I’ll warn you in advance: this blog post is 40% my first published essay, 60% me name-dropping and jerking myself off. Enjoy!
* * *
I’ve considered myself to be a writer for over 20 years, but until earlier this week, I had never actually had anything published. Crazy, right? Contrary to the popular phase, it is for lack of trying. When I was 15, I submitted an amazing short story about affirmative action in a dystopian future to Merlyn’s Pen, the literary magazine for teens, and got rejected. Then two years ago I submitted one of my blog posts to The Bold Italic and never heard from them. I honestly can’t remember which piece I sent and I can’t find the email in my Gmail sent box, which suggests that I may have felt so dejected by the lack of response that I deleted any trace of my efforts.
Until this month, those were the only two times I had ever attempted to submit any of my writing for publication.
In any event, after batting .000 for so many years, I decided to step up to the plate again when I received an email from my aunt informing me that David Talbot had issued a call for San Francisco writers to submit pieces for a pamphlet entitled “Save Our City!” to support Aaron Peskin, a progressive politician who was running for Supervisor of District 3 (North Beach, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Russian Hill…what tourists think of when they think of San Francisco (minus Haight-Ashbury)). David Talbot, in case you don’t know, wrote Season of the Witch, which is the greatest book on the subject of recent San Francisco history that I’ve ever read. If you live in San Francisco, you need to read it. If you have any interest in San Francisco, you need to read it. If you work in the tech industry, you absolutely need to read it. This is what it looks like:
I 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:
Tony Robles (nephew of Al) read a poem, as did Alejandro Murguia, the current Poet Laureate of San Francisco. Laura Fraser (I admit I’d never heard of her before, but she’s rad, trust me) read a beautiful piece about rent control, and Aaron Peskin read a new poem that Lawrence Farlinghetti wrote for him (at least, I think that’s what he read—I was standing in the far rear of the restaurant and missed the backstory). Rebecca Solnit was conspicuously absent, which surprised me—this would have been right up her alley.
As the event went on, David Talbot kept calling on authors who were in the pamphlet to come up and read their work. The pieces were all fabulous, and the crowd of…let’s face it…older San Francisco progressives grew more and more boisterous with each bottle of wine collectively consumed. I watched from the back, hoping that David Talbot would notice me from across the room and ask me to come up to the stage—he had asked for a headshot so I was hoping he knew what I looked like. Alas, that did not happen, and after one last stalwart ex-hippie read a piece about his disdain for Ron Conway (a rich capitalist who one author referred to as the “Koch Brothers” of San Francisco), David said, “well, it’s getting late…” and I figured that my essay was not going to be read aloud. But hey, it was in the pamphlet—maybe somebody would skim it. Then David looked at his watch and said, “oh wait, it’s only 6:30. Have I forgotten any authors in here tonight?” I shouted out from the back, “YES! Me! Muffin Man!” “Oh, Muffin Man, you’re here! Come on down!”
I shoved my way through the crowd and stepped onto the tiny stage. Before I read my piece, I turned to David and said, “I’ve been writing for over 20 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever had anything published, so thank you.” Then I turned to the audience and gave my introduction:
“Tonight we’ve heard a lot of people bash Ed Lee and Ron Conway and evil real estate developers and tech CEOs, but the truth is that these aren’t the only people who are…er…changing San Francisco. If you go to your old favorite bar in the Mission, or the Tenderloin, or Haight Street, or South of Market, you won’t find those folks…but you’ll probably run into this guy…”
And then I read:
* * *
Come Out And Play
by Muffin Man
Oh, the joys of being young! Three years out of college with a B.S. in Comp Sci from Stanford, the best university in the world. Developed a fairly successful app with a linguistics Ph. D. my junior year. “Lecturnality” – you probably heard of it. My algorithms analyzed a professor’s vocal inflection and word choice to determine the optimal vocabulary and sentence structures to use in term papers for guaranteed A’s. Great for liberal arts majors. I had buddies at Columbia and Michigan who were going to help me expand to their schools, and Rolling Stone was gonna do a story on us, but then campus shut us down. Fucking fascists. Shoulda taken Peter Thiel’s advice, amiright?
That’s all in the past though, and as some guy once said, “all’s well that end’s well.” Got a job at @twitter doing programming with a kick-ass team. I really could have gotten a job anywhere—let’s just say there were a lot of offers. Hashtag winning. I went with Twitter because I didn’t just want to work at a company, I wanted to be part of a greater force that’s changing the world twenty-four seven. Remember Tahrir Square? Euromaiden in the Ukraine? Twitter has literally caused all major social upheaval globally in the past 5 years.
And of course, there are the perks. Twitter provides three meals a day, and the guy who used to be the number two chef at Michael Mina just became DOC (director of culinary) so the food is amazing. Coming from Boston I’m used to good food, but in San Francisco, I’m in hashtag FoodieParadise. On Fridays we have happy hour—the company has connections with a few microbreweries so we get the latest IPAs before they’re released to the general public. And let’s not forget Margarita Mondays and Wine Wednesdays! On top of that, there are snack stations every thirty feet or so with nuts and beef jerky for protein, chocolate to satisfy your sweet tooth, and mini-fridges stocked with Red Bull, Monster, or Rockstar—so you can pick the perfect energy drink depending on your mood. We also have weekly yoga classes—Ashtanga I believe. Yoga harmonizes the mind and body, which is key for developing products that speak to people on a visceral level.
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.
Folks say it’s difficult to find a place to live in SF, but I scored an apartment across the street from work at @NEMA. The space is hard to describe—I mean, on the outside, it just looks like any other large, black, glassy edifice you’d find in the financial district, but on the inside, it basically sums up everything that is San Francisco: tech, creativity, originality, and appreciation of the finer things in life. Luxury furniture made from reclaimed wood, digital touch-screen message boards in the lobby, an energy solarium, a 60-foot heated rooftop pool, terraces inspired by Big Sur and Muir Woods—it truly is the quintessential SF residence. A lot of people who don’t live in the city think it’s expensive, but take a step back and look at the details: 4200 per month for a good sized one-bedroom, plus a free gym (with classes), and no commute—I’d say that’s a pretty good deal.
The other thing I love about NEMA is the social aspect—there are rec room-type spaces with pool tables, couches and board games, activities and gatherings, and organized trips to Napa and Tahoe. They’re really building a community here, which falls in line with the San Francisco spirit—one thing that drew me to the city was exploring the different neighborhoods and seeing all of the strong, diverse communities.
There are these signs in front of my building that are representative of SF:
“Tech Savvy, Not Shabby”
“Social And Local”
“Innovate, Don’t Imitate”
I think that last one is my life philosophy in a nutshell, a perfect description of what tech should be: innovation. You don’t become successful by improving on what has already been done, you do it by breaking new grounds and disrupting the paradigm. That’s how we roll in SF: just as the Industrial Revolution made London the center of the universe 200 years ago, the Tech Revolution is doing the same to SF now. Everything past generations have ever learned is no longer relevant in the city of San Francisco. And I tell you, for this newcomer to the city…let’s just say there’s a famous quote by some San Francisco icon that resonates with me: “One day, if I go to heaven…it’ll be San Francisco.”*
Now I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes, I am working on my own startup in my free time. It’s still in the early phases, but think social media meets instant delivery meets podcasts meets kombucha meets globalization. Hashtag synergy.
And if you’ll kindly sign this NDA, I’d be happy to tell you more…
* * *
Please, just this once, let me pat myself on the back and say that I fucking killed it. Remember when I tried to do stand-up comedy three years ago and nobody laughed at my jokes? This was the total opposite–the crowd laughed at all of the right times, hell, they also laughed in a bunch of places I wasn’t expecting any laughter at all! As I walked off the stage, David took back the microphone and said, “great job Jacob—this is your first published piece, but it won’t be your last.”
I reminded David that he had said he’d buy a drink for all contributors for the pamphlet, so he ordered me a martini. As I waited at the bar for my drink, everybody who walked by stopped to shake my hand and tell me they loved my piece. A woman asked me for my autograph in her pamphlet—the first of five people who would make such a request during the night. Crazy fucking shit, man! A bunch of people asked me what it was like working at Twitter, or when I graduated from Stanford, and I had to explain to them that my piece was a joke. “No no, that’s not me—it’s fiction. He’s not a real person. He’s a caricature.”
My performance was the final one of the evening, so after some brief closing words from Aaron, the pizza came out and people were free to mingle. It was fun seeing all of these feisty artistic types from the older generation, talking about the good old days when San Francisco was affordable. It made me think though—Aaron Peskin first ran for Supervisor when he was 35, and he had plenty of progressive contemporaries in the city to support his cause. Now, no young San Franciscans seem to give a fuck about city politics. At 34 years old, there were only 4 people in the packed bar who were younger than I—the two bartenders and two of Aaron’s staffers. Peskin might win the election based solely on the fact that none of the young techies, who would probably actually benefit from Christensen, are actually going to vote.
Last weekend I went for a walk in Golden Gate Park with a friend, and after talking about everything else in the universe, we got on the subject of Donald Trump. I asked why so many folks supported Trump, and my friend replied that all of Trump’s supporters are old people who don’t like the fact that America looks different now from how it did when they were young. In a way, aren’t Aaron’s supporters the same way?
The answer is no, not at all. Don’t be fucking ridiculous.
Near the end of the night, as the bar was clearing out, I pulled out my copy of Season of the Witch and asked David to sign. This is kind of my favorite thing ever:
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…”