Volume 45 Number 40

The joy of joysticks


GAMER On a sunny Sunday afternoon in late June, the crush of body-painted, thonged masses surged down Market Street, a trail of gold confetti, empty bottles, and promotional debris in its wake. Downtown was full to bursting with what seemed like everyone in the Bay Area celebrating Pride. But only a few blocks away, a very different scene was unfolding.

South Town Arcade is easy to miss. Tucked into a corner at the mouth of the Stockton Tunnel, its vivid green awning is all that stands out from the other small doorways at the periphery of Union Square. If you’re serious about video game arcades, South Town is a godsend: the cabinets are all sit-down, Japanese “candy cabs” with ultra-precise parts. And there is no shortage of skilled competition.

This particular day, the arcade was a locus of activity. Much like the teeming blocks nearby, South Town was packed with people, although not nearly as uncomfortably. About two dozen men and a handful of women were talking amicably, sketching in notebooks, or glued to a screen in rapt attention.

Every now and then a group of girls in thigh-high fringed moccasins and tie-dye tank tops, or someone in heels without pants, wandered past. It was a little surreal, but no one at South Town seemed to notice. Everyone was too absorbed with Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition (which I was assured is the end-all, be-all of cabinet games these days) tournament that had been underway since noon. When contestants were evenly matched and a good game was in the works, everyone crowded around, enrapt as Hadoukens, as the sounds of two digital characters pummeling each other mixed with the emanations of around a dozen other cabinets and the eight-bit coming over the stereo. The tension was palpable, but you definitely couldn’t hear a pin drop.

There were cheers throughout the matches as someone landed a combo or dodged a sweep, and discussions in between as players and audience members (though basically everyone in the audience was also in the tournament) dissected what went right or wrong. There was a sense of community and camaraderie, something that Simon Truong, who runs the arcade along with Arturo Angulo and Cameron Berkenpas, points out is at the very heart of South Town.

“We wanted to build a community. Playing online is fine, but it’s totally different when you can actually see your opponent. You could, you know, talk shit if you want,” he said, laughing. “But mostly, the people who play in our arcade, if they lose, they talk. They figure out, how can I beat you with the same moves? They give each other tips — so basically everybody can up their level of play and represent San Francisco and Northern California. We need better players out here to represent the area.”

It seems to be working. With little or no advertising, South Town Arcade has seen the number of customers balloon in the six weeks since it opened. Some players sit down when the doors open and only leave when they close for the night, six to nine hours later. As I sat feeding my tip money into Metal Slug between tourney matches — the coin slot basically a vacuum at first, but less so as an hour of play began to hone my meager skills — I could only imagine what that amount of time playing Street Fighter IV could do for your game.

Watching Pavo Miskic, a lanky San Mateo resident, shoot his hand across the buttons before a match, it became clear to me that practice helps. But until South Town opened, the only places in the Bay Area for Miskic to get his hours in were limited to Golflands in Sunnyvale and Milpitas, and to the student centers at San Francisco and San Jose State universities. “San Francisco hasn’t really had that much of a scene for [Street Fighter IV],” Miskic says. “[South Town] is gonna help. Until then everyone was playing mostly in the San Jose area.”

After braving Pride parade traffic and finally making it to South Town, Miskic emerged six hours later as tournament champion, despite arriving late and taking a default loss. As he stepped outside to speak with me, a girl handed him a congratulatory portrait she had drawn of Balrog, his character of choice in the day’s matches. Inside, even though the tournament was over, no one seemed ready to leave. A small circle began gathering around the Street Fighter II cabinet.

“I’ll add that I’m really bad at this game,” Miskic said. “I consider myself terrible. That’s the thing that I like about it, though. Because there’s always a constant challenge between the old-school people and the new-school people coming up, once you’re around the community for long enough, people will get used to you. You’ll make friends in it. People will help each other out.” 


447 Stockton, SF.



Mayor Lee’s budget deal


The way the daily newspapers are presenting it, the budget that Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee negotiated represents a new era of civility and cooperation at City Hall. The committee, after marathon negotiations, approved the $6.8 billion deal unanimously. Both sides called it a good process and a good result.

And indeed, by any standard, the way Lee worked with community groups was a huge breakthrough. After 16 years of essentially being cut out of the process under mayors Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom, the stakeholders — the people who provide the essential city services — were actually at the table. And the final blueprint isn’t as bad as it could be.

But it’s still a budget that does nothing to restore the roughly $1 billion of General Fund cuts over the past five years, that seeks no new taxes from big business or the wealthy, and that includes spending on a new Police Academy class that even the mayor doesn’t think the city needs.

And from the start, the mayor and his staff were absolutely determined to privatize security at the city’s two big public hospitals — even when it makes no political or fiscal sense.

The privatization plan was the centerpiece of what became a 13-hour shuttle diplomacy session, as staffers and supervisors sought to reach a deal they could all accept. The Mayor’s Office — particularly Steve Kawa, the chief of staff — put immense pressure on the committee members to accept a plan to replace deputy sheriffs with private security guards at San Francisco General and Laguna Honda hospitals. In the grand scheme of things, the $3 million in projected savings wasn’t a huge deal — but the politics was unnecessarily bloody. It’s as if Lee and Kawa were determined to privatize something, whatever the cost.

In the end, Sup. Jane Kim deserves considerable credit for holding firm and refusing to accept the proposal — and since Sup. David Chiu went along with her, they joined Sup. Ross Mirkarimi as a three-vote majority on the five-member panel and shot it down.

Police Chief Greg Suhr pushed for funding for a new police academy class to train 35 officers at a cost of $3.5 million (that’s $100,000 a cop). “I don’t think the department has looked hard enough at how we deploy the existing officers,” Sup. John Avalos told us.

And some key issues are still up in the air — for example, whether the mayor will adequately fund public financing of the November campaigns. With at least eight serious candidates running for mayor (not counting Lee), and most of them looking for the public financing that will help level the playing field, the city’s going to have to come up with at least several million dollars. That’s critical to the fairness of the election.

The bottom line remains: This city has been deeply damaged by years of cuts. And the next budget needs to start with a plan to repair that.

Editor’s Notes


I had, as they say, a spirited and frank discussion last week with Enrique Pearce, the political consultant working on the Run Ed Run campaign. I chided Pearce, whose firm is called Left Coast Communications, for leading an effort that, at the very least, involves some touchy legal and ethical issues. (After all, the group is raising money for a campaign for a candidate who hasn’t filed as a candidate. There are reasons why federal, state, and local laws mandate that people who are running for office declare that they want the office before they start raising money.)

Pearce insisted he was doing nothing illegal. (Okay, if he says so.) He also argued that his firm is the most progressive consulting operation in the city. (Whatever.) But the real focus of our discussion — and the reason it’s worth talking about — was the question of whether corruption really matters.

I think sleaze — and the appearance of sleaze — is a defining progressive issue. If Pearce agrees, he’s got some ‘splainin’ to do.

Let’s back up here. When Willie Brown was speaker of the state Assembly, he passed some good legislation, and allowed some very bad legislation to become law. But his greatest legacy is term limits — and the terrible public perception of what was once one of the best state legislatures in the nation.

Brown was the epitome of corruption, a guy who actively flouted the notion of honest, open government. Among other things, he had a private law practice on the side — and clients would pay him big money because of his influence on state legislation. Of course, we never knew who the clients were; he wouldn’t release the list.

When he was mayor, his sleazy ways continued — and left even progressive San Franciscans believing that you can’t trust City Hall with your money. Which means, of course, that it’s harder to convince anyone to pay more taxes.

There’s no question that Brown and Chinatown powerbroker Rose Pak (don’t get me started) were key players in putting Mayor Ed Lee in office, and that they’re playing a big role in this new effort. Which means, as far as I’m concerned, that it’s utterly untrustworthy — and that progressives should be miles and miles away.

I’m not arguing that Ed Lee is a bad mayor (he’s way better than the last guy). He might even turn into a good mayor if he runs for a full term. Pearce thinks he’d be better for progressives than state Sen. Leland Yee. We can argue that later.

But as long as his campaign is directly linked to people whose standard practices undermine the heart of the progressive agenda (which depends on a belief that government can be trusted to take on social problems), then you can count me out.

Campaign for the Woolsey legacy


Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Marin, Sonoma counties) is a rarity on Capitol Hill. She’s a lawmaker with guts who speaks from the heart.

Whether focusing on children and seniors at home or the victims of war far away, Woolsey insists on advocating for humane priorities. Several hundred times, she has gone to the House floor to speak out against war. She stands for peace, social justice, human rights, a green future, and so much more.

Last week, after more than 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Woolsey announced that she will not run for reelection next year.

She has set a high bar for representing the region in Congress. It’s a high bar that I intend to clear.

Back in January, I wrote in the Guardian that “if Rep. Woolsey doesn’t run in 2012, I will” (“Why I may run for Congress,” 1/25/2011).

At the time I noted that “alarm is rising as corporate power escalates at the intersection of Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.” I cited such realities as “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 … “

Six months later — with war even more endless, giveaways to Wall Street even more massive, and overall conditions even worse — my grassroots campaign for Congress is well underway.

Redistricting lines are in flux this month, but the political lines are clear as corporate Democrats salivate for this congressional seat. They want it bad.

This is a grassroots vs. Astroturf campaign. I’m facing opposition with a long history of big corporate funding. But we have something much better going for us: a genuine progressive campaign that’s growing from the ground up.

Already, more than 750 people have made donations to my campaign (we topped $100,000 weeks ago) and nearly 300 have signed up as volunteers. You’re invited to join in at www.SolomonForCongress.com.

We have to hold the North Bay congressional seat for the values that Lynn Woolsey has represented. That means directly challenging the undue corporate power that stands in the way of real change.

As a member of Congress, I want to work on building coalitions to fight for a wide-ranging progressive agenda — including guaranteed health care, full employment, workers’ rights, green sustainability, full funding for public education, fundamental changes in federal spending priorities, and an end to perennial war.

On Capitol Hill, I will insist that we need to bring our troops and tax dollars home — and that caving in to Wall Street and polluters and enemies of civil liberties is unacceptable.

Every day, the ideals we cherish are up against what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism,” running amok in tandem with corporate greed.

Nuclear power is emerging as one of the big issues in this campaign. I reject the claim that we need to wait for more “studies” from nuclear-friendly federal agencies before closing down the likes of California’s Diablo Canyon and San Onofre reactors. We need to fight for serious public investment in renewable energy, conservation, and a nuclear-free future.

Overall, the obstacles to gaining electoral power for progressives may seem daunting. But the narrow definition of politics as “the art of the possible” has led to disaster. What we need is the art of the imperative. 

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.SolomonForCongress.com.


Ghost Fleet wanderers


Scott Haefner, Stephen Freskos, and Jon Haeber aren’t the types to stand out in a crowd. Haefner is a web developer, Freskos supervises projects for an engineering firm, and Haeber has a desk job at a company that helps businesses hit high on Google — three straight-laced Bay Area professionals who blend readily into the corporate world.

But everyone’s got their thing — a way to break out of bounds, or scratch the itch of some incessant curiosity.

For these three friends in their late-20s to mid-30s, their thing entails prowling around in rundown deserted places by the light of the full moon, at times taking great pains to avert detection by security patrols. “We go into places that most people don’t go,” Haefner says. They’ve been traipsing into the unknown and documenting their discoveries together for years, motivated as much by art as adrenaline.

This past May, after weighing the consequences, they publicized one of their boldest excursions yet: Sneaking aboard the Mothball Fleet in Suisun Bay to spend entire weekends roaming the bowels of the mildewed vintage ships, while dodging the beams of patrol-boat searchlights.

Unlike many nocturnal wanderers magnetically drawn to abandoned spaces — squatters, taggers, or scrappers, for instance — they don’t break in, vandalize, or steal. Instead, they adopt the same sense of reverence in decaying, chemical-laden industrial places that conscientious hikers assume on backwoods trails. They shoot night photos with professional quality gear, occasionally using flashlights to achieve a technique called light painting.

Haefner, Freskos and Haeber consider themselves advanced practitioners in the art of urban exploration (a.k.a. urbex or UE), an underground activity that’s grown trendier as it draws in adventuresome novices. Now that they’ve publicized their caper aboard the Mothball Fleet, however, they’ve also come under the watchful eye of the feds.



At first they thought it was a pipe dream. Doubting their ability to access the Mothball Fleet was saying a lot, considering they’d once snuck onto the Vandenberg Air Force Base and wandered amid abandoned missile silos, absorbing the gravity of the military history those Cold War artifacts represented. Another time they’d managed a nighttime excursion to Neverland Ranch, the famed private amusement park of the late Michael Jackson.

But the ghost ships moored at Suisun Bay seemed out of their league. The rows of hulking, government-owned vessels were locked up and berthed offshore, surrounded by a security headquarters and a shoreline barricade plastered with “No Trespassing” signs. Patrol boats equipped with searchlights circled the docks 24 hours a day, and the prospect of climbing aboard without being spotted seemed crazy.

But then they got word that the last of the aging ships would soon be towed away and destroyed. For Haeber, the history nut of the bunch, this changed everything. “It was about the urgency of making sure these ships were documented,” he explained. “Getting them in the current state that they’re in is so important.”

Alternatively known as the Mothball Fleet and the Ghost Fleet, the ships are part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet, a collection of cargo ships, tankers, and military auxiliaries overseen by the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD). Created in 1946 to be ready for deployment in case a national emergency arose, the fleet consisted of 2,277 ships at its height in 1950, strategically stationed at eight anchorages nationwide. For most of the vessels, the call to service never came, and they declined into obsolescence. By April, the entire fleet had dwindled to just 178 ships, at dock in Suisun Bay; Fort Eustis, Va.; and Beaumont, Texas.

The ships that have been moored at Suisun Bay for decades have long since deteriorated, and now they’re being hauled off to the scrap yard bit by bit, though the spot will continue to serve as an anchorage for newer additions to the National Defense Reserve Fleet.

Some were constructed in the World War II era, while others date back to the 1960s and 1970s. While many are tankers or merchant vessels, there are also warships, relics of history deployed in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and Operation Desert Storm.

Many of the roughly 70 dilapidated ships have become ecological hazards, leaching toxins and heavy metals into the tidal estuary, which flows into San Francisco Bay. The monumental task of removing and dismantling them began late last year, providing badly needed blue-collar jobs on Mare Island, in the economically depressed city of Vallejo.

By 2017, the last of the ghost ships will have met with torch cutters. At least one will be salvaged: the USS Iowa (BB-61) — a 1938 lead battleship that shuttled President Franklin D. Roosevelt to and from the Tehran Conference during World War II — will be donated and turned into a museum.

Aside from being scrapped, outmoded ships meet with a variety of fates. Some are donated for educational use while others are deliberately sunk to create artificial reefs. Still others are used for target practice in the Navy’s sink-at-sea live-fire training exercises program (SINKEX).

“We saw that these things were going to be gone,” Haefner said. “So we planned it out.”

Haeber examined satellite imagery on Google Earth. Freskos, who’d spent time at sea, studied the tidal patterns. The three scoured the Internet for online photos of the Ghost Fleet. They conducted a scouting mission with binoculars in hand, and gained a sense of when they could take advantage of windows of opportunity between the 30-minute patrol boat rounds.

Long before they even discovered a navigable slough that snaked through a marsh into Suisun Bay or spotted the Craigslist post advertising an inflatable raft for sale, Freskos went up to shoreline gate where the “No Trespassing” signs were posted. He peered through at the tantalizing rows of mothballed ships, and hollered as loud as he could. Nobody responded.



After the months of planning left them confident that it was indeed possible to access the Mothball Fleet, the trio of photographers set out for their first visit, with about 700 pounds of gear in tow. They split the cost of a 12-foot inflatable Fish Hunter raft with a Minn Kota trolling motor. They carried the raft and their gear through a muddy expanse to a marshy spot where the low-profile craft could be set into a narrow slough, safely out of view.

“We always went on or exited at nighttime,” Haefner said. “We would go on nights near the full moon so we could take pictures. It makes it look even more ghostly.”

Their first target was Row F, a line of ships docked in a straight shot from where the slough filtered into the bay. They maneuvered down the narrow channel in their raft, dodging submerged obstacles along the way. Keeping tabs on the whereabouts of the security boat, they started rowing once they reached the open water, and managed to bridge the 800-foot distance to the first ship.

“Our plans were kept secret to all except our loved ones,” Haeber wrote in an online account of that first excursion. “Nobody, other than my girlfriend, knew exactly where I was that weekend. For all intents and purposes, I was on a fishing trip with some friends.”

“Keep Off” signs announcing an invisible 500-foot barrier that was not to be breached were affixed to the hull of every ship. The intruders maneuvered their raft between two Coast Guard cutters, Planetree and Iris, and tied up.

“It can be kind of a challenge getting on,” Haefner explained. “We’re risking ourselves, obviously, but we also brought a bunch of expensive camera gear.” He was the first one to climb aboard the Iris, reaching high to grab onto a bumper that he could then pull himself up on to gain access to the ship. While Freskos kept watch, Haeber handed the gear up to Haefner bit by bit. Once all three were aboard with their backpacks and camera equipment, they hauled up the raft and deflated it.

The Iris was commissioned in 1944. In 1970, it responded to the scene of an oil-rig fire in Galveston, Texas. In 1987, it assisted with cleanup operations in Prince William Sound after the Exxon-Valdez spill. It was decommissioned in 1995, so their entrance likely marked the first time anyone other than MARAD employees had been aboard in 16 years.

A handy feature of ghost ship exploration is that once aboard a ship, it’s possible to access any ship along the entire row, thanks to gangplanks connecting the vessels. So while many of the mothballed vessels were completely secured, there was always the chance that the next one down would have an unlocked entranceway. Part of the ethos of urban exploration is to avoid breaking anything, so they only accessed the interiors of unsecured ships. “They are fairly vigilant about keeping doors locked up tight,” Haefner said. “But there are just so many doors.”

Haeber found a single open door on the SS Exxon Gettysburg, a mammoth oil tanker constructed in 1957, and entered the ship alone, enthralled. The interior, he later wrote, smelled like a mix of mold, benzene, and soggy newspaper. He turned on his flashlight and began tiptoeing through the corridors and peering into the cabins. “They were like time capsules, untouched since the 1970s,” Haeber said.

“Some of the ships were 15 stories deep, like a maze,” Freskos said. “We’d get lost inside.” The trio split from Row F before sunrise and managed to get back to the slough without any mishaps, but they returned on a handful of other occasions with sleeping bags and enough food and water to last a weekend. On those subsequent journeys, they’d seek out places to sleep, often crashing in the once-luxurious captain’s quarters. They slept by day, so that entire nights could be devoted to wandering in awe of the decayed, post-apocalyptic industrial environs, shooting hundreds of photographs.

They visited rooms where crews once hung out playing board games, still littered with cigarettes. They photographed molded interiors, dark cavernous stairwells, engine parts, navigational equipment, and abandoned cabins with peeling wallpaper. “We found personal letters, cards, things people left,” Haefner said. “We were always looking for signs of life.” They wandered through mess halls, engine rooms, bathrooms, galleys, even chilling places with operating chairs and overhead spotlights. They climbed around on the decks in the open night air, wandering through derricks and cranes.

The old ships would make eerie creaking noises when the tide rushed in, and there was always that mild sensation that one experiences on a boat, of things not staying still. “It was like a cacophony of sound when the current was coming in,” Freskos recalled. Hawks, osprey, and owls nested aboard some of them, so the creaking noises were sometimes accompanied by screeching birds of prey.

“The place is steeped in history,” Freskos said. “I’d always think of what this room was used for, or what went on here, when people were experiencing the suffering, craziness, and nervousness of war.”



A highlight of their journeys aboard the Mothball Fleet was stumbling across the sleek black Sea Shadow, a stealth ship, which was ensconced within a barge on Row G. Shrouded in secrecy, the angular vessel was developed by Lockheed for the U.S. Navy to test how low of a radar profile could be achieved, and it served as inspiration for a stealth ship featured in a James Bond film. According to the MARAD website, “Sea Shadow was constructed and tested under a high degree of secrecy; until the Navy made its existence public in 1993, all tests were conducted at night.” The ship entered the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet in September 2006.

They also found their way aboard the USS Iowa, which bears the distinction of being the only U.S. Navy warship ever outfitted with a bathtub, so FDR could have a soak while crossing the Atlantic. While they didn’t manage to go inside, an eerie photograph of three enormous guns on deck conveys the magnitude of the battleship.

One of Haeber’s most cherished discoveries was a three-story-tall mural he photographed inside the SS President Lincoln, an American President Lines ship constructed in San Francisco in 1961. An early version of a containerized cargo vessel, the Lincoln doubled as a cruise ship catering to a small number of elite passengers, and remnants of the elegant interior décor remained. The ship has since been hauled to the scrap yard.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the three urban explorers. Once they narrowly dodged a work crew aboard a ship — “but we saw or heard them before they saw us,” Haefner said. Another time, while paddling back to the slough, they discovered their raft was punctured and had to manually pump air into it as they traveled. Then, at the tail end of their final journey to the Ghost Fleet, they found themselves fully illuminated by the dreaded patrol-boat searchlight for a full 10 seconds. They froze, convinced they’d been caught. But nothing happened, so they powered up and rowed like hell to get back ashore, and never returned.

Of course, posting interior photographs of the Mothball Fleet all over the Internet and delivering a public slideshow about their sneak-aboard escapades has attracted the attention of the federal government. “The Department of Homeland Security has been looking into it,” said Haefner, who can tell by monitoring web traffic on his blog. “I know that they know.” He also noticed hits from the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Justice, but so far, none have come knocking.

In response to a Guardian request for comment about the Mothball Fleet photographers, Kim Riddle, a spokesperson for MARAD, e-mailed an official statement. “We were aware of the intrusion,” she wrote. “We are concerned about the safety of individuals onboard our ships. This is a dangerous industrial site, and we take significant precautions for our own workers when they are onboard the fleet to make sure that areas are safe for them to enter. While trespassing on federal property, these photographers put themselves in a very dangerous position and could have been severely injured or killed from a fall or by entering an enclosed space that doesn’t have enough oxygen. Since learning of this incident, we took additional security steps, reviewed our procedures, and reinforced training with our employees to stop these kinds of intrusions.”

Freskos touched on the safety issue in an online discussion about the project. “There were many long discussions about oxygen-deprived spaces such as anchor chain lockers and ballast tanks,” he wrote. “There were contingency plans made for injuries. We carried a medical kit, we wore [life jackets], and took many other precautions.” He also responded to those who questioned the wisdom of publicizing their late-night excursions to the Mothball Fleet. “I think I speak for the three of us when I say that we are well aware of the consequences,” Freskos wrote. “But it’s a passion of ours, and it’s worth it.”

The photographers’ work can be viewed here, here, and here.






















Biting the Big Apple


arts@sfbg.com THEATER The world’s largest arts festival, the now-venerable Edinburgh Festival Fringe, got its start in 1946 as a scrappy party-crasher outside the official Edinburgh International Festival. Thanks to its inspired blend of difficult-to-categorize, anything-goes performances, the Edinburgh Fringe helped create a definitive theatrical format that has since flourished in Fringe Festivals around the world. Among other things, Fringe is a catalyst for new works, new companies, and new interpretations of how theater can be made, and experienced.

Of all the Fringe Festivals in the United States, the one that generates the most buzz is by far the New York International Fringe Festival (this year’s dates are Aug. 12-28). That the New York Fringe is curated is a sticking point among festival purists because it violates one of the founding precepts of Fringe: that anyone with a story to tell and a willing venue can take part. Despite that breach, there still manages to be a pretty broad spectrum of representation.

Works originating in the Bay Area display a staggering variety: the tale of an Iranian-American woman striking a compromise with her Islamic family over her live-in atheist boyfriend; a provocative series of multigenerational monologues on body image and acceptance; a musical homage to a 19th century black opera pioneer; and a transcontinental coming-of-age story.

When Bay Area comedian Zahra Noorbahksh began developing her solo show All Atheists Are Muslim at the Bay Area’s Solo Performance Workshop in 2008, she discovered something about the material that she had previously worried about being alienating or inaccessible.

“The Muslim and non-Muslim public is [hungry] for a three-dimensional view of a mainstream Islamic-Iranian American family that isn’t some heavy-handed political discourse,” she shares over e-mail. “I love seeing that moment when the audience that came in with their arms crossed, ready to challenge me and my ‘ludicrous’ title, realize that by my father’s very mathematical equation, all atheists are in fact Muslim.”

For Noorbahksh, the fest offers not only the opportunity of performing in New York but of expanding on the very definition of Fringe.

“It gives a ‘fringe’ culture and religion like Islam a platform and an opportunity to open up a dialogue with the non-Islamic world,” she says. “[And it] has given me an opportunity to be a part of the healing that needs to happen between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans and the general image of Islam in the public consciousness today.”

Oakland native ‘rie Shontel (a.k.a. Anita Woodley) raises consciousness every week as a producer for syndicated North Carolina Public Radio show The Story in Chapel Hill. But it wasn’t until 2009 that Shontel was moved to tell her own story, initially to friends and family, and Mama Juggs was born. Inspired by the memory of her 100-year-old great-grandmother, Suga Babe, and her repertoire of breast-feeding songs, Shontel performs four interwoven monologues wrestling with body image and breast awareness (her mother, one of the characters portrayed, died of breast cancer at 47), and the cultural myopia surrounding both. What sounds on the page like potentially heavy-handed material reveals itself on the stage as a thoroughly engaging, irreverent take on “titty juggs,” her great-grandmother’s term.

August may mark Mama Juggs‘ first foray into Fringe, but Shontel has already been drumming up national support via her “100 Living Rooms” tour, performing in private homes across the U.S.

“The intimate parlor performances have raised many interesting discussions and encouraged many to get breast exams,” she reports. “My mission for Mama Juggs is to make breast health a topic for conversation.”

“I was inspired by this very accomplished woman of color and wanted to give voice to her story that has been largely forgotten.” Opening up an entirely different conversation, Oakland-based opera singer Angela Dean-Baham’s solo show The Unsung Diva traces the history of 19th- century black opera sensation Sissieretta Jones. In a format reminiscent of Tayo Aluko’s tribute production Call Mr. Robeson, Dean-Baham’s one-woman work of musical theater combines American folk and spirituals with operatic arias and character vignettes drawn from the life of a woman once so influential that she was the first African American to perform at the then-unnamed Carnegie Hall. Like her hero, Dean-Baham is excited about what a successful run in New York could mean for her future.

“NY Fringe offers its artists a tremendous opportunity to put work before NY agents, producers, press, diverse audiences at a reasonable cost to self-producing artists,” she said. “As a juried theater festival, they offer the immediate gratification that other artists find the work engaging and that there is an audience for the work.”

San Francisco-born Aileen Clark knows firsthand the universality of a good story. Raised speaking three languages on four continents, Clark nevertheless refers to herself as the “whitest Latinita” on the planet, and her solo show How I learned to Stop Worrying and Lost My Virginity has touched a nerve among audiences of all colors and persuasions.

“I’ve always loved telling stories and acting out everything I see and do,” she says, describing the impetus behind the show’s creation. “I set out to make a play that would feel like we were just hanging out at a party and talking.” With John Caldon of Guerrilla Rep and Claire Rice of AMP, she crafted a comedic coming-of-age memoir packed with 21 characters, which debuted at the EXIT Theatre in November 2009. Newly transplanted to Brooklyn, Clark hopes Virginity will help introduce her to New York audiences.

“This show definitely gives me a wonderful connection with the people who come to see it,” she enthuses. “I’m hoping Fringe can be a door that opens other doors to great opportunities.”





CHEAP EATS I’ve got to get my head out of my ass. I don’t know if bars are where this happens, but the music is better. At the Dovre Club, they were playing the Cars, then the Clash, and Kayday was trying to think what comes next — the Dead Kennedys, or Devo — when a cockroach peeked out from under a coaster, then scampered between our drinks.

An interesting thing is that I was having a gin and tonic for probably the first time since I was in high school, listening to the Cars, the Clash, and then-what. This cockroach had probably only been alive for six days, week-and-a-half tops. It was pretty scrawny.

Kayday, who is a way, way more classy woman than I can ever dream of being, sort of lifted her glass (without spilling!) and scooted the little no-no over toward the bartender, who unceremoniously dealt with it.

And that was a life.

Mine is different. The Dovre Club has always been good to me, ever since it was in the downstairs corner of the Women’s Building. It was there, 15 years ago, in front of a pint of something-or-other, that I made an important, life-altering decision: to go to El Rio.

Where I met Crawdad de la Cooter, my most significant ex-other ever, whose children are the strongest argument for getting out of bed in the morning that I have ever heard. Especially the past couple mornings, when the argument was made in person and accompanied by pulls and tugs and demands for oatmeal.

With kids it’s automatic: your head can’t be up your ass because it has to be up theirs. And this is why my No. 1 goal in life is to become a grandmother. Somehow. Against all odds — every single one of them, given my own personal lack of children. But if I can only have a grandchild! Then I can die, when I do, with my head out of my ass.

And with a big pot of sauce on the stove.

I was talking with my hairdresser last night about mortality, and our problems with it — which are for the most part, at this point, conceptual. When I left the house, the kids were sleeping. Their father was home from work, eating ice cream, being the dad of their dreams, and just generally practicing the sousaphone. Their mom was in Bellingham, Wash., memorializing a friend of ours who was too young to die but did.

So I got my hair done. And when I came back, he didn’t even look up from his ice cream. “Nice haircut,” he said.

“Crawdad is a lucky woman,” I said, and went to bed.

But before any of this, before even the cockroach that came after the Cars and the Clash and between our drinks, my long-lost bestie Kayday and me were seeing to some Nicaraguan food at Nicaragua Restaurant on Mission Street.

There was ceviche, which I loved, and a tamale, which I didn’t, and the great Nicaraguan dish called chancho con yuca, which means, in no uncertain terms, pig with yuca.

As you know if you’ve ever been to Limon Rotisserie and ordered right (i.e. fried), yuca can be so good. Or … not.

Not that it was bad at Nicaragua. It just was, you know, a starch. Like a boiled potato, it needed work. If you scoop a bunch of the tangy ceviche juices onto it, hot sauce, salsa, and mash it up with your fork: OK. Yum. Otherwise, you know, ho fuckin’ hum.

Kayday started waxing poetic on the nature of starches, such troopers! How resilient and accommodating they are. Up for anything. Then the next thing I knew, she was speaking from the point of view of our plate-loads of underseasoned yuca. She’s from Indiana and therefore does great impersonations of starches.

Anyway, it was better than the music. For some strange reason, by way of atmosphere, they were playing Juice Newton and Laura Branigan. Which is why the Cars and Clash songs after were such a treat, like a chiropractic adjustment.

Or something.


Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–8:30 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.

3015 Mission, SF

(415) 826-3672

Beer and wine

Cash only

Don’t fence him in



DANCE One of the most fascinating aspects of the world of dance studies has been the split that has taken place in the last few decades between dance history and dance theory. To oversimplify, the first concerns itself with discussing works in terms of their formal values of aesthetics; the second, influenced by cultural studies, prefers to look at pieces as social constructs.

Of course, there is an overlap between the two fields, and while I appreciated this new way of thinking about dance as a mind expander, I also deeply resented what I considered the devaluing of individual artistic achievement.

Good news: dancers themselves have come to the rescue. Immersed in cultural, gender, race, and other sociological studies — the lingua franca of today’s academy — they have started making works in which concepts like ambiguity, perception and reality, performance and identity, and direct and mediated experience are the subject matter, not a byproduct, of their work-making concerns. Some of these approaches — such as Jess Curtis’ ongoing Symmetry Project Studies, for instance — have yielded astounding results. Or Keith Hennessy’s mashing together of sociopolitical issues into novel form-giving approaches. Even at the heart of Joe Goode’s work, though he is in many ways a more traditional artist, lie principles of uncertainty and multiplicity on a constantly shifting ground.

It’s probably no accident that Miguel Gutierrez, a prominent member of this group of artists, started his career in the Joe Goode Performance Group. Gutierrez, now a New York City resident with a growing international reputation from France to Australia, is bringing his most recent piece, HEAVENS WHAT HAVE I DONE, to San Francisco. Clever that man he is, he recently refused to describe this solo in an interview with the Dancers Group’s indance publication.

Gutierrez last performed in San Francisco in 2008, when he brought his Bessie Award-winning Retrospective Exhibitionist/Difficult Bodies to what is now Z Space. It consisted of a solo for himself and a trio for Anna Azrieli, Michelle Boule, and Abby Crain. Although the trio had its own merits, it was Gutierrez’s appropriately-titled solo that communicated as a gutsy, spectacularly in-your-face piece of dance theater. Retrospective intrigued because of newness, intoxicated because of its intensity, and overall impressed because it was a complete statement. The questions Gutierrez asked about identity, perception, and the nature of performance may not have been that novel or original, but the way he framed them within a reshaped theatrical context made them so.

Wriggling lasciviously on a full-length mirror, he attempted to devour and slip into his own image. It was simultaneously pathetic and touching. Putting side-by side a video of himself as a high school pretty boy with two girls and his current, lived-in body as a gay man on stage put both identities in question.

In another section, Gutierrez laconically read aloud answers he had given in a videotaped interview while we watched the original on a monitor. What was more true: the artifice of his aping himself or the fake spontaneity of the television image?

Gutierrez appears in San Francisco as part of the Garage’s Verge festival, where kindred spirits Laura Arrington, Jorge de Hoyos, and Jesse Hewit will open for him. Garage director Joe Landini is presenting Gutierrez because he wants to encourage this type of performance practice, but also because he is an old friend. “Miguel used to run that [Methuselah-age] elevator at 50 Oak Street,” he remembers — up to Lines Ballet’s studios and down to the basement swimming pool. 

HEAVENS WHAT HAVE I DONE Fri/8–Sun/10, 8 p.m., $15. Garage, 975 Howard, SF. www.brownpapertickets.com


Criolla Kitchen


DINE The soft bigotry of low expectations — one of those marvelous phrases dreamed up by George W. Bush’s hardworking speechwriters, who fed him their words the way you would put junk mail through a shredder — was on my mind recently when I walked into Criolla Kitchen, which earlier this spring replaced Bagdad Cafe at the corner of Market and Sanchez streets. My expectations were low. Why? Because Bagdad Cafe was the last titan of mediocre 24-hour gay diners in the Castro. Oh, it had its charms, and it had been there forever, but people weren’t piling in for the food.

Still, when the old soldier mustered out at the end of March, I felt a pang, because it was one of the last memories of what the Castro once had been — for that matter of what this city had once been. And when I learned that it was to be replaced by a restaurant serving Creole food, I thought: eh. Bagdad Cafe, for all its winsome qualities, did leave the premises with the bar set on the low side food-wise, and Louisiana cooking has never been particularly well-represented here.

But: the man behind Criolla Kitchen is Randy Lewis, late of Mecca, Le Club, and other distinguished kitchens, so more optimism might have been warranted. Lewis’ food is brightly seasoned, full of life, and reasonably priced, while the setting — a triangle of light, a slice of glass pie with a flower stall on the sidewalk outside for color — recalls an early edition of Zuni Cafe.

It’s always seemed right to me, in a wistful sort of way, that we don’t have particularly distinguished Louisiana food here. This isn’t Louisiana, after all; if you want good Louisiana cooking, you should go there. The Cajun and Creole culinary traditions of the Mississippi delta are an authentic cuisine, a blend of French, Spanish, Caribbean, and African influences quite different from those that make up our own, also authentic — and distinctive — style.

The delta style is a little brighter and more pointed than ours — more Matisse than Monet — and because I am personally fond of extroverted food rendered in primary colors, I found myself bewitched by Criolla Kitchen. There is a lot of fried stuff on the menu, and why Southerners like to fry things so much remains a mystery to me. But they do it well, and it does taste good. I’ve heard people fret endlessly about eating too much of it, but I’ve never heard them say they don’t like it.

Besides, if you want hush puppies ($5.90), like little fried corn dogs except with shrimp inside, you can balance your account with the likes of the mirliton salad ($5.90). Mirliton is a cross between a cucumber and a pepper, and has a cool crunch and refreshing quality you might associate with sorbet. The salad was enriched with slices of ripe, creamy avocado, then lighted up with a well-balanced vinaigrette of lemon and cumin. As for the hush puppies, you dip them in a pickle rémoulade, a modified mayonnaise that’s a lot like what the French call sauce gribiche. It’s rich, but with enough acidity to make at least a slight dent in the hush puppy fattiness.

The ribs ($18.90), we were told, were slow-barbecued at an undisclosed location in the East Bay. I found them flavorful but slightly dry. The barbecue sauce on the side, on the other hand, had a pepperiness far more assertive than is typical of the commercially available stuff, which tends to be sweet and thick even if with some kick. This sauce was taut and lean, with low body fat. We also admired the accompanying sides of coleslaw (tangy, not sweet, and with long threads of green cabbage) and potato salad, made from smashed new potatoes and sober, direct mayonnaise. The importance of good mayonnaise in this kind of cooking can’t be overstated; it also made the difference (along with a tangy-fresh baguette) in the shrimp po’boy ($10.90).

All the juiciness absent from the ribs turned up in the fried chicken ($12.90), a full half-bird served with red beans and rice. Even the breast meat was juicy, while the skin and the artfully seasoned batter had fused into a shell that was an experience unto itself — almost like shards of savory candy.

Dessert could only be pecan pie ($3.90), which was not at all cloying and for that matter didn’t even really resemble a slice of pie — more a kind of crumble, with chunks and bits of pastry everywhere. We didn’t mind, but … is there such a thing as a pie shredder?


Dinner: Sun..–Thurs., 6–11 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 6 p.m.–midnight

Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 10:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

2295 Market, SF

(415) 552-5811


Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible


Na Nach hey hey



SUPER EGO My ever-ahead Hunky Beau just introduced me to Na Nach techno — and I’ve been kinda freaking out about it, like I would about 3-D animated GIF nail polish, that you could upload Hipstamatic photo booth pics of you and your friends to, reenacting tacky 1980s movie dance montages, but happening on your nails, in 3-D, if it even existed, which it doesn’t, so why don’t you just get off your boring global warming-proving ass and do something fabulous about that, Mr. Scientist. I already know the weather’s weird. I want Footloose on my fingernails!

Na Nach is the name of a newish Hasidic Jewish subsect of followers of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the kabbalist mystic who lived 200 years ago. But unlike the larger Breslovian following, it has mobile rave units. Driving around Israel in white vans graffitied with giant Hebrew letters, the Na Nach stop at intersections and come tumbling out, blasting homemade electro trance, chanting “Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me’uman” (the Rebbe’s name spelled out), and dancing ecstatically in outfits that are part typical Orthodox dude and part Ali G. It’s basically a glorious logical conclusion to the whole “trance music as religious experience” thing. Of course the Sufis already got there centuries ago but, one suspects, without the aid of JBL 18-inch portable subwoofers and a pirated copy of Ableton Live.

The happy, energetic music and mood are actually pretty infectious. And the Na Nach, some of them former ravers and gangsters, have become so ubiquitous that hilarious parodies have started springing up — including one by the great gay Tel Aviv party Arisa (whose video flyers rule the homo Web right now.) Have a Na Nach look and listen at www.sfbg.com/nanach.



DJ David Harness’s lovely, deep-yet-breezy party anchored San Francisco’s soulful house scene throughout the early 2000s, one of those joints where you could use the words “vibe” and “spiritual” and not feel like you were tossing up disco clichés. Yes, there were candles and, er, incense involved, and quite a few flowers tucked behind perked-up ears — hands snaking luxuriously up into the air as well. Now the party returns, finding a new biweekly Oakland evening home at the spacious Bench and Bar. Organic sounds, no labels.

Thurs/7, 6 p.m.–midnight, free. Bench and Bar, 510 17th St., Oakl. www.bench-and-bar.com



Cosmic, Burner-like blasts of time-warped bass and cheeky step from multimedia mindblower Tipper, the modest Brit who takes his audio technology fetish to another level. Gotta love it when he drops the lingo: “Featuring a five-way crossover sound system in a Quadraphonic Array with specialized subwoofers dedicated to 45 hertz and below … ” With a six-screen projection rig thrown in, you’ll basically be entering the electronic space-pod of your ear dreams. It’s an experience.

Fri/8, 8 p.m., $22.50. Regency Ballroom, 1290 Sutter, SF. www.theregencyballroom.com



The bloke from Bournemouth who was crucial in spreading the acid house gospel in the ’80s — and brought rave to Asia, with his storied seven-year stint in Hong Kong — has become a reliably sunny, techno-twisty force on Top 100 DJs lists and better global dance floors. Good, solid fun is had whenever he gets to town (and sometimes I just randomly prance around and drop to his xylo-yummy 2010 track “Wongel” in my head) so go already. Nikola Baytala, Rooz, and other locals work the build-up.

Fri/8, 10 p.m.–late, $15. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com



Guess it’s a battle of the Lees this week — luckily there’s some after-hours leeway to hit up both. This Lee comes to us from the Midwest via Los Angeles and London, were his chiseled looks and dreamboat eyes were at first as much of a talking point as his music. Luckily he overcame that crippling handicap to inject some bouncy tech-funk flavor into the trademark R ‘n’ B house of the Wolf and Lamb set. Call it the new New Jack Swing sound if you like. And you will like, especially when grouped at Public Works with Beats in Space radio host Tim Sweeney and my not-so-secret French house crush, Le Loup. (I love his little fuzzy mustache!)

Fri/8, 10 p.m.–3 a.m., $12. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

The nonconformist



FILM Marxist, aesthete, padrone, Oscar winner, supreme screen sensualist — the list of contradictions goes on, onscreen as well as off, for Bernardo Bertolucci. Earlier this year he emerged from a long creative hibernation (attributable, it turns out, to back pain so severe it prevented any work) to accept an honorary Palme d’Or at the Cannes International Film Festival and begin work on his first film in nearly a decade, a claustrophobic drama about a withdrawn teen who secretly sequesters himself in the family basement. It will be filmed in 3-D — an idea so daft it just might prove brilliant.

Because, after all, it is lunacy and excess as well as intelligence, beauty, instinct, and so forth that have led Bertolucci to some of his most extraordinary as well as dubious achievements, nearly all of them debatable as falling into either category.

Now that he’s reaching a half-century spent in the director’s chair, it is clear what an unpredictable, erratic, even arbitrary career this has been; the line between the sublime and silly in his films is easily felt but almost impossible to define. What makes 1972’s Last Tango in Paris, for instance, a genuine fever dream of mad desire, while two later films equally about eros and yearning — 1996’s Stealing Beauty and 2003’s The Dreamers — are fussy, false, a little embarrassing? Trained as a poet (whatever that means), he surrenders to cinema time and again as someone intoxicated by images as he once was to words, taking each sustained impulse to its logical (or illogical) endpoint, whether to transcendence or off an artistic cliff.

The Pacific Film Archive’s summer retrospective “Bernardo Bertolucci: In Search of Mystery” provides an opportunity to weigh most of the exhilarating highs and a couple of the baffling lows in a wayward trajectory one hopes is nowhere near complete. (Only 71, he can surely spare us another three decades — look at Manoel de Oliveira, wildly prolific at 102, yet without a single film as memorable as a half-dozen or more of Bertolucci’s.) All 13 features will be offered in new prints, a big lure for a director whose best movies — particularly those shot by the incomparable cinematographer Vittorio Storaro — it would be criminal to view in any but the most pristine visual condition.

After a promising literary start as a teenager — his father, notably, was a well-regarded poet, art historian, and film critic — Bertolucci apprenticed to family friend Pier Paolo Pasolini on 1961’s Accattone!. When Pasolini moved on to another project, Bertolucci made his own directorial debut at age 21 with similarly gritty The Grim Reaper (1962). That tale of a prostitute’s murder, cowritten with Pasolini, as well as 1964’s Before the Revolution (a presumably somewhat autobiographical mélange about a young bourgeois torn between tentative radicalization and pleasures of the flesh as represented by Bertolucci’s then-wife Adriana Asti) reflected his heavy early influencing by the ebbing Italian neorealist movement and still-current French New Wave.

Inspired by Dostoyevsky, 1968’s Partner was a transitional work, straddling Godardian dialecticism and pure extravagance. When 1970’s Jorge Luis Borges-drawn puzzle The Spider’s Strategem found Bertolucci discovering his sumptuous mature style (as well as Storaro’s rapturous lighting and camera movement), Godard denounced him as a sellout. The international breakthrough was that same year’s The Conformist, a Moravia story about the individual surrender to fascism — passivity turning to criminality being a frequent Bertolucci subject — that somehow became a baroque tone poem of saturated color, hedonistic suggestion, and damp paranoia. It announced the arrival of a great artist, albeit one for whom style would always trump political content, and whose literary sources were often twisted nearly past recognition by his own overwhelming authorial stamp.

The 1970s were a dazzling high-wire decade for Bertolucci. Last Tango was an X-rated scandal and sensation, an experience so psychologically (and literally) naked for Marlon Brando that he didn’t speak to the director for years afterward. Bertolucci explained: “He felt that I stole something from him, that he didn’t know what he was doing … I like to have very famous, important actors because it is a challenge to find out what they are hiding.”) Its tale of two people with only compulsive coitus in common is still berserk, implausible, off-putting, and completely enveloping.

The epic, multinational cast (Robert De Niro, Gerard Depardieu, Donald Sutherland, Dominique Sanda, Burt Lancaster, even some Italians) 1900, a film originally over five hours long, offered the first half of Italy’s 20th century as a class struggle, as well as a conceptual one, between idealism and decadent pageantry — Pasolini wrestling with Luchino Visconti. Few knew what to make of the contrastingly intimate (yet, again, stylistically gaga) 1979 La Luna, an Oedipal drama based on a dream Bertolucci had about Maria Callas. Fervently loved by a slim cult following, it was otherwise so ridiculed and loathed that 32 years later 20th Century Fox still hasn’t coughed up a U.S. home-format release.

With the new decade, the limbs Bertolucci went out on became less reliably inspirational, perhaps partly because Storaro had developed conflicting allegiances to other directors (Francis Ford Coppola, Carlos Saura, Warren Beatty). Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man (1981) is dispirited and dull. Little Buddha (1993) was a silly idea nonetheless spiked by enchanted storybook scenes with Keanu Reeves as Siddhartha — ludicrous-sounding stunt casting that is somehow perfect. Stealing Beauty and The Dreamers found this uneasily homophilic director reduced to ogling young bodies of both sexes like a dirty old professor.

On the other hand, 1990’s The Sheltering Sky was difficult, ravishing, another masterpiece if a great commercial disappointment. Another leap into exotica, 1987’s The Last Emperor had the opposite fate — winning all nine of its nominated Oscars in a slow year, a staggering spectacle widely admired yet loved by few (least of all the Chinese), elephantine yet wry, and closer to David Lean respectability than auteurist idiosyncrasy. Then after all this 1998’s Besieged, a tiny story of unrequited love and noble sacrifice shot with two actors and hand-held camera, felt rejuvenative — as if the increasingly burdened composer of massive symphonies had discovered the joy in a piano miniature.

The curio in the PFA’s series is 1967’s The Path of Oil — a three-part Italian documentary about petroleum production, apparently undertaken in a funk when two failed first features had temporarily reduced his career prospects. It’s handsome, if clearly less than a labor of love. But for the Bertolucci fetishist, no film is so impersonal or underwhelming (or on the other hand beloved) that it might not yet spring surprises, whether on a first viewing or an umpteenth. 


July 8–Aug. 18, $5.50–$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-5249


A minor place



HAIRY EYEBALL The painter Margaret Kilgallen died in 2001; she was just 33 years old. A year later, critic Glen Helfand would write in the Guardian (“The Mission School,” 7/1/2002) a coming out party for Kilgallen, her husband Barry McGee, and friends such as Chris Johanson and Alicia McCarthy, whose scruffy, heartfelt, and street-influenced art had started to attract a popular following abroad as well as intense interest from beyond the Bay Area art world.

When an artist dies young, it is hard to not view their work through the lens of their cruelly curtailed biography. The work that remains is always haunted by speculation about what could have been. Posthumous exhibits will always be, to some extent, tributes, and those who write about that artist’s work face the very human impulse to eulogize, as well as the critical one to historicize.

This dilemma is especially true for Kilgallen and her art. In the decade since her untimely passing due to complications from breast cancer, the Mission School has been variously contested and embraced as both an aesthetic and historical category, and the artists Helfand associated with it have become well-known, frequently imitated, and displayed in increasingly prestigious venues. Kilgallen, along with Johanson and McGee (with whom Kilgallen had a daughter just three weeks before she died), is prominently featured in the Geffen Contemporary’s current, much-hyped summer blockbuster “Art in the Streets.” And viewers need only spend a few hours trolling Etsy to sense the larger stylistic impact the Mission School has had on a younger generation of creative types.

“Summer/Selections,” Ratio 3’s current exhibition of paintings by Kilgallen and the first San Francisco solo show of her work in 13 years, is a bittersweet homecoming, to be sure. But it’s also, like Kilgallen’s art, unsentimental — which is not the same as unfeeling. It’s a reminder that while time doesn’t heal all wounds, it can sometimes afford us enough distance to see with greater clarity those qualities of the departed that so compelled or moved us in the first place. And, undoubtedly, the soft power of Kilgallen’s talents as a sympathetic observer is fully on display here.

Like her contemporaries, Kilgallen culled much of her imagery from hand-painted storefronts and signage along Mission Street, thrift-scored printed matter, old-fashioned typography, and the hand-scrawled texts of the homeless and itinerant. But sometimes the signal-to-noise ratio in her larger pieces — the crazy quilts of painted and stitched-together canvas scraps, or even her wall murals — drowned out the delicacy and assuredness at work in each individual component.

The remarkable selection of acrylic paintings — most from 2000 and all untitled — hanging in Ratio 3’s main space offers some much-welcome breathing room. They are single-subject studies of objects (groups of shoes, wigs, lips, trees, and plant life), simple repeating patterns (droplets, waves, grids), or (mostly) female figures on canvases made from discarded endpapers or repurposed grocery bags — another instance of Kilgallen’s sensitivity to the material grain of her surroundings.

Whether in the color gradations and tiny spiked edges of a leaf, or in the finely outlined toenails of a mule-clad foot, Kilgallen’s remarkable control over line and paint application imbues each canvas, even the simplest or most abstract, with an untold back-story. This is especially true of the women, who all have laugh lines but usually address the viewer with a tight-lipped smirk. If Kilgallen’s flora could have come from a children’s book, her women could pass as characters from a Dan Clowes comic.

The untitled collage pieces in the back room — smaller-scale examples of Kilgallen’s quilt-like assemblages of canvas — are more abstract, yet still retain the just-right sense of color, line and proportion on display in the other paintings. In one piece, from 1999, a single fluffy gray cloud is the only graphic break in a long expanse of sutured turquoise. Another from the same year resembles the collaged remains of a billboard’s past incarnations. But like all of the pieces in “Summer/Selections,” it feels wholly fresh.

I wish the same could be said of the recent work of Johanson, an SF expat and Kilgallen’s contemporary, whose current show at Altman Siegel is about as coherent and compelling as its title: “This, This, This, That.”

I have always preferred Johanson’s folksy takes on Sol LeWitt’s rainbow-hued precision over his text or figure-filled paintings, and there are plenty to take in here. The problem is one of editing.

For every piece — such as the carefully thought-out uneven grid of squares and rectangles “Fall Apart and Let It Go” (2011) — that feels like Johanson is trying to push himself and his explorations of color into a more formal direction, there is another that reads as an easy way out.

The acrylic and latex color shards of “Same Brain, Same Body, Different Day” (2011) nicely mirror the visible segments of the pressed grain of the wood they’re painted on, whereas “Celebration of Life Through Found Palette and Paint” (also 2011), a painted panel mounted to an upright, rainbow-colored wooden shipping palette, just feels lazy.

Certainly, many artists have made repetition a compelling cornerstone of their practice, extending their engagement with a single technique, approach, or material into a fruitful long-term relationship. Johanson, however, seems like he is simply in a rut, making more and more of the kind of art that first brought him wider renown with diminishing creative returns. Warhol did all right for himself in the 1970s, though, and I’m sure Johanson is doing just fine as well. But I know he’s capable of doing more.  


Through Aug. 5

Ratio 3

1447 Stevenson, SF

(415) 821-3371 www.ratio3.org


Through July 30

Altman Siegel

49 Geary, Fourth Floor, SF

(415) 576-9300, www.altmansiegel.com


Is LEED really green?


The archangel of sustainable development has arrived, promising much needed city housing that will add to the “social fabric of the waterfront community” with its glamorous green rooftops and unheard-of bay views. This is going to be the greenest building of them all, or so we’ve been told, but the truth is a bit more complicated.

A condominium development 25-plus years in the making, 8 Washington would transform the site of the Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim Club near Pier 39. The developer plans to renovate the recreation center with a larger fitness facility, provide two new waterfront parks with public access, and supply 30,000 feet of ground-floor retail stores and restaurants beneath its 165 new luxury apartments.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? The problem with this $345 million project is that it’s being touted, with its “green building” LEED certification, as the most sustainable structure it can possibly be.

But there’s nothing sustainable about building high-end condos in San Francisco, a city with too many high-end condos and not enough affordable housing. And LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the most popular sustainable development certification system in the country, is a lie — at least as your friendly neighborhood building developer is marketing it.

LEED, the baby of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a great marketing tool for developers in San Francisco, the city with the single most LEED certified buildings in the United States. San Francisco was just named the “greenest” city in North America at the 2011 Aspen Ideas Festival, largely due to its extensive representation of green buildings — which normally means structures built with recycled materials, near a transportation hub, featuring some solar panels or other renewable energy sources.

“LEED is certainly a positive thing,” Planning Commission President Christina Olague told us. “There’s this whole push toward green sustainability.”

The project’s “platinum” LEED status is all a San Francisco developer could hope for to attract the green — and more important, the city’s approval.

“LEED certification is part and parcel to the vision for the project,” said PJ Johnston of PJ Johnston Communications, speaking for the developer. “The city, neighborhood, and waterfront deserve healthy, sustainable structures, living spaces, public spaces, and amenities. That’s exactly what 8 Washington will bring.”

LEED has become the final word in green building — if your building is LEED certified, you’re golden. But all this green they’ve been feeding us is really a misleading, incomplete rating system.

The first thing to consider is that sustainable development, even if it uses recycled materials and 10 percent sun-powered electricity, is still development. Any time a structure is torn down, “the energy and materials in that [original structure] are going to get sent to landfills somewhere. You gotta calculate all that,” said sustainable development activist Brad Paul, a former SF deputy mayor, who believes in considering the entire “life cycle of a building” in determining its sustainability.

Even the Environmental Protection Agency sometimes discounts essential considerations of sustainable building. When it sought a new SF office space in 2009, its intention was to find a home that was “a model of sustainable development,” the SF Biz Times reported. But its first choice was to build new development, at the site at 350 Bush Street — with its environmental costs of demolition, throwing out old materials, and starting from scratch.

Last month, the EPA decided to remain at 75-95 Hawthorne Street instead of moving to a new building, but not because it was the sustainable choice. No deal was reached for 350 Bush, and as Regional Public Affairs Officer Traci Madison said, “There was no other option to choose from.”

Although it’s a measure of a structure’s material sustainability, LEED does not consider a building’s life cycle, or even its use. Consider 8 Washington. The developer has boasted that it’s the most expensive housing project in San Francisco history, with a hefty price tag of $3 million to $10 million per apartment.

“Who can afford these luxury condos, and what do they use them for?” Paul asks. “These guys who work for hedge funds on Wall Street,” who use the condo as a second or third home and commute on their private jets to get there.

Johnston said 8 Washington will be marketed to a “mix of buyers, including young professionals, empty-nesters looking to move back to San Francisco, and families … The project has many two- and three-bedroom units, encouraging family living,” he said. But it’s unlikely that those who can afford a condo of this luxury will make it their only home.

“[Board President] David Chiu says he’s worried about SF becoming a bedroom community for Silicon Valley,” said Paul. “I’m more worried about this being a bedroom community for New York, Boston, L.A.”

Instead of providing the affordable housing that San Francisco so needs, projects like 8 Washington attract the wealthy, who aren’t using public transportation. Instead, Paul said, they burn tons of fossil fuels using their new condos as weekend getaways.



LEED certifies buildings as “sustainable developments” based on the following categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in design and regional priority.

Earning points in each category brings a building closer to LEED certification, which requires at least 40 points. Above “silver” and “gold” status, a “platinum” LEED certification requires 80 points. But how builders get the points is what matters. For example, a developer might skimp on the insulation to install extra solar panels and get more points for a less efficient building.

Does LEED consider a building’s actual use? “The short answer is no,” said Jennifer Easton, a communications associate at the USGBC who added, “We want [LEED] to be used by every type of project.” But despite its billing, LEED tells an incomplete story.

“It’s just green drapery,” said SF attorney Sue Hestor, a slow growth advocate. “They’ve really had a PR machine. They keep touting all this greenness.”

LEED certification has value, Paul said, but it doesn’t turn multimillion dollar condos green. “There is absolutely no need for high-end luxury housing in the city right now,” he said.

Building luxury condos in place of affordable housing encourages the “Manhattanization” phenomenon, attracting wealthy out-of-towners to expend fuel on their private jets to get to their new crash pads.

“They aren’t gonna be living there all year,” Olague said of residents of luxury housing. “We hear a lot of, ‘We need more housing.’ If you keep building housing for the top 2 percent, how does it lessen the demand on your average workforce?”

But not everyone sees luxury condo-building as counterproductive. “Building that project actually allows for more affordable housing,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR (San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association). “It’ll provide housing for some people, and that can only be helpful to the housing market. If you don’t build new condos, then people just compete for the crumbs, and that means people who are rich push the rest of us out.”

In other words, if you give the rich housing, then they won’t take over your flat in the Mission — if they ever really wanted it in the first place. “I don’t think we can impose some kind of hipster elitism that they’re not our kind of people so they’re not allowed in,” Metcalf said of the wealthy out-of-towners.

LEED agrees. “We don’t want [LEED] to be for one specific group of people,” Easton said. “We have LEED-certified homeless shelters, but having a LEED certified luxury condo building is an advantage. We can’t control if someone is flying across the country in a jumbo jet every day — but we can control their energy efficiency in a building.”



For the typical working class San Franciscan, living modestly is a must and public transportation is essential. So there’s an inherent environmental advantage to attracting residents who don’t rely on polluting planes and cars.

“There’s a definite need for workforce housing, middle class housing in San Francisco,” Paul says. “I guarantee you none of those people get there by private jet. The less income people have, the more likely they’re going to be to use public transit.”

But 8 Washington and luxury developments like it don’t foster public transit. The more wealthy people who move in, the more low-income residents get displaced — to the East Bay or other areas with more affordable housing. It’s another strike against sustainability when these workers opt to drive back into the city for work instead paying for BART, says Paul, particularly when they drive older, less-efficient cars.

“LEED was a way to spell an environmentally friendly product, but you have to figure in the extra driving,” said Paul.

But 8 Washington gets LEED points for building on a site close to public transit in an attempt to discourage individual car pollution. But will wealthy condo owner actually take the infrequent F-line with all the tourists instead of parking their $150,000 car in the underground parking garage right below their feet?

“When you’re talking about sustainable practices and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and how it relates to land use planning, it makes you wonder if that’s supposed to [solely] relate to housing people near transit corridors,” said Olague. “It seems to me you have to look at equity.”

The garage at 8 Washington, to be built below sea level under the condos, will house 415-plus parking spaces. The developer says that 250 of the spaces will be offered as public parking for the busy Ferry Building down the street, but the 165 additional spaces guarantee one parking space for each residential unit.

“Given the larger size of the residential units and the fact that the majority of the units are two to three bedrooms, we believe that one parking space per dwelling is appropriate,” said Johnston. Appropriate, maybe, but not environmentally friendly.



Wealthy people and affordable housing aside, LEED doesn’t actually measure the energy used in a building, says New York City-based architectural associate Henry Gifford. He filed a $100 million class action lawsuit against LEED last October for gaining a monopoly on the sustainable development market by making false claims about buildings’ energy savings.

“They say that the building is required to be energy efficient. But the building doesn’t have to be energy efficient — it just has to earn points, to promise it’s going to be energy efficient,” Gifford said.

It’s up to the developer what computer software is used to predict a building’s energy efficiency, and Gifford says that computer diagrams can easily be manipulated and do not consider inconsistent factors, like weather.

“California is the promise land,” said Gifford. “All you’re required to do is provide a promise. The sad thing is that it removes all the integrity from the process — it encourages lying.”

Furthermore, once the building is built and has achieved LEED certification, the building’s actual energy use in its life cycle isn’t considered. The only way you can truly know if a building is energy efficient is by looking at the utility bills, says Gifford. But once it’s LEED-certified, who cares?

There is a voluntary program called Building Performance Partnership (BPP) that tracks a building’s energy and water use over time. “The idea is we want LEED to be a system where it enacts change in the actual building,” said Easton. But the problem is the building has already gained LEED certification before the first utility bill is even mailed.

“We publish baseball scores. With everything in life, people get scored,” said Gifford, who operates with transparency in developing energy efficient buildings in New York, hosting open houses after buildings are built with printouts of their recent utility bill history.

LEED was never intended to have the final say on sustainable building, to be a seal of green approval, according to a New York Times op-ed by Alec Appelbaum last year (“Don’t LEED us astray,” 5/19/10). “Rather it was to be a set of guidelines for architects, engineers, and others who want to make buildings less wasteful. However, developers quickly realized that its ratings — certified, silver, gold, or platinum — were great marketing tools, allowing them to charge a premium on rents.”

Therein lies the issue. Yes, 8 Washington will “allow for more ‘eyes on the street’ at all hours of the day” and provide two or three-bedroom units for families who can afford them, as it promises. But a sustainable structure is far different than the promise of a sustainable life cycle of a building. And a promise is just that. *

UPDATE: Jennifer Easton at LEED wrote to inform us that, although the 8 Washington website clearly states that the project will include LEED certified buidlings, “We would like to clarify that 8 Washington is not a LEED-certified project, nor a LEED-registered project.”



July 7: Community Vision for San Francisco’s Northeast Waterfront

July 14: City demographics and sustainability; the need for low-income housing; presentation of “jet fuel burn rate” argument.

July 21: 8 Washington’s EIR approval hearing

All hearings to be held at 12 p.m. in the Commission Chambers, Room 400, City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place.



Let’s assume that just five of the 165 condo buyers at 8 Washington (3 percent) are Wall Street hedge fund traders or venture capitalists using them as second or third homes. Let’s also assume they’ll use them 1.5 times a month and commute to SF aboard their business jet, a reasonable assumption for Wall Street execs making tens of millions in salary and bonuses. Why would they fly by private jet rather than take Southwest or Amtrak? Because they can. This must be factored into any environmental analysis of a project that explicitly markets to this demographic and include the following:

Mid to large size business jets used to fly cross country (Hawker 800XP, Gulfstream G2/ G3, Bombardier Global Express) on average burn 400 gallons of jet fuel/hour, take 6 hours to fly New York to SFO and 5 hours for return trip. Therefore, a single round trip burns:

11 hours X 400 gallons per hour = 4,400 gallons of jet fuel per trip. A typical family car uses 1,200 gallons of gas per year, so one flight from NYC to 8 Washington equals almost four years of driving a family car.

1.5 trips/mo. = 6,600 gallons X 12 months = 79,200 gallons of jet fuel/year or the equivalent of driving a family car for 66 YEARS each month.

Using our example of five residents, the numbers over one year and 20 years are:

5 X 79,200 gallons/per year = 396,000 GALLONS OF JET FUEL A YEAR or equal to driving a family car 330 years, A THIRD OF A MILLENNIUM, each year.

396,000 gal. X 20 yrs. = 7,920,000 gallons of jet fuel, equivalent of driving family car 6,600 years, OVER 6 MILLENNIUM, in 20 years.

Given this reality, the 8 Washington environmental impact report must analyze such questions as:

How many solar panels are needed compensate for burning 396,000 gallons of jet fuel/year? How many low flow toilets would make up for burning 396,000 gallons of jet fuel/year? Etc.

Fetish and armor



LUST FOR LIFE The year I was 16, I wore nothing but thrift shop vintage lingerie. As outerwear. I’d layer two slips or two half-slips on top of each other so they wouldn’t be quite as see-through and clomp around in impossibly high heels. I bought my actual underwear from the Victoria’s Secret at the mall when they had their blowout sales. There and at places like Forever 21 — flashy, clubby, and cheap.

I tell you these details because it’s important, naming the places I picked up armor and fetish. Because it felt like armor and it felt like fetish — in all senses of the word. Sexual but mythic and protective in proportion, too. That lacy magenta push-up demi-bra, the one that was just a little too tight, the one that was always uncomfortable. But I’d wear it anyway because I understood the importance of armor. Of having something that would protect me if bad shit went down.

The refrain from my mother — and from the more prudish crowd at my school, the tough homophobic boys in my neighborhood, the cat-calling older men at the Mission BART Station who didn’t realize how young I was — was that if you wear clothes like that, you are asking for it. You’re putting yourself in danger.

But didn’t any of them realize that this was my way of staying out of danger? I felt so much more powerful in those impossible heels, tits pushed up and out, cleavage for days, fishnets encasing my thighs, tight leather boots hugging my calves. I felt so much more powerful and able to fight if any shit went down.

I get that kids are sexualized young in this culture, especially girls. That’s creepy, and I’m not saying it’s okay. When Abercrombie & Fitch sold thongs to preteens, it disgusted me. Toddler beauty pageants scare the hell out of me.

But whenever people get moralistic and concerned about teenage girls’ slutty outfits, about how sexual teens are these days — I cringe. Because I was that girl who got into screaming fights with her mother about fishnets and cleavage and dresses that were too tight. And I want us to actually talk to that girl without screaming at her. To see how she feels about what she’s wearing. To see if she’s doing it solely to impress people, or if she’s doing it to go along with the crowd, but she really hates it. Or if she’s doing it because it’s a way to claim power in a world that hates sexuality and hates femininity.

I was a queer chubby girl wearing sexy clothes trying to learn how to love herself in a viciously fatphobic, sexist, homophobic world. Honestly? Cobbling together a wardrobe of vintage lingerie was one of the ways I coped. I spent a lot of time figuring out what clothes worked for my body. Like most fat people, I had to figure it out on my own.

There is no cultural road map for being fat and sexual. We’re taught that the two are at odds with each other. I have lost count of how many times I have heard people say — in person, on the Internet, in print media — that fat people should not go out in clothes that are tight or revealing or provocative. That the very sight of our flesh — and in particular, the sight of our sexual bodies — is cause for disgust, even for violence. I wonder sometimes if people would have reacted as strongly to my outfits as a teenager if I’d been a size 2 or 4 instead of a size 12 or 14. How much of it was fear of young people being sexual? How much of it was fear of fat people being sexual?

I was speaking at a reproductive justice conference a while back, on a panel called something vague and cutting-edge like “The Politics of Sexuality.” I was supposed to be talking about my work in the porn industry as a fat queer woman — what I like and don’t like about doing porn. But the panel moderator opened the session by referring to Andrea Dworkin and Catherine McKinnon (who are famously anti-porn) as “sex-radical feminists.” My eyes about bugged outta my head.

It all went downhill from there. Women in the audience started disclosing their rape fantasies during the Q&A: “Why do we like this? Are we fucked up?” It was like group therapy and second-wave feminist sex guilt were getting together to have a really terrible party. By the end of it, I was bowled over and exhausted.

And then a pretty young fat girl — white, maybe 19 or 20, kinda punky, with wire-rimmed glasses and fine blonde hair with an orange streak — walked up to me as I gathered my things. She had tears in her eyes.

“I’ve …” She had to gulp, she was that choked up. “I’ve never… Gina, you’re the first fat person I’ve ever heard talk about being comfortable with your body and comfortable with sex. I really want to be there, and I’m not yet. What do I do?”

I was floored. I almost started crying too. I hugged her. I told her she was beautiful. I scribbled down some websites and some book titles. And then I hugged her — again — and told her she was beautiful — again. I felt like I could not say that enough times.

I wish I’d had time to tell her my story — how wearing clothes as armor and fetish helped and healed, and got me to where I am now. If that girl wants to wear nothing but vintage lingerie for a year? For the rest of her life? More power to her. 

Gina de Vries is a San Francisco-based writer, sex worker, activist, and writing instructor. Hear all about her at www.ginadevries.com. Hot for Lust for Life? It’s our new sex column, stay tuned.