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Sidewalk Patch

Berkeley has its problems, exemplified best by a recent attempt to score another 12-pack of beer as the evening dragged on. Come ten o’clock most stores, regardless of their wares, are locked up and vacant; liquor stores, not nearly as omnipresent as in most cities, are no exception. It took nearly forty-five minutes in a car to pick up beer, rum and cigarettes. The cigarettes we found in an open store which didn’t sell beer or rum. After our wild success a couple of us took advantage of the warm night and strolled through the streets. A couple blocks up from any major avenues and you may as well have been in small-town USA. Quiet, peaceful, clean. You could walk a couple blocks before passing anyone and no one seemed concerned or uptight about being out. The dog running after thrown sticks probably caused more sound pollution than anything else that night; our open containers and conversation probably presented the neighborhood with its most dramatic criminal incidents of the evening. It was nice, as nice as an evening’s walk can be, and something I’m not normally accustomed to experiencing. Walking down my street after Saturday night you’ll find ample evidence that San Francisco is lacking in small town pleasures such as quiet evening strolls. On any given night there’s a bitter chill blown in off the Pacific which, regardless of your lefts and rights in any neighborhood, cannot be avoided. This doesn’t keep people from the sidewalks, not on a weekend bender. The cement has scars, stains from every bodily fluid ever spilled. The Sunday morning sun alights on drying pools of piss, crusting heaps of puke, hardening piles of shit. The shopkeepers are out with buckets and hoses, washing the remnants of revelry from their doorstep. Thank Christ they are– the number of times I’ve had to step carefully into my own gate are innumerable. The bar next door is shuttered and dim but the woman held hostage by the coin-op downstairs is out in her trademark yellow rubber gloves doing us all a favor.

Sidewalk Cone

I’d swear that I’ve never been much for the weekends. Crowds are not my thing, fun is not my thing, seeing people live their lives in this vapid manner is not my thing. Maybe if I hadn’t spent most of my Friday and Saturday nights working it would have been a habit I’d have fallen into but the time has passed and now I just bob and weave trough the assembled teenagers ten years past their prime. They say that 30 is the new 20 but I’d say this adjustment still lends people too much credit in the maturity department. It’s amazing to see people who’ve never learned the lessons of countless nights leaning against a wall, the trunk of a car, a tree or a lamp-post. The same staggering clusters of twenty-somethings screaming shrilly on Friday night return to work Monday morning in their business casual attire. No more fish on Friday for this era, there’s an art-school graduate spinning rehashed disco down the street and everyone has enough money for another shot, no matter how much they complain about being poor. So I step gingerly over their unwillingness to grow the fuck up. Sunday morning sunlight and the streets are deserted except for the miserable wage-earners who had to be in bed by ten to punch the clock at seven. Trash cans outside of the latest art-show/hair-salon have spilled out into the street but soon the DPW will come along and play mommy for everyone. Someone’s kicked over all the recycling bins the length of the sidewalk but soon people will drag them back into their garages. When we were sixteen we used to bike down Market Street in the middle of the night and kick shit over, stone-cold sober and laughing like Leprechauns. Sixteen seems,

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in so many ways, a very long time ago.

Gutter Boy

That’s Haight Street, of course, where bars and traffic are more exaggerated than most other places. It draws from outside the neighborhood, outside the city even. I mostly walk along Waller when I’m heading towards work– collision of residential and urban. Saturday mornings the Church of Whatever hosts spaghetti meals for the down-and-out so they’re sprawled along the side of the building waiting for room, or waiting for a reason to sprawl somewhere else. I pass late sleepers tucked under blankets that carried small-pox over the Atlantic, shopping carts full of trash, dogs looking bored and hopeful, or bored and hateful. A couple blocks down and the Haight-Ashbury soup kitchen has an even greater audience. People are screaming across the street at one another, someone’s cutting through the intersection wearing no shoes. There’s one guy I see almost every day if I’m up early enough. He sits slumped against the wall rubbing his temples maniacally– his hairline has receded from this constant assault. I pass him and I don’t bother trying to make some sort of compassionate-light eye-contact, to view him as a human being. It never worked. A collection of late-comers pass on their way to the free meal asking what’s being served. I buy coffee and maybe a day-old if there is any on the counter. I like Page Street better because it’s less prone to moments

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of urban interference. There’s a library which doesn’t seem to attract the amount of idlers found downtown. People walk up to front doors and disappear inside without looking like rejects from a studio “indie” film’s open casting call. There’s an ambulance up ahead, paramedics haunched over a frail looking grey-hair. I pass without staring, thinking about how embarrassing it would be to wear her shoes today. A neighbor has called it in and is standing there trying to assure the woman that they know one another. Pass the school for rich kids with their own cross-walk that lights up, pass the stately homes, down the hill, past the grocery. Just watch your step because no one picks up after their dogs. Real dogs, mind you, none of those shivering rats you see on Haight Street. When these fucking people breed I hope their children get a little more rearing then what these show-dogs are forced to endure. No street kids, no trash, no puke, no piss you’d notice. One block down and you’re almost in Berkeley. Trees. Houses. Normal people. You’d guess. More normal than me, probably. One evening on Page after work I found myself behind a sharply-dressed couple walking silent and rigid. They were probably in their late twenties, which seemed like a good time to be an adult when I was sixteen but now… The impression was that I had just interrupted, or perhaps caught the end of, some marital argument which satisfied neither party. No holding hands, but they were too close to one another for anything serious. It was curious to me, something was off. They stopped suddenly and the male removed from his coat a stick which he handed to the female. She silently accepted the stick and, gravely, bent to a fresh patch of cement drying without supervision. I passed as she began her immortalization and I didn’t bother looking for any signs of life happening on the pavement.

Sidewalk Stencil

Stencils, clever little bastards, crawl along the sidewalks throughout town. They’re rebellious in a Betty Crocker fashion. Technically vandalism but the odds of being caught or imperiled pale in comparison to spray-painting a wall. There’s a bit of fission around here, some perplexing cultural divide which accepts sidewalk stencils as intelligent and right, graffiti as stupid and immature. The most popular stencil messages are quips seemingly stolen from some maudlin indie-pop love song, manipulative one-liners that anyone breathing can find some connection to. Basically it’s the same effect as any successful marketing campaign or platinum pop single– the resonance appeals to our common ground. There’s no imagination behind them and no actual craft in their design. You’ll find other stencils on the ground with little pictures and slogans but they’re just billboards– in fact the guerilla art was so menacing even IBM, the granddaddy of white collar business, co-opted the principle. Perhaps this lack of menace is why the sidewalk stencil has been accepted as adult and acceptable while tagging has been snubbed as juvenile. Traces of life on every block. The puke and piss and shit get hosed off, bleached, scrubbed and run out into the gutter. The clever stencils, the mash notes carved in drying cement, remain slowly fading and losing their definition. Another weekend appears on the horizon to begin the cycle again and come Monday everyone takes their work clothes out of the closet and catches the bus downtown. Dead Mac

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Typical CamWhore

Popular among marketing executives who’ve reached that point in their career where the cocaine and booze can no longer create the necessary plasticity to do their jobs is having adults attempt to use hip-hop slang. This lazy tactic started in the 80’s and quickly spread through pop-culture sending titters through middle America and your parents. It should have died out and never been reborn but, because the gene pools have been diluted beyond repair, the hilarious grey-haired matron talking jive to the kids returns time and time again to sell you cell phones or Sunny Delight or whatever the fuck people buy. “Hahahahah! How clueless is she, that retard, trying to talk slang like she’s down?” thinks shiny happy white people holding remotes.

These commercials always, without fail, cause extreme embarrassment for me. I don’t know why, I’ve never done the market research to unearth what deep-rooted trauma lurks in my past to cause such discomfort when some nameless day-actress says something like “keep it on the DL” on national television. Okay, my mother has probably humiliated me in this fashion but I can’t think of a specific instance except for one wonderful Thanksgiving where she was conversing with a younger cousin and it popped out onto the table and began infesting the Turkey with tapeworm. She wonders why I always loved working holidays.

Well, perhaps my horror at witnessing these displays of out of touch adults is an issue of empathy. I don’t understand many of the popular trends currently corrupting society as a whole and the greatest wormhole of confusion can be found here on the internet. The very fact that within a short period of time computers went from being something that, if you knew how to turn one on, could get you physically attacked and verbally ridiculed to being an indispensable daily asset baffles me; I distinctly recall them as being a very uncool thing that labeled users as insufferable nerds and caused my dad to think I was gay. Now he knows about youtube and rappers have websites and myspace pages. Myspace baffles me. I’ve seen people lurk on it for hours at a time, posting comments and trolling through profiles. There’s people who pimp other people’s myspace pages. This is making me feel very much like a clueless adult.

But the truth depths of modern perversion were, until quite recently, hidden from me. I thought that myspace was the ultimate in hyperactive media saturation until livejournal came into view. Message boards have changed significantly from the times of BBSs, although fundamentally they remain populated by geeky recluses who know that appearing at the local mall will elicit mockery and death by being pelted with pennies or small, hard candies. Yet they’re sleek and snazzy and in color with pictures and wobbling icons and, most horrifying, their own slang. In a way it’s a natural evolution of shorthand. You’re typing and you’re excited about the exchange– you need to relate the thoughts bursting from your head as quickly as possible. OMG has been with us for a long time and most of the western world can understand the implications. Kewl has, blessedly, disappeared entirely from usage.

It goes beyond a simple matter of slang, tho. There’s an entire generation coming up that has successfully integrated the internet into their mannerisms and interests and, unfortunately, their lives. A perfect symbiosis has occurred and millions of little wingnuts the world over have been fucking sold on the concept. Little shits posting video diaries of themselves on youtube capture the attention of nations while disaster, fire and brimstone reign supreme unnoticed. There’s a level of humour solely dedicated to online chat and postings. There’s memes. Imagine being airlifted from your safe hovel where you can walk through the room with no light and not bang your knee and being dropped in the middle of a Krystal Meyers concert. Then replace everyone with computers and give them programs designed to allow their unabashed inflation of personality present itself in technicolor with streaming video and audio.

Fortunately there’s an oasis out there where you can kick back for a spell and follow the links, absorbing the terms and cultural fads which populate this hinterlands we’ve created. Last week at work we were busy speculating as to what this new room across the hall was being used for. Actually, those of us who’ve not been in a coma or terminally stupid know exactly what is going on in there but we were speculating all the same. When they first began using it I taped a picture of an alien autopsy on the window which had, for the sake of privacy, been spray-painted opaque. This did not suffice. They’re growing pot in there, someone said. What is this, the 20’s? It must be something sinister. Someone brought up the fact that all employees in the new room must sign confidentiality waivers. This same someone also invoked the memory of a former owner/manager who had been bought out and removed after incurring repeated accusations of sexual harassment and general leering creepiness, suggesting they were being brought back into the fold to run this new top secret department. That’s right, my friends, they’ve put a production studio in at Amoeba and they’ve begun producing and streaming child porn.

We needed to do something about it. Posters, we must make posters and cover their door and its opaque window with evidence of our knowledge. But how do you communicate child porn besides writing on a piece of paper, “We make child porn in here”? Why, you find pictures of pedobear on the internet.

Pedobear

WTF? Pedobear is a pedophile bear that crawls through the internet in search of lolis. Pedobear is an unstoppable force lurking in online forums and virtual worlds hunting for underaged girls. Pedobear can be seen on youtube dancing with bananas. Pedobear became the poster child for the new room across the hall from us. I fired the first salvo finding a suitable image and scribbling a clever caption

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underneath and taping the shit out of it all over their door. Some prissy fucktard tore it down. I found a more disturbing image and someone devised an even more clever caption which I taped the shit out of all over their door. Some prissy fucktard tore that down too. Someone realized we had a lot of label paper on hand and soon were were populating whatever surfaced were handy with pedobear stickers. The denizens across the hall tried to fight back by taking our own posters and sticking them on our own door. We were not amused but responded by more posters, more stickers, more clever captions. We totally pwnd them, is what I’m saying.

Yet where did pedobear creep in to our collective consciousness and begin to fondle us inappropriately? Our source material came from The Encyclopedia Dramatica. As the Onion is the cool-kids lampoon of American news, politics and

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general going-ons ED is the internet’s bastion of in-jokes, snideness and being horribly offensive for the lulz. It’s toilet humor for people that are smart enough to see the joke in the fuck you but geeky enough to appreciate painstakingly photoshopped pictures of cartoon bears and young girls. It completely consumed our entire Thursday and left everyone following each random link lustily, laughing hysterically and calling one another to our computers. Friday saw a resurgence of fascination as well as a continued assault on the neighbors. It also saw someone figuring out that you can have animated gifs as your desktop’s background. It’s the perfect distraction for whiling away the idle hours at work, it’s horribly addictive and it may be the greatest summation of today’s internet culture that has been pointed out to me.

Lulz

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The elevators in the thirty-floor building where I work run on a scheme designed to save energy. What this means in practical terms is that there are four elevators with an average ten minute wait. People from my office embrace the universal slacker dodge of the smoke break to stand next to the snack machines and look at “girls”.

Today I received a cheery farewell from my coworker. Last week we had a bit of a dustup. The argument was getting heated, which was frustrating because this was ships passing in the night stuff. Eventually he grew quiet and seemed to be listening to my point of view. A few moments later he expelled a crackling fart from the depths of a deskside nap. When he woke up it was like night and day.

I may fault him on his methods, but results-wise he’s got the golden touch.

They sell beer in the vending machines and I think about it every single time I go to the office.

The heat has been stunning. My collar is a science project and collapse seemed imminent throughout the unairconditioned day.

Once I caught the elevator I tried to explain to another coworker that I was on my way to buy the second half of the sixth season of the Sopranos.


Where are you going?

“Mafia television.”

Uncomfortable grinning.

“I’m going to buy organized crime television, you know?”

You will go home now?

“I’m going to buy mob TV season and then go home.”

Have a nice weekend . . .

Crossing a major traffic artery I noticed trees that had been planted in the past week. Their sudden appearance was explained by an electronic billboard (sponsored by Omega watches OMG!) declaring an even year until the ballyhooed Olympics finally kick off and everyone can start thinking about FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010.

Cumulonimbus clouds stood stacked in a blue sky. Last week at 9pm, every night like clockwork, powerful thunder and lightning storms would appear, followed by a blessed ten minutes of cooling rain. Most people attribute this to the government controlling the weather, including myself. I saw something about local scientists mastering nuclear fusion on TV. “This miniature sun will supply unlimited energy and change human life on earth.” It’s hard to know what to think, however, as folks here open a new coal plant on a daily basis.

A fetid river moves beneath another bridge. A perching club of capped swimmers I can never join are valiantly braving industrial chemicals and horrifying fauna to cool off in the river’s waters. They are resting beneath trees across the river and their laughter laps up at me.

To my left I pass once again the Embassy of the Republic of Iran and a moment later a street walker with all her womanly arms bared. She’s shapely, walks like a baseball player in his uniform, and though pretty, looks like she’s taken a few punches in her day. I wear a backpack, so working girls generally take me as too poor to be worth their time. Next come a beer house, an auto mechanic and now the low rent embassies of countries like Bolivia, stacked tightly within something resembling a housing project apartment building.

Men with mustaches and brief cases and bad skin and the weight of open state secrets officially cross the street. There is a buzzing evading bugging and its peaks and valleys describe plans to end AIDS and end lives, start companies and wars, cooperate and develop. Cicadas shriek from the trees and the river keeps

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rolling.

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When did heroin chic begin? In the early 70s with the gaunt, affected expressions of New York and London waifs? Or was it Kate Moss’ pointy shoulders and Nan Goldin’s photographs in the late 80s? I would guess that heroin chic has always been about, just never labeled. Whatever, Terry Richardson exploited our naive fascination with sleaze by photographing drugged up nymphs and getting hired by

Gucci. The mid nineties sucked. The noughties sucked. Today sucks. Our society loves nothing more than a starved wench to gawp at. Regardless, when marketing got hold of it, it really got dirty, deplorably dirty. It got the magazine gloss treatment – nothing short of an abomination, and Nan Goldin agrees. The phrase has now passed into our vernacular and out our arses. No shock. It doesn’t even register. Why don’t we give a shit about substances and conditions that send humans to rack, ruin, and flaky organs? Why are we so eager to sweep the dirt and the decay of humanity into our mainstream media? I am concerned about tweenager mags here, not vice magazine. I came to think of this because I came upon Dionisio Gonzalez’ work. I’ve never seen constructions like his before. I refer to it as Shanty-Chic, well aware of the unstomachable connotations the label might conjure and the gross misunderstandings it may unleash. Needless to say, this is art – heavily photoshopped art – and not yet usurped by the ravenous ad agencies. It’s good art, not shit art.

ShantyChic

Dionisio is renowned in Europe and particularly his native Spain, but he hasn’t made it past the Chelsea galleries stateside. He has an impressive track history of exhibitions and collaborative activities, and spent months compiling his Favelas project back in 2003. Dionisio has the ability to manufacture the ludicrous in his modernist shanty without really jarring the viewer. This is as much an indictment of our lack of shock and egregious consumption of fake-image as it is a celebration of his visionary approach. Nonetheless, these are structures not skeletons. He and we are looking at wrecked buildings, not wrecked humans. The dilapidated facades mixed with corporate green-tinted glazing tells us its all

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false. We are not being sold an idea here, or even a pair of boxer briefs. We are being asked to look at a fiction that is depressingly plausible. Does Dionisio want us to reconcile the ingenuity of man with the wastefulness of man? The technicolour largess of these false favelas is made all the more galling because they stand below blue skies. The last time I saw a pristine sapphire sky like that was in an Indonesia Airlines advertisement. It is rare I see something new that I return to again and again, and I’ve been meaning to post about Dionisio for six months. Or maybe I just want to make this humble note before Shanty-Chic becomes a common expression amongst unscrupulous creative directors.

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In Serbia a lot of people hate me because they want to westernise, not understanding that the western world is bipolar, with very good things and very bad things. Since they don’t have experience of the west, they even believe that western shit is pie.–Emir Kusturica

Despite my predilection for hiding in my room events overran me recently, out into the Richmond and in front of what used to be the jock-lite Last Day Saloon and has now become the yuppie-lite Rockit Room. True there was a birthday to celebrate and true two people had invited me but I was a little shocked at how readily I had consented to being taken away from my room. Maybe the mood was just there, perhaps the moon was in a special phase– I dunno. It may have been because two Serbian/Rom style bands were playing. Years ago I dwelled in a dank little hovel called Leather Tongue which was so similar to the dank little hovels I hid away in on purpose

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that I kept going. It didn’t pay well and it didn’t help any minor mental issues I might have had but it did introduce me to plenty of movies I would never have chosen to hunt down and rent on my own. After renting it out to hip Mission scum a thousand times I checked out “Black Cat White Cat” by Emir Kusturica which drilled into my mind and deposited some of the most flamboyant images ever captured on film as well as some of the most scintillating music ever, er, captured on film. If Fellini had been into carnies more than circus freaks and was thrilled by saturated colors (and been Serbian) it would have been his movie. I travelled back in time a couple of years and caught his earlier festival success, “Underground“. Last year at a different job I was hawking shit on eBay when I pulled the soundtrack to “Underground” from a bin of CDs. My hands were shaking and I played it on the office stereo. Then I played it again and again until I was quite certain that everyone was going to kill me so I had my boss price it out. Not in the store’s computer– Argentinian release so it’s $1.99… Awesome! To this day I think this is the only CD that I have danced to with another person. Waiting for my ride to The Rockit Room I played a couple choice cuts and bobbed around while finishing my roommate’s beer. The first band of the evening took their identity-crisis cues from Hector Babenco’s depression-era drama “Ironweed“, glorifying the hobo/drifter lifestyle by not bathing and playing guitar, a washboard and a bass made from a washtub, broom handle and a single tightly wound length of twine. The kids, friends of the birthday girl, ate this up and had skipped their showers special for the event. I tried not to be bothered by this and watched them play but wondering what to expect from the next two groups in the bill.

Brass Menazeri

Zoyres was a quartet: full kit, tuba, clarinet/sax and trombone. Fascinating shit, ultimately danceable and exactly what I was hoping for. It’s weird how the tuba took over where the bass would be and the trombone player kicked ass playing with a brash style reminiscent (tho probably because I can only name two others: my dad and Labamba from the Conan O’Brien show) of Don Drummond. The Brass Menazeri was even more bombastic with nine members, three tuba type instruments, accordian, clarinet, saxaphones and trumpets along with two drummers (a hand bass and a couple rack snares) and vocals. Both are local and I would recommend you check out either if your local is the Bay Area. So the evening went quite well even tho the drinks were horribly over-priced, most of the attendees living as caricatures running around like sugar-addled, snot-nosed brats and my getting home past my bedtime. I should just stop here… But it makes you think, don’t it? So far as I could tell everyone in these bands were American born and bred but both bands played distinctly Eastern European (with some Klezmer mixed in) gypsy music with no obvious Americanization taking place. It’s as authentic as The Dropkick Murphys but somehow entirely less offensive. Hell, the opening band, The Inkwell Rhythm Makers, co-opted not only their music but their dress and shtick from impression of a time long gone. Does America, appropriate outside culture so readily and so completely that there’s no bothering with integrating it with our own? Or do we just not really have any cultural identity not relating to commerce so we borrow heavily from places that have more than a couple centuries under their belts? Ysabella Dolfin wrote in her blog:

Watching local access Asian TV In Japanese. A cooking show. I have no idea what any of the ingredients are… but I recognize ground beef and some type of musrhoom. I am getting the feeling they are cooking “American” food. But they are serving it over rice with sliced fresh spinach. The theme song is some kind of Japanese rap music.

Japanese Ad

Now that’s a proper culutral mish-mash– anything the Japanese have done since 1945 has basically been one form of cocktail or another. Pop music, art, fashion, day to day living, advertising, food… it seems that every aspect of Japan has been touched by America and has incorporated, in the most fucked up way possible, the source material by taking what they think they understand and dumping tradition on top. Hell, the Japanese advertising industry has essentially become the hallmark of the Japanese approach to international relations. Why are we so fascinating to them? Cowboys? The independence of owning your own car? Where the hell is our culture out in the world that’s not a McDonald’s? PS- my efforts to make these pictures integrate into this post have failed but I’m sick of the second one disappearing so I’m gonne give up. Deal with it.

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