Fisherman’s Wharf is a carnie wasteland. There aren’t even actual fishermen there anymore. It’s a bastardized version of Hampton Beach, which itself is a bastardized version of Coney Island. So there are three degrees of separation, culminating in a strip of shitty little crab stands and idiotic tourists with cameras hanging around their necks, taking pictures of the fucking Golden Gate Bridge, when Hey, Guess What, Idiot Tourist? There are better views of everything else everywhere else in the city!
Heh. I’m an idiot tourist. But I left my camera at home.
No. I went to Fisherman’s Wharf because JB works some crazy job with big old wooden boats, and character-acting, and twenty-four hour school field trips. He pretends to be an old salt from the turn of the century. He gets to make small children–and their parents, should he so choose–swab decks and eat gruel and obey his commands for the night, because it’s “educational” and a “good experience for the children.” He’s encouraged to behave with as much bravado as he feels like, which he’s good at. He’s allowed to be a dick to anyone who doesn’t acknowledge his command, which seems to suit him nicely. And he gets to talk in some sort of accent, which must just be the icing on the cake. It is the perfect job for JB, in other words. I’m happy for him.
He gets off work at 10 a.m. after his 19-hour shift. That’s why I’m there. We’re getting an Irish breakfast at a pub. Deal of the century alert: two eggs, two giant slabs of bacon, fantastic fucking hash browns, all the Irish soda bread you can handle, plus–fucking PLUS, people–a stiff sixteen-ounce Bloody Mary. Final cost per person? $8.50. Final cost for me? $0.00. JB bought me breakfast.
The strangest thing about this Irish pub: despite its proximity to the spectacle of the shithole tourist trap that is Fisherman’s Wharf, it does an Irish pub right. Which is saying something, given the strong… shall we say, “feelings” (of pure and unconstrained loathing) I have for everything else in the vicinity. It feels like Boston in that pub. There’s a jukebox with the Pogues on it, Guinness poured with just the right love, pale Celts at the bar at 11 in the morning. The bartender even had an Irish accent.
Kate and I spent an evening walking around the Albany Bulb, a park reclaimed from an extinct landfill’s footprint. Along the paths there’s graffiti, and found-art sculptures made of rebar, driftwood, old tires, and bike parts. There’s a whole section of really extravagant ones, mega-sculptures–an Indian Chief, a dragon, both huge, and only two of many there–but for the most part it’s just what people have found and bundled together when they’ve gone to the park to have some beers, or get stoned, or sit on the rocks and look at the Bay and twiddle thumbs. A lot of it’s amateur sculpture, in other words, and a lot of it’s kind of quaint, in its way. It speaks to a community spirit of wanting to build something out of nothing, of taking one man’s trash and making it the parkgoers’ treasure, etc etc. It’s emblematic of an attitude that we should all probably be trying to emulate, or at least one that we commonly claim to think we should be trying to emulate.
But then you wind your way down a path and stumble onto a campsite: a home, really, with an old mattress for a roof and a tarp for walls. When you turn around to walk away (sort of abashedly, sort of feeling like an intruder) you step on a syringe. You do this over and over again (minus the needle, of which you only saw one): bump into homesteads. You walk into people’s houses accidentally, because there aren’t supposed to be any fucking houses in a public park. But, then, the shrubberies are overgrown. The trees have taken root in the landfill. Tall grass and big boulders are everywhere. It’s hard to see where the people live until you’re already on their doorstep.
And so maybe this, too, is emblematic of California. This Great Ignoring. This supposition that if we make a park out of a landfill–and, moreover, if we make art with the trash we find there–then we’re allowed to ignore the fact that actual human beings are sleeping on that landfill. Correction: that they’re living on that landfill. We’re allowed to believe that the best way we can help is by not helping at all, because “Look at the eccentric artwork, did you know this used to be a landfill and now it’s a park, and oh yes we know about the homeless people but at least they’re living in this fabulous art experiment, things really could be worse.” Ultimately, we trick ourselves into thinking that if we put a layer of yellow lipstick on a piece of shit it turns into a bar of gold.
Which, in fairness, might make for a few pretty found-art sculptures. But it fills me with nothing but dread.