Return of a Cynic
When I first moved to the Bay Area, I found myself wandering through a loose confederation of cartoonists called the Loonies, who met regularly to network in local pizza parlors, and whose entire set of social skills consisted of showing portfolios to one another and speaking in hushed tones. In the corner of one such event, not talking to anyone, was a scowling little man in a fedora with copies of his new book. Although his real name was Merle Kessler, the guy called himself Ian Shoales, and his book was called I Gotta Go, a collection of sarcastic social commentary that expands on points he's made during his frequent appearances on NPR and ABC's Nightline. What impressed me was not that he was more interesting and entertaining than the cartoonists, but that he was originally from North Dakota, and if you've ever been to North Dakota, you know what I'm talking about -- it's a long row back to civilization from there.
I went on to learn that the Ian Shoales character was actually part of a hippie comedy group called Duck's Breath Mystery Theater, and that Kessler had spun the Shoales persona into a career as a rapid-fire professional cynic that included radio, TV, a regular gig as a syndicated columnist, and a series of one-man musical shows at the Marsh. (At one point, he even wrote an entire musical about the life of Mormon leader Joseph Smith.)
Shoales' material from the 1970s and 1980s made an impression on a young East Coast punk named Henry Rollins, who, years later, has repaid the favor. Last week, his publishing company, 2.13.61, released a new anthology of Ian Shoales commentary called Not Wet Yet. On the cover of the book, fully clothed in a swimming pool, floats an ever-scowling Shoales.
Structured as an alphabetized dictionary of bile, the book represents the best of 15 years of his cultural criticism. Shoales' mind nimbly zigzags from reference to reference, a pinball game that pushes buttons and lights up lights, without making you feel you've wasted your quarter. Interspersed among rants focusing on media and pop culture topics are wacky Devil's Dictionary-style word definitions, from "Czar: Mysterious authority figure in charge of drugs or energy" to "Acting Out: what the New Age says you're really doing when you get pissed off."
Last Friday evening, during the book-signing for Not Wet Yet at the Lucky 13 bar on Market Street, Ian Shoales ascended the stairs to the second level, and, without a microphone, ranted two or three of his more concise dissections of American culture to a laughing capacity crowd. Standing in the front row one floor below, laughing hardest of all, was Henry Rollins.
The Name Is Everything
On a slightly related note, Ian Shoales reports that at one movie theater in Pacifica, the marquee mistakenly reads Storm Troopers, suggesting an entirely different kind of action film than Starship Troopers. And at the Western Addition video store Naked Eye, customers get clever little sayings printed out on their computer-generated invoices. On a recent slip for the video Trainspotting, instead of the name of the film were the computer-printed words "Potty training."
Deck the Halls With Boughs of Bacteria
This might be mid-November, but it's never too early to begin thinking about Christmas gifts for the younger members of our community. Today's children are more savvy than ever before. They're smarter, stronger, faster, and know more about the Internet than anybody else. So what on earth do you get the child who has it all?
Perhaps you should return to the basics.
Now available at the Exploratorium gift shop are a potpourri of putrid science projects guaranteed to get the kids giggling and the adults vomiting. Priciest of the lot is the Bacteria Farm, a handy starter kit that helps you raise your own microscopic friends and foes (obviously, at $12.95, marketed to the upscale junior scientist). Youngsters with a passion for saprophytic and parasitic lower plants that lack chlorophyll will jump for joy at the miniature mushroom greenhouse called There's a Fungus Among Us, priced to move at $8.95. (Parents may want to keep an eye out for psychedelic behavioral patterns.) The best bargain in the store appears to be Petri Pudding, where a curious kid can grow molds, fungus, and bacteria for just $5.50. (Mmm-mm, where's the Bill Cosby commercial for this?) Smart shoppers can dial the Exploratorium store at 561-0390 to reserve their gifts early.
And People Say Soccer is Dangerous
Much is being made of the upcoming Big Game between Cal and Stanford later this month, the 100th Big Game the two schools have played. While many books have told the fascinating histories of the universities and their annual gridiron clash, nearly every historian has overlooked the most memorable event in Big Game history. According to local zine publisher John Marr, in 1900 the Big Game was played at Recreation Park in San Francisco, a field located at 15th Street and Folsom. As proprietor of the zine Murder Can Be Fun, Marr researches many fatal situations; he says the turn-of-the-century Big Game was completely sold out, and many fans used the roof of an adjacent glass factory as a vantage point. Tragically, the roof collapsed, sending dozens of people plummeting into an oven full of molten glass. More than 20 people died, mostly children and young men. "It was the worst fan disaster in American history!" Marr exclaims proudly. This grisly statistic and many others are detailed in the upcoming sports-themed issue of Murder Can Be Fun, which will be in stores by the Big Game weekend. (Or send two bucks to PO Box 64011, San Francisco, CA 94164.)
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