YOGA Open source is all the rage these days, from platforms to beverages to biotech. And when it comes to yoga, the East’s oldest standby for health and well-being, open source has been the way for thousands of years. But all changed when yoga won over the capitalistic West, and the West Coast became a hotbed for many of today’s popular yoga trends.
But for Bay Area yogis who can’t afford $92 pants to enhance their assets or $18 drop-in classes, there’s Yoga to the People (www.yogatothepeople.com): the East Coast invention of Greg Gumucio, which operates on a donation-based model.
Besides studios in New York and Seattle, YTTP has spaces on both sides of the Bay — in Berkeley and the Mission — and it has plans to open a hot studio in Berkeley as well. There, 90-minute classes will feature a familiar series of 26 poses in a sweltering 105-degree room.
But it’s not Bikram Yoga, the “hot yoga” that’s won its Indian founder a worldwide following.
Instead, it’s what YTTP calls “traditional hot yoga.” It’s already on the docket at four of the group’s five New York studios, and late last year, it landed them in hot water with Bikram Choudhury, who sued YTTP for infringing on his intellectual property.
While the class is similar to what Bikram-ites have come to expect when they walk into any one of the modern guru’s more than 900 studios worldwide, “traditional hot yoga” doesn’t rely on Bikram certified teachers or Bikram’s copyrighted class dialogue, and Bikram receives no money.
Which makes the whole issue a little sticky: if YTTP were billing the classes as Bikram Yoga, they’d have to play by Bikram’s rules: from teacher trainings and re-certifications to registering and paying studio dues — in fact, right down to the Bikram-required carpet on the floor.
But as Gumucio and his lawyers pointed out in an answer to Bikram’s suit, they’re not.
Furthermore, the response argues, copyright protection is limited to original works of authorship, from which the copyright statute expressly excludes “procedures, systems and methods of operation” — such as exercise systems.
In a December letter to YTTP’s lawyers, the copyright office concurred, writing that the selection and ordering of exercises in the public domain (which Bikram’s poses, having been taught by his teacher’s teachers for generations, clearly are) “do not constitute the subject matter that Congress intended to protect.”
Of course, there remains the slight problem of the office already having issued the copyright, a fact that Bikram’s lawers have not failed to notice.
After a slew of articles hit New York presses, Yoga to the People has decided that they will no longer comment on the case, but Gumucio is taking the letter as the decisive answer to the question he posed on his website, Yogatruth.org: “Can yoga be owned?”
“Copyright office makes it official,” he wrote in exuberant red print. “Yoga belongs to all people!”
It’s easy to see the saga as a David and Goliath story — Yoga to the People, proclaiming,” There will be no proper payment; there will be no right answers; no glorified teachers; no ego no script no pedestals,” versus the Rolls Royce-collecting, sequined Speedo-wearing, wealthy, and self-promoting Beverly Hills-based Choudhury, purveyor of what many call “McYoga.”
But Juicy Sanchez, who owns and teaches at the Bikram-certified studio Mission Yoga (www.missionyoga.com) with her husband Steve, points out that some of the hype surrounding Bikram’s larger-than-life personality and shady business practices are overblown.
For instance: claims that studios are required to pay monthly dues and franchising fees of more than $10,000, in addition to the cost of teacher trainings, which are required every three years.
“First, we’re not a franchise,” she says. “We’re a loose affiliation.”
“And it’s just like any profession — doctor, lawyer, massage therapist — you’re required to get re-certified periodically,” she says. As for as the franchising fee, she says that because she and her husband bought an existing studio, they were not required to pay anything beyond their teacher training to open their business.
Though that may soon change. In April, Bikram will require studios to pay $300 a monthy for the right to use his name, which has people “freaking out.”
“I suppose some people are always going to feel exploited,” she says, “But personally, I think it’s a bargain. How else do you buy into a brand?”
Of course, Bikram wasn’t always considered a brand. Sanchez explains that when he arrived in the U.S. in the 1970s, he slept on the floor of his studio. He taught for free until the actress Shirley MacLaine, a student of his, took him aside and told him that if he didn’t charge money, no one would value what he did.
But if yoga is truly about a practice, not a product, why continue to replicate this one man’s 26 poses?
Brian Monnier, of the California Yoga Company (www.calyogacompany.com), says of Gumucio, “I support his right to fight for this, but if your teacher doesn’t want you teaching what he taught, why not grow and change the practice?”
Monnier points to his teacher Tony Sanchez, who learned directly from Bikram, but wasn’t certified by Bikram’s Yoga College of India. Instead, Sanchez returned to Bikram’s own guru, Bishnu Gosh, in Calcutta. It was from him that Sanchez drew his practice, creating a new style of hot yoga altogether.
Even Bikram has said that the power should lie with the practitioner — not the teacher. The very idea for Yoga to the People came when Bikram asked Gumucio, then a student of his, to review another teacher. Gumucio gave a negative review, and Bikram chastised him, saying “You are your own teacher. You are responsible for your own experience.”
How that plays out in the Bay Area remains to be seen. Katite Gumucio, Greg’s sister and owner of Hot Yoga Ocean Ave., (www.hotyogaoceanave.com) believes that yoga isn’t so different from many other types of big business with the opportunity to change paths. “Yoga can segue into a new way of doing business. YTTP is clear that you’re the center of it all; you don’t need to realize through anyone else. People can lead us, they can grow and do great work, but when they reach the point where they can only lead by force, it’s time to redistribute the power instead of trying to hold on.”
YOGA For a sizeable sector of our population, yoga is as much a part of the culture as burritos and biking to work. With more than 50 studios in San Francisco’s 49 square miles alone — and even a brand-new yoga room in SFO, which claims to be an airport first — the Bay Area isn’t short on options for a Saturday morning sweat sesh or Sunday night candlelight.
But which teacher is best for you? For three exhaustive weeks I pretzeled it up from Berkeley to Bernal, sampling classes with some of our most famous and intriguing yogis. Below are my experiences with each, along with a one-to-five “sweat factor” intensity rating . Hopefully, this will help you choose the right teacher to help you lighten up, ground down, or just plain bliss out. (Perhaps you might be inspired to follow one of our dozens of other local yogis’ paths.)
Me? I’ll be soaking in a hot bath. Can you hand me that ice pack?
PETE GUINOSSO: GOOFY AND LOOSE
If you’re the kind of person who thinks the Black Eyed Peas and Beyoncé — let alone House of Pain — don’t belong in the yoga studio, then Pete’s Friday night Happy Hour Yoga at Yoga Tree on Valencia (www.yogatreesf.com) isn’t for you.
Guinosso breaks it down, both musically and with frequent stops to explain a new inversion or variation on an arm balance. With plenty of “play time” to work at your own pace, plus friendly gossip and occasionally flirty energy in the female-heavy room, the class can sometimes feel more like a very sweaty cocktail party. But it’s a great way to stay loose, learn new tricks, and cultivate what Pete calls the “inner teacher.” The smiley, Forrest-trained yogi also guides more traditional vinyasa and candlelight flow classes — no Top 40 here — but his liberating sense of humor remains.
Sweat Factor: 3
The Takeaway: Fun and funky, but probably not best if verses from “Afternoon Delight” aren’t among your favored mantras.
Imagine taking a rubber band ball and chucking it down some hard wooden stairs: that’s what Les was like, bouncing around during Saturday morning vinyasa while his students were still waking up.
But that’s all right. As my neighbor one mat over put it, Les is “really good at letting you know that where you are is fine, while at the same time pushing you to move forward.”
Leventhal’s quirky style, coupled with live beats by Sac-town sacred sound messenger Nate Spross (Les has also brought the likes of Buddha Bar’s Daniel Masson from Paris to spin), kept class sparkling; even when he got down among the mats to demonstrate a Foot-Behind-Head pose which morphed into a series of arm balances that had students’ eyes bulging, his sense of humor soothed the spirits of those of us who were in pain just watching — let alone trying to replicate the seamless flow.
“Why do we let our heads tell us what’s good enough?” he asked, putting a hand at neck level to show a separation between head and body. “Even if you’re in the simplest expression of this pose, it feels good from here down!”
Sweat Factor: 4
The Takeaway: Down-to-earth, despite chanting in a reverberating baritone that brings me shuddering back to the rabbis of my Sunday school days.
With barely two inches between mats on a Saturday morning, it’s easy to see that Janet is a Bay Area favorite. She’s no slave to typical maneuvers like the Sun Salutation, though, and while her fast flows kept class interesting, all the unfamiliar iterations seemed a bit frantic — and made the class more about momentum (and not getting lost) than about muscle and alignment.
But of course, that’s the yoga. And though her students may love her because they come to learn her style, she might say the real work is in getting better at not knowing what’s next. Or, in Janet’s wording: “In this practice we pause and disarm our myriad of defenses, and experience the pure luminous light that is there.”
Sweat Factor: 3
The Takeaway: Good if you like spontaneous Hare Krishna-themed dance fevers and Lulu-clad students eager to show off their handstands — even when that means toppling onto others’ mats.
Only a few years after beginning his journey as a yogi in early 1990s Atlanta, Rusty started to sense something missing.
“A teacher of mine told me after class one day, ‘it looks like you’re praying when you practice,'” Rusty says, “and my reply was, ‘What, am I not supposed to be?'”
Now he knows that something is bhakti, Sanskrit for “devotion to the wonder of life,” and it’s for sale (well, actually, for donation) at Rusty’s vinyasa-inspired studio near the Mission, Urban Flow (www.urbanflowyoga.com).
Taking class with Rusty is a bit like having your own personal cheerleader, albeit an extremely calm one, urging you to “undo a lifetime of doing.” His classes reflect the intention to be a beginner each time you return to the mat. But despite a slightly slower pace and emphasis on fundamentals, Bhakti Flow is by no means a soft option. In fact, everyone I saw there (including a smattering of other Bay Area teachers) was pretty much a hardbody.
Not that I should have noticed, my teacher told me.
“When I first started practicing,” Rusty said, “I used to look around and admire the people who were really strong, really stretchy.”
“After a while, I learned to look around and admire the people who were finding great joy in their practice. And a while after that,” the yogi concluded “I learned to just stop looking.”
Sweat Factor: 3
The Takeaway: Like Chicken Soup for the Ass(ana). Part workout, part therapy.
I was a little intimidated, walking into the crowd assembled for Steph’s class on Super Bowl Sunday — my first with her, and her first upon returning to teaching after having a healthy baby boy. Excitement was as thick as the steam wafting through the air, streaking the windows with condensation. Friends squealed and greeted each other, mats moved over and over again to make more space, and shouts that had nothing to do with pigskin could be heard all around.
But once we started, it was like slipping into a favorite pair of old jeans. Her flows have great rhythm and plenty of variety. Plus something intuitive, as though my body knew what to do even before her cue. She’s humble, and you can tell that she honestly loves what she’s doing.
Part of her appeal is her belief in the practice, one she says has gotten her through dark times, and her commitment to making the same hold true for others.
“Whatever you need, the practice is there for you. If you need to be saved, it will literally save you,” she promises. Add to that a great workout, beautiful chanting, and some awesome harmonium playing (Steph says she accompanies herself every day) and you can’t go wrong.
Born in a small village outside of New Delhi, Pradeep brings with him an international yoga certification in the Sivananda tradition, a deep personal practice that stretches way beyond asana, and an amazing unique voice that pitches and rolls all throughout class with nary an audible breath, making him sound something like a spiritual auctioneer trying to sell peace of mind and six-pack abs; the only pause in singsong accompaniment raising warrior ones to warrior twos is his distinctive intonation of exhaaayle, inhaaayle.
Pradeep’s classes, including this one at Oakland’s Flying Yoga Shala (www.flyingyogashala.com) are fast and packed with plenty of push-ups and core work, definitely best when you’re feeling bold. But his compassion is also undeniable.
“Yoga is not saying you put your leg behind your head,” he told me when I was feeling sick in class. “Yoga is just putting yourself in the moment, paying attention to right now. Maybe someone wants to come to my class and just do child pose for one whole hour. Then my job is to create that space for them.”
Sweat Factor: 5
The Takeaway:Though he said I taught him yoga that day, it’s better to leave the instruction up to Pradeep: he’s one of the best.
Though he’s definitely made a student or two sweat, Darren truly shines when teaching restorative sessions — especially his donation-based Tuesday night practices in the cavernous Grace Cathedral, coupled with live music like Sam Jackson’s exquisite chorus of a dozen Tibetan singing bowls.
The temptation may be not to take Darren seriously: sometimes he slips into that same ethereal quality of voice he uses to introduce his “Inquire Within” podcasts, and the flowing blond hair and bright blue eyes staring out from the back of his most popular book, Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic, are a bit Cherub-cum-movie-star, come to that.
But his teachings — in the studio and as an author, essayist, and international speaker on spirituality — come from a sincere place: a struggle with issues of sexuality, religion, and identity. Who couldn’t use a teacher with that kind of experience on their quest for personal growth? Plus, his hair’s short now.
Sweat Factor: 1
The Takeaway: Unique restorative classes with a dose of mysticism — and sometimes hot stones.
Straight up: I have to respect a guy who starts class, no apologies, with core work. Mark is that guy. His classes are serious and to-the-point, but without the rush and ego I sometimes associate with other hardcore workout-focused yogis. Of course, he does teach, rather noticeably, with his shirt off. But we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk that up to inspiration. Perhaps because his classes don’t tend toward the super-crowded, they feel both peaceful and purposeful.
And — unlike his columns for the Chronicle, which are all over the place and over-the-top funny — his yoga, both the asana and the anecdotes, have a simple, quiet intensity and calm focus that make them rewarding and accessible for all levels.
Sweat Factor: 4 stars
The Takeaway: Strong, steady yoga with the occasional conversational foray.
In classes filled with as much laughter and candid advice as yoga, Jane prepares new moms and moms-to-be for the best and worst of mothering. And she does it as much through understanding and open conversation as through asana (poses to strengthen the arms for holding a newborn, to rotate wee ones while they’re still inside, and to stretch, err, whatever might need stretching in preparation for delivery).
A midwife, doula, and mother of two, Jane is funny and warm, and able to come up with plenty for pregnant or healing women to do other than “go sit against the wall and squat.”
Plus, for ladies looking to speed things up, her classes have a history of hastening delivery — as in, right then and there. Pssst, the “water breaking spot” is just one mat to the right of the door at Yoga Tree on Valencia.
Sweat Factor: 2
The Takeaway: Be prepared to discuss everything from the nipples on down. And imagine your cervix melting like butter.
The Edwardian Ball, thrown by Rosin Coven and the Vau de Vire Society, never fails to amaze — and absinthe-addled though we were, we managed to take in all the sights, from petticoats a-plenty to splendid corsetry to handsome haberdashery from an era gone by.
Despite the fact that stunning vintage apparel has come to be expected, the Edward Gorey-inspired event — now in its 12th year — is anything but old hat.
Between the World’s Faire, the Vendor Bazaar, and the ball itself, organizers of the old-timey escapade had plenty to add: midway games, an artist lineup that included a neo-Victorian hip-hop time-traveler and his dancing gorilla, a carousel of bikes by Cyclicide, Gorey-themed puppetry, plus freakshow performers with tricks that were anything but same-old. Forget slipping doller bills into your sideshow gal’s panties, and think staple-gunning fivers to her tongue. Strictly period? Not exactly. But lots of fun — for the audience, at least.
BEAUTY Miss City by the Bay wants one thing to be clear: the Miss California USA 2012 competition is not about clogging, trained pigeons, or sparkly pink batons. Erika Ari Alexandra will be among those representing San Francisco in this year’s pageant, but she doesn’t need to break out any vaudeville to routine compete. “Special talents are for Miss America pageants. In Miss USA, our community service is our special talent,” Alexandra says.
The 23-year old Vallejo woman also insists that the competition isn’t just about looks. “It’s not just a physical thing,” she says. “It’s about celebrating all the aspects of beauty — looking at our minds and our hearts and our souls.”
At 5 feet, 11 inches and 128 pounds, with flowing locks that complement her svelte frame, this catwalk queen isn’t challenging any conventional notions of what looks good. Although this is the first time she’ll compete, she’s had pageants on her mind since she was young.
“I always saw myself as someone who would be able to use my talent on a larger scale. When I was little, I watched [pageants] on TV and thought ‘I could do that,'” the San Francisco State University communications major and aspiring model says.
Alexandra explains that her goal is to gain notoriety and use it as a platform to inspire inner-city youth. She has volunteered for the Mayor’s Youth Employment and Education Program and currently works with the Bayview YMCA as a youth and adult tutor. For Alexandra, role-modeling and model-modeling go hand in hand: she hopes the competition will give her the opportunity to “develop a real voice and support what I care about.”
If this all sounds like it’s toeing the pageant line, it could be worth noting that the Miss USA organization itself — which is owned by Donald Trump and includes the state titles as well as Miss Universe — doesn’t specify charity as a prerequisite for donning heels and walking down the runway. Women are rated in just three categories: evening gown, a three-minute personal interview, and of course — swimsuit.
Between now and November’s competition, Miss California USA contestants will spend their time fundraising, courting sponsors, and campaigning. According to the organization’s website, the goal is to make enough money to cover the $1,700 entry fee — money that recruiter Erik DeSando says covers production costs for the organization. Contestants also solicit sponsors for additional goods and services such as tanning, hair, makeup, manicures — even ball gowns.
Though the organization encourages this type of fundraising, it’s technically not required of entrants, and no part of the competition regulates how contestants handle money they do raise. They’re equally free to pay out of pocket, or pocket extra donations.
Which means that any contestant who uses her affiliation with Miss USA to save the whales, rather than paint her nails, has gone beyond her pageant-related duties.
Although there’s no paperwork to prove it, the consensus is that plenty of contestants secure sponsors who not only fund sparkly bikinis but a bevy of charitable causes. Some women even choose to compete under titles like Miss Muscular Dystrophy or Miss California Innocence Project to raise awareness for these causes. Most Miss California competitors, like Alexandra, claim a title based on a city, county, or landmark.
One might well ask: if contestants truly care about the causes liberally sprinkled over their resumes, why don’t they dispense with the pageantry and dedicate themselves to saving the rainforest or promoting animal welfare?
Erik DeSando, who counsels contestants from California to New York City, says that his competitors have used the pageant not only to raise thousands of dollars, but to effectively create a “personal brand” with clout.
“They increase their value enormously by associating with us,” DeSando says. He emphasizes from the beginning that “his girls” probably won’t win and that they should focus on goals besides the crown.
By marketing themselves with the Miss USA brand, contestants are able to create huge community followings well before November’s three-day event. Campaigning doesn’t help contestants directly: their supporters can’t vote or influence the judges’ decisions in any way. But Alexandra says fundraising in the community creates momentum for important causes. “It’s a way to get people involved, to get people excited and talking,” she says.
“We’re involved in creating something that’s big and bold, something that says ‘this person’s special,'<0x2009>” DeSando explains. Of course, he points out that contestants are usually the “right type of girl” to begin with.
In his book, that’s a girl who is “five-fingered”: loving, caring, giving, nonjudgmental, and — the thumb — beautiful. “I couldn’t believe the quality of female I was dealing with,” he says, describing his first day at Miss USA. “I thought the competition was just a bunch of hotties trying to be hottest. But these were real wife-quality girls, which is about the highest compliment there is, coming from a guy.”
Indeed, potential “wife-liness” is big with Miss USA. Contestants must be between 18 and 27; must never have been married, given birth, or been a parent; and must remain single during their reign.
Those of you waiting for a competition to judge “husband-quality” men may be out of luck. In DeSando’s words there’s no Mr. USA pageant because, well, “I just don’t think men like to be told what’s wrong with them.”
And should you be of the steadfast belief that beauty pageants are Neolithic rituals promoting airheads who eat nothing, you will be vindicated to know that DeSando makes no bones about promoting physical beauty.
“Studies are coming out all the time that emphasize the importance of attractiveness,” he says. “Attractive people have a 25 percent added value over average-looking people.”
For comparison, DeSando claims, an Ivy League education creates only an 8 percent to 10 percent added value. So to enhance salaries, job productivity — and, yes, the ability to raise money for a charity — it might be better to just go ahead and enhance yourself first.
“I think most people in America should care more about their looks. Most of them could try harder,” DeSando says. “Participating in Miss USA teaches that. I want my girls to come in as Arrowhead water and leave as Fiji water. It’s the same water, but it costs $3 more per bottle.”
If DeSando’s unabashed endorsement of eyebrow-plucking (not to mention plastic-encased H2O) has you cringing, it may be heartening to know that not all the women he advises see things in the same light.
“If you’re selfish, if you only care about yourself, it will affect how you look on the outside no matter what,” Alexandra says, explaining that hard work, inspiration, and commitment really can translate to physical beauty. “If you see someone who’s glowing from the inside, it makes them something unique.”
Which, Alexandra says, may make all the difference.
Just beyond the scope of the perpetual debate of revitalizing Mid-Market — defined as the stretch from Fifth Street to Van Ness Avenue — an extraordinary project is quietly closing its doors on an oblique, no-man’s-land corner of Market near Franklin. There, for one hundred days and nights, an empty glass storefront opened up to spill a swath of light and music onto the cigarette-studded sidewalk — without funding, a business model, or (as founders Will Greene and Sam Haynor are the first to say) much of anything else.
“We don’t have one,” Greene, his creative partner, cuts in.
“Well, yes we do,” says Haynor.
“Yeah, that not doing it seemed like a cop-out,” the pair concludes.
“It” was creating more than three months of free and donation-based events, classes, and recorded stories representing a variegated slice of the local population: hipster kids in art collectives, professionals on their Market Street commutes, and low income neighborhood residents, including many who bed down each night on the block.
As part of Central Market Partnership’s ongoing efforts to inject arts and culture into revitalization plans for mid-Market, the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development is joining with the Arts Commission to hold a series of focus groups exploring ways to engage artists, small businesses and cultural organizations in the making of a thriving creative district.
Five focus groups have already met, according to OEWD’s Jordan Klein, and over the coming weeks, more gatherings — of community residents, transportation advocates, historical preservation advocates, and nonprofit leaders — will provide insight for the Central Market Economic Strategy, to be released in the late summer or early fall.
One Hundred Days of Spring wasn’t on the agenda of any of these meetings. A former boutique clothing store sandwiched between SROs and auto body shops on a strip shadowed by the sheer, block-long face of a Honda dealership, the space’s previous tenants didn’t last long. But transformed into a gypsy-tent-circus-wagon-theater-gallery-cum-classroom, the storefront, reborn as the Schoolhouse, rooted itself in the neighborhood in just a few months.
The hundred days are now over. But if the packed closing ceremony was any indication, Haynor and Greene’s model is one that the community is keen to reproduce. Mark Singer, a research librarian and freelance writer who found the project in what the two founders call the “analog way” — by stumbling across the threshold — told supporters, “I challenge everyone in this room to replicate what we’ve seen here, seen in the last hundred days.”
“The ultimate goal,” Haynor said, “is not only to share and to educate, but at the end of one hundred days, to have created one hundred new ideas for people to carry out into the world.”
Nothing to it
One Hundred Days of Spring was an experiment in community-supported programming. Rather than relying on or waiting for grant money, Haynor and Greene hoped to show that a community space can be self-sustaining — for the benefit of those who can contribute more and those who must contribute less.
“San Francisco is grant rich,” Haynor explains, “but it’s also full of people waiting for grants. They have a bunch of awesome ideas, but by the time the grant cycle comes around, the initial spark is gone. For us, going after a grant would just eat up time, and we wouldn’t end up doing what we wanted.”
Instead, the two 25-year-olds pooled their savings and paid $2,000 a month for rent from March to June, $200 for utilities, plus a few hundred extra for renovations and insurance. Within three weeks of the initial idea, they had moved into the space and populated a calendar of events through friends, friends of friends, and tools like SF Chalkboard. They were running full tilt by day six.
In just over three months, the team offered more than 250 classes, shows, and tutorials — sometimes five in a day — covering everything from truffle-making and fermentation to bike repairs, aerial silks, and open mics. By collecting donations on a pay-what-you-can basis, Haynor and Greene were able to recover a large portion of their initial output, and also garner an extra $4,000 to reinvest into the project.
Greene on the value of 100 days of events: “If you try to put a value on what we have now, that we didn’t have then, you couldn’t buy it for $4,000.”
Though the Schoolhouse founders ended up $4,000 short, Greene says they “could have broken even” if they had focused more on the project’s revenue-generating components, like filming videos for musicians who performed in the space.
Even so, for Greene the worth of One Hundred Days of Spring was indisputable. “If you try to put a value on what we have now, that we didn’t have then, you couldn’t buy it for $4,000,” he says.
When Judy Nemzoff, community arts and education program director for the Arts Commission, stopped by the Schoolhouse and asked how Haynor and Greene did what they did, the two replied, “Well, we just signed a lease.”
It takes two
Inside the Schoolhouse, the laid-back attitude seemed to likewise shrug “nothing to it but to do it.” But the warm, easy atmosphere belied the late nights and hard work it took to get ‘er done.
Understanding how One Hundred Days of Spring came to be — and why it worked so well — means understanding a bit about its creators
Greene and Haynor, hanging at the Schoolhouse
Haynor and Greene have the kind of friendship people make movies about. Besides the sort-of charming things like finishing each other’s sentences and bragging about accomplishments each knows the other would never mention for himself, there’s the sense that somehow, these two unassuming fellows are going to change the world.
“We’re a good balance,” Greene says. With the air of someone showing how two-plus-two equals four, he explains, “Sam’s a bit spastic, and I can plunge a toilet.”
“We have different skill sets, but we share goals,” he continues. “We keep each other in check. We’re both very often wrong, but we’re rarely both wrong at the same time.”
Coco Spencer, who joined One Hundred Days of Spring as an intern partway through and become an indispensible team member, says she was willing to dedicate so many hours to the Schoolhouse because, “Basically, Sam and Will are the most inspiring people I’ve ever met.”
Haynor and Greene were campers and later counselors together at the Bar 717 Ranch in Trinity County. There, they found each other, and also a passion for teaching — or, as they put it, “helping people to be good versions of themselves.”
Though each has traveled and embarked on sundry individual projects — Greene as a musician and videographer, Haynor as a chess champion and conflict-area journalist — they continue to connect over their drive to educate in unique new ways.
Bathroom, beats, and big ideas
At the Schoolhouse, that meant engaging community members through a service-based approach. “Our main goal is to provide resources to people who need resources,” Greene says. “We’re not interested in providing resources to people who have resources.”
Given the diversity of The Schoolhouse’s participants, “resources” could mean different things.
Haynor explains, “For some people, we’re a bathroom. For some we’re a place to stop in and say ‘hi.’ For some, we’re a place to do events.”
“We’re successful because we’re always doing something fun, and everyone feels invited,” Greene says. “It’s the loose nature of our project. There’s no doorman, no guy with a cash box.”
There were challenges (“Sam’s been trying to put together homeless poetry readings, but he’s scheduled them for the first of the month. That’s when everyone gets their checks, so everyone gets drunk,” Greene says at one point), but there were also many moments — like when a woman from the block walked up and started giving Haynor a massage, or when Greene calmly negotiated with a rowdy, intoxicated visitor, encouraging her to pipe down and eventually leave — that pointed to a deft interface with the surrounding community.
“They respect our storefront more than they do the others,” Greene says. Some locals worked shifts at the Schoolhouse in return for resources. Others stopped in for music, for food and nutrition classes, or to look at the art. Some simply came by to talk about living in the area.
During an “Un-Talent Show”, a performer named SofT humorously described a street-dweller’s perpetual problem: carrying belongings. He showed an in-stitches audience how to bundle objects in an old sweater — a wholly relatable rap on wrapping. Another visit came from Benny, one of SF’s famous itinerant tamale sellers, who lives in an SRO across the street and makes what partakers described as “possibly the world’s best tamales” across town in his girlfriend’s kitchen.
Haynor describes a woman who walked into a sewing workshop — run by SF Social Fabric, a volunteer-staffed bike maintenance and sewing skills collective — with “some trepidation.”
“She was in a room with a bunch of people who were nothing like her,” he says, “but we got to know each other over the fact that we all wear clothes. And they all fall apart.”
Neighborhood connections at the Schoolhouse
“There’s a duality to this corner,” Haynor says. “From doctors to the people who live on the block to all the people in the middle who travel Market Street. Before us, some wouldn’t even cross the street.”
“At our best,” he continues, “we’re a place people from another demographic can discover the old-fashioned way — with their eyes and their feet. They cross the threshold, ask what we’re doing, decide to stay, and learn something. Now, I can’t go five minutes without seeing someone I know, or someone who I recognize, or someone who just popped in.”
Singer, a perfect example of the phenomenon, started stopping by between two and five times a week after his initial discovery. He framed the project’s importance in simpler terms: “This is where we need these things to happen. Where it smells like urine on a hot day.”
Let’s put on a show!
Singer believes that projects like the Schoolhouse can “transform parts of San Francisco” by providing services that are more than “just artists and gallery-talk.” The Schoolhouse, he says, “was something visceral.”
“One Hundred Days of Spring created an infinite possibility for community that can’t be replicated on a screen or keyboard. We’re not talking Internet cafés with white earbuds, but humans breathing in the same space — collaborating, communicating in one room, and that room changing every darn day.”
Indeed, the walls of the Schoolhouse were repainted so many times over the course of the hundred days — with layers of murals, street art, installations, white space for projecting films — that Spencer, who took charge of many of the events’ logistics, joked she was hoping to reduce the interior square footage, and thus, the rent.
The zealous energy required to transform the space again and again was reminiscent — Singer pointed out — of Babes-in-Arms-era Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland exclaiming Hey, kids! Let’s put on a show in this old barn! That down-home, DIY energy may be just what efforts like the Mid-Market revitalization require.
Greene, who attended one of the Central Market Partnership’s focus groups, says the consensus was that knowledge about and access to space were the biggest obstacles to creating and executing programs of any kind.
“People are looking for answers,” he says, “looking for some larger entity to hand them space, or looking tax breaks. There’s the feeling that you can’t just do what you want to do.”
“Rather than saying ‘if you give us space, we’ll fill it with beautiful things,’ you can say ‘I’m just going to do it.’ If you’re willing to make it happen, if you work really hard, if you work with the people you’re trying to reach, then you don’t have to worry about anything else.”
Despite the waiting, wanting, hoping attitudes Greene says he encountered, he points out that plenty of others are “just doing it.” The Schoolhouse helped along a few such visionaries by sponsoring two “Grant Prix Dinners.” During the informal roundtables, entrepreneurs presented project ideas between courses. Participants paid a fee for dinner and a ballot on which to elect their favorite projects – to whom the entry frees were turned over as seed money at the end of the night.
Bringing together the neighborhood
At times, especially in San Francisco and other urban areas where real estate is costly, amping up a neighborhood’s arts and cultural amenities has acted as a roundabout measure to invite the type of gentrification that sweeps streets clean. That kind of programming is not intended to serve current residents so much as to usher in new ones.
By contrast, the Schoolhouse made a conscious decision to serve the neighborhood’s existing population — with safer-feeling streets resulting, and much more quickly, at that.
One Hundred Days of Spring was a bold, direct move to engage the local community. As such, it was highly effective not only at providing needed resources, but at tempering the less-desirable qualities of the neighborhood by creating a sense of community and responsibility among residents and passers-through.
“Coming out of Muni, walking home on Market Street,” Singer had said, “can frankly be pretty scary. There’s substance abuse, drug deals, and people who may or may not be harmless.” The Schoolhouse, he said, helped diffuse that lack of ownership and feeling of “anything goes.” For Singer – and Schoolhouse denizens of all backgrounds — the space managed to help tie a few new knots.
“The Schoolhouse brought me closer to a world that’s very marginal,” Singer said. “the homeless world.”
Whether or not Mid-Market planners will look to the Schoolhouse for a lesson in effective community building, the project’s two masterminds have undoubtedly developed a model they can draw on in the future.
Haynor and Greene plan to continue working together on community education projects. With One Hundred Days of Spring under their belts, they will be able to approach supporters “not just with an idea, but with a proven concept.”
“We are both in this together to see what we’re both capable of,” Haynor said. “To see if we’re any good at this thing.”
In the style of banter so typical of the pair, Greene added, “So we can figure out the rest of what we’re going to do with our whole darn lives.”
Here’s the thing about the circumcision debate: Like everything else between men and their foreskins, women want nothing to do with it.
A while back, I was at a blues club when a tall, slim, blond fellow asked me for a dance. I’d seen him out on the floor and he seemed like a smooth mover (blues dancers, unlike your average oonst-oonsters, tend to trade partners), so I said yes.
Turns out, I was right. He was a good lead: firm but gentle, playful yet clear. The only problem was, about a minute into the song, he started urgently not-quite-whispering about circumcision. Like, did I know it was mutilation? Had I ever slept with a natural guy? Wasn’t it better?
When I told him I wasn’t accustomed to discussing my sex life on the dance floor, he assumed I didn’t and I hadn’t so I couldn’t possibly say – and, in a show of great evangelical fervor, handed me a card directing me to a website of one, Ms. Kristen O’Hara, who’d authored a book called “Sex as Nature Intended It.”
I dismissed him for the sheer absurdity of his timing as much as anything else. But that was before his cause was set to appear on November’s ballot, thanks to the efforts of Lloyd Schofield and the intactivists (band name, anyone?) who’ve collected more than 7,000 signatures from preservation-friendly petitioners.
As an indisputably happy transplant to the land where cheeseburgers come toy-less and cats have their claws, I was perplexed to find myself perplexed by the proposal.
Was it a latent shred of Judaism somehow stirred up? A knee-jerk reaction to state intervention into this most private of matters? The inevitable result of growing up in a society that gets giggly over the merest suggestion of sexuality – Weiner’s wiener being only the latest example?
Or was it because we’re just so culturally inured to the custom that we treat those who oppose it as freaks? (Anyone else remember Alan Tudyk’s caricature of a gay German drug addict lamenting his lost foreskin in 28 Days?)
I wasn’t – and still am not – prepared to say. It’s complex issue, muddled by the phenomenon in which inhibition and hilarity combine to derail honest conversation. Add religion, equal protection, and a loaded term like “nanny state,” and it’s no surprise the matter has billowed into overwrought emotion on all sides.
But let’s forget – for a moment – vicious Monster Mohels who thirst over infant blood, fathers protecting their sons’ locker-room status, and doctors citing STI-prevention studies that were neither conducted in, nor aimed at, populations in this country. Let’s focus on one group that definitely doesn’t belong in the debate: women.
If my erstwhile blues partner was seriously trying to recruit supporters to his way of thinking, he should have known that an unsuspecting woman on the dance floor would not an ideal target make.
Nonetheless, I admit that a mix of consternation and bemused curiosity got the better of me. I ran reconnaissance on the website – a dreadful 90’s flashback minus only the midi – and was horrified to find that, as an unsuspecting women, I was precisely this Mr. Blues’ target. Indeed, I was the crucial component of his argument.
“The surgically altered circumcised penis makes it difficult – in some cases impossible – for most American women to achieve orgasm from intercourse,” the website proclaimed boldly.
Amid jerky, continuous-loop videos that looked like low-def pornos, and first-person testimonials that sounded like amateur online erotica, nary a word could be found about the person behind (or not, as the case may be) the prepuce. The entire site purported to tell me what I, as a woman, would want from my lover. And all signs pointed to extra skin.
Among O’Hara’s various assertions are that cut members miss out on the retracted foreskin bunching up to seal in vaginal moisture; that decreased sensitivity forces circumcised men have rough “adrenalized” sex; that circumcised men must take longer strokes which deny women ideal clitoral contact; and that the coronal “hook” of a circumcised penis rides along the rippled skin of the vagina, creating uncomfortable friction (the accompanying illustrations put me in mind of the Ruffles have R-R-R-Ridges commercials. Of course, Trojans have r-r-r-ridges, too – on the “Her Pleasure” condoms designed for the very purpose of creating friction.)
The website claims that the head of an uncircumcised penis is “soft, like velvet,” but that circumcised sex is like “being poked with a hard broomstick.” All of this to the following conclusion: men who are bad lovers, who pound like jackhammers, who leave their partners sore, simply can’t help it.
I’m sorry. I’m not denying that there may be physical differences, but my book, the unpracticed and unskilled just don’t get off that easy – pun totally intended.
Now, as it turns out – Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, I sincerely apologize – I’ve had it both ways. And I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that I speak for a large number of women when I say that I don’t find there to be categorical difference between men who are intact, and those who aren’t.
I’m sure O’Hara and her passionate band of male followers would tell me I’m either vastly lucky, vastly unlucky, or too tuned-out to tell the difference. But I have another analysis: sex is a highly variable, highly personal act.
Take the following unattributed account from O’Hara’s book: a woman describes sex – her first time – with a cut boy on the beach who “literally jumped [her] bones,” pummeled her, and left her feeling “almost dead.” A year later, she had her first natural sex with a boy she’d spent an idyllic summer skinny-dipping and milking cows alongside. Unlike the beach bum, he began the event by kissing her.
Well, no shit she felt differently.
If O’Hara were really a maven of sexuality – or if she paid any attention to the decades of medical literature that precede her – she’d know that sex has as much to do with a person’s head as his or her loins. And if she really had a drum to beat for female satisfaction, she’d be saying anything but “I’m sorry folks, it’s all out of your control. You’re at the mercy of what a masked doctor did 20 or 30 or 40 years ago.”
Women who are in bed with men – indeed, people who are in bed with people –should be encouraged to discuss their needs, say what they want, and help their partners become the best lovers possible. To suggest that a certain kind of sex is the inevitable result of circumcision is not only disempowering, but downright demeaning – for all parties involved. While O’Hara’s website is clearly over the top, speculation as to women’s preferences pepper online information sharing forums, anti-circumcision websites, and even the literature listed in the resource section of MGMbill.org, which sponsored the San Francisco ballot measure.
To be certain, intact penises have some nifty tricks up their sleeves – thank you, I’m here all night – that circumcised penises just can’t pull off. Or course, if you’re wearing a condom, a lot of them won’t matter. And the – erm – polls can be twisted either way: many say women prefer circumcised penises. Since we’ve put the size debate (for the most part) to rest, it seems fair to reiterate that what you’ve got is less important than how you use it.
I am not trying to say that men shouldn’t get a say in their own anatomy. Even if you call circumcision a personal choice, no matter how you slice it – ok, ok, enough – it’s never really been down to the person who actually matters.
This is about a man’s relationship to his own body, which is why “what women want” shouldn’t play a role.
After all, we’re universally appalled when men’s preferences drive women to seek labiaplasty. (An analogy carefully chosen: it seems greatly unfair to draw a comparison to the vastly more invasive, vastly more dangerous practice of female genital cutting – which, unlike circumcision, has nearly always served to make sex difficult to completely impossible for women .) There’s a more sinister side to the tendency to make male circumcision into a female issue. It overrides the question of bodily autonomy, and implies that men can only experience their body by acting out their sexual identity through women.
The issue becomes a man’s ability to please women – the equally problematic flip side, of course, being that if a man does a fine job of pleasing his partner, no harm has been done.
Framing the debate in this way cements women’s role as a passive fixture in the relationship, while also diffusing the man’s power (and responsibility) by focusing attention on an external, uncontrollable element.
Making that uncontrollable element controllable sounds great. The problem is, your infant son didn’t choose to be circumcised, but he also didn’t choose not to be. While a neonatal circumcision is irreversible, it’s not like waiting “until he can decide” is wholly without consequences, either.
“I’m glad I’m circumcised,” a friend told me recently, “and I’m sure glad I don’t remember it.”
It’s impossible to say how my friend would have felt about his circumcision had he grown up in a different cultural atmosphere, and mores may well be changing to the point where he would be just as happy whole.
According to the MGM bill’s own website, 90% of male babies already leave Bay Area hospitals intact. It would be foolish to pass a ban based on the assumption that masses of infants are senselessly whisked away to be docked while their mothers, drugged-up and dopey, lay unawares.
And, regardless of your views on the matter, it is likewise foolish to assume that damage between men and women can be introduced or repaired by a foreskin.
Take, for example, Mr. Blues. Now I didn’t ask, but both his fervor on the subject and statistics – as intactivists are fond of pointing out – would indicate that he was altered. side from his attempt bordering-on-low-grade-sexual-harassment to brainwash me, he seemed like a nice guy. And, despite all, we had chemistry. At least on the dance floor. He was sensitive, attentive, spontaneous – and though I’d never want to be in bed with him, I daresay someone would. Because in the end, all those things matter – at least to women – a lot more than a few inches of skin, nerve-rich though they be.
BAR CRAWLER Until last week, I’d never set foot in a karaoke lounge. It wasn’t exactly on purpose; it was just something — like using dryer sheets and eating those little lathed carrots prepackaged with swimming pools of ranch dressing — that never occurred to me.
This is not a story where, by the end, I uncover a newfound talent and become an instant rock star. Turns out, karaoke is hard — and commands a hardcore following of seriously legit singers. But after one whirlwind karaoke tour of the city, I found that it can be tons of fun for the rest of us too.
ENCORE KARAOKE LOUNGE
A friend enlisted for guidance and moral support assured me the first stop on our Friday night list would be mellow. So mellow, in fact, that when we entered from the still-light evening, about six people were watching a surprisingly spot-on rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miz. Next, a potbellied beer-in-hander stepped up for some Led Zeppelin. The patrons were singles and couples, none of the giggly groups of girls I expected. The lights, however, were just what I expected: over-the-top and outdated all at once. The tables were sticky and the drinks were predictably terrible (but cheap). The overall experience seemed like a cozily trashy movie-scene karaoke pastiche.
Though this be-spangled Mid-Market spot reprised Encore’s small, watery drinks, there was nothing cozy about it. The Mint is on the tip of everyone’s karaoke tongue, so it was packed almost beyond maneuverability with fratty types and hipsters galore, who were too busy huddling in little beanie-topped clusters to pay attention to the stage: no fun for veteran singers of big booming anthems, but potentially good for first-timers.
I hadn’t yet worked up the courage to sing, but my friend joked that if nothing else, I could do “Bicycle Built for Two.” Well, no shit: 40,000 songs to pick from, and someone with mismatched thigh-highs and a fuzzy panda hat beat me to it. Galvanized, I submitted a slip for “American Pie,” which I figured might arouse the passion — or, at least, compassion — of even the most blasé in attendance. When I wasn’t called in 30 minutes, I took it as a signal to duck out with my dignity intact.
Next, we headed to Japantown for a more authentic experience. Festa fit that bill, according to our one companion with bona fide Tokyo chops. It’s a surprise to walk into Festa — with its twinkling LED stars, cityscape wall motif, and lustrous dark décor — from the deserted second floor of Japantown’s mall-like Japan Center. With five bartenders for an intimate 30 seats, Festa definitely has an upscale vibe. Most of the women wore heels and cocktail dresses, and the cocktails were likewise elevated, both in price and quality. It took a Bellini, lychee martini, and sake-tini to precondition my vocal chords.
The song list was extensive but lacked my planned-on Don McLean classic — which seemed out-of-place anyway amid such a demure crowd. Billy Joel’s “Entertainer” popped into my head because it’s light and mercifully fast. With hardly a wait, I was twanging, left leg trembling, a good half-octave below where my voice stops sounding like a woman’s and starts sounding like the Marlboro Man’s. I got a rush of mercy applause and swept my friends out the door.
More than a week passed, and I was ready to go it alone. For a low-key bar with a neighborhood vibe, 500 Club is perfect. Karaoke Sundays start when the afternoon light is still streaming through large windows and a Tecate on the crowded benches feels just right. Audience participation — including some friendly heckling — is big here, and the singers heckle right back. Be warned: the front row, which is nearly every seat in the joint, is something akin to Sea World’s splash zone. You may be personally serenaded, implored to sing backup, or even humped a bit — all in good fun.
Pandora begs a reference to the overstuffed box, and it’s appropriate: this bar has it all — in a good way. Bins brim with cymbals, tambourines, silly hats, and other props. Candy Land and Jenga top a stack of board games. Flat-screen TVs flash the night’s basketball scores. A disco ball sprinkles light over sleek silver couches, low coffee tables, and a posh lit-up bar.
I am a hotel aficionado. I wrote my undergraduate thesis in a New Haven hotel lobby, watching the light fade from pink to orange to a deep purple-blue each night, sometimes not leaving until the floor-to-ceiling panes of glass began to brighten with the morning.
Some of my favorite places in San Francisco are hotels: I love their bars and cafes, awash at all hours with a tide of voices bubbling forth in languages I don’t understand. I love the scale and grandeur of the marble foyers and reams of upholstery. I love making up stories about the passers-by: this one with jetlagged eyes and too much eyeliner; that one walking an unwieldy assortment of shopping bags like too many dogs; the last, an anachronism with a cigar and seersucker.
Like the airport bar, hotels hold all the romance of a moment suspended: an alternate reality, set apart from the day-to-day. Of course, most people associate traveling with a whole set of very real hassles – from which, I found out yesterday, my little non-vacation vacations are not immune. I experienced some authenticity along with all that atmosphere: in the lush upholstery, bedbugs, and among the tides of travelers, at least one very skilled pickpocket.
Picture me: a steaming pot of Earl Grey, settling into a sofa, the sun slanting through the gauzy drapes. No sooner have I unfolded my laptop and set Pandora to supply the elevator music (embarrassing but true) than I feel a tickle on my neck. Absentmindedly, I brush it away, and there – sitting right there on my hand – is an impudent, shameless, full-grown bedbug.
I’d like to point out that I am not a paranoid person. But the bedbug’s reputation precedes him, and the tales of horror are too overwhelming to take lightly. Bedbugs, parasites that snack on human blood, can survive temperatures that dip below freezing and soar above 100 degrees. They can go months without feeding – some say more than a year. More than enough to warrant my jumping, yelping reaction.
I smushed the bug, heart racing, and looked for the nearest escape. But simply running away would not do. Instead, I needed to assess my situation.
I put Mr. Bug in a Ziploc bag (despite a thorough smashing, he waved jauntily as I sealed him shut) and began to examine the couch. Bedbugs particularly like seams, corners, rolls in the fabric, and cording. If an infestation is severe, piles of cast-off skins and small white eggs can be found in little caches. The bugs also leave dark brown droppings dotted over areas where they have recently fed.
My search didn’t reveal much, but adults – flat, rusty-brown, and about the size of a pencil-eraser – generally hide during the day. Nymphs range from .5-4mm – easily small enough to hitch a ride on clothing, shoes, luggage, or hair without arousing suspicion. Once they reach their new home, they will burrow into the cracks around baseboards, to say nothing of the raging party they will have in mattresses.
The thing about bed bugs is that they can come from anywhere. Even if a hotel is scrupulous about maintenance, any person who walks in and sits on a couch can bring them and transfer them to the next person. Females lay eggs continuously (300 in a lifetime) so a lone straggler is enough to start an infestation.
So, I did what any sane and sensible person in my position would: I politely informed the hotel staff that I had found the dreaded critter, and then I got the heck out. I had the urge to tear off my clothes and burn them, but I settled for locking myself in the bathroom of the hotel next door and performing a careful inspection. I would need to wash my clothes in hot water and dry on “high” when I got home – a good policy for all travelers, especially if they’ve received suspicious bites on their trip. Suitcases should also be thoroughly inspected and vacuumed.
I said good-bye to Mr. Bug and threw him out in his sealed Ziploc – never throw out infested items (such as vacuum bags used to clean buggy furniture) without sealing them first – and sighed, secure in the knowledge that I’d sufficient precautions.
I settled down with a new pot of Earl Grey in my new hotel, ready to regain my earlier calm. It was a bustling lobby of tiny tables overflowing with a tipsy happy-hour crowd. Hotel happy hours are another reason I love this city’s hospitality industry: the bartenders are less hassled than at the typical neighborhood watering hole, and the people-watching is far better. After a happy few hours (during which I switched from plain tea to G&T), I had finished a pile of work and was ready to pack up. I bid adieu to the bartender and looked for my pocketbook to leave a tip.
It was gone.
For the second time that day, I found myself groveling on the floor, lifting up couch cushions, and sweeping through curtains. I wished I’d had enough to drink to call the whole thing a hallucination, but by the time I found myself riffling the leaves of the potted plants, I had to admit that my wallet was not going to reappear.
I dumped out my purse (which is really just a canvas shoulder bag) I realized my phone was gone, too. Both had been in the bag, which had spent the last couple hours hanging on the back of my chair. This, obviously, was a huge mistake. In all that cheery hustle and bustle, I’d been totally hustled. I have to hand it to my assailant – who, I’ll deduce from the $800 Nordstrom splurge, was a woman. She managed to get both items out of my possession without my noticing a thing. Of course, I did her a huge favor by favoring an open-style bag without a zipper or other closure. I love that my laptop and other sundries fit in the loose sack, and Ms. X loved that it enabled her to take a quick trip to Saks.
In just a few hours, Ms. X loaded a total of $6,000 of charges onto my Merrill Lynch Visa. To their credit, the folks at Chase Bank didn’t let the same thing happen to my debit card – when I called the hotline, a representative read me a list of fraudulent charges they had denied. Five minutes and a few identifying security questions later, I was slated to receive a new card in the mail.
It may seem obvious, but if your wallet is stolen, the absolute first order of business is to cancel your cards – even if means spending, as I did, the hours of 12 a.m. to 3 a.m. on the phone with a series of outsourced Visa workers. Word to the wise: it’s far easier to call your bank directly than deal with your credit card company. Like most US banks, Merrill Lynch has a 24-hour customer support line, and if I’d dialed it rather than the number I found on the Visa website, I’d have bypassed a long painful process. Furthermore, only my bank was able to tell me what charges had been made, and what I will need to do to reverse them.
And then there’s the police report: it’s a pain, especially because fraudulent charges mean you must appear at the station in-person, rather than filing online or by phone. But it’s also crucial in case you have troubles down the road with your bank, credit card company, or someone who wants to pretend they’re you. Reports are kept on file, and copies may be requested at a later date.
Verizon received an A+ for swiftly cutting service to my cell phone, switching me back to my old dumb-as-a-brick phone, and automatically crediting charges for my no longer needed data plan. By then, it was 4:00 a.m. The next day, I would need to tackle the new driver’s license, the new student ID, and the new keys. But first, I needed a good night’s sleep – in my own non-vaction home, in my bed bug-free bed.
By now, you (hopefully) know the basic building blocks of good eating: fresh, in-season vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and — for the carnivorous set — lean, unprocessed meat and fish. Awesome. But unless you’re an adherent of the new Paleo diet fad, which mimics the eating habits of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, it’s going to take a bit more to transform this no-frills foundation into something you’d want to sit down to. Here are a few kitchen essentials that can quickly shift your cooking from serviceable to superb. (Emily Appelbaum)
Ancient Assyrian legend holds that when the gods assembled to create the universe, their drink of choice was sesame seed wine. And when Ali Baba needed to unseal a magic cave stocked with treasure, it was Sesamum indicum, which bursts open at maturity, that he invoked with the famous phrase “Open, Sesame!” If you’re looking to introduce some similar magic into your cooking, sesame oil is a good place to start. The cold-pressed oil has a light flavor and high smoke point, making it ideal for fast, high-temperature stir fries and wok cooking. When toasted, the oil becomes rich, smoky, and deep. A few drops make salads and noodle dishes sinfully savory and create the perfect base for dipping sauces. For a decadent indulgence, try the following: spread hot toast with miso (fermented soybean paste), top with a slice of avocado, and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil, then close your eyes and float a bit.
Available at Ming Lee Trading Inc. 759 Jackson, SF. (415) 217-0088
Speaking of sesames, Bay Area veggies, vegans, and carnivores alike have been blending tahini, a paste made from hulled sesame seeds, into homemade hummus for years. When mixed with a little fresh garlic, lemon, and salt, tahini will make quick work of a can of garbanzos — but there are tons of other uses for this simple spread. Try branching out with bean dips. Include white cannellini beans, black beans, or even kidney beans, which are super-high in antioxidants. Ditch expensive bottled salad dressing in favor of tahini mixed with soy sauce, lemon juice, or cider vinegar, and any fresh herbs you like. Toss soba noodles with steamed veggies and tahini for a fast, healthy dish served hot or cold. Or, for a whole array of desserts, start by kneading tahini and honey into flour for a tender, pliable pastry.
Available at Semiramis Imports, 2990 Mission, SF. (415) 824-6555
If you haven’t tried this indigenous staple from the Andes, you’re missing out. Stocked with the full set of essential amino acids, these unassuming seeds may be the most complete protein source the plant kingdom can provide. Quinoa even made NASA’s short list for crops to be included in ecological life support systems for long-duration manned spaceflights. It cooks in minutes and — with its mild, nutty taste and light texture — it’s an ideal base for curries, stews, and cold salads mixed tabouleh-style. Unfortunately, the quinoa craze in wealthy countries has left the crop unaffordable in some traditional regions such as the Bolivian salt flats, where most cultivated quinoa is now grown for export. Be sure to look for quinoa from companies like La Yapa Organic that pay a fair price to farmers.
If you’re the kind of good San Francisco citizen who duly visits the local farmers market every week, gets carried away by the textures and colors and aromas of nature’s bounty, and then balks at everything you’ve brought home when it comes time to stuff it in the fridge — fear not. Coconut milk is the thing for you. Nothing else can so quickly transform a mountain of disparate vegetables into a rich, harmonious meal. Nearly any food in any season (potatoes regular and sweet, carrots, sweet and spicy peppers, pineapple, green beans, onions, garlic, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, pumpkin, spinach, kale) can feel at home in a coconut milk bath, spiced with a pinch of curry powder or garam masala and perfumed with handful of fresh herbs.
Available at Khanh Phong Supermarket, 429 Ninth St., Oakl., (510) 839-9094
FRESH-GROUND BLACK PEPPER
My list of Things for Which There Is No Excuse is short, and most of the items on it — like tube tops and being mean — are negotiable under certain circumstances. But one entry that cannot be compromised on is the use of pre-ground black pepper. It is simply never, ever OK. The difference between the freshly cracked pepper and the plebian, tasteless grey powder that sifts from a can is like the difference between a jam band CD and a live show. Invest in a good-quality peppermill and you’ll end up putting pepper in all kinds of places you never imagined: after experiencing pepper’s pungency in soups and bisques, on roasted root vegetables, and over tomatoes served sliced and sprinkled with kosher salt, you’ll find yourself shaking it onto strawberries marinated in balsamic vinegar and pondering the possibilities of peppercorn ice-cream. A few turns of your grinder set to coarse can quite possibly make the world go ’round.
To browse more varieties of pepper than you crank a mill at, visit San Francisco Herb Co. 250 14th St., SF. (415) 861-3018, www.sfherb.com
Everything said on the subject of black pepper applies — with perhaps a smidge less fervor — to nutmeg. That sickly stuff stuck with humidity to the inside of a glass shaker at Starbucks does not even remotely resemble the delicately perfumed flakes that you scrape from a whole nutmeg seed, the hard, egg-shaped center of the nutmeg tree’s fruit). Once you stop shaking the horrid pre-ground granules over your coffee, you’re likely to realize the nutmeg is not just a sweet spice. It goes particularly well with cheese and cream sauces, enriches egg and pasta dishes, and enhances all types of savory cookery with that little something-something that makes diners go “hmmm.” But if you want to relegate it to the dessert realm, no one’s going to stop you from grating a little bit over your midnight dish of chocolate ice-cream.
Fremont-based organic spice company Spicely distributes to a bevy of Bay Area retailers, but their products are also available in bulk on its website, www.spicely.com
Like nutmeg, the edible rhizome of Zingiber officinale is often relegated to the subsidiary role of sweet spice — at least in American cooking. But travel nearly anywhere else in the world, from Morocco to Malaysia, Venezuela to Vietnam, and ginger plays the snappy star in soups, roasts, stews, and salads. Grate fresh ginger and garlic into peanut oil as the base for a superlative stir-fry. Stir into soups for a revitalizing broth. For a crisp, peppery salad, shred cabbage, carrots, and green beans and toss with ginger, vinegar, or lime juice, and maybe a dollop of peanut butter (or use your newly purchased tahini). Pulse ginger, chiles, and garlic in your food processor for a quick crust to sear onto meats or tofu. Ginger is a versatile gal, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
Available at New May Wah Market, 707-719 Clement, SF. (415) 668-2583
FRESH LEMONS AND LIMES
Nothing wakes up heavy, sleepy flavors like a bright squeeze of acid, but don’t even bother with the bottled stuff here. Before you juice, take a second to zest the thin colored rind — which contains tons of essential oils — from the outside of the fruit, being careful to stay away from the white pith. Then cut in half through the equator and squeeze. Older fruits can be coaxed to spill their juice by rolling back and forth between the palm and the cutting board. Or zap in the microwave for just a few seconds. Lemons add zip to Italian and French dishes, limes to Asian, Indian and Latin. The brave and adventurous might even try whole lemons or limes — rind, pith, pulp, and all — chopped very finely in salsas; crusts for veggies, fish or tofu; and marinades. An old-timey recipe for something called Funeral Pie uses whole lemons, thrown in a blender with some sugar, eggs, and a little flour. The result is poured in a pie crust and “Viola!” A super-quick desert ready in a flash, in case of Great Aunt Millie’s untimely demise.
Bi-Rite Market stocks organic, biodynamic lemons and limes from Becks Grove whenever possible. 3639 18th St., SF. (415) 241-9760
BLACK BEAN SAUCE
Hot Chinese sriracha sauce might be manufactured right here in Northern California, but that’s no excuse for indiscriminately squirting that sticky red rooster bottle over everything — from eggs to escargot — that stands still long enough. If it’s spice you’re craving, aim for a subtler, deeper flavor. Chinese-style black bean sauces, garlic or chili, provide plenty of heat without the cloying, vinegary sweetness of sriracha. Instead, their fire is mellow and a bit smoky, and develops on the tongue. Try over steamed veggies such as asparagus, broccoli, or bok choy. Use to marinate tofu or chicken, and serve over everything from tempeh to tacos. If you like the taste, try going a step further and purchasing some fermented black beans — a salty, spicy condiment something like a cross between miso and Marmite.
Available at Pang Kee Bargain Market, 1308 Stockton, SF., (415) 982-1959
All mustards are essentially a combination of whole or ground mustard seeds suspended in vinegar and spices. But subtle variations in the type of grind and proportions of ingredients can make all the difference. If you inhabit the realm of ballpark-yellow, your culinary development has been sorely stunted. All mustards work as emulsifiers, making them ideal mix-ins for dressings, marinades, and notoriously finicky Hollandaise sauces. Whole grain mustards combined with miso, maple syrup, horseradish, or Parmesan cheese (not all at once!) make a crunchy coating for salmon, chicken, pork chops, or baked squash. Finely-ground mustards like German Hangstenberg are superhot and go well with preserved meats and blander veggies like cabbage. Some mustards are made with imported vinegars or champagnes, and are best paired with simple breads and cheeses so their unique flavors come through. And for something a little closer to home, try Mendocino Mustards, made in Fort Bragg.
Available at Canyon Market, 2815 Diamond, SF. (415) 586-9999
Their orange and wine-colored robes match the brightly-colored sand – tangerine and yellow and bits of royal blue – slowly filling in sections of a large, ornate mandala. They have been working on the sand drawing since their morning prayers, and they will continue to work on it all week.
On Saturday, the millions of sand particles will be swept away into the water. Impermanence is the point, one of the monks told me.
The monks are on a world peace tour. They will build sand mandalas across the United States, working west to east, throughout the summer. Any money raised through donations or the sale of photographs and amulets will directly fund their 5,000 member monastery.
On the to-do list? Well first, streetlights. The monastery is trying to light the dark road that leads to their campus, but purchases lights one-at-a-time. So far, they’ve installed 40 lights, but the road is long, and will require many more. Next, there’s paving the road itself.
Artist Topher Delaney teamed up with Tsering Wangmo, a second-generation exhile Tibetan based in San Francisco, to brink the monks to the Don Soker Gallery, where Delaney’s current show, “The Queen’s Croquet Ground” is installed. The mandala is five feet across and rests on the gallery’s floor, visible from the street and to the passersby who stop to peek in the window.
The monks document their spiritual undertaking. Photo by Emily Appelbaum
“Mandala” is a Sanskrit word that refers to the residence of various deities and their retinues. It’s a spiritual map. A sand mandala is a two-dimensional cartography of this divine mansion – a microcosmic diagram of a universe in harmony.
Every morning, before the monks start building the colored sand’s delicate layers, they begin with a prayer and a chorus of traditional Tibetan instruments. Then, they work, arranging themselves barefoot on pillows, and using more pillows under their forearms as bolsters.
They rotate, one or two or three working at a time, while the others speak with visitors or sit together on a bench, occasionally snapping a cell phone photo as the work proceeds. All have closely cropped hair, soft voices, and dimples when they smile.
Their days here are quite a change from those at the monastery, where they would start at five in the morning with butter tea – a strong black tea mixed with salt, milk, and yak butter, and whipped up in a special churn – and can last until midnight.
One thing that doesn’t change, though, are the musical prayer sessions, which take place here to separate the work on different layers on the mandala, and back home separate sessions of debate over Buddhist teachings.
An important community institution never truly dies. It remains in the hearts and minds of everyone it has touched — a fact that that patrons who have lived and loved (sometimes literally) in the Eagle Tavern understand. But that doesn’t mean they’re ready to loosen their talons and let go.
With the help of San Francisco’s supervisors, some seriously committed community energy — and maybe even a Dallas cowboy who likes his leather — they may not have to.
For the past week, patrons of one of San Francisco’s oldest and boldest gay leather bars have been rallying to save their stomping ground from uncertain fate. It started when they found that rumors swirling since early in the year were true: the Eagle was slated to close at the end of April and faced a May 1 eviction.
Since then, defenders of the 12th Street space have scraped together emergency meetings and impromptu marches, a surprise leather night at the Skylark Bar (owned by a believed-to-be buyer), and a demonstration on the steps of City Hall. Letters were sent to the Board of Supervisors, petitions signed, and pink tent campouts planned as vigils.
Through it all, the message carrying most clearly was that the Eagle Tavern is far more than a swingin’ hot spot. “It’s our history and it’s our culture,” said organizer Kyle DeVries at a rally on the steps of City Hall last Tuesday. “And we’re proud of what we’ve given to this city.”
That “what” includes more than $1 million raised through the years at popular Sunday beer busts supporting everything from breast cancer research to AIDS awareness. But it also includes providing a safe haven and sense of belonging for San Francisco’s queer community for more than three decades.
And now, patrons have learned they will eek out another month. Thanks to the huge outpouring of support from Eagle denizens, and political pressure from three San Francisco supervisors, the end-of-April plan to fly the coop has been delayed at least until the end of May, Eagle manager Ron Hennis said.
But since the issue first exploded April 11, efforts to save the sacred space haven’t slowed down. At press time, supporters were planning an April 19 “Tuesday roost” at the Eagle in hopes of pumping energy and cash back into the tavern on a night known to be quiet.
Sup. Scott Wiener, along with Sups. David Campos and Jane Kim, sent a letter to the San Francisco Police Department that reviews liquor license sales in connection with the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control. The letter reviewed the Eagle’s importance in SF’s queer community and stated that its authors are “adamantly opposed to any sale that would result in the Eagle’s destruction.”
The supervisors urged the SFPD to “closely scrutinize, consistent with applicable legal standards, any requested liquor license transfer relating to the Eagle to ensure that any such transfer will not harm the LGBT community by putting an end to the Eagle.”
So far, these efforts have been promising for Eagle patrons. In a phone interview, Wiener told us that Skylark owner Steve Englebrecht has pulled out of negotiations to buy the place. But the situation remains complex.
Eagle manager Ron Hennis explained that current owners John Gardiner and Joe Banks decided to sell the Eagle a year ago to focus on their other SoMa leather bar, Hole in the Wall Saloon, which has been plagued with high-cost property battles of its own.
Gardiner and Banks didn’t respond to our e-mails. But Hennis said they intended to sell the business — which includes the Eagle name, equipment, and liquor license — to people they felt would maintain the existing spirit of the bar: Hennis, Eagle entertainment coordinator Doug Hilsinger, and Lila Thirkield, owner of the Lexington Club.
Hennis and Hilsinger told us a contract was signed and the deal had progressed through an initial set of inspections and into escrow when the property’s owner, John Nikitopoulos, refused to negotiate a new lease with the prospective owners.
Despite successful conversations up to that point, Gardiner and Banks “turned off and didn’t say why,” Hennis said.
Further complicating the matter, Gardiner and Banks’ lease ran out and Nikitopoulos hasn’t renewed it. He’s been renting the property month-to-month and is reportedly raising the monthly price tag, which has remained the same for the past 10 years.
Hennis said the owners were still paying rent when they were threatened with eviction — which would mean a death sentence for the Eagle unless they could sell the business to a party Nikitopoulos would be willing to negotiate a lease with.
In the midst of the stalemate, Nikitopoulos offered to buy the business (and most important, the liquor license) from Gardiner and Banks, who refused saying they’d already agreed to sell to Hennis and his partners. Nikitopoulos then approached Hennis, suggesting Hennis purchase the business as planned and then sell him the liquor license. When Hennis also turned down the landlord’s offer — without the liquor license, Hennis wouldn’t actually own the bar — he disappeared from the conversations.
At the April 12 demonstration, mayoral candidate Bevan Dufty called for the stakeholders involved to recognize that in a city that “values history — indeed, is defined by history,” the lease on the Eagle is “more than just a business transaction.
“The owner of this building needs to come to the table and talk about this,” he urged.
But Nikitopoulos, a resident of Santa Rosa who inherited the property from his father, hasn’t responded to Hennis, reporters, or even to calls from Sup. Wiener. He was, however, reportedly in communication with Englebrecht when the Skylark owner swept in to purchase the space and liquor license — but not the name or the leather culture.
Though Englebrecht withdrew, supporters worry Nikitopoulos could potentially negotiate a lease with a different tenant — leaving the bar a casualty of SoMa’s continued gentrification.
Longtime Eagle patron Mike Talley, who has lived in SoMa for more than two decades, fears the Eagle would fit perfectly into a familiar story of luxury lofts, astronomical rent increases, and — inevitably — mass evictions. He explained that what the Chronicle’s late columnist Herb Caen called the Miracle Mile — a strip of SoMa gay and leather bars that once numbered in the dozens — now consists of just a few properties “hanging in there.”
Mark Kliem, a.k.a Sister Zsa Zsa Glamour of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, echoed Talley’s concern, saying, “The rest of the entire world is family-friendly. Why can’t we have this one little half-mile area to call queer space?”
It’s worth noting that the Eagle is by no means exclusively gay. It is famous for its Thursday-night rock shows where, according to an Eagle DJ, “a melting pot of hipsters, stoners, and rockers mixed with the leather crowd.”
“Everyone was cool,” he said. “Everyone was welcome.”
Still, the bar has become an icon of San Francisco’s queer community.
Kim, who represents the district, presented the Eagle with a letter of commendation recognizing its 30 outstanding years as a “venue, cultural institution, safe haven, and home for the LGBT community” at the April 12 meeting.
“You can’t threaten something as important as this institution,” Campos added.
Wiener, Kim, and California Sen. Mark Leno also praised the Eagle at Sunday’s regularly scheduled beer bust. Leno lauded the efforts of local drag queen/community organizer Anna Conda, and referred to the week’s events as “Stonewall West.”
If anything, the week of demonstrations has drawn San Francisco’s queer community closer. And there is hope that the crowd can stay together in the spot they claimed for themselves. One white-horse possibility is Mark Frazier, owner of a Dallas bar also named the Eagle — and also home to a leather crowd.
Seth Munter of Herth Realty in San Francisco said Frazier has been eyeing the SF Eagle for more than a year, and that he is “interested and able to participate in continuing the Eagle as it has been, either with partners or on his own.”
Reached by phone in Dallas, Frazier told us he’s dreamt of the business since before his own Eagle took flight in 1995. “I think the San Francisco Eagle has a lot of history and a core base of support,” he said. “Any time you go into a business with so much support, it’s going to be successful.”
Frazier stressed that like the SF original, his Eagle has raised substantial sums for charity. Though he acknowledged that the bottom line of all businesses is to make money, “the successful ones continue to give back to the community — and not only monetarily.”
So far, Frazier said he has “exchanged e-mails with the powers that be” and that he is confident the Eagle’s troubles stem from a “communication gap” he could help fix.
Hennis expressed hope about the possibility of working with Frazier in addition to pursuing other options like historical preservation.
Demonstrators have penned more than 100 hand-written letters to the Historic Preservation Commission urging it to assign the Eagle landmark status. Commissioner Alan Martinez said such a process could cost thousands of dollars and would not “grant the right to dictate businesses or tenants.”
Still, he announced publicly that giving the building historic status is not “about turning the city into a museum — it’s about our history.”
Though landmark status protects the physical property, it would also provide legitimacy, an instantaneous way to tell the building’s story and bind the community together. And no matter what happens with the sale of the Eagle, that’s one possibility that flies.
The commendation presented this afternoon by Supervisor Jane Kim to The Eagle Tavern recognizing its 30 outstanding years as a “venue, cultural institution, safe haven and home for the LGBT community” won’t be enough to pacify everyone who nests there – especially if their aerie is taken away.
Monday night, as many as 300 people gathered for an emergency meeting outside the beloved SoMa institution, trying to figure out how best to prevent that possibility in the face of an April 29 closure and potential eviction. Among them were representatives from the offices of supervisors Scott Weiner and Jane Kim, as well as former supervisor Bevan Dufty.
Members of the group gathered again yesterday on the steps of City Hall – complete with colorful signs – to talk about The Eagle as an icon of SF’s queer culture and to rally support from community members and the Board of Supervisors. Presenters and patrons likened the late-night spot to the Statue of Liberty, saying it represented a sort of Ellis Island for the queer community.
“This is where you come,” one speaker said, “when you’ve been kicked out of Kansas, or Florida, or Ohio, for being gay. You come to San Francisco.”
But the bar has welcomed far more than disenfranchised leather fiends through its doors. For 30 years, the South of Market venue has been a community hub and fundraising hotspot, raising what now amounts to millions for everything from breast cancer to youth charities to AIDS awareness. The club is renowned for its Beer Busts – which can raise over $2,000 in a weekend – and its Thursday night rock shows, which draw in hipsters, stoners, and leathermen alike for some of the strongest local rock bills in town, often tied to record releases.
But now, the queer spot may have to straighten up and fly “right,” if the property’s landlord has his way. When the bar’s current owners, John Gardiner and Joe Banks, decided to focus on their other SF property, Hole in the Wall Saloon, they tried to sell The Eagle to those they felt would continue the legacy: current manager Ron Hennis, owner of The Lexington Lila Thirkield, and Eagle entertainment coordinator Doug Hilsinger. But property owner John Nikitopoulos refused to renew the lease for the bar’s intended new owners.
He has, however, warmed to the possibility of signing the space to the owners of The Skylark at 16th and Valencia: a venue many Eagle patrons feel is a study in gentrification – not to mention, straight as a developer’s ruler. In addition to changing the club’s culture completely, they fear that such a sale may pave the way for an even bigger change down the road – condos, for instance.
Longtime Eagle patron Mike Talley has lived in Soma for over two decades, and has slowly watched the tides of developers roll in and wash away queers (and blue-collar workers and minorities and artists) in order to erect luxury lofts. He explained that what the Chronicle’s Herb Caen referred to as the Miracle Mile – the strip of SoMa gay and leather bars that once numbered in the dozens – has now been reduced to just a couple of properties “hanging in there.”
According to Dufty, The Eagle Tavern is one of the only San Francisco leather bars still in its original location. In a city that values history – indeed, is defined by history – Dufty called for the owner of the property to recognize the lease on The Eagle is “more than just a business transaction.”
“The owner of this building needs to come to the table and talk about this,” he urged.
Indeed, securing landmark status may be a way forward for The Eagle, but the process is slow and complex, and does not guarantee the tenants additional rights — but it does make clear the importance of The Eagle to the city of San Francisco as a whole.
Until then, SF Eagle lovers are determined to preserve their natural habitat. Local drag queen-cum-community organizer Anna Conda has organized two additional events to fight for the right to spread their wings:
Tonight, Wednesday/13, The Eagle will swoop down upon The Skylark in full leather regalia for a “surprise leather night.” Join in at 8 p.m., and wear your ass-less chaps. On Sun/17, camp out in front of The Eagle to show that the community center is much more than a bar. Pink tents encouraged.
Stay up to date by following the Save the Eagle efforts on Facebook.
CAREERS AND ED You don’t need a degree, or even the patience to sift through US Census Bureau reports on educational attainment, to know that each year this nation graduates more students from institutions of higher ed — public and private universities, colleges, junior colleges, and professional schools — than it did the year before. San Francisco is second only to Seattle in the number of papered persons running around, and statistics say that they, in turn, are more likely to raise little educational overachievers of their own. With this glut of matriculation on the horizon, it’s hard not to ponder the degree programs of the future: an associate’s in astrotourism? A bachelor’s of biosynthetic anatomy? A PhD of P4TA? (That’s “preparing for the apocalypse” for the cyber-stupid.) Hard to say. But before we get carried away, here’s a sampling of programs fit for a brave new world that can be found in the here and now.
SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC DESIGN AND INSTALLATION
California South Bay University sits smack-dab in the center of Silicon Valley, so it’s no surprise that the offerings are high-tech. The larger California zeitgeist seems to be rolling in on the San Francisco fog, though, and interesting patterns — like a master’s of science in green energy technology — have emerged. But the university really takes advantage of the Santa Clara Valley sunshine (and billowing demand for sustainable energy) with its Interstate Renewable Energy Council-accredited certificate program in solar photovoltaics, the science of connecting the two. If a full-fledged degree isn’t in your forecast, the school offers two 40-hour courses that might be a perfect fit.
California South Bay University, 1107 North Fair Oaks, Sunnyvale. (408) 400-9008, www.csbu.us
Degrees in video-game design and Web programming are old hat, but California College of the Arts takes the idea of the user interface beyond the screen, and plugs it back into real life. The school’s focus on design that users can interact with includes classes on platforms from cell phone to sculpture, game console to gallery, preparing students to “create meaningful and innovative designed experiences in the realms of work, lifestyle, and play.” Vague? Yes. Useful? Possibly. That three-dimensional holographic surround-sound computer interface that Tom Cruise uses in Minority Report? Get your virtual-reality gloves out ’cause it’s on its way …
California College of the Arts, 1111 Eighth St., SF. 1-800-477-1278, www.cca.edu
Horticulture goes high-tech at Merritt College. The school claims to have all the most up-to-date equipment in the field, and with 5,000 square feet of computerized greenhouses, a 5,000-square-foot lath house, a floral and drafting lab, and disciplines such as “turf management,” we doubt anyone would argue. And to think, we were still relying on dirt, sun, and water to do our growing.
This master’s program allows students to develop as writers and visual artists simultaneously, and encourages a “deep exploration of the book form in both content and materiality.” The interplay of form and content is not a new academic trope, but given that physical codices may soon be obsolete, taking a moment to ponder the book as object might not be a bad idea — lest future generations wonder why we wrote all over our toilet paper. Literary artifacts? Worth checking out!
Tourists looking for a tequila sunrise and a tan may not realize that the pool they’re baking beside used to be a jungle. Each year, sensitive wildlife areas the world over are steamrolled under hotel strips. At the same time, environmentally-conscious tourism has become a booming industry. Given the facts, a student could do worse than this City College Business School program. The quickie certificate takes just a year — not a bad thing, considering ecotourism’s popularity and the rapidly decreasing availability of stuff left to tour.
City College of San Francisco, Ocean Campus, 50 Phelan, SF. (415) 239-300, www.ccsf.edu
With a focus on risk reduction counseling, data collection, and outreach strategies, this one-year certificate in HIV/STI prevention studies from City College’s health education department just seems like a really good plan to bring a brighter future to all.
City College of San Francisco, Ocean Campus, 50 Phelan, SF. (415) 239-3000, www.ccsf.edu
Preparing for the future is all about remembering the past … or so might say a folklorist with a master’s or doctorate from UC Berkeley. An interdisciplinary degree from the department of anthropology, folkloristics (that’s the term) provide a new spin on the studies of ethnicity, nationality, gender, and sexuality, as well as the chance to revive vernacular tales, customs, beliefs, and plain ol’ stories from days gone by.
That “melting pot” we all learned about in grade school is on the boil — bubbling with a range of issues both sweet and spicy, and some we haven’t even tasted yet. As our country continues to diversify, equity, social justice, and community empowerment will only become more important. San Francisco State University’s B.A. in raza studies seeks to offer future leaders the knowledge, skills, and social consciousness necessary to navigate an increasingly complex social landscape.
San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Ave., SF. (415) 338-1111, www.sfsu.edu
If everything else on this list is just a bit too futuristic and far out, Golden Gate University offers one of the country’s oldest and best-respected graduate programs in taxation. Looking for the ultimate in job security? This is your best bet since the San Francisco College of Mortuary Sciences closed in 2002. Death … and taxes. Golden Gate University School of Taxation, 536 Mission, SF. (415) 442-7880, www.ggu.edu
Some of the nation’s — and the world’s — top universities now make classes available free on the web. You won’t get credit or a degree — but you can, in effect, audit classes on a wide range of subjects.
UC Berkeley has an official YouTube channel. Catch up with students taking classes this semester on astrophysics, computer science, or the “Dynamics of Romantic Core Values in East Asian Premodern Literature.” One of the top rated and most viewed videos is a class on gravity and satellites. One viewer frankly commented, “Thank you for making me less dumb.”
It’s easy enough to hop over to other coast if you are curious about what Ivy League classes look like — and Yale’s online access offers more than just video. You even have the syllabus as well as the actual homework assignments.
Popular among Yale undergraduates is a philosophy class titled “Death.” You can also check out an advanced Literary Theory class with on lecture focusing on Queer Theory and Gender Performativity.
Universities all over the world are plugging in to the open education movement. At the University of Southern Queensland in Australia, the selection is slimmer, but who can pass up the opportunity to take “Object Oriented Programming in C++.” Seriously, though, how about “Creating Interactive Media”?
CAREERS AND ED Mixing, mashing, chatting, tweeting: This is how the University of California envisions the future of learning for what it calls a new breed of students. Also on the syllabus? Podcasting, vodcasting, blogging, and Skype.
Last week, UC was awarded a $750,000 Next Generation Learning Challenges grant, moving it one step closer to a curriculum composed of words that barely existed a decade ago. But some fear — with good reason — that online education will become a low-cost, high-return alternative to traditional instruction. And the students will be the losers.
UC’s Online Instruction Pilot Program grew out of recommendations to explore online learning discussed by the UC Commission on the Future over the past two years. This spring, a subcommittee of faculty and administrators selected 29 courses to be developed over the next two years.
The pilot program is a long-term initiative to evaluate and ultimately increase the role of online education as a regular part of the UC curriculum — a chance to respond, according to the program’s website, to a “transformation” in the way students learn.
The commission promotes online learning as a boon without trade-offs, a way of answering questions of accessibility, efficiency, and, ultimately, costs — and is not shy about outlining the relationship between the three. Chartered to help wiggle UC out of a “vise of rising costs and drastically reduced resources,” the commission is proposing sweeping changes to California’s public university system.
ALL BUT THE KEG PARTY
UC envisions a greater number of students served and increased diversity, “from Kentucky to Kuala Lampur,” according to Law School Dean Chris Edley, cochair of the commission’s Education and Curriculum Working Group.
Edley, one of the most enthusiastic proponents of digital learning, initially referred to online education as an 11th UC campus, promising it would offer an equivalent college experience — minus only the “keg party.”
Critics were quick to condemn the plan as overblown excitement. Concerned undergraduates and skeptical faculty raised questions about the quality of online learning. Angry graduate student instructors (understandably) balked at Edley’s grandiose vision of a cybercampus where “squadrons of GSIs” will serve on the “frontline of online contact” with undergraduates.
Political science professor Wendy Brown is one of the leading critics. “Personal engagement with students is crucial,” she told us in a phone interview. “Real teachers don’t just teach subject matter. You have to know students and where their experience and level of engagement is. I don’t want them just to come out with content — I want them to come out as thinkers … have a new way to analyze the world.”
Brown said she believes that acclimating to the intellectual culture of a university — especially important in the first year — can’t be achieved online. Yet first-year courses are exactly where administrators are looking to channel online efforts.
Administrators hope to relieve pressure on overcrowded gateway math and science courses, as well as freshman reading and composition. As many as 40 percent of first-year students test out of their first semester of reading and composition, indicating that the students remaining are those most in need of attention. Even so, a generous smattering of general chemistry, intro calculus, and reading and composition classes like Humanities 1A are among the pilot courses moving forward.
Craig Evans, professor of mathematics and chair of the course committee for calculus, echoes Brown’s concerns. “I don’t think it’s impossible to make this work, but I think it would be very, very difficult,” he said. “Part of what we do as teachers is applied psychology, things like checking in with students and keeping up morale, in addition to teaching classical mathematics. It’s hard to see how to convey that in an online course.”
Robert Anderson, faculty representative to the Board of Regents and professor of economics and mathematics, agreed that there is “something important about being on campus for four years, rubbing shoulders with students and faculty.”
And when short-term goals — taking pressure off overcrowded introductory courses — are met, what comes next?
The academic senate approved the pilot program on the condition that the necessary funding — as much as $7 million — come from outside sources. With the exception of the $750,000 NGLF grant, that money hasn’t materialized. The university has borrowed money from internal sources; half of that will be directed toward infrastructure development, according to Anderson.
With money-saving rhetoric underlining every stage of the program’s development and millions to be invested in online infrastructure, how will UC officials avoid the temptation to simply use online learning as a revenue source — regardless of what academic benefits pilot program researchers find?
The answer is: they won’t.
In a post on the Berkeley Blog last summer, Edley attempted to allay fears that an online program would eliminate campus learning by assuring that future online pupils would be “new, tuition-paying, UC-eligible students we otherwise wouldn’t have the room or resources to serve. And any net revenue would be plowed back into supporting the on-campus program.” In this model, off-campus students would be cash cows milked for the additional revenue they could produce.
Though the committee has delayed visions of an entirely online degree since then, crucial questions regarding a long-term trajectory remain: Would online students pay the same price? Would they be accepted exclusively for online matriculation? Would their degrees be identical?
Nobody knows, but already the pilot program is relying on projected revenue from off-campus students to help recoup some of the borrowed $7 million, according to Anderson.
Keith Williams, Edley’s cochair on the commission’s education and curriculum working group, confirmed that UC is planning to offer newly developed classes on a per-credit basis to students enrolled at UC and others.
According to Williams, these new courses will offer full course credit — and the full price tag. Pricing was made consistent with brick-and-mortar courses, Williams explained, to avoid causing UC students to make a tough decision: either pay full price for an on campus course or save money by taking a less desirable online course.
And yes, conveniently, offering the courses at full price does generate revenue to be reinvested. (Williams balked at the phrase “skimmed off the top.”)
Now that the pilot program is underway, administrators are treading more lightly around its money-making intentions. But for a reminder of the project’s origins, one need only look at the commission’s recommendation to up enrollment quotas for nonresident students — a recommendation slated to be met next year.
The commission’s final report explicitly calculates the amount of money ($12,000) that can be generated for each Californian replaced with a nonresident student, stating “each 1 percent increase in nonresident students would generate almost $1 million” — a dubious maneuver at a time when the university claims it must expand online education to meet the shortages of space for its own residents.
The culture betrayed by this vision of UC education is clear — one in which educational models are constructed according to business practices.
Despite the pilot program’s rhetoric of innovation and breakthrough, it’s not the first to fuse Internet with education. Brown is quick to note that despite her criticism of the pilot program “[she] is not a Luddite.” She described to us how the faculty is increasingly making use of online educational aids.
Many professors choose to broadcast their lectures online, allowing students — and anyone else for that matter — to virtually peek in on a lecture, either live or with a delay of hours or days.
Currently, more than 40 UC Berkeley lecture halls are fitted for video and/or audio recording. Thousands of transmissions, from biology to history, have been uploaded to iTunes and YouTube (see sidebar).
Although webcasts are highly popular with students — and students are undoubtedly the main priority for the program — people are tuning in from all continents, according to Benjamin Hubbard, who runs the webcast program.
For Hubbard, webcasts “[broaden] the window of access to all the scholarly activity on campus. We are fortunate in that we are public university, so first and foremost we have a mission of community service and making this content freely and publicly available matches this mission.”
THE PUBLIC OPTION
Recognizing the enormous challenges of decreased accessibility and increasing cost, a growing consortium of educators and researchers are building momentum and developing a vision for a truly public online educational program.
Lisa Petrides, president and founder of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, calls herself a “public education fanatic.” She told us that the instead of using online teaching as a money-maker, schools can adopt a principled, egalitarian approach.
Petrides is a signatory of the Capetown Declaration, a manifesto for the open education movement. The declaration calls for collaboration that cuts across institutional lines; for the use and promotion of free educational resources; and for policy support for open education.
“You start to have this pedagogical collaborative community that can use resources in this way, changing how we teach and how we learn,” she said. To take analogy for computer software, Petrides says her movement is akin to the open source movement.
Now there’s an innovative approach to online education — with its eyes on the future, not its pocket.
Red, white, or green? You can go for all three, at least at this weekend’s celebration of all things sustainable. Jon Frey’s biodynamic vineyard will be pouring away — alongside 190 other exhibitors — at Sat/9-Sun/10’s Green Festival.
If the extensive alphabetical list of vendors gives an apt portrayal of Green Fest’s floorplan, Frey will shack up alongside From War to Peace, a husband-wife jewelry team that creates fashion from dismantled nuclear missile systems. One booth over, Frontier Angel Soap will leave passer-bys sweet-smelling and squeaky clean. Displays of sustainable goodies in other aisles of the Concourse Exhibition Center? Eco-friendly river rafting, passively-powered thermal art, and rolfing, a holistic system of soft tissue massage created by Dr. Ida Rolf.
In addition to the dozens of exhibitions, more than 130 speakers from the US and abroad will cover topics ranging from environmental justice to green finance to the chic new farming movement (courtesy of Planet Green’s “Beekman Boys,” Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge). Despite the festival’s distinctly international appeal, some home-grown representatives will peddle their nifty goods – or pedal, in the case of San Francisco-based electric bike company New Wheel.
Also in attendance, with one comfy, sustainably-sandaled foot in SF and one in Bali, will be IndoSole, a shoemaker that uses salvaged motorbike tires for its soles with soul. And for the fully foreign, be sure to visit Mr. Ellie Pooh LLC. Though based in Brooklyn, the company specializes in fair trade exotic gifts and paper made from – you guessed it – elephant excrement. The, er, raw material comes from Sri Lanka, and helps ensure the elephant’s continued presence in that increasingly densely settled county.
And just in case you were wondering the Green Festival has a history of offsetting its impact through recycling, composting, and other programs — both here in its SF incarnation and in the five other cities where it unleashes the green team.
For more info on getting green in the big city, check out this week’s SFBG Green Issue, on newsstands today.
A smattering of the phenomenal sustainability people and places you can plug into around the Bay.
Green your home
Yeah, yeah, you watched The Cove and try to keep up on the latest bycatch horror stories — but sometimes you’re out with friends and that petrale sole looks divine … eek, was it on the “good” list? Text 30644 with the word “FISH” and the name of the waterway inhabitant in question (or be fancy and use the iPhone app) and within minutes you’ll receive a text with its sustainability level — and the rationale behind it.
It has been said that the key to success is having good role models. And if your aim is growing your own meals inside city limits, you could do a lot worse than Novella Carpenter. Her book Urban Farmer gave a tantalizing primer on her life farming in West Oakland, and her blog provides inspiration, tips, and community farming news. Carpenter is currently sparring with Oakland city government over urban farming regulations, but we’re confident she’ll pull through in the end — and educate us all while doing so.
ALEMANY FARMERS MARKET
“Affordable” usually isn’t the first word that comes to mind when it comes to local, natural foods. The Alemany farmers market became the first to open in the Bay Area in 1943, and is affectionately referred to as “the people’s market.” It’s rumored to be one of the most affordable markets in the city, and is well-known for supporting small farmers.
Every Saturday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. 100 Alemany, SF
Ever wonder if your favorite coffee shop or tapas bar is as green as you want it be? This website has user-generated sustainability ratings of hundreds of city eateries (not to mention helpful rankings of businesses from spas to furniture stores).
One of the hardest parts about being car-free are those days when you just want to get out of the city and into nature. Enter Post-Car Press, the website and guidebook assembled by East Bay couple Kelly Gregory and Justin Eichenlaub. The two give you the low-down on how to get to camp-hike spots in Marin County, Mount Diablo, even Big Sur without a motor vehicle.
Biking and BART don’t always mix, especially at peak commute hours. That’s why Caltrans has this smart, cheap shuttle to get you and your bike across the Bay Bridge during morning and afternoon rush hours for only $1. It will pick up you and your steed and drop the two of you off at the MacArthur BART Station and SF Transbay Terminal.
These green taxis and shuttles will take you where you need to go without increasing your carbon you-know-what-print. With a fleet of exclusively ultra fuel-efficient vehicles in the country, it’s the first taxi service to put fuel efficiency in the front seat. PlanetTran’s primary business is in green rides to and from the San Francisco and Oakland airports.
An association of biodiesel companies committed to providing fuel to those who already use it — and assistance for those who want to lead their diesel engines to greener fields. Go to any of the alliance’s locations to fill up on biofuel or get help converting your vehicle to biodiesel. Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley, Dogpatch Biofuels, and People’s Fuel Cooperative located in Rainbow Grocery are all part of this groovy green oil alternative. www.autopiabiofuels.com
Green your home
SAN FRANCISCO COMMUNITY POWER
Partnering with the San Francisco Department of the Environment, SFCP is a nonprofit that helps small businesses and low-income residents save money and reduce environmental impact. SFCP recently launched a free Green Home Assessment Audit initiative available to all city residents that helps improve home safety, disaster-preparedness (how timely), efficiency, and ecofriendliness. It also distributes vouchers for home improvements.
This benevolent mulch-making company donated all the material needed for sheet-mulching the magnificent Hayes Valley Farm and has contributed, free, to dozens of other community projects. Even the small-time urban grower can pick up mulch, compost, or soil amendment from its SF or Redwood City sites. It also delivers (for a small fee), so go ahead and rip out those invasive, inedible weeds in front of your house. Your own patch of nature awaits.
Before you build, paint, remodel, or so much as hammer in a nail, it’s worth tripping to the Bay’s building resource centers — second-life sites for construction debris and used building supplies. The East Bay’s Urban Ore and The Reuse People host landscapes of pink toilets, claw foot tubs, and towering stacks of discontinued tile. Looking for some SF supplies? Try Building Resources in SF (www.buildingresources.org) or www.stopwaste.org.
Build your green community
SAN FRANCISCO GREEN FESTIVAL
Of course, being sustainable isn’t all heavy lifting and culinary vigilance — environmental friendliness can be a fertile way to meet your like-minded neighbors. This weekend, trek to the city’s largest green expo for more than 130 speakers, music, and exhibits featuring everything from Food Not Bombs to reclaimed redwood manufacturers.
Sat/9 10 a.m.–7 p.m.; Sun/10 11 a.m.–6 p.m., $5–$25. SF Concourse Exhibition Center, 635 Eighth St., SF. www.greenfestivals.org
SF GREEN MAP
A great online visual for people looking for the nearest community garden, recycling center, and so much more, this happy cartographic achievement documents our city by highlighting its bright green hubs of activity.
Gardening involves more than just a tub of dirt, seeds, and a healthy appetite. To really get your hands dirty, there is a body of knowledge you’d do well to tap into. At Garden for the Environment’s Inner Sunset one-acre farm, you can learn about leafy greens while meeting like-minded seed slaves. After all, it pays to have a buddy who can plant-sit.
For years, the Internet has provided a second home to a community of urban farmers diligently tilling their carrots and tapping away on their keyboards about the experience. These people lived with all the peace and prosperity attendant to backyard chickens, rooftop apiaries, and tomatoes canned in plain sight of sidewalks and skyscrapers – until some of their own went rogue.
Pastoralists the blogosphere over erupted in rage this February when the Dervaes Institute, a long-time Internet presence and self-proclaimed authority on the subject of urban farming, sent not-quite-cease-and-desist letters to sixteen other institutions and small businesses, forbidding them from using the term “urban homesteading” without including the fact that the term is the Dervaes’ intellectual property.
According to Jules Dervaes, the institute spent three years convincing the US Patent and Trademark Office to let them trademark “urban homestead,” among other terms. But as of this morning, when San Francisco’s Electronic Freedom Foundation posted notice of a petition filed to fight the Dervaes’ “bogus” claim, all signs point to three years wasted.
The Dervaes – Jules and his three grown children– have farmed their family-operated organic plot in Pasadena for more than twenty years, and have documented their journey online (formerly at www.PathtoFreedom.com, now at www.UrbanHomestead.org) since 2001. The institute’s first attempt to trademark “urban homesteading” was denied In 2008, but thanks to an epic two-year struggle easily tracked on the PTO’s website their masthead now boasts a big, round “®.”
In an email, Corynne McSherry, the intellectual property director at the EFF, wrote that the filing is “the crucial first step” necessary to (as one Facebook page puts it) “Take Back Urban Home-Steading(s).” Why the awkward spelling? Because, Facebook users can’t say “urban homesteading” either.
In addition to targeting other urban homesteading organizations like the Denver Urban Homesteading agricultural center and Oakland’s own Institute of Urban Homesteading founded by Ruby Blume, the Dervaes contacted Facebook demanding that the site take down pages that use the term. The original pages have been disabled, but new ones urging community members to “dump the Dervaes” quickly filled the void.
In a phone interview this morning, Blume said that she neither learned skills from, nor knew of, the Dervaes Institute prior to the current situation.
But now the Dervaes Institute is on everyone’s radar – and it seems to have overdosed on the attention it so desired to secure.
“I learned about urban homesteading from a vital urban homesteading community in the Bay Area,” she said, adding that until shortly before receiving two separate letters from the Dervaes – an informal notice directed toward her Oakland homesteading school and a formal cease and desist sent to the publisher of her upcoming book – the Dervaes Institute “wasn’t on my radar at all.”
When the Dervaes were contacted for this article, at first they did not pick up the phone. Persistence, however, yielded an answer – not the standard “hello,” but rather, a review from their answering machine chock full of messages from reporters who attempted to call them over the last month, accompanied by pointed interludes of machine’s mechanical “message erased” notification. Plus one for creativity, minus one for passive aggressiveness.
Though attempts to protect what they see as their own intellectual property may have backfired personally, the Dervaes debacle actually brought the urban homesteading community much closer together, in Blume’s opinion. She sees it as a rallying point in a movement that is centered on pride and sharing – the reason why so many people from disparate places came together so quickly on the issue.
“When April Krieger started the Take Back Urban Home-Steading(s) page,” Blume said, “over 1,000 joined in the first day.”
What Blume describes as a micro-revolution merely reinforces the values of self-reliance and community support that urban homesteading teaches.
“They’ve really put urban homesteading on the national map,” Blume said. And along with it – judging by the popularity of a newly recreated and renamed Facebook page – Blume and Kaplan’s upcoming book, which will be published April 10.
But now the Dervaes are on everyone’s radar – including a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise know or care about urban homesteading.
“They’ve really put urban homesteading on the national map,” Blume said. And – she hopes – Blume and Kaplan’s book, which will be published April 10.
Though the Electronic Freedom Foundation has formally filed its petition on behalf of a different set of authors, Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen, as well as the publisher of that duo’s 2008 work The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the City, Blume and Kaplan are likewise at the center of the controversy. In fact, before even making it out of the publishing house, their forthcoming book made it onto Wikipedia’s brand-new urban homesteading page.
But for Blume, Kaplan, and all the others who rallied around the Dervaes trademark dispute, publicity was the last thing on their minds.
“Being urban homesteaders is very much about our humanity,” Blume explained. “It’s our birthright to grow and preserve food. We’ve been doing it for millennia. The possibility that it might be taken away is just so against the feeling of the movement. Sharing resources and ideas, that’s what it’s all about.”
Kaplan agrees. In addition to co-authoring the book, the Petaluma resident has worked with community reliance organization Daily Acts to shape the Homegrown Guild, a group committed to dispersing knowledge and hands-on assistance among its hundreds of members.
“We share information like we share bounty,” Kaplan said. “Our job is to keep inspire one another to keep raising the bar.”
The co-authors, who met over 20 years ago as members of San Francisco’s Mission art scene, wove a broad yet intricate guide, with Blume providing the artwork and photographs as well as some of the more nitty-gritty how-to’s, and Kaplan producing the bulk of the writing, or what Blume describes as the “why-to.”
Nearly every aspect of their collaboration was fortuitous. Blume had been approached by several publishers to produce a book – something she realized she “didn’t really want to do.” At the same time, Kaplan, knowing nothing about the potential book deal, looked up Blume with her own ideas about writing a book.
The pieces fell into place, and a partnership was born. At its heart, Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living is about cooperation – perhaps the Dervaes should pick up a copy.
Pick up a copy yourself at the following Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living book launches:
Drizzly March was a slow time for San Fran sports fans — the last Super Bowl Sunday pig-in-a-blanket put to bed a month before, the NBA trade deadline past and playoffs a distant dream; and today’s April 1 major league baseball opening games an agonizing countdown away. Short of swimming through the dreary rains to San Jose’s Shark Tank, what’s a rowdy, rooting beer-guzzler to do?
Heading to Golden Gate Park to cheer on some equally rowdy rollers might not be the first thought that comes to mind, but it’s exactly what thousands of die-hard derby-goers did on March 19, when the storied San Francisco Bay Bombers elbowed past the Brooklyn Red Devils in the American Roller Skating Derby league’s world championship game.
Some may not consider a wet night in a packed Kezar Pavilion to be a legit answer to the pro-sports dry spell. But the Bay Area-based ARSD league is serious about its professional status, taking pride in everything from the team uniforms to the traditional banked track – a far cry, if you please, from the fishnets and flat floors of newer leagues.
Bombers’ general manager Jim Fitzpatrick, who skated for the team from 1977 to 1987, has now delivered his third straight league title since rejoining as GM in 2007 (the ARSD doesn’t hold its championship game every year). For his efforts, he’s received three straight general manager of the year awards. But for him, the real thrill is keeping banked track derby – and its SF history – alive.
“As a little kid growing up in San Francisco roller derby was huge,” Fitzpatrick said. “Everyone watched the Bombers on TV, everyone knew them. I dreamed about playing for them in Kezar. Now, I want to honor the tradition of the old derby.”
The venerable “old derby” is rooted in19th century roller marathons that lasted for days, sometimes caused deaths, and, on the whole, managed to acquire a reputation as less-than-legitimate. The sport was popularized as a Depression-era divertissement by Chicagoan Leo Seltzer, who in 1935 built a banked track and took it on the road, dubbing it the Transcontinental Roller Derby. At each stop, skaters would circle the wooden ring as many as 57,000 times, simulating a days-long journey from New York to California, with lit-up placeholders marking teams’ make-believe progress across a billboard-sized map of the U.S..
Derby historians credit crowds’ hunger for blood (not that 57,000 laps would be tedious otherwise, Nascar notwithstanding) with the spectacle’s increasing focus on physical contact and frightening pile-ups. The endurance element gave way to a derby more similar to that of today, where a “jammer” on each team gains points by bumping, jumping and jostling past opposing teams’ “blockers.”
In 1949, Seltzer created the National Roller Derby League to showcase the scintillating sport, which was poised to become a television sensation. Echoing his earlier pilgrim’s progress, he packed up the whole shebang and moved it first to Los Angeles and then to the Bay, where the 1954 formation of the San Francisco Bay Bombers created a lasting sports legacy with some of the game’s most enduring stars. (Bomber Joanie Weston was even reputed to be the era’s highest-paid female athlete.)
The iconic Bombers were the epitome of the banked track derby that aficionados like Fitzpatrick remember watching on their family room TV sets as youths. Dozens of games a year were taped in Kezar Pavilion, adjacent to then-home of both the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers. From there, KTVU broadcast Bombers’ games to hundreds of cities nationwide, making roller derby the Rice-a-Roni of sports, synonymous with San Francisco.
Seltzer eventually transferred ownership to his son, Jerry, who would later recall the glory of San Francisco’s skating days, when Kezar regularly sold out. And just for an added taste of legitimacy: the Bombers shared locker rooms with their NFL stadium-mates.
“There were no dressing rooms in Kezar Stadium,” the younger Seltzer wrote in a blog he kept, “so when the 49ers played a home game they used the tacky dressing rooms in the Pavilion. Sometimes there was virtually no overlap between the time the players left and our teams arrived, to really scummy and wet dressing rooms.”
Fitzpatrick affirmed that the dressing rooms still exist today, though Kezar Stadium has been knocked down and rebuilt. Under the parking lot, connected to a tunnel that once funneled the teams out to a roaring crowd, the rooms are a kind of shrine to days-gone-by – days when the 49ers and the Raiders would lace up roller skates and join the Bombers on the banked track, sometimes indulging in a bit of competitive action off the football field.
“Of course,” Fitzpatrick said, “That was before the NFL took off and salaries skyrocketed. Once that happened, the guys couldn’t afford to be fooling around.”
Though their fun ended, there was still plenty of thrill left on the banked track. The ‘60s marked the height of television popularity for the Bombers who, across the nation, were considered the team to beat.
Seltzer’s league folded in 1973, a disaster attributed to everything from the rising cost of fuel to the diversification of televised sports and events. Since then, leagues have appeared, disappeared, fractured and gone defunct, the sport’s popularity waxing and waning, the focus shifting between skill and sensation.
“Other games and jams have come along,” Fitzpatrick explained, applying the term “silly stuff,” to a whole array of roller sports, from L.A.-based Roller Games to CBS’ over the top show Roller Jam. Fitzpatrick even alluded to “midgets on skates” – and while that might be happening somewhere out there, it doesn’t take tiny rollers to get folks to think of derby as sports entertainment: the WWE on wheels, with sexpot women in the starring roles.
Mixed-gender for-profit leagues like the Bombers’ league ARSD leave off the false eyelashes, but fans still debate whether the scores – and punches – are fake.
According Fitzpatrick, the Bombers’ aggression is all real.
“It’s a competitive sport,” he said, “based on contact and maneuverability. It’s like when someone cuts you off on the road – like road rage, tempers flare.”
Fitzpatrick’s sincerity never falters, and it’s clear he’s proud of his skaters when he describes how player coach Richard Brown scored the last point of the 43-40 game despite sweltering heat, or when he hails rookie Crista Chua as the female standout who learned under fire and performed under pressure, despite the championship being only her second real game.
And for their part, the players are just as serious. Chua said she trains hard for the team, staying in shape with running, weights, extra skating practices, and yoga sessions to stay flexible.
Despite the sensationalism, Fitzpatrick’s goal is to keep roller derby on track – and so far, his efforts have resulting in a sterling record. Will it ever be as good as lacing up the ol’ skates for a game of his own? According to Fitzpatrick, it’s even better.
“To see something completely disappear, and then to be able to carry on – I’m that much more grateful,” he said.
As for the future: “I want to keep on the path, looking ahead to great skating and great ability. There’s always going to be showmanship in every sport, but I want to honor the athleticism.”
Under the towering eucalyptus trees of Temescal Creek Park, a sturdy wood-planked fence frames a curve in the pavement. Every day, joggers and dog-walkers shuffle alongside, crossing the border of North Oakland and Emeryville. But the ones who turn their heads at just the right moment catch a scene flickering through the slits between boards – as if from an old-fashioned zoetrope – that transports them to another world entirely.
Here, there the dogs and people form a different scene: smoke roils from the chimney of a squat plastered building with ornate round windows. A rooster crows. A bark echoes. A man proportioned like Popeye’s archnemesis Bluto stumbles around kicking a barrel. Suddenly, a streak of muscle and fur launches toward the figure and sinks its teeth into his calf, shaking him from head to toe.
This is St. Roch’s, named for the Christian patron of pestilential illness, the falsely imprisoned, and dog trainers. The real Rocco was born in Montpellier, contracted plague in Rome, retreated to a sylvan cave where a dog licked his wounds and brought him bread, and finally died in a French prison in 1327. But the man who lives here, Francis Metcalf, is alive and well and has a 65-pound Belgian Malinois attached to the leg of his padded Bluto suit.
Metcalf, along with his wife, Norma, created Friends of the Family – a dog club modeled after traditional French and Belgian dog training guilds. They fashioned St. Roch’s as their headquarters, built from one part antique canine memorabilia, one part Westminster-Dog-Show-style paraphernalia, and three parts European pub.
“In the United States, dog trainers follow a doctor’s office model,” Metcalf says. St. Roch’s – which includes gardens, dog runs, an agility course, a chicken coop, sculptures, and a small fountain – is his remedy the problem-focused and service-based approach.
“I wanted to created a community center, a resource hub,” Metcalf says of the property. “In France, there are no professional dog trainers. It’s just part of the culture.”
Indeed, France is where Metcalf learned many of his tricks. He is steeped in the art of French and Belgian ring sport, or mondioring, which grew from training techniques of the 19th century – a time when dogs were still widely used for work and protection. Mondioring tests a dog’s obedience and agility. At the highest level, it involves protection and attack drills, where handlers teach dogs to guard, bite, and release on verbal command.
Though Metcalf is a pioneering competitor and has won several international titles, he believes in the value of mondioring as a foundation for a broader relationship with dogs – one that seamlessly blends work, sport, and simply good company.
After working with French ring-sport greats like Dan Maison (a ‘68er who told him “Americans know nothing. They think dog training is like Vietman), Metcalf dreamt of emulating European clubs he says grew “organically.” Where playgrounds for children and women cooking dinner accompany the “young bucks running around with the dogs,” Metcalf explains, competition and expertise yield to a sense of camaraderie.
“With dog sports in America, it’s intense and hard and you have to be completely dedicated. I wanted to change that – to take care of myself and other people, and the dogs, too.” And for that, Metcalf says he needed to build himself “a temple, a castle.”
Some of St. Roch’s guests are less than polite about the building’s fine furnishings. Logan, a 155-pound giant Alaskan malamute, can’t stop slobbering on the bearskin rug. But that’s all right with Metcalf, because he and Logan’s owners, Angie and Maggie Kim, are schooling him for the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test, and – luckily – drooling is allowed.
In a private training session, Metcalf runs Logan through a battery of exercises, from rolling over to wearing a muzzle to staying put while his owners disappear. Most of the exercises involve repetitive drills followed by treats doled out from the hotdog holster Metcalf keeps buckled around his waist.
Metcalf is serious, but that doesn’t mean his methods have to be. He alternates balancing a muzzle on Logan’s snout with offering him a big red Dubé juggling ball –with which Metcalf has some skills of his own. Logan is learning to balance the ball at the same time as the muzzle, which associates muzzling (an activity that can cause dogs the feeling of extreme helplessness) with a fun game – and provides his owners an opportunity to show him off.
Whether it’s training dogs for the Alameda police department’s K-9 unit or teaching a blind Akita to play the piano, Metcalf believes training and tricks are all part-and-parcel of a dog’s public relations strategy. For some dogs, PR management is a necessity (“It’s because he’s so big, and we’re so small,” says petite Maggie Kim), but it can enrich any animal relationship.
“People would never believe what their dogs are capable of,” Metcalf says. “But it’s worth finding out.”
Clients like Bill Smoot agree. He and his shepherd-mix, Athena, have been training in mondioring with Metcalf for nearly a year, though Smoot doesn’t intend to ever compete.
“She’s just really smart,” he says of Athena, “so we thought we should educate her. It was either this or ballet lessons.”
Metcalf, dressed in the $1,500 silk and linen costume d’attaque that bulks him up to super hero-sized proportions, plays the part of the decoy – the “bad guy” whom dogs are trained to attack. On Smoot’s command, Athena lunges at Metcalf, growling as Metcalf goads her on.
Though the display is a fearsome one, Metcalf points out that, to Athena, it’s all in good fun.
“Decoying is all about losing to the dog, making the dog feel confident. When you’re playing the decoy, you’re like a walking tennis ball. Protection work taps into the core of who a dog is as a creature. I’m interested in honoring that,” Metcalf says.
He adds that “ring sport is called ring sport for the same reason you refer to a circus ring: it’s a place to show your skills.”
To that end, Metcalf plays his part well. With muttonchops, rosy cheeks, and a handlebar mustache, he’s the very image of a clown. Barrels, chairs, extra people and even pet chickens become all the props he needs to put dogs through their paces. He says his impromptu style is guided by a sense of the animals need in each moment and – more importantly – a love for what he does.
Metcalf is in the process of opening St. Roch’s to more easily foster that love and understanding in others. By creating additional classes and group sessions in everything from mondioring to circus arts, he hopes to make his pad a place where anyone, from amateurs to professionals, can have a (preferably Belgian) beer and see the dogs.
“The root of the word ‘amateur,’” he notes, “isn’t based on money or status. It’s based on love.”
For Metcalf, training is not just about good behavior. Whether it’s a dog, a chicken, or a fish (and Francis has trained them all), the goal is to reawaken people’s ability to dream, and to imagine what animals may be capable of.
PETS You can’t keep a hedgehog, ferret, or sugar glider as a pet — legally — in California. But don’t worry, there are still plenty of options when it comes to unusual creatures to keep your pad rad. Read on for exotic animals you can enjoy right here in the city.
A BLUNT RUMP ONLY A MOTHER COULD LOVE
In addition to what he claims is the largest exotic bug store in the country, Ken the Bug Guy (www.kenthebugguy.com) is the proud parent of tail-less whip scorpions that he’s raised from babies. At two and a half years old, they’re only half-grown, but Ken is eagerly monitoring their progression from weanling to adult.
“We don’t usually get to see the whole process,” he says, explaining that most of his scorpions — which hail from the order amblypygi, meaning “blunt rump” — are imported from breeders abroad. A mama amblypygid lays a sac of eggs and carries it under her belly until the eggs hatch. In the wild, she would then pile the babies on her back, protecting and feeding them. In captivity (where food is plentiful and predators scarce), the babies are separated from their mother to sell to a distributor like Ken.
The benefits of a blunt rump to call your own? They’re “crazy-looking, like an alien,” according to Ken. They also live seven to 10 years, don’t sting or bite, and have interesting, complex social structures like wolves.
“They’re completely harmless,” Ken emphasizes. “Little kids can hold them and play with them, and they only need to be fed once a week and have their cage misted a bit.”
PYTHON PERFORMANCE: WHY SHOULD BRITNEY HAVE ALL THE FUN?
Get it straight: dancer Jim Berenholtz’s red tail boas, African ball pythons, and Central American boas aren’t his pets — they’re flatmates.
“They’re other beings that share my living space, but I don’t own them, and they don’t own me. We’re all equal partners,” he tells us. They’re also costars.
Berenholtz has been performing with his snakes since 1989, when he debuted his act on his birthday, the eve of the Chinese Year of the Snake. A “powerful dream” prompted him to try snake dancing and in 2003, he started Serpentium, a troupe that dances for corporate events and for celebrities in the Bay Area and beyond. Over the years, Berenholtz has performed with some 16 to 20 different animals, sometimes with as many as seven at a time.
“I respond to their movements, and they respond to mine,” he says. “You may have seen belly dancers performing with snakes as props. But for me they’re not props. They’re living beings that I interact with as if they were a human partner.”
At home, his menagerie has grown organically — some of his animals have bred and produced offspring, others he adopted when previous owners could no longer care for them.
Though nearly all reptiles need to stay under heat lamps in this chilly city — East Bay Vivarium (www.eastbayvivarium.com) has space heaters for your scaly ones — Berenholtz will occasionally take his snake friends out of their aquariums and allow them to wrap their bodies around his while he’s lounging to “give them time outside of their tanks and to enjoy their presence.”
ALL SWEET, NO SNEEZE
Love the kitties, but not their dander? You may have heard that hairless cats can provide your feline fix sans sneezes. But if the alarmingly naked critters give you the cold willies over the warm fuzzies, there’s another way.
Patty Royall owns Sugar, a Cornish Rex with extremely fine, soft, curly hair. The breed, along with the related Devon Rex, is defined by a lack of all fur except a thin undercoat of down, which is said to be hypoallergenic. The breed’s characteristics are the result of a genetic mutation preserved from a litter born in 1950s Cornwall in the United Kingdom.
Like most Rexes, Sugar is often cold. The cats are known to hang out around light bulbs and computer monitors, but Sugar takes a more straightforward approach: she’ll simply jump under the bed covers and stay curled up all day, Royall says. Luckily, if you’re considering a Rex of your own, Royall has found a convenient solution for the chills. She uses a microwaveable heating pad that stays hot for about nine hours. Try a SnuggleSafe heat pad (www.snugglesafe.co.uk/), available at Pawtrero pet supply store (www.pawtrero.com).
What about baking in the summer sun? Royall has heard that some people use sunscreen on their Cornish Rexes, but — given how cats groom themselves by licking — she doesn’t think that’s the best idea.
Elizabeth Young is the founding director of Mickacoo Pigeon and Dove Rescue (www.mickacoo.org, a division of SF-based Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue), but if you’re thinking about the greasy green-and-gray birds you plow through every day on the sidewalk, think again. The birds Young rescues are primarily king pigeons, a pure white domestic breed that — unlike San Fran’s feral flocks — can’t survive outdoors on their own.
“They’re good-natured, easygoing, adaptable pets,” Young says. “They’re experts at the leisure arts — lounging, flirting, snacking, napping.” She adds that because of their mellow nature, they’re not demanding companions and do very well indoors or in an outdoor aviary.
Young says her seven pigeons have distinct personalities and form monogamous pairs — a characteristic that leads her to personify her birds’ love lives as though they were soap-opera biddies, describing, for example, how once-shy Frances eventually won the heart of widowed Country.
The birds are affectionate toward people, too. The aforementioned Frances comes hurtling down the hall when Young calls him, screeching by and then turning on a dime to locate Young. Because the birds are quiet, don’t chew, and don’t bite, they are ideal for homes where dogs are not an option.
The only problem with pigeons is that, unlike dogs, they can’t be housebroken. Luckily, the fine people at BirdWearOnline.com (www.birdwearonline.com) have invented pigeon pants — stylish suits that Young heartily endorses.
If you’re one of the 12 million people whose enviro-mind was blown by the online video “The Story of Stuff,” you may have the opportunity to ask the film’s executive producer, Erica Priggen, for more insights into communicating the damage of global consumerism via viral animation.
Priggen will speak at tomorrow’s (3/22) San Francisco EcoTuesday event, a networking opportunity for sustainable business leaders held the fourth Tuesday of every month in nine cities across the nation – including communities like SF that have long been on the sustainability forefront, and cities like Cleveland and Detroit that are expanding their green horizons. The Tuesday talks supplement a website chock full of interesting news and blog posts, and speakers can be anyone with a new take on sustainable business.
Priggen is the executive producer at Free Range Studios in Berkeley, and oversees the company’s video and entertainment media department for clients such as 350.org and the Alliance for Climate Education. The creators of the award winning Story of Stuff series company’s mission is to “empower individuals to tranform society through the innovative use of digital media, storytelling, graphic design and strategy,” which is great. And their stuff is just plain amusing, which is also pretty nice.
Pretty much the only problem with mixing swing dancing and post-punk music – and Swing Goth founder Brian Gardner agrees – is knowing what kind of shoes to wear. Saturday night’s Steam Punktrick’s Day at 50 Mason Social House, a newcomer to the TL bar scene, saw all kinds: the heavy, thick-soled studded boots that are a staple for SF’s Goth crowd, the cute button-up Victorian high heels that are the trappings of steam punk-ettes, and the flat kicks that swing dancers wear to get a good mix of slide, support, and traction.
There were even a few tennis shoes looking like they wandered off the street to get some schoolin’: nearly all Swing Goth events include a quick guide for beginners before the dancing starts in earnest, and Saturday’s event was no different. Just a short session in the art of step-step-rock-step and newbies were off and running. One of the great things about social dancing (that’s social as in “partner dancing,” not as in “getting your grind on with the cutie in the corner”) is that swingers, even those who have their chops, all dance with everyone, including beginners. In addition to meeting new people, switching it up is the best way to swap slick moves.
That being said, Saturday’s crowd was all too happy to retreat to the sidelines when it came time for the real stars of the show. Sharing some sensuous maneuvers and showing a little skin were the lovely ladies of Standfire Collective. Heavy Sugar provided dulcet tunes laced with less-than-sweet undertones, and rockin’ out with some wild electric mandolin, to say nothing of the fiddle, was Nathaniel Johnstone of Abney Park.
Does the standard set of St. Patrick’s Day festivities leaving you feeling a little bit like boiled cabbage? We rounded up a shamrock patch full of St. Paddy’s events this year, but you might also try celebrating the Celts with a bit more steam — punk, that is. Get hep with San Fran swingers (dance, you filthies!) Swing Goth at the third annual Steam Punktrick’s Day. The event will feature Nathanial Johnstone, intrepid violinist from steampunk band Abney Park, donning his fiddler’s cap with his side project, the Nathanial Johnstone Band.
So if you like mixing your corned beef with corsets and bagpipes with balboa, then break out your fishnets and mini-kilts and head on over to 50 Mason Social House, the TL’s newest wine and beer bar that provides solace from the bright lights and overpriced pints of Union Square’s tourist traps, as well as nightly line ups of live music.
No swing experience necessary for Steam Punktrick’s — those already familiar with Swing Goth will know that no music is too punk to partner dance to, and for newbies, a dance lesson will be offered from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Third annual Steam Punktrick’s Day Featuring the Nathanial Johnstone Band