Volume 40 Number 36
June 7 – June 13, 2006
SUPER EGO Gurl, I woke up on the wrong side of Tuesday afternoon. I don’t know if it was that pint of Cuervo I ordered for appetizers the night before or that quart of quinine I downed soon after for the tetanus I got from sitting on someone’s iPod, but I was hella hungover. My jaw was swiveling, my heart was pounding, and my languid extremities felt so hot that the unicorns on my nails nearly melted. One minute I was hosting the World Cup in my fantasy bra and panties, the next I was hosting it in my actual head.
“This is it,” I thought through the shuddering echo of tiny cleats. “Mama’s gettin’ middle-aged.” I’d finally hit one of midlife’s big Hs: hot flash, hair loss, hangover. And I’m only 19! Good thing I carry some Remifemin and an extra wig in my beaded Whole Foods evening bag.
Fitfully I scanned the Dumpster for any half-smoked butts and chased my scattered thoughts to their grim conclusions. Folks think I’m frickin’ Carrie Bradshaw, being a columnist, lolling around in my Blahniks, whimsically riffing on the romantic wiles of my telegenic brunchmates, leaping with a shy giggle into the magical dilemmas of contemporary life. But this is clubland, Samantha: Dive too deep down in it and — hey, presto! — abracadrinkingproblem. Ain’t nothing wrong with a little party-party, y’all, but us clubbers gotta watch for that border cross over the Rio Messy: Shit’s about as tasteful as soyr cream on a tofurkey burritofu, but with almost twice the calories.
So, maybe it was time for a tiny hooch holiday. Me, I’m an uncurbed child of the streets, where “time-out” is code for “free clinic” (and “free clinic” means “trick’s bathroom”), but in my new semi–fully employed state I’m always running into vibrant-looking Guardian people taking “a personal time-out” — from drinking, from smoking, from imported prickle-backed Peruvian shellfish, whatever. You’d think my health insurance here would cover hangovers, what with the professional risk involved in my line of work, but alas, “no dice.”
“You can do this,” I assured myself. “Just for a week. It’s not like when the government made you give up Wal-Trim diet pills. That was forever.“
But just because I wasn’t drinking didn’t mean I wasn’t going out altogether. She’s still gotta earn a living, and her living’s spilling tea. Luckily, along with the current wine bar burst, San Francisco’s having a tearoom explosion as well. (No, not that kind of tearoom, perverts. Leaves first, then you pay — not the other way around.) And the goddess of cups provides several venues for bar-hour tea-totaling glee. The slightly hoity-toity yet still chill Samovar Tea Lounge (www.samovartea.com) in the Castro is a bookish, cruisey mecca and just opened a Yerba Buena Gardens outpost to boot. Modern Tea (www.moderntea.com) has taken hold in Hayes Valley, with its stylish presentation and unequaled view of all the tipsy drag queens stumbling from Marlena’s down the street. Hang on to your saucers, ladies.
But the real news on the late-night tea front is the hip-hop-oriented Poleng Lounge. Yep, you read right, it’s a hip-hop tearoom. The kids from Massive Selector have transformed the former 1751 Social Club space into a Bali-inspired wonderland that also hosts performances by some of the top names in roots and electro (Ohmega Watts, Vikter Duplaix, Triple Threat). Poleng’s restaurant and tearoom opens to the public June 9, with a huge kickoff bash featuring Faust and Shortee, Amp Live, host Lateef, and probably more than a few chipped handles. Food and tipple are also available, but the focus, of course, is on the leaf — green and otherwise.
Whew! After all that tea I need to take a leak. But before I saunter off, look at me — I’m fantastic, I’m radiant, I’m slightly hypercaffeinated. I feel like I could do yoga in the street. Maybe I should do this personal time-out thing more often. As they say, the liver the better (just kidney!). Now somebody order me a damn mai tai already. SFBG
“LET THE RHYTHM HIT ’EM”
With Faust and Shortee and Amp Live
Fri/9, 9 p.m.–2 a.m.
1751 Fulton, SF
TEEN FLICKS In the late ’70s and early ’80s a funny thing happened at the movies: Suddenly aware of a whole pocket-moneyed demographic betwixt Disney and the R rating, major studios began targeting a median audience, aged 15. (Ultimately they’d even get their very own designation, PG-13.) An explosion of post-Meatballs teen comedies soon replaced sex farce fucking and wanking with peeping and pranking. Even "nicer" films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the John Hughes–Molly Ringwald trilogy viewed adolescence as a self-contained world, not the way station to adulthood American Graffiti proposed just a few years earlier.
With the anthemic whining of Pink Floyd’s The Wall as personal soundtrack, kids who’d missed the big party of the ’60s grasped rebellion as attitude, sans social consciousness. Jonathan Kaplan’s Over the Edge (1979) and Adrian Lyne’s Foxes (1980) were fairly realistic portraits of aimless teenage escape from broken institutions (family, school). Exploring the same themes but leaving realism behind, the movies in Jesse Ficks’s Midnites for Maniacs’ "Latch-Key Kids Quadruple Feature" offer archetypal youth-persecution scenarios gone baroque via pop-fantasy tropes and bottomless (if depthless) directorial extravagance. To a generation just learning to want its MTV, albeit with a vengeance, such edgy glamour felt all the more "real" for being surreal.
Following his prior S.E. Hinton adaptation, The Outsiders, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 Rumble Fish replaced saturated-color swoon with a B&W faux-beatnik poesy derived equally from American International Pictures, Maya Deren, and Dal??. Its mannerisms are too indulgent to defend, too dazzling to deny — what other movie could stockpile so many desperate debtors to James Dean (Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Dennis Hopper, Tom Waits, Nicolas Cage) and get away with it?
But Rumble Fish is acoustic haiku compared to the florid power balladry of director Walter Hill’s two most delirious action comix. Discarded by Paramount as an exploitation movie and belatedly acclaimed by critics, 1979’s gang warfare phantasmagoria The Warriors was so flagrantly exciting — Bic-waving 60-year-old Pauline Kael called it "visual rock" — that actual gang fights broke out in theaters, causing at least one death and much moral outrage. Its titular protagonists (derived, by way of a 1965 novel, from ancient Greek military history!) are scrappy underdogs fighting through rival gang turfs across a hallucinatory NYC. KISS Army–meets–Marvel Comics pillow hump? Blood-churning metaphor for life itself? Whatever: The Warriors remains trash-treasure gold.
Hill went even more nuts with "rock & roll fable" Streets of Fire, a neon-hued rainbow of ’50s juvenile delinquent nostalgia, new wave futurism, and pure 1983 mainstream cheese. Note the Pat Benatar postures struck by music superstar Ellen Aim (Diane Lane, in her bad "bad girl" period) before she’s abducted by freakazoid fan/rapist Willem Dafoe, necessitating rescue by laconic ex Michael Pare. "It’s so much better going nowhere fast," she wails in the quintessentially flamboyant opening set piece. Exactly! Streets of Fire is a stupid, gorgeous, guilty pleasure.
Simple guilt motivates the evening’s opening anomaly. Cipher in the Snow is a somber 21-minute lesson produced in 1973 by Brigham Young University in which a teenage boy exits a school bus to enigmatically expire in the wintry drifts. Why? As various authorities puzzle out later, nobody bothered to love him. Shown even in non-Mormon classrooms for several years, Cipher left a lasting impression on many because it explicitly amplified what many 15-year-olds think: No one cares about me, but if I just died, they’d be soooo sorry. (Dennis Harvey)
LATCH-KEY KIDS QUADRUPLE FEATURE
Cypher in the Snow, 7 p.m.; Rumble Fish, 7:45 p.m.; The Warriors, 9:45 p.m.; Streets of Fire, 11:59 p.m.
429 Castro, SF
Before his dancers had even taken a single step, a huge round of applause greeted Joe Goode at his group’s 20th-anniversary concert at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Goode is probably the best-loved choreographer in town. For two decades he has chronicled his generation’s unease about living in its own skin. When AIDS began to devastate this town in the early ’80s, Goode was there to speak out with pieces that were blunt, poignant, and theatrically savvy.
Goode is the poet of anxiety, pain, and uncertainty. He’s able to see a major catastrophe on its own terms but also as a metaphor for what ails us. His heroes — and they are heroes — are the outsiders, the watchers, and the misfits whose values and existence society would like to deny. He has a self-deprecatory wit that makes us wince and laugh at the same time. And he has developed a genre of dance theater that’s exceptionally successful at blending speech and movement. Very few choreographers have Goode’s ability to use language so acutely.
The anniversary concert offered the standing-room-only audience two pieces, the new Stay Together, to a score by San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas, and the haunting 1998 Deeply There (stories of a neighborhood).
In Stay Together, Goode tackles what is glibly summarized as the midlife crisis: when long-term relationships unravel, careers begin to meander, and time ahead is shortening. A secondary strand explores the process of creating a piece, of finding a direction in which to take it. The ever-efficient Liz Burritt, clipboard in hand and glasses on her nose, was there to give the largely silent Goode plenty of advice of the “listen deeply” and “be in the moment” type.
The challenge here for Goode was to make a work about being clueless without coming up with a piece that goes nowhere. It’s a challenge he doesn’t quite meet. To achieve “a perfect little euphoria” is, no matter what Burritt says, no easier in art than it is in life. Despite good collaborators and several splendid episodes, there’s something wan about Stay Together that makes for a disconcerting theatrical experience.
Tilson Thomas’s score is perfectly serviceable, with monochromatic sections punctuated by percussive elements. Several times it hilariously called up sci-fi and Movietone music associations.
Goode and Melecio Estrella, as his maybe young lover, maybe younger self, had some telling shadowing duets together. During their first meeting, silhouetted against separate screens, heads longingly turning toward each other, they almost trembled with excitement and fragility. Throughout, Austin Forbord’s live videos contributed excellent tonal nuances and a sense of sometimes almost painful intimacy.
Stay Together‘s most theatrically cutting moment came with Marit Brook-Kothlow’s sex-starved Norma Desmond figure. The intensity of the character’s obsession split her screen image and spilled over into some vigorous dancing.
Deeply There remains one of Goode’s finest works. Robin Holcomb’s on-tape score, with its echoes of Shaker and Americana folk tunes, is inspired; the a cappella singing by Goode’s dancer-actors, haunting. With this quasi–musical theater work, Goode hones in on and pays tribute to a community that pulled together and learned to take care of and bury its own. Goode’s piece just barely avoids sentimentality by calling up equal measures of laughter and tears.
On many levels the piece remains disjointed. The outrageous Imelda figure (Ruben Graciani) and a voguing Jackie O sequence have little to do with the work’s subject except to point to the excesses of the times. These are the segments that today seem the most dated, perhaps because they look so innocent.
Yet the work rode an emotionally convincing trajectory from the opening prologue between Frank (Goode) and little Willis (Joshua Rauchwerger), who wants to know where Goode’s lover Ben is, to the last monologue about carrying on, however uncertainly. The scenes seamlessly flowed one to the next; the characters looked all too plausible. Estrella as the well-meaning goody-goody neighbor was positively nauseating, while Brook-Kothlow has grown in stature as D.D. the dog and Felipe Barrueto Cabello’s silent Mauricio has more backbone. The only false note remains Joyce (Burritt), Ben’s virago of a sister. She is still too much of a caricature. SFBG
joe goode performance group
Fri/9–Sat/10, 8 p.m.; Sun/11, 7 p.m.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater
700 Howard, SF
Woe to you, Oh Earth and Sea, for the Devil sends the Beast with wrath, because he knows the time is short…. Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the beast for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty six.
— Revelation 13:18
This week marks an unusual holiday — or unholy day — that only comes along once every 100 years: the Day of the Beast, 6/6/06. For some it is a day to fear, when the Antichrist of Christian mythology will finally be revealed. For others it is a time of hope and celebration for precisely the same reason. For me, it is a time to rock. The Number of the Beast, Iron Maiden’s third studio album, was released in 1982. Vocalist Bruce Dickinson had just joined the band, and Maiden was at the height of its powers. My best friend Mike and I listened to the entire record every day after school for months. We would sit on the edge of my bed and stare at the record cover, trying to decipher its hidden meanings and getting off on the comic book/metal imagery. As true fans and converts, we felt compelled to spread the word, or at least show how cool we thought we were.
So one morning before school, we took a black Magic Marker to a couple of white T-shirts, writing three big 6s on the fronts and “The Number of the Beast” on the backs. We were so proud of ourselves walking to school, but our bubble was burst as soon as we got there: The teacher sent us straight back home to change, telling us, “Some of the other children might find it offensive.” Mike and I both played it off like we were innocent little rock fans, with no intentions of offending or converting anyone to Satanism. We were just celebrating our favorite band — and song.
The title song in question is, to my mind, one of the most rocking ever recorded. Maiden bassist Steve Harris wrote it, and it is a true metal classic: heavy riffs, strong, catchy hooks, and vaguely sinister metal lyrics. The words put the listener straight into the narrator’s mind, witnessing the dawn of Hell on Earth: “Torches blazed and sacred chants were praised/ As they start to cry, hands held to the sky/ In the night, the fires burning bright/ The ritual has begun, Satan’s work is done.”
Dickinson invokes dark, paranoid imagery as if channeling Poe or Lovecraft, and when he spits out the chorus of “6-6-6/ The Number of the Beast,” he conjures up all that is implied in the evil numerology: the tension between the narrator’s juvenile fascination with evil — much like our own — and the higher impulse to overcome and reject it.
“But I feel drawn to the chanting hordes / They seem to mesmerize, can’t avoid their eyes.”
In the end, the narrator appears to be swayed, or possessed, by the dark forces, and joins them. But don’t worry, for we are shown the way to salvation by the album’s cover art: Amid a field of flames and an ominous night sky, a small man, representing humanity, dances on puppet strings held by a horned, red devil, who is himself attached to strings wielded by Eddie, Maiden’s ubiquitous undead mascot. The message is clear: While humankind may be weak and easily led astray by the Hoofed One, it is the power of rock — or more specifically, metal, as represented by Eddie — that can save us and help us to conquer our fears. The words of the song tell one story, but the sheer visceral power of the music itself transforms and redeems the lyrical narrative. Evil may exist — in ourselves, on Earth, and in the universe — but by the empowering grace of metal, we can exorcise our demons and tame the beast within. Metal becomes the negation of the negation.
Theologically, of course, before the devil became the grotesque and irredeemable character of novels and horror movies, he was the Adversary, the Fallen Angel, the Forsaken One of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions. Remember his friendly wager with God over Job’s soul, or his cordial philosophical debates with the Nazarene, long before Faust’s wager or Linda Blair’s projectile vomiting. It was he who questioned and encouraged others to do the same, the one who opposed and dared to think for himself. He was the rebel, the gadfly, the thorn in the side. The subsequent notion that questioning authority and tradition is the devil’s work, though intended to scare us straight, gives rise to a certain curiosity — and yes, sympathy — toward Lucifer, in some who cherish freedom of thought and expression. No doubt some of the titillation we feel watching Rosemary’s Baby or listening to the “The Number of the Beast” comes from such an impulse to defy a hallowed authority, from the safety of our imaginations.
Twenty-four years after it was released, the Iron Maiden album retains its power and vitality. It continues to be a benchmark for good, honest heavy metal now obscured by retro-fixated irony, emo-inspired whininess, embarrassing misappropriations of hip-hop, and false metal generally. The fact that Maiden has stuck to its guns through the waxing and waning of true metal’s popularity and has continued to record and tour on its own terms to this day somehow adds to the record’s staying power. The music is not tainted by revisionist questions about the band’s motives or integrity. In this, as well as the music, Maiden continues to be an inspiration to generations of musicians and fans.
I like to think of “The Number of the Beast” as a kind of “White Christmas” for the day of the beast. (Too bad it’s a holiday that only happens once a century — it could mean a gold mine in royalties for Harris and co.) Never mind that the nice chaps in Maiden are not actually Satanists at all — Irving Berlin was Jewish, and we all know you don’t have to be a Christian to have a tree. It’s the spirit of the day that counts. So on 6/6/06, do yourself a favor and crank up some Maiden. If you listen carefully, you might almost hear the children’s voices caroling:
“666 — The number of the beast/ 666 — The one for you and me.” SFBG
Devin Hoff lives in Oakland and plays the bass with Redressers, Good for Cows, Nels Cline Singers, and others.
"Who is going to tell our stories if we don’t?" asks Madeleine Lim, founder and director of the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project. She has a point. After wracking my brain to recall queer women or trans people of color who have graced a movie screen this year outside of a film festival, all I could come up with was Alice Wu’s Saving Face — which certainly didn’t play at the multiplex. Lim firmly believes that "as long as we’re not in the studio systems writing, directing, and producing these films, we’re never going to see ourselves on the big screen." Her "little stab" at putting such stories front and center was creating the QWOCMAP program, which offers free digital filmmaking workshops to queer women and trans folks of color.
This weekend brings the Queer Women of Color Film Festival, an official event of the National Queer Arts Festival that Lim organizes and curates along with M??nica Enr??quez and Darshan Elena Campos. "Tender Justice," the first evening’s program (Thurs/8, 7 p.m.), showcases shorts by young women aged 18 to 25. Many deal with issues of violence and assault, some obliquely: In the experimental piece Messages, by Alyssa Contreras, a girl wanders through a surreal red-and-black nightmare listening to hateful cell phone messages left by various family members.
On the second evening, queer Latina filmmakers come together for "En Mi Piel: Borders Redrawn" (Fri/9, 7 p.m.). The event, which includes a panel discussion, is entirely bilingual: "It is political to reclaim spaces that are bilingual, in light of the immigration debate and the backlash and racism that it has generated," says cocurator Enr??quez. There are shorts by Bay Area and Los Angeles filmmakers, as well as a group of Mexican filmmakers who traveled here on a grant from the Global Fund for Women. One highlight is filmmaking collective Mujeres y Cultura Subterranea’s La Dimensi??n del Olvido, a gritty documentary that chronicles the lives of women and startlingly young girls who live on the streets in Mexico. Others include Liliana Hueso’s Las Mujeres de Mi Vida; Aurora Guerrero’s Pura Lengua, which skillfully handles a narrative about a Los Angeles Latina queer woman who deals with a horrific police assault; and Amy André’s En Mi Piel, in which an FTM half-white, half-Chicano trans man named Logan recalls his journey back to Mexico, the search for his roots becoming part of his new identity.
The third evening, "Heart of the Flame" (Sat/10, 7 p.m.), features works by students of Lim’s over the age of 25. One such is Kenya Brigg’s Forgiven, an autobiographical narrative about recognizing her grandmother’s strength of forgiveness, which she observes when the elderly African American woman uses a cake to bury the hatchet with a white neighbor who once signed a petition to keep her from buying a house in their Castro neighborhood. SFBG
QUEER WOMEN OF COLOR
SF LBGT Community Center,
1800 Market, SF
Cracked walls, peeling plaster, empty light sockets, patterns of wallpaper, and scraps of old headlines — devoid of human activity, the shots within poet, novelist, critic, painter, and occasional filmmaker Weldon Kees’s only solo directorial effort, Hotel Apex (1952), convey what biographer James Reidel deemed a fascination with “the pathos of objects.” It’s little wonder Jenni Olson feels a certain kinship with Kees: Her recent ode to San Francisco loneliness, 2005’s The Joy of Life, also mines emotion from urban spaces some might consider empty or left behind. “He’s very quirky about the banal and the mundane, and kind of poetic and melancholy,” notes Olson, when asked about a bond. “He’s a role model.”
Because The Joy of Life‘s soundtrack features Kees’s “The Coastline Rag,” Olson’s exploration of landscape and longing might seem like a direct tribute to Kees’s film work — after all, Olson’s film deals partly with the Golden Gate Bridge and suicide, and Kees was fatally drawn to the landmark. That isn’t the case, though: It turns out Olson only recently learned of Hotel Apex‘s existence, in the process of putting together a film program devoted to Kees, with some help from Reidel.
Such a project couldn’t have been simple. A too-easy source like IMDb.com is definitely not the place to go to learn about Kees’s links with film, as the site only credits his contributions as a composer to The Joy of Life and James Broughton’s Adventures of Jimmy, an oft-hilarious short with ultra-fey narration by Broughton that resonates with the real-life sexual ambiguity of both its director and (perhaps a bit less) its music contributor.
In fact, Kees was involved in more than a handful of short films. Unsettling when one digs beneath its ordinary surface, the Gregory Bateson collaboration Hand-Mouth Coordination (1952) resembles a home movie of a mom and child that includes footage of the father figure — who actually turns out to be Kees — at work behind a Bolex. If the scenario seems a bit like the filmed experiments that distort the protagonist of Michael Powell’s 1960 Peeping Tom as a child, the comparison isn’t completely off base. “The film is meant to be a depiction of a schizopregenic — a cold mother who doesn’t properly bond with her kid,” Olson explains while describing one of a few projects partly derived from Kees’s links to the local Langley Porter Psychiatric Clinic. “Kees was very particular about the idea that the filmmaker should be visible, in a way that — 50 years ago — was new. He was influenced by Helen Levitt.”
An acknowledgement, however unconventional, of the filmmaker’s role — something troublesomely absent from Eric Steel’s controversial, not-yet-released Golden Gate Bridge suicide documentary The Bridge — is something that unites Kees’s and Olson’s movie projects. Kees’s physical presence within a 1955 film by William Heick, also called The Bridge, is the more subtle and historically engaged riddle about life, death, and the Golden Gate Bridge at the core of Olson’s program, which she’s put together in conjunction with San Francisco Cinematheque and the Poetry Center. In The Bridge, Heick and Kees draw upon Hart Crane’s poem of the same name: Although the structure itself is no longer the Brooklyn but rather the Golden Gate span, Crane’s words become an elegy not just for himself but for fellow poet Kees as well.
Beyond the films he was involved in, Kees’s ties to film history are rich ones. Briefly a movie critic at Time, he was close to James Agee, and as Reidel’s bio notes in passing, no less a talent than friend and fellow painter-critic Manny Farber praised Hotel Apex‘s unorthodox camera work for its “crawl” down a steam pipe “at the pace of a half-dead bug.” (Kees also rubbed shoulders and butted heads with Clement Greenberg, Mary McCarthy, Kenneth Rexroth, William Carlos Williams, and others.) Pauline Kael often cursed herself for not recognizing self-destructive signs in her friend, as she was one of the last people to see Kees with any regularity in the last year of his life. For those who know little about Kees’s ties with Kael, or the role moviegoing plays in one of his most effective and contemporary poems, Olson’s program might bring a surprise or two. SFBG
KEES KINO: THE FILM WORK OF WELDON KEES
Sun/11, 7:30 p.m.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF
There’s always room for another film festival in this town, especially when said fest is drowning in blood, guts, and supernatural shenanigans. The San Francisco Independent Film Festival’s festering youngest child, Another Hole in the Head, returns this week for its third year of ghouls gone wild.
Standouts include The Hamiltons (think Party of Five meets Martin), directed by a local duo whose enticing nom de screen is "the Butcher Brothers,” and, from Greece, Yorgos Noussias’s excellent To Kako (Evil), which cribs from Romero and 28 Days Later in its tale of a ragtag band of urban survivors scrambling to evade the marauding undead. And yes, it does incorporate the dreaded fast-moving breed of zombies, but even genre purists turned off by that factoid will forgive the film once things start going apeshit; I’m thinking in particular of a scene in a deserted restaurant that unleashes 2006’s most satisfying head-squashing to date. The film also has enough of a sense of humor to include the line "If you don’t trust me, trust this!" (cut to: a giant rifle) and a last shot of near-genius proportions.
Per usual, HoleHead brings in several Asian horror flicks, including Shinya Tsukamoto’s enduringly creepy Haze and Yudai Yamaguchi (Battlefield Baseball) and Junichi Yamamoto’s disappointing Meatball Machine. There are also a handful of classics, like Bruce Kessler’s 1971 psych-out Simon: King of the Witches and — in perhaps the festival’s most inspired move — John Boorman’s 1973 Zardoz. Sean Connery’s spectacular loincloth is but the first of many, many reasons to view this neglected masterpiece on the big screen.
Also well worth catching (either at the fest or during their June 29–July 2 run at CELLspace): splat-happy theater troupe the Primitive Screwheads (Evil Dead: Live!, Re-Animator of the Dead), who return with their latest, The Chainsaw Massacres, which boasts a rumored 60 gallons of stage blood poised to rain down on the audience. Plus: disco!
ANOTHER HOLE IN THE HEAD
See Film listings for venue and ticket information
The term CinemaScope might conjure a 2.66-to-1 vision of an extra-bodacious Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire, or, if you’re a certain breed of movie maniac, it might inspire a recitation of Fritz Lang’s famous Contempt-uous remark that the format is fine for filming snakes and coffins, but not for capturing people. Bizarre, then, that Liu Jiayin has taken an outmoded approach known for gargantuan celluloid spectacle and revived it — brilliantly — for small-scale digital family portraiture. Winner of numerous festival prizes, including the competitive Dragons and Tigers award bestowed in Vancouver last fall, Liu’s BetaSP debut feature, Ox Hide, has more than once been deemed the most important first feature to emerge from China since Jia Zhangke’s 2000 Platform. That’s a fest obsessive’s way of saying that Liu is the real deal — in addition to possessing a charismatically baby-butch camera presence, she knows how to write, stage, and shoot a funny, unsettling, and pointed scene.
Twenty-three scenes, to be exact, a number reflecting Liu’s age when she made the movie. Ox Hide consists of just that many immobile but rarely "static" shots, each used to depict a moment from the cramped and quarrelsome domestic life she shares with her mother and her father, the latter a stubborn and slowly failing leather goods merchant. (Thus the title.) Making "reality" TV look about as stupid as it is, Liu shares a unique use of format and a sharp focus on the family with ’90s teen PixelVision pioneer — and former Le Tigre member — Sadie Benning, and like Benning, she’s got terrific timing both on-screen (bickering about noodles at the dinner table) and off (using a close-up of a printer to reveal her kin’s economic struggles). Local curator Joel Shepard deserves thanks for bringing this movie to the Bay Area, kicking off a "Beijing Underground" series that will span a few more Fridays this month. (Johnny Ray Huston)
Thurs/8, 7 and 9 p.m.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF
Cast a spell — that is what movies (at least nondocumentary ones) are or were supposed to do, and yet how often do they achieve that aim today? V??ctor Erice’s original feature, 1973’s The Spirit of the Beehive, is partly about the spell a masterful movie can cast, and also is a many-shaded masterpiece that casts an unforgettable spell, a waking dream that disperses in a way that seems to infect the world outside the darkened rooms in which it breathes and lives.
At first glance the story seems so simple, and after all, it is set "Once upon a time …," as an intertitle announces, just after a credit sequence featuring objects relevant to the story — a beekeeper’s mask, a train, a well, a mushroom, and that surrealist standby, a clock — drawn by the film’s lead actors. But more specifically, it takes place somewhere on the Castilian plateau of Spain around 1940, as Frankenstein comes to town. Ana (Ana Torrent) and older sister Isabel (Isabel Teller??a) are among the children who race through the barren rural landscape to a movie barn to see James Whale’s classic chiller, but it is only Ana who cranes like a lunar flower under the projected light, ignoring a prelude from the film’s producers that warns viewers not to take what they see too seriously. Before Ana and her sister emerge playfully shrieking from the darkened building, Erice has already allowed Frankenstein‘s influence to seep outside, into the seemingly oblivious existences of the girls’ mutually alienated parents, a beekeeper (Fernando Fern?
CHEAP EATS You’re probably tired of hearing about my dehumidifier. What? No? You can’t get enough of it? Well that’s great because it’s kind of like my curse, or part of it, to have to call ’em like I see ’em, no matter how boring or embarrassing. And I know this is embarrassingly boring, but I gotta tell you: Dehumidifiers are where it’s at, man.
I can dry my hands on a towel now and they actually get less wet. Things like salt once again work. I can write with pens, on paper! My keys aren’t rusty. I no longer have to squeegee the mirror every morning just to see my mildewy face. And best of all I can once again cook spaghetti without having to put on my bathing suit.
The timing couldn’t be better, because I just got the results of my latest blood test and my testosterone level has dropped below the normal range for men. After months and months of popping the little blue-greenies, I am finally running on “E,” so to speak. I’ve decided, almost arbitrarily, that eating lots and lots of pasta now will help me to have boobs, and that having boobs will help me to have a boyfriend, or a girlfriend who’s into girls. And chickens.
Speaking of which, it’s been four weeks now since I published my funny little personal ad right here in Cheap Eats, and the responses have slowed to a trickle. Let’s see, all said there were one, two, well, one response, technically, and our exchange of e-mails and phone calls ended in him asking me to fuck off. But not in those words. His exact words, I believe, were "go fuck off." The italics are mine. The fault being mine too, I had no choice but to eat my bandana and fuck off. Which I did. But I didn’t go fuck off. I just fucked off. I still have my pride.
Anyway, so, OK, online dating . . . check. Done that. Done with that. What was I thinking? I’m not in a hurry. I actually love being alone. I love people too, all of them — but not equally. My personal preference leans toward those who aren’t stomping on my fingers or kicking my shins.
Oh, and, duh, I don’t need to place personal ads in this column. That was stupid. Cheap Eats practically is a personal ad. People write to me all the time, entirely unsolicited, and say, "I feel like I know you. I have this new favorite restaurant, and if you’re ever in the neighborhood, and hungry . . ." Which I always eventually am and am, respectively. In the past, I have not always been the best corresponder; but I’m trying, and getting better.
Give you an example: Around the same time, around four weeks ago, I also received an e-mail from a fan of my old band who wanted to send the chicken farmer a book about chickens. I gave her my address, got the book, which was written for 9- to-12-year-olds, and cried at the ending.
She mentioned in the letter her new favorite Indian restaurant in Berkeley, which I should probably review, and if I was ever in the neighborhood, and hungry . . . And she asked, in passing, for the name of my new band — so that she could more easily stalk me, she said. She tried to make a joke out of it, but I took this very seriously. As a public figure, you have to. Someone uses that word, you have to err on the side of serious.
So I wrote back and said, in effect, "Complete Stranger, you don’t have to stalk me. I’ll come to you!"
Made a date, she bought me lunch, and I have this to say about her new favorite Indian restaurant: Mine too! It’s south Indian style, which is dosas and stuff. In case you don’t know what a dosa is, it’s yet another style of flat bread, like roti, which I love, and naan, which I love.
I love dosa.
But get this: no meat. We’re getting down with this awesome okra curry dish and dosa, and this other thin, crispy crepe-y crackery thing and all these other dip-into’s, a white one, and a soupy one with carrots, and probably you gotta figure some other things I’m not remembering . . . The point is: no meat. And yet: delicious, filling, fun. And cheap! Our little lunch came to $15.
All we talked about was food, mostly Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, and cupcakes, and curry goat, and Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. My new friend Carrie is not no vegetarian, and yet her favorite restaurant really is a vegetarian one. So let that tell you something. SFBG
Daily: 11:30 a.m.–10:00 p.m.
1901–1903 University Ave., Berkeley
Credit cards not accepted
Marin is not my favorite county — it is the police state, bristling with bored and predatory officers of the law, that must be traversed to reach the wine country — but it does have its glories. Among these is Sabor of Spain (www.saborofspain.com) in San Rafael, a kind of Spanish Table of the North Bay selling various foodstuffs, ceramics, glassware, and a stupendous selection of Spanish wines. Last summer Sabor sprouted a tapas restaurant, Vinoteca, in an adjoining space that has the Barcelona-modern look of glass, chrome, dark wood, stone, and mirrors. The restaurant offers by-the-glass service of many of the bottlings for sale next door at Sabor, and if you want to spring for a whole bottle, you’ll pay about an $18 markup over retail. This doesn’t mean much at the lower end of the scale, but it does mean that a magnificent $75 Priorat can be had in the restaurant for under $100 instead of the $150 or more you’d likely pay at a place that uses the more typical, and lucrative, method of tripling the wholesale price.
(Historical note: The dot-com-era restaurant Elroy’s followed a similar fixed-markup policy for bottles of wine, but the numbers were even more dramatically skewed in the customers’ favor. The restaurant’s markup was only $10, and that was over cost, and for pricier wines this was such a good deal — better than in any wine shop — that people were said to be coming to the restaurant just to buy bottles of wine to take home. Distributors and winemakers eventually rained on this parade, and, perhaps not coincidentally, Elroy’s is no more.)
Despite the extensive selection of Spanish wines, the staff at Sabor rather glumly confided to me that the restaurant’s patrons overwhelmingly prefer familiar varietals — chardonnay and merlot, to name a pair of the all-too-usual suspects — to wines made from such difficult-to-pronounce Spanish grapes as tempranillo or verdejo in such oddly named Spanish regions as Rueda or R??as Baixas. In a predictable response, Spanish winemakers are now turning out chardonnays and merlots — with those names conspicuous on the labels — for what I can only hope is export to us. At least some of the chardonnay vines, I was reassured, were brought to Spain from Burgundy and presumably would give their Iberian offshoots some Burgundian character, though whether that character will play in California, land of the butterball chardonnay, remains to be seen, alas.
Of the great Mediterranean islands, Sardinia is probably the least well known. Crete has its Minoan past and the mythic connection to Atlantis, Sicily its mafiosi; Corsica was the birthplace of Napoleon — but Sardinia is best known for lending its name, after a fashion, to a small member of the herring family, the sardine, which is abundant in the island’s waters and usually ends up being salted, boiled in oil, and packed in tins for export.
The sardine does not, interestingly, loom large on the menu of la Ciccia, a restaurant serving Sardinian cuisine that Massimiliano Conti and Lorella Degan opened toward the end of March in a storefront space at the foot of Church Street. The place isn’t hard to find: Picture a southbound J-Church train not making the sharp left onto 30th Street but instead flying off the tracks straight into a building — as if in some Keanu Reeves movie, perhaps Speed X? — and the building would be la Ciccia’s. If that is too dramatic, look for the sign, with its handsome orange lettering.
The address was the longtime home of Verona Restaurant and Pizza, a homey neighborhood spot serving Italian and Greek dishes — and, of course, pizza. Verona’s dimness has vanished, and the smallish dining room has been discreetly swabbed with modernity — the walls are an elegant pale green now, and there is a new sense of airiness — but a certain charming rusticity persists. The menu card is written in Sardinian, a Romance language closely related to Italian but plainly distinguishable from it, and the kitchen continues to turn out pizzas — some of the better pizzas you’ll find around town, in fact.
If you see the pizza as a splittable or sharable course among courses, rather than a meal unto itself, you will have begun to discover one of the central charms of la Ciccia. Those who want the standard American meal of starter, main course, and dessert will find what they are looking for, but those who seek to replicate one of those lovely European intervals of deliberate grazing, of a series of courses shared without hurry, will find la Ciccia’s variety of offerings, from pizza and pasta to "antipastusu e is inzalaras," rich enough to satisfy them too.
The pizzas are thin of crust and made to order, and the only bad thing I can say about them is that sometimes the points are droopy. But this could have been at least partly our fault, since the pies were presented to us unsliced (in accordance with Sardinian practice), and, in a pleasurable echo of certain kindergarten projects, we cut them up ourselves, with steak knives. The Sarda pie ($10) featured, in addition to a delicate smear of tomato sauce and several blobs of melted mozzarella, a Grecian punch of oregano and capers, while the margherita ($10), that trusty old friend, was fitted out with basil chiffonade.
Mozzarella recurs in a deconstructed salad ($8) of julienne roasted red bell pepper (like a heap of tiny, glistening snakes) and tongues of zucchini, the plate drizzled with balsamic vinegar. So far, so good for vegetarians, who will want to avert their eyes when the plate of salume ($9) appears: Here we have, in addition to crackerlike Sardinian flatbread (curled as if from the heat of the oven), slices of testa, lardo, and two kinds of salume. I liked it all, though the creamy white lardo seemed to be pure pork fat.
Seafood tends to be a natural principal of island cuisines, and while the preeminence of animal husbandry on Sardinia is reflected in the meatiness of la Ciccia’s cooking (and in the name itself, which means "belly" in Sardinian), the restaurant does have its treats from the sea. Prominent among these is octopus ($10) braised in olive oil with chili peppers, basil, and mint and presented with quartered oven-roasted tomatoes. The oily sauce is dark, exotic, and luxurious, while the octopus itself has something of the character, firm and slightly salty, of preserved fish.
As for meat: You’ll catch a nice whiff of fennel from the pork sausage that enriches a lively saffron-tomato sauce for gnocchetti ($13), a pasta variety that resembles half-split soybean pods. True carnivores might want something like the lamb stew ($17), a hearty but rather somber bowl of tender meat cubes, potatoes, and peas in a sunless brown sauce purported to contain saffron. It is good but not especially interesting, just as the lasagnette ($10), a kind of loose-leaf layering of semolina ribbons and shredded cabbage under a cap of melted pecorino cheese, is interesting but not especially good — a kind of sauerkraut pasta, tangy-salty with an odd glimmer of sweetness.
A word on the wine list, which, being replete with Sardinian bottlings both white and red, is probably one of the more striking ones in town at the moment: Because Sardinia is a world unto itself in many ways, its viticulture, like its food, is diverse. Its most famous wine is produced from a white grape, vermentino, whose best examples grow in dry, windswept conditions in the northeast part of the island. Argiolas’s Costamolino bottling ($26) is a little rich by this standard, with plenty of tropical fruit, but quite seductively drinkable. A crisper white, for my taste, is the little-known nuragus de Cagliari (another Argiolas, $8 a glass), a seafood-friendly wine produced in the southern part of the island, around the provincial capital, Cagliari. There are even excellent reds, among them monica de Sardegna (yet another Argiolas product, $7 a glass), a svelte but tight wine, like a good pinot noir and definitely a cut above pizza wine, though good with — good — pizzas. SFBG
Nightly, 5:30–10 p.m.
291 30th St., SF
Beer and wine
June 7-June 13
March 21-April 19
Hmmm, what’s this opportunity we’re detecting in your sphere, Aries? Is it a new phase of development you’re entering, or just a breath of fresh air come to revive your sagging spirits? Whichever it may be, the potential to create something of actual meaning is real, as long as you keep your ego in check.
April 20-May 20
Taurus, we’re sooo happy that the shit has finally stopped hitting the fan. You needed a break. Now that life has calmed down some, we’d like you to think about how you maintain balance and interdependence outside of conflict. We think you might need to make some adjustments to the way you deal with life when it’s peaceful.
May 21-June 21
Can you find some flow, Gemini? Some way to get right with the various vibes and energies swishing around you? Not to be a hippie, but if you don’t, it looks like you run the risk of feeling some anxiety. And if you do, we think you’ll find yourself optimistic about the future without attachment to any specific outcome.
June 22-July 22
Cancer, what’s wrong with you? It looks like you’ve found something or someone that makes you wicked happy, and now all the happiness has begun to make you wicked sad! Well, indulge your melancholy if you must; unlike the happiness, it’s not going to last much longer.
July 23-Aug. 22
While you’re in the midst of totally overhauling and restructuring your entire life, Leo, we urge you to make room for freedom. Don’t hop out of one set of binding circumstances only to fling yourself into something equally constricting. That would be dumb. Put some wild cards into the fabulous deck of your life.
Aug. 23-Sept. 22
Virgo, we meant to write "don’t let the bumps on your path distract you from the excellentness you’re capable of," but instead we wrote “sexcellentness”! And that’s it, Virgo — you’re burning with potential and creativity this week, and sex and art are two great ways to be present with yourself in the midst of so much sexcellent energy.
Sept. 23-Oct. 22
Libra, can you go swimming and keep your hair dry? Can you say no to someone without rejecting them? These are the sorts of questions you are grappling with this week. And the answer is yes, but we can see that you haven’t figured that out yet. So you’re going to worry and worry and worry. Oh, well.
Oct. 23-Nov. 21
It’s okay for you to fake it ’til you make it, Scorpio. In fact, we encourage such fakery. We think it will be the secret to your success. If life requires you to have a glowing tan but you’re too scared of melanoma to bake yourself, then by all means spray it on. No one will know but you. We promise.
Nov. 22-Dec. 21
Sag, you’re not going to feel very clear this week. But you can still be out and about in the world without creating tons of damage. Go and participate in your life, stay open and active, just don’t make any commitments. Offer yourself in an authentic way, but without giving everything away.
Dec. 22-Jan. 19
No jumping around from idea to idea, Capricorn. You’ve got to focus. Get very clear about your intentions, then sit back and let it all play out. You don’t have much control, but if you can muster up some faith in things panning out OK, you’ll manage not to stress.
Jan. 20-Feb. 18
Aquarius, there are too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen, and you’re confused about whose ass gets the boot first. There are creative ways to handle the strains and stresses of firing a fleet of chefs, but you better be present with your needs if you want to pull it off well. It all looks really overwhelming.
Feb. 19-March 20
Your feelings aren’t going to go away, Pisces. You’re going to have to deal with them. We do hope that you find a way to indulge your heartless drama queen emotions without looking to everyone watching (and yes, everyone is watching). Figure out why, just when you were having such a good time, you freaked out. SFBG
TECHSPLOITATION I’ve been sorely disappointed by feminists’ responses to genetic engineering. Like many life sciences, genetic engineering has its dark side — but that’s no excuse for groups like Gene Watch to claim that the feminist position on genetic engineering should be "just say no." Why the hell shouldn’t feminists seize the means of reproduction and turn them to our own best interests? Why shouldn’t we be at the table when policy makers determine the best ways to regulate cloning, genetic engineering, and new reproductive technologies?
If we turn our backs on the debate, it will just go on without us. And we know how that turns out already. Just look at what happened with birth control pills. The pill was developed and tested in the 1950s entirely by male researchers — one of whom, Harvard’s John Rock, was a devout Catholic. Rock pushed for a dose cycle of the pill that would replicate women’s monthly menstrual cycle, essentially so that it could be, like the rhythm method, a God-approved form of birth control. The Pope disagreed, but the monthly pill cycle stuck, despite the fact that the pill could completely eliminate menstruation for as long as a woman wished and there was no evidence that this was any less healthy than a monthly menstrual cycle.
Let’s think here, people — if women and feminists had been involved in the process of developing the pill, there is no goddamn way we would have let them take away the possibility of a pill to eliminate our "little visitor." No woman likes to bleed once a month. It’s messy; it’s crampy; occasionally there are embarrassingly stained clothes and sheets. Only men would deem it "better" for us to keep on putting up with this biological annoyance even after finding a cure for it. Luckily, there are now a handful of birth control products on the market, such as Seasonale and Lybrel, that do eliminate periods as well as prevent pregnancy. It only took 50 years.
That’s why any feminist worth her sodium chloride should be charging into the debate on genetic engineering with a list of demands. Hell, yes, we want to change the biology of reproduction — and we want to change it now.
The primary goal of a feminist genetic engineering project is to cut the reproductive process loose from patriarchy and male domination. One simple way to do that is to make sure feminist politics are front and center in any discussion about how we will use genetic engineering to eliminate harmful birth defects. I think we can all agree that it would be great to make sure babies aren’t born with holes in their hearts, but what about girl babies born with small breasts? Can’t you just see some clueless researcher claiming that women with small breasts are "harmed" psychologically, and that therefore we should engineer all women to have big ones? Feminists need to shut that shit down right away.
But what do we want? First of all, we want genetic engineering to transform the way families work, perhaps by making it possible for two women to create a baby without male intervention — or for more than two parents to create a baby. (Researchers in Japan have already bred a healthy baby mouse out of genetic material from two females, and researchers in England are working on a human baby that will have genetic material from two women and one man.) Either way, you’ve got new parental formations, and hopefully this biological change will lead to childcare being meted out more equally — or at least challenge our preconceptions about what it means to be a "mommy" or a "daddy."
We also want artificial wombs, so that women don’t have to stay home from work while gestating their fetuses. We need technologies that will at last close the "baby gap" in workplaces where women fall behind their male colleagues during pregnancies and their children’s early development. Plus, we want men to be able to participate as fully in the reproductive process as possible. That’s why male pregnancy and lactation should be a goal of feminist genetic engineers. We don’t want merely to liberate ourselves from the reproductive process; we want to bring men into it as our equal partners.
New family structures, artificial wombs, and pregnant men are just the very beginnings of what feminists should be demanding when it comes to the genetic transformation of our species. Let’s get out of the streets and into the lab! SFBG
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who thinks mpreg stories are the wave of the future.
You once ran from a letter from "Stretch," who was interested in stretching his scrotum. As someone with naturally occurring low-hangers, let me just say they seem to have minds of their own, finding their ways into the most unexpected places. A playful smack on the ass from my boyfriend can leave me writhing in agony. Even sitting can be risky. I don’t see any advantage to having low-hangers, unless, of course, Stretch finds them aesthetically more pleasing than more traditional balls.
People who write in for ball-stretching advice rarely mention why they’d want to do such a thing, come to think of it. While many, I assume, are seeking sensations having something to do with gravity, drag, and, um, wind resistance, I’d file permanent scrotum-stretching with all the other piercings, dilations, and bifurcations. They are varyingly extreme expressions of the human yearning for self-transformation. While most people are content with, say, coloring their hair, decorating their skin, or acquiring an annoying faux-British accent, others feel driven to use their bodies as a plastic medium. While I agree with you that altering a particularly vital and vulnerable body part to swing ever more freely in the breeze seems ill-advised, it is not particularly surprising.
So, what is surprising? How about www.houseofgord.com? I’d never seen it myself until last week, when I was hanging out with the usual band of geeky freaks, plus some new ones with new freakinesses to share. At some point in these evenings someone will pull out a laptop, and then it’s time for show-and-tell, pervert version. This one is dedicated to human transformation into … furniture. That’s right: chesterfield fetishists. Breakfront freaks. OK, I exaggerate — tables and chairs are more common inspirations, but there are also numerous ceiling fixtures and a human lawn sprinkler. You can, apparently, make a lawn sprinkler out of nothing but a girl, a rubber suit, some tubing, and — oh, never mind. I can’t describe it. You’ll have to go look for yourself.
I think I have a crazy foot fetish. I love it when a woman gives me a back massage with her feet. I like it when a woman knees/kicks me in the balls and I fall to my knees in pain at her feet. I reckon I would probably love it if a woman continuously kneed/kicked me in the balls until I surrendered. What’s wrong with me?
Eh, nothing much. You’re a run-of-the-mill kinky foot-fetishizing ball-kickee male submissive; join the pack.
Getting groin-kicked is surprisingly common fantasy material, although perhaps unsurprisingly, few guys really wish to act out the full-contact version. Many men, for instance, are willing to pay a well-shod woman to sorta kick them in the balls. Of course, there are people who wish to go all the way — there always are. For every few thousand fantasized castrations, there’s one superdedicated guy who actually goes out and does it. Hell, there have been at least two cases where someone who wanted to die actually contracted with someone who wanted to kill, the most famous of which involved not only murder but cannibalism. It does, indeed, take all kinds.
Compared to some of those kinds you are hardly weird at all. What you might be, though, is unfulfilled. While there are numerous "goddesses" and the like willing to pop you one in the nuts, most will charge you stiffly for the privilege. If you can afford it, great. Otherwise, there are of course fine consumer products available from places like — you guessed it — www.groinkick.com.
There are reasons besides money why many men would rather dream of being groin-kicked than actually experience it, as should be obvious upon a little reflection: It hurts, and it can cause permanent damage. Do be careful.
I used to kick (and knee) my brother in his testicles a lot (I still do sometimes). He thinks that he can no longer have kids. Is this true? Can a guy be unable to have kids from being kicked in the testicles?
You still do this? What the hell for? Do you think it’s funny?
That wasn’t a rhetorical question. I really do hear quite often from men who find that women think kicking them in the balls is funny. As I’ve written before, it seems to have some sort of pseudofeminist, "get back at ’em and get ’em good" kind of component, but you know what? It’s not political, and it’s not funny. It’s just loutish, stupid, and mean.
It’s unlikely but possible that your brother has been rendered infertile by your mistreatment, especially if both testicles are badly damaged. He ought to have his balls examined, and, if he’s been allowing you to beat him up all these years, perhaps you both ought to have your heads examined as well.
Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. She is currently preparing to give birth; thus we’ll be rerunning some of her favorite columns from adventures past until she recovers. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com to view archived columns.
131 Steuart, Ste. 205, SF
(415) 995-8588 or (510) 352-0323
City CarShare is on a roll. According to CEO Rick Hutchinson, membership reached record highs this month. And last week the local nonprofit celebrated its fifth birthday by retiring its final green Volkswagen Beetle and ushering in the new breed of hybrids and eco-friendly vehicles. With City CarShare’s new "pods" popping up around the East Bay and the city, you no longer have any excuses for that kiddie scooter you still ride to work. (Kevin Lee)
Little Otsu Publishing and Store
849 Valencia, SF
Shifting focus along with location, vegan boutique Otsu has moved from 16th Street to 849 Valencia and into a new incarnation as independent publishing house–cum–retail space for artisan paper goods Little Otsu. Founders Yvonne Chen and Jeremy Crown have capitulated to their love of paper products, once a sideline, and put cards, journals, and planners designed by local and independent artists, all printed on recycled paper with vegetable-based inks, in their storefront window. Happily for vegan fashionistas, signature T-shirts and wallets are still part of the stock, though belts and shoes are not. (Nicole Gluckstern)
Lately, I’ve been feeling too spooked to ride my bike. Chalk it up to too many near misses, some of which occurred when I was just walking my bike home in the rain. I often think of the shoulder injury my friend has yet to fully recover from or be compensated for (damn those uninsured motorists who skip town) after being doored two years ago. It doesn’t help matters that I spent the weekend at an East Bay music festival held annually in memory of Matthew Sperry, a bassist, composer, husband, and dad, whose very special life ended while he was cycling to work at LeapFrog in Emeryville on June 5, 2003. And let’s not forget Sarah Tucker (hit and run accident, 1/12/06) and Spider Davila (deliberate hit and run, 12/17/05).
Looks like I’m not alone in my fretting. According to a "report card" issued by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, 13 percent of us are reluctant to pedal around town because we’re too scared. Overall, our city got a C-minus in bike friendliness from the 1,151 respondents who filled out the SFBC’s online and hand-distributed survey, mostly owing to scary motorists, bumpy streets, and not enough bike lanes (all issues the bicycle coalition works very hard on to make for a better biking city).
Even though I’m afraid of eating pavement while riding, I don’t wear a helmet. I used to, but those things never look good with my outfit. Besides, if two tons of car slams into me while I’m rolling down Gough, a little piece of plastic and foam wrapped around my Gulliver won’t save my life. Some of you fixies reading this article might be nodding in agreement. Well, that’s because your heads are still attached to your bodies.
Fixed-gear bikes do look beautiful, unfettered as they are by brakes, cheap plastic reflectors, and clunky beam lights, but I’m here to say that you don’t always have to sacrifice aesthetics in favor of living to a ripe old age.
Here’s a handful of ways for you, whether you’re a fixie, a chopper rider, a hybrid commuter, a BMX daredevil, or just really vain (like me), to avoid wearing a neck brace as a fashion accessory. Trust me, you and your bike will still look cool.
1. Get a light How many times has a passing motorist screamed that at you? You bitch about it, because every time you buy one, someone steals it, so finally you got one that slides on and off. But it was too big to fit in your pocket, and then some moron decided to strip the light’s pedestal still screwed to your handlebars. I solved this problem by getting a Topeak front beam light ($20). It’s small enough to fit in your mouth, and it straps on kind of like a wristwatch. No screwdriver necessary, no tacky plastic pedestal marring the sleek looks of your untaped handlebars. I got mine at San Francisco Cyclery on Stanyan across from Golden Gate Park.
2. Don’t be a sucker Jerks are also always stealing back lights and reflectors off bikes. Valencia Cyclery sells lots of "lollipop" lights, which are made by Cat Eye and attach with elastic cords — to your backpack, seat, helmet, belt loop. They cost $13 for a red and $17 for a more-expensive-to-make white LED light.
3. Cop skater style It’s hard to say how these things get decided, but among the tragically hip, lightweight and aerodynamic helmets specifically made for biking are as out as fanny packs. Case in point: Only hybrid riders wear them. But for some reason, wearing a skateboarding helmet while biking is dope. Whatever, they protect equally well. Giro and Bell make bicycle helmets that look like skater (or BMX) helmets, which are more rounded and human head–shaped than the amphibious-looking bike helmets of the ’90s. They come in an array of colors in matte and sparkling finishes. Freewheel and American Cyclery sell them for between 20 and 40 bucks. Skates on Haight sells actual skate helmets online for $20.
4. Just don’t commit suicide Road bikes are more the rage these days, but it’s hard to look out for wayward traffic while leaning over those drop handlebars. Cyclocross interrupter break levers ($20–$40) install at the top of the bars, near the stem, allowing road bike riders to sit upright. Since these levers connect to the housing instead of to your lower brakes, they are a much better alternative to the old-school versions often referred to as suicide brakes. Valencia Cyclery will retrofit your vintage road bike with these for $30. SFBG
Freewheel Bike Shop
1920 Hayes and 914 Valencia, SF
(415) 752-9195, (415) 643-9213
San Francisco Bike Coalition’s Report Card
San Francisco Cyclery
672 Stanyan, SF
1065 Valencia, SF
EDITORIAL The San Francisco Board of Education oversees a budget of more than $400 million. Its seven members attend regular board and committee meetings, analyze complex financial documents, visit school sites, meet with parents and administrators, attend conferences and trainings … and try to find a little bit of time to think about the future of public education in a very difficult urban situation. It’s one of the most important jobs in the city. And the board members get paid about $500 a month.
The members have no staff, just a secretary who handles messages and administrative duties for the entire board.
And you wonder why superintendents can run amok without proper oversight, why the budgets get passed with very little scrutiny, why the board members aren’t more actively involved in dealing with complex community issues like school closures. They just don’t have the time. Most of the board members have actual jobs; some, like Mark Sanchez (who teaches at a public school on the peninsula), have to use their vacation time to visit San Francisco schools.
It’s time to recognize what almost everyone in town concluded about the Board of Supervisors several years ago: This is a full-time job and ought to be treated as one.
Sure, paying the seven board members full-time salaries would cost some money, and the district is pinching every penny it has these days. But when you consider the benefits, the price tag is insignificant:
•Full-time board members would be able to carefully manage district finances. Right now, the members get a budget document of more than 1,000 pages just days before they have to vote on it. There are almost certainly millions of dollars in that document that could be better spent, but only the administration — the superintendent and his or her staff — has the time to figure out what’s really going on.
•The opportunity for public input would increase dramatically. School board meetings are once every two weeks, which is about all a part-time board can handle. Committee meetings are less frequent, and even when there are huge issues (like school closures) on the agenda, not all the members manage to show up. A full-time board could meet every week, hold regular committee meetings, and hold plenty of public hearings to get input on decisions.
•Oversight would be transformed. When there are issues or problems involving San Francisco city departments, the supervisors can hold hearings, bring in the relevant parties, and get to the bottom of what’s going on. That never happens with the school board — but it could, and with full-time board members, it would.
•The city would get better candidates for the job. Right now it’s really hard for anyone who has a full-time job and kids in the public schools to sit on the school board. There are hundreds of people who would make excellent school board members who won’t even consider running because they just can’t afford to serve.
•Full-time board members could actually market the schools. The SF schools badly need some goodwill ambassadors to show more parents the value of public education (and thus increase enrollment). That’s a perfect job for board members — and a more functional board would present a much better image for the schools.
If the school board members were paid as much as San Francisco supervisors (roughly $80,000 a year), and if they each had one full-time staff aide, the total tab would run to around $1 million a year. We’re convinced that the resulting improved oversight and public input would allow the board to find far more than $1 million a year in savings elsewhere in the budget.
Giving the board members a huge raise is a tough sell when schools are closing and teachers are getting laid off. But it would transform the public schools — and parents, teachers, and students would all be much better off. SFBG
EDITORIAL The Pacific Gas and Electric Co. made one of the dumbest moves in modern environmental history some 40 years ago when company executives decided to build a nuclear power plant on an active earthquake fault. The seismic issues and serious construction and safety problems — along with a powerful antinuclear movement — kept the Diablo Canyon plant from opening until 1984. It’s licensed to keep generating power (and generating highly toxic nuclear waste) until 2021.
But as we reported back in 2005, the company is already talking about renewing its license, which could mean the nuke would keep operating until 2051 — far longer than the plant was designed to last. Not only does that increase the risk of a catastrophic accident (the Hosgri fault is going to slip some day), but it increases the amount of radioactive waste PG&E is going to have to store on the site.
The California Public Utilities Commission will be holding hearings this month on PG&E’s application to spend $19 million of ratepayer money on an in-house relicensing feasibility study. The relicensing study is a terrible idea.
For starters, there’s absolutely no rush here: Diablo has another 15 years to go on its current license, and there’s absolutely no way to predict what the state’s energy situation will be in 2021. Then there’s the waste problem: Since there’s no place to safely dispose of radioactive waste, PG&E has to keep it on-site, and the existing storage space is rapidly running out of room. There’s very little progress on any federal program to create a long-term disposal center, so the deadly stuff will have to sit there, right on the San Luis Obispo coast, for the indefinite future.
The California Energy Commission has called for an independent analysis of the costs, benefits, and risks of continuing to rely on nuclear power in California, which make sense: Solar technology is improving rapidly, energy needs are changing, and by the time Diablo’s license winds down, it may be relatively cheap and easy to replace the power it now pours into the grid.
The CPUC should reject PG&E’s request, with prejudice — and the state legislature should ban any further action on nuclear plants until there’s a detailed analysis of the state’s energy future. SFBG
For information on the Diablo Canyon relicensing, the CPUC hearings, and the need for a full energy study, go to www.a4nr.org.
"San Franciscans will still be able to enjoy their beer in the park at the event," an elated Robbie Kowal told the Guardian on the afternoon of June 2, fresh out of a meeting in which the Mayor’s Office brokered a deal to save the North Beach Jazz Fest.
The event had been jeopardized by the May 30 decision by the Recreation and Park Commission to uphold a move by its staff and Operations Committee to deny the sale of alcohol in Washington Square Park. The San Francisco Examiner even erroneously declared the event dead on its June 1 cover.
But the Mayor’s Office intervened and hosted a long day of negotiations among the event organizers — Kowal, Alistair Munroe, and John Miles — and representatives from the commission, the Rec and Park staff, and the San Francisco Police Department.
In keeping with the commission’s May 30 decision, alcohol will not be sold in the park but on the street adjacent to the park in a gated beer garden. A portion of the park will be designated for people wishing to enjoy a glass of beer or wine while remaining near the live music.
"We’ve worked something out that allows everyone to move forward and the commission to stand by its policy," Yomi Agunbiade, general manager of the Rec and Park Department, told us.
"It doesn’t change the nature of the event," said Kowal, who had been concerned that a change in practice from minibars in the park to beer gardens in the streets would deter festivalgoers and detract from the general enjoyment of the event.
The organizers were prepared to fight for their vision of the festival and had filed an appeal with the commission to review the issue. Without the sale of alcohol, the festival anticipated losing between $20,000 and $40,000, enough to potentially necessitate calling the whole show off.
But after nearly four hours of public testimony at the last meeting about the jazz fest and the North Beach Festival, commissioners weren’t too excited about another round and were pushing for a compromise. "Everybody was interested in making sure the jazz festival folks knew the event was supported and that we wanted it to stay," said Agunbiade. "The right people were in the room."
Yet those not in the room were the North Beach NIMBYs who forced the booze ban, and it’s unclear how they’ll react to the decision. Event organizers around the city have been closely following the North Beach situation, concerned that it was the start of a conservative trend in policy and a new wave of intolerance for alcohol consumption in public (see "The Death of Fun," May 24).
Commissioner Jim Lazarus cited the inherent dangers of a hard-line policy, telling the Guardian, "The precedent could be very bad. I don’t know how we’re going to deal with it at other parks."
The San Francisco Outdoor Events Coalition, a newly formed group of events organizers and promoters, has been calling for a hold on radical changes in policy until after the summer festival season, and it seems as though that call has finally been answered at City Hall.
"What we all have learned from this process was we should have communicated earlier," Agunbiade said after the meeting. "What we will do after events are over this year is sit down and discuss any changes more in depth and evaluate how it went."
Agunbiade said they will be looking at each festival on a case-by-case basis and will try to work with the individual needs of the venues and events. He added that they plan to "communicate a lot sooner and a lot more often to make sure these kinds of situations don’t occur."
The compromise for the jazz fest has been extended to the North Beach Festival as well, but promoter Marsha Garland faces other obstacles. After the commission denied her festival a permit for booze sales in the park, Garland received permission from the Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation for additional beer gardens on the street.
But that decision has been appealed by Anthony Gantner, a local lawyer and president of the North Beach Merchants Association (rival to Garland’s North Beach Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the North Beach Festival).
Garland says she won’t breathe a sigh of relief until after the ISCOTT hearing June 8, just a week before the festival. SFBG
Telephone interviewers for the influential San Francisco–based Field Research Corp. are trying to unionize but are getting resistance from the company. They have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board asking that the federal agency oversee their election for membership in an AFL-CIO affiliate.
About 40 of the employees out of 50 have so far signed up to join Communication Workers of America Local 9415, hoping to secure increased hourly wages (they currently start at San Francisco’s minimum hourly wage of $8.62, earning 50¢ or so more if they’re bilingual), a health care package, and other improvements that will stem what they say is a chronically high turnover rate.
Field Research is one of the most respected political pollsters in the state. Major newspapers across California, including the San Francisco Chronicle, regularly rely on the company’s Field Poll to gauge public opinion on everything from electoral candidates and earthquakes to steroids and immigration. The company also performs taxpayer-subsidized surveys for some county health departments.
But Field Research’s employees say they’re not being paid nearly enough to cold-call strangers at supper time to ask them if they support queer marriage rights or whether they think Barry Bonds should be penalized for doping. The workers claim the company offers no holiday or sick pay and requires them to average 37.5-hour weeks for six months before becoming eligible for health care benefits. Their schedules never permit them to meet the average, they say, and predictably, just a handful of workers have the benefits. And raises, they contend, are mere pennies.
When a delegation of the interviewers arrived at Field Research’s Sutter Street corporate offices on May 30 to request recognition of the union, they say, CFO Nancy Rogers refused to speak with them and threatened to call the police. Their only legal option then was the NLRB, which will first direct Field Research and the workers to determine who is eligible to vote on union membership and then set an election date.
"We wanted to say, ‘Look, you’re a San Francisco institution,’” said Yonah Camacho Diamond, an organizer for Local 9415. “‘You pride yourself on integrity. Will you voluntarily recognize?’ They threw us out of the building."
Daniel Butler began working for Field Research in October 2003, he told the Guardian during a small press conference at City Hall June 2. He was soon promoted to a quality monitoring position. But, he says, after he expressed his concerns to management about the quality of survey information gathered by temp workers the company had hired, he was suspended for three days and his position was eliminated. He says he was told that his complaints were "unprofessional."
"The message they were sending was, rather than make an effort to improve quality or encourage better work through higher wages, let’s just get rid of the position that monitors quality altogether," said Butler, who eventually sought Local 9415’s help in March.
Rogers sent a memo to the staff May 31 stating that the workers had a right to a union election, while also issuing a warning that could portend rocky relations between management and workers at the company.
"Many of you think that by getting a union, your wages, hours and working conditions will automatically change," the letter reads. "That is simply not the case. If the union gets in, the company will bargain in good faith, but it will not enter into agreements that are either not in its best business interests or that could eliminate the jobs of many of our part-time employees."
Rogers, for the most part, declined to comment for the Guardian when we reached her by telephone, citing the NLRB’s ongoing procedures.
"All I can really say is this is now before the National Labor Relations Board," she said. "We want to make sure this is fair and equitable and follow due process."
Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council, told the workers at the June 2 press conference that they were within their rights to pursue unionization.
"This is a union town," he said. "One of the goals we have is that people should have a voice at work." SFBG
Oakland, San Francisco, and other California cities have in recent years tried to negotiate maximum public benefits under their franchise agreement with cable television provider Comcast, but all have backed down when the telecom giant threatened costly litigation.
The latest episode played out May 30 at the Oakland City Council meeting when the council voted to repeal an ordinance that would have required franchisees like Comcast to allow workers to decide whether they want to form a union.
Comcast — dubbed the “Wal-Mart of Telecom” by the American Right to Work Foundation — not only sued Oakland over the ordinance but also decided to void a tentative franchise agreement with the city that had taken three and a half years to work out.
Comcast officials claim the company walked away from the contract because two years had elapsed since major parts of the agreement had been hammered out and during that time the competitive field had shifted.
As for the lawsuit, company officials argue that Oakland’s union ordinance is preempted by federal law and that the city doesn’t have a “proprietary interest” in its franchise.
A proprietary interest occurs when a city has to manage critical public rights-of-way, such as streets, alleys, and utility easements, and must make sure it receives fair compensation for the ongoing use of those public properties by private entities, like Comcast.
In such situations, a city must ensure the efficient and cost-effective management of its public rights-of-way and must maximize benefit and minimize risk, including the risk of a labor-<\h>management conflict that could arise from a union organizing campaign.
That, at least, was the argument the city of Oakland made when it drew up its labor ordinance, and it was the argument that city council president Ignacio De La Fuente continued to make at the May 30 council meeting.
Councilmember Desley Brooks managed to sound like a Comcast apologist by claiming the city had been wrong to pass the ordinance in the first place.
“We knew that when this ordinance was passed, we had no basis to do it,” Brooks said. “We can try and justify why we did it, but federal law is settled in this matter.”
But De La Fuente was joined by Councilmember Jane Brunner and Vice Mayor Jean Quan in insisting that the city wasn’t backing down because it was wrong, but because it couldn’t afford to fight with a deep-<\h>pocketed monopoly in court.
That was the same argument that led the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to narrowly approve a four-year contract extension with Comcast last September, rather than negotiate better public access and other community benefits as part of the contract.
San Jose, Walnut Creek, and other cities have also been tied up in expensive litigation with Comcast, which has virtually unlimited resources and a willingness to spend big in court fights and the political arena. But a bill now moving through the California State Legislature has the potential to shake up the cable television playing field — some say, in ways that are hard to predict.
The Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act, authored by Assembly speaker Fabian N??ñez, seeks to allow telephone companies like AT&T and Verizon to provide television services through fiber-<\h>optic lines and thereby compete with Comcast and other cable providers.
The landmark bill, AB 2987, cleared the Assembly on a 70–<\d>0 vote the day after the Oakland City Council repealed its ordinance. It is now awaiting consideration — and possible modification — by the Senate.
It is being watched carefully by Communications Workers of America, which represents 700,000 workers nationally, including 2,000 in the Bay Area, and is one of the few labor unions that is growing.
As CWA field coordinator Lisa Morowitz explained, for cities to take on Comcast individually, as Oakland, Walnut Creek, and San Jose have tried without success to do, is like David fighting Goliath.
“It’s one step forward, two steps back,” Morowitz told the Guardian. Nevertheless, she believes Oakland has substantial leverage in future negotiations with Comcast, precisely because of the N??ñez bill.
“CWA supports AB 2987,” Morowitz said, “because we believe it’s going to create conditions more favorable for cities, communities, and workers by bringing competition to video service.”
She acknowledged that the bill won’t directly address the issues raised during Oakland’s ordinance battle, but, she said, “theoretically, it will create more accountability.”
CWA argues that in addition to creating competition in the video services marketplace, the bill will replace city-by-city franchising deals that have led to steep rate increases, protect revenue streams for local governments, and expand local tax bases.
But Sydney Levy of San Francisco–<\d>based Media Alliance worries that it will simply help the titans of industry and not the communities they supposedly serve.
“I understand that labor thinks it has a better chance of being able to organize within companies if there’s more competition and AT&T is pitted against Verizon is pitted against Comcast,” Levy told us. “But I disagree with CWA on how to have that competition be fair. It’s like energy deregulation. It sounded cute, but it wasn’t. So, we can’t be stupid this time around. We need to do it in a way that’s good for cities, consumers, and communities.”
The goal of franchise agreements that cities enter into with cable companies is to ensure that providers cover the entire city, provide public affairs programming, and pay for their use of public rights-of-way.
“But with the new bill, there’s no enforcement, no contractual obligations, no timetable,” claimed Levy, who worries that under the proposed arrangement Comcast’s competitors could say, “We can’t put fiber everywhere; we’ll upgrade as we see fit.”
“But that’s not good enough,” said Levy, who also worries that the bill will screw up community media locally and that redlining — providing new services in higher-<\h>income neighborhoods while bypassing areas already underserved by broadband services — may well occur.
And then there’s the sticky matter of ceding control to Sacramento.
“If we don’t have the ability to complain at the city level, then we’ll have to take all our fights to Sacramento, where we don’t have equal access,” Levy said. “That would be disastrous for local decision making.”
To his mind, AB 2987 is about cable vs. phone companies, and not about what’s best for the public interest.
“Having competition is a good thing for cities, consumers, and communities, but having competition that is unfair to communities and dismantles protections is not. We need to fix what’s in the Senate version,” he argued.
Levy believes that Comcast is playing a wait-and-see game as the N??ñez bill makes its way through Sacramento and that Oakland should continue to negotiate with Comcast for the best franchise deal possible.
“Because it may be the last franchise deal Oakland gets,” he explained, warning that if AB 2987 passes unmodified in the Senate, “we’re going to go from an irresponsible monopoly system to one that’s a system of unfair competition.”
But N??ñez deputy chief of staff Steve Maviglio told the Guardian that without the N??ñez bill, “cities have as much choice as they did in the former Soviet Union…. This bill is a powerful incentive for other providers.” Maviglio said that the bill language could still be modified in the Senate, but that its basic goal is clear.
“We hope this bill will save consumers money, lead to more competition, and prevent redlining,” he said. “We want to make sure under<\h>served communities don’t get left out of the digital picture.”
Comcast is the 800-pound gorilla lurking behind the vote in Sacramento, the force that all cities are looking to find some leverage against.
San Francisco supervisor Ross Mirkarimi told us that the Board of Supervisors had tailored legislation that mimicked Oakland’s union-<\h>organizing ordinance but abandoned it on the advice of CWA and the SF Labor Council because of what was happening to Oakland at the hands of Comcast.
To Mirkarimi’s mind, the best solution is neither piecemeal ordinances nor statewide laws, but for cities to municipalize their telecom and Internet systems.
“We would not be facing these kind of legal challenges if San Francisco was able to municipalize,” he told us.
And that’s precisely what San Francisco is now pursuing. A proposal by Sup. Tom Ammiano to study the creation of a citywide municipal broadband system — to be installed as streets are opened up for sewer lines or other infrastructure needs — was recently put out to bid.
Ammiano told the Guardian he expects to get some preliminary indications as to whether the system would be viable as soon as this summer, and he’s confident San Francisco will ultimately be in the position to offer television and other broadband services to city residents.
Mirkarimi, who supports the proposal, said it’s the best hope to “redeem our utility democracy as it pertains to our cable industry.” SFBG