Volume 42 Number 20

February 13 – February 19, 2008

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Flesh peddlers


In the category of coolest stuff in the world, Sasha Wizansky recently sent a copy of Meatpaper (subtitled Your Journal of Meat Culture), a magazine she coedits with Amy Standen, to the Guardian offices. The magazine is a veritable cornucopia, nay, a butcher shop of fascinating articles, from an interview with meat inspectors to found meat photography and a beef heart recipe. I immediately contacted Ms. Wizansky and proposed marriage. What I got in lieu of matrimony was an interview, excerpted below.

SFBG Why did you want to do a magazine about meat?

SASHA WIZANSKY The answer that we usually give for that is we perceived that there is a meat movement going on. We call it the fleischgeist, which stands for "the meat zeitgeist." This was a cross-country trend, which apparently is global as well. People are thinking about meat in new ways. That’s partially in the context of restaurants and home cooking, but also in art and culture. So we started a magazine to report on the fleischgeist and basically collect multiple perspectives on what’s going on and publish them side by side.

SFBG Are you going to include non-meat-eating perspectives?

SW Yeah, that’s actually a huge part of what we do. My coeditor and I believe that people’s choice to not eat meat is actually a big part of the story of meat. That’s something that we’re actually extremely interested in covering. We like to cover all perspectives.

SFBG Do you think there’s been a backlash against vegetarianism and veganism in San Francisco?

SW I personally have witnessed a pretty big shift in maybe the last eight years or so. I moved to San Francisco in ’95 and I felt like most of my friends were vegetarians, and that’s not true anymore. So if my community is representative at all, I think things really have changed. I think part of it is that a lot of the reasons that people were choosing vegetarianism had to do with, you know, organic food and environmental reasons, but now a lot of those same issues are being addressed by meat production. It’s possible now to participate in a sustainable meat economy in a way that wasn’t before.

SFBG Were you ever a vegetarian?

SW I was a vegetarian for seven years. From 13 to age 20. My personal reasons I think had a lot to do with health. Sort of personal choice. There was a moment at age 20 when I decided that it was the right thing for me, healthfully, to eat meat again. And I haven’t gone back.

SFBG What is the most adventurous meat eating experience you’ve had?

SW Well, what I think is really interesting about adventurous meat eating is it’s so much to do with your head and so little to do with your palate. I think the idea of some of these extreme meats is frightening to a lot of people, but the reality is not. I suppose in terms of an extreme meat idea, Amy and I had duck fries at Incanto Restaurant.

SFBG Duck what?

SW Duck fries. Which is a euphemism for testicles. Chris Cosentino, who wrote the recipe for beef heart for [Meat Paper] — that’s his restaurant. The idea of [duck fries] is so extreme; the reality is very mild. They looked like big kidney beans, and they tasted like little sausages.

SFBG As someone who eats meat, do you feel there are moral ramifications and karmic and moral weight to eating meat?

SW This is a tough one. I’m not sure I want to go all the way there about my own choices. But I think it’s complicated. On one level it feels like an uncomfortable thing that an animal should have to die for me to eat. On the other hand, I see myself in a lineage of a species that has existed, you know, forever, eating meat. These are contradictory things, and sometimes it’s a moral tug-of-war. It’s something that I think about a lot. People assume that because I edit a magazine about meat that I’m eating bacon and sausages [all the time]. Actually, I am going to a salami tasting tonight. But I don’t eat meat three meals a day.


Talking points


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

The two women invited to a mysterious dinner party in the American Conservatory Theater–commissioned Brainpeople have no idea why they’re there. For some time we’re not sure why we are either. After detouring into the uncharacteristically straightforward screenplays of The Motorcycle Diaries and Trade, playwright José Rivera is back in quirky magic-realist overdrive. Too much of this 80-minute one-act feels propelled by a willful eccentricity less delightful than pointless. There is a point, though — and it’s worth the wait.

Dressed-to-kill beauty Mayannah (Lucia Brawley) has summoned two houseguests to her Los Angeles manse, which is heavily fortified against the violent police state outside. Both are promised substantial monetary reward for their attendance, though it seems all they’ve got to do is arrive (via armored limo) and enjoy "the meal of your lives."

This must be too good to be true. Garrulous wallflower Ani (Sona Tatoyan) voices our suspicions by nervously inquiring if the huge platter o’ mystery meat is, er, people. (It ain’t, but it is something equally seldom masticated.) Fellow guest Rosemary (Rene Augesen) doesn’t care what it is — she is hungry. She also displays odd shifts in mood and accent, soon exposed as a whole cacophonous chorus of schizoid "brainpeople" taking turns à la Sybil with her body and behavior.

In Daniel Ostling’s creepy-elegant dining room set, beautifully lit by Paul Whitaker, all three women reveal their demons via flamboyant yet unfelt monologues. Augesen in particular contorts through multivoice fireworks more actor punitive than audience rewarding. But Rivera and director Chay Yew’s premiere production are heading somewhere. When the "miracle" Mayannah hoped would occur this evening does, performers and play transcend all prior filigreed excess. Brainpeople ends on a sustained grace note that’s unsettling, poignant, and haunting.


There’s just one woman’s voice revealing all in Curvy Widow, the Cybill Shepherd showcase that’s opened here after a reportedly very rough Atlanta tryout and considerable retooling. But it’s the kind that can suck air out of a room all by itself.

A first playwriting effort by Bobby Goldman, widow of stage and screen writer James Goldman (The Lion in Winter), this plotless autobiographical monologue is the precise equivalent of an experience everybody suffers sometime: you’re stuck with that worst-case-scenario stranger who views every social contact as a passive admirer to regale with dazzling banter about their adventures, knowledge, professional stature, and general fabulousness. Yet all you’re hearing is the deafening roar of hot air. Under such circumstances even an elevator ride can seem interminable. Curvy Widow is 90 minutes long.

Shepherd’s "character" (the program leaves no doubt that Goldman "IS The Curvy Widow") is a 57-year-old professional fixer who does everything from choose furniture to chase squirrels out of the house, enabling other rich folk to do zilch for themselves. Her meant-to-be-hilarious dating travails include many descriptions of men who are rude, unattractive, "dumb as posts," or otherwise less than worthy of her. But just what does the widow deserve? Not jury duty, vaginal dryness, or various other complaints that amazingly made it into this revised script. It’s true men get away easier with being pushy and abrasive — they’re "ballsy," not "bitchy." But when women like Goldman and (in interviews) Shepherd celebrate having those qualities as empowerment, are they inverting a stereotype or just making excuses for being spoiled jerks?

There are a handful of funny lines, plus others Shepherd sells as funny. One can’t really blame her mostly awkward performance, Scott Schwartz’s direction, or the ugly physical production for everything else. You want to tell the Curvy Widow, "Shaddap and get a vibrator." But she already has an autopleaser. This play is the ultimate act of self-love.


Thurs/14–Sat/16, 8 p.m. (also Sat/16, 2 p.m.), $12.50–$20.50


221 Fourth St., SF

(415) 749-2228



Through March 9

Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m. (also Sat., 3 p.m.); Sun., 3 and 7 p.m.; $50–$75

Post Street Theatre

450 Post, second floor, SF

(415) 771-6900

Your funny Valentines


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER "It’s 60 percent embarrassing and 40 percent hot. And the hotness is derived from how embarrassing it is. Or maybe that’s just me."

Talkin’ ’bout Valentine’s Day, the big VD, that bad case of lovin’ you, with a digest-to-impress din-din and a small but meaningful token of my esteem. Specifically, Club Neon organizer Jamie Guzzi, a.k.a. DJ Jamie Jams, is speaking of Club Neon’s fourth annual Valentine’s Underwear Party.

Yep, I know you know good times sans culottes have been happening for aeons — years, even — on a, ahem, more informal basis, way before Fuse TV’s Pants-Off Dance-Off. But guarens, it’ll be way sweeter and sexier at Club Neon: the first year at the Hush Hush, in 2003, "people were pretty tentative, and there were still lurkers," Guzzi says. "When you hear about these sorts of events, it’s more of a creepier crowd. When people first hear about it, they think it’s a Power Exchange or more Burning Man kind of thing — a lot of people you don’t want to see in underwear leering at each other. But this is a more indie crowd, and the kids are all cute and twee, and everyone shows up in American Apparel underwear." At least the clothing company’s soft tease is good for something more than selling terry cloth hot pants: vive le thunderwear as social equalizer!

"When you’ve got a couple hundred people in underwear, it’s pretty hard to front," Guzzi says, explaining that the idea emerged after he got frustrated with kids dressed to the nines vibing one another. The bonus: once stripped down at Club Neon’s key soiree, Guzzi claims, "you end up realizing that a lot of your friends are way cute. It shuffles the deck in terms of who’s attractive!"

And thank St. Valentine for dynamos like Guzzi. Sour grapes, bitter pills, badasses, bummed punks, gloomy goths, and hardcore realists have long realized all holidays have become co-opted as multimillion-dollar promotional vehicles to buy more, by playing off residual guilt, goodwill, or simply that overarching existential emptiness concerning life’s perpetual gerbil wheel. But what if you decide to suspend disbelief and descend into the commercialized maelstrom, mindfully participating in the recommended shopping, wining, and dining rituals? You’re accustomed to rocking outside the system, so what to do with your bad self when you need back in? Still no reservations? I’ve got a few ideas for every subculty cutie.

Indie Rock Ian Grub: fixed with a laid-back bike ride to Bernal Heights’ MaggieMudd for Mallow Out! vegan cones. Gift: an all-show pass to the Noise Pop or Mission Creek music fest or a steamy copy of the baby-making Juno soundtrack.

Hyphy Heather Grub: grind down on maple syrup–braised short ribs at the bupscale 1300 on Fillmore. Or for old times’ sake, snatch Sunday brunch at the latest Powell’s Place in Bayview (2246 Jerrold) now that gospel star Emmitt Powell has been forced to relocate. Gift: she voted for Barack Obama, but today she’ll swoon for Mac Dre’s Pill Clinton (Thizz Ent., 2007).

Metal Sven Grub: pick up a nice red wine and some stinky cheese for a Mountain View Cemetery picnic in Oakland — pretend you’re downing the fresh blood and putrid flesh of virgins. Gift: Santa Cruz combo Decrepit Birth’s Diminishing Between Worlds (Unique Leader) inspires … birth control.

Techno Cal Grub: nibble sour plum, shiso, and flaxseed sushi and other vegan Japanese delights at Medicine New-Shojin Eatstation. Gift: avert your eyes from the Versace boutique on your way outta the Crocker Galleria minimall, and here you go, the Field’s From Here We Go Sublime (Kompakt, 2007)

Country Kat Grub: fried rabbit — oh hell, we’re in former cow country, go for the porterhouse at the deliciously ’40s-western retro-authentic Hayward Ranch. Tip the blue-haired waitress well — she’s gotta have the patience of St. Val to deal with you two after your fourth Bloody Mary. Gift: seal the deal with Queen of the Coast (Bear Family, 2007), a four-CD box set of tunes by Bonnie Owens, who stole both Buck Owens’s and Merle Haggard’s hearts.

Jam Band Jessie Grub: grab your nut cream at Café Gratitude and chase each other around the table with wheatgrass shots. New game: if you don’t make me utter the goofy menu item names, I will be grateful. Gift: crash into the Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio City Music Hall Blu-ray DVD (Sony, 2007).

So hurry up and give your favorite pop tot some love — or you just might find yourself without on VD.


With DJs Jamie Jams, Emdee, Little Melanie, and Aiadan

Thurs/14, 9 p.m., $5

Make-Out Room

3225 22nd St., SF



J’adore Dengue Fever’s new Venus on Earth (M80), and the band provides the perfect post-love-in aperitif with Sleepwalking Through the Mekong. The John Pirozzi documentary on the Los Angeles combo’s trip to Cambodia ended up involving more than anyone anticipated. "Every contact was, like, ‘Don’t worry about anything! Just show up! Everything will be great!’<0x2009>" tour mastermind and bassist Senon Williams explains. "We’d be, like, ‘Where are we playing?’ ‘I don’t know. Just show up!’ So we were all nervous going over there. We had all our instruments, but we needed amplifiers and PAs and a crowd to play to." Fortunately, Dengue Fever were quickly booked to appear on Cambodian Television Network, and a two-song turn mushroomed into 10 numbers and a two-hour appearance. "Instantly, we became famous across the country," Williams tells me, "because everyone watches TV there."


Fri/15, 9:30 p.m.; Sat/16, 12:30 p.m.; $10.50

Victoria Theatre

2961 16th St., SF


On the waterfront: an epic


The city of night on a night of rain still offers its spectacles, and one of them must be the Bay Bridge as viewed from Epic Roasthouse, the brand-new restaurant (starring Pat Kuleto and Jan Birnbaum) that, with its sibling, Waterbar, sits on the narrow strip of land between the Embarcadero and the water. The bridge soars through the mists overhead, like the arc of a rainbow, and one has the sense of inspecting it — peeking at its underbelly, as if at a used car that might or might not be leaking coolant.

Not even a generation ago this neighborhood was entombed by an overhead freeway, and when Boulevard opened in the Audiffred Building just a few blocks away in 1993, the Embarcadero consisted mostly of granulated, ghost-town asphalt. But the visionaries could see what was bound to happen — what indeed was already happening, slowly but inexorably, because of the 1989 earthquake — and in that crumbled pavement a farmers market took root. Eventually it found a home in the resurrected Ferry Building, while on other plots of land liberated from elevated-freeway strangulation, hotels and parks and housing developments sprouted; restaurants too. What was an urban wilderland is now a glossy district both commercial and residential, a crown for the city, with a couple of gaudy new jewels.

Like all view restaurants, Epic Roasthouse is bound to attract tourists, both out-of-towners and suburbanites, but it also stands to develop a city constituency. Although parking in the area is hellish, Muni’s T line stops just steps away, and meanwhile, the blocks immediately behind the waterfront are filling up with residential towers, which will soon fill up with people of means who will be able to walk over to the Embarcadero for dinner.

With all due respect to the bicycle lobbies, the great city pleasure is walking — and the great luxury of our time is also walking, since it frees us from the tyranny of machines, at least if we’re not listening to an iPod or yakking into a cell phone as we stroll. Walking to or from work? Priceless! Walking to or from Epic Roasthouse? Also priceless, with appetite kindled on the inbound leg and calories usefully spent on the other.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Robert Moses Kin’ and Black Choreographers Festival


PREVIEW In February, as the days start getting longer again, two things come to mind: Black History Month summons deep reflections, and all of that extra light brings the advent of fresh views. In the Bay Area no better example of clear-sighted perspectives can be found than in the work of the Robert Moses’ Kin company and from the codirectors of the fourth Black Choreographers Festival: Here and Now, Kendra Kimbrough Barnes and Laura Elaine Ellis. Moses starts his two-week season at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on Feb. 14, while the Barnes-Ellis team is entering its festival’s second half at Project Artaud Theater in San Francisco.

From Moses, be prepared for a smaller company of six dancers performing in a brand-new program that includes three world premieres and a revival of 2007’s Rose (set to Beethoven), which is new to San Francisco. In addition to choreographing, the prodigious Moses also created the score for one of the evening’s pieces, Reflections on an Approaching Thought. In step with the company’s tradition of addressing social issues, the program’s Consent delves into the ethics of medical experimentation on poor people.

The Black Choreographers Festival has scheduled three lineups spanning work representative of the African diaspora — jazz, African, Afro-Brazilian — as well as modern and dance theater. If you have never seen site-specific choreographer Joanna Haigood and her Zaccho Youth Group, from the Bayview neighborhood, don’t miss them on the afternoon of Feb. 17. They are exceptional young artists.

ROBERT MOSES’ KIN Thurs/14–Sat/16 and Feb. 20–23, 8 p.m.; Sun/17 and Feb. 24, 2 p.m.; $23–$26. Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California, SF. (415) 292-1233, www.jccsf.org

BLACK CHOREOGRAPHERS FESTIVAL Fri/15–Sat/16, 8 p.m.; Sun/17, 3 and 7 p.m.; $10–$20. Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida, SF. (415) 863-9834, (510) 801-4523, www.bcfhereandnow.com

Uri Caine and Friends


PREVIEW The versatile jazz pianist Uri Caine has carved a niche for himself as a fearless interpreter of classical music. His discography includes idiosyncratic recordings of music by Mozart, Beethoven, J.S. Bach, Mahler, and Wagner. In 2006 he began to investigate Hungarian folk music at the source, delving into Béla Bartók’s original field recordings of village performances, documented on wax cylinders in the early 20th century. While Caine notes that some aspects of the music are tough to translate into Western terms, given the inflection and distinctly unsquare rhythms of traditional dances, the melodic material serves as an ideal springboard for his brand of agile improvisation. For his Feb. 16 performance, Caine and his ensemble visit Hungary’s distant musical territory with no pretension to exact authenticity. It’s a good hook, considering both Caine’s credentials and the local craze for Eastern European traditions, with Balkan brass bands and Roma-inspired DJs abounding. It will be exciting to hear Caine explore this expansive concept with artful and inspired clarinetist Chris Speed and respected long-time contributors to the adventurous downtown New York improvisational scene drummer Jim Black, violinist Joyce Hamman, and bassist John Hebert. Even if their distinctive flavors take a moment to blend, these are the ingredients for a good stew. Caine will round out his visit to the Bay Area with a solo piano performance and discussion at the Community Music Center in the Mission District, free of charge.

URI CAINE Fri/15, 6 p.m., free. Community Music Center, 544 Capp, SF. (415) 647-6015, www.sfcmc.org

URI CAINE AND FRIENDS Sat/16, 8 p.m., $27–$39. Herbst Theatre, War Memorial Veterans Bldg., 401 Van Ness, SF. (415) 392-2545, www.performances.org

Dub trio


PREVIEW Let’s say you’re a fan of dub — the remixed reggae subgenre pioneered by the studio experimentalism of King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry — and I say to you, "Hey, come over. You have to hear this new dub CD I’ve got." Excited, but in a laid-back, dubby way, you roll a semistereotypical joint and skate down to my place on a longboard with big, soft wheels, smoking all the way. I throw on Another Sound Is Dying (Ipecac), the new Dub Trio CD. Immediately bombarded by crunchy guitar riffs and a distorted, growling bass line reminiscent of New York noise mavens Unsane, you become confused. Why the fuck is this metal record harshing my mellow?

Dub Trio — three spot-on musicians whose lists of recent session work reads like a who’s who of putf8um hip-hop artists — eventually work island rhythms and delayed reggae riffing into the album, which may or may not bring your buzz back, Smokey. Yet the band is most true to the core idea of dub — the experimental manipulation of sound — in its willingness to destroy it, to go beyond the confines of traditionally dubable reggae material and say, "Fuck it, we can do a dub of this and that too." The trio’s ambition, their sheer steeze to take the chains off the dub aesthetic, makes them fascinating, if not brilliant, and they go from nut-crunching sludge riffs to long, loping chill-outs without flinching. "What the guys in the beginning of dub were doing in the studio, we try to bring that element and re-create that concept live," drummer Joe Tomino said over the phone from New York City.

They stay true to the roots of dub in a wild new way: each band member controls effects for everyone else’s instruments as well as their own. Which means Dub Trio’s 12 Galaxies show will be a must-see: these guys can’t just sleep through the same set every night. They’ve got to be on it, reacting to and changing the music as it’s being made. "It’s a constant way of thinking as one and listening to exactly what’s happening onstage," Tomino said, "so you don’t get in the way of the conversation or dialogue that’s happening."

DUB TRIO With Foreign Island and Hour of Worship. Fri/15, 9 p.m., $12. 12 Galaxies, 2565 Mission, SF. (415) 970-9777, www.12galaxies.com



REVIEW A semisequel to writer-director Eric Byler’s 2002 debut feature, Charlotte Sometimes, this low-key but quietly devastating relationship meltdown in the mode of Harold Pinter and Neil LaBute is his best work to date. Tre (Daniel Cariaga) is a burly, shaved-headed, aggro personality who burns rubber driving drunk and reckless one night to the Santa Monica Mountains house of longtime bud Gabe (Erik McDowell) and his girlfriend, Kakela (Kimberly-Rose Wolter). On the run from yet another bridge burned, Tre’s irked to find the guesthouse already occupied — by prickly Nina (Alix Koromzay), who has just left her husband. It’s dislike at first sight for the two temporary residents: she’s tightly wound, and he likes to push people’s buttons for the hell of it. Yet in Byler and Wolter’s screenplay, that negative spark doesn’t at all preclude their ending up in bed — it might even hasten the event. Meanwhile, Tre embarks on an even more perverse path, playing on rudderless trust funder Kakela’s self-doubts to seduce her away from the trusting, oblivious Gabe. Does this angry thirtysomething slacker antihero ("I reject the notion that a steady job makes me successful and a college degree makes me smart," he protests) simply see her as another female meal ticket? Is he really interested in her? Or is his agenda some complicated, half-acknowledged result of feelings of resentment and possessiveness toward his best friend? Tense and ambiguous, with sharp character detailing and explanatory background spaces left artfully blank, this is the kind of cunning, sardonic psychological study that pays off in grim affirmation of the worst suspicions about human nature. See it with someone you want to break up with.

TRE Opens Fri/15 at the Four Star Theater. See Movie Clock at sfbg.com



HOT CHOCOLATES In honor of Valentine’s Day, the official holiday of chocolatiers (and florists, and jewelers, and marriage counselors) nationwide, I’m giving you a list of some of my favorite places to get your chocolate on — for Feb. 14 and beyond.

Democratic candidates: eat me So food has always been political — is it genetically-modified-organism free? Farmed fairly? Packaged responsibly? — but this is something else altogether. Designer Chocolate (www.designerchocolate.org) wraps its 100 percent natural chocolate in either Hillary Clinton– or Barack Obama–themed paper, complete with photos and quotes. I don’t feel qualified to say which candidate tastes better.

Fair trade truffles Love humankind as much as you love chocolate? You’re in luck. Global Exchange (4018 24th St., SF; 415-648-8068; 2840 College, Berk.; 510-548-0370; store.gxonlinestore.org) has a full selection of certified fair trade and organic chocolate, from special holiday versions (like the Fair Trade Valentine’s Day Action Kit for $15) to year-round delights (like the Chocoholics Gift Basket for $75), including offerings from Divine, the world’s first farmer-owned fair trade chocolate brand.

Design within reach (of your mouth) When it’s just as important for the chocolate you buy to be pretty as it is for it to be delicious, Richart Chocolate (393 Sutter, SF; 415-291-9600, www.richart-chocolates.com) is the only place worth looking. These tiny rectangular delights come marked with classic, understated designs like swirls, polka dots, flowers, and geometric shapes and in creative flavors like licorice ganache, thyme praline, and ginger. They’re almost too pretty to eat … almost.

A pint of pleasure It might possibly be the second most brilliant idea anyone ever had: pairing beer with chocolate. The most brilliant? A whole festival dedicated to the two. And the Beer and Chocolate festival (Feb. 15, 8 p.m., $90; Cathedral Hill Hotel, 1101 Van Ness, SF; www.beer-chef.com) is no PBR–and–Hershey’s kisses kind of affair. Oh no. We’re talking a four-course dinner with items like roasted quail with chocolate port sauce served with Koningshoeven Bock. Do I hear last-minute Valentine’s Day plans being made?

“Lautrec in Leather: Chuck Arnett and the San Francisco Scene”


REVIEW The clean-cut man in the portrait looks straight ahead with knowing eyes, his leather jacket open — an invitation, perhaps? — revealing a muscular torso and chest, on which is tattooed a purple butterfly. The painting’s mix of leather and a little lace sums up much of the art and life of Chuck Arnett, a habitué and documenter of the leather bar scene during gay liberation’s golden age in the 1960s through the late ’70s.

The majority of Arnett’s work was inspired by and made for the bars and back rooms he frequented. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll are unapologetically front and center, a potent mix reflected in styles that veer wildly from rough sketches of men fucking in bathhouses to carefully executed psychedelic oils. The surviving fragments and photos of Arnett’s large-scale painted murals for the original Stud, the Tool Box, and the Detour — and related ephemera like patchwork wall hangings of tanned scraps instructing "Eat It!" — not only tell the story of Arnett’s transformation from Southern ballet sissy to acid-dropping public-sex advocate but also illustrate the radical changes the gay community underwent between The Wild One (1953), Stonewall, and Harvey Milk’s murder.

Arnett’s national coming-out as a painter arrived when Life included a photograph of his Tool Box mural in its landmark 1964 spread "Homosexuality in America": the bar’s leather-clad denizens mirrored Arnett’s black-and-white swathe of butch fauna. Five years later Arnett would quote himself in a massive Day-Glo mural for the Stud — sadly, reproduced in photo only: a panorama in which Marlon Brando clones warp into a cosmic chessboard dominated by an American Indian and a Sahasrara chakra. In a corner of the piece one surviving component is an appropriately phallic biker, whose badge says what could have served as Arnett’s maxim: "Freak Freely."

LAUTREC IN LEATHER: CHUCK ARNETT AND THE SAN FRANCISCO SCENE Through April 26. Tues.–Sat., 1–5 p.m. GLBT Historical Society, 657 Mission, no. 300, SF. (415) 777-5455, www.glbthistory.org

Shocked, G?


When I first heard Digital Underground in 1989, via "The Humpty Dance," little did I imagine it would someday fall to me to announce the group’s end. After a 20-year run — including five albums, one EP, one rarities disc, solo albums by Shock-G and Money B, and a helluva lot of touring — DU are calling it quits. Their Feb. 22 show at the Red Devil Lounge may be your last opportunity to see these putf8um Bay Area OGs. You’d be a fool to miss it: their shows are a cut above most live-rap, P-Funk-style fests, driven by Shock’s keyboards and an endless array of MCs, including, at one time, 2pac himself.

"Every group from [Public Enemy] to the Stones has experienced a hiatus, some straight-up fallouts," says Shock, a.k.a. Humpty Hump, on the phone from Los Angeles. "I think we hold the record for longest harmonious run without a breakup. I gave it a loyal 20 years — ya can’t be mad at that."

Despite the lack of internal beef, however, Shock’s decision to disband DU is both personal and artistic. Constant touring, for example, has taken its toll, particularly with the group’s partying reputation.

"The energy was gettin’ bad," Shock concedes. "Both the group and the audience were becoming a bunch of alcoholics. That means it’s time for a break.

"I did several sober shows over the past few years, like 1 in every 10. However, when I suggested this to the band, everyone looked at me like I’m crazy, as if I suggested doing the show naked!"

Even more pressing, however, is Shock’s desire to expand as an artist, musically and otherwise.

"I’ve always wanted to give serious musicianship a shot," he says, "to sit down at the piano like a jazz musician and do complicated arrangements and improvisations with other musicians. But it’s hard to be fully present anywhere when I’m outta town every weekend to do DU shows."

While Shock confirms he has about two albums’ worth of unreleased DU he’ll eventually drop and doesn’t rule out the possibility of a reunion — "Ask me in five years," he says — for now he wants to direct his energies in nonmusical directions.

"I wanna go down to Hollywood and see what it do: voice-overs, comedic acting, films, TV — stuff I never had time for from recording and touring. For the first time since 1987, I have time to commit to something else. I’m excited.

"I used to use George Clinton, Sting, and RZA as my models," he concludes. "Now I plan to be more Ice Cube, more Puffy, more Jamie Foxx, more wherever I wanna be."


Feb. 22, 8 p.m., $20

Red Devil Lounge

1695 Polk, SF



Drink, then Swallows


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

When Jon Miller was a boy, his parents pulled off an impressive trick: convincing him there was beauty to be found on the New Jersey Turnpike. Wondering, as any hopeful naïf might, about the strange fogs puffing from roadside refineries, the lad was given a celestial explanation. Those were, he was told, cloud machines.

Miller is old enough now to be a bit more suspicious of Garden State industrial output, but that entrancing image gets new life as the title of his second record with Portland, Ore., duo Swallows. The pair, Miller on drums and pal Em Brownlowe covering vocals and guitar, have been honing a sinewy turn on Pacific Northwest alt-rock since 2003. They call it garage pop, but that term feels too claustrophobic, too sweaty for the sound they develop on their Cloud Machines EP (Church of Girl, 2007). The previous Swallows effort, Me with Trees Towering (Cherchez la Femme Projects, 2006), was fairly sludgy, with guitars thrust forward in the mix and Brownlowe’s piercing vocals left to fight it out from the rear. Cloud Machines is no less textural, but it is largely free of such gridlock. Its filthy space is bigger. Put a warehouse or a factory in front of that pop.

But be sure to keep calling it pop. Cloud Machines‘ intrigue stems from the cohabitation it gins up: cheery American melody making keeps its shape amid angular chord charts and sharp vocal tones. On lead track "Anchors," Brownlowe has moments of channeling Patti Smith, but she’s also describing how she’ll kick out the jam: "Start to move your feet / Jon’s gonna find his beat / And it’ll burn the house down." Much like its titular image, which envisions a utopia on dystopia’s home turf, the record gets fantasy and disaffection all mingled up.

I asked Miller and Brownlowe about this, and they confirmed that their songs are meant not just as tracks but as ditties. Brownlowe copped to aiming for "memorable and catchy" music: "stick in your head"–type cuts. But on this point, even the band isn’t sure where the parody ends and the sincerity begins. Brownlowe related how the most sugary track here, "When You’re in Love," initially started as a "mockumentary" dashed off as a joke with her girlfriend. Portland bands, after all, do not sing things like "When you’re in love, nothing else matters / When you’re in love, you smell the flowers." But then she showed the gag to Miller, and "he wanted to write a verse too," she said.

The vocals are key to Swallows’ evolution on Cloud Machines, but equally crucial are Miller’s increasingly adventurous drums. The group’s earlier songs hint at impatience with straight-ahead rock rhythms — both "Words of Love" and "Pulsar Heart Attack" from Me with Trees Towering include unorthodox tom-tom rumbles — and tradition has now been pretty thoroughly dismissed. The beats of Swallows 2.0 almost encroach on world music territory, an effect increased by Miller’s out-of-order kit and unusual tuning. He claims to have copied his intervals from "Three Blind Mice," but whatever manual he’s using, it’s effective. On album closer "Language Is Restless," for example, he uses shifty rhythms to leave the melody unmoored and adrift, cleverly scrambling our wish for a quick fix.

All of this sullied pop got me thinking about another image, complementary to those merry smokestacks, that Brownlowe detailed in an e-mail about Swallows’ early days. When she and Miller first began playing together — in a "dank practice space in the industrial part of Portland run by a crazy alcoholic stoner" — they cut an EP as Dirty Shirley, a reference to the vodka-laced Shirley Temples that fueled the sessions. Other bands just have beers. These two had to spike a nonalcoholic drink.


With Agent Ribbons and the Moral Tourists

Feb. 22, 9:30 p.m. doors, $5

Edinburgh Castle Pub

950 Geary, SF

(415) 885-4074



With Agent Ribbons and Light Peaks

Feb. 24, 9:30 p.m., $6

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923


The return of the return of the DJ


Born from the ashes of New York hip-hop DJ supergroup the X-ecutioners and from a frustration with the current state of turntablism, Ill Insanity are on a mission to return the art of the DJ to its former glory.

Composed of ex-X-ecutioners Rob Swift and Total Eclipse along with younger inductee DJ Precision, the turntable trio have just released their progressive scratch music debut, Ground Xero, on Fat Beats, which includes among its turntable guests fellow former X man Roc Raida, plus Excess and DJ Q-Bert.

Ill Insanity’s ongoing national tour, which stops in San Francisco on Feb. 21 for a performance and a workshop at Guitar Center and a party-rocking throw-down at Levende Lounge, seems less like a jaunt and more like a crusade to its three impassioned turntable ambassadors.

"This is the beginning of us taking the art form back," Rob Swift said, sounding something like one of the Marvel Comics heroes from which his original group, the X-Men, took their name. "And I feel that we are putting it on our shoulders to show people that this is real creative music. And we are educating people about this art form because it seems to me like no one else is really doing it right now."

Speaking a few weeks ago at Swift’s Queens, NY, apartment, which also serves as the group’s recording studio and rehearsal space, the trio had gathered to mourn what they see as a creative lull in the art of turntablism and to prepare for its pending renaissance.

"Basically we were all bored with music, and that’s what brought us together," Total Eclipse said. All three agreed that for several years now DJ battles, traditionally the barometers gauging the advancement of the turntable art form, have been in a decline. "There has been a really poor attendance at DJ battles for the past five years, especially here in the US," said Precision, the 2007 USA DMC Finals DJ battle champion. "And it’s because the art form has slipped so much."

Part of this artistic stagnation, they believe, is because DJs of recent years have been satisfied with merely imitating instead of trying to innovate. "The younger DJs are too caught up with looking up to what came before, so they stop practicing when they master that trick that QBert or whoever has already done years ago," Swift said, "and consequently now everyone is sounding the same."

Precision jumped in: "And a lot of them don’t even know the complete history of the DJ, like that Steve Dee created beat juggling."

In performance Ill Insanity’s setup includes five turntables, three mixers, and computers to operate the Serato program. "What we are trying to do is to use the new technology without dumbing down the art," Swift insisted. "We have much respect for what came before us, still applying the skills of Grandmaster Flash, party-rocking, and so on…. But we’re saying, ‘Let’s do a 2008 version of what’s already been done in the past.’<0x2009>"

And as for the future of turntablism? Swift is optimistic: "There could be a kind of DJ revolution again. I predict that in a couple of years things will go back to the way they were." (Billy Jam)


Feb. 21, 6 p.m. performance and workshop, free

Guitar Center

1645 Van Ness, SF

(415) 409-0350


Love on the road — and on the page


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Dean Wareham mainly remembers his last San Francisco performance for a "botched guitar solo." Though the alleged incident was hardly a blip during the seductive show he and wife Britta Phillips delivered with their band, he promises on the phone from New York City, "It won’t happen again."

We’ll see. Dean and Britta come back to San Francisco to play Yoshi’s with French postmodern chanteuse Keren Ann in the first nonjazz performance at the tony new venue on Fillmore.

Wareham met bassist-vocalist Phillips in 2000 when he was first considering leaving Luna, a band he fronted for 10 years and eight albums. She replaced longtime Luna member Justin Harwood, piquing Wareham’s interest in keeping the group together — at least for a little while.

"I was thinking, ‘I’m just not sure I want to do it without Justin,’" Wareham recalls.

Not only did he feel his longtime friend and bassist’s departure was a sign to move on, but the music business had entered a funk that had the modestly popular but hugely respected band scrambling for a label. Wareham wasn’t really a happy camper.

"Then Britta joined the band, and I have to say if I’m being honest with myself that that made it fun again," he says.

Indeed. The intriguing, siren-voiced Phillips was already something of a cult figure when she joined Luna, having gained notoriety as the singing voice of animated TV character Jem.

Wareham thinks the last two Luna records made with Phillips, Romantica and Rendezvous (Jetset; 2002, 2004), are two of the best from the group, which mainly developed its music together.

"We would be in a rehearsal studio playing electric guitars so it was a louder thing," Wareham says. "Someone would have an idea that we would just play again and again."

Luna played their final concert at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City on Feb. 28, 2005.

In contrast, Dean and Britta make silkier, sexier pop, though their first recording together, 2003’s L’Avventura (Jetset), started as a Wareham solo project that Phillips gradually became a part of. "Neither one of us really knew what we were doing," Wareham explains. "It was going to be all covers and then, bit by bit, sort of transformed into something else." The album encompasses an eclectic batch of songs by other writers — the Doors’ "Indian Summer," Madonna’s "I Deserve It," Buffy St. Marie’s "Moonshot" — but the couple’s intimate sound became defined by Wareham’s "Night Nurse" and two outrageously seductive Phillips originals, "Out Walking" and "Your Baby," as the couple’s vocals purr through floating washes of strings and vibes courtesy of producer Tony Visconti.

Wareham concedes last year’s Back Numbers (Zoe) was more thought-out. "We probably had a better plan, and more of it was recorded at home," he says. "The record was built brick by brick in the studio. Then we have to learn to play the songs live, which makes it quite a challenge, actually." The couple took time to get married when producer Visconti left to work on a Morrissey album in England.

Indie-rock gossip hounds might be interested to know that Wareham and Phillips didn’t become a couple immediately after they met — and they kept it on the down low even after they hooked up. Wareham promises to tell all in his new memoir, Black Postcards, which will be published by Penguin in March. "The dirt is going to be out there soon," he deadpans with a laugh. The frontman seems circumspect in conversation, though he also clearly strives for as much honesty as propriety allows.

"It covers a lot of personal stuff," he adds.

The writing was difficult for Wareham, and he likens the two-year process to a "very long therapy session," albeit one in which they pay you instead of the other way around.

"Obviously I’m used to writing, but when you write lyrics they can be cryptic and you don’t really need to reveal very much of yourself. Sometimes you might, but you can pretend something’s about you or it’s about someone else. This was a different kettle of fish," he says.

He believes people may be surprised by what he chooses to reveal, particularly fans of his first band, Galaxie 500, who thought he was "such a nice boy," as he puts it. "There will probably be some people who are disgusted with my behavior, but," he says, sighing, "oh well."


With Keren Ann

Mon/18, 8 p.m., $18–$22

Yoshi’s San Francisco

1330 Fillmore, SF

(415) 655-5600


To be, or to be autonauts


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW Certain travelogues can be likened to love letters to a destination, though rarely does actual romance play a part in their construction. But when acclaimed postmodern Argentine author Julio Cortázar took to the road with his third wife, Carol Dunlop, it was a journey precipitated by mutual fondness as much as a desire for discovery.

In Autonauts of the Cosmoroute (Archipelago Books, 354 pages, $20) an author best known for his nonsequential opus Hopscotch and collections of surreal short stories approaches the task of travel with the same whimsy and contradiction that characterize his literary oeuvre. Setting out on a pseudoscientific expedition to map the freeway between Paris and Marseilles, a distance of approximately 500 miles, Cortázar (nicknamed El Lobo) and the Canadian Dunlop (La Osita) spend a full 33 days en route, confining themselves to two rest stops per day.

Diligently recording their every meal, the time and temperature, and the specifics of local flora and fauna, the two intrepids further intersperse their daily log reports with expository musings on the nature of games, perception, and existence; fictitious letters from a fellow freeway traveler; and sweetly sincere tributes to their May-December romance. From Dunlop: "This genus of wolf is capable of the worst insanities, which are usually the most beautiful." From Cortázar: "My new day, my reason to live a new day."

Whether perused as an exploration of the external world or a map to an interior one, Anne McLean’s translation of Autonauts of the Cosmoroute compels the reader to examine the minutiae of the mundane with the microscope of wonderment. Reveling in inconsistency, El Lobo and La Osita aim not to simply bridge distances but to illuminate them. Their unique approach is perhaps best espoused by Cortázar, who apocryphally quotes another, unnamed metaphysician: "When you concentrate your attention in that gap, in the void between two objects … then at that one moment, you see reality."

Wherefore art thou, Romero?


On returning to his independent filmmaking roots: When we made [1968’s Night of the Living Dead] we were just a bunch of young people in Pittsburgh. We had a commercial production company, so we had our own equipment, and we audaciously decided that we should go out and make a movie. So the first one was real guerrilla filmmaking — but actually the first five or six films that I made were completely independent. After Dawn of the Dead [1978] we hooked up with a distributor-production company, and they financed us to some bigger budgets. But even those films were independent. There was a period when I was courted by Hollywood and made a couple of studio pictures and was getting very discouraged. Finally, the last zombie film that I made, Land of the Dead [2005], was for Universal. And they really let me alone — they let me make that movie. But it was a grueling process. And I realized, "Man, this is all getting too big. It’s approaching Thunderdome here." I felt this incredible disconnect with the roots, with where it all came from. I really wanted to throttle down and back up and see if I had the energy and the chops to go do another really low-budget film. I needed to revitalize myself.

On the trend of movies using the self-filming technique: I haven’t seen Cloverfield. Redacted, I guess, was similar. Vantage Point I haven’t seen. I thought that we would be the originators of it, but now I guess I have to say we’re part of a trend. I think there’s some kind of collective subconscious — all the world has a camera these days. I think it’s rather obvious for fiction writers, filmmakers, whatever, to take note of that and use it. It’s pretty scary, this blogosphere — man, you just wonder who’s out there throwing up all these ideas.

On finding truth in the media, be it mainstream or underground: To me that’s the argument that’s central to [Diary of the Dead]. When there were three networks, sure, [the news] was all being managed and controlled and spun, no doubt. Now it’s completely unmanaged. And it’s not even necessarily all information — it’s opinions, viewpoints. Anybody could get on there with any kind of an idea and find followers. That’s what spooks me. What would you rather have: it being controlled but not be insightful, or would you rather have this chaos? And I don’t have the answer to that. I almost blame the public more than anybody else for being suckered into it and not bothering to do their own homework. People would rather have somebody tell them the way it is, and go along with it.

On the living dead: The zombies, to me, don’t represent anything except the disaster. They could be a hurricane. They could be an approaching asteroid. My stories have always been about the people and how they respond or fail to respond or respond improperly — and keep trying to preserve the world as they knew it instead of readjusting to whatever these changes are on the planet. The zombies are just zombies. They’re the reason that I can get these movies made. They’re the fun part of it! But to me, they don’t represent anything in particular.



› cheryl@sfbg.com

George A. Romero’s new movie, Diary of the Dead, isn’t really by Romero. It’s not even called Diary of the Dead. It’s actually called The Death of Death, and it’s by ambitious student filmmaker Jason (Joshua Close), who happens to already be shooting a horror movie when zombie o’ clock rolls around. At least that’s the conceit of Diary, a supposedly self-filmed tale that was completed long before Cloverfield stomped its way across New York City but will no doubt be seen as hooking onto that film’s monster success.

Jason and his film-school buddies — including his take-charge girlfriend, Debra (Michelle Morgan) — first learn about the zombie outbreak from a radio broadcast. As the film progresses (it’s a road movie, with much chugging down rural routes in a Winnebago), the kids remain connected to the outside world via television and, more important, the Internet, portrayed as the only reliable information source as chaos takes over and cell phones go dead.

While there are some juicy zombie scenes and a few crowd-pleasing moments (nobody who sees Diary will forget the Amish guy), the film is less concerned with glorious gore than, say, the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake. Romero is known for making horror films "with an underlying thread of social satire" (just like Diary protagonist Jason), but here the thread is laid completely bare. Debra’s somber voice-over tends to overexplain, uh, everything; as in Cloverfield, none of the characters are particularly interesting or sympathetic, and the device of having the camera be part of the story rapidly becomes annoying.

Still, you gotta give the director props for his message, no matter how obviously he states it. Most horror films that try to make a statement stop at a vague pronouncement about the world being fucked. Romero’s smart enough to zero in on a particular problem — Internet-age information overload! — and incorporate it in a story that manages to implicate the viewer at the same time. If we’re witnessing The Death of Death, are we not the intended audience that kept Jason’s hand firmly on the record button even as his friends died around him?


Opens Fri/15 in Bay Area theaters


Tiger Beat bard


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

If 1967 was the Summer of Love, then late 1968 through mid-1969 brought the seasons of mass deflowering. This wasn’t due to LSD, flower power, or even the trickling down of the sexual revolution. Rather, it was the perfidious influence of a nearly 400-year-old play that teenagers had previously read and watched with glazed eyes. Franco Zeffirelli’s big-screen version of Romeo and Juliet made underage sex look extremely hot, virtuous, and stick-it-to-the-man rebellious. And because it was rated G (until the Motion Picture Association of America subsequently wised up and gave it a PG) and based on, you know, the Bard, parents couldn’t object.

Foolish adults, so not with it! As sheer incitement to Get Laid Now, this Romeo and Juliet was the worst celluloid influence on America’s impressionable youth since Splendor in the Grass seven years earlier — and that was an old-fashioned movie whose mature stars (Natalie Wood, Warren Beatty) were only playing at being teens. Plus, they kept their clothes on.

Not so Zeffirelli discoveries Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, age 17 and 15, respectively. It took her frenziedly heaving bosom and his famously bare ass (the shot that perhaps heated up gay lib as much as Stonewall) to add new life to hitherto yawnsville poetry, making everyone under the age of consent desperate to be in love, thwarted, secretive, coital, and tragic. That last is, after all, the ultimate teenage fantasy: to die knowing that grown-ups will finally realize that crushing your delicate feelings drove you to it. Oh, now you’re sorry! Enjoy that eternal guilt! (In 1981, Zeffirelli would film the ultimate camp incarnation of this theme, Endless Love.)

Much was made of the principals’ youth, for once close to that of the characters as envisioned by Shakespeare. The most famous prior screen version, MGM’s 1936 extravaganza, had cast thirty- to fiftysomethings in the lead roles. Onstage, various famed thespians practically portrayed the young lovers into senility. Zeffirelli — who’d successfully tamed famous couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in a robust Taming of the Shrew the year before — not only selected young actors but also juiced Romeo and Juliet with a hyperbolic style designed to excite. The film’s color-saturated photography, costumes, and production design make Renaissance-era Veronese life the apex of sensuality. Nino Rota’s score (with a love theme that topped the United States pop charts as a Henry Mancini instrumental) is romantic catnip. Male testosterone — including that of Tybalt, as played by Michael York, who’d never seem so flamingly heterosexual again — jumps off the screen in splendor, with equally rattling sword fights and projectile codpieces.

The goal was intoxication, and as obvious as some of the above tactics might appear now, Romeo and Juliet remains a heady brew. The mega make-out movie’s principals handled such fantastic early pop culture fortunes with varying success. Hussey carved out a long, diverse adult acting career in projects around the globe. Whiting, an unhappy teen idol ("Oh Romeo, Romeo, why are you so difficult to talk to?" Tiger Beat lamented), tried to earn cred in an eccentric array of projects. But most were poorly received, apart from 1973’s exceptional all-star TV movie Frankenstein: The True Story, in which he played the bad doctor. The next year he retired to engage in other pursuits.

Zeffirelli — an opera director before, during, and after his relevancy as a screen auteur — revealed himself to be a maestro of overripe kitsch in such films as 1971’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon (a now-unwatchable Jesus People Movement–era shampoo-commercial take on St. Francis), 1988’s Young Toscanini (La Liz meets C. Thomas Howell), and 1999’s Cher-starring Fascist Italy soft sell Tea with Mussolini. He’s openly gay, yet a big-time papist (who supports the church’s stance on homosexuality), as well as a member of media magnate and corruption magnet Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative Forza Italia party. One of his greatest legacies may turn out to be inadvertent: Bruce Robinson, who plays Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, later claimed Zeffirelli’s on-set overtures inspired the genius character of Uncle Monty in Robinson’s immortal 1987 directorial debut, Withnail and I.

Thanks to Marc Huestis’s one-night-only 40th anniversary revival at the Castro Theatre — with Hussey in person, interviewed, and no doubt impersonated by local personalities in the preshow — Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet will be celebrated as a cultural phenomenon. The cheesy contemporary amp-up that Baz Luhrmann engineered in 1996, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes doing the heavy breathing, also struck a popular adolescent chord, but its trendy vulgarity has already aged a whole lot worse than Zeffirelli’s version. The latter remains breathless, and is duly classic.


With Olivia Hussey in person

Thurs/14, 7 p.m., $12.50–$25

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 863-0611


From Juliet to Mother Teresa and Mrs. Bates


Born in Argentina and raised in England, Olivia Hussey was just 15 when she was chosen to play li’l miss Capulet in the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet. Since then she’s had a bewilderingly diverse career that encompasses work with Burt Lancaster ("a lovely gentleman"), Vanessa Redgrave ("such a giving lady"), and Michael Jackson (Hussey acted in an unreleased Jackson music video that also featured Lou Ferrigno), as well as legendary softcore directors Radley Metzger and Zalman King. Hussey has played the Virgin Mary, Mother Teresa, and Norman Bates’s mom. She’s done voice work on Pinky and the Brain and Nintendo games. She appeared in the infamous 1973 musical version of Lost Horizon and starred in the 1974 mother of all slasher flicks, Black Christmas. She’s been in adaptations of Sir Walter Scott, Stephen King, and Harold Robbins. Her résumé also includes Turkey Shoot (a.k.a. Escape 2000), a particularly nasty and effective 1980 Australian spin on "The Most Dangerous Game."

In addition to acting gigs, the still gorgeous 56-year-old Hussey remains busy with her clothing line of romantic kaftans and tunics, which are quite beautiful. She’s also a sales rep for mangosteen beverage ZanGo (the health benefits of which had not yet been determined as of deadline by yours truly). She recently spoke with me by phone from her Los Angeles home. The interview had been delayed by a home emergency.

OLIVIA HUSSEY I really have to apologize for missing your call earlier.

SFBG No problem, but as punishment my questions will now be limited to Lost Horizon and Turkey Shoot.

OH Oh god! But people do ask me about Turkey Shoot. I laugh about it as one of the worst movies ever made. Yet a friend of mine in Rome loves it — he hosts regular screenings.

SFBG I actually heard your Romeo and Juliet before seeing it. A junior high English teacher played the soundtrack to our class, which laughed uncontrollably because there’s so much panting. Of course, it made sense in context later on.

OH Oh yes. Franco [Zeffirelli] really pushed us for what he called "that breathlessness of youth." He was obsessed with it.

SFBG Speaking of which, your breasts were so pushed-up — you must have been extremely tightly corseted.

OH I was! A lot of the clothes were very imperial style, [with] high-breasted velvet. But to get them even more so I had interior corsets pulled tight — it was really hard to breathe. Sometimes they had to take breaks between shots simply because the costumes drenched me with sweat.

SFBG Your Romeo, Leonard Whiting — are you still in touch?

OH We’re still close; I just spoke to him last week. Most actors do maybe a hundred films, and they’re lucky if they do one real classic that’s remembered. Romeo and Juliet is still shown to students everywhere. I get e-mails from young people all over the world. It’s such an honor.

SFBG What was it like working with Zeffirelli on both Romeo and Juliet and Jesus of Nazareth?

OH He’s the best. In a perfect world I would have worked with him only, forever. People always ask if I had a crush on Romeo, but I had a crush on Franco! The man had so much passion for what he did.

SFBG Your career slowed down for a few years immediately afterward.

OH I was offered all kinds of things. But when I was the hottest young actress in the world, I didn’t feel like acting. I’m that kind of person.

SFBG You got very busy later on, though. What are some of your other personal favorite movies or roles?

OH I loved doing a 1974 low-budget film in Canada with a new director, Bob Clark — Black Christmas. We had a blast. Much later I auditioned for the Steve Martin film Roxanne, and he stuck around just to meet me. He said, "You starred in one of my favorite films of all time." I said, "Oh, Romeo and Juliet?" But it was Black Christmas. He’d seen it 10 or 12 times.

SFBG Any particularly unpleasant experiences?

OH I didn’t like doing [the all-star 1978 Agatha Christie mystery] Death on the Nile. I had agoraphobia at the time, and that was really hard. On the other hand, Peter Ustinov was so much fun, Angela Lansbury an absolute delight, and David Niven lovely. We were all so excited to meet Bette Davis — she was such a legend. But it’s awful to work with someone who’s just unpleasant.

Also, three weeks into rehearsals for Lost Horizon, I knew it was going to be bad. [Costume designer] Jean Louis kept asking me, "Are you eating too much?" and letting out my waistlines. I was afraid to tell the studio I was pregnant.

Cuckoo for Coco500


› paulr@sfbg.com

An adage favored by the paterfamilias: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. He has generally deployed this wisdom in the matter of automobiles, while for me it has tended to apply to … well, practically everything. Bizou, for instance. This was the restaurant Loretta Keller opened at the corner of Fourth Street and Brannan in 1993, a time when the corner of Fourth Street and Brannan was a pretty lonely place at night. There was as yet no baseball park or light-rail line nearby, just the dowdy Caltrain station and lots of empty-looking warehouses slouching in the gloom.

Keller had worked at Stars in its glamorous heyday, but her restaurant, which served rustic French and Italian foods in a setting of rustic elegance, most closely resembled Zuni Cafe. The place was always, in my experience, discreetly stunning, and when I learned a few springtimes ago that she was recasting it for contemporary tastes, I thought, Oy. The subtext of the change seemed to be that the city’s most recent bevy of young, rich plutocrats was uninterested in a restaurant with a hint of Provençal languor; to lure them in, you needed halogen spot lamps, unadorned surfaces, certainly more noise, and a menu promising excitement.

Coco500, Bizou’s successor, does answer to this description, but it is nonetheless just as stunning in its own way and is a worthy bearer of the torch. I went in warily, full of skepticism, and was almost instantly won over, and that is about the loudest hallelujah I can sing for any restaurant, reinvented or otherwise.

Most of Coco500’s magic has to do with the food and the service, it must be said. The redesign of the interior emphasizes blond wood and is reminiscent of a Scandinavian Designs store or a sauna, and while there’s nothing wrong with the Danish modern look, it doesn’t exactly send the most accurate subliminal signals about what sort of food to expect. If the cooking is no longer about Provence and Italy, it’s still Cal-Med in some fundamental way. You’re not likely to find lutefisk on the menu, though there is plenty of seafood, and even in California an ethos of seasonality has to account for winter’s being one of the seasons. Bizou was good at this; so is Coco500.

Let’s start with a marvelous flat bread ($10), like the thinnest of thin-crust pizzas, topped with a fine mince of mushrooms and, for some extra chthonic intensity, truffle oil. The sense is of eating slices of especially flavorful winter-dampened earth, and the crust could not be better.

Seafood is more seasonal than we’re sometimes aware, though most Bay Areans probably associate king salmon with summer, and this Bay Arean associates halibut with winter. Ono, on the other hand, I associate with Hawaii; it’s one of those marvelous fish taken from the deep, clean waters around the islands, and while it makes a doubtful entrant on a restaurant menu in San Francisco, thousands of miles distant, Coco500’s kitchen does manage to turn it into a delicious crudo. The chunks of opalescent white flesh are sprinkled with fennel shavings, drizzled with a blood orange gastrique, and wrapped in wildly unseasonal, but tasty, basil leaves. It’s like eating prescooped Chinese lettuce cups.

More winter: celery root ($6), roasted with thyme and neatly cubed, could almost have passed for some sort of potato dish. A cream of cauliflower soup ($6) did not lack for cream — an ingredient of underappreciated potency that can overwhelm through sheer richness but didn’t quite here. Bits of chervil and squirts of paprika oil over the soup’s surface helped maintain balance.

Duck is also wintry for me, maybe because it’s a close relation to goose and roast goose is a classic holiday dish, dramatic if, in the end, more trouble than it’s quite worth. Boneless duck breast, on the other hand, is a type of flesh for all seasons: red and meatlike for bad weather but also highly grillable and always easy to deal with. At Coco500 the duck breast ($23) was grilled (medium), sliced, and presented with two extraordinary companions. One was a whole braised endive, almost like a torpedo onion, the other a duck baklava, rillettes under a pastry roof — completely unexpected and natural at the same time. Also delicious.

Alaskan black cod ($23), also known as sablefish, was another faraway fish, and I should have resisted it on carbon footprint grounds if nothing else, but I was lured in by the bit players: smashed (skin-on) fingerling potatoes and creamed rapini, like creamed spinach but with a sharper edge. The gently sautéed fillet itself, delicate and immaculately white, was good though not exceptional. I did find some ex post facto consolation at Seafood Watch, which reports that black cod is a best choice; the fish are line-caught from well-managed and sustainable fisheries. Please, restaurants, trumpet this kind of information! Don’t assume we have it or always have the presence of mind to ask for it.

We might not have had the presence of mind because we were probably thinking ahead to dessert and other postprandial wonders, such as Armagnac ($10), my latest passion in the liquid fires. Less fiery but not less worthy was a warm apple-huckleberry tart ($8) — basically a single-serve apple pie stained blue by the berries, with an immensely flaky (in the good sense) crust. As for the fruit: I love apples and apple pie, but the huckleberry (a close relation of the blueberry) is an American original, so how about a starring role someday?


Mon.–Thurs., 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.; Fri., 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.; Sat., 5:30–11 p.m.

500 Brannan, SF

(415) 543-2222


Full bar


Moderately loud

Wheelchair accessible

Shelter shuffle


EDITOR’S NOTE Guardian reporter Amanda Witherell and intern Bryan Cohen spent almost a week staying in various San Francisco homeless shelters. To get an unfiltered look at the conditions, they didn’t identify themselves as journalists, so some names in this story have been changed to protect people’s privacy. Their undercover reporting was supplemented with extensive research and on-the-record interviews with key officials, providers, and recipients of homeless services.

>>Read Amanda Witherell’s nightly shelter journals, with photos

>>Read Bryan Cohen’s nightly shelter journals, with photos

>>Homeless people share their stories

>>The mayor’s Feb. 14 press conference about homeless shelters

It’s about quarter past seven on a Thursday night, and I’m late for curfew. Not even during my wildest high school days did I have to be home by a certain time, but tonight, 29 years old and sleeping in a homeless shelter, I’m supposed to be in by 6:30 p.m.

Heading down Fifth Street toward the shelter, I wonder what I’ll do if I lose my bed for being late. Can they set me up at a different shelter? Will I have to head back to a resource center in the Tenderloin or the Mission District to wait in line for a reservation somewhere else? Either way, I could be walking the streets for the next few hours, so I adjust my heavy backpack for the journey. Waiting to cross Bryant Street, I stare up at the large, hulking building with its utilitarian name, Multi-Service Center South, and notice there are no shades on the windows in the men’s dorm. Since it’s lit from within, I can clearly see someone standing beside his cot, clad in nothing but blue plaid boxers, obviously unaware that he’s so exposed. I wonder if the windows would be shaded if it were the women’s room. Maybe that’s why we sleep in the basement.

Inside the door I shed my pack and step through the metal detector. The security guard dutifully pats it down and pushes it back into my arms. At the desk I give the last four digits of my Social Security number and am checked in. No questions about being tardy. I’m in.

I’m also late for dinner. A staffer hands me two unwrapped sandwiches from a reused bread bag under the counter. Ham, mustard, and American cheese between two pieces of cheap, sliced bread. After two days in the shelter I still haven’t seen a piece of fruit or a vegetable. I wrap the sandwiches in the newspaper under my arm and head down to my bunk. On the stairs I pass a guy and nod hello. He nods back, then calls out, "Hey, can I ask you something?"

I turn. "Sure."

"What’s a nice girl like you doing in here?"

I shrug and step back, unsure of what to say.

"I’m not trying to mess with you," he says. "I’m not fucking with you. I don’t do drugs. I’m straight. I don’t mess with anything," he goes on, trying to reassure me.

I believe him and dish it back. "Then what’s a nice guy like you doing in here?"

He laughs and shrugs. He tells me he doesn’t really stay here. It’s just for a couple of days. He lives in a $200 per week hotel in Oakland, but if he stays there more than 28 consecutive days, it becomes residential and the rates go up, so he clears out for a few days every month and comes here. The hotel’s nicer than this, he claims. It’s clean and safe, and he has his own space. "I can walk around in my underwear," he says.

We sit on the stairs, talking about how you lose all your privacy when you stay in a shelter, how the regimentation is reminiscent of prison. There are no places to go and be on your own, rest, and be quiet. Once you’re in for the night, you can’t leave except to step out for a smoke.

I ask if he has a job. He tells me he’s a chef for Google. I raise an eyebrow, recalling that the company’s stock is hovering somewhere between $600 and $700 per share right now. The pay isn’t the problem — he gets $16 an hour, but he’s been out of town for a while, caring for a sick family member, and has just returned. He got his job back, but only part-time, and he lost his home.

He’s wary of being on welfare — that’s not the way his mother raised him — but he’s in the County Adult Assistance Program, which gets him $29 every two weeks, a guaranteed bed at the shelter, and a spot on a waiting list for a single-room-occupancy hotel room, the bottom rung on the permanent-housing ladder.

What he really wants is a studio, but his searches haven’t turned up anything affordable. He needs a little boost of cash for a security deposit on an apartment, but when he asked the General Assistance Office if it could help him out with that, the answer was no.

His brow furrows with concern, and then the conversation turns to me. "You got a job?" he asks.

What can I say? I’m a reporter for a local newspaper. I’ve heard that some of the city’s homeless shelters are lacking basic standards, accessing a bed can be complicated, and services are scattered. I thought I’d come find out for myself.

Here’s what I learned: San Francisco has a cumbersome crazy quilt of programs, stitched together with waiting lists and lines. Policies that are written on paper and espoused in City Hall are often missing in shelters. Some rules don’t seem to exist until they’ve been broken. Others apply to some people, but not all. Getting a bed is a major hurdle, and I say that as a stable, able, mentally competent, sober adult.

And once you’re in, it’s sort of like sitting in a McDonald’s for too long. Years ago a friend told me the interiors of fast food restaurants are deliberately designed to make you feel a little uncomfortable. They don’t want you to get too cozy; they want you to eat and leave, making way for the next hungry mouth they can feed.

In other words, shelters are designed to make people not want to use them.

The only information I took with me was a one-page handout I got from a San Francisco Police Department Operation Outreach officer. He said it’s what cops and outreach workers give to people they come across who are sleeping on the streets. I figure if it’s good enough for them, it’s all I need to navigate the system.

The map, as it were, is a cramped, double-sided list of places to get free meals, take showers, store your stuff, sober up, and, of course, get a bed.

For the bed, it instructs, you have to go to a resource center and make a reservation. Some of the resource centers are also shelters. Some aren’t. Some are just reservation stations. They all have different operating hours and are located all over the city, but mostly in the Tenderloin and South of Market.

It takes me a while to puzzle out which ones are open, where exactly they are, then which is closest to me. Phone numbers are also listed, so I assume it’s like making a hotel reservation and dial one up on my cell phone.

The first number doesn’t work. There’s a digit missing. Dialing methodically down the list, I discover that none of the numbers connect me to a person. This is obviously not the way to go.

The way I ultimately get into a shelter is not the way you’re supposed to. In San Francisco’s system, you’re not supposed to just walk up to a homeless shelter and get a bed, but that’s what I do.

At first the woman behind the counter at MSC South tells me the only open beds are across town, at Ella Hill Hutch in the Western Addition. Then another staffer looks at the clock and says he’s not sending me out there. He’ll "drop" beds instead.

The city’s 1,182 beds for single adults are managed through an electronic database called CHANGES. It’s a modern-day improvement on people roaming from shelter to shelter everyday, putting their names on lists for possible beds. Launched in 2004, CHANGES now does that electronically and maintains profiles of people who use the system. If you’ve been kicked out of a shelter, missed your tuberculosis test, or not shown up for curfew, CHANGES knows and tells on you.

Every day around 8 p.m. shelter staff trawl through the reservations and drop the no-shows, cancellations, and reservations that have expired or whose makers have moved on to hospitals, rehab, the morgue, or — less frequently — housing.

MSC is allowed to make reservations for any shelter except itself — that’s against policy. I learn this the next morning, and I’m told it’s because there’s too much corruption and favoritism. MSC is apparently one of the better shelters, so to keep clients from cutting deals with staff, the policy doesn’t allow clients to reserve a bed there.

But after half an hour the staffer hooks me up for a two-night stay, bending the rules to do so. While I’m waiting, he turns away a client who had a seven-day bed but didn’t show up the previous night. The guard confiscates his fifth of vodka, and he gets an earful about drinking.

When the city’s shelter system was born in 1982, it was first come, first serve at the doors of churches and community centers. President Ronald Reagan’s cuts to federal domestic spending landed hard on low-income people, so then-mayor Dianne Feinstein called on local organizations to temporarily house and feed the growing number of street sleepers.

Throughout the ’80s wages stagnated while the cost of living soared: between 1978 and 1988 the average rent for a studio apartment in San Francisco jumped 183 percent — from $159 a month to $450. Twenty years later it’s $1,114. In 1978 the Housing and Urban Development budget was $83 billion. Today it’s $35.2 billion, almost nothing by federal budgetary standards, and almost no new public housing units have been built since 1996, while 100,000 have been lost.

Every year the federal government spends almost twice as much on a single attack submarine as the Department of Housing and Urban Development spends on homeless assistance. State and local governments have been left to pick up the hefty price tag.

San Francisco spends more than $200 million on homelessness, through services, financial aid, supportive housing, emergency care, and shelter beds. There are 13 city-funded shelters, four resource centers, and three reservation stations in San Francisco. The Human Services Agency spends $12.5 million per year on shelters through contracts with nonprofit managers. The Department of Public Health also manages two contracts, for a battered women’s shelter and a 24-hour drop-in center.

But it’s not enough: the nonprofits supplement operating expenses with grants and private donations and recently relied on a special allocation of $300,000 to purchase basic supplies like soap, towels, hand sanitizer, sheets, pillows, and blankets.

James Woods, a spry 51-year-old wearing a red Gap parka barely zipped over his thin, scarred chest, rattles off the places he’s lived: Detroit, Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco, Louisville, Ky., and his hometown, Nashville, Tenn. "Out of all the cities I’ve been in, this is the only city where you have to go and make a reservation for a bed at the rescue mission all the way across the city in order to come back to the place you started," he says, jabbing the floor of MSC with his cane. "I can’t even make a reservation here for a bed here. They’ll send me across the city to another place to do that."

Woods has been pounding the pavement between MSC and the Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center for eight months. Every day around 3:30 p.m. he heads to the Tenderloin, where he gets in line for a bed. Woods has a fractured hip and arthritis, pins in his knees and feet, and hepatitis C. He’s been HIV-positive since 2002. He walks with a limp that can transform into a springy, stiff-legged canter when he chases the 27 bus down Fifth Street.

Rather than tote all of his possessions with him, he hides them in the drawer of an emergency bed at MSC, so it’s imperative that he get back there every night. Sometimes he waits hours for an MSC bed to open up.

Though Woods speaks highly of some city services, swooning a little when he mentions his doctor at the Tom Waddell Health Center, the daily bed hunt has left him exhausted and disgusted with the city. "They’ve got the program designed to run the homeless off," he says. "They have it as hard and difficult as possible for you to take a breath, take a rest, get a routine."

While a person can reserve a bed for one to seven nights and, if on General Assistance, make arrangements through a caseworker for 30- to 90-day stays, Woods has rarely been able to procure a bed for longer than one night. "Maybe twice I’ve gotten a seven-day bed," he says.

The inability to connect people with beds is not lost on city officials. Mayor Gavin Newsom’s recently hired homeless policy director, Dariush Kayhan, told me, "I really want to solve the issue of the juxtaposition of vacant beds and homeless people on the streets. That to me is untenable."

However, he only discussed the issue in terms of people who’ve chosen not to use the shelters and are sleeping in the street. To him, empty beds signify that there’s more than enough shelter for people. "At this time there’s no plan to expand any shelter beds, and I think homeless people, in many ways, many of them vote with their feet and have decided that shelter’s not for them," he said.

But the Guardian found that even if you are willing and waiting for a bed in a place where someone can presumably connect you with one, it often doesn’t happen.

According to the 2007 Homeless Count, there are 6,377 homeless people in San Francisco. The nine year-round single-adult shelters have enough beds to accommodate one-third of that population. Other emergency facilities shelter some of the overflow on a seasonal basis. The remaining homeless sleep in jails and hospitals, respite and sobering centers, parks and sidewalks.

People also pile up at Buster’s Place, the only 24-hour drop-in resource center in the city, where they slump all night in chairs, forbidden by staff to sleep on the floor.

It took Guardian writer Bryan Cohen five nights to find a spot at a shelter. He spent Jan. 20 and 21 at Buster’s waiting to see if a bed would open up. None did. According to the shelter vacancy report for those two nights, there were 108 and 164 beds set aside for men that went unfilled. On an average night this January, a month marked by cold weather and flooding rain, 196 beds were empty.

Buster’s does not have access to CHANGES but can apparently call shelters and ask about empty beds. I was at the Providence Foundation shelter one night and overheard a call come through and shelter staff tell whoever rang that no, they couldn’t bring more people here. There were four empty mats beside me.

Laura Guzman, director of the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, said CHANGES was a breakthrough in getting people into beds, but when it was first launched in 2004, things were different. "You had a choice. Shelter of choice was much easier to achieve. Then Care Not Cash happened," she said.

Most of the city’s beds are assigned to beneficiaries of certain programs, like Swords to Ploughshares and Newsom’s signature plan Care Not Cash, or to people with mental health or substance abuse issues who have case managers.

Though beds can be turned over to the general public when they are dropped after curfew, one wonders how effectively that happens.

The challenges are worst for Latinos, refugees, and immigrants, who face language barriers and the potential hurdle of illegality.

As a result, they flood one of the few places they can get in. Dolores Street Community Services reported the second-lowest vacancy rate in January, just 5 percent. The 82-bed program hosts a waiting list and is one of the more flexible in the city — deliberately so, as many of its Latino participants have jobs or work as day laborers. Marlon Mendieta, the executive program director, says, "They have a plan and just need to save up some money to move into a place."

However, rising rents have made moving on difficult. "We have people who are basically just cycling from one shelter to another," Mendieta said. "We see some who exit our shelter, find housing, but might end up back at the shelter if rent goes up or they lose work."

Providence is one of the sparest of homeless facilities and is located in a Bayview church. Unlike at other shelters, there’s no hanging out here. When the doors open at 9:30 p.m. about 90 people with reservations are already lined up in the rain on its dark side street.

We receive one blanket apiece, and the men shuffle into the gym while I follow the other females into a smaller side room, where 12 mats are laid out on two ratty tarps. Several women immediately lie down, speechless.

The cook gives a quick blessing when plates of food arrive on two sheet pans: spaghetti, heavily dressed salad, limp green beans mixed with cooked iceberg lettuce, and a very buttery roll. It’s all heavy and slightly greasy, but also warm and a closer approximation of a square meal than any of those offered by the other shelters I’ve stayed in so far.

Moments after I finish eating the lights are turned off, even though a couple of women are still working on their meals. A shelter monitor comes through and confiscates our cups of water, saying she just refinished the floors in here and doesn’t want any spills. I notice that unlike at other shelters where I’ve stayed, none of the women here have bothered to change into pajamas. Some haven’t even removed their shoes. I follow suit, tucking my jacket under my head for a pillow and pulling the blanket around me.

When the lights come back on at 5:45 a.m., I understand why no one changed: there’s no time to get dressed. Shelter monitors enter the room, rousting sleepers with catcalls to get up and get moving. One turns on a radio, loud. They’re brisk and no-nonsense, grabbing blankets and shoving them into garbage bags, pulling mats into a stack at the edge of the room.

A woman becomes perturbed by being hustled and talks back to the shelter monitor. A verbal battle ensues, with the client picking up her mat and throwing it across the room, scattering her possessions. "What a woman, what a woman," the shelter monitor yells. "We’ll see if you get a bed here tonight."

Another staffer comes through with a toxic-smelling aerosol, which she sprays around us as we get ready to leave. The bathroom, the cleanest I’ve come across in the city’s shelter system, is still a clusterfuck as a dozen women wait to use the three toilets and two sinks. One stall has a broken door, and the only morning conversation is apologies to the occupant.

Even though the contract between Providence and the HSA says the former will provide shelter until 7 a.m., it’s a little after 6 a.m. and all 90 of us are back out on the street, rubbing sleep from our eyes, shivering in the dark dawn, and waiting for the Third Street T line. When the train comes, most of us board without paying and ride back toward the city center to get busy finding some breakfast and making preparations for where to stay tonight. I have four hours before I have to be at work.

Shucrita Jones, director of Providence, later tells me the shelter’s materials have to be cleaned up by 7 a.m. because the church is booked for other activities. "We turn the lights on at 6. The clients have at least until 6:10 to get up. We encourage everyone to be out of there by 6:15 so we can be clear of the building by 6:30," she says. To her defense, she adds that the shelter monitors often let people in earlier than the contracted time of 10 p.m. and that when the weather is particularly nasty she’ll open the doors as early as 8:30 p.m. to let people in out of the cold.

As for the discrepancy between empty mats in the shelters and people going without beds, she blames the reservation system. "CHANGES has a lot of glitches," she says. "It’s got a lot of errors the city and county [are] trying to fix."

What I witness isn’t as bad as what I hear. In the shelters everyone has a horror story — some are about how they got there, others about what’s happened to them since they arrived. Nearly all include a questionable experience with staff — from witnessing bribes for special treatment to being threatened with denial of service for complaining. Their observations echo mine: the administration and certain high-level staffers exhibit genuine concern and an ability to help when you ask, but lower-tier workers aren’t as invested in providing good service.

Tracy tells me she sent her daughter to private school and considers herself a victim of the dot-bomb era and an illegal eviction that landed them at the Hamilton Family Center. "We were given one blanket. It was filthy. It had poo on it, and, I’m not kidding, there were even pubic hairs," she says.

She describes the shelter’s intake process as similar to that of jail bookings she’s seen on television. Six days later she and her child were thrown out. No reason was given, though she’s convinced it’s because a staff member overheard her complaining about a recent incident involving another client sneaking in a gun. When she was told to leave immediately, she wasn’t informed that she had the right to appeal. So she and her daughter hastily gathered their things and hit the dark Tenderloin streets.

A grievance system exists for people who’ve been hit with denial of service, or DOS’d, the colloquial term for kicked out. But the process can take months. Shelter managers I spoke with don’t deny that stealing is rampant, favoritism exists, and complaints occur — the greatest number about staff and food.

General complaints are supposed to be handled within the shelter, though they may be copied to the city’s Shelter Monitoring Committee. The SMC submits quarterly reports to the Board of Supervisors, Mayor Newsom, and the public, which show regular instances of inconsistent and unsafe conditions, abusive treatment, and a lack of basic amenities like toilet paper, soap, and hot water.

Those reports prompted Sup. Tom Ammiano to sponsor legislation mandating standards of care for all city-funded shelters (see "Setting Standards," 1/30/08). The new law would create baseline standards and streamline a complaint and enforcement process.

According to the HSA, many of these standards are already policies included in the contracts with the nonprofits that run the shelters, requirements such as "provide access to electricity for charging cell phones."

During my stay at the Episcopal Sanctuary, I asked the shelter monitor on duty where I could plug in my cell phone and was told I couldn’t. When I asked why not, the only reply was that it’s against shelter policy. At Ella Hill Hutch Community Center, Cohen was told he could plug in but at his own risk — his unattended phone would probably be stolen.

I reviewed all of the contracts between the city and the nonprofit shelter providers, as well as the shelter training manual that’s given to staff. I was unable to find the same list of policies the HSA gave to the budget analyst. I asked HSA executive director Trent Rhorer how these policies have been communicated to the shelter staff, but he did not respond by press time.

While the ability to charge a cell phone seems relatively minor, its ramifications can be huge. The first time James Leonard met with his case manager at Next Door shelter, he knew exactly what he needed to get back on his feet: bus fare to get to and from three job interviews he’d already scheduled, a clothing voucher so he’d have something nice to wear when he got there, and a couple of dollars for the laundry facilities at the shelter. He also needed to charge his cell phone to confirm the interviews. He said he was denied all four things.

The standards of care, if passed, could improve access to those basic provisions, but some in the Mayor’s Office have balked at the estimated $1 million to $2 million price tag. The budget analyst’s final report is scheduled for release Feb. 14, in time for a Feb. 20 hearing at the Budget and Finance Committee.

Deborah Borne, medical director of the DPH’s Tom Waddell clinic, is a proponent of the standards from a public health perspective. "For me, I’m looking at decreased funding and how can I best affect the most population with what remains," she said.

Dirty shelters can help spread disease outside their four walls, as clients leave every day to use municipal services like buses, libraries, trains, and restaurants, which we all enjoy. Borne says this is something that’s been tackled by other facilities that house large numbers of people and is long overdue in the shelters.

"You can argue about whether we should or shouldn’t have shelters, but there are no city, state, or federal regulations for them. There are tons of regulations for the army, for public schools and colleges, but we put people in shelters and there’s none," she said. To her, San Francisco is on the cutting edge of care with this legislation. "I can’t wait until we do this on a state level," she said.

Kayhan said he and the mayor support the spirit of the legislation and have no problems with most of the no-cost items, but the price tag for staffing, training, and enforcement is a concern. "I think when you’re looking at how much money you’re going to spend on homelessness overall," he told us, "I would rather allocate additional resources to create another unit of housing for someone as opposed to enhancing the service model of the shelters."

Every day he’s on duty in the Tenderloin, police captain Gary Jimenez comes across homeless people — or people who seem homeless but aren’t.

"One day on Turk Street, I came by a long line of people drinking. I was walking with a Homeless Outreach Team officer, and he said he knew them all. Only about 20 percent of them were actually homeless. They don’t want to sit in their rooms drinking. We give people housing but we don’t acclimatize them, get them used to being inside. They want to do what they’ve been doing, and they go out on the streets to do it. It’s social," he said.

Larry Haynes agrees. "It’s lonely and depressing in your room," he says. He lost his Beulah Street apartment through an Ellis Act eviction and has been living in the Vincent Hotel for three years, after a nine-month stint in the shelter system. He’s a tenant representative now, advocating for improved conditions in the SROs, which still beat the shelters.

"The criticism I hear from people on the streets is that there are some good shelters but you can’t get in them," Jimenez said. "Then there are shelters that are open that you can go to, but you wouldn’t want to because they’re really bad."

He tells me he’s visited shelters but finds it difficult to get a feel for how valid the complaints are. "I can’t tell without waking up there or knowing what it’s like to be thrown out on the street at 6 a.m. in the cold when there’s nothing open," he said.

The Shelter Monitoring Committee has requested that HSA staff stay in shelters at least once to get firsthand experience, but it’s yet to receive confirmation that this has occurred. When we asked Rhorer about the policy, he said, "There are 1,800 employees who work for HSA, so there is no way of knowing if any of them have been homeless and used the shelter system."

In our first conversation, Kayhan told me he had never stayed in a shelter. In a later interview, when I asked what he thought about the public perception of the shelters, he said, "I’m just not sure that the criticism that I hear around the shelters as being dangerous hellholes — or whatever has been said — matches what I see in the shelters or what I read with respect to incident reports or what I hear at the Shelter Monitoring Committee or at the shelter directors’ meetings. So perception is reality."

"Housing first" has been Mayor Newsom’s modus operandi for handling homelessness, and it’s a good one — the idea being to stabilize people, whatever condition they’re in: drunk or sober, clean or using, ill or able, young or old, alone or with family.

The city’s 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, released in 2004, recommended 3,000 units of supportive housing to get the chronically homeless off the streets. Kayhan confirms the Mayor’s Office of Housing is on track to meet that goal through master-leasing SROs and building or renovating new affordable units, where occupants will get supportive services.

The chronically homeless, a catchall term for folks who stick to the streets and don’t or aren’t able to use the system, have been the mayor’s target and Kayhan’s priority. This makes sense because they’re the most visible face of homelessness.

Last year’s city budget allowed a tripling of staff for the Homeless Outreach Team, which works diligently to move the most entrenched homeless off SoMa side streets and out of encampments in Golden Gate Park. A special allocation of shelter beds was set aside for them, and those who refused shelter were put directly into stabilization units in SROs, bypassing the shelter system entirely.

For some, this has been great. It’s how Leonard finally started to make some progress. He bailed on the shelters after having his possessions thrown out three times by staff and hit the streets, where HOT found him, deemed him "shelter challenged," and moved him into a stabilization unit.

"I feel almost as good today as the day before I became homeless," he tells me one afternoon in January. The Bay Area native is hoping to transition into a subsidized rental soon.

Twenty-five percent of shelter staff are required to be homeless or formerly homeless. Some shelters hire up to 80 percent. Tyler is one of them — he lives at MSC South but works for Episcopal Community Services, which runs Sanctuary, Next Door, and the Interfaith Emergency Winter Shelter Program. He shows me his pay stub to prove it, and I note that every two weeks he takes home more than I do. "Yeah, I make good money," he agrees.

He’s been looking for an apartment, but rents are high and he hasn’t found anything good. A plan to move in with a family member fell through, so he’s just hanging out on the housing wait list. "What I really want to do is see what they’re going to do for me. I’ve been on [Personal Assistance Employment Services] for six months. Where is my SRO if I can afford to pay for it? So obviously that shit doesn’t work," he says.

He’s bitter about the effect the Golden Gate Park sweeps have had on the SRO stock. "They got SROs right away," he said of the 200-plus people who were removed from the park by HOT, put into stabilization beds, and transitioned to SROs. "They took them right away ’cause Gavin had to clean that shit up," he says.

Tyler, like many people I spoke with, keeps as sharp an eye as possible on City Hall. They read the papers and have opinions informed by firsthand experience about programs like Care Not Cash. They know Kayhan is making $169,000 per year and they’re making $29 every two weeks.

One morning, coming out of the bathroom at Sanctuary, I stop to study a posting for affordable housing on a bulletin board. It’s a studio for $863 per month, more than I pay for my one-room Mission flat. The longer I stay in the shelters and the more people I talk to, the less secure I feel in my economic stability.

Ruby Windspirit has been homeless since Jan. 14, two days before I started my tour of the shelters. The 59-year-old Irish Navajo was attending school in Portland, Ore., studying photography and science, when she became ill with bone cancer. She came to San Francisco to convalesce closer to her daughter, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the Castro with three other people.

Windspirit knew she couldn’t stay on the couch for too long and made a reservation for a $27 per night hotel in the Tenderloin. Despite the reservation, she couldn’t get in for two days and the bed she was ultimately given was two box springs with a piece of plywood for support. The sheets were dirty. She left after two weeks and entered the shelter system. She says Next Door is "150 percent better" than the hotel. She has a bed off the floor and the extra blanket her doctor recommended, though she was scolded for trying to plug in her phone.

I try to imagine what people like Windspirit would do if there weren’t shelters. But the Ten Year Council also recommended a phasing out of shelters within four to six years, to be replaced by 24-hour crisis clinics and sobering centers.

There are 364 fewer shelter beds in San Francisco than when Newsom became mayor. This year more may go. The city is currently requesting proposals to develop 150 Otis, which serves as a temporary shelter and storage space for homeless people, into permanent supportive housing for very-low-income seniors. About 60 shelter beds will be lost.

The HSA confirmed there are currently no plans to open any more shelters in San Francisco. The last plan for a new shelter — St. Boniface — fell through, and the money that was set aside for the project still languishes in an HSA bank account. Midyear budget cuts proposed by the mayor put that money on the chopping block.

Buster’s Place is also on the list of cuts. By April 15, the only place where someone can get out of the elements at any time, day or night, could be closed for good.

Kayhan, who previously oversaw Project Homeless Connect, Newsom’s private-sector approach to the problem, agreed that shelters will always be needed. What he worries about are the people who become dependant on them and refuse housing offers, although he’s also thinking about ways that shelters could be more amenable.

"I’d like to look at the next step with Homeless Connect to try and institutionalize that in the way we do business specifically in the shelters," he said, imagining a shelter pilot of one-stop shopping for services.

But just three weeks into his new job Kayhan was reaching out to constituents to try to figure out what isn’t working. He told us, "What I’m trying to do since I came into this position is be on the street and measure the impact the system is having on those that are on the street day in and day out and try to see what part of the system isn’t working properly or needs to be resourced differently so that we don’t see homeless people, long term, on the streets."

One night at MSC, in the bathroom before bed, a young woman tells me her story while I brush my teeth and she washes off her makeup. Not too long ago she drove here from Florida to meet up with her boyfriend. They were hanging out on the street one night when a cop came by, cited him for an open container, and discovered he had a warrant. Now he’s in jail in San Rafael.

She started sleeping in her Suburban while she looked for job and a place to stay. One night while she slept, parked at Castro and Market, she was hit by a drunk driver. She lifts a hank of long blond hair and shows me a bright pink tear of stitches above her temple. An ambulance took her and the drunk to the hospital. Her totaled car was towed. When the hospital found out she had no place to go, it sent her here.

"Now I’m in a fucking homeless shelter," she says, genuinely aghast at the situation and truly lost about what to do. She has her bed for five more days.

She could get a job. She says, "I have hella references," from working in restaurants for years. She could sleep in one of her friends’ cars, but it seems like so much work: waking up in the car, going to a resource center or shelter to wash up, then going to work.

We joke about living in the shelter. "Yeah, you can come over," she imagines telling her friends. "Dinner’s at 4:30."

"You’ve got to leave by 10," I say.

"It’ll be fun. We can hang out and smoke on the patio," she says.

I don’t know what else to say, except "Good luck." I know what it’s like to chase a boyfriend to San Francisco. I remember sleeping in my car when I was 21, during a strange time between graduating from college and getting a place to live for the summer in a town where housing was tight. I think about my little sister, packing up her Subaru one day and taking off to Miami, where she didn’t know a soul. You have a little money, a lot of hope, and that youthful sense of invincibility, but sometimes it all comes down to luck.

I bid her good night, pack up my toiletries, and wipe my face with my shelter-issued towel. It smells vaguely of bleach and shit.

› amanda@sfbg.com

Bryan Cohen contributed to this report.

Speed Reading



By Aram Saroyan

Ugly Duckling Presse

283 pages


Clear the dross and bric-a-brac from your brain and start anew with Aram Saroyan’s minimalist poems. The quickest thick-book reading experience you’ll ever have (unless you take the time to savor its simplicity), this collection of Saroyan’s writings from the ’60s offers pages of poems that make haiku seem lugubrious and cumbersome; only Taylor Mead’s poems are similarly immediate. Delight leaps from: a list of radio stations beginning with the letter W; an m, perhaps strayed from an m &, that has sprouted an extra leg; the repeat appearance of crickets in forms that convey their sonic properties and number; remarks about Ted Berrigan’s impish spirit and Ron Padgett’s judgment; a sensory appreciation of mown grass and (somewhat parodically) William Carlos Williams motifs; mirrors seen through a marijuana haze and money as seen while on LSD; numbers; all the keys of a typewriter keyboard. One work missing from this collection is Saroyan’s The Beatles, a posthumous tribute to the Fab Four that extends the basic beauty of the cover art of "The White Album." Like that sleeve, Complete Minimal Poems recognizes the beauty of an almost blank page.


By David L. Chapman and Thomas Waugh

Arsenal Pulp Press

208 pages


Don’t judge a book by its cover or title: this collection of Denny Denfield’s stereoview photography isn’t the kitsch burger of beefcake silliness suggested by the cheeky image on its front. Denfield might indeed possess more dimensions than his ’50s and ’60s contemporaries (such as the more famous Bob Mizer) who photographed nude men at a time when doing so could lead to serious prison time. His stereoviews — meant to be viewed through 3-D glasses, a sturdy plastic pair of which are provided with the book — don’t just spontaneously step outside the sucked-in abs and strained muscles of physique pictorials into occasional messy, drunken hardcore. More successfully, they venture into atmospheric realms. This is especially the case in photos taken at Baker Beach and the nearby woods: rock formations and sun-dappled tree trunks and branches dramatically play off and sometimes even overshadow the human subjects. Furtiveness and a potent melancholic experience of the ephemeral are built into this adult version of the childhood ViewMaster experience, which requires cross-eyed participation on the part of the gazer. Denfield’s stereoview work might be richest when viewed as a light West Coast — with an emphasis on the coastal — answer to Alvin Baltrop’s gay lib–era photos of the piers in New York. Both photographers took their vision to the literal edges of America.

The drop


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS On his 40th birthday Jolly Boy talked about beautiful. Beauty this and beautiful that. We were in a bar in the Mission, saying good night. He was impressed and grateful, I think he said, to have seen so much beauty in 40 years in the world.

"Good night, Jolly Boy," I said.

I hugged some other people too, and one of them said I smelled like bacon.

This floated me home to Earl Butter’s closet. I walked across the Mission at 12:30 a.m. with my hands in my pockets, alone and cold, knowing that this world, Jolly Boy’s world, was pretty lastingly beautiful and that I, in any case, smelled like bacon.

On the darkest part of my walk, near the little park on 19th Street, a guy wanted to talk to me.

"Hello," he said as we passed each other on the sidewalk. He was wearing a dark, hooded sweatshirt, but I thought I could see his nose twitch somewhere in there in it.

I was wearing a white, warm, short coat with a rabbit fur collar and a skirt with flowers on it.

"Hi," I said, smiling. He waited a little too long to ask if I happened to know what time it was.

I don’t wear a watch, or own a cell phone, but I turned around on the sidewalk and said, "No. I don’t know. But I think it’s around 12:30."

This was all that he needed to hear, apparently, to follow me. Tuesday morning, 12:30 a.m. I knew he was following me, and then I turned to see and saw that he was, beautiful world. He’d reversed direction and was walking 30 or 40 feet behind me, in his hood.

I smiled to myself and slowed down. The stars were about as bright as I’d ever seen them in the city. Earlier that afternoon, in the sun, in the country, I had been walking down my street, which is a dead-end street on a thousand-foot-high ridge overlooking, at various points, rolling coastal redwoods, vineyards, cows, sheep, and the Pacific Ocean. It’s a brilliantly beautiful world up there, and tears were streaming down my face because I had lost my soul and could not see much of anything in it.

I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t play music or listen to music. And I couldn’t imagine what I might possibly have left to live for. So I thought I would go for a walk and find out. What I decided while walking, crying, looking at cows and sheep and Pacific Oceans and the thousands of acorns that acorn woodpeckers, in their kooky wisdom, have embedded in a telephone pole next to a barn … what I decided was that I was going to go out that evening to the closest bar to my house, pick up a faceless, nameless drunk guy, and go home with him. Take it from there.

It was like all the flavor had been squeezed out of life into one dense drop on a bent piece of sheet metal in a driveway, then evaporated, taken up to the clouds, and spit back down with this season’s above-average rainfall. One drop. Somewhere. I was as likely to find it on the tip of an anonymous Sonoma County penis as anywhere. Or in the featureless face of a dark hood on a dark street in the Mission District at 12:30 a.m.

I’m not saying I’m smart.

But I do think I might be pretty enough now to pull off something like this. Pick up a guy in a bar. So I turned away from the acorn woodpecker’s acorn art and started back for my shack, beautiful world.

I put a big piece of apple wood on the fire. Took a bath on the porch while the sun was going down, put up the chickens, put on some clean, pretty clothes and makeup, and checked my e-mail.

Jolly Boy’s birthday. Drinks. Earl Butter had beans. Bring tortillas, he said. Well, so maybe I would find that drop, that one thing to hold on to, in a hot sauce bottle, on a cupcake, or in the hugs of friends. It never occurred to me that they would find it on me. In my hair.

The smell of bacon! In retrospect, I’m surprised more people didn’t follow me across the Mission.

My new favorite restaurant is Dragon Rouge, where I ate when I was starting to get sick and could not find duck soup. So I got hot and sour instead. Or "sweet and sour," as they call it, only that was before I poured all the hot sauce in the world into it. Didn’t work (no duck), but the shrimps were particularly great, and it has some cool nonstandard Vietnamese treats for next time: mango steak blankets!


Lunch: Tues.–Sun., 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Dinner: Tues.–Sun., 5–10 p.m.

2304 Encinal, Alameda

(510) 521-1800

Beer, wine, sake


Buddy movie


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

Recently I shared a hotel room with a buddy on a trip and we masturbated together (for the first time). His cock was bigger than mine, and he had an incredibly big come shot. I am not attracted to men — we are both married — but I was very aroused by seeing this. After the awkward silence, I commented on the volume of his load, which led to a conversation about how he gets no sex and never receives a blow job because his wife is grossed out by come. After an hour-long discussion on the pros and cons of cocksucking, we exchanged oral sex (it was the first time for this too). This was about two weeks ago. So finally, here are my questions: Is this unusual among hetero men? My justifications for my actions are that it’s safe sex and just a mutual favor between buddies, not cheating per se. Am I delusional? Can someone else taste come in one’s mouth after oral sex? It seemed like I could taste it for a long time afterward, even once I rinsed.



Dear Bud:

Yeah, OK, I’m going to answer this out of nostalgia — it’s been some years since I was free to give sex info over the phone at San Francisco Sex Information (www.sfsi.org), but when I did, it was during the first shift on Mondays, and I got tons of calls from you guys, the "I had completely unexpected homo sex over the weekend" people. I have to say, though, that I don’t believe this happened to you any more than I believed it happened to most of those other dudes. The big tip-off? It wasn’t the blow job; it was the use of the word buddy. Who says that? I IM’d my own best buddy this question: "Under what circs could you imagine yourself referring to a male friend as a ‘buddy’?" And after he recovered from the shock, he offered, "If we were in a bowling league together?" which made me laugh, but you know, I still don’t buy it. Guys you have beers with are friends or guys you have beers with. Buddies are people you trade imaginary blow jobs with in hotel rooms that the two of you are mysteriously sharing in the unexplained absence of your wives. OK, then!

So, just for the sake of the good old days (mine, not yours), let me answer your questions.

Yes, it’s pretty unusual. The experimental hand job among teenage boys may be common, but straight married guys do not customarily go down on each other just as soon as they’re done raiding the minibar. It doesn’t happen. I’m not judging, mind you. I could not care less about random blow jobs among buddies. Harking back to the San Francisco Sex Information model, though: we were trained to normalize things by placing them on a continuum. Rather than saying "People don’t do that," or "Everyone feels that way," we use the words some, many, most. For instance, we say things like "Most people have fantasies, many people have homosexual fantasies, some people act on them in hotel rooms they are mysteriously sharing with a ‘buddy.’<0x2009>" Most guys don’t! And — keeping in mind that I don’t care about the gay angle or the blow job itself — I do disagree that it isn’t cheating. Ask your wives if it’s OK with them and you’ll see what I mean. On second thought, don’t.

It’s funny, just as I was sitting down to pull this column together a friend (specifically, one of the friends my husband regularly has a beer with and never, ever refers to as a buddy) called to tell me there was a show on advice giving on the radio, featuring the "Radical Honesty" guy (www.radicalhonesty.com), Brad Blanton. Apparently BB was perched in one studio telling the Chicago Tribune‘s Amy Dickinson, who was in another studio, that yes, those pants did make her butt look big, and bloviating on about how — and this is from his Web site — "Radical Honesty means you tell the people in your life what you’ve done or plan to do, what you think, and what you feel. It’s the kind of authentic sharing that creates the possibility of love and intimacy." Now, I am a firm believer in the occasional use of Radical Obfuscation and honestly believe Brad Blanton is probably a total tool, so obviously his philosophy is not for me. I suggest it’s not for you either. It’s far better to do something not great (the random blow job not exactly being the moral equivalent of setting fire to an orphanage), shut the hell up about it, and never do it again. Of course, if you find yourself turning from your wife’s touch and longing for your buddy’s instead — well, that’s a different problem and maybe a little radical honesty might be called for. But I think not.

And yes, the taste will linger forever. There is nothing that will loosen its foul grip upon your tongue, so you might as well get used to it.

Kidding! I think if you’d actually given a blow job instead of just fantasizing about one, you would know this, but pungent as it may be, semen is just proteinaceous glop like any other. Brush your teeth and it will go away.



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.