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Farewell to One of San Francisco’s Great Connectors

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clarence j

Guest post by Genie Gratto

During the eight years I’ve lived in the Bay Area, I’ve watched San Francisco become a city where everyone is increasingly less connected to each other. It’s not just that it’s getting more expensive, it’s that it’s so easy to work remotely from a laptop at home, order everything in via one app or another, and never actually engage with the other human beings breathing the same air.

But Clarence Johnson engaged with everyone in San Francisco like no one else I have ever met. Madrone Art Bar. The Cat Club. Buddha Bar. 111 Minna. Nightlife at the Academy. The lobby bar at the W. Public Works. House parties. Conference receptions. Underground raves. He worked this city effortlessly, meeting up with old friends and new ones any given night. Guest lists, rope lines, fire code capacity, it didn’t matter. No one ever turned him away.

I met him at Tunnel Top on a cold San Francisco night. I had just started dating my husband, and Clarence was my first introduction into Paul’s inner circle. I shook his hand when we arrived, but I hugged him when we left. It was impossible not to hug Clarence. He always acted a little embarrassed by the bear hugs I inflicted on him, but he never let go first, either.

Earlier this week, we learned an aneurysm killed Clarence shortly before his 42nd birthday. Those of us who knew and loved him still haven’t wrapped our heads around his sudden absence.

With Clarence’s death, San Francisco hasn’t just lost a talented game developer. The city has lost one of those special characters that make it great. He connected all of us in ways that can never be duplicated by even the most killer app or the most social of media.

Last night, The Cat Club opened its doors early so many of us who knew and loved Clarence could gather and raise our glasses in his memory. We mingled. We hugged. We told stories. It was just the kind of party he would have loved, and then, when it ended, he would have slipped out quietly, moving on to the next event.


As the night began, our friend Dottie bought Paul and me a round of Jameson shots, and Randy, the Cat Club’s General Manager, whipped out another glass and poured one more shot. “This one’s for Clarence,” he said, setting it up on the bar. We all waited a moment, expecting our friend to sidle right up, raising his eyebrows and flashing his million-watt smile. We’ll always be waiting, wishing he could join us for one last round.

If you knew and loved Clarence, but weren’t able to make The Cat Club event last night, join his friends to celebrate his life from 9 to 10 pm tonight at Le Colonial. You can also read others’ memories, contribute stories of your own, or donate funds to help cover his funeral costs through the memorial on We Are Game Devs.

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.