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From the Outside Looking In


By Alexa Llewellyn




March 3, 2003


In the Spirit of Jack Micheline

I am writing this on the fifth anniversary of Jack Micheline's death.

Micheline was a poet who lived in the Mission. Usually associated with the Beat Era, he really created his own genre and his own vision. Micheline wrote about the beauty and the ugliness of his world - of poverty - of love - of hate - of joy - of violence and of wonderment. Living in the Curtis Hotel on Valencia, he was proud that he "never sold out."

His last book was "Sixty-Seven Poems for Downtrodden Saints" (Editor: Matt Gonzalez, FMSBW, San Francisco, CA, 1999 - contact the Jack Micheline Foundation, PO Box 30153, Tucson, AZ 85751 or email vsilvaer@mindspring.com). This wonderful book is also available at the North Beach Branch library. Masterfully edited, it should be savored like a wonderful meal-full of laughter, flavor, tears, and joy.

I was thinking of Micheline when I read a recent front-page story about Gavin Newsom. It seems that Newsom didn't report $2.1 million loan from his friend Gordon Getty.

Lucky Newsom! I wish that all of my friends, and even my enemies, had friends who could lend them $2 million. May you, my dear reader, have a close friend who is willing to spot you $2.1 million. I also envy Gordon Getty - because he had $2 million to lend to a friend to make a couple of million dollars more for him. May we all someday be in that position!

Don't worry that Newsom won't be able to make the payments on this and the rest of his loans. Between 1996 and 2001, Newsom's annual income was $439,000. According to the SF Chronicle on Feb. 23, most of his income came from wages and dividends from the same Getty-backed concerns.

Unfortunately, approximately 15% of all San Franciscans make less than $8.50 per hour. According to the Economic Policy Institute, wages for the bottom10% wage earners fell by 9.3% between 1979 and 1999. The number of jobs where wages were below what a worker would need to support a family of four above the poverty line also grew between 1979 and 1999. In 1999, 26.8% of the workforce earned poverty-level wages, an increase from 23.7% in 1979.

In raw terms, one out of every four children living in the United States lives in poverty. According to Dr. Margaret Bogle, executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Nutrition Intervention Research Initiative, 8% of low-income children are mild to moderately malnourished. Her study also noted that 2.75 percent of children in the United States are severely undernourished.

Living in poverty, parents of these children are making hard choices. Thanks to Newsom's Proposition N, they will be making even harder choices on July 1.

Because of my work with students, I know several people who are struggling with minimum wage jobs. They work two to three jobs at a time to keep a roof over their children's heads and food on the table. They try to smooth the cries of their sick children when they can't afford to buy medicine for them. They walk miles with a screaming toddler because they can't afford the money for a FastPass to get them out of the rain. They live in substandard housing - ignoring mold growing from the leaky roof and the lack of heat in the middle of the night.

Many get up in the middle of the night while their children are still sleeping and return home after the children have gone back to bed. Others are artists who find it difficult to find time for what their souls crave to create. Or musicians who struggle to make the rent, leaving the notes unheard that would allow other hearts to sing.

A movement is afoot for a proposition that would raise the minimum wage in San Francisco. It won't make anyone rich. But it will allow people to have some cushion from their grinding poverty. To get involved, contact llewellyn840@hotmail.com.

After all, not all of us have friends like Gordon Getty.