Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I Have Met the Enemy and She Is Me

If I may continue in curmudgeon vein for another post:

A great thing (this isn't the curmudgeonly part) happened recently. Not far from my living room/bedroom/office window is another building, on the top floor of which lives an older couple. Below them is a youngish couple who are generally very quiet, except that every several months, one of them stays up until 3 a.m. blasting old R&B albums.

On the ground floor is a whole crowd of twenty-somethings who used to have extremely loud parties fairly often, but someone must have convinced them to knock it off, because they never do that anymore, but they do stand outside all the time smoking and hacking loud smokers’ hacks. The smoke comes directly into my place
—in fact, right into my face when I'm lying in bedbut I haven’t decided what, if anything, to do about it. Maybe they’ll move out one of these days.

Many times over the years I’ve caught sight of the lady on the top floor doing some chore or other outside, and I’ve always thought it would be nice to say hello to her, so when I saw her shooing away pigeons recently—we have many, many pigeons these days, and much pigeon poop, and much eau de pigeon excretions—I stuck my head out my window and said, “These pigeons are something, aren’t they?” and we bonded a little.

She pointed out a couple of pigeon nests besides the one on my own fire escape. I told her my name and she told me her name is Mary. After all these years, now I know that is Mary! I’ve been in this apartment for 12 years and I think she’s been here the whole time. I think she does not necessarily enjoy her younger neighbors, either. Once in the era of the very loud parties, she came out and pleaded for quiet, to no avail. The celebrants probably couldn’t even hear her.

Sometimes I have wondered what will happen when she and her husband are very old. Will they be trapped here, like I already am? This neighborhood has gentrified to an extraordinary degree. Tattoo parlors have been replaced by upscale dining establishments. We have a place you can take your Jaguar to be serviced! Instead of scruffy motorbikes, we have people driving Mercedes Benzes and BMWs. The people in leather garments have been replaced by people in button-down shirts and trench coats who look shocked when you say “good morning” to them.

I have thought now and then of moving to the Tenderloin. There is much more crime there than in my neighborhood, and I have noticed that I feel very alert when I walk there, which is a good feeling. I used to have a friend who lived there, and sometimes, when we were on the phone, I’d hear gunshots in the background. I suspect that most people there are very aware of who is nearby, yet they also seem very respectful of others, allowing plenty of space. I find, anyway, that I tend to avoid initiating conversation with someone who might prove to be a ticking mental health time bomb.

However, I cannot afford to move to the Tenderloin! I moved to my current area of the Mission 27 years ago, when it wasn’t safe to walk here at night. Once I saw a man push a woman through a plate glass window. (When the police arrived, he explained, “It’s OK—she’s my sister.”) Now when I tell people where I live, they say, “Oh! Nice!” This is hugely embarrassing. I feel I have to explain, every single time, that I’ve lived here since it was not particularly nice at all.

But to move to a not-nice area of San Francisco now, I’d have to spend at least 150 percent of what I currently spend on rent, and probably more like 200 percent. I like the idea of living somewhere more congenial, but I don't like it that much.

In general, I notice that I have morphed inexorably from a hippie into a yuppie while doing all the exact same stuff I’ve done for decades. It used to be that the non-rich shopped at Rainbow, bringing bags from home to visit the bins of bulk rice and beans, whereas now it’s full of the relatively affluent, and the parking garage holds BMWs and SUVs.

The Mission was full of creative types. Now it’s evidently full of fund managers and software engineers. Riding a bike meant you were maybe too poor to have a car. Now it means you’re rich enough to live in San Francisco at all.

The only thing that cools my chagrin about what’s happened to my neighborhood is remembering that I’m just the latest in a long line of groups to wonder “What are they doing here?” Someone thought the exact same thing about us when we arrived with our trumpet cases and easels 30 years ago.

And one of these days, some other group will arrive and my well-heeled neighbors will think the same things. I don’t know what group that will be. Maybe it will be thugs with guns trying to find and loot community gardens, the last food on the planet. Or maybe it will be even richer people, people with Bentleys and Lamborghinis and live-in servants and armed guards.
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