Volume 47 Number 03

Crucial sounds

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MUSIC Can the declining sales from physical albums ever be replaced by digital music apps and services? Can an independent artist make a decent living from services such as Pandora radio, BAMM.TV, or SoundCloud? Will the starving musician finally get a good meal?

These questions may be answerless for now, but they maintained a heavy presence at the SF Musictech Summit hosted by the Hotel Kabuki — a semiannual conference dedicated to establishing a network among entrepreneurs, developers, record industry figures, and musicians in order to promote digital music business and find solutions for the issues plaguing the modern music industry.

Last week’s installment of the summit featured five talks — in panels with labels like “How Technology Destroyed the Music Industry” and “Artist Revenue Streams.”

It also brought some star power. Actor-musician Jared Leto’s interest with this budding industry brought him to the summit too. And despite the formal nature of the occasion, the 30 Seconds to Mars front person was besieged by attendees eager to get his take on the event, and his autograph. He told me that he’s “curious as to what solutions are being presented.”

But as the summit carried on, it became very became apparent that there are perhaps too many of these solutions being offered. In one of the early morning talks entitled “Artist Tools” moderator Hisham Dahud from Hypebot and Fame House kicked off the conversation by mentioning many of the new ways bands can distribute and promote their music and interact with their fans but also opined that “with new tools comes new responsibilities.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7EaMxpKZZU

These new tools were well represented by David Dufresne of Bandzoogle, which designs web pages for bands, Matt Mason of file distributor BitTorrent, and David Haynes of the online audio platform SoundCloud. CEO of Global Digital Impact Taynah Reis and music industry veteran and Incubus manager Steve Rennie rounded out the panel.

During the discussion, Rennie’s stance was welcoming of the technological development, but later, when I asked him if the new digital music business could provide substantial income for the artist, he said, “I sure hope so. The fact is that more people are listening to music than ever but they are doing it different ways, including listening without buying…as people move to other formats like digital downloads and streaming services, we need more people to get comfortable with the idea that music has value and is worth paying for…We need to convince people that their favorite music is worth buying just as much as the beer they’ll spend $10 on at a concert or sporting event.”

The motivation and excitement to transform nearly every aspect of the music business was palpable at the summit. Elevator pitches were as ubiquitous as iPhones and Macbooks. However the fresh idealism was notably absent at the “Artist Revenue Streams” talk where musician Erin McKeown took center stage detailing the sobering situation independent musicians face, explaining that some obvious solutions aren’t so great

“Everyone keeps telling me to tour but the reality is that live performance revenue gets mostly eaten up by the costs and not to mention it’s also extremely taxing on my health”

But more importantly, McKeown emphatically addressed the one crucial issue that was sorely lacking attention throughout the conference: how are musicians suppose to keep up with and derive income from the rapidly evolving environment of music technology? Others on the panel brought up the fact that a lot of artists are unaware of nonprofits such as SoundExchange — an organization with the main goal of compensating artists for their royalties.

The Internet has been lauded as the great democratizer of this generation, and the adage was especially poignant for this specific realm of the digital world. Cellist and composer Zoë Keating, who spoke at the “Artists, Entrepreneurs & Technology,” panel expressed that digital music business caused her to be optimistic and it’s a more level playing field that’s “better for indie artists.” Keating has posted her 2011 income streams on her Tumblr to give her fans a glimpse of the financial situation her and other independent artists are grappling with.

No one seemed more interested in seeing the old music business vanquished than TuneCore founder (and former CEO) Jeff Price, who emphatically declared, “Artists never made any fucking money! What fucking world are you living in?!…The music industry is not collapsing, the traditional music industry is collapsing!” *

 

SF Stories: Mattilda Sycamore Bernstein

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San Francisco was where I first learned to gasp and grasp at the possibilities of radical queer self-invention and communal care. This was 1992. I was 19: childhood meant suffocation, college was pointless shit. All around me, people were dying of AIDS and drug addiction and suicide, but finally I was finding other queer incest survivors, whores, vegans, runaways, anarchists, dropouts, drug addicts, sluts, activists and freaks trying not to disappear. We were scarred and broken and brutalized but determined to create something else, something we could live with, something we could call home or healing or even just help, I need help here, can you help?

Of course, we were not the first wave of queer migration to San Francisco in search of ways to cope and hope, visions of lust and love not bounded by convention, brazen challenges to the violence of status quo normalcy. But learning how to dream is always a difficult process. It’s what we needed one another for.

And yet, there is a certain kind of smugness in queer San Francisco, this sense that we have arrived, that we’ve done our work, that we’ve created something beyond the twin traps of gay assimilation and straight normalcy. The problem is that often a sophisticated rhetoric camouflages the same tired patterns of abuse and neglect, and this hurts more when it comes from those you believe in, right? I know that it has hurt me more.
Let me tell you about the friend who will always be there, no matter what. We met when I was 19: we held one another and broke apart walls. We tried to share everything about our lives, and then when we ran out of things to disclose we dug deeper. This relationship lasted for 16 years, but I lost it all when I told this friend he was the most important person in my life. I told him I felt confident about the longevity of our relationship, about our intimacy and our trust, but I never felt secure because of the five-year period when he lied about everything due to a disastrous alcoholism, a five-year period he kept telling me he’d gotten past. It’s true that he wasn’t drinking anymore. When I told him I still didn’t feel secure, I thought he would ask me what he could do, but instead he became enraged, and our relationship was over.

This is just one example of the gap between rhetoric and reality; there are too many. When I arrived in San Francisco in 1992, the city sheltered outsider queer cultures unimaginable in most places. Twenty years of gentrification, homogenization, and assimilation later, and yes, these cultures still exist in some form, even if they have been decimated in both density and imagination. Perhaps what’s changed the most for me is that now I need to live elsewhere in order to dream.

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (mattildabernsteinsycamore.com) is most recently the editor of Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform. Mattilda’s next book, The End of San Francisco, will be out in April 2013 from City Lights—it might break your heart.

Living the dream of the 1840s

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MUSIC There’s no better time for local composer Jake Heggie’s 2010 opera Moby-Dick to wash up on our shores, especially in terms of men’s fashion. Seriously — peacoats galore, henleys-and-suspenders perfection, button-up trousers, glorious galoshes, and perfectly nor’easter-tousled haircuts, not to mention a stubbly wealth of seafarin’ beards. The whole cast, outfitted by ace costume designer Jane Greenwood, might have dropped onto the stage from this fall’s All Saints Spitalfields lookbook. Forget the neoprene hoodies and double-breasted suitcoats of America’s Cup, here lies the real echo of San Francisco’s nautical past.

That echo emanates from Herman Melville’s water-logged epic of 1851, a massive compendium of American Romantic sensibility, arcane sea lore, fiery pagan-ecclesiastical poetry, and the archetypal thrashings of mad Ahab, captain of the Pequod, as he obsessively hunts his nemesis, the “great white fish” who nipped away with his left leg years ago, Moby-Dick. The book is also a full-throated exaltation of the culture of the North Atlantic whale trade, at its peak in the 1840s, and a furrowed-brow examination of humanity’s spooky morality, not to mention a rip-roaring, man’s-man adventure tale (complete enough homoerotic subtext to float a sperm whale).

Boiling all this down into an evening’s entertainment, even one as splashy and spectacle-drenched as opera can provide, is a bit like chasing a white whale itself. Fortunately, Heggie — who triumphed with 2002’s Dead Man Walking — and librettist Gene Scheer, along with a more-than-game San Francisco Opera cast and crew, dive right in.

Moby-Dick immediately grabs attention and grounds itself in the Bay Area (the production debuted at the Dallas Opera) with an eye-popping display of one of our native crafts, digital sorcery. Projection designer Eliane J. McCarthy’s gorgeous 3-D renderings of star-maps and ships’ masts engulf the curtain as Heggie’s roiling, swooning overture guides us into the story. The rest of the production and staging throughout this two-and-a-half hour work, directed by Leonard Foglia with set design by Robert Brill, is equally jaw-dropping, with mobile scrims doublings as sail, a web of rigging filling the stage, and ingenious use of a humongous hull-shaped wall.

Another of Moby-Dick‘s riveting special effects: the SF Opera chorus, in fine and lusty voice, vocally painting in the details of the story. That story contrasts the touching friendship of greenhorn whaler Ishmael and harpooner Queequeg, cannibal prince of fictional South Sea isle Kokovoko, with the contentious relationship between the driven Ahab and his first mate, Starbuck, a homesick family man and devout Quaker who sees the Devil’s work in Ahab’s doomed quest. One of the most affecting characters is Pip, the impetuous and mentally unformed ship’s mascot, whose unhinged ramblings after he’s saved from drowning serve as warped prophecy as the opera progresses.

There’s so many meaty possibilities for a composer in this story, but if you’re expecting “yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum” performed by full orchestra you’re barking up the wrong mizzenmast. To be sure, Heggie’s cinematic, neo-Romantic instincts — he prefers the term “theatrical,” and sometimes we do drift into Les Miz territory — make hay with sea storms, crashing waves, drunken brawls, and the melancholy feel of life adrift on the ocean. (A goofy-cute waltz comes on when the ship’s tipsy crew realize they’ll just have to partner up if they want to party, one of the few funny bits.) Heggie’s white whale is a shimmering arabesque, breaching a swirl of strings and cresting horns, at one momentous climax exploding into an off-kilter samba.

The score is mostly atmospheric, however, its foreboding drama cranked up to eleven throughout, with little standout melody or tonal attenuation to help the characters’ souls drop anchor. Despite a few memorable moments of soaring vocal lines — a duet in praise of Kokovoko’s Edenic promise by Queequeg (Jonathan Lemalu, imposing) and Ishmael (Stephen Costello, cubbishly adorable), sung from neighboring masts ; Starbuck’s ode to homelife back in Nantucket (performed by wonderfully powerful baritone Morgan Smith); the occasional cryptic outbursts of Pip (spry soprano Talise Trevigne, who does a bit of magic with a tambourine) — you’ll have to cling to the singers’ voices and acting technique if you want to keep emotionally afloat.

This becomes a problem with Jay Hunter Morris in the Ahab role. Although strongly voiced and valiantly game, he didn’t connect with me as a man who was truly obsessed, yet who retained enough charisma and cunning to draw the rest of the crew into his singular madness. His role struck me more as “friends’ crazy Tea Party dad” than “scarily fascinating apocalyptic cult leader.”

This could be a wrinkle of the libretto, which retains some of the original’s poetry and blasphemy — a pagan hymn here, an anti-religion diatribe there — but strains to convey an engaging dramatic arc for the characters. (It barely registers when all is lost for the Pequod.) In its earnest bluster, this presentation of the opera also skims over Melville’s haunting metaphysics, the eerie pull of nihilistic depths, the ecstatic fog of moral derangement, that preternatural whistle in fate’s vast gale. I disembarked from the rousing Moby-Dick dazzled and exhausted, though neither questing nor blubbering.

MOBY-DICK through Nov. 2, various times, $10–$340. War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness, SF. www.sfopera.com

 

Bat-hurt

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS After the game we went to the Pilsner Inn to drink with the other team and watch the 49ers. Who, btw, ended up winning that Sunday by twice as much as we did.

Our relatively new li’l football team, like the big ol’ San Francisco one, is developing an identity as a defensive powerhouse. I like this. It was the talk of the opposition, down the bar: how we had befuddled the bejesus out of them, to the tune of four interceptions, two returned by Stringbean for touchdowns, and a fumble recovery.

Their quarterback, who sat next to me at the bar with a gigantic oozing turfburn on her leg, revisited these frustrations smilingly, and with compliments all-around. I doubt the Bills were so gracious, bellying up to the bar with the Niners later that afternoon, but I imagine they oozed too. Football is a tough sport, even when you play it with flags.

But baseball hurts more.

How I know is the next day I was at the Mission Playground with Hedgehog playing one-on-one baseball on the basketball court, and she lined one off my arm, then another one into my stomach, and then a third off the top of my knee.

Now that she’s been cleared to swing a bat, she just won’t leave me alone. She’s making up for lost time, baseballwise. But gets bored easily with soft toss, which is a shame, because really that’s the safest way to perfect your swing in an outdoor basketball court.

So now I am blacker and bluer than ever. And I am soaking in the tub with a package of frozen edamame on my knee, listening to postseason baseball and reading Great Expectations. Re-reading. Technically, if you must know: re-re-re-re-reading.

CHEAP SPORTS

by Hedgehog

I missed Chicken Farmer’s FMOIBWFIOBPFFL (female, male, or otherwise-identified bio-women and female-identified other-bodied persons flag football league) game on Sunday because I had a pre-production meeting with Pork Chop Sal, my right hand gal (Chicken Farmer gets the left because she broke it. And because I’m left-handed so, you know…) We’re in pre-production on the next short movie.

Yes: already.

And no, you’re not working on it.

Why not? You really should be. Chicken Farmer caters, I boss people around … It’s just like any other day in the Chicken Farmer/Hedgehog household except there’s a camera rolling and Earl Butter sits on our couch more, often with the Maze, cracking wise.

Anyways, Sugoi Sushi popped up at Hill and Valencia back in July-uary, around about the same time we popped back into town. Like us, they decided to stay. Which is good because it took us a while to get there. It took us until Monday, when the sushi mood struck. And then again on Wednesday, because Bikkets and her mister were in town and the sushi mood struck them, too.

I’m no food writer but both times the sushi was fresh, the ramen was firm, the waitstaff was friendly, and they brought little treats to the table. For free! Can’t get cheaper than free. The things with prices attached aren’t overly pricey, either. It’s Chicken Farmer’s new favorite restaurant. But be warned: spicy doesn’t mean the same thing to Sugoi as it does to the rest of the world. So don’t expect much heat out of the spicy sausage.

It’s more like smoky, teeny kielbasa.

Cheap Eats continued

But delicious nonetheless. It reminded me a little of longanisa, those little Filipino sausages I so love.

It was the treats I took issue with. A mayonnaise-having dynamite roll one night, and mushrooms the other. And if there are two things that start with m that I don’t like, those are them.

But Hedgehog is right: You can’t argue with free.

As for her over-acronymization of the SFWFFL, I can argue … but won’t.

SUGOI SUSHI

Mon-Thu 5:30-10:30pm; Fri-Sat 5:30-11pm; Sun 5-9:30pm

1058 Valencia, SF

(415) 401-8442

AE,D,MC,V

Beer & wine

 

SF Stories: About the illustrator

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For the special issue marking the 46th anniversary of the Guardian, we gathered stories about the city from some of the its best writers. To illuminate the text, we asked ace San Francisco fine artist and illustrator Lisa Congdon to paint a series of images representing contemporary San Francisco iconography. Lisa is best known for her colorful paintings and collages, and her vast catalog of work includes illustrations for Chronicle Books, Harper Collins Publishing, and Simon and Schuster, among others. She’s also known for her hand-lettering and pattern design, and keeps a daily blog of her work called “Today is Going to be Awesome.” She lives in the Mission District of San Francisco with her partner, chihuahua, and two cats. 

 

Volume 47 Number 3 Flip-through Edition

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Boozy shakes

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virginia@sfbg.com

APPETITE A wave of old fashioned soda fountains serving alcoholic and non-alcoholic treats alongside quality food is hitting various parts of the country, with two notables in San Francisco.

I’ve already written about the incredible, one-of-a-kind Ice Cream Bar (815 Cole, SF. 415-742-4932, www.theicecreambarsf.com). Reviving the lactart, phosphate, and traditional sassafras root beer, it reaches past the 1950s all the way back to the 1890s. Recent changes at the family friendly shop include the launch of a food menu of comfortable diner fare and the gain of a beer and wine license.

An egg salad sandwich — made with slices of thick, house-baked brioche and served with a pickle and roasted vegetable salad or house-made sweet potato chips, as with all sandwiches here — is soft and lively, with chives, arugula, and the clincher: pimento cheese. My favorite, the tuna melt, evokes childhood, elevated by Gruyere cheese, organic tomatoes, and arugula.

There’s one “must” on the new alcoholic section of the soda fountain menu: a classic Angostura phosphate. Fizzy with acid phosphate, gum foam and soda, a heavy pour of Angostura Bitters makes for a spiced beauty, conjuring fall and winter simultaneously. Can’t Stop is a notable dessert of butterscotch syrup, whole egg and cream, effervescent with Drakes Bay Hefeweizen (adding notes of grain and hay), topped with a musky Carpano Antica vermouth float.

Joining Ice Cream Bar in the fountain revival is the new Corner Store (5 Masonic Ave., 415-359-1800, www.thecornerstore-sf.com), in the old Hukilau space, from 330 Ritch business partners Miles Palliser and Ezra Berman. Old-fashioned in ethos, contemporary in style, this all-day restaurant and fountain serves sodas, candy, beer, wine, and gourmet food. The airy space and outdoor sidewalk patio nod to an era gone by. The menu seems straightforward, but dishes become more intriguing at second glance.

Chef Nick Adams (Salt House, Town Hall) elevates the umpteenth roasted beets plate ($8) with Greek yogurt, candied almonds, purslane, and radicchio in honey vinaigrette: it’s sweet, nutty, earthy, and creamy. Likewise, house smoked salmon ($10) goes well beyond the usual piece of salmon with potato pancake. An herb-laden egg salad flanks a crisp potato pancake, multiple slices of silky, fresh salmon, and mound of lettuce.

Whether a burger ($12) laden with aged cheddar, pickled red onions, pickles and bacon jam, or a fried green tomato sandwich ($9) with burrata and avocado at lunch, items between bread are done right here. Thoughtful $16 entrees are a steal compared to similar dishes at greater cost elsewhere in town, like Snake River pork loin ($16), co-mingling with fennel, marble potatoes, and pancetta, invigorated with shishito peppers and a zippy nectarine mostarda. A side of house brioche dinner rolls ($3) with honey butter and sea salt makes it homey.

Hans Hinrichs (25 Lusk, Foreign Cinema) helms a soda fountain menu of cocktails ($10), boozy shakes ($10), and sodas ($8), using local or American craft spirits whenever possible. Though not the journey through soda fountain history you’ll find at Ice Cream Bar, Hinrichs creates drinks that make you feel like a kid again… with booze.

The Muir Trail is a tribute to local nature, both in name and the use of St. George Terroir Gin, the Bay Area’s native gin. Hinrichs allows the gin to shine alongside tart huckleberry puree (huckleberry juice is infused with a sachet of spices, thinning it out with port wine reduction), dry vermouth, lemon, and bitters. Sans alcohol, Lone Mountain Egg Cream is dulce de leche and sea salt, creamy with milk, perky with seltzer, plus a number of bottled classic sodas like Cheerwine and Dang! Butterscotch Beer ($4).

Spirits-laden shakes induce cravings. 50/50 — spiced rum, orange marmalade, vanilla ice cream — is textured and rich with rum and marmalade, accented by strips of candied orange peel. My youthful favorite, a Grasshopper, is a minty dream with Tempus Fugit’s unparalleled Creme de Menthe and Creme de Cacao, vanilla ice cream, and a hint La Sorciere absinthe to perk up the mint.

Probably my favorite of all three boozy shakes is the Manhattan. Tasting like a real Manhattan, punchy with bourbon, sweet vermouth, cherry syrup, creamy with vanilla ice cream, bourbon shines though Hinrichs uses no more than one ounce of base spirit plus half-to-one ounce of any other liqueur in any given shake. It’s a perfect combination.

 

SF Stories: Alejandro Murguia

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46TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL I saw Jack Micheline reciting Skinny Dynamite

on the corner of 16th & Valencia

and he was angry

and the next day he was dead on the last BART train to Concord

and maybe that’s why he was angry

I met Harold Norse shuffling around in a beaten world

his pockets stuffed with poems only hipsters read

It’s a cesspool out here he sighed

before retreating to his room in the Albion Hotel

where angels honeycomb the walls with dreams

and the rent is paid with angry poems

I heard Oscar Zeta Acosta’s brown buffalo footsteps

pounding the Valencia Corridor

and he was shouting poetry at the sick junkies

nodding with their wasted whores

in the lobby of the Hotel Royan “The Mission’s finest”

and even the furniture was angry

I joined the waiters at the bus stop

the waitresses the norteños trios the flowers sellers

the blind guitarist wailing boleros at a purple sky

the shirtless vagrant vagabond ranting at a parking meter

the spray paint visionary setting fire to the word

and I knew this was the last call

We were tired of living from the scraps of others

We were tired of dying for our own chunk of nothing

And I saw this barrio as a freight train

a crazy Mexican bus careening out of control

a mutiny aboard a battleship 

and every porthole filled with anger

And we were going to stay angry

And we were not leaving

Not ever leaving

El corazón del corazón de La Misión

El Camino Real ends here

 

 

Gimme Moors

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights has inspired multiple films, as varied in quality as the 1939 Best Picture nominee starring Sir Laurence Olivier — and the 2003 made-for-MTV adaptation, in which “Heath” is a pouty, motorcycle-riding himbo. The source material may seem an odd choice for acclaimed British director Andrea Arnold, best-known for 2006’s Red Road and 2009’s Fish Tank, both gritty films about working-class people, unfussily shot using hand-held cameras.

Resisting the urge to contemporize a classic, or shoot it as a traditional costume drama, Arnold takes her version in a near-experimental direction; her Heights makes Cary Fukunaga’s edgy 2011 interpretation of Jane Eyre (starring Fish Tank‘s Michael Fassbender) look tame by comparison. I spoke with Arnold about her daring spin on the Gothic classic.

San Francisco Bay Guardian You’re known as such a contemporary director, in both subject and shooting style. What made you want to take on Wuthering Heights?

Andrea Arnold It’s an interesting question, because I don’t really know. I knew at the time that it was a sort of stupid idea, but I couldn’t help it. I just had to do it. I don’t know why I became so possessed, and I still don’t really know why. It was a book that I had a fascination with — I think a lot of people do. It’s a very troubling book, a very unsettling book, a book that I don’t think is easily understood.

But I seem to like trouble. I sort of realized this about myself, that I’m always pushing myself in ways, like, I’ve got no idea how it’s going to work out, but I’m going to learn. I do think I’m not afraid of going on a journey that I don’t know where it’s going to go. With this film and this whole project, that definitely was a very unnerving and strange decision.

SFBG How did you approach adapting a classic literary work that’s been made into so many films before?

AA I didn’t think like that, or worry about that. I mean, I knew that it had been remade an awful lot of times. I think I didn’t realize how many times. But I just thought about when I went to film school we were all given the same scripts, and 20 people all made something completely different. With such rich material, you can find your own way. And I think when you get attached to something and you have to do it, you’re not sensible anyway.

I’ve always said that once I’ve got an image and an idea about making something, that it chooses you. You don’t choose it. And this was exactly the same. I just got obsessed with the idea of doing it. It wasn’t like I thought very sensibly about what had gone before. I didn’t think about it being a career move in any way.

SFBG Watching the film, it was clear that you — like Emily Brontë — had been inspired by the setting. The landscape is practically a character in the film, and the imagery includes lots of close-ups of insects and plants.

AA I think the difficulty of the location really [influenced] the film, in terms of the way everyone was feeling — it was hard to get around, and [we were] genuinely cold and fed up with the mud. First of all, I tried to find somewhere near where Emily had written it, which was the moors near Haworth, where she lived. The moors near Haworth are a bit like being in the middle of the ocean. They’ve got this undulating, endless feel to them. It’s really beautiful in that way: you feel the moors are everything and there’s nothing else in the world when you’re in the middle of it.

But it’s not so isolated around that particular area anymore. We couldn’t find anywhere that you couldn’t see things on the horizon. So we had to go further. We went to the North York Moors. And there were very few buildings, real places — I always wanted a real location — that were truly isolated. It wasn’t like I had lots of choice.

But I really like that place [where we filmed]. It was a very difficult place to work, though, no doubt. Everyone who worked on it said it’s one of the hardest things they’ve ever done, just physically. We couldn’t get vehicles there so we had to carry all of the cameras up the hills.

SFBG The film has gotten some attention for your casting choices — black actors play Heathcliff at various ages, and race is a recurring theme in the film. What motivated those decisions?

AA When I looked at the book, and all the descriptions of Heathcliff, I really felt that he wasn’t white. I was really surprised, after looking closely at how he was described, why nobody has actually done that before. I think if you’re being really faithful and truthful to the descriptions, that he’s more Asian than he is African. The fact that he’s called a gypsy, the Romany gypsies of that time would have originally come from Asia, and they’re very dark-skinned.

But after sort of investigating a bit more, I thought what really matters is that he’s different. I began to realize that Heathcliff is really Emily Brontë, and that she felt different for being female. There’s something about the book that makes me think that’s a large part of what it’s about.

SFBG The material may be a change for you, but the film is still shot like your other films, using a hand-held camera. Why do you prefer this method?

AA I didn’t think about making it in any different way than I normally do. I like hand-held cameras because if I’m working with non-actors, and there were lots of non-actors in this one, I don’t like them to feel restricted. If you put cameras on tripods then it sort of harnesses things. You have to start telling people where to stand, and hit marks. That’s something that I don’t enjoy.

Also, I didn’t see any reason why a period film shouldn’t have hand-held camera. I thought, just because we’ve seen lots of period films where they’re all very respectful, that doesn’t mean that’s how I have to be. I didn’t feel that I had to follow any sort of traditions. I just felt like I was trying to see it in my own way, and I didn’t let myself be inhibited by what had gone before. *

 

WUTHERING HEIGHTS opens Fri/19 in Bay Area theaters.

Close encounters

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arts@sfbg.com

DANCE The six dancers of Kunst-Stoff’s the moment you stood still…#7 moNOs (Oct. 13-14 at the Old Mint Museum) managed to do something that had previously seemed impossible: they created a playground out of the building’s crumbling courtyard, surely the city’s most oppressive, garrison-like structure. At 50 minutes this romp of stealing, sharing, and varying movement phrases ranged from athletic to balletic, virtuosic to pedestrian. It would have worn out its ability to snare you into its universe, had it not ended with artistic director Yannis Adoniou’s free-spirited and loose-limbed solo, sweetly underscored by Bruno Augusto on keyboard. It’s easy to forget that this entrepreneurial artist is also a fine dancer.

Kunst-Stoff is not so much a company as a place where artists come together to explore affinities and differences. moment, one of a series of such encounters, is the result of this sextet having bounced back and forth ideas of the most disparate nature. Together they came up with scenes which varied between silly and somber, camp and charming. There was as much room for a passing-a-ball game — including, of course, the ubiquitous audience volunteers — as crawls and rolls on the floor and leaps across space. Letting down your hair, as Katie Gaydos did in her initial diagonal, seemed to be the order of the afternoon.

Initially unrelated ideas began to coalesce into something like a patchwork of movement, with rather surprising resilience. A dancer morphed from lying down with beating legs into somersaults and yoga poses. Later, frisky pile-ups did not really look so harmless.

For all the frantic activity in which dancers did not only pick up and vary phrases from each other, but also exchanged clothes, moment did not lack the stillness alluded to by its title. Lindsey Renee Derry, who can scream with the best of them, stood in a relevé in which her toes surely were glued to the floor. Gaydos looked abandoned on top of a “monument” while Calvin Hilpert, holding a weight aloft as if it was about to drop on his head, was hilarious with a screechy Frank Sinatra imitation. moment‘s recurring refrain had the dancers sitting on a bench. We looked at them; sometimes they looked back at us.

Elsewhere on stage this past weekend: British choreographer Russell Maliphant introduced himself at Cal Performances with the theatrically spectacular Eonnagata in 2010. Now, courtesy of San Francisco Performances, he returned with AfterLight (Oct. 13-14, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts), inspired by Russian dancer and Ballets Russes choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky. A great dancer and even greater choreographer, Nijinsky was also schizophrenic and spent the second half of his life in mental institutions. His best-known surviving work Afternoon of a Faun thoroughly shocked audiences at its premiere in 1912.

On the basis of his concept Maliphant intermittently draws you into a murky atmosphere of, perhaps, madness. But as a dance you only want to watch AfterLight once; further exposure is unlikely to reveal hidden treasures.

In Michael Hull’s lighting design, AfterLight is literally dark; at times you can hardly make out the dancers in a couple of shifting spotlights or through a thick carpet of inchoate shapes. As a single-minded expression of a restless mind this worked; in terms of a time-based art, it lacked sustaining power.

AfterLight opened with a solo for Thomasin Gülgeç, spinning as if on a turntable while his arms reached into the darkness around him. At the end we returned to that solitary figure that, instead of opening his body to an enlarging consciousness, shuts down into solitary whirls. In part two, the white-clad Silvina Cortés and Gemma Nixon’s gentle liquidity could have come from Isadora Duncan dancers.

Maliphant’s choreography has no hard edges; its performers spiraled, curled, and spun from one evanescent moment to the next. Sometimes this felt like watching smoke, except that these dancers were anchored in a deep-grounded muscularity that allowed them to connect into an endless stream of rounded shapes. In the first pas de deux, Gülgeç and Nixon’s weighty folding over each other wonderfully recalled Leon Bakst’s illustrations of Scheherazade. Though conceptually intriguing, AfterLight turned out to be a one-shot deal; whether there is more meat to this choreographer remains to be seen.

San Francisco Stories: The literary life

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tredmond@sfbg.com

A few months before I graduated from college, a group of Distinguished Literary Figures came to my Fancy Eastern University and gave a special seminar on careers in literature. At least 150 of my classmates showed up in their $80 Frye boots and their shirts with the alligators on them and the attitudes they’d carefully honed during a life in which things pretty much went their way.

After an erudite discussion of the lofty (the philosophy of writing) and the mundane (write every day and don’t send bad photocopies of your manuscript to your publisher), one of the DLF’s asked for a show of hands: How many of you are planning a career as a writer?

Every hand in the room shot up. And I looked around and said to myself:

No you aren’t.

No, most of you people will never be writers. Because you’re too fucking happy. Because you’re all well-adjusted young men and women with real futures, who will want jobs that pay and apartments with heat and decent food and cars that start and clothes that look cool, and cappuccino that someone else makes for you, and vacations in nice places where the sun always shines.

You’ll never be writers. You don’t know enough about life.

*****

A year or so later, I was sitting in the makeshift loft of my $175-a-month illegal storefront apartment, and my fingers were so cold that I couldn’t work the cheap and nasty typewriter very well, and there wasn’t any heat and the only way to get rid of the chill was to turn on the oven, which was a very bad idea because a banged-up British motorcycle shared the concrete floor of my room with me and the gas tank leaked, not enough to spill but enough that after five or six hours the collected aromatic hydrocarbons in the air were probably enough to ignite and consume me and half the neighborhood in a cataclysmic fireball. So: we sat in the cold.

My girlfriend had left me; her cat was gone but the place was full of fleas, and I’d picked one out of my mustache that morning when I tried to shave. I was finishing a story about antinuclear protests for a magazine that would soon fold, but maybe not before I got my $200 check, and all I could think about was:

I still have a couple cold beers, and Brian Eno on the box, the toilet hadn’t overflowed yet this week — and fuck: This is about as good as it gets.

This is how young writers live.

We don’t ask for much, writers. We don’t need better iPhones or wifi at Union Square or tax breaks. What we need, and have always needed, is chaos, misery, and grit. We need places where money doesn’t rule and where everything isn’t comfortable. We need, more than anything, a kind of cheap that isn’t cool.

You go to the Salvation Army or Goodwill these days and you don’t see many writers who have day jobs as temps in the Zone buying the crummiest suits and ties they can get away with; it’s all, like, hipster fashion.

Writers need real cheap. They need $2 beers and $4 burritos and crappy places to live that cost less than you can make selling a story or two a month. They need to exist, for real, not just for fun, in a world outside the bubble — and they need a city that makes room for that to happen.

I love where I live, but it’s failing me. And I sometimes think that nobody in charge really cares.

*****

The Bay Guardian turns 46 this week. I’ve been part of it for more than half its life, since I sold my first story to the paper in 1982, a shocking expose about police harassing homeless people for sitting on the sidewalk. I got paid $50. It was a huge deal. I ran right out and bought a bottle of whiskey.

The Guardian was always more of a reporter’s paper than a writer’s paper — we wanted news, facts, information more than we wanted flair. And that’s as it should be in a newspaper. But we’ve also always appreciated the local literary scene, and have always been a place where young (and old) writers could find their voices and tell stories.

Now the paper’s under new ownership, and for our birthday, we contacted some of the best writers we could find in town and asked them to tell us their San Francisco story. What is the city’s literary narrative? What, to use a horrible cliché, do we talk about when we talk about San Francisco?

I’m not surprised that some of what we got was about rent — about the fact that nobody like us can live here anymore without rent control, that the housing crisis brought on by the latest tech boom has made it a terribly unfriendly city for writers.

But they also talked about beauty and passion and the reasons that, despite it all, we remain.

*****

One day after I’d been in San Francisco a few years, my brother called me from Boulder, Colorado, where he’d enrolled as a University of Colorado student. “I can’t stand it here,” he said. “There aren’t any fucking problems.”

Yep — everyone he saw in Boulder was rich and white and clean and educated and healthy. He dropped out pretty quickly, and went back to his America, where it’s nasty and you fight for every scrap and life sucks and then you die — but along the way, you meet the greatest people in the world and you live and love and get in some awesome kicks.

Me, I stayed in my city, a place worth fighting for.

I spent my childhood and college years in New York and Connecticut; I grew up in San Francisco. This is my place in the world, and, as the late great John D. MacDonald said of Florida, “It is where I am and where I will stay, right up to the point where the Neptune Society sprinkles me into the dilute sewage off the Fun Coast.”

And for better and for worse, San Francisco is a great story, a world of love and hope and fear and greed and all these people who wake up every morning and try to make it and the world a better place, often against the greatest possible odds.

Herb Caen said it once: “Love makes this town go ’round. Love and hate, pot and booze, despair and buckets of coffee, most of it stale.” We are strange, and we are proud, and we are freaks, and while our local politicians try to tamp us down and make us normal, the rest of the world treats us as special because of who and what we are.

We are immigrants, most of us, and we all love the city we once knew, and those of us who have been here a while are the worst kind of radicals, the ones who hate change … but inside us, inside the ones who know and care and believe, there’s a heartbeat that says: We have something special here, and part of it comes from tradition, and part of it comes from the shabby underclass side of life, from the fight against greed and landlords and smart-eyed speculators who want to charge for what San Francisco once gave away free.

And that’s a kind of style and class that doesn’t fit into anyone’s portfolio of stock options.

I can talk about policy options all night. It’s a disease you get when writing becomes journalism and the fight goes out of the pen in your hand and into the pen where the decisions that change your life get made. I could tell you a thousand ways that San Francisco can stop becoming a city of the rich and too fucking cool for words and could give a little, tiny bit of its soul to the population that made it great.

I could say that the dot.com booms that ruined so much of this city’s crazy madness would never have happened without the Beats and the Summer of Love, and that we ought to honor our ancestors — even if it means the newcomers have to do what everyone else did, and live a little lower for a while.

I could make the case that housing in San Francisco ought to be treated like a public utility, dispensed by seniority, so the folks who worked for 30 years trying to build community without making a lot of cash get priority over the ones who arrived yesterday, with gobs of money and no concept of what the people who came before them did to make this city great.

But mostly I want to say this:

It’s not pretty, being a writer. The ones who succeed are few, and the ones who fail are many, and the city’s poorer for every one who is force to give up because the city would rather have rich people than people who live on the edge.

But in my San Francisco, some people still make it. I love them all. It gives me hope.

SF Stories: Zahir Janmohamed

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46TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL Of the many things I adore about San Francisco, one of them is that the word “Palestine” is not treated like Voldermort’s name, the one that dare not be uttered. You can say you are Palestinian here and no one will freak out. San Franciscans, most of them at least, will not tell you — as Newt Gringrich did — that your culture is invented, or that your identity (or your struggle) is not a valued part of the tapestry of this city.

I am not used to this. I spent the past nine years living in Washington DC, where I became accustomed to meeting Arab shop owners who dodged questions about their country of origin. Some feared a backlash from customers. Others worried about government harassment and eavesdropping. One Yemeni shopkeeper near the Pentagon even went as far as creating to-go boxes with Americans flags imprinted on them, the words “we are proud of you” under each flag. Unfortunately, it’s like this now in many cities in the US, where to be Arab, Iranian or South Asian is to abdicate your ethnic identity, to pretend it’s just not there.

That’s not exactly true in San Francisco. This city isn’t perfect and it has its own ugly past and current struggles with racial integration — but San Francisco at least tries to inculcate its motto on all who are lucky enough to live here: just be who you are. You can fly a Palestinian flag outside your business and chances are you may even attract more customers because of it. And if you show up to work wearing a red, white and blue covered hijab or turban in the city, people may very well laugh at you.

Last week I walked through the Mission district interviewing Palestinian American business owners. On Mission Street, I saw my friend Ashraf sitting on a bar stool at the café he opened two years ago. The San Francisco born Palestinian-American, whose parents were born outside of Jerusalem, wore an SF Giants baseball cap and adjusted it often during our meeting, revealing a full head of hair already graying at the age of 34.

Ashraf remembers car trips with his parents to the Samiramis Grocery just down Mission Street. Samir Khoury, a Palestinian Christian from Ramallah who came to San Francisco in 1953, opened the iconic grocery store in 1972. For the longest time it was the only place where Ashraf’s family could buy zaatar or rent Egyptian movies. It always had everything we had back home, Ashraf says.

Ashraf points out that within a small radius of his cafe, there are a now number of Palestinian owned businesses, including Philz Coffee and Bi-Rite Creamery.

“But no one really knows these are Palestinian owned businesses,” Ashraf says. “And even if they found out, no one would really care.”

I tell Ashraf about a sandwich shop I used to visit in Washington DC where the owner insisted on telling everyone that he was Jordanian. One day the owner pulled me aside and confessed he was really Palestinian from Bethlehem but told people he was Jordanian because he thought it “sounded better.”

When Ashraf hears this he laughs. “It’s not like that here,” he says. “In San Francisco you don’t have to play that act.”

Zahir Janmohamed is a San Francisco writer and former Congressional aide.

SF Stories: Michelle Tea

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46TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL When I was about 21, living with my parents outside Boston, I started making zines. I sent my first one, Bitch Queen, to Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll, and it wound up getting reviewed in MRR‘s Queer Zine Explosion issue. I hadn’t even known there was a queer zine explosion happening, but my little P.O. box was soon stuffed with zines from zinesters wanting to trade issues, and with enough dollar bills that I could cross the street to the mall and get lunch. It was the first experience I had of being given something for my writing, and, more importantly, finding community with other writers.

Later that year my relationship fizzled and I found myself unexpectedly moving to San Francisco. It felt like I had stepped right into the zines I’d been devouring — not only because the punk-queer scene really embodied the content and aesthetics I’d become obsessed with — torn, cut ‘n’ paste, glue-sticked and Sharpied, riffing on radical feminism, dirty queer sex, anti-racist, anti-sizest and more — but because the people from the actual zines were slamming up against me at the queer clubs I was dancing at!

There was Lynn Breedlove, whose daredevil fucking-shit-up bike messenger adventure story I’d read in Chainsaw. There was Youme, the sweetly, long-haired girl who inked the pervy, graphic novel-zine Get What You Want. There’s Larry Bob from Holy Titclamps, and Matt Wobensmith from Outpunk! I think that woman with the spiral-shaved head in the front row of the poetry reading at the Bearded Lady is Kathy Acker, from the Angry Woman book. Yeah — it is. And I swear I saw those heavily tattooed, psychotically pierced girls over there in a DIY photo spread in some grainy, Xeroxed number.

An obsessive fan my whole life, it took me an awe-filled moment to understand that I had become obsessed with a scene I could actually participate in. Showing up to dance at Junk at The Stud and getting taken home by the girl on the cover of the latest modern-primitive zine was just something that happened when you were living in the center of everything interesting, San Francisco in the 1990s. No more longing for Warhol’s Factory, the heyday of the Mud Club, front row at CBGBs, a room at the Chelsea, London in the 70s, the East Village in the 80s or whatever cultural moment I was upset at time itself for causing me to miss. I had the tremendous feeling of being part of something larger than myself, righteous with activism and wild with sex and art.

I pierced one nipple at Fakir Musafar (wait, the guy from the ReSearch Book???)’s piercing school, where you only had to pay for the jewelry, the piercing, done by a student, was free. Even so, I could only afford a single ring, so I only pierced one nipple, and the ring fell out anyway, while having sex with someone I don’t remember anymore. The San Francisco queer-punk scene in the 90s was adamant in its invitation that anyone could participate. It didn’t matter what you looked like, you were invited to fuck yourself up a little and whammo, you are getting massively laid. Broke? Write about it, steal copies from Kinko’s –look, you’re a publishing magnate! Got a bad attitude? Awesome, you are now mayor of dyketown, go punch someone. Every bit of antisocial behavior punished elsewhere was here politicized and celebrated in the ongoing experiment of how far could everything be pushed. And at it’s heart, the culture was a literary one, with zines its many bibles, its textbooks, its canon.

Michelle Tea is the author of many books, including the 90s classic Valencia and the forthcoming A Mermaid in Chelsea Creek (McSweeney’s). She is the editor of Sister Spit Books, an imprint of City Lights, and the Executive Director of RADAR Productions, which hosts a Polka Dot Cocktail Party with queer studies scholar and curator Jonathan Katz, at a private home, on October 28th. The link: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/282115

 

Pre-lloween

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marke@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO “We wanted to put together something that truly reflects San Francisco on its most popular holiday,” DJ Syd Gris of Opulent temple tells me over the phone. “A titillating, intoxicating kaleidoscope of San Francisco flavor with soulful, sexy music. And zombie strippers.”

He’s talking about the massive Masquerotica (Sat/20, 8:30pm-3am $55–$125, creative costume expected. San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center, 635 8th St., SF. www.maquerotica.com ), a perfect kick-off to the insane Halloween season, which pretty much does include frisky input from most of the more risquee club scenes SF’s got going — Kink.com, Anon Salon, Mission Control, Vau de Vire, Hubba Hubba Revue, Bondage-A-Go-Go, Asian Diva Girls, Club Exotica … and then for kicks, Trannyshack. Hey, different strokes! Please have sex with Trannyshack if you want.

There also promises to be some intriguing tunes, from electro-house headliners Stanton Warriors and 15-piece funk band Action Jackson right on through to the early R&B Hard French DJs and hard-driving Mr. Gris himself. (We’ll also probably be hearing from a lot from gay rapper Cazwell’s alabaster abs as well. Squee squee!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyO9D3t0jVM

“The demise of the Exotic Erotic Ball here a few years ago provided an opportunity to put the focus back on local talent while still keeping the sexy vibe. We’d like to think that we’re sanding off some of the rougher edges of what the Erotic Exotic and the Castro became, so that people feel more comfortable being themselves. Or getting out of themselves. Whatever the case may be.”

Although there’s no hardcore sex allowed at Masquerotica (no fear, there’ll be plenty of makeout areas), why do San Franciscans weave so much hanky-panky into our pagan revels? Or did I just answer my own question?

“Halloween is partly about being able to express yourself in ways that don’t involve judgement, and so a lot of subcultural communities found acceptance during the holiday,” Gris said. “We want to honor that. We’re a big tent, and we want to fill it with all the people and things that turn us on in the Bay Area.”

 

MOVE D

I have a scary-powerful crush on this wizard of wide-ranging techno, whose epic sets with live bells and whistles are painterly in their soundscape effects and irresistible in their atmospheres. You can dance to them, too. With DJs Conor, Jonah Sharp, and Mike B.

Thu/18, 9pm-3am, $12–$15. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

REAGENZ

Oh hey, did I mention that the amazing Move D was in town from Berlin? Why not take advantage of that, and his fruitful collaboration with local hero Jonah Sharp, and present them both in their ambitious ambient live-entity form, Reagenz. Tech heads like me are already wetting their drawers for this installment of the Realtime live techno party, also featuring Moniker, Polk & Hyde, and Its Own Infinite Flower.

Fri/19, 9pm, $12–$15. 222 Hyde, SF. www.222hyde.com

 

ODYSSEY

One of the city’s most beloved underground parties emerges to celebrate its anniversary, with SF legend DJ Neon Leon at the helm. Expect tons of warm house tunes and love up the wazoo (plus some nifty projections, too!) With DJs Steve Fabus, Robin Simmons, Jason Kendig, Robert Jeffrey, and Viv Baron.

Fri/19, 10pm-4am, $10. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.public.com

 

HALLOWEEN! THE BALLAD OF MICHELE MYERS

What do you get when you mashup all your favorite teenage slasher flicks with The Facts of Life? Grindr! Kidding. You get this horrifically hilarious musical brought to us by one of SF’s most twisted drag queens, Raya Light. As glamour-ghoul Michele Myers, she’s gonna tear you apart to a disco beat. And you’ll be singing right along.

Fri/19-Wed/31, 8pm and 10pm, $20. CounterPulse, 1310 Mission, SF. michelemyers2012.eventbrite.com

 

DEATH BECOMES HER

You know you live for that campfest movie — wherein Goldie Hawn eats Meryl Streep while Bruce Willis drives away with Freeway the Dog? Something like that, but also the Fountain of Youth and Isabella Rossellini in something really strappy. Anyway, Peaches Christ is giving the 1992 flick, which introduced many of us toddlers to the wonders of CGI, the inimitable uproarious Castro Theatre treatment. Heklina of Trannyshack joins her for a wild live pre-show, with Lady Bear, L. Ron Hubby, and the city’s drag-erati.

Sat/20, 8pm, $20–$25. Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF. www.peacheschrist.com

SF Stories: Jessica C.Kraft

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46TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL Everyone sees the neon signs on street posts over the weekend, but only a few types of people actually stop at estate sales. Early on Friday come the re-sellers—professionals intent on securing cheap, high quality goods that can be resold at pricey consignment shops and on eBay. On Saturdays come the casual shoppers, drawn by the novelty of IKEA prices on antique store treasures. And on Sundays, the hard-core hagglers and bargain hunters arrive, ready to seize upon whatever’s left for a few small bills.

My husband and I have gone “estate saling” all over the city for the past five years. While we’ve found plenty of cheap treasures, our real attraction to these final close-outs is their view into a hidden and historic San Francisco.

Walking into these properties, we marvel at the lush backyard gardens never visible from the street, and the secret views never seen from hilltop public parks. As in any scenic city, San Francisco builders smartly sited properties to maximize views, adding up to tens of thousands of private vistas that each offer a unique glimpse of the lambent sunsets, the columns of fog, or the itinerant Telegraph Hill parrots on parade.

We note how interior design styles have changed through the decades, and wonder how the elderly residents of these homes were able to put up with railroad hallways, stairways both too steep and too narrow, and the classic Doelger home’s miniature bathrooms.

There are always hordes of tchotchkes, outdated kitchenware, and piles of VHS tapes. But curious, bizarre objects also abound, mostly in mildewed basements where World War II veterans kept elaborate workbenches and harbored unconventional passions. An orthopedist in Forest Hill spent his free time jerry-rigging prosthetic devices in his basement, which, by the time of his sale, resembled a museum for medical patents. One dusty workbench was covered with scale models of world-famous buildings; the architect-collector had traveled to each of the sites and brought home a replica. Now his Hagia Sophia and Taj Mahal perch above our bathroom sink. My favorite find from one of these sub-floor collections was a drink stirrer with a pink, cheeky plastic butt affixed to the top. “Bottom’s Up!” the caption read.

Frequenting these sales allows visitors to paint a cultural map of the city that’s more nuanced than what you might learn on a City Guides walking tour. Headed out to the Sunset? You’ll likely find lacquered furniture, multiple tea sets and jade buddhas — but these might be surrounded by Guatemalan embroidery, Irish beer towels or French literature.

Who knew that Cow Hollow’s Union Street used to be a bohemian enclave? Amidst the posh wine bars and jewelry stores, we visited the apartment of a Life photographer and his oil painter wife who collected esoteric religious books, set their table with African textiles and, we imagined, spent evenings seated on the floor listening to sitar ragas. (We now use their Japanese gong to call our family to dinner.)

Stopping in at a sale in Noe Valley with other baby-clad parents, we’re delighted to discover a closet full of Carmen Miranda costumes, sequined carnival masks, fishnet tights and feather boas. A gay couple had lived there together since the ’50s, each year outdoing one another at Halloween. Thanks to them, our New Year’s party last year was extra sparkly.

At a sale just down the street from our house, at the foot of Grandview Heights in the inner Sunset, we inquired about an upright piano. We learned that its owner — a surgeon and well-known jazz photographer — had shot Duke Ellington and other jazz greats playing that very instrument. We never would have imagined that in our quiet hood of dog walkers and weekend gardeners, music history was made.

When we see these homes and prized collections being dismantled and dispersed, we become the last witnesses to episodes in San Francisco history. We get an intimate glimpse of the personalities that used to fill pockets of San Francisco real estate, before many of these neighborhoods became too costly for more than one privileged demographic.

Ultimately, though, we reckon with loss. Someone has died. Their family heirlooms are deracinated; a resale company makes some dough. A family grieves, and is compensated. The perpetual question that these sales seem to ask is: can we, should we, know a life by the objects left behind? When we bring an item home, we feel enriched, as if some facet of our inner world has been represented in solid substance. Yet we can’t help seeing these objects as memento mori. As my husband wistfully observed: when we’re gone, and after our kids have rifled through our dusty, obsolete books and tchotchkes, we’ll likely have one hell of an estate sale ourselves.

Jessica C. Kraft is a San Francisco writer.

SF Stories: Kevin Killian

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46TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL Today it’s mostly about the rents. People come to my tiny apartment, a shoebox I share with three cats and a genius, and they wonder two things at the same time—what the mad Romantic poet Holderlin called the condition of “pallaksch,” an occurrence that presses your yes and no buttons simultaneously. I can see my visitors wondering, you’re only an avant-garde writer at the bottom of the heap, how can you afford to live in San Francisco? And another part of them is answering their own questions by guessing, it must be rent control.

We moved into our place in 1990. Minna Street was then the foulest street I’d ever lived on, but because of the recent earthquake of 1989 the rents were dirt cheap and you just couldn’t say no. From what I understand, the building shook so much during the quake that if you didn’t live on the ground floor, you got the hell out. And the bottom feeders, like ourselves, moved in. I said, “Lightning’s not gonna strike twice,” and so far the building hasn’t crumbled. We came to love our little alley, the neighbors, the quiet, even the drug dealers. It was the bohemian quandary: if a neighborhood improves, does gentrification automatically follow?

I write this in the mourning attendant to the September 29th death, in New York, of radical geographer Neil Smith, the Scots-born teacher and theorist whose work on uneven development has helped us identify these patterns more clearly. Walking down the streets of a big city, or even passing through my shoebox (for he taught us that the same patterns that shape a city are shaping our interiors too), it’s impossible not to think of the man. “Capital,” he wrote, “is continually invested in the built environment in order to produce surplus value and expand the basis of capital itself. But equally, capital is continually withdrawn from the built environment so that it can move elsewhere and take advantage of higher profit rates.” That’s the uneven part of the theory of uneven development. We always wondered why there was so much crack and prostitution on Minna Street, a stones throw from City Hall, from the Opera House, from the other landmarks of capital. But Smith knew. How does rent control even survive in a totalizing city like San Francisco? It has to for capital to flourish, to breed, to flex its muscles.

The legends of the uneven are rampant. When I interviewed the poets and artists who flocked to San Francisco after WWII for my book on the life of Jack Spicer, men and women 85 today if still they live, they would invariably mention moving into a room in North Beach that was 19 dollars a month, a four-bedroom flat in the Fillmore for sixty a month. When the evidence of inflation is pressed up to one’s face like a rag dowsed in chloroform, we younger people inhale sharply. And we’re the same way, we who moved here later on, in the 60s, 70s, even the 80s, when rents were 200, 300, 500 dollars. It wasn’t like we could afford our apartments even then. But at least there would be another worse one we could repair to when “times got tough.” And now, instead, there are fields further away, from which capital has been temporarily withdrawn. Oakland we hear. Last month we counted and realized that only three poets under the age of forty remain in San Francisco. And in each case it’s an exception—a quirk in the system—perhaps the wrinkle that determines the system’s face? The face that says yes to us and no to us with the same grinning wet mouth.

Kevin Killian’s new novel is called Spreadeagle (from Publication Studio). His next book is Tagged, a collection of his intimate color photos of poets, artists, filmmakers, musicians naked, or the next thing to it, edited by Darin Klein. (A show of this work opens at White Columns in New York on October 27th). On November 8, SFMOMA and San Francisco Poets Theater present a revival of Killian’s 1995 play WET PAINT, in conjunction with the Jay DeFeo retrospective (Nov 3 — February 3, 2013) organized jointly by SFMOMA and New York’s Whitney Museum.

 

SF Stories: Laura Fraser

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46TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL

People marvel that I manage to live in San Francisco on what I make as a freelance writer. They wonder if I have a trust fund, secretly write speeches for CEOs, or run a phone-sex business on the side. They figure I must somehow make over six figures to live in a three-bedroom flat in the Haight with high ceilings, hardwood floors, a big kitchen, and a garden as big as a park.

No: I’m able to be a writer in San Francisco because of rent control.

If it weren’t for rent control, I would not live in the city I love, which has been my home since 1984, when I scored an apartment on Waller Street with one woman I’d met in a magazine collective called Processed World and another who’d just gotten off the Green Tortoise bus.

At first I wasn’t sure I wanted the apartment. It was filthy; the living room had been subdivided into four sections with hanging sheets, and only cockroaches dared to enter the kitchen. It was $750 a month, which seemed astronomical to us at the time. But it was so rundown that no one had ever bothered to rip away the original wainscoting, Victorian cabinets, hardwood floors, or clawfoot tub, so it had a lot of charm under its grime. The landlord — an entrepreneurial hippie who bought about ten buildings when the Haight was at its most depressed — insisted we do community service as part of our rent. We pooled our money, took the place, and began scrubbing and painting.

Over the years, by sheer luck, I never moved. Instead, people moved in with me. I lived with a constant parade of roommates, most of them artists or people who worked for nonprofits. There was a drummer, a guitarist, and a composer. Maria was a young journalist from Mexico City who came here to write about migrant farm workers. Stevious was a political refugee from South Africa who worked at Mother Jones. Gail was a chef who left to join the circus. Natalie taught English to new immigrants. Julia was an avant-garde theatre director. Danielle was a filmmaker who wanted to make a documentary about Ghana, where she’d lived in the Peace Corps. Vince worked for the alternative press. All these people had moved to San Francisco because they wanted to do something creative or humanitarian, and to Waller Street, because our rent made that possible.

During the dot-com boom, my flat became a refuge. Two friends, a photographer and a musician, had been effectively evicted by a landlord who made life so hellish they’d leave, so he could raise the rent at a time when Mission rents went up 40 percent in a year. They had nowhere to go, so they moved in with me. It was a very San Francisco story: the guy was my great-grand-ex, who used to live in the flat above me when we dated, and now he was living in my house with his girlfriend. We cooked and played music and got along fine, until they moved into a flat they could afford — in Oakland.

Until the dot-com years, thanks to rent control, you could make a living as an artist or activist and manage to live in San Francisco, even if it meant eating a lot of burritos. Today, that’s not possible, unless you’re as old as I am and somehow had the luck to hang on to the second apartment you moved into after college. I may envy people who had the foresight to buy real estate in the 1980s or 1990s, but the fact is, I didn’t have the money then, either, for what now seems like a laughably low down payment. Rent control is my equity. The neighbors who live in the mirror-image apartment in my building are not artists or activists; they are tech people, whose rent is double mine, and who do make six figures.

Recently, a talented young novelist visited my flat and was amazed at how spacious it is. He’s struggling to keep on living in San Francisco, and I don’t know how he and his wife manage writing and running an international creative nonprofit while paying our city’s rents, especially with a child. I do know that unless San Francisco makes room for people like him, as it made room for me, with rent control, we will lose the distinctive character of our city—or what remains of it. Rent control made it possible for me to be a writer, but 25 years later, it’s a lot harder for him.

Rent control is essential to keeping San Francisco’s creative character. But it isn’t sufficient if the city wants to help young people who are trying to embark on creative careers outside of the tech sector in San Francisco today. We need affordable housing; we need rent controls to extend to vacant apartments; mainly, we need to want to keep San Francisco weird.

Laura Fraser is the author of the New York Times bestseller An Italian Affair, among other books.

SF Stories: Veronica Christina

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46TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL Living in San Francisco means accepting the constant love/hate battle between beauty and the beast, privilege and poverty, art/music/literature and, “Ew, what the hell did I just step in?” It’s balancing the sweeping bayside views against the looming threat that at any minute we could crumble into the sea. Living here means accepting a certain level of hypocrisy, from ourselves, our government, and each other. It’s understanding that you can’t please everyone all of the time so you’d better figure out how to please yourself.

We’re a city that believes the good things in life should cost money, but heaven forbid we raise property taxes or are asked to pay cover at a club when we think we’re “on the list.” We’re sex-positive, frequently hedonistic, and culinarily spoiled. We float easily between roommate potlucks, Napa Valley wine tastings and pop-up restaurants (where bringing your own 6-pack is not only encouraged but another urban validation of just how in-the-know we actually are).

We dedicate our weekends in drunken tribute to America’s Cup/Folsom Street Fair/Bay to Breakers, then shock our livers back to life on Monday with an all-juice cleanse, delivered right to our shared workspaces. We’ll wax poetic about the exhibits at the MOMA and the DeYoung when secretly the Academy of Sciences is the only museum most of us like.

We vehemently fight for the rights of all our residents to know the joy, solace and comfort of family life, but hate waiting behind the poor lady struggling with her stroller on the bus (eyeroll) and why doesn’t she just get a Baby Bjorn already? We hate drivers while we’re bicycling, hate bicyclists while we’re driving, and collectively despise anyone on a motorcycle.

We’re a city that is constantly forgetting which days street sweeping are on and remain almost adorably hopeful that maaaaybe this time our bumper can hang six inches into the red without being noticed by DPT (it can’t). We’re a city that spends too much precious time getting our cars towed/ ticketed/ broken into.

But then there’s the love. We are a city who falls in love all the time; with ourselves, with our chosen urban families, with that girl on the BART, the view from the bridge, Dolores Park movie nights, hikes in the Presidio, with yoga, politics, new ideas, farmer’s markets, the Giants. We’re a city of, “hey, let’s give it a shot,” a destination for people of alternative mindsets to finally belong.

We love this city with a passion akin to a lover you just can’t leave. San Francisco is in our veins and we keep coming back for more. Sure, we flirt with the notion of trading up to some sexy Oakland loft (free parking!) or a peaceful, tree-canopied Marin cottage (we could get a dog!) but the allure never quite goes away. We may fight like crazy, but no matter how mean we get, she always welcomes us home.

Veronica Christina is the editor of Sex + Design magazine, www.sexanddesign.com

 

Darker than dark

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM It is one of those hard truths one must learn to live with: Quentin Tarantino will always have seen more obscure exploitation movies than you. His new Django Unchained will arrive just in time for Christmas like a gift wrapped severed limb, leaving dedicated fanboy/fangirl types just weeks yet to immerse themselves in the world of spaghetti westerns to which it pays homage.

That makes two features in a row he’s made inspired by 1960s and 70s Euro trash cinema, following 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, which tipped hat to the era’s myriad international-coproduction war flicks. If you saw the obscure 1978 Italian film that was based on (and named after), you also probably already know who and what a Django is, how to pronounce him, and maybe even the factoid that countless (seriously, no one knows how many) ersatz Django “sequels” were made to cash in on the 1966 original’s success.

If not, join the more innocent multitudes at the multiplex come December, many of whom will no doubt be asking for one ticket to “Duh-jango,” please. There’s no shame in knowing nothing about such cultural marginalia. But what even faintly hipster-identifying person would admit to not knowing everything there is to know — even being bored with that knowledge — behind Reservoir Dogs (1992), the now 20-year-old Citizen Kane of indie meta guy flicks? How many people can not only quote its every line, but quote the every line of at least a few amongst its own umpteen mostly lousy imitations (yep, that includes you, 1999’s Boondock Saints)?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvoKT481EmU

In the gradual groundswell of attention that greeted Dogs back then, viewers confidently cited Tarantino’s inspirations (as did he himself), noting the imprint of everything from classic noir titles to Kurosawa. Yet one movie that had a very direct influence was almost completely absent from those discussions, failing to rise from its prior two decades of complete obscurity even in the two decades post-Dogs.

Together at last in one canine-throwdown double bill is Day of the Wolves, that forgotten 1971 thriller — thanks of course to the Roxie Cinema and Elliot Lavine, themselves reunited for the latest installment in “Not Necessarily Noir,” that catch-all occasional series encompassing all things cool and (mostly) celluloid which don’t fit the loose strictures of their long-running actual noir retrospectives. Wolves and Dogs tussle to kick off the two-week schedule this weekend.

Day of the Wolves‘ low profile is somewhat explicable: it was never released theatrically in the US, and for years withheld from legal exhibition due to copyright issues. Still, one marvels how such a flamboyant relic of pure Seventies-ness could have remained under the radar for so long. TV and Vegas comedian Jan Murray is improbably cast as the mastermind who orchestrates the assembly of six career criminals in a secret desert location. All strangers, they’re instructed to call one another only by assigned number, wear identical outfits, and sport full facial hair (some obviously glued-on). Their mission is to “hit a whole town and peel it like an orange” — sealing off a “model community” in the Southwest, emptying every till, then scramming via private plane.

It’s an ingenious plan that counts on the complacent vulnerability of such burgs. In fact, Wellerton’s city council has just demonstrated ideal small-mindedness by firing its police chief (late, SF-born Richard Egan, a second tier 1950s star gone to flab) for the crime of actually enforcing laws on some of its more irresponsible A-list citizens. Thus the population of 7,000 or so is woefully under prepared when they find the power cut off, exit routes blocked, and seven armed desperados in charge.

The early going bears closest resemblance to Reservoir Dogs, and is the most inspired. (Later when the film gets to its prolonged actual climax, it devolves into a more ordinary Western-style shoot-’em-up between the raiders and Egan’s cop-turned vigilante, though there’s a doozy of a final twist.) Writer-director Ferde Grofe Jr., whose career in features sprawled sparsely from the early 60s to the late 80s, demonstrates a real flair for memorable idiosyncrasy, if less so for action. In style and content, Wolves is a perfect time capsule: groovy rock score (with “acid” guitar, bongos, and flute), very wide lapels, and a dune buggy chase. This near-classic B movie will be shown in one mightily color-faded, “pinked-out” 35mm print, an ostensible flaw that plays more like a finishing touch.

“Not Necessarily Noir III” mixes more such rediscoveries with fairly well known cult faves of the last decades, from neo-noirs to Hong Kong action to 70s New Hollywood questing (exceptional 1978 drama Who’ll Stop the Rain with Nick Nolte and Tuesday Weld; the seldom-seen ’71 Cisco Pike with Kris Kristofferson, Gene Hackman, and Warhol superstar Viva). Among its more rarefied titles are two Me Decade Franco-noirs with Jean-Paul Belmondo (who performs some amazing stunts himself in 1971’s The Burglars); 1968’s very disturbing crime thriller Night of the Following Day (wherein white-blond Marlon Brando is the good guy), and a supernatural blaxploitation double bill of very odd, arty 1973 vampire tale Ganja and Hess and the next year’s wacky, tacky voodoo revenge saga Sugar Hill.

Particularly worth checking out is Darker Than Amber, an attempt to launch a James Bond-style series featuring John D. MacDonald’s best-selling Florida sleuth Travis McGee. Unfortunately this 1970 maiden effort flopped, and the film has seldom been seen — especially without cuts — since. Admittedly it has pedestrian TV-style direction from Robert Clouse (who’d hit his sole career peak later with Bruce Lee’s 1973 Enter the Dragon), and the production values are just B-plus. But it’s an ideal vehicle for Rod Taylor, the brawny, wry, relaxed Aussie who should have been a huge star in the 60s and 70s, but despite a couple memorable films (1963’s The Birds, 1960’s The Time Machine) never got the right break. He’s surrounded by a memorable gallery of MacDonald characters, with two body-builder villains (William Smith, Robert Philips) in addition to the frequently shirtless star making this an notably homoerotic entry for the era in a macho action genre.

“NOT NECESSARILY NOIR III”

Oct. 19-31, $6.50-$10

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF

www.roxie.com

 

SF Stories: Benjamin Bac Sierra

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46TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL 

Puro San Fran: These words have inspired me to somewhere beyond my city and to someone beyond myself. Puro San Fran, I have howled into our smashed streets, into the lush jungles of Okinawa, death deserts of Saudi Arabia, the overly intellectual classrooms at U.C. Berkeley — into barrios worldwide.

Puro San Fran can be literally translated into Pure San Francisco, but what exactly is so pure about this Golden Gated city is the subject for this musing.

As an adolescent homeboy from our Mission district, I shouted Puro San Fran with anger, as a demand to combat. In different evolutions, though, St. Francis blessed me with different powers that forced me to confront profound paradoxes, within myself and my home.

Puro San Fran is more than a battle-cry; it is a meditation, a mantra that has soothed me and granted me an identity that has fueled my consciousness. I like to pride myself as a Missionero and Cortlandero before gentrification of those gritty hoods, but it is idealistic impurity to tell the tale that the Mission district is all I knew. I liked to claim those territories as if I, we, owned those streets, but those streets were only half my story.

A veteran Muni bus rider by age 11, I would graffiti tag my name and the name of our break dance crew all over every neighborhood — the Haight, Noe Valley, Soma (back when all that existed there were dull warehouses), the Sunset, Excelsior, etc. At 14 years old, we, brown skinned, would blow white angel-dust smoke halos into San Francisco’s spitting seashore at Ocean Beach. During the crack-era 1980s, we would drink and fight at rat-infested Union Square, a home for black-bearded bums who we would share our Mad-Dog 20/20 wine with. Parading our poverty on 30th street after our many 49ers Superbowl victories, we proclaimed the streets as ours, not knowing or understanding that the actual tar and cement would be “rehabilitated” (gentrified) before we would be, so that now almost all of my former San Franeros have vanished outside its borders.

Except for very brief stints in backyard cities, I did not truly explore outside of San Francisco until I was seventeen and joined the Marine Corps. Before then, I had never even heard of other major Bay Area cities called Santa Rosa, Richmond, Berkeley, or Menlo Park. My world, my life was Puro San Fran, but it was that spirit that also charged me forward, so that now I have trumpeted our unique city everywhere I have traveled. With San Fran spirit, I thrust myself into becoming a student, a writer, a professor, a father, a sinner, and a fuller human being.

San Francisco is changing, as it has always been changing, but we are at our roots Native American hippie Missionary 49er Giant locos. Thanks to our counterculture tradition, we believe in peace and diversity as an essence, yet we contradict ourselves by also being hedonistic kings and queens who wear the golden crown of capitalism on the West Coast. What goes on in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what goes on here in San Fran becomes a permanent tattoo on our souls, and we like to believe we have them, that stuff of souls. We live in the moment trusting it is forever. Go to AT&T Park during the Giants playoffs; you will feel the forever, and you will fall in love with it. Puro San Fran, therefore, is a hopeless romantic nostalgia for something that never really existed but that always is possible. With that purity, that hopeless possibility, that profound paradox, I write and represent us all. Con Safos.

Benjamin Bac Siera is a San Francisco City College English composition and literature professor and author of Barrio Bushido, an ode to Mission District vato locos.

SF Stories: John Ross

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46TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL 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 QR say

We’re here now motherfuckers

Tell the Klan and the Nazis

And the Real Estate vampires

To catch the next BART out of here

For Hell.

John Ross (1938-2011) was a street poet, shit disturber, author, and for some 20 years, the Bay Guardian’s Mexico City correspondent

SF Stories: Tiny

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46TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL I have a Vision..(Too!)

of poor people-led revolutions and clan mothers wit solutions including the many colored, many spirited, humble people who still remain in San Francisco even though we are systematically incarcerated, profiled, shot or just hated Used by akkkademic institutions, Nonprofiteering, complex over-funded government collusions — From gang ijunctions to sit-lie laws —

Arresting poor folks of color for no just cause

From Ambassador security guards to Stop ‘ n’ Frisk-

using code words like”cleaning up streets”

so frisko is only for the white ‘ n’ Rich The Afrikan population Out-migration caused by Negro Removal, Redlining, Re-Devil-opment and Lennar displacement La Raza en la mission replaced, displaced by condominiums and Eastern Neighborhood Plans, making room for wheatgrass juice and gourmet coffe stands-

And then let’s go back to the Original removal — !st Peoples of the Ohlone Nation — rarely remembered, considered, spoken about or even named..

Caring for Pachamama, mother Earth in a good way, by the teachings of our ancestors every day

So where does this leave us folx who refuse to be cleaned out, incarcerated, profiled or Wheat-grasserated…

We still here, aqui estamos y no nos vamos —

You can’t Frisk, me, Injunct me or incarcerate me cuz let me be clear.

I am staying in my hood, on my corner

and gonna stay seated in my newly gentrifuked park

.. and to Google buses, condominium, devil-opers and un-conscous new-comers,

we will be a thorn in your side for life and up-end your corporate, money-driven hustle

with our feet, our love, our actions …and our ancestors at our side…

“Where we supposed to go, us po’ folks born here, raised here?” said Vietnam vet, disabled, poverty skola and panhandler reporter at POOR magazine, Papa Bear, arrested three times in one day under Sit-lie. “Going to Hell,” thats my vision (of the city) — when they killed the black community — the soul of this city was gone,” said Tony Robles, PNN co-editor, poet, author and organizer and revolutionary son of San Francisco natives of Manilatown. “I don’t care if I’m the last Mexican in the Mission,” said Sandra Sez, indigenous warrior mama and organizer born and raised in the Mission District.

I was born in the back seat of a car, dealt with houselessness and criminalization since I was 11. Ended up in the Bay Area when I was 14. Can’t say San Francisco is my town. But I have had the blessing of meeting and being in family with some of the most powerful revolutionaries from both sides of this beautiful bay. From the I-Hotel resistance to Mission Anti-displacement Coalition to HOMIES to PODER, from The Bay View Newspaper, Idriss Stelley Foundation to the Coalition on Homelessness. Me and my houseless mama along with other landless revolutionaries launched revolutionary projects, POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE, PeopleSkool, the Po Poets/Poetas POBRE’s , the welfareQUEENs and Theatre of the POOR, to name a few.

I have also been houseless, incarcerated, evicted, profiled, poverty-pimped, gentriFUKed and welfare deformed in the Bay. I have seen beauty and felt resistance in this place in ways I don’t believe would have been possible anywhere else. And yet now it seems like the struggle is just to remain.

Should one fight to stay in a party that no longer includes most of your friends? Neighborhoods filled with people you don’t know and don’t want to know. Schools stripped of their color and cultures. Corporate streets filled with shiney white buses for people who can’t put their deliecate feet on a public bus. Bike lanes filled with $3,000 bicycles and coffee shops that only sell $4 cups of coffee and $3 vegan donuts.

My humble vision for SF includes reparations for black peoples in the Bay View, giving back stolen vacant land to Original Peoples, makng the more than 30,000 empty units in San Francisco available for poor, houseless, and foreclosed on peoples to live in. For landlords to rent at least one apartment per building to families in poverty at reduced or no rent, for doctors and dentists to see at least three patients per practice for a sliding scale starting at $0 — and for people to not question “where their money is going” when they give 50 cents to a panhandler/street newspaper vendor while never questioning where their tax dollars go to politricksters and CEOs of corporations. For the SFPD to arrest, profile, and harass drunken white people who spill out of Bay to Breakers and Golden Gate Park concerts with the same voracity that they do poor youth of color — cause then maybe it would actually have to stop.

And finally for all racist, classist laws that target us poor folks, like sit-lie, gang injunctions and stop and frisk be repealed for their flagrant and disgusting unconstitutionality so that public space will remain truly public and people might truly be free.

Tiny, aka Lisa Gray-Garcia, is a founder of POOR Magazine.

The return of the ugly laws

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OPINION In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, municipalities across the country passed what have become known as “ugly laws,” often modeling their ordinances word for word on San Francisco’s. According to The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public, Susan Schweik’s comprehensive study of these laws, they were intended to target those who “exposed disease, maiming, deformity, or mutilation for the purpose of begging.” In city after city a pattern emerged of “enactment, reenactment, crackdown, malaise.” As Schweik writes, “what most aligned” the cities “were not the law’s successes, but its failures, the impossibility of removing the unsightly in the form of persons.”

Fast-forward 150 years and “sit lie,” replaces “ugly,” as the name for a category of laws whose intention is to remove the unsightly from our public spaces. Different in form, but nearly identical in intent and justification, these laws are now sweeping through the country, disfiguring the municipal codes of one city after another. San Francisco is not patient zero of this epidemic. But it now threatens to pass that contagion on directly to Berkeley.

Berkeley’s Measure S would prohibit sitting on any commercial sidewalk or on any object placed on the sidewalk without express permission of the city between 7 am and 10 pm. (Since 1998 Berkeley has had an ordinance prohibiting lying on the sidewalk.)

As with the “ugly laws,” the fact that sit lie-laws have been ineffective, has proven no impediment to their spread. Months before the Berkeley City Council voted to place Measure S on the ballot, an independent analysis of San Francisco’s sit-lie ordinance conducted one year after its implementation concluded that it had “on the whole, been unsuccessful at meeting its multi-faceted intentions to improve merchant corridors, serve as a useful tool for SFPD, connect services to those who violate the law, and positively contribute to public safety for the residents and tourists of San Francisco.” Undeterred by the failures of sit-lie in San Francisco, proponents of Measure S, most prominently business improvement districts representing commercial landlords, promise it will rid the city of what they describe as unsightly “encampments” of nomadic street youth.

The fact that Measure S is targeted at homeless youth is an open secret. Ugly laws are a thing of the past. It is not constitutionally permissible to pass laws that target people for who they are as opposed to what they do. The Supreme Court has declared laws against loitering and vagrancy unconstitutionally void for vagueness. The workaround these constitutional obstacles is to pass laws against specific behaviors associated with people whom we don’t want in our public space. Like laws prohibiting sitting on the sidewalk.

Over a hundred years ago, Anatole France famously praised “the majestic equality of the law that forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” He would no doubt smile at a law that forbids everybody from sitting on the sidewalk. Measure S is supported by people who hide behind its “majestic equality,” but count on a “majestic inequality,” in its enforcement. They believe, without reservation, that it will always be enforced against others.

I don’t like using disease metaphors in politics. Susan Schweik describes the spread of ugly laws as a “contagion,” and it’s hard to resist a similar metaphor for the spread of sit-lie laws. But what is really at stake here is an ugly tendency in national politics, spread not by an anonymous bug, but by people in positions of power and influence, to shift the blame for our sour economy from those who run the system to those who are run over by it: labor unions, public employees, teachers, immigrants, and now, in Berkeley and too many other cities, people who are homeless. If Berkeley passes Measure S, sit-lie laws could be greenlighted across the nation, for who could object that such laws are unfair and mean spirited if oh-so-radical Berkeley passed one. On the other hand, if we defeat measure S Berkeley has a chance to model how a community can come together to find real solutions to real problems in hard economic times.

Osha Neumann is an attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center, and Chair of Berkeley Standing Up for the Right to Sit Down/No on Measure S. For more on the measure, visit www.noonsberkeley.com.