Friday, January 11, 2008

Oliver Twist San Francisco-Style

A giggle of young teen girls loudly entered the drug store behind me. I went about my business and a few minutes later, while I was in line for the checkout counter, they were escorted to the front of the store and delivered to the sidewalk. Meanwhile, several boys of about the same age came running out of a store across the street and jumped into a waiting SUV that was double parked with its engine running.

As one of the drugstore employees said tersely, "Don't ever come back here. We've got your picture," the girls also ran to the SUV, which took off much too fast for a busy street.

All I can think of is that a modern-day Fagin is running a school which teaches children to rip off stores instead of picking pockets.

It was a stunning little vignette, over much too fast to process. I'm not sure what was going on there, but the little angels were not selling Girl Scout cookies.

The drugstore always has a selection of panhandlers outside, most of whom I know by face if not by name.

Today, the man who sits next to the man with the "Just 23 cents" sign who sits next to the "Why lie, need a beer" man who sits next to the woman with the grungy stuffed animals was talking on his cell phone but flashed me a peace sign as I dropped a dollar into his cup.

How can you not support someone who is in thrall to a wireless phone provider? Maybe that's why he's homeless.

The man who wears a gold crown said, "Hey! What about me?"

The two shopping cart gentlemen whipped their heads back and forth like a tennis match and grinned at me toothlessly.

The last time I donated to the king's cause, he complained that it wasn't enough. I'm sure he's forgotten, but I remember. I won't make that embarrassing mistake again.

There is also a man with a sign that says "Fuck you" who yells threats at passing pedestrians. I suspect he doesn't make a very good living.

My neighborhood is also home to many trust funders. There are probably more Ferraris and Maseratis per square foot here than practically anywhere on the planet, most of them driven by people so young that it is highly unlikely they earned them themselves.

Two worlds exist within the same couple of blocks, two worlds so different that it is almost impossible to comprehend that the highly privileged are in fact of the same species as the totally unprivileged.

Meanwhile, a mere four blocks away, another street of luxury shops exists which used to be exactly the same, but which retains its rarefied atmosphere while the one nearby is beginning to look like a slum.

The other street has no panhandlers and also no bars or police presence, while this one has seen several break-ins in recent months and several storefronts smashed by drunks on New Year's Eve.

"The area is changing," said the clerk at a GNC store next to one that lost its front as he swept up broken glass from his own doorway. "There's some really bad energy here now."

I think the neighborhood is expressing entropy, the inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society.

All matter and energy in the universe tend to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity. It seems that such polarity cannot continue indefinitely. Something's gotta give.

The panhandlers and the drunks are the engines of change and interestingly, they will probably be the survivors. When the neighborhood declines below the level that is acceptable to the Ferrari people, they will leave and the transformation will be complete.

As long as some people have far more material goods than they need while others have much too little, the life force will strive to equalize things.

Until the haves no longer feel more entitled than the have-nots, there will be no lasting peace in the neighborhood and in the world's neighborhoods called countries.

Such disparate entities will never play nicely together.


RED MOJO said...

Who had on her very well focused observational apperatus today? I believe you are right, and don't have much to add, I like the "will sleep with Britney" sign!

Jocelyn said...

Our two current posts are sympatico in their overarching poinst, I'd say. Lovely writing, as always.

Your blog makes me feel right.

Sienna said...

Isn't that incredible Hearts.

Little Oliver Twists. And that someone would think that that is an acceptable lifestyle for kids. (The driver of car).

The gap between the haves and have nots was widening here too, but me the ever the optimist thinks things will be done for all Ozzies now with our change of Gov't, (if inflation doesn't chew up our economy).

Our small country towns out here are really paradise, just a haven, relatively speaking.


Nick said...

It's sad when a shopping street that was once prospering and lively starts going downhill and there seems to be nothing to do but watch the inevitable decline. Usually in the UK it's because some out-of-town shopping centre has opened and then the local shops gradually lose custom and go out of business.

furiousBall said...

I think it's great, I love making rich people nervous.

anne said...

Bravo - really, really well said.

This sort of thing has always bothered me a lot.

Ian Lidster said...

Oh, you are so quantum, you are, you are. Just a great post, dear heart.
As I stated in my own blog a couple of days ago, I have been contracted to piece together and extensive study of the homeless in our community, and I copied your blog because I just might want to use a couple of your insights.
Alas, however, in terms of street people being survivors. A jouralist friend of mine who just oompleted an excellent and honest series of articles on Victoria's street denizens said that statistically the average life expectancy of a male denizen of the streets is 47 years. I was shocked, though not really surprised at that.

TIV: the individual voice said...

Shocking that shoplifting the small stuff in drugstores was so organized. I hope they grow out of it and get a conscience, though this sounds more insidious than the type of shoplifting kids grown out of.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I like the sign, too. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.


Yes, they are. I'm entranced by your post on foods, wealth and lifestyles and especially loved your children's comment about the Ecuadorians with hardly anything but great smiles. That says volumes.


I hope your new government lives up to your hopes.

Those small towns sound absolutely lovely, but then I already knew that from your great photos.


In the U.S., the advent of a Wal-Mart invariably destroys small towns, but this is a neighborhood in a fairly major city.

I think that all cities undergo many changes as their populations shift. Various neighborhoods in NYC have changed ethnically over the years, but again, this is not ethnic but economic, and in the most expensive city in America, yet.

It's fascinating to watch.


Of course you do.


Thank you for your visit to my blog neighborhood.


I'm not sure I have any insights, just observations. As in that Peter Sellers movie where he said, "I like to watch."

I didn't mean that the individual panhandlers would survive, though. I know their life expectancy is shockingly limited.

I meant that their culture will outlast the yuppies who share this part of the city. I'm not sure why they come here, rather than other nice neighborhoods -- maybe it's just because they can.


There was an adult facilitator driving the SUV. It really reminded me of Fagin and the children he corrupted.

Kapuananiokalaniakea said...

"A giggle of young teen girls" Perfect description!

So sad that they had an adult facilitator. Makes me wonder about "my" homeless boy and whether his panhandling has to do with a Fagin of his own.

I think the opposite is happening here in Portland. Yuppies keep coming in and pricing the people of more moderate means right out of the neighborhoods in which they grew up.

It's that there's not enough to go around, scarcity epidemic -- the if-it's-mine-I-have-to-keep-it-'cuz-if-I-share-it-then-it-won't-be-mine-anymore-and-then-you'll-have-it-and-I-won't-and-then-won't-I-feel-stupid-'cuz-I-coulda-had-it-if-I-hadn't-gone-and-given-it-to-you-and-now-there's-no-one-to-give-to-me line of thinking. So twisted really.

Molly said...

And it's also possible that some of the down-and-outers were once a part of the other group....

RED MOJO said...

I did not come look at your page before I named you as an award recipient. I now you see you already have it, but consider yourself doubly blessed! It's at Halfabubbleoff.

the psycho therapist said...

While I thoroughly appreciate your statements and stance on the role homeostasis plays in the organism's drive towards such equanimity, this was the bomb, hands down:

There is also a man with a sign that says "Fuck you" who tends to yell at passing pedestrians. I suspect he doesn't make a very good living.

The prophey disguised as the village idiot. Hey, do you think I could follow him...kinda do a tag team rant?

Liked your post. Got dem dendrites goin' agin.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Your homeless friend seems very alone, but it's impossible to know for sure.

I think it's been several decades at least since San Francisco was affordable for people without large disposable incomes. (We could live on a higher scale elsewhere, but it's hard to leave such a beautiful city.)


Good point. There is a whole class of newly homeless people who lost their jobs and then their homes.

Not all those on the streets are drug addicts and alcoholics.


I am indeed doubly blessed. Thank you!!


You could say he's living his truth, untrammeled by irrelevant social conventions, or you could say that maybe he's off his meds.

He certainly is not sucking up to The Man for quarters.

The CEO said...

As you weave information theory, theoretical physics, urban development, 18th literature and common sense together into cohesive thoughts comprising a working theory I am reminded once again of how woefully underutilized you are. Will you run for vice-president with Crankster when you are both 35?

Open Grove Claudia said...

When I lived in the Bay Area, I did a photo essay on Homelessness. It was the 80s, Reagan was promising that money would "trickle down" and there were thousands of mentally ill people on the streets. It's amazing to me that now, 25 years later, this still exists.

Amazing. And very very sad.

I've heard it said that society always needs a "poor" so that someone is always on the bottom. Sometimes I think these folks are the most free people in our world.

And truth be told? They are mostly mentally ill. When BS spends all her money, she will most likely join their ranks. It makes individuality look fairly pale to me.

Maddy said...

In my ignorance, that was what was most shocking to me when I first arrived here. I just couldn't understand 'richest nation in the world' with 'homeless guys' in the same city.
Best wishes

heartinsanfrancisco said...


"Woefully underutilized." I like that. And let's not forget grievously underpaid.

No offense, but I think the invitation will have to come from Crankster, who will never be 35 at the same time I am. I mean, was.


It's absurd to think that the stream of money won't dry up completely before it "trickles down" to the folks under the bridge.

I think there needs to be a "poor" so that the others can feel superior to someone. There is a lot wrong with a society that treats its mentally ill members so shabbily.


True enough. It's only the richest nation in the world to some people.

jali said...

Beautiful writing as always.

I hope and pray that some of the "haves" of the world find happiness enough to be willing to share with others.

Craze said...

I often wonder how or why the haves have no empathy and do consider themselves better than the rest of society. All of our blood is red.

seventh sister said...

You certainly are blessed with a lot of contrast in your area.

It may not be that the neighborhood is changing in the way you think. The overly prosperous are most likely pushing everyone else out and the edge of the push is temporarily where you see it now. I doubt that living in SF is getting any less expensive and the homeless will be pushed into smaller and smaller areas.

The Austin City Counsel was at one time considering making it illegal to feed people on the streets as several charitalbe organizations and a few individuals do. They dislocated a large part of our homeless population when the new city hall was build so a new homeless services center was built near the police station on the edge of downtown. Of course, that made all of of downtown easily accessible to the homeless people. So the city counsel passed a law that no one can sit or lie down or stand on the street for more than 15 minutes (I think.) We lost the street musicians (in the town that claims to be the live music capital of the world), the chalk artist who's work was amazing, and our local colorful characters (Leslie Cochran, who actually is not homeless) comes to mind.

I am sure that the Farari drivers will prevail upon the local government to do something about the "problem". Good luck when that happens.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


That's a wonderful twist on the way most people would look at it, but then I expect you to be original.

It would be nice, wouldn't it?


Yes, we are all far more alike than different.


I had to look up Leslie Cochran. (He shares my birthday but not the year.)

The Bay area has always had a large homeless population. People's Park in Berkeley was a tent city for decades.

It's a tricky issue because while they add color, they also negatively impact tourism and commerce, which the city doesn't want. Most of the homeless people seem harmless, and many are victims of the obscene cost of living here.

Yesterday, I donated to a woman whose sign said that her husband had a heart condition and she needed money to take him to the hospital. While I doubted it, it was impossible not to feel bad for anyone standing in the rain with a sign, hoping for handouts.

It's a miserable and dangerous way to live and there should be more options for those who would make use of them.

Later, I wondered if I should have offered to take them to a hospital. It's impossible to know how involved to get in the problems of strangers when we don't know if the problems are even real.

meggie said...

A very insightful post, & following commentary.
You say there needs to be poor, so the well off can feel superior- or, perhaps show their kindness, by trying to share or better the lot, of the poor of this world.
Not everyone who 'has' is greedy about it. And as Molly said, not all who are poor are to blame, or perhaps began that way.
I suppose every city is different in the way they treat their homeless, & poor.
There are many in Sydney Australia, who refuse offers of homes or help from charities, preferring their beggarly life & routines.

thethinker said...

We just finished discussing the concept of entropy in Biology. The first thing it made me think of after I read the definition in my textbook is how strange it is that the scientific definition applies to our society just as much as it does to a "closed thermodynamic system".

Lex said...

This post makes the Best of GWAE, in my humble opinion. It has all the elements that keep me coming back here: wit, a taste of San-Francisco, the perspective of a keen observer of the human condition and hope. I love this post!

As long as some people have far more material goods than they need while others have much too little, the life force will strive to equalize things.

May I always stay in sync with that striving. May I remain aware that there is enough for everyone and sensitive to when I've had my share.

Thanks for this one.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I didn't mean that it's a good thing some people are poor, nor did Claudia in her comment.

But as long as there are poor people, there will be other people who feel superior. The truth is that wealth has never been an accurate measure of anyone's "worth."


As always, you are right on. The fact that scientific concepts also apply to social systems seems like evidence of the unity of all things.


You've said a mouthful. If all of us on earth were mindful of when we've had our share, there might, indeed, be enough of everything for everyone.

It's certainly something to strive for.

jameil1922 said...

talking on his cell phone? nope. i can't even contribute to your cause. put a dollar on MY cell phone bill!!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I know!! Talking on a cell phone while begging on a street corner.

What's wrong with this picture?

I was really paying him for the laugh he provided.

eastcoastdweller said...

Very Steinbeck-y and very true. It seems to be the major problem, for example, in Central and South America, where a middle class barely exists and the haves have to employ extraordinary measures to avoid all contact with the have-nots, lest they be robbed, kidnapped or killed.

I have a relative from one of those places and the word is, you don't even dare dress in anything but your most worn out old clothes in public, unless you want to mark yourself as a target.

Those extremes exist in the US, of course, as you have pointed out, but so far the middle class still exists as a buffer between them.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you for even mentioning Steinbeck here. He's one of my favorite writers.

The have-nots who frequent this neighborhood seem mostly harmless, except to themselves. But I have wealthy friends in NYC who dress shabbily on purpose to avoid being robbed, and their house looks quite ordinary on the outside. When you get inside, though, it is magnificent.

It seems that such inequity benefits no one completely. The poor get poorer and the rich worry a lot.