I love my editor/column hostess. And not just because I’m domestically partnered to her (though that helps).
My loyalty running as deep as it does in her general direction, when I see her overworked, I want to unburden her. Tonight, she made pork chops. They were delicious: on a bed of leftover basmati rice from an unfortunate delivery job earlier in the week, with a side of sauteed string beans. Best dinner of the day, hands down. And then she says to me, she says "Confound it, Hedgehog. My column’s due again."
"Has it been a week already? Well don’t fret," says I (we always speak like old-timey prospectors after dinner), "it’s still early. You can write your column aftern you do the dishes."
"No," she says. "By the time I finish doing all of these here dishes dishes which, mind you, were dirtied in service of a meal you specifically requestered I’ll be too tired to type let alone think of some other meal I ate somewheres else and review it."
So here I am, writing her review for her while she does the dishes. And to make sure my editor’s editors know I mean business, I’ll give you not one but two reviews for the price of none this week.
First there was this Vietnamese place we went to called Oriental Something or Other. That’s not really the name but I’m not really a food reviewer so I forgot to grab a menu and I can’t rightly bother the actual food reviewer while she’s elbows-deep in lemon-scented bubbles. Anyway, it was in Berkeley. You can find it on Yelp, I’m sure.
And when youse’re done reading everyone else’s uneducated opinion there, here’s one more: it was really good pho. And a really disappointing shrimp spring roll. Mostly rice noodles, one little shrimp splayed open like that dude Hannibal Lector hung from the rafters (not Pembry, mind you; the other one), and a little wilted lettuce.
But the pho woah. And cheap, too. So that’s a good place. You should eat pho there. But not rolls.
Second, Chicken Farmer was very impressed by a place I took her to in Los Angeles the other week. It was the meal we had before we went to win our award. Place called Sabina’s European Restaurant, on the corner of Vine and Fountain in one of those strip mall things that constitute 90% of Los Angeles.
The other 10% being Joel Silver’s ego.
Anyway, Sabina’s does not actually represent all of Europe, cuisine-wise. It’s exclusively Romanian.
So exclusively, in fact, that they don’t even know what pierogis are. What they do know is how to stuff a cabbage and paprika up some chicken. And dumplings! Boy Howdy do they ever!
And get this: everything on the menu is $5.75 or cheaper. Yes, it is still 2012! Huge portions, too! Just ask Kayday. We couldn’t finish everything and still fit into our red carpet gowns, so we took it to go and left it in her rental car while we went in to the event and achieved everlasting fame and glory.
And man, did that car smell funky when we got back in it.
Whoa, Hedgehog. Whoa! Do you really want to drag Hannibal Lector into this? Not to mention Boy Howdy.
Still, it’s your best Cheap Sports yet, in that you didn’t say Word One about anything sporty. If I didn’t know better, I might think you were finally making your play for my job.
Wait … Are you?
If so, next time focus on the jalapenos. I would have said how we only needed one little slice to spice up the whole big bowl of pho to a sweat-inducing, sinus-scouring, head-spinning pitch. How often are jalapenos even hot at all, let alone rip-roaringly hot. So hurray for Oriental for knowing how to pick out a good one.
But, really, Berkeley be damned, my new favorite restaurant is Sabina’s, in Hollywood. So let’s make another movie. Quick.
TRASH It has been noted that most people didn’t experience “the Sixties” until the Seventies, at least in terms of all that Free Love and chemical entertainment. But even at the latter decade’s most indulgent junctures, many people’s minds remained stuck in the Fifties — sniggering about the very idea of sex, using terms like “boobies,” insisting women be gorgeous idiots and men perma-adolescent clods.
The 1970s may have begun with 1971’s Carnal Knowledge — a bitter goodbye to the fucked-up-edness of pre-Sexual Revolution life — but the ’80s began with 1982’s Porky’s, which signaled a return to sex as dirty joke when it wasn’t harrowing in a vagina-dentata way (see: 1987’s Fatal Attraction). The apex and nadir of anything-goes Me Decade public sexual expression was the existence of Al Goldstein’s zine Screw, which pushed the frontiers of the new permissiveness while indulging infantile humor and fearful-hostile misogyny.
The most puerile if also most harmless expression of this was in comedic porn movies, which set a juvenile Borscht Belt tenor early on with Deep Throat (1972) and seldom aimed any higher thereafter. This ka-boom-cha! humor dominated the never-ending cycle of movie spoofs that probably started with 1970 softcore jungle send-up Trader Hornee, but they also spawned a short-lived subgenre that ever-adventurous Joel Shepard of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is celebrating with a retrospective this month. Reviving three features from our nation’s bicentennial year of 1976, “Honk If You’re Horny: Retro Sex Musicals” definitely proves that if you were born too late for that era, you missed some very, very strange experiences.
Where today’s trend toward “darker” versions of fairy tales on the big and small screen — Grimm, all those Snow Whites, the upcoming Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters — perhaps indicates how childish adult tastes have grown, in the Seventies those fables were used and abused to measure just how far from innocence we’d come. As early as 1963, no less than Herschell Gordon Lewis was presiding over “nudie-cutie” Goldilocks and the Three Bares, after which followed The Long Swift Sword of Siegfried (1971), the same year’s The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio (“It’s Not His Nose That Grows!”), and so forth. But the zenith, such as it is, of this trend was YBCA series kickoff Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy (1976), whose opening credits feature the unique attribution “Underwater Nude Volleyball sequences shot by …”
In director Bud Townsend and scenarist-composer Bucky Searles’ very free adaptation of Lewis Carroll, Alice (Playboy centerfold and future Jackie Chan co-star Kristine DeBell, making her film debut) is a repressed librarian led down a rabbit hole of sexual exploration and liberation. Before returning to the real world (and real delivery-guy cock), she’s given a tongue bath by creatures whose costumes anticipate furry fandom; enjoys good vibrations from a talking rock; fellates the Mad Hatter; and watches unisex couple Tweedledee and Tweedledum 69 each other (what else are they going to do?) One doesn’t remember stripping lesbian nurses in the original, or topless slo-mo horseback riding. The women dance like Vegas showgirls and the men seem kinda queeny; don’t even ask about the “songs.” Nonetheless this cheap cheesefest was picked up for release by 20th Century Fox, which cut it to an R and made a small mint.
Ergo it is perhaps not that surprising that YBCA’s second feature, 1976’s The First Nudie Musical, got its own mainstream release from Paramount, tacky and horribly dated as it is. Made just before star Cindy Williams began Laverne and Shirley (though after she’d appeared in 1973’s American Graffiti and on Happy Days with Ron Howard, who does a cameo here), this wheezing yokfest has her as secretary to a porn producer (Stephen Nathan). It’s his big idea to counter flagging box office by shooting a porno musical, though that effort is nearly derailed by his being forced to put a studio boss’ idiot son (writer and co-director Bruce Kimmel) behind the camera. The kind of unfunny that for 97 minutes may make you want to kill yourself, Nudie duly has some full-frontal shots and a not-bad dancing dildos number. Otherwise — oy.
Last and possibly least even in this context is 1976’s Let My Puppets Come, one of those films that must be witnessed just to confirm that it exists — no matter how much you may regret doing so afterward. Late Bronx-bred Deep Throat auteur Gerard Damiano made some of the era’s most famous and most interesting porn features (usually not the same ones), but here he indulged a self-parodic whim by satirizing his own crazy career in singing, dancing, fucking felt ersatz-Muppet form.
Puppets‘ protagonists are a group of schmoes indebted to the mob and forced to make a porno to pay it off. (In the 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat, the director alluded to his erstwhile mob benefactors-bosses while his still-fearful wife keeps vehemently trying to shush him in the background.) Their resulting masterpiece stars the likes of “Anthony Quimm” and “Clitorus Leachman,” features a bit of make-believe bestiality (a none-too-subtle reference to Throat star Linda Lovelace’s canine thrill reel), has fake commercials (vaginal deodorant, etc.), and a cameo by Al Goldstein himself.
Evidently Damiano’s backers didn’t appreciate the joke, since the film was released at just 40-odd minutes’ length, with most of its songs cut. But Shepard promises an ultra-rare screening of the full, intended hour-and-a quarter edit. Swallow at your own risk. *
VISUAL ART It starts with the streets. Walls, the texture of walls, rough and colored in swirls of graffiti letters. Walls you feel you could reach out and touch their cold and grit. Establishing shots — the streets of San Francisco in the dot-com era. The photos are of their times: an unattended shopping cart in the streets appears as early as page three. Soon follows the spray-painted legend, “Don’t let the good times fool you.”
The pictures are inscrutable, their sequence seemingly random. Yet other than the gnomic title (Friendship Between Artists is an Equation of Love and Survival), the only text in Xara Thustra’s self-published new book’s 500 pages is a brief intro from the author insisting that the book is meant to be read from left to right, from top and bottom in the order the photos appear. There are no captions or prompts to lead the viewer. It is the mute gravity of the photos that pulls you in. What is happening here? It’s like finding a box of photos on a trash pile in the Mission — old furniture, clothes out on the curb, a pile of books and CDs. Why is all this stuff in the trash? Did the owners die? Or get evicted? Photos of strangers. You go from one photo to the next and the outline of a missing life starts to appear. What is happening here?
The action moves in and out of the streets, cinematic — the interiors dark, claustrophobic. The streets provide narration. Everything is spray painted. Demand Community Control. Everything bright, everything clean. Everything they build be like fuck you, fuck you, fuck you. Familiar everyday locations have become enlisted as battlegrounds. At the Dolores Park tennis courts, someone has hung a screen on the fence, painted so that it reads “Sink the Ship” in shimmery, see-through letters. A subliminal message to the tennis players visible on the other side? Or a secret signal to an unseen underground army?
Cut to the interior. Some dim locations start to become recognizable: a performance crammed into a corner of Adobe Books, a crowd seen through a doorway at the old Needles and Pens. The images are at times grainy and low res, like bad cell phone photos or surveillance camera footage. Much is shot in indistinct rooms or hallways, tightly cropped. The people in the interiors model homemade clothing or stare back at us from unmade beds. They are dancing in high heels or fucking each other, holding whips and dildos. No one is smiling. Instead they stare defiantly into the camera as if to ask, “Who are you to watch? Which side are you on?” This is not the careless and fashionable hedonism of Ryan McGinley photos. Instead, like the subjects of Nan Goldin photos, the people in these images know how much their search for freedom costs, and who will have to pay.
Meanwhile, the battle in the streets continues. Scum bags dressed as imposter yuppies stand in front of the mall on Market Street, holding handmade signs reading, “The bombs are dropping, lets go shopping!” An effigy of Gavin Newsom burns at 18th and Castro. Back inside, homeless guys from Fifth and Market calmly eat free breakfast at the 949 Market Squat. More drab interiors, more surveillance footage, and then what is happening here? Scenes of naked people grimly carving designs into each other with razors, holding dripping, bleeding arms up to the camera. It must be 2005, I think, when we all started to give up on ever stopping the war and just started hurting each other.
Full disclosure: I am in this book. I might be too close to the people and events depicted to discern whether the images are strictly documentary or whether their arrangement is intended to create a new story. But the juxtapositions, eerie and dreamlike, pack a wallop. In one two page spread, my dead friend, Pete Lum, stairs from the left page into another photograph on the right of an unknown drag queen out front of Aunt Charlie’s on Turk Street. Their eyes seem to meet across the gutter of the book and across time and space, as if sharing a secret the rest of us cannot know.
Ultimately, perhaps the one indisputable narrative of the book is the tremendous progression in Xara Thustra’s artwork, as the early agitprop graffiti by “Heart 101” in support of street protests slowly morphs into a far more ambitious project, an ongoing collaboration with countless others through performance, print, and cinema to abandon protest and instead collectively embody through art the autonomy and ethics of a truly different world. Perhaps inevitably then, Friendship Between Artists is both a monumental achievement and something of an anti-climax. The protests, the willful art world obscurity, the dead friends — what did it all add up to?
I am certain, anyway, that nothing in the book was conceived with the idea that it would one day appear in an art book. Instead, the interventions, experiments, and protests detailed herein, while at times quite joyous, were, as the book’s title suggests, originally part of a deadly serious struggle to keep oppositional culture alive in San Francisco, and for many that struggle now feels lost. But life must go on, and this is no museum piece.
The book’s 500 pages positively overflow with life, salvaging from oblivion the raw, visceral feel of 15 years of ephemeral underground freedom. While some will be haunted by the suspicion that the answer to the above question is “not enough,” the people in these photos stare into the camera and demand we consider instead a hard-earned and far more redemptive possibility: that this isn’t an art project, it’s how we live. This isn’t representation of a different reality, but about being a different reality. And fuck you, anyway, because being free is its own reward.
The National Rifle Association’s bid to kill two San Francisco gun control ordinances — which a federal judge initially rejected last week, although that legal process continues — highlights differing views on the issue in the violence-plagued Bayview, where two prominent activists have opposing viewpoints.
One ordinance requires guns in the home to be locked up when not on the owner’s person and the second bans the sale of fragmenting and expanding bullets, affecting only the city’s sole gun store: High Bridge Arms, in the Mission district.
The first ordinance was introduced in 2007 by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and supported by Sheriff and then-Sup. Ross Mirkarimi and opposed by three supervisors: Ed Jew, Aaron Peskin, and Chris Daly. City Attorney Dennis Herrera was pleased at the judge’s ruling.
“The NRA took aim at San Francisco’s Police Code,” Herrera said in a press release. “I’m proud of the efforts we’ve made to beat back these legal challenges, and preserve local laws that can save lives.”
NRA attorney C.D. Michel told the San Francisco Examiner, “This is not over, not by a long shot…What if you’re old and need glasses in the middle of the night, or you have kids at home to protect? Why are they being forced to keep their guns locked up?”
Interestingly, its not the NRA’s name on the front of the lawsuit, entitled “Espanola Jackson v. City and County of San Francisco.”
Jackson, a San Francisco native and longtime Bayview Hunter’s Point civil rights activist, has been fighting for the rights of minorities since she was old enough to hold a picket sign. She was recognized last May by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission with a “Legacy Award for a Lifetime in Human Rights Advocacy.”
So why is she advocating for unlocked guns in the home, and more lethal bullets?
“I live in the Bayview and I’m 79 years old,” she told The Guardian. “We’re mostly single women, but we need to have protection.”
She cited a recent police report she’d read of an elderly woman being assaulted by several teenage girls, just blocks from her home, as one of the many reasons she feels she needs protection in her own neighborhood.
Jackson said she’s had a lifetime of training with her firearm, although she wouldn’t identify the kind of weapon she wield. Back in the ’60s, she said, “they were calling us pistol packing mamas.” It’s that history, she said, that makes her feel safest with a gun in her drawer, where she can easily get it in case of a robbery.
But Theo Ellington — a board member of the Bayview Opera House and the Southeast Community Facilities Commission — sees the issue differently. Notably, as a member of the Young Black Democrats, he led the opposition against Mayor Ed Lee’s proposal to introduce “Stop and Frisk” policing to San Francisco. Lee abandoned the idea after activists cited rampant civil rights abuses under the policy in New York City.
Ellington thinks that overturning the San Francisco’s gun ordinances would be a bad idea. “We face a much greater risk if we fail to take measures to prevent [gun] accidents,” Ellington told us. “The last thing we want is for any weapons to be in the hands of children or for potential misuse.”
He has reason to be worried about the Bayview. Recent city statistics show an upswing in most crime categories in the district from 2011 to 2012, from homicides and rape to vehicle theft and burglaries. National studies have shown gun owners or their family members are more likely to get shot by guns kept in homes than are intruders. Public safety means different things in different areas, Ellington said, especially “when we’re dealing with a population that is plagued by gun violence.”
APPETITE San Francisco doesn’t lack for comfort food. The last decade’s wave of twists on hearty, familiar fare has insured most neighborhoods aren’t without elevated burgers and grown-up childhood favorites. Two new restaurants, opened in September, continue and update the trend.
Guerrero and 22nd Street has long been one of my favorite corners. Whether enjoying a pint at the Liberties, a cocktail at retro fabulous bar Lone Palm, or house charcuterie at Beast and the Hare, at this intersection I feel transported, encouraged to linger and take in my surroundings, as if in Europe. In Company’s big picture windows, vintage red chairs and retro lamps make the space even more welcoming than it was before, as Tao Cafe. Lunch is idyllic: a book, a sandwich, and a bowl of soup becomes a way of spoiling myself.
Dinner is likewise mellow, families and couples confirming a local vibe. It’s clear in early months that while Company may not be revolutionary destination dining, chef-owners Karen Hoffman (from Four Seasons Newport Beach and Jardiniere) and Jason Poindexter (Four Seasons Chicago and San Francisco) offer tranquil surroundings and well-executed food. The ubiquitous upscale burger is there: “Breadand Butter” burger ($14), a patty of ground chuck and oxtail, topped with Madeira-glazed pioppini mushrooms and decadent triple creme brie. At lunch, vegetarian stands up to burger and pork offerings: grilled eggplant and house ricotta panini ($11) is layered with rapini/broccoli rabé and romesco sauce. Smoky eggplant and ricotta are in harmony: warm, luxurious, almost healthy. A bowl of squash soup, savory with duck confit, brightened by citrus reduction, is $8 but as an add-on cup to a lunch entree is merely $3.
At dinner, salads are vivid, unlisted vegetables one night in a “crisp vegetable salad” ($9) being beets, cucumber, and avocado over sweet gem lettuce, tossed with feta and toasted pine nuts in a basil mint vinaigrette. House-cured salmon salad ($11) is likewise fresh and silky, with cucumber and beets in yogurt dill dressing. Crispy confit chicken wings ($9) are especially tender, accented with heat (and color) from red jalapenos and fried mint leaves. Syrah-braised short ribs ($23) are cooked in harissa, evoking Middle Eastern intrigue over whipped garnet yams and charred rapini.
With four beers on draft, like intense peach notes of Widmer Bros. BRRR Seasonal Red Ale from Portland ($6), and a shorter wine list (heavy on France, Italy, California), there are cocktails sans hard liquor from Assistant General Manager Russell Morton. While I don’t get excited about soju and wine cocktails, preferring robust spirits to mild soju, Morton elevates an amaretto sour into an almond cherry sour ($6), keeping house amaretto tart rather than too sweet, with lemon, cherry bitters, and brandied cherries.
Midwestern brother-sister duo Jess and Matt Voss opened Jamber, serving gourmet pub food from Chef Peter Baker with California-only wines and beers, all on tap. The siblings’ care shows in hand-assembled tables, chairs made from wine barrels, wines selected from wineries they personally visited, a hip, industrial vibe warmed by woods and graffiti art in the loft-like space with a walled front patio.
Wines (happily, there are options: 2.5 oz. and 5 oz. glasses, 1/2 or full jugs), like Darcie Kent Gruner Veltliner from Monterey or a Margerum Grenache Blanc from Santa Barbara, flow easily from taps, with beers such as Almanac’s Farmhouse Ale or a hibiscus saison, Pacific Brewing Lab’s Nautulis. In my visits, there’s a relaxed welcome from staff best experienced sitting at the rustic wood bar. Jess’ bacon jam recipe is a highlight: a savory, textured pleasure of a spread, no matter what it’s served with. Mr. Meatloaf ($15) is the star, a hefty, tender slab of buffalo meatloaf wrapped in bacon, accompanied by mashed potatoes and roasted carrots. I often find myself bored by big hunks of ground meat. Not so here. Jamber’s meatloaf is about as good as meatloaf gets.
Two more standouts: PB & Jam ($11) is a hunk of pork belly layered in a sandwich with peanut butter and that Jamber bacon jam. Most starters, like pretzels and fried mozzarella, are on the heavy side; the top one is easily Parmesan rosemary mashed potater tots ($8) — warm mashed potatoes oozing out of lightly fried breading — with, yes, Jamber bacon jam. After a decent mac ‘n cheese ($10) or freshly generous salads ($7–$9), a pot pie ($12–$14), namely ratatouille, sounded brilliant but was a soggy, funky mash of vegetables in flavorless crust. Likewise, the beet Jamburger ($10, there is a veal-beef burger for $12) made me sorry I took the vegetarian path. Despite fresh bread, it tasted like slices of beet on a bun rather than the creative beet-veggie patties I’ve had that never replace a “real” burger but can be a worthy sandwich on their own.
Despite a couple difficult dishes, there’s enough here to love at this all-day SoMa spot for a drink and a filling bite.
THEATER Tom Cruise, clad in military drag, descended last week by RAF helicopter into Trafalgar Square in what is best described as forced entertainment but was in fact a time-wasting scene from his upcoming blockbuster All You Need Is Kill. Not quite simultaneously but with considerably more stealth, I advanced into South London’s Battersea area, in a completely uncoordinated foray, to see the latest from famed Sheffield-based pomo theater artists Forced Entertainment.
Battersea Arts Centre, a bright red and white 1893 former town hall, is midway through a restoration process called “playgrounding” (putting artists and audiences at the center of the architectural redesign), and its many arches, rococo balustrades, and mosaic tile floors thrive amid an attractive combination of new paint and weathered surfaces. The place is an enviable model for an arts organization: a warm and bustling hub of community activity that is also a serious arts incubator and presenter, boasting 72 performance-tested spaces and a live-in residency program geared to the truly experimental and exceptional.
A nice place for Forced Entertainment to land, enthused artistic director Tim Etchells in a short interview before the evening’s program. He said FE was in fact lucky to find itself there, space in London being at a premium. This is apparently true for even so internationally successful and storied a group as Forced Entertainment.
And speaking of stories, audiences would be up to their ears and eyes in them that night — or rather the loose ends of stories, volleys, and nose-dives from a meta-narrative barrage that manifested itself across a series of readings, performances, and neon. The sign aglow in the Café Bar, where I spoke with Etchells, said simply, “end of story.” Another one said, “Shouting Your Demands from the Rooftop Should Be Considered a Last Resort.”
(All the variously colored neon phrases spread throughout the foyer and adjoining bar were by Etchells, whose many projects outside FE include visual art and writing. The evening kicked off with a book launch of his Vacuum Days, a large hospital-green compendium of daily headlines and announcements — the result of a 2011 internet-based project in which Etchells riffed on the news of the moment in dada-esque fashion. Flipping through the pages was an instant reminder of two things: it had been a hell of a year, and headlines are always loaded.)
The centerpiece of the evening was The Coming Storm. Forced Entertainment’s latest piece (in an unbroken line of group-devised work going back to the company’s founding in 1984) begins unassumingly, with the six performers in their street clothes lined up onstage facing the audience. One of them holds a microphone, and begins by slowly articulating the necessary ingredients of a “good story.” Soon the other performers grow visibly dubious and restless, until one snatches the microphone away and weighs in with a whopper of a tale, never completed, because also interrupted by another greedy storyteller.
And so on through aggressive, sly, and puerile mic-swipings and gradual, unexpected permutations — as those without the microphone do any manner of things to create their own counter-narratives or merely sabotage the one dominating at the moment. It’s a confluence of fractured accounts arranged like a 20-car pile-up, or a game of keep away, or a gentle dance of despair, with occasional live score, random costume changes, and a cluster of branches embraced (and debunked) as a soothing shelter of forest.
The Coming Storm ends up an exercise in failure and resilience at once, since even if no one completes a tale, the audience rushes to fill the void —our minds trained to shape every squiggle into a recognizable human form, however personal or outlandish the starting point. In that rowdy mutual tangle comes quiet reflection from the interstices of language and history.
It left one in just the right frame of mind to receive the last performance of the night, Sight Is the Sense that Dying People Tend to Lose First, Etchells’ monologue for New York actor Jim Fletcher (lately of the title role in Elevator Repair Service’s acclaimed production, Gatz).
Sight proved no return to narrative but rather a concatenation of eccentric observations and pronouncements, undertaken by a nameless po-faced character standing center stage and meeting the audience’s gaze in a free-associative unburdening of “meaning,” desultory definitions that went along the lines of “Socks are gloves for the feet. Snow is cold. Water is the same thing as ice. In America things are bigger. America is a country. Korea is also a country.” Then, some time later, “Cats are afraid of dogs. Dogs like to chase cats. Some dogs like to bite the tire of a passing car.” Throughout this eccentric cataloguing and its naïve reverie, the audience again acts to complete the work wordlessly. Subtle suggestions come, vistas briefly open, demurring exceptions and musings flicker by, as the audience is tossed one wry bone after another, and a slow vague pathos accumulates.
FILM In the 1950s and ’60s silent comedy — which had hitherto seemed as extinct and useless as the dodo — experienced a popular revival, sparked by a Walter Kerr article in Life magazine and sustained by television broadcasts, compilation documentaries, the general rise of a cineaste culture, and the still-breathing status of a few old favorites. (Buster Keaton, for one, spent a very busy last 15 years making guest appearances on both the big and small screen.) That nostalgic interest didn’t greatly effect new Hollywood movies of the era, however, apart from a brief vogue for bloated homages like It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), The Great Race (1965), and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), exercises in slapstick elephantiasis that placed mistaken belief in the notion that bigger is always better.
In France, by contrast, at least a couple notable careers emerged devoted to honoring and elaborating on the tropes of silent comedy. The obvious one belonged to Jacques Tati, whose elegant orchestration of the clash between progress and fallible humanity made the modern world its subject while pretty much dispensing with sound (or at least dialogue) cinema altogether.
But Tati also had a protégé of sorts, Pierre Étaix, who had his own similar yet distinct run of films that made comparatively little impact outside France. If they’re almost entirely unknown to us today, that’s in large part because legal complications kept them unavailable for many long years. It’s only recently that they’ve been restored and re-released, reaching the US in a traveling retrospective that lands at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center this weekend and next. “Pierre Étaix: Lost and Found” is well worth crossing the bridge for — the five features and three shorts it encompasses represent a decade of work for the most part so delightful it seems downright perverse we’re just now making their acquaintance.
Smitten by circus clowning at an early age but also developing considerable skills as a musician and designer, Étaix began a stage career in his late teens. But it was his talent as an illustrator that caught the eye of Tati, for whom he became an assistant during the four years of preproduction on the writer-director-actor’s third feature Mon Oncle (1958). After that Étaix returned to live performance with considerable success, his comedy act at one point opening for quintessential Gallic pop idol Johnny Halladay. It was suggested he try making short films, and the elaborate second such effort, Happy Anniversary, wound up winning the 1963 Oscar for Best Live Action Short.
Still, his producer was reluctant to commit to a feature, so Étaix and his writing partner Jean-Claude Carriere wrote a script episodic enough that it could be released as several separate shorts if necessary. The Suitor (1962) put the star’s flexible prior character — an approximate cross between Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Steve Carrell — into a series of awkward courtships in response to his exasperated parents’ concern that he will never marry. (The funniest involves his wrangling an extremely drunk woman home from a nightclub.)
It was a success, prompting the much more ambitious Yo Yo (1965), an absurdist microcosm of 20th century history with his titular protagonist reeling from Roaring Twenties to World War II to the gray flannel suit corporate era. The next year’s As Long as You’re Healthy retrenched a bit — it really was three separate shorts strung together (a fifth was rather inexplicably cut and released separately as Feeling Good). Three were amusing; the fourth, involving a farmer, a hunter, and two picnickers creating havoc for each other on a rural day out, is a masterpiece of slapstick intricacy.
After a circus tour, he made his first color feature, 1969’s Le Grand Amour. It had just a wisp of plot (involving the specter of infidelity threatening hero Pierre’s marriage to Florence, played by Étaix’s actual spouse Annie Fratellini), but a surfeit of exquisitely realized gags including a marvelous, surreal dream sequence with locomotive beds.
But then he made an apparently fatal mistake: taking an interesting gamble on 1971’s Land of Milk and Honey, a caustic documentary (and, to an extent, parody of documentaries) that starts out as deliberately clichéd ode to La France then rapidly turns into a prolonged sneer at its citizens. Dwelling on talentless would-be singers in some Gong Show-like forum and ordinary, unattractive bodies on full display at the beach, no more impressed by the hippies than the bourgeoise, its portrait of a vapidly complacent populace struck a nerve when the 1969-shot film was finally released in 1971. It was the wrong nerve — the movie was loathed, and feels mean-spirited even today. Still, it hardly should have ended Étaix’s entire screen career as star and director.
Somehow it did, though, more or less. Étaix found financing for just one more feature of his own (1987’s autumnal Monsieur is Getting Older, not in the Rafael series), otherwise occupying himself with more stage work and TV. He also acted for an interesting mix of directors including Nagisa Oshima, Philip Kaufman, Otar Iosseliani, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and Aki Kaurismäki — in addition to having earlier worked with Robert Bresson, Louis Malle, and (in the notorious, unreleased The Day the Clown Cried) Jerry Lewis. Now in his mid-80s, he’s stuck around long enough to enjoy his prime work being rediscovered and celebrated for its sometimes hilarious, often near-balletic ingenuity.
STREET SEEN Our stylist for this week’s “Icy Hot” photoshoot Dick Van Dick was a little twerked from the party scene the night before, but in order to properly express the fashion aesthetic of his Arcam style collective, he was good enough to indulge me with a single quote.
“I believe in the power of the retrospective fashion sense,” the Bay Area native texted me. “Nothing new ever happens. Recycle, reuse, resell.” Read: vintage couture, the eternal refuge of the low budget club kid.
Van Dick has been snapping necks with his vogue ball club kids designs of late. Mesh face masks attached to Rainbow Brite-neon weaves are his signature, fly accoutrement that is perfectly soundtracked by “Rok U Baby,” the vogue track he just completed with recent Goldie winner, Matrixxman of DJ duo 5kinandbone5.
For our shoot — which took place in the charming Tendernob apartment of photographer Cabure Bonugli on a grey afternoon — we asked that Van Dick incorporate pieces from local stores into his fierce looks. But he did pepper the models with the studded berets and clawed leather gloves that he makes to order for interested clientele and sells alongside his thrift store finds. Hard werkers, cop this for the winter.
(I’m telling you, you gotta see it in the print version though — flip to page 19)
FILM With a running time of just under three hours, writer-director-star Patrick Wang’s In the Family rewards patient viewers with its quietly observed tale of a man battling for custody of his son.
Wang’s debut feature has already earned local acclaim, picking up both the Best Narrative Feature Award and the Emerging Filmmaker Award at the 2012 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. It returns in an expanded engagement right when Hollywood is rolling out its flashiest year-end fare, which In the Family neither resembles nor aspires to resemble; its story unfolds via remarkably low-key scenes, most of which are shot using extremely long single takes. Not many films, even self-produced indie dramas, dare allow so much breathing room into each sequence.
This technique works, for the most part, because the story is so compelling. Joey (Wang) and Cody (Trevor St. John) are a well-matched couple in small-town Tennessee, busy with jobs — Joey’s a contractor; Cody’s a teacher — and raising six-year-old Chip (Sebastian Brodziak, who delivers a natural performance that’s thankfully more precocious than precious). Their home life is relaxed and routine, focused on their lively, dragon-obsessed boy. In the Family takes its time revealing their relationship’s origins, with flashbacks so briskly edited they stand out in contrast to the film’s otherwise unhurried pace. Chip’s mother, it turns out, is Cody’s late wife; some time after her death, it’s Cody who initiates a romance with the laconic, truck-driving guy who’s been helping renovate his house.
But even before we learn this, tragedy strikes: a car accident gravely injures Cody. The first sign of In the Family‘s looming drama occurs at the hospital, where Cody’s sister Eileen (Kelly McAndrew), brother-in-law Dave (Peter Hermann), and mother Sally (Park Overall) have gathered. When a nurse insists that “only family members are allowed to visit,” nobody stands up for Joey. When Cody dies, grief washes over everyone. Tempers flare when it’s revealed that Cody’s will is six years old, written before his relationship with Joey. When they were together, Joey admits, “We didn’t talk about the big stuff” — and the legal consequences are devastating. Guardianship of Chip, it seems, goes to Eileen.
“Nothing makes sense,” Cody weeps to Joey during a flashback that takes place right after his wife’s death. It’s a sentiment Joey fully understands, but Wang avoids scenes of tear-stained arguments or other typical melodrama clichés to convey the depths of his character’s despair. A particularly moving flashback recalls the night the two first kissed after bonding over Chip Taylor tunes (the songwriter cameos in the film, and his melancholy music is a recurring motif). In the next scene, set in the film’s present, Joey is wearing the same striped shirt Cody had on that night.
In the Family‘s biggest contrivance is containing most of its last act in a deposition scene, complete with a cartoonishly slick lawyer whose cruel questions make sure the viewer knows that homophobia (and racism) are both themes here. Joey’s response is a lengthy monologue loaded with exposition (and probably more words than the rest of the script’s pages, combined). It’s a bottom-heavy ending to a film that otherwise prefers observing at a distance — shooting Joey from behind rather than showing his face when he learns that Cody has died; allowing important action to occur off screen or behind closed doors; and using its long, wordless scenes to convey delicate, organically-shifting emotions. It’s a “message movie” that prefers subtlety over speechifying, and is all the more powerful for it. *
DANCE Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ new Director of Performing Arts, received thunderous applause even before he had said a welcoming word to the capacity crowd in the venue’s lobby. Such is this exceptional artist’s charisma. When he told them that he wanted YBCA to become accessible to people who in the past may not have felt welcome there, they roared. It was to be that kind of evening.
For “Clas/sick Hip Hop,” Bamuthi’s first program in his new position, he drew on what he knows so well — not just hip-hop as dance, but as a culture that has spread around the globe. Still an essentially urban genre, it started as a popular expression that is moving from the community into the concert hall. It’s how dance genres have always evolved, from India to Egypt to France. For the time being, hip-hop seems to thrive in both places.
While San Francisco’s yearly International Hip Hop DanceFest has a rich tradition of presenting theatricalized versions, Bamuthi went back to the origins of the art as an essentially social practice. He structured “Clas/sick” in two parts: the first half as a dance party with guest artists freestyling, the second half based on more formalized “battles” between individual practitioners.
If anybody still needs convincing of hip-hop’s potential as an expressive dance language, “Clas/sick” made as good a point as one could wish for. This sextet of bravura performers mesmerized without theatrical accoutrements, just working with music, a torso, and four limbs. They seemed to ignore physical restrictions such as gravity, balance, time, or verticality. No ballerina can slither in her toe shoes as they did in their sneakers. And who has ever of supporting turns on an ankle? While many of the moves — head spins, backspins, windmills, popping and locking — looked familiar, these soloists rethought the basic vocabulary and made them their own.
<P>Levi Allen (a.k.a. I Dummy), the 19-year-old obviously joint-less virtuoso from Oakland, dances the Oakland street-derived style Turf, while Marquesa “NonStop” Scott, who manipulates time from super slow and superfast, performs Dubstep. Arthur “Lil Crabe” Cadre turns himself into pretzels while hopping on one hand. I was previously unaware of what “Memphis Jookin” is — but it was clear that Ladia Yate’s platform shoes were a health risk even just standing, let alone dancing in them. (Sensibly she later safeguarded her feet in sneakers.) As for Ana “Rokafella” Garcia, she magnificently overcame gravitational pull by shooting horizontally along the floor only to rock up as smoothly as a tree righting itself.
But none of these physically virtuosic performers approached the depth of Rennie Harris, who some 20 years ago started the move towards developing choreographic structures that make hip-hop more than an expression of individuality. He no longer pops and locks as he used to, but he remains enthralling, with split-second mood shifts from rage to vulnerability, aggression to pride, and fatigue to full power ahead. Harris’ performance impressed the sense of a human being as complex and indomitable.
In the first half the audience danced lustily — so much fun to watch — to DJ Elan Vytal’s spinning, while the professionals brought in their own tracks. For the battles, Matthew Szemela took his fiddle to places where I didn’t know it could go. It’s not clear whether these hip-hop performers had ever faced each other, but here they had to step beyond themselves and relate to a partner. They approached each other wearily much as they might on a street or a boxing arena, throwing out challenges and invitations, finally coming to an understanding (or not). Scott and Allen’s sliding and toe moves were reminiscent of ice skating, while Cadre’s duet with Garcia came as close to a courting encounter as you are likely to find in hip-hop.
It remains to be seen where Bamuthi intends to take the performing arts at YBCA. One thing is clear: he recognizes excellence when he sees it. He also throws a helluva a good party. *
Tofu and Whiskey Arbiter of good taste, Thrill Jockey Records is officially 20 years old. In another era, in another business, this would merely be a back-slapping milestone. In the present stuck-barreling-downwards roller coaster of the music industry, it’s an anniversary worthy of widespread jubilation.
“It’s a mind-boggling number of years,” label founder Bettina Richards says during a phone call from the main office in Chicago, where the label’s been based since 1995.
And how else would a record label celebrates its birthday than with a series of familial concerts? There have been shows booked in key Thrill Jockey cities such as New York (where it began in ’92), London, San Francisco, LA, Chicago. Those shows (some of which have already gone down) boast lineups packed with label notables Tortoise, the Sea and Cake, Trans Am, Liturgy, Future Islands, and Matmos.
The San Francisco version of the traveling Thrill Jockey rodeo will be headlined by the label’s Bay Area acts: psych-rockers Wooden Shjips and drone duo Barn Owl, along with Liturgy, Trans Am, Man Forever, and Eternal Tapestry (Dec. 13, 8pm, $18. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF; www.theindependentsf.com).
SF is considered a key Thrill Jockey city for a handful of reasons; there’s the aforementioned connection with Wooden Shjips and Barn Owl, plus, one of the label’s earliest releases was a band from here called A Minor Forest. And there’s another super-secret new signing set for 2013 (sorry, you won’t learn more than that here). “We’ve had a long, fond affection for the way San Franciscans can create super individual sounds,” Richards says.
Though they create different styles of music, Wooden Shjips and Barn Owl had some similarities that stood out to Richards when she was in the process of signing each. “They both share this transportive quality…taking you to an entirely different realm. With the Wooden Shjips, it’s an active feeling of motion, and with Barn Owl, it’s really an escape. It’s hard to put into words, but they both do something compelling to me.”
It’s that compulsion that’s lead Richards to many of her choices for the roster. She tells this story about one one the label’s most beloved acts: “Trans Am, way back in 1993, were the B-side of a seven-inch that John McEntire from Tortoise had recorded, and he gave me the seven-inch. It just happened that a week later they were playing. I saw them and was like, ‘oh my god, I love them.'”
While most of the acts have been found through musician friends and pals of the label, there’s the occasional random encounter, like Sidi Toure, the gifted Malian singer-songwriter. His CD arrived via snail-mail to the Chicago office right before Christmas last year. “We don’t usually get packages from Mali. I was on a drive to go see my folks, popped it in, and I just couldn’t believe it.” I tell Richards I had the same initial reaction to Toure’s mesmerizing compositions. “And the weirder thing,” she adds, “was that he sent it because he’s a really big Radian fan, which is a band from Austria with like, atonal drums. You just wouldn’t have guessed that, right?”
Austrian prog band HP Zinker was the first band she ever signed — at the time (’92), she was living New York City and was still bartending and working at a record shop. In fact, she did that for the first eight years of the label. The band lived in a decaying squat where White Zombie used to reside, and they all ended up moving in to Richards’ studio apartment. Richards lets out a raucous laugh recalling those early days.
From signing HP Zinker, to the label’s 330th release planned for next year, Thrill Jockey has maintained a comparatively sparkling reputation as a label that treats its artists well.
I asked Wooden Shjips drummer Omar Ahsanuddin why the label is so beloved and he replied: “Because they know their shit, are music fans, and mostly because [Richards] is a straight-shooter. As Phil Manley once told me: if you like getting paid on time, you’ll like Thrill Jockey.”
Barn Owl’s Jon Porras said, “It’s great to work with a label that trusts an artistic vision…Thrill Jockey upholds a level of professionalism and is open to unconventional ideas.”
“I think one of the main things, at least to me, is that these bands would be doing what they’re doing whether anybody is paying attention or not,” says Richards. “This is something they’re compelled to do. And in the same sense, we’re compelled to put it out, whether it makes sense or not.”
And that’s important in this current musical climate, a time when the mainstream labels are floundering, record sales have plummeted, and free music is a click away. “Trying to combat it would be like trying to swim against the tide. You’d exhaust yourself and get nowhere. Instead, we just try to adapt,” Richards says. “We’re small, so we’re flexible and can adapt quickly. The people that work here are super music geeks, that keeps them really involved.”
One shift has been the number of releases it puts out. It jumped a few years back from 10 releases a year, to three or four a month, including small print, specific collector releases, which appeal to the super music geek market.
In a nostalgic mood, given the anniversary shows, I ask Richards to look back and pick out what she’d want her legacy to be, after this thrill ride is over: “I hope people are as attached to some of the bands and the records that I am. I hope to, as an octogenarian, sit in my house and blast a Barn Owl record and really feel the same feeling I felt the first time I heard it. And I hope it’s as treasured to them as it is to us.”
Warm, fuzzy feelings abound.
REED FLUTE THERAPY
In these stressful last days of the year, we likely all need a modicum of relaxation, just a taste. Local reed flute master Eliyahu Sills, best known as part of the the Qadim Ensemble, has just released an acoustic solo tribute to the sacred music of Sufism; a haunting record meant to assist in meditation, yoga, and just some overall relaxation techniques. Song of the Reeds is 10 songs of original improvisations, created on a flute made from a reed; can’t get more organic than that. www.qadimmusic.com.
That Vivian Girls-Woods collaboration just keeps getting cuter. It’s fascinating how it really feels split between the two out-fronts: Cassie Ramone and Kevin Morby, one part jingly lo-fi girl-group, one part folky, acoustic forest-dweller. With all the fuzz and tender melodies on half of the songs, it gets inevitable comparisons to Best Coast, but that’s only a shade of its output. Check the new karaoke-filled, warped VHS-style video for “Baby,” off Our House on the Hill, released this month on Woodsist, then go back and try alternating tracks such as “On My Time” or “Get Lost.” It makes for an engrossing, push me/pull you dynamic that will translate nicely to the stage. Plus, the Brooklyn band plays with our own headlining post-punk heroes, Grass Widow.
Another Brooklyn export: infectious 11-piece Afrobeat band Antibalas is coming our way, with its first full-length album in five years — a self-titled LP released in August on Daptone Records — horns blazing. The long-running act has been making a big, boisterous noise since the late ’90s, and closely followed in Fela Kuti’s steps, yet has suffered in relative obscurity until recently. Earlier this year, the New York Times asserted its belief that a post-Fela! world (i.e. the rise of crossover acts like Vampire Weekend, and the wildly popular run of Fela! on Broadway), might finally “catch up” and catch on to the skill of Antibalas. With Afrolicious DJs Pleasuremaker and Senor Oz.
American Apparel’s appeal fades when we discovered this line of comfy basics made right here in the city. Marine Layer (2209 Chestnut, SF; 498 Hayes, SF. www.marinelayer.com) specializes in men’s and women’s tees, but we love its warm-yet-trendy cropped sweater, whose hemline dips low in the back.
OTTER WAX BAR, $13
Ditch the wet look and feel: wax your sneakers, jeans, and canvas or denim clothing. Seal in that fresh feeling — also available in heat-activated dressing form — at Voyager (365 Valencia, SF. www.thevoyagershop.com). Just rub it on and you’ll be fly and dry.
VAUTE COUTURE EMILY COAT, $356.25
We swoon for this online brand’s (www.vautecouture.com) animal product-free — no itchy woolens or dead cow here! — fashion. Thanks to the Emily’s tie-front belt, winter-time no longer means you have to look like a shapeless sack of spuds.
PAUL MADONNA CANVAS SHOULDER BAG, $23
Local cartoonist Madonna’s “All Over Coffee” comic and books are essential — his illustration of the Golden Gate Bridge one Crissy Field on this kicky bag is a sparkling example of his art, available at one of our favorite bookstores ever, Green Arcade (1680 Market, SF. www.thegreenarcade.com)
JENNIFER BAIR JACKET, $124
These one-of-a-kind faux suede coats with vintage-inspired print lining make great cover-ups on milder winter days. Residents Apparel Gallery‘s (541 Octavia, SF. www.ragsf.com) selection of made-in-the-city pieces is a great one-stop shop for Bay Area gear.
SAN FRANPSYCHO BEANIE, $20
We found you an everyday hat straight from the surfer-bros of San Franpsycho, whose shop (505 Divisadero, SF. www.sanfranpsycho.com) sells the makings of insta-cred among sporty, hip types in town.
BENEDUCI HANK BOOTS, INQUIRE FOR PRICE
These brass tack soles will power you down winter-wet sidewalks but honestly, you could rock Beneduci‘s (www.beneduci.com) Italian leather kicks year-round in style. Local cred: the brand makes everything right here in SF. The boots will be available at Firehouse 8 (1648 Pacific, SF) on Sat/15 and Sun/16 and on Dec. 21-22.
KURABO BLACK 13 OUNCE MENS DENIM PANTS, $128
The perfect pair of pants, proudly produced in SF by Taylor Stitch (383 Valencia, SF. www.taylorstitch.com) for stylish gents? Possibly. Dig the local provenance — Taylor Stitch is bursting with hometown-made style. And the deep black will hide unsightly rain splashes.
RAINSHIELD O2 UNISEX CYCLING JACKET, $25
Ultralightweight, breathable, packable, and insanely cute, these zip-ups, available at Market Street Cyclery (1592 Market, SF. www.marketstreetcyclescom) will keep the drops off your pop-a-wheelie while helping up your mist-shrouded visibility factor.
CAT WALKING STICK UMBRELLA, $30
Yes, yes, we get the raining cats and dogs joke, but this is the purrfect shield against the storm: a sky-blue kitty cavorting on a midnight blue canvas, protecting you on this seriously sturdy yet lightweight piece from the San Francisco Umbrella Company (www.sfumbrella .com). Cats!
OPINION I’m a San Francisco taxi driver. The reality on the streets is terrible.
Cab drivers are being squeezed from all sides. The Municipal Transportation Agency is part of the problem, because for the past year or so it has been energetically focused on enhancing the city’s revenues by selling taxi medallions (for $200,000) and putting hundreds of new cabs in service, at the expense of drivers.
That happened to coincide with the introduction of Sidecar and Lyft, to which the MTA’s response is painfully slow and ineffective. Neither problem is being resolved to the benefit of drivers.
SideCar and Lyft pretend that they’re just folks doing community service car-pooling, while being backed by millions of venture capital dollars. They are trying to be taxi services while avoiding using the word “taxi” in their names. They don’t want to talk about driver safety or insurance issues.
Cab drivers are heavily regulated for a reason — for your safety. There is accountability in the system.
There is no oversight of the new industry interlopers. The way these companies operate is not safe and not legal. When I went through my city-required week of driver training, photographing, fingerprinting, background check, and fee paying, everyone involved took it very seriously. If a cab driver screws up in any way, the company pulls him or her off the street.
Taxi drivers are held to a high standard of performance. We’re not the pizza delivery guy who’s now using his car to “ride-share” people around. Most of the time that won’t matter — until it really does matter. With SideCar and Lyft, if something goes wrong, you’ll find yourself with no protection and nowhere to turn.
I’m a night shift driver, and let me make it clear: Driving a taxi is a very hard job. You have to know the city, you have to deal with all kinds of people, have the patience of Job, make no mistakes, and be okay with little better than minimum wage — although there are no wages for cab drivers, what you make is whatever business you can manage to find — with no guarantees or benefits. The driver is the sole merchant, and he or she takes all the risks.
The regulatory framework needs to catch up with the technology, which is here to stay. The larger cab companies already use GPS technology. Luxor uses the “Taxi Magic” or “Cabulous” app to connect cabs to people who need rides.
But the taxi industry is already in a situation where, as a Guardian editorial noted, “too many cabs chasing too little money leads to bad behavior — and bad drivers.” The cease and desist order against the interlopers is being ignored. The fines imposed on them are being challenged and appealed.
So the industry is dysfunctional, with lawyers on all sides making things worse — and the drivers are the only ones who are suffering the consequences.
OPINION My young friend ate school meals in San Francisco for 12 years. With food in short supply at home, he had little choice but to eat cafeteria offerings, but he was disheartened by the rubbery meat patties and limp vegetables that characterize frozen reheated school lunches. That’s why he was thrilled to hear that SFUSD wants to replace frozen meals with freshly prepared entrees. Although his school lunch days are over, his younger siblings still rely on the cafeterias. He hopes they will never again be served a meal still frozen in the middle, or the lifeless, tasteless food he remembers.
For years, parents and students have identified “fresh healthy food” as the most wanted improvement to school meals. SFUSD has tried to respond; middle and high schools offer lunch choices prepared daily on site, in addition to the traditional frozen reheated entree. But now SFUSD is ready to move forward with a new meal contract that would ensure all meals at every school are freshly prepared locally.
School officials are bringing the proposed contract, with Oakland-based Revolution Foods, to the Board of Education on Dec. 11. With board approval, students will be enjoying freshly prepared meals as early as January 7th.
Healthier food, happier students and parents — what’s not to like? The price, of course. In expensive San Francisco, with above-average food and labor costs, the money the federal government provides for school meals for low income students is already insufficient to cover the cost of serving those meals. Replacing cheaper frozen entrees with freshly prepared offerings drives the price higher still, and despite the passage of Prop 30, SFUSD continues to face major financial challenges.
The board should approve the new meal contract despite its higher cost — because academic achievement, equity and proper nutrition are not unrelated issues. Better food means better nourished students; healthy kids take fewer sick days and are better able to learn. Kids who eat only a few bites of unappealing meals return to class without the fuel they need to power them through an academic afternoon. Hungry students struggle to focus, or even to stay awake; they can be quick to anger (a condition school counselors call “hangry” — angry because hungry) and disrupt learning for everyone.
SFUSD’s student nutrition department runs the largest public feeding program in the city; the majority of school cafeteria patrons are low-income children of color, so offering better food is an equity issue.
If the board nixes the new contract, meal costs will still increase in 2013, with food, milk and delivery prices already rising. So SFUSD would find itself paying more for the same frozen meals students reject now.
The SF Board of Education meets at 6pm, in the Irving G. Breyer Board Meeting Room on the ground floor at 555 Franklin Street.
Dana Woldow is the parent of three SFUSD graduates, and has been an advocate for better school food since 2002.
LATIN DISH Whenever politicians start talking immigration reform it always reminds me of the story—perhaps chisme—about that guy, who, you know, burned his neighbor’s house down, and then when the neighbors jumped over the fence to escape the fire, he complained bitterly, just bitterly, that they were trampling his rose garden.
It’s the same with the pejoratives “illegal alien,” or in a kinder mood “undocumented worker.” Both of these terms, like the phrase “immigration reform,” are tricks with words to hide the true status of this unique community.
Just think about the language for a minute. These 12 million human beings, this mass of humanity that has flooded over the southern border of the US, are neither illegal nor undocumented. The precise and accurate English word is refugees.
Why are they refugees? For the most part, the great majority of them are fleeing some sort of political, economic or military chaos—the metaphoric burning house.
You want to know who is burning down the house?
US foreign policy is like a match setting fire everywhere, a sort of scorched Earth in regards to Latin America.
Just so we don’t recount a whole catalogue of arson that is the story of US-Latin America relations in the last century, here’s a current example, that of Honduras, somewhere in Central America.
Even a democrat like President Obama couldn’t resist kicking out the elected president, Manuel Zelaya, in the middle of the night, as if he was a banana worker. I’m talking about the president of the country known as Honduras. The president. Sent out of the country in his pajamas in the middle of the night before the astonished eyes of Latin Americans, a noble action in support of a decrepit oligarchy that has impoverished the country for more than a hundred years as if in a magical-realism novel. And this coup d’ etat, this destabilization of the country, ushered in a whole new level of chaos with total impunity for the oligarchy and the military.
In the aftermath of that tragic June day, hundreds of people would be killed or disappeared. Journalists were assassinated at will. A country so on fire it now holds the sad distinction as the most violent place on earth, more violent deaths per capita than Iraq, Afghanistan, West Oakland or La Misión. Cartels up the yin000-yang — even the US Peace Corps pulled out, couldn’t handle the heat. Are we clear about this?
Now remind me — how many refugees were created by this chaos, by this sickening rerun of the banana-republic-soap-opera bullshit of the 20th century?
Then after his quick knock out in Honduras, President Obama showed his true hand by deporting 400,000 refugees a year in the greatest forced migration in human history. Many of these deportees were sent back to — Honduras, the house he just set on fire.
So you see — it’s a two-faced game, with a perfect cycle of opportunism.
Here’s part of the hypocrisy with this phony immigration reform debate. For the politicos — they only pontificate about their own little border. But this chaos doesn’t just destabilize the sacred border of the US, but also the southern border of Mexico, of Guatemala, of Belize, you know, the domino effect, something that politicos don’t talk about because they have no knowledge of geography.
Now why not use the word refugees? And since the US has just been re-elected to another three-year term on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, shall we stop the name calling and get serious about the issue?
But wait — if they are named refugees then it would change their status, actually accord them rights and protection — just like any refugee in Africa, Asia or the Middle East. A whole series of UN protocols would come into effect. It would force this country to look hard and deep into its bloody history with the rest of the continent. What politico wants that? And what politico wants to lose million of workers who can be exploited perhaps for generations as long they are kept in the shadows?
So the next time you see someone who might be a refugee — especially a Latino, since Latinos seem to be the main focus of Immigration Control and Enforcement — ask yourself what country that person might be from. Ask yourself if the US created some chaos there — and if you don’t know, try reading some critical histories of the continent. Guatemala Country Occupied by Eduardo Galeano, Or Empire’s Workshop by Greg Grandin. or Mastersof War, by Clara Nieto or, well — you get my drift.
As long as the US doesn’t stop creating chaos, propping up mummies and dropping matches all over the neighborhood, you won’t be able to build a fence high enough or long enough to stop the flood of refugees from escaping the fire. Regardless what you do with the “reform” you’ll soon have millions more refugees.
As for the guy who complained about the neighbors trampling his rose garden—well, why did you burn your neighbor’s casita down for pendejo?
In a win for the NIMBY neighbors of the Haight neighborhood, the Haight Ashbury Recycling Center was gifted with its final eviction notice, ordering it out on the street by the day this story goes to print, Dec. 5.
But those who hoped this eviction would rid the neighborhood of poor people recycling bottles and cans may be disappointed — and so might local small businesses that could face some unintended consequences of the move.
The site, run by the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC), houses a community garden, native plant nursery, and recycling center. HANC battled eviction for nearly a decade as newer neighborhood associations complained to the city, saying the center was too noisy and attracted too many homeless people.
The recycling center is located at the edge of Golden Gate Park behind Kezar stadium, and has been crushing cans and busting bottles since 1974.
The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department issued several eviction notices to HANC over the years, and the process seemed to drag on, but the eviction notice from the Sheriff’s Department on Nov. 28 is likely the last nail in the coffin.
Even Sup. Christina Olague, who has championed HANC as one of their few supporters on the current Board of Supervisors, said that the recycling center was done, although representatives from Sup. Eric Mar’s office told us they were still hopeful the eviction could be delayed long enough to relocate HANC somewhere else.
Olague told us that she’d talked to Mayor Ed Lee about the issue many times, and they discussed many options. But with the finality of the eviction notice, she said, “I just don’t know what we can do.”
COAL FOR CHRISTMAS
The recycling center’s employees will lose their jobs just at the start of the winter holiday season. “The notion that they’d put people out of work before Christmas was horrendous,” Dunn said.
What will happen to HANC’s 10 employees is up in the air. “I have no idea what I’ll do,” HANC employee Brian McMahon told us, lowering his orange protective headphones to talk. He’s worked there since 1989, and his last job was at a Goodwill store. “The quote under my high school yearbook picture says ‘take it as it comes,’ and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Susan Fahey, the sheriff’s media relations officer, declined to discuss the details of how the officers would handle the eviction, saying only that “we plan accordingly.”
A staff report prepared for the Recreation and Park Commission’s Nov. 20 meeting estimated that just 0.1 percent of San Francisco’s recycling tonnage is processed at HANC, according to a report by citizen journalist Adrian Rodriguez. The agenda also said that the Department of Environment was confident that recyclers would use other nearby sites instead.
But the customers at HANC that we talked to didn’t agree.
“I think it’s necessary they have the [recycling center] here,” HANC customer Eugene Wong told us. Wong lives in the Haight, and hauls in his recyclables every six months or so for some extra pocket money. As Wong and his friend Bob Boston spoke, one of their Haight Ashbury neighbors, Rory O’Connor, surprised them as he walked up.
“Just droppin’ off my beer cans, man,” O’Connor said. Asked if he would make his way out to the Bayview recycling center when HANC closed, he said, “You’ll spend more on gas than you would even get back.”
There were quite a few neighborhood locals there that day, and more people drove into the recycling center than there were people pushing shopping carts. But it’s the folks with the shopping carts that had HANC’s opponents up in arms.
And though some — like Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius, a regular critic of HANC — are celebrating HANC’s demise, the unintended consequences should have all small businesses in the Haight Ashbury worried.
CLASS WARFARE BACKFIRES
State law requires that Californians have easy access to a “convenience zone,” basically somewhere nearby that they can collect the five-cent deposit all consumers pay for cans and bottles. HANC served that purpose for a half mile radius around its location on Frederick, near Stanyan.
“Whole Foods and Andronico’s were serviced by HANC’s existence,” Regina Dick-Endrizzi, the director of San Francisco’s Office of Small Business, told us. With HANC gone, “They will be required to buy back [bottles and cans] from local stores.”
San Francisco’s Department of Environment oversees recycling policy in the city, but did not respond to calls or emails.
The reason that HANC was being pushed out was due to a vocal few, like the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, complaining that HANC was a magnet to the homeless population looking to sell bottles and cans collected in shopping carts. That group didn’t respond by press time. Now those same poor folks may take their business from Golden Gate Park to the Haight neighborhood itself by recycling at the local Whole Foods, the new legal alternative to HANC.
Sometimes local grocery stores defy the state mandate, and instead choose to pay a state-mandated fee, Dick-Endrizzi said. If Whole Foods chooses not buy back recyclables, small businesses all over the Haight will be required by state law to do it themselves.
Suhail Sabba has owned Parkview Liquors on Stanyan Street, just two blocks from HANC, for nine years. He said that he doesn’t have the employees, storage, or scale “to handle even a portion of HANC’s customers.”
He may not have much of a choice. If small businesses don’t buy back the recyclables, they would face charges of $100 a day under California state law. A year gone without complying would lead to charges up to $36,000, an amount that large-scale businesses often factor into their budgets, but which could bankrupt a small store.
When contacted, Whole Foods representative Adam Smith said that the company was aware of the issue and was still deciding on a course of action.
The company has a 60-day grace period to make a decision that, for good or ill, would ripple through the Haight neighborhood. “I might go out of business,” Sabba said.
Store owners can apply for an exemption, but the process can be as lengthy as a few months and fines could still accrue, Dick-Endrizzi said. The Office of Small Business will soon reach out to the affected store owners, but she encourages them to contact her office directly at 415-554-6134.
GARDEN FOR A GARDEN
The HANC site houses more than the recycling center. It also encompasses a native plant nursery, run for the past decade by caretaker Greg Gaar, who we’ve profiled before (“Reduce, reuse, replace,” 5/30/12). Gaar raises Dune Tansy, Beach Sagewort, Coast Buckwheat and Bush Monkey — all native plants bred from the dunes of old San Francisco, which Golden Gate Park used to be.
Adjacent to the nursery is a community garden with 50 plots serving just more than 100 neighbors. But the odd part is, when the city is done tearing down the recycling center and gardens, it plans to put in, well, another community garden, at taxpayer expense.
The new plan does offer a few tweaks. There will be a small stone Greek-style amphitheater, and removing the recycling center will leave more green space for the site. The new community garden will feature 10 fewer plots. As of now, there is no formal plan to transfer the 100 gardeners from HANC’s community gardens to the new plots once they’ve been built.
Some of HANC’s current gardeners count among the local homeless population, said Soumyaa Behrens, HANC’s social media coordinator. Those few homeless use their plots to grow food.
“You meet people you wouldn’t meet anywhere else,” said Miriam Pinchuck, a writer who will soon lose her and her husband’s garden plot at HANC. “It’s very shortsighted, and it’d deprive us of a chance to meet our neighbors.”
Though Dunn and Gaar are in negotiations with city officials on their gardners’ behalf, at this point it looks like the current gardeners will need to sign up for the new plots, just like everybody else.
Gaar looks like he may be the only employee to work at the new garden site once it replaces the recycling center. He’d have to volunteer, but he said that doesn’t necessarily bother him.
“For me, gardening is a joy,” Gaar said, although he did voice one concern: “I just want the nursery to survive.” With HANC’s eviction, it seems like everyone has something to worry about.
EDITOR’S NOTES The San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission is holding a hearing Dec. 7 on the Mayor’s Renewable Energy Task Force report. That may not sound like the most exciting moment in any of our lives — but it’s actually worth talking about, a lot. Because the city has a goal of reaching 100 percent renewable energy in just eight more years, and the task force think it can be done — and the report, while it has its moments, completely screws up the central tenet of any long-term renewables policy.
Background: Former Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was prone to making sweeping press statements about things he never really intended to do, proclaimed in 2010 that San Francisco would be free of all fossil fuel electricity in 10 years. Then he went on his merry way to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office.
It fell to his successor, Ed Lee, to figure out how to make this happen, so Lee appointed a task force to study the situation. A lot of the members were environmental activists; some were experts in solar energy. One, Ontario Smith, worked for Pacific Gas and Electric Co., hung up five minutes into the first phone-conference meeting, and took his name off the final report.
If you don’t think this is serious business, you haven’t been looking out the window this past week. Scientists are now saying that it’s already too late to prevent the surface temperature of the Earth from rising three degrees, which means volatile and dangerous weather patterns are going to be part of the future anyway, and things might get way, way worse. San Francisco’s energy policy isn’t going to prevent China from burning coal, but it’s a step — and a 100 percent renewable portfolio would be a signal to other cities (and countries) that this is economically and technically feasible.
The report has 39 recommendations, many of them simple, practical, and laudable. It talks (correctly) about the importance of distributed generation — that is, small-scale solar and other renewable systems on houses and commercial buildings. It gives a nod to CleanPowerSF, the city’s community-choice aggregation system.
And it never once mentions public power.
In fact, from the tone of the report, the city plans to get to 100 percent renewable generation with the support and assistance of PG&E.
Let me give you a ring on the clue phone, folks: It isn’t going to happen.
Private utilities don’t have any interest in distributed generation, because it, quite literally, destroys their business model. If I have solar panels on my roof that meet my family’s energy demands, I have no need for PG&E anymore (except to use the company’s grid as a storage battery system, but soon we won’t need that, either). The only functional path to 100 percent renewables in a dense city is small-scale generation — and PG&E stands directly in the way.
I’ve always been a proponent of public ownership of essential services — water, power, streets and roads, firefighting and police operations, broadband, etc. But when it comes to electricity, this is more than a financial and resource-control issue. I see no path to a carbon-free (and nuclear-free) future, in San Francisco or anywhere else, as long as private companies make profits generating power in one place, shipping it along their private lines, and selling it someplace else.
Public power is not sufficient to create Newsom’s energy dream — but it’s absolutely necessary. And I hope the members of LAFCO make that point — and suggest that the task force update its report to reflect economic and political reality.
SUPER EGO Scene: Midnight, Tiara Sensation drag pageant, Rickshaw Stop, September. A naked, enormously white-and-purple-bewigged figure in two-foot-high Plexiglass heels, laid across three raised Plexiglass pillars, faces away from us. The pitched down strains of Frank Ocean’s “Pyramid,” his voice syrupped into a slo-mo Judy Garland phantasmagoria, drown us in waves of bass. Sheee’s wooorkiiing at the Pyyyramid toniiiight.
Awkwardly, riskily the figure rises almost to the rafters, its back still to us, spreads its legs, and begins to pull a tangled string of multicolored Christmas lights from her crotch. It performs this deliberately, turning the Rickshaw stage into a pressure cooker of strobe lights, sexual horror, and incipient danger — a strip club where no one can hear you scream. The atmosphere is so tense that when the figure finally turns around to reveal her eyeless, bloody-mouthed, death-pale self, as Ocean’s voice tweaks a level higher, shivers and gasps run right through the audience. Shiva the Great Destroyer, her tits bound with duct tape, a makeshift pouch at her crotch the source of her glittering lights.
It’s an out-of-body look that works. And it’s emblematic of a new glitchy-nightmare drag style (or the reboot of one) that’s bewitching clubgoers.
The performer was the amazing Dia Dear, one of a number of recent young arrivals who’ve zapped nightlife to another level by unselfconsciously — and quite organically — raiding the shelves of performance art, horror films, contemporary R&B, club kid history, and the Walgreen’s down the street to create striking personae for themselves, and electrify the city’s drag stages. They’re also so freaking smart it scares me, no Christmas crotch lights required.
Drag as confrontational, sometimes blood-spilling performance art has a long history here, of course, from the Cockettes in the 1970s, through the Popstitute and Club Uranus scenes in the early ’90s, through Trannyshack into the ’00s. It’s currently found a home at the Some Thing party every Friday at the Stud, High Fantasy every Tuesday at Aunt Charlie’s, and the Dark Room monthly party at Hot Spot. Iconic, sensibility-scrambling club kid styles like those of Michael Alig, Desi Monster, James St. James, our own Phatima Rude and Ggreg Taylor, and the ultimate drag inverter-perverter Leigh Bowery are all the rage in this retro-minded, post-Gaga moment. But something about this fresh wave, something about how it’s coming from people with no nightlife background at all, is different. Drag stages have become the affordable breeding ground for committed performance artists, expressing essential truths about our moment. Mere lipsyncing is so last century.
“I never even knew who Leigh Bowery was until people started mentioning his name this summer,” boychild, another of this new tribe, told me over the phone. (I live next door to boychild, and it’s not rare to find a neon-yellow spray-painted birdcage, a chandelier made of wigs, or an entire store display case sitting outside, waiting to become part of a perspective-shattering outfit or brandished onstage in a cyber-Wiccan, dystopian android ritual.) Like Dia, boychild just started going out to clubs very recently — pretty much arriving out of nowhere, both of them declining to share their pasts — and when she did she was almost fully formed as a stage presence, with a genius sense of makeup and a cerebral agenda.
“Everything I do is a reaction to being categorized: as a person of color, as a female-bodied queer,” she said. “It’s really bad right now, because it’s so hip to be black, “urban culture” is being fetishized to an enormous extent. I feel I encounter so much that makes me angry just existing in this world as a queer creature. My performance and look ties everything to my experience through my body. That’s where I express myself most fluidly, more acutely and vividly than through language.”
“Horror is where I’m coming from and where I exist,” Vain Hein, another performer, told me. Unlike Boy Child and Dia Dear, Vain Hein is open about his past: raised as a Born Again Christian in both Puget Sound and Phoenix, Arizona — “My childhood consisted of traveling between extremes” — he eventually found his way to the San Francisco Art Institute to study New Genres (this is actually a program there!) Vain Hein, who also performs to music he chops and screws at home, most explicitly ties sex to horror in his work — it’s chockful of surprise lactations, menstrual blood, live births, prosthetic triple breasts, and weird asses.
VAIN HEIN (Photo by Eric Harvieux)
“I think a lot about the apocalypse, it’s how I filter and understand the world. Decay, destruction — everything I wear is just what’s at hand around my house, held together with scotch tape and nail glue, the shitty, shitty, shittest things ever that just fall apart during the night, even when I’m not performing. I literally shed my skin.”
Yet even as a queer art student in San Francisco, liberated from fundamentalism, he never went out until last year. “I just had preconceived notions about what going to a gay club involved. Then my friend dragged me to a drag show in the spring, and I was like, ‘I can do this.’ I had studied mostly performance art and video so it was a good fit.”
Being a young queer and not going to the clubs is incomprehensible to me — but of course these 20-somethings grew up with the Internet, where you can be gay by yourself, and which looms like a Poltergeist vortex over their work.
“Oh, the vast blessing of the Internet,” boychild half-laughs. “I wish I was better at it. We’re so bombarded with information and images, just so much shit. That can be great because my generation has all of the past available. But we’ve been drowning in this stream of complete crap, too. I can define myself as a freaky-freak just by how I navigate it. But the power of live performance is channeling all that into immediate emotion, a moment when everyone’s together, something that can’t and should never be documented as just images.”
The charming and soft-spoken Dia Dear, who has become kind of a mother the nascent phantasmic drag scene — even though she, like boychild and Vain Hein, operates mostly outside traditional drag house family structures — says, “I haven’t quite figured out my relationship to the Internet. I feel like it’s a positive tool because it can connect us to the spirit of people who are dead. But it’s also this kind of dark rectangle in the corner that can suck out all your energy. It exists for its own sake. But to be on the Internet now, you have to have a certain level of narcissism and self-interest. A lot like you have to have as a performer. Performance and the Internet should be natural lovers, in a sense. Twisted together …entwined.”
This live experimental music concert at the Luggage Store Gallery is the brainchild of one of the brainiest yet approachable people I know, Marc Weidenbaum, who started his fascinating daily music site, Disquiet.com, 15 years ago — way before blogs were invented. His project Disquiet Junto challenges Soundcloud members to respond to a prompt with unique compositions. This round: field recordings of Hurricane Sandy, with Cullen Miller, Subnaught, Jared Smith, and more.
Over the past year we’ve been treated to some tasty South African contemporary dance music flavor, from Black Coffee to Die Antewoord. (Somebody please get the Tshetsha Boys out here!) DJ Dee-toy, of Sebokeng Township continues this great microtrend with deep, deep house vibes and off-your-seat Afrofunk jams.
Fri/7, 10pm-4am, $15–$20. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. afrofunk.eventbrite.com
Yeah, yeah, the phenomenally successful Minneapolitan remixes pop hits into slick little machines of hummable electro-disco bliss. He is also very, very fun.
This monthly party launched the nu-cumbia sound in SF, splashing some much-needed Latin electronica onto our shores, while introducing global bass to a new generation of underground-minded clubgoers. Some major players have stomped the floor here, and quite a few sonic permutations of TT’s sound have found more mainstream success — but founders Shawn Reynaldo and oro11, who brought their inspiration directly from Argentina, are keeping it crazy and real with a marathon tag-team set in celebration.
Sat/8, 10pm, $5 before 10pm, $10 after. Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. www.elbo.com
Gay people won’t stop rapping and blogging, and that’s OK! Our favorite local blogger (and perpetual crush) Mike “Accidental Bear” Enders covers way too much ground online. Now the super-enthusiastic cutie is celebrating two years of cybergossip by hosting a cartoon-colored gay rapstravaganza with Big Dipper, Rica Shay, and MC Crumbsnatcher, plus singer Tim Carr and DJs Medic and Dav-O of Double Duchess. There’ll be a lot of cute gay guys with beards.
Writer, drinker, arts-minded political activist, and bon vivant Hiya Swanhuyser is combining her interests in this neato, monthly, potentially wonderfully absurd thingie. Come to the Makeout Room, grab a drink, and then bang out a letter to any politician you have beef with. “One letter = 100 votes,” she says. Cocktails and truth to power, yasss. She’ll bring the actual, clickety-clackety typewriters! You bring the drink-fueled rage!