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Shed the Wealth: Philanthropy Meets Game Show Meets Twitter in S.F. 

Wednesday, Jun 4 2014

In Roald Dahl's The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, the eponymous Sugar found himself with more money than he knew what to do with. So, he opened his window and disseminated a pile of 20-pound notes; near-pandemonium in the streets below ensued.

In present-day nonfiction San Francisco, a self-proclaimed real estate sharpie with the Twitter handle @HiddenCash has disseminated cash-stuffed envelopes around this and other cities. Near pandemonium — and Twitpics of men and women lustily brandishing hundreds of found dollars — ensued.

A combination of excess cash and excess technology has enabled @HiddenCash to become a pioneer in high-tech low-brow wealth redistribution. But he does have antecedents in this town. A similarly mysterious benefactor this year made headlines by leaving gargantuan tips for servers. Pot impresario Dennis Peron is renowned for his generosity with both marijuana and moolah. Warren Hellman, of blessed memory, threw a massive bluegrass party for one and all in Golden Gate Park every year, and continues to do so from beyond the grave.

San Francisco Chronicle scribes have speculated the mystery giver of @HiddenCash is, in fact, spinning some manner of gimmick. But, in 1956, it was the Chronicle that spun a gimmick called "Emperor Norton's Treasure." After following a series of clues, two lucky guys dug up a gold medallion on Ocean Beach across the street from Playland at the Beach and were awarded the princely sum of $3,000. Less astute treasure-hunters misinterpreted the newspaper's sand-related hints and excavated the bunkers at municipal golf courses.

In The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, a policeman gives the title character a stern dressing-down regarding the fecklessness of tossing cash around. The cop suggests funding orphanages — and Sugar's life is changed.

Richard Marker isn't one for stern dressings-down. He's a longtime adviser to philanthropic funds and teaches would-be benefactors a course in effective philanthropy at New York University. His message to @HiddenCash: "Welcome to the philanthropic world. At some point, you're gonna step back and say, 'Have I actually done the good I was hoping to do?'"

Charitable giving, Marker continues, comes in three stages: compassion, strategy (is this working?), and systemic (is this addressing the overarching problems?). Marker describes @HiddenCash as being "at the entry point" of stage one.

At the conclusion of Dahl's fictional yarn, the Henry Sugar Orphanages become the world's finest. It remains to be seen what San Francisco's Sugar hopes to attain — or if he'll ever ascend to Marker's second and third stages.

"I played around with different ideas, and frankly, they were too complicated," he told the media. "I was thinking of a Survivor-type game."

Well, fair enough: #MissionAccomplished.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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