A number of developments marked the last few weeks of August for the Institute of Idle Time “collective.” First of all, Will and I went back to work after a summer break (Mike runs a summer camp, so no break for him, poor chump), and our place of employment is under new management. Second of all, our grand project — DECADES — hit the streets on August 21st. A thought-provoking, argument-starting ranking of our favorite 400 albums of the past fifty years, complete with individual write-ups for each album. It’s published by ComiXpress and written in large part by the membership of the Institute of Idle Time. (If I’ve never introduced them by name officially in this forum, they are: myself, Mike, Will, Rex Flores, Erik Hanson, Donald Hanson-No-Relation, and Jeannie Howell. For a reminder of what we’re all about, click here.) Even the seven of us could not possibly do write-ups for 400 albums in the time we had, so there are also contributions from over thirty of our friends and family. You might know one. You might be one. It’s a damn good bathroom read, contains original art by Jim Shepherd and photography by John Muheim and George Umpingco, and looks nice on a coffee table. Copies are available through me for $12.
A “zine” is simply a self-published magazine that initially came of age in the underground-punk-rock-DIY 70’s, a paper-and-staples relic being made increasingly irrelevant by the very thing you’re staring at right now. Sporadically produced, lovingly assembled, and indifferently distributed out of copier paper boxes and duffel bags, a zine is a soapbox guaranteeing your extremist and incindiary opinions will be read by literally tens of people, and discarded unread by dozens more. The Institute of Idle Time produced three issues of Idle Times between September 2008 and March 2009, with threats of a fourth issue made every so often. Mostly harmless pop-culture piffle (articles on monster movies and breakfast cereal, interviews with local artists and sub-minor celebrities, etc.), they have some pretty good stuff in them, and like the book, are available through me at a buck a throw.
So a couple of Saturdays ago, I made my leisurely way down to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and the County Fair Building therein, where Mike and his girlfriend Sherice, along with his brother Matt, photographer John Muheim, and fellow Idle Timer Donald Hanson, had set up the official Idle Time merch table. I was there to keep everyone company and lend moral support. I certainly wasn’t there for my salesmanship. I took the preschool advice “don’t talk to strangers” to heart, and it’s still a credo I try to live by. When forced to deal with large numbers of people I don’t know, my stomach clenches, my palms sweat, and when I’m not communicating in a hoarse whisper, I’m setting records for awkward pauses. (Low-level social anxiety disorder? Or just a misanthropic asshole? Who can tell?) But by the time I arrived, Mike was ready for a coffee break. I was counting on Mike’s megawatt personality to be a buffer between my reticent, surly self and the general public.
And this was not exactly the “general” public we’re talking about here. These were the denizens of the San Francisco Zine Fest, and within five minutes of my arrival, I was the official representative of the Institute of Idle Time to a crowd of hundreds of people who were each trying in their own special way to be as different and off-putting as possible.
In the fifteen minutes that I had been there, this was the second time I had heard that term. “Some friends and I from the east coast are trying to get a collective together…”was a snatch of conversation I overheard as I was walking in from an erudite young lady in a suede coat and (presumably fake) fur collar, complete with knee-high boots and what appeared to be a bandolier. I expected her to announce at any moment that she was, in fact, Inigo Montoya, and that I had killed her father, and should be prepared to die. I had only the vaguest idea what the term meant, but people kept trying to apply it to us.
Anyway, our new friend finished her interrogation of us, and immediately launched into her own completely-expected sales hustle. She was starting a fest of her own in September, and was trying to gather sponsorship. We took her flyer and watched her move on to the next table, where she plunked her elbows down and asked them what they were all about. Within the next few minutes, someone else dropped the collective terminology on us.
“What’s a collective? Are they asking if we all sleep together and raise soybeans?” I asked Sherice.
“I think you’re thinking of a co-op,” said Sherice. I pondered awhile.
[So here’s an official definition of “collective” that I looked up later: a group of people who share or are motivated by at least one common issue or interest, or work together on a specific project to achieve a common objective. So far, I guess we are, indeed, a collective. Collectives are also characterized by attempt to share and exercise political and social power. And that’s where the similarites end for us. We know and accept that we’re merely opinionated attention-whores, which is exactly like everyone else there, but we use no pretense of activism or artistry as a smokescreen.]
Mike’s coffee break extended into attending a screenprinting workshop, which extended my duties as Chief Salesman. Not that there were many sales to be made. As Mike pointed out, “A free zine fest does not attract the type of person with gobs of spending money.” What it does attract:
- A person with what appeared to be a gutted sheep carcass on his head. Upon closer examination, it turned out to be a particularly horrid set of dreadlocks, with what I’d wager to be a population density greater that San Francisco itself.
- A person who thought a plum-colored blazer gave him the air of a sophisticated bon vivant, but this belief was undercut by the many cigarette burn holes dotting the garment like moon craters.
- Women (now well into their thirties) who still think striped stockings and zany hair color are the height of alterna-culture.
- Bi-polar lesbian vampire enthusaists. (I’m not kidding, their table was right next to ours.)
Mike finally returned, but business at our stall remained slow, even when not fronted by the scintillating personality of Your Humble Narrator. Why?
- We in no way espoused a radical political cause. (One prominent silkscreened poster nearby depicted an armed, masked thug with the legend This Isn’t A Smash-And-Grab…This Is A REVOLUTION! stencilled across the bottom. Whatever. You’re not Thomas Paine, you criminal shitbird. It is a smash-and-grab, and they will probably catch you because you’re stupid. Good luck with the “political revolution” defense in court.)
- Our material in no way depicted or endorsed the activities of vampires, zombies, or a fiendish blend of both.
We were strictly music, which actually put us odd-man-out amongst this conglomeration of oddities. I was mistaken in my initial belief that these folks would gravitate to stuff of a musical nature. Music was a distant second (or third) to whatever other fringe hobbyhorse occupied their fevered minds.
I wasn’t getting any more comfortable working the table. What I need most in situations like these is a little infusion of Dutch courage. So not long after Mike came back, I was off like a shot to find the nearest public house. I didn’t have to look far.
On Lincoln Way, just across the street from the zine fest, is the Little Shamrock, and it is just the place to kill a few hours. The barkeep had his poodly hair tied back with a leather thong and was draped in tie-dye, but was such a font of hearty goodfellowship I immediately forgave him his unfortunate sartorial taste and decided he was one of the Good Ones. His obvious fondness for his products and his liberal use of the word “fuck” as noun, verb, adjective, and preposition marked him as a man after my own weaselly, wicked heart. He extolled the virtues of the recently-discovered Three Olives bubblegum-flavored vodka, and was generous with the free samples.
“My buddies and I had way too much of this last night,” he declared to his harem of adoring female barflies. “We were like a bunch of fuckin’ Bazooka Joes!”
After three fingers of Bushmills on the rocks and a couple of IPAs, I felt much better about manning the zine fest table. It must have shown on my face as I returned, with Matt Di Gino remarking “Looks like Popeye’s had his spinach.”
“Let’s sell some fuckin’ zines!” I hollered as I parked myself and prepared to press the flesh. But the only person who made a lengthy stop at our table for the remainder of the evening was a blind guy. He was one of those non-sunglasses-wearing blind guys, with his spooky eyes on full display, along with the white tapping cane. Seriously, he couldn’t have looked more blind (this will be important in a moment). All he lacked was a dog, but I guess he felt he didn’t need a dog when Matt Di Gino would do just as well.
“Excuse me, sir, could you direct me to the restrooms?”
Matt looked up, and did exactly what I’d hoped he’d do.
“Go about ten tables down and take a left.”
It was my favorite moment of the day.
Blind people have acute hearing to compensate for their lack of sight, so he must have heard by involuntary chuckle die an embarrassed, choked-off death in my upper thorax. But he chose to continue his awkward conversational waltz with Matt.
“Excuse me, sir, but as you may have noticed, I’m visually-impaired.”
Shooting the rest of us a hangdog, why-me stare (unseen by its cause, of course), Matt put down his copy of Decades ($12, e-mail me) and walked the man to the bathroom, leaving us to ponder how he knew Matt was a “sir.” We supposed he could see vague shapes, but even so, a six-foot-plus shape with a booming bass voice was no guarantee it was a “sir” at the zine fest, which ended soon after.
After an awesome meal at Pizza Orgasmica, the next item of business was a Decades-themed DJ set at uber-hot downtown San Francisco nightspot House of Shields presided over by Erik, Will, and Mike. I understand it was a roaring success. I wouldn’t know personally. I never found a parking spot. It was Saturday night in the busiest part of one of the busiest cities in the world. Will and Jeannie got there hours early (they didn’t bother with the Zine Fest). Mike, an SF native, parked 200 blocks away in the Financial District. I could have found somewhere to get cash to pay for the exorbitantly expensive (and dangerously seedy) public lots, but I decided, in the Great Holy Bee Tradition — fuck it. Home was a more attractive option. I pointed my car toward the Bay Bridge and got the hell out.
I’m told there will be a Sacramento Decades DJ set soon. That’s more my speed.