The libertarian in me

Pushing the fish-cart, I was almost to Telegraph when a pretty woman in a short short sundress got out of her car, across the street. She closed the door, and my oh my. I was admiring her legs almost all the way up, and as my gaze settled on her rear, that's when she gently pulled some of her dress out of her asscrack. It had been bunched up in there, but loosened, her dress was suddenly several inches longer, and so was I, and the day was off to a better start than yesterday.

And then my spirits sank. 

It's that time of the month — like an infestation of ticks, the Christians were out, preaching platitudes and singing salvation at the corner all day.

Picture if you will, a very amateur band with five white guys playing sub-par rock'n'roll with Jesus in the lyrics. Now imagine that they're singing and occasionally preaching into microphones set way too loud, all afternoon, so there's simply no escaping the sound for blocks.

Conducting an open-air business across the street from this Christian cacophony is very difficult, and that's why we street vendors get the gut-drop feeling when we those damned Christians set up their amps, mikes, and big phony smiles.

After hours of this that felt like weeks, one of the loud Christians said into the microphone, "Our next song will be 'House of the Rising Son, Part 2'," and they proceeded to desecrate that song of desperation with new lyrics, all about The Lord coming to the rescue, and Lord, I couldn't take it no more.

Across the street from the "band," on the corner closest to me, they'd stationed a plump woman in a yellow muumuu, handing out their flyers to anyone dumb enough to take one. She held one out for me, on my way back from a pee break at the tavern, and I took the flyer, ripped it in two, dropped it into the slight breeze, and let her have it.

"What you're doing," I said in lines rehearsed while urinating, "is an embarrassment to yourselves, your church, your religion, and rock'n'roll."

She turned her back on me in a Christlike manner, so instead of speaking I started shouting. "It's so fucking rude of you to blast your beliefs into everyone's ears out here. Jesus wouldn't need a microphone!"

She ignored me, of course, and I'd become part of the spectacle everyone was ignoring, so I went back to my table, back to trying to talk about anti-Jesus fish over the noise of Jesus.

The band's next number, to the tune of "Yellow Submarine," was "We All Live in the Light of Jesus Christ," and Jesus Christ, I frowned all afternoon.

♦ ♦ ♦  

There's a newsstand at the BART station near my hotel, and when I'm coming home by way of BART I sometimes buy the evening Examiner there, from Sam, who ran the stand. Past tense.

Tonight, coming up from the subway and headed toward Sam's newsstand, the door-size wooden flap that locks the big box overnight was still down and padlocked. A wreath had been nailed to it.

And Sam's death is not merely my assumption; there's a note taped near the flowers, that says, "Does anyone know when the memorial will be? I'd like to be there, please call…" followed by a phone number.

Sam is dead. He ran that newsstand forever, far longer than I've been in San Francisco. I lived in this neighborhood years ago, before moving back in April, and he's always been there, seven days a week. He was part of the backdrop, a given — so much taken for granted that I don't think I've ever mentioned him in the zine, until now, when he's dead.

No word on how it happened, but it couldn't have been any lingering disease. He was laughing just a few afternoons ago, when I walked by his stand without buying anything.

He laughed a lot, and was a very friendly gent, which was mildly irritating. I only wanted to buy a paper, not make a buddy, but he usually wanted to talk about the weather, the news, whatever.

People loved Sam, though. They often crowded around his newsstand, buying a paper and then lingering to talk with him. 

When his newsstand was crowded, I was more likely to buy a paper, because Sam would be busy talking to other people, and I could simply grab an Examiner and slide the coins toward him and walk away.

If nobody was loitering around the stand, then Sam would want to talk, so I'd wave as I walked by and purchase my paper somewhere else, or do without.

Which means, I guess, I wasn't one of Sam's friends, or even one of his better customers. Still, I'm sorry he's dead, wish he wasn't, and I sure hope someone opens the newsstand again.

♦ ♦ ♦  

To buy a newspaper and a few other incidentals, I walked into a new grocery store, under their "Grand opening" banner. Nothing was particularly grand about the place, and the prices were higher than the bodega across the street, so I probably won't be back often. 

On the way out of the store, I noticed a bright yellow "Notice of Violation" glued to the window.

The city's Department of Building Inspection says it's an "unsafe building," per SFEC 90-37, with "unlawful use of electric energy," per SFEC 90-52, and "electrical work unlawful to [illegible]," per SFEC 90-56. I'm guessing SFEC is San Francisco Electrical Code, and it means that the building hasn't been inspected. More importantly, it means that the proper fees, bribes, and kickbacks haven't been paid.

Small print warns in three languages that this non-compliance will be punished by immediate fines of $100 per violation, escalating to $200 per violation if the first notice isn't heeded, and promising eventual fines of "not less than $1,000 per day or six months imprisonment or both." In addition to the Department of Building Inspection, nine other city agencies are listed, all of which must sign off (meaning, receive payments under or over the table) before the store can legally open (though, obviously, the store was open anyway).

Maybe I was breaking the law shopping there. Sure hope so.

You don't want electricity wired by amateurs, sure. Someone should look at that stuff, and all the rules, all the city agencies probably make sense at some level, or did when the rules were written. The libertarian in me is skeptical, though.

This store isn't in a new building, or a new space. It was a grocery with a different name until it closed several months ago, and since then it's been an empty storefront. All the new owners have done is paint the place, lay new tile on the floor, plug in the refrigerators left behind, and hung a new name from the awning.

This, then, is their punishment for doing business in San Francisco.

From Pathetic Life #24
Saturday, May 25, 1996

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. Captain HampocketsMay 28, 2023 at 11:46 AM

    I never met Sam from the newsstand, as he died before I got there. But I remember you writing about him in this entry and one upcoming one. Was the newsstand the little kiosk on the corner of 16th and Valencia? I don't recall any of the big green ones in the hood, though I may be wrong.

    1. Really? I'm going to write about him again? What's to write — he's dead. Ah, well, I trust your memory of the zine more than mine.

      It was one of those wooden stands, kinda like the one in the picture but less elaborate. They were everywhere in the city, and his was on the plaza side on 16th @ Mission.

      Selling far fewer papers now, the newsstands have presumably disappeared from Frisco. There are none in Seattle any more. Good luck finding a paper paper even if you want to read it.

    2. Captain HampocketsMay 28, 2023 at 2:12 PM

      My memory of the stand is of the teeny tiny wood, brown, only selling Chron and Exam, on the corner of 16th and V. May be wrong. And my memory of you is that someone eventually posts a poem saying how he died, and it includes the line "Had cancer and never let on."

  2. All forgotten by me.

    I think he also sold the New York Times, maybe the LA Times. I was buying a lot of NY Times back then, from someone...


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