Living in San Francisco in 2021 is like turning up to the party of a lifetime…half an hour after everybody interesting has either gone home or passed out. The burst balloons, the unconscious bodies in various states of undress, the lingering scent of greatness in the atmosphere dissipating into the early morning air, people crying, people getting ready to be born and people dying: it is clear that a time was had, and that time is never to be recovered nor relived, it has gone and will not be around again. The party is over, and all tomorrow’s parties are so very far away in those small hours after the clowns have gone to ground.
As I was leaving Trader Joes today, buying a carton of soy milk, a bag of apples and a package of tempeh, a mean-faced elderly woman accosted me. “Boudin! Sign to recall Boudin! He is doing a BAD JOB! Recall?” She looked at me, and asked me to sign her petition, a petition to recall that has been funded by the GOP, the evil overreaching tech monster corps and the real estate vultures who see the SF vastly overpriced bubble housing scene devaluing faster than you can say “rehabilitation not incarceration.”
I was forced by my better Angels to make a snap decision: which side was I on? Scenes played through my head movie reel flicks, third person traumatized, stills of us being chased down streets by men trying to hurt me and The Boy, murders on the street outside, Walgreens having been robbed of every last single pack of toilet paper, making me walk up the road to CVS to try and score some in a surreal rehashing of the dark days of the toilet paper shortage of 2020. Then as I looked down to my tie dye lurid pastel tee reading PEACE and WOODSTOCK, with an American flag scrawled across my chest, and I looked to my undocumented brown skinned son, and towards the man nodded out on a park bench, I made a snap decision. “No!” I told her. “No. He is doing a good job. It is what we stand for here in this city. I believe in compassion. He isn’t getting everything right, but he is better than SF turning into an outpost of right wing political hatred and oppression.” I then went about packing my bags. She tutted and rolled her eyes towards us, as I talked loudly to The Boy, informing him of where the money was coming from behind this push to recall Boudin. “Agents of the GOP. Trumpers. Tech corp evil. Monied types that want people, ordinary people, poor people to be enslaved to inflated rents and if you fall under that bar, they would rather people just up and die…or at least go live in Boise, which is about the same fucking thing, Kiddo.”
The Boy eyed me with concern. He knows me when I make up my mind, when I am verging on righteous fury. He knows me when I have a bee in my bonnet, even if I am wearing a teeshirt with a Woodstock dove on it, and have made an effort to look faintly cheerful. I was overjoyed, San Franciscan after San Franciscan rejected her advances, as I enjoyed watching her get increasingly desperate to prove her point. That was until a serious-looking man, came over to her and agreed to sign. He was not white. She asked him if he lived in the city. I didn’t see her ask a single caucasian that question. The Boy got it and stared at me. “She would have Boudin AND US, thrown out of San Francisco, Ma? “And all those poor addicted people thrown in jails, and damn the cost to them personally and to humanity…and San Francisco painted rich and white and Republican. A take over bid by the enemy.”
“I still don’t like getting chased, Ma,” I told him I would rather take our chances with Crackhead Joe and a can of mace at our disposal, rather than the amassed forces of the Evil Republic, he agreed. A homeless older black man sat in a doorway, strung out on something or other, looking desperate and unwell. He started singing softly to himself. He deserved compassion. He deserves a chance.
Prison will help nobody, a sickened society cannot be simply locked up. People cannot be allowed to die and then scraped up off streets that are sick with addiction or disease – not and lay claim to the title of a civilized society. Prisons are used to punish those who do not deserve punishment, to ruin lives and victimize those who do not fit the mould, and it is sick and wrong and cruel. Boudin might not get it right all the time, but at least he is acting in the spirit of San Francisco, and for that reason, so am I when I say, no recall. No recall, with the caveat that more must be done to find solutions, real workable solutions to problems. Homeless people are being bussed into SF from outside the State according to homeless workers that I know very well. They have just got one batch off the streets, when more get sent here from places like Reno, and that makes things so much more difficult….but who am I to complain. I came to the city precisely because there was help here – resources and compassion, and the refugees from heartless states sitting on the streets have just as much right to do the same. SF doesn’t need to change, the rest of the USA needs to act to solve issues of addiction and homelessness instead of exporting them to California.
San Francisco is not the City of Love, peace and hippies that it used to be, though a few stragglers hold on here and there. There is more LSD in this city floating around than I have seen in years. Filmore still has music and citywide the attitude of compassion holds, even if the party is over. I wonder what kind of clarion call would bring the artists and the musicians, the lovers and the freaks, the warriors of social justice and the protestors out of their foxholes and into the open? There is always the possibility that tomorrow’s party will be worth the price of admission. San Francisco cannot lose who it is, even if the streets are no longer trodden by the Beat poets, and Hunter S Thompson isn’t in town trying to make it happen, and I haven’t so much as seen a Hell’s Angel in town for weeks, the rebellion and love is baked into it’s strange and experimental soul.