March 2009


See You Soon

I have to go take care of a little business on the continent so I’ll be out of commission for a couple weeks. Well, you never know, I might find myself with a spare moment and a computer but I don’t plan on it. Talk amongst yourselves till I return.

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Buena Vista Park

Concrete is not soothing to the soul, and as the population gravitates towards urban centers I wonder what happens as people become less connected to nature. While I’m no child of the soil I was fortunate to have grown up in a house with a backyard which was a constant source of amusement. There was work to be done, of course, but my family’s high hopes for a well groomed garden never lasted particularly long after planting and it was soon left to grow wild, unmolested except for my father’s periodic moments of zen with the hose.

Most city-dwellers rely on parks for their periodic fixes of grass and trees, and San Francisco has a pretty good distribution of manufactured spaces to take the kids. Although I live in the center of town I have three parks which I can walk to in under five minutes. The closest and most accessible (because it’s not uphill) is Duboce Park, which we used to call Dogshit Park because its main use seems to be for pet-owners to neglect their responsibilities in public. There’s also a basketball court which is under renovation and a little sand lot they filled in with rubber and a play structure they filled in with plastic. The second closest is Alamo Square, a hulking hilltop copse of trees buffeted by constant ocean winds with sharply angled, grass-covered slopes and meandering walkways. The furthest is Buena Vista Park, the largest and most unkempt, which rises high above the neighborhood as the hills climb towards Twin Peaks. This is the hinterlands of my neighborhood parks, dark and menacing like a good fairytale.

At some point you’re supposed to be too old for swings and mudpies but I always found myself in parks. We would sit in the dark of Esprit Park drinking, or in the dark of McKinley Park drinking, or the dark of Dogshit drinking and huffing butane. I once wandered through both Stern Grove and Golden Gate Park on acid in the same night which was an awful lot of walking. Some people may be weary of parks at night but they were always safe havens for me and my friends, isolated pockets of quiet usually safe from the prying eyes of cops or hooligans. (more…)

I Pass For Human (2004)
Written and Directed by Chris D.
Starring Eleanor Whitledge, Joshua Cox, Eva Scott, Jennifer Ciesar, Mary Woronov, Bryan Small

Includes the short film Le Ciel de Sang (1972)

Sometimes a film catches your eye because the person responsible is a cultural mainstay. Chris D. has been a major creative force operating under the radar as a staff writer and label worker for Slash Magazine and Records in the late 70’s, frontman for the Flesh Eaters and Divine Horsemen through the 80’s and as a film essayist and worker at Los Angeles’ American Cinematheque through the 90’s and beyond. His style has always been submerged in the violent grittiness of American pulp and the twisted shadows of foreign horror films; I Pass For Human certainly strives to bring these worlds together in a coherent package.

I Pass For Human 1

It becomes immediately apparent that to make it through feature you’re going to have to care enough about Chris D. to watch. The person who loaned this to me (after I saw it had been released and suggested he check it out) told me that when it started he immediately knew to just turn the commentary on and let it rip, but I felt obliged to watch the movie unadulterated the first time through. So I swallowed the shaky hand-held cheap digital video and poor sound and watched.

I Pass For Human 7

This is the seedier side of Hollywood crawling with wannabes and has beens struggling to keep their hand in the pot as they disintegrate. Jane (Eleanor Whitledge) is a helpless nervous wreck who has tired of watching her boyfriend Dax (Bryan Small) slip further into heroin addiction. Lucky for her she doesn’t have to wait long before he overdoses, and Jane finds herself lost and alone with only Dax’s circle of crumbling junkies to turn to for support, including his half-sister Mila (Jennifer Ciesar) who politely clears out all of Dax’s remaining dope after his passing.

I Pass For Human 2

Mila may not be the nicest or most giving person in the world but she does have the presence of mind to leave a line of smack on the mirror and promises to arrange a meeting between Jane and a friend who recently lost his girlfriend to an overdose. On her own sadness prevails and Jane experiments with her first desperate taste of heroin and with her first bad drug experience. She discovers a room in the basement she had never noticed before and catches a man painting a portrait, but when she tries to speak with him he explodes from his seat and she hits the ground, losing consciousness. The man is gone, she’s running back to her apartment, and the only thing that seems wrong is the blood smeared across the back of her neck.

I Pass For Human 8

When she comes to the next morning there’s a strange man standing above her bed. How the fuck did he get in here? The door was open, the TV blasting, which doesn’t mesh well with Jane’s memory but when he introduces himself as Rick (Joshua Cox), Mila’s friend, she shrugs off the unexplained and they go out for coffee to talk about their dearly departed. While Jane seems to have spent years watching Dex succumb to the rocknroll lifestyle Rick’s story is a rapid ride into mania. He met his girlfriend Azami (Eva Scott) at a party and they shoot off like bottle rockets. The sex is great but her habit of unexplained disappearances start to grate until Rick follows her on the rounds one day, watching Azami cop downtown before taking the junk to a hillside house. Through the window he watches as Azami shoots up an older man in a stripped and decaying home, but his confrontation later that evening only reveals his weak will. It’s her ex-husband, and she can do what she wants. And eventually Rick begins to do what she wants, sharing her habit, up to the very night she dies while they’re visiting her parents.

I Pass For Human 3

The depressing conversation and Jean’s own weakness soon leads to her asking for a little smack, and Rick becomes the first person to shoot her up. It hits hard and she staggers out of the house hallucinating that Dax is leading her into a crackpark, then hallucinating that hands are reaching up from the ground to grab her. Trying to get home Rick and Mila find her on their way to score at the neighborhood drug bar and Jean finds herself along for the ride, shaking her head but unable to bring herself to leave. Somewhere between the sudden loneliness and the numbing of the heroin she’s rapidly following her boyfriend’s footsteps.

I Pass For Human 9

Jean’s only confidant outside of this circle of losers is Dax’s former rehab councilor, Dr. Larraz (Mary Woronov), who tries her best to keep Jane from developing an addiction. The doctor, a former addict herself, reacts to Jane’s tales of hallucinations and the fact that, towards the end, Dax was beginning to see ghosts of the recently departed junkies he called friends. She had developed a theory long ago that dead addicts feed off the living ones, clinging to a half-life between the living and the dead where habituals spend so much of their time.

But there’s no room in a rehab center and Jane’s mother is traveling Europe while her sister’s locked in a mental ward. She keeps hanging out with Mila and Rick despite complaining constantly that she needs to get away from them. She keeps getting high and she’s starting to see more dead people, ghosts she never knew alive. But the worst thing is Mila and Rick see them too, and they seem resigned to the fact that their lives are no longer their own.

I Pass For Human 4

(more…)

Pinche Gringo

There was a rule, once upon a time. I wouldn’t wear a band’s shirt if I didn’t like the band, and while that sounds like a pretty trivial thing I took it seriously. If you didn’t really like the band but wore their shirt because it looked cool you may as well be wearing a Nike swoosh. You’re representing something you believe in when you shell out the bucks and raise the banner, and that responsibility shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Over the years I stopped obsessing about the kindergarten politics of my pseudo-punk upbringing. An old co-worker of mine was unloading t-shirts given to him by bands and he handed me one for a group I never cared about. My instincts kicked in and I almost refused, but then my manners wrestled reaction to the ground and I graciously accepted the offering. The shirt was used to clean up some kitchen messes but I cleaned it and began to wear it whenever it came up in the rotation.

One day, standing outside of work, a stranger walked up to me and complimented me on the t-shirt. Immediately I was tongue-tied and embarrassed, but nodded enthusiastically when he told me how his old band had played with them and how great they were back in the day. What was I supposed to say? Oh, I kinda think they suck, so I guess your old band kinda sucked too. (more…)

La Antigua Guatemala is a small city which enjoys a robust tourism industry and hosts innumerable Spanish language schools for foreigners. Buried in the colonial architecture (which earned the city status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) lies all the trappings of modern civilization. The relative wealth of La Antigua amidst the poverty and violence of Guatemala has afforded the city opportunities to modernize, and the government seems open to all ideas which may propel La Antigua into the 21st century as assuredly as any western nation.

Towards the end of last year the municipality introduced a free wireless zone in its central park, earning it status as the first digital city of Latin America. The novel concept of free wi-fi for all has been championed by consumer advocates the world over but in San Francisco the process has been bogged down by negotiations with competing providers and to this day there is no such service, but in La Antigua they just decided to roll up their sleeves and make it happen. When one thinks of Guatemala they probably don’t imagine internet cafes and people using their laptops in the park, but access is available to all who would wish to make use of it.

As encouraging as that development is the people of La Antigua are preparing to lay the ground-work for another first, and possibly becoming the first city of its kind in the entire world. According to Rudy Giron’s excellent La Antigua Daily Photo, a group of dedicated people are busy laying the framework for an alternative fuel project for the city. Biopersa organizers went from restaurant to restaurant collecting spent cooking oil with the intention of reprocessing it into biodiesel for municipal vehicles and the local hospital. If the initial steps are successful and the idea takes hold La Antigua Guatemala could be the first city which operates its city vehicles entirely on reprocessed biodiesel.(See bottom for an update.) (more…)

Apartheid

Sorry but The Guardian is too tricky for me to steal the video. Click the still and you’ll be taken to the Guardian article with the video.

The brutal legacy of South Africa’s history did not end with Apartheid, nor have all minorities found their basic human rights granted after the ANC took power. Stories are escaping the townships surrounding Johannesburg and Cape Town, horrible stories of corrective rape. The victims are targeted because they are lesbians, or at least this is the rationale given by perpetrators of these attacks. The men are raping these women because they are gay and by this savage act they say the women will become straight.

Women are the world’s minority, and poverty seems to inflame the abuse they encounter in their daily lives. It should be no surprise that women in the squalid townships of South Africa are victims of brutality, but these targeted attacks are particularly vicious. The women are often gang-raped, they are often tortured and beaten and, increasingly, they are being murdered. (more…)

I feel like I’ve been exposed to a lot of death in my lifetime, a consequence of my parents’ responsibilities as eldest children in each of their respective clans. They’ve always taken care of other people and, as I was growing up, one of their biggest contributions was helping people through the loss of loved ones. My mom commented once that I had been to more funerals than weddings, a figure which may just now be balancing out. The more I’ve lived the more death I’ve been around, from friends to coworkers to family; usually I’m at least one step removed from the departed and I see the effects of sadness wear down the survivors.

My friend had to leave town suddenly because her niece had fallen very ill and was airlifted to the nearest city to be placed in the ICU. I assumed that everything was fine if hectic and that I would eventually get a phone call or an e-mail saying she was back in town but after several days passed I called to check. The next day I got the e-mail saying that it wasn’t okay, her eight-year-old niece had died in the hospital from a suspected case of meningitis. (more…)

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