Thursday, August 12, 2010

9 days to Bar Mitzvah: your name in lights

The first time I saw my name in print I got all goose-bumpy, which seems endearingly innocent and clueless 19 years later. It was atop a story I'd written, a sourceless rant, really, for a 24-page newsprint 'zine called "Big Whoop," that two friends of mine had started in their Lower Haight Street apartment. They printed 10,000 copies, put them in coffee houses and bars. Then we had a party and all sat back and waited for our careers in journalism to begin. It was the spring of 1991.

Since then, I've seen my name in newspapers and magazines well over 1,000 times, and have made about as much money out of simply making stuff up and writing it down -- or listening to someone else make stuff up and then writing it down so they sound smart -- as I would have earned in a year had I gone to law school. Having my name show up in stuff people read is still pretty cool. It would be cooler if my name was "Pete," but I make due.

A few times, when I was either writing way too much for a publication or, recently, having to write stuff I thought sucked, like a thousand words on a Ford dealership or a glowing review of a sushi restaurant that sucks and has a questionable commitment to hygiene, I use a fake name. Paying homage to my old friend and semi-mentor Bill Crandall, I use a name he used when he wrote for his own 'zine in 1991.

Bill Crandall went on to become an editor for Rolling Stone. While he has never been forced to write 1,000 words about Serramonte Ford, I have seen pictures on his Facebook page of him playing softball with the Jonas Brothers, which, if we're going ot pretend it's possible to get through your adult life without sacrificing most of the things that were important when you were 21, is only slightly less heinous of an event.

You could say that I've become calloused at seeing my name in print. In the nineteen years since Ken Dunque rapped on my one-bedroom apartment door, then shoved the first copy of "Big Whoop" in my face when I opened it up, only a few stories stand out. They're outnumbered by the number of times I've gotten really excited about something -- a possible story, a new publication who wants me to write for them -- only to have the whole thing blow up in my face or quietly fade away without a word. It's not like I've been on Oprah like Po Bronson or established myself as a professor of creative writing, like Tom Beirowski, who always wrote stories about his experiences in Catholic seminary, or even become an editor at Rolling Stone.

Still, my face shows up in a part of a semi-major metropolitan newspaper every Sunday and I get to write about pretty much whatever I want, unless one of the sales team decides that something I've written might hamper their efforts to attract clients. It's not ideal, but at least two people I haven't seen in 25 years have found me via the San Francisco Examiner over the past three years.

And yet, all of it -- every half-hearted but earnest attempt at fame -- pales when you consider the fate of anyone who tries to park on the 00 block of Market Street next Friday and Saturday. Most of the area is a no parking zone anyway, but next weekend, anyone who tries to flaunt the law has to answer to me. However cavalier they are about parking, when they exit their vehicle they will find a series of signs, clearly marked "NO PARKING." Above that will they see the name of a construction firm? The city department of parking and traffic?

No. They will see my name. For it is me that has decreed there will be no parking on Market Street next Friday and Saturday. And if they don't like it, if they are able to shrug off my obvious authority, putting their petty needs above mine, I will simply whip out my Driod and call the number printed at the bottom of my "No Stopping" permit. Within minutes, I'm told, their vehicle will be towed. Game over.

What does it take to wield such power? A simple two-and-a-half-hour trip to the Hall of Justice, three separate trips through the metal detector, the total indifference of the woman working the desk at Room 458 (Permits), a short, angry scolding from a policewoman working the phones at the Southern Station, who then disappears for ten minutes and returns with Sgt. Gutierrez and then, finally, the complete, undivided attention of Gutierrez, who has been on vacation in Mexico for the past week and was drunk "at least half of the time."

Let me sing the praises of Sgt. Gutierrez, because planning a Bar Mitzvah, especially at this late of a date, requires almost constant interaction with people who work in the service industry, and not everyone is cut out to work in the service industry, which doesn't prevent people from signing up anyway. By the time I reached Sgt. Gutierrez, I'd already spent two hours of my day navigating seemingly simple tasks that were complicated to the point of psychotic break by automated customer services systems and ambivilent service reps which, combined with a Jawa who awoke at 10:48 on the wrong side of the bed, had me longing for the relative calm of my old Examiner cubicle -- even though it faced the wall, leaving me vulnerable to anyone who wanted to sneak up and scare the daylights out of me).

Thanks to Sgt. Gutierrez, the citizens of San Francisco and their guests will now know the awesome power I can wield. They can ignore my keen weekly real estate observations all they want; if they want to park anywhere between 50 and 98 Market Street next Friday and Saturday, they're going to have to get through me first.

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