Marianne Moore

The real deal


BODY ART Two weeks ago more than 300 tattoo, piercing, and body modification artists hung out their shingles at the Cow Palace for the San Francisco Body Art Expo. They came from Beijing, Samoa, Los Angeles, the Haight. Their booths ranged up and down the hall in no particular order. Hip-hop playing over the speakers in the booths did little to cut the pervasive metallic whine of tattoo machines.

It was difficult, at first, to tell one artist from another — the same Boris Carloffs and beautiful corpses were everywhere. I overheard Daat Kraus of Santa Rosa Tattoo recommend Freddy Negrete to two young men who’d been flipping through his portfolio. “He’s the real deal, the O.G. Definitely get tattooed by him if you can.” I asked him what sets Freddy apart, but his answer was slippery: “He’s like, 60 years old. He’s an old-school cholo artist.”

I wasn’t totally sure what that meant, but I began to perceive two major styles coexisting at the expo — you could call it East Coast versus West, old school versus new, or color versus black-and-gray. East Coast style is partly inspired by old sailor tattoos and vintage poster art — winking pin-up girls and devils, mermaids and anchors. West Coast style is influenced by Asian and Latino art and characterized by script and portraits in black and gray.

George Christian of L.A.’s South Style Tattoo, began his career in prison on a tattoo machine made out of a Walkman. He says his style is a Chicano art form, invented in East L.A. “It’s barrio art, self-expression,” he said. He showed me some of his own tats: a portrait of his mom, a sun goddess, a gargoyle — a talisman of protection — and, on his right arm in flowing script, “White Fence” — the oldest Chicano gang in East L.A. I asked how he feels giving someone a tattoo he knows is gang-related. “That’s on them,” he laughed. “I don’t ask why.”

As tattoos become more mainstream, tattoo collectors become more diverse — and so does the form. Barnaby, of Mom’s Tattoo in the Haight, has a B.F.A. from Otis College of Art and Design. He gave himself his first tattoo, a Dead Kennedys symbol, when he was 15. Barnaby seemed a little disillusioned with the expo — he was concerned, for example, about hygiene. He pointed to the rafters above our heads, where a layer of dust was plainly visible. “Would you go to a gynecologist in a garage?” he asked.

He showed me his setup — everything, including his lamp, was wrapped in plastic, like in a dentist’s office. He explained that all his precautions are more for his own safety than for his customers’. He keeps himself safe by assuming the worst. “Even if you’re the cutest little blonde virginal 18-year-old, I assume you have everything, you’re the dirtiest gutter punk I’ve ever seen, with an abscess on your arm. Can you draw?” he asked. I shook my head no. “You can probably get a booth here.”

Toward the end of my second day at the expo, by accident, I found Freddy Negrete. He was bent over someone’s forearm, outlining a detailed black-and-gray portrait of Danny Trejo — the famous image where Trejo is lighting up a blunt, smoke wreathing his face, his bare, tattooed chest on display.

His client Brian Boulware explained why he’d chosen Danny Trejo. “He’s this great character actor — he’s been in everything” he said. “People will see it and be like, hey, it’s that guy from those movies!”

I asked Freddy if he’d ever done any work on Trejo. “Once,” he said, “a long time ago.”


Get hammered


Until recently, its existence has played out quietly in Alabama basements and Vermont backyards. If you’ve seen anyone engaging in it, chances are it was a group of raucous bros on YouTube or Elijah Wood and Jimmy Fallon on The Late Show. If you saw it up close, you may have fled the general area.

Though its origins are obscure, most agree that Stump, the rather insane game in question, comes from some densely wooded part of Maine. It’s since been zigzagging its way across the country, through college campuses and rowdy backyards. Recently it made its way to the Bay Area.

“I first learned about it because I walked into my friend’s basement and there were 20 people screaming drunk throwing hammers. It turned out they’d been having these Stump parties every week for a while,” said Richmond resident Elon Ullman. “After a while, we got good at it and started adding our own variations.”

“Beer pong and flipcup are pretty one-dimensional,” adds Penn Chan, who attends Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., (where the game was introduced by a Wisconsin girl called “Sparky”) with Ullman. “Stump evolves as people who’ve played in different areas come together and discuss how they’ve played.”

The fundamentals are simple: a hammer, some nails, and a stump. You toss the hammer in the air so that it revolves completely, catch it, and bring it down on the nail without breaking its momentum. If you drive your opponent’s nail all the way into the stump, you win. It’s usually played as a drinking game — you drop your hammer, you drink. You catch it awkwardly, you drink. You drink if you miss the nail and hit the stump, or if you hit your own nail, or if somebody else hits your nail, etc.

Rowan McCallister demonstrates a double toss

Because Stump is usually played in large, chaotic groups, hitting anything at all is a matter of chance. But if you take it seriously as a game of skill, a whole series of choices opens up, starting with where to place your nail. A stump that’s seen a few games has its own unique geography. Nail “cities,” twisted lumps of jagged metal, spring up in heavily used areas of the stump. Danger can attend: it’s possible to put your nail so close to an opponent’s that, in trying to hit your nail, he risks shredding his knuckles.

“The first rule of Stump is, if you bleed you have to bleed on the stump. The second rule is, no coagulating,” says David Liefert, who’ll be a junior at San Francisco State University this fall. On a warm Saturday a couple weeks ago, he invited me over to watch a few games. He and his friend Rowan McCallister, also a student at SF State, started playing Stump with Elon last summer, and created their own variations. Longer, thicker nails make for a longer game. Gold nails sink faster. Players can flip the hammer more than once, and can choose whether to flip it forward or backward.

Blood on the stump

Then there’s the question of the hammer itself. Metal hammers are evenly weighted, while the head of a wooden hammer is much heavier than the shaft. This tends to make the hammer spin fast and wild — it’s harder to control, but it’s also easier to make it flip over twice. Liefert and McCallister play a few rounds with a wooden hammer, then switch to the metal hammer for a two-flip game. The change throws them both off. On his first toss, McCallister miscalculates and wings the hammer over his shoulder. “Shit,” they both call out automatically, following the arc of the flying hammer.

“It looks like we’re doing something really wrong,” Ullman says. “I’ve always wondered what would happen if I were to play in Golden Gate Park. Could we be charged with anything?”

San Francisco park rangers could not be reached for comment, but Article Four of the city’s Park Code — under the heading “Disorderly Conduct” — contains at least three sections that might apply, including injunctions against “throw[ing] or propel[ling] objects of a potentially dangerous nature,” damaging or removing existing wood, and, crucially, “consumption of alcoholic beverages in the Panhandle, Stanyan Meadow, and Sharon Meadow.”

When I’ve watched people playing Stump, I’ve been struck by how often the word “respect” comes up. If a player flubs a throw and graciously declines to take his shot, it’s traditional for his opponents to say “respect” and drink. Unlike other drinking games, though, correct technique is emphasized and style is rewarded. “It’s chaotic but intellectual,” says Ullman. “It’s like physical chess.”

If you’re interested in playing Stump, e-mail David Liefert at

Diving for dollars



Perhaps it’s because I have my basic scuba license, but the idea of diving for profit has always held a certain mystique for me. It’s one thing to look at fish on vacation, but quite another to do something so dangerous and physically demanding every day.

I’ve always wondered: what kind of person chooses such a job?

The earliest commercial divers were salvage workers, roving the alien ocean floor in search of sunken treasure. At that time, when little was known about the physical effects of the frigid, high-pressure environment of the deep ocean, only men of a certain build could do it successfully.

Divers in old-fashioned canvas suits and huge round brass helmets (remember Red Rackham’s Treasure?) laid the foundations for the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge in 90 feet of chilly, turbulent water. Now pretty much anyone can take a simple course, strap on a scuba tank, and get acquainted with a coral reef. Still, it takes a particular mixture of recklessness, humor, and grim determination to do it every working day, at depths where no recreational diver is certified to go, in temperatures that would have most us running for a blanket and a cup of sugary tea.

Dean Moore, operations manager at Underwater Resources, a San Francisco firm specializing in marine construction, has one of those old-fashioned suits hanging in his office. Although the suits were massive and heavy, the brass and copper helmets were so buoyant that divers had to wear lead-weighted boots to keep from shooting to the surface. Moore has a pair of the boots as well, thought they’ve long been replaced by equipment made of Kevlar and Neoprene. Moore admits that being immersed in this world has soured him on recreational diving. When not working, he says, "I wanna stay high and dry. I think you lose a bit of the love of the sport."

Moore and his lead diver, Chris Moyer, showed me around their office and gave me a rundown of the day-to-day operation. The two are frequently called on to do some pretty nasty and unsafe work: crawling into narrow pipes, diving straight into raw sewage, or containing a pollution bloom near an oil refinery. If some politicians get their way, divers like Moyer could be getting a lot more work in the next few years building and maintaining massive offshore drilling platforms, vessels, and pipelines.

I was intrigued by all the equipment, of course — the hazmat suits and tiny robot submarines — but what really interested me is what makes these guys tick.

When asked to describe the diver’s typical personality, Moyer laughs. "Take your average motorcycle gang biker, mix in a little bit of astronaut, and a little bit of, say, a chimpanzee or a lowland gorilla, and that compilation gives you a commercial diver," he said. "I’m partial of course, but I think we’re the sexy fighter pilots of the construction world."

For Moyer, it was an ad in a scuba magazine. Like many divers, he was in the military first. When his enlistment ended, he saw the ad. "There’s this guy climbing up this ladder out of the water, and he’s wearing this neat helmet I’ve never seen before — it’s got like a light and a laser gun on it, and it says ‘Come up a winner,’<0x2009>" he explained, sitting in a small conference room with a whiteboard covered in equations and drawings. "And I’m, like, hmm, yeah."

Inspired, Moyer enrolled in the College of Oceaneering in Wilmington, where he was trained to work in cold water, low visibility, and extreme depths. He specialized as an advanced dive medic, qualifying him to recognize and treat that most notorious of divers’ ailments: the bends. Surfacing too quickly results in a sudden change of pressure, causing dissolved nitrogen in the blood to form bubbles that can lead to stroke. Moyer explains that each dive to a certain depth requires about an hour of decompression in the water, done in a series of "stops," where a diver hangs out a certain depth, allowing the nitrogen to dissolve slowly and naturally. "That buys you a few minutes when your head breaks the surface of the water before you start turning into a shaken up pop bottle," he said. Divers immediately hop in a pressurized chamber to breathe pure oxygen for a couple of hours. The sealed, all-oxygen environment carries its own hazards, and horror stories of fires and explosions abound.

After dive school, Moyer headed to the Gulf of Mexico, where 80 percent of the world’s commercial divers work, maintaining the massive oil platforms that float miles out to sea. He dove for a company whose main business was laying and repairing pipelines between platforms. Unlike Bay Area divers, workers in the Gulf aren’t unionized, so private firms regulate the industry and pay divers whatever they feel like — which, according to Moore, is sometimes a third of what a union diver can make in the Bay Area. Moore explains that though Underwater Resources can’t outbid nonunion firms for big contracts, most ambitious divers will eventually switch to unionized companies because that’s where all the interesting public-works jobs are. "Certainly in the Bay Area and up and down the West Coast, it’s expected that any decent diving company will be in the union," he said.

Maybe it was the promise of better pay that led Moyer to leave the Gulf for the Bay Area after a year. He recalls calling around looking for employment. "I’m, like, hey, I’m here and I’m ready to dive, and they’re, like, oh, that’s nice, so are all the other guys who call me every day," he remembered.

Moyer was surprised to learn that he was expected to join Pile Drivers Local 34, a division of the Northern California Carpenters Union, and start a pile-driving apprenticeship right away. With dive school and a year’s work under his belt, he didn’t like the idea of driving pile for a living. At the same time, he discovered that diving work wasn’t as consistent in the Bay Area as it had been in Louisiana, and realized it would help to have something to fall back on. As long as a member is working, Local 34 will sponsor apprenticeships, provide excellent medical benefits and, after 20 years, a handsome pension. Part of Underwater Resources’ agreement with the union is that the divers get paid for at least an eight-hour day, no matter how much time they actually spend in the water — good news in a profession where weather, complications, and injuries can cut a dive short.

Because divers are freelancers who often work offshore on drilling vessels for months at a time, the trade tends to attract outsiders, people who have difficulty conforming, and people without families. This, in addition to the close quarters that commercial divers on an offshore job have to live in —sometimes spending weeks in a small, pressurized chamber called a "dry bell" that enables them to dive to depths of 400 feet without time-consuming decompression — may partly explain why few women are in this trade. When they do work in marine construction, it’s often topside, supervising or operating the small, remotely operated ROV robots that go where it’s too deep or dangerous to send divers. Moore laments the lack of women in the industry. "We’ve never employed any. I don’t know why. It’s unfortunate — I’d be into it."

As for me? I think I’ll stick to coral reefs for now.

Speed Reading



By Andrea Askowitz

Cleis Press

241 pages


My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy is a bracingly frank and exhaustively detailed tour of lesbian single-motherhood, written as a more or less straightforward journal of the weeks leading up to conception and birth. It’s funny and addictive — author Andrea Askowitz spares few of the details one might hunger for, from her selection of a donor to her doctor’s-office conception to her quest to get laid in the third trimester. Alongside the pregnancy, she chronicles a messy, lingering breakup with her lover Kate, her nonprofit’s struggle to stay afloat, and haunting memories of her best friend Robin, whose fatal cancer was discovered after a pregnancy.

Sharp-tongued Askowitz maintains her wicked sense of humor throughout, feeding the reader deliciously bitchy one-liners as she navigates pregnant Los Angeles, with its doulas, prenatal acupuncturists, and support groups ("I walk out terrified I’m just like these women. Please, no. They seem so happy."). She observes her own neuroses and midnight freak-outs just as lucidly, and we’re grateful for the recognition that it’s not just her no-show friends making her miserable and lonely.

By the end, however, Askowitz’ relentless self-involvement, the source of much of the book’s humor, begins to wear thin. What’s missing is a connection to something larger that transcends the sometimes funny but often repetitive whining. While it could serve as a warm, honest resource on the little-explored subjects of sperm donation and home birth, My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy ends up reading a little like a long and tiresome sick note.