Volume 47 Number 25
THEATER An average of 22 veterans a day committed suicide in the United States in 2010, according to a report last year by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Chris Kyle, however, was not likely to be one of them. The former Navy SEAL and author of a best-selling memoir had returned from military deployment in Iraq with a bounding enthusiasm for succeeding in civilian life, not least by helping other veterans with war-related trauma. Last month, on a shooting range in North Texas, a fellow vet apparently suffering from PTSD shot and killed Kyle, by then renowned as the U.S. military’s all-time deadliest sniper.
Irony like this defies fiction. But then that’s something George F. Walker understands. When the acclaimed Canadian playwright levels his pen at his primary target — he cruelly exploitative class system we inhabit back here on the “civilized” and oblivious home front —the result is dark and powerful comedy. A case in point is Dead Metaphor, his new play about a well-intentioned former army sniper facing a dismal job market and family pressures back home who goes to work for a right-wing candidate of the Michele Bachmann stripe. The world premiere comes to the Bay Area courtesy of an admirable production by American Conservatory Theater under the astute direction of Irene Lewis. As very serious as it is very funny, Dead Metaphor rings like the report from a not-so-distant battlefield.
Five months back from military duty, and despite hearing nothing good about the government’s job placement services, Dean Trusk (a winningly cheerful, subtly shaded George Hampe) finally puts himself before the local job counselor (a dryly comical, increasingly disconcerted Anthony Fusco). After all, Dean has to consider his pregnant ex-wife (a smart, scrappy Rebekah Brockman) now that he’s defied expectations by coming back home alive and she’s accordingly re-marrying him. He also has an increasingly erratic and absent-minded father (a charmingly earthy, alarmingly volcanic Tom Bloom) coming unhinged by an as yet undiagnosed disease, and his brave but reeling mother (a heartbreakingly genuine Sharon Lockwood) who is faced with the prospect of having to soon place him in an expensive managed care facility.
The job counselor is unsettled by Dean’s ingenuous highlighting of his “high-level kills” on the battlefield as testament to his employable “efficiency” but, finally disarmed by the young man’s honorable sincerity, gets him a position as a coffee-fetching assistant to his politician-wife—a coldly calculating true believer of the now-mainstream Far Right (played with just the right mixture of acumen, conviction and parodic excess by an excellent René Augesen). The job exposes a rather blasé Dean to some campaign shenanigans his wife quickly deciphers as illicit, leading to a crisis for the couple as his moral compass swings first away from such dirty work and then back toward a desperate deal that might save his family from destitution.
Cast on a rotating set that moves an assortment of indoor and outdoor furnishing into and out of focus (against scenic designer Christopher Barreca’s semi-circular panorama of cloud-flecked sky), the story is a merry-go-round of insiders and outsiders, wheeling and dealing, war and peace, loyalty and opportunity, and truth and appearances. Act one in particular carries real force in the shrewd balance it strikes between razor-sharp comic dialogue and all-too-believable situations. This force attenuates somewhat in act two’s increasingly far-fetched details and strident humor. Nevertheless, the story remains anchored to a clear-sighted purpose, manifested in an unnerving and thought-provoking ending. Moreover, every scene along the way is engaging and often a sheer delight, propelled by fine acting, consistently hilarious and caustic dialogue, unexpected pangs of heartache, and a devilishly intriguing plot.
There seems to be a new raft of war-related dramas on stages lately (Word for Word’s You Know When the Men Are Gone being among the more recent, as ACT itself gets ready to bring in the internationally acclaimed Scottish production, Black Watch), but few use humor so powerfully to indict the hypocrisy and self-destruction of a society committed to permanent war. When tragedy repeats itself this long, suggests Dead Metaphor, it can only be played as farce.
Wed/20-Sat/23, 8pm (also Sat/23, 2pm); Sun/24, 2 and 7pm, $20-$95
415 Geary, SF
STREET SEEN The St. Patrick’s Day drunk bus cruising down Howard Street last Saturday didn’t quite know what to make of the group striking martial poses on the sidewalk in front of the Cartoon Art Museum.
Maybe the red-nosed boobs were suffering outfit envy — those tiny green hats bobbing precariously between stop lights, the sparkly temporary tattoos proclaiming allegiance to various alcohol brands, even the strobing shamrocks that bobbed on semi-erect springs and rigid plastic headbands were no match for the sartorial fireworks amassed that day by the Bay Area’s very own Cobra 1st Legion (www.cobra1stlegion.com), a year-old G.I. Joe cosplay group.
“A lot of this is about being a role model.”
I had pulled aside Ciera Johnson, who was attired in army green and arrows to portray the military cartoon’s covert operations specialist Lady Jaye, in the middle of Cobra 1st Legion’s appearance at the museum.
Around her, in an appearance partially geared toward hyping this month’s new 3D G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the Legion was collecting books for its favorite charity Operation Paperback, a nonprofit that sends reading material to deployed members of the military. Operation Paperback is championed by Larry Hama, who wrote the early G.I. Joe Marvel cartoons.
Johnson says that, despite the cartoon’s martial bent, service comes first and foremost for the men and women of G.I. Joe. “Their whole thing was to go against Cobra [Commander, head bad guy, duh]. They are all about trying to protect people.”
She apologized that she wasn’t in full regalia. Some of her pins, she explained, were in the van of a fellow Legion member who hadn’t yet penetrated the St. Patty’s Day parade traffic.
Cobra 1st Legion founder Matt Holdaway’s Storm Shadow outfit was suffering no such incompleteness, right down to the white half-mask and split-toe jika-tabi boots he’d copped to properly mimic the series’ bad guy ninja.
“I understand G.I. Joe is very jingoistic,” the gentle Holdaway told me somewhat apologetically. “For me, it’s what meant the most to me when I was eight.”
A long-time skeptic when it came to nerds dressing up as their favorite characters, worlds realigned for the radio host and musician the first time he saw someone dressed up as a G.I. Joe character. Suddenly, “to see it in real life was a dream come true.” Holdaway put out a call on Facebook to find like-minded fans, and in no time was convincing staff at the U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier docked in Alameda to let the group shoot a photography version of a comic book on deck.
Check the group’s Facebook page for the gleeful results. “When you go to our photo shoots, it’s just exactly like kids in a playground,” Holdaway smiles, inviting me to Cobra 1st Legion’s next outing. “If you find it perfectly acceptable to be an adult and go out in public like this, you should join us.”
At first, Holdaway admits the group existed purely for the photo shoots and the glory of sporting a top-notch Destro amulet atop an entirely accurate thatch of chest hair. But then, inspiration struck him: “If we can come together for hedonism, can we come together for charity?”
They could. Holdaway tells me Cobra 1st Legion has helped build a kids’ library in Kabul and a sci-fi library in a Virginia veterans’ hospital through Operation Paperback.
But — not that there’s anything wrong with this — the clothes are what I’ll remember from my time with the Legion. Mid-interview with Holdaway, a tall personage strides into the room wearing a blue suit, matching cape lined with red satin, white belt, black leather gloves, and yellow braided aiguillette affixed to one shoulder. Cobra Commander is in the house.
“Lookin’ good!” Holdaway hoots, before returning to our talk.
SEX Maybe Selena “Missy Suicide” Mooney’s description of the erotic media empire she’s built is a little simplistic: “We did it in a way that women could find sexy, because I started it and I’m a girl and I didn’t want it to be completely gross to me.”
But truth be told, the concept behind Suicide Girls really isn’t all that hard to digest: take fine girls that have piercings, punk hair color, tattoos, and/or all the above. Get them naked. Take pictures, pretty ones. Let us eavesdrop on their lives through blogs and message boards. Cue money dance.
And now Mooney’s girls are in a coffee table book.
“It’s actually our third coffee table book,” the founder of the soft core porn site-social network tells me during our phone interview in advance of the Suicide Girls: Hard Girls, Soft Light signing on Tue/26 at Mission: Art and Comics.
Perhaps sensing my lack of paid membership to the site, and hence my possible ignorance as to their position of power, Mooney briefs me on how world domination is going for her Girls. Originally based out of Portland, Ore., at press time the Suicide Girls numbered 2403. Every continent is represented in their legion. (Shout-out to that sultry research scientist in Alaska.) They have a weekly radio show in LA, have toured the world doing burlesque shows, opened for Guns N’ Roses, and have been immortalized in comic book form. Last year, the Girls released their fourth movie, documenting a weeklong 30-babe frolic in a converted windmill in England.
Hard Girls, Soft Light is the perfect format, however, for enjoying the Girls’ particular luminosity. There is Kemper from Los Angeles with her striking pubis mon rose tattoo, my favorite ink in the book save Arabella from London’s architectural flourishes around her breasts. “We wanted to show the girls in soft, beautiful light and make it as if you were waking up next to them, to show the softness of their beauty,” says Mooney.
Here is the Suicide Girls’ perfect conceit: you are paying for the pleasure of this porn, but it’s entirely believable that it was made not just for your enjoyment, but that of the Girls themselves. Mooney has a lot to say about showing alt forms of beauty — back in 2001 when the site was launched there was hardly the glut of tatted-up hotties in the media that there are today. Then as now, tattoos were deal-breakers for many aspiring porn stars.
Mooney says she started the site primarily as a place for people to bond over a different sense of what made beautiful. (Do note: you won’t find a ton of armpit hair or body diversity on the Girls site — we’re talking tattoos, not anti-hegemony.)
Seems like the Girls agree. “Of course the basic premise of SuicideGirls as an online community from which I’ve been able to make a lot of friends and take part in a lot of interesting creative projects [sic],” says fair-skinned Annalee from Edinburgh in one of Hard Girls, Soft Light‘s featured quotes, pulled straight from the models’ Suicide Girls blogs.
“The more women who are comfortable with their bodies the happier the world will be,” Mooney asserts. No arguments there.
Suicide Girls: Hard Girls, Soft Light signing Tue/26, 7pm, free. Mission: Comics and Art, 3520 20th St., Suite B, SF. (415) 695-1545, www.missioncomicsandart.com; Afterparty 9pm, free. Bender’s, 806 South Van Ness, SF. www.bendersbar.com
How I Came Out Tue/26, 8pm, $10. 1772 Market, SF. facebook.com/HellaGayComedyShow. Charlie Ballard may have made his mark as a local stand-up comedian, but this night of performance will go deeper than “didja ever notice when?” Guest stars — including Joshua “Peaches Christ” Grannell share their coming-out story on stage.
“Art of Jacks” Through March 31. Opening reception Sun/24, 2-7pm, free. Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission, SF. www.sexandculture.org. San Francisco’s most venerable all-male jack-off club is celebrated at this art opening, which gathers works inspired by the quick wrists and open hearts of the 30-year old group.
GAMER There’s no single trick to staying relevant in today’s game market. The past month has seen three overt attempts to kick-start flagging franchises, and the different approaches developers have taken to boost sales demonstrate just how wily this second Wild West has become for the industry.
Last week’s release of God of War: Ascension, a prequel to the superlatively successful — and single-player-only — God of War trilogy, arrived in stores with meager details about its twisting, soapy take on ancient Greece, but we knew plenty about the action title’s new multiplayer mode. With publishers like Electronic Arts and Crytek nobly prophesying the death of the single-player experience, multiplayer and other online services have become the go-to additions to franchises that are otherwise at odds with any sort of social interaction.
Fast-paced and frenetic, the multiplayer fills a niche that was lacking in the action-combat field, but it remains a mode no one really asked for. And it’s the single-player experience that suffers as a result. With no coherent sense of purpose for the oft-spurned demigod Kratos, and hampered by outmoded game design, it’s a shame that when it came time to reestablish the franchise developer Santa Monica Studio were afraid to truly color outside the lines.
The Metal Gear franchise has been a dependable stealth series for decades, but the extended wait between releases has forced Solid Snake to pass the mic to newer sneaky heroes like Sam Fisher and all those hooded guys in Assassin’s Creed. Which is why Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a brilliant method of enriching that legacy and attracting new fans at the same time.
Konami outsourced Revengeance‘s development to Platinum Games, developers of the over-the-top Bayonetta series, and allowed some of Japan’s most outrageous game creators to twist the Metal Gear formula in a refreshing way. Rather than the stealth combat that drives the main series, Revengeance is a ruthless action game, built on linking combos and a thrilling kinetic conversation of offensive and defensive movement. Focusing on bit character (and cybernetic ninja) Raiden invigorates the franchise without messing with canon and speaks to a range of people who wouldn’t normally be interested in a Metal Gear game.
When all else fails, reboot. Tomb Raider‘s Lara Croft has become a punch line in her old age: an iconic pedigree ultimately overshadowed by a pair of Angelina Jolie movies and a controversial PC mod that allows you to play in the polygonal buff. Developer Crystal Dynamics recently attempted to rejuvenate the series with cooperative play in the spin-off The Guardian of Light, but it needed — and failed to provide — something stylish enough to draw in a generation of gamers who were already getting a solid archeology fix from the Uncharted series.
Approachable and slick, Tomb Raider (2013) has a gruesome sense of physicality, as young Lara is pushed to her limit for the first time on an unforgiving island off the coast of Japan. Ditching the cheeky humor and prehistoric dinosaurs and focusing on an origin story that humanizes a character that was a hair’s breadth from becoming a caricature, this new Lara Croft earns a second life and proves there’s still an audience seeking deep single-player experiences.
Of course, Tomb Raider also has a multiplayer mode. Always hedge your bets, I suppose.
BEER My cab pulled up to an unassuming house on a quiet street in the Mission. An etched sign on the front porch bearing the words “Brewlab San Francisco” was my first greeting to the space. I entered, and after checking me in, a man in a green vintage Adidas tracksuit handed me a customized Mason jar and said, “Enjoy.” It was time for a tasting at Brewlab (www.brewlabsf.com).
This wasn’t my first time at the quickly growing hackerspace for homebrewers. What brings me back is not the brew found at its invite-only tasting events, but the community that produces those pints. It’s a community that is thriving with Brewlab as its hub.
The mission behind Brewlab is very simple: to create a space for home beer makers to gather together, share their creations, and get feedback from each other and beer enthusiasts. Brewlab will soon offer classes, and currently provides equipment-sharing opportunities for aspiring home brewers. It hosts tasting events and competitions where ale makers gain feedback on their work from their community.
“There wasn’t an organization supporting homebrewers at the time, so I decided to start one with my friend Emily Ford,” Sam Gilbert says via email. As Brewlab’s co-founder, he operates the organization with Matt Smith, who joined up when Ford left the group early on in its existence.
“At the time, I was really inspired by what ForageSF was doing for people making food at home, and so [I] wanted to try to do the same thing for home brewers,” Gilbert explains.
In a move that sprang from his interest in cooking, Gilbert started brewing about five years ago while living in Boston. Enticed by the complexities of hops and fermentation, he hasn’t looked back since: “There’s a lot of biology and chemistry to learn about, as well as equipment to build and maintain.” He came to San Francisco to work in the tech industry and started Brewlab soon after, in the spring of 2011.
“I quickly started craving that feeling of community you get from making stuff with like-minded people,” he says. “Home-brewing tends to attract people who are really passionate about the craft, but who also like to have fun. Drinking is built right into the hobby, after all.”
To say that Gilbert’s project has become a presence in the brewing community would be an understatement. Every time I’ve set foot in the Brewlab headquarters, I’ve been bowled over by the sense of friendliness and camaraderie — not to mention by the plain ol’ good times to be had there. People know my face, they know my name, they remember our last conversations — and I don’t even make beer. “There’s nothing like being in the middle of a growing community,” Gilbert writes, and surely he’s in a good position to judge.
“It’s been the most thrilling, exhausting, nerve-wracking, inspiring thing I’ve ever done,” he continues. “Brewlab sits at the intersection of what are probably San Francisco’s three favorite things: beer, tech, and local craftsmanship. So from a very early stage it felt like we had hit a nerve.”
Now in its second year of operation, Brewlab is working on ways to serve the homebrew community. From what I can see, the future is very exciting. At its last tasting event, sensors were placed at the bottom of each taster’s glass. They recorded how many times each beer was ordered. iPad stations in Brewlab’s garage allowed visitors to submit detailed feedback on the flavor profiles of the various pours.
In addition to its tasting events (which are now invite-only to deal with the unexpectedly high level of demand for these rad happenings) Brewlab is currently collaborating with nearly a dozen brewers to make a Belgian tripel that will age for six months in a wine barrel.
Perhaps most exciting of all, the group will be offering basic classes for people like me: wannabes who observe and admire the homebrewing craft but have no idea how to start making their own beer. The classes will be free to the public. No experience is necessary, and Brewlab’s equipment sharing program can help ease you into brewerdom on the cheap.
Throughout my conversations with Gilbert and Smith, it seemed clear that while they’re excited about expanding the Brewlab community and continuing to expand its programming, their primary goal is to nurture a small and strong community that stays true to the craft.
“So many awesome people have come through our doors, tasted our beers, and worked hard to support the organization at this point,” Gilbert writes. Thanks to Brewlab, it’s a good time to be a little guy in the brewing game in San Francisco.
FILM Imagine being trapped, No Exit–style, on a city bus — let’s say Muni’s dreaded “Double Deuce” Fillmore for the sake of creative visualization — in the midst of a dozen or so out-of-control teenagers hell-bent on humiliating and terrorizing their peers and, if you have an obvious human frailty, you as well. Sound like fun? Well, Michel Gondry’s The We and the I puts you there (dramatically speaking, at least) and is often surprisingly just that. To paraphrase Sartre, “Hell is other people … on the bus,” but thankfully we get to take the trip from the safety of cushy theater seats and comfy couches.
Arguably minor Gondry (unlike 2011’s abominable The Green Hornet, whose failure can only be described as major), it’s a nice little palate cleanser in anticipation of his upcoming, much-publicized “return to form,” the Audrey Tautou–starring Mood Indigo, a film that looks to be as visually lush and romantic as The We and the I is stripped down.
Almost all of the film takes place on the aforementioned city bus as it crawls around the mean streets of New York City’s Bronx borough, ostensibly to take home kids (all played by nonprofessional actors, all minorities) after their last day of school. One or two of them do disembark early, but most seem stuck on a fossil-fueled existential journey of the damned. At about the 70-minute mark it’s hard not to wonder if the disgruntled bus driver isn’t just tooling around in circles past the same storefronts à la Joel Barish’s mind trips in Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) — just exactly how big is the Bronx anyway? “Drop out, get your GED, join the army. I don’t give a fuck,” the driver tells a confused girl. It’s clear that the kids suffer from this kind of general adult apathy, but most bear it with a hard-edged bravado that belies their vulnerability.
That particularly applies to the trio of bullies at the back of the bus, who treat both the kids and the adults with equal-opportunity disdain. They smash an arty boy’s acoustic guitar, hurl insults while sneaking smokes, and even shame a middle-aged guy with a cleft palette. But most of their ire is saved for Teresa (Teresa Lynn), a slightly chubby, obviously troubled girl who shows up wearing a laughably bad blonde wig after being MIA from school for weeks. Teresa becomes the emotional heart of the story after it’s revealed her relationships with several kids on the bus are more complicated than initially thought.
Those kids include a drama-queen sexpot with apparent self-harming issues, a refreshingly upfront couple of gay teens, and a gaggle of giggling girls who toss around a water bra like a football. (The girls, tellingly, are just as aggressive as the boys.) Geek and bully alike connect regularly through the preferred teen method of communication: social media, specifically in the form of a YouTube video of a local doofus named Elijah repeatedly falling on his ass. Some joys are universal.
Visually, The We and the I marks a departure for Gondry. While his films always have a low-fi, arts-and-crafts vibe full of DIY quirk, this one generally eschews his love of handmade ephemera. (A major exception is the boom box rejiggered to resemble a tiny bus, which tools around to Young MC’s “Bust A Move” during the opening credits.) There is a touch of fast-motion and papier-mâché goofiness, but mostly the whole thing is done in a straightforward, verité style.
The tone, however, is pure Gondry: dopey-funny and sophisticatedly unsophisticated. You get the sense that, unlike his tony New York–loving counterparts Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, Gondry is a true populist. The We and the I is certainly nothing if not populist. But it’s also about the individual — specifically who we are inside and outside of an often-grueling social system. Despite some hiccups, like an unnecessarily dark third-act revelation, it’s more or less successful in illuminating the joys, cruelties, and uncertainties of life, which remain viscerally real after the sun sets and we finally get off the bus, vulnerable as ever in our solitude.
THE WE AND THE I opens Fri/22 in Bay Area theaters.
FILM Ten years after its release (and more than 15 years since Jim Van Bebber started working on it), the legendary cult film The Manson Family returns for special theatrical screenings in conjunction with a remastered Blu-ray release. Also on the bill: short film Gator Green, Van Bebber’s most recent project.
Personal circumstances have the Ohio native living in Florida these days. “I’m like, goddammit, I’m down here — I gotta make a movie! So that’s what I’m up to with Gator Green,” he drawls over the phone. “It’s about a Vietnam veteran who swindles his way into this alligator farm from the Seminole Indians in 1973, and abuses every right. It’s the worst portrait of America I can think of.”
Strong words coming from the guy who made The Manson Family, maybe the most gruesomely realistic study of the hippie cult, crafted with an eye for detail that speaks to true-crime scholarship of the highest order. His fascination with Charles Manson is a long-standing one, having begun in the late 1970s when the Helter Skelter miniseries aired.
“It was a big fuckin’ deal,” he remembers. He was still in elementary school at the time. “This is back in the day when you only had three channels. I was not allowed to watch the film, so I had to ask my friends on the playground, ‘What was that about?’ It kind of haunted me.”
Unlike Helter Skelter, which is based on the best-seller written by Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, Van Bebber’s film focuses on the months of drug-fueled delirium (“a crazy, psychotic rush to absolute zero”) prior to the Family’s crime spree.
“How can you touch Helter Skelter, which is basically a great depiction of the trial? I decided to do everything leading up to that. If you watched them together, it would be a great double feature — Manson 101.”
He began The Manson Family after finding underground success with 1988’s Deadbeat at Dawn, which he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in. (He has a similar stack of credits on Manson, too.) At the time, he’d recently seen Geraldo Rivera’s infamous jailhouse interview with a ranting, tongue-twisting Manson.
“I flipped out,” he chuckles. “I mean, are you kidding me?” Conveniently, he already had a friend who resembled Manson; the rest of the cast — many of whom appear fully nude and/or screaming, covered in blood, etc. — came from the theater department at Wright State University, where he was a student.
“I was very up-front with everybody. I was like, this is gonna be freaky,” he says. “We dove into it without the entire budget in place, and it became this ongoing thing. Thankfully we wrapped the photography within, like, four years. But then it was an eternal struggle to see it fully realized. I got plenty of offers, ‘Ok, let’s just slam this into the DVD market. But first, we gotta cut out this one scene …'”
Determined to stay true to his vision — dark and nightmarish though it was — Van Bebber held out until he met producers David Gregory and Carl Daft. “They got it done the right way. They’re warriors. And I’m pleased that it’s finding its Blu-ray home.”
Looking ahead, he hopes to expand Gator Green into a feature. “I’m just gonna keep going. I was born to make films, and that’s just what I do. Sometimes it takes me a long time, but it’s always worth it.”
Another sordid tale from the Sunshine State beckons in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. The idea of enfant terrible emeritus Korine — 1997’s Gummo, 2007’s Mister Lonely, 2009’s Trash Humpers — directing something so utterly common as a spring break movie is head-scratching enough, even more so compounded by the casting of teen dreams Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, and Ashley Benson as bikini-clad girls gone wild. James Franco co-stars as drug dealer Alien, all platinum teeth and cornrows and shitty tattoos, who befriends the lasses after they’re busted by the fun police.
“Are you being serious?” Gomez’s character asks Alien, soon after meeting him. “What do you think?” he grins back. Unschooled filmgoers who stumble into the theater to see their favorite starlets might be shocked by Breakers‘ hard-R hijinks. But Korine fans will understand that this neon-lit, Skrillex-scored tale of debauchery and dirty menace is not to be taken at face value. The subject matter, the casting, the Britney Spears songs, the deliberately lurid camerawork — all are carefully-constructed elements in a film that takes not-taking-itself-seriously, very seriously indeed. Korine has said he prefers his films to make “perfect nonsense” instead of perfect sense. Spring Breakers makes perfect nonsense, and it also makes nonsense perfect.
After a slo-mo opening sequence of generic partying stuffed with the three Bs (boobs, beer, beach), Spring Breakers shifts to a crummy town in Southern Nowheresville, home to bored college students Brit (Benson), Candy (Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine, wife of the director), and Faith (Gomez). (Can you guess which one is the Christian?) The friends moan about the spring break they’re being denied due to lack of funds, until a plan to rob a fast-food restaurant emerges, and Spring Breakers’ prevailing visual motif — ski mask-wearing hot chicks with guns — is born. It’s one of the film’s many “jokes without a punch line” (another favorite Korine pursuit) that the girls’ college life already resembles one big party — they’re already kinda living spraaaannng braaakkke forevaa, as Alien is fond of saying.
That’s important, because there’s a reason spring break is typically just a one-week affair. For most, full-tilt crazy is only a safe state of being when there’s a clearly-defined endpoint. School begins again; as your liver starts to repair itself, you’re left with a peeling sunburn, stories to tell, maybe a questionable new tattoo. For these girls, spring break is elevated into a chance to “find ourselves, to find out who we are,” according to one of Faith’s dreamy voice-overs. For certain among the group, it’s a quest that leads to some very dark places. Is that a good idea? What do you think? But don’t think too hard, now: to quote Alien again, “Bikinis and big booties, y’all … that’s what life is about.”
THE MANSON FAMILY
Fri/22-Sat/23, midnight, $9-10
2261 Fillmore, SF
SPRING BREAKERS opens Fri/22 in Bay Area theaters.
Corn Dog Day (March 23, free entry with RSVP. SoMa StrEat Food Park, SF) Observe this very important holiday with savory dogs from SoMa’s superb outdoor food truck court and catch the game while you’re at it — the first weekend of March Madness will be showing on several screens around this gourmand parking lot. Sponsored by that online encyclopedia of awesome, FunCheapSF. sf.funcheap.com/corn-dog-day-funcheap
International Chocolate Salon (March 24, $25-30. Fort Mason, SF) With over 40 purveyors of dark, milk, white, bitter, etc., you will most likely be a mess of sugar high halfway through your tour of this expo’s floor. Take a break to inhale artisan perfume in the connected fragrance salon, or check out an expert talk by food critics and chocolatiers. www.sfchocolatesalon.com
Whiskies of the World (April 6, $120. Hornblower Yacht, Pier 3, SF) Thank goodness for the world’s heaviest buffet (steak and potatoes like whoa) at this world-class whiskey expo. You’ll need that tummy padding to tackle the hundreds of rare and delicious scotches, bourbons, etc. This year it’s on a boat, so you can blame your swerve on faulty sea legs. www.whiskiesoftheworld.com
DogFest (April 13, free. Duboce Park, SF) McKinley Elementary scored big when it thought up this daylong parkside dog-a-thon fundraiser for its kiddos. Daniel Handler, author of the Lemony Snicket series, hosts contests for the pup with the best tail, trick, bark, lookalike, and other superlatives. Bouncy castle and other activities to boot! www.mckinleyschool.org/dogfest
Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival (April 13-14, 20-21) Check out Japantown’s premier celebration of neighborhood culture. You can watch this year’s Cherry Blossom Queen crowned on April 13 and on April 21, the fest’s grand parade. Drop by the Sanrio kid’s corner with your little guy for sand painting and kawaii games. www.sfcherryblossom.org
Earth Day (April 20, free. Civic Center Plaza, SF) A “trashion” show by Truckee High School students, a sustainable cooking showcase, and mass yoga classes will be highlights of this year’s city celebrations for Mother Earth’s big day. www.earthdaysf.org
Maker Faire (May 18-19, early bird prices: $25 one-day, $45 weekend pass. San Mateo Event Center) DIY heads of all stripes will swoon for this mega-collection of self-made projects. Last year featured weird food, wacky wiring art, sports mania, and more. www.makerfaire.com
Bay to Breakers (May 19, race registration $58. See website for route) You need to mark this costumed wackadoo of a footrace on your calendar for one of two reasons: to prep your liver for definitely not drinking on the parade route or so you can set up cyclone fencing to prevent errant streams of urine from over-hydrated toga partiers and people in gold bodypaint. www.baytobreakers.com
North Beach Festival (June 15-16, free. North Beach neighborhood, SF) Tell us that all the neighborhood street fairs are essentially the same amalgamation of elephant ears, “quirky” accessory vendors, and pleasant live music. Untrue — North Beach’s massive edition of the tradition includes a church dispensing blessings for animals, so bring your bush python through! www.sresproductions.com
DANCE ODC/Dance started its 42nd season with a party-happy gala and two contrasting but complementary works: Brenda Way’s new Lifesaving Maneuvers and KT Nelson’s redressed and finessed 2012 Transit: Next Stop. Two days later, the season’s major premiere, Triangulating Euclid, co-choreographed by Way, Nelson, and Kate Weare, opened an intriguing perspective on what gifted women can do when they put their heads and hearts together. Of course, women working together is not exactly a fresh idea at ODC it’s at the core of what this troupe set out to do four decades ago.
Though the dark Lifesaving has its moments of humor, Way’s look at wild excesses and paralyzing paranoia, both as social and personal phenomena, is a tough watch. The piece develops in front of Alexander Nichols’ semi-transparent curtain that closes off some ominous, hinted-at life beyond our vision.
While the sheer clarity and force of its choreographic vision pulls you in, Way’s unsparing look on coping strategies is chilling. Chaotic explosions could distill into social dance sequences where a partner, nonetheless, could be dropped like a rock. Yayoi Kambara looked caught in a tornado from which there seemed to be no exit, while Anne Zivolich darted around like a hunted rabbit.
Way grounds the choreography in an intense, often frantic energy that implodes mid-air. She balances discontinuity with unity processions, starting with battlefield imagery of dancers carrying off fallen comrades, women being pushed into the wings like brooms and vacuously waving men and women that might have stepped out of a Pina Bausch piece.
Still, Way doesn’t want us to feel too gloomy. You can’t help but smile when dancers choke and need Heimlich maneuvers as "Mad About the Boy" plays. In a silent movie melodrama, Natasha Adorlee Johnson throws herself at Corey Brady’s suave villain; he coolly assesses his victim and flips her off.
The piece ends with Justin Andrews cradling a desperately flailing Vanessa Thiessen. He tries to comfort her; she can’t respond. Curtain.
Whatever the process that the three collaborators engaged in for Triangulating, it worked. At first the piece looks like an illustration of basic plane geometry, but it quickly blossoms into an exuberant celebration of the way dancers inscribe themselves into space. From the moment a dancer’s leg smudges the carefully drawn line on the floor, you realize that poetry supersedes science.
The half-hour piece sails through its accumulations and dissolutions of staggered and overlapping encounters with surety and an increasing sense of freedom. The piece grows and finishes with Yayoi Kambara as the single dancer who draws the others onto the stage. Line formations give way to duets still at the core of how and why we dance. Wonderfully, the cantilevered lifts, upside-down holds, and kicking feet feel thoroughly at home in Schubert’s music. The partnering between Corey Brady and Maggie Stack, contentious and passionate in the way he throws and whips her around, stands out.
Finally, Anne Zivolich sniffs, tiptoes, and encircles an indifferent Jeremy Smith; she breaks into one of her by-now-legendary whiplashing explosions when he takes off with someone else. One by one her colleagues march in and try to stomp her to the ground. The scene was both hilarious and spoke to truth: surely there is more to this dancer than being a female hurricane something she appears as in just about every choreography that ODC produces.
The simple costumes (by Way and Lisa Claybaugh) of black shorts and bras for the women, and then supplemented by diaphanous white blouses, couldn’t be better. The score’s trajectory from synthesizer to Schubert to grand-style minimalism did its job as well.
Nelson’s Transit: Next Stop has acquired a spectacular set of animations which contextualize her urban dwellers’ attempts to manage their relationships. Yet Barry Steele’s design is so big that it draws undue attention to itself. It works best during a night scene in which life becomes a dream. But I am not sure whether adding a filmic sense of passing and changing habitats brings that much to this funny-yet-tender perspective on what it means to be a contemporary city dweller. *
ODC/DANCE DOWNTOWN 2013
Wed/20-Thu/21, 7:30pm; Fri/22-Sat/23, 8pm; Sun/24, 4pm, $20-$75
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater
700 Howard, SF
It’s true that San Francisco doesn’t really have seasons, per se. We don’t have a snow thaw, or a sudden riot of cherry blossoms, or even a perceptible change in the weather to mark calendar shifts. So grab that lightweight jacket you’ve been wearing since October, and use our selective guide to what music shows to see (dude … Sparks is coming!), gallery and museum shows to hit up, films to catch, and can’t-miss theater and dance performances — including, yep, a fresh take on The Rite of Spring.
MUSIC: SOUL, SPARKS, AND SEVENTIES LEGENDS
“Soul Clap and Dance-Off” (March 30, Rickshaw Stop, SF) After a freak accident in late 2011 (a car plowed into his hotel room), revered New York Night Train DJ Jonathan Toubin is back with his feverish ’60s soul freak out party. The winner of the dance-off gets 100 bones, the guest selector is DJ Primo, and full disclosure, I’m one of the contest judges this time around. www.rickshawstop.com
“Rock See! A Benefit Concert for the Roxie Theater” (April 5, Verdi Club, SF) Support the Roxie by taking in a fundraiser show that’s bursting with local talent, including live sets by John Dwyer’s garage rock superstars Thee Oh Sees, Sonny and the Sunsets, Future Twin, and Assateauge, along with video projections by Barry Jenkins, Jim Granato, and more. www.roxie.com
Sparks (April 9-10, The Chapel, SF) Influential new wave-glam pop duo Sparks hits SF the weekend before Coachella for two intimate concerts, pulling experimental cuts from its 20-plus back catalog of music insider-worshiped albums. www.thechapelsf.com
“CubaCaribe Festival” (April 12-14, Dance Mission Theater, SF; April 19, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF; April 26-28, Laney College Theater, Oakl.) The ninth CubaCaribe Festival offers music and dance performances, lectures, and master classes all based in rich Caribbean traditions. Check out Afro-Cuban modern dance company Teatro de la Danza del Caribe’s first US appearance, Brazilian inspired music and dance company Sambaxé, a lecture by popular local percussionist John Santos, and plenty more. www.cubacaribe.org
Lou Reed (April 14, Warfield, SF) Legendary Velvet Underground songwriter and pioneering solo artist in his own right, Lou “Walk on the Wild Side” Reed pays SF a visit, with memories of his contentious collaboration with Metallica on the Lulu (2011) album (thankfully) fading into the past. www.thewarfieldtheatre.com
Savages (April 18, Independent, SF) When all-female British post-punk group Savages hit the East Coast last year for the annual CMJ conference, the word spread quickly to the West: this blistering quartet is one to watch. All these anxious months later, this headlining show will be Savages’ first SF appearance. www.theindependentsf.com
Big Boi (May 16, Mezzanine, SF) After a disastrous non-set at Outside Lands a few years back (DJ technical issues), rapper-producer Big Boi, a.k.a. one-half of Outkast, returned triumphantly in 2012 with an explosive, quick-tongued performance. Now’s your chance to catch him in a far smaller space in 2013. www.mezzaninesf.com
Fleetwood Mac (May 22, HP Pavilion, San Jose) It’s been 35 years since the release of Rumours. Sure, you can go your own way, but never forget how you got there: after years of touring as solo artists, that classic Fleetwood Mac dynamic (everyone but Christine McVie) is back together, or at least, on tour this spring. (Emily Savage)
VISUAL ART: MUSEUMS
“Lebbeus Woods, Architect” and “Garry Winogrand” (Both through June 2 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) Both are getting lots of attention. Postmodern architect Woods, who just passed away, gets the full retrospective treatment; documentary-style photographer Winograd hasn’t had a retrospective in a couple decades. www.sfmoma.org
“Revisiting the South: Richard Misrach’s Cancer Alley” (March 27-June 16 at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University) Misrach is known for his pristine photographs of blasted and abused environments. The juxtaposition is usually pretty jarring, and I’m a big fan. museum.stanford.edu
“Richard Diebenkorn” (June 22-Sept. 29 at the de Young Museum) New show focusing on abstract paintings from his Berkeley period. deyoung.famsf.org (Matt Fisher)
VISUAL ART: GALLERIES
“Teo González: Recent Paintings” (Through April 20 at Brian Gross) González makes intricate, fastidious paintings, which isn’t such a novelty anymore, except that his match process with subject matter better than most. The show at Brian Gross promises to feature González’s night sky paintings, applying his signature miniscule brushwork to themes of transcendence and chaos. www.briangrossfineart.com
“Evan Nesbit: Light Farming/Heavy Gardening” (March 23-April 26 at Ever Gold) I’m recommending this one based on the overall strength of Ever Gold’s program, which I think it one of the most adventurous in the city — and the fact that Nesbit as an alum of the Yale painting program, which is almost certainly the best in the country. His paintings incorporate real-world woven knits (reminiscent of seat covers, crocheted things, those puffy drawer linings) as the substrate for abstract paintings that manage to combine grid painting, color field painting, and a soft kind of blunt expressionism. www.evergoldgallery.com
“John Millei: Recent Paintings” (March 28-May 11 at George Lawson) Millei is one of Los Angeles’ most virtuosic abstract painters; he usually composes heroic-scaled paintings and projects. His most recent body of work shown at LA’s ACE was from a decade-long project of 200-plus small paintings based on Giotto and Giorgio Morandi. When Millei does historical references, it’s not in the appropriative way that many do, copping motifs and moody lighting effects — it’s in methodically and microscopically breaking down both image and process to reestablish both the image’s dynamic and the role of the artist. For George Lawson, he’s making new works for the tiny Tenderloin space. For my money, Millei is one of the most romantic of living abstractionists. www.georgelawsongallery.com (Fisher)
DANCE: PREMIERES WITH MUSIC, PREMIERES WITH PLANTS
Mago (April 12-14, CounterPULSE) Dohee Lee is that rare creature steeped by inclination and training in a traditional culture — but who is also a completely contemporary artist. She is a singer, a dancer, and a Korean-style Taiko drummer. But she also knows how to weave these abilities into storytelling and ritualized theatrical creations. For Mago, her exploration of the Korean goddess associated with the creation and care of the earth, she adds animation and custom-made instruments to her skills box; it’s a work that integrates her theatrical practice with ritual and Korean shamanism. www.counterpulse.org
Failure of the Sign is the Sign (May 3-5, ODC Theater) The sixth season of Hope Mohr Dance continues what Mohr does so very well: presenting her own very smart choreography but also, through her Bridge Project, bringing in colleagues whose work she admires. This year, it’s Alpert Awards winner Susan Rethorst with the West Coast premiere of her intricate and much-praised Behold Bold Sam Dog. Mohr’s own new work, Failure of the Sign is the Sign, is an installation around the connection between acquiring language and a sense of self. www.odcdance.org
“Ojai North 2013” (June 12-15, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley) The world premiere of Mark Morris’ Rite of Spring just might be the season’s hottest ticket. In many ways it’s an outrageous idea to rework one of the most famous 20th century scores for piano, bass, drums. Bu that’s exactly what the three jazz musicians of the Bad Plus did. Never mind that 100 years ago at its world premiere, Stravinsky had an orchestra of 110 musicians — not including strings — at his disposal. Morris, a musically sophisticated choreographer, apparently loved it, and is setting it on his Mark Morris Dance Group. He’s been choreographing for over 30 years, and he still manages to surprise us. calperfs.berkeley.edu
Botany’s Breath (July 10-13, Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park) For Botany’s Breath, Kim Epifano works with nine professional dancers as well as a dozen community performers. The piece honors the natural world in dance, music, song, and video and pays tribute to the historically significant Conservatory of Flowers. Collaborating with her are instrument builder Peter Whitehead, musician Norman Rutherford, and videographer Ellen Bromberg. You can expect the show to spill out of the quaint Victorian structure into the surrounding environment. www.epiphanydance.org (Rita Felciano)
FILM: FESTIVALS, REP HOUSES … AND A GIANT-ROBOT FLICK
With Hollywood committed to an array of sequels, prequels, and do-overs (like, how many hangovers, Spocks, fast/furious drivers, Supermen, Iron Men, Wolverines, and Gatsbys do we need, really?), your best bet is to focus on film festivals and rep houses this summer. (Maybe take time out for Guillermo del Toro’s aliens vs. giant robots epic Pacific Rim, due July 12 — now that seems worthy of massive popcorn consumption.)
San Francisco’s spring-summer film fest season includes heavy-hitters like the San Francisco International Film Festival (April 5-May 29; www.sffs.org); the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival (June 20-30, www.frameline.org); the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (July 18-21; www.silentfilm.org); and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (July 25-Aug. 12; www.sfjff.org).
Elsewhere, the Pacific Film Archive unspools “The Spanish Mirth: The Comedic Films of Luis García Berlanga” (March 29-April 17; bampfa.berkeley.edu); the Vortex Room’s latest weekly double-feature extravaganza, “Assault on Vortex 13,” chock full o’ 1970s and ’80s action flicks, kicks off April 4 (Facebook: The Vortex Room); the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts scores with “Thai Dreams: The Films of Pen-ek Ratanaruang,” with an in-person visit from the groundbreaking artist (April 4-21; www.ybca.org); cult-movie series Thrillville celebrates its 16th anniversary with an April 14 screening of This Island Earth (www.thenewparkway.com); and the best documentary about movie obsession ever, Room 237, opens April 19 at the Roxie (www.roxie.com).
Plus! Contribute at least $40 to the San Francisco Cinematheque’s Kickstarter campaign in support of the group’s experimental and avant-garde Crossroads Film Festival (April 5-7; www.sfcinematheque.org), and get a tote bag featuring naughty ‘n’ nice artwork by the late, great George Kuchar — guaranteed to never go out of style. (Cheryl Eddy)
THEATER: VINTAGE COCKETTES, NEW KUSHNER
Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma (March 28-June 1, Hypnodrome, SF) Making good on a promising trend that began gloriously in 2009 with smash hit Pearls over Shanghai, Thrillpeddlers continues its Theatre of the Ridiculous Revival series with more musical-comedy mayhem from the Cockettes, San Francisco’s own tripping glitter-bearded drag queens of legend. With the full-length restored version of 1971’s Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma, the company really pulls out the stops — while stuffing in 14 new songs and roping in, as collaborators and cast members, three original Cockettes: Scrumbly Koldewyn, Rumi Missabu, and “Sweet Pam” Tent. www.thrillpeddlers.com
The Bereaved (April 4-27, Thick House, SF) For several years now my friend John and I have been simultaneously enjoying Thomas Bradshaw’s devilishly smart plays (Purity; Dawn; Strom Thurmond Is Not a Racist; etc.) and wondering when someone in the Bay Area would get around to mounting one. In a West Coast premiere, Crowded Fire essays Bradshaw’s scathingly all-American comedy about a family of fevered New York go-getters — gleefully “inappropriate” enough in its wanton send-up of what passes for normal life to be considered a refreshing provocation amid the usual theater fare. www.crowdedfire.org
Storm and Titania (April 7, Noh Space, SF) This one-night-only engagement, co-presented by foolsFURY, offers the Bay Area its first-ever look at the work of Moon Fool, an innovative physical theater ensemble led by UK-based director-actor-musician Anna-Helena McLean, herself a former lead actor with famous Polish experimental theater company Gardzienice. The evening includes Titania, a widely lauded adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream constructed as a solo cabaret; and a work-in-progress showing of Storm, a new immersive, site-specific spectacle based on The Tempest. www.foolsfury.org
The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures (May 16-July 7, Roda Theatre, Berk.) It sounded from its initial reviews like something of a hot mess, but it’s apparently been trimmed and fine-tuned, and anyway there’s no missing the West Coast premiere of a new Tony Kushner play — especially one whose title invokes the decidedly odd coupling of George Bernard Shaw and Mary Baker Eddy. Set in Brooklyn amid the extended family of a lefty Italian American longshoreman, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide promises a fulgurant night of political-philosophical conversation from the stage, bound to stimulate a lot more conversation afterward. www.berkeleyrep.org (Robert Avila)
This one starts with a dislocated finger, too. In the absence of any trainers or team doctors, not to mention health insurance), Manny the referee had to set it. “How’s your pain threshold?” he asked, first.
“High,” said Leland Perzanowski, looking off into the distance. Blue sky. Beautiful day, Crocker Amazon.
“You got this,” someone said.
Snap, some tape, game goes on …
It was opening day for the San Francisco Women’s Flag Football League, and it was St. Patrick’s Day too, so a lot of players wore green somewhere on their bodies. Green socks, green hats . . . The green team in the league is called the Call Me’s, and they lost 14-12 to the Rebels, in spite of executing one of the sweetest “Statue of Liberty” plays I have ever seen, at any level — including playground.
The Statue of Liberty is a rarely-used but super-fun vintage trick play, where the quarterback drops back and fakes a pass, instead handing the ball off behind his or her back to a reversing wide receiver. It’s a no-look transaction, and therefore crazy risky.
The Call Me’s opened the second half with it, timed it perfectly, and Deuce, their speedster, ran it all the way for a touchdown.
Earlier in the morning, the Cosmos had edged the Irontails 20-17 and the Lexington Club Bruisers had come from behind to beat Harm Reduction 12-6, on the strength of some impressive running by the new Bruiser H-back, Brooklyn.
Who was wearing very cool, colorfully framed sunglasses the whole time. I complimented her, after the game — on the touchdown and the dazzling eyewear.
“You can’t see my eyes,” she said, with a smile, “you don’t know which way I’m going.”
So that’s 20-17, 12-6, and 14-12. In other words, all three opening day games were decided by one score or less, and could have gone either way.
It’s not always like that, but the SFWFFL is one of the most exciting, baddest-ass rec leagues in the city, in any sport. I was a fan of the league many years before I became a participant in it. (And a participant a few minutes before I became — damn the knee — just a sportswriter.)
I used to go when they played on grass, in between the now-falling over goal posts at the northwest corner of Crocker. I would bring a picnic, and a friend. And witnessed some great games, including one where a shorthanded team came back from 19-0 at the half to tie it on the final play.
The league has been around for going-on 23 years. Started in 1990 by Michelle Brodie of the Rebels, it has grown from just four teams to, well, twice that. Usually. One team had to drop out this season, according to current commissioner Becca Litke, because they couldn’t field enough players.
People get dinged. (I speak from experience.) And old. (I speak from experience.)
Litke, who plays for Irontails, has been in the league for 14 years.
“And I’m just a rookie,” she said, “compared to some of the players.” She glanced over her shoulder toward the field, where the Rebels and the Call Me’s were going at it, just a couple minutes left, and still anyone’s game.
A lot of players from the earlier games stick around to visit, watch, and in many cases drink.
Nicole Brisebois of Harm Reduction was leaning against the fence texting her high school and college football-playing brothers, and her dad, the recap of her game. Her teammates Patti Curl and Marsha Glass, both med students, were sitting cross-legged on the sidelines nearby, discussing locked-in syndrome.
“I don’t want that,” I overheard Curl say.
So I asked, and learned, what “locked in” meant, syndromewise. It’s a medical condition where you are completely conscious but all you can do is move your eyes. A result of certain kinds of strokes, or head injuries.
I didn’t want that either, I said.
And went back to picking the little black rubber field turf balls out of my socks, while, on the field, the Call Me’s and the Rebels lined up to shake each others’ hands.
Several SF Women’s Flag Football League teams are looking for players, and there’s always room for more teams; check out San Francisco Women’s Flag Football League on Facebook or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
OPINION The recently announced terms for the development of California Pacific Medical Center’s hospitals at Cathedral Hill and St. Luke’s generated front-page and lead stories in the local news media. But nearly without exception, only part of the story was reported. Missing from most accounts of the terms of the new deal, which dramatically changed last year’s failed draft development agreement negotiated by Mayor Ed Lee, was the decisive role played by a community/labor coalition, San Franciscans for Healthcare, Housing, Jobs and Justice.
Key details of the agreement have yet to be finalized, and provisions of the terms announced on March 5th need to be improved. But the new agreement, in virtually all respects, is an improvement over the old one. And on the same day the terms of the new deal was announced one of the union members of the coalition, the National Union of Healthcare Workers signed a contact with CPMC that protected union organizing rights, job security at Cathedral Hill and full employer paid health care — issues that had been unresolved over the last few years. Still missing is an ageement between Sutter and its nurses, a critical component of labor peace.
The basic structure of the current terms mirror almost exactly the positions outlined by the SFHHJJ over the last year, including a requirement for labor peace with all unions at CPMC. This was no accident; it was the result of the efforts of the community/labor coalition. When the old deal was stalled at the Board of Supervisors in early 2013 and it was clear that the Mayors Office had no idea how to proceed, the members of the coalition came up with a framework to get discussions going again. The key ingredient was the involvement of a skilled an knowledgeable mediator, mutually respected by all parties and the participation of Sutter Corp. in Sacramento — the real party able to make actual binding corporate commitments, not the subsidiary the mayor had dealt with.
The second step was to agree to a framework of issues that would form the substance of negotiations — and the coalition’s own comprehensive set of positions served as that framework.
The next step was to get a critical mass of supervisors to agree to participate in the negotiations. Two Supervisors, David Chiu and David Campos, agreed to the coalition’s framework and the use of a third-party mediator. They added a third supervisor, Mark Farrell, to their group in order to assure buy-in from the full board.
Finally, the mediator had to be found and in that the coalition (and the rest of the city) simply were lucky that Lou Girardo was willing and able to provide his own special skills and credibility.
The SFHHJJ is not the first community/labor coalition in San Francisco history. Such coalitions were present in both the District 1 and District 5 supervisors races last year with mixed success, and in 2008 a community/labor coalition fought for revenue measures, again with mixed success but real unity. A new labor/community coalition has emerged to oppose Scott Wiener’s ill-advised weakening of our local California Environmental Policy Act procedures.
As the Democratic Party transforms itself into ever greater political irrelevancy by becoming the home of moderate Republicanism at all levels of government, community and labor co-operation seems to be growing over an increasing number of issues, showing a level of political vibrancy impossible to ignore.
Calvin Welch is a longtime community organizer in San Francisco and is a member of the SFHHJJ CPMC Negotiating Committee
Muni switchbacks — that annoying practice where trains force all the passengers off well before the end of the line — have been in the news lately, with new Supervisor Katy Tang making switchbacks her first political priority.
But when you zero in on who bears the brunt of these service disruptions, it becomes clear that not all transit passengers are created equal. In fact, Muni data shows that the vast majority of switchbacks were concentrated in just three locations this past January.
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency reports shows that the top three stations hit by switchbacks in January were the T Third stop at Third Street and Carroll Avenue; the N Judah stop at Judah Street and Sunset Boulevard; and the J Church stop at Glen Park Station, in that order. While the January data provides only a snapshot, annual figures show that the T and J lines each averaged around 36 switchbacks per month since February of 2012, while the N averaged 49.
View MUNI Switchbacks in a larger map
This map displays the top five locations where switchbacks occurred in January 2013.
Muni defends the switchbacks, saying that trains sometimes have to be rerouted to fill service gaps elsewhere. But for passengers, it’s a huge inconvenience — they’re left with little choice but to sit tight until the next train arrives, which in some cases can be as long as 30 minutes.
Switchbacks can happen in foul weather, and at night. They can impact elderly transit riders with few other transportation options. For weary Muni customers headed to the outskirts of the city after a long workday — or trying to get to a job or child-care responsibilities on time — a switchback can be the proverbial last straw.
The SFMTA data was included in a February memo to Sup. Carmen Chu, predecessor to newly minted District 4 Sup. Tang, who did not return Guardian calls seeking comment.
Some view switchbacks as a social justice issue. In the case of riders traveling to the end of the T line in the Bayview, the disruptions disproportionately affect riders who have longer trips to begin with — it takes 40 minutes to get from Van Ness Station to the end of the T line during normal weekday hours, compared with 28 minutes to the end of the N line and 26 minutes to the end of the J line. And those traveling to the city’s lower income, southeastern sector are less likely to have alternative means of transportation.
The 39 switchbacks that left southbound passengers waiting at the T Third Carroll stop, near Armstrong Ave, accounted for almost a third of all switchbacks recorded in January. Since they happen more frequently during off-peak hours, passengers are more likely to be left standing out on the platforms at night, when there are longer gaps between train arrivals.
That’s a public-safety issue: Police Department data accessed on San Francisco’s Open Data Portal shows multiple car break-ins, a robbery with force, and a meth possession charge all occurring nearby that train stop over the past three months.
According to the SFMTA memo, “Vehicle maintenance issues and automatic train control system issues accounted for most delays in which switchbacks were used to rebalance and restore scheduled service.” There were more disruptions on the K/T and N lines, Transit Director John Haley wrote, because they are “longer than the other lines and, as a result, have more opportunity to fall behind schedule.” The memo added that upgrades are underway to improve reliability and reduce breakdowns.
“SFMTA needs to prioritize providing reliable transit service to all San Franciscans,” Sup. Malia Cohen, who represents the Bayview, told us. “While I understand that systems need to be flexible to adjust to accidents or other issues, the data tells us that there is a pattern of these switchbacks in our outer neighborhoods in District 10 and District 4, disproportionately impacting low income transit riders, seniors and families.”
San Francisco’s Transit First policy, which appears in the City Charter, states: “The primary objective of the transportation system must be the safe and efficient movement of people and goods.” But Muni regularly boots three specific groups of train passengers off the trains, even though they have the farthest to travel. They’re left out on the platforms during off-peak hours, sometimes after dark, when there are longer wait times between trains. Does anyone actually believe that’s safe and efficient?
EDITORS NOTES Ten years ago, we shut San Francisco down.
When George W. Bush gave the order to launch the invasion of Iraq, so many protesters hit the streets that it was impossible to do business. Market Street was closed. Tens of thousands of people didn’t go to work. Some 2,300 people were arrested, held in warehouses at the piers because there was no way to fit them in the county jail.
It was an exhilarating week (although I spent much of it trying to get my reporters out of the clink; the SFPD wasn’t paying much attention to press passes in the massive sweeps). It was a statement of how overwhelmingly this city was opposed to Bush’s War. It was repeated in smaller versions all over the country.
And it didn’t matter. Rep. Nancy Pelosi not only missed the antiwar rallies, she criticized us for costing the city money. A virtually unanimous Congress sides with Bush. Anyone who disputed the government line was branded as un-American.
And now we know the truth. It’s hard to find a single credible person who argues that the Iraq War was a good idea. After nearly $2 trillion dollars wasted, 4,300 US soldiers dead, and at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed, nothing of value has been achieved. The new Iraq is not a reliable US ally in the Middle East. That nation is not stabilized; in fact, it’s headed for civil war. There were no weapons of mass destruction.
Even if you want to be a pro-imperialist, US-interests-above-all type, you’re still going to be disappointed — American companies don’t control Iraq’s oil supply.
Ten years later, Bush is nowhere to be seen. He’s hiding out, painting pictures of himself, living comfortably. His kids didn’t die in the desert or come home with PTSD. He’s not going to be on the hook for the debt.
And none of the leaders of the pro-war march is apologizing — or even kinda, sorta admitting that they were terribly wrong. It’s hard to find any major news media accounts saying that the protesters — the ones who shut down San Francisco — were absolutely right.
Paul Krugman, one of the few mainstream news media voices who recognized the folly of the war from the start, put it this way in his March 18, 2013 column:
“What we should have learned from the Iraq debacle was that you should always be skeptical and that you should never rely on supposed authority. If you hear that ‘everyone’ supports a policy, whether it’s a war of choice or fiscal austerity, you should ask whether ‘everyone’ has been defined to exclude anyone expressing a different opinion.”
So let’s just take a moment now to reflect — not only on the horrible human tragedy but the political lessons. Because we were right, and they were wrong — and I just wish that for once, they’d admit it.
[UPDATE 3/22: Airbnb owes nearly $1.8 million to the city. Why is Mayor Lee silent?]
Despite a widely watched ruling last year by the San Francisco Treasurer/Tax Collector’s Office that Internet-based “shared housing” companies must pay the city’s hotel tax, the high-profile local outfit Airbnb and its hosts aren’t routinely charging guests that 14 percent tax.
And while privacy laws prevent the city from revealing any company’s specific tax payments, it’s possible that San Francisco is getting no hotel tax money from Airbnb at all.
Airbnb allows residents to rent out their apartments to visitors through a web interface. Tax Collector Jose Cisneros concluded in April 2012 that the company and its hosts are acting as hotels, and must pay the city’s Transient Occupancy Tax.
But almost a year later, Airbnb’s website doesn’t include the tax in its booking rates. And local hosts who are partially responsible for paying the tax are being given only vague information about their tax obligations.
Hotels add the tax to the price of a room. But when you book a room on the Airbnb site, there’s no category for local taxes and the 14 percent isn’t added to the price.
When I inquired about renting an Airbnb room in San Francisco this week and asked my would-be host about the issue, he said he was unaware of his tax obligation and referred me to Airbnb’s online policies, which are vague at best. One FAQ specifically about tax issues was answered, “We expect all hosts to abide by local laws, agreements, and other applicable regulations, as outlined in our terms of service,” later adding, “We encourage you to work with a legal and/or tax professional in your area to determine how to handle compliance.”
For a company that bills itself as an easy way for the average renter to make some spare cash, that doesn’t seem to encourage compliance with San Francisco law. Even the civic-minded host who clicks through the “How do I collect taxes for my reservations?” question is given this answer, “You are responsible for managing your tax and other regulatory obligations. If you determine that you need to collect tax for renting in your city, please add the tax amount to the listing price.”
We couldn’t find a listing anywhere that included the city’s 14 percent tax.
In theory, the hosts could be paying that money — but the entire transaction is done through the web, and there’s nothing on the site that informs hosts that they need to collect 14 percent. In fact, there’s no mention in any of the material about any specific city tax.
It’s possible that Airbnb is simply covering the 14 percent out of its profits — but the company only collects 6 to 12 percent of the cost of a room as its cut. So by taking on the taxes itself, Airbnb would be losing money on every transaction.
Greg Kato, the policy and legislative director for the Tax Collector’s Office, told us he’s barred from disclosing information about Airbnb or any individual taxpayer. So the city can’t confirm or deny that the money is coming in. He did say that his office takes the issue seriously: “Just because I can’t talk to you about individual taxpayers doesn’t mean we aren’t enforcing the law….We continue to collect taxes, we continue to audit folks and do investigations.“
Airbnb could tell us if it’s paying, but spokesperson Kimberly Rubey and local consultants to the company have ignored repeated calls and email inquires from the Guardian about the issue.
Airbnb lobbied aggressively to avoid the tax liability, with the support of Mayor Ed Lee. The mayor’s top campaign fundraiser, venture capitalist Ron Conway, was a big early investor in the company.
Lee, who toured Airbnb’s huge new headquarters space at 888 Brannan with CEO Brian Chesky on March 4, had no comment directly on whether the company was paying — or should be paying — its hotel taxes. Spokesman Francis Tsang would only say: “The Mayor supports the emerging sharing economy and efforts to support it within appropriate regulation to ensure public safety. The Mayor also believes that laws and regulations should occasionally be reviewed for continued effectiveness and application in light of changing technologies and economic/cultural trends.”
San Francisco and other California cities have been battling Internet-based companies over the collection of hotel taxes for years. San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Monica, and Anaheim are together suing Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, and other companies that do hotel reservations over the issue, with LA County Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle ruling against the cities last month. Appeals are expected in the case.
The issues are different in that case because the hotels are still paying the tax, based on discounted room rates charged after the companies collect their fees. Airbnb, Vacation Rentals By Owner (vrbo.com) and other companies have contested the requirement that they pay any local taxes on their service.
Cisneros told us he made it clear last year through hearings and a ruling interpreting city tax law that Airbnb must pay the Transient Occupancy Tax: “We work very hard to collect all taxes and to make sure everyone is clear on when taxes apply, which is why we did these hearings.”
Board of Supervisors President David Chiu has been in negotiations with Airbnb, similar companies, the Hotel Council of San Francisco, and other interested parties to develop legislation to address the “legal grey area” they occupy, as The Economist magazine put it in a March 9 cover story on “The sharing economy.”
As I explored in my own investigation last year (“The problem with the sharing economy,” 5/1/12), Airbnb’s basic business model often runs afoul of city laws (such as the ban on charging guests more than the tenant pays in rent) and private leases (which routinely prohibit subletting of apartments), as well as raising complicated tax, liability, and land use issues.
In high-cost cities like San Francisco that have complex landlord-tenant dynamics, Airbnb can be a way to skirt local protections. New York City essentially banned Airbnb rentals in 2010 and last year went after a landlord for using the service, threatening fines of up to $30,000, according to The Economist.
“The shareable economy has raised many new and complicated public policy issues,” Chiu told us. “Crafting legislation on shareable housing spaces has taken longer than expected because of these complications, but we hope to have something in the coming months.”
Chiu has staked out a middle ground on the shared housing issue, in the past authoring legislation that challenged the “hotelization” of San Francisco apartments by corporations seeking to get around local tenant protections, expressing hope that his legislation will legalize Airbnb’s activities in ways that both its supporters and critics can live with.
Notably, Chiu also differed from Lee on the tax issue when it arose last year. As Chiu told us, “It has always been my perspective that we need to treat Airbnb and similarly situated companies the same as we treat our hotels.”