"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, January 27, 2024

The Nasty End Of Diversity - Welcoming The Gamy Homeless Into The Big Tent

Eddie Fagin had been on the street for years.  He couldn't count how many.  His 'home' was Capp Street, a two-block street in one corner of the Mission, once the go-to, hipster-cum-Latino neighborhood of San Francisco turned open-air flop house, shooting gallery, and crack whore market.  Fixes were easy, Fentanyl cheap, restaurant swill dumped in saw-cut bidons in the alley behind the abandoned tool-and-die and leather shops, infested prison-issue blankets left in tied bundles on the corner of 19th Street. 

His buddies, Jacko, Merv, and The Goat had been on Capp Street longer than he, far longer; and since Los Angeles had begun to spray the streets at night with some kind of double duty rat poison so that both street people and vermin scattered and left, the rats to the Valley, Jacko and his lot to San Francisco where the Mayor and City Council had recently made access to municipal services free and easy.  No one was ever evicted in San Francisco. no arrests made for vagrancy, shopping cart violations, public nudity, or defecation. 

"We welcome our unhoused brothers and sisters to San Francisco, and we will do everything to make the city your home away from home", said the mayor. "Food, shelter, medical care, counselling, and comfort will be yours for the asking, all given in the spirit of generosity and respect", and so Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Oxnard oversaw the out-migration from 'a community of dereliction'.  

Finally, without having to forcefully evict what had become a foul-smelling, shit-stained community of drifters, the cities were given a reprieve.  No sooner had the homeless gone than the street-sweepers powered up and force-washed the sidewalks, culverts, underpasses, and alleys where they had 'lived'.  The city, Chloroxed, sprayed, and sanitized would return to normal.  

San Francisco, thanks to its very permissive attitude towards residence, had always been a haven for derelicts.  Not only did drug gypsies come to San Francisco, but so did rent-cadgers who took advantage of the city's no eviction tenants' rights laws.  They squatted in buildings with demolition notices posted, and stayed on untouched, unbothered, and fancy free. Real estate came to a halt as hundreds of buildings in prime areas became untouchable. 

'Bums up, bums down', commented a conservative member of the City Council who represented one of the few tony neighborhoods left in the city, noting the bodies on the street and on the upper floors; but he alone could do nothing.  

His colleagues voted again and again for open-source, open-doors, and open-license. Haight-Ashbury, heart of hippiedom in the Sixties where everything was possible, became the ironic epicenter of the nouveau 'do-whatever' culture.  However this time the stoned, free-love, happy hippies had been replaced by psychopaths and drug addicts. 

Eddie Fagin had more sense than most on the street; or at least he acted like he had, and Jacko, Merv, and The Goat became his groupies, their easy life made even easier by a man who knew what was what and worked the system like no other.  Eddie was their fixer, their patron saint and they would do everything for him. 

In July of last year the New York Times sent a reporter to San Francisco to investigate the growing homeless crisis, and his colleagues pointed him to Capp Street and Eddie Fagin's crewe, men who were no less a public nuisance than any others, but lucid enough between 2-4pm to talk with a reporter for cash.  Eddie heard of the man and his intentions, and arranged to meet him.  

This man, Eddie knew, was the mark of all marks - a reporter from a national, respected newspaper which prided itself on 'all the news that's fit to print' but now turned compassionate advocate for victimhood. Under its new editorial direction, the revival tent expanded to include the more peripheral of society's victims.  Psychopathic homeless were the latest invitees; and the Times needed a cover story for the event. 


"Why, this man doesn't belong on the street", said the Times reporter after he had finished a series of interviews with Eddie, and used his influence and the paper's reputation to quickly dress up the man and show the readership that not all unhoused were psychopathic maniacs; and some, only by God's temporary oversight, were without permanent lodging. 

Somehow Eddie managed his window of opportunity well, and kept off the bottle and the needle well ahead of his interviews. Not a stupid man by any means, Eddie had the wherewithal to make sense when he had to.  Not only that, he was a poet when the spirit moved him, and when the reporter from New York came to Capp Street, he was to him a latter day Dylan Thomas, a lyrical poet of the streets. 

He spoke of his life of broken homes, abusive parents, down-and-out pool parlors, cheap whisky, and crack whores; but did so without a whine.  His was a tale of courage, gumption, and determination - all thwarted by forces beyond his control.  In his words he was a child with a broken wing, abandoned, left to die in gutter, but with the intelligence and the will to make something of himself, despite everything.   If given the chance, he would be as successful as any American. 

And the New York Times reporter, already primed and ready to believe in diamonds in the rough, gems untouched by the evils of a predatory, capitalist society, fell for it, and engineered a personal GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the education and social sanitizing of this hero of the  streets. 

Eddie went back to Capp Street with a feather in his cap.  He had conned The Man, snookered the New York Times and the donors who gave generously to the Eddie Fagan Enterprise Of Good Will, and he would soon have a home in Pacific Heights, dine at Smith & Wollensky's and maybe even run for office. 

Of course nothing of the sort happened.  Eddie ran through the money within weeks and ended up more drug-addled and useless than he ever had been.  The police gave him a bye, now that he was famous, but knew as they always had that Eddie was a worthless piece of shit that fouled the gutters and drains of a once storied city. 

The Times reporter wrote the piece, a three-page featured account of life on the streets; but the news cycle being what it is, the story held reader interest for a week, then gave way to other things. 

"Ain't you that guy..." the bums on Capp Street asked Eddie after the Chronicle had reprinted the Times story and his picture was displayed below the fold; but when they realized that the money had been spent long ago and that the famous caporegime of Capp Street was once again no more than a stain and bad smell, they went their own ways. 

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