Not Enough Dead Presidents
"I woke up this mornin' and all my shrimps was dead and gone." -- Robert Johnson
San Francisco is an ideal town for the unemployed, the homeless or the swing-shift crowd. You can see us buying a ticket at the matinee movie house, reselling books at Green Apple or just hanging out at home, stockpiling sarin gas and trying to levitate. When you've got that kind of time on your hands, the city seems to slow down and show you a different side.
As I dump some letters off at the post office, a panhandler pierces the silence with an odd comment: "Hey, you look like Jim Stafford." I stop and ask, "The singer? 'I Don't Like Spiders and Snakes'? Suddenly the panhandler and I both burst into the lyric: "And that ain't what it takes to love me."
According to the most recent government "figures," there are 7.2 million jobless in America, clocking in a 5.5 percent unemployment rate. Interestingly enough, the report claims "the milder weather helped create employment in the construction and amusement industries." Yes, it must have been all that mild weather California has experienced the past few months. Birds are pecking at the corpses of old ladies floating out of their homes in Mendocino, but when the floods dry up and the rebuilding begins, they probably will be employing members of the construction industry. Three cheers for the staple gun! And what exactly constitutes an "amusement industry"? Are clowns and magicians actually popular again?
But back to the jobless. Readers of this paper know my employment situation, which perhaps could be described in the succinct words of CIA director William Studeman, who explained away the murder of a U.S. innkeeper in Guatemala by saying the agency had "made some management and procedural mistakes." An all-purpose explanation, really:
"So tell us, Timmy, why did you hack up your parents with a machete, eat their livers and wear their skin as clothing?"
"Because they had made some management and procedural mistakes."
"This child was obviously abused. Case dismissed."
The results of such a euphemism now propel me to an American tradition: the unemployment line. In this case it's the San Francisco outlet at Mission and Army. Since I'm over five feet five inches, I'm the tallest one in the building. There seems to be a problem with one guy in front of me. He apparently cheated filling out his form and has to do it all over again. Next up is a woman who can't communicate very well in English, and the guy at the window tells her sternly to fill out the multilingual form as best she can, and someone who speaks Chinese will read it later, they just don't have time right now because they're busy. This is an interminable 12-minute conversation, a tedious foreign film in which Greenwich Mean Time stands still, the roar of Mission Street as deafening as a 747.
Another element of being unemployed is free time. Oh, of course there's the hustle of phone calls, appointments and things mailed out, but let's face it, after meals and masturbation there's still a few hours to kill. One actually has the time to browse (or, in the case of the Sunday edition, sort) the city's newspapers. A memorial is under construction at United Nations Plaza to commemorate the organization's 50 years. It is anticipated that very little reference will be made to the smashing failure of the U.N. "peacekeeping forces" in Somalia and Bosnia, but what the hell, how's about a round of applause for adopting that nifty Universal Declaration of Human Rights back in 1948. A document that deserves to be carved in Sierra Nevada granite, especially when displayed at Seventh and Market, above a homeless Vietnam vet sitting in his own urine alongside his artificial leg.
Television also depends on a high un-employment rate. The jobless don't have a dime to spend on the advertisers, but at least they're glued to the tube, pumping up those Arbitron ratings. I'm even suffering through PBS, just because they may not be around much longer. Barney should have the right to annoy just as much as Newt.
One aspect of being between gigs is that occasionally a friend will drag you out for a beer. Which you hopefully will do when they're in similar straits. At Jacks on 16th and Guerrero, a klatch of Bay Guardian writers are sampling the ale, with Tim Redmond feeding a large mutt out of a pint glass. As a sloppy pink tongue darts the length of the glass to slurp up the suds, Redmond explains, "He only gets half a glass." But how safe can this deliberate exchange of bodily fluids be? Redmond looks slightly incensed: "He's my buddy!" Dog and owner stroll down Guerrero, Redmond's red sweat pants standing out against the growing twilight. His buddy stops and squats the haunches.
Saliva at any speed.
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