[Metroactive Features]

[ Features Index | Silicon Valley | Metroactive Home | Archives ]


Metro's 20th Anniversary Issue
Thank You, Silicon Valley!: A founder looks back.
How We Barely Survived a Publishing Startup 20 Years Ago...: By Julia Smith.
A Letter to 1985, From the Year 2005: By Richard von Busack.
Growing Up in Public: A look back at some of Metro's most talked-about articles.

Cover illustration by Max Kisman


Growing Up in Public

From the pre-Internet archives: A look back at a few of Metro's biggest, weirdest, fiestiest, funniest and most talked-about articles

Astrologer of the Absurd

Rob Brezsny, the man who calls himself a "real astrologer," is the guy whose witty and sometimes languid, liquid and definitely sexy prognostications and gentle prods appear on a weekly basis in this newspaper. Brezsny, who also does a widely distributed daily horoscope, may be one of the few "real astrologers" around (he has been studying astrology for 15 years), but he is clearly a lot more than that. He is a writer, musician, philosopher and minor cult figure in Santa Cruz, where he lives at the end of a relatively quiet street in a suitably Bohemian apartment. "Astrology is a nice way to make a living," he says, "but music allows me to express the greater range of understanding in a more effective way."

He came to Santa Cruz in 1977 via North Carolina and Vermont and began writing the column, which is now syndicated to eight papers, shortly afterward. Working in the "alternative community" of Santa Cruz has given him the freedom, he says, to experiment with the form over the years in a way that wouldn't have been possible in almost any other location.

But where does it come from? How does Rob Brezsny zero in on the universal conflicts that are each person's own private property? And how does Brezsny respond to the rationalist arguments that the motions of far-off heavenly bodies just couldn't possibly produce discernible patterns here on earth?

"To me, astrology is a system of symbols which can be useful in explaining aspects of human behavior and aspects of human psyche," he explains. "It's not the ultimate truth; it's not some sort of system that explains everything. I try to walk a middle line between being an absolute believer and an outright skeptic. But it does work and it gives me results. Admittedly, it's 90 percent art and 10 percent science—or maybe 80-20. But I do use a system, whereby each sign is lit up in particular ways by the effects of various planets."

Brezsny seems to thrive on the contradictions that he lives—spiritualist pop entertainer, rationalist astrologer, "libertarian communist."

"I'm as skeptical about the left-wing politics which I embody as I am about astrology," he says. "I try to keep a distance rather than just taking it out of one cloth and becoming another rhetorician full of dogma. I try to use the perspectives of the left to educate myself, but remain independent of them."

—Jim Wall, April 22, 1987

Rob Brezsny has since migrated to the north bay, but his column—now called "Free Will Astrology"—still appears every week in Metro. When this profile was written, his column appeared in fewer than 10 papers; it is now syndicated to more than 100 publications.

First Street Shuffle

San Jose's protectors of perpetual purity paid a visit to the city Planning Commission last week, hoping to protect their homes and families from the scourge of pornography, but it looks like the city is about to—as San Jose resident Joseph Andrews put it—spread the cancer from one part of the body to the other healthy parts.

Coming before the commission was a proposed zoning change that will, presumably, disperse the adult bookstores, movies and sex shops now clustered around the intersection of San Salvador and South First Street in downtown San Jose. With the Fairmont Hotel nearing completion and an ever-expanding hole in the ground that threatens to someday transform itself into a convention center, city officials have made the cleanup of the sex shop district a top priority, and hope to eliminate the concentration within three years. The downtown sex trade wouldn't be so bad, says one local businesswoman, if the area had more police protection and if late-night visitors circulating among the restaurants, theaters and nightclubs could feel secure. She works on South First Street, near the Pussycat Theater and the Bachelor Club, which features lingerie-clad dancers.

"You can go up to North Beach in San Francisco and it's a big laugh, because it's well lit and there's thousands of people," she says. "There you can sit and dine at a nice restaurant and walk right by some sleaze parlor. There are cops and bustle all the time. But San Jose just doesn't have that. Everybody is encouraging you to go downtown. But most people don't want to be here, and there are reasons for that. It's a security thing, and I don't think the City Council and the Police Department recognize that they've got a real bad image when it comes to safety. They just keep thinking, 'Well if we just pretty it up.' You can put lipstick on a shark, but that doesn't make it any more attractive."

Actually, according to Lt. Dan Bullock, who commands the Police Department's Street Crimes Unit, crime in the downtown area is down 57 percent since 1980. Bullock says the drop is directly related to the department's efforts against prostitutes and johns. But, despite the improvements, downtown is still the porn capital of San Jose, and that just won't do when the stated goal of city leaders is to revitalize the Downtown Core Area.

So the city attorney's office drafted the plan to zone the downtown porno shops out of the redevelopment area, and then, in order to satisfy current Supreme Court interpretations of the First Amendment right to expose body parts and utter dirty words as a form of free expression, to permit the shops to relocate in commercial zones scattered around the city—but with the important proviso that adult businesses would need to be at least 200 feet from a school.

—Jim Wake, April 23, 1987

We covered the changes downtown has undergone over the last two decades in our "20 Years of News" issue last month, but we thought we should let some of that old-time flavor inspire either relief or nostalgia in current-day San Jose readers. Plus we've never seen a story before or since in which someone used the supposed expression "You can put lipstick on a shark, but that doesn't make it any more attractive."

Gremlins in Smurfland

The Sky Whirl looked like a wimpy ride, the sort of thing that might prove mildly exciting to toddlers and safe for people with pacemakers. From its central shaft radiated three big arms, each holding about eight open-air cabins suspended on chains. It looked a bit like Jules Verne's grandmother's idea of space travel or a special effect out of a Roger Corman movie. But the line was short, the night was young and what the heck ...

Ah, Great America. To be airborne, alone with a warm, friendly woman in a private cabin, far above the twinkling semiromantic lights of Santa Clara and the twirling colors of the park. Why, there's Smurf Woods and Fort Fun. And look, dear, the moon. And what's the man saying into the microphone?

It was something about remaining calm. Something about technical difficulties. Whatever it was, we had stopped. Dead air. Our arm was now the highest of the three, and our cabin was near the top of the arm, 10 stories over solid ground.

We had time to contemplate things. The wind chill factor. Helicopters with rescue ladders. Our cat inheriting two cars, a house and voluminous debts. Below us, park employees in 1890s costumes conferred with one another. There was another announcement. Something about staying seated. Something about technical difficulties.

The warm, friendly woman said something about "We're just hanging by two little pieces of chain" and "I want my money back" and, with a certain amount of nervous laughter, "Please God, don't let me die."

"The cabin's not going to fall off," I responded reassuringly. "It's just that, for some reason, it appears we'll never be able to get down."

"We should have eaten," she replied. "We should have brought a book." And then, slowly, the Sky Whirl began to jerk a bit. The microphone informed us that the wheel had begun to turn, and to please remain seated. Slowly, it whirled. It gained speed and we went up, and then it lost speed and we went down. The Eagle had landed. We were on the ground, in one piece, alive.

—David Arenson, May 28, 1987

Still the funniest thing we've ever read about Great America.

The House That Jack And Neal Built

By the time his Seconal- and alcohol-soaked body was pulled from beside the railroad tracks near San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, just a few days before his 42nd birthday one chilly February night almost 20 years ago, Neal Cassady had been immortalized in a wash of stream-of-consciousness ink. He was Dean Moriarty, the freewheeling protagonist of Jack Kerouac's landmark opus, On the Road. In Allen Ginsberg's most famous poem, Howl, he was "N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver." Ken Kesey, in his recent collection of essays, Demon Box, crowned him Superman and Fastestmanalive. Tom Wolfe, in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, waxed eloquent over Cassady's "deadly competent" command at the wheel of the Merry Pranksters' bus.

More than anything, he personified the alienation of a generation and its refusal to accept the repressive societal norms of the '40s, '50s and pre-counterculture '60s. He was Elvis and James Dean for the literati.

At home, Neal Cassady was hardly a maniac on the loose. Biographers can be forgiven for making short shrift of his domestic side; mowing lawns just doesn't make for the same riveting reading as cross-country benders and death-defying, psychedelic-crazed driving stunts. The unchronicled dimension of Neal Cassady is that of the gentle father who desperately wanted a conservative family existence, tried to make a suburban lifestyle work and was torn apart by his inability to do so.

During the 1950s, when Cassady worked as a brakeman for the Southern Pacific, John remembers his father showing up on the doorstep each night in his conductor's suit with his lamp and cap. "He was always bringing the kids home something he found on the track, a toy or a Mexican sombrero," John says.

"People ask me, 'Did you ever meet your dad? Did you ever know him?' I remember him being there at lunchtimes and birthdays. Up until '58, he was the 9-to-5 railroad worker. From '60 to '64, it was more sporadic. But I have nothing but fond memories of him. I read all these stories about him and it's really hard for me to believe that he was everywhere at once, that he touched so many people's lives. I can't believe he was here so much and still did all those things. I know they can't be making it all up."

—Dan Pulcrano, Dec. 3, 1987

John Cassady tried to preserve his family's Monte Sereno home, but it was eventually razed. Now it can be told: in searching the Cassady garage for photos to accompany this story, John suddenly whispered "Neal's in here." The author assumed this to be some kind of supernatural allusion, but in fact it was a reference to the fact that Neal Cassady's ashes were at the time being stored in a wooden urn inside a metal file box. After a bit of coaxing, Cassady convinced Dan Pulcrano to put his hand in the urn and feel the crunchy incinerated bones through a rayon bag.

On Building a People's Downtown

What if they held an urban renaissance and nobody came? Is downtown, as its critics seem to think, destined to become an expensive monument to political excess, with an unlit skyline, unleased retail space, vacant hotel rooms, see-through office buildings and empty trolley cars?

No, that scenario is ludicrous.

The better question is not if, but when downtown will work. And the answer rests upon whether the city's leaders possess the wisdom to broaden their vision, as well as how effectively they can implement a plan based on downtown's new realities rather than on the assumptions of just a few years ago. Tom McEnery's election as mayor in 1982 provided the city with the political leadership to accomplish as fast and as dramatic a reshaping as a major city has seen. It's not even exaggerating to say that nothing since the invention of the microchip can have as far-reaching an impact on life in the Santa Clara Valley as the current effort to create a true urban center for the 2 million residents it will serve.

With the mayor's recently appointed Downtown Working Review Committee, an opportunity exists to reprioritize the agenda toward a people-oriented approach that is critical to downtown's future. Whether this commission lives up to the challenge that lies before it, however, depends on the vision of its members. Too many of them, it appears, were chosen because of their unswerving political support for the mayor and his pet projects rather than for their understanding of issues or what they can bring to the process of planning an urban future.

More worrisome, however, than the appointment of marginally qualified supporters has been the exclusion of pro-downtown independent thinkers from the review process. While no one is suggesting that the mayor provide a forum for downtown foes and political adversaries, the review committee could be substantially enriched with the inclusion of a wider range of opinions—opinions drawn from the ranks of those who are familiar with downtown and generally supportive of its direction, but who have some new ideas to add.

The point is well expressed by Vietnamese business leader Doanh Chau, who says he was passed over for appointment to the committee "because I'm an independent voice." Though Cbau has supported the mayor on critical issues (such as the building of a downtown arena), he is the type who will not hesitate to say that the emperor's not wearing any clothes while everyone else is applauding the parade. "I'm disappointed with the composition of the committee," Chau says. "It's just another group of happy-talking people who will glorify McEnery and [Redevelopment director] Taylor. "Downtown isn't working, because they can't take criticism," he says. "We don't have enough community support. We have to build downtown for the people, not a privileged few."

—Dan Pulcrano, Sept. 15, 1988

This article spurred some vicious attacks, which ironically proved the point about the mayor's political machine. But the fact remains Metro recognized early that downtown had a whole new community to serve going into the '90s.

The Claus That Oppresses

Every year at Christmas I realize anew why I'll never write a book. The dustjacket bios of other authors seethe with intriguing, novelistic job histories: Merchant Marine, short-order cook, gunrunner, commodities trader. My most unusual job wouldn't look good on the inside of a matchbook: Santa's helper.

It's been nearly 20 years since I toiled for the Fat Man one Yuletide, yet every time I see anxious urchins herded into Santa's pressboard chalet at the local shopping mall, I still get a tear in my eye. After pulling the pine needle out of my cornea, I remember the stark truth about labor relations at the top of the world: Santa doesn't run a union shop.

I served my time under Kriss Kringle's capacious thumb at Santa's Village in Scotts Valley, which once lured innocent tourists with a bizarre assortment of roadside attractions that included a forest of Dr. Doolittle-ish topiary, a historical wax museum and a dinosaur park. Pre-eminent among these was Santa's Village, one of a troika of such theme parks, the others being in Lake Arrowhead and outside of Chicago, just far enough to keep credulous kiddies guessing.

My stint with Santa came after a romp through the amusement park of higher education (never underestimate the power of a bachelor's degree, kids). Desperate for a paycheck, I signed on with a friend who ran the puppet show at the park. "It's easy," he lied. "Pull a few strings, make a few faces, collect a few tickets."

Let's get one thing straight. I was never technically an elf at Santa's Village. That was a job reserved for legions of Santa Cruz County teenagers. You can see them on vintage postcards from the park, toting candy canes the size of sabers and gussied up in tights, scalloped-heeled moccasins and fake leather tunics, looking like rejects from a Peter Pan casting call.

I never wore the tights, but they gave me a uniform anyway: a pair of overalls that had been dyed green and emblazoned with the words Puppet Place, for such was the name of the home of the Wee Puppet Theater, down the hill from Mrs. Claus' Spice and Candy Kitchen, just this side of the swinging bridge that crossed Magic Mirror Lake to the Mill Wheel Sweatshop ... er, Toy Factory. The puppet show itself owed little, in fact, nothing, to Christmas or any other earthly holiday. In front of a painted vaudeville backdrop, the marionettes performed a few up-tempo ditties, swapped excruciating puns and tried to keep pace with the prerecorded musical accompaniment. The severely limited cast included a piano-playing dog, a can-canning ostrich and an absent-minded elephant. Five merciful minutes and it was over.

—Michael S. Gant, Dec. 21, 1989

Michael S. Gant is still hiding out from Santa as part of the federal Witness Protection Program. He is rumored to be working as Metro's arts editor.

The Daily Grind

Given the Mercury News' tendency to grind out special 12-page sections whenever Big News brushes through town—remember those front-section Super Bowl and World Series wraparounds, and that giddy "Ga-Ga for Gorbachev" week?—it seems peculiar that the paper's top editors would at the last minute cut back ambitious plans to cover last month's international conference on AIDS in San Francisco.

After weeks of planning, a dozen reporters and an editor had been sent to San Francisco, put up in hotels and given the task of filling 1 1/2 to two news pages in the A section each day of the conference. Even for a five-day conference, that's a rather modest quota considering that entire sections were planned for each day of last year's Bay Area World Series. Yet on the first day of the conference, word trickled down from executive editor Bob Ingle's office that two pages was a page too much.

At Metro's press deadline, Ingle and managing editor Jerry Ceppos were not in the office and couldn't be reached for comment. According to deputy managing editor Tom Kunkel, Ingle was worried that the conference might not sustain two news pages' worth of "readable material for the average consumer." Kunkel also says that the decision was driven in part by what's become the new mortal sin at the lighter-than-air Mercury: "I think that we had felt that during the last couple of weeks before [the AIDS conference] we had been guilty of giving people a lot of heavy papers from the standpoint of a lot of strong stories."

These days, major Merc editorial decisions have little to do with such outmoded concepts as newsworthiness. Miscalculating the importance of Gorbachev's mostly symbolic Bay Area whirlwind tour, the Merc devoted eight cloying pages to every conceivable angle of the visit in its news section. That came after a week's barrage of Gorby fever in the Merc. Says Kunkel, "Whereas we were sure that most residents of the Bay Area were going to be transfixed with Gorbachev's visit, the AIDS conference was different." Kunkel explains that readers may have a lower threshold of interest in AIDS news.

Ironically, the deserving criticism of the Gorbachev overkill may have caused the demographics-conscious Merc to recoil too much in scaling back its AIDS conference coverage. Ceppos told disgruntled reporters last month that the paper's management had been leery of overdoing it again.

—John Whalen, July 12, 1990

Pope commemorative issue, anyone? This is an example of the great critiques Whalen did in the Daily Grind, his media-watch column.

Power Drive

Peeking over a podium at San Jose's Italian Gardens, Ron Gonzales faced down a banquet hall full of labor union leaders. Not much more than a year ago, Gonzales would have been as welcome as Carl Icahn at an airplane mechanics' union meeting. In 1988, when he was campaigning for Santa Clara County supervisor, the job he now holds, these very unionists did whatever they could to try to make him lose.

The Sept. 6 luncheon could have been a hostile confrontation; the supervisor could have scolded them for betting their already scant political capital on his opponent, former Milpitas Mayor Bob Livengood. Instead, Gonzales tried to explain why he won, and why the unionists lost. He was blunt with them, telling them that among the tacticians who orchestrated his '88 campaign, "lack of labor support was not perceived as a weakness—and that's something you have to think about." He delivered, to these adherents of America's most rugged political bloc-organized labor, an emasculating message: "Labor's importance in local elections is on the decline."

They sat there happily and lapped it up.

Taken out of context, his pointed remarks could sound somewhat condescending. Knowing only that labor looked on Gonzales—a "market program manager" at Hewlett-Packard—as management's candidate, the supervisor's candor could appear vindictive. It was not. Among his one-time adversaries, Gonzales was now on friendly ground. Too pragmatic for vendettas, Gonzales' facility for transforming foes into supporters explains some of the contradictions in his brief political career.

Labor boycotted him, though at the age of 16 he marched on picket lines with his teamster father. And, despite his support from the CEOs of Silicon Valley's largest companies, San Jose's Chamber of Commerce endorsed Livengood as its pro-business choice.

Gonzales is the first Hispanic elected to the county's board of supervisors, but most of his votes come from Sunnyvale, his hometown, where most residents are Anglo and middle-class. His district encompasses a good chunk of San Jose, but he suffers strained relations with the city's mayor, Tom McEnery. He pitches himself as the little guy's politician, whose best campaign staff is his wife, father and three daughters. Yet his campaign raised a record-setting half-million-plus; he took sizable contributions from developers, garbage companies, incumbent politicians and other established interests.

For political friends, he's a fierce fundraiser. Yet when the job is done, the networking subsides. Gonzales prefers the blissful drone of Nintendo games to the strategically sociable links of the golf course. He doesn't even look much like a politician. Surprisingly short legs supporting a cratelike torso, he'll strip off his off-the-rack Macy's blazer to reveal his ever-present braces. Much more practical than suspenders, there's no risk that they'll pop open at the podium.

—Jonathan Vankin, Sept. 20, 1990

Ron Gonzales never went anywhere in San Jose politics, but we thought we'd include this profile anyway.

Garage In, Garage Out

It's Saturday morning, and opening day is a week away for The Garage, the prototype for what backers hope will eventually become the Technology Center of Silicon Valley.

At 145 W. San Carlos St., in downtown San Jose, staff members and construction workers create a blur of activity and a buzz of sound that never lets up; it only varies in pitch and volume.

Through the stylized garage doors and into the central museum area, six exhibits are being readied for curious visitors. These include the remarkable range of physics that explain the motion of bicycles; the sciences that govern space exploration, including the brighter side of the Hubble telescope as demonstrated by a one-fifth scale model; the constantly expanding world of material compositions, also known as better living through chemistry; fundamentals of microprocessing, including a trip through the chip manufacturing process that, not so curiously, omits the unendurable boredom and toxic risks of life on the assembly line; and recent advances in biotechnology and robotics.

The exhibits are designed to attract individuals of all ages, and special programs are in place to accommodate the expected hordes of school groups, especially science classes. On top of all that, Willard Scott's already been there for a Today Show broadcast.

But it is kind of small, isn't it? Especially since this is the cradle of technology, the birthplace of the industry, Silicon Valley USA? Although The Garage takes up 17,000 square feet, that includes administrative offices and support areas, which means the public areas, including a cafe, only amount to about 10,000 square feet. Not that good use hasn't been made of those square feet, but still ...

As it turns out, The Garage (which used to be McCabe Hall in the Civic Auditorium complex; the space has been donated by the city) is only a temporary facility, a test run, if you will, for the dream museum known as the Technology Center of Silicon Valley.

How surprising to learn that the hundreds of companies whose founders squeezed respectability and Los Altos hillside property out of their successful technological adventures here have been hesitant to open up their checkbooks and make a sizable contribution to the very museum that would enshrine them in a temple of technological immortality. How very unlike our nouveau riche to shrink from the fame that philanthropy brings. The Garage, nifty and friendly as it is, is designed to amuse only until the funds are found to build a permanent structure.

—Julia Smith, Nov. 1, 1990

The Garage, of course, became the Tech Museum.

The Untouchable

On the night of his 54th birthday, San Jose Redevelopment Agency director Frank Taylor showed what a charming guy he can be. Of course, he was in his element—watching the agency's money about to be spent. Standing on the first floor of the Hotel Sante Claire, he watched Mayor Susan Hammer knock down a fake slab of drywall, kicking off the hotel's new face-lift, greased by $8.67 million of Redevelopment money. Cutting a dashing figure in floral tie and a 1940s-style trench coat complete with epaulets, Taylor took center stage under the glare of TV klieg lights, his top lieutenants—former military intelligence agent Jim Forsberg and spin control queen Pat Dando—never far from his side.

"I think my mother told me, when you're in your 50s, you get the face you deserve," quipped Taylor in his Bostonian drawl, sending a warm ripple of laughter through a crowd laced with the usual suspects who pass for celebrities in downtown San Jose. It was a typical public display of the self-deprecating humor for which the native Bostonian has become known as one of San Jose's more endearing power brokers.

His bosses, who sit on the San Jose City Council, love him. He's a "creative genius," they say, the man who's done more for the city than anyone. He's godlike, even.

Like the coach of a football team or the CEO of a big corporation, the man at the top of the Redevelopment Agency sets the tone for the organization. The portrait of Taylor's managerial style that emerges from Tom Hanson's and Terry Greene's recollections—supported by officials close to Redevelopment who would speak on the condition of anonymity—goes a long way toward explaining why so many downtown business owners fear the agency, which at any time could swoop down and swallow up their block.

It also sheds some light on how Taylor has accrued a phenomenal level of independence for the executive of an agency that spends hundreds of millions in public dollars. There's nothing subtle about his method. He overpowers or out-maneuvers those who get in his way—often by either charming or alarming them.

—Bob Hansen and Jonathan Vankin, March 19, 1992

This expose was one of Metro's biggest investigative stories.

Lu Slips

At the time, no one thought it was odd: a cantankerous tycoon who flooded Bay Area publications with letters so robustly right-wing they made you smile just to read them—who advocated letting the wealthy off of paying taxes on the grounds that rich people use the fewest government services—but whom no one had actually seen.

Earl Lu. For a while he was a minor celebrity, and local papers' letters pages were dominated by feuds between his partisans and his opponents, as well as by spin-off engagements: debates which started life as part of the Lu controversy and then got sidetracked into totally unrelated fields.

In retrospect, of course, it seems surprising that people were taken in. The letters are like caricatures of extremism. But whose imagination could have stretched to the truth: that not only was Earl Lu a fiction, not only were a number of the other personalities in the controversy also invented, but the Lu affair was just one strand in a web of similar hoaxes over at least six years, involving eight papers and spawning seven personalities?

Ironically, Lu's very success was his undoing. His presence on paper was so strong that he invited further investigation as a possible profile subject. A story seemed to underlie his letters: a penniless flight from Asia, a rags-to-riches transformation in the United States, the story of a man with the business sense of Henry Ford and the compassion of a hyena.

But preliminary examination of Lu's letters turned up something odd: they bore an uncanny resemblance to other missives in the Metro archives purporting to be from different people.

"James Spitz Nuer," "John W. Lillpop Jr.," "Gerald Harbaugh," "Steve A. Marks," and "Melissa Haley"—their letters, along with Earl Lu's, all appeared to have been composed on the same typewriter: a machine which cut off the top left corner of the capital "E" and missed the tail of the lower-case "a."

—Louis Theroux, Aug. 27, 1992

Earl Lu still occasionally writes us—but he signs his real name, John Lillpop.

Archivist of the Apocalypse

Peter Matthiessen says he's hopeful that the human race will survive in spite of itself, but he doesn't sound particularly optimistic that the world left over will be one worth living in.

"My own feeling is that, as an organism, we are very, very adaptable—that we're rather like crows and rats, mosquitoes, which can live in practically any climate," he says. "And for that reason, we will survive even the worst things we can do to ourselves. I don't think we're going to be obliterated as a species, but it could come pretty close to that. I think we haven't seen the beginning of crime and pollution and wholesale dislocation and famine and so forth. I think our children, my children and my grandchildren, are going to have a very messed up world to deal with. But I think we'll survive it. I think we will. I'm not pessimistic in the final sense."

Maybe it's his sense of foreboding that inspires Matthiessen to carry on writing and recording worlds that are on the verge of disappearance—and at a time when, by his own admission, he is tempted to put down his pen for good.

"I keep thinking I'm about to stop [writing]," he says. "I have to say that I haven't quite licked it yet."

That Matthiessen also toys with the idea of pulling up stumps and spending the rest of his seasons rambling aimlessly somehow doesn't come as a surprise either. Paradoxically for such a prodigious traveler, there is a deep sense of unworldliness about Matthiessen. It is the ingenuousness of someone who hasn't lost his capacity to be shocked by the corruption of civilization.

And despite the sense of doom that is attached to the world's treasures in Matthiessen's works, he also offers redemptive moments of hope. One such appears in The Snow Leopard: Matthiessen describes what he takes to be strong evidence for the existence of the Yeti—the mythic "Abominable Snowman."

Matthiessen allows that all expeditions in search of the creature have failed, but concludes, "This may only prove that Bigfoot habitat is virtually impenetrable, and that after long centuries of hiding, these rare creatures are exceptionally wary."

One suspects that Matthiessen draws a soothing sense of consolation from the idea that a community of hairy subhominids are still gamboling in the Himalayas untouched by civilization.

—Louis Theroux, Nov. 5, 1992

Theroux, who went on to find fame on Michael Moore's "TV Nation" and his own BBC show, "Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends," also used this article as an opportunity to quote his famous novelist father Paul Theroux, and then write in the next paragraph that his father's analysis was completely wrong.

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Ever since Father Gilbert Gauthe was convicted in 1985 of molesting 37 boys in his Louisiana parish, the Catholic Church in the United States has been besieged by charges of sexual misconduct.

Over the past seven years, more than 200 Catholic priests have been prosecuted or are awaiting trial on charges of pedophilia. Hundreds more have been accused of having sexual relations with both male and female parishioners. A confidential report prepared for consideration by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops predicted that by 1995, the church will pay up to $1 billion in civil damages for these illicit encounters.

The breadth of the tragedy is truly staggering: It's speculated that Gauthe alone may have "had sexual encounters with as many as 200 boys; in Chicago, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin recently dismissed a half-dozen parish priests over charges of pedophilia; in Boston, former priest James Porter admitted to molesting as many as 100 children during his 14 years with the church; in New Orleans, Father Dino Cinel was found with more than 160 hours' worth of homemade pornographic videos involving seven teenage boys and various animals.

"Pedophilia is the S&L disaster of the Catholic Church," says Rev. Andrew Greeley, the famed Catholic sociologist from Chicago. "The more that comes out, the worse it looks, and you begin to wonder if there's ever going to be an end to the mess."

The end is nowhere in sight. "We get calls about pedophilia once a week," says Tim McCarthy of the National Catholic Reporter. "If we covered every story, we'd wind up covering little else."

According to former Benedictine monk Richard Sipe, author of A Secret World: The Search for Celibacy, up to half of the Roman Catholic priests in the U.S. do not uphold their vows of sexual abstinence.

Sipe, now a psychotherapist, concluded after a 25-year study that 20 percent of priests "have a clear pattern ofheterosexual behavior," 10 percent to 13 percent are ''homosexually active" and 6 percent are "sexually involved with minors."

Until this spring, local Catholic priests have been relatively unscathed by charges of sexual misconduct. On June 19, however, a 27-year-old Vietnamese-American nurse filed a civil suit seeking more than $1 million in damages from Father Peter Luc The Pan, a priest at St. Joseph of Cupertino Parish. Three other priests, St. Patrick's Seminary, the Diocese of San Jose and the Archdiocese of San Francisco were also named in the suit.

The woman charged that Luc used the power of the cloth to seduce her into a sexual liaison that lasted for five years.

When she finally refused his advances, the suit alleges, Luc raped her at a Sunnyvale motel.

Over the past three months, Metro has discovered several other cases of sexual misconduct in the San Jose diocese.

—Geoffrey Dunn, Nov. 12, 1992

This lengthy and controversial three-part series profiling the Catholic Church as a valley institution won Metro awards for investigative journalism with both the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the National Newspaper Association, as well as a failed attempt by some rogue priests to organize an advertiser boycott. A few years later, the mainstream press caught up to the story.

The Aliens Want My Body

The Saratoga home of Lisa Reynolds seems at first an unlikely site for extraterrestrial visitations. A far cry from the more traditional venues of paranormal phenomena, such as isolated desert highways and remote wilderness areas, the pea-colored house is located in a populated section of town, with plenty of neighbors and street traffic.

Yet this is where Reynolds, a former Las Vegas showgirl who now works in real estate, claims she is repeatedly contacted by beings from outer space. Unannounced, the aliens melt through the walls and crawl in the windows of her home, sometimes several times a week. Once inside, the grayish creatures with Walter and Margaret Keane-like eyes and skinny bodies conduct strange experiments.

Occasionally she's beamed up into their cigar-shaped spacecraft, a sleek black machine that hovers silently above outside, and then Reynolds is transferred to her abductors' "mothership."

Then things really get weird. The ETs teleported Reynolds for the first time, she says, on May 29, 1992. She remembers awakening inside their spaceship, somewhere in the fourth dimension.

"I was in a room," she explains. "It had a high, curved ceiling, and the light didn't seem to have a source—it just came from nowhere. I was standing up, and there was a bed to the left of me. This small being had his arms around me. And, telepathically, he was saying that he wanted to have sex with me. I told him no. The next memory I have is we were in bed together, and he still had his arm around me, and he's still indicating that he wants to have sex with me. What's strange is that I don't think they can have sex; I don't see sex organs on any of them, male or female. Well, the idea of having sex with him repulsed me, but I really didn't mind him having his arm around me."

It would be easy to dismiss Reynolds as a nut case who's read one too many science-fiction books. But she is one of numerous Santa Clara County residents who claim to have had a close encounter of the fourth kind, the term for having been abducted or contacted by an extraterrestrial, and just one of possibly a million Americans whom population studies suggest may be abductees.

—Bob Hansen, July 22, 1993

"The X-Files" had nothing on Metro, that's for sure. And editors live for the opportunity to write a sentence like, "Their heads are bald, their eyes bulge, and the sex is out of this world!"

Skate to the Top

Among the myriad ways to piss off parents, two are guaranteed to work every time: join a rock band or buy a motorcycle. Music and motorcycles embrace three themes of teenage nonconformity: volume, defiance and self-expression. The archaic face of liberation is plastered on all who survive their first live gig or pull out of the driveway for the first time without stalling.

Four familiar faces in San Jose's club scene on South First Street, or SoFA—site of this Sunday's street fair—have melded those three addictive principles of youth into a din as loud and proud as the thigh-flapping Harley-Davidson whose name they took for their own: Shovelhead.

According to Ann Ponz, co-owner of the Hog Farm, San Jose's mecca for Harley-Davidson devotees, a "Shovelhead" is one of the most sought-after Harley engines around. It reeks cachet.

"Most of the guys who ride the older bikes—like the '60s, early '70s—look for Shovelheads," Ponz explains. When asked what she thought of a pro skateboarder, a guitar whiz, a jazz session drummer and a tall dreamer naming themselves after the vintage hog, Ponz doesn't flinch. "I think that's killer—that's a cool name."

A light bulb clicks on. How about Shovelhead headlining a Hog Farm bike rally? Sounds logical, Ponz agrees. "If they played old rock & roll, they'd fit into any crowd that comes in here. They would have to play Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild." A lot of the bikers like that foot-stomping music."

When polled for dream cover songs, Shovelhead's members respond with Steve Miller's "The Joker," the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'" and Olivia Newton-John's "Xanadu." Not quite Steppenwolf. And Shovelhead's songs lend themselves more to crowd surfing than foot stomping.

The moniker and the machine came together when guitarist John Haugh and bassist Steve Caballero ran out of viable choices for their new group. Thankfully, "Boneyard" and "Scarecrow," their first two picks, were both taken.

With Shovelhead ready to catch fire, the band will co-headline with Inka Inka at this weekend's SoFA Street Fair.

It's a natural progression for these gadflies of South First Street nightlife to preside at the street party dedicated to the scene they helped to foster. Shovelhead's members can be spotted most any night of the week lounging in the SoFA clubs. Testani and Haugh work at the Ajax Lounge and the Oasis, respectively.

—Todd Inoue, Sept. 16, 1993

Shovelhead didn't last, but Todd is still with Metro as music editor, John Haugh is now Metro's advertising manager and Steve Caballero turned up in our pages again this month as leader of a fine art trend among skateboarders.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

[ Silicon Valley | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

From the April 27-May 3, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.