Volume 47 Number 33

Just for kicks


IN THE GAME It’s not kickball; it’s matball. Which looks a lot like kickball, with one big difference: You can have more than one runner at a time on any given base. You can have up to three, but if a fourth is incoming, someone’s got to go.

You don’t have to stop running, either, when you reach home, in some versions of the game. You can keep going — back to first, and around the bases again. In gym class, this was a way to make kids run laps without quite exactly knowing it.

Here in the adult world it’s just good, clean chaos. Jay Li uses that word a lot — chaos — talking about his co-ed pickup kickball scene.

“That’s the reason we’re playing at Dolores Park,” he said. “You have people, and other variables, that you can’t predict.”

“Like the volleyball net in left field?” I asked.

“That’s one of the variables,” he said.

The volleyball net went up in the fourth inning. Someone came, set it up, and then didn’t play. After grumbling a bit, the matballers turned it into a home run fence. A very shallow one. A “mesh monster” of sorts.

Other variables are self-imposed. There are no force-outs, for example. You have to either hit or touch the runner with the ball, between bases. Or, of course, catch it.

The kicking team supplies its own pitcher. And the kicker gets to choose from a whole menu of balls that lie scattered about the pitcher’s feet. There was a giant one, a tiny one, and a couple of different midrange sizes.

My favorite of Li’s innovations, though, is his loose interpretation of the basepath. Twice during the game runners, thinking they were out, left the field of play . . . only to find they had in fact not been called out; nor were they out for leaving the basepath. And, thanks to Li’s leniency, they had every right in the world to try and get back safely. Neverminding that the base, by that time, was being guarded by a defender with a ball.

Hilarity ensued. In one instance, a couple offensive teammates came charging from the sidelines toward the base, like pulling guards and tackles, to block for the poor, displaced baserunner.

Watching from the hill, with a picnic, I almost choked on my chicken I was laughing so hard.

“That’s the whole idea,” Li said later, when I asked about this particular play. “It hasn’t happened that much, but when it does, I let it happen. It’s entertaining. People get creative.”

Matball is not a low-scoring game. The score was 14-0 before the first out was recorded. It was 15-14 at the end of the first inning — at which point they decided to move the bases back a little.

Li, an energetic, easy-going, backwards-hatted commissioner, moderates the game, photographs the bejesus out of it, and fills in for anyone who has to leave early or turns their ankle. He also buys drinks — alcoholic or not — for the winning team after.

Before Li’s Meetup group, Bay Area Kickball, formed a couple years ago, he played on a team in a league. “I found the game a little too serious. A little too much alcohol,” he said. “It wasn’t that much fun for me.”

Now, once or twice a month, he sets up these more casual (and more sober) coed games through Meetup. If under 25 people show, they play kickball. If more than 25, matball.

The one I saw . . . there was a good mix of men and women, serious athletes and beginners. One with keys jangling from his belt loop, others in cleats. In truth, the athleticism surprised me. I saw one guy run with the ball from centerfield all the way to home plate to bean someone just as they were about to score.

“As long as there are people who can play very well, it kind of keeps the game going, and keeps it interesting,” Li said. “I’m trying to balance all these things.”

He’s doing a good job. Impressively, with all that scoring, and all the chaos, plus the almost-arbitrary divide of serious athletes and just-for-funners, it was, in the end, a one-run game.

The team called Cannibal Sheep won, 36-35. But the losers, the Winners, had the tying run on 2nd base when the final out was recorded.

Oh, and by the way, that “final out” was the fifth, not the third. You get five outs in the ninth inning, so long as both teams agree to it.

Then, before the bar, both teams pile up together for a group photo for the Web page. Which, in this case — as the only member of the press present — I had the honor to snap. Check it out.



Small Business Awards 2013


Welcome to a tradition we hold near and dear at the Guardian — our annual round-up of independent businesses that represent the best of entrepreneurship here in the Bay. From a local sweet shop that’s defied the Nestle odds to become the Bay’s best-loved ice cream treat to the Castro’s best new spot for punting and catching, read on for our favorite small businesses now.












Small Business Awards 2013: Shameless Photography


Y’all chose Shameless as your top small biz of the year, so I’m going to yield the floor for a moment to someone who voted for the photography outfit:

“Shameless is a female-owned and run business that promotes positive body image and self love while creating spectacular pin-up and boudoir images,” wrote one enraptured Bay Guardian reader. “Women (myself included) leave the studio feeling more beautiful and accepting of their bodies.”

Do you yearn for an Etta James glamour shot with tasteful cleavage, frothy updo, rhinestones dangling from your lobes? Perhaps a cheeky pose with your pumps in the air, gingham bikini and a “here comes trouble” gaze? Shameless would love to make those matinee daydreams a reality.

“We approach the photoshoot as an experience rather than just a means to an end,” founder Sophie Spinelle wrote in an email interview with the Bay Guardian. Photographers Spinelle and Carey Lynne are the minds behind the firm, whose aesthetic is firmly situated in high Hollywood glamour, sultry boudoir shots, and coquettish pin-up poses. It’s 1950s sexy, used to express the decidedly more inclusive ideals of beauty we revel in today. Thank goodness — we tend to think when it comes to satin bustiers, the more curves the better.

Spinelle holds that the primary aim of Shameless is to highlight the beauty of all women, regardless of whether the lady has a gap between her inner thighs. “In a culture where people, and feminine people in particular, are bombarded with advertisements designed to create feelings of inadequacy about our faces and bodies, we’re working to create a space where people can feel safe, beautiful, and empowered,” she wrote.

The space in question is a pink fortress of a building tucked away near the Legion of Honor in the Richmond District. Aspiring starlets, it is hard to miss — Spinelle describes it as “a cross between a wedding cake and the hotel that Kim Novak holes up in Vertigo.” Photoshoot packages start at $450, and include hair and makeup overhauls plus a pose-worthy loaner wardrobe.

It’s the stuff dreams are made of, and everyone’s welcome to play. “No model on a billboard nor the business she represents owns the realm of fantasy — we all do,” says Spinelle. 

600 35th Ave., SF. (646) 448-8277, www.shamelessphoto.com

Small Business Awards 2013: Babette


I cannot help but insert italics into Babette Pinsky quotes, bear with me.

“It didn’t dawn on me that I shouldn’t open a business by myself.”

“It was sort of survival for a really long time.”

“We have to show things the way we want them.”

Perhaps such signs of effusiveness are befitting for one of the Bay’s more experienced purveyors of fashion.

Pinsky started her line of comfortable, elegant items most often worn by town’s over-40 set of museum and travel-inclined doyennes back in 1968. She considers the eponymous line’s signature piece a pleated cream or white button-down shirt.

Her retail locations — there are eight Babette stores across the country with a ninth in the works for the Mid-West, and the company recently launched a thriving e-commerce site — is filled with outfits for “the woman who wants to look good without looking like her daughter,” says Pinsky, sitting for our interview with husband and co-owner of the company Steven in their Union Square shop.

But the Pinskys’ sartorial sense is but one of the reasons we’re honoring them with a Small Business Award. Perhaps just as importantly, the two provide healthcare and 401k’s for all of their 100-plus employees, and have always manufactured their clothes right here in the Bay Area, currently at their Oakland factory.

The two attribute their buoyancy in the fashion industry, in fact, to their local production line. Trade policies like NAFTA, they say, decimated the Bay Area’s fashion industry, once one of San Francisco’s biggest job sources. Their ability to continue producing quality product right here in California, they say, distinguished them from the thousands who lost their jobs over the last few decades.

Now, having survived the worst of times, Babette (the company and its founder) can be a role model company to those who would make beautiful clothes.

“The most rewarding part of this business?” asks Babette (the person this time, over a pair of round glasses that go nicely with those that Steven wears alongside her). “A big part of that is how happy [the clothes] make our customer. I’ll come into one of our stores and a woman will tell me ‘you’ve changed my life!’ I’m a clothing designer! It’s just clothes.”

361 Sutter, SF. (415) 837-1442, www.shopbabette.com

Small Business Awards 2013: It’s-It


What’s been San Francisco’s go-to cold ‘n creamy treat for the past 85 years? No, its not Dianne Feinstein. It’s It’s-It, that native warm weather snack, created on a deliciously fateful day in 1928 when George Whitney squished a scoop of vanilla ice cream between two big oatmeal cookies and dipped the resulting sandwich into dark chocolate. For more than four decades, Whitney sold his It’s-Its at Playland-at-the-Beach, until that legendary local amusement park was demolished in the 1970s. Fortune intervened, and the brand was reinvigorated — soon to travel beyond the Bay, throughout California, and into pretty much every western state, spreading yumminess up and down the coast.

The Shamieh family now operates It’s-It (the company, based in Burlingame, is headed by Charles Shamieh) and continues to uphold the tasty tradition of “the official food of San Francisco.” (Take that, cioppino!)

“Sure it’s always a tough to be the little guy — when you’ve got your Nestles and your Unilevers out there as competition,” vice president of sales Jim Shamieh told us. “But we have an amazing built-in fan base that includes parents, grandparents, great-grandparents … it’s the best kind of loyalty. And we keep it current by introducing different flavors.” (Those flavors include the Big Daddy — a “chunk of ice cream between two chocolate wafers” — and the Super Sundae, an ice cream dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in roasted peanuts). “And we distribute to Denver, Seattle, Portland … pretty much everywhere this side of the Rocky Mountains.” Sweet.


Small Business Awards 2013: R&G Lounge


The R & G Lounge has been a fixture in San Francisco’s Chinatown for 28 years. Taking up three floors with a seating capacity of 225, it’s served as the backdrop for many a wedding rehearsal dinner, birthday celebration, and other special occasion bashes. But it isn’t just heartwarming memories of being surrounded by friends and family with a pleasant Tsingtao buzz that linger in diners’ minds. Just as often, it’s the taste of the establishment’s signature seafood plate: salt and pepper live Dungeness crab.

“It was love at first bite,” a 25-year-old Yelper gushes about the first time she tried the specialty, back when she was in the seventh grade. The dish is available year-round, sourced locally when in season.

The R & G Lounge is known for dishing up traditional Cantonese cuisine from the Guangdong province of southern China. Most of the workers are originally from mainland China, and live in the city.

“We have a low turnover,” manager Frank Wong says of his staff, which is 70 strong. Rather than puffing up any star chefs, Wong describes the working atmosphere as decidedly “team-oriented.” Conversations in Cantonese and Mandarin float through the air, mingling with the savory aromas of ox tail stew, chow mein, Peking duck, or steamed fish plucked straight from the tank. Chinatown activist groups laud the restaurant for its exemplary treatment of workers, and efforts to extend benefits to them rarely seen in the neighborhood.

The restaurant has deep roots in the Chinatown community, regularly donating to schools in the area. When hosting community-based functions, “we work a lot through the San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce,” says Wong, adding that multiple family members and investors own the popular restaurant, including Kinson Wong.

This connection helps drive a steady stream of “locals, business people, and tourists” through R & G’s doors, and since its located along the route of the Chinese New Year Parade, the sound of drums and the sight of a dragon procession can make for delicious accompaniment for your meal. 

631 Kearny, SF. (415) 982-7877, www.rnglounge.com

Small Business Awards 2013: Business Alliance for Local Living Economies


The folks at the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies were locavores before the fancy foodies ever created that word. They were talking about a new economy more than a decade ago — and their vision involves networks that are human, not just electronic.

BALLE is the heart of the movement for localism, for building economies based on communities.

Founded in 2001 by Judy Wicks, who owned a restaurant in Philadelphia, and Laury Hammel, who owned a group of sports clubs in Boston, the group has expanded to a national operation with one of its two main offices in Oakland.

BALLE offers resources, training, and connections for businesses that want to build a more sustainable economy.

The main premise of the BALLE model is the notion that businesses are best when they are locally owned, use local suppliers, and operate as part of a local community. The philosophy of the group is ecological: living economies are like all living systems, and they do better when they’re diverse and recycle energy and resources.

Not to mention that BALLE rolled out the concept of crowd-funding long before Kickstarter ever made the scene. Its built businesses that defy the traditional model — and they’ve succeeded. The group’s dedicated to sharing that vision, and the tools they’ve developed, with others.

BALLE conferences, affinity groups, and mentoring programs help individual entrepreneurs and startups — but also play a role in trying to build a more equitable, just, and sustainable economy for everyone. 


Small Business Awards 2013: La Victoria Bakery


When Jaime Maldonado’s dad Gabriel opened the family’s corner bakery in 1951, it was the only Latino-owned business on 24th Street. In the years since, the story of La Victoria and its famous pan dulce has become, more or less, the story of the Mission District.

That’s never been more true than today, when the bakery’s plate glass windows are filled with Mexican classics, but also dulce de leche scones, Mexican chocolate brownies, and prickly pear beignets that reflect the neighborhoods changing palate — in addition to the conchitas, elotittos, and maranitos that made the place a favorite.

Soon, La Victoria will include a full-service restaurant that Jaime tells the Guardian will “skip over the burrito phase and to straight to original La Victoria. It’ll be the food your grandma would cook for special occasions.”

Few businesses have been able to surf the Mission’s changing demographics like La Victoria. The Maldonados found a way to thrive amid racial slurs in the ’50s. The restaurant became a gathering place and haven for Mexicans when the blocks became carved up along the gang lines delineating close-knit immigrant communities, and a training ground for bakers who brought La Victoria’s recipes to panaderias across the neighborhood. In the ’70s, the fern-filled restaurant in the back room was a habitué for SF’s movers-and-shakers — Dianne Feinstein and Cesar Chavez were known to grab tables.

Hippies, Brazilians, and Argentineans were added to La Victoria’s clientele over the years. In 1992, when Jaime took the reins from his aging pop, he was ready to make the business adjustments needed to keep La Victoria relevant. That meant focusing on the joint’s strengths — no more groceries, less reliance on wholesale business.

Maldonado survived the “cherry bomb in an ant farm,” as he refers to the late ’90s dot-com boom, and the business slowdown after 9/11. He made the kitchen available for rent, and has since attracted an impressive list of alumni through his work with Soul Cocina’s Roger Feely: Hapa SF, Sour Flour, Wholesome Bakery, Venga Empanadas. La Victoria started hosting pop-up dinners, and now looks forward to expanding into different kinds of Latin coffee drinks, and a full sit-down menu.

All in keeping with La Victoria’s Mission to connect with the ‘hood’s new techie residents, stay true to the neighborhood’s history, and connect with the “hybrid kids,” as Maldonado dubs his generation of Latinos who grew up in SF’s foodie scene, but can still appreciate a traditional Mission burrito.

“This corner is dying for someone to stand up and say ‘I’m going to show you how,'” he says. “And we’re going to do that — with Latin flair.”

2937 24th St., SF. (415) 642-7120, www.lavictoriabakery.com

Small Business Awards 2013: Hi Tops


Would there have been a better time for an explicitly gay sports bar to open in SF than late 2012? You can bet your sweet basketballs there would not. First the Giants win the World Series, packing Castro’s spanking new Hi Tops with fans eager for some specialty drafts, juicy burgers, and same-sex camaraderie. The Niners hit the Super Bowl, and a groundbreaking pic of kissing male fans in Hi Tops’ gorgeously retro ball-court-locker room interior runs in Sports Illustrated. And now, with the Warriors in the playoffs, two major league basketballers, Jason Collins and Brittney Griner, have come out in very big ways.

But the plan behind Hi Tops’ phenomenally successful concept took several years to come to fruition — in these economic times, a gay sports bar was a bit of a tough sell, even in the Castro. Jesse Woodward, who owns the bar with Dana Gleim and Matt Kajiwara, told us back in November that he wanted to help “reinvigorate the neighborhood’s potential by opening it up to different crowds, while still respecting its heritage.” Hi Tops draws a mixed crowd of sports enthusiasts with its large-screen TVs and inventive bar menu. But it also attracts those who don’t consider themselves sports fans, through its relaxed vibe, creative cocktails, and general sense that this is the cool place to be. Also, it’s usually full of hotties.

2247 Market, SF. (415) 551-2500, www.hitopssf.com

Small Business Awards 2013: Universal Martial Arts


Police officers and security guards get trained in the use of firearms and batons; they know how to hurt and sometimes kill people. But most of them don’t get the sort of basic unarmed self-defense training that would allow them to subdue an assailant without dangerous or lethal force.

That’s where Universal Martial Arts Academy comes in. The only martial arts school with a full-time facility in the Bayview, Universal specializes in self-defense classes for security professionals and also offers classes for the general public.

Jim Hundon, the founder and head instructor, is an expert in small-circle jujitsu and holds multiple black belts in other disciplines. He’s been in martial arts since high school, and trained with two instructors of Chinese kenpo who were students of Bruce Lee. He’s worked with the legendary Grandmaster Wally Jay, and has since developed his own style, ju trap boxing. He’s in the US Martial Arts Hall of Fame.

In other words, he’s a total badass.

In person, though, Hundon is soft-spoken, polite, and humble. His modest-sized studio on Third Street, built from a trashed empty storefront, is clean and well-designed with immaculate hardwood floors. He has regular students as well as contracts with companies like California Pacific Medical Center and Paramount Studios, where he teaches security guards how to keep themselves — and others — safe.

“The piece always missing in law-enforcement training is the empty hand,” Hundon tells me. “You’re in a verbal confrontation and a person takes a swing at you; what are you going to do, shoot him?”

Hundon notes that most cops spend far more time on the shooting range than they do with unarmed self-defense. “Everyone has a right to defend themselves,” he says. “But you don’t always have to strike back. You can protect yourself so everyone goes home alive.”

In 2010, Hundon (who is 64 but looks about 35) received the Bayview Hunters Point Community Leadership Award for his work with at-risk youth. “I love giving back to the community,” he says. “We’re so proud to be the first martial arts school in the neighborhood.”

4348 Third St., SF. (415) 671-2055, www.umaacademy.info

Small Business Awards 2013: Mothership HackerMoms


It should be no surprise that here in the veritable center of the tech universe, we hear the word “hackerspace” and flash on a roomful of programmers, busily coding the building blocks of our Internet universe.

But a group of East Bay women have taken the term’s original meaning (as codified by Germany’s Chaos Communication Club in the 1990s) and applied the concept of open community lab to the experience of professional mamas.

“A hackerspace is not an office,” says Sho Sho Smith, co-founder of HackerMoms. “It’s a blank canvas. When you walk into it, it becomes the thing you want it to be.”

For freelance writer Smith and co-founder, film set decorator Karen Agresti, who opened their 1,000 square foot space in April 2012, HackerMoms was to be a place for self-employed mothers to come for community, to share inspiration, to help each other achieve professional and artistic dreams.

Today, about 25 women and a handful of men contribute to the space, where they hold social media workshops, teach each other about mom-specific workplace ergonomic issues, sell their art — many of the HackerMoms once had tech careers and now are “makers,” and bring families together for kids’ “mini-maker” classes and BBQ hang-out sessions. Members include spoken word artists, graphic designers, animators, software engineers, and nonprofit workers.

If you go, stuff bills into the mannequin wearing the vintage lace bra — that’d be where the group collects donations towards keeping the space running.

The space, Smith says, is an important hub for women who might otherwise feel isolated at home with the kids and their work.

“What binds our membership is less our income, or social status, or color, or sexual orientation,” says Smith. “It’s an attitude where you must create or die. That is a core characteristic of a hacker mom.”

3288 Adeline, Berk. (415) 295-0742, mothership.hackermoms.org

No justice, no piece



SEX Speaking as a media professional who has been subject the past month to her PR push for this year’s Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival (Sat/18-May 26), let me tell you that Carol “Scarlet Harlot” Leigh will stop at nothing to raise awareness about sex worker’s rights.

But she has a lot to talk about. The festival’s eighth incarnation is one of the biggest yet, featuring films curated by Laure McElroy, member of POOR Magazine’s board of directors, and “Whore’s Bath”, a spa day for sex workers (Sun/19) that was the brain child of Leigh’s co-organizer Erica Fabulous. Film screenings (including a mini-film fest May 25 at the Roxie), panel discussions, empowerment workshops, and performance events abound.

Poster illustration for this year’s festival by Finley Coyl

Leigh says the festival, inspired in part by the sex worker events organized by India’s Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, is meant as a repository for the formidable creative output by members of the world’s oldest profession, but also as a bid for greater visibility for sex workers.

“I look around me and see lots of people with so much to be proud of in their skills, talents, wisdom, persistence, and generosity,” says Leigh.



“Whorecast” Live! Sat/18, 8pm, $10-50 sliding scale. Center for Sex and Culture, 3149 Mission, SF. Ira Glass may have effectively barred sex activist Siouxsie Q from calling her sex worker podcast “This American Whore”, but under its current moniker the show is just as smart and sparkling. In this live edition, our host interviews queer porn stars James Darling, Courtney Trouble, and more.

“Oral Services” Thu/16, 7pm, $5-20 sliding scale. Center for Sex and Culture, 3149 Mission, SF. Author of vaunted sex work novel Sub Rosa Amber Lynn will use her ginger locks to seduce you into acquiescence at this night of spoken word — the fest’s first ever — by sexy pros. She’s joined onstage by Brontez Purnell, Rhiannon Argo, Juba Kalamka, and other authors who’ve turned a trick or two thousand on their life’s path.

Take a ride with Mariko Passion May 24

Whorrific Popcorn Theatre Bus May 24, 7pm cabaret $15, 9:30pm bus $30, both $35-50. Meet at Center for Sex and Culture, 3149 Mission, SF. “We did decide not to be too wild, so there is no sex on the bus, because Mariko’s dad will be there,” clarifies Leigh about this performance cabaret followed by a three-hour mystery tour around the city hosted by Mariko Passion (whose one-woman Modern Day Asian Sex Slavery: The Musical played the festival back in 2011.) “Well, maybe a little lap dancing would be okay.” We can tell you that after this evening, you’ll be a lot more familiar with the local habitués of SF sex workers, and perhaps someone’s lap.

Changing the metaphor



With my partner-in-crime Keith Chandler at the wheel, we’re driving through San Francisco on our way to Stanford University Law School for the Three Strikes Summit, a deeply personal topic to both of us. Three Strikes is partly why I served 15 years in prison, and Stanford’s Three Strikes Project is a big reason why I was released earlier this year.

Chandler is a renowned activist, ex-lifer, and my comrade in the struggle to reintegrate inmates back into life in the outside world. I have become a fanatic on a mission, and this May 2 event will feature many of the top criminal justice players responsible for last year’s Three Strikes reform measure, from Attorney General Kamala Harris to San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon.

So the path we carve through the City takes us deep into the heart of the reform movement that changed my life. Change is in the air, and I’m following the scent back to its roots.


Three Strikes as a metaphor made perfect sense. In the 1980s, the justice system was a revolving door. Relatively short sentences for serious and/or violent crimes were the norm, sentences often cut in half by parole. Lengthy records of arrests and convictions fueled a movement to get tough on crime.

As per usual, bad things happened. In 1993, sexual predator Richard Allen Davis killed Polly Klaas, a 12-year-old girl from Petaluma. A general consensus formed that repeat offenders needed to be punished to the fullest. So prison industrialists came up with a catchy solution: three strikes and you’re out. Commit three violent crimes, the authors sold to the public in 1994, and you’ll serve 25 years to life.

However, the fine print expanded the concept to any third felony — even crimes that would be misdemeanors to non-parolees — and California’s prisons swelled.

In many ways, I was a Three Strikes poster child. As a wild youngster in Sacramento, I was a menace. At 18 in 1984, I began a four-year spree of crimes that included armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and residential burglary. For those transgressions, among others, I received a 12-year sentence in 1988.

I embraced sobriety, college, and writing as I served six discipline-free years. Back then, we had a right to participate in rehabilitative endeavors. Effective programs like cognitive restructuring and life-skills classes might have been foreign concepts, but I benefitted from college, weight training, and family visiting.

But I was still trapped by my criminal thinking — plagued by my nefarious associations. Though I hid it well, I was all fucked up.

In 1994, I was paroled into a whole new ball game: the era of three strikes. As soon as the law passed, the horror stories began to amass. Guys were being struck out for stealing from stores or possessing small amounts of drugs. California became the republic of the intolerant. Mired by myriad imperfections, I stepped up to the plate and swung for the fences.

A 28-year-old undergraduate with a range of goals, I started a construction company and contemplated graduate school. And instead of taking my construction company seriously, or even finishing my undergraduate education, I started using and selling meth — partying like there was no tomorrow.

In my broken way of thinking, I convinced myself that supplementing my income made perfect sense. In reality, it was an excuse to get high for free and it all fell apart. Two parole violations for drug cases seamlessly lead to a felony drug case in 1999. I went from baller to squalor, and hit a line drive right to the catcher. I struck out and faced a lifetime behind bars.

When my life came to an end, I chose to change the rules of my game. I found purpose by advocating for my demographic. As the system began to shift towards smart-on-crime principles in the mid-’00s, I managed to shift with it. My two-pronged litigious and literary activism — a lifestyle that regularly put me at odds with my captors — morphed into rehabilitative advocacy.

As a result of voters approving Prop 36 last fall, my life sentence was lifted on March 22. The merits of my rehabilitative record coalesced with a successful one-time review. As I walked out of prison a week later and jumped into the arms of my childhood sweetheart, I told Charlotte, “Let’s get the hell out of here before they change their minds.”


After all the craziness of 15 years of incarceration, I have been decompressing in a transitional housing program. With a bachelor’s degree and multiple drug counseling certifications, I’m establishing myself as rehabilitative consultant. Moreover, I received the ultimate welcome home gift when The Sacramento Bee covered my reentry.

As we arrived on the Stanford campus, I thought of the friends and foes I left behind in prison. To me, this is serious business, a personal progression of nonstop advocacy. Keith’s gig as a criminal justice consultant now includes a new task — delivering me into the apex of reform.

Stanford Law School started the Three Strikes Project in 2006. The human lessons learned from securing the release of 26 three strikers motivated project director and law professor Mike Romano to shift tactics. He decided to take a bigger swing at a very bad law. By avoiding the mistakes from a catastrophic 2004 reform initiative, Romano could secure the release of thousands rather than dozens.

The project decided a narrowly drafted initiative would have the best chance for success. To qualify for a reduced sentence, minor third strikers without murder or sex offenses in their backgrounds would be vetted by the courts to determine whether they currently posed an unreasonable risk to public safety. He took down one of the nation’s toughest laws with 69 percent of the vote.

Of the 9,000 three strikers in California prisons, Prop. 36 made nearly 3,000 eligible for review. On the day of the summit, a prison official reported 460 had already been released — a number that will climb daily. While most counties have over 100 candidates — and some hotly contested cases are on the horizon — Los Angeles has a staggering 1,325 cases. San Francisco, by contrast, only has two, the result of SF’s sober, compassionate approach to charging three strikes cases.

Hearing the statewide cries from their landmark measure, Stanford invited all relevant parties to discuss how to move forward. Harris, the keynote speaker, wrapped her entire speech around a unique prosecutorial career that began in San Francisco.

As the author of Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan To Make Us Safer, Harris models cutting-edge thinking as the state’s top cop. She pursued data-driven policies as she learned to look at “other issues through the lens of public safety.” By doing so, Harris avoided the sensationalism mentality that leads to hyper-incarceration.

Her successor, Gascon, followed her approach. Research showed Gascon that “higher levels of incarceration don’t translate into increased public safety.” So he teamed up with Stanford, the NAACP, and other like-minded officials as early supporters of the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012.

Overall, the summit included a range of panelists who discussed a number of relevant topics. But how to adjudicate all these cases was juxtaposed by the need to find resources for reentry services. Stanford professor Joan Petersilia has been instrumental in every recent criminal justice policy change in California, and she warned of the need for more reentry programs.

“What goes down can easily go up,” Petersilia said, warning the crowd about prison populations and crime rates. “Roughly $1 million is being spent on the average three striker, and zero is being spend on their reentry.”


Most of us are being released without any supervision or any type of state or county funds associated with probation or parole. Since we have far exceeded our sentences, the average three striker is leaving prison with little to no resources, let alone being able to tap into existing programs. I’m paying for my program out of my own pocket.

While it took decades to create the worst justice and prison system in the country, it’s definitely going to take years to correct. I advocated for more than a decade while buried under draconian measures buttressed by dreadful prison policies. Thus, I am excited groundbreaking issues are being discussed by people like this.

For those officials still trapped in their broken thinking, I also know how hard it is to abandon criminal thinking. However, like Gascon said, “Prop 36 is changing the metaphor.”

Seated in Keith’s sports car with the top down, we are making our way up 280 towards the city. Heading back home to Sacramento, I felt like a passenger on the Titanic with an alternate ending. While I am still in the honeymoon stage of my reentry — and reluctant to let this feeling go — I am at the beginning of a new era. We all have work to do.

My life of crime and activism has been an open book — and so is my reentry. After spending the day with journalists and actors in the field of justice, now I feel an even greater obligation to repay my debts. For the first time the light at the end of the tunnel is no longer blurred by the cold hard steel of the penitentiary, or maintained by tone-deaf policy-makers.

I still can’t believe it — I am free.

Tech workers aren’t all evil


Read the full original blog post this op-ed was drawn from here.

OPINION I hear a lot of talk, especially from my own queer community, about how “tech people” are ruining San Francisco. From skyrocketing rent prices and disappearing diversity to economic and cultural ruination, the tech community has become the scapegoat for a lot of the problems we are facing in the city as a whole. As a tech worker, I’m writing this to say: wake up and direct your anger at the real sources of these problems.

First of all, let’s get one thing straight. The vast majority of “tech people” in San Francisco don’t make nearly as much money as you think they do. We are not all making six-figure salaries, we are not personally driving up rent costs, and we are not killing the cultural community here. Simply put, we are trying to further our careers and make the city we call home a nicer place to live.

From day one of living in San Francisco, I’ve put blood sweat and tears into building the cultural community in SF (music, mostly), and I’ll never stop doing that. I first moved here with my husband in 2006 from Indiana. I immediately immersed myself in the music scene here, forming a touring band and quickly becoming a booker and promoter for live shows. It wasn’t until several years into my time here that I snuck my way into the tech industry. Here I am, five years into my tenure at Bay Area music tech startup Thrillcall, hustling every day to help build music communities not only in SF, but across the country.

The tipping point for me, to be honest, was the nonsense of people beating up a Google bus piñata in the Mission, shouting epithets about how they’re the bane of San Francisco. The people that ride those buses are not to blame. They are not heading up that company, they don’t make millions of dollars, and they certainly don’t deserve the hatred being directed at them by many people here in San Francisco.

You know what is ruining San Francisco? Complacency. Apathy. Misguided hate. Inaction. Put some energy into making change, not senseless whining.

If you’re upset about rising rent costs, be angry at the money-hungry landlords that do absolutely nothing to put money back into the city or help build culture. Want SF prices to stop skyrocketing? Let’s organize and drive proposals with our city government. Upset about the recent sanitization of many of the lovely traditions and values of San Francisco? Get mad at Sup. Scott Weiner, who is actually supported by a lot of longtime, non-tech residents. Want more culture, arts, music? Maybe try reaching out to people that can help in the tech world instead of complaining about everything going downhill.

We are not the companies we work for, however large or small. Corporations, for the most part, suck.

We’re not the douche bags you think we are. Let’s put our energy toward doing good, instead of just pointing fingers. We all know that. Demonizing the people that work for them (while contributing to this wonderful city) is baseless, classless, and makes you look like a total dick.

A great deal can be accomplished if people take an active role toward coexisting, rather than shouting “ENEMY!” to anyone who will listen.

Johnny Koch is promotional manager, artist management, and site administrator at Thrillcall.

Ultimate zero



In January, Mayor Ed Lee appeared on the PBS NewsHour to talk up the city’s Zero Waste program, an initiative to eliminate all landfilled garbage by 2020 by diverting 100 percent of the city’s municipal waste to recycling or compost. “We’re not going to be satisfied,” with the 80 percent waste diversion already achieved, Lee told program host Spencer Michels. “We want 100 percent zero waste. This is where we’re going.”

But somewhere in Te Anau, New Zealand, an environmental scholar tuning into an online broadcast of the program was having none of it. “I sat there thinking, no, you’re not. It would be great if you were, but you’re not — for obvious reasons,” said Robert Krausz, who’s working toward a PhD in environmental management, describing his reaction during a Skype call with the Bay Guardian.

Krausz, a Lincoln University scholar originally from Canada, spent three years studying municipal zero-waste initiatives internationally, and completed an in-depth, 40-page analysis of San Francisco’s Zero Waste program as part of his doctoral thesis.

He may as well have taken aim at a sacred cow. The city’s Zero Waste program has near-universal support among local elected officials, and has garnered no shortage of glowing media attention. San Francisco’s track record of diverting 80 percent of waste from the landfill is well ahead of the curve nationally, scoring 15 percent higher than Portland, Ore., a green hub of the Pacific Northwest, and 20 percentage points or higher above Seattle, according figures provided by Recology, San Francisco’s municipal waste hauler.

Despite the city’s well-earned green reputation, Krausz arrived at the pessimistic conclusion that “San Francisco’s zero waste to landfill by 2020 initiative is headed for failure.” In seven years’ time, he predicts, the program deadline will be marked with a day of reckoning rather than a celebratory gala. “I think the city is setting itself up,” Krausz told the Guardian. “Somebody’s going to be holding the bag in 2020.”




Sporting a goatee and glasses, Krausz comes across as the type you might find locking up his bike outside a natural foods store with canvas bags at the ready. When he visited San Francisco, he said he was ready to be wowed by the example of an ecologically enlightened city, yet ultimately left in disappointment. “It was just another affluent American city, in terms of consumption.”

The problem, he argues, is that people are still buying way too much disposable stuff — and a significant amount can’t be recycled. Plastic bags, food wrapping, pantyhose, plastic film, pet waste, construction materials with resin in them (like the popular Trex decking), and particularly disposable diapers have nowhere to go but into the landfill.

San Francisco produces a total of about six kilograms of trash per person per day before diversion is factored in — three times the U.S. national average. That’s a sobering figure that puts a slight dent in the city’s eco-conscious image. It’s not really fair to denizens of the city by the Bay, because it counts trash generated by 20 million annual visitors, daytime employees, developers, and businesses as well as residents. Nevertheless, the trash output ranks well above the per capita average for the Eurozone, which clocks in at a minimalistic 0.5 kg per person per day.

The city has earned its bragging rights for making strides toward diverting waste from the landfill — yet truckloads of waste still leave the famously green city every day. Since 2003, Krausz notes, San Francisco’s overall waste generation has actually increased, from 1,900 to 2,200 kilograms per person per year. At the same time, the per capita amount of waste going into a landfill has dropped, from about 1,000 to 500 kilograms per year. That’s still a lot of garbage.

Krausz argues that San Francisco has no comprehensive plan for achieving Zero Waste, while at the same time having little control over “top of the pipe” consumption, which generates a glut of trash. “While the city has achieved success at managing waste at the end-of-pipe, it has thus far failed to address the fundamental problem of consumption, which is driving waste generation,” his study notes.

Guillermo Rodriguez and Jack Macy of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment counter that there is a strategy, involving a host of different measures ranging from education, to policy initiatives, to incentive programs aimed at reducing waste. They think zero waste is possible. “We’re probably at 99 percent diversion here in this office,” said Macy, who serves as the city’s Commercial Zero Waste Coordinator. “At least 90 percent of the discard stream is recyclable and compostable,” he added. And as for the last 10 percent, “that pie will be shrinking as we find more markets” for recyclables.

Krausz also raised skepticism about Recology’s bid for a landfill contract that would extend until 2025, five years beyond the deadline for all waste elimination. To that, Recology’s Eric Potashner responded that state law requires 15 years of disposal capacity to guarantee a safety net, regardless of municipal aspirations.

Krausz is critical of San Francisco officials for promising zero waste, but he acknowledges that manufacturers of disposable goods, not city officials, are to blame. Ambitious legislative measures such as San Francisco’s mandatory composting program and a ban on plastic bags have been enacted and achieved tangible results, but for items like ubiquitous thin-film plastics, dirty diapers, synthetic materials, and the like, good solutions have yet to be found.

Krausz’ study also determined that no city on the planet that’s set out to do so has ever actually succeeded at achieving zero waste. “If you are a city that is a member of Western civilization as we know it, you’re not going to be zero waste to landfill, because you participate in the global economy,” Krausz states plainly.




On a recent Friday morning, Recology’s Potashner and Paul Giusti led a tour of the city’s recycling and waste processing facilities. It featured a stop at the transfer station, housed in a large warehouse off of Tunnel Road where all the refuse from the black trash bins is deposited before being carted off to the Altamont Landfill. A sweet, pungent aroma hung in the air. “We call this the pit,” Giusti explained as we approached a sunken area that could have contained multiple Olympic-sized swimming pools, extending a story or two below us into the earth. “This is the last frontier,” Potashner added. “The last 20 percent.”

It was filled with an astonishing quantity of trash, making a tractor that ambled awkwardly over top the mound to compact it down appear toy-like in comparison. The sea of discarded material contained every hue, and floating around in the debris were orange juice containers, cardboard boxes, and thousands upon thousands of (banned) plastic bags. Between 200 and 300 garbage trucks eject their contents into the pit each day, and a single truck can hold up to four tons of trash.

Giusti started working for Recology, formerly NorCal Waste Systems, in 1978, following in the footsteps of his father. Back then, the pit was more like a mountain: “When I would dump my truck, I could walk up this pile,” he said, gesturing toward a set of sprinklers suspended from the ceiling to indicate how high it once extended. State data confirms the story: In 2011, according to CalReycle, San Francisco sent 446,685 tons of waste to the landfill. That number has steadily declined over time; in 2007, it stood at 628,914 tons.

Asked for his reaction to Krausz’s thesis that the Zero Waste program won’t ever actually get to zero, Guisti turned the question around by asking, what’s the harm in trying? “Let’s say you said, zero waste is unattainable,” he said. “Then what’s the number? I think zero waste is an ambitious goal — but if we get to 90 or 95 percent, what a tremendous achievement.” Setting the highest of bars is important, he said, because striving for it provides the motivation to keep diverting waste from the landfill.

In order to actually reduce the city’s garbage from 446,685 tons to zero in the next seven years, Zero Waste program partners Recology and San Francisco’s Department of the Environment face a twofold challenge. First, they must prevent compostable and recyclable material from getting into the landfill pile. Second, they must find solutions for diverting the waste that currently has nowhere else to go but the landfill. With a combination of seeking new markets for recyclables, using technology that can sort out the recyclable and compostable matter, and implementing incentives and educational outreach programs, they’re still focused on the goal. “It’s hard to tell how close we’ll get to zero in 2020,” Macy said. So even if zero waste does not actually mean zero waste in the end, that goal “sends a message that we want to move toward being as sustainable as we can.”

Editor’s notes



EDITORS NOTES Jaron Lanier is not a Luddite. He’s one of the most brilliant technologists in the world, the virtual inventor of virtual reality and one of the first people calling for information (and music) to be free. He was a tech giant when most of today’s tech titans were in their disposable diapers. So when he starts talking about how the Internet is destroying the middle class, everybody ought to listen.

And that’s exactly what he saying in his new book, Who Owns the Future?

Lanier is 53; he’s been around long enough to see some of the best promises our modern industrial era turn out to be failures or lies. He’s got a little perspective on things — and he’s not happy with what he’s seeing.

We all know American capitalism is a force for disruption and destruction as well as creativity and creation. We all know that industries are born and die. The automobile replaced the horse and buggy. And in a lot of today’s conventional thinking, the tech revolution is just another step in the same direction.

Lanier has another perspective. The current light-speed, youth-driven tech economy has undermined the social contract that has been part of the United States political and economic systems since the Great Depression: People ought to have the right to job security, a decent wage, and the chance to have a family and grow old.

In an interview with Salon, Lanier notes:

“We don’t realize that our society and our democracy ultimately rest on the stability of middle-class jobs. When I talk to libertarians and socialists, they have this weird belief that everybody’s this abstract robot that won’t ever get sick or have kids or get old. It’s like everybody’s this eternal freelancer who can afford downtime and can self-fund until they find their magic moment or something.

“The way society actually works is there’s some mechanism of basic stability so that the majority of people can outspend the elite so we can have a democracy. That’s the thing we’re destroying, and that’s really the thing I’m hoping to preserve. So we can look at musicians and artists and journalists as the canaries in the coal mine, and is this the precedent that we want to follow for our doctors and lawyers and nurses and everybody else? Because technology will get to everybody eventually.”

Hey Googlers and Twitterati and Facebookians: You should listen, sometimes, to your elders.

Gang’s all here



THE BLOB We so very want to love the brand new Sydney Town Tavern (531 Commercial, SF. www.sydneytownsf.com) in the Financial District, named after a roving gang of Australian, Irish, and English convict-rogues who terrorized the Barbary Coast. The Blob certainly loves a bad boy or five! The pedigree is right: Syndney Town is sister to Irish Times, right around the corner. And the drinks are nice — a huge, like pint-glass huge, pomegranate margarita will solve any afternoon problems, and a refreshing orange crush replicates an Orangesicle, though not too sticky-sweet. But the menu falls too much on the typical gourmet bar snacks side, executed not-so-stellarly: fish was leathery and its chips were a droopy few; meatballs were firm but unmemorable; truffle mac and cheese was dry and pasty. Channel your namesake and do something naughty, Sydney Town Tavern!

PS: Cherries are amazing right now; grab some at the farmers market this week.



Friends, we are living in an era of $9 juice. There’s a complex story behind the founding of Juice Shop by brothers Charlie, Ben, and Jake Gulick (and Charlie’s wife Linda) involving miraculous liver cleansing, which we won’t relate here, because “liver cleansing.” We will relate, however, the taste of our glass-bottle pint of cold-pressed, unpasteurized, kale-parsley-spinach-romaine-etc. A+ Deep Green juice, purchased at a rustic-cute streetside stand in the FiDi (there’s one in Cow Hollow, too): “Deeep Greeen deeelightful. Immediately, the Blob was ready to conquer her day — probably aided by some sort of squeaky super-clean hyper-liver.

Other options include Coco-Clorophyll, pineapple pear chia, Alpha Green, Beta Beet, and apple lemon ginger. Juice Shop will also program an entire 1-10 day cleanse to suit your needs, including an array of juices, plus aloe and blue-green algae, starting at $62. Has there ever been a kickstarter for a personal cleanse?

353 Pine, SF. www.juiceshopsf.com



So long ago seem the days when the concept of gourmet Jewish deli food was unconcepted, and that cute guy with the dreads from Wise Sons was hawking chocolate babka out of a hand cart on Ferry Plaza. Wouldn’t you know it, here we are, digging with both hands and a fork into the mountain of meat Shorty Goldstein presents as a pastrami on rye ($12). Lean is definitely not the byword here, with thick, peppery, fat-laced slices piled up like brisket on solid, if completely overwhelmed, rye (mustard and accompanying pickle provided). The Blob cannot lie — it took her two days to finish this giant, which comes out to $6 per lunch. Not bad, and helps explain the lines down the street.

As if that were not recommendation enough, when we showed a picture of said sandwich to our very Jewish uncle from the East Coast, he grunted in condescending amusement, which in old-school East Coast Jewish terms is the closest any gourmet West Coast deli food is going to come to approval, so what’s to complain?

We piled on a hefty side of farm fresh veggies as a treat ($5) — that day it was rainbow carrots roasted with a hint of mint. Other sandwich options include exactly what you’d expect: corned beef (every day), egg salad (Mondays), beef tongue (Thursday), etc. Go eat, already.

126 Sutter, SF. www.shortygoldsteins.com



Let’s waltz out of the Financial District and its parade of newbies, and right into SoMa for an old favorite, Walzwerk, which was hopping on an early Sunday evening. (If there’s ever a time for wonderful, heavy East German food, Sunday dinner time is it.) The Blob had not been there for at least one historico-dialectical cycle, but the giant etchings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin on the walls still amused, the fabulously direct waitress remembered us, and the German Democratic Republic memorabilia remained fascinating and somehow hilarious.

And the food. Oh, the food. Mouthwatering sauerbraten with pickled cabbage and hefty dumplings covered in gravy, chicken breast stuffed with apples and bacon, awesomely firm cheese spaetzle, “soljanka” cabbage soup with salami, bacon, and pickles. Treat of all treats? Tangy, dill infused matjes herring (mildly salted herring served “housewife-style”), with fresh fillets soused in sour cream with apples, onions, and pickles — a light, sweet take on Thousand Island dressing, maybe, served with firm pumpernickel for spreading. We love you, tangy-sweet East German housewife!

381 South Van Ness, SF. www.walzwerk.com

May flowers



DANCE Smuin Ballet has grown up. Perhaps that should come as no surprise, since the company celebrates its 20th anniversary this November. While the troupe, now 17 strong, has always been engaged in showing what ballet can be without huge production values (and huge budgets), the company is lately doing it better than ever.

Six years ago Michael Smuin died unexpectedly, and a remarkable woman stepped into the cowboys boots he was so fond of wearing. Artistic and executive director Celia Fushille, a founding member and longtime Smuin performer, has a done a remarkable job raising the level of dancing, of choreography, and of widening the company’s appeal to more than Smuin’s traditional, older audience who “just loved Michael.”

Perhaps this fact should be irrelevant, but it is not: Fushille is also one of very few women who are running professional ballet companies. While she is committed to Smuin’s huge repertoire — and she chooses wisely from a very mixed bag — more importantly, she is stretching these dancers with choreography that is fresh, wide-ranging, and never less than professional.

The current program, “Bouquet,” which runs at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts through this weekend before moving to Walnut Creek, Mountain View, and Carmel, is very much worth seeing.

The evening opened with Smuin’s 1999 Chants d’Auvergne, set to a collection of French folk songs popularized by Joseph Canteloupe’s grand arrangements. The orchestration is unbearably soupy and an operatic soprano seems so irritatingly inappropriate for the original material’s simplicity. But Smuin cut through all that ballast and managed to create a modest, charming, and highly romantic vision of country life.

Light in spirit, often with a touch of humor, Smuin’s choreography deftly incorporates casual touches into balletic solos, duets and trios. Jonathan Dummar put his long lines to good use in a goofy yet elegant solo. Longtime company member Erin Yarborough brought ardency to her solo, as well as to her duet with Jonathan Powell.

The gem of the evening was Helen Pickett’s 2008 Petal, set to music by Thomas Montgomery Newman and two four-hand piano pieces by Philip Glass. The work’s title promised something flowery. Nope. The octet, excellently performed, offered highly structured, high-octane choreography with moments of such intimacy that they sent it shivers down your back. Performed in a white box lit in colors that ranged from blinding yellow to sunset orange, Petal’s constantly changing relationships created a pulsating space anchored by stillness. Dancers might move downstage as if being sucked into the audience; the next moment they became part of the scenery, rooted like columns or cornice pieces. A woman might sail high above her partners moments before another tore through a male relationship.

The lush sensuality of liquid torsos and dancers twining around each other balanced the non-stop, full-out dancing, with limbs shooting sky high or snaking along the floor. Yet these people — and they were people — suggested a sense of ease within their own skin that translated to the way they connected and separated. Small caresses around someone’s neck, or on an inner thigh, gave Petal one of its most appealing qualities: the intimacy of the human touch.

Last on this pleasing program was Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Jazzin’, bookended by exuberant ensemble dancing. Opener “Struttin'” was set to the Count Basie Orchestra’s take on Duke Ellington, the finale to the Wynton Marsalis Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with the LA Philharmonic. How can you go wrong with inspiration like that? These sections were choreographed with a sense of gusto and joyous celebration of the beat, but without too much personal vision.

For that we had to wait for the center sections of Jazzin’, which offered more theatrically nuanced choreography. Newcomer Erica Felsch’s “Spring in My Step” channeled a Marilyn Monroe-esque mix of innocence and sexual allure with wit and charm. The punchy “Takin’ No Mess,” in which a woman is trying to sell a chair and something else, sounded a different note of humor. Jane Rehm — perhaps the Smuin company’s finest stylist — revealed a comedic side of her talent by hitting every move, every glance with just the right timing. In the dark “Solitude” — again set to Ellington — Joshua Reynolds gave a man’s tortured soul all the pain and dignity it served. It was a beautiful performance.


Thu/16-Sat/18, 8pm (also Sat/18, 2pm); Sun/19, 2pm, $24-$65

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF



Bye bye Briski



SUPER EGO It’s been half a minute since I poked my stilettos through an extra-large Target bag and pulled it up to make an evening gown for hitting the town. I only have one sinus left over from the ’90s, so I have to pace my nightlife, ha AS IF. But lately sometimes it’s all like, “where’d everybody go?” when I go out. SF is definitely undergoing another of its periodic freak drains (although much wild unicorn magik still remains, as the Odyssey party proved last weekend).

In 1999 everyone was moving to NYC, in 2003 it was Portland, in 2007 it was Berlin, and now everyone’s either moving to Oakland or LA or beyond. Soon as I manage to turn around without falling down, someone’s gone: beloved DJ bear Claude VonStroke, party maniac Sleazemore, phantasmagoric art star boychild, radical queer activist Michael Lorin Friedman, future Ms. Drag Mess Universe Ambrosia Salad, almost all my tricks I didn’t want to leave…

Yes, it’s the economy, rising rents, influx of drones, lack of jobs or diversity or artistic opportunity, the outrageous wish to not live in a pantry with five other crazies. Also some people seem to think they want professional careers? What is this, “Star Search”?

Well, here’s another story of a beloved someone moving on — but unlike many others, this one’s a happy one (although it may reflect on just how high you can go in this town when it comes to dance music). “No, I’m not really afraid that once I move out of SF I won’t be able to afford moving back,” As You Like It crew resident and sweetest person ever DJ Briski, a.k.a. Brian Bejarano told me over the phone. “Someone will have a floor for me to crash on, and I’ve got family in Pacifica.” That’s where Briski grew up, but he spent a formative period raving in the UK in 2006, which cemented his transition from a psychedelic rock and punk fan to a deeper house sound. Minimal techno was breaking hard back then, but Briski cut his rave teeth at Back to Basics, the infamously gonzo darker-funk night in Leeds (now the longest running weekly in the world).

His signature groove is deep and somewhat tense, almost playfully post-punk — he’s great at ’80s rarities, too — and very consciously indebted to Bay psychedelic house legends the Wicked crew. In fact, his last gig here will be playing back to back with Wicked’s Jenö at the next As You Like It party, Fri/17 at Mighty.

Briski’s off to become the tour manager for one of tech-house’s biggies, Maceo Plex, who has basically achieved pop star status in Europe, and is now based in Barcelona. Briski met the Cuban-born Maceo in Dallas a few years ago, and grew close. “My girlfriend Mariesa [Stevens, also moving], became Maceo’s agent a few years back and we’ve been like a little rave family ever since. Our musical styles are very different, but I’ll be opening for him in some places, and have access to his studio and record label to continue developing my music.”

The only fear Briski has, really, is the fact that he doesn’t know Spanish (despite his family’s Nicaraguan roots). “I grew up here, and I know San Francisco will always be San Francisco, despite whatever changes come. You can still make the life you want here, and go as far as you can go with it. The dance scene is all about family and support — not just my crew, but everyone involved. It’s the true spirit of the city, and that will never die.”

AS YOU LIKE IT w/ Wagon Repair’s Mathew Johnson and Konrad Black, plus Briski B2B Jenö. Fri/17, 9pm-5am, $10–$20. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.ayli-sf.com



Christian Marclay’s incredible round-the-clock collage of realtime film moments is one of the hottest nightlife events going — it plays 24-hours at the SF MOMA on Saturdays. You’ll need to get there two-and-a-half hours early to catch midnight, but the wait dies down for 4am, so maybe go then.

Saturdays through June 1, 10am until 5:45om on Sunday, $18. SF MOMA, 151 Third Street, SF. www.sfmoma.org



The SF-based major player on the moody, post-dubstep R&B-sample scene has knocked up an impressive array of hits and a big following. I was more impressed by his recent classic two-step mix, which showed he really knew his sound’s historical progression. With xxxy, Clicks & Whistles, Matrixxman.


Thu/16, $16–$18, doors 8:30pm, show at 9pm. The Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com




Oh look, it’s goofball bass papa Claude VonStroke back in town to play with his wily gang of bass-keteers, including Justin Martin, Leroy Peppers (a.k.a. Christian Martin), and one of my favorites J. Phlip, who just returned from Berlin.

Fri/17, 9pm, $5 before 11pm, $20 after. mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com



Sonic sculpting with premium put on a dark bass edge from this Berlin-via-Britain dub minimalist: “expansive banging” is a term that comes up alot, which sounds just fine. With Gerd Jansen and the Icee Hot crew.

Sat/18, 10pm-3am, $10. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com



Very cool. New “San Francisco Album Project” — made up of a gaggle of fabbies like DJ Chicken, Trixxie Carr, Nikki Six Mile, Elijah Minelli, Dia Dear, and Precious Moments is performing this classic album from beginning to end, with added dialogue, gender clown zazz, and visual treats. Dragons, the policeman knew, were supposed to breathe fire.

Sun/19, 7pm, $15 advance. The Chapel, 777 Valencia, SF. www.chapelsf.com


Get high



FILM San Francisco has a lot of film festivals (understatement of the millennium), but none until now can claim to show "films from the roof of the world." The first annual Himalayan Film Festival kicks off this week with screenings in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. Opening night features the West Coast premiere of Leon Stuparich’s Road to Peace, a doc that follows the Dalai Lama on his 2008 tour of the UK.

The timing of the visit coincides with a period of unrest in Lhasa, so the trip takes on an unexpectedly political tone, with reporters pressing His Holiness to speak about "the Tibetan problem." Which he does (advocating for "meaningful autonomy" instead of complete independence from China, and emphasizing the need for "a realistic approach" to the conflict), though he nudges his message toward broader themes: universal responsibility, religious harmony, cultural preservation, the environment, and so forth.

In his wake, he leaves a trail of teary-eyed, thoroughly chuffed Brits, including Absolutely Fabulous‘ Joanna Lumley, and proves once again to be one of the world’s most laid-back leaders, with an easy chuckle that puts awed audiences at ease. No wonder he’s such a frequent, favorite subject for documentarians like Stuparich; to that end, if you’ve seen a previous film on the Dalai Lama, this genial travelogue is likely to feel somewhat familiar.

More unusual subject matter is explored in Himalayan Gold Rush, which manages to overcome its stiff, National Geographic-ish narration with a gripping narrative and quite a bit of spectacular scenery. Director Eric Valli travels to rural Nepal to investigate the lucrative yartsa gunbu, or "Himalayan Viagra" trade. Derived from a fungus-and-caterpillar situation that only occurs 5,000 meters above sea level, it’s "worth more than gold" to herbal-remedy shops that cater to rich Chinese clients.

Medicinal claims aside, much of its value is due to the fact that it’s incredibly rare, as well as back-breakingly difficult to harvest. Himalayan Gold Rush zeroes in on a few different foot soldiers, including a father with two young sons who worries about the mountains’ rapidly dwindling yartsa supply — even as he gambles away the family’s meager earnings in a dice game — and a man who rides from camp to camp, buying the crop to sell to his boss, an exporter, in Kathmandu. This, too, is perilous work, with armed guards necessary to protect large parcels of the precious stuff, which to the untrained eye resembles dried-up tequila worms.

An entirely different Nepalese story unfolds in The Sari Soldiers, a 2008 film that focuses on the country’s turbulent political unrest in 2005-2006. It begins with a reminder about the 2001 Nepalese royal massacre, in which the country’s crown prince shot and killed nine of his family members, then himself — or so goes the official version of the controversial tragedy (where’s the documentary on that, by the way?) It then explains how the slain king’s unpopular brother ascended to the throne, and a few years later, amid a Maoist insurgency, claimed "absolute power" for himself.

With this chaos forming a potent backdrop, The Sari Soldiers highlights six women whose different viewpoints make for a remarkably even-handed doc. Not only does filmmaker Julie Bridgham make great use of handheld footage taken amid tense, anti-monarchy student demonstrations, she interviews both a Maoist soldier and a Royal Nepalese Army soldier. Most powerfully, she traces the struggles of a human-rights lawyer who advocates for the country’s alarming number of people who’ve been "disappeared" by the government, including the 15-year-old daughter of another of Bridgham’s subjects.

Other intriguing entries in the small but promising Himalayan Film Festival line-up include another doc about the Nepalese civil war, Beneath Everest: Nepal Reform; a doc about Tibetan athletes’ attempts to earn representation at the Beijing Olympics, Leaving Fear Behind — whose director was jailed because of the film; and, among a handful of narrative works, Old Dog, about a family at odds over the treatment of their much-cherished dog (a Tibetan Mastiff, natch).


Wed/15-Sun/19, $10

Various venues


Assassination character



FILM Starting in the late 1960s, it was noted that Hollywood no longer necessarily required actors who were conventionally handsome. Dustin Hoffman, George Segal, and others were hailed as representatives of a brave new system in which the idiosyncratic character actor of another generation could now be the star. This was an oversimplification, given that the movies had already made room for the likes of Lon Chaney, Humphrey Bogart, and Bette Davis, among others who wouldn’t be considered conventionally beautiful. Nonetheless, the cult of beauty remains a huge factor in movie stardom — even more so now that we live in an era where the principal cinematic heroes are primarily superheroes of one sort or another, defined by their physical perfection.

Nevertheless, sometimes sheer, striking talent forces someone into the front ranks without their having the benefit of looking like a former model. A case in point is Michael Shannon, who has simply been too intense to ignore in movies since at least 2006’s Bug — through indelible performances in Revolutionary Road (2008), Take Shelter (2011), TV’s Boardwalk Empire, last month’s Mud, and more. He’s such a Method-y changeling that it’s hard to believe he’s six-foot-four — he’s so often, so effectively shrunken himself to play flawed men whose souls are in danger of being shrunken further by irresponsible actions.

He’s pretty much the whole show in The Iceman, about a real-life hitman who purportedly killed over 100 people during his career. Despite some scarily violent moments, however, Ariel Vromen’s film doesn’t show much of that body count — he’s more interested in the double life Richard Kuklinski (Shannon) leads as a cold-blooded killer whose profession remains entirely unknown for years to his wife, daughters, and friends. The waitress he marries, Deborah (Winona Ryder), isn’t exactly a brainiac. But surely there’s some willful denial in the way she accepts his every excuse and fake profession, starting with “dubbing Disney movies” when he actually dupes prints of pornos.

It’s in that capacity that he first meets Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta), a volatile Newark mobster impressed by Kuklinski’s blasé demeanor at gunpoint. He correctly surmises this guy would make a fine contract killer, and his offer does seem to strike a chord. Telling Deborah he’s now an investment banker, or some such, Kuklinski upgrades their lifestyle to suburban comfort on a mafia salary. When he has a falling out with Demeo, he “freelances” his skill to collaborate with fellow hitman Mr. Freezy (Chris Evans), so named because he drives an ice-cream truck — and puts his victims on ice for easier disposal.

For the sake of a basic contrast defined by its ad line — “Loving husband. Devoted father. Ruthless killer.” — The Iceman simplifies Kuklinski’s saga, making him less of a monster. His wife said he frequently beat her, though here the marriage is portrayed as fairly idyllic. You can see why Ryder’s Deborah might choose to overlook so many gaps in her husband’s alibis — Shannon makes Richard someone whose stern dedication to murder can also be applied to the roles of spouse and father. Woe betide anyone who insults his family, as one pool hall loudmouth finds out early on.

The movie only briefly suggests Kuklinski’s abused childhood, and it omits entirely other intriguing aspects of the real-life story. But Shannon creates a convincing whole character whose contradictions don’t seem so to him — or to us. It’s an unflashy performance, everything reined in, very tightly wound, such that you’d never imagine this actor could be loose or funny — though that’s exactly what he is in Mud. Shannon isn’t yet 40, and while there are plenty of actors whose bags of tricks leave little room for surprise, one suspects this guy couldn’t repeat himself if he tried.


THE ICEMAN opens Fri/17 in Bay Area theaters.

Joyful noise



LIT If the intrinsic value of an ephemeral experience is its very impermanence, then attempting to capture it for posterity is an exercise fraught with peril. No sanitized textbook description of such chaos-driven movements as Dada, Situationism, and Fluxus could ever hope to capture the raw vibrancy of being a part of the action, and the true value of such movements has really never been in spectating, but from the transformation experienced by the participants while pushing their personal boundaries.

With that caveat in mind, the gorgeously-rendered, scrap-and-patchwork anthology Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society (Last Gasp, 300 pp., $39.95) does a pretty good job of conveying not just the external hi-jinks of a group bound together by a yen for the unpredictable, but also the internal philosophical trajectory of many of its members.

Designed to resemble a hardbound EC Comics collection, boldly adorned with a zombie-green, six-fingered hand further deformed by the presences of a bloodshot, unblinking eye smack in the middle of its lined palm, Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society is a collaborative effort between key cacophonists Kevin Evans, Carrie Galbraith, John Law, and, in a sense, the whole of the multi-faceted, loosely-knit “society” which ebbed and flowed through the secret pathways and deep underground spaces of the Bay Area and beyond from 1986 through the mid-aughts.

The comprehensive yet quirky tome gathers together an abundance of flyers, photographs, descriptions of momentous pranks and experiential escapades, and newspaper columns documenting such shenanigans as a Thomas Pynchon Walking Tour; the bunker-squatting “Atomic Café”; bridge-climbing; sewer-spelunking; art-car parades; a hide-and-chase game of “Smuggler” at Fisherman’s Wharf; and a rowdy afternoon of shopping cart sled-racing known as the Urban Iditarod. Strewn with colorful collages of ephemerabilia designed by Galbraith and brightly illustrated “Cacophony Factoids” by Evans, the densely-layered visuals bear a whiff of the cheerfully Dada-tastic aesthetic of counter-culture classic The Book of the SubGenius as well as the Cacophony Society’s own former newsletter of events, Rough Draft.

Birthed from the relatively short-lived but highly influential prankster cadre the Suicide Club, which operated from 1977 to 1982, the Cacophony Society itself has “spawned” a veritable pantheon of offbeat occurrences such as SantaCon, the Bay to Breakers Salmon Run, and that bloated megalopolis of arts festivals, Burning Man. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a San Francisco without the insidious influence of an organization dubbed “the Merry Pranksters of the 1990s.” Even organizations and events (local and national) not specifically born of the society such as Improv Everywhere, Atlas Obscura, the Yes Men, and the Maker Faire bear its imprint: a sense of irreverence combined with a belief in the possible.

“There wasn’t anything that we could think of that we couldn’t figure out how to do,” reminisces Galbraith — who is notably the original instigator of the organizations’ iconic, unmediated Zone Trips (which came to include the first expedition to Black Rock Desert with Larry Harvey’s “man” in tow). This sentiment is echoed by Evans when asked his opinion on the key traits shared by cacophonists, “curiosity, creativity, a deep appreciation of the absurd and the silly, [and] an addiction to making something from nothing”.

Although the idea of a book about Cacophony had been floated around as early as the mid-’90s, it wasn’t until Evans called a meeting between some of his former cacophony comrades in 2010 that the idea began to take a concrete shape. A Bay Area-based fine artist and illustrator, Evans came to the meeting with an already thought-out concept for a “visual history” of the Cacophony Society, and though most of the other people at that first meeting decided against participating, Galbraith, who has a master’s degree in book arts, jumped onboard, eventually spearheading the layout and working most closely with publisher Last Gasp on the final incarnation.

Joining the project soon after Evans and Galbraith got rolling, John Law — a founding member of the Cacophony Society, and a long-time member of the Suicide Club before it — brought his extensive archive of flyers, newsletters, and more to the mix, and, with Galbraith, provided much of the written content. In the end the grueling, three-way editorial process became less about finding enough material for a book, but whittling all the available material down to 300 pages, a process Law likens to lopping off fingers.

“We could have compiled a thousand-page book without repeating anything, or becoming dull,” he muses ruefully by email. “My hope is that others who were involved will write their own books about the period.”

Until that happens, however, pranksters, subversives, free spirits, and urban explorers alike will want to go ahead and splurge on a copy of The Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society. And remember, though now technically defunct, the society has always been open to all. You may already be a member. *


Thu/16, 7pm, free

City Lights

261 Columbus, SF



Sun/19, 6pm, free

Green Apple Books

506 Clement, SF


For more readings and related events, including a May 31 party at the Castro Theatre, visit www.lastgasp.com or www.talesofsfcacophony.com.

Psycho beach party



TOFU AND WHISKEY Why don’t more surfers listen to surf music? I found myself in one of those fuzzy-eyed, web-based black holes, frustrated, rhetorically asking the question through the endless prism of social media a few months back. And furthermore, why don’t surfer-musicians play authentic surf rock? While the sound was born in Southern California in the early 1960s, most of the early musicians who incorporated it weren’t active participants in the sport for which it was named, save for Dick Dale. The oft-repeated story is that Dale wanted to reflect the sounds he heard in his mind while surfing. And around that time, Santa Ana, Calif. based guitar-maker Fender even ran ads with beach babes and the tag “Fender makes music to surf by.”

But in the past few decades at least, the more prominent surfer-musicians seem to mostly vacillate between producing pop-punk, reggae, or more commonly, your ubiquitous, folky, banana pancake-loving Jack Johnson boredom block.

Tom Curren is in an elite class, a world champion surfer and son of legendary big-wave rider Pat Curren, he’s an athlete who took all his souped-up energy, and left his sport to pursue…folk rock. He released first album In Plain View in March.

During an ancient ritual in which I participated last week — that would be my honeymoon on Oahu — the bus drivers, tour leaders, cabbies, and general friendly tourist industry folks kept offering up slice-of-life songs for our listening pleasure. You like music? Well, get a load of this beach-ready sound. Cue soft rock (Hawaiian-born) Jack Johnson, or, the late Honolulu singer-ukulele musician Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole. We heard Iz’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World” medley no fewer than 15 times in seven days. I asked my husband, who grew up surfing on the Central Coast, what was up with the surfer/surf rock divide and he quietly responded, “I’ve never participated in surf culture, I have no idea.”

When I returned to work this week, I asked local surf musician Donald Bell of Aloha Screwdriver a similar question, and he shut it down more academically, “I can’t speak for surfers. I don’t surf. I grew up skateboarding. I don’t know a single one of our fans who surf. What’s funny is that our biggest fans live in the gloomiest climates. We have a bunch of fans in Seattle.” He added, “I think that Californians have a kind of cultural cringe when they hear surf music, because it’s the kind of thing that always gets played in the background whenever a California beach scene is shown on TV. It can feel cliché. But once you get outside of California, that baggage tends to disappear and you get treated like an exotic import.”

Bell got it though, what I was after. I wanted the explosive electric guitar of Dale and the Trashmen, the wet noodling power of ’90s revival acts like Phantom Surfers and Man Or Astro-Man?, or powerful throwback shock of Guantanamo Baywatch or Trashwomen (those last two, by the way, will play the Burger Boogaloo fest July 6-7 in Oakland). OK, so Hawaii wasn’t technically the place to find the thriving surf rock stuff; if I’m being fair, I knew the style I desired wasn’t based there. Plus, I didn’t exactly plow through underground punk shows while visiting, being buried deep in the sand and fruity alcohol-based beverages and all.

So maybe it doesn’t matter if professional surfer-musicians are out there playing the music of their cultural ancestors, there’s still an avid fan base.

A week earlier, the husband and I walked down the aisle to the Ventures, “Walk Don’t Run” (“Pipeline” was considered but ultimately dismissed). See, this was the music I grew up loving. The vroom-vroom-vroom of wild guitar riffs, heavy reverb, Eastern scales, rapid and escalating drumming peaking, crescendoing, wiping out. Proto-beach punk.

“People forget that before the Beatles hit, surf music was once pop music in this country. Right now, pop music is very focused on a synthetic sound, but everything comes back around,” Bell says.

And there will be a fix of the good stuff nearby this weekend, at radio station KFJC’s Battle of the Surf Bands benefit (Sat/18, noon, $10, all ages. The Surf Spot, 4627 Coast Hwy., Pacifica. www.kfjc.org). Bell’s Alameda-based trio will play the yearly event for the second time. And the 16-band battle also includes Beachkrieg, Deadbeats, Mighty Surf Lords, Tomorrowmen, Frankie and the Pool Boys, Meshugga Beach Party, and more surf acts with cheeky names. The event benefits the station itself, and also will be broadcast using Live Cam.

Given that it does often feel like a maligned art form, the abundance of traditional surf bands participating every year at KFJC’s event (now in its sixth year) seems surprising.

“There are probably more surf rock groups in the Bay Area than any other location in the world,” Bell says, naming off many that will play the battle, and beyond. “A lot of that has to do with the continued support of KFJC and DJs like Phil Dirt and Cousin Mary who really championed the genre…I formed my first surf band when I was 16, and Dirt brought us into the studio to play live on the air for 30 minutes. It was crazy to have that kind of outlet. It’s unheard of.”

Now in his early 30s, Bell has continued to play in surf bands with his musician friends from high school — drummer Steve Slater and bassist Grant Shellen. They grew up together in Fremont and that’s where they formed that first band: Chachi, Boba Fett and the Wookiee. Bell says he initially found the genre through the surf revival acts of the ’90s like the Phantom Surfers and Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, but then, once he was hooked, he tumbled backward toward the Ventures, Link Wray, the Shadows, and of course, Dale.

Aloha Screwdriver began in ’09, and the trio plays all instrumental music. “Sometimes it veers into rockabilly or like a Ennio Morricone spaghetti western vibe, or even like a Disney Haunted Mansion feel, but I’m always holding our songs up to this idea that they could carry a Tarantino-worthy action sequence.”



Listen to Myron and E’s single “If I Gave You My Love” and you’ll start to feel some involuntary movements, your head bouncing in agreement, shoulders shimmying side to side. It’s the nature of the solid gold soul beast. The duo was recently signed to tastemaker Stones Throw, and will release newest album Broadway, backed by Timmion Records house band the Soul Investigators, on the label July 2. With a handful of 45s already out there, the two — Bay Area bred Myron Glasper and Eric “E da Boss” Cooke — have successfully maneuvered an authentic soul sound that’s at once smooth and celebratory (with the help of some well-placed horns). The duo, which met on tour with Blackalicious, stops by Berkeley this weekend for the East Bay Soul Stomp 2. With Bang Girl Group Revue, New Love Soul Revue, DJ Derek See, DJ Der.

Sat/18, 8pm, $9–$12. Starry Plough, 3101 Shattuck, Berk.www.starryploughpub.com.



The first thing you need to know about Black Pus is that it’s just a looping Brian Chippendale — he of Lighting Bolt fame. For this project, the madman drummer (and forever art-school kid at heart) uses percussion, a triggered oscillator, and those echoing, distorted Lightning Bolt style vocals you’d expect. Most tracks sound like a spaceship lifting off and exploding into starry darkness, repeatedly. With CCR Headcleaner, Reptilian Shape Shifters.

Sat/18, 9:30, $10. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com.


Take it all off



THEATER In the downstairs den of her Noe Valley home, director Vidhu Singh and her cast are rehearsing some of the opening scenes in a madcap and punchy satirical revue making its US premiere at the Brava Theater this week. In the center of the room, to the driving beat of some irresistible Eastern pop, an MC (played by veteran improv actor-teacher Mick Laugs) introduces the diverse ensemble in the manner of a runway fashion show, as each character parades to the front of the stage to strike a pose in her or his burqa — because, female or male, just about everyone wears a burqa in this play.

Especially in this domestic setting, the whole project seems a good-natured and relaxed affair. At the same time, it’s impossible to ignore the charge that comes with the satirical appropriation of this politically fraught piece of clothing, or miss the serious intention behind every comical line and gesture. For all its campy humor, Burqavaganza is a defiant piece of political theater — and, it turns out, a critique of much more than an embattled piece of female attire.

Written by award-winning Pakistani playwright, journalist, and human rights activist Shahid Nadeem, Burqavaganza sends up authoritarianism and extremism at large, the burqa becoming a byword for various public masks and ideological certainties thrown around by both sides in the tangled “war on terror.” The word itself is woven obsessively into the dialogue like a ubiquitous fabric, its constant iteration — including in names and titles — making for a comical punctuation that sounds more and more absurd as time goes on. By the end, “burqa” becomes a nonsense word, burbling on the surface of an irrational state of affairs churned by deeper interests and forces that otherwise go unnamed.

First produced in Lahore by the Ajoka Theatre Company — co-founded by Nadeem and wife Madeeha Gauhar (the play’s original director) — Burqavaganza was quickly banned by the Pakistani government after complaints from women members of a fundamentalist political party. That has not stopped it being mounted in various provinces of the country, however. As for its US debut, director Singh thinks it has something to offer local audiences beyond just entertainment.

“It seems to me that people want to talk about issues, but they don’t have a way of addressing the debate about the burqa; and the play does that using humor and satire. That makes it very accessible. It humanizes the characters while highlighting the debate,” Singh says. “I think the divide between the West and Islam is so sharp. The play tries to address both sides of the divide. On the one hand, it offends conservative Muslims, who think basically you’re making fun of the burqa. On the other hand, it’s also a critique of the West and the US’s attitude toward Islam, and parodies the war on terror. So it sort of offends people on both sides — and it’s funny, so it works.”

Positioning itself somewhere between Islamist extremism and Western imperialism, Burqavaganza critiques both from the ground of human dignity and respect for human rights. Such principled critique is more widespread throughout Muslim-majority countries than many here in the West might suspect, according to human rights lawyer and author Karima Bennoune, whose new book, Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism (forthcoming from W.W. Norton), is a far-flung firsthand survey of artists, intellectuals, and activists across the Muslim world combatting Islamist extremism in the cultural realm. Among the artists she profiles are Nadeem and Guahar. (In fact, she adapts her title from a line in another Ajoka Theatre play, Bulha). Bennoune says Ajoka has proved more outspoken in their critique of Muslim fundamentalism “than many liberal circles or diaspora populations in the West dare to be.”

“What is perhaps most remarkable is that the Ajoka Theatre Company debuted this play, complete with its satire of burqa-obsessed extremists, in Pakistan in 2007, as political violence was on the rise — and only about a month after the nearby killing of the 36-year-old Punjab minister for social welfare, the women’s rights advocate Zil-e Huma Usman,” says Bennoune in a recent email correspondence. “Her murderer said she was not sufficiently covered in her shalwar kameez [a traditional South Asian dress]. As I write in my book, the real ‘Burqavaganza’ was right there, just outside the theater door.”

For all its humor and high spirits, Burqavaganza has the potential to provoke questions as well as debate among the Bay Area audiences who come to see it. But that, enthuses Bennoune, is all to the good.

“The importance of a production of this kind in the US now after the Boston bombings — when there is still such a limited space to offer a sharply critical yet non-discriminatory response to the terrible mentality that accompanies jihadism — cannot be overstated. After all, as Nadeem reminds us, ‘We all live in a Burqavaganza.'”


Through June 2

Opens Thu/16, 8pm; runs Thu-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 3pm, $20

Brava Theater Center

2781 24th St, SF