Volume 43 Number 46

Moving backward

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rebeccab@sfbg.com

San Francisco’s city budget was signed into law Aug. 4, but a group of city workers is pushing the Board of Supervisors to reverse a cut that they say reflects a giant step backward for progressive San Francisco values.

Service Employees International Union Local 1021, about 18,000 strong in San Francisco, has launched a campaign to restore pay cuts to certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and unit clerks who staff the city’s medical facilities, arguing that the demotions reverse a decades-old commitment pay equity between men and women.

Proposition H, approved by voters in November 1986, enshrined the principle of comparable worth in San Francisco. It required the city to ensure that municipal jobs dominated primarily by women provided wages on par with male-dominated jobs that have similar qualifications.

Jobs held by mostly female employees also tend be staffed by people of color, so the move to create equity in pay was meant to address systemic sexism and racial discrimination. Unit clerks and CNAs seem to fit the bill, and their salaries were gradually increased after 1986.

As part of the midyear budget cuts, 88 CNAs who work at SF General Hospital were laid off and simultaneously rehired as patient care assistants, a job with similar responsibilities but only 79 percent of the salary (from an average annual salary of $56,589 down to $45,032). Another group of CNAs is scheduled for similar demotions in November. Cuts to clerical workers’ wages are also pending and most will be reclassified with 15 percent less pay (from $52,845 to $45,266).

"It wipes out the advantage that they had," says Local 1021 health care industry chair Ed Kinchley. "Group by group, they’re wiping out the pay differential."

"This is the first wave of an overall effort to undermine comparable worth," union organizer Robert Haaland charged in a letter to the Board of Supervisors. "We ask you to join with progressives to defend the principle of equal pay for women and minorities."

SEIU held an Aug. 7 forum to discuss the cuts at SF General, with Sups. John Avalos, David Campos, Eric Mar, and Ross Mirkarimi in attendance. CNAs and unit clerks packed the audience — a crowd that was indeed made up of many women of color.

One was Theresa Rutherford, a CNA at Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center. "We’re the first ones to note when a patient is not doing well," Rutherford explained to the supervisors. "It’s a job that requires a lot of commitment." She described the long hours and the bonds that develop with patients, saying CNAs are counted on by "the person who has no family members left — so you become the family member."

"Best-quality care costs," Rutherford added. "It’s not cheap."

Avalos, who chairs the Budget and Finance Committee, said he was infuriated by the pay cuts. He spoke about a possible supplemental appropriation to address the issue. "We have to find the revenue for that to happen," he said. "Push as hard as you can on City Hall, and I’ll fight as well."

Tom Jackson, there representing Sup. Chris Daly, also urged the workers to apply pressure. "As far as labor practices go, this is a test," he said. "You’ve been fighting for decades [for pay equity] … and they’re ready to wipe it away because we have a bad economy."

Department of Public Health Chief Financial Officer Gregg Sass responded to SEIU’s charges by telling the Guardian: "We disagree with the SEIU comparable worth argument. Further, SEIU was not able to get member approval of a tentative agreement that might have prevented layoffs and position conversions during last fiscal year."

Supervisors added $500,000 back into the final budget to stave off some conversions. SEIU members contend that the add-back was supposed to retroactively restore cuts to the 88 CNAs, but Sass told us, "I am not aware of any action at the [Board of Supervisors] to that effect."

A memo that DPH Director Mitch Katz sent to Board President David Chiu noted that "difficult decisions had to be made to reach the financial target," and said the CNA conversions were made "following discussions with the city’s Department of Human Resources and SEIU."

At the forum, Halaand pointed to a report from the Controller’s Office revealing a 20 percent growth in management positions under Mayor Gavin Newsom’s administration. "There’s a lot of padding of their wallets at the top. At the bottom, they’re devaluing," he told the workers. "There seems to be money out there, but it’s just not for us."

Campos told us he plans to request a hearing to examine managerial promotions as well as the ethnic and gender makeup of the city’s highest-ranking positions. As for whether some of these cuts might be restored, he told us, "I think that’s a real possibility. I am hopeful it will happen."

A study released this year by San Francisco’s Department on the Status of Women compares women’s median salaries to average men’s earnings. According to the report, the median annual wage for Latina women is 52 percent of men’s earnings; African American women earn 58 percent; Asian women 63 percent; and white women 88 percent.

Another round of pink slips go out Sept. 16, so SEIU is planning a rally at City Hall that day to demand that the city uphold comparable worth.

Big top blues

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steve@sfbg.com

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has returned to the Bay Area, this year plagued by even more evidence that circus employees routinely abuse elephants and other animals than existed last year, when we ran our award-winning investigation on the problem (see "Dirty secrets under the big top," Aug. 13, 2008).

As a result, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums has ordered that an animal welfare officer from the city be assigned to monitor the circus’s Aug. 12-16 run at Oakland’s Oracle Auditorium to try to ensure that the animals aren’t mistreated there.

"At this point, the plan is to provide a humane officer from our animal control to monitor the circus," mayor’s spokesperson Paul Rose told the Guardian. Although he hadn’t gotten a response yet from Ringling officials, Rose said Dellums expects the officer to have full access to the circus. "That’s the plan, to be a part of the operations and to provide oversight."

As we reported last year, Ringling Bros. was headed to trial in a landmark civil lawsuit brought by a trio of animal welfare groups and former Ringling elephant trainer Tom Rider alleging the endangered Asian elephants in the circus’s care were routinely beaten with sharp bullhooks and subjected to other forms of abuse, all in violation of the Endangered Species Act and Animal Welfare Act.

After repeated delays, that case finally went to trial in a Washington, D.C. federal court earlier this year, although Judge Emmet Sullivan has yet to issue a verdict. A follow-up hearing was held July 28 and another is set for Sept. 16, after which a ruling could come any time.

"We hope that after that hearing, we’ll have a ruling from him," Tracy Silverman, general counsel with plaintiff group Animal Welfare Institute, told us. They are seeking declaratory relief that would require Ringling to get ESA permits for taking elephants and injunctive relief preventing certain behaviors. "Our lawsuit has precedent-setting potential for all circuses with elephants."

In the meantime, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals last month released video footage from a six-month undercover investigation that showed various Ringling employees repeatedly beating elephants with bullhooks, something circus officials last year told us doesn’t happen. Officials referred to the tools as "guides."

"Clearly it corroborates everything we said in the trial and have been saying for the last decade," Silverman said of the PETA footage, although she said it was too late for the video to directly affect the trial.

PETA activists appealed to officials in Oakland and other host cities to take some preventive action based on the new evidence. After its stint in Oakland, Ringling heads to San Jose’s HP Pavilion for an Aug. 19-23 run.

"The Mayor’s Office met with PETA to discuss their findings, and we’re reviewing that information and determining the best way to proceed," Rose from the Mayor’s Office told us after the Aug. 7 meeting. Later he told us about the assignment of the animal control officer.

PETA’s RaeLeann Smith said that people have been shocked by the video (which we ran July 22 on the Guardian Politics blog) and that activists will be out in force at the circus showing the video to attendees and trying to persuade them not to go in.

"The video speaks for itself. It wasn’t one employee having a bad day. It was numerous employees on different occasions," she told us. "I believe people will shun the circus once they see this footage."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which regulates Ringling’s treatment of animals, also reviewed the PETA footage and announced that the agency "has initiated a thorough investigation into these allegations."

The agency’s July 28 statement also stated: "Our veterinarians and animal care inspectors are deeply committed to making sure that exhibited animals receive appropriate care and exhibitors comply with the [Animal Welfare] Act. Physical punishment, as alleged in this complaint, is inconsistent with the Act’s standards, and is one of the items our inspectors will look into during their investigation."

Ringling officials did not return the Guardian‘s call for comment, but they previously claimed to treat all animals under their care lawfully and well, and they criticize PETA as a radical animal rights group.

Our story from last year also documented the aggressive tactics Ringling officials have used to silence and retaliate against its critics (at one time orchestrated by former top CIA official Clair George), the political and financial connections of Ringling owner Kenneth Feld, lax enforcement efforts by USDA officials, and the pervasiveness of tuberculosis strains in Ringling’s elephants that are transmissible to humans. Earlier this year, "Dirty secrets under the big top" won first place for best business story in the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club’s annual awards.

Although Ringling is a 139-year-old global institution, there is growing concern in the United States and other countries about animal abuse. The government of Bolivia this month banned the use of all animals in circuses following media reports of animal abuse.

As Silverman said, "The trend is toward better treatment for animals."

Sailing into the plastic vortex

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rebeccab@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY If a plastic soft drink bottle got tossed into the San Francisco Bay and swept out under the Golden Gate, it might end up in the massive junkyard-at-sea that swirls through a current known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

Nicknamed the Plastic Vortex, this massive collection of marine debris circulating in a remote area northeast of Hawaii is a sort of watery graveyard for all manner of human refuse. The ocean churns the waste, disintegrating the debris into bits and turning it into something more like plastic soup than a buoyant mass. Ocean experts say it’s a very big problem — the gyre is about twice the size of Texas and taking in more garbage all the time — and is only getting bigger.

This gigantic manmade mess — which exists in international waters not regulated by any particular governmental body — presents a slew of difficult questions. What long-term effects is it having on the marine ecosystem? Is there any way to clean it up? Are minuscule plastic particles and their hitchhiker toxins circulating back to people’s dinner plates via bioaccumulation?

These are just a few of the mysteries that a crew of researchers hope to unravel during an ocean voyage called Project Kaisei. The Kaisei (Japanese for “ocean planet”) is a 151-foot brigantine that sailed out of the San Francisco Bay Aug. 4 for a month-long venture into the plastic vortex.

The tall ship, the second of two research vessels commissioned for Project Kaisei, is operated by the Ocean Voyages Institute, a Sausalito-based nonprofit. Its counterpart, the New Horizon, is operated by the Scripps Institute for Oceanography and departed several days earlier from Southern California.

Project Kaisei spokesperson Ryan Yerkey describes the mission as a multipronged effort. Scientists’ first goal is to get a “snapshot” of the effects the garbage is having on the marine ecosystem. “These materials, they never really dissolve,” Yerkey explains. “They don’t just become part of the ocean. They break down at different degrees. Things like a plastic bag — it breaks down in the heat, and the sun and the water. And a lot of this stuff is so minute that it’s getting ingested by fish.”

Project Kaisei researchers will also test various technologies that might help them chart a course for cleanup. One idea — using reprocessing technology that has never been tested at sea — is to convert the marine debris from trash to fuel. “We’re testing the various reclamation and harvesting technologies,” Yerkey explains. “We’d love to be able to get that technology onboard our future vessels out there so they would be able to fuel future missions with the very trash they’re collecting.” The third goal will be to educate the public about preventive actions like recycling, since an estimated 80 percent of marine debris originates on land.

Algalita, a Long Beach-based marine research foundation, has conducted eight voyages in a 50-foot catamaran to study the Pacific Gyre. “Last year, in February, we were doing a night trawl — that’s when a lot of the marine life come up to feed,” explains Marieta Francis, executive director of Algalita. “We caught hundreds of these small, six-inch fish, so we thought this was the perfect opportunity to study them. And one of those little fish had 84 pieces of plastic in its stomach.”

Over the course of a decade, Algalita has taken hundreds of water samples from the gyre — and not a single one was plastic-free. There are believed to be two giant garbage patches in the Pacific, but the scope of the problem is only beginning to be understood, Francis says. “Now we feel, along with other researchers and even [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] that there are not two distinct patches, and that in between the two areas where it seems to be accumulating, there is sort of a superhighway that’s also collecting the debris.”

The Project Kaisei team appears to be embracing what its Web site calls “the biggest clean up Earth has ever witnessed.”

‘Can I buy your park?’

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sarah@sfbg.com

Saul Bloom, executive director of Arc Ecology, recently donned his best suit and a sandwich-board saying "Can I buy your park?" then headed to some of the city’s most popular open spaces: Dolores Park, Golden Gate Park, Crissy Field, and Ocean Beach.

Bloom’s quest? Pose as a developer and videotape reactions to a fictitious proposal to sell 25 percent of the parks for housing, a ruse designed to illuminate how the city and its master developer, Lennar Corp., have never been nearly that honest about their plan to get the state to sell 25 percent of Candlestick Point State Recreation Area so Lennar can build luxury condos on prime waterfront parklands.

Predictably, responses to Bloom’s poll were mainly negative, occasionally violent. "A couple of people tried to clock me over the head," Bloom recalled. "They got aggressive. They said ‘You’re an asshole, man.’ But the predominant reaction was ‘I love my park.’ People asked, ‘Why do you want to sell them?’ They feel there’s not enough open space."

Perhaps the most chilling response came when Bloom told folks about the city’s actual plan to build condos at Candlestick Point SRA in the Bayview District. "Their response was, ‘Oh, it’s in the Bayview? Who cares?’" said Bloom, who fears that apparent indifference to the plight of the Bayview may explain why the city and Lennar see Candlestick Point SRA as a development opportunity.

Arc isn’t the only group accusing Lennar and the city of not properly informing the public that a vote for Proposition G, which was billed as the "clean-up the shipyard initiative" during the June 2008 election, was also a vote to push Senate Bill 792, state tidelands legislation that authorizes the Candlestick Point sell-off.

Introduced by State Sen. Mark Leno in February, SB 792 has since been amended and approved by the full Senate and is currently scheduled for a hearing by the Assembly Appropriations Committee Aug. 19. Passage by the committee is virtually certain, given that it only delays legislation based on fiscal impacts.

But even some Prop. G supporters, including Bloom, are now raising questions about the deal.

San Francisco’s Park, Recreation, and Open Space Advisory Committee (PROSAC) unanimously approved a resolution recommending that the city’s Recreation and Park Commission and the sponsor of SB 792 require both the city and Lennar to "provide detailed accounting of the park and open space acreage in the Candlestick Project." The committee asks that no net open space in the region be lost in the transfer.

PROSAC claims it was in the dark about the deal and asked those who pushed Prop. G to "provide documentation of when PROSAC and any other relevant advisory committees were informed of the intention to purchase state parkland for the Candlestick Project." So far Lennar and the city have pointed to conceptual maps and a couple of notices of public meetings as evidence that the public was adequately informed before voting.

But according to Bloom, who studies the maps and attends the meetings, "There really is not anything other than two graphics, neither of which call out the alteration to the park boundary. You’d really have to know what you were looking for. And why would the city’s own advisory committee be asking Lennar and the city for information if they were in fact told of this plan?"

Adding fuel to the fire is a July 21 resolution by Sups. Chris Daly and John Avalos, which argues that it should be official policy of San Francisco to oppose SB 792 in its current form and remind city lobbyist Lynn Suter "to accurately represent the City and County of San Francisco policy in Sacramento."

The resolution has been assigned to the board’s Land Use Committee and likely won’t be heard until September. It contends that SB 792 is "premature and preempts the process for public input and environmental assessment since the environmental impact reports for the proposed development on Candlestick Point and the Hunters Point Shipyard will not be released until the fall of 2009."

Noting that the state "purchased this beautiful waterfront parkland for $10 million in 1977," Daly and Avalos assert that "this land represents a valuable and irreplaceable asset to the state of California that should not be disposed of for private development."

The resolution notes that many people oppose the transfer "because of the impact of environmental racism caused by selling a clean park to a private developer for condominium construction denying Bayview Hunters Point residents equal access to healthy open space as is enjoyed by other neighborhoods in San Francisco."

As Daly told the Guardian, "Everyone wants the shipyard site cleaned up, development that works for the community, and real open space opportunities on the shoreline. And Prop. G was billed as doing this, which led to a division of people who believed Lennar and those who didn’t."

As a result, Daly said, people like Saul Bloom, who supported Prop. G, are coming out against SB 792. "So now, it seems, the skeptics are right," Daly said. "A lot of promises have been made. But unless you get them in writing, and have an insurance policy, Lennar is not delivering."

But Lennar Communities of California, the developer’s major political action committee, seems to be delivering when it comes to advocating for the park sell-off. In the second quarter of this year, Lennar more than doubled its spending on lobbying, including on SB 792. And Aug. 3, it alerted its Prop. G supporters that help is needed "passing SB 792 through the California State Legislature."

The e-mail blast claims that SB 792 is "straightforward and necessary legislation that reconfigures the state park boundaries at Candlestick Point and exchanges under-utilized land (most of it dirt, rubble, and a parking lot) for tens of millions of dollars of needed new improvements to the state park and a steady stream of dedicated funding to operate and maintain the improved park and open space."

But recently, there has been talk of an SB 792 compromise. According to insiders, the city and Lennar are willing to concede 20 acres of the contested 42-acres of park, although the developer insists it needs to build hundreds of condos (of which only 15 percent will be below market rate) on the 22 remaining acres of state park land if its entire 700-acre development is to pencil out.

Privately, environmental advocates say they may be unable to stop the land grab. And they worry that seven of the 20 acres Lennar is prepared to concede could be inundated by rising seas caused by global warming, as shown in a 2007 study by engineering firm Moffat & Nichol. It would be an ironic fate given Mayor Gavin Newsom’s July 30 announcement of a proposed United Nations center focused on climate change and green technology as part of Lennar’s project.

The Sierra Club opposes selling state parklands, building a bridge over Yosemite Slough, and capping a radiologically-affected dump on the shipyard’s Parcel E2. But the club does not oppose Lennar’s entire redevelopment plan. Arthur Feinstein, the group’s local representative, said, "We’re interested in saving as much land as possible. We are pushing to save the park’s grasslands. It’s existing habitat."

Noting that some amendments to SB 792 have been made, including removing proposed exchanges of parklands for shipyard land, Feinstein said that "there’s now a map that defines the project and no longer carries shipyard land."

Michael Cohen, Newsom’s chief economic adviser, said, "At Leno’s request, we’ve made amendments to address concerns, including taking steps to ensure there is no adverse impact on wildlife habitat."

Cohen called Newsom’s United Nations Climate Center "the perfect institution" for the entire redevelopment project, since it provides the shipyard with a green technology anchor. Cohen said he was unaware of the study showing the area could be flooded by global warming.

"But no one disagrees," Cohen continued, "that the state park will benefit from infrastructure and much needed capital for operations and maintenance."

Leno told the Guardian that his goal is to arrive at the best possible bill. "At the request of the opposition, we did amend the bill so that land at Hunters Point Shipyard won’t be part of any exchange," Leno said. "But it is conceivable that once the cleanup is completed, there could be a gift from the city to the State Parks Commission."

Leno said he hadn’t seen the flood map and joked, "If someone thinks they know exactly where the water is going to stop, they can place some bets now."

Assuming a more serious tone, Leno added that "the entire park system is under threat." He recalled how Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed to eliminate all General Fund money for parks and said, "We fought back and were able to restore most of the money."

But with the state’s ongoing fiscal woes and political stalemate, "Anyone who believes CPRSA is going to be open and funded indefinitely is not thinking clearly … so this deal has the potential for being an opportunity for our taking responsibility for the future of our state park system."

As currently drafted, SB 792 provides millions for improvements and $700,000 annually for operations and maintenance, Leno explained. "So I’m trying to make a bad situation better in a way that brings along this bill’s opponents so that they see that they are being taken seriously."

Walk like an Egyptian

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"Wonderful things." So said Howard Carter in 1922 when the archaeologist was asked what he saw upon peeking into the just-opened tomb of boy-king Tutankhamun. Almost a century and many world tours later, King Tut’s wonderful things — enough beautifully crafted, jewel-encrusted, and gilded loot to last a dynastic ruler through the afterlife and beyond — still hold their allure.

At least that is the belief underlying "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," Tut’s latest greatest hits global tour (it started in Los Angeles in 2005), which has made a penultimate stop at the de Young Museum on its encore run of U.S. venues. Displaying 50 of Tutankhamun’s burial objects, along with artifacts from the tombs of his royal predecessors, family, and court officials, Golden Age aims to give a broader picture of the good life in the 18th Dynasty (1555–1305 BCE). But really, it’s all about the booty.

And while Tut’s famous golden funerary mask is not on display (it has been deemed too fragile to travel, and like the pharaoh’s mummy, coffins, and sarcophagus, it will never leave Egypt), there is still plenty to "ooh" and "ahh" over: The scarab shaped pectoral amulet inlaid with lapis lazuli and other precious stones, a jewel encrusted canopic coffinette for the king’s viscera that resembles his more famous gold sarcophagus in miniature, and two nested coffinettes that morbidly contain the remains of fetuses whose relation to Tut is still being determined.

Given our current depression, nothing seems simultaneously more fantastically alien, or more apropos a reminder of our last gilded age, than the glittering horde on display. Although, perhaps because of Tut’s enduring celebrity (there’s something endearing about watching groups of school kids press up against the display cases, having once been a self-appointed junior Egyptologist myself), Golden Age pleasantly lacks the undertones of clueless class condescension that hung about the Legion of Honor’s recent "Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique" exhibit like stale perfume. Or perhaps Dede Wilsey just doesn’t have a canopic jar to graciously loan, as she did with her own Fabergé egg for that exhibit. Then again, when admission for a family of four amounts to a week’s worth of groceries, something’s not right.

Lately I’ve been thinking of another deceased king, also remembered as forever young, in relation to Tut: the King of Pop. Michael Jackson once cast himself as a shape-shifting stranger who woos Iman’s Queen Nefertiti with his dancing prowess in the ancient Egyptian-themed video for 1992’s "Remember the Time." But I feel it would have been more fitting for him to play the Boy King. In many ways he already was the Tut of our time.

The comparison is underscored by the Julien’s Auctions exhibit of Jackson’s possessions, which retroactively seems an augury of Jackson’s untimely death. The rococo furniture, the self-aggrandizing effigies, the five-figure gewgaws: Jackson’s royal treasury held hideous things, but they are wondrous all the same. The universe is strange. NBC Chicago recently reported on how a 3,000 year-old bust of an Egyptian woman at the Field Museum has been receiving unusual amounts of attention because of its resemblance to the latter day visage of Jackson. Maybe one day, and perhaps only in a future envisioned by the likes of Bruce McCall, Neverland will come to the de Young.

Inflatable darling

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andrea@mail.altsexcolumn.com


Dear Andrea:

We were watching Mythbusters and they were using inflatable dolls instead of crash test dummies. That didn’t work very well, but it did make me wonder, does anyone ever use those for actual sex?

Love,

Blow Me Down

Dear Blow:

Who knows? Any attempt to answer this scientifically would be hampered by the inevitable sample problem: would even the most dedicated enthusiast actually admit to putting the thing to its supposed intended use? If they told you, wouldn’t they have to kill you?

If I had to guess, I’d say yes. Men have been known to stick it into condoms full of warm oatmeal, into watermelons, and allegedly into a piece of liver intended for the family dinner. How could at least some tiny fraction of male mankind not be expected to stick it into what passes for a genital orifice in a vinyl novelty device? Of course some do. But mostly not, I’d assume, and mostly not often, or even twice.

Once upon a time I had a boyfriend who lived in a foul two-bedroom with a roommate of disreputable habits (it was Roommate who was principally responsible for the apartment’s foulness, or so I chose to believe at the time). Before Roommate’s birthday one year, Boyfriend and another equally disreputable friend went off to a Tenderloin sex shop and bought a … fuckhead. That’s what we called it, and that’s what it was, a softish mannequin head, like a Barbie’s Hair Salon head but horribly porny, with a round, gaping maw and frizzly blond curls that shed distressingly when you attempted to grasp the thing like a, well, a head. It was ghastly and we could not imagine anybody ever using such a creation for its intended purpose — nobody even wanted to touch the thing — so they put it in the oven, which was never used for its intended purpose, and left it there to gaze blankly, gape-mouthed, through the glass-paneled door.

No, that story did not have a point. I just wanted to tell it.

Of course, decades after the invention of the rarely-fucked Inflatable Love Doll (and by the way, they make sheep, too, but I can’t remember now if it’s actually sold as a "Love Ewe" or if my friends and I made that up), the Real Doll debuted to enormous media hullabaloo and respectable sales. Fairly or not, and nicely or not, I ascribed those respectable sales to the concurrent dot-com bubble and the sudden wealth it showered upon a lot of guys with good coding skills and not so much experience talking to girls. The Real Doll, in case you were sleeping, is a fairly realistic (only slightly less realistic than Jenna Jamison, for instance), life-sized, customizable silicone sex partner. According to their site, you can buy some models on super-special this month for less than $6,000: "order a female flat-back torso, get the head kit free." In fact, the company is, as they say, "going out for business":

In These Difficult Economic Times, Abyss Creations Is Doing Our Part To Help.

SHIPPING IS NOW FREE ON ALL NEW ACCESSORY ORDERS!

And for the month of July there is a $500 Discount Off all new Doll orders.

We also want you to know that all of our products are made in the U.S.A. As well as all materials and parts. We are doing our part to keep our country working.

They are doing their part. Are you doing yours?

The Real Doll appears to have had its moment in the sun (a good idea, actually, since silicone warms to body temperature very readily). If The New York Times, of all things, is to be believed, the coming thing in fake sex partners is not a semirealistic girl-shaped thing, or the expected, immanent online, plug-in cybermate. It’s a … pillow.

The Times article [www.nytimes.com/2009/07/26/magazine/26FOB-2DLove-t.html?_r=2&partner=rss&emc=rss&pagewanted=all] is about Japanese "2-D lovers," a subset of obsessive anime fandom who carry on what at least feels to them like real relationships with representations of anime characters, often, ickily, prepubescent girls. The article never says what, exactly, people like the profiled "Nisan" ("big brother") do with a stuffed pillowcase printed with the image of a 10-year-old in a bikini, besides carrying it around and ordering it a bowl of soup and calling it their girlfriend.

Japan is, of course, kind of a special case. According to the Times article, "more than a quarter of men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins; 50 percent of men and women in Japan do not have friends of the opposite sex." I’m hanging onto the hope that the fact that the same cannot be said of North Americans will provide us at least partial immunity to the spread of a similar craze here. But I think we can trust a certain subset of geek-hipsters to at least claim to have adopted it.

Love,

Andrea

See Andrea’s other column at carnalnation.com.

Worth it

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS He signs his e-mails Romeo. I sign mine Juliet. It’s cute, but you try not to think about how that one ends.

You know … well, you probably don’t know, so I’ll tell ya: if you’re a trans woman dating men, you can spend years and years and years trying to find one who doesn’t either cream his pants or throw up as soon as you take your clothes off. And then, by some miracle of shifting continents and a spectacularly rare alignment of stars, planets, and good hair days, you do! You find, in fact, the one. Now, like everybody else in love, you have to kinda wait. And see. What happens.

There are questions. There is distance. There are Capulets and Montagues, jobs, exes, currents. There are riptides and undertows, sharks, lions and tigers and bears … and there are days when you feel like you are on Cloud 10. I like those days. They’re way better than the other ones, where you feel like you are hacking your way through a jungle of impossibility with a plastic butter knife and without mosquito repellent.

Yo, Shakey, is this what love is supposed to feel like? A million mosquito bites? Probably not, but I’ll take it. I’ll take it because it’s perfect. It’s perfect! It really is — give or take 5,822 miles and a logistical conundrum that would make Alfred North Whitehead reach for his binkie — perfect.

My head hurts. Again. (And again and again.) The last time I remember feeling really physically good, let’s see, I was sitting in my new favorite restaurant with my soccery girlfriends, eating grilled meatball and green apple spring rolls dipped in this insanely delicious orange pork sauce.

And if you think that sounds slightly odd, the next item on the menu is a grilled shrimp Popsicle on sugar cane.

No, it’s not some kind of funky fusion foofoo place, it’s Pot de Pho, Geary and Parker streets, and I love it. Yeah, it’s a little pricier than most Vietnamese restaurants, but worth it because it’s worth it, and fun. They don’t overly worry about authenticity. I like that. It’s like, let’s do Vietnamese food with all the best ingredients possible, well-researched recipes, and a sense of fun.

Our waiterguyperson, like the menu, was full of enthusiasm. He told us he was starting a new happy hour thing, making cocktails and punch and stuff using just wine and sake by way of alcohol.

The pho was good, I didn’t order it, of course, because I’d eaten noodle soup for lunch and dinner the day before, and still had a big pot of it at home in my fridge. But I did taste.

It’s $10 for a large bowl, $8.75 for a medium, and $5 child size. And, although they do offer a chicken pho, a vegan pho, and even (for a couple bucks more) an ahi tuna pho, they don’t offer tendon and tripe as options for their beef pho.

That’s the kind of thing I might have made fun of them for a few years ago — even though I would have been snickering over a bowl with just rare steak, every time.

Oy.

Bean sprouts are in the soup, not on the side. Wide rice noodles instead of vermicelli. They have a Vietnamese sandwich, but in a green onion crepe instead of a crusty French roll … The authenticity snobs will complain. But you know what? The older I get, the more I couldn’t care less about words like authentic and traditional, and grammar in general.

If it wasn’t for inauthenticity and maltradition somewhere down the line, we’d all be having bananas and bugs for lunch. Thank you, I’ll try the green apple spring rolls and green onion crepes.

Speaking of crepes, I’m pretty sure the French gave pho to the Vietnamese, not to mention French bread.

That’s why Pot de Pho is my new favorite restaurant, for giving us grilled shrimp Popsicles. And because the teacups are a pretty shade of green, and the chairs there are cushy and comfortable. I need that right now. Pretty shades of green and a soft, comfy chair.

POT DE PHO

Tues.-Thurs., Sun.: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Fri.-Sat.: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; closed Mon.

3300 Geary, SF

(415) 668-0826

Wine, beer

MC,V

L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.

Teh ghey

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SUPER EGO It’s been a coon’s age (is that racist?) since I lifted the bloody glitter-crusted rock of alternaqueer nightlife and peeped with prickled horror at the writhing wigged creatures of darkness beneath. There’s a lot going on this month, so buckle up your birdseed boobs and ride, baby, ride. But first, I’ve got to give a special screechy shout-out to Faux King Awesome and his filthy-excellent trash-club blog, www.dragslag.org. Check it, chicas, that child never sleeps.

HOMO A GO GO FESTIVAL

As Zombie Cher would say, "A-woooaaaah!" And then, "Brains." Four nights of edgy queer music, fashion, film, art, activism, and, yes, parties with more than 50 performers spread out across the city. Italo disco darlings Glass Candy swoop in to join noise-makers like Erase Errata, Katastrophe, Younger Lovers, Hunx and his Punx, Honey Soundsystem, Chelsea Starr, Girl in a Coma, and a spectacular buttload of others. Plus: old-school zine exhibitions, activist workshops, and plenty of classic homopunk/queercore/riot grrrl spirit in the air — so strap on your 16-holes and let’s get mish-moshed.

Thur/13-Sun/16, various times and locations, www.homoagogo.com

THE ROD

"Wet jock strap contest" — are any four words in the English language more titilutf8g besides "five-second rule, bitches"? Almost five years ago, DJ Bus Station John launched his bathhouse disco-drenched tribute to teasingly moistened fabric, bringing many a screw-worthy type through Deco’s doors to compete for $100. (Full dis-clothes-ure: I host the contest when I can remember what’s happening, and Hunky Beau recruits contestants with his "special talent.") All good things must come to a tight little hairy ass end, however, and with this final installment The Rod promises to go out with a sopping bang.

Fri/14, 10 p.m., $5. Deco, 510 Larkin, SF. www.decosf.com

SF GRAND VOGUE BALL

Chop, mop, fierce, and shade, Miss Realness. People have forever been talking about holding a grand vogue ball in San Francisco. Finally the money’s where the mouth is and the chin is on the floor, dropping for you as local houses compete each Friday until the final battle royale Sept. 11. Categories include: Face, Drama, Butch Boyz in Pumps, Look in the Book, Butch Queen Femme, and Old Way/New Way. Walk, work, walk — are there any more?

Fridays through Sept. 11, 8 p.m., free. Yerba Buena Center, 700 Howard, SF. groups.google.com/group/sfgrandvogueball

14TH SAN FRANCISCO DRAG KING CONTEST

It’s big time, y’all, for the sexy kings to come tearing out of the closet in their testosterone Testarossas — and my stubble is itching with adrenaline. For 14 years, Fudgie Frottage and company have brought out the munchable machos to stomp the boards in a quest for the spiky Mr. San Francisco Drag King crown. The talent numbers are uproarious, the crowd bursts with rare hotties, and all involved have a sweaty ball. The whole thing benefits P.A.W.S., so you know you’ll be riding that mustache for a very good cause besides your own.

Sat/15, 8 p.m., $15–$35. DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., SF. www.sfdragkingcontest.com

HERR-A-CHICK

This raucous biweekly Wednesday rock ‘n’ roll lady night at the Eagle just got a reboot of sorts: felch whore Renttecca has climbed aboard Anna Conda’s wig and Juanita Fajita’s taco truck to join them in hosting live bands, drag disasters, and the occasional poetry interlude(!).

Wed/19 and every first and third Wednesday, 9 p.m., $5 (free in drag). Eagle Tavern, 398 12th St., www.sfeagle.com

BJÖRK NIGHT

Oh, how I wish this event were called Björk Wars, and tranny Megabots had to trudge their four-story iridium stilettos across the frozen tundra, transforming with groans into stupendous radioactive igloos housing prancing bands of radical faeries and elfin gals fashioning their own soy jerky shoes. Well, instead we get Trannyshack arising from the grave to pay tribute to the Voltaic princess with stunning low-cost effects and volcanic performances. OK, then.

Fri/28, 10 p.m., $12. DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., SF.www.trannyshack.com

G’day sleaze!

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a&eletters@sfbg.com

In the late 1970s Australia suddenly looked like the new mecca for cinematic art, as movies like My Brilliant Career (1979), The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and Breaker Morant (1980)achieved unprecedented international critical and commercial success.

Those award-bait films are pointedly mentioned just in passing, for contrast, in Not Quite Hollywood, which is about all the other movies from Down Under during that period — those the tourist boards and arts councils preferred you didn’t know about. Subtitled The Wild, Untold Story of OZploitation!, Mark Hartley’s documentary is one of the best appreciations ever made of some of the worst films ever made.

Actually, they’re not all bad, by a long shot, though it’s measure of Not Quite Hollywood‘s infectious spirit that it induces a potent desire to see a number of films that in fact turn out to be pretty excruciating when seen in anything more than five-second increments. Their likes include 1978’s Stunt Rock — the predictably lame high-concept combination of stunt performers, magic tricks, and a justifiably forgotten band called Sorcery — not to mention extended dirty jokes like 1974’s Australia After Dark, 1981’s Pacific Banana, 1975’s The Love Epidemic, and 1975’s The True Story of Eskimo Nell. (The latter, however, features the following philosophically defining line: "There’s a day comin’ when I’m gonna stick me dick in the heart of the Earth and the bang’ll be heard in Alaska!")

Indeed, it was the belated relaxation of draconian censorship standards that opened the initially very smutty floodgates for Aussie exploitation cinema. While American audiences were enjoying the brief cultural moment known as "porn chic," folks on the other side of the planet were vicariously experiencing the sexual revolution in the softcore form of local snickerfests like 1973’s Alvin Purple ("The Bloke Who Has Everything But Inhibitions!") and 1972’s The Adventures of Barry McKenzie ("Cripes! The Things These Porn Sheilas Will Do On Camera!"). As several older, wiser actors note, any thoughts at the time that showing skin was about "liberation" proved delusional.

Much of Not Quite Hollywood is in a similar mood of bemused recall, reflecting that most endearing national Australian characteristic, an allergy to pretension. Confessed Ozploitation fanatic Quentin Tarantino does most of the on-camera cheerleading here, while folks who actually worked on the films in question typically recount how daft, crass, and/or sometimes plain dangerous to work on these enterprises were.

Unlike the Peter Weir and Bruce Bereford movies that presented Australia’s high-cultural face to the world, Aussie genre films of the ’70s and ’80s were often deliberately origin-blurred, the better to appeal to a North American drive-in audience. (When the most famous of them all, 1979’s Mad Max, first got released here its dialogue was actually redubbed by American actors.)

Washed-up or third-tier international "stars" like Jenny Agutter, Steve Railsback, or Broderick Crawford were flown in for marquee value, often greeted with open hostility by local actors whose jobs they’d "stolen." If war stories recounted here are indicative, many got revenge by behaving very badly: Dennis Hopper, for instance, was so berserk on Philippe Mora’s Mad Dog Morgan (1976) that police finally escorted him to the airport, practically banning him from an entire continent.

Not everything here is craptastic. Gems ripe for rediscovery include the 1978 Long Weekend in which a horribly combative urban yuppie couple going camping attract ambiguous vengeance from a horribly pissed-off Mother Nature. Another deeply buried treasure is 1982’s Turkey Shoot, a Most Dangerous Game spin that Brian Trenchard-Smith turned into a "high camp splatter movie" when the unfortunate last-minute disappearance of half the planned budget x’d out the script’s more expensive ideas. Its zesty offensiveness still riles critic Philip Adams, a plummy-voiced snob who decries "these vulgar films" that "admitted to the wider world we were yahoos."

But what yahoos. Australian exploitation cinema has had a particular penchant for putting protagonists at the mercy of crazy-car-driving, sheila-ogling, unkempt and un-sane rural inbreds. Sometimes they’re the main peril, sometimes just an unfriendly preliminary to the central menace of giant killer hogs (Razorback, 1984), giant killer crocs (Dark Age, 1987), giant punk prisoner camps (Dead End Drive-In, 1986) or psychotic stalkers driving Mr. Whippy ice cream vans (Snapshot, 1979).

There’s a whatever-works (even when it doesn’t) spirit to these films personified by the career of Trenchard-Smith, whose boldly indiscriminate resume has thus far stretched from several Aussie kung fu movies to 1983’s BMX Bandits (with Nicole Kidman!) to 1997’s Leprechaun 4: In Space. It’s a little annoying when Tarantino brags about dedicating Kill Bill‘s Australian premiere to this prestige-resistant director just to piss off the local "snobs." But it’s gold when the man himself cheerfully admits "I am a guilty pleasure footnote." *
NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF OZPLOITATION! opens Fri/14 in San Francisco.

On the Rael

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superego@sfbg.com

failed teleportation with a microwave is painful

at least my small intestine reemerges during rainfall

watch where u put those feet —

I have a fetish for on-the-crotch antihistamine — Odynophagia

I first caught 23-year-old native transdimensional rapper Odynophagia (www.myspace.com/odynophagia) at a freestyle night at El Rincon. He materialized onstage with his hyperactively dazed hype man King Eljen, flamboyantly brandishing a koi in a little plastic baggie. The atmosphere was immediately tweaked off-center, the inverted rhymes delivered with supersonic giddiness, and the fate of the poor fish in doubt from the get-go. (It survived.)

Earlier, I’d been transfixed by the boob-blackening video for “The Container is Pervasive” from Odynophagia’s mind-twisting first album Social Masque, put out this year by his music-film-art distribution and production company Millipede Handjob (www.millipedehandjob.com). MF Doom on shrooms meets meta-fractured art star Ryan Trecartin? Sure, but Odyn, whose name means “painful swallowing” and whose rickets-rocked flow opens a quaking quark-hole in indie hip-hop’s current unholy oatmeal, has limned the freakin’ tesseract, man.

Social Masque was made “half in channel with unconscious, half coping with altered chemistry from bad acid,” he told me. “I call it ‘chemical jaw.’ I do the art of living Sudarshan Kriya every day, and consider myself a mystic surrealist (the 100-year-old French kind), letting anything come through from the nether regions.” Right now he’s getting ready to direct his first film, Struggled Reagans, a semi-pornographic deconstruction of Power Rangers, featuring aborted quintuplets and a traumatically dripping sink nozzle. “One of the characters is Evie from the sitcom Out of This World,” he says. “It’s about nine percent sex. I’m still casting.”

He’s also recording his second album, Collage Fossil, due out in December, which he promises will marry U.K. grime style to “slower, more accessible U.S. commercial rap structures, with a more overtly sexual plotline than Social Masque mixed with apocalyptic urgency. Scared about 2012, so making a collage fossil time capsule with an “only certain are invited in” substory. Also, more of an subcultural satire.”

SFBG Sitcoms, sci fi, crotch fungus, sex sweat — what, exactly, are you?

Odynophagia I’m Odynophagia, the rapping plasticization of the pathogenic presence, looming in the host body of Gregg Golding. He’s a pretty choice mulatto specimen with nice genitals. The nigga just has too many rest-stop asphyxiation rashes. Blame the pressure of hip-hop fame and the Japanese corporation, Tanaka Inc., hot on his trail. (Let’s just say he has eels from Spanish sitcoms lodged in a glass vial in his stomach)

Here I float, in the chemical jaw of scarred spirituality. I move my abacus as a disease routing agent. The powerful Mr. Tanaka drags blue-braid weave from his Segway i2. Upon observing me route cholera to a Wale mixtape listening party, he suggests syndication. Next thing you know, I’m in human form on this toxic plane of samsara, exuding pathogenic spores through my verbal flows in warehouse performances. A big booty white girl with a split-tongue body modification tells me she vibes to my constructivist cumshot rap. Can I fuck her mouth and asshole before Lou Gehrig disease sets in???

I tell her and her crew of needle exchange anarchists to buy my album Social Masque at Amoeba or Rasputin (or online if she handicaps and loses friends). But not Aquarius, cuz I was caught vaginally invading the owner’s housemate with a Jon Moritsugu DVD.

Can’t talk long, Im txtng u frm a dinner party. To my right is Mr. Tanaka, to my left, the head of Raëlianism. Raël compliments designs of Tanaka Inc.’s bright orange metallic clit rings and cybernetic love dolls. Five of the exposed circuit units, for the spring line, round out our guest list. (Including the K-5, which lactates heated donor sperm out its foam nipples, for lesbians with tit fetishes, ready to start a family.) Oh no it’s a trap …

The love dolls hold my pressure points and flip me on the table, a fork pierces my thigh. Bone marrow squirts on Georgia O’Keefe flower folds. Raël says the Odynophagia energy is the key to mankind’s salvation, and was in fact the router of a Moebius syndrome to their extraterrestrial creators. So catch me later, he’s about to reclaim the eel and cut open my stomach with plastic Crayola scissors.

Sound of vertigo

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Music can teleport you to far-off lands and spark nostalgia for distant times. It might elicit lost memories or even summon illusions. You may have never visited Istanbul or São Paulo or lived in the 1960s, but music infects the imagination with a visceral experience of the unknown. The effect is uncanny, mesmerizing, beautiful, and even therapeutic.

But what happens when music pushes its ability to displace to an extreme? When music annihilates your familiar sense of space and warp holes your usual expectations of time? Can listening to music transform you? Los Angeles-based beatsmith and DJ the Gaslamp Killer certainly thinks so. "The music I’m looking for is the stuff that will cut through your brain and just make you feel … almost overwhelmed," Gaslamp slowly explains whether arranging cosmic abyss mixtapes like I Spit On Your Grave (Obey, 2008) or crafting his own twisted productions, including his just-released debut solo EP My Troubled Mind (Brainfeeder), Gaslamp displays a developing genius for charting hallucinatory odysseys into vertigo. His haunted, cinematic music unhinges the listener, approaching a surreal dissociation and restoration of the self.

William Benjamin Bensussen didn’t identify as the Gaslamp Killer until some time after moving to Los Angeles three years back. He grew up in another troubled Southern California paradise cloaked in its own rusted mythology: San Diego. There, a restless Bensussen was already broadening his musical horizons in the fifth grade, listening to Too Short, Jimmy Hendrix, and Dre. A few years later he attempted to satiate his curious, nearly frantic energy by freestyle dancing at raves and in b-boy circles — to electronic and hip-hop music respectively. But it was DJ Shadow who bridged those fractured worlds for Bensussen and ignited a desire to dig into jazz, funk, and psychedelic crates. "I started on this frenzy trying to find all the originals. And then I realized that Shadow had sampled half of his stuff, and he wasn’t as much of a genius as I thought he was," Gaslamp recalls, laughing. "That’s when I started looking for older records and thinking, well, maybe I could do this."

Bensussen’s dark nom de plume is a bittersweet tribute to his unlikely origins. As a 19-year-old college dropout, he flipped wax in San Diego’s glittery Gaslamp District to a sometimes hostile crowd. Bensussen remembers bitterly a particular confrontation with a vindictive listener. A strikingly beautiful woman — who intimidated the then-teenage DJ — queried him angrily why he wanted to ruin her time with his fucked up music. Why? Dumbfounded, wounded, and angry, Bensussen drew sadistic nourishment from the provocation. It helped inspire his first mixtape project, the circa-2000 Gaslamp Killers, a lo-fi guzzling of psychotic drums and horror sonic bits. Recently, Bensussen decided to rename himself in light of this original labor of love.

Gaslamp has yet to settle down. He helped found L.A.’s monolithic weekly showcase for uncut beat-driven tracks, the Low End Theory, in the fall of 2006. And he’s secured a close affiliation with Flying Lotus’ bubbling imprint, Brainfeeder. But Bensussen’s troubled mind still wanders, like his music and his words, in perpetual hunger for the rawness of life. "[My music] comes from more of a vicious area," Gaslamp explains, searching for the right words. "Not angry, just passion — but a passion that can’t be sugar-coated."

This unmediated passion takes Gaslamp into many dangerous and strangely ethereal caverns. It also jettisons him to the homes of foreign musicians marked by the same shattered pathos. My Troubled Mind gathers its influences from all over the globe — Turkey, India, Russia, Mexico, Germany, and Italy. But the way Gaslamp employs samples from these regions defies their idiosyncratic place of origin. He has a rare skill for extracting universal otherworldliness from regional sounds. And he implements their fiercely destructive yet uplifting spirituality into his mind-melting compositions. His music and DJ sets become performances, elusive experiences leaving you charred and fiending for more of their ineffable allure. "I’m glad people can’t describe it," Gaslamp says, nearly yelling into the speakerphone. "Once they are able to describe it, that’s when they chew it up, spit it out, and leave it behind. The more indescribable and amazing it is, the more you’ll hold on to your people, your listeners."

Split decisions

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Sexo y Violencia. It’s a fitting tag for the L.A.-born spectacle known as Lucha VaVoom. Combining the traditional Mexican art form of lucha libre with a titilutf8g burlesque show, this unique blend of entertainment has definitely found its niche audience.

The marriage of sex and violence (in varying degrees) has always found its way into the squared-circle’s storyline, whether it be Hulk Hogan’s alleged lusting after Miss Elizabeth in the 1980s, or the more suggestive eye candy that the WWF/E (World Wrestling Federation and World Wrestling Entertainment) began parading around when the "Divas Campaign" kicked off in the 1990s.

Pro wrestling has always found a way to reflect mainstream and pop culture, even if its fans are considered to be on the fringe of society. The sport’s two major peaks in late 20th century popularity are defined and clear-cut. In the 1980s, rock ‘n roll, notions of good vs. evil, and the onslaught of mass consumerism ushered in the era of Hulkamania. In the 1990s, as the lines that defined heroes became more blurry and edginess and exaggerated sexuality took hold, cable television’s Monday Night Wars and Austin 3:16 catered to the era of the intelligent fan.

Jan. 20, 1984: during the height of the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State Charles Shultz designates Iran as a sponsor of international terrorism. Three days later, Hulk Hogan beats the Iron Sheik in Madison Square Garden to claim his first WWF world title. This was no coincidence. In fact it was destiny.

Vince McMahon, arguably wrestling’s most savvy promoter, had been aggressively buying out smaller independent and regional promotions, building the monster that would become the WWF/E. With his tanned Venice Beach body-builder’s physique and peroxide blond locks (and presumably with steroids coursing through his veins), Hogan was touted as the all-American hero. It totally made sense to play up current events by having the Sheik, with his curl-toed boots (somehow implying that he’s Arab or evil) drop the title to Hogan, a symbol of our patriotic righteousness.

By no means was this a new formula. But never before had pro wrestling marketed it so successfully. The battle lines were drawn, and much like in neoconservative propaganda, any Russian or Arab in wrestling was clearly the bad guy.

In the 1980s, wrestling had a facade of innocence — the fans knew whom to root for, despite darker dealings behind the scenes with the steroid scandal about to explode. But fast-forward to wrestling’s peak years in the 1990s, and things didn’t exactly read as "family entertainment" anymore.

Midway into the ’90s, the Monday Night Wars were in full swing. WCW (World Championship Wrestling), a rival promotion, had begun to give Vince McMahon a run for his money. WWE’s Raw and WCW’s Nitro were consistently cable’s two top-rated shows, and they played off each other competitively, giving way to a more adult product. Wrestling had become cool again. Storylines became intricate and good guys played bad.

During the Clinton era, Hogan’s real American image wasn’t cutting it anymore. Wrestlers jumped ship between promotions in dramatic fashion, depending on where the better deal was or simply because they’d burned a bridge. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin’s beer-drinking common man persona as the quintessential badass provided an opportunity for universal identification with someone who rails against authority, gives his boss the middle finger, and basically lives the dream by kicking ass and taking names.

Wrestling’s popularity comes in waves, and like politics, it vacillates between conservatism and unbridled, graphic mayhem. At the moment, McMahon’s WWE is experiencing a "family entertainment" renaissance — he’s trying to steer away from blood and sexual innuendo, keeping things PG. It might not have the same type of exposure as the big leagues, but Lucha VaVoom keeps wrestling’s sex and violence solidly intact. No heroes necessary.

Mad women

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TV DAMES I’m sure you’ve heard: the critically lauded Mad Men‘s characterizations are subtle and layered. Its insights into contemporary society, as viewed through the prism of 1960s-era domestic and professional life, are at once nuanced and precisely rendered. Its dialogue is rich in subtext and dramatic allusion. In short, it’s, you know, deep.

But, also, the outfits really rock. And so do the fabulously messed-up women who wear them. Take vixen head-secretary Joan Holloway, as portrayed by flame-haired siren Christina Hendricks. While Joan — a sex kitten who’s all business — bumps her sculptural up-do on the proverbial glass ceiling, the men in the Manhattan offices of the Sterling Cooper advertising agency ogle her "valentine’s heart" rear end. Joanie lives for the attention. Brimming with confidence, smarts, and curvaceous sass, this formidable gal wields her sexuality like a fleshy weapon; 40 years in the future, she could have toppled corrupt government administrations without smearing her lipstick. Instead, she makes the coffee, taunts Serious Career Girl Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) about her weight, and brushes off getting raped by her fiancé in the boss’s office with a terse, ladylike smile. Let’s hope in 1963 her color-coordinated pumps trip over a copy of The Feminine Mystique.

If working city-girl Joan is the show’s sugar-voiced femme fatale, then Betty Draper (lead ad exec Don Draper’s icy, model-perfect wife) is its luridly soapy secret weapon. A young Grace Kelly type trapped in the suburban wastelands of upstate New York, Betty (January Jones) is equally as confused — and formidable — as her urban sex goddess counterpart. It’s hard to believe, for instance, that the Princess of Monaco would slap a neighbor in a grocery store after being accused of an inappropriate relationship with a 12-year-old boy. Or reprimand her cheating husband for his choice of mistress ("How could you, Don? She’s so old.")

Betty’s uptight, provincial-princess façade is also the source for some martini-dry comedy. When a foppish younger man tries to seduce her, she sets him straight. "You’re so deeply sad," he coos. "No, I’m happy," she replies. "It’s just my people are Nordic." Joan stretched out luxuriously on a streamlined chartreuse sofa in a purple shift dress might represent the apex of the show’s downtown aesthetic, but Betty’s delicate upstate hausfrau is its hypocritical, bourgeois soul. When the new season premieres Aug. 16, I’ll be glued to the flat-screen with highball glass in hand, enjoying all the scandals ’60s-era Manhattan and Westchester County have to offer. Like Don Draper, I feel no need to have to choose just one woman, especially when they all offer such distinct, guilty-pleasure charms.

www.amctv.com/originals/madmen

Time travelers

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"I thought it would be funny to do a total stereo split, as if the past and the present were trying to have a conversation with each other," says Scott Ryser, describing "East West," a track on the compilation History of the Units: The Early Years, 1977-1983 (Community Library). "I like the idea that these radically different sounds can share a ‘present’ time together."

That idea is the motivation behind this article’s collection of short profiles. Recently singled out for a rave by Pitchfork, Ryser’s synth-punk group the Units is one of four innovative or fierce Bay Area musical forces currently experiencing a contemporary renaissance. Sugar Pie DeSanto’s soul, the Pyramids’ free jazz, and San Francisco Express’s fusion have also inspired reissues or archival compilations. The message is loud and clear: old is new and radical in this era of free-floating sound. (Johnny Ray Huston)

SUGAR PIE DESANTO It’s no surprise that New Yorkers called Sugar Pie DeSanto the female James Brown. Like a woman possessed, she pantomimed her petite frame across the stage almost comedically, gyrating to the doo-wop, soul, and R&B that dominated Chicago’s famed Chess record label. In fact, De Santo sang with Soul Brother No. 1 in the early 1960s, and her presence made a competitive impression upon the hardest-working man in showbiz. "James was cool with Sugar," De Santo says over the phone, her voice husky and distinctive. "He was a fanatic about his music."

Now in her 70s, the San Francisco-born Oakland resident has seen much during her 57 years in the music industry. DeSanto’s list of contemporaries includes Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, Jackie Wilson, and Etta James. She may not perform live quite as often as she once did, but she’s as risqué now as ever. The new compilation Go Go Power: The Complete Chess Singles 1961-1966 (Ace/Kent) is a great starting point if you aren’t familiar with her work. The package includes a dynamic photo of her scissor-locking an unassuming Londoner with her thighs during a performance. Lyrically, "Use What You Got" deals with notions of natural beauty, superficiality and what it was like to grow up African American and Filipino in SF’s Fillmore District. "There was a lot of jealousy," DeSanto remembers. "I had long Filipino hair. It [being multi-racial] wasn’t as common or as easy as it is today. Girls would talk crap in the neighborhood."

With 100 original songs under her belt, DeSanto still receives residuals for compositions penned for Fontella Bass and Minnie Ripperton. A producer at Chess heard a similarity between DeSanto and James, and a few of their subsequent duets are included on Go Go Power. "We recorded in the studio together [in Chicago]," says DeSanto. "We didn’t go on the road together." Today, the Queen of the West Coast Blues likes to ride her bike. She’s looking forward to performing at Oakland’s Jack London Square on September 12th. (Andre Torrez)

THE PYRAMIDS Bad seeds can accidentally generate something good — you can thank an exploitative imposter for contributing to a new surge of interest in the free jazz of the Pyramids. According to the group’s Idris Ackamoor, "someone masquerading as a Pyramid" gave the blessing for the respected Japanese label EM to reissue the group’s 1976 album Birth Speed Merging on CD. Shortly after Ackamoor discovered this ruse, EM embarked on a more expansive — and legit — collection of his music, Music of Idris Ackamoor, 1971-2004. Now, Birth Speed Merging and two earlier Pyramids albums — 1973’s Lalibela and 1974’s King of Kings — are alive again on vinyl, thanks in part to Dawson Prater’s Ikef label.

"I’ve lost a lot of things in my life, but for all these years, I’ve managed to hold on to all of the masters of the Pyramids," says Ackamoor, who is busier than ever today due to Cultural Odyssey, his multi-faceted collaboration with Rhodessa Jones. (Before a new set of Bay Area performances next year, a trip to Russia is on the horizon.) Ackamoor was right to hold on to his barely-tapped treasure trove of Pyramids material, because the group’s music is built to last. Birth Speed Merging scorches ears with proto-noise. Accompanied by Ted Joans’ written ideas about Afro-Surrealism, King of Kings astounds (the bass runs of "Nsorama") and hypnotizes ("Queen of the Spirits"), in turn.

Such sounds will be a revelation to young listeners, even — or perhaps especially — those whose sensibilities have been shaped by the journeying spirit of the late Alice Coltrane. To paraphrase a credo, the Pyramids played music to make fire and make souls burst out from bodies. "They’ve tried to snuff out that avant-garde energy," Ackamoor notes, when discussing then and now. "This music wasn’t meant to sell drinks. When I listen to it, it even inspires me. I listen to how I sounded, and the freedom with which I played when I was so young — 19, 20, 21. The intensity is so refreshing. I didn’t realize I could play so long." (Huston)

SAN FRANCISCO EXPRESS In the 1970s, San Francisco churned out quality music like nobody’s business. But many of those recordings — despite their innovation or solidity — never saw the light of the day. And so today preservationists abound, seeking to revive the lost treasures discarded in the wake of this music renaissance. Recently, the one and only effort of jazz-funk outfit San Francisco Express, Getting It Together (Reynolds/ Family Groove, 1979), hit the shelves for a new generation. The album embodies the lush cosmic spirit of free form jazz grounded seamlessly in deep pocket funk.

Little is known about Getting It Together. Daniel Borine, Family Groove label owner and source of the reissue, says that the set was recorded circa 1975 at Dr. Patrick Gleeson’s infamous Different Fur studios in SF’s Mission District. Gleeson, who played Moog synthesizer for the arrangement, doesn’t remember the album by name. But oddly enough, Getting It Together recalls Gleeson’s monumental direction for Herbie Hancock on the visionary, electrified jazz of Crossings (Warner, 1971) and Sextant (Sony, 1972) as well as Charles Earland’s epic odyssey, Leaving This Planet (Prestige, 1973). Even though Getting It Together was recorded just after these groundbreaking works, the small independent label Reynolds postponed its release until ’79, possibly due to in-house quarrels. The original pressing provided no substantive information on the recording. And, seemingly outdated amid the burgeoning new sounds of modern soul and disco, it quickly faded into dusty record bins across the country.

Despite Getting It Together‘s unfortunate reception, few jazz-funk records of the mid-1970s sound as cohesive. The sonic landscape shifts effortlessly between conventional melodies and spacey grooves without losing a consistent magnetism. Virtuoso trumpeter Woody Shaw carries the powerhouse horn section, bursting with psychedelic warmth over heavy hitting drum breaks courtesy of Afro-inspired drummer E.W. Wainwright. Gleeson’s keys evoke a sensual intelligence and informed taste for adventure. A remarkable synthesis of the lively experimental jazz era, Getting It Together still feels as inspired and fresh as ever. (Michael Krimper)

THE UNITS Fate and a bond with the musician Bill Nelson once led them to share three squares a day with Robert Plant, but the Units were a punk or post-punk band. And like any great punk or post-punk band, they lived for confrontation. They played in JC Penney storefront windows and even performed the national anthem at a boxing match.

Still, when the Units invoked the smashing of guitars, they did so as a gesture of contempt towards that six-string signifier of readymade rebellion as much as a protest against traditional authority. Whether singing about burritos and how "the Mission is bitchin’" or adapting Gregory Corso’s poetry to song, the Units, you see, wielded keyboards as sonic weapons.

The group’s Scott Ryser has some primarily fond and often very specific memories of the keyboards in question. The Arps, the Octigans, the Roland Junos, and various Korgs and Casios. The Sequential Circuits 800 Sequencer, "without question the most promising and at the same time most belligerent" of the group’s many "unruly kids." And his "sweetheart," the Minimoog, an invention "better than the automobile and the electric dildo combined." For Ryser, "the Minimoog sounds like god and the devil singing in harmony."

God and the devil sing in harmony throughout History of the Units: The Early Years, 1977-1983 (Community Library) — that is, when they aren’t breaking down gloriously. Or colliding against the live drumming that distinguishes the Units from just about any other synth group. ("I just don’t see how a synth band can kick ass without real drums," opines Ryser.) Nervy narratives like "Bugboy" and "High Pressure Days" reflect Ryser’s background writing stories and novels, while the sprawling, gorgeous instrumental "Zombo," inspired by Walter/Wendy Carlos, sounds contemporary today. Unlike many retrospective collections, History of the Units avoids nostalgia — in fact, Ryser adds a blitz of contemporary images to the sleeve art. "To me, the best thing about our band was just the idea of it," he says. Maybe so, but the reality of the Units will trigger more fine ideas. (Huston)

The ring

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a&eletters@sfbg.com

COVER STORY Going to the DNA Lounge during the middle of the day is a strange proposition. But on a Saturday afternoon in late June, the San Francisco bar is filled with a hundred or so people, including, strangely enough, Kris Kristofferson, whose son Jody is trying out a different kind of public career. There’s a smattering of people hanging out on the balcony level, but most of us are pressed against metal guard rails that surround a ring set up in the center of the dance floor. Professional wrestling has, ahem, put a stranglehold on venue, and it’s the middle of the show.

A newcomer with a spiny bi-hawk and spiked shoulder pad named Nate Graves — a muscle-bound cross between a Mad Max 2: Road Warrior extra and the guy from Prodigy — is set to fight "the Mexican Werewolf," El Chupacabra, a local favorite who wrestles in multicolored face paint and prosthetic fangs. Even when entering the ring, both wrestlers’ movements tell a story; the newcomer is stiff and deliberate, a menacing behemoth, while the significantly smaller El Chupacabra darts around in unpredictable bursts.

The bell rings, and the two exchange some preliminary holds and throws before drubbing one another with loud, theatrical strikes. I’m sandwiched between a stylish young woman in her early 20s, noticeably buzzed, and an average looking dude in a Giants shirt. They spend most of the fight leaning over me to hassle each other. The young woman really has it out for Chupy. As the newcomer hoists our protagonist into the air, she screams for the larger man to "drop him on his fucking head."

Wrestling’s harshest critics tend to view it as a theater of violent, regressive, antisocial posturing. But a decidedly gleeful atmosphere permeates the venue. El Chupacabra wriggles out of the precarious position, and the two adversaries call for an impromptu toast in the spirit of the nameless unifying energy that takes hold during a wrestling event.

FOUND IN THE FOG


Fog City Wrestling is a year-old promotion based out of San Francisco. Relatively unknown in the grand scheme of indie wrestling — most of the larger promotions are based on the East Coast — FCW has nevertheless carved out a comfortable niche in the Bay Area, already home to several smaller federations. The promotion may be relatively new, but professional wrestling in San Francisco has a lengthy — if often ignored — history. Fans who grew up in the era of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) CEO Vince McMahon Jr.’s homogenized "sports entertainment" empire may be surprised to learn that Northern California as a whole was once home to one of the hottest wrestling promotions in the country.

Throughout the pre-WWE (then the World Wide Wrestling Federation) 1960s and 1970s, promoter Roy Shire’s Big Time Wrestling, a Bay Area extension of the once powerful National Wrestling Alliance, regularly showcased some of wrestling’s big-name stars and future legends, such as local hero Pat Patterson, Superstar Billy Graham, and Rocky Johnson, whose son Dwayne briefly dabbled in the sport of kings as The Rock. Though Shire’s mini-empire extended all the way to Sacramento, the Bay Area was the promotion’s home base. Selling out the Cow Palace on a regular basis, Big Time Wrestling exemplified a halcyon period when pro wrestling was vibrant, gritty, and regional.

Big Time Wrestling owed part of its success to the territorial wrestling industry it existed in, a system where local feds dominated the markets of their particular region. In contrast to the major performers of today, most wrestlers weren’t beholden to a specific promoter, leaving them free to travel the country. But Shire’s own ingenuity was key to his fed’s notoriety.

According to long-time wrestling photographer, columnist, and all-around avid fan Mike Lano, the promoter — a former wrestler — was regarded by his wrestling business contemporaries as a promotional genius. For Shire, personality and a dynamic, athletic wrestling style were paramount. "[He] demanded excellence from his wrestlers," Lano says. "Matches had to be excellent or he would yell and chew the guys out." This democratic booking philosophy, which favored talent and originality over marketability, is closer to the indie wrestling scene of today than to the monolithic WWE.

The Bay Area’s diversity played a major role in Shire’s booking strategy. He promoted wrestlers of color as some of Big Time Wrestling’s top stars, a savvy move that allowed the multifaceted Bay Area to see itself represented heroically in the ring. Afa Anoa’i Sr., better known to wrestling fans as Afa the Wild Samoan, followed in the footsteps of his legendary uncle, "High Chief" Peter Maivia (Rocky Johnson’s father-In-law), who commanded a massive Pacific Islander fan base. Though he was a journeyman by nature, returning to the Bay to wrestle for Shire’s promotion was always a special experience for the Wild Samoan. "Because we [had] a lot of my Samoan population there, sometime[s] [the] fans [would] get out of control and a riot [would] break out in the crowd," he remembers via e-mail. "But it was all good."

This story demonstrates a common truth in wrestling: when the drama in the ring speaks to one’s own experiences and sensibilities, the event as a whole is that much more fun and engaging.

THE POLITICS OF WRESTLING


Fog City Wrestling promoter/cofounder Dominick Jerry started out as a Humboldt County concert promoter before relocating to San Francisco with his wife in 2003. Booking FCW’s matches and storylines, he tells me, gives him the opportunity to play around with the politics of mainstream wrestling, a compelling provisional touch I suspect won’t be on WWE’s agenda any time soon.

Mainstream wrestling is often criticized for its socially conservative slant, a turn-off for many fans whose personal beliefs are less "kill the evil foreigner." But Jerry feels that in a town as singular as San Francisco, a promotion needs to cater to local sensibilities to survive. He cites, among other regional overtures, a handful of appearances by Differ’nt Strokes star Todd Bridges (no doubt drawing from his experiences battling the Gooch) as an appeal to ’80s nostalgia.

Jerry is also interested in the reinvention of character types that a small SF-based promotion would allow for, and quite possibly necessitate. "Wrestling is not a sport that’s very sensitive to race," he tells me over the phone. "But at the same time, it plays on race and it knows it. I see that I have a chance to change things and do things a little different."

He expresses pride in a recent storyline that saw a Middle Eastern wrestler named Sheik Khan Abadi become the promotion’s most popular wrestler, genie pants and all. (Abadi recently relocated to Florida. When I interviewed the East Bay-born wrestler, he fondly recalled his experience wrestling in SF: "They cheered me ’cause they thought I wrestled well and [because] I was wrestling for them. That was one of the greatest feelings ever — to be respected for what I do, and not just typecast for being Middle Eastern.")

The opening match on Fog City Wrestling’s Saturday afternoon card sees your standard square-jawed tough guy face up against longtime California indie star Angel the Hardcore Homo. On the one hand, the persona borders on minstrelsy — it’s a sort of hybrid between the implicit button-pushing of Gorgeous George and lucha libre’s rodeo clown-like "exotico" type. But the match itself tells a less straightforward story. Angel is clearly the hero in the contest, reconfiguring some of the mainstream’s predictable gay panic tropes into a slapstick offensive that plays off his opponent’s increasingly comical discomfort. Toward the end of the match, two teenage-looking guys standing across from me start an "Angel" chant.

On the surface, San Francisco doesn’t seem like the kind of community that goes in for (nonironic) professional wrestling. But scanning the crowd, I notice a sizeable number of bohemian types — an Unknown Pleasures shirt even made an appearance a few shows back. Outside the venue, would they readily admit to their fandom, or at least to their interest in wrestling? Perhaps this insecurity is on its way out.

For a true believer, self-consciousness isn’t a problem. Fog City Wrestling’s Jerry doesn’t see indie wrestling strictly as a subculture. "Everybody knows pro wrestling," he gushes. "Everybody might not admit they like pro wrestling, but everybody does. If it’s on TV, as opposed to Regis and Kelly, you’ll probably put on pro wrestling."

WE NOW RETURN TO THE EVENT, ALREADY IN PROGRESS


When I ask wrestleophile Mike Lano what the Bay Area has to offer that is missing from mainstream wrestling today, he responds with a common sentiment. "They [pro wrestling territories] were all unique. The television was unique, the talent was unique. Guys were not reading promos off a teleprompter or being told what to say by script writers." Fans today may not be getting an entirely comparable experience to the glory days — the DNA Lounge is a long way from the Cow Palace, for one thing. But the spirit of originality Lano remembers from the Shire days has carried over, bringing with it the simple pleasure of watching two colorful characters go at it on a Saturday afternoon.

The main event of Fog City Wrestling’s Saturday bill is a slice of unadulterated pro wrestling traditionalism. Dylan Drake is one of FCW’s marquee stars. He’s a dapper-looking guy with floppy brown hair of a non-threatening length. His name is an alliteration, like Clark Kent. His hirsute opponent has the biblically sinister moniker Malachai, and sports an enormous beard — wrestling shorthand for pure evil.

During a main event bout, there’s a feeling of conclusiveness to everything, like the ghost of Howard Cosell is narrating the action in the crowd’s collective mind. Each punch or hold becomes an ultimate moment that all preceding punches and holds of the show have foreshadowed. This is one of the last vestiges of Big Fight atmosphere, the Ali-and-Frazier effect, or, in keeping with the wrestling aesthetic, Rocky Balboa and Thunderlips. Sure enough, ironic detachment and snarky asides die an undistinguished death amidst the consecrated buzz.

Whether or not the majority of the audience are wrestling diehards, prodigal childhood fans, or just looking for an excuse to drink during the middle of the day, some dormant instinct takes hold as the fight commences. In true wrestling fashion, the match ends in a massive donnybrook of interference and conveniently bad refereeing, postponing the inevitable denouement for another month or two. This is pro wrestling, after all. We head home to a Sunday morning coming down.

Volume 43 Number 46 Flip-through Edition

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Dead heat

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a&eletters@sfbg.com

TREND Summer’s not over, but it might not be too soon to identify Michael Jackson’s passing as the touchstone cultural event of season. Icons and paradigms have been crumbling at a remarkable clip: California narrowly avoided a financial abyss, stalwart businesses folded, major pop and art figures died. New Langton Arts, a venerable San Francisco alternative gallery, may not survive the season.

Art museums are inherently rigid institutions. As much as they’ve been loosening up with livelier programs, they exist to present, collect, and protect the ever-fracturing canon. It’s difficult not to survey San Francisco’s big-ticket summer shows without considering recessionary measures. As endowments shrank, it was widely reported that museums would be tightening their belts by concentrating on their collections rather than on creating expensive new shows, and by presenting exhibitions for longer stretches of time. These shifts seem more like retrenchment than exciting revisions.

The de Young Museum’s current "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" exhibition is perhaps more interesting as a barometer than as a well-designed (albeit to resemble a deluxe burial chamber) state-of-the-art showcase of ancient artifacts. It is, first and foremost, a return to proven formulas. Tut was the subject of the first museum blockbuster, and it worked like gangbusters for the de Young in 1979. Back then the boy king seemed to compete with a vibrant Farrah Fawcett for poster space on teen walls, but currently, evidence of him outside of banners on SF light poles seems scant. The pharaoh’s not the media darling he once was, but apparently the Fine Arts Museums, of which the de Young is a part, is banking on him. (Ironically, Tut is organized by a subsidiary of AEG Live, which also produced the ill-fated Michael Jackson tour.)

Tut is firmly placed as a multiseason blockbuster, a cash cow to be milked into spring. He’ll be followed by an Impressionism show, another safe bet the de Young has made before. The Legion of Honor’s print retrospective devoted to John Baldessari — an uncharacteristically contemporary artist for the space — will be followed in December by a Cartier jewelry show.

The Tut exhibition’s press preview was bolstered by official optimism and ample refreshments. There was a spread of Middle Eastern nibbles and pyramid-shaped servings of custard, and media reps left with gift bags containing a catalog and chocolates. It seemed like the old days, before endowments took their Madoff hits. There was a panel of speakers in the theater. Fundraiser socialite Dede Wilsey said she wished her sons were as successful as the king. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, spoke of Tut discoveries with entertaining bluster. Gavin Newsom worked the civic booster angle, touting a power trio of summer museum shows: "Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities" at SFMOMA ("Richard Avedon: Photographs 1946-2004" had yet to open), "Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theater, 1919-1949" at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and Tut at the de Young. Although each of these exhibitions puts forth a specific viewpoint on its subject — the Chagall show is driven by the fascinating sweep of political and theatrical history while "Natural Affinities" probes an artistic dialog — the list of names sounded emphatically conservative, even for summer blockbuster season. There’s not a living artist in the bunch.

This isn’t so strange — after all, big institutions follow Hollywood models by packing the houses with mainstream fare and saving the more thoughtful offerings for fall. Both SFMOMA and the de Young exceeded audience expectations last summer with their Frida Kahlo and Dale Chihuly shows, respectively. The de Young take was reportedly bumped up by brisk sales of pricey pint-size Chihuly sculptures. And due to the practice of sometimes booking shows years in advance, these offerings were in place before the downturn. How are they faring?

The de Young won’t release attendance figures until a show has closed — in the case of Tut, that means after March 28, 2010. A museum publicist could offer a cagey comment that "response from visitors has been phenomenal." (This despite the steep nonmember ticket price of $27.50.) SFMOMA is more forthcoming. It unofficially stated that Adams/O’Keefe held steady but admissions spiked when Avedon opened, almost recalling Kahlo crowds. (These exhibitions have a $5 surcharge.)

The Avedon show is handsome, with images of the famous in crisp black and white. So many of the subjects, though, are emphatically of another era — iconic celebrities and political figures who have passed. Janis Joplin, Marilyn Monroe, César Chávez, and various Kennedys, among others, are figures that continue to embody their cultural power in Avedon’s pictures. And Tut more than maintains his royal allure — gold holds its value. But finance gurus also tout making more unusual investments in times like these, and one hopes that our institutions will use this moment to engage in some portfolio diversification. *

CHAGALL AND THE ARTISTS OF THE RUSSIAN JEWISH THEATER, 1919-1949

Through Sept. 7

Contemporary jewish Museum

www.thecjm.org

GEORGIA O’KEEFE AND ANSEL ADAMS: NATURAL AFFINITIES

Through Sept. 7

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

www.sfmoma.org

TUTANKHAMUN AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE PHAROAHS

Through March 28, 2010

De Young Museum

www.famsf.org

New Tsing Tao

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paulr@sfbg.com

The shock of the new can involve dazzlement, yes, but that’s not inevitable. Sometimes the new doesn’t seem all that different from the old, and the shock mainly has to do with how little things have actually changed. In our hyperaccelerated culture of progress, new means better, so the word gets deployed a lot, like bait on a fisherman’s hook, without necessarily signifying much. I never saw an old Tsing Tao restaurant and don’t even know if there was one, but the four-year-old New Tsing Tao in West Portal has the lived-in look of one’s favorite pair of weekend shoes — old Wallabies, maybe, or maybe duck boots, since West Portal can be damp, drizzly, and drippy, and certainly has been this summer.

New Tsing Tao does have its newish qualities, mostly the line of bulbous, science-fiction-red halogen lamps that dangle on long cords from the ceiling. Their racy glow suggests a bordello, starship, or hipster club. Pretty much everything else suggests a friendly neighborhood Chinese restaurant, including the rather worn-looking burgundy-colored carpeting on the floor and a long mural depicting (presumably Chinese) mountains in winter along one of the walls. Carpeting isn’t much favored these days by edgy restaurant designers, who seem to have given their love to various hard and glossy surfaces, but it remains useful as a damper of noise. You can hear yourself think inside New Tsing Tao, and you can hear what the person across the table is saying, too. Maybe ordering another Tsing Tao.

The food is rather classic San Francisco neighborhood Chinese food, the kind we tend to take for granted unless something goes wrong: a delivery gets messed up or the place goes out of business. Servings are large, prices are modest, and service is well-practiced and cheery in its way. The location — on a bendy stretch of Ulloa Street off the main drag — also offers a subtle charm; it’s a village within a village, without the drama of streetcars pacing back and forth like caged animals.

If drama you nonetheless must have, you might like the sizzling rice soup ($5.95 for the smallest size), which features a brick of toasted rice that resembles a Rice Krispie bar and hisses and sizzles fabulously when tossed into the broth. The rice is a diva, simultaneously giving value for money (including entertainment value) while overwhelming the rest of the soup’s players, a troupe of worthy character actors including chicken, prawns, peas, water chestnuts, and straw mushrooms.

The menu includes many standards, including potstickers ($5.95 for a clutch) — they are chubby — and mu-shi pork ($8.50), bits of meat and shredded napa cabbage ready to be spooned into rice pancakes with some hoisin sauce. If I’ve ever had bad versions of either of these dishes, I can’t remember them, and New Tsing Tao’s are just what one expects. In restaurants, we tend to like what we expect. The menu is vegetarian-friendly; the potstickers can be had in meatless guise, as can hot and sour soup ($5.50), which is rich in tofu splinters to make up the flesh deficit. (The meat version costs a little more, $5.95.)

Twice-cooked pork ($6.75 at lunch), although alluringly described as "hot," did leave me slightly disappointed. The meat was a little tough, the sauce tasted mostly of soy, and the promised heat was little in evidence. Some of the better stir-fry dishes are to be found under the aegis of "chef’s specialties." These include a preparation called Phoenix Dragon ($10.50), an everything-under-the-sun cornucopia of shrimp and shredded chicken breast tossed with snow peas, baby corn, straw mushrooms, and water chestnuts. If you could only have one dish from the menu, you would probably be pleased with this one.

I also admired the orange beef ($8.95), in part because it was spicy enough to satisfy the menu card’s "hot" claim, and — more important — because the meat was not crisp-fried or deep-fried, just quickly turned in a hot wok so that it remained supple and juicy. Deep-frying has its charms, crispiness being one of them, but it can seem perversely out of place in Chinese cooking, which places so much emphasis on gently handled vegetables. Fresh vegetables are crisp the way nature intended.

The main dishes are generally served with a sizable ration of white rice. You are asked if you want it, which means it’s possible in theory to opt out, but it has a tendency to turn up anyway, and accumulates like piles of snow left by plows, massive and indistinct. The casual wastefulness of this bothers me — not at New Tsing Tao in particular but as a wider phenomenon in Chinese restaurants. In a straitened era when even the flow of junk mail has diminished, this might be a moment to revisit the white rice glut in Chinese restaurants — a time (as Lincoln put it in quite a different context) to think anew. *

NEW TSING TAO

Sun.–Mon, Wed.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

811 Ulloa, SF

(415) 566-9559

www.newtsingtaorestaurant.com

Beer and wine

AE/DS/MC/V

Not noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Bowie Ball

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PREVIEW Not much can stop Swing Goth. Not the misperception that the biweekly dance class and party is strictly swing or goth (it’s all types of partner dancing, to all types of post-punk music). Not a cross-town venue change earlier this year (from Fat City to El Rio). Nothing, it seems, except a big ass flippin’ fire. In June, Swing Goth was all set to host the Bowie Ball, its biggest event yet, when an explosion in a man hole (remember that one?) shut down the Great American Music Hall. But even fire could only delay SG founder Brian Gardner for so long. Now, the Bowie Ball is back, and promising to be even better than the planned original. Five Cent Coffee (neo-skiffle junkyard blues) and Barry Syska’s Fantasy Orchestra (what would happen if Tom Waits did swing) joins DJ Skip of New Wave City, DJ MzSamantha of Clockwork, and MC Psychokitty for a celebration of Bowie’s many faces, styles, and sounds. The event will start, of course, with lessons in swing, waltz, and blues dance and culminate in a full night of cutting a rug (OK, a gorgeous hardwood floor) to everything from Joy Division to Nirvana.

BOWIE BALL Fri/14, 8 p.m. $15–$20. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. (415) 885-0750, www.swinggoth.com/bowieball09

Zardoz

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REVIEW The Pacific Film Archive’s current series "Eccentric Cinema: Overlooked Oddities and Ecstasies, 1963-82" contains such notorious curios as Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (1974) and Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie (1971). But maybe the oddest oddity (and most ecstatic ecstasy) of the bunch is writer-director John Boorman’s Zardoz (1974). Boorman’s Deliverance (1972) scored big; presumably, its success was the reason he was able to do whatever the fuck he wanted next. Lucky for fans of strange and wonderful cinema, he chose Zardoz — a tale "full of mystery and intrigue, rich in irony, and most satirical," according to opening-scene narrator Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy), who first appears as a floating head with drawn-on facial hair. To summarize Zardoz would ruin some of its peculiar charm, but, briefly: it’s set in the year 2293, in a futuristic yet strangely primitive land where immortal, supremely bored "eternals" live inside protected, idyllic "vortexes." Meanwhile, the outside world is patrolled by "brutals," who prevent everyone else from reproducing and worship a floating head (ahem) that intones lessons like "The gun is good. The penis is evil!" When brutal Zed (a spectacularly loinclothed, recently post-Bond Sean Connery) busts into a Vortex (residents include Charlotte Rampling), the world becomes an even more baffling place. What more can I say? It’s Zardoz. To miss it, in the words of the film’s mysterious Tabernacle, is "not permitted."

ZARDOZ screens Thurs/13, 6:30 p.m., $5.50–$9.50, Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; (510) 642-5249, www.bampfa.berkeley.edu

“San Francisco’s Doomed”

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PREVIEW Fred Schrunk sips his coffee as he mans the counter on a recent afternoon at Thrillhouse, the nonprofit punk record store he oversees on Mission Street, and discusses the genesis of this week’s San Francisco’s Doomed Fest. It’s a series of shows benefiting two causes dear to him and the local music community: the all-ages venue project for San Francisco that he and several forward-thinking locals are spearheading, as well as Maximum Rock’n’Roll, the long-running, SF-based punk monthly fanzine that, like many print publications today, is struggling to meet operation costs.

"Seeing [MRR] struggle for a little while made me really concerned," explains Schrunk, who is involved with the zine and its radio show. "It’s fucking scary seeing them in a compromising situation." The staff of MRR, likewise a nonprofit, consists of volunteer "shitworkers," and the zine’s content is reader-contributed, inspiring and informing both bands and enthusiasts worldwide since its inception in 1982.

"I think there’s a place for what we do," says MRR content coordinator Layla Gibbon over the phone from the zine’s office. "It’s just a difficult time." About four months ago, Schrunk and MRR‘s coordinators decided to put together a fundraiser for both the debt-burdened magazine and Thrillhouse’s goal of opening an all-ages venue in the city.

This venue project stems from San Francisco’s lack of a dedicated all-ages show space — a lamentable situation that leaves local youngsters with few options for seeing and performing live music. The success of the project’s small fundraising shows so far, as well as that of last year’s Thrillhouse-sanctioned Thrillfest, paved the way for this new, ramped-up effort to raise funds for opening a space. Where Thrillfest was structured around touring bands, Doomed features mostly local acts, all of whom have an obvious stake in seeing these two scene-uniting efforts succeed.

The event’s name comes from Crime, SF’s self-proclaimed "first and only rock ‘n’ roll band," which formed in 1976, cranking out early punk classics such as 1977’s "Hot Wire My Heart" and "Frustration." They’ll be headlining the festival, where the lineup ranges from the heavy, stoned sounds of Flood to the Messthetics-style post-punk of Rank/Xerox. More established local acts like good-times popsters Nodzzz and renowned Sacramento garage-rockers the Bananas are also on hand. As Gibbon exclaims, the fest not only benefits good causes, it also promises to be "a representation of what punk is … the sense of possibility!"

SAN FRANCISCO’S DOOMED Wed/12 through Sun/16, various venues. www.myspace.com/sanfranciscosdoomed, www.maximumrocknroll.com

“Good Boys and True”

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PREVIEW According to St. Joseph’s, an all-boys prep school, its students are expected "to be good boys and true. To strive towards competence, courage, and compassion always." Well — easier said than done, right? In Good Boys and True, scandal erupts at the Washington, D.C. prep school when a violent sex tape is discovered circuutf8g campus grounds. When Brandon, captain of the football team, is accused of being the faceless figure in the tape, his life and the lives of those closest to him are changed forever. Taking place in 1988 (long before sex vids became commonplace), the rumors of Brandon’s crime spread like wildfire and send ripples throughout the very rich, very white, and very proper community.

Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a writer for HBO’s Big Love, the play explores the themes of wealth, privilege, and power. It follows the relationship between Brandon and his mother as she tries to reconcile with the heinous crime her son is accused of, as well as Brandon’s relationship with his best friend Justin, which is more than just platonic. What will become of the Dartmouth-bound football all-star as his life spirals out of control? What dirty secrets will be revealed about those around him? Good Boys and True makes its West Coast debut at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, where it is one in a collection of LGBT-themed plays featured during NCTC’s Pride season.

GOOD BOYS AND TRUE Aug. 14–Sept. 20. Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m., $18–$40. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness, SF. (415) 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org

Crocodiles

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PREVIEW A long line of lo-fi troubadours have come crawling over the horizon these past few years. Crocodiles fit right in, but also stand out in more ways than one. The San Diego duo’s got its tight, tattered jeans and Jesus and Mary Chain comparisons, its vocals that sound like they were recorded through blankets, and plenty of attitude.

Just like many of the duo’s garage-rat contemporaries, Crocodiles’ music is a tangle of all things hipper-than-thou. But there’s a menacing intrigue bubbling up from beneath the scaly synth rhythms and claustrophobic distortion — scrub away the requisite hazy feedback and you ‘ll find a pair of sardonic scowls.

The meticulously crafted set of songs on Crocodiles’ debut album Summer of Hate (Fat Possum) prove that frontman and beat programmer Brandon Welchez and guitarist Charles Rowell are junkies for juxtaposition. Diamond-cut hooks and Welchez’ defiant wails weave in and out of electronic drones, resulting in a seamless summer LP.

Both Welchez and Rowell were once part of the SoCal punk outfit The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower. After lineup metamorphoses and the death of a band member, the two found themselves writing shoegaze-punk songs tinged with glee and gloom. Ready-made for living room dance parties, "Refuse Angels" finds the Crocs slithering to a furious, acidic electro beat and sneering that they feel "just like Leon Trotsky." "Here Comes the Sky" is a lonely, sun-baked ballad with arpeggios straight out of a latter-day Beach Boys recording.

Crocodiles aren’t just riding the fuzzy, noisy wave that’s so very in vogue and au courant — they’re surfing it with attention to every pulsating beat and damaged guitar note.

CROCODILES With Pens, Graffiti Island. Wed/19, 7:30 p.m., $10–$12. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, (415) 861-2011. www.rickshawstop.com