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A Protest for April Fools 

Trifecta: Zippy, the Bushman, and Princess Leia's dad!

Wednesday, Apr 7 2004
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Over the years, we've been tempted to do plenty of things to the San Francisco Chronicle building at Fifth and Mission streets, but we've never had a hankering to hug it. That's just one of the many, many qualities that separates Dog Bites from the rabid Zippy the Pinhead fan. Another thing: We don't trust people on tall bicycles. And we don't treat April Fools' Day like a national holiday.

But it's as good a day as any, we suppose, to surround the Chronicle building and zanily demand the reinstatement of Zippy. If you've been living on Planet Earth for the past two weeks, you probably haven't heard that the newspaper's brass decided, for the second time in as many years, that "cost-cutting" measures would force the kinda lovable, kinda creepy Zippy the Pinhead off its comic pages and into the oblivion of some 200 other syndicated papers nationwide. But this is, apparently, an emotional issue: The San Francisco Examiner hired Zippy creator and then-San Francisco resident Bill Griffith nearly 20 years ago, and the following year the comic was picked up for syndication by King Features. As Doonesbury scribe Gary Trudeau put it in an impassioned letter to Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein that ran March 24: "You, Mr. Bronstein, if folklore is to be trusted, are in fact Zippy's godfather, are you not? And yet you turn him out the door after 20 years of inspired non-sequitors and maybe the best linework in the business? ... If Zippy -- really the only syndicated underground comic in the country -- can't find a home in San Francisco, then we are all lost."

Take it from us, Gary: Many Zippy devotees are already lost. They managed to congeal around the Chronicle building an hour or so after the appointed time, a crowd of aging hippies and young hipsters, many of them wearing their favorite comic strips stapled to their T-shirts. As pimps and passers-by stopped to frown, we found ourself wondering: Just what in the hell is so amusing about chocolate Ding Dongs? Seriously.

Griffith spoke to the throng, which attempted to both shake the Chronicle building and levitate it. But after they were finished embracing the newspaper's headquarters -- where editors cite repeated surveys showing Zippy just isn't very popular with readers -- even the most hard-core supporters could read the writing on the walls. "How can they get rid of Zippy?" one of the pinheads groused, "and keep Baby Blues?"

And for a moment, however fleeting, we felt their pain.

Hey, We'd Like to Get Hit on by Princess Leia's Dad

Please don't burst out laughing, but last month Travel & Leisure magazine named San Francisco the American city with the third-highest number of attractive people per capita. (San Diego was No. 1, followed by Honolulu, while Philadelphia was deemed the most unattractive city.) We received this news with no small amount of skepticism -- the good folks at Travel & Leisure should while away a couple of hours at our laundromat -- but we were determined to put this survey to the test. So we sent a Dog Bites correspondent behind the scenes at the Miss San Francisco pageant to judge our city's beauty. Here's what he found:

There he is -- Mr. Eddie Fisher himself, natty in his black suit, yellow tie, and violet-tinted glasses, tottering to his feet and acknowledging, with what we can only assume is a wink, the crowd at last month's Miss San Francisco pageant. "Eddie Fisher has sold a hundred million records in his illustrious career, and has had 22 hits, all in a row," says the MC, a fetching former Miss California named Danielle Coney, as she introduces the most famous of tonight's seven judges. "Mr. Fisher's marriages to Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor, and Connie Stevens are well-documented -- I like to think of him as Princess Leia's dad ...."

And we like to think of him as a fellow citizen who knows his civic duty. That's why we're spending a clear, crisp Saturday night in an auditorium at the Recreation Center for the Handicapped, awaiting the coronation of the 51st Miss San Francisco. We are, in a word, breathless: The competition is a local feeder to the Miss California and Miss America events, and over the next two hours of wholly unironic pageantry, a new Miss San Francisco will emerge from a field of eight. She will be pretty. She will be poised. She will make a point of using the words "prodigious" and "ameliorated" in her onstage interview. When the ashtray-shaped tiara is pinned to her hair, she will shriek and place a prim hand over her mouth.

But in our eyes she won't be the night's real winner. That honor goes to the septuagenarian being introduced to the 50 or so people in the auditorium, a first-time judge but a lifelong connoisseur of women. "Eddie is the proud grandfather of four," Coney says. "Please welcome Eddie Fisher!" One woman in the audience complies, springing from her chair and frantically waving both arms at Fisher.

The competition itself is even funnier: It's a speed-walk across the stage in a one-piece, a flute solo, a sparkly dress, and an answer to a question about the legal drinking age. And tonight's contestants are standard pageant fare -- diverse, talented, fairly educated, pretty in a non-threatening way, seemingly immune to humiliation. Shannon, a Berkeley student and pageant pro who looks like a shoo-in, has adopted a platform of "environmental justice"; Jessica is all about "embracing diversity"; Klaudia wants "political awareness for our youth," while Kellie wants "lupus awareness." On other matters, Rachel believes that "if you shoot for the stars, and only make it to the moon, you're still higher than everyone else," and Jamie believes that "laughter and goofiness and passion are the reason for living." (We find Fisher's words -- delivered at intermission in the hallway outside the men's room -- far more inspiring. "You're beautiful," the 75-year-old tells the twentysomething Coney. And we're pretty sure we hear him say she's "more beautiful than those other girls." Her reply: "I'll keep that in mind.")

We had been told earlier that this pageant is mainly about academics, in keeping with the new priorities of Miss America; organizers refer to it as the Miss San Francisco Scholarship Program (even if it's spelled "schlarships" on the cover of the pageant program). So the first event of the night, naturally, is the swimsuit competition. Everyone seems faintly embarrassed; after all, the women are posing before a small audience of mothers, sisters, and cousins. At the judge's table, Fisher seems to take notes. There's an unfortunate moment in the second event, the "Artistic Expression in Talent Competition," when Rachel, after singing several bars of Madonna's "You'll See," attempts a choreographed dance that involves a handspring. Her halter top isn't up to the task. Fisher seems to take notes.

Finally, after the "Presence & Poise in Evening Wear" event, we arrive at the onstage interviews, a recent addition to the Miss America format. Questions are pulled at random, and a contestant must provide a brief, off-the-cuff answer.

Question: "Shannon, which will you see first -- a cure for cancer, or a cure for AIDS?"

Shannon: "I believe I would like to see a cure for cancer. Unfortunately, I would love to see a cure for both, however I believe cancer is actually the No. 2 cause of death in women, and I know with cancer being such a prodigious problem in today's society, I would like to see it ameliorated. ... Thank you so much."

Then it's over. The MC, after stalling for a few minutes while the late-arriving KTVU camera crew sets up in the back of the room, announces the People's Choice Award (selected by audience members at a cost of $1 per vote). Then comes the Miss Congeniality Award, the second and first runners-up, and, moments later, Shannon Navarra has an ashtray on her head. There are flashes and squeals and plastic smiles. We spot Fisher making his way through the group hugs, and we corner him as he's padding along the hallway outside the auditorium; he's with someone we take to be his manager, a tall guy also wearing all black.

There's only one thing to ask. "Did you get any phone numbers?"

Fisher laughs. "I have ties older than they are," he says. "I have granddaughters almost as old." But his manager is holding up a finger.

"We got one," he says.

(Tommy Craggs)

From the Files of the SFPD

Taking Down the Bushman

An unedited officer's narrative, detailing the apprehension of one of the city's most notorious street delinquents at Fisherman's Wharf:

I responded to a call from a citizen who was stating that the "Bushman" had scared his young son and caused him to cry.

I arrived at the location listed and observed David Johnson, who calls himself The Bushman. In order to solicit funds from people on the sidewalk, Johnson will sit on a milk crate and hold up some bushes, which he hides behind. As unsuspecting pedestrians walk by him on the sidewalk, Johnson will jump out from behind the bushes and growl at them. This usually causes the passersby to be startled and to react so. Crowds gather and are amused by the misfortunes of the passersby and they often put money into a can that Johnson has next to him.

Dispatch called the complainant and they responded to my location.

R. Marino said he was walking westbound on Jefferson with his son, Matthew, when they approached a clump of bushes on the sidewalk. As they walked past the bushes, Johnson jumped from behind them and growled at Matthew. Matthew was so frightened and upset by Johnson's actions that he began to cry.

Marino called the police on his cell phone and waited about fifteen minutes before he and his son left. Marino and Matthew returned when they received a call from Dispatch.

While the Marinos were en route back, I asked Johnson if he has scared any young boys in the past hour and he said he had not.

The Marinos signed a citizen's arrest warrant against Johnson. I then cited Johnson and released him at the scene.

(Note: According to the property-seizure report, officers also took into custody "a bundle of branches with green leaves.")

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