Tactless: Keeping SF Beautiful

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City Lights Books invited me to come and be part of a reading for the opening of a parklet in North Beach. It was a joint venture between the Museum of Design (whose ED, Sam, is awesome), and Swissnex. The topic was “Tactical Urbanism”, the process of using design to bring added social, aesthetic or other benefits to an area through design. Things like, say, seed bombs, or other interventions like one panelist engineered, brunch on a bridge in Portland. It was me and 6 urban designer/engineeer/visionary types. In the photo above by Peter Maravelis, the very cool parklet on the left, and a man’s bedroom slightly to the right. I believe all the readers were white professionals.

Hi. I’m Daphne. I’ll be your black hat hired gun tonight.

This is the piece I wrote. (All italicized quotes are real, from, ah, various sources.)

Mayor Lee Reads the Paper
In San Francisco, far too many people are making city walls their personal restroom, and it’s been a persistent problem.
The Public Works Department is coating select city walls with … paint that makes urine splash back… It’s a technique borrowed from a city in Germany…

Mayor Lee Reads His Fanmail
Across an overpass, I see new condos — a two-bedroom unit is for sale for $1.5 million. … San Francisco is an affluent and vibrant city. It shouldn’t smell like stale piss.

Mayor Lee Gives a Speech
San Francisco is an affluent and vibrant city. It shouldn’t smell like stale piss.
He considers buying his people bathrooms.
He sighs. If only they could make sidewalks out of something washable.

Mayor Lee Tries to Make the City Happy
I am throwing you a party, he says to San Francisco.

The city smells like pee, says his fanmail.
Look, he says, It’s a party.

Mayor Lee Gives Another Speech
The Super Bowl is coming, he says, and the homeless have to leave.
It’s a party,
say the people.

Mayor Lee Gets Tactical
Mayor Lee waters the grass where the people sleep so they can’t sleep there anymore. He waters the sidewalks, too. He drives around in a truck and takes peoples’ shopping carts. Mayor Lee works hard. People sleep in the wet grass. People steal more carts. Mayor Lee gets mad.

Mayor Lee Gets Tactical
Mayor Lee makes benches that flip over when you lie down on them. He puts bars across benches. He puts spikes on the ground. A four-year-old girl trips on a spike on her way to the zoo and is impaled. Poor little homeless girl, he says sadly. She lived in a condo in Oakland. Close enough, says Mayor Lee.

I bet she smelled like pee, says his fanmail.

Mayor Lee Gives Another Speech
The Super Bowl is coming, he says. Who wants to look at dirty, starving people at a party? Not me.

All night, each night, the pigeons watch Mayor Lee as he turns up his stereo to party volume, blasting the sounds of chainsaws, motorcycles and jackhammers to scare away the people sleeping outside.

The people sleeping outside use toilet paper and bible pages and chewing gum as earplugs.

The pigeons laugh at Mayor Lee.

Mayor Lee puts poison down for the pigeons.

Mayor Lee Gets Technology
The master of disappearance, Doug Henning, is dead, but there are videos.
Mayor Lee thinks he can do it. He practices at home, following the steps in the video. He makes a fist. He lets his fingers slip behind the homeless, so that his thumb is pressing against his knuckles. But when the homeless should disappear, they tumble out like laughter. This trick was made for cards, not bodies. Maybe David Copperfield instead. Maybe Penn and Teller.

Mayor Lee Asks his Mother What to Do
If coffee and after-dinner drinks have been served, the homeless should expect to leave within an hour at most.

Mayor Lee Tries an Organic Solution
2 parts Slippery Elm powder, 1 part Myrrh, and 9 drops almond tincture. Stir over low heat, chanting:
Things Seen, and Things Not Seen:
Let me walk here in between.

Mayor Lee Tries His Hand at Tactical Urbanism
If he covers the sidewalks with tall plants, no one will see the people sleeping on the sidewalk.

Mayor Lee buys a bag of seed bombs and throws them at the sidewalk. They roll away.

Mayor Lee Looks to the Super Bowl for Tactical Guidance
A coach needs to be able to lead his football team’s offense out of sticky situations, says the Super Bowl.

He has a decision to make: Should his team kick a field goal or go for the first down and maintain possession?

Mayor Lee Knows About Offensive Possession
Possession of any amount of Schedule I opiates, opium derivatives, cocaine base, mescaline, peyote, or synthetic cannabis (including their isomers, esters, ethers, salts, and salts of isomers, esters, and ethers), Schedule II narcotics or opiates, Schedule III hallucinogens, and Schedule III, IV or V narcotics without a valid prescription is punishable by up to one year of incarceration in the county jail.

The Jail has a capacity of 2,515.

Mayor Lee Takes Another Shot at Tactical Urbanism
He could build bathrooms. Or he could paint the homeless red and gold so they will be perfectly camouflaged by the Super Bowl decor.

He could glue leaves to the homeless instead. Call it greenificating downtown. Greenificating. He likes it. But he said they had to leave. Not leaf. They will have to leave.

He could tie the homeless to the balloons that will be released at the Super Bowl opening ceremonies. But how many balloons? And are there ecological considerations?

Mayor Lee’s Mother Knows Best
Discreetly (but not too discreetly) muffle a yawn. Get up and start cleaning up, doing the dishes, turning on lights.

Mayor Lee Knows It is an Election Year
With the defense slanted to prevent a run to the left, the offense runs to the right.

Mayor Lee Sees His Therapist
Some people push boundaries and create drama to feel they have power in their lives, his therapist says. You are demonstrating real power, which can feel threatening to them. They may feel hurt or scared. Let them have their feelings without trying to rescue them.

Mayor Lee Makes Good Progress in Therapy
He is letting them have their feelings.
He will take everything else.

Mayor Lee Reads History
What is the root cause of all our economic difficulties? It is the overpopulation of our territory.

Mayor Lee is a Public Servant
Mayor Lee is humble. He is a man of the people. He is made up of them. He is nothing but them, those new pioneers, the 21st Century gold diggers who have come to the west coast like those original prospectors in the spirit of manifest destiny. Dot commies, if you will. Das kommies. Consider it, he thinks, a consensual dictatorship. He is merely a figurehead dictator. He is a man of the people.

Mayor Lee Reads History
He pulled from the bag a … flute… Hordes of rats and mice followed the pipe’s sound, emerging in great masses from their holes in every corner of every house in the city. …the flute player … stepped into a boat and … rode to the middle of the stream. Irresistibly attracted to the music, the rats attempted to swim after him, but they all drowned. Thus Austria was saved.

Mayor Lee Takes a Ride on a Boat
The breeze ruffles his mustache as Mayor Lee enjoys stunning views of Alcatraz and Angel Island aboard the WW II ship SS Jeremiah O’Brien, capacity of 800.

Mayor Lee forms a Tactical Task Force
Mayor Lee giftwraps the flashbang stun grenades, the battering rams, the ballistic shields, and the flexi-cuffs. He monograms the body armor and protective helmets, and ties bows on the bags with eye wear, the knee pads, gloves and rappeling harnesses.

Mayor Lee Studies Bay Area Geography
Angel Island: Military forts, a Quarantine Station, and an Immigration Inspection and Detention facility. Capacity: 2,500 by day, sleeping accommodations for 1,000.

Alcatraz: Perhaps the best-known and most notorious of America’s prisons. Alcatraz is said to have no escapees. Capacity: 336 prisoners.

Yerba Buena Island: Former naval training station and current Coast Guard station. Current population: 1,250

Treasure Island: An artificial island built for the 1939 World’s Fair, then used as a naval station and aircraft facility. Current population: 1,250

He could build bathrooms, but it is cheaper to buy guards and checkpoints.

Mayor Lee Reads History
…their destruction… was … a thousand times more humane than the wretched insanity of our day which preserves the most pathological subject.

Mayor Lee Updates his Look
He shaves his mustache from the left. From the left. Then the right. He smiles. He looks rather like Charlie Chaplin.

Mayor Lee Gives a Speech
This year will go down in history. … Our streets will be safer, our poll-its-eye more eff-itz-scee-ent, and the world will follow our lead into the Zoo-koonft foalgen!

Willkommen nach Superbowl!

Written by

Like this piece? You’ll love the book of short stories, “Pretty Much Dead.” It is a fun romp through homelessness, gentrification, and mental illness. Buy now!

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