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Dog Bites 

Wednesday, Apr 28 1999
Gimme a Beat!
Often, it's hard to know exactly what this column's subject matter is supposed to be. Is it, say, sleaze and graft in civic politics? The nonstop party that is San Francisco nightlife? Those tiny, telling moments when we realize what it truly means to be human?

Um, no. And quite frankly, we wish it were, particularly after this morning's editorial meeting, in which our proposed topic for this week's column was laughed out of the room as "exponentially self-referential."

Of course, Dog Bites, though secretly wounded, laughed along with everyone else, while silently vowing to show those Peninsula Press Club award-hogging snobs [see box on Letters page]. After a cup of tea and a quiet sniffle in the bathroom, we realized: What we need is a beat. In fact, recently even our loved ones have noticed the complete deficiency of actual information in this space, and have tried, tactfully, to suggest solutions:


Just noted that May 2-8 is Be Kind to Animals Week, sponsored by the American Humane Society -- so you can write about the cats -- or report on adoptathons -- or whatever. Just a thought -- a different subject to tackle.

Love, Mom

But that would only have been a short-term solution. So, after at least a token amount of thought, we are pleased to inaugurate the new Dog Bites Arts and Letters column. And just to get things off to a newsy start, we open with a report on an art show so controversial that patrons have actually thrown up in the gallery.

"This one guy was puking all over the floor," says the artist, Guy Overton, who videotaped the episode. ("It's a pretty cool image," he says of the result.)

The show is called "Free Beer," and it's at Refusalon, 20 Hawthorne St. Essentially, it consists of two kegs of beer in a room with a sound system. Art patrons may help themselves to beer and listen to a continuously playing recording of a gallery's opening-night party.

Overton says the Lagunitas Brewing Co., his chief sponsor in the venture, originally committed to donating 10 kegs of beer, but with a week to go the show has already gone through 30. The installation has proven phenomenally popular with bike messengers -- a number of whom have been so deeply affected by the work that they have vomited copiously in the gallery, in the hallways, in the restrooms, and on the sidewalk outside -- and with employees of adjacent and exclusive Hawthorne Lane restaurant, some of whom drop in to smoke dope after gallery hours.

Dog Bites took the whole thing for a dadaist comment on the gallery system, but Overton's motivation, apparently, was less complex. "I've been wanting to fuck with [Refusalon] for a while," he explains. "Last year I called about 2,000 1-800 numbers and had all this junk mail delivered to them. It was, like, a 5-foot stack of mail."

Though Overton was arrested last year for "doing a burnout in front of a gallery with my car," he insists he's not a troublemaker. "I'm just an artist. It just happens that the things that I'm interested in end up starting shit with people. I don't go looking for trouble. It just fuckin' finds me."

Literature for the Rest of Us
Having dispensed with the Art part of the column, we turn now to books, which arrive in these offices generally unheralded but for the occasional voice-mail message from a New York publicist who clearly has never seen the paper and who is almost always confused about whether there is in fact a books editor here, which is lucky, because every so often we score a good cookbook out of the deal.

This week's literary haul (and we use that term in the nonselective, drift-net sense) includes Wake Up, I'm Fat! by Camryn Manheim; Effortless Beauty: 10 Steps to Inner and Outer Radiance the Ayurvedic Way; It's Not About Food; Offbeat Marijuana: The Life and Times of the World's Grooviest Plant; 10 Natural Remedies That Can Save Your Life; Working at Play: A History of Vacations in the United States; You Owe Me: The Emotional Debts That Cripple Relationships; and How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation in California.

Of these titles we found the penultimate the most absorbing. The tome presents an array of characters -- including the Ornery Perfectionists, Deficit Doormats, Bean Counters, and Emotional Loan Sharks -- who verbally torment their partners in doomed relationships. No doubt the work will recall for many readers the claustrophobic worlds inhabited by Edward Albee characters:

"Look, Tracy, I run a hardware store, not a diamond mine," ... [Ray] scowled. "I work hard to make a living and allow you to stay home with the kids you wanted. No one is stopping you from getting a job if you're feeling so deprived."

"We've been through this a hundred times. I need to be home with the children," [Tracy] shot back. "I don't expect everything, but I certainly deserve a lot more than I'm getting around here."

Seldom has a dying American marriage at the turn of the millennium been so deftly and poignantly captured on the printed page. Bravo to Eric J. Cohen, Ph.D., and Gregory Sterling for their affecting work.

In fact, although a number of cultural commentators have recently expressed doubt that the latter half of the 20th century has seen the production of any art of lasting value, Dog Bites is pleased to report that they are wrong. And in coming weeks, we hope we can continue to prove our point. Failing that, we hope someone will send us a news tip, or invite us to a large party, or even just a publicity event -- or a gallery opening -- with an open bar, and no vomit.

As told to Laurel Wellman

Tip Dog Bites -- especially if you're disgruntled. Phone 536-8139; fax 777-1839; e-mail

About The Author

Laurel Wellman


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