Bender’s Bar, half past eight o’clock: Jimmy Broustis, king of cats, breaks the set and watches a stripe ball sink into a corner pocket. As the table settles, Dave Chisholm, an old friend, waits his turn with a bottle of Schlitz in one hand and a cue stick in the other.
Since the mid 1980s, the two have been hanging out in Mission bars just like this one. Sometimes playing punk, sometimes pouring drinks, but always having a good time.
Broustis became a fixture of the San Francisco punk scene when he formed Shotwell in 1994. The band has had a roving cast of members for 20 years but Broustis is the center that holds, playing guitar and singing lead.
“To me, and many others,” wrote Harvester, the mononymous chronicler of independent punk last year, “they are as synonymous to the Mission District as burritos, norteños y sureños, street-sold churros and the Mission Theater sign. Their rough, tuneful songs have mirrored the class struggles, police repression and the pure f@#$ing joy of living in San Francisco for the past 17 or 18 years.”
Broustis is also a casualty of the tech boom. Between turns, he talks about his recent forced move that, after 25 years, finally pushed him out of the neighborhood.
“Any kind of forced move is brutal,” Broustis says. “It haunts me.”
It’s fair to say that Broustis himself haunts a landlord or two. An episode of “This American Life” from 2001 recounted his eviction fight during the dot-com bubble and led to Broustis v. Drouet, a California Supreme Court case that ruled a landlord may use the Ellis Act to go out of the rental business even if a tenant files a lawsuit claiming the eviction is retaliatory.
“Every Supreme Court Justice is a landowner and landlord,” Broustis says, holding up his beer. “We must question past rulings.”
Chisholm sinks two balls — his own and the cue ball.
“Judges rule when they aren’t tenants,” Broustis says as he lines up a shot. “How is that?”
The “This American Life” episode is by Iggy Scam, aka Erick Lyle, who played drums in Shotwell for a time and on their album “Geneva Avenue Fallout.” A wistful raconteur, Scam tells the story of the dot-com boom and the Mission District, the lazy-eyed girl he had a crush on who left the city. But the story’s main thread is about Broustis’ tangling with his landlord and the doomed fight against his eviction but also his victory in staying put.
The owner of Broustis’ building at 378 San Carlos Street got his comeuppance: Broustis moved into the building next door — 376 San Carlos Street, his address until late last year.
We move to the patio to drink and smoke in the dim moonlight. Broustis and Chisholm light up.
Broustis, tall and thin, wears boots, carpenter’s pants and an Eisenhower jacket. He would look like a construction worker if it weren’t for the brown dreadlocks he wears like bangs. He left Libertyville, Illinois, in 1984 when he was teenager. Now in his late 40s, he’s lived in San Francisco ever since. Besides the Mission, he lived in Ingleside for a spell, near a Pentecostal church. Now, he lives in Potrero Hill.
He and his friends tormented the congregation by rolling in broken-down cars into the parking lot and going to service to sit in back and watch. By 1988, he was 20 and established on San Carlos Street, ensconced in the punk scene and living the punk dream.
“I would have stayed,” Broustis says. “We were hanging out making cool music every night. There were 20 people over every night.”
Chisholm, 50, wears purple Chuck Taylor’s, rolled-up wide-leg jeans and a hoody with a Giants cap. He, too, is from the Midwest. A union theatrical stagehand, he lives in Hayes Valley with his partner and their 12-year-old daughter. He taught stagecraft at Laney College in Oakland for three years. He, too, lived in the Mission for years.
“My first eviction was on Mission Street,” Chisholm says. “It was so bad I was able to get the Bay Area Council for Civil Rights to defend me.”
“The evictions today are catastrophic and mind-boggling,” Broustis adds. “How many times can a landlord go out of business?”
The Ellis Act is a 1985 state law that enables landlords to evict tenants to take a property off the rental market — usually preceding a sale of the property and a tenants in common or condo conversion. In San Francisco, the rate is climbing but it is still only at half the rate of its first dot-com peak in 2000.
Still Broustis says, “Eviction torments me…It gives me anguish. These people thought they would die in their homes. It haunts me.”
A few hours before our visit to Bender’s, Twitter had its Initial Public Offering on the stock market, with the impressive gains for the company only matched by the perturbation for tenants of the city where rent prices have become the highest in the nation. Protesters stood outside Twitter’s Market Street headquarters with a coffin reading, “RIP affordable housing.”
In Broustis’ case, his former landlord put the two-story Victorian he had lived in from 2000 to 2013 for $815,000. It sold for $1.25 million in December of 2013.
“Don’t shed a tear for me,” Broustis says. “I had the opportunity.”
Chisholm laughs and says, “An $800 place for 25 years.”
“Sorrow is not for me,” Broustis says.
A man nearby asks Broustis if he has any rolling papers, and Broustis replies, “So you got the passengers and no vehicle?” He hands him two papers.
Broustis says he couldn’t fight an eviction. He knew the attorney his landlord hired would make it impossible. “I had no other option than to take a material payment,” he says.
A house on the corner recently sold for more than $1 million — the median house cost in the city. Today, the houses are the same on the outside, but the tenants and owners are different now.
“The shit that made San Francisco cool is being bought and sold now,” Broustis says. “I feel lucky to get out of this part of Mission before the flood and crash. I probably won’t be back before the healing.”
Broustis goes to the bar and comes back with three more bottles of Schlitz. We head to the Dirty Harry pinball machine.
We check out a growth on Broustis’s shoulder, talk about the city, punk, Schlitz, Broustis’ study of acupuncture and the mortal consequences of writing a bad story.
Out of coins, we head to Broustis’ apartment he vacated a few months before. We take a side street and he and Chisholm remember a three-story Victorian where they used to party. It’s gone now. The space is a fallow field. We walk beneath the El Capitan Hotel. Broustis recalls the time he slept on its roof and when Erick Lyle lived there for a time.
We turn a corner en route to Mike’s, a liquor store on Mission. Chisholm pedals off on his bike to lock it up. The three stuffed black birds remain perched on the handlebars and bike rack.
There’s a man sitting in the middle of the sidewalk with a boombox up to his ear.
“Hey, are you alright?” Broustis asks.
The man affirms with a quick nod, shaking his Prince Valiant haircut.
“Freaks don’t need anything but what they got,” Broustis tells me as we continue. “How cool is that? He’s just there rocking. Nothing else matters.”
At Mike’s, the cashier knows Broustis by name.
On San Carlos Street, Broustis rolls up the garage door of the place he left in August. They duck in. I follow. He pulls the door closed. Chisholm turns on his flashlight and shines the beam across garbage bins, paint cans, a drawing of a yellow submarine and a poster of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis with a 99 percent sticker obscuring the man’s eyes.
We open some beers and go to the backyard, a small patio with plants. Chisholm turns off the light so neighbors don’t see.
We climb the staircase. Broustis checks the first-floor flat. Locked. That is the apartment Broustis lived in for 13 years — moving out in August of 2013.
Broustis’ plan to move into the house next door — the ploy he was able to pull off in 2000 when he moved from 378 to 376 — failed. He wanted to stay on the same block, if at all possible.
We look into the neighbor’s yard that had been his from 1988 to 2000. He points out an overgrown tree.
“Twenty-four years ago, I planted that tree from an avocado pit I got from Rainbow,” Broustis says, referring to the Rainbow Grocery Cooperative. “I got over 4,000 avocadoes from it. Now look at it. The neighbors should have pruned it.”
Chisholm climbs up to the second-floor.
“These places were $300 a month,” Chisholm says, shining the light across the way at his old house. “It’s not that great. It’s just a painted-over crappy apartment.”
The layout has a bathroom split between two apartments. The ceiling is high but the space is narrow. The walls are painted bright white.
“A small humble place that a single person could live in pretty comfortably with decent kitchen,” Chisholm says. “But you do have to deal with the asshole across the hall.”
We go back to the garage, to the remainder of the six-pack.
Chisholm says, “I’ve seen this city make Midwestern kids put their tails between their legs and go back home — but maybe it’s just the same.”
“I don’t need a lot,” he adds. “Effective poverty with a high standard of living.”
Broustis sits on a garbage bin on its side. He drains his beer, winds up and pitches the bottle at the foundation of the house. Instead of shattering, it bounces.
Chisholm picks up the bottle. “It’s like a federal campground; Gotta leave it as you left it.”
“And you’re a Boy Scout,” Broustis replies.
We stand around and talk more. It’s near midnight.
“We had a lifestyle that’s no longer possible in this city,” Chisholm is saying, now holding forth. “It’s more and more Blade Runner. You’re either fit or you leave. Or you’re a mutant — then you live in the Tenderloin.”
“They can gentrify the Mission, but how’re they going to gentrify the Tenderloin? I think it’s my fault for making the Mission hip when it was cheap back in the 80s and 90s. It’s all my fault. When I gentrified this neighborhood, fixies were a thing of the past. The people on bicycles were messengers. There was no f@#$ing amateur riding. If you weren’t a messenger, you wouldn’t dare ride a bike like people do now.”
“They would open up a Kryptonite [bicycle lock], jump underneath your car and put it on your drive shaft,” Broustis says.
“We made the Mission cool,” Chisholm says.
“You want to know what being forced out of your home feels like?” Broustis volunteers. “It feels like I never really left.”