Posts Tagged ‘covid-19’

Signs of the COVID-19 times part 2

May 22nd, 2020

Since last month’s entry the pandemic-related changes around the Mission and Castro area have only accelerated. As retail slowly reopens some of these changes may be short lived, so let’s take a look at where things stand now.

 

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The city’s Department of Public Health has plastered almost every block with signs about social distancing, wearing masks, getting tested, etc. Many of the signs are in multiple languages. Anecdotally it seems most are following the spirit of these new guidelines, though the part about wearing masks hasn’t quite gotten to everyone yet.

At the same time, the signs that went up a month or so ago about sheltering in place have disappeared. Presumably this coincides with phase two of the reopening plans.

 

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The flat grassy section of Dolores Park that’s often used for soccer and volleyball now has circles painted on the grass to encourage staying apart while picnicking.

Other sections of the park with more hilly terrain didn’t get the circle paint treatment. I’d assume this is simply due to it being more challenging to measure or paint.

 

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After numerous storefronts were covered in plywood, they’ve slowly been transformed by street artists. Many of the murals were commissioned by Paint the Void, which is raising money to fund this type of art during the pandemic.

At least for me even with the murals it’s a little more jarring to see fashion retailers boarded up than a neighborhood bar. For example before they were boarded up, Everlane looked like an Apple Store that accidentally started selling clothes.

 

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Not all the plywood-covered storefronts are decorated with murals… some have whimsical wheatpastes instead.

All of these photos of wheatpastes were taken on Market between Church and Castro. That stretch has had a lot of retail vacancies recently so I’m not sure these are all necessarily related to COVID-19 or just the collapse of retail there in general.

 

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Some of the street art is very topical, such as this wheatpaste depicting a coyote walking down a deserted sidewalk.

The graphic is patterned after a real photo which I believe originated in this tweet.

 

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Finally, fnnch’s honey bears now have an N95 mask version. Here we have a honey bear with pizza, a David Bowie honey bear, and a honey bear with an ice cream cone. Of course, eating and singing aren’t really activities that lend themselves to wearing a protective mask.

My entry in Quarantine Dreams issue 7

May 15th, 2020

The highly esteemed [citation needed] online publication Quarantine Dreams chronicles unusual dreams submitted by those of us under shelter in place orders.

One of my submissions is included in their recently published their seventh issue. They aptly titled it “Sore Loser.”

The text reads:

I was participating in some sort of foot race at a park. The challenge? The racers were being shot by archers with live arrows. As I raced toward the archers I was mostly concerned about being shot in the face and eyes. In the end I was shot in the chest near my heart, but the arrow “only” went through my lung. After pulling the arrow out of my back I also had to pull the front of the arrow out of my chest, as the arrow had broken. I felt a pain in my chest and when I started to yell in agony a Russian woman (who’d also been shot) told me to stop complaining as there were only enough EMTs to hospitalize the people who “need it.”

Now I’m not one to read too much into dreams, but like many of the dreams published in Quarantine Dreams there’s a recognizable anxiety mixed with crazy dream logic.

Do you want to remember your dreams? Try keeping a dream journal. Just write them down somewhere when you remember them, whether it be a physical notepad, your phone, laptop, etc.. The more you go through the exercise of writing them down, the more you tend to recall them later.

If you’re interested in submitting your own Quarantine Dream to this publication, follow the instructions on their Twitter profile.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch delivery

May 13th, 2020

With the COVID-19 pandemic restaurants everywhere have pivoted to take out and delivery. While I personally prefer dining out, delivery’s fine with me in a pinch. Unfortunately those delivery fees start to add up after a while.

So I was a little surprised when the salad wizards at Sweetgreen announced they’d be doing free deliveries. With all this sitting around at home I could really go for something healthy — especially if I don’t have to pay for delivery.

So I went ahead and placed an order.

There you go, free delivery! But wait — what’s this “service fee” included in the price? That sounds an awful lot like a delivery fee, doesn’t it?

Fortunately you can tap on the service fee for an explanation:

As the image says above “This is a fee that allows us to provide our delivery service.” So the service fee is a delivery fee… they just don’t call it that.

In other news I AM GIVING AWAY FREE $100 BILLS! (However, you will owe me a $200 service fee for each $100 bill.)

My favorite MST3k episodes featuring coherent movies

May 2nd, 2020

As we’re all sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one activity I’ve found well suited for the times is watching episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3k.) Each episode is about an hour and a half, featuring a human host and his robot pals watching a janky movie and cracking jokes at its expense.

While all the movies shown on MST3k over the years are bad, some of them are absolutely incoherent: movies like Manos: The Hands of Fate, or The Day Time Ended, or even The Castle of Fu Manchu. Those are a challenging watch even with the MST3k treatment and I can’t imagine trying to subject myself to such madness while being locked inside for weeks on end.

So here we go: in no particular order, my favorite MST3k episodes with coherent movies — specifically episodes you can stream online at home.

Laserblast (1978)

Available on Amazon Video

Like many B-movies in the late 70’s, Laserblast is a sci-fi movie that can’t quite decide if it’s ripping off Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Star Wars. This becomes quite apparent due to the main character’s resemblance of Mark Hamill and later when he blows up a Star Wars billboard. 

The story revolves around a young guy who finds an alien weapon which can only be used when he’s wearing a special necklace. The more he uses it, the more he turns into a monster. It’s a perfectly good premise and actually has decent special effects. Unfortunately, nothing else really works from the script to the casting to the cinematography.

The riffs focus on how the movie’s bargain bin Mark Hamill seems incapable of wearing a shirt (or at least one that fits) as well as a police officer who may or may not be “ready for some football.” They also suggest Pepsi may have secretly paid for the Coca-Cola product placement. But the real focus is why film critic Leonard Maltin gave this trashy film two and a half stars.

This episode marks the last time Trace Beaulieu appeared on the show. His Dr. Clayton Forrester character is sent off with a parody of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Gorgo (1961)

Available on Amazon Video

Easily one of the most watchable of the monster movies on MST3k over the years, though to be honest the back half gets pretty dull. This one takes place in the UK instead of Japan, yet somehow it has the overall kaiju style anyway.

In this host segment Leonard Maltin appears as himself (though Pearl keeps calling him Roger Ebert) to recommend Gorgo — and plug his then new 1998 movie review guide.

The riffs refer to a number of other monster movies and make fun of the English and Irish. Crow declares Gorgo has the “best teeth in England.” They also get a lot of mileage about a circus in London named “Dorkin’s.”

Mac and Me (1988)

Available on Netflix

This movie answers the question “What if E.T. was a commercial for Coke and McDonald’s?” It’s arguably the best known movie they’ve ever shown. The story has some big plot holes and the cinematography is roughly on par with an average sitcom. The aliens are supposed to be cute but come across as both cartoonish and repulsive at the same time.

While the first season of the rebooted MST3k on Netflix was a mixed bag, by the second (and so far, last) season it was firing on all cylinders. In this episode the riffs are funny, well paced, and overall I’d rate it as “pretty nice!” 

The riff that sticks with me the most comes pretty early on when they point out the score seems to have been composed for a much more exciting movie.

Mitchell (1975)

Free on YouTube

This Joe Don Baker vehicle certainly features a lot of, well… vehicles. I’d estimate about half the movie is just shots of people in cars, either parked or driving very slowly. Oh and there’s a car chase, albeit a very slow one that mostly seems to exist to pad the movie’s runtime. The most baffling thing about this is it got a theatrical release despite looking like a made for TV movie in every respect.

Before I get to the riffing, I should mention the host segments: this was Joel’s last outing as the host of the show, so most of the host segments are set up to introduce his replacement, Mike, and Joel’s escape from the Satellite of Love.

Most of the riffs focus on how out of shape Baker is here, and his character’s appetite for alcohol and snacks. Supposedly when Baker got wind of this he wasn’t happy and (jokingly?) threatened to beat up the cast of MST3k.

Space Mutiny (1988)

Available on Amazon Video

This Canadian sci-fi action film features a story that kind of makes sense but is marred in every conceivable way. Despite being set on a spaceship the sets don’t look like spaceship interiors at all, the acting is embarrassingly poor, and the editing almost seems intentionally bad — one character dies, only to appear alive in the very next scene. 

The riffing gets a lot of laughs out of just pointing out the numerous mistakes and poor acting choices in the film, as well as coming up with nicknames for various characters. The muscular leading man gets a whole string of nicknames including Flint Ironstag, Slab Bulkhead, and Big McLargeHuge. 

The Final Sacrifice (1990)

Available on Amazon Video

Also from Canada, this student film is about a kind of annoying teenage boy who’s forced to avenge the death of his father — who died at the hands of a mysterious death cult — with the help of a drunk redneck named “Zap Rowsdower.” 

For some reason it was released on home video. The whole thing has a very outsider art feel to it, like a community theater group trying to make a film.

The riffs in this one are some of the funniest MST3k has ever done, from “the bacon-y stench of Canada” to mocking a character’s Yosemite Sam-like voice… and making fun of the name Rowsdower, of course. But the true lesson we learn from the riffs is never to invest in lemon mines.

If you happen to come across this one on DVD it includes an interview with the actor who played Rowsdower. This is likely the closest thing to a “making of” type documentary for this film we’ll ever see.

Alien From LA (1988)

Free on YouTube

Kathy Ireland’s first attempt at transitioning from a model to a movie star resulted in this dud. To be fair it’s not entirely her fault, though speaking in an irritating squeaky little girl voice for the entire film didn’t help. The story thrashes between genres before eventually deciding to become a sci-fi chase through Atlantis.

Mike and the bots often imitate Ireland’s aforementioned squeaky voice, as well as another character they describe as “Australian.” When they start referring to unnamed characters as cereal box mascots, you know the movie’s in trouble.

Watching this episode again I’m surprised I’d forgotten the host segments. From Mike milking a refrigerator to a “sexy” Tom Servo, this is MST3k at its silliest and best.

I Accuse My Parents (1944)

Available on Amazon Video

Before the movie, this episode kicks off with a short — and extremely dated — educational film called “The Truck Farmer.” It’s ostensibly about modern farming practices, but Joel and the bots poke fun at how they’re spraying everything with pesticides, exploiting labor, and bulldozing forests — all so we can eat carrots. 

Getting on to the movie, it’s a cautionary tale about a young man who joins the mob by accident due to his alcoholic and uncaring parents. The movie opens with his trial before jumping back in time to see how he got there — which has less to do with his terrible parents than the set up would suggest.

The riffs focus on the character’s numerous lies, the advanced age of the actors playing teenagers, as well as references to the time period (for example one unnamed character is referred to as Eleanor Roosevelt.) The host segments in this episode are quite memorable as well.

Hobgoblins (1988)

Available on Amazon Video

This shameless straight-to-video Gremlins knockoff is about a tribe of small alien “hobgoblins” with mind control powers who escape an (unlocked) vault in a movie studio to terrorize a group of young men and women. 

Oh, and it’s the kind of movie where every female character is either a “nag” or a “slut” — an extremely misogynistic one in other words.

The riffs really zero in on the amateurish production values and make a lot of jokes referencing the 80’s. In one scene early on Mike asks “does he have Pringles in his shoes?” due to poor foley.  In a dance scene, Mike makes up lyrics to the music: “It’s the 80’s, do a lot of coke and vote for Ronald Regan.”

My favorite riff in the whole movie: “Someone’s rubbing puppets on us!”

 

Honorable mentions

Not all the films I wanted to include on this list are currently available for streaming, though there are low-quality copies on YouTube. Three stand out in particular.

Soultaker (1990)

In this cheesy movie, a group of “teens” die in a drunken car crash and wind up as ghosts. The angel of death dispatches his minion to steal their souls. It’s one of (at least) two movies they’ve covered starring Joe Estevez.

Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

Unfortunately MST3k lost the rights to this one, and it was only very briefly available on DVD. The movie barely has anything to do with Godzilla; instead it’s mostly about a robot named Jet Jaguar fighting a giant bug thing named Megalon. 

12 To The Moon (1960)

This odd film about an early moon landing seems more on the drama between the astronauts than the strange events that start happening once they get there. It’s preceded by a ridiculous short film called Design For Dreaming about all the new products from GM and Frigidaire coming in a very 1950’s version of the future.

 

Depending how long the shelter in place order continues I may end up doing another round of these — feel free to send in suggestions. After life goes back to normal I may do a similar entry for incoherent movies on MST3k, of which there are many to choose from.

Signs of the COVID-19 times

April 24th, 2020

With the COVID-19 coronavirus spreading so quickly, everyone’s had to adapt at a rapid pace. Some of the changes are clearly sad and less than ideal, yet safety has to be prioritized or more people will wind up dead. It’s worrisome that some don’t seem to mind the latter part of that equation.

Like most of us I’ve been doing my part to shelter in place as much as possible, though sometimes one does need to get out whether it’s buying groceries or just stretching one’s legs a little.

On the occasions I’ve ventured around the neighborhood, here’s some of the changes I’ve noticed.

 

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The notoriously cramped Bi-Rite Market on 18th Street rapidly rolled out changes including limiting the number of shoppers inside the store. To that end they painted icons on the sidewalk outside showing people where to stand six feet apart. It would help more if the sidewalk weren’t so narrow but it’s a start.

The “stand here” icon seems to be somewhat universal as it’s quite similar to the one used in those TSA scanners at the airport. At least you don’t have to take your shoes off in this case.

 

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The Valencia corridor is eerily quiet, with many retail and restaurant businesses closed — and many boarded up. Ostensibly this is to prevent vandals from breaking the windows and/or looting the place.

It’s especially jarring to see upscale retail stores boarded up, though with the way the retail economy has been going these past few years I suspect boarded up storefronts are here to stay for some time.

 

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Elixir bills itself as the second oldest bar in San Francisco, dating back to at least 1858. (The oldest bar is the Old Ship Saloon, which once operated out of — you probably guessed this — an old ship.)

Like many bars and restaurants Elixir is focusing on delivery and has also put up a GoFundMe to help support their staff. This is all advertised in spray paint on the side of the building.

 

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Signs all over Dolores Park tell people to stay six feet apart, and in four languages no less. Park goers largely seem to be following the rules at least in spirit. The park isn’t really designed for social distancing with benches right next to narrow sidewalks.

While there I noticed a couple unexpected things. One is the tennis courts were locked. Of all sports tennis seems like one that’s almost ideal for social distancing. The other is that even though Muni Metro is not operating they were performing some kind of testing on a new train on the tracks in the park.

 

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Unsurprisingly tattoo and piercing shops are not an essential business. But I was surprised Body Manipulations on 16th Street felt it necessary to tell people in a “driver does not carry cash” fashion that they have no toilet paper on the premises.

Are they serious about this? They’re one of the most respected places in the Bay Area to get unusual piercings (think nipple rings, etc.) so who knows! All I can say for certain is it’s definitely a sign of the times.