Thursday, July 30, 2020

Sidney Walton's No Regrets WWII Tour

A lone SF Police Department car was blocking traffic on Polk Street in front of San Francisco City Hall yesterday afternoon, and we assumed it was for a demonstration.

However, there was no protest signage to be seen.

There were a lot of vintage cars and motorcycles though.

Many of the vehicles featured U.S. flag bunting, and homemade signage on the side of the cars announcing various chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The vehicle above was reserved for the Jose Maria Amador chapter in Pleasanton.

Also part of the contingent was a group of American Legion Riders...

...and an even larger collection of motorcycle cops.

We guessed that it might be an official procession for a VIP's funeral, but the outfits were all wrong and there were no large black vehicles involved.

The mystery was finally solved just minutes ago when I checked out the website featured on this vehicle. This is a GoFundMe site for Paul Walton who is carting around his 101-year-old father, Sidney Walton, to all 50 states to meet every governor and dignitary they can. (Check out this video on Sidney's site where SF Sheriff Paul Miyamoto does the official hosting duties for San Francisco.)

Yesterday's event was a 101 kilometer procession up Highway 101 from San Jose to Sausalito featuring approximately 101 vehicles. (For Sal Pizarro's San Jose Mercury News article about the event, click here.)

The whole affair seemed a bit excessive for what was essentially a jaunt for lunch in Sausalito, but as Zero Mostel once yelled out a window in Mel Brooks' The Producers, "That's it, baby, if you've got it, flaunt it."

Friday, July 24, 2020

Drugs, Protest, Port-a-Potty, and Art

An Oakland friend went to India for the first time a couple of years ago and had a life-changing experience. "How did you deal with the poverty?" I asked, and she replied, "I used to commute to the Civic Center BART station and walk up Grove Street to work for years. After what I saw there on a daily level, the streets of India didn't feel very shocking. And at least they don't hate their poor people like we do here."

The Civic Center neighborhood has always hosted a down-and-out population of the very poor, the mentally ill, and the drug addicted.

Some individuals are a combination of all three, and those triple threats seem to be everywhere in the neighborhood since the pandemic began, smoking or shooting crystal meth and heroin with an occasional jacket thrown over their head for discretion.

Last Saturday I was walking down Grove Street for an afternoon protest at the Federal Building on 7th and Mission Streets.

There was a small contingent objecting to the federal stormtroopers who are currently brutalizing the citizens of Portland as part of a propaganda photo-op for our demented dictator.

A former boss moved to Portland from Berkeley about four years ago and loves it. She reports on Facebook, "For friends outside of Portland, stay critical in your evaluation of the news. Trump’s story is just that, it’s a fiction. We are not in chaos, we are making change. The federal government is not helping." She also links to the Facebook page of Daniel Pickens-Jones (click here) who has superb live reporting and photos.

Around the corner a young man was sleeping against the Mission Street side of the Fed building and he looked so painterly that I took this photo.

Directly across the street was another tableaux that looked staged. A two-story wall was sporting the text, "IT WILL BE MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN YOU COULD EVER IMAGINE" above a U.S. flag sign on a fence that read, "Vigil for Democracy" above a card table and clipboard fronted by a Port-a-Potty.

Wondering if somebody was registering voters on an unlikely stretch of sidewalk, I crossed the street and asked the young man wearing a neon vest, who laughed and said no, he was just keeping track of the public Port-a-Potty. As part of a new pandemic initiative by the City of San Francisco, they are finally opening up the most rudimentary of public toilets, with attendants attached. It's long overdue. With their multi-billion dollar budget, maybe the City and County could finally spend money on public shower and bathroom facilities throughout the city, with attendants to keep things relatively clean and enforce behavior like the mean old lady attendants I remember from similar facilities in Europe.

At the triangular corner of Market, Hayes, and Larkin, there were two women working on a new mural for the sidewalk.

"Will there be colors other than yellow and white?" I asked one of the artists, and she said yes without elaborating on what they might be.

I will take some pictures of the results tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Dolores Hill Bombing

For a bit of exercise, we walked from Civic Center to Dolores Park last Friday on a sunny, blustery late afternoon.

It turned out that we had stumbled across the third day of a skateboarder and bike hill bombing run next to the park, on a steep downhill stretch of Dolores from 20th Street to 18th Street.

It looked hella dangerous as dozens of skateboarders shot by at superfast speeds.

The mixture of adrenaline and teenage energy exploding after being cooped up by a pandemic was a joy to behold from socially distanced sidelines.

There were a couple of vehicles helping to tow people on bikes and boards up the steep hill in an improvised version of a ski lift that had everyone laughing.

What looked most dangerous was the mixture of BMX style bikes and skateboards both going fast in different ways on the same hill at the same time, and at one point there was a huge crash between a skateboarder and a bicyclist being ridden by recent SF State graduate Andrew Sanders, who died two days later from his injuries. (Click here for an article at SFGate.)

SF Supervisor Rafael Mandelman publicly condemned the event and had the SFMTA install speed bumps at the top of the hill, as if that was going to stop a determined skateboarder out for a thrill and bragging rights.

At least these kids were not trying to endanger anyone but themselves, unlike the unmasked joggers who insist on blithely huffing and puffing their way through crowded sidewalks during a pandemic.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Gay Entertainment on the Boob Tube

Netflix has occasional treasures hidden away in their mucky swamp of entertainment. Here are a trio of jewels I've stumbled across in the last couple of weeks, along with a snappy new weekly political comedy show on YouTube from D'Arcy Drollinger. Though they all have major gay characters, that is not what any of these films are about.

Straight Up was written, directed and stars James Sweeney as an OCD gay man who tries to have a romance with a woman. The premise sounds awful, but the movie is charming, and the brilliant, rapid-fire dialogue channels the best of 30s/40s screwball comedies while staying completely modern. Sweeney is likable playing the sweet, hyper-articulate young man who yearns for intimacy but doesn't much like disgusting body fluids. What lifts the movie is the casting of Katie Findlay as the too-smart-for-her-own-good aspiring actress who is Sweeney's foil, and she walks away with the movie. After years trying to get the film made through Fox, who wanted to cast "influencers" in the major roles, Sweeney went the crowdfunding route and shot the film in 20 days for about $250,000. It was on the gay festival circuit in 2019 and was just about to be released by Strand when the pandemic hit, which may be in its favor because millions rather than thousands will probably be discovering the movie now.

Netflix just released The Old Guard, an ultra-violent, superhero action film which we chose because it's always fun to watch Charlize Theron as a badass. It turns out to be an instant classic, with a layered, philosophical script from graphic novelist Greg Rucka, and brilliant direction by Gina Prince-Bythewood, who directed the acclaimed Love and Basketball in 2000. Her handling of both gender and race was more nuanced than the usual male action film, and it's to be celebrated that a black woman was not only offered her first big-budget Hollywood directing job at age 51, but she hit a home run. I won't spoil any surprises other than that there is a scene midway which is as startlingly pleasing as that moment in My Beautiful Launderette, where Daniel Day-Lewis and his Pakistani boyhood friend, in the middle of a gritty film about race and capitalism in London, suddenly French kiss each other on the street.

During Gay Pride Month, we dipped into the LGBTQ whatever section at Netflix, most of which we had already seen or never wanted to see. At the bottom of the listings were a gaggle of Asian films and TV series that all seemed to be entitled Oh My Ghost. For a comprehensive explanation, you can read Meghan O'Keefe's ‘Oh My Ghost’ on Netflix: How To Tell All Six (!!!) Titles Apart. Meaghan writes: "In 2009, Thailand put out a super bonkers horror comedy called Oh My Ghost. It’s about four “ladyboys” (i.e. drag queens) who run a boarding house for boys...Now, I tried watching a few minutes of this, but I found it so confusing that I had to stop. However, it’s a monster hit overseas, as evidenced by the fact that there are THREE sequels."

We watched the first two and were reminded that homosexuality or gender fluidity is not a sin in Thai Buddhist culture like in the patriarchal, monotheistic West. They also have a distinctly different view of the afterlife's ghosts and demons that is parodied throughout the films, which is rather like watching Virgin Mary jokes while knowing nothing about Catholic liturgy. Best of all, it plays like a scatalogical reincarnation of The Three Stooges depicted as ugly, middle-aged Thai drag queens playing female roles, with a zaftig young person stealing the show in the role of the very corporal ghost, Pancake. In the second movie, a series of scenes around the swimming pool in successively skimpier bathing suits holding in Pancake's ample frame while trying to lure a porn star demon in a Speedo into her orbit are some kind of low, vaudeville genius.

Speaking of low, vaudeville geniuses, San Francisco has one in D'Arcy Drollinger who co-owns the pandemic-shuttered Oasis nightclub at 11th and Folsom. The club has thrived over the last five years with all kinds of live theater, including genderfuck recreations of television episodes from series like The Golden Girls, Star Trek, Sex and the City, and Friends. They have put taped versions of some of those performances online at Oasis TV on YouTube which you can find by clicking here, but live theater, music, and opera does not work for me online for some reason. What does work is a 15-minute blast of irreverence that Oasis TV is producing called Hot Trash, a weekly rundown of political and celebrity culture that is smart, funny and outrageous. Some recurring bits work better than others, but "This Week in Karens," a compilation of each week's WTF whites behaving badly moments on cellphone videos, is hysterical and invaluable. D'Arcy and a wildly talented crew have recorded 8 episodes so far, and they are all worth watching. Episode 9 drops this Monday, a perfect beginning to a work week.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Hayes Valley Tentative Reopening

Other than the new murals on boarded up storefronts, Hayes Valley has looked pretty bleak for the last four months of the pandemic, with almost all businesses closed and tent encampments scattered everywhere.

Last Saturday there were new signs of public life as restaurants set up outdoor seating on the sidewalks with all the tables spaced six feet apart. (The Robert Louthan mural above is on the Gough Street side of Absinthe).

The sidewalks are still a bit too crowded for me so I am sticking with takeout from local restaurants, but the neighborhood has gotten progressively better about universal mask wearing when walking about.

Hayes Valley isn't at inner Richmond levels of mask adherence, but it's much better than the scofflaws of the Marina District or downtown Palm Springs where tourist families and gay bars seemed to be in a contest to determine who could be the least safe during my recent visit.

The old Arlequin cafe has been rebranded as Arbor and it opened for takeout last Friday.

The redecoration job looks spiffy and if the virus isn't raging out of control in San Francisco, the beautiful backyard may open next month.

We ordered a pair of $5 Fort Point KSAs and some curly fries to welcome them back to the neighborhood, but they had not yet figured out their ordering software or their two takeout windows, so it was a bit of a service mess.

It did not matter as the uncrowded, old iron tables on the sidewalk felt like a temporary oasis.

One only had to walk a half block to the corner of Franklin and Hayes for a reminder that we are still in a dystopian world, with trashed cars sitting out on streets for weeks at a time.

This particular vehicle has started to look like a public art piece entitled The Looting and Trashing of America.