Dear Landlord, Does the Dirty Boulevard have to Cost So Much?

I should be writing today. I should be working on my book. I should be doing something that goes towards building a future for me and the kid, instead I am battling the inhumane and downright unprofessional and lazy behavior of the people who should be finding a home for me and the Boy. I have a subsidy. I have a ‘rapid rehousing’ worker. I have the shortfall in the rent more or less covered. That said, a subsidy for a woman and a young teen boy should cover a two bedroom apartment in the city, or else what value is it? How does shoving a family into a $2000 closet help them make a life? A two bedroom in San Francisco has risen back up to over $3000 a month, and most of the nicer places will not accept subsidy payments, despite the guaranteed rent. This is how they get a homeless person out of San Francisco whilst pretending they don’t have to leave San Francisco. If I don’t find a place within 90 days, I lose my subsidy.

Yesterday I got left waiting in an alleyway for almost an hour by a realtor, in an appointment set up by the housing people. He ended up being 45 minutes late, and had his phone turned off for the entire time. So there I was, standing outside an apartment the said ‘specialist’ sent us to. Me and the Boy, standing in the alleyway with the bums and the drunks. A man sat with his back against a lamppost, a pile of empty cans next to him, a thin trail of piss soaking his pants, and running down the sidewalk. He was laughing uproariously into his phone, a blissful drunk smile on his face. The strains of some narco ballad made it’s way from his phone to the air between him and me. I gave him a nervous smile, but he didn’t want to hurt anybody: buddy hauled himself to his feet, steadied himself on a wall, and walked like a champ. Anyone who is anyone has pissed their pants and staggered.

I was more impressed with his performance art than any Broadway production. He was real, he was alive, he was saying more about the state of society in his stupor and his desperation than I could ever hope to. I would have given him a round of applause but I was trying to be low profile, left standing as I was, there in the street. A very elderly wizened man lay out his cardboard, his crate, a mug, a comb. Neat and tidy, military precision. His hair long and grey, kind blue drunk eyes sparkled out from the lines and the grime, and filled with tears. He sat on ____Ave and wept. He sat and wept in the grime and the dirt, the flies gathered around him waiting for the meal,\ attracted by the piss and the hunger. He should have been cared for. He should have been in a bed, feet up, watching television, treated like a human being. Are we even human any more? A society that leaves an elder to die on a street, in tears, alone and desperate is not a society at all. It is survival of the richest, and it disgusts me in a way so fundamental that it twists something in my soul. I get angry. I get mean. I get grouchy.

I had $5 in my pocket. I was going to get a taxi home instead of walking in the dark through a bad area, reaching into my pocket to make sure I had my pepper spray, and once reassured that the little canister was there, I walked over to the man sitting on the cardboard, wizened and hungry looking, elderly and scared and crying, dirty and desperate. I might be a stone cold bitch, but damnit I am not heartless. He wasn’t begging. He wasn’t hassling. He was just sitting there crying. I pushed $5 in his hand. My slot in the shelter keeps me warm and safe. I’m not hungry. He tried not to take it from me. I patted his hand with my gloved hand, and smiled. He was deaf. He couldn’t hear me. He just cried and thanked me, and I felt sick that was the sum of the paltry kindness I had to offer. Lou sang about sending people to the Boulevard, on his New York album, they are still doing it. My kid is the ‘Pedro’ staring out of the “Wiltshire Hotel” that looks out of the window onto the dirt and hopes to fly away: to gain a life that is more than trying to survive the dirty Boulevard, and my heart breaks into a million useless letdown pieces. This is my grand play for redemption, my attempt to survive, to give The Boy a chance; and despite the little things I write about life in the shelter, down here on the dirty Boulevard, cast out to the gutter, the reality remains opaque. It is my fault. I am not good enough a writer to express the desperation and the fear, the dirt and the violence, the unfairness of a society that charges $2200 a month (inflation since Lou wrote his masterpiece) for a tiny room while a man cries and dies outside of it. There is a lack of adequate provision. Two people shoved into an apartment the size for one small old guy, and barely able to cover the rent even with a subsidy.

A pale faced young man turned up. He told me he had ‘lost track of time’ and overslept. I wasn’t told it was a tiny studio with a portion, the room not being enough for a bed for each of us. Left waiting in the alleyway, the man who was meant to be showing the place that I was told was a one bed big enough for two people, who had overslept and left me waiting there at four in the afternoon, standing on an edgy street with homeless people drinking for almost an hour, finally turned up ultra-angry-defensive and aggressive. It was disgusting. There is a certain way young white men have about them, that screams privilege and patriarchy. He declared he had said he was sorry, and told me to drop it, ‘Ma’aam’, as if my standing on the corner for 45 minutes was absolutely reasonable of him, that he was owed my time, and not my recriminations. I forgot, even when people are paid, if you are not the right kind of person, you are still shit. Sorry kid, “ma’am” said like “fuck you, bitch” is still a fuck you. I read it loud and clear, and I will brook no clear disrespect. I have no fucks left to give.

I try to get settled today, and work on my book, work on a way to get out of this mess I find myself in. Instead, I am greeted by this morning with a demand that says “find somewhere to live within 90 days, or lose subsidy”. Broken English, clear intent. I try and settle down, and instead of the housing specialist coming to me with options and suitable places, she expects me to find somewhere by myself. I just got asked to find out if the house I was asking about has all its warrants and planning permissions! Not my job! I have been chasing my own tail all day.

I have been trying to find a place that is big enough, that is safe enough, that is amenable to third party government cheques or whatever the chick as housing calls them, and it is an endless doomed task. Not only that. the shelter is kicking people out left, right and center. Everyone is living in fear of being denied service. It is a constant threat, the rules are harsh and unequally applied, and it seems as if the management of the shelter want you gone, then that is the end. A friend and her baby were kicked out last week. I am vaguely scared even writing about the place for fear of being thrown on the street with my son. This is no way to live. It is not even vaguely acceptable, it is ruling a group of vulnerable people by fear. I haven’t said it so far. I am polite and careful, but it has gone too far, and I will not drag my toe in the dirt worrying about every time I open my mouth, or if I am too friendly or too aloof. Some people can smoke weed in the parking lot, some people (me) get shit about it. Some people can keep others up all night, some get in trouble for a bowl of rice that won’t kill them. The people providing the food have no idea nor are they willing to listen about cross-contamination. I get a fucking peanut and I am dead meat. I can’t afford an epipen or a doc to prescribe it. No. I haven’t survived so much to be taken out now, and I do have to damn well eat! I starved on salad for months, and got dangerously thin. Come on, even trash like me deserves a warm meal that won’t hurt me!

If I eat the food here I will be sick. It could even kill me with stomach cancer. It is not fussiness. Celiac is a real thing, no matter what Tom Waits says with his ‘free the glutens’ bullshit rant. Gliadin is worse than rat poison to me, and I know the world wants me dead, but I am damned if I am going to give the world what it wants. Throw me out. It won’t kill me, or the boy or our spirit. I’m a cockroach and he is very much like me. Ill be here after this world burns and so will he, I will be here just to spite the bastards who have tried to destroy me. Angry? Yes, and I don’t give much care if it offends or upsets, I am due my anger. It is mine. I own it. It is about all I have left. I don’t have the luxury of being nice.

It has been a terrible few days – I got sent out to the place in Chinatown SF, that was actually in Oakland near Lake Merritt – the specialist got the wrong zip, and the street name was the same, so she sent me to the wrong address and left me waiting outside for another wasted hour on the street. Now today, I am told find somewhere for a subsidy that doesn’t even cover inflated bloated San Francisco prices within 90 days, or else lose my subsidy. I have been offered a place above a very noisy bar on a very busy night-life street, which is absolutely not suitable for a woman alone with a young teenage boy, an apartment over in Oakland which is in an area that is just plain dangerous, and a tiny teensy little studio near Haight Ashbury, that would not even fit two beds in, let alone a table or a desk or two people as well. One person would have found it a squeeze. Now, with no fucking help or assistance, I am left calling round apartments trying to find a decent place to live and with no time to write or do things I want and need to do. There is no thought for me at all. My time is worth nothing, my ability to live and survive and work all meaningless. The fact of it all is the specialists and the homeless charities just want to dump all of us out of SF and off their books and budgets as soon as possible. The ones who care are not the ones in charge, and make no mistake there are people who care.

Being told, being given the heads up that we might be thrown out for the rice cooker, being threatened with denial of service has left me feeling so unsafe so scared. I am not saying the world owes me safety but surely anyone with a heart would look at that Boy of mine and think he deserves a chance to not live in fear. Seems not.

Dear Landlord, sang Dylan (though I personally prefer Joan Baez’s version, she sang it like she meant it. She was always the greater revolutionary), “Please don’t put a price on my soul” – but prices are put on survival, by the rich, on the poor, and they are increasingly unobtainable. That $2,200 a month rent for a tiny studio, is making a landlord rich. whilst people get paid nowhere near enough to cover that amount. The inequality is breathtaking.

Housing is bleeding every cent from people, in an overinflated bubble market, keeping the poor barely able to put essential shelter over their heads, and food in their bellies. It is not just the poor, the squeezing of middle America is real. Who can afford to put their kids through college, buy a house, or pay rent. Landlords are holding the rest of America hostage, inflating their bulging bank accounts, while everyone else scrabbles around to pay the ransom. America is in a squeeze, prices pushed up by the greedy actions of those who sought to profit off a pandemic, by mismanagement, by the actions of a Republican party who seek to sink the whole Good Ship ‘Murica along with their stinking corpse of a party. ABC10 reported that the recall of Newsom is costing 400 million bucks! How many families could be housed and fed? How many rehab places could be paid for? How much additional schooling for children could that buy. Children have suffered a huge upset and tragedy having their lives upended by a virus which is clearly an escaped biological weapon, gain of function experiment. Perhaps it is even darker than that, and I should not be giving the politico masters of war the benefit of the doubt that they are not simply trying to ‘cull the herd’ of little people.

Make no mistake all the 99 percent of us are, to the 1 percent in charge, worker ants to fuel their capitalist pig agenda. They get richer while we starve in 2000 dollar apartments, trying to pay the bills. There is no room for art, no room for creativity, no room for revolution of equality whilst we all are scrabbling around trying to fuel the ultra rich’s need for more. Is a life spent trying to fill the gaping insatiable maw of the capitalist beast a life worth living?

We need more intentional communities, we need to ‘get back to the garden’ as Joni Mitchel put it. The little people need to band together and say enough is enough. Alone, we are weak, together we are invincible. Enough of the right-wing hatred peddlers, enough of the housing prices and rent to own mortgages that are bleeding the poor dry, enough of inhumanity, enough of racism – and that includes racism against Asian communities. Enough already! Enough. The trouble is humans are not very good at holding out for their best interests, not good at working together. Look at masks! The pouting, the sulking, the toddler temper tantrums: wearing a mask to protect those around us was and still is something as a group humanity does not want to do. How on earth are we meant to band together to beat the capitalist murdering overlords – Dylan’s Masters of War, if we cannot even do that for each other!

Lou Reed’s 1989 Album New York, contained the stand-out track Dirty Boulevard. Lou, as always, knows where it is at, and nothing has changed much for the better in the last 32 years. “Give me your poor, your tired, your hungry, and I’ll piss on ’em, that’s what the statue of bigotry says”, snarls Lou. He might pretend it’s “hard to give a shit these days” but that was Lou, his actions and growl say it might be hard but he still did. Did I mention I love Lou?

Your poor, tired and hungry huddled masses are growing in number, drowning on the boulevard, with all the other living dead boys and the baby crocodile blood bath of fury predators, and America is still pissing on them all alike. We are all victims of a society that has temporarily lost its way and heart. Blame the Mexicans, blame the ‘illegals”, blame the druggies, blame the drunks, blame the losers and the weepers, the lovers and the freaks, blame those that are easy to blame. I blame tolerance for inhumanity. I blame tolerance for a system that throws a young mother and baby out of a shelter for some bullshit control freak rules that are impossible to live within. I blame the landlords and their outrageous rents. I blame the masters of war, and those that gave up on ‘the garden’ – the hippie 60s dream. I blame the techies and their silly money. I blame the fascists of this world, like the murdering Bolsonaro (read Lula Falcao, Vultures in the Living Room for an excellent overview of what happens when the madmen run the show), and the treacherous Trump. I blame us all for not stopping the slide before it got so far, but you know what, that is ok because there is still a glimmer of hope on the horizon. I will try to do better. Are you with me? Vive la resistance!


  1. Time Traveler of Life

    Son of a bitch! LIfe doesn’t just throw lemons at you, it has employed a star pitcher! And you can’t even make lemonade! I hope with all my heart you find a place, and when you do, please try not to do anything violent to the people in charge of making your life miserable! But do put them in a book and kill them off! That is what I do. I have ridiculed and killed off people in my books that hurt me. They say that “The best revenge is to live well!”

    1. The Paltry Sum

      I am not a physically violent person at all. I have been on the receiving end of it too much. I bite my tongue and try and not let people know too much how upset I am. I had such a busy day today, looking at another place. This was ok. Realtor turned up on time, the apartment was fine. Now it is in the hands of the housing people. If they are ok with it, and the landlord is also ok…then we might have a deal. This place is fine. Really nice area, tiny but big enough for the two of us. I would be overjoyed to live there.

Leave a Reply