CHEAP EATS The chicken farmer has a high tolerance for surreality …
Woke up on a strange couch with a strange cat on my arm that was not Weirdo the Cat. It was a strange time of morning. I could tell it was morning by how badly I had to go, but it wasn’t the slightest bit light out. Went, came back and made love to the cat, but could not fall asleep.
I thought about things.
Things were pretty fucked up, almost everyone would have to agree — with the possible exception of me. Things are not fucked up, things are not fucked up, I said to myself, like a little engine, and the cat rubbed its dewy black nose against my white one. I knew it was going to be a kind of a day, but still could not sleep.
The instant it got the slightest bit light out, I bounced off the couch, found some coffee in the freezer, rinsed the French press, and made my new favorite cup of coffee. Wish I knew what kind, but the bag was blank.
Not a clock in the house, no phone. The radio on top of the refrigerator told me, eventually, that it was 5:55, the fog would roll off by noon, and traffic was not yet an issue. In a strange bathroom, I dumped one of the strangest loads of my life, a Dairy Queen Dream with a slight, spicy curry goat afterbite, followed shortly by two Solid Gold encores, pause, applause, and a lingering bouquet that could have raised Bukowski from the dead.
The cat seemed interested.
Put on my weirdest pants, with red, orange, and yellow flowers and big pineapples, a not-weird-enough shirt, watered the cat, played bite-my-finger-no-don’t-bite-my-finger with her, packed up my sleeping bag, and went across town to wake up my sister-in-love, Diane.
After breakfast we helped line Market Street for the Pride Parade and waved and went, “Woo!”
Diane became more interested in footwear. I lost her somewhere between the Shoe Pavilion and that other one, and wandered wonderingly until lunch, looking for someone, anyone I knew, and smiling a lot, even though I never found them.
I had already made a lunch date at Little Delhi on Eddy and Mason, just a block off of the parade. There were billions of beautiful, interesting people decorating the streets and sidewalks, but I like to be unfashionably early for things, so I sat inside at the counter and watched some soccer on TV while waiting for my new friend Elliott.
Gotta love an Indian restaurant with a counter.
Elliott showed and we sat in a booth and ate butter chicken ($7.99), saag paneer ($6.99), roti ($1.50), naan ($1), and rice. Everything was great. We talked a lot about a lot of things, including punk rock and bagpipes, but one subject we did not touch on at all was Mr. T Cereal, because that had already been covered in an e-mail. In which I apparently displayed such mastery of the subject of the obscure ex-delicacy that Elliott presented me a trophy, an old Yoko Ono 45 with a plastic lobster glued to it and the typewritten words: “you win.”
I was proud.
As they were clearing away our plates, a cockroach, to everyone’s embarrassment but mine, dashed from under one and paraded across the table. I waved, went “Woo!” and squashed it.
Then, instead of playing baseball, I rejoined the party. Called Earl Butter from a pay phone (50¢) and said, “Butter, get your straight ass down here and be proud with me.”
“Coming,” he said.
And he did, and we found a few things to dance to before the prospect of warmth, pork chops, and rum called us back to the Mission.
On Van Ness, trying to chase down a 49 that wasn’t even close to moving, we walked into an old pal who hadn’t seen me in a while. He’d heard, but had assumed it was a prank. My clownishness haunts me.
Our old pal’s married, having a girl, and he gave us both business cards. “You always seemed so masculine,” he said to me. Amused, like I like it. Not challenging.
“Yeah,” I said. Felt drunk, and left it at that. I’ll write to him, say: You know, no matter how fucked up and tangled things can get around you or just outside of you, one of the easiest things in the world to do is to close your eyes and take another breath, forget every single thing you know except aliveness. Something like that. Or: Baby, your body talks, you listen. SFBG
Daily, 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.
83 Eddy, SF
Takeout and delivery available
SUPER EGO “I’m from Indiana,” confided the partly melted drag queen, after nailing “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” in a wicked patent-leather Duchess of Spades dress. “You know we do things different out there. I just got here a couple weeks ago, and when I first pulled my hair out the box, the other girls asked if it was three wigs or one.”
“So you’re a Hoosier,” I replied. My observation went ignored. “The scene here’s much more weave than cone,” she winked, then disappeared behind a wall of mirrors. A tape-recorded version of “Is That All There Is?” kicked in. Metaphors!
I wish I could remember what she called herself, but I was knee-deep in my English Summer, an acrobatic concoction hovering halfway between a mojito and a Pimm’s Cup. Mnemonic device, it wasn’t. We were at Harry Denton’s, 46 stories atop the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, peeping Scarlet Empress Donna Sachet’s swank new “Sunday’s a Drag” brunch show — me and a posse of party kids looking so out of place we may as well have been Skittles in the deviled eggs. The combined total of our online ages was probably half that of any one of the cackling grandes dames around us.
But no matter: “Sunday’s a Drag” blasted off into outer space and gladly took us with it. A parade of energetic old-school queens teased the roomful of swilling octogenarians into Depends-dampening titters, and the whole affair took on the air of legendary drag club Finocchio’s, circa 1985 — but with better prosthetics. (“A lot of money and a lot of surgery,” rasped the nonorganically gorgeous Cassandra Cass as she handed me a “Cassandra Cass: Fantasy Girl 2006” calendar. Memo to Cassandra: It’s June.)
Donna Sachet’s one of those amazing creatures who do so much I often think there are two of her. (“Well, alcohol is a fuel,” the little voice in my head pipes up, the one I call Deficit of the Doubt.) And it was somehow fitting that I was applauding our fair city’s 30th Empress that afternoon, seeing as how I’d come to three hours earlier on brand-spanking-new Jose Sarria Court in the Castro, named after the ass-kicking queen who’d started the whole gay Emperor-Empress dealie — the Widow Norton, her Big Kahuness, Madame Awe. I had Jose Sarria pebbles in my y-fronts, bits of Jose Sarria laurel bush drifting from my hair.
The afternoon launched to another cosmic level when Hoosier-name executed a full-on backbend to Taylor Dane and one of her press-on nails flew off, somersaulted in midair, and landed on the table next to my blueberry pancakes. Which made me lose my bacon.
“It’s like Mabuhay Gardens or the Deaf Club, only gay,” I thought the first time I went to Sissy, the new punk rock monthly run by my favorite obnoxious club brat, Foxy Cotton. When people see Foxy a-comin’ they usually take to runnin’ — he’s kind of like an amped-up Woody Woodpecker with half the feathers missing — but the queen’s got talent pumping somewhere through his veins and an impecc-pecc-peccable sense of style. Plus, he’s actually kinda sweet to me.
Sissy hit me as the potential realization of all my stuck-in-the-Midwest teenage dreams, which imagined the underground punk scene of ’80s San Francisco as a writhing network of gay-friendly mohawks, complete with carpeted dance floors, passed-out hotties, and who-knows-what in the bathrooms. Dead Kennedys in the front, Mutants on the roof. Plus it’s after hours. Rad!
Since its early days (no naked mosh pit, alas), Sissy’s expanded its musical format — but it’s still the ginchiest metal-heavy queer experience out there. Where else you gonna hear L7 nowadays outside a lesbian jukebox? And it’s fun to drop that brainy “post” from post-punk and just let loose. Although clubs may have stopped moving into the future, they’re at least digging into the past with sharper queer nails.
“Did you hear about Kevin Aviance?” It was a friend from New York City calling me, which always means more now that there’s e-mail. Kevin was one of the fiercest things of the ’90s, a club queen with chart-topping dance records, a towering hulk of ferocious, ebony-skinned femininity. Like Eartha Kitt on stilts, but breathier. And bald.
He was famous for never wearing falsies. Now he was in the hospital with a fractured jaw and a useless knee, felled as he left a Manhattan gay bar by six kids shouting “faggot” as they kicked him in the chest. People just stood around and watched.
Every year around Pride I overhear some visitor squealing, “Your Pride here’s so political!” and I think, what’s the opposite of politics? Advertising? Circuit music? Sex on marijuana truffles? This year when I heard it, I wanted to spin around with my slapping hand out and scream, “Kevin just got gay-bashed, dammit! Everything’s political!” But when I turned I saw the person who had said it was smiling. He had a “Queers Bash Back” bumper sticker on his bike bag. He was wearing a T-shirt that read, “It’s The Tits.”
Suddenly I was surrounded by munchkins. They were everywhere — in the lobby, on the dance floor, hanging over the balcony railing. “Oh, no,” I thought with a pang, “my cocktails are interacting. Better dance it off.” I slammed another Stoli Cran and wobbled through the knee-high crowd toward the speakers.
“When I stop the music and yell freeze, everybody freeze!” hollered DJ Sake 1 over “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-lite. “Freeze!” I looked around again. Dear god, these were children. Even more horrifying, I was at Ruby Skye. It was Saturday afternoon. Obviously my medication wasn’t working. I backed slowly off the dance floor before anybody’s parents mistook me for a Pampers snacker.
Luckily, the ’rents were too busy mobbing the bar. I had landed at “Baby Loves Disco,” the mind-blowing summertime monthly new wave and disco dance party for toddlers ($10 for walkers, free for crawlers). The place was packed with young ’uns running every which way, occasionally chased after by their stumbling progenitors. The club was completely trashed. The music veered from “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang to “Controversy” by Prince, and the whole thing had more than a whiff of bar mitzvah party, but less mature. What’s less mature than a bar mitzvah party? Oh yeah, Ruby Skye.
I made my way upstairs to the VIP lounge — why not? To get there, I passed chilluns with pink mohawks, chilluns with sunglasses, chilluns with full-on ’80s-fierce attitude. I entered the dimly lit backroom. There, on a VIP chaise, reclined the most beautiful toddler I’d ever seen. His little fedora was pushed back on his perfectly round head. His leg straddled the chaise’s red velvet arm. He may have been smoking an inflatable cigar. For a moment our eyes locked, my being immersed in the crystal clear beam of his unjaded, baby-blue gaze.
“Someday,” I realized, “this baby will rule the world.”
SUNDAY’S A DRAG Sundays, noon and 3 p.m. Harry Denton’s Starlight Room 450 Powell, SF $30 (415) 395-8595 www.harrydenton.com SISSY CLUB First Fridays, 10 p.m.–4 a.m. Deco Lounge 510 Larkin, SF $5 (415) 346-2025 BABY LOVES DISCO July 15 and Aug. 19, 2–5 p.m. Ruby Skye 420 Mason, SF $10 (415) 693-0777 www.babylovesdisco.com
CHEAP EATS It was Pride month so I was proud. In my own small chicken farmerly way, I celebrated the T and the B — mostly by lying in my hammock, looking at trees and birdies, and going, “Woohoo!” But also a little bit in this column, no?
Well, in any case, it’s all over now. It’s time once again to bow our heads in shame and shuffle around with our hands in our pockets looking for doo-doo to step in.
July, as longtime readers of this column may recall, is supposed to be Poo Poo Pride month, in celebration of my yard-long expulsion of 2005.
Now, before you groan yourself blue in the butt, listen to the rest of what I have to say: This year, I am canceling Poo Poo Pride. And not because it isn’t ladylike to celebrate all things brown and stinky. Some of my favorite ladies in the world just love to talk about poo poo, and last year of all the two or three people who weighed in in support of Poo Poo Pride, almost every single one of them was in fact a lady. And the other, as I recall, was kind of faggy, so …
No, the reason I am canceling Poo Poo Pride this year is because I want there to be an uproar. It’s all very maneuveristic and manipulative of me. It’s strategy, and I know it’s not very strategic to explain your strategy to the world up front and out loud, but otherwise how will everyone know what to do?
I want three or four people to sign a petition, and one or two to write letters to the editor saying how the hell are we supposed to take a crap and feel good about it without Leone’s lovingly described 40-inchers and philosophical contemplation of floaters, and, and — I want to turn on the TV one night and see an animated children’s special with a feel-good ending called “A Year Without a Poo Poo Pride Month.”
I know this is a lot to ask. But asking a lot seems to be what I do best these days. So ask I will, and may the universe ignore me if it dares.
Crawdad’s new squeeze wants her to start farting in front of him. She’s reticent. I’m with him. Nothing facilitates intimacy like intra-couple flatulence, I always say. I didn’t say this at DeLessio’s, sitting outside with them on the cool, colorful, partially walled sidewalk patio; I waited until after.
“Nothing facilitates intimacy like intra-couple flatulence,” I said.
The new squeeze said, “What?”
“Bullshit,” quoth Crawdad de la Cooter. “We farted in front of each other all the time, and look where we are now.”
I looked. We were in the garage at our old place on York Street, sorting through the last of our stuff, new guy mediating our little squabbles very nicely and with humor. He’s also got the only practical mind among us, which comes in handy.
Another thing that comes in handy: He loves chocolate. That’s great! I know this now because I’m getting a sweet tooth, and I worry about my girlish figure, and you gotta love a pal who loves chocolate, because you can say, no, no, I don’t want any dessert, and then eat at least half of whatever they order.
In this case: a chocolate-filled brioche with more butter in it than a lot of people keep in their refrigerator. And a sampling of these cool sort of sheets of various styles of chocolate they call bubble-wrap. Because it looks like bubble wrap.
All of which is well and good, but the real reason I call DeLessio’s my new favorite restaurant is for the sandwiches. And my saying so should astound you. It does me. They cost like seven, eight bucks, and they’re all premade and shrink wrapped and shit, so you can’t even say no mayo, no mustard. Speaking of bullshit.
But … and this is one of the biggest buts ever, they do have muffulettas, the old New Orleans specialty, with three kinds of meat (mortadella, ham, salami), two kinds of cheese (provolone, mozzarella), and, by definition, this super-delicious olive spread stuff instead of mayo or mustard. Not as good as Central Grocery, but … even better, in a way, because it’s here. Right here, at the corner of Market and Valencia.
Also haves: red snapper po’boy, Cuban pork, cupcakes, and buffet tables full of hot things and cold things for $7.95 per pound. From which I can only vouch for the mac and cheese: excellent. SFBG
DELESSIO MARKET AND BAKERY
Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–7:30 p.m.;
Sat.–Sun., 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
1695 Market, SF
Takeout and catering available
Beer and wine
CHEAP EATS Years ago when I haunted the other edge of this continent I lived in a chickenless shack under the bridge between New Hampshire and Maine. Me and Bikkets kept our bed on the screened-in porch in order that there would be room indoors for the Ping-Pong table.
From the other side of our see-through dream-through blow-through walls at night came the lights, sounds, and smells of a cross-river gypsum plant, Boston-bound 18-wheelers, seagulls, lobster boats, and salt water. At high tide the Piscataqua River flowed right up under our little fish house and deck and slapped rather romantically against the cement block foundation of the shack proper. At low tide you could follow the pipes from the toilet through the mud under the fish house, and out a little ways to a river-bedded mosaic of toilet paper and brown things.
I’ll never forget the mix of horror and delight with which I discovered, one low, low tide, that rich tourists, seacoast summerers (including the family Bush), and fancy-pants restaurant-goers who could afford to order Maine lobsters were in one manner of speaking eating my shit.
But my favorite memory from that era (late late ’80s) was waking up one weekend morning in the middle of the afternoon, putting on my glasses, and seeing my big buddy Carl camped on the roof of the fish house with a book and a bag of chips, respectfully waiting to see me stir before booming, “SKINLESS FRANKS!!!!!!”
All caps, six exclamation marks. This, from the rocking voice of Boston’s best newscaster by day, the Charm Dogs’ shirtless drummer by night. And, more importantly than all that, the only one I know who can beat me five games out of ten at Ping-Pong. Or six.
The reason I bring this all up, when I do have a new favorite restaurant to tell you about, is because this morning when I rolled out of bed at six in the morning, being a chicken farmer now, not a rock star, I put on my glasses, fired up the computer, and had an e-mail from Carl saying, “SKINLESS FRANKS!!!!!!”
Through the years, as we have slid in and out of touch with each other, this is our way of picking up where we left off, with our old skinless franks greeting. I don’t remember where it came from, except that in those days, before I moved out here and became soft, that was what was on the grill. Hot dogs. Chicken thighs. Not all these prissy, highbrow things I live on now, like pork butts.
Hey Carl, my skinless franks brother, I think the reason I let us lose track of each other this time is because it’s hard to say to the guy you used to hang out in sports bars with that you’re going around now in capris and lipstick. Even when you know it’s going to be OK.
So, OK, since it’s still Pride month and not quite next month, let’s let this be about poop and pride. All mixed up. If you’re an old friend or great-aunt of mine, and you haven’t seen me in a couple years, and if you’re just tuning in, or if you’ve been tuned in and still don’t get it, get it: I’m trans!
To review: hormonally female, gonadically male, and in every other way somewhere in-between. That’s the easy part. The hard part is semantics. I think of myself as “me,” and I prefer to be thought of from the outside as “she.” So, hell yeah, if you ask, she me. Sister me. Humor me.
Watch what happens.
But you know, San Rafael is hard up for Chinese food. I know because I had some serious time to kill there the other day while they scraped up a body or something from the road.
I don’t know where to eat in San Rafael. Don’t think I’ve ever eaten in San Rafael in my life, have I? So I had to do a thing that I of all people should know better than to do: I had to look at the restaurant reviews in the windows.
House of Lee, of all the downtown places I saw, had the most positive write-ups. Glow glow glow, tea-smoked duck, salt and pepper prawns, green onion pancakes. . . Cheap, cozy, the place had new favorite Chinese restaurant written all over it.
Except you can’t believe what you read, see, even if someone else besides me wrote it, because they don’t have tea-smoked duck, the green onion pancakes are lame, and the prawns didn’t make much sense to me. How do you eat fried prawns with the shells still on, without losing all the deliciously seasoned breading?
A: Use your hands, lick your fingers. SFBG
HOUSE OF LEE
Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 10:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.
885–887 Fourth St., San Rafael
Takeout and delivery available
When I reach the Ark’s rock idol Ola Salo on the phone at his apartment in Malmö, Sweden, he’s getting ready to meet friends to watch his country’s team take on Paraguay in the World Cup. Sheer lack of time calls for forward gestures, so I ask him to describe his boudoir, a CD- and book-strewn “one and a half” room apartment. “It looks like a pretty storage room,” he says, amusedly. “I have a plastic chandelier. I’ve got my big black piano and my black angel wings. I have art and furniture that friends of mine have made, such as a big purple lamp made out of ladies’ stockings. The apartment is a color explosion of chlorophyll green and bright yellow and pink and black and white. That’s the scheme — and purple. It’s harmonic but playful and energetic.”
Sort of like the Ark’s music, as showcased on State of the Ark (Virgin), the band’s first US album and third to date. In the recent glam sweepstakes, Salo and his four bandmates trump the Darkness with greater songcraft and less falsetto gimmickry — they also have more chops than any prefab pseudo-punk American loogie hocked up by the MTV machine in the last decade. Basically, the Ark prove a 21st-century band can honor the likes of the New York Dolls, Bowie, Queen, and company while still being relevant. On songs like the fabulous handclap stomper “Calleth You, Calleth I” (from the 2002 Virgin import In Lust We Trust) they are capable of turning a banal gesture — in this case, the fleeting impulse to reach out to phone an ex — into an act of ludicrously glorious, wide-screen, Bic-waving grandeur.
Perhaps it’s fate that gave Salo a last name that echoes the subtitle of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s filmic revision of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom. Because he’s the son of a priest, it’s tempting to think of him as a real-life rock version of bishop’s stepson Alexander from Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, rebelling against punishing strictures. But it’s a bit more complicated — Salo taps into and adds a twist to his religious roots, embracing the Bible’s (and rock’s) messianic outcast aspects and imagining his own miracles. One example is In Lust We Trust’s “Father of a Son,” which hit big in Sweden at the precise moment that a law preventing homosexuals from adopting children was banished. The song doesn’t just refer to queer parenthood, it drapes an ascendant Salo in choral hallelujahs.
“The Book of Revelations was the coolest part of the Bible to me because of all the parts about smoke and fire and demons,” Salo says. “It’s very heavy metal. Growing up in a Christian family gives you this kind of stigma of being a pussy. People think that Christians are … forget pussy, they’re Ned Flanders–like. I wanted to do something of Biblical proportions, something magical or sensational, something with power and joy, something that if people thought it was silly or uncool or ludicrous I wouldn’t mind.”
The Ark’s new State of the Ark might not contain anything quite as spine-tingling and sublime as “It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane,” the gauntlet-throwing leadoff hit from their 2000 debut We are the Ark. (That track has the “Hand in Glove” urgency of someone who has waited years to sing their life, and in pledging allegiance to the queer kids, the weird kids, and the fat kids, Salo’s probably saved some lives.) But it has some great moments, such as the single “One of Us Is Gonna Die Young,” an anthem to the joy of life rather than the allure of death. On State of the Ark, as on the Ark’s previous album, Salo called upon Velvet Goldmine soundtracker and ex–Shudder to Think member Nathan Larson (whose girlfriend Nina Persson fronts Malmö’s other top group, the underrated Cardigans) to help him recognize the difference between “stupid strange” and “creative strange” English lyrics.
Nonetheless, Salo agrees that one billion ABBA fans can’t be wrong in noting that a Swedish band’s approach to the English language as an “artifact” yields special interpretive appeal. He’s also more than willing to discuss the country’s past and current role in the musical landscape, lauding Göteburg-based Sarah Assbring’s el Perro del Mar project for making “probably last year’s best debut album” and playfully admonishing me for ignoring ’60s garage instrumentalists the Sputniks when I race through a shorthand version of the country’s pop history. “Sweden has a very good social welfare system and people have good living standards and we haven’t had any wars,” he pointedly observes. “We have had a lot of time to do luxurious peacetime things like making pop music.”
Perhaps because Salo is “too egocentric” to be a fan of the past rock stars he admires, the Ark’s brand of performance is exactly the type designed to incite maniacal worship. Such fan-demonium hasn’t kicked in all over the United States, but it has in other countries. “Fans are crazy in Italy, which you know if you’ve ever watched Italian television,” says Salo. “And the paparazzi — there’s a reason why that’s an Italian word.” He goes on to tell the story of a girl who was paid by an Italian tabloid to sleep with him. “I was not interested at all,” he concludes, with a dry laugh. “She got drunk and failed at her goal — miserably.”
As opposed to Salo, who is more than ready to seduce at any time. All those who saw or read about the Ark’s springtime South by Southwest shows know that he has no qualms about treating an industry barbecue like a stadium gig — he’ll bump and grind in his boots and tighty whities right on past the most jaded zombie. Something tells me that sort of attitude and behavior mean this city will love him even more frenziedly than he might love it. What might he wear, or not wear, for his first visit to San Francisco? “Some flowers in my hair, I guess,” he deadpans. “I’ve heard that’s obligatory. Actually I’m getting a new suit, or dress, for the SF shows. I hope it’s a smash.”
That said, it’s World Cup time, and who is Salo’s favorite player on the Swedish team? “Zlatan Ibrahimovic,” he answers, in a tone suggesting that looks might have something or everything to do with it. “Now I’m going to go watch him do his thing.” SFBG
With Mon Cousin Belge
Fri/23, 9 p.m.
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
SF Pride Festival
Sun/25, 3:30 p.m. (Shadowplay stage) and 5:15 p.m. (main stage)
Civic Center, SF
CHEAP EATS You’re probably tired of hearing about my dehumidifier. What? No? You can’t get enough of it? Well that’s great because it’s kind of like my curse, or part of it, to have to call ’em like I see ’em, no matter how boring or embarrassing. And I know this is embarrassingly boring, but I gotta tell you: Dehumidifiers are where it’s at, man.
I can dry my hands on a towel now and they actually get less wet. Things like salt once again work. I can write with pens, on paper! My keys aren’t rusty. I no longer have to squeegee the mirror every morning just to see my mildewy face. And best of all I can once again cook spaghetti without having to put on my bathing suit.
The timing couldn’t be better, because I just got the results of my latest blood test and my testosterone level has dropped below the normal range for men. After months and months of popping the little blue-greenies, I am finally running on “E,” so to speak. I’ve decided, almost arbitrarily, that eating lots and lots of pasta now will help me to have boobs, and that having boobs will help me to have a boyfriend, or a girlfriend who’s into girls. And chickens.
Speaking of which, it’s been four weeks now since I published my funny little personal ad right here in Cheap Eats, and the responses have slowed to a trickle. Let’s see, all said there were one, two, well, one response, technically, and our exchange of e-mails and phone calls ended in him asking me to fuck off. But not in those words. His exact words, I believe, were "go fuck off." The italics are mine. The fault being mine too, I had no choice but to eat my bandana and fuck off. Which I did. But I didn’t go fuck off. I just fucked off. I still have my pride.
Anyway, so, OK, online dating . . . check. Done that. Done with that. What was I thinking? I’m not in a hurry. I actually love being alone. I love people too, all of them — but not equally. My personal preference leans toward those who aren’t stomping on my fingers or kicking my shins.
Oh, and, duh, I don’t need to place personal ads in this column. That was stupid. Cheap Eats practically is a personal ad. People write to me all the time, entirely unsolicited, and say, "I feel like I know you. I have this new favorite restaurant, and if you’re ever in the neighborhood, and hungry . . ." Which I always eventually am and am, respectively. In the past, I have not always been the best corresponder; but I’m trying, and getting better.
Give you an example: Around the same time, around four weeks ago, I also received an e-mail from a fan of my old band who wanted to send the chicken farmer a book about chickens. I gave her my address, got the book, which was written for 9- to-12-year-olds, and cried at the ending.
She mentioned in the letter her new favorite Indian restaurant in Berkeley, which I should probably review, and if I was ever in the neighborhood, and hungry . . . And she asked, in passing, for the name of my new band — so that she could more easily stalk me, she said. She tried to make a joke out of it, but I took this very seriously. As a public figure, you have to. Someone uses that word, you have to err on the side of serious.
So I wrote back and said, in effect, "Complete Stranger, you don’t have to stalk me. I’ll come to you!"
Made a date, she bought me lunch, and I have this to say about her new favorite Indian restaurant: Mine too! It’s south Indian style, which is dosas and stuff. In case you don’t know what a dosa is, it’s yet another style of flat bread, like roti, which I love, and naan, which I love.
I love dosa.
But get this: no meat. We’re getting down with this awesome okra curry dish and dosa, and this other thin, crispy crepe-y crackery thing and all these other dip-into’s, a white one, and a soupy one with carrots, and probably you gotta figure some other things I’m not remembering . . . The point is: no meat. And yet: delicious, filling, fun. And cheap! Our little lunch came to $15.
All we talked about was food, mostly Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, and cupcakes, and curry goat, and Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. My new friend Carrie is not no vegetarian, and yet her favorite restaurant really is a vegetarian one. So let that tell you something. SFBG
Daily: 11:30 a.m.–10:00 p.m.
1901–1903 University Ave., Berkeley
Credit cards not accepted
Telephone interviewers for the influential San Francisco–based Field Research Corp. are trying to unionize but are getting resistance from the company. They have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board asking that the federal agency oversee their election for membership in an AFL-CIO affiliate.
About 40 of the employees out of 50 have so far signed up to join Communication Workers of America Local 9415, hoping to secure increased hourly wages (they currently start at San Francisco’s minimum hourly wage of $8.62, earning 50¢ or so more if they’re bilingual), a health care package, and other improvements that will stem what they say is a chronically high turnover rate.
Field Research is one of the most respected political pollsters in the state. Major newspapers across California, including the San Francisco Chronicle, regularly rely on the company’s Field Poll to gauge public opinion on everything from electoral candidates and earthquakes to steroids and immigration. The company also performs taxpayer-subsidized surveys for some county health departments.
But Field Research’s employees say they’re not being paid nearly enough to cold-call strangers at supper time to ask them if they support queer marriage rights or whether they think Barry Bonds should be penalized for doping. The workers claim the company offers no holiday or sick pay and requires them to average 37.5-hour weeks for six months before becoming eligible for health care benefits. Their schedules never permit them to meet the average, they say, and predictably, just a handful of workers have the benefits. And raises, they contend, are mere pennies.
When a delegation of the interviewers arrived at Field Research’s Sutter Street corporate offices on May 30 to request recognition of the union, they say, CFO Nancy Rogers refused to speak with them and threatened to call the police. Their only legal option then was the NLRB, which will first direct Field Research and the workers to determine who is eligible to vote on union membership and then set an election date.
"We wanted to say, ‘Look, you’re a San Francisco institution,’” said Yonah Camacho Diamond, an organizer for Local 9415. “‘You pride yourself on integrity. Will you voluntarily recognize?’ They threw us out of the building."
Daniel Butler began working for Field Research in October 2003, he told the Guardian during a small press conference at City Hall June 2. He was soon promoted to a quality monitoring position. But, he says, after he expressed his concerns to management about the quality of survey information gathered by temp workers the company had hired, he was suspended for three days and his position was eliminated. He says he was told that his complaints were "unprofessional."
"The message they were sending was, rather than make an effort to improve quality or encourage better work through higher wages, let’s just get rid of the position that monitors quality altogether," said Butler, who eventually sought Local 9415’s help in March.
Rogers sent a memo to the staff May 31 stating that the workers had a right to a union election, while also issuing a warning that could portend rocky relations between management and workers at the company.
"Many of you think that by getting a union, your wages, hours and working conditions will automatically change," the letter reads. "That is simply not the case. If the union gets in, the company will bargain in good faith, but it will not enter into agreements that are either not in its best business interests or that could eliminate the jobs of many of our part-time employees."
Rogers, for the most part, declined to comment for the Guardian when we reached her by telephone, citing the NLRB’s ongoing procedures.
"All I can really say is this is now before the National Labor Relations Board," she said. "We want to make sure this is fair and equitable and follow due process."
Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council, told the workers at the June 2 press conference that they were within their rights to pursue unionization.
"This is a union town," he said. "One of the goals we have is that people should have a voice at work." SFBG
There were macabre and fantastical American films in the silent era, many starring "Man of a Thousand Faces" Lon Chaney. But horror as a Hollywood genre arguably didn’t exist before 1931, when Universal released what may be the two biggest monster franchise titles in cinematic history.
One was Tod Browning’s Dracula, starring Hungarian émigré Bela Lugosi as Bram Stoker’s suave bloodsucker. The other was James Whale’s Frankenstein, which starred, uh, "???? — as The Monster." That was the actual on-screen billing, though word soon leaked out that portraying Mary Shelley’s "Modern Prometheus" under grotesque makeup was a certain English actor named Boris Karloff. Well, renamed: Onetime farmhand William Henry Pratt had changed his moniker long before, the better to snatch those multiethnic roles his imposing features could encompass.
Karloff, whose huge film legacy is commemorated in a Balboa Theater retrospective starting this Friday, had labored without much recognition in nearly 80 bit and supporting parts since 1919. Public clamor to identify Frankenstein‘s hulking yet plaintive monster ended that once and for all — making Karloff as notorious as the already Broadway-famed Lugosi overnight. Forever after they’d be linked as Hollywood’s twin ghouls. Both were typecast by genre fame, relegated to endless B-, then Z-grade productions. (Unlike Lugosi, Karloff managed to avoid working with legendarily inept Ed "Plan 9 from Outer Space" Wood — but he did end his career laboring on four back-to-back Mexican horror films of almost equally hilarious artistic bankruptcy. Check out the demented Torture Chamber, released well after his 1969 death and most definitely absent from the Balboa slate.)
Heavy on Golden Era classics, very light on the schlockier work that dominated Karloff’s later years, the retrospective is full of rarities and 35 mm restorations. All the Universal Frankenstein films are represented, plus 1932’s The Mummy — another primary horror figure Karloff made his own. The series’ surprise is its several gangster flicks — a genre that hit the fan just before horror did, affording glower-faced Karloff plenty of employment opportunities. He’s eighty-sixed in a bowling alley in the 1932 Scarface and plays a killer convict in another Howard Hawks film, 1931’s The Criminal Code. You can also see him as a crazed Islamic fundamentalist(!) in 1934’s The Lost Patrol, one rare occasion in which he worked with a "prestige" director like John Ford.
But the bulk of the Balboa’s 26 titles are horror, made by studio talents who never got near an Academy Award — though god knows James Whale’s witty The Old Dark House (1932) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) have aged better than whatever won Oscars those years. Ditto The Body Snatcher a decade later, innovative producer Val Lewton’s take on real-life grave robbers Burke and Hare. Body costarred Lugosi, who’d earlier joined Karloff in expat Hungarian director Edgar G. Ulmer’s tardy riot of German expressionism, The Black Cat (1934). Another gem is 1932’s The Mask of Fu Manchu, a rare horror effort for sniffy MGM that compensated via high art-deco gloss, sexual sadism, and racial stereotypes pushed to the point of absurdist camp. Under such conditions, Karloff often seems as amused as he is sinister, shading his material not with condescension but with delicate irony. He was never undignified, though the films often were. He gladly participated in ridiculing his own image, however — notably in the stage smash Arsenic and Old Lace, in which his thug character confesses, "I killed him because he said I looked like Boris Karloff."
The gentlemanly offscreen Karloff loved children, and had mixed feelings about his professional prowess at scaring the bejesus out of them. His daughter Sara Karloff kicks off the Balboa series with an evening of home movies and live chat. You can safely bet her reminiscences will land at a safe distance from Mommie Dearest territory. SFBG
"As Sure as My Name is Boris Karloff"
June 2–8, June 16–22
3630 Balboa, SF
For showtimes, see Rep Clock
Kookez looks like a name from The Epic of Gilgamesh, or perhaps the name of some lost city in ancient Persia — near Shiraz? — but really it’s a kind of phonetic or spoof spelling. Hint: Resist the urge, almost irresistible in this city, to see the word kook; remember that we deal in food and restaurants here and visualize … cookies! (No, not whirled peas.) For Kookez Café is, indeed, in part about cookies; they are the pride of founder, owner, and baker Lynn Marie Presley, and a selection of them, along with other tempting baked goods, is on display in a glass case just inside the entryway.
But Kookez is about more than cookies. It is the successor to the long-running and successful Miss Millie’s (recently decamped to the East Bay) and accordingly has inherited the pole position in Noe Valley’s busy weekend brunch derby. It is also a cozy evening spot, serving "coast to coast" American comfort-food dishes — many with a decidedly Southern accent — in as appealingly old-fashioned a setting as you’re likely to find around town. The look is that of some venerable, family-run café on a narrow lane in Paris or London: lots of warm wood, yellowish wall lamps, snug booths, and a small garden in the rear whose charms are, thus far in this indescribably dreary spring, hypothetical. Those with long memories will recall that the space, before becoming Miss Millie’s, belonged to a coffeehouse named Meat Market, which took its name from the butcher shop that once occupied the premises.
An overhead rail for hanging split carcasses is still mounted from the ceiling just in front of the small exhibition kitchen, where the chef, Amir, goes about his business. When Miss Millie’s opened, in the mid-1990s, the original menu was vegetarian, and the rail was left in place as an ironic reminder, a kind of memento mori for meat eaters, or maybe non–meat eaters. But Miss Millie’s later expanded beyond meatless offerings as the neighborhood changed, and as Kookez picks up the baton, the neighborhood continues to change.
Noe Valley is known as the city’s "baby belt," and really you can’t go a block without encountering a baby stroller, a nanny, a pack of tots, or a young father carrying an infant in some kind of chest sling. The Kookez brain trust is on the case; in addition to the cookies, the restaurant offers a kids’ menu (cupcakes included), the waitstaff seems unfazed by strollers zooming to and fro inside, and the cards of fare are laminated. I understand the precautionary nature of taking this last step, since children do have a way of spilling, scattering, smearing, and otherwise making messes with their food. At the same time, the menu card entombed in plastic does summon for some of us the ghosts of forgettable meals in chain restaurants near freeways at the outskirts of cookie-cutter cities in the heart of the heart of the country.
For the most part, Kookez pulls off its Comfort Food Nation conceit pretty nicely. The familiar stuff is the best: a bowl of New England clam chowder weighted with potatoes and bacon and heady with black pepper ($4.95); a chicken pot pie ($10.95) with a lovely golden pastry crust and a pea-rich stuffing; an excellent hamburger ($8.50), subtly swabbed with chipotle aioli and served with a stack of garlicky home fries in need of but a sprinkle of salt to come to attention; an herb-roasted half chicken ($12.50), tender and moist and plated with garlic mashed potatoes (under- and perhaps unsalted) and sautéed zucchini.
The chilled tomato tower ($7.75) — basically a napoleon, layers of red and gold tomato slices buffered by disks of mozzarella and seasoned with basil and balsamic vinegar — would be a lovely dish in summer, when the tomatoes are soft, juicy, and deeply flavored. At the end of winter, one tastes mainly the chill. The mango quesadilla ($7.50) is a worthy attempt to dress up a possibly overfamiliar friend; the decorations include a nippy blend of jack and brie cheeses, the aforementioned mango, and slices of strawberry on top. The strawberry slices looked a little forlorn on the golden half disk, as if the door to a party had been shut in their faces and they were left to pace around outside. At the same time, their presence did suggest not just seasonality but the possibility of some clever innovation: How about pureeing them with some garlic, cilantro, cayenne, and lime juice into a kind of spring salsa?
One of the best of the Southern-inflected dishes is the bayou butter-BQ dippin’ shrimp ($21.50), eight or nine big sautéed prawns accompanied by three lengths of grilled fresh okra — a surprisingly appealing bit of exotica — and not one but two dipping sauces: a peppery bourbon-butter number and a fruity-sharp jam of ginger and chilis that’s reminiscent of something you might be served with pot stickers. I would say this dish is well worth its sticker price, while noting that the sticker price is slightly lofty for a neighborhood joint. And it isn’t alone in being on the high side of $20; two other dishes also wander above the tree line, while several more are in the upper teens. But … this is the new Noe Valley, the Beverly Hills of the Googleocracy.
This can be a depressing line of contemplation, and a ready antidote is the infantile pleasure of dessert: a slice of rich amaretto cheesecake ($7.95), say, with blood orange sorbet. Or just a cookie — maybe chocolate chip ($1.50) — if you’re not nuts about such a rich finish. SFBG
Dinner: Wed.–Sat., 5:30–9:30 p.m.; Sun., 5–9 p.m.
Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 9 a.m.–2 p.m.
4123 24th St., SF
Beer and wine
One could be forgiven for staring. Oakland’s lower Telegraph Avenue on a wet, cold, windy Friday night is not a location renowned for its street parties, particularly those involving dozens of young, white hipsters happily mingling with an equal number of young African Americans, both watching an impromptu rap show.
But a street party is precisely what was happening outside the Rock Paper Scissors (RPS) Gallery, at Telegraph and 23rd Street, that night. Welcome to Art Murmur, Oakland’s very own art walk on the first Friday of every month. What started in January as an eight-gallery venture has, in a mere four months, blossomed. A dozen Oakland galleries now participate, exhibiting everything from installations featuring massively oversized pill bottles and pillboxes to traditional oil portraitures and, in the case of the Boontling Gallery, unnerving little sculptures that co-owner Mike Simpson described as "whimsical takes on decapitation."
"We want to improve the art scene in the East Bay so that people will call Oakland an artistic force to be reckoned with," the lanky Simpson told the Guardian. "Oakland has a lot of potential, and I have a lot of pride in the city…. A lot of artists who show in San Francisco are from Oakland. Why not represent where they are from?"
But jump-starting an artist-driven revival of lower Telegraph also has its potential hazards, prime among them gentrification. As San Franciscans know all too well, such revitalization carries the danger that the community will be made safe for real estate agents, developers, and urban professionals who quickly eliminate less desirable residents, i.e., the folks who were there first and the new artists’ community.
When asked about the issue, Sydney Silverstein of the RPS Collective knowingly said, "Oh, you mean artists laying the groundwork for gentrification?"
Setting the gentrification question aside for a moment, something new and very exciting is happening along Telegraph Avenue, come rain or shine.
"We want to get people to buy art that have never bought art before," nattily attired Art Murmur cofounder Theo Auer said as he sipped free wine. It is not just the young and trendy who show up — more than one gray-haired art aficionado was spotted making purchases at Boontling.
How did it all start? According to Auer, the midwife was beer. "It was after a show, and we asked each other, ‘Why doesn’t Oakland have an art walk?’ ‘How hard can it be?’" The result was a meeting last year at which RPS, Mama Buzz Café, Ego Park, 21 Grand, 33 Grand, Auto Gallery, Boontling, and the Front Gallery all chipped in money for logistics, postcards, an www.oaklandartmurmur.com Web site, and a newspaper ad.
"It’s a tight community," said Tracy Timmins, the pale-blue-eyed and enthusiastic co-owner of Auto Gallery. "We are all very supportive of each other." And that support also comes from her landlord, who is only too happy to have a group of impoverished students who want to improve the neighborhood with art.
This, of course, is what raises the specter of gentrification. History shows that the shock troops of gentrification — a Starbucks on every corner, a yuppie in every Beamer — are the artists, freaks, punks, and queers who move into marginal areas. They happily pay low rent and live in iffy areas so they can create alternative communities. But that success can sow the seeds of a community’s destruction.
What makes the Art Murmurers different from alternative communities of the past is they are well aware of how they can be a mixed blessing for neighborhoods. The night before the April Art Murmur, Murmurers held a five-hour meeting to revisit their founding principles, which include a commitment to a sustainable neighborhood as a way to prevent yuppification.
"We are trying not to alienate the current residents," Silverstein said, while noting the harsh reality of gentrification. "If this neighborhood goes to hell and becomes another Emeryville, I don’t think you can do anything about it."
Silverstein said RPS is proactively linking to, and becoming part of, the community by offering sewing classes, art classes, a community space for events, and by forging a partnership with a local high school so the collective is not just an invasive bohemian Borg.
Silverstein told us she sees more new faces at classes offered by the gallery, a statement backed by the youths of color running in and out of the gallery space. Timmins too sees a role for the galleries to provide a place for art and education for local kids, because they "are not getting it in school."
Other galleries are less clear on the concept of community and gentrification. Esteban Sabar, owner of the upscale Esteban Sabar Gallery, moved from the Castro to affordable Oakland with a grant from the city of Oakland.
"This is affordable for me," Sabar said. "It will take awhile for gentrification to happen. By putting a gallery here I will help artists and the community. I will not let anyone kick me out." But he failed to address what might happen to the poorer local residents already living there if gentrification heats up.
Perhaps Jen Loy, co-owner of Mama Buzz Café, has the most realistic take on the issue. Lower Telegraph isn’t like areas that used to have vibrant communities until they were decimated by dot-commers. She said there were few people living in the area.
"The more people, the better," Loy said. "People [who have been] living here 10 or 15 years are saying, ‘Thank you, it is great to have you here.’" Loy says businesses like a local market, a pizzeria, and the bar Cabel’s Reef all benefit from an influx of capital.
So the question is, as always, who benefits? If an area is revitalized, tax revenues go up, more people move in, and a more vibrant area ensues, but where do the artists and people who were there first go? Will they be able to create a community strong enough to resist displacement?
Or will they do what Tracy Timmins of Auto Gallery has already had to do: "As far as being pushed out, it happens," she says. "If that happens, I start again somewhere else." SFBG
Concerns about public drinking in North Beach and stifled public debate are conspiring to cripple a pair of popular outdoor festivals, possibly creating a troubling precedent for other events at the start of San Francisco’s festival and street fair season.
"We’ll have to cancel this year’s festival," Robbie Kowal, who runs the North Beach Jazz Festival, said of the possibility of not getting his alcohol permit. "Seventy-five percent of our funding comes from the sale of alcohol."
The Recreation and Park Commission’s Operations Committee is set to review the jazz festival’s permit May 3, and if sentiments among the three mayor-appointed commissioners haven’t changed, they might not allow Kowal and his partners, John Miles and Alistair Monroe, to set up bars and serve drinks to local jazz fans in Washington Square Park, as they’ve been doing without challenge for the past 12 years.
"We’ve never even had a hearing to get a permit before," Kowal said. "We’ve had no arrests and no [California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control] violations. We’re being punished when we haven’t done anything wrong. We’re caught up in this whole North Beach Festival situation."
Kowal was referring to a dispute involving the neighborhood’s other popular street fair, the North Beach Festival, a 52-year street fair that had its permission to sell alcohol in the park yanked this year. The festival is hosted by the North Beach Chamber of Commerce, whose director, Marsha Garland, is a political adversary of the area’s supervisor, Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin.
The problem started when parks general manager Yomi Agunbiade determined that a long-standing ban on alcohol in city parks should also apply during festivals. Two out of three members of the Rec and Park Commission’s Operations Committee agreed with that ruling during an April 5 meeting, and it became official policy.
Then, as the North Beach Festival permit went to the full commission for approval April 20, the words "permission to serve beer and wine" disappeared from the agenda item. Those words had appeared on an earlier version of the agenda, allowing the commission to grant what Garland had received with every permit for the last 20 years. The agenda change meant the commission couldn’t even discuss the alcohol issue, let allow issue a permit that allowed it.
Commissioner Jim Lazarus questioned a representative of the City Attorney’s Office about it and was told that the full commission couldn’t hear the policy if the general manager and Operations Committee were in agreement.
"I was taken aback by the fact that the full request of the applicant to serve beer and wine was not on the calendar," Lazarus told us. "I’ve been on the commission for three and a half years, and I’ve never seen that happen before for this kind of issue."
This story is still unfolding, but observers are openly wondering whether this is an isolated case of political sabotage or whether this battle over beer could hurt the summer festival season.
Wine and beer sales have always played a critical role in the financial viability of many of the city’s summer festivals. In a city that’s never been afraid of a liberal pour, many are beginning to wonder if the good times are over, and if so, why?
"The Rec and Park meeting was so disheartening, and if it’s used as a precedent in any way, it will harm other events. If the oldest street fair in this city can be chipped away at like that, who’s next?" said Lindsey Jones, executive director of SF Pride, the largest LGBT festival in the country.
Some North Beach residents think this Rec and Park procedural shell game is punishment for Garland and her organization’s opposition to Peskin, whom they blame for the change.
"Aaron Peskin would like to take Marsha Garland’s livelihood away," said Richard Hanlin, a landlord and 30-year resident of North Beach who filed a complaint over the incident with the Ethics Commission.
"They want to railroad Marsha," said Lynn Jefferson, president of the civic group North Beach Neighbors. "They want to see her out of business. If she doesn’t have those alcohol sales, she’ll personally go bankrupt."
At the heart of the Garland-Peskin beef is a 2003 battle over a lot at 701 Lombard St. known as "the Triangle," which the owner wanted to develop but which the Telegraph Hill Dwellers wanted for a park after they found a deed restriction indicating it should be considered for open space. Peskin agreed with the group he once led and had the city seize the land by eminent domain, drawing the wrath of Garland and others who saw it as an abuse of government power.
Peskin told the Guardian that it’s true he doesn’t care for Garland, but that he did nothing improper to influence the commission’s decision or agenda. However, he added that he’s made no secret of his opposition to fencing off much of the park to create a beer garden and that he’s made that point to Rec and Park every year since the festival’s beer garden started taking over the park in 2003.
“Just let the people use Washington Square Park. It’s the commons of North Beach,” Peskin said. “The park should be open to people of all ages 365 days a year. That’s just how I feel.”
Yet Peskin said that neither the North Beach Jazz Festival, which doesn’t segregate people by age, nor festivals that use less neighborhood-centered parks, like the Civic Center and Golden Gate Park, should be held to the same standard. In fact, he plans to speak out in favor of the jazz festival’s right to sell alcohol during the May 3 meeting.
Access became the buzzword this year, in response to last year’s decision by the San Francisco Police Department to gate two-thirds of the park off as a beer garden, effectively prohibiting many underage festivalgoers from actually entering a large part of the park. The section near the playground remained ungated, but many families were disillusioned by the penning of the party.
Enter the North Beach Merchants Association, a two-year-old rival of the Chamber of Commerce with stated concerns about booze. President Anthony Gantner learned that the park code banned alcohol from being served in any of the parks listed in Section 4.10, which includes Washington Square as well as nearly every other greenway in the city, unless by permission of the Recreation and Park Commission, which should only be granted as long as it "does not interfere with the public’s use and enjoyment of the park."
Gantner and Peskin both argue that the beer garden does interfere with the right of those under 21 to use the park. "The Chamber is basically doing a fair, and that’s it," Gantner said. "A lot of its members are bars, and they run a very large fair with beer gardens that result in incidents on the streets for merchants."
Though Garland contends that the festival is an economic stimulator, resulting in an 80 percent increase in sales for local businesses, Gantner claims that a number of businesses don’t benefit from the increased foot traffic. He associates alcohol with the congruent crime issues that crop up when the clubs let out on Broadway, and thinks that selling beer and wine in the park only accelerates problems in the streets after the festival ends at 6 p.m.
Gantner has the ear of local police, who are understaffed by 20 percent and looking for any way to lower costs by deploying fewer cops. "It used to be we could police these events with full staff and overtime, but now we’re trying to police them with less resources, and the events themselves are growing," Central Station Capt. James Dudley said.
He’s also concerned about the party after the party. The police average five alcohol-related arrests on a typical Friday night in North Beach, most after the bars close. But those numbers don’t change much during festival weekend, leading many to question the logic behind banning sales of alcohol in the park. Besides, if sales were banned, many festivalgoers would simply sneak it in. Even one police officer, who didn’t want to be named, told us, "If I went to sit in that park to listen to music and couldn’t buy beer, I’d probably try pretty hard to sneak some in."
At the April 20 Rec and Park meeting, Garland presented alternative solutions and site plans for selling beer and wine, which represents $66,000 worth of income the festival can’t afford to lose. Beyond her openness to negotiations, Rec and Park heard overwhelming support for the festival in the form of petitions and comments from 30 neighbors and business owners who spoke during the general public comment portion of the meeting.
Father John Malloy of the Saints Peter and Paul Church, which is adjacent to the park, spoke in support of Garland’s request. "I think I have the most weddings and the most funerals in the city," he said. "I’m praying that we don’t have a funeral for the North Beach Festival. If anyone should be against alcohol, it should be the priest of a church."
So who are the teetotalers? Testimony included 10 complaints from members of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, Friends of Washington Square, and the North Beach Merchants Association, as well as Gantner and neighborhood activist Mark Bruno, who came down from Peskin’s office, where he was watching the hearing, to testify.
Commissioner Megan Levitan said, "If anyone knows me, they know I like my wine," before going on to explain that she was born in North Beach and even used to serve beer at O’Reilly’s Beer and Oyster Festival. However, she said, she’s a mother now, and parks are important to her.
"It does change a park when alcohol is there," she said. "I do not believe we should serve alcohol in the park."
Will that still be her stance May 3 when the North Beach Jazz Festival requests its permit? The jazz fest has never had beer gardens, and the organizers don’t want them. Instead, they set up minibars throughout the park, which remains ungated, allowing complete access for all ages.
Although there is hired security and local police on hand, by and large people are responsible for themselves. The organizers say it’s just like going to a restaurant for a meal and a drink, except in this case it’s outside, with a stage and free live music.
Though Kowal remains optimistic, he’s rallying as much support as possible, even turning the May 3 meeting into an event itself on his Web site (www.sunsettickets.com). His partners, Monroe and Miles, were concerned enough to swing by City Hall to see Peskin, who agreed to testify and help the Jazz Festival retain the right to sell booze.
"The first person to write a check to start this festival was Mayor Willie Brown," Kowal said. "Peskin has always been a big supporter of the festival, which is why we think it will all work out."
The festival is a labor of love for the three organizers, who barely break even to put the event on; after expenses are covered, any additional profit from the sale of alcohol is donated to Conservation Value, a nonprofit organization that aids consumers in making smart purchases.
"We were the first fair to use Washington Square Park," Monroe, the founding father of the jazz festival, said. "We’re standing up for the right to access the park. It’s not about ‘he said, she said’ or who did what to whom. It’s about hearing free live music."
So now comes the moment when we find out whether this is about alcohol, parks, or simply politics, and whether future street fairs could feel the pinch of renewed temperance. If the jazz festival gets to sell booze, Garland’s supporters argue, that will represent a bias against the North Beach Festival.
The commission will hear Garland’s appeal at the end of May, just two weeks before the festival begins. With contracts already signed and schedules set, the stakes are high. Owing to lack of funds, Garland has already canceled the poetry, street chalk art, and family circus components of the fair. She did receive an e-mail from Levitan promising a personal donation to put toward the street chalk art competition. Even so, she’s preparing for a funeral.
And if alcohol is prohibited at the jazz festival, it could send out a ripple of concern among street fair promoters and lovers around the city. To be a part of the decision, stop by the meeting and have a say. SFBG
PS This weekend’s How Weird Street Faire, on May 7, centered at Howard and 12th Streets, will have beer gardens in addition to seven stages of music and performances. But organizers warn that it could be the last festival because the SFPD is now demanding $14,000, a 275 percent increase from the police fees organizers paid last year.
operations committee hearing
May 3, 2 p.m.
City Hall, Room 416
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, SF
SUPER EGO Fur suit! Is there anything better? The darling buds of May are peeping through, the beautiful ladies of the Bay are showing out their zirconia belly-bling, and clubby bears are waking up from long, wet winter naps with raging hankerings for fun (as opposed to raging hankerings for little girls in Appalachia). "Lhudely sing goddam!" the poets shout, "it’s spring & all." And for once they’re right, you know? I feel downright exuberant. The city stretches out its arms, scratches its stubbly ass, and yawns. What’s for breakfast, Goldilocks? A party, dude. A freakin’ party.
So what could be more natural than to throw on a big, fuzzy purple costume and break-dance in public on a sunny afternoon?
At least that’s what I’m hoping. Do you know the guy I’m talking about? He’s at almost every street fair, hopping around like Jiffy Pop, cute as a Great Grape Ape. You know spring’s really arrived when you see him making the scene on the sidewalk, a violaceous blur, all velutinous and shit. I’ve had a super boy crush on him for years now. We once connected briefly at Queer Pride when I was Gaydor the Cockodile, but it would never work, I realized. A furry Grapeasaurus and a drunken, gay green reptile — the time had not yet come for our illicit kind of love. Sigh.
Still, my heart beats faster when I see his head spins zagging down the pavement, and I’m wishing that he’ll send me all atwitter at the upcoming How Weird Street Faire. Not that it’ll be easy to spot him, mind. The joint’s a jungle of fabulous freaks, and that’s just how we like it. In all its fur-suited, stilt-walking, fire-twirling, rave-a-licious glory, the How Weird’s in its seventh year as the kickoff of San Francisco’s outdoor festival season, but this year seems to be the first it has appeared on so many party folks’ radar screens. There are a couple good reasons for that.
The first is that How Weird was always a kind of stealth fair, dedicated to both the underground psy-trance scene and the techno-hippie notion of global peace through half-naked dancing. The joy of it was that one minute you’d be strolling through SoMa on the way to a beer bust, when — blam! — there’d be several blocks of booming Goa beats and shirtless gyrators waving glow sticks in the daytime. It was like you stepped through a quasi-magical doorway into the mid-’90s. The fair didn’t promote itself much, which made it seem spontaneous and comfy. This year it’s stepped up its outreach efforts and expanded its offerings, with seven stages of local floor-thumpers manning the tables and a Mermayd Parade up Market Street featuring art cars, wacky "mobile works of a naughtical nature" (i.e., pirate ship floats), and some sort of undelineated May Day celebration of the spring equinox. Don’t quote me, but I’m guessing it’ll somehow involve nude pixies.
The second reason is that many folks affect being allergic to such things. "What is it supposed to be, some sort of daffy collision of Burning Man and the Renaissance Faire?" they wonder, retching into their lattes. Well, kind of. The guy behind it all is indeed Brad Olsen, he of the legendary, way-back-when Consortium of Collective Consciousness parties and a prime Burning Man mover. His organization, Peace Tours, is dedicated to "achieving world peace through technology, community, and connectedness," which, as mentioned above, pretty much plays to woowoo shamanism type. (The fair even has booths selling "peace pizza." I shit you not.) And, of course, all medieval jouster wannabes are welcome — as are their jangly jester caps.
But the time for trendy uppitiness about such things has passed. There are no big clubs in the city left where you can get down with thousands of freaks anymore, and the millennial explosion of street protests has keyed more people in to the power, if not exactly the purpose, of vibing with crowds who share their general intentions. As the drag queen said, it’s all about expression. And these days (has it really come to this?) any expression of hope and peace — especially if there’s beer available — is very greatly appreciated.
So please, purple fuzzy boy, if you’re reading this — please come down to the How Weird Street Faire. After all, it’s spring. We need you. SFBG
How Weird Street Fair
May 7, noon–8 p.m.
12th Street and South Van Ness, SF
$10 donation, $5 with costume, free for kids
J-Stalin knows how to make an entrance.
The first time we meet, in November 2004 at the Mekanix’s recording studio in East Oakland, he enters nonchalantly, sporting an embroidered eye mask as though it were everyday wear. He walks up to me and shakes my hand. "I’m J-Stalin. I write and record two songs a day," he says with boyish pride.
I had a hard time retaining the notion the rapper wasn’t a boy, for though he’d recently turned 21, his five-foot frame and preternatural baby face gave the impression of a raspy-voiced, blunt-puffing, Henny-swilling 14-year-old.
Yet he already had a storied past. A teen crack dealer, or "d-boy," from West Oakland’s Cypress Village, Stalin was busted at age 17, spending the next 11 months on parole with weekends in juvenile hall. During this period, to both stave off boredom and possibly escape the multigenerational cycle of dope-dealing in his family, the young Jovan Smith began writing raps, finding out about the other Stalin in 11th-grade history class, and soaking up game at the Grill in Emeryville, where family friend DJ Daryl had a recording studio.
After letting him watch for a year, Daryl put Stalin on a track — the result so impressed Daryl’s frequent collaborator, Bay Area legend Richie Rich, he immediately commissioned a hook. Stalin would end up on three cuts on Rich’s Nixon Pryor Roundtree (Ten-Six, 2002) and on two as a member of the Replacement Killers, a group that included Rich and Crestside Vallejo’s PSD. Several more songs from this period had just surfaced on Rich’s 2004 compilation, Snatches, Grabs, and Takes (Ten-Six), though Stalin had since defected to the Mekanix’s production company, Zoo Entertainment. By the time we met, the highly productive crew had recorded most of Stalin’s upcoming debut, On Behalf of Tha Streets.
During the next 18 months, J-Stalin would generate no small amount of buzz, thanks in part to high-profile guest shots on projects like the Jacka’s The Jack Artist (Artist, 2005) and the Delinquents’ Have Money Have Heart (Dank or Die, 2005). Three advance tracks from On Behalf — "Party Jumpin’," featuring Jacka; a clean version of "Fuck You"; and an homage to the classic drum machine, "My 808" — have accumulated spins on KMEL, while the video for "My 808" has more than 20,000 plays on Youtube.com. Too $hort says he’s "next," E-40’s dubbed him "the future," and major labels like Capitol and Universal are checking him hard.
To crown these achievements, Stalin’s copped a coveted spot hosting an upcoming project for the Bay Area’s mix-tape kings, DJ Devro and Impereal, alias the Demolition Men (see sidebar). Named after Stalin’s penchant for calling the DJs at 7 a.m., ready to lay verses, The Early Morning Shift is a potent fusion of mix tape beats and Mekanix originals, laced with Stalin’s melodic raps and distinctively raw, R&B–style vocals. Taking advantage of the industry’s current structure, whereby you can drop a mix tape or two without compromising your "debut" album marketability, The Early Morning Shift will be most listeners’ first chance to hear the prolific J-Stalin at length, in the company of stars like Keak, F.A.B., and the Team, as well as Stalin’s Cypress Village crew, Livewire. Having generated some 60 tracks in the scant two weeks devoted to recording the disc, Stalin has literally given the Demolition Men more than they can handle: Talk of a "part two" is already in the air, though the DJs are still rushing to finish the first for an early-May release.
The Early Morning Shift comes at a pivotal time in J-Stalin’s career. At the very least, the mix tape will warm up the Bay for On Behalf, which Zoo Entertainment plans to release independently in the next few months. With everywhere from Rolling Stone to USA Today catching on to the Bay’s hyphy/thizz culture, and major labels lurking in the wings, it’s probably only a matter of time before Stalin gets a deal. But the rapper is adamant on signing only as part of the Mekanix’s Zoo.
"We don’t want an artist deal," he says. "If they give us a label deal, it’ll work, because I ain’t fittin’ to sign no artist deal."
If this sounds a tad dictatorial in the mouth of so young a playa, consider that Stalin left a famous rapper’s camp to work with a then-unknown production duo, a decision fraught with risk. But Stalin’s instincts regarding his own artistic strengths are sound. He thrives on quantity, and the Mekanix’s intense productivity suits Stalin’s seemingly endless supply of rhymes and hooks. The duo’s ominous, minor-key soundscapes provide perfect vehicles for the rapper’s exuberant tales of West Oakland street hustle and melancholy, often poignant reflections on d-boy life.
"I used to listen to their beats," Stalin recalls, "and be like, ‘Damn, them niggas got heat!’ Plus they ain’t no haters. I mean, I’m a leader; I ain’t no follower. They allow me to still be me and fuck with them at the same time."
A few months ago I had a chance to watch this process in action, dropping by the studio as Dot and Tweed were putting the finishing touches on a hot new beat, one in tune with current hyphy trends yet retaining the dark urgency characteristic of the Mekanix sound.
"Let me get on it," Stalin says, as he usually does when he hears something he likes.
Sometimes Dot says yes, sometimes no, depending on their plans for a particular session. With a beat this fresh and radio-ready, one they could easily sell, Dot is noncommittal: "What you got for it?"
Without a pause Stalin breaks into a melody, accompanied by an impromptu dance: "That’s my name / Don’t wear it out, wear it out, wear it out …" Simple, catchy, the phrase totally works, and in less time than it takes to tell, he’s in the booth laying down what promises to be the main single from On Behalf: "That’s My Name."
Sitting behind the mixing board, Dot shoots me a smile, as if to say, "See why we work with this guy?"
On the Go Movement
With The Early Morning Shift about to drop, and On Behalf on the way, the only thing Stalin needs is his own catchword, à la hyphy or thizz. Enter the Go movement. Among recent innovations in Bay Area hip-hop slang is a certain use of the word go to indicate a kind of dynamic state of being, widely attributed to Stalin.
"I ain’t sayin’ I made it up, but somebody from West Oakland did," Stalin says. "Even before there was hella songs talkin’ about Go and shit, that shit came from ecstasy pills. We used to say, ‘Goddamn, you motherfuckers go.’ And then you refer to a female like, ‘She go.’ I swear it used to just be me and my niggas in the hood. I started fuckin’ with the Mekanix and sayin’ it at they place. Then, before I knew it, everybody was talking about Go."
Like thizz, Go quickly expanded beyond its drug-related origins, partly because it epitomizes so well the fast-paced environment of rappers’ lifestyles. Among the early cosigners of the Go movement is the Team, whose album World Premiere (Moedoe) dropped at the beginning of April. Not only did the group release a between-album mix tape and DVD called Go Music (Siccness.net, 2005), but Team member Kaz Kyzah has hooked up with Stalin and the Mekanix for a side project called the Go Boyz. First previewed on Go Music, on a track also featuring Mistah F.A.B., the Go Boyz have already recorded their self-titled debut, and Zoo is in talks with Moedoe about an eventual corelease.
"Where I’m from, we don’t say, ‘Go stupid.’ ‘Go dumb.’ We just go," Kaz Kyzah says, explaining the term’s appeal.
"Really, it’s a way of life for us," he continues. "Me, Stalin, Dot, and Tweed, we’d be up all night just goin’. Every song was recorded at like four in the morning. Listening to some of the stuff now, you can feel it in the music."
Getting in early
Since I began this piece, Stalin, it seems, has gotten even bigger, as word of The Early Morning Shift and the Go Boyz has spread through the scene. People are suddenly lining up to work with him, and he’s already committed to new projects with DJ Fresh, Beeda Weeda, the Gorilla Pits, and J-Nash, an R&B singer featured on Mistah F.A.B.’s upcoming Yellow Bus Driver. In a late-breaking development, E-40 confirms he intends to sign the Stalin/Beeda Weeda duo project to Sick Wid It Records.
During our interview, Stalin and I run by DJ Fresh’s studio so J can lay a rhyme for an upcoming installment of Fresh’s mix tape series, The Tonite Show. Another rapper, watching Stalin pull a verse out of thin air four bars at a time, is clearly awed: "He’s amazing. I mean, he’s on the records I buy."
Stalin takes it all in stride, though; aside from when I’ve watched him perform live, this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone react to him like he was a star. I get the feeling, however, it’s far from the last. SFBG
Fri/28, 10 p.m. doors
280 Seventh St., SF
Bring on the Demolition Men
The Demolition Men, Impereal and DJ Devro, definitely didn’t earn their reputation as the Bay Area’s mix-tape kings by staying at home. As DJs the duo has performed together and separately at clubs all over the world, from China and Japan to South America and Europe. Native Spanish speakers — Impereal hails from the Colombian community in Queens, NY, while Devro is Southern California Creole — the pair also hosts Demolition Men Radio, broadcast Thursdays from 6 to 7 p.m. on Azul 1063, a hip-hop station in Colombia’s Medell??n. Yet if you live in the Bay, you’re most liable to see them on the street, selling mix tapes out of their backpacks.
"We’re like a walking promotional retail machine," Impereal jokes. "If you don’t buy a mix tape, you going home with a flyer."
Such determination, coupled with the DJs’ high output (more than 30 releases since late 2003, including three volumes each of R&B and reggaeton) and elaborate graphics, has finally kick-started the Bay’s once lackadaisical mix tape scene.
An integral component of hip-hop in New York and the South, enabling new talents to be heard alongside vets and vets to issue bulletins with an immediacy unavailable to corporate labels, DJ-assembled mix tapes at their best are the ultimate in no-holds-barred hip-hop. Considered "promotional material" and usually printed in limited quantities, the discs are generally unencumbered by legal requirements like sample clearance.
Until recently, however, mix tapes weren’t much of a factor here. While the Demolition Men are quick to pay homage to their local predecessors — like Mad Idiot, DJ Natural, and DJ Supreme — Natural acknowledges the mix tape scene was a bit dead before the Demolition Men began shaking it up.
"Out here DJs were concentrating on clubs," Natural says. "Then they started putting stuff out constantly." Now there’s sufficient trade in mix tapes for Natural to move his formerly virtual business, Urban Era, to brick-and-mortar digs at 5088 Mission, making it the Bay’s only all–mix tape music store. Yet even with increased competition, he notes, the Demolition Men still routinely sell out.
In addition to their up-tempo release schedule, the success of the Demolition Men’s mixes might be attributed to the conceptual coherence they bring to their projects. While they do put together general mixes featuring more mainstream fare — such as the Out the Trunk series, which boasts exclusives from Ludacris — the duo’s hottest projects tend to tap into the Bay’s reservoir of talent. Aside from their multifaceted Best of the Bay series, the Demolition Men have released mix tapes hosted by Bay Area artists like Balance, Cellski, El Dorado Red, and the Team.
Currently the Demolition Men’s most successful disc has been their most ambitious: Animal Planet, not so much a mix tape as music cinema, starring the Mob Figaz’ Husalah and Jacka. A mighty 34 tracks — featuring production by Rob Lo, Traxamillion, and the Mekanix, and appearances by F.A.B., Keak, and Pretty Black — Animal Planet is an incredible collection of almost entirely exclusive, original material, seriously blurring the boundary between mix tape and album. Its success has encouraged bold undertakings, like The Early Morning Shift with J-Stalin and Block Tested, Hood Approved, a mix tape/DVD starring Fillmore rapper Big Rich. "I guess we’re taking the mix tape to the next level," Devro says. (Caples)
Demolition Men DJ
Thurs/27 and the last Thursday of every month, 9 p.m. doors
81 W. Santa Clara, San Jose
Ever wish you were everywhere at once? Don’t. Be in this body now.
So this body got down to the Parkway Theater last night to catch an eyeful of Oakland pride at the “Celebrate Original Oakland Charm” party thrown by Oaklandish . We beheld a montage of invaluable historical footage including clips of Sun Ra touching down in O-town proper; the bit-too-long, but ultrainformative “Rebels of Oakland,” a TV-ish doc on the A’s and the Raiders; snippets of Too Short, the Hell’s Angels, Black Panthers, The SLA, Remembrance of the Hills Fire & Earthquake, etc. Missed the Bruce Lee. Dang! EEEEE-ya! Also caught the premiere episodes of “It’s Crazy Time”, the local punk-rock sketch comedy show put together by the multitalented Dan Aaberg of the Cuts and friends. Funny stuff–Count Tabascula is a soon-to-be classic.
Leela James works it out. But what is she wearing?
Tonight I’m torn, torn, torn between catching Tinariwen at Yoshi’s, Dinosaur Jr and Comets on Fire at Great American, and Leela James (above) at Fillmore. The sleeper nouveau soul diva makes a stand in the Fillmo’ at 8 p.m.
Later this week at the ‘Mo, Lila Downs brings out her bold new disc, Entre Copa y Copa. The disc shows off both the smooth and strong sides of the Frieda lookalike. She performs April 20, 8 p.m., at the Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. $25. (415) 346-6000.
Whew. Now off to finally see Brick.
March 21-April 19
Every once in a while, we enjoy peeping a bout of WrestleMania on the ol’ tube. While watching muscley long-hairs body-slam each other, we thought: That’s just like Aries. Totally getting their asses kicked by insecurity and other crappy feelings. Bounce back by shifting your relationship to whatever’s got you down.
April 20-May 20
Pluto and Venus are square-dancing in the sky, producing really intense interpersonal encounters throughout the zodiac. And you, spawn of Venus, are no exception to the drama. Devise some sort of creative way of checking in with yourself. It’ll really help you handle the frustrations we promise are headed your way.
May 21-June 21
Gemini, if anything or anyone comes around trying to sell you on an opportunity for growth or new beginnings in your emotional realm, you damn well better take them up on it. All of this affirmative activity can easily morph into scattered mental energy, so keep your head screwed on tight and say, “Hells yeah.”
June 22-July 22
We’re here to make sure you’re not focusing too hard on those fears of yours, Cancer. Obsessive attention may make the scary little bastards come to life — and then what? If you understand that you already have everything you need, you won’t feel so grabby toward others.
July 23-Aug. 22
We see you asserting boundaries that you would rather not assert, Leo, while mired in situations you would rather not be in. A rather shitty week, perhaps, but the success you will have in these challenging scenarios should bring you a great amount of pride and, yes, happiness.
Aug. 23-Sept. 22
Virgo, you’re going to have to buck up and extend yourself toward your relationships. Especially your sexual relationships. They need every bit of effort you can sink into them. Consciously invest in your passion and what is personally true for you; avoid investing in your compulsions.
Sept. 23-Oct. 22
It’s one of two heavy things, Libra: Either you’re processing a very deep loss, or you’re coming to terms with the need to make some seriously deep behavioral changes. Maybe a little of both? Either way, it looks like a hellish week. Balance your daring actions with reflection and care.
Oct. 23-Nov. 21
Lookit you, Scorpio, no control at all. That must suck — a control freak such as yourself, up shit’s creek with no paddle in sight. However, this glorious lack of control actually offers you the opportunity to stop vying for control! Think about it. Stop trying to impose your will, and cultivate emotional and physical presence instead.
Nov. 22-Dec. 21
Sag, a little aggression and a little initiative are like a day in the sun. You feel all healthy and virile and whatnot. But too much aggression and initiative is like you overstayed your welcome on the blazing shores of life: You feel drained and crazy and have a higher chance of catching cancer. Take it easy this week.
Dec. 22-Jan. 19
Capricorn, if we could blindfold you and make you fall backward into our waiting arms, we would. Because this week is all about trust exercises. And we know how much you hate trust exercises, so we want to make it fun for you. Because shit is currently stressful, and the best way to get through it is not to analyze but to trust.
Jan. 20-Feb. 18
Aquarius, the good news is that your heart is open. Good job! Some people have to spend tons of money on self-help books and trips to India to achieve the state you’re currently in. The bad news is that your brain is manic and trying to make decisions prematurely. Only make promises when you know you can keep them.
Feb. 19-March 20
Pisces, it’s okay to be trusting. You’re going to have to be in order to accomplish what we’ve assigned you this week. First, you’ve got to invest yourself in what matters most to you, things that reflect your actual needs. Next, you’ve got to communicate verbally in a way that’s productive. Then take yourself out for pie. SFBG
March 21-April 19
Aries, everyone’s got a little bit of the people-pleaser in them, even you. You might annoy the shit out of yourself this week as you notice all the ways you refine your personality to suit what other people want or need from you. Pay attention to which of your closest relationships provoke such chameleonesque activity.
April 20-May 20
Your dramas actually have a higher purpose, Taurus. They’re not just happening because the earth deities are pissed at you for your lackluster recycling habits. Nope. Frustration offers you the opportunity to ground your ass in such a way that you coast through your stress with unbelievable balance and authenticity.
May 21-June 21
Gemini, you’re going to have to take a risk. May we suggest that such a risk be taken from your happy place, as opposed to your crazy place, where you’re currently renting a room. We shouldn’t have to tell a weird-ass sign like yourself not to be scared of doing things unconventionally, but fear can make even the zaniest of the zodiac turn overly prudent.
June 22-July 22
Every time you encounter crap, Cancer, (and you will encounter crap — in fact, you might want to check the bottoms of your shoes right now), we want you to seize the opportunity to use the stanky muck as compost and hustle yourself some flowers out of the situation.
July 23-Aug. 22
Awwww, finally, someone has a nice horoscope. You deserve it, Leo. You people have truly been putting the horror in horoscopes lately. But not this week! You should be beaming with pride at how open you are to cultivating a new level of understanding what love and passion actually mean to you.
Aug. 23-Sept. 22
Welcome to our crash course in how much you can and cannot control things, Virgo. We think you’ve been enrolled in this particular program before, but hey, sometimes it takes a few tries for information to really sink in. Your homework: cultivating humility in a way that doesn’t diminish your vitality.
Sept. 23-Oct. 22
Libra, it’s going to be tricky to not compulsively submerge yourself in the society swirl. While it may be enticing to throw your cares to the wind and take up a regimen of partying, frankly, your self-esteem can’t handle such immersion in humanity. Have a bath, a cry, or a primal scream instead.
Oct. 23-Nov. 21
Sometimes, Scorpio, all you’ve got is your little personal truth. Your point of view. Your slice of life. And it looks like you’re on a Slice of Life Sandwich diet. The meat in your sandwich this week is (a) you can and should totally trust your needs, and (b) you seriously need to assert some frigging boundaries.
Nov. 22-Dec. 21
Sagittarius, there is such a thing as too much push and not enough yield. And you are all about that thing right now. Yes, we’re saying you’re being pushy and uncompromising. While we are fans of asserting your individuality, and of assertiveness in general, you have officially gone overboard in pursuing what you want.
Dec. 22-Jan. 19
Education isn’t always about acquiring information, Capricorn. Sometimes the most crucial lessons are those that teach us to unlearn what we thought we knew — and undo the damage such mistaken smarts have created. Such knowledge brings loss. Nothing catastrophic, you’re just learning to let go.
Jan. 20-Feb. 18
Ah, it’s another pupil in this week’s School of Hard Knocks! Your specially tailored curriculum concerns ambiguity. How do you achieve some level of comfort when murky situations make you want to scratch your eyes out? How do you ground your intentions and pursue what you want while trapped in enigmatic circumstances?
Feb. 19-March 20
Pisces, you’re coming from such an emotionally funky place it’s getting to be wicked hard to ride good vibes. Just try to stay checked in with yourself and take special pains to make sure you’re not behaving in a way that’s reactionary. Let your behavior reflect what you truly want, not just your tantrums.
A good deal of blood gets spilled in Michael Pollan’s intelligently gory new book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Penguin Press, $26.95), but amid the accounts of chickens’ throats being methodically slit and steers’ assembly-line encounters with the so-called stunner, the shooting of a wild pig near Healdsburg commands a particularly dark fascination. For one of the shooters is Pollan himself, our guide, narrator, and conflictedly omnivorous Everyman, and his act of marksmanship in Sonoma’s golden hills closes the circle that is the book’s central conceit: of bearing personal witness to, and accepting moral responsibility for, the collection of the food one will then prepare and eat.
The breaking of that circle is a chief objective of the food industry. As Pollan notes, Big Food "depends upon consumers’ not knowing much … beyond the price disclosed by the checkout scanner. Cheapness and ignorance are mutually reinforcing … [and] the global economy couldn’t very well function without this wall of ignorance and the indifference it breeds." And even in America, ignorance and heartlessness cannot be assumed. "Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively," Pollan writes, "we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do … for who could stand the sight?"
The pig who falls at Pollan’s shot — "a very large gray sow" — was probably shot by Pollan’s more experienced guide, or so Pollan seems to imply. Later there will be ham and prosciutto and other porcine wonders, but under the hot Sonoma sun, the immediate prospect is "a dead wild animal, its head lying on the dirt in a widening circle of blood." One cannot help admiring Pollan’s nerve, his gameness, even as the hunting episode brings forth a spasm of not quite seemly triumph — his sense of himself, candidly described, as "playing the hero’s part."
I would not, could not, shoot a pig, or any mammal, any creature — and I say this not with pride but as a fact. I recoil from accounts of Dick Cheney’s beer-bust quail hunts. If I had to do what Pollan did to eat meat, I would not eat meat. But I don’t, none of us do, and there is our dilemma.
Nonetheless, it was a revelation to finally get a looky-loo at the recently released Hot Chick Hot Rod Stoner BBQ DVD (Stroker Productions, www.stonerrock.com), the straight-to-DVD-in-all-its-glorioski sequel to Hot Chick Stoner BBQ. Both projects star Hot Rod Honey — the charismatic, witty, and much more likeable rock ’n’ roll alternative to Rachael Ray.
The latest disc picks you up, throws you in the backseat, and gives you a smokin’ ride to Ace Junkyard in SF, where HRH gently but firmly takes you through the gutbucket basics of barbecuing, from starting a flame to cooking some beer can chicken, while hep, cute, but grittily real-looking metal and stoner rock chicks mill about, show off their shh-weet hot rods, chow down, and get buzzed. HRH lays down the grillable wisdom, urging hot-rodders to "put some time into your ride and some time into your food" before quipping that she’s making her food mild for the party because "I know some folks here have a bad case of honky mouth, so I don’t want anyone’s asshole to blow out."
Between barbecue tips, hip chicks (one, Vicki, works as a mechanic at Oakland Ford and is said to be married to a Drunk Horse) show you how to do elementary work on your machine, like changing the spark plugs. An added bonus: a solid soundtrack by local heavies like Om, Hightower, High on Fire, Acid King, and Dirty Power and cameos of familiar Bay faces and their rides, including Leslie Mah of Tribe 8, Meg of Totimoshi, and Windy Chien, former owner of Aquarius Records (showing off her now-departed Porsche). Toss in some shots of hot girls hot-boxing it and a recipe for "potcorn" with "pot butter," and you can imagine rock kids in Peoria drooling over the high times, good eats, and hip crew in SF.
Hot Chick Hot Rod Stoner BBQ looks that cool, as conceived and directed by Tina "Tankdog" Gordon, drummer of onetime Guardian Goldies winner Lost Goat. The video production teacher, who now drums in Night after Night, found the impetus for the series in Hot Rod Honey herself. "Hot Rod Honey is an old friend of mine. She’s been cooking for rockers for years," says Gordon over the phone. "In fact, she was the reason I stopped being a vegetarian. My old band was playing at Pondathon [in Mendocino County], and she was sitting at the edge of the pond surrounded by a pack of dogs. I said, ‘What are you cooking?’ And she said, ‘Beer Boat Sausage. It’s good. You should try some.’ It was like she put a spell on me. I said, ‘OK,’ and I ate it, and then I ate rattlesnake and steak."
The project took form because, Gordon says, Hot Rod Honey (who apparently not only works on her hot rods but also rides horses, shoots guns, bartends, and barbecues like a bad ass) "needed to be appreciated and kind of honored. I see all these cooking shows, but none of them are interesting to me, y’know. So I wanted to do something I was interested in, in this genre. In general, the stuff I like to document are things that aren’t generally documented. I’m not excited by most of what I see in TV and popular culture; so when you don’t like what you see and you’re someone who makes stuff, you gotta make the stuff you want to see. It’s just like music."
For the Hot Rod shoot in fall 2004, Gordon assembled pals who could understand the project and the vibe "and are down with barbecue." Even her vegan hot chick friends could get with the spirit of the series. "The love of hard rock is a huge thing," Gordon says. "There’s a cross section in there who can appreciate hard rock and who are hungry for that right now." Chomp chomp, there go those crunchy guitars.
Gordon tells me the next DVD will be titled Hot Chick Backwoods Stoner BBQ, and I’m probably not outta line to make a wise crack about seeing a pattern here. But after that, who knows? Gordon and HRH have been invited to film in Mississippi in May with the boys of Yokel, a Jackass-related redneck hipster pride TV series on the Turner South network. Nashville Pussy lovin’—Nascar Nationals meet NorCal hottie headbangers? Bring it on.
Perhaps the best book written about a wrongly convicted man is Jack Olsen’s Last Man Standing, a chronicle of the 27 years Geronimo Ji-Jaga Pratt spent caged in a California prison thanks to crooked FBI agents and Los Angeles cops. The narrative starts with Pratt’s childhood in Louisiana, tracks his involvement in the Black Panther party and the decades he spent dwelling in the American gulag, and concludes with his triumphant release from prison thanks to the tireless lawyering of Stuart Hanlon and the late Johnnie Cochran. It’s a fucking amazing read – meticulously researched yet hyper-engrossing, torturous and ultimately uplifting.
But I’ve always had the nagging sensation that Olsen terminated his book at the perfect moment: before the homecoming euphoria wore off and the challenges and mundanity of day-to-day life set in. Can a person truly get on with his or her life when the authorities have stolen the vast bulk of it?
It’s the sort of question the makers of the documentary After Innocence put to eight men who were wrongfully sent to prison. The answers are, as a whole, tear-inducing – most of the men are grappling only semi-successfully with a callous world that’s done little to make them whole. Prison, as one man says, "breaks down your soul. It breaks down everything about you. It takes your manhood. It takes your pride. It takes your decency."
They find themselves struggling with the basics. They have trouble building lasting relationships with lovers. They have trouble finding jobs – how do you explain a 10- or 20-year blank spot on your résumé?
And at times they have trouble simply experiencing emotions. In what you’d expect to be an emotional highpoint, the film documents the release of Wilton Dedge, who is freed from a Florida prison after wrongly serving 22 years for sexual battery and burglary. But on his big day, Dedge looks uneasy and half-zombiefied, as if his decades in the joint have simply siphoned the life from him. It’s perhaps the most telling scene in a film filled with potent vignettes.
While tremendously powerful, After Innocence isn’t flawless. At times the movie is a little talking head-ish, telling viewers what they should think rather than letting them witness the stumblings and successes of the exonerated men. Overall, though, it’s a remarkable work – and one that deserves the widest audience possible. (A.C. Thompson)
AFTER INNOCENCE Opens Fri/20 Lumiere Theatre (415) 267-4893 Act 1 & 2 (510) 464-5980 Showtimes at www.sfbg.com www.landmarktheatres.com www.afterinnocence.com
DO YOU LIKE to celebrate Christmas? Do television commercials fill you with desire for the products advertised? Do you wear gender-appropriate clothing and hairstyles? Do you think everyone should have a job, get married, and have children? Have you ever laughed at someone for acting "weird"?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might just be a neurotypical. The term, coined by autism and Asperger’s syndrome activists in the neurodiversity movement, is being used more and more within this community to describe the sort of person whose fixation on "normal" mental activity is tantamount to discrimination. As diagnoses of Asperger’s and autism skyrocket, especially among the most driven members of the scientific and arts communities, the idea that people whose minds work atypically are suffering from a terrible disease is starting to ring false. That’s why the non-neurotypicals are rebelling.
At the Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical, a parody site that has lived since 1998 at isnt.autistics.org, a pissed-off autistic writes about the spreading problem of normal personality, which is "a neurobiological disorder characterized by preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority, and obsession with conformity."
On Wikipedia you can find lists of famous people who have Asperger’s, including electronic music pioneer Gary Numan and Steven Spielberg. For anyone familiar with minority politics, it should be no surprise that there are also lists of people who might be non-neurotypical because they exhibit autistic traits. Bill Gates usually tops such lists. It reminds me of similar lists on queer rights Web sites, in which activists try to figure out which famous people might be gay.
When BitTorrent programmer Bram Cohen came out last year as having Asperger’s, it was like a 1960s rock star saying he’d done LSD. His altered mental state became part of his allure, part of what inspires him to think creatively. Among the geekigentsia these days, you just aren’t glamorous unless you can lay claim to being a little obsessive-compulsive sometimes, or at least unable to engage in ordinary social interactions.
In another era, non-neurotypicals would probably have been called eccentrics: notoriously weird but still lovable and socially useful. Nicola Tesla, who invented AC power and only ate food whose volume he had calculated before consuming it, would certainly have been one. Modernist poet Wallace Stevens, who wrote by dictating poems to his secretary at Hartford Insurance, would have been another. The novels of Charles Dickens are full of such characters. They’re weird but certainly not diseased, and they even have an honored place in their communities.
Clearly, the neurodiversity movement is aiming at a similar kind of acceptance for autistics and Aspies. As someone who could hardly be accused of neurotypicality, I can’t say this isn’t a worthy goal. But there’s an important difference between celebrating eccentricity and glamorizing Asperger’s. Eccentricity describes a behavior, while Asperger’s is an identity.
The non-neurotypicals may have taken the pathologizing sting out of the names for their conditions, but they’re still rallying around the words that doctors came up with to label them freaks. Even this strategy isn’t a bad one. I love it when epithets like queer become badges of pride; even better is when a term like hysterical, spawned by a sexist medical community hell-bent on suppressing women’s sexuality, gradually gets converted into a slang term for something that’s hilariously funny.
But I must admit to a bit of a squicky feeling when people seek to define their entire identities in terms of one particular thing, whether that’s Asperger’s or femininity or being an alcoholic. I’m especially leery when that particular thing, in this case Asperger’s, becomes a kind of personality chic.
The glamour of being non-neurotypical elides the very real issues people face when they suffer from full-blown neurological trauma. It also, in some sense, deprives people of the ability to take credit for their own behavior. Cohen’s considerable talent with the Python language becomes not a spectacular behavior but merely an outgrowth of being an Aspie. I guess what I’m saying is that I’d rather act eccentric than be non-neurotypical. The former lets me take responsibility for my weirdness, and the latter lets other people define me by it.
Annalee Newitz (email@example.com) is a surly media nerd who refuses to eat chocolate-covered garlic. Her column also appears in Metro, Silicon Valley’s weekly newspaper.