Elizabeth Creely

Places, names, and things in California

Month: May, 2015

Dispatches from the 22nd Street Crossroads: Doing drugs with Isa.

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I have been in a very bad mood for most of the month; expect the worst seems to be the theme of May, 2015. Disaster has been breaking out everywhere*. Cancer made a sudden, lethal appearance in the brain-stem of my cousin; my mentally ill brother decided to send his siblings semi-hallucinatory, eyeball-searing Facebook messages of hysterical denunciation IN ALL CAPS ( in case we weren’t paying attention.) My aunt broke her hip and my husband got laid off. I’m sleep deprived because of the hormonal fluctuations in my menopausal body. Am rapidly reaching the conclusion that I cannot drink any coffee or any alcohol at all, anymore, no if’s and’s or but’s, if I want my sleep back and my hot flashes to chill out, I wrote on Facebook. And yeah, I’m sharing my female trouble. Deal with it. Brave words, Boopsie, but to no avail. I haven’t had an un-interrupted REM cycle since March. “How do women survive?” I asked my mother wonderingly. She promptly told me that women used to die a lot earlier. “That’s how they dealt with it?” I said. “They died?” Good to know.

Sleep, always so precious, always so needed, is also always threatened here in my apartment on the 22nd Street Crossroads. Like the blessed water of California which brings life to whatever it touches, sleep brings succor to my oft-exhausted, over-stimulated brain. I know everybody needs sleep, but I really do. The Creely brain is a fragile thing. Take sleep away from me and I became a mad dog. And a paranoid one, too. I suffered from insomnia as a young adult; this was because I smoked pot, didn’t exercise and refused to take the advice of my friends to calm down and relax. I am relaxed, I often snapped at them. (Silly me: I was confusing relaxation with disassociation. They’re very different things.)

ANNNyway. Carnaval was this weekend. Carnaval is a two-day South American/Afro-Caribbean celebration of culture which takes place in the Mission District. It’s awesome and terrible at the same time. Mostly it’s just incredibly loud and the sort of event that sends introverts like me running for cover. I was reminded of it by Mission Local’s headline: “SF’s Carnival Kicks Off.”

“CARNIVAL IS THIS WEEKEND,” I told my husband in a voice. “WHY ARE WE HERE?” This was a dumb question: we have no money. There was no leaving. The only way out is through, I thought to myself.

There were two parts to Carnaval: the first part which started that day, and ended (theoretically) at 6, and the second installment which starts up Sunday morning, bright and early at 8 a.m., just one block away from my front door.

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I was going to go hiking with a friend that Saturday, but they got sick and had to cancel. I was left to my own devices. The Irish had just legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote. (61.1%, if memory serves. Erinn Go Bragh!) This victory perked me up. I decided to take the the tri-color out for a victory lap around Castro and 18th. So I did: I walked to Cliff’s Hardware and bought a small Irish flag. The clerk who sold me my petite tricolor said “Are you buying that to celebrate?” I told him I was. He said “I’m so surprised! Ireland? Who a thunk it? But I’m so happy!”

A fella at the corner of 18th and Castro saw what I was carrying and said confidingly, “I changed my FB profile to a picture of the celebration in Dublin.” He spoke of the rainbow that appeared over Dublin. “It was divinely ordained!” he said. Everyone who noticed my flag expressed happiness that the Irish had returned to their freewheeling, pre-Christian, same-sex-loving Celtic ways, showing their true colors: not just green and orange, but blue, violet, fuchsia and red, too. It was a good day after all. I’d actually gotten more sleep the night before, breaking the cycle of torture my hormone-starved brain was subjecting me to. I felt certain that I’d sleep well later that night.

I walked home. It was peaceful in the house; my husband was hunched over his computer and my mother-in-law was watching television in our guestroom. I decided to continue binge watching 30 Rock on Netflix and did so for about an hour before I heard the unmistakable sound of a car stereo, straining at the limits of its capacity to deliver sound. The thudding bass notes, bouncing off my windows, brought me bolt upright. It was 10 p.m.

I looked outside. Two men, one car, a lot of beer and one car stereo: this could be my unlucky night. They were parked in the crosswalk, in front of the large multi-unit apartment building at 992 Florida Street. A stocky man wearing red sweat pants and a younger guy with a bald head were play-fighting outside the car. Beer bottles lay at their feet. The reverb from the cranked-up bass was bouncing off my bedroom window which was vibrating ever so softly in response, as was my body: it felt as if an animal had lodged itself inside my chest and was trying to punch its way out. There would be no sleep that night if these guys stayed put. I’m going to die, I thought.

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I did what I always do. I waited to see if they’d move along, and then, when they didn’t, I went outside and asked them to turn it down. The younger one did so, grudgingly, but cranked it up again minutes later. I called non-emergency dispatch, and asked them to send a patrol car. “There’s been a shooting,” the dispatcher advised me. “It may be a while.” I sat on my sofa listening to the rap music with its all-star cast of dicks, niggas, bitches and hos, and waited.

A teenager walked out of the apartment building, carrying a bike. He hailed the man in the red pants, who reached inside the car and turned the music down slightly. They conferred briefly. The music was still blanketing the aural atmosphere with a song that mostly used the word “suck” to get its point across. I couldn’t hear anything until the Man in the Red Pants began to testify, loudly, with force and vigor. “Nigga,” he bellowed, “Let me tell you something; I used to LIVE here. I had all my homies, all up and down this street, nigga!” He had a tale to tell, a great, strong, bull-like chest and a wild Hemingway-esque manner to him and he told his story in the manner of the returned hero: names, dates, all events, great and small. He recounted all of these as he told the listener The Histories of Florida Street.

The guy with the bike gestured to the apartment building, and said something I couldn’t hear. (It was sold last July and is now advertising an two-bedroom apartment for the 3,495.00.) “Fuck that shit,” roared the man enthusiastically. “Man, these niggas don’t know nothin’ about this place! You see that fucking place? That was Jefferson Market, homs!” He gestured across the street to Local Cellar, now a high-end “bottle shop” and the former location of Jefferson Market.

Let me take a moment to describe the History of Jefferson Market using this comment on Mission Local’s website: “Jefferson Market – the liquor store for bad people–has been a longtime magnet for truly bad people. Drugs and intimidation have been the name of the game there for several years….I cannot wait to have something in that space with owners who won’t stand for the illegal activities that have long marked that corner.

Jefferson Market was managed by a man I knew as Isa, if by “managed” one means berating passers-by, cat-calling women, and screaming “bitch” into my window after I’d pissed him off by calling the cops to break up the daily 40 oz. malt liquor party. A mellow day at Jefferson Market meant that Isa subjected the neighborhood to bellicose and intricate rants about the state of the nation as he stood behind the bullet-proof plastic shield that ran the length of the counter.

Throughout the day, a steady trickle of men walked into the store and vanished into a small back room, emerging  hours later, blinking at the light of the day, and as high as a kite. That Jefferson Market was a hub for drug dealing was no secret: the SF District Attorney had enough evidence to bring charges against the owners for drug dealing, but had to drop that plan when a “rogue technician” named Debbi Madden tainted police evidence by sampling seized cocaine stored at San Francisco Police Department’s crime labs.

Like Al Capone, Jefferson Market, the “liquor store for bad people” never got busted for its worst offenses. Isa’s father, the owner of Jefferson Market, received too many admonitory notices from the ABC for running a disorderly house and so sold his liquor license to Yarom Milgrom, who opened Local Cellar (a store which goes too far in the other direction, if you ask me. It sells 38.00 gin.)

 

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But back to the Man in the Red Pants. He was just getting warmed up. “Man,” he declaimed. “Man, I used ta live in fuckin’ Jefferson Market, homs! Man, I was tight with Isa. And now that place, that place is for all them white niggas!” He pointed to my apartment building. Excuse me, I thought indignantly. I can’t afford their gin. But I was riveted. I love a good heroic tale (also the plasticity of the term “nigga” was fascinating me). But it was what he said next that really riveted me. “Man, I used to do DRUGS with Isa! In the store!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. He did a little dance. “I DID DRUGS, HOMS! INSIDE THE STORE!” He pantomimed chopping a line of coke and shouted his confession-boast one more time: “I DID DRUGS WITH ISA! INSIDE THE STORE!”

He was the Angel of History, with the winds of the future lofting his wings, blowing him away from the past with his mouth wide open and his testimony bellowing out from him for anyone listening to hear. The remnants of his neighborhood, all those homies, those dilapidated apartment buildings: these were now piled up in the rubble of his memory.

The teenager laughed, and then glanced sharply to his left. “Speak of the devil,” he said. The patrol car rolled up, blue and red lights shining. The Man in the Red Pants stopped talking, reached inside his car and turned the music off. The party was over.

And then it began again, the very next day. I slept raggedly that night and woke up to parade music three times as loud as the car stereo. “Carnaval,” I wrote on my Facebook page. “Bright and early.” A few hours later, still sleepy and stupefied, I let my husband take me by the hand and onto the street. Almost immediately, I saw a vision in blue: Yemaya herself, tall, stately and so beautiful. (Water was the theme of Carnaval this year.) My heart softened just a bit. All around us the crowd moved and swayed and people danced. The block was packed tight. There’s no way out but through. Another Yemaya walked past me and then another. There were bodies everywhere I looked, but small passages too.

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“If we keep walking, we can get through this,” said Jay. “And then we can dance.”

 

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Jay dancing his cares away at Carnaval, May 2015


This blog entry is dedicated to my handsome, loving cousin Rick Williams who left this earth on Wednesday June 17th, 2015, which is far too soon. His family loves him.

*The one exception to this month of disaster is the bravery and love that the people of Ireland have shown to each other and to the world. No matter what the Vatican says, the popular vote to establish legal same sex mariage cannot be categorized as a disaster.

The people in this small island off the western coast of Europe have said to the rest of the world: This is what it is to be decent, to be civilized, and to be tolerant! And let the rest of the world catch up!”

Seanadóir (Senator) David Norris, May 22, 2015

Written on May 26th, under the influence of the waxing Virgo moon.

Talk of the Mission Town: Pigeon Eviction

UntitledI own a vase that belonged to my grandmother. I don’t know where she got it. Its only known provenance starts with her ownership and the table it sat on, years ago in her home in Newport Beach. I love it. It’s been knocked over twice and broken twice. The first time, a year ago, I cried Oh no and pieced it back together with Crazy Glue.

Yesterday, an ill wind blew through my south-facing window and broke it again. It has no resilience. When the wind blows, it breaks and that’s it.

The ill wind broke more than a vase. My husband woke me at 8:30 this morning to tell me he’d been fired. Sacked, he said, his body language apologetic, yet tensed. No fault, he said ( No severance either.) References? Unemployment? I asked frantically. yes, yes, he replied. All that.

An hour later, I sat down with my coffee to read the SF Chronicle. The top story was the astronomic price of rents: A new record for S.F. rents: $3,458 a month, the headline exclaimed. Wham, wham, wham: the facts slammed into me, one after another.

I had a heads up. My husband has been dealing with what I call job uncertainty since January and two months ago in a tarot reading, I drew the Tower Card (for a witch who boasts of her innately skeptical nature, I sure do consult The Woo quite often). I can’t quite remember the placement within the schematic, but it had to do with the near future. Bring it, I said brashly. The World card followed, then the Strength card and then the card I pull quite often, The Wheel of Fortune.

Well, it was brought. As of this moment, it’s the Tower that’s in power. (The latter two cards are meant for the future)  Structures are falling, I told my best friend the other night. The Tower is crumbling.

The vase got fixed. I put it in a safer place than an open window. There’s no safe place to put us, me and my husband, especially not now with the threat of unemployment and displacement looming over our heads. We can’t compete with 3,458.00. (can anyone, really?).

The Wheel will continue to turn up and down and up and down. I’m not scared. Mostly, I feel belligerent.

UntitledThis is a lengthy intro to this video (shot on an iPhone!) that I hope you’ll watch. It’s about eviction. My husband first noticed the pigeons two weeks ago, nestling into the hot concrete. They’re courting each other, he said  Look. He’s feeding her. They’re learning to nest. We marveled at their tenderness with each other, their single-mindedness, the opalescent sheen of their pigeon-grey throats and breasts.He dropped to one knee and began to film them. It takes a certain amount of lively intelligence to notice the everyday object. Pigeons are ubiquitous and are, for that reason, excellent symbols of resistance. They are notoriously difficult to displace from their habitat or routine. If the anti-eviction movement in San Francisco decides to use a mascot, it should be a pigeon.

Eviction means you’ve been displaced against your will. The vase falls, breaks. It was evicted. The pigeon is rudely disturbed and momentarily evicted from its warm patch of sidewalk. We have determined that our staffing needs have changed, an email reads. Evicted. My friend’s apartment on South Van Ness was bought by an unscrupulous Irishman, a real gaimbín piece of shit. Evicted. Yes. Another friend’s multi-unit apartment building on Folsom Street is currently on the auction block. Evicted? We’ll see. The pigeons, so rudely interrupted by the dog, paid it no never mind and fluttered back a minute later.

So, pigeons, evictions, the connection between the two? Here’s one. On Tuesday, May 5th, one day before the malevolent south wind broke my vase and brought ill-fortune, I attended a protest. My friend, Chris Carlsson and his neighbors are trying to stop the sale of their home, a huge Mission multi-unit Victorian. The protest had been called so that prospective buyers showing up to view the building, which is known as (and this is a lovely coincidence) the Pigeon Palace, would be discouraged from wanting to buy the building.

As I left, I noticed the multi-unit apartment building across the street from my apartment. Scaffolding had been up all week while a new coat of paint was applied to its blistered surface. My neighbor, Jose, one of the tenants in the building, was standing in the street talking with his friend. I’d buried my curiosity until that moment, but now, leaving to protest yet another sale of yet another multi-unit apartment building, I thought, it’s time to give in to your curiosity, Elizabeth. Ask. Find out.

Jose, I said. What’s going on? What’s happening with the building?

Ah. It’s been sold. They’re cleaning it up!

Are you sure that’s all they’re doing? I asked skeptically.

Yeah. They’re just, you know… making it nice.

Jose, I said sternly, you have rights. You know that, right? You have rights as a tenant. They can’t evict you.

No, no- they haven’t said anything about that. He grinned. I love you, he said, going into his routine of baiting me, teasingly. I yell at him when he blasts his radio. Telling me he loves me is his way of handling the Harridan. He’s a hard-working man. I don’t want him evicted.

Yeah, yeah, I said. You have rights, Jose. Keep an eye on what they’re doing. A pigeon fluttered down on the sidewalk. I headed to the Palace.

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Part one of two. Written three days after the Flower Moon of May and with love to Michael Davitt, a man who had his work cut out for him. 

Talk of the Mission Town: Dolores Park’s rehab.

Tuesday, April 28th was hot and clear in San Francisco. Day trippers and sunbathers lolled on the sunny slopes and battered grass of Dolores Park while, a block away, people streamed through the doors of 18 Reasons to talk about the park’s party problem. San Francisco Recreation and Parks was hosting a Dolores Park Action Plan and the room was filling quickly. “Should we utilize another bench?” asked a woman nervously, while the meeting participants signed in and eyed the food: salami, prosciutto, toasted bread, grilled chicken, and a salad of what looked like poached eggs bedded on arugula, all provided by Delfina and Bi-Rite and arranged on a narrow bar inside. “Don’t be shy. Eat the food!” said Shakirah Simley, Community Programs Manager with Bi-Rite. There wasn’t much shyness among the roughly 35 attendees, but there was an air of seriousness, which suited the matter under discussion. The park is nearing the end of a three-year, 20-million dollar upgrade. But the park’s stint in rehab hasn’t stopped the non-stop party: there was an unplanned upgrade in park attendance, too. At least ten thousand people visit the park every weekend, weather permitting. With the amped-up ebullience has come more of everything else, too, including trash which, according to city estimates, costs San Francisco taxpayers 750,000 to clean up.

A now near-iconic image of Dolores Park Trash

A near-iconic image of Dolores Park Trash

A PowerPoint presentation played in a loop on a screen in the front of the room. Images of the trashed park alternated with examples of heedless park visitors: there was a shot of someone’s Instagram showing a drained coconut shell lying on the battered green grass of the park. “Rum coconut and mimosas in Dolores Park! We love this place!” read the caption. Another Facebook picture showed four friends, smiling in the sunshine. “We are avid trash collectors. We don’t want the man up our bum,” it said. The “man”- presumably SF Recreation and Parks staff, was being represented that day by a woman, Sarah Ballard, Director of Policy and Public Affairs. “We let you all down,” she said earnestly thus clarifying the heart of the matter. “We got caught flat-footed. We were really confounded by the park’s popularity.” She was, of course, talking about litter.

Dolores Park midday. Photo courtesy of Andrew Rogers, ‎Friends of Dolores Park

Dolores Park midday. Photo taken by Andrew Rogers, ‎Friends of Dolores Park.

These days, the park’s popularity is measured by the huge amount of trash left behind by its visitors: 5,000 to 7,000 gallons of trash is scattered among the 14-acre park every weekend by park visitors each weekend day. By comparison, Alamo Square, a city park of similar size, is encumbered with only 2% of the trash that accumulates in Dolores Park. “We feel like this closure has created some opportunities to shift the culture of what’s appropriate at the park,” Ballard said intently. “Our challenge is to keep the good stuff and get rid of the bad stuff.” The problem goes beyond trash cans she said. “More and more and more trash cans can’t solve this.” The SFRP assessed the nature of the trash dumped each weekend and discovered that 65% of the litter could be diverted to landfill. “Right now, that’s not happening,” she said. “But we know that finger-pointing”– she wagged her finger demonstratively at the room- “doesn’t change anything. We need for this to be an organic process. The question is: how do we change the culture of usage at the park?” People nodded their heads vigorously, chewed their bruschetta and took notes.

Two weeks ago, SFRP and Recology launched an “Eco pop up” station, two large recycling and composting dumpsters to Dolores Park to solve the easiest problem first: where to put the coconut shells, beer bottles, plastic cups and other detritus. This is all intended as a prelude to the gradual re-opening of Dolores Park, slated to start sometime in June in two steps. The north side of the park will open in min-June with an ADA-compliant entryway, new lawns, paths and lighting, newly revamped tennis and basketball courts, and new park furniture: benches, picnic tables and bathrooms. “And in case you haven’t heard, Dolores Park will have the first open-air pissoir in San Francisco,” said Ballard. A woman raised her hand with an air of urgency.
“Will there be new bathrooms for woman?” she asked. (The answer was yes).
“And maybe some attendants,” called out a SF Parks and Rec staffer from the back of the room.
“With perfume and stuff?” Patti Lord, a resident, asked skeptically. (The question was left unanswered.) The south side of the park will then close. “But the playground will remain open the entire time,” said Ballard emphatically.

 

Use the Dolores Park Eco pop-up

Use the Dolores Park Eco pop-up.

Velina Brown of the San Francisco Mime Troop put her hand up. “I’m here to find out if the Mime Troop will be able to open on July 4th, as we have done for many years,” she said.

“Let’s talk offline after the meeting,” proposed Ballard. She then introduced Ben Lawhon, Education Director from the Colorado-based organization Leave No Trace: Center for Outdoor Ethics, which has contracted with San Francisco Parks and Rec as a consulting organization. “It’s great to see so many of you,” he said. Lawhon, a square-jawed man, wearing an orange corduroy shirt, added: “Clearly this is a park people love.” His slide show also included pictures of Dolores Park’s thick layer of people and litter. “I think you probably recognize these pictures,” he said jokingly. He cleared his throat. Eighty-five percent of the “litter issues” is about behavior, Lawhon said. Peer-to-peer outreach and self-policing by other park visitors is critical to making change happen. “Changing culture is about helping people understand, that, hey. It’s not cool to trash the park,” Lawhon concluded.

“Has this worked in other places?” inquired someone skeptically.

“Yes. But it’s about changing culture,” Lawhon replied. “We gotta take the long view.” Rob Lord raised his hand. “We’ve been hearing about strategies,” he said. “But not about tactics. I want to hear the five things that are gonna be accomplished by the time the park opens. Can we hear some specifics, please?”

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The long view: Use the Can campaign flyer

Flyers were quickly handed out detailing the specifics; a campaign launching in May called “Use the Can”, which combines public outreach, added service and rules enforcement to “keep Dolores clean and beautiful.” There are three participation levels the community can choose: Park Visitor, Friend or Champion, each with it own level of participation. Visitors can use social media—”our goal is to create content you can share,” said Ballard— and campaign posters to boost the campaign’s visibility. Friends can add the step of using stickers to place on merchandise that are being brought to the park, and Champions can choose to take the bold step of volunteering in the park on the weekend to “actively meet with, inform and urge park goers” to use the added trash receptacles and abide by the principles outlined by Leave No Trace which are, according to their website “To protect the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly while enjoying the park.”

“We are asking organizations and groups to pick Saturday or Sunday to go into the park and urge people to use the can,” said Ballard. The meeting broke up after viewing a CAN-paign public service announcement, featuring the Knights of Revery.

Afterward, the Lords seemed doubtful. “I’ll do it,” said Rob, speaking about the campaign. “But I didn’t hear about a service commitment that’s going to be commensurate with increased usage. We’re sixty days from the launch of a major renovation. Park maintenance could have increased before the renovations started.” His wife agreed. “I see a lot more people with tour books. I think it’s a by-product of tourism. More people. And we’re Leave No Trace’s first city partner! I think they’re cutting their teeth on us. Why hasn’t the city spoken with someone from a city where they’ve already dealt with density?” Rob shook his head. “I think we’re in for a bumpy ride,” he said.

Inside, Velina Brown was waiting for her offline conversation with Ballard. “I still don’t know if we’re going to be opening on July 4th,” she said. “Our audience is a usually about 3,000 people. They’re completely dwarfed by the other people who are usually drunk and belligerent. And they’re not paying attention because they have their own sound system without permits! As a permitted event, we get there at 8 am in the morning to set up, to take care of that space. So how does being a permitted event benefit us?”