Must be the season of the witch

Music – 13th Floor Elevators – You’re Going to Miss Me

Bennett’s place is one of those rare Nob Hill apartments with a halfway decent backyard.  Big enough for a barbecue, at least.  The building itself, much like my own apartment, was built about half an hour after the 1906 earthquake and hasn’t seen a lick of maintenance since.  Maybe a paint job half-completed before the painters were drafted for WW2, a fresh lightbulb here and there in the 80s, a wireless router duct-taped to the kitchen ceiling, but not shit else.  It’s obviously been inhabited by ten generations of callous, post-collegiate bachelors who’ve treated it like a fifty-peso hooker.  Layers upon layers of flyers, posters, and stolen roadsigns have accumulated on the walls.  The stacks of Maxims and old New Yorkers have become structural, becoming impromptu reinforcements for the bowed walls and taking the place of various long-snapped table legs and chair backs.  Scraps of rug or possibly old clothes barely cover the naked wood floor.  The interior smells like a Phish tour bus crashed into a Budweiser factory, and there’s a hole the size of a cannonball in the dry-rotted back stairs. The cracked toilets run and a hissing wind blows endlessly through the gaps in the windows. I love apartments like this.  Decades of abuse and neglect give them a wonderful, unique character.  You could cut a cross section of the wall out and, assuming the whole shit didn’t collapse around you and kill you instantly, you could study the layers on it like the rings on an ancient redwood tree.

I tell Bennett I like his place, and start asking him about it.  I’ve only lived here a while, he tells me.  You should talk to that dude Phil, he’s been here the longest, I think.

That’s how these places work.  Leases, if they exist at all, are administered irregularly by somebody named That Dude Phil, who proceeds to collect rent in various forms of specie, drugs and bartered goods before getting arrested or moving away or just disappearing, thus passing the lease on to the next longest term inhabitant, usually The Other Dude Phil who becomes the de-facto house leader.  The current Phil looks like Philip Seymour Hoffman, if Philip Seymour Hoffman were to scalp a rockstar and tape their ratty unwashed hair to his balding head.  He’s too old to be living in a place like this and no doubt owns way too many XXL black tshirts.  He has the uncanny ability to make any female between the ages of 8 and 80 feel creeped out just by being in the room.

We’re sitting around a patio table with a cracked glass top drinking some expensive brownbottle beer Eric brought.  I’ve got my disgusting, swollen cankle propped up on an overturned garbage can and my crutches leaned up against the table.

“Your leg looks fucking gross dude.” Matt the musician says.  He’s right.  I kicked a guy at capoeira on Friday so hard I thought I’d broken my shin.  Now it’s swollen and full of blood, looking like a mottled honeybaked ham jammed in a black sock.  It hurts like a fuck but I’m drinking through the pain.

“Yep.  Glad it’s not broken though.”

“Hope the other guy was wrecked.”

“No such luck,” I tell them, “fucker was fine.  He was a bigass Swede though, all meat, where as I’m basically a skeleton with hair.  I don’t take hard impact well.”

It feels great to be out of the house.  Being immobile somehow increases my sensitivity to cabin fever a billion percent, so when Alcorn invited me I eagerly crutched myself up the two steep and inconvenient blocks to Bennett’s.

We drink and talk for about an hour, talking about music and unemployment and that girl they found dead in a suitcase in Tracy.

“Half of my office has already been laid off.” Matt the lawyer says.  “I know I’m next.”  This is his paranoia speaking.  He just got done telling us he has self-diagnosed MS and Parkinson’s since he has lost feeling in his pinkie finger.

“You know it’s not that bad.” says Matt the musician, who’s unemployed.  “I’m on unemployment…I get to play a fucking lot of golf… I can go drinking on Tuesdays…”

“My buddy got laid off in January, and his family’s got a cabin in Tahoe. That asshole has been on the slopes every weekday for three months.  Unbelievable.”


“I went up and saw him on the weekend, and he wouldn’t stop talking about how shitty and crowded it was.”

“There’s no skiing like Wednesday skiing.” says Alcorn.  It’s true.

“Paul Shandi, you remember that guy?” I say “He’s furloughed two days a week and he spends his free time hustling rich people at the driving range a la White Men Can’t Jump.  Which is uncharacteristically awesome for him.  Funemployment’s doing wonders for that dude.”

Matt the lawyer tells us everyone in his office gets nervous whenever a staff meeting is called.  People are getting desperate, and crazy.

“It’s lean fucking times when lawyers start getting laid off.  You’d think you guys would be in demand right now, helping all these white-collar assholes fight for the scraps.”

“Now you got me worrying.  Laywers getting fired is like vultures dying during a drought.”

We drink some more.  None of the girls have shown up yet, so we talk with the casual offensiveness and black humor we’re forced to hide in polite company.  Eric threatens idly to plan a camping trip.  The Matts and I talk about how much the Pixies rock.  At one point Bennett has to hop the fence and climb his neighbor’s rickety fire escape after realizing the door shut behind him and locked us all out.

I realize, about halfway through beer five, that I’m having a great time in spite of my mangled leg.  I don’t mention it, afraid of spoiling the mood.

We discuss the feasibility of turning to piracy like the Somalis, should things get truly desperate.  Eric and Alcorn have both driven houseboats before, and I’ve shot a gun, and Bennett’s got a skull and crossbones flag, so we decide the capture of an oil tanker en route to the Bay is a feasible and realistic Plan B.

I explain to them my theory that our current economic woes were pre-ordained by Fate, that our generation is particularly well-equipped to handle a severe financial crisis.  Our non-existent work ethic and willingness to waste endless hours drinking and playing videogames makes us perfectly suited to prolonged periods of unemployment.   This is our Vietnam, I say.  We can rise to the challenge, we can all do our part by playing Halo and shooting pool and screwing around on the internet til the situation resolves itself.  Yes we can.

The clouds roll in and it gets bitterly cold by 4pm, because that’s just how things go in San Francisco.
Bennett’s girlfriend shows up, rushing into the back yard to avoid “Sketchy Phil”.

I ask why the two director’s chairs set up around the barbecue have MONASTERY printed on them in big official letters.  Nobody knows, but Bennett pulls out another one that says POISON OAK.  I love your fucking house, I tell him, but I didn’t bring a jacket and it’s time for me to take my leave. I scramble down his front stairs and head home before I get too drunk to work my crutches.


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