Volume 44 Number 48

Appetite: Plum sneak preview dinner amps up anticipation


Daniel Patterson is one of our city’s true visionary chefs, willing to push the envelope, gifted with technique, but, yes, able to make it taste damn good. I’m a big fan of Coi, delight in Il Cane Rosso and try not to resent Oakland for getting both Bracina and Plum, his upcoming ventures. 

Thankfully, Plum sneak preview dinners were held here in SF at Il Cane Rosso, every Monday during August. A simple, four-course menu was presented at $45 per person, representing what might be on offer once Plum rolls out. It’s a smart idea: try things out, get diner’s feedback, hone the menu… all before the restaurant opens. 

Of course, I am eagerly anticipating the bar menu from none other than Scott Beattie with bar manager Michael Lazar, co-author of Left Coast Libations. This is going to be a good one, folks. 

Patterson, Il Cane Rosso chef Lauren Kiino, and pastry chef Bill Corbett are behind the food. From the preview dinner perspective, I first noticed the menu’s straightforwardness: lamb stew, roasted beets, and the like. But the food belies a brazen spirit you won’t catch reading the menu, one married to understatement. Ask questions and you’ll find there’s much more to your dish than meets the eye. 

What is labeled “potato chips” are russet potato strips and skins prepared like chicharrones: crispy, dusted with cayenne and fennel pollen. These would make incredible bar snacks. Roasted beets display radiant hues of gold and red, accented with onions, sorrel and the crunch of pistachio. A pure, seemingly simple mushroom dashi/broth with yuba, tofu and greens, is contrasted by pickled radish. This dish is an excellent example of what I’ve seen from Patterson before: balanced flavors, impeccable technique but approachable, not playing any games. 

Lamb stew with sunchokes and wheatberries deserves applause. When I found out what was in the dish, it seemed a shame not to list it on the menu, but it’s smart on the Plum crew’s part to encourage the average diner to order something they are comfortable with (lamb, for example), while gently expanding their horizons. The stew is tender chunks of lamb neck, shoulder and head, while the accompanying grilled toast is covered in “brainnaise”, Patterson’s term for brain mayonnaise. Never fear, it tastes delicious with radicchio. You’d never know that mayo was creamy with lamb brain. 

Dessert is fresh huckleberries accented with airy goat cheese foam on a ‘liquid’ graham cracker, followed by a grapefruit and wild fennel pate de fruit: a bright, tart finish. 

The marriage is right: the food is straightforward and comforting, accessible to your general Bay Area diner, but simultaneously bold, unapologetic and lovingly prepared. This bodes well for Plum. 

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Good enough, fella?


Here’s a game that piles on hot-rods, collectible Playboy centerfolds, piano joints with framed Bogie posters, and one instance of a full-fledged Sinatra sing-along. Mafia II (2K Czech/2K Games, Xbox 360/PS3/PC)is the sequel to 2004’s Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, a well-received PC game that put players in the shoes of a cab driver as he rose through the ranks of the 1930s mafia. Its sequel mines similar Coppola and Scorsese territory, set this time in the 1940s and ’50s, as you play a young war vet looking to settle his late father’s debts.


The American war-era backdrop is a fantastic sandbox to play in: there are old-school billboards, decorative storefronts, and lavish little details like Christmastime snow slowly blowing away from your car as you drive down the street. But in the case of Mafia II, the freedom of the open world becomes largely an irrelevant means to an end: a set of roads that direct you to your next mission. There are really no side-quests to perform apart from stealing a few cars or hunting for Playboys, and even the old pastime of shooting it up with the cops is pretty unsatisfying. I spent most of my travel time with the cops trailing helplessly behind me. You have to wonder why the developers spent so much time creating an open world city that exists only to shuffle you from shootout to exposition.

Jack Scalici, director of production for developer 2K Games, told me that, for him, the story is the game’s most important aspect and he hopes that Mafia II‘s cinematic style will be best appreciated by film critics rather than traditional game journalists. The game does lend itself more to plot deconstruction than gameplay analysis, but unfortunately Mafia II doesn’t quite nail the story either.

The game’s scope is vast — it spans years as you leave the dreary 1940s for the sunny ’50s — but Mafia II never manages a truly satisfying character arc, content instead to putter along in standalone vignettes. The gangster lifestyle ain’t always shits and giggles and there are some fantastic little moments — jail yard fights, lugging a day-old dead body around in the trunk — but tension quickly fizzles, leaving the story a wildly inconsistent experience of highs and lows.

Actually, “wildly inconsistent” describes Mafia II to a T. Bum checkpoints, spiking difficulty, funky camera tics: it seems for every pro there’s a con. But if the aesthetic appeals to you, there’s enough play here to make the game worth a spin. I had a good time; the most promising games always get the most flak.

Appetite: Studying drink


Left Coast Libations by Ted Munat with Michael Lazar — Left Coast Libations, released today (catch the launch party on 9/18 at Heaven’s Dog), is, as far as I’m concerned, a must for the library of any West Coast cocktailian, not to mention drink aficionados everywhere. Ted Munat clearly displays a fan’s love of drink and the bartenders behind them in his cheeky, delightful bartender bios, Jenn Farrington’s pristine photos give the book a sleek, pure look, and Michael Lazar painstakingly made every recipe to ensure workability for those of us trying these recipes at home. Naturally, San Francisco makes a strong showing with LA, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver bartenders sharing many of their greats, all highlighting the innovation happening in cocktails on the West Coast. You’ll find recipes for local favorites like Daniel Hyatt’s Southern Exposure or Joel Baker’s Pear Sonata. I’ve been making many of these at home and the book is rich with possibility. In the midst of intriguingly unique recipes calling for homemade syrups or tinctures, I am also grateful for simple beauties like Murray Stenson‘s Stephan’s Sour with Beefeater gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and Bitter Truth celery bitters. 

Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh — After meeting him and attending his Hollywood Cocktails seminar at Tales of the Cocktail, I can say Ted Haigh is one crazy guy… and one of the best resources in the world for history behind drinks (just read his regular column in Imbibe magazine). With a well deserved win as Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book at Tales, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails feels like the kind of tome that would be a definitive resource in any era. Focused on the classics, it’s rich with historical notes, vintage artwork, and approachable, standard-setting recipes every bartender (or at-home novice) should know. Kudos for the spiral bound presentation, making it easy to use while mixing drinks. 

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent — Last Call is an almost textbook-detailed approach to the history, people and circumstances surrounding Prohibition and how it changed the face of America in issues as far-ranging as personal freedom to organized crime. Daniel Okrent is best known as the first public editor of the New York Times, but is also a Pulitzer nominee. His painstaking research reveals fascinating stories (Carry A. Nation, the temperance “saloon smasher” with a hatchet, for one), and debatable but thought-provoking conclusions. Just delve into the introduction with eye-opening stats on just how much America drank pre-Prohibition, and you’ll be hooked. 


Desperately seeking squash bees


UPDATE! In the print version of this article, this reporter inadvertently described Anthidium maculosum as a territorial leafcutter bee. It is in fact a wool carder bee. My humble apologies to the bees and the experts who helped identify them.


GREEN This summer, I hunted squash bees. The hunt began on a sunny mid-July afternoon at the home of Celeste Ets-Hokin, an advocate for native bees who lives in Oakland and has just published a 2011 calendar on the importance of conserving bee habitats.

As Ets-Hokin explains in the forward of her calendar (available from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation), “Most of our fruit, vegetable, and seed crops depend on bees for pollination. For bees, success depends on habitat, habitat, habitat.”

Ets-Hokin has planted her own backyard, on a sunny ridge near Lake Merritt, with lavender, basil, and other bee-attracting plants. Although her yard was abuzz in midsummer with the sound of honey, bumble, carpenter, leafcutter, longhorn, and green metallic sweat bees, there was no sign of squash bees.

That’s because squash bees only visit the blossoms of squash plants and other members of the gourd family, which Ets-Hokin doesn’t grow in her yard.

So we decided to head for the trials garden next to Lake Merritt, which is funded by the University of California and the Alameda County master gardeners program.

Ets-Hokin spent the last 18 months creating a bee-attracting zone in this garden. And now she hoped to find squash bees in the garden’s vegetable patch, where squash and other vegetables are tested for suitability to the local environment.

Clad in just shorts and T-shirt, Ets-Hokin looked rather vulnerable, considering she was about to go bee hunting. But, as she explained, there was no imminent threat of stings: female bees only sting those who threaten their nest, and male bees have no stingers.

“Male squash bees live to drink (nectar) and have sex with female squash bees,” Ets-Hokin joked, as Rollin Coville, a lanky entomologist who has photographed insects for three decades, joined the squash bee hunt.

Dressed in a hat, slacks, and vest and hauling a state-of-the art camera, Coville was hoping to get shots of the elusive male squash bees, which emerge in late summer and can sometimes be found taking naps in the squash blossoms in the afternoon.

Last year Ets-Hokin produced a 2010 native bee calendar highlighting Coville’s kickass images and informative sidebars on how to attract these native pollinators to urban yards.

This year she focused on the importance of bee habitat on farms in face of proposed food safety regulations that could undermine existing federal bee conservation programs. And she hoped to use Coville’s squash bee photographs as her August 2011 pin-up shot.

But before we could escape Ets-Hokin’s yard, Coville quickly withdrew a clear vial from his vest pocket, popped it over a bee on a nearby flower, then corked the vial.

The bee began to buzz furiously.

“I think it’s a Anthidium maculosum,” Coville declared as he uncorked the vial and let what turned out to be a territorial wool carder bee go back to its business of guarding nectar in a nearby plant.

We eventually reached the trial gardens, where Coville showed me how to pry open the fleshy yellow squash flowers that lie half-hidden below the plant’s massive prickly leaves atop budding zucchini that threaten to grow as big as canoes if left unpicked.

The first dozen squash blossoms were vacant, save for a few ants and beetles, and Coville wondered aloud if late rains and a cold snap had decimated bee populations.

But then I found a squash bee sitting inside a flower like a king on a bright yellow throne. And at the next flower, six squash bees were gently napping inside.

As I tried to hold the fleshy flower petals open so Coville could photograph these sleepy males, one petal began to vibrate loudly. I let go and a male bee unwrapped itself from the petal and zoomed away into the undergrowth.

At the end of the afternoon when I thanked Ets-Hokin for inviting me on the bee hunt, she turned to Coville and laughed, “I told you she was easily entertained.”

For information about native bees, visit www.xerces.org/pollinator-resource-center.


From Alps to Arp



MUSIC Taking its name from the 1982 final edition in Brian Eno’s ambient series, the On Land Festival is in some ways a younger relative of the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (as well as a prelude to it). Attuned to grain of sound as much as volume, unlike popular music fests, it isn’t as concerned with expansion or unlikely pairings as with the enhanced appreciation that can result when artists with a kinship are brought together. Grouper is back, and this year, Oneohtrix Point Never appears amid online raves and a recent collaboration with Antony Hegarty. On Land also sees the return of former SF resident Alexis Georgopolous, who’s had a hand in two excellent 2010 albums, The Alps’ spring release Le Voyage (Type) and Arp’s brand-new The Soft Wave (Smalltown Supersound). Alps are playing On Land while Arp isn’t, but because the Guardian covered Le Voyage earlier this year, the time seemed right to check in with Georgopolous about The Soft Wave.

SFBG There is a more pastoral quality to the music of both The Soft Wave and FRKWYS, Vol. 3, your recent collaboration with Anthony Moore. To me this is interesting because I just got off the phone with a musician and former New Yorker who talked about the lack of nature in New York City in relation to the Bay Area. Arp’s music has a strong elemental feel to it, one suggestive of oceans or the cosmos, but this more pastoral atmosphere is new in a way, so I’m wondering about its inspirational sources.

Alexis Georgopolous I like the idea of conjuring the natural world with analog synthesizers. It’s true that the current vogue is for ultra-artificial sound. It’s become trendy to exploit all the present synth sounds that were off limits, that were just too cheesy. Some good music has come of that opening up of the floodgates — Ariel Pink, Oneohtrix, James Ferraro. But I can’t say I know where this zeitgeist is leading. It might not be good.

But though there are some new age gems to be found, I’m not into just anything that purports to be “cosmic” or has a synth on it and happens to be obscure or ignored.

SFBG The Soft Wave was recorded onto two-inch tape. What is it about two-inch tape that attract or appeals to you in terms of the resulting sound?

AG Most of my favorite records were recorded to tape. There’s just something about it, the way that things can sound far away but also very present. Now everything is just butted right up against your ears. There’s no space between you and the sound. It’s just a wall. If you record 16 tracks or less on two-inch, the space on the tape itself creates a spaciousness, a wide angle. If digital gives you a blank space to inform, tape adds its own atmosphere.

SFBG Was it a major step to move vocals to the foreground as you do on Soft Wave‘s “From a Balcony Overlooking the Sea”? I realize you’ve sung or used your voice a little before in other projects, but your voice is central to the song, and its arrival occurs within what otherwise is an instrumental recording. It’s a bold gesture in that context.

AG It was simply a song that needed to be sung, not just played. It was written at a time when I’d realized the California chapter of my life, significant as it was to me, was over. It was, um, emotional. I’d seen so many friends leave and though I still have many dear, dear friends in San Francisco, it just felt that the time had come and I would be doing something wrong if I chose to ignore it. I had to leave. It sounds desperately corny, but I was literally choking back tears when I did the first take — which we ended up using.

I’d written and demoed a number of songs with words and vocals for The Soft Wave sessions. But after listening to what had been recorded, “From A Balcony” seemed appropriate while the others seemed destined for another album, the next album.

Initially, the idea of including just one song with vocals on an album seemed bizarre. But then, the unlikeliness of it all — the fact that I couldn’t think of an album that did that — began to appeal to me. The next album will be entirely vocal songs. “From A Balcony” is the bridge to the next record.

SFBG “High Life” also marks an overt step into melodicism. In some ways it’s so immediate or classic it sounds like a cover (forgive my ignorance if it is indeed one). Can you tell me a bit about the creation of that song?

AG Ha! That’s great. Well, it’s my own tune. But I’d be curious to know if you know of a song that sounds like it! That reminds me of the story about Paul McCartney waking up with the melody from “Yesterday” in his head. It was already so fully formed, so familiar in his dream, he was convinced it probably wasn’t his own tune. Some record executives looked into it, really looked high and low for a preexisting song that sounded like it. They didn’t find it. So McCartney recorded the song. I think it’s the most covered song of all time. Alas, I digress!

“High Life” is just a joyful little tune. Something to lighten things up after recording “From A Balcony.” It’s a bit cheeky, innit? I was sort of going for a Holger Czukay solo album feel, when he was into West African music and Fairlight synthesizers. I love Malcolm McLaren’s track “Obatala” (from 1983’s Duck Rock). It’s always struck me as sounding a lot like late-’70s Can. Like ethnological synth forgery. Fourth world.


With Oneohtrix Point Never, White Rainbow, Pete Swanson, Operative, Robert A.A. Lowe, Eli Kezsler and Ashley Paul, Golden Retriever

Fri/3, 7:30 p.m., $10 ($45 for four-night festival pass)

Cafe du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016



With Zelionople, Xela, Date Palms, Grasslung, Metal Rouge, Le Revelateur

Sat/4, 7:30 p.m. $10 ($45 for four-night festival pass)

Cafe du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016


Portraits of Jason



HAIRY EYEBALL “The black queen is not interested in sympathy,” intones the artist Tim Roseborough dryly in Portrait of Jason II: Rebirth of the B*tch , his “sequel” to Shirley Clarke’s 1967 film Portrait of Jason. It’s one of many verbal snaps issued by Roseborough’s piece, a séance with and tribute to its titular subject currently on view at the tiny Scenius Gallery.

The Jason is question is Jason Holliday, who, for close to 100 minutes, gives Clarke’s near-static 16mm camera the performance of a lifetime. In an uninterrupted stream of speech filmed mostly in medium close-up, Holliday holds forth on the life experiences, aspirations, and observations he’s picked up as an African American, a gay man, an ex hustler, and a showbiz dreamer.

As the culled remains of the 12-hour shoot roll on and Clarke loads in new reel after new reel, Holliday’s finger poppin’ sassy front gradually gives way to flashes of deep-rooted pain and vodka-fueled rage, culminating in a tear-streaked finale that qualifies as one of the most unsettling moments in American documentary film.

Dressed in Jason drag — Coke bottle glasses, a natty white shirt, and dark blazer — and speaking in Holliday’s jivey cadence, Roseborough resurrects Clarke’s subject as a ghost from the past commenting on current events (Obama is discussed) and a cultural climate worlds away from the pre-Stonewall moment of Portrait.

Things get more interesting when Roseborough uses his performance of Jason to dive into how race and gender are affectively coded in Clarke’s film. The above quote is spoken in the midst of a disquisition on representations of “the queeny black man” as either an object of (presumably white) pity — here he brings up Paris is Burning — or exotic fascination (RuPaul), who is invariably collapsed with the figure of the drag queen.

Although it bears the look of its source material, Roseborough’s piece fundamentally differs from Clarke’s film in its presentation. Shot on single-channel video, Roseborough’s movie is shown on DVD. At my viewing session, I was given a remote allowing me to skip around between chapters, effectively taking in as much or as little of his Jason as I would like. Of course, when watching the original Portrait, you can up and leave the theater at any time (many viewers have in the two screenings I’ve attended), but its grueling duration and unrelenting pace are also what gives Jason’s performance, and Clarke’s film, their urgency.

Roseborough’s Jason might be more effective if unleashed across YouTube instead of confined to the by-appointment-only limitations of Scenius’ white cube (although, even former reigning queen Kalup Linzy has moved on and up to episodes of General Hospital). I’m glad the bitch is back, but I’d like to have a clearer sense of the stakes behind Roseborough’s new portrait.



There are scads more shows opening just around the corner that space limits me from including in last week’s fall arts preview. That said, here are a few more current and upcoming exhibits worth seeking out in the coming weeks:

Composed of hundreds of miniature landscapes inspired by Western landscape painting, Sean McFarland’s refracted view of California’s blues, browns, greens, and golds turns Adobe Books’ back room into an exploded postcard shop.

At the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the cleverly titled “Black Sabbath” examines how black artists used Jewish music as way to define African American identity, history, and politics. The Idelsohn Society of Musical Preservation, which curated CJM’s recent “Jews on Vinyl” exhibit, has uncovered all sorts of hidden-in-plain-sight encounters between black and Jewish musical cultures, from Cab Calloway doing Yiddish jive to Johnny Mathis singing the Aramaic prayer “Kol Nidre.”

Radiohead fans know Stanley Donwood as the go-to cover artist and frequent artistic collaborator for the British rock group’s albums from The Bends onward. “Over Normal,” Donwood’s first stateside solo exhibit, features many of the painter’s colorful “word map” canvases, whose wavy, grid-like structures (based on the street layouts of major world cities) are filled in with politically resonant and controversially juxtaposed words (see the cover for 2003’s Hail to the Thief). 


Through Sept. 10


3150 18th St., Suite 104, SF

(415) 420-2509



Through Sept. 19

Adobe Books Backroom Gallery

3166 16th St, SF

(415) 864-3936



Through March 1, 2011

Contemporary Jewish Museum

736 Mission, SF

(415) 655-7800




Thurs/2 through Oct. 27

218 Fillmore, SF

(415) 861-1960



Notes on a scandal



FILM To what extent is our government prepared to lie to us? Not just on a policy level, but a personal level, perverting actual instances of heroic self-sacrifice into propagandistic pablum? The answer during our prior White House administration was clearly: as far as possible, until caught.

Perhaps the most egregious such instance was the case of Pat Tillman, who gave up a lucrative NFL contract, becoming a U.S. Army Ranger enlistee in a burst of genuine patriotic fervor post-9/11. He was subsequently killed in Afghanistan — but the “friendly fire” circumstances of that death, and its apparent cover-up, scandalized not only his military superiors but a command chain of deliberate disinformation stretching all the way to the White House.

Amir Bar-Lev’s The Tillman Story is a documentary expose of unusual immediacy, narrative thrust, and outrage, which may partly stem from its being such a Bay Area story. The deceased subject’s South Bay family were diehard liberals dedicated to values that might be considered eccentric anywhere else, prizing honest intellectual adventure above such niceties as “clean” language. (Pat and his two younger brothers, as seen here, were/are cheerfully potty-mouthed.)

The mistake authorities made in casting Tillman’s death as a battlefield martyrdom — a scenario amply undermined by footage and testimony here — lay in underestimating the well-educated skepticism and doggedness of his blood relations, most notably mom, Mary. While other families rendered military ones by virtue of economic hardship and poor educational and career opportunities might have simply accepted an official scenario, the Tillmans found logistical gaps, then pushed, and pushed. It took two Congressional inquiries to prove their suspicions right.

Tillman was a golden boy of rare stripe: a natural athlete who overcame relatively small size (5-feet, 11 inches) to become a star tackle; a team player who turned down a $9 million St. Louis Rams contract out of loyalty to the Arizona Cardinals; a Noam Chomsky fan who abandoned pro sports to serve “freedom” abroad. He then refused to ditch his three-year Army term early (despite under-the-table negotiations between the government and the NFL) though he was already severely disillusioned by what he’d seen in Iraq.

When sent on a second tour of duty to Afghanistan, Tillman was only finishing what he considered a contract of honor. He was no longer at all sure about the righteousness of the cause. He was killed, it seems, senselessly — hardly an unusual casualty-of-war scenario. But his case was defiled by blatant official lies that manipulated this critical free-thinker into sacrificial poster boy for the “war on terror” in its most simplistic terms.

The Tillman Story is a journey toward justice (if not nearly enough). It’s engrossing, appalling, heartrending, and enraging, the nonfiction equivalent to last year’s underseen body bag drama The Messenger. It’s far from a worthy slog — Bar-Lev, who directed the brilliant prior doc My Kid Could Paint That (about a controversial, possibly rigged “child artist” success), retains a firm lock on narrative engagement in this less vérité context. It punches the emotions as hard as the originally intended title: I’m Pat Fucking Tillman, named after the subject’s recorded last words as he desperately tried to identify himself to testosterone over-amped “friendly” shooters who should have been watching his back.

THE TILLMAN STORY opens Fri/3 in Bay Area theaters.

Father knows best?


FILM A man, his wife, and their three children live in a country house with a swimming pool and a huge yard enclosed by a high fence. So far, so good. But the kids, who don’t have names, appear to be in their 20s. They’ve never left the property, and they won’t, Dad (Christos Stergioglou) says, until they lose a “dogtooth,” at which time they’ll be mature enough to deal with the terrors of the outside world. In the meantime, they’re trapped in the only world they’ve ever known, carefully constructed by their domineering father.

Dad’s laws shape just about everything, from language (to them, a “phone” is a salt shaker) to entertainment (lots of physical, competitive games); he tosses plastic airplanes into the garden and tells the kids they fell from the sky. He also provides his son (Christos Passalis) with a sex partner (the two daughters get zilch), a security guard (Anna Kalaitzidou) who woodenly services the lad and is paid for her time and her discretion.

Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos, who picked up the Prize Un Certain Regard at Cannes for this slice of disturbing domesticity, offers little explanation for Dad’s motives, or why Mom (Michelle Valley) goes along with his plan. They watch porn, so they’re not religious extremists. Dad isn’t fooling around with the daughters (though incest among the siblings is eventually, creepily encouraged). The only hint comes from one of few scenes set outside the family’s compound, in which Dad goes to check on the progress of the family’s soon-to-be new dog (the plan is, of course, to tell the kids that Mom has given birth to it). “Dogs are like clay, and our job here is to mold them,” the trainer explains. “Every dog is waiting for us to show it how to behave.” Indeed. It’s pretty clear Dad — master of his own private North Korea — is aware of that concept.

Though Dogtooth‘s main themes enfold cruelty and child abuse, it also deploys the kind of black humor and button-pushing that fans of shock-trader Harmony Korine would appreciate. There is casual violence, extreme animal cruelty, full-frontal nudity, several disturbing sex scenes, and maybe the most alarming dance routine ever captured on film. Its performer, the family’s eldest daughter (Aggeliki Papoulia), has been pushed to the brink. Clandestine newness — a coveted sparkly headband, a crash course in cunnilingus, and especially the discovery of the wonderful world of Hollywood (including 1976’s Rocky) — has made her stir-crazy. Though it’s unclear how this half-formed human would fare in the outside world, it’s impossible not to root for a jailbreak.

DOGTOOTH opens Fri/3 at the Sundance Kabuki.

Northern lite



SUPER EGO My friends, there is another America. One where the teeth are clean, the streets nonthreatening, the nightlife tidy, the needle exchanges plentiful, and the gays legitimized. No, not Guam or Puerto Rico: I’m talking about Canada. OK, OK, one would be hard-pressed to identify any fierce contemporary regional dance music exported from the Great White North — there is no son Canuck — yet techno artists from Richie Hawtin (hard at work compiling a 25-year Plastikman retrospective) to Circlesquare (whose recent Robert Longo-ripping vid for “Dancers” caused several international heart palpitations) have at least kept Canada on the electronic music map. And there’s a thriving hip-hop scene as well, although rappable subjects of urban strife in this most civilized of countries are mostly restricted to stern public transit inspectors and spotty free wireless.

I just zipped back from four days in dazzling British Columbian hot spots Victoria and Vancouver, and while I came across no glorious cybernetic dance hybrid of Scottish strathsprey and Inupiat blanket toss, northern nutters like Calgary filter hip-house duo Smalltown DJs and deliciously deep divers Eames and Fatso of Victoria’s Soft Wear party caught my roving ears. Also discovered: Canada might be irony-free. At otherwise fantastic alterna-faggy party Queerbash, the boys and girls may have been torn from my hunky, uninhibited lumberjack fantasies and the stout drag queens unafraid to creatively camp up odd diva house classics like Sunkids’ “Rise Up” — but the tunes were pure Gaga-wave punctuated by 2k7 Britney, which I guess is retro now? And can every pop “club remix” stop sounding like someone scratching a new pair of nylons over the telephone? Elastic-synthetic, I get it. Still, the punky kids ate it up with nary a wink, and it would have been too impolite not to join in. But Canada, dear Canada: your homosexual party music drives me loony. Please fix.



Two of the biggest indie dance clubs team up again for rock debauchery, with DJs Omar and Aaron Axelsen and live gigs from localistas the Limousines and Lilofee.

Fri/3, 10 p.m., $13. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com



The kids behind this incredibly popular and stylish retro-disco affair are ending on a high note — on this, their four-year anniversary, they’re packing up the mirrorball and move-move-moving on. Do the hustle, shed a tear with DJs Vin Sol, Nicky B., and Derrick Love, and hosts Le Dinosaur and Christopher McVick.

Sat/4, 10 p.m., $5. UndergroundSF, 424 Haight, SF. www.geminidisco.com



He’s not from the Motor City and the only drums are your feet on the dance floor, but knob-nymph Danilo Plessow from Stuttgart sure knows his way around dance music history. He’s exemplary of a new wave of German techno-ists who aren’t afraid of that little thing called “funky.” Catch him opening for revered slow-and-low Frankfurt producer Roman Flugel (once described as “Patrick Cowley on ketamine”) at the monthly Kontrol party.

Sat/4, 10 p.m.–late, $20. EndUp, 401 Sixth St., SF. www.kontrolsf.com



For a dozen tight moons, DJ Bus Station John has carved out a monthly space at wondrously gritty mid-Market dive the Hotspot for cruise-y gentlemen with low goals and high minds. Revel in lusty disco rarities, luridly cheap drinks, upstairs pocket-pool, and several indecent exposures.

Sat/4, 10 p.m., $5. The Hotspot, 1414 Market, SF.



It’s a three-day weekend with no Burners — let’s celebrate! Looong-running parties Stompy and Sunset once again team up to flood the Cocomo all day with funky house sounds and a distinct lack of fun fur and yarn braids. With DJs Galen, Solar, Tasho, Deron, and tons more.

Sun/5, 2 p.m.–2 a.m., $20. Café Cocomo, 650 Indiana, SF. www.pacificsound.net



Another play for the Playa-less — super-bendy drag lady Suppositori Spelling’s weekly gender clown hoot kicks out the jams (watch those heels) with a lineup of bedazzled performers actively protesting Burning Man’s “no glitter, no feathers” anti-drag policy. Guest hostess VivvyAnne Forevermore soaks you with love.

Sun/5, 9 p.m., $4. Truck, 1900 Folsom, SF. www.trucksf.com

Curry Boyzz



DINE If no good deed goes unpunished, then it must follow, by some inexorable law, that no rule goes unbroken — not even my cherished guidance that oft-flipped restaurant spaces in this city tend to end up as Japanese places. Sometimes spaces go in another direction — like toward the Asian subcontinent. Early in the year, Curry Boyzz opened on a second-floor space, across 18th Street from DeLano’s Market, that for a number of years had been the home of Côte Sud, a credible French restaurant, and before that a Cuban spot.

The space is one of the more appealing in the area, in large part because of a glassed-in terrace that gives an expansive view over the street scene. Côte Sud made some tasty Parisian-style hay from this terrace while meaningfully contributing toward an elevation of culinary standards in the Castro.

But the times, they are a’ changin,’ and by the look of it, not for the better. People are more sensitive about bang-for-buck ratios than they were just three or four years ago, and hardly any culinary tradition gives you more bang for the buck than the south Asian (or, as the menu card puts it, “Indian-Pak”). In this important respect, Curry Boyzz (a sibling of Curry Stop in the Barbary Coast) doesn’t disappoint, although they might have spelled it “Bois” if they were interested in upping the twink, or at least the twink-involved, traffic.

You know you are in downmarket-land when you order at a counter and carry a number to your table. At Curry Boyzz you are further on your own scaring up utensils and napkins from bins near the entrance to the terrace. But — a thoughtful touch — there’s also a refrigerator filled with carafes of water, a flourish that puts this crucial matter right in your hands.

The menu includes many Indian staples, ably prepared, along with some unexpected items. Several involve karela, or bitter melon. It turned up cooked, with various meats, and also on its own ($5.99), rather pretty striped green strips in a stew with ginger, garlic, and onions. “Bitter” is a word that has no good connotation in America, where palatal pleasures tend to revolve around an infantile sweet tooth. But bitterness is one of the basic tastes, and is therefore essential. When moderated and modulated, as here, by strong counter-presences, it becomes something rich, deep, and satisfying.

Another dish I couldn’t recall having seen before was lamb cholay ($7.99), knuckles of meat cooked with chickpeas — but maybe that was just because my spice eye tends to be drawn toward lamb vindaloo. The cholay edition was well-behaved in the chili-heat department; its most obvious characteristic, in fact, was the presence of so many bones to be navigated around.

Tikka masala so often means chicken tikka masala, chunks of boneless meat simmered in a creamy curry sauce, but fish ($9.99) works just as well. We liked the big pieces, almost like whole filets instead of the more typical chicken chunks. And we loved the palak paneer ($5.99), the classic dish of spinach and chunks of white cheese, for its mysterious, transporting spice breath. Did I catch a whiff of some extra cardamom in there?

The ancillary items were also reliable. Pappadum (99 cents) were crisp and glistening with a sheen of oil. (Not all sheens of oil are undesirable.) Naan, on the other hand, weren’t glistening; they had the dry, slightly chapped faces of pita bread. Luckily, naan need not be moist and oily to succeed. Indeed, since naan chunks tend to get used to mop up sauce, a bit of dryness and absorbency is preferable, as with bath towels.

We were a little surprised to find the keema naan ($2.99), a flatbread disk stuffed with what the menu card called “ground meat” — shades of freshman-year mystery meat! but the faint gaminess suggested lamb — to be nearly as dry as its unstuffed sibling. No matter: it was good for sopping, and we had plenty to sop.

Considering that the terrace is glassed-in, we found the presence of bugs — tiny bugs, smaller than gnats — to be both ironic and irritating. But maybe even the bugs (or do I mean bugzz?) have found this cold and gloomy summer (the chilliest in nearly 40 years, say the TV weather boffins) to be tough going, and, like us, find themselves seeking shelter inside. 


Sun.–Thurs., noon–11 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., noon–2 a.m.

4238 18th St., SF

(415) 255-6565


Beer and wine


Modest noise

Not wheelchair accessible


alt.sex.column: My sibling’s keeper


Dear Andrea:

I’m having a problem with my brother. He wants to become a priest, and even though I want to be happy for him I cannot help but worry because in high school he told me that he thought he might be gay.

I’m worried that his secret desire will drive him to molest alter boys and I would rather he be a normal gay person than a priest who has relations with young men. How can I get him to talk to me? Should I tell him not to be a priest?


Concerned Sister

Dear Sis:

You do not have “a problem with your brother.” You may be troubled about him, but it is not your problem. You’re really not your brother’s keeper and it would likely improve relations between the two of you if you stopped appointing yourself such. As he probably told you at some point in your mutual childhood, “Mind your own beeswax.”

I doubt you can “get” him to talk about any of this with you. I do hope, for his sake, that he’s not jumping into anything, and that he truly feels called to the priesthood and is not seeking it out as a place to hide from his sexuality. That, very obviously and very famously, does not work. Please, please, do not make the mistake of confusing gay men, who are attracted to, well, men, with the evil fucks whose molestation of young boys in their care has come to light in recent years. Decent human beings do not become predators merely out of convenience or lack of access to more acceptable choices. Your brother may end up unhappy (celibacy and service not being everyone’s cup of tea), but he will not become an abuser merely by virtue of taking up the collar.

As for you, an honest mistake here and there, born out of naiveté, is one thing, but if you make the mistake of conflating gay men and child abusers, not only will your brother not want to talk to you, neither will I or most other nice people.  

Love, Andrea

Dear Andrea:

My sister is a lesbian, which I think is fine. For her birthday, I got her a card that said “bitch.” I thought it was funny, but she got mad and won’t talk to me. Do lesbians not like the word “bitch” or is she just overreacting? Do I have to say I’m sorry? Love, Oops, Wrong Card

Dear Card:

Of course you should apologize. Whether or not your sister is displaying a certain stick-up-her-buttness about the (probably) harmless card (she is), you did offend her. You’re not children any more and you are not going to get into a “she started it” loop at this point. You’re just not.

Apologize, and when you do, do not tell her that its “just fine” that she’s a lesbian. That is not your call and will just piss her off more. And don’t ask her why lesbians don’t like the word “bitch.” Whether or not you think it’s fair, the word is best left to dog fanciers and ironic self-describers.  

Love, Andrea

Got a question? Email Andrea at andrea@mail.alsexcolumn.com



Turf politics



MUSIC Messy Marv, a.k.a. The Boy Boy Young Mess, is probably San Francisco’s most popular rapper. Within the city, fellow Fillmore District native San Quinn remains SF’s icon, but, as Will Bronson, head of SMC Recordings, says: “Once you cross that [Bay} Bridge, it’s Mess.” According to Saeed Crumpler, the rap buyer for Rasputin, the prolific Mess outsells everyone in the Bay save E-40 and The Jacka, often having three or four CDs among the store’s top 20 rap chart. SMC has thus tapped the raspy-voiced gangsta rapper to preside over the just-released compilation Thizz City, first of a Frisco-focused series paralleling the label’s Oakland-oriented imprint Town Thizzness.

“We’re trying to brand the city and showcase the talent and the up and coming talent,” Mess says of Thizz City, a partnership between SMC and Thizz Entertainment, hence the name. “People can get on my promotion as far as where I’m at in my career.”

True to this conception, Thizz City attempts to represent all of the city’s scattered hoods, with a lineup that ranges from enduring O.G.s like Lakeview’s Cellski to new acts like Roach Gigz, a white kid from the Fillmore. Yet behind this apparent display of unity lurks an inconvenient truth: SF rappers don’t get along. By comparison, Oakland is a rap utopia — not that there’s never beef so much as the prominent acts tend to find common cause in the endless quest to make it big.

“In Oakland, they come together,” says Killa Keise, also of Lakeview. Keise, who began recording with Cellski at 12 and later hooked up with Hunters Point’s Guce, is simultaneously a vet and a young act, one of several slated for a Thizz City album later this year. “We just did a video shoot in Oakland for Guce and all the Oakland rappers came out to support it,” Killa says. “But there really wasn’t that Frisco support.”

The lack of camaraderie in SF is evident, and neutrality is frequently not an option. I’ve confirmed stories, off the record, of people being threatened just for recording with another rapper’s rival, and never have I been forced to have so many off-the-record conversations to get a picture of what’s happening. In Oakland, threats are generally reserved for someone who owes someone money, not for guilt by association. But in SF, where the African American population has shrunk from 13 percent to 6.5 percent since 1970 (according to an Aug. 8, 2008 article in the San Francisco Chronicle), street politics tend to exert more pressure on its necessarily smaller rap scene.



Mess’s situation is instructive. Currently he’s prepping his first full-blown solo album in several years, Waken Dey Cook Game Up, due this month from his own company, Scalen LLC/Click Clack Records. Produced largely by Mess’s longtime collaborator Sean T, who also made Mac Dre’s classic “Fellin’ Myself,” Waken will be the Fillmore rapper’s first big release as The Boy Boy Young Mess. It’s also a serious bid for chart action, with singles featuring Keyshia Cole (whom Mess discovered in the late 1990s) and Houston rapper Chalie Boy, whose 2009 independent hit “I Look Good” snagged him a deal with Jive. Clearly Mess has similar major label ambitions, and Chalie Boy proves that despite rap’s youth bias, a 30-year-old underground legend like Mess himself can still fulfill them. (In the age of Jay-Z, 30 is the new 25.)

“If one of us makes it from Frisco, we all make it,” says Guce, articulating the regional rap logic that has turned once-fledgling scenes like Houston into national powerhouses. But the SF rap scene hasn’t rallied around Mess the way the entire Bay seemed to support Jacka for last year’s Billboard-charting Tear Gas (SMC). This is partly due to feuds that have divided the Fillmore itself. A vicious beef with San Quinn two years ago has left lingering tension. Their battle was shocking because Quinn and Mess literally grew up under the same roof — Mess lived with Quinn’s family for a time — and the two have recorded together since they were teens.

“It was an ugly fight because they knew too much about each other,” says Fillmore’s Big Rich, who is in the studio working on his new album, Built to Last, with his protégés, Evenodds. “When Rick Ross and 50-Cent beef, they don’t know each other like that. It’s very nonpersonal. But these two brothers, every line they said was real.”

Just as this beef was “officially” squashed, another exploded between Mess and his former associates the Taliban (Young Boo and Homewrecka), which the group airs on Thizz City. The reasons for the dispute are less clear than the duo’s mode of attack, which is to question Mess’ street cred due to his recent absence from the Bay. On probation after his second weapons conviction — one strike away from serious prison time — Mess relocated to Miami in 2008 to focus on his music and his new endeavors Scalen Clothing and Scalen Films.

“When you break away and do other things, you get negative shit: ‘He ain’t fuck with the hood no more. He ain’t got money no more,'<0x2009>” Mess says during our phone interview. “Ain’t nobody run me out of Fillmore. I go wherever the fuck I please. I got out of jail and moved myself because I don’t want to go through that situation no more.”

This is an eternal dilemma, not limited to SF. A gangsta rapper faces an unrealistic if not impossible demand: to maintain credibility, you’re supposed to simultaneously get rich and stay in the hood.

“A lot of my people are brainwashed to believe you’re supposed to be in the hood and stay there,” Mess says. “That’s not what it’s supposed to be. I want to break the cycle. I have a kid. I don’t want him to go through the shit I went through. So I’m doing what I need to do for what’s better for my kid.”



No rap scene is immune to street politics, but the degree to which they affect SF is more extreme than anywhere else in the Bay. To every rapper I spoke with, I put the same question: why? Big Rich links the widespread volatility to both the depressed economy and drug abuse.

“The turf war in SF hip-hop is because niggas ain’t eatin’ enough,” Rich says. “Only a few of us can live off rap. And a few aren’t livin’ the way they used to because of the economy. That’s problem No 2. Problem No. 1 is drugs. A lot of Frisco rappers do cocaine and ecstasy, and drugs alter your thought process and your actions. So you get the drugs mixed in with the street politics and the lack of money being circulated.”

Another answer comes from the Fillmore’s DaVinci, a rising star originally from Quinn’s Done Deal camp. In March, DaVinci released his debut, The Day the Turf Stood Still (SWTBRDS), one of the most powerful, thought-provoking recent Bay Area albums, using gangsta rap to explore the problems of urban life. (The album is available for purchase or for free at www.swtbrds.com/DaVinci) As on his album, DaVinci suggests that gentrification is the root of many problems that bleed into the SF’s rap scene.

“Not only did gentrification break up families, but families that stayed let personal problems get in the way of coming together,” DaVinci said. “Fillmore used to be a whole, and now it’s broken up into different sections. Families who were keeping it together moved or got bought out of they houses, and we’re left with sprinkles of people who don’t know each other well. Or the second generation from them isn’t able to connect the dots like, ‘Oh, my pops used to go to school with him; he’s cool.’ It wasn’t instantly beef, but it was more like, ‘I ain’t fuckin with them.'<0x2009>”

As the aforementioned Chronicle article notes, SF has the most rapidly dwindling black population in the country, and the Fillmore, prime real estate in the middle of one of the most expensive cities on earth, has particularly felt the squeeze.

“The neighborhood’s shrinking every year,” DaVinci says. “It’s like, first you had two blocks for your territory, now you only got half a block. You do whatever you can to protect your half-block, even if it means you just fuck with these two niggas on your block. People don’t trust each other. And that’s reflected in the music because the music always reflects what’s going on in the neighborhood.”

Everyone I spoke with agrees that the lack of unity in SF rap is a problem. It’s bad for business, even locally. Town Thizzness, for example, has been thriving since 2008 while Thizz City is just getting off the ground, though they were conceived at the same time. “It’s like there’s a dark cloud over the city,” DEO of Evenodds sighs.

Occasionally a ray of light breaks through. Berner, a Mexican Italian SF native whose duo projects with the likes of Jacka also made Billboard noise, recently brokered what seemed impossible: getting Mess and Quinn on the same track — twice! — for his new collaboration with Mess, Blow (Blocks and Boatdocks) from Bern One Entertainment.

“I’m a fan first,” Berner says. “To be able to bring them together after all the problems is the greatest feeling in the world.”

They may have recorded their parts on opposite coasts without personal interaction, but that Mess and Quinn agreed to appear together sends a powerful message. Yet the tension in SF rap runs far deeper than any one dispute and Rich, for one, is tired of it.

“People be like, ‘We need a meeting, all the rappers come out,'<0x2009>” he says. “Every meeting, niggas say ‘This is what we need to do, this is what we gonna do,’ then everyone puts their hand in the circle and we break out the huddle. And niggas go out that room like, ‘Fuck that nigga.’ So I gotta carve my own lane and stay in it.”

Burners in flux



Temples are the spiritual centers and gathering places for the communities that build them, standing as testaments to their faith. In traditional culture, they are lasting monuments. At Burning Man, these complex, beautiful structures are destroyed at the end of the festival.

Building something that takes months to plan, design, and construct but lasts only a week takes an unusual attitude and a faith — not in some unknowable deity, but in one another and the value of collective artistic collaboration. In many ways, the Temple of Flux, this year’s spiritual centerpiece on the playa, represents the essence of an event that is redefining the American counterculture.

Burning Man has been experiencing a renaissance in recent years as it moves from a wild bohemian celebration on the open frontier into a permanent counterculture with well-developed urban values, vast social networks, and regional manifestations around the world.

The Temple of Flux crew toiled for months in West Oakland’s huge, burner-run American Steel workspace, designing, cutting, painting, and assembling the parts and pieces of what would become five massive wooden structures. And for the last few weeks, they camped and worked in the desert to create what looks like a stunning series of peaks and canyons, dotted with caves and niches that tens of thousands of visitors will explore this week.

Even with volunteer labor, this 21,600 square foot project cost $180,000. And on Sunday, Sept. 5th, it will be completely destroyed by a carefully orchestrated fire. Yet its real value will linger on in the spirit, skills, and community that created it. And that’s true of many of the projects that comprise Black Rock City and this year’s particularly timely art theme: Metropolis: The Life of Cities.

The city that nearly 50,000 citizens build for Burning Man each year is one of world’s great urban centers while it stands, with mind-blowing art and world-class entertainment offered free to all in a stunning visual environment. The $210–$360 ticket that people buy to attend the event only entitles them to help build the city.

But it doesn’t last — the city is dismantled entirely, and some of the most impressive art is destroyed. Why do people devote months of their lives to build art that will be burned in a week?

An ambitious undertaking like the Temple of Flux required five carefully packed semi trucks to move and a mind-boggling logistical effort to construct in the hostile world of the Nevada desert. Making it happen was like a full-time unpaid job for four months for many of the more than 200 diverse volunteers.

I spent four months embedded with the crew and helped build the Temple, seeking to understand what drove the artists and builders. The question is pronounced, the answers varied, but it comes down to one of the defining characteristics of Burning Man: the process, the work, the experience, the challenge, and the ability to bond with and learn from others was far more important than the final product.

The three project principals and designers — Rebecca Anders, Jessica Hobbs, and PK Kimelman — have been lauded within the Burning Man community, but they say they are humbled by the efforts of the team that supported them and their vision.

“I was under the impression that I’d have to call in a lot of favors, but people have been coming out of the woodwork,” PK, a veteran of the Space Cowboys sound collective who is new to making large-scale art, told me in the desert. “It’s a very diverse group of people in their personalities and backgrounds, but it’s amazing how it’s become just one cohesive group without any factions.”

Indeed, a steady in-flow of volunteers showed up, ranging from experienced builders and grizzled Burning Man veterans to first-time burners (and a few who weren’t even attending the event) with no relevant skills but a desire to help in any way they can. Almost all said they were honored to simply be a part of the project and were willing to devote themselves to it.

“I’ve been amazed by people’s dedication and devotion. That doesn’t necessarily happen in the real world,” PK said.

This was a project that required an immense commitment, from raising the $120,000 needed to supplement a $60,000 art grant from Burning Man organizers to the thousands of person-hours required to build and burn it. And there were many unexpected obstacles to overcome along the way, such as when PayPal froze the group’s finances just as they were leaving for the playa.



The only set pieces at Burning Man each year are the Man and the Temple, which get burned on successive nights as the week ends. Only the base of the Man changes each year, but the Temple gets designed from scratch. This is the first year the Temple isn’t a traditional building, but rather a throwback to precivilization.

The temple’s structure resembles five dunes, named for notable ridges, canyons, and land forms — Antelope, Bryce, Cayuga, Dumont, and El Dorado — the latter the biggest at more than 80 feet tall. Together they form sheltering canyons and create a contrast to the event’s Metropolis art theme and the tower that the Man stands on this year.

“Before we even discussed it together, we all gravitated toward the idea of natural formations, and the more we talked about it, the more it made sense. We wanted to relate Metropolis back to where we came from,” said Jessica Hobbs, who has done several large-scale artworks at Burning Man, last year creating Fishbug with fellow Temple artist Rebecca Anders.

Rebecca and Jess are veterans of the fire arts collective Flaming Lotus Girls (see “Angels of the Apocalypse,” 8/17/05), whose members are playing key roles with the Temple project as the group takes a year off. Rebecca has known PK since college and they’ve long talked about doing a big project together. The opportunity presented itself this year when Burning Man officials approached Jess and Rebecca about doing the Temple.

An architect by training, PK said the design and theme aren’t as incongruous as they might initially seem. “If the city was going to be architectural, then the Temple should stand in counterpoint to that and go back to where our collective enterprise began. Man originally sought shelter and dwelling in the land, in caves, and in canyons, and it was only after existing in the cradle of the earth, literally, that man then started making and building structures that became more and more elaborate … and we relate to it in very much the same way we once related to the peaks and canyons,” PK said.

Yet if the temple design seems to buck the Metropolis theme, the massive collaboration that created it epitomizes the urban ideal that Black Rock City is all about these days, as the chaotic frontier of old becomes a vibrant city with a distinctive DIY culture. The Temple of Flux drew together people of all skill sets from a wide variety of camps to design, build, fundraise, support, and create the nonprofit Flux Foundation to continue the collaboration into the future.

From the first meeting in mid-May, the project was broken down into teams devoted to design and structural engineering, fundraising, construction, a legal team (to create the nonprofit Flux Foundation, among other things), infrastructure and logistics, documentation, and the burn team, each headed by capable, experienced leaders (most of them women) with the authority to make myriad decisions big and small along the way.

“Big projects are really tough if I try to think about the whole thing all at once,” Jess told me June 6 during the regular Monday evening meeting and work session at American Steel.

Even at that early stage, before the design was done and all the wood had been ordered, there were already many moving parts to the project. A demonstration wall had been built to develop the look for the exterior cladding; a cutting station for creating the plywood strips for the cladding and a painting station for whitewashing them; 10 A-frames from Dumont — the smallest dune, the only one that would fit in the workspace — reached up about 20 feet and created a slow twist; scale models of the whole project were built and refined; and the whiteboard was filled with fundraiser dates and other project details.

Over the coming weeks, Dumont would be cladded with plywood strips and shapes, then torn apart and recladded, several times over, as part of the learning and training process. Caves and benches were added and refined. “This is the only one we can build in the shop, so this is our petri dish,” Rebecca said.

Johnny Poynton, a British carpenter and psychedelic therapist who didn’t really know anyone with the project but joined after his own request to Burning Man for “a ridiculous amount of money” for a lighthouse project was rejected, quickly became an integral member of the team, and perhaps its most colorful.

He had been going to Burning Man for 10 years with his son, Max, who is now 26. They each have been involved with a variety of camps, together and separately, something that has drawn them closer together. “It’s something we’ve bonded over, to say the least,” said Max, who worked hard on the Temple.

That kind of connecting through a shared purpose is important to Johnny, who quickly developed affectionate relationships with those on the project. He said it is the project, the shared vision, that unites people more than casual social connections. “For me, it’s not about how people are interconnected. It’s about what they want to do,” Johnny said.

Catie Magee, another former Flaming Lotus Girl, took on the role of project den mother, seeing to its myriad details while the principals initially focused on design and wrangling needed expertise and supplies. She was also dealing with Burning Man brass, who knew the project was underfunded but promised to make up for it with logistical support, free tickets, and as many early arrival passes as they needed to finish this labor-intensive project.

“From what we gather,” Catie said at the June 6 meeting of the passes needed to facilitate a large crew on the playa starting Aug. 13, “we get as many as we need.”



The Flaming Lotus Girls, who work in steel and fire, have always focused on teaching and spreading the skills and knowledge to as many people as they could. But that was even easier to do with an accessible medium like wood, and all the more essential on a project of this scale. They needed as many people as possible to understand the design and do the work.

“A lot of us come from groups where we encourage empowerment and teaching,” Jess told the group during one meeting. “If the opportunity is there, please take it [and teach skills to someone who needs them].”

It was something all the leads encouraged throughout the project. “The design is about horizontal learning,” PK told group, referring to how the knowledge gets spread, with one person teaching another, who then teaches another.

The cladding on Dumont was placed and removed several times with different teams to hone the design and facilitate learning, waiting until late July to finally break it down and get its frames and cladding ready for transport to Burning Man. While the team used computer programs to design the structure and faces, the artistry came in modifying Dumont and letting it inform how the other dunes would look.

To represent the varied texture of hillsides, the plywood received a light latex whitewash, the wood grain showing through. Solid plywood sections would represent veins of solid rock, surrounded by the layers of sediment and dirt that would be created using strips of plywood randomly thatched together at varying angles.

“The metaphor we’re working for is the rock face with the various strata and how it changed over time,” Rebecca said.

“It’s important that it’s not an artist’s sketch,” PK said, but a work of art in progress. So as they learned from Dumont, studied photos of their dunes’ namesakes, and thought more about their art, the leads would draw new lines on the cardboard model they created, refining the design.

“I’m trying to use geological rules to do this. It’s all conceptual geology,” Jess said one Saturday in late June as she drew on the model with a pencil, shop glasses on her head, earplugs hanging about her neck, wearing a Power Tool Drag Races T-shirt.

In addition to doing freelance graphic design, she helps run All-Power Labs with her boyfriend, longtime Burning Man artist Jim Mason. “Work gets in the way,” said Jess, who was working on the temple project full-time. She supplemented her hands-on Burning Man art experience by studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, earning her MFA in 2005. So she brought an artistic eye to her innate social skills that made her an unflappable connecter of key people.

During a meeting at American Steel, PK said the architectural term for the way shapes are created that only fit together a few different ways is a “kit of parts,” adding, “It’s like building a puzzle without the box.”

Later, on the playa, he conveyed the concept to the group in a way that seemed downright zen. “The pieces will tell you the way more than the guidelines,” PK said of the cladding shapes and thatches. He said shapes have an inherent nature, something they want to be, and “they will show you the way if you let them.”

But the process was always more important than the product, something that was conveyed regularly through the project. At the July 12 meeting and work night, Jess, Rebecca, and Catie said the need for progress shouldn’t compromise the central mission of teaching and learning.

They told the temple crew that one woman working on the project complained that some of the more skilled men weren’t taking the time to teach her, and they said that was simply unacceptable. Rebecca even invoked the original Temple builder, artist David Best, who built all the Temples until 2005.

“David Best said, ‘Never take a tool out of a woman’s hand. It’s insulting and not OK.’ But I’d like to expand that and say never take a tool out of anyone’s hand,” Rebecca said. “Hopefully we can take on that sexism and some of the other isms in the world.”



Heavy equipment has become essential to creating the large-scale art that has been popping up in Black Rock City in recent years, so Burning Man has an Art Support Services crew to operate a fleet of cranes, construction booms, scissor lifts, and other equipment that big projects need.

For months, the Temple of Flux crew built sturdy frames that were carefully broken down for transportation on five tractor-trailers, along with hundreds of cladding thatches stacked on pallets, boxes of decorated niches, a tool room built in a shipping container, all the pieces and parts needed to create a smooth build on the playa.

“Then I get to pop in and help them make it art,” Davis, a.k.a. The Stinky Pirate, said as he prepared to take Lou Bukiet (a Flaming Lotus Girl in her early 20s) and a stack of thatches up in the boom lift on Aug. 23 to staple the cladding to the windward side of Cayuga, with Jess and her artistic eye spotting from the ground.

Davis has helped build Black Rock City every year since 1999 when he joined Burning Man’s Department of Public Works. In recent years, he has operated heavy equipment for a variety of notable artworks, such as Big Rig Jig and the Steampunk Treehouse. He said the groups do all the prep work and “I get to come in and be a star player.”

I began my work day on the playa ripping off cladding that had been placed on wrong the night before, an exercise that was a regular occurrence as the artists sought to perfect their work.

It was a little frustrating to undo people’s hard work, and Davis even told Jess before going up into the lift with Lou, “My goal is no more redoes, whatever time we have to take for a do.” Yet it was a minor quibble with a group he said was the best on the playa.

“This is a killer group. It’s probably the best crew I’ve gotten to work with,” Davis said, explaining that it was because of their attitude and organization. “Art is more than just building the art. It’s about community, and this group is really good at taking care of each other.”

Taking care of each other was a core value with this group. Not only did the Temple team have a full kitchen crew serving three hot, yummy meals a day and massage therapists to work out sore muscles, it also had a team of “fluffers” who brought the workers snacks, water, sunscreen, cold wet bandanas, sprays from scented water bottles, and other treats, sometimes topless or in sexy outfits, always with a smile and personal connection.

Margaret Monroe, one of the head fluffers, instructed her team to always introduce themselves to workers they don’t know and to touch them on the arms or back to make a physical connection and help them feel cared for and supported.

PK said he initially bristled at the high kitchen expense and other things that seemed extraneous to the cash-strapped project. “People are eating better here than they eat back at home,” he said. But he came to realize the importance of good meals and attentive fluffers: “If you keep people happy, then it’s fun. And if it’s fun, then it’s not like work.”



Don Cain is the head of the burn team, the group charged with setting the temple on fire. They worked out of his workspace and home in Emeryville, known as the Department of Spontaneous Combustion, which is like a burner clubhouse complete with bar, rigging, classic video games, old art projects, and the equipment to make new ones.

Don grew up in Georgia working in his dad’s machine shop and did stints as a police officer — where he cross-trained with the fire department and developed a bit of pyromania — and in the Army. After that, he lived in Humboldt and then came to the Bay Area to study art photography at San Francisco State University.

He attended his first Burning Man in 2000 “and my very first night there was epic.” So he immersed himself in the culture, making massive taiko drums for the burner musical ensemble The Mutaytor, creating liquid fuel fire cannons and building massive fire-spewing tricycles.

“I’ve been doing the fire stuff for a while and I have all my fingers and toes and I haven’t set anyone on fire yet,” Don told me in his shop.

So he was the natural choice to lead the team that will “choreograph the burn” of the Temple, as Don put it, an experienced group that loves geeking out on the best ways to burn things. “We have a collection of very experienced people in the fire stuff,” Don told me. “About 50 years of experience.”

The most basic goal was to create hundreds of “burn packs” made of paraffin, sawdust, burlap, and other flammable materials to “add a lot of calories in one spot, which is what we’re after,” he said. The burn packs, stacks of kindling, and tubes of copper and chlorine shavings to create a blue-green color were placed strategically throughout the Temple as soon as the framing was done.

The idea is to break down the structure before the cladding burns away so the A-frames aren’t standing up the air. “I would like to get the structure to collapse relatively quickly,” Don said. “Then we’ll have a pile of fuel that will burn for a while.”

They also created 13 “sawdust cannons” using the finest, cleanest sawdust from the cutting of wood at American Steel, one of many creative reuses of the project’s byproducts. Tubes of the sawdust, so fine they called it “wood flour,” were placed over buried air compressors that will be silently fired off during the burn to create flammable plumes. “I’ve taken the opportunity to turn this burn into more than just setting a structure on fire,” Don said.

The Temple is where burners memorialize those who have died, something that took on personal significance with the Department of Spontaneous Combustion crew when member Randall Issac died suddenly of cancer earlier this year.

So they created the largest cave in the Temple of Flux as a memorial to him, only to have Burning Man brass threaten to close it down because of concerns about the potential fire hazard. On Aug. 25, Burning Man fire safety director Dave X (who founded the Flaming Lotus Girls in 2000) led a delegation to inspect the Temple, which includes Bettie June from the Artery, lawyer Lightning Clearwater, Tomas McCabe from Black Rocks Arts Foundation, and fire marshal Joseph P.

“The thing we’re concerned about is closed spaces, ingress and egress,” said Dave X, who assembled all the relevant department heads to consider it together.

After touring the site with PK and Jess, the group eventually agreed that the risk was manageable if the Temple Guardians who will work shifts monitoring the project during the week watch out for certain things. “Their mantra needs to be no smoking, no fire,” Dave said. Joseph also said the caves needed to be named and a protocol developed for evacuation in case of accidental fire.

“The important thing is that whoever is calling in can use the terminology we use in our dispatch center,” Joseph said.

The fire arts were largely developed in the Bay Area by burners, who have developed an expertise and understanding that exceeds most civil authorities. And even though the Temple crew was like family to him, Dave X warned them, “You guys are in the yellow zone here where you’re taking precautions.”



On the playa, a sense of camaraderie and common purpose propelled the Temple crew to make rapid progress on the project, working all day, every day, and most of every night. Given the uncertain weather on the playa, they still felt time pressure and the need to crack the whip on the crew periodically, particularly guarding against letting the great social vibe turn into a party that steals the focus from the work at hand.

“Let this temple be your highest priority,” Rebecca also said the night of Tuesday, Aug. 24, asking for a show of hands of when people were committing to work on the project: that night, the next morning, during the heat of the next day. “Look at each other and know that you’re making a commitment to yourselves and each other.”

That sort of hard sell, used several times during the week, hardly seemed necessary most of the time. People really were there to work long hours on the project and seemed to take great pride in it — even if many also took car trips during the hottest part of the day to the nearby reservoir and the on-playa hot springs Frog Pond and Trego. This was a treat for the crew, since they are all closed during Burning Man.

By Wednesday, Aug. 25, word arrived that windy, rainy weather was on the way that weekend, which got the group even more focused on finishing. “We need to ask everybody for a really big push,” Rebecca said.

“We are so close, so we need everyone to get out there and kick ass,” Jess said that evening. “We’re going to finish this tonight, and then we’re going to have fun for the rest of the time.”

And that’s what happened, with a huge crew working until the wee hours of the morning, leaving mostly fine-tuning to go as the winds began to pick up the next day, growing to zero-visibility dust storms by evening. But they finished with time to spare before the event began on Aug. 30, despite a nasty storm rolling in on the final weekend, complicating the breakdown of the camp and touched frayed nerves.

Seeing this massive project through was particularly poignant for PK, who suffered a seizure at Burning Man in 2001, leaving the playa with Rebecca and ending up getting a golf ball-sized brain tumor removed, the first of two craniotomies that left him partially paralyzed on his left side.

“I should have been dead by now if you look at the averages. I should have been dead a long time ago. So you learn to appreciate life in a slightly new way,” PK told me as the project was just getting underway. “The minute you give up the lust for life is the minute your life is over.

“Most importantly,” he continued, “you learn to appreciate the community, the people around you, and your support system.”

Catie, who has her master’s in public health and does evaluations and qualitative research, said the project was transformative for many of its participants. “It’s the capacity that has been built in people and the skills they’ve discovered,” Catie said of this project’s real value. “Even in West Oakland, people were having profound experiences. At the shop, I tell people it’s like being in love.”

And that love is likely to only grow as a spectacular fire consumes the Temple of Flux.

City Editor Steven T. Jones, who also goes by the playa name Scribe, is the author of the upcoming book The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert Is Shaping the New American Counterculture, which draws from articles he has written for the Guardian on Flaming Lotus Girls, Burners Without Borders, Opulent Temple, Indie Circus, Borg2, and other Burning Man tribes.


Editor’s Notes



The rich are getting screwed in the United States today. And that’s not a statement from Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, or the remnants of George W. Bush’s brain. It’s coming from mainstream, even liberal economists, who have looked at the hard numbers around the battle over the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.

See, if you consider anyone who makes more than $250,000 a year "rich," then they’re due to lose the income-tax break they got under Bush. And they can afford to pay higher taxes, and most of them are doing fine, despite the complaints about the cost of private schools these days.

But they’re still getting screwed. Because, as James Surowiecki noted in the Aug. 16 issue of The New Yorker, ordinary, garden-variety rich people haven’t seen a lot of income growth in the past decade. They aren’t gaining much more than the middle class. The money in this country isn’t going to the rich any more. It’s not even going to the very rich, say, the people who make more than $500,000 a year, or even $1 million a year.

No, the extraordinary income growth in this country has been going to the very, very rich, the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent —the 5,600 families who now have more wealth than the bottom 120 million. And, as Surowiecki points out, those very, very, exceedingly filthy rich pay the same tax rates as the people who earn $250,000 a year.

The New York Times ran an interesting report Aug. 29 on the looming problems of crumbling old infrastructure in the United States — dams that are well beyond their designed life, levees that are crumbling, subway switching stations designed and built in the 1920s. Millions of people can’t find jobs and the government can’t afford to pay for the work that desperately needs to be done. The economic policies of the past decade have sucked all the money out of society — and given it to a tiny number of people who live like ancient feudal royalty.

That’s what we’ve achieved in this country of late. I don’t know why this isn’t the biggest — or the only — issue in the fall campaigns.

School board race shouldn’t be personal


EDITORIAL There are plenty of issues to talk about in the San Francisco School Board race. The new student assignment process marks a dramatic shift in the way parents and kids get to choose schools. The district’s decision to pursue federal Race to the Top money was a mistake. There are too many charter schools, and not enough money for basic programs. The district has made great strides in closing the achievement gap, but there’s more to do. Many school facilities still need upgrades, meaning — potentially — more bond acts. The austerity budget has meant teacher layoffs. Overall, the district is in better shape than it was five years ago, but the goal of quality education for all kids is still a long way off.

This is what candidates and interest groups ought to be talking about. Instead, it seems as if the entire race is about one candidate: Margaret Brodkin.

Brodkin, the former director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth and former head of the Mayor’s Office of Children, Youth, and Families is by all accounts among the most experienced people ever to run for the office. She’s also strong-willed, forceful, and sometimes difficult. That’s what’s made her such a successful advocate. Over the past 30 years, she’s been involved in almost every progressive cause involving children and youth in the city, from the creation of the Children’s Fund to the battle against privatization in the public schools.

You think she’d at least be considered a serious candidate and that elected officials and political groups would give her the respect she deserves as someone who has devoted her life to activism on behalf of children.

But some incumbent board members have been engaged in a full-scale, anti-Brodkin campaign the likes of which we’ve rarely seen, even in the rough and sometimes brutal politics of this city. It’s mostly quiet, backroom stuff — and as far as we can tell, it’s not about issues. But they’ve approached just about everyone in local politics to badmouth Brodkin.

Let us stipulate: there are issues, real issues, progressives can disagree on with Brodkin. We’ve fought with her ourselves over some of the programs she implemented when she worked in the Newsom administration. Brodkin was far too supportive of former school superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who was secretive and imperious, for far too long. She’s also a close ally of board member Jill Wynns, who was wrong on a lot of issues over the past few years.

Brodkin has extensive proposals about education reform that she has discussed over and over; if you don’t like them, then don’t vote for her. If you think her proposals would be bad for the kids in the public schools — and in the end, that’s what this is all about — then work to elect somebody else. That’s how politics works.

But the misleading whisper campaign annoys us, and is often based on inaccurate information. Brodkin, we’ve been told, opposed voting rights for noncitizens back in 2004. Not true — she personally wrote a ballot argument in favor of the law. She told us, for the record, on tape, that she disagrees with Wynns and opposes JROTC in the public schools.

There’s also the line (and it’s somewhat reminiscent of some of things that were said about Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign) that she’s hard to get along with, that she won’t be collegial on the board. At her campaign kickoff, incumbent Hydra Mendoza praised the lack of conflict on the current board and said she wanted to preserve that — the implication being that Brodkin would bring disunity.

But unanimity and lack of conflict isn’t always good for a public board. Too much consensus leads to complacency — and that’s always a big problem, particularly when it comes to oversight.

We’ll issue our endorsements Oct. 6, when we’ve had a chance to talk to all the candidates — and right now we’re not ready to give the nod to Brodkin or anyone else. And we’d be the first to say that she has made mistakes and they ought to be taken into account in any endorsement process.

But we don’t like personal attacks, and we don’t like the politics of personal destruction. It’s not good for the schools, not good for democracy, not good for San Francisco. Argue issues, debate public problems — but this nasty whisper campaign has to stop.

SEIU and the new McCarthyism


OPINION More than 43,000 California health care employees are currently involved in the largest union election in private industry since the 1940s, a contentious campaign that pits officials of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) against the National Union of Health Care Workers (NUHW). The outcome of the election may well determine the future of the labor movement for years to come.

The leaders of NUHW (the interim president is Sal Rosselli) are the same organizers who inspired and united us in achieving a historic victory: the five-year Kaiser Permanente contract of 2005-10. Health care workers all over the state depend on the benefits enumerated in that contract, including employment and income seniority, paid retirement, paid family health care, and employee participation in staffing and health care issues. The contract is still considered the national gold standard for hospitals.

A few years ago, our union, part of SEIU, was united and strong. The nurses, lab technicians, secretaries, operators, environmental service personnel, x-ray technologists — we were all proud to work together in a noble enterprise, fostering and saving human life. Today, SEIU is in disarray.

The decline began when Andy Stern took power in Washington. He established absentee rule of California. After he withdrew SEIU from the AFL-CIO (which prohibits union raids of other unions), Stern launched a series of raids on two sister unions, UNITE HERE and the Puerto Rican Teachers’ Union. The San Francisco Labor Council (along with the AFL-CIO) formally denounced the Stern raid on UNITE HERE. The raid cost our members millions of dollars. Stern then moved against our California locals, particularly United Healthcare Workers-West, led by Rosselli. Rosselli was the leading champion of democratic unionism in the state. In defiance of the wishes of our membership, Stern fired Rosselli.

The bitterness and hostility within our union today are a direct result of Stern’s mass purges. One hundred elected members of the executive board were removed by fiat. Hundreds of elected shop stewards were dismissed. Subsequently, 48 other stewards resigned in protest of the autocratic policies of the national office. The standard joke at California Kaiser worksites is, “Got a grievance? Call Washington!” Juan Gonzalez, the widely read columnist for the New York Daily News, called the Stern blitz “a stunning assault on democracy within his own union.”

SEIU represents a new kind of McCarthyism in the labor movement, a trend that threatens the unity of labor as a whole.

SEIU bully tactics to prevent workers from joining NUHW are so widespread, so well-documented, that Dolores Huerta, cofounder of the United Farm Workers, sent an open letter to SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, who succeeded Stern after he retired. Huerta complained that “every time workers met to talk about NUHW, SEIU staff surrounded them and began chanting and yelling insults, refusing to let workers talk.”

Even the homes of workers are not off limits. In Fresno, local TV stations (just Google “TV Coverage of SEIU Threats”) documented SEIU pressure tactics during house visits, after workers received their ballots in the mail.

The demise of our once great union has implications far beyond our locals in California. If California’s most successful, democratic labor organizers can be overthrown, If elected shop steward networks (shop stewards are the backbone of union democracy) can be dismantled by fiat, if Washington can establish absentee rule of locals from 3,000 miles away, no union is safe, and American democracy itself is diminished.

Jessica Garcia and Elaine Monney are rank-and-file members of SEIU.

Meow mix



CHEAP EATS I was about halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge by the time I knew for sure: big mistake. Stoplight the cat was not happy. I was not happy. It was hot. No air conditioning. I required food. Occidental is an hour and 15 driving minutes beyond the bridge.

That’s a lot of minutes to have to listen to a cute little kitten that you love screaming and screeching in horror. Not to mention how many minutes it is to have to be that kitten. But I was running late for an important rehearsal for this thing I’m in, so there was no turning back.

"The show must go on," I said to Stoplight.

"You mother fucking fucker," he said, in so many meows. "If I ever get big enough I’m going to shred you into confetti, eat your internal organs, and leave your tangled intestines on the bed so I can spend the rest of my little life playing with them."

"Oh," I said. "Really? Say, have you ever heard of people who throw their pets out of car windows on the freeway? I’m not saying I’m one of those people, but what makes you so certain that every one of those people who are one of those people wouldn’t have said, 10 minutes before losing it, that they weren’t one of those people.

"I’m just saying," I said, "that the human psyche is a fragile and funny thing."

"Yeah, well, you think those little kitty scratches on your arms are bad, and the tiny puncture wounds all over your legs?" my little kitty said, partially overlapping me because he doesn’t yet have manners. "Wait until I pull your ears off your head, claw your eyeballs out, and swat them across the floor like ping pong balls until they roll under the refrigerator.

"I’m just saying," he said. "I wouldn’t go to sleep tonight, if I were you, I’m saying," he said. In so many meows.

"Fuck you," I said.

"Fuck you," he said.

We were off to a great start in our little long-term committed relationship. And it was all my fault. I decided to get off at the next exit with visible food, and just … eat. Something. Anything. Whatever. I just didn’t want to go all-the-way crazy, not in my brother’s stinking van. Not on an empty stomach. The first place I see, I said to myself.

The first place I saw was McDonalds. (What are the chances?) Luckily, I am not an honorable woman. I mean, technically, I keep my word where there are other people involved, but tend to break every single promise I make to myself. Including, to everyone’s cheap eaterly relief, this one.

I continued down that road, meow meow meow, until I came to the second restaurant I saw, which was Strawberry Gourmet Deli in the Strawberry shopping center.

As soon as the car stopped rolling, I poured out of it like a beer commercial, opened the sliding side door, grabbed the cat carrier, put it on the floor in the wayback, behind the third seat, and left that door open too.

He could see me through his little caged door as I ran-walked into the deli. "Get back here," he shrieked, "you stinking bitch!"

Or maybe he said, "Get cat beer! A pink sandwich!"

Whatever, it was loud, and it looped. You could still hear him at the counter.

"Can I help you?"

"The vet said it was okay," I said. "For a kitten. If you travel with them while they’re young, they get used to it. I want to die."

"Excuse me?"

I wish I could have got a salad or baked thing, such as lasagna, because it’s hard to drown your sorrows in a sandwich. But I needed something I could eat in the car. "Turkey sandwich," I said.

Opened it up on my lap in the drivers seat, cranked Green Day, and got back on the freeway. What a lame lunch. Not enough meat. Not enough anything, except bread. All of us, we drive like maniacs, and are lucky to be alive.


Mon.–Fri.: 7 a.m.–5 p.m.;

Sun.: 7 a.m.–4 p.m.

1216 Strawberry Village Road, Mill Valley

(415) 381-2088


Beer and wine