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Scrambled Eggers 

Even at a benefit for kids, the spotlight still shines on the world-famous author

Wednesday, Aug 14 2002
Death. Taxes. Dave Eggers. He's unavoidable: His fiction's in this week's New Yorker, he has a new novel coming out next month, and last Wednesday he hosted a benefit bash for his latest literary pet project (note gushing profile in the Chron), 826 Valencia, a mentoring studio for kids, and for Youth Speaks. Unlike his usual offbeat antics at readings (his own and others') around the city, the benefit -- held at the swanky Gallery Lux, a design-firm-cum-art-space across from the jail -- consisted of beautiful people in unusual and expensive shoes, with unusual and expensive haircuts, eating unusual (but free) food. Well, sort of free: The tickets cost $30 apiece.

Eggers himself laid fairly low, speaking briefly about 826 and introducing the musical draw, Mark Eitzel, but his influence was everywhere. The night felt like a variation on his overlong New Yorker story: Rich white assholes go to Africa to try to give away money, but fail. All the 826 people were rich and white; most of the kids looked neither. To their credit, the performers (ages 11 to 18) were impressive, delivering sharp, funny stories and poems with a minimum of shoe-gazing and a maximum of imagination. We'd have left the party a bona fide believer if only it weren't all about Dave Eggers. The crowd seemed there to see him, and many people left when Mark Eitzel started playing -- on a stage so small that he knocked his own mike off during one song. Eitzel, a thoughtful crooner of raw power and immense creativity, seemed diminished in this space. Aside from the cramped stage at the end of a long, narrow room, he had to play his six songs over the burbling schmooze of hangers-on. No wonder he cut one tune short and launched hastily into the last song, the irresistible "Proclaim Your Joy."

At one point, a woman in her early 50s, wearing a bright yellow tunic and a fanciful silver brooch, leaned over to us and asked, "Who are these people?" The parent of a teen she desperately wanted to get into the 826 program, she'd bought "every one" of Eggers' books and journals (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, McSweeney's 1-8). She couldn't have cared less about Mark Eitzel -- and neither could the kids, of course. None of them stayed around to hear him, and why would they? He's just some boring old man who gets played on KFOG, for God's sake. Oh, but he's Dave Eggers' buddy. We'd nearly forgotten whom this show was truly benefiting. --Karen Zuercher

Southern Hospitality

After hearing horror stories about the expensive, swaggy pot of the '60s and the rat-poisoned, overpriced Ecstasy of the '90s, we're thankful that there are so many different kinds of high-quality, affordable drugs available nowadays. We don't know whether we should be sending our thank-you notes to the drug lords of Colombia or Ronald Reagan, but we are grateful -- especially for Supervisor Mark Leno and his plan to start providing us with Grade A stuff, grown by the city of San Francisco itself.

We have to say, though, that our favorite drug is alcohol. Unlike pot (paranoia), acid (dementia), Ecstasy (depression), and heroin (lame autobiographies), alcohol has few negative side effects. Liver transplants are more common than ever nowadays, and, besides, alcohol can be consumed in front of your girlfriend's relatives. Sometimes they will even pay for it.

Which is exactly what happened this week when our girlfriend's uncle and aunt were in town from Richmond, Va. They took us to drinks at the Clift Hotel in Union Square, a venerable location recently redesigned by Ian Schrager, the creator of Studio 54 in New York. Nowadays, the Clift has these giant, Alice in Wonderland chairs in the front lobby, the elevators have velvet floors and sexy red lighting, and everything in the rooms is for sale, from the hair dryer ($50) to the clock radio ($500) to the commemorative Clift Hotel baseball cap (a steal at $28).

We had drinks in the fabled Redwood Room, which has high ceilings, dim lighting, and, now, these crazy paintings on the walls. At first glance they look like portraits, but if you stare at them long enough you can tell that they are actually video screens. Eventually the portraits wink at you. It's kind of creepy.

Even creepier is the waitstaff. The tables are only a foot off the ground, so when the waitresses take your orders they have to kneel, and they wear these slutty, low-cut, black cocktail dresses. We ordered a Mambo King (vodka and champagne with sparkling red ice around the rim of the glass). The whole thing reminded us of Eyes Wide Shut, where Tom Cruise's wealthy and influential cohorts get the chance to have digitally edited orgies with masked call girls. Not that anything of that sort would be going on tonight. Not in front of our girlfriend's Southern relatives, anyway.

But don't you love people from the South? Anyway, we bet you would have loved our girlfriend's uncle. He had a massive class ring, a thick accent, and the ability to quote the Bible off the top of his head, and, as only a true Southern gentleman would have, he uncomplainingly paid for the $14 drinks his niece's pleated-pants-wearing, unemployed boyfriend was consuming. "Just put it on our room tab," said Uncle Dick, and when he did, everything seemed to be just precisely all right.

It's hard to say exactly why we felt so chipper, aside from the chemistry experiment going on inside our head. On the one hand, we felt like we were getting away with something; we are, after all, the type who fills up water cups with soda at fast-food restaurants.

But it wasn't just not having to pay; it was also the company. The jolly, well-rounded, Southern hospitality we were being shown, right there in our own city, beneath video portraits watching our every move and surrounded by nearly naked cocktail waitresses.

Ian Schrager wouldn't have had it any other way. --Ben Westoff

About The Authors

Ben Westhoff


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