John Ratliff is a homeless man who lives in the vicinity of the intersection of 16th and Valencia streets in San Francisco. Most often he is seen in the entranceway of Adobe Books, at Mission Grounds, and at Cyber Copy.

A greying, weathered old man, Ratliff is often seen feeding pigeons and smoking cigarettes. The most amazing thing about him is that he "publishes" a little one-page flyer/zine, approximately once a month. Often you'll see him at Cyber Copy working on it, using their one ancient typewriter. He photocopies it and then gives it out free to anyone in the neighborhood that he runs across, wordlessly handing it to whoever will take it. The publication has had various names, always scrawled with marker at the top of the page, including Fax Rag, World in Review, Haji, Poetry Flesh, and most recently Beaver Bonus, but most often it is called Agent World, and I shall refer to it as such hereafter.

Agent World is really an exemplary text, at least compared to the ravings of the average not-quite-sane street person. Ratliff is obviously a very intelligent man, and often writes quite well. The content is quite delusional, perhaps even schizophrenic, but frequently contains some nuggets of profound wisdom or lucid social critique.

Common themes in Agent World are:

  • The plight of local urban creatures, especially pigeons (or "pijeons", as he spells it), also often rats and cockroaches. usually this involves a fantastic narrative where the city government is punished for its treatment of the animals.
  • Ratliff's alter ego, "Messiah", handing out wisdom and/or taking control (or attempting to) of the neighborhood/city/nation/world as a benevolent but vengefully just ruler. an excerpt:
    People had faxed and xeroxed Messiah's Message worldwide-- the Little Dream Proof of the Soul, the Creature Love Teaching, the Just Punch-In Taxes, the Free Place and $100,000/workers Economic. .... Messiah ordered all illegal birdfeeders during the Oppressive period paid for their birdseed and time, triple, plus ongoing. He established the relig principle that all creeps would be avenged on AT A MEGA MARKUP WITH SUPER PROFITEERING.
  • Conspiracy theories of epic, often cosmic proportions. One common thread in this category involves the animals and/or common people being separated from divine protectors and then opressed and betrayed by evil humans. here's a choice quote:
    ...angels glowing with an eerie fire moved among the dark barns talking to livestock about starving out worldwide and leaving the planet. Lying priests had gone to them and told them that in return for feeding man, God, a man, would pay them in Heaven. This was while the real angels were gone exploring the galaxy. Now they heard the real truth, that man is a Troll and a Germ.
  • Revolutionary inventions, mostly small dune-buggy style vehicles, complete with crude drawings and descriptions of features ("rustless, mows, plows! also a golf cart, RV, or sex cave!")
I've gained a lot of entertainment and even something more than simple entertainment from reading these amazing, surreal, and profound missives. My housemates and I have collected a couple years' worth of them, which we keep on the bathroom walls to read again and again. Hopefully someone will publish the complete collection someday, but until then I hope this brief description provides some enjoyment. And I hope that if you're in the neighborhood and see Ratliff you give him some spare change so he can keep going.

Allow me to include one more of my favorite passages:

"Don't breed them more slaves" passed by whisper around the planet. Pass this page, dear Reader, and go dreaming. Down down dropt by backrubs into the deepest relaxation frequencies, across the little gap called "Death", on, on into the Dreamland Rivers they went. Unbelievable Beauty spread forever. So the Flesh was just a larvae stage. A husk a shell. ON, to self-cleaning Plastic Planet, yelled the Alk-fried opposition. MindNumb, they did not dream.

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