The Missing Man

Fliers plastered everywhere. Friends scouring the city. High-tech search logistics. And psychics. Why can't San Francisco find Jerry Tang?

The search traveled beyond San Francisco to places like Las Vegas, which Jerry had said he might visit the week he disappeared, and Framingham, the Massachusetts town where he grew up.

Friends and family arrived from Boston, Philadelphia, even London, taking time out of their lives to spend a week or weekend searching, providing a short respite, so local volunteers could return to their daily routines.

"Jerry definitely knew he was loved," says Ginsberg, "but even he could not have envisioned how many people would show up to look for him."

When she first read that Jerry had gone missing, Tina Webb walked straight out to her car and cried. She had never met the man, hadn't even heard his name until that day. It was so sad to Webb, a single mother, to think that Jerry had disappeared shortly before Christmas. She decided almost immediately to join the cause.

Today is her second morning searching for Jerry, handing out index card-size fliers downtown. Webb wears a turquoise fleece pullover and leather sandals that expose pedicured toenails. She has lived in San Francisco since 1968, but has never joined anything like this. She isn't sure what she'll do if she actually sees Jerry. Her plan is to ask him for help "to keep him engaged," and then to call 911.

A man with slick blond hair and a broken leg wanders up and asks Webb for money. She listens to his long story about being laid off, not quite knowing how to end the one-way conversation. Webb tells him she has no money for him, that she's just out here trying to find Jerry. Then she walks away, feeling extreme guilt at not having given him anything.

Every day, Webb checks the wiki and the Yahoo! group, hoping that maybe a message will say Jerry came home. She is one of a small group of people with no connection to Jerry who have become heavily involved in the search. Many of the hundreds who've looked for Jerry, though, have only tenuous, six-degrees links to him. Volunteers like Webb speak of their desire to be a part of something, to feel like they're helping their community. Few made a conscious decision to choose Jerry instead of another of the hundreds missing in the city right now. They latched onto him for many reasons: He's an upper-middle-class executive and family man, like most of them; he has an amazing personal reputation among a large social network; and his friends and family did a remarkable job publicizing his disappearance.

Heather Barnes, a Pacifica resident, joined the search after she randomly clicked a "find jerry tang" link on Craigslist. "You can walk around this vast city and it seems so small and there's all this support and concern and care coming from every category of people," Barnes says. "These crackheads standing on the street corner ... they showed just as much compassion [as everyone else]. It blows your mind."

On this morning, almost everywhere Webb searches, the homeless people know about Jerry, and no, they haven't seen him. The same goes for the flower vendors on Market Street and the professionals in suits taking a cigarette break in the plaza. This area has been canvassed several times since the One California sighting a month ago. On many blocks downtown, there are multiple "Find Jerry" fliers on both sides of the street.

Webb walks up Ellis Street and arrives at Glide, where the free lunch line stretches to the next block. She ambles along, handing out minifliers, like a promoter passing out invites to an after-hours party outside a club. Webb repeats some version of the question "If you see Jerry, will you call us?" dozens of times.

Most everyone in line has thick facial hair and dirty hands and wears mismatched clothing. Several silently accept the flier and stuff it in a pocket or bag. A few say, "No thanks," or express disbelief that Jerry still hasn't been found after all that searching.

A Glide worker steps outside and sizes Webb up, then snatches a flier. "Still lookin' for 'im, huh?" he asks, and shakes his head, then returns to his post inside the doorway.

Webb reaches the end of the queue and keeps hiking up the hill toward another flock of homeless people across the street.

"Oh, why couldn't he just be in the line?" she asks. "Wouldn't that be nice?"

Joyce's voice-mail greeting still conveys a cheery tone: "Hi, this is Joyce. Leave me a mess-age ... bye!"

It seems to have been spoken by a different woman from the one sitting in a chair of her living room, slowly rocking back and forth. The phone greeting is one among many anachronisms in Joyce's new life: her husband's iPod, which he took everywhere he went, perched on top of the stereo; the photo of ecstatic newlyweds in the corner; the keyboard Jerry loved to play for hours, positioned across from the couch.

Joyce wears a denim skirt and tall schoolgirl socks. When she jokes, she smiles out of the side of her mouth, as if she's embarrassed at laughing. Detail by detail, she recounts the story of the day her husband disappeared.

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