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Age of Bile 

A nonprofit that's resolved our disputes for decades faces financial crisis

Wednesday, Oct 11 2000
Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny.
-- Shakespeare, Hamlet

I just checked my New Times/SF Weekly copy of Roget's Complete Columny, and it says opinion writers just returning from two-week "vacations" (as I am) automatically get one mailbag column -- on the condition they promise to work the following week. So, in the words of a famous-saying guy whose name I'll look up next week: "Genitori, Genitoque Laus et jubilatio, Salus, honor, virtus quoque."(1)

What's more, my mailbag has plumped quite nicely during the last couple of weeks. Our first epistolary acquaintance, Krissy Keefer, lives in ... well, she doesn't say where she lives. But Krissy's e-mail address is, and she begins her letter not with a greeting, but in a sporting motif:

Matt Smith Take Your Balls and Go Home
Matt actually hates the left and women because his parents (see "March Madness," Aug. 30) spent too much time at demonstrations and rallys and did not watch him go "potty" enough or perhaps his wife just left him for another woman because she actually could find her clitoris. I am speculating of course but so is he, only I am really smart and he is dumber than dog shit. His pathetic columns demands [sic] no real serious response. I'd say
Boycott the Weekly but really why bother??
Krissy Keefer

Dearest Krissy,
Gosh, that wasn't a very nice thing to say. I have a little trick I use sometimes, where I don't say anything at all, unless I'm thinking kind thoughts. Would you like to try my trick? After all, Krissy, as a saying-guy (um, saying-person?) once said: You kill more bugs with honey than with mean stuff.
Matt Smith

Our next correspondent, Brian J. Doherty, says he lives in a high-rent district. Oddly, Brian doesn't say which one. Still, he helpfully explains that he can be reached at, and launches his letter, Krissy-like, sans greeting.

As for Matt Smith and his thinly "reasoned" pro-landlord, pro-Brown, pro-RBA blowjobs to the establishment, I'm mailing him some kneepads. The Weekly sure comes in handy lately for free toilet paper after I've paid my exorbitant rent.

Dear Brian,
You're not going to get your thinly disguised sexual insinuations past me. You're obviously not trying to offer helpful criticism. Like a frizzy-haired television-exercise guy once sort of said: "I'll bet when you had to spell "snotty' in the spelling bee, you got a perfect score."
Matt Smith

Our next correspondent ... actually, our next correspondent can go potty, for all I care. And for that matter, why does everybody seem so darned mean these days?

It seems that San Francisco, brilliant jewel poised at continent's western edge, geological and existential vanguard of all that is fresh and new, is surging toward an Age of Bile. Our political debates consist of two-year-veteran scummy yuppie newcomer types haranguing against new-arrival scummy yuppie types. Transit riders hate drivers -- Muni, taxi, or Lexus. Motorists kill and terrorize pedestrians at such a rate that the term "traffic accident" is now punctuated with a wink and a nudge. Renters hate owners. Bohemians hate geeks.

Our emerging epoch of enmity is beginning to seem so dire, so oppressive -- so downright dangerous -- that I felt compelled to abandon my mailbag, and pay a visit to Chuck Regal, program director at the Community Boards of San Francisco.

Community Boards, at Market and Van Ness, is a quarter-century-old program devoted to mediating conflicts among neighbors, roommates, family -- anyone willing to iron things out privately, rather than go to court. If Hendrick is angry because Kwan's dog shat on Hendrick's lawn, Community Boards is there to help them talk things out. If tenant Ardwelk spends his nights dreaming about the cool, crisp click his Glock .22 will make as he offs harassing landlord Emileleux,(2,2a) Community Boards is there to help ask the Roberta Flack question, "Where Is the Love?"(3)

And perhaps, find an answer.

After spending some time at the Community Boards offices talking to conflict mediators, I am pretty well convinced that San Francisco is indeed becoming an increasingly bitter Baghdad by the Bay. And when I pose the Roberta Flack question to Regal, he doesn't wax metaphysical; he offers practical warnings of an impending storm. He's witnessed, in detail, more than 400 petty disputes during the past decade and a half.

San Francisco was never a very neighborly city, explains Regal, a thin, earnest man who moves about a room gently, as if not to provoke. "San Francisco isn't like other places. Neighbors don't get to know each other," Regal says. "People live next to each other 15 years and don't speak to each other. In other places, neighbors can just talk with each other, and there's not that conflict level there."

Petty disputes here once centered largely around lawns and dog poop. But there's something new on the San Francisco disputation scene. A side effect of the dot-com boom -- the horrid distortion of San Francisco's real estate market -- has apparently spawned a whole new realm of mean. Back in the halcyon days of, say, 1997, when shared-apartment dwellers' thoughts turned to garrotes and knives, they enjoyed the option of getting a grip on themselves and moving on, which usually means moving out.

No more.

Now, Regal and his mediators are seeing an explosion in a kind of case where strangers meet, find shelter together, and then embark upon the darkest journey of their mortal lives. Now, if you're a roommate in a rent-controlled space for a few years, moving out means doubling or tripling the rent you pay. So roommates who despise one another can't separate their living conditions for months, or even years.

Just last month I received an invitation to an "exorcism" party, celebrating the long-awaited departure of a hated roommate. It seems the hated one had the annoying habit of becoming unemployed and smoking dope in the house, 17 hours a day. This had been the subject of a nearly two-year-long feud with his two involuntarily stoned roommates. They named the party celebrating the roommate's departure "The Thing That Finally Left." (The poor fellow moved to Los Angeles.)

About The Author

Matt Smith


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