Vive La Révolution
Life as a high-profile newspaper columnist is, God knows, demanding. But life as a publicity-seeking would-be revolutionary is even more so — which is why Dog Bites realizes that, despite sundry members of our readerships' hopes to the contrary, there can never be a future for us with Kevin “Nestor Makhno” Keating.
So when Kevin asked us to go postering with him in the Mission last week, we forced ourselves to do the sensible thing and say no. Boy, girl, wallpaper paste — it's just a recipe for heartbreak.
Luckily, though, Dog Bites' special field correspondent was already on the job — though we must note that Kevin has disavowed his own participation in the events described. “I don't acknowledge putting any posters up, and anyone who would claim to have done so is obviously not a very credible source,” the suddenly circumspect activist told us.
Oh well. What follows is our report.
6 p.m. I get a call from my friend K. She knows I'm concerned about the rental crisis in the Mission; we'd just seen each other at the rally outside the Planning Commission. Would I like to go postering later tonight? She can't tell me more than that over the phone, except that it definitely has to do with the situation in the Mission.
10:00 I arrive at K.'s house in the East Mission. The postering group is already gathered in a back room, talking about the upcoming eviction of Dancer's Group Studio.
10:30 A tall, thin, balding man shows up, completely unassuming and distinctly out of place in this group of purple- and bleach blond-haired activists. Wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a button-down shirt, he looks exactly like the type of person we're all protesting against — except for the buckets, paintbrushes, and packets of wheat paste he's carrying, along with 1,500 posters headed “Future Squats of San Francisco” in English, Spanish, and Tagalog.
He's introduced to us as Kevin. He seems excited to have this many people — there are eight of us — and says it's best to divide into three teams of three: one person to paste the posters up, another to help him, a third to look out for cops. He sits down on the floor, pulls out a stack of his lawyer's business cards, and passes them around. If any of us get busted, he says, “Demand, don't ask politely, to speak to an attorney. And don't say anything else.”
As it sinks it that this is the Kevin Keating, of the infamous Mission Yuppie Eradication Project, a wave of uncertainty passes through the group. Two of my cohorts don't even live in San Francisco anymore — they've moved to Oakland — and most of us didn't know we'd be working with Keating. Keating goes into the bathroom to mix up the wheat paste in the tub, while a couple of others get to work collating the posters — two English, two Spanish, followed by one Tagalog. The rest of us go outside to smoke and quell our revolutionary doubts.
11:20 Finally, with the wheat paste mixed to a glazelike consistency and the posters collated and stuffed into backpacks, we're about ready to go. Keating suggests we write his attorney's number on our forearms in case we get caught and the cops take everything away; everyone scrambles for pens.
Keating assigns a team to Bryant and Folsom and one to Mission, while his group will take Valencia. I volunteer to go with him; K. will join us, too. Keating's revolutionary fervor is infectious. He tells stories of getting busted by the pigs, spending 12 hours in jail — “If you get busted they'll probably just book ya and let ya go by dawn — it's inconvenient as hell, but no big deal.”
11:30 We set out. Keating estimates it'll take us about two hours to complete our assignments. Someone says we should have a code word for the cops if we see them coming. We agree on “Fred.” Keating has all of the posters in his pack, and I carry the bucket and brush cleverly camouflaged inside a paper sack.
Our first attempt at postering is aborted. We come upon a nice big telephone switchbox on 24th and York, and Keating and K. begin pasting it with a paintbrush. I go to the corner and am immediately startled by a police car speeding up. “Look out!” I yell, forgetting about Fred, but the car turns around and pulls up at the gate of a park across the street.
Midnight Our first major score — posters on the Plexiglas sides of the bus stops at the 24th and Mission BART plaza. We seem horribly exposed, headlights sweeping over us on all sides like some cartoon prison yard breakout, but with K. looking out we manage to slap up several on both bus stops, the goopy paste already caked onto my hands, slopping onto the cuffs of my leather jacket. While I try to avoid the stuff, Keating lovingly hand-smooths each poster with extra paste, ecstatic as Ishmael mashing ambergris in Moby Dick.
12:15 Keating loves publicity. At 24th and Bartlett he insists on pasting a poster onto the switchbox there because, he says, “This is the famous one, this is the one that was on CNN and all the papers. See that — you can still tell where it was.” Indeed, there's a faded “ERADICATION” imprinted on the green paint from over a year ago.
12:20 The cops are ignoring us tonight. We watch six cars speed by headed south, flashers on. We poster with impunity, brazenly slapping several on the glass doors of the building where a community center used to host AA meetings, but which now houses a real estate office. We paste them facing inward, so the new residents'll be sure to get the message.
12:25 We turn east at 20th to break for snacks at Magic Donuts. Before we do, we pause outside La Rondalla to smack a few posters on the dot.com billboard outside. Win a free BMW!
Keating runs across the street to buy a 32-ouncer of Bass, eschewing doughnuts. We wonder how effective this postering is — what's the best way to combat what's going on in the Mission? Rent strikes, mass protests outside the Planning Commission? K. talks about a “performance protest” she and others did at a friend's place when a bunch of real estate agents were showing it. “The Planning Commission's just a bunch of puppets for the developers,” Keating says. He's getting a real kick out of this. For us, it's grim, sloppy work which we approach with nervous circumspection. For him it's sort of a high, and he quickly guzzles his beer as we head back out.
1 a.m. We're approaching the cop shop. Marked and unmarked cruisers roll by as we paste liberally up and down Valencia. A couple of Raggedy Ann lesbians cheer us on as we hit the alley outside the Elbo Room. The front doors of the police station itself seem an inviting target; no one official-looking within sight of them. But both Keating and K. discourage me from this — “We're not out trying to get arrested.” Nevertheless we boldly paste outside the very corner of the station house, the switchbox and the SF Weekly box. Keating takes special delight in doing these. “Maybe it'll upset Laurel,” he says, as if the managing editor herself comes out to fill the news racks each week.
Then — I can't resist — I grab the brush and slap a poster onto the window of the juvenile division of the station. Our biggest score! Keating giggles with glee as we cross over and continue on Valencia.
1:15 We finish up, efficiently pasting outside such notorious yuppie establishments as Blondie's and the Slanted Door, and Pintxos across the street, which looks like it's been taken whole from a Crate and Barrel display. Although Keating has almost no sense of organization himself, preferring to wage lonely postering campaigns with transient volunteers, he's hopeful this latest round of postering will help spark a summer of protests against new development.
But he won't be around to see them — he's moving to Athens in a week. “A buddy of mine has a two-bedroom apartment there,” he says. “I got a chance to go for a while without having to worry about all this. It's not San Francisco I have to get away from, it's America.”
1:45 Appropriately enough, the last place we hit is the Beauty Bar on 19th and Mission. Even I remember when it was the Sunrise, the nastiest dive in the neighborhood. We apply two posters on the support beam outside. Keating reminisces frequently about all the phone calls and media exposure he got last year — from CNN and papers in London, New York, Hong Kong. “Yeah, maybe I'll be on some street corner somewhere in Greece, I'll pick up a newspaper — which I won't be able to understand a word of — and there on the cover it'll say 'Blah blah blah Mission District,'” he says, laughing.
He runs across the street to buy one more beer before the stores close.
Tip Dog Bites — especially if you're disgruntled. Phone 536-8139; fax 777-1839.