It used to be an incantation: 11:00 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month. The day when the guns fell quiet on the Western Front. The day when the war-riven countries of Europe began to mourn a lost generation of young men. Armistice Day, 1918.
The news sped across the Atlantic, reaching San Francisco in the middle of the night. The Examiner, as vigorously orchestrating this war as it had the splendid little conflict of 1898, announced the truce by shooting a series of "red flashes" off its roof and lighting previously laid bonfires on Twin Peaks and Telegraph Hill. Someone at the paper called to wake up Mayor Rolph and sent truckloads of newspapers to other parts of the state.
A crowd gathered across from the Hearst Building, where Lotta's Fountain, newly rebuilt after the earthquake, had been transformed into a "liberty tower." The assemblage of celebrants --- many in coats thrown over pajamas --- formed an impromptu parade to the Civic Center, marching through the warm clear night to the strains of the "Marseillaise" and the "Star-Spangled Banner." At City Hall Sunny Jim, nattily dressed as ever, proclaimed the moment "a great triumph of righteousness" and officially ushered in a period of riotous celebration. San Francisco was in the middle of an influenza epidemic, and the Health Department had ordered all churches closed for several weeks. But on the following day they reopened cautiously for one service each, attended by hundreds of worshipers who then surged happily through the streets, white masks dangling from their chins. The celebration was repeated more soberly --- and without masks --- in future years, becoming in 1954 a blanket Veterans Day.
Sunday afternoon I joined a scraggly group of street people, puzzled tourists and weekend shoppers on Market Street to watch this year's rites. Although gray-haired men and women --- including a large contingent of heavily decorated Russians and several carloads of waving Filipinos --- upheld the traditional role of "veterans" with fine dignity, representatives of post--World War II military actions were noticeably absent. A few small units displayed the colors of today's servicemen and -women, but most of the marchers were uniformed members of high school junior ROTC programs or even younger girls, brightly costumed, in "drill squads."
This was not a ceremony to commemorate past heroism; it was a preparedness parade. And not the first of its kind to make its way along Market Street.
In the summer of 1916, such festivities were the fashion all over the country, as local patriotic groups tried to drum up enthusiasm for the war in Europe. Labor leaders had denounced the belligerents on both sides as imperialists, and ordinary citizens responded by casting an unprecedented number of votes for socialist candidates. William Jennings Bryan lent his voice for American neutrality. Even Woodrow Wilson would base his successful campaign for reelection that November on support for an eight-hour workday and the slogan "He kept us out of war." Even if Americans were feeling jingoistic, there was plenty of excitement closer to home in Mexico, where four-fifths of the U.S. Army was engaged in searches for Pancho Villa and attempts to manifest its destiny.
Perhaps as a counterattack on the summer's heated labor activity, a civic organization called the Pacific Coast Defense League proposed that San Francisco mount a Preparedness Day parade on July 22. The turnout was moderate (estimates range between 20,000 and 50,000), reduced no doubt by a lively rally convened two days earlier, where more than 4,000 people assembled at Dreamland Rink to hear the anti-war sentiments of stirring speakers like seaman organizer Paul Scharrenberg and Progressive reformer Rudolph Spreckels. The little procession that gathered in the hot sun on Steuart Street, next to what is now One Market Street, boasted of few bands and no cannons; thousands of flags and well-dressed citizens set the tone.
No sooner had the first units begun to move onto Market Street than an incident occurred that once again presented San Francisco to the world as a place where dramas are played out on the streets. A bomb exploded. Ten men and women were killed, and another 40 were injured. Amid screams for help, the disciplined leaders of the parade, serious-faced Civil War and Spanish-American War veterans, stepped around the fallen and continued the march as planned.
Four days later, the good folk of the city moved in for the kill. They quickly pulled together a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce Law and Order Committee and, deliberately harking back to the vigilante days of the 1850s, called for the city to "stamp out" the "disease" of labor lawlessness. In the ensuing panic, a police sweep netted a number of suspects, including two well-known radicals, Tom Mooney and Warren Billings. On the basis of perjured testimony and suppressed evidence, a jury convicted the two men; Billings was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Mooney to die. (The verdicts aroused international indignation, but despite the obvious flimsiness of the evidence, the prisoners didn't regain their freedom until the eve of the next world war, in 1939.)
A year later the United States did an about-face and joined the conflict
in Europe, but anti-war protests continued at home, with determined and
dedicated participants who foreshadowed the demonstrators of the 1960s,
but with far less visible effect. Did class play a part, with punishment
apt to fall more heavily on workers than on college students? Or was the
government less likely to prosecute protesters against a military action
conducted without a declaration of war? In any case, the rigorous enforcement
of the Sedition and Espionage Acts during World War I removed about 900
demonstrators from the public eye, and a vigorous PR campaign redirected
public attention toward the war effort. American businesses made a killing.
The United States emerged as a true world leader. In 1918 San Franciscans
greeted the end of the war to end all wars. But 80 years later, the makings
of a children's crusade marched up Market Street while U.S. sabers pointed
This week the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was a little more pie-eyed than usual, having spent most of the Monday session debating what to do about the pie-throwing gang that has targeted Mayor Willie Brown and Supervisor Gavin Newsom as well as some prominent businesspeople.
"I wanted to give the the whole thing as little publicity as possible," Newsom said over a glass of gamay at his Balboa Cafe in the Marina. "That way, it might just go away."
But with the pie assault on Mayor Brown, the board had other ideas. "They (board members and the mayor's office) are pressuring me to press felony charges while I wanted to defuse the matter," Newsom groaned.
The 31-year-old supe --- who came in second behind Tom Ammiano --- in the November 3rd election --- tried to make light of the matter by issuing his own press release that sarcastically suggested there should be a 30-day waiting period on purchasing pies within the city limits.
By all accounts, the board and the mayor were not amused. There are also vague indications that Ammiano might be involved. "When Tom talked to me after the pie-throwing here at the Balboa on Election Night, he asked if anyone was hurt," Newsom recalled. "He was talking about the people tossing the pies, not me or any of my employees. I wish Tom would denounce these incidents, but he won't."
Some heard the pie throwers identify themselves as Ammiano supporters but there's no evidence if his campaign accepted any "soft" dough from local bakeries.
Many San Franciscans don't realize that Mayor Brown is legally blind, due to glaucoma. He didn't know what hit him when pies struck his face last weekend.
"He didn't see it coming," Newsom said, "and that must have been really frightening. When the bodyguard saw the red berries on Willie's face, he thought the mayor might have been shot."
Nerves are rattled as the time approaches to mark the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Security worries are exacerbated by a recent article in San Francisco Magazine, indicating that the killer of Moscone and Milk also planned to murder Willie Brown and former Supervisor Carol Ruth Silver on November 27, 1978.
The Examiner described the pastry squad attacks as "activism with humor." No one is laughing at City Hall. Misdemeanor battery charges are pending, though political observer Vivienne Antal says it's time to move on: "Let he who has not sinned cast the first scone."
The mayor's been grumpy lately. He was angry with the Department of Elections chief Naomi Nishioka for the delay in counting the absentee ballots.
Emperor Willie complained the city was "the laughingstock of the country."
Bruce Sherman, boulevardier and conscience of the culture, chuckled, "The mayor is just figuring this out NOW ?!"
San Francisco looked better as the annual Book Fair at the Concourse Exhibition Center drew thousands, despite rainy weather over the weekend.
Grace Slick, now living in LA, returned to her former hometown to plug her memoir. She was interviewed by Ben Fong-Torres, himself an author and former writer for Rolling Stone when it was in its infancy in a South-of-Market warehouse. Alluding to her Jefferson Airplane days, Gracie remains amazed that people still walk up to her and say things like, "Remember me? I threw a note to you on the stage in Columbus, Ohio in 1971."
"I can't remember what I did yesterday," marveled Slick.
But she recalled enough to finish an autobiography: "I wanted to write about the evils of animal medical research but let's face it, Time Warner paid me a lot of money to write about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll."
Gracie's days of drugs and drink are apparently behind her. She got into trouble a few years ago when, quite intoxicated, she pointed a shotgun at Tiburon police officers. Fortunately, they knew who she was. (This was after her house burned down --- a tough week.) When she got out of the slammer, she moved to the City of Angels. I figure she could have used their help.
Peter Coyote went from tossing canned food off a flatbed truck with the Diggers during the Summer of Love to becoming a movie star, appearing in 51 films. Still a Marin resident, Coyote has a new memoir, Sleeping Where I Fall, which is very funny and sometimes rather poignant. There were lots of casualties along the way.
I got to San Francisco too late for the Summer of Love. I got here just in time for the summer of "I'm OK, You're OK" and, believe me, that's not the same thing.
Malachy McCourt, the writer and professional Irishman, blustered through town this week. He charmed the crowd at the Book Fair by telling innumerable stories in various dialects and finishing with an a capella version of "Wild Mountain Thyme." A good portion of the audience joined in the singing.
Myles O'Reilly recently celebrated the third anniversary of his O'Reilly's Irish Bar and Restaurant in North Beach. Shana Morrison sang her heart out and proud daddy Van the Man supped, sipped and happily looked on.
Some North Beachers are appalled by the creeping corporate influence of upscale dining spots. The locals are upset by the opening of Fuzio's pasta restaurant on Stockton (owned by Chevy's). But Fuzio's general manager, Frank Billante, is one nice fellow. He's also sympathetic --- forced out of his popular Village Pizzeria in the Marina District by the chain store contagion.
Jack's, the venerable restaurant on Sacramento Street, established in 1864, has reopened finally with a new multi-million dollar look under the guidance of John Konstin, owner of John's Grill.
Cops and private eyes would hang out at John's. The lawyers, like Jake Erlich and Melvin Belli, would linger at Jack's. They could also afford the services of the bordello upstairs. To the disappointment of many, the renovation of Jack's does not include the return of the brothel.
On a loftier level, Carole Vernier told Chronicle science writer David Perlman that "Mark Twain and Bret Harte came here for lunch."
"Oh, yeah," replied David, "what day was that?"
Carole was temporarily speechless. Yes, David was only kidding.
That reminds me of the time a "Morning Zoo" disco jockey interviewed Barnaby Conrad Sr. about his history of the Matador, the Broadway nightclub Conrad owned in the 1950s.
"A lot of famous writers came to your place, right?," the young man asked.
"Oh, yes," said Conrad, "Saroyan, Steinbeck, lots of them..."
"And Jack London, did he go there?"
"Sure," Conrad answered, stifling a chuckle.
"And Mark Twain, did he got to your bar, too?" "Right," Conrad deadpanned. "He'd sit in the back so no one would see him."
Laughingstock? What laughingstock?
William Bennett was once a 210-pound high school lineman in an era of 160-pound tackles and 145-pound guards. Like many guys of bulk we played against in the Washington D.C. of the late 1950s, he brought along a correspondingly hefty mouth.
Get off quick and keep your faces in their numerals, our lineman were instructed, and by the fourth quarter the blubber boys would be completely out of epithets, standing up and throwing punches.
Rather prescient instruction in the trench-grappling of democracy, that was. And indeed it was almost like watching old game film last week, as our Minister of Virtue's squad went down to electoral defeat. Its two foremost bullies-with-portfolio, Bennett and key position-player Gingrich, were deservedly accorded goat status. As their coaches in their bunkered evangelical compounds are now concluding, the boys were incapable of defending Western Civilization.
The Monday morning quarterbacking has savaged Bennett in a current Rolling Stone piece, and even the conservative critic Harold Bloom, in a New York Observer review of equal-opportunity leveller Tom Wolf's new book, ripped Bennett's views as miserly and useless by comparison.
You've got to "step up," it's said, when opposing mass seems to equal impregnability, although in this case there was no need to thank one's lord and savior afterward. This, by differentiation, was a victory for the rights of agnostics and their rational humanist mates. And it didn't hurt that Bennett was always a sucker for a trap play.
Ah, the language and metaphors of that finest of teachers, American football. By the conclusion of this weekend, most likely, it will explain our rationale for again obliterating Iraq.
* * *
Why should we have the slightest need for the input of the brigadistas from Biotic Baking? If I were Willie Brown and wanted to retain the services of provocateurs, I couldn't ask for a more representative crew. You remain personally safe, though the benign onslaught appears potentially ominous, mere weeks away from the Moscone-Milk commemoration; the childishness of your attackers diminishes the very real city problems they rightly accuse you of ignoring.
The incident was a soft '90s version of what Allen Ginsberg termed "pig-mantra chanting" during the 1960s. The eventual reaction to that kind of thing, of course, enabled people like Ronald Reagan and the late Newt Gingrich to get elected.
The best street theater of that era was the Golden Rat Award, where worthy slumlords were called out from their offices during lunch hour and honored by proclamation, and were then awarded a six-foot-high paper-and-plywood rat which had been rolled in a child's red wagon across the city in a filmed procession.
Since there's no dearth of landlords and real estate speculators these days grinding away affordable housing, it's time to revisit these perpetrators directly in similar fashion. Targeting yuppie cars and sports vans is, in effect, something out of Willie's playbook. Confront the landlords at home, at their fave restaurants, at the opera, etc. Tape it and then have regular outdoor showings projected onto building walls. There are numerous potential sites, and many of the best of them are supported by your tax dollars. But you're an imaginative group, you bakers, surely quite capable of adjusting your focus.
* * *
What a joy it must be to live on 19th Avenue. If you're a current resident of Hayes Valley and Proposition E is implemented, you can look forward to savoring that experience. At any hour of the day you'll be able to look out the window and posit the existence of the 70,000 cars which will traverse the planned Octavia Boulevard. Descartes would have loved it.
Let's face it: The Central Freeway has defined that neighborhood, and accounts for whatever quiet and charm Hayes Valley enjoys. The liberal urban planning elite, in lockstep to the traditional canon about freeways further ghettoizing poor communities, got it all wrong on this one.
* * *
There was a time in this country when predominantly black neighborhoods like Hayes Valley were repositories of stable working-class families. Through the 1940s and 1950s most of these workforces were unionized. In the 1960s those jobs went to the South, and more recently have gone offshore.
Black kids in these once-vibrant communities now kill one another over attire made by exploited Asian workers who are performing jobs once held by these kids' grandfathers and grandmothers. No less an endorser than Michael Jordan, whose personal line of apparel keeps one particular company flush, attests to the esteem to be had by donning these garments.
Jordan, we're informed, is ever-present at the bargaining table discussions on behalf of the NBA Players Association. To read the accounts of his participation --- and to also listen to him laud the righteous cause of the players --- you'd have to believe that the guy is a paragon of labor solidarity.
So maybe it is the freeways, after all, that sunder disposable African-American workers from mainstream environs and equity, and we should place no blame upon the Jordans whom we had hitherto regarded as obtuse, hypocritical, cowardly, vacuous, self-absorbed assholes.
* * *
But there's one guy we can be certain is a baddie, and that's Saddam. As you prepare for the upcoming Wide World of Weekend War, recall what he tried to foist upon us in the lead-up to the Gulf War: On four occasions he agreed to U.N. terms, and eventually asked that once he withdrew from Kuwait, his only stipulation was that we ask the Kuwaitis not to siphon oil from Iraq's Rumailah oilfields.
How could you trust a demon who makes a request like that?
And now, he's intimating that we shoulder some of the blame for the million-plus people who have died as a consequence of the sanctions, and that since we have not yet found any discernible weapons of mass destruction, we end those sanctions. Some of his people, eschewing diplomatic nuance, like to remind us that in 1990 Iraq offered to destroy all its chemical and nonconventional weapons if Israel did the same.
Clearly you don't punt in situations like this. The stakes are high, and you step up, right? We'll sort it all out in the film room later. You know how the game plan goes.