November 17, 2012

One Night at Adobe

There is a bookstore on 16th Street in the Mission, just a couple of blocks up from the BART station, and within sight of the Roxie Theater, called Adobe Books. Maybe last summer I followed my friend Chris there to see an art show in Adobe’s Backroom Gallery. I remember the place was full of people drinking red wine and beer, in the middle of the store, an open, carpeted space was lined by people sitting cross legged, watching two young men steam dreamy ambient music from synthesizer and saxophone. The artwork in the back was simply postmodern. The artist remade baseball and basketball cards from the 1980’s and 1990’s with pen and paint. In the backroom gallery, there is also the bathroom for the bookstore. I scoffed at the art work, I remember, then turned to Chris and said it would be really funny if somebody took a smelly dump in the toilet while the show was going on.

Since then I’ve spent countless hours at Adobe, sitting on the dusty old furniture, scanning the shelves. At times the place can seem magical with the way books appear in front of you, as if they were summoned there by your thoughts alone. I’ll ask the owner, Andrew McKinley, do you have anything by Delmore Schwartz or where did that Kenneth Patchen novel I saw the other day end up, and he will rarely know the answer. The books aren’t catalogued and though the store’s unofficial manager Anande works hard to keep things organized, the books are many, so they are likely to get jumbled. But almost by magic, after asking about a book it seems to show itself. And it is always the exact book I was looking for.

A week or two ago, I rode the 22 Fillmore a little longer than usual, past the stop for my apartment, down Church Street, onto to 16th, and got off by the Shell station near Adobe.

When I walked into the place, Anande was behind the desk writing down the titles and prices of a stack of books he was about to sell to a costumer. My friend Chris, who works there once a week, was sitting on the couch in the front of the store with heavy eyes, his legs spread straight out in front of him. He was holding a red solo cup on his belly; his other hand was cocked behind his head.

Owner, Andrew McKinley, left, and volunteer employee Chirs Moore have a glass of sangria.

Sitting next to Chris was another friend of ours named Alex. Alex lifted an emerald color bottle of Jameson from his lap and took a nip. His face was all scraped up and red. I sat down in a wooden chair across from the two of them, listening to Alex repeat the story about the Safeway security guards who caught him stealing, slapped him around and shoved his face in a grate of pumpkins.

While Alex spoke, a thick man wearing a pork pie hat and a Giants shirt that hugged the rolls around his gut walked into the store. He was looking for buyers for the two bottles of tequila he carried at his sides like a milk maid carrying pales home from barn to house. In the front of Adobe is a rotating shelf in the shape of a column where Andrew puts photographs he’s taken of the “friends of the store.”

The man stopped in front of it and looked at a few pictures before sitting in the wood chair next to mine. He put the bottles down on the floor near his feet then scratched his peppery mustache.

He quickly picked up on the conversation and asked Alex, “Did you have a partner with you?”
“No I didn’t. No,” Alex said, “I mean, if it was just like they busted me and maybe they kicked my ass a little bit, you know, whatever.”

“Alex, you’ve robbed that store blind though, in the past two months, you know what I mean. Let’s be real here”, I said.

“Let’s be honest. Dude, karma was catching up to you,” Chris added, laughing.

I reached my hand out for the bottle of whiskey and Alex handed it to me. I mixed it with some Mexican Coca Cola, the kind that comes in the glass bottle, in a red solo cup of my own. It was becoming clear as we continued to talk that it was going to be a liquid night. I promised myself, though, that I wouldn’t touch anything in those tequila bottles.

The man in the pork pie hat called to Anande who was busy gathering up some change that had fallen under the desk and putting it back in the tackle box used as a cash register. “Anande’s caught hella people stealing from here,” he said.

“Oh dude I would never steal from here,” Alex assured everyone.

“No listen to this. People who come here and read, people who come here every day, and steal,” Pork pie said

“That’s awful,” Alex said. His face was glowing as he looked at the floor, shaking his head.
Anande came out from the behind the desk and hitched up his pants saying, “Hey no, let me tell you. You’d think that it’s all the street people that are coming in.”

“Oh no, but it’s not,” Alex interrupted.

“There was a guy that came in one day, he had suite and he was on like some big fancy cell phone, walking around. Some guy in the back came up and said, hey, there’s some guy in suit shuffing books down his pants. Then, they go back there, and the guy pretends like he’s talking on the phone and his phone starts ringing. While he pretends that he’s talking,” Anande said.

We all laughed. Anande went on to say that the heroin addicts and the junkies, they steal poetry and philosophy. But, girls, it’s the pretty girls who steal the fiction.

“Anais Nin,” Chris said, then mockingly, in a screech, “I want that Anais Nin book really bad!”

I looked at him.

“She was Henry Miller’s squeeze,” he explained.

“There was this one girl I caught one time, I was about to say, you know I may take you in the back room and pull your pants down and spank you,” Anande said.

“Maybe she’d start stealing books more often?” the man in the pork pie said.

Anande took a swig from the Anchor Steam he was holding in his gloved hand. I noticed the only woman in the store squeezing past him as she walked out. As Chris handed me the whiskey bottle he motioned towards the leaving woman. I took the bottle from his hand and he leaned towards me and whispered, “She probably stole a book.”

“I mean at least I have some kind of Morality. I’m not somebody who tries to steal from a real person, from I place I
actually know is struggling,” Alex said.

The man in the pork pie picked up his tequila bottles and rested them, one on each thigh. He asked Alex how old he was.

“Twenty three,” Alex said.

“I mean, you look like your smart. You read. You don’t have to steal,” the man in the pork pie said.

“I know. But I’m poor too,” Alex told him.

The man in the pork pie said, Poor is a frame of mind. You’re not poor. I mean are you poor in heart, poor in spirit?”

Alex said,
“Then you don’t have to rip off, get beat down,” the man in the pork pie continued.

“I only do that whenever I really need food. I don’t go in there otherwise,” Alex said, the light from overheard reflecting faintly off his nose ring.

“Yeah right,” Chris mumbled to himself as he stood up to go outside, a Fortuna sticking to his lips.

“I hear you,” the man in the pork pie said as he put the bottles back on the floor, “I don’t want to give you a Baptist sermon. I mean fuck it. I’ve run my course, in my lifetime, of doing dishonest things. So I’m not no angel, you know what I mean. I’m just saying, one day you wake up-what they say?-the light bulb goes on. Fuck that,” he said, and chopped sideways at the air in front of him like he was breaking a spider web in two, “I’m not getting beat down no more, I’m not. But twenty three years old. I mean, that’s fucked. I wish I was twenty three again. No,” he paused, “I don’t know if I do or not.”

“No, no, you don’t,” Alex told him, “You don’t want to be twenty three because it’s good as you grow up. You gain some wisdom.”

“I don’t got no wisdom,” the man in the pork pie said.

“You got no wisdom,” Alex said, and clapped his hands, “Well!” he stood up and jokingly made like he was walking out. We all laughed again.

Eventually Alex bought one of those bottles of tequila off the man in the pork pie for $30, well below the price it would cost him at Safeway. I kept my word and didn’t touch it, though Chris and I eventually dipped across the street to the K & D Market for more whiskey and cigarettes. When we got back into Adobe, Chris started up a conversation with Paul, an ex-merchant marine from North Carolina. Paul has traveled through the Panama Canal and once spent a week floating on the Mediterranean Sea. He told me that at night on the Mediterranean, lights from the fishing boats are like stars that have dropped to earth. He is also a serious lover of Jazz music and I heard Chris and him talking about the Pharaoh Sanders album “Black Unity.”

I was scanning a fiction shelve, at the top of which was a copy of the E.E. Cummings novel “The Enormous Room.” The dust jacket was the same color green as the empty Jameson bottle we left nestled on a couch pillow in the front of the store. The letters on the cover were bold and white, beneath them the insignia for The Modern Library, a publisher in New York City, leapt.

I pulled the book down and showed it to Chris. He nodded, without interest. Alex walked down the aisle towards me and asked what I had. I showed it to him too and he immediately decided to buy it.

When I went outside for a smoke I passed Alex who was bartering the price of the book with Anande. They had it marked at $10, but with Adobe preparing to close the store after the landlord raised their rent to $6,000 a month, all prices are negotiable. They just need to clear things out really.

The air outside was chilly. I tightened my scarf around my neck and flipped the collar of my jacket upwards, blowing smoke up to the phone lines. “Yo,” I heard Alex shout from the door way. He came at me with a self-satisfied grin, the book held up by his ear like he was preaching the bible.

“Anande let me have it for free. He told me to just pay him the next time,” he said and asked me for a cigarette.

I held out my pack for him to peel one off and said, “Make sure you pay them.”

November 13, 2012

A Reflection on Students and Social Media

Being a person under the age of thirty, I know that there are a few things assumed of me. For example, people assume that I’m probably still in college, they assume that I probably don’t vote, and they assume that I’m probably an eager user of social media and use my time to post status updates on Facebook and Tweets to Twitter.
After working on a story about the ways in which college students at the University of San Francisco use social media to engage politics, I realized that those assumptions people have about me and my peers are not entirely accurate.
After doing some research I learned that through a study of social media users in the United States, nearly 40 percent of the total population, over 60 percent of them engage political messages through social media.
And through an interview with USF political professor Corey Cooke, I learned that the logic behind politicians sending out these messages into the Twitter or Facebook sphere is to convince users to share them with friends. Thinking, voters are more likely to trust or believe a message that comes from a friends or family member over a politician.
What I concluded however, is voters, young voters that is, are reluctant to trust any political message they receive period. They tend to think messages straight from a politicians social media account is contrived and phony, and they tend to think messages they get from friends and family are overblown and skewed.
However, my findings were consistent with a study done at the Washington State University which found that college students who engage politics through social media are more likely to vote. Everybody I spoke to said they both engage politics through social media and planned on voting.
It seemed to me the assumptions of young people were wrong. They do not take thinks online as gospel, they don’t spend as much of their time as is thought writing mundane messages on social media, and they are, in fact, politically engaged.
So what is the best way to get this story out there, digitally?
I really found Storify to be a great tool. With so many elements, it can really allow the author of a story to have a lot of fun putting it together, which translates to the reader, making for a more enjoyable reading experience.
Plus, Storify allows the author to use the medium of the internet to his or her advantage when shaping a story, the way a glass blower has to use the science of heat and chemistry when crafting a vase or a bottle.
What results is something like an interactive postmodern pastiche, full of text, Tweets, audio, video, and photos, anything that can be found on the web really.

November 9, 2012

Youth Voters Still Learning to Navigate Social Media Politics

Gabriel Nikius, 21, a philosophy major at the University of San Francisco took a break from studying Socrates and Heidegger, leaned on a railing with the sun falling directly on his face.

“I don’t really see a significant enough difference between the candidates,” Nikius said, “There is a lot of rhetoric that is basically trying to cover up the fact that they are both working for the same interests and the same system.”

For that reason, Nikius said he will not be voting for President this November. Nonetheless, Nikius, like 66% of all social media users-or 39% of all American adults- engages with civics and politics through social media, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Though Nikius follows President Obama on Twitter and feels the medium is used “effectively for that purpose,” any campaign statement “will be so crafted, broad and vague,” it won’t influence his voting decisions.

University of San Francisco Politics professor Corey Cooke said via e-mail, “I don’t think campaigns can ‘sway’ voters, per se, through social media. But it’s not really a tool to change minds. What they can do is use social media to facilitate the dispersion of the campaign’s messaging through trusted sources (your friends and family).”

Alex Stallings, 22, is an undecided voter and said, “Our country is in a little bit of a pickle, there are upsides and downsides and so many issues to be sorted out.”

For Stallings, social media hasn’t made the decision any easier, because, contrary to what Professor Cooke said, she doesn’t really trust the opinions of her Facebook friends.

Stallings said, knowing her most politically vocal friends, who she said happen to be Mitt Romney supporters, and knowing their families, she feels like those friends are just repeating ideas from their parents.

“For how much they argue I don’t know how informed they are so I don’t take them seriously,” Stallings said.

Though Sonny Smith, 21, accounting major, is not one of those friends that Stallings mentioned, he is planning on voting for Mitt Romney, because “he’s better with the economy because of his experience in the private sector,” Smith said.

Smith said that he followed both candidates on Twitter and Facebook, but has been disappointed with the medium “because all they do is bash each other and post poll numbers.

He “liked” or “followed” each candidate “to see what is going on, to stay informed.” But because of his disappointment with the way candidates use social media, Smith said that in the future he will watch more debates and “wouldn’t mainly focus on social media.”

Smith may find in the future however, that it is difficult to avoid political messages on social media, the way Rebecca Litke, 35, did this year.

Litke identifies with the LGBTQ community and said, “everyone in my social group is very political” and they share ideas and posts. So much so, in fact, that Litke said it sometimes feels like she is being “bombed with political messages” and has had to hide certain social media friends because she thinks sometimes “it is too much.”

The most interesting trend that Litke has noticed is friends of hers who will defriend others who have online political habits that they don’t agree with.

“Some friends draw a line in the sand,” Litke said, and tell people they can no longer be Facebook friends because their “political views don’t mesh.”

As Cooke also said, campaigns “are just scratching the surface” of the way social media can be used in elections. “The logic of social media is largely that voters, especially younger voters, don’t trust much of the information they get through paid or earned media. As a result, campaigns have used social media to encourage folks to talk to their friends about politics.”

Friends are talking. And though many young voters are unsure about social media’s use in politics, they are happy there is a conversation. As Nikius said, “A good thing about social media is it allows you to post thoughts and is good for expanding the discussion. I’m pretty down with all that stuff.”

November 9, 2012

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November 8, 2012

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October 17, 2012

It Is Rarely What It Seems

The day we took our class trip out to Ocean Beach, to collect field notes, take pictures, be journalists, I didn’t know what to expect. What could the story be? I stepped off the bus near what must be the last Safeway located in the continental U.S. and saw all this activity I ran to it. Huge cranking shuffles were pulling sand off the wall on the beach and dropped it in the back of dump trucks, who then hauled it off, driving on sand made wet by another truck that shot water out of a snout on its bed, like a shameless little boy running naked on the beach. This must be the story, I thought, and talked to everyone there. Progress. Lots of quotes. Jotting down possible angles. Then I looked around and noticed I was the only one at the beach.
It turned out the story was not the activity. The story was located behind the Beach Chalet restaurant and brewery; a field of grass, surrounded by a locked chain link fence. Compared to all the machinery on the beach, the soccer fields where I met the rest of the class seemed about as worthy of a story as a cat stuck in a tree. Then I started to get some information from classmates and realized there were big plans for this secluded field. I follow city and national politics pretty regularly, so I was actually shocked that I hadn’t heard anything about the turf, the lights, all the money, the opposition to the renovation by community groups and public figures alike.
That was lesson one. Below the surface of even the most commonplace scene, a story could be lurking. Things are rarely as they seem.
That line, things are rarely as they seem, became even more apparent when I began to dig a little deeper. When I write for The Bay Area Reporter I mostly cover community news- meetings to talk about plans for benches at Harvey Milk Plaza, a panel presenting the findings of an economic impact report on night life-my job is to observe and get comments from Supervisors, or whatever official is supposed to be there.
After doing this story, I am aware that just because my editor only wants comments, doesn’t mean the events that led up to the event I cover is less relevant, or not news worthy. Chances are it is. Chances are all those events were already covered. But as a reporter and journalist having that contextual and historical knowledge is very helpful.
With this project, I thought I had a good grasp of the back ground and was able to ask the people I interviews, Aaron Peskin and Scott Wiener, some good questions.
I also learned that when dealing with activists, they are ready and willing to talk to the press at the drop of a hat. An elected official however is not so easy to get in touch with. You have to be willing to really pester them.

June 12, 2012

The Price of Selling KUSF

        Chad Heimann is short and stocky, with round full cheeks. He was dressed in a bright orange flannel button down, and he had a bright green hat on his head. He looked friendly, nothing like the activist he became after the University of San Francisco’s sale of 90.3 FM to KUSC in January. Heimann became somewhat of a poster child for student discontent over the sale and on an April after noon he stood in USF’s Harney Plaza, as part of KUSF LIVE(S), an event put on to garner support from the student body for KUSF. “To cut a deal for $3 million when they could have gotten $10 million is just shameless,” Heimann said. “The university does not care about student activities.”

        The University of San Francisco has not lost KUSF entirely; it has transferred the station to an online format. Operating an online radio station however may prove to be more difficult and more expensive than the university administration anticipated when they sold the FM frequency. Continue reading

February 25, 2012

Election 2012: Why Obama Gets The Vote

Keeping New Year’s resolutions is difficult, especially if that resolution is to drop a bad habit.

Like if you were to try and clean up your dirty mouth and use less curse words. Then you need to find a new vocabulary to slide into the place of all those expressive expletives you left in last year. The hardest part of dropping a bad habit is finding a replacement for it.

At least that’s what I’ve found nearly three months into 2012. The year I’ve decided to quit smoking.

By the end of 2011 I was up to a pack a day, and at roughly five minutes to smoke each butt, I’m left with an extra hour and forty minutes to fill each day, almost the length of a movie.

Cinema being as it is these days I’ve decided to read more and early last week I found myself aggressively scanning the bookshelves for more words and ideas to inhale like nicotine smoke.

I settled on “A Generation of Swine” by Hunter S. Thompson, the Gonzo journalist Continue reading

February 25, 2012

USF Slave Auction Met With Opposition

From February 2011

A bee startled two girls into shouts at the start of “History Relived”, a Black Student Union run event held at the University of San Francisco on February 10, 2011.

The event began with the playing of a Negro spiritual, which caught the attention of many students and faculty on the sunny day, before four members of BSU began to read Slave Narratives that described both the horrors of slavery and the difficulty of adjusting to freedom.

After the event, BSU President Krystal Aaron said, “I was actually very pleased with it. The narratives were very powerful and I think it got a lot of people’s attention.”

But, Aaron added, “I am kind of sad we didn’t get to do our original plan.”

BSU’s “original plan” was the staging of a historically accurate colonial American slave auction.

Continue reading

February 4, 2012

Election 2012: Why Newt Gingrich Has Run the Best Campaign of All Republicans

Back in June 2011, as the rest of the Republican hopefuls were jogging laps, trying to get in shape for the mad dash to the nomination in 2012, Newt Gingrich was floating around the Aegean Sea with wife Callista, just trying not to catch a sunburn.

This decision, to cruise rather than campaign, aggravated Gingrich’s then campaign manager Rob Johnson and his then spokesperson Rick Tyler so much that the two men and a bus load of aides quit team Gingrich, saying the former Speaker of the House wasn’t serious enough about running for President.

They all may be having second thoughts now. After the 68-year-old Gingrich pulled off a win in South Carolina, he is suddenly neck-and-neck with the odds-on favorite, Mitt Romney. Gallup even has Gingrich ahead by one percentage point in their latest poll of GOP ballot support.

Unexpected maybe, but certainly no surprise. If there is one thing Newt Gingrich knows it is television, and more specifically the key role it plays in the American political process.

Continue reading