Volume 45 Number 03

Kim chichi

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS It was the weekend and my kitten and me were dancing to the Ramones in our pajamas. Coffee sloshing all over the place. Kibble clattering. The phone rang and we let it ring. I already had lunch plans and dinner plans. Why answer the phone?

I answered the phone. Knowing me, it was either my lunch plan or my dinner plan, calling to cancel. So I stopped the music.

Stoplight kept dancing.

On the phone was one of my three-year-old pals. She was upset and wanted to talk, so we talked. Once she had collected herself and was breathing normally I asked, “How’s your mommy?”

“Good,” she said, in her normal little voice. “How’s Stoplight?”

“Good. We were dancing,” I said.

“Oh.”

“Ramones.”

If she had an opinion about them, she didn’t say. For the moment, her favorite bands are ABBA and Harry Belafonte — who isn’t, strictly speaking, a band. We made plans to get a burrito between lunch and dinner, and then she put her mom on. Coincidentally, we too made plans to get a burrito between lunch and dinner.

For lunch, I had a burrito. You will be relieved to learn that it was not the conventional kind. It was another one of those Korean-style kimchi burritos, such as had bewitched, bothered, and bewildered me a few months back at John’s Snack & Deli, downtown.

I haven’t slept well ever since. And I wanted to repay the kind then-stranger who ruined my circadian rhythm, if not life, by introducing me to the kimchi burrito. Interestingly, he’s never had one himself. Just saw the sign at John’s and thought I should know, bless him.

John’s is not in my opinion open on weekends. Nor is it open past six on weekdays, meaning most working stiffs who aren’t lucky enough to work in the Financial District will never know. A moment of silence, for them.

The good news is that the HRD Coffee House, South of Market, also has a kimchi burrito, and is open Saturdays. The bad news is it’s pork, not beef, and it ain’t even a third as juicy as John’s sleep disorder was, as I recall. By comparison, HRD’s kimchi burrito is underspicy and over-ricy. But, come to think of it, underpricey too. It’s only $5.50, and that’s good news all over again. Plus you don’t have to eat it on your bike (or at your desk, I guess) because HRD is an actual place. You know, with tables, chairs, counters, a very fluorescent back room, and college football on TV.

We sat at the window counter, me and my new friend Mr. Wong — not to be confused with Mr. Wrong (my old friend). And we talked about movies, food, and movies about food. He’s a film writer and, I gather, a collector. But he’s in over his head. He’s attended and collected so many movies that he hasn’t had time, in 51 years, to learn how to cook, not even pasta. Check it out, this cat owns copies of my two favorite movies — which are both very, very obscure, and, Jesus, pretty old — but he hasn’t seen either one!

Yet.

In exchange for teaching Mr. Wong how to cook, I think he’s going to share his collection with me. First thing I’m going to show him how to make: popcorn.

We will work our way up to kimchi, and then bulgogi, and then kimchi burritos because, sad to say, my Mr. Wong still hasn’t exactly had an exactly brilliant and/or life-altering one. As much as we both liked HRD, the place.

And the people.

He finished his. I gave the second half of mine to a homeless person on Market Street.

“It’s a burrito,” I said, “but, get this: it’s Korean!”

The dude, apparently not a foodie, was underplussed.

“So you know,” I said. “A Korean burrito.”

“I’ll think about that,” he said, “while I’m eating it.”

HRD COFFEE SHOP

Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–3 p.m.; Sat. 9 a.m.–3 a.m.

521 Third St.

(415) 543-2355

Cash only

No alcohol

Volume 45 Number 3 Flip-through Edition

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War — what is it good for? Video games!

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Medal Of Honor

Danger Close, Electronic Arts

(Xbox360, PS3, PC)

GAMER Though it arrives a few years behind its contemporaries in updating the mechanics of the original World War II series, Medal of Honor follows Call of Duty and Battlefield into the modern age of warfare. The most memorable aspect of this reboot’s PR muttering was that it was going to be authentic. Game developers working closely with members of the military is nothing new, but developer Danger Close wanted its take to be relevant to today’s war by setting the fight in Afghanistan and making the villains the Taliban. The game’s professed intent is to honor the soldiers who die every day in the conflict but, while the locations lend the game a sort of theoretical accuracy, Medal of Honor mostly just feels like War Games 101.

You won’t have any problems jumping into the action. From the first moments, Medal of Honor‘s game play, pacing, and button layout recall Modern Warfare‘s winning formula. The story is a tad more down to earth, but not without thrills and chills, and a good chunk of the game is devoted to sniper missions that do more than pay homage to the iconic Modern Warfare level “Ghillies in the Mist.” There are a few new twists (I will say, it’s been a while since a war game has made suppressive fire a mandatory game play element) but for the most part Medal of Honor emulates Modern Warfare‘s “shooting gallery” experience, which makes it fine, if not terribly inspired.

First-person shooters now ship with split personalities: single-player and multiplayer. The experiences are so divided (literally, with completely separate title screens) at this point that they might as well be two different games. Many developers have begun to send multiplayer development out-of-house, with the intention of focusing all their strength on the single-player experience. It’s probably a good idea — if one team is spread too thin, both experiences suffer.

Medal of Honor seems to have taken the stance “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” enlisting Battlefield developers DICE in creating its multiplayer experience. As such, Medal of Honor‘s multiplayer emulates the tight feel and style of Battlefield 2 fairly well, but lacks the balance of the different classes. Limiting the choice to assault, spec-ops, or sniper doesn’t encourage teamwork in the same way that including a medic or engineer does.

I suppose Danger Close deserves some kudos for even attempting to engage with a real, contemporary war, but it’s also the sort of thing that needs to be done right. If you’re going to talk the big talk, you better walk the long walk, and Medal of Honor doesn’t really offer much that you can’t find in either of its competitors’ more refined products. Nonetheless, it remains an engaging, well-made war game that delights adequately enough and could indicate a better game to come. 

Empire strikes back

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arts@sfbg.com

STAGE Speaking to more immediate concerns, Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart turned England’s 17th-century battle royal between rising Protestant Queen Elizabeth I and imprisoned Catholic challenger Mary Queen of Scots into a fleet drama of intimate conflicts internal and external. In Shotgun Players’ current production, director-adapter Mark Jackson recasts Schiller’s 1800 play to his own purposes, slimming its five acts down to a fairly taut two and setting it in a vividly contemporary, American-looking world of power politics, religious fanaticism, and imperial hubris. Jackson’s Mary Stuart retains the emphasis on the personal drama, but it may hold less interest in the end than the political world containing it.

As the play opens, the Scottish queen (Stephanie Gularte) languishes in an English prison (a private castle, actually), her face projected onto three video screens above the stage, as her cousin on the throne, Elizabeth (Beth Wilmurt), weighs what to do with her. The execution order will come sooner or later, history tells us, but meanwhile we get a paralleling of two very different yet intimately linked personalities and the machinations they and others put into play around them, culminating in an unhistorical but highly dramatic meeting between the two women. In the end, both appear prisoners of the power structure that they battle each other, and those around them, to dominate.

As Elizabeth, Wilmurt is a nicely arranged set of contradictions. Projecting an array of subtle gestures and meaningful silences, her Elizabeth works to maintain a carapace of authority and willpower over a youthful and vulnerable heart. Wilmurt instinctively humanizes the character with delicate humor and a barely cloaked shyness. But her Elizabeth is also, and ultimately, a ruthlessly cunning power player. If there is a soul, Elizabeth loses hers long before she’s lost her ballyhooed virginity.

As Elizabeth’s cousin and nemesis, Gularte’s Mary is an overt storm of emotion and feminine potency. Jackson keeps her onstage for the entire play, in a section of Nina Ball’s excellent set that recedes at one point to disturbingly suggest a stark execution chamber, while also revealing a small patch of grass in a sunken prison yard, the site of Mary’s one brief visit with a regained sense of freedom. Gularte’s performance suffers from too self-conscious a take on her character’s understandable anguish, but she conveys some of the terrible contradictions that haunt a young woman facing imminent death.

Around the “female kings” swarm an assortment of men, some who still seem to be wrestling with the gender upset at the top of the power hierarchy. But the real divisions among them are over ideology, strategy, self-interest — and all hitch their concerns to one or the other of these two women. Mortimer (Ryan Tasker), for instance, is the cool-eyed fanatic, a secret convert to Catholicism who devotes himself to saving the imprisoned Mary at the cost of his own life. His counterpart is Burleigh (Peter Ruocco), equally committed and sure on behalf of the Protestant state, and determined to see Mary executed.

This is a time of deep civil strife, when “national security” seems paramount, as well as a convenient excuse for advancing momentary interests against the usual restraints of law and custom. At the same time, the actions of rulers are self-consciously squared against public appearances and the fickle, manipulated prejudices and opinions of Elizabeth’s subjects, the people at large.

It all should sound familiar. The present is present everywhere in this production. The sleek minimalist set shrewdly blends bland corporate meeting rooms with the two-way mirrors and closed-circuit cameras of a modern, bureaucratic Panopticon. The contemporary costumes include de rigueur flag pins in the men’s lapels and the cast speaks unreservedly in American accents. Moreover, against the stark gravity of the scenic design and Schiller’s lively but heightened language, Jackson’s actors indulge in a fair amount of vernacular humor.

Still, there’s fidelity to the text and its dramatic core. Only once is there a very noticeable bit of updating — an irresistible one — when Burleigh responds to Mary’s accusation that the testimony gathered against her includes physically coerced slanders. “We do not torture,” corrects the spin-savvy Burleigh. “Nobody here was tortured.”

Elizabeth’s loyal minister Shrewsbury (a compellingly impassioned John Mercer) meanwhile argues restrain and the rule of law. “England is not the world,” he cautions his queen. But his eloquence falls on deaf ears. The tide of history moves inexorably in the other direction.

Other memorable performances here include the Scott Coopwood’s dexterous and patently charming take on the dashing but cowardly Leicester, who in getting up close and personal with each royal contender, plays a dangerous and amusingly macho game.

Jackson’s last effort with Shotgun Players, 2009’s Faust: Part 1, engaged another pillar of German Romanticism in a strikingly reimagined staging of Goethe’s masterwork. Both productions demonstrate a bold blending of voices and visions that, while sometimes discordant on the surface (and usually intentionally, productively so) are still in sync underneath. Jackson clearly shares Schiller’s enthusiasm for the opportunities afforded drama by history, an enthusiasm that forgoes strict fidelity to the factual record to offer deeper truths and more visceral connections.

But the political lesson, if there is one, is just this: rule is a matter of style. It’s always geared to the same ends. This is the import of the production’s own style, which at times feels like West Wing: The Obama Years. What we watch — on stage or in D.C. — is the revolving door of personalities bringing their own manner and virtues, such as they are, to the operation of the imperial machine. To offer the insight that the machine has each one of them in its grasp as much as anyone else obfuscates the point that it’s a machine designed to benefit a few at the expense of everyone and everything else making up life on the planet. That’s why it’s hard not to agree with the Sex Pistols when they doubt the very species similarity between the Queen and the rest of us. God save the Queen? “She ain’t no human being.” 

MARY STUART

Through Nov. 6, $17–$30 (and pay-what-you-can performances)

Ashby Stage

1901 Ashby, Berk.

(510) 841-6500

www.shotgunplayers.org

Dream, dream, dream

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MUSIC Deerhunter’s new album is the most cohesive in the group’s young career. Compared to the booming opening seconds of 2008’s Microcastle, the lead-in to Halcyon Digest (4AD) is downright mousy. A simple drum machine sputters in and out like a robot clinging to life before a dreamy guitar line sets the scene for five minutes of textured feedback and a distorted vocal melody from lead singer Bradford Cox. It’s a pretty start to what is often a stunningly beautiful album.

Gone (for the most part) are the more brawny, driving moments of Microcastle and the My Bloody Valentine-style shoegaze tracks from its accompaniment, Weird Era Cont. The new material has more in common with the mellower, head-in-the-clouds style of Atlas Sound, Cox’s solo project. But perhaps the biggest stride comes in the full embracement of hooks and melodies that were often buried in previous efforts. This is a pop album through and through, in the best sense of the word.

Tracks like “Don’t Cry” and “Basement Scene” evoke squeaky-clean 1950s artists like Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers if they’d been doped up on morphine. Elsewhere, the sparse five minutes of “Sailing” drift by on little other than Cox’s bare vocals, largely stripped of the megaphone distortion and short-echo slapback found throughout most of the album.

Fans will most certainly also notice the band’s expanded sonic palette. Self-recording in its home base of Athens, Ga., Deerhunter enlisted the Midas-touch mixing help of Ben Allen, known for his glossy stamps on Gnarls Barkley recording and Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. Thrown into the band’s customary psychedelic haze is everything from banjo (“Revival”) and saxophone (“Coronado”) to what sounds like a harpsichord on “Helicopter.”

It should be interesting to see how this new album plays out onstage. So much discussion over the past few years has mentioned the ferocity of Deerhunter’s live show — Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs once referred to it as a near-“religious experience” in the NME. The band will have to find a bridge between its known intensity and the more hushed attention to songwriting found on Halcyon Digest. Considering these guys have yet to take a single misstep, I’m thinking it won’t be a problem. 

DEERHUNTER

With Real Estate, Casino vs. Japan Fri/29, 9 p.m.; $17

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(800) 225-2277

www.gamh.com

 

Also Sat/30, 9 p.m., $17

Slim’s

333 11th St, SF

(800) 225-2277

www.slims-sf.com

(All Night Long)

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC Of course they want to listen to T.Rex into the night. I’ve done it myself many times, and I’m sure plenty of you have devoted late-night marathons to Marc Bolan’s musical mysticism. His lyrics, and his ridiculously long album titles from the early days of Tyrannosaurus Rex, always had a flair for weird wordplay, leaving the listener equally captivated and confused by lush, descriptive imagery. Bolan and his Tolkien-named percussionist Steve Peregrine Took started out playing the part of an enchanted underground acoustic duo, catering to fried-out hippies and London’s latter-day mods at the notorious Middle Earth Club. But I have a feeling that when San Francisco’s own Burnt Ones pledge “Gonna Listen To T. Rex (All Night Long),” they’re referring to Bolan’s full-blown boogie period during the heyday of T. Rex-tasy. The song’s opening guitar lick sears every bit as much as the one in “Buick Mackane,” but of course it’s not nearly as recognizable.

This isn’t to say Burt Ones don’t borrow from Bolan’s early days of drone-zone bliss. “Burnt to Lose” closes the A-side of their debut album Black Teeth & Golden Tongues (Roaring Colonel Records) on a slow note. The track is full of chant-like vocals and finger-symbol sounds that a yoga instructor might use to commence a class. The tune hints at the atmospheric qualities of “The Children of Rarn” off the 1970 album T. Rex, where Bolan had by then calculated an abbreviated name for his band and added a full rhythm section, including new drummer Mickey Finn.

“Sunset Hill” is every bit as upbeat and fuzz-tone driven as its Visconti-produced predecessor, “Metal Guru” from 1972’s critically acclaimed Slider, and “Bury Me in Smoke” is straight out of the ’70s with its use of ooh-la-la backing vocals. Let’s face it, lead singer Mark Tester sometimes sets out to duplicate Bolan’s trademark warbled and often shaky vocal technique. But while the four-piece psych outfit, who found their way to the Bay Area by way of Indianapolis, has a glam-rock shtick that would make Gary Glitter proud, Burnt Ones also draw from other sources of inspiration.

“Bring You All My Love” gives a nod to the girl groups of the early ’60s and is reminiscent of the Shangri-Las’ 1964 hit “The Leader of the Pack”, where an echoed “down, down” response vocal is employed. Though “Famous Shakes” song should not be confused with a Wall of Sound production, the influence of Phil Spector and his layers of instrumentation is clear. Lyrically, the group revisits the nonsensical chorus of the Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron”, and even explores territory commonly conquered by soul troopers, most notably Wilson Pickett’s “Land of A Thousand Dances”, where a catalog of past dance crazes (i.e. the mashed potato, the twist, and the alligator) are shouted out in remembrance and paid tribute.

Simple in design, the packaging of Black Teeth & Golden Tongues is consistent with Burnt Ones’ sound, in that it dips into the past while incorporating contemporary art. The pastel-colored cover is adorned with a cartoon of a cracked skull drawn by William Keihn, who some may recognize as the artist from Thee Oh Sees’ album covers. On the back side we’re reminded of two iconic Stones’ albums, Exile on Main Street and Some Girls, which perhaps coincidentally sandwiched the glam era, with release dates of 1972 and 1978. “Spins” even has a bluesy Keith Richards riff.

As much as Burnt Ones rely on the past, it’s easy to forget that this band is pretty much new and likely aims to be part of the pantheon of Bay Area lo-fi, psych, and garage rockers. The group’s contemporaries include Hunx and His Punx, who updates the tried and true androgyny and gender-bending nature of glam by updating it to serve his own homoerotic needs. Burnt Ones’ “Soft City” is a well-produced number that displays a kinship with Hunx’s teased vocals as it confronts topics such as saved souls and the cold outdoors. 

BURNT ONES

With Pierced Arrows, Bare Wires

Fri/22, 8:30 p.m., $12 (all ages)

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

(415) 861-2011

www.rickshawstop.com

Love of sound

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MUSIC It’s a typical music-loving day at Aquarius Records when I call up the store’s Irwin Swirnoff to talk about its 40th birthday and accompanying celebration. “There’s always been some confusion about when the store started,” says Swirnoff, after ringing up a few purchases, as the translucent sounds of Washed Out swirl from the AQ stereo. “There original owners were awesome, but stoned a lot, so they weren’t sure if it was 1969 or 1970. Once we realized it was 1970, we decided to put on a birthday party, and we thought it would be great to have bands that reflect the passions of the store, from pop to heavier sounds and drone.”

Aquarius rightly has a reputation for introducing musicians to wider audiences, so it’s no surprise to hear that a variety of bands — Cali rockers the Mantles; purveyors of heavy Djenghis Khan and Pigs; space rockers Lumerians; Root Strata dream drifters Date Palms; and special Cali pop headliner Best Coast — answered the call. “It’s one of those shows where you’re not seeing five bands that sound alike, but five different ones that fall under the same roof,” says Swirnoff. “Next year we hope to throw a benefit show because it is a hard time for record stores. Maybe it’ll become an Aquarius tradition.”

In the days when Windy Chien guided the ship, and in ever-flowering ways today, the diverse and innovative sounds at Aquarius have been generated by the musical passions of those who work there — and those who shop there. “We’re blown away by our customers and their eclectic and wide-ranging tastes,” says Swirnoff. “They might buy a disco comp, an esoteric album, and a girl group reissue all at the same time. There’s a communal enthusiasm from the staff in the reviews that we write, and we’re lucky to have customers who share that same kind of enthusiasm We live in a culture that likes to compartmentalize. But at the end of the day, good music is good music.”

AQUARIUS RECORDS’ 40THE BIRTHDAY SHOW

With Best Coast, the Mantles, Lumerians, Djenghis Khan, Date Palms, Pigs

Mon/25, 8 p.m.; $10

Cafe Du Nord

2170 Market, SF

Summer in the fall

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC As I sit sipping some morning coffee, Elizabeth Morris of Allo Darlin’ is wrapping up an unseasonably sunny London afternoon. “I don’t know what’s happening, but it’s really warm weather,” she says over the phone. “The last week was really cold and miserable, and then the last two days have been absolutely beautiful.”

It seems fitting to be discussing Allo Darlin’s self-titled album with Morris on a day when the sun won’t be denied. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect “summer” album released in October. Full of shimmery electric guitar, tambourine shakes, and bass lines that would sound at home on lost Motown cuts, the group’s music oozes charm, occupying some sort of space between Belle & Sebastian and a modern, garage-y spin on the Shangri-Las. Out at the forefront of it all is Morris with her ukulele and enchanting vocals.

Originally born and raised in Australia, Morris moved to London five years ago, shortly after finishing school in Brisbane, hoping to do something with the songs she’d begun writing. In Brisbane, Morris doubted her talents and ability to fit in, but London’s music scene proved to be a much more fertile ground for her. “Brisbane at the time was really grunge-y, noise rock, avant-garde kinda stuff — which is cool, but I felt really out of place and would never have felt confident playing little pop songs,” she explains. “I’d definitely written a bunch of songs, but I thought they were all pretty much rubbish. I didn’t feel like I’d written anything good until I moved to London.”

Once settled in London, Morris fronted the Darlings, a group made up of coworkers from the TV and film sound production facility she worked at. After that group dissolved, she began playing solo before winding up with a backing band made up of friends of friends, brothers of friends, and members of some of her favorite local bands. It all came together with a little help from the Boss.

“I was asked to do a Bruce Springsteen song for this tribute compilation and I knew Paul (Rains, Allo Darlin’ guitarist-keyboardist) was really into him. So I asked if he wanted to do this song with me, and that’s kinda how I got started playing with these guys. So we were brought together by Springsteen,” Morris says with a laugh.

In the interview, Morris talks excitedly about some of her musical loves: Jonathan Richman, Steve Martin’s banjo playing, the Go-Betweens, old reggae. She and her bandmates share an affection for Yo La Tengo and their parents’ old Beach Boys’ records. Her earnest and enthusiastic admiration mirrors the tone of her lyrics, which play a major role in making Allo Darlin’ fun. One minute she’s combining lines about love and chili, the next she’s breaking into a verse from Weezer’s “El Scorcho” or singing what’s gotta be the first pop song ever written about Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957). Her lyrical style is clever and unique — by turns romantic, silly, pensive, or yearning.

“I kind of always write from emotion or feeling rather than anything else. I never really sit and write things in a notebook or compose words,” Morris says. “I’ve tried to write story-songs or songs about characters, but it just never really works. I’m not very poetic, I guess. I’m better at seeing things how they are, trying to put them into words with a nice melody and seeing what happens.”

Allo Darlin’s upcoming tour marks the group’s third trip to the U.S., but it’s their first time in California. Despite the impersonal nature of a phone conversation, Morris’ excitement is palpable. She’s even picking up some American slang. “All the bookers say ‘psyched’ — like ‘We’re psyched that you’re coming.’ It’s really cute,” she says, laughing.

“So yeah, we’re psyched to be doing the West Coast.”

ALLO DARLIN’

with Eux Autres, Terry Malts

Wed/27, 8 p.m.; $10

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

(415) 861-2011

www.rickshawstop.com

Mirrors and masks

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arts@sfbg.com

LIT/VISUAL ART At a time when everyone is bemoaning the death of the book from either Kindle or just plain old lack of interest, I stand up for our old friend and former conveyance. There’s something about it — the smell of fresh ink, the feel of the yellowed-pages of a well-worn paperback, that gentle “crack” of the spine of a new volume — that can never be replaced by some black-matte gadget. As a writer and lover of all things book, I’ve been impressed by a few this year that may reignite your love for what’s laying between the covers, just waiting for your return.

Julian Bell’s Mirror of the World: A New History of Art (Thames and Hudson, 496 pages, $34.95) is an unassuming tome. Clocking in at just under 500 pages, this softcover textbook-looking marvel has become a mainstay on my research shelf and bathroom magazine rack. Gathering full-color plates of some of the most lush (Delacroix’s Death of Sarandapulus), confrontational (Donatello’s David), and demanding (Jane Alexander’s Vissershok) images in Western art over the last 500 years, Bell has managed to do what so often seems like the impossible in the art world: he’s included damn near everybody. To Bell, Nok terracotta, Chinese Master Guo Xi, and Dogon carvings have as much influence on contemporary art as Warhol, Pollack, and Manet. “I want to believe,” he says in the introduction, “that works of art can reveal realities that had otherwise lain unseen, that they can act as frames for truth.” Mirror to the World does just that, framing a more-true, inclusive history of art while providing a nifty little timeline in the back to play catch-up.

Speaking of timelines, I’m grateful that Simone Werle’s 50 Fashion Designers You Should Know (Prestel, 160 pages, $19.95) has one! As a latecomer to the world of fashion, I know what I like, but sometimes have no idea why, or where it came from. The designers profiled in this book are given full- color spreads featuring their most signature pieces. Armani, Prada, and Dolce and Gabbana are explored at length, while conceptualists such as Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kubokawa are not overlooked. From early-20th century designers like Coco Chanel and Andre Courreges to contemporaries such as Vivienne Westwood and Tom Ford, this guidebook is handy and dandy.

One of the most beautiful books I’ve gotten my hands on this year is also one of the most challenging and provocative. Martin Eder’s Der Blasse Tanz/The Pale Dance (Prestel, 320 pages, $64.95) is a formidably luscious soft-focus bomb waiting to go off in the reader’s psyche. The German painter walks the thin line between fantasy and reality, nightmare and saccharine dream, child-like infatuation and barely-legal obsession. With a technical prowess to rival Renoir and Botticelli, Eder uses watercolors to draw us into this uncomfortable in-between, turning us into admirers and voyeurs at the same time. From the plush feel of the slightly weathered cover-stock, to Isabel Azoulay’s introduction and its insights regarding feminism and erotic art, everything works together, making Der Blasse Tanz an artifact that tells our oh-so modern story in a way that only a well-made book can.

But if there is any book out there right now that truly justifies why art and photo books still exist, it’s got to be Phyllis Galembo’s Maske (Chris Boot, 208 pages, $46). I love this book! In it, ordinary people turn into mythic figures and magicians, tricksters, and gods through fantastic costumes in African and Caribbean rituals and celebrations. Striped bodysuits that cover the entire body, including the face, conjure both Sesame Street and Freddy Kruger. Outfits are made entirely of bunched greenery. A lacquered wooden mask topped with a headdress and a full-body model doubles and then triples a small boy’s mass. The images themselves are striking, statements on both fashion and fetish. Knowing that there are 180 of them, and explanations for each one, makes the imagination take off on plywood wings.

Wall Street hold ’em

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM Inside Job is director Charles Ferguson’s second investigative documentary after his 2007 analysis of the Iraq War, No End in Sight, but it feels more like the follow-up to Alex Gibney’s Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005). Keeping with the law of sequels, more shit blows up the second time around. As with No End in Sight, Ferguson adeptly packages a broad overview of complex events in two hours, respecting the audience’s intelligence while making sure to explain securities exchanges, derivatives, and leveraging laws in clear English (doubly important when so many Wall Street executives hide behind the intricacy of markets).

The revolving door between banks, government, and academia is the key to Inside Job‘s account of financial deregulation. At times borrowing heist-film conventions (it is called Inside Job, after all), Ferguson keeps the primary players in view throughout his history so that the eventual meltdown seems anything but an accident. Even apparent detours prove narrowly targeted. The subject of Wall Street’s venal appetites for drugs and prostitutes, for instance, is introduced first as farce and second as potential traction for broader criminal investigations. Presumably a junior partner might give up valuable information so as not to be made into another Eliot Spitzer, who, incidentally, comes off quite well in Inside Man.

While the fat cats only show up thanks to the CSPAN archive, several free market economists do sit for interviews with Ferguson. They probably regret doing so now — he reserves special scorn for the academic class of boosters. Frederic Mishkin is a typical case. Formerly a member of the Board of Governors at the Federal Reserve, he quickly becomes a muttering mess under Ferguson’s questioning. Mishkin quit the Treasury in August 2008, at the height of the crisis, to return to Columbia University to finish more pressing work: a textbook. In 2006, Mishkin coauthored a rosy report on Iceland’s doomed markets, pocketing a nice commission from the country’s Chamber of Commerce. Mysteriously, the title of the report changed from “Financial Stability in Iceland” to “Financial Instability in Iceland” on Mishkin’s CV — confronted with the discrepancy, he croaks something about a typo.

Ferguson’s relentless focus on the insiders isn’t foolproof. Tarring Ben Bernanke, Henry Paulson, and Timothy Geithner as “made” guys, for example, isn’t a substitute for evaluating their varied performances over the last two years. Inside Job makes it seem that the entire crisis was caused by the financial sector’s bad behavior, and this too is reductive. To take just one example, China figures into the film only as laborers losing their jobs due to market volatility — part of the story, certainly, but so is that government’s devaluation of its currency.

Furthermore, Ferguson does not come to terms with the politicized nature of the economic fallout. In Inside Job, there are only two kinds of people: those who get it and those who refuse to. The political reality is considerably more contentious. Americans on the right and left may well share disgust at the bailouts, but they’re drawing very different conclusions from the government’s cash infusions. Ferguson builds something of a false consensus between his talking heads, never asking them, for example, whether they think Fannie Mae or Countrywide was a bigger boogeyman (politically, the answer says a lot). In this regard, a general assessment in a recent article by Paul Krugman and Robin Wells holds for Inside Job: “Books on the Great Recession are still pouring off the presses … but they don’t offer much guidance on the most pressing problem at hand, which is how to deal with the continuing consequences of the last [bubble].” 

INSIDE JOB opens Fri/22 in Bay Area theaters.

Docs and robbers

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM What are they putting in the water in Germany these days? Seems like gritty crime dramas are at the forefront of young filmmaker’s creative output, several of which have made it onto the 15th Berlin and Beyond Film Festival lineup. Also in great supply are a number of slice-of-life documentaries, many of which revolve around the topic of aging. Call it the Cloud 9 effect: after the success of the critically-acclaimed 2008 drama about a love affair between senior citizens, the desire to follow up with more tales of not going gently into the good night must have been irresistible. Three of the featured documentaries have elderly protagonists engaged in atypical post-retirement behavior.

Autumn Gold follows five athletes between 80 and 100 to the World Masters Athletics Championships in Lahti, Finland, where they compete in discus, shot put, high jump, and sprinting. The Woman with the Five Elephants pays a visit to Swetlana Geier, Germany’s premiere translator of Russian to German, who recently completed her masterpiece: a new translation of all five of Dostoyevsky’s major works. And my personal favorite, Silver Girls, a completely matter-of-fact portrayal of three professional prostitutes, ages 49, 59, and 64.

Just one of the three, Paula, has been a prostitute since young adulthood, and now runs a brothel of her own. Both the sweetly eccentric Christel, and the eiskalt Karolina, took up the trade in their 50s. In between clients, they lead rather unremarkable lives. Paula surfs the Internet. Christel hangs out with her lovable-oaf boyfriend Bernd and tends to her houseplants. Karolina heads out to a carnival with a grandkid, dressed to kill in shiny leather boots.

The boldest of the three, Karolina certainly looks the part of a sexagenarian dominatrix, with jet-black hair, an impenetrable demeanor, and several visible yet tasteful tattoos. She entertains at Christmas in a revealing, fallen-angel costume, and takes her slave shoe-shopping in a nice department store, kicking him as he kneels before her and telling him she doesn’t care whether or not he likes the fit. The other two may be less provocative in public, but as Christel assures us with a roguish grin, there’s a larger demand for “mature” services than you might think. Given the state of Social Security at the moment, it’s actually comforting to realize you’re never too old for a career change.

On the gritty crime front, two films stand out: The Silence, directed by Baran bo Odar, and The Robber, directed by Benjamin Heisenberg. In The Robber, Andreas Lust (previously seen at Berlin and Beyond in last year’s compelling Revanche), stars as Johann Rettenberger, a man driven mercilessly by his twin ambitions to win marathons and rob banks. Rather mechanistic in his approach to life, Rettenberger certainly doesn’t seem to derive any particular pleasure from his adrenaline-fueled exploits. He casually stuffs his loot under his bed and trains obsessively.

Any redemptive grace he might have found in the arms of old friend-new love interest Erika (Franziska Weisz) is shot after she (understandably) kicks him out of her home. And any sympathy the Austrian public might have for his resolve to remain free is pretty much spent after he murders his parole officer with a running trophy. Indeed, his perpetual cold-fish exterior is almost enough to kill the audience’s sympathy for him too — but something about his predicament is also fascinating. Like a junkie, Rettenberger must run and rob banks, not out of love or desire but joyless addiction. This apparent helplessness to stop the wheels of his own destruction turn The Robber into an existential antihero of sorts rather than just an unconscionable jerk making poor life choices. 

BERLIN AND BEYOND FILM FESTIVAL

Oct 22–28, most shows $11.50

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

Oct. 30

Camera 12 Cinema

201 S. Second St., San Jose

www.berlinandbeyond.com

Epic Bush crawl, part one

5

ruggy@yelp.com

SUPER EGO Marke B.’s off getting hitched to Hunky Beau, so we asked the raffishly cute Ruggy, senior community manager at Yelp.com, to fill in as nightlife correspondent. Part two comes out Nov. 3.

What does your average Friday night look like? Does it involve catching up with old college friends over a 2007 Chateau Montelena Bordeaux blend? Maybe you’d rather snuggle up next to your boo on an EQ3 chaise longue with the remote in one hand and a Shake Weight in the other.

If you’re anything like me and my ragtag group of degenerate colleagues, nothing quite spells F-U-N like a bar crawl spanning seven different locations in less than five hours, complete with gratuitous heavy petting, nacho cheese Doritos, and warm Miller High Life. Now, what if I told you there was an unheralded bar route in the city that’s chock-full of sticky floors, intoxicated curmudgeons, and more bottom shelf liquor than you can shake a Polaroid at?

The stretch of self-reproach I reference is Bush Street between Stockton and Taylor. But beware — this challenge isn’t for the faint of heart. Being the altruist I am, I decided to document this fantastic, drunken journey on your behalf, to ensure you avoid a colossal case of bottle flu the following morning. You can thank me later.

Tunnel Top (601 Bush): From Union Square, take the stairs north at the entrance to the Stockton Tunnel (after a salacious afternoon romp at the Green Door if you want to up the ante), turn about face, and gallop roughly 10 paces west. Perfect for guest registration on a Bush Street crawl, since the T-Top offers a nifty happy hour with $3 drafts and $2.75 bottled beers as well as a slew of aging hipsters and law school dropouts (a.k.a. real estate brokers) enjoying glasses of Chimay and a hip playlist. Plenty of complicated haircuts at 6:30 p.m., but not a single raccoon tail in sight.

Chelsea Place (641 Bush): If you’re expecting skyline views of Manhattan and metrosexuals out the wazoo, you most certainly have the wrong Chelsea in mind. This is a cozy nook for true alcoholics, where one drink is too many, and 1,000 is never enough. A tiny push through the saloon-style wooden doors grants you access to the Emerald City of unglamorous horizons. One of the few bars in San Francisco that will still let you smoke inside (but the first of many we encountered this Friday night), the immediate rush of second-hand smoke is enough to give you flashbacks to the first time you choked on a Marlboro Red in your junior high bathroom stall. If you’re sensitive to environmental tobacco, you’ll just have to suck it up and enjoy those delightful, toxic fumes.

As is usually the case with these sorts of establishments, the bar was packed with nothing but men over 50 (plus us) cooing over the female Asian staff, who all looked like they were auditioning for a Britney Spears music video. Laissez-faire seems to be in full effect: cigars, graffiti, dice games, whiskey shots out of plastic bottles that just say “whiskey” on the label, cheap beer, snuff pipes, and free bags of Orville Redenbacher. ‘Nuff said.

RJ’s Sports Bar (701 Geary): Korean women behind the bar (it seems to be Bush corridor de rigueur) who speak excellent Spanish and have incredible dance moves (don’t ask me how I know, but this was the biggest surprise of all). Another bar that allows indoor smoking, despite a sticker, in plain sight, that contradicts such actions. A man came in and requested that the bartender fill up his empty Gatorade bottle with Anchor Steam for $5, and without a second thought, that call was answered.

High Tide Lounge (600 Geary): Free food ranging from kimchi, chicken wings, and sushi rolls to stuffed peppers, pad Thai, chow mein, and something that resembled an egg roll but looked more like a snuffed out cigar. I didn’t ask questions. In the midst of our revels, we happened upon a petite woman taking a little catnap in the corner of the bar. Despite sleeping on a cold linoleum floor, she looked quite peaceful. Definitely not dead, though … we checked her pulse.

Uptown Joe’s

0

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE Use of the word “downtown” in the American vernacular has always faintly troubled me. It’s a term that should be used only with respect to Manhattan, which really does have a downtown, along with a midtown and an uptown. The better phrase for the rest of us is “city center,” which is what you tend to see in European cities — signs reading “centrum” or (in German-speaking lands) “zentrum,” with a big arrow pointing you in the right direction.

Of course, in a city as hilly as San Francisco, “up” and “down” have meanings independent of any two-dimensional map. Uptown Joe’s, the successor to Café Majestic, might not be in any actual uptown anyone here would actually refer to, but the restaurant is pretty far up the southern face of Pacific Heights. So it can claim some real elevation, if not a view. It’s the “Joe” part of the name, interestingly, that’s been the occasion for some legal tussling in the past year between Uptown Joe’s and Original Joe’s, which burned down three years ago.

What’s most striking to me about the restaurant’s name is how inapposite it is. It sounds a diner-ish, Seinfeldian note — you can almost see Uncle Leo carping and gesturing in a booth over a bowl of chicken noodle soup — but the restaurant is in fact an elegant, high-ceilinged, cream-colored vault, almost fin de siècle Viennese in its quiet dignity. If you thought that the quiet restaurant was a thing of the past here, where the dominant trend in restaurant design is a noisy urban minimalism with concrete accents and patrons texting away because they can’t hear one another, you’ll find Uptown Joe’s to be a welcome surprise. It’s the sort of place that encourages that most retro of human practices, conversation.

In keeping with the vast dining room’s old world graciousness, the kitchen turns out a menu that might have been described as “continental” a generation ago. Many dishes have Italian roots — there are a number of pastas and several veal possibilities, including piccata and parmagiana — but many others seem generically occidental, such as charbroiled filet mignon or pork chops.

A nice touch on the antipasto platter ($14.95 for two) was the red-wine vinaigrette drizzled over everything. It lent a glamorous and inviting sheen. “Everything” meant ham, salami, and pepperoni, slices of white cheese, tomato quarters, black olives (pitted — thank you!), and red-onion rings atop chopped spears of romaine lettuce.

Minestrone ($5) was served in a tureen whose shape probably helped hold in heat but made access tricky. The soup itself had a sickly, gray-green color, perhaps because of a bounty of cabbage, and was dotted with kidney beans and macaroni tubes. Its flavor was dominated by the earthy bite of the stock (roasted vegetable?) and the heap of grated Parmesan our server spooned over the top, to give it a cap almost like that of French onion soup.

Fried chicken ($18.95 for a half-bird) had a crisp, brownish-bronze crust that was lovely to look at but, being gravely underseasoned, not much to taste. Some CPR administered via salt shaker did restore a faint heartbeat, and the meat itself was juicy. The real redeemer of the plate was the slew of vegetables — broccoli and cauliflower florets, zucchini, sheets of Swiss chard, chunks of baby carrot — apparently braised in stock, to judge by their flavorfulness. Steamed mixed vegetables so often taste like hospital food, but not these.

Calamari steak ($18.95) is sometimes said to be the poor man’s abalone, but it can be splendid in its own right if not overcooked to toughness. Uptown Joe’s batter-fried version was tender with just a hint of chewiness (can we say al dente in this context?) and doused with lemon butter for a fillip of decadence. On the side: a mound of rigatoni tossed with marinara sauce.

Uptown Joe’s prices strike me on the whole as not bargain-basement despite the restaurant’s folksy name. Neither are they through the roof, especially considering the ambiance, although the desserts did leaving me wondering. The chocolate mousse cake ($7.75) was light as whipped cream and not much else, while the apple pie ($7.50, with a pat of vanilla ice cream) was almost too hot to eat in spots despite a creditable crust. In a word: middling. 

UPTOWN JOE’S

Dinner: Tues.–Sun., 5–10:30 p.m.

Brunch: 9 a.m.–2 p.m.

1500 Sutter, SF

(415) 441-1280

Full bar

AE/DS/MC/V

Not noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Delicate power

0

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE When Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes premiered Mikhael Fokine’s Scheherazade in June 1910, Paris exploded. Not only had the choreographer forsaken the hallowed halls of classicism, he had put on stage the most sensually explicit ballet ever seen in that city’s stage. Its orientalism and Leon Bakst’s exquisitely lush design influenced fashions and design for years.

None of this impressed Alonzo King when it came to his commission from the Monaco Dance Forum for its Ballets Russes centenary in 2009. King drew upon versions of One Thousand and One Nights that have floated around the Middle East and India for centuries. What he has picked up is the delicacy of the storytelling, in which one fable spins out of another. King’s Scheherazade feels as evanescent and shimmery as a spider’s web; yet its resilience comes from the way he deploys his dancers. The skewed balances, fractured lines, and abrupt transitions are intended to open doors to deeper perception of the potential that King sees in everything, dancers included. Here — until the flattish ending — they were enveloped in a transparent lucidity, no doubt much enhanced by Axel Morgenthaler’s sophisticated lightening.

King kept traces of the Arabian Nights narrative in which Scheherazade ultimately wins her life and marries the King. Anchoring the choreography is an extended “Pas de Deux for Scheherazade” (Laurel Keen) and Sharyar (David Harvey) that aspires toward myth. It is physically fierce as well as lyrical, passionate yet also impersonal. These dancers could be lovers, male/female principles, or natural forces. They reject entanglement even as they acknowledge its inevitability. When Keen grabs Harvey’s head with both hands, you don’t know whether she is about to tear it off or embrace it. Hanging onto limbs, crawling between legs and swimming on arms, these two equals struggle to keep apart until the tender resolution. Expressively complex, Harvey has finally stepped into his own as a King dancer; longterm company member Keen seems to become stronger the longer she keeps dancing.

A potent presence was Corey Scott Gilbert who, in his long red robe, flowed through Scheherazade as perhaps a guiding spirit. In Fokine’s version, the sultan’s wife fell in love with a Nubian slave, danced by Nijinsky in black face. The racism of that portrait has rendered the ballet unperformable. Tall, strong, with a reach that seems limitless and an ability to hone in on the smallest detail and be vulnerable, Scott Gilbert seemed a tribute to and vindication of that slave.

Scheherazade opens on a note of intimacy. Keen is surrounded by three attendants (Meredith Webster, Ashley Jackson and newcomer Jeannette Diaz-Barbuda) who introduce themselves in personalized solos as she, stretched in a classic oriental divan pose, watches them from the sidelines. This gentle woman-centeredness set the tone for the rest of the ballet. Jackson became the first among equals, exquisite in her phrasing, and drawing strength from who knows where.

Not that King shortchanged his men. Ricardo Zayas shot through his variations like a rocket. Following Keelan Whitmore as he wove himself in and out of ensemble work was one of the evening’s great pleasures. The work also gave showy opportunities to new apprentices Michael Montgomery and Christopher Bordenave.

Composer/percussionist Zakir Hussain incorporated elements of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade into a rich mellifluous score of world and electronic music—performed live — that immeasurably contributed to King’s choreography. As did the opulent but ever so restrained designs for set and costumes by Robert Rosenwasser and the fabulous Colleen Quen. By following Diaghilev’s dictum that music, design, and dance need to support each other for a unified theatrical experience, King paid the master impresario his most appropriate tribute.

Unfortunately, Scheherazade ended on a flat note. A free-for-all involving the company and assorted additional dancers flooded the stage with, judging from the music, what was supposed to be an atomistic hymn to joy. A great ensemble choreographer King is not.

SCHEHERAZADE

Thurs/21–Sun/24, $25–$75

Novellus Theatre

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

700 Howard, SF

(415) 978-2787

www.ybca.org

Understory

0

Dear Andrea:

We’ve been trying to sex up our sex life (we have been married 10 years and yes, things can get a little boring) and among other things I went to Victoria’s Secret and bought some not too slutty but certainly sexy underwear, and … nothing. He just wanted to get them off so we could get down to business. Isn’t this the kind of thing men are supposed to like? Now I feel kind of silly for wasting the money and time.

Love,

Not In The Mood

Dear Mood:

I’m convinced that fancy underwear, in particular, is vastly over-rated. Males are reputed to be visual responders, while women are said to respond more to words, emotional states, and even smells than to raw visual input. But if you ask men what they really want to see women wearing, most of them say nothing. Or rather, “Nothing, thanks.”

So what will reignite a long-banked fire? In a word, teamwork. Don’t stand there by the bed throwing what amounts to metaphorical sexual spaghetti strands at the wall until one sticks. You want to make a mutual effort to reconnect, which takes time. Skip the last TV show. Prioritize. Let the new sexy emerge organically, and then when (if) you discover that some sort of shopping trip is in order, try going (or leaning over the laptop) together.

At the same time, I would never discount the power of feeling sexy. It could be new underwear or new muscles or a new haircut or new boots (hello). But I’m all about the doing something for yourself that reaffirms your hottitude in your own eyes. And — if you don something that makes you feel that way and then act on it with him, I can pretty well guarantee he’ll notice.

Love,

Andrea

Dear Andrea:I like the way boxers look. But I get jock itch and need to keep out moisture and I think briefs work better for that. Therefore, I usually wear briefs or sling-type underwear. I feel kind of silly in the little tight things, but anything’s better than crazy crotch itch.

Love,

Funny Pants

Dear Pants:

Did you know that “it’s pants” is a very British way of saying “stupid” or “lame” but much funnier? I want to call things “pants!” But meanwhile, I am happy not to be in yours.

Not that we women don’t get our own mortifying crotch complaints — have you never noticed that we get an entire aisle at the big chain drugstores?

One thing I can say for men and their jockular issues is that they rarely go on about them in public. The thing is, women are universally instructed to avoid anything tight and plasticy, so if I were you (so glad I’m not!) I’d want to be very sure what is causing that itch and follow a doctor’s sartorial recommendations. Maybe you’ll hit it lucky and she’ll let you wear boxers, as a man was intended to.

Love,

Andrea

Addicted to the beat

0

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC I’m bugging out. The evening has somehow melted into the early hours of the purple morning. Civilization II has sucked me into an imperialist warp zone on the buzzing computer screen. Pizza boxes litter the room. I’ve just started high school in Los Angeles and discovered the psychedelic powers of a magical herb that grew in Ziploc bags. My little spatio-temporal world has shifted.

On the radio, J.Rocc mixes Mos Def’s “Universal Magnetic” into Quasimoto’s “Come On Feet,” an otherworldly meditation on paranoia and the endlessly running human spirit. Come on feet/Cruise for me, wheezes a disembodied voice from Planet Helium. On the screen, my Egyptian chariots slaughter the Greeks. I don’t yet know that Madlib’s hypnotic sample for the Quas cut comes from the score of René Laloux’s 1973 animated film, Le Planete Sauvage — a story about tiny, heartfelt humanoids who wage a revolution against an oppressive, hyperrational alien species. The vocals trace back to 1971, when Melvin Van Peebles shattered sterile genre lines with his film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, in which a charismatic black male protagonist tries to escape from the forces of parasitic white authority. History reinvents itself. I feel dizzy. One of my chariots lost in battle; I click undo. J.Rocc blurts out: The World Famous Beat Junkiiiiieeees. Was everyone some sort of addict gone ballistic?

“The radio programs Friday Night Flavas and the Wake Up Show were influenced by KDAY,” Rhettmatic — one of the original members of the Junkies — tells me 10 years later, over the phone. “They were the ancestors of KDAY.” During the mid-1980s, Los Angeles youth (perhaps adults too), across the far reaches of the monstrous city, would climb their roofs and position radio antennas to catch the fuzzy frequency of 1580AM. It was the only dial on the West Coast championing hip-hop. The KDAY mixmasters, from Dr. Dre to Joe Cooley, would get down for extended traffic jam mixes, showing off their skills by scratching and blending poly-percussive electro jams with vintage soul and new school raps. A new generation of multilayered street style and consciousness was born.

By the late ’80s AM radio gave way to the stronger frequency modulation (FM), and the MC slowly pushed the DJ into the background. KDAY disappeared and N.W.A. introduced the world to a hyperbolic Compton. “When KDAY went off the air and the mixmasters disbanded, there was no all-star DJ crew,” says Rhettmatic. “J.Rocc wanted a crew of all-star cats, and we were all already friends, so that’s how it came about.” The year was 1992, and the World Famous Beat Junkies, not so famous yet, emerged from the backwaters of Orange County, the fairy tale hotbed of conservatism, known to most for Disneyland and surfing more so than the avant-garde.

For the next decade, the Junkies combined forces with Bay Area mix wizards, giving the group more members to push the craft of DJing over and beyond. They competed on the battle circuit and helped carve out the aesthetics of turntablism, the technical art of DJ battling. “We combined styles,” Rhettmatic says. “The East Coast’s X-Ecutioners had a funky style with beat juggles and body tricks. San Francisco, with the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, was doing crazy fast scratches. We took both of them and created our own hybrid style.” The Junkies also pivoted the DJ back to the center of the hip-hop group: Rhettmatic DJed and produced head-nodding beats for the Visionaries, while Babu anchored Dilated Peoples. Sales of Ziploc bags skyrocketed. And the Junkies helped shape, in turn, a unique underground style of California hip-hop, where street smarts did windmills around a surreal tableau of cosmic imagery.

Every Californian obsessed with hip-hop of the age remembers when the three volumes of Beat Junkie mixes dropped in the late ’90s. Minds were blown. Heads got knocked. Boomboxes short-circuited. And so on. Each volume mirrors a radio show, influenced by KDAY programming as much as New York Mister Magic broadcasts and Red Alert tapes. “The mixes were done on analog cassette four-tracks,” Rhettmatic says. “They have that pop and hiss feel.” The radio program format glued together the off-the-cuff style of the underground to a decidedly patchwork narrative structure. Dirty drums carried spontaneous flows while blunted bass pushed intoxicating rhyme schemes. When the lyrics faded away, the beat would kill it.

The Junkies took on the role of hosts as much as curators — placing new artists like Slum Village and Jurassic 5 within the momentum of the tradition. All the while, they stamped the mixes with individuating styles, and reconfigured the tradition through a cipher approach to blending and scratching records, samples, vocals cuts, and loops. “We come from a generation where you have to be original and stand out,” Rhettmatic says. What emerged was frenetic and unbounded, both a testament to the creativity of the collage and the groundwork for the instrumental hip-hop, and its mutated progeny, popularized today.

The Junkies have since focused on numerous individual projects — from Rhettmatic’s duo record with Michigan-based MC Buff1 to J.Rocc’s much-anticipated solo debut on Stones Throw — which make the opportunity to see them collaborate together on six turntables and four mixers this Saturday at Mighty a truly rare one. “A lot of people know us as turntablists, but we are all around DJs,” Rhemttmatic says. “For us, DJs had to do everything.” You can call DJ love a habit. But I’ll leave it to Lord Zen from the Visionaries to close with a verse from “Blessings”: You can’t get this dope without a prescription/Over-the-counter versions fell prey to addiction. 

FREQUENCY: A BEAT JUNKIE TAKEOVER

Rhettmatic, J.Rocc, Babu, and Shortkut with Mr. E

Sat/23, 10 p.m., $10

Mighty

119 Utah, SF

(415) 762-0151

www.mighty119.com

On the margins

3

Sarah@sfbg.com

Franklin is a 20-something computer programmer who shares an apartment with 10 other people around his age, an arrangement that helps him and his housemates come up with $3,500 each month for rent in the Mission, a rapidly gentrifying part of town.

“Everyone is pretty much working, but they are in and out at different times so the house isn’t ever really empty. But there’s usually only three or four of us at a time, ” Franklin told the Guardian, speaking on his cell phone as he rode his bike to work.

But how does an apartment that officially has only one bedroom sleep 10 people? Franklin said there are other rooms in the house — including a dining room and a double parlor that splits into two with sliding doors — and that each of these spaces has a couple sleeping in it. “And there is one person sleeping in a closet and another sleeping in a space atop the bathroom.”

While overcrowding has been a problem in immigrant communities in San Francisco, it’s reaching a new area: young people who have for generations flocked to the city to escape uncomfortable home lives, find a supportive community, and make a new start in life.

Ted Gullicksen, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, said at least 1,250 housing units annually were lost to condominium and tenancy-in-common conversions in the dot.com and housing bubble years, a loss rate that has slowed only slightly since then.

“Right now, it’s about 1,000 units a year,” he said.

It’s become more common for young people to struggle to pay rent in a town where well-paying jobs are scarce and educational programs have been cut — a triple whammy that means youth with additional challenges are at risk of becoming homeless and getting trapped in vicious cycle of abuse and incarceration.

COMPOUNDING THE PROBLEM

Sherilyn Adams, executive director of Larkin Street Youth Services, which provides housing, medical, social, and educational services to at-risk homeless and runaway youth, says all young people in San Francisco face the same basic challenges.

“And if, in addition, these youth are part of a group like LGBTQ youth, or are youth of color, or immigrant youth, documented or not, then the circumstances and barriers are much more exacerbated,” she said.

Adams said San Francisco has done a lot to add resources for transitional age youth, a group that traditionally has been defined as ages 12 to 24. “But there is still a significant gap in resources, especially for the more disenfranchised groups, because the longer you’ve been on the street, the more complex your issues in terms of substance abuse and mental health.”

Civic leaders, including California Assembly member Tom Ammiano, recently held a rally and candlelight march to raise awareness of the tragic rise in homelessness and suicides among LGBTQ youth. Shortly after, Adams told us, “Youth who came here escaping homophobia in their family or city then face the harsh reality of San Francisco.”

Adams understands that some people see Proposition L, legislation on the November ballot to criminalize sitting or lying on city sidewalks, as a way to address disruptive and aggressive behavior on the streets. “But it becomes part of the larger divide, because youth who come here and are on the street are mostly there because they have no other place. So penalizing them in the absence of services, housing, and education is ineffective at best and really harmful at worst,” Adams said.

Many young people on the brink of homelessness are “somewhat invisible,” and therefore at high risk, she said. “Youth will double, triple up. They will couch surf as a way to be off the streets. And we hear the stories where youth are faced with a Sophie’s choice: Do you sleep on the street, or do you barter with what you have available so as to get shelter? And LGBTQ youth are at particular risk because the more disenfranchised and disconnected you are, the more you have to make impossible choices to survive.”

Jodi Schwartz, executive director at Lyric, an SF nonprofit that focuses on building community and inspiring change in LGBTQ youth, said the group serves 500 youth and reaches out to 800 to 1,000 more each year. “We go into classrooms and talk about hate speech, putting it in the context of racism and other forms of oppression,” she said.

“There’s a misconception that because we live in San Francisco and have a lot more dialogue and interaction with the LGBTQ community, that young people’s experience here is so much better. It may be different, but I wouldn’t say it’s better,” Schwartz said, noting that harassment levels, especially for transgendered youth in local schools, are very high.

HELPING THOSE IN NEED

Young women are another at-risk group, especially if they are pregnant, have kids, or are in the foster or juvenile justice system.

As executive director of the Center for Young Women’s Development in San Francisco’s gritty SoMa district, Marlene Sanchez tries to stabilize at-risk young women, then engage them in policy work so they can advocate for other young people they know.

“We work with young women who are involved in the underground street economies, doing prostitution, drug sales, and selling stolen goods like clothes,” Sanchez said. “We try to reach them on the streets and inside Juvenile Hall, so we take an inside-outside approach.”

Leajay Harper, who coordinates CYWD’s Young Mothers United program, works with young pregnant women inside Juvenile Hall.

“We have all experienced poverty, parents on drugs, and having to take care of younger siblings,” Harper said. “When young moms get incarcerated, they are at risk of having their children taken away at much higher rates. So we started parenting classes that are age and culturally relevant.”

City records show that while only about 12 percent of Juvenile Hall detainees are female, they are twice as likely as their male counterparts to land back in custody for probation violations.

“There are lots of young women with felonies struggling to pay their bills and feed their kids who look out the window and see they can sell drugs. And that often seems like the only option,” Sanchez explained.

City statistics also show that of the overwhelmingly male population at Juvenile Hall, almost half is African American, and that many are inside for what appear to be gang-related offenses.

Easop Winston, a 35-year-old local musician, church pastor, and member of the Visitacion Valley Peacekeepers, regularly visits young men inside Juvenile Hall, where gangs are a topic of discussion every week.

“The same guys that they have been fighting with, they are now incarcerated with,” Winston observed. “So one of the approaches I try to take is rehabilitating how they think about their neighbor. You are killing/fighting with someone who lives one block over. It’s plain genocide”

He credits the juvenile justice system for doing its best, but worries that it fails to rehabilitate youthful offenders with jobs skills, education, and counseling before sending them back into society.

He blames the churches for not doing a better job of making youth feel welcome. “Churches are part of the fabric of our community,” he said. “They need to do more outreach and not have so many rules. They need to accept youth as they are, with their tattoos, piercings, and styles of clothing.”

Winston believes politicians need to do a better job of making sure community-based organizations deliver on their promises to help working class communities of color. At the same time, as he acknowledges, “We can’t cure the world in one day.”

“Over the last five to 10 years, the African American population in SF has shrunk,” he observed. “Everybody is moving to Antioch and Fairfield because people can’t afford to live here. People are losing their jobs. And San Francisco has almost become impossible to live in unless you have a college degree. A lot of what I hear from youth is about economics. They want jobs. They want to be trained.”

PUSHING THEM OUT

Political disputes over the city’s sanctuary city policies on undocumented immigrants — which have left in limbo the question of whether arrested immigrants will get their days in court before being turned over to the federal government for possible deportation — have also been a source of instability for immigrant teens, many of whom are homeless and/or LGBTQ.

Police Commissioner Angela Chan, a staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus, decried Mayor Gavin Newsom for refusing to implement Sup. David Campos’ due process legislation, which the board approved in November 2009.

“It’s been a little bit upsetting for the many groups that took the democratic process seriously. But these groups are still very committed to these kids,” Chan said. “We are hoping to work with the new U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag to clarify this issue and explain that the top priority of the Obama administration is not to deport undocumented youth.”

Other so-called tough-on-crime initiatives also threaten local at-risk young people. In September, City Attorney Dennis Herrera secured an injunction against 41 alleged gang members in Visitacion Valley, a strategy that progressives fear will accelerate the ongoing displacement of the African American community.

Court documents show that 66 percent of the men named in the injunction are 18 to 25 years old and that many have children in public housing, where lease holders are predominantly women of color.

San Francisco City College Trustee Chris Jackson, 27, is running for the District 10 seat on the Board of Supervisors. Noting that the southeast SF district has some of the highest numbers of poor people and children citywide, Jackson said that youth issues are similar to challenges that other voters face.

“But the context is different,” said Jackson, who previously served on the San Francisco Youth Commission. “Young people care about safe streets because it’s us or our friends who are on them. We care about schools because we are in them and want to go to college. And we are concerned about the future of employment because how do you tell folks to go to school if there are no jobs?”

Jackson notes that in the Bayview-Hunters Point, home to the city’s largest remaining African American community, kids don’t come back if they leave for college. “We see a brain drain. It’s really difficult to retain young people, so it’s important to first make sure that youth’s housing needs are met. And they also need access to careers so that when they graduate, they know there is a job in the city. But right now, youth can’t even find a summer job because of the recession.”

He called for city policies that are based on the needs of current city residents rather than developers’ profits or the desires of well-off outsiders to move here.

“San Francisco is more of an opportunity for Silicon Valley residents than for youth who were born and raised here. And part of the problem is city policies, ineffective programs, and a failure to provide job opportunities for youth,” he said. “Everything for youth has been gutted.”

And those evaporating opportunities are compounded by punitive policies like Prop. L, Jackson said, further alienating young people. “It comes down to how much money you have,” Jackson observes. “If you are rich, you can enjoy the parks, the clubs, the transit. But if you are low-income, especially low-income youth of color, it’s very hard to take advantage of everything the city has to offer.”

Noting that both City College and the San Francisco Unified School District canceled their summer school program, Jackson said, “it doesn’t look like youth are prioritized.”

Jackson was recently at Double Rock (a.k.a. the Alice Griffith Public Housing Project) and he saw four kids under 10 who were at home while their parents were at work. “Why aren’t they in school or in child care? And don’t give me the line that these are hard to serve communities. We have to serve them.”

N’tanya Lee, executive director of Coleman Advocates, agrees that while all young people are struggling in the city, African American children and youth are having one of the worst times.

“We don’t need 5,000 different strategies and initiatives when 90 percent of these kids live in extreme poverty, mostly concentrated in public housing, and you could fit the city’s entire black high school student population into one auditorium,” Lee said.

She wants the city to create a database of these youth and develop specific strategies to help this population before it’s too late.

“No one in city government feels accountable for the outcomes for black children and youth,” she said. “Instead you have one group who are about young people and another who are about economic development — and they have nothing to do with each other. Meanwhile, we’ve lost half of all black families with children in this city in the past 20 years.”

Our 44th Anniversary Issue also includes stories by Rebecca Bowe on ageing out of the foster care system, Caitlin Donohue’s account of the Haight street kids, and Tim Redmond’s editorial on the issues facing our rising generation

The soul of the city

23

tredmond@sfbg.com

44th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL We all arrived in San Francisco broke: Paulo and me in the ’73 Capri, crawling over Donner Pass with a blown valve and three cylinders firing; Tracy and Craig in the back of a VW van, behind in the payments and on the run from the repo men; Tom and Sharon hitching across the Southwest after Tom, who could bullshit with the best, talked himself out a jail cell in New Orleans. Moak showed up in a rusty Datsun with the wheels falling off. Jane and Danny came on the old hippie bus, the Green Tortoise, $69 across the country.

But we all had a friend who knew a friend where you could crash for a little while. And in the early 1980s you got food stamps the first day and it only took a couple of weeks to get a job waiting tables or canvassing or selling trinkets on the Wharf. And once you’d scraped together a couple hundred dollars — maybe two weeks’ work — you could get a place to live. My first room in a flat in the Western Addition was $120 a month.

We did art and politics and writing and music. After a while, some of us went to law school, some of us became journalists, some of us went into government and education. A few of us fled, and Paulo died in the plague (dammit). But in the end, a lot of us were — and are — San Franciscans, part of a city that welcomed us and gave us a chance.

It was a very different time to be young in San Francisco.

I’m not here to get all nostalgic, really I’m not. There were serious problems in 1982 — raging gentrification was creating clashes in the Mission and the Haight and south of Market that were more violent than anything going on today. And frankly, broke as we were, most of my friends were from middle class homes and were college educated and had a leg up. We weren’t going to starve; we didn’t have to make really ugly choices to eat.

Most of the stories in this special anniversary issue are about marginalized youth — young people trying to survive and make their way against all odds in an increasingly hostile city and a bitter, harsh economy.

But there’s an important difference about San Francisco today, something earlier generations of immigrants didn’t face. The cost of housing, always high, has so outstripped the entry-level and nonprofit wage scale that it’s almost impossible for young people to survive in this town — much less have the time to add to its artistic and creative culture.

I met the 21-year-old daughter of a college friend the other day. She’s as idealistic as we all were. She wants to move to San Francisco for the same reasons we did and you did — except maybe she won’t. Because she felt as if she had to come visit first, to use her dad’s network, see if she could line up a job and figure out if her likely earnings would cover the cost of living. When I mentioned that I’d just up and left the East Coast and headed west, planning to figure it out when I got here, she gave me a look that was part amazement and part sadness. You just can’t do that anymore.

The odds are pretty good that San Francisco won’t get her — her talent and energy will go somewhere else, somewhere that’s not so harsh on young people. I wondered, as I do every once in a while when I’m feeling halfway between an angry political writer and an old curmudgeon: would I come to San Francisco today?

Would Harvey Milk? Would Jello Biafra? Would Dave Eggers? Would you?

If you were born here, would you stay?

Are we squandering this city’s greatest resource — its ability to attract and retain creative people?

The two people who started the Bay Guardian 44 years ago were young arrivals from the Midwest. Bruce Brugmann looked around the city room at the Milwaukee Journal, where he worked as a reporter, and realized there wasn’t any job he wanted there in 10 years. With two young kids and a dream of starting a weekly newspaper in one of the world’s most exciting cities, Bruce and his wife, Jean Dibble, settled in a $130-a-month flat. The Guardian’s first office was a desk in the printers shop. When they paper could finally afford its own space, Bruce and Jean moved the staff into a $60-a-month four-room place on Ninth and Bryant streets.

From the start, the paper was a “preservationist” publication — both in terms of environmental issues like saving the bay and in the larger political sense. The San Francisco Bay Guardian was out to save San Francisco.

The city was under assault — by the developers who were making fast money tossing high-rises into downtown; the speculators making fast money flipping property, ducking taxes, and driving up rents; the unscrupulous landlords who were letting their buildings fall apart while they charged ever higher rent. For the Guardian, fighting this urbicide meant protecting San Francisco values, preserving the best of the city from what Bruce liked to call “the radicals at the Chamber of Commerce.”

For the Guardian, progress wasn’t measured in the number of new buildings constructed, but in the ability of the city to remain a place where artists and writers and community organizers and hell-raisers — and the young people who were always bringing new life to the city — could survive. We supported rent control, and growth limits, and affordable housing policies, and limits on condo conversions, and minimum-wage and sanctuary city laws — and a long list of other things that together amounted to a progressive agenda.

And in 2010, the assault on the young, the poor, the nonconformists, the immigrants, is still on, at full force. The mayor and his allies are pushing a ballot measure that would make it illegal just to sit on the sidewalk. He’s also turning the local juvenile authorities into immigration cops, breaking up families in the process. He’s cut funding for youth services, and wants to make it easier for speculators to evict tenants, take affordable rental housing (especially the flats that young people share to save money) off the market, and create high-priced condos. Virtually all of the new housing he’s pushing is for rich people. He’s shutting down parties and arresting DJs and, in effect, declaring a War on Fun.

What he’s doing — and what the downtown forces want — is the transformation of San Francisco from a welcoming city where the weird is the normal, where the young and the crazy and the brilliant and the broke can be part of (or even drivers of) the culture, to one where profit and property values are all that matter. And that’s a recipe for urban doom.

Richard Florida’s 2004 bestseller The Rise of the Creative Class shook up political thinking by pointing out that cities thrive with iconoclasts, not organization people. Everyone likes to talk about that now, even Mayor Gavin Newsom. But the missing piece, from a policy perspective, is that the creative class — particularly the young people who are going to be the next generation of the creative class — needs space to grow. And that means the most important thing a creative city can do is nurture the very people Newsom and his allies want to drive away.

If Prop. L, the “sit-lie” law, passes, if the rental flats in the Mission that have been home to several generations of young artists, writers, musicians and future civic leaders vanish in the name of condo conversions, if 85 percent of all the new housing in San Francisco is affordable only to millionaires, if the money that helps foster kids and runaways and at-risk youth dries up because this rich city won’t raise taxes, if nightlife becomes an annoyance to be stifled…then we’re in danger of losing San Francisco.

Our 44th Anniversary Issue also includes stories by Sarah Phelan on SF’s disadvantaged youth, Caitlin Donohue’s account of the Haight street kids, and Rebecca Bowe’s look at ageing out of the foster care system

How they’re sitting

182

caitlin@sfbg.com

I’ve been hanging out with the Haight Street kids. Over the course of a week or so, I smoked weed, drank malt liquor, witnessed nasty run-ins with police officers — all events that anyone who has walked down the sidewalks of that legendary street would expect. But I also met people who’d give away their last dollar to a friend, people who know a thing or two about community, and people who don’t see sidewalks only as thoroughfares to commerce.

Ironically, though the homeless kids on Haight are the explicit inspiration for Proposition L, the sit-lie measure on the Nov. 2 ballot, their voices have been significantly absent from the vitriolic debate on its merits and faults. Ironic because of all people, it’s these young men and women — and the citizens of San Francisco who interact humanely with them — who could teach us the most about what public space in San Francisco could be.

I didn’t just stand with a notebook, fire questions, and walk away. I took a seat and spent time with the kids, to see for myself whether its true that they’re harassing people, letting their dogs run amok, and generally ruining everyone’s lives as much as sit-lie supporters say they are. That it turned out to be uplifting was an added bonus. I got to see what many don’t on their way to shop for souvenir bongs, retro dresses, and designer skateboards — the reason young people from around the country come to the neighborhood.

It doesn’t have anything to do with fancy Victorians and boutiques, which may explain the disconnect between the street kids and their detractors. They come for the legacy of individuals brave enough to slough off social mores that Haight-Ashbury residents are so ostensibly proud of — not to mention the companionship of others who are comfortable with their rejection of and by society. They come to share stories and pipes and encouragement, and it was cool to watch a streetscape in San Francisco that wasn’t geared solely to commerce.

And while the young people I talked to told me how much they liked to travel, to live free of convention and without ties to the workday world, after a while most acknowledged that they had left behind families who couldn’t or didn’t care for them, home situations that were uncomfortable enough to make life on the streets seem like a better alternative.

Although violent incidents, uncivil behavior, and threatening dogs are well-documented by other news sources, I didn’t see any of that when I was hanging out on Haight. That doesn’t mean that these things don’t exist — but it might suggest that some of the strident supporters of Prop. L are seeing what they want to see.

SPANGING

Steven, who asked us not to use his full name, is 20 and homeless. He grew up in Stockton, became a welder after high school, then decided he “didn’t want the hassle” of staying put for a wage job. His fingernails play host to an ungodly amount of dirt, but his tight blonde curls, pretty golden eyes (“they look like a lion’s!” says one friend in amazement) and mellow, generous demeanor make him a popular hub among his homeless peers.

It doesn’t hurt that he sells weed, small amounts at a time to passing tourists and acquaintances. He silently passes a pipe around to his companions with the slightest provocation. Steven approached me on the street before he knew I was a journalist, a fact that seemed to make little difference to him.

He says he came to the Haight “for the people,” for the area’s reputation of open souls and unconventional artists that originated in the glory days of Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead. Like most of the kids I talked to, he eschewed the often dangerous shelter scene to sleep in Golden Gate Park or nearby Buena Vista Park despite the police surveillance that could result in spendy fines for park camping.

Although Steven’s worldly possessions fit into the large camping backpack he carries with him 24 hours a day, and even though he’s been living on Haight less than nine months — broken by a jaunt to Eugene, Ore., where he found it “too rainy” to join the town’s expansive street kid community — he doesn’t plan on being homeless forever. It’s just that nothing about this economic climate inspires him to sell his freedom for a paycheck. He plans to go to a four-year college eventually. He sees an education as the only way to get a “real” job. “But until then, why not do this?” he asks. I’m not sure if he’s waiting for my answer.

“This” is sit on Haight Street and “spange,” the term used for “flying a sign” and asking shoppers and neighbors walking by for money, often in a creative way. Of the many crimes street kids are guilty of in the eyes of supporters, spanging is the only one Prop. L would effect.

If Francisco voters approve it, anyone who sits or reclines on the sidewalk (with exceptions for the handicapped and those with permits — but not for the tired, workers on breaks, or people waiting for buses) will be subject to a fine of $50 to $100 for the first offense and $300 to $500, or a maximum of 10 days in jail, for someone found guilty twice within 24 hours of unduly supporting his or her body on the sidewalk between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. Similar laws can be found up and down the West Coast — although Portland’s was pulled from the books last year after being found unconstitutional because it targeted the homeless.

I ask street kid after street kid why they’ve chosen this lifestyle. Many wouldn’t have it any other way. “Why do people want us off the street?” says Oz, a 21 year old from upstate New York who deals alongside Steven. “Probably because they can’t do this themselves.”

Though I’m skeptical at first, after a while I see why the unconventional group of “travelers” on Haight choose to spend their time spanging. Conversations get struck up with the most unusual people — the old hippie who bought a new Mad Hatter cap for the weekend, the suburban woman who might or might not like to buy some weed (she can’t decide). When a few businesses ask us to move so they can sweep the sidewalk or clear a doorway, the street kids I’m watching relocate with little protest. Many who walk past Steven seemed to find humor in his sign, which that day reads “Are you one paycheck away from having this be your job too?” He says he likes to switch his message daily. “Keep it fresh.”

By hanging out with the spangers, I get to see a Haight Street with human interaction at its core. People walk by, often dropping off surprisingly generous gifts: a ex-Grateful Dead roadie with a massive beard who lives in Fairfax and stopped by the neighborhood for a quick lunch with his daughter parks in front of Steven’s group and approaches them. “You kids hungry? You look like you could use a pizza.”

He emerges a half-hour later with a large cheese pie and drives away after chatting for a few minutes about the old days, to the glee of the group (many of the street kids are Dead Heads). The kids eat their fill, then start handing out the remaining pizza to people walking by, a comic role reversal. “I like to support the community — they get back all the money they get sucked out of them,” Steven tells me.

“NARCOTIC FUELED, ANTISOCIAL THUGS”

The campaign to put a sit-lie ordinance into effect in San Francisco kicked into gear with a Saturday morning stroll. As San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius — who regularly publicizes complaints against the Haight street kid culture — reported Feb. 27, Mayor Gavin Newsom recently relocated to the neighborhood and saw evidence of drug use on the main stretch of Haight where he was walking with his infant daughter. “As God as my witness, there’s a guy on the sidewalk smoking crack,” Newsom reportedly said.

The mayor threw his support behind a sentiment already being voiced by the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, a resident-merchant alliance in the area. HAIA sees the street kids as disruptive outsiders. “These are not the flower children of the 1960s. It’s narcotic fueled, antisocial thugs who act like a quasi-gang,” Ted Loewenberg, president of the association, was quoted as saying in Business Week.

Adds the Prop L website: ” … the Haight-Ashbury district — once synonymous with peace and love — this corridor is now a hot spot for street bullies, pit bulls, and drug abuse.” It’s a deft cultural lobotomy that dissociates drugs from the Summer of Love, and a devious one that implies that street kids weren’t major players in that social revolution.

As for the bullies, I didn’t see any violence from the street kids in the days and nights I spent out on Haight Street.

I couldn’t get cops to talk to me about it, either. There were two police officers on foot traversing Haight’s main strip and I introduced myself when they stood chatting with a coffee shop owner in the afternoon sunshine and asked them about the sort of neighborhood complaints they regularly received about the street kids.

“No comment,” Cop No. 1 told me. Okay, Cop No. 2, your thoughts? “I don’t speak English.”

To my requests that they share their view of crime on Haight, I could get one response: “It’s complicated.” Later, when I returned to write down their badge numbers, they were standing silently, staring at a lone young man sitting against a wall next to his skateboard. The kid was looking at the ground. Eventually they handcuffed him and put him in a police car while he pleaded meekly about it “only being a little bit of weed — and I was only skateboarding on the sidewalk.”

The most aggression I witnessed from any party took place while I was tapping my feet to a group of traveling bluegrass musicians performing around 10 p.m. on a Thursday. Their cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway” had inspired an older homeless man to strike up a curiously graceful stomp dance on the sidewalk. He was so drunk and fully immersed in the music that the bottle of Jim Beam in his flailing hand didn’t even register when the police officer approached him and asked, “What do you think you’re doing?”

The musicians began to pack up. “I could have told you this would happen 20 minutes ago,” one tells me, nodding toward the old man. “Don’t say a word or I’ll fucking take you in,” said the cop, who poured out the half-full bottle and wrote a ticket for the older man, who had made a few feeble protests that ended abruptly with the cop’s obscenity.

The officer said he’d received a complaint about the music, a line I heard from each cop I came into contact with on Haight — including one officer who cautioned a family with a toddler to pack up the bracelets they were selling to pay the towing charges on their van. “People don’t like to see people with kids out here, you better move it along,” the cop said.

“I’ve seen aggression because people start shit,” Steven tells me when I ask him about his experience with street violence. A man has just walked by chanting “dirty, dirty” in Steven’s and his friends’ faces. “They don’t like to see people sit on the ground.”

“There are people who come down here just to make themselves look better,” chimes in Oz. “Like ‘ha ha ha, I have air conditioning.’ All kinds of people start shit”

I asked if they knew they were the focus of a massive political debate in San Francisco. “No, what debate?” asked Steven.

“You mean sit-lie?” Oz asks. “It probably has to do with tourism. I don’t see why else they would do that.”

Even the most well-known recent case of Haight Street violence — which was reported June 11 by New York Times reporter Scott James as having “inspired a grass roots movement” that propelled Prop. L, seems to be a question of mutual aggression on the two sides of the street kids issue.

The story goes that a man named Thomas was hosing down the sidewalk in front of his house — a practice that is growing more common in the Haight to make property inhospitable to the homeless. He found himself “surrounded and engaged in a heated confrontation,” as James reports. Thomas reportedly shouted “Do you want a piece of me?” and a scuffle erupted between him and Chad Potter, a 26-year old homeless man, culminating with Potter being arrested and set free the next day. Thomas says Potter and friends continued to harass him after the incident.

James Orr, 24, is busking with his flute when I meet him sitting by a store that sells flowing hippie skirts and bumper stickers that command future tailgaters to “Coexist.” He’s looking to trade his wind instrument for a banjo, which he plays in addition to guitar. A rolling stone, Orr is in town for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival that weekend — he travels the country going to festivals, and even scored a job recently at upstate New York’s Mountain Jam for the event’s blog site, taking photos with a borrowed camera of performances by (ex-member of The Band) Levon Helm and Michael Franti.

Orr’s quite erudite and eager to “say something articulate” about the situation of the street kids and travelers on Haight. He tells me that yeah, he’s seen aggression go down here on occasion. But he resents those situations leading to laws against sitting on the street.

“It’s another example of the few that do mess up casting a bad light on everyone else. Most of us just want to make some money, put a smile on someone’s face.” As a busker, he finds it baffling that people who are against the presence of the homeless would want him to stop plying his trade by making sitting illegal. “You should point out also that it’s how we make money!” he exclaims.

THE PIT BULLS

Snarling ruffians on frayed rope leashes stalking the city streets! As evidenced by the Civil Sidewalks campaign, dogs — specifically pit bulls — are another source of controversy on the pavement. Last December, SFist identified a C.W. Nevius tirade against the breed as example of its ongoing feature “Pit Bull Hate Watch.” The paper has pointed out that the demonized dogs can make great members of society and are often the subject of a media smear campaign.

But for many homeless youth, their dogs aren’t the means of imposing chaos on the gentry. They keep them for the same reasons we do: friendship, protection, love — and during the days I spent on Haight, it was a pleasure to pat the doggies while interviewing their owners. Most were as gentle and laid back as the kids they sprawled next to, a reasonably expected result from the 24 hours a day of socialization with humans that the homeless lifestyle affords.

Smiley is an inveterate street kid unlikely to go indoors anytime soon. “I don’t know how to do anything else,” she tells me. Now in her early 20s with a shock of magenta, purple, and dirty blonde hair and fanciful purple ear plugs that pierce her lobes before spiraling nearly to her shoulders, she’s been traveling since she was 12 — “a Bohemian by blood,” as she puts it. Not only did her parents move their household regularly throughout her childhood, but their heritage is Romani, from the traveling tribes of Eastern Europe.

For Smiley, travel outside the bounds of business trips and weekend vacations is her life’s norm, and Haight Street’s legacy resounds in her nomadic soul. “Most of the people that travelers idolize were here,” she tells me.

Smiley has a year-old behemoth black mutt with droopy eyes. He obliges her as she leans into him holding her spanging sign, which tells the world the pup needs Benadryl for an upcoming van ride to Southern California. “He’s carsick,” she tells me sheepishly. She admits that the dog can limit her mobility on public transportation, but his benefits outweigh his cost. He keeps her warm at night — and, more important for a young woman who is often on her own, he protects her. For a moment breaking out of tough girl mode, she tell me, “oh yeah, I don’t have to worry about anything when he’s around.”

We talk about the perceived threat of dogs on Haight Street. “They want us to leash them, which I guess I understand — but look at that!” A well-dressed woman in her 40s has her Chihuahua off its leash and it has run into the busy street, with her in hot pursuit. “That dog’s out of control,” Smiley smiles.

PISS

Sitting against a mural on a wall where Haight meets Clayton, I watch Piss, an outgoing, gangly guy in his early 20s with a curly blonde mohawk in a growing-out stage. I ask him where he got his unusual moniker. “I like to get drunk and piss on things,” he says.

Well. Originally from Billings, Mont., Piss has been traveling since his mid-teens. “Let’s just say me and my family don’t get along,” he tells me.

His answers to my questions about why he’s on the streets follow a path I see with many of the younger homeless youth: they insist that the lure of the open road was too hard to ignore, but eventually reveal that their parents kicked them out or were unable to care for them at a young age. Many, like Juju, another small-time weed dealer I met, bounced from family member to family member until frictions with them and their significant others left no recourse but the street.

Piss says he’s been to every state in the country, plus Canada and Mexico. With so many years on the road, he is, as they say, letting his freak flag fly. Piss has a blue, vaguely tribal tattoo that curls around his right eye. He’s wearing white tube socks on the dirty pavement. At first glance, he could be crazy — and maybe he is. Whatever his motivation for travel, it’s not to blend in with the locals.

Piss is also actively spanging passersby in a manner that oscillates between off-putting and charming. “You got some money for some crack and ice cream?” he inquires of a passing trio of young women. They shake their head, but before they’re gone completely he continues “I’m just kidding! I don’t like ice cream! Hey miss, you have a nice ass … day!”

Over the course of the hour that I watch him a stand up routine emerges. Beneath the grime, he’s a charismatic kid with an enviable sense of comedic timing.

As he ranges up and down a 20-foot stretch of sidewalk, belly laughs are elicited from a few targets, dollars surfacing here and there. One man carrying an accordion and wearing an expensive-looking pair of leather Chaco sandals donates a handful of strawberries to Piss and to those of us acting as his entourage.

But Piss’ play is a little rough — like a big puppy — and he’s alienating the people who don’t crack up over crack. A couple of people walk away quickly from his petitions shaking their heads over one of the zingers, their suspicions confirmed about those rowdy Haight Street kids.

He’s not doing anything more than what young travelers do all over the world. Thousands of families bid see you later to young adults en route to Prague, Peru, and Perth each year, where they lug their dirty backpacks through the world’s most wondrous towns.

Of course, these kids aren’t sleeping in the public parks of Cuzco — but in countries with plenty of cheap travelers’ hostels, you don’t have to. And though international flights cost more than the van rides and freight train hops that brought in most of the Haight Street kids, backpackers abroad do the same things: take fewer showers and flaunt social norms — not because they want to cause a problem for the natives of the lands they pass through, but because they are young, and discovering themselves for the first time, and can’t see much past that. Piss isn’t being violent, but he has lost the language to deal with “normies” and he’s seen as unpredictable to the not-traveling, not-disenfranchised around him. Which to those who see public space as a place that should be predictable, mean he’s a threat.

The clash between the settled and transient in the Haight is not new. Indeed, it’s what made the neighborhood famous. As far back as the mid-1960s, officials have been simultaneously fighting and publicizing the Haight’s worldwide reputation as a traveler’s meeting place, a place with a culture of loosened societal moorings and enlightenment through free love, drugs, and art.

Businesses claim that the omnipresent homeless drive away paying customers from Haight Street. It a curious claim in an area where the vagrant hippie culture made the place the tourist attraction it is today, and one that is belied by the entry of Whole Foods, which plans to open a branch this year at a lot at Haight and Stanyan vacant since 2006. When contrasted with the Tenderloin — another neighborhood with a visible street community — and its chronic problems attracting a grocery store, the Haight street kids’ effect on local commerce doesn’t seem to be all that grave.

They certainly aren’t making the place any less desirable of a neighborhood to live in for the wealthy. Real estate website Trulia.com puts the median listing price for homes in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood at $962,264.

The Haight Street kids I spoke could all too easily see what sit-lie would mean for San Francisco. When you control public space, you control who is in public space — and they have no illusions about whether or not they’re included in the perfect world of those who push the measure. If it’s enacted, the subculture that made Haight famous — part of which still survives today in a different form — would be gone, leaving it sterile and safe for the head shops and clothing boutiques, an even less authentic version of the ’60s love fest their patrons come to the street for. One wonders if a scrubbed-clean Haight is even what the residents and business owners who have thrown their lot behind sit-lie truly want, or if they’ve been duped into sit-lie’s efficacy by the same forces that on a national level have convinced us that curtailing civil liberties will lead to freedom for the real Americans. It comes down to this: What do we want Haight Street to be? Do we want to capitalize and benefit from the accepting, messy, wildly creative legacy the 20th century endowed our streets, or do we want a clean, friendly, outdoor mall? The powers of homogenization and gentrification can demonize the little heathens on Haight Street all they want, but they’ve miscalculated if they think that they don’t belong in San Francisco — after all, Haight created them, not the other way around.

Our 44th Anniversary Issue also includes stories by Sarah Phelan on SF’s disadvantaged youth, Rebecca Bowe’s look at ageing out of the foster care system, and Tim Redmond’s editorial on the issues facing our rising generation

On the edge

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rebeccab@sfbg.com

It’s a strange and daunting time for anyone just starting out, but youth who age out of foster care are up against particularly harsh challenges.

In July, the national unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds reached a staggering 51 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A recent article in The New York Times Magazine described how, in the face of a bleak job market, 20-somethings today are far more likely than those in past generations to go back to school, travel, volunteer, or complete unpaid internships — extending a phase of impermanence and financial dependency for years beyond what used to be considered the norm. Studies show that nearly half of youth between ages 18 and 25 move back home with their parents at least once.

But young people aging out of the foster care system typically have to face this world of churning uncertainty without the benefit of a safety net. Many post-foster care youth don’t have the luxury of “failing to launch,” embarking on an early career path without pay, or landing back home if nothing else pans out. Foster youth lose their support base at 18, when the state ceases to be their legal guardian. For these young people, who are often the least equipped to achieve financial self-sufficiency, becoming emancipated as a legal adult is no cause for celebration; rather, it’s a source of anxiety.

Most foster youth lack the skills, connections, and resources they would need to transition to independence at age 18 — a prospect that would be difficult even for youth with greater access to resources and no major family history problems. Studies measuring the outcomes for this population paint a grim picture: many wind up homeless, incarcerated, or at risk of losing children of their own by the time they reach their early 20s.

There’s a growing awareness that many of the approximately 5,000 youth who age out of foster care in California every year are slipping through the cracks. Local and state programs have been initiated to improve their chances of achieving independence, but efforts on both fronts have run up against obstacles.

In Sacramento, Assembly Bill 12 — which extends key services for foster youth to age 21 — was signed into law several weeks ago, but the intentions behind it were undermined when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a line-item veto of $80 million in funding for child welfare programs. In San Francisco, a housing facility designed for youth at risk of homelessness seems to hold promise as an effective model, yet it has encountered resistance from local neighborhood organizations.

The plight of these young people is both a measure of our compassion and potentially a harbinger of larger societal problems to come.

HIGH STAKES

Kirsten Johnson-Bell is an emancipated youth who turned 18 in January. She has six siblings still in foster care in the East Bay, and she says she has been in more than 20 foster care placements since 2007.

Johnson-Bell told the Guardian that she has housing assistance that will last for 18 months — but she’s already beginning to wonder what will happen after that. “Where am I supposed to go?” Johnson-Bell wondered. If the experience of her peers who’ve exited the system is any indication, her concern is well founded.

Nationwide, nearly 40 percent of post-foster-care youth have been homeless at some point by the time they turn 24, according to survey results released by the University of Chicago and Partners for Our Children at the University of Washington. Just 6 percent had completed college degrees by that age, and only 48 percent were working — mostly in low-wage jobs. More than half of the young men had been convicted of crimes, and roughly three-quarters of the young women had received government benefits to meet basic needs. Teen pregnancy is statistically higher among young women exiting foster care.

Most youth in foster care aren’t housed continuously with a single caregiver, but bounce from place to place, making it tough to form long-lasting relationships. “It’s a fairly rare experience that youth stay in one home, and that means moving schools and moving friends,” notes Rachel Antrobus, executive director of Transitional Age Youth San Francisco (TAY SF), a city-funded nonprofit. Many foster kids take medication for behavioral problems, and it’s common for them to experience emotional upheaval.

“It’s practically inevitable that they’re going to have long-term emotional impacts,” Antrobus said, noting many bear the long-term scars of abuse, neglect, or forced separation from their families for some other reason. “It’s a much longer road, and they have to do it with deeper wounds. Even the kids that are the most together … will likely experience some really dark places in their 20s.”

In San Francisco, there are 1,400 young people in the foster care system, and all but about 500 are in placements outside the city. Lynette Davis, who turned 18 this year, moved from San Francisco to Oakland when she first entered foster care in the eighth grade. Davis acknowledges that she was one of the lucky ones. Rather than move in with a stranger, she went to live with her godmother and remained there until her 18th birthday.

Davis is now living with her boyfriend and his family in Oakland — and the household was in the process of moving when the Guardian spoke with her. Her godmother offered to continue housing her after she turned 18, Davis noted. “But she’s got her own kids. I felt like I should be able to go off and do my own thing.” The requirement in either housing situation is that she must work, go to school, or both, Davis said. She’s attending classes at Oakland’s Merritt College. In the meantime, she’s mired in the frustrating exercise of applying for job after job.

“It’s been pretty ridiculous,” Davis said of her fruitless job hunt. “Sometimes it makes me want to stop and give up. But as long as you’ve got people around you who care about you, it’s okay.”

Many foster kids who didn’t have the support network that Davis did are up against alarmingly high stakes as they age out. “Some people are mothers and they have to pay rent and are looking for more than two jobs,” she said. Asked what she thought were the greatest challenges facing foster youth in San Francisco, she mentioned poverty, gangs, and a lack of job opportunities.

“To be successful, you have to be financially stable,” she said. “With some youth, that’s hard. They don’t have jobs, or they can’t get jobs. They want to find an easy way out.” That’s when they become more susceptible to gangs or drugs, she said. Davis says she was a “rebellious youth” at a younger age, but now she’s focused on her goal of obtaining a degree in psychology so that one day she can go into counseling. When she became a member of California Youth Connections, which aids youth with transitional support, she met other foster youth and realized she could really have an impact.

HELP OR HARM?

The difference between ages 18 and 21 can be critical, so foster youth advocates throughout the state cheered Sept. 30 when AB12, California’s Fostering Connections to Success Act, was signed into law. It allows California to make use of federal matching funds to provide transitional support for qualifying foster youth until age 21. It also authorizes the state to take advantage of a federal subsidy for an existing guardianship program for relatives of foster youth who want to become caregivers. Many foster youth advocates have thrown support behind the kin caregiver model — it can be less traumatic for youth to move in with a grandparent than being suddenly dropped into a strange place.

A major sponsor of A 12 was the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes, and policy director Amy Lemley hailed its passage as “the biggest child-welfare improvement in 20 years.” Studies show that youth who receive support beyond 18 are 200 percent more likely to be working toward completion of a high school diploma, 65 percent less likely to have been arrested, and 54 percent less likely to have been incarcerated than those who exit with no support. The benefits could also generate savings by reducing the number of people in prison, on welfare, or in need of publicly funded health and human services. The law will be implemented in 2012.

The law also will provide new housing options. The federal government will chip in to cover more placements in the Transitional Housing Program Plus — nearly axed during the last budget cycle — which offers supervised transitional housing for emancipated youth. Youth may also receive a rent subsidy that could apply in a dorm, a shared-living situation, or another arrangement that fits the youth’s needs. This flexibility is a positive change, Lemley noted. “We’re not telling young people ‘it’s our way or the highway,'<0x2009>” she said.

“If a state like California can do this in the context of its current fiscal deficit, it sends a strong signal to other states,” Lemley said. However, an unexpected line-item veto put a damper on the landmark achievement. Schwarzenegger dealt a blow to the child-welfare system by cutting $80 million in funding for programs the California Legislature had restored, which actually amounts to more like $133 million due to the loss of federal matching funds.

“It’s really just a schizophrenic policy on the governor’s part,” Lemley said. “We were hoping he would have a legacy of the foster care governor, but now it doesn’t seem as if he will have that legacy at all.”

While the deep budget cut isn’t aimed at AB12 directly, Lemley said, it erodes funding for child-welfare workers and forces counties to make painful funding cuts. The overarching effect is that abuse and neglect may go undetected more often, and youth in the system will have fewer available resources once they’re placed.

ANOTHER CHANCE

Of all the challenges facing foster youth who age out of the system, housing is among the most critical, particularly in San Francisco. A partnership between the city, Larkin Street Youth Services, and nonprofit developer Community Housing Partnership (CHP) aims to address this by providing a space for transitional-age youth who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford housing in the city. Located at the King Edward II Inn near Cow Hollow and the Marina district, the facility would house 24 young people, ages 18 to 24, who are at risk of homelessness.

“By definition, that includes youth aging out of foster care,” explains David Schnur of CHP. The nonprofits are working in tandem with the city’s Human Services Agency and Mayor’s Office of Housing.

Youth housed at Edward II would have access to physical and mental health care, substance abuse and HIV-related services, education and job training, coaching in basic life skills such as budgeting and personal hygiene, and case management, Schnur said. They would be required to contribute a portion of their income, whatever the amount, toward rent.

However, an organized force of opposition has already surfaced from the surrounding community, which comprises one of San Francisco’s wealthiest neighborhoods. “I think people are just nervous about what it means to have a building of this type in the neighborhood,” Schnur noted. To assuage neighborhood concerns, the nonprofits have set up a project advisory committee in hopes of talking it out and bringing everyone on board.

Patricia Vaughey, with the Marina-Cow Hollow Neighbors, is actively opposed to the project but insists that it isn’t out of NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) concerns. “We are not NIMBYs,” she told the Guardian. “We want to find a location that’s suitable. We want to make sure those kids are safe.” She said that criminal activity in the neighborhood made the inn a poor choice. Yet advocates insist that for the youth, the program could mean the difference between a lifetime of hardship and a chance to get their lives on track at a crucial age. “The safety net for these young people is so thin,” Lemley noted. “You might have one person, you might have another. But then the winds of change blow and suddenly the bloom falls off the rose.”

Our 44th Anniversary Issue also includes stories by Sarah Phelan on SF’s disadvantaged youth, Caitlin Donohue’s account of the Haight street kids, and Tim Redmond’s editorial on the issues facing our rising generation