Features & Columns

'The River's Edge' Anniversary Brings Back Teenage Wasteland Memories

'The River's Edge' was a glorious paean to suburban wasteland despair Read More


We Love Summer: Summer Guide 2017

The white Chevy Biscayne rolled into Haight-Ashbury as the sun dimmed. The barefoot, flower-throwing hippies dancing in the streets jumped on the V8 engine's hood, the white monster that had pulled our Starcraft trailer clear across America on a liquid diet of 27-cent gas. The Doors' "Light My Fire" played every 60 minutes on the AM radio as it rose to the top of the charts. My sister and I huddled in back on that day in the summer of 1967, transfixed by the colorful images swirling around us at a street intersection that our mother had learned about from photos in Life magazine. When the California dream pulled us to Southern California a few years later, I headed to San Francisco to join what I expected would be a never-ending street » Read More

'The River's Edge' Anniversary Brings Back Teenage Wasteland Memories

A few stories came out last week to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1987 film The River's Edge, based on a grotesque murder in Milpitas. The teenage killer left his victim's corpse in the woods for a few days, inviting his friends to come over and check it out. Only then was the crime finally reported. It was a horrific incident that unleashed a national media firestorm. When the film came out, it likewise shocked the country. The River's Edge opens with the killer sitting at the victim's body and then cuts to him and his pals trying to buy beer at a Stop 'n' Go convenience store, which were common in those days. Then we get an 80-minute window into the lives of alienated teenagers dealing with the fallout, a picture that successfully » Read More

Sikh Foundation International Celebrates 50th Birthday

Ripple effects were felt worldwide, as the Sikh Foundation International-headquartered in Palo Alto-celebrated its 50th anniversary last weekend in grand-scale fashion. A few hundred Sikhs from around the globe dropped serious cash for a gala that took over the Asian Art Museum on Friday, followed by a free two-day conference at Stanford's Li Ka Shing Center. Somehow, surrounded by Sikhs, I managed to avoid talking about religion for the whole weekend and only one person tried to arrange a marriage for me. But first of all, let me introduce Narinder Singh Kapany, more commonly known around the globe as Dr. Kapany, the father of fiber optics. Kapany started the Sikh Foundation exactly 50 years ago in 1967, and he's been collecting Sikh art » Read More

Former South Texas Walmart Shows Path to Library Enlightenment

On a recent rampage through McAllen, Texas, the anti-man-about-town did not expect to witness such a landmark, epic, unprecedented transformation of abandonment into something productive. To be more precise, an empty former Walmart was repurposed to become the largest one-story public library in the US. It opened six years ago, but the facility continues to evolve and blow minds, especially the mind of this columnist, who grew up in libraries and reaped their benefits at an early age. By the numbers, McAllen is a small city, just under 200,000, and only minutes from the Mexican border. Eighty percent of the residents identify as Hispanic. » Read More

A Tribute to Chuck Barris and a Band of Merry Pranksters

The former host of The Gong Show, Chuck Barris, passed away last month at the ripe old age of 87. His show pioneered the implementation of bad-on-purpose talent judged by drunk celebrities who gonged contestants they didn't like. In addition to The Gong Show, Barris can also be blamed for The Newlywed Game and The Dating Game, going back to the '60s, helping to invent what's now called reality TV decades before the term surfaced. Barris used game-show entertainment to embarrass his entire industry, illuminating the crass idiocy of American pop culture in the process. In that sense, he was the greatest genius in television history. In the late '80s, Barris sold his empire to Sony, making enough to live happily ever after, so he wrote a » Read More

Silicon Valley Comic Con Beams into Silicon Valley

When Steve Wozniak was working to launch last year's inaugural Silicon Valley Comic Con, the Apple co-founder and his partners considered San Francisco's Moscone Center. Ultimately, they decided against it. "No," Wozniak says, recalling his final answer. "We want to hold it in San Jose, because San Jose is more representative-over the last 50-60 years-of Silicon Valley." Born in San Jose, The Woz' roots run deep in the South Bay. He and his family live in Los Gatos, though he says he might move back to San Jose's Willow Glen someday. His early philanthropy to the city's performing arts groups was acknowledged in naming downtown's Woz Way after him. » Read More

San Jose Signs Project Honors Colorful Contributions of Neon

We've all seen them. The celebrated neon signs of San Jose. We're talking Stephen's Meat Products, Western Appliance, the Sands Motel and the Wing's restaurant sign in Japantown. Signs are essential elements in the collective story of this city. They are part of San Jose's consciousness. Thousands of natives have gushed endless praise for San Jose's old-school neon signage, with many people from out of town also showing up just to photograph the marquees. But with the majority finding solace in bland landscapes, generic signage and village after village of hideously uniform condos that no interesting person would possibly look at, someone is finally taking it upon herself to stop complaining and do something to raise awareness about San » Read More

50 Things You Need to Know about Marijuana in California

Ever since California legalized weed last year, we've smelled something special in the air. People are lighting up anytime, anywhere-at the bus stop and the coffee shop, during late-night shows and early morning walks on the trail. But as marijuana goes mainstream, there are still a number of questions. Like, is it really legal? Turns out that's still a bit of a trick question. We took it upon ourselves to get the skinny on some of the more complex quandries that recreational marijuana raises. We asked around in an effort to figure out everything from the difference between sativa and indica strains to where and when you can smoke pot legally. In the process we questioned a cop, the District Attorney's office, the bassist for a local » Read More

Sister City Partnership Sparks Fruitful Artistic, Cultural Collaborations

Last year saw the 30th anniversary of the relationship celebrated in grand-scale fashion when the San Jose-Dublin Sister City committee organized a large contingent of folks to be present in Dublin for the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising. I was already traveling in Europe, so I met up with everyone for a few days on my way back home. It was monumental, historical, and a downright inspiring time to be in Ireland. And when it comes to the Irish, a few weeks ago, San Jose once again hosted the lord mayor of Dublin for an annual visit. Every March, the lord mayor brings an entire contingent of people to visit with business, political and university folk to further cement various partnerships and swap ideas. What began with Tom McEnery » Read More

The Princess Spy: Noor Inayat Khan

Sufi mystics don't normally make good spooks. As such, Noor Inayat Khan was perhaps the worst possible candidate to spy for Britain in World War II. Her dad was a Sufi musician from India, a personal friend of Mahatma Gandhi and also the one who first introduced Sufism to the West. Her mom was an American from New Mexico. Noor was born in Moscow but grew up in Paris, where she wrote Buddhist fables for children in both English and French. A descendant of Indian royalty and deeply spiritual person, she refused to kill anyone or even tell a lie. None of which generally bodes well for a career in espionage. » Read More

LAST Festival, Paseo challenge help Hammer Theatre Reinvention

Two simultaneous matrices of creative endeavor take over Hammer Theatre and Paseo de San Antonio this weekend, both of which will be open to the public and completely free of charge. The fourth incarnation of the LAST Festival (Life, Art, Science, Tech) will unfold inside the theater, beginning with a reception Friday evening and continuing with media art installations and provocative panel discussions all Saturday. LAST Festival founder Piero Scaruffi-also an author, scientist and cultural historian-organized the panel sessions, while SJSU art professor and former ZERO1 Executive Director Joel Slayton curated the art installations. » Read More

The Best of Silicon Valley 2017

This issue celebrates the best of Silicon Valley-a product of American ingenuity, California sunshine and the world's most optimally diversified genome stew. Some of the world's smartest people live and work here, with the possible exception of the ones who oversee spillways at Anderson Dam. Immigrants got a bad rap last year when they were cast as job stealers and sex offenders, but evidence indicates otherwise. With 37 percent of the population here foreign-born, we have nearly treble the national rate, yet both our unemployment and crime rates are ridiculously low. (The Stanford trash dumpster rapist came from Oakwood, Ohio, not Sinaloa-on an athletic scholarship no less.) » Read More

History San Jose Exhumes Valley's Deadly Fashion Obsessions

If only cheetahs could talk. When curators and volunteers began rifling through History San Jose's textile collection and discovered a vintage coat made from slaughtered cheetahs, one thing led to another. Soon enough, out came an entire exhibit devoted to the darker aspects of San Jose's retail and fashion industry. Fashion to Die For: A Shopper's Dilemma is now open in the Pasetta House at History Park. The title of the exhibit conveys multiple layers of meaning. "To die for" is a common phrase when shoppers absolutely must have a particular item. If animals are gunned down in the wild to manufacture a coat, or if arsenic is used to make clothes, as it was a century ago, "To Die For" takes on a whole new meaning, as it does when » Read More

Poet, Translator Sholeh Wolpe Gives Epic Persian Allegory New Life

Sholeh Wolpe uses poetry to unite east and west. A few years ago, the Iranian-American poet and translator came to San Jose State University and gave a talk on Attar, the legendary Sufi mystic writer from whom Rumi acquired his entire shtick. Attar's epic allegorical poem, The Conference of the Birds, had only been translated in a scholarly fashion, so Wolpe decided to translate a few passages into poetic English for her presentation at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Main Library. The experience moved her so much that she later wound up pursuing and getting a contract to translate the entire book, which just came out from W.W. Norton. Wolpe returned to San Jose State last week as part of her book launch enterprise. Once again, San Jose serves » Read More

Still No Answers

Mong-Van Fousek hobbled into San Jose City Hall with all she has left in the world: a backpack and canvas tote full of clothes, toiletries and a few snacks. "I can't leave it at the shelter," she said, "or someone might take it." The 71-year-old widow lost everything else in the flood that devastated several neighborhoods along Coyote Creek over two days in late February. But she didn't come to complain at Thursday's public hearing, the first since the disaster. After two weeks of enduring cramped quarters at the Seven Trees Community Center shelter, Fousek said, she simply wants to know when she can go back to her apartment in Rock Springs. » Read More

Sikh Culture Celebrated in Exhibit Coinciding with Events

Headquartered in Palo Alto, the Sikh Foundation International will soon be celebrating its 50th anniversary. A "golden gala" will take place May 5 at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco to coincide with an exhibit, "Saints and Kings: Arts, Culture, and Legacy of the Sikhs," which just opened last week. Several distinguished guests will attend, including Navtej Sarna, India's current ambassador to the U.S., who just happens to be an author, a traveler, a columnist and a Leonard Cohen fan. What a combination. Following the gala dinner, over the weekend of May 6-7, an elaborate conference will take place at Stanford University. » Read More

The Resistance Is Fertile in Silicon Valley

Benny O'hara flips through a stack of drawings on tracing paper and produces a recent piece: a protest sign on a wooden stake, surrounded by lilies. The time for peace, it seems, has come to an end. An artist at Death Before Dishonor tattoo parlor in downtown San Jose, O'Hara, who uses they/them pronouns, has received numerous requests for political ink in the last few months. Feminist tattoos like clothes hangers and burned bras, anti-fascist tattoos and trans-pride art. "Lots of people are wanting to have that conversation starter readily available and put it all out there," O'Hara says. "If you care about something and you want to be expressing it to as many people as possible, a tattoo is a much bigger commitment than a T-shirt." » Read More

Discovering the Virtues of VR Porn at Cinequest

The 2017 incarnation of Cinequest continues through this weekend. So far, the anti-man-about-town is both inspired and disgruntled: inspired because of all the glorious unknown discoveries and eclectic characters Cinequest usually supplies are in full force; disgruntled because a huge portion of the festival is in Redwood City, due to the demise of Camera 12. Opening night saw director Mark Pellington present his new dark comedy, The Last Word, in which abrasive advertising tycoon Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine) railroads Anne (Amanda Seyfried), a young aspiring newspaper staffer, by having her write Harriet's obituary before she even dies. In a down-to-earth interview after the film, Pellington, also one of the most celebrated music » Read More

Kim Addonizio Brings Intense New Poetry Collection to San Jose

Acclaimed poet, writer and articulator of the blues Kim Addonizio fortifies the classical poetic canon with glorious fusions of sacred and profane in her latest volume, Mortal Trash. Heraclitean Fire, internet dating, antidepressant medications and crappy ex-lovers appear and disappear, one after the other. She employs prosody and parody, elegy and eulogy, with equal intensity. For this reason, Addonizio's appearance 4-5pm Friday in the Steinbeck Center, on the fifth floor of San Jose State University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, should make for a gala hoedown spectacular, free to the public. There will be a special cocktail hour and reading and conversation. » Read More

The Cinequest Issue

From George Lucas' pioneering special effects studio, Industrial Light & Magic, to Steve Jobs' wild personal gamble, Pixar, the Bay Area has long been home to powerhouses in movie and TV production. But for all the incredible work done in the region, Los Angeles has remained the film capital of the world-while Silicon Valley has served only as a consultancy outpost for the big Hollywood studios. That is poised to change as more filmmakers adopt virtual reality and augmented reality technologies to tell stories, according to Halfdan Hussey, CEO and co-founder of Cinequest, which this year is expanding its mission statement and rebranding itself as the Cinequest Film & VR Festival. » Read More

Maitri Celebrates Progress in Confronting Domestic Abuse

This Saturday, Maitri celebrates 26 years operating as a free, confidential nonprofit organization that helps South Asian families deal with domestic violence, emotional abuse, human trafficking and other forms of family conflict. Unaffiliated with any cultural, social or religious organization, Maitri provides advice, legal help, transportation and even, in some cases, transitional housing for those who feel threatened in their own homes and in their closest relationships. In a way, Maitri functions as a liaison between local South Asian women in need and the mainstream American support system that may initially seem too distant for these women to approach. » Read More

Silicon Valley Comedy Scene Boosted by Open Mic Nights

Frankie Marcos' standup debut was a bomb not of his making. His co-worker, a chef, had told him it was open mic night at a bar in San Francisco. Marcos, like many beginners, decided to give it a shot because he had a rep as the funny guy at work. Why not try standup? He arrived at the bar anxious and proceeded to get buzzed. Just before his set was scheduled to start, Marcos looked around and realized there wasn't much of an audience and not a microphone to be seen. He asked his co-worker what was going on. "It's just you," the chef replied, turning to the entire bar to announce: "All right! It's time for some comedy!" » Read More

Power to the Pupil

This week I come to you from Terminal B, Gate 18, in the Power Suite. It is here, at Mineta San Jose International Airport, where 26 works of art by local high school students are now on display for those who can make it past security. The Power Suite is a 2,500-square-foot hold-room of sorts, seating about 100 passengers, a place where domestic and international travelers can plug in their devices at numerous spaces. But now, thanks to "Artspiration," a movement developed by administrators, teachers, parents, artists and community leaders to finally re-introduce the arts into teenagers' educational lives, the Power Suite has come to life via the artwork of 26 high school students from across the valley. The pieces are split between » Read More

Bay Area Wedding Singers Share Their Secrets

From truck drivers to X-ray diagnosticians, automation threatens millions of American jobs. We have traded face-to-face, human interactions for economic efficiency in almost all fields. But some things must remain sacred-and funky. While DJs and (shudder) playlists further encroach upon the most hallowed day in many romantic relationships-the wedding day-a relic from the past has maintained a unique nuptial niche. We're talking, of course, about wedding singers. Today's incarnations are nothing like Adam Sandler's crass burnout. They vary from traditionalists to award-winning singer-songwriters to gaudy '80s cover bands, but the very best perform a range that rivals any DJ-but with more oomph than could ever be extracted from a canned set. » Read More

San Jose's Little Italy Has Big New Plans

Wine, pizza, soccer and abandoned bakeries just go together in Little Italy. That's why several folks have conspired for years to transform one of San Jose's original 19th century Italian neighborhoods into a miniature Little Italy of the current day. Not much exists yet, but thanks to the efforts of a whole lot of Italian-Americans, some rip-roaring progress is starting to happen. The original Italian neighborhood is now the stretch of St. John Street just west of the hideous Highway 87 overpass, right where Henry's Hi-Life now sits. As recently as 100 years ago this was the intersection of San Augustine and Pleasant streets. » Read More

Santa Cruz Mountains Manhunt Evokes Travel Book Memories

Memories come from the strangest places. The recent image of a bank robber fleeing into the Santa Cruz Mountains and the subsequent police manhunt drove me to remember when I first became interested in exploring that same terrain. As a little kid in the mid-1970s, one of the first travel books I flipped through was a mammoth hardback coffee-table tome called Back Roads of California by Earl Hollander. Everyone's parents seemed to own the book, featuring Hollander's relaxed, genteel pen-and-ink drawings of various locales from the mountain side roads of California, "beyond the subdivisions" as one page quipped. » Read More

Winter Arts 2017

By some estimates, the recent storms have pushed California out of its years-long drought and into one of the wettest winters on record. But while atmospheric rivers have washed out roads and tested our will to venture outdoors, the weather hasn't daunted Silicon Valley creators, nor will it prevent visits by some of the hottest tickets of 2017. Cirque du Soleil is back. The French-Canadian psychedelic circus is throwing up its big tent in San Jose. The current touring show, Luzia, draws inspiration from the scenery, weather and culture of Mexico. » Read More

Lively Weeks of Arts Blends San Jose's Cultural Brew

What began with a one-day Vietnamese journey to San Jose City Hall will continue this weekend, as numerous local arts organizations join together, throw parties, raise funds and make their city a better place to live. The entire week already feels inspiring, so a round-up column becomes necessary. On Friday, Jan. 20, "The Journey of Tao: A Year-End Celebration of Vietnamese-American Artists" took over the City Hall Rotunda, showcasing numerous local and internationally renowned visual artists, both young and old. As with many Vietnamese events, color reigned supreme. Organized by Jenny Do, who once operated the Vietnamese-themed Green Rice Gallery in downtown San Jose, the one-day exhibit celebrated Tao, the popular Vietnamese deity whose » Read More

A Dose of Sunshine

Cookbooks crowd the lower tier of the bookcase. Above it, colored bowls and greeting cards line the top shelf, along with a solitary, empty Mason jar. There's a handwritten note in black ink taped to the side of the vessel. A small heart punctuates the phrase, "Self-loathing jar." Sitting at a long kitchen table made of blond wood and galvanized steel, author Ayelet Waldman waits for the electric kettle to boil as she completes an online purchase in preparation for the Jan. 21 Women's March on Washington. She makes two cups of tea-one for herself and one for her husband, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, who is sitting in the living room of their Berkeley home, diligently setting up the new flatscreen TV they've just » Read More