Volume 45 Number 17

Psychic Dream Astrology

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February 2-8

ARIES

March 21-April 19

Spontaneous change is awesome as long as it comes from the right place inside you. Movement from your intuitive, happy place is well-starred this week, while moody reactiveness will get you in a heap of trouble.

TAURUS

April 20-May 20

You are poised to make a deep, important change this week. Commit to moving forward and not letting habit or the fear of change dictate your future. Boldly make your own fortune!

GEMINI

May 21-June 21

This week, your intuition is infallible, Twin Star! The only way to screw it up is to do too much interpreting. Trust your gut and just go with it, and keep the analysis to a minimum. Let the future unfold.

CANCER

June 22-July 22

Be open-hearted and present this week, no matter the circumstances of your life. There are no certainties to cling to, just options to weigh. The more authentic you are, the better perspective you’ll have.

LEO

July 23-Aug. 22

This week’s frustrations can provide you with an excellent opportunity to become King of your Internal Castle, Leo. Make your world exactly as you want it to be — or at least moving in that direction. Stay in it to win it.

VIRGO

Aug. 23-Sept. 22

Passion, desire, and play need to have a place in your life, Virgo. Don’t let fear of consequences stop you from exploring the creative side of your life this week. Start something new, or go next level in the pursuit of pleasure.

LIBRA

Sept. 23-Oct. 22

Your integrity is in your emotions, but fear threatens to undo your emo clarity. Choose love over fear always, but especially this week. Adjust your behavior or expectations, but not your availability to amour.

SCORPIO

Oct. 23-Nov. 21

Reach out to the people and things that rejuvenate your harried heart, Scorpio. Your mind may be racing in circles that do you no good. Turn to friends and loved ones to give you some much-needed perspective.

SAGITTARIUS

Nov. 22-Dec. 21

Your sign has chronic karma with proportion: the question of how much is too much or not enough? continually plagues you! This week, be on the lookout for overdoing things. Tax yourself to the max and there’s nothing left to play with, Sag.

CAPRICORN

Dec. 22-Jan. 19

Loss and sadness are terrible, but their gift is that they bring you to the end of a cycle — and to a new opening. Own your need for closure and be bold in creating something new and better.

AQUARIUS

Jan. 20-Feb. 18

Let go of the stuff that seems like it’s keeping you together but is actually holding you back. Look to matters of the heart for where you need to change your own actions and reactions, and cultivate faith on the way.

PISCES

Feb. 19-March 20

You want to know, but you don’t — and it’s killing you. Knowing the answer is the wrong goal, Pisces. Let things develop and decisiveness will follow. You’re not in control, so strive toward creative healthiness this week.

Jessica Lanyadoo has been a Psychic Dreamer for 16 years. Check out her website at www.lovelanyadoo.com or contact her for an astrology or intuitive reading at (415) 336-8354 or dreamyastrology@gmail.com.

Volume 45 Number 17 Flip-through Edition

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Haute pot

9

steve@sfbg.com

CANNABIS Marijuana edibles have come a long way in a short time.

Just a few years ago, the norm was still brownies of uncertain dosage that tasted like eating weed, right down to the occasional stem or lump of leaf, served in a wax paper envelope. But now the foodies have gotten into the game, producing a huge variety of tasty treats that are incredibly delicious even before the munchies kick in.

San Francisco could be on the verge of a culinary revolution that would parallel those being experienced in the realms of boutique eateries, gourmet coffee, and high-end street food vendors — except for the fact that makers of cannabis edibles still reside in a legal limbo.

As long as they’re operating under the umbrella of a cannabis collective, getting marijuana from its growers and selling through its dispensaries, then the weed bakers are in compliance with state law. But they’re still illegal under federal law, and even California law doesn’t allow them to operate independently as wholesalers, making it difficult to scale up operations and do more than just break even financially.

Judging from the skittishness of some of San Francisco’s top edibles producers — who didn’t want to be identified by their real names and were wary of letting us know too much about their operations — they perform this labor of love under a cloud of understandable paranoia.

“Unfortunately, secrecy is a rule we have to live by, day in and day out,” said the founder of Auntie Dolores, who we’ll call Jay. She makes a line of popular, strong, and yummy products that include pretzels, chili lime peanuts, caramel corn, and cookies of all kinds.

Yet the legal threats haven’t stopped producers from professionalizing the edibles industry — in terms of quality control, packaging, consistency, and innovation — and drawing on foodie sensibilities and their own culinary training to develop creative new products that effectively mask or subtly incorporate that bitter cannabis taste.

“We’re all about masking the flavor of the cannabis because I really don’t like the flavor that much,” Jay said of products that are stronger than most but somehow without a hint of weed in them. “People here have a high standard. It’s their medicine and their food, and we have a lot of foodies who are really into our products.”

Choco-Potamus is an example of this new generation of edibles, combining gourmet chocolate-making with the finest strains of cannabis, using only the best buds rather than the leaves and other plant matter that have often gone into edibles. Mrs. Hippo, the pseudonym of the chief baker, has worked for a national company in the food industry for about a decade, mostly doing branding, and it shows in this eye-catching product.

“I’m kind of a foodie. We have friends who roast whole pigs and brew their own beer, that kind of thing,” she said. “Really good high-grade marijuana has some really great flavor qualities, particularly when combined with cocoa. I really want the patients to enjoy the flavor, not just the feeling.”

 

EAT YOUR MEDICINE

Steve DeAngelo, founder of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, one of the Bay Area’s biggest dispensaries, said edibles have been increasingly popular, particularly among older users, patients with medical conditions that make smoking problematic, or those who prefer the longer body highs of eating it.

“Our sales of edibles has trended steadily upward since we opened,” DeAngelo said, noting that last year the club sold $1.2 million in edibles, about 5.5 percent of total sales, compared to $306,000 (3.2 percent) after they opened in 2006. “As an absolute amount, we’ve seen the amount of edibles quadruple in the last four and a half years. As percentage of sales, we’ve seen it double.”

He said the main difference between eating and smoking marijuana is duration and onset. Smoking it brings on the high within minutes and it usually last for less than two hours, whereas eating it takes about 45 minutes for the effects to kick in, but they can then last for six to eight hours.

“There are different forms for different symptoms,” he said, noting that edibles are perfect for someone with insomnia or other symptoms that disturb normal sleep patterns, while someone who needs marijuana in the morning can smoke or vaporize it and have the effects mostly gone by the time they go to work.

“When you eat it, it goes through your limbic system, so it hits your brain differently,” said Jay of Auntie Dolores, saying that she and many others prefer the subtle differences in the high they get from eating cannabis. Others who prefer edibles are those looking to just take the edge off without being too stoned. “A lot of the people who like the edibles are moms. They don’t want to smell like pot or be too high,” Mrs. Hippo said.

She noted that her chocolates are not as strong as many of the edibles out there, with each candy bar containing two doses. “It’s a personal preference for how I want the bars to taste,” she said, although she has been working on making a stronger version as well, which many dispensaries and their customers prefer.

But Mr. and Mrs. Hippo say they think taste is becoming as important as strength, calling it an emerging area of the market. “I have a dream that there could be just an edibles dispensary,” Mr. Hippo said, envisioning a pot club with the look and feel of a high-end bakery.

For now, demand for edibles is still driven by “potency and packaging,” says SPARC founder Erich Pearson. “I think people eat food to eat food and enjoy. They don’t eat to get high.” Yet as long as they’re getting high in this competitive marijuana marketplace, the edibles makers have been making better and better tasting products.

Jade Miller makes 12 flavors of cannabis-infused drinks under the Sweet Relief label, with spiced apple cider being her top seller. She draws other training at New York City’s Institute for Culinary Education to make some of the best-tasting drinks on the market.

“I got into it because I needed alternative pain relief when I had whooping cough and a torn shoulder muscle,” Miller told us.

She was injured while on a cooking job with Whole Foods Catering in September 2006. She hated the opiates that she was prescribed for her shoulder pain, preferring marijuana. But when she contracted whooping cough, she couldn’t smoke pot anymore without painful coughing, so she got into making edibles.

At the time, many of the pot-laced foods out there weren’t very good or professionally made. “Some edibles were inedible,” she said. “I became a one-woman campaign against brownies.”

 

QUALITY CONTROL

With a background in homeopathy and appreciation for marijuana, Jay started making edibles 10 years ago, informally helping two aunts battling cancer. But in the last couple of years she’s honed her recipes, improved her packaging, and transformed her Auntie Dolores snacks into some of the best on the market, available in several local dispensaries, such as Medithrive, SPARC, Bernal Heights Dispensary, and Shambhala.

“I just knew I could make stronger and better-tasting stuff,” she said. “The demand from the patients is really high for great products.”

Horror stories abound about users who overdosed on edibles and ended up being incapacitated all day or night, but that’s mostly been a problem of dosage, which modern technology has helped overcome. Choco-Potamus and other makers routinely send their batches to a lab for testing.

“The idea is we can be helping an edibles producer or a tincture maker quantify the cannabis in the product,” said Anna Ray Grabstein, CEO of Steep Hill Laboratory in Oakland, which tests cannabis and related products for strength and purity. “They’re able to use that information to create consistency in their recipes.”

It’s been difficult to meet the rising demand given the current legal framework.

“Yes, we would love to scale up. I’d love it if more people had access to our product. We’d love to sell it outside of California,” Jay said. “But it’s tricky because there’s so many gray areas,”

Larry Kessler is the program manager for the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Medical Cannabis Dispensary Inspection Program, which reviews the procedures of edibles makers and requires those who work with one than one dispensary to get a certified food handler license from the state.

“We just want to make sure they know what they’re doing,” Kessler told us.

San Francisco has some unique rules, banning edibles that require refrigeration or other special handling, granting exceptions on a case-by-case basis. Unlike Oakland and some other jurisdictions, San Francisco also requires edibles to be in opaque packaging. “It was to get rid of the visual appeal to children,” he explains.

All the edible makers say they can live with those local rules, and they praise San Francisco as a model county for medical marijuana regulation. The problem is that state law doesn’t allow them to be independent businesses.

“It’s against state law. There’s no wholesaling allowed, and that’s a big issue around edibles,” Kessler said. “It’s a complicated issue.”

All the edibles makers in this story say they are barely getting by financially, and all have other jobs to support themselves. Jay says she’s thought about giving up many times, but she’s been motivated by stories they’re heard from customers about the almost miraculous curative properties of their products, particularly from patients with cancer and other serious illnesses.

“I get an e-mail like this and then it’s back to the kitchen,” Jay said, referring to a letter from a customer who credits her with saving his life. “There are so many positive properties it has. There’s really no other plant like it.”

State of the weed

22

steve@sfbg.com

CANNABIS When we did our first Cannabis Issue a year ago, the Bay Area’s medical marijuana industry was booming, and there was high anticipation that California would soon legalize weed for everyone.

Proposition 19 divided even those who fully support decriminalizing cannabis — partly because the existing system was working so well in San Francisco and many other cities, so people were wary of an uncertain future — and voters rejected the measure in November.

But only the most dogmatic anti-drug warrior would take that vote as a repudiation of the wonder weed, because California’s love affair with its top crop today is stronger than ever. And the burgeoning industry that grows, processes, and delivers marijuana continues to expand rapidly amid a stagnating larger economy.

Three new high-end cannabis dispensaries have opened in San Francisco in the last six months, bringing to 25 the number of licensed clubs, and the selection and quality of indoor and outdoor buds, concentrates, and edibles has never been greater. The industry’s many opportunities are starting to attract top talent from unrelated sectors of the economy, such as Mark Williams and Nic duTemps.

Williams recently quit his job at Apple to start CloudNine, which is developing a high-quality portable vaporizer called Firefly that will be assembled here in San Francisco and released this summer. Unlike current vaporizers made of plastic that use butane heaters to release the cannabanoids from the weed without burning it, Firefly is made of metal and glass with customizable wood inlays, uses advanced batteries in its heating element, and will retail for about $300.

“I decided now is the time,” Williams, 42, said of his decision to leave the corporate cubicle world after 20 years. “The market is maturing and the users’ ability to make a discerning choice about how they’re going to take marijuana is maturing.”

DuTemps worked in public relations for many years and she also jumped ship to do something she loves a few years ago: landscaping backyard gardens. “But then the bottom fell out of the economy,” she said, and people growing marijuana were the only ones who still wanted her expertise.

Yet the supply of cannabis products had grown faster than the number of dispensaries and delivery outlets in recent years. “The clubs were becoming incredibly flooded,” duTemps said. “People have found themselves with copious amounts of product and nowhere to sell it.”

So she decided to marry her PR expertise with her cannabis connections and last month started Sweeter Made, a medical marijuana cooperative and delivery service that uses an old meter maid vehicle for deliveries. DuTemps said she loves “the secret thrill of delivering medical cannabis, hash, and edibles in something that used to give people parking tickets.”

They’re just a couple of the countless Bay Area residents involved in the pot business, an expanding and evolving sector of the economy that even cash-strapped government agencies are getting involved in.

Oakland city officials recently stepped back from their ambitious plan to permit large-scale pot farms in industrial warehouses, mostly because of legal concerns, but that city and Berkeley last year moved forward with plans to legitimize and tax the industry at a higher rate. And the big next step — full legalization of weed for even recreational users — is still lingering on the horizon.

Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee, who bankrolled placing Prop. 19 on the ballot, has announced that he’ll try again on the November 2012 ballot. He told the Guardian that he’s currently developing his battle plan, consulting his allies, and determining what the measure will look like.

“We’re still doing research on what went right and what went wrong,” Lee told us. “There were lots of people who were for legalization that didn’t like the details [of Prop. 19].”

For example, the measure allowed counties to set different legal standards, potentially creating a logistical nightmare for distributing the product. Lee said the new measure will probably include statewide standards and some degree of local control, but he’s still working with groups ranging from the Drug Policy Alliance to the NAACP to develop it. Meanwhile, CaNORML, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, will be gathering movement leaders together in Berkeley on Jan. 29 for a daylong conference titled “Marijuana Reform: Next Steps for California.”

While there are differing visions for where the movement is headed and over how hard and quickly to push for full legalization, it’s undeniable that the industry is thriving and here to stay.

Set the oven to blaze

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caitlin@sfbg.com

CANNABIS Used to be when you wanted to eat your weed, you half-listened to that “more-stoner-than-you” friend, scrawled down a couple of vague butter-to-swag ratios, and got to messing up your kitchen with a box of store-bought Duncan Hines brownie mix and quarter bags. But here’s a news flash: stop doing that. You have no excuse for dorm-room shenanigans with the new crop of wholesome marijuana cookbooks, which will teach you the proper way to add buzz to your lemon bars, chicken wings, and Thanksgiving turkey.

Such are some sample offerings from a new cookbook by the Bay’s preeminent voice on weed cooking: Sandy Moriarty. Moriarty is a graduate of Oaksterdam University who felt that the school could benefit from her 20-plus years of experience in the kush kitchen. After doffing her cap and gown, she cooked up a batch of her high-potency weed treats for Oaksterdam staffers and was rewarded with her own cooking courses on the syllabus. “They said ‘wow! This lady’s got something going on,’ ” Moriarty recalled in a phone interview with the Guardian. She now hawks her much-lauded lemon bars in the school’s Blue Sky Cafe and recently released an anthology of her best-loved bud recipes, Aunt Sandy’s Medical Marijuana Cookbook (Quick American Publishing, 96 pages, $18.95).

The secret to pot cuisine, Moriarty says, is in the lipids. “My butter-making process is superior over all,” she told us. So enthusiastic was she on the subject of medicinal marijuana cooking that she launched from one kitchen triumph to the next — the Super Bowl party when she plied guests with THC-laced hot wings and hot sauce, the Thanksgiving when she treated a houseful of happy loved ones to bud-inflected stuffing and a turkey whose skin she had lubed with that fine butter of hers.

So why, when her Oaksterdam classes are regularly packed and her snacks fly off the cafe shelves quicker than you can say “tetrahydrocannabinol,” would Moriarty want to share the secrets of her skills with a wider, cookbook-reading audience? First of all, she’s not giving up the whole goat, or shall we say, gram. When it comes to her famous lemon bars, Moriarty tweaked the recipe in the final publication — the bars in the book won’t knock you on your ass quite as hard as the specimens you’ll find at Blue Sky.

But Aunt Sandy’s has enough of the doyenne’s secrets to get you started in the kitchen. For example: grade AA butter is a must-have and titrating, or eating your weed at intervals to avoid the dreaded edible pass-out (or freak-out), is a must for the budding pot chef. Which brings us to another reason that you’ll want to check out these cookbooks: screw up the flour or salt measurements on a standard apple pie, and you may have to trash it. Screw up your marijuana-laced apple pie, and you’ll just wind up trashed.

STONERS’ DELIGHT: SPACE CAKES, POT BROWNIES, AND OTHER TASTY CANNABIS CREATION

By Spruce, 64 pages, $9.99, Spruce Books

A lovely little guide to medicinal desserts, this book promises sweet satisfaction with a minimum of the kind of jokes only a stoner could delight in.

BAKED: 35 MARIJUANA MUNCHIES TO MAKE AND BAKE

By Chris Stone, 128 pages $12.99, Ten Speed Press

A silly-yet-instructive paperback that lets you take the easy way (e.g., store-bought puff pastry) or the hard way (make the dough your own damn self) with your THC treats.

Mayor Lee and Big Pharma

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EDITORIAL A piece of simple, logical legislation that would protect San Francisco consumers, public safety, and the environment appears headed for the desk of Mayor Ed Lee — and his signature would be the first clear sign that he’s not going to let powerful lobbyists (or the legacy of Gavin Newsom) guide his decisions.

The bill, by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, would establish several secure places where people can drop off unused, unwanted, or expired pharmaceuticals for safe disposal. It seems so simple: every year, huge amounts of prescription meds are flushed down toilets or left around in medicine cabinets or drawers in the city. As much as one-third of all medicine purchased in the country is never used. The stuff that goes down the drain already has had a proven impact on aquatic life; the pills that never get thrown away are a hazard, particularly in households with small children.

But under current law, the only safe way to get rid of old meds is to return them to a pharmacy — and pay a fee. The cost of returning old drugs is enough of a deterrent that most consumers don’t bother.

If you have used motor oil in California, you can drop off and recycle it free. Many hardware stores recycle old batteries, light bulbs, and paint. Computer makers have to pay for recycling their products. Why can’t the city mandate the same rules for medication?

The easy answer: because it would cost about $200,000 a year to set up drop-off sites in drug stores and police stations — and the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want to pay.

It’s a trivial amount of money, a fraction of what the industry spends on lobbying. In fact, with Big Pharma lobbyists from Washington and Sacramento crawling all over City Hall to block the Mirkarimi bill, it’s possible that the drug companies have already spent more fighting the legislation than it would cost to implement it.

The bill would charge companies that sell pharmaceuticals in the city a very modest fee to pay for the drop-off program. Similar programs in other places (San Mateo County, Washington State) have been highly successful — but nobody yet has asked the companies that make billions of dollars selling these products to underwrite the cost. San Francisco would be the first.

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce has been fighting hard against the measure, claiming it would discourage biotech firms from investing in the city. That’s a huge stretch, but the chamber’s lobbying had an impact. When the measure came up at the end of 2010, four supervisors — Sean Elsbernd, Carmen Chu, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Bevan Dufty — voted with the Chamber and Big Pharma. So the bill would not have survived a Newsom veto.

But thanks to the oddities of scheduling, the legislation comes up for second reading Jan. 25, giving the new board a chance to weigh in. That will be a test for the new supervisors, but Mirkarimi is confident he’s got the six votes to give the measure final approval.

Then it goes to Lee. And if he can stand up to the chamber and the misinformation campaign from Big Pharma and sign the measure, he’ll not only help San Francisco take a national stand on an important consumer and environmental issue, he’ll also demonstrate that he’s not going to fall in line the way Newsom did every time downtown calls.

Editor’s Notes

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tredmond@sfbg.com

This is how strange things are in the world:

I read a piece on SFGate Jan. 21, by an editor named David Curran, who claimed (in that kind of “wow-I’m-funny” tone) that young people should stop trying to be doctors and college professors. Instead, he says, he wants to “quietly sneak our kids into some midlevel bureaucrat position where they can hang out for decades, get decent vacation, loads of holidays, and, yes, face a few pay cuts and furlough days because in the end they hit the pension jackpot!” Of course, those jobs are easy, since all public employees are stupid and lame: “Whenever the kids take forever to set the table, I get a little angry and they reply, ‘But dad, we’re just getting ready for our future job at the DMV!'”

Three days later, I picked up the Jan. 22 edition of The Economist and read a flattering profile about a group called Tiger 21 — “A self-help group for rich people.”

“Only those with more than $10 million of investable assets are eligible for membership, so no one assumes that, just because you have truckloads of cash, your problems are trivial. Whether you are worried that your kids might turn out like Paris Hilton, or fed up with your brother in law who wants to borrow money for the umpteenth time, someone in the room has faced a similar problem before.”

And The Economist writer wasn’t joking.

I worry so much about the poor rich. I’ve read all those stories about lottery winners who are suddenly miserable, and I think, nah. Long-term unemployment makes you miserable. The prospect of reaching old age in poverty makes you miserable. Being forced into a Medicare nursing home because the visiting nurse who allowed you to be independent lost his job in budget cuts makes you miserable. Dealing with too much money? It’s not the same. It’s really not.

The very rich have problems too, I’m sure — but if I had to choose between cat food and Paris Hilton, I think I could handle Paris just fine.

Or I could just blame all of society’s problems on the folks who work at Caltrans and the DMV. After all, middle class people with pensions that give them a decent retirement are such a burden on society. And such a waste! People who work for the government can’t do anything right. When’s the last time you had a good experience registering your car?

Well, I’ve waited in line at the DMV, and I’ve waited on hold with those efficient private-sector tech companies, and I’ll take the DMV any day. My son just bought a computer game that didn’t load; at 4:02 in the afternoon, I called Electronic Arts tech support, which was supposedly open until 5. At 4:05, I was fifth in the queue; at 4:56, I was second in the queue. At 4:59:57, the line went dead. Sorry, sucker — we close at five.

Comcast: efficient private sector. The wait to exchange your cable box when it doesn’t work is far, far worse than anything any government bureaucracy has ever thrown at me.

Somehow, somebody’s missing the point here.

Getting free

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rebeccab@sfbg.com

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal have been held captive in Evin Prison in Tehran for more than 540 days, and their friends and supporters in the Bay Area have been mounting an extraordinary campaign pushing for their release.

On July 31, 2009, Bauer and Fattal were hiking with Sarah Shourd, who is Bauer’s fiancée, through green mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan. The three UC Berkeley graduates had traveled from Damascus for a recreational visit. They were wandering nearby Ahmed Awa, a popular tourist destination where hundreds of people had flocked to camp, to visit a waterfall and enjoy the peace and quiet of the mountains.

They say they didn’t realize how close they were to Iran, which has no diplomatic ties to the United States.

Shourd told the Guardian she’s not sure whether they accidentally traversed the Iranian border, because it was unmarked. “We had no intention of being anywhere near Iran,” she said. “And if we were, we’re very sorry.”

Iranian officials surrounded them, speaking in Farsi, which they couldn’t understand. They were arrested on suspicion of spying and taken into custody. Before being taken to prison, one phoned a friend, Shon MeckFessel — who had been traveling with them but opted not to go on the hike because he wasn’t feeling well — to alert him that something had gone wrong. That would be the last communication any of them would have with close friends or family members for months.

Shourd was finally released on bail Sept. 14, 2010 on humanitarian grounds after spending 410 days in solitary confinement. She was reunited with family and friends — but Bauer and Fattal have remained in detainment ever since.

Since returning to the United States, Shourd has thrown her energy into advocating for their release — and she’s not alone. “Everyone in the family has been working tirelessly for all 18 months,” she said, “which is far, far longer than we ever imagined in our worst nightmares.”

 

FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM

While Shourd was still in prison, her mother, Nora, gave up her home and job to move in with Bauer’s mother, Cindy Hickey, and work for their release full-time. Fattal’s older brother, Alex, suspended his graduate studies at Harvard to dedicate himself to the campaign. His mother, Laura Fattal, stopped working to devote herself to the campaign.

“That’s just family alone,” Shourd noted. “If you start to look to how many people have contributed to our campaign and how many ways, it just blows your mind.” Soon after her release, Shourd put out a call for people to hang banners proclaiming the innocence of Bauer and Fattal and calling for their release. In response, nearly 60 banners were unfurled in 25 different countries.

Shourd has made countless media appearances since her release, and even put out an MP3 of a song she composed while in solitary confinement, which can be downloaded as a way to support the Free the Hikers campaign. Their story has drawn the interest of prominent figures. On Jan. 19, Noam Chomsky released a video offering to testify on their behalf if a trial is held, saying Bauer and Fattal “have dedicated themselves to advocating for social and environmental justice in Africa and elsewhere, and they truly embody the spirit of humanitarianism.”

Others who have publicly defended the trio include President Barack Obama, who issued a statement in July saying none of the hikers ever worked for the U.S. government, addressing Iranian accusations that they were there to commit espionage. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu have called for their release. A documentary has been produced about their plight, and a second one is in the works.

In San Francisco, artists and musicians have responded in droves to a call for support. An art auction that will benefit the campaign is planned for Jan. 29, featuring the work of more than 80 artists, plus live musical performances. As a nod toward Bauer’s work in photojournalism, the event will emphasize photography, and notables such as Mimi Chakrova, Taj Forer, Roberto Bear Guerra, Ken Light, the LUCEO Photo Collective, Susan Meiselas, Lianne Milton, Mark Murrmann, Alec Soth, and others have donated work. Among the artists who donated pieces are Marianne Bland, Mark Brecke, Teresa Camozzi, Andreina Davila, Eric Drooker, and former Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez.

In early February, a music benefit will be held at the Bottom of the Hill to benefit the campaign. Titled “They Sing These Songs In Prison,” the event will feature performances of The Nightwatchman — that’s Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine — plus Jolie Holland, accordionist Jason Webley, and Ryan Harvey & Lia Rose.

“The funding is to support the campaign to free Shane and Josh, and it goes to a wide array of needs that we have, like translation into Farsi, travel for media, and meeting with some various embassies and governments that are involved in advocating for Shane and Josh’s release,” Shourd explained. “Also, some of the money will probably go toward legal fees, and website fees, and materials for the campaign from flyers to business cards to t-shirts.”

 

WHO ARE THE HIKERS?

The campaign to advocate for their release has been tagged Free the Hikers, but the identities of the three young people (Bauer and Fattal are both 28, Shourd is 32) go much deeper than that. They’re social-justice advocates, antiwar activists, writers, environmentalists, travelers, and creative thinkers with deep ties to the Bay Area.

Shourd, who lives in Oakland, was teaching English to Iraqi refugees when she was in Syria, as well as practicing some journalism. Fattal, who taught at Aprovecho — an education center in Oregon focused on sustainability and permaculture — had been traveling to India, South Africa, and other places through the International Honors Program to lead workshops on health and sustainable technology before visiting his friends in Syria.

“Josh is an environmentalist, he’s a teacher, he’s an incredible, incredible, generous and selfless man,” Shourd said. “As soon as you meet him, you feel what an extraordinary and unique human being he is. I was friends with him for years before he came to visit us in Damascus, and he decided to travel with us to Northern Iraq to Iraqi Kurdistan to learn about Kurdish culture, to see another diverse aspect of the Middle East.”

Bauer wrote for publications such as The Nation, Mother Jones, and the Christian Science Monitor. A photojournalist who has won multiple awards and had his work published internationally, Bauer has documented everything from tenant conditions in San Francisco SROs to conflict-ridden regions in Africa and the Middle East. Bauer also wrote an article for the Guardian about an Oakland residence that is famous among East Bay anarchists (See “Hellarity burns,” May 27, 2008).

“Shane has an incredible passion for pursuing truth and complicating our ideas about other parts of the world, about conflicts around the world and at home,” Shourd noted. She added that many of his stories serve to highlight “some of the very specific ways that the U.S. presence in Iraq has taken a toll on innocent people.”

Before their ill-fated excursion, Shourd said she’d heard from multiple westerners and her Arabic tutor that Iraqi Kurdistan was a safe and enjoyable place to visit. “It’s often referred to as ‘the other Iraq’ because it’s a semiautonomous region designated as a no-fly zone by the U.S. government,” she explained. “It’s actually a part of the Middle East that has a very positive fingerprint from the U.S. government because they helped protect the Kurdish people from Saddam Hussein. So Northern Iraq is not a dangerous place for Americans or westerners to go, and no American has ever been killed in Northern Iraq, which is just phenomenal after a decade of war and occupation.”

She said Bauer, Fattal, and MeckFessel were all enthusiastic about the trip, and after researching it online, the four felt they had enough information to travel there. “We ordered a special Lonely Planet guide of Northern Iraq, and a friend of ours who went a month before we did borrowed it and lost it, so we didn’t have the Lonely Planet guide,” she noted. “But we still felt we had enough information about it to travel there and really believed we had nothing to fear.”

 

SOLITARY

Shourd credits her fiancé and her friend with helping her through “every minute of prison,” even though she was alone in her cell for 23 hours a day. At first she wasn’t allowed to see them at all, but after some time had passed, guards allowed her to visit with them in an outdoor courtyard for 30 minutes a day. Later, that brief time together was increased to an hour.

“There’s no way I could have maintained hope and maintained my own sanity and the strength that it took to get through every day of isolation and depravity and uncertainty and fear,” she said. “The emotional strength that that took, and the discipline that it took, really Shane and Josh and I all created together in the little time that we had, through the unconditional support and love we had for each other.”

Since they didn’t speak Farsi and the guards spoke very little English, it was difficult to communicate basic needs, and Shourd described the experience as being surrounded by hostility.

“Whenever I just started to slip away mentally, Shane and Josh would bring me back, and the knowledge that they were going to be there for me was the only thing that got me through 410 days of solitary confinement,” she said. The three thought up activities to give themselves something to look forward to, like marking time with small courtyard celebrations and special food they saved to share together or discussing topics in an organized format. “We had almost like a curriculum that we followed of study, and sort of intellectual exploration,” she explained.

They were only allowed to have pens for one month — that was the easiest month, Shourd said. But the rest of the time, even though they weren’t permitted to write things down, they were allowed to read. “Books were our lifeline. We read the same books in concert, we took turns reading books and passed them back and forth when we saw each other in the courtyard. And we would memorize dates and memorize poetry and recite poetry to each other and test each other on dates,” Shourd said.

“Josh would give me math problems to do in my head because he knew I was trying to get better with algebra. We had a dictionary that we passed back and forth, and we would make stories from words in the dictionary and tell each other these really intricate fantastical stories that we came up with. Anything to keep your mind busy.”

Beginning in her second month in prison, Shourd also passed the time by composing songs. A month went by before she was able to share the first one with Bauer and Fattal, but when she did finally sing it for them, they learned the words and sang it with her. “When we were together in the outdoor courtyard, they would just tell me to sing louder,” Shourd said. “I know they’re singing those songs now.”

The intellectual drills, storytelling, math problems, and singing weren’t merely a remedy for boredom. “You have to really keep your mind strong and busy so that you don’t get sort of swallowed up by the abyss of fear and loneliness that encroaches on you day by day in that kind of situation,” she said.

 

LOOKING AHEAD

Despite the time, energy, and effort spent on the campaign to free all three, no one can say for sure just when Bauer and Fattal will finally be reunited with family and friends. In November, Iranian authorities said that a trial previously scheduled for that month had been postponed, but the Free the Hikers campaign is calling for them to be released without a trial.

“They don’t deserve to be there one minute longer than I was, and they never deserved to be there in the first place,” Shourd said. “They should be shown the same kind of humanitarianism that they have put into action in their lives, through their work.”

Amnesty International is among many of the groups that have called for the Iranian government to release the two young men. “One year after their arrest, the Iranian authorities’ failure to charge them with illegal entry into Iran or more serious charges, such as espionage, has fueled speculation that the Iranian authorities are holding them as a bargaining chip,” notes a statement released July 2010 by Amnesty International, an international human rights organization.

Meanwhile, Shourd has been contemplating what her experience would have been like if the U.S. and Iran actually maintained diplomatic ties, and she published an opinion piece on CNN International calling for greater communication between the governments.

“I think it’s their responsibility to their people to do that, and I think it’s a tragedy that there’s been 30 years of practically no relationship between Iran and the U.S.,” Shourd said. “It’s a tragedy for countless Iranian Americans in this country who have a hard time visiting their relatives in Iran, sending them money, even just getting information about them or visiting their homeland.”

She began her opinion piece by recounting the time that a prison guard brought her freshly picked roses, an uncommon gesture of kindness during her incarceration. “In the worst of circumstances, the most extraordinary acts of human kindness emerge,” she told the Guardian. “They were rare. The vast majority of my experience was empty and desolate. But the times that the guards were kind to me … will stay with me for the rest of my life.” *

ART AUCTION TO FREE ALL THREE

Saturday, Jan. 29, 7 p.m.

SomArts Cultural Center

934 Brannan, SF

Musical performances by The Ferocious Few, Devon McClive and Sons, Grant Hazard and Lorin Station

www.artforssj.tumblr.com/#about

THEY SING THESE SONGS IN PRISON

Featuring The Nighwatchman, Jolie Holland, Jason Webley, Ryan Harvey & Lia Rose

Thursday, Feb. 10, 8:30 p.m., $12–$18

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17 St., SF

www.bottomofthehill.com

To learn more, visit www.freethehikers.org, www.freeourfriends.eu

Why I may run for Congress

12

OPINION One of the most inspiring political leaders in recent decades, Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), famously declared: “I represent the democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” Today we need progressives in Congress who will represent the progressive wing of the Progressive Caucus.

That’s the largest caucus on Capitol Hill — but having 80 members on the roster won’t do much good if many cave under pressure.

For 18 years, the North Bay has been represented in Congress by Rep. Lynn Woolsey. Her strong antiwar voice and very progressive voting record have endeared her to a lot of constituents. Now she’s publicly saying that she may choose to retire instead of seeking reelection.

This week, after decades of working for progressive social change, I’m announcing a federal exploratory committee for Congress (www.NormanSolomonExploratory.com). If Rep. Woolsey doesn’t run in 2012, I will.

Across the country, alarm is rising as corporate power escalates at the intersection of Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. An egregious factor is the deference to such power from some elected officials who rely on a progressive base for votes but shrug off tangible accountability to that base.

Dysfunctional relationships between liberals in Congress and progressive social movements serve as enablers for endless war, massive giveaways to Wall Street, widening gaps between the rich and the rest of us, erosion of civil liberties, outrageous inaction on global warming, and so much more.

Back in congressional districts, the only way to beat corporate Astroturf is with genuine grassroots activism — committed to creating a very different kind of future for the next generations.

At a time when high unemployment is becoming more protracted in tandem with a gargantuan warfare state, we’re in the midst of what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism.”

So-called moderates are adept at fine-tuning rather than challenging a destructive status quo. But there’s nothing moderate about helping to fuel the engines of social inequity, eco-disaster and perpetual war.

Eight decades ago, much of the U.S. press was hostile to a new president named Franklin D. Roosevelt, and many of his political enemies called him a dangerous radical. But there was — and is — nothing unduly radical about supporting economic fairness and social justice.

Before the end of his first term, FDR denounced “the economic royalists.” He said: “They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.” He did not say, “They hate me — and I want them to like me.”

Today, big money and mega-media power are dominant; yet progressives who are principled, determined, and methodical can prevail in a big way. That’s what happened last year when activists defeated PG&E’s monopolistic Proposition 16 despite being outspent by more than 400 to 1.

Living in the North Bay for more than a dozen years, I’ve often been moved by the extent of local progressive passions. Antiwar, environmental, and social justice outlooks are widespread — and deserve forthright representation in Congress.

Paul Wellstone was vitally correct when he said: “In the last analysis, politics is not predictions and politics is not observations. Politics is what we do. Politics is what we do, politics is what we create, by what we work for, by what we hope for, and what we dare to imagine.”

 

Norman Solomon is national co-chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign, launched by Progressive Democrats of America. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. For more information go to www.NormanSolomonExploratory.com.

Remembering John Ross

0

P>John Ross — poet, journalist, hell raiser, and iconic San Franciscan — died Jan. 16 of liver cancer, on the shores of Lake Patzcuaro in Mexico. He had been writing for the Guardian fairly consistently since 1982, for the last 25 years as our Mexico City correspondent.

I wrote a fairly lengthy obituary for him that’s posted on the politics blog at sfbg.com. There are so many stories to tell about John that it’s hard even to begin, but my favorite was his tale of the day he left Terminal Island, the federal prison near Los Angeles where he served more than two years for refusing the draft during the Vietnam War.

The warden saw him to the gates, he told me, and than shook his head and said, “Ross, you never learned how to be a prisoner.”

And that was pretty much the story of his life. He lived every day in the spirit of freedom and social justice. He was beaten by the police in the streets of San Francisco and lost an eye. He went to Baghdad to stand in the way of the bombs when George W. Bush invaded. He dodged Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s bullets in Chile. He was madly fearless and would go wherever the story was.

I wanted this page to be about his life, not his death, so I’m reprinting some of my favorite John Ross poems. They were all self-published, some in booklets photocopied and stapled together, some done at cut-rate printers, but none still available from anyone. They are all labeled “anti-copyright.” I just hope my copies aren’t the last ones on Earth.

There will be a memorial in San Francisco soon. I’ll publish the details when I have them. you can also e-mail obispa@gmail.com for updates.

P.S.: John, as I expected, left very specific instructions for his remains. I quote:

I ask that my body be rendered into ashes and the ashes distributed in the following locations: Trinidad, California, both flow from the bluffs and sprinkled atop the gravesite of my old comrade, E.B. Schnaubelt, a noted anarchist.

San Francisco, strewn along the Mission 14 route between 24th and 16th streets and deposited in the planter boxes outside the Café Bohème.

Mexico, some of my ashes can be dumped in the ashtrays outside the Hotel Isabel and on the sidewalk outside the Cafe la Blanca. A handful can be spread in the zócalo plaza. Other ashes can be spread at the Zapatista caracol in Oventik, on the shores of Lake Pátzcuaro, and in the boneyard at Santa Cruz Tanaco, where my first-born, Tristram, is buried, both in Michoacán.

New York City, my place of birth: I ask that my ashes be strewn in Washington Square Park and other pertinent venues in the East and West Village in addition to Union Square. The remainder of my ashes should be rolled into marijuana cigarettes and smoked by participants in these scatterings. *

 

THE VIEW FROM MISSION ROCK

The big gray ships

They move so powerful slow

It almost seems We are not getting There.

This gives one hope.

(From At The Daily Planet, 1981)

 

RONCO Y DULCE

Coming out of the underground On the BART escalator, The Mission sky Is washed by autumn, The old men and their garbage bags Are clustered in the battered plaza We once named for Cesar Augusto Sandino. Behind me down below in the throat of the earth A rough bracero sings Of his comings and goings In a voice as ronco y dulce As the mountains of Michoacan and Jalisco For the white zombies Careening downtown To the dot coms. They are trying to kick us Out of here Again They are trying to drain This neighborhood of color Of color Again. This time we are not moving on. We are going to stick to this barrio Like the posters so fiercely pasted To the walls of La Mision With iron glue That they will have to take them down Brick by brick To make us go away And even then our ghosts Will come home And turn those bricks Into weapons And take back our streets Brick by brick And song by song Ronco y dulce As Jalisco and Michaocan Managua, Manila, Ramallah Pine Ridge, Vietnam, and Africa. As my compa OR say We here now motherfuckers Tell the Klan and the Nazis And the Real Estate vampires To catch the next BART out of here For Hell.

(from Against Amnesia, 2002)

 

PINOCHET MEETS THE PRESS

If the eye

inside the camera

offends thee,

pluck it out,

pluck out the eye

pluck out the film,

smash the camera,

slash the images,

pour gasoline over those

who framed the images

then strike a match.

Make sure there are

no witnesses,

that those who look

for witnesses disappear.

Silence the people,

cut out the tongues

of those who would complain

about being silenced.

Swear on blazing bibles

that none of you

will ever tell anyone

what you have seen here.

Empty out the nation.

Bury those who insist on staying

in unmarked graves.

Pretend that no one

will ever know.

Turn off the lights.

Try to sleep.

(from Heading South, 1986)

 

11TH SUICIDE POEM IN NOVEMBER

The next child I won’t father we will name

Nomathamba. We will call her Thembi for short

She will be exactly like Pharaoh drew her. She

Will smile several hours each day. Her teeth

Will come on like white Christmas. She will crawl

Into bed with us to see if we

Are fucking. She will never be scared. She will

Speak Xhosa. I will buy her a dog named Mardi Gras

And she will learn what it is to lose something

You love. She will grow up.

(Unpublished, undated)

Now and then

0

arts@sfbg.com

VISUAL ART “My ideal world [while making art] is to be on a comfortable chair by a sunny window listening to a baseball game,” says Lauren DiCioccio. For DiCioccio, such a setting is possible, because sewing is an integral part of her work, whether she’s hand embroidering The New York Times, creating cotton facsimiles of 35mm film slides and currency, or making organza replicas of plastic bags and bottles.

The new exhibition “Remember the Times” moves DiCioccio’s unique collection of handmade-readymade hybrids from the “wundercabinet” (to use DiCioccio’s term) of Jack Fischer Gallery to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. On the second floor, she’s arranged a variety of objects on three shelves, adapting the acute vision and evocative perception of still-life painting, vanitas, and memento mori to today’s flurries of consumption and erasure. “Remember the Times” is the only current show at YBCA that can be photographed by visitors, and to be sure, adopting a photographer’s point is an ideal way of appreciating the individuality and interaction of DiCioccio’s pieces, and — especially — her attention to detail. I recently met with her at the museum.

SFBG What drew you to newspaper as a material? The ways in which you use it are unconventional — what are the challenges of working with it?

Lauren DiCioccio All of the work I’m making right now began with the newspaper. For about two years before I was showing my work or thought I could be an artist, I was making paintings. I began painting on newspaper as a material I felt comfortable about using, and that transformed into making sculptures with newspaper. At a certain point with the paintings, I realized I was more interested in the materials.

It hit me after college, when I traveled in Australia, and for six months lived in a town in the outback. It was 12 hours down a dirt road, with a 360-degree view of nothing, and 250 people, mostly aboriginal, lived there. It was a secluded world. We would get our mail twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday, so we were one step up from the horse and buggy. The days the mail came, they would bring the newspapers, and even though they were two days old, people would just gather around and pore over them.

I became interested in the material as this trusted resource and definition of time and physical embodiment of a day. When I came home and unpacked all my paintings, I realized I was more interested in the way the newspaper itself located me in time and place.

When I moved to the Bay Area in 2004, I began working as the resident manager for the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside. I lived on site there, on a cattle ranch, pretty much isolated, and getting the newspaper delivered every day. Again, it was a situation where the newspaper was connected to how people would socialize and gather in the morning. People would really welcome it: “A newspaper! Let’s read that!”

I decided that painting wasn’t doing it for me — I wanted to do something more tactile and physical and also approachable. I set out this challenge to make a sculpture out of one newspaper every day for as long as I could. Then I made a quilt out of the newspaper, and that triggered my interest in the craft medium, which has always been a part of my life. It made me realize that craft and the newspaper have the same language, and I started to explore that more through sewing.

SFBG How did you come to select The New York Times as one subject? Also, the tactile emphasis you’re mentioning extends to the “Thank You” bags you’ve made.

LDC They are definitely specific materials — the plastic of a shopping bag, the soft paper of the newspaper are so unique to those objects, and are familiar feels and sounds and experiences for us. They’re disposable in nature, but they’re engrained in our human memory.

SFBG The “Thank You” bags are so commonplace, but they carry a lot of connotations.

LDC When I began making them, it started a divergent path in my work that I think I’m still in the fork of — I’m making these very loving recreations of both types of objects, and they both have disposable or waste aspects. The newspaper is more of a renewable resource, so the work is also about the loss of the form itself. But with the “Thank You” bags, in making them to talk about their obsolescence, I kind of think of them as ghosts of the actual object — I’m hoping for that.

I use bridal organza for the “Thank You” bag sculptures. When I first bought some, I expected it would fray and fall apart and be too delicate to embroider, but it actually stands up well. I just overlay the organza on the beg and draw with a waterproof pen on the surface before I embroider.

With the newspaper, the main series of works actually has a day’s newspaper in it. That introduces a sense of history or time. It’s important to me that the actual paper is in those pieces. It creates all these issues about conservation, and the newspaper not being acid-free, God forbid. The question would be asked, “What if 100 years the newspaper is just crumbly dust inside a bag?” — as if it that were a problem in terms of presenting it as art. But I actually think that it’s the most interesting thing about those pieces, how they’ll age and evolve.

SFBG Artists who work with paper today face those kinds of problems when dealing with those who view art primarily in economic terms.

LDC It’s so hard as an artist when you’re broached with that problem. When someone buys my work, that’s so special to me — I want them to have it as long as they want to have it, looking exactly like how they want it to look. But at the same time, conceptually, anyone who looks at [one of the newspaper pieces] should understand that it’s about decay and the life cycle and the way we all age — though now with plastic surgery, everyone wants to look as scary as possible [laughs].

SFBG How do you choose a particular page to spotlight? Is it the stories, the images, or both?

LDC It’s a combination. It’s an instinctive decision. I look for something that leaps off the page and speaks to me. At first I was only doing people who were communicating — politicians gesturing, or caught mid-speech. But I’ve loosened up the reins on that. I like sports images because they lend themselves to the way trailing thread can show the blur of time.

With all of my work I try to ride this line between precious and pathetic. There’s something somewhat pathetic about even creating these objects in such an obsessive way. It’s excessive, almost an overly tender act to sew this detailed work through functionless media.

SFBG It creates odd keepsakes.

LDC They’re happy and sad. I’m interested in the bittersweet, and nostalgia contains feelings of joy and sadness. With the images, I try to finish them up to the point where it looks like you could pull one of the threads and the whole thing would unravel.

LAUREN DICIOCCIO: REMEMBER THE TIMES

Through March 27, $5–$7

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787

www.ybca.org

alt.sex.column: Get fit

1

Dear Readers:

The subject of size-discordant couples is a perennial favorite and will only get more so until such time as we Americans fulfill our apparent destiny and become a nation of like-size giants in height and girth. Until then, though, making a couple’s ends meet will continue to be an issue and a puzzlement. Pillows, ramps, and wedges sold expensively as sex pillows and less appealingly but more affordably at medical-device emporia will do but many couples would rather eschew such artifice and stick with the basics. First, short woman, tall man.

The woman can kneel on the bed, crouching forward a bit and stabilizing herself with her arms, ass toward the edge. Unless the guy is the Jolly Green Giant, he should be able to steer into her with just a little doing. She will be more comfortably positioned on the bed than if bending over while standing up, too.

Now, heavy woman, thin man. For this, I took the discussion to one of the invisible rooms full of invisible friends I frequent out on the interwebs. Here is what my favorite invisifriend said, in all her surprising, not to say shocking, candor. Say thank you!

I am very fat. My husband and I are both about the same height, and he’s slender. We both have joint problems. We also have awesome sex. Here are some things that work for us.

The best all-around position is what we call scissors. I lie on my left side, knees slightly bent, and raise my right leg. He kneels and enters me, and we roll over, me pushing off with my left leg so that he winds up lying on his side and I have my right leg over him. My left leg is between his two legs. I am almost, but not quite, lying on my back, and we’re at an angle to each other. This is great because it’s completely comfortable, he can reach to touch me, and we both have good access to me for hands or vibrator.

If you have the right furniture, cowgirl can be very easy. This position blows his mind. We line up a rectangular ottoman perpendicular to the sofa, and he lies back — propped up on big pillows — with his butt on the ottoman. He’s lying near one end of the sofa so that I can use the arm to help take my weight. All I do is straddle the ottoman and him (they’re almost the same width) and lower myself. Once down, I can rest my arms on the sofa, lean forward, or sit upright. He has a fantastic view and it’s perfect for kissing. Only drawback for me is that I can’t really get to my clit.

Three or four pillows also helps for doggy-style, so I don’t have to rest my entire weight on my arms. The sofa and ottoman are also handy for this. I put one knee on the sofa, one on the ottoman, and he stands behind me while I rest against the sofa arm, piled with cushions.

So get on that, readers, won’t you?  

Love, Andrea

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

 

Derailment

0

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS The last thing I did before I left San Francisco, I promised Earl Butter that this time I would not kiss any gangsters on the train. I didn’t say anything about self-proclaimed hillbillies who burp a lot and don’t have front teeth — or luggage — so you wonder if they just escaped from prison or are only on parole.

This one, he flirted with me all the way from Emeryville to Chicago. That’s a long way to not kiss someone!

He was going on to Detroit and had less of a layover than me, but helped nevertheless with my luggage, which was considerable. He wanted to help more, but when he went outside to smoke, I stuffed my stuff in a locker, stepped out into the Windy City, and promptly got my nails done. Which was one of the best decisions I ever made.

One of the worst was early next morning when I stepped off the train into a frozen shit town not unlike, or far from, the frozen shit town where I was born. Did you hear me scream? Henceforth, when East Coast people in California say that they miss the seasons, I will put lettuce in their ears and flick them on the forehead.

Probably, to the residents of Erie, Penn., this snow was a non-event. But to an overtired, underdressed California girl without boots, it was the Big One, blizzardwise. To his credit, the snot-nosed station master did ask, before locking me out of the station, if I needed a ride.

“My friend is coming,” I said.

“Can I drop you somewhere?” he said. “Where are you going?”

“New York.”

He laughed at my apparent joke, pointed to where the Post Office was, in case I needed it, and left. In retrospect, I would have licked that booger off his upper lip for a ride to New York. Instead, I stood in the blowing snow and freezing cold, stomping my feet and, yeah, screaming, until the Post Office opened. Then I stood in there.

Probably I should have stayed on the train. I could have stayed on the train. It was going very close to where I wanted to get, but I’d thought I would keep my old ex-bandmate and good friend Rube Roy company on his way there and eat in diners for a day, instead of dining cars.

Rube Roy was two hours late and partially blind in one eye, but did buy me breakfast. On our way out of town we found a diner called Somebody’s “Dinor,” where, over eggs and potatoes and sausage and coffee and such, we talked about the old times, and the new times, and even some of the upcoming times.

There is so much time. So much time to think, in a car spinning around and around on a snowy interstate highway in Pennsylvania, bouncing between guardrails like a complicated bank shot off the cue of someone named Chuck or Lefty.

One of the things I thought about, boom, spin, was how I didn’t think I was going to die, but you never know, bang, spin. I never did like merry-go-rounds, or whirligigs, but the bumper cars I guess were all right. Now, I get motion sickness facing backward on BART. I didn’t think we were going to die, but when our car came to rest finally, facing traffic in the passing lane, I don’t know. I wondered.

Before I go, I would like to spell Papi’s name right, at least once, in the paper. They didn’t exact any promises from me, but Papi, Papa, and Coach did want one last dinner together before I left. So I said, “Brothers! Korean barbecue!”

And, like magic, that was where we went. For meat and meat for me and Papa, and some other kinds of things for the vegetarians. Ah, you know, it was all pretty good and everything, but not as probably good as the last time I went. Does it matter?

Not here.

“Rube Roy?” I said, as a semitruck whizzed by in the right lane. “Can I drive now?”

He flashed his headlights at the next one and said, “No.”

I write to you from New York City. Hi. Next time, I promise you, dear reader, dear gangsters, dear hillbilly, I will stay on the train. 

BROTHERS RESTAURANT

Daily 11 a.m.–midnight

4128 Geary, SF

(415) 387-7991

AE/D/MC/V

Beer and wine

Working to dance, dancing to live

5

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE When people ask what I do, I tell them I dance. I don’t tell them I work as a receptionist part time, or that I work events in a restaurant. I tell them I dance because, although it’s more glorious-sounding than my odd jobs, it’s also more important. These side jobs exist merely to facilitate the dance. They are expendable; dancing is not. But while dance fuels me physically and emotionally, it fails me financially. For better or worse, there is a whole community of dancers and choreographers in the Bay Area who share this same conundrum to lesser or greater degrees.

So what do Pilates instructors, nannies, dog walkers, waitresses, and personal assistants have in common? They are all jobs with variability in work scheduling, and they are just a handful of the flexible jobs employing Bay Area freelance dancers. Over the past month I’ve interviewed about 20 of my fellow dancers and have been heartened at the abounding courage found in the local dance community to pursue alternate lifestyles to continue dancing.

Daria Kaufman has an MFA in Dance from Mills College. She teaches Gyrotonic, works as a receptionist at a yoga studio, and does administrative work for the Subterranean Art House. “One of the major challenges for dancers and choreographers is money — how to afford classes, rehearsal space, and theater rentals, to name a few,” Kaufman says. “I’ve done a lot of work-study over the years to combat the issue of affording dance classes. Most studios have a work-study program — clean for an hour and a half, get a free class, that sort of thing. Some studios offer a similar deal for renting out rehearsal space.”

Adaptability is necessary. Schedules vary day to day and month to month according to who’s teaching which classes, who’s working on what project, and what jobs will work around those opportunities. Often the most flexible jobs can be found in the food industry. Evening shifts allow dancers and choreographers to take morning classes and rehearse through the day, while variability in shifts provides flexibility when it comes to evening performances.

Angela Mazziotta, a dancer with Cali & Co., works at Squat and Gobble Cafe and Crepery in the Marina. “Although I don’t work enough to be considered full time, I make enough to pay rent, eat, and dance,” Mazziotta says. “There are days that I long to have a ‘big girl’ job for security, insurance, and more financial cushion. The reality is that those full-time jobs don’t offer a lot in terms of flexibility, and the hours of operation coincide with dance classes and rehearsals.”

The downside of the restaurant business is the relentless fatigue it piles on a body. Foundry dancer Joy Prendergast discovered that a café job was too taxing and now primarily teaches dance and baby-sits. Project Thrust choreographer Malinda LaVelle also found the strain to be too much. “I stopped working restaurants because the physical aches and pains of dancing were compounded by the strain of standing on my feet until 2 a.m. and then getting up the next morning and dancing again.” After working five nights a week, LaVell quit the restaurant scene to walk dogs and pursue receptionist work.

Fitness-related instruction jobs are another popular money-making source. Many dancers are certified in Pilates, Gyrotonic, or yoga as a way to subsidize their income. “Teaching’s a great way to make consistent money,” says Gyrotonic instructor Andi Clegg. “I’ve been able to constantly shift my teaching schedule around shows or other dance-related work I am involved in.” SF Conservatory of Dance student Emily Jones finds Pilates adaptable to her lifestyle: “I sometimes wish that I had a job where I could just turn off my brain and go on autopilot. But then I think about all the people I know who have café jobs and how they wish they could do something a little less numbing.”

Perhaps the most obvious way for a dancer to make money is to teach dance. Gretchen Garnett, director and choreographer of Gretchen Garnett and Dancers, taught dance 25 hours a week at three different studios around the Bay Area when she first moved here. Since getting married, she has been able to teach a more reasonable 14 hours a week at two dance studios and dedicate more time to her company. Whitney Stevenson, who moved to SF within the past year to dance, enjoys teaching gymnastics to children because she gets to be active.

Although an active job like teaching classes or working in a restaurant might seem perfect for someone physically inclined, many dancers find it essential to sit down and rest their bodies while working. Gabby Zucker does transcription and reads drafts for author and music critic Jeff Chang. “It may sound silly, but I prefer desk jobs to waiting tables or working retail because I feel it’s important to rest my body when I’m not dancing,” Zucker says.

A more common sedentary line of work for dancers is administration. Maggie Stack works as the administrative assistant for the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, and for her, the support and promotion of dance goes hand-in-hand with the medium. But for Julia Hollas, dancer and administrator for Dandelion Dance Theater, the realm of arts administration also became a bane. “There is always too much work, not enough funding, and the incredibly good people who stay in the field consistently take on more than they can comfortably handle,” says Hollas, who is currently seeking Pilates certification. “There is something quite noble about that fact, and I will always feel admiration for anyone who works as an administrator in the dance world. But what I was beginning to see in myself was a consistent state of burnout that took away from the inspiration I needed to pursue my art as I wanted.”

There are also those who take on jobs that are out of the ordinary. Darya Chernova moved here from Russia and was amazed by all the dance opportunities and classes available. Luckily, she found a job to facilitate that interest. “I have been working at the farmers market for an apple orchard farm for five years,” Chernova says. “Farmers market work is great but tiring. It can be very physical and socially exhausting. But I love fruit and being outside.”

Kaitlin Parks, who worked as an EMT before the job became too overwhelming, is another example. “Lights, sirens, and the glory of helping fellow humans are great, but the 10-hour shifts and the physical and emotional demands were dipping into my energy and attention for dance,” she says. “I currently dance with Alyce Finwall Dance Theater, the courage group, baby-sit for six different families, teach young children’s dance classes, and teach both EMT skills and CPR.”

When it comes down to it, making a life in dance is often an act of creativity in itself. Rachel Dichter helps organize people’s closets. Tyson Miller works room service at the Mandarin Oriental. Ri Molnar models for art classes, gardens, and assists people with disabilities. Paul Laurey lives in a theater basement with low rent to redirect time and financial resources to dance. While some may respond to his living situation with pity or concern, for him the luxury of pursuing dance outweighs any sacrifice in creature comforts.

Of course, pursuing dance becomes a whole different story when a family is involved. InkBoat dancer Dana Iova-Koga found that having a life in dance took on new meaning with a daughter. “Now that I am a mother, I’ve had to get more intentional with dancing,” Iova-Koga says. “It’s much harder to find the time to do it, and it has to be very planned out. But now, when I get to perform, it feels more essential and I appreciate being there in a whole new way.”

“Until recently, the key to making dance possible in my life was seeking out alternative lifestyles that allowed me to step aside from the money equation for the most part,” she continued. “This was much simpler to do as a single person, before becoming a family. We are still figuring out how we can keep the dance growing and maintain a sense of stability for our daughter.”

Although it’s a difficult balance to maintain, Bay Area dancers are more than up to the challenge of cultivating a life around a physically demanding art form with few monetary payoffs. Though it may demand fortitude, creativity, and a willingness to diverge from a more conventional lifestyle, the personal rewards of a life filled with inspiration and love-filled work are indeed great.

Mission Chinese Food at Lung Shan

3

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE As a rule, I am wary of restaurants where you order items by the number — especially when the numbers run into the hundreds. You start to think it’s like an automotive plant back there in the kitchen, where they’re slapping on option groups (fog lamps, alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel) according to some big book of codes. Of course restaurant kitchens are like factories — are factories — we all know this, but there is such a thing as too much choice and too much process, even in America. I’m not sure anyone truly needs, or even wants, DishTV’s 500-plus channels, or a restaurant menu that has to be printed on several folios, like a poetry chapbook.

Chinese restaurants are notable, in my experience, for being more likely than other kinds of restaurants to offer a far greater number of dishes than any restaurant kitchen could be expected to cook with attentive passion, but a notable exception is Mission Chinese Food at Lung Shan. On any given night — even a cold weeknight — you might think you’ve stumbled on a crowd of people waiting to audition for “Brooklyn: The Musical.” Every hipster for miles around seems to be wedged into the dining room waiting for a table. It is a veritable hipsterama, and I mean this in the best possible way.

Hipsters have a certain reputation for shunning math — or is that meth? — and (perhaps because of being raised in a culture of shopping-mall vapidity) show a craving for any validating experience that can be described with the adjective “street.” So maybe their massive presence here is a response to the street-food menu, which numbers just a few dozen items. Or maybe they just know good food, at a good price, when they find it. There is plenty of agreeably mediocre Chinese food to be had in San Francisco, but not at MCF. The cooking here is clever and forceful, and it’s also gently incendiary. This is the kind of food that makes your nose run. You can also get Chinese beer for $3 a bottle; as Bart Simpson once put it after agreeing to let the vet spay Homer and give him a flea bath for $20, “shop around, you can’t beat that price!”

Even the cold items carry a chili charge. Tiger salad, for instance ($7) — an irresistible name; who could resist having it? — consisted of four squat pillars of herbed lettuces, red perilla (a kind of shiso leaf), and roasted seaweed in a puddle of chili oil, as if the plate’s previous tenant had been some greasy chorizo. But even with all the exhilarating heat, even cold heat, you soon understand that this is Chinese-influenced cooking, not Chinese cooking.

Salt cod fried rice ($10), for example, sounds like something the Vikings might have cooked up ago while sailing across the north Atlantic. Despite the fancy emendations, including confit of escolar, the dish seemed very much like other fried rice dishes you’d find around town, with little rounds of Chinese sausage, like a sliced-up red pencil, lending a defining presence, along with scallion for color contrast.

The menu’s signature dish could well be the sizzling cumin lamb ($12.50), served on a sizzling iron platter that keeps gently cooking the onion slivers and slices of jalapeño pepper as you pluck out chunks of the highly scented lamb. The meat is from the belly and is therefore quite fatty; it takes the form of jointed spindles whose two arms are glued together by the melted fat. It is rich, intensely perfumed, spicy-hot, and (for an auditory thrill) actually sizzling. We could not ask more from any meat dish.

Still, after working your way through a plate of such weighty food, a bit of relaxation would be in order — a bath, say, in a broad bowl of broth filled with pork dumplings ($10). The steam itself was — a kind of pork aromatherapy — and there was a strong temptation to put towels over our heads and hold our faces in the steam flow.

Lung Shan’s street face is about as prosaic as it gets. It doesn’t look to have been freshened for decades and gives no hint of the crowd that gathers there when the sun goes down. But thrill-seekers know that there’s no thrill quite so thrilling as the unadvertised one.

MISSION CHINESE FOOD AT LUNG SHAN

Thurs.–Tues., 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m.

2234 Mission, SF

(415) 863-2800

www.missionchinesefood.com

Beer and wine

AE/DS/MC/V

Loud

Wheelchair accessible

Que tristeza

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM Whether or not they planned it from the beginning — though there was certainly grandiosity there at the start — Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga have been interesting as probably the first major narrative filmmakers to make post-NAFTA globalization their ongoing subject. The three-part Amores Perros (2000), while set entirely in Mexico City, found within it layers of society as remote from one another (if united in a fatalism, brutality, and one “accidental” twist of fate) as if they were continents apart.

Moving north into Hollywood funding and movie stars, the effortfully bleak 21 Grams (2003) again mixed up chronology, crisscrossing multiple story threads, and with big issues — religion, recovery, mortality — crossing literal and figurative borders. Babel (2006) went whole-hog, leaping from sunny SoCal and merely baked Northern Mexico to frenetic Tokyo and the Moroccan desert, finding or manufacturing crises everywhere, hang-wringing out questions you might boil down to “Can’t we all get along?” Or perhaps, to use the name of onscreen director Joel McCrea’s proposed pretentious magnum opus in Sullivan’s Travels (1941), O Brother, Where Art Thou?

These movies played God way beyond the ken of average auteurism, deus ex machinizing all over the joint to place actors in award-worthy emotional extremis and give us extended doses of that feeling experienced by characters in movies who shake their fists at the unforgiving sky and shout “WHHHHYYYY!?!!!” They were fairly humorless, highly contrived, and eager that you appreciate both qualities. They were also structurally ingenious, and in extended passages — like Rinko Kikuchi’s night on ecstasy and the Mexican wedding in Babel — purely cinematically dazzling. All these films speak to social injustice, the rising desperation that turns problem-solving violent, to connectivity (and disconnectivity) across cultures and economies. But what exactly director Iñárritu and scenarist Arriaga were saying was often much less persuasive, or clear, than the sheer bravado of their ambitions.

It was certainly hard to imagine one — intricately mapped screenplays, showily accomplished filmmaking — without the other. But the two indeed had a falling out after Babel, reportedly in part because Iñárritu (whose films are now “A Film By Iñárritu”) was kinda hogging the glory, downplaying his creative partner’s contribution.

So Arriaga wrote and directed 2008’s The Burning Plain, another elaborate multistory miserabilist exercise, albeit one that critics and audiences were catastrophically cold toward. Now Iñárritu is flying solo with Biutiful — oh, you just know that title is hiding a cruel irony — and it, too, is a problem.

Instead of weaving multiple story arcs in different locations to encapsulate man’s inhumanity to man circa now, he (working as scenarist for the first time, with Nicolás Biacobone and the late Armando Bo credited as cowriters) simply unloads several characters and continents’ worth of woe onto one continuous story. Or rather, one sagging man: Uxbal (Javier Bardem), a wearily hustling dude of all trades who seems to be keeping half of Barcelona’s marginalia afloat, if barely. He mediates between corrupt police who require bribes (then still fuck him over), illegal Chinese immigrant sweatshop workers who make designer purse knockoffs, the illegal African immigrants who sell them, and the bosses who just want him to exploit everybody faster and harder. It’s all falling apart even as he keeps slapping fresh papier-mâché on the teetering gray-market apparatus.

Meanwhile, he’s dad to two adorable young children and failed (but still trying) savior to their mother, who is bipolar with a vengeance. He’s also got a fuckup brother and various other satellites revolving around his warm but ebbing sun. Plus Uxbal can talk to dead people. You heard me. They generally tell him to inform surviving friends and lovers “Don’t worry, be happy,” which incites grateful tears. (Though nobody here is ever, ever happy.) All this and bloody urine too — no wonder our hero, reluctantly consulting a doctor, can’t quite believe the news he gets. Cancer? Terminal? Like, soon?!? As if he doesn’t already have enough on his plate. Now they’re just going to take the plate.

Biutiful dumps all this grief on Bardem’s shoulders and danged if he doesn’t just about hold up the whole movie, refusing to ham, marching through this two-hour Passion of Uxbal with enough wry dignity and palpable exhaustion to almost achieve credibility. Still, he’s a movie star, and that becomes one more way in which Iñárritu turns harsh “realism” into excess. This director is at his best in primarily visual set pieces, but his script here provides few such opportunities: the film flickers alive during an early police chase and a shocking later sweatshop discovery (though we’ve seen it coming). The scenes with Maricel Álvarez as crazy ex-wife Marambra are also effective because her character is complicated in ways that go beyond mere schematic usefulness in the movie’s overall whatsit of suffering piled upon suffering.

Biutiful isn’t a bad movie, but it attempts to mean so much there’s something painful in the degree to which it doesn’t move us as planned. Rather than making a universal statement about humanity at millennial wit’s end — with Bardem as Incredible Shrinking Everyman — Iñárritu has made a high-end soap opera teetering on the verge of empathy porn. He was better with Guillermo Arriaga, and vice versa.

BIUTIFUL opens Fri/28 in Bay Area theaters.

Burn the Bay

0

Self-medicate and simmer? Hardly. A nice big toke deserves (another and) a trip out and about to see some of the Bay Area’s finest sites to be stoned in. Just don’t flash that bong around — we hear that shit’s still illegal (?). Here are the Guardian staff picks for places around town that your buzz will love.

 

GOOD MANG KOK BAKERY

Post-Mary munchies are no joking matter. Yeah, you laugh when your buddy eats sausages dipped in maple syrup, but when it’s your turn the joke’s on you. Fortunately, Good Mang Kok Bakery in Chinatown is there to get you through those funky hunger spells. It’s got it all: pork buns, shrimp dumplings, egg tarts, mochi, sesame balls, chow mein — more grease and sugar than you can shake a spliff at. The joint (ha!) smells like stoner heaven, but the best part about Good Mang Kok is that it won’t leave a dent in your wallet — three steamed pork buns cost only $1.50 and all the food a stoner can eat won’t ever cost more than a 10 spot. Peep the window sign that says “Dim Sum Nice Food” and you’ll know you’re at the right place.

1039 Stockton, SF. (415) 397-2688

 

KADAMPA BUDDHIST TEMPLE’S “MEDITATIONS ON WORLD PEACE”

It’s Sunday morning, you’re stoned, and your heart is full of love. Kumbaya friend, mosey down to the Mission’s Kadampa Buddhist Temple for its weekly group meditation on world peace — because we all know that war, violence, and suffering are huge mellow-harshers. Inside the small building you’ll find a meeting room lined with chairs, Buddhist art, and sculpture — take a seat and be on time. Class includes a guided prayer, a spiritual teaching (try not to space, because if you pay attention here you can learn a lot), and refreshments. Every level of experience is welcome and no stoner will be turned away for lack of funds.

Sundays, 10:30 a.m.–noon, $10 donation suggested. 3324 17th St., SF. (415) 503-1187, www.meditationinnortherncalifornia.org

 

REVOLUTION CAFE

We regard the Revolution Cafe as its own mythic country, one in which bearded men and dashing women from various cosmopolitan European, Latin-American, and African cities epically lounge, smoke from their spliffs still lingering in their leather jackets and hand-woven mountain sweaters. In this convivial company, there is no better vantage point to regard the Mission’s ragtag parade from behind the fog of (medicinal, surely) Humboldt fog, particularly with a glass of house red or cappuccino in hand. Languid inter-table conversation is a mandate on the Revolution porch — retreat inside to giggle at The Awl’s witticisms on your laptop or take in the piano-guitar duo occupying Rev’s tiny corner that is allotted to its live music offerings.

3248 22nd St., SF. (415) 642-0474

 

ZEUM

Who says you have to be a kid to get a kick out of this museum’s interactive art and technology exhibits? Twist one up and try your hand at photo manipulation, animation, and video-mixing geared toward the mini-mind. And while we’re feeding our heads here, why not go truly techno-psychedelic with the kids’ museum’s Z Dance — dance in front of a green screen and a computer will transfer your image to a trippy backdrop (see Jefferson Airplane’s Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour performance of “White Rabbit” for inspiration). For gizmo gear-heads to blasé Betties, some advice for truly groking the beauty of Zeum: nothing will awaken your childlike wonder like a little William’s Wonder.

221 Fourth St., SF. (415) 820-3320, www.zeum.org

 

SEWARD STREET SLIDES

In 1966, Seward Street minipark was the site of a neighborhood sit-in that saved the last remaining open space between Seward and Corwin streets from encroaching development. Honor the community protesters’ struggle in true ’60s spirit by lighting up, grabbing a cardboard box, and flying down the polished concrete flumes for freedom (you can also slide at the chutes in Children’s Playground and Bernal Heights). Getting blazed is a good way to mitigate small bruises and the burn of climbing to the top of the remarkably long chute. But if intoxication and high velocity isn’t your favorite mix, there are plenty of places to perch peacefully and watch the action.

Acme between Seward and Corwin, SF

 

BERKELEY BOWL

This locally-owned grocery chain is a stoner’s dream, whether you alight on the 40,000 square foot megastore or the sleek new western location complete with parking lot: an added convenience for pre-browse hot-boxing. From asparagus to zatar (a Lebanese spice related to mint), the Technicolor aisles tantalize tokers’ taste buds, and are the ideal playscape for customer antics — shopping cart drag races are not unheard of. Feeling peckish? Avoid being “that hippy” shoving patchouli-scented paws in the bulk bins. Try baking among the baked goods at the store café, where you’ll find plenty of fresh soups, sandwiches, and company to ponder universal truths with.

2020 Oregon, Berk. (510) 843-6929; 920 Heinz, Berk. (510) 898-9555, www.berkeleybowl.com

 

WESTFIELD MALL ESCALATORS

Try to accomplish anything at the Westfield Mall while sober and you will surely end up crying outside of Jamba Juice, then struggling for hours more just to find the first floor exit. A better way of approaching the shiny downtown consumerist behemoth is to get faded and ride the escalators for, like, a really long time. The inter-floor specimens at the Westfield are a sight to behold. Unlike boring linear escalators, these zigzag upward and downward in Escher-esque profundity, caged in the mall’s dome-like interior. Those seeking ascent or descent must navigate a loop of shiny retail spaces just to find their way to the next moving staircase. Keep your wits about you — if you know which way is up, you may just reach Century Theatres!

865 Market, SF. (415) 512-6776, www.westfield.com/sanfrancisco

 

AUDIUM

Seeing the sights while stoned is all well and good, but you can give your optic nerves the night off and still totally trip off of SF. The wonder that makes it all possible is the Audium, where synapse-stimulating sound sculptures are unleashed on listeners seated in a round auditorium that is darkened to blackness to further heighten the experience. This place was constructed to get you high off auditory fumes. Sayeth Stan Shaff, the composer who co-masterminded the Audium concept back in the 1950s: “As people walk into a work, they become part of its realization. From entrance to exit, Audium is a sound-space continuum.” Somehow we’ve made it through this entire paragraph without using the term “mind-blowing.” Shoulder pat.

Performances Fridays and Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. 1616 Bush, SF. (415) 771-1616, www.audium.org

 

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA COAST GALLERY AT THE STEINHART AQUARIUM

Look, for those riding the green hornet, buzziness doesn’t get much better done than at the California Academy of Sciences. The Morrison Planetarium sends not just cosmic gas and glistening stars whirling around your dome, but protozoan tendrils and glimmering ambient sounds as well, as part of the current “Life” show. Iridescent butterflies flit unfettered about the Buckyball-like “Rainforests of the World” structure. And of course there’s Claude the preening albino alligator and a clownish troupe of cavorting penguins. But for sheer shivery loveliness, we like to slip into the basement for the Steinhart Aquarium’s gorgeously curated exhibits of regional undersea habitats. The Philippine Coral Reef wastes our retinas with its neon delights and the generalist Water Planet Galleries include infinite otherworldly species. But it’s the Northern California Coast Gallery that keeps us rooted in a meditative pose with its hypnotically undulating anemones and sensuously intertwined towers of opalescent kelp. Think about it. That’s, like, right off Ocean Beach, dude. Your pipe is your snorkel.

55 Music Concourse Dr., Golden Gate Park, www.calacademy.org

List assembled by Emily Appelbaum, Marke B., Caitlin Donohue, and Hannah Tepper.

Gorgeous George

0

TRASH She’s an unstoppable force, that Sherri Frankenstein. As embodied by Linda Martinez in an anything-but-soggy serial by George Kuchar, Sherri is endlessly buffeted by life — shoved, mutilated, or worse by rapacious characters ever-eager to administer injections. She’s prone to oracular gestures so lengthy and dizzyingly impulse-driven that their conclusions directly contradict the reality around her. But whether she’s carousing at a go-go club or distractedly presiding over a Dracula’s castle-turned-home for wayward women, Sherri’s is a spirit that will not be snuffed.

Sherri’s odyssey begins in 2003’s Kiss of Frankenstein, a screen adaptation of a 2003 play’s torrid and torrential vomitous verbiage. Shot in three hours for $500 and post-dubbed in a bathroom, Kiss is an orgy of all that Kuchar in dramatic mode has to offer — a DayGlo video update of the old dark house scenario of his and Curt McDowell’s classic Thundercrack! (1975) with live action-meets-animation interiors that outdo Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) in terms of lurid décor. Martinez’s sheer organza negligee is only the raciest fabric in a dance of the 700 veils to rival Kenneth Anger’s Puce Moment (1949). The dreamy-eyed male lead’s hairy chest and right nipple peeks out from a torn pajama top. A maze of maniacal monologues and mythical machinations — listening to Kuchar’s characters rattle off narration, one can’t help but ponder the narcissistic nature of memoir — in the form of a hungry Hungarian “pilgrimage for the palate,” the first chapter in Kuchar’s monstrous equivalent to Wagner’s Ring includes a sudden ax attack rendered in the style of William Castle.

Fresh from an acid facial, Sherri is back and pig-biting mad in 2005’s The Fury of Frau Frankenstein, another of Kuchar’s collaborations with his students at San Francisco Art Institute. Abandoning Kiss‘s monologues for title cards and visual tale-spinning, Fury introduces Sherri’s buxom niece Leticia, whose fate is watched by a Ryan Gosling-like newspaper reporter named Bruce. (In a bit part, young filmmaker Sarah Hagey almost steals the movie while her man is stolen.) Kuchar unleashes a blitz of post-production video effects, placing party scenes within envelopes and sprinkling digital glitter on Sherri’s face. Shot for $100 less than its predecessor, Fury is pure cinematic gluttony on a budget: a stew is stirred with a dismembered hand, a glimmering spider web curtain from the previous movie returns as one character’s cape, and a bat scurries across a floor in a manner that evokes not just the ravenous killer brains of the 1958 British horror flick Fiend Without a Face, but also furry slippers.

Technical difficulties prevented a viewing of the climax of Kuchar’s Frankenstein Cycle, 2008’s Crypt of Frankenstein. But Sherri returns in a sequel to the series, 2010’s Jewel of Jeopardy, whose cast includes an M.D. A little weary and slurry and lost in the length and relentlessness of her monologues, she’s soon helpless — gleefully so — to stop a Dracula who “burns quite easily” as he feasts on the “nubile necks” of her female charges, administering “hellish hickeys.” Here, the prop-mad and pixelated fervor of Kuchar’s meta-montage reaches its apex: digital blood drapes the screen, hairdos morph into spider webs, a character is beaten with his own severed leg, a Santa Claus wall hanging beams green rays from its eyes, Martinez’s flesh is visually rhymed with a Frankenstein mask, and the cast is momentarily lost in a blizzard of animated hearts and stars that would bring a blush to the face of the Lucky Charms leprechaun.

It’ll end in puke, of course, but anyone with a hungry eye should welcome the Roxie’s decision to put three nights of movies by George Kuchar on its menu. Or a hungry heart: the cheerful gastric onslaughts of Kuchar’s Frankenstein cycle are countered by the disarmingly poignant mortal attention to digestion and bodily function in his recent diary films, Vintage Visits, The Nutrient Express, and Dribbles, all from 2010. The time is right to gorge with George. 

BY, FOR, AND ABOUT GEORGE KUCHAR

Fri/28–Sun/30, $6–$10 (Fri/28: The Frankenstein Cycle; Sat/29: It Came From Kuchar plus two Kuchar shorts; Sun/30: new video diaries by George Kuchar)

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF

(415) 863-1087

www.roxie.com

Cannabis Club Guide

8

CANNABIS CLUB GUIDE 2012 When we first created our detailed local Cannabis Club Guide two years ago — which you can find at www.sfbg.com/cannabisguide — it seemed as if the marijuana business had entered a golden age of openness and professionalism in San Francisco. But with a federal crackdown shuttering at least a half-dozen dispensaries in the Bay Area (Market Street Collective, Sanctuary, Mr. Nice Guy, Medithrive, Divinity Tree, Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana) things have changed. Luckily for needy patients and stoners alike, San Francisco has always been a resourceful city, so those meddling feds have actually done very little to disrupt the free flow of the world’s best marijuana.

Even before the cannabis industry moved above ground and into brick-and-mortar storefronts, there were always pot delivery services here. Now they’re really proliferating, so we thought it was high time to add them to our guide. And once we delved into this realm, we found that it was every bit as civilized and professional as a visit to our friendly neighborhood dispensary — and perhaps even more convenient and cost-effective.

The process seems just as secure and legally compliant as it is at the clubs, with most reputable delivery services requiring that you become a member before accessing their products. That means sending them copies of your doctor’s recommendation and California ID, which can be even done from a photo on your smart phone. After the services verify you, you’re good to go.

We’re starting the guide with just a trio of the most high-profile delivery services, as well as a couple more dispensaries, but we’ll be adding to the online guide throughout the year, so check back frequently for more updates.

DELIVERIES

THE GREEN CROSS

This is one of San Francisco’s premier cannabis clubs, setting the standard for everyone else in terms of quality, professionalism, and advocacy for the industry. My sources had long been telling me that the Green Cross carries the best weed in the city — information validated by the long string of awards it accumulates at cannabis competitions. And founder Kevin Reed has been a passionate, high-profile leader in the community for years.

But I became even more impressed once I actually used the service. Its great website features the best descriptions of its nearly two dozen strains of lab-tested marijuana, including where and how it was grown, as well as products ranging from inexpensive pipes to eye drops. I settled on a $40 eighth of Blue Deliah, a sativa-dominant hybrid that looked both cheap and good.

Within about 30 minutes, the friendly delivery guy showed up at my apartment, handed me a white paper bag full of goodies, and charged me $35 with my new customer discount. Inside the bag, there was a grinder, a cool jar, rolling papers, a lighter and other Green Cross swag, a pot cookie, non-medicated munchies, an information packet, a receipt stuck to the inside of the bag — and a baggie of beautifully trimmed buds.

www.thegreencross.org

(415) 648-4420

Opened in 2004

Price: Low to average

Selection: Huge and high-quality

Delivery time: Super fast

Sketch factor: Very low

Access: Secure but easy to use

 

MEDITHRIVE

When Medithrive opened as a dispensary in my Mission District neighborhood, it became one of my favorite clubs, so I was disappointed to see it shut down by threats from the federal government late last year. But it immediately reinvented itself as a delivery-only club, and it still retains the friendly service and large selection that first endeared me to it.

“It’s definitely been a change for us, but if patients can handle the delivery thing, it ends up being better for everyone,” said the employee who took my order: the Apocalypse Medi-Mix, a mix of high-quality small buds (better for vaporizers) for $40 for four grams. And because I was a newbie to its delivery service, they threw in a free joint.

I called at 3 p.m. and was told to expect delivery between 4:15 p.m.-4:45 p.m. — and it actually showed up at 4 p.m. It wasn’t a problem because I was working at home all afternoon, but I can imagine such a long arrival window wouldn’t be ideal for some. And frankly, the buds were pretty dry, perhaps the result of not moving as much inventory as Medithrive is used to.

But on the whole, it’s still a solid dispensary and a very friendly staff that’s still worth using.

www.medithrive.com

(415) 562-MEDI

Opened in 2010

Price: Average with good deals

Selection: Large

Delivery time: Fast but uncertain

Sketch factor: Low

Access: Secure but easy to use

 

FOGGY DAZE DELIVERY

This place pops up prominently when people Google marijuana delivery services in San Francisco, but other parts of its operation don’t seem quite as tight as its search engine savvy. Even its readily available website, I learned while trying to order, has an outdated menu of available items. For what it actually offers, customers need to visit www.weedmaps.com, where the guy said the menu would quickly appear when I typed in “foggydaze,” but it didn’t.

Finally, I just asked him to recommend a good sativa strain, and he mentioned just two that they had in stock: Headband and Cheezle. Shooting in the dark, I went with an eighth of Cheezle for $45, and he offered me a new member gift of a joint or sample of equal or lesser priced weed. I opted for the joint because it just seemed easier at that point, particularly since my initial call went to voicemail and then I had to wait 45 minutes to get my information verified. An hour later (he said it would be 45 minutes), I had my weed.

Compared to the bad old days of ordering whatever my underground drug dealer had and jumping through whatever hoops he required, Foggy Daze is much better. But in the modern marijuana scene in this highly evolved city, Foggy Daze doesn’t quite measure up as is.

www.foggydazedelivery.com

(415) 200-7451

Price: Average

Selection: Small

Delivery time: OK, but slow on verification

Sketch factor: Medium

Access: Pretty good

 

DISPENSARIES

APOTHECARIUM

It was only a matter of time before someone had the idea to really emphasize excellent personal service with high-end products in an elegant environment — but the folks at Apothecarium have done it in a way that really sets them apart from the rest of the pack. This place is an experience more than just a place to score weed, much the same way adventurous bars like Alembic aren’t just about getting tipsy but appreciating just what a cocktail can become in the right hands.

Visitors to the Apothecarium are warmly greeted and seated in front of an extensive (and well-designed) menu, which an knowledgeable staffer patiently and enticingly walks you through, focusing exclusively on you and your needs. Once you finally find what you want, a large jar of your chosen buds emerge, and the employee uses long silver tweezers to place the prettiest ones on a display tray in front of you to inspect while he weighs out your choice of small or large buds with an air of showmanship.

2095 Market, SF

(415) 500-2620

www.apothecariumsf.com

Buds weighed on purchase

Opened in 2011

Price: High to low (“compassionately priced” strains available)

Selection: Large, extremely informative menu available

Ambiance: Looks like a fancy hair salon, hardwood floors and patterned wallpaper

Smoke on site: No

Sketch factor: Low

Access/security: Secure but easy access

 

1944 OCEAN COLLECTIVE

Despite a somewhat forbidding waiting room, this neighborhood dispensary on a mellow stretch of Ingleside’s Ocean Avenue has a real family feel once you step onto the salesfloor.

I was in the market for edibles when I went to 1944, and chatted with the jocular sales staff about which available edible wouldn’t give me couch lock or paranoia — a fully-functioning treat, as it were. My budtender pointed me towards a sativa-based peanut butter cookie with high potency, and then made me feel OK about our difficulty making a decision. “We’re all stoners here,” he laughed.

Once you make your selection among the edibles, flowers, and tinctures on offer, head to the back of the low-glitz, comfortably appointed room to give your money at the cash register. Head back to the bud counter to pick up your selection — if you’re lucky you can grab a brownie bite, cup of tea, or apple from the buffet to assuage your munchies. There’s even a sign that announces the dispensary’s job counseling and resume writing classes. A somewhat cold exterior sure, but it belies a warm heart. (Reviewed by Caitlin Donohue)

1944 Ocean, SF.

(415) 239-4766

Buds weighed on purchase

Opened in 2004

Price: From cheap to high

Selection: Large

Ambiance: Comfortable seating, jovial staff, family feel

Smoke on site: No

Sketch factor: Forbidding waiting room, friendly inside

Access/security: Tight 



2011 REVIEWS

SPARC

The San Francisco Patient and Resource Center, or SPARC (1256 Mission, SF) immediately set a new standard for dispensaries when it opened last August, combining a stunningly beautiful facility with deep connections to the medical marijuana community and a strong commitment to taking care of patients and moving the movement forward.

Even the casual observer can see what a unique place this is. A selection of almost three dozen bud varietals is presented in the style of a Chinese apothecary, each strain laboratory-tested for strength and purity and labeled with THC and CBD levels. The facility was lovingly designed from scratch with state-of-the-art humidors and security systems, creating an environment that is warm, friendly, and secure, with more employees per customer than other clubs.

Below the surface, SPARC is also setting a standard. Founder Erich Pearson and others involved with the club have been movement leaders for many years and they have deep connections with growers, patient groups, and the progressive political community. So they offer everything from free acupuncture and other services to generous compassionate giving programs to strong support for all aspects of the vertically-integrated collective.

But it is the experience of visiting that is most striking. Get expert advice on choosing from a huge range on indoor and outdoor strains and then settle into one of the tables, load a bowl into the high-end Volcano vaporizer, and taste the fruits of SPARC’s expertise.

There are always lots of great deals to choose from, from one-pound bags for baking for $300 to eighths of the finest outdoor weed for as low as $28.

SPARC is truly an industry leader, setting a high bar for what dispensaries can be.

Prepackaged buds

Opened in 2010

Price: Wide range

Selection: Huge!

Ambiance: Warm, comfortable, hip

Smoke on site: Vaporizing only

Sketch factor: Low

Access/security: Tight but welcoming

———–

IGZACTLY HEALTH CENTER

Opening in late 2010, Igzactly (527 Howard, SF) is the new kid of the block — but it’s already establishing itself as one of the best cannabis clubs around. With a rotating supply of almost 40 varieties of buds to choose from at a full range of prices, it has the biggest selection in town. I asked the bud tender how the club is able to offer such a wide array of high-quality buds, and he said it’s because they’re using a different model than most clubs. Rather than buying the buds from growers, Igzactly uses a consignment system, splitting the proceeds with the growers.

Complementing the huge stock of dried buds, Igzactly also has a large selection of cannabis-infused edibles, concentrates, tinctures, ointments, and just about anything you can get weed into. On top of that, Igzactly has a comfortable lounge and is one of just a handful of clubs that allows vaporizing on site, giving clients a choice of using the top-end Volcano or the Zephyr (my personal favorite) vaporizer models. They even offer complimentary teas and coffee.

The staff there is friendly and customer-oriented. For example, when the club opened, it offered prepackaged buds like most clubs, but it heeded customer input and quickly switched to displaying all their buds in huge jars and weighing them out on purchase, which many patients prefer. And he said the club plans to expand the lounge soon and to add on-site laboratory services by year’s end.

If Igzactly is a sign of where the industry’s headed, the future looks bright and verdant.

Buds weighed on purchase

Opened in 2010

Price: From cheap to average

Selection: Huge!

Ambiance: Green, friendly, inviting

Smoke on site: Vaporizing only

Sketch factor: Low

Access/security: Secure but easy access

———–

SHAMBHALA

I visited Shambhala (2441 Mission, SF) on its second day open, when the smell of paint was stronger than that of weed, so it’s hard to judge it fairly. Check-in for new patients was maddening slow to an almost comical degree, they weren’t yet taking credit cards and had no ATM on site, and they offered a bigger selection of rolling papers than bud varieties.

But I still liked this place, the only one in that stretch of Mission Street. The staff is very friendly and they seem to really know their products. Unlike many clubs that offer a few good deals, the only cheap weed here was Afgoo for $25 per eighth, less than half the price of most of the 13 varieties they offered. When I asked why it was so much cheaper, the bud tender explained that the buds weren’t as tight or well-trimmed as the dispensary expects, although it still proved to be plenty strong and tasty.

Beyond the buds, Shambhala is also part head shop, selling lots of nice glass bongs, a display case filled with pipes, and rolling papers of all shapes and flavors. And while its selection of edibles is small, they do feature all of Auntie Dolores’ yummy cookies and savory snacks, even displaying the pretzels, chili-lime peanuts, and caramel corn in large glass jars on the counter.

Once Shambhala finds its groove, it will be a solid addition to the city’s dispensary network.

Prepackaged buds

Open since 2011

Price: Moderate

Selection: Limited buds, lots of paraphernalia

Ambiance: Clean, open, friendly

Smoke on site: No

Sketch factor: Low

Access/security: Tight

———-

MARKET STREET COOPERATIVE

It’s easy to overlook this place (1884 Market, SF), as I did last year when I first began to compile this guide. Nestled into the back of a wide sidewalk courtyard where Market meets Laguna just up the street from the LGBT Center, Market Street Cooperative has low-key signage and doesn’t seem to do much advertising or outreach, particularly compared to marketing-savvy clubs such as the Vapor Room, Medithrive, and SPARC.

But the operators clearly know what they’re doing, offering a wide product selection in a quiet, clean, no-nonsense environment. They offer a choice of buds for every taste and use, from the best high-end buds at a good price down to eighths for a dirt-cheap $18 and three different grades of shake, which many vaporizer users prefer over the tight buds that they need to grind themselves.

Access is limited to members, and the club insists on being able to verify the recommendation of users in a phone call to their doctors, a stricter standard that most clubs use and one that can get users turned away if their visit is after normal business hours (as they unapologetically did to my friend, the first time a club had denied him entry).

But once you’re in, you’re in, and this long-running club will take good care of you. 

Prepackaged buds

Opened in 1999

Price: Moderate with lots of good deals

Selection: High

Ambiance: Low-key and business-like

Smoke on site: No

Sketch factor: Very low

Access/security: Tight 

 

RE-LEAF HERBAL CENTER

I wasn’t terribly impressed by ReLeaf (1284 Mission, SF) when I first reviewed the club in 2010, so at their owner’s request I returned recently to give them another look. They have definitely improved in both the feel of the club and its customer service, but it still suffers from some of the same shortcomings I noticed last year.

While they allow smoking on site, which is great, they don’t have any vaporizers or bongs on hand for patients to use, making it seem a little sketchy. The selection of buds is also fairly limited, with about a dozen varieties divided into two pricing tiers (although only a couple selections on each tier really looked and smelled great), and the clones they had on sale during my visit looked scraggly and sickly.

But the employees there are very nice and helpful, and the atmosphere in the club has become more inviting. There carry a large stock of edibles not available in other clubs, including smoothies and other refrigerated snacks that require a special permit from the city to sell. And the customer appreciation barbecue events they offer are a nice touch.

For a small storefront operation, Releaf does a fine job and it’s worth a visit. But with the way in which the bar has been raised for dispensaries in this city, I wouldn’t put Releaf in the top tier. Sorry guys, maybe next year.

 

Buds weighed on purchase

Open since 2007 ( with three years at previous SF location)

Price: Moderate

Selection: Limited

Ambiance: A loud head shop that also has some weed

Smoke On Site: Yes

Sketch factor: Low

Access/Security: Moderate

—————

2010 REVIEWS

DIVINITY TREE

While the reviews on Yelp rave about Divinity Tree (958 Geary St.), giving it five stars, I found it a little intimidating and transactional (although it was the first club I visited, so that might be a factor). But if you’re looking to just do your business in a no-frills environment and get out, this could be your place.

The staff and most of the clientele were young men, some a bit thuggish. One worker wore a “Stop Snitching” T-shirt and another had “Free the SF8.” But they behaved professionally and were knowledgeable and easy to talk to. When I asked for a strain that would ease my anxiety but still allow me enough focus to write, my guy (patients wait along a bench until called to the counter) seemed to thoughtfully ponder the question for a moment, then said I wanted a “sativa-dominant hybrid” and recommended Neville’s Haze.

I bought 1/16 for $25 and when I asked for a receipt, it seemed as though they don’t get that question very often. But without missing a beat he said, “Sure, I’ll give you a receipt,” and gave me a hand-written one for “Meds.”

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: four years

Price: Fairly low

Selection: Moderate

Ambiance: A transactional hole in the wall

Smoke On Site: No

Sketch factor: Moderate

Access/Security: Easy. Membership available but not required

————-

GRASS ROOTS

Located at 1077 Post St. right next to Fire Station #3, Grass Roots has the feel of a busy saloon. Indeed, as a worker named Justin told me, many of the employees are former bartenders who know and value customer service. With music, great lighting, and nice décor, this place feels comfortable and totally legit. Whereas most clubs are cash-only, Grass Roots allows credit card transactions and has an ATM on site.

The steady stream of customers are asked to wait along the back wall, perusing the menus (one for buds and another with pictures for a huge selection of edibles) until called to the bar. When asked, my guy gave me a knowledgeable breakdown of the difference between sativa and indica, but then Justin came over to relieve him for a lunch break with the BBQ they had ordered in and ate in the back.

Justin answered my writing-while-high inquiry by recommending Blue Dream ($17 for a 1.2-gram), and when I asked about edibles, he said he really likes the indica instant hot chocolate ($6), advising me to use milk rather than water because it bonds better with the cannabinoids to improve the high. Then he gave me a free pot brownie because I was a new customer. I was tempted to tip him, but we just said a warm goodbye instead.

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: six years

Price: Moderate

Selection: High

Ambiance: A warm and welcoming weed bar

Smoke On Site: No

Sketch factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy

————–

HOPENET

Hopenet (223 Ninth St.) is one of the few places in the city where you can smoke on site, in a comfortable, homey style, as if you’re visiting a friend’s apartment. In addition to the loveseat, two chairs, and large bong, there is a small patio area for smoking cigarettes or playing a guitar, as someone was doing during my visit.

Although the small staff is definitely knowledgeable, they all seemed stoned. And when I asked about the right weed for my writing problem, a gruff older woman impatiently dismissed any indica vs. sativa distinctions and walked away. But I learned a lot about how they made the wide variety of concentrates from the young, slow-talking guy who remained.

He weighed out a heavy gram of White Grapes for $15, the same price for Blue Dream, and $2 cheaper than I had just paid at Grass Roots. That was in the back room, the big middle area was for hanging out, and the front area was check-in and retail, with a case for pipes and wide variety of stoner T-shirts on the walls.

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: eight years

Price: Low

Selection: Moderate

Ambiance: Like a converted home with retail up front

Smoke On Site: Yes!

Sketch factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy

————

VAPOR ROOM

Vapor Room (607A Haight, www.vaporroom.com) is San Francisco’s best pot club, at least in terms of feeling like an actual club and having strong connections to its community of patients. It’s a large room where customers can smoke on site, giving this collective a warm, communal vibe that facilitates social interaction and fosters a real sense of inclusiveness.

Each of the four large tables has a high-end Volcano vaporizer on it, there’s a big-screen TV, elegant décor, and large aquarium. There’s a nice mix of young heads and older patients, the latter seeming to know each other well. But, lest members feel a little too at home, a sign on the wall indicates a two-hour time limit for hanging out.

Its early days in the spot next door were a bit grungier, but the new place is bright and elegant. It has a low-key façade and professional feel, and it strongly caters to patients’ needs. Low-income patients are regularly offered free medicine, such as bags full of vapor prepared by staff. Mirkarimi said the Vapor Room is very involved in the Lower Haight community and called it a “model club.”

But they’re still all about the weed, and they have a huge selection that you can easily examine (with a handy magnifying glass) and smell, knowledgeable staff, lots of edibles and concentrates, a tea bar (medicated and regular), and fairly low standardized pot prices: $15 per gram, $25 per 1/16th, $50 per eighth. And once you got your stuff, grab a bong off the shelf and settle into a table — but don’t forget to give them your card at the front desk to check out a bowl for your bong. As the guy told me, “It’s like a library.”

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: seven years

Price: Moderate

Selection: High

Ambiance: Warm, communal hangout

Smoke On Site: Yes!

Sketch factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy, but membership required

————-

MEDITHRIVE

The newest cannabis club in town, MediThrive (1933 Mission, www.medithrive.com) has a bright, fresh, artsy feel to it, with elegantly frosted windows and a welcoming reception area as you enter. This nonprofit coop takes your photo and requires free membership, and already had almost 3,000 members when I signed up a couple weeks ago. Tiana, the good-looking young receptionist, said the club recently won a reader’s choice Cannabis Cup award and noted that all the art on the walls was a rotating collection by local patients: “We’re all about supporting local art.”

The decorators seemed to have fun with the cannabis concept, with a frosted window with a pot leaf photo separating the reception area from the main room, while the walls alternated wood planks with bright green fake moss that looked like the whole place was bursting with marijuana. There’s a flat-screen TV on the wall, at low volume.

The large staff is very friendly and seemed fairly knowledgeable, and the huge selection of pot strains were arranged on a spectrum with the heaviest indica varieties on the left to the pure sativas on the right. Lots of edibles and drinkables, too. The cheapest bud was a cool steel tin with a gram of Mission Kush for $14 (new members get a free sample), while the high rollers could buy some super-concentrated OG Kush Gold Dust ($50) or Ear Wax ($45) to sprinkle over their bowls.

Prepackaged buds

Open for: one year

Price: Moderate

Selection: High

Ambiance: Professional, like an artsy doctor’s office

Smoke On Site: No

Sketch factor: Very low

Access/Security: Easy, but membership required

————

KETAMA COLLECTIVE

At 14 Valencia St., Ketama is a testament to how silly it is that clubs within 1,000 feet of schools aren’t permitted to allow smoking on site. This former café has a large, comfortable seating area and full kitchen, both of which have had little use since a school opened way down the street last year, causing city officials to ban smoking at Ketama.

Pity, because it seems like a great place to just hang out. Yet now it just seemed underutilized and slow. The staff is small (one door guy and a woman hired last summer doing sales), and we were the only customers during the 20 minutes I was there (except for the weird old guy drinking beer from a can in a bag who kept popping in and out).

But it still had jars of good green bud, several flavors of weed-laced drinks and edibles, and a pretty good selection of hash and kief at different prices, and the woman spoke knowledgeably about the different processes by which they were created. To counteract the slow business, Ketama has a neon sign out front that explicitly announces its business — another indication the industry has gone legit.

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: six years

Price: Low

Selection: Limited

Ambiance: Hippie hangout, but with nobody there

Smoke On Site: No

Sketch factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy, but free membership required

————

MR. NICE GUY

Belying its name, Mr. Nice Guy (174 Valencia St.) thrilled and scared me, but not necessarily in a bad way. Located across the street from Zeitgeist, the thug factor here was high and so was the security, allowing no human interaction that wasn’t mediated by thick Plexiglass, presumably bulletproof.

After initially being told by a disembodied voice to come back in five minutes, I submitted my doctor’s recommendation and ID into the slot of a teller’s window, darkened to hide whoever I was dealing with. Quickly approved, I was buzzed into a small, strange room with three doors.

I paused, confused, until the disembodied voice again told me, “Keep going,” and I was buzzed through another door into a hallway that led to a large room, its walls completely covered in brilliant murals, expertly painted in hip-hop style. Along the front walls, a lighted menu broke down the prices of about 20 cannabis varieties.

Then finally, I saw people: two impossibly hot, young female employees, lounging nonchalantly in their weed box, like strippers waiting to start their routines. The only other customer, a young B-boy, chatted them up though the glass, seemingly more interested in these striking women than their products.

I finally decided to go with the special, an ounce of Fever, normally $17, for just $10. I opened a small door in the glass, set down my cash, and watched the tall, milk chocolate-skinned beauty trade my money for Fever, leaving me feeling flushed. It was the best dime-bag I ever bought.

Prepackaged buds

Price: Moderate, with cheap specials

Selection: High

Ambiance: Hip hop strip club

Smoke On Site: No

Sketch factor: High

Access/Security: High security but low scrutiny

————-

BERNAL HEIGHTS COLLECTIVE

Bernal Collective (33 29th St. at Mission) seemed both more casual and more strict than any of the other clubs in town — and it also turned out to be one of my favorites.

After refusing to buy pot for a guy out front who had just been turned away, I entered the club and faced more scrutiny than I had at any other club. It was the only club to ask for my doctor’s license number and my referral number, and when I tried to check an incoming text message, I was told cell phone use wasn’t allowed for “security reasons.” On the wall, they had a blown-up copy of their 2007 legal notice announcing their opening.

But beyond this by-the-book façade, this club proved warm and welcoming, like a comfortable clubhouse. People can smoke on site, and there’s even a daily happy hour from 4:20–5:20 p.m., with $1 off joints and edibles, both in abundant supply. Normal-sized prerolled joints are $5, but they also offer a massive bomber joint with a full eighth of weed for $50.

The staff of a half-dozen young men were knowledgeable about the 20 varieties they had on hand and offered excellent customer service, even washing down the bong with an alcohol-wipe before letting a customer take a rip from the XXX, a strong, sticky bud that was just $15 for a gram.

Buds weighed at purchase

Open for: six years

Price: Fairly low

Selection: High

Ambiance: A clubhouse for young stoners

Smoke On Site: Yes

Sketch factor: Low

Access/Security: Fairly tight

————-

LOVE SHACK

This longtime club (502 14th St.) has had its ups and downs, the downs coming mostly because of its location on a fairly residential block. After taking complaints from neighbors, the city required Love Shack to cap its membership, although that seems to be changing because the club let me in, albeit with a warning that next time I would need to have a state ID card. It was the only club I visited to have such a requirement.

Once inside this tiny club, I could see why people might have been backed up onto the street at times. But the staff was friendly and seemed to have a great rapport with the regulars, who seemed be everyone except me. The knowledgeable manager walked me through their 20-plus varieties, most costing the standard street price of $50 per eighth, or more for stronger stuff like Romulan.

On the more affordable end of the spectrum was the $10 special for Jack Herrer Hash, named for the longtime legalization advocate who wrote The Emperor Wears No Clothes, a classic book on the history of the movement.

Buds weighed at purchase

Open for: nine years

Price: Moderate

Selection: High

Ambiance: Small, like a converted apartment

Smoke On Site: No

Sketch factor: Moderate

Access/Security: Tight

————-

COFFEE SHOP BLUE SKY

Blue Sky (377 17th St., Oakland)is based on the Amsterdam model of combining marijuana dispensaries with coffee shops, although it suffers a bit from Oakland’s ban on smoking. Still, it’s a cool concept and one that Richard Lee sees as the future of marijuana-related businesses because of the synergy between smoking and grabbing a bite or some coffee.

Most of Blue Sky is a small coffee shop and smoothie bar, but there’s a little room in back for buying weed. “We’ve got the best prices around,” said the guy who checked my ID, and indeed, $44 eighths and $10 “puppy bags” were pretty cheap. Customers can also sign up to do volunteer political advocacy work for free weed.

The only downside is the limited selection, only four varieties when I was there, although the woman at the counter said the varieties rotate over the course of the day based on the club’s purchases from growers.

Prepackaged buds

Open for: 15 years

Price: Low

Selection: Very limited

Ambiance: A fragrant little room behind a coffee shop

Smoke On Site: No

Sketch factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy

————–

HARBORSIDE HEALTH CENTER

I have seen the future of legitimized medical marijuana businesses, and it’s Harborside (1840 Embarcadero, Oakland). With its motto of “Out of the shadows, into the light,” this place is like the Costco of pot — a huge, airy facility with a dizzying number of selections and even a “rewards card” program.

All new members are given a tour, starting with sign-up sheets for daily free services that include yoga, chiropractic, acupuncture, reiki, consultations with herbalists, and classes on growing. Then we moved to a section with the clones of dozens of pot plant varieties available for purchase (limit of 72 plants per visit), along with a potted marijuana plant the size of a tree.

Harborside is also blazing the trail on laboratory services, testing all of its pot for contaminants and THC content, labeling it on the packaging just like the alcohol industry does. Some of the smaller clubs don’t like how over-the-top Harborside is, and they complain that its prices are high. But those profits seem to be poured back into the services at this unique facility.

Prepackaged buds

Open for: four years

Price: High

Selection: Huge

Ambiance: A big, open shopping emporium

Smoke On Site: No

Sketch factor: Low

Access/Security: Tight

————-

SANCTUARY

The people who run Sanctuary (669 O’Farrell St.), the first club to fully comply with the new city regulations and get its permanent license, have been active in the political push for normalizing medical marijuana, as a wall full of awards and letters from politicians attests. Owner Michael Welch was commended for his work by the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, where Sanctuary employee Tim Durning has been an active longtime member and former elected officer.

Sanctuary has a generous compassionate giving program and caters to lots of poor residents of the Tenderloin neighborhood. While the club is prohibited from allowing smoking, they fudge the restriction with a Volcano vaporizer. “A lot of patients are on fixed income and live in the SROs, where they can’t smoke, so we let them vaporize here whether they buy from us or not,” Durning told us.

Those who do buy from them find a huge selection — including 20 different kinds of hash and 17 varieties of buds — at a wide price range. Staffers know their products well and take their business seriously, giving a regular spiel to new members about responsible use, which includes maintaining neighborhood relations by not smoking near the business.

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: six years

Price: Low to moderate

Selection: High

Ambiance: Campaign headquarters for the marijuana movement

Smoke On Site: No, but vaporizing OK

Sketch factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy

————–

GREEN DOOR

If low prices or a huge selection of edibles are what you seek, Green Door (843 Howard St., www.greendoorsf.com) could be the club for you.

Eighths of good green buds start at a ridiculously low $25 and go up to just $50 (the cheapest price for eighths at many clubs and also the standard black market price). If that’s not low enough, super-broke users can buy a quarter-ounce bag of high-grade shake for $40.

If you didn’t already have the munchies going in, you’ll get them perusing the huge menu of edibles: from weed-laced knockoffs of Snickers bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for just $5 to cupcakes, ice cream, or Chex party mix. They have lots of hash and other concentrates as well.

Somehow, the club also manages to have a strong compassionate giving program and contibutes to local civic organizations that include the Black Rock Arts Foundation, Maitri AIDS Hospice, and Friends of the Urban Forest.

The club itself is a little sterile and transactional, with an institutional feel and employees stuck behind teller windows. But even though that and the steady flow of tough-looking young male customers raise its thug factor a bit, the employees all seemed friendly and helpful, giving free edibles to first-time customers.

Prepackage buds

Open for: nine years (five here, four in Oakland)

Price: Cheap

Selection: High for edibles, moderate for weed

Ambiance: Like a community bank of cheap weed

Smoke On Site: No

Sketch factor: Moderate

Access/Security: Easy access, high security

————–

 

2011 Cannabis Club Guide

0

Welcome to our 2011 Cannabis Club Guide. We’ve added four new clubs to our updated guide, a continuation of last year’s.

As I created my list of the clubs I planned to review, I found abundant online resources such as San Francisco Cannabis Clubs and Weed Tracker. But an even better indicator of how mainstream this industry has become were the extensive listings and reviews on Yelp.com.

I combined that information with recommendations from a variety of sources I interviewed to develop my list, which is incomplete and entirely subjective, but nonetheless a good overview of the local industry and the differences among the clubs.

Also, like our restaurant reviewers, I didn’t identify myself as a journalist on my visits, preferring to see how the average customer is treated — and frankly, I was amazed at the high level of friendly, knowledgeable customer service at just about every club. To comply with city law, all the clubs are fully accessible by those with disabilities.

So, with that business out of the way, please join me on my tour of local cannabis clubs, in the (random) order that I visited them. 

2011 REVIEWS

SPARC

The San Francisco Patient and Resource Center, or SPARC (1256 Mission, SF) immediately set a new standard for dispensaries when it opened last August, combining a stunningly beautiful facility with deep connections to the medical marijuana community and a strong commitment to taking care of patients and moving the movement forward.

Even the casual observer can see what a unique place this is. A selection of almost three dozen bud varietals is presented in the style of a Chinese apothecary, each strain laboratory-tested for strength and purity and labeled with THC and CBD levels. The facility was lovingly designed from scratch with state-of-the-art humidors and security systems, creating an environment that is warm, friendly, and secure, with more employees per customer than other clubs.

Below the surface, SPARC is also setting a standard. Founder Erich Pearson and others involved with the club have been movement leaders for many years and they have deep connections with growers, patient groups, and the progressive political community. So they offer everything from free acupuncture and other services to generous compassionate giving programs to strong support for all aspects of the vertically-integrated collective.

But it is the experience of visiting that is most striking. Get expert advice on choosing from a huge range on indoor and outdoor strains and then settle into one of the tables, load a bowl into the high-end Volcano vaporizer, and taste the fruits of SPARC’s expertise.

There are always lots of great deals to choose from, from one-pound bags for baking for $300 to eighths of the finest outdoor weed for as low as $28.

SPARC is truly an industry leader, setting a high bar for what dispensaries can be.

Prepackaged buds

Opened in 2010

Price: Wide range

Selection: Huge!

Ambiance: Warm, comfortable, hip

Smoke on site: Vaporizing only

Thug factor: Low

Access/security: Tight but welcoming

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IGZACTLY HEALTH CENTER

Opening in late 2010, Igzactly (527 Howard, SF) is the new kid of the block — but it’s already establishing itself as one of the best cannabis clubs around. With a rotating supply of almost 40 varieties of buds to choose from at a full range of prices, it has the biggest selection in town. I asked the bud tender how the club is able to offer such a wide array of high-quality buds, and he said it’s because they’re using a different model than most clubs. Rather than buying the buds from growers, Igzactly uses a consignment system, splitting the proceeds with the growers.

Complementing the huge stock of dried buds, Igzactly also has a large selection of cannabis-infused edibles, concentrates, tinctures, ointments, and just about anything you can get weed into. On top of that, Igzactly has a comfortable lounge and is one of just a handful of clubs that allows vaporizing on site, giving clients a choice of using the top-end Volcano or the Zephyr (my personal favorite) vaporizer models. They even offer complimentary teas and coffee.

The staff there is friendly and customer-oriented. For example, when the club opened, it offered prepackaged buds like most clubs, but it heeded customer input and quickly switched to displaying all their buds in huge jars and weighing them out on purchase, which many patients prefer. And he said the club plans to expand the lounge soon and to add on-site laboratory services by year’s end.

If Igzactly is a sign of where the industry’s headed, the future looks bright and verdant.

Buds weighed on purchase

Opened in 2010

Price: From cheap to average

Selection: Huge!

Ambiance: Green, friendly, inviting

Smoke on site: Vaporizing only

Thug factor: Low

Access/security: Secure but easy access

———–

SHAMBHALA

I visited Shambhala (2441 Mission, SF) on its second day open, when the smell of paint was stronger than that of weed, so it’s hard to judge it fairly. Check-in for new patients was maddening slow to an almost comical degree, they weren’t yet taking credit cards and had no ATM on site, and they offered a bigger selection of rolling papers than bud varieties.

But I still liked this place, the only one in that stretch of Mission Street. The staff is very friendly and they seem to really know their products. Unlike many clubs that offer a few good deals, the only cheap weed here was Afgoo for $25 per eighth, less than half the price of most of the 13 varieties they offered. When I asked why it was so much cheaper, the bud tender explained that the buds weren’t as tight or well-trimmed as the dispensary expects, although it still proved to be plenty strong and tasty.

Beyond the buds, Shambhala is also part head shop, selling lots of nice glass bongs, a display case filled with pipes, and rolling papers of all shapes and flavors. And while its selection of edibles is small, they do feature all of Auntie Dolores’ yummy cookies and savory snacks, even displaying the pretzels, chili-lime peanuts, and caramel corn in large glass jars on the counter.

Once Shambhala finds its groove, it will be a solid addition to the city’s dispensary network.

Prepackaged buds

Open since 2011

Price: Moderate

Selection: Limited buds, lots of paraphernalia

Ambiance: Clean, open, friendly

Smoke on site: No

Thug factor: Low

Access/security: Tight

———-

MARKET STREET COOPERATIVE

It’s easy to overlook this place (1884 Market, SF), as I did last year when I first began to compile this guide. Nestled into the back of a wide sidewalk courtyard where Market meets Laguna just up the street from the LGBT Center, Market Street Cooperative has low-key signage and doesn’t seem to do much advertising or outreach, particularly compared to marketing-savvy clubs such as the Vapor Room, Medithrive, and SPARC.

But the operators clearly know what they’re doing, offering a wide product selection in a quiet, clean, no-nonsense environment. They offer a choice of buds for every taste and use, from the best high-end buds at a good price down to eighths for a dirt-cheap $18 and three different grades of shake, which many vaporizer users prefer over the tight buds that they need to grind themselves.

Access is limited to members, and the club insists on being able to verify the recommendation of users in a phone call to their doctors, a stricter standard that most clubs use and one that can get users turned away if their visit is after normal business hours (as they unapologetically did to my friend, the first time a club had denied him entry).

But once you’re in, you’re in, and this long-running club will take good care of you. 

Prepackaged buds

Opened in 1999

Price: Moderate with lots of good deals

Selection: High

Ambiance: Low-key and business-like

Smoke on site: No

Thug factor: Very low

Access/security: Tight 

 

RE-LEAF HERBAL CENTER

I wasn’t terribly impressed by ReLeaf (1284 Mission, SF) when I first reviewed the club in 2010, so at their owner’s request I returned recently to give them another look. They have definitely improved in both the feel of the club and its customer service, but it still suffers from some of the same shortcomings I noticed last year.

While they allow smoking on site, which is great, they don’t have any vaporizers or bongs on hand for patients to use, making it seem a little sketchy. The selection of buds is also fairly limited, with about a dozen varieties divided into two pricing tiers (although only a couple selections on each tier really looked and smelled great), and the clones they had on sale during my visit looked scraggly and sickly.

But the employees there are very nice and helpful, and the atmosphere in the club has become more inviting. There carry a large stock of edibles not available in other clubs, including smoothies and other refrigerated snacks that require a special permit from the city to sell. And the customer appreciation barbecue events they offer are a nice touch.

For a small storefront operation, Releaf does a fine job and it’s worth a visit. But with the way in which the bar has been raised for dispensaries in this city, I wouldn’t put Releaf in the top tier. Sorry guys, maybe next year.

 

Buds weighed on purchase

Open since 2007 ( with three years at previous SF location)

Price: Moderate

Selection: Limited

Ambiance: A loud head shop that also has some weed

Smoke On Site: Yes

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Moderate

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2010 REVIEWS

DIVINITY TREE

While the reviews on Yelp rave about Divinity Tree (958 Geary St.), giving it five stars, I found it a little intimidating and transactional (although it was the first club I visited, so that might be a factor). But if you’re looking to just do your business in a no-frills environment and get out, this could be your place.

The staff and most of the clientele were young men, some a bit thuggish. One worker wore a “Stop Snitching” T-shirt and another had “Free the SF8.” But they behaved professionally and were knowledgeable and easy to talk to. When I asked for a strain that would ease my anxiety but still allow me enough focus to write, my guy (patients wait along a bench until called to the counter) seemed to thoughtfully ponder the question for a moment, then said I wanted a “sativa-dominant hybrid” and recommended Neville’s Haze.

I bought 1/16 for $25 and when I asked for a receipt, it seemed as though they don’t get that question very often. But without missing a beat he said, “Sure, I’ll give you a receipt,” and gave me a hand-written one for “Meds.”

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: four years

Price: Fairly low

Selection: Moderate

Ambiance: A transactional hole in the wall

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Moderate

Access/Security: Easy. Membership available but not required

————-

GRASS ROOTS

Located at 1077 Post St. right next to Fire Station #3, Grass Roots has the feel of a busy saloon. Indeed, as a worker named Justin told me, many of the employees are former bartenders who know and value customer service. With music, great lighting, and nice décor, this place feels comfortable and totally legit. Whereas most clubs are cash-only, Grass Roots allows credit card transactions and has an ATM on site.

The steady stream of customers are asked to wait along the back wall, perusing the menus (one for buds and another with pictures for a huge selection of edibles) until called to the bar. When asked, my guy gave me a knowledgeable breakdown of the difference between sativa and indica, but then Justin came over to relieve him for a lunch break with the BBQ they had ordered in and ate in the back.

Justin answered my writing-while-high inquiry by recommending Blue Dream ($17 for a 1.2-gram), and when I asked about edibles, he said he really likes the indica instant hot chocolate ($6), advising me to use milk rather than water because it bonds better with the cannabinoids to improve the high. Then he gave me a free pot brownie because I was a new customer. I was tempted to tip him, but we just said a warm goodbye instead.

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: six years

Price: Moderate

Selection: High

Ambiance: A warm and welcoming weed bar

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy

————–

HOPENET

Hopenet (223 Ninth St.) is one of the few places in the city where you can smoke on site, in a comfortable, homey style, as if you’re visiting a friend’s apartment. In addition to the loveseat, two chairs, and large bong, there is a small patio area for smoking cigarettes or playing a guitar, as someone was doing during my visit.

Although the small staff is definitely knowledgeable, they all seemed stoned. And when I asked about the right weed for my writing problem, a gruff older woman impatiently dismissed any indica vs. sativa distinctions and walked away. But I learned a lot about how they made the wide variety of concentrates from the young, slow-talking guy who remained.

He weighed out a heavy gram of White Grapes for $15, the same price for Blue Dream, and $2 cheaper than I had just paid at Grass Roots. That was in the back room, the big middle area was for hanging out, and the front area was check-in and retail, with a case for pipes and wide variety of stoner T-shirts on the walls.

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: eight years

Price: Low

Selection: Moderate

Ambiance: Like a converted home with retail up front

Smoke On Site: Yes!

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy

————

VAPOR ROOM

Vapor Room (607A Haight, www.vaporroom.com) is San Francisco’s best pot club, at least in terms of feeling like an actual club and having strong connections to its community of patients. It’s a large room where customers can smoke on site, giving this collective a warm, communal vibe that facilitates social interaction and fosters a real sense of inclusiveness.

Each of the four large tables has a high-end Volcano vaporizer on it, there’s a big-screen TV, elegant décor, and large aquarium. There’s a nice mix of young heads and older patients, the latter seeming to know each other well. But, lest members feel a little too at home, a sign on the wall indicates a two-hour time limit for hanging out.

Its early days in the spot next door were a bit grungier, but the new place is bright and elegant. It has a low-key façade and professional feel, and it strongly caters to patients’ needs. Low-income patients are regularly offered free medicine, such as bags full of vapor prepared by staff. Mirkarimi said the Vapor Room is very involved in the Lower Haight community and called it a “model club.”

But they’re still all about the weed, and they have a huge selection that you can easily examine (with a handy magnifying glass) and smell, knowledgeable staff, lots of edibles and concentrates, a tea bar (medicated and regular), and fairly low standardized pot prices: $15 per gram, $25 per 1/16th, $50 per eighth. And once you got your stuff, grab a bong off the shelf and settle into a table — but don’t forget to give them your card at the front desk to check out a bowl for your bong. As the guy told me, “It’s like a library.”

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: seven years

Price: Moderate

Selection: High

Ambiance: Warm, communal hangout

Smoke On Site: Yes!

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy, but membership required

————-

MEDITHRIVE

The newest cannabis club in town, MediThrive (1933 Mission, www.medithrive.com) has a bright, fresh, artsy feel to it, with elegantly frosted windows and a welcoming reception area as you enter. This nonprofit coop takes your photo and requires free membership, and already had almost 3,000 members when I signed up a couple weeks ago. Tiana, the good-looking young receptionist, said the club recently won a reader’s choice Cannabis Cup award and noted that all the art on the walls was a rotating collection by local patients: “We’re all about supporting local art.”

The decorators seemed to have fun with the cannabis concept, with a frosted window with a pot leaf photo separating the reception area from the main room, while the walls alternated wood planks with bright green fake moss that looked like the whole place was bursting with marijuana. There’s a flat-screen TV on the wall, at low volume.

The large staff is very friendly and seemed fairly knowledgeable, and the huge selection of pot strains were arranged on a spectrum with the heaviest indica varieties on the left to the pure sativas on the right. Lots of edibles and drinkables, too. The cheapest bud was a cool steel tin with a gram of Mission Kush for $14 (new members get a free sample), while the high rollers could buy some super-concentrated OG Kush Gold Dust ($50) or Ear Wax ($45) to sprinkle over their bowls.

Prepackaged buds

Open for: one year

Price: Moderate

Selection: High

Ambiance: Professional, like an artsy doctor’s office

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Very low

Access/Security: Easy, but membership required

————

KETAMA COLLECTIVE

At 14 Valencia St., Ketama is a testament to how silly it is that clubs within 1,000 feet of schools aren’t permitted to allow smoking on site. This former café has a large, comfortable seating area and full kitchen, both of which have had little use since a school opened way down the street last year, causing city officials to ban smoking at Ketama.

Pity, because it seems like a great place to just hang out. Yet now it just seemed underutilized and slow. The staff is small (one door guy and a woman hired last summer doing sales), and we were the only customers during the 20 minutes I was there (except for the weird old guy drinking beer from a can in a bag who kept popping in and out).

But it still had jars of good green bud, several flavors of weed-laced drinks and edibles, and a pretty good selection of hash and kief at different prices, and the woman spoke knowledgeably about the different processes by which they were created. To counteract the slow business, Ketama has a neon sign out front that explicitly announces its business — another indication the industry has gone legit.

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: six years

Price: Low

Selection: Limited

Ambiance: Hippie hangout, but with nobody there

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy, but free membership required

————

MR. NICE GUY

Belying its name, Mr. Nice Guy (174 Valencia St.) thrilled and scared me, but not necessarily in a bad way. Located across the street from Zeitgeist, the thug factor here was high and so was the security, allowing no human interaction that wasn’t mediated by thick Plexiglass, presumably bulletproof.

After initially being told by a disembodied voice to come back in five minutes, I submitted my doctor’s recommendation and ID into the slot of a teller’s window, darkened to hide whoever I was dealing with. Quickly approved, I was buzzed into a small, strange room with three doors.

I paused, confused, until the disembodied voice again told me, “Keep going,” and I was buzzed through another door into a hallway that led to a large room, its walls completely covered in brilliant murals, expertly painted in hip-hop style. Along the front walls, a lighted menu broke down the prices of about 20 cannabis varieties.

Then finally, I saw people: two impossibly hot, young female employees, lounging nonchalantly in their weed box, like strippers waiting to start their routines. The only other customer, a young B-boy, chatted them up though the glass, seemingly more interested in these striking women than their products.

I finally decided to go with the special, an ounce of Fever, normally $17, for just $10. I opened a small door in the glass, set down my cash, and watched the tall, milk chocolate-skinned beauty trade my money for Fever, leaving me feeling flushed. It was the best dime-bag I ever bought.

Prepackaged buds

Price: Moderate, with cheap specials

Selection: High

Ambiance: Hip hop strip club

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: High

Access/Security: High security but low scrutiny

————-

BERNAL HEIGHTS COLLECTIVE

Bernal Collective (33 29th St. at Mission) seemed both more casual and more strict than any of the other clubs in town — and it also turned out to be one of my favorites.

After refusing to buy pot for a guy out front who had just been turned away, I entered the club and faced more scrutiny than I had at any other club. It was the only club to ask for my doctor’s license number and my referral number, and when I tried to check an incoming text message, I was told cell phone use wasn’t allowed for “security reasons.” On the wall, they had a blown-up copy of their 2007 legal notice announcing their opening.

But beyond this by-the-book façade, this club proved warm and welcoming, like a comfortable clubhouse. People can smoke on site, and there’s even a daily happy hour from 4:20–5:20 p.m., with $1 off joints and edibles, both in abundant supply. Normal-sized prerolled joints are $5, but they also offer a massive bomber joint with a full eighth of weed for $50.

The staff of a half-dozen young men were knowledgeable about the 20 varieties they had on hand and offered excellent customer service, even washing down the bong with an alcohol-wipe before letting a customer take a rip from the XXX, a strong, sticky bud that was just $15 for a gram.

Buds weighed at purchase

Open for: six years

Price: Fairly low

Selection: High

Ambiance: A clubhouse for young stoners

Smoke On Site: Yes

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Fairly tight

————-

LOVE SHACK

This longtime club (502 14th St.) has had its ups and downs, the downs coming mostly because of its location on a fairly residential block. After taking complaints from neighbors, the city required Love Shack to cap its membership, although that seems to be changing because the club let me in, albeit with a warning that next time I would need to have a state ID card. It was the only club I visited to have such a requirement.

Once inside this tiny club, I could see why people might have been backed up onto the street at times. But the staff was friendly and seemed to have a great rapport with the regulars, who seemed be everyone except me. The knowledgeable manager walked me through their 20-plus varieties, most costing the standard street price of $50 per eighth, or more for stronger stuff like Romulan.

On the more affordable end of the spectrum was the $10 special for Jack Herrer Hash, named for the longtime legalization advocate who wrote The Emperor Wears No Clothes, a classic book on the history of the movement.

Buds weighed at purchase

Open for: nine years

Price: Moderate

Selection: High

Ambiance: Small, like a converted apartment

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Moderate

Access/Security: Tight

————-

COFFEE SHOP BLUE SKY

Blue Sky (377 17th St., Oakland)is based on the Amsterdam model of combining marijuana dispensaries with coffee shops, although it suffers a bit from Oakland’s ban on smoking. Still, it’s a cool concept and one that Richard Lee sees as the future of marijuana-related businesses because of the synergy between smoking and grabbing a bite or some coffee.

Most of Blue Sky is a small coffee shop and smoothie bar, but there’s a little room in back for buying weed. “We’ve got the best prices around,” said the guy who checked my ID, and indeed, $44 eighths and $10 “puppy bags” were pretty cheap. Customers can also sign up to do volunteer political advocacy work for free weed.

The only downside is the limited selection, only four varieties when I was there, although the woman at the counter said the varieties rotate over the course of the day based on the club’s purchases from growers.

Prepackaged buds

Open for: 15 years

Price: Low

Selection: Very limited

Ambiance: A fragrant little room behind a coffee shop

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy

————–

HARBORSIDE HEALTH CENTER

I have seen the future of legitimized medical marijuana businesses, and it’s Harborside (1840 Embarcadero, Oakland). With its motto of “Out of the shadows, into the light,” this place is like the Costco of pot — a huge, airy facility with a dizzying number of selections and even a “rewards card” program.

All new members are given a tour, starting with sign-up sheets for daily free services that include yoga, chiropractic, acupuncture, reiki, consultations with herbalists, and classes on growing. Then we moved to a section with the clones of dozens of pot plant varieties available for purchase (limit of 72 plants per visit), along with a potted marijuana plant the size of a tree.

Harborside is also blazing the trail on laboratory services, testing all of its pot for contaminants and THC content, labeling it on the packaging just like the alcohol industry does. Some of the smaller clubs don’t like how over-the-top Harborside is, and they complain that its prices are high. But those profits seem to be poured back into the services at this unique facility.

Prepackaged buds

Open for: four years

Price: High

Selection: Huge

Ambiance: A big, open shopping emporium

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Tight

————-

SANCTUARY

The people who run Sanctuary (669 O’Farrell St.), the first club to fully comply with the new city regulations and get its permanent license, have been active in the political push for normalizing medical marijuana, as a wall full of awards and letters from politicians attests. Owner Michael Welch was commended for his work by the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, where Sanctuary employee Tim Durning has been an active longtime member and former elected officer.

Sanctuary has a generous compassionate giving program and caters to lots of poor residents of the Tenderloin neighborhood. While the club is prohibited from allowing smoking, they fudge the restriction with a Volcano vaporizer. “A lot of patients are on fixed income and live in the SROs, where they can’t smoke, so we let them vaporize here whether they buy from us or not,” Durning told us.

Those who do buy from them find a huge selection — including 20 different kinds of hash and 17 varieties of buds — at a wide price range. Staffers know their products well and take their business seriously, giving a regular spiel to new members about responsible use, which includes maintaining neighborhood relations by not smoking near the business.

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: six years

Price: Low to moderate

Selection: High

Ambiance: Campaign headquarters for the marijuana movement

Smoke On Site: No, but vaporizing OK

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy

————–

GREEN DOOR

If low prices or a huge selection of edibles are what you seek, Green Door (843 Howard St., www.greendoorsf.com) could be the club for you.

Eighths of good green buds start at a ridiculously low $25 and go up to just $50 (the cheapest price for eighths at many clubs and also the standard black market price). If that’s not low enough, super-broke users can buy a quarter-ounce bag of high-grade shake for $40.

If you didn’t already have the munchies going in, you’ll get them perusing the huge menu of edibles: from weed-laced knockoffs of Snickers bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for just $5 to cupcakes, ice cream, or Chex party mix. They have lots of hash and other concentrates as well.

Somehow, the club also manages to have a strong compassionate giving program and contibutes to local civic organizations that include the Black Rock Arts Foundation, Maitri AIDS Hospice, and Friends of the Urban Forest.

The club itself is a little sterile and transactional, with an institutional feel and employees stuck behind teller windows. But even though that and the steady flow of tough-looking young male customers raise its thug factor a bit, the employees all seemed friendly and helpful, giving free edibles to first-time customers.

Prepackage buds

Open for: nine years (five here, four in Oakland)

Price: Cheap

Selection: High for edibles, moderate for weed

Ambiance: Like a community bank of cheap weed

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Moderate

Access/Security: Easy access, high security

————–