Tag Archives: Gentrification

No Me Gusta Col Rizada – A Short Story

Content Warning: This story contains mention of suicide. Reader discretion is advised. This is a work of fiction.

Photo by Cedric Letsch on Unsplash

In a little Italian neighborhood near the Coit Tower, a swath of green space invites families to sit on park benches with aesthetic spikes, keeping them empty. Some stray travelers use their time to read real books or eReaders; many play on their phones.  The locked public toilets hide behind green and gold painted metal – inaccessible monuments to the city ordinances against the homeless. On a light pole near the Washington Park toilets, hangs an Italian flag – acceptable ethnic pride in a city so focused on Pride.

Two large dogs – larger than their owners – try to distract each other by initiating play. The Bay’s blue water shimmers through the trees as Union Street heads downhill. Against a clear blue sky, the world maintains an invisible boundary: the city on one side, me on the other.

This boundary follows my neighbors when we enter stores, or avoids us on trains. It turns heads when I speak Spanish to those that speak it to me. It garners looks in even the Mission and Bernal Heights neighborhoods, depending on the street. Fuiste de mi vecina. Hablé el idioma de mi vecina. Planning outings, I hear people say they’re “just not comfortable taking public transit because of the people using it.” By “the people,” they mean anyone too poor to use Uber or Lyft – my neighbors, as they’re priced out of their homes. Anyone forced into homelessness by landlords taking advantage of the influx of affluent young people coming to the city, anyone hurt by those supporting and choosing to be part of the problem.

San Francisco culture obsesses over hustle and definitions of achievement, creating blinders for “focus.” I watch my coworkers and the people I thought I knew focus to the point of denying that anything bad ever happens here. They shun or punish those that dare try to draw their attention to something outside their minds. In our company’s Human Resources department, I watch as they “solve” problems by silencing employees that raise concerns rather than admitting any harassment incidents occur. The company wins workplace culture awards from a third party reviewer based on an employee survey none of us ever see.

My friends seek out cults of social acceptance on the weekends. Each event they attend promises their problems will go away and solve themselves with enough positivity (and denial). I hear them talk about the latest seminar over a group dinner. Mental illnesses are a mindset problem. Anxiety, depression, or anything else can only be solved by seeking out “your higher power” – the goals you wish to achieve rather than fall for this weakness. They discourage each other from seeking medical help. 

One friend throws himself in front of the commuter train. I imagine him, so positive that the only escape from the pain he felt powerless against was to throw himself in front of that train he shut down for four hours. His mother sobs over thousands of crackling miles of static and telephone lines. His mother lives in Vietnam. I meet her at SFO and pay for the Lyft to her hotel. We sit in silence in the back seat, and she reaches for my hand. “Sean was a good boy,” she whispers to me. I squeeze her hand, feeling the lump in my throat grow and choke out tears. She flies out two days later after collecting his remains and making arrangements for his belongings. I never hear about a funeral.

But the mantras continue for the others: yoga and kale cure everything, including major depressive episodes. Your higher power is what you wish to achieve. That causes people to throw themselves in front of trains. They tell me that I don’t understand. They tell me I’m not eating enough kale. I’m not doing enough yoga. In San Francisco, every conversation leads back to Yoga and Kale. No me gusta col rizada.

From the top of Twin Peaks, I gaze out at the sun reflecting off The Bay and compose my resignation letter. My brain can’t choose to ignore what I see. Closing my eyes, I imagine Sean with his mother – a pair I never saw in life. His beautiful mother, a refugee in America, now, a returned Việt Kiều, lives on without her son. Would my own parents return to the land that they fled? How far does this invisible boundary between water and sky extend? ¿Hasta dónde llegaría para echar agua en el mar?


If this story brought up any difficult feelings for you regarding suicide, please reach out to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 1-800-273-8255 (USA). They are also available to chat 24/7/365

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Advertising And Elephant Pants

I wrote the following essay in 2016 while living in San Francisco. At the time I did not own a car and used SFMTA as my primary mode of transportation. As a result, I saw a lot of advertisements. The following was an actual advertisement appearing on MUNI during the 2016 Super Bowl. Some names have been changed to protect anonymity.

This was a real advertisement – I was *not* kidding

Advertising And Elephant Pants

On my way home I stare at an advertisement on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s L train. A man with crooked eye teeth smiles and poses with hands relaxing on his hips. “Sasha” declares in the poster’s bold white block lettering that he is at peace with who he is and his HIV status. Everything about the ad is well done. I applaud the San Francisco AIDS Foundation for exemplifying Sasha C. both as a non-white HIV positive man and a passionate activist without overplayed stereotypes that may distract the oblivious straight person. Even the maroon henley shirt is buttoned at the perfectly ambiguous level between those stereotypes so often played up in the Castro where the train stops. Yet, his pants’ pockets catch me off guard.

I fixate on this baffling criticism: his pants pockets. I admit a relationship between this and his crotch’s positioning at my exact eye level. These khaki pants have flaps over the front pockets – already unusual. In Sasha’s picture, he has snapped the pockets’ flaps for open-pocket accessibility. This seems logical because why would anyone snap and close the front pocket flaps of cargo-style khaki pants in the first place? Oh sure, it might deter the novice sleight-of-hand thief, but front pockets rarely experience the joys of anything beyond pocket change or keys. But the flaps could also snap to close these front pockets giving his crotch its very own pair of dumbo ears. How appropriate for an awkward glance in an exceptionally reflective urinal when one needs to take a leak. I’m sure the unused snaps to hold the flaps open make delightful eyes! But, with the flaps snapped open the fabric pulls taut across his lap, giving him anatomy that competes with Ken dolls. Sasha is now an innovator in using khakis to demasculinize himself in one fell, two-snap swoop.

Perhaps the photographer figured lacking anatomy aided in the goal to subvert stereotypes. These missing stereotypes are the ones that when present seem to inspire the “straight” community’s assault, murder, and abuse of the LGBTQA+ community across the United States. Even in San Francisco, we must try not to play up the stereotypes attached to us if we are to be seen outside of our designated neighborhoods, such as Bernal Heights or the Castro. Within the safety of the Castro, a few men walk around in nothing but fully sequined socks of silver and gold tying it all together as a prominent display that draws the eye. This behavior emerged after San Francisco outlawed full nudity except during events such as San Francisco Pride and the Castro Street Fair. I prefer full nudity – at least then the neighborly nudists do not draw eyes away from the charismatic faces I adore so much. 

This caters to tourists, and subversive efforts are necessary since the city keeps asking the Castro to “gay the place up” in its capitalist efforts. With a confusing mix of pride and profit, our neighborhoods comply. Now, the Castro has rainbow crosswalks, flashing rainbow signs, and even a string of rainbow lights on the light rail station’s escalators, yet fewer than 55% of newcomers to the neighborhood identify as members of the LGBTQA+ community as of 2015 according to Castro & Upper Market Retail Strategy. Even during the 2016 Super Bowl signs in the light rail stations lure unsuspecting tourists away from Fisherman’s Wharf to the melodic, dancing tones of the Midnight Sun where Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. These signs ask why they could possibly want to stare at sea lions when they could pet real bears? But the tourists don’t see what I see. Every morning I wake up to go running, dodging the used needles littering the side streets until needle exchange volunteers pick them up and help the homeless find somewhere else to spend their days before the police arrive to do the same. Why is it that it’s on our shrinking neighborhood community to do anything to help each other with compassion while the city and landlords profit?

Now, besides having differing unsympathetic fashion taste to Sasha’s utilitarian khaki needs, the pockets of these pants distract me from the beautiful purpose of this advertisement. Instead, I spend a twenty-minute train ride mesmerized by the horrific potential of the pants for impromptu inappropriate puppeteering. These pockets of penile peek-a-boo are at eye level to an SFMTA patron seated on the train. When Sasha says “at peace with who he is”, does this mean he is at peace with his love of odd fashion statements? His love of elephants? Maybe he loves snap closure pockets. All I can do is smile at the advertisement – one of the few representing a member of my community without trying to sell a thing.


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