Volume 44 Number 26
PET STORES WE LOVE: ANIMAL CONNECTION
Animal Connection isn’t peddling short-lived hamsters or toilet-bound goldfish. The Sunset District store aims to provide customers with scaly roommates and feathered friendships that last. “We want to connect animals and people, and have them live happily and responsibly in a successful relationship,” says store manager Jennifer Grafelman.
Originally specializing in general pet supplies and birds, the store has since gone exotic, carrying everything from blood-fin tetras to cockatoos to fire-bellied salamanders to chinchillas.
The place has that pet store smell, a mix between grocery store bulk grain aisle and greenhouse aviary. Behind the register desk, assistant manager Joe Taylor has a chirping, green-feathered handful. “Tatter,” a rainbow lorikeet named for his fondness for sweet potatoes, is belly up in Taylor’s palm enjoying a stomach rub. Although he’s for sale, not just anybody can take the bird home; the staff discourages capricious purchases. “He’s super-playful, but that bird is not for everybody,” Taylor said. “He’s messy, has a real specific diet, and is loud.”
The employees at Animal Connection are specialists — something that sets the local business apart from chain stores. If your bearded dragon refuses to snap up crickets or your parakeet is losing plumage, they can provide advice or inform you a vet trip is necessary. 2550 Judah, (415) 564-6482 (Skyler Swezy)
PET STORES WE LOVE: AQUA FOREST
George Lo is trimming a field of grass that carpets a gently rising hill until it meets a vertical rock face; he’s using a pair of scissors. The picturesque landscape is submerged in an aquarium two feet long. A half dozen red-bee shrimp are scattered across the hill grazing on plankton in the grass. They resemble countryside cattle. Three cardinal tetras circle the rock like birds in flight.
At Aqua Forest Aquarium in lower Pacific Heights, Lo, 31, creates underwater gardens with imported aquatic plants. His was the first store in the United States to specialize in the “nature aquarium” style, which was invented by Japanese native Takashi Amano.
Aqua Forest sells souped up, hot-rod freshwater aquariums. A filtration system injects carbon dioxide into the water and specially designed fluorescent lights emit blue-spectrum light waves. The combination creates super-photosynthesis and a vivacious ecosystem.
Lo’s business is the result of a hobby turned profession. While a student earning his cell and molecular biology degree, he discovered a book of Japanese nature style aquariums. He decided to make his own, but struggled to find aquatic plants and suitable equipment. “I didn’t have the right kind of light required, so I had to build my own. I also built my own CO2 system using yeast and sugar,” Lo says.
The wall behind Aqua Forest’s cash register resembles a giant tray of surgical instruments. Stainless steel scissors and tweezers of various shapes and lengths hang in rows. A large-scale system can cost up to $20,000, but Lo can set you up with a basic starter tank for $200. He’s also got a kickass Web site. 1718 Fillmore, (415) 929-8883, www.adana-usa.com (Skyler Swezy)
PET STORES WE LOVE: PAWTRERO HILL BATHHOUSE & FEED
The last time my dog got sick, she really got sick — all sorts of fluids coming out of every orifice, dribbling all over her fur and her bed. Even after I wiped her down with wet towels, she still stunk. Like nasty, I-can’t-be-in-the-room-with-you stunk. The bed and the towels go in the washing machine, but the dog … well, the dog needed a bath — badly. And like most dogs, she wasn’t going to sit still in my bathtub, and I wasn’t looking forward to fighting a smelly wet dog in a shower/tub with glass sides.
No problem.: At the foot of Potrero Hill, there’s a great little pet store with a back room entirely set up for washing your stinky mutt. It’s so perfect it makes a damp and ugly chore fun.
Pawtrero specializes in raw food for your pet, and owner Susie Yannes has become something of an expert on canine and feline dietary needs. But her store is also popular for its self-service doggie bathhouse. The room has two large, stainless steel elevated tubs. You extend a ramp for the dog to walk up, slide the ramp back, lock the side door and slip a short leash attached to the back of the tub around your dog’s neck. Now poochie’s not going anywhere. You put on a large rubber smock, grab the spray hose, and start soaking.
Yannes provides a wide selection of organic, skin-sensitive doggie shampoos, treats to get reluctant pups up the ramp, fresh dry towels, blow-driers, brushes, combs, and even nail clippers. You can leave the towels behind, and take your clean, dry pal home with you.
And while you’re waiting, you get to watch all the other dogs get wet, get soapy, shake all over everything and look pathetic while their owners scrub away, chat, and laugh. And it’s just $15 199 Mississippi St., (415) 863-7279, www.pawtrero.com (Tim Redmond)
The battle to win San Francisco’s lucrative garbage disposal contract turned nasty as city officials tentatively recommended it go to Recology (formerly Norcal Waste Systems), causing its main competitor, Oakland-based Waste Management, to claim the selection process was flawed and bad for the environment.
Recology is proposing to dispose of San Francisco’s nonrecyclable trash at its Ostrom Road landfill in Yuba County, which is double the distance of the city’s current dump. The contract, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, would run until 2025.
For the past three decades, the city has trucked its trash 62 miles to the Altamont landfill near Livermore, under an agreement that relied on the services of the Sanitary Fill Company (now Recology’s SF Recycling and Disposal) and Oakland Scavenger Company (now Waste Management of Alameda County).
That agreement allowed up to 15 million tons of San Francisco’s municipal solid waste to be handled at Altamont or 65 years of disposal, whichever came first. As of Dec. 31, 2007, approximately 11.9 million tons of the capacity had been used, leaving a balance of 3.1 million tons, which the city estimates will be used up by 2015.
Currently Recology collects San Francisco’s curbside trash, hauls it to Pier 96, which is owned by the Port of San Francisco, then sends nonrecyclables to the Altamont landfill operated by Waste Management.
After SF’s Department of the Environment issued a request for qualifications in 2007, Waste Management, Recology, and Republic Services were selected as finalists. The city then sent the three companies a request for proposals, asking for formal bids as well as details of how they would minimize and mitigate impacts to the environment, climate, and host communities, among other criteria.
Republic was dropped after a representative failed to show at a mandatory meeting, and Recology was selected during a July 2009 review by a committee composed of DOE deputy director David Assmann, city administrator Ed Lee and Oakland’s environmental manager Susan Kattchee.
The score sheet suggests that the decision came down to price, which was 25 percent of the total points and made the difference between Recology’s 85 points and Waste Management’s 80 in the average scores of the three reviewers. But the scores revealed wide disparities between Kattchee’s and Lee’s scores, suggesting some subjectivity in the process.
For instance, Kattchee and Lee awarded Recology 15 and 23 points, respectively, for its “approach and adherence to overarching considerations.” Kattchee awarded 13 points to Recology’s “ability to accommodate City’s waste stream,” while Lee gave it 24 points. And Kattchee awarded Waste Management 13 points and Lee gave it 20 for its proposed rates.
When the selections and scores were unveiled in November, Waste Management filed a protest letter; Yuba County citizens coalition YUGAG (Yuba Group against Garbage) threatened to sue; and Matt Tuchow, president of the city’s Commission on Environment, scheduled a hearing to clarify how the city’s proposals was structured, how it scored competing proposals, and why it tentatively awarded Recology the contract.
Emotions ran high during the March 23 hearing, which did little to clarify why Recology was selected. Assmann said that much of the material that supports the city’s selection can’t be made public until the bids are unsealed, which won’t happen until the city completes negotiations with Recology and the proposal heads to the Board of Supervisors for approval.
YUGAG attorney Brigit Barnes said Recology’s proposal could negatively affect air quality in Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, Yolo, Sacramento, and Yuba counties, and does not attain maximum possible reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Barnes pointed to a study commissioned by Waste Management showing the company’s biomethane-fueled trucks emit 68 percent fewer greenhouse gases than Recology’s proposed combination of trucks and trains.
Barnes further warned that Recology’s proposal might violate what she called “environmental justice strictures,” noting that “Yuba County has one of the lowest per capita incomes and one of the highest dependent populations in the state.”
She also claimed that awarding the contract to Recology would create a monopoly over the city’s waste stream and could expose the city to litigation. “Every aspect of garbage collection and waste treatment will be handled by Norcal’s companies,” Barnes stated, referring to antitrust laws against such monopolies.
Deputy City Attorney Tom Owen subsequently confirmed that the two main companies that handle San Francisco’s waste are Recology subsidiaries. “But it’s an open system,” Owen told the Guardian. “Recology would be the licensed collectors and would have the contract for disposal of the city’s trash.”
Irene Creps, a retired schoolteacher who lives in San Francisco and Yuba County, suggested at the hearing that the city should better compare the environmental characteristics of Ostrom Road and the Altamont landfill before awarding the contract. She said the Ostrom Road landfill poses groundwater concerns since it lies in a high water table next to a slough and upstream from a cemetery.
“It’s good agricultural land, especially along the creeks, red dirt that is wonderful for growing rice because it holds water,” Creps said of Recology’s site. “I’d hate to see that much garbage dumped on the eastern edge of Sacramento Valley.”
Livermore City Council member Jeff Williams said the Altamont landfill has the space to continue to dispose of San Francisco’s waste and he warned that Livermore will lose millions of dollars in mitigation fees it uses to preserve open space.
“Waste Management has done a spectacular job of managing the landfill and they have a best-in-their-class methane control system,” Williams said, noting that the company runs its power plants on electricity and its trucks on liquid methane derived from the dump.
Williams pointed out that the Altamont landfill is in a dry hilly range that lies out of sight, behind the windmills on the 1,000-foot high Altamont Pass. “It’s many miles from our grapevines, in an area used for cattle grazing because it’s not particularly fertile land,” Williams said. “We are filling valleys, not building mountains.”
Waste Management attorney John Lynn Smith told the commission that the city’s RFP process was flawed because it didn’t request a detailed analysis of transportation to the landfill sites or fully take into account greenhouse gas emissions, posing the question: “So, did you really get the best contract?”
David Gavrich, who runs San Francisco Bay Railroad and Waste Solutions Group, testified that he helped negotiate the city’s contract 35 years ago, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, and that the city needs to be smarter about this contract.
Gavrich and port director Monique Moyer wrote to the Department of the Environment in June 2009, stating their belief that shipping trash by rail directly from the port “can not only minimize environmental impacts, but can also provide an anchor of rail business from the port, and a key economic engine for the local Bayview-Hunters Point community, and the city as a whole.” But Gavrich said DOE never replied, even though green rail from San Francisco creates local jobs and further reduces emissions.
“Let the hearings begin so people get more than one minute to speak on a billion-dollar contract,” Gavrich said, citing the time limit imposed on speakers at the commission hearing.
Wheatland resident Dr. Richard A. Paskowitz blamed former Mayor Willie Brown’s close connection to Recology mogul Michael Sangiacomo for the company’s success in pushing through a state-approved 1988 extension of its Ostrom Road Landfill while assuring Yuba County residents that the site would only be used as a local landfill.
“The issue is that Yuba County is becoming the repository of garbage from Northern California,” Paskowitz said, claiming that the site already accepts trash from Nevada.
Members of the commission told Assmann that they wanted an update on the transportation issue, but they appeared to believe the process was fair. “One guy got the better score,” Commissioner Paul Pelosi Jr. said. “The fact that they may or may not have permits or the best location, that’s for the Board of Supervisors to take up.”
Recology spokesperson Adam Alberti told the Guardian that its bid was predominantly about handling the waste stream. “Everybody’s bid included transportation, so you include the cost of getting the trash there. But primarily we were looking at the cost of handing the city’s waste,” Alberti said. “Recology’s Ostrom Road facility has more than enough capacity to hold not only San Francisco’s, but also the surrounding region’s, waste.”
Alberti said Recology is still pursuing a permit for a rail spur to get the waste from Union Pacific’s line, which ends some 100 yards from Ostrom Road site. Still, he said the company is confident it will be awarded, calling this step “a pro forma application with Yuba County.” Alberti also noted that it’s normal for host communities to object to landfills but that Yuba County stands to gain $1.6 million from the deal in annual mitigation fees.
Assmann told the Guardian the selection process took into account issues raised at the hearing. “The important thing in a landfill is to make sure there is no seepage, no matter how much rainfall there is, “Assmann said. “And there are still two hurdles Recology needs to clear: a successful negotiation, and the approval of the board.”
The Democratic County Central Committee isn’t the most high-profile elected agency in San Francisco, but it’s really important. The committee sets policy for the local Democratic Party — and that includes endorsements. The people who control the committee control a slate card that goes out to every registered Democrat in the city, and that’s a vast majority of the voters. DCCC endorsements, carrying the imprimatur of the party, have a significant impact on local elections, particularly in district supervisor races.
For years, the DCCC was controlled largely by the old Brown-Burton machine, but two years ago, the progressives took back control, and that made a huge difference in electing good supervisors. The DCCC endorsement will also matter in the next mayor’s race.
The folks downtown realize this. David Latterman, a political consultant who often works with more moderate candidates and interest groups, sent a memo out March 17 titled “Headed toward the cliff in 2010 elections.” The memo, which we’ve obtained, argues that downtown and the moderates need to get organized, now: “If we can have one person run a coordinated effort with $150K … we can really pick up DCCC seats. Only a few will make a difference in the fall endorsements. The mayor’s race starts now.”
So it’s crucial that the progressives turn out to vote June 8, and vote for strong candidates for the DCCC who will support district elections, public power, tenant rights — and progressive candidates for supervisor.
We’ll be publishing endorsements for all of the June primary races and ballot measures in a few weeks, but we’ve decided to do early endorsements for the DCCC. Twelve people are elected from each assembly district. Here are our choices:
ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 12
Sandra Lee Fewer
ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 13
By Adam Lesser
GREEN CITY To hear Jaimie Levin talk is to understand that his cause is larger than just promoting alternative fuels for public transportation. “We either pay the tax ourselves or we pay the tax of sending money to the Middle East,” he said as we walked through the noisy AC Transit bus yard in East Oakland. “There’s a human cost of lives lost in a foreign war.”
AC Transit uses 6.5 million gallons of diesel per year. As the agency’s director of alternative fuels policy, it’s Levin’s job to lower that number. He has experimented with biodiesel and gas-electric hybrid buses. But the passion that consumes him these days is hydrogen. He has spent the last 10 years testing and deploying three hydrogen fuel cell buses for AC Transit, and he’s ready for more.
The first of 12 new hydrogen fuel cell buses begin arriving from Belgium at the end of April, doubling the number of fuel cell buses operating in the United States. They will run on multiple lines, including the 57, 18, and the NL transbay route, which runs between San Francisco and Oakland.
Levin promotes a mix of energy sources, but he argues that hydrogen is the best way to go, even if there’s a big near-term problem: the price of a hydrogen fuel cell bus. The new buses cost $2.5 million each compared to a standard diesel bus, which runs $400,000. Levin describes the buses as research vehicles and works with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to monitor their performance.
“It’s not cheap. We understand that. These are still hand-made. We’re talking about making less than 20 vehicles,” he says. Levin is hopeful that if orders for hydrogen fuel cell buses could reach even 200, the cost of the fuel cells would come down by 45 percent. Levin has secured 16 different grants from federal, state, and regional agencies, ranging from the Federal Transportation Administration to the California Air Resources Board, to cover the $57 million program. The use of outside funds has been critical at a time when AC Transit is cutting service to deal with its budget shortfall.
The cost of the hydrogen fuel itself has caused some to ask if it’s a viable alternative to gasoline. A kilogram of hydrogen, which is equivalent to a gallon of gas in terms of energy content, typically costs $7-$8. But hydrogen fuel cells are twice as energy efficient as internal combustion engines.
AC Transit currently gets its hydrogen fuel from its own production facility that it built with Chevron, which is regularly criticized by environmental and human rights groups for everything from pollution to obscene profits to support for despotic regimes. “Chevron Hydrogen” billboards plaster the bus yard, and the logos are yellow and baby blue, a noticeable difference compared to the traditional blue and red Chevron insignia. There’s an ecofriendly, sunny quality to the branding.
But come September, Chevron will exit its collaboration with AC Transit, which will begin purchasing its hydrogen from a Linde plant in Southern California. Part of the reason is that the Chevron-designed system does not have the capacity to produce hydrogen for 12 buses. Industry watchers note that oil companies have scaled back initial forays into hydrogen, perhaps not wanting to facilitate the transition from fossil fuels.
“The big issue is the infrastructure side. What’s cooling it off right now is how far the oil companies have backed off,” said Tim Lipman, codirector of the UC Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center. “If you’re an oil company, you’ve got to figure you’re going to lose money for a while — and you’re making tons of money in your existing business. It’s not broken right now. They don’t see an advantage of being the first to market. We’re not running out of oil.”
Maybe not yet, but between the global warming impacts of oil and the increased cost of extracting oil after the most readily available supplies peak, there is a pressing need to develop alternatives to fossil fuels.
“The oil companies were getting all sorts of pressure to get off oil and carbon so they go out looking for an alternative that looks good and takes the longest to implement. Hydrogen is perfect,” said David Redstone, editor of Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Investor, who has covered hydrogen for more than 10 years.
After studying hydrogen for so many years, Redstone has become skeptical about its real potential. “I was a believer when I started,” he told us. “I learned a lot. I knew a lot less when I started. I knew a lot less about the engineering and cost issues involved.”
For example, fuel cells require platinum, which acts as a catalyst to help burn hydrogen fuel. There is ongoing research to reduce the amount of platinum needed in a fuel cell, and exploratory work with less expensive catalysts like nickel. But for now and in the foreseeable future, hydrogen is still a very expensive technology. “They’ve been demonstrating these fuel cell buses for 20 years. It’s like the mentality at the companies involved is that it’s perfectly normal to be a demonstration technology forever,” added Redstone.
He believes that the realistic solutions to the overuse of fossil fuels lie in a mix of behavioral changes and economic incentives, not technological silver bullets. Stop suburban sprawl, get people to live closer to work, and start taxing carbon. Or in Redstone’s simpler terms, you’ve got to put an end to “assholes commuting 75 miles to work in a Hummer.”
The International Panel on Climate Change estimates that surface temperatures will rise 2 degrees to 11.5 degrees Farenheit in the 21st century. Greenhouse gas emissions are a major contributor to global warming.
The promise of hydrogen fuel is that its only emission is water. The major criticism of the move toward battery electric plug-in vehicles has been that the power to charge batteries comes from a power grid that is frequently a heavy greenhouse gas emitter. Half of the electricity generation in the U.S. comes from coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuels.
But the hitch with hydrogen fuel is how to make it. You can’t drill for hydrogen, you have to create it in a process that requires energy. The predominant source for hydrogen fuel is natural gas, which emits less carbon than gasoline but is still a fossil fuel.
The holy grail of alternative energy is an efficient method for making hydrogen fuel from water instead of natural gas. The problem has been the significant amount of energy required to electrolyze water, to split apart H2O to make hydrogen fuel.
Levin believes he has the beginning of an answer. Before the end of 2010, AC Transit will complete its installation of a solar-powered proton electrolyzer in Emeryville. Solar panels will be built atop the roof of the hydrogen fueling station and the solar energy trapped will power the electrolyzer, in turn producing hydrogen fuel from water, hopefully about 60 kilograms per day, enough to power two buses. Levin received $6.4 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the project. The remaining 10 hydrogen fuel cell buses will rely on hydrogen fuel made from natural gas.
As important as the production of hydrogen fuel are the pump stations to deliver it. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s promised “hydrogen highway” hasn’t happened. The initial plans called for 50 to 100 stations by the end of 2010, and a station every 50 miles, but there are now just 21 stations clustered in urban areas. And with oil companies withdrawing their support and government agencies hurting for resources, the hydrogen highway remains as far off as ever.
“I see the power of corporations growing and the power of politicians actually waning,” Lipman said. “Who is really going to benefit the most? It’s society and consumers, but they’re not going to lobby for it.”
When it comes to lobbying, few can outgun the power of the Western States Petroleum Association. WSPA is consistently among the top few lobbyists in California, spending $10.5 million to influence the Legislature in 2007-08. Even with the push for alternative energy options, it’s oil that really governs the debate. Relatively inexpensive and easily storable, oil is still king even as gasoline prices hover at $80 a barrel.
“We will never run out of oil, but the question is, can we afford it?” said WSPA spokesperson Tupper Hull. Rising oil prices have helped proponents of alternative energy because the cost spread between gasoline and other energy options has narrowed. But they worry that momentum will be lost if the recession lingers and oil drops in price.
Proponents of the “peak oil” theory say we are approaching a point at which global oil production will start declining, necessitating a rapid and potentially painful transition to new fuels. But identifying the peak is difficult, complicated by events such as the 2007 discovery of more than 5 billion barrels of oil off the coast of Brazil. The oil field was found under 7,060 feet of water, 10,000 feet of sand, and another 6,600 feet of salt. What the oil industry is ultimately worried about is whether we will hit a point where extracting oil gets so expensive that the cost of oil starts to cripple the global economy. Drilling four miles under the sea isn’t cheap.
In an e-mail exchange about Chevron’s AC transit hydrogen fueling station, Chevron spokesperson Brent Tippen wrote, “Hydrogen has potential as a transportation fuel in the long term, but significant technical and economic obstacles prevent it from being a widespread commercial fuel option right now.”
Levin is cautiously optimistic that it could be the gas companies like Linde and Praxair, and not the oil companies, that carry the hydrogen torch forward.
After a brief ride in a hydrogen fuel cell bus, Levin noted how quiet they are. At one point, he bought Tibetan bells and had them welded to the bus so it would be audible as it moved, but there wasn’t enough vibration to make them ring.
Therein lies Levin’s dream: a quiet, nonemitting vehicle for public transportation. And maybe even someday an entire society running on a clean, renewable, domestic fuel source. But for now he’ll start with what he’s got: a $2.5 million bus that emits water from the tailpipe and doesn’t make any noise.
By Robyn Johnson
You have to take the dog for a walk anyway, right? Why not stop in at your friendly neighborhood dog bar along the way? A few local bars make a point of catering to the canine crowd; here are some places where your (well-behaved) pet is welcome.
With its motto of “Sit. Stay. Drink.” and Smurf-esque French bulldog logo, Stray Bar flaunts its fur-buddy friendliness, and the bartenders always make sure to keep the dog-treat and water bowls filled. People amenities include a darts room, a TV (usually tuned to a sports game), a jukebox with a healthy cross section, and a few ample leather couches. The crowd tends toward the unpretentious and neighborly, so if you happen to see a grizzled fellow totter on by, greet him with a raised glass and a pat on the head — that’s Camden “the drunken sailor,” the owner’s beloved pooch, just making his usual rounds. Some rules to keep in mind: keep your pup on a leash and off the couches, no doggie roughhousing, and, of course, if you don’t clean up any mess your furry friend should make, you will be summarily ejected and banned. Also, for crowd and animal safety, don’t bring your four-legged pal on Fridays and Saturdays or during special events.
309 Cortland, SF. (415) 821-9263, www.straybarsf.com. Happy hour: $2–$3 beers, daily, 4–7 p.m.
If you and your dog are of a more dive-bar-patronizing persuasion, trot on over to Lucky 13. The consistently top-rated jukebox is loaded with classic punk, metal, and rockabilly tunes, and the two of you can rock out over complimentary doggie treats and cheap beers from the extensive microbrewery selection. (People treats usually range from free popcorn to cheese Goldfish.) Other fun bits include a pool table, a photo booth, and, best of all, an outdoor patio to give your dog a stretch and a breather — as long as you don’t mind sharing the air with smokers. Although pups can wander off their leashes, the basic tenets of responsible pet ownership still apply. Don’t let your dog act in any way that would, if you were to do the same, get you tossed out or arrested.
2140 Market, SF. (415) 487-1313. Happy hour: $1 off well drinks, 50¢ off beer, daily, 4–8 p.m.
If, on the other hand, you are both creatures of finer tastes, seeking a more elegant excursion, take a walk to the Fireside Bar. At this modern-minded and cozy lounge, the purple walls and dark leather furniture strive for a chic ambience, and sofas are set up around — you might have guessed — a fireplace. It’s a lot like drinking in someone’s classy living room — someone who doesn’t mind your bringing over the dog. The bartenders also seem to be phenomenally friendly, and the eclectic jukebox plays everything from Flogging Molly to jazz. Dogs must always be on a leash, and water bowls are set out in case it gets a little too toasty.
603 Irving, SF. (415) 731-6433. Happy hour: $4 well drinks, 50¢ off beer and wine, daily, 1–7 p.m.
It’s games galore at the Albatross Pub, the cheerful and spacious bar that describe its atmosphere as the “guts of an old wooden pirate ship.” Besides a pool table and a darts shooting gallery, Berkeley’s oldest pub boasts 17 types of board games to tickle patrons’ competitive spirit. Be wary, though: Connect Four always gets nabbed first. Yarr. If gaming doesn’t set your heart aflame, you can occupy yourself listening to the live music sets and sorting, or drinking your way, through the decent selection of Scotches, bourbons, whiskeys, and Belgian-style beers. One buck gets you an unlimited pass to the popcorn machine. Dogs must be on leashes and at the tables, so don’t sidle up to the bar with your furry companion in tow. And here’s one of the most important rules: dogs must be out by 8 p.m. Consider the Albatross the perfect place to stop by for a sip or two on your pup’s evening constitutional.
1822 San Pablo, Berkeley. (510) 843-2473, www.albatrosspub.com. Happy hour: 50¢ off pints, $2 off pitchers, free popcorn, and discounted pool, Wed.–Sat., 6–8 p.m.
Homestead’s a lot like other Mission joints — cheap strong drinks, $2 Tecates, and a hipsterish crowd peppered with some normal folks (although according to Yelpers, an unusual number of attractive people seem to congregate here, so use that tip for whatever you will). The bevy of topless pinups hung on the walls sets the bar apart, as does the gorgeous Victorian decor, holdovers from and nods to the establishment of the first bar on the site in 1905. You can also look forward to free peanuts. The rules for dog patrons are on par with the ones at Lucky 13. Dogs can wander around without a leash, but don’t be an irresponsible a-hole pet owner. Treats and water bowls are available.
2301 Folsom, SF. (415) 282-4663, www.myspace.com/thehomesteadsf. Happy hour: $1 off drinks, Mon.–Wed. and Fri., 3–6 p.m.
It’s called the BARF diet — and it’s the hottest thing in San Francisco pet stores these days. No, it’s not food that makes your pet throw up; BARF stands for biologically appropriate raw food. And its advocates are passionate about its advantages over old-fashioned commercial pet food.
“Dogs and cats in the wild would eat raw meat,” said Susan Yannes, who co-owns Pawtrero pet store and bathhouse on Mississippi Street. “They didn’t have doggie barbecues.”
The idea is to mimic as closely as possible what your pets would have eaten way back when — in the natural state, before they became so close to humans that they started eating the same sort of processed food (some would say processed crap) many of us eat.
And the trend is growing — fast. Matt Koss, who owns Primal Pet Foods, a supplier of frozen raw animal feed, reports 20 percent annual growth. He cites a massive pet food recall in 2007 as a spur to his business, adding that “there’s more and more consumer awareness about pet food.” Primal Pet supplies food to 2,000 pet stores nationwide, 15 in San Francisco.
But the BARF diet also has its critics — and not just in the multibillion dollar pet food industry.
A BETTER DOG IN JUST WEEKS
Yannes got into the raw food business when one of her dogs developed skin problems. “We were feeding him standard dry dog food, and the vet said it was fine,” she said. “His coat had all these bumps, so they gave him allergy medicine.”
Instead, she tried shifting the dog to an all-natural diet — “and a week later, he was fine.”
That’s a common story among some pet owners, who say that raw meat, combined with raw bones and some specially prepared grain and vegetable matter, makes dogs and cats healthier and happier. “Business is growing,” Yannes said. “People who try this don’t go back.”
The argument is similar to what you hear from people who have given up processed human food in favor of fresh fruits and vegetables and organic, free-range meat. It’s more natural; all that processing (and even heat) destroys essential nutrients.
A summary published on Pawblog that Yannes passed on to me sums it up: “When switching your pet to a raw food diet, there are many differences you will notice in a few weeks, including improved breath and white teeth, better digestion resulting in much smaller and firmer stools, less itching, scratching, and allergies, increased energy, healthy skin, and a shiner coat.”
The reason? “Dogs and cats stomachs are designed to digest raw meat and soft bones, utilizing the very strong concentrations of hydrochloric acid as well as the short length of their gastrointestinal tract. Any bacteria are taken care of with this acid.”
But some vets — including those that support and practice non-Western medicine — are more cautious.
“A raw diet is fine,” said Dr. Randy Bowman, a vet at Pets Unlimited. “Dogs were meant to eat raw food in the wild. But we’ve come far beyond that. Their gastrointestinal system has evolved, and they don’t need it.”
Adds Dr. Jeffrey Bryan, a veterinary oncologist who teaches at the University of Washington: “I think highly processed foods are problematic, but I wish we had more scientific evidence on the value of the raw diet.”
NOT FOR ALL
I think it’s safe to say that the raw food diet isn’t for everyone. For one thing, it’s more expensive — but if it winds up keeping our dog out of the vet’s office, it will more than pay for itself over time. More important, it requires a fair amount of work — and a lot of attention.
Raw meat has to be handled carefully. All the preparation surfaces have to be washed, and the pets’ dishes need to be washed with soap and water after every meal. That’s because raw meat — even organic, free-range stuff — contains bacteria that can carry diseases to pets and humans.
And according to Bowman, even the best grade of meat can carry diseases: “Even human-grade meat that’s processed and shipped distances carries bacteria, and it’s not meant for raw consumption.” Bowman suggests that pet owners at least sear the meat first, since the bacteria tend to be on the surface.
Dr. Rebecca Remillard, a veterinarian and pet nutritionist, is one of the harshest critics of the raw diet. “This is not a safe practice,” she writes on her Web site. “Dogs fed raw meat or eggs may develop mild to severe gastrointestinal disease from consuming products contaminated” with disease-causing bacteria.
Koss says that’s just misinformation. “Bacteria and pathogens are a concern in the entire food industry,” he said. “But if the food is handled properly, there is no danger at all to pets.”
Susan Lauten, who has a master’s degree in animal nutrition and a doctorate in biomedical science, runs a veterinary consulting business in Knoxville, Tenn. She agrees that, for the most part, healthy dogs and cats can safely eat raw food. But she’s less enthusiastic about comparisons to the diet these creatures ate in the wild.
“In the wild, dogs didn’t live very long,” she told me. “And one reason was that they got sick from eating contaminated meat.”
Lauten has a different concern about the raw diet. Animals that eat raw meat can release salmonella and other dangerous pathogens in their stool. “You don’t want that around if you have kids or immune-compromised people,” she said. “You can clean up after your dog, but you might not get everything.”
And she raised another issue: economics. “Do you tell people that they can’t have a cat unless they can afford the most expensive kind of food?”
Dr. Hannah Good, who practices holistic veterinary medicine in Santa Cruz, argues that “there’s a lot that can be accomplished by going in a different direction than kibble.” She noted that “a lot of diets are 100 percent garbage.”
But she also said that high-grade kibble diets are balanced to include all the nutrients an animal needs.
And what do the vets feed their pets? Good said her dog “eats whatever I eat”; she prepares a version of her own meals for her canine companion. Lauten’s dog has inflammatory bowel disease “and does very well on a commercial veterinary diet.”
Bryan, who thinks what a dog eats is an important factor in its health, doesn’t do the BARF thing either: “I give my dog Science Diet.”
If you wake up every morning and begin your day with a leisurely stroll to the park to spend time frolicking with your beloved pup and other pup friends, you’re blessed. But if your schedule isn’t so flexible and you’ve got a little cash to spare there’s an easy way to keep your BFF (best furry friend) exercised, socialized, trained, and happy.
Hundreds of dog walkers in this city are looking for your business. There are companies and independent walkers, playgroups and privates. Some pet sit, some don’t. Some even bathe your pooch if it happens to get too dirty while out on the town.
But there are also some operators who cram too many dogs into small vehicles, pay little attention to them while they run amok on public land, and don’t show much concern for your pet’s overall health. So it’s important to take some time finding someone who has a good reputation, a good rapport with your dog, and has a training philosophy you either share or would like to learn.
Start with your doggie’s temperament. If she thrives with other dogs, go playgroup. If not, one-on-one time is best. Endless energy and in need of a vigorous workout? Maybe a daily jogging session is required. Dogs who don’t get along with other dogs won’t be accepted by most dog walkers although some specialize in behavior problems.
Next, pick a setting. It’s not always the case that off-leash park romps are the best option. If your pooch has anxiety in new places, say due to poor eyesight, maybe a neighborhood haunt is best. If she is limited by arthritis, a stroll close to home might be ideal.
Then go observe the dog walkers in action. Find someone whose energy fits your dog’s and start asking questions. Ask for references. Ask happy dog owners or your veterinarian’s office for recommendations.
Transparency, friendliness, and willingness to spend time answering your questions are good signs; nevertheless, the proof is in the meeting. Make sure you have an interview with all potential dog walkers. Most dogs get driven together to parks, so make sure the vehicle is safe, large, and cool enough.
Good dog walkers train their charges during their time with them. Great ones become extended family members. And remember: you’re trusting this person with the keys to your home. There’s no state or city licensing required, so make sure your dog walker is bonded and insured. Top-end dog walkers are often members of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and have taken classes in animal behavior.
I recently spent an hour romping around in the Presidio with 10 ecstatic dogs and walker Andrew Frye. Frye is the newest partner of Who Let the Dogs Out (WLTDO). Lauren Goldboss, who started the company seven years ago after deciding she’d rather be outside with dogs than inside with bankers, calls Frye "the best dog walker in the city."
Frye takes out two playgroups a day, and Goldboss says people beg to be in his group. After 30 minutes of picking up the pups and getting to the park favorites are Crissy Field, the Presidio, Bernal Heights, and McClaren Park he runs around with the dogs playing ball and teaching them tricks. He taught Birdie the cattle dog to weave in and out of his legs as he walks.
Frye loves his job and is great at training the pups to behave while showing them a fabulous time. He has no formal education in dog training, but reads extensively about classical conditioning and spends his free time talking to other people and dog walkers about tips for making the animals learn and behave.
Goldboss says the most important thing she looks for when hiring dog walkers is the way they interact with the dogs. They need to be willing, able, and happy to run around with the dogs everyday rain or shine.
For an hour of park time five days a week WLTDO charges a monthly rate of $385 a relative bargain. Some independent walkers I spoke with charge $15 $30 per trip, depending on the details, so you can spend as much as $600 a month for a daily walk. Typically, there are discounts for households with multiple dogs.
One benefit of hiring an established company is consistency. If your dog walker gets sick or takes a vacation, other staff can fill in, leaving your schedule is undisturbed.
But if your own schedule is flexible or is subject to sudden changes, make sure your dog walker is open to that and won’t charge you for days when you don’t need the services. Individual dog walkers are often willing to be accommodating.
Finally, different companies offer different services: SF Puppy Prep, for example, (sfpuppyprep.com) specializes in adolescent dogs.
On a beautiful, sunny Tuesday, it definitely didn’t suck going out to the park to bounce around with the dogs. As Ernie the bulldog rolled around on the beach, covering his wrinkly face with a thin brown mask of sand, I knew he had found the perfect dog walker in Frye. Earlier that morning, I saw the same honest grin on Jack the standard poodle as he wrestled with his neighborhood friends in the run. That’s one of the best standards of all your dog walker is having fun, and so is your BFF.
The dog named Hank Stamper got paralyzed on a sunny Saturday afternoon. One moment he was hanging out in the backyard, lying in the little patch of grass and giving the cats next door the evil eye, and the next thing I knew he was making a yelping sound like nothing my dog had ever uttered in his four years of healthy life.
When I got there, Hank was dragging himself around by his front paws, his back legs and hindquarters completely limp and useless.
So I picked up the 90-pound beast and wrestled him into the car and carried him to the pet hospital, where a young vet poked and prodded and confirmed that Hank’s entire hindquarters were numb and paralyzed. The doc didn’t know why, or what might have happened; there was no obvious injury. He said it might get better on its own, or it might not.
The specialist vet we saw the next day didn’t know what was wrong, either; it seemed to be some sort of stroke. An x-ray showed what might have been something screwy in his spine. “There’s a surgical procedure they do at UC Davis,” the specialist vet said. “It costs $10,000, and has about a 50 percent chance of success. I could call them if you want.”
Uh, no. I loved my dog, but that was way beyond our means, and my health insurance didn’t cover family members of the canine persuasion. So, sadly, with much weeping, we took poor Hank home. We figured we’d give it a day or two and, if he didn’t improve, his next trip to the vet would be his last.
While I was lamenting all this at work the following morning, one of my colleagues made a wild suggestion: take him to Irving Street Veterinary Clinic, she told me; there’s a vet there who does acupuncture.
Well, hell. I’d never heard of doggie acupuncture, but Hank wasn’t getting better, plus he was miserable, and we were at the end of the line. So I called and made an appointment. Dr. Jeffrey Bryan met me at the clinic, took a look at the poor mutt, and went to get his gear.
“To be totally honest, I can’t explain scientifically exactly why this works,” he said as he started sticking needles in Hank’s back and legs. “But in a remarkable number of cases, it does.”
We sat on the floor, the dog and I, while Bryan hooked a very low electric current up to some of the needles, then he told me to wait. Thirty minutes later, the doc turned the juice off, took the needles out — and goddamn if that dog didn’t stand up and start to walk.
Seriously — the animal that couldn’t even hold himself up to poo (it was gross, don’t ask) ambled stiffly out of the clinic and got into the car. Four acupuncture sessions later, Hank was running again, and within a few months, we did a 5K race — and the human member of the team wasn’t the one setting the pace.
That was back in 1996, when veterinary acupuncturists were fairly rare, even in San Francisco. I think Bryan was one of only two licensed vets who did it. Today it’s a growth industry.
In fact, an increasing number of vets — people with a doctor of veterinary medicine degree, folks who spent four years in graduate school studying Western science and medical techniques — are treating some of their patients with acupuncture, chiropractic, herbs, and other holistic approaches.
“It’s expanded quite a bit in the past five years,” said Dr. Randy Bowman, who practices at Pets Unlimited, a nonprofit animal hospital and adoption center in San Francisco. “We as vets have become more informed and more in touch with what our clients want.”
Bowman practices what he calls complementary and integrative medicine — a combination of traditional Western techniques and holistic treatments like acupuncture and herbs. “I think a lot of us get fed up with chronic conditions, pets that have problems Western medicine doesn’t have a cure for,” he said. “I wanted to offer my clients something more than the same antibiotic over and over.”
Acupuncture’s been around much longer than what we now call Western medicine. A recent article in accupuncture.com noted that primitive acupuncture therapies may have been practiced in India as long as 7,000 years ago, and it’s been part of Chinese culture for centuries.
“One of the earliest records of veterinary acupuncture was some 3,000 years ago, for the treatment of elephants,” explained the article, which was written by Susan Thorpe Vargas and John Cargill.
But the technique didn’t find widespread acceptance in America until much more recently. California first legalized acupuncture in the 1970s. And while some licensed acupuncturists have quietly been treating animals for years, it’s only recently that significant numbers of university-trained veterinarians have started to adopt the practice.
Although most humans have to choose between a doctor with an M.D. and an acupuncturist, in the animal world, the spheres of traditional and holistic medicine have grown closer.
Dr. Hannah Good, who practices in Santa Cruz, is an early disciple. She’s been offering animal acupuncture and chiropractic for more than 20 years. “I look at every case individually,” she told me. “Sometimes it’s herbal treatment, sometimes it’s surgery.”
There are many reasons for the shift toward holistic medicine in the animal world — and one, frankly, is cost. Invasive procedures, antibiotics, steroids — all the things traditional vets tend to do for sick animals — come at a stiff price. Hank’s $10,000 surgical estimate is unusual, but spending hundreds of dollars — many hundreds of dollars — on an animal’s illness is all too common.
The acupuncture that saved Hank’s life cost $40 a session, and the bottle of Chinese medicine Bryan prescribed as a supplement cost $8 at the herbalist down the street.
That’s not always the case — extended acupuncture treatment can be pricey. “But it’s still less expensive, particularly with chronic diseases,” Bowman noted.
I tracked down Bryan recently; these days, he’s a professor at the University of Washington School of Veterinary Medicine and an expert in veterinary oncology. He remembered Hank well — and although he has spent years in advanced training learning to treat animal cancer, he still uses acupuncture at times.
“One of my students had a dog with chronic pain and we gave him a very powerful steroid, but it had no affect,” he said. “But acupuncture made a lot of difference.”
He finds that his clients — even those whose animals have advanced diseases — are interested in alternatives. “A lot of people who have had acupuncture themselves find that this kind of treatment is more in line with their core values,” he noted. “It’s certainly growing in the public consciousness.”
Bryan would like to see the veterinary establishment — which is still dominated by Western scientific models — move more quickly to adopt nontraditional techniques. “Most of what we’re seeing is demand-driven,” he said. “People are asking for it. Veterinary medicine as a whole has done a poor job of being a leader in the field.”
EVENTS/MUSIC South by Southwest is a mega-clusterfuck. Even its name is too crowded. Neither Austin’s locals nor the festival’s veterans have the time or patience to mouth the four syllables; they simply call it “South by” — dropping the more descriptive region designator of the two altogether. Given the rumor that Austin’s population doubles from 1 million to 2 million during the 10-day event, this abstraction is befitting. Despite the few interactions I had with some of the locals — venue staff, college partiers, pedicab drivers, homo-projecting cowboys, and homeless beer can recyclers — I can’t say I’ve seen Austin, only the spectacle they call SX.
The festival is sectioned into three categories: interactive, film, and music. Interactive and music never blend (not officially, at least), just as geeks and rock stars are like oil and vinegar. But film overlaps both. Each camp is roughly five days long, and each is jack-in-the-box-packed with all-day events ranging from industry-celebrity keynotes, to trade shows, to corporate-sponsored tent parties, to “Come as You Are Yoga” and other “stress-relieving” seminars. Having unfettered access to all three, including any unofficial events and parties I caught wind of, was equivalent to being handed a golden ticket to the Wonka Factory and told, “Eat up. Whatever you find, it’s yours.”
The problem, as with most sprawling, supersized festivals, is that there is too much to consume. Too many things are happening simultaneously, and too many sound enticing, so you end up spending the majority of your mornings trying to navigate the best-patterned routes by RSVPing to and marking down upwards of 20 events a day on three different schedules (there’s a printed, online, and iPhone app schedule, each with varying levels of accuracy and event details). After you’ve lined up all your top-tier choices and fallbacks for the day and mapped out their requisite times and locations, you have to go do it, to experience everything the tech, film, and music world has to offer.
Herein lies the other problem. Hordes of other festival fanatics have this same golden ticket. They, too, are running around with intricately-woven agendas and too much on their plate. But due to logistical hangups — feeding and relieving the body, small talk with recognized faces, getting lost on Austin’s manic Sixth Street or on the labyrinthine trade show floor of the Convention Center — these itineraries disintegrate like dominoes made of dust. You make it to a few events you planned for, if they aren’t over capacity, and then you catch glimpses — shards, really — of several others throughout the day as you hopscotch around downtown Austin.
This isn’t so bad. I got to see and hear a lot in 10 days. Approximately 30 panels, 10 films, and 40 music acts. For someone who eats his food too fast, this should feel normal — or at least somewhat familiar. But it doesn’t. Not being able to digest any of the fragmented sensory input because there’s always something beckoning around the corner, I now empathize with poor Violet Beauregarde. Revealingly, the majority of the discourse and conversation surrounding SxSW took place through Twitter feeds, thumbs up/down responses, and the words “awesome” or “lame” yelled or whispered in a neighbor’s ears. The Q&A sessions for the festival’s panels and films were cut short or canceled entirely due to rigid time constraints, and interviews or thoughtful debate were ransacked by over-stimulation that collectively crippled attention spans. Engagement, as it turned out, seemed to be hiding elsewhere.
SPEED X SOUND = WHITE NOISE
“Nothing is free,” said media critic Douglas Rushkoff in a keynote that kicked off this year’s SxSW. This was the first event I attended, as well as the one I retained the most from due to the week’s subsequent madness. Unfortunately, Rushkoff never got a chance to explain what he meant by this because he was pressed for time and needed to finish rattling off the rest of his “commands” — in a talk titled “Program or be Programmed: 10 Commands for A Digital Age” — lest the fest rep at the back of the auditorium threaten him again by tracing her thumb across her throat. As the week wore on, I realized what he meant by this — or at least what he meant in the context of SxSW.
Pepsi, Red Bull, Sobe, Monster Energy drinks, 42 Degree Vodka, Miller Light, Zone energy bars, Camel cigarettes, Harley Davidson motorcycle rides — all free. ChapStick, T-shirts, backpacks, sunglasses, Levi’s, hand-towels pressed into hockey pucks replete with complimentary guitar picks, contests to win iPhones and automobiles, you name it: free. Everywhere I went during SxSW (yes, even the bathrooms had shwag) some recent college grad was hocking some product with some company’s logo on it at me like celebratory confetti.
It was like communism meets Disneyland for a few days, until I realized I was spending most of my time standing in lines and staring into the expanses of yet another sponsorship spectacle. It’s like being in a live commercial. Sure, commercials are fun and zany, but when a lady scolded me for having a Red Bull in a Monster-sponsored area, all of a sudden I realized the fences, registration cards, and other trappings of “free.”
But SxSW is all about the unofficial, word-of-mouth, other-side-of-the-tracks, free stuff. Or at least this is what everyone tells you. At least what all the die-hard, seasoned SxSWers swear by — those who refuse to buy badges or pay for a single event. This is how my SXSW fantasy originally formed when a friend who went a few years previous raved about seeing Gang of Four in a parking garage.
Unfortunately, I saw nothing of the sort. I did glean some tired trends in tech, like the limitations of copyright and the potentials of crowd-sourcing and community; see a few fine foreign films, including The Red Chapel, which paradoxically and intimately reveals North Korean ideology via Danish comedians; catatonically experience Black Rebel Motorcycle Club slow down time; feed a nostalgia for stage-diving during 7 Seconds’ youth-crew anthem “Young ‘Till I Die”; and develop a newfound music crush on local psych-rock band the Fresh & Onlys. But with 2,000 bands and 2,000 sponsors clamoring for your attention, it’s difficult to separate the good from the bad and, more important, the great from the good.
There really is no way to do SxSW “right.” You either do extensive research, include yourself in a network of like-minded people, and only pick the best available options, or you experience as much as possible and digest — or vomit, depending on your pace — all of it the following week, when the toxins have finally run their course and the buzzing in your ears returns to a low, numb hum.
CHEAP EATS He was tapping a red-tipped cane, staying close to the buildings, and sometimes bumping into them. We greeted each other in passing. And the second person I saw that morning, walking to BART in the dark, was using a red-tipped cane too, but also holding onto her man’s arm. Her hat was tall and adorned with either fruit, flowers, or both. I took off my glasses and wiped them on my shirt.
The children have been wonderful. Boink, who started reading books to his little sister while I was away, says "I love you" about a million times a day now. One of the first things we did was make gnocchi, and now Popeye the Sailor Baby is old enough to help roll them too.
The Chunks de la Cooter remember all our songs and games, and Chunk II hardly ever lets go of me when I’m there. As if, more than even me, she can’t believe I’m back and ain’t lettin’ go this time.
I feel like I’ve just woken up from a really, really bad dream, rolled over in my sweat-soaked life, and blinked into the also-blinking eyes of my four True Loves, age two, two, three, and four. These four, they give my heart right back to me.
Boink thinks we should open a restaurant together. Inclined to believe him, I picture the boy 14 years from now, standing on a step-stool next to me, lightly dusted in flour from his fuzzy blond head to his pink tennis shoes only I guess by then he’ll have flour in his beard too.
Maybe in the meantime his parents and child labor laws willing I can practice him in my imaginary guerilla Guerrero Street pastry war against Tartine. He can sell lemonade to the liner-uppers across the street while I learn to cook. Or better yet: limeade.
The burritos I have eaten have tended to be from Cancun, of course, with Earl Butter, and of course El Farolito with Dan-Dan the Fireman and Phenomenon. With one exception. That was El Buen Sabor, with Last Straw Sullenger, who is helping me to curtain and depression-proof my new hovel.
And she bought me a burrito for lunch.
Now I was never very fond of Good Taste during my previous stomps through the Mission, I forget why. But Earl Butter told me El Buen Sabor got better, and I trust him, as you know.
As you also know, if you’ve been reading Cheap Eats while I was out there getting my ass kicked, the buttery one just doesn’t venture beyond a two-block radius of his house at lunchtime or dinnertime. Or breakfast time, for that matter.
So what I think he likes about El Buen Sabor is that it’s the closest beans to home for him, and now me. Well, their two table-top squeezy-thingie salsas are excellent both the red and the green. They both have some seriousness to them, and are good not only on chips and burritos, but back home poured over slightly stale and heavily buttered drop biscuits. I speak from first-hand leftover experience. But personally, I don’t think the place is any better than I think I used to think it was. That is: nothing special.
They do have brown rice and spinach tortillas, as Last Straw proved by asking for, and getting, both. With her vegetarian burrito.
Whereas I got my vegetarian burrito with as much unhealthiness as possible: white rice, refried beans, and carnitas. It was good, but honestly, unless you live one block away and are Earl Butter, or have recently eaten Mexican food in Regensburg, Germany … it’s nothing to write home about.
Let alone a restaurant review.
So now, if you’ll excuse me, I would like to go back outside again, before it gets dark again, and look into one of those stenciled sidewalk gems again, for a while longer.
I WOULD STEAL THE STARS FOR YOUR and then I can’t quite make out the last word but I believe it to be HAT.
There is more than one way to read this.
EL BUEN SABOR
Daily: 10 a.m.10:30 p.m.
697 Valencia, SF
Beer & wine
L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.
DANCE Looking at the last piece by the greatest choreographer of the second half of the 20th century seemed a daunting prospect. What if it was less than good? Could I see it as something that stood on its own terms regardless of the context?
My concerns evaporated the minute the curtain opened on Merce Cunningham’s Nearly 90(2), the traveling version of Nearly Ninety, which premiered on Cunningham’s 90th birthday, on April 19, 2009. (The superscript for the road show is surely a final twinkle from those pale blue Cunningham eyes.) The elaborate set is gone; the musicians (John King and Takeshisa Kusogi), performing former Led Zeppelin bass player John Paul Jones’s score, are now in the pit. What remains the same, one has to assume, is the choreography, still performed by a cast trained by Cunningham himself. Nearly 90(2) is an exquisite piece of and about dance making; it is perhaps the most intimate work of his extraordinary career.
Throughout his life, Cunningham resisted narrative readings, but in Nearly 90(2) I couldn’t help feeling the choreographer’s presence; he seemed to be looking at the dancers one by one as they walked in from opposite sides of the wings, as if on call. He paired this one with that one, tried to see what could be done with trios, and finally took a close look at some individuals. Watching the piece felt like observing the process of shape-giving.
The pacing was slow and deliberate; the clarity with which each torque, each angled limb, and each crossover step was given time to reach the fullness of its expression encouraged close watching. But it was not just the audience that was seeing through Cunningham’s eyes: the dancers, too, participated in this process of looking. They’d finish a phrase and then sit to see where the section would spin to with someone else. At one point, a trio — looking uncannily like a Henry Moore sculpture — implacably watched another trio and then returned to its own work.
With its multiple points of view, Cunningham’s choreography often looks structurally unfocused. Nearly 90(2) was formally transparent. The choreographer, one more time, contemplated a set of questions and, here, set them out in front of us like a diorama of possibilities. What could be done with, let’s say, that most basic of building stones, the duet? Are two dancers, physically apart, a duet? At what point do two duets become a quartet or four soloists? But Cunningham doesn’t care about the answers; he is interested in the questions.
When Andrea Weber and Rashaun Mitchell, the first of five couples, stretched, cantilevered, and folded their limbs, they were off-balance yet in equilibrium with each other. When all five duets engaged in similar encounters, you couldn’t miss the individuality of the combinations. No wonder fleet-footed Julie Cunningham and newcomer Jamie Scott smiled at each other in passing.
Before looking at each dancer individually, Cunningham explored trios that were more grounded than the often precarious duets, supported on two legs while the other two had landed somewhere in space. Here Cunningham’s dancers explored volume and weight. They first grew and contracted like a bellows, never letting go of each other even as Weber pulled herself across the stage like a plow horse. Later, the partners were knitted together through small, intricate exchanges, but they didn’t touch.
The solos finally looked like little bouquets that Cunningham wanted to pass to individual dancers: John Hinrichs’s push-up flipped open like a book, Melissa Toogood shone in sparkling footwork, and Mitchell’s hip rotations on top of a deep plié rolled across the stage like an earthquake.
DINE You walk into a restaurant that offers “global tapas,” and you see a sushi chef standing behind a sushi bar, like an extra player who’s been thrown into some mammoth baseball trade to sweeten the deal, a utility infielder or the fabled “player to be named later.” Apart from this apparent anomaly, the restaurant is good-looking, with a long screen of dark wooden louvers to separate the bar from the dining room, halogen lamps like dangling stars, and plenty of green paint. The place is called Art/S, and the worst criticism that can be made of the physical layout is that the large front windows are filled with Lombard Street traffic.
A few years ago, an excellent restaurant called Sangha, in the Glen Park Village, offered a menu that mingled nuevo Latino and Japanese elements with surprising success (although it didn’t save it from closing late last spring). Still, the Sangha run suggested that Japanese cuisine was not necessarily insular and could sometimes be mixed and matched with other cuisines.
At Art/S, the riff is match, not mix. There is no overt cross-cultural pollination; the two-sided menu card offers a California hodgepodge, with Iberian and Mexican touches, on its front face, while the Japanese items are to be found on the other side. The twain do not meet. Over the head of the sushi chef is a long chalkboard — a kind of scoreboard for the food-involved — listing delicacies such as paella negra (made with squid-ink rice), but he can’t see it.
Paella is one of the few full-sized plates. Most of the dishes are smaller, though large enough to be shareable, and they range in tone from classic bar food to exercises in sophistication that would play well in the temples of haute cuisine downtown. We were especially impressed, in the latter vein, by the yellowtail crudo ($9), which arranged flaps of fish in the shallow wells of a long, narrow porcelain tray, thatched them with shredded radish and slices of jalapeño pepper, and gently doused them with a tart truffle ponzu sauce.
The bar-food angle is well-served by such shamelessly fatty crowd-pleasers as cheese croquette ($9), a blend of white cheddar and mozzarella cheeses like molten lava in a crust of fried breading and served with a ramekin of balsamic vinaigrette, as dark and viscous as used motor oil and quite tasty, though superfluous. Another small plate with similar visceral appeal is the Cali chili-fried potato ($5), spears of Yukon Gold sprinkled with chili flakes and presented with an addictive caesar aioli.
The Iberian-tinged dishes, interestingly, caused some division of opinion. The pintxos chorizo ($7) sounded Spanish, even Basque (“pintxos” is the Basque equivalent of “tapas”), but the chorizo lengths in question were Mexican, made from fresh pork, with plenty of garlic and chile. (Spanish chorizo is air-cured, like prosciutto, and typically seasoned with smoked paprika.) Atop each sausage cylinder, a tab of sweet potato had been fastened with a toothpick, and I wasn’t sure why. The tabs were as pale as Monterey Jack cheese and didn’t add much flavor or texture — not that Mexican chorizo needs help in the flavor department.
The Galicia octopus ($9), an earthenware crock filled with octopus and potato chunks in a spicy dark tomato-based sauce, also left a hung jury. The sauce had the faintly bitter bite of smoked paprika, which perhaps is an acquired taste, and I long ago acquired it; I thought it made a handsome contrast with the faint sweetness of the octopus. Others disagreed. Further objections were raised (rather spuriously, I thought) against the potatoes. They weren’t exactly necessary, but they did add some ballast to the dish. On the other hand, everyone like the spiced chicken tacos ($6 for two), which were made with proper corn tortillas and enlivened with blue cheese.
Fish: several varieties are offered as “sizzling” plates, among them an excellent mahi-mahi filet ($10), dense, meaty, and juicy atop a jumble of bean sprouts, green peas, yellow zucchini, goji berries, and Meyer lemon in a garlic sauce. For unsizzling, flip the menu card and find an extensive list of nigiri, sashimi, and rolls, including spicy tuna — the “ultimate” ($7.50) — and Cancun ($9), with smoked albacore, roasted jalapeño peppers, avocado, and spicy radish. The Cancun struck me as a Californication (a quite nice one, though), while the former strongly appealed to a member of our party who’d never eaten a sushi-style dish before: an already small world growing a little smaller.
ART/S GLOBAL TAPAS
Dinner: Sun.–Wed., 5:30-10 p.m.; Thurs.–Sat., 5:30–11 p.m.
2353 Lombard, SF
SUPER EGO “Right now, as always, the city is so divided,” said Said Adelekan, a.k.a. DJ Said, speaking to me over the phone from his studio in Eureka Valley, his husky Nigerian accent occasionally dissolving into self-effacing giggles. “There’s so much emphasis on dubstep and techno. It’s time for something uplifting, refreshing.”
He’s justifying his decision to launch a “soulful, deep, Afrobeat-inflected” new monthly — We & the Music starts Friday, April 2, at 222 Hyde — but for San Francisco nightlife aficionados and dance music fanatics, Said needs no reasons to finally step back into the regular club spotlight. Personally, I’m wigging the freak out about it. And that’s a lot of wig.
For the past few years, Said and his Fatsouls label have been quietly releasing some of the most intelligent, mature, and beautifully crafted deep house records available. In the early 2000s, his Atmosfere parties smoothly blended African-influenced beats into classic house and jazzy sounds, an energizing strategy that nimbly avoided the bland lounge quicksand that other “smooth” clubs of that era eagerly sank into. At his performances, he’s often backed by live accompaniment: percussion, bass, guitar. That may be no rarity, but coupled with Said’s vinyl skills, it’s a charming gesture that instantly infuses his party proceedings with an old-school organic vibe.
But wait! Before any young’uns run screaming for the hills (did I lose you at “soulful”?), the mirror-balled zeitgeist is full-on ghosting at the mo’ for a deep revival. Here are the clues. Minimal techno and micro-house started reversing their bleachy strip-down of lush beats several years ago, building back up to an Ibiza-thrilling exhalation of organic samples and actual chords without losing any of their throbbing drive, dub overtones, and clipped progressions. Fatsouls releases by Germany’s Mr. Raoul K. (“Sun of Gao”), local whiz Stephen Rigmaiden (“Royal Deep”), and Said with much-loved producer Jerome Sydenham (“Long Story”) — as well as upcoming beguilement “Cosmogony,” by Japan’s Hideo Kobayashi, to be released in April — seamlessly annex this trend while besting it with real soul experience.
Another clue: the recent UK Funky movement brought back African-derived two-step beats and tribal percussion with a dubby twist. Said does that too, but with explicit acknowledgment of his idol Fela Kuti. (Said grew up in Lagos and helped promote the Nigerian Afrobeat legend’s club, Shine, in the 1980s.) And the disco revival has whetted a dance-floor taste for longer, more mutable tunes — the vogue is for squirmy, 10-minute tracks. Fatsouls slices are lengthy and jam-packed with enough lovely permutations to transport you into the sexy red-light zone. The signs read both ways, however: Said’s 2007 “Bad Belle (Remix),” definitely among the top house releases of the last decade, is a slow-burning groove overlaid with a spoken-word ethno-ecological lament by Nigerian poet Ikwunga, and it presaged dub-techno’s current, curious fixation on sampling slam poetry.
Deep quality has long been at the forefront of foreign scenes. “To be frank, there’s a large global market for what I do,” Said told me, and he’s right. Berlin and Tokyo — heck, even Estonia — are thriving, soulful-wise. And Said’s industry acumen (he earned a business-management degree from San Francisco State in order to run his label) and long-standing position as an Afro-house ambassador help him capitalize on that. A world tour is planned for later this year. “But here in the Bay Area it’s still more of an underground thing.”
Maybe that’s the way we like it, although along with David Harness’s Royalty monthly (fourth Fridays at Triple Crown, www.triplecrownsf.com) and the Divinyl Echo crew’s Oakland bashes (www.facebook.com/divinylecho), We & the Music might just herald the dawning of a new deep age in Bay nightlife.
WE & THE MUSIC
With DJ Said, Capitol A, and Le Charm
First Fridays, 9 p.m., $7
222 Hyde, SF.
FILM Looking at a map of Paris, the city’s rings resemble those of the giant Sequoia cross-section in Vertigo (1958), the one Kim Novak points to saying, “Somewhere in here I was born … and here I died.” It’s a touchstone scene for Chris Marker, one he recasts in both La Jetée (1962) and Sans Soleil (1983), though the Paris metaphor is prompted by his lesser known essay film, Le joli mai (“May the beautiful,” filmed with the venerable cinematographer Pierre Lhomme). The usual critical operations fail a filmmaker so fruitfully difficult to pin down, so:
C is for cat, Marker’s spirit animal from the beginning. Grinning or otherwise, “a cat is never on the side of power.” The feline kind presents respite and provocation in his films, and solidarity only glimpsed. To quote Montaigne, Marker’s ancestor in essay, “When I play with my cat, how do I know that she is not passing time with me rather than I with her?”
H is for happiness, the pop-survey platter on which Le joli mai turns. “Are you happy?” “Will you go on being happy?” The questions are pointedly pat, but Marker’s sync sound inquests press into speculative existentialism.
R is for Rouch, Jean, whose Chronicle of a Summer (1961, codirected with Edgar Morin) is Le joli mai‘s most obvious predecessor. In this film, ethnographer-poet Rouch turns the lightweight 16mm camera (a then-new invention) back on his own means of gathering information about “this strange tribe living in Paris.”
I is for interview: insistence and incredulity.
S is for statistics and the survey, the source of Le joli mai’s troubled lyricism. A concluding litany of figures (4,000 kilograms of butter, 600 tons of falling dust, 14 suicides) holds a strange mirror up to the urban organism. S is also for the spider crawling us across a dully pontificating Parisian’s shoulder—breaking decorum, the camera zooms in on the arthropod, delightfully bored. And also: Simone Signoret’s voice; scavenging the street’s interruptions and silences; the situationists, especially Guy Debord’s psychogeographic maps of Paris; and the speed of thought.
M is for May, the month of Le joli mai‘s game of hopscotch. It seems an auspicious choice given the famous Paris May still to come, but then again, as Marker argues in A Grin without a Cat (1977), 1968 came late. M is also for Michel Legrand’s drizzly score and Masculin féminin (1966) — Godard’s film owes a clear debt to Le joli mai‘s upended reportage.
A is for Algeria, Le joli mai‘s structuring absence. Filmed as military operations drew to a close, the shadow of occupation hangs over the stock market trading floor, a young couple’s difficulty talking about themselves, and, finally, the devastating testimony of a young Algerian man living in France. As for contemporary parallels of a civilian population’s repressing atrocities carried out in its name, let us simply say the complacency documented in Le joli mai still needs toppling.
R is for revolution, an endeavor in form and content. We love Marker for being the rare eyewitness not to reduce the 1960s to disavowal or twinkling hagiography, and for his willingness to draw different lines in the sand.
K is for Krasna, Sandor, one of Maker’s most reliable aliases, a migrant intellectual. Lately he has taking to posting elegant black-and-white stills of Paris street protestors, circa 2003, on his Flickr account. Five decades on, Marker still dissects the crowd, searching the “sum of solitudes” described in Le joli mai.
E is for essay, the quicksilver genre straddling verb and noun. The fact that La Jetée is still Marker’s best known film means he’s not well known (in the States, anyway), but how many consciousnesses has he burned?
R is for revision since “You never know what you may be filming.”
POETRY MEETS POLITICS: THE ESSAY — CHRIS MARKER’S LE JOLI MAI
Thurs/1, 7 p.m., $5
Phyllis Wattis Theater
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third St., SF
FILM The Rizzo family of City Island, N.Y. — a tiny atoll associated historically with fishing and jurisdictionally with the Bronx — have reached a state where their primary interactions consist of sniping, yelling, and storming out of rooms. These storm clouds operate as cover for the secrets they’re all busy keeping from one another.
Correctional officer Vince (Andy Garcia) pretends he’s got frequent poker nights so he can skulk off to his true shameful indulgence: a Manhattan acting class. Naturally, perpetually fuming spouse Joyce (Julianna Margulies) assumes he’s having an affair. Daughter Vivian (Dominik García-Lorido) is back home from “school” on “spring break,” quote marks required because in fact she’s dropped out to work at a strip joint nearby, an endeavor hinted at by her newly extra-perky breasts. The world class-sarcasms of teenager Vinnie (Ezra Miller) deflect attention from his own hidden life as an aspiring chubby chaser crushing on a plus-sized schoolmate and transfixed by the huge neighbor (Carrie Baker Reynolds) who’s a live webcam star among fanciers of BBW (Big Beautiful Women).
All this (plus everyone’s sneaky cigarette habit) is nothing, however, compared to Vince’s really big secret: he conceived and abandoned a “love child” before marrying, and said guilty issue has just turned up as a 24-year-old car thief on his cell block. Tony (Steven Strait) is eligible for provisional parole, but since his mother (fondly recalled as “a drunk and a whore”) is deceased, he has no family to take him in.
Ergo, Vince brings him home, explaining to no one (Tony included) their wee biological link. But as dad spends increasing time “playing poker” — i.e. hanging out with fellow would-be thespian Molly (Emily Mortimer) and even scoring a Scorcese audition — vengefully-minded mom has time to notice that frequently shirtless new handyman Tony has a Body of Death. Their flirtation includes her sympathetic comment, “Being in prison and not being able to smoke? That’s like being in jail!”
City Island advance-screened last week a couple nights after Hot Tub Time Machine. While it will be lucky to make a small fraction of Hot Tub‘s multiplex dough, it offers cheering, contrasting evidence that not all American live-action movie comedy outside the Judd Apatow realm is by and for imbeciles. Writer-director Raymond De Felitta made a couple other features in the last 15 years, none widely seen; if this latest is typical, we need more of him, more often.
Perfectly cast (who knew Andy Garcia could be funny?), City Island is farcical without being cartoonish, howl-inducing without lowering your brain-cell count. It’s arguably a better, less self-conscious slice of dysfunctional family absurdism than Little Miss Sunshine (2006) — complete with an Alan Arkin more inspired in his one big scene here than in all of that film’s Oscar-winning performance.
CITY ISLAND opens Fri/2 in San Francisco.
LIT In Chekhov’s story “Lady with Lapdog,” there is a passage that describes the inner life “running its course in secret” as that which holds “everything that was essential, of interest and of value … hidden from other people.” This revelation resonates throughout Elif Batuman’s new book, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 304 pages, $15). Drawing its title from Dostoyevsky, The Possessed offers a compelling glimpse into the inner life of its author, one informed by a love for books.
Batuman’s graduate studies at Stanford took her on adventures to Samarkand, Uzbekistan; St. Petersburg, Russia; Ankara, Turkey; and Venice, Italy, but the richness of her descriptions owe less to exotic settings or the course of events than to the books she packs in her suitcase. Batuman’s chapters on Samarkand, which can be read as a crash course on Uzbek literature, are filled with recollections of Navoi, Farid al-Din Attar, Muqimiy, and G’afur G’ulom (the “Uzbek Maxim Gorky”).
Borges’s fanciful story “On Exactitude in Science” describes a map so large and exact that it covers the land “point for point.” The story ends with an eerie image of a tattered map stretching into the desert, inhabited by people and animals, until it becomes the very world that it outlines. In the same sense as Borges’s map, literature provides its own cartography. Like a true bibliophile, Batuman reads (and writes) as a traveler: a Don Quixote figure who navigates her way through the life that is revealed by tracing the longitudes of the life that is hidden.
From Stanford, where she currently teaches comparative literature, Batuman spoke with the Guardian about The Possessed.
SFBG In the last paragraph of “Summer in Samarkand” you write, “I am reluctant to say that what ended in Samarkand was my youth.” What do you mean by that?
Elif Batuman The pathos of graduate school is that you go in at 22, and they kind of spit you out at age 30, and you’re like, “Where did my youth even go? What became of it?” When you’re young, every adventure could be this life-changing thing that opens the door to something new, and after a certain point you kind of stay the same, and you’re doing all these things, but it’s just a succession of events. The biological narrative has ended, because you’ve reached adulthood, and the burden of creating that narrative falls onto you in a way that’s not the case when you’re young and everything is so dramatic.
SFBG At the same time, as a writer you feel that if you don’t incorporate your experience into some kind of narrative, it becomes a wasted experience.
EB One of the huge reliefs of writing this book is that I finally did something with that time in Samarkand. There is a nice story by Isaac Babel called “My First Fee” where he talks about how his untold stories are sitting in his heart “like a toad on a stone.” It is a little bit like that.
SFBG The Possessed is a literary memoir, and you write about people you meet in your academic career. You also talk about people you met at conferences, your boyfriends, and various academic trials and tribulations. What have these people’s reactions been?
EB I did get some negative response about “Who Killed Tolstoy” from a professor. She basically said that she thought I shouldn’t have published it, and she thought it was in terrible taste and horribly indiscreet.
EB It was [about] that episode on the bus. It was kind of a peculiar e-mail: “When I read this, I thought it was fiction, but recently I found out that this incident on the bus happened.”
SFBG When the guy who had an accident on the bus wouldn’t throw out his pants afterward?
EB Yeah. She used the phrase “despicably cruel.” I was frustrated by that e-mail, because it seemed to me the story was only being read as gossip when I tried really hard, when people did things that I thought were interesting or funny, to write about them in the service of some larger point. In the Tolstoy piece, it was about the universal frailty of the human body that affects all of us. It wasn’t about one guy who did something embarrassing, but about this horrible plight that we’re all in as human beings.
SFBG The Possessed got overwhelmingly positive reviews. When people said not-so-positive things, did you have to develop a thicker skin?
EB I can’t read reviews, because they freak me out. If they’re one paragraph, I’ll read it. My publishers send these publicity updates with one-sentence reviews in them, so I know the Buster Keaton–Susan Sontag quote [laughs].
SFBG “If Susan Sontag had coupled with Buster Keaton, their prodigiously gifted love child might have written this book.” It’s a weird description.
EB [Laughs.] It freaked out my mother. She was like, “Why would they say something like that? Why do they think Susan Sontag should be your mother and not me?’
MUSIC One morning, I woke up to a call from a woman named Tasha. “Messy Marv wants to speak to you,” she says. Uh-oh, I think, what’d I do? Mess isn’t the kind of guy who calls just to chop it up. “He wants you to write an article,” she says. This isn’t my usual method, but given the difficulty of touching down with the Fillmore District native, I’ll tape first and ask questions later. Mess has largely been out of state since getting out of jail (for a weapons charge) in late 2007, and his absence has inspired controversy in the Moe, so I’m wondering if he wants to address it.
But Mess has other things on his mind when he phones from Miami.
“Let’s talk about 400,000 units independently,” he begins, an impressive tally of cumulative sales in the Bay. Mess’s fanbase extends well beyond the region; he’s been featured on discs by the likes of Killer Mike and Tech9ine, Snoop Dogg shouts him out on Malice in Wonderland (Doggystyle/Priority, 2009), and he provided a 20-year-old Keyshia Cole her first real exposure on his third album, Still Explosive (M Ent., 2001). Cole’s returning the favor by recording a single with Mess, “Luv Somebody,” for his album, The Cooking Channel, slated for July 7.
But even this isn’t what he wants to talk about. Right now Mess is all about his corporation, Scalen, LLC, whose name derives from one of Mess’ aliases, Messcalen. Scalen began as Mess’s record label, which he recently rebranded Click Clack Records to signify its integration into the new company whose other divisions include Scalen Films and Scalen Clothing.
“The beginning of my career was all music,” Mess says. “But now I’m a CEO.” In the era of Jay-Z and P. Diddy, most rappers have aspired to their own corporations. Yet in the perpetually underfunded Bay, such dreams tend to remain unrealized. But Mess, who’s been moving units since age 15, appears to be realizing the goal. Scalen Films already has two DVDs in the can for release later this year: Gigantic, a documentary on Mess’ life, and All Gas No Breaks, his dramatic debut. He’s shopping his reality show, Mr. Ghetto Celebrity, whose trailer can be seen on his Web site, scalenllc.com. He’s got dudes like Big Boi wearing Scalen t-shirts and plans to launch two lines in the fall: Cupcakes (for women) and Slick Talk (for men). But the most immediate project is a 12-disc, limited edition set of Mess’s back catalog, Project Suppastarr, due April 1. Priced at $50 and including a Scalen shirt and autographed posters, the project is designed “to give the consumers something for their money.” (“It’s a $340 value,” he claims on his Web site infomercial.)
As we wrap up, I ask Mess about the Fillmore controversy. Two Fillmore rappers formerly on Click Clack Records, Young Boo and M-Kada, have released a harsh diss video, “Last of Us,” challenging Mess’ hood credentials. It’s included on Where’s Messy Marv? (Homewrecka Ent., 2010), an entire DVD devoted to Mess bashing. All this is on top of a major beef last year with his childhood friend and collaborator, San Quinn, which, despite being quashed, has left lingering ill-will in Fillmore. Mess, however, just laughs at the turmoil.
“You grow out of situations,” he says. “This is based on me growing up, and a lot of people don’t understand that. I just look at it like promotion — they my street team. I’m not paying for once.”
Nonetheless, Mess wants to leave the drama behind, going so far as to rebrand himself as the Boy Boy Young Mess for this new stage of his career. “I’ve transformed into another person. I’m a whole new entertainer, man, father. I’ll still always be ‘Messy Marv.’ But a lot came with that name, so I’m going to leave it where it is.”
CLUB/MUSIC Gay wads. Sissies. Fatties. Fags. Butches. Twinks. Offended? Don’t be — that’s the guest list for Stay Gold, the sickest queer dance party in the Mission. This month the party celebrates its four-year anniversary, inviting you to self-declare along with the rest of the high femmes, boys, bois, nerd alerts, nellies, and an entire pack of sexy dance-dance revolutionaries.
The all-inclusive party throws down its jams the last Wednesday of each month at the Make-Out Room and has grown from a dedicated crowd of 50 at its start to a full-on 450-person freak-fest in 2010. Stay Gold’s founders/promoters/resident DJs Leah Perloff (DJ Rapid Fire) and Danielle Jackson (DJ Pink Lightning) blame the party’s popularity on its welcoming attitude.
“Stay Gold is a queer party, not a lesbian party,” says Perloff over coffee and banana bread. “We’ve never put imagery on flyers because we didn’t want to rule anyone out.”
“It started out as mainly women, but it’s turned into everybody, which is a hard thing to do — get all queers at one event,” Jackson says.
All queer and all hot, Stay Gold draws in a ridiculously cool crowd. Super rad vintage threads bump and grind with killer style choices of all breeds. The haircuts, the personalities, the dance moves— this crowd is bangin’. “Ya. It’s a super hot queer mix,” Jackson agrees with a smirk, noting the event’s tagline: “White hot cruising and solid gold dancing.”
Stay Gold started as a tribute to a friend of Jackson and Perloff, Sarah Tucker, who was killed on her bicycle by a hit-and-run in 2006. Jackson and “Tucker,” as they called her, had put together PYT, a gay dance party named after a certain Michael Jackson song. After Tucker passed away, Jackson and Perloff decided to keep the party going in her honor, switching the name to reflect their lost friend’s recent golden birthday. “Tucker would totally approve of Stay Gold — minus the fact that we play a little hip-hop. That was always her rule: no hip-hop at PYT,” Jackson says.
To balance it out, Tucker’s favorite song, “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life” by Indeep is the party’s anthem. Other Stay Gold staples include “Finally” by CeCe Peniston, “Walking on Broken Glass” by Annie Lennox, and “Pussy (Real Good)” by Jacki-O. “People want to hear the jams,” Perloff says with a very serious face.
Along with the usual DJ mix, the anniversary party includes a special live set from Double Dutchess, who Perloff describes as an “epic booty bass, babelicious, dance jam duo.” Already packed tit-to-tit during its regular event, this one’s gonna be bananas.
Whether it’s suggestion or a rule, take it from Perloff: “No parking on the dance floor.”
STAYGOLD FOUR-YEAR ANNIVERSARY
Wed/31, 10:30pm, $3
3225 22nd St., SF
MUSIC Does the dream ever die? Especially when you’re talking ’bout the Stooges, running on fumes of the glorious yet star-crossed Raw Power (Columbia, 1973), in 1974? For that still-influential combo it all came down to what Stooges guitarist James Williamson calls “a very prolonged death march across the United States,” culminating with two February 1974 shows. At the first, the typically provocative Pop got cold-cocked in a Michigan biker bar. Then a few nights later, in a performance documented on Metallic K.O. (Skydog, 1977), the band caught a hail of bottles, cameras, and such hurled from the crowd.
“People really throwing bottles at your head really gets your attention,” Williamson marvels from Silicon Valley, where he now lives and worked, until retirement, as an electronics engineer and Sony VP. “We were a little bit … I don’t know what you could say about us — stupid probably captures it! We just stood up there defiantly, egging these guys on.”
Today you can’t help but feel a little vindicated for Williamson, Pop, and drummer Scott Asheton (R.I.P., late guitarist and Raw Power bassist Ron Asheton). When we spoke, the affable, down-to-earth Williamson was looking forward to playing with the Stooges at the group’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction March 15, and to the April 13 release of the two-CD Legacy Edition and four-CD-DVD Deluxe Edition of the legendary proto-punk album he wrote with Pop. The deluxe treatment of Raw Power (available at www.iggyandthestoogesmusic.com) includes the newly remastered original David Bowie mix of the LP (various Stooges have expressed their hatred of the first stylized mix, which finds new clarity post-remastering); Georgia Peaches, a live performance at Atlanta’s Richards club in October 1973; a disc of rarities, outtakes, and alternate mixes; a making-of documentary; a book; five prints; and a Japanese picture-sleeve reproduction of a “Raw Power”/”Search and Destroy” 7-inch.
The whole thing is a treasure trove to rival 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions (Rhino Handmade, 1999), considering the quantity of the previously unreleased tracks, in addition to the notoriety of the partially bootlegged Georgia Peaches show (Ron Asheton owned a cassette of the show and after clueing in Stooges archivist Robert Matheu, the untouched original board tapes were unearthed). You have to love the bluesy prominence of Scott Thurston’s roadhouse piano and Pop’s crazily inspired intro to, say, “I Need Somebody”: “I’ll see every Georgia chick get down and — suck my ass. Ten Georgia Peaches up my ass; 10 Georgia Peaches stoned on grass; 10 Georgia Peaches next is coke; 10 Georgia Peaches ain’t no joke …”
Williamson remembers the Hotlantans as fun-loving: “Richards was a dinner-date kind of place with tablecloths and a dinner-slash-bar kind of thing. We’d do two sets a night for a week, and these guys [were] bringing their dates to dinner, and here come the Stooges, and the singer is up in their faces, messing with their girlfriends.” He chuckles. “You know, you can’t make this stuff up!” At another set, Stooges fan Elton John, who happened to be in Altanta, decided to surprise the combo by materializing onstage in a gorilla costume. “He was lucky he took his head off because I was getting really pissed at him,” says Williamson. “And I was about to do something not good to him!”
High times for the band that had known each other since tenth grade — Ron Asheton played bass in James Williamson’s first group, and Williamson hung out at the initial Stooges basement rehearsals. If there were any hard feelings when Pop shed the original Stooges with the exception of second guitarist Williamson, they seem to have faded. Asked by Pop to fly to London to write material for Raw Power, Williamson vividly recalls the making of his first album as productive. “I wrote almost all the songs on Raw Power up in my room in London on an acoustic guitar,” he remembers. “In fact, that acoustic guitar is now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum. It’s easier for me to hear the true sound of the chords, the combination of chord changes.” Pop was also easy to work with — “a very nice person and very intelligent and sincere.”
“I made some mistakes on that album in the solos and stuff, but who cares?” Williamson says now. “What matters is how it comes across.” In the studio, the guitarist simply played, pulling out the caterwauling, proto-thrash solos for “Search and Destroy” and “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell” until he saw the rest of the band nodding in the control room. “The music was all mine,” he explains. “So I didn’t know if it was any good or not — or anything about it. But I was having a great time and I was making money. I mean, what was not to like about it?”
Now, after working in high tech for more than 30 years, Williamson’s writing new songs with Pop (“It’s just as easy now as it was then”) and anticipating the rerelease of the remastered Pop- and Williamson-penned Kill City (Bomp, 1977). He’s found what might be the choicest retirement job ever, as a member of the Stooges. “It was a big stretch going from the Stooges to calculus and differential equations, but I did it!” he says, “and I’ve never really regretted it.” Only Williamson can claim the next trajectory — “from a Stooge to a suit to Stooge!” he chortles.
THEATER I don’t know from reclaiming rituals, but when I saw the gangling guy in the deer mask and beige unitard prancing around the stage once more, I knew the vernal equinox could not be far behind. Herald of this new season is none other than writer-performer Dan Carbone, a long-cherished and uniquely committed Bay Area talent who remarkably has eluded actually being committed. Back on March 6, Carbone was keeping it surreal in the Mission with a revival of two gems, Up from the Ground and There Be Monsters! (the latter featuring the aforementioned deer-man, among its varied and unexpected menagerie).
Carbone’s upcoming single-evening production lays these two works to bed while promising new dreams directly ahead. He returns to the Dark Room with entirely new material, including the premiere of something called Ol’ Blue Balls, pertaining to an encounter between Frank Sinatra and a little girl in the Eisenhower era, according to a press release, as well as a cross-cultural encounter called The Koreans and the piquantly titled Debbie and the Demons.
For those still woefully unfamiliar with Carbone’s idiosyncratic oeuvre, the March 6 evening proceeded by quiet but wild fits of storytelling and subconscious reverie into a genially demented and devilishly clever assemblage of monologue, nursery rhyme, and Dada dreamscape. Ideas rushed out of Carbone’s head amid a fit of logorrhea as bright and delighting as the silver tinsel yanked from the felt-lined anus of the well-soiled stuffed doggy in Monsters!
Befitting the late-night format, there were even some special guests. No less than Richard Chamberlain, ladies and gentlemen, was called out of the audience and onto the stage. And sure enough, bounding up with an aging, nearly forgotten celeb’s practiced modesty and eager step was a guy who looked at least not utterly unlike Chamberlain, the star of TV’s indelible Shogun miniseries, who let go a spiel too airily bizarre to recount here without much more coffee, its edge tempered by a vague mixture of nostalgia, regret, and that period ennui Jimmy Carter dubbed America’s malaise. Giddy days those might have seemed too from the vantage of today’s doom-clouded depravity, were it not for the growing suspicion that this guy isn’t Richard Chamberlain at all and probably insane.
The late-show slot at the Dark Room is altogether apt. Carbone’s stage occupies a space somewhere between Pee Wee’s Playhouse and Night Gallery. It’s such stuff as vaguely inappropriate dreams are made on. In so far as the Dark Room shows — which began in February with Carbone opening for Rick Shapiro — stand to be a regular thing, Satan and audiences willing, we can all rest uneasier.
NEW TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION
Sat/3, 10 p.m., $8
2263 Mission, SF
CULT FILM STAR Although the mainstream Hollywood press and audiences at large may not have flocked to theaters in support of the initial release of Howard the Duck in 1986, a core group of devoted fans and successive generations of viewers have elevated the film to cult classic status, resulting in a long-awaited special edition DVD release last year.
Ed Gale, the actor who stepped inside the Howard costume and helped bring the character to life, will be appearing at this weekend’s WonderCon, the largest comic book and pop culture convention in Northern California, to meet fans and sign autographs (look for him at booth M19 in the Autograph Area, room 105).
In what was his first Hollywood role (it was actually the first movie he even auditioned for), Gale used highly energetic body language to convey the emotions of the diminutive yet daring duck. That high level of energy expenditure took a physical toll on the actor — and the restrictions presented by the full-body costume made even simple things, such as eating, very difficult.
“When it became apparent I was losing too much weight too fast — I lost 11 pounds in 30 days — they had to give me straws with protein shakes, or they’d drop M&M’s down my beak,” Gale remembered, speaking over the phone from Los Angeles.
Filmed largely in the Bay Area (the characters visit the California Academy of Sciences, take taxis in the Sunset District, and fly over the rooftops of downtown Petaluma), Howard the Duck had the backing of George Lucas as executive producer — which is one reason Gale suspects the movie was treated so harshly by critics when it appeared to be a financial failure.
“We as a society love to build people up and then tear them down, apparently they felt it was time to tear George Lucas down. But the power of the people has proved them wrong.”
Gale, who has also appeared in films like Child’s Play (1988) and Spaceballs (1987), along with more recent roles in television including My Name is Earl and Bones, says Howard is still the most popular character he has played. He’s looking forward to returning to San Francisco.
“The adage that my manager told me was, ‘If you’re going to be good, be the best. If you’re going to be bad, be the worst, and you’ll never be forgotten.’ And with Howard the Duck and all the great fans, that has never been more true,” he said. “I definitely want to meet a whole new bunch of friends in the city where it all began.” (Sean McCourt)
Fri/2, noon–-7 p.m.; Sat/3, 10 a.m.–7 p.m.;
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By Johnny Angel Wendell
As the 2010 midterm elections approach, so rises the heat level in one of the American news media’s most vitriolic battlegrounds: AM (and increasingly FM) news/talk radio. Dominated almost entirely by the American right in all its permutations, the genre is part of what Hillary Clinton once deemed a "vast right-wing conspiracy." And while she may have overstated the case somewhat, talk radio is the angry white male’s jungle drum. As the broadcast point for the economic and social theorizing emanating from billionaire-funded think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, as well as repeating anti-government (when the government is not being run by Republicans) doggerel whose roots run all the way back to Father Coughlin’s screeds in the 1930s, it’s as effective a tool for mounting outrage (which is never aimed at corporate America, a telling sign, populism-wise).
Because of this obvious one-sidedness masquerading as news, many media critics on the left have demanded the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine a law enacted in 1949 that required the holders of broadcast licenses to present issues of public importance in a way that a government commission deemed fair and equal, so both sides of an issue got equal time. The doctrine remained the standard by which talk radio operated until it was repealed in the late 1980s. Shortly after that, Rush Limbaugh began his ascent to the summit of talk radio, becoming its most popular voice. If the Fairness Doctrine was still in place, however, that might never have happened.
President Obama has said that he has no interest in restoring the doctrine, claiming it’s a distraction. Despite the fact that reinstating it would personally benefit yours truly as a left-leaning talk show host, I’m also opposed to it it does not solve what truly ails talk radio today.
What’s really wrong with talk isn’t the imbalance between right and left it’s local vs. national, live vs. syndicated. Tune in to nearly 80 percent of talk outside of morning and afternoon drive time, and it’s one national show after another: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Dr. Laura. Their politics are irrelevant they’re broadcasting on local frequencies and not discussing local events.
Talk radio does not need partisan balance. At this point, half the country gets its news from the Internet, where thousands of Web sites provide every conceivable point of view. What talk does need and badly is a requirement that stations devote at least half their time to local issues. Most of the day or part of the evening should be devoted to what actually affects the audience schools, traffic, cops, corruption, our kids, our money, what we see and hear right in front of us.
Radio chains might scream bloody murder at this because syndication is cheaper. But the two most popular AM stations in the state KFI AM640 in Los Angeles and KGO 810 in San Francisco are locally-based stations. KGO has no syndicated programming at all Monday through Friday, and consistently has been the top-rated station in the city.
A Fairness Doctrine would be seen (rightfully so) as a way to shut up the right. But a 50/50 Doctrine would not and given that the polarity of opinion on local issues is less (because it’s real and present), the blatant disregard for fact would evaporate quickly. This is worth lobbying for if anything meant "bringing it all back home," local talk would be the optimal place to begin. *
Johnny Angel Wendell is a talk show host at KTLK AM 1150 in Los Angeles and has been on Green 960 and KIFR 106.8 in SF.
The pot initiative’s going to pass in November. California’s going to legalize personal use and small sales. I think that’s clear from the polls, and from the fact that the pot supporters are raising a fair amount of money, and the fact that there won’t be much effective opposition.
The state Legislature might not like it ballot measures are impossible to amend, and with debate and discussion the measure might be a little different. But Assembly Member Tom Ammiano has tried, again and again, to get his colleagues to see the light: this is going to happen, and if the folks in Sacramento are afraid of it, then they’re not going to have any influence over the final product.
And it’s amazing to me how many people are afraid of this issue.
All three major candidates for governor, including Jerry Brown, who must have smoked pot at some point in his life (would Linda Ronstadt have gone out with a guy who never smoked weed?), are publicly opposing the measure. Ammiano can’t get a majority of the Assembly to vote yes on his legalization bill and Democrats control things. You wonder when these people are going to understand that the voters, most of them, really don’t care if pot becomes legal. It doesn’t frighten anybody anymore except elected officials.
Humboldt County is already preparing for this; business leaders are talking about the economic impact on the region and how the North Coast can become the Napa Valley of green bud. The Obama administration needs to get ready too ready to tell the federal drug agents to leave California alone. And a few years from now, life will go on, and everyone will take legal pot for granted and I wonder how silly Jerry Brown’s going to feel. *