In yesterday’s San Francisco Examiner: A woman tells city police that a pack of wild kids on the bus doused her hair with lighter fluid and set her head aflame.

Welcome to San Francisco, and thank you for riding Muni.

When I read the news, I asked myself what I’d do if I'd been a passenger on that bus, and witnessed this. On Muni, I've seen plenty, but never yet seen anyone lit afire.

The right thing to do, of course, would be to say NO to the bastards, maybe pick one of ‘em up by his ear lobes, and heroically save the damsel in distress.

Doing the right thing could get you killed, though. If there were four rowdy kids on that bus, then statistically at least two of them had guns in their saggy britches. If you’re feeling gallant and say something, do something, you might be an obit in the next day’s paper.

What the hell would you do, hero? Me, I’d maybe be brave enough to glare at the kids. That’s about the limits of my courage, unless the person they’re dousing is me or someone I love. And there’s nobody in San Francisco that I love.

Here's the problem: Some kids have been raised with no limits. There’s been no responsible adult to whack ‘em on the butt when they were toddlers, or to talk sense into them when they were a little older — so they’ve got no sense in ‘em at all. Their parents were absent, addicted, brutal, drunk, stupid, or just uncaring losers, so those kids are monsters. Absolute frickin' monsters.

Seriously, ride Muni any day at about 3:00, as the schools are letting out, and if you’re near the back of the bus it’s like being among the hyenas at the zoo. I’ve seen guns and knives, bloody fistfights, heads bashed against windows and seats, all toward the back of the bus, where the little fuckers prefer to ride. You’ll find me toward the front, amongst the old, the weak, the sane, the survivors. 

A few times, I’ve seen good guys who stood up to the roving hoards, and I’ve never seen any of them killed. Yet I don’t yearn to be one of the good guys. Maybe, maybe I’d brain someone from behind, if it looked like he was making trouble alone. I suppose maybe I'd say something, do domething if some teen savage started squirting lighter fluid around. Maybe I’d surprise me. I hope so. 

And the police? Give up that dream, Farley. Once in a great while cops ride the bus, but only the day after someone’s been shot commuting. It’s about public relations, not public protection.

And it's not like the police are better. Seeing gangsters in bluer clothes, with smaller guns, shiny badges, and probably more serious mental malfunctions is supposed to put people’s minds at ease, but I generally prefer the bus without the cops. At least with rowdy kids, if you ring the bell and get off at the next stop, they’ll let you leave.

I don’t know what the answer is. It's not my job to solve society's problems. What I’d advise, though, is that if you’re in the city and riding a bus or waiting at a bus stop between about 2:45 and 3:15 on a weekday when school’s in session… step into a coffee shop for a while, and stay off the bus.

♦ ♦ ♦

Misery. My first day working at the shop was 7½ hours of old-fashioned work. I carried boxes, hung clothes, scrubbed stains out of an old rug, loaded a truck full of clothes and furniture for storage, then unloaded it at the storage site. Back at the store, whenever there was nothing else to do, I stood on the sidewalk in that crazy green get-up, handing the store’s flyers to everyone passing by, except about one out of four who refused (I assume they assumed the flyers were sex party invitations, which is what you’re usually handed near the Castro).

Green man duty, which I believe will eventually be fun, was no fun today because of the constant rain. Sometimes it drizzled, sometimes it downpoured, never was it dry, so I was standing there, saying the name of the shop and pointing upstairs, wearing a soaking wet cape and a slightly-waterlogged hood, flyers in one hand and an umbrella in the other. Like the sappy song says, “It never rains in California, but man, don’t they warn ya, it pours.”

♦ ♦ ♦

Crazy coincidence of the day: With Stevi driving, I rode in the truck to the store’s storage shed, which was down an alleyway in a fairly scummy part of the Mission. We were unloading the truck in the rain, when Pike, a young guy I worked with a couple of years back, walked by. I wasn’t wearing the hood and cape, of course, so he recognized me before I recognized him, and he said, "Hey, dude!"

We talked for a few sentences, and Stevi didn’t seem to mind, and then he asked If I knew anyone who’s looking for a cheap place to live. He said he’d just signed a lease on a new apartment, and he needs a flatmate to help with the rent, lickety-split.

I mulled this over for about three seconds, and said, "The only guy I know who’s looking for a cheap place is me." The rent at my rez hotel is OK for a working stiff, but my work isn’t so steady as it was with Macy's, and the rent Pike mentioned would be about fifty bucks a month less, even with gas and electric.

And it’s an apartment, a genuine apartment — so there’d be a toilet and a shower and a kitchen. At the rez hotel, there's no kitchen at all, and the toilet and shower are shared with dozens of drunks and headcases and almost-hobos.

Stevi was raising her eyebrows a bit by then, so Pike and I high-fived and then low-fived, he gave me his phone number, and we talked later. 

I don’t know Pike very well, but I didn't hate him when we worked together at the survey company, and from me, not hating someone is high praise. All I really remember about Pike is that he was sometimes funny in the break room at that job, and he often smelled of weed.

On the phone, I asked about his personality and habits, and he described himself as a homebody, said loud music and marijuana were his only bad habits, but if it bugged me he could wear headphones and share the weed. He says he rarely has friends over. Best of all, he’s already paid the first/last/damage deposit, so he’ll let me slide on that, at least for a while.

“I’m moving in tomorrow,” he said. “All I need is a roommate.”

“It’s separate rooms, though, right?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “Separate rooms.” To me that means flatmates, not roommates, an important distinction because I sure as hell don’t want a roommate.

The upshot is, tomorrow morning Pike will show me his new apartment, and unless it looks utterly unlivable, his place will be my place — Su casa será mi casa, or something like that. It’s in the Mission, so I gotta brush up on the Spanish I don’t speak.

You want a description of Pike? That’s easy as store-bought pie — he’s Keanu Reeves in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. That’s the look, the voice, the personality of Pike. He even says ‘Dude’ a lot.

And that's not an insult. I liked the movie, and I liked Ted. Maybe I'll like Pike.

It’s a gamble, sure. Humans are always a gamble. But this is my first and maybe only chance to get out of the residential hotels where I’ve been living since coming to California 3+ years ago. On my own I’ll never have the thousand dollars it takes to sign a lease, and there’s no way I’d ever pass a landlord’s credit check. Honestly, one hell of an opportunity walked up to me in that alleyway this afternoon.

♦ ♦ ♦

So, in conclusion: Minor misery after a day of physical labor. Arms hurt a little. Back hurts a little. Bones are creaking, clothes are wet, and I’m maybe moving out of this rez hotel. I’m tired, though, and tired of typing, so it’s time to strip and sleep.

From Pathetic Life #10
Wednesday, March 8, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Pathetic Life 

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  1. >On my own I’ll never have the thousand dollars it takes to sign a lease


    Man, when I left SF 8 years ago, median rent was already probably 2500 for a 1-bedroom. My first place was the rez, 90 a week in 1996. Then a studio with Shawna, like 950 a month. Then a real apartment, 1-bedroom, small, 1675 a month.

    1. Yeah, it's crazy, and I was doubtless underestimating the thousand bucks. I'm glad we lived there when we lived there, but SF has become an insanely expensive city, that thinks it's worth it but it's not.


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