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Dog Bites 

Who Needs to Think When Your Feet Just Go?

Wednesday, Nov 24 1999
Sometimes this town just seems dead, dead, dead. There we were, wandering through Strybing Arboretum -- almost deserted but for a few young couples kissing and talking Russian -- wishing we'd worn warmer shoes as the fog insinuated itself into the treetops and well-fed squirrels scolded us from every flower bed, and we had to ask ourselves: This is Baghdad by the Bay?

Maybe someplace else, someplace with a fireplace and camaraderie, but not anywhere we had plans to go. We removed a flier from our car windshield that ungrammatically rebutted various elements of the progressive agenda and headed home, resigned to a dire Saturday night of abusing SAM-e, polishing the coffee table, and watching Supervisor Leslie Katz, whom we normally adore, on TCI-SF News Hour proposing that the city give high-tech start-ups tax breaks -- tax breaks! -- to encourage them to come to San Francisco. Well, God knows we've got to do something to make this place more attractive to the dot coms. Otherwise, we may well forfeit the coveted distinction of having the most Land Rover Discovery 90s per capita in the country.

Disgruntled, we turned the television off and decided to balance our checkbook. Just as we were getting started, though, we spotted an engraved invitation, nearly buried under our latest 401(k) statement, to a party at former mayoral candidate César Ascarrunz's house -- a party that very evening. Needless to say, the prospect of getting dolled up and going out was so cheering that we tossed all our bills back into the drawer and went to get ready immediately.

We spotted, or rather heard, the party half a block away: Latin music invited us up a tiled staircase, and the candidate himself greeted us moments after we entered, urging us barward with the enviable self-possession of a born host.

Like other newly arrived guests, we hastened to the balcony to admire a view that swept from the Financial District to 3Com Park. The dome of City Hall glowed in the middle distance -- so near and yet so far -- and despite the fact that the fog was turning, by degrees, into a very light rain, we stayed outside longer than was prudent and woke the next morning with a scratchy throat. It seemed telling that so many of César's neighbors had dropped by; obviously, he is well-liked in Glen Park. Our host came outside with plates of food and went back inside to change the music.

"People just don't use shag carpet enough anymore," observed one guest, studying the interior of the house from the vantage point of the balcony.

Rumor had it that Willie L. Himself was going to show up at the party, which struck us as unlikely, given the lack of an advance police team on the premises, but as there was plenty of Corona and liquor and chicken and ravioli and rice we can safely say the mayor was not missed. And despite Brown's no-show status, politics crept into the evening when César gave a spur-of-the-moment speech commenting on the runoff candidates. "One guy is a nice, honest guy, and one guy is a crook," he said, to applause and laughter. "But it's easy to do business with a crook."

Besides, César, in his white silk scarf and dark suit, had all the panache and far less of the hauteur of the mayor. Someone from the Weekly staff suggested dancing, prompting César to try to teach Dog Bites the merengue. "One, two, one, two!" he explicated. "It's easy! Like walking!" We gamely shuffled along. "One, two! One, two!" said César. "One, two! One, two! You should come every week! In four weeks you will be an excellent dancer!" He twirled us to emphasize his point; this operation was less than successful, given Dog Bites' lingering confusion about where to put our feet, and the fact that César is the same height as us.

"Perfecto," exclaimed César, gallant to the last.

Christmas in December
We just love stars in San Francisco, so imagine how thrilled Dog Bites was to learn that Tom Ammiano -- Tom Ammiano -- has a small part in Execution of Justice, the new Showtime movie based on the story of the murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. What kind of role does Tom have? "He plays himself. That's all I know," said Belinda Griswold, Ammiano's media liaison, a certain amount of caution audible in her voice. "It's not really a campaign-related item."

Hmph! Please, allow Dog Bites to make that call. We feel confident our readers will be tuning in in droves to watch the movie, which stars Tim Daly and Peter Coyote and airs Sunday at 8 p.m. (Special note: As Dog Bites doesn't get Showtime, feel free to invite us over to watch it; we can bring beer -- even that trendy Chimay stuff -- but will definitely not demonstrate the merengue.)

But as long as we had Belinda on the line, we thought we'd ask: Was Tom pleased to see psychic Nancy Shavick's predictions that he will win the run- off? "Well, it's not just psychics who say Tom's going to win," answered Belinda. Yikes!

Our only serious quibble with Candidate Ammiano thus far, in fact, emerged at Tom's weekend news conference, in which Ammiano accused Mayor Brown of rubber-stamping too many development projects. Nothing startling there -- but, joined by leaders of various neighborhood groups, Tom delivered his speech while standing in front of the site of the proposed new Bloomingdale's on Market Street.

Dog Bites was distressed: On the one hand we have, of course, the ongoing problem of chain stores invading San Francisco neighborhoods, and on the other, well ... it is Bloomingdale's. And to be fair, we must note that the only other Bloomingdale's location in Northern California is in the Stanford Shopping Center, a good 40 minutes south on 280 -- and its shoe department is tiny. Besides, we hear the San Francisco Bloomingdale's may well include a furniture department, which should make a difference to popular opinion; people in this town seem able to resign themselves to almost anything as long as they have access to leather club chairs and walnut-stained entertainment armoires on easy credit terms.

And most San Franciscans, we think, would also agree that that particular stretch of Market is moderately to definitely unpleasant. A new tenant for the former Emporium space, empty since Macy's depressing furniture store -- hello, dusty rose velour recliners! -- relocated to Union Square, might actually cut down on instances of public urination, just for example. In fact, if commercial development is to occur anywhere in the city, and it is, it would be hard to think of a better place for it, though we add the caveat that if there's going to be a hotel in the project as well a little parking might be nice.

Oh well. The holiday season is here, more or less, and Dog Bites is sure that somehow, we'll manage to get our shopping done in the city's existing stores, even the humdrum ones built without the aid of $30 million in tax subsidies. And meanwhile, the approach of Dec. 14 is nearly as exciting as the approach of Dec. 25.

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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