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Dog Bites 

Our New Mission

Wednesday, Sep 15 1999
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Dog Bites, struggling mightily against the compulsion to look on eBay for all the currently out-of-print children's books that probably made us as messed up as we are today, was relieved to be distracted by a press release from somalit.com, the new online literary journal based right here in the neighborhood it bills as "gritty, creative and even a bit shocking."

"It's hard to find anyone in the Bay Area who doesn't have a SOMA adventure to tell," asserts Editor Kemble Scott. "The mainstream media doesn't tell those stories."

Now, we work in SOMA and can readily attest to the truth of this statement. Why, only the other day we went to Happy Donut and got two dozen assorted circles of fried dough for the weekly staff meeting.

Um, maybe you had to be there.

Scott says his publication will change the way the public views this city. "Many people think of San Francisco as the city of Victorians and Fisherman's Wharf. That's just the surface. Our writers scratch deeper."

Frankly, we were surprised to hear that Fisherman's Wharf, our own, perfectly self-contained Biosphere for tourists, is considered only the "surface" of the city. What do people want, anyway?

Well, at the most recent mayoral debate, it appeared they want a piece of the action. A debate panelist inexplicably asked each of the three League of Women Voters-recognized mayoral candidates what he'd do to attract tourism to the Mission. One of Dog Bites' companions at the event leaned over to whisper, "Well, first I'd install a Tilt-a-Whirl ...," causing members of our contingent to contort in their seats with laughter.

Poor Frank Jordan, with his weird little twirly Liberace-esque hand gestures very nearly getting away from him, suggested that the neighborhood -- which, moments before, he'd compared unfavorably with "bombed-out Beirut" -- might do well to make the most of its natural charms: "You have the, uh, special occasions when you have your parades and, uh ... Cinco de Mayo ..."

"... or whatever it is you people do down here," finished Dog Bites' escort, sitting on the other side of us as a representative of the city's Republican 15 percent.

Not that Mayor Brown's vision of a Mission tourism industry was any more persuasive. "You have restaurant row in the Mission -- as we have in many other neighborhoods -- and there is the potential for a theater row," he said. "Many small dance troupes are located in the Mission."

Nevertheless, the debate atmosphere was festive. The whole show came to a halt on several occasions, as hecklers tried to interrupt candidates and were in turn booed down by their neighbors, howls of "Landlord! Landlord!" (apparently the worst epithet that comes to mind in San Francisco in 1999) greeted almost anything Clint Reilly had to say, and successive waves of chanting ("Four more years!" from Brown supporters) forced moderator Ysabel Duron to repeatedly remind audience members that they were only cutting into their own candidates' response times. But the audience had its own ideas: People seemed to have the distinct sense that if they were merely to sit and listen to what the candidates had to say, they wouldn't really be participating.

Finally, after prolonged chants of "Lu-cre-cia! Lu-cre-cia!" made any further debate impossible, police handcuffed and frog-marched from the auditorium mayoral candidate Lucrecia Bermudez and about 40 of her supporters, to accompanying catcalls of "Police brutality! Police brutality!," leaving behind the exhilarating sense that anything -- anything! -- might happen. Naturally, the Bermudez campaign says it will file charges; Carlos Petroni, currently holding down two jobs -- editor of SF Frontlines and Bermudez's campaign manager -- claims to have been "hit repeatedly in the head with a nightstick, [and] kicked several times in his left leg and right shoulder while being arrested."

But the debate was obviously a success. Everyone went home hoarse, flushed, and happy -- if no better informed as a voter, then at least satisfied that he or she had done his or her very best to burnish San Francisco's reputation for colorful, confrontational politics. In fact, Dog Bites considered heading to the Beauty Bar to celebrate, but those Dippity-Dos always get us in trouble; plus, the last time we were there one homeless person kept yelling at another across the street, trying to get his attention, "Scabby! Hey! Scabby!," which kind of put us off.

A day or so later, Kevin Keating, sounding wistful for the glory days he enjoyed a few months ago, phoned to say we should feel free to give his number to out-of-town journalists who might want it. We thought back: Nobody had called about him in weeks. "Oh," he said. Tactfully changing the subject, we asked if he'd gone to the debate. He reiterated his scorn for electoral politics, we exchanged a few more pleasantries, and that was that.

But after a Sunday trying to negotiate Union Square, which for the past while has been in some sort of French tourist gridlock, we've gotten to thinking back, remembering that sunny morning in June when Keating led his supporters down Valencia, all hollering, "Yuppies out! Quality in!" in unison. And it occurs to us that maybe, for once, we can make everyone happy. Maybe the Mission, with its mix of hookers, panhandlers, storefront art galleries, and swanky new restaurants, can become a sort of Left Bank-ish, faux-louche tourist district.

Somalit.com is definitely on to something: It's time to look beyond Fisherman's Wharf.

Tip Dog Bites -- especially if you're disgruntled. Phone 536-8139; fax 777-1839; e-mail dogbites@sfweekly.com.

About The Author

Laurel Wellman

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