Saturday, May 30, 2009

Avoiding Cars

San Francisco
Tenderloin Alley

Friday, May 29, 2009

Arbitrary Compliment #3: “Are You a Rocka?”

It wasn’t expected, but it’s never expected. And it wasn’t really a compliment – more an observation. But I’ll take it.

Coming back from a grueling hour and a half session at the Oakland DMV, where I asked the clerk’s supervisor, “Did I say something to offend you? No? Then why are you being so rude and patronizing?” I was in need of a large fountain soda. Ever since my drinking days ended, I’ve used fountain sodas, like alcohol, to soothe the pitfalls of the DMV, waiting in line at the grocery store and crackheads in the alley at work – a placebo without the addiction (not so true) and nasty mornings.

Wearing company issued khakis and a dark blue polo with the Chevron logo on the right breast, the clerk at the Extra Mile Chevron Mini-Mart showed her flair and individuality with a gaudy lip piecing and neon colored bangles. Even thought the line was long and customers wore visibly annoyed at the douchebag at the counter paying for a pack of gum with his ATM card, she was personable and looked each customer in the eye. I was impressed and waited quietly.

I put my 44oz drink on the counter. Before I could reach for my wallet, she yelled, “Are you a rocka?” Her faced was crumpled, mouth open and she did kind of a jig to go with the statement. She held the position, waiting for my response.

I looked down at what I was wearing: green, lo-top Converse sneaks, skinny, tight-ish cords from Urban Outfitter, orange belt from H&M, neon purple watch from Nixon, white, argyle t-shirt from Old Navy and a Mayor McCheese head with a Yamaka sized bald spot and a hairline that pays tribute to the right angle! I was the poster boy for age inappropriate dress. But a rocker? More like an old-ass hipster trying way too hard.

I flashed my toothy Osmond smile, looked down at the counter and demurely whispered, “No, more like a poseur. Thank you, though.”

As I walked away, she finally gave me the devil horns and yelled, “Rocka!” Everybody in line gave me the once over as I walked past them.

Time to grow up.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Blue Face

San Francisco
Tenderloin Alley

The Horse’s Ass

A broken down plastic horse stands on my desk. 2 gaping holes have replaced his left ear and tail, the remnants of both rattle inside him like a maraca when he’s moved.

One morning last week, I arrived to work to find my work I.D. dangling from the horse’s ass. Someone had stuff the necklace part of the I.D. in the hole where the tail used to be, gauging the right length where at first glance it kinda passed as a, uh, tail. Well, not really, but I got the idea.

Instead of pulling it out and wearing it, like I’m supposed to, I left it in the ass and went badge free until early this week. My hopes were that someone would inquire about my I.D. and I would be able to respond, “My I.D. is in the horse’s ass.” It wouldn’t be a lie.

On Monday, I stopped on the stairs at work between the 3rd and 2nd floors. My shoe was untied. Leaning against the rail, I noticed it was knotted. I sat on the on the bottom step between the landing and took off my shoe. The knot was bad enough that it would require 2 hands, good fingernails and some might.

As I slowly worked the knot, people walked past me and said nothing. It wasn’t uncommon to see people parked on the stairs (we’re a social services building), but it’s pretty customary to hear, “You can’t sit on the stairs, buddy.” But most people were passive aggressive and got security to do their dirty work.

I looked more like a client than an employee and I didn’t have my badge, so I knew it was only a matter of time before someone questioned me. It happened and I was delighted:

“Buddy, you can’t sit on the stairs.”

“I work here.”

“Where’s you badge?”

“In the horse’s ass.”

He shook his head and got security.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dog's Eyes, Dog's Eyes!

May 22, 2009

Homeless Models, Inc.

We told them to get backup models because there was a high probability that the ones we suggested wouldn’t show. This was how it always happened but nothing ever changed. Upstairs would call and ask for a handful of clients who would be willing to participate in an ad campaign (usually billboards) for our agency. We would suggest a few with the caveat that some of these people were stricken with one, some or all the following: poverty, mental illness, drug addiction and/or critical illness, which could prevent them from showing up. Knowing this, once we had done our job, we wiped our hands clean of the project and kept a low profile.

On the day of the shoot, only one model showed. I told ya! I received a call from upstairs asking (begging) if I would be willing to be in the shoot. I knew this would happen, so I gave them no grief and agreed.

On the second floor, the photographer and crew had turned the backroom of our grocery pantry into a little studio. To a point-and-shoot guy, it looked pretty pro: umbrellas, computer hooked up to the camera, photographer showing her midriff, etc.

Unbeknownst to me, the model gig was not guaranteed. After the client didn’t show, the photographer and our team scrambled, searching staff I.D. badges for someone that would fit what they were looking for. Up to this point, I wasn’t aware there was look.

When I got to the second floor, a stylist/makeup artist was applying base makeup to the client model’s face. While the people in power talked in the corner, Omar, an Administrative Assistant, stood by himself, leaning against the wall.

“Hey, Omar. How are you?” I said, not expecting a response. Omar never replied. He was either a dick or shy, I wasn’t sure.

Once I entered the room, the people in charge turned and looked at me and Omar. Ignoring any sense of politeness or social norms, they openly talked about our strengths, interspersed with whispering when our weaknesses were thrown about. Obviously, this gig was between me and Omar, which was odd. Omar was a clean cut, quiet Indian dude and I was a pasty, perennially tired, loud white guy - exact opposites.

When I overheard that they were looking for someone who looked homeless, I knew I had the gig. They dismissed Omar and walked me to the makeup chair, where they decided that I was “homeless” enough and I didn’t need makeup or any kind of wardrobe. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this.

The photographer sat me down in a chair, adjusted the lights and gave me instructions:

“So, this is a campaign directed at donors. I want you to appear hungry, depressed and looking for love.”
I quickly replied, “That’s my specialty.” She wasn’t amused.

We played around with a few poses - mouth open, tongue seductively peaking though my lips and sultry eyes. I was having fun and “camping” it up. I mean, come on - hungry, loveless and depressed?

“Can I take my shirt my off? I think it would be good. You know I did a little modeling for Tonka and Sear’s when I was in Kindergarten.” I was half joking, throwing out my modeling credentials to let them know they weren’t dealing with an amateur (I did model for Sear’s and Tonka).

“No, I don’t think it would work. Please. Be serious.” The photographer was kind of a b-i-t-c-h and wasn’t responding to my unorthodox attempts at charm.

Our people shot me a look and I gave them a look right back that said, “See, I told this would happen. Did I tell you to be prepared and have backup models?” They were stuck with and knew I had the upper hand.

I got serious, conjuring the great Dead or Alive video by Bon Jovi where Jon Bon Jovi (JBJ) and his road tired band are at an all-night diner. JBJ is sitting in a booth, looking out the window and longing for the comfort of home and his woman. With JBJ as my muse, I gave the best pensive, lovelorn, hungry-ass look I could muster. They loved it!

My large face with the caption, “All you need is love. Oh yeah, and some food” ran on buses, subway stations and billboards. Friends called and inquired about my well being and I told them story.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I Identify as a Woman

It was only a matter of time before I would be able to respond, “Well, I identify as a woman.” I was practiced and ready and knew it would be only a matter of time. The time finally came at the San Leandro BART Station.

Descending the escalator stairs in twos, passing experienced commuters who hugged the right rail, I knew exactly where the bathrooms were located. I had used them frequently, and, despite their atrocious condition, I’d rather brave the grime and perennially wet floors than hold it until I got home. I had to go, I always have to go.

The ability to find public bathrooms was a gift of mine. Built out of necessity, due to my Diet Pepsi habit, it was one of the 2 God given gifts that he bestowed upon me. The other one was the ability to name the location of every 7/11 in San Francisco, past and present. God judiciously doles out these arbitrary gifts.

The lock to the men’s bathroom said “In Use.” I looked to the right and women’s bathroom said “Vacant.” Knowing they both were exactly the same, I opened the door to the women’s bathroom and went in. It wasn’t much of a decision.

As expected, the bathroom floor was flooded and the seat was wet, from either errant water from the sink or a guy had been the last one to use the bathroom.

Before leaving, I cleaned the seat with a paper towel and then put the seat down. I grew up with woman and the majority of my roommates were women, so I was trained in the politics of bathroom etiquette.

I opened the door to a non-descript woman in her mid-30s. She was reading the paper and didn’t look up. As she instinctively took the a few steps toward the bathroom, she looked up and saw me…a man. Her expression changed to one of disbelief and she gave me a look that said, “What the fuck, dude? Can’t you read?” I kept my head low and intently concentrated on adjusting my bag.

She stopped moving forward and turned as I went passed her: “Can’t you read? It says Women’s.” It happened and I was ready.

I pursed my lips and smugly replied, “Yes, I know. I identify as a woman.” I could’ve said “I’m Pr-Op” but that would’ve been pushing it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Fuckin' Down It, Tommy

That day we decided to drink off our drummer woes at the Oakland Coliseum with Motley Crue, Whitesnake and Poison. We met our friends Lord Jim, Chris Bitch and Insane Lorraine, a motley crew in their own right, and scalped tickets on 66th Avenue. None of us owned a record of the any of the bands or even particularly liked them; to us it was kitsch -– anthropologists studying the hairspray locals. At least that’s what we told ourselves. All of us, except Lorraine, were making the awkward transition from Anarchist punk to civilian life. Some of us found college rock and others got their pop culture fix with hair metal.

Baking in the hot Oakland sun, I laid on my back watching the jumbotron flash: “Take It Off, Take It Off.” Bret Michaels from Poison was leading the chant and the jumbotron followed suit. I surveyed the crowd and, yes, a few girls on the shoulders of tanned boys had taken their shirts off. All was right in the world of arena rock.

Launching into “Talk Dirty to Me,” I jumped to my feet and screamed, “I know this song!” It seemed like an appropriate response for somebody who had only heard the hits from the band. But to the real fans, who surrounded me like a storm, I could visualize the word “Poseur” spilling from their disapproving looks. The effects of pre-show alcohol and marijuana had reared its ugly face.

The Crue pranced in from the side of stage, perfectly quaffed, giving the crowd the international metal sign and pointing to the third deck. I had read in Rolling Stone that they did push-ups right before going on stage, to make their biceps a little more attractive and wondered if they were out of breath from just doing a round of reps. They were tanned, their hair flowing and looked like they were about to have the time of their lives.

“Oakland, how you fuckin’ doing?” Vince Neal, lead singer, squealed in that metal voice. It was just the first of many “fuckins” to come. He knew how to work the crowd.

Not to be outdone by Poison and their “Take it off” shtick, Vince, still court-mandated sober for killing Hanoi Rocks’ drummer in an alcohol-related car accident, broke it down in the middle of the set:

“Do you motherfuckers like to party?” The word motherfucker is always a crowd pleaser and gets a positive reaction from the even the most lackluster crowd. “I can’t drink, Johnny Law says so, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to party and have a good time [screams from crowd].” The pace of his phrasing sped as he climaxed at “good time.” “Well, my friend Tommy [drummer] likes to drink, oh yeah!” Tommy stands, points his drum sticks at the crowd and cups his left hand behind his ear, while his right hand urges the crowd to make some noise. Giving that open-mouthed look of excitement that only drummers can do, he comes out from behind the drums, displaying an outfit of short shorts, that’s it. He confidently grabs the bottle while Vince squeals, “Fuckin' down it, Tommy.” I look at the jumbotron and it’s flashing “Down It, Tommy.” The crowd chants “Down it, Tommy,” (omitting the fuckin’) while he takes several large gulps of what is probably tea. He spits the last gulp in the air and returns to his drums, where his rack tom hides his lack of clothing.

Vince high kicked over to Nikki (there something about tight spandex pants that makes hair metal guys run in an affected manner) and puts his arm around him, his clinched fist resting on his torso - a very guy way of showing affection. “Now this motherfucker is crazy.” He hands Nikki the bottle. “Fuckin down it, Nikki!” The crowd goes crazy and the scoreboard follows suit.

Vince grabs the bottle from Nikki and thrusts to it to the sky, his extended arm the sole focus of 50k fans. He looks at the half empty bottle and then looks back at the band: “Fuckin pussies!” Vince appears pleased with himself and the crowd obliges and he gets a laugh. Ba-boom!

HE walks over to Mick Mars. “Now, you might not know it, but this motherfucker is the craziest of us all.” Mick, looking 1/3 El Vira, 1/3 Emily Strange and the rest Uncle Fester with a black wig with a chaser of Sam Jackson’s character in Unbreakable, grabbed the bottle and took a quick swig, quickly returning the bottle back to Vince. Vince looked a little annoyed and confused, not knowing what to do. While the jumbotron flashed, “Down it, Mick,” expecting Vince to go through the motions, Vince ran off stage and gave the bottle to a roadie. Eventually the jumbotron stopped flashing. Mick had blown the end of the Jack Daniels bit. Pure performance art! Back to the rock.

I returned to lying down -- I'm drunk, high, dehydrated and sunburned -- and watch my friends painfully move closer and closer to each other for a drunken hookup.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Because of my Disability

Just when I thought I’d have the whole returning undergraduate table to myself, a woman in her late 40s approached the table. Wearing large jeans, pulled up over her belly button, with a matching button-up jean shirt with bead embroidery over the chest and shoulder area, she had the look of somebody that stopped at a roadside stand in the 4 Corners area of the southwest.

On her left hand she wore two large turquoise rings and had some sort of feathery necklace, which Jon Bon Jovi would’ve worn in the music video to the movie Young Guns. Her face was dark and she had indigenous features. If people were neon signs, she would say, “I’m Native American.” Unlike most people that claim to be Native (1/64th Cherokee?) - specifically bad rock guys to impress the woman - she actually looked like she drove down from Apple Creek Casino in San Pablo to attend this meeting (joking). I politely said “hello” and then went back to scouring the class schedule. She looked annoying, so I didn’t invite conversation.

Sheila, my guidance counselor, sat between me and the Turquoise. We were waiting for a large man to stop introducing the bevy of PhDs at other tables, where we could converse with Sheila and get our fall classes. And get the hell out of this mandatory orientation.

Turquoise made a play for Sheila’s attention, hoping that she would be the first to get her consultation. Lucky for me, Sheila said she would talk to me first, since we had met previously and it wouldn’t take much time.

I had all the papers from our previous meeting and I presented them to here. She double checked what we talked about and gave me the thumbs up for the 3 courses. Yeah!

As I filled out the paper work for the classes, she moved on to Turquoise. I was intrigued with Turquoise and knew she would have a lot to say, so I kept an ear open.

As expected, she talked enthusiastically about being back in an academic setting and was looking forward to the youthful energy of the students. She threw out all these grandiose plans, but answered all her statements with a caveat: “Because of my disability….” For example:

“I can’t wait to dive into the world of academics. You know, there’s so much to learn. And I’m really looking forward to working with young people. I feel I can help them, but because of my disability, I can only go to school part-time.” She would offer up and then rescind.

Sheila was doing her best not to throttle Turquoise. I caught her eye and gave her a look of pity. All around the room were potential students who had probably worked an 8 hour day and were haggard and had little energy to give. All of us shared one thing in common: somewhere along the line we fucked up at school or in life or both, which led us to this place today, in search of a paltry B.A. degree. I wasn’t here for youthful energy nor were the youths excited that that they may have to pair up with me – a 45 year old disheveled man – in a Science class. I resented Turquoise's free time.

I was intrigued by her disability. Recalling how she walked when she approached the table, I didn’t notice a limp or any prominent physical disability. As she sat there, I gave her a once over for any sign of labored breathing, twitching or anti-social behavior. Nothing. Her eyes were shifty and she was super annoying after 2 minutes, so I assume her disability had something to with her ability to be so fucking weird, or the great illnesses: depression, anxiety, bi-polarism, etc.

While choosing her classes, Turquoise said that she wanted to teach music to children where she grew up…on a reservation. Before Sheila could commend her on a noble professional objective, she said, “But because of my disability, I can only work part-time.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Man in front of Asian Art Museum

Civic Center Plaza
San Francisco

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Man Feeding Pigeons

Olive Alley

Weird but Nice

My Dentist’s name is Dr. Fine. How cool is that? He’s this mid-50s bachelor that’s obsessed with Golf and aspires to quit his job when he turns 59 and join the PGA Seniors Tour. He’s high of course – and he knows this – but a Dentist can dream, can’t he?

In his Pacific Heights apartment, he installed an indoor driving range. Even though a taut net divides a speeding golf ball from his living room wall, he told me that sometimes the ball goes through the net and lodges in the wall. He says his neighbors are not too fond of him.

We have an odd relationship. Sometime in the last 10 years, we got comfortable enough to start making fun of each other. At first it started with swearing. Once the professional ice was melted, all topics were appropriate.

Last month while getting my teeth cleaned, I grabbed my dental chart, while the hygienist was out of the room. Besides information about my teeth, it contained personal information like, “Has a 5 year old son,” “Plays in a kids band” and “Lives in Oakland.” These were used conversation starters.

At the bottom of the page was a very personal comment: “Weird but nice.” I yelled, “Dr. Fine. Fine! Come here, I’ve got something to show ya.” He was in the other room working on a patient. A hygienist yelled that he’d be right with me.

A few minutes later, he entered the room with latex gloves, a surgical mask and high powered bi-focals around his next. A pit peeved, he asked, “What? What the hell is wrong?”

Smiling, I indignantly responded, “What the hell is this?” throwing the file at him.

“What? What are you talking about?” he cried, walking back out the door.

“Hold on, look at the bottom of the page where it says ‘weird but nice.’ What the hell is that?”

I thought I had him. Dr. Fine looks at it, laughs and says, “Well, it’s true.”

Monday, May 18, 2009

George Not Jorge

I come from a long line of George’s: George Hilston Kim (Dad), George Fairweather Kim (Grandpa), George Ofthejungle (Monkey), etc. So it only makes sense that I should’ve been named George, don’t ya think?

When my dad met mom, he didn’t know of my Mother’s hatred of the name George. I’m sure at first she clenched her jaw and called him George, but as the relationship grew, and his quirky habits that she once found endearing and cute grew tiresome, she sprung on him that she hated the name George. From that day on my dad became known as Kim (his last name). Or as my very southern mom pronounces it: “Ke-yem.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard my Mom call my Dad by his real name.

I met Jorge 13 years ago when he was working at the Salvation Army. The Army had just lost their contract with city to deliver hot meals to Seniors in SF because they wouldn’t adhere to domestic partners guidelines and were the new contract holders. While at the Salvation Army, scavenging city owned ovens and delivery materials, we saw Jorge standing on a dock with a look that said, “What about me?” We took Jorge to deliver senior meals for us.

Jorge introduced himself as George. Jorge/George was obviously Latino and was used to dumbing-down his name for white people. According to me, I was one with the people and I knew how to properly pronounce Jorge, so why couldn’t I call him Jorge? Didn’t he see I was one of the cool ones? It would’ve been a multi-cultural trophy that I could place on my mantle and repeat over and over in conversation: Well, you know Jorge at work…” My friend Jorge said....” Even though it pained me to pronounce the hard “G” of George, I accepted his wishes and called him what he wanted. Years of sensitivity training prepared me for this moment and I passed the test. 13 years later he’s just George and I could give a shit about calling Jorge George, or Esteban Steven – it’s what they want not me. It’s a tough lesson for a white liberal.

Every once in awhile at work I have to deal with strangers who Jorge sees every day on his delivery route. This usually happens when Jorge is sick or on Vacation. I always introduce myself the same way:

“Hey, Hey, I’m subbing for George. I’m Greg.”

Inevitably, one of them responds, “You mean Jorge?” Knowing we’re talking about the same person, I play ignorant. I’ve found this tactic very effective.

“No, I’m subbing for George. You know, the muscular Latino dude.” I add the description to let them know we’re talking about the same person.

“Yeah, Jorge.”

“No, George.”

I’ll let this go on for as long as it takes. If they don’t give up, I’ll break out the big guns:

“Listen,” if you want to piss off somebody, start with “listen.” “I’ve known George for 13 years and if anybody’s gonna call him Jorge, It’s gonna be me. But that ain’t happening, so get over it. If you’re white, he wants you to call him George. Got it.”

Well, that’s what I’d say if got to that point.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Get Your Patchouli Stink Out Of My Store

A few years after knowing Steve, he confessed that he thought I was gay when we first met. He heard that I was gay from other touring bands and he just assumed I was because I wore lots of jewelry and had painted fingernails. He failed to remember that when we first met he was the one wearing Daisy Duke jean shorts, a jean vest with medals pinned to the vest, and ratty leather tennis shoes with no socks. Oh yeah, and there was no shirt underneath the vest. If Steve and I had participated in a "gay off" at the time, I think he would’ve won. Pipe down, Steve.

The gaudy jewelry stayed with me until I got arrested in Chicago. I protested as I took off my rings, necklaces and nose rings at the Police Station, but they explained they were potential weapons. They also took my shoelaces.

After a weekend in jail for disorderly conduct and rioting, I quickly jumped bail, leaving all the tacky jewelry in Chicago. Steve had moved back home, but I thought of him as I drove Interstate 80 back to San Francisco.

It was awhile before I went fully straight. The earings and nosering and eventually found its way back on my body, fulfilling the need to be different. It took Tim Robbins’ character in High Fidelity to finally free me of my terrible style.

Tim Robbins played Ian Raymond, John Cusack’s sexually active upstairs neighbor and eventual fling to his girlfriend. Peaceful to the core and reeking of scented oil, he wore lose, yoga-inspired clothes, pulled his long flowing hair back in a ponytail and wore two hoop earrings in both ears. He was the type of guy that would ask if he could wash your hair while you were taking a bath. Gross.

By the time I saw the movie, my jewelry infatuation had decreased. Two small hoop earrings in both ears survived, but all the rings, piercings and necklaces were gone. As I watched his appalling character, I realized that I was in danger of looking like him. My friends had moved on, cutting their hair and removing their piercings of the late 80s. (They couldn’t do anything about the tribal tattoos.) The toe-gazing, lo-fi indie sounds of the 90s was calling and it wouldn’t put up Ian Raymond characters. It was time for a change.

That night I took out my earrings for good.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Power Ranger in Willow Alley

Power Ranger
Willow Alley
San Francisco,Ca

Chico - My Middle Eastern Friend

I woke up naked except for socks, with throw up all over my body and the wall. There was a note from my sister on the nightstand: “You totally blew it, ralphing all over yourself. Chico was pounding on your window and woke up Mom and Dad. They’re pissed. Where’s the car?” Chico was my Middle Eastern friend who we called Chico because we thought he was Latino; The car was on the neighbor’s lawn at the end of the cul-de-sac. The night before me, Chico and the Thrush brothers drank Old Granddad in my car at the end of the Cul-de-sac. Even though we had moved to California from Virginia 3 years earlier, my friends liked to remind me that I was a “Virginia Pussy” anytime I refrained from doing something that could get me killed, arrested or in big trouble. This night I proved them wrong by drinking the most of the Old Granddad. They still called me a Virginia Pussy, even though I puked, drank the most and parked the car on the neighbor’s lawn.

The note has traveled with me for 30 years. It's one of my favorite possessions!

Arbitrary Compliment Experiment #2: Target Ray Bans

Open yourself to compliments and they will come. Wow, this really works.

Just last week I posted about the 3 compliments I had received in the past 3 years. Yes, 3! I explained that I was going to rectify this situation by paying marginalized people (panhandlers) to compliment me. It was pretty simple: I give them a dollar and in return they pay me a compliment and allow me to take their picture.

Walking down Eddy Street to work, with a Diet Pepsi in my left hand, Netflix envelope in the right and an orange Jack Spade bag over my shoulder, I wasn’t expecting or prepared for a “free” arbitrary compliment. My camera was in my bag (not in my back pocket, where it usually is when I go out hunting for compliments) and my early reconnaissance of the street yielded no signs of panhandlers. I wasn’t prepared for the Arbitrary Compliment Experiment.

While waiting for the light to change, I bent over to pick up the DVD that fell from the Netflix envelope. From behind me, a large man in dark shorts, shirt and socks, wearing sandals and sporting an unruly beard said something that was directed at me. At first I thought he was a European tourist (shorts, dark socks and sandals are usually a dead giveaway) that stayed at one of the multiple low-to-midlevel hotels that frequented the local hotels. Upon closer inspection, it looked more like the cement was his home not the Comfort Inn.

I looked back at the bearded mand and said, “Excuse me?” The morning traffic was heavy and I had no idea what he said. He repeated it and this time I shook y head and put my hand to my ear.

Walking back to the curb, a bit confused and perturbed that he was so intent on me hearing what he had to say, I yelled, “What did you say?” A bit perturbed that I didn’t hear what he said, he yelled back, accentuating every word, “I said your glasses look like they’re 3-D.” I thought, “All this for that?” Jesus!

Not knowing how to respond, I smiled, nodded my head and crossed the street.

“They’re very retro. They’re funny.” He said, changing his initial opinion in an attempt to get a response out of me. “You know, they’re funny,” he added. I got the feeling that he was back peddling, afraid that he might’ve offended me with the “funny” comment. Being very hard to offend (unless you’re insensitive about my wife or kid. That’s a warning, people!), I responded to let him know that everything was OK: “I like funny, funny is good.”

Looking back as I neared the far curb, he yelled, “Funny, ha-ha, ha-ha.” It didn’t go down as he had planned. I smiled and took it as a compliment.

Compliment: “I like your glasses.” (Well, kinda)
Cost: Free
Rule Change: I’ve been thinking about the rules. For now, I will pay anybody that solicits me, even if they don’t agree to the terms (I don’t want to be a dick). If I approach them, I will not offer money unless I feel they need it. And, all free compliments are welcome, but I probably won’t have my camera with me.
Thoughts: This could end badly

Buttons, Buttons, Buttons!

5/12/09. City Hall, San Francisco.
I saw this guy and i needed his photo. He willingly agreed.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Give the Alcoholics What They Want

Last week the SF Chronicle ran a story about an owner of a Tenderloin liquor store attempting to move his liquor license across the street to his new store. It was so close, you could literally throw a beer bottle and hit the new store.

Of course, the community (white liberals from social service organizations who go back to other neighborhoods at night) is up in arms about it, gathering petitions and whatnot to stop it. Opponents of transferring the license say that over 100 incidents have occurred in front of the store in a year and half period. What these incidents were and how they related to the liquor store were not revealed

I don’t know why this article struck me. Maybe because they’re picking on a specific liquor store when there are 3 other liquor stores within a block and a damn police station around the corner. It makes no sense. They don’t think an alcoholic will walk another 30 yards to a liquor store down the block?

A few years ago, 3 college type kids approached me on the corner of Polk and Eddy. It was early Friday evening and I was waiting for the light to turn. They had walked down from Van Ness and had that look like this was the start of their Friday night (whereas I was on my way home).

They politely asked, “Where’s the nearest liquor store?” I found this very peculiar. It was like being on a car lot and asking the salesperson if they sold cars. I paused, to see if they were joking and then said, “Look around you,” pointing to 3 liquor stores that were within viewing distance. They thanked me and walked off.

A few days ago I had some business in the deep Tenderloin. On the way down I counted 9 liquor stores between Larkin and Jones on Eddy. That's 3 blocks. 9 liquor stores! And, for some, this isn’t even the heart of the “loin.

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The Arbitrary Compliment Experiment: “Um, You’re a Nice Guy.”

Last Friday I blogged (kill me) about the drought in compliments in my life. Instead of just sitting on the sofa and continuing the daily beatings by the ugly stick, I decided to do something about it. Instead of working out, eating better and going to the tanning salon, I decided to pay people to say nice things about me. Yes, it’s a little unconventional, relying on the kindness of strangers to come through with some generous words, but the people giving me these compliments 1] will be getting paid for their words and 2] will probably need the money. Think of it like Trick or Treat for the marginalized. For the treat, they’ll need to do a trick.

Meet Ray. As I pulled into the gas station in West Oakland, I saw him cleaning windshields in one of the bays. He caught my eye and by the time I drive into a parking space, he was in front of my car, waiting for me. As I approached him, he said, “My name is Ray…” I interrupted, “I’ll catch ya on the way out.” As I went into the store, he cleaned my windshield.

When I returned, he was back in front of my car waiting for his cash. I gave him a dollar and said, “Ray, right? Ray, can I take a picture of you and will you pay me a compliment.” He was confused by the request. Anybody would be confused. He wasn’t your typical homeless guy. He didn’t appear to be a user or drinker, nor was he scammer, although he did show me a fistful of release documents from a hospital that said he had pneumonia. I’d seen this tactic many times. Regardless, he was the rare homeless person that had mental issues and multiple other problems but wasn’t a user (I think). I felt sorry for him. When I’m taken out of the Tenderloin, where I’ve worked for the last 15 years and have grown very jaded toward the population that frequents the area, my sympathy rating is off the chart. It’s very odd. I’m usually not like this.

“I’m sorry, Ray. Just say anything,” I replied, my left hand searching in my pocket for more money. “You’re a nice guy,” he finally said. It was sweet and ended the compliment experiment, thank God! I sure felt like an asshole for making this guy jump through hoops.

“Ray, give back the dollar and I’ll give you a five. I’m sorry,” I asked, hoping this new generosity would somehow alleviate my guilt. I gave him the $5.

Compliment: “You’re a nice guy.”
Cost: $5
Rule Change: When possible, keep the experiment in areas where I’m familiar with the local marginalized population. And, open the experiment up to random, adjusted people on the street.
Thoughts: This could end badly

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bend Over, Baby

Compliments are dispersed sparingly these days. When they do come, it’s usually directed at my sunglasses, fancy sneakers or colorful watch. No one’s saying, “I like your gray, balding hair” or “that pink skin of yours is sure radiant.” Nope, they concentrate on the accoutrements I adorn, to distract from the pink and gray. I’ll take what I can get.

In order of appearance, the last 3 compliments I received, respectively:

1] Getting into the El Rio is never a hassle when you’re playing, but I always feel a little awkward having to explain that I’m in the band to the person that’s watching the door. Since I sometimes have a problem of being overly nice, I act very unassuming, demure and even lower my voice from its natural pitch: “Yeah, I’m in the band tonight, the Embarrassonic.” She usually looks up from the magazine she’s reading (door people are always perennially bored and have ample reading material) and says, “Oh, yeah, go on in.” I’m always surprised and relieved.

On this night, the same young, hip woman was working the door. I said who I was, she said she knew and I walked through the door. Before I could get out of ear distance she said, “I like your sweater.” Instead of leaving it at that, I replied, “It’s Izod; I found it at a Thrift Store.” A simple “thank you” would’ve sufficed. I always take it one step too far.

When I was leaving, I thought about giving her the sweater. She was in her early 20s, I was in my early 40s and the sweater would’ve been a dress on her, so I just said, “Good night.”

2] At the top of the stairs, a tall tranny with large hands waited. With a large, black thermal bag filled with 24 hot meals over my shoulder, she eyed me coming up the stairs. I walked passed her and she said in a seductive voice, “Hello, handsome.” I replied with a smirk, “Well, hello” and continued down the hallway, stopping at the last door on the left. I put down the heavy bag and bent over to get a meal. I could tell the tranny was still looking at me.

“Bend over, baby!” she blurted out. The sound of her masculine voice echoed down the hall. I smiled and waved, nodding my head. Her fishing expedition failed, but I felt pretty good about myself and knew that if I needed a pick-me-up, I could always count on her.

3] Yesterday a donor thing was happening in the lobby of the building and 1] I didn’t want the higher-ups to know that I was leaving and 2] I inevitably make an ass of myself at these events, acting like a buffoon, so I felt it best to escape out the side door.

Avoiding the front of the building, I took an alternate route to my car. In front of a new tattoo shop on Larkin Street, 3 young, tattooed guys leaned against the window of the store front. It was a muggy, warm day and they appeared to be taking a quick break from giving and receiving a tattoo - at least 2 of them were.

The tattoo artist was obvious. He still had on rubber gloves, a hairnet and a surgical mask that only covered the chin area of his face. I assume he had a beard, it would only make sense. The whole surgical type vibe reminded me of the keyboardist in Nightranger.

As I walked by, he said, ”Aw man, I love your shades. Where did you get them?” Without stopping, I handed him my cheap, blue, plastic aviator sunglasses and said, “They’ll probably look better on you.” I didn’t make the same mistake twice of stopping and chatting. I had learned my lesson with the door person at the El Rio.

As I walked away, he shouted, “Thanks, you made my day.” I acknowledged his response with a low wave.

The 2 blocks to my car were very bright!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Let the Fair Season Begin

With the County Fair season upon us, kicking off in late June at the beautiful Alameda County Fairgrounds, it can only mean one thing - Boys II Men, Nightranger and Teen Idols of the 70s are traveling down the road in bus, reliving the dream of their heyday.

Catching a band on their way down from stardom has a certain charm. Either the artist is bitter and nursing a drug problem, or they’re thankful and grateful for what they have (God usually has something to do with this picture). Tony Orlando and Dawn was the latter; Foghat was the former.

As the sun set at the Alameda County Fair, Tony Orlando and Dawn (only 1 original member of Dawn was with him) were halfway through their set, having played most of their hits and were relying on covers to fill out the show. Introducing Candida, Tony graciously said, “We’re going to play another song called Candida, a hit from back in 1970.” The audience clapped, a few shrilled and Tony seemed genuinely surprised. He had the same reaction when he announced “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.” Maybe this was part of the act…surprise.

He finished the song and again appeared to be surprised by the applause. With his hands together in prayer and bobbing up and down, giving the audience the Namaste, he repeated, “Thank you for remembering. Thank you very much. Thank you for remembering.” He continued to bow and Dawn followed suit. It was a beautiful Fair moment. (Side note: Tony put out a record in 1995 entitled “Ghetto Dope.” Wonder what that was all about?”)

In the mid-90s Foghat had found a permanent home in the fair circuit and half filled clubs. During this time, my band opened up for them at Slim’s, a club South of Market in San Francisco. Before the show, we were sitting back backstage drinking free beer. Someone knocked on the door. The door slowly opened and an older man with wispy hair and chest full of laminates peaked in. By the laminates, we assumed he was in or with Foghat. He entered the room and slowly closed the door. He quickly glanced around the room and lowered his voice. Be his demeanor, I knew we were in for something good: “Hey Mates,” he said in a whisper, still looking around the room and back at the odor, “were looking for a little…” He gestured like he was snorting cocaine. “Do you know where we can get some?” It was a classic rock moment that I immediately stored in my long-term memory. All of us looked at each other and smiled, acknowledging that the dude from Foghat just asked us for cocaine.

Before his words settled, I said, “Classic.” My punk rock sensibilities told me to tell him to “fuck off,” but I was in no situation to be righteous. With my perfect long, curly hair, tight-ass jeans and harness boots and opening for Foghat on a Tuesday, I had no ground to stand on.

A more politic member of the band, the soundman, took his request seriously and made a call. They left together to get the stuff and I pondered Foghat being English (I just kinda figured they were from Jersey or somewhere like that) and that our soundman could get cocaine in a minute’s notice.

Alameda County Fair
Solana County Fair
San Mateo County Fair

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Keg for Thanksgiving

Upon returning from one of my many visits to the liquor store to get Diet Pepsi, I spotted two client-looking guys smoking crack near our loading dock. Since it was Thanksgiving and I was in charitable mood, I asked them politely to “take it someplace else.” As I walked up the stairs, one of them barked at me. I quickly turned and forcefully said, “Excuse me?” Not a polite excuse me, more like, “What the fuck did you say?” He whined, “The guard said we could smoke over here.” Dumbfounded, I shook my head in disbelief and said, “Not drugs…cigarettes!”

2 hours later my coworkers said, “Greg, you’ve gotta see this.” He took me by the arm and dragged me to the alley. “This guy has a keg in his cart and is selling cups of beer for 50 cents.” I walked outside, past our van and, sure enough, these two guys had jacked a keg from a distributor and were selling beer out of their shopping cart. I approached the two and asked, “How much are you selling it for?” already knowing the answer. “50 cents.” He could tell I wasn’t a local. I said, “Can I have one.” Being that I don’t drink, I wanted it more for the story. I would’ve displayed it prominently in my office.

The guy picked up an old, dirty cup that was half full of stale beer and dumped it out. I took one look at it and said, “Can I have a fresh one?” naively thinking that he also pinched plastic cups from the distributor. He changed the subject, “I’m looking for a tap, do you know where I can get one? I’ve been sticking the tip of this umbrella in the vent,” showing me the umbrella. I didn’t know what to say. I walked closer and picked up the keg, to see how much was in it. “Where did you guys get this?” I inquired, breaking protocol. The silent partner, who hadn’t said anything up to this point, turned and pointedly said, “You ask too many questions.” I smiled and walked away.

Channeling Sipowicz

Delivery volunteers at my work are asked to do a lot more than stuff and lick envelopes. We ask them to deliver food to 300 plus people in some of the most notorious hotels in the Tenderloin (TL).

They walk over dead people, push past crack heads in stairwells and politely decline advancements by large-handed prostitutes. They’re a hardy bunch and have the utmost respect of the agency. And me.

In my fifteen years at work, I’ve only heard of a few assaults on volunteers while delivering. One had an old school phone thrown at him and the other was mugged TWICE while crossing the street and then mugged again a few minutes later. The first mugger took his wallet and knocked him down and the second mugger, who initially witnessed the first mugging and assisted him, took his Walkman and headphones. The second mugger said, “Are you alright? Are you sure? Yes? Well, then give me your Walkman.” The volunteer finished delivering the meals before reporting what happened.

Part of my job is investigating assaults (Ok, not sure if it was in my job description, but I took it on. It gets me out of the office). Since assaults are rare, I’ve never been able to hone my P.I. skills.

Last week a volunteer was assaulted while delivering in the heart of the ‘Loin. An unidentified man followed the volunteer into a hotel and yelled epithets at him. (The guy sounded crazy and either drunk or high or both. They always are) He followed him to the 5th floor and waited for him to make the delivery. The volunteer hurried past the man and onto the street. He followed him and continued yelling a barrage of epithets and then punched him in the back. As the volunteer ran away, the attacker yelled, “You’re doing a good job.” When retelling the incident, the volunteer wasn’t sure if this comment was meant to mock or praise. Shaken from the incident, he called us and reported the assault.

We urged the volunteer to press charges and assured him that we would not send volunteers into that hotel again. He expressed concern about the clients getting their meals and we assured him that we would find an alternative way to feed them. I gathered my TL Social Worker/Cop outfit (clipboard, dirty baseball cap and shades) and walked to the TL hotel to investigate and inform the clients in the building who were receiving our services of the incident and to talk to them about alternatives to delivery.

I announced that I was delivering food and the manager waved me through. I knocked on a client’s door and informed her of the assault. I explained that we needed to find another way to feed her and I gave her a few options. Since she didn’t have a phone, I asked her to give some thought to what I said and told her I would be back tomorrow. I already knew that her precarious health and disenfranchised existence would be a major hindrance in efficiently serving her.

The next client came to the door in a full Superman outfit. Obviously he was in no mental state to adhere to my requests. I ran through what I said to the other client and said I’d be back tomorrow.

At the foot of the stairs, I approached the office and informed the Manager of the incident. He said he was sorry and would keep an eye on the volunteers. I said there was no need to as we would not be delivering to the building again. He was taken aback by my comment.

While walking out the door, I noticed a tall tranny standing near the entrance looking at me. Thinking that this might be the perp, I braced myself.

“I know who did it,” she confessed. I stopped and walked toward her, not saying a word.

“It was Dennis, she gets that way when she’s drunk. I saw her harassing the volunteer.”

Drawing on my extensive Law and Order and NYPD Blue knowledge, I stepped closer and said, “She? We were told it was a man.”

She awkwardly responded. “Y’no, he…she?”

I confidently replied, “Yeah, I get it.”

At this point I wanted to throw a manila folder at her and say, “Write it down.”

I asked, “Does this person have a last name? Do you know where she lives?”

She said that she didn’t know her name but thought she lived on the 6th floor. I thanked her for the info and asked where I might find her, if I had some follow up questions. I also informed her not to leave town.

I took my newfound knowledge and walked back in the building to talk to the Manager. I asked if there was a Dennis on the 6th floor. He leaned back and gave a look that said, “Dennis, aww, of course it was Dennis.” He gave me her full name and said, “She’s alright except for when she’s drinking.”

The informant followed me to the office, stuck her head under the plate glass divider that separated the office from the hallway and yelled, “It was Dennis, It was Dennis, It was Dennis!” So much for being coy.

On my way back to work I stared down every perp in the ‘Loin, giving them all a look that said “Don’t fuck with me.” I was high on authority and thinking of joining the Academy..

The volunteer didn’t want to press charges, so there was nothing we could do. Staff delivered to the hotel, until Dennis got evicted.

Monday, May 4, 2009

From Patagonia to the Tenderloin in 5 Minutes

While taking a poop, I leaned over and perused the ample reading material on the adjacent table. I had read all the Entertainment and US Weeklies, so I decided to delve deeper into the pile. Past the Vanity Fairs and New Yorkers, I stumbled upon the travel magazines, at the bottom of the pile. I got Alex (wife) a few of these types of magazines as stocking stuffers last Christmas. You know, travel, exotic locations, local cuisine, romance…filler.

Like Playboy, these types of magazines are all about the pictures: sweeping views of glaciers in Montana, rustic storefronts in Milan and Icelanders drinking vodka in the town square and beating the shit out of each other. Rarely do I venture past the pictures, but my bowels were not cooperating (usually I’m in and out - it’s a gift of mine), so I decided to take a chance on an article about Patagonia.

Like finding out a favorite song of yours is a cover, I had the same sensation with Patagonia. To me, Patagonia was an outdoor wear that woman with baseball hats and ponytails wore on the weekend. I was wrong. It was an actual, uh, region (I had to look it up. I was gonna call it a city) at the tip of South America. And it was rather bleak, a place where people who wear Patagonia vacation. Not wimps like me.

The article opened up with this:

“In his introduction to Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia, novelist Nicholas Shakespeare warns, “In Patagonia, the isolation makes it easy to exaggerate the person you are: the drinker drinks; the devout prays; the lonely grows lonelier, sometimes fatally.”

This was as far as I got, but it gave me enough reflection and mind wandering to finish the job and get out of the bathroom.

I thought 2 things: the Tenderloin and who the fuck is Nickolas Shakespeare? Regarding the latter, I looked him up and, no, it wasn’t a typo. He’s a youngish writer from England that spent some time in South America and shares the same last night as that other Shakespeare guy. With that resolved, I focused on the Tenderloin.

Last week I read a blog in the SF Chronicle advising tourists to avoid Fisherman’s Wharf and Tenderloin, when visiting San Francisco. It was a hipster type thing, not something advised by the Tourism Board. I thought it was good advice. I was the exception, though. In the comment section of the blog, 10s of people chimed in talking about the great food, community and clubs of the Tenderloin. The comments were obviously written by people that don’t live in the Tenderloin.

The Tenderloin is somewhere you end up….not by choice. Because of drugs, circumstance or economics you find yourself in a 12 square block area, dotted with SRO hotels and shitty apartment building. If given the choice, everybody in the TL would live somewhere else. That’s why it’s infuriating when people talk about it like a medal on their breast, someplace to defend. And when I say people, I mean white people (I can say that, I’m white. Nice to meet ya). And like the quote, you don’t get better in the Tenderloin – only worse.

From the bathroom to Patagonia to the Tenderloin, this mental journey happened in about 5 minutes.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Unofficial King of Punk

I never knew Bob Noxious of The Fuck-Ups. I knew of him – everybody did that was involved in the early 80s hardcore scene in SF. He and a handful of other notorious punks - Mark Dagger, Spike, Denz - known more for their antics than their bands, were part of the punk glitterati, the scenesters who unofficially ran the scene…by brawn. In the unofficial hierarchy of SF punk, Bob was top dog.

Yesterday, I learned that Bob passed away on Xmas eve. Even though I hadn’t seen or heard of him in 25 years, I was interested in his demise and did a little research to see what happened. He apparently passed peacefully at home due to liver failure, surrounded by family and friends. I assumed his demise would be violent.

In my research, I stumbled upon copious eulogies from his friends, acknowledging his status in the punk scene and admitting that he was sometimes difficult to be around. This outpouring humanized him to me. I only knew him as the guy that fucked everything up.

This was my favorite eulogy:


Bob was somebody everybody wanted to know. Whether you liked him or not, you talked about him – what he did, what he said. He was watched and admired in dysfunctional way. He was the meter of punk and knowing him, seeing him, talking about him (like he was your friend) elevated your status.

I didn't go to see his band for the music, I went to see what was going to happen. It was an event that usually ended up in fights and high drama. I went for that, for the story it gave me the next day. It’s the same way people used to go see GG Allin. If you got shit thrown on you, it was a better show.

Just by writing about his death, I’m still trying to get a piece of him. And I’m still talking about him, trying to elevate my status and gain acceptance in the long defunct hardcore scene of SF.

Bob will be remembered.

(photos courtesy of the dmr twins)