Volume 48 Number 43
THE WEEKNIGHTER There’s a series of photos of me at Mad Dog in the Fog (530 Haight St, SF. 415-626-7279) where I am an absolute monster. I’m dressed in a wretched, beer-stained Santa suit, I have Mickey Mouse ears on, and there’s also some kind of sparkly garland thing adorning my head. In most of the pictures I’m flipping off the camera and making ridiculous faces that usually include an Elvis type lip curl. I look unhinged. I look subhuman. Goddamn, I look like I’m having fun. It was SantaCon 2011.
One of the few things I remember about our pit stop at the Mad Dog was gurgling, “I didn’t know they had a backyard here!” as we stumbled out into it. Apparently they do have one. I feel like I may have found out where the bar’s name came from as well, but that was lost, just like my sense of personhood that day. There is nothing noble about being Oscar the Grouch-level trashed. The only thing you get out of it is a bunch of photos where you look like somebody Shrek wouldn’t even fuck.
Luckily for us, Mad Dog is used to having stark, raving lunatics, in colorful garb, wasted there in the middle of the day. In fact the Lower Haight pub just had a full month of it. Mad Dog in the Fog has long been a staple for any soccer fan in San Francisco. Whether it’s the World Cup or The English Premier League or even a Las Chivas game, Mad Dog lives and breathes soccer. The doors open at 7am every Saturday and Sunday, so people can come watch their favorite team shoot goals and take flops.
I was lucky that day in 2011 that Mad Dog doesn’t serve hard alcohol. I was in a state of saying “hell yes” to pretty much everything, and who knows what would’ve happened. This lack of hard alcohol is also a blessing to serious beer drinkers: It allows Mad Dog to serve more than 150 different kinds of beer from around the world, some of which are rare and hard to get.
In fact, Mad Dog is so supportive of your beer problem that it even lets you pour your own. Yes, you read that right. A few years ago the proprietors installed a TableTender, a system of two taps that stick out of the middle of a table. You and your pals then pour all the beer you’d like from said taps and a display keeps track of how much you drink. Afterwards you settle your tab with the bar staff. I’m pretty sure they were hiding the TableTender from me and my friends that day. I would’ve if I were them.
I’d like to say that after behaving like a Garbage Pail Kid at Mad Dog in the Fog I went home and slept it off, but that would be a lie. Just like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, I was a tenacious bastard and led my party of holiday revelers to a number of other bars after that. I eventually lost them all, of course, and ended up at a house party… I think. Honestly nothing else I did later that night exists because nobody, to my knowledge, took any more photos.
But to this day, every time I walk by Mad Dog in the Fog, even when there’s a line of 50 people waiting to get in to watch a sports game, I mutter to myself, “I didn’t know they had a backyard here!” and smile thinking about that weird day back in 2011.
Stuart Schuffman aka Broke-Ass Stuart is a travel writer, poet, and TV host. You can find his online shenanigans at www.brokeassstuart.com
THEATER If you were milling around the Asian Art Museum last Thursday evening, you might have seen a woman tumble — ever so slowly — down the Beaux-Arts building’s elegant flight of central stairs. Ringed by a crowd of onlookers and the second floor’s imposing colonnade, her limber form caressed the marble steps luxuriously as she cascaded beneath the elegant arched ceiling, entirely at her own pace, leaving behind her the unraveling, impossibly long train of her white and lavender gown.
Bystanders ruminated silently or chatted quietly, sipping cocktails, for the duration of Fauxnique’s 20-minute high-art pratfall, Beautility, as house music reverberated from DJ Hoku Mama Swamp’s station in the nearby lobby. Passing through the lobby, you would have seen mercurial artist Dia Dear offering free makeovers, while members of TopCoat Nail Art Studio applied lacquer to willing hands, in designs inspired by pieces in the museum’s current show, Gorgeous, built from the permanent collections of both the Asian Art Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Having at last landed on the first floor, in front of the shiny red and white speed demon parked there — German designer Hartmut Esslinger’s Prototype for Frog 750 motorcycle (1985), from the SFMOMA collection — Fauxnique (aka Monique Jenkinson) gathered up her enormous train and rushed up the stairs and out of sight.
Back in the lobby, you might also have caught sight of Nude Laughing, a peripatetic work by La Chica Boom (Xandra Ibarra), and followed the nude figure as she went by, dragging behind her a large nylon stocking filled with what appears to be hair and plastic breasts. You’d have ended up in an alcove on the first floor between several incongruent sculptures — including British artist Tracey Emin’s hot pink neon phrase-sculpture, Fantastic to Feel Beautiful Again (1997); a voluptuous, powerful, and headless stone torso of a female deity from southern India (1400–1600); and American Dan Flavin’s horizontal row of fluorescent colored beams, untitled (in honor of Leo at the 50th anniversary of his gallery) (1987).
In the company of these disparate pieces, the performer slips inside the giant nylon pouch — a Marilyn Monroe wig over her dark hair and atop her painted face, fake furs and sundry toy boobs pressed against her brown body — as she stretches the sheer fabric enveloping her, writhing in coquettish spasms, emitting artificial squeals of pleasure. A puissant abstraction, seriously unsettling and completely mesmerizing in her vaguely menacing flirtation with her audience, the figure eventually sheds her gauzy cocoon and, with a confident stride, disappears down a hallway, leaving behind some flotsam of costume pearls, wigs, and fur.
Headlining this promiscuous night of performance making — part of the museum’s seasonal Thursday night programming, which also featured work from queer punk drag artist Phatima Rude and drag duo Mona G. Hawd and VivvyAnne ForeverMORE — was art-band collective Nicole Kidman Is Fucking Gorgeous (John Foster Cartwright, Maryam Rostami, and Mica Sigourney). At about 8pm, NKIFG took over the regal upstairs chamber with its show, Fuck Gorgeous, a 45-minute incantation, exultation, and rumination on the elusive properties of art, celebrity, fashion, and existence — Nicole Kidman, for short — by three Goth punks with microphones and boundless insouciance.
With enormous projections of full moons looming over a small stage, John, Mike, and Mary engaged in welcoming speeches, banter among themselves, victory laps with streamers, occasional howling, extended ferocious lip-synched roaring, and worshipful mouthing of one truly insipid Oscar acceptance speech. Sound rose and fell, a cacophony of noise gave way to mumbled quips, focus blurred and shifted, bodies went slack, writhed on the dance floor, or bounded around the room. At one point, Mike’s address from the podium slipped from a kind of self-actualization seminar into an outright stab at mass hypnosis as he charged us all to “be Nicole!”
Nicole Kidman, their vessel, “both everything and nothing,” was not quite an object and not quite a projection. Like the other performances enlivening the spaces of the museum and the strange harmony of the artworks on display, Fuck Gorgeous was deeply ambivalent but committed to being in-between, both a come-on and a refusal. *
Through Sept. 14, $10-$15
Asian Art Museum
200 Larkin, SF
Sometimes you read about an event so cool and artsy and smart that you have to say, “Hell to the yes, more of this please.”
It turns out Quince is closing for two months of renovations (July 25 to Sept. 19). In the meantime, the Quince folks will host a very chic series of pop-up dinners called curATE at Hedge Gallery (501 Pacific Ave., SF, www.hedgegallery.com), just across the street. You know it’s going to be cute, because Stanlee Gatti is producing the events. Every week (Wednesday through Saturday, July 30 through Aug. 30), there will be a different gallery installation by contemporary curators, and chef Michael Tusk will be making a five-course menu to accompany the theme. Guest programmers include Jeffrey Fraenkel, Anthony Meier, Jessica Silverman, John Berggruen, and Iwona Tenzing. The one I’m eyeballing: Jessica Silverman’s exhibition, titled “White Is the Warmest Color,” will be paired with an all-white menu. How can you say no?
Even if you can’t pony up for the dinner, you might opt for the gallery reception of wine and canapés 6:30pm–7:30pm ($50 per person, inclusive of tax and service charge). The gallery reception and five-course tasting menu is $199 per person, inclusive of tax and service charge. Wine pairings will be offered ($110, including tax and tip), along with select items from the bar and access to the full Quince wine cellar. Going solo? There will be a communal table. Or you can purchase an individual table (with seating for up to 10 guests). Tickets and more info at www.sfcurate.com.
Looking for a good spot for a date night? Head on up to Russian Hill to visit two places that are practically built for a date (and the neighborhood is a fun one to walk through after dinner).
If you’re a fan of handmade pasta, you’ll want to reserve a table at Seven Hills (1550 Hyde St., SF. www.sevenhillssf.com), which has a new-ish chef who came on at the end of last year, Anthony Florian, whose résumé includes Quince, Cotogna, and most recently, Pizzalina. Florian brings an update to the popular raviolo with an egg inside, plus a hearty bowl of pappardelle with braised lamb sugo. And then there’s the fusilli neri (black from squid ink) with tender cuttlefish, tomato, chile, and bread crumbs. The owner is very passionate about wine and happy to make some pairings. Cin cin.
Another great spot to couple up along Hyde Street: Stones Throw (1896 Hyde St., SF. www.stonesthrowsf.com), which opened last November, and is really hitting its stride. Chef Jason Halverson offers a menu of Cal-American dishes with a strong seasonal bent, and lots of tableside flourishes.
Start with the pork belly and peaches (and crispy pig ears!), and the squid ink conchiglie pasta is a spicy hit. The dish I can’t stop thinking about is the grilled octopus “okonomiyaki,” a Japanese-inspired pancake, with bacon dashi, spicy turnips, and marinated mushrooms. Don’t miss it. Stones Throw may only have a beer and wine license, but there are some clever low-alcohol cocktails and some quality beers that will get your attention. Ditto the wine list: You’ll find unique, ever-rotating selections. The vibe here is a bit more urban and fun, so it would be great for date number one or two. (Even if you’re on your own, come in for a warm bite at the bar and a glass or two of something good).
Marcia Gagliardi is the founder of the weekly tablehopper e-column; subscribe for more at www.tablehopper.com. Get her app: Tablehopper’s Top Late-Night Eats. On Twitter: @tablehopper.
THE SOFT PINK TRUTH
Why Do The Heathen Rage? (Thrill Jockey)
How can you love music that hates you? Drew Daniel grapples with this question throughout his third album as The Soft Pink Truth, which seeks to reconcile his homosexuality with his love of black metal — a genre with a history of hatred and violence. His thesis: Black metal is already pretty gay. Why Do The Heathen Rage? consists of 10 disco covers of black metal songs, and in this context, the “blasphemers” and “fornicators” who inhabit these songs could easily be gay men as seen through a prejudiced lens. It’s a powerful thought, but it’s also kind of funny.
Why Do The Heathen Rage? is an admirable project, not least because Daniel is making himself a walking target for those who add to black metal’s hateful reputation. But it’s also a great listen. Humor is key to the album’s appeal, especially when Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner puts on her best diva voice to sing about penetration and desecration. But there are also some gorgeous moments — the slow house chord that surfaces at the end of “Sadomatic Rites” is nothing short of breathtaking. This is one of the most audacious experimental albums I’ve ever heard, and easily one of the year’s best albums.
It’s Kiwi Time EP (Granted Access)
There are a million indie pop bands in the world, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that most of them are just in it for the money. It’s increasingly rare to hear an indie pop band that sounds like it actually wants to play indie pop, and Kiwi Time is one of these. The San Francisco-via-Belarus quartet’s debut EP, It’s Kiwi Time, showcases a style that’s anything but original but nonetheless possesses a certain passion and respect for pop music history that’s all too rare in this field.
Opener “Butterfly” starts out sounding like a Spotify commercial, but the disco-esque vocals quickly lift the song to another plane. “Be My Love” uses the Beatles-pioneered trick of ending much faster than it should, and it’s a relief to hear a band use this tactic in a post-club era where songs often stretch far too long for anywhere but the dancefloor. Both of the album’s guitar solos are seamlessly integrated and lack any irony or tastelessness. Though It’s Kiwi Time is unlikely to elevate its creators above their countless ilk, it’s refreshing in that it fits as comfortably into the universal pop tradition as the indie-pop trend.
A SUNNY DAY IN GLASGOW
Sea When Absent (Lefse)
Shoegaze is one of those genres that seems spent if only because it’s easy to just slap the term on anything. Just as any garage band without a singer can be “post-rock,” any band with a shy vocalist and a lot of pedals can be “shoegaze.” Now more than a quarter of a decade after My Bloody Valentine dropped its debut, A Sunny Day In Glasgow is still pushing the style’s boundaries on their new Sea When Absent. The secret to the band’s success is viewing shoegaze as an approach rather than a genre, and as such, members are not picky about what they slather in reverb.
Rock, dance, hip-hop, and metal sounds swirl around in the maelstrom of this album, never settling but tearing by at thrilling speeds. Sea When Absent‘s kitchen-sink approach most likely owes to the fact that the band members mostly assembled this album via e-mail chain. (The slowed-down coughing at the end of “Double Dutch” suggests kind green buds may also have been involved, especially in tandem with the track’s name.) Though Sea When Absent is uneven and messy, it’s never dull — a rare quality in a genre that anyone with enough cash to blow on pedals can play.
More than any other Beatles album, A Hard Day’s Night — which turned 50 last week — embodies the clichés surrounding the band’s early period. The cheesy harmonies, the “whoa”s and “yeah”s, the sappy love songs: All are there in abundance. It’s also the most obvious manifestation of the John/Paul dichotomy. Though the idea of John as the bad boy and Paul as the balladeer is largely accepted as a myth by Beatles fans, that dynamic is a lot closer to the truth than folks give it credit for, and on no album is it clearer than A Hard Day’s Night.
Paul’s songs are a bit silly, but spectacularly well-crafted. “And I Love Her” repeats the word “love” incessantly, but the twinkling background makes it seem transcendent. You’re more likely to come out of it remembering the four-note guitar riff that frames the song anyway. Better yet is “Can’t Buy Me Love.” The song’s chorus looks absurd on paper (“can’t buy me love/everybody tells me so/can’t buy me love/no no no no”), but it’s so catchy it’s hard not to ignore the lyrics.
John’s love songs are far more bitter and sarcastic. But it’s important to remember that John Lennon was more than just a media-ready “bad boy.” His reputation as a peacenik and a member of the most (supposedly) infallible paragon of pop music in history has sadly clouded his history of alleged neglect and abuse toward his children and various lovers. Knowing the latter gives an unpleasant context to the Lennon songs on this album.
I find “You Can’t Do That” unlistenable for this reason. The song is told from the perspective of a man whose girlfriend has been talking to another boy. He warns her that if he catches her doing it again, he’ll “let her down” and “leave her flat.” It’s hard not to interpret those as a reference to domestic violence, given that Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia, was a victim of such abuse. And the theme of the song evokes Lennon’s own worries concerning his second wife, Yoko Ono, whom he often dragged into the studio out of fears she would abscond with another man if left alone.
Another prominent theme is Lennon’s pride and his fixation on the shame of having had his girl cheat on him. This theme surfaces on “You Can’t Do That” (“if they’d seen you talking that way they’d laugh in my face”). It’s as bad on “If I Fell.” John asks his potential girlfriend if she’d “hurt my pride like her” then bluntly tells her how much he’d enjoy his ex’s misery at seeing the two of them together.
It’s less rational to believe that these songs are told from the perspective of an abuser so much as they illustrate Lennon’s own viewpoint as a real-life abuser. There’s nothing in these songs to suggest he’s playing a role of any sort. On one song, he does. “I’ll Cry Instead” finds Lennon simulating the illogical thoughts that come in the wake of anger and sadness. His girl left him, and he’d like to go out and “break hearts all ’round the world” as revenge, but he can’t, so he’ll cry instead.
The point of this song isn’t that he’d like to hurt her, but that he’s thinking irrationally — he’ll feel better once he’s had a good cry. Thus, I find it easier to separate this song from its creator. Nonetheless, A Hard Day’s Night is one of those albums — at least for me — where art and artist are too firmly entwined for the album not to suffer.
It would be ridiculous to accuse anyone who enjoys this album of being a misogynist. But I would object to anyone denying these issues are present. If these moral questions inhibit you from enjoying the art, so be it. But to dismiss these issues in order to preserve your prior appreciation of the music would be tantamount to ignoring those issues in the first place.
There are two Lennon songs that truly warm my heart on this album. The first, “When I Get Home,” is an ecstatic love song that finds its protagonist rushing home to be with his girl. That he has “a whole lot of things to tell her” suggests he’s actually interested in conversing with the girl, not just having sex. And he’ll love her the next day too, and accordingly make the same voyage. Now that’s love.
Second is the title track. On no other Beatles song is the interplay between John’s voice and Paul’s more effective. It’s difficult to even notice that the vocalist has shifted until the end of the first chorus. But it’s the gradual build in emotion that makes this song so brilliant. By the time the chorus is about to transition back into the verse, Paul is emoting relentlessly — and then in comes the verse again, with John’s dry voice snapping satisfyingly into place and contrasting icily with Paul’s catharsis. This song elevates the album substantially by itself, though A Hard Day’s Night remains my least favorite of the Beatles’ “great albums” (i.e. the ones with only original songs).
Though I generally avoid discussing my own sentimental attachment to albums in reviewing them, I’ll close this review by saying A Hard Day’s Night is by far the most important album in my life. As the first rock album I ever listened to, it ended my 12-year streak of aversion to music due to my sensory processing disorder. But I haven’t gone back to it much — simply because I listened to eight other Beatles albums immediately afterward, and every single one of them puts A Hard Day’s Night to shame.
LEFT OF THE DIAL Yoodoo Park is the kind of musician who might make some people — people who didn’t find their calling until well into their 40s, or 50s, or 60s, aka lots of people — a little angry.
As GRMLN — a band name he chose when he realized the word “Gremlin” wasn’t Google search-friendly — the singer-guitarist’s new album, Soon Away (out Sept. 16 on Carpark records), is 10 tracks packed into 45 minutes of introspective yet confident, caffeine- and hormone-fueled energy, with nods to power pop and an eye toward the grittier side of the ’90s punk spectrum.
A follow-up to Park’s full-length, 2013’s far dreamier, poppier Empire, GRMLN’s sophomore effort (if you don’t count the self-produced EP he put out in 2011) still contains fairly simple songwriting, is still maybe a little overly concerned with being catchy — but on the whole, the album reads like evidence of maturation, of a songwriter stepping off the suburban curb and tentatively into the street; it’s the sound of someone picking up speed, realizing potential, realizing he’s just getting started. (He’ll debut songs from the record July 30 at the Rickshaw Stop.)
In the meantime, Park turned 21 last month.
“You know, we were in the van driving back from Texas, and it was, like, barren,” says Park, who’s Korean-American, but grew up splitting time between Japan and Orange County, of how he spent the milestone birthday. “I would’ve stopped somewhere to get a couple drinks just because, but there was really nothing.”
If the new weight and levels of distortion on this album (recorded and mixed at a breakneck pace at SF’s Different Fur) speak to the familiar pains of growing up — “Go, go, go outside/be the one you want,” Park urges in the album’s first single, “Jaded,” over the peal of an electric guitar hook that lodged itself in my head the first time I heard it — Park, the person, seems far less angst-ridden. Either that, or he doesn’t believe in showing it.
Still, there’s a musical genealogy here that calls to mind Weezer’s most jagged, honest (best) stuff, a little Teenage Fanclub here and there, with a breezy understanding of pop-punk structure that he seems to have learned by osmosis (Orange County tap water?) and a tone that could maybe be described as “what you sound like when you grow up thinking of Social Distortion as senior citizens and then start a punk band. “
“I guess writing-wise I got way more darker and aggressive on this one,” he muses in the easy, sunny, pseudo-stoned drawl of which only kids who grow up in Southern California are truly capable. “This album is about how a lot of things don’t work out the way you want to, and how in life in general, getting attached to things really isn’t good, emotionally or materialistically. I’ve been reading about Krishna, and how the best thing you can do to make yourself a better person has to do with letting things go…so, yeah.”
What kind of things is he letting go of at the moment? Well, there’s school, for one. He just talked to his counselor from UC Santa Cruz, and it turns out he could graduate in one quarter but he’d have to take a lot of credits, which sounds like a lot on top of touring. So the plan right now is to move to SF and take the whole next year off for playing live, which is, he says, “way more fun” than any other aspect of being a musician (especially now that he and his friends can drink legally). It probably helps that his band is made up of his brother, Tae San Park, on bass, and a friend from high school, Keith Frerichs, on drums.
To be fair, he knows he has it good. “Part of what I wanted with this record was to send a message about how life really isn’t that bad,” says Park. “Life is great in California, but if you pay attention to what’s happening in the world, you watch any documentaries, see how people live other places&ldots;I’m really blessed. I think people take it for granted.”
With Everyone Is Dirty, Mall Walk (Different Fur showcase)
July 30, 8pm, $10
155 Fell, SF
Fests, fests, fests
Just like the line for Bi-Rite ice cream on a day when the temperature climbs above 70 degrees, summer festival season seems to be getting longer all the time. This past week brought the announcement of two different festivals that promise solid lineups of local acts alongside serious grub, hopefully warm weather (as is usually the case when fall begins) and, of course, fine excuses for day drinking. The 20th Street Block Party, a free food and music festival brought to you by Noise Pop and the darlings of the SF culinary world (Thomas McNaughton and David White’s love-child of a restaurant group, made up of flour + water, Central Kitchen, Salumeria, and Trick Dog), will take over, yes, 20th Street in the Mission on August 23 for performances by Rogue Wave, Melted Toys (whose new release we highly recommend), Cayucas, The Bilinda Butchers, Myron & E, and more. Oh yeah, did we mention it’s all free? www.20thstreetblockparty.com
And on Oct. 14 – 15, the Culture Collide Fest, a long-running favorite in LA, will debut its first Bay Area event, with a thoroughly international lineup of bands from the US, Korea, the Netherlands, and Costa Rica: Cloud Nothings, Beat Connection, GRMLN, Go Back to the Zoo, Glen Check, Glass Towers, Alphabetics, KLP, and more. Participating venues include The Chapel and the Elbo Room; we’ll have more as the party gets closer. www.culturecollide.com
SFJFF The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival opens July 24 with The Green Prince, a documentary based on the memoir of Mosab Hassan Yousef. The son of a founding member of Hamas, he worked as an undercover agent for the Israeli secret service for 10 years, sharing a profound trust with his Shin Bet handler. The closing night film is also a documentary about a conflicted childhood that paves the way for tough choices later in life — but if Little White Lie is also a personal story, it’s a far less political one.
It’s a thoroughly American story, telling the tale of filmmaker Lacey Schwartz, who was raised by her parents — both products of “a long line of New York Jews” — in the decidedly homogeneous town of Woodstock. All of Schwartz’s grade-school friends had light skin and straight hair, while Schwartz was dark, with coarse curls. Lovingly recorded snapshots and home movies of her Bat Mitzvah and other occasions suggest a happy young life, but the “600-pound gorilla in the room,” as one relative puts it, was that Schwartz did not look white, despite ostensibly having white parents. Once she reached her teenage years — and particularly after she enrolled in a high school that had African American kids among its population — she began to realize the go-to family explanation (yeah … that one Sicilian way back in the family tree …) was nothing but a flimsy excuse holding back a mountain of denial.
Now in her 30s, Schwartz has overcome years of identity confusion and is self-confidently assertive in a manner that suggests years of therapy (and indeed, we see footage of sessions she filmed for a student project at Georgetown, where she found a supportive community among the Black Student Alliance). Her parents, however, are not quite as psychologically evolved, although her mother — a pleasant woman who has nonetheless been content to spend her life surfing the waves of passive-aggression — eventually opens up about the Schwartz family’s worst-kept secret. The aptly-titled Little White Lie clocks in at just over an hour, but it packs in a miniseries’ worth of emotional complexity and honesty. Schwartz will be on hand at the film’s San Francisco and Berkeley screenings — the Q&As are sure to be lively.
Another, rather different tale of women using cameras in pursuit of the truth surfaces in Judith Montell and Emmy Scharlatt’s In the Image, a doc about Palestinian women who work with Israeli human-rights NGO B’Tselem. Group members, who include high school girls and middle-aged mothers, are given small video cameras to keep an eye on protests, harassment, and anti-Palestinian violence perpetrated by Israeli soldiers and settlers. (In one disturbing clip, we see a small child launch a giant spitball at the lens.) Able to capture footage in areas deemed off-limits to mainstream journalists, In the Image shows how B’Tselem brings investigative reporting to the front lines, and then to the world (thanks, YouTube). It’s also an empowering outlet for the camerawomen-activists, for whom career opportunities are otherwise as rare as are opportunities for artistic expression.
Women are also front and center in a number of SFJFF’s stronger narrative entries. Writer-director Talya Lavie won Best Narrative Feature and the Nora Ephron Prize at Tribeca for Zero Motivation, a pitch-black comedy about female frenemies jammed into close quarters while doin’ time in the Israeli Defense Forces. Most movies prefer to show soldiers in combat, and Zero Motivation does just that — if “combat” means fighting to avoid boring admin work, to achieve the highest score at Minesweeper, to fuck up the most extravagantly, or with staple guns. “There’s a war going on — get a grip!” a superior officer reminds self-centered slacker Daffi (Nelly Tager), and that’s more or less the only current-affairs statement uttered in a film that’s mostly concerned with the agonizing task of achieving responsible young adulthood.
Another coming-of-age tale unfolds in Hanna’s Journey, director and co-writer Julia von Heinz’s drama about a Berlin business-school student (Karoline Schuch) whose résumé is lacking in the sort of warm-fuzzy community service that’ll elevate her in the cutthroat job market. Her estranged mother, who works with a German group placing volunteers in Israel, proves unexpectedly helpful, and Hanna is soon winging her way to work with developmentally disabled adults in Tel Aviv, leaving her sleek wardrobe and yuppie boyfriend behind.
Hanna’s Journey has all the potential to be a pat story about a German woman coming to terms not just with her own life choices, but with complicated family history (hint: it involves World War II) only a trip to Israel can unearth. There’s also a conveniently hunky Israeli (Doron Amit) in the mix. But! Schuch, who resembles Jessica Chastain, brings authenticity to a character who morphs from superficial to soulful in what might otherwise seem like too-rapid time. She also benefits from a subtle, nicely detailed script, which avoids stereotypes and oversimplification, and is not without moments of wicked humor (“German girls are easy — it’s the guilt complex!”)
Less successful at achieving subtelty is For a Woman, writer-director Diane Kurys’ latest autobiographical drama. Here, she explores her parents’ troubled marriage, inspired by a photograph of an uncle nobody in the family wanted to discuss. The fictionalized version begins as Kurys stand-in Anne (Sylvie Testud) and older sister Tania (Julie Ferrier) have just buried their mother, who was long-divorced from the girls’ ailing father.
For a Woman takes place mostly in flashbacks to post-war Lyon, where young Jewish couple Léna (Mélanie Thierry) and Michel (Benoit Magimel) settle and have Tania soon after. Russia-born Michel is a devoted Communist, and he’s overjoyed — yet understandably suspicious — when long-lost brother Jean (Nicolas Duvauchelle) suddenly appears in France, having somehow escaped the USSR. Michel’s political paranoia blinds him to the fact that Léna — who married him to escape a death camp (he didn’t know her, but couldn’t resist her icy blond beauty) — is bored with her stay-at-home-mom life, and has taken an unwholesome interest in his mysterious little bro.
There’s more to the story than that, of course, but For a Woman never goes much deeper than a made-for-TV melodrama: entertaining in the moment, but ultimately forgettable. And even gorgeous period details (Michel’s car is to die for) can’t make up for a frame story that feels rather wan next to the film’s cloak-and-dagger main plotline. 2
SAN FRANCISCO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
July 24-Aug. 10, most shows $10-$14
Various Bay Area venues
SFJFF Given the seemingly endless one-step-forward, two-steps-back nature of peace negotiations in the Middle East, it seems a fair bet that the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (July 24-Aug. 10) will never stop being among the most politically charged among umpteen annual Bay Area film festivals. But considerably older than the state of Israel — and all attendant controversies — is an aspect of Jewish history that reliably provides a counterbalance to the inevitable heavyweight documentaries and dramas. That would be the ubiquity of Jewish talent in popular entertainment, as performers, presenters, and in every other necessary role.
An old saw that never exactly went away but nonetheless has come back with a vengeance in our alleged post-racial era is that perpetual complaint of the envious, paranoid, and prejudiced that “the Jews run Hollywood.” While it’s true that the movie biz has always has employed a large number of Jewish people, anti-Semites have only themselves to blame for originating this state of affairs. It was the entertainment industry’s lack of respectability in its fledgling years that created an opening for an industrious and imaginative minority who were frequently discouraged from sullying more prestigious art forms with their participation. For decades (arguably even now) many stars, studio moguls, and others tried to downplay or entirely hide their ethnic identity; the silent era, in particular, was a hotbed of biographical revisionism among Hollywood players. Nonetheless, Jewish business, tech, design, and acting talents established deep roots in moviemaking well before Hollywood as idea or physical entity existed, precisely because flickers were initially viewed as a lowbrow novelty unfit for the higher working castes. A very sad microcosm of that semi-hidden Jewish industry presence’s early heights and depths is offered offered by David Cairns and Paul Duane’s multinational documentary Natan, about a hugely important yet lamentably overlooked figure in French cinema. Romanian-born Bernard Natan went from projectionist to cinematographer, producer, film laboratory owner, and more in the medium’s early days. An innovator in the use of sound, color, wide screen, and other techniques, he helped rebuild French film production whole in the aftermath of World War I (in which he volunteered for military service, despite not yet being a legal French citizen).
His extraordinary, tireless enterprise made him an ideal candidate to take over pioneering and powerful, but financially teetering, Pathé Studios in 1929. He virtually rescued it from ruin, while steering it successfully into the talkie era. But despite his efforts, Pathé went bankrupt at the height of the Depression in 1935. Natan was the designated fall guy because he’d used legally questionable means in an attempt to cover losses created largely by people and institutions outside his control. There was a strong whiff of then-increasingly-fashionable anti-Semitism to his pillory: He was accused not only of fraud, but of hiding his Jewish heritage, and of being a pornographer.
The latter charge was accepted with remarkable gullibility by historians until quite recently. But as this doc suggests, painting Natan as a predatory perv making potentially career-ending stag reels makes as little sense realistically as it makes great sense propagandically. (We also see how vague the resemblance is between him and the dude or dudes in “smokers” he’d said to have performed in.) That taint helped usher him to prison in Nazi-occupied France, then to an unrecorded demise at Auschwitz. Shamefully, as late as 1948 his estate was still being sued by an invigorated Pathé. Natan is a belated reclamation of a forgotten cultural giant’s abused reputation.
Whether or not he ever actually had anything to do with filmed erotica, Natan would have been amazed by the career of another cosmopolitan Jew launched just a few years after his life’s end. Wiktor Ericsson’s A Life in Dirty Movies pays bemused biographical homage to what Annie Sprinkle calls “the Ingmar Bergman of porn.” Joe Sarno’s micro-budgeted features targeting “the raincoat crowd” from 1962 onward were exceptionally moody, complex and tortured psychodramas focused on being “as hot as you could without showing anything.” He met his soul mate in aspiring off-off-Broadway actress Peggy, who “could discuss John Ford and Truffaut and Renoir” while juggling all the logistical and fiscal details he was naturally oblivious to as a genu-wine artist.
It’s hard now to imagine the mixed excitement and bewilderment that must have been experienced by 42nd Street grindhouse patrons as they witnessed the likes of 1962’s horrors-of-swingerdom melodrama Sin in the Suburbs, or 1967’s claustrophobic self-portrait-of-a-neurotic-artist All the Sins of Sodom. Strangely not glimpsed in this documentary is the artistic apex of Sarno’s color softcore career, 1972’s Pirandello-esque Young Playthings.
The marketplace soon muscled him into hardcore. He was unhappy enough chronicling graphic XXX action to seriously risk financial ruin — and Peggy, still very much the histrionic type, is seen here swanning about as protector of his legacy. It’s lovely when his unexpectedly big 2010 New York Times obit affirms at last to her that he’s “famous like everybody else,” just as he’d always hoped, and as her scandalized Establishment parents figured he’d never be.
Other features in this year’s SFJFF area focus less on impresarios than on performers. The festival’s Freedom of Expression Award goes to the subject of Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholem Aleichem. This is one of those occasional, simultaneously valuable and dubious documentaries that enlarge upon a well-traveled celebrity solo stage showcase (Sholem Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears). The 90-year-old Bikel has done Aleichem’s characters (especially Tevye the Dairyman) so much that the excerpts here feel worn into a groove that congratulates both veteran performer and veteran viewers who recognize bits they’ve already seen. Who can object? He’s like a tabby grooming itself, essential adorability undeniable.
But he never allows himself an unrehearsed moment in what comes off first as an awfully self-congratulatory self-portrait, and secondly as a workmanlike salute to the single greatest shaper of all American Jewish cultural tropes. Shoes is the kind of proud, way-back machine tribute that makes you feel like you’re watching its 12th pledge week replay. Why are the likes of Gilbert Gottfried and Dr. Ruth the principal interviewees here? Because everybody else has moved on, maybe. Aleichem will always be classic, but to what extent do contemporary US Jews recognize themselves in his worldview?
Other entertainers showcased in SFJFF 2014 include The Secret Life of Uri Geller: Psychic Spy?, about the Tel Aviv-born “spoonbender” phenomenon. This UK documentary assumes a campy, skeptical stance re: his paranormal fame, while actually providing evidence that he’s far from a fraud. Go figure. An even more swinging figure of the era is the subject of Quality Balls: The David Steinberg Story. The dapper latter epitomized smart, improv-based standup comedy on a national stage once he’d left Chicago’s Second City for TV — surviving the 1969 cancellation his edgily political material purportedly forced upon the hugely popular The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Those looking for an additional peek behind the comedic curtain might also check out documentary feature Comedy Warriors, about disabled Iraq and Afghanistan veterans taking the standup stage; Little Horribles: An Evening With Amy York Rubin, drawn from the popular online series; and thematic program “Jews in Shorts.”
Then there’s this year’s major excavation from the treasure-trove of forgotten US Yiddish cinema: 1938’s Mamele, in which late pixie queen Molly Picon plays a cheerfully suffering yenta Cinderella awaiting justice for her many sacrifices to a selfish family. She cooks, she cleans, she sings — what more do you want? Of course there’s a happy ending. 2
SAN FRANCISCO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
July 24-Aug. 10, most shows $10-$14
Various Bay Area venues
SUPER EGO Hitch up your skirt and strap on your skates: It’s another crazy weekend full of too much to do. The bonkers three-day-long Sunset Campout riverside rave and Sunday’s gay fetish pig roast Up Your Alley Fair are only the start. (I’m totally stealing my Seattle buddy DJ Nark’s “inflatable yellow rubber ducky inner tube attached to leather harness suspenders” outfit idea so I can hit both, with a pair of winged Saucony Progrid running shoes — and nothing else — in honor of this weekend’s SF Marathon.)
Sunset Campout (Fri/25-Sun/27, $70–$150, Belden, CA. www.sunsetcampout.com), put on by our own illustrious Sunset crew, is pretty much the electronic dance music festival of my dreams, with a huge roster of acts like Soul Clap, Guillaume and the Coutu Dumonts, Danny Daze, Spacetime Continuum, Traxx, Lovefingers, and dozens of local heroes. And Up Your Alley (Sun/27, 11am-6pm, donation requested. 10th St and Folsom, SF. www.folsomstreetevents.org) is Folsom Street Fair’s gayer little sister, proving that most homosexuals need but a tiny strip of clothing to make a lasting fashion statement. Both events will feature wiener roasts.
One of my favorite local DJs, dirtybird crewmember J.Phlip, turns her poppin’ bass up for the United Hearts fundraiser, helping to buy school buses for kids in Ghana. DJ Khan from Bristol, UK, and our own Ryuryu of Soundpieces and several members of the Surefire crew will make sure your heart rumbles in the right place.
Thu/24, 9:30pm-2:30am, $15–$50. Public Works, SF. www.publicsf.com
World Cup what? The world may have moved on ever-so-briefly from boys in shorts chasing little white balls. But this regular party, celebrating the funky breaks and beats of Brazil and beyond, will have you waving your arms and singing. Special guest Tom Thump, whose crates run so deep they pierce the Earth’s mantle, presides. With live percussion and DJs Elan and Zamba.
Fri/25, 10pm, $5–$10. Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. www.elbo.com
Yummy UK bass and future sounds by way of this LA fave, one of the early players in the ’90s R&B dance floor revival. Support by a host of others, including Elliot Lipp, Lindsay Lowend, and Chiller Whale.
Fri/25, 10pm-4am, $15–$20. 1015 Folsom, SF. www.1015.com
Irish techno, thy name is Phil. Mr. Kieran has spent a couple decades repping Belfast with some truly fun, truly stylish stuff. (Latest killer slice “Computer Games” comes with a video worthy of cult flick The Visitor.) He’ll be making his debut at the Lights Down Low party.
Fri/25, 10pm-3am, $10–$15. Monarch, 101 Sixth St, SF. www.monarchsf.com
You know you still know all the words to “Money in the Ghetto” — sing out with Oakland’s finest and his full band.
Fri/25, 9pm-3am, $20–$25. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com
The Israeli technician (with such thick, silky-looking hair!) keeps his tempos at a deep and steady trot — the better for building excellently textured rides through sensual, emotive soundscapes. Good, heady stuff.
Sat/26, 9:30pm, $15. Audio, 316 11th St., SF. www.audiosf.com
Those neon sad-emoji kidz from the 120 Minutes monthly are back with special guests Teen Witch, summoning all dark and lovely laptop electro-ghosts, and Banjee Report, an outstanding vogue-rap outfit from Chicago.
Sat/26, 10pm, $5–$10. Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. www.elbo.com
This awesome local atmospheric electro pop trio just released nifty Night Colors EP. They’ll be kicking it up live with ethereal matriarch Metal Mother and catchy shoegaze-hop Magicks for a truly magickal night of SF sounds.
Sun/27, 8pm, $5–$8. Brick and Mortar, 1710 Mission, SF. www.brickandmortarmusic.com
DANCE What the future holds for the most recent crop of dancer-choreographers to graduate from SAFEhouse for the Performing Arts’ Resident Artist Workshop remains to be seen. They may return to the comfort of the studio space at the Garage on Bryant Street for another session of work, work, work. Others might strike out on their own locally, while a few may take off for places like Amsterdam and Lisbon, as other RAW grads have done.
On the basis of five of the possible 10 programs seen last weekend during seventh annual Summer Performance Festival, or SPF7, at ODC Theater, SAFEhouse is doing more than saving the arts from extinction; it is nourishing an extraordinarily broad spectrum of choreographic voices.
Still, SPF’s currently established presentation format needs some rethinking. Scheduling three programs per night, each with a different time slot in two different venues, appears to disadvantage those performing later. Audiences dropped off noticeably during the evening. Since not everyone was able to show a 45-minute work as planned, returning to the more traditional grouping in one venue appears worth considering.
To watch expressions of untamed abandon and fierce control, first in Cali & Co’s Suspect and You Are Here, and then in similar yet so differently realized impulses in Miriam Wolodarski’s Fall Work, was enough to get one’s head spinning. Cali’s excellent Suspect is a tight, highly athletic sextet in which pedestrian moves — a lot of walking and running — build a sense of suspense that becomes increasingly ominous when glances become stares, and accidental bumps turn into shoves. Choreographed in short, intense phrases that get cut off or melt into duets and trios, Suspect is seamless. You, a work in progress, fascinated by the individuality of its sections: a woman systematically folding and unfolding her body; dancers trying to get a foot over their head; versions of boxing thrusts. Hopefully, we’ll see a completed version soon.
Because of the oddities of the programming, I saw Wolodarski’s chaotic Fall Work twice. She is a wild woman whose anarchy is meticulously timed as she works her way toward a gradual revealing of herself as a mount of raw flesh. It’s a piece that embraces physicality to the point of insanity. At first Wolodarski disappears into the shakes and twitches that emanate from her raincoat; at the end, half naked, she collapses after having flung herself into the air again and again. Fall sports some tenderness in a tortuous coupling, and a sense of humor with which the choreographer tries to keep us at arm’s length.
Closing that evening was Ronja Ver’s solo, Dear America, a piece she describes as a “complex declaration of love to the post economic collapse United States of America.” Quite a topic. Ver is a strong, at times mesmerizing performer, more interesting to watch than her choreography. Dear has some well defined theatrical impulses, as when an outstretched hand acquires ambiguous power, or a trembling motion evolves into different characters, or her take on kissing the ground of one’s country. But the piece needs to be better defined.
SPF7 opened with Jaara Dance Project, a young company that works on the intersection of experimental and traditional African dance. To see these strong, so very individual women express themselves with a contemporary sensibility rooted in African dance values made you want to see more of what they do.
The programming, however, was a little problematic. Musically speaking, having the two parts of Red Clay divided by Other Halves, a duet set to Arvo Part’s “Spiegel,” was jarring. Considering the score, Martha L. Zepeda and Kao Vey Saephanh also took a rather stiff, awkward approach to their duet.
In the opening Red Clay: Not One, choreographer Baindu Conté-Coomber introduced lacy hand gestures for a trio of women on folding chairs that they later carried on their heads like water jugs. The solos showcased Zepeda in an angular dramatic vein, while Jaade Green, gifted with a strong liquid back, performed with exuberant lyricism.
In Red Clay: Not Two, Conté-Coomber took over the stage in a fleet and finely detailed solo that celebrated her identity with its recurring refrain of “I am not afraid of my life…” Fragmentary pieces of text read by volunteers created a bond between the audience and the dancer.
In another time slot, Anata Project was co-billed with Unum Dance. Both companies deserve to be seen again. Claudia Anata Hubiak’s quietly circular and well-shaped HomeBody seemed pushed along an inexorable trajectory toward individuation that got re-absorbed into a communal identity. Ashille Kirby was the soloist who soared for but a moment. Unum’s short Working Title showcased Diana Broker, a fine expressive dancer, and a hooded Michael Michalski as … her memory? Her shadow? Her inspiration? Take your pick. 2
Big soda industry players including Pepsico and Coca Cola spent at least $2.5 million two years ago to defeat Richmond’s sugary beverage tax initiative, which lost in a landslide. Richmond’s ballot measure to tax sodas and curb obesity drowned in a sweet, carbonated tide of money.
Now, San Francisco has its own struggle with sugar and the industry that pushes it, and proponents of the measure intend for the city to be ground zero for a national movement.
“If we can pass this ballot initiative in November,” Sup. Eric Mar said in a hearing last week, “San Francisco would be the first to challenge the big soda companies, their lobbyists, and their front groups.”
San Franciscans may never find out how much money the American Beverage Association is spending on those front groups to defeat the local sugary beverage tax. The Board of Supervisors narrowly passed the measure Tuesday, which will soon trigger campaign finance laws.
But that will require disclosure of money spent in the future, and may not be retroactive. The Fair Political Practice Commission requires campaign funding prior to filing periods be disclosed, but it’s an open question whether the ABA will ever disclose how much money it spent from January until now.
The soda industry hired a small army of high-profile public relations firms to fight the tax measure since January. But the San Francisco Ethics Commission says some PR firms’ actions may be legally construed as grassroots organizing, not campaign spending that is subject to disclosure laws.
The Associated Press gives an overview of SF’s proposed soda tax.
Additionally, public relations firms hired by the beverage association don’t have to register as lobbyists since they’re not directly contacting politicians.
The ABA contracted at least three firms to fight the sugary beverage tax: BMWL and Partners, Rodriguez Strategies, and Alza Strategies. The beverage association promised BMWL payment of $22,500 for the first and second quarters of 2014 for their work opposing the soda tax, according to Ethics Commission filings.
But Rodriguez Strategies and Alza Strategies payments are harder to track. Rodriguez Strategies, based in Southern California, fought against a state measure to fix warning labels on soda at the behest of the ABA, but there’s no way to trace the PR firm’s funding related to the San Francisco soda tax, yet.
The first time we met a Rodriguez Strategies consultant was at a soda tax hearing in April. The Board of Supervisors chamber was filled to the brim with opponents wearing red T-shirts. The Guardian watched as BMWL and Partners employees handed out red shirts emblazoned with the slogan “STOP Unfair Beverage Taxes,” but they weren’t alone. In the corner was a slickly dressed woman handing out talking points to the opposition. She identified herself as Jessica Borek, a consultant with Rodriguez Strategies.
“I would just go and look at the filings online, it should all be in accordance with the law,” she told us, in a phone interview. “That was the first event I was at. All the information on what we do is at RodriguezStrategies.com.”
We asked her how much the ABA paid the firm. “You can go onto the website and see the extent of our work with that,” she said. But the information isn’t there, because legally it doesn’t have to be.
The same black hole of campaign finance information is true of Alza Strategies. Roger Salazar, the firm’s president, told us he mainly coordinates interviews for media, helping them reach out to opposition to the beverage tax.
“We don’t engage in direct lobbying efforts,” he said. When we asked him if he’d disclose how much the ABA is paying him, he declined. “Wouldn’t Maggie say the same thing?” he said, referring to Maggie Muir, who runs the Choose Health SF campaign in favor of the soda tax. Actually, Maggie did disclose her funding.
Jessica Borek, a consultant for Rodriguez Strategies, sitting next to a “Stop the Unfair Beverage Tax” supporter at City Hall, in April. Photo by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez.
From January to March of this year, records show the pro-soda tax campaign received $48,000 in contributions. But Muir estimates that’s a fraction of what the beverage industry spent.
“It flies against the spirit of the law to not know who pays for all this,” she said. Muir estimates the ABA spent at least $400,000 in San Francisco against the sugary beverage tax so far. She would know, as she used to work for BMWL and Partners, but left the firm around 2002, she told us.
Her estimate of the ABA’s spending so far is: $134,000 on direct mailers, $64,000 on paid calls, $25,000 on Facebook ads, $45,000 on online ads, $90,000 on paid organizers, and $90,000 on consultant fees.
But Muir was not aware that Rodriguez Strategies and Alza Strategies were also working for ABA in San Francisco, causing her estimate to rise.
Sup. Scott Wiener, one of the main sponsors of the tax, told us the hidden money is a big problem. “They try to pretend they’re the champions of low income communities,” he said, “but we know they’re marketing them products that make them sick. [ABA] ignores liver disease, heart disease, obesity — the diseases clinically linked to these beverages.”
BMWL and Partners has tried to paint the soda tax as an affordability issue. “Their mailer linking the cost of a Dr. Pepper to the evictions of San Franciscans was offensive to a lot of people,” Wiener said.
When we tried to contact Chuck Finnie, a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter who now works for BMWL, he directed us to another colleague who has not yet called the Guardian back. When we reported on BMWL’s misrepresentation of local business opposition to the measure (“Kick the can,” Feb. 25), he told us, “This is bullshit, the gloves are off.”
Sources tell us the ABA wasn’t pleased with Finnie’s quote or tone. But the campaign — which is expected to be one of the best funded and highest profile of the fall elections — certainly won’t be lack for spokespeople.
Chances are, you’ll find Jonathan Dean at the SoMa West skatepark. Dean, 23, is a San Francisco native who spends the majority of his free time at the newly opened skatepark located on Duboce Avenue between Valencia and Otis.
“I’ve been here every single day, except the first day the park opened,” Dean told the Guardian. “Everybody here loves this park. It feels like you’re skating on a street.”
The hum of overhead traffic on the freeway makes conversation difficult at times, though many of the skaters aren’t here to talk. Some stand off to the side smoking or drinking 40s in paper bags. But in the end, everyone comes to the park to skate. There’s constant activity, never a moment without someone flying into the air or grinding on a ledge, and the sound of skateboard wheels screeching on sharp turns regularly pierces the air.
The park itself is spacious, covering an entire block. Graffiti lines some of the walls and ramps, but the majority of the park has been left untouched, at least for now.
“I remember when I was 13, 14, dreaming about this park, and now it’s finally here,” said Flash Canet, 20, a San Francisco native. “I’ve been doing this since like the 7th, 8th grade, and it’s all I know, really. This is my life, this is my passion.”
The park cost more than $2.2 million, according to the Department of Public Works, which initiated the conceptual planning phase in March 2009. But already, problems are beginning to spring up, even though the park opened on July 1. For one, the graffiti that has started to line the walls and ramps is hazardous for the skaters.
“When you take krylon [a type of aerosol paint] and put it on glassy concrete, your wheels are not going to stick on it,” said Ryan Barlow, 22, a skater who moved to the area eight months ago. “It’s not even that the graffiti looks bad. It’s just really dangerous.”
Barlow says the graffiti issue will inevitably turn into a bigger problem, as is the case with many skate parks, but the skaters mostly seem to love the new park.
“It’s really easy to meet people here,” Canet said. “Skateboarding brings so many different kinds of people together to form a common bond, and that’s the beautiful thing about it. It’s like music, it just brings people together.”
All photos by Tim Daw Photography.
In the small, colorful Precita Valley Community Center, a woman clutches a black ceramic goblet, circling a teenage girl with wisps of incense, and repeats the act with the 60 or so attendees. The spiritual cleansing ritual is much needed. Afterward, the San Franciscans will set their minds to saving the lives of children.
Nearly 50,000 Central American children crossed the Mexican border since October, according to federal data, fleeing targeted violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. This recent surge has hit home, as hundreds of those young refugees, often unaccompanied, seek asylum through immigration courts in San Francisco.
The courts often decide between life and death: Do the children stay in the safety of our sanctuary city, or return to countries from which they fled violence and chaos?
Jose Artiga, executive director of the Salvadoran Humanitarian Aid, Research and Education Foundation, told the crowd a story of life in El Salvador.
“A boy of only 11 years old waited for his grandfather one day,” he said, in Spanish. “A gang captured him, and the community organized to search for the boy. They found the child, but in six parts. The grandfather said, ‘How can I bring my grandchild back to his mother in six parts?’ This was a child. The gang showed up at the funeral, and would not let the community bury him.”
Some say the rising power of gangs sparked this surge in immigration. As President Barack Obama struggles with a bitterly partisan and gridlocked Congress to find a solution, US cities are dealing with the impacts of the overburdened immigration court system.
Now politicians of all partisan stripes, activists, and families are coming together to help the child refugees. Just last week, Sup. David Campos’ resolution to find additional aid for overburdened immigration services unanimously passed the Board of Supervisors. The next step, he told the Guardian, is to determine how best to use funds to help these children.
At the Precita Valley Community Center and beyond, activists call for that funding to reach attorneys, without which these kids will almost certainly be sent home into harm’s way.
The refugees travel far. Children fleeing violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala trek through Mexico to cross the US border, and some die in the attempt. Those who live and are discovered by Border Patrol officers along the Southwest border are held temporarily in crowded, cold detention centers in McAllen, Texas, or Nogales, Ariz.
Images of these detention centers show groups of children lying on hard floors in thin blankets, and some advocates for the refugees reported feces and urine soaking the floors. The young refugees tell officials where they have family connections, and are flown to immigration courts across the country.
One such court is in San Francisco.
In 2005, San Francisco had 227 new active deportation proceedings for unaccompanied children, according to federal data obtained by Syracuse University’s TRAC Immigration project. That number was stable until 2012 when it jumped to 450 new cases. In 2013, the number jumped again, to 820.
San Francisco now has over 1,900 pending juvenile immigration cases, according to TRAC. Most of those children are Salvadoran, Honduran, and Guatemalan. The surge is pushing organizations that help these children to the breaking point.
Lariza Dugan-Cuadra, executive director of the Central American Resource Center, knows one thing for sure: “Things have been crazy.”
CARECEN is one of many organizations providing legal representation to Central American child refugees in San Francisco. Two attorneys and two paralegals handle the bulk of cases, which jumped from 20 children a month to 60.
“All a child is given is a court date,” Dugan-Cuadra told the Guardian. “While the US guarantees the right to court, it does not guarantee the right to representation.”
While US citizens have a constitutional right to representation by an attorney, noncitizens in Immigration Court do not. And when organizations like CARECEN can’t provide an attorney, the child loses.
“We’ve heard cases where a 6-year-old will go before a judge having to represent themselves,” she said. “The judges are throwing their hands up saying ‘Are you serious!?'”
Data obtained by TRAC Immigration backs up her claim.
Nationwide, only 52 percent of unaccompanied children are represented by an attorney in deportation court proceedings.
With an attorney, judges rule in a juvenile’s favor to stay about half the time, TRAC’s research found. Without an attorney? Only one in 10 children are granted asylum.
No legal representation means no hope. The ACLU filed a class-action suit against the United States earlier this month on behalf of unrepresented child immigrants, alleging just that.
“The onus has been hard on nonprofit providers and pro-bono attorneys,” Dugan-Cuadra said, because they know the stakes. Legal Services for Children, Catholic Charities, and the Asian Law Caucus are among the organizations calling for more aid.
Many of the attorneys are experiencing burnout. One we talked to was on a vacation for her mental health. Studies by the American Bar Association show judges are burning out too, and things are only getting worse: California has 77,000 pending immigration cases backlogged in its courts.
But locally, the children bear the worst of this: TRAC Immigration’s data shows only 71 of the new 830 unaccompanied children in San Francisco were represented by an attorney as of June 2014.
And without representation, many will be sent home to violence.
REFUGEES OR IMMIGRANTS?
The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said the children fleeing Central American countries should officially be considered refugees in need of asylum, a claim with legal ramifications President Obama so far has hesitated to make.
“We’re witnessing a complex situation in which children are leaving home for a variety of reasons, including poverty, the desire to join family, and the growing influence of trafficking networks,” Shelly Pitterman, UNHCR’s regional representative in the United States, said in a press statement. “Within this movement there are also children who are fleeing situations of violence at the hands of transnational organized criminal groups and powerful local gangs.”
Those fleeing violence and persecution, said Pitterman, will require access to asylum determination procedures and will need long-term protection. Others should be sent home, she said, and assisted with reintegration.
But some can’t find refuge anywhere at home, no matter where they go.
“My brother’s son was kidnapped eight years ago by extortionists,” one Salvadoran woman at the Precita center told the Guardian, declining to give her name out of fear for her family’s safety. Her brother moved to other cities, but the gangs continued to harass him and his family in provinces throughout El Salvador.
“He got letters threatening to kidnap his child. ‘We know where you live, we know where your child goes to school,'” she said. Her nephew is now 14. The last time she visited him she saw something that chilled her.
“He was approached by gangs to be recruited. I witnessed that. One day after when we were in the car, my nephew saw the gangs in another car. He hid on the floor and started to shake.”
The woman turned her head away and held back tears.
“My brother said ‘I have to take you out of here.'”
Now her nephew is somewhere safe in the United States, she said, though she would not say where. But the reason he left is clear.
“These kids don’t want to be the next dead body on the street,” Clarisa Sanchez, a Board of Immigration’s representative from Catholic Charities CYO told the Guardian.
Nationally, Republicans are calling for the mass deportation of these children. “I won’t stand idly by while our citizens are under assault and little children from Central America are detained in squalor,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said this week, as he announced deployment of 1,000 National Guard troops along the Texas border.
But many pin the origins of the crisis squarely on the United States.
Salvadorans are familiar with violence and cruelty. In 1932, more than 30,000 Salvadorans were slaughtered in a peasant revolt called la matanza: the slaughter. Nearly 75,000 civilians died in El Salvador’s bloody civil war, from 1980-1992.
The US government intervened in that war, sending government aid to the Salvadoran government. Now the US has a hand in today’s violence in Central America, some say, as our country’s drug habits fuel cartels throughout the region. Those cartels are arming Central American gangs, whichObama admitted in a press conference last year.
“The United States recognizes that we’ve got responsibilities; that much of the violence in the region is fueled by demand for illegal drugs, including in the United States,” the president said.
Obama requested $3.7 billion emergency funding that would bring at least $64 million to immigration courts, but also at least $1.5 billion to border security and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a troubling addition to needed funding.
Back at the Precita Valley Community Center, Jose Cartagena pled for legal aid at the border. Cartagena is intimately familiar with the need: He fled El Salvador’s civil war over 30 years ago. As he crossed the Tucson desert, 13 of his fellow border-crossers died in the blazing southwestern heat. Only Cartagena survived. Now he’s a representative for the National Network of Salvadorans in the Exterior in San Francisco.
He called for justice.
“We have to help these kids find their families or sponsors,” he said. “If we don’t provide legal support now, the Obama administration may deport all of them. We can’t wait until it’s too late.”
OPINION Achieving a more sustainable San Francisco means a city running on clean power. It also means maintaining our infrastructure to keep San Francisco functioning.
Right now, our city can do better on both fronts, and legislation we are sponsoring will help move us in the right direction by increasing our use of clean, hydroelectric power while generating more revenue for infrastructure investment in our streetlight and power systems.
San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy power system produces a massive amount of clean, hydroelectric power, yet our city uses very little of this energy despite our stated goal of moving toward 100 percent clean power by 2030. Moreover, the operator of this power system, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC), has massive unmet infrastructure needs. Our streetlights, most of which are owned by the PUC, are badly in need of upgrade, and PUC’s power delivery system has almost a billion dollars in deferred maintenance.
To address these challenges, we are authoring legislation to bring more revenue-generating, clean power to San Francisco.
For over 100 years, the PUC has provided 100 percent clean, hydroelectric power to municipal agencies, including Muni, the San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco General Hospital, police and fire stations, libraries, and our public schools. Using this clean public power saves taxpayers millions versus what we would pay if we were to purchase PG&E power. Hetch Hetchy generates 1.43 million megawatt hours of clean power a year and is 100 percent greenhouse-gas free. This is a tremendous asset, but it has been underutilized.
Any excess public power that the PUC generates and doesn’t use for governmental customers is now sold on the wholesale market at a significantly reduced rate. Retail rates are around four times higher than wholesale rates. This means that with every megawatt sold at wholesale rates, the PUC is losing out on significant revenue to address its aging infrastructure needs.
If the PUC obtains more customers paying retail rates, we can generate more revenue to upgrade and improve our failing streetlight system and address the power system’s massive deferred capital needs. The PUC estimates that for every 10 megawatts sold to new retail customers — rather than selling that power on the wholesale market — we will see a net revenue increase of $4 million per year.
That is why we are sponsoring legislation to bring the PUC more retail customers and hence more infrastructure investment. The legislation provides the PUC with the right of first refusal to be the power provider for new development projects in San Francisco, including large private projects. This will allow the PUC to determine if it feasibly can serve as the power provider for these new developments, and in doing so expand the agency’s retail customer base.
Allowing the PUC the flexibility to add retail customers will move us toward a more financially sustainable public power system, while providing 100 percent greenhouse-gas free power to our city and generating significant resources for infrastructure investment, including for our streetlight system.
Some have raised questions about what this legislation means for the future of CleanPowerSF, our previously approved clean energy program that has been stalled by the PUC Commission’s refusal to set rates. These two public power measures are not in any way mutually exclusive, and both can move forward. We are both supporters of CleanPowerSF, and we want it to succeed.
We know the PUC can provide reliable, greenhouse-gas-free power that works for its customers. Anyone who disagrees can just look at San Francisco International Airport. If the PUC can reliably provide power to serve one of the most significant airports in the world, powering new housing and commercial developments won’t be a problem.
A sustainable, clean energy future requires a broad range of solutions. This proposal is one that will deliver our city more clean power and make our power enterprise stronger by redirecting energy revenues back into the system. Let’s put our clean power to work for San Francisco.
Scott Wiener and London Breed are members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
When Susan King attends the Aug. 24 Sunday Streets in the Mission District — the 50th incarnation of this car-free community gathering, coming the week before her 50th birthday — it will be her last as director of an event she started in 2008.
That successful run was made possible by King’s history as a progressive community organizer who also knew how to do fundraising, a rare combination that has made Sunday Streets more than just a bicycle event, a street faire, or a closure of streets to cars that the city imposes on its neighborhoods on a rotating basis.
Instead, King took the ciclovia concept that started in Bogota, Colombia in the late ’70s — the idea was creating temporary open space on streets usually dominated by cars (See “Towards Carfree Cities: Everybody into the streets,” SFBG Politics blog, 6/23/08) — and used it as a tool for building community and letting neighborhoods decide what they wanted from the event.
“I regard the organizing as community organizing work rather than event organizing, and that’s significant,” King told the Guardian. “We’re creating the canvas that community organizations can use.”
San Francisco was the third US city to borrow the ciclovia concept to create open streets events — Portland, Ore, was the first in June 2008, followed quickly by New York City — but the first to do one that didn’t include food trucks and commercial vending, which Sunday Streets doesn’t allow.
“It’s not a street fair, it’s about meeting your neighbors and trying new things,” King said, referring to free activities that include dance, yoga, and youth cycling classes and performances. “It’s a really different way of seeing your city. A street without cars looks and feels different.”
Now, after seeing how Sunday Streets can activate neighborhoods and build community, and watching the concept she helped pioneer be adopted in dozens of other cities, King says she’s ready for the next level.
“I want to apply what I know on a larger scale, ideally statewide,” King said of her future plans. “This really opened my eyes up to the possibilities.”
WORKING WITH COMMUNITIES
After a lifetime of progressive activism — from grassroots political campaigns to city advisory committees to working with the Green Party — King knew the value of listening to various community stakeholders and earning their trust.
“We try to be culturally competent and work with each neighborhood,” King said. “We want to work with the neighborhood instead of dropping something on the neighborhood.”
That distinction has been an important one, particularly in neighborhoods such as Bayview and the Western Addition, where there is a long history of City Hall officials and political do-gooders trying to impose plans on neighborhoods without their input and consent.
“We worked really closely together and she gave me a lot of leeway to do Sunday Streets in a way that it worked for the community,” said Rebecca Gallegos, who managed public relations for the Bayview Opera House 2010-2013. “I can’t say enough great words about Susan. She was a truly a mentor to me. They’re losing someone really great.”
The first Sunday Streets on Aug. 31, 2008, extended from the Embarcadero into Bayview, opening up that neighborhood to many new visitors. King cited a survey conducted at the event showing 54 percent of respondents had never been to Bayview before.
“Susan wore a lot of hats. Not only did she create community in all the neighborhoods in San Francisco, but she knew how to go after the money,” Gallegos told us. “She walks the walk and doesn’t just talk the talk.”
Meaghan Mitchell, who worked with the Fillmore Community Benefits District, also said King’s skills and perspective helped overcome the neighborhood’s skepticism about City Hall initiatives.
“Susan came in and was very warm and open to our concerns. She was a joy to work with,” said Mitchell, who went on to work with King on creating Play Streets 2013, an offshoot of Sunday Streets focused on children.
The neighborhood was still reeling from a massive redevelopment effort by the city that forced out much of its traditional African American population and left a trail of broken promises and mistrust. Mitchell said King had to spend a lot of time in community meetings and working with stakeholders to convince them Sunday Streets could be good for the neighborhood — efforts that paid off as the community embraced and helped shape the event.
“It was nice to know the Fillmore corridor could be included in something like this because we were used to not being included,” Mitchell told us. “Community organizing is not an easy job at all because you’re dealing with lots different personalities, but Susan is a pro.”
It wasn’t community organizing that got King the job as much as her history with fundraising and business development for campaigns and organizations, ranging from the San Francisco Symphony to the San Francisco Women’s Building.
At the time, when city officials and nonprofit activists with the Mode Shift Working Group were talking about doing a ciclovia, King was worried that it would get caught up in the “bike-lash” against cyclists at a time when a lawsuit halted work on all bike projects in the city.
“I thought that would never fly,” King said. “We started Sunday Streets at the height of the anti-bike hysteria.”
But her contract with WalkSF to work on Masonic Avenue pedestrian improvements was coming to an end, she needed a job, and Sunday Streets needed a leader who could raise money to launch the event without city funds.
“I know how to raise money because I had a background in development,” said King, who raised the seed money for the first event with donations from the big health care organizations: Kaiser, Sutter Health/CPMC, and Catholic Healthcare West. And as a fiscal sponsor, she chose a nonprofit organization she loved, Livable City, for which Sunday Streets is now a $400,000 annual program.
King had a vision for Sunday Streets as an exercise in community-building that opens new avenues for people to work and play together.
Immediately, even before the first event, King and Sunday Streets ran into political opposition from the Fisherman’s Wharf Merchants Association, which was concerned that closing streets to cars would hurt business, and progressive members of the Board of Supervisors who were looking to tweak then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, whose office helped start the event.
City agencies ranging from the Police Department to Municipal Transportation Agency required Sunday Streets to pay the full costs for city services, something that even aggressive fundraising couldn’t overcome.
“We were in debt to every city department at the end of the second year. It was the elephant in the room going into that third year,” King said.
But the Mayor’s Office and SFMTA then-Director Nat Ford decided to make Sunday Streets an official city event, covering the city costs. “It was the key to success,” King said. “There’s no way to cover all the costs. The city really has to meet you halfway.”
King said that between the intensive community organizing work and dealing with the multitude of personalities and interests at City Hall, this was the toughest job she’s had.
“If I would have known what it would be like,” King said, “I would never have taken the job.”
SUNDAY STREETS SOARS
But King had just the right combination of skills and tenacity to make it work, elevating Sunday Streets into a successful and sustainable event that has served as a model for similar events around the country (including at least eight others also named Sunday Streets).
“The Mission one just blew up. It was instantly popular,” said King, who eventually dropped 24th Street from the route because it got just too congested. “But it’s the least supportive of our physical activity goals because it’s so crowded. It was really threatening to be more of a block party.”
That was antithetical to the ethos established by King, who has cracked down on drinking alcohol and unpermitted musical acts at Sunday Streets in order to keep the focus on being a family-friendly event based on fitness and community interaction.
Even the live performances that Sunday Streets hosts are required to have an interactive component. That encouragement of participation by attendees in a noncommercial setting drew from her history attending Burning Man, as well as fighting political battles against the commercialization of Golden Gate Park and other public spaces.
“It was my idea of what a community space should look like, although I didn’t invent it…We really want to support sustainability,” King said. “We’re not commodifying the public space. Everything at Sunday Streets is free, including bike rentals and repairs.”
As a bike event, the cycling community has lent strong support to Sunday Streets, with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition strongly promoting it along the way.
“The success of Sunday Streets has been a game changer in showcasing how street space can be used so gloriously for purposes other than just moving and storing automobiles. At every Sunday Streets happening we are reminded that streets are for people too,” SFBC Director Leah Shahum told us. “Susan’s leadership has been such an important part of this success.”
EDITORIAL When lawyers become politicians, and when those politicians assume offices where they can exercise discretion about when to appeal judicial rulings, the decision to do nothing can be as big and impactful as the decision to file a lawsuit.
Luckily for California, it is progressive-minded attorneys from the Bay Area who have found themselves in the position of advancing public policy through wise decisions about when to let rulings stand and when to challenge them. And it is our hope that Attorney General Kamala Harris remembers her Bay Area roots when making a couple of important pending decisions on appealing some high-profile recent rulings.
Harris was already weighing whether to appeal a judge’s ruling striking down teacher tenure laws (see “Pride and prejudice,” June 24) when another judge ruled that California’s death penalty is unconstitutional (see “Death sentence for executions?” Page 16).
Her opponent in fall runoff election, Republican Ron Gold, has called for Harris not to appeal the teacher tenure ruling — and he would almost certainly make great political hay of a decision by Harris not to challenge the death penalty ruling. But Harris should easily defeat this also-ran challenger in November and she should maintain the courage of her convictions in making these decisions.
We urge Harris to aggressively appeal the teacher tenure ruling and not be swayed by the judge’s fallacious argument that teacher tenure hurts urban schoolchildren. And on the death penalty, which Harris has long opposed, we urge her to help end the barbaric, expensive, and ineffective executions (which could mean appealing the recent ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and then not appealing a favorable ruling there, which would serve to end capital punishment in California).
That kind of selective use of the Attorney General’s Office discretion on appeals would follow in the tradition of Gov. Jerry Brown, when he was attorney general, choosing not to appeal the ruling striking down Prop. 8 and instead helping to legalize same-sex marriage.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, we’re happy that City Attorney Dennis Herrera decided to “aggressively defend” Prop. B, which requires voter approval for projects that exceed current height restrictions on the San Francisco waterfront, against a lawsuit by the State Lands Commission.
Likely prompted by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, one of three members of that commission and someone who has long been friendly to big investors and developers, this lawsuit should have never been filed — and Herrera was right to say so and pledge a vigorous defense of the measure.
The people of San Francisco and California are lucky to have Harris and Herrera in the position to make these important decisions.
The tale of the threatened independent bookstore, quivering under the might of Amazon, is nothing new.
It’s only been two months since Marcus Books was evicted from its Fillmore District location. Both Adobe and Forest bookstores fled the Mission’s 16thh Street last year. But ebook sales growth is shrinking, and sales for many of San Francisco bookstores are up.
Instead, the tale of the struggling indie bookstore has become less about Amazon and more about a different monster: gentrification. San Francisco’s rising rents, demand for commercial space by deep-pocketed chains, and lack of commercial rent control are putting the squeeze on the city’s remaining bookstores.
Take Bibliohead, for instance. Its owner has recently been forced to relocate in spite of her bookstore’s success. Bibliohead is an easily navigable, highly curated, and tiny book jungle — more like a carefully manicured garden, really. The whole store can be explored in minutes, and there’s a gumball machine that dispenses poetry out in front once the book-happy are satisfied.
Its size has served it well. Sales at Bibliohead — Hayes Valley’s only bookstore — have risen solidly 7 percent each year since the store opened 10 years ago.
“We’re small, but mighty,” Melissa Richmond, Bibliohead’s owner, told the Guardian. “Although recently we haven’t been feeling so mighty. I’m kind of a wreck.”
In May, Richmond learned that she has until January 2015 to leave her store for four months while her building undergoes mandatory earthquake retrofitting. The landlord will double Richmond’s rent after the retrofitting, and has asked Richmond to pay for further renovations to the building when she returns.
“It’s off the table that I can stay here,” Richmond said. “I will not be offered a new lease. I don’t hate landlords, but I want a landlord who will contribute to the spirit and creativity of San Francisco.”
On June 22, Richmond launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise the $60,000 she’ll need to move and attract new customers. So far, with a little less than a month to go, she’s raised almost $3,000.
“What really breaks my heart is when a new customer walks in,” Richmond said. “They ask you how you’re doing after they’ve fallen in love with the place a little bit. Then you have to break their hearts by saying you don’t know what’s in store for your future right now.”
Richmond is not the only bookseller in San Francisco forced to relocate. Last year, Adobe Books and Forest Books were forced out of 16th Street within three months of each other when their rents increased. Forest Books slipped quietly off to Japantown, and has since experienced an increase in sales. Adobe Books’ anticipated closure was met with an invigorating Kickstarter campaign that raised $60,000. It was enough to keep the store alive, but not on gentrifying 16th Street.
Nowadays, Adobe is re-branded as Adobe Books and Art Cooperative at its 24th Street location. The original Adobe’s charming, lackadaisical, and no- structured structure has been traded for alphabetized and carefully curated books. There are only two staff members, and its used books are selling far faster than in the old location, despite its shrunken size.
“It’s strange. A lot of the times I was not sure if it would work at all, and now here we are in this shop,” Brett Lockspeiser, a member of the Adobe Books and Art Cooperative, told us. “Things are running differently, but it’s still Adobe.”
Adobe will soon be celebrating its first anniversary in the new spot. The store might not be making any profits, according to Lockspeiser, but the cause for celebration is that it’s survived.
There has been discussion among the collective members about whether or not Adobe should try to sell eReading devices, like Green Apple Books has done without much success for almost two years with the Kobo eReader. Adobe’s collective voted against Kobo, preferring not to use the same weapons as its competitor.
“I’m pretty technology positive, but I think some people in the group thought it was an ‘us or them’ kind of thing,” said Lockspeiser. “Like either you’re a book reader or you’re a techie who reads on a Kindle.”
Besides, it seems that ebooks’ incredible growth rate has finally simmered down. According to the Association of American Publishers, ebooks accounted for 27 percent of all adult trade sales in 2013. While that was up from 23 percent in 2012, it marked the first year ebook growth was down to the single digits. In January, a Pew study reported that among adults who read at least one book in the past year, just 5 percent said they read only an ebook.
Hut Landon, executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, reports that book sales throughout San Francisco bookstores have increased overall in the past two years. Green Apple Books, an expanding bookstore with an growing collection of books and records, is even poised to open another location in the Sunset below beloved video rental store Le Video on Aug. 1.
Pete Mulvihill, co-owner of Green Apple Books, said he recently got a call from Bibliohead’s owner asking for advice on potential neighborhoods and techniques for negotiating with landlords. But he can’t always explain his own store’s success.
“Some of it is just the economy. All that money floating around South of Market is maybe trickling over here,” he told us. “Or maybe the waiters are getting better tips. I don’t know what it is, but things have been better for us.”
The growth of bookstore sales, Landon said, is mainly because Barnes & Noble has been cast out of San Francisco. Last year, Barnes & Noble, the nation’s largest bookstore chain, reported that its revenue decreased by 8 percent in the final quarter. The company’s Nook division, meanwhile, slid down 32 percent.
Yet Joe Marchione, who owns Mission Street’s Valhalla Books, still places the blame for his diminishing foot traffic on Amazon, which has made his hard-to-find books pretty easy to locate online. In 1998, when his store opened, 90 percent of Valhalla’s business came from people browsing through his odd and unique assortment of rare and used books. Now, 95 percent of his business is online.
“People forgot the joy of browsing,” Marchione told us.
As soon as his landlord makes him commit to a lease, he says he’s going to have to leave the business. “When we first opened, we were smug. We said there was no way trendy was ever going to come to Mission between 17th and 18th [streets]. Get real!” he said. “But trendy creeps in closer by the week. There’s no problem with that, except it’s forcing us out.”
“TRENDY CREEPS IN”
It’s even forcing successful booksellers, like Bibliohead’s owner, to worry. Her faith in the printed word remains strong. “I find that there’s a whole core of people who are relieved to feel something in their hands, to flip the pages of really cool, beautiful books and kind of remember with their bodies what reading is like,” Richmond said.
When Kate Rosenberger opened a fourth bookstore in 2011 — Alleycat Books on 24th Street — many questioned her sanity, the owner said. The store has only recently been able to pay its own bills, having been relying on Rosenberger’s other store, Dog Eared Books, for survival. But the rent at Dog Eared Books is set to increase, and that means trouble.
“You can talk about e-readers, and people being distracted. You can talk about people slipping out since the Gutenberg press was invented, and all that’s true, sure,” Rosenberger told us. “But when you get hit with a huge increase in your rent, how do you deal with that? When the lease is up, you can pretty much figure you’re gone.”
These days, you deal with it by setting up a crowdsourcing campaign, and crossing your fingers that people with money like you. Or maybe you transform into an art cooperative. Or you just go somewhere else. But Richmond doesn’t want to leave San Francisco.
“I would like to preserve the culture of the city,” Richmond said. “I still think there’s something really special here.”
Barnes & Noble might be gone, ebook sales might have stabilized, and the printed word might just still be alive — but for San Francisco’s booksellers, that no longer means anyone in the book business is safe.