Volume 48 Number 50
September 10 – 16, 2014
THEATER The first show of the first night of this year’s San Francisco Fringe Festival was a local story, a confessional by a man who’s spent 27 years “irritating” his wife and “annoying” his children as a workaday clown. If this isn’t what the Fringe is all about, it’s pretty close.
As a non-curated, lottery-based affair where the artist keeps all proceeds from ticket sales (host Exit Theatre collects donations toward the larger effort, and hopes you’ll buy a beer or two to wash down the Exit Café’s always complimentary bowl of pretzels), the Fringe is a magnet for the tell-all and tawdry solo outing. This is a good part of why we like it. Technically anyone can get in, with presumably almost anything they’d like to stage for a live audience, and, as a result, shamelessness of different sorts abounds. And despite the wide net of possibility cast by the proceedings, a hefty percentage of shows tend to converge around this redoubtable — or is it doubtful? — formula, turning the theater into a kind of confession booth where, if you want to be absolved of anything, you better make it good.
Through the Eyes of a Clown is a heartfelt and not unsympathetic instance of this compulsion. It’s an “apology” by David Magidson, aka Boswick the Clown, unfolding on a small stage lightly cluttered with the paraphernalia of the profession. Using his inside clown voice, the longtime licensed balloon-tier and pratfaller speaks of getting his first laugh at a tender age and never looking back. While self-effacingly frank about the culturally suspect side of his chosen obsession, Magidson, a graduate of Ringling Brothers Clown College, also offers an implicit defense of the calling, pointing to contemporary heroes like Pickle Family alum Bill Irwin (as chance would have it, right then only a couple of blocks away preparing to open at the Geary) and Stephen Colbert (a clown by definition, according to Magidson, because, rather than merely rendering comic critique from outside, his satirical right-wing persona invites you to see the world through his own eyes).
The mix of personal and observational detail can be interesting, and probably has more potential than is admittedly realized here. There are also some intriguing admissions around Magidson’s distance from his audience, his inability to always sympathize with them, even when they’re children in hospitals. It’s the laughs he’s after, and the laughs he needs. This realization stirs an unrest or discomfort in him, but it’s mingled with a specialized solipsism that’s almost clinical.
This confusion and paradox is maybe the heart of this rambling piece — although also impressive are the few (too few) passages of deft physical comedy that show off the highly tuned wackiness and balletic precision of the professional. The writing, however, is a mishmash that needs editing to bring out a stronger arc. More urgently, Magidson could use a directorial hand, since too often the show feels rudderless and his delivery off-kilter. At the same time, the ingenuousness of his account and the boyish enthusiasm middle-aged Magidson still generates for a career choice most people would politely call ill-advised are the real thing, and they suggest that, along with the clown, there’s a better, stronger show lurking somewhere inside.
The second show of the night was a second clown, albeit in gumshoe drag. In 2 Ruby Knockers, 1 Jaded Dick, Melbourne’s Tim Motley fires a volley of one-liners in a hardboiled accent vaguely tinged with an Aussie drawl — a veritable taxonomy of the corny, bawdy similes of the iconic private eye delivered in trademark trench coat, his eyes a band of shadow beneath a well-molded fedora.
For Motley, the PI shtick is a ready vehicle for a little mind reading and a card trick or two as the lights go up on his unsuspecting audience, which gets worked into a convoluted plot involving a (titular) sinister mastermind. Off-the-cuff smarts make the quick-witted Motley’s unabashedly hokey offering an enjoyable as well as somewhat unruly ride, as he does his best to shepherd clueless audience members — themselves doing their best to play along — through a zany caper. *
SF FRINGE FESTIVAL
Through Sept 20 (no shows Mon/15), $10 or less at the door; $12.99 or less online (passes, $45-75)
156 Eddy, SF
TABLEHOPPING Columbus Avenue in North Beach continues to rise as an exciting dining destination with the opening of Doc Ricketts (124 Columbus, SF; www.docricketts.com). It’s a historic location, with two different areas: there’s the restaurant, Doc Ricketts, and the basement (the former Purple Onion) is where you’ll find Doc’s Lab, opening this Friday; the space is keeping its history alive and will feature live entertainment, from music to comedy to literary events. It’s a strong team: owner Christopher Burnett of Darwin Café, chef Justin Deering (15 Romolo, Café des Amis, Conduit), and Charlie Brown, previously at Prospect, are in charge of operations.
The menu is casual but packs layers of flavor, like in a dish of cauliflower three different ways, and Half Moon Bay bass with fregola, clams, and fumet; there are some hearty picks like a short rib burger, and roast chicken with liver toast as well. There are 32 seats plus eight at the bar, where you can hang out and check out the list of $6 snacks and a plate of housemade charcuterie. Sidewalk seating is coming too, just in time for the Bay Area’s summery fall days. There’s a list of classic cocktails, a wine list with food-friendly picks, and four beers on tap. Whether you’re coming by for dinner or a show, they’ve got you covered.
There seems to be a storm brewing around the new Bandidos (2200 Market, SF; www.bandidosinsf.com) that just opened in the Castro in the former Leticia’s space, with commentors on social media, local food blogs, and Yelp decrying the offensive name. A note on its Facebook page says: “Hi all, we are working with the people who have contacted us personally regarding this issue. Until then we are turning off all posting ability on FB. Thanks.” Bit of a rough start there. We’ll have to see what’s communicated next from the team. Although it’s not as rough as the opening of the brand-new Capone’s Speakeasy (1400 Park, Alameda; www.caponesspeakeasy.net) in Alameda, whose owner was arrested the night of the grand opening party for alleged public drunkenness, resisting arrest, and whoa there, guess who tried to bite an officer on the leg? At least he’s on-brand with his restaurant’s mascot.
A drama-free opening is Bistro L’Aviateur (2850 21st St., SF; 415-757-0272), starting service in the Mission tonight (Wed/10). The owners, husband-and-wife team Maha and Vincent Laforge (with Maha’s sons helping out in the kitchen!) will be serving French cuisine with Tunisian and Mediterranean influences. The menu will be small, but will change daily. It’s an intimate neighborhood spot, with room for 25, plus a bar and communal table. Not only is it open for lunch and dinner — you can come by for Tunisian-style tea and pastries available in the afternoon, too (like marzipan with rose water and North African spices). Hours will be Mon, 11:30am–7pm; Wed–Fri, 11:30am–9:30pm; Sat, 5:30–9:30pm; Sun, 11am–3pm; and closed Tue. Hours may change in the coming weeks as the owners figure out what works for the neighborhood.
Also in the Frenchie camp and opening today, across town in the Marina, is the bistro half of the newly expanded Le Marais Bistro and Bakery (2066 Chestnut, SF; www.lemaraisbakery.com). You’ll be able to add dinnertime to your breakfast and lunch visiting times — chef Nicolette Manescalchi is serving Mediterranean dishes like socca with herb jam and rosehip- and cumin-spiced chicken roasted on an oak grill. Delicious. Executive pastry chef Emily Riddell will have you covered with some fab plated desserts, so save some room. And there are some Euro wines and beers, too. Dinner is served Sun–Thu, 5:30–10pm and Fri–Sat, 5:30–11pm. *
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.
LEFT OF THE DIAL The first rule of interviewing former Pixies bassist Kim Deal is that you do not say the word “Pixies” while speaking to Kim Deal.
After it has been made clear to you, multiple times and in no uncertain terms, that you are forbidden from asking her about the iconic rock band she co-founded in 1986, quit, re-joined, and then quit again in 2013, it would be understandable if you were slightly apprehensive about said phone interview — worried, perhaps, that Deal might be cranky or unpleasant regardless of your following the rules, or else that you might suddenly develop a very specific and unfortunate case of Tourette’s that leads to you uncontrollably shouting Frank Black’s name or Pixies album titles into the phone as epithets.
All of this anxiety would be for naught. Kim Deal, 53, is in great spirits when she picks up the phone at home in her native Dayton, Ohio. She’s hilarious, actually. “Hellooo, how are you?” she drawls in an overly perky telemarketer accent of sorts. Then, laughing, before switching into her unmistakable real voice: “Sorry, I don’t know why I’m talking like that.”
If anything, she’s in a bit of a silly mood because she’s been cooped up in rehearsals. It’s about two weeks before she heads out on tour with The Breeders, the band she co-leads with her twin sister Kelley, whose nearly identical voice blends with Kim’s sultry, sharp-edged alto in a way that creates addictively salty-sweet harmonies — and a band whose chart-topping contributions to the Steve Albini era of early ’90s alt-rock are so significant that only co-founding a band like the Pixies, as Kim did, could relegate it to “secondary reason for fame” status.
Anyway: The Breeders have been rehearsing in Deal’s basement, like old times. Getting on each other’s nerves, like old times. Bassist Josephine Wiggs was convinced there was a weird sound coming out of her amp last night when they were practicing. “I swear I can’t hear what she’s hearing,” says Deal, like a stand-up comedian launching into a routine about his wife’s cooking. “It’s an 810 SVT bass amp, so it sounds like a big fucking bass amp. It’s distracting you? Scoot over and you won’t hear it anymore.”
“She’s British, though,” concludes Deal with a sigh.
And how about working with her twin sister day in, day out?
“I love her more than anything in the world, but she was bothering me so much at practice the other day that I took a lamp and put it between us so I didn’t have to look at her while we were playing,” Deal says cheerfully. “Once somebody starts doing something that annoys me I kind of get a red light around them. The lamp has moved around each day as we all [get annoyed at each other]. It’s subtle.”
They might piss each other off from time to time, but if there were any doubts about the place the Breeders still occupy in their fans’ hearts, last year’s wholly sold-out 60-date tour, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the band’s biggest commercial success, Last Splash, should have laid them to rest. (Two nights at The Fillmore last August saw the band playing the entirety of that album – which was recorded in San Francisco, then rode the same angsty wave to national fame Nirvana saw that year, propelled by its most catchy and most delightfully inane song, “Cannonball.” Then they left the stage for 10 minutes before coming back to play the entirety of Pod, the band’s 1990 Kurt Cobain-influencing debut, as an encore. Deal, who had just quit the power play of the Pixies for the second time, was noticeably exuberant as a frontwoman, and seemingly could not stop smiling.)
Still, not counting last year’s 20th anniversary reissue of Last Splash (LSXX), it’s been five years since the Breeders put out new material (though it’s been a much less dramatic break than the seven-year hiatus between Last Splash and Title TK, during which time the band famously imploded in part due to Kelley Deal’s heroin use).
In lieu of new Breeders records, however — and in lieu of, er, bringing up her most recent few years with the Pixies, which, it could be noted, some of us were excited about mostly because of the chance to hear “Gigantic,” which she wrote, which is arguably the best song in the entire decades-spanning Pixies catalog — Deal has quietly issued eight 7-inch singles of solo material since January 2013. It’s something she began doing when she “couldn’t find anybody who could be in a band” with her, she says, especially living in Ohio.
“The industry dropped out of the music,” she says simply. “Musicians need jobs now. There used to be enough money in music that people who played in bands could actually make their rent. Maybe they’d sling weed on the side or do some pizza delivery, but they could hit their rent. Now that’s just not possible. Even bands that people know pretty well, they need real jobs — they design websites, then they go home to their band. Unless you’re [at the star status] where you’re, like, making perfume.”
So she started making music by herself. Though she’s brought in old friends and bandmates to play along (Slint drummer Britt Walford, whom Deal ran into at Steve Albini’s 50th birthday party, makes an appearance), the songs are unmistakably hers. Their moods shift from volatile bass-driven fuzz (“Walking With a Killer”) to cooing sing-song with an almost creepy Velvet Underground edge (“Are You Mine?”).
In an age when we’re used to artists simply throwing up a SoundCloud link and announcing “I have a new single,” she’s done something increasingly rare, as well: She released each song as an old-school single with an A and a B side, a physical product, each with its own album art. Long known for her perfectionism and attention to detail when it comes to gear and a studio’s technical specs, 2013 and 2014 were the years when Deal became entranced by the physical process of distributing music.
“It makes it more real to me,” she explains. “If I just put it out as a download, I feel like I just emailed my sister the song. Nothing even happens, it doesn’t make sense to me — I’m like, ‘Where do I put the title, the song name?'” Plus, since she self-issued Fate to Fatal in 2009, she realized she enjoyed the process of calling around to research manufacturers, assigning ISRC codes (kind of like serial numbers for songs), getting physical mail back when she sent something out.
She has no current plans to compile the tracks into an album, however — for one, each has “really different levels of production.” She feels a little like she’d be ripping people off, since the songs are all out already. And somehow she doesn’t expect “normal people” to be interested in buying these tracks, anyway, though a large portion of the Internet (and the majority of music critics) might disagree with that.
At the moment, though, Deal is in full-band mode. This current Breeders tour came about when Neutral Milk Hotel asked them to join a bill at the Hollywood Bowl; the Breeders structured the rest of the three-week tour around the gig. (In San Francisco, the band will play The Fillmore this Saturday, Sept. 13.) The tour will be a chance to try out new material, though Deal seems a little nervous about that.
“We have about four new songs right now that we can really play, and I’m working on the words for this other song Josephine wrote,” she explains. “She seems so smart, and she’s English, so I can’t just go, like, ‘ooga chooga,'” you know? I want to really say something with it.” Deal’s been reading The Power of Myth, the anthology of conversations between scholar Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, and thinking a lot on the hero’s journey. Specifically, what would happen if the hero completely ignored the advice of the gatekeeper/mentor character at the beginning of the arc.
“We’ve been working on this stuff all year, so when [Neutral Milk Hotel] asked us, even though it’s way out there, we thought ‘Hey, let’s give it a shot. And hope to hell nobody records on cell phones,'” she says.
And then there’s the act of traveling together at this stage in the game, with bandmates she’s known for 20-plus years. (After a decade or so of other members, the current lineup is the original Last Splash crew: Wiggs on bass, Jim McPherson on drums, and the inimitable sisters Deal in the center ring on vocals and guitars.)
People can get snippy on tour, says Kim — especially in Florida, “things get weird…but we get along for the most part, no one’s an asshole, that’s important. There’s just really not a rude person in this bunch.”
In the van, especially, you can always put on headphones. And if all else fails, “You get lamped,” she says. “There’s always the lamp.”
With Kelley Stoltz
1805 Geary, SF
LIT In her 20s and 30s, Kristin Newman had built an enviable career writing and producing hit shows like That ’70s Show, How I Met Your Mother, and Chuck. But her personal life proved far less satisfying; after breaking up with her first love, she bounced between relationships while watching her friends settle down and spawn. Fortunate to have a job that allowed for months-long vacations between TV seasons, she began pursuing her wanderlust tendencies in earnest — emphasis on the “lust,” since her travels to places like Brazil, Iceland, Israel, and (especially) Argentina often included flings and what she came to call “vacation-ships” with locals and others she met on the road.
Along the way, she did some soul-searching — but fear not, her memoir What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding (Three Rivers Press, 291 pp., $14.99) is hardly a touchy-feely treatise along the lines of Eat, Pray, Love (more on that later). Instead, it’s a raunchy, witty, relatable look back at journeys that helped guide her into the next chapter of her life, at her own speed, with plenty of disasters and stirring moments along the way. I had to meet the woman behind the book, so I called her up in Los Angeles (her current project is upcoming ABC comedy Galavant, which has a fairy-tale theme and was created by Dan Fogelman, who wrote 2010’s Tangled).
SF Bay Guardian What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding is an evocative title. How did you come up with it?
Kristin Newman I thought I’d just write a few funny stories, kind of as writing samples, to get my next sitcom job. All of a sudden, I had 70 pages. It all happened the same month that I met my now-husband, and my stepmother died, and it just kind of poured out of me.
As I sat down to write, I realized [with all these trips and relationships], I wasn’t just biding my time and being silly while waiting for something to start. What I had been doing was actually its own important thing: finding a new way to be happy. My friend, who has a kid by the way, suggested that I call it What I Was Doing While You Were Having Stupid Babies [laughs]. I thought that was going to turn too many people off. So we went with Breeding.
SFBG The title might lead some to believe that you don’t like children, but anyone who reads the book will realize that’s not the case.
KN I always wanted to have kids. But deep into my 30s, I absolutely was not ready yet. Biology kicks in at a certain point, and I felt like I saw so many people around me jumping into things just because of their age, after waiting so long. I knew that I theoretically needed to figure things out, but I just wasn’t feeling it yet. I was always cool with adopting, and I write about freezing my eggs, because I felt like, I can’t let this number dictate what I do. It’s too big of a decision.
SFBG The book is a personal memoir, but it’s also a guidebook of sorts. What’s your travel philosophy?
KN The biggest thing is: Go where the guidebooks don’t tell you to go. Find locals and ask them where their secret places are. Dating a local is a great way to get advice from a local — that’s why I love a vacation romance! If you’re traveling alone, don’t go for the high-end places, even if you can afford them, because that’s not where single people go. It will be all married old people who aren’t going to want to hang out with you. If you’re not 21 and don’t want to hang with the backpackers, shoot for the mid-range.
Always say yes! And then find out how many amazing things happen as a result of accepting invitations to places, or checking out something new that somebody you meet one day suggests. The best things always happen because I say yes to something. Then, it empowers you to do that when you get home, too. Even when I can’t jump on a plane, I take a book and read alone at a restaurant, which I never used to do. I’ll walk into parties alone, or take myself to a museum. I do a lot more things alone in my own town, and that changes everything. You just feel like, “I can handle it!”
SFBG Do comparisons with Eat Pray Love drive you crazy?
KN I wrote about that book in my book, because I knew that people would compare the two. It doesn’t drive me crazy — that book touched a lot of people, and that’s great. I had a complicated relationship with that book, as I think a lot of people do, dealing with the concept of “misery of the entitled person.” I think that all kinds of people who have entitled, lucky lives can be horribly miserable — look at Robin Williams. So I don’t blame [Elizabeth Gilbert] for her self-created misery, as someone who creates her own misery on a regular basis.
But I wanted to try and take myself a little less seriously, and have a much more comic, self-deprecating approach to the silliness that was my tail-chasing. That was my goal, to have it be fun. Also, by holding off on having sex for most of that book, I feel like she missed out on a really easy way to feel better! [Laughs.] *
Sept. 20, 1pm, free
51 Tamal Vista, Corte Madera
FILM “I don’t know … maybe we were doomed from the beginning,” muses Maggie (Kristen Wiig) at the start of The Skeleton Twins. It’s her voice-over, but the figure onscreen is her brother, Milo (Bill Hader), who mopes to Blondie before flopping into a bathtub that slowly fills with water and blood from his slashed wrists. The twins haven’t seen each other in over 10 years, and the ice takes awhile to break when Maggie appears at his hospital bedside. They’ve been separated by geography (he’s in LA; she still lives in their hometown of Nyack, New York) and lifestyle — recently separated from his most recent boyfriend, Milo’s on his way from being a struggling actor to simply being a failed one; Maggie’s a married dental hygienist whose life seems to be in perfect working order. Seems.
Of course, we share her secret: On the same day Milo was penning a suicide note — “See ya later,” with a smiley face — Maggie was on the verge of gobbling a handful of pills in order to make her own permanent exit. Her marriage, to perfectly oblivious Lance (Luke Wilson), is a snooze, and she’s been secretly been taking birth control despite his much-vocalized desire to have kids ASAP. She also hasn’t, ah, been entirely faithful. Clearly, these siblings have more in common than they realize. They’re both deeply miserable, unable to shake a troubled past that includes their beloved father’s suicide, a distant mother (Joanna Gleason) who prefers New Age clichés to honest communication, and the scandalous incident (involving Milo and his high school English teacher) that caused their estrangement.
There’s only one path for these sad sacks (since if one of ’em actually died, that would make this black comedy a little too black), so they set about trying to mend fences. Milo moves into Maggie’s Pottery Barn catalog of a house, and though the surroundings are twee suburbia, the mood is decidedly desperate. Milo’s former teacher (Modern Family‘s Ty Burrell) is still in town, still closeted, and still as confusing a figure to grown-up Milo as he was to teenage Milo. And Maggie is hardly a calming presence, having realized long ago that her husband is alllll wrong for her, despite the fact that he’s possibly the nicest, most understanding dude on the planet. It’s obvious — despite their frequent arguments, and the fact that both do some pretty terrible things — that the only bond in The Skeleton Twins that has any chance at repair is Milo and Maggie’s.
Produced by indie darlings Jay and Mark Duplass, and directed by Craig Johnson (whose co-writer, Mark Heyman, also co-wrote 2010’s Black Swan), The Skeleton Twins might veer too deeply into melodrama territory were it not for its restrained script, and its appealing cast. Saturday Night Live alums Wiig and especially Hader are mostly known for their comedic talents — we all saw Wiig give good pathos in 2011’s Bridesmaids, but it’s impressive to see the same actor who portrayed flamboyant club kid Stefon bringing depth to a more serious role. (Not to say that Skeleton is entirely grim; there’s an extended lip-sync sequence that fans of the soundtrack to 1987’s Mannequin will find difficult to resist. Plus, this is very much a family that uses sarcasm as a survival method … and, sometimes, nitrous oxide.)
It’s also gratifying to see a relationship movie that’s not solely focused on romance. In fact, the film’s message that squaring away one’s beef with the family members that matter most (once you’ve jettisoned those beyond all hope, like Maggie and Milo’s selfish, Sedona-dwelling mother) is an important step toward healing and finding-your-true-self-ness. And it just so happens that The Skeleton Twins is being released not long before the holiday that holds so much meaning for its protagonists: Halloween. Though many a family drama pivots around Christmas, The Skeleton Twins is a tad too smart for that, and far too aware of the ways life can sneak razor blades into its twists and turns. *
THE SKELETON TWINS opens Fri/12 in Bay Area theaters.
FILM It increasingly seems like the ultimate plan for the poor must be simply to drive them into the sea. What else is going to be done with them if we realize the Koch brothers’ dream of no minimum wage, food stamps, welfare, or Social Security? (One alternative already in practice: Build more prisons, of course.) Hostility toward the have-nots, believing that somehow they got there by being lazy or criminal or genetically inferior, is of course as old as civilization itself. But legislating to create poverty rather than to solve it is a significant reversal over the general trend of American history over the last century or so.
This kind of “Sorry, you’re screwed” mentality may seem alarming here, but it’s a basic part of the social structure wherever economic resources have always been scarcer and a drastic wealth-power divide taken for granted. Part of the impact of Ira Sachs’ excellent Love is Strange, now playing, comes from our horror that this doesn’t happen to these people, since educated, middle-class white Americans aren’t supposed to become more or less homeless. The protagonists in UK-Philippines co-production Metro Manila, however, stir our sympathy but little surprise when they become completely homeless. (Unlike the Strange characters, they have no safety net of friends and relatives who can take them in.)
Oscar (Jake Macapagal) and Mai Ramirez (Althea Vega) are rice farmers who live in the Ifugao province, tending their crop on 2,000-year-old terraces cut into the mountains. It’s grueling work in which nine-year-old daughter, Angel (Erin Panlilio), is already enlisted; another child is still a babe in arms. This stunning verdant landscape, shot by former fashion photographer Sean Ellis (also the director and co-scenarist), might be paradise on Earth with less toil and a lot more pay. But as the Ramirez family discovers, the crop that paid 10 cents a pound last year now only pays two. The family can’t survive on that return — it’s not even enough to buy seeds for next year’s harvest.
There’s nothing they can think to do but to follow the path of so many impoverished rural folk before them and head to the big city. Upon arriving in Manila, they’re stunned by the noise, crowds, and the aggressive police presence; one day they’re horrified witnesses as an attractive woman walking alone is pulled screaming into a passing car and spirited away, though no one else seems to blink. What seems a lucky break with a Good Samaritan turns out to be a scam that robs them of their paltry cash store and the shelter they thought they’d bought with it. Hustling frantically, Oscar gets himself a day’s physical labor, only to be paid with a sandwich.
Time and again, they find those who offer help are predators who recognize easy marks when they see them. Mai is tipped to a barmaid job that even has babysitting. But it’s the kind that starts with the interviewer saying “Show me your tits.” “Daycare” consists of letting the kids crawl around the women’s changing room, and keeping customers “happy” is scarcely distinguishable from straight-up prostitution. Then Oscar’s military-service tattoo gets him embraced as a fellow veteran by older Ong (local film and TV veteran John Arcilla). The latter seems a savior, setting up the family in a fairly nice apartment, taking on Oscar as his new partner in an armed security-guard service where the main duty seems to be running questionably legal amounts of money around.
All this happens in Metro Manila‘s first half, after which it becomes less a tally of everyday exploitations and slum indignities than a crime drama in the mode of Training Day (2001), or Brillante Mendoza’s notorious 2009 Kinatay, which won a controversial Cannes Best Director Prize in 2009 and subsequently played Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (YBCA’s New Filipino Cinema festival provided Metro‘s area premiere earlier this summer — the Roxie’s single showing this Thursday evening will doubtless be as close to a regular theatrical release as it gets hereabouts.) Ellis’ film isn’t as slickly hyperbolic as Day or as challengingly grungy as Kinatay, inhabiting a useful middle ground between thriller and case-pleading exposé. Itself an audience award winner at Sundance, Metro feels creditably engulfed in its cultural setting — if this were a movie by an old-school Filipino director, there might have been a heavier emphasis on the Ramirezes’ Christianity, which is presented simply and respectfully here but not used to milk viewer emotions.
Ellis funded this feature (his third) himself, the story inspired by a violent fight he witnessed between security guards during a prior trip to the Philippines. He doesn’t speak Tagalog, making Metro one of the better films in recent history by a director shooting in a language he doesn’t understand, something that happens more often than you might think. (Interestingly, Metro has already been remade as the Hindi movie CityLights.) The script he’s co-written with Frank E. Flowers is economical, such that when there’s a rare moment of what otherwise might pass for preachiness, the truth stings instead. When a suddenly less grateful than fearful Oscar tells his boss, “I don’t believe in hurting people,” Ong snaps, “Don’t speak. You have no voice in this world.”
Indeed. Money talks. The rest of you, STFU. *
Thu/11, 7pm, $10 (followed by Skype interview with Sean Ellis)
3117 16th St, SF
CULTURE Jim McAlpine wants the world to know that not all marijuana users are lazy, permanently couch-locked, junk-food addicted stoners. That’s why McAlpine is organizing the 420 Games, a series of athletic competitions in which weed enthusiasts will run, walk, and bike their way to larger societal acceptance.
The Games’ inaugural event, a five kilometer fun run in Golden Gate Park Sat/13 that McAlpine hopes will attract 500 participants, will be followed by a road cycling competition in Marin County, a “Marijuana Olympics Challenge” in Sacramento, and foot races across the state. “What better way to prove that you’re not a stoner just because you use marijuana, than [by] going out and being motivated and athletic?” McAlpine points out in an e-mail interview with the Guardian.
The visual of hundreds of healthy weed users jogging en masse through Golden Gate Park’s winding green thoroughfares seems like an apt PSA for responsible pot use. The 420 Games also just sound like a good time. At the inaugural event, attendees have the option to skip the athletics completely and come for the afterparty, which features an artisanal beer garden sponsored by Lagunitas and a set by Zepparella, an all-female Led Zeppelin cover band.
Those expecting the baseball bat-sized joints and puking, littering high schoolers present each year at the 4/20 celebrations on Hippie Hill in the park, be warned: There will be no sanctioned on-site cannabis use at the 420 Games, and attendees are encouraged to drag only on legal weed before and after the event. The Games are not a free-for-all smoke out, radical demonstration, or a call to legalize weed now; rather, McAlpine has packaged his sporting events in a way that will encourage even cannabis skeptics to examine their views about marijuana in 2014.
In his previous life, McAlpine was an entrepreneur who ran a discount ski pass company. But drought and years of dismal snowfall have driven McAlpine to find additional ways to spend his time. He was inspired by the potential of the cannabis industry, and seeks to use many of the proceeds from the 420 Games to fund a 501c3 nonprofit, the PRIME Foundation, which he’s establishing. Though PRIME has yet to begin educational programming and McAlpine has few details on when it will begin operating, he told the Guardian that he wants the organization to be a source of education for youth and adults about marijuana addiction, and about the very real benefits of weed and hemp. “I hope we can begin to raise some money to create campaigns to really educate the public on topics like this,” he says, referring to the 420 Games kickoff.
Of course, the 420 Games are not the only proof that weed-smoking athletes exist. One need only look at the countless Olympians and NFL, NBA, and NFL players who have been caught with pot to know that the sporting life is not one that is necessarily devoid of THC. The highest-profile case was that of swimmer Michael Phelps, the Olympic phenom who has won more medals than anyone in the history of the Games (22 total, 18 of them gold). In 2009, three months after dominating the lanes in Beijing, a leaked photo appeared to show Phelps smoking a bong. Since the photo’s depicted infraction took place during the off-season, Phelps escaped Olympic sanctions, but he did receive a competition suspension and lost a few endorsement deals.
In 1998, Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati was nearly stripped of his Olympic gold medal after a post-competition positive drug test, but ducked punishment when it was proven that marijuana wasn’t officially on the banned list of the Olympics’ governing board. It was added three months later, which meant American judo star Nicholas Delpopolo was expelled from the 2012 London Olympics when his results came back positive for pot (he maintains he unwittingly ate weed-infused food, but no exception was extended for ignorance of intoxication).
Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns was the NFL’s leading receiver during the 2013 season when he failed a drug test for pot. The league recently announced he will be suspended for the entire 2014 season. Pittsburgh Steelers running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were pulled over with weed in their car last month, but have yet to be suspended from play. And of course, who could forget SF Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum’s 2009 off-season misdemeanor charge, when a pipe and weed were found in his car’s center console during a traffic stop? The list of athletes who have been discovered with weed is rather lengthy, all things considered.
The NHL has removed marijuana — and all drugs not deemed to be performance-enhancing — from its list of banned substances, choosing instead to offer optional addiction counseling to athletes who repeatedly test positive. But NFL spokespeople have repeatedly asserted that no change will be forthcoming in the league’s weed policy. This is especially distressing given that football players likely stand to benefit much more than most people, particularly athletes, from marijuana’s pain management effects. A lawsuit filed earlier this year by 750 ex-NFL players takes on the league for alleged distribution of opioid painkillers that have been shown to have detrimental long-term effects on players’ health.
Cannabis’ natural painkillers are a different story. In an interview with the Fusion network, former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson estimated that 70 to 80 percent of NFL players “gravitate toward the green,” and not just for recreational use. “Managing and tolerating your pain is how you make your money in this game,” Johnson said.
Berkeley doctor Frank Lucido knows full well why sports enthusiasts would turn to marijuana. “Some athletes might benefit from using cannabis after sports for the acute pain and inflammation from that recent activity or trauma,” Lucido writes in an e-mail interview with the Guardian. “Depending on the sport, a player may use cannabis before to ease chronic pain or muscle spasm, so they can function better.”
Lucido said he has prescribed various ex-NFL players medical marijuana, has worked with patients on seeking cannabis treatment since the passage of Prop. 215 in 1996, and holds the opinion that performance in some noncompetitive sports can benefit from cannabis use beforehand. He’s not alone. Others have commented anecdotally that weed can improve sporting ability, especially in pursuits involving high levels of finesse like golf and bowling.
McAlpine says thus far no pro athletes have announced their support of the 420 Games. In our interview, he alludes to plans to approach Phelps’ management, but he might have better luck shooting for Rebagliati. After his close shave with Olympic disgrace, the snowboarder is now the CEO of Ross’ Gold, a Canadian company that sells 14 strains of premium branded medical cannabis. Philadelphia Flyers veteran Riley Cote is another ex-pro in the world of marijuana — he recently started a foundation to teach people about the role hemp can play in a sustainable lifestyle.
But perhaps the 420 Games will manage to sway public opinion not with the appearance of gold medal winners, but rather everyday people who use weed in their everyday lives — something that weed expos, with their green bikini babes and emphasis on innovative new ways of getting blasted, have failed to do.
“I believe very strongly that there is a huge problem with public perception of marijuana users,” says McAlpine. “Even as it becomes legal. I knew it would be a big step to take on this new venture, but it is 100 percent for a cause I believe in, so that makes it all a lot easier to get up and put the hours in.”
There’s no question that it will take many muscles to change much of professional sports’ opinion on marijuana. But maybe we can start here. Call it a joint effort. *
420 GAMES 5K FUN RUN/WALK
Sat/13, 7am check-in; 8am race; 9am-noon afterparty, $60 (afterparty pass, $42)
Bandshell, Music Concourse, Golden Gate Park, SF
THE WEEKNIGHTER Sometimes it happens. PR companies take me out, feed me, and get me boozed up. All with the hope that I will write about the place that’s feeding/boozing me. Sometimes I write about the place, sometimes I don’t. I make no promises other than I promise to consume the food and booze that’s put in front of me. I imagine I’ve had worse lifetimes, but I wouldn’t know.
This time Natalie was taking me to Chaya (132 Embarcadero, SF, (415) 777-8688) on the PR company’s dime. Sitting on the Embarcadero with staggering views of the bay, Chaya is absolutely lovely. Come at sunset to see the lights twinkle on the Emperor Norton Bridge and sit down to a romantic dinner of incredible French-Japanese fusion.
In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Chaya was one of the first places doing “fusion” back before that was a beaten and tired word in the culinary world. That’s because Chaya has been around in SF for 14 years, which is a remarkable feat in any town, but nearly magical in San Francisco. The thing is, 14 years ain’t shit compared to the fact that the family that owns the Chaya has been in the hospitality business for almost 400 years.
According to the thing Natalie just sent me (since I neglected to take notes): Chaya has an unprecedented 390-year history of restaurants owned and operated by the same Tsunoda family both in Japan and California. Chaya began under an enormous shade tree in Hayama, Japan, centuries ago, where it offered tea, sweets, and respite to weary horseback travelers.
As they say in Japan: that shit cray.
Sitting down in the back area with Natalie and Matthew, Chaya’s marketing manager, I was told about the restaurant’s all-night happy hour, which happens every day. Chaya has long been an after work staple for the well-heeled, so it only made sense to extend the length of happy hour to keep those with well-coiffed hair quaffing well-made drinks.
Then the food came out and it was glorious. I don’t remember exactly what we ate, but there was a lot of it and it was brilliant and made my mouth happy. Matthew was excited to have me eat the Temari-style sushi, which is little round balls of rice topped with fish so fresh you can almost taste their souls. If fish had souls, that is. More food followed, as did drinks with whimsical names and suddenly, somehow, I was full and drunk. Life was good.
Natalie and Matthew began telling me about something called the Kaisen platter, which is a full selection of various raw seafood meant to be shared. “That sounds amazing,” I said, “but if you actually bring that out here right now, I may cry.” I had made the mistake of saying that I would eat and drink anything they put in front of me, and the clever bastards had the balls to call my bluff. Every man has his limits and I had found mine.
It was the golden hour when I finally toppled out of Chaya. The buildings were shimmering like pyrite and by the time I made it to Market, the street had a pinkish hue.
“I think I’m gonna walk home,” I told Natalie. “If you don’t hear from me, it’s because I ruptured something and died on the way home.”
I didn’t die.
OPINION As long as I’ve been substitute teaching, people have asked what I thought we could do to improve public schools. With all of the classrooms I’ve been in, they figured I might know something. But I’ve never had a simple answer for them, because I don’t actually think there is a single overriding educational crisis.
For most kids, the system works okay, or at least as well as it always has. At the same time, there are large groups of kids clearly struggling — black students most obviously, but not only. If we’re serious about fixing the educational problems of the nation’s “disadvantaged” kids, we need to improve the overall circumstances of their lives.
I’d say there is one surefire thing we can do to improve America’s classrooms: Put more adults in them — and not just teachers.
Think of how seldom the question of class size makes it into the highly politicized national education debate. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it must be an insignificant element. But if you really want to know if class size is a big deal, just ask someone who teaches. Or if you want private sector confirmation of this, check out the private school brochures or websites, which tout their smaller class sizes.
So why don’t we hear more about this? Maybe because there’s no major corporate or political interests pushing it, as opposed to charter schools — or the various tenure, curriculum, or discipline reforms that vie to become panacea of the moment.
For instance, you’ll likely hear more about the problem of inadequate textbooks in “poor schools” than the too-large classes in them. Could this be related to the fact that the only part of the publishing industry that isn’t struggling these days is the educational sector?
The world’s four largest publishers produce educational materials, and they’re out there making their case and drumming up business all the time. There’s a lot of money to be made selling $85 world history texts to middle school classes of 35 students. Again, if you’re not sure yourself, ask any teacher which would help more: the latest textbook or a smaller class?
Moving from business to politics, the Obama Administration has recently expressed interest in reforming school discipline policy, but it says so little about the surest route to reducing classroom problems: a lower student-teacher ratio. The reason for the silence is pretty obvious. More teachers cost more money. This means higher taxes (or maybe reduced military spending). New textbooks cost money too, of course. The difference, however, is that there are no giant corporations pushing for hiring more teachers — there’s simply no money in it for them.
Yet we could put more adults into the mix even when we can’t actually reduce class size. I’ve been in classrooms where it seemed like the adult-to-child ratio needed to really give kids a shot was something like one-to-five-or-six — and this was not special ed. And I’ve seen combinations of teachers, paraprofessionals (aka teachers’ aides), student teachers, parents, or volunteers from the community that achieved that goal — at least for a little while. I’ve also seen situations where an additional person helped a kid who would have otherwise likely disrupted an entire class and not only prevented that, but got him to produce something useful.
After I had expounded on this idea at a recent gathering in Boston, an old friend came up to me and said, “Look around this room,” noting the crowd of Baby Boomers who are soon retiring and will have considerably more time on their hands. All had an interest in public education.
What if even a small percentage of them could find their way to helping public schools by actually spending time assisting in a classroom? Wouldn’t we have a significant asset on our hands? I think he was right.
Tom Gallagher is a San Francisco substitute teacher and the author of Sub: My Years Underground in America’s Schools (Coast to Coast Publishing, 2014). He can be reached at email@example.com. To submit a guest editorial, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
EDITORIAL Creating a functional and equitable San Francisco for tomorrow requires political will and foresight today. Do our current political leaders have the requisite courage and commitment to the broad public interest, or are they too willing to give away the farm to powerful private interests wielding promises or threats?
This week at City Hall, there was a fascinating test case for these questions, one that we laid out on Sept. 8 on the SFBG.com Politics blog (“Developers lobby hard to slash payments promised to Transbay Terminal and high-speed rail”). In a nutshell, it involves developers of the biggest office towers proposed for San Francisco reneging on promises to pay for vital public infrastructure, which they made in exchange for lucrative upzoning of their properties.
With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, they hired top political fixer Willie Brown to make their case to politicians, including those he helped bring to power, giving him a cut of whatever money this shakedown can shake loose. The Board of Supervisors was set to consider the issue after the Guardian press time for this issue, so check our Politics blog for what happened, but there a few observations we can make without even knowing what the outcome was.
This power play would never happen unless these developers and their allies — including Salesforce, which has leased most of the Transbay Tower, what would be the tallest building on the West Coast — thought they had a reasonable chance of success. And given how the Mayor’s Office seems willing to give developers and business leaders whatever they want, it seems likely that this lobbying effort will more than pay for itself, to the detriment of the public.
Mayor Ed Lee isn’t a political leader, he’s really just the city’s chief administrator, a role he’s been playing since Brown was mayor and that he continues playing since Brown helped put him into Room 200. Chief-of-Staff Steve Kawa, another loyalist to Brown and downtown, dishes out discipline to supervisors who don’t toe the line.
City leaders should be willing to play hardball, stick to the original deal, and call the bluff of these developers, even if that means risking that these towers might not get built in their proposed form and timeline. Yes, that strategy might involve some legal liability, but these massive towers were always proposed as a means to an end.
San Francisco doesn’t need a 1,000-foot office building. But given its commitment to rebuild the Transbay Terminal, it does need to ensure that expensive project includes 21st century rail service connecting to the rest of the state, as well as the open space and neighborhood amenities that these developers should fund.
Equally important, San Francisco needs to show that it’s not for sale, that it won’t be bullied, and that its leaders are looking out for more than their own political interests.
For the digitally connected, sometimes it’s hard to remember life without the Internet.
Bills can be paid with a click, calendar appointment reminders pop in our e-mail inboxes, and YouTube lessons teach us mundane tasks like faucet fixing (was I the only one who didn’t know how to do that?). And those are some routine, everyday ways we weave the online world into our offline routines. Some, especially in San Francisco, spin a wider digital web.
Valencia Street is a corridor rife with the technorati, our new digital overlords and neighbors. These folks are the titans that technology built. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg lives within spitting distance of Dolores Park, for instance. On any given night, a large swath of drunken revelers sobering up at Tacolicious are the same ones who “change the world” every day, engineering the newest Google spy machine.
But for all its ubiquity, the Internet is not as universally used in San Francisco as one might assume. It is a privilege, and to some, the Internet is a luxury that they cannot afford.
Data on who is connected and who is not is spotty, but taken together, it paints a picture of a stark digital divide.
According to a Field Poll in July, conducted on behalf of the California Emerging Technology Fund, one in four Californians does not have broadband Internet access. The city by the bay fares somewhat better, as local surveys say nearly 10 percent of San Franciscans do not have broadband Internet access at home. No DSL, no cable, no Comcast, no Federal Communications Commission woes. Ask them their opinion on net neutrality, and they’re liable to ask you if you’re a fisherman in need of tightly woven rope.
One commonality stretches across these surveys: Those without Internet are not only the elderly, but immigrants and families, often with children who are at a fundamental learning disadvantage without Internet at home.
A study recently released by the San Francisco Unified School District shows 15 percent of children’s families don’t have broadband Internet on computers at home, and that percentage widens when looking just at African American or Latino families.
To be sure, 10-15 percent of San Franciscans is a small proportion. But percentages can be deceiving, as that translates to some 80,000 people who don’t have home access to broadband.
And as the city slowly builds new wireless solutions to help everyone connect to the web, a nonprofit group, the Mission Economic Development Agency, is working to expressly help families in the Mission connect online.
They’re working one by one, family by family.
CONNECTING TO SCHOOL
Like Zuckerberg, Nixon Sandoval and his family live near Dolores Park. That is where their commonalities end. The Facebook CEO built his empire online, but up until a few months ago, Sandoval and his family could not connect to the Internet at home.
Sandoval is a jovial guy, quick to smile. It’s easy to see why, as he is blessed with two equally sweet daughters, Gabrielle, 11, and Gisselle, 9, and his wife, Jaqueline. As soon as we stopped by, she swooped in with cake and Salvadoran strawberry juice she seemingly whipped up from thin air.
In 2012, Sandoval was in his 12th year working for State Farm Insurance, just before they laid off thousands of workers, including Sandoval. He had a rough time of it, having never been laid off before. His wife took care of the family, and eventually he bounced back. Now, he drives a taxi in the city, but the taxi industry is also going through a rough patch, and the family of four counts every penny.
Signing up for Internet seemed like a luxury they could not afford. The first time they tried it, this year, they had to make sacrifices.
“I was worried about the monthly payment,” Sandoval told us. “When I found out from AT&T that it was going to be $48 a month, I switched the policy on my car. I lowered the insurance to be just liability. I used to have full coverage.”
But even that didn’t help. After two months, Sandoval had to pull the plug. That’s when he met Leo Sosa, the Mission Economic Development Agency’s technology training coordinator.
Sosa hooked Sandoval up with an Internet plan through Comcast, part of a deal MEDA helped craft. The cable giant offers a $10 a month plan, with six months free, for residents who live within the Mission Promise Neighborhood, a section of the Mission targeted for aid by the federal government. The federal government funnels grant money straight to the Mission Economic Development Agency, which trains hundreds of local Mission residents in entrepreneurship skills, English, and digital literacy.
MEDA’s newest endeavor is signing folks up with the Internet, and it’s off to a fast start.
Since MEDA started the project in April 2013, it has connected 362 Mission Promise Neighborhood families to the Internet.
Families with children in specific schools are eligible: John O’Connell High School, SF International High, Cesar Chavez Elementary, Bryant Elementary, Everett Middle, George Moscone Elementary, Edison Charter Academy, and Marshall Elementary.
Some families may have Internet access through smart phones, but a July survey by the SFUSD shows less than 40 percent of Latino and black families have an Internet-enabled computer at home. The numbers are only slightly better for Asian families.
The problem, educators and advocates say, is smartphones aren’t enough to get an Internet-powered boost in school.
“It’s an incredibly adaptive use of technology to write a paper using a smartphone,” Richard Abisla, who has worked for three years at MEDA, told us, “but we don’t want there to be two classes of kids: ones with access to educational tools and ones without.”
Abisla worked to connect many of these families, aiming to give children better computer access. For Sandoval’s family, that’s already happening. The Internet and the subsequent computer he bought help his kids write their homework at home, and he said their grades have started to improve.
“We just started!” Gabrielle told us, excited to use computers in school for the first time. “We’re going to do our work and use our flash drive, and take it home to finish.”
This is the nature of school today: Those with Internet-connected computers can connect to the world’s knowledge, those without are in an information blackout. And how you connect to the Internet dictates what information you seek. Surveys from the CTEF show people connected to the Internet at home through computers, rather than phones, are more likely to seek government services (like health care), to take online classes, and to help their children research schoolwork.
Internet access through a computer, then, is a big lift to economic mobility. Until a few months ago, the Sandoval sisters would not have had that luxury, a clear scholarly disadvantage.
Gabrielle pulled up a YouTube video explaining PEMDAS: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction, the order of mathematical operations. Gabrielle told us the teachers on YouTube sometimes explain things in a way her teachers at school may have missed, and the videos also let her get a jump on lessons to help prepare her for what’s to come.
And we couldn’t help but smile as she and her younger sister explained how Giselle learned spelling by Googling different animals, then tallying the number of vowels and consonants in a word puzzle for school.
Word to the wise: Giselle really loves koalas. “We researched what they eat, and what they do,” she said, though she didn’t remember the word eucalyptus. She scrunched her tiny face as she tried to remember the word, recalling, “They eat…plants?”
They now access the Internet at home mainly through an iPad. But we would not do our journalistic duty if we did not ask the girls to level with us. Honestly, we asked, “Why did you want the tablet?”
“Games!” the two sisters shouted, smiling, before launching into a treatise on a fashion app that would put scholarly papers to shame.
The Sandoval family and many others in the Mission are connected thanks to MEDA, but the effort to help others in San Francisco do the same is far from over.
WIRING THE CITY
Fiber optic cables are remarkably advanced examples of technology. Strands of glass the thickness of human hair beam pulses of light carrying digital information across miles, all under the cement we walk on. San Francisco’s city-owned high-speed fiber optic network has long delivered Internet to City Hall, police stations, firefighters, and other local government agencies.
Now, the pulses of light will deliver the net to our parks, and other city residents, in new projects set to be completed in the next few months by the city’s Department of Technology.
As spokesperson Ron Vinson is quick to point out, there is now free city-provided wifi access all along Market Street.
“Market Street was a focus because we have residential units, nonprofits, small businesses, banks and corporations, the homeless and people just recreating, and tourists,” Vinson told the Guardian. “It’s the full gamut of everyone in SF.”
Vinson admits there are gaps in the city’s service at this point, but he has much hope that they can be bridged. In the coming months, San Francisco will complete its newest city survey, in which the Department of Technology hopes to zero in on remaining San Franciscans without Internet access.
The agency has already made much progress. Through partnerships with single room occupancy hotels, elder care homes, and other neighborhood hubs, many low-income San Franciscans are now web-connected, thanks to the city.
The technology department’s newest project has Vinson talking like a giddy tech geek.
“We’ve got a five megabit upload and download coming,” he said, of the city’s newest project: connecting city parks to wifi. More than 30 of San Francisco’s green spaces will now be connected to the web, a project that should be finalized in the next few months.
“Especially in the park, man, you have kids taking photos and families using their tablets and the whatnot, but now they don’t have to use those expensive data plans,” he said.
Its also a boon to the homeless and anyone who is out in a public park using wifi. Though Golden Gate Park will not be one of the connected green spaces, Vinson said, because “that’s a project in itself, with its own complex topography.”
That aside, the park wifi “benefits everyone,” he said. “Until the day when everyone can get online, we won’t stop.”
Vinson is thankful for MEDA, which he’s worked with for 15 years, because the nonprofit’s employees feel much the same way.
“I remember showing someone Yahoo for the first time,” Abisla told the Guardian. “I said type whatever you want. People say ‘What do you mean?’ We’re going over searching in the browser. I say, ‘Name a celebrity.’ They say ‘Britney Spears,’ I say fair enough. Then a search comes back and there’s writing about her in Spanish.”
“People really realize, wow, I can look up anything in the world.”