Musical Diplomacy Local philanthropist James Hormel, whose appointment to a Luxembourg ambassadorship has been stonewalled by members of Congress, might want to kill some time at Call Me Madam, the Irving Berlin musical inspired by ... a troubled American ambassadorship in Luxembourg! Back in 1949, real-life Washington hostess Perle Mesta was appointed ambassador; the following year, Ethel Merman starred as Sally Adams, a socialite and adept political negotiator whose style doesn't translate well overseas when she's appointed ambassador to "Lichtenburg." Berlin, the creator of White Christmas, wrote "Hostess With the Mostes" for this one. Cabaret singer Meg Mackay stars as Adams in the production, the last of 42nd Street Moon's "Delicious Dames of Broadway!" forgotten musicals series. It previews at 8 p.m. (and runs through Dec. 20) at the New Conservatory Theater, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. Admission is $10-20; call 861-8972.
Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood? Meeting youngsters and oldsters and in-betweensters from every corner of the city has got to be the biggest payback to the Volunteer Center of San Francisco's Holiday Volunteer Opportunities. There are other rewards, of course, like taking a break from shopping madness, and finding a creative outlet: The kids at the Precita Valley Community Center Christmas Party will love your dancing/stories/magic tricks, for example, and the Lifeline Ministries Women's Shelter will look much more festive with holiday decorations and artfully wrapped packages under the tree. Projects generally last for a few hours, beginning on Thanksgiving with meal preparation and service at local agencies like Larkin Street Youth Center and Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly. After that, it's a whirlwind of Christmas lunches with seniors, hospital patient visits, kids' parties, and cookie bake-offs. Call the Volunteer Center of San Francisco at 982-8999 or visit their Web site at www.vcsf.org for information on participating agencies. Donations of clothing, toiletries, toys, and such are also welcome -- ask about holiday wish lists. For more information on what's happening this holiday season, see our Holiday Gift Guide after Page 54.
Kolo of the Wild
Balkanites celebrate their cultural heritage today, too; not with turkey and football, but with a vivid swirl of long skirts and spirited percussion at the 47th annual Kolo Festival. The event offers a new perspective on a region many Americans think of merely as war-torn, with singing and dancing for beginners as well as more experienced members of the local Bulgarian, Croatian, Greek, and Romanian communities. The round of parties and workshops begins tonight with folk dancing; on Friday and Saturday, Joe Graziosi teaches Greek dances, Mitko Manov teaches Bulgarian dances, and Mark Forry teaches Croatian and Bosnian songs. The Yeseta Brothers Tamburitza Band of L.A. accompany a Friday night dance and Saturday night sing-along, and Yuri Yuvinakov plays Gypsy and Bulgarian wedding music; between sets, guests snack on Middle Eastern refreshments and explore music and folk art booths. The festival begins at 8 p.m. (and runs through Saturday) at the Russian Center, 2450 Sutter (at Divisadero), S.F. Admission is $5-20; call (800) 730-5615.
Due to simple unfortunate timing, the under-21 set -- and really, the under-31 set -- just missed seeing the Clash and Stiff Little Fingers play live at the height of their powers, but they'll get a taste of what it might have been like at two all-ages Swingin' Utters shows this weekend. With Five Lessons Learned, their most recent release on Fat Wreck Chords, the Utters dig into punk's past, and their own, with the title track ("Beyond and back and I'm still the same/ Kicked over some old trash but I still waste"). With seasoned singer Johnny Bonnel at the mike, the Utters crank out songs that range from brooding to pissed to bitterly funny, generating infectious, head-bobbing riffs as they go. Listen for hints of the Pogues (from the fiddle and accordion embellishment) and Social Distortion, with whom the band toured over its nearly decadelong career and multiple national and international outings. The Reducers and the Working Stiffs open tonight's show at 10 p.m. (the Spastics, followed by Murder City Devils, open Saturday's show) at Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St. (at Texas), S.F. Admission is $5 each night; call 621-4455.
Yearning to know more about life's dark and often gruesome side is normal, according to Jack B. Haskins, a University of Tennessee professor, although by "normal," he means commonplace, and not necessarily laudable. Haskins' article "Why Do Humans Have Morbid Curiosity?" appears in Issue No. 1 of Morbid Curiosity, a magazine that, in the same premiere issue, explored necrophilia, bug consumption, mortuary science, and other delightful topics. Contributors to Issue No. 2 (which delves into Mad Cow Disease, voodoo, and Auschwitz) will read at an Automatism Press book party moderated by editor Loren Rhoads. To satisfy your own morbid curiosity about the magazine, check out its Web site at www.charnel.com/automatism, which offers all kinds of fun links to sites like the National Museum of Surgical Science and the L.A. County Coroner's Office, which has a gift shop. The reading begins at 4 p.m. at Borderlands Books, 534 Laguna (at Fell), S.F. Admission is free; call 558-8978.
All Together Now: Awwwwwwwwwww! The antidote to Morbid Curiosity (see above) is the 15th annual Teddy Bears and Friends Parade and Film Festival, which begins with a procession of tots clutching stuffed bears and marching around the auditorium to the tinkly strains of "The Teddy Bears' Picnic." Jesus H. Christ, it's cute. Six animated films about bears and other animal friends will screen once everyone has settled into his or her seat: The movies include Panama, about a curious bear and a mysterious box; the European claymation penguin Pingu; and Goodnight, Gorilla, a tale of zoo animals' after-dark exploits, narrated by Anthony Edwards and Joan Cusack. Helium balloons will be dispensed at the end of the event, which begins at 1 and 3 p.m. (also Sunday) at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2625 Durant (at College), Berkeley. Admission is $3.50; call (510) 642-1412.
Sprinting through the park dressed like a man-eating bug or a fat kid with a beanie is not only encouraged at the 14th annual Run to the Far Side, it's rewarded -- a costume contest follows the 5K and 10K run. Proceeds from the race benefit the educational and research programs of the California Academy of Sciences, the only museum with a permanent Gary Larson exhibit, the Far Side of Science Gallery. That's where people can go to get costume ideas and a cartoon crash course on what really goes on behind the Academy's closed doors. Following the race, which threads through the Panhandle, runners are invited to a party where refreshments will be served, Midnight Hour will play live, museum exhibits will be open free of charge, and contests will be judged -- winners are eligible for cash, Far Side memorabilia, and airline tickets. The run begins at 8:30 a.m. at JFK & Concourse in Golden Gate Park, S.F. Registration is $15-25; call 564-0532.
Let's Get It On
"Everyone knows how to slow dance," as Cafe Du Nord doorman Korri Sabatini puts it. "Everyone was in eighth grade once." Too true. Sick of the swing dance phenomenon, Sabatini dreamt up "Slow Dancing Night," a monthly event that debuts tonight and resumes in January (scheduling conflicts precluded a Christmas dance). L.A. DJ Matt Murphy will be spinning '50s and '60s soul nuggets by Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, the Dramatics, and so on from his extensive record collection -- for those of us who sweaty-palmed our way through "Every Breath You Take," this is a chance to relive eighth grade with sexier music and no chaperones. The shuffling begins at 9 p.m. at Cafe Du Nord, 2170 Market (at Sanchez), S.F. Admission is free; call 861-5016.
Punch and Gina
When Red Rain premiered last month at the Film Arts Festival of Independent Cinema, it sold out so quickly that over 100 viewers were turned away at the door. Those people should queue up early for tonight's benefit screening of the film, Laura Plotkin's one-hour documentary about San Leandro boxer Gina "Boom Boom" Guidi, who trains at Oakland's renowned King Gym and works at an ad agency to support herself. The film traces Guidi's entry into the sport during a troubled adolescence up through her national and world championship titles, her professional record (10-1-1 with five KOs), and her attempts to broaden boxing's professional potential, by petitioning the '96 Olympics to include women's boxing (they haven't yet). Guidi will raffle off a pair of her gloves at the event, and all proceeds will help cover the costs of entering Red Rain in international film festivals. The screening begins at 7 p.m. at the Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St. (at Mission), S.F. Admission is $7-10; call 647-2888.
It Depends on How You Define "Truth" Nonfiction writers are expected to stick to the facts, but unfortunately, unadulterated real life doesn't always lend itself to a compelling read, which is where "creative nonfiction" comes in. At "Pack of Lies," writers Brian Bouldrey and Louise Rafkin will read and discuss their work and the genre itself. Rafkin, whose writing has appeared everywhere from the New York Times magazine to Cosmo and Out, dug up more than just household detritus in her most recent book, Other People's Dirt: A Housecleaner's Adventures From Cape Cod to Kyoto -- she conducted a covert sociologic survey of her employers, using the kind of messes they left as clues to their identity and activities. Bouldrey, meanwhile, took time off from editing Best Gay Erotica to write the travelogue Pilgrim's Regress. The evening begins at 8 p.m. at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th Street), S.F. Admission is $3-5; call 626-3311.