go to sleep. That is, until my roommate comes home at like 1:30 a.m. on a freakin’ Thursday, causing my girlfriend’s dog to jump up and start barking its head off.  This is why I’m tired all the time.

61. Letter to 2016


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Dear 2016,

On Sunday I visited my favorite record store, you know, where I go every week to buy soul records from the most adorable old gay shopkeeper in the city. He said that between Trump, the Oakland fire, and the rain, business has been awful for him because nobody can bring themselves to leave their homes, let alone make it all the way to his shop. I thought about you, and how in a way you’ve been making it difficult for me to leave the proverbial (and literal) home over the past 12 months, because every time I try to feel positive you seem to trip me and then kick me when I’m down. What can we say about you, 2016?

First you killed David Bowie. He was in his late 60s, younger than my dad, and as a rule nobody younger than my dad is allowed to die—you know this, 2016. Bowie was one of those artists who could bend my emotions at will—he could bring me to ecstasy or agony, or both, over the course of just a few songs. His variety and creativity excited me, his views on politics and sexuality intrigued me, and his aura of mystique enthralled me. I never saw him in concert, and now I never will.

About a month after his death I went to a tribute concert, and you pulled me on stage and made me sing “Life on Mars” to the crowd, embarrassing me when I forgot the lyrics during the second verse. You did an amazing version of “Lady Stardust” and when I got home I went into a “Lady Stardust” YouTube hole until I came upon this video of Chris Cornell doing his rendition, which elicited a few tears.

You killed George Martin, which led me to listen to Eleanor Rigby on repeat for a full day or two—I still consider that violin at 1:07 to be one of the most beautiful fills in musical history.

You killed Phife Dawg, although I’ll admit that I love the new Tribe album that you gave us. You killed Merle Haggard, and I pretended to be a huge Merle Haggard fan even though I’m actually only familiar with a few of this songs and I don’t care that much for him. You killed Prince.

You fucking killed Prince.

When you killed prince, I wrote on Facebook, “Fuck 2016. Just fuck this whole year.” And that was only in April. At this point, I still was not over mourning for David Bowie, and then you took away one of the most inspirational artists in my life. And you took him way too young, and you took him for a fucking stupid reason. Here is my favorite Prince clip:

In early June, you committed the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, slaying 49 dancers celebrating gay pride in an Orlando nightclub. The politicized media really had a field day coming up with creative ways to spin the incident. The left blamed the proliferation of semiautomatic weaponry and decried the act as a homophobic hate crime. After a few days of what must have been deep inner torment, the right briefly embraced the gay community and used the tragedy to push Islamophobia, framing the discussion to be one in which the only way to keep our beloved LGBT community safe would be to remove Muslims from the country. These are the conversations you’ve inspired, 2016. But you can’t fool me; I am well aware that no matter how you slice it, regardless of whether you choose to focus on G-d, guns, or gays, you brutally murdered 49 people for no reason other than the fact that they lived in a world where boys like to dance with boys.

The summer wasn’t so bad. For my birthday you took me to London and we sipped negronis on the balcony of that fancy restaurant on river by the Tate. That night we went to a Japanese restaurant where our waitress was from Toyama, where I had taught English for 2 years. I was able to purchase pounds on the cheap because just a week before you had caused the UK to leave the European Union. In retrospect, that was sort of a dick thing to do, 2016, but you’re not going to live to see the fallout.

Remember Normandy, 2016? Visiting the farm a few kilometers inland from Utah beach, where my grandfather had established a field hospital? Drinking calvados at the orchard that had once been occupied by Nazis? You took a respite from murdering my heroes for just long enough to bring back a false sense of hope.

Then you took away my grandmother. I acknowledge that she was old, and senile, and probably ready to die, but man, her death fucked me up. My grandmother was a famous, powerful, and influential poet, fairly well-known in the states and highly revered in Israel, where she lived for 35 years until we brought her back 6 years ago. We had a small memorial for her, family only, during which we reminisced and read a few of her poems. My cousin read this one:

Horseshoe Crabs

She is astonished by the moon
as she crawls out of the sea
on a small island, dragging
the male crab on her tail.

He hangs there by the hooks
he’s just grown out of his legs,
clutching at what she
offers him, and half her size.

She wears him as she wears
her great shell like a mask
stretched over her body
and the steaming eggs.

Air enters her gills
like moonlight
and she breathes it out on this
one night out of the water

with her sisters, and their
ferocious lovers
hanging on. Already
the tide slips back,

and on the beach the crabs
are giddy, meaning to go.
They always mean to.
Four hundred million years

of habit, still they are caught
like shards left over
when the roof falls in.
They lie at sunrise

in the bright sand, holding
the dark inside them,
dreaming of floors of oceans
where they move alone.

One of the last things my grandmother said to me when she was still compos mentis was, “Your greatest accomplishment is being related to me.” She was dead serious, too. It made me feel like shit then, and it felt even shittier now, at the age of 35, burying her and worrying that she may be correct.

Do you wanna talk about the election, 2016? Honestly, I already wrote a piece about the president-elect and his supporters, so I’m not sure we need to have that conversation again, so I’ll make this short. We were watching at a food truck party where there was a fire pit with ingredients to make s’mores—I know, I know, so fucking San Francisco. You’ve never seen a more deflated group of yuppie liberals than we had that night. I got drunk, and you gave me a ride home in your Lyft. When I got home, I posted the following message on Facebook:

“I just got home, and then literally broke down in tears (and you know that I don’t fuck around when I use the word ‘literally’). There are a million reasons to be sad tonight, but for me, one stands out above all others: tonight, a generation of children were taught that bullies win.”

Two days after the election, you killed Leonard Cohen. This was a great set-up for another crying session two days after that, when I came home late at night from a concert and watched this:

And now, 2016, I need to give you a trigger warning, because the next bit of this letter is going to be painful.

Two weeks ago we went to the Leonard Cohen tribute show at the Chapel, in which a number of Bay Area-based musicians performed hauntingly beautiful renditions of Cohen’s greatest songs. We were moved emotionally, and afterwards we talked about how between that show and the Undercover Presents Bjork tribute the week before, we were witnessing the strength, perseverance, and resilience of the Bay Area art scene.

Five days later, you killed 36 young members of the Bay Area artistic community in the deadliest fire in Oakland’s history. It might be more than that, actually—there are still people missing and the death toll is expected to rise. When I first heard about the fire, I was in shock, but separated from the incident. A quick check revealed that I didn’t personally know any of the victims, and I was sad, but my thoughts were elsewhere. In the few days that followed, I read many articles about how gentrification was a cause of the fire, as marginalized artists are forced to live in precarious conditions in this impossible housing market. The fire in Oakland was at a live/work/create warehouse known as “Oakland Ghost Ship” where the members regularly threw parties to raise money for their artwork. The stairs were stacks of pallets, exposed wires stuck out of the walls, there was no sprinkler system, and the building sure as hell wasn’t up to any sort of building codes, but rectifying any of the foregoing would have cost a great deal of money–something that artists do not have.

The articles made it seem like the recent tech boom has relegated the creative class to warehouses on the outskirts of town, but the truth is that artists have been living in warehouses and semi-abandoned buildings in the Bay Area since the 70s—they just moved from San Francisco to Oakland. Heck, there was a time when punk rock bands crashed in the empty beer vats of an abandoned brewery—check it out.  This doesn’t make the situation any better—artists form fundamental threads in the tapestry of San Francisco, California, the country and the world, but I’m not sure I believe that more artists had been living in safer conditions prior to the past few years (of course, if you have any good articles that provide solid (or semi-solid) evidence about this, please do share). Nonetheless, the fact that artists who create and inspire and make the world beautiful have to live in squalid conditions while people who work in “biz dev” for “apps” that create “dynamic targeted advertising experiences” get to live in luxury high-rises pisses the fuck out of me.

Starting five days after the fire, different news sources started posting lists and bios of the victims of the fire, and that’s when the incident became a tragedy for me. Seeing these young, hopeful faces and knowing the devastation caused to their families, friends, and communities, my chest ached and I became short of breath.

I didn’t personally know anybody who died that night, but I have a few friends who did. One of these friends posted the following memorial video about a week after the fire:

Watching this video, it occurs to me that real, actual human beings—who laughed and made others laugh, who danced and made others dance, who dreamed and made others dream—had their lives suddenly, painfully and unfairly cut short. I think about the victim and 35 other grown-up kids like her, so full of spirit and expression, panicking, screaming in a sudden inferno, unable to breath from the smoke, feeling their flesh burn. I began to cry.

Do you remember when we sat on the stairs in front of the Imperial War Museum back in July, and we discussed living in New York during 9/11? We had gone to the roof of my dorm building, the tallest building at Columbia, and we could see the smoke rising from the towers five miles away. We were in shock, and we were a bit scared, and in the following days we were sad, but we were 20 years old back then and we had no idea how to process the largest act of terror ever to take place on American soil. Sure, we had some idea of the political ramifications, but we couldn’t grasp what it meant for 3000 people to perish from the blind faith and hatred of others. And you and I contemplated what it would be like if 9/11 happened today, how our now adultish 35-year old minds would be unable to overcome it or to handle it, whereas at the time it just felt like we were on some bizarre drug, and we didn’t cry.

And I know that 36 is a lot less than 3000, but 2016 you made me cry in a way that 2001 never could. I can’t listen to “On Melancholy Hill” or “Hallelujah” or “Lady Stardust” without tearing up right now—yeah, that’s right, the worst part is that it’s December and I’m still not over David Bowie’s death. And now I’m watching the news about Aleppo and it ain’t helping.

I don’t want you to finish this letter thinking that I absolutely hate you, 2016. We had some good times, too.

Remember when we went to the Cure concert and you kissed me when they played “Just Like Heaven”? We were so worried that they wouldn’t do “Boys Don’t Cry,” but then the band came back on for that third encore.

Remember when we got drunk in the back of that fancy wine bar and took off our shirts to show each other our tattoos?

Remember when you made me that sign for the Black Lives Matter rally and we were interviewed by Al Jazeera?

Remember when we hiked to the top of Bald Hill to watch the meteor shower, and you jumped every time you heard something in the bushes?

Remember when you sent a text saying you missed me so I caught the next flight to LA and we got coffee together in Echo Park?

Remember when you came over and we baked muffins together? And after I put the muffins into the oven I set the timer on my phone I said, “well, it looks like we have 23 minutes to kill, what should we do?” and then I kissed you.

I won’t forget you, 2016.

The good thing about a bad year is that you’re only around for 365 days (or in your case, 366…goddammit, you just HAD to have one extra day to be a dick). I’m sure you’re not done with the gut punches yet, 2016. In fact, I predict that just a few minutes before the ball drops in the closing moments of December 31st, you’ll smite Bob Dylan with a massive heart attack or stroke (yes folks, you heard it here first). And then comes 2017. Even with “El Pendejo Naranjo” becoming presidente, I have hope that 2017 will be better to all of us than you were.

I should be wrapping this up. Back at the record store, I bought an old Percy Sledge record to give my friend a much-needed sale. But you know what? It’s a fucking great record and I’m quite pleased with my purchase.

Now have fun these last three weeks, 2016, and then go fucking die.


60. On Republicans


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Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?

*            *            *

On Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, the 88th anniversary of Kristallnacht, I awoke at 4 AM with a pounding hangover and puffy eyes. After sifting through the sea of misery that was my Facebook feed for a few hours, I left my apartment to go to work, skipping showering and brushing my teeth. There was a larger-than-normal cluster of homeless men in front of the donut shop—I took their orders and bought them all breakfast, while also purchasing a chocolate and a glazed donut for myself. I’m trying to cut down on my sugar intake, but as far as I was concerned, Wednesday was a cheat day.

There was a beautiful young woman sitting next to the window on MUNI. When the train left Civic Center station, she spontaneously burst into tears.

Five minutes after settling into my chair in front of my desk, one of my colleagues entered my office, stared out my window for an awkward thirty seconds, and then muttered, to nobody in particular, “No words. No words.”

After work, I had dinner with an old friend. He insisted that, for the entire duration of the meal, I tell him about my recent vacation in Colombia. Every time I tried to change the subject, he would ask more questions. “What was the food like? Is it easy to get around without knowing Spanish? Let me see your pictures!” I was more than happy to oblige—it was clear that neither of us had any desire to address the elephant in the room.

Upon arrival home, I immediately logged back into Facebook to catch up on the day’s deluge of angst, anger, and fear. My friends who are not white, or who are LGBT, or Muslim, or women, or some combination thereof, posted articles explaining why they were afraid. White males displayed their recognition of privilege and pledges of solidarity. And many of my friends posted messages attacking Trump’s supporters and Republicans in general. As one friend succinctly put it: “If you voted for Trump, then you are a racist. Period.”

I want to believe that most Republicans are not racist.

*            *            *

I followed the 2016 presidential contest more closely than I had any election before. The amount of energy I devoted to reading articles about the candidates far eclipsed any interest piqued in the 2008 election, which between Obama and Palin, was the last time I had allowed myself to indulge in extended political obsession. Although the dramatis personae of the 2016 campaign included a very strong supporting cast, featuring the Falstaff Chris Christie, the Iago Ted Cruz, and the Lady Macbeth Hillary Clinton, it was American Caligula Donald Trump who received, by far, the bulk of my attention.

I recall a barbecue in Brooklyn in July, in which we were discussing some of the more comical election-related moments of the recent few weeks. I pointed out how I was flabbergasted by Trump’s supporters. “They’re obsessed with Trump,” I noted. “Dude,” replied my friend. “I’m obsessed with Trump.” And I was too—hell, we all were. We updated HuffPo and WaPo and NYT every three minutes, waiting to read about the next hate-filled, ignorant, or downright stupid sound byte to come out of his pie hole. And mind you, this barbecue occurred before the dawn of the “Grab ‘em by the pussy” era.

And so, for fifteen agonizing months, the Donald was the butt of every liberal joke, the target of every left-wing insult, and instigator of endless decent-person rage. Not just in America—my friends in the U.K. and Europe (I’m getting used to treating those as separate places), Australia, Israel, and Japan contributed their fair share of anti-Don zingers. People in Colombia even wanted to talk to me about Trump, even though my recollections of 7th grade Spanish usually left me nodding incessantly and just repeating “si…si…” with a confused look on my face. I did learn a new word though: pendejo.

Then Donald Trump won the election—there, let’s say it, let’s admit it, let’s acknowledge it, the 45th president of the United States is a former failed steak salesmen who has never held political office and who has an affinity for younger women whom he fathered. We’re all drowning in waves of shock and depression—hell, it took me three days before I could even shower and I’ve eaten nothing but breakfast burritos, chocolate croissants, and Chinese food since he won (okay, admittedly, that’s not too different from my normal diet). And you’d better believe I have a serious Grizzly Adams look going on right now.

Trump’s victory was a huge upset, and now we find ourselves asking, how the hell did it happen? We play the blame game—it was that bitch Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC sabotaging Bernie, who obviously would have smashed Trump. It was the liberal, Jew-controlled media, who gave Trump infinitely more attention than he deserved. It was Nate Silver, for convincing us all that Hillary’s victory was a shoe-in and causing us to become too complacent. It was the lack of education in the Midwest and south that led to a generation of stupid bigots. It was Huffington Post. Honestly, fuck that website.

I blame myself. I sincerely believe that the reason we lost this election is because I and other like-minded people hid in our liberal, coastal elitist bubbles and ignored what was happening in the rest of the country. We refused to acknowledge that Republicans were people worthy of respect, and they eventually got their revenge. I take responsibility because I have lived on this planet for 35 years and, of my 706 Facebook friends, I can name around 5 who identify as Republican and one (1) whom I know voted for Trump.

I’ve been ignoring and avoiding Republicans my whole life, because I’ve been taught (brainwashed?) to believe that Republicans are sleazy, cheating, bigoted, and otherwise immoral. During the election cycle, a number of Republicans had the audacity to point out that, in 1865, 150 years ago, it was the Democrats, and not the Republicans, who opposed the abolition of slavery. Of course, anybody with a rudimentary understanding of U.S. history knows damn well that, since the Civil Rights era in the 1960s, the Republicans have been the party most supportive of racist ideals. But despite that—

I want to believe that most Republicans are not racist.

*            *            *

My earliest of memory of any sort of cognizance about politics was in 1987, when the hearings against Oliver North were televised and America became wise to the full extent of the Iran-Contra scandal. I was six years old at the time, and I remember my father watching the television, shaking his head, and saying, “Oliver North—what a dummy. North, Reagan, all of the Republicans—what a bunch of dummies.” One strange quirk about my father is that when I was younger, he had a horrible swearing problem (which is why I have such a fucking filthy mouth today, I suppose), but the most scathing insult he could ever bestow upon somebody was calling him or her a “dummy.” He used the term very sparingly. Although he would toss out “fuck” or “shit” or “asshole” or “sonuvabitch” without batting an eye, but it was only when he was overflowing with livid rage to the point of tasting bile in his mouth that he would call somebody the dreaded D-word. When my father called somebody a “dummy,” it was his way of saying that they were a daughter-raping, criminal, immoral, depraved, moronic, son-raping, disgusting, deplorable, imbecilic, cowardly, ugly, father-raping, psychotic, uncouth, immature, intolerable, mother-fucking, titty-sucking two-ball bitch with a ping-pong pussy and a rubber dick.

And this was the earliest term I heard used to describe the fifty percent of the U.S. population who identify as Republicans.

When I was in middle school, there was a program to try to instill some kind of work ethic in students in which they’d encourage us to sell magazine subscriptions, and reward us with “weepuls,” which were essentially collectable colored cotton balls with plastic googly eyes. They came in dozens of types, with different little hats or other accessories.


The “Weepul Man” would stand on stage in the auditorium and thrill us with the bounty of rewards that awaited us if we would excel at bothering our parents and parents’ friends to convince them to buy discounted subscriptions to Readers’ Digest. Weepuls were just the beginning—I think if you sold 20 subscriptions, you got a Sony Walkman. The top saleschild got picked up in a limo and taken to McDonalds.

Each different weepul had a unique name, which was usually a pun based on its accessories. There was one weepul named “Jumbo” who had an elephant’s trunk and ears and a red, white and blue hat. He was one of my favorites, but when I proudly showed my weepul collection to my older sister and her friend, they pointed out that Jumbo was a Republican, and encouraged me to throw him away. I did.

It’s a metaphor, people.

*            *            *

I rooted for Michael Dukakis because my parents voted for him. I rooted for Bill Clinton because my parents voted for him, although admittedly I kind of liked Ross Perot, because even at 11 years old I could see that the two-party system was problematic. My parents explained that they believed in paying more in taxes in order to fund schools, and that made sense to me. I learned the difference between pro-choice and pro-life and decided that I was the former. In high school, I met a few out-of-the-closet students and teachers, and they seemed fine to me—I didn’t understand why any person would have a dogmatic opposition to homosexuals. I read Atlas Shrugged and disagreed with Ayn Rand more and more with every turn of the page (and I turned A LOT of pages). I decided that I was a Democrat.

I went to an Ivy League university where most of the student body was in the same camp. There’s a memory that sticks out—it’s the day before Election Day in 2000, and at the end of my Literature Humanities class, one student stands up and says, “everybody, don’t forget to vote tomorrow!” The dude sitting next to him turns to him and says, “I will, but I’m not sure you’ll like it…you see, I’m a Republican.” The first guy said, “that’s okay, I’m a Republican too.” They smiled and shared an awkward moment. At the time, I made a joke about how they kind of wanted to kiss, but didn’t know what to do because they were homophobic. But I also realized something then: Republicans were a minority at my school, and they were taught to keep their mouths shut about it.

I don’t remember ever getting into any political debates with Republicans when I was in college. I also don’t recall being very political. I think I went to one meeting of the anti-death penalty student organization but I found the members to be insufferable. I saw John Kerry speak when he came onto campus and wasn’t terribly impressed. I knew I hated George W. Bush, and even more, I knew I detested Dick Cheney. Watching the news of all of the blood that was being shed just so Cheney’s cronies could make more money made me sick. I began associating Republicans with greed and an utter lack of concern for human life. That old joke resonates with me—you know the one. Cheney, Bush, and Rummy are sitting in the war room, planning the invasion of Iraq. Rummy says, “we’re gonna go in and kill a million Iraqis, and one blonde with big tits.” Bush says, “why the blonde with big tits?” Rummy turns to Cheney and says, “see, I told you nobody would care about us killing a million Iraqis.” Ha ha ha?


After college I spent three years teaching English in Japan, in a small area called Toyama. We had a high concentration of English teachers from Indiana and North Carolina, due to the fact that the two largest cities in Toyama were sister cities with Fort Wayne and Durham. Some of the teachers from those states were staunch liberals who were fleeing their conservative homelands. Others were heartland Republicans who, contrary to popular liberal misconception, actually owned passports and were interested in seeing other parts of the world and helping people. When W was re-elected, most of us mourned, and the Republican JETs generally stayed silent. Again, I don’t recall much political debate.

Then I was off to law school at UCLA, which was packed with Democrats hoping to change the world. Some of them did end up doing something like that, which is great—many of us just ended up working for the other side in huge corporate law firms. There were also a few Republicans, who were mainly interested in the money-making aspect of lawyerdom. For the most part they stayed quiet during Constitutional Law class (and they rarely if ever took Criminal Procedure), so we rarely got into any sort of debate on social issues.

Near the end of my first semester 1L year, a classmate informed me that our slated second semester property teacher was a racist who singled out, attacked, and humiliated minority students and made them feel horribly uncomfortable. I was asked to sign a petition requesting a different teacher. The thought of a blatantly racist professor troubled me, so I signed the petition. I would later learn that the impetus for drafting the petition was that this professor had published an article in which he denounced affirmative action, citing empirical evidence that the practice actually hurts black students.

I regret signing the petition. I understand that this particular professor was and continues to be an extremely controversial figure in legal academia, but stating that somebody is not allowed to do their job because they have different political beliefs than you is dangerous, cowardly, and, in my opinion, part of why Trump got elected. His property class was, like all 1L property classes, dry and boring. When I took the bar exam, there was one multiple choice item about the Rule Against Perpetuities, and I just blindly filled in “C” without actually reading the question. I still passed.


[a little inside lawyer joke for ya]

The Sander incident did have one positive effect on my life. Since then, I will never blindly sign a petition until I have thoroughly researched the issue. And to any of my law school friends who are reading this now, grinding your teeth about how this professor is a horrible racist and you felt horribly mistreated every time you walked into his class, I’m happy to be educated.

By the time I graduated from law school, Obama was president and I had 4 or 5 openly (and vocally) Republican friends on Facebook. I have since de-friended three of those people (two whom I know from high school, one from law school) from both Facebook and life, because they made disgustingly racist comments about the country’s first African-American commander-in-chief. In other words, 60-75% of my outspoken Republican “friends” demonstrated to me that they were bigots.

I want to believe that most Republicans are not racist.

*            *            *

There are two problems:

The first problem is that both political parties have shifted to the right. Bernie Sanders aside, neoliberalism and capitalism in general have essentially become the de facto positions of the Democratic Party, and many of the prominent Democratic politicians have aligned themselves with corporate interests. Republicans, meanwhile, have doubled down on conservative social issues, which include opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, and black people. As a result, about half of my friends who voted for W in 2004 voted for Obama and Hillary (who both would arguably be considered to be moderate Republicans if our loadstar was 1976), and the other half are now identifying as Libertarian.

The second problem is that, in my heart of hearts, I genuinely believe that the Republican stances on most social issues are genuinely immoral. I believe that the pro-life position is injurious to women. I believe banning LGBT people from marrying those they love, or not allowing them to use the restrooms in which they are comfortable, is tantamount to stating that they do not deserve to be treated as human beings. I believe that stating that “all lives matter” makes you ignorant at best, but most likely a fucking racist. I believe that calls for massive deportations of brown-skinned immigrants is an act of cruelty comparable to the Trail of Tears, which would also have devastating effects on our economy without actually providing any “real Americans” (whatever the hell that means) with gainful employment. I believe—no, I know with absolute certainty—that being a Muslim does not make you a terrorist. Republican social positions, combined with Republican economic “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” philosophies, makes me feel like Republicans are the party of being mean.

This one-two punch means that I rarely interact with actual Republicans, and when I do, I quickly run into fundamental disagreements that are impossible to resolve in an amicable manner. Four occasions come to mind in which I (or my friends) have tried (and failed) to understand the other side:

  1. C

In law school, I briefly dated C. She was beautiful—born in South America and adopted by a family in the U.S. east coast when she was a baby, with caramel skin and deep brown eyes. A classic Los Angeles story, she had initially come to the city to do promotional modeling but was now doing marketing for a video game company. She lived in Marina del Ray and had a puppy chihuahua. When I got my wisdom teeth removed, she came over with the puppy and we watched all three Naked Gun movies, followed by L.A. Story. Little lady, let your mind go and your body will follow.

This was in 2008, and after taking a trip to Nevada to knock on doors for Obama, I became very active in UCLA’s phone campaign for the no on Prop 8 campaign, attempting to preserve the right for same-sex couples to get married. One night, after finishing up my shift at the phones, I met up with C for burgers in West Hollywood, the epicenter of the Los Angeles gay community. The people whom I had called that evening had been extremely supportive of the cause, and I was rather excited telling C about it

“Um,” she said, “I actually think I’m going to vote yes on 8”
What?!” I was completely flabbergasted.
“Well, you know I’m adopted, right?”
“And because of that, I have a lot of friends who are adopted.”
“And I know some people who were adopted by gay couples, and it didn’t work out so well.”
I paused for a moment, then questioned her logic: “Okay, do you know of any people who were adopted by gay couples where it did work out well?”
“And do you know any people who were adopted by straight couples, where it didn’t work out well?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Then doesn’t it seem that the success of an adoption is dependent on many factors beyond the sexuality of the parents?”
C shook her head. “You just don’t understand because you weren’t adopted.”
She was right, I didn’t understand. We broke up shortly thereafter.

If anybody reading this was adopted and can help me to better understand C’s argument, I’m all ears.

  1. P

While on an extended lawyering assignment in Tokyo 5 years ago, I flew home for the holidays. P, a brutish-looking, tattooed, white American who looked like a younger, meaner Brock Lesnar, was sitting in the aisle seat, staring across the plane and seething. He turned to me immediately after I sat down next to him. “If I see that Iraqi over there—” he tilted his head to point to a brown-skinned man who could have been descended from any Middle Eastern or South Asian country—“If I see him start to move towards the cockpit, I will not hesitate to immobilize him by any means necessary.”

I attempted to distract P so that he’d stop focusing on the darker-skinned man. Within 30 minutes, he had explained to me that he feels nauseas whenever he sees any “illegals” in his hometown of Vacaville, and how it’s unfair that the “gay communities” don’t have to pay taxes. I inquired as to the genesis of his beliefs on the last point, and he looked at me as if I were insane and said, “because of the loopholes the Democrats put into the tax system.” I then noticed that he had an MMA magazine, and switched the conversation to that.

We ended up talking about MMA for practically the entire 10-hour flight. P was a wrestler and boxer who had spent a month in Tokyo training with some famous sensei, with the hopes of someday making it in the UFC. At the time, MMA was my favorite sport to watch and I followed it somewhat religiously (I have completely stopped watching since then, for unknown reasons—it really is an incredible sport).

The point is that I was able to connect, and even formulate somewhat of a friendship, with P—as long as we avoided any discussion related to politics.

  1. H

Several of my British friends from my JET Programme days have started a number of fun Facebook groups, like “Sport Chat,” “Film Chat,” “Music Chat,” “Book Chat,” etc. We make recommendations, share funny links, and have light-hearted conversation about these different elements of pop culture. There’s also “Politics Chat,” which for the past year has focused on Brexit and Trump. Of the 20-ish active members of Politics Chat, there is only one who is conservative—let’s call him H.

H is British, and happily gloated about Brexit and the Tory victories. The other members of the group made concerted attacks against him, which only made him more defensive and, as a result, more offensive. He was fighting alone against 19 others—what the hell did we expect? There was a private discussion around banning him from the group. I voiced by dissent, stressing the importance of having at least one opposing viewpoint in our political forum.

After Trump won, H again expressed his pleasure. My fellow members again asked about banning him, and I replied that although I wanted to punch H in the face, I would not want to ban him from expressing his opinion. I quit the politics chat group—not because of H, but because I can’t fucking deal with any of that shit anymore. My friends informed me that after I quit, H was banned. We need conservatives in the group, they noted, but only “good” conservatives, which I suppose means conservatives who are smart and reasonable and willing to capitulate or shut up when pounded by morally and intellectually superior liberal rhetoric.

  1. D

D is a rather close friend of mine (who is not on Facebook) whom I’ve known for nearly 30 years. I can say without hesitation that I love him dearly. Since I’ve known him, he has always been an unapologetic Republican. Over the course of our friendship, we have engaged in countless political debates. Not once has either of us persuaded the other to change his views—if anything, we have only reinforced each others’ pre-conceived biases against the other side. But through all of these arguments, we have maintained a deep mutual admiration and respect. In recent times, some of D’s arguments have revealed elements of bigotry that are not too subtle, and I have no idea how to respond to them. Since Trump’s victory, I have not reached out to him, and frankly I don’t know when I will be able to do so again.

Soon, I hope.

I want to believe that most Republicans are not racist.

*            *            *

If you’re on Facebook, there are two links you have undoubtedly seen by now.

The first is this video of an angry British man explaining why we lost. In case the link is not working, you can see it by searching for “This is who to blame for Trump.” Chances are, you’ve already seen it and re-posted it.

The punchline, if you watch to the end, is that the reason Trump won is because we failed to listen to Republicans, to understand their troubles and why they are so angry. I think of my failed attempts to discuss issues with the few conservatives I encountered. I think of how we banished H because he disagreed with us. I notice the sudden uprising of “Secret Groups” on Facebook, which allow liberals to have a safe space in which they can discuss Hillary Clinton without being attacked by conservative trolls. Let that soak in—my liberal brethren who, unlike me, are not blessed with having very few conservative family members, are so exhausted from having to deal with their racist/sexist uncles that they’ve created an artificial way to circumvent such fruitless dialogue. How the hell are the two sides supposed to speak to each other? I can only speak for my side, and I can tell you that it’s damn near impossible to have constructive dialogue with somebody who I think is racist.

The other link I’m sure you’ve seen is a list of tweets by LGBT folks, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, women, and people of color who have been the targets of horrific homophobia, Islamaphobia, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, and racism in the day or two immediately following Trump’s victory. I refuse to include this link on my blog. Please tell me that these are just anomalies, not representative of the millions upon millions who voted for Trump, because…

I want to believe that most Republicans aren’t racist.

*            *            *

Where can I find these “good” conservatives? These populists who voted for Trump because they were angry, but would have gladly voted for Bernie. These Republicans who, despite their party affiliation, can be persuaded to vote for the candidate who wears a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt and a hijab while getting an abortion—she got accidentally inseminated by a man she slept with, despite being married to a woman—because despite all that, she believes in small government and self-reliance. Where is that conservative?

We have them in San Francisco—we call them “moderate” Democrats. Despite my rabid “#fuckedlee” diatribes, I have close friends who voted for Scott Wiener, or for Prop Q, or for the death penalty. I have close friends who are less troubled by wealthy members of the tech class displacing long-time San Francisco residents. Don’t get me wrong—we debate, and those debates get heated. And we don’t persuade each other. But we don’t see each other as morally corrupted human beings. And all of those people voted against Trump.

The snooty liberals (like myself) look at the Republican platform of hatred and believe that the right wing is incapable of empathy—that George W’s “compassionate conservative” was as much a lie as the blowhard, inexperienced demagogue claiming that he will “make America great again.” But, from what I understand, those in Trump country find us to be just as lacking in empathy. How can you have empathy when for Trump supporters when you hide in a bubble and never encounter them in the real world, and the only context in which you hear about them is when you see them spray painting swaksticas on synagogues and dressing up in KKK robes. And then we demand the non-racist Republicans to speak out against these people, after getting aggravated at the ridiculousness of demanding that the Muslim community condemn every terrorist attack?

Where are these “good” Republicans? Let’s assume that if one simply ignores (and therefore passively accepts) Trump’s racist and sexist rhetoric and votes based on economic concerns, then he (or she—WTF?) is still “good.” Even under that assumption, do these people exist? I don’t know them, and I don’t know anybody who knows them. I put out the bat call on Facebook asking if any of my friends had gotten any sort of sympathetic responses from their Trump-supporting family members, and the answer was a resounding “no.” But I watched those clips with Van Jones in Gettysburg—he seemed to have found some folks who aren’t racist at all, they’re just looking for a change. Maybe these folks are just not vocal because they’re scared of us PC thugs? Maybe they’re communicating their anti-racist beliefs in Secret Groups?

They must exist. There must be millions of them. The bulk of Bill Clinton’s supporters did not condone his adulterous ways, but still voted for him. I really want to believe that the same is true for Trump’s fans (but replace “adulterous” with the litany of your choice…which should also include “adulterous”). But seeing the way his offensive comments are cheered at his rallies…it’s hard for me.

Without exposure to the “good” Republicans, I’m the rich white, spoiled white kid in Westchester County who only knows of black and brown people as “the help.” I’m the Midwestern farmer who learned everything he knows about Muslims from 9/11. I’m the young schoolboy in Austria in 1932 who has never actually spoken to a Jew, but knows that they remain very secretive in their fenced-off ghettos and sincerely believes that they wear those funny little hats to hide their horns.

And thus, everything I know about Republicans I’ve learned from reading the news about the most prominent figures in the party: Trump of course, Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Megyn Kelly (please, please, please tell me she didn’t vote for Trump), Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain (who, you may recall, was the “cool” Republican before he ran for president), Scott Baio, Reince Priebus, Stephen Bannon, Alex fucking Jones, David motherfucking Duke, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush (who was the voice of reason during the Republican primaries—that’s fucking scary), Jim Inhofe, Ben Carson, the Koch brothers…

I want to stop typing this list, because I want to believe that most Republicans aren’t racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or xenophobic, or climate change deniers, or other people whom I never want to fucking see again, and this is not making it easy.

*            *            *

What if it’s not the “good” Republicans we should be seeking out? What if it’s the desperate ones? As noted above, most of the Republicans I know well are rich Republicans that stand to gain from tax cuts—I have little sympathy for their causes. However, according to TV and a few other credible sources, there are a shit ton of Republicans in middle America who are so poor that they are struggling to get by and don’t have time to worry about the plight of the other—it’s hard to give a fuck about which bathroom a transgendered person is allowed to use when you’re struggling to put food on the table. The chant of “black lives matter” makes little sense when it’s become quite apparent that your life doesn’t matter to people living big cities. When it seems like resources are extremely scarce (because for you, they truly are), it’s hard to stomach those resources being allocated to benefit people who came into the country illegally. And then Hillary Clinton supporters tell you that you don’t have a right to talk about these issues and you should just “check your privilege.” Is it racist if you’re a white guy who is too concerned with survival to care what other people say about minorities?

Having lived a life in affluent urban or suburban areas, going to top-level educational institutions, and working in the technology sector, I’m probably at least three degrees of separation away from any of these people. But they do exist. In large numbers. And I want to believe that they’re not racists—and maybe they wouldn’t be if their lives had more stability.

I hope y’all read this far, because this little bit right here, this is why Trump won.

*            *            *

I don’t expect or request the non-racist Trump-supporters to apologize for the actions of others or to engage with terrified minorities. I don’t expect or request any meaningful dialogue between Republicans and Democrats—that would be expecting more from others than I seem to be capable of myself. I do request, but don’t expect, the government to help any poor or middle class communities (whether white or otherwise). But here is what, in my humble opinion, we all need to require in order to heal America going forward:

  • Every single person who has any sort of interaction with children needs to be held accountable for preventing bullying. When I was in sixth grade, I said some extremely mean things to a classmate and really hurt his feelings and humiliated him. I received swift punishment from my teacher, principal, and parents. I was shamed and felt like shit—and I learned my lesson. Children need to learn from a young age that insulting others is not appropriate—this is fundamental to ensuring that they do not become bigots, regardless of their political affiliation. Melania Trump claims this is going to be her primary initiative as first lady, and if that hold true, I will respect and support her.
  • Democrats need to wake the fuck up on the subject of income inequality. How the Republican party, which invented trickle-down economics and the myth of the “Welfare Queen,” managed to convince so many people who are experiencing financial hardship that voting for Trump was the best choice blows me away, but is not surprising at all given our candidate.
  • On a similar note as the above two points, liberals need to stop making fun of white people who live in America. No more calling them “white trash,” or “honkeys,” or “cracker-ass motherfuckers.” No more making fun of them for not going to college or for not knowing the different between “your” and “you’re.”   No more bashing them for watching Duck Dynasty (which, I’ve learned is not a combination of Duck Tales and Dynasty—although that would be rad).
  • Hate crimes need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Trump wants law and order? Let’s start here.
  • No more Huffington Post.
  • You need to watch this video. Right now. And I thank you for reading this whole post—it was a fucking doozy.

p.s. As you can tell from this post, I’ve clearly failed when it comes to maintaining a friend base that spans a diverse range of viewpoints. I’m assuming that many people reading are more open-minded than I and know non-racist Republicans (or even identify as such themselves). If that’s the case, can you please just reassure me, and perhaps introduce me? I’d love to talk to these people. In fact, we all should make an effort to open up the lines of communication—it’s the only way we have a chance of avoiding Trump’s re-election.

59. On The Upcoming Election


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It’s election season, and the denizens of San Francisco won’t shut up about the big race. The two candidates could not be more polarizing. One is a sharp-dressed woman who tries to relate to the common people but has a history of cozying up with corporations and saying anything that is politically convenient, even if it means flip-flopping on her established positions. The other is a tall blowhard who hates poor people and has been creeping out the targets of his sexual advances for decades.

I’m writing, of course, about Jane Kim vs. Scott Wiener in the race for California state senate. To me, the contest is ultimately a farce. Both candidates are democrats, and although in the ultra-left microcosm of San Francisco Scott Wiener seems like a less-handsome Barry Goldwater, I’m not too worried about him screwing over the great state of California more than it’s already screwed over. I attended the sole Kim/Wiener debate, during which both candidates emphatically explained how, if elected, they would bring affordable housing and state-of-the-art transportation to the city of San Francisco. In other words, the candidates, who are both currently on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, were presenting great cases for why they should stay in San Francisco and not go to Sacramento. Nonetheless, I will still vote for Jane Kim because I like her and want to support her political career, but to me it’s a win-win situation: if Jane Kim loses, then San Francisco gets rid of Scott Wiener.

Now, if Mark Farrell were running instead of Scott Wiener, I would potentially vote for him in the hopes that he would win and leave my city behind forever. Farrell is also on the SF Board of Supervisors, representing the Marina district, which accounted for roughly half of the 9000 San Francisco votes for Donald Trump in the June primaries (most of the others were in Twin Peaks and the surrounding neighborhoods—the wealthiest part of the city). A former VC, Farrell has been firmly entrenched in the pro-Ed Lee “moderate” camp (as opposed to the anti-Lee “progressives”) since he was first elected to the board in 2010. Like many other San Francisco politicians, Farrell has strong opinions on the best approaches to dealing with the “homeless problem.”

I first encountered Farrell last year at the Town Hall to End Homelessness, which was an ambitious event put on by Project Homeless Connect (one of my favorite SF-based charities) in conjunction with Greg Gopman. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Greg Gopman was the uncouth tech-bro CEO who, posted an epic Facebook rant condemning the homeless population of San Francisco in 2013, which included choice bits of assholery such as, “in downtown SF the degenerates gather like hyenas, spit, urinate, taunt you, sell drugs, get rowdy, they act like they own the center of the city.” The post was not well received and the backlash led to Gopman’s resignation from his company and self-imposed hermitude.

For two years, nobody saw or heard Gopman, until he emerged, reborn, a phoenix rising from the ashes who had seen the light and now wanted to devote his life to helping the homeless instead of lambasting them. Some of his ideas were eccentric and unrealistic (such as provisioning homeless people with private geodesic domes), and it often seemed like Gopman was expending a disproportionate amount of energy on pontificating on his own personal redemption, rather than addressing the problems affecting homeless people themselves. Just last week, Gopman’s name appeared in the news again, when Twitter hired him to join their AR/VR team and TechCrunch responded by publishing a hit piece that got Gopman fired rather quickly. Apparently Twitter had neglected to do any sort of background Google search on Gopman, but once TechCrunch published a story gently reminding them of a tirade he posted online 3 years ago and writing off all of his efforts of redemption as insincere, that cajoled the social media giant into immediately regretting its hiring decision.

I, for one, call bullshit. I’ve seen Greg Gopman speak and I’ve read his blog posts (there are others besides the ones linked above). It’s clear why people think he’s disingenuous. Imagine if a middle school bully gets in trouble for calling somebody “gay” in a derogatory manner in the classroom and is required by the teacher to go read the Wikipedia article on gay rights. He comes to class a week later with a forced sense of sympathy, and awkwardly lectures everybody about the Stonewall riots and hate crimes inflicted on the LGBT community. Do we believe that this bully has actually reformed his ways? To many, this is analogous to the approach Gopman is taking towards homelessness.

I see it differently. In my not-so-humble opinion, Gopman is a narcissistic, entitled douchebag who made some huge mistakes in the past and is now desperately trying to be a better person, albeit in an arguably self-righteous manner. Needless to say, I can relate, and I believe that he deserves a second chance.

Gopman had envisioned the Town Hall to End Homelessness as his opportunity to advertise his newfound charitable heart, but the powers that be, aware that Gopman’s unique style of delivery often overshadowed the substance of his message, did their best to limit Gopman’s stage presence. They were largely successful in their efforts until Gopman took the podium at the very end of the event and gave a 7-minute soliloquy on his transformation. Putting that aside, the event was certainly worth my time. The first half showcased a number of inspirational speakers, including representatives of the Navigation Centers (temporary deluxe shelters that, from what I’ve read, are actually quite effective for helping get people off the streets), Project HandUp (crowdsourcing to help individual members of the homeless community), and Lava Mae (mobile showers and toilets for homeless folks). These speeches were followed by a panel discussion hosted by Gary Kamiya featuring Supervisors Jane Kim and Mark Farrell as well as Joe Wilson, the program manager for Hospitality House, an incredible SF community-building organization.

The panel decidedly was not the highlight of the evening. Farrell started by jerking himself off a bit, talking about his work on authoring and passing Laura’s law, which centers around treatment for people with mental health issues. Jane Kim arrived late, and then she and Farrell jerked each other off for their brilliant ideas about providing free or below-market housing for the homeless. Joe Wilson tried to keep the politicians honest, pointing out how in a small, dense, city like San Francisco with a saturated housing market, providing all of the homeless with free living spaces (a la Salt Lake City) was an overly-expensive (and thus unrealistic) approach. The supervisors artfully dodged his attacks, but I chalked up their responses to classic politician-style diplomacy. All in all, I left the meeting thinking that although Farrell was one of the “right-wing bad hombres” on the Board of Supes, he seemed to have some genuine empathy for the plight of the homeless community.

Oh how naïve I was back in 2015. Fast forward to a few months ago, when I first learned about Prop Q, which was written by Farrell. I immediately distrusted it when I read that it was co-sponsored by Scott Wiener, who is not known for his compassion towards the homeless community. The backdrop is that, in the past year or so, more and more homeless people have acquired camping tents, and small “tent cities” (which are better described as “shanty towns”) have been popping up all over the city, particularly South of Market (although they’re becoming more ubiquitous, and I often see them in Hayes Valley where I live). Many San Franciscans are concerned about these tent cities, because they are more visible than homeless people sleeping on the concrete (perhaps due to the brightly-colored nylon of the tents) and force the better-off to face the unfortunate fact every day that the city is full of extremely poor human beings.

In January of this year, the city was worried that tourists coming in for Super Bowl 50 would be taken aback by witnessing poverty in the Tech Capital of the Universe, so Ed Lee and his minions did what any “reasonable” municipal government would do: they forcibly removed the tents from the area surrounding “Super Bowl City” (a corporate-sponsored football theme park that could be used to induce vomiting during an ipecac shortage). If the residents of the tents did not evacuate the area in a timely manner, their tents were thrown away and their belongings confiscated. Unsurprisingly, the more empathetic progressives did not approve of these abhorrent actions, and a protest led by popular blogger/firebrand Broke-Ass Stuart was staged to bring attention to the cruel treatment of the people who relied on tents for shelter during the winter (which, incidentally, was unusually rainy due to El Niño).

Unphased by the protest, Farrell has come back and is now attempting codify removal of tent encampments with Proposition Q. This approach appears anathema to the Mark Farrell whom I saw speak at the Town Hall to End Homelessness, the district supervisor who, despite representing some of the wealthiest people in the city, was determined to help those most in need. In order to reconcile these two conflicting notions: compassion for the homeless and hatred for those who have no homes, Farrell came up with a MAGA-esque slogan (and I’m not joking here): “Housing Not Tents.” The concept is simple: homeless people should live in permanent housing, not tents. Therefore, we should get rid of their tents. And Farrell and Wiener are trying to pass this off as humane.

I read the text of Prop Q. It was the only proposition I actually read this year. Between 17 propositions for California and 25 for San Francisco, the ballot books weigh in at an overpowering 537 pages combined, and make me question the purpose of having a representative democracy at all.


I usually like to read all of the interesting propositions word-for-word, as well as all of the arguments for and against, but life is too fucking short to deal with the gargantuan tomes delivered to my mailbox during this election cycle. Despite that, I had to read Prop Q in its entirety so that I could be fully justified in hating it. To spare you the agony of having to analyze this convoluted piles of word feces on your own, I will present you with a simplified discussion on the theory of Prop Q (as described by proponents of the law) vs. the reality.

Theory: Police officers see one or more tents on the sidewalk. They inform the inhabitants that they have 24 hours to evacuate the area or their tents will be confiscated. However, the tent inhabitants are given temporary shelter (either in a city shelter or a Navigation Center), and this temporary shelter will turn into permanent housing so the former tent inhabitants never need to sleep in “Hotel REI” ever again.

Reality: Police officers see one or more tents on the sidewalk. They inform the inhabitants that they have 24 hours to evacuate the area or their tents will be confiscated. This leads to one of three outcomes:

  1. The tent inhabitants pick up their tents and move them one block away. I’m guessing that this is what will happen 90% of the time.
  1. The tent inhabitants pack up and go to a shelter offered by the city, where they are supposedly allowed to stay for one night. The city currently has roughly 7000 homeless people and 1200 shelter beds. There is an 800-person waiting list for the shelters, so in order to make Prop Q work, people already staying in the shelters will need to be pushed out. I’m guessing that there’s not actually going to be any communication between the shelters and the cops tasked with evicting the tent dwellers—making sure there are shelter beds for those who are displaced is actually quite difficult logistically and the text of Prop Q does not seem to contemplate how this would work in the real world. I’m guessing that the cops will simply point the tent inhabitants in the direction of the nearest shelter and tell them to try their luck there.

In any event, the notion that you have 24 hours to go to a shelter is absurd in and of itself: according to the video I’ve posted below, to get into a shelter, you need tuberculosis clearance, which takes 72 hours. (Important note: this does not actually appear to be the case according to the SF Dept. of Public Health website—if anybody can provide any insight into this, please let me know!) Further, many homeless people do not like staying in shelters, which have strict curfews, limitations on the amount of possessions you can bring, and a prohibition on pets.

Prop Q also suggests that tent dwellers may be moved into Navigation Centers. The Navigation Centers, which allow you to bring in all of your stuff and your pets, are more attractive, but entry into Navigation Centers is by careful selection only and there is slim to no chance that anybody displaced by Prop Q will make it into one.

In any event, after one night, you’re back on the street…and most likely back in your tent, especially if it’s raining.

  1. The tent inhabitants refuse to move. Their tents and all possessions inside are confiscated. Supposedly they are impounded for 90 days before they are destroyed, but I imagine that it will be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for a homeless person to retrieve his or her possessions after they are placed under control of the police department.

This video provides some more information:

The Yes on Q camp also has videos. Let’s take a look:

The small business owner. The police officer. The taxpayer. What do these people have in common? One thing: none of them are homeless. This brings us back to the “homeless problem” that I referenced above. When I say “homeless problem,” I mean the problem for homeless people—that they don’t have homes and are forced to sleep on the streets. When Farrell speaks of the “homeless problem,” he means the problem for people who are not homeless—those poor unfortunate souls who must endure the unpleasant sight of les miserables, who create a blight in an otherwise pristine urban environment. I’m sure he gets a lot of complaints from his constituents, those who live in the Marina but have to leave their lily-white bubble and travel downtown to work. Sure, they have Chariot so they need not take public busses with the riff-raff and other commoners, but once they get to the end of the line, they will undoubtedly need to walk a block or two, in which they will see those repulsive tents. And of course, they’re exposed to much larger tent encampments when they go to SoMa on Saturday night for the all-night EDM basement parties.

These Marina types are currently working Farrell’s phone banks for Prop Q. Here’s a picture the Yes on Prop Q team posted on their Facebook page:


Look at all of the fun they’re having! Reminds me of this:


There’s one other Yes on Prop Q video that makes me particularly uncomfortable:

According to this video, which does not attempt to provide any sort of reference, an average of two women report being raped in tent encampments each month. This is horrible, but this has nothing to do with tents. Homeless people are raped and assaulted every night. Particularly homeless people who are young. Particularly homeless people who are young and who are LGBT and/or racial minorities. Farrell’s ads seem to suggest that drug use, prostitution, rape, assault and other crime among the homeless happen more now because of tents, but I have not seen any objective news sources corroborate this. These horrific perils of being homeless were happening under the cover of night long before the cover of tent was introduced.

I will admit that empathy with homeless people is not easy for me. I was blessed from birth with an uncommonly strong, stable, and supportive family, so I have never been at risk of becoming homeless. I have been told by homeless people to whom I give muffins that I don’t know shit about homelessness, and this is a true statement (for the record, I’ve also received many, many, many kind words and I encourage everybody to give muffins to homeless people and to not be deterred). I don’t think you can ever understand what it means to be homeless unless you are homeless. But I understand that homeless people are human beings who are dealing with shitty situations, and being demonized by the city and harassed by the police is not going to help them or anybody around them.

Believe it or not, I am also doing my best to empathize with people who support Prop Q. There is no shortage of such people—in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Prop Q ends up winning (despite the combination of my virtually unstoppable persuasive powers and the expansive readership of this blog). I’ve spoken to many of these people. I’ll admit that I’m not doing too well with the whole “empathy” thing on this front. In fact, I can think of two occasions where I was a complete fucking asshole to people who disagreed with me on this issue. I was only drunk during one of them.

But here’s what I understand:

  • Nearly everybody living in San Francisco has had at least one frightening or otherwise negative encounter with a homeless person. Most of us have been grabbed or otherwise assaulted, chased, and yelled at. Many woman have been barraged with disgustingly insulting catcalls or worse forms of sexual harassment. We’ve nearly tripped on people passed out or shooting up in the middle of the sidewalk. As the homeless population increases in San Francisco and the situation becomes more desperate, these incidents become more and more frequent.
  • People are fed up with the fact that San Francisco spends more per capita on services geared towards helping the homeless than any other city in America, and yet there has been no decrease in the homeless population.
  • There is something unnerving about tents. You can’t see inside of them–who knows what their inhabitants are doing?
  • Most importantly, as I mentioned above, tents are very difficult to avoid seeing. Before I started handing out muffins, I only noticed homeless people when I’d walk within several feet of them—other than that, I’d tune them out, as many people do today. In fact, many homeless people with whom I’ve spoken note that the worst part about being homeless is that people treat them like they’re invisible. However, when a tent pops up on the sidewalk, you notice it.

These are all valid points—and they’re frustrating for all parties involved. It seems like nobody has a clue as to how to solve the “homeless problem” once and for all. But Proposition Q will not actually get rid of tents, nor will it do anything to help homeless people or improve your health or safety. It will give cops yet another legal channel for making life worse for those who are suffering the most, and it will do so to your detriment (because we have a shortage of cops and we need them to spend their time addressing actual crimes) without causing even a temporary benefit for a single person. Except Mark Farrell, who can chalk this up as a political victory when he runs for mayor. This is why we must all vote “No” on Prop Q!

If you want to help the homeless, I recommend baking muffins and handing them out to those in need, as well as donating money, time, or in-kind services to any of the organizations included in the links throughout this post, which I will now consolidate here for your convenience:

Project Homeless Connect: https://www.projecthomelessconnect.org/
HandUp: https://handup.org/
Lava Mae: http://lavamae.org/
SF Navigation Center: http://www.ecs-sf.org/programs/navcenter.html
Hospitality House: http://hospitalityhouse.org/

And here are a few of my other favorite SF charities that deal with helping the homeless:

Larkin Street Youth Services: focused on helping homeless youth between the ages of 12 and 24 in the Tenderloin and Haight neighborhoods. http://larkinstreetyouth.org/
Episcopal Community Services: they offer many services, including shelter, food, and job training. http://www.ecs-sf.org/
Downtown Streets Team: provides job training with the goal of permanent employment and housing. I recently learned about them at an event last week—apparently Greg Gopman was there as well but I didn’t see him. http://streetsteam.org/

Alright friends, thanks for reading. I gotta run—it’s Monday morning and I have two dozen banana-chocolate chip muffins that ain’t gonna eat themselves…

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!

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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:

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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…

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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.