Noe Valley Voice December-January 2004

The Best Reality Show Ever

By Robin Dutton-Cookston

Sometimes I wonder why I get so puritanical about what deviance my daughter, Grace, might accidentally see on TV. Especially since Miami-style vice seems to lurk around every corner of San Francisco. Why do I worry about scripted sleaze when a jaunt to the Civic Center farmers' market offers a guided tour of the Seven Deadly Sins? The tube has got nothing on my adopted city when it comes to giving my baby an eye-opening glimpse of the wacky world of, well, humans. But for some reason, I can't get too jacked up about it.

For example, today I might have caught a secondhand buzz from a spliff-smoking madman. (Note to those who did not attend a liberal arts university or have only recently moved to San Francisco: spliff = marijuana.)

At first I didn't realize who had the bud, as I was distracted by Grace's demands to sing round after round of "Itsy Bitsy Spider" during our wait for the #48 bus at the corner of 24th and Mission. Considering the neighborhood, the waves of ganja smoke could have emanated from the pair of hipsters in vintage-style T-shirts, the woman in the purple fez who hid under a bench, or any number of young men wearing athletic jerseys and what looked like black pantyhose on their heads.

I edged away from a surly mustachioed teenager, my perceived source of stink, by dancing my backpack-contained tot further under the protective awning of the bus stop. The weed smell stayed with me.

Finally, a man with Coke-bottle glasses and long, disheveled hair jumped up from the bench under the bus stop shelter.

"Have a seat, mama!" he warbled, not unlike Tommy Chong of the legendary pot movie duo Cheech and Chong.

"No, thank you," I half smiled and looked away, not wanting to encourage any blossoming friendships.

"Hey, I was gonna move anyway, because I'm smokin' my weed, and you shouldn't do that around kids, you know."

He ambled into the street, narrowly missing a pimped-out Cadillac, and disappeared into the McDonald's for, no doubt, some McNuggets to satisfy his munchies. I glanced back at Grace, whose interest in a mural of the Virgin Mary was too rapt to be soiled by interactions with the Stoner Man, shrugged it off, and got on the bus.

This incident got me to thinking about what a weenie I am to fret over Grace tumbling about the living room while my husband watches the "neofascist cryptic metaphor for nuclear war," a.k.a. football. (Many thanks to Robert Downey Jr.'s character in Back to School for that gem.)

It's not just gladiator, man-punching sports that give me Protective Mama jeebs. It's adult television in general. When I found out that Grace discovered the "on" button for the Brain Rotter all by herself, I broke out in a cold sweat, fearing that one day she might stumble across frightfully inappropriate primetime fare: an especially nauseating episode of Fear Factor, a sex-riddled rerun of Dawson's Creek, or, God forbid such evil, a Janet Jackson booby.

This televised swill alarms me more than the grand funk reality we see daily in San Francisco, antics that, for better or worse, never sidled up to the manicured lawns and station wagons of my West Texas childhood.

Read on for more sights my innocent babe has seen (of course, you are probably aware that this is the more printable stuff):

* Naked men wearing gorilla masks in a footrace. Grace saw her first "Bay to Breakers" race, from the sidelines, when she was about three months old, too little to laugh at the costumed squad of 20-somethings who drunkenly struggled to push a keg on a skateboard up the Hayes Street hill. She was also blissfully unaware of the nude simians jiggling along without their jock straps. But don't think Mama didn't notice.

* Facially pierced street kids in the Haight. Back when my generation's old-fogy parents grew their sideburns long and found transcendence with a Jefferson Airplane LP, the Haight served as hippie headquarters. Nowadays, I love it for awesome thrift-store shopping and intense-looking body modifications. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I am still squeamish enough to shrink away from those who find beauty in the stud stuck through the eyelid.

* Gavin Newsom's hair. Okay, I know we're getting silly, but there is something unnatural about the crest of the wave on our mayor's coif. I think it's fantastic that he allowed same-sex couples to get hitched, and I hope that our daughter will someday see him as a human rights hero. But I still shudder at his gravity-defying 'do.

Pretty scary stuff, huh? So why don't I worry? Precisely because these bits and pieces of urban life are the real deal--with the exception of whatever shellac Mayor Gavin coats on that sexy mane. We San Franciscans can be confused and weirdly inappropriate, and, just like that mayoral hair, kinda messed up.

We make bizarre fashion choices. We meld metal studs with body parts, creating groundbreaking combos that won't hit the Midwest for five more years. But we also help each other out. We tell our friends when we unearth a top-secret parking oasis in North Beach. We try not to share our secondhand pot smoke-- unless we are at a Dave Matthews concert, where fans appreciate such sharing. We giggle at the schmo in the mask who shows his schlong.

Sure, this once-sheltered country gal sometimes gets a tad freaked when eyeballing a billboard with a cartoon penis that reminds me to get tested for syphilis. But that sign is a lot better reality check than a show on Fox, where blood flies and people screw one another with impunity. I hope that by shunning TV and bravely venturing out to be a tiny part of this city's swarm, I can model tolerance and acceptance for my budding, open-minded wee one.

Of course, there could be blowback. Someday I might see her in the Chronicle as the winner of the Bay to Breakers...wearing nothing but a gorilla mask.

Robin Dutton-Cookston lives in Noe Valley with her husband, her daughter, and two cats. She has been published in Hip Mama magazine and at More musings on life as a native Texan turned San Francisco mama can be found in her bi-weekly column, The Foggiest Idea, which appears on

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