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Undead Can Dance 

Dog Bites braves crime scenes and liquor lines to cover a dance-off between two zombie hordes

Wednesday, Nov 9 2005
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If KRON's Covering It, You Know It's a Party

Another Halloween, another city-sponsored, alcohol-and-weapon-free celebration in the Castro.

Ah, the memories.

We won't soon forget our excitement last week as we threaded our way through a downright spooky crime scene on 18th and Dolores streets, stepping around real pools of blood (none of that fake stuff!) and shattered beer bottles on the sidewalk.

It wasn't even 11 p.m. yet, and we could tell the party was in full swing -- at least in the streets just beyond the carefully erected police barriers. Inside, it was a much more staid scene: We hate to agree with the Chronicle -- especially when it comes to a crowd count -- but the next-day story's "rough estimate" that only about 15 percent of revelers were costumed seemed about right to us (unless an inordinate number of folks came dressed as "gawking Midwestern tourists.") Just a few years ago, we never thought we'd actually have to seek out over-coifed drag queens at the Castro celebration; this year we were disappointed even when we did.

Sadder still were the long lines snaking out of corner liquor stores just a block or two removed from Castro Street (really, who wants to wait 20 minutes to buy a 40 oz. when you're dressed like a glory hole?). Alcohol might have been forbidden inside the party, but it was readily available -- in mostly cop-free zones -- within ogling distance of the festivities. You know what we always say: Nothing better for community tranquility than large groups of rowdy folks determined to get drunk as quickly as possible on street corners. At least the cops were keeping a watchful eye on all those sober people.

Our highlight? Probably the clash of the Thriller zombie hordes. Two groups of performers had been dressing, dancing, and preparing in vintage Michael Jackson style to unleash killer Thriller re-enactments, and the troupes came face to undead face in the streets. It was an epic confrontation, we knew, that could only be settled by freakish dance moves and public embarrassment.

"They cleaned the streets with us," admitted the "lesser" Michael Jackson, Sol Crawford, afterward. "But we won the spiritual victory. Because they'd do their dance, and then go off and smoke cigarettes or whatever. Us, see, we'd be walking down the street eatin' brains, jumping out from behind things and grabbing people, then we'd do the dance, and go right back to eatin' brains. We never broke character."

If that's not Halloween, we don't know what is.

Still, it got us to thinking: What happens to all those costumes when the party ends? Oh, sure, some of your more expensive or beloved outfits get tossed into the closet until next year, but we'd have to think the majority just get thrown away. Or is there, perhaps, someone who treasures and collects these once-scary but now unwanted items? We knew exactly where a Dog Bites correspondent could go to find out.

The Things They Carry

We're trudging up to the second floor of the War Memorial Veterans Building alongside Lynn, who has declined to give her last name, which is just fine with us because we wouldn't want to admit we're here, either. Wearing two pairs of socks and two jackets, Lynn is also carrying a backpack, an oversize purse, and a large plastic bag that she won't leave home without. "I don't even think of it as heavy anymore," she says.

Oh, but it is. Lynn's backpack is filled with socks, rubber bands, and old lottery tickets that she finds on the street. (Lottery tickets, Lynn notes, cannot go in the same place as receipts, which she collects in the pocket of her outermost jacket, a turquoise windbreaker.) Lynn says she keeps "normal stuff" in her purse, but when we ask her to prove it, she declines to open up the bag for inspection. Her plastic sack is full of newspapers, magazines, fliers, and other random pieces of paper that she stumbles across in a given day. Every evening, Lynn goes home to a studio apartment on 26th Street and unloads her goods.

"If you think this looks bad," she says with a laugh, referring to the mass of possessions she carries with her, "you should see my house."

In fact, Lynn received a three-day notice -- for clutter -- from her landlord last May, which means the tenant must clean up her junk within 72 hours or face eviction. Lynn eventually met her landlord's standards. "But my sister says I'm a walking fire hazard," she says.

And that's why Lynn is taking a seat in a green-and-gold mirrored conference room, surrounded by more than 300 other San Francisco residents who have paid $55 to attend the Compulsive Hoarding and Cluttering Conference.

And it's no joke. As Belinda Lyons, the executive director of the city's Mental Health Association, explains, compulsive hoarding is common in San Francisco, where many people live in very small quarters (with a lack of storage) that can quickly become overrun with second-hand stuff. Collecting has many forms, but in the worst cases it is linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder, and afflicts those who suffer from depression and dementia. It is also a cause of homelessness, Lyons said, and piles of detritus account for many in-home accidents involving the elderly.

Indeed, the San Francisco Tenants Union reports that it gets weekly calls from residents who have been given a warning or an eviction notice because of their cluttering and hoarding behavior -- and about half of those callers eventually get evicted.

The conference was an attempt by city officials to give these habitual pack rats some resources in case their pastime becomes too overwhelming.

Lynn, however, doesn't see what all the fuss is about. "I'm not insane, I'm just a collector." A collector who keeps old magazines in her oven.

"But I never use it," she says. (Cristi Hegranes)

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

As local animals-rights organizations -- including the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Marin Humane Society, and the nonprofit shelter Hopalong -- continue the arduous process of receiving and returning pets that were orphaned in the wake of the Gulf Coast hurricanes, Dog Bites wanted to collect a few numbers of our own. Following is an index of statistics, culled with the help of these groups and current as of Nov. 1, that show one small aspect of the devastation the hurricanes have wrought, and how the Bay Area has responded.

Number of dog and cats airlifted to the Bay Area from the Gulf region: nearly 600.

Number of Continental flights chartered to bring animals to SFO: 7.

Number of animals taken to Marin Humane Society: 156.

Number of animals taken to the San Francisco SPCA: 30.

Number of dogs and cats taken to the nonprofit shelter Hopalong: 31.

Number of fish rescued in New Orleans and brought to San Francisco: 4.

Number of dogs currently living in foster homes in the Bay Area: 61.

Number of dogs airlifted to the Bay Area with heartworm (a common and potentially fatal condition that afflicts dogs in low-lying and swampy areas, but rarely here): more than 300.

Number of dogs spayed or neutered upon arrival: 146.

Number of dogs likely to be euthanized in Gulf Coast shelters over the next month: As many as 2,000.

Reunions between dogs and their New Orleans owners to date: 39. (Cristi Hegranes)

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