Life in the Little City and Papa John’s Couple’a Dimes

I’ve lived in SFCA for a long time.

And during that time I’ve grown totally accustomed to seeing all sorts of people out and about who, all things being equal, really ought to be getting help somewhere other than in the general environs of public space. Call them what you will . . .

Today I’m on Drumm Street in downtown EssEffSeeEh near the Embarcadero, and out of the corner of my eye I see an out-of-control guy grabbing some onion rings off the plate of a sidewalk-cafe lunch-eater, putting the rings into his mouth, and then forcefully spraying them out of his mouth onto the street.  Simultaneously I hear the lunch-eater go eeeeeeyyyyyooooooooo and shove her plate away from her, and see many scrunched-up noses of other eaters as a collective roar of eeeeyyyyooooo‘s rises up from the sidewalk cafe, with all but one of the eeeeyyyyoooo‘ers thinking to themselves, I suspect, glad those weren’t my onion rings.

Then I walk into Walgreens a few storefronts down and hear an employee telling the manager that some guy just came in and did the most gosh-awful something-or-other-worth-telling-the-manager-about, who in turn is expressing utter amazement that someone would actually come in and do that particular gosh-awful-something-or-other so brazenly and so during-lunchtime’enly.

Onion-ring-grabbing guy, I say to myself, with the disgusted intonation and bunny-teeth gesturing of Jerry regretting Newman.

Then I’m in MUNI going home under Market Street and I see a guy there who might be — who just might be — the guy I saw out of the corner of my eye grabbing onion rings and upsetting Walgreens workers. This guy is moving weirdly — physically moving weirdly, jerkily but grander and more sweeping than that — in a way that makes you think he has something seriously wrong with him, starting in the central nervous system and continuing out into the world at large through his limbs, and not adequately treated with his current meds (or maybe he skipped his meds today?). And he’s quietly spewing angries (once — just once — I’d like to hear this sort of person-gone-awry quietly spewing happies).

Soon people are moving away from the angries-spewing weird-moving guy, and then a MUNI security guy a few feet away, who has been non-observantly standing with two other MUNI security guys, the three of them standing in a circle, facing inward, telling jokes or something to each other (is that how you do security, fellas?), eventually notices angries-spewing weird-moving guy who, after the security guy sits down next to him, immediately gets up.

I don’t see the angries-spewing weird-moving guy in the station again, but then I get on the train and, as soon as the train starts moving, I hear a commotion at the other end of the car. Urban blinders on, I look back at my reading. At a very much sub-language/sub-thought level, something within me gives a nod to my lucky fate of being at the other end of the car.

The commotion continues, and pretty soon — OH NO!!!!! — I see the angries-spewing weird-moving guy come to the part of the car I’m in and sit across from me. I like the inward facing seats, so I am looking at the angries-spewing weird-moving guy, but he is not looking at me; instead he’s fixated on yelling at a poor Joe next to him who, it appears, had accidentally brushed up against the angries-spewing weird-moving guy or vice versa. Angries-spewing weird-moving guy is kinda ballistic now — more than angry — hitting the train, over and over again, yelling, threatening the brush-against guy and, in general, acting totally unhinged.

Remember: I’ve lived in SFCA a long time, so when I say unhinged, I’m using a pretty forgiving yardstick.

Brush-against guy handles now-totally-unhinged guy well — very well — with cool calm strength, but now-totally-unhinged-guy is seriously scary in his unhingedness, and the entire train is clearly fearful. Then a fairly burly but short woman who is also near now-totally-unhinged-guy says, in a very authoritarian, assured, directing and, yes, booming manner, something along the lines of, “I’m an off-duty police officer, sir. Sit down. Calm down,” etc. (I am so *not* a police officer that, a few hours later, her words do not come back to me at all and I cannot get the tone right, but I think one technique she used was to talk continuously and forcefully, so as not to let unhinged guy verbally respond to anything she was saying, limiting the unhinged-one’s responses instead to the physical responses of sitting down, calming down, etc.).

At that point a lot of jaws attached to a lot of faces of unhappy MUNI riders dropped, and semi-smiles surfaced, because totally-unhinged-guy was now become somewhat-quieter guy.

So how cool is it that this off duty cop is there, and that both the brushed-against guy and the off-duty police officer seem to be very good at this sort of thing? Sheesh. It was the best of the city and the worst of the city (though not in that order).

At the next stop, somewhat-quieter-guy gets off the train — phew — at which point the young woman next to me and I have a nice conversation, which helps us to decompress.

I was really terrified, she says.

That was probably the scariest crazy-guy-in-EssEffSeeEh episode I’ve ever seen, I say.

*  *  *

So why do I bring this up? Why in here? And what does this have to do with financial health?

This past week John Schnatter, the CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, made a splash by saying that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly known as ObamaCare), would add 11 to 14 cents to the cost of making each pizza he sells, which in turn would lead him to increase the price of each pizza by 15 to 20 cents.

To this I have two reactions. First, where do I sign up? I’d be happy to throw in two dimes on a meal if it meant that the people who work at the business selling me the meal have health insurance. Indeed it’s common in SFCA for a bill at a restaurant to have some sort of add-on for healthcare due to a much-litigated SFCA ordinance requiring employers with 20 or more employees to provide healthcare to their employees.

I mean, if those employees have health care benefits, they’re likely to be healthier, and if the people all around the city are healthier, that’s a good unto itself, isn’t it? The world a better place and all . . .

Or, to put it more self-centrically rather than altruistically, then, hey, it’s also good for me because I’ll have fewer sick people around me — sick people who might be serving me food. EEEyyyyoooooooo — germs and things.

Second, John Schnatter, what’s with the markup? Your costs go up twelve and a half cents (averaging the range) and you increase your price by seventeen and a half cents (also averaging the range), and all of your competitors will have the same cost increase, so the playing field is as level as before, but now you and all your competitors have a good shot at increasing your per-pizza-profit (your PPP, in the lingo of the pizza world) a nickel, and you’re complaining about it? If I were in your shoes, I’m pretty sure I’d be wanting more PPACAs, not fewer!

*  *  *

During the conversation my seatmate and I had post onion-grabbing-weird-moving-unhinged guy meets off-duty-burly-woman-cop and calm-guy-who-might-work-with-loons, we talked about this very topic.

How much would you spend, I ask her, to not have onion-grabbing-weird-moving-unhinged guy and others like him a constant of SF CA life? A buck a day? Two?

My hunch is that most people supporting themselves and living in SFCA (and therefore making a fairly decent living) would easily pay $365.25 per year to not have this dreadful reality constantly inserting itself into their lives.

And how would all those hundreds of thousands of $365.25’s be used to alleviate this situation? That’s a really hard question. Many have had a go at solving it and, here at least, no one has succeeded.

But maybe better healthcare — including better healthcare for crazy people — would be one approach to consider. Yea, maybe, just maybe, that’d be the ticket.


About 1400 words (roughly a thirteen-minute read)



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