Many of the things we shrug off as normal in San Francisco don’t happen in other places. Like when I heard someone outside my window yelling, “Honor your father and mother!” Without looking, I knew it was the old Filipino guy who is always shouting through a bullhorn at Market and Powell. Or how you’re more likely to hear someone say, “My boyfriend’s wife has a girlfriend,” than, “I’m a Republican.” Or how running into to someone you know in a fast food joint is more embarrassing than seeing them in the waiting room of an STD clinic …
Awhile back, my cousin’s wife was visiting from Phoenix for a work thing. She hit me up and said she wanted have a wild and crazy night. So I took her and another suburban soccer mom out to industrial goth night at The Stud, followed by a Hubba Hubba Revue burlesque show where the theme somehow fused the Easter Bunny and weightlifting bros. A wild night for them is usually having the babysitter stay late so they can have an extra margarita at Applebee’s, so our night in San Francisco blew their freaking minds.
For those of us who’ve lived in The City for awhile, it takes a lot to get us to raise an eyebrow: A dude walking down the street wearing nothing but a Giants cap and a cock sock? We call that Tuesday. A lady who’s dyed her dog’s fur pink to match her own? That’s just Lisa. Paying $900 month at age 37 to have three roommates and no living room? That’s called adulthood.
There are oodles of quirky things we take for granted here, but there are also sad ones to which we’ve become all too accustomed: Expecting your car to get broken into if you leave so much as a few visible pennies. Being able to walk by poop and know if it’s human or animal just by the wafting smell. Seeing the sidewalk littered with needles. Having neighbors who sleep in tents each night. Having friends and loved ones evicted and pushed out of The City due to rampant greed. Watching someone rant and scream and thrash at some invisible foe. All of these daily occurrences.
School board president Matt Haney, who’s also running for District 6 supervisor, recently wrote on Facebook about showing members of New Zealand’s parliament around San Francisco and how shocked they were at our city’s “brutal inequality.”
“It crowded out everything else, unavoidable, relentless, omnipresent, but normalized,” Haney wrote.
“Normalized” is the key word; for those of us who live here, none of it is shocking. It’s just our everyday lives.
Think about the last time you were truly stunned by something you saw in San Francisco — something that made you stop what you were doing and say, “Wow …”
Mine was a couple years ago. I saw a homeless man coming up Market Street wearing little more than filthy rags with newspapers stuffed into his clothes. As he walked, huge clumps of human feces, the size of a small fists, skittered out of the holes in his clothing. Seeing this poor man, reduced to such wretchedness, was so shocking that I stopped in my tracks and said to myself, “Oh my fucking god.” Then, I looked up and saw all the cranes building skyscrapers for billionaires and thought, “How can these two things be happening on the same block?”
Maybe that’s what really defines this place, what truly makes San Francisco special. A handful of people are becoming unfathomably wealthy while a larger group of people are so unconscionably poor that they have no choice but to defecate in the street. And the rest of us … well, we’re just doing our best to survive while trying not to step in shit.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.