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San Francisco laughs at itself


The Esalen spirit beclouds San Francisco like a fog. But out of the miasma of navel gazing and self-help for the soul we experienced a couple of refreshing bouts of revisionism on our visit earlier this month.

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Sigal Shoham, squeezing the profits of 21st Century snake-oil cures, the theme of her solo show.

The first was a solo show by my daughter Minna’s friend and thesp/writer extraordinaire Sigal Shoham, at the Marsh Theater. Her show will be at the New York Fringe later this summer.

Sigal is riveting as a charismatic self-help guru who promises to show you how to overcome a bad love life, bad earnings, or a bad self-image.  She switches from a confrontational Werner Erhard to her passive-agressive Aunt Hazel with ease, at once discomfiting and entertaining. She also sings, accompanying herself on the banjo (my favorite songs were “80 Percent,” definitely the break-out hit of the show–about settling for a less than perfect mate–and the “Contract Song,” in which she sings the fine print.) Sigal’s show considers the human condition and suggests an existential resolution to all of life’s ills–that just may, or may not, work.

In the office, the video plays its promise of a better, more sentient human being.

Minna and Ben have been telling us about visiting the Jejune Institute, which keeps its true identity secret. The institute is a tongue-in-cheek group for improving human potential with a mix of psycho-babble, pseudo-science, corporate and academic-sounding b.s., but mainly mumbo-jumbo.

The experience starts on the 16th floor of a bland office building. The blank, corporate floor receptionist really works for all the offices on the floor, not specifically for Jejune, although he hands you a key to Jejune’s cubicle of a room, where you sit in a 50s moderne chair and watch the introductory video by the “founder.” The tone reminded me of PIFAS’ corporate video, but here the target is Esalen et al.

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Some of the instructions for the scavenger hunt.

You are inducted into feeling out of place and less than in control by a set of puzzling “instructions” that ultimately take you on a scavenger hunt through the nearby neighborhood of the business and Chinatown districts. I learned from Sigal that after you complete the first set of instructions, you can go back for the next level. I can tell you that Murray and I were so incompetent at deciphering the clues that we took 45 minutes to find the first item. We were a mix of frustrated and entertained, and were vastly disappointed that we had to quit so we could catch our plane. We will return!

We don’t really know what the Jejune Institute is, so Minna, Ben, Murray and I decided it was art.

Our visit was filled with other wondrous stuff.

Murray, Minna, Ben and the fog monster approaching

On our way to Point Reyes, we were blown away by the fog, so thick we couldn’t see the supports for the Golden Gate Bridge as we crossed it–a weird, disembodied experience.

Site of the oyster feastAfter stopping for barbecued oysters for lunch at the Marshall Store–the largest oysters I’ve ever seen–we took a hike.

The remains–rockefeller and grilled bbq

And in the city, we spent about four hours touring the town with a couple we had met on the previous trip. The man, Emanuel, is part of City Guides–volunteer tour leaders. He and his wife, Ahuvah, gave us our own personal tour.

Our leader Emanuel climbing up Filbert “Street.”

Philly planning alert–We started at the Embarcadero Ferry Building (beautifully restored) and learned that the revival came after an earthquake forced the city to take down a highway that divided the waterfront from the city, similar to the way I-95 cuts Philly off.

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Fish for sale on Stockton Street in Chinatown

On our tour we climbed up Filbert Street, where people have to climb stairs to access their hillside homes (geez, don’t forget the milk, honey) and wandered into Coit Tower and along the back streets of Chinatown. Did you know that Chinatown used to be a Chinese ghetto enforced by discriminatory housing laws. Also, Chinese women were kept out of the country to keep down the Chinese population, creating a 67:1 ratio of men to women in San Francisco!

One of the early 20th c. buildings in a back alley, many of them built by family fraternal organizations.

We looked at turn-of-the-20th-century buildings of Chinese family associations–they and the buildings survived a number of big earthquakes. The small ones that come daily no one notices. I wish I didn’t know that!