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Night Crawler 

Wednesday, Sep 30 1998
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As Berkeley as They Want
"If God didn't want us to eat people," poses Vinnie Pescado, "why did he make them taste like meat?" Pescado grins and lurches into the crowd gathered on University Avenue for the annual How Berkeley Can You Be? Parade. The throng parts easily at the sight of Pescado's blood-splattered slicker, then closes around him, resuming clapping as if the bloody apparition were as common as incense peddlers at BART. A parade float comes into view. Afro-Cuban rhythms fill the damp morning air, giving impetus to 12 Caucasian women in flowered dresses and a man in a gold toga who interpret the beat with shameless undulations.

"This sort of music is so primal," says a white-haired resident named Jeanine Paley who smiles and claps appreciatively as the dancers pass.

"As primal as meat?" sneers a spiky-haired gent in a lab coat who appears at her shoulder and vanishes into the crowd. A raw chicken claw flies through the air and lands near Paley's feet.

"What was that? What did that man say?" asks Paley, looking around in time to miss him.

"Something about meat," answers her companion calmly.
Paley frowns, but a string of exceptional artcars distracts her from her odd encounter.

Down the road, the X-Plicit Players -- a group of nude performers who have become an unavoidable part of every Berkeley gathering -- are not so lucky. While peacefully preparing to walk through the center of town with their tackle swinging in the wind, a wild-eyed man in a bright orange Doggie Diner shirt charges at them, waving a chain saw. The man -- known as Sebastian Melmouth -- executes an impressive shoulder roll and lands on his feet with the chain saw roaring overhead. Through the deafening noise the nudists make out his suggestive incantation: "Wieners! Wieners! Wieners!"

Not surprisingly, the X-Plicit Players scatter, regrouping amid nervous laughter only when Melmouth has retreated back to his own float.

On the PETA (People Eat'n Them Animals) float loom three enormous Doggie Diner heads with their frozen wiener-dog grins. Members of PETA, men and women in bloodied butchers' clothes, stand on the float smoking cheap cigarettes and tending to several barbecues, which rest between the dog heads. Great billows of dark smoke fill the air with the smell of roasting meat. A monstrous mechanical jaw chomps on a large, raw pig's head. Several other cloudy-eyed pig's faces hang thawing on stakes mounted to the side of the truck. Chain saws drown out the sound of surrounding festival music as the butchers chase down two men dressed in cow suits. A woman wearing a demonic monkey mask and a bloodied ball gown tosses hunks of hamburger to the crowd while another PETA member tries to lure folks from the sidelines with mystery meat hooked on a fishing line.

Brody Culpepper, co-founder of Big Rig Industries and a consummate carnivore, leads the procession with a bullhorn.

"All right, all you Berkeley hippies, it's time to put down that Nutragrain Bar and pick up a sausage. Meat is your God-given right as an American!" he informs the crowd.

"Barbecue in the morning smells like victory!" shouts someone from the float.

A pretty young woman draped in fur and leather works the crowd, handing out hot dogs and cigarettes to small children. Parents laugh, trying to maintain their "Only in Berkeley" facetiousness as their young ones are corrupted.

"I love meat," says a 14-year-old skate rat who grew up in Berkeley but feels the allure of PETA. "My first words were, 'More meat.' I swear to you that's true."

A toddler in a stroller reaches his tiny hand toward a proffered hot dog. The child's watchful mother intervenes just in time, pushing her son's hand gently out of harm's way.

"But he wants it," coos the PETA member. The Berkeley mother smiles tolerantly.

"Beef's not just for breakfast anymore!" comes the call.
The indulgent crowd roars with laughter as the butchers begin carving the pig heads, creating a flurry of pink pig flakes that stick in everyone's hair.

"Don't laugh," shouts Twisted Times Editor Stuart Magrum through the business-end of a bullhorn. "By laughing, you only encourage them. There is nothing funny about colon plaque. There is nothing funny about meat."

Armed with carrots, jackboots, and brown shirts, Magrum and the Veget-Aryans have come on the scene as a combative antidote to PETA's bloody message of feasting. They carry signs that read "You Smell Like Death," "I Pity Your Colon," and "Meat Is a Hate Crime." Culpepper calls the group vegan fascists, but the men in cow suits are happy for their protection. PETA hurls epithets and meat at the Veget-Aryans, but they keep coming, using carrot sticks as ammunition.

Only when the parade passes a McDonald's do the plant eaters waver from their intent, turning their signs and their attention on customers carrying little greasy to-go bags filled with burgers. The man-cows recoil in horror and must be shielded from the sight by the helpful, right-thinking Aryans. PETA launches hot beef at them with a meat cannon. The crowd is showered in fleshy shrapnel, but the Veget-Aryans are unfazed. A chain-saw-toting butcher attacks one of the Aryans, carving his sign to ribbons, then turns on Magrum. Magrum remains calm.

"You look as though you want to attack me," says Magrum, quietly placing his hand on the butcher's arm, "but I know this is just a call for help." Turning toward one of his henchmen he adds, "Give this man a carrot."

"The Veget-Aryans are insidious," warns Culpepper. "They're trying to control your mind. You can't trust them."

As the parade nears the end of its route, PETA throws the remains of the pig heads in the street and invites youngsters to stomp on the faces until they are nothing more than porky, pink mounds. Adults from the parade look on in amusement. A Veget-Aryan is seen sharing a plate of barbecued pork under a tree with a woman wearing animal pelts. In a startling act of unity, ambassadors from PETA and the Veget-Aryans carry a skinless sheep head to Shirley Dean, acting mayor of Berkeley, requesting that she kiss it. She declines with a large politician's smile. Her opponent, Don Jelinek, on the other hand, acquiesces, giving him a corner on the carnivore's vote. Parade onlookers applaud and laugh heartily.

Speaking for us all, Sebastian Melmouth muses, "It's really hard to be punk these days."

Send comments, quips, and tips to crawler@sfweekly.com.

By Silke Tudor

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Silke Tudor

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