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Dog Bites 

Fangxaminer; Mourning the Passing of the Arts; Looking for the New Bohemia

Wednesday, Oct 25 2000
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In Space, Nobody Can Hear You Scream

You just never know when terror will strike. Sometimes you think you're heading out for a pleasant -- or at least informative -- evening, and then, well...

Thursday night Dog Bites dropped by the Marines Memorial Club to hear Marty Steffens, executive editor and vice president of the Fangxaminer, talk about her plans for the new paper. We arrived to find Steffens -- most recently executive editor of the Binghampton, NY Press & Sun-Bulletin, and formerly of the Dayton Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, and the Orange County Register -- holding forth in the back of the room. Nibbling a sandwich, we listened as she described her past journalistic successes and answered questions from a large cluster of people, several of whom wanted to know where civic treasure Warren Hinckle will fit in at the Fangxaminer.

Steffens said he'll be on the masthead as associate editor -- "that's a title they often give to columnists" -- and that if Hinckle doesn't turn his column in on time it won't run. Of course, we were dying to ask whether this is a clause in Hinckle's contract, but right around then, it was time for everybody to find a seat so Steffens could begin her lecture.

The very blond and very forceful new editor led by tossing her hair and complaining about having been hounded by a TV news crew and by reporters who "hadn't done their homework"; then she asked which audience members were writing stories about the event, and waited to see hands before proceeding. Dog Bites, with an instinct for self-preservation honed in eleventh grade algebra, raised a tentative pen as Steffens' gaze raked the room.

So okay, she seemed a little cranky, but the speech was free of shocking revelations. For the most part, Steffens stuck with generalities: the Fangxaminer will be "cheeky without showing too much cheek," "unique as the city," "classic but fun," "intensely witty," and "the first metro daily of the 21st century." The paper's new look is a closely guarded secret, but it's been reworked by design guru Roger Black, and the paper's sections will "borrow their names" -- Steffens paused -- "borrow their lively names from dot-coms."

Oh, you mean like the Priceline Potstickers and Yahoo! Thai beef salad at Venture Frogs? Sounds ... fun.

Then Steffens invited questions from the audience: Yes, there will be a Sunday edition of the Fangxaminer; no, the paper won't have a Sacramento bureau; no, the paper won't be known as the Monarch of the Dailies anymore; yes, she's already hired a large number of the 50 editorial staffers the paper will have to start, "most of whom" are not from the current Examiner.

Someone asked about the Hearst Corporation's $66 million subsidy of the Fangs' purchase of the Examiner. Steffens grew visibly tenser; though nobody had actually uttered the words "Fricke-Parks" or "antitrust, " she said testily, "Every dime of the subsidy goes to the Examiner."

And then, ignoring what Fangxaminer employees will no doubt quickly come to recognize as, um, warning signs, Ex reporter Marianne Costantinou ventured to ask a further question about the subsidy. "You clearly don't know how it works," snapped Steffens. "If you'd done your homework you would know." Leaning over the podium and staring down at Costantinou, Steffens sounded out the syllables individually: "The sub-si-dy is paid out on a mon-thly ba-sis au-di-ted by Ar-thur An-der-son."

A stunned silence fell, followed by a collective gasp. Steffens glared at the assembled scribes. "I gotta tell you, I've had more reporters call me without doing their homework," she said. "It's a shame."

Later, she made an attempt to re-ingratiate herself by assuring those present from the Ex and Chron that she understood this is a tough time for them. But when someone asked her what had made her decide to take the job at the new paper she answered, "After nights like tonight I do wonder," and complained bitterly that "people might comment on what I wear, or something I might say in an off moment, and blow it into something."

Whatever.

Afterward, we saw our chance to introduce ourselves and ask Steffens how she feels about the Fricke-Parks lawsuit. "You're writing a story?" she asked. We said we were. "And yet you didn't raise your hand when I asked who was doing a story," she snapped.

We think that's when we panicked and ran for the elevator, but everything got kind of blurry, and all we really remember is speeding up Sutter in a cold sweat, checking and re-checking the door locks, terrified that Steffens might follow us home, shrink herself into our apartment through the kitchen vent like this really scary human-liver-eating mutant we saw in the X-Files marathon last Thanksgiving, and kill and eat us before hibernating under an escalator in a papier mâche nest made of old newspapers and bile.

Sure. We know it sounds crazy. But we're looking under the bed, just in case.

Mourning the Passing of the Arts

Compared with this experience, a mock funeral march to protest the death of San Francisco culture struck us as a fun day out, so we headed down to Union Square. In an e-mail, Bryan Lee of the Stain Gallery had said he'd "watched this unique city's culture, built on diversity and a thriving art community, being strangled by blindly managed growth in recent years." On Saturday Lee, the principal organizer of the event, was looking elegantly dead in pallid makeup and a somber black suit under a tattered black umbrella.

Though he said he'd been "hoping for more like a thousand" demonstrators, the 60 or so people dressed variously as mourners, angels of death, ghosts, or as -- well, in some cases it was hard to say, though we did appreciate the elaborate costuming efforts to which protestors had gone -- had the tourists and shoppers fairly confused anyway.

Besides, these were artists, and most of them were late, so by the time the police escort had traffic stopped at the corner of Powell and Geary, and the "pallbearers" had hoisted a black-draped coffin onto their shoulders, the crowd had more than tripled. Even cable cars were becalmed as the protestors took to the streets, the rear of their column brought up by an outsized skeleton on a funeral bier.

As the marchers passed through the intersection of Eddy and Mason, an angry driver and his companion climbed out of their stranded green Land Rover, clamoring for an end to the inconvenience. "What are you guys helping them for?" the man demanded of a motorcycle cop -- who, in response, merely pointed toward the end of the funeral procession, less than half a minute back up Mason.

The protesters turned onto Market. "No on K! Yes on L! No on K! Yes on L!" a group of the marchers chanted, as further up the column a man played a jazz clarinet version of the funeral march, and a woman dressed in ragged Victorian mourning clothes and made up as a ghost glided along on Rollerblades, wailing theatrically.

Speeches followed on the steps of City Hall; we paused to ask a bicycle cop for an informal crowd estimate. "Two hundred," he answered. We told him Lee had been hoping for a thousand. "A thousand would have been better for the cause," the officer commented. "Hardly any cops can afford to live here these days, either."

... and Looking for the New Bohemia

Well! Motivated by concern for the city's artistic community -- and, as usual, a certain amount of self-interest -- Dog Bites set out to investigate options for artists. A supervisorial candidate in District 11 has proposed his bailiwick as an affordable nonprofit and arts district, and we were curious. If South of 280 is going to be the hot new neighborhood, for once we'd like to get in before the rents go way up, and score one of those cool places we just know we're really meant to live in, the kind that make your friends weak with envy when they drop by for cocktails.

"Yeah, well, we've done a lot of work on the place," we'll murmur modestly. "Stripped the floors." Our guests will marvel at the salvaged industrial lighting, the ceiling-high metal shelving supporting the stereo, the open-plan kitchen, the bold turquoise -- or maybe burnt orange -- wall in the vast living room, the reupholstered Aalto chairs we discovered in this wonderful shop just off Solano in Albany, the Miele HEPA filter vacuum cleaner... Oh. Sorry.

Uh, backing ever so carefully away from this vision of late-cycle gentrification, and entirely disavowing any lingering feelings of attraction we might have for it, let us return to District 11, where the whole process really hasn't begun, and Gerardo Sandoval, a trial attorney in the San Francisco Public Defender's Office, is challenging incumbent Amos Brown.

Sandoval's plan to help San Francisco's beleaguered artistic and non-profit community: He wants to relocate its members to the Outer Mission, the Excelsior, and Crocker Amazon. While some in city government have suggested the rundown mid-Market area as an arts district, Dog Bites thinks Sandoval's is the better idea. Or, as filmmaker Georgina Corzine pointed out while we were talking at the protest march: "When you're an artist, where you live and where you work have to go together. For one thing, a lot of artists don't have transportation. And when you're an artist, you don't want to commute. It's not a regular job. Your work-life and your living-life influence each other -- they're really the same thing."

Sandoval thinks housing and work spaces for artists are something his district can offer. We met him at his campaign headquarters -- a large storefront on Mission he's renting for $1,500 a month. He immediately took us outside for a walk down the block. "Look at this space," he said, indicating a large, empty storefront in an attractive, vintage building badly in need of paint. "I've never seen anybody in here. The guy uses this for storage."

It had begun to rain, so we hopped into Sandoval's car for a tour of District 11's potentially artist-friendly sites. And we have to say: The guy has an eye for them. We turned off Mission onto Brazil; a few blocks later Sandoval pointed out an unused fire station with real potential. An art deco-style building on Mission caught our attention. "It is insane," agreed Sandoval. "A good artist could turn that into a total freak palace."

He pointed out empty storefront after empty storefront. "Here's a space," he said, indicating a large building across the street from Mom Is Cooking. "Not necessarily for a dance group, but for a nonprofit. And that's the Apollo Theatre -- a consortium of nonprofits could get together and lease it."

We cut back under the 280 and passed Amos Brown's campaign headquarters in the former library branch on Broad Street. "That's a great space," said Sandoval. "And it's going to be available in two months -- when he loses the runoff."

About The Author

Laurel Wellman

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