Archive for the ‘a dusty room on the edge of town’ Category

Going Deeper Into The Meme

December 19th, 2013 6 Comments

Someone from the tech world wrote me back!

Last week I was caught in a false internet meme of a tech guy yelling at the protestors who body-blocked the Google bus to call attention to the housing crisis in San Francisco. He was quickly identified not as a man from Google, but a labor organizer who wanted to provoke a debate.

I was humiliated by being duped by this, as I confessed in my last blog post. I was so ready to believe this angry man was a Google employee because he said what I feared those people think as their huge flood of cash cleanses the city of natives like me. Yet, as I said when I confessed I’d been duped, I don’t know anyone from Google. I don’t know what they think or how they feel and it was wrong to make those assumptions.

Taking up that challenge is a man who rides in the Apple bus from San Francisco to Cupertino to work every day. He responded to my blog post because he has been stung in his own way by the hostility to him and his co-workers.

As he wrote:

Danelle, thank you for the honest explanation of how we can be duped by things you want to believe. I hope you’ll take the broader opportunity to reassess what you believe about tech employees that live in the city, of which I am one.

No one that I have ever met thinks that it’s just OK for long-time SF residents to be kicked out. None of us is out there evicting people. Most of us would support community efforts to improve things for everyone, even if it means higher taxes for those of us that can afford it.

At the same time, though, I can believe that you have a right to live here, but that *I have a right to live here too*, even though I was not born here. I support local shops, restaurants, the arts, and civic organizations. I vote here. I hope to live here the rest of my life, if I can. How am I not a part of this community too?

It seems ungenerous, and, well, un-San-Franciscan to demonize newcomers, in this case just because they can afford to live here. The busses are not the problem; they’ve just become a convenient symbol for other things that *are* problems. Why don’t we work together to solve those?

I agree with the writer that it is very un-San Francisco to demonize newcomers. One thing this city is known for is acceptance, but in my mind that is acceptance of artists, people who think differently, those who don’t participate in the conventional hustle for money, those who just are a little, or maybe a lot, off kilter. There were reasons the beats, the hippies, and gays came here: rent was cheap and the atmosphere was more tolerant than most places. What the writer is asking is for me to see those who have brought the on-rush of this huge amount of capital into the confined world of San Francisco real estate with the same tolerance as I see artists, free thinkers, radicals and outliers. I don’t.

There’s been an 8 percent rent increase in the last quarter alone creating a situation where the median monthly rent is $3,400. The number of evictions in the last year, according to the SF chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, was a record 1,700 and that doesn’t include the buyouts renters are taking to vacate their apartments for the wealthy. So while the writer and his friends are not posting eviction notices on the doors of my friends’ homes and tossing their belongings out into the street, the staggering increase in prices has driven landlords to use a number of unethical and even cruel tactics to chase out the rent controlled tenants who might be paying $800 for an apartment the landlord could now rent for $4000. He and his friends may be great people with empathetic souls, but their money is brutal.

San Francisco is a boom town, and those of us who grew up here have seen these cycles before. This time, though, it seems like an assault, not just a temporary spike in the economy and here’s why. My income has fallen dramatically because of the digital economy. As a writer I never made that much, but I raised two children on a pretty decent salary as a journalist and then as an author. The digital world has upended the way people pay, or don’t pay, for content. I’m at the top of my skills, but I’m making less now than I did when I was a pup journalist just hired by The New York Times. And while I am an enthusiastic consumer of tech, I am also its victim.

These dual assaults on my livelihood and on my ability to afford a place to live in my hometown is what makes it very easy for me to think my world would be better if the tech people lived some place else, like in those apartments Facebook is building next to its new Menlo Park campus.

The writer says he and many of his friends would be willing to pay more taxes, which shows a lack of understanding of how local taxes are collected. He can’t pay more taxes on his salary here as it is constitutionally illegal in California to impose an individual municipal income tax. Property tax is set at the state level by Prop. 13.
And although it’s not the writer’s fault, San Francisco tax policy favors millionaires. The city gave Twitter a break on payroll taxes that will cost the residents of San Francisco $22 million. The voters just changed that to a gross receipts tax, but mid-Market tech companies get breaks on that tax too. With the Twitter IPO creating an estimated 1600 new millionaires (who won’t have to pay much tax on their stock options) more money is about to flood into the real estate market, making my position here weaker still. He’s right that my anger about that is more properly directed at the Mayor and the griftocrat Board of Supervisors.

He says he wants to live here for the rest of his life and enjoy the shops, cafes and the arts. I hope he is able to do that. Yet if the evictions and the rent increases persist, it won’t be the same place he was attracted to originally.

He’s right the buses are a symbol that stimulates strong emotions in me as it is difficult to identify individuals with whom I can discuss my anger and frustration. I see the huge buses gliding through the narrow streets of the little village of my old neighborhood, Noe Valley, where I cannot afford to live.

Google bus stranded at 23rd and Noe in Noe Valley

There are the tech workers in their shiny cocoons already working on their laptops, oblivious to how much their presence increases the fragility of my connection to the things I hold dear. The urge to stop them at the bus stop is an urge to get them to take their eyes off their screens and look at me and those like me and acknowledge for a moment that they must do something besides have kind sentiments if they want the San Francisco they love to have the qualities that drew them here in the first place.

Anyway I am grateful to him for responding and for expressing his opinion in a reasonable fashion, as I have tried to do.  I hope others write to do the same.  It’s good to have a conversation about this and there is plenty more to say.

The Bold Rooster

June 5th, 2012 No Comments


The most recent brood of chickens has  molted and become big enough to leave their indoor cage. When we got them a few months back, the person who sold them to us said they had been checked to ensure that all of them were hens, but there was no guarantee.

Around the time we set them loose, we discovered that one of them was a rooster. It’s illegal to have a rooster inside the city limits of San Francisco, and we were soon to find out why.

Around 4 in the morning, the rooster awakens, and wants everyone to know about it.

The cock’s crow was the talk of The Barn, at least among the people who live on the side of The Barn where the rooster and his hens reside.  Blissfully, on my side of The Barn the cock-a-doodle-do was not audible. It was audible to Michael, the owner of The Barn, who was getting pretty angry at the fact that his sleep was disturbed every morning much earlier than he liked. One morning at 4:30 a.m. he texted Mark who, with his wife Rose, brought the chickens to the barn,  saying, “Get rid of that @#$# rooster!”

Clearly the rooster had to go.

The chicken coop, an exact replica of The Barn

As Michael said, “You can’t have a bold rooster and an old rooster, because the farmer won’t let the bold rooster get old.”

Some of us thought the most efficient way to rid us of this noisy pest was just to leave him out over night.  Very few creatures, humans included, survive out alone overnight in this rough part of town.  Although two years ago one of the chickens didn’t return when it was time to secure them in the coop, and we were sure she had been snagged by a raccoon or a coyote or any of the many dogs who find the chickens so tasty.  Then three days later she strolled back into the yard, feathers rumpled, swaggering just a bit from whatever unnamed adventure she’d had.  We were all very impressed, as were the other hens.

The tenderer hearts here couldn’t stand the idea of releasing the rooster into the hands of fate.  Couldn’t we find someone to take the rooster?

Mark put an ad on Craigslist saying the rooster was free to anyone who wanted him.  Craisglist instantly took the ad down saying that it was illegal in the state of California to give a gift of livestock.

News to me, and definitely cause for me to re-think my Christmas gift list.

As this rooster, whom I had never seen or heard, was so much the talk of The Barn, I decided I needed to take a photograph of it.  I was standing in my room looking for my camera, when suddenly I heard a ferociously loud cock-a-doodle-do, so bone rattling that you would have thought he was standing in my room.  No wonder Michael was so upset! I grabbed my camera and opened the door to the staircase outside my room.  There he was, standing on the landing, two stories above solid ground, crowing contemptuously at me.

I raced toward him, trying to intimidate him into going back down the stairs, but he wouldn’t budge. When I planted a foot firmly in front of him, he hopped down two stairs, and stood there looking back at me with roosterly disdain.


“COCK-A-DOODLE-DO” he retorted, and left a little present for me on the stairs.

Michael chased him down  the stairs, where he joined his brood.

I heard that Mark had found someone to take the rooster to his farm, solving the problem of what to do about the illegal bird.  Later that day, I heard the kind of sqauwking and gobbling that sounds like feathers flying. I rushed to the landing outside my room to see that someone had the rooster cornered underneath a bench on the loading dock, grabbing frantically as he tried to get his hands on the rooster.

The rooster was nimble.  After a few minutes of thrust and parry, the rooster broke free. He stood victorious on the loading dock glaring at his foe and let out a proud, “Cock-a-doodle-do.”

The man rushed at him, “Damn rooster.”

The rooster hopped off the loading dock and onto the pavement, again turning to taunt his would-be captor.

The man rushed toward him, arms wide, and the rooster sprinted up the driveway to freedom.

I haven’t seen him since, yet the hens continue on wandering the grounds.  It seems that they don’t miss him either.




Is he to be an old rooster? Or a bold one?




The Sheep Is Shorn

May 9th, 2012 No Comments

In the remote and dusty part of San Francisco where I live, life is bucolic. We have a 20 x 40 organic garden, a chicken coop, a waterfall in a redwood grove and an archery course. To complete the rustic feel, our lawn care professional is a sheep named Shaun.

He arrived here as an itty bitty lamb in March of last year and in that time he’d grown to look more like a large dust mop than a ruminant. His owner, the owner of The Barn, Michael Hamman, knew it was time to get him shorn. The problem was finding a sheep shearer who was willing to come to San Francisco.

Micheal was determined. He spent hours searching online for professional shearers, but everyone he found lived too far away to make it worth their while to come here for just one sheep.  Michael for a time  considered buying his own electric shears, but discovered that they cost around $200 each, and there wasn’t a place where they could be rented.

Finally he found a sheep shearing listserve where he posted his request and Judd Redden of the Mini Glenn Ranch in Sonoma agreed to stop by after shearing a few sheep on the coast.

Sheep shearing is a tricky business and most of the tricky stuff concerns getting the sheep to remain still. They are prey animals, though. Once they have been flopped on their backs, they go into a form of sheep shock and lose the will to resist.

Judd had a firm hand with Shaun.

He said the goal was not to allow Shaun’s feet or head to get purchase on the ground, because his survival instincts would kick in and he’d use that  leverage to bound up to standing and flee.

After establishing his dominance over Shuan, the wool was flying.

When all was done, Shuan looked to be about half his former size.

So much smaller was he, that Michael had to measure his neck again to make sure that he couldn’t slip out of his collar.

The wool weighed fourteen pounds, but we’re not sure who wants to buy it. Normally these sheep wear a covering all year to keep their wool from getting soiled. But hey, this is San Francisco.

Where else would the first shearing of the sheep be celebrated by all of us standing on the deck hoisting a glass of champagne?


(photos by Danelle Morton and Andre Von Wartburg )