Volume 48 Number 11

Carb your enthusiasm

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On a bright November afternoon, I ducked into Biondivino, a tiny but tremendously well-stocked Italian wine shop in Russian Hill, to meet John Pauley and Anna Li of Mattarello — an artisanal, handmade pasta pop-up.

Li, a Europe-raised, multilingual physician by day and tortellini-shaper by night, greeted familiar faces while pulling bundles of sage pappardelle, whole-wheat tagliatelle, parsley-garlic tagliatelle, squid ink spaghetti, saffron cavatelli, and the coveted tortellini al brodo from inside a cooler. Pauley, a former chef at several restaurants including the nearby La Folie, now works as a full-time sfoglini, or Bolognese-style pasta maker, for the couple’s two-year-old venture. If he was tired after spending five-and-a-half hours rolling out 50 pounds of dough (and subsequently stuffing and shaping it into 26 portions of thimble-sized, knotted nuggets), it didn’t show.

Walking me along the foldout table where pastas winked with specks of semolina, Pauley discussed their journey into la sfoglia. Five years ago while traveling in Bologna, a culinary capital known for parmigiano reggiano, prosciutto, mortadella, and tortellini, Pauley apprenticed with pasta makers Franco and Grazia Macchiavelli of Salumeria Bruno e Franco.

“In Bologna, pasta making is pretty much women’s work,” Pauley explained. Naturally, the women at the school were intrigued that a man would come all the way from San Francisco to learn their practice. “We all fell in love with each other,” said Pauley.

Mattarello maintains the same authentic spirit as the pasta made in Bologna. “Tortellini is as Bolognese as the Golden Gate Bridge is [San Franciscan],” said Pauley. Yet he was quick to point out that authenticity means different things to different people. In Bologna, tortellini is only eaten in broth. “To change something, you have to understand where it comes from. You start with a 450-year-old recipe for tortellini.”

In the US, Li and Pauley noticed, the bar for pasta has been set very low. Americans treat it as a vehicle for heaping on store-bought sauce and every vegetable in the pantry. On the other hand, explained Pauley, “the mistake other people make is that bringing a virgin olive oil or cheese back from Italy doesn’t make that food authentic. The spirit of cooking authentic Italian food here would mean, say, using great artisan prosciutto from Iowa.”

Pauley’s version of tortellini involves driving two hours to get the perfect farm eggs. “The hardest part is finding the right coloring. The egg yolks need to be orange to make the pasta really golden.”

He makes almost everything by hand in order to “get intimate with the pasta.” It’s not supposed to look perfect. The tortellini is stuffed with a mix of pork loin, eggs, parmesan, nutmeg, salt, and breadcrumbs; rolled; and sold the very next day.

That night I cooked the golden knots until they bobbed to the top of my boiling pot for several seconds, and slid a spoonful into my mouth. The texture alone was startling — the silk of the broth combined with an elastic, tender chew of pasta, creating a wholly new experience. The flavor came almost as an afterthought, in a delightfully grounding depth of meat, lift of nutmeg, and occasional bite of pepper, wrapped snugly between the sweet broth containing the brined memory of gently bruised vegetables. It only helped that the sky had turned dark and rainy.

The exception to Pauley’s handmade rule comes in the form of squid ink spaghetti, when he swaps the mattarello (or rolling pin, after which the pop-up was named), for the torchio, or “my torture device,” as he calls it. It began as a fun experiment after a trip to the Amalfi Coast, but customers can’t order enough, and La Folie has begun ordering it for its menu. “It’s too good of a product,” said Pauley, shrugging.

I leaned closer to the coiled ropes, noticing that they smelled strongly of the ocean in their pre-boiled state. I pinched one end of a beautiful black noodle, rubbed the Play-Doh-like string between my fingers, and took a bite. Raw, it contained an oddly tender chew. Cooked, it firmed up, yet remained fragile, pliable — I was seized with the desire to create a whole new adjective to describe these noodles, because the ones that came to mind couldn’t adequately capture what I tasted.

An epiphany: Fresh pasta is the dish. You need never wonder what you’re going to do with pasta — you’re not going to dress it, or drown it. You’re going to eat it. I ate these squid noodles in Mattarello tomato sauce for round one, which hid the essence of the sea more than I wished. I went lighter in round two, with a squirt of lemon juice, a plop of butter, a glop of olive oil, grated parmesan, and (this may sound strange) small chunks of avocado. Delectable, absolutely.

Amid San Francisco’s ultra-hip, ultra-now pop-up scene, Li and Pauley have witnessed friends turn their transitory trucks and tables into brick-and-mortar restaurants. They have business-savvy friends who tell them that now is the time to move forward.

“We know we’re at a fork, but we don’t know yet which prong we’re going to take,” said Pauley. He briefly pondered a larger pop-up, or expanding into more locations, but opening an eatery doesn’t appeal. “Anna is a doctor, and I don’t miss the restaurant scene, the appetizers, the entrées, the running around.” Pauley stops to say hi to friends entering Biondivino, then concludes, “I love making love to my dough. I love doing this.” *

Mattarello’s next pop-up is Dec. 22, noon-3pm at Biondivino, 1415 Green, SF. For future locations and pre-ordering, visit www.mattarellosf.com.

 

Volume 48 Number 11 Flip-through Edition

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Band practice

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER We meet above the waterfall in Yerba Buena Gardens. It’s cold, getting dark. Everyone seems relieved to get inside the YBCA theater next door. We’ll talk here for the next hour, standing around a worktable with a gold lamé circle spread over it, before the band heads downstairs to a windowless rehearsal space in the deep well of the building.

Nicole Kidman Is Fucking Gorgeous is the band formerly known as the artists John Foster Cartwright, Maryam Rostami, and Mica Sigourney. In fact, NKIFG is more and less than a band — it’s a conceit, a project title, a series of performances, maybe a forthcoming album? (They don’t know yet.) None of its members actually plays an instrument, as far as I can tell. But they do compose songs, choreography, and objects that they employ in an unfolding series of situations they as readily call parties as performances. And they will have live music infusing their show this weekend at CounterPULSE, courtesy of ongoing collaborator and perennial inspiration Deep Teens.

Embracing a loopy goth spirit, the triumvirate, which has its origins in a performance two years ago at dancer-choreographer Liz Tenuto’s apartment during the Home Theater Festival, takes its send-ups of contemporary dance and performance art tropes seriously. And for all its insouciance and nonchalant humor, the project is at some level equally as much about the crisis of three artists (two of them well-known drag queens, the other a DJ and videographer) finding a way to live and work in today’s severely stratified San Francisco. It also draws eagerly, if obscurely, from their own private lives.

As for the name, its members like to say what they do is defined by both the presence and absence of someone or something called Nicole Kidman. To hear them talk about it, Kidman starts to sound like a key swallowed by a red herring.

“Who cares about Nicole Kidman?” notes Sigourney, with paradoxical delight. “But people do care about her! She’s the perfect vessel.”

What else should you know about Nicole Kidman Is Fucking Gorgeous? The answer to that question took a rambling, circuitous form. It was ultimately put to a Tarot deck set in the middle of the table.

Mica Sigourney So the frame of this reading is around getting at the truths and dispelling the illusions around this project for you. [The first card is] the Seven of Cups, which is about illusion [versus] reality, and picking out the truth. Right now, all of us are [experiencing] an abundance of emotions, an overwhelming amount.

Maryam Rostami Cups are heart energy, heart chakra, love, emotions.

[skipping ahead]

MS So what we need to manifest in our next step in this project — see, I don’t know if this is telling us what to tell Rob.

MR No, I think it is, I think this is great.

MS We are students of creativity…

MR And magic…

MS So we’re not masters of this yet. We’re still learning. Page of Wands is also about adventure and following bliss really. And our final outcome is the Ten of Swords. So it means we’re being stabbed in the back!

MR The Ten of Swords looks like this: It’s all of our fears pointing toward one single spot. The Ten is when the next step is coming. We’ve reached the end of something and it’s the next thing. The Moon, I feel, has to do with a difficult birthing process. The Moon is about traversing these murky emotional territories, which we have done together and we continue to do. I think this represents our fear.

MS Can I give it a reading too?

MR Yes.

MS Ten being the overabundance of the suit, and Tens being about communication and intellect: The outcome is an overabundance of ideas that sometimes feel like a burden, and are sometimes painful because there are just too many ideas happening. So we’re going to end up with too many ideas. Coupled with the Moon, I’m going to say our final outcome will actually be knowledge that is not measurable by the intellect and is much more intuitive and based in mystery, that is, not easily described by the mind.

MR We’re going to have to dig deeper from all of this. The Ten makes us need to take the next step.

MS And that next step is toward the dark. Well, toward intuition.

MR It is toward intuition. I think that moving toward the more Moon aspects will maybe then inform the next piece.

MS Oh, the moon…

MR Oh, the moon, duh! But this is perfect!

MS The moon is in our piece a lot.

MR Like the actual physical moon.

MS So basically, to clarify things for Rob: The Tarot reading says that we need to dispel some illusions for you. What we need to tell you is that we are about to have a moment of reckoning at this show at which we realize our values and our worth, and our sins. And what’s driving us as a collective is to reap the benefits of a good harvest, as well as learn from each other, and continue to be students of creativity, passion, and magic.

MR Ultimately, not to let our fears get us down and to know that we’re going in the right direction.

MS And this being our final outcome makes me think that maybe you should just know: “The moon.”

John Foster Cartwright The moon.

MS We need to shut up with all our ideas and just be like, the moon.

MR I’m with that. *

NICOLE KIDMAN IS FUCKING GORGEOUS

Thu/12-Sun/15, 8pm, $20

CounterPULSE

1310 Mission, SF

www.counterpulse.org

 

Rattlin’ bones and sugar plums

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arts@sfbg.com

TOFU AND WHISKEY The tuba comes quickly, bubbling over excitedly at the start of the wildly entertaining “That’s It!” — the title track off the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s first record of all original compositions. The vivacious New Orleans jazz album, released earlier this year, was a long time coming. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been a staple of Louisiana for 50 years, and in its different variations has released more than 20 previous albums of covers, tributes, and reworked classics.

And there’s a reason the tuba stands out: It’s tooted by creative director Ben Jaffe, whose father and mother, Allan and Sandra Jaffe, created the revolutionary Preservation Hall jazz venue in the French Quarter in 1961. Allan organized the first incarnation of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in 1963 and was the group’s first tuba player. Ben and his brother grew up around the corner from the venue and spent most of their time there, hanging out at the venue with the greats. “We literally grew up at the Preservation Hall at the feet of these pioneers of New Orleans jazz,” Ben tells me from his current home (he still lives just minutes from the hall). He seems still in awe of it all, genuinely impressed and appreciative of his past with the venue.

He took over the group and the venue in the early ’90s after graduating from college (Allan passed away in ’87). Along with managing the day-to-day operations of the hectic venue, he also plays tuba along with bass, and produces the band’s albums. This newest release was co-produced by Jim James from My Morning Jacket. The core group of eight musicians recorded That’s It! last year, blasting out Dixieland and New Orleans jazz tracks like spooky “Rattlin’ Bones” and slowing down for twinkly songs like “Sugar Plum” on percussion, banjo, piano, trumpets, tenor sax, clarinet, tubas, and the like. “All combined, out of eight guys, we probably play something like 300 instruments.”

The band will play select tracks off its original record this weekend at the Davies Symphony Hall, but there’ll be another tradition taking over most of that performance: peppy, jazzy holiday selections. The band’s on-and-off again (but mostly annual) Creole Christmas touring show lands in SF Sun/15 (Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness, SF. www.sfsymphony.org).

The selections will include songs culled from the band’s storied past repertoire, holiday classics, and ditties that have a special meaning to the outsized group. The band’s “spry, charming” 81-year-old clarinet player, Charlie Gabriel, suggested one of the songs, “We Wish You,” which he heard in church as a young boy. The rest of the song list is under wraps for now, but don’t expect a gaudy Xmas spectacular.

“We’re not bringing the Rockettes, and we don’t have a light show. It’s really going to be an intimate evening of music,” says Jaffe.

But he knows the drill for upping the holiday charm, having performed a variation of Creole Christmas for the better part of a decade. Plus, he’s crazy for the holiday season — he loves to decorate and celebrates both Christmas and Chanukah.

“These Creole Christmas shows started at Preservation Hall and that’s when we decided it was something we should take on the road,” says Jaffe. “New Orleans music is a reflection of our community, and we have such a wonderful community of musicians and artists in New Orleans. Every time we play a concert, it feels like a family gathering.” And when they’re home from the road — they tour most of the year — the members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band play the venue that bears their name two to three times as week.

They’ve long been the buzzing heart of venue, and the holidays are just another reason to celebrate with wailing horns.

When the boys were younger, Allan used to bring Ben and his brother around to different churches, senior homes, banks, and restaurants to perform live holiday songs, instead of sending out gift cards. “I still do it,” says Jaffe. “I wake up early on Christmas morning and go out with my horn and walk around the French Quarter to really remind me of my childhood.”

He adds, “Any reason to have a party in New Orleans, you know? If the wind blows we’re going to have a parade.”

 

COCKTAILS AND HAPPY DIVING

San Francisco’s Happy Diving has that mid-’90s Weezer thing going for it, certainly, but there’s a fuzzier, punkier edge than anything off Pinkterton, like a lazier Rivers Cuomo on a slacker punk bender. The band plays this weekend with fellow Bay Area pack Cocktails, which features members of Dirty Cupcakes. It describes its sound as “slop-punk” but sounds closer to power pop on tracks like “No Blondes (in California)” off this year’s Father/Daughter Records-released debut EP, which Matthew Melton of Warm Soda recorded. Also cool to note: The opener for this grand occasion is Blood Sister’s first show. Thu/12, 8pm, $5. Knockout, 3223 Mission, SF. www.theknockoutsf.com.

 

THE WEIRDOS

Early LA punks the Weirdos (first active in that gritty hotspot ’76-’81) matched swagger to wit, chugging along thundering guitars and those gravelly, growly, depths-of-hell vocals and song titles like “We Got the Neutron Bomb.” They played with all the bands you might expect, given the time and place: Germs, Dead Boys, Middle Class. And more so, the legacy of the band and its ilk clearly influenced later SoCal bratty punks and snarling weirdos alike. And now, after a few revivals an oh-so-many decades later, that band of Weirdos is back again, arriving at Thee Parkside with VKTMS and the Re-Volts. Sat/14, 9pm, $18. Thee Parkside, 333 11th St, SF. www.theeparkside.com.

 

SARAH JAFFE

No relation to those Preservation Hall Jaffes we met earlier in Tofu and Whiskey (that I know of), Sarah Jaffe is indeed her own lady. Yet the Texas-bred singer-songwriter, who’s collaborated with Eminem, has the delicate whisper of Cat Power and the wild-woman howls of Fiona Apple. That’s just a longwinded way of saying her vocals are lovely and textured and worthy of live listening. She’ll make you feel something deep on songs like “Satire,” off 2012 release, The Body Wins. With Midlake. Mon/16, 7:30pm, $14. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St, SF. www.bottomofthehill.com.

 

PERE UBU

Experimental Cleveland post-everything art rock group Pere Ubu only has one original member. That person, warbly singer David Thomas, gives the band its backbone of avant-garde oddness. Thomas’ vocals and the band’s echoing, effects-heavy guitars make Pere Ubu sound at once like it’s hovering in outer space and being shot down into the deep, dark, muddled waters of unexplored oceans. It’s always a trip, either way. Tue/17, 8pm, $16. Slim’s, 333 11th St, SF. www.slimspresents.com *

Play on

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arts@sfbg.com

YEAR IN GAMER The year 2013 has been a triumphant, confident peak in a particularly long generation of gaming, and as we gather around various top ten lists to send off the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in style, let it be remembered that the pair received a more-than-decent eulogy. Most of the year’s accolades will likely fall upon three games, and while all involve guns, shooting and explosions, the refinements of those mechanics demonstrate the medium is unquestionably evolving.

Following a massive plague that wipes out much of the US, Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us is a survival horror/third-person shooter involving an unlikely pair of survivors, Joel and Ellie. “Zombies” and “stealth combat” seem to be two ever-present gameplay types, but here they are conduits into a lengthy and subtly-developing relationship between these protagonists. Playing this game won’t change your mind about what it means to shoot a guy a bunch of times, but the human moments between the battles are some of the strongest the medium has seen.

>>Check out our indie game picks of 2013 here. 

BioShock Infinite (Irrational Games/2K Australia) also offers a memorable experience — even if at first you don’t fully understand what you’re playing. Set in an alternate 1912 America, Infinite initially plays out like gumshoe pulp fiction, as private eye Booker DeWitt blasts through a city in the sky in search of a missing girl — but the game concludes with a twist that will have you playing it again to see all the ways in which you were duped. A storytelling exercise in the guise of a first-person shooter, Infinite might be more fun to think about than to play…but boy is it fun to think about.

You’re aware Grand Theft Auto V  (Rockstar North) careened onto shelves this year? Admittedly, the series hasn’t changed much — it’s still an excuse to play the bad guy, this time in a faux-LA setting. But left to your own devices, and given the keys to the most detailed and straight-up “fun” cities the Grand Theft Auto series has seen, how will you spend your time? For every criminal option there’s an equally enticing civilian activity, and taking the experience online allows for fascinating commingling among fellow tourists of the criminal lifestyle.

Beyond the big three … Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag  (Ubisoft Montreal) shrugged off last year’s messy entry by casting the player as a pirate on the high seas. Like Grand Theft Auto, freedom is key to this series’ success and ACIV wastes no time loosing you upon small islands, lush jungles, and 18th-century port towns in your very own, customizable privateer vessel.

Who doesn’t like Ghibli movies? Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a Ghibli movie you can play. Featuring cut-scenes direct from the Japanese animation studio and stirring music from frequent Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi, Ni no Kuni is more than a little “grindy,” but it offers a truer sense of childlike wonder than any other title this year.

Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please is often decidedly not-fun. As an immigration agent for a fictional communist country, you decide who enters and who is denied. Managing applicant’s passports and entry tickets is just the beginning of the frustration, and the real bite is in juggling doing the right thing against feeding your family. No matter which decision you make, you’ll probably feel a bit icky about it — a genuinely exciting feat for an industry that traditionally triumphs fun above all.

Sometimes it’s best to go in not knowing anything about a game. In the Fullbright Company’s first-person mystery Gone Home, a young woman returns to her childhood home to find no one there to greet her. The mystery of her family’s disappearance draws you through the old house, where you discover the private histories and desires of her loved ones through the bits and bobs they’ve left behind. *

 

Don’t shoot!

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joe@sfbg.com

YEAR IN GAMER This list is for all the gamers sick of blasting your last alien, zombie, or oppositional soldier of the moment (Nazis, Soviets, snore). That’s it. Done! As indie games grow in popularity, games that eschew the “shoot everything” mentality are becoming easier to find. Get your joystick thumbs ready and enjoy this list of 2013’s “top games where you don’t shoot things.”

 

PLANT CAT: FIRST BLOSSOM

There are treasures to be found, and Quince the Plant Cat will snag them all with his ability to create ridiculously long vines that curve and bend off cliffs and walls. It’s a game as cute as Kirby’s Dream Land, with a heavy Game Boy esthetic, a nod to the annual Game Boy Jam coding contest the game was made for. A side scrolling adventure à la Mario, the game (and soundtrack) is pure retro goodness. Though mouse and insect enemies abound, Plant Cat deals with them by feeding them vines, leading one to wonder if maybe all the evil Goombas in Mario are just hungry. flashygoodness.com/games/plant-cat

 

NIHILUMBRA

You are Born, a scrap of darkness that separated from “the Void” and formed sentience. Now the Void wants you back. Nihilumbra is a deeply atmospheric, side-scrolling puzzle game; playing as Born you discover different colors, which you magically paint around levels in order to escape the Void’s teeming, mysterious black mass. Colors help you escape the traps of the world: Blue is ice, speeding your runs; brown sticks enemies (and puzzle objects) in their places; red burns things away; and green turns surfaces into trampolines.

Throughout your travels, the Void questions your right to live, and solving the mystery of your existence is half the fun. Nihilumbra is a heady game that first debuted on iOS and Android last year, but only recently was released on the computer — with vocal performances and HD graphics. Now available on Steam and as a web browser demo online, Nihilumbra will have you hooked. www.nihilumbra.com

 

DUMB WAYS TO DIE

Quick! Clean the puke! Bat the piranhas away from the guy dancing underwater! Dumb Ways to Die is a hyperactive mobile game tasking the player with protecting cute jellybean creatures from eminent death in new ways every 10 seconds or so. Failure to save the adorable smiling beans leads to all manner of hilarious deaths: bears chomping half their bodies off, trains flattening them into bean paste, pythons biting them in the eyeball, etc. It surprised the bejesus out of me to find out this was a Public Service Announcement game made by Melbourne, Australia’s Metro Trains network. The lesson? Rail safety. Why can’t more municipalities create games revolving around cute bean people? San Francisco, get on it! www.dumbwaystodie.com

 

WAKING MARS

Waking Mars is one of those games that makes you want to explore its every nook and cranny. The year is 2097, and playing as Dr. Liang, an astronaut and research scientist, you land on Mars and discover a cave under ancient ruins. That’s when you meet Martian life for the first time, only the aliens aren’t monsters — they’re plants. The game quickly becomes part exploration, part horticulture simulator. Armed only with a jetpack and his science skills, Dr. Liang must experiment with and breed the “Zoa” to help solve the mystery of how the red planet turned to dust. Waking Mars is the very opposite of shooter games, as growing ecosystems and creating life are the axis of gameplay (instead of, ya know, killin’ stuff). Technically speaking, this game squeaked onto Steam in December 2012, but it’s still notable enough to include here. tigerstylegames.com/wakingmars *

 

Gore to the world

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM Consider the giants of ho-ho-horror. Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) boasted an above-average cast (Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea, John Saxon). Christmas Evil (1980) was dubbed “the greatest Christmas movie ever made” by no less an authority than John Waters, who recorded an audio commentary for its 2006 special-edition DVD.

And then there’s Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), which borrows several of Christmas Evil‘s plot points: a kid suffering mental damage from a Santa-related trauma grows up, unwisely takes a job working with toys, become obsessed with the concepts of “naughty” and “nice,” and eventually snaps. Christmas Evil may have the better last shot (you’ll believe a van can fly!), but Silent Night, Deadly Night is not without its sleazy charms.

Directed by Charles Sellier Jr. — best-known for creating TV’s The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, he later segued into Christian-themed entertainment — Silent Night, Deadly Night contains scream queen Linnea Quigley, a year before her signature role as the naked, grave-dancing “Trash” in Return of the Living Dead. Though she’s only onscreen for a few minutes, her death scene (shrieking, flailing, topless, wearing jorts, piercing antlers) is Z-grade slasher gold.

Beyond Quigley’s rack (and the other boobs showcased eagerly and gratuitously herein) and some gorgeous Utah location shots, Silent Night, Deadly Night‘s memorable moments come courtesy of its creepy soundtrack. The Internet proves that least one dance remix exists of “Santa’s Watching,” a nightmarish ditty which reprises throughout the film. In the film’s opening credits, it’s a sing-songy lullaby; it plays in full-cheese form on a car radio shortly before unfortunate tot Billy Chapman sees his parents slaughtered by a baddie in a Kris Kringle costume; and it’s sung drunkenly by grown-up Billy’s co-workers at the toy store where he works.

And Santa is, indeed, watching. Early on, wee Billy’s catatonic grandfather snaps to when nobody’s looking, which is one of the film’s few genuinely frightening bits. “Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year!” he croaks with cruel glee. “If you see Santa Claus tonight, you better run for your life!” Point taken, Gramps.

A few years later, Billy and baby brother Ricky are marking time at a Catholic orphanage. Billy’s still traumatized by what he witnessed (exhibit A: he punches the benevolent Santa that comes to visit the kids on Christmas), but the bitchy Mother Superior believes her punishments will set the naughty (ahem) boy right. When the film jumps ahead a few more years, Billy (played as an adult by Robert Brian Wilson) is a strapping lad employed at a dingy toy shop. He’s happy for the first time, therefore we get a peppy montage (more original music!) that spirals into darkness as soon as we realize what month it is.

Guess who’s pressed into Santa-clad service, with predictably messy results? (Not Billy’s boss, who kicks off the store’s after-hours party by announcing “Time to get shitfaced!”) Like Christmas Evil, Silent Night, Deadly Night is novel amid the 1980s slasher wave in that it follows the killer’s story, rather than empowering whatever Jamie Lee Curtis character is left standing at the end. Frankly, by the last reel, it’s a relief when put-upon weirdo Billy goes full psycho, meting out punishment among the naughty (and sparing the very few he deems “nice”).

And what about little Ricky? Oh, he survives to cause his own jingle-bell rampage in the sublimely campy, meme-spawning Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987) and the less-notable Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (1989). The series continued with the Clint Howard-starring, witch-themed Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 (1990); and Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991), featuring Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney as the titular craftsman. Spoiler alert: He’s evil. Just like Santa. *

FANGORIA PRESENTS: SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT

Sat/14, 10pm, $10

Balboa Theatre

3630 Balboa, SF

cinemasf.com/balboa

 

3-2-1 contact

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM El Cajon — between balmy coastal San Diego and arid desert mountains to the east — is just the sort of place where the dream of California living came true for a lot of industrious working-class people in the post-World War II boom years. It’s also where their boomer children and generation-next grandkids are currently seeing that dream slowly expire.

It exploded in the original golden age of suburban planning, by 1960 going from podunk burg to major ‘burb with 25 times the population it had had two decades earlier. Such rapid growth is seldom pretty, and today El Cajon mostly looks like a rusty old conglomeration of strip malls, ranch-style homes, and motel-like apartment complexes that probably were a little tacky to begin with. It’s certainly not the first place that might come to mind when pondering where groundwork might be laid for the coming landing of space vessels from the 32 worlds of the Interplanetary Confederation, who will arrive at last to save we holdout “Eartheans” from our endless cycles of self-destruction.

But that is exactly what El Cajon has been for nearly a half century, since Norman and Ruth Norman settled upon this place to headquarter their Unarius Academy of Science. While the Normans are long gone — from this crude mortal plane of existence, at least — their philosophy (or “UFO religion,” as some put it) lives on in a center that still ministers to and teaches an increasingly elderly community of devotees.

It also attracts a certain number of gawkers, as Unarius (Universal Articulate Interdimensional Understanding of Science) has accidentally generated its own spin-off “cult” of worshippers at the altar of camp. In the 1980s, public access stations across the nation began airing the nonprofit organization’s self-produced films and videos portraying aspects of their mythology, notably the many past incarnations of Uriel née Ruth Norman — female, male, and otherwise. (These include myriad famed emperors, prophets, geniuses, and the Statue of Liberty.) Enacted by Unarius “students” in elaborate costumes with fanciful sets and FX, these are among the most flabbergastingly wonderful “home movies” ever made — crazy narratives with the aging Ruth decked out in enough wigs, chiffon, costume jewelry, and miscellaneous spangles to float an entire convention of drag queens. If you visit the El Cajon facility, expect its keepers to be polite but wary: They’re happy to spread the gospel, but know you’re probably there for the kitsch value.

Everybody can be happy with Bill Perrine’s Children of the Stars, the centerpiece of Other Cinema’s latest “Incredibly Strange Religion” program at Artists’ Television Access this Saturday. It has scads of footage from such Unarius superproductions as A Visit to the Underground City of Mars, which if you haven’t seen such before will make you want to immediately track down their complete original versions. But it also cannily limits itself almost exclusively to interviews only with the remaining faithful. They unfailingly seem very nice, ordinary, good-humored, and not prone to hyperbole (let alone insanity), even as they testify to the occasional outlandish doctrine or personal experience.

Born at the turn of the last century, Ruth Nields was a restless, lively soul who went through a number of professions (and several husbands) before 1954, when she met electrical engineer Ernest Norman, whose past lives apparently included that of Jesus Christ. He passed away in 1971, at which point the church these “two great beings of celestial consciousness” had established started heading in (even) more fanciful directions, to the dismay of some earlier converts but the delight of many new ones. Ruth assumed the primary identity of Uriel, “Queen of Archangels,” a fourth dimension channeler who’d already materialized on as Yuda of Yu, Poseid of Atlantis, Peter the Great, Quetzalcoatl, Zoroaster, King Arthur, and JFK.

Several such lives, and prophesies of imminent extraterrestrial arrivals, were elaborately portrayed in such sci-fi spectaculars as The Arrival and Roots of the Earthmen. There were also historical epics, including one in which Norman — as a Scarlett O’Hara-like belle of the Old South — cavorts on a plantation, surrounded by what appear to be many enthusiastic young white gay men in blackface drag gushing about how beautiful and kind she is. These extravaganzas endeared Unarius to a larger audience via cable airings, though eventually shrinking inspiration or funding curtailed their production.

Unarius hardly lacked drama in its daily operations. A student turned “sub-channeler” named Louis Spiegel was cast as official “fallen angel,” a Lucifer whose bitchy ways and power plays irked many until Uriel pronounced him “totally healed” in 1984, at which point he abruptly turned into “the sweetest man.” Others jostled for the Queen’s favor, recalling their envy and arrogance now as lingering repercussions of past lives in which some presided over Uriel’s beheading in ancient Egypt or led Jews to Nazi gas chambers. Everyone was woven into the ever-evolving narrative, which sometimes closely resembled popular fantasy series like Star Trek or Star Wars. (Perrine cleverly uses old sci-fi clips to illustrate Unarius concepts.)

Ruth Norman died in 1993. The last announced date for the “Space Brothers” to visit, 2001, came and went because clearly Eartheans weren’t ready in the wake of 9/11. But Unarius survives, despite its mythology of negative energy phenomena over millennia remaining a small beacon of utopian benevolence in a world of gloating religious apocalypticists. El Cajon may turn out to be the very portal to paradise yet. *

CHILDREN OF THE STARS

Sat/14, 8:30pm, $6.66

Artists’ Television Access

To have and to hold

1

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE RAWdance packed enough movement material into its new Mine to tempt lesser choreographers to dilute it into a much longer work than this quintet’s 55 minutes. But that’s not who Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith are. Here joined by Kerre Demme, Aaron Perlstein, and Laura Sharp, the duo created choreography pared down to its essence where every head turn, every lurch, every stabbing leg counts. The work has nothing to with excavating minerals; it has everything to do with possession — what we have or want control over, be it property, physical space, or other people.

Pre-performance images suggested a bunch of people tied up in hanging ropes. Thankfully, none of that materialized. Instead of ropes — they did enter as one of very few props — scenic designer Sean Riley used strands of string for what looked like a three-dimensional map in which multiple roads coalesced into a single point. They reminded me a little of those air routes maps you look at in in-flight magazines when you have run of others things to do. Hanging from the Joe Goode Annex’s high ceiling, Riley’s rope sculpture was airy and light, yet thanks to the weights attached had a downward pull.

Mine turned out to be an intricately structured, excellently performed essay on some of our less noble instincts. Slowly, it began to appear that the idea of “mine” dehumanizes us instead of enriching us. The work started on a pure dance level with images gradually emerging to become more explicit, until a final one was so literal that I wasn’t sure whether it had not gone over the top.

As the audience walked in, Perlstein found a spot for himself. Ever so slowly the other dancers joined him in a pedestrian lineup that quickly scattered into similar but individual expressions. But common moves began to look less innocent as people moved into each other’s space. Did Sharp stumble over a prone Perlstein or did she kick him because he was in her way? A push-up position for two became one for four until the dancers waddled along like some multi-limbed creature. Sinewy and so tightly focused on each other that they looked like one evolving organism, Rein and Smith in a duet looked both delicate and unbreakable. Yet they also had the shifting wariness of boxers about them.

Anxiousness and indifference seeped into Mine like dripping fog. At one point the dancers pounced to the floor and recovered, opening their arms and looking upward as if expecting some relief. At another, like soldiers going to battle, they walked bent over but fiercely yanked their knees to their chests as if to protect them. Holding flashlights in the dark, the men impassively observed the women writhing in some kind of agony. Then it was their turn to watch Perlstein’s simple touch trying to calm a fiercely shaking Smith; it elicited rage. This was one of the few spots in Mine when you could sense a gesture emanating from personal motivation. Perlstein, previously, had shaped a piece of rope into a circle around Smith’s solo. I couldn’t decide whether he was trying to expand or limit a space for the dance.

When three wire baskets descended from the ceiling to encase dancers’ heads, I thought of those dreadful headgears that slaves were forced to wear. Here they turned the dancers into automatons, who on each quarter turn executed identical patterns of small steps. Joel St. Julien’s score — excellent throughout — began to sound as if coming from below water.

In Mines fiercest section, dancers hurled themselves against the theater’s wall, where they stayed as if glued until an intruder yanked or scraped them off, forcing him or herself into the space. It was brutal because it looked so impersonal; it seemed just something that was. Sort of like Lord of the Flies for grown-ups.

But perhaps my favorite moment was also one of its simplest. Sharp danced a limb-slashing solo center space. Her colleagues watched from the corner of the square. Slowly, almost ceremoniously they moved in, shrinking Sharp’s space with every step they took. You could just feel the air constricting around her.

So what about that last image? It did involve a rope; it also reminded me of a Roman chariot. *

MINE

Wed/11-Sun/15, 8pm, $21-25

Joe Goode Annex

401 Alabama, SF

www.rawdance.org

 

Investors needed to save Marcus Books

4

Marcus Book Store continues to be threatened with the loss of its Fillmore Street location — but if an ambitious campaign to raise $1 million by Feb. 28 succeeds, the institution can stay where it is.

At a Dec. 5 press conference, attorney Julian Davis announced that the bookstore proprietors and the San Francisco Community Land Trust had reached an agreement with the current property owners, Nishan and Suhaila Sweis, enabling the land trust to purchase the property for $2.6 million.

If the money is raised, the property will be transferred to the trust, which will preserve the bookstore as a permanent tenant while preserving the upstairs flats as affordable housing. “This is an opportunity,” Davis told reporters. If the campaign succeeds, “That is going to be a rare victory for retaining cultural diversity in San Francisco.”

Marcus Book Store has been facing eviction since earlier this year, when the building was sold to the Sweis family in a bankruptcy sale. But after a wide range of community supporters mobilized to halt the eviction, “We felt that the best solution was really to just come to the table. We saw that their property meant so much,” Sweis said.

Raising $1 million in less than three months is a tall order, but the land trust is driving the campaign with a new, web-based fundraising tool.

Called FundRise, it’s similar to a real-estate investment version of the microloan website Kiva.org. It offers some intriguing potential for re-shaping the way real-estate investment happens in practice.

Taking advantage of new federal financial regulations, it opens the doors for a broader subset of individuals to invest, creating new opportunities for community residents to pool resources toward ownership of significant buildings or critical housing.

“The idea that you could invest in a Japanese company but you can’t invest across the street made no sense,” said Ben Miller, who started FundRise three years ago with his brother, Daniel, in Washington, D.C. “I think it’s a revolution in how a city can develop.”

In the campaign to save Marcus Books, any “accredited investor” may provide a loan in the amount they choose and expect an annual return of four percent.

“We are the first nonprofit affordable housing developer to use this platform,” said Tracy Parent of the Land Trust, adding that the plan is to look to “investors across San Francisco and the nation to achieve this fundraising goal.”

Under federal guidelines, investors are considered “accredited” if they have assets totaling more than $1 million, or an annual income of $200,000 a year or higher. Nevertheless, said Parent, the Land Trust is exploring ways to incorporate contributions from anyone who wants to donate.

Ever since the prospect of losing Marcus Bookstore surfaced this past spring, neighbors and supporters from the surrounding community have pitched in to help preserve the cultural institution. It is the oldest African American owned bookstore in the nation, housed in an historic building where, decades ago when it was Jimbo’s Bop City jazz club, luminaries from Dizzy Gillespie to Charlie Parker held late-night jam sessions.

Karen Johnson, a co-owner of the bookstore, remembers when her parents, Raye and Julian Richardson first discovered the building, which had been sitting vacant. “When I found out it was the Bop City building, I figured it was waiting for us,” she said.

Karen Kai is a community member who helped round up supporters for the months long campaign to save the bookstore. When news that the store could be evicted started to spread, “there was such an outpouring,” she said. “People said, we can’t lose this. Because if we lose this, we lose a little piece of our soul.”

Oakland fast food workers fight for $15

2

It was a bad day for Big Macs, but a good day for workers.

Joining a nationwide day of action, a wave of over 100 protesters crowded into an Oakland McDonald’s on Jackson Street, urging fast food workers to join in the strike. Four employees participated, while others briefly joined the march outside.

Similar strikes were held in 100 cities nationwide, with workers in Detroit, New York City and more rallying to demand a livable wage of $15 an hour.

The national actions were led by labor unions, including Service Employees International Union, but locally it was led by men like Jose Martinez, a KFC worker who led a strike at that fast food establishment some time back. “It’s a movement for all fast food workers to come together and fight for our rights,” he said.

Oakland rapper, performer and music producer Boots Riley turned out in support of the fast food workers’ movement. “Fighting to raise wages of anyone helps everyone. A high tide raises all boats,” he told the Guardian. “You help make that profit, your labor is worth more than minimum wage.”

Inside, the fast food joint was bursting at the seams. “Markeisha! Markeisha! Markeisha!” the protesters screamed, bursting into cheers as the five-foot tall girl hobbled around the counter to join the strike. Markeisha, who did not want her last name used, said she tore her ACL a week ago tripping over one of her children’s toys. She can’t afford not to be at work though, and worked the register from a chair.

We asked if she was afraid to be on strike. “Afraid? Kind of,” she said. If she lost her job, “I wouldn’t have a way to pay my bills and support her family.” She felt it was an important thing to do, because she isn’t earning a living wage. After three years of employment, she’s finally making 50 cents more per hour because she’s training to be a shift manager, and can now expect an hourly wage of $8.50.

A statement on McDonald’s website noted, “Our owner-operators are committed to providing our employees with opportunities to succeed. We offer employees advancement opportunities, competitive pay and benefits.”

One worker the Bay Guardian interviewed described having to visit food banks to get enough food, despite working full time.

McDonald’s’ official statement also noted: “The events taking place are not strikes. Outside groups are traveling to McDonald’s and other outlets to stage rallies.” But four workers did join the Oakland McDonald’s protesters to participate in the nationwide strike, and together they poured into the adjoining parking lot, dancing and chanting.

The protest was organized as a coalition between a number of groups, including the ReFund & ReBuild Oakland Community-Labor Coalition, ACCE, EBASE, the East Bay Organizing Committee, UNITE-HERE Local 2850, OUR WALMART, SEIU 1021, and SEIU ULTCW.

Mandela’s greatest legacy

2

 

By Roni Krouzman

Since my teenage years, I have looked to the anti-apartheid movement as clear evidence that humanity — when it comes together and stands bravely and prays with its heart and sings with its soul — can overcome the greatest oppression. This alone would be reason enough to revere, mourn and celebrate one of this liberation struggle’s great leaders, the late Nelson Mandela.

But there was something even more remarkable about Mandela, and that was his capacity to stand for justice with such clarity and strength, while also holding so firmly that retribution against those who did him and his people wrong was not the answer.

Even when he gained the upper hand, this man who had been imprisoned for so long, leading a people who had been brutalized for so long, stood as strongly for peace as he did for freedom and justice.

As apartheid fell, South Africa could easily have slipped into civil war. But it did not. Instead of pursuing vengeance against their former oppressors, under Mandela’s leadership and other brave leaders like him, the country instituted ground breaking Truth and Reconciliation Commissions that had those responsible for apartheid and its enforcement own up to their wrong doings without being brutalized in return.

For Mandela, this choice grew from a deeply personal revelation: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison,” the great freedom fighter famously said upon his release.

In its report on Mandela just hours after he passed, the BBC quoted F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president, as saying Mandela had “a remarkable lack of bitterness.” Mandela’s greatest legacy, de Klerk said, “is that we are basically at peace with each other notwithstanding our great diversity.”

Justice without vengeance. What a poignant and at one point unimaginable legacy to leave his nation and all of humanity. And it is the paradigm shift we so desperately need and I hope will one day soon learn to embody: how to stand strongly, fiercely even, for what is right — to defend without wavering against those who would attack people and the Earth — and at the same time to see the humanity in all people and to welcome everyone back into the village, even when they have done wrong.

It takes a great, great heart to do that. And only that can bring the deep and lasting healing and transformation we need.

Thank you and blessings Madiba, you have shown us what is possible for humanity. We will miss you.

Roni Krouzman is a consultant who coaches workplace leaders in fostering healthy relationships with colleagues and employees. His articles and essays on social movements have appeared in numerous print and online publications, as well as four anthologies.

 

Laboring for better health care

2

Gardening, plumbing, construction, janitorial work and washing dishes: the jobs day laborers perform for San Franciscans are done with their bodies. Their physical fitness is their gateway to work.

It’s that physicality they risk on the job every day. Undocumented Latino laborers have a hard time reaching options for medical care though, even in a sanctuary city like San Francisco.

To be clear, San Francisco has gone far and beyond many cities to provide medical care. The city’s Healthy San Francisco program, UCSF, and a smattering of nonprofits all provide medical care to undocumented immigrants, which often includes day laborers.

The problem is not a matter of options, but a matter of trust.

James Quesada, an anthropology professor at San Francisco State University who studied health care options for day laborers, said even when options are available, many day laborers actively avoid them.

The specter of deportation is always lurking, he said, stopping many from seeking clinics in the first place.

“Despite the fact that we’re a sanctuary city, there’s always that fear and threat that someone could come at any time,” Quesada said. “There are do-gooding public health services for them, public health contracted satellite clinics and the like. But one of the hardest things is to really convince them that they’re not in peril by going.”

At the U-Haul rental facility near Bryant street, laborers stand in pairs waiting for potential customers to drive by. When a customer comes into sight, they’ll start toward the passing car in huffing sprints. Their work is unpredictable and never guaranteed.

One man the Guardian spoke to, Gonzalo Moran, 62, cited one health care center as a timely godsend: the Mission Neighborhood Health Clinic. The wait there is only half an hour, he said, and in an emergency they make referrals to SF General Hospital.

But heading to SF General for care can carry a high price tag in both time and money, and results are not guaranteed.

“One day I had a toothache, I went to the emergency [room], was there from about four o’clock in the morning to four o’clock in the afternoon,” Moran said. “I told them I was homeless, that I didn’t have no income, I have no immigration papers or nothing. A nurse came to check on me, my tooth. They just gave me a prescription for Tylenol, but then a month later they sent me a bill for $300. For Tylenol.”

Moran isn’t necessarily out on the streets, but crashes regularly at different places. Whenever he tried to get a credit score the bill would come up in searches.

The hit wasn’t only monetary. The day he spent at the hospital was a day he could have worked.

Moran’s story reflects findings made by Quesada in his research. Though many providers claim to help the undocumented, the level of service can depend on just which doctor or nurse you happen to get that day. Service and safety are uneven, and there’s no way to keep track of it all.

“It’s a patch quilt, a moving target,” he said.

Moran told his story with strong English skills gained through City College classes, but he’s had the time to learn — the El Salvador native landed in the United States in 1976 to earn money for his family. Others Quesada talked to were not as lucky.

In his research on undocumented day laborers and health care, he found many who avoided clinics and hospitals for fear of being deported. Quesada found the laborers in the streets, and spent time in clinics and hospitals to find what kept them away from medical care. What he found was fear.

Some men would jump even at the sight of a rent-a-cop security guard, he said.

In an academic paper he published on the subject, Quesada related the story of Juan, a day laborer in his 50s who suffered terrible tooth pain. He refused to seek help.

“Look Jim, if I show up at the clinic [nearby public clinic] I cannot be sure I won’t be arrested and taken away. You know, it is more dangerous now. I can never be sure when it is safe to go [get medical attention]. But, you know what it is, I do not want to be like those others [Latinos] who have “no shame” [sin verguenzas] and want what they want for nothing. If I can I will pay my way, and if I can’t, I can’t. I’ll withstand the pain and take care of it myself, even if I have to pull them [his teeth] out myself. “

Juan would medicate the gaps in his teeth with Tequila soaked cotton balls, and aspirin.

Quesada tried to get him help, but Juan had to cancel dental appointments repeatedly when jobs became available. Day laborers never know when the next opportunity may drive up to them.

This is what pushes Quesada and others to push for a merging of social work and health care. Some facilities in San Francisco have already moved that way, as hospitals like UCSF visit churches and community centers on weekends to reach out to undocumented people in need of medical attention. Still, there’s room for change.

“Doctors shouldn’t have be social workers, but social workers should be there in the room,” Quesada said, saying that would go a long way towards helping undocumented workers find the help they need. But despite a lack of options, they carry on.

“They’re valiantly making a go of it, and don’t want to dwell on the negative,” he said. “They don’t want to be seen as fighting for basic human rights, as not fully human.”

The man we met outside the U-Haul on Bryant, Gonzalo Moran, has three trade school certificates, one of them in floor tiling. But he longed for one thing: time to attend school so he could get ahead.

“I go to school all the time, you know, if I have it,” he said. “But it’s hard, we’re always getting a lower wage.” And it’s a barrier. A barrier to health, a barrier to education, and a barrier to a better life.

 

On the migrant trail

0

P>From 2007 to 2010, Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez made six different excursions on The Beast, a rusted freight train that carries Central American migrants throughout Mexico on their journey to the Southern U.S. border. His vivid, eye-opening account is now available in English, in a recently published edition titled The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail, by Verso Books.

The Beast documents the lives and stories of some of the thousands of migrants who make the perilous trip annually. Whether they are heading north to flee violence in their home countries, or simply in pursuit of una vida mejor (a better life), the migrants who embark on this journey expose themselves to untold risk. The trail leads them isolated Mexican territories where the rule of law holds little sway, and bandits affiliated with drug cartels lie in wait of vulnerable targets.

Some of the figures are appalling: An estimated 20,000 of the quarter million Central Americans who journey along the migrant trail annually are kidnapped along the way. Rape is so commonplace in some areas that coyotes aiding women who venture north frequently give them condoms, with instructions to tell their attackers to use them. “They tell them, trying to fight isn’t an option. Not in that jungle,” Martínez said during a recent book reading at Modern Times, relating what he’d learned from migrants while riding The Beast.

Even more alarming is that the everyday violence afflicted against migrants received scant press attention until Martínez highlighted it. And there are dishearteningly few examples of prosecution targeting those who prey on migrants.

More impressive than the considerable risk Martínez took on to get the story was the level of depth and understanding with which he portrayed the migrants he encountered. He did this by getting to know them, spending hours in their presence, and relating to them by learning the slang used on the migrant trail.

Sometimes he would invent a character in order to slip past gatekeepers who sought to keep journalists out. He pretended to be a john when venturing into a brothel in Chiapas, to get the stories of the women profiled in a chapter titled “The Invisible Slaves.”

“Sometimes, you drink a beer and have a conversation, not an interview,” Martínez said during a book reading at San Francisco’s Modern Times Bookstore Collective. “The migrants, they are very kind to talk to me,” he added. “If you’re on the most dangerous trip of your life, why are you going to talk to a guy who asks you stupid questions for hours?”

Martínez produced the series for El Faro, an online publication based in El Salvador that seeks to produce in-depth, long form reporting.

He initially published a compilation of his experiences dodging narcos and killers on the train in a book titled Los migrantes que no importan [The migrants who don’t matter] in 2010. The Beast was named one of the best books of 2013 by the Financial Times, and has earned praise from the New Yorker.

“We spent a lot of time with the migrants beforehand,” he explained when asked how he gained the trust of the people he wrote about. “The project allowed us to do that. We had the time. That’s impossible to do with the rhythms of conventional journalism.”

Since El Faro is funded through private contributions and grants from foundations, it’s geared toward generating the sort of in-depth, well-researched, carefully crafted journalism that has the power to bring about real change.

“To understand, you need time,” Martínez said. It was only after six harrowing journeys, he said, before “I understood the train.”

Now he is working on a project with El Faro called Sala Negra, investigating gang-related violence in Central America. It’s a dangerous occupation, but Martínez believes he is fulfilling his obligation as a member of the press by bearing witness to the violence taking place in Central America. “Not talking about organized crime is not an option,” he said. “Organized crime is a part of the society.” 

 

All together now

2

news@sfbg.com

The latest attempt to legalize marijuana in California took one step forward last week when a group of advocates filed a ballot initiative with the office of the Secretary of State.

Titled California’s Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2014 (MCLR), the new marijuana legalization proposal is being floated by Americans for Policy Reform (AFPR). For the past year, the organization has made the draft initiative open to the public as an editable Google Doc for anyone to read, comment on, and even modify.

The next step is for the Secretary of State to evaluate the initiative and compose a title and summary. Only after that process, which could take up to two months, will the AFPR be free to begin collecting the 500,000 signatures it must amass in order to get the marijuana legalization act on the 2014 ballot.

Such a task may sound daunting, but AFPR members have already done some of the heavy lifting, having spent the past year soliciting thousands of individual Californians’ input and support. The policy reform group even postponed an earlier submission target date to allow time for a statewide tour to gauge public opinion one last time before formally filing the proposed legislation. The initiative began as a grassroots, “open source” document to legalize cannabis for medical, industrial and adult social use.

“About a year ago, we held a cannabis conference in San Jose where we presented a document that was two paragraphs long and basically said, ‘Marijuana should be legal and nobody should be sent to jail,'” recounts AFPR member Dave Hodges. “Then we put that document into a Google Doc and just started promoting it, telling everybody, ‘If there’s anything in it that you don’t like, get in there — and change it yourself.'”

Hodges opened San Jose’s first medical cannabis club in 2009, but wasn’t drawn to the forefront in the fight for legalization until the death of a good friend a year and a half ago. His friend suffered from a condition caused by daily consumption of alcohol.

“About two weeks before he passed away, we were smoking a joint and the fucker had the balls to tell me: ‘If this shit were legal, I would have never drank alcohol.’ This is something I’ve believed in a lot, in general — but that was probably the thing that made me really get into it and not let go.”

The AFPR has gone to great lengths to garner broad support and lay the groundwork for a strong coalition once the signature gathering process begins. In the past year, the policy reform group has reached out to attorneys, activists, and other members of the community, trying to include as many Californians as possible in shaping the MCLR initiative. They’ve also issued press releases and blasted the word out on social media.

The editable Google Doc upon which the proposal is based has been circulated to thousands of people, via e-mail lists. When someone posted a link to the document on the popular website Boing Boing, more than 1,000 people logged into it within 48 hours.

Hodges has personally sat down to meet face-to-face with more than 100 different people. Over time, the two-paragraph long Google Doc grew to a length of 24 pages.

“The process of creating it was a little bit of a nightmare,” Hodges chuckles. “I’ve probably read that 24 pages a thousand times,” a feat he admits could not have been accomplished without copious amounts of marijuana.

Nonetheless, he agrees with fellow proponent Bob Bowerman, who said, “This is the best cannabis initiative ever put together for California. It follows federal guidelines and regulates cannabis in a way that makes sense.” Bowerman added, “It corrects the other legal mistakes.”

The open-source style in which MCLR was created might have been headache inducing, but its proponents believe it will prove to be the key to the initiative’s success on the 2014 ballot — in contrast with previous failed efforts at legalization.

As Hodges states, “In the case of Prop 19 in 2010, the message that was circulating — and the reason that it failed — was that everybody was saying, ‘It’s a bad law, but vote for it anyways,’ because everybody just wanted to see legalization happen. In 2012, we had nine different initiatives all competing to be on the ballot, because everybody had their own view of how this had to happen and nobody was really trying to get everybody to work together. And then none of them ended up on the ballot.”

These defeats in 2010 and 2012 led Hodges and his associates to the conclusion that the essential problem with legalization efforts was internal division across the movement, caused by respective groups disagreeing on language and prioritizing different aspects of the issue.

“When you do this process and combine so many perspectives, you see a lot of things that you wouldn’t otherwise,” Hodges explains. “And if there are any critics who come out and say this is a bad law, well, we’ve taken over a year to reach out to everybody. Anybody who hasn’t responded doesn’t really have an excuse at this point.”

While the original document put forth by the AFPR a year ago stated simply that Californians should be free to smoke marijuana, its final form is a detailed set of regulations on how the drug ought to be sold, provided, and regulated. It also outlines new protections against issues, such as federal regulation, still complicating the movement toward legalization. The need for such a precise, comprehensive initiative was underscored by a recent California Supreme Court ruling, determining that individual cities are allowed to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, despite provisions established by Prop 215 in 1996 and reinforced by SB-420 in 2003 clearing the way for their operation.

“There were a lot of lessons to be learned from that Supreme Court ruling,” Hodges says. “We learned that if we want this structured properly, we need to spell it out in very fine detail, to make sure that legally the courts can’t come back and do something like this again.”

He went on to explain the essence of the MCLR initiative. “The core of what we’ve done is create a bipartisan, independent cannabis commission that’s going to regulate this, set up further detailed regulations, and adjust for anything in the future,” he said. “Everything else is more basic structures around protections and limitations for businesses that could exist, and protections for the people who are currently using it.”

Some of those “basic structures” proved especially important to the co-collaborators. They include enforcing laws against driving under the influence by testing a driver’s impairment rather than testing the amount of THC in their bloodstream; prohibiting employers from firing employees simply for testing positive for marijuana; disregarding, in custody battles, whether one of the parents smokes; and establishing independent financial and insurance cooperatives for the cannabis and hemp industries, so that banking and insurance transactions may be done apart from the federal framework.

“Those are the little things that we would not have thought of, unless we’d been reaching out to individuals,” Hodges states. “So it really is a much stronger document because we’ve been so open about it.”

Once the document had been collaboratively shaped and vetted, AFPR took it to an attorney, who drafted it as legislation in preparation for submission to the Secretary of State.

As the final, amended version of the MCLR initiative undergoes evaluation by the office of the Secretary of State, the greatest obstacle now facing AFPR is the task of raising the $2 million needed to gather signatures for the petition. Without that funding, the measure won’t appear on the 2014 ballot, regardless of all the effort and collaboration already invested. The organization has been cultivating relationships with prospective sponsors, but collecting that large of a sum will not be easy.

Still, the initiative’s proponents remain confident. According to the most recent survey data released by AFPR, 64 percent of California voters want to legalize marijuana in 2014. This support follows a broader trend: Results of a recent Gallup poll show that for the first time since Americans were first polled on their attitudes toward marijuana in 1969, a clear majority of Americans — 58 percent — say it should be legalized.

“The time is now,” declared John Lee, another proponent. “The voters are ready, and we can get it done.”

What getting it done will ultimately mean, in practice, is anyone’s guess.

“We’re talking about a lot of saved money as far as people going to jail, better use of resources, and a new stream of revenue for the state,” Hodges predicts. “There’s obviously gonna be some sort of liquor-store type models. But I’ve heard of everything from marijuana-friendly bed and breakfasts, to high-end bars that will have girls going around like cigarette girls used to, but with different types of pre-rolled joints.”

Taking it all in, he concluded, “The possibilities are pretty endless. But if this initiative passes, we will set a standard for the rest of the country.”

 

Fieldwork

4

marke@sfbg.com

After two more hours of hiking, we stop in a dry creek. One of the younger men enlists help pulling large cactus spines from one of his legs. We sit in a circle sharing food. The tastes link us to loved ones and Oaxaca…

After we have hiked again through blisters for many miles and I have shared all my ibuprofren with the others, we stop to rest. We fall asleep, using torn-open plastic trash bags as blankets. Our coyote leaves to talk to his contact on a nearby Native American reservation about giving us a ride past the second boarder checkpoint to Phoenix….

Suddenly, our guide runs back, speaking quickly in Triqui. Two Border Patrol agents — one black and one white — appear running through the trees, jump down in our creek bed, and point guns at us.

— Seth M. Holmes, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies

According to the US Public Health Service, there are, on average, an estimated 3.5 million migrant farmworkers in the United States, the majority of whom are undocumented immigrants. At harvest season, most of them perform the backbreaking work of picking our fruits and vegetables for an average $12,500 annually; at other times, they share slum-like apartments or live out of cars looking for odd jobs — 68 percent of them wondering if they should return home to Mexico and risk another border crossing to the US when picking time rolls around again. Only 5 percent of migrant workers have health insurance, and what happens to the rest if they get injured or fall ill doing the work the rest of us won’t is an eye-opening American tragedy.

To many Americans, this cheap, legally and socially vulnerable population is a faceless brown mass in the fields somewhere, maybe receiving a noble thought at Cesar Chavez Day or inducing the occasional twinge of guilt in the produce aisle, if thought of at all. But a provocative, important new book by UC Berkeley Assistant Professor of Public Health and Medical Anthropology Seth M. Holmes, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States (University of California Press), which is picking up awards and has been featured on mainstream news outlets, is helping to re-personalize migrant farmworkers and move their health care situation into the media spotlight.

As the US finally addresses the facts that it spends the most money on health care for the worst outcomes, that a huge chunk of its population has no health care at all (and is severely underpaid for its work), and that we’re dependent on undocumented immigrants to harvest our produce and keep food costs down, we’re only just starting to realize the irony in giving the people who devastate their bodies to provide our healthiest foods perhaps the lousiest health care deal of all.

 

COMPLEX VOICES

Part heart-pounding adventure tale, part deep ethnograhic study, part urgent plea for reform, Fresh Fruit starts off with Holmes embedded in an ill-fated group of border-crossers from the mountains of Oaxaca: he gets arrested, they get deported after a harrowing stay in a detention center. Holmes then writes about his 18 months spent picking fruit alongside hundreds of others at a large family-owned farm in Skagit Valley, Wash., living in a closet with a dozen farmworkers in a rundown apartment while they look for work on the off-season, returning to Mexico to spend time with workers and their families, and shadowing the medical professionals in the publicly and privately funded clinics that serve migrant populations. Throughout, Holmes saw people “give premature birth, develop injured knees and backs, suffer from extreme stress, experience symptoms of pesticide poisoning, and even have farm trucks run over and crush their legs,” as he told Farmworker Justice magazine.

Holmes, a medical doctor as well as a doctor of anthropology — the book resulted from his thesis work — brings an enlightening complexity to the issue of migrant workers. (Including the label “migrant worker” itself, which, he notes piercingly at the end of the book, has been ossified with classist and racial overtones. If this group of people were flying over every summer from Europe or Hong Kong to secure investments on Wall Street, they would be called “international businesspeople.”)

He’s especially concerned not just with the grueling minutae of trying to receive treatment for the aches and pains that come with stooping to pick strawberries 12 hours a day, struggling to meet ambitious quotas in order to get paid very little, but also the larger, physically devastating effects of the structural violence visited upon a whole population by neoliberal economic policies that continue to widen the global income gap and entrench the wealthy in power. His “participant observation” method of studying migrant farmworkers means he writes about his own experiences in the field, and he brings his sophisticated anthropological knowledge to bear on the way contemporary society ensures that migrant farmworkers stay on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, building on the work of Pierre Bordieu, Philippe Bourgois, and others who’ve studied power relationships and structural violence in terms of workers’ health.

But, although there are scholarly footnotes and personal interjections, Holmes avoids an icky “anthropological tourism” vibe by providing the workers themselves with room to tell their histories, talk about their bodies, and react to the way they’re treated. People like Abelino, who falls victim to a series of misunderstandings over his severely injured knee, or Crescencio, who suffers acute headaches whenever he’s called racist names or ordered around degradingly, but is labeled a potential domestic abuser by one caregiver and resorts to drinking up to 24 beers per night to soothe his pain. We also hear from Marcelina, who talks to a Skagit Valley community gathering about low wages and high quotas.

And Holmes lets the owners and operators on all levels of Skagit’s Tanaka Brothers Farm — a pseudonym to protect his sources — speak as well, about the need for cheap labor in an increasingly competitive global agribusiness environment, among other concerns. (One especially interesting tidbit: organic distributors pressured Tanaka Brothers Farms to sign a machine-pick contract, which relegates farmworkers to the pesticide-ridden fields, despite the growing market for organic produce.) The Japanese-descended Tanaka family is deeply embedded in the Skagit Valley community, with roots stretching back before the Japanese internment period. The farm has seen different waves of migrant workers from poor white to Asian to Mexican. The Valley community itself has a fascinating relationship with the migrant community, emerging from it while reacting to it, developing its own social hierarchy as each generation “graduates” from farmworker to resident.

 

ANOTHER GENERATION

A lot has changed from Chavez’s day. For one thing, the previous generation of field workers, mostly from Guadalajara and northern Mexico or from Central America, has gained a toehold on American society — like the Asian workers that preceded them, many Hispanic workers’ children, placed in American schools, have grown up, providing their parents with a path to citizenship or work visas that allow them access to better jobs.

Today, a lot of workers are not mestizo Mexican, but of indigenous Mixtec descent, from increasingly violent mountain villages of Oaxaca in southern Mexico like San Miguel and San Pedro. Bloody land disputes, ethnic tension, the collapse of the local agriculture market that was exacerbated by the North American Free Trade Agreement in the 1990s and continued through the recent global recession, and the rowdy and malevolent presence of US-funded anti-drug military forces (strange since no major drug cartels operate there) have isolated this area, forcing its men, women, and children to look for work in America.

Triqui, not Spanish, is their native language — just one of the major hurdles when it comes to delivering healthcare to this population. Another hurdle comes with the specific cultural record of Triqui and general Mexican healthcare. Many Triqui workers rely on native healers, even in American farmworker camps, whose methods of consulting cards and drawing evil spirits from bodies using oils surely provide some psychosomatic respite. But reliance on native healers — out of a combination of tradition, availability, and fear of discovery or of health institutions in general — often prevents workers with deeper problems from receiving a wider range of appropriate treatments. Self-medication through alcohol is common (Holmes observed no drug use), and in one case a man named Bernardo took to the habit mashing his abdomen with soda bottles to ease a chronic stomache ache.

The migratory nature of these workers — and their shifting relationship to the law — all but insures disruptions in preventative and prescriptive care, lack of access to medications, frustratingly spotty medical records, and the inability to form a valuable personal bond with a trusted physician. But the major hurdle is that the system put in place by the government to serve migrant populations hasn’t been revisited since 1962, when a wave of media concern spotlighted the plight of migrant workers — most of whom, at that time, were white Oakies descended from the great Dustbowl diaspora of the ’30s and ’40s. The system has been only slightly adapted and enlarged since then, with dozens of clinics and organizations competing for limited grants, and nonprofits charging as little as they can (often still a steep fee on a farmworkers’ wage).

The picture Holmes paints of the clinics he visits and the doctors, nurses, and caseworkers he encounters is a mostly warm one — most health workers are hard-working and well-intentioned, stymied by cultural and linguistic differences, lack of funds and proper medical records, and racist attitudes from the surrounding communities. Some are prone to misinterpretation, and there are a couple outbursts of frustration that borders on stereotyping.

Still, most migrant worker health care providers are dedicated to their patients’ welfare. As one doctor, a mountaineer who serves the Tanaka Brothers Farm workers, put it: “It’s a very difficult problem. We have a bad situation where citizens cannot really afford health care. And the migrant workers, I truly believe they should have at least the same access as the others. I mean, this work that they are doing is something that nobody else is willing to do. That’s the truth. That’s probably the only reason why we are able to go to the supermarket and buy fruit for a fair price. So this is a group of people that really deserves our attention.”

That group will most likely be left out of the Affordable Care Act’s initial implementation, with possible implications for other, growing fields of migrant work, like software coding or childcare. Holmes’ book will hopefully inspire other investigations into this critical area of the nation’s health care gap — and concerted action to bridge it.

Tech leaders must engage their critics

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EDITORIAL It’s time for San Franciscans to have a public conversation about who we are, what we value, and where we’re headed. In the increasingly charged and polarized political climate surrounding economic displacement, the rising populist furor needs to be honestly and seriously addressed by this city’s major stakeholders.

Whether or not the technology industry that is overheating the city’s economy is to blame for the current eviction crisis and hyper-gentrification, it’s undeniable that industry and it’s leaders need to help solve this problem. They are rolling in money in right now, including tens of millions of dollars in city tax breaks, and they need to offer more than token gestures to help offset their impacts.

As we were finalizing stories for this issue on Dec. 9, the Guardian newsroom was roiled by our rollercoaster coverage of a protest blockade against a Google bus, which has become a symbol for the insulated and out-of-touch nouveau-riche techies in the emerging narrative of two San Franciscos.

Our video of an apparent Google-buser shouting at protesters “if you can’t afford it, it’s time for you to leave” went viral and burned up the Internet (and our servers) even as we discovered and reported that he was actually a protester doing some impromptu street theater.

But there was a reason why his comments resonated, and it’s the same reason why The New York Times and other major media outlets have been doing a series of stories on San Francisco and the problems we’re having balancing economic development with economic security, diversity, infrastructure needs, and other urban imperatives.

Rents have increased more than 20 percent this year, the glut of new housing coming online now is mostly unaffordable to current residents, even that new construction has done little to slow real estate speculators from cannibalizing rent-controlled apartments, and the only end in sight to this trend is a bursting of the dot-com bubble, which would cause its own hardships.

We need this city’s political leaders to convene a summit meeting on this problem, and Mayor Ed Lee and his neoliberal allies need to bring tech leaders to the table and impress upon them that they must engage with their critics in a meaningful way and be prepared to share some of their wealth with San Franciscans. Not only is the future of the city at stake, so is its present, because the housing justice movement won’t be ignored any longer. The good news is that San Francisco has a golden opportunity to test whether democracy can help solve the worst aspects of modern capitalism, offering an example to others if we succeed. But if our political leaders don’t create good faith avenues for meaningful reforms, San Francisco may offer a far messier and more contentious lesson.