Volume 47 Number 24
THEATER On two old VHS tapes in the collection of San Francisco’s Museum of Performance and Design you can watch the Eureka Theater’s 1991 world premiere of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, a response to the AIDS epidemic and the reactionary politics of the Reagan era. It’s a low-fi document, with poor sound quality, but it’s completely riveting. Something more than the play’s words and images, as striking as they are, cling to that worn magnetic tape: there’s the electric excitement of a work of art cracking open its historical moment.
A similar frisson passed through the main auditorium of the National Theatre of Budapest last week, where I joined a group of international guests and a local audience for Romanian-born American director Andrei Serban’s production of Angels in America, starring as Prior Walter the National’s celebrated yet politically embattled artistic director, Robert Alföldi, an award-winning international director in his own right and one of the country’s most famous actors.
The production was the capstone of an impressive weeklong festival featuring some of the best work in contemporary Hungarian independent and state-sponsored repertory theater. Presented by the Hungarian Critics Association, in international partnership with Philip Arnoult’s Center for International Theatre Development and the Trust for Mutual Understanding, the Hungarian Showcase (March 2–9) encompassed a revelatory range of styles and talents. It also highlighted a theater actively responding to a rising tide of reactionary politics — reminiscent (especially in its overt anti-Semitism, homophobia, and anti-Roma racism) of the ultra-nationalism of the 1930s — even as the arts in general and theater in particular reel under the economic strain of the conservative government’s neoliberal agenda and attempted curbs on free expression.
The National’s production of Angels is just one instance of theater’s critical role in public dialogue in Hungary today, but in many ways it was the most poignant instance encountered. That’s in large part owed to Alföldi’s powerhouse performance in the lead — a muscular, charismatic performance, extremely witty and wrenching by turns — and simultaneously to his history as artistic director over the last five years. Since Alföldi’s government appointment in 2008, something extraordinary has been underway at the country’s premier stage. Previously, Budapest’s National Theatre had been better known for its kitschy postmodern edifice (opened in 2002 and made to resemble a rather gaudy ship aimed vaguely at the nearby Danube) than for the unexceptional productions on display inside. Under Alföldi’s brilliant and maverick leadership, the theater has come to be widely regarded as one of the best — if not the best — in the country, and attendance has grown dramatically, including among younger audiences.
Alföldi’s attempts to make the theater a place of inclusion and dialogue, meanwhile, as well as his lively and provocative interpretations of classic Hungarian nationalist texts like The Tragedy of Man and John the Valliant, have earned the disfavor of rightwing politicians — including members of the ultra nationalist Jobbik party, who were not above demonstrating noisily outside the theater to demand his ouster, and slandering Alföldi on the floor of the Parliament. Alföldi, popular and unprecedentedly successful in the post, has managed to stay on for his five-year term, but the government denied his application for a second term in favor of a well-known director with conservative political opinions.
In Serban’s considerably pared down version, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika together come in at just under four hours, separated by a short intermission. There are naturally some sacrifices entailed. The subplot involving Roy Cohn (played by the National’s brilliant János Kulka), for example, takes a big hit in terms of stage time. But whatever the faults of the production, the exuberant, ironical tone feels aptly knowing, as does the rotating stage set up like a cross between a dance floor and a merry-go-round.
In just one example of the production’s winking conversation with the audience, an announcement over the PA system at the outset of Part II reminds patrons in this former Soviet bloc country that the play is set in a far off land bearing little resemblance to anything close by — only to be followed by the familiar twang of an electric guitar as the Beatles’ “Back in the USSR” creates a musical bridge to a speech by the Oldest Living Bolshevik. Like Prior’s heavenly counselors, the Bolshevik urges a halt to history. The significance of the theme is unlikely to be lost on an audience facing the atavistic return to authoritarian models of the past.
While this isn’t the first time a Hungarian theater has essayed Kushner’s play, enough has changed politically in Hungary in the last few years to make this production, in which Alföldi assumes the role of the play’s cross-dressing openly gay hero, an act of brazen defiance as well as solidarity with all “outsiders” in the right wing’s narrow compass of nationhood.
“The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come,” says Alföldi as Prior. “The great work begins.” In its own call for “more life,” the National’s production captures something of the original life of the play all over again — defining the nation and its theater as a place of empathy and inclusion, of harmony in difference.
Meanwhile, tickets for Angels in America, widely seen as Alföldi’s farewell bow, are completely sold out.
STREET SEEN The fact that that our conversation is taking place to beat of Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2012 seminal classic “Call Me Maybe” leads me to believe that T-We Tea owner Christopher Coccagna is being real when he says he’ll be holding 12:30pm dance parties for the FiDi lunch set in the darling tea shop he just opened in the neighborhood.
It also leads me to believe that Crocker Galleria may be downtown’s most fun mall — or at least, that it’s on the way.
“I was totally down on having a retail store,” Coccagna tells me as we ship cups of his “Chai Me” blend in his small shop’s kiki parlor. For years he sold at events like the Renegade Craft Fair, consterning regulars who often ran out of his cheekily-titled single origin teas (“Bicurious George,” “Sexpot,” and “Hipsters in Wonderland”) before the next sales opportunity. But the five-year lease contracts often associated with renting commercial space scared the young business owner away.
In contrast, Crocker Galleria is offering him a much more flexible agreement and he’s been presiding over his space, lovingly decorated in fuchsias and Moroccan poufs since February. “I’m going for Euro pop, eclectic, and adorable,” Coccagna says.
Does Topshelf Boutique have FiDi’s new look? Guardian photo by Caitlin Donohue
That craft-fair-over-corporate-chic aesthetic may speak to Cushman and Wakeman retail manager Sabrina Goris’ plans for Crocker. In the past few years, Versaces and Dolce and Gabbanas have been vacating the center. At the moment, Ralph Lauren’s shuttered doors make a great visual metaphor for this sea change, although not as good as the expensive tiling floor work that Versace left behind for new tenant VIP Luggage. The turnover has made way for a mix of tenants who count 85 percent local owners among them.
Goris partners with local business nonprofits like La Cocina and Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center to attract new entrepreneurs to their first brick-and-mortar location. La Luna Cupcakes, a La Cocina grad, is set to open in Crocker this spring and Tomboy Tailors, the city’s best genderqueer place for a butch dandy to get a perfectly tailored three-piece, went through the Renaissance program and also opened at Crocker this year.
The challenge with the space is figuring how to make the robust lunch crowd that comes for the mall’s top floor food court stay to shop. Every Thursday from 11am to 3pm a year-round farmer’s market sets up on the first floor, opening on Tuesdays during the summer as well. The mall even hosts a concert series to get shoppers in the glass doors.
Like the rest of the universe, Crocker is experimenting with pop-ups, too. On the first floor, a quartet of small local clothing and accessory companies opened a single storefront in February. Surf brand After Eleven and its irreverent pizza cross t-shirts, Topshelf Boutique, kids shirts and zoo-themed tees from Animal Instinct, and Embergrass Jewelry bring a fresher fashion tone to the mall. Their pop-up run’s was recently extended — it’ll now be open until the end of March.
Christina Ruiz, who opened Topshelf Boutique originally in a van that traveled about, bringing gauzy, bright dresses, studded button-downs, cat-eye sunglasses, and the occasional vintage piece to shoppers, has had a lot of luck in the pop-up space. She admits that originally, she wasn’t sure if the Topshelf’s club casual style would sell to the big-money downtown types.
“I was surprised that I sold so well,” she says. “I worked as a bartender for a long time when I didn’t have to dress up for anything.” She’s grown to appreciate the day job schedule, though. “I really like it here because [customers come through] Monday to Friday, 10am to 6pm. That’s so not traditional for retail.”
Office workers who wear studs, tea shop kikis, a mall that could be kind of cool — sounds like a different kind of commercial community is being built. Says Coccagna of this mall magic: “you can feel the shift here.”
Crocker Galleria 50 Post, SF. www.thecrockergalleria.com
SEX It is hard to imagine an industry as rich, yet as under-examined as that of pornography. We spend billions of dollars on porn in this country, and billions of hours trying to hide that fact, erasing search histories and wedging DVDs under the bed when our parents are coming over.
So perhaps it makes sense that The Feminist Porn Book, the first of its kind to include writings from porn-studying academics and porn performers, is designed so as to resemble nothing so much as a traffic sign. “What are you reading?” I doofily joked to myself on BART while positioning the Day-Glo paperback with its “FRANKIE SAYS RELAX” massive font in a way I hoped would avoid undue scorn-face from my fellow passengers.
It’s their loss, really. The book is a big deal, a first-time conglomeration of viewpoints from across the pro-sex feminist landscape. Its introduction alone was the most comprehensive history of feminist pornography I’ve ever seen (how appropriate that we’re in the middle of Women’s History Month 2013.) The next time anyone has a question about whether porn can really be anti-sexist, I will direct them to The Feminist Porn Book‘s neon glow.
Within its pages, professionals from a variety of nooks and crannies tackle some issues that even we, as feminists who believe porn can reflect and augment healthy sexuality, have trouble resolving. Penn State’s Ariana Cruz tackles the image of black women in porn (and the no-less-interesting reality of being a black female academic who studies black women in porn.) Am I the only one who gets giddy about heavily-footnoted academic essays on the race issues stirred up by Asian porn star Keni Styles’ participation in locker room orgy scenes?
Performers’ voices are well represented here, mainly in first-person testimonials that explain their career paths, complicated stories that don’t dodge critique of the adult industry. Transman pioneer Buck Angel talks vagina, seasoned pro Nina Hartley about being a role model. The Bay Area’s April Flores explains how she busts up the BBW stereotype. Kink.com model Dylan Ryan and director Lorelei Lee explore society’s conception of their professional lives.
In a brief phone chat, one of the book’s editors and longtime feminist pornographer herself Tristan Taormino explained to me that the book came about after a panel discussion in which she participated that featured both academics and porn stars. That fusion, the participants felt, gave birth to a conversation that had to be continued. A few panelists from that chat can now be found within the anthology’s pages, and Taormino is now organizing a day-long conference to take place on April 6 amid the hangovers from the eight-year-old Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto.
“There are feminists in mainstream porn. I’m not the only one, I swear!” Taormino says this in a jocular manner, but given those billions of dollars, her implication that porn is starting to allow more room for feminist imagery and voices is a rather big deal. For now, I resolve to worry less about what other people on BART think of my reading list.
THIS WEEK’S SEX EVENTS
Three years of Oh! Powerhouse, 1347 Folsom, SF. www.powerhouse-sf.com. Wed/13, 10pm-2am, $3. Darling DJ Robin Simmons will give you something to listen to beyond the slaps and moans at the third anniversary of this gentlemanly meet-up for dirty dappers.
BDSM panel for anarchists California Institute of Integral Studies, Room 304, 1453 Mission, SF. bayareaanarchistbookfair.wordpress.com. Sat/16, 6:30-8:30pm, free. Internet flame wars ensued when Native scholar Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz canceled her talk at the Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair upon realizing it would be held in the event rental space of Kink.com’s Armory this year. Today’s discussion looks to re-unite members of the radical community who disagreed over the issue. Pre-open floor, a history of pornography and feminism will be presented, as well as ways to support sex workers, women, and people who think differently than you do.
TOFU AND WHISKEY “Rock and roll has never been remotely monolithic,” early Rolling Stone columnist Greil Marcus writes in the introduction to the 1978 book he edited, Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island (Da Capo Press). “There have always been countless performers to pin your hopes on; though one may have found identity as a member of an audience, one also found it by staking a place in that audience, defining one’s self against it.”
He recalls a time when all rock fans simply had to have an opinion about the Beatles, about Elvis, but notes there’s is no longer a single figure that “one has felt compelled to celebrate or denigrate.”
“The objects of the obsessiveness that has always been a part of being a rock and roll fan…are no longer obvious,” he continues, “which means, for one thing, that while one’s sense of the music may not have perfect shape, it’s probably a lot richer.”
Marcus wrote these words in Berkeley in the late ’70s, though they ring truer today. For Stranded, Marcus invited rock critics such as Lester Bangs, Ellen Willis, and Nick Tosches to answer the basic parlor game question in essay form: “What one rock-and-roll album would you take to a desert island?” He’ll read from the book this Thu/14 at 6pm at a new record shop, also called Stranded, 6436 Telegraph, Oakl. (www.strandedinoakland.com).
The brick-and-mortar Stranded opened about five months ago (in November 2012) and is run by Oakland’s Steve Viaduct, the 36-year-old founder of Superior Viaduct records, an archival label that focused on reissues and archival collections of Bay Area punk and post-punk for its first year and is now in the process of expanding its output. One of those releases was MX-80 Sound’s ’77 album, Hard Attack, which is the record Viaduct says he‘d take to a desert island.
Since the Stranded opened, there have been a handful of shows and author appearances, along with the everyday bustle of record obsessives. “We had pretty modest goals [for Stranded]. We wanted a cool place to hang out and meet other vinyl enthusiasts. With no budget for things like advertising, our biggest milestone has been that we are breaking-even financially and we are having fun doing it.”
I asked Viaduct what bands best exemplified the ethos of the label and shop, and instead he chose a book: “That is a tough question because Superior Viaduct is very much a work in progress. Perhaps the best example of the label’s ethos is our first book, From the Edge of the World: California Punk 1977-81, by photographer Ruby Ray. The photos are amazing. Ruby captures a moment that barely existed in the first place, yet still resonates today.”
Marcus’ appearance came naturally. A noted lover of vinyl, he’d stopped by Stranded a few times and gave the owners of a copy of his book. When Viaduct found out his friend had chosen the book for her Rock N’ Roll Book Club, he decided it was time to invite Marcus to speak at the store. After that, the next events at the shop are Dawn McCarthy and Bonnie “Prince” Billy performing live in-store (March 31), then Rock and the Pop Narcotic author Joe Carducci reading May 3.
Given the crumbling of big box music chains and the US economy as a terrifying whole, it’s a particularly troublesome time to open a store of any kind, let alone one mostly focused on physical music — though there are shining examples to the contrary, such as Burger Records and Amoeba Music — so I was intrigued by the store’s arrival.
“Buying records in stores is more fun for customers and shopkeepers,” Viaduct says, shrugging off the concern. “The personal contact really makes a difference. There is nothing better than to recommend something and a day or two later the person comes back and says, ‘Thanks! That record is great.’ Of course, we know that folks can buy records online, so we do not even try to compete with that.”
One of those shining star examples of making it work in the name of the music you obsessively collect — fellow East Bay record shop and label, 1-2-3-4 Go! (www.1234gorecords.com) is this month celebrating five years in Oakland.
Also noteworthy: the label will be 12 come August (time for a Bar Mitzvah?). It’s notable for discovering and releasing records by trash, thrash, psych, punk, garage, surf, doo-wop, whatever local acts along the lines of Nobunny, Shannon and the Clams, Personal and the Pizzas, Lenz, and Synthetic ID.
With its move to a bigger space, the store is now also noted for its all-ages shows, with many of the above frequenting the location along with out-of-towners from LA and beyond. For the five-year marker, the shop is having a big sale on March 23 and 24, and will celebrate further with its second annual the Go! Go! fest May 16 through 19.
I asked label-store owner Steve Stevenson, a 33-year-old Oakland resident, the same question as Viaduct regarding the problems with opening a store such as this. Stevenson perhaps had it rougher, as his doors first opened in that very tumultuous year of ’08.
“2008 was brutal but there was a ton of support. I had no money to advertise but for the first three weeks I was packed with people who had heard about this record store that was barely bigger than a walk-in closet,” he says. “Honestly, the store struggled for the first three or so years; always making it but always just barely. Since moving in to this new space, things have really taken off. I’m able to hire employees so I don’t have to do everything myself which gives me time to do even more cool stuff for the store and book shows outside of it at places like New Parish.”
“We’re one of the very few record stores in the East Bay and we exist through the support of this community and our mail order customers around the world,” he adds. “We’re always growing, expanding, and trying new things because of this support and there’s no way I can say how much I appreciate it. It’s massive.”
Is Afrolicious the hardest working world band in the Bay Area? It seems to pop up everywhere. The 12-piece Latin soul-tropical Afrobeat act met at Elbo Room’s energetic weekly Afrolicious party, and is this week playing the Great American Music Hall in celebration of its debut full-length album California Dreaming, released on its own label, Afrolicious Music. With Midtown Social Band, Afrolicious DJs Pleasure Maker and Senor Oz.
Fri/15, 9pm, $15. Great American Music Hall, 850 O’Farrell, SF. www.slimspresents.com
MUSIC From David Bowie and Brian Eno’s forays into ambience, to the unrelenting pulse of trance and house, minimalist icon Steve Reich’s propulsive compositions have irreversibly shaped the pop world’s development since the 1970s. Now, four decades into his career, Reich is reversing the formula with “Radio Rewrite:” a new piece adapted from and inspired by the recordings of alt-rock institution Radiohead.
This Saturday, Stanford University is set to host the US premiere of “Radio Rewrite,” performed by acclaimed new-music ensemble Alarm Will Sound, in a program comprised entirely of Reich’s works.
Credited alongside Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and LaMonte Young for introducing minimalism to classical music, Reich is often cited as the most influential living composer. After moving west from his native NYC to study composition at Mills College in Oakland, and finding his voice with a series of groundbreaking, spoken-word tape loops (’65’s “It’s Gonna Rain” ’66’s “Come Out,”), he headed back east to form his own large ensemble: Steve Reich and Musicians.
The sound Reich achieved with this group was refreshing and unprecedented, combining pianos, strings and mallet instruments to create glassy, resonant textures, and mechanical rhythms that mirrored NYC’s industrial, caffeinated soul. His flagship composition, “Music for 18 Musicians,” (1976) showed a remarkable ability to breathe life into rigid structures, resulting in, arguably, the richest, lushest, most approachable recording of the Minimalist era.
Reich is noted for cutting against the grain of classical traditionalism. The percussive drive of his music reflects his beginnings as a bebop drummer, as well his time spent studying West African percussion and Indonesian gamelan. “Music for 18 Musicians” was released in ’76 by ECM, the esteemed jazz label, earning him cultural capital far beyond the confines of the so-called “new-music ghetto.” And, in 2008, Reich premiered “2×5,” his first piece written for rock-band instrumentation, electric guitars and all. Though Reich might be classified as a classical composer, he remains a musical omnivore.
Similarly, guitarist and composer Jonny Greenwood has built a reputation over the past decade as Radiohead’s experimenter-in-chief, by employing exotic instruments (Ondes Martenot, anyone?) and imaginative guitar techniques, as well as delving into the classical world with compositions of his own. After testing the waters with “Popcorn Superhet Receiver” in 2006, and penning the acclaimed score to Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, (2007) Greenwood flew to Krakow, Poland in 2011 to take part in Sacrum Profanum: a festival dedicated to Reich’s music, where the two musicians would first meet.
Before Greenwood caught his ear with a solo rendition of 1987’s “Electric Counterpoint,” (a piece written for 14 guitarists), Reich had been unaware of Radiohead. “It was a great performance and we began talking,” Reich told the Independent (UK) recently, in anticipation of “Radio Rewrite”‘s world premiere in London.
“I found his background as a violinist and his present active role as a composer extremely interesting when added to his major role in such an important and innovative rock group,” Reich continues in the Independent article. “When I returned home I made it a point to go online and listen to Radiohead, and the songs ‘Everything in its Right Place’ and ‘Jigsaw Falling into Place’ stuck in my mind.”
In an interview with the Herald Scotland, Reich described his affinity for the two pieces, explaining, “‘Everything’ is a very rich song. It’s very simple and very complex at the same time. What does it mean? Maybe it’s about a relationship, maybe I should ask (Radiohead bandleader) Thom Yorke, but he wouldn’t tell me, I wouldn’t get anywhere with that… For ‘Jigsaw,’ it’s the harmonic jumps of the piece, it’s a beautiful tune.”
Two years later, Reich has re-interpreted both songs as the foundation for “Radio Rewrite.” The five-movement piece takes significant creative liberties, barely resembling the source material at times, Reich explains.
“It was not my intention to make anything like ‘variations’ on these songs, but rather to draw on their harmonies and sometimes melodic fragments and work them into my own piece. This is what I have done. As to whether you actually hear the original songs, the truth is — sometimes you hear them and sometimes you don’t.”
Instrumentation for “Radio Rewrite” consists of flute, clarinet, two vibes, two pianos, electric bass, and a string quartet. Other works included in the all-Reich program are “Clapping Music,” (featuring Mr. Reich, himself) “Piano Counterpoint,” (1985) “City Life,” (1995), “Four Genesis Settings from The Cave,” (1993) and “New York Counterpoint.” (1985)
Debuting the piece is NYC’s Alarm Will Sound, one of the most aggressively modern classical ensembles currently working. Having performed works by Aphex Twin, and collaborated with Dirty Projectors, the 20-piece seems aptly chosen to tackle “Radio Rewrite”‘s inherent genre-ambiguity.
Considering Reich’s enormous influence, the opportunity to witness him approach a younger generation’s music for the first time is a significant one. Implied within “Radio Rewrite” is a collision between two musical worlds, and the exploration of new, unpredictable terrain. Live music rarely seems so promising.
MUSIC BY STEVE REICH
Performed by Alarm Will Sound
Sat/16, 8pm, $25–$60
Bing Concert Hall
327 Lausen, Stanford
Every gang member on the streets knows Cathey and Sands. They’re the cops. They’ve busted dozens of the young men who hang out in the Mission. They know every excuse, every trick, every way you can duck into an alley, hide in a doorway, ditch a weapon or cover up a crime.
But today, as they cruise around 24th Street in an unmarked car, Officers John Cathey and David Sands are not talking about putting bad guys in prison. They’ve been there, done that — and a year or two ago, they got so sick of seeing teenagers ruining their lives that the two tough cops decided to take another approach.
The officers pull their unmarked car into a side street, where two young men are walking together. They’re Norteños, Cathey explains, part of the gang that controls the southern part of the neighborhood, and they’ve got the telltale red colors all over them. Red shirts, red caps, red strips on their shoes.
Cathey approaches the young men and asks them what they’re doing. “Nothing,” they say.
They look at him as if they know what’s coming next, and chances are they do. It happens all the time these days in the world of the Mission District gangs. Cathey is about to give “The Speech.” The one that hundreds of gangbangers have heard, over and over. The one that’s already saved a few of their lives.
“You know what happened last night?” he asks. The kids feign ignorance. “Sure you do,” he continues. “A bunch of your guys got arrested. Your buddy just turned 18 and he got caught. He’s going to big-boy jail.”
The kids in red look at the ground.
“You want to wind up like that, you keep doing what you’re doing,” Cathey says. “You want to do something different, we can get you a job. A decent job, pays real money, in six months you get benefits. You know you don’t have to do this. You know we can help.”
For a second, one young man looks interested. “You come by the station, you leave your number for me, we’ll be in touch,” Cathey says. Then the moment’s over, the Nortenos walk away, and the two cops get back in the car.
“We might have a chance with him,” Cathey tells me. “I’m like water, I wear them down.”
Latino gangs — primarily two violent rival operations that run drugs and kill each other — have been a serious problem in the Mission for years. Kids as young as 11 or 12 are getting recruited into a life that typically leads to Juvenile Hall, state prison, or death. The city, and nonprofits that work with youth, have run all sorts of gang-prevention programs, with some success and a lot of failure.
While the Mission rapidly becomes a cool place for rich high-tech workers to live, the violence continues. In the past seven months, 10 people, most of them under 25, have been shot in gang-related incidents; three are dead.
But there’s a new, somewhat radical approach going on now — and it comes largely from two police officers who get paid to arrest gang members and instead are devoting their lives to keeping them out of jail.
Cathey and Sands, 11-year veterans, friends from their days in the Police Academy, have, pretty much on their own initiative, created a grassroots program that allows young men and women who want to get out of the gang life to go to work for the city, typically as landscapers, to earn a paycheck, find a new supportive community and leave The Life.
It doesn’t always work. Some try and don’t make it. The drop-out rate is high; it’s a constant struggle. But for the people who take, and keep, jobs in the program, the success rate is phenomenal.
“It’s pretty simple,” Cathey told me. “One hundred percent of the guys who get the jobs and go to work every day leave the gang life. One hundred percent of the ones who don’t show up for work, who don’t stick with it, go back to the gangs.”
It’s a tiny project right now, involving maybe 20 people. Cathey and Sands, with the support of the brass at Mission Station and Chief Greg Suhr, are trying to expand it to reach kids as early as middle school, before the gangs get to them. They’ve rounded up a construction contractor who spent half his adult life behind bars, an ex-gang member, a City College administrator, and Supervisor David Campos, and, mostly under the radar, are trying to do what all the academics and professionals say is the only effective approach to this kind of crime. They’re trying to stop it before it happens.
One day about 18 months ago, Campos was walking down 24th Street, on his way to get a burrito for lunch, when a police car pulled over and two plainclothes cops got out. Campos represents the Mission, and previously served on the Police Commission, but he had never met Cathey or Sands. “I was surprised to see these two tough guys come up to me,” the supervisor recalled recently.
“They just stopped me and said, ‘supervisor, we need your help,'” Campos said. “They said they were tired of the cycle of putting kids in jail and seeing them come back out and do the same thing again, and they wanted to find an alternative. They asked me if I could get some gang members jobs.”
What the officers explained was simple, if counterintuitive: “The young men on the street are smart,” Campos told me. “They have a lot of skills to live the way they do. If they could put that into something constructive, they could be very successful.”
Campos gave the cops his card, told them to call his office — and an unusual relationship between one of the most progressive supervisors and two gang cops was born.
“It was crazy when I told my staff that we were going to be working in the Mission with law enforcement,” Campos said. “I’ve had people stop me and say, ‘Campos, what are you doing with the cops?’ But these guys are great, and they’re doing something really important.”
What the gang cops had in mind was this: If the city could offer jobs — outdoor, hands-on, get-your-fingers-dirty jobs — and Cathey and Sands could convince gang members to step away from the life and try working, there might be a way to end the violence.
The program would be tightly controlled: The two officers would invite gang members to apply for jobs, would screen them, and keep on top of every applicant. People who missed work, or screwed up on the job, would get a visit; Cathey and Sands would watch the streets, follow everyone in the program, check in with families — and let everyone know that their lives and futures were on the line.
“We started with one kid they knew,” Campos said. “We decided to see if we could find him a job.”
Campos contacted the Public Utilities Commission, which hires workers to do landscaping, and convinced the general manager, Ed Harrington, to give it a try.
Cathey and Sands went looking for the young man who would kick off the program (let’s call him J.), and wound up at his house, talking to his mom and dad. That would become a central part of their MO, involving the parents of gang members and trying to bring together what are sometimes not the closest of families.
It wasn’t an easy sell — the family didn’t trust law enforcement. “Then they told the dad that they were working with Campos, and their guard went down,” the supervisor said.
J. started working with the PUC, doing gardening and landscaping work. “He was so successful, nobody could believe it,” Campos said. “We went to see him later, and his dad said his life had completely changed. It changed the whole family.
“When we saw that, we decided we needed to expand this.”
From the start, Mission Station Captain Greg Corrales — a no-nonsense cop who is not known as a starry-eyed liberal — saw the logic and got behind his two officers. Chief Suhr also came on board.
In the early days, Cathey and Sands had no resources at all — not even money to get the young workers Muni or BART tickets. Campos helped track down the funding, and worked with the officers on the next group of kids.
“I bring them into my office at City Hall,” he said. “I explain that there’s a real responsibility here. You are going to change your life.”
I am sitting in the community room at the Mission Police Station, talking to two young men who Cathey and Sands have brought into the program. They’ve had some problems — missing work, hanging out with their old gangs — and they’re at risk of losing their jobs. Cathey is blunt: Keep this up, and you’re done. Keep this up, and you’re going back to the streets, back to the life you wanted to leave.
I tell the men I’m not going to print their names, and they agree to talk to me. It’s a dangerous situation — the gangs don’t like members dropping out, and really don’t like to see them at the police station working with the cops.
“Just walking in this door is a hard thing to do,” Cathey says.
But the two officers make it clear to everyone they meet — on the streets, in the program, and everywhere else: These kids are not snitches. “We don’t ask them to tell on their friends,” Cathey said. “I don’t do that, and I don’t want any part of it. This isn’t about us finding out information about the gangs, and that’s not why people come and see us.”
I ask the two young men about what their lives were like before they started working. They’re not interested in talking. When I ask straight out if they were gang members, they shrug, and change the subject.
But they’re happy to talk about their jobs and what it means to be employed. They’re bringing home a paycheck. They can help out their families. They’re also up early in the morning and really tired at night; the idea of going out with their old friends isn’t that appealing.
The handful of people who are working, and not showing gang colors, hasn’t stopped the violence in the e Mission. One of the kids in the program was shot and killed a few months ago. “It was heartbreaking,” Campos said. “I went to see the parents, and they told me how proud their son had been, how he was bragging about being the first one in the house up in the morning, how he loved his job.”
On the other hand, Campos noted, “There normally would have been retaliation for that shooting, and more killing. But the ones who might have retaliated were in our program, so it didn’t happen.”
The tech workers from Google and Apple and Facebook who are flooding into the Mission don’t see the signs on the street. Upscale white people who think the neighborhood is cool don’t tend to notice what’s happening in front of their eyes. There are at least 200 active gang members in the small piece of land bounded by Cesar Chavez, Potrero, Castro and 16th. As Cathey and Sands drive around, they see the colors everywhere.
North of 19th Street, the young men and women wear blue. They’re Surenos, southerners; many of them are recent immigrants. Cross 19th and the colors turn red; the Nortenos, who sport the number 14, control the south Mission. They tend to be born in this country.
Back in the 1960s, the two gangs emerged out of the state prison system; Surenos lived south of Bakersfield, Nortenos north. But these days, the geographic lines aren’t always as clear. “They’re really the same guys on both sides of the line,” Cathey explains. “Other than this blind loyalty, they’d probably get along.”
The gangs make their money selling drugs, and much of it eventually goes back to a handful of leaders, many serving long prison terms. Since a lot of the members either die or wind up incarcerated before they get out of their 20s, recruiting is constant.
“They have recruiters outside the middle schools,” Cathey tells me. “Last night we arrested a 15-year-old for possession of a handgun. They older guys made him hold it. Now his life is about to be ruined.”
The two cops are opposites: Cathey is ebullient, outgoing, a former tech worker who is constantly talking, texting and emailing. Sands is quiet, more taciturn, a martial artist who walks the streets with the look of serious business.
But they’re fast friends and partners who can communicate with a quick nod or shake of the head, and nothing in the Mission gets by them.
We pull up at 16th and Mission. “Just watch, the block will clear,” Cathey says. And yes, the minute the gang car is spotted, a guy in a blue hoodie ducks down into the BART station.
There’s a girl who can’t be 16 yet sitting on the bench. Sands hangs back while Cathey approaches her. He asks what she’s doing, what’s going on; she shrugs and ignores him. Not interested.
Cathey speaks with a bit of resignation as we walk back to the car. “She’s already jumped in” — initiated into the gang — he says. It’s going to be hard to reach the girl; the gang members she hangs out with are violent, armed, “and will come down on you in a second.”
It’s hard not to feel the frustration that comes with the territory: Violent and dangerous, maybe — but still, she’s still just a little girl.
We head up to 24th Street, Norteno turf. Here, when you look for it, red is everywhere. “A lot of these kids are living in crowded situations, in relatives houses,” Cathey says. “The gangs tell the young ones that they shouldn’t trust their families, that the gang is their new family. That’s what we’re up against.”
Two young men duck into a jewelry store. Cathey throws the car into park and the officers get out, walking slowly toward the entrance. The men with the red jackets and red highlights on their shoes know the drill. A quick warrant check and they know they’re free to go — but not without listening to Cathey for a few minutes.
This time, “The Speech” is falling on deaf ears.
Later, Cathey shows me a video he’s captured off YouTube. It’s hard to find, hidden under gang names that only insiders would know. It shows some of the guys we’ve seen on the street, beating the living shit out of people. In one scene, a handful of gang members approach a man, punch him in until he falls to the ground, then kick his head until he’s unconscious.
“This is what they do,” Cathey says. “They terrorize the neighborhood.”
I am back in the community room at Mission Station. Cathey and Sands have invited me to an “intervention.” A boy and a girl, both of them in eighth grade, are coming in, with their parents, to talk about their flirtations with gang life.
A counselor at James Lick Middle School contacted the officers after seeing signs that the kids were showing gang colors and drifting away from their schoolwork and their families. Cathey and Sands were at Lick a few months earlier, running an assembly and talking about the dangers of gangs; the counselor got their phone numbers.
I have agreed to use no names or in any way identify the participants in the intervention. So I sit and watch as Cathey runs the show.
The boy appears painfully young, small and shy; it’s hard to believe he’s even in eighth grade. He wears a hoodie and makes little eye contact with anyone else in the room. The girl is taller, more self-assured.
I can’t fathom that kids this young – the age of my own son, who is still shedding the soft edge of youth, sliding slowly into adolescence — are already prey to the gang recruiters. But the evidence is clear.
When the parents and other family members are seated, Cathey starts asking the boy about gang life. “What color do the Sureños wear?” Blue, the boy says. “What about the Norteños?” Red. “Where does Norteño territory start?” 19th Street. “What number do the Norteños associate with?” Fourteen. “Can you give me the street names of some gang members?” The boy rattles off a few.
Cathey looks over at the boy’s dad. “He knows a lot, doesn’t he?” The dad is visibly startled. So are the girl’s family members as the officers run through a similar routine.
“We’re seeing younger and younger kids get dragged in,” Cathey tells me later. Often, parents and grandparents — working multiple jobs to pay the rent in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood — have little or no idea how far their kids have gone into the gang life.
Next up is Mike Bowen. He’s a soft-spoken guy whose face bears the scars of a hard life of substance abuse and jail time. In fact, he’s spent much of his adult life running from the law, winding up at one point jumping from a third-story window in a Tenderloin building to avoid arrest.
Two broken legs and months in the hospital put him on a path to sobriety — and a new life. “I used to think the money was in crime,” he tells the group. “Then I got myself together, went back to school, got my contractor’s license, and pretty soon I bought my first Lamborghini.”
That gets the young boy’s attention.
“You have so much going for you,” Bowen says. “You can make it.”
He turns to the boy’s mom, who speaks only Spanish, and asks her how it’s going. Not so great, she says; she just got laid off, and is having trouble finding a new job. Bowen reaches into his pocket and pulls out a stack of $100 bills. “Here, take this,” he says. “It will help until you find work.”
That really gets the boy’s attention.
Bowen’s been a key part of the two cops’ efforts, and they met entirely by chance. “I was driving down Folsom,” he told me. “I parked at a store and I saw these two cops, and I said hi and they wanted to check out my car, and we started to talk about my background. They told me what they were doing, and I said I’d love to help.”
Bowen offered money, which they needed, but that was just the start. “They brought me with them to James Lick,” he recalled. “I brought the Lamborghini. That got every one of the kids interested. I let them sit in it, then we talked.
“I told them that the gang members say the only way to get money is to join the gang. But I got out, went to school, and now I have a house and really nice car.”
When Bowen’s done with his talk, Cathey puts his cell phone on speaker and dials a number. The man on the other end is a former gang member. “He’s the real deal,” Cathey whispers to me. And indeed, for about ten minutes, he tells the two young people and their families exactly what their lives will be like if they follow the path he took at their age. By the end, the boy is shaken and the girl is crying.
Cathey’s not done yet. Guillermo Villanueva, a City College counselor, takes over and reads the families a pledge that Cathey and Sands have written. It’s all about family, about staying out of the gang life, but also respecting and taking care of each other. “Family and Education Forever” is the slogan, chosen because the gangs, who tell members that they are their new families, use “family forever.”
Yeah, the language in the pledge is a little bit hokey — but nobody’s laughing.
Cathey asks the boy what he wants from his parents. “I just wish my daddy had more time to play soccer with me,” he says. The officer looks at the father. “Every day, I’ll be there after work,” he says.
The pledge is on a plaque signed by Chief Suhr. Everyone signs it. By the end, there are tears and hugs all around.
“This is what we really need to be doing,” Cathey tells me. “Getting gang members to change is hard. If we can get them early enough, we have a much better chance.”
I’ve been a political reporter for 30 years. I write, mostly, about intractable social problems. I know that poverty and desperation lead to crime, that broken families and inadequate schools put young people at risk of falling into violence. I am under no illusions.
When I first heard about Cathey and Sands, I thought: They’re cops. Most of the time, cops aren’t the best answer to deep-seated social problems and the crime that results. And I’m not going to pretend that these guys are softies — you have a warrant out, you get caught in the act, they’ll pull you in, and it won’t necessarily be nice.
What they’re doing won’t end gang violence in San Francisco, not by itself. Everyone knows that. This is a huge issue, one that will become more and more pronounced as the crazy, ancient and pointless war between the Norteños and Sureños plays out in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.
Cathey and Sands are by no means the only people fighting to end the carnage. Nonprofits, educators, social service agencies and others have spent years trying to break the gang cycle.
But there they are, every day, two guys with badges who see the blood and the pain on the streets, and are trying, with little bureaucracy or resources, to stop it. To save lives. One kid at a time.
“If we could get into all the middle schools, if we could expand this out, that’s what would really work,” Cathey told me. “That’s where we can have the biggest impact.
Crime would come down; it would have to.
“I’ve been trying to get a meeting with the mayor.” Paging Room 200, City Hall: Is anyone listening?
IRISH It’s early, even for me, to be in a pub. But cookbook author and Irish chef Larry Doyle requested that I make the trek to meet him at his Taraval and 29th Avenue Parkside Tavern at 9am so we can talk about his kitchens’ plans for St. Patrick’s Day. Sagely, he begins by proposing Americanos and telling me about latchkey kid dinners from growing up in Dublin.
“Whoever got home first in the evening would cook dinner,” he says. That was often Doyle. Starting at 11 years of age, he would work off of the food Mom prepped before leaving for work (she always made dessert first, he remembers), eventually creating the dinners from scratch. “Irish food is rustic, simple,” Doyle tells me, reminiscing about the kitchen gardens from which the family pulled each night’s veggies.
The country’s “Fourth of July,” as Doyle describes St. Patty’s Day celebrations back home, has been adopted by the world as much as its Guinness and Jameson. Dublin hosts a parade akin to the New York City Macy’s Thanksgiving processional and shamrocks and leprechauns rule the day in Eire, just as they decorate tiny hats and novelty t-shirts here in the States.
The only difference between the celebrations, Doyle says, is a slightly less fratty attitude in Ireland towards celebratory green beer bonging.
“Which I don’t have any complaints about,” the bar owner clarifies. Doyle not only owns the four-year-old Parkside, a well-appointed tavern positioned among Korean restaurants, dancewear suppliers, and single family Sunset homes, but works as chef at Johnny Foley’s in Union Square. Both spots get packed out, he says, over the holiday.
But it is at the Parkside where his smoked salmon boxty (a potato pancake topped with a dill sauce made of sour cream and shallots, and fish) “causes riots” when left off the menu and his Irish soda bread-and-butter pudding, which has been known to incorporate banana and feature a Bailey’s sauce, remains the most-ordered dessert. Should you doubt Doyle’s chops, do know that he wrote the book on Irish cooking (Irish Pub Cooking, Bristol Publishing Enterprises 2006, 139pp, $8.95).
Both boxty and pudding will be available at Parkside this weekend, as well as oysters, a stew made of simmered lamb cubes, and the traditional St. Patrick’s gut bomb of corned beef, white parsley cream sauce, and cabbage. Vegetarians can take solace in the regular menu’s wild mushroom penne, or Dubliner cheddar cheese plate.
Irish breakfast featuring black and white pudding topped with tomato and the starring role sweet, chewy imported bacon is served Friday through Sunday all year long, but Doyle pledges that brunch will be a particularly nice scene during this weekend’s festivities (he counsels coming close to the Fri.-Sat. 11am, Sun. 10am opening of the doors to ensure a spot to sit.)
So eat something in between shot-with-stout-chasers, dammit. There’s hardly an SF neighborhood — side eye, Castro — without an authentic spot that’ll be rolling out the orange-white-and-green flags.
Parkside Tavern 1940 Taraval, SF. (415) 731-8900, www.parksidetavernsf.com
LARRY DOYLE’S TOP PLACES TO REST YOUR PINT THIS WEEKEND
Johnny Foley’s 243 O’Farrell, SF. (415) 954-0777, www.johnnyfoleys.com
Irish Cultural Center 2700 45th Ave., SF. (415) 661-2700, www.irishcentersf.org
Danny Coyle’s 668 Haight, SF. (415) 558-8375, www.dannycoyles.com
Durty Nelly’s 2328 Irving, SF. (415) 664-2555
The Phoenix 811 Valencia, SF. (415) 695-1811, www.phoenixirishbar.com
Chieftain 198 Fifth Ave., SF. (415) 615-0916, www.thechieftain.com
FILM None of the characters in Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut, Stoker, devour a full plate of still-squirming octopus. (For that, see Park’s international breakthrough, 2003’s Oldboy; chances are the meal won’t be duplicated in the Spike Lee remake due later this year.)
But that’s not to say Stoker — with its Hitchcockian script by Wentworth Miller — isn’t full of unsettling, cringe-inducing moments, as the titular family (Nicole Kidman as Evelyn, the dotty mom; Mia Wasikowska as India, the moody high-schooler) faces the sudden death of husband-father Richard (Dermot Mulroney, glimpsed in flashbacks) and the equally sudden arrival of sleek, sinister Uncle Charles (Matthew Goode). With a translator’s help, I recently spoke to Park about his latest thriller.
San Francisco Bay Guardian Especially with Stoker, it’s clear that Hitchcock has influenced you as a director. Do you have a favorite of his films?
Park Chan-wook Vertigo (1958) was a big film in my life. Before Vertigo, I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I had only thought about it. After seeing it, I decided that I must become a filmmaker. It’s my favorite Hitchcock film. But ever since that first time I saw it, I’m scared of seeing it again, out of fear that it might be less than I remember it.
SFBG Stoker also reminded me of The Bad Seed (1956) — particularly when a voice-over suggests “we are not responsible for what we come to be.” What are your thoughts on that? Is evil hereditary?
PCW I saw Bad Seed when I was little, with my parents on TV. But it was such a long time ago that I can’t really recall any of the details from it. So I wasn’t consciously bringing anything from it here. Maybe subconsciously I was influenced by it, though — if I see it again, I might realize that.
As far as evil being hereditary, I want to leave Stoker open to different interpretations. That’s part of the joy I want to give to the audience. That’s why I don’t really want to define it in any way. But if I was to give you one possible interpretation of what [that voice-over means], perhaps I intended the opposite, which is to say, does India not feel any responsibility about her actions? No, actually — maybe she feels acutely responsible. She knows it very well, but she doesn’t want to admit it. But there are many other interpretations of this.
SFBG A lot of your films, including Stoker, are about families with unusual dynamics. What attracts you to these kinds of stories?
PCW Family relationships are something that every audience member can identify with, and can understand. But a happy family is a boring story to tell!
SFBG Due to the costumes and the production design, I was convinced at first that Stoker was taking place in the 1950s or 60s — but then it’s revealed that India was born in the 1990s, and this is in fact a very contemporary story. Was this a deliberate choice to make the story feel even more otherworldly than it already does? It kind of felt like the whole thing was taking place in a parallel reality.
PCW The moment you see a cell phone, you realize this is a contemporary story — but even then, if you go back and look at the film from the beginning again, you may actually realize that the clothes they wear, and the way the house is decorated, are actually not completely anachronistic. They are still modern-day.
However, I do admit that it’s one of the first things I talked about with the producer after I read the script: the timelessness of this film. And the same goes for the location as well. It was deliberate in how I didn’t tie the story down to any particular location in America; you can’t really tell where the story takes place. That was intentional, and the reason I was trying to achieve this was that I was trying to create a more archetypical story.
SFBG I have to ask: Harmony Korine has a cameo as India’s art teacher. How did that come about?
PCW Well, we shot in Nashville, and Harmony is based there. He’s also good friends with Mia [Wasikowska]. So we met, and became friends. And the high school where we shot the art-class sequence was actually the high school where Harmony was once a student. *
STOKER opens Fri/15 in Bay Area theaters.
SUPER EGO Can’t talk long, chicas grandes, I’m winging off to Oaxaca to dance with some gorgeous muxes, hike up lost pyramids, dive into cauldrons of darkest mole, and wooze along to the ethereal, chromatic-marimba sounds of son istmeño, one of my favorite musics in the world. (If I don’t come back, give my turquoise witchy retro-’70s thrift store jewelry to Juanita More, to distribute to wee drag newbies in need as she sees fit. And somebody play an accordion by the light of the equinox moon, because.)
Did you know that Oaxaca has one of the largest concentrations of pipe organs in the world? I did not. It’s a meta-calliope! In any case, I’ll need you to represent hard at the following parties, since I Mexican’t. See y’all in Abril.
The deep house domination of the East Bay continues with this new weekly, put on by some of pretty damned good DJs: Mo Corleone, Indy Niles, Alixr, and Nackt. Mo tells me they’re meaning to attract “house enthusiasts looking for something fresh (and maybe a little bit raw).” I’m so down.
Thursdays, 9:30pm, free. Lounge 3411, 3411 MacArthur, Oakl. www.lounge3411.com
THREE-NIGHT ELECTRONIC EXTRAVAGANZA
Maybe there could be a better name for this thingie, but if you’re bonkers for that poppy yet sensual tech house sound that’s dominated the past four years and helped form an accessible corrective to corporate EDM — well, your head’s about to explode. Kindly remove your fedora! Rebel Rave Thu/14 (not really a rave) with Art Department and Damian Lazarus, Detroit’s Seth Troxler Fri/15 with Cosmic Kids, and Israeli cutie Guy Gerber Sat/16 with Cassian. ‘Nuff said.
Thu/14-Sat/16, various prices, 9pm-late. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com
Our favorite weekly Latin soul and Afro funk party, headed by those too-cute McGuire brothers, just released a zazzy album of live music, which is awesome. Check out the full band to celebrate, well, life and everything. You must dance to the beat of the drums.
Fri/15, 8pm, $15. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com
BACK TO LIFE :: BACK TO REALITY
Vogue for life! The original dance form (not so much the Madonnified version) is back in full swing — here’s the second vogue ball this month. This time around there won’t be much shade, as our local representatives of the mighty House of Aviance (plus NYC’s fearsome Icon Mother Juan Aviance) present this showcase ball. Open to all newbies and welcoming of everyone, it should be a real hoot. Check out the link for the competition categories and bring it like a legend. With DJs Gehno Sanchez, Sergio, and Steve Fabus — and appearances by Vigure and Tone, Manuel Torres Extravaganza, many more.
Fri/15, 8pm, $10. Abada, 3221 22nd St., SF. www.theAdance.com/ball
One of the absolute greats of DJing returns from the UK to bring his pitch-perfect electro funk and old-school soul, seasoned for three+ decades, to the lovely Monarch’s tables. Maybe this time the club’s lighting system won’t project an error screen onto him for half his incredible set? That was neat for a minute, then weird.
Fri/15, 9pm-3am, $10–<\d>$20. Monarch, 101 Sixth St., SF. www.monarchsf.com
“HOOCH, HARLOTS, AND HISTORY: VICE IN SAN FRANCISCO”
I can tell by the title that this gathering was simply made for you. Super-cool old-timey event with complimentary native drinks pisco punch and 21st Amendment beer, plus “tales of dubious moonshine, dirty roadhouses, and nefarious characters” told by scene players like Broke-Ass Stuart and Woody LaBounty. Live music, rare film footage, and a gaggle of real characters for sure.
Thu/14, 6:30-9:30pm, $10. Old Mint, 88 Fifth St., SF. flipsidesfvice.eventbrite.com
THE QUEEN IS DEAD: THE SMITHS VS. SUEDE
The name says it all for this installment of the stylish yet dour monthly Morrisseypalooza. And with both Suede and Johnny Marr pimping new albums, it’ll be a twee bloodbath. They will play “Suedehead”? They must play “Suedehead.”
Sat/16, 9pm, $5–<\d>$8. Milk, 840 Haight, SF. thesmithsvssuede.eventbrite.com
FILM Even Fukushima Daiichi-style nuclear meltdowns can’t sever the blood ties that bind a brood of CAAMFest films that focus on family. Modernity nevertheless ushers in a set of unique struggles in these films, not exactly family-friendly fare, though most are fulsome with empathy for these clans under pressure and in the viewfinder.
Throwing the lid back on the Mosuo Chinese ethnic minority, while unveiling the economic and cultural stressors weighing on families struggling to keep up in the soon-to-be world’s largest economy, The Mosuo Sisters documents the lives of two young women from a small village in the Himalayan foothills. Eldest sibling Juma is trying to maintain her role as family breadwinner — she sings in big-city clubs that trot her out like an exotic specimen — while the younger Latso is rooming with her, studying accounting and embracing urban life. It takes a global downturn to tear the two apart, as Latso is encouraged to help out on the farm and Juma finds it harder to remain the de facto matriarch-at-large, while the Mosuos’ way of life — in which “walking marriages” place the power and offspring in the hands of women and their households — is chipped away from afar by the draw of neon-dappled cities, rendered as eloquent, inexorable rivers of headlights by director-cinematographer Marlo Poras.
Two families — one far from home and the other navigating a thicket of cultural, political, and product safety issues — feel the pain of Xmas Without China in Alicia Dwyer and Tom Xia’s gently humorous and humane doc. Chinese-born, California-raised Xia is by all respects American (apart from his green card), but as a firestorm ignites over the lead in Chinese-made toys and the threat of Chinese industrial might, he comes up with the genius plan of finding out just how deeply China and its goods have rooted itself in the US, despite Americans misgivings. He finds a family, the Joneses, who are willing to go without anything made in China through the Christmas season — just to see if they can.
Meanwhile, Xia’s parents, who have set themselves up in their own American dream, a colonial McMansion, are also put under the lens as they struggle to keep up with their own neighboring Joneses, plotting the biggest Christmas-lights display on the block — and coping with homesickness for family back in the old country. As dad Tim Jones sneaks into the stash of verboten Chinese goods for his beloved Xbox, Xia uncovers his own insecurities, as he finds himself lying to the Joneses about his citizenship and hiding behind a facade of assimilation.
Taking the kin out on a pulpy, not-for-youngsters thrill ride, director-writer Ron Morales’ Graceland uncovers a lurid Manila of child sex workers, corrupt politicians and cops, and trash mountains. Chauffeur Marlon (Arnold Reyes) is tasked with enabling the dirty work of his politico boss, Changho (Menggie Cobarrubias), including packing up and paying off the little girls he drugs and rapes. The switch comes when kidnappers come for both their daughters, and the once-powerless servant becomes inextricably embroiled in the crime. Though occasionally threatening to topple over into scene-chomping territory and finally revealing drive-through gaps in its plot, the full-frontal Graceland is still capable of inspiring admiration for its sheer gusto, refusing to flinch at the brutality wrought on young girls’ bodies and likewise daring you to tear your eyes away in complicity.
Blood — whether it pulls a family unit together or rips them apart with fears of radiation contamination — underlies the apocalyptic scenes of The Land of Hope, the first feature film to grapple with the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Life in fictional Nagashima seems idyllic until the arrival of an earthquake and tsunami that ushers in a largely unseen nuclear disaster. Dairy farmer Yasuhiko (Isao Natsuyagi) forces his son Yoichi (Jun Murakami) and daughter-in-law Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka) to leave him behind, along with wife Chieko (Naoko Ohtani), who suffers from dementia; it’s a sacrificial gesture that evokes 1983’s The Ballad of Narayama‘s mash-up of filial piety and noble embrace of death.
Yoichi denies reality as vigorously as he can, until Izumi becomes pregnant and learns that their new home also reads high in radiation. Writ with an eye to psychological trauma rather than physical dangers, Sion Sono (2002’s Suicide Club) has likely made his most ambitious film to date with Hope. It makes stirring use of exquisitely subtle images that imbue empty towns and blowing wind with dread; eerily surreal sights of a mother-to-be puttering around town in a Hazmat suit; and symbolism made literal, as when Ugetsu-like child phantoms materialize in wreckage from the waves.
Set in a country that prizes purity and conformity — and has a legacy of dealing with the aftermath of nuclear disaster — Hope may not leave you with hope, exactly. But it certainly imparts the expected horrors and unpredicted highs when the safe family home finds itself under siege, leaving on your mind’s eye the shadowy imprint of a woman, dressed in her finest kimono, dancing to festival music only she can hear, in the snow near a contaminated town reduced to tinder.
March 14-24, most shows $12
Various venues, SF and Berk.
FILM Rebellious Chinese bloggers, women crusading against domestic violence in Southern India, basketball sensation Jeremy Lin, and a high-energy Thai cheerleading team: if you seek inspiration, head straight to the documentary films of CAAMFest, formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. The Center for Asian American Media rolls out its newly revamped festival March 14-24, with an array of films, music, and food-themed programs. Though the fest does typically boast a noteworthy selection of docs, the 2013 slate is particularly strong.
North Korea is never really out of the news, but it’s been spotlighted recently thanks to pop-culture punch line Dennis Rodman’s recent visit. Publicity stunts have no place in either Memory of Forgotten War or Seeking Haven, both of which offer wrenching stories of families separated by the troubled country’s tightly-controlled borders. Memory centers on now-elderly survivors of the Korean War, which “ended” 60 years ago with no formal peace agreement. Deann Borshay Liem and Ramsay Liem’s sensitive portrait mixes old photos, newsreel footage, and present-day interviews to piece together the devastating effects of the civil war — especially the pain of not being able to contact relatives living mere miles away in the north, due to the threat of harsh repercussions on both sides.
A younger protagonist faces a similar struggle in Seeking Haven. Hein S. Seok, Lee Hark-joon, and Ko Dong-kyun’s film follows Young-soon, a North Korean refugee whose successful escape to China and then South Korea (a perilous journey through jungles and across rivers, amazingly documented here) is tainted by worries about the family she left behind. In particular, she fears for a sister who may be near death in a prison hospital — and there’s not enough bribe money in the world that can free her. The film’s most striking sequence occurs when the filmmakers drive Young-soon along the border and up a mountain in China overlooking the village where she grew up. Her reaction to being so close to a place she can never return to is a mix of excitement, fear, nostalgia, and longing — and relief, too.
Borders also figure prominently in Stephen Maing’s engaging High Tech, Low Life, about two pioneering Chinese bloggers, or “citizen journalists” — although here, the invisible line refers mostly to the “Great Firewall,” which controls and censors much of China’s internet content. Both men are constantly under threat of arrest thanks to the stories they report, though they otherwise couldn’t be more different. “Zola” is a young, Twitter-addicted upstart who enjoys his online fame (“I used to be a nobody, until I discovered the internet”) as much as he enjoys exposing illegal evictions and corrupt murder investigations. Older, wiser “Tiger Temple” uses his blog as a force for real change, cycling hundreds of miles to talk with struggling farmers, and taking an active role in helping their situation.
Also from China, When Night Falls is not strictly a documentary, but it’s closely drawn from real-life events. It concerns a high-profile, notoriously complex case in which a Shanghai man slashed his way through a police station, killing six cops as revenge for an alleged beating he’d been administered earlier for the crime of riding an unlicensed bicycle. The film, which focuses on the man’s quiet but determined mother (played by Nai An), is less notable for its cinematic merits than its political ones; needless to say, Chinese authorities are neither fans of the film nor its director, Ying Liang.
An ultimately more uplifting tale can be found in Invoking Justice, Deepa Dhanraj’s revealing examination of women’s rights in Tamil Nadu, South India (spoiler alert: there ain’t many, violence against women is sadly common, and many cases go unpunished). Hope comes in the form of Muslim wives, mothers, and daughters who form the first-ever Women’s Jamaat, assertively working to change the way divorces, abuse cases, rapes, and worse are handled in their communities. “If we talk about our problems openly, we will be able to overcome them,” one member reasons, and the film does indeed chart some baby-steps of progress as a result of their efforts.
Bay Area filmmaker Evan Jackson Leong’s highly enjoyable Linsanity is the perfect fit for CAAMFest’s opening-night celebration. It follows Palo Alto’s own Jeremy Lin, a hugely charismatic documentary subject, as he rises from Harvard standout to struggling NBA rookie, giving plenty of context to his apparent insta-fame while considering how his Asian American-ness both helped and hindered his career. Also from the Bay Area is Debbie Lum’s remarkably all-access — often uncomfortably so — Seeking Asian Female, look at the relationship between sixtysomething white guy Steve and the half-his-age Sandy, a Chinese woman who agrees to marry him after meeting him online. Neither partner is as stereotypical as they first appear, and as Lum herself is reluctantly drawn into the story, a complicated, frustratingly human (but always compelling) drama emerges.
One more plug: Luke Cassady-Dorion’s The Cheer Ambassadors, about Bangkok University’s internationally acclaimed cheerleading team. The kids are guided through their high-flying, hip-thrusting routines by a dynamo of a coach, equal parts sparkle and steel, who speaks only in quotable declarations (“I was born to be a cheerleader!”) and motivational phrases (“Dreams are what make your life better”). This has gotta be the feel-good movie of the festival; insert your own “stand up and cheer” joke here.
March 14-24, most shows $12
Various venues, SF and Berk.
A giant hawk swooped down from the tall trees along the right field line. Against the blazing white San Francisco sky, it seemed all wing span and tiny-headed. And jaggedly, viciously beautiful.
The pickoff play was on.
Greg Snyder, caught completely off guard, dove back to third. Lucky for him, third-baseman Johnny Bartlett was also caught off guard, and the throw glanced off his glove and rolled to the chain link fence in front of the third base dugout, West Sunset Playground.
So I guess that means the pickoff play wasn’t on. Except in the pitcher’s mind. And maybe the hawk’s.
Eskimoed inside my furry-fringed corduroy coat in the stands, I watched with the hawk as Bartlett retrieved the ball. Snyder, with no thought of advancing, knelt on third base and looked at his fingers. The first joint of his right pinky was bent away from his hand at an unnatural angle. He’d jammed it on the bag. First Bartlett, then Sean Paul Presley, the pitcher, came over and had a look, and both turned away, wincing, while Snyder calmly torqued it back into place.
Then, yeah, the game went on.
When we talked later, in the stands, top of the seventh, Snyder had the pinky taped to the ring finger of his throwing hand with a thin strip of dirty white tape.
“Can I get you some ice?” I said.
He said, “Nah.”
“I have ibuprofen,” I said, reaching into my purse.
“No thanks,” he said. “I have some in my car.”
But I never saw him get it. Although he had pitched the first few innings for the visiting team, by the time of the finger thing, he was catching. And continued to catch — six more innings, to the end of a wacky, back-and-forth, 11-inning game.
In the bottom of the tenth, he threw out a runner trying to steal second.
Greg Snyder is 47 years old.
Carter Rockwell, 24, picked up the win in relief, and also hit a home run off his older brother, Will.
Doc Magrane, 69, did not play. But not because of age. He and chemo have recently whipped a little bone cancer into complete remission. He still suits up for pick-up games, puts on some of the extra catchers’ gear, and umps.
Tony Rojas brought a sweater for his dog, Dee Dee. He showed me before the game: black with white skull and crossbones.
“Nice. Does she like it?” I said.
“No,” he said. “She hates it.”
The sweater went on and came back off of Dee Dee, and then she started to shake and shiver and Rojas became worried, which affected his play. He threw high to first, swung at bad pitches . . . had she gotten into something? he wondered.
“We could use a field ump, too, you know,” Doc Magrane called out to me, between innings.
I didn’t know yet that I was a sports writer.
“No thanks!” I hollered back anyway.
It’s been twenty years now since the Mission Baseball Club, as it has come to be called, started. Maybe 21.
In 1992 (or 3), four or five Mission District musicians and poets, myself included, gathered at Jackson Field at the foot of Potrero Hill one day a week to play catch, field grounders, and take batting practice.
Six or seven, eight . . . Once there were nine, we could split into threes and play tiny three-way games, with right field foul and “imaginary runners.”
At twelve we opened right field, and any more than that meant we could have a catcher, so we bought some catchers’ gear.
For a few years there in the mid-90s, the Mission fielded a team in the city’s Roberto Clemente League. We were a ragtag crew, and the only team in the league with women on it. No one asked. We just did it.
Twenty years later: this. Eye black and uniforms. Field reservations. An umpire. As it turns out, a reporter . . . Two teams of 11, arbitrarily decided, share one dugout each week. And the range of play varies. Widely. Some have played college ball. One played in the minors.
Jen Ralston (a.k.a. Hedgehog, a.k.a. my Hedgehog), who at 42 is playing the first baseball of her life, lined a two-strike curve into shallow center: her first hit ever. I asked for the ball.
Eventually she came around to score, and commented later, over fish, that the bases had been softer than she’d expected.
“Are they always like that?” she said.
I said that they were.
OPINION When I first came out as a transgender man in the mid 1990s, I quickly realized that I would have to pay out-of-pocket for the health care I needed.
Nearly every insurance plan has outdated exclusions that bar transgender people from receiving medically necessary health care. Everything from cancer screenings to the care related to gender transition is commonly excluded, despite being provided without exclusion to non-transgender health insurance customers.
For working people everywhere, including members of the LGBT community, accessible, affordable, quality healthcare is critical. And for union members like myself, healthcare equity is part of a basic and broader vision for equality for all people.
In recognition of this vision, Pride at Work, the SEIU National Lavender Caucus, National Center for Transgender Equality, the Transgender Law Center, and Basic Rights Oregon have partnered for the very first Transgender Month of Action, aimed at lifting the healthcare inequities that face our community.
I began to gender transition in 1996, starting with hormone therapy, a process that required walking through countless hoops. I will forever be thankful to the Tom Wadell Clinic and Lyon Martin Clinic for making hormone therapy accessible to low-income and uninsured trans people like myself, but I know I was one of the lucky ones. A few years later, when I was insured, I began to feel as if insurance companies were the gatekeepers of my body.
I knew that I needed to get chest surgery and that it wouldn’t be covered by my insurance, so I held a rent party and told my friends and loved ones that I needed help. It took a lot of vulnerability to do that. Like everyone else, transgender people need acute care when they are sick and preventative care to keep us from becoming ill, including services that are traditionally considered to be gender specific — such as Pap smears, prostate exams, and mammograms.
But insurers frequently expand discriminatory exclusions in a way that denies transgender people coverage for basic services. Take the outrageous example of a transgender woman in New Jersey who was denied coverage for a mammogram on the basis that it fell under her plan’s sweeping exclusion for all treatments “related to changing sex.”
Sometimes, trans people are denied care completely. In the late 1990s, I went to a gynecologist, but the doctor refused to treat me. Over the next 10 years, likes so many other trans people, I did not get an exam, too embarrassed and outraged to seek treatment.
In 2001, I worked with the a group of transgender healthcare activists to remove discriminatory exclusions for trans employees. When the Board of Supervisors voted to remove these exclusions, it was a huge and historic victory. Since that decision over a decade ago, San Francisco has proudly provided inclusive health care to city employees — and there’s been no cost increase to the overall plan.
Pride at Work, the organization that brings together LGBT union members and their allies, has a sign in the office that states: An injury to one is an injury to all. That’s the premise that underscores the labor movement’s commitment to LGBT equality, including trans-inclusive healthcare.
And it’s why Pride at Work is organizing local and national efforts to educate LGBT people and labor unions about the importance of ensuring access to basic healthcare for transgender people and providing coverage of medically-necessary transition-related care in health insurance. This first-of-its-kind effort is inspired by the belief that all workers deserve to have all medically-necessary care covered by health insurance, including transgender people whose healthcare needs are not being met.
Gabriel Haaland is co-vice president of Pride at Work.
EDITOR’S NOTES I wasn’t invited to the meeting where Mayor Ed Lee (and Willie Brown and Rose Pak) sat down with representatives of Lennar Corp. and a Chinese investment consortium to try to finalize a deal for Treasure Island. But I can tell you with near-absolute certainty that what comes out will not be good for San Francisco.
I can tell you that because every major project the mayor has negotiated has been bad for the city.
The way the California Pacific Medical Center project came down is a perfect example. The mayor worked directly with Sutter Corp., which owns CPMC, last spring, and in March, came out with a proposal that he and his allies presented as the best the city and the hospital giant could do.
It was awful.
CPMC would pay nowhere near enough in housing money to offset the new jobs it was creating. St. Luke’s, the critical public health link in the Mission, would be cut to 80 beds, below what it needed to be sustainable. Only about five percent of the 1,500 new jobs would go to existing San Francisco residents.
It was also pretty much dead on arrival at the Board of Supervisors, where a broad-based group of community activists pushed for big changes — and won. Sups. David Campos, David Chiu, and Mark Farrell stepped into the void created by a lack of mayoral leadership and forced Sutter to accept a much better deal, with St. Luke’s at 120 beds, vastly increased charity care, a guarantee that 40 percent of the new jobs will go to San Franciscans, and a much-better housing and transit component.
The mayor got rolled; he was ready to accept what everyone with any sense knew was better for Sutter than for his constituents. He clearly didn’t know how to say what the supervisors said: This won’t work, and we’d rather walk away from the whole deal than accept a crappy outcome.
That’s exactly what’s going on with the Warriors’ arena — the mayor is giving away the store. And he, with Brown and Pak at his side, will do the same at Treasure Island.
The balance of power in the city is moving to the board. And for good reason — the supervisors seem to be able to get things done.