Heart of the City Archives
Cinderella on a Stick
by Hank Donat

It's appropriate that the rehabilitated Doggie Diner sign was unveiled the same weekend that Steven Spielberg released his latest film "A.I." in theatres. A.I., with its boy-cyborg hero, poses complex questions about what happens when we personify objects such as machines and whether these things become human simply because we project love onto them and ascribe emotions to them in return. Pretty heavy stuff for an old diner mascot, but when the curtain was lifted from the grinning, gleaming Doggie, it was clear that this pup had gotten the last laugh thanks to the love that Ocean Beach neighbors and San Franciscans far and wide have for this peculiar sign. Though A.I. carries a strong Pinocchio metaphor throughout its "real boy" storyline, the Doggie as rededicated on Saturday was a Cinderella, once battered and tattered now the blinding belle of the Sloat Street grease and salt ball. (The photo here is 100% unretouched.) His grin is particularly human now, as if the old Playland pooch knows that with this makeover it will be a lot more difficult for the City to fob him off after his current leash... er, lease on life expires in 2005. 

Steven Spielberg is not likely to publish fake reviews for A.I. as Sony did for one-time San Franciscan Rob Schneider's "The Animal" a few weeks back. Sony was bagged by critics and the media for splashing its movie posters with favorable blurbs by phantom movie critics. Jan Wahl was on television this weekend talking about the practice. Chronicle columnist Edward Guthmann and other media locals also weighed in on the use of illusions to market illusions. While everyone's against it, it should be clear by now that the folks who coined the term show business got it backwards. The problem is it makes us nervous when we think we can't trust what's in our newspapers. If everyone who thinks we ever could would send me an email, I don't think my server would be at all taxed by the traffic.

Unfortunately, slight-of-hand practices in the media are more commonplace than ever, even here in the bastion of free thinking liberalism. A recent article in the Chronicle Datebook by David Kipen reported about a galley copy that was obtained of the then-suppressed "Wind Done Gone." The first novel by Alice Randall is a parody of "Gone With the Wind" told from the point-of-view of a Tara Plantation slave. Its release was held up in court for several weeks due to actions taken by the estate of the late Margaret Mitchell. In his article, Kipen essentially tells his readers in several column inches that the novel is a big piece of crap. I asked Kipen about his article when I questioned his assertion that he had given the novel a "cursory read." Why not an actual read?

Kipen wrote to me in an email, "I thought of what I was doing as a commentary rather than a review, but after slogging through 100 pages of the thing, I couldn't contain my lack of enthusiasm." Perhaps, but one would hope that if someone is going to use their space in the media to aggressively steer consumers of literature away from a book, that the critic would have read it, yes, from cover to cover. Says Kipen, "Jonathan Yardley did something similar in the Washington Post the other day, reminding readers twice that 'I haven't read the book, nor have I any desire to,' or some such. I would have said the same thing, but that would've entailed using twice a word that the Chronicle doesn't let us critics use even once." When it comes to criticism, I don't think Chronicle readers are splitting hairs between a review and a commentary. Furthermore, I think Chronicle editors know this and should try for higher standards. 

On a recent visit out of the 415, I spotted Johnny Steel, formerly of Bay TV's "The Show," and a past winner of the San Francisco International Comedy Competition. Steel is becoming the golden boy of the casino set. Here, he does TV spots for a Native American casino down south and last week he appeared again in Las Vegas, as the nighttime jester at the Excalibur's Catch a Rising Star. Speaking of Las Vegas, any purist who isn't already horrified by Disney's California Adventure park's "Golden Gate Bridge," is hereby warned that Sin City's Frontier Hotel is soon to be razed for a $1 billion dollar San Francisco-themed resort hotel and casino. Seems the old Barbary Coast there wasn't enough. We'll be in good company, however. Paris Las Vegas, with its ghastly copy of the Eiffel Tower, is not far from the old Frontier site.

Also spotted out of the 415, Supervisor Matt Gonzalez at the Spectator Bookstore in Oakland. Matt was taking in some local joints across the bay with friend Jose Lerma, who was at the art institute here during the late 1950s. Lerma did great abstract work and collage. 

Matt earns kudos for his recent introduction of a measure that would prevent those on the dole from being gouged for fees by services that cash their public assistance checks. Matt, who was deservedly named one of the sexiest people in the Bay Area by the Bay Guardian, was mistaken for Supervisor Chris Daly by a member of our party who had too much plum wine at lunch. Says Matt, "No problem. I was mistaken for Tom Ammiano once. At least they're naming people on the left." 

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