Volume 48 Number 23

Volume 48 Number 23 Flip-through Edition

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Yesterday, today, and Tomorrow

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cheryl@sfbg.com

VISUAL ART Tom Tomorrow’s real name is Dan Perkins. This is important information if you ever happen to call him up, because you will have to squelch the urge to blurt out “Hi, Tom!” when he answers the phone.

“It happens! That’s what I get for coming up with a pen name,” the editorial cartoonist laughs from his home in Connecticut. “When I was starting out, I was in San Francisco running in a little anti-corporate ‘zine called Processed World. A lot of the contributors used pen names, because there was always a sense that you might get blacklisted or boycotted or something if you were associated with it. So I started using this pen name, which was a misremembered version of an old cartoon character. I didn’t quite realize that I was going to have this 25-year career, and would be stuck with this thing!”

He chuckles before adding, “I would also say, even more than the anonymity in the early days, I thought it would be a mnemonic [device]. The cartoon was called This Modern World. It wasn’t about politics so much in those days, it was riffing on technology and consumerism, and ‘Tom Tomorrow’ seemed appropriate to this kind of retro-futurist thing I was doing.”

Longtime Guardian readers need no introduction to Perkins’ work. This Modern World — which satirizes current events with wry humor and laser-sharp intelligence — has appeared weekly in these pages for nearly 20 years; it’s also syndicated in other papers across America. In addition, he’s authored a children’s book and several cartoon anthologies, including 2012’s The World of Tomorrow, which features an introduction by rocker Eddie Vedder (Perkins drew the album art for Pearl Jam’s 2009 Backspacer, which elevated him to a level of fame he never expected: “There are people who have tattooed [my art] on their flesh!”) Last year, he added the prestigious Herblock Prize to his list of cartooning and journalistic accolades. Though he’s East Coast-based these days, he’ll be heading to California next week for events at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco and the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa.

Long before he made his name with This Modern World, Perkins says he was “always drawing little comics and cartoons, as far back as I can remember. I’ve been putting together a new PowerPoint show for this Cartoon Art Museum event, and I’ve actually dug up some of these old cartoons. I have this political cartoon that I drew at the age of 14! It’s terrible [laughs], but it’s kind of funny to show it. It’s about Jimmy Carter! Because when I was 14, Jimmy Carter had just given an interview to Playboy magazine, and was being widely mocked for saying that he had lusted after women in his heart. So here I am at 14, drawing a cartoon about that, which is very funny to me in retrospect.”

As he got older (“like every young cartoonist in the 1980s, I went through a phase of trying to do a Gary Larson rip-off, because The Far Side was at the height of its popularity”), he began combining collage with cartooning “in order to riff on advertising culture and technology and so on,” before circling back to politics.

“I’m just doing this one cartoon — it’s not a comprehensive news source — so each week has to be some mixture of something I’m really interested in; something that maybe, hopefully has a news hook; and something that I have something interesting to say about,” he says. “Something that I can be funny about. It may not always show, but I really don’t want to waste the reader’s time.”

Though he admits George W. Bush was an easier politician to make fun of, the Obama administration has also supplied him with plenty of material. “I have a recurring character named ‘Droney’ — the friendly surveillance drone. I do a lot of stuff on the NSA, and the fact that Guantanamo has not been closed, and so on.”

A veteran of the alt-weekly publishing world, Perkins has a unique perspective on how the industry has changed over the years. “I think the short answer is, alt-weekly cartoonists — and there’s maybe a dozen of us working right now — are truly an endangered species. We came into a certain ecosystem and set our own rhythms around that ecosystem,” he says. “Obviously, between the financial crash in 2008, and the ongoing influence of the Internet, that’s been a more tenuous ground. I’m profoundly grateful to the papers that still run cartoons like mine, but it’s an era of entropy. We’re all kind of just hanging on. I’m not the only content creator ever to point out the fact that it’s tricky to figure out how to make a living online. It’s ironic, because [thanks to the Internet], my reach as a cartoonist has never been greater.” (His semi-joking advice to young cartoonists: “Marry someone with tenure.”)

For his Cartoon Art Museum gig, he’ll be sharing the spotlight with a special guest: one of San Francisco’s famed Doggie Diner heads. “To me, the Doggie Diner heads represent my San Francisco. They represent the San Francisco of artists and pranksters. I have a real affection for them. Sometimes, when I have a dream sequence and I need to convey something strange and surreal, I’ll have a Doggie Diner head say a few words, floating in the background.” *

THE WORLD OF TOMORROW: AN EVENING WITH TOM TOMORROW

Tue/11, 7-9pm, $5

Cartoon Art Museum

655 Mission, SF

www.cartoonart.org

March 15, 2pm, free with admission ($5-$10)

Charles M. Schulz Museum

2301 Hardies, Santa Rosa

www.schulzmuseum.org

www.thismodernworld.com

 

Year of the Workhorse

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Photos by Erin Conger

arts@sfbg.com

Patrick Brown, sound engineer and owner of the Mission’s Different Fur Studios, is a busy guy — both literally a man about town, as well as on the internets. I’ve started calling him the Santa Claus of social medias — always watchin’ his friends’ web behaviors, good, bad, whatever. He’s consistently first to like posts and favorite tweets, while simultaneously pulling off epic shifts in the studio.

But despite the screen-mediated chatter we had recently traded, I hadn’t actually seen the guy in months. I wanted to interview him: I hoped for secrets, opinions about the SF music biz, and other pertinent wizardry. With this in mind, I got an insider tip from his girlfriend: the promise of dim sum could usually lure him out of the studio.

Our “date” landed on Superbowl Sunday, and we happily avoided sports fans by venturing to Chinatown. Beneath red lanterns and pouring rain, we pulled up barstools at the Buddha Lounge and ordered Lucky beers, listening to “PYT” on the jukebox and watching a regular sway his hips in the doorway.

“Is that some kind of fat joke?” he asked, when I ‘fessed up to the social-media Santa nickname, as he nibbled on the bartender’s gift of microwave popcorn. It was Chinese New Year; a celebratory firecracker screeched in the street.

“I regularly spend 12 hours a day in a room. I can’t be out in the world, but I still want to exchange information out there,” he explained. Social media is his way of showing support while buried beneath work, he said. He links people to projects, and projects to people, patting the community on the back with likes and re-tweets.

In the seven years that he’s owned The Fur — he bought it from the previous owners in 2008, just four years after starting as an intern — it’s become increasingly important for him to extend his love of the music scene beyond the studio. This means showing face at venues, promoting bands, and partnering with brands that share like-minded intent.

“It’s important for people here to be building things versus bashing,” he says, noting the city’s current debate about tech and how it’s affecting the SF music scene. (Brown recently spoke to the issue while seated on a panel of music industry folks at The Chapel, seeming relatively unfazed by the complaints and quandaries.)

“This is all awfully familiar,” he says, recalling his experiences throughout the first dot-com boom — when, much like the current, monetarily-fueled tension, swarms of musicians and sound engineers left for the promised lands of LA and New York. The music biz ached with abandonment.

While things today may appear similar, he insists they’re not the same.

“The culture of San Francisco has changed, but it doesn’t mean the music business is suffering. It may mean musicians are suffering,” he says, adding that this city isn’t particularly fair to a lot of people and industries. “Sure, musicians should be able to make a living, but not everyone is gonna make it. It’s no different with sound engineers. Do you know how many interns I’ve fired? It’s really competitive out there.”

When Brown himself began as an intern at Different Fur in 2004, the SF scene was still recouping from tech deflation. Business was dry, and Brown saw opportunity in the quiet: space to learn, fuck up, and grow. It worked. He took over as studio manager three years later, and then in 2008 he bought the whole damn rig.

“I decided to stay and make my own shit,” he says. “And now I can do whatever I want. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true.” At the time of our interview, the studio’s calendar was booked through May, sometimes double-booked. Does The Fur hog too much of his time? He scoffs.

“I didn’t pick a career where I would make a million dollars and I didn’t pick a 9-to-5,” he says. “I work long hours for crazy people — musicians — and in the process, I’ve become one of those crazy people.”

Brown’s career path followed a nomadic, diverse education: he studied architecture in Paris, English and psychology in New York, and advertising and film in SF. He repeatedly found himself failing, bored, and planning his escape to the next shiny curriculum.

By the time art school had begun to lose its appeal, he’d begun recording a few low-key recording projects with musician friends. The needle dropped: He did a year at SF State for Music Business, following it up with two years at Ex’pression College. He was hooked.

“People always ask me if listening to the same three-minute track for 12 hours on repeat drives me nuts,” he says, shaking his head, and takes a sip of round two: a pink Mai Tai. “I love it. It was my cue — that’s how I knew I actually wanted to be a sound engineer.”

The more diverse his repertoire can be, the better: A long list of recent projects includes an Armenian classical quartet, a dance hall remix, darkwave, and a Brazilian pop group. (“They all inform each other,” he says.) Brown is also a member of the Grammy board, plays host for the Converse Rubbertracks sessions, and occasionally makes music with his buddy Robert Pera as Woof Beats. He loves throwing events, like a recent listening party for the Grouch and Eligh. His latest addition is sound consulting for GitHub, a partnership aimed at creating fruitful connections between music and tech.

To put it lightly, he’s a workhorse. The horse is, of course, the latest Chinese zodiac sign to come into its 12-year rotation and, as a 1978 baby, Brown claims stallion status. The timing is right, too, since 2013 proved rough: Steve Brodsky, one of his closest friends and cohorts, passed away, and two much-loved Fur employees gave their notice. Brown’s mood shift was palpable, the year of grieving slowly eroding his usual sarcastic banter.

But the new year is freshly upon us and there’s already a notable difference in his mood. His hooves are shiny, so to speak — geared up for the gallop ahead.

“This year I want hang time with my girlfriend…I can’t sit in front of a console for 16 hours a day,” he says with conviction, then contradicts it all by admitting he also doesn’t want to work less. He laughs. “I’m not sure how it’s going to work exactly. All I know is that I’m in a better mood about it all.”

Sturm und drang

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM It is awkward, no doubt, living in a land whose 20th-century legacy was becoming synonymous with evil — “Nazi,” “Hitler,” and “Holocaust” are still terms we use in describing or comparing the absolute worst human behaviors. Toward the end of Generation War, a three-part TV miniseries being shown here as a two-part movie, one character anticipates the cultural amnesia of peacetime by saying “Soon there will only be Germans and not a single Nazi.” That’s a canny statement in a nearly five-hour soap opera that doesn’t have quite enough of them.

Postwar Germany willed itself not only into economic rehabilitation, but into becoming one of the world’s more politically progressive and socially tolerant societies. (With exceptions, of course.) No doubt part of this was a function of guilt, and younger generations’ determination not to repeat the past. But it must also have been driven by a desire to bury that past as discreetly as possible without actually seeming to do so. Neo-Nazi freaks aside, you won’t likely now meet anyone in Germany who pledged allegiance to Hitler. Nor would you have 30 or 50 years ago. Even (or especially) guards at Auschwitz shared in the selective national amnesia that followed capitulation and the subsequent revelations of war atrocities. It’s understandable, if not entirely to be sympathized with: How do you live publicly with being on the side of the exterminators? You don’t, that’s how. You gradually build up personal distance until it’s a wall scarcely more abstract than the one that came down to reunite Germany in 1989.

Generation War was originally called Our Mothers, Our Fathers, to underline the relevancy of the discussion it’s presumably trying to stir at home — even if for many viewers the war generation would have been their grandparents’. Directed by Philipp Kadelbach and written by Stefan Kolditz, it starts out in dismayingly hackneyed fashion as we’re introduced to our youthful protagonists. Celebrating a birthday in 1941 near the war’s start, when Axis victory seems assured, they pose for a photo you know damn well is going to be the heart-tugging emblem of innocence horribly lost for the next 270 minutes.

There’s true-blue Wilhelm (Volker Bruch), who’s already served one tour of duty to the west, and is now heading to the Eastern front with younger brother Friedhelm (Tom Schilling), a dreamy pacifist. In love with Wilhelm but annoyingly reluctant — for years on end — to say so is sugary Charlotte (Miriam Stein), herself headed to the front as a nurse. Staying behind are Greta (Katharina Schüttler), who fancies herself the next Marlene Dietrich, and her boyfriend Viktor (Ludwig Trepte), who can’t convince his willfully oblivious parents that German Jews like themselves are in mortal danger.

Needless to say, all illusions are eventually dashed. Amid the grueling, endless, disastrous campaign against the Soviet Union, Wilhelm is embarrassed by his “cowardly” brother until the latter adapts to pervasive inhumanity by becoming a cold killing machine himself. Charlotte overcomes her squeamishness at the daily hospital carnage while retaining her compassion. Greta does become famous, thanks to the high-ranking Gestapo patron (Mark Waschke) she sleeps with. But the prima donna arrogance she develops proves perilous, and her attempts to get Viktor smuggled out to safety go awry — escaping a train headed to a concentration camp, he joins a group of Polish partisans scarcely less anti-Semitic than the Nazis.

Fast-paced yet never achieving the psychological depth of similarly scaled historical epics, Generation War grows most interesting in its late going, when for all practical purposes the Allies have already won the war (at least in Europe), but Germany continues to self-destruct. Imminent peace provides no relief for protagonists who’ve survived only to find themselves fucked no matter what side they stay on, or surrender to.

That moral and situational complexity is too often missing in a narrative that aims for sympathy via simplicity. None of the protagonists are “really” Nazis — they’re mysteriously free of racial prejudice and other drummed-in ideological points, even if (for a while) they dutifully speak about serving der Fatherland. (Only bad, subsidiary people seem to buy into those concepts; Wilhelm is never shown killing women or children, and the death camps remain off-screen.) The underrated recent film version of The Book Thief (2013) was criticized for soft-pedaling the era, but it was about (and from the viewpoint of) somewhat sheltered Aryan children living in a civilian wartime. Generation War‘s characters are of exactly the age to be fully indoctrinated young zealots, yet none of them seems touched by National Socialist dogma. Even though it’s mid-1941 when we meet them, they act like official anti-Semitism is still a some minor, misguided inconvenience.

Of course such naiveté is designed to maximize their later disillusionment. But War doesn’t even try to approach the serious analysis of national character in something like Ursula Hegi’s great novel Stones from the River, in which we come to understand how time, propaganda, and preyed-upon weaknesses can turn a town of perfectly nice Germans into fascists capable of turning a blind eye toward the Final Solution. Embarrassingly, this shallower fiction tries in the end to pass itself off as truth: Before the closing credits we’re given birth and death dates of principal characters as if they were inspired by real people. (One purportedly lives still.) It’s one thing when some dumb horror movie opens with “Based on a true story” — wanna buy a bridge too? — but in this context, the fib is worse than disingenuous, it’s slimy.

In addition to being hugely popular at home, Generation War stirred considerable controversy (not least among insulted Poles), which is good. “Never forget,” indeed — but for such a big populist cultural event, it’s an awfully soft reminder. If it were one of the 1970s miniseries it recalls, it wouldn’t be relatively hard-hitting Roots, but Rich Man, Poor Man, in which tough sociopolitical issues of postwar America were whipped into sudsy melodrama cloaked in somber self-seriousness. *

 

GENERATION WAR opens March 14 in San Francisco.

Bar none

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SUPER EGO So a toothy blonde pretend social media exec, a blindingly sequined Latina drag queen, a huge rack of elk antlers with hot-pink panties on them, and a pair of Google Glasses walk into a “punk bar” …

What the holy highballs is happening on our bar scene lately? Rowdy Mission hangout Pop’s Bar closed over the weekend. (Who got all those panties, I wonder?) Last week, 40-year-old Mission gay hangout Esta Noche announced it was shutting down (new owners and a hetero-craft cocktail concept). And then there was that oddball Google Glass kerfuffle at Molotov’s, wherein a social media starlet claims she was the victim of a tech hate crime when the patrons allegedly got in her privacy-violating face.

The Esta Noche situation hits close to my floppy liver’s home most, though. With the recent closures of Marlena’s, Deco, and Ginger’s Trois (and the Transfer, Mister Leeona’s, and practically every gay watering hole on Polk Street shuttering in the past decade), there are hardly any queer bars outside the Castro and SoMa left. Lady, can you pour a fierce cosmo out those Google Glasses of yours? Until then, I won’t have what she’s having. I need my queer space to get sozzled!

 

JAY TRIPWIRE

There are DJs to love, and then there are DJs to love. Fiercely intelligent yet laidback, shaggy in that classic rave-dude way, Vancouverite Jay Tripwire has been honing his deep, deep techno sound for more than two decades and 200 releases. Like every great DJ wizard, he transforms the records on his tables into other beasts entirely. You just hear differently after his masterly sets. At the Housepitality weekly, he’ll get a warm reception.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0n7ahLdh8yM

Wed/5, 9pm, free before 11 with RSVP at www.housepitalitysf.com/rsvp, $10 after. F8, 1192 Folsom, SF.

 

BAREM

The splendid Direct to Earth and Public Works crews bring in Buenos Aires- and Berlin-based Mauricio Barembuem, aka Barem of Minus Records, for some good old fashioned Germano-Latin post-minimal techno swing. Bring a couple pairs of (cute) shoes, because he’ll wear your kitten heels right out.

Fri/7, 9pm-4am, $13–$20. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

HOUND SCALES

It’s a great weekend for hard-driving and esoteric techno in the Bay. It’s even getting into our more melodic parties, like the monthly Play It Cool, which is showcasing wiggy Brooklyn-based, SF-native “junta rave” purveyor Hound Scales of the Fifth Wall label. The speaker bins, they will explode I think. Jolly good show.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEr-zgTrh7Y

Fri/7, 10pm-3am, $10. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

DRINK

Hey, $35 all you can drink from dozens of local spirits concocters, brew houses, and wineries? Plus: cosmic tunes from Cosmic Amanda (she’s cosmic), tarot readings by the zebra-leotarded Dr. Zebrowski, and one last time to party in the glorious Old Mint building before it gets renovated into the SF History Museum? Why am I still asking questions? Our sister-paper SF Weekly’s Drink event is sloshy, superb.

Sat/8, 2pm-5pm, $35 advance. Old Mint, 88 Fifth St, SF. drink2014.strangertickets.com

 

FOUR TET

Please immediately check out the fantastic new Neneh Cherry album, produced by this wide-eared, super-innovative UK genius, who can jet from bright, ecstatic jazziness to haunting bass apocalypse in the blink of a strobe. A trippy treat in store, indeed.

Sat/8, 9pm, $30. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com

 

POUND PUPPY

Go-go boys are probably my least favorite things at clubs. (We were mercifully mostly free of them until a few years ago: They were “an LA thing” then. Sock’s on the other cock now!). But apparently, once a month, if they are dressed up like leather-fetish puppies, dancing to cutting-edge tunes in cages at the gay biker bar, and being petted by the sexiest characters of the SF queer underground, I’m totally down. I still refuse to say “woof,” though. With DJs Taco Tuesday and Chip Mint, hosted by Blake and Jorge.

Sat/8, 9pm, $7. SF Eagle, 398 12th St, SF. www.sf-eagle.com

 

VOICES FROM THE LAKE

Hyper-atmospheric ambient techno delight from this duo, composed of acclaimed Italian players Donato Dozzy and Neel. Don’t worry, you’ll still end up dancing. With Jason Kendig, Christina Chartfield, Carlos Souffront, and MossMoss at the As You Like It party.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooxO0VaZt9M

Sat/8, 9pm-4am, $20–$25. Monarch, 101 Sixth St, SF. www.monarchsf.com

 

Branching out

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DANCE

ODC Theater has a good track record of presenting homegrown and visiting companies, some making their local debuts, others having been around for a while. In between these ODC-presented programs — or, increasingly these days, co-presented with other organizations — are slots for artists who want to self-produce, which means that they rent the space for a fixed fee.

The remodeled theater, with its upgraded technical facilities, can accommodate not only dance, but musical and language-based performances. It has become a flexible, desirable venue in a city that has too few of them. Yet if I read history correctly, a kind of open-door policy has always been part of ODC’s mission, even during its more modest times — as in 1976, when it bought what used to be a hardware store and before that a stable.

Bianca Cabrera’s two-year-old East Bay-based troupe Blind Tiger Society (the name comes from a Prohibition-era speakeasy) is the latest of these self-producing independents to take advantage of what ODC Theater has to offer.

Though Cabrera has shown work locally in small studio settings, the world premiere of the hourlong The Aftermath Affair is the company’s most ambitious effort yet. Sixteen women, some clearly more technically trained than others, threw themselves with considerable energy and commitment into fast-paced unisons, scurrying on the tips of their toes one moment, and then entangling themselves head over heels, only to then freeze into identical sculptural poses.

By far the most intriguing aspect of what was a decidedly odd affair was Cabrera’s attempt to create her own language from disparate sources. With a background in cabaret and musical theater, in addition to modern dance and ballet, she has a lot to draw on. While her vocabulary doesn’t yet cohere into a flexible enough tool, the yanking together or simple juxtaposing of elements from modern dance, cabaret, contact improvisation, and even ballet was intriguing in the way it tried to break down easy categorizations and perceptual barriers.

Cabrera’s dancers make good use of strong upper-body movements with articulated necks and shoulders, perhaps borrowed from belly dancing. Much of the movement for the many duets and small ensembles, however, was crystallized out of contact improvisation, with its give and taking of weight, supporting each other, and allowing a movement thread to run its course. Despite their robust physicality, these encounters were so formalized that sometimes they felt regimented. The plain beige-brown costumes, which looked like uniforms, probably didn’t help. Fortunately, several of the solos communicated a controlled but enthusiastic sense of being in the moment.

Contrasting with earthbound sequences were formal unisons of lines: diagonals, wedges, parallels, intersections, and overlappings that could have come from Broadway or movie musicals. To see a kick line of 16 pairs of (more or less) unison legs advance downstage was really most unusual.

A finely developed tactile sense proved an essential ingredient to Aftermath. Hands were everywhere. The dancers contacted each other with their fingers, exploring each other’s bodies and their own as if wanting to access some hidden knowledge. They wrapped arms tightly around themselves and held their hands over their pelvis as if trying to hold something in. Yet all of this was curiously clinical, devoid of any erotic implications.

Some the imagery also recalled wildlife observations on the National Geographic channel, in which animals sniff each other out and make tentative physical contact only to retreat again. When some of the dancers scurried back and forth across the stage on tiptoes, I thought of sandpipers trying to escape approaching waves.

Toward the end, pallor drops on Aftermath like fog with a sense of impending doom. The dancers plopped to the ground, rolled like logs, and then mechanically turned like the hands of a clock. I couldn’t quite see a connection to the rest of this worthwhile though not entirely successful endeavor.

Ben Juodvalkis’ dramatic and colorful score gave Aftermath its backbone. Cabrera, however, should have hired a lighting designer. Making such primitive use of the theater’s excellent facilities was a waste.

Independent productions at ODC resume with Gamelan Sekar Jaya (April 4-5) and Company C (April 25-May 5). Immediately on the horizon are three co-presentations. March 6-8, as the last lineup of this year’s Black Choreographers Festival, Robert Moses’ Kin has a double bill: as part of the company’s 2014 “BY Series,” Bliss Kohlmeyer, Dexandro Montalvo, and Gregory Dawson set works for the Kin dancers; for Draft, Moses choreographed for 10 guest performers.

March 21-22 brings Israeli dancers Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor, in Two Room Apartment, their adaptation of what was considered a highly erotic duet by the husband and wife team Liat Dror and Nir Ben-Gal.

And joined by guest artist and former Sweet Honey of the Rock member Ysaye M. Barnwell, Eric Kupers’ Dandelion Dancetheater will reprise his double bill Tongues/Gather March 26. *

www.odcdance.org

 

In the cut

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LIT “Everywhere the gay narrative in this country is about freedom, but the reality doesn’t match up. I’m interested in exploring the corners that aren’t free — from bullied queer children killing themselves to the elaborate social prisons we concoct for ourselves online,” Randall Mann told me. “The landscape is definitely changing, but I’m not convinced that the most exciting, most pressing thing is to slap a smiley face over everything and post about ‘look how awesome my life is.’ I think it diminishes the present and the past.”

That may seem like a cynical take on the spurty arc of gay liberation. And a quick glance at Mann’s latest book Straight Razor (Persea Books), prickling with darkness, insecurity, suicide, longing, and Smear the Queer, probably bears that observation out. But the thrilling poems in Mann’s third volume are tenderly, uncannily, often hilariously on point when it comes to how we live our gay life now: the blundered hookups, halfhearted experiments, weird ghosts of old behaviors, buried childhoods, shady exchanges, unbelievable luck, the precarious balance of living at once in the glaring political spotlight and the throbbing shadows of history.

Or, as Mann exclaims with either surprise or sarcasm (or both) in “Teaser”:

 

Look at us — we’re smarter

Than our hair!

 

Mann and I met in the Castro near his house, at a posh wine bar in that increasingly upscale, mainstream neighborhood — a scrubbing that sometimes renders Mann’s gritty lines (As I skipped out this morning,/ skipping down Castro Street,/ the queens upon the asphalt/ were racks of hanging meat) into totems of nostalgia, no matter how recent they were written. But his electric language is so of the moment it carries the past into a timeless, shared present, as in one of my favorite poems from the collection, eerie AIDS-survivor ode “The Afterparty”:

 

I hover over the caviar, between

two spray-on queens, their asides –

 

eye cream, Pac Heights, microderm

winningly vulgar. And when someone turns

the beat around, pure disco,

 

we’re dated, we’re done for…

 

“Our walls are crumbling, but that also means we’re losing our queer space,” said the soft-spoken but impassioned Mann, who spent his childhood in Florida before moving here in the late 1990s. “Gay people are shifting from a very defined identity to an unknown, and we’re performing this shift very much on a public stage. I’m fascinated by the way we construct and perform our identities — but at the same time we’re always undercutting ourselves. That moment or mode of undercutting, of self-effacement, is the poetic moment I always find myself seeking out.”

The pivotal moment of undercutting, when the straight razor is lifted, provides much of the humor in the book, as in the wonderful “Blind Date at the Blue Plate,” in which Mann, in “Striped shirt, skinny jeans, new-old Chucks/ I am sporting the usual bankruptcies” awaits a possible mate by reliving his entire sexual past — who doesn’t? — finally wishing he could redo it all, “much richer, cleaner,/ yet still dark, dark, dark./ A Michael Haneke shot-by-shot remake of my life.” One guesses the date won’t top that.

Mann’s poems are direct and structural — he was enthralled by formal-leaning Modernist icons Bishop, Moore, Auden, Lowell, and Stevens in college, rather than the shaggy Beats or the hyper-experimental Language Poets most young poets his age were obsessing over. His biggest influence is the great gay poet Thom Gunn, who died in the Haight 10 years ago next month. Gunn cheekily set strict forms and an Elizabethan wit against often-raunchy contemporary subject matter. (His Man With Night Sweats is an AIDS-era monument.)

Mann’s not after that kind of irony; for him, “Structure is something erotic to me, it leads me places that free verse doesn’t, it gives me a definition that I can surmount, a path to take and sometimes step off from.” His loose forms and half-rhymes become a metaphor for a community that’s redefining itself against its past even as it clings to its history. One shiver-inducing poem, the horror-porn-meets-Judy-Garland riff “Fantasy Suite,” is literally an invert — the first half of the poem is repeated in the second half in reverse order.

“Structure also gives me a sort of permission to speak about the unspeakable,” Mann told me, in context of the Straight Razor poem that’s getting the most attention, “September Elegies.” That poem, heartbreaking yet hardly mawkish, is dedicated to Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Billy Lucas, and Tyler Clementi, four young people who killed themselves after being bullied about their sexuality.

“I had to be very careful with that one, but I couldn’t be silent. I didn’t want to capitalize on or cheapen their deaths with useless sentiment, but I was driven to honor them in some way. I found that the repetition of their ages — 13, 15, 18 — and their final social media messages (“jumping off the gw bridge sorry”), those secondhand details, it became a kind of incantation, of bringing them back into our world,” Mann said.

“The words turn and turn on themselves,” Mann says in that poem — just like we turn on ourselves and each other, and the world still turns on us.

 

ERRATA

I’m a little punchy after all the lines

and torture-lite. And since this isn’t glitter underneath

my nails, pass me an emery board and the strip brush –

 

I’ll meet you out front, by the STD truck.

We’ll get Ray-Banned, and torch

a Castro twink, or three. And kee kee.

 

Enough with the ritual attachments. I prefer the steel

implication, the gash in the erstwhile

model’s face, the snip of the top chef’s tongue.

 

Your assignment is to lurk, but not

like that shower goblin at the gym. No. Like a cemetery

wildflower at Badlands. Like monogamy.

 

No use now for embarrassment,

the blinking-back-the-tears.

The administration will exempt each one of us

 

with a bathwater apology, an errata list…  

 

“Errata” by Randall Mann, from Straight Razor, copyright © 2013 by Randall Mann. Reprinted by permission of Persea Books, New York.

Crooked cops

2

steve@sfbg.com

It’s a bombshell police scandal befitting San Francisco’s restive mood, dropping at a time when simmering class tensions have been making national news, and one more example of how the poor are getting trammeled by those with power.

As politicians and tech titans were trying to make the gritty central city more welcoming to corporations and their workers three years ago, a half-dozen plain-clothed police officers were allegedly abusing poor people, illegally busting into their rooms, stealing anything that had value, forcing criminals to sell stolen drugs for them, and repeatedly telling lies in police reports.

When the targets of these abuses complained to the authorities, they were dismissed or ignored. Only when Public Defender Jeff Adachi and his investigators found and publicly revealed damning video surveillance from the targeted single-room occupancy hotels did federal authorities launch an investigation.

Adachi held press conferences in March and May of 2011 showing officers brutalizing SRO residents and leaving their rooms with laptops and other valuables that were never booked as evidence. When Greg Suhr was sworn in as police chief in April 2011, he put the officers on administrative duties, forced some to give up their weapons, changed department policies to deter cops from barging into people’s rooms without warrants or probable cause, and cooperated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the case.

That investigation resulted in federal grand jury indictments that were unsealed on Feb. 27, charging six SFPD cops with a variety of serious charges, including civil rights violations and conspiracies, theft, extortion, drug conspiracies, and falsification of records.

They are Officers Arshad Razzak, Richard Yick, and Raul Eric Elias, who worked in Southern Station, dealing with residents of SoMa SROs; and Sgt. Ian Furminger, Officer Edmond Robles, and Reynaldo Vargas (who Suhr says was dismissed from SFPD for unrelated reasons as the investigation got underway), who worked in Mission Station, where the drug conspiracy allegedly took place, on top of shakedowns in Mission District SROs.

All defendants are facing more than 20 years in prison (except Elias, who faces 10 years for civil rights conspiracy and one year for deprivation of rights under color of law). The Southern Station defendants are also facing $250,000 in fines. The Mission Station defendants face $1 million in fines on the drug conspiracy charges, which allegedly involved having informants sell a few pounds worth of marijuana seized by police.

Attorney Michael Rains, who represents Razzak and has been designated by the San Francisco Police Officers Association as a spokesperson for the others, told the Guardian that all the defendants had difficult undercover jobs in the murky world of informants and drug dealers.

“There was sloppiness in the reporting [in officials police reports], but sloppiness doesn’t rise to the level of criminal activity,” Rains told us, questioning the credibility of witnesses who have criminal records and the reliability and context of the video evidence.

But Suhr strongly condemned the behavior outlined in the criminal complaints, telling reporters that other SFPD officers connected to the case may still face disciplinary action and that, “My officers know I will not have dishonest cops among us.”

He called the indictments a serious blow to the SFPD, appearing to choke up with emotion.

“Our department is shaken,” Suhr, who has been with the SFPD more than 30 years, told reporters. “This is as serious a matter as I’ve ever encountered in the Police Department.”

Yet Suhr also distanced himself from scandal, telling reporters, “This conduct occurred before my time as chief.”

Most of the alleged crimes happened under former Police Chief and current District Attorney George Gascón shortly before he made that transition, one in which critics at the time raised concerns about whether he could be an effective watchdog of SFPD misconduct. That conflict of interest was what sent this case to the feds.

“It is extremely disappointing that the officers violated the trust of the community and tarnished the reputation of all the hard working men and women in uniform,” Gascón said in a press release.

During a brief press conference that afternoon, Gascón denied responsibility for the misconduct: “Anytime you have a large organization, you are going to have people who operate outside the boundaries of what is acceptable.”

Asked by the Guardian when he became aware of allegations that his officers were abusing SRO residents, he said, “We became aware at the same time everyone else did, when the videos came out.”

Gascón’s Press Secretary Alex Bastian cut the press availability off after 10 minutes so Gascón could prepare for his State of Public Safety speech that afternoon, but Bastian told the Guardian he would get answers to our questions about the office’s police accountability record.

“When appropriate, we ensure the integrity of the system is not compromised by referring cases to other prosecuting agencies. In the abundance of caution, when this case was brought to my attention, I referred the case to the federal authorities to safeguard a thorough investigation and guarantee maximum consequences,” Gascón said in a prepared response, while Bastian ignored our requests for more responsive answers to our questions.

But Adachi says these indictments are just the tip of the police misconduct iceberg, charging that police officers routinely lie in police reports and in court to justify illegal searches and other abuses of defendants who are poor or have drug problems, knowing that judges and juries tend to believe cops over criminals.

“The indictments today are a victory for ordinary San Franciscans,” Adachi told reporters, emphasizing that in addition to personally profiting from the shakedowns, these officers were also submitting false testimony in perhaps hundreds of cases, including about 100 that his office has gotten dismissed. “These allegations not only involve violations of the constitutional rights of our clients, but also lying on police records that were used to send individuals to prison based on the testimony of these officers.”

Residents and employees of the Henry Hotel, one of four SROs involved in this case, told the Guardian that the indictments are a rare repudiation of police mistreatment of SRO residents, which they say continues to the day.

“A lot of these people need help. They need guidance. They need a program. They need somebody to motivate them to go to their programs, not a fucking cop who keeps harassing them,” Jessie Demmings, a manager at the 132-room Henry Hotel on Sixth Street, told the Guardian. “They try to take that one step to go forward and then when you come outside you get greeted by a fucking cop having a bad day.”

Even though new SFPD policies prohibit officers from using passkeys to enter people’s rooms without a warrant, Demmings said it still happens. “The reason why we give the passkey is because they always threaten we’re gonna kick in the door, we gonna have a batting ram come and bust the door in,” he said.

Adachi cited his office’s long history of cases in which “officers were barging into rooms without warrants and they were lying about it in police reports.”

Cases of police abuse are handled by the city’s Office of Citizen Complaints, but its work is shrouded in secrecy, thanks to the California Peace Officers Bill of Rights, and officers rarely face serious consequences for their actions.

“We do have complaints with regard to the conduct within the SROs and we have made policy recommendations to the chief,” OCC Director Joyce Hicks told reporters at the SFPD press conference. She called the indictments “extra serious because it implicates the Fourth Amendment and people’s rights.”

Adachi said that after revealing the videos in 2011, he persuaded Mayor Ed Lee to fund two positions in his office investigating police misconduct, but the Mayor’s Office defunded those positions after a year and ignored Adachi’s calls to restore them (as well as Bay Guardian calls for comment on the issue).

“We felt like the public needs to know about this,” Adachi said of the behavior revealed by the federal investigation. “What happened today is significant, and I think it will have deterrent effect.”

Sabrina Rubakovic and Brian McMahon contributed to this report.

Bogus chain store study ignores small biz benefits

10

OPINION

Earlier this month, San Francisco’s Office of Economic Analysis waded into the debate over whether the city should beef up its policy restricting the spread of chain stores. In a new study, the OEA concludes that the city’s regulations are harming the local economy and that adding additional restrictions would only do more damage. But this sweeping conclusion, hailed by proponents of formula retail, rests on a deeply flawed analysis. The study is riddled with data problems so significant as to nullify its conclusions.

San Francisco is the only city of any significant size where “formula” businesses, defined as retail stores or restaurants that have 10 or more outlets, must obtain a special permit to locate in a neighborhood business district. The law’s impact, in one sense at least, is readily apparent: Independent businesses account for about two-thirds of the retail square footage and market share in San Francisco, compared to only about one-quarter nationally. Although chains have been gaining ground in San Francisco, the city far outstrips New York, Chicago, and other major cities in the sheer numbers of homegrown grocers, bookstores, hardware stores, and other unique businesses that line its streets.

San Francisco’s policy has gaps, however, which have prompted a slew of recent proposals to amend the law. Members of the Board of Supervisors have proposed a variety of changes, such as extending the policy to cover more commercial districts (it only applies in neighborhood business districts) and broadening the definition of what counts as a formula business.

The OEA presents its study as an injection of hard economic data into this policy debate. There are three pieces to its analysis. Let’s take each in turn.

First, the OEA reports that chains provide more jobs than independent retailers do. It presents U.S. Census data showing that retailers with fewer than 10 outlets employ 3.2 workers per $1 million in sales, while chains (10 or more outlets) employ 4.3 people.

One major problem with this statistic is that the OEA includes car dealerships. Retail studies generally exclude the auto sector, because car dealers differ in fundamental ways from other retailers and car sales account for such a large chunk of consumer spending that they can skew one’s results. The OEA’s analysis is a classic example of this. Because the vast majority of car dealerships are independently owned and employ relatively few people per $1 million in sales, by including them, the OEA drags down the employment figure for local retailers overall.

If you take out car dealers, which are not subject to San Francisco’s formula business policy anyway, and also remove “non-store” retailers, a category that includes enterprises like heating oil dealers and mail order houses, a different picture emerges. Retailers with fewer than 10 outlets employ 5.3 people per $1 million in sales, compared to only 4.5 for those with 10 or more locations.

The actual difference is even a bit more than this, because chains handle their own distribution, employing people to work in warehouses, while independents typically rely on other businesses for this. And, of course, a portion of the jobs chain stores create are not local jobs; they are housed back at corporate headquarters. The OEA fails to mention either of these fairly obvious caveats.

The superior ability of non-formula businesses to create jobs is notably evident across many of the categories that generate most of the city’s formula business applications, including clothing, grocery, and casual dining. The only exception is drugstores, a category in which chains appear to be supporting more jobs. But even this may not be a true exception, since most independent pharmacies focus almost exclusively on medicine, while chain drugstores are hybrid convenience stores, employing people to ring up sales of cigarettes and greeting cards.

The second and third pieces of the OEA’s analysis are linked together. The study concedes that, compared to chains, independents circulate more of their revenue in the local area, creating additional economic activity and jobs. But, it contends, prices at chains are 17 percent lower; enough, according to the OEA’s math, to outweigh the economic benefits of this recirculation.

On the lighter side of this seesaw calculation sits the OEA’s estimate of how much money local retailers circulate in the city’s economy. This estimate is notably smaller than what other studies have found. When I asked Dan Houston, a principal with Civic Economics, why his firm’s studies show that independent businesses have a bigger impact, he pointed to two areas where his firm’s figures differ from the OEA’s. One is labor.

“We’re finding that local wages and operating income [at independent businesses] are much bigger, closer to 25 percent [of expenses] rather than the 15 percent the OEA finds,” said Houston.

The other is spending on inventory. Civic Economics has found that independent retailers and restaurants source some of their goods locally, whereas the OEA assumes that all of this spending leaves the area.

Sitting on the heavier side of the OEA’s seesaw is its conclusion that chains charge lower prices. As definitive as its 17 percent figure sounds and as pivotal as it is to the study’s math, it is a highly questionable number. It’s based on a limited sampling of prices in which large swaths of the retail sector, including apparel stores and restaurants, were excluded.

“I just hate to see a statistic like that being used when it is so limited in what was being measured,” said Matt Cunningham, another principal at Civic Economics.

It only takes a slight adjustment of these wobbly figures to produce the opposite conclusion: that formula businesses do more economic harm than good. All one has to do to tip the OEA’s seesaw in the other direction is to assume a slightly larger recirculation of revenue on the part of independents and a slightly lower price advantage on the part of chains. (Just dropping the price difference to 14 percent will do it.)

Perhaps the worst aspect of the OEA’s study is that it seems to float in space, untethered to what’s actually happening on the ground. Many of the chains that are clamoring to open in the city’s neighborhoods are high-end retailers whose products carry a price premium. Their arrival typically drives up commercial rents, making it harder for businesses that sell basic low-margin goods to survive.

Nor does the OEA attempt to situate its analysis in the context of several peer-reviewed studies that don’t just model the potential impacts of corporate consolidation, but actually track them. In a study published in Economic Development Quarterly, for example, economists Stephan Goetz and David Fleming report that counties that have a larger share of their economy in the hands of locally owned businesses have experienced higher median household income growth than places dominated by large corporations.

The OEA’s study will not be the city’s only analytical look at its formula business policy. The Planning Department has commissioned its own study, preliminary findings of which were released this week. Among other useful statistics, the draft notes that most formula business applications are approved and fully one-quarter of the retail space in the city’s neighborhoods is now occupied by chains, which suggests the permitting process is not as unfriendly to formula businesses as the law’s opponents contend.

Still, this figure is much smaller than in San Francisco’s more centralized commercial districts, which are not covered by the policy. Here, the chains’ share of the available square footage stands at 53 percent and growing.

___

Stacy Mitchell is a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and author of Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses.

 

Staying alive

3

By all accounts, Tez Anderson shouldn’t be alive today. When he contracted HIV in 1981, doctors gave him only two years to live. Somehow, he managed to outlast that prognosis by three decades.

“People ask me how I’m still here, and honestly, I don’t know,” he told the Guardian during an interview in his small office above Harvey’s Restaurant in the Castro. “I would get these little reprieves — two more years here and there — and I just got used to living like that.”

Muscular and energetic, Anderson has a surprisingly light-hearted demeanor for someone who has lived with death for his entire adult life, but there’s no denying that he has been through a severe and sustained trauma.

By 1992, AIDS had killed more residents of San Francisco than all four major wars of the 20th century combined. As a result, Anderson watched an entire generation of his friends — people whom he cared for and loved — succumb to the virus.

The loss has taken its toll. For years, Anderson suffered from severe anxiety, deep depression, and rage. At times he even considered suicide. While driving the windy hills of San Francisco, Anderson would occasionally imagine letting go of his steering wheel, sending his car careening down the hill.

“I was planning it out so that it would look like an accident,” he said. “I didn’t want people to be hurt by the fact that I killed myself.”

Like Anderson, many AIDS survivors suffer emotional ailments akin to post-traumatic stress disorder or survivor’s guilt. Walt Odets, a Berkeley-based psychologist who has worked with hundreds of gay men who lived through the AIDS epidemic, is convinced that a mental health crisis is unfolding among long-term HIV survivors.

“There’s an inability to live with vitality, to live with richness, to get up in the morning and feel like you have a future, if only for the day,” he told us. “We’re losing a lot of vital lives over this.”

Anderson believes that many AIDS survivors have a definable psychological syndrome. Last January he decided to give it a name: AIDS Survivor Syndrome, or ASS for short (the acronym was intentional). He and two friends, Michael Siever and Matt Sharp, have since formed the group Let’s Kick ASS.

Every Tuesday, they host a meditation class, and on Saturdays they convene at the Church Street Café for coffee and conversation. On the third Wednesday of each month, the group puts on large workshops and forums.

Just like during the 1980s and 1990s, when HIV-positive people built a social movement around AIDS, Let’s Kick ASS is trying to unite the community in the face of hardship.

“There’s nothing that will take away or fully heal this wound,” said Gregg Cassin, who has had HIV since the 1980s and works closely with Let’s Kick ASS. “But as we learned from the early days of the epidemic, coming together as a community is where the healing takes place.”

 

COMING TOGETHER

On a warm evening last September, Anderson hustled to set up tables and chairs in a large event space at the LGBT center on the outskirts of the Castro. It was the first town hall meeting for Let’s Kick ASS, and he had no idea what to expect. At most, he thought that 50 people would show up.

At around 6:30pm the first guests started to arrive. Then a few more people trickled into the room. By 7pm, every seat in the house was taken, and people were wedging into any available nook and cranny. Some of the attendees hadn’t seen each other in years and were hugging each other.

“I was blown away by how many people wanted to hear about the group,” Anderson recalled. “It felt like a class reunion.”

In the end about 200 people — almost all HIV-positive men over the age of 50 — came to the town hall. People shared stories from the past and discussed how to support each other in the future. Siever noted that many of those who came to the meeting had lost touch with the broader gay community.

“We opened up a space for them to come together that needed to be opened up, but wasn’t there anymore,” he said. “It was, and still is, amazing.”

It may seem odd that only now, more than 30 years after the Center for Disease Control first reported HIV in the United States, survivors are showing symptoms of severe emotional trauma. But such a delay isn’t uncommon; it wasn’t, for example, until the mid-1960s that psychologists first noticed “survivor guilt” among those who lived through the Holocaust.

“Many people believe that after a huge disaster, whether it’s AIDS or something else, it takes about two decades for people to finally get to a place where they’re ready to process and heal,” said Robert Grant, who has studied AIDS since 1982 and is now a researcher at UCSF’s Gladstone Institute. “People are just now starting to figure out what happened to them.”

Processing such a massive loss can cause a host of psychological ailments. Last year the San Francisco AIDS Foundation started a group for aging gay men called the 50-Plus Network. When asked what their “biggest issue” was, an overwhelming majority of the participants said social isolation.

“If you have strong connections with people and they keep dying, pretty soon you pull back,” said Jeff Liephart, senior director of programs and services at the SF AIDS Foundation. “The unconscious sense is, ‘if I create a new relationship, they’re just going to die too’.”

Along with feelings of isolation, Liephart said many AIDS survivors are bewildered by the fact that they survived the epidemic. Being HIV-positive during the crisis years was like knowing you had a time bomb inside of you that could go off at any moment.

“If you’re in a life-threatening situation like that you can’t process stuff,” he explained. “Your brain just won’t let you do it.”

 

STILL HERE

Anderson has spent over three decades fighting HIV. In 1993 — just prior to being diagnosed with AIDS — he had his first opportunistic infection and came down with pneumocystis pneumonia. Several years later his T-cell count dropped to 12, a dangerously low level. Today, Anderson suffers from severe neuropathy in his hands and feet and is technically disabled.

Still, he has the virus more-or-less under control, and in 2005 he decided that AIDS wasn’t going to kill him in the immediate future. This seemingly positive insight triggered a full-blown psychological crisis.

While working on a movie production with an ex-boyfriend (Anderson co-wrote the screenplay for the 2006 movie The Night Listener starring Robin Williams) he became noticeably agitated and was quick to get into verbal altercations. Within a year he had pushed away most of his friends.

Anderson partially attributes his self-destructive behavior to the realization that he might live into old age, a thought he never considered during his entire adult life.

“I spent so many years planning my own funeral, preparing everyone around me for my death, and I never planned for my future,” he explained. Being so intimate with death does something to your head. It makes you unable to make long term plans.”

Only now, at age 53, is Anderson getting ready to live a full life. When asked about retirement, he let out a chuckle. He has no 401(K), Roth IRA, or contingency plan. Many of his HIV-positive friends over 50 are in a similar predicament, but he’s optimistic that if they come together, they’ll be able to figure out a solution.

Over half of the people with AIDS in San Francisco are older than 50. As a result, AIDS service providers in the city have started paying much more attention to the mental and physical health ailments unique to long-term survivors. In 2012 UCSF started the Silver Project, which offers medical and social services to older people with HIV. The AIDS Foundation runs the 50-Plus Network, and the Alliance Health Project has been running a support group for gay men over 50 for the past five years.

These organizations all do similar work to Let’s Kick ASS, but Anderson believes his group is different in one fundamental way: It’s a nonhierarchical grassroots effort focused on peer-to-peer support. This philosophy was apparent at a recent Let’s Kick ASS town hall meeting, where a group of about two dozen men — mostly older, gay, and white — sat in a circle and shared why they had come to the event.

“I’ve put all of my experiences into a box, and I’m here to open up that box,” one man said. “I’m here to find my community again,” another added. Anderson was quiet throughout most of the meeting, but he chimed in a few times. At one point, he reminded everyone in the room that the space belonged to them.

“We have 20 years until the real curtains fall,” he said, “and we have a chance to make those next 20 years amazing.”

After Anderson made his comments, he sat down, crossed his arms, and listened closely as the group continued sharing its stories. The man, who had recently contemplated suicide, now has a new appetite for life.

“I read Joseph Campbell a while ago, and I remember him saying, ‘follow your bliss’, find that thing that you’re passionate about and do it whatever it takes,” he said. “I’ve found my passion, and now I’m not angry, I’m not depressed, I’m not anxious, I have a happy home life. I’ve found my passion, and I have a community again.”  

On March 15, Lets Kick ASS is hosting a benefit at the Castro Theatre, where actress Rita Moreno will be interviewed on stage after the screening of her film, Putting on the Ritz. The group is also planning the first National HIV/AIDS Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day on June 5.