Volume 42 [2007–08]

Invasion of the bedbugs



Editor’s Note: The writer has penned this story under a pseudonym because of concerns about social stigma and backlash from his landlord, as he discusses below.

More than three weeks had passed since our hike through Yosemite, so my girlfriend and I were starting to worry that the festering egg-shaped welts appearing daily on her arms, legs, and stomach weren’t just a late reaction to mountain mosquitoes. We’d rationalized the problem away until now, but when a bump appeared on her face, we decided to get professional help.

"It doesn’t make sense," my girlfriend told her dermatologist. "It can’t be spiders or fleas because I sleep with my boyfriend and he’s not getting bit. Maybe I’m allergic to my new detergent?"

"Nope," the doctor said. "You’ve got bedbugs."

Then he took some pictures of her wounds "to document the epidemic," wrote out a prescription for an anti-itch medicine, and sent her home to deal with the diagnosis, adding that she shouldn’t freak out because bedbugs don’t transmit diseases. They just make your life miserable, causing rashes, sleeplessness, paranoia, and embarrassment — which is why they’re considered a health risk on par with roaches, scabies, and lice.

But how exactly were we supposed to deal with this? Neither of us had ever even seen a bedbug, and we’d never heard of anyone getting bit. We really didn’t even believe in them. I mean, we’d both heard the old "good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite" rhyme, but we thought it was about ticks or maybe some fantastical little boogiemen, not actual bugs that live in or near your bed. That’s because, like most San Franciscans the age of 70, my girlfriend and I had grown up in a mostly bedbug-free world. But that’s over now.

Bedbugs are back and they’re eating San Francisco alive, sticking their blood-hungry proboscises in transient gutter punks, international travelers, homeless people, doctors, lawyers, and yes … maybe even you. They’re crawling around in our walls as we speak, scuttling from basket to basket in Laundromats, and camping out on buses and trains, waiting for new victims.

But where did they come from? And why are they here now, creeping out residents of civilized American cities that include Cincinnati, New York, and, most recently, San Francisco, where the Department of Public Health has received 307 complaints this year alone — a figure that’s soon to surpass last year’s total count of 327, according to DPH special operations manager Dr. Johnson Ojo.

Well, there are plenty of theories, but the truth is that nobody knows for sure. What we do know is that bedbugs are here and they are hungry. And, by the look of things, they’re not going anywhere soon. As travelers, tenants, homeowners, and landlords, our first mode of action against the epidemic is to learn how to deal. We’ve got to know how to prevent infestations, understand our rights when they occur, and finally come to grips with what it means to live in an infested city.

Of course, to do all of this, it helps to know a thing or two about the nasty fuckers.


Bedbugs are parasitic insects that feed on the blood of sleeping humans. One of the reasons you’re probably not familiar with them, the reason you might think they’re a myth or some dead epidemic from the Dark Ages when nobody washed, is that bedbugs were virtually annihilated from the western world by about 1960.

"Exterminators back then were quite fond of an insecticide called DDT," explained Luis Agurto Jr., president of a local integrated pest management company called Pestec. The chemical was great because it killed every bug in sight. Unfortunately, the virulent toxin wreaked havoc on the environment, killing most bald eagles and a wide variety of plant and animal life, as well as causing cancer and birth defects in humans. Rachel Carson’s landmark book exposing DDT, Silent Spring (Houghton Mifflin, 1962), helped launch the modern environmental movement. Most uses of the chemical were later banned in the U.S. and other countries, even though it meant finding new ways to keep our bugs under control.

Less toxic sprays were developed after DDT was banned in the U.S. in 1972. They worked on roaches and other pests, but what exterminators didn’t know at that time was that the new chemicals weren’t doing much to the bedbug diaspora that was still thriving in remote parts of America and the world. And these little bastards were nothing to mess with.

"These critters had been hammered so hard that, by the 1980s, they were growing impervious to any insecticide on the market," said Michael Potter, an entomology professor at The University of Kentucky and former national technical director for Orkin. "But nobody really noticed because most of these bugs were far away."

In addition to rural parts of the United States, bedbugs could still be found in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa. But Potter rejects the theory that increased travel and immigration are entirely to blame for the global resurgence, as some scientists speculate. "It’s not like we just started flying 10 years ago," he said.

Potter concedes that population movement has a lot to do with the issue, but said that blaming travelers and immigrants ignores certain facts and doesn’t quite explain why bedbugs are coming back in such large numbers. The truth is that bedbugs never really went away. Pockets of extremely resistant survivor cells simply laid low until their offspring could flourish once again. It didn’t take long for that to happen.

"The thing about chemicals is that they only work for a given amount of time," Agurto said. "Everything develops a tolerance after a while." No matter. The commercial use of carbamates and other organophosphates, the classes of insecticides that replaced DDT, were soon restricted in the U.S. after they, too, exhibited nasty environmental side-effects.

After that, pest control managers were forced to switch to pyrethroid-based insecticides — which a bedbug could go swimming in, Potter said — and preventive measures like steam-cleaning, vacuuming, and bait. These methods targeted cockroaches and other pests, but they essentially allowed bedbugs to thrive in a chemical-free paradise. This was in the early 1990s and, according to Potter and Agurto, it’s probably no coincidence that the first major infestations in American cities came to light soon after. By the end of the century, a few years after DDT was restricted to malaria zones worldwide, bedbugs were becoming a problem in the eastern United States. By 2001, they had become a hot news topic in cities in America and around the world.

The bedbug resurgence in New York City has been covered extensively by The New York Times, starting in 2001 with an article about hotels and hostels titled "Bedbugs; Sleeping with the Enemy." Subsequent reports tracked the spread of infestations through homeless shelters, SROs, and eventually into condos, apartments, and houses. But the tiny vampires aren’t stopping there.

Bedbugs, once thought of as a byproduct of poverty, are moving up in the world. "We’re seeing them now in upscale condos and private residencies in the best neighborhoods in town," Agurto said. "Places where people never imagined they’d have to deal with this kind of thing." But that’s not where the infestations stop either, not in New York and probably not here.

They’ve even infiltrated the headquarters of large corporations. One of the latest infestations of this sort, at the Penguin Group in Manhattan, made headlines recently when employees of the publishing company were sent home while the building underwent treatment. The same thing happened at Fox News’ Manhattan office in March of last year, and again this month at Bill Clinton’s offices in Harlem.

Spokespersons for these three entities claim to have things under control. But the question is, does treating the building really solve anything? What about the employees? And, in the case of Penguin, what about all those books? Aren’t they infected too? It would certainly seem so. But perhaps you’re also wondering why, if the epidemic is getting so out of hand, you still haven’t encountered a problem. Well, the truth is, the bedbugs might be closer to you than you think.


There are dozens of reasons why you might not have noticed the resurgence, but probably the biggest is that it’s embarrassing: people don’t want to discuss the issue because it’s gross. But this line of thinking works against us, and if we ever want to learn how to handle the situation, we’ve got to come to terms with the fact that bedbugs have nothing to do with social class or cleanliness.

That’s something my girlfriend hasn’t quite been able to come to grips with, which is why I’m writing under a pseudonym. She hasn’t told anyone but her mother and she can’t stand the idea of bosses, friends, and potential employers Googling her name or mine and somehow finding this story. Yet I’ve come to realize, while researching this issue, that there’s really no reason to be ashamed.

"This is really the first time in human history where people — all people — aren’t constantly on the lookout for bedbugs," Potter said. "And our first course of action is to get reacquainted." That’s not as easy as it sounds. But here are some tips.

First, you should get rid of the idea that bedbugs are microscopic. They’re not. When bedbugs are born, they look like milky-white flax seeds, but after the first feeding they grow to the size of chili flakes and develop a similar hue. Full-grown bedbugs are about the length of a Tic-Tac. They’re brown and flat and they have six legs — something like a two-dimensional, oval-shaped tick with stripes.

Second, don’t underestimate the cunning nature of bloodsucking insects. Bedbugs may not be able to communicate with one another or build intricate nests, but evolution has blessed the species with one sinister adaptive trait: near-invisibility. Bedbugs are masters of disguise. They live in tiny crevices in hard-to-find places — box springs, mattresses, baseboards, etc. — and usually only come out when people are sleeping. But nocturnal dining habits and the ability to hide aren’t the only tools in a bedbug’s arsenal.

The real reason we can sleep soundly while hordes of insects wriggle through our undergarments and suck our blood is that these particular insects are equipped with anesthetic. Simply put, bedbug bites do not hurt. What’s even worse is that, unless you happen to be allergic to the numbing agent found in bedbug saliva, there’s not going to be any evidence in the morning either.

That’s why I thought my girlfriend was either completely insane or perhaps the victim of some unknown skin disorder, even after she got back from the doctor. I just couldn’t understand how a colony of insects could repeatedly bite one person and not even touch the other as he slept inches away. My girlfriend still had her doubts as well, but for lack of any other plausible answer, we decided to look deeper into the issue. This is when things got nasty and when I learned that many people (about half the population, according to various sources) do not react to bedbug bites at all.

After reading everything we could about bedbugs, watching horrendous videos of elderly people swatting insects off their bodies, and perusing vomit-inducing pictures of telltale bedbug signs — smeared blood, fecal stains, and carcass buildups — we did a thorough search of our bedroom and found a cluster between the carpet and the baseboard behind our bed. Now the question was: what to do next? It’s what everyone asks when they encounter an infestation. And sometimes, it’s hard to answer.


"Many of the people who come into our office with bedbug issues are afraid of retaliation," said Ted Gullicksen, head of the San Francisco Tenants Union. "They don’t want to tell their landlords because they don’t want to lose their apartments or get fined."

But in most cases, they’re wrong. City health codes specify that rental properties be free of "any public nuisance," a category that includes bedbugs. Because my girlfriend and I didn’t know that at the time, we worried that we’d somehow be blamed for the infestation.

When we found our nest, we did what most tenants fearing eviction and/or more bills would do. We tried to handle the problem on our own, turning to family and the Internet for advice. Folk remedies soon poured in and we tried them all. We threw out excess clothing, sprayed our bedroom with cedar oil, steam-cleaned our carpet, and then sprinkled diatomaceous earth, an organic powder that kills insects, into every nook and cranny we could find. Then we started sleeping on the couch to wait for the bugs in our bedroom to die. But after four days, the unthinkable happened: more bites.

Potter said it’s a common problem because bedbugs respond to store-bought pesticides by scattering into walls, often showing up a few days later in other rooms or units. "What’s worse," Potter added, "is that there’s nothing saying they can’t be reintroduced even after you’ve invested in professional treatment. And, depending on the size of the problem, that can cost more than $10,000." Indeed, the only method of eradication that most pest control companies, including Pestec, guarantee these days is heat treatment, which necessitates the use of expensive technology and requires multiple follow-ups to ensure success. Plus, it’s not cheap.

When my girlfriend and I realized that our problem wasn’t going to magically disappear, we looked into the cost of treatment and freaked out. We were prepared to pay a couple hundred bucks, but the quotes we got were crazy — thousands of dollars for two rooms. We’re not broke, but forking out that kind of money would hobble us. And besides, by then we were getting scared. What if our landlord found out we’d had bugs for weeks? Could our decision to go it alone be used against us? Could it be grounds for eviction?

We didn’t want to find out and, at that point, we didn’t understand how difficult bedbug eradication could be. So we decided to repeat home treatment and simply hoped for the best. The result? It seems to have worked. My girlfriend has been bite-free for over a month and we haven’t seen a bedbug since July.

But now I’m wondering if we just dug ourselves a deeper hole. I mean, up until about two weeks ago when I started doing heavy research for this article, we thought we were in the clear. That’s why we never reported the problem (which is another reason I decided to write this under a pseudonym). But now that I’m painfully aware of how resilient these fuckers are, I’m wondering if we made the right choice. Still, the thought of coming out with this now fills me with dread. Despite what the Tenant’s Union says, I just can’t imagine getting out of this without some sort of fine. And even if money isn’t an issue, I don’t want to get on my landlord’s bad side. But what now? Should we just move? And what about the tenants who follow us?

It’s probably not the most responsible choice, but this line of thinking is common among first time bedbug sufferers — something my girlfriend and I learned on Yelp.com’s local message boards. Despite all the coverage the bedbug resurgence has gotten in recent years, people on Yelp (a.k.a. everybody you know) seem to be in the dark when it comes to tenants’ rights and responsibilities, with many posters opting for temporary solutions to avoid the possibility of financial penalties.

The most revealing post to date comes from a Yelper named JU who got bedbugs in early August and decided to handle matters on his own. "I know I’m moving out in four months … I’m just trying to make it more livable until then," he wrote. Which raises the question: what about landlords? If a tenant neglects to blow the whistle on a blossoming infestation, can the property manager or building owner charge that tenant for treatment? Can JU be held responsible if his bugs move into neighboring units? Were my girlfriend and I right to think we might get evicted or fined for negligence? Maybe.

"The bedbug issue is complicated and it really boils down to cooperation," said Janna New, director of San Francisco Apartment Association. "If the problem is eradicated and then reoccurs due to a tenant’s negligence or refusal to abandon risky behavior, then the cost of remediation could be negotiable. And evictions could occur."

New says she hasn’t heard of anyone getting evicted for harboring bedbugs, but adds that it’s important for tenants to report infestations immediately because if they ignore the problem, their entire building could quickly become infested. "It’s like the flu," she said. "If you get sick, you talk to your doctor. You should do the same thing with your landlord. Teamwork is the only way to get rid of bedbugs."

That’s something I wish I knew a couple months ago and something Tiffinnie McEntire, a 43 year-old acupuncturist, intuited when she noticed bugs in her Cathedral Hill apartment in 2006. Rather than waste time with store-bought insecticides, she immediately called her landlord, who responded by sending an exterminator. When that didn’t work, he sent anotherm and another, until McEntire and the rest of his tenants felt safe. "It was a pain in the butt," McEntire said. "But in the end, we were all happy."

That’s how an infestation should be solved, and that’s probably how it’ll go down if you report one as soon as you notice it. Both the Tenant’s Union and the Apartment Association agree that the burden of eradication usually falls on the landlords. So if you find bugs, your best mode of action is to report the problem as soon as possible. And if you happen to be an apartment or hotel owner, you should do frequent checks and respond to reports immediately. It might cost thousands of dollars, but it could save you from a lawsuit or prolonged infestation.


So what does it mean to live in an infested city, in an infested nation and world? Well, for one, it means that we all have some lifestyle changes to make. For Njon Weinroth, an out-of-work software salesman whose 14th floor condo has been infested for six months, that has meant staying away from friends and developing an amicable relationship with the little monsters. People without bedbugs can obviously skip this step, but Weinroth can’t afford professional treatment at the moment and feels like he has no other choice.

"I do what I can to control them, but I still kill at least two a night," he said. "When I squish ’em, my blood comes out. It’s gross and that’s really been the hardest part — overcoming the stigma." And that’s something everyone — my girlfriend and I included — need to do if we ever hope to get this problem under control. We have to accept that the only thing bedbugs care about is blood and that they will suck it from a bum as quickly as a movie star (just ask actress Mary Louise Parker from "Weeds," who recently had a bedbug scare in her home). Other than that, specialists recommend being wary of buying used clothing and furniture and avoiding clutter.

With that out of the way, we need to start talking about the problem so that first time bedbug sufferers like my girlfriend and I won’t feel so helpless and ashamed when their bodies and beds become infested and, more important, so they will report bedbug activity before it gets out of hand.

Last, we have to come to grips with how rampant this epidemic is. "I don’t want to be the one tooting the horn saying it’s doomsday and that bed bugs are falling from the sky," Agurto said. "But I can’t think of a person alive who doesn’t know someone — or at least know of someone — who has had a problem." But don’t take it from him alone. If you really want nightmares, take a look the Bedbug Registry (www.bedbugregistry.com).

Started in 2006 by a computer programmer living in San Francisco, the Bedbug Registry is an anonymous record of bedbug activity across North America. It has maps tracking the spread of infestations and a search engine that allows you to see how close the creatures are crawling toward your house, hotel, or workplace (36 reports within two miles of Guardian headquarters — yikes!).

Maciej Ceglowski got the idea for the service when he found bumps on his body and dying bugs in the coffeepot at a San Francisco motel. "I reported the problem and got a resigned shrug from the front desk," Ceglowski said. Then he researched the issue and realized that because it’s so hard to get rid of bedbugs, it would not be in a hotel owner or landlord’s interest to publicize an infestation. "I started the site because I thought it would be a good way to fight back against bedbugs."

But is that even possible? With bedbug activity steadily rising in all corners of the world, a simple solution seems doubtful. Which raises another question: how soon before we all have bedbugs?

"Well, that’s hard to answer," Potter said. "But there’s absolutely no reason to think that our problem is going to get better or go away. We’re in for a real struggle with this critter."
Great. What the hell am I supposed to do now? Under normal circumstances, I would have stopped worrying about these bloodsuckers after a week of not seeing them in my apartment. But now that I’ve done all this research, my girlfriend and I are faced with another tough decision: do we tell our landlord or do we just hope our last home treatment actually worked?
We’re still thinking about it.

Merger on the march


Originally published August 24, 2005

THE NATION’S TWO largest alternative newspaper publishers have been in intense negotiations over a merger that would create an 18-paper chain controlled to a significant extent by venture capitalists, new documents obtained by the Bay Guardian show.

The documents, which appear to be valid, include a May 27, 2005, draft of a merger agreement between Village Voice Media and New Times. They were provided by a source close to the VVM side of the negotiations.

The draft calls for the creation of a new company controlled by a nine-member board. Five of the members would come from Phoenix-based New Times and its primary venture-capital firm, the Boston-based Alta Communications.

New Times, which owns 11 newspapers including the SF Weekly, would have 62 percent of the equity in the new venture, and VVM, which owns the Village Voice and six other papers, would have 38 percent.

The documents mention a Nov. 30, 2005, date for closing the deal, but suggest that the date may have to be pushed back, in part because of federal regulatory issues.

Rumors of a possible VVM-New Times merger have been swirling for months (see “Chain Gang,” 5/25/05). Neither of the principals has denied the reports, although employees of some VVM papers have attempted to dismiss them.

But the new documents are the first concrete confirmation that talks are indeed going on, and that the two parties are close enough to agreement that they’ve circulated draft bylaws of a new limited liability corporation that would own all of the VVM and New Times papers.

As of late May there were clearly still some issues to be resolved: The documents include a memo from VVM CEO David Schneiderman complaining that New Times wants to “renegotiate the terms of our deal” and arguing that some New Times papers, including the SF Weekly and the East Bay Express, are losing a lot of money.

“In the 2004 Calendar year, SF Weekly, East Bay Express and the Cleveland Scene racked up losses of $4 million,” the memo states. SF Weekly, it says, “is locked in a brutal struggle in SF with no sign of success and the same is true in Cleveland.”

The memo concludes: “In short, they have some real losers and we don’t…. given these facts, I don’t believe a renegotiation is warranted.”

But overall, the shape of the deal appears to be fairly clear. A new Delaware-based LLC would be created, with a nine-member board. Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin, the executive editor and CEO of New Times, would each have a seat on the nine-member board, as would an Alta representative. Lacey, Larkin, and the Alta rep would then choose two more members – one of whom would be New Times chief financial officer Jed Brunst – giving New Times and its banker a 5-4 majority.

Schneiderman (who is slated, the documents show, to receive a $500,000 bonus for his work on the merger) would have a seat on the board, and the final three seats would go to Goldman, Sachs & Co., Trimaran Capital Partners, and Weiss Peck & Greer, all of whom are VVM investors.

So in the end, at least four of the board members – and possibly five – will be venture capitalists

The documents state that all but two of the board members (also called “managers”) can be removed from the board for “cause” – but “the Lacey Manager or the Larkin Manager may not be removed as Managers with or without Cause, it being understood that the sole basis on which either such Manager may be removed as a Manager shall be such Manager’s conviction of a felony.”

The documents suggest that the new company has been set up with the idea of an eventual sale: They state that, for the first three years, the company can only be sold with the consent of six of the nine board members. But over the next two years, five board members could approve a sale, and after five years, three directors could make that decision.

“In the event the Board of Managers approves a Sale of the Company … all Members shall be required and hereby agree to cooperate with and participate in such sale,” they state.

The documents also address the prospect that the SF Weekly, the East Bay Express, and the Cleveland Scene could be sold off or closed if they continue to hemorrhage cash. “[I]f at any time up to and including the Third Anniversary date, the cumulative losses for any of the [East Bay, Cleveland or San Francisco units] (brackets in original document) exceed the cumulative projected losses for such unit … the Company, with the consent of five managers, shall be permitted to dispose of such non-performing unit by merger, consolidation, sale of assets or otherwise,” they state.

The new company would be required to honor the union contracts at the Village Voice – the only paper in either chain that’s fully unionized (the L.A. Weekly has some union workers). But other employees may not fare so well. The new company “may, in its reasonable discretion, transition all employees … to new compensation, benefit plans, programs or arrangements.”

One source in New York said that “as I understand it, Larkin will be the CEO and Schneiderman will run the Internet operations. I believe the rest of the VVM corporate staff (essentially finance people) will be let go.”

A separate document, dated June 1, 2005, is titled “NT/VV Proposed Business Consolidation Agreement Issues List Reutf8g to NT Draft of Contribution and LLC Agreement.” It lists some concerns – apparently from VVM executives – about the deal.

It cites a “drop date of Nov. 30, 2005,” but notes that “[t]his is too short, obtaining HSR approval may take a long time.” That’s a reference to the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act, which requires federal approval of any merger that may have an impact on business competition.

That might not be routine: New Times and VVM have run afoul of federal antitrust laws in the past. The two chains were charged a year and a half ago with conspiring to end alt-weekly competition in Los Angeles and Cleveland (see “New Times Nailed,” 1/29/03). Under a consent decree, the companies are required for five years to give the Justice Department notice before pursuing any merger.

We’ve spoken to several sources close to the negotiations who say it’s likely that process is already under way. But the Justice Department has consistently maintained that any such notice would be confidential.

The two parties are also keeping a tight hold on the information. Staffers at VVM and New Times papers seem unaware of the details of the talks, and top management has refused to answer their questions about the situation. The agreement includes a clause stating, “No press releases or public disclosure, either written or oral, of the transactions contemplated by this agreement, shall be made by a party to the agreement without written consent of VV Media LLC and NT holdings.”

The merger would signal the biggest step so far in the consolidation of ownership in the alternative press. The merged company (which thus far is identified only by the dummy name “Newco”) would represent 14.2 percent of the membership of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies and would give one chain operation control of some of the biggest media markets in the country, including New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Denver, Seattle, Phoenix, and Houston (see “SOS: No secret New Times-Village Voice Media deal, sfbg.com).

Schneiderman, Lacey, and Larkin all declined to return messages seeking comment.

The Bay Guardian is suing New Times, charging predatory pricing by the SF Weekly.

The hardest time


Here are the few undisputed facts in the slaying of Roderick “Cooly” Shannon: in the quiet early-morning hours of Aug. 19, 1989, Shannon piloted his mother’s green sedan past the modest, boxy houses of their Visitacion Valley neighborhood. As Shannon coasted along, a posse of young men piled into four cars and gave chase, careening after him through the darkened streets. At the intersection of Delta Street and Visitacion Avenue, the hunted 18-year-old plowed up on the sidewalk, crashed into a chain-link fence, and fled on foot. He ran a couple of blocks, pounding into the parking lot of Super Fair, a graffiti- covered liquor- and- groceries joint. The mob – about 12 deep – grabbed him as he tried to scale the fence between the store and the house next door.

They pummeled Shannon. Then one of the thugs executed him with shotgun blasts to the shoulder and head.

Police linked Shannon’s murder to a raging war between hood-sters from Vis Valley and Hunters Point. Young people – mostly African American – in the two housing project-heavy districts were waging a bloody battle for control of the drug trade, a battle that had escalated into a string of life-for-life revenge killings.

Homicide cops figured Shannon’s execution was a retaliatory hit for the “Cheap Charlie” slayings six months earlier. “Cheap” Charlie Hughes was a player in the Hunters Point drug business who’d been gunned down on his home turf at the intersection of Newcomb Avenue and Mendell Street in a massive firefight. The attack, thought at the time to be the handiwork of gangsters from Sunnydale public housing, also took the life of Roshawn Johnson and sent nine others to the hospital with gunshot wounds. Shannon’s killers, the San Francisco Police Department contended, either thought he had a role in the Cheap Charlie shoot-up or simply wanted to take a Sunnydale homeboy out of the game.

In the fall of 1990 two young men were locked up for Shannon’s murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in the state penitentiary.

Both men had alibis, and 10 years later both maintain their innocence. There are a lot of reasons to believe them.

The prosecution’s case relied almost completely on the shaky, ever changing testimony of a pair of adolescent car thieves. A new eyewitness says the convicted men had no part in the killing. And in a plot twist straight out of Hollywood, another person has confessed to the crime.

Despite a pile of exonerating evidence, the prisoners remain caged. But one of them – a spiritual, soft- spoken man named John J. Tennison – has an unusually passionate, stubborn lawyer on his side. Jeff Adachi, a sharp-dressed idealist known for winning tough cases, has spent 11 long years fighting for Tennison’s freedom – and isn’t about to give up. This is the story of the lifer and the lawyer who wouldn’t quit.

The 12-gauge shotgun that took Shannon’s life was never found. Immediately after his death, homicide detectives Napoleon Hendrix and Prentice “Earl” Sanders spent three fruitless days scouring the city for clues. The killers left little meaningful evidence at the murder scene – no fingerprints, no footprints, no blood, no DNA.

Then a 12-year-old Samoan girl named Masina Fauolo called, offering eyewitness information. She said nothing about anybody named Tennison. But after months of talking to the inspectors, Fauolo, a pal of the victim who lived a few blocks from the crime scene in subsidized housing, identified Tennison as a key player in the murder. “Fat J.J.,” she said, held Shannon, while a man named Anton Goff blew him away. A few months later Fauolo’s friend Pauline Maluina, then 14, chimed in with a corroborating narrative.

Besides Fauolo and Maluina, no one would admit to having seen the killing.

During the autumn of 1989, propelled by the testimony of the two girls, police rounded up Tennison and Goff and hit them with first- degree murder charges.

Enter Adachi, a tough- talking young public defender. Scoping the prosecution’s evidence against Tennison, he found a case riddled with inconsistencies. He figured his client would walk. “The girls’ stories never made any sense,” Adachi says today. “I really thought this case was a winner.”

The attorney also found a young man who regarded him with deep suspicion. “I’m sure he had a certain stereotype coming in of public defender,” Adachi says. “A lot of it comes from popular media: you always hear that line, ‘Why was he convicted? He had a public defender.’ Within popular culture in the African American community there’s that distrust of anything related to the Hall of Justice.”

“It wasn’t just [Adachi]; it was the whole predicament,” Tennison explains. “I’d never been in that situation – charged with murder.”

Meanwhile, deputy district attorney George Butterworth was building an indictment of Tennison on the words of Fauolo and Maluina. As he did, their stories mutated.

Fauolo’s account of the August 1989 murder, laid out in trial transcripts, went like this: She’d taken the bus from Sunnydale to the corner of 24th and Mission Streets, where she picked up a stolen two-door gray car from her cousin. Fauolo and Maluina took off, cruising through the Financial District, down Mission Street, and north to Fisherman’s Wharf, before heading back to Vis Valley. The kids parked in the lovers lane up above McLaren Park, smoking cigarettes and looking down on the city.

Four cars, full of people Fauolo referred to as “HP [Hunters Point] niggers” – Tennison among them, she said – slid into the lane. After 10 to 15 minutes a green car drove by, speeding along Visitacion Avenue. It was Shannon in his mother’s car, a vehicle usually driven by his cousin, Patrick Barnett. “There go that nigger Pat!” one of the young men shouted. “He going to pay the price now.”

The Hunters Point posse jumped in their cars and tore off after Shannon, apparently thinking they were pursuing Barnett, a suspect in the slaying of Cheap Charlie.

Fauolo and Maluina peeled out, tailing the chase. When Shannon crashed, Fauolo ditched her car by Visitacion Valley Middle School and followed her friend on foot. From the corner of the Super Fair blacktop, standing beneath a Marlboro sign, she watched as the pack, laughing, beat her friend. Goff, whom Fauolo had never seen before, emerged from the crowd, yanked a “long gun” from the trunk of a car, and boasted, “I’m going to blow this motherfucker out!”

“Don’t shoot him!” Fauolo screamed. “Don’t shoot him.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Goff yelled.

Then, according to Faoulo, Tennison held the victim like a sacrificial offering while Goff popped off four or five shots. As the mob slowly slipped away, Fauolo ran to Shannon’s aid. He was lying face up on the asphalt. “Go get Pat,” he croaked. “Go get Pat.” Wearing a T-shirt memorializing a Sunnydale homeboy who’d been murdered a few months earlier, Shannon died.

When Fauolo first contacted the homicide unit on Aug. 22, she made no mention of J.J. Tennison. Throughout the two-and-a-half-hour call with detective Hendrix, the girl said she’d watched the crime go down, but she couldn’t – or wouldn’t – ID any of the participants.

Only after months of talking to the inspectors on a near daily basis would the girl pin the murder on Tennison and Goff.

Yet at the time of the killing, Fauolo knew exactly who Tennison was. He lived on the same Hunters Point street as her cousins. She saw him nearly every Sunday when she visited her relatives. She knew what kind of car Tennison drove. She knew his name.

So why did the girl wait so long to cough up that name, Adachi wondered. “You wanted to bring the people who were responsible for Cooly’s death to justice…. And still you never mentioned J.J.’s name during this [initial] conversation?” he asked Fauolo.

“Because I – I didn’t – I wasn’t ready to talk to him about anything,” Fauolo responded.

Adachi wasn’t buying it. “We thought that the cops had either convinced or at least influenced the girls to identify Goff and Tennison,” he says.

During that first phone call the girl was, however, ready to describe the vehicles that chased down Shannon. One of them, she said, was a yellow-and-white Buick Skylark. The description set off bells for Hendrix and Sanders. Tennison, a known gangbanger who’d been popped a couple of times for selling weed, owned a car matching that description. They poked around for him.

“I heard from a few people the rumor that the homicide detectives were looking for me,” Tennison recounted in a recent Bay Guardian interview. He stopped by the central cop shop at 850 Bryant. “I asked them what was going on. They basically said, ‘Your car and you were involved in a homicide.’ I basically told ’em we can cut this interview short, that my car was in the impound already.”

Towing-company records proved Tennison’s impounded car wasn’t at the scene of the crime, and he was set free.

Still, on Oct. 31, 1989, after repeated in-depth conversations with the police, Fauolo picked out Tennison from a photo lineup. Now, however, she offered new information. Straining the bounds of credibility, Fauolo insisted that Tennison owned two nearly identical, yellow-and-white Buicks: one with a white vinyl top, the other with a white- painted metal roof.

Prosecutor Butterworth never produced any evidence that this second car truly existed. While the SFPD keeps a photo registry of the vehicles of suspected gangsters, it had no snapshots of this mystery car – let alone the actual auto.

At the trial, medical examiner Boyd Stephens told the court that Shannon’s body bore no bruises: the boy hadn’t been beaten with anything but fists. Though Fauolo had sworn in pretrial depositions that the victim had been attacked with bats and sticks, she now said that she hadn’t seen the mob actually striking Shannon with the weapons.

Other aspects of Fauolo’s testimony are troubling. For one thing, she was standing more than 100 feet away from the crime, on a moonless night. Could she really make out the assassins?

Her recollection of the car chase never jibed with that of another witness who took in the pursuit – though not the actual shooting – from his Cora Street window. Shannon and his assailants, this witness said, had been driving in reverse at high speed for at least part of the chase. The victim backed his car into the ballpark fence at high speed, pursued by a black pickup truck “doing about 35 miles an hour backwards.”

Fauolo, who supposedly had a front-row seat to the incident, never mentioned anything about the vehicles reversing rapidly.

Maluina’s testimony – also documented in court records – was even more suspect. In November 1989 the girl was called into her school principal’s office. Hendrix had some questions for her. Yes, Maluina told the detective, she’d seen Shannon get “mobbed” and killed. How had she happened onto the crime scene? She’d been “walking around.” In Maluina’s version of the night’s events, there was no stolen car.

When Hendrix presented the girl with an array of mug shots, Maluina picked out Tennison but failed to ID Goff as the triggerman. She also selected a third man as a possible perpetrator but later retracted that accusation.

Four months later, at a preliminary court hearing, Maluina wasn’t sure Tennison had been among the mob. “I’m not sure,” she said when asked if the boy was one of the killers.

“And that’s your honest answer?” Adachi asked.

“Yes,” the girl replied.

Goff wasn’t there, Maluina told the court at another early pretrial hearing.

In April 1989 Maluina recanted her testimony completely.

She now told Hendrix and prosecutor Butterworth that she hadn’t seen the crime. In fact, she said, she’d fabricated her whole story at the urging of Fauolo. “I wasn’t there when the incident happened,” Maluina told Butterworth. The other girl, Maluina said, had filled her in on the details of the crime, instructing her to single out the “biggest guy” in the mug shot lineup. (Tennison at that point carried about 200 pounds on his roughly five-foot-nine frame.) “The only reason I picked out J.J.’s picture is because Masina told me to,” she pleaded.

His case crumbling rapidly, Hendrix phoned Fauolo – who had moved to Samoa – and put Maluina on the line. By the time the two friends were finished talking, the girl’s story had morphed once again: Actually, she was there, Maluina informed the men.

When the jury heard the case in October 1990, Maluina was steadfast: she’d seen the crime and could pinpoint Goff as the gunman and Tennison as an accomplice. Fear had driven her testimony through its chameleonic changes, she told the court. She hadn’t wanted to be busted for the stolen car, so she’d left it out of her story. She’d recanted her testimony and denied witnessing the crime because she’d feared violent retribution.

Like Tennison’s supposed second car, Fauolo and Maluina’s boosted sedan was never found; either police had failed to track down the hot car, or perhaps it never existed.

The jury, which took three days to arrive at a guilty verdict, believed Maluina and Fauolo.

I pass through many locked steel doors to reach the home of J.J. Tennison.

At the gates of Mule Creek State Prison, two and a half hours northeast of San Francisco in Amador County, I empty my pockets and stand in my socks. A female prison guard, a middle-aged white woman with a gravity- defying shock of bottle blond hair, scopes the insides of my shoes for contraband. “Bleep-bleep-bleep,” shrieks the metal detector as a Latino mom, grade-school kids in tow, passes through. It’s her underwire bra. The guards have her take it off.

I walk through the metal detector without incident. Ahead of me a 12-foot-tall chain-link door slides open. The moment I step through, it shuts behind me, locking me inside of a claustrophobic six-by-eight-foot cage equipped with two security cameras. The cage door pops open, and I walk out into a small courtyard hemmed in by razor wire. I stride across a heat-scorched lawn into another squat cinder-block building.

Here a stoic correctional officer in a green jumpsuit checks me over before unbolting the thick door to the cafeteria- like visiting room.

Tennison, a bulky black man with a freshly shaved head and a bright smile that seems out of place in this drab universe, greets me warmly. He speaks quietly but forcefully, as if this rare face-to-face encounter with the outside world could end at any moment, a soft drawl rounding off the edges of his words. Now 29, he is hefty but not overweight, childhood fat shed for muscle, his complexion coffee- colored, eyes penetrating.

I’ve journeyed here with Adachi, and a palpable tension hangs in the air when the lawyer relates recent developments in the case. The two men lock eyes; sweat beads on Tennison’s tall forehead. Adachi has little good news. “I know it doesn’t seem like we’re doing shit, ’cause you’re still in here,” he says.

The prisoner responds in a near whisper: “It just gets harder and harder every day.”

The youngest of four boys, Tennison grew up “on the hill,” as they say in Hunters Point, on Northridge Street, splitting time between his divorced parents, Dolly Tennison, a shoe salesperson, and John Tennison Sr., a sheet- metal worker at the shipyard. The tough, largely African American neighborhood in southeastern San Francisco comprised his entire childhood world.

At Sir Francis Drake elementary, Tennison recalls, “I was pretty much like any other kid going there: did the work, didn’t like it, played sports.” Physically chunky from an early age, Tennison loved athletics – “any kind of sports” – but football was his game; that is, when he could keep out of trouble. In his teenage years, between two stints in San Francisco’s youth lockups for selling weed, he played linebacker for the MacAteer High School football squad. Tennison the ghetto entrepreneur cliqued up with the Harbor Road “set,” a loose-knit band of teen and twentysomething males who claimed the area around that street’s subsidized apartments as their exclusive drug- slanging fiefdom.

Some days Tennison figures his decade in prison has been a blessing: it beats being dead, and many of his old running mates are six feet under – a half dozen Harbor Road heads were slain in 2000 alone.

To former friends dwelling “on the outs,” he is forgotten: over his 10 years of incarceration their stream of letters has dwindled, their visits have tapered off entirely. Like most lifers, Tennison has gradually become a ghost, a specter of the man his preprison companions once knew.

He doesn’t keep in touch with Goff; he says he scarcely even knew him before they were arrested.

Survival, family, and faith define the con’s existence. Survival in Mule Creek – host to a preponderance of lifers – means keeping your mouth shut and your head down; avoiding the vagaries of “prison politics” by staying in the good graces of the turnkeys and off the shit lists of other inmates; maintaining your sanity in the face of unending repetition. Tennison does not indulge this journalist’s urge to gather stomach- turning details about penitentiary life; he will only hint at the horrors that transpire behind the walls. “Some thangs you just mentally try to block out. I’ve seen a guy get shot. I’ve seen guys get stabbed. It’s a violent place. One minute it’s nice … the next minute somebody’s being carried away on a stretcher.”

In another 14 years Tennison will be a candidate for parole – in theory, at least. The state, from Gov. Gray Davis on down, is allergic to paroling convicted killers, even those legally eligible for early release. And unless that changes, he will never escape the grip of the California Department of Corrections.

What happens to the person buried – along with some of the ugliest, most brutal people on earth – under an avalanche of concrete and steel, alive with only the faintest prospect of rescue?

The weight of long-term incarceration is famous for creating stony- faced sociopaths, but Tennison seems a flat- emotioned husk of a man who – simply, quietly – endures. If truly innocent, he is living out the mother of all nightmares. Yet when I speak to him, I see only the tiniest hints of rage: no fury at the hand fate has dealt him, no profanities for the cops and prosecutors who put him here, no ill will toward the girls who testified against him. He gripes little about his locked- down environs and must be pressed to complain about the conditions of his confinement. “I live very well compared to a lot of other less fortunate people,” he tells me without the slightest touch of irony.

Home is a six-by-eight-foot cell he shares with another man. Amenities include a 13-inch TV, a CD player, and a Walkman. Work is an 18¢-an-hour job in the prison print shop. Recreation is shooting hoops in the exercise yard after work. Nighttime is reserved for prayer. The joys in the inmate’s life are meager: a familiar song on the radio, warm sunlight pouring through his cell window on a chilly day, a phone call to kin.

Family consists largely of mother Dolly and older brother Bruce. John Tennison Sr. died of cancer in 1993; brother Julius doesn’t keep in close contact; brother Mike was shot in the back and killed a few years back. “I lost my brother, I lost my father, I lost my grandfather since I’ve been in prison. Your [cell] door opens, and you know it’s not time for it to open. You know immediately something’s not right. All three times it’s been like that. I pray and pray and pray that nothing happens to my mother while I’m gone.” From his neck hangs a gold cross, jewelry that once belonged to Mike.

Four or five times a week Tennison’s mind flashes back to the moment he heard the guilty verdict. “I was in total shock, disbelief,” he recounts softly. “My whole body went numb. I couldn’t hear for maybe 30 seconds. Couldn’t speak for maybe another 30 seconds. Out-of-body experience – I just couldn’t believe it.

“As long as it’s been, I can remember that day right now as we speak. At times when I’m just sitting back thinking to myself, I remember just hearing ‘guilty.’ And sometimes I think, what if it was the other way around?”

Every single day of the past decade has “basically been the same. Each step ain’t getting no easier. It’s basically the same routine. First thang when I wake: damn I’m still here. I put it in my mind how I’m gonna deal with this day without interrupting anybody’s program, keep anybody from interrupting my program. Physically it’s the same thang. But mentally it’s getting tougher and tougher.”

Like most of this town’s city-paid defense lawyers, Adachi, a Sacramento native, doesn’t conform to the popular, television- inspired conception of a public defender. He doesn’t show up for court in rumpled, coffee- stained suits; isn’t perpetually outgunned by sharp- witted prosecutors; hasn’t been ground down to a state of indifference.

The son of an auto mechanic and a medical lab technician, Adachi is a true nonbeliever, questioning whether a person of color can ever find justice in an American courtroom.

A handsome, slickly dressed man with greased-back hair and a sleek sable Mercedes, he possesses a genius for ripping apart prosecution testimony. Watching him at work – he’s a pit bull in the courtroom – I get the sense that there is nothing in the world Adachi likes more than practicing law.

These days he takes only the toughest cases. He recently represented Lam Choi, the man indicted for offing a Tenderloin mob boss in 1996 in a high- profile, Mafia- style rubout. He is the lawyer for Jehad Baqleh, the cabbie accused of raping and killing 24-year-old Julie Day. If a murder hits the front pages, chances are Adachi will work it, and much of the time his clients go free. Second in command in the office, he has already filed papers to run for the top slot when current chief Jeff Brown steps down in 2002, and many of his colleagues think he’s a natural choice for the job.

But back in 1989, Adachi was a relative newjack, with just three years under his belt as a city-paid defender. The Tennison- Goff trial was the first murder case he worked from start to finish.

Believing the prosecution had a flimsy case, the young attorney didn’t mount a major- league, call-up- every- witness-you-can-find defense. “That’s the only thing I regret: not putting on more of a case. We really didn’t think it was necessary because what the girls said made no sense. It was chock-full of contradictions.”

Goff’s trial attorney, Barry Melton agrees. “We never really believed they had enough of a case to convict these kids,” recounts Melton, now top public defender in Yolo County. “After all, they were trying to hang these guys on the words of a 14-year-old car thief.”

Both defendants had alibis, but both lawyers were loath to put the exonerating figures – black adolescent thugsters – on the stand, knowing they’d play badly to the jury. Tennison, for his part, contended that during the time in question he’d been picking up friends from the Broadmoor bowling alley. Adachi was scared to even admit to the jury that his client had left the house on the night of the killing.

“If they didn’t think these two kids were in a gang, when they saw all the alibi kids, they definitely would’ve,” Melton explains. “It’s been my experience that half the time people can’t remember what they were doing.”

The jury ruling struck the legal team like an industrial- strength electrical shock. “Oh … my … God,” Melton gasped as the verdict was announced; Adachi was speechless as his client wept openly.

Already tenuous, the bond between Adachi and Tennison crumbled. “I wanted to take the stand,” Tennison remembers. “I figured all [the prosecution] could do was say that I was a drug dealer. I felt that I should’ve testified on my own behalf and my witnesses should’ve testified for me. It would’ve eased the pain for me a little.

“After the trial we kind of pointed the finger at each other. When it was all said and done, I felt he didn’t give it his all. I figured I didn’t get off, so he didn’t do his job.”

Adachi, too, felt let down. “I was angry at him because I thought he didn’t help me. I thought he didn’t trust me because I was a public defender. I could’ve found out more about the case had I had more access to the community. If this had occurred in the Japanese community that I’ve been a part of for years, I could’ve gotten down there and found out everything I needed to know. I did all the regular investigation, talked to all the witnesses, talked to his family, all that. But there needed to be an extraordinary effort, not only to solve a murder but to untangle a web of deceit which had been woven by these two girls.”

Sitting in his Seventh Street office, Adachi holds his fingers a millimeter apart: “We had this much trust after the trial.”

Every defense lawyer has watched – sick in the gut – as a client he or she believes to be inculpable is sent to the pen. These are the trials that haunt; Tennison, his face shrouded in darkness, starred in Adachi’s nightmares for many years after the decision.

“The reason he wasn’t acquitted was because the jury was holding the defense to too high a standard,” contends Adachi, who argues that the town’s then- raging gang war “had the effect of really shifting the burden of proof. If I were to analyze it now, in a gang case where somebody’s dead, you’ve got to prove innocence” – rather than simply raising a reasonable doubt.

When a client is found guilty, the public defender nearly always washes his or her hands of the matter, leaving appeals to state-paid lawyers or private counsel. After all, there’s a steady stream of new clients and no funding for lost causes, which is what most appeals are. Adachi conferred with gumshoe Bob Stemi, the investigator who’d helped him craft Tennison’s failed defense. Both men were devastated. They decided to start over, to excavate fresh evidence and reconstruct the case as if they were headed back to trial.

Adachi began reaching out to Tennison, hoping to resurrect some sense of trust.

A month after the verdict came down, S.F. police officers Michael Lewis and Nevil Gittens picked up a man named Lovinsky “Lovinsta” Ricard Jr. on a routine drug warrant. Ricard had a surprise for them: it was he – not Goff and Tennison – who shot Shannon to death, he informed the cops.

According to police transcripts of that confession, Ricard had been cruising around with a bunch of friends in a convoy of three cars and a black pickup truck, looking to leave somebody from Sunnydale bleeding. The posse stopped to loiter in the parking lot of the 7-11 at Third and Newcomb Streets – just a few blocks from the spot where Shannon was killed. Ricard sat in the pickup swilling Old English malt liquor.

Shannon drove by, and Ricard and company lit out after him. When they got to the Visitacion Avenue ball field, Ricard told the cops, Shannon “ran up on the curb, and at the fence he jumped out. Then we started chasing him. I remember I got off the truck and … some people, they had already cornered him, OK…. And they, over there, they were beatin’ him up. They was beatin’ him up.”

Ricard pulled a 12-gauge from the truck and gunned down Shannon, “because we knew he was from Sunnydale.”

“Were any of two individuals, Antoine [sic] Goff or John Tinneson [sic], do you recall whether they were with you on the night this thing occurred?” one of the officers queried.

“No, they were not,” Ricard responded.

There were some flaws in the story. He was fuzzy on some details, like how many shells he’d put in the shotgun and what brand the gun was. He wouldn’t name any eyewitnesses to back up his claim. And he couldn’t provide the murder weapon.

Ricard’s confession was the kind of thing that happens all the time in the movies and almost never in real life – and despite the limits of his story, Adachi assumed Tennison and Goff could start planning their homecoming parties.

The confession turned out to be a bombshell … that never exploded. Judge Thomas Dandurand shot down a request for a fresh trial. Deeming Ricard’s confession unreliable, the police set him free. Legal documents indicate that Ricard now lives in St. Paul, Minn. (Our attempts to reach him through the mail and by phone were unsuccessful.)

On July 2, 1992, nearly three years after the murder, investigator Stemi convinced a witness to step forward. This person, whom we’ll refer to as Witness X for obvious security reasons, gave police, prosecutors, and the defense a detailed rundown of the slaying and the events that preceded it. The new account – which was taped and transcribed – corroborated Ricard’s confession and included the names of four alleged accomplices to the crime. Ricard was indeed the gunman, Witness X asserted. Tennison and Goff had no part in the crime.

Now, Adachi figured, Tennison and Goff would finally walk. Wrong again. Arlo Smith, district attorney at the time, didn’t feel the narrative was strong enough to reopen the case.

Stymied, Adachi kept probing and enlisted the help of private attorney Eric Multhaup in navigating the maze of court appeals.

Tennison and Goff “had nothing to do with it,” Witness X tells me in a recent interview. “Lovinsta even got up and told that he did it, and that neither J.J. nor [Goff] had anything to do with it. I do know what happened – I was there.”

Over the course of a two-hour conversation Witness X offers a convincing recounting of the crime. “Lovinsta went over there while they were beating him up,” shot Shannon, and “came back with his shirt and everything all bloody and said it felt good.

“Lovinsta asked us never to say nothing; everybody was to be quiet,” the informer tells me. Adachi hired an ex-FBI agent to run a polygraph test on X; according to the machine, the witness is telling the truth.

Witness X claims – as police had theorized – that Shannon was killed to avenge the deaths of Cheap Charlie Hughes and Roshawn Johnson. “It was just anybody at random, whoever it is from Sunnydale, you’re gonna die. Unfortunately, Roderick was right there, and he happened to be from Sunnydale.”

Anton (pronounced “Antoine”) Goff is among the 5,800 humans stuffed into the Corrections Department’s Solano County facility, a strip-mall McPrison built for just 2,100 inmates. It’s luxurious compared with his old digs: Goff spent his first five years on 22-hour-a-day lockdown at the infamous Pelican Bay state pen.

The detectives pegged Goff as a man with a clear motive to murder: he’d been wounded – allegedly by a Sunnydale head – in the Cheap Charlie shooting.

But Goff, now 31, claims he was hanging out with “four or five” buddies on the night of Aug. 29 and never even left Hunters Point. “All of ’em was ready to testify,” he says.

Ricard “was a friend we knew growing up in the neighborhood. He wasn’t nobody I hung around with all the time,” Goff relates, saying he’s positive of the man’s guilt. “He told me everything what happened. He told me personally before I was arrested.”

Tennison was a friend, but not a close comrade, Goff says.

He works out three, four hours a day, playing basketball, sometimes handball. There are no weights in the exercise yard, so Goff builds muscle by lifting other inmates. He studies business, planning for a career that may never come. “You have to be tough to get through the situation, ’cause it’s not easy up in here. You have to have your mind right, or you’ll go crazy.”

Constantly, he asks himself, “Why am I here? Why am I being punished?”

Inspectors Hendrix and Sanders spent better than two decades trying to staunch the city’s bleeding. Both African American, the men staffed the homicide unit throughout San Francisco’s goriest years – the crack- fueled murder binge that ran from 1985 to 1993 – digging into some 500 slayings and solving 85 percent of them. As a team they were the kind of hard-boiled, damn near inescapable cops dreamed up by TV scriptwriters.

These days, 63-year-old Sanders, now assistant chief, seems more grandpa than hard-ass. His mind, however, is anything but soft: talking about Shannon’s execution, he effortlessly calls up minute details from the decade- old incident.

Sanders is indignant at Adachi’s allegation that he and Hendrix might have somehow shaped the statements of Maluina and Fauolo. “That is absolutely untrue. It’s speculation on his part,” the veteran officer tells me. “At no time in my career did I intentionally or unintentionally influence a witness.”

Maluina and Fauolo, the ex- detective insists, “had no axe to grind. They were reluctant to come forward because they had families in the community,” but through many hours of dialogue the cops convinced the girls to take the stand.

“Eyewitnesses all the time have inconsistencies,” he says. “And those inconsistencies were pointed out by the defense counsel, very thoroughly. But those inconsistencies were not enough to shake the judgment of the jury as to the guilt of the two young men.”

Maluina’s flip-flop signified an instinct to protect herself, not dishonesty, Sanders argues. “She was afraid. Witnesses get killed. She was frightened, and rightfully so.”

For Sanders the testimony simply made sense – agreeing with the few clues discovered at the scene. He remains adamant about the girls’ integrity.

I ask about Tennison’s supposed second car, the one that never materialized. Irrelevant, according to Sanders. “I looked at the evidence carefully. We didn’t investigate this overnight. As far as I’m concerned, we laid out the evidence, gave it to the prosecution, which presented it to the jury – and the jury agreed that these two young men were guilty.”

So why would Ricard cop to an assassination he didn’t do? Would an innocent guy really volunteer for a permanent stay in the joint? “I have no idea what his motivation would be – except for pressure from some of his gang members. I don’t doubt that he may have been there, but the information he gave doesn’t fit the scenario.

“I initially thought [the confession] was just to confuse the issue, because he did not have the details of what happened. We know exactly the route of the chase. We know what corners – we know where the car was crashed. He didn’t know all that. I don’t know why he came forward. I have no idea.”

Tennison and Goff deserve the purgatory they now dwell in, the cop assures me.

(Hendrix, who retired in 1999 after 34 years on the force, declined to be interviewed for this story.)

Silence governs the urban underworld. Rule one is: you do not snitch. Rule two: Breaking rule one is a transgression punishable by death. Case in point: two witnesses in San Francisco murder cases were slain just in the last two months.

Witness X named three other supposed witnesses, and Adachi’s archaeology has focused on unearthing these characters. Scouring credit data, Department of Motor Vehicles info, court records, and prison rolls, Adachi, along with investigator Stemi, hunted up two of these people, only to run head-on into the code of the streets. Bringing along a tape of Ricard’s confession, Adachi and Stemi paid a visit to one of the alleged witnesses, a convicted dope dealer doing time in the San Quentin state pen. See, they said, your buddy turned himself in; he’s trying to take responsibility for his actions. No dice, the man replied. I don’t got shit to say to you.

Contacting another alleged witness (this one a small-time rapper) via a trusted intermediary, they again came up empty. It didn’t matter that Ricard had already incriminated himself: nobody wanted to talk. Besides, Shannon had been besieged by a mob, and flapping lips could conceivably lead to more arrests. There is no statute of limitations on murder.

“All of them are scared that they’ll go to jail,” Witness X figures.

Since the trial, Maluina and Fauolo have made themselves scarce – both have moved in and out of San Francisco on several occasions – eluding attempts by Adachi and Stemi to reach them. (The Bay Guardian was unable to contact either woman.)

Despite all of the dead ends, Adachi and Tennison have, if anything, grown closer, writing letters and speaking on the phone every couple of weeks.

Adachi keeps the Tennison- Goff trial transcripts next to his paper- covered desk. His notes on the case are jammed into a dozen overstuffed binders lining an office bookshelf. The trial exhibits are stacked in a corner. He and Stemi still discuss the case two or three times a week.

Adachi is amazed at Tennison’s resilience. “I’ve seen him mature into a very spiritual man. For him to be as strong as he’s been – that’s what hits home to me now. How could he stand up to that?”

“I not only think of him as my attorney,” Tennison says, “but I consider him a good friend who’s giving his all to get me out. I think of him as a damn good friend.”

Adachi tells me he “will never, ever give up” on his client. “I don’t care what it takes. I could be 80 years old. I’ll never give up.”

It’s a commitment that has won him praise from his peers. “You’re not going to find too many lawyers with the heart Jeff Adachi has,” ventures Scott Kauffman, a private defense lawyer who specializes in gang cases and death penalty appeals. “I definitely think he’s doing it for J.J., but at another level it’s personal. This case has caused him a lot of pain. I’ve seen him talk about the case – he’s almost in tears.”

Goff’s attorney, Melton, lauds his former cocounsel: “He’s been steadfast. Given the information about the case, you have to remain committed.”

But what if Adachi’s instincts are wrong, and Tennison did murder Shannon? If so, Adachi has wasted 11 years attempting to unchain an assassin.

To keep from obsessing over her son’s fate, Dolly Tennison works herself to exhaustion. Mornings, she clerks at a department store; nights, till 4 a.m., she attends to an ailing 83-year-old woman. Seven years back Dolly fled to a small, solitary apartment on the peninsula. Hunters Point was tainted with “too many damn memories.”

Dignified, her clothes and medium-length hair immaculate, Dolly looks like she’s working very hard to keep her chin up, to keep darkness from closing in. Given the age of her children, she must be approaching senior citizen-<\d>hood, but she looks trim and healthy.

“It hurt like hell for them to say 25 to life for my child,” she tells me, her words rushing out all at once, only to trail off just as quickly. Portraits blanket the walls of her home: chubby Buddha babies; a granddaughter in prep-school togs; son Bruce on his wedding day; J.J. in prison blues; murdered son Mike looking hard.

Dolly beckons me to take in the snapshots from her vantage point on the couch. “I think I’ve been glued to this spot since Mike died. I can sit here and see all my family. I’ll sit here all day long waiting for [J.J.] to call as long as I can hear his voice,” she tells me, pointing to the photo of her dead son, “<\!s>’cause there’s one over there I can’t touch.”

Like the parent of a long- disappeared child, she holds out an almost irrational hope that her son will one day emerge from exile. “My best day is when I go visit my kid. It’s hard knowing my child may not be coming home soon, but he’s gon’ come home.” Dolly is her son’s rock; prayer, she tells me, is her anchor.

Slowly shaking his head, 34-year-old Bruce, a San Francisco parking lot attendant, raises his voice. “I understand that it’s been 10 years outta his life, but it’s been 10 years outta my life, too, 10 years outta my momma’s life. Gone. Can never get back.” Enraged, he blames the legal system for his brother’s lot.

Bruce daydreams about the day his younger sibling is liberated: “He’d just call me and tell me what he’d wanna ride home in. Budget’ll rent anything – a limo, an R.V., whatever. I want just to ride and talk with him – free. No doors closing behind us. The wind blowing on our little bald heads. Seeing the sun rise and the sun set.”

On a mid- November morning, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the highest- ranking federal court in the western United States, will hear Tennison’s plea. The judiciary hasn’t smiled on Tennison’s appeals: four courts have vetoed his bid for a new trial. The last rejection – by a federal district judge – came in March, leaving Adachi “gutted” and Tennison dejected.

The 9th Circuit’s Mission Street courtrooms are housed in a stately $91 million granite edifice – the interior all marble and polished wood. Inside courtroom three, a pristine chamber worthy of a Tennessee Williams drama, hangs a tile mosaic depicting a freed slave, shackles snapped, approaching a white Lady Justice on bended knee. Beneath the image, on a walnut pew, sit Dolly and Bruce Tennison.

Dolly, dressed for business in a black pantsuit, clutches a form letter from the court: Adachi’s ally, attorney Multhaup, will have 10 minutes to argue before the bench. Bruce throws an arm around his mother’s shoulders. Eleven years in prison, and J.J. Tennison’s fate – whether he will spend the rest of his days behind bars – rests on a 10-minute conversation and a legal brief. Multhaup’s argument today is simple: the lower federal court has abandoned its constitutional duty by refusing to review new evidence in the case.

“We have a claim here that the petitioner is presenting new evidence of factual innocence,” Multhaup tells the panel somewhat nervously.

“But the state courts reviewed this evidence,” one judge replies.

“We had a preemptive strike by the [federal] District Court. The [S.F.] Superior Court that dismissed the case was in no way reasonable, in my opinion. And how many times does this happen in the criminal justice system? We have a person who’s come forward and confessed to the crime.”

The judges launch a fusillade of questions at Multhaup, at one point rattling him a bit. In 10 minutes the hearing is history.

Outside the courtroom the Tennisons, solemn faced, huddle with Multhaup. The attorney plays the optimist, while Diana Samuelson, the lawyer handling Goff’s appeals, is less sanguine, telling me she thinks the circuit will kill the petition.

Prosecutor Butterworth would not speak to the Bay Guardian for this piece. He did, however, fax a one-page rebuttal to Tennison’s charges, which reads in part: “This matter has been reviewed several times by the office of the District Attorney and the San Francisco Police Department based upon the allegations raised [in Tennison’s ongoing appeal]. Nothing has been presented to date that would justify ‘re-opening’ the investigation.”

Grilling Tennison, I look for cracks in his story, telling slipups that might point to his guilt. His account of the night in question – that he was sleeping at a friend’s house, then picking up pals from the bowling alley – corresponds to what he told detectives 11 years ago as they ran the good cop-<\d>bad cop routine.

Why would Fauolo and Maluina lie and put away an innocent man, I ask.

“Over the years I’ve asked myself the same question and still haven’t come up with an answer,” he tells me. But “right out the gate it was no doubt in my mind that the homicide inspectors, the D.A., or somebody put ’em up to this, because I knew they were pointing out the wrong person. As for [Goff], at the time I wasn’t sure, but I was definitely sure that they had the wrong person when they pointed out me.

“I’ve said it from day one: I’m not a murderer. I was a drug dealer at the time. It wasn’t nothing to be proud of, or ashamed of. I was locked up for it twice. I did my time.

“In a time when you want people to believe in the justice system and that the system works, I’m a perfect example that the system is screwed up – from the top to the bottom. And as of right now I can’t see it no other way. Everything is in black and white.”

Tennison is relaxed, coming off like a man who can’t be bothered to front, as I put him on trial all over again. Maybe he’s guilty as hell; maybe he snuffed out Shannon’s young life. But if so, his body language and speech patterns offer no subtle indications of that. When Tennison was picked up by the SFPD, Hendrix and Sanders interrogated him for hours, without a lawyer, and his explanation of the crucial hours never wavered. I wonder if something in his 17-year-old demeanor spelled out “executioner” to the homicide detectives.

I put the question to Sanders. “I worked over 500 murder cases,” the veteran lawman responds. “I’ve talked to a lot of killers in my day, and if I had any indication that he was innocent, I would’ve let him go.”

Uncomfortable playing Solomon, I run Tennison’s story by an old ex-con who spent 25 years in some of the state’s most notorious lockups. “Every guy inside will tell you he’s innocent,” I tell him. “And every bleeding-heart journo wants to believe him.”

“Yeah, but you know, after 10 years or so inside, it becomes really hard to lie,” the former prisoner responds. “You just get so tired, so worn down, it’s impossible to keep up a lie.”

Never mind the fact that Tennison passed a polygraph test.

The 9th Circuit’s ruling arrives in Adachi’s mailbox Dec. 15. He reads through the five-page decision with his heart in his throat. The key information comes in the last two paragraphs: “Tennison’s conviction appears to rest largely on the testimony [of two little girls]. Tennison’s new evidence, taken together, calls into question the reliability of these eyewitness identifications.”

And then, two sentences later: victory. The judges are overturning the ruling of the lower court, instructing federal judge Claudia Wilken to mount a “thorough review” of Tennison’s situation.

It doesn’t mean the inmate is going home tomorrow, nor even that he’ll necessarily get a new trial, but the decision does require Wilken to examine the sworn statements of Ricard and Witness X and to determine whether a retrial should be ordered.

Adachi is elated. Dolly Tennison seems relieved, as if she can finally start breathing again. Bruce Tennison feels like “Christmas came early.”

An upbeat John J. Tennison phones me. “I finally had three judges look over the case and see what should’ve been saw a long time ago.”

Grinning today, the prisoner has already begun steeling himself for rejection at the next round. “I play a lot of basketball to take my mind off it. The [courts] are playing God. My life is in other people’s hands, and there’s nothing I can physically do. Nothing.”

They made me realise


› johnny@sfbg.com

This is an "I remember" groupie story about My Bloody Valentine. But I’ll try to tap into Joe Brainard’s conciseness and make certain my nostalgia has a point.

Two decades ago, when Om was a London three-piece named Loop, and Dave Segal, Michael Segal, and I were writing, typing, photocopying, and stapling a music zine called You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, the Segals and I drove from Detroit to Toronto to join an audience of 20 or 30 Canadians at MBV’s first-ever North American show. We wanted to hear the instrumental bridge of "You Made Me Realise" — the precise recorded moment when MBV rose above C86, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, and Dinosaur Jr., thanks to a guitar sound that levitated, compressed, and then shattered.

That night, that portion of that song was something different: a literally dizzying five-minute hurricane of noise.

When MBV played Detroit a week later, we hung out with Kevin Shields, Bilinda J. Butcher, Deb Googe, and Colm Ó Cíosóig upstairs by a piano at Saint Andrew’s Hall and interviewed them about the Lazy days of 1987’s Ecstasy and Strawberry Wine and the studio sleep deprivation that led to the breakthrough of You Made Me Realise (Creation, 1988) and Isn’t Anything (Warner Bros./Sire, 1988). Loveless (Creation, 1991) was still just an idea. Back then, Simon Reynolds, whom I interviewed for the same zine, was the group’s vanguard critical champion. In Melody Maker, he’d cite the French feminist theory of Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and Julia Kristeva, replacing academic jargon with playful alliteration when discussing the soft-focus gender-blur of MBV’s music and the way it even reshaped the phallic sound of the guitar. In imitation of Reynolds and in thrall to MBV, I’d write about the "noisebliss nosebleeds" they could generate, and compare their sound (on Isn’t Anything‘s "All I Need") to a giant heartbeat during a nuclear blast.

Some scoundrel has nicked my copy of Reynolds’s 1990 book Blissed Out: The Raptures of Rock, but I don’t need him, Cixous, Irigaray, or Kristeva to point out why MBV were ahead of their time in 1988 and perhaps still are. Strip away their awesome sound and you’ll discover that MBV matter-of-factly brought gender equity to rock. This achievement seemed beside the point because the sound that bloomed from their masculine-feminine dynamic was so absolutely, identity-meltingly innovative. Sonic Youth and the Pixies included women playing bass, but MBV had guitarist-vocalist Butcher quietly facing down a life-threateningly abusive relationship in Isn’t Anything‘s mammothly funereal "No More Sorry," and the strapping Googe bringing a more muscular, dyke-in-a-white-T-shirt brand of bass to your face from start to finish of every song. No other band had MBV’s pleasure principle.

The last times I saw MBV were in 1991 and 1992. I went to a concert in wintry Chicago where Babes in Toyland opened, a billing that attested to the onset of riot grrrl and the fact that the United States was about to reach Nirvana — two "revolutions" that in some ways were regressions from MBV. Then I moved by Greyhound from Detroit to San Francisco, where I saw them twice — the more memorable concert taking place at the Kennel Club, now the Independent. There, the instrumental passage of "You Made Me Realise" expanded to hallucinatory dimensions, stretching for five, then 10, then 15, then 20-plus minutes. The shuddering layers of distortion piled one on top of another. A guy next to me went berserk in the maelstrom, screaming himself hoarse until his frayed vocal cords were just another part of the apocalyptic, self-annihiutf8g sound. It was an SF acid freak-out, hold the tab, no drugs necessary (not that I hadn’t done more than my share). The spirit of Comets on Fire probably emerged from that conflagration.

Now My Bloody Valentine has been revived. In fact, the slasher movie from which the group took its name has even been remade, in 3-D, for a February 2009 release. All tomorrow’s parties are composed of yesterday’s influences. I don’t even know if I’m going to see MBV this week. If I don’t, I suspect I’ll still hear their noise, or feel it, from across town. If I can touch that instrumental passage of "You Made Me Realise," I’ll grab on to a point within it. That point will be my nostalgia. It’ll levitate, compress, and then shatter.


Tues/30, 8 p.m., $47.50


620 Seventh St., SF


Formed, but not reformed?


The long-awaited reunion of My Bloody Valentine may herald another exercise in nostalgia-fueled repetition. The past few years have seen countless underground rock legends re-form for fun and profit. This usually involves an album that approximates the band’s trademarks with none of its original freshness (check Mission of Burma’s overrated Matador albums), followed by a cash-raking international tour (or, in the case of Pixies, several of them). Thankfully, the re-emergence of Portishead and the Breeders upends this hoary tradition. Both their new efforts — particularly Portishead’s Third (Mercury) — radically challenge their respective legacies with brackish, difficult interpretations. It’s difficult to hear Portishead’s metallic "Machine Gun" and think of their sweetly melancholic classic "Sour Times."

So which My Bloody Valentine will reappear this fall when Kevin Shields and company tour the states for the first time since 1992? The feedback scientists who briefly earned the title of "Loudest Band Ever," or the shaggy shoegazers who fans, including myself, know and adore?

My Bloody Valentine’s third album, 1991’s Loveless (Sire), was the apotheosis of years of guitar-noise experiments by Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, Spacemen 3, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and countless other bands. In retrospect it sounds like the end of an era, arriving just before Nirvana’s Nevermind (DGC, 1991) heralded the corporatization of alternative rock. In an August 2008 story for Spin, Simon Reynolds cites dozens of promising, newish bands influenced by Loveless, including Deerhunter, No Age, Silversun Pickups, and a Place to Bury Strangers. He overstates his case: these groups aren’t just acolytes of Kevin Shields, but it’s Loveless reputation as a perfect album — from the wispy, dazed vocals of Shields and Bilinda Butcher to Shields’ droning guitars that shift ever-so-slightly, yielding one heartbreaking melodic tone after another — that makes it a touchstone for a now-bygone time that continues to fascinate us.

When great bands reunite, they usually choose to exploit their legacies for all they’re worth or ignore them entirely. Shields’ artistic meanderings — and his fruitless struggle to craft a follow-up to one of the best rock albums of the past two decades — have become the stuff of legend. Even now, with a curatorial assignment for the high-minded music festival All Tomorrow’s Parties NYC, followed by seven North American concert dates, My Bloody Valentine has only hinted at a fourth album. If this current tour is a run at the golden oldies — fuck, the band even has an official MySpace page — then it’s a tormented one.

Perhaps the inability of Shields to deal with My Bloody Valentine’s legacy neatly dovetails with the reunion trend. It’s easier to break up and disappear than stick together and, like Sonic Youth, weather the peaks and valleys of artistic creation. Similarly, it’s tougher to leave the past behind — thank god that drummer-turned-chef Greg Norton has kept Hüsker Dü from mounting a full-scale reunion — than hit the concert circuit and sing the oldies. Maybe the likes of Portishead and the Breeders point to a third way for My Bloody Valentine — though the tracks posted on its MySpace page suggest this will be unlikely. No matter which path they choose, the future is a mist.


Tues/30, 8 p.m., $47.50


620 Seventh St., SF


Industrial strength


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Filmed during their 2004 US tour, Laibach’s Divided States of America DVD (Mute) gives a good idea of the freak show that comes out of the woodwork to see the group’s rare performances.

The DVD focuses on the tense political climate and general ugliness of America during the weeks following George W. Bush’s reelection, and there’s enough sardonic anti-American sentiment in it to satisfy anyone who contemplated moving to Canada on Nov. 3, 2004. Much of the documentary involves interviews with Laibach concertgoers: a motley assortment that includes a self-proclaimed Church of Satan representative, a man who identifies himself as a fascist (Laibach’s "political orientation," he confesses, "is perhaps different than mine"), and an ordinary-looking father with his two young daughters in tow.

"The beat was totally infectious," recounts another interviewee. "My body couldn’t help but move."

Few bands inspire as many different reactions as the Slovenian collective, who are touring the States for the first time since 2004 and have been around since 1980, when Slovenia was, of course, still part of Yugoslavia. Are they fascist sympathizers? Is Laibach communist? Or is it all just a big joke? At one point during the DVD, an interviewer asks the outfit about the apparent Nazi-esque garb in one of their tour posters (a Laibach member replies that it’s actually American dress the person is wearing). Another journalist asks them why they promote Jesus and Christianity (one of their albums is titled Jesus Christ Superstars [Mute, 1996]). And as the fan quoted above proves, some people just like those "infectious" beats.

I imagine Laibach enjoy seeing the confusion they create, although there have been times when it’s caused legitimate problems for them — including a ban against playing in their hometown of Ljubljana in the early 1980s and several bomb threats at concerts during the ’90s.

Just what are Laibach trying to say, though? I don’t think there’s a clear-cut answer, but all you have to do is spend a little time with their back catalog to notice recurring themes: religion, fascism, war, patriotism and nationalism, and pop music itself. They’ve spent their career mocking these institutions and -isms, largely by turning them inward on themselves, exploiting and sullying them at the same time — after all, what could be more totalitarian than those nonstop techno beats? Yet they mock in such a straight-faced manner that many people seem to miss the wit. In the largely humorless landscape of industrial music, that sensibility is perhaps Laibach’s biggest saving grace.

Last year’s Volk (Mute) resurrects many of these themes. The disc consists of electro-symphonic renderings of various national anthems, topped off by Milan Fras’s inimitable spoken-word vocals. (Anyone who thinks it’s a celebration of cultural diversity or patriotism need only refer to the liner notes, where they quote a repugnant passage from a US foreign policy memo titled "In Praise of Cultural Imperialism.") They’ve taken on the Beatles and the Stones before (1988’s Let It Be and 1990’s Sympathy for the Devil, both on Mute), but the sly message here is that these national anthems are our ultimate pop songs. Or something like that.

As usual with Laibach, much of the interest lies in Fras’s ominous-sounding, often darkly funny vocals and lyrics. But the arrangements here are among the most stirring ones they’ve come up with since Opus Dei (Mute, 1987), although admittedly, some of their intervening work suffered from gaudy production and instantly dated electronic sounds. Best of all is "Rossiya (Russia)," with its children’s choir, wiggly synthesizers, and gently sweeping strings. They’ve called themselves wolves in sheep’s clothing, and their ability to cloak their sociopolitical commentaries in such convincing garb is part of the reason they’re so provocative and so hard to figure out. I give up.


Thurs/25, 9 p.m., $30


628 Divisadero, SF


Another pass


Distinguished bassist and bandleader Dave Holland plays as much as he wants, which tends to be a lot. Still, he’s catching his breath after an extensive tour with old friend Herbie Hancock following the success of Hancock’s Grammy-winning tribute to Joni Mitchell, River: The Joni Letters (Verve, 2007). Tour dates multiplied exponentially after the disc was surprisingly named Album of the Year by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Now after a short break, Holland hits the road again, this time leading a new band of his own. He comes to the Bay Area to perform at both Yoshi’s venues with a new full-length, Pass It On (Emarcy).

Holland’s sextet includes three horns: alto saxophonist Antonio Hart, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, and trombonist Robin Eubanks. Pianist Mulgrew Miller and drummer Eric Harland make up the rest of the group on record, two musicians Holland specifically wanted to record with. "One of the reasons we put the project together was for me to have a chance to play with Mulgrew Miller," Holland said over the phone from his upstate New York home. "We had done a few things together, but not nearly enough to satisfy me."

Miller won’t be on the tour, though. Longtime Holland colleague and vibraphonist Steve Nelson joins the ensemble instead. Both the record and the band highlight Eubanks, who joined the SFJAZZ Collective last year. "He’s a great asset to have in the band, not only as a trombonist and musician, but also as a composer and arranger," Holland said. Eubanks contributed two originals to Pass It On.

The bandleader reorchestrates several compositions from earlier records, including "Lazy Snake," "Rivers Run," and the haunting ballad "Equality." "The piece originally was written as a musical setting for a wonderful poem by Maya Angelou with Cassandra Wilson singing the words," Holland said. "When I was thinking of music for this band, I thought it would be a nice vehicle for Antonio, and he really plays it with great feeling."

The musicians played Pass It On‘s music live before going into the studio, which Holland thinks might explain the album’s consistently dynamic pulse. "We’re trying," he said, "to record projects that are actually happening."


Wed/24–Thurs/25, 8 and 10 p.m., $20


1330 Fillmore, SF

Also Fri/26–Sat/27, 8 and 10 p.m.; Sun/28, 2 and 7 p.m., $5–$22


510 Embarcadero West, Oakl.


Blunt “Force”


Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

(Lucasarts; XBOX360, PS3, PS2, PSP, Wii, Nintendo DS)

GAMER Star Wars stories should start with yellow-lettered title crawls. This summer’s animated movie Star Wars: The Clone Wars thought it could do without, and it sucked. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed has a title crawl, which is good, because in addition to being a mega-hyped, third-person 3-D action game, it also contains some fascinating revelations about the history of the galaxy far, far away. The game is set between episodes III (Revenge of the Sith) and IV (A New Hope), and you play as Galen Marek, code name "Starkiller," who is Darth Vader’s secret Sith apprentice. Vader rescues Marek as an infant during the Great Jedi Purge; this affecting act of compassion concludes the game’s inspired intro level, which lets players control Vader as he lays waste to the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk.

Starkiller soon grows into a powerful dark jedi. True to the title, the gameplay focuses on the numerous ways that the force can be unleashed to wreak destruction on anyone standing in his way. The game’s Havoc physics engine and Digital Molecular Matter animation system realize a world in which almost everything can bend, break, shatter, or be tossed across the room with the wave of a midichlorian-rich finger. Like any good jedi, Starkiller is a one-person army, and dispatching waves of enemies with lightsaber, lightning, and the power of "force grip" can be immensely entertaining.

When it’s firing on all cylinders, the game is a joy, but it is frequently marred by reprehensible design decisions. Targeting with force grip is infuriatingly finicky, and the boss fights tend to culminate in cheesy "press the correct button when it flashes on the screen" mechanics. Action set pieces, like wrangling a crashing Star Destroyer using the force, might have sounded great on paper, but they end up as exercises in frustration. In contrast to Half-Life 2 and Portal, which gave gamers intuitive tools to transform the game environment before letting their creativity run wild, The Force Unleashed relies on boring, familiar force puzzles.

While most video games shoehorn lackluster plots around top-quality gameplay, The Force Unleashed is the rare game that does the opposite. The story, by project lead Haden Blackman — see our interview with him on the Pixel Vision blog — is engrossing, with cleverly developed characters and real pathos, and Battlestar Galactica vet Sam Witwer brings Starkiller to life with bar-raising motion-capture chops. Unfortunately, playing The Force Unleashed will be an experience familiar to all modern Star Wars fans: one that involves taking the good with the bad.

As the world turns


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW American Conservatory Theater’s season opener marks the 40-year anniversary of 1968 with the well-timed if less than well-executed Bay Area premiere of Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, which from the dual vantage points of Prague and Cambridge traces revolutionary politics and counterculture between 1968’s Prague Spring and 1989’s Velvet Revolution.

Stoppard’s latest but not greatest is almost a 20th-century coda to his grand three-part saga of 19th-century revolutionaries, The Coast of Utopia, building on the famed playwright’s ongoing interest in politics, media, culture, private vs. public life, and the motor of social change. But it’s also, by his account, a more personal play he’d long been considering, based partly on his own history as a Czech World War II refugee who settled happily into English life at a tender age.

Rock ‘n’ Roll‘s protagonist — and Stoppard’s stand-in — is Jan (a genial Manoel Felciano), a visiting exchange student at Cambridge. Within the familial embrace of hardheaded, hard-line Communist don Max (Jack Willis) and his wife, cancer-racked classics scholar Eleanor (René Augesen), Jan revels wholeheartedly in English life and ’60s counterculture — particularly its music. For Jan — whose LP collection is like a precious extension of his own person — tracks from the Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, and the Doors are the stuff of revelation and ecstatic community. But unlike the playwright — and despite his antipathy to stifling Soviet bloc authoritarianism — Jan returns home to Prague in 1968 after Soviet tanks roll in.

The rest of the play cuts back and forth as life goes on, with Max twice fatefully visiting an increasingly cornered Jan in the interim. In Cambridge, the seeds of the ’60s blossom in ways bleak and hopeful, shadowed by the gentle but tragic presence (offstage) of original Pink Floyd frontperson and madcap Cambridge denizen Syd Barrett, here a Pan-like figure inspiring the protective devotion of Max and Eleanor’s flower child daughter, Esmé (Summer Serafin and René Augesen), and later Esmé’s own radical teenage offspring, Alice (Serafin). In Prague, meanwhile, Jan and friends negotiate two distinct realms of opposition: the embattled dissident movement headed by Václav Havel and others, and a countercultural rock underground of disaffected youth that, despite its so-called apolitical stance, is inherently political and threatening to a totalitarian regime bent on monopolizing the social sphere.

Despite a critical edge — brought out, for example, in Max’s admirable rant against the compromises of a supposedly free press — Jan’s and the play’s embrace of Western liberalism casts a vague "end of ideology" tone, as if Margaret Thatcher’s declaration that "there is no alternative" was correct, however crude and ruthless the messenger. But the real problem with the play is its lack of sustained tension. Helmed by artistic director Carey Perloff, the production pursues an impressive visual dimension but often falls dramatically flat. Rare exceptions include a scene in Cambridge in which Max’s crude materialism — and cruder clinging to his CP card and shopworn shibboleths — runs up against the most personal of rebukes: his beloved wife’s diseased, disintegrating body, which she movingly denies can encompass her identity and humanity. Company member Augesen does fine work here, as well as in the role of grown-up daughter Esmé. By contrast, the normally brilliant Willis feels miscast as Max. He’s just not a very convincing Englishman, and the attempt is both disappointing and distracting. Sturdy work from regulars Anthony Fusco, Jud Williford, and Delia MacDougall can’t fully alleviate the overall lethargy.

A damp firecracker of a ’68 tribute, in other words, but the real show is turning out to be in the streets anyway, as the increasingly tumultuous anniversary year rocks and rolls ominously along.


Through Oct. 12

Tues.–Sat., 8 p.m. (also Wed. and Sat., 2 p.m.); Sun., 1 and 7 p.m., $20–<\d>$82

American Conservatory Theater

415 Geary, SF

(415) 749-2228


Hang on


REVIEW Sometimes dance is so dense, so fast-paced, or so convoluted you can’t grasp what the heck the choreographer had in mind. So you throw in the towel and go along for the ride. Such was the case with the Sept. 18 performance by Robert Moses’ Kin at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

The clearest of the three pieces on view, Approaching Thought, showcased most cogently why Moses’ reputation has been growing by leaps and bounds: he creates intriguing ensemble opportunities for individually strong performers. If steroid-pumped dancing shaped into formal cohesion is your cup of chai, Moses is your man. In Thought, Moses first introduced three couples individually, then let them loose into a hurricane of flips, kicks, hops, and rebounding meltdowns. They watched each other or provided backup as if in a ballet — or a rock concert. Newcomers Caitlin Kolb impressed with her integration of gymnastics into dance; Brendan Barthel, with his attack and the softest of feline jumps.

The world premiere, Toward September, could be considered the son of Thought. With nine dancers, volatile connections became more fleeting, but the web they spun was also messier. Circle, line, and star patterns periodically linked the dancers. In the second half, something like lyricism lit up a duet between Kolb and Barthel. But at a half-hour, September couldn’t sustain itself, not even with this talented group. Jokes Like That Can Get You Killed was too subtle for its own good. Dealing with the slippery topic of appropriate and inappropriate language — it’s a Stanford commission — the work was overloaded with visual, aural, and movement information. But Austin Forbord’s visuals — consisting of bobbing heads of every persuasion — were fun.

Moses collaged the program’s music primarily from online sources — which must have felt like browsing a candy shop. But the choreographer grabbed too much and made it into far too little.



How about that Sarah Palin? Dude, she micromassages more target markets than a genetically spliced fusion of Oprah, Dr. Phil, and an octopus Smurf. She’s ready for the covers of Time, People, and every other rag favored by the They Live set. ‘Scuse me while I hurl.

I’m not alone in the vomitorium: pepe, andy, bret, and landwolf all puke in Matt Furie’s boy’s club #2. That’s what a champagne-and-SpaghettiOs diet will do to you. Furie and his fearsome foursome avoid the sophomore slump with face-melting funnies about yoga and Alanis Morissette. They’re an iridescent, not iri-decent, flavor blast.

Elsewhere on the strip, Ed Luce’s Wuvable Oaf #0 is out, and men are lining up to pledge their love. Tips for the smitten: you better like kitties, and you’re doomed unless you have a thing for Morrissey.

The new issue of Fader sports the Tough Alliance — Sweden’s 21st-century answer to the Happy Mondays, albeit cuter — on the cover and an ad for recent cover star Aaliyah’s memorial fund inside. Dazed and Confused says good-bye to Polaroid Instamatic with help from David Lynch and David Armstrong. In the Believer, Franklin Bruno pays homage to Joe Brainard through semi-imitation.

Artforum‘s spring preview issue revealed that, for the love of god or money, the art world was more gaga for skulls than Ed Hardy. No obvious trends leap from the same mag’s brick-thick fall preview. But I like the look of Kent Monkman’s ironically idyllic pastoral paintings and a Michael Jackson sculpture by John Waters called Playdate.

Preacherless choir


› superego@sfbg.com

REVIEW What’s wrong with anger? Nothing — it’s a perfectly cromulent human emotion. But it sure makes for awful poetry, especially if it’s poured undiluted by humor, hope, or reflection into the "frail vessel" of verse, like hydrochloric acid into Tupperware. The poem may be true, the poem may be honest — but honey, the fumes’ll kill ya. I’ll happily read another righteous anti-Dubya rant, but it better at least make me laugh, dammit.

Which is why I approach a contemporary book like State of the Union: 50 Political Poems (Wave Books) with antsy trepidation. Current events are poetry’s bait and bane — who will write the great 9/11 poem, the great Iraq Occupation poem, the great Bush empire poem? Who cares but the poet who wants to be "great"? Life’s too short for speculative canonical teleology, let alone its correct pronunciation. And then there’s the anger thing. Poems are intrinsically liberal (anybody got a good anti-abortion aubade or Turd Blossom terza rima?). And if there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past few years, it’s that liberals can certainly sputter with outrage. Besides, what poem isn’t political, anyway? Even a Hallmark card’s sappy innards are mawkish missiles aimed for Granny’s good graces.

So hurray for the folks at Wave Books, whose broadminded selections in State, chosen after an open call for submissions, satisfy the need for like-minded connection but don’t stint on the wry entertainment, subtle engagement, or lyrical expression. Included are some comforting big names (John Ashbery, James Tate, Michael Palmer) as well as many lesser-known but perhaps more appropriate ones. I was tickled to read new shit from Matthew Rohrer, whose electric-fork-filled debut, 1991’s A Hummock in the Malookas (W.W. Norton), still weakens my knees, and Guardian contributor Garrett Caples, whose lethally crisp contribution here, For Thom Gunn, links the great local poet’s sad, meth-addled demise to our political system’s own: "Nightmare of beasthood, snorting, how to wake." No slouching toward either Bethlehem or Gomorrah there. Also great is Tao Lin’s stickily perverse "room night," which intrudes on fragments of airy philosophical rumination with obsessive cravings for 80-cent sesame bagels smeared with peanut butter and "beautiful music created by depressed vegans."

Yes, the greatest political hits of the past eight years are here, Guantánamo and all. Lucille Clifton’s quite-famous "september song: a poem in 7 days" is the ultimate "what were you doing when the towers fell" diary, transported somehow into political heresy by her insistent invocations of "apples and honey / apples and honey." Rohrer’s "Elementary Science for Dick Cheney" and Anselm Berrigan’s "The Autobiography of Donald Rumsfeld" uproariously take those curs on directly, while Dan Bogan’s "A Citizen" is a vertiginous inventory of the twilit ironies common to "great" empires. ("There were the usual cabals / careers to be made among court intrigues / as the wheels of dynasty ground slowly through a calendar of ceremonies.")

And my favorite entry in the volume is, indeed, a rant — "Dear Mister President There Was Egg Shell under Your Desk Last Night in My Dream!" by CAConrad — one of those rambling, touching run-ons that never stops for punctuation and shouts, "HEY we’re all going to be dead in a hundred years so let’s shift the pace let’s forget about war let’s pass a Let’s Get Naked and Crazy Holiday" and then proceeds to offer the president "a good massage maybe we could go to the creek and paint secret mud symbols on our naked bodies like I used to do with my first boyfriend what happens after that will be fine you’ll see." The poem offers love, not clogged indignation.

Speak, memory


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

(1) War demands chronicling as few human endeavors do, with representations spanning from cave drawings to cell phone photographs. German experimental filmmaker Hito Steyerl considers the volatility particular to the filmic war document in her elegant short November (2004), playing in Kino21’s series "How We Fight: Conscripts, Mercenaries, Terrorists, and Peacekeepers" (kicking off Sept. 25 and continuing through October, with the last program screening Nov. 23). Steyerl’s essay-film turns on her reexamination of some spunky "feminist martial arts" footage she shot of her friend Andrea Wolf in light of the woman’s later martyrdom as a Kurdish freedom fighter. Competing renditions of Wolf commingle, each containing elements of documentary and fiction, with the only real truth being Wolf’s sublimation as a "traveling image."

(2) The YouTube hell of the footage captured in Iraq and Afghanistan — as dramatized in Brian de Palma’s angry Redacted (2007) and the damaged fictions of Michael Haneke — was perhaps foreseen by Walter Benjamin in 1936: "The destructiveness of war furnishes proof that society has not been mature enough to incorporate technology as its organ." So it is that the crudeness of the digital loops shot by coalition forces and insurgents alike countervails the US military’s computerized advancements. "How We Fight" opens with a compilation of this undigested material: footage from both sides synthesizing an implacable wave of mutilation. Insofar as any war can be said to have a film aesthetic, Iraq’s is that of the surveillance shot — the natural complement of the conflict’s signature weapon, the IED. As if we were watching some perverted version of the Bazinian long take, we observe, in a real time blighted by dirty pixelation and distorting zooms, as a convoy approaches an explosion.

(3) In an expanding field of unprocessed moving images, the documentary increasingly sees its own role shift to that of an interpreter of visual information already at hand. How else to explain all the recent documentaries dedicated to contextualizing id-like streams of footage from the battlefield and newsroom? It remains to be seen which of these works will deliver as lasting an indictment as Winter Soldier (1971), a collectively directed project that counterposes soldiers’ colored 8mm footage from Vietnam with the mauve black-and-white of their testimonies. For "How We Fight," Kino21 screens the rarely seen Interviews with My Lai Veterans (1970), a short film that cuts to the same bone.

(4) The issue of how these films garner testimony is of paramount importance, as evidenced by Errol Morris’ problematic probe of Abu Ghraib’s "bad apples" in Standard Operating Procedure. Exemplary in this regard is Heddy Honigmann’s Crazy (1999). The Dutch filmmaker is a master interviewer who treats her subjects as autonomous beings — Honigmann isn’t afraid to prod, but she’s not after dramatic effect. In Crazy, she stitches together interviews with Dutch veterans of United Nations peacekeeping missions by asking them to share songs they associate with their deployments. The music, which ranges from Cambodian pop to Guns N’ Roses’ take on "Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door," opens the channels of memory in unexpected ways and midwifes the guarded soldiers toward reflection and emotion. The passages in which Honigmann holds close-ups of the veterans listening to their songs possess a plaintive mystery unavailable to Morris’s occupied camera.

(5) In the singular, combat films of all kinds often extol the false premises and ideals endemic to war. But taken as a collective enterprise, war documentaries pull back the curtain on the state-sponsored stagecraft and reveal the threads connecting disparate battles. We’re ever reminded that "only the dead have seen the end of war." But if we take Hito Steyerl’s spin through one particular labyrinth of war-scarred images at face value, even they may not be safe.


Thurs/25, 8 p.m., $6

Through Nov. 23

Artists’ Television Access

992 Valencia, SF

www.atasite.org, www.kino21.org

Dirty young man


The man himself would probably enjoy his artistic evolution being described as ass-backward. After a few years’ absence, Italian director Tinto Brass re-emerged in the late 1970s with two world-class sleaze hits — Nazisploitation opus Salon Kitty (1976) and the notorious Penthouse-produced Caligula (1979), which he and scenarist Gore Vidal disowned (for different reasons). Thereafter he settled into glossy softcore romps whose fetish focus made him cinema’s Trunk-Junk Laureate to Russ Meyer’s Bard of Boob. Now 80-something, Tinto enjoys the long-running dirty-old-man status change of national embarrassment to cultural institution.

Yet before finding his professional-ogler niche, Brass was a young artist of the ’60s — doing that Marx-and-Coca Cola thing like everyone else, stirring together the avant-garde, genre trash, and whatnot. He made not one but two films with the era’s socialist It couple, Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero; a spaghetti western called Yankee (1966); and several anarchic movies as distinctively of their countercultural moment as a Peter Max poster.

Two such works get a rare big-screen unearthing in this week’s YBCA mini-retrospective "Psychotic and Erotic: Rare Films by Tinto Brass." They recall a time in which no op-art design, split-screen image, cineast in-joke, or gratuitous Holocaust insert was beyond reach of a wide-open European commercial market where radical capitalists like Brass could cut creative teeth.

The quasi-giallo Deadly Sweet (1967) sets lovebirds Jean-Louis Trintignant and Ewa Aulin (a Miss Teen International who would next incarnate Terry Southern’s porn ingenue Candy and endure costar Marlon Brando’s alleged pawings) in Swinging London, pursued by kidnappers, blackmailers, police, and one mean dwarf. If a fashion-shoot montage doesn’t remind you of the prior year’s Blow Up, that film’s poster is glimpsed for good measure.

Arbitrarily switching from color to black-and-white, this giddy lark remains your sole chance to witness the Conformist (1970) and Z (1969) star delivering a Tarzan yell while playing drums in his underpants, let alone enduring eyebrow torture. Its ending eerily anticipates 1972’s Last Tango in Paris, once intended for Trintignant. (Brando’s buttery costar Maria Schneider later stormed out on more degradation as Caligula’s original female lead.)

Even prankier, 1970’s The Howl arrives at a Hippie Trail internationalism as ideologically pure as it is hindsight-campy. More a trippy lifestyle statement than a coherent political one, it runs Chaplinesque Gigi Proietti and flower-child Tina Aumont through a gauntlet of surreal Bunuel/Jorodowsky/Arrabal–esque horrors, including animal slaughter, historical atrocity clips, and mime. Spoken placards inform "Contemplation is bourgeois attitude" and "Anger must explode. Hate must burst!" Papism is ridiculed, though madonna/whore equations go unexamined. (You can take the artist out of Italy, but … )

This agitprop fantasia eventually wears one out. Still, how can one dislike any movie that "ends" with a giant onscreen question mark that keeps doodling along, just to mess with ya? That’s the Tinto Brass a Vanessa Redgrave could call comrade. The subsequent auteur of Paprika: Life in a Brothel (1991) — not so much.


The Howl, Wed/24, 7:30 p.m.; Deadly Sweet, Sun/28, 7:30 p.m., $6–$8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787




› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO "I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but I like it!" some hot soul shrieked at me outside the club. That’s totally my new self-affirmation T-shirt because, like, what’s with all the negative exacerbations in the world — not just in the shivery politisphere, but in the Zany Land of Nightlifez, too?

Most of my friends got canned from the Transfer so it could redirect itself, and 222 Club got sold so its fabulous owners could move on to bigger things — both unfortunate events that effectively ended a few of my fave parties and a lot of my free drinks. The Attack of Gargantuan Overpriced Ultralounges from Planet Douchebag Airbrushed Clothing continues, with three slated to open downtown by the end of the year. The great Steve Lady, the first Miss Trannyshack, passed away. And who isn’t packing a teeny pink dildo-shaped spritzer of mace in their Chrome clutch these days, what with all the violence after dark?

Life can sometimes seem like it dropped your bag in the toilet or shot your wolf from a plane. But then it’s time to spin around, put one slender hand on your one slender hip, yell "FAIL, motherfucker," and just own that shit like a kicky hairstyle. Give me back my wolf! Get me a new bag! Then call me a cab! I’m going to these parties.


Now that Trannyshack has ended, the race to fill hostess Heklina’s humongous vacuum is on! (Ew.) In primed pole position is belovedly ditzy Cookie Dough, whose stubblebrity-studded drag implosion Monster Show (www.cookievision.tv) now splats its gender-clown intestines against the walls of Underground SF every Monday night. On Sept. 29, Miz Dough will throw a costume party laced with wrong/wrong performances to celebrate four years of … well … something. Who the hell knows what’s gonna happen, but it’ll be wearing fabric that hurts glaciers when it’s burned.

Fri/29, 9 p.m., $5. Underground SF, 424 Haight, SF. (415) 864-7386, www.undergroundsf.com


Oh yes, LoveFest comes gloriously upon us Oct. 4 (www.sflovefest.org), but there’ll be some real love going down at Supperclub the Thursday beforehand, when LoveFest pre-party Pendana — Swahili for "to love one another," duh — brings together a massive roster of well-known local DJs to benefit NextAid (www.nextaid.org), an LA joint that helps out African kids. Jenö from Back2Back, Kontrol’s Alland Byallo, Fil Latorre and Javaight from Staple, and a host of others will provide some juicy tech-house tunes. You bring the love and ducats.

Oct. 2, 9:30 p.m., $10 with RSVP to events@nextaid.org. Supperclub, 657 Harrison, SF. (415) 348-0900, www.supperclub.com


Last week in this very publication I wrote a sorta know-it-all article about the underground musical movements that have taken over US dance floors — but I must still be rolling down from that magic cap I chewed in ’02 since I forgot to mention the whole baile funk/electro-cumbia/digi-samba thing. Which is sad, because I adore it. Now it’s time to add kuduro — a faster, blippier, more air-horny version of baile funk originating in Angola — to the go-go global genre stew, as nuevo Latino electro party Tormenta Tropical teams up with disco sweethearts Body Heat to host a live blast from floor-thumping Portuguese kuduro kings Buraka Som Sistema (www.myspace.com/burakasomsistema). Also on tap: local fave-ravers Lemonade, who bring a brainy, rocky Brazilian twist to the bass bins. Muito louco!

Oct. 3, 10 p.m., $10. Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. (415) 552-7788, www.elbo.com

Sunrise, sunset


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea,

My boyfriend is 30 years older than me. I am in my late 20s and he is in his late 50s. We are very much in love and the sex is pretty good. (We have both had many partners before each other.) I don’t have a father complex or anything like that. We both come from standard middle-class families. He has never been married and has no children.

We have been together a while and are thinking about getting married. But I have two concerns. How much longer will he be able to get it up? And, if we get married, we would want to have children some time in the future. I have heard that the father’s age counts too when calcuutf8g the risk of birth defects. He is very healthy and youthful. What do you think?


Older and wiser?

Dear Older:

I am far from a hopeless romantic, but I do believe in love, of course, and I cheer on the occasional blind leap of faith as long as I’m not the one who has to do the leaping. I have to admit that I’d tend to wonder why, exactly, a man in his late 50s has never been married, and I’d wonder just how many new tricks such an old dog is going to be willing to learn. Particularly about having children. He knows about the sleep deprivation and the postponement of personal gratification and the mess and the noise, right? And that’s just the baby years. I’m hoping you’ve also discussed the hard part, that is, the possibility that he will not be around or, if around, not up to participating much when your baby is contemputf8g grad school. I’m an older parent myself, and believe me, I have all the sympathy in the world. But 60 is hella older — too old for any of this blind leap of faith business. You’ve got to talk about this stuff.

Assuming you have, and that the built-in risks are A-OK with both of you — and that you’ve worked out your contingency plans — I wouldn’t let visions of future flaccidity stop you. Most men slow down a little as they age (this is probably already in evidence), and nearly all will require more stimulation. A lot of men are going to need some fairly aggressive physical interaction where once a peek or even a thought was enough. But so what? You want to touch him, right? Anyway, he isn’t a cyborg designed for planned obsolescence — i.e., he isn’t going to shut off at 65 and force you to buy the new model. Our declines tend toward the gradual.

I know the expected thing here would be a long discussion on how much better older men are, what with the increased patience and the focus shifting from themselves to you and the fingers and the tongues. And all that is true, but I figure if you were asking specifically about the hard-ons, you had a reason (beyond hoping he can knock you up) and you don’t necessarily want a future of patient, sophisticated fingers and tongues and no penis. Some women like the penis! The penis is good! If he’s in decent health and doesn’t have to take beta-blockers or anything, though, you shouldn’t have to worry about going without for a good long time. Sixty-ish is old for a new dad, but it’s extremely young for an old guy. How’s that?

But what if the inevitable slow down does turn into a total shut down? Luckily, there is really remarkably effective medical intervention available, but you might want to make sure he’d be on board for that. You should both remember that Viagra and friends don’t always work, and there are drugs he could be on that contraindicate them. None of this is pleasant to talk about, but I somehow doubt you’re the only one in this ménage who’s wondering what will happen if (when, really) he can’t get it up. He might like to know that you won’t turn him out to pasture the first time and take up with the next young stud who jumps your fence. You won’t, right?

The worry about the birth defects: well, that’s real. You’ll see different figures, but most articles from reputable sources say that there is a definite rise in the incidence of Down syndrome and other genetic disorders with older fathers, especially when the mothers are older as well, as is frequently the case. The overall incidence of genetic disorders is still really low though, which is easy to forget when you’re reading about the percentage increase in cases of such-and-such. I wouldn’t think it’s high enough to dissuade an otherwise determined couple from having a kid, and I’m certainly not going to attempt to do so. What you do need to do, though, is decide what you will do if you determine that you are carrying a fetus with a genetic disorder. A blind leap of faith is all well and good as long as all the participants are consenting adults. But a baby, even a potential baby, needs a plan.



Got a salacious subject you want Andrea to discuss? Ask her a question!

Also, Andrea is teaching! Contact her if you’re interested in (sex)life after baby classes. Her new blog is at www.gogetyourjacket.com, but don’t look there for the butt sex. There isn’t any.

P is for power grab


› sarah@sfbg.com

Mayor Gavin Newsom wants voters to believe that Proposition P, which seeks to change the size and composition of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (TA) board, will lead to more efficiency and accountability.

But Prop. P’s many opponents — who include all 11 supervisors, all four state legislators from San Francisco, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, the Sierra Club, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the San Francisco Democratic Party, and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club — say that the measure would hand over billions of taxpayer dollars to a group of political appointees, thereby removing critical and independent oversight of local transportation projects.

Currently, the Board of Supervisors serves as the governing body of the TA, a small but powerful voter-created authority that acts as a watchdog for the $80 million in local sales tax revenues annually earmarked for transportation projects and administers state and federal transportation funding for new projects.

As such, the TA holds considerable sway over the capital projects of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA), which operates Muni and has a board composed entirely of mayoral appointees. Prop. P would give the mayor more control over all transportation funding, which critics say could be manipulated for political reasons.

As Assemblymember Mark Leno told the Guardian, "This is a system of checks and balances that seems to be working well." And, as Sen. Carole Migden put it, "if it ain’t broke, don’t mess with it."

But if Newsom gets his way and Prop. P passes, the TA’s board will shrink to five elected officials in February — and Newsom will be one of them.

TA executive director José Luis Moscovich told us it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have the mayor on the agency’s governing board. "But that’s different from taking the board from 11 to five members," Moscovich said. "And how would the districts be represented equally?"

Since the TA has only 30 staff members, compared with the MTA’s 6,000 employees, Moscovich finds it hard to see how overhauling his agency would result in greater efficiency.

"Our overhead is 50 percent less than the MTA’s," Moscovich said. "We are subject to all kinds of oversight. This is a sledgehammer to a problem that doesn’t require it."

Tom Radulovich, an elected BART board member and the director of the nonprofit Livable City, believes that personality and policy questions lie at the heart of Newsom’s unilateral decision to place Prop. P on the ballot.

"The mayor doesn’t get along with the Board of Supervisors," Radulovich told us. "The way things stand, the mayor effectively controls the MTA, and the board effectively controls the TA. The mayor would like not to have to deal with the board."

This isn’t the first time a merger has been suggested, and this isn’t even the first time it’s come up this year.

In February, MTA chief Nathaniel Ford suggested the merger, with the MTA in charge. At the time, Newsom was under intense scrutiny for dipping into a million dollars’ worth of MTA funds to pay his staffers’ salaries. He told the San Francisco Chronicle that taking over the TA was not his idea and not something his office planned to pursue.

But shortly after that, Sup. Jake McGoldrick tried and failed to qualify a measure that would have divided the power to nominate members of the MTA’s board between the mayor, the president of the Board of Supervisors, and the city controller.

Newsom retaliated with Prop. P, which would replace the TA board with the mayor, an elected official chosen by the mayor, the president of the Board of Supervisors, an elected official chosen by the board president, and the city treasurer.

While Newsom was honeymooning in Africa, mayoral spokesperson Nathan Ballard turned up the heat by criticizing the supervisors for spending TA funds on routine travel expenses and office supplies.

"I don’t understand why money that is supposed to go to roads is going to couches and cell phones for members of the Board of Supervisors," Ballard told the San Francisco Examiner. But according to public records, Newsom himself charged $14,555 in expenses to the TA while he was a supervisor and a TA board member, from 1997 through 2003.

Jim Sutton, an attorney who served as treasurer in both of Newsom’s mayoral campaigns, has formed a committee to support Prop. P, ironically called Follow the Money.

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition executive director Leah Shahum, whom Newsom appointed to, then fired from, the MTA board last year, said that the TA has a strong record, not only of tracking dollars and winning matching funds at the state and federal levels, but also of making sure that the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians are represented.

"The system we have now is also the most protective of our dollars," Shahum said, noting that the TA is stringent about recipient agencies’ meeting deadlines and keeping costs in check.

Moscovich warned that it’s important that the city quickly move on from the battle over Prop. P, in light of the ongoing financial meltdown on Wall Street and the federal government’s bailout plan.

"This financial tsunami that hasn’t hit us yet will make it harder to borrow money to complete engineering projects," Moscovich predicted. "So it’s important that we get beyond this and show a unified front, so that our credibility as a city is not in danger."

Capitalizing on science


› steve@sfbg.com

The new California Academy of Sciences, which opens to the public Sept. 27, combines creatively reimagined old standards such as the Morrison Planetarium and Steinhart Aquarium with a strong new focus on climate change and imminent threats to the planet’s biodiversity.

"That’s why I call it a natural future museum instead of a natural history museum," Greg Farrington, the academy’s executive director, told journalists on Sept. 18 at the start of a press tour of the new facility.

The facility was built with roughly equal amounts of public and private money. Yet when visitors show up for the opening weekend’s festivities, they’ll be told they have Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to thank for the museum’s opening, which includes free admission on the first day.

The central role that PG&E bought for $1.5 million has included lots of signage at the museum, prominent mention in academy press releases, subtle plugs to journalists by museum staffers, and a spot on the five-person panel of academy leaders that addressed the assembled media.

The private utility company’s high-profile opportunity to be associated with science, progress, and environmental concern comes as PG&E is spending many millions of dollars to defeat Proposition H, the Clean Energy Act, and after decades of regularly lobbying against higher environmental standards for utilities.

"I think it’s a perfect example of PG&E greenwashing its image and trying to associate itself with environmentally friendly policies," Aliza Wasserman of the activist group Green Guerillas Against Greenwashing told the Guardian. "PG&E is the very institution that can implement the technology we know we need to deal with this environmental crisis, and they haven’t been doing so."

Ironically, while regular PG&E mailers decry local government’s supposed untrustworthiness and warn against granting the city a "blank check" to issue revenue bonds to pursue public power projects, San Francisco taxpayers and government were the major sponsors of the museum’s rebirth.

In addition to $120 million in revenue from SF-voter-approved general obligation bonds (paid back by all city taxpayers, unlike revenue bonds, which are repaid through an identified revenue source), the Academy of Sciences got $30 million in state and federal grants and receives $4.8 million from the city’s General Fund each year.

"The hypocrisy," Wasserman said, "is striking."


From the cutting-edge living roof through the steamy simulated rainforest and down to the rippling walls of the basement aquarium area, this is a truly stunning facility that has earned its many accolades. Yet PG&E’s involvement seems to undercut the academy’s new focus on climate change, which pervades many of the exhibits.

"Altered State: Climate Change in California" is an exhibit that takes up much of the museum’s main floor, including many eye-opening, interactive displays and poignantly featuring the bones of both an endangered blue whale and the extinct Tyrannosaurus rex to drive home the alarming call to action.

"In California, our climate, our way of life, and our economy will all be affected by climate change," Carol Tang, director of visitor interpretive programs, told journalists during the tour, adding, "The T. rex reminds us that mass extinctions have happened and we’re in a mass extinction right now."

Yet as she discussed the academy’s climate change research and advocacy role on the issue, she also noted the important involvement of Bay Area universities, Silicon Valley technology innovators, and PG&E, which contributed some clean technology gizmos to the exhibit.

Next, journalists were ushered into Morrison Planetarium for the debut of "Fragile Planet," an academy-produced show that lets viewers tour the cosmos and includes scary information about global warming and the need to aggressively address the problem by turning our expansive scientific inquiries inward toward saving the planet.

Afterward, journalists were offered a question-and-answer session with a panel of experts that included Farrington; the academy’s chief of public programs, Chris Andrews; architect Kang Kiang; Peter Lassetter, a principal with Arup, which did engineering work on the building; and, incongruously, Hal LaFlash, the director of emerging clean technology policy at PG&E.

I asked about the academy’s new focus on climate change and why the venerable institution had allowed PG&E to play such a central role. I got a nonresponsive answer from Farrington, who said, "PG&E sells power because we all want power" and "The most important wells in the future aren’t going to be oil wells, but wells of the mind."

LaFlash insisted that PG&E is one of the greenest utility companies in the country, an early sponsor of the landmark climate change legislation Assembly Bill 32, and that the utility is currently working on wind and solar projects throughout California. I noted that PG&E is also currently building four new fossil-fuel-powered plants in California, but then decided to avoid turning the session into an argument about PG&E.

Wasserman pointed out that PG&E now gets less than 1 percent of its power from solar and 2 percent from wind, and that the company’s involvement with AB 32 helped water down the bill and protect PG&E’s heavy investment in nuclear power. She also noted that PG&E is failing to meet state mandates of 20 percent renewable power by 2010.

By contrast, the Clean Energy Act would mandate a more rapid switch to renewable energy sources, calling for 51 percent of the energy powering San Francisco to come from renewable sources by 2017 and 100 percent by 2040. PG&E is aggressively opposing the measure, focusing on its call for a study of public power.

Academy spokesperson Blair Shane sought to minimize PG&E’s role when I asked her about how the institution seemed to be helping the utility greenwash its image, saying the company was simply playing a role in the opening festivities and not influencing content at the museum: "We feel really good that our content is being driven by the scientists."


Since its founding back in 1853, the California Academy of Sciences has been a respected research institution, a popular museum, and a political player in the community. With powerful friends, it resisted an effort in the 1990s to move the museum out of the park and successfully fought for a new parking garage and against creating more car-free spaces in the park.

The academy is a living, dynamic institution, much like the building’s signature living roof — and subject to the same kinds of hard choices in coming years about whether to emphasize scientific purity or pursue more pragmatic pathways.

After touring the museum, I did a telephone interview with Paul Kephart, CEO of Rana Creek, which designed the roof and wanted to simulate a local ecosystem of flora and fauna that went through natural life cycles, including periods of death and decay.

"Selling the idea to the academy and the board was one of the most challenging aspects of the project," Kephart said.

He explained that the idea is to maintain the roof using an irrigation system for the first couple years, until it establishes itself, then remove the irrigation and stop actively tending the space, letting nature take over, even if that means weeds.

"I think that’s a good thing," he said. "The roof should be allowed the opportunity for nature to express itself and be less controlled and more adaptive to climate and environment…. I always saw the roof as an experimental design."

Yet it’s also an integral part of the building’s design and aesthetics, and the academy has not yet decided how much of the roof will be allowed to go natural and how much will be managed. Kephart said it has amazing research possibilities because "nature will have the most influence on how the roof will behave."

Similar choices were at play in other parts of the museum, such as the Steinhart Aquarium, which was designed by the New York City firm Thinc.

"The whole idea underlying the aquarium is, this is an institution that studies the natural world," Thinc president Tom Hennes told me at the academy. While the new aquarium is larger than its predecessor, a few of its more ambitious plans — such as an open ocean exhibit and twice as many dive stations as the current five — were scaled back.

"Any exhibit starts with a huge dream," Hennes said. "Then you whittle it down to size."

Newsom’s problem with affordable housing


OPINION No mayor in modern San Francisco history has opposed more affordable-housing initiatives than Gavin Newsom. It’s time to make him pay the political price.

Newsom is the primary foe of Proposition B, which would create an affordable-housing fund in the city’s budget. At a time when fewer than 1 in 10 San Franciscans can afford the cost of a median-priced home and some 40 percent of all tenants spend 50 percent or more of their income on rent, the mayor’s position is a civic tragedy.

There’s currently only about $3 million permanently budgeted to affordable housing in the city’s $6 billion budget. Proposition B would increase that to about $30 million. Half of the funds would go to the construction of homes of two bedrooms or more for families with dependents, and 40 percent would be earmarked for homes affordable to people earning $18,000 a year or less (including seniors, people with AIDS, people at risk of homelessness, and our neighbors with other special needs).

The measure is supported by the Democratic Party, the Labor Council, the Sierra Club, and more than 50 other neighborhood, community, and environmental organizations.

Newsom’s opposition to Prop. B has to be placed in the context of his opposition to every major affordable-housing initiative proposed by either the Board of Supervisors or neighborhood residents over the past five years. Newsom and his administration opposed affordable-housing mandates for the Hunters Point Shipyard, proposals to increase affordable-housing fees for market-rate developers in the Market/Octavia Plan area, and increased affordable-housing fees for developers of the high-rise luxury condos at Rincon Hill. And, in a stunning display of arrogance and indifference, he refused to allocate some $30 million appropriated for affordable housing by the Board of Supervisors last year — and then held a campaign-style rally in support of that refusal, arguing that the city already spent enough on affordable housing!

Last month, Newsom’s Planning Commission passed on to the Board of Supervisors an Eastern Neighborhood Plan under which less than a quarter of the new units would be affordable to anyone earning less than $120,000. The city’s own General Plan says San Francisco needs nearly two-thirds of all new units to be affordable if the city is to house its own workforce — a key requirement in any green, "smart growth" development policy of the type the mayor says he favors.

Newsom claims his opposition to Prop. B stems from his concern about set-asides in the budget. Yet Newsom, as mayor and supervisor, has supported every other set-aside placed on the ballot. It’s just affordable housing that he opposes — even though Prop. B, which sunsets after 15 years, would account for less than 2 percent of the budget over that period and would leave some $47 billion in discretionary funds on the table.

The fact that Newsom has paid no political price for his continuous opposition to affordable housing is stunning. It’s time to change that — pass Proposition B with a resounding yes vote this November.

Calvin Welch is a member of the campaign for San Francisco Housing Fund — Yes on B and a longtime affordable-housing advocate.

Changing buses


› news@sfbg.com

It seems as though whatever changes to the Muni system the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency adopts, some people on the buses are bound to be upset. That decision could come as soon as next month, when the agency will consider acting on recommendations from its Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) studies.

The proposed changes were presented to the SFMTA board of directors Sept. 16, when many riders weighed in with criticisms that their routes were being cut or changed as part of the first major overhaul of Muni since its inception more than 25 years ago.

Depending on whether the recommendations are approved in October or the decision is delayed, the changes to a system that has about 700,000 daily riders won’t happen until summer or fall of next year. At the end of the Sept. 16 hearing, board chair James McCray Jr. requested that a subcommittee be formed to integrate the concerns of the 107 people who made public comments into the final plan.

The stated goal of the TEP is to revamp Muni into a "faster, more reliable, and more efficient public transit system for San Francisco." But with a finite pool of money, improving some lines means taking resources from others, and that means controversy.

"If only 1 percent of our ridership shows up to make a comment, that’s 7,000 people," Julie Kirschbaum, TEP program manager, told us.

One was Evelyn Landahl, a 90-year-old resident of Laguna Honda who was upset about changes to the 36 line. "I know there are students who use this bus to get to City College and San Francisco State as well," Landahl said. "As we older people leave this world, those kids will run out of gas some day. They’ll need buses and services."

Mark Christensen, vice president of the Merced Extension Triangle Neighborhood Association, told the agency that "residents have not had a true voice in determining what is best for our community." He criticized the TEP’s public outreach efforts, saying that the agency didn’t do enough in certain areas, particularly his Merced Heights neighborhood, which would see disrupted service with changes to the M and J lines.

Jim Kirk, who lives in Noe Valley and travels by a combination of car and Muni, decided to attend the Sept. 16 hearing to express support for changes to the 48 line that would eliminate sections of the route. "There are too many buses, at least in my neighborhood," he said. "To me that’s overkill." As a taxpayer, he said, he is concerned about reducing Muni costs.

The proposed modifications to the 36 line have triggered major debate. Some hearing attendees said there is no reason why a bus with such a low ridership should travel an already congested street. They claimed that there are as few as six and no more than nine riders on the 36 at any given time.

Additional route adjustments that have generated concern among riders, residents, and other stakeholders involve the 66 Quintara, the 38 Geary, the 3 Jackson, the 48 Quintara, the 17 Park Merced, the 18 46th Ave., the 26 Valencia, the 27 Bryant, and the 39 Coit.

Kirschbaum said that Proposition A, which voters passed last November, will be the main source of funding for improvements to the Muni system.

From parking to parks


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY It’s a typical San Francisco love affair: boy meets boy, they fall in love, and 18 years later, they get married. But not in City Hall, and not in a crowded banquet room with a dance floor and a DJ. Instead they wed in a 9-by-18-foot parking space in front of their home in the Lower Haight. No, they’re not crazy. Just crazy in love — with each other, and with PARK(ing) Day. On Friday, Sept. 19, Jay Bolcik and Michael Borden made both love affairs official.

(PARK)ing Day, a San Francisco–born event now spreading around the world, takes place every September when people transform metered parking spaces into public parks — or in Bolcik and Borden’s case, a marriage locale — for the day, or at least until the meters expire. The point? Event organizers say that more than 70 percent of San Francisco’s downtown area is designated for private parking, and 24,000 metered spaces exist throughout the city. It’s about time we reclaim the streets for the public, clearing more space where folks can gather to chat, make friends, and celebrate community parks. At least this was the thinking behind PARK(ing) Day when Bay Area–based art collective REBAR developed the idea in 2005.

"It was motivated by the spirit of generosity and public service," says director Blaine Merker, thinking back to when the group’s artists stumbled upon a sunny spot that was perfect for a park, but dedicated for a vehicle, in November 2005. They plunked their change into its meter and built a grassy hangout, and as a result expanded the public realm for a whole two hours. "We provided an additional 24,000 square-foot-minutes of public open space that Wednesday afternoon."

The effect was outstanding, and the word about PARK(ing) Day spread to metropolitan areas across the globe. This year thousands of mini-grasslands and lounging areas proliferated in 600 vehicle-inhabited regions worldwide, including first-time participant the Dominican Republic.

San Francisco’s metered spaces were filled with everything from a lemonade stand to a quaint outdoor living room setup, complete with a Scrabble board, a coffee table covered with magazines, and even a dog. "The meter man didn’t know what was going on," says PARK(ing) Day buff Ariane Burwell. She spent the day on a 12-foot hunk of grass she’d purchased at Home Depot and stuffed into a Toyota Camry that morning before settling in Chinatown. Kid-size plastic chairs with the words "have a seat" on them lined her turf. Aware of the going rate for this precious real estate (25¢ for six minutes), some strangers dropped their extra coins into her meter as they passed. One Good Samaritan even went to the bank and brought back an entire roll of quarters.

Since 2005, San Franciscans have honored this unique holiday not only by creating mini–public parks but also by raising awareness about certain societal issues. In 2007, CC Puede, a grassroots coalition dedicated to making Cesar Chavez Street safe, used its PARK(ing) spaces on the corner of Cesar Chavez and Valencia streets to provide free food and health exams.

And this year, in light of the upcoming election, some activists even used their spots as political venues. Bolcik and Borden chose to marry in their PARK(ing) space because — in addition to the fact that City Hall was booked — they think it’s part of a societal evolution that includes acceptance for same-sex marriage, which they hope California voters will affirm in November. Two No on Proposition 8 campaigners stood front and center at the ceremony, and many curious bystanders and media professionals were gathered along the sidewalk, which proved REBAR’s point: (PARK)ing Day has become about more than making an individual statement. It’s about promoting change.

After the ceremony, the two bald, salt-and-pepper-bearded men stood arm in arm in their wedding space and discussed what PARK(ing) Day means to them. Borden’s eyes were glassy with tears. "It’s a great way to bring people together," he said. Later he turned to his new husband and added, "I’m honored to stand here at home, in a city that I love, with my partner of 18 years."

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

District elections changed everything. You can see it in the interviews we’ve been doing with candidates for supervisor. Ten years ago, most of the incumbents were political hacks, bought and paid for by the mayor and downtown. So were most of the serious candidates challenging them.

We didn’t tape the interviews back then, but I remember them well: we spent a lot of time arguing with people, trying desperately to find some reason why people who had raised more than a quarter of a million dollars to run for citywide office might possibly be worth endorsing. We spent hours arguing among ourselves about who was the least awful, trying to count to five or six to fill a slate, knowing that some of the candidates we were backing had no chance of winning — or that they were, at best, marginally acceptable.

Now almost every district has good candidates: people who have roots in the communities they want to serve, people with credible ideas about addressing the city’s problems — people who seem to be more interested in progressive policies than in making the mayor or campaign contributors happy. The problem we have this year, in some districts anyway, is not finding one tolerable candidate — it’s choosing between several very good ones.

Check it out for yourself: all of the interviews this year are on the Web, at our sfbg.com Election Center.

Of course, there are still some people who don’t get it. Sue Lee, who was once an aide to a district-elected supervisor named Nancy Walker, told us she thinks the last at-large board was better than this board, and that she’d support some sort of modification (read: repeal) of district elections.

(Excuse me, Sue: that last board was the group that then–mayor Willie Brown referred to as his "mistresses" who needed to be "serviced.")

And downtown hates the district board, because money can’t control district supervisors. So I think we’ll keep hearing about a repeal effort. I understand there are already focus groups being convened on the subject. I would never support a candidate who wasn’t fully, completely, aggressively committed to district elections — but I think it’s also important to support candidates who are going to make a functioning, as well as activist, board.

Lee also sounded like a Ronald Reagan administration official at an Iran-Contra hearing; she couldn’t remember which Pacific Gas and Electric Co. official had told her to oppose the Clean Energy Act, and she had a hard time taking a stand on anything else. Ron Dudum was even tougher to pin down. We spent an hour asking him to say he was in favor of or against any policy at all — anything — and we got absolutely nowhere. (Oh, he thinks the city has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, but he couldn’t tell us what he would cut.)

Eva Royale, who is running in District 9, told us she supports public power but opposes Proposition H. Huh?

Ahsha Safai, who is running in District 11, sent me an e-mail that said he couldn’t be bothered to come in for an endorsement interview. Joe Alioto, who is running in District 3, never returned my phone calls. That’s just lame; even Mayor Gavin Newsom, whom we criticize almost every week, comes down to talk to us at endorsement time.

We’ll come out with our recommendations Oct. 8. But for a preview of how it’s going, check out the Election Center. Never a dull moment.

Volume 42 Number 52 Flip-through Edition