Ten performers—each born in a different decade, starting with 82-year-old Barbara Stauffacher Solomon and ending with 7-year-old Sami Elhaik—took the stage at Galería de la Raza on Sunday to perform poetry readings, electronic music and trumpeting to a crowd of some 100 (entertained) onlookers there to support Modern Times Bookstore.
The audience was pleased throughout, but thunderous applause was reserved for one act in particular: a sarcastic Baptist PowerPoint sermon about “rapture art” by Jamie Cortez.
“God is in the retail,” said Cortez (echoing Gustave Flaubert’s famous quote) in a riotous preaching on the resemblance of an Alameda statue of frogs to a scene from the rapture. He compared one pensive frog to an atheist awaiting his doom, another frog lying in water to the “unanointed dead,” and brought the point home with a final image of a frog with its arms outstretched and the word “Rapture!” in gaudy block letters underneath.
The “sermon” was part of a variety show orchestrated by author Rebecca Solnit featuring “nine decades of performers in one room for two hours,” as Solnit put it at the end of the show. The show sought to raise money for Modern Times, which is facing a rent hike when its lease comes to an end in February.
Stauffacher Solomon began the event by reading from her new book “Why? Why Not?” about her experiences as a third-generation San Franciscan. She was followed by René Yañez—“the Godfather of the Mission,” Solnit said, reminding the audience that he had helped to found the Galería and made Dia de los Muertos a citywide celebration.
“If elected, David Chiu has promised to have his opponent [David Campos] deported,” he said in classic deadpan, referring to the assembly race between Chiu (who is president of the Board of Supervisors) and Campos (the supervisor for District 9).
“If you don’t believe in global warming, just take a look at San Francisco—it used to be cool,” was another of his lines, aimed at the growing gentrification in the city.
Other readings explored the Mission’s history, with Adriana Camarena reading from her project interviewing inhabitants of 108 homes in the neighborhood, unearthing some of the district’s oldest residents. Former Mission Local editor Heather Smith read a piece about visiting the bison in Golden Gate Park, detailing their history from that first San Francisco buffalo “Ben Harrison” (after the then-president).
The show was interspersed with appeals from Solnit to support Modern Times Bookstore, including the passing-around of a bowler hat with the command, “I want this to come back brimming to the top with cash.” (It did). Solnit was adamant about the contribution small bookstores make to the diversity and community of a city.
“My life was saved mostly by bookstores, so when a bookstore asked me to save its life, how could I say no?” she said at the beginning. Twenty-fourth St. has a variety of bookstores—Modern Times, Adobe Books and Alley Cat Books—but their survival has been a question for some time now, especially in an age of Amazon and eBooks. (Solnit later said of Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, that he is “almost like Satan except for the interesting parts.”)
The last “performance” was by two 7-year-olds, Sami and Fia, who went up to the mic and said, “I love books, thank you for coming” in a final attempt to underscore the importance of the fundraising event.