Zine Review: Scam #5½

30 November 2007

Zine cover - Scam #5½

Arnold Zwicky wrote an interesting post for Language Log recently, about the blurred edges of technical and everyday words. He pointed out how “the common-language use of epicenter for the central point of an event” is slightly different from its original jargon meaning: “Technically, it’s the location on the earth’s surface over the place where the earthquake event happened, undergound.”

When Erick Lyle named Scam #5½ “The Epicenter of Crime: The Hunt’s Donuts Story”, borrowing the phrase from a news broadcast, I suspect he was using epicenter in the common-language sense. But the technical meaning is perhaps even more fitting, because Hunt’s Donuts — beneath the “OPEN 25 HOURS” neon sign — was the point where the underground centre was reflected on the surface. It was the place where the petty criminal underworld of San Francisco’s Mission district met the world of the upstanding citizenry.

You can read part of the Hunt’s Donuts story in a March 2000 article in the SF Weekly. By that time it was called Magic Donuts, and the city was trying to force the new owners to shut the place down, using their tactic of suing “Mom and Pop” store owners for social problems beyond their control. But if you want the full story, the real story of Hunt’s Donuts on 20th and Mission, you need to read Scam #5½.

In Lyle’s story, the Magic Donuts dispute is just the latest episode in a long history:

… the story of Hunt’s is both less and more than news. Its a rumor, an illicit history, the pull of the gravity of the epicenter of crime. At 20th and Mission, battles to control the identity of the Mission have been acted out again and again, between ever changing sets of police and thieves over the years. In the story that follows we have the Irish cop who shut down the mission’s Latino bars as his father shut down the city’s gay bars. We have the young kid who couldn’t beat the Hunt’s sponsored team on the baseball diamond who grew up to try to shut down the shop as police captain. We have the Latino teenagers who hung out in front of Hunt’s framed for a cop’s murder in the famed trial of Los Siete de la Raza.

Hunt’s Donuts was a microcosm of the Mission community, capturing both its successes and its failures, its hopes and its tragedies. Established by a pillar of the business community but condemned by the police, it was simultaneously a place where families would buy donuts after mass on Sunday and a place where drunks and junkies would trade goods of dubious provenance. In Scam #5½, Lyle brings the place alive on the page.

We see Hunt’s through the eyes of its owners, its customers, the growing Latino population, the police — both sympathetic and otherwise, the drunks, the punks, and the yuppies moving in and gentrifying the Mission. Ultimately, Lyle is sad about Hunt’s closing after 52 years as a Mission institution, and it is easy to see why: love it or loathe it, Hunt’s Donuts was in the thick of things. Scam #5½ is a comprehensive social history and a pleasure to read.

Erick Lyle, Scam #5½, ¼ size, 32 pages.
Available from Paper Trail, Needles + Pens, McPheeters and Microcosm

Five Quick Things

28 November 2007

First, this site is too infrequently updated. This is because my motivation is currently exceeded by the effort involved in coming up with a topic and then putting finger to key. I will try to reduce the required effort by coming up with a few “template” ideas for posts — it’s worked quite well so far with zine reviews. Here is the first in what I hope will become a weekly series of Five Quick Things.

Second, I managed to get my hands slightly sunburnt over the weekend. Actually, it would be more accurate to say I managed to get part of my hands badly sunburnt. I burn in an instant, so I apply and reapply suncream almost as a reflex. Unfortunately, I missed the base of my thumbs. Thankfully, the sting has gone out of it now.

Third, I like the fact that the term guerilla clockmaker is a real term. That there is such a thing as a guerilla clockmaker. A group of French activists snuck into the dome of the Pantheon, set up a workshop and camp, and spent a year “piec[ing] apart and repair[ing] the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s”. Sadly, the French government refuses to wind the clock.

Fourth, last night I took my lady friend out for dinner at a cheap Chinese BBQ restaurant. I love restaurants that have ducks and pigs hanging in the window, cooks wielding massive cleavers behind the counter, and are frequented almost exclusively by foreigners. And the food was amazing.

Fifth, Contrast Podcast. Go. Listen.

Zine cover - No Better Voice #30

In No Better Voice #30 Jami has opted to stand back and showcase her friends’ work. She has pulled together a disparate collection of contributions; some are fictional, some are factual, and there is no apparent overarching theme.

The strongest piece is from Christina LaRose. It is the story of a young girl progressing through a ballet school, and it is a love-hate story. It is the story of an abusive relationship, of a culture that inflicts physical and mental pain but promises happiness: “a world of pain—a world of pain ensconsed in a smile”.

I was drawn in by the first-person perspective (perhaps it is autobiographical?) and despite having no experience of ballet lessons I could nonetheless feel the horrible conformist pressure being put on the protagonist. Her body is the wrong shape, and she must be bound to eliminate unsightly curves:

When I get home, I pull the First Aid kit out of the medicine cabinet and roll ace bandages over my breasts, my waist, my hips. I am a shrinking creature, a mummy. I jokingly wrap a bandage over my face. Dad walks by and laughts.

“You’ve bandaged yourself out of existence!” he says.

I smile yes, yes, yes beneath the medicinal smell of the cloth covering my eyes.

While No Better Voice #30 is worth reading just for this story, there is plenty more to read. I also enjoyed Jenny Bloomer’s “Shark attack!”, a story about how wearing a dress turns her into prey at the bar, a target for sexual predators. It is evocatively illustrated by LB.

For something a little different, Shaun Allen has contributed a fascinating short history of the Revolutionary Union Movement in the US auto industry in the late 1960s and the 1970s. The movement was made up of several small union locals that challenged not only employers but also the tame-cat United Autoworkers, which had a poor record on including black workers in its leadership positions. Inspirational stuff, though the movement was short-lived. It’s nice to see some history in a zine like this.

Jami Thompson (ed), No Better Voice #30, 1/4 size, 32 pages.
Split with Marked for Life #2. Available from Eye Candy, Stranger Danger and Paper Trail.

Do not try this at home

13 November 2007

We’ve gained notoriety,
And caused much anxiety
In the Audubon Society
With our games.
They call it impiety
And lack of propriety,
And quite a variety
Of unpleasant names.
But it’s not against any religion
To want to dispose of a pigeon.

So if Sunday you’re free,
Why don’t you come with me,
And we’ll poison the pigeons in the park.

Please, do not try this at home.

Zine Review: Skin Deep #2

7 November 2007

The importance of zines to fascist organising is explained in White Noise:

Over the years an underground network of nazi skinhead magazines[,] “skinzines”, had been constructed. … With the politicisation that being in contact with other skinheads brought, it was common to find that an address over a period of time went through three stages: a skinzine address; contact for a skinhead crew; then finally a contact point for a fascist organisation.

Zine cover - Skin Deep #2

With that in mind, Deep Skin #2 is a must-read for anti-racist campaigners. It is a beautiful skinzine written by a violent racist… poet. Make no mistake, this is a serious bonehead: “Its for the dude who doesn’t want to be a total gay if he is just trying to write some poems. So you can fuck off.”

The zine is characterised by childish handwriting, naive sketches, bad spelling and a preoccupation with homosexuality. A sample:

Regret I had one time

knife
I am sorry I forgot you at home
knife
I am sorry you didnt get to party
knife/since dad that homo left you are
my best friend
knife
the block of concrete meant nothing
to me
knife

Like all good satire, Skin Deep #2 is effective because it is so accurate. Poems about “knife” and boots and being “too fucking tough / to have friends / or love” skewer the ultra-masculinity of the racist scene. And when the nazi twins are in the headlines, complaints about “weak” kids books are spot on: “my son doesn’t need some fuzzy tiger teaching him how to be a fag”.

I hope some real boneheads accidentally read this zine and see what utter morons they are.

Anonymous, Skin Deep #2, 1/4 size, 36 pages.
Available from Microcosm.

Zine cover - Marked for Life #2

It’s easy to see why Sage Adderley describes the tale of her young family’s move to a new city as a “love story”. She and her husband, Garrett, seem genuinely to have fallen head-over-heels for Philadelphia during a brief visit — less than a day — during a family holiday.

Their excitement is palpable from the outset:

We parked and got out of the car to let the girls stretch and we began being tourist. We walked away from center city and towards the more residential area. We saw multiple community gardens, sides of buildings covered with mosaic tiling and city parks filled with children. My husband and I fell in love. We looked at each other knowing that we could call Philadelphia home.

There begins an exciting adventure as the Adderleys tumble towards their new goal, crashing through obstacles like finding work and accommodation, transporting belongings, and settling their young daughters in a new town.

Sage’s descriptions in Marked for Life #2 would make anyone want to live in Philadelphia. She sees a place of history and culture, with free concerts and community gardens, churches and bicycles and craft markets. Her daughters, Emily and Bella, have made new friends and enjoy visiting the Philadelphia Zoo, which Sage regards as “[t]he best zoo I have been to.”

Love stories can be tedious if all we hear are the lovely things the besotted says about the object of their affection. A good love story recognises that there are two parties to a relationship, and gives us an insight into both. The real joy in reading Marked for Life #2 is in learning about Sage’s ideas and hopes for her family. Her love for Philadelphia is not for its streets and buildings, but for its multicultural community and the opportunity it provides her children to learn and play and grow.

These issues were raised by Mike Kraus in A New Tomorrow #23, through his introspective consideration of the role of place in his life. Sage doesn’t slow down much to reflect in the cautious way Mike does — she is too busy with home-schooling and concerts and family visits and proselytising Philadelphia — but the two zines sit very comfortably together, and I recommend reading both alongside each other.

My own plans to move to another city with my partner are still some months away, our train fares are paid, and we have signed on to start new jobs when we arrive; yet I still feel apprehensive about leaping into the unknown. It is very reassuring to read about a spur-of-the-moment intercity move that has been so successful, and that has made Sage and her family so happy. I will be keeping Marked for Life #2 near to hand to remind me that these ventures should be more exciting than scary.

Sage Adderley, Marked for Life #2, 1/4 size, 32 pages.
Split with No Better Voice #30. Available from Sage’s own Eye Candy, as well as Stranger Danger and Paper Trail.