Volume 42 Number 18

January 31 – February 5, 2008

  • No categories

G-Spot: Nookie by the numbers


› culture@sfbg.com

We asked and you answered — oh, how you answered. More than 200 of you responded to our questions about what goes on between your sheets, or at least between your legs. And although there are lots of you happily living your vanilla-and-roses love lives (straight! Missionary style! Share my partner? Never!), there are plenty more proving our city’s reputation for alternative gender and orientation identities, kinky sex, and free love is well deserved. Check out our poll results, as of Jan. 31, below. (Numbers are percentages.)

1. How do you identify, in terms of your sexual orientation?

Straight 59

Gay 12

Queer 10

Bi 9

Depends on how much I’ve had to drink 5

Alternative answers include four kinds of bisexual with caveats such as "bi-affectional" or "bi for political reasons," one transsexual, and one person who identifies simply as "feral." Meow.

2. How often do you have sex?

Once a day 11

Once a week 37

Once a month 10

Once upon a time 2

Alternate answers give even more specific frequencies, most often three to four times per week, as well as the fabulously Victorian answer "fortnightly." Several people said it depends on relationship status (though there was no mention of whether frequency increases or decreases with commitment). The one we identify with most? "As much as possible. Every day if you count with myself."

3. What’s the kinkiest thing you’ve done or would do?

Sex before marriage 15

Spanking 24

Suspension 16

"Two Girls, One Cup" 11

Alternative answers include bondage, multiple partners at one time ("ye olde three-way"), role play, sex in public places (bookstore? Hot), snowballing, sex with someone else’s date, anonymous encounters, homosexual dalliances, and the winner for Most Likely to Have Come from Lolita: "I got my chewing gum caught in a guy’s pubic hair once."

4. Where’s the craziest place you’ve ever had sex in San Francisco?

Mission Bar 8

16th and Mission Bart stop 4

My bed (missionary position, of course) 26

We’ve clearly been shopping in the wrong places. You people are having sex in Noe Valley storefronts, butcher shops, the dressing rooms of upscale retailers (Saks, JCrew, Banana Republic), and phone booths and against a wall in the Haight. How’d we miss this? Perhaps we were too busy with the rest of you in parks (Golden Gate, Balboa, Dolores), parking lots, school yards, and hot tubs. Some of our awards? Most original goes to "bowling alley in the back with the pins." Most ambitious? "Nothin’ crazy yet, but it’s only 9am. Give me a chance to wake up."

5. How polyamorous are you (or were you in your last committed relationship)?

Love is limitless and meant to be shared (my partner and I have other partners) 8

Love has limits, but sex is meant to be shared (my partner and I have other bed buddies) 13

Love and sex have limits, but some fantasies are meant to be shared (my partner and I occasionally invite others into bed with us) 12

Love, sex, and fantasies have limits, but dinner is meant to be shared (my partner and I have friends) 58

Most of you don’t want to share your partners — "I’m a jealous bitch," one person responded — though at least one of you wishes you could. But a good amount of you are open to all kinds of couplings, including the most open-minded of all: "AMA — all mammals allowed."

6. What gets you in the mood?

Gary Danko — foie gras and a 1985 Angelos Gaja 6

Amber — Pabst Blue Ribbon and a shot of well whiskey 15

The Stud — tequila and Trannyshack 8

What doesn’t? 54

For some of you, all you need to do is see your beau or betty and you’re ready for love. Others need drugs (weed and coke are favorites) and porn. And congrats to those of you who know exactly, specifically, without a doubt what you need: Morrissey and a Georges Bataille novel, horny thoughts and Spanish-language TV channel Azteca America, molasses coffee with grits, Madagascar chocolate from Recchiuti Confections, or rain. We love the answer "long tones." (Let’s talk about sax, baby.) And we’re not sure how to feel about the person who needs "a pint of Malibu and a good swift kick in the jewels."

G-Spot: Valentine’s Day events



Amor del Mar Aquarium of the Bay, Pier 39, Embarcadero at Bay; 623-5326, www.aquariumofthebay.com. Feb 14, 6pm, $100. Celebrate San Francisco’s love affair with the bay and support the nonprofit Aquarium of the Bay Foundation at this gala celebration featuring global cuisine, decadent drinks, live music, and exhibitions.

Erotic Playground One Taste, 1074 Folsom; www.tantriccircus.com. Sat/9, 8pm; $30 single women, $50 single men, $60 couples. The Tantric Circus presents a sexy evening of burlesque, striptease, male lap dance, fruit feeding, DJs, and more.

Eternal Spring SomArts Bay Gallery, 934 Brannan; 1-888-989-8748, eternalspring08.com. Sat/9, 2-10pm, $7. Celebrate life, love, arts, and creativity at this all-day event including a fashion show, performances, free classes (hoop, poi, yoga, and more!), DJs, and shopping.

Heroes and Hearts Luncheon Union Square; 206-4478, www.sfghf.net. Feb 14, 11:30am, $300. Celebrate those who have helped the community and support the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation by attending this luncheon and auction of artist-created tabletop heart sculptures.

My Sucky Valentine XIII ARTworkSF Gallery, 49 Geary; 673-3080, www.artworksf.com. Feb 14, 8pm, $15-25. Listen to tales of tainted love and bad sex by good writers including Thomas Roche, Carol Queen, Michelle Tea, and mi blue, all to benefit the Women’s Community Clinic and the St. James Infirmary.

One Night Stand X ARTworkSF Gallery, 49 Geary; 673-3080, www.artworksf.com. Sat/9, 6-11pm, $15-25. Support the Center for Sex and Culture and the SF Artists Resource Center at this sexy multimedia event including live nude models, paint wrestling, erotic food feeding, and performances.

PINK’s 2nd Annual Valentine’s Day Party Look Out Bar, 3600 16th St; 703-9751, www.mypartner.com. Sat/9, 8pm-2am, $25. MyPartner.com cohosts this year’s party and benefit for the GLBT Historical Society. About 300 single gay guys are expected to enjoy an open Svedka vodka bar and hobnobbing with guests like Assemblymember Mark Leno and Sup. Bevan Dufty.

Poetry Battle of (All) the Sexes Beat Museum, 540 Broadway; 863-6306, www.poormagazine.org. Feb 14, 7:30pm; $20 to fight, $15 to watch. Challenge your partner (or future partner) to a battle of spoken word, hip-hop, poetry, or flowetry in the ring at this benefit for Poor magazine.

Prom Pete’s Tavern, 128 King; 817-5040, www.petestavernsf. Feb 14, 9pm, $10. What’s more romantic than prom? Prom in the ’80s! Enjoy music, decorations, mock gambling, and dancing, all to benefit Voices, a nonprofit that works with emancipated foster youths. Admission includes one drink, gambling chips, and a photo.

Queen of Arts: A Profane Valentine Coronation Sssshh…!, 535 Florida; www.anonsalon.com/feb08. Feb 15, 10pm, $10-20. The production team that brought us Sea of Dreams presents a sexy night of DJs, dancing, art, and performance, including Kitty-D from Glitch Mob, Mancub from SpaceCowboys, Fou Fou Ha!, and Merkley.

Queen of Hearts Ball Mighty, 119 Utah; 974-8985, www.goodvibes.com. Feb 14, 8pm, $25. Good Vibrations and Dr. Carol Queen host this decadent fairy-tale-themed costume party featuring MC Peaches Christ, circus performances by Vau de Vire Society, a fetish fashion show, and dancers from the Lusty Lady.

Romancing the Reptiles: Wild Love! Tree Frog Treks, 2112 Hayes; 876-3764, www.treefrogtreks.com. Sat/9, noon-2pm; $40 adults, $25 kids. Join animal care director Ross Beswick as you learn about how animals pick their mates and where baby animals come from.

Sensualité 111 Minna, 111 Minna; www.celesteanddanielle.com/party.html. Feb 15, 9pm; $15 advance, $20 at the door. Wear something sexy to this multimedia Valentine’s Day event featuring aphrodisiac appetizers, exotic rhythms, tarot readings, performances, a raffle, and a no-host bar.

Sweet Valentine’s Cruise Pier 431/2; 673-2900, www.redandwhite.com. Feb 14, 5pm; $48 adult, $34 youth. Join the Red and White Fleet for a romantic, fun, two-hour cruise of the San Francisco Bay, including a lavish appetizer buffet by Boudin and a complimentary beverage.

Transported SF Valentine’s Singles Party Pickup at Rite Spot, 2099 Folsom; transportedsf.com. Feb 14, 7:30pm, $21.49. Join DJs Ana Sia and Felina aboard the biodiesel Transported SF bus for sultry sounds, schmoozing with other singles, and stops at gorgeous outdoor dancing locales.

Woo at the Zoo San Francisco Zoo; Sloat at 47th St; 753-7236, www.sfzoo.org. Sat/9, Feb 13-15, 6pm; Sun/10, Feb 17, noon; $75. This multimedia event, conducted by Jane Tollini of the now-defunct Sex Tours, explores the sexual and mating behaviors of animals. Also featuring champagne and romantic refreshments.


Flamenco, Candlelight and Roses Café de la Paz, 1600 Shattuck, Berk; (510) 287-8700, www.cafedelapaz.net. Feb 14, 5:30, 6, 8, and 8:30pm; Feb 15-16, 6:30pm; $75-115. The nuevo Latino café celebrates the sweet side of love with three days of dinner plus a show, featuring the acclaimed Caminos Flamencos dance company.

Nest Firecracker Valentine Event Nest, 1019 Atlas Peak, Napa; (707) 255-7484. Sat/9-Sun/10, 10am-6pm, $5. Celebrate Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day together while shopping for unique gifts and making art projects with scrapbook artist Janine Beard, all to benefit the "Nest Egg" fund through the Arts Council of Napa.

Sweetheart Tea Yerba Buena Nursery, 19500 Skyline, Woodside; (650) 851-1668, www.yerbabuenanursery.com. Sat/9, noon, $25. Enjoy a traditional tea service with a special Valentine’s Day menu, followed by a stroll through the nursery’s gorgeous gardens.

Week of Valentines at Habitot Children’s Museum Habitot Children’s Museum, 2065 Kittredge, Berk; (510) 647-1111, www.habitot.org. Fri/8-Sat/9, 9:30am-4:30pm; Feb 12-14, 9:30am-1pm; $6 per child, $5 for accompanying adult. Contribute to a large heart sculpture and create handmade cards from recycled materials. Bring valentine-making supplies to receive a free adult admission pass.


The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert California Palace of the Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave; 1-866-912-6326, www.legionofhonor.org. Feb 14, 5:30pm, $10-20. The Cinema Supper Club at the Legion of Honor presents this film as part of "The Real Drama Queens" series, including a special exhibition opening at 5:30pm, dinner seating at 6pm (reservations made separately; call 750-7633), and film screening at 8pm.

BATS Improv Valentine’s Day Show Bayfront Theater, Fort Mason Center, bldg B, Marina at Laguna; 474-6776, www.improv.org. Feb 14, 8pm; $10 advance, $15 at the door. Whether you’re flying solo, with friends, or on a date, this audience-participation show is the perfect place to enjoy the funny side of romance.

The Best American Erotica Modern Times Bookstore, 888 Valencia; 282-9246, www.moderntimesbookstore.com. Feb 13, 7:30pm, free. Celebrate the 15th anniversary of the series with this showcase of standout stories, including a hot and edgy piece from Susie Bright.

Boston Marriage Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St; 861-5079, www.therhino.org. Feb 7-March 2, call or see Web site for schedule, $15-35. Join Anna and Claire and their crazy maid for Theatre Rhinoceros’s version of David Mamet’s same-sex romp.

Brainpeople Zeum, 221 Fourth St; 749-2228, Thurs-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 2pm); Sun, 2pm. Through Feb 16. $20. American Conservatory Theater presents the world-premiere production of this newest work by José Rivera, screenwriter of The Motorcycle Diaries, about two women who reckon with their pasts in an apocalyptic future.

The Eyes of Love Mechanics’ Institute, 57 Post; 393-0100, www.milibrary.com. Feb 14, 7:30pm; $15 members, $25 public. Back by popular demand, chanteuse Helene Attia will select from her vast repertoire of love songs, classic and contemporary. Admission includes hors d’oeuvres, libations, and dessert.

Hope Briggs and Friends: A Musical Valentine Herbst Theatre, War Memorial Veterans Bldg, 401 Van Ness; 392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com. Feb 17, 3pm, $25-50. Celebrated soprano Hope Briggs shares favorite opera arias alongside 15-year-old singing sensation Holly Stell and virtuoso violinist Dawn Harms.

How We First Met Herbst Theatre, War Memorial Veterans Bldg, 401 Van Ness; 392-4400, www.howwefirstmet.com. Feb 14, 8pm, $22-35. Real audience stories are spun into a comedy masterpiece in this one-of-a-kind hit show.

In Search of the Heart of Chocolate Delancey Street Foundation, 600 Embarcadero; 310-0290, www.chocumentary.com. Tues/12, 6:30 and 7:30pm, $10. Bay Area filmmaker Sarah Feinbloom screens her new chocumentary, about Noe Valley’s Chocolate Covered and its customers. Screenings followed by a chocolate reception featuring art and live music.

I Used to Be So Hot Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia; 626-2787, www.theintersection.org. Feb 14, 7 and 9pm; Feb 15-16, 8pm; $20. InnerRising Productions presents comedian Mimi Gonzalez, a Detroit native who’ll take you on a journey through sexual politics and queer discovery.

Lovers and Other Monsters Hypnodrome, 575 10th St; 377-4202, thrillpeddlers.com. Feb 12-16, 8pm; Feb 17, 7pm; $20-34.50. With a diabolical nod to Valentine’s (and Presidents’) Day, Thrillpeddlers presents a weeklong rotating lineup of live music, exquisite torture, and expert testimony, including Jill Tracy, Jello Biafra, and Creepshow Camp horror theater.

Miss Ann Peterson’s Broken Heart Red Poppy Art House, 2698 Folsom; 1-800-838-3006, www.tangolamelodia.com. Feb 13-16, 8pm, $15. See the premiere of Tango la Melodia’s new multimedia production, a three-night concert featuring original music, poetry, and performance set in the romantic, sexy Roaring ’20s.

Mortified: Doomed Valentine’s Show Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St; www.makeoutroom.com, www.getmortified.com. Fri/8, Mon/11, 8pm; $12 advance, $15 at the door. Share the pain, awkwardness, and bad poetry associated with love as performers read from their teen-angst artifacts. The creator of the nationwide and NPR phenomenon, David Nadleberg, will be in attendance in celebration of the release of Mortified: Love Is a Battlefield (Simon Spotlight).

Not Exactly Valentine’s Show Purple Onion, 140 Columbus; 567-7488, www.talkshowsf.com. Mon/11, 7pm, $18-20. Presented by Talk Show Live, Beth Lisick talks about her latest work and performs from her slam repertoire, chocolatier Chuck Siegel of Charles Chocolates gives an interview and tasting, Vicki Burns performs a program of "sort-of romantic standards," and Kurt Bodden reads a short story by James Thurber.

Philosophy/Art Salon: What is Erotic? Femina Potens Art Gallery, 2199 Market; 217-9340, www.feminapotens.com. Feb 16, 6:30-8:30pm, $10-25. Philosopher Rita Alfonso joins erotica writer Jennifer Cross and artist Dorian Katz for a brief show-and-tell followed by a Socratic dialogue on the question "What makes for erotic art?"

Romeo and Juliet: Gala 40th Anniversary Screening Castro Theatre, 429 Castro; 863-0611, www.thecastrotheatre.com. Feb 14, 7pm; $25 adult, $12.50 youth. Marc Huestis and the Istituto Italiano di Cultura present a 40th-anniversary screening of Franco Zeffirelli’s romantic classic, with star Olivia Hussey in attendance and a live musical performance.

Valentine’s Day Film Program: Labor of Love Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon, McBean Theater; www.exploratorium.edu. Sat/10, 2pm, free with museum admission ($9-14). In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, the Exploratorium presents a program of short, expressive films about people who love what they do.


The Gin Game Pacheco Playhouse, 484 Ignacio Blvd, Novato; 883-4498, www.pachecoplayhouse.org. Feb 14, 8pm, $10 special Valentine’s Day price. Bay Area theater vets Norman A. Hall and Shirley Nilsen Hall star in D.L. Coburn’s production of the 1978 Pulitzer Prize-winning play in which two residents of an "aged home" find comfort and competition in the constant shuffling of cards and eventually unravel bits of their past they may rather fold than show.

Giselle Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, Lower Sproul Plaza (near Bancroft at Telegraph), Berk; (510) 642-9988. Feb 14-16, 8pm; Feb 17, 3pm; $34-90. Cal Performances presents Nina Ananiashvili and the State Ballet of Georgia performing the beloved ballet, accompanied by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra.

Love Fest La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck, Berk; (510) 849-2568, www.lapena.org. Feb 14, 7:30pm; $12 advance, $14 at the door. HBO Def Poet Aya de Leon hosts this alt-V Day evening of spoken word and music that focuses on love of self, spirit, community, family, peace, and democracy, including readings from her collection of "Grown-Ass-Woman" poems.

Songs of Love Two Bird Cafe, 625 Geronimo Valley, San Geronimo; 488-0105, mikelipskinjazz.com. Feb 14, 7-9pm, free. Jazz vocalist duo Mike and Dinah Lee present a Valentine’s Day concert at Two Bird, which will feature a special menu.

Viva la Musica! St. Mark’s Catholic Church, 325 Marine View, Belmont; (650) 281-9663, www.vivalamusica.org. Feb 14, 8-10pm, $15. Share a romantic musical evening with heart-melting chamber music, intimate solos, sassy choral numbers, and gifts of chocolate for audience members.


Flowers from a Nuclear Winter: A Live Art Installation by Rod Pujante Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon, Phyllis Wattis Webcast Studio; 561-0363, www.exploratorium.edu. Feb 16, 11am-4pm, free with museum admission ($9-14). Cosponsored by the Black Rock Arts Foundation and the Exploratorium, Burning Man artist Rod Pujante performs a live demonstration of transparent-flower making, converting waste into a dreamscape.

Modern Love Lost Art Salon, 245 S Van Ness; 861-1530, www.lostartsalon.com. Feb 14, 5:30-8:30pm, free. Celebrate Valentine’s Day at an opening reception for this show of work selected from Lost Art’s library of more than 3,000 pieces from the mid-20th century.


Red Cake Gallery: February Open House Call for directions to private home; (510) 759-4516, www.redcakegallery.com. Feb 23, 6-10pm; Feb 24, March 1, 1-4pm; Feb 25-29, 6-8pm; free. Have your cake and eat it too at this post-Valentine showcase of work by Red Cake artists, to be held in a private San Francisco home.


Aphrodisiac Cooking Class Sur la Table, 77 Maiden; 732-7900, www.surlatable.com. Feb 15, 6:30pm, $170 per couple. Learn to make a delicious, sensual meal at this couples’ class hosted by chef Diane Brown, author of The Seduction Cookbook (Innova, 2005).

Chocolate, Strawberries and Lapdancing Center for Healing and Expression, 1749 O’Farrell; (510) 291-9779, www.slinkyproductions.com. Tues/12, 8pm; $110 per couple, $160 per threeple. Be the best seat in the house at the Slinky Productions lap dance class for couples, which includes chocolate, strawberries, and champagne.

Letterpress Valentines San Francisco Center for the Book, 300 De Haro; 565-0545, sfcb.org. Fri/8, 2-5pm, $65 (including materials). Experienced and novice printmakers alike can enjoy an afternoon making letterpress cards with Megan Adie.

Valentine Special: Xara Flower-Making Workshop Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon, Skylight Area. Feb 14 and 16, noon-2pm, free with museum admission ($9-14). Attorney and Burning Man artist Mark Hinkley teaches attendees how to make fake flowers from recycled bottles. All materials provided; ages 6 and up.


Celebrating the Masculine and Feminine Odd Fellows Hall, 839 Main, Redwood City; (650) 780-0769. Feb 16, 10am-6pm, $150-175. Join Valerie Sher, Jackie Long, and Jim Benson on a journey toward wholeness as we explore who we are as men and women.

A Night of Bond, James Bond Bay Club of Marin, 330 Corte Madera, Corte Madera; 945-3000. Feb 14, 7pm, $35-45 (includes drinks and appetizers). Skip the prix fixe dinner and join certified matchmaker Joy Nordenstrom for a Bond-themed workshop about cultivating passionate relationships, including a contest for best male and female Bond-inspired costumes.

G-Spot: Don’t fear the jeweler


› culture@sfbg.com

Poor well-intentioned, misunderstood, Valentine’s Day! For a holiday meant to joyously celebrate the plentiful doses of compassion and generosity love can bring, V Day has a notoriously bad reputation — probably because choosing the right gift on this, the third-largest retail day of the year, always elicits at least a little anxiety, occasionally a good deal of panic, and, in dire cases, even immense fear. Who knew that buying chocolates and flowers could bring on anxiety attacks and performance crises? In an attempt to give the little day that could a chance to redeem itself, we bring you this year’s shopping guide.


The perfect floral accent to your V Day celebration is a must, and you’re sure to score an electric grin the size of Canada when you show up with a selection from Church Street Flowers (212 Church, SF; 415-553-7762, www.churchstreetflowers.com). With the beautiful arrangements and personalized advice, it’s tough to make a wrong choice. Can’t make it there to pick up les fleurs yourself? The shop offers same-day deliveries within city limits. No wonder it’s won Best of the Bay six years in a row.

Chocolate Covered (4069 24th St., SF; 415-645-8123) in Noe Valley packs a pleasurable punch with delectable sweets and knowledgeable staff. Keep an eye out for the owner, Jack, who will help you select exactly what you need — even if you aren’t quite sure yourself — in sugary cocoa form. Plus, the blue and white custom print boxes can feature almost any picture you want.

In your intrepid search for arm candy for your arm candy, make a stop at Manika Jewelry (11 Maiden Lane, SF; 415-399-1990, www.manikajewelry.com) in Union Square for unique, distinctive designs. A warm staff will help direct you through the wide selection, some of which is locally designed, to find a one-of-a-kind piece. And feel free to try pieces on, as this establishment isn’t shy about giving you a chance to find exactly what you want.

Sexy, snazzy, and a little taste of naughty come together at Agent Provocateur (54 Geary, SF; 415-421-0229, www.agentprovocateur.com). But its Swarovski crystal–encrusted riding crops might break the bank. For more monetarily accessible lingerie, mosey on over to Belle Cose (2036 Polk, SF; 415-474-3494) in Nob Hill. From comfy-cozy to rawr-tastic, a purchase from this store is sure to be worn many times — if not for long.


Give a jewelry piece (or a pocketknife) extra pizzazz and a touch of thoughtfulness by including a tiny message somewhere on its shiny surface. You’ll be able to cue the oohs and aahs in surround sound if you enlist the help of Alden Engraving (208B Lily, SF; 415-252-9072, www.aldenengraving.com) in Hayes Valley to bring happiness in the form of script.

If you’ve got no time to scour the streets but are big on impressions, check out Apple’s new pink iPod nano (www.apple.com). This ridiculously adorable iPod comes not only in a V Day color favorite but with free laser engraving and free Apple gift wrap if you order online. It’s not quite the MacBook Air, but there will probably be very little complaining if you give something that pretty in pink.

Willing to drop a little more bank? Book a spa date for two at the Nob Hill Spa at the Huntington Hotel (1075 California, SF; 415-345-2888, www.huntingtonhotel.com). The space is picturesque and features an infinity pool overlooking the city, food service, and knockout massages. A day spent here will guarantee that postdate afterglow.

For those who are interested in a little stage-side romance, the American Conservatory Theater (405 Geary, SF; 415-749-2228, www.act-sf.org) opens its production of Blood Knot on Feb. 8. Granted, it’s not the most uplifting piece — the story features two brothers having existential crises in South Africa during the apartheid era. But it will still blow the socks off your theater-loving sweetie when you smoothly place the tickets on the table and say, "I thought we’d try something different tonight."

Those willing to trek across the bridge to the East Bay can spend an evening at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre (2025 Addison, Berk.; 510-647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org), which is featuring Taking Over, Danny Hoch’s one-man show in which he hilariously morphs into multiple characters from one neighborhood. Another option? Catch Carrie Fisher’s biting repartee (yes, Princess Leia in the flesh) as she recalls her years in Hollywood in Wishful Drinking.

Of course, if the whole V Day extravaganza is causing unbearable amounts of stress, consider spending an afternoon strolling through the Japanese Tea Garden (Tea Garden and MLK Jr., SF; 415-752-4227) in Golden Gate Park. Its five acres of eclectic gardens and a Japanese-style teahouse mean it shouldn’t be hard for you to find the perfect spot for whispering romantic nothings into each other’s ears.

However, in the event you’re looking to spend an evening in, Good Vibrations (603 Valencia, SF; 415-522-5460. 1620 Polk, SF; 415-345-0400. www.goodvibes.com) is always a safe bet for fun goodies. The store’s recommendations for its wide range of adult toys are helpful and friendly, and you’ll be hard-pressed (heh heh) to not find something you’ll enjoy. Honestly, who could pass up chocolate body pens or a fun-filled match of the Tantric Lovers Game?

G-Spot: Waiter, I’ll take the (status) check!


› culture@sfbg.com

There’s something smug and even a bit embarrassing about going out to celebrate Valentine’s Day as a couple: you’re in public with all of the other twosomes, participating in an orgy of self-satisfaction.

But being a twosome is rarely a definite "you are" or "you aren’t" thing. It isn’t a static state but a constantly evolving condition. Going out on Valentine’s Day announces to both yourselves and those around you the current status of "the two of you," making it the perfect impetus to assess what stage of development you’ve reached so you can celebrate accordingly.


As a rule, never begin dating in January. At one month, the relationship has a heartbeat but is too nebulous and vulnerable to endure a holiday based around the act of coupling. If you do find yourself in a new relationship when Feb. 14 rolls around, it’s probably a good idea to just ignore Valentine’s Day completely — but that, of course, is impossible. The next best thing is dining at a place where you can celebrate the day while not having to acknowledge the fact that you’re doing so. Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack (18 Virginia, SF; 415-206-2086), the funky, cozy Bernal Heights eatery, is dimly lit enough to encourage playful flirtation but doesn’t smack you in the face with romanticism. The well-crafted Italian comfort food is as flavorful as the decor. And the übercool, jeans-clad staff aren’t likely to ask "Aww, how long have you guys been together?"


At this point the relationship is still in the novelty phase. You’ve formed rituals — pizza and American Idol on Tuesdays, harassing the tigers at the zoo on Sundays — you e-mail each other pictures from stuffonmycat.com, and you have yet to have a dull conversation. Why ruin the fun with a stilted, overly formal Valentine’s Day dinner? Instead, try Cha Cha Cha (www.cha3.com) in either the Haight (1801 Haight, SF; 415-386-7670) or the Mission (2327 Mission, SF; 415-648-0504). The Spanish-Cuban small-plates menu means there is no timetable: tapas encourage lingering. Twenty-dollar pitchers of sangria inspire the disclosure of fascinating new tidbits ("You lived in a pygmy village?"), and the collaborative selection of each dish mimics the sense of shared adventure you still enjoy.


Congratulations! You’re officially a couple. No need to keep giving noncommittal answers to your friends’ questions about your status — you are now together. Time to make your grand debut at Luna Park (694 Valencia, SF; 415-553-8584, www.lunaparksf.com), a favorite V Day convergence point for other young, hip, hot couples in the city. Nod to them as you nosh on highbrow reinventions of American classics. Take note of their knowing expressions as you’re led to one of the curtained booths in the back (ask for it when you make reservations). These are your peers now. Welcome to the club.


You haven’t seen each other wearing anything but pajamas for months. You haven’t shared a meal that doesn’t involve Tostinos Pizza Rolls in who knows how long. Engaging conversations and lusty sex alike have dissolved into Seinfeld reruns and holey underwear. Whereas last year Valentine’s Day was just another night out, now it is the night out. Dinner at Absinthe (398 Hayes, SF; 415-551-1590, www.absinthe.com) should inspire you to dress up, while the selection of classic rare cocktails — such as the Sazerac and the French ’75 — will give you the feeling of having traveled back to a more romantic era. Plus, imbibing a bit of the establishment’s namesake elixir can bring danger back to any relationship. Imagine how close you’ll feel after you’ve both thrown up in the cab on the ride home.


You know when you’re there: Your significant other’s adorable half snore becomes your every sleepless night. You’ve heard all the stories a million times ("Enough with the fucking pygmies!"). You know it. Your SO knows it. It’s over. But neither of you has the heart to put your doomed union out of its misery on the most romantic day of the year. Ryoko’s Japanese Restaurant (619 Taylor, SF; 415-775-1028) in Nob Hill provides the perfect distraction from your imploding relationship. When a DJ isn’t spinning, there’s loud ’80s music. The sake bombs offer a satisfying outlet for aggression. And if you need something even stronger, you’re in luck: Ryoko’s is one of the few sushi joints in town to also feature a full bar.


When engaged in an illicit affair, road-trip! Put a bridge, a tunnel, or any of the Bay Area’s other engineering obstacles between your significant other and your significant other. "Baby, I’m not embarrassed by you — I just know this great little Italian place in Crockett." Try Barolo (404 San Pedro, Pacifica; 650-355-5980, www.barolopacifica.com) for private pasta, Graffiti (101 Second St., Petaluma; 707-765-4567, www.graffitipetaluma.com) for surreptitious seafood, or Petals (639 First St., Benicia; 707-748-5695, www.petalsrestaurant.com) for furtive Asian fusion.


When having an anti–Valentine’s Day dinner with another recently single friend, you need tequila! Nothing says "I’m so over it" more than shrimp tacos and Cazadores with a totally platonic friend. Playa Azul (3318 Mission, SF; 415-282-4554) has a wide enough selection to keep the shots flowing all night. And if your hands meet, for an instant, in the chip bowl, well …

G-Spot: Everyone’s a wiener


› marke@sfbg.com

You’d think that amid all of the bell tolling and hand-wringing about DIY online media proliferation, professionally produced gay porn would have gone the way of the floppy disk and dial-up modem long ago. (Remember waiting 20 minutes for free stud-muffin bitmaps to download, pixel by aching pixel, onto your 10-inch monitor? Ah, AOL blue balls. Whither the ’90s?)

But no – gay porn is the new fireplace. You can hardly turn around in most finer homo homes and gardens without some two-dimensional boy butter spattering your delicate cheekbones. Gooey! And every edgy hetero is at least partially versed in the extensive oeuvres of quasi-professional online sites like Bait Bus or His First Huge Cock, if only because sticky fingers often click too quickly on flickering banner ads.

Gay porn’s also big business, of course, and an especially homegrown one. Almost all of the most profitable studios are based in San Francisco – a rare case of several giants of an industry being located within mere blocks of one another. SoMa has become the Wall Street of Crisco.

The reasons behind this multimillions-generating clusterfuck are myriad: mainly, the local economic advantages, cultural environment, and plethora of scruffy multiculti boys (all the rage among a rapidly globalized audience) make SF a much more fertile gay porn hot spot than the traditionally down-and-dirty San Fernando Valley. Also, many big studios are the bastard children of SF’s Falcon Studios, the granddaddy purveyor of male video erotica headed by the late, irascible Chuck Holmes, for whom our groundbreaking Charles M. Holmes LGBT Community Center was affectionately named.

And it doesn’t hurt that Silicon Valley is a whip flick down the freeway. Gay porn studios have been aggressively savvy about riding the online wave to solvency, even if lately that’s meant a hilariously regrettable spate of behind-the-scenes blogs and vids that feature pec-implanted gym queens sashaying nude around Palm Springs pools and fussing over which pair of snakeskin trousers go with which Tony Lamas. Decisions.

Yet despite the buttloads of profit, cornered markets, community accolades, and extensive and rabid fan bases, gay porn studios – like cuddly-wuddly gay porn stars themselves – have massive inferiority complexes. They want recognition, dammit! Thus the annual Golden Globes of filmed homosexual obscenities, the GayVN Awards, presented by venerable gay porn insider news source GayVN (recent headline: "Jock Itch in the Can!"). Last year’s awards presentation at the Castro Theatre — open to the public – was a raucous, substar-studded affair featuring MC Kathy Griffin and more fashion nightmares than you could shake a spangled man boa at. This year’s awards show expands to the Giftcenter Pavilion – because, really, doesn’t this celebration require an entire pavilion? – and although no D-list host has been announced, fan tickets are being snatched up at a robo-thrusting pace.

A quick and gleeful scan gleans from among the 2008 nominees: Gaytanamo for Best Leather Video (when, oh when, will someone make Fahrenheit 9"x11"?); Tiger’s Eiffel Tower: Paris Is Mine!, Gunnery Sgt. McCool, and Rocks and Hard Places for Best Video; the mathematically challenging Bottom of the Ninth: Little Big League 3 for Best Direction, and, inevitably, Buckback Mountain (Best Specialty Release) and Bi Pole Her (Best Bisexual Video, duh). There are awards for Best Box Cover Concept, Best Music, and the always bracingly racist Best Ethnic-Themed Video: (Arabian Tales 1-2? Spilling the Tea? Queens Plaza Pickup 2, surprisingly not about migrant-worker prostitution? Only the judges can decide.

But most enticing of all, barring any prerecorded acceptance speeches — and despite the writer’s strike – there will be actual humans in attendance, the real faces behind the fornication, in all of their fleshy solidity, crossing their powder-encrusted pinkies and gazing hopefully, hazardously into the glare of their peers’ applause or opprobrium. The meltdowns will be spectacular!


Feb. 16, 6 p.m., $100

Giftcenter Pavilion

888 Brannan, SF

(415) 861-7733


G-Spot: U R mine … and so are U


› culture@sfbg.com

Whether you’re single or attached, Valentine’s Day can be rough: either you’re planning that perfect date, which can’t possibly meet your special someone’s expectations, or you’re lamenting the fact that you don’t have a special someone to disappoint. Either way, it’s nothing compared to what the polyamorous have to deal with.

In case you don’t know, polyamorous (despite sounding like some kind of chemical compound) is a term referring to people who are comfortable having multiple loving relationships in which all parties are aware of what is happening (i.e., Gavin Newsom’s arrangement doesn’t count). The word was coined by Morning Glory Ravenheart Zell in the late ’90s.

"I love the word," says Dossie Easton, coauthor of The Ethical Slut (Greenery Press, 1998), the how-to bible on polyamory. "It’s a beautiful word meaning ‘loving many.’<0x2009>"

But what does loving many people mean when it comes to Valentine’s Day, the holiday set aside to celebrate romantic love?

As you might expect, Valentine’s Day is not a simple affair for many members of the nonmonog community. The holiday, like the year-round polyamorous lifestyle, requires patience, tact, and one hell of a good scheduling system.

In fact, nature photographer and polyamorist Joe Decker says many of his peers call PalmPilots "PolyPilots." "You certainly hear a lot of jokes about it," Decker says. (Kind of changes your view of the middle-aged businessperson with a handheld planner, doesn’t it?)

L, a polyamorous woman from San Francisco who wishes to remain anonymous, agrees that Valentine’s Day can be complicated by time constraints. "Though your capacity for love might be great and unlimited and encompass a great number of people, you still only have 24 hours in your day," L says, noting that in some relationships the primary partner gets Valentine’s Day and the secondary gets the day before or after. In another case, one involving one woman and two men, the woman splits Valentine’s Day between her partners.

"Time management is definitely an issue," L says. "A day planner is a necessity."

In addition to the difficulties inherent in scheduling, Decker says, the way he chooses to celebrate Valentine’s Day can sometimes result in unintended tension between him and people who are unfamiliar with the polyamorous community. For example, one year he ordered flowers for two girlfriends and his wife — all at the same time. "There was nervous laughter on the other end of the phone. The teleflorist dealt with it pretty gracefully," Decker says.

But not all polys feel that holidays need to be complicated. According to Easton, who has practiced polyamory since 1969, celebrating Valentine’s Day is not that hard. "What you should do for Valentine’s Day is have a big party with a very large box of chocolates. Everybody can wear red — I love it — and practice openheartedness," she says. She points out that in a polyamorous relationship structure, there isn’t necessarily a need to choose whom to revel with. "There’s no reason why a dozen people can’t get together and celebrate Valentine’s Day," she says. "There’s no reason why you choose. Are we going to tell the kindergartners they can only give one Valentine’s Day card because they can only have one friend?"

Others point out that while there may be some extra scheduling and unique circumstances for people with multiple lovers, the basic principle of arranging a good Valentine’s Day — understanding partners’ expectations — is the same as for a conventional couple. For example, Decker makes an effort to find out what his lovers expect for Valentine’s Day ahead of time. In his case, one particular partner doesn’t care for the holiday, so they don’t celebrate it. "What I want to do in a relationship is something that’s a function of the other person’s want. I don’t just do whatever they want, but if a partner doesn’t like Valentine’s Day, it doesn’t give me a lot of joy to make her celebrate it," he says.

While talking with these people, I was struck by a couple of things. First of all, holidays for the polyamorous must get pretty expensive, if, for instance, Decker’s buying three bouquets for V Day is anything like a widespread practice. It seems a good idea for anyone considering polyamory to set aside some savings first, or maybe wait until the Christmas–Valentine’s Day season is over. And second, as someone who can barely manage her sock drawer, I don’t think I could handle the level of organization needed to maintain several relationships. And without the organization, says another anonymous polyamorist, B, jealousy problems (the biggest obstacles in poly relationships) are more likely to arise. I’m not sure I want to add day planner to the list of things I think of — candles, flowers, scented oils — when I imagine romance.

This Valentine’s Day, I think I will use my meager time-management skills to plan a simple holiday evening for me and myself: watching the original Star Trek series on DVD before falling asleep in front of the TV. No PalmPilot required.

G-Spot: Getting girls


› culture@sfbg.com

Within minutes of meeting Nicole Halpern, an instructor at the One Taste Urban Retreat Center in SoMa, I was naked and bent over with my ass in her face. In fact, in her naked yoga class there was nothing but penises and vaginas, dangling breasts and balls as far as the eye could see.

I’d come to the center to do research on what I’d heard was a sex cult, and by the looks of things the rumors weren’t far off. In fact, as I’d entered the center on my way to class, I got the feeling my story was writing itself. I would talk about how the receptionists at the front desk had to stop groping one another in order to greet me, how the women looked younger than the men, and how all the signs of new age spirituality — earth tones, organic food, Birkenstocks — seemed a cover for what I sensed was actually a coven of perverts.

One Taste helps people attain deeper connection through sexual experimentation. The most hardcore members have given up their normal lives to frolic in nonmonogamous bliss at the retreat center, which, along with yoga studios, also houses a café, a lounge, and a system of co-ed dorms where members work long nights testing taboos. The idea is that if you free your sex, the rest will follow. To this end, the center also offers public classes in touching, genital stroking, and even prostate massage. Weird shit, right?

So as I relaxed into my second downward dog, I smiled, assuming I’d found the perfect subjects for my anti–Valentine’s Day story, a tongue-in-cheek commentary on all of the weirdos in this city who believe sex is something more than a basic human need. It would be investigative journalism at its finest: "I Joined a Sex Cult," by Justin Juul.

But it didn’t work out that way. It was the last thing I expected, but this naked yoga stuff was making me happy. The shock of public nudity was forcing me to let down my guard and experience the moment for what it was: exciting and naughty. I wanted more.

I decided making fun of these people would be too easy — and dishonest. It seemed that a little sexploration really might benefit the soul. So instead of rushing home afterward to write a sarcastic piece about sex freaks, I swallowed my cynicism and asked Halpern if I could come back sometime.

"If you really want to see what we’re all about, you’ll take the Man Course," she said. And with that, my fate was sealed.

My research later that night revealed that the Man Course would involve 10 "extremely orgasmic" women who’d spend an entire day fielding questions and revealing their secrets to a small group of men. It was boot camp for jilted lovers, designed to help downtrodden men build confidence and score more chicks.

It all sounded great for 40-year-old virgins, but what could I, a young journalist with a girlfriend at home, expect to gain? I wasn’t sure, and neither was my girlfriend. "Sounds like some Venus versus Mars bullshit," she said. "Men and women are more similar than different. It sounds like a way for sleazy men to hang out with young girls to me."

I was afraid she might be right, but I decided to go for it anyway. After all, I hadn’t expected the yoga class to be anything but funny. Maybe I could learn something in the Man Course. After all, although our relationship is great, I can’t say I understand my girlfriend any better now than I did when I tricked her into liking me three years ago.

So two weeks later I was back at the center.

The dudes in the lobby on the morning of class were visibly nervous. They weren’t as ugly as I had imagined, but they all reeked of desperation, their trembling hands running through their hair, their eyes darting. I felt a surge of superiority wash through me as I watched these poor souls drink coffee and wait for instructions. One Taste might be able to teach them something, but I was sure I was way too cool to learn anything here.

Orientation began with an introduction exercise. A man asked each of us to say our name and tell the group a problem we have with women. The first person wondered why he could never please women even though he spent so much time doing things they claimed to want, like buying dinner and opening doors. The next wondered why women seem to want to be taken care of but often become ornery when you treat them like children.

As I listened, my confidence began to evaporate. I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions either, and new ones were popping up. Why does my girlfriend give me that weird look when I talk about articles I read in Vice magazine? Why does she always say she feels like she doesn’t know me? This group confessional was making me worry about my relationship. It also bonded me to these other men, all utterly confused and ready to figure shit out.

And then the women arrived.

The energy in the room grew tense as the women, ranging from 22 to 55 years old, filed in with Halpern at their helm. One by one the girls took off their jackets, adjusted their skirts, and joined our circle, engaging as many men as possible in suggestive eye contact. The room was dead silent until Halpern clapped her hands and said, "Welcome to the Man Course!"

The next hour involved more introductions. The women stated their names and gave a brief description of their personal games — coyness, deliberately confusing eye play, and false flirtatiousness were among the most popular — and the men were asked to explore their own shortcomings. "Hi," a student named John said. "I feel like I’m trapped in a nice-guy shell and that women think I’m boring."

"Well," Halpern said. "Today we’re gonna get dirty. We’re gonna get you out of that box and get really messy. Can you handle that? Are you ready to get messy?"

John said he was ready. "Then let’s see you do something messy right now," Halpern said. John grinned and got up, pumped his pelvis in the air, and said, "Yeah, baby, let’s get mess-say!" The girls giggled.

The other men and I went through a similar deal. We confessed to a particular problem and were then asked to directly address it. The shy guys were asked to speak more, the mean guys were asked to be nice, and I was asked to drop my cool-guy act. In exchange the women promised to stop playing their games. No bitchy auras, pouty mouths, or condescending giggling from the women, and no false bravado, competitiveness, or calculated detachment from the guys. We were just a bunch of humans now, willing participants in a sexually charged science lab. It was both scary and liberating.

We spent the rest of the afternoon doing one-on-one vulnerability exercises, such as making judgments based on appearance, pointing out flaws, and even asking a girl on a date, risking rejection. The most intense exercise, though, was one in which the women shared their fantasies.

The girl I was paired with, a blue-eyed fresh-out-of-college type, had a mouth like a sailor and the mind of a teenage boy. "I want to go out with a stranger and then leave early to lick his balls," the girl said. "I want to suck his cock and stick my tongue in his asshole." Like all of the other exercises, this one suggested that although women may seem very different from men, they’re really just as horny and perverted — and as confused, embarrassed, and shy about it — as we are.

The rest of the day was similarly enlightening. There were touch exercises that included dancing and massage, more talking exercises, and even a mock date. All of the exercises worked to dissolve our ingrained ways of being, so the men in the class could see the women for what they actually are: people.

I left feeling happy and horny, ready to tell my girlfriend about all of the cool stuff I’d learned — namely, that she and the girls at the center weren’t all that different. It seemed the girls of One Taste actually shared my girlfriend’s outlook. Although it was billed as a man-centric healing session, the Man Course felt more like therapy for humans, its primary message being that we are all fundamentally the same. And it did surprise me, just as the yoga experience had. It forced me out of my comfort zone and into the unknown. It was an entire day of emotional nakedness, which, I learned, can be as just as exciting and therapeutic as physical nakedness.

The women of One Taste taught me a few important lessons. One was that my girlfriend is pretty damn smart. Men and women really do have a lot more in common than it seems. Second was that I could probably stand to open up a little more, to focus less on being cool and more on being myself. And finally, even though they may seem a little New Agey, the people at One Taste are very brave and extremely well-intentioned.

The next time I set out to ridicule an unsuspecting group of swingers, I’ll make sure they deserve it first.

Brad Will and the politics of oil


MEXICO CITY – Flash back to October 27th, 2006. American photojournalist Brad Will is splayed out on a sidewalk in Oaxaca, Mexico, mortally wounded by the pistoleros of rogue governor Ulisis Ruiz during tumultuous street battles in that southern city. His killers have never been prosecuted.

Now fast forward to this past January 10th. Manlio Fabio Beltrones, the unctuous leader of the once-ruling (71 years) PRI party faction in the Mexican Senate, announces to a gaggle of reporters that the PRI is prepared to back President Felipe Calderon and his right-wing PAN in passing an “energy reform” package that would permit transnational corporations to generate 49% of the nation’s electricity and open PEMEX, the state petroleum monopoly expropriated from its Anglo-American owners in 1938 and nationalized by President Lazaro Cardenas, to such oil titans as Exxon, British Petroleum, and Shell. Beltrones’ personal preference to initiate the proposed “association of private capitals”: Petrobras, the Brazilian national oil company which opened itself to private investment back in 1997 and which has extensive experience in deep water drilling.

What is the connection between these two apparently unconnected events? Just this: the cover-up of Brad Wills’ death smoothed the way for the PRI-PAN partnership to privatize PEMEX.

Although his killers were plainly identified as plainclothes police on Ulisis’s payroll, Wills’ inconvenient death was ignored by then-president Vicente Fox despite demands by human rights and journalist protection organizations for a full investigation of the killing, one of 26 perpetrated by Ruiz’s death squads between August and October of 2006. Fox’s successor, Felipe Calderon, followed suit and stonewalled an inquiry into Wills’ murder. Similarly, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico never sought justice for a slain citizen despite the personal pleas of the dead man’s family.

Why such studied indifference?

Because holding Governor Ruiz, a prominent PRIista, accountable for the killing(s) would have upset the burgeoning alliance between the PRI and the PAN to ratify Calderon’s legislative agenda, the most pertinent item of which was “energy reform” i.e. the privatization of PEMEX.

Embassy inaction on Brad Wills’ murder followed the same logic. As U.S. ambassador, Bush crony Tony Garza is charged with representing U.S. interests in Mexico and Washington’s interest in opening up Mexican oil to U.S. transnationals far outweighs its interest in bringing the killers of a freelance anarchist reporter to justice. The U.S. has long contemplated a North American Energy Alliance that would guarantee access to Mexican and Canadian reserves.

To this end, Washington has played an active role in facilitating the impending privatization of Petrolios Mexicanos. Over the past months, U.S. transnationals and their associates in government have orchestrated an extraordinary campaign to hoodwink Mexicans into swallowing the lie that PEMEX is hopelessly broken and must be opened to private capital forthwith for the salvation of the Fatherland.

Last July, ex-Federal Reserve czar Alan Greenspan was beamed into Mexico for a teleconference with the nation’s most exalted business council to deliver an ultimatum: if PEMEX was not fixed quickly, the country faced fiscal crisis. Indeed, the petroleum giant (the 11th largest on the planet) generates 40% of Mexico’s total budget and 100% of a social budget that keeps 70,000,000 Mexicans who live in and around the poverty line, in relative quiescence. By “fixing” PEMEX, Greenspan meant privatizing it.

It should be noted that Alan Greenspan is an expert on fiscal crises – his monetary policies just helped to tripwire such a crisis in his own country, the sub-prime disaster.

The Greenspan game plan was echoed December 13th in a memo issued by the International Monetary Fund urgently counseling legislation to allow private capital into PEMEX before the government went broke. Garza’s embassy chimed in the next day, warning of massive capital flight if the Mexican Congress did not pass Calderon’s “energy reform” package. On December 19th, The Economist, which ironically was founded on the fortune reaped by Anglo oil companies in Mexico that eventually became British Petroleum, opined that “the obvious solution to the disaster of PEMEX is to privatize.” Finally, the U.S. Department of Energy delivered the death knell on January 9th: the lack of investment in PEMEX’s Exploration and Exploitation (PEP) division spelled energy catastrophe – not a good sign for Washington’s North American Energy Alliance strategy. On January 10th, the PRI came on board to back Calderon’s “energy reform.”

Despite the Jeremiads, the putsch for privatization has lost considerable steam globally. In fact, a moderate swing to nationalization seems to be in process. Amidst prognoses of irreparable damage to the Venezuelan economy, Hugo Chavez renationalized sectors of PDVSA, the state oil company, and ran a 12% surge in domestic growth in 2007 in spite of it. Bolivia has renationalized natural gas production and Ecuador is on the brink of doing so. The most successful renationalization has been in Putin’s Russia where Gazoprom and Yukos became major world players overnight.

According to Mexican strategic resource writer Alfredo Jalife, 32% of the world’s petroleum supply is in the hands of private transnationals, 20% is nationalized or in the process of being renationalized, and the rest is held by mixed state-private corporations.

But despite their exaggerated anguish at an energy meltdown if PEMEX is not privatized, the doomsayers do have a point: Petrolios Mexicanos is in deep doo-doo. Daily accidents such as the unquenchable fire that took 21 workers’ lives on a Caribbean oil platform and contaminated surrounding waters last fall, pipeline bombings by the guerrilla Popular Revolutionary Army, and the failure to modernize infrastructure – no new refinery has been built in 20 years – is stark evidence of corporate corrosion.

Despite 100-weak-dollar-a-barrel prices (Mexican light crude tops out around $80 USD these days) that generated $2.3 billion in enhanced revenues during the first ten months of 2007, lack of refining capacity forces PEMEX to shell out $5 billion Yanqui dollars each year to import 40% of its gasoline needs – which is to say that for every $1 of the increased revenues PEMEX takes in, two bucks go out for gas.

Calderon’s solution? The so-called “Gasolinazo”, the President’s gift to the driving public on January 6th, the Day of the Kings (Mexican Christmas), that will increase prices at the pump incrementally each month indefinitely. Increased transportation costs are expected to impact food prices across the board.

But the bad news doesn’t stop there. The big battle over Mexican oil is really a battle over crumbs. If U.S. Department of Energy calculations are on target, Mexico only has 12.9 billion barrels in proven reserves, depletion of which could turn PEMEX into a net importer by 2018 if no new petroleum sources are uncorked before then – although Mexico is the sixth largest international oil producer, it has only 1% of the planet’s proven reserves.

With the Cantarell field in the Sound of Campeche, the magnum star of offshore production that has motored PEMEX since the 1990s, just about tapped out, the clock is ticking. To exacerbate this doomsday scenario, Mexico is pumping out what it has left at a record clip to capitalize on the booming barrel price – PEMEX now produces about 3.2 million barrels daily, fully 1.7 million of which are sent up the Gulf to the U.S., an export platform that is accelerating depletion and subsidizing Washington’s wars around the world.

Given this bleak picture, most experts concur that the only place PEMEX can go to drill for new reserves is deep water, five miles down in the Gulf of Mexico. The only catch is that Petrolios Mexicanos does not have deep water drilling capacity. That’s where Petrobras, as contemplated in the PRI/PAN privatization scheme, would come in handy.

What exactly constitutes privatization? Auctioning off the corporation from the top

to the highest bidder or selling it off piece by piece from the bottom? During 35 years of oil boom and bust, PEMEX has systematically dismantled its Exploration & Exploitation division and handed it over to transnational subcontractors, emphasizes Autonomous National University researcher John Saxe- Fernandez who heads up the UNAM’s Strategic Resources Institute. At the top of Saxe-Fernandez’s list of prominent subcontractors is Halliburton with 159 PEMEX contacts since 2000 worth $1.2 billion USD – Halliburton moved into Mexico in the 1990s during the development of Cantarell when Dick Cheney was CEO.

But subcontracting out choice contracts goes back generations. George Bush pere partnered with PEMEX director Jorge Serrano (who later went to jail) in Zapata Offshore, a drilling outfit that operated in the Sound of Campeche in the 1970s. Today, virtually every major transnational driller has a piece of the Mexican action.

A recent daily La Jornada investigation by energy reporter Israel Rodriguez revealed the signing of a series of secret “pre-privatization” covenants to exploit Mexican fields with Shell (the mysterious “Project Margarita”), Exxon, Petrobras, Nexen (Canada), and StatsOil (Norway.) The contracts, accessed through Mexico’s Freedom of Information Act, contained clauses whose contents cannot be divulged for the next five years.

The PRI/PAN energy scam is currently being hatched in the Mexican Senate’s Energy Commission chaired by Francisco Labastida, a former secretary of energy (as is Calderon) and the PRI’s losing presidential candidate in 2000. Those who have gotten a peek at the details label the energy reform legislation “privatization lite” with foot-in-the-door measures that will allow for the “association of private capital” in such areas as pipelines and refineries. The legislation stops short of amending the Mexican Constitution’s Article 27, which stipulates that the petroleum belongs to the nation.

Skirting a constitutional amendment will deny ammo to AMLO – leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who many believe was swindled out of the presidency in 2006 and who has emerged as the leader of the fight against privatization. This January, Lopez Obrador announced formation of a cross-party Movement In Defense of Petroleum whose battle cry is “Mexico is not for sale!”

The ex-presidential candidate proposes that PEMEX can raise sufficient revenues without opening itself up to private investment by simply cleaning house – the corporation has long been riddled with corruption, bribe-taking, kickbacks and rampant dirty dealing. For decades, the PRI siphoned off millions to finance its electoral campaigns – in 2000, $110 million USD in PEMEX funds were funneled through the gangster-ridden petroleum workers union into Labastida’s campaign coffers, the so-called “PEMEXgate” scandal.

AMLO has also long advocated the construction of three new refineries to offset the escautf8g cost of importing gasoline which he tags “an absurd situation” for the world’s sixth largest oil producer.

In the opposite corner, Lopez Obrador’s archrival Felipe Calderon insists that opening PEMEX to private capital will somehow make Petrolios Mexicanos “more Mexican” (“more productive, more competitive, more Mexicano.”)

“To hand over our natural resources to foreign powers is an act of treason,” AMLO responds, quoting the man who expropriated and nationalized Mexico’s petroleum in 1938, President Lazaro Cardenas. Lopez Obrador’s defense of Mexican oil will be a first test for the grassroots base the leftist has been cultivating since the tainted 2006 election and is sure to frame the next round of his ongoing bout with Calderon and his allies. AMLO, who in the past has been able to mobilize millions, is calling for nationwide protests this March 18th, the 70th anniversary of Cardenas’s expropriation.

Petroleum is a patriotic fluid here. Expropriation of the oil industry from the “extranjeros” (foreigners, literally “strangers”) was the high point of revolutionary nationalism in Mexico. But in a globalized world, the coming battle around the privatization of PEMEX is not just a Mexican matter anymore and, indeed, has far-reaching implications for the future of neo-liberalism in the Americas.

Sprawled in the Oaxaca street, the life blood leaking from him, the last thing Brad Will could have imagined is that in death he would become an accidental pawn to the transnationals’ ambitions to privatize Mexican oil. Tragically, in the end, that may be Wills’ most significant legacy.

“Blindman’s Buff” has opened it lists to new subscribers. Contact the Blindman (his vision is improved) at johnross@igc.org for your lifetime subscription. Warning: there is no way to get off these lists. You will receive BMB until either you or I croak.

Caine is able


The opening scene in a tragically forgotten 1968 swinging-London artifact called The Touchables — released stateside to universal catcalls — had four model-gorgeous "birds" breaking into an off-hours Madame Tussaud’s. Goal: stealing the object of their desire, a wax dummy of Michael Caine. This proves too fleet a diversion — the glamorous gang are soon off to their next plot-dominating caper, hijacking a handsome pop star to a countryside inflatable plastic pleasure dome for extended go-go dancing and S-M games. But it does make the point that in 1968, Michael Caine was a huge pop icon. And not just in the United Kingdom but also in the United States, where Beatlemania had temporarily made all things Brit — Twiggy, Tom Jones, even Herman’s Hermits — automatically crushworthy.

We’d certainly emulated and admired England all along, after that unpleasant colonial-separation business. But in the ’60s it was no longer a matter of aristocracy envy. Suddenly the Mick Jaggers and the Lulus and so forth made being working-class British cute and desirable and ever so "now." Caine was the first Cockney sex symbol — which made him a celebrity in America but a downright cultural sensation at home.

The Mechanics’ Institute’s February "Raising Caine" series revisits some of his defining roles, though only one ventures past 1972. The first selection, 1966’s Alfie, was his breakthrough. Casting him as a rascally ladies’ man who strings along women (from Jane Asher to Shelley Winters) while entertaining us with direct-camera-address commentary, it both celebrated the sexual revolution and delivered a reassuring moral spank-down.

Caine had earlier made a major impression in 1965’s The Ipcress Files as Len Deighton’s spy hero Harry Palmer, a scruffier, less impenetrably sophisticated alternative to Sean Connery’s James Bond. The movie’s sequel, 1966’s Funeral in Berlin, is second in the Mechanics’ retrospective. (The third Caine-as-Palmer feature, 1967’s Billion Dollar Brain, surrendered to Bond-style fantasy excess and a surprisingly prescient anti–Yank imperialism. Recently released to DVD after decades of difficult access, it’s worth a look.)

The resulting fad was weird but laudable: Caine landed on the average side of handsome (complete with spectacles), had bad hair, and spoke like a mensch. (Memorable quotes include "I’m the original bourgeois nightmare — a Cockney with intelligence and a million dollars.") When Connery ditched Bond, he had to prove himself as an actor. When the Palmer films and Alfie and such were finished, Caine just kept working — sometimes brilliantly but often indiscriminately, in movies that could only have dangled as lure the money he admitted was a deciding factor. The good ones include 1971’s Get Carter and Sleuth (which complete the Mechanics’ series along with the 1983 translation from the stage Educating Rita), John Huston’s 1975 Rudyard Kipling adventure The Man Who Would Be King, and Woody Allen’s 1986 Hannah and Her Sisters (for which Caine won his first Supporting Actor Oscar).

The bad ones? For starters, twin Irving Allen "disasters" The Swarm (1978) and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979). Not to mention 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge, 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol … need more be said? Only that Caine has his cited On Deadly Ground (1994) costar Steven Seagal as the only person he’d never work with again. (Good choice!) Caine (it’s "Sir Michael" now, which he must find hilarious) hasn’t lost his touch, though. As an aged Cockney hustler in 1998’s Little Voice, he gives a climatic rendition of "It’s Over" that is the most lacerating deliberate bad singing this side of Jennifer Jason Leigh in Georgia (1995). He was superb handling the more sentimental aspects of 1999’s The Cider House Rules (winning a second Oscar), in the underseen Brit ensemble classic Last Orders (2001), as the true protagonist of 2002’s The Quiet American, and as one brainy holdout amid the Orwellian future of Children of Men (2006).

So is he more served or subservient playing butler to Batman? (I’d say the former.) Caine is an excellent actor who always admitted that selling out was part and parcel of the trade. Sex symbol then, willing tool now (and also then), he never blew pompous public wind or truly embarrassed himself onscreen, even when the films embarrassed themselves. He once said, with bracing honesty, "You get paid the same for a bad film as you do for a good one." Either way, he earns the check.


Feb. 1–29, $10

Fri., 6:30 p.m.

Mechanics’ Institute

57 Post, SF

(415) 393-0100


Slim’s slimed


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER There are eight jillion stories in the naked, nervous-Naughties city, and one of the increasingly common tales is that of the wannabe slicker who lays out that down payment for a little piece of gritty ‘n’ shitty, gorgeous ‘n’ porous, wild ‘n’ wooly San Francisco. And then supposed slick realizes, "Hey, I’m tired of stepping over panhandlers, looking for parking, and listening to car alarms, building fans, BART musicians, construction blare, and city hubbub in general." Translation: "I actually want to live in Concord, San Carlos, or Corte Madera." So the square spoiler in this happily unholy round hole of a town decides to wreck things for everyone.

That sort of inane, fish-outta-water resolve is, unfortunately, threatening Slim’s, the linchpin of the 11th Street–SoMa club scene since chart topper Boz Scaggs first opened the respected nightspot two decades ago, the site of many a memorable night of music and a venue that, legend has it, bands like Built to Spill have pledged their loyalty to because of its dedication to stellar sound. One of Slim’s neighbors tipped me off last month that the hall — which has consistently passed all sound tests conducted by the city’s Entertainment Commission — was being besieged weekly by a lone complainer living in Juniper Alley. All of this came to a head in December 2007 when the accuser ordered citizen’s arrests of two of Slim’s night managers on three occasions — after, Entertainment Commission industry representative Terrance Alan says, police refused to issue noise-violation citations of their own because they couldn’t hear any vioutf8g sound issuing from Slim’s. The arrests have led the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control to bring an enforcement action against Slim’s liquor license, which may close the club for 15 to 25 days after an April hearing.

"She has been threatening to do this for a while," Slim’s co-owner Dawn Holliday told me. The complaining neighbor and her partner have been registering noise complaints for the past two years, Holliday added, though no other neighbors have complained, and in 2000 all of the area’s condo and live-work residents signed a deed restriction making it clear that the district is a mixed-use neighborhood subject to noise, odors, and other industrial activities 24-7. Nonetheless, Holliday continued, "she calls the police on average four nights a week. The Entertainment Commission has gone into their house and done readings in the house, done readings out in front of house, and we do readings in front of their house every night with a decibel meter on the most sensitive reading you can get, and we are always compliant. It didn’t satisfy them."

One of the charges against a Slim’s manager was dismissed, but both staffers are still due to go to court for the two arrests in February and March. "I’m hoping they let these kids off," Holliday said. "I’ve gone to [San Francisco Police Department’s] Southern Station and asked them to wait for me to come over or Boz to come over and arrest us. It’s not fair that employees get arrested. We’re the two owners that live the closest, and both of us would take tickets before our employees."

Holliday is confident — after going into mediation, consulting with sound guru Charles Salter, and taking actions like installing a new insulated roof and a special four-tiered back door — that a resolution is possible. Still, the idea that one sour grape can pull down another great venue is troubling. "This is a situation where you can see how the system, which was designed to have respect for all the citizenry, can be used by this vexed complainer," Alan said. "They’ve created this history of complaints based only on their complaints. It’s going to cost Slim’s a lot of money and cost their managers a lot of sleepless nights, who want to go on and have a life. And they won’t be able to if they are found criminally liable for this. Imagine, you’re just doing your job …"

And hey, that’s another reason why so many of us come to this cow town in the first place: to work and to cozy up closer to that golden cow pumping pomegranatinis, the raucous crafters of musical ambrosia, et al. Fess up: you didn’t move to SF to feel good about driving a Prius or down Starbucks. What you can’t find regularly in Concord or Corte Madera — and what so many of us continue to crave — is that non-government-regulated minimum requirement of fun: loud, smelly, still safe, inconvenient, sprinkled with homeless parking valets, and still unlike anything you’ll get in the sticks.

For more, see Sonic Reducer Overage at www.sfbg.com/blogs/music.


Howlin Rain and Comets on Fire’s Ethan Miller has plenty of news about: HR’s superfine new LP, Magnificent Fiend, will be released March 4 on SF’s Birdman label and HR’s new imprint, Columbia Records cohoncho Rick Rubin’s American Recordings. Why jump? Miller told me he was enticed by larger studio budgets and the opportunity to be produced by Rubin, whom the frontman praised as someone who "seems to chip away at all those extraneous things and just draw out the essential fluids onto the tape.

"Those are the reasons," Miller said. "This is not the type of record deal where you get a million-dollar check and drive away in a Rolls-Royce, and you’re, like, ‘Fuck, cool, man, they bought me a Corvette, and now everyone can just go get wasted on coke and it doesn’t matter now, man!’ And then, whoa, a year later you’re kicked off the label, and you’re, like, ‘Fuck, I blew my $2 million advance now. This sucks! Now I’m a fucking nobody!’ That’s not this."


With Black Mountain

Mon/4, 8 p.m., $14


628 Divisadero, SF


Green winter


When I was in college, I was pleased to discover that spring in these parts began to make itself felt in February. The sun strengthened, the air grew mild — at least if it wasn’t raining — and people lay out to sunbathe. All this was very different from my native northern clime, in which winter nastiness often lasted well into April. April baseball games were sometimes snowed out, and May snow wasn’t unheard-of.

A warming world might soon be giving us reasons to rethink our understandings of the seasons, and perhaps Winnipeg will become a haven for snowbirds, but some of us have already made certain psychological adjustments. Spring for me — for instance — no longer means sunbathers in February but strawberries, asparagus, and artichokes, and while we await these delicacies, it’s the end of January, the Meyer lemon bush in the drippy garden is heavy with globes the color of summer sunshine, and markets are full of tubers and greens.

There are so many sorts of greens, arrayed in such abundance at farmers market stalls, that one feels a certain anxiety in choosing one kind but not another. Mixed baby salad greens are an almost automatic choice, since all they need is a splash of vinaigrette. Only slightly less demanding are baby spinach leaves, which can be wilted with some pine nuts, garlic, and currants to make a swift and classic Sicilian side dish. Romaine? You can make Caesar salads from it (and from its immature version, little gems), but I also found it turning up, braised, in a friend’s exquisite posole last week. I must make posole, I thought — a kind of chili made with hominy instead of beans — and I might or might not put romaine leaves in it, but I will try it with chickpeas.

Speaking, yet again, of legumes: lentil soup is a good place to stash all sorts of greens. I’ve put chard in there, and arugula, and even dandelion greens, though they have a bitterness that must be carefully handled. Dandelion greens work better in a pasta sauce, with garlic, chile flakes, sausage (poultry or soy if you like), some crushed black peppercorns, and a good grating of Parmesan or Romano cheese. The greens’ assertiveness matches up better with these comparably strong flavors. By the time you’ve cleaned your plate, it could be February, and strawberries for dessert.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com



BREAKFAST OF BLANDNESS Brunch is a vulnerable meal: you’ve probably just woken up, and you might be unshowered or hungover. Regardless of your daring at dinner, brunch requires only consistency.

My friend gets that from Venus in Berkeley. I can see why: the coziness of the brick walls, lined with local artists’ work; the long wait and bustling interior that allude to the establishment’s popularity. She swears by the chicken sausage scramble with the morning glory muffin. The scramble is decent, a good balance of sweet and salty, while the morning glory is an ostentatiously named bran muffin that, while moist, lacks, well, flavor.

Which is fairly representative of the problem with Venus. I really want to like it, but I always leave vaguely dissatisfied — full, but not satiated. The Harajuku scramble, with tofu, shiitake mushrooms, and other veggies, is as uninspired in execution as it is imaginative in concept (Gwen Stefani would not hollaback). The Indian brunch — curried carrot-zucchini-parsnip pancakes with akoori scrambled eggs — is lackluster. How, I ask, can curry be bland?

The cocktails are overpriced. The coffee is good — smoky and rich — but refills are few and far between. And then there was the Sunday I went. I ordered a Diet Coke; the server brought me organic diet cane cola. Now, I understand her forgetting to ask "Is Pepsi OK?" — but to bring me that flat, syrupy concoction (with a faint tinge of rum) was the last in a series of letdowns.

A weekend morning demands a dependably satisfying meal; Venus is reliable only in that it will disappoint me. (Ailene Sankur)

VENUS Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–2:30 p.m. (also Tues.–Fri., 5–9:30 p.m.); Sat.–Sun., 8 a.m.–2:15 p.m. (also Sat., 5–9:30 p.m.; Sun., 5–9 p.m.). 2327 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 540-5950, www.venusrestaurant.net

“Pablo Guardiola”


REVIEW Although, on entering Little Tree Gallery, it seems that Pablo Guardiola’s show consists of only seven photographs, that small collection forms the crux of a multidimensional presentation. The images have slight subjects and document the finite and the ephemeral. In Much More Than a Brand of Crackers, a Beer, a Malt Beverage and a Legendary Taino Leader (2007), a bottle cap is captured after being flung onto an asphalt surface. It isn’t until later, when one has progressed through the slightly wavering line of neighboring photos, that the bottle cap from that photograph reappears, wedged against a power outlet in the corner of the gallery. The cap from a Malta Hatuey, as referenced in the title, bears multiple meanings, alluding not only to one of the first indigenous national heroes of Cuba but also to the yeasty, fizzy drink from that country. Similarly, in Untitled (2007), Guardiola makes the two-dimensional 3-D: the postcard used to announce the exhibit is presented tacked to a coordinating blue lath surface.

These types of dualities continue throughout the show, both in the process of the artist’s production — captured in his photographs — and in his seemingly chance yet obviously staged and sculptural documentations. In one image, a sign reading Estetica refers in Spanish to beauticians while also making an indirect allusion to the theory of aesthetics. Another photo shows what appears to be a simple grease stain on a paper bag. With closer inspection, it resembles the silhouette of a world map.

The simplicity of form and composition — and the equally plain presentation — proves deceptive yet captivating. As hinted at by the title of the single sculptural piece in the exhibit displayed without a related photograph, Some Ideas Should Be Kept Warm (2007), Guardiola’s work reveals an immediate, minimal beauty even as the subtle complexity of each photograph leads to further rumination.

PABLO GUARDIOLA Through Feb. 16. Wed.–Sat., noon–6 p.m.; and by appointment. Little Tree Gallery, 3412 22nd St., SF. (415) 643-4929, www.littletreegallery.com

Top o’ the world, ma


› duncan@sfbg.com

My ex-girlfriend hipped me to TopR, short for Top Ramen, around 2003. We were driving in her car, and she cracked open the newly released Burning the Candle at Both Ends (Earthlings/DWA) and slid it into the dash. I’d like to say it changed my life, but to be honest, I can’t remember it. I do remember that she described TopR as this homeless, couch-surfing rapper who’d slept on her previous boyfriend’s couch. It was classic case of his reputation and lifestyle preceding his music.

Later I met TopR — or Topper Holiday, as he’s ceased using his first name — at 111 Minna Gallery, where I still work a side gig as a doorman. Throughout my years there he’s been a semiregular fixture, posted at the end of the bar, skeezing free drinks. He’s well loved but has this Dennis the Menace air surrounding him, like, "Oh, Topper’s here. Here comes trouble." One night in Minna alley, I remember him — a big, bescruffed white dude in a fitted New Era cap, somewhat rotund and more than a little faded — striking up a conversation with some bland, buttoned-down types, telling them he was a rapper and following up with a drunken freestyle. I came away feeling that it was a little sad, like he was busking in a BART station, trying to impress the squares.

"Fuck being glamorous — I’m cantankerous." So goes the first line on "Frankenstein’s Topster," the opener off his latest, fifth album, Marathon of Shame (Gurp City). It was playing when I walked into Dalva on 16th Street to say hello to my friend Toph One and reintroduce myself to TopR. And quite a reintroduction it was: even before Top starts rapping, the track is a fucking winner, anchored by a sample of Black Sabbath’s "A National Acrobat," the driving guitar riff married to an überfunky drumbeat by producer Dick Nasty.

A good hip-hop album is like a good comedy record: the shit’s got to be so sharp that you want to listen to it more than once, want to scan back on the CD and point out lines to your friends who are riding with you. In Top’s case it’s an apt comparison since he’s influenced by stand-up comedians as much as by other rappers and samples Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks on his previous disc, Cheap Laughs for Dead Comedians (Gurp City, 2006). Marathon is packed with lines that’ll make other rappers wish they’d written them, from favorite one-liners like "Puttin’ squares in their place like Tetris" to heartfelt couplets such as "I don’t want to fit into this banality factory / Where together we can all make profit from tragedy."

It stands to reason that TopR can come up with witty rhymes: he’s been rapping since he was 12. Now 30, he gained his rep as a battle rapper at parties and clubs. "From ’93 until 2000 all I did was battle," he says over a pint at the Richmond District’s 540 Club. "I didn’t record music. I didn’t put out anything. I just made a reputation for myself through battling. If I was putting out albums in ’95, ’96, I might’ve been an actual artist like Living Legends, Atmosphere, and Hieroglyphics. You can only be a battle rapper for so long. After a while there’s not very much creative outlet for it. You can only make fun of someone for so long before you actually want to express your real problems and your real feelings about life. And you do that through writing songs."

In a time when your average radio rap track has more advertisements for sneakers and pricey booze than a copy of GQ, TopR represents a more compelling side of the hip-hop spectrum: the storied tradition of rapper as traveling salesman, hawking CDs "out the trunk," or in his case, out the messenger bag, since, as he says on "Siren Song," "the Muni is my chariot." And while he often calls himself out as lazy in his songs, TopR’s tale is a cross between the 1984 runaway-punk movie Suburbia and the classic Horatio Alger story.

A self-described "troubled kid," TopR left his parents’ home in Santa Cruz at 15, living in squats and hitchhiking to San Francisco to hit open mics and do graffiti. He was arrested for vandalism, went back home, and left again, sleeping on couches if he was lucky and outside if he wasn’t. He attributes his notoriety in the bar scene to necessity: "The fact that I was homeless — I had to be in bars every goddamned night, looking for places to stay. I had nothing better to do."

Slumming, bumming, and battling eventually led to some Greyhound cross-country tours and a devoted following of party kids and misfits, unhappy with the status quo and, like him, struggling to get by. There’s no shortage of the usual hip-hop bravado on Marathon: "I’m a piss artist who spits darkness at bitch targets," TopR raps on "Siren Song," "<0x2009>’cause the music that’s honest is the music that hits hardest." True, but the track isn’t merely empty braggadocio: it’s nothing less than an existentialist crisis with a beat, one rapper’s The Sickness unto Death, asking the eternal questions of the artist and, ultimately, everyone who’s been "up against it."

And while it’s the struggle — and the willingness to cop to it — that makes Marathon so compelling, it seems TopR might finally be on the bus toward Figuring It All Out. On a tour in 2005 he met his fiancée, Kelly-Anne, perhaps the muse of "Siren’s Song," bartending at one of his shows in Asheville, NC. He stayed in the South for more than a year before getting an apartment, with a couch and a bed, in San Francisco’s Sunset District. "I came up as ‘the homeless kid who slept on couches,’<0x2009>" he explains. "But I was good at graffiti young, and I was a good rapper. I got away with a lot of stuff that some punk little kid wouldn’t because people respected me for my talents or whatever. But I’ve mellowed out." Here Top takes a contemplative pull on his pint. "I mean, I’m fuckin’ 30. I’ve got a dog now."

I’m going to do my part to go tell it on the mountain, to put this disc on when we’re cruising down the street, to make sure you hear the hilarious lines and crucial cuts. But on the other hand, one reason why it’s so good is because you ran into him in the bar and bought a disc so he could have beer money. TopR may have reached escape velocity from his day job, but he’s still orbiting the homelessness of his recent past. The line that sums up TopR for me is from "I’m on One" on Cheap Laughs: "It doesn’t take a genius to see that we’re livin’ stressful / The secret to my success is that I’m unsuccessful." It might be better for him if he got the juice to leave orbit altogether and rocket into the outer galaxies of hip-hop superstardom, but would it be better for his music if he weren’t "livin’ stressful?" Living hand to mouth myself, I’m heartened to see someone who keeps grindin’, who tries to live a creative life in the face of SF-size rent, the approaching years, and a music industry that may never give a shit. To quote TopR’s MySpace page, "Even when nothing goes right I still prevail."


With DJ Quest, Conceit, Delinquent Monastery, Thunderhut Project, Ras One, and DJ Delivery

Fri/1, 9 p.m., $10

12 Galaxies

2565 Mission, SF

(415) 970-9777




The name should tip you off right from the get-go: the Pine Box Boys. Now, I don’t want to venture any guesses about your mama, but my mama didn’t raise any fools, so when I hear the words pine box, I see the words dead body. Then I shudder: caskets creep me out.

Not so for the San Francisco foursome. These long-haired death defiers give the Grim Reaper a nipple twist or two with their waggishly pitch-black tales of murder, misery, and mayhem, and we shouldn’t want it any other way. Gallows humor has been around just as long as we as a species have been able to tell our stories, and this raggle-taggle band of bluegrass ne’er-do-wells is a bold keeper of the tradition, knowing exactly how to spin a dark and bloody yarn and still bust a gut while doing it.

So let’s consider the pine box: basic, humble, and nothing highfalutin compared to the mind-dizzying, bankroll-sapping array of caskets out there nowadays. It’s strictly old-school: no fancy modern gilded inlays or polished brass handles here but rather a nice, solid vintage construction ready for getting the job done. Much like the Pine Box Boys, who — well, they don’t do fancy, from what I’ve seen.

There are no state-of-the-art production techniques on either 2005’s Arkansas Killing Time or 2006’s Stab! (both Hi Horse), nor are there nods in the direction of any recent, decidedly rockist musical trends. Instead, this largely acoustic quartet wreak unholy havoc from the sounds of their grandpappies’ era — and probably even that of their grandpappies’ grandpappies. All those banjos and strummed guitars might conjure images of barn dances, but underneath the floorboards lays a trail of dead.

The band — fronted by hillbilly-twanged, wide-eyed maniac Lester Raww — has referred to its singular strain of mockingly malevolent roots music as "darkgrass." I’ve also seen it described as "Southern horrorbilly," a tag that makes sense in view of the Pine Box Boys’ thrilling, ante-upping delivery on subjects such as murder, cannibalism, and necrophilia. Supported by banjo thwacker Possum Carvidi’s hot-wired backing vocals, Raww’s chronicling of the most sordid of transgressions gives the same sort of glorious release as a slasher flick, assuming one is willing to suspend disbelief. Not that this requires much effort: Raww’s whoppers are tautly constructed and often brimming with chuckleworthy turns of phrase, and the frenzied rhythm section of Col. Timothy Leather on bass and "Your Uncle" Dodds on drums provides a rollicking, engaging backdrop for surrendering to such giddy, grisly fictions.

"One look into my eyes, and a wise man would lock up his daughters," Raww sings with devilish charm on Arkansas Killing Time‘s "When the Moon Moves the Waters," before going on to explain his blood thirst with all of the juicy detailed satisfaction of a Clive Barker or, hell, Nick Cave. The specifics of the beginnings and middles vary from song to song, but they all end the same: someone dies. And someone laughs — at the ridiculous brilliance of it all. The easily offended will miss out on the point of the Pine Box Boys, but hey, they’ll miss out on all the fun too.


Feb. 9, 8 p.m., $13

Cafe du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016


Digging the new-old roots


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Yodeling is African? Well, one could certainly trace the practice from the Ituri of the Congolese rainforest, described as the first people by ancient Egyptian chroniclers, to country icons such as Jimmie Rodgers — who, incidentally, recorded with Louis Armstrong — but also to less-explored sonic shores like James Brown’s iconic scream or Marvin Gaye’s version limning his legendary 1970s LP cycle. However, if this is too far a leap for you to make, the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ appearance as part of the San Francisco Bluegrass and Old-Time Festival might be a bit of a head-scratcher. The Chocolate Drops — Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens, and Justin Robinson — don’t straight-up yodel, but their harmonies and banjo-and-fiddle-anchored instrumentation reach back not only to the halcyon days when Africans in America entertained themselves at fiddle-scored frolics but all the way to the griot tradition of Western Sudan.

To be sure, the Durham, NC, band — yes, their moniker invokes the Tennessee Chocolate Drops and Mississippi Mud Steppers of yore — is neither superurban nor contemporary. Its members play strictly prewar African American string-band repertoire, as evidenced by their current release, Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind (Music Maker): see "Tom Dula," "Ol’ Corn Likker," and yep, the ever-contested "Dixie." Still, being young, hip children of the postdesegregation era, the trio have a musical expression and an aesthetic that are informed as much by the hybridity and daring of the 1960s and ’70s golden age of black rock and psychedelic soul as by classic country and western and ethnographic studies of the genre’s African antecedents. If only by pursuing their dusky twang muse in reaction to the deplorable, moribund state of today’s urban music, these Drops live in a world that differs from that of their 1920s and ’30s predecessors chiefly in that (a) the wages of desegregation include black audiences’ will to eschew arts reminiscent of their past of bondage and hard times and (b) the dominant society’s prevailing and most popular stereotype of blackness has an inner-city face — "Makes me wanna holler!" — that rejects any other ways of being or seeing.

Some of my colleagues — and doubtless myself — have been obliquely accused of holding up emerging progressive black artists on the rock scene and satellites such as the Drops as examples of uplift and enshrining their hard work beneath a welter of sociological wankery stretching back into the prewar mists of time to Talented Tenth big daddy W.E.B. DuBois. Yet if some of that giddiness at Afro-futurist striving is sloughed off, there remains the central, inescapable fact that in much of the West, rock is still seen as "black music played by white people" and country is this nation’s most racially separatist genre.

Much was made this past fall of Rissi Palmer’s Billboard debut with "Country Girl," since it was the first such charting by an African American in the two decades after the long-forgotten Dona Mason’s fleeting dent with "Green Eyes (Cryin’ Those Blue Tears)." Critics worked overtime to display color-blind bona fides, bending themselves over backward in the attempt to downplay the role of race in Palmer’s ascent and note the singularity of the event while also sugarcoating their general consensus on the disc’s mediocrity. Personally, I wish Sister Palmer much success and far better material plus production, but what struck me most was the cover of her eponymous release. Only a sliver of Palmer’s brown face is to be seen, the overabundance of russet curls perhaps meant as commerce-inducing allusion to the Great Reba. It’s certainly baffling that 42 years since Charley Pride’s debut was released sans artist photo, one still has to mince around difference.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops have more to overcome, seeing as they play an earlier, unplugged form of twang that’s light-years away from not only the patriotic-pandering, reheated Southern boogie and suburban soccer mom–and–sippy cup sentiments of mainstream Nashville but also the ambitious incursions of Palmer and Cowboy Troy and the recent bluegrass syncretism of Merle Haggard and Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. Now sharing management with fellow Carolinians the Avett Brothers, the Drops are garnering just acclaim from roots-friendly media and making fruitful incursions into important arenas, like the annual MerleFest. Yes, the trio are benefiting from both the breakdown of a music industry in turmoil that’s reliant on streams from independents and a more reflective moment among media and listeners who have come of age in an era of omnivorous multiculturalism. And let us not discount the Drops’ sheer talent and charm.

Nevertheless, as a mere Negress observer, this critic finds her attention inevitably straying to the lack of intraracial institutions to advocate for artists in the Drops’ vein — in addition to an infrastructure for developing and sustaining nonwhite audiences’ taste for the music. Since, y’know, they’re isolated from the rural. (Must Dona be retroactively screwed and chopped?) It would be nice to see the band embraced as part of a continuum by progressive audiences, just as there’s some energy around soul-folk as a viable trend. Will the Drops’ version of young fogydom garner as much breathless critical attention and community building as the so-called freak-folk scene does? Of course, cross-cultural exchange is possible: current Nashvegas superstar and Troy’s boy "Big" Kenny Alphin traveled to Sudan last October to do his bit for the struggle and got the country press to cover his contribution. Now if only the media would turn its attention to the best acolytes of medieval traditions created by Africans not abject but divinely inspired.


Feb. 7, 8 p.m., $18.50–<\d>$19.50

Freight and Salvage Coffee House

1111 Addison, Berk.

(510) 548-1761



The San Francisco Bluegrass and Old-Time Festival runs Feb. 1–9. For information on other shows and events, go to www.sfbluegrass.org.

Bound for better


› kimberly@sfbg.com

INTERVIEW You probably stumbled over it during your holiday shopping travails: a little 2008 pocket date book branded "Slingshot" with a hand-drawn cover of kids wearing engineer boots and "A is for anarchy" garb, picking flowers, vegetables, and fruit in an idyllic garden scene, a cityscape looming in the distance. Inside, each page is embellished with a quirky hand, oddball fonts, and quintessentially activist remembrances like "1979 Police machine-gun a mass rally on the steps of San Salvador cathedral, killing 25" (May 8) and "1925 Lenny Bruce b. ‘If you can’t say FUCK you can’t say FUCK THE GOVERNMENT!’" (Oct. 13), as well as faithful reminders for all of the Berkeley Critical Mass rides in ’08. The bold-faced coups de grâce: the international radical contact list, quasi phrasebook, and quick tips to "Resist Government Repression." Other anarchist groups throughout the world put out calendars, but this year Berkeley collective Slingshot published an organizer that allows you to literally organize more than just the crap that surrounds you.

This year is a banner one for the planner, and for the 20-year-old nonprofit as well. After several cryptic bouts of phone tag, I spoke to a group representative — who appropriately called himself Slingshot — earlier this month, and he said the group printed 30,000 pocket and spiral-bound 2008 editions, a jump from the wee 400 copies issued when the organization began printing them 14 years ago. Now with distribution in 50 states and a dozen countries, they’re almost sold out, though copies are still available at Bound Together Books at 1369 Haight.

What started out as a fundraiser — inspired by the radical organizers made by European collectives — for Slingshot’s free newspaper has taken on a somewhat anarchic life of its own. "Technically we’re trying to promote historical knowledge about liberation struggles and trying to disseminate contact info for those engaged in social justice work," Slingshot explained, though the handmade, cut-and-pasted, non-computer-generated paperback is also a pure product of a pre–digital age, DIY aesthetic.

Each collective member worked independently on four pages per organizer, drawing from a huge compendium of historical events for each date, so no one person controlled the overall style or process. "It’s contrary to the way the mainstream press looks, where everything [is] programmatic," Slingshot stressed. "Just like life, each page has a different look." The artists, whom Slingshot described as "the people who were filling the streets at the [World Trade Organization]," remain anonymous, except on the cover, which is signed Molly Crabapple.

"Anyone can make art. If we waited for professionals to start the calendar or the paper, we never would have gotten there," he continued. "I think that’s why people like our calendar. People want to feel engaged and not just spectators in their lives."

Next up in Slingshot’s own organizer: the collective hopes to create a zine-making space in its office at the Long Haul Infoshop in Berkeley, complete with typewriters and other materials. "We’re not really against computers per se," Slingshot confessed. "But it’s not a good thing to not question whether everything has to be computerized. We can make it accessible here: people don’t have to have skills other than using scissors."

Noir or not?


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Nothing brings out the pugilist in film critics like a discussion of what does or doesn’t count as film noir, which is perhaps appropriate, given the number of slugs, sucker punches, fisticuffs, and beatings that occur onscreen in the movies being discussed. As with any kind of canon formation, the issue can prompt trainspotting, finger-pointing, and impassioned arguments. But the question — as much of the scholarship on the subject has shown — is something of a red herring.

Despite the stylistic qualities that seemed to unify them — chiaroscuro lighting, a fixation on the seedy underbellies of urban space and people’s souls, devouring women and browbeaten men, a curiously persistent lack of daylight — the ’30s and ’40s American movies that cinema-starved French critics wolfed down after World War II had originally been marketed at home as different types of genre films. The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers (1946) was a gothic romance; Detour (1945) was a low-budget B-movie thriller; and Joan Crawford vehicles such as Possessed (1947) and Mildred Pierce (1945) were women’s pictures. A number of films now considered noirs began as literary adaptations — take your pick of any inspired by James Cain, Raymond Chandler, or Dashiell Hammett, or Robert Siodmak’s 1946 take on Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers.

Noir City 6, czar of noir Eddie Muller’s yearly celebration of not-on-DVD rarities and shadow-dappled classics resurrected from studio vaults, offers plenty of fodder for noir-or-not debate. The programming spans from the critically enshrined (Jules Dassin’s 1950 Night and the City) to the relatively unknown (1960’s The 3rd Voice) and the not so old (the Coen brothers’ 2001 neonoir The Man Who Wasn’t There). Perhaps more than past incarnations, Noir City 6 makes a case for film noir as a set of stylistic conventions — or, alternately, for noir as an inspired malaise that permeates a film like stale cigarette smoke — rather than something hard-and-fast that sports a time stamp.

The festival’s second week features two period pieces, which might surprise fans expecting a parade of hired guns in fedoras and femmes fatales in pantsuits. Robert Siodmak’s The Suspect (from 1944, the same year he made the Maria Montez jewel Cobra Woman) follows one husband’s slow road to hell in Edwardian England as he offs his wife at the behest of a new lady friend. Reign of Terror (1949) sets the way-back machine to the French Revolution, but instead of liberté, égalité, fraternité, we get greed, deceit, and betrayal. Celebrated cinematographer John Alton — who has rightly been called noir’s painter of light — is in top form here, transforming the standard back-lot Paris street sets into a backdrop more closely resembling the city’s catacombs.

Reign of Terror screens as part of the festival’s tribute to character actor Charles McGraw, whose rugged visage made him a favorite for cop and tough-guy roles, including a memorably menacing hit man in The Killers and a star turn as a detective in The Narrow Margin (1952) alongside Marie Windsor. "[McGraw’s] guttural rasp of a voice, reminiscent of broken china plates grating around in a burlap sack, was complemented by an intimidating, laserlike glare," critic and Noir City coplanner Alan K. Rode writes in his recently published book Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy (McFarland), which he’ll sign at the tribute.

Also on the McGraw double bill is Anthony Mann’s brutal Tex-Mex mystery Border Incident (1949), in which the actor plays a sadistic ranch owner involved in an illegal-immigrant smuggling and exploitation ring. Again, Alton’s cinematography perfectly frames the standout performances from bronze screen legend Ricardo Montalban as an undercover Mexican federale and Howard Da Silva as the racist crook he has to bust, setting into relief the two characters’ moral distance from each other in one memorable medium shot. (To go back to the subject of canon formation, between Border Incident, Orson Welles’s 1958 Touch of Evil, and John Sayles’s 1996 Lone Star, a host of films could pack a frontera-themed noir program.)

Alton’s transformation of the Imperial Valley into a silvery, inhospitable moonscape — especially during the knife-and-quicksand offing of a group of frightened braceros under the cover of night — is an inversion of the sun-baked mesas and sage-scoured plains that typically dominate the western genre. In Border Incident he and Mann show us that corruption lurks in the wide-open spaces as much as it festers in the Piccadilly Circus back alleys of Dassin’s Night and the City or the ritzy enclaves of Chandler’s Los Angeles.

That vision brings us to the Coen brothers, whose No Country for Old Men qualifies as perhaps the latest entry in the group of borderland noirs, though their The Man Who Wasn’t There is the more obvious noir homage. Despite the often bleached-out palette of its mise-en-scène, No Country for Old Men drives home the nihilism that is at the heart of all film noirs with all the force of Javier Bardem’s pneumatic hammer. In noir as in No Country, even the most hardened cop is made to confront the futility of his convictions, Manichaeanism is disproved by double crosses and spilled blood, and the only thing one can bank on is what Noir City 6 promises in its tagline: no happy endings.


Through Sun/3, $12

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120




› paulr@sfbg.com

If you didn’t know that Dogpatch’s newest glam restaurant, Serpentine, is the younger sibling of the Slow Club, would you guess? Signals are mixed, and your answer might depend on whether you concentrated your attention on the menus or the physical particulars of the related pair. On the latter point, we have a sort of local restaurant version of Wills and Harry, the British princelings beloved of paparazzi: a confounding blend of similarities and dissimilarities, evidence that could go either way. If you squint, you suspect a family likeness, but you know you’re not looking at twins.

The Slow Club has always struck me as a descendant — a noisy one — of speakeasies. (Is there such a thing as a speakloudly?) The look is low, velvety, and slightly secretive; there are few windows, and the spot lighting is spare. Serpentine, by contrast, soars like a cathedral in its old industrial site. Brick walls? Yes, it has them, punctuated with vast factory windows that face the west and the afternoon sun, but there is also an exposed ceiling of poured concrete laced with electrical conduits. This vault of open space, rising a full two stories above the dining-room floor, might be a considerable factor in swallowing up noise; Serpentine looks like it should be deafening, but it isn’t, even when full. It helps, in this respect, that the floors aren’t reflections of the ceiling but are of burnished wood, warming and elegant and not quite as cacophony producing as poured concrete. Also warming: the wealth of votive candles, several to a table, that lend the restaurant a sense of rustic intimacy. It’s as if a country inn had decided to squat in one of Charles Dickens’s abandoned blacking factories.

Not many country inns, on the other hand, whether in Dickens’s time or our own, have served food quite as good as Serpentine’s. California cuisine has gone from novelty to cliché to beyond cliché and back again, but at Serpentine it does what all good cooking should do: cause you to pause, to notice, to inquire. What is that, and how did they do that?

"Is this tomato soup?" my companion asked, jabbing a spoon into the creamy puree that had been set before me. And the correct answer was: no, not tomato but carrot ($7.50), and not even carrot with ginger or curry but just plain carrot, adorned only with a few fried sage leaves. The soup’s color was difficult to make out in the dim light, so on that basis alone I granted a pardon on the tomato-or-carrot question, but there was also an aromatic fruitiness I would never have associated with plain carrot soup.

Interesting and unexpected ingredients enhance the restaurant’s spell. I’d never heard of spigariello; I would have guessed it was some obscure pasta shape, but in fact (according to the well-schooled server) it’s a toothy green from the broccoli family, composed by chef Chris Kronner’s kitchen into a handsome salad — with crumblings of blue cheese, bread crumbs, and a pepper vinaigrette — that resembled a small holiday wreath.

The menu doesn’t force you toward big plates, and many of the smaller plates are sizable and rich enough to satisfy. A plate of lamb riblets ($11.50), for instance, featured about a half-dozen pieces of achingly tender meat still on the bone, and that was plenty, even allowing for some shameless raiding from across the table. The raider and I did agree that the seasoning palette — of pickled shallots, feta cheese, and mint salsa verde — was missing something. A hint of sweetness was needed, a splash of balsamic vinegar, maybe, or some interesting honey.

Meanwhile, we shared the savory bread pudding ($11.50 with an add-on heap of mesclun), a baked, caramelized delight of some scale that glowed gold in the candlelight and spoke of sustenance on a wintry night. The pudding was fortified with roasted butternut squash, buttermilk, and blue cheese — a sturdy and honest combination. And, for a bit of spice, peeled prawns on a bed of white grits ($10.50) were dressed with poblano pepper sauce, a demure-looking, muddy green puddle that really lit up the room on making contact with a human tongue. At least that was this human’s experience.

For those of us who use a caloric equivalent of zero-sum budgeting — i.e., each indulgence must be offset by a savings — Serpentine is a forgiving place to eat. On the one hand, there are subtle lightenings to be found in un-looked-for places; a nice example of this was a sandwich of roast turkey slices and sauerkraut on rye bread ($9.50) that amounted to a reduced-calorie Reuben and reminded us, yet again, of turkey’s many uses.

And, on the other, there are the desserts, which, like good poems, depend on concentrated effects rather than volume to establish their place in memory. A particularly noteworthy example might be the chocolate-hazelnut tart ($7.50), an almost fudgelike (and not too huge; about the circumference of a baseball) disk trimmed by a fluted pastry crust and dotted with hazelnuts. The tart (served with a scoop of chocolate ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery) was like an upper-crust relative of a dark chocolate–with–nuts candy bar: a Snickers wrapped in buttery pastry.

The crowd is eclectic. We noticed plenty of young people, but more than a few older folks too, parenty types in the company of adult children. As an adult who once took his parents to the Slow Club only to watch them struggle with the noise, I looked on these entourages with an odd mix of remorse and approval, though more of the latter than the former. Serpentine: same great taste, less deafening.


Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

Dinner: Tues.–Sat., 6–10 p.m.

2495 Third St., SF

(415) 252-2000


Full bar


Well-managed noise

Wheelchair accessible

Note: Serpentine observes a no-reservations policy



› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Bernie Jungle made me a frittata, then got the ladder out, and we went onto his roof to look at the chimney.

"It’s going to snow," I said.

He didn’t argue. Bernie did time in Cleveland, and he can feel when it’s going to snow as well as I can. He just moved to my neck of the woods from Oakland and now lives five minutes east of Occidental, in Sebastopol. I live five minutes west of Occidental, in Occidental. It’s complicated math, or cartography, but not as complicated as the meteorology of two aging Ohio punks on a Northern California rooftop knowing it’s going to snow. Even though, of course, it never snows here.

Except sometimes it does.

Anyway, we couldn’t figure out why his wood stove wouldn’t work, not even by standing on the roof with our hands in our pockets looking at the chimney and knowing it was going to snow. So we climbed back down the ladder. I thanked him for the frittata and headed home, stopping in town for a chicken so as not to have to kill one of my own. Because I’d be damned if I was going to let a rare Sonoma County snowstorm pass me by without lighting the grill.

I’m not sure how to explain why when it snows my thoughts turn to barbecue rather than snowballs, snowmen, or even hot chocolate. It’s complicated psychology. Another way of looking at it is that my thoughts are just stuck on barbecue, period, and always will be, no matter what the fuck — rain, snow, sleet, or hail, for example. I’m like a sexaholic, or the United States mail delivery system.

In which case I should have taken off Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but no. I stopped at the expensive little hippie grocery store in Occidental and bought me a chicken. When I went in it was raining, and when I came out it was snowing.

A young woman with a white face and the shakes was getting out of her car, saying to a young man with dreadlocks, "It’s a good thing I grew up in the Midwest."

"Why?" Dreadlocks asked.

The roads around here are steep and winding. And slick, even when they’re only wet. It couldn’t have been snowing for more than three minutes, but the streets were white. It was dumping. I clutched my chicken a little tighter to my chest and was glad I grew up in the Midwest too.

Five minutes later I arrived safe and sound at my little shack in the woods, and even though my elevation is 223 feet higher than town proper, there was no sign of snow. I hadn’t been home since the morning before. My chickens were glad to see their farmer and even gladder to see the little chicken-size bag in her hand.

"It’s going to snow," I said to them on my way into the shack, where it was in the low 40s. I could see my breath. "It’s going to snow," I said to Weirdo the Cat. "Maybe even in here."

It didn’t snow. I got a fire going inside, then I got a fire going outside, but it never did snow. Not even outside. I stood there in the woods, in the weather, with my arms outstretched, palms up, and my tongue out, like a little kid, pausing every 15 minutes or so to flip the chicken.

Which came out great, by the way, but no thanks to meteorological anomalies. The great blizzard of ’08 had lasted approximately five minutes, and the only casualties were a young Midwestern girl’s nerves and a middle-aged Midwestern girl’s $13.16. I would never have paid $2.99 per pound for a chicken if I didn’t think I was going to get to cook it in the snow!

On the other hand, now I can write it off on my taxes, like love and laser treatments and all the other expensive subjects Cheap Eats wrassles with. Rum, laptops, record albums. Soccer shoes, league dues. Boots. Bras. Train tickets … I reckon I might actually save money by spending it, and wish I could explain how.

It’s complicated economics.

My new favorite restaurant is Metro Kathmandu. A companion had just asked a provocative question: what was the strangest thing I’d ever buttered? I was carefully considering my answer while buttering my lamb curry burger and french fries ($10) when the waitressperson offered us a round of free mimosas. It was a January brunchtime-only promotion, so I guess it’s over. But still …


Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 9:30 a.m .–2:30 p.m. Dinner: Tues.–Sun., 5:30–11 p.m.

311 Divisadero, SF

(415) 552-0903

Beer, wine, cocktails


Hey, hey. hey


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I’m getting superfrustrated. I don’t have the highest sex drive, but it is there. However, I can’t understand why my brain and my body tell me I want to do something that inevitably makes me uncomfortable and unhappy. Even with lube, sex leaves me sore for hours. I try to just give my boyfriend blow jobs so I can avoid having to have sex. I’m 21 and have been sexually active for about three years, and I just always figured everything would get better.

And it’s not just intercourse. I can’t even get satisfaction from oral sex or masturbating. It feels good, but then, instead of feeling really good, like you’d expect an orgasm to feel, suddenly the pleasure just kind of floats away. If that’s an orgasm, it freaking sucks. It is unpleasant. What is wrong with me?


Can’t Get Me No

Dear No:

Well, you’re feeling unsatisfied because you are unsatisfied, but I don’t suppose that observation will be much use to you. I believe that your sex drive is still hanging in there because you’re a normal, healthy girl, albeit one who apparently has some issues (we call them issues when we don’t know what else to call them) about sex. In fact, I’m not even sure you have issues. I think maybe you’ve just had some pretty disappointing sex, and now you’re so expecting it to be disappointing that you’re just kind of jumping straight to the disappointment part and saving yourself some time.

I hate to punt this over to the usual suspects, but I think I have to: there are books — lots of them — on learning to masturbate and becoming orgasmic, and there are some spectacular toys out there now, toys so good that I am not altogether positive I can still promise that using them will not interfere with partnered sex, but that is obviously a topic and a worry (an issue) for another time. The old classics are Lonnie Barbach (reads like a therapist writing for Redbook) and Betty Dodson (reads like someone you’d meet at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival circa 1989, naked), but they have accumulated an Amazon wish list full of competition. Poke around in the reviews and see if you can find someone whose voice you can stand, buy their book or DVD and whatever basic toys they recommend, then buy yourself some time and use them. Oh, and if there’s a boyfriend in the picture, tell him to just hang on — you’ve got some stuff to do, after which he’s welcome to come back and try again. If this works, it should be worth the wait.



Dear Andrea:

I’m a 20-year-old girl, and I’ve only had one sex partner in my life (high school to the present). My problem seems pretty basic: sex doesn’t feel all that great. I mean, the desire’s there, but after a few minutes the pleasure part just kind of slips away, despite my best efforts to keep it there, and the rest either feels like smushing body parts or else is unpleasant and sort of painful. I don’t understand how it can start off feeling good and then just go away. Maybe I’m on the right track: When I first started having sex (three years ago), it always felt pretty neutral. Now at least it feels good for a little while. I can’t masturbate to orgasm either. It is incredibly frustrating to want to have sex even knowing I always go away from it unsatisfied. What is wrong with me? How do I fix it?’


No, No, No

Dear No:

I had to reread very carefully to make sure you and your doppelgänger are not the same person, but look — you’re slightly younger! And very, very faintly less hopeless, I think, but that is open to interpretation. I do find it slightly heartening that you are experiencing a bit of pleasure now, since I’d have to agree that it would be difficult to get motivated in the complete absence of anything more exciting than "neutral" sensation.

It’s neither fair nor just but is common for women to be out of touch with their sexual-response cycles in a way that simply doesn’t occur very often in males. I hesitate — nay, refuse! — to get into any historical-political reasons why this might be so. (It’s not that they’re not interesting, but they are unfruitful and dreadfully distracting, which is exactly what we don’t need when we’re already having trouble concentrating.) I’m afraid you too will have to buy media products and a vibrator that tickles at least your fancy, put the boyfriend on hold, and get practicing. I wish I could wave a magic wand for you, but I think the motor in mine is burning out. They don’t last forever.



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.

Home is where the art is


Margaret Tedesco is often on the move. She’s created flip books, directed plays, narrated films — before neo-benshi events became popular locally — and put together art shows at roving venues in Southern California and San Francisco. Especially because of her curatorial experience connecting and moving between different art forms at sites such as New Langton Arts, it’s great to see Tedesco bringing the movement home, in more than one sense, at [2nd floor projects], a vital new artist-run space inside her Mission apartment.

SFBG What motivated you to start [2nd floor projects], and what do you like about it now?

MARGARET TEDESCO I’ve always enjoyed the surprise element. It’s been interesting to see my living space transform. You see the work and have an idea of how it might be, but its different when it arrives — when you step into the room. I have an ongoing relationship with this place. I’ve lived here for 12 years.

I get to act on my own volition now — I don’t need to check in with anybody. I’m not interested in art-world prerequisites. I’m a self-taught artist, and it feels very natural for me to create a space like this for people.

SFBG How have you selected the artists you have shown to date?

MT Some have been a part of group shows but never really had a [solo] presence. I’m not looking to be a dealer or looking for trends or to rep people. I want to put work out there and see what other people think. With George and Mike [Kuchar], for example, a number of people who’ve gone to the show knew they made paintings or drawings, but others were completely surprised. Some didn’t even know George has a brother!

The Kuchars are dear to my heart because film is a big part of my work. I’ve known of them for many years — I can’t even name the years — and have had the treat of seeing George every Friday while working at the San Francisco Art Institute. When I invited George, he’d just been asked by Bruce Hainley to do a show at Casey Kaplan in New York. I asked him whom he’d like to show with, and he told me his brother was moving back to town.

Kuchar coup


› johnny@sfbg.com

The drawings and paintings of George and Mike Kuchar are brightly colored, bosomy, and bulbous bouquets of bodacious flesh. Those bountiful breasts belong to women in George’s 1962 painting Voodoo Ceremony and in his 1977 Missionary Attack, in which a topless lady sporting an octopus skirt threatens to spear another wearing tiger skin pants and leather boots. But in Mike’s art the big bazookas belong to men. Margaret Tedesco, whose [2nd floor projects] space is presenting work by the Kuchar brothers, says one local filmmaker who recently visited her gallery compared the nipples of the men in Mike’s drawings to pacifiers.

The counterlogic of that observation is perfect, even if the nipples of a man in Mike’s Gay Heart Throbs, No. 3 also look like flying saucers. In that acrylic painting a guy in black leather holds a gift of flowers behind his perky buttocks as he talks to a young blond buck busting out of his tied-up shirt and cutoff shorts like a male Dolly Parton — or like a country version of George and Mike’s fellow underground filmmaker Peter Berlin.

Early on in the poignant and pungent memoir Reflections from a Cinematic Cesspool (Zanja Press, 1997), George writes that his and Mike’s interest in art began when their mother gave them paper and pencils and told them to have fun. Though their materials have since switched to film, video, watercolor, marker, and acrylic, the fun remains: without even trying, Tedesco’s show is a rebuff to the unfortunate abundance of contemporary art spaces, big and small, that have lost a sense of pleasure. Both George’s commercial art schooling — which included a spell spent drawing the weather on television, detailed wonderfully in Reflections — and Mike’s commissioned work for gay publications like Manscape and First Hand possess great humor, as well as perspectives so distinct that they might reach out and playfully nipple-tweak one’s assumptions about female and male beauty.

"I don’t care too much for macho," Mike tells the poet and novelist Eileen Myles in a short essay Myles wrote for the [2nd floor projects] show. "I like cuddly; sweetness." That warmth radiates from pen-and-ink pieces such as the idyllic Beefcake BC, in which, as Myles notes, a man rides a brontosaurus as if it were a surfboard. In the G-rated Triassic Terror a tyrannosaur and a pterodactyl wreak havoc, but there are emotional undercurrents in Jungle Jeopardy, in which one Tarzan rescues another who is Christlike in his pain.

Taking a different comic book tack, George renders mythic creatures such as Bigfoot (who has pendulous pecs, of course) and the Jersey Devil. Like his twin brother, though, he’s not afraid to try a little tenderness. From 1976, Jon is subtly in thrall to the hills and valleys of its subject’s nude backside. The acrylic-on-canvas Bocko (1970) complements and perhaps predates Joe Brainard’s wonderful oil portraits of his boyfriend Kenward Elmslie’s whippet Whippoorwill — even if George’s beloved Bocko weren’t an Alsatian, he would still make an ideal cover star for J.R. Ackerley’s classic 1956 book My Dog Tulip (Random House). Add these once-hidden treasures to Bruce Conner’s assemblages and ink works and to the lively circles of Manny Farber’s paintings, and you have the seeds for a lively survey dedicated to art by Bay Area filmmakers and critics.


Through Feb. 24

For details go to projects2ndfloor.blogspot.com

Political probe


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Cristian Mungiu’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is the final anxiety-ridden whimper to register from the year of the "shmashmortion," and it’s particularly preoccupied with pregnancy and the decisions that come with it. There was an apparently very good doc about abortion politics and some movie about a waitress that I didn’t see, but I caught the two "Papa Don’t Preach" comedies we all went to and can’t say I see much to link those two with Mungiu’s excellent Romanian film.

It was often observed that the dollhouse pregnancies and abortion debates of Juno and Knocked Up — movies that both oscillated between very good and unwatchable — would never have been fodder for a Hollywood (or Hollywood-lite) comedy if the mothers weren’t white and middle-class. The expecting character in 4 Months wouldn’t have looked out of place in either of those films, but her predicament is wildly different. She has to make her decision in Romania in 1986, under the watchful eye of Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship, whose policies on abortion make the pressures of the current American culture wars — certainly as experienced by the heroines of Juno and Knocked Up — comparable to those of a celebrity roast. Mungiu’s movie differs, additionally, in a refreshingly depressing way: you kind of want to smack the mother.

Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) isn’t even the film’s core. That distinction goes to her college roommate Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), who’s relied on to handle nearly every level of preparation necessary for an illegal abortion, from the Kafkaesque frustrations of securing a hotel room to the frightening process of meeting and negotiating with the abortionist. Everyone in Otilia’s unpleasant story is to some degree selfish and irresponsible, and Gabita is no exception. The ultimate impression she gives is of being the kind of person Otilia will never be able to truly feel good about sacrificing so much for. Otilia will always feel vaguely duped.

If 4 Months is only nominally related to those American comedies, its connections with another recent Romanian film about the Ceausescu era, the sad and funny 12:08 East of Bucharest, are just as tangential. Though the titles of both films, interestingly, suggest an obsession with a ticking clock, 12:08 East of Bucharest uses it as an almost absurdist device in relation to a bystander’s attempt to find a personal foothold in history. The characters in 4 Months are all getting more personal history than they could possibly handle, much less want.

Mungiu’s movie is much closer kin, then, to fellow Romanian filmmaker Cristi Puiu’s dark wonder The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, which was also shot by cinematographer Oleg Mutu. Both are gloomy, virtuosic naturalist films inseparable from their sociopolitical backdrops — in Lazarescu‘s case, Bucharest in the middle of this decade — and both traverse their stations through a soup of reluctant humanism and outright moral fatigue. 4 Months feels like a companion piece to Lazarescu, the latter being a tour of the indignities of the Romanian medical bureaucracy and the former negotiating a similar path through the black-market system created in response to those inadequacies of officialdom.

What separates the two primarily and acutely is the distinct emotional tangs brought about by the way they were shot and edited. Lazarescu works with short, unassuming shots (save for the final, fatalistic scene); 4 Months, on the other hand, encumbers the audience with claustrophobically long takes, filled with the tension not only of Otilia’s widening burden but also of the actors sustaining such choreographed naturalism.

The most ambitious example of these crosscurrents is a conceptually ostentatious dinner scene at the birthday party for Otilia’s boyfriend’s mother, into which Otilia must detour before returning to the evening’s greater exigencies. Traumatized and anxious to return to Gabita, she is stuck for the moment in the cross fire of unwittingly oppressive small talk. Though there is a whiff of contrivance in the scene (Lazarescu, marching along its downward spiral with its head bowed, elicits more sympathy by making less conspicuous appeals), it moves quickly beyond a one-note dark joke simply by persisting. Otilia stares off ahead while the surrounding actors deliver their lines at her — in a manner closer to living than acting — in a long, confining take.

Stubbornly stationary, this sequence is as impressive as that famous kinetic take in Children of Men. And the subtleties of the conversation, together with a chillingly apropos conversation with her boyfriend shortly after (he’s a massive shit, but is she also covering her bases?), prove the party to be less a dramatic contrast with the preceding events across town than a thickening of the septic social context in which those events occur. It is, as much as abortion, what the film is about.


Opens Fri/1 in Bay Area theaters