Laughing All the Way to the Gallows and the Poorhouse

Exchange of emails

From:Rockwell, Editor, LRC To:Blumert, Former LRC satirist

Where is the funny article you promised about all the bursting bubbles in San Francisco?

From:Blumert To:Rockwell

Well, I’ve accumulated a few one-liners like: Did you hear about the former dotcom billionaire who begs in downtown Mountain View with a sign that reads, "I Work For Gigabytes"?

Or, when I called the movie theatre to find out when the feature started, the voice asked, "What time would you like to get here, sir?"

Or, things are so bad in California that my bank returned a check stamped "Insufficient Funds. Us not you."

I realize this is some of my funniest material ever, Lew, but don’t you think it’s tasteless (this, even more than usual) to jest about people’s suffering, particularly with a bloody war on prime time TV as a backdrop?

From:Rockwell To:Blumert

If we are supposed to laugh all the way to the gallows, we can certainly laugh all the way to the poorhouse.

In deference to my editor, note the title of this piece.

All we needed in San Francisco is a war. As if the economy wasn’t disastrous enough. Tourism, the number one industry, is a vague memory to most. Cab drivers and hotel doormen are plundering one another just to stay in practice.

Things are so bad for the fast-food restaurants that they even rolled out the red carpet for the antiwar demonstrators and the National Guardsmen who came to town last week.

The antiwar event was hardly mentioned in the media, but police admitted that the crowd was the largest in San Francisco in 30 years. The anti-war kids looked pretty much like their Vietnam War ancestors, and like those ancestors are totally sound on war, but illiterate when it comes to economics.

As for the Guardsmen, I had the impression they were in town to earn their Crowd-Suppression Merit Badges.

To McDonald’s and other one star restaurants, these visitors were as hungry as regular tourists, although not quite as fashionable.

McDonald’s was quick to put several new specials on the griddle:

"The Dissent Burger" — Half-price in case you’re arrested in the middle of eating it.

"The Iraq Burger" — The usual pickle, onion, and special dressing on a poppy seed bun, all covered with a layer of sand.

Just as San Francisco prospered more than other American cities during the "Nostalgic 90s," it now sinks into an even more profound despair. If there’s "a broken-heart for every light on Broadway," there has to be a "shattered mother-board for every cybernik in Silicon Valley." (I haven’t the foggiest idea of the meaning of what I just said.)

I must admit the pervasive gloom hanging over Northern California is almost too much, even for a hardened gold dealer.  Our own Jeff Tucker helped me through it all:  His guidance in reminding that the collapse of "bubbles" built on excess, corruption and loss of values should be celebrated.

Here follows some of my notes while searching out those bursting bubbles requested by my editor.

As a suburbanite I don’t get to San Francisco often, but last month I made the trip and decided to dine at my favorite restaurant, Stars. In the old days, you had to reserve months in advance, but with things so quiet in the City now, surely I might be able to squeeze in at the counter.

I drove up to the valet, advising the young attendant that we had no reservation and that he could have the car if he thought we would be served.

Puzzled, he turned to his associate: (The following is a translation from the Spanish):

First attendant: Can you believe this gringo asking for a reservation? He must be from another planet. Should I tell him that you haven’t needed a reservation in any restaurant in town for over three years?

Second attendant: What do you expect from someone driving a Saturn?

After exacting a pledge that he would not scratch our 4-wheeled beauty, my wife and I entered the restaurant and there was not one other customer. Not one!

The food was OK, but it was like the final meal before an execution. At one point, I slurped my soup and the sound bounced from wall to wall, resonating for a full 30 seconds.

Stars closed for good last month. We may have been one of the last to pay final respects.

The landlord at my office building is a gentle fellow from Taiwan, and I was surprised to receive a luncheon invitation from him. It was clear he had important matters on his mind.

We dined at his favorite restaurant, the Tokyo House. (Dennis is proud to demonstrate that he has overcome the prejudices of his ancestors). After we finished the last of the sliced, dead, cold fish, he announced the purpose of our meeting.

Landlord: Mr. B, he calls me. (He can’t say Blumert; it comes out "Bwumert"). Your lease is up for renewal in a few months and I have a pleasant surprise. I’m building you a sauna and a wet bar. Also, my wife will be bringing tea everyday at 3 o’clock and one of the building’s elevators will be for your use only.

Blumert: Dennis, that’s all very nice, but you don’t have to do all that.

I’m not about to move. And I’m happy to renew.

When I signed the new lease, Dennis hosted a party that lasted 4 days and the ambassador from Taiwan presented me with honorary citizenship to that energetic little country.

(Dennis owns several office buildings and they are 70 percent vacant)

When I got home that night I remembered having saved a transcript from my last lease negotiations with him. Things were very different in those days.

Dotcommers were renting every available foot of office space in return for stock in their companies. Everybody was getting richer by the minute. Old-fashioned businesses, like mine, were not the most desirable tenants.

Transcript of Lease Negotiations 1999

(He had me wait for 2 hours in a room with no windows).

Landlord: Bwumert, you have ten minutes to convince me to renew your lease with only a 50-percent increase in rent.

Blumert: Dennis, I’ve been a loyal tenant for 15 years. Frankly, I don’t even understand this new lease. For example, why are clauses 7-11 in Chinese?

And you can’t be serious in Par. 1: "All building tenants must attend daily Tai Chi exercises at 7 a.m. in the building parking lot"?

Well, I guess I can live with everything, Dennis, but I draw the line at changing our name from Camino Coin to Chiang Kai-shek Coin Company.

If there’s a plus to San Francisco’s economic woes, it’s that all those traffic jams are a memory. You can now drive from San Francisco to San Jose without even slowing down. Unfortunately, the price of a gallon of gas in the Bay Area is $2.60. I find myself looking at the fuel indicator as I drive along.

Which reminds me of my very first date: It was the Junior Prom and I picked her up in a taxi. (Limos were reserved for funerals in those days). As we were driving along, the pretty young thing asked me what the time was. Clearly distracted, with eyes glued to the taxi-meter, I responded, "It’s $1.25."