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Gift of the Magus 

It's nice to think the right presents could make this a merry holiday season. Nice, but not particularly wise.

Wednesday, Dec 19 2001
This November and December promise to constitute San Francisco's Merriest Holiday Season Ever. At the very least, it will be merrier than either the 1992 or 1995 season, when there were 16 and 45 confirmed suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge, respectively.

What with anti-terrorist National Guard troops lurking in the bushes around the Bridge Cafe, anti-al Qaeda police bicycle patrols rolling along the bridge walkway, and an anti-suitcase-borne-nuclear-device Humvee in the parking lot just to the span's northwest, the dramatically depressed will likely reconsider leaping to a watery death. "If a person knows they're being watched, they're going to think twice," says Robert M. Guernsey, chairman of Citizens for a Safe Golden Gate Bridge. "But you know good and well, it only takes two seconds to jump from the bridge."

I suppose an aspiring GGB suicide might exchange the depressed person's wrinkled sweat suit for a pressed, flowered pinafore, skip gaily along the walkway with nary a hint of suspicious-looking anguish, then abruptly plunge into the bay. But wouldn't that ruin the aesthetics of a Golden Gate Bridge suicide?

Because it appeared so likely to be happy and suicide-free, this holiday seemed to call for delightful goodies under the Christmas tree. With a carol in my heart, I set out to compile San Francisco's Merriest-ever Holiday Gift Guide.

The Direct Marketing Association Inc. seemed to magically know this would be the Merriest Holiday Season Ever, and that I would need to do something about it. The association delivered a 16.6-pound box of retail catalogs to the SF Weekly Enterprises door.(1)

Astonished, I spoke with Amy Blankenship, who's appeared on Good Morning America as director of the Shop at Home Network.

"You sent us 17 pounds of catalogs," I said. "Why?"

"We thought we would put this together in a convenient package for the holiday season," Blankenship explained.

Convenient? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Service, if Blankenship's catalogs were a holiday turkey, and SF Weekly's offices were preheated to 325 degrees, it would take 4 1/2 hours to cook them.

It was starting to seem like I might have to create a holiday gift guide without the help of PR flacks when I discovered the following in my e-mail inbox:

"The BE A PILOT Introductory Flight Lesson would be a great addition to a story on unique holiday gift ideas," public relations specialist Gary Beckett wrote. "That's because the BE A PILOT Introductory Flight Certificate makes a great last-minute stocking stuffer. There is nothing quite so exciting as pulling back on the controls and guiding a private plane skyward as it lifts off the runway, or making turns while taking in the breathtaking view from inside the cockpit."

With sugarplums flying through my head, I called Father Joe Meinhart, pastor at St. Thomas More University Parish, in Norman, Okla., home of the world-famous Airman Flight School. Sadly, Meinhart wasn't in a mood for chatting about stocking stuffers.

"There's fear that people are being arrested for guilt by association. People are afraid to visit people who are in jail, show any kind of support or anything," said Meinhart, who had been visiting students jailed following INS sweeps of Norman. The sweeps began after the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, the flight student indicted last week on murder conspiracy charges related to the Sept. 11 attacks. "This is the first time anything like this has happened here. People are afraid to go home for the holidays because they might not be able to get back into the country."

Having friends who've taken flight lessons -- or even having a vague ethnic resemblance to certain aspiring pilots -- is perhaps the least desirable distinction in America right now. Acquaintances of Moussaoui, who stands accused of being part of the plot to attack the World Trade Center, have been rounded up by the FBI and held as material witnesses. The INS has followed with a broader sweep, jailing anyone whose appearance suggests they're of Middle Eastern or South Asian ancestry.

I called Gary Beckett, the PR specialist who sent me the flight-lessons-as-stocking-stuffer e-mail, to ask whether his was actually a good idea.

"Unfortunately those with evil intentions can use that for evil means. But for the 19 people who did that, there are thousands who are doing it for the usual reasons," Beckett said. "It's designed for someone who's thought about taking flight instruction in the past but never acted on this desire."

World events being what they are, I'd just as soon people didn't act on their desires during this holiday season.

Beginning to feel a bit desperate for gift ideas, my mind started to reel; I began staring into space, I started feeling funny, and peculiar notions oozed into my mind. It felt like ... weed! The San Francisco Board of Supervisors kicked off the 2001 yuletide season by declaring San Francisco a medical marijuana sanctuary. It would be almost humbuggish not to take the supervisors up on their idea and give your special someone a kilo of Humboldt County's finest, or for weird Uncle Harry an ounce of Acapulco Gold.

I called a supe for advice. As bad luck would have it, I chose the only supervisor who voted against last month's sanctuary measure.

"It's nothing but political posturing," said Tony Hall. "For me that's too politically correct and cute. We're saying, "Hey, rest of the world, we're more politically correct than the rest of the country: We're a saan-ctuu-aaar-eee.'"

Hall's position sounded reasonable. But had the good supervisor ever tried pot?

Hall: "If that were the issue, I'd state it."

SF Weekly: "But can't you just say whether you've ever tried pot?"

Hall: "That's my answer."

SFW: "But the question was whether you've ever smoked marijuana."

Hall: "My answer was, and I'm sure you respect that it was, that I don't want to use San Francisco as any sort of sanctuary."

SFW: "I know. But have you ever tried pot?"

Hall: "When the issue comes up whether supervisors smoked marijuana, I'll comment on it."

As much as I wanted SF Weekly readers to deck the halls with doobies, it seemed the 2001 Matt Smith Guide to Holiday Giving would have to Just Say No. There's no fun, after all, in giving Christmas gifts your loved ones won't admit using.

Knowing it is a fount of information, I turned to Craig's List, an online community, for better gift ideas and found what seemed like the thoughtfullest gift ever: the opportunity for that special someone to become a starlet.

"European Adult Film Production is looking for uninhibited, preferably amateur/beginner females of all ages," the advertisement said. "Casting compensation paid, production pays $1,500 per day for actual shoot. Please email for casting and production details."

I requested more information. Someone named Franz obliged.

"The photographer will take stills of you in various solo poses and stage some of the scenarios of the actual film series," Franz said in an e-mail. "You will have to show your ability to perform sexual actions in front of the camera. You will be compensated for the casting with a flat fee of $100 to cover your expenses."

It seemed clear that Franz was also anticipating the Merriest Yuletide Ever. I phoned him wondering if he really, truly expected laid-off dot-com workers to have sex at his place while he took pictures of them, then leave him the negatives -- all for $100.

Franz: "That depends on the ladies themselves. Whatever they want to do. I'm not telling them to do anything."

SF Weekly: "So that means they have to have sex?"

Franz: "That would help, yeah."

SFW: "With whom?"

Franz: "The company is supposed to send an actor to be in the auditions. He's supposed to act in the movie. He hasn't arrived yet."

SFW: "But you've set up "auditions' for this week. Who's going to be having the sex?"

Franz: "Well, yes. I'm going to have one tomorrow. I'll be taking photographs."

SFW: "So will you be having sex?"

Franz: "If this guy's not going to arrive on time, and they still want pictures of ladies, yes, I will do that."

If nothing else, a loved one could become the subject of a delightful holiday jingle titled "I Saw Mommy Having Sex With a Strange German Man for $100, Then Leaving Him With Photos Potentially Worth Thousands of Dollars to Internet Sex Sites."(2)

I asked my friends about their own Christmas shopping plans. Like everybody else's friends in San Francisco, they're broke.

"How about pieces of sod stolen from Yerba Buena Gardens?" one offered helpfully.

There are lots of abandoned building sites around; what about rain-soaked lumber? another kindly suggested. Some convenience stores will sell discounted senior/disabled Muni passes without checking ID, another warmly proffered.

I started worrying whether it was going to be such a great Christmas after all.

The economy is falling apart, and our president says we should cheer up by shopping. He, meanwhile, deficit-spends our country toward oblivion. America lives a nerve-wracking moment of insecurity, and our Justice Department responds by terrorizing the countryside with arbitrary mass arrests. San Francisco suffers mass unemployment, and our politicians fiddle with dope sanctuary symbolism.

That Franz may find takers for his sleazy enterprise is perhaps the most telling indicator of our yuletide malaise. Following the economic collapse of the former Eastern bloc, the porn industry there exploded thanks to a surfeit of desperate women. Cuba's post-Soviet collapse flooded Havana's streets with prostitutes. And in 2001 San Francisco, Franz may get laid.

It's enough to make one skip jauntily across the Golden Gate Bridge.3

1 The Direct Marketing Association has sent 450 of these boxes to reporters, something it's been doing since 1987. At the current weight per package, that's 52 tons of catalogs, or the weight of an M-48A3 Main Battle Tank. http://

(2) Karaoke-fan readers can find a MIDI version of this song's music at

(3) For readers truly concerned that this will be the most horrifying Christmas since Richard Nixon and Vietnam, some earnest gift ideas:

You could send a donation in a loved one's name to the 2002 congressional campaign of Martha Fuller Clark, a graduate of Oakland's Mills College who currently serves as the assistant Democratic leader in the New Hampshire Legislature. She is one of a handful of candidates who could determine whether the House of Representatives remains in Republican hands.

At, a $50,000 matching grant triples donations made to Dads and Daughters, Public Campaign, the Emergency Housing Consortium, and La Casa de las Madres. GiveForChange sends a gift card to let recipients know about gifts made in their names.

San Francisco's legion of gay-friendly churches stand to become important oases in narrower-minded times, and they'd surely welcome holiday donations. Among these are Dolores Street Baptist Church, Bethany United Methodist Church, Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco, City of Refuge Ministries, and First Congregational Church of San Francisco.

About The Author

Matt Smith


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