Sunday, September 18, 2005


San Francisco has been, for a while now, home to a plethora of homeless people, each one of them living proof of the management inefficiency of a city that claims to be a forward thinking beacon of humanitarianism. Sadly enough, one more has died on September 7th of this year. Jesse Zele was 59 years old and lived on a bench. Eventhough he won't be the last homeless person to litterally die in the gutters of the City by the Bay, the San Francisco Chronicle has decided it was befitting to eulogize him. Here are some excerpts from this morbid pice of slow day reporting:
"Everybody knew him by sight as a sweet little man," said Cristal Guderjahn, a Noe Valley resident. "Until today, I didn't even know his name." Like many people who stopped by the bench to look at the flowers and read the notes, Guderjahn said she regrets that she didn't get to know this person who was as much a part of the neighborhood as coffeehouses and baby strollers. "He once asked me if I thought a certain woman could ever be interested in a man like him," said a teary-eyed Judy Wyatt, standing before the bench. "I told him that the right kind of woman would fall in love with his soul." Wyatt said that Jesse was overjoyed one day when she handed him a flamenco guitar as a gift. "First, he asked if I was sure I wanted to give him this, and when I said yes, he said, 'God will honor you in heaven.' " Many people didn't know that Jesse was homeless. "He greeted everyone by name, he didn't ask for money, and he was always well groomed," said Susan Bragagnolo, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1991. "He was so sweet." Looking at the elaborate makeshift memorial, which has been in place for more than a week, she said, "You wonder if this is in part out of guilt. It certainly is a reminder to slow down." A few people felt close enough to call him a friend. There were shopkeepers who hired him to wash windows. And there were locals who took him in from time to time, offering him a bed in a basement, a couch in the living room or a holiday meal. Kay Lamming, manager of a shop called Cotton Basics, knew Jesse for 15 years. She had noticed him washing car windows and asked if he'd wash the store windows. "He was just someone you would absolutely trust," she said. "He was a happy person, even when his living situation was up in the air, even when his health grew precarious." She talked with him almost every day. He received his mail at her store. "He would get postcards from all over the world," Lamming said with a smile. "They were always from people he met sitting there on his bench."
The good citizens of San Francisco knew enough about Jesse Zele to know his name or give him a guitar. They hired him to wash their windows. They thought enough about him to talk to him on their way to work or as they were going home. But did they care ? Not enough to even know he was homeless. Not enough to know anything about him that might have pushed them to take the man off the street and make him a true member of the community. Had he had a home, a job, a life, his window washing would have been more expensive, had he had time for it. His guitar playing might have been hidden from passers-by, tucked away between the four walls of the home nobody cared he didn't have. He was given a meal, invited into a home, and finally tossed back on the street. Just a little taste of what you'll never have, Jesse Zele... In essence, nobody really cared. San Francisco, this shining monument to the progressive struggle and liberal ideas, keeps on going, with a cost of living (and obviously a warped mentality) that will ensure that more Jesse Zeles will die on their benches, in the parks or on the plazas, after maybe having served the community as living potted plants and fodder for the local paper. Even most dogs in San Francisco have a home. Somehow, Jesse Zele didn't. But then again, no dogs made the newspaper when they died...