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Friday Foundations: Crazy Is What We Do Best in This Town

It's a good thing this weekend is supposed to be a nice one, because thanks to the demolition of Doyle Drive, we are going to all be trapped in the 49-acre woods for the duration.
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It's a good thing this weekend is supposed to be a nice one, because thanks to the demolition of Doyle Drive, we are going to all be trapped in the 49-acre woods for the duration. At least that's the way it seems from reading the papers. Then again, I am not sure being cut off from the rest of the world is anything new for us .

Let's be honest, most of the country thinks we are cut off from them as it is. We pass legislation and resolutions that make everyone else think we are lunatics. Happy Meals? Did that. Meatless Mondays? Check. Decrying the 1915 Armenian Genocide? Every year. The list goes on and on. But then many of the issues that drive the nation have their sometimes tortured births here. Maybe that's because we do tend to tilt at windmills that others think are pointless. But the upside is we can proudly look back on equal rights, gay marriage, healthcare, and employee rights, and see our collective fingerprints all over it.

What will we take the reins of next? I have to admit I was surprised that the measure for ending the death penalty qualified easily for the November ballot. This has been long overdue, not just on moral grounds, but on what are now overwhelming economic grounds. San Francisco called for an end to the death penalty in 2000 and in the recent race to be elected district attorney, the issue of whether any candidate would seek the death penalty was hotly debated. So who knows, maybe our imminent isolation this weekend will give birth to another charge. After all, no one loves windmills more than us.

Speaking of windmills and the fact that large, growling machines will be demolishing Doyle Drive, we may have a unique opportunity here. After all, there are other eyesores that we could take care of this weekend since we are smashing things to bits. I nominate the Vaillancourt Fountain in Justin Herman Plaza. I never did like that sucker, and almost every time I see it the darn thing is broken. I say let's put it out of its misery once and for all.

How about the Bayview Tower in the Mission? It's the only building that seems to ignore that neighborhood's ascetic and height limits, and good lord that thing is awful to look at. The City Center Complex at the corner of Geary and Masonic also deserves to be wiped off the face of the earth. Finally, Fox Plaza in the Civic Center, which may be the ugliest highrise ever built. Of course, I will also be accepting other contenders through the weekend, so get your victims in to me, and Monday morning we shall wreck!

One place I shall refuse to allow onto the list is the Elbo Room. Not just for its divey excellence, but because it is the San Francisco home of the chaotic caravan of literary madness called "Literary Death Match." This traveling contest sounds simple enough on the surface: A group of writers come together, read their short stories, judges dutifully wax rhapsodic about them and pick a winner from each round, and then eventually someone is selected as the winner.

Sounds simple, right? Except as is true for many things at the Elbo Room, it winds up something a little more surreal than that. For instance, the order of the readers is selected via Nerf gun. And the finalist is selected via a bowling competition, with audience participation thrown in. It really is as crazy as it sounds.

One by one the contestants went down in a wave of insults, mockery, and sarcasm. Actually, that's not true, as the three judges were quite nice about the whole thing and let everyone down gently. However, at the end, only two writers remained: Carolyn Cooke, and Joe Quirk. The crowd was cheering lustily for both of them due greatly to the always popular topics of alcohol and bike messengers (I will let you figure out which topic goes with which author).

But the final trial by fire was the aforementioned bowling contest, which was bowling cookie packages towards books that were standing in for the tenpins. I am sure there was some literary purpose behind the cookies, but all it did was make me hungry. Cooke was first, and with a mighty toss she managed to airmail her cookies over all the pins, almost decapitating the pinsetter standing in the background.

Quirk then strode confidently to his position, the room growing quiet with anticipation, drinks frozen in midair as he eyed the books with the look of an assassin. The wooden dragons on either side of the stage seemed amused as Quirk brought the cookie up to his chest, and then smoothly launched them towards the books. They fell like weak-kneed literary critics, and with a roar from the crowd we had a Death Match winner. People hugged, bartenders wept and honorary bookmarks were thrown towards the stage.

OK, I made that last part up. Then again, with this event you can never be too sure what is going to happen next, which of course is what makes it so much fun. If you feel like you can survive this crowd, then I have a happy bit of news for you. Literary Death March will be back at the Elbo Room on May 11, and who knows what insanity will come of it. After all, as we have already established, crazy is what we do best in this town. Come to think of it, maybe this tearing down the Doyle Drive jazz ain't so bad. In fact, it's kind of growing on me.

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