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Bedtime for Bonzo, and for You and for Me

A Fable for Today

By Betsey Culp

There was an old woman
Who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children
She didn't know what to do.
She gave them some broth
Without any bread.
She spanked them all soundly
And sent them to bed.

The San Francisco shoe is a bumpy affair, an old brogan, worn around the edges, full of holes and lumps. The old woman does her best to keep it mended, but she never seems to have the time or the money to do everything that needs to be done.

And oh, those children! They’re all over the place, climbing up the chimney, digging a tunnel under the basement, jumping out the window, popping out of the closet. They’re good kids, but being kids, their imagination works overtime. They’re constantly trying new things and stirring up new forms of trouble.

The old woman loves them dearly.

Even bedtime, the hour when most homes grow quiet and peace descends — even bedtime is tumultuous. The fact is, there aren’t enough beds.

The “big kids” sleep in a nice set of four-posters, brightly painted remnants of a generous wedding gift from a long-forgotten great aunt. These kids don’t necessarily loom over the others in size, although some have grown quite large, having perfected the art of sneaking food from their neighbor’s plate when no one is looking. Some are just speedier. Or more clever. Or just plain lucky.

Other beds are modest, cadged from thrift shops and garage sales. Some, although shabby, have been well taken care of. Others are literally on their last legs. But in any case, there aren’t enough to go around.

Whether big or small, some of the kids have staked a fierce claim to one or another of these modest beds. Some double up, sleeping several to a mattress. The rest simply curl up in a corner of the floor or take their thin blanket outside.

Recently, someone had the clever idea of roping together some of the more dilapidated beds to make larger, sturdier ones. It meant having to share, something that many of the children were happy to do if it meant getting a more comfortable place to sleep. The big kids immediately tried to move in. But little kids can be fierce when they band together, and some of them managed to cling to their former cots, enjoying the relative spaciousness of the new arrangement.

One day a neighbor stopped by the old shoe. He looked around, noting in amazement the array of beds.

“Some of those have certainly seen better days,” he said. “You know, Dufty’s General Store is having a sale this week. You could probably trade all your old beds in for new ones, at very little cost to you.”

The old woman protested that such a grand transaction was beyond her means. Even if she could afford the purchase, it would probably destroy her family. As she described the fevered scramble that new beds would provoke, her heart went out to the little ones of her brood, who she knew would never be able to have one.

“Well then, why not convert just the ones you have tied together? That shouldn’t be a problem, because you could give them to the kids who were already held the old ones in common.”

The old woman shook her head.

She said, “You don’t know these children. As soon as I exchanged the old beds for new ones, the big kids would be all over them. The precarious harmony we’ve worked out over the years would be destroyed. And I fear that the little kids would be driven out for good.”

She sat for a minute, staring at her hands, thinking of the better world she once envisioned for her children. “It would be different if I could buy a huge shipment of new beds, so that everyone could have one. But I can’t cut off part of my family for the sake of the rest.”

The moral of this story: Condo conversion is bad math.


This afternoon the San Francisco Board of Supervisors considers the following proposal:

10. 050177  [100% owner-occupied TICs]

Supervisors Alioto-Pier, Dufty, Elsbernd

Ordinance allowing owners of 2-6 unit buildings to convert the building into a condominium where the building was owned as a tenancy-in-common on January 20, 2005 and was 100% owner-occupied on January 20, 2005 and making environmental findings.