What’s the Scandal? To SF Sheriff’s Wife, It’s the Witch Hunt


lopez-mirkarimiby CJ Verburg

When her new American husband proposed to run for sheriff, Venezuelan actress Eliana Lopez inquired about his horse and gun. That’s just one of the many crossed communication wires Lopez weaves into a deadly net in her one-woman play Cual Es El Escandalo?–a net that (as she sees it) choked and nearly killed her marriage to then-Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, along with his career.

If you follow San Francisco news, you’ll recall the media’s side of the story back in 2012. Newly elected sheriff exposed as domestic abuser by neighbor’s video of his tearful wife showing off a bruised arm. Mirkarimi jailed; pleads guilty to misdemeanor; over his wife’s protests, barred by court order from seeing her or his son. Suspended without pay by Mayor Ed Lee. Outcry of outrage from foes of domestic violence and/or Mirkarimi leads to recall attempt, which fails, partly for lack of evidence or support from the alleged victim, who flees (briefly) to her native Venezuela. Board of Supervisors–skeptical that a bruised arm amounts to “official misconduct,” and noting it predated Mirkarimi’s becoming sheriff–overrides Lee’s suspension.

Lopez calls her play a fictionalized accountlopez-lee (presumably to duck legal issues), but she makes it clear that this is her long-awaited chance to tell her side of the story. Her depiction of the mayor, “Mr. Lie,” is a scathing portrait of complacent corruption. Setting political judgments aside, Lopez’s own confusion and frustration as a bride in a strange city whose language she didn’t speak are convincing and moving. Her nightmare encounter with San Francisco’s justice system is all too plausible. So is the media’s response when she tries to correct what she saw as a mud-slinging campaign: “We want to talk about you, not with you.”

Lopez performs Cual Es El Escandalo? roughly 35% in English and 65% in Spanish, both subtitled. The piece–cowritten and directed by her brother Alfonso, and presented at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts–runs a bit over an hour. I was glad the momentum of events I only partly recalled (and only had heard about third-hand) wasn’t interrupted by an intermission. I did wish I’d seen Escandalo before its final performance; I’d have liked to recommend it to local theater fans as well as voters.

lopez-theo-rossOne may question the timing of this production, just a few months before Ross Mirkarimi runs for re-election. Personally, I’m grateful for a first-person account of that soap-operatic scandal, which (as “Mr. Lie” promised) threatened to taint the sheriff’s reputation, his political future, and his family, then and now. As San Francisco voters face a rerun of the whole messy, colorful drama, why not let the central participant have an overdue voice?


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North Beach Festival, & the Secret Life of Figs


by CJ Verburg

NBfest1-2015I live in a festival-prone neighborhood. Every few weeks, you walk out the door and there they are: the festive white tents, metal railings, and rows of porta-potties that mean Party Time.

North Beach is San Francisco’s Italian district, and along with Chinatown its densest residential area. The neighborhood’s cafes, architecture, parks, and people make it a sweet place to live, and also a hot tourist destination. From its hillsides (Telegraph, Russian, and Nob) you can feast on landmarks: the Transamerica Pyramid, Lombard Street, Coit Tower, Fishermen’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge. In its restaurants you can feast on Italian food, or your choice of Greek, Thai, Indian, Japanese, Mexican, French, Istrian, or traditional American.

ChNYr2015Survival is as precarious in North Beach for a restaurant or boutique as for a resident. Rents are astronomical and rising; turnover is high. If you’re not outstanding, you’re out. Festivals draw crowds of recreation-seekers, many of whom are happy to pick up a few souvenirs and then kick back in one of the local eateries or drinkeries.

With chain stores banned from North Beach, every shop or restaurant is distinctive. Every festival, however, is the same. February’s annual Chinese New Year celebration was bordered with dragon-twined street lamps and hung with lanterns, but almost identical in contents and shape to today’s annual North Beach Festival.  Columbus and Grant avenues are blocked off to car traffic from Broadway to Union Street, filled down the middle with food tents, boutique tents, and entertainment tents. Since North Beach is also the Home of the Beats, I passed one tent featuring a soi-disant poet declaiming amplified cliches about sex, and one sign in an art gallery advertising a service I didn’t see offered for Chinese New Year. NBfestAmputations


While fog and wind continue to blast the streets, indoors the crops are thriving on graywater and afternoon sun.6-9tomato1This was harvest week for the first two bedroom tomatoes (Marmande, from Flat Earth Farm). The Brown Turkish fig tree (Sloat Garden Center) in the living room, whose foliage has flourished since a winter pruning, finally shifted some of that magical botanical energy into fruit.

Figs thrill me. As somebody who grew up thinking of figs as the seedy tasteless paste inside fig newtons, I was staggered to learn that a fig plucked off a tree is as surprising and wonderful as a kumquat. (My fifteen-year-old Chinatown kumquat tree, banished to the outdoors, remains sadly barren.) Even the way a fig tree makes figs is miraculous. They start as a tiny bump at a leaf node. Over weeks, each one will grow to the size of a small chicken’s egg, until it ripens and softens into a green-brown package of pink deliciousness.


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Good-By June & Donna, Hello Alfred


by CJ Verburg

AlfredBruceKeaton468x361A new crossover between human and robot made its PBS NewsHour debut last week. In “Dirty Laundry? Batman’s Butler to the Rescue,” Paul Solman introduced us to Alfred. Combining the virtues of Apple’s Siri and Downton Abbey’s Mr. Bates, Alfred is named for the butler who looks after Bruce Wayne (AKA Batman) in comic books and on film. The latest Alfred is pitched as more democratic than traditional butlers: available to any busy professional out there who’d love to unload those pesky domestic chores like picking up the dry cleaning and filling up the fridge.

From the company’s website:


“One fateful night after a long, demanding day at work, [Alfred co-founders Marcela Sapone and Jess Beck] ran into each other in the laundry room of their apartment building. The overwhelming sentiment? Frustration. Leisure time shouldn’t be a luxury; it should be a right and a reward for working as hard as both of these women did (and still do!) A pact was made: No longer would they let mundane chores control their lives.

“The year was 2013 and the idea for Alfred was born. Since then, Marcela and Jess have worked tirelessly to create the first ever non-intrusive, recurring, in-home service that virtually everyone can use. With Alfred, these innovative women have ensured they personally will always come home happy – and they want the same for you.”

By this point in the presentation, bells were ringing for me. Even now I can vividly recall, as a busy young professional 40 years ago, telling my colleagues: “I need a wife!”

Bates-DowntonAnyone who’s watched Downton Abbey (which may not include professionals too busy to buy their own groceries) knows that the role on the human stage described by Marcela and Jess isn’t “butler.” Butlers don’t wash your socks, feed your cat, and refill your fridge. It’s a role TV fans recognizes less from Alfred than from Donna Reed, June Cleaver, and the other female stars of the 1950s. Tireless domestic P.A.? Resourceful problem solver? Cheerful all-purpose paragon? That’s a wife.

DonnaReed3“Man labors from sun to sun,” the saying went, “but women’s work is never done.”

In those days, gender was the dividing line between those who saw leisure time as their “right and reward for working hard” and felt entitled to “come home happy,” and those whose job it was to make those wishes come true. In our time, as more and more working women expect the same perks as their male colleagues, the dividing line has changed.

Who can hire Alfred? You can, whoever you are, as long as you live in New York or Boston and are able and willing to pay $99 per month for a once-a-week visit. If you live somewhere else, don’t despair — an a la carte version called Hello Alfred is on its way nationwide. According to TechCrunch:

JuneCleaverPhone“The company thinks of it as a remote for your home. Text Hello Alfred to get groceries at the last minute, or have laundry picked up before a big trip. For folks outside of Boston and New York, it will function as a single way to handle maintenance of the home . . . The idea behind Hello Alfred is that Alfred, as a brand focused on trust in the home, can be the portal for all of your on-demand needs. So rather than placing on-demand orders on a handful of different apps, you can text Hello to 917-382-8028 to get access to Alfred’s web app, wherein you can place special requests in a single place for Alfred to take care of in the back-end.”

Who is Alfred? A scrupulously vetted employee who’s willing to play the role of semi-invisible wife for several dozen people a day. That’s how many “husbands” it takes to support both the company and its myrmidons. The particular myrmidon interviewed by Paul Solman is a pretty young woman who moved to New York from Scandinavia, wants to get to know the city, is OK with getting her daily exercise hauling other people’s groceries and laundry up multiple flights of stairs, and, yes, would rather be using her education and training in psychiatry, but what can you do when there are so few good jobs and such a chasm between the overworked young professionals and the rest of us?HelloAlfred2

What do you think? Is Alfred an inspired (& overdue) solution to the down side of gender equality? i.e., a culture in which everybody’s expected to do everything? Is it a step toward a new feudalism?–a 21st-century Downton Abbey, starkly divided between haves and have-nots, masters and servants? Or is Alfred just one more hopeful startup offering a shortcut between people who need services and people or businesses who can provide them, like TaskRabbit, Fivrrr, Uber, and AmazonFresh?

Would you hire Alfred?

Would you apply to be an Alfred?

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Summer on Cape Cod: Looking Forward (& Back) to Provincetown Theatre


Along with fishermen, this Cape-tip town is a magnet for theatre and other artists, from Susan Glaspell, Eugene O’Neill, and Tennessee Williams to Catharine Huntington, Ray Marten Wells, and Edward Gorey.

by CJ Verburg

UUpostcard-SIn the summer of 1990, the Provincetown Theatre Company presented the first of three annual “entertainments” written, directed, and designed by Cape Cod artist and author Edward Gorey. Useful Urns was performed by a cast of four women, four men, and assorted hand puppets in a former bowling alley by the sea. Our stage was a small wooden platform; our set was a stationary backboard and six portable giant urns painted on styrofoam slabs. Edward had pieced together a script from his short pieces, some published as books, some written for the stage. As the show’s instigator and producer, and the board president of PAPA [Provincetown Center for the Performing Arts]/PTC, I vowed always to work in theaters where, when things got tense, you could go outside and watch the ocean.

What had brought me and then Edward here from the mid-Cape was the Theatre Workshop. In 1987, artist Ray Marten Wells and aspiring playwright Michael Ferraro decided to boost the town’s tradition of home-grown theater with weekly gatherings of playwrights and directors. I joined at the very first meeting. The directors ran the first half, the writers the second half. Afterwards we’d walk “downtown” for drinks at the Governor Bradford, dinner at Gallerani’s or Napi’s, or beer and chili at Fat Jack’s.

1st playhouse-wharf-provincetownThe story was that Ray Wells (who died in 2011 at the age of 103) stayed on when her friend Catharine Huntington and the rest of their Provincetown theater crowd left for Boston or New York. I suspect that what sparked Ray to start our workshop was Huntington’s death (1987, age 100). A longtime champion of Eugene O’Neill’s plays, she had owned and run the Provincetown Playhouse on the Wharf, which replaced the ramshackle home of the town’s previous theatre workshop.

Visual artist Charles Demuth and playwright Eugene O'Neill in Provincetown

Visual artist Charles Demuth and playwright Eugene O’Neill in Provincetown

The legendary Provincetown Players “began when a group of writers and artists who were vacationing in Provincetown, MA presented their plays July 15, 1915 on the veranda of Hutchins Hapgood and Neith Boyce’s rented ocean-view cottage. . . . Back in Greenwich Village, New York City, where most of the group lived, [George Cram] Cook stirred up enthusiasm that fall and winter such that an even greater number of writers and artists made their way to Provincetown the next summer of 1916 [including] journalist and poet John Reed, writer Louise Bryant, painter Marsden Hartley, artists William and Marguerite Zorach, the famed “Hobo Poet” Harry Kemp, editor of The Masses Max Eastman, his wife Ida Rauh, Floyd Dell, and Eugene O’Neill.” The first plays O’Neill proposed were rejected, but when they read Bound East for Cardiff, a play set at sea, playwright Susan Glaspell wrote that the group ‘knew what they were for’.”

This being the 100th anniversary of the Players’ seminal summer, the Provincetown Theater is celebrating. Starting on July 2, the present-day company will reprise some of those early plays by Susan Glaspell, Eugene O’Neill, George Cram Cook, and Neith Boyce. Actor and arts commentator Stuard M. Derrick–another immigrant to Provincetown from New York–notes: “The Eugene O’Neill Society and the Susan Glaspell Society are coming . . . and there are panel discussions, galas, and lectures scheduled . . . already gearing up for the big O’Neill centenary next year.”

bway-poster-687x1024Stuard adds: “Provincetown has really stepped up its game to attract some major celebrities,” including the Broadway @ Town Hall series, hosted by SiriusXM radio’s Seth Rudetsky and featuring stars including Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker. “There is also a major Motherwell centennial going on right now . . . But to my mind, and in the opinion of many others who have seen it, undoubtedly one of the best shows of the summer has already opened: the phenomenal Jay Critchley retrospective at the Art Association — it’s just incredible in its scope and brilliantly curated and installed.

So if you’re going to Cape Cod, be sure to see “From Aesop to Updike,” the 2015 book-cover art show at the Edward Gorey House, and allow plenty of time for the artistic feast in Provincetown.

EGOS_wpIf you want to know more about Edward Gorey’s theatrical contributions, click CJ Verburg’s Books & Bio above for Edward Gorey On Stage: Playwright, Director, Designer, Performer: a Multimedia Memoir (full-color print and e-book).

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News Flashes, Pt. 2: Help Animal Rescue and Find a New Best Friend — FREE!


by Charisse Howard

duke-spcaWhat’s happier than a dog frolicking with his or her favorite person, or a cat cuddling up in your lap?

What’s sadder than a lost or abandoned dog or cat, who’s scared and lonely and can’t understand how s/he fell into this nightmare?cutepuppy

This is such a joyful story–and such a wonderful opportunity for animal lovers–that I couldn’t resist sharing it. The following comes from the website MaddiesFund.org.

Maddie’s® Pet Adoption Days
May 30-31, 2015

Maddie’s® Pet Adoption Days has supported the adoptions of more than 30,000 homeless dogs and cats since the program’s inception in 2010. For each pet adopted, Maddie’s Fund® gives participating shelters from $200 to $2,500. This funding enables the shelters and rescue groups to save and treat more animals throughout the year.

Gunnar - San Francisco Animal Care & Control

Gunnar – San Francisco Animal Care & Control

Maddie’s® Pet Adoption Days is a two day pet adoption event honoring the memory of the foundation’s beloved namesake, a Miniature Schnauzer named Maddie. Its purpose is to increase awareness of shelter animals, shed light on the tireless efforts of shelters and rescue organizations, and find new families for homeless dogs and cats.


Charlie Chaplin – Family Dog Rescue

Maddie’s® Pet Adoption Days started in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2010, where Maddie’s Fund® is headquartered, and expanded to 14 communities in 2014. To date, Maddie’s Fund has awarded $24.7 million to the participating groups which have adopted a total of 31,267 dogs and cats during the past five events. The money given by Maddie’s Fund has enabled shelters and rescue organizations to treat and rehabilitate senior pets and those with medical conditions – animals who likely would have been euthanized otherwise.

Maddie’s® Pet Adoption Days is a collaborative effort of countless people who want to save the lives of shelter animals, a testament to what can be done when people come together and rally for a common cause.

About Maddie’s Fund® and Maddie

Maddie’s Fund was founded in 1994 by Dave Duffield and his wife, Cheryl, with the mission to revolutionize the status and well-being of companion animals. They have endowed the Foundation with more than $300 million. Since then, they have awarded more than $153 million in grants towards increased community lifesaving, shelter medicine education and pet adoptions across the U.S.


Taro – San Francisco Animal Care & Control

The Duffields named Maddie’s Fund after their Miniature Schnauzer, Maddie, who always made them laugh or comforted them during stressful times when Dave was launching a startup software company. Maddie, who passed away in 1997 was the first of 10 dogs plus 7 adopted children who’ve joined Dave and Cheryl’s family over the years.

“Maddie was a dear friend to Cheryl and me, and I promised her that if I ever made any money in my career, we’d give it back to companion animal causes in her honor,” said Duffield. “We’re very proud of the work Maddie’s Fund has done on behalf of Maddie, and we’re thankful to have had the opportunity to keep our promise to her.”

Matt - Wonder Dog Rescue

Matt – Wonder Dog Rescue

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San Francisco Celebrates the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition Centennial


PPIE-CHS2014by CJ Verburg

One hundred years ago, San Francisco flaunted its recovery from the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire with the spectacular Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Not only did the city rise phoenix-like from its own ashes, but it transformed its northeastern waterfront into a lavish showcase for new ideas and innovations.

As Shelly Kale writes on the PPIE website:

PPIElogoThe goals of the fair, which ran from February 20 to December, 1915, transcended any expected economic boost for the city. In the exposition’s official history, published in 1921, San Francisco journalist Frank Morton Todd reflected on a lofty ambition: “to produce in San Francisco a microcosm so nearly complete that if all the world were destroyed except the 635 acres of land within the Exposition gates, the material basis of the life of today could have been reproduced from the exemplifications of the arts, inventions and industries there exhibited.”

PPIEAveofPalms_72The PPIE was only meant to show off innovations from the past decade. In 1915, this meant that audiences could watch a daring aviator fly stunts (or try a less alarming flight themselves). Laura Ackley, author of The Jewel City, adds: “Visitors could watch the assembly of a pair of Levi’s jeans or a brand new Ford, take in an avant-garde art display or listen to a speech by Teddy Roosevelt. They could see a temple molded entirely from soap or a tiny rosebush made of gems—or butter. When tired of riding around a six-acre replica Grand Canyon or a five-acre model of the Panama Canal, attendees could ascend nearly three hundred feet into the sky in a “house” attached to a steel arm. [They could also spend the night in a replica of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn, or see Blackfoot Indians at the Glacier National Park exhibit.–CV] If the midway did not attract, they could enjoy a daily rotation of bands, parades, pageants, and headlining entertainers, including bandmaster John Philip Sousa, renowned composer Camille Saint-Saëns, and flamboyant dancer La Loïe Fuller.”

PPIElightshow-BobBowenCollectionThe National Park Service’s PPIE website notes:
“New farming and agricultural technologies were also introduced; Luther Burbank, creator of many new kinds of plants including the Burbank potato, Santa Rosa plum, Shasta daisy, and the fire poppy was in charge of the Horticulture Palace. Author Laura Ingalls Wilder was particularly impressed with new dairy techniques—as she wrote, ‘I saw…cows being milked with a milk machine…it milked them clean and the cows did not object in the least.'”

Shelly Kale continues: “Among its many attractions, the fair boasted the world’s largest wood and steel building (the Palace of Machinery), the largest state building (the California Building), a juried exhibition described as the nation’s best modern art collection (the Palace of Fine Arts), the first transcontinental telephone call (made by Alexander Graham Bell to the fairgrounds before the fair opened), and indirect lighting for outdoor effects used for the first time at an exposition. Complementing the spectacular illuminations were “jewels” of polished crystal and colored glass accentuating architectural features, most visibly on the 43-stories-tall Tower of Jewels, giving the fair its nickname, the Jewel City.”

PPIE-PalaceFineArtsToday the only building remaining from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition is Bernard Maybeck’s Palace of Fine Arts. And San Franciscans still enjoy Crissy Field, the grass airfield created on the site of the PPIE’s automobile track.

There are illuminating activities and exhibits all over the city this year. If you’re here, be sure to see some! My personal favorite is the scale model of a large section of the PPIE brought out of storage and placed on show through December at the California Historical Society, 678 Mission St.