One week ago, I began my Tuesday with the decision to quit the job I had held for six months and trust that as I stepped off the cliff into the air, all would be well. Almost immediately thereafter, I received an email from KW, a long-time friend with whom I had only recently reconnected. The email contained a link to another blog being written in this neighborhood, “Lodging in Public”, the author of which, Martha Bridegam, had written a particularly expressive, informative, and righteous response to a new corporate plan to “make a contribution” to our neighborhood.
At about the same time, I received an email from Mark Ellinger, whose “Up From the Deep” blog is an indispensable resource for the history of San Francisco, weaving together both personal and public history. Mark was replying to the email I sent him last night saying that I expected that I would be quitting today and that I would therefore be free to meet with him anytime. He suggested noon today, and so it was that I met Mark today for the first time.
We had lunch at Taqueria Can-Cun on Market at Seventh Street, the first of what I am sure will be a long list of neighborhood venues I will learn about from Mark. He also introduced me to two more blogs from the TL: “The Tenderloin Geographic Society” and “Bluoz”. I am excited to have met someone who can teach me volumes about my neighborhood -- and about the life of our times.
Something else about Mark excited me, too: the voice of prophecy. He has the soul of Jeremiah and the requisite courage to speak truth to power. What is more, he knows, and the whole of his work reflects this knowledge, that we are nothing in ourselves. It is only in relation to others that our lives have any meaning. He spoke movingly of his losses, saying that his life up to 2001 is simply and entirely gone, but he also affirmed his commitment to the community in which he lives. And that commitment includes standing up to the corporate culture that has our country in thrall.
Mark laments the disappearance of the San Francisco we both once knew and loved and the emergence of the current “bland, soulless, corporate” enclave that the city has become. I told him that I think of San Francisco as a “gated community”, though in its case it is a “bridged and tunneled” community You have to pay a toll (or the price of a ticket for BART or a ferry) to enter within the City Limits.
We hear politicians and pundits discuss the “disappearance of the middle class” as a phenomenon of changing statistics: where once the percentage of the population identified as “Middle Class” was “X“, that percentage is now “X minus Y”. They speak and therefore think as if a number, a ratio, had changed, and the difference between what was and what is consists in the disappearance of a category, possibly through the death or the going away of certain people.
But hear me now: they are wrong. It is not that people have disappeared, died, or gone away. In the revolution of our society’s structure that began with Ronald Reagan and has continued under every individual and power to take office since, nothing has disappeared, no one has been lost.
I am still here, and I am the erstwhile “middle class”. I have not disappeared: I have moved. I have lived, at various times, in Walnut Creek, in Berkeley, in Baltimore, in Wellesley, in Schenectady, in Manhattan, on Long Island, on Fire Island, in Oakland, in Alamo Square, in Noe Valley, and even the Mission (recently named by the New York Times as the hippest neighborhood in the country):
I now live in an SRO on a dirty corner in The Tenderloin, surrounded by the dispossessed.
I am here to bear witness to the failure of “progress”, the failure of “markets”, the lies of “individualism”, “self-reliance”, and “democratic capitalism”.
And I am here to say, with Leonard Cohen, that “There’s a mighty judgment coming . . .”
" . . . but I may be wrong."