Wednesday, March 7, 2012
A Stroll Through San Francisco's Tenderloin District
San Francisco, California is one of the most romanticized cities in the world. It can rightly hold on to that title. It's decadent Victorian beauty and world-renowned landmarks are unprecedented. Though it is a city of opportunity, dreams, and beguiling beauty; there is also a harsh polarizing side. One of the most overlooked, avoided, and notorious areas of San Francisco lies just below affluent Nob Hill and beside the illustrious elite shopping of Union Square and old Theater District. The area stretches across fifty blocks and tends to be swallowed up into the peaceful bustling Civic Center: its the Tenderloin.
The Tenderloin District is essentially the high-crime area of the San Francisco. I happen to work on the very edge of it within the Theater District that is slowly being restored back to its flashing neon glory at 7th and Market within the historic Odd Fellows Building. There are many mornings before I clock into work that I come out of the Civic Center BART Station and walk around the Tenderloin in order to explore it, take photos, and learn something from the slum that's built of concrete and steel. Some of the main streets that run through this area are Mason, Turk, Eddy, Jones, O'Farrel, McAllister, Geary, Golden Gate Avenue, 7th Street, and the hellish nightmare trail known as 6th Street. A squadron of little allies such as Stevenson, Angelo's, Julia, and Rausch also help make this hard-knock part of town.
If you ever feel down of yourself, are going through some hard times, take a stroll through the Tenderloin and Sixth Street (the worst street in the city). I promise you will count your blessings and feel much better. Anyone that is familiar with Catechism and Christian mythology knows that San Francisco is named after St. Francis of Assisi. He is the patron saint of the poor and the story goes that he sold all his clothes to the poor to began trying to help them in their misery. The Tenderloin was once the booming industrial part of the great city-by-the-bay. It has sense become a place of utter despair, cruelty, and sickening poverty. The large influx of homeless and "lost souls" of San Francisco call it home.
Many of the "homeless" live in single-room occupancy, bed bug infested hotels which are littered throughout the blocks when they are not crashed out in the streets from their ruthless, damaging addictions Some of these hotels include the Boyd and the Ambassador. There is no sense of community in this neighborhood. You are alone. You're better off, because if your nice, your gonna get used and fucked over. Men and women wrapped in thin clothes wander the streets aimlessly asking for absurd miniscule amounts of money like 10 cents, 15 cents, 25 cents, and the damned 50 cent coinage. If they see you holding money they will hound you. Don't even think they are going to spend your hard earned money on food. They will spend it on their drug or alcoholic beverage of choice.
The streets are a live freak show:
I've seen men and women who have no decency left in their souls pee in the streets. Men will go in between cars to relieve themselves. You can hear the trickle of piss coming out of their penis and if your at a distance, you can see their urine flow down and mix with the settled water in the curbs of the roads. The streets wreak of trash, marijuana, alcohol, and human feces. Julia is known is known as "Shit Alley". When you walk through it keep your eyes on the ground because you might step in it. I have seen copious amounts of shit in piles, I've seen it rubbed, smashed, and caked into the hard asphalt! I've even witnessed it spewed on the sides of buildings. I imagine these animals to have severe explosive diarrhea. They must bend over with their torso's vertical as they spread their ass cheeks and shoot their putrid excrement out like a blazing cannon. Can you picture that image in your mind?
The first live human defecation I watched with my own eyes happened a few weeks ago. I was walking through an alley in order to take a shortcut. I'm admiring the architecture and walking at my own leisure until I come to this open area and look to my right. I swear to you, an old man was squatting on the concrete taking a dump. I'm fully immobilized at this moment and cannot stop staring. This is all new to me. I've never seen such an intense private moment done in public! The man sees me, gets up to stand, and he flashes me this extensive creepy smile. I can see his uncircumcised shriveled peanut-sized penis dangle as his scrotum crawls closer to his body to stay warm. He never stops smiling and I immediately started to run towards a more crowded street.
The Tenderloin dialogue is filthy and poetic! Some of it is heart breaking:
A few days ago, I observed this morbid obese black woman rolling herself in a wheelchair. She stated to this much younger in-shape woman, "Get back here you goddamned little bitch in fucking high-heels!" She then started to makes all these awful cantankerous noises. I was walking down Sixth Street running an errand and this black guy in the back of a gold Cadillac hollered at me, "Hey boy! Yeah you mother fucker, I'd like to see how far you can take it down your throat!" I once heard this one woman tell her friend, "Last night, I woke up in the homeless shelter next to transvestite!" I've even heard people scream, "Bring it out you goddamned shit-eating mother fucker!!!" I One woman yelled once, "I swear to God, I hate this fucking city! I fucking hate it all Goddammit!!!" One unforgettable character who I've sort of befriended was upset one morning. She looked like hell; her head had been shaven because of lice so she now wore a thick hat, she had shorts on in the freezing winds, and soiled shirts on. Her face looked incredibly old even though she was in her forties, and her teeth were stained yellow and black. She said in tears, "I just want a hot shower and some clean clothes." suddenly rage enveloped her and hot tears streamed down her face, "But my ex-husband won't let me in his room because HE'S TOO BUSY FUCKING THAT STUPID LITTLE WHORE IN THE HOTEL BOYD!!!!" I was once told by the shirtless crusty tattooed man, "I want to marry you for sex and 15 cents." He then started to play with his hard nipples, they were large and swollen. The had the color of cherry red tomatoes. I could see the little curly hairs poking out from around them. He started to swing his cain and swirl his nasty pink tongue around his salt and pepper goatee. I responded, "I wouldn't suck your lousy dick even if I was suffocating and there was oxygen IN YOUR BALLS!" His demeanor shifted to a stunned surprise look. By-standards on the street who heard me started to laugh. It felt amazing to quote that infamous John Waters line from Female Trouble!
There's this one guy that always lingers around Seventh Street. He looks to be in his late twenties. His face is always flushed red and his eyes constantly water. His voice reminds me of a laid back surfer from Southern California. But it turns out he was from Northern Michigan. This man looked like hell one morning, he was crying, and pacing the street. I softly told him to go to St. Anthony's Dining Room just a little way's up the street in order to get a nice hot meal, some energy, and some warmth from the winds.He rejected my advice and ranted in tears, "No good can come from this city. I fucking hate it! I should have stayed in the Haight where I'm safe! I tried to get away man, I tried. I got all the way to Santa Cruz...but they found me...they found me and dragged me back here! I just wanna go home man, I wanna go back to Detroit where I'm safe." He continued, "I lost my best friend of ten years last night, he tried to cut my finger off!" He pulled out his grimy hand and the finger was all cut up and swollen with caked blood.
A few days ago a black woman was making all these shrieks. She started crying and sitting on the concrete, "I am all alone and struggling. Nobody knows what it feels like, I just want to make it." She then started to snarl and make animal voices again. She raised up her sleeve and revealed all these dark open soars. These weird nodules ran all the up and she stated, "I'm pregnant and I have AIDS!" I was stunned and repulsed. It was too much.
Human suffering is on every block in this neighborhood. The homeless shelters are constantly lined with people. St. Anthony's Dining Room has a line that wraps around 2 blocks. The homeless often bitch about this place comically referencing it as "St. Agonies." I suppose they do this because they have no choice. However, St. Anthony's prepares over 1000 meals a day. Its a great work that the volunteers of the organization do for the homeless.
Besides they St. Anthony's Dining Room there are two more beacons of light in the Tenderloin. They are Glide Memorial Methodist Church and the more famous St. Boniface Catholic Church. St. Boniface is a miracle for the homeless. This large yellow and pink roofed cathedral towers above the Tenderloin. It is home to a group of Franciscan Friars and allows the homeless to sleep in the pews located in the sanctuary during the day. The church is open to the public at 6a.m. Their weekly services are done in the same of St. Francis. One morning, I decided to go inside of the cathedral. I wanted to see first hand what went on inside.
I approached the gates of St. Boniface and walked towards the large wooden and iron doors. Gnats swarmed in the entry and the smell of musky body odor lingered out. Was it ever strong. I enter the sanctuary and beheld all these large wooden pews with bundled bodies on them. The snores and slumbers echoed peacefully through the house of worship and the stench of old sweat, greasy hair, dirt and grime seemed to permeate the still air. I remember looking up and seeing this large pipe organ upstairs in the bowels of the choir loft and these large ornate statues of icons. Many men were on their knees praying in these shrines.
I left St. Boniface with a sense of hope that day. I was thankful for what I had. I think it's good that I work on the edge of the Tenderloin. I see first hand what I do not want to become everyday. It scares the hell out of me. The people within it are someone's children. They were not always like this, and I know that when you've fallen that low, its hard to get back up. It's frightening to see these people because they are walking slaves and zombies to their addictions. The lost souls of San Francisco will always be there: rummaging, cheating, shooting up, blazing up, getting wasted, fucking, searching, surviving...amongst the romance and the splendor of the Golden Gate.