Archives for the month of: June, 2011

One glance at DC China Meat Product’s Original Flavored Beef Jerky and I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. You cannot possibly look at a food with the texture of mammoth fur and have any doubts that is going to taste like anything less than dead hamster rotting beneath a radiator.

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When I was in kindergarten, Ms. Z taught us a song to sing about the garden we’d planted:

The Earth is our Mother, we must take care of her
The Earth in our Mother, we must take care of her

Chorus: Hey Yanna Ho Yanna Hey Yon Yon, Hey Yanna Ho Yanna Hey Yon Yon

Her sacred ground we walk upon, with every step we take (x2)
The Earth is our Mother, she will take care of us (x2)

Needless to say, our garden thrived under nature’s number one nutrient: love. Pagans understand that you can’t find that in your DDT-sprayed big agro-business genetic freak show cucumber from Safeway.

So to speak power to the man–that is, in this case, beach rangers who’d threaten to shut down our bonfire–we were instructed to sing a hymn that, like a lot of paganism, had echoes of New Age pre-school, hobbits, and video games played by hermetic middle schoolers:

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Forty-four years ago, thousands of drifters forswore Eisenhower crew-cuts and Betty Drapper mothers and migrated to Golden Gate Park in the western side of San Francisco. They frolicked and danced and swore they’d never need a boyfriend or job again. But here’s what they don’t tell you about the Summer of Love–it was almost certainly  cool, damp, and overcast.

As I learned at the 2011 Ocean Beach Summer Solstice Celebration, that has never stopped a bunch of hippies from getting naked. It had been the hottest day of the year–in the 80’s when I left work in Oakland–but you’d never have known it in the park, where I the deniers wore t-shirts and the hypochondriacs, wool coats. And those hulking eucalyptus wore that same rich, earthy musk that could have made a tree-hugger out of a tea-partier.

Some people don’t just hug trees–they worship them. We call these people pagans, and that was about the extent of my knowledge of the the creed until Tuesday’s solstice. At least they were easy to recognize after a long bike ride down the 1 on the beach: totems, henna, staffs, beards, beads, and big, broad smiles.

These were clearly not the hippies of the current Haight–the runaway gutter punks with bulldogs who trade weed for food, the drum circle dancers who were one acid trip away from ’67, or the man who once offered to sell some friends dog poop (“I got terrier, poodle–you name it!”).

No, the solstice attendees were the go-lucky’s who somehow, in all the decay of the 70’s, the recklessness of the ’80’s, the commercialization of the ’90’s, and the fright of the ’00’s, continued on hugging and smiling like the world was not permanently on the precipice of disaster.

Summertime in California

Whether to call that naive or wise beyond comprehension is up for debate. But I was surprised by the range an age at the festival, with gay couples cuddling on blankets, kids tearing down the dunes, and a few curious interlopers making laps around the outskirts of the beginning of the fire.  As long as you were earth-tones and had left your snickers and sneers back in the city, no one cared.

My second surprise was that pagans use lighter fluid to start beach fires.

When he still was clothed

The third surprise came when we gathered around the fire.  A white-haired bohemian wearing a rainbow dress and a pink beanie that read “Vagina Warrior” disrobed, maintaining his hat and nothing else, before retreating to the outskirts of the circle. A few people struggled to contain laughter and a few more glared at the laughers.

“Follow me,” a man with some papers said, pointing into a section of beach directly in the way of the campfire’s smoke. The troop, at this point probably 75 strong, reluctantly followed. “We’re gathered here at the people’s beach to celebrate the gifts of nature,” he began. “But the park service doesn’t understand that this is the people’s beach. They don’t allow fires–this is an ILLEGAL GATHERING.”

To reassure us, he went over a routine. “We’re going to have one group lock arms and circle around the fire. Another group of us who don’t want anything to do with police are going to go up on the dunes and sing. And a third group…I guess we’ll kind of dance around.”

To be continued Continued here….

I found the following, very cryptic message taped half-way up a well-trafficked stairwell:

Here’s to hoping Eddy didn’t take the elevator.

“Two Words” by Kanye West ft. Mos Def & Freeway

Elle Chang, a good friend and co-veteran of North Downtown Charlottesville snow days since the Great Blizzard of ’96, is spending 27 months in Indonesia for Peace Corps. The People’s Republic of San Francisco in what one Russian dinner companion declared the “Socialist State of California” certainly has its quirks, but the Peace Corps is another animal.

Take, for instance, Elle’s description of a recent massage:

The other night, one of the neighbors/close family friend who is often hanging out at the house, who’s a masseuse, and very tomboy one she is, gave me a massage. I also found out that she offers her services to others at the school too, like our principal. So I asked if she goes to her home to do it, and it turns out the principal comes to our home, and she gets it done in my host sisters bed. This would never happen in America…very strange, a cultural awakening it was.

Read more at From Charlottesville to Indonesia.

Several months ago, I was riding BART home from work when a man seated in front of me turned around and demanded to know our next stop.

He was an oafish 30-something with a glossy forehead and big, broad cheeks.  Three of his shirt buttons were undone and there was no undershirt to hide the pink of his chest. He wore the flashed stare of the victim of a lightening strike.

“Civic Center,” I said.

He wiped his brow and rotated his body so that we were now facing each other. “Because I need to get out at Mission and 16th. I’ve got to get out of this place.”

I nodded and smiled, as if I heard this all the time from strangers on a subway.

He leaned in closer without lowering his voice. “I just walked in on my wife fucking another man. Walked into the bedroom, and there they were. You know,” he said, not even pausing to blink, “I’ve been with her for five years, married three.”

I interjected to apologize and told him that sounded awful.

“I left. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t get a damn word out. I just stood there for a second and yelled. She hid beneath the covers of our- of our bed.”

I reiterated that this sounded like a terrible thing.

“I’m going to live in Tom’s place. That’s the only thing I can do. I have to go to Tom’s.” By now he wasn’t watching me at all. He was staring at an ad for Disney Radio as if it had just shot his mother.

“Your stop,” I said, as I watched him stagger up, dizzy with shock. I didn’t know what to follow that with, so I said, “Good luck.”

His gaze shot back to me. “Ha! Haha!” He shook his head, gave me a dismissive wave, lurched off the train, and stood as passengers ducked around him to get to the escalators.   If they noticed him at all, it was as another obstruction on their way home to other secrets buried in the decency of routine.

“Adultery” by Little Comets



Mission Mission’s got this time lapse of our hood that perfectly captures the SF summer: lots of cloud, six hours of big, bright California glory, and then it’s back to winter.

24 Hours Looking East From Twin Peaks from Nicholas Berger on Vimeo.

Rest of the country, we envy your coatless nights but not your swamp air.

As a lifelong reader of Consumer Reports with a certifiably hipster palate for criticism, critique, and complaint, I’ve done my share of bitching and moaning. My longstanding dream of making money off of my scientifically correct tastes was only derailed when Yelp and Amazon went and got the plebeians involved and I sensed the hopelessness of the task. So go ahead– put on that new Train album and treat yourself to some Subway.

“12” by Other Lives, a band for people with taste.

Instead of returning to conventional oven reviews and New Yorker write-ups of sitcoms popular in the Midwest, I’ve decided to take on a project of my own. The conceit is simple: walk to the Oakland Chinatown grocer about four blocks from work, pick up a random piece of food, and broadcast my holy opinion to my humble readers. Make no mistake about it: I’m out to find and champion the new quinoa.

The problem is that this particular grocery store is not big on health in any sense of the word. For one thing, they self-serve their meat in giant cube containers. Shoppers regularly pick up a rack of ribs or chicken breast, inspect it, then put it back, like I might with say, a peach. Secondly, everything that isn’t produce or meat has been preserved in a brine of salt, sugar, and bean curd. And let’s not forget a coat of MSG, the only substance that can force you to continue eating something you absolutely despise.

Ice Sour Plum is the perfect example of this kind of approach to food invention. The appropriately-named S & M Enterprise manufacture claims to be inspired by “Health, Nature, Innovation.” But there’s more to it than that:

Presentation (4/5) – The spherical container contains a little bonnet that makes the candy inside look downright adorable. Chinglish is kept to a minimum, probably because it is rarely even attempted.

Ingredients (2/5)– It’s got plum in it, so you can check that off your food pyramid. There’s also 455mg of sodium in every on of these candies–if you eat 5 of them, you’ve reached that days salt quota, unless your American, in which case you’ve got some catching up to do.

Plum Off

There’s only 8g of sugar, but that’s because it’s also got the sugar substitute aspartame. When my roommate and esteemed food critic Kevin found this out, he not only bumped his rating of the product down a full point (from 3.5 to 2.5), but began vigorously rinsing out his mouth in our kitchen sink.

Taste (2/5)– Tasters seemed to agree that the first bite was usually the best. After that, our panel noted a funny, tangy aftertaste of Warhead with a tinge of beef jerky. The Ice Sour Plum had a chewy, candied texture and a pit in the middle to remind you that this was once a perfectly good fruit that probably just fell in the wrong meat bin and was exiled to the outer corners of Chinese Candyland.

During the past month, we’ve been able to observe the miracle of birth from one of the vilest creatures known to man. The pigeon is no one’s idea of a cute bird. When I found one roosting beneath our water heater on our back porch, I wondered both:

  1. How our back porch, which routinely gets dog pee, cigarette butts, and at the moment, a couple gallons worth of rotting pickles leftover from this event, could really get much worse
  2. Whether it was ethical to smash a pigeon egg and deprive the world of another rat with wings.

None of my roommates or I were able to muster up the energy or courage to face down Mama Pigeon, who would do a ritual involving cooing and hopping up and down whenever we got close to her nest. Then one day, the inevitable happened:

In my opinion, you can still tell that this thing will grow up to become an ugly Winged Rat. My guess, however, was that the chick never stood a chance.

Flashback to 4th grade, in Ms. Dowell’s class, when we attempted to hatch some chicks using an incubator. Ms. Dowell made the mistake of allowing us to name the chicks when they hatched. This was either a tragic mistake or an early taste of dark scholastic humor, because 95% of the chicks immediately died. We would come in every morning and remove the dead birds from our cage. I was envious of a friends’ bird, which he had named after himself (Jake the person, Jake the chicken), because it lasted a week.

In any event, Baby and Mama Bird Rat were gone by afternoon. Despite by revulsion, I’d like to think of it soaring skyward, the dove of tenement Mission housing.

“Where do my Bluebird Fly” by The Tallest Man on Earth

This article is a follow-up to my first post on attending the 2011 California Cougar Convention.

1. An Dubious/Absent DJ

After crowning Ms. 2011, the mustached character behind this whole charade gave a shout out to DJ John.Our MC asks us to give a warm welcome to DJ John, and the guy sitting behind the set smiles and waves. “Wait a minute,” Mustache says. “That’s not the DJ–that’s just a roadie!”

2. Request to Clear Chairs Off of the Dance Floor

At Buford Middle School, our dances smelled like canned corn, chocolate milk, and mop. That’s because they were in the cafeteria–you could see those obnoxious toad-stool tables stacked in the corner, reminding you that even after the discovery of grinding, monotony awaits.

Anyway, when Mustache was done thanking the roadie for DJing, he actually requested that we pick up the folding chairs.Our work was made easier by the fact that half of the chairs were empty. Et voila: dancefloor. It was now 9 PM.

3. Presence of Teachers

The fact that we had to pick up our own chairs told me that the Cougar Convention was even more poorly staffed than the 8th grade dances. Remember that coincidental overlap between the adults you found most irritating and the chaperons at school dances? The ones who made vaguely off color jokes about seeing “four on the floor” on Monday in French class?

Thankfully I didn’t run into someone like that, but there was at least one ELEMENTARY school teacher in attendance, likely fulfilling the fantasies of the gaggle of men who’d found the most poorly lit corner of the room, set down their chair, and never moved since.

4. The Man Wall

Everyone knows dancing is for girls except if it either A) a Ja Rule song is playing or B) alcohol is plentiful. Since no one I knew drank in middle school, that left one song of dancing and several hours against the wall, wondering if the scent of corndog could come out of J.C. Penny dress shirts.

At Cougar Con, the men were better dressed & smelling, but equally unwilling to jump on to an empty dancefloor at 9:15 PM. Since the women in attendance were outnumbered 2::1 and the men were drinking, the event acquired an extra level of creepy depression.

At it’s max, the dance floor had a dozen people. More men kept arriving even by the time we left at around 10:30, which did bode well for DJ John and his roadie’s ability to sustain anything close to the energy level that caused our middle school principal to grab the microphone and yell, “no more jumping!” when Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out” caused a stir.

5: The Night is Exhaustively Documented:

The Man Wall

Things starting heating up

A friend who I had to crop poses with one of the cougars