November 2003

As Kimberly Guilfoyle-Newsom pursues her career as an anchor on CNN, a job best done in New York or L.A., does this bode ill for the Newsom marriage, and if so, does that effect Newsom’s chances to be mayor? For good or ill? As Jane Ganahl reports in her often silly column, women vote for the guy they think is hot. If Newsom were available, would that get him more votes? Yeah, I don’t think so. In fact, I think Gonzales suffers because of his accessibility. Some people don’t want to think that someone they know, or have drinks with, could be mayor. They want an authoritative, wise old man to be their doctor, pilot, government official or god.

Apparently, there are a significant number of young, seemingly liberal San Franciscans who are so unhappy about the homeless problem here that they are willing to elect someone who promises to “do something” about the problem, regardless of what that something is. I had this conversation last night, comparing Newsom to Gonzales, after a scrumptious Thanksgiving dinner. One person was shockingly willing to admit that he just wanted the homeless people to go elsewhere, and didn’t really care much about providing food or shelter to them. At least the honesty was refreshing. The others were simply unable to look beyond the candidate’s promise to “do something” as opposed to “do something right”. On one hand, if typical, this is an indictment of democracy, and the ability of voters to really understand policy choices, and to indicate a preference. On the other hand, it could be an indictment of the San Francisco establishment, that has let the homeless problem get so bad, and neglected it for so long, that voters want to reject anything that smells like the status quo.

I’m working on the redesign of my site and I’m pretty pleased with it so far. I’m having trouble adding the capability for comments, but I’m working on it. Hopefully I’ll finish it up this weekend.

Can anyone explain why millionaire Robert Durst was acquitted? This man’s first wife disappeared. His spokesperson was gunned down. When Durst was wanted for questioning, he went into hiding. He was living in a $300/month apartment and dressing like a woman. He then got into an altercation with and killed his neighbor, chopped the body up and dumped it in the bay. After being caught, he went on the lam, was arrested stealing a sandwich and was held pending trial. But the jury acquitted him. Is it really all money, and if so, what are these lawyers doing with the money that the rest of us aren’t doing? This is why all our clients think that we’ve given them ineffective assistance of counsel, because you’ve got lawyers like this who win these impossible-looking cases.

This is a Thanksgiving essay by my friend Ethan. For more, visit his web page on Urban Tribes.

Not at Home for the Holidays

���Years ago, when we were young and new to the city, we called them “orphan Thanksgiving dinners.” We were beginning our careers, scraping by as artists or working as waiters and we often couldn’t afford the expense or time to make it back to family for the holiday. At the beginning of November those who knew they would be stranded in town spread the word and one by one friends of friends would make themselves known. When Thanksgiving Day rolled around the card tables placed end to end could not hold us all and many would be forced to couches and the edges of beds to balance paper plates on our knees.

���The dinner was always potluck and there was always too much food. One year a table actually collapsed under the weight of the offerings. Many of us tried to recreate the tastes of our childhoods in our efficiency kitchens. We called home for family recipes, the more ironic the better. Someone would bring an elaborate Jell-O dish with Cool Whip and canned pineapple or a sweet potato casserole with mini-marshmallows. These dishes were partly spoofs on our middle class suburban upbringings but they were often eaten first because they reminded us of home.

���After dinner a few friends would bring out their guitars or we’d read a play someone had been working on with each of us taking a part. We took rambling walks through the strangely calm city. There were more calls home to mothers for advice on how to remove wine or gravy stains from the couch. The celebration would stretch into the night. No one wanted to go back to his or her apartment alone.

������It was years ago that we called those gatherings “orphan Thanksgiving dinners.” Something about them changed as my friends and I reached our late twenties and early thirties. The celebrations became more formal. The paper plates and coffee mugs were replaced with real, breakable dishes and matching wine glasses. Rituals formed over the years. Friends now wrote songs and rehearsed plays specifically to be performed at Thanksgiving. The after dinner walk had a specific route through the park.

���Our tastes became sophisticated, as did our cooking skills and the once haphazard potlucks turned into multi-course feasts. There would be portabella mushrooms stuffed with Brie cheese and artichoke hearts and butternut squash risotto with shavings of black truffle. A few up-and-coming gourmands became serious about their sauces. The yearly pie contest became brutally competitive. (Although there were half a dozen blue ribbons from “Best Crust” to “Most Creative Use of Fruit.”) There was still too much to eat but one of us had bought a house with a dining room and a sturdy oak table that could seat us all and handle the weight of the food.

���But those weren’t the changes that mattered. What mattered was this: We could now afford the time and travel expense to make it home to our kin but we chose not to. More precisely, the very idea of where home was had changed in our minds. What had begun as an affiliation of friends of friends – a stopgap measure to support us during our time living outside of family — had become the central social structure in our big city lives.

���Looking back at my twenties, I can now picture us as explorers in a new social landscape where it was suddenly the norm for both men and women to spend ten or more years living single, far away from our families and hometowns. No one told us that we were going to delay marriage longer than any generation in American History and no one gave us a map for how to navigate that time. Faced with the social wilderness of the city we slowly forged communities among our friends. Years ago we gathered haphazardly because we could not make it home to family. This Thanksgiving, my friends and I will come together reverently with a desire to honor our group with this particular holiday. We give thanks for this self-made community and for the certainty that we are orphans no longer.

My friend Ethan Watters’ book, Urban Tribes, is now out in bookstores. See if you can spot my incendiary quotes in the text! His website is at