Monday, May 28, 2007

"What are we doing here? Why are we still here?"

It's a grim Memorial Day for a lot of people. The NY Times has an article about U.S. soldiers who are questioning why they are in Iraq, fighting members of the Iraqi army who they had once trained. Morale is increasingly low in what has turned into a civil war. There are not enough explicatives in all the slang dictionaries of the world to describe how I feel about our current president. I'll just call him a sociopath and war criminal who should be locked up where he can cause no more harm to the world. It's another horrible foreign policy in our country's very long list of horrible foreign policies.

On this Memorial Day, do me a favor. I don't know anyone who voted for George W., but if you do, please kick that voter in the ass for me. If he (or she) voted for him twice, kick him twice as hard. It's true: violence begets violence.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Armory Tour

At last! I post about my armory tour of a few months ago. Due to the fact that my scanner is broken and I don't own a digital camera (I'm starting to draw imaginary lines at technology consumerism--I just can't own and learn how to use all the stuff that's available on a monthly basis these days), I was delayed in writing about an exciting visit to a mysterious former urban ruin. The armory was built in 1912 in San Francisco's Mission District and was used by the military for training and whatever else the military needed. It had been abandoned since 1970 until this year when Peter Acworth, CEO of, bought it for $14.5 million to house his Internet porn empire (and probably to rent out space to non-porn film crews at some point). You can read more about the sale of the building, as well as see much better photos than I took at this SF Gate article.

True, there were initially some neighborhood protests as started moving into the city-block long building, but the porn company has done much outreach (and offered many friendly tours) to all interested parties. They've promised to clean up the exterior of the building and light it up outside so it will no longer resemble a Gothic prison covered in graffiti and overrun by illegal street activities. I realize that some people reading this might not take to porn but know that is highly regarded both inside and outside the industry as an honest, fair-minded employer of well, porn workers.

Erich Von StroheimIf you don't like reading about porn (and this will be a clean read); if it makes you feel all "gitchy" inside and mad and like I'm going to hell, I'll give you a warning. If I'm writing about anything kind of porny, you'll see this image of silent-film director genius, Erich Von Stroheim--a man known for his multiple military, foot, and hand fetishes, as well as some not-so-hidden S&M proclivities. A man who knew something about censorship, since all of his films were heavily edited by studio heads, and are only available in butchered form today (or not at all--many were destroyed). A man who shot a few orgies on the studio dime, which never made it into general distribution. Clearly, a filmmaker who would appreciate an armory tour. Here he is: fair warning.

I've wanted to see the inside of this building since the early 80s when I would walk by its foreboding exterior on the way to some dive bar or warehouse party or performance art happening of some sort. It was a sort of Sleeping Beauty castle that no one could penetrate. So when my friend from grad school started working for, and I read about the building sale, I immediately bombarded her with requests for a tour. And she complied! A bunch of us former film students gathered one night for potluck dinner, then ran around the building, taking photos and seeing a fabulous night-view of the city from a tower only reachable from a rusty old ladder on the roof. My photos are dark and grainy--sorry about that. Maybe it's fitting.

Here are some of us in the basement. The basement of the armory is awesome because it's really decrepit and it has a creek that runs through it. Yes--a creek. You have to use stepping stones and some make-shift bridges to get around down there. I put some arrows in the photo to show how high the creek rises if the pump stops working. Before the building sale, the pump did stop working and that's how high it went. Gnarly! There have been some shoots down here, but no props that we could see other than some chains hanging from overhead. has not started building a lot of sets yet. They're in transition mode with their old building, which is full of props and sets that look like the lair of Snow White's wicked step mother.
Running around in the basement. There was a child on the tour, so we kept it clean, or oblique anyway. He was such a trouper. It might be fun to re-name all of us (except the child, of course) with fake porn names, like when you use the name of your first pet and the name of the first street you ever lived on to come up with your porn name. I've had multiple pets and lived on many streets, so I can dole these out pretty easily. That's Caz Pasadena above. The child shall remain nameless. Photos by Tasha Tamarack.
Here's a close-up of the creek. It's full of some kind of rusty sludge and God knows what else. Kind of beautiful in a dark, mysterious way.
Brandi Page and Caz Pasadena check out the big marble bathroom. I blew it and should have photographed the dozens of commodes on the other wall, but you get the idea. Lots and lots of bathroom activities over the years.

Our lovely tour-guide, Gertie McAllister, demonstrates the dunking chair. Strap your subject in and dunk him or her backwards into the water below. Don't forget to raise it back up again. By the way, has a rule that no one can cry or look like they're suffering in any of their films. Personally the dunking chair is a little too "Salem witch trial" for my tastes, but it's got a natural wicker look to it that I like. Other props we saw: doctor's office table with leg stirrups and dentist chair with lots of padded details and shiny metal things. Again, not sexy to me--I really avoid the doctor or dentist as much as possible, but different strokes...

It's too dark, but way beyond and below these stands is the drill court, where platoons practiced their perfect marching while spectators, generals and what-not watched far above. Or you could stage some female mud-wrestling as well. The drill court is like a football field under a domed ceiling. The highlight of the tour was climbing up 147 rickety wooden steps on top of the dome to see the city all around us. Gee, San Francisco sure is pretty! Pretty porny!

Other stuff we saw: horse stables in the basement (not fun for horses, I bet), huge furnace that you can crawl into (and some have), many offices that will soon be...offices. Interesting dream I had that night after the tour: part of the building was turned into a gallery and featured a HUGE sculpture of Mr. Potatohead. I think that's as kinky as I get.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Great Scott!

Jill Scott and The Roots perform "You Got Me." For fans of the super-powerful voice box.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I Knew It

The 80s are officially back. In a commercial context (natch). The 80s are also back in Quicktime if need be. It would take an M&M commercial to re-introduce the world to "This Is The Day," the bouncy college radio hit from TheThe (Matt Johnson).

I guess this has significance to me because Matt Johnson was the first music guy I ever interviewed. It was on my 20th birthday, which would make it (calculating...) 1984. I finagled an interview with him through radio station KUSF, which wasn't even the station I was working at at the time. That would be cable radio station, KSFS (hey--you can get it in your dorm room), but KUSF happened to be located up the street from my house and happened to have Matt Johnson on live radio that afternoon. My roommate (now bandmate and long-time friend), Sue and I conducted this interview, which consisted of us trying to come up with questions to ask a 23-year-old that we considered to be a musical genius.

He quietly answered all our lame questions, looking bashful and amazed that two girls would find his British accent so captivating. Somewhere I have a cassette of that interview, recorded by an abject, grumbling KUSF engineer (some things never change). The only revelation I came to that has stuck with me was: That was the artiest guy I've ever met.

Matt Johnson wrote "This Is The Day" when he was 20. He's still really arty. I can barely comprehend his Web site. Hey Matt: I'm glad you're getting some residuals from an M&M commercial. M&Ms that are breakdancing, getting mohawk haircuts and M&Ms whose futures are so bright, they gotta wear shades. That's arty commerce.

Don't Be Uncool This Time Around:
For all your Manic Panic needs
A bunch of 80s bands and clubs from San Francisco (study up)
The Henry Rollins Show
Lest we forget: Hair Metal
Required viewing
Make sure you have the right footwear

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Mall Post

Yum - Hot Dog On A StickA lot of people say they don't like malls, but I pretty much loathe the entire mall shopping experience with every cellular ounce of my being. I find the mall an excruciating time-sucking capitalist vampire that preys upon our biological need for a local marketplace and then drains our natural craving for a social meeting-hub of any meaning or worth. Maybe it's the fluorescent lighting, or the difficulty of finding a bathroom. It's like being in bar or casino but the vice is shopping. If you don't like shopping, there's always the freshly squeezed lemonade at Hotdog On A Stick--now there's a place to hold your town meeting: the food court.

I love my kid so much that I recently took him to a mall to see Curious George, from the very successful cartoon on PBS. Jackson religiously watches Curious George every day and sings the theme song loudly and joyfully each time. He can provide a synopsis of every episode ever aired and he often cracks up in the middle of the day just by thinking about Curious George comedy bits.

PBS had advertised George's appearance for three weeks and I was psyched so we piled in the car and headed 45 minutes south to find the last parking place in a vast ocean of lots. I went up ramps and around corners and followed SUVs and found a spot in the nether-regions outside of Mervyn's intimate department. Inside the mall, the line to see Curious George was about half-a-mile long (no joke) and the security guard was warning us at the end of the line that George only would be available for photos for 20 more minutes ("But I drove all the way from San Jose," said one mother, dramatically). After that: no George. We got as close to him as we could and held Jackson up so that our photos looked like his head was next to George, who was off in the distance, shaking hands with toddlers and babies. Parents (me included) were standing on folding chairs to get this shot. It was as if Justin Timberlake had entered The Limited and the flashbulbs were blinding us all.

Afterwards George was free to walk the mall--maybe some lucky boys and girls would see them in their favorite store. As if! We headed to the Lego store and had a blast, filling a pre-paid cup full of Lego's from 50 bins of them, sorted by color, size and shape. Window Lego's had clear panes of "glass" and shutters. There were door Lego's and pine-tree Lego's and baffling Lego's that were black and round, but wdid not appear to be wheels. There were dioramas containing intricate Lego models, like a complete farm full of animals and a jet plane taking off at the airport. There were tables with lots of Lego's to build whatever we wanted, and we did.

While Jackson and I wallowed in the colorful plastic, Keith went to the Macy's menswear department and bought a much-needed dress shirt for a work-related event. It was 60% off. We marveled at the savings.

When we emerged into the air-conditioned central hallway, there was George and people were whispering, "Look! It's Him!" and "Hurry!" We ran to greet him and Jackson got a pat on the head. Soon others joined us and we were surrounded by tiny children, strollers and for some reason, mostly dads. The dads were very keen on getting photos of George with their kids (as was I) and we jockeyed for position within a three-foot space around a small person wearing a monkey suit. One dad kept backing into me and almost knocking me down. He did it three times before I said, "Hey! I'm standing here and you're pushing me over!" I felt just like Dustin Hoffman in "Midnight Cowboy"--when he almost gets run down by a taxi and he slams it with his fist and yells, "Hey! I'm WALKING here!"--completely ineffectual. Another dad, tapped the pushy dad on the shoulder and said, "That's enough." And I got my apology. Gender politics at the mall.

The charming empployees of Hot Dog On A StickSoon the crowd was becoming a mosh pit and Jackson got that worried look of "this is a little too crazy, mom" in his eyes. So we wriggled out of the fan-cluster and headed for--that's right--the food court. It was an old-fashioned food court in the basement with dim lighting and plastic decor throughout. I did go to Hot Dog On A Stick and got a giant lemonade from an overweight, effeminate young man in a fantastic uniform, who was genteel and completely charming. I suppose Hot Dog On A Stick is what makes America great, at least in the customer service department.

After lunch I headed back toward Mervyn's to partake in their gigantic bra sale (you read that right). I hate buying bra's even more than going to the mall. But sometimes you have to do stuff you don't want to do--that's what we call being a responsible adult. So while Jackson and Keith were picking out massive Mrs. Field's cookies to take us all over-the-top into culinary ecstasy, I was trying on bra's; very-well priced bra's. I got something like 3 for the price of 2 1/4. We all celebrated by eating cookies and trying to find the car. It was only when I was driving home that I realized what day it was: Earth Day. Happy belated Earth day everyone!

More Mall Stuff
Keith Milford's Malls of America blog - vintage photos of malls across the U.S. of A. I was so pleased to find his recent post about my hometown mall, SunValley. The fountain in the photo is where my little brother once fell in, trying to fish out pennies. That was when pennies were really worth something. I honed my hatred for malls here, after years of back-to-school shopping trips where my mom and I would enter this dimly lit mall in daylight, only to exit hours later to complete darkness outside. The loss of my daytime hours to shopping for sale-rack clothes was a little soul-crushing, I must admit. Although I liked getting new clothes--don't get me wrong--it just seemed like a waste of a day. However, many entertaining hours were spent at the pet store (puppies!), the Hammond organ store, Spencer's Gifts (home to all black-light art mediums), the movie theater and ice rink--all since gone. But SunValley has added large skylights so no kid can ever miss the daylight while shopping again!

Lew Portnoy's mall art - formal and somewhat sterile photos that capture the mall shopping experience in all its fluorescently lit glory.

Stock photos of shopping at the mall - everyone looks so happy, unlike me.

Rose of No Man's Land - Michelle Tea's novel about an alcoholic 10th-grader who accidentally lands a job at a teen clothing boutique in the mall called Ohmigod! A fry cook from the food court becomes her friend and the two girls set out on a one-night rampage of crystal meth, perverts and tattoos. Includes the most inspiring passage featuring a tampon that I've ever read.

The plot summary from for Julie Brown's defunct Comedy Central series, "Strip Mall" (2000):
During the 1970's Tammi (pronounced TA-mee) Tyler was one of the stars of the sitcom "Here Comes Corky." Her acting career was then cut short unexpectedly when, after eating a cupcake laced with PCP, she killed her costar, Captain Billy. In the intervening years Tammi grew up amid obscurity. Now, Tammi was employed by the Funky Fox Cafe in the San Fernando Valley's Plaza del Toro shopping center, and was hoping for a comeback. As she explained to barmaid Patti in the first episode, she hoped the marry the next man to visit the Funky Fox. Embarrassingly, it turned out to be Harve Krudup who owned the Starbrite Cleaners laundry store at the shopping center. Tammi thought that the store was part of a Beverly Hills-based chain, only to realize that it was the only laundry store Harve owned. Tammi's attempts to make a comeback in Hollywood formed most of the stories for this sitcom.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

My One and Only Paris Hilton Post

This week Paris Hilton was sentenced to 45 days in jail for violating her probation in a reckless driving charge. If only we could sentence the world to ignore her forever. This is for you, Paris. Maybe when you get out John Waters will cast you in his next film.

p.s. I could listen to Darryl Hall sing into eternity--yes, even the mid-80s hits--just an incredible voice. In fact, here's my chorus of angels for the after-life: Darryl Hall, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, with a little bit of Van Morrison, Neil Young and the Supremes (without Diana) thrown into the mix. Special guest stars: Elvis and John Lennon. And what the hell, Brian Setzer--yes, his songs pretty much suck, but what a voice!