Coda — March 7, 2017, 5:54 pm

Eddie and Lindsay

Remembering a homeless couple shot in San Francisco’s Mission District

Eddie Tate showing some of his prison tattoos in the Old San Bruno County Jail, south of San Francisco, August 4, 2006.

Eddie Tate showing some of his prison tattoos in the Old San Bruno County Jail, south of San Francisco, August 4, 2006. Photographs by the author.

On December 20th, I was in the Phoenix airport waiting on a flight home to Omaha, when I came across an article announcing the murder of a homeless couple in San Francisco’s Mission District. They were shot and killed near an encampment on the corner of 16th and Shotwell Streets. The victims, the paper said, were twenty-seven-year-old Lindsay McCollum and fifty-one-year-old Eddie Tate. I recognized Tate’s name. I had met him while photographing inmates at Old Bruno, the oldest of San Francisco’s jails. The jail closed in August of 2006, in part because Tate and five other prisoners filed a lawsuit alleging it was an overcrowded facility showing all of its seventy years, a place not fit to live or work in.

Tate moved to San Francisco after the 1989 earthquake, and since that time has gone by the nickname Tennessee. When I met him at Old Bruno, he was using the time in jail to get his high-school diploma. Tate had been clean for sixteen months, for the first time in as long as he could remember. He was a hyperactive infant and his dad put alcohol in his bottle to, as he later told me, “knock me out, to get me to go to sleep… and I’ve been on some substance or another my entire life.”

When I saw Tate again in 2011, he was locked up in the new San Francisco jail in San Bruno. A slightly built man with only a trace of an accent, Tate told me of his life growing up in rural Tennessee: “I was one of them that … lived so far up in the hills of Tennessee that I hardly ever got to go to school, and then when I went to school I was such a pain and everything that I’d make a straight F and they would pass me just to get rid of me. What education I got, I got through the prison system.” He summed up his strategy for doing time this way: “I have to be crazy to live the life that I live. I don’t want no misunderstanding, if you push I will get real crazy on you.” When I asked him about the tattoo on his shoulders that read 51-50, police code for a “danger to self or others,” he explained that “my part of the 51-50 is the ‘or others.’” Tate told me he was tired of doing time, and he was finished with the drugs. I did not see him again for a long time.

Tate playing a video game in his box, which part of a homeless encampment at the corner of Harrison and Division, February 21, 2016

Tate playing a video game in his box, which was part of the homeless encampment at the corner of Harrison and Division, February 21, 2016

Afew years ago, I began running into Tate again while photographing on the streets of San Francisco. Our conversations were never long, but he seemed to have been good to his word: settled into a life outside of incarceration.

Then, in the run up to the February 2016 Super Bowl, the city forced the homeless living in tourist areas to move to less visible locations. Division Street, a long east-west street of small- and medium-sized businesses, became the go-to area for the city’s homeless population. It was there, on the corner of Harrison and Division Streets, that I saw Eddie again. He was living in a large wooden box with four wheels surrounded by an amazing amount of things: tools, bikes, and items of indeterminate use at that moment.

Tate could fix most things. He had tools and parts and was generous with his time and skills. He got by working on bikes, and was proud of the possessions he had acquired, including the wide-screen television on which he played video games. He was prouder still that he had stayed out of jail for four years—no small accomplishment for a homeless man with his rap sheet.

For most of February last year, I would stop by to chat. Then, in March, the city moved to clear the Division Street encampments. Tate was one of the last to go, and I lost track of him until October, when we ran into one another—again at Division and Harrison. He told me things were looking up. He had just scored some new clothes: a few pairs of pants, a shirt, and underwear. I gave him a couple of pairs of socks and asked where he was living. He said that a number of people were staying over by a grocery store about five blocks away on 14th Street and Shotwell. I told him I’d come visit.

Somehow I never did.

By late December, when I read of the murder of Tate and his partner, they must have moved at least once more, to 16th and Shotwell, where they were shot to death at around 8:45 p.m.

Looking through the images of Tate on the street I am reminded what he once told me. “I get along with everybody. I’m hyperactive so I’m always a worker somewhere.” As of now no motive or suspects have been arrested. Deaths like theirs, of homeless men and women on the San Francisco streets, are hardly unique. But I knew Eddie Tate a little, and I will miss him just as those that knew Lindsay McCollum will miss her.

Robert Gumpert photographed the homeless in San Francisco for the October 2016 issue of the magazine. View the photo essay here.

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Checkpoint Nation

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Checkpoint Nation·

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Laura Sandoval threaded her way through idling taxis and men selling bottles of water toward the entrance of the Cordova International Bridge, which links Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas. Earlier that day, a bright Saturday in December 2012, Sandoval had crossed over to Juárez to console a friend whose wife had recently died. She had brought him a few items he had requested—eye drops, the chimichangas from Allsup’s he liked—and now that her care package had been delivered, she was in a hurry to get back to the Texas side, where she’d left her car. She had a three-hour drive to reach home, in the mountains in New Mexico, and she hated driving in the dark.

Sandoval took her place in the long line of people waiting to have their passports checked by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). When it was her turn, she handed her American passport to a customs officer and smiled amicably, waiting for him to wave her through. But the officer said she had been randomly selected for additional screening. Sandoval was led to a secondary inspection area nearby, where two more officers patted her down. Another walked toward her with a drug-sniffing dog, which grew agitated as it came closer, barking and then circling her legs. Because the dog had “alerted,” the officer said, Sandoval would now have to undergo another inspection.

Checkpoint on I-35 near Encinal, Texas (detail) © Gabriella Demczuk
The Printed Word in Peril·

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In February, at an event at the 92nd Street Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center in New York, while sharing the stage with my fellow British writer Martin Amis and discussing the impact of screen-based reading and bidirectional digital media on the Republic of Letters, I threw this query out to an audience that I estimate was about three hundred strong: “Have any of you been reading anything by Norman Mailer in the past year?” After a while, one hand went up, then another tentatively semi-elevated. Frankly I was surprised it was that many. Of course, there are good reasons why Mailer in particular should suffer posthumous obscurity with such alacrity: his brand of male essentialist braggadocio is arguably extraneous in the age of Trump, Weinstein, and fourth-wave feminism. Moreover, Mailer’s brilliance, such as it was, seemed, even at the time he wrote, to be sparks struck by a steely intellect against the tortuous rocks of a particular age, even though he labored tirelessly to the very end, principally as the booster of his own reputation.

It’s also true that, as J. G. Ballard sagely remarked, for a writer, death is always a career move, and for most of us the move is a demotion, as we’re simultaneously lowered into the grave and our works into the dustbin. But having noted all of the above, it remains the case that Mailer’s death coincided with another far greater extinction: that of the literary milieu in which he’d come to prominence and been sustained for decades. It’s a milieu that I hesitate to identify entirely with what’s understood by the ringing phrase “the Republic of Letters,” even though the overlap between the two was once great indeed; and I cannot be alone in wondering what will remain of the latter once the former, which not long ago seemed so very solid, has melted into air.

What I do feel isolated in—if not entirely alone in—is my determination, as a novelist, essayist, and journalist, not to rage against the dying of literature’s light, although it’s surprising how little of this there is, but merely to examine the great technological discontinuity of our era, as we pivot from the wave to the particle, the fractal to the fungible, and the mechanical to the computable. I first began consciously responding, as a literary practitioner, to the manifold impacts of ­BDDM in the early 2000s—although, being the age I am, I have been feeling its effects throughout my working life—and I first started to write and speak publicly about it around a decade ago. Initially I had the impression I was being heard out, if reluctantly, but as the years have passed, my attempts to limn the shape of this epochal transformation have been met increasingly with outrage, and even abuse, in particular from my fellow writers.

As for my attempts to express the impact of the screen on the page, on the actual pages of literary novels, I now understand that these were altogether irrelevant to the requirement of the age that everything be easier, faster, and slicker in order to compel the attention of screen viewers. It strikes me that we’re now suffering collectively from a “tyranny of the virtual,” since we find ourselves unable to look away from the screens that mediate not just print but, increasingly, reality itself.

Photograph (detail) by Ellen Cantor from her Prior Pleasures series © The artist. Courtesy dnj Gallery, Santa Monica, California
Nothing but Gifts·

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If necessity is the stern but respectable mother of invention, then perhaps desperation is the derelict father of subterfuge. That was certainly the case when I moved to Seattle in 1979.

Though I’d lived there twice during the previous five years, I wasn’t prepared for the economic boom I found upon this latest arrival. Not only had rent increased sharply in all but the most destitute neighborhoods, landlords now routinely demanded first, last, and a hefty security deposit, which meant I was short by about fifty percent. Over the first week or so, I watched with mounting anxiety as food, gas, and lodging expenses reduced the meager half I did have to a severely deficient third. To make matters even more nerve-racking, I was relocating with my nine-year-old son, Ezra. More than my well-being was at stake.

A veteran of cold, solitary starts in strange cities, I knew our best hope wasn’t the classifieds, and certainly not an agency, but the serendipity of the streets—handmade for rent signs, crowded bulletin boards in laundromats and corner grocery stores, passersby on the sidewalk; I had to exploit every opportunity that might present itself, no matter how oblique or improbable. In Eastlake, at the edge of Lake Union between downtown Seattle and the University District, I spied a shabby but vacant one-story house on the corner of a block that was obviously undergoing transition—overgrown lots and foundation remnants where other houses once stood—and that had at least one permanent feature most right-minded people would find forbidding: an elevated section of Interstate 5 just across the street, attended by the incessant roar of cars and trucks. The house needed a new roof, a couple of coats of paint, and, judging by what Ezra and I could detect during a furtive inspection, major repair work inside, including replacing damaged plaster-and-lath walls with sheetrock. All of this, from my standpoint, meant that I might have found a solution to my dilemma.

The next step was locating the owner, a roundabout process that eventually required a trip to the tax assessor’s office. I called the person listed on the rolls and made an appointment. Then came the moment of truth, or, more precisely, untruth, when dire circumstance begot strategic deception. I’d never renovated so much as a closet, but that didn’t stop me from declaring confidently that I possessed both the skills and the willingness to restore the entire place to a presentable—and, therefore, rentable—state in exchange for being able to live there for free, with the length of stay to be determined as work progressed. To my immense relief, the pretense was well received. Indeed, the owner also seemed relieved, if a bit surprised, that he’d have seemingly trustworthy tenants; homeless people who camped beneath the freeway, he explained, had repeatedly broken into the house and used it for all manner of depravity. Telling myself that inspired charlatanry is superior to mundane trespassing—especially this instance of charlatanry, which would yield some actual good—I accepted the keys from my new landlord.

Photograph (detail) © Larry Towell/Magnum Photos
Among Britain’s Anti-Semites·

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This is the story of how the institutions of British Jewry went to war with Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party. Corbyn is another feather in the wind of populism and a fragmentation of the old consensus and politesse. He was elected to the leadership by the party membership in 2015, and no one was more surprised than he. Between 1997 and 2010, Corbyn voted against his own party 428 times. He existed as an ideal, a rebuke to the Blairite leadership, and the only wise man on a ship of fools. His schtick is that of a weary, kindly, socialist Father Christmas, dragged from his vegetable patch to create a utopia almost against his will. But in 2015 the ideal became, reluctantly, flesh. Satirists mock him as Jesus Christ, and this is apt. But only just. He courts sainthood, and if you are very cynical you might say that, like Christ, he shows Jews what they should be. He once sat on the floor of a crowded train, though he was offered a first-class seat, possibly as a private act of penance to those who had, at one time or another, had no seat on a train.

When Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, the British media, who are used to punching socialists, crawled over his record and found much to alarm the tiny Jewish community of 260,000. Corbyn called Hez­bollah “friends” and said Hamas, also his “friends,” were devoted “to long-term peace and social justice.” (He later said he regretted using that language.) He invited the Islamist leader Raed Salah, who has accused Jews of killing Christian children to drink their blood, to Parliament, and opposed his extradition. Corbyn is also a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and a former chair of Stop the War, at whose rallies they chant, “From the river to the sea / Palestine will be free.” (There is no rhyme for what will happen to the Jewish population in this paradise.) He was an early supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its global campaign to delegitimize Israel and, through the right of return for Palestinians, end its existence as a Jewish state. (His office now maintains that he does not support BDS. The official Labour Party position is for a two-state solution.) In the most recent general election, only 13 percent of British Jews intended to vote Labour.

Corbyn freed something. The scandals bloomed, swiftly. In 2016 Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford West, was suspended from the party for sharing a Facebook post that suggested Israel be relocated to the United States. She apologized publicly, was reinstated, and is now a shadow women and equalities minister. Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London and a political supporter of Corbyn, appeared on the radio to defend Shah and said, “When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.” For this comment, Livingstone was suspended from the party.

A protest against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in Parliament Square, London, March 26, 2018 (detail) © Yui Mok/PA Images/Getty Images

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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