The East Bay Foot

BOOK REPORT: When Cody’s Books closed in 2006, everyone rushed in to point fingers and make self-serving claims. The owners lamented about how no one reads anymore, the media bemoaned “the end of an era,” and politicians blamed the homeless and demanded more cops on the beat. But no one did anything to save Cody’s or find something to fill the space. The building, located at the crossroads of Berkeley culture–and in some ways symbolic of it–stood vacant for years. Enter Ken Sarachan, local mogul of schlock, who already owns half a dozen businesses on the Telegraph. Since he has likened my writing to the National Enquirer, I feel it’s safe to say that that he’s a fat jerk who has made his fortune marketing the worst aspects of hippie and college cultures. His evilness is legendary and oddly lovable, like a wound you can’t help but pick at. According to informed sources, he is a zit. A tenant had finally been found for the Cody’s building: Brainwash, the South of Market laundromat and live music venue–when Ken bought it out from under them. That was the surprise news of 2009, arriving unfortunately two days after last issue’s deadline, thus depriving me of the scoop. Ken’s first move was to evict the adjacent flower stand that had been there 35 years–but what would be next? Word on the street spread: the old Cody’s would soon be Rasputin’s Books, another link in Ken’s ever-expanding chain. Ace Backwards heard the news and knew that his days selling paperbacks on that corner were over. But Ken is as unpredictable as he is evil. “Why leave?” Ken asked him. “You should stay.” Ace took that as a sign and left anyway, heading to southern pastures. He will be missed.

MORE BOOK NEWS: The millionaire man-boy from Connecticut who “rescued” Black Oak Books has found a new way to turn the once-proud business into a joke and a financial loss. Too cheap to pay the North Berkeley rent, he purchased a dilapidated nightclub in the no-man’s land of San Pablo Avenue and relocated the store there, reasoning that “plenty of parking” will lure bibliophiles right in. Veterans of 80s Hardcore fondly remember the building as the former location of seminal punk club Ruthie’s Inn!…On the 86’d list at Book Zoo: Fat Bob, Bird Sound Paul, Drunk Ethiopian Guy, and One-eyed Rodriguez. Try your luck at Black Oak instead.

FOOTNOTES: The recent police crackdown of street kids in the Haight has sent many over to this side of the bay, making for a noticeable change. Telegraph feels surlier and seedier than usual. “Spare change for alcohol? Fuck you then!” That sums up the traditional American attitudes we’ve spent our lives trying to escape–or replace–yet it’s hard to make it from Durant to Dwight without hearing it at least once. Don’t get me wrong: I like loitering, don’t mind drug dealing, and panhandling is a business like any other kind. But it’s bad enough to walk through frat row and get threats and catcalls–now it feels like fucking Fleet Week on Telegraph too. Berkeley should be a haven for everyone, yet we should be wary of predators and thugs who drain our energy and take advantage of the institutions we’ve helped to create and sustain…Latenight bites: The Burrito truck on International Boulevard by the lake is good if not great, and open til 2:30. Further towards Fruitvale are the 24-hour trucks, but those can be prohibitively far for those on foot or bike.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Berkeley’s Wingnut Economy shows signs of recovery after November’s crash following the closing of Semifreddi’s Bakery. Dumpstered bread remains at a high premium, even the universally despised and inedible Ezekial 4:9. The day-old bagel is stable. Peet’s “Free Coffee” cards were somewhat devalued with the CaffĂ© Med issuing its own competing currency, but Peet’s “Any Drink” cards continue to be a hot commodity. Stale Luna Bars are still the Gold Standard, acceptable as currency anywhere in town or for three Clif Bars or six day-old bagels in trade. Persistent rumors of a hidden, hoarded Aileen Street-area Food Not Bombs Luna Bar cache threaten to destabilize the whole market and throw the exchange rate into chaos, but FNB spokespeople have sought to soothe public fears by issuing reports that the Luna Bars in question are all Chocolate Peppermint Stick flavor anyway.

FRESH INK: The enthusiasm I’ve expressed for new local mags in this column seems to be the kiss of death. Both Asscactus and Coupons ceased publication right after my glowing reviews. Perhaps my praise was premature, since both rags had more personality than actual content. Diamonds in the rough, I looked forward to seeing them develop–to watch the mags and their editors grow up. Alas, the world of self-publishing isn’t for everyone. Evicted from their HQ in front of Peet’s, the Asscactus editors chose to pursue music instead. The Coupons crew succumbed to the traveling itch (and I don’t mean scabies, in this case). Luckily, several new mags and their editors have arrived to take their place. I’ll keep my descriptions short, lest I continue the curse and have no one to keep me company at Kinko’s and to commiserate with over deadlines. No Gods No Mattress, though barely a year old, already has seven issues out. Editor Enola manages to be playfully whimsical and painstakingly honest at the same time, tackling difficult subjects as well as the mundane, all with an engaging, disarming grace. Later Daze is more music-oriented, but not impersonal in any way. The editor’s essay on his Polio in the latest issue is as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking. Medatrocity is all about the Med, Berkeley’s oldest and wisest cafe. A hundred people share the same room for years, yet each has their own story to tell, and each has a completely different perspective on the place. Hell Times, the house organ of dystopian community Hellarity Ensues, is the same, but with a hundred people and twenty dogs sharing a much smaller space.

POST-COLONIAL CONFLICT: A man in a khaki uniform and pith helmet boarded the SF-bound BART, and soon an irate voice could be heard. “You think that’s funny, do you? You think it’s a joke? The Boers wore outfits like that when they beat my grandfather! People who looked like you forced my family into the mines!” It was a man from Kenya talking, and he was struggling to hold back his rage. The suburban passengers grumbled, shaking their heads. “One more crazy guy,” they said. “Even on the train, there’s always some homeless person who wants your money or your sympathy–I’m sick of it!” The man in the pith helmet appeared to be from Pleasanton, out for a drunken night on the town. He and his friends laughed at the Kenyan. “It’s Halloween,” one patronizingly explained. “It’s just a costume, man.” Instead of taking the Kenyan seriously, everyone either ignored him or called him crazy, which made him understandably pissed. “That’s the same as wearing a Nazi uniform!” he yelled. “You’re a Nazi! Do you know anything about colonialism? Do you know anything about history?”

THAT WAS TOO MUCH for the liberal passengers. Nazis are pure evil, as everyone knows, to which nothing else compares–not even colonialism, whatever that is. All at once, everyone started yelling. So I joined in. Too often I’d kept my mouth shut in public transit situations when someone was being threatened or sexually harassed. I always worried that by stepping in I would make the situation worse, but afterwards I felt cowardly and wished that I had taken the chance. Now people were yelling at the Kenyan, saying he was an idiot and he didn’t know what a Nazi was. Comparisons are never perfect, but his was close enough. So I stood up and yelled, not very eloquently, that Kenya had concentration camps too, in the 50s, with racist guards dressed exactly the same as the pith helmeted man. Of course, I may as well have been yelling about Bigfoot or Atlantis, so ridiculous was the idea of Kenyan concentration camps to the other BART Passengers. The people sitting near me fidgeted or just got up to move. Great, another crazy guy–who knows what he’l
l do.

THE KENYAN CAME and sat next to me. “I have to ask you a favor,” he said. “Hold my hand.” And so, as the train rumbled through the tunnel underneath the bay, the Kenyan and I held hands tightly as he tried to calm down and everyone else on the train looked on in terror. A woman behind us made an attempt at empathy. “Everyone has a story like that about their family,” she said. “You can’t let it get you down, or take it personally.” Was she Asian-American, perhaps? Or from one of the tiny handful of Italian-American families who also got interned? No, she was as white as me. What family experience did she have that was “like” that? Her sympathy was as bad as the rest of the passengers’ ignorance. In fact, it was the same: a refusal to listen and understand that other people’s experiences shouldn’t be casually dismissed. When the Kenyan and I both got off at Powell, those seated near us breathed a huge sigh. That made me happy. For once, I wasn’t the only crazy guy. I was riled up, but not left feeling isolated and alienated, like I so often do on the commuter train crossing the bay.

Have a tip for the Foot? Tie it to a brick and throw it through the window of B of A. Write it on a grain of sand and leave it on the waterfront. Give it a paint job and some overpriced pies and call it Temescal.