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Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Night Fishing in San Francisco

Strolling the streets of San Francisco, the nation’s leading open air exhibition of failed social policies, never fails to instruct one in the infinite disabilities of social utopianism. Although large sections of this city still retain their charm in the far or middle distance — the swooping helicopter pan shot in from the Golden Gate; the brightly painted Cable Car cresting a backlit hilltop — most soon lose all charm in close-up.

Example: A clear and crisp dawn in a small side street near Laguna and Hayes. Plantings in all the window boxes, well but not fussily painted facades. A few, very small, very well kept front yards. Clean curtained windows. All in all a pretty and quiet moment in the city’s morning. Then, between two of the cars on the street and a bulging shopping cart on the curb, I noticed a man who has obviously slept rough for at least 200 consecutive days turning in a slow pirouette and gazing intently at the ground. Then he lowered himself delicately down between an Audi and an SUV.

Seeing no real reason not to stroll on past, I did and noted that the man, pants to his ankles, was relieving his bowels. I was to see this behavior twice in a single day in San Francisco. And I was in the better neighborhoods.

In the course of a random walk of four hours through the most touristed sections of the city, this scene was only the most unhappily memorable of a serious of disturbing moments. Perhaps they only disturbed because they were playing out against the postcards of my memories of San Francisco during the six years I had lived and worked there in the early 70s; against even deeper images of the city in the Summer of 1968.

Against memory any present day moment would pale as nostalgia took its toll. You’d be prepared, at the least, to be disappointed since feeling that the past is preferable to the present is a common human instinct. What you’re not prepared to be is disturbed but yet not shocked. After all, you’ve read and heard about it for years. No matter. The actual San Francisco of the present is a clear reminder that the rap is not the territory.

The extent to which the homeless, the hard-core unemployed, the drunk and the addicted, and general shabby personalities of all kinds are deployed about the city is something to bring even the most hard-core liberal from elsewhere up short. If the myriad policies and millions man-years of effort, coupled with untold billions of dollars in funding deployed in San Francisco over the last four decades have created the current visible result, something is seriously askew with the city’s basic social engineering. It is as if the entire region has spent 40 years and 400 billion building a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge on Ocean Beach intending to span the Pacific. A good intention, but a city’s gotta know its limitations.

Strolling the streets of San Francisco
                — past the blanket wrapped souls that sleep upright in bus shelters
                — past the ad-hoc shanty towns of clustered shopping carts
                — past lone men swaddled in sleeping bags on a stretch of stained concrete with only a fence and a warning between them and a few meager blades of grass
                — gives one a deep sense of unease and unmitigated tragedy after the 20th exposure. After the 50th they all just fade into the background body count, one more item of the city’s detritus
                — sudden sirens, condom stuffed litter sloshed about by the wet wind, hysterical graffiti, crass billboard ads announcing yet another source of 24 hour lap dancing, blather of schizophrenic pan handlers; all just part of San Francisco’s rich tapestry of diversification through stupefaction.

Seeing so many driven so low
                — and this in what still passes as ”the better neighborhoods”
                — you have to wonder what happened to, and what is still happening to, the billions of public funds being compulsively shoved at this problem. Where has the money and time and good intentions all gone? Where, indeed, have all the flowers gone?

The best that can be said is that tsunami of free  money has provided lifetime employment in various government and private agencies for those who would otherwise be part of the problem they have sworn to solve. Although it is commonly thought that poverty creates homelessness, it is also as correct to say that agencies set up to combat homelessness have a deep and abiding interest in preserving homelessness. This interest and these agencies are now such a permanent feature of our government that there is virtually no chance of disbanding or eliminating them. Ever. The best that can be done is to slow, if possible, the growth of their funding since increased funding primarily swells the size of their employee pool and thus perpetuates and enhances their power.

A cynical person might believe that THISF ( “The Homeless Industry of San Francisco)”, which recently merged with the Free Schizophrenics Movement (FSM), exists not to curtail suffering but to expand its scope. After all, were the number of the homeless to actually diminish in San Francisco, the number of those serving the insatiable needs of this group would also be expected to fall.

A cynical person  would believe that an institutionalized, unionized group with excellent benefits and a fine pension plan would never knowingly d o anything that would lower its customer base. Indeed, it would be much more likely to make the description of its customer increasingly complex so that ever more people would be discovered to be lacking in basic social services.  

A cynical person would believe that the industry’s customer base in San Francisco was booming. Booming to the extent that this year, and the next, and the years that come after the years after, the nation, state and city will all require more and more money from the citizens to continue to not solve homelessness.

But I am not that cynical person. I see hope in the small things, the little signs on the street that not all the homeless wish to remain so; that some of them still possess the classic American entrepreneurial spirit.

Example: At night in the same day as dawn above. I am walking down Laguna Street towards Hayes with an old friend. We have just been to a party and to drinks after and are feeling very in charge of the night. As we walk down the block I can see we are coming up on a parking lot behind a chain-link, razor-wire capped fence. I notice something odd in the fence.

When we get up to it I can see it is a used — very used — fishing rod of uncertain vintage and battered aspect. Instead of fishing line, rough brown twine comes up through the line loops on the rod and dangles down from the tip about 11 feet above the sidewalk. On the end of the twine, is a used — very used — large Starbucks coffee cup. The twine is very carefully woven into the lip of the cup. On the cup itself a grimy 3×5 card is taped. Printed on the card in hasty letters is the word “Please.”

That’s it. Just hanging there in the middle of the block panhandling for its owner well out of standard pan handling hours. We glance inside and it’s working. There’s about three dollars in change at the bottom.

Cynical men would have emptied it out to feed the parking meters for their Escalades. Not having Escalades we just chipped in and strolled on by.

Still, it was nice to know that somewhere in the vast and increasing army of the homeless now occupying The Streets of San Francisco was at least one soul who pushed aside total dependency and chose, instead, innovation in his or her chosen field of endeavor. You’d think that the vast apparatus that exists to keep people from begging on the street could learn a bit about begging from this constituent. But then again, why should they? Getting more money to do less from San Franciscans these days is like shooting fish in a barrel; a large barrel and a lot of very fat-headed fish.

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  • karmageddon January 2, 2018, 10:45 AM

    Despite the grim reality of what San Francisco has become, man, do you have a way with words.
    What a wake up call. More social programs, taxes, etc, which only create a permanent industry and labor pool that exists to perpetuate, not solve the problem. It’s like some kind of Orwellian mindfuck.

  • Quent January 2, 2018, 1:19 PM

    I lived through that particular past as well, and even spent six weeks in San Francisco. It was far better than it is today. Although the rot was well established, it had not yet metastasized.

  • Dr. Jay January 2, 2018, 1:27 PM

    . . . but the grilled octopus at Kokkari Estiatorio is to die for.

  • ambiguousfrog January 2, 2018, 2:24 PM

    Is this what collapse looks like? I’ll check back in a year.

  • BillH January 2, 2018, 2:40 PM

    Touristed there a lot ’60s-’90s because my womenfolk were bitten by it. A couple of them still are and go out there every year or so. Never saw the attraction. Much prefer the towns most anywhere in the Northwest mountains.

  • Urban Hiker January 2, 2018, 6:16 PM

    I was in SF in July for business. Took some time off to “hike the city”. Started in the Mission District and hiked to the Bridge. Things got nicer when I got near the bridge. Mostly though, it was a total shithole. (Literally)

  • Sixty Ville January 2, 2018, 6:17 PM

    I had to go to Berkeley today. Walking on Shattuck Ave., encountering broken sidewalks, the scent of urine on the air, non-dog fecal matter on the pavement, trash everywhere, street vagrant tents everywhere.

    The socialist paradise, in poison.

  • Casey Klahn January 2, 2018, 10:30 PM

    I took my son to SF in the early summer to see an exhibit. Stayed downtown. It was mostly fine but he did get the urban experience of seeing the hobos and their drama.

    Seattle: maybe worse now? I

    If the news weren’t completely on its ass, I’d be expecting the typical homelessness is rampant stories that were always published during Republican administrations, and never during Democrat ones.

  • Yahoo mail login January 3, 2018, 12:18 AM

    It is also as correct to say that agencies set up to combat homelessness have a deep and abiding interest in preserving homelessness

  • MMinLamesa January 3, 2018, 1:33 AM

    I guess my tolerance level is paper thin.

    In the early 70s, we would be hanging out(Denver) and someone would suggest a ROAD TRIP. We’d pile into a car like sometimes my Bug and head west or south(in the winter) Most of the western trips ended in San Fran. Man, I loved that city, so beautiful.

    Just too many homos and public sex for my sensitive eyeballs though. Hell, I’m no prude, far from it, but I couldn’t see traveling some where to get repulsed despite the beauty and great seafood. I stopped visiting.

    Last Jan I drove some work out to an auction house in Oakland. Traffic was a nightmare. Weirdos walking streets were thick as flies. But the air smelled wonderful and San Fran looked as beautiful as ever.

  • Vermont Woodchuck January 3, 2018, 3:05 AM

    SF never was anything more than a LSD laced vision draped with plastic flowers.

  • Ray Van Dune January 3, 2018, 10:01 AM

    This is why Nancy Pelosi should be replaced as Democrat House Leader. If she had more time to spend in her SF district, she would be aware of this and get cracking on correcting it. If only Pelosi knew…

    • Sam L. October 15, 2021, 9:37 AM

      HAH! And again, HAH!! Not gonna happen…

  • Snakepit Kansas January 3, 2018, 10:49 AM

    Skip Frisco and drive further north of that berg, about 15 minutes and turn off to Muir Woods. I’ve gone three times over the years when I end up in CA on business. Words cannot adequately describe the beauty of the giant redwoods.

  • Jack January 3, 2018, 1:23 PM

    I’m a native son of the Deep South, well edumucated and similarly traveled but I’ve never been to California primarily because I never wanted to go.

    My wife thinks I should see the place, particularly SF, and no doubt there are parts that I would love I have a strong and sensitive aversion to weird cultural shit and liberals and quite literally, if Jesus returned and set up His Kingdom there, I’d be happy with a short news report and maybe a film at 11.

    I keep wondering though, if and when the fate of these cesspool cities will change. It’s not that I care, it’s just that I want to know where the State would like to relocate these denizens so I can stay away from them even more.

  • ghostsniper January 3, 2018, 2:28 PM

    I stood in the -2 windchill this morning pumping gas into my vehicle and in the distance was a wayward person standing at a corner holding a home made cardboard sign, and I wondered what he was thinking right then. I also wondered briefly what steps it would take to get me into that position.

    It couldn’t happen instantly, there would have to be several levels to descend through.
    There are built in safeguards.
    I have a house, almost paid for.
    I also have a garage/office, same.
    I have 2 vehicles paid for.
    I have a little money.
    I have personal items of value that could be sold.
    I have a few friends.
    I also have several skill sets.
    What circumstance(s) could occur that all of those things would not prevent me from being homeless?

    I’m sort of baffled when I see or hear about homelessness and wonder what the homeless person did, and continued to do, that rendered him homeless.

    Taking from others and giving to him is not a cure, for the homeless person surely contributed to his plight and will do so again, and taking from others and making them more similar to the homeless is not helpful, unless that is your goal – to make as many people homeless as possible.

  • Snakepit Kansas January 3, 2018, 3:06 PM

    Mental illness and drug/booze addiction. That is likely 90% of it. There are also the chronic lazy and folks that refuse to color inside the lines.

  • jwm January 3, 2018, 8:03 PM

    Can’t seem to get off this topic. Look at the condition of this man’s “camp”. Think about it- if conditions beyond your control put you on the street, would your makeshift quarters look like this? Would you not find some way to cut your hair, or bathe? Would you keep the small number of things you had together, or let it all fall into a pile of shit like this? The single most outstanding feature of 90+% of the homeless encampments here is the nauseating levels of filth and junk that accumulate in and around the camps. Guys like this are not just temporarily out of work. Guys like this comprise a huge percentage of homeless.
    Having said that; some people in the camps actually work, and do the best they can. Rent in the Southland starts at about $1500. per month for a crappy ass apartment. A ten- dollar an our job nets way less than that. First+last+security+ references? Car payments? Insurance? That shit is just out of the question. Rent on the riverbed is $0.


  • Jack January 4, 2018, 8:41 AM

    Years ago I worked for a company that worked to assess needs and value of residents living in squalored dumps in anticipation of buying them out for relocation due to projects moving into an area and I, along with others, would drop by their hovels, determine what they had to move and provide them with money for relocation to another hovel of their choosing.

    It was nasty work and it struck me that while these people have nothing in any material sense, most of them are also devoid of any dignity or desire to change their situation. I don’t mean to be cruel or overbearing on them but they were completely happy to live “wherever” as long as they didn’t have to work and could hang out on the streets.

    I didn’t have what it takes to continue in that job so I quit but the experience did reinforce my opinion that good or bad, most of these people cannot be removed from their environment and placed anywhere else that might help them along. They just don’t fit and the kindest thing to do is help them along with a little money and leave them to their lives.

  • pbird January 4, 2018, 10:12 AM

    We know a guy who lived and worked at the local men’s shelter. He said about half of the guys wanted to improve their lives and get out of the shelter, the other half were just human pigeons who like it like that.
    This is a bit north of Seattle.

  • TWS January 4, 2018, 9:01 PM

    Fire hoses and front loaders should solve most of these problems.

  • Casey Klahn January 5, 2018, 6:35 AM

    A stronger economy is what’s needed.

    On mental health: the state is not the best dispenser of “mental health” care. Private is best. Too much state run and all manner of evil will follow.

    Let’s broaden our thinking. If the economy and the state were correctly related, all of a sudden you’d see charities and beneficence like never before. American generosity would outdo democrap programs 2 to 1, I’d wager.

  • ghostsniper January 6, 2018, 8:33 AM

    “Too much (US) state run and all manner of evil will follow.”

    That is why everything is falling apart.
    There is very little left on this whole planet that the rotten assed US gov’t has not damaged severely.
    If everything inside the beltway vanished today tomorrow you’d feel like a 2 ton heavy thing was lifted from your back.

    And then you’d have to stand up and act like a man, maybe for the first time in your life, or be culled.
    Between the gov’t and the freeloaders the rest of us are being suffocated.
    We struggle on but each day the struggle is harder and the reward is lessened.
    Eventually we will toil endlessly for nothing, if you let it.

    I suspect the wheels will come off at some point and it won’t happen from outside.
    It can’t bear it’s own weight, it has become too bloated and zero maintenanced.
    Drive your ride without maintenance and see how far you get.

    When the freebies stop you better be a long way away from those conditioned to require them.
    5 or 10 miles is not nearly enough of a buffer zone.
    50 miles is a start but still not enough.
    There are a “lot” of them and when they get hungry they will stop at nothing to get food.

    If you live within 50 miles of a major metropolis (100k pop.) you will most likely be dead within 2 months after the freebies stop. No, you don’t have enough ammo. In the 2.3 seconds it takes to switch out a mag you will be overrun unless your red hot barrel swells shut first.

    This can’t be fixed, it is too far gone, it must be scrapped and start anew. Trumps efforts are band aids on an aortic aneurysm. It’s bleeding out….

  • Jim in Oxford October 15, 2021, 8:37 AM

    Gerard has frequently offered up the many examples of Life in Hell that is the modern American (and Democratically-ruled) city. It is all — ALL — the full and thorough manifestation (and on steroids) of the Cloward-Piven Strategy. The strategy was outlined in a May 1966 article in the liberal magazine The Nation titled “The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty”.

    Now that the Democratic Party has been thoroughly taken over by radicals who know they could never “invade and conquer” this country via armed revolution, they have insinuated themselves into the political, social, and governmental fabric with the full intent of destroying everything.

    Over the past decades, the pablum they dispensed about Equality, Justice, and (don’t forget) Peace, Love & Dope, has amounted to mere Communist Taqiya. Now that they have Power, the masks are off for all to see. Slowly, slowly many Americans are resisting, but it remains to be seen if this inspires enough Hope . . .

    I’ve said it here before: Let justice flow like the waters, and righteousness like an everlasting stream.

    • Vanderleun October 15, 2021, 10:11 AM

      President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (1865):

      “Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

      • Mike Austin October 16, 2021, 8:43 AM

        The Second Inaugural. The Emancipation Proclamation. The Gettysburg Address. These are some of the greatest political and moral statements in History. Even today their remain those who accuse Lincoln of being a tyrant, an invader, a destroyer of States’ Rights and constitutional law. I can hardly understand those who take such opinions of Lincoln. I say this as a member of a family who fought with Robert E. Lee almost until Appomattox.

        • Vanderleun October 16, 2021, 9:19 AM

          I concur. Everytime I post something postive about Lincoln there’s a guy around here who is compelled to show up and strut his stuff about the fascist dictator known as Lincoln. Hummm, that reminds me…

  • Sirk October 15, 2021, 8:47 AM

    I enjoy going back thru the many posts, years later still relevant.

    This I understand,,,,, these street turds are survivors.

    If things don’t change, the pic of Gandalf will mirror what a very effective Gorilla fighter may look like within the cities. Reminds me of Russia’s Leningrad circa WWII.

    • Mike Austin October 15, 2021, 11:55 AM

      “I enjoy going back thru the many posts, years later still relevant.”

      So many times over the years I would read one of Gerard’s posts and then get a shock when I realized it had been written long before. It seemed as if it had been written that morning. His writings are snapshots in time with roots in the Eternal.

  • Dirk October 15, 2021, 5:52 PM

    Mike, history’s a lie, a lie which continues to repeat. Understand your opposite view. This is still the greatest nation on this planet. That we sometimes see things different is KEY, core stuff. I respect your opinion, your views.

    Ton of respect out Mike.


    • Mike Austin October 16, 2021, 4:43 AM

      Likewise. Times three.

      If History is a lie, then it a beguiling one, almost feminine in its charms. I look at her as one looks at Poetry, as “telling the truth through a lie.”

      Will Durant wrote that History was like a ship at sea that had been sunk in a storm. All that the people on land know about the ship was what had washed ashore from the shipwreck.

  • Mike October 15, 2021, 10:08 PM

    Too many years ago, when I was 19 and 20 (very first years of the 70’s), I worked summers in Alaska tagging salmon. Myself and a few other fellows would spend the long summers camped miles downriver from a town of 12. The fish would work their way up from the Prince William Sound and some we caught in fishwheels, tagged and returned to the river to let them get back to the work of pushing several hundred miles upstream through the river’s summer-melt torrent. Only then, if all went well (for many, if not most it probably didn’t) they would have the privilege of fighting for a spawning redd or access to a female. Their short lives that started with predation by terns on their downstream flush, seals and nets culling them in the ocean, eagles and bears fattening themselves on their bodies, and then after all this death and hardship, they still fought their way up this huge, long unforgiving river for the right to to arrive at a lake or stream and fight for a spawning redd or defend it from another male. And whether successful or not their half rotten bodies just quit and they died. In the late summer-early I fall would scoured the banks for their foul carcasses in search of the small plastic tag that I’d marked them with, those many miles and weeks in the past.

    Think about it. Salmon are successful because they just keep at it. If they could calculate the odds of surviving their life to successfully spawn, they would probably just say “F_ck it”, this whole thing is hopeless, the odds are impossible. There’s just no point. But they can’t, and they don’t, and because of that they are successful. Makes me wonder if the problem we have as humans is we can do the math, and when confronted by an “impossible” situation, we don’t even try. Sometimes I think we are too smart for our own good.

    • Mike Austin October 16, 2021, 4:35 AM

      I have known people who have indeed given up—after a fashion. They don’t lie down and die; they keep at their work and life seemingly oblivious to the “Bad Moon Rising’ coming their way. They really do not want to know, so they pretend not to. Some turn to drink. Others, to Netflix or sportsball.

      They’re like that man who one day discovers a pain in his side. He chalks it up to a pulled muscle or something he had eaten the night before. He ignores it. Over the next few weeks the pain gets worse, and then the man feels a lump where the pain is. Somewhere in his mind he knows something is dreadfully wrong but still ignores it. He does not want to know. When finally the pain is too great, the lump now as big as a baseball, he goes to the doctor. He hears those words that no man wants to hear.

      I had—had—a friend whom I had known for ten years. He was as conservative as I was. One day he was showing me his new iPhone. I asked him if he knew that Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, used his fortune to support policies that would force my friend’s granddaughter—she was ten years old at the time—to shower naked with grown men, and that the purchase of the iPhone helped Scott do that. My friend grew enraged—not at Cook or the policies but at me.

      Really, some men just don’t want to know. They are as men asleep. They hate those who would wake them up. Remember the fate of Cassandra.

      “I see the bad moon a-rising
      I see trouble on the way
      I see earthquakes and lightning
      I see bad times today

      Don’t go around tonight
      Well, it’s bound to take your life
      There’s a bad moon on the rise

      I hear hurricanes a-blowing
      I know the end is coming soon
      I fear rivers overflowing
      I hear the voice of rage and ruin…

      Hope you got your things together
      Hope you are quite prepared to die
      Looks like we’re in for nasty weather
      One eye is taken for an eye

      Well, don’t go around tonight
      Well, it’s bound to take your life
      There’s a bad moon on the rise…”

  • Mike October 16, 2021, 7:37 AM

    There is an underlying human tendency at work in all this, and that is: “Humans tend to seek pleasure and avoid pain.”

    • Mike Austin October 17, 2021, 9:38 AM

      That’s probably true of all animals, though humans are especially good at it. I should add that some men actively seek out pain. (I mean here physical pain. A man who seeks out mental or emotional pan is an idiot.) Athletes, boxers, backpackers, marathoners, mountain climbers: they have a goal that cannot be reached without pain—sometimes a great deal of it.

      I was born with a very high tolerance of pain. That’s either a blessing or a curse. I still don’t know which. There are yet remnants of this in my 68 year-old body. It bothers me at times. But I press on, knowing that what I want—need?—can only be acquired through physical agony. Kind of like marriage.

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