Thursday, August 6, 2009

San Francisco Diary--Journal Of An Exile

A beautiful day in the City by the Golden Gate. The sun is shining, the birds are coughing, and the usual suspects are out and about. The head of the Muni Transport Agency has resigned, but he says all those crashes aren't his fault. Meanwhile, the BART negotiations continue to go nowhere, but no strike yet. So if I decide to run over to Berkeley, I should make it alive, and in less than a couple of hours.

Note: Another fun day at City Hall. The Board of Supervisors has conducted its usual conscientious session of dealing with the important municipal issues which daily affect the lives of San Franciscans. AIDS in Africa. Polluted water in Bangladesh. Fidel Castro’s waning health. Freedom for Tibet. The sad plight of gay, black, homeless folks in New Orleans. Ending the war in Iraq. Hungry polar bears. And oh yes, the City budget.

Then come the public comments. The usual line of special pleaders, whiners, complainers and run-of-the-mill nutcases take the podium to give their input on everything from the demise of steam beer to the canals on Mars. But finally, it’s the turn of the nightingale of Nob Hill, the Tenderloin tenor, the maestro of Market Street, the warbler of the Western Addition, the one, the only, Walter Paulson.

This night he treats the crowd to his rendition of Barry Manilow’s Mandy. “Oh Budget Mandy, you came with a budget and you sent it away. And you’re caught up in a world of uphill inflation. Now what are you gonna use for your vacation?” It doesn’t make any sense? Never mind that. This is San Francisco. Things don’t have to make any sense. Singing on-tune isn’t even expected at the Opera House. And if the words don’t quite fit into the space allotted—well, make them fit.

For the past four years, Walter Paulson has shown up at each weekly meeting of the Board to sing forth with his latest song rendition. He actually lives in a single-room occupancy hotel on McAllister Street, very near City Hall. He watches the proceedings on the Government Channel, and as the Supes near the end of the agenda, he hustles over to the chamber to get in line for comments. He calms himself by playing with a yo-yo in preparation for his big number.

“He has entered the realm of San Francisco legend” according to former Board President Aaron Peskin. “Regardless of political ideology, everyone has a soft spot for Walter.” Despite his self-acknowledged mental problems, Paulson makes more sense than anybody on the Board of Supervisors, and has from the beginning. At his very first meeting, Paulson asked: “Could you clean up the city a little bit, please?” We’re all still waiting for the answer to that one. It took him a year to work up to singing, but ever since, each question or suggestion to the Board is sung. At least somebody in this town is still singing. Even the birds have given up.

NOTE: SF Gate writer Eileen Mitchell dazzles the denizens with “Pet Psychic Is Eerily Accurate.” She tells the story of Jill Lopate taking her Chihuahua, Kai, to see a pet psychic. Lopate says her husband and she hail from the Mendocino Coast, so they named the dog Kai, which is Hawaiian for ocean (or rat, it’s unclear). Upon paying the fee, Lopate was told that her “Chihuahua loves to slurp noodles.” “Sure—but what dog doesn’t like a good bowl of pasta?” she says. I don’t know about your dog, but my mastiff would rather eat one of the kids than eat “pasta.”

So Lopate added: “He likes to dig at my mouth.” Most people have dogs who like to dig at the petunias in the garden, but let’s go with this. The psychic replied “Why yes, I believe he was a dentist in a past life.” Even after the psychic divined that Kai doesn’t like a certain green sweater which the psychic had of course not seen, Lopate was still a skeptic. And just before the session ended, the psychic blurted out: “Oh, and Kai wants his photo taken with an abalone shell.”

Now Lopate thought she may have mentioned her trips to the beach with little shaky, so she dismissed it as a wild guess. But two days later she was at the beach with Kai, when the dog seemed to disappear. Fearing that he had been eaten by a sand flea, Lopate searched frantically. But Kai had run into a small cave, and was furiously digging in the sand. A giant abalone was unearthed! So that evening, following the psychic’s advice, she snapped a photo of Kai next to the abalone shell. “Evidence indeed that Kai is a real dog” says the author. Well my cat found a dead bird one time, does that prove she’s a mountain lion? But I think it proves that San Franciscans are full abalone.

NOTE: And what Diary would be complete without a short story from SF Gate writer Mark Morford. His opening sentence (as I’ve mentioned before, his sentences are like most people’s chapters): “Another day, another slightly confused, curmudgeonly older white male stepping out from behind the drab, heavy curtain of a massive, dying religious dogma haunted by millennia of abuse and homophobia and scandal and misogyny, and generally Getting it All Wrong Nearly All the Time Forever, to let the world know he is deeply concerned about kids today and their newfangled gizmongery and how it all just might be destroying social life and inviting death.” His titles are always very civil. This one was called "Jesus fears your Facebook profile. Social networking leads to suicide! God hates MySpace. The Archbishop hath spoken."

I won’t belabor you with the next twelve paragraphs (or in his case, sentences) that I had to read to figure out what he was ranting about. But here’s the summary. Archbishop Vincent Nichols, prelate of the Roman Catholic Church of England and Wales had some nasty words to say about Facebook and MySpace. In Morford’s version, the Archbishop stated that he’s worried that the two internet phenoms are “collectively serving to undermine real community and the development of personal skills, and can therefore lead kids toward depression and self-destruction and even—say it with a frown and a deeply furrowed brow—suicide. Ain’t it the cutest thing?”

Morford is unworried by the fact that many non-religious, non-Catholic, non-aged sociologists and psychologists in some of his favorite universities have said nearly identical things. Minimize the fact that there is at least one proven teenage suicide traceable directly to one of those online sleaze collections. When your argument is specious, your facts weak, and your vitriol flowing, blame it on a Catholic.

Morford goes on to rhapsodize about the more positive side of the two message-for-morons collections. “For every suicide brought on by a Facebook expose where someone dissed her thighs, countless more lives have been saved—and I mean that quite literally—via those same Internet mechanisms, by being able to find like-minded souls on the Web, by discovering they are not alone in their fears, their anxieties, the fantasies, their quirks and dark thoughts and fetishes for everything from . . . rubber ball gags. . . to horsetail butt plugs.”

For those of us who see Facebook and MySpace as a fascinating way of communicating, not without its dangers, but essentially neutral, there is nothing inherently wrong or retrograde about warning of those dangers. There’s nothing wrong with a good beer, but two six-packs before getting behind the wheel is something that prelates have a duty to warn of. What I noticed most about Morford’s paean to making the world safe for perversion is that he capitalizes the words Internet and Web the way religious folks capitalize God. I can play this psychoanalysis game as well as he can.

And so, dear diary, I close for another day.


AndrewPrice said...

When a singing head case is the person making the most sense in the room, something is very, very wrong.

I'm surprised that the Board of Supervisors gets away with all the foreign policy stuff. Even despite their liberalism, you would still think the residents would demand that they pay more attention to local matters. You would think. . .

Unknown said...

Andrew: Sadly, our Board of Supervisors meetings are less like government and more like group therapy sessions. The members of the Board are just reflections of the citizenry at-large. Why worry about your car disappearing into a sinkhole, or you house being robbed in broad daylight when you can save a polar bear?

StanH said...

I especially like one aspect of your diary today, “animal psychic.” This could be big online business. Crank up the webcam get the credit card and spew, I love it. Charge $50.00 per ten minutes and donate one dollar to feed the Polar bears, “think green.” Liberals would flock to the sight, we could get, “rich! …I tell you, rich!” I don’t mean to be ugly, but when the wacko stands up and breaks into “Mandy,” it’s time to Tase me dude, or worse. Love the tales Lawhawk from inside the wire a lot of fun : )

Unknown said...

StanH: Thanks. I really have trouble each week picking out which local craziness to cover. But I have to admit, the pet psychic was my favorite so far. Your suggestion for an online site has great potential.

Writer X said...

I may have to subscribe to the SF Gate just to get one good guaranteed laugh every day. Maybe Paulson can run for mayor when Newsom runs for governor. He couldn't be any worse.

Unknown said...

WriterX: Good point. I think I'll get a "Paulson for Mayor" campaign started.

StanH said...

Just from what little you’ve shared Lawhawk, I think that Paulson would be the perfect SF Mayor. They could do show tunes at news conferences, what fun.

Unknown said...

StanH: I remember a joke making its way around town here in the sixties when Jeanette McDonald died. She passed away in Houston. She had been awakened in the middle of the night by a loud sonic boom. She thought it was an earthquake. She ran out into the street singing "San Francisco," and the locals stoned her to death.

Skinners 2 Cents said...

It's always intriguing to hear about the seventh circle of hell. Better known as Frisco in my neck of the woods. Luckily I can watch the craziness from a safe distance in the foot hills.

I like StanH's idea and I'm sure it would be wildly successful. As conservatives we should be finding ways to make money off of these loons.

To date though the best idea I've heard of is the carbon offset kiosk at the SF Airport. That's genius. Input how far your going to be traveling and how much dangerous carbon will be released into the atmosphere and then pay for an offset. Perhaps someone is planting more tree's to absorb said deadly gas. I don't know but it's a great scam none the less.

Great article Law Hawk. How long have you lived in the city by the bay and how did you end up there?

Unknown said...

Skinners2Cents: I first arrived in the Bay Area to go to college in Berkeley. By my sophomore year at Cal, I found I liked the idea of living in The City, so I moved here in 1965 after returning from the South during the civil rights movement. After graduation I went off to New York City for a year at NYU, returning to San Francisco and getting married in 1968. I started law school at Hastings, but we moved to Simi Valley in 1971, so I finished my JD at UWLA. I stayed there until my divorce in 1986, then back to San Francisco. I've been living in my current digs since 1990.

StanH said...

Carbon offset kiosks at airports would be perfect.

Tennessee Jed said...

Well Hawk, when my oldest son was about 6 or 7, Barry Manilow came out with "Mandy" Bless his heart, he couldn't carry a tune if his life depended on it, and it was all my wife and I could do to keep from howling with laughter ourselves. Fortunately for his self-esteem, we were able to stifle, but it made it hard for me to read on after cracking up so hard.

My uncle used to raise show quality bull mastiffs who used a truck tire as a chew toy. Pasta, indeed!

My kids got me to sign up for facebook and myspace. I've already forgotten the passwords. I had to get Andrew to help me just to figure out how to set up my avatar on your site. Oh well, ain't it great to be alive.

Unknown said...

Tennessee: I guess you figured out where my "rat" crack came from. My dog as a youngster was a St. Bernard (named Petunia). After we moved to our home in Simi Valley, I carefully researched all the AKC breeders to find the perfect dog. We got a male mastiff, and named him Winston. What a dog. 220 pounds of pure family love and devotion. Nearly seven feet tall when he stood on his hind legs. And the kids all loved him back. After my son started grad school and came to live with me in San Francisco, he moved to a home of his own in Berkeley. One day he came by to visit, and he had his new puppy with him--a female mastiff named Greta. She was only six years old this year, but she had to be put down last week after developing an aggressive form of cancer. I'm still choked up. So I guess you can tell why I consider anything smaller than a German Shepherd to be a varmint.

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