Volume 42 Number 08

November 21 – November 27, 2007

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All I want for Christmas …


We asked some notable San Francisco personalities to recall their most memorable holiday gifts. Read on for the superlatively good, bad, and fugly (plus our recommendations for where to get the good stuff).


WORST A sweater with pink elephants on it from Argentina, from my ex-boyfriend. It’s the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen … it has nothing to do with him as a person.

BEST Once, my friends accidentally ran over my Jawbreaker cassette Dear You because it fell out of my pocket when I got out of their car. They felt bad and bought the record for me for Christmas, on vinyl.

Find punk rock on vinyl at Thrillhouse Records, 3422 Mission, SF. (415) 826-0223.


WORST A small ceramic version of ET when I was six. It was terrifying…. I got out of bed and smashed it in the middle of the night.

BEST A tiny keyboard called the Casio SK-1. It can record sounds and play them back in different frequencies. I got it when I was a kid, and it still sounds great.

Find pianos and electric keyboards at Piedmont Piano Company, 660 Third St., SF. (415) 543-9988, www.piedmontpiano.com.


WORST An unbelievably fugly wall planter called the Little Brown Jug, the most hideous gift imaginable. I got it at a party. When I opened it up, it stopped everything. You could hear a pin drop. I tried to sell it at a yard sale, but nobody would take it. It’s probably still there at the Goodwill on Haight.

BEST Jewelry from a store on Carl and Cole called the Sword and Rose. They sell exquisite, intricate, affordable, one-of-a-kind pieces.

Stop by the Sword and Rose, 85 Carl, SF. (415) 681-5434.


WORST The worst hasn’t happened yet. My parents often threaten to give me a cat, apparently on the principle that an animal will make me responsible. The only thing worse than being given a pet is being the pet that gets given.

BEST I already have more books than I’ll ever read, which is why being given another one is such a luxury. I especially enjoy obscure old books, because they contain whole lost worlds. For instance, I was once given a well-worn hardcover called Around the World with Jigger, Beaker, and Glass. The title alone was as good as a month’s travels.

For rare and first-edition books, try Phoenix Books, 3850 24th St., SF. (415) 821-3477, www.dogearedbooks.com.


WORST My best and worst were at my annual Christmas Eve game show party. One year everyone left before the gifts were all used up. So I opened one. It was a Mexican magazine of horror and gore unlike anything I’d ever seen. It was chilling and haunting and real — a magazine of car-accident victims and people who had died from dog bites, bee stings, battery acid. It was totally out of control. With cute little captions in Spanish. I’m still haunted by that magazine.

BEST A random coupon for a kiss from a girl named Donna. I said into the mic that she could hang around until the show was over so I could collect my kiss. She was crazy gorgeous in a weird, giantess kinda way and was totally into biting. I like the biting.

Give the gift of looking at (if not actually kissing) gorgeous women: a tour of SF strip clubs through Slinky Productions. (510) 291-9779, www.slinkyproductions.com.


WORST A series of Franklin Mint plates depicting football plays with nondescript football players. They had painterly guys in orange getting tackled by nondescript defenders. And what’s a 12-year-old supposed to do with decorative plates?

BEST That would have to be a hunting rifle, a .30-30, the same kind that the Rifleman uses. I killed my first deer with it.

We’re not going to support guns or killing living creatures, but if you want to find a dead animal gift of your own, visit Gypsy Honeymoon, 3599 24th St., SF. (415) 821-1713.


WORST My first electric guitar, from my cousin Jane when I was 13 years old, because it set in motion a cycle of events that led to three divorces, despair, and debt.

BEST My first electric guitar, from my cousin Jane when I was 13 years old, as it led to an intimate love affair with the wonder of song, the glamour of the stage, and therein finding the one and only place I have ever belonged.

Find and fix electric guitars at San Francisco Guitarworks, 323 Potrero, SF. (415) 865-5424, www.sfguitarworks.com.


WORST Homemade leg warmers.

BEST Artist series Adidas Superstars — the San Diego edition — by Dave Kinsey.


WORST A ceramic potpourri simmer pot with flowers painted on it.

BEST The iPhone I haven’t received yet (hint, hint).

Like you didn’t know: get an iPhone at the Apple Store, 2125 Chestnut, SF. (415) 392-0202, www.apple.com.


WORST A pink rhinestone charm bracelet with three-inch-long black rhinestone palm tree and taxicab charms.

BEST My grandmother promising to match the money my girlfriend and I save toward buying a house.

You may not be able to give the gift of half a house, but you can get hip, charming housewares from Egg and the Urban Mercantile, 85 Carl, SF. (415) 564-2248.


WORST Fruitcake! I was a kid, and it was Christmas. I was so grossed out by it because it looked slimy and green. When the family wasn’t looking, my brother and I fed it to the family dog in the kitchen. He wolfed it down, then threw up all over the place a few minutes later. That was not fun.

BEST A sound system, gear to play on, an album, a trailer, and a van to pull it all in! Because that gave me the opportunity to travel around the country playing music I loved, which fueled my travels abroad to do the same thing.

DJs in the know shop at World of Stereo 2, 1080 Market, SF. (415) 626-1195. *

Shopping for slackers


When it comes to holiday shopping, some people are planners. These are the types who keep an eye out for potential gifts all year long, who spend long, leisurely hours trekking through shopping districts and browsing through stores for that perfect gift — in June. But most of us are the other type of shopper: the oh-my-god-it’s-almost-Christmas, I-only-have-two-days-to-get-everything, it’s-too-late-to-order-online kind. For these people (you know, the rest of us), we’ve compiled this neighborhood-by-neighborhood guide to holiday shopping. Because as much as we’d all love to spend an entire week seeing what every little nook and cranny in the city has to offer, most of us need to get our gifts sometime before, oh, Easter.

Inner Richmond

Running the gamut from the cheap to the extravagant, Clement Street is an ideal place to do a bit of digging at stores whose owners sell what they like. On a gray afternoon stroll, you’re certain to come across at least a couple of rare finds, the sort that will meet the high-design expectations of both the classy and the kitsch-cool San Franciscan on your list.


Donald Gibson buys a lot of his antique dining ware from Eastern Europe or "wherever the dollar is strongest," he says. The store runs on the model of highly organized chaos — expect to find collectible plastic napkin rings from the 1930s, mod place mats, and postcontemporary cutlery all hiding between colorful displays of centuries-old china. Check out the walls too.

7 Clement, SF. (415) 752-1900


Fleurt occupies an impressive, breathable space. Its focus is on interior decor and unexpected gifts, most of them from Europe. But don’t overlook the tres chic flower selection. Fleurt also provides on-site installations, so stop in and ask about custom wreaths and table arrangements.

15 Clement, SF. (415) 751-2747, www.fleurtstyle.com


At Derek Song and Jamie Alexander’s art and design shop, you’re welcome to pick over bunches of slick T-shirts, hoodies, underread zines, and original artwork, most of it created by the owners and their friends.

220 Clement, SF. (415) 386-7275, www.parklifestore.com


Good, clean fun. The 6th Avenue Aquarium presents a dizzying array of fish and flowers, and everything inside is bathed in superpop blue. It’s worth a stop just for the hyperstimulation — your kid will love you for it.

425 Clement, SF. (415) 668-7190, www.6thaveaquarium.net


A dress-casual boutique for the discerning madam, the Nunnery will help you find a smart, lively ensemble for your mom that promises not to outlive its wearability after New Year’s Eve. Owners Gerry and Billy Sher keep things interesting with an eclectic, mix-and-match approach to filling the racks.

905 Clement, SF. (415) 752-8889


The hilarious sign says, "Smile, your saving a lot of money." And dismal grammar aside, this place lives up to its awesome billing. You wouldn’t know it on first glance, but this shop stocks big, cheap, decent rugs in the back, next to the aging paper goods and the empty boxes of Manischewitz.

626 Clement, SF. (415) 386-1896

Mission and Haight

Everyone knows about Therapy and 826 Valencia in the Mission, and about Shoe Biz and Fluvog in the Haight. But for more unusual gifts from the usual shopping spots, try one of these new, off-the-beaten-path, or simply off-the-radar spots.


This boutique’s owner wrote the book on San Francisco–style indie design — literally. The local couturier was chosen as the author of Reconstructing Clothes for Dummies (Wiley Publishing), and for good reason: her well-made, imaginative creations have helped define recycled fashion.

485 14th St., SF. (415) 355-1900, www.mirandacaroligne.com


No underachiever, Caroligne also has her hands (and designs) in this collaborative art and retail space in the Lower Haight. The brand-new co-op (its grand opening was, ironically and intentionally, on Buy Nothing Day) features gorgeous, one-of-a-kind items by local designers, who can be seen at work in their on-site studios.

544 Haight, SF. pandorastrunk.com


Holsters for your rock ‘n’ roll sis. Leather computer bags for your fashion-forward beau. Tribal earrings for your burner BFF. This circus–Wild West–postapocalyptic–global wonderland (or weirderland?) in the Mission has something for everyone — all designed by Phoebe Minona Durland and Leighton Kelly, the dynamic duo who’ve helped make the Yard Dogs Road Show and Black and Blue Burlesque some of the city’s favorite exports.

510 Valencia, SF. (415) 255-9747, fiveanddiamond.com


You know that creative uncle or artsy aunt who always gets you the coolest, most interesting gifts anyone in your family has ever seen? The ones you love but your grandparents don’t quite understand? This is the place to find something for them. In fact, the wooden mustache masks or stackable ceramics are exactly what you would’ve known would make the perfect gift — if you’d known before you visited the shop that they even existed.

855 Valencia, SF. (415) 839-6404, www.curiosityshoppeonline.com


This charming Mission boutique is cute-little-paper-items heaven: it has creative address books, miniature note cards, adorably funky journals, and much, much more. You’ll also find one-of-a-kind wallets, sweet magnets, and McSweeney’s T-shirts. In short? Stocking stuffers galore.

849 Valencia, SF. (415) 255-7900, www.littleotsu.com


You can cruise the Haight for yet another hippie tapestry or stick of Nag Champa, or you can find something truly original for the alt-culture lover in your life. Ceiba stocks a dizzying array of inspired, fanciful clothing and accessories for men and women. Yes, some of the prices can be steep (though well worth it), but the smaller, cheaper items are just as gorgeous — and just as unusual.

1364 Haight, SF. (415) 437-9598, www.ceibarec.com


This neighborhood isn’t just for tourists and locals pretending to be tourists. It can be perfect for gift shopping — if you know where to look.


This is the place for cool mah-jongg and chess sets, opium pipes, and pretty little jewelry boxes. It even has clean, cute imitation designer bags — good to know if your giftees swing that way.

456 Grant, SF. (415) 397-4848


This place is just fun to walk into. Plus, if you’re in the market for brocade photo albums or scrapbooks, interesting wall scrolls, or unusual night-lights, a stop here is all you’ll need.

800 Grant, SF. (415) 398-2602


There’s a reason this store is a legend: it has every kind of kite you can possibly imagine. Keep in mind that kites are not only a good gift idea for outdoor fun but also perfect for decorating a big room.

717 Grant, SF. (415) 989-5182, www.chinatownkite.com


Not just one of the few places in town where you can still buy a cast-iron pan, Ginn is also a source of adorable garnish cutters, charming cake molds, and delightful cookware.

1016 Grant, SF. (415) 982-6307

West Portal

Everyone’s favorite hidden gem (well, it was until journos like us started writing about it), West Portal feels like a small town with the benefits of a big city. Sure, the shopping selection is limited. But it offers a lot of bang for the buck — in products as well as personality.


This is one of those old-fashioned small gift stores that have a little bit of everything — and all of it carefully chosen by someone (or someones) with great taste. The items in the baby section and the Christmas ornaments are particularly good, but you just might find something for everyone on your WTF-do-i-get-them? list.

44 West Portal, SF. (415) 759-7487, www.plainjanesgifts.com


This antique collective is a treasure trove of vintage goodness — and has offerings in every price bracket.

199 West Portal, SF. (415) 242-9470, www.westportalantiques.com


The only thing you’ll love more than this shop’s unique clothing and accessories for him, her, and baby is the phenomenal customer service.

320 West Portal, SF. (415) 681-7242, www.littlefishboutique.com


You can’t talk about shopping in West Portal without mentioning this brilliantly unconventional toy store (which also has a location in the Financial District — but why brave the traffic?). Nearly everything here is educational or alternative in some way — finding a Barbie or a toy weapon will be harder than finding a wooden train set.

186 West Portal, SF. (415) 759-8697, www.ambassadortoys.com

East Bay

If panicked, harried customers noisily rushing to buy holiday gifts aren’t your thing, escape the city for the quieter, quainter quarters of the East Bay. Better parking and pedestrian-friendly districts mean you can enjoy the trappings of charming boutiques without the tourist hordes — or the headaches.


This cozy space in Berkeley’s Elmwood District offers bedroom playwear in a decidedly un–Frederick’s of Hollywood environment. The dim lighting and rich interior say "sexy" (not "sleazy"), as do carefully chosen boudoir goods by Cosabella, Hanky Panky, Princesse tam.tam, Betsey Johnson, and Roberto Cavalli. Add the complimentary fittings from Ce Soir’s sweetly attentive owner, and you’ve got the East Bay’s best-kept secret since, well, Victoria’s.

2980 College, Berk. (510) 883-1082, www.cesoirfinelingerie.com


Well-selected clothes vie for attention with wall-hung art at boutique-cum-gallery August, located in North Oakland’s Rockridge District. Both men and women will enjoy the laid-back staff, premium denim selection, luxe cashmere sweaters, and hard to find avant-garde labels — not to mention the sustainable housewares and nature photography.

5410 College, Oakl. (510) 652-2711


Who doesn’t dig candles and lotions, preferably many and in a variety of different scents and permutations? (C’mon, men, don’t pretend you don’t. Isn’t that what the metrosexual revolution was about?) Body Time, with multiple locations in the Bay Area, provides not only the option to add custom scents to lotions and perfume bases but also nubby wooden massage tools and everything else to make it your body’s time, all the time. Check out the one en route to dinner in charming North Berkeley.

1942 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 841-5818, www.bodytime.com


If you don’t mind riffling through the pack rat–style holdings of Oakland’s charmingly disheveled Antique Centre, head over with a car — a large one. Vintage furniture and home furnishings clutter the house, and you’ll often see full, undamaged wooden dressers or bookshelves for less than $10 (and sometimes free) on the front lawn. It’s a calamity of objects on the cheap and dirty.

6519 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 654-3717


OK. So shopping in the Marina can be expensive and you may have to dodge assaults by sales associates desperate for a commission. But when you’re looking for that high-end dog collar or superstylie serving platter, there’s really nowhere better to look.


This cute little pet shop features just the right mix of well-made necessities and ridiculously high-end luxury items for your giftee’s pets. Try the basic cat toys for the down-to-earth pet lover in your life or buy the angora sweater for the friend who carries her puppy in her purse.

2220 Chestnut, SF. (415) 359-9100


This store, one of several owned by a small local chain, is famous for its knowledgeable staff. Not sure what to get your grandparents or your best friend? Find out what they read last, and let Books, Inc.’s staff help you decide.

2251 Chestnut, SF. (415) 931-3633, www.booksinc.net


There’s always that time in the gift-giving season when you need to buy housewares — usually because they’re a safe bet. Why not try Modica, an eclectic shop full of cute items that look vaguely European, including a selection of gifts made by the owner’s sister?

2274 Union, SF. (415) 440-4389


This lingerie shop–boudoir simply rocks, thanks to helpful staff and a small but quality assortment of sexy items. How about getting your lover candles that, when burned, melt into massage oil? Or, for the girlie girl (or boy) who still blushes at the mention of sex, try a condom compact, complete with a mirror and a secret compartment for you know what.

3047 Fillmore, SF. (415) 563-1202, www.intima-online.com


This is the kind of place where you can feel good about spending too much money on clothes. The fashionable, comfortable clothes here are all ecofriendly, and a portion of the profits goes toward running wildlife conservatories in Africa. Plus, it has a killer 60 percent off section.

1849 Union, SF. (415) 738-8544, www.wildlifeworks.com *

Happy challah-days


› molly@sfbg.com

It’s almost Christmas, and I’m the happiest little Jew in San Francisco. Well, OK. Half Jew. Semi-Semite. Hebrew-speaking nogophile with a passion for sleek menorahs and gaudily decorated pine trees.

Yup, I’m that special kind of American hybrid created by a Christian mom and a Jewish dad — and not just the usual Jewish-as-Jewish-can-be dad, but the kind whose family has also been celebrating Christmas for generations. (Dad said it’s because Christmas might as well be a national holiday. I have a theory about assimilation … but that’s another story.) Which means I have tons of experience appreciating both Judeo-Christian wintertime holidays, and also appreciating only the best parts of both.

With Mom, a music major who was skeptical about organized religion but always spiritual, Christmas has only ever been about Jesus inasmuch as the hymns that mention him are pretty. And since she spent my childhood years single, our Christmas traditions were based on convenience and good company — takeout Chinese and silly Blockbuster comedies on Christmas Eve — rather than convention. And with über-Reform Dad, it was traditional ornaments on a Douglas fir inside the house (yay, Christmas!) and blue lights hanging from the eaves outside (yay, Hanukkah!). But the holidays — and their particular ways of celebrating them — were always important to both my parents; and, not surprisingly, to me.

Of course, I learned all the crappy things about the holidays too: obligatory gifts (given and received), obligatory time spent with relatives you hate, and obligatory good moods when you feel like burning the tree right down. Bad Muzak. Obnoxious store displays. Unashamed consumerism that’s as sickening as too much Manischewitz. And that’s not even mentioning the annoying and arbitrary elevation of Hanukkah to a significant holiday so spoiled Jewish kids don’t envy their spoiled gentile friends.

But despite all that, and thanks to my upbringing, I’ve learned to love the parts of the holidays that are worth loving: twinkling lights and candles, the scents of greenery and cinnamon, perfectly crisp latkes and perfectly iced sugar cookies, and the fact that most people are at least trying to think of someone other than themselves, whether it’s starving Somalian strangers or their own significant others.

In fact, it wouldn’t be hard to argue that I’ve become more attached to this time of year than my parents ever were. As a kid, I’d get so sad when Christmas was over that my mom would keep a tiny tree in my room until February. And I continued celebrating Hanukkah with my college friends long after my Dad’s stepfamily lost interest. This year I fully expect to attend at least one progressive Hanukkah celebration, as well as burden my roommates with tinsel-covered shrubbery for at least a month. I’m also making my gifts and getting my St. Nick suit ready for some Santarchy on Dec. 15.

Which is to say, I face this holiday season as our guide does — with a good dose of ambivalence and skepticism, and an equal dose of cheer and goodwill. We hope it’ll help you do the same. May your gifts come from your heart, your celebrations feed your soul, and your attempts to ignore this season’s drawbacks kick some serious ass. *

‘Tis the season for getting even


› culture@sfbg.com

Spending time with your family over the holidays can be difficult. Are you a vegetarian atheist with carnivorous, God-fearin’ folks? Are your grandparents racist? Then you know what I mean. But these special occasions don’t have to suck. Step one? Stop playing on their turf. Why spend one more holiday giving them the home-team advantage, biting your tongue to make them feel more comfortable? Instead, tell your relatives to get their asses up to San Francisco for a good old heathen’s ball. It may sound counterintuitive, but think about it for a minute: you’ll be in charge. It’s the perfect time to have the holiday you’ve always wished you’d had … or to just get even with your folks for all of those miserable dinners you’ve gritted your teeth through all of these years. The businesses listed below have everything you’ll need to either gently ruffle some feathers or send your folks screaming back to their safety nooks. How far you choose to take things is up to you — and your childhood trauma.


If your parents’ wholesome holiday decorations are inherently offensive (even the average gender-"appropriate" angel ornament can seem oppressive to a student of gender-continuum philosophy), you can beat them at their own game by picking up a few things at Under One Roof (549 Castro, SF; 415-503-2300, www.underoneroof.org) in the Castro. Most of the holiday knickknacks you’ll find there, like rainbow-cloaked Santa Claus decorations and muscle-man bottle openers, will do little more than raise a conservative’s eyebrow. But they’ll provide valuable ammunition when the conversation turns political: just watch how Dad reacts when you counter his homophobia by pointing out that the cocoa mug he’s using comes from a boy-town volunteer organization that donates all of its proceeds to HIV-AIDS research.

If that doesn’t work, try riling your folks by jabbing at their spirituality with holiday decorations. They force you to stare down Christianity at every turn? Then shove your lack of belief down their throats this year by shopping in the Mission, where a cluster of small boutiques carries everything you’ll need for an offbeat — or damn near demonic — holiday party.

Start your spree at Paxton Gate (824 Valencia, SF; 415-824-1872, www.paxtongate.com), where you’ll find an assortment of unconventional home decor options, including carnivorous plants and a large collection of vaguely satanic household accessories. Although you might score some unwanted points with your hunting-aficionado brother with a few of taxidermist Jeanie M’s dangling mice angels, you’ll certainly lose plenty from your born-again aunt, whose collection of gruesome Jesus-dying-on-the-cross sculptures offend you as much as your ornaments will her.

After grabbing some choice roadkill art, you’ll want to head to Yoruba Botanica (998 Valencia, SF; 415-826-4967) for some Santeria-style pagan altars, spell candles, and heretical oils and scents, then to Casa Bonampak (3331 24th St., SF; 415-642-4079, www.casabonampak.com) for some Latin flair. A wreath made of chile peppers, some Virgin of Guadalupe party streamers, and a few discounted Día de los Muertos items will add a little subversive color to your thoroughly confusing collection of holiday decorations.


If you’ve lived in the city for more than two years, you’ve probably adopted a cruelty-free diet and grown weary of your family’s annual flesh-eating parties. You know those relatives who always "forget" you don’t eat meat? Now you can ostracize them by serving an alternative smorgasbord from SF’s premier food co-op, Rainbow Grocery (1745 Folsom, SF; 415-863-0620, www.rainbowgrocery.org). There’s plenty to choose from here, including a full line of Tofurky products, organic cranberry sauce, and Tofutti brand frozen treats for dessert.

Even if your relatives don’t mind taking a short break from their irresponsible eating habits, you can still piss them off by directly attacking their morals with an obscene cake from the Cake Gallery (290 Ninth St., SF; 415-861-2253, www.thecakegallerysf.com), a hole-in-the-wall bakery that boasts the ability and desire to make "anything your demented mind can think up." Can the artists at the Cake Gallery make a dessert with a leather-clad transsexual peeing on the baby Jesus? You bet your family’s asses they can.


With dinner out of the way, it’s time to expose your family to a bit of real SF culture with some quality time for them and your friends. You’ll want to invite an array of typical weirdos to rival your family’s usual assortment of nerdy cousins, creepy aunts and uncles, and stoic grandparents; we suggest at least one hippie, a lesbian couple, a club kid, and a few snobby hipsters with neck tattoos.

If none of your friends are willing to flaunt their earlobe plugs or perform a contact improv dance number, you might want to put some effort into background noise. Downloading a raunchy playlist will work in a pinch, but if you really want to shock your guests, how about visiting Amoeba Music (1855 Haight, SF; 415-831-1200, www.amoeba.com), which carries almost every holiday album ever made? Start with Run DMC’s single "Christmas in Hollis" (Fedor Sigel, 1987), then move on to something more unsettling, like the heavy metal compilation A Brutal Christmas: The Season in Chaos (SoTD Records, 2003). Amoeba also carries chapters 1 to 22 of R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet (Jive; 2005, 2007) and other parent-unfriendly classics like Wondershowzen (MTV2; 2005–06) — you know, the music your friends will love as much as your folks will hate it.


Is everyone appropriately uncomfortable? Good. Now it’s time for the postdinner activity. Rather than listen to Grandpa’s drunken ramblings or watch Mom resentfully do all of the dishes herself, goddamnit, why not take the fam on a nice little trip through Yuletide SF?

If your folks seem to be planning a mutiny, you might want to appease them (i.e., ease them into submission) by booking a tour with Cable Car Charters (Pier 31, Embarcadero, SF; 415-922-2425, www.cablecarcharters.com), which offers a holiday lights package, complete with blankets and a man dressed like Santa Claus. But if you’re really out for blood, consider heading directly to the Castro Theatre (429 Castro, SF; 415-621-6120, www.thecastrotheatre.com), whose December calendar boasts an appearance by Crispin Glover, a disco-themed Christmas party hosted by an ex–Village Person, and six performances by the SF Gay Men’s Chorus (415-865-3650, www.sfgmc.org), who’ll be paying tribute to Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, solstice, and Ramadan, all at the same time.


Congratulations, you made it!

You can still torture your folks with shots of Fernet back at your apartment as punishment for all of the fattening eggnog nightcaps you’ve endured over the years, but if you ever want to see them again, you might just lead them to their half-deflated air mattresses and bid them good night. After eight full hours of tossing and turning on your floor, maybe they’ll be inspired to tone it down next time you come to visit — or at least remember to add a plate of steamed vegetables to the slaughtered-animal spread. And if they’re not, you can always bring a penis cake home with you next year. *

In the spirit


› culture@sfbg.com

Beyond the lingering lines of the Westfield San Francisco Centre and past the furiously paced gift wrappers of Stonestown Galleria, like a lost menorah in a holiday haystack, there lies the oft-forgotten meaning of all of this mistletoe madness: the act of giving. The Guardian knows that decades of doling out dollars for obligatory gifts can make even the most blissful person feel like Scrooge. So this year, akin to the chain-clad ghost of Jacob Marley, we’re here to remind you that the Tiny Tims of the Bay Area need your help more than that tubby teen cousin of yours needs another toy. Here are some ways you can make a real difference for someone’s holiday:


The local chapter of this international alliance of volunteer organizations is a great place to start for would-be civil servants. Its Holiday Help program connects prospective volunteers with various holiday festivities, like the Support for Families of Children with Disabilities skating party, which gives the city’s disabled kids a chance to get onto the ice for a little winter fun. Volunteers help them maneuver on the rink, whether in wheelchairs, on folding chairs, with tennis shoes, or on old-fashioned ice skates. Can’t skate? No problem — you can hand out desserts and gifts. Go to the Web site, register, then show the kids that pirouette you think you can still do.

(415) 541-7716, www.handsonbayarea.org


This Bay Area organization serves more than 1,500 nonprofits in San Francisco and San Mateo counties, providing do-gooders with plenty of ways to make the world a better place. The preeminent local organization to find onetime and ongoing volunteer opportunities has far-ranging humanitarian prospects. Check out its Web site to make a real change in someone’s life — and see a real change in your own.



A tried-and-true supporter of the holiday spirit, the Salvation Army has lifted hearts in the Bay Area for more than 120 years. Help one of the country’s most established and effective charity organizations by collecting donations as an iconic bell ringer, becoming a personal shopper for a low-income parent, or preparing and delivering holiday meals to the needy. Or play Santa at Toy ‘n’ Joy, an event that turns a warehouse into a wonderland where needy parents choose from unwrapped toys to give to their families. You can also ship toys to Santa Clara for the Caltrain Holiday Train Toy Collection. Contact Leya Copper at volunteer@tsagoldenstate.org for all of the info you need to help stuff stockings that would otherwise go empty.



You might not find Santa’s workshop in the heart of the Tenderloin, but you’ll meet plenty of his collaborators at this faith-based community center. During the holiday season, City Impact kicks into gear by enlisting hundreds of volunteers to help with its annual Christmas toy giveaway and Christmas Day Block Party, held on a closed-off street near Jones and Eddy and featuring a "message of hope," a warm meal, and grocery handouts. Check the Web site for information on how to register to help the homeless.

(415) 292-1770, www.sf911.com


It may not deal in reindeer, but the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals does dip its paws into holiday cheer. The animal advocates annually decorate the windows of Macy’s Union Square store with adorable and adoptable critters. Volunteers greet the public, solicit donations, provide information about adoption, and, of course, frolic with all of the fuzzy little orphans. The event runs through Jan. 1, 2008.

(415) 554-3000, www.sfspca.org

Getting involved with any of these groups should add some good old-fashioned, what-it’s-all-really-about cheer to your holiday season. And if you really want to maximize your impact, keep these things in mind when volunteering:

(1) Always register for an event before showing up.

(2) Expect some dirty work. Volunteering isn’t all about handing out toys to kids. You may need to do a number of unglamorous duties associated with setting up big events.

(3) Consider volunteering more than two hours out of your busy year or making a contribution to an organization that speaks to your heart. How about Wavy Gravy favorite the Seva Foundation (1786 Fifth St., Berk.; 510-845-7382, www.seva.org), which gives aid to needy people internationally — from health support in Guatemala to eye care in Tanzania? Or Heifer International (www.heifer.org), through which you can send gifts of llamas, rabbits, and goats to communities that need them? And don’t forget local nonprofits, including those helping to clean up the oil spill. *

Fuck the holidays


› culture@sfbg.com

Despite the cheery tinkling of those silver bells, Christmastime in the city isn’t always something that makes us want to meet smile after smile. Indeed, San Francisco has a reputation for being one of the loneliest cities in the world, with an average household occupancy of 1.3 people (you and the cat?) and all-too-common stories of people lying dead in their apartments until they’re discovered by the landlord two weeks after the rent’s due.

So what do you do if you’re not satisfied with Christmas on KOIT, Old Crow, and a glazed and crosshatched loaf of Spam for you and Ms. Katrina Marmalade Pussycat? Check out our ideas for making the holiday seem less bleak — or at least less boring.


What’s more San Francisco than spending the holiday with former mayoral hopeful (and possible candidate for supervisor) Chicken John Rinaldi? The artist and showman has been putting on a game show gift exchange (Dec. 24, 10 p.m.; 12 Galaxies, 2565 Mission, SF; 415-970-9777, www.chickenjohn.com) every Christmas Eve for two decades.

If you’re more of a traditionalist, visit Glide Memorial United Methodist Church (Dec. 24, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.; 330 Ellis, SF; 415-674-6000, www.glide.org). This beacon for the city’s disenfranchised and left behind hosts a prime rib luncheon every Christmas Eve. Sure, you can volunteer (they always need more help), but if what you need is a warm meal and some company, you can just show up and eat.

A glass of Christmas on the rocks doesn’t have to be an exercise in despair. In fact, neighborhood watering holes like the Gold Dust Lounge (247 Powell, SF; 415-397-1695), the Lexington Club (3464 19th St., SF; 415-863-2052), the Mix (4086 18th St., SF; 415-431-8616), and Sam Jordan’s (4004 Third St., SF; 415-824-0155) will not only be open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day but also feature drink specials.


For some people, it’s personal contact, not religious expression, that’s really being sought at the holidays. Why not go straight to the source? Whether you like the Power Exchange (74 Otis, SF; 415-487-9944, www.powerexchange.com), Eros (2051 Market, SF; 415-864-3767, www.erossf.com) or Steamworks (2107 Fourth St., Berk.; 510-845-8992, www.steamworksonline.com), a visit to one of these clubs pretty much guarantees a satisfying alternative to mistletoe modesty.

If you want to try a new spin on the classic Chosen People’s Chinese food–and–movie routine, visit the Jewish Museum’s Free Family Day (Dec. 25, 11 a.m.–3 p.m., free; RayKo Photo Center, 428 Third St., SF; www.jmsf.org) for music, stories, interactive exhibits, and tours, then Lisa Gedulig’s 15th annual evening of Kung Pao Kosher Comedy (Dec. 22 and 24, 6 and 9:30 p.m.; Dec. 23 and 25, 5 and 8:30 p.m., $40–$60; New Asia Restaurant, 772 Pacific, SF; 415-522-3737, www.koshercomedy.com/kungpao) for Jewish-themed stand-up.

For something a bit more pagan, head across the bridge to the Berkeley Partners for Parks’ Winter Solstice Celebration (Dec. 22, 5 p.m.; Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar, Cesar Chavez Park, 11 Spinnaker Way, Berk.).


Think Clara’s an obnoxious Goody Two-shoes? See the rats’ side of the story at the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band’s Dance-Along Nutcracker: Ratified! (opening gala Dec. 8, 7 p.m., $50; Dec. 8 and 11, 2:30 p.m.; Dec. 9, 11 and 3 p.m.; $16–$24; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF; 415-978-2797, www.sflgfb.org/dancealong.html).

Another option is the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco’s Christmas Crap-Array, (Dec. 20–22, 8 p.m., $10–$20; Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy, SF; 1-800-838-3006, lgcsf.org), a collection of songs and skits that’s the hilarious answer to Christmas clichés.

But best of all is Santacon (Dec. 15, 11 a.m.; location TBA; santarchy.com). Don a cheap Santa suit and join hundreds of other disgruntled St. Nicks for everyone’s favorite culture jam. Expect street theater, pranksterism, public drunkenness, and choruses of "Frosty the Cokehead" and "Deck My Balls."

And to hit the final nail in the coffin of Christmas 2007, visit Danger Ranger’s Post-Yule Pyre (visit www.laughingsquid.com for details) to watch the incineration of Monterey pines, spruces, and Douglas and noble firs. As the fog is cast in hues of orange, breathe deep the evergreen aroma and whisper, "Finally, this fucking holiday is over." *

Gluhwein by any other name


› molly@sfbg.com

It all started with my mother. Every year we’d throw a Christmas party for friends and relatives, and every year she’d put out three Crock-Pots: one for hearty stew, one for hot apple cider, and one for mulled wine. Add the puffy-painted sweatshirts Grandma made for us and a house full of people (some reluctantly) singing carols, and it was inevitable I’d forever associate these three items with the holidays. Fast-forward to my college years, when I waitressed at a German fine dining restaurant and the highlight of the cold, rainy Portland, Ore., winter was glühwein (the name of this German mulled wine means "glow wine"), and you’ve got the early seeds of what is now my full-blown fetish.

So what, exactly, is mulled wine? Depends on where you’re drinking it, but the general idea is heated red wine with sugar, spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and often some kind of citrus fruit all cooked together. It can be sweet or spicy, incredibly strong or boiled to a near nonalcoholic state, and any shade of gorgeous crimson. And although the original version was probably invented to mask cheap or bad wine, most modern recipes use quality wines that could stand on their own.

Point being? Yum, yum, yum. Whether you call it glühwein or Swedish glogg, French vin chaud or Chilean navegado, here are some places to look for that special warm-drink alternative when you’re sick of pumpkin lattes and you just can’t handle one more hot buttered rum.


You can’t get glühwein here, but you can buy the spice mix so you can make it yourself — plus all of the traditional Christmas (or, as they say in Germany, Weihnachten) chocolates and candies you never knew you needed.

1581 Church, SF. (415) 282-6803


From schnitzels to spaetzle, this is the place for all of your German favorites — including glühwein. Buy a bottle or two year-round, or visit during the holidays for a warm glass with your lunch.

2615 Broadway, Redwood City. (650) 364-9232, www.gourmethausstaudt.com


Go for the glühwein, stay for the polka. But get there this month — like most places in the home country, San Francisco’s oldest German restaurant only serves this specialty during the holidays.

240 Front, SF. (415) 421-4778, www.schroederssf.com


It’s as un-German as you can get, but this charming Middle Eastern restaurant has all the comfort and warmth you’d expect to find in a schnitzel house — even if it comes from low lighting and cushions, not wood paneling and leather lederhosen. Plus, Kan Zaman serves carafes of warm mulled wine all year long.

1793 Haight, SF. (415) 751-9656


Kan Zaman’s cousin in the Sunset also features a heated version of vino, along with a more distinctly Mediterranean menu. But the snuggleworthy interior is just as inviting.

1224 Ninth Ave., SF. (415) 753-3919, www.bistro9sf.com


We all know it’s perfect for an outdoor brunch, but Café Flore also has mulled wine to warm our bellies when the weather outside is frightful.

2298 Market, SF. (415) 621-8579, cafeflore.com

Is this a comprehensive list? Oh, no. We haven’t even mentioned all of the city’s German and German-leaning restaurants, many of which are sure to serve the good, sweet, warm, red stuff this winter. Nor the myriad wine bars that may pour Polish grzane wino as a novelty item or the specialty grocery stores that stock their shelves with Hungarian forralt bor. But this list should get you started on a fetish of your own. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you. *

I’m dreaming of a green Christmas


› culture@sfbg.com
In the words of Rev. Billy, mock evangelist and star of the newly released documentary What Would Jesus Buy?, the dreaded “shopocalypse” is upon us. If he and his Choir of Stop Shopping had their way, we would all be blissfully exchanging simple gestures of peace and love for the holidays rather than heaps of overly packaged plastic stuff.
But if you already know deep in your gut that peace and love just aren’t going to cut it for your demanding sweetheart, whining child, or needy pet, procuring green gifts from local Bay Area shops is the next best thing. Consult this well-edited list to help you navigate the buying frenzy, thrill your giftees, and sidestep some of the residual guilt. For extra points, pass on the parking pandemonium and try riding your bike or taking public transit to your shopping destinations.

  • Treat your pals or paramour to a rejuvenating treatment at Evo Spa (216 Strawberry Village, Mill Valley; 415-383-3223, www.evo-spa.com), a green, holistic beauty and wellness haven in Mill Valley. Evo also carries paraben-free and organic skin care products.
  • Keep everyone on your list well hydrated with SIGG nontoxic, ecofriendly water bottles (Lombardi Sports, 1600 Jackson, SF; 415-771-0600, www.lombardisports.com). They’re crack-resistant, reusable, and recyclable, and their lining is 100 percent leach free, ensuring all your giftee will taste is their favorite libation.
  • Help those busy parents in your life clean up their act with a visit from Greenway Maid (415-674-3266, www.greewaymaid.com), a local, worker-owned green cleaning service that uses only ecofriendly cleaning products.
  • Get your honeybunch a Gremlin clutch (Eco Citizen, 1488 Vallejo, SF; 415-614-0100, www.ecocitizenonline.com) to help her tackle those San Francisco hills in style. Made from recycled car upholstery fabric from 1975 AMC Gremlins, this hot-rod handbag will sizzle on your lady’s arm.
  • Invite your family and friends to hop on the localvore bandwagon with a subscription to Farm Fresh to You (1-800-796-6009, www.farmfreshtoyou.com). Each box contains seasonal organic produce — grown at small, local, sustainable farms and delivered right to your door.
  • Wrap your darling in a Flow Scarf (Branch Home, 245 S. Van Ness, SF; 415-341-1824, www.branchhome.com) by Hiroko Kurihara, handcrafted in the East Bay from European Union–ecologically certified virgin wool. For each scarf sold, one is donated to help those who are homeless or in transition.


  • The Recycled Plastic Radio Flyer Earth Wagon (Green Home, 850 24th Ave., SF; 877-282-6400, www.greenhome.com) is the ultimate gift for that budding environmentalist in your life. The body of the wagon is made from 100 percent recycled postconsumer high-density polyethylene. More than 230 plastic milk jugs were diverted from landfills to make each Earth Wagon.
  • Bundle your baby in Kate Quinn 100 percent certified organic cotton clothing or entertain your favorite tots with Plan Toys (Lavish, 540 Hayes, SF; 415-565-0540, www.shoplavish.com), made from preservative-free rubber woods and decorated with nontoxic paints.
  • Warm the tootsies of your loved ones with Eco-terric 100 percent organic felt wool slippers from Kyrgyzstan (Green Home Center, 1812 Polk, SF; 415-567-3700, www.thegreenhomecenter.net).


  • Reduce, reuse, and rewoof with Planet Dog’s RecyleBone and RecycleBall (Bow Wow Meow, 2150 Polk, SF; 415-440-2845, www.bowwowmeow.net) chew toys, made from 100 percent recycled materials.
  • Thrill your kitty with a cat tree by Everyday Studio (Branch Home, 245 S. Van Ness, SF; 415-341-1824, www.branchhome.com). Made right here in San Francisco, these modern scratching posts offer good-looking design and a nontoxic paint finish.
  • Help a friend take care of their dog’s dirty business with Business Bags by Spike (Osso & Co., 501 Broderick, SF; 415-447-8543, www.eurocanine.com). These biodegradable poo bags are fully compostable and biodegrade.


  • Reduce your friends’ junk mail by up to 90 percent and have 10 trees planted on their behalf! Sign them up at Green Dimes (www.greendimes.com).
  • Wow them with one-of-a-kind wood rings by Natalie Trujillo (Paxton Gate, 824 Valencia, SF; 415-824-1872, www.paxtongate.com), handcrafted from found wood pieces and garden clippings.
  • Give the gift that keeps giving. Jimi Wallets (Branch Home, 245 S. Van Ness, SF; 415-341-1824, www.branchhome.com) are made from 100 percent recycled plastic, come in a variety of colors, and are priced so you won’t burn a hole in yours.
  • Send ecofriendly Night Owl Paper Goods holiday cards (Lavish, 540 Hayes, SF; 415-565-0540, www.shoplavish.com), made from sustainably harvested wood.
  • Surprise someone special with a super Kobo soy candle (Spring, 2162 Polk, SF; 415-673-2065, www.astorecalledspring.com). Each has a burn time of 70 hours and is healthier for indoor air quality than petroleum-based candles.
  • For the person who has everything, there’s Plant-Me Pets (Branch Home, 245 S. Van Ness, SF; 415-341-1824, www.branchhome.com). These squeaky toys have seeds for eyes and are made from compostable natural latex rubber. Should they ever outstay their welcome in the home, their owners can simply plant them in soil and watch ’em sprout.

Buy by hand


› molly@sfbg.com

What do you do when you want something personalized, handmade, and one of a kind but don’t have a creative bone in your body (or the time to find one)? If the closest to DIY you can get is its lesser-known sister, SFIY (Shop for It Yourself), check out the following ideas for gifts that are made by loving hands — just not yours.

DIY help

Sometimes you know what you want but don’t know how to make it — or there’s simply no reason to start from scratch. That’s where businesses that help you do some of it yourself come in.


One of our favorite examples of this concept is Castro–Duboce Triangle screen-printing favorite My Trick Pony, where you can print your own graphics onto a T-shirt — and even get help designing one.

742 14th St., SF. (415) 861-0595, www.mytrickpony.com


This Haight Street staple is the perfect place for a quick, down and dirty, trendy yet unique gift. Choose a plain T-shirt, messenger back, or pair of undies, then get it printed — within 15 minutes or so — with one of the dozens of images Bang-On has for you to choose from.

1603 Haight, SF. (415) 255-8446, www.bang-on.ca

To get in touch with crafty types who might not have retail spaces, check out the communities at San Francisco Craft Mafia (www.myspace.com/sfcraftmafia) and Craftster (www.craftster.org).

Retail shops

Good places to look for handcrafted items are retail stores and shops that cater to them. These are the museums, boutiques, and galleries that carry the kinds of items you’d make for your friends and families if, you know, you’d gotten an art degree instead of wasting all of that time in medical school.


This institution dedicated to the art of making stuff has finally opened a store that sells that stuff. Stop by for gifts like stoneware vessels and candleholders by Lynn Wood, square marbles by glassblower Nicholas Kekic, and mottled glass "bubble wrap" vessels by California artist Bill Sistek.

550 Sutter, SF. (415) 773-0303, www.sfmcd.org


The retail arm of this art gallery specializes in items like naturally pigmented beeswax crayons, leather steampunk watches, Czech stationery, toys, books, and all things arcane.

130 Eighth St., SF. www.sfelectricworks.com


Everyone’s favorite online mecca for homemade crafts has an office in San Francisco and a ton of designers who live here. Check out Quenna Lee (blissful.etsy.com) for gorgeous handmade bags and wallets, Joom Klangsin (joom.etsy.com) for whimsical pillow designs, and Hsing Ju Wang (silverminejwelry.etsy.com) for creative jewelry. Or simply use the site’s search function to find other Bay Area artisans.



Don’t believe clothes this stylie and accessories this striking can really be handmade? Then watch the artists create these one-of-a-kind goodies in the on-site studios. (Also, stop by Dec. 8 for the store’s opening celebration.)

544 Haight, SF. www.pandorastrunk.com


Sure, shopping events can be overwhelming. But the plus side? Someone’s taken the time to assemble in one place all the cool shit from a bunch of different vendors. That means you only use one day and one parking spot (or Muni ride).


Cult favorites Appel and Frank bring their hip holiday shopping event back to the city with goodies from emerging designers at below-retail prices. Plus, a portion of the proceeds benefits Friends of the Urban Forest (www.fuf.net).

Thurs/6, 5–9 p.m., two people for $15. Regency Center, 1270 Sutter, SF. www.appelandfrank.com


San Francisco’s premier gallery for the developmentally disabled presents work in various media by more than 100 artists, with half of the proceeds going directly to them.

Fri/7, 6–9 p.m.; Sat/8–Sun/9, 1–6 p.m.; during gallery hours through Dec. 29. Creativity Explored, 3245 16th St., SF. (415) 863-2108, www.creativityexplored.org


This fest features fun, games, and fabulous shopping in the neighborhood known for showcasing the Bay Area’s best and brightest up-and-coming artists and businesses. Donations benefit Camp Sunburst and Sunburst Projects, which provides support services to families living with HIV/AIDS.

Fri/7, 6–9 p.m. Hayes Valley, SF


This craftacular shopping bonanza is brought to you by the same people whose book taught us how to turn cross-stitching and knitting into acts of punk rock. This is the event not to miss.

Dec. 15, 11 a.m.–6 p.m. San Francisco County Fair Bldg., Golden Gate Park, SF. www.bazaarbizarre.org/sanfrancisco.html


Those wacky burners have officially moved on from making boot covers for themselves to creating whole product lines for all kinds of people — playa loving and otherwise. This event features unusual gift items (fun-fur jackets or blinky toys, anyone?), live and electronic music, drink specials from the bar, and a silent auction benefiting the arts.

Dec. 16, 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Café Cocomo, 650 Indiana, SF. www.preparefortheplaya.com

She’s crafty


› molly@sfbg.com

My favorite thing about a good gift is that it means something: it’s an expression of how I feel about you (or vice versa), what I appreciate about you, and the fact that I not only know you well enough to know what you like but also love you enough to want you to be happy.

A store-bought gift is capable of achieving all of these lofty goals, of course. For example, my sister recently gave me a copy of Beatallica (Oglio, 2007) she found while on tour with her band. And though seemingly small, this simple choice communicated these things: (1) My sis was thinking of me while in Denver. (2) She knows me well enough to remember I love (and I mean love) novelty rock. And (3) she cares about me enough to want me to feel joy.

But just like your mom told you when you were a kid (though she might’ve been lying about the ceramic ashtray), some of the best gifts are homemade. And they’re also the kind that are as much fun to make as they are to give. Case in point? The family-centric version of People magazine (complete with crossword, horoscope, and They’re Just Like Us! sections) my sis and I made for our pop culture junkie mom a few years ago. Not only did it mean more to Mom than yet another funky wineglass, but Sis and I also had a blast putting it together.

Problem is, how do you come up with a project that’s personal, doable, and original? (After all, how many decorated bowls from Terra Mia can you give someone?) Sure, you could invent something brand-new that’ll take you months to perfect and even longer to complete (hello, custom book I decided to make as a gift one Christmas and didn’t finish until the following Christmas). Or you can take the advice of crafty vixen (and personal chef) Larisa Chapman, who’s already figured out how to make this foolproof, flawless gift:

Miniature Altar


Altoid (or other) tins or boxes (smaller boxes are easier to work with)

Modge Podge (which now comes in sparkly and iridescent versions) or any polymer glue

Images from magazines, postcards, graphic novels, books, etc.

Good scissors

Small paint brush (for glue)

Jewels, beads, trinkets, ribbons, shells, other small decorative items

Small birthday candles

Blow-dryer (optional)


Step One: Planning

The idea is simple: a small, cheap, fun, completely customizable art piece that can be either displayed open or kept as a small treasure trove — that’s up to you and the altar’s recipient. Most important, though, it’s something made specifically for someone. So your first step is to decide whom you’re making your altar for and what you want to communicate to them. This can be as simple as a rock ‘n’ roll theme for your musician sister (ahem) or as complex as references to the symbolism of the phoenix for a friend who’s trying to rise above a challenge. Chapman likes allegories, stories, and contradictory images — think Tarot card collages or an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe with a halo of porn — but you should figure out what appeals to you and the person who’ll receive the gift.

Step Two: Assemblage

What happens next is mostly up to you. Paste images to the top, bottom, and inside of the box (Modge Podge is fantastic as both an adhesive and a sealant, so don’t be afraid to use it for everything). Add fabric lining, beaded details, glitter, 3-D objects … whatever suits your fancy. And don’t be afraid of overadornment — think Mexican saint altars.

Step Three: Drying

More complicated altars may require several layers of assemblage, and therefore might need drying time between layers. Set the box in a well-ventilated area until the glue is dry to the touch. Or, to speed up the process, take a blow-dryer to the glue. When it turns clear, it’s done.

Step Four: Meaning

The last step is adding a candle. The easiest way to do this is to choose a bead or other object that can comfortably fit a birthday candle inside. Attach the bead to the box and the candle to the bead. Now you have an object that looks as sacred as it actually is. (Don’t forget to remind your giftee not to light the candle, as that will make your whole altar will go up in flames. Unless, of course, they’re into that.)

See? Simple. Cool. Fast. Now rinse and repeat. The more you do it, the easier it’ll get — and the more elaborate. Experiment with bigger boxes or containers of different shapes. Get creative with puffy paint or stencils. Use fun fur or punk rock patches to turn your friend’s whole automobile into an altar. (OK, maybe you should ask before you do that one.) No matter what you come up with, it’ll sure beat a gift certificate for Best Buy.

Nog on the noggin



For a drink that holds as much tradition as it does taste, one might think an integral part of the eggnog experience would be gathering around a pot and stirring up this year’s batch. For most, though, the experience comes from throwing a carton in your shopping cart and popping it open later that night. This year I figured, if I’m not making it myself, I should at least find out who was – and who was doing it best.

Straus Family Creamery Organic Eggnog www.strausfamilycreamery.com

If you woke up one morning and McDonald’s food was healthy and local, made only by well-paid workers, outside on warm days, would it still have that lingering gross taste? Or is that just a function of knowing about its production line? This is what I began to wonder when I learned about the Marin County creamery’s eggnog, which tastes like a rich, decadent McDonald’s treat but is also made with only four ingredients, all organic. (Unfortunately, the over-crisp nutmeg and yolk flavors also make it hard to drink more than a glass or two.)

The handsome, if not too wholesome, president of the company, Albert Straus, said coming up with his special recipe was simply a matter of trial and error. He tried a few variations of the basic ingredients – sugar, egg, milk, and nutmeg – in the company’s test kitchen. Once he found the right combination, he asked California Custom Fruit in Irwindale to make a concentrate, which Straus Family Creamery then adds to their milk.

Clover-Stornetta Organic Eggnog www.cloverstornetta.com

In the late seventies, says Herm Benedetti, Clover-Stornetta whipped up eggnog for friends and close customers, spiking it with bourbon. “People loved getting it”, says Benedetti, director of Product Research & Development and one of the sons of the company founder. But liability issues forced the Petaluma-based company to stop serving the alcoholic concoction.

Four years ago, though, Clover-Stornetta was finally able to source the ingredients to make an organic eggnog. The first test batch was too sweet and the second too flavorful, said Benedetti. But like the Goldilocks story, the third was just right. “We felt we had a winner,” he said. “So we stuck with it.”
Eggnogs are required by law to have six percent milkfat, and Benedetti’s version lets you taste it. The yolk and nutmeg are soft complements to a drink that makes you think you’re sucking down the middle of a huge Oreo. In fact, the greatest flaw of this eggnog, my favorite in the list, might be this eminent creamy drinkability. After all, if eggnog were supposed to be so drinkable, it wouldn’t be around just two months a year.

Organic Valley Eggnog www.organicvalley.coop

Maged Latif, Director of Research and Development for Organic Valley Coop, says the Flavor Order Profile for his eggnog starts with sugar and ends with nutmeg. It took Organic Valley 12 months to get the recipe right right, including time for market feedback research.

When I sipped it, I felt the egg flavor came first, followed quickly by a cream-brigade that put out the sweetened yolk taste before it got gross. The nutmeg came somewhere in between. But both Latif and Emily Strickler, Fluid Category Associate, are proudest of the nutmeg.

“What makes ours unique is that we don’t add [fake] nutmeg flavor,” Latif said. Strickler agreed, “We pride ourselves on our nutmeg flavor profile.” Because Organic Valley is a countrywide coop of farmers, including many in the Bay Area, eggnog provided the company with a great way to use more of the farms’ resources. “[It offered us] great synergy between poultry farmers where get our eggs with our dairy farmers,” said Latif.

Obama’s moment


When presidential hopeful Barack Obama came to San Francisco on Nov. 14, it was a potentially pivotal moment in his campaign, a make-or-break opportunity to become the one transcendent candidate who can offer hope for moving the country in a new direction. “In this moment, in this election, let’s reach for what we know is possible,” Obama said. Guardian City Editor Steven T. Jones was there and reports on a campaign struggling to find the resonance it needs to win.
– Read the main story: Obama’s moment
– Read the breaking news sidebar: Obama’s new Iraq position
Listen to Obama’s speech
Check the latest presidential primary polls
– Read The Atlantic cover story: Why Obama Matters
Read Tom Hayden’s Nov. 9 letter to Obama


Guardian photo by Lane Hartwell

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Sup. Aaron Peskin hates billboards, and mostly I agree with him — the whole damn world feels like a commercial these days, and it’s nice to be able to walk around a few parts of the city and not be surrounded by giant illuminated ads. But as Election Day approached this fall, I felt like something was missing from San Francisco.

October in this city used to mean brightly colored campaign festoonery on lampposts, utility poles … anywhere anyone could legally stick a sign promoting or attacking a candidate or ballot measure. Yeah, it got a bit ugly, and yeah, it was one more way that people with money were able to get their message out and get a leg up on the people who weren’t well funded. And it was always a mess in late November, when the campaigns conveniently forgot to take their posters down. But it also, I think, served to remind everyone that an election was coming up.

That doesn’t matter so much when the office of the president of the United States is on the ballot, because most people at least know that’s going on. But this year only about 30 percent of voters bothered to go to the polls — and since San Francisco has elections at least twice per year and not all of them feature a high-profile race, it’s not a bad idea to do something festive to get everybody thinking about them.

So while I didn’t oppose Peskin’s ordinance banning campaign signs on public property, I’m thinking maybe we should modify it a bit. I’m not sure exactly how; maybe we set aside a small amount of money from the public campaign fund and give local artists modest grants to come up with wild and colorful posters announcing the election and encouraging people to vote. We let churches and nonprofits hang signs celebrating anniversaries and special events — why not public art celebrating our semiannual bout of obsessive democracy?

Just a thought.

And here’s another:

I have friends who are employed in the world of philanthropy (that is, they either administer grants or seek them), and we were all complaining the other day about how people like Bill Gates get to set international health policy. When Gates decides something’s a problem, it suddenly has vast resources — and his opinion about world health isn’t always shared by experts in the field.

In a better world we would tax Gates and Microsoft at a level that would provide adequate resources for our elected representatives to make choices about global problems, but these days the rich don’t pay taxes yet they can set policy. So I had a suggestion:

What if Gates decided to give, say, a billion dollars to some needy urban public school district? I don’t know — Detroit or Jackson, Miss., … or San Francisco. My friends, who understand how these things work, said I was nuts; much of that money would immediately be lost to corruption.

Maybe — but what if it weren’t a lump sum? What if the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation just doubled the annual budget of the San Francisco Unified School District for the next 10 years? What if the "project," so to speak, was to demonstrate how effective the public sector can be at educating kids if the resources are available?

And maybe after 10 years the Gates folks could do a massive public relations campaign and people would realize that higher taxes for public schools might make for a better society.

Happy Thanksgiving. *

Fix the Prop. A cab problem


EDITORIAL The politics of Proposition A were pretty clear: the Muni reform measure had the backing of nearly every environmental and labor group in the city and was a direct alternative to the pro-car, pro-parking disaster that was Proposition H, pushed by Republican billionaire Don Fisher.

The policy is a little more complicated.

For the most part, Prop. A is a solid piece of legislation that will lead to some significant, if not earth-shaking, improvements in public transit. It has one serious flaw, though — it could lead to the demise of the city’s taxi medallion system, which was designed to keep the valuable operating permits in the hands of working drivers.

During the campaign, Sup. Aaron Peskin, the sponsor of Prop. A, told us that if the measure passed, he’d craft legislation to fix the cab problem. He should get going on that right away.

San Francisco has an unusual system of allocating taxi permits. Since 1978, when Proposition K (authored by then-supervisor Quentin Kopp) became law, only people who drive cabs are allowed to hold medallions. They can’t be sold or transferred in any way, and corporations can’t own them. That reform made it possible for drivers to share in the profits that come from holding the medallions — and the cab companies have been trying to repeal it ever since. Eight times in the past 30 years, corporate-led efforts to overturn Prop. K have failed.

The system isn’t perfect — it takes up to 15 years to qualify for a medallion, and some people on the wait list stopped driving cabs long ago. There are scams and cheaters. But overall, the notion that drivers — not cab companies, not investors, not giant conglomerates — have the exclusive right to the valuable permits is a good one, and it needs to be protected.

But there’s some fairly broad language in Prop. A that some, including Kopp (now a retired judge) and the cab drivers union, argue could allow the Board of Supervisors and the Municipal Transportation Agency to abolish Prop. K.

Peskin says that was never the intent of his measure — and when we endorsed Prop. A, we took him at his word. It’s time for him to demonstrate that commitment. It shouldn’t be hard to meet with the United Taxicab Workers and figure out how to frame a trailer bill that would ensure that neither the supervisors nor the MTA can undo Prop. K. If the city attorney agrees that the board has the authority to enact that kind of legislation, Peskin should introduce it as quickly as possible. And if protecting the essence of Prop. K requires another charter amendment, this would be an excellent time for Peskin to start the process for the June 2008 election. 2

Slow down the Laguna project


EDITORIAL The 440-unit housing development slated for the Laguna Street site of the old UC Berkeley Extension campus is suddenly on the fast track. The Planning Department has calendared a vote on the project for Dec. 20 in what appears to be a desperate effort to get it approved before the end of the year. That may be in the interests of developer A.F. Evans, but it’s not in the interests of San Francisco, and the commissioners should be in no rush to go along.

This isn’t a typical commercial project: the land has been in the public sector for a century and has always been used for public projects. Until the 1950s it was home to San Francisco State University, and it became a UC campus in 1958. Turning public land over for private use should raise alarms anywhere, and in the middle of a dense city, where public land is scarce and affordable housing desperately needed, those alarms ought to be ringing loud and long.

In this case Evans has done a brilliant bit of political maneuvering: the market-rate housing project is paired with an 80-unit development that will be designed as retirement housing for queer seniors. That’s clearly something the city needs, and that aspect of the plan has won widespread support — and helped divert or eliminate opposition to the overall project.

But there are real issues here. For one thing, Evans plans to tear down two historic buildings (while saving three others). That was a compromise the Board of Supervisors accepted in August, but we still find it dubious. We also find dubious the notion that the developer will create public space by reopening a section of Waller Street — a public thoroughfare — that was part of the old campus.

The biggest problem, however, is the lack of affordable housing. Evans is planning to make 20 percent of the units available below market rate — but that’s a fairly small number considering that this is public land. Remember: at that ratio only 16 of the queer retirement apartments will be available to anyone who isn’t wealthy. While we agree that queer seniors of all income levels need this style of housing, which will feature community amenities and on-site services for the aging, 16 lower-cost units hardly seems like enough of a benefit to justify shifting 5.4 acres of public property into a private project. "How can the queer community settle for this, in San Francisco of all places?" queer housing activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca asks. "I think that we can do much better."

Evans is in a rush — and thus the Mayor’s Office and the City Planning Department are in a rush — because the developer’s contract with the university expires if the project isn’t approved by Jan. 1, 2008. Almost everyone involved agrees that the UC and Evans can easily reach terms on an extension, so there’s no real threat here. But it doesn’t matter — that’s not the city’s problem. San Francisco has a responsibility to ensure that big new projects serve the public interest; the developer’s deadline doesn’t trump that.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi is asking that the affordable-housing component be increased to around 40 percent. That may take a little work: the UC, which wants to make as much money as possible off this, is charging Evans a stiff fee for the land. But with the proper pressure, including pressure on the UC from Assemblymember Mark Leno and state senator Carole Migden, a much higher ratio of low-cost housing ought to be possible.

It’s too early to approve what’s still a bad deal. The planning commissioners should turn it down, and if they don’t, the supervisors should demand more from Evans before allowing the property to go from public to private use. *

Green City: Early puberty’s toxic causes and effects


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY As if growing up weren’t hard enough, a new report published by San Francisco’s Breast Cancer Fund says girls, particularly African American girls, are hitting puberty earlier — and it’s lasting longer.

Environmental toxins, obesity, and psychological stressors are all cited as possible reasons for the trend in the report written by Ithaca College professor Sandra Steingraber. It was commissioned about a year ago to put together what she calls "pieces of a big jigsaw puzzle."

Steingraber found that many girls now start to develop breasts as early as eight years old — two years earlier than they did a few decades ago. On average, however, girls begin menstruating only a few months earlier than they once did — making puberty a lengthier process.

The consequences of growing up too soon are serious — depression and anxiety, eating disorders, sexual objectification, and early drug and alcohol abuse are just a few.

"As a mother of a nine-year-old girl," Steingraber says, "I was really impressed by the consequences, not just the causes. The world is not a good place for early-maturing girls."

The implications are not just psychological. According to Steingraber’s report, menarche before age 12 raises breast cancer risk by 50 percent.

"The data is pretty ample linking the two," she says. "The earlier a girl gets her breasts, the wider the estrogen window." Longer lifetime exposure to estrogen increases the risk of developing many forms of breast cancer.

Steingraber points to obesity and endocrine-disrupting chemicals (toxins that interfere with the hormonal system) as major factors in the new puberty equation. Phthalates, bisphenol A, and dioxin are a few of the culprits often cited by environmental health advocates as contributors to earlier puberty onset. These chemicals are often found in cosmetics and personal care products like shampoo, hand lotion, and sunscreen. They are also used in pesticides.

Dr. Tracey Woodruff, associate professor of reproductive health and environment at UC San Francisco, says the link has been researched and discussed anecdotally in scientific circles for the past 10 years, with the last major report issued in 1997.

A big obstacle to keeping kids safe, Woodruff says, is that most consumer products are not required to undergo US Food and Drug Administration approval before they are sold to the public, nor are companies required to disclose all ingredients.

"How chemicals are governed is somewhat archaic," Woodruff says.

Environmental health activists agree. In 2002 a national coalition of nonprofit organizations launched the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, an initiative to educate the public and influence policy. Marisa Walker of the Breast Cancer Fund — a founding member organization — says manufacturers jump through big loopholes in federal law to hide ingredients by claiming that chemicals are trade secrets.

An Environmental Protection Agency–administered program to test new chemicals was created more than a decade ago, but progress has been slow at best. In June the EPA announced it was still seeking comment on a draft list of 73 pesticides to be evaluated under the new screening program. Chemicals in consumer products are not slated for review.

The program has received widespread criticism, and in September the US House Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a letter to the EPA expressing its concern: "EPA’s actions have been a continued failure to protect the American public from these chemicals." The seven-page letter also requests that the EPA take immediate action.

Meanwhile, Woodruff, Steingraber, and many environmental health advocates point to Europe and neighboring Canada as better models of protecting consumer health. Their policies have a heavier emphasis on precaution. Woodruff says prevention can mean the difference between responding to a change in hormone levels and coping with a birth defect.

"At what point is there enough information to take action?" Steingraber asks. "Chemicals are turning up in the urine of some of these girls, and while more research needs to be done, we can’t even do more research until the industry gives us more data. The time of saying, ‘Hmmm, that’s interesting,’ is over. It’s time to take action." *

Civil service bait and switch


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

Roger Gainey thought he had what it takes to become a supervisor at the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department.

He certainly met the basic criteria: "May be required to restrain hostile or agitated youth…. Requires ability to work in stressful situations…. Minimum four years of verifiable professional experience as a juvenile probation officer."

Gainey has worked as a probation officer in the department for eight years and received satisfactory performance evaluations from superiors. His big, muscular frame commands attention from people around him, even violent young toughs. But his soft facial features and cool manner seem to convey the thoughtful side necessary to work with directionless teens. "I’ve worked in all of the units," he told the Guardian, "pretty much throughout the whole department."

Most of all, Gainey, an African American, earned the top score on a difficult civil service exam that was offered in March for the first time since Gainey began at the department, beating 24 other applicants gunning for the same promotion.

So why did department managers skip over him and select four other applicants with lower scores on the combined written and oral test?

Alphanso Oliphant, who’s also black, believed he too possessed all of the right qualities to become a supervisor and lead 10 to 12 staffers in this often tense environment. He’s worked as a juvenile probation officer for 21 years and earned the second-highest score.

But he was also passed over for advancement.

Oliphant speaks deliberately, with a soothing voice, his visage distinguished by weary eyes and a slender moustache. He and Gainey wore well-pressed suits and detention center access badges around their necks as we met recently over lunch in West Portal, not far from the department’s central office on Woodside Avenue.

"I’ve had numerous supervisors," Oliphant said. "Not one has ever, ever raised the issue of inability to perform, inability to communicate properly, inability to work with the families. That’s all verifiable."

Gainey’s current assignment involves working with about 40 young people at a Juvenile Probation Department–affiliated school known as the Principal Center Collaborative Campus, where many of the students have drug and alcohol problems and require mental health services.

Oliphant is a court officer responsible for presenting the department’s recommendations for cases appearing on the docket each day — the top task he can perform under his current job classification.

The department first announced the available supervisory positions in January, and three days’ worth of examinations were taken by applicants this spring. But in the week following the test period, a personnel manager for the department named Samuel Kinghorne made an agreement with a union representative from the Operating Engineers Local 3 (who did not return calls seeking comment) to change a long-standing civil service rule reguutf8g how individuals are promoted.

The cornerstone of the city’s civil service system is its merit component. By requiring that applicants for available positions be given exams, the city can ensure that those with the highest qualifications will get the job. The Civil Service Commission here is one of the oldest in the nation, in fact, first formed in 1900 as a response to the entrenched municipal cronyism rampant in cities around the nation, including San Francisco.

For years top scorers on civil service exams were selected for open positions under what’s known as the rule of three. It required managers to promote from among those who earned the highest scores, which surely would have meant new jobs for Oliphant and Gainey.

The rule of three became official city policy in San Francisco nearly 20 years ago, and the concept has existed at the federal level for decades as a way to prevent patronage and favoritism.

At the time the job openings were announced, however, the Juvenile Probation Department was negotiating with Local 3 over an alternative selection process called the rule of the list, which is permitted under city guidelines only if applicants are notified of the change at the time the job openings are announced. The rule change allowed managers — in this case juvenile probation chief William Sifferman — to promote from a much larger group of applicants, including those who had earned lower scores on the exam.

But the change was not agreed on until months later, just after the tests were taken, leading Oliphant and Gainey to believe the department tinkered with the promotion process only after it learned who had made it to the top of the list.

"When a black man is in a position to make that touchdown, the goal line moves," Oliphant said. "The goal line moved here."

Department personnel analyst Barry Biderman, who was involved in the negotiated rule change, says it took months to settle because he was simply having trouble getting in touch with the union. "I had left messages with the union a number of times," he said. "The formal letter just took a while to sign."

Sam Kinghorne, who finalized the change with the union, insisted there was "nothing illegal about that" but mostly refused to comment, pointing to union grievances filed by Oliphant and Gainey. "You guys are barking up the wrong tree," Kinghorne said. "I’m not going to give you a spicy story. But remember that it’s up to the appointing officer to [make the selection]."

That’s true. As long as the rule of the list is in place, the department head can pick whomever he wants for the job from among those who passed the test, narrowly or not. The decision maker was Sifferman, but he called it a "personnel matter" and refused to explain why he selected four people for promotions other than Gainey and Oliphant, including one applicant who scored a 937 to Gainey’s 1060.

"I followed the process as it was described in the job announcements and all of the procedures that were outlined there," Sifferman said.

Carl Bellone, a longtime public administration professor at California State University, East Bay, concedes that the rule of the list may "lend itself to more potential for abuse" than the rule of three.

The trick is finding a balance between a century of civil service rules designed to ensure clean government and the reality that top test scorers may not always be the best candidates. "Ironically, a lot of people wanted to go to the rule of the list for affirmative action reasons," Bellone said. "You can go lower on the list to select a woman or African American."

But the rule of the list can also allow managers and politicians to limit promotions to loyalists who will do their bidding, or exclude those who aren’t afraid to openly criticize an agency’s performance.

"It completely and totally … prostitutes the promotional process," said Gary Delagnes, president of San Francisco Police Officers Association, which has long resisted the rule of the list. "If you give an exam — any exam — and you tell the person that finished number one, ‘We’re not going to give you this promotion, because we don’t think you’re up to the task,’ then what’s the point? You might as well go in alphabetical order."

Regardless of motive, the move by Juvenile Probation Department managers at least looks unseemly, considering Oliphant and Gainey are black (one African American woman was selected; the rest were not black). So each filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the San Francisco Civil Service Commission.

The timing of the new selection rule "suggests the change was made solely to give management the ability to exclude certain individuals from promotion and allow other, lower scoring individuals, to [advance]," Gregg Adam, a lawyer for the duo, wrote to civil service officials and the San Francisco Department of Human Resources in August.

The union that agreed to the rule change didn’t even represent Gainey and Oliphant — Local 3’s rank and file are supervisors, the title the men were hoping to attain. Officials at the Human Resources Department looked into the matter but insisted in a report called for by Adam that management had done nothing wrong. The Juvenile Probation Department was unaware of the test results before it changed the promotion policy because its outside consulting firm hadn’t graded them yet, the September report concluded. It also said that the rule of three policy allows for a slightly broader pool of eligibility when more than two positions are vacant.

On the other hand, the report does acknowledge that managers began grading the oral portion of the exams right away. And the list of those who were promoted wasn’t unveiled until August, long after the tests were first administered and all of the scores were in. But "there was no evidence" that the rules were changed in an attempt to discriminate against Gainey and Oliphant, according to the report.

Anita Sanchez, executive officer of the Civil Service Commission, recently finished a probe for her department and told us she believes the Juvenile Probation Department management’s claim that they had no idea who had earned top scores on the test before broadening the list of applicants eligible for promotion.

But Gainey and Oliphant say the experience has soured them on the Juvenile Probation Department.

"A lot of the kids were rooting for me at the [Principal Center Collaborative Campus]…. They were all cheering me on," Gainey said. "Then all of a sudden they found out I didn’t get it. The kids were more hurt than I was." *

Save St. Lukes!


OPINION For 136 years St. Luke’s Hospital has been a San Francisco landmark, serving the underserved communities in the southern half of the city.

Now St. Luke’s needs San Francisco’s help.

The hospital’s owner, Sutter Health, has embarked on a stealth strategy to close St. Luke’s, shuttering units one by one and gradually shifting personnel to facilities in wealthier neighborhoods — and their more upscale pool of patients.

This process is called medical redlining, or institutional racism, and it’s not just morally wrong — it’s contrary to the values that unite San Francisco.

Latino and African American patients accounted for 54 percent of the 23,000 emergency visits to St. Luke’s in 2005. This compares with only 8 percent at Sutter’s favored California Pacific Medical Center facilities across town. Similarly, 40 percent of hospital patients at St. Luke’s are Latino, versus only 1 percent at the CPMC site. There are 1,300 children born each year at St. Luke’s, most of them to families from the Mission, Bayview–Hunters Point, the Excelsior, and surrounding communities.

If St. Luke’s closes, where will these patients go? What will they do?

Some of them will head to San Francisco General Hospital, which is already struggling with too many patients and uncertain funding.

Sutter says it will treat the rest of these patients at its other facilities — all at least a 30-minute drive or a much longer bus ride away.

In reality, many patients will simply forego medical treatment. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that for lower-income patients, "traveling across town to access better resources or health care facilities is often beyond their means."

In this context, Sutter’s latest cuts to the neonatal intensive care and pediatrics units are especially cruel. Since the only private hospital serving the southern half of the city is in danger of closing, many of these families with sick babies and children will not seek or receive the medical attention they need until a crisis arrives.

All this, to improve on Sutter’s 2006 profits of $587 million.

The good news is that it’s not too late to save St. Luke’s.

Sutter’s actions have sparked a community outcry. Registered nurses from the facility went on strike in October and continue to insist that Sutter stop bleeding the hospital dry. Doctors, patients, and public health groups have actively protested and organized against the chain, and the city’s Health Commission is considering its options.

Sup. Sophie Maxwell recently introduced groundbreaking legislation to require a health impact review of all new permits granted to medical facilities. This would force Sutter to present an institutional master plan before moving forward with its proposed facility on Cathedral Hill and to justify this expensive new project in terms of what is best for the citywide public health infrastructure.

On a parallel track, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi is proposing a resolution to give the Board of Supervisors more influence over Sutter’s plans and to direct the city attorney to explore legal options to counter Sutter’s medical redlining.

As the cuts at St. Luke’s continue, patients suffer — and so does the city’s health care safety net. It is time for San Franciscans to join together and save this city icon. *

Zenei Cortez, RN, is a member of the Council of Presidents of the California Nurses Association.

The reel world


Among the coverage of the horrific San Francisco Bay oil slick, I saw a short video of a fowl gliding through sea glimmering with petroleum. The bird maintained grace in this toxic environment, navigating marbled, paperlike swirls in the blackened water. That image had an indelibly uncomfortable beauty, the sort that occurs in Takeshi Murata’s videos, in which cinema — transferred to digital media — begins to transmogrify into something that slithers like mercury and soaks into our psyches.

His current show at the recently relocated and vastly expanded Ratio 3 gallery is centered on a new six-minute work, Escape Spirit VideoSlime, though the addition of another piece, Untitled (Pink Dot) (2006) creates a satisfying double bill. Both works feature buzzing electronic soundtracks by Robert Beatty, vivid acid-trip color schemes, and not-so-veiled references to environmentalism. Escape, the more narrative of the pair, was created with generic nature footage of chimps in the forest, while Pink Dot appropriates scenes from Rambo: First Blood. In both, Murata deconstructs the imagery. Pixels reveal their capacity to act like paint, then reconfigure into fleeting photographic images of animals, explosions, and consuming, liquefied landscapes. They evoke a morass, an underworld similar to Barbarella’s Matmos, befitting the term VideoSlime and its promise of creaming the virtual.

The pieces are screened in separate stalls, yet if you stand between them they can be viewed simultaneously. Their ominous soundtracks, however, constantly blend together into somewhat overdetermined eeriness. Both are nightmarishly memorable, though the graphic quality and the recognizable but surprisingly earnest use of Stallone make Pink a somewhat stronger work. In totality, Murata’s project fits a contemporary moment in which the digital and the analog are merging in ever more complex and perhaps confusing ways. His work can be seen in context with groups such as PaperRad and a number of young artists who create neopsychedelia from Saturday-morning cartoon detritus and the comforting, rudimentary digital nature of Pac-Man. Murata has mined this territory in earlier works such as Monster Movie (2005), but what set his recent projects apart are the sophistication and complexity of the visions.

His 2006 piece Untitled (Silver) — seen in Murata’s first show at Ratio 3 and in "Cosmic Wonder" at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts — is a knockout, with its metallic gray footage of horror-film star Barbara Steele floating through a well-appointed goth interior that undergoes Murata’s process of liquefaction. Silver may still be the artist’s benchmark, but these new works reveal he’s got plenty of fuel left in the continually tenuous worlds, both actual and media, that we inhabit.


Through Nov. 30

Wed.–Sat., 11 a.m.–6 p.m.; and by appointment; free

Ratio 3

1447 Stevenson, SF

(415) 821-3371


Dark sparkle


› johnny@sfbg.com

Sparkle, San Francisco, sparkle — the Bay Area is a birthplace for visions of glitter. The Cockettes weren’t averse to throwing a few antique trunks full of metallic iridescence over their song and dance routines, and the late Jerome Caja mixed glitter with nail polish and liquid eyeliner to create a bad-acid cartoon Maybelline version of Hieronymus Bosch interpreting Dante. Jamie Vasta’s use of glitter isn’t as campy as the Cockettes’ or as lurid as Caja’s, but it’s on its way to becoming just as distinctive. Vasta doesn’t merely sprinkle glitter; with a devotion that’s both painterly and sculptural, she allows it to form and dominate her images.

"Mustn’t," a show of new glitter- and stain-on-wood works by Vasta at Patricia Sweetow Gallery, proves that while her vision of gender isn’t as palsied and perverse as Caja’s, it’s still subversive. The nine works on display present unified glimpses of a forested world where a man is seduced and either tortured or murdered by a pair of sisters. Vasta has mentioned Angela Carter’s fairy-tale revisions when discussing these images, in which femininity is alluring and dominant.

Working from photographs of a trio of professional actors, Vasta creates a claustrophobic, thicketed world where the women’s gestures of affection toward each other can also be seen as vicious struggle and where a man might be dead or in thrall to a degree that will soon prove fatal. In terms of technique and approach, wood, not glitter, is Vasta’s secret weapon. These works on wood are usually set in a forest, and while Vasta sometimes uses the backdrop in a literal sense to represent branches, she’ll just as often rely on stained sections to represent sunny untamed fields. Nature and artifice are at play in works such as Cottontail, in which one of the sisters, skinning a rabbit, wears a skirt printed with proud-looking deer that are almost of a piece with the surrounding landscape.

While Vasta’s devotion to glitter is steadfast, "Mustn’t" marks a shift in subject matter away from the contemporary landscapes of her past work into a more mythic and at times precious realm, where psychology is more to the fore and references to Judith and Holofernes crop up in an elliptical fashion. As Vasta’s wholly individual command of glitter’s illusory qualities and depth — as well as its tendency to blur boundaries — has increased, her color schemes have come to flirt more with purples and violets. The thought occurs that she’s more comfortable using hues that would set off kitsch alarms if employed by a lesser artist. The one quality that connects the fantasy-based works of "Mustn’t" with Vasta’s past images of house fires, mysterious blue lights, and tornadoes is a violent air. One gets the feeling that this show is just the beginning of a longer journey through a variety of unsettling zones. *

Through Dec. 15
Tues.–Fri., 10:30 a.m.– 5:30 p.m.; Sat, 10:30 a.m.–5 p.m.; free
Patricia Sweetow Gallery

77 Geary, SF
(415) 788-5126



› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I’m a woman, and my partner is too. We’ve agreed that for now, when we have sex outside our relationship, we’ll have safe(r) sex. Another woman I’m dating is a major squirter, as in I need goggles and a raincoat. Next time we want to use a harness. However, I’m concerned that there’s no safe way; when she comes (and she comes bucketloads), won’t her ejaculate get into me?

I’ve thought about wrapping up with Saran Wrap and making a hole for the dildo, but that still doesn’t seem like it would stop it all. Are there any studies on STDs present in female ejaculate? And even if there are none, how possible is it that her ejaculate will throw off my pH balance (I have a very sensitive system)? Also, some got in my eye. What are the possible risks involved in that?


Wearing a Raincoat

Dear Coat:

I’ve encountered the goggles-and-a-raincoat type, in close quarters, and ever since have laughed great big belly laughs whenever I see a safer-sex pamphlet or demo showing someone lightly draping a lady’s lady parts with a scrap of latex the size of a playing card (same as the recommended serving of protein in most diet plans) and daintily lapping at it as though normal people have sex without making any sudden movements or producing more than a teaspoon of fluid at a time (and very obedient fluid at that). Not only is this sort of exercise unrealistic, but it doesn’t even look fun. But there it is, having outlived its ’90s heyday, refusing to die.

Some colleagues and I were sharing some similar laughs over the sorts of tricks each of us have had to teach at some point, usually as (or to) college students. There’s the one where you cut up the glove to make a dental dam kind of thing with a teeny protuberance, like an appendix, where the thumb used to be (stick your tongue in there and wiggle it around and try not to feel like you’re involved in some kind of freaky scene with a hobbit-hole full of wee folk). Or the one where you wear a garter belt upside down or backward, using the clips to hold a dam flaccidly in place over the site whence one of your girlfriend’s deluges may be erupting soon. It’s all so absurd, and has been taught so earnestly and for so long. I don’t even think we’re ready to use the past tense here, unfortunately, as I still find those sad little crafts projects all over the Internet whenever I’m out looking for updated, useful STD information. (Check out this hilarious link: www.freepatentsonline.com/20030150463.html.)

All of which brings us to the fact that female ejaculation is still such a hotly debated topic that you can find many denials that it exists, even among supposed experts, and if it may not exist, I doubt it’s been tested for STDs. Personally, I think it’s an unlikely candidate for a disease transmitter, barring any local infections, which would cause it to be carrying a lot of white blood cells. If it were a good way to spread HIV, then the much-trumpeted "imminent" woman-to-woman epidemic of the ’90s would have arrived — and, of course, it never did. This is your health, however, and your promise to your partner that you will not expose yourself to anything (or anything avoidable, anyway). So here are my suggestions: (1) That trick where she gets herself off while squatting directly above you? Don’t do that. (2) Whatever you’re doing, have her warn you before she makes like a human bidet, so you can duck. (3) The cling-film* diaper may work better if you use a female condom (they are lubed with silicone, which is inert and unlikely to mess you up) at the same time, although you will sound like a theaterful of candy-wrapper rustlers and smell and taste like nothing at all, which many people do not consider a reasonable trade-off. (4) There are highly engineered, very expensive latex novelties that you might find useful. And last: (5) Close your eyes and avert your head. Again, I think it extremely unlikely that she could pass anything to you, but eyes are a good enough conduit. Does she have anything? Have you asked her?

Seriously, I don’t think any of this is really necessary, but again, you promised no body fluids, and those are some ways to avoid them. Another approach, of course, would be to declare fem-jack fluid not scary and renegotiate. I would.



* If you’ve never seen or heard Nigella Lawson pronounce the phrase cling film, you won’t know why I insist on saying it even though I’m far more American than apple pie. Check it out.

Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don’t do that. Just ask her a question.

A certain way


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Georgie Bundle came creaking into my shack in the middle of the night. Weirdo the Cat wigged a little and went under the bed. I rolled over. The refrigerator snored. Georgie Bundle stood his stand-up bass in the doorway and wound down on the floor without any lights on.

In the morning I stepped over him and put the coffee on. I started a fire. There was an apple pie, and there were leftover ribs I’d slow-smoked for dinner the night before. Oh, and there was applesauce, of course, with bacon in it. Starting to sound like breakfast?

Wake up, Georgie Bundle. Wake up and smell the barbecue.

I never lock my door. It’s the woods! I’m a chicken farmer! Visitors are rare, but always welcome. It was Bundle’s idea to put the ribs on the pie, like ice cream.

"Georgie Boy," I said half a bite later, my mouth full, my eyes bugging, "you are a genius."

He hemmed and chawed, blushed a little, and said, "No, no, no," but I tell you, world, this was a chicken-and-waffle moment. The smoky sauce (borrowed from Big Nate), the juicy meat, the flaky, buttery crust, the sweet, gooey apples … it was a taste sensation that will likely color — or flavor, I should say — the rest of my apple pie–eating life.

Yours too, if you let it. Don’t be afraid. Look, open your eyes. It’s walking distance to pork chops and apple sauce, with pastry crust for biscuits. It’s almost classic. I, for one, will not be able to eat apple pie now without smothering it in barbecue, or at least wanting to. Just like I crave fried chicken instead of blueberries on my waffle and buttered, syrupy waffles under my fried chicken.

End of story. Bing. I take back everything I ever said about anything. I love applesauce, I love apple pie, and Mitsuhiro is wild about burritos.

He’s the Japanese tourist whom I met on the train and then helped find his way around Chicago. I made a phone call, drew a map, walked him to the El, and pointed him north. It was nothing, really — I had a five-hour layover there. But to him this was tantamount to saving his life. Come to think of it, he might be right.

Anyway, we’d already agreed that when he came back West we’d go eat. I’m a slow thinker and a patient listener, and this makes me popular with non-English-speaking people in general. I’m also a one-track conversationalist. After hours and hours of broken sentences, backyard sign language, and bee dances, I had gleaned that Mitsuhiro, in one week in San Francisco, had only eaten Chinese food.

I gave him my phone number and e-mail address and tried to think how to say he was "in good hands" without potentially transutf8g that into Japanese as "I want to blow you." Even though, of course, I did.

"Mexican food," I said, starting safe. "Vietnamese food. Caribbean food. Indian food. I love to eat. I will show you."

His mind stopped working at Mexican, I guess, because a couple of weeks later he e-mailed on his way back across the country and said, "Next Sunday date 11 I am free. I would try Mexican food."

We ate burritos, then drank at the only Mission District bar that was open at 5:55 p.m. on Sunday, date 11: the Make-Out Room. I didn’t know there was going to be music. At first we were the only ones there. Three pints later I started to realize that I, your chicken farmer truly, to whom every single thing is "a date," was on a date … a date date. I know because he kept saying sweet things and, more to the point, wouldn’t let me pay for anything. And right around that time, all of my friends in the world started moseying into the bar. There was Kid Coyote with a guitar, the Old Sack on drums. Here come the Mountains, Gator-Gator, Jolly Boy, Earl Butter. And nobody’s seen me for weeks, so there’s considerable hugging and hooting, and I tried to introduce Mitsuhiro in a certain way. But.

I can only imagine his confusion. I think he thought I was one of those kinds of women, or else maybe he realized finally that I was exactly the kind that I am.

In any case, the mood changed. He started looking at his watch a lot, then had to go. Back to Okinawa, and there is a song in that, yes, but it’s already been written. *

Fetus frenzy


› culture@sfbg.com

If you live in San Francisco and are in possession of a conventional vagina, you are most likely pregnant. And if you’re not pregnant, you’re either anxious to become so or have just pinched out a baby and are looking toward closing the deal on numbers two and three before you hit 40. If none of the above applies, I, a new mother myself, give you permission to ignore that self-righteous pregnant bitch eyeing your Muni seat and openly admit the following: SF was edgier when it was just a bunch of wayward freaks in crotchless ass pants.

Now, thanks to a surge in results-oriented fucking among the white, heterosexual ruling class, this city has become overrun with decaf-latte-sipping, thousand-dollar-stroller-pushing, CFO–Noe Valley–ish, overly together supermoms who will tear you multiple assholes if you even think about stepping near their two-legged petri dish specimens. One might be tempted to label this phenomenon a baby boom. That assumption, however, is incorrect. What we are witnessing in San Francisco — and everywhere else inhabited by Gen Xers with money — is a parent boom.

In the past, parents were simply identified as people who raised children. That era, which lasted roughly 200,000 years, has ended. Parents now practice the rarified art of parenting. Parents who parent must adopt a specific parenting style — one that’s far more complex than a hairstyle and infinitely more expensive. Parenting requires ongoing investment in sleep and breast-feeding consultants, childproofing contractors, European-designed gear, six-week courses, endless manuals and magazines, and, depending on one’s sacred style, couture bedding and nursery decor that can run well over five grand. This is quite a change of direction for Generation X, to which I belong, whose members were blacking out in Cow Hollow bars and smoking out of two-foot Mission District bongs throughout the ’90s. But my generation’s escapist persona — equal parts political indifference, obsessive consumerism, hedonistic self-absorption, and Diff’rent Strokes references — did not abate or even truly evolve when we threw the birth control in the trash. It only found new life, literally.

We, the latchkey slackers who postponed being parents until our ovaries wept, are acutely aware that whatever decisions we make regarding our children are direct reflections of ourselves. It is therefore imperative to properly accessorize one’s child; only by doing so can one ensure the child is a better accessory. The right stroller, carrier, preschool waiting list, parenting philosophy, and even diaper — all denote much more than any sensible person would care to know.


Oh, wait. I forgot to mention the babies: it appears there are many of them. Commercial sidewalks in Noe Valley, Cole Valley, Hayes Valley, and beyond buzz with kitten-eyed freshies sucking the rubberized life out of pacifiers, frazzled mommies in yoga pants and camel toes pushing behemoth, double-wide prams, nannies chatting on cell phones while small barbarians stick organic Cheerios up their noses. Top preschools are waitlisted for several years. Babysitters are harder to find than a pimple on a newborn’s butt. Is it good for San Francisco’s soul that kiddie boutiques outnumber bondage shops and Polk Street glory holes? It’s an epidemic, cry my nonparent friends, some of whom have been accosted by pompous moms and dads for accidentally bumping into strollers or smoking on the street. Ever think of denying an All-Important Holy Mother with Child your seat on the 1 California? Want to be knifed by a stay-at-home mom from precious Laurel Heights?

Funny thing is, the evidence of a baby boom is largely anecdotal. Statistics paint a very different picture. A disturbing March 2006 report by Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, "Families Struggle to Stay: Why Families Are Leaving San Francisco and What Can Be Done," reveals that we have the lowest child population of any American city. And of San Francisco’s 100,000 children, most reside in the city’s poorest districts — including traditionally working-class neighborhoods that are becoming increasingly chic. Coleman Advocates also estimates that 39,000 families with children are in need of affordable housing.

"The issue is not if there is a baby boom trend in San Francisco," Coleman Advocates’ Ingrid Gonzales e-mailed me. "The real issue is whether these [lower-income] families stay or are eventually pushed out of San Francisco because of a lack of affordable family housing or access to a quality public school education. Stats show that families leave when their children reach kindergarten age. Coleman Advocates and our families say that this is not OK — families should have a right to stay in the city they call home."

Somehow I doubt the parents buying the $1,890 Cabine infant dresser at Giggle on Chestnut Street are too worried about making rent. In fact, a May article in the New York Times reports that San Francisco is second only to Manhattan in toddlers born to wealthy white families, defined as those that pull in an average of $150,763 per year. And consider this Coleman Advocates finding: there was a 45 percent drop in the number of black families with children in San Francisco from 1990 to 2000, while around the same time 90 percent of the people moving into the city did not have children and — surprise, surprise — were mostly rich and white. This development pretty much paralleled the period of the dot-com boom. At the risk of making light of an alarming situation, is it safe to posit that the dot-com bust inspired semiemployed white professionals to buy a lot of lube?


So what creates this illusion of a baby boom? Probably an uptick in showy, hyperactive parenting. Weekends at Children’s Playground in Golden Gate Park provide insight into the phenomenon. There parents can be found earnestly — one might even say aggressively — parenting. They really put their all into it ("it" being what our parents haphazardly did with us) as they push their bewildered offspring in swings, making sure to "Wheee!" with more enthusiasm than a redneck at a NASCAR rally — an apt metaphor, because this brand of parenting is a competitive sport. "How old is she? Is she standing on her own? Can she walk yet? Does she speak French, and can she crap in the can?" someone always wants to know, hungrily eyeing your baby as if she were a delicious wild Alaskan king salmon fillet.

But blessed be, developmental superiority is not the only way to make other parents feel like shit. Fleets of luxury Dutch strollers are parked around the playground’s grassy knolls, each exceeding my share of rent by $300. I’ve seen nannies pull toys from Coach and Louis Vuitton diaper bags, kids scale the jungle gym dressed in Little Marc coats, white babies in $40 organic cotton T-shirts emblazoned with a grossly ironic image of a black woman’s face.

This excess of money breeds paranoia. Even on the warmest days, Caitlin-Courtney-Penelope-Emily-Aurelia-Shiloh-Mackenzie can be observed crawling in the playground’s cool sand, fully dressed in the very best of Zutano’s and Petit Bateau’s wide-brim hats, thick socks and booties, long-sleeve shirts, and pants in order to prevent the wretched elements, formerly known as blue sky and sunshine, from attacking the child’s not-so-invisible bubble. And rest assured, many of the playground’s nannies — almost entirely middle-aged mothers and grandmothers of color — have been fingerprinted and subjected to invasive criminal background checks. Long gone are the days when parents hired any ol’ teenage stoner to watch their kids.


I feel embarrassed to be here, I often think. Because I know I’m part of the problem. I didn’t come to San Francisco for the money — I was born here and spent most of my childhood in that new epicenter of ultraparenting, Noe Valley — and I don’t have a nursery, a full-size kitchen, or even a hallway in my shared one-bedroom Sunset apartment. (This is not a "poor me" moment; my lifestyle is a choice.) But I did spend $300 on a labor and newborn preparation course, during which I suffered video after video of goopy babies cannonballing forth from untamed bush. I paid a woman $200 to teach me how to breast-feed and another $50 to join a local e-mail list through which upper-crust women seek help in finding dinner party entertainment for hire and live-in au pairs. I can cite Halle Berry’s prenatal test results but no statistics from the war in Iraq. I have secretly chuckled at ugly babies. I have wanted to know if your baby can stand alone yet and why she’s so much smaller than mine. I’ve purchased nearly 20 books on pregnancy, breast-feeding, natural birth, cosleeping, infant health, starting solids, potty training, how to stay hot, and how to fix my gut.

Pediatric records indicate I was not reared by wild dogs, yet I can’t figure out how to assume the most primal of all roles — motherhood — without hitting the ATM.

In her 2007 manifesto against the $20 billion baby-to-toddler industry and the disastrous effects it has on our children, Buy, Buy Baby (Houghton Mifflin) author Susan Gregory Thomas credits Gen X’s overspending and unhealthy micromanaging to the way in which we, the products of broken homes and TVs as babysitters, were raised: "The commercialization and neglect of young people results not only in fears of abandonment and bank-breaking shopping habits in adulthood to fill the void but also in a deep, neurotic sense of attachment to, and protection of, one’s own children and home."

Gregory Thomas’s assessment strikes me as painfully true and spurs the question: what kind of people will our babies become? Will they, as older children and adults, invariably expect and demand the best, no matter the appropriateness of the circumstance? Will they be terrified of public schools and public transportation and — worse — people with a different color skin? How will they ever travel abroad, and will they condescend to people who have less? Surely the parents who buy their baby the $1,700 Moderne crib intend only to give their child the finest they can offer. Every child is worthy of that grand intention. Yet, as my friend and mother-mentor Billee Sharp pointed out, the more extravagant the gifts, the harder the parents must work to provide them, resulting in less time spent with their kids. Lavishness, in this sense, becomes empty compensation for a shortage of available love.


Being a new parent is much harder than it seems. If we’re overcompensating, it’s largely because we don’t know what else to do. If it takes a village to raise a child, what happens when all you have is DSL? During my pregnancy and the first three months of my daughter’s life, my husband and I lived in relative isolation in Brooklyn, away from family and a network of close friends that could offer knowledge and day-to-day help. The books, the classes, and the breast-feeding consultant filled the gaps that real support would have provided. (I certainly had two boobs but no idea where to put them: In the baby’s mouth? Are you serious?) In the absence of genuine community, we follow the only guidelines available to us and do the best we can manage. While nothing is less appealing to me than having to be someone’s friend simply because we both piss our pants when we sneeze, artificially constructed social networks like mommy groups, daddy groups, play groups, and Yahoo e-mail groups fulfill a real need for disconnected urbanites whose families typically reside thousands of miles away.

Learning to be a parent without geographic and strong emotional links to our families, then, becomes a complicated process of untangling the skein of too much information. From the moment a woman discovers she is pregnant, she and her partner are encouraged to believe they are totally, utterly retarded when it comes to being parents. The reality-TV experts, the how-to books, the product-driven Web sites and magazines cater to a deep, unrelenting distrust of ourselves, and they have the tragic effect of obliterating whatever parenting intuition and knowledge that we, as living creatures, already have in our DNA.

My path to reclaiming motherhood began with an injured wrist. Everything I had read warned that I would roll over my child and kill her if we slept together in one bed. To prevent this tragedy, my husband and I bought a sleigh bed attachment for our bed that kept me at least a foot away from my child. Each night that I listened to her breathe without being able hold her brought an agony so intense that I became profoundly depressed. I was desperate to pull her close to my body, like every mammal mother does, like our ancestors did long before they stopped growing pubic hair on their backs. In my longing to be nearer to my child, I contorted my left wrist under my head as I slept, perhaps to stop my murderous hands from accidentally touching the person I love most. With my wrist in a splint and steroid shots in my hand, I sobbed to my mother over the phone, "I can sleep with my cats, but why not with my own child?"

The night I brought my daughter into bed marked the beginning of my departure from the fear-and-product-based mommy mainstream. Within weeks a friend turned me on to the instinctive-parenting ideas put forth in Jean Liedloff’s The Continuum Concept (Addison Wesley, 1986), a fascinating book that details the author’s travels to Venezuela, where she studied the parenting methods of the indigenous Yequana Indians, who, remarkably, have never considered shopping for child-rearing clues on Babycenter.com. Admittedly, my and my husband’s current touchy-feely, indigenous-inspired style is a little fringe lunatic, and, as Gregory Thomas might suggest, it’s probably no coincidence that we both come from broken homes. But life-changing insights that require no investment in stylish baby gear are available to us. We only have to be willing to look.


One of the most affecting messages I have received about the depth of real parental love came to me in the form of a damp newspaper abandoned on the subway in New York City. Elizabeth Fitzsimons’s essay "My First Lesson in Motherhood," published in the New York Times Modern Love section this Mother’s Day, chronicles the journalist’s trip to China, where she and her husband picked up their adopted infant daughter, who, it turned out, had debilitating health defects. Fitzsimons was warned that her daughter might have Down’s syndrome, might never walk, and will likely be tethered to a colostomy bag for the rest of her life. "I knew this was my test," Fitzsimons writes, "my life’s worth distilled into a moment. I was shaking my head ‘No’ before [the doctors] finished explaining. We didn’t want another baby, I told them. We wanted our baby, the one sleeping right over there. ‘She’s our daughter,’ I said. ‘We love her.’ "

Fitzsimons’s fierce, truly unconditional love for a child she did not create becomes even more striking when contextualized in these fertility and pregnancy-obsessed times. We all want our children to be healthy, to outlive us, to be content, and to exist in a safe, peaceful world. These desires are pretty basic. Clearly, though, there’s a worrisome glitch in the parent boom trend: it has nothing to do with the well-being of children who are biologically not ours. This newfound love for babies is entirely insular, concerned only with one’s genetic family, one’s own perfect, beautiful, well-fed, well-dressed child. Look inside a pregnancy or parenting magazine and you will find that most lack any semblance of social perspective as they offer tired takes on recycled, useless information: "How to lose the baby weight in three days!" "Ten tips for getting back the magic in the bed!"

But the truth is that while middle-class women squabble about whether to breast-feed or bottle-feed, 39,000 families with children in this city are in dire need of affordable homes. For every day we bicker over stay-at-home moms versus mothers who work full-time, four children in this country will die from abuse or neglect, and eight more will be killed at the hand of someone operating a gun, according to Children’s Defense Fund statistics.

The self-centeredness of Gen X parents manifests as blindness to these sad realities, and here I indict myself again. Why do I only act on behalf of my child when I have the means to do something that could help other, less fortunate children? Maybe the answer is too painful to consider. Maybe I’d rather shop for a new sling instead. *

Chez Maman


› paulr@sfbg.com

Chez Maman might not be spreading her arms just for you, but it sure feels that way. You step inside, and you are snuggled. There is no one else in her world but you — except, of course, those other inconveniently needy people who are lined up at the long bar and packed into the windowside tables, hungry for a taste of Mom’s cooking and competing for her attention, damn them. Mom in this instance is French, a stoveside exponent of la France profonde, a disher-up of various Gallic comfort food, though plainly Mom has been hoofing it around the world lately too, since, to judge by the menu card, she seems to have discovered the quesadilla, among other New World wonders.

Mom’s place used to be Just for You, a celebrated daytime, mostly breakfast-and-lunch venue that also served dinner but decamped a few years ago to Dogpatch. Space was presumably an issue in that move; the vacated premises were tight even by the standards of tight premises, and the advent of Chez Maman (an offshoot of Plouf offshoot Chez Papa, at the corner; now there are several Chezs Mamans) did not cause those premises to expand. The restaurant’s minimal dimensions seem to be exactly those of yesteryear. We were shown to a window-display table one noontime, and I felt as if I were being stuffed into a coach seat on United Airlines. The chairs were handsome enough — some kind of brushed steel or aluminum, very au courant — but I would have been happier with less metallic chic and more space in which to draw breath.

Yet the closeness of the quarters is what it is: an inherited condition. And there is something to be said for knee-knocking proximity, at least if you’re with somebody you like. If you’re not, there’s always the long counter (which affords an excellent view of the conversation-piece kitchen) and, in clement weather, the sidewalk tables. It has long been my sense that the concept of clement weather is generously understood in France; the French will sit at outdoor tables in the Place de la Bastille, sipping espressos or Kronenbourgs from tall glasses, even as February snowflakes twirl gently down around them. If they need further warming, they light cigarettes and denounce the government.

No snowflakes on Potrero Hill, of course, at least not of the meteorological sort — and not many cigarettes now either — but at Chez Maman there are excellent panini, including those classic French versions, croques monsieur et madame. You can’t go wrong with these, but how about a panino of merguez ($9.50), the spicy North African lamb sausage, presented (with sautéed onions and Gruyère) on immaculately fresh bread in the form of a boomerang? I never tire of merguez, but I particularly liked Chez Maman’s version, which had the coarse, chewy texture of the house-made kind.

The merguez panino plate, like that of the tuna panino plate ($9.50), was prettied up with balsamic-dressed mesclun — beautiful and tasty if rather austere. To balance this small touch of abstemious greenery, we sprang for the herbed frites ($5), which arrived in a hefty stack with a ramekin of aioli on the side and lasted beyond the end of the panini despite our enthusiastic plunderings: forkfuls, fingerfuls. The tuna sandwich was good, just not quite as memorable as its merguez sibling: the fish was mashed with aioli into a kind of salad dotted by bits of roasted red pepper and given a gentle edge by some parmesan gratings, though no capers.

If you accept the quesadilla as legitimate in a French (or French-plus) bistro, then you will also welcome, beforehand, guacamole and chips ($7). The guac is nicely chunky and lightly kissed by lime juice, but the fresh-from-the-fryer chips are a revelation — almost like pastry. No one can eat just one, and I should know. I could easily have eaten the whole stack, like a bag of Ruffles, without any guacamole at all. Fortunately or unfortunately, I had to share.

The quesadillas are wittier than the run-of-the-mill sort. I was especially taken by a vegetarian version ($10.50) filled with a sauté of red and yellow bell peppers and zucchini, and smears of goat cheese. The quesadilla, duly grilled, was cut into quarters and stacked like a club sandwich, which made it easier to share, sharing being a recurrent motif at Chez Maman, perhaps because of the close quarters or the sense of maternal vigilance.

Across the way, my friend took a deep whiff of his niçoise salad ($13.50), as if he were warming his face over a steamy bowl of soup.

"It smells fishy," he said with satisfaction, "like the real thing." The salad included fresh grilled tuna, naturally, to contribute to this authenticating perfume, but also anchovy fillets, whose aroma is indispensable in certain preparations. I have had niçoise salads, even good niçoise salads, without anchovies, but anchovies are, without doubt, an improvement. (The rest of the salad was satisfyingly standard-issue: quarters of hard-boiled eggs and tomato, green beans, potatoes, and black olives.)

Perhaps the most genuinely French aspect of the Chez Maman experience is the service. As those who’ve visited France know, the French tend not to fawn over restaurant customers. Service is generally crisp and correct, and servers are pleasant while avoiding the noisome American tic of pretending to be your friend. Chez Maman’s service offers a version of this brisk continental experience, which is intensified by the crowding smallness of the place into a blend of efficiency and urgency. Plates clatter, people come and go, and Maman reminds us, gently but firmly, not to talk with our mouths full. *


Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 10:30 a.m.–11 p.m.

1453 18th St., SF

(415) 824-7166


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Wheelchair accessible