December 31, 2014
MAN AND HIS DOG LOOKING FOR A PLACE TO LIVE.
Will work for rent. If you can help. Please call (602) xxx-xxxx, my wireless phone. I will live almost any place, on a boat or in a warehouse. Thank You, Thank You very much.
I SAW THAT ON CRAIGSLIST
back when I was still looking for a way to somehow stay in or get out of San Francisco. I didn’t have many options. I couldn’t do either without the kindness of friends, family, and credit cards. It happens I saw the above “housing wanted” ad on the same day I had a 3-Day Pay or Quit Notice from my landlord. As I was reading the ad on the phone to the friend considering lending me money, I broke into tears for all the naked suffering of humanity struggling to get its needs met. If you’re a “normal” person–a 99%-er–San Francisco is one of the hardest places in all the world to meet them, if you’re on your own and are not willing to crowd 12 to a Chinatown room.
I had no choice but to give up and give in. I’d had it. End of my noose. I couldn’t do it anymore–more to the point, I wouldn’t do it–whatever it was I had to do to stay there because
SAN FRANCISCO, YOU ARE NOT WORTH IT, ANYMORE.
To me. Conclusively. I was destitute, in debt, hadn’t found a job ten months running, was on food stamps, and was not able to pay my October rent. And my landlord had never charged me a last month’s rent, which I knew even while signing the contract would come back to bite me in the ass, so there went my security deposit, which means I left town only with the cash garnered from street sales. If you’re self-employed in the gig economy, as I am, “will I make the rent?” is a challenge that repeats monthly. And finally, the one month, by hook or crook, that I couldn’t, spelled the end of my California saga.
Around that time someone also posted an ad looking for a roommate to pay $1075 to sleep on the couch of her studio apartment, after plunking down a $1500 deposit, calling it the “perfect place and situation for someone new to San Francisco,” about which SFist cracked, “This ‘perfect place and situation’ is where we are at now, San Francisco.” And that was over a year ago. It’s as if you’re expected to be grateful for any miniscule shred of amenity. As when Roberto Benigni, a fugitive in a swamp in “Down by Law” said, “I am lucky to even be here.”
I WAS GOING TO GIVE IT ONE MORE SHOT.
Before the crash, I was convinced that I, an accomplished seamstress, would finally score a job processing clothes for an online reseller, and supplement it with freelance work and a trial roommate. After submitting a mandatory online quiz and eloquent cover materials, the firm requested my resume, but (I can’t prove this) when they saw how far back it went, didn’t grant me an interview, concluding, without meeting me, that I was “probably not a good fit for [their] needs right now” (for employees no more than 30 years old, judging by the staff photo on their website). People hire who they want to hire; I don’t have a problem with not getting the job, but I do have a problem with not getting an interview.
From: Fucking Fucker
Thanks very much for getting back to me. Unfortunately, upon assessment of your materials, we’ve decided this probably isn’t a good fit for our needs right now. Thank you very much for your application, though, and best of luck in your future endeavors!
Mr. Fuck Fucking Fucker
After an hour of hot bitter tears born of not believing this was happening to me again!, I responded to this cheery well-wishing with:
This is not something I would normally do, but Tuesday I need to either pay my rent or give notice, and leave San Francisco. I am an expert seamstress and college graduate who has just lost a job folding clothes. You would be doing me a kindness in letting me know why I have been eliminated from consideration.
“Not a good fit” could mean anything, but, you see, I’ve got nothing to lose.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notified them that a complaint had been made against them for age discrimination, but I never filed the claim because there was no point, I just wanted to tell the fuckers, Fuck you you fucking fucks. I’d told the EEOC,
THE KINDNESS OF LANDLORDS
Even though my lease had a clause forbidding roommates, my landlords were kind enough to waive it to give me a chance to stick it out, instead of capitalizing on the first opportunity to oust me from my rent-controlled 1-BR in Mission Dolores. But just as the job was denied to me, the self-described “kind-hearted” bee-yatch I’d found on craigslist decided that the three cats she already knew I had would aggravate her allergies. And that was it for me. My heart deflated like a simpering balloon and I was outta there. I’m happy for my landlord, though; he was able to increase my rent from $1875 to $2600, and now the median is $3300.
IN 20/20 RETROSPECT
I should have left much sooner–as much as two years earlier–in 2012, when I lost both my best friend to cancer and my own will to live, for quite a while. I just kept hoping to find a way to make it work when clearly I did not have the wherewithal, emotionally or financially, to do so, nor to effect a change.
I LEFT MY BROKEN HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO
It’s such a mixed bag of feelings to leave a city not by your own choice. I won’t ever say I hate San Francisco; I chose it, I made it my home, it fit me to a T, whatever that means (short for tittle, it turns out). Its history, geography, and energy keep it magical. It’s still full of great people, dramatic scenery, exciting places to explore and art and culture to enjoy.
But there’s no place for me there, and I hate the dark cloud forming above it, which is the ever-widening black hole sucking into itself all the crazies who made it a haven for anyone who didn’t fit anywhere else. We all drew each other to settle there. Now those who are drawing their own kind are the monied kind, and lots of folks like me feel threatened and desperate. I hate the power brokers, the money changers, and those politicians who are bent on making this the only city in the US inhabited solely by 1%-ers, the homeless, and the lucky ones who already have a sustainable niche. There’s no need, here, to quote statistics on the theater-of-the-absurd rents, the evictions, the longtime businesses closing, nonprofits who are losing their spaces, the protests, the tech buses monopolizing the streets. The stories are legion and well-documented.
Hipsters v. Homeless: The Streets of San Francisco
À LA RECHERCHE DU TEMPS PERDU
It’s not the same city I loved. And that’s what nostalgia is. A feeling of longing for something that no longer exists. California had been berry, berry good to me. I had parlayed my four-bedroom Portland house, which I’d rented out, into a two-bedroom cottage in Berkeley, a fourplex apartment building on the same lot, and later a two-bedroom restored Victorian flat in hot-as-hell Lower Haight.
I had a grand old time as long as I was rich, when I liquidated all my real estate so I wouldn’t have to work full-time to maintain it. And I had a good run. Ten years. Enjoyed the symphony, the opera, dining out, traveling, doing whatever I wanted without alarm clocks. I was in the damn catbird seat.
It’s hard not to have sour grapes about a city that has no place for you, but I hate having to conform to anything, such as what it takes to “make it” or even “make do” in San Francisco. It used to be a “should” of mine. I should be able to have a certain sort of life, in the city of my choice, with as little compromise as any biped can manage. I should be able to pull that off, with my superhuman powers of drawing wealth from the universe by virtue of my inherent worth. I had made a killing in California real estate, but grief, dwindling resources, and lack of job opportunity finally took their toll. It was not pleasant to walk up Valencia St., sidewalk cafes peopled with the nouveau riche youth league, and not be able to partake. I had moved from the catbird seat to the San Francisco poor people’s ejector seat. Its powerful get-out-of-town! springs boinged me all the way to Portland, Oregon.
But it wasn’t my own fall from grace that did me in; even if I’d been gainfully employed, the city is no longer a hospitable and nurturing environment for the likes of me, and the last time I was there, when I was invited to march with the Flickr contingent in the Pride parade, I didn’t even go on any photo walks, instead spent a whole Saturday enjoying a friend’s house, and was impatient to get back home.
PORTLAND IS HAPPENING NOW
I lived in Portland, Oregon for 15 years before my 17 years in the Bay Area, and that’s where I fled, in my 16’ Budget rental truck, thanks to the largesse of my buddy my pal Peterman, who took me and my brood of three felines in out of the cold. No greater love.
is not much more fruitful in Portland than San Francisco, but at least the competition is not monopolized by 20-something tech geniuses. One interview I managed to nab, for a much-coveted (eye-roll) seasonal sales job at Banana Republic, I, in retrospect, sabotaged by failing to imitate the team-playing corporate stooge they require for even a temporary job. I was asked why I was drawn to Banana Republic. Drawn? I love both bananas and republics and live to fulfill my dream of becoming a bona fide Banana Republican. I need a fucking job! I saw your ad on goddamn craigslist! During the group interview the manager had encouraged us with “Joe Stooge started as a temp and is now at corporate,” and someone responded, “So there’s room for growth.” He no doubt got the job. Such people do exist, and they’re now at corporate! They also had whiteboards referencing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as if working the Christmas rush at Banana Republic could be a major stepping stone on your journey to self-actualization! Sheesh!
ABOVE 82ND IS THE NEW BELOW 82ND
Eventually, I managed to score a minimum wage spot as a concessions bartender at the Moda Center, home of the Portland Trailblazers basketball team. That paid my credit card bills for a while, but it still took me seven months to get out of Pete’s house and it still took my support system of friends and family (and birthday gifts and loans) to get into my own apartment. They are the main reason I escaped homelessness. There’s no greater resource than a loving family and old friends, true ones. It’s a blessing to sail through the ocean of time with the same crew.
Sadly, Portland is following San Francisco’s lead in ridiculous rents, and I’ve been priced out of the core neighborhoods I haunted in my 20’s and 30’s. I’m more than 50 blocks above the action—but all I do is count my blessings for what I have. Though I’d been without a steady income for years, and spent the last two paying with pennies for cat litter, I have never experienced true poverty. I’m still a privileged white first-worlder with an iPhone and a wardrobe and means and resources. I still sleep in a bed with a Pottery Barn duvet and take a hot shower every morning.
A lot of people did me a lot of favors, and I will do the same for you if I can. Namaste to every one of you. I bow to the divine in you! Our world is in awful turmoil. The older I get, the more I believe that, whether we know why we’re here or not, as long as we are, our purpose and privilege is to offer each other whatever help we need to make it through this vale of tears and take warmth from camaraderie and empathy.
By a twist of fate, the job I quit in 1995 became available again, and I’m back in the same office as before my move to California! And it feels like a blessing from heaven, a safe haven–almost a rehab facility–to restore myself to full solvency. I recall writing somewhere, when I first liberated myself from work–if I end up in an office, I will have failed. But it turns out that not only an office, but the same office I left, is exactly what I need right now. Lots of old friends, flexible schedule, a living wage, and no need to prove myself.
WE ALL WANT THE SAME THINGS.
We all want the same things. Love, a warm bed and food in our belly…simple gifts. Love yourself…and each other.
In memory of Pedro Villamor, Jr. He was homeless and
I wish you love, a warm bed and a full belly.
Portland was happening then
May you do something this year you have always wanted to do!
copyright Alexandra Jones 2014