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Archive for the ‘San Francisco’ Category

Home Decor

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on June 5, 2016

I’m a flâneur for enjoyment, a stroller of my city and other cities for pleasure. Both of these houses are in the Castro. This one is on 20th Street. These stylized mural geese remind me of Walter Van Der Heyden or Tom Killion in style.
Geese 1Geese 2Geese 3Geese 4

While this one is on 19th Street. The characters on these two steel strips are rendered in a turn-of-the-20th-century art nouveau style and represent various professionals of the day.
Steel 1Steel 2Steel 3Steel 4Steel 5Steel 6Steel 7Steel 8Steel 9


Posted in art, Castro Street, life, San Francisco, The Castro | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

END TIME reprint

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on May 1, 2016

2nd printing cover of END TIME built by JOHN YATES at STEALWORKS.

2nd printing cover of END TIME built by JOHN YATES at STEALWORKS.

I am reprinting my prescient, near-future thriller END TIME: NOTES ON THE APOCALYPSE through my publishing business 62 MILE PRESS. Written in a slashing, evocative style, END TIME received rave reviews in underground and small press circles in 1994.


Greg Kovinski, the novel’s protagonist, lives in interesting times. War and civil war rage across the former Soviet Union and much of the globe. The United States is fighting a sophisticated high tech counterinsurgency war in southern Mexico, against a popular revolution claiming the tradition of Zapata, in order to preserve the North American free trade zone. In Alabaster, a small town north of San Francisco, a draft-aged Greg, and a group of anti-war college students, gain possession of enough bomb grade riemanium to build a nuclear weapon several times more powerful than the one detonated over Nagasaki. As Greg struggles to “do the right thing” with his deadly power, friends turn out to be thieves, civil unrest rages, and the City of Oakland rises in revolution to become the 21st century’s Paris Commune.

George facebook pic
Born in 1952, I was a late hippie and an early punk. I began self-publishing at 17 with a high school underground newspaper, and burned my draft card at age 18. Essays from my publication Point-Blank/San Diego’s Daily Impulse have been reprinted in Semiotext[e] USA, the Utne Reader, and War Resisters’ League’s short-lived youth publication SPEW! I have also published essays in Against The Wall, the New Indicator, Draft NOtices, and the San Diego Newsline. My first science fiction novel END TIME: NOTES ON THE APOCALYPSE was published in January, 1994 by AK Press when I lived in Oakland, California, with a second edition printed in September, 1996. End Time sold around 4,000 copies and was reprinted in Portuguese by a Brazilian publisher. Presently, I live in San Francisco, where I write a regular monthly column of news analysis and political commentary for Maximum Rocknroll under the name “Lefty” Hooligan. I am currently self-publishing my second novel, 1% FREE, through my business 62 MILE PRESS.

End Time: Notes on the Apocalypse can be purchased for download from Smashwords.

Posted in anarchism, anarchists, bookstores, life, Oakland, San Francisco | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Near-Future Past

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on April 30, 2016

Black Bloc
California, 2007.

The storm black Hooligans took Van Ness, but never made the jog off to the park, Instead, they massed, some one hundred thousand strong, up to the hastily formed police blockade on Van Ness and Grove, then east back around on Market. They stopped in fact. March peace monitors, realizing what was happening, evaporated from around the autonomous columns to beat hasty retreats up Grove, Fell, Oak and Page with the march’s stragglers. People pulled on masks, bandanas, ski masks and balaklavas. Sunglasses hid eyes. Adrenaline once more raced through Greg, somewhere in the middle of that black mass, as he pulled up his own ‘kerchief. He watched a gauntly beautiful girl, a rare, anti-war Null, put her large black scarf over her gold electroplated cheek plates, before putting on shades in synch with hers…

Noble Eagle
It’s not just sex, drugs and rock’n’roll!

A wing of fighter jets, low over Nimitz Field, shrieked toward Oakland. Toward Jack London Square and the dual battle laser positions on Oakland’s inner harbor. People were running around the tower then, running away from the Harbor as fast as was humanly possible. A second roar, and surface-to-air missile batteries leapt into action to lay up a defensive curtain of heat seeking rockets. The jets broke into evasive action. Battle laser auroras danced up ultraviolet into the descending sun as the weapons primed. Two jets looped back tightly and managed to let loose their own rockets before having to dodge again. The harbor erupted under the jet strike, counterpointed quickly by one jet taking a direct hit and another spinning off, minus one wing. The battle laser fired. The precise x-ray beam could not be seen. But it produced a sharp fold in the air as it pierced across the bay and stripped the top off San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid…

Armageddon’s been in effect!

For a brief moment Marcus witnessed a phantasm, bathed in the smoky light of its own making. The creature was humanoid, dressed in a form fitting, single-piece, eel-gray body suit. The hands were gloved, with thick seams running up the arms and shoulders. And the head was entirely, strangely helmeted. It was a type of skull-tight ski mask, fitted with shear goggles and headphones, and crested with a soft, gun-metal colored apparatus. The goggles pulsed with that on-edge-of-sight light Marcus had observed seconds before, from under the door.

“Freeze,” Joe yelled, crouched and aimed.

An invisible light, apprehendable by a sense more visceral than sight and tailored minutely to Joe’s shape,streaked with precision from the refractive goggles, cookie cutting Joe perfectly. Joe exploded backwards…

End Time: Notes on the Apocalypse can be purchased for download starting May 1, 2016 from Smashwords.

Posted in black bloc, California, class war, direct action, life, Oakland, police, punk, San Francisco, US military | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Neighborhood hangout

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on February 13, 2016

In New York City, its a bodega on every corner. In LA, its corner liquor stores. Here in San Francisco, its the corner grocery store which, unfortunately, is being threatened by rampant gentrification.

We live in an already upscale part of the City, between Noe and Eureka Valleys. Two blocks down from our house, an old funky grocery store (no fresh fruits or vegetables, just canned or packaged food items, often with expired dates, plus the usual alcohol) gave up the ghost several years ago. This allowed four local entrepreneurs to take over the empty space and do a soft-story earthquake retrofit in addition to overall improvements.

The resulting business is part coffee shop/ice cream bar/prepared food store/event and class location/commercial popup/neighborhood hangout. And its been successful from the start. They’ve scheduled a class on the “Art & Science of Saving Bees, Birds & Trees,” and host boutique flower arranging by the FloraCultural Society on weekends.

Ryan and Laurel can often be found preparing gourmet coffees and teas or serving Laurel’s sweet and savory pastries. And people do what they usually do in San Francisco coffee shops, set up their laptops for long sessions of work and play online. Neighbor’s Corner is bright and airy, with a modern bathroom to boot.

The previous store owner left quite mysteriously and was unable to pass on the location’s liquor licenses to the new owners. Now the new owners are working through the lengthy city permit process to allow for regular coffee shop occupancy and patronage during business hours. Given the enthusiastic response from the residents, Neighbor’s Corner looks like it’s here to stay.

UPDATED 2-14-16:

Posted in Eureka Valley, gentrification, life, Noe Valley, Paris of the West, San Francisco, San Francisco neighborhoods | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Fuck the Super Bowl!

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on February 5, 2016

Huffpost Impact article:

Protestors Want San Francisco To ‘Tackle Homelessness’ Before Super Bowl
“You can spend $5 million on a big half time party. You can spend $5 million on a big show. But you can’t feed homeless people?”

Krithika Varagur
Associate Editor, What’s Working, The Huffington Post

A woman holds up a pair of signs as police look on during a protest to demand city officials do more to help homeless people outside Super Bowl City, a pro-football's weeklong theme park near the famed Ferry Building in San Francisco on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. Dozens protested what they say is San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee's plan to push homeless people out of the scenic bay-front Embarcadero, where Super Bowl festivities are being held. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

A woman holds up a pair of signs as police look on during a protest to demand city officials do more to help homeless people outside Super Bowl City, a pro-football’s weeklong theme park near the famed Ferry Building in San Francisco on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. Dozens protested what they say is San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s plan to push homeless people out of the scenic bay-front Embarcadero, where Super Bowl festivities are being held. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

As the host of this weekend’s Super Bowl, San Francisco has spared no expense, erecting a huge “Super Bowl City” compound for the event.

This perceived excess angered homeless advocates in the Bay Area, a few hundred of whom protested at the compound on Wednesday afternoon, according to KTVU. They asked the city to spend more money on its thousands of homeless residents.

“You can spend $5 million on a big half time party. You can spend $5 million on a big show. But you can’t feed homeless people?” asked a protestor named Joshua Shrader, according to Time.

The protesters set up a “tent city” outside the Super Bowl City compound and were fairly orderly. The organizers, led by the Coalition on Homelessness, met with police to set its parameters beforehand, according to SF Gate. They called for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to invest $5 million, the approximate cost of the Super Bowl, in housing and social services for homeless people.

Lee has become unpopular among homeless advocates for saying, with regards to homeless people during the Super Bowl, “They are going to have to leave.”

The city has been accused of moving homeless people out of sight to keep up appearances before the Super Bowl. In response, city officials say they are only trying to help the homeless during severe El Niño rains.

“Our only goal is to help people in out of the rain, and it has nothing to do with the Super Bowl,” Trent Rhorer, head of the city’s Human Services Agency, told SF Gate.

But Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, told Time that homeless people are being illegally searched, cleared from encampments, and ticketed for arbitrary offenses like “sitting or lying.”

By the protest’s end, many homeless people left to find places to sleep for the night, according to SF Gate. One 61-year-old homeless woman, Cynthia Lee, told the news outlet, “I think if San Francisco has money to throw at the Super Bowl — even if it brings in tax money — they should give us places to live.”

from 48Hills by Tim Redmond

Posted in Bay Area, homeless, life, poverty, San Francisco, San Francisco Bay Area, SFGate | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Aroma Tea Shop, San Francisco

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on February 3, 2016

Aroma Tea 6th Ave

I can’t imagine how I missed this place until now.

Aroma Tea Shop inside

Aroma Tea is a quirky—inside and out—tea shop on 6th Avenue in the Inner Richmond. The owners are eccentric yet extremely knowledgeable, traveling often to China to select and buy the teas they sell.

Colorful Teas Multiple Varieties

It’s “all tea all the time” here, with the varieties of tea in wildly packaged tins. The selection is outstanding; black/red, oolong, jasmine, green, white, pu-erh, even herbal. They have daily tea tasting during business hours where you can sample the teas you wish to buy, which also means looking over and smelling the leaves.

Aroma Tea owner

They have two locations:

302 6th Ave @ Clement St.
San Francisco, CA 94118
Everyday 11am—7pm

845 Washington St.
San Francisco, CA 94108
Everyday 10:30am—6pm

Tea Tasting

The first time I visited yesterday I purchased 2 ounces of premium white tea. I’ll be back for more.

Posted in Bay Area, life, Paris of the West, San Francisco, San Francisco Bay Area | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ed Lee urges homeless to self-deport

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on September 1, 2015

A brilliant little op-ed piece, written by San Francisco Chronicle’s columnist Jon Carroll:

Photo: Brant Ward, The Chronicle Mayor Ed Lee stopped to talk with residents of the Raman Hotel on Howard Street where he made the announcement Wednesday May 13, 2015. Mayor Ed Lee and members of the Board of Supervisors announced $28.9 million in new funding over the next two years to support the homeless in San Francisco, Calif. including the addition of more than 500 supportive housing units for chronically homeless seniors, expand medical care and continue the new Navigation Center.

Photo: Brant Ward, The Chronicle
Mayor Ed Lee stopped to talk with residents of the Raman Hotel on Howard Street where he made the announcement Wednesday May 13, 2015. Mayor Ed Lee and members of the Board of Supervisors announced $28.9 million in new funding over the next two years to support the homeless in San Francisco, Calif. including the addition of more than 500 supportive housing units for chronically homeless seniors, expand medical care and continue the new Navigation Center.

Ed Lee urges homeless to self-deport
By Jon Carroll
August 31, 2015 Updated: August 31, 2015 7:11pm

So this happened: Ed Lee told homeless people on the Embarcadero that they will “have to leave the street” before the weeklong waterfront-spanning Super Bowl carnival of cross-promotional opportunities that will precede the 2016 game.

“OK,” said the homeless people, “we’ll go to our second homes in Tahoe.”

So many questions! The first, I would think, is “Why is Ed Lee pimping for the NFL?” The NFL is a gigantic corporate entity, zealously guarding its brand while doing everything possible to degrade it. The league came very late to the notion that beating up women was a bad idea, and is now in an utterly dumb and maddening fight with one of its star quarterbacks over deflated footballs.

It’s just like when Lee tried to pimp for the Olympics, a known money loser that leaves behind a lot of infrastructure and no money to pay for its upkeep. Residents of the Bay Area were all “Can we think about this?” while Lee was going, “It’ll be great!” Lee lost that fight, so he transferred his allegiance to another rapacious entertainment cartel.

So the idea was: Get out, you filthy people, because we need a postcard-ready city for media executives to stroll around in.

Then there’s the larger pesky problem of what to do about the homeless. Many words have been expended recently on the deepening problem of San Francisco residents forced to encounter urination and defecation in public places. I hold no brief for those activities, although I do point out that they are a predictable consequence of being alive.

It should be mentioned that a fair number of the urinators and defecators are, to use the clinical term, crazy. We don’t believe in mental hospitals anymore (because they are too costly, unlike homelessness, which is, wait, even more costly), so the crazy people walk among us and, guess what, act like crazy people.

And there’s no street-level policy that can deal with that. Either kill ’em or move ’em out or deal with ’em. San Francisco has made a morally courageous decision to deal with the problem. That decision has to be made again and again, because the problem is intractable.

That decision comes with consequences, one of the least of which is bad smells and disgusting sights. Caring enough about human misery to risk discomfort is a virtue; caring together is a civic virtue.

A large subset of the crazy people are also addicts of various kinds. They’ve been offered the programs; they didn’t want them. Or they couldn’t stay with them. Or whatever. Addiction kills people by convincing them they don’t need help.

Most homeless people are not crazy addicts. They would experience great shame and humiliation if they were forced to do their business in the streets. Like any experienced urban resident, they have a very good idea where the publicly available bathrooms are. If that alternative were somehow not feasible, they would do their best to go deep into the most secret corners of the landscape.

Homeless people are not animals; they are very poor people, is all. Poverty is not an infectious disease; you can’t get it even by brushing past a homeless person on your way to the Nike Gatorade Punt Like an All-Star Celebrity Game.

Homeless people are sort of like me and you. They have mothers and fathers. They’ve known love and heartbreak. Maybe they never had a chance; maybe they had a chance and then stuff went wrong.

How far are you away from homelessness? How many multiple bad things have to go wrong before you run out of your last couch to surf on? Suppose financial reversals plus death of a partner plus debilitating costly disease — how’s your cushion? Maybe all that would be so depressing you’d seek escape in a bottle. And then you’re at a bus station and you’ve got $2.30 in your pocket. And, hey, how about a civil war? You a refugee yet?

It could happen. It could even happen to Ed Lee. Everything is mutable; status comes and goes. We’re all human. Which is sort of the point. We treat other people the way we would want to be treated ourselves. I think that’s some kind of Rule.

So maybe there’s something better than urine-shaming as a social philosophy. Maybe there’s trying to be useful. The problem will be with us as long as there are people, so the only approach that makes some kind of sense involves finding your place in the social fabric. There are dozens of useful volunteer groups; find one.

You may find homeless people offensive. It may also be that some of them find you offensive, you resource-hogging, water-swilling, ocean-warming, sweatshop-clothes-wearing, vacation-in-Bali-taking human placeholder. It’s all a matter of perspective.

“And the moral of that is — ‘Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves.’” “How fond she is of finding morals” in

Posted in capitalism, homeless, life, San Francisco, San Francisco Chronicle | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Two bookstores with Bay Area roots help literary life thrive in Paris

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on July 31, 2015

Reprinted from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Berkeley Books of Paris, 8 rue Casimir Delavigne, Paris.

Berkeley Books of Paris, 8 rue Casimir Delavigne, Paris.

By John McMurtrie
July 27, 2015
Updated: July 30, 2015 9:04pm

No visit to Paris, for any book lover, is complete without a pilgrimage to Shakespeare and Co., the creaky, cozy bookshop on the banks of the Seine that has been a home away from home for so many writers, among them James Baldwin, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Robert Stone and many others.

But stroll 10 minutes to the south, in the Latin Quarter, and you’ll find two other, lesser-known but invaluable English-language bookstores — both of which have deep ties to the Bay Area. In fact, their very names say it all: They are San Francisco Book Co. and Berkeley Books of Paris.

As it happens, these two Left Bank stores are only a block apart from each other. Not surprisingly, given their names, they have common roots. And they’re competitors.

San Francisco Book Co., 17 rue Monsieur le Prince, Paris.

San Francisco Book Co., 17 rue Monsieur le Prince, Paris.

San Francisco Book Co. is the older of the stores. It was co-founded in 1997 by Americans Jim Carroll and Phil Wood. Carroll, a former San Francisco bookseller who once owned Carroll’s Books in Noe Valley (it closed in 2004), eventually bought out Wood’s share of the business. Wood went down the street, opening Berkeley Books in 2006 with Richard Toney and Phyllis Cohen, who used to work at San Francisco Book Co. Wood then sold the store to Cohen.

“We’re not bosom buddies by any means,” Carroll wrote in an e-mail, “but healthy competition is good, and the more the merrier.”

Jim Carroll, owner of San Francisco Book Co.

Jim Carroll, owner of San Francisco Book Co.

Vanishing bookstores

The more the merrier is right, especially given that Paris, like other cities around the world, has lost some of its treasured bookstores to rent increases and the rise in online book sales. Just last month, La Hune, a famous Left Bank bookstore frequented by the French intelligentsia, shut down after more than 60 years in business. Also gone are the English-language bookstores Village Voice, the Red Wheelbarrow, and Tea and Tattered Pages.

There is no doubt that the Latin Quarter, the student district centered on the venerable University of Paris (founded in the 12th century), has lost much of its bohemian allure as real estate prices have risen. But as the accompanying interactive map of the Left Bank shows, there is still a thriving literary culture in the city’s 5th and 6th arrondissements. San Francisco Book Co. and Berkeley Books of Paris fit nicely into that tradition, keeping alive the rich history of Americans and other foreigners contributing to the literary life of Paris.

“Paris is a great city for books, and I really enjoy life as a book dealer here,” Carroll wrote. “My shop is just a block from the original Shakespeare and Co., where ‘Ulysses’ was published. This area of Paris, close to the Sorbonne, has always been a prime location for bookshops, publishing houses, agencies, authors, critics, printers, binders and anyone else drawn to the world of books.”

This cat has been coming in to San Francisco Book Co. to escape the heat. Asked about the cat’s name, bookseller Richard Aldersley said, “Here’s one, off the cuff: Penelope.”

This cat has been coming in to San Francisco Book Co. to escape the heat. Asked about the cat’s name, bookseller Richard Aldersley said, “Here’s one, off the cuff: Penelope.”

‘A bit messy’

San Francisco Book Co. is a small store, with roughly 12,000 to 15,000 mostly used titles (and about 8,500 online), but Carroll said the shop has good walk-in business. San Francisco visitors frequently pop in, lured by the store’s exterior, painted in international orange, the color of the Golden Gate Bridge.

“It’s also a bit messy inside,” wrote bookseller Richard Aldersley, “with books stacked on the floor and on spare counters for lack of shelf space, and we like it that way because people go through the books and handle them, and everything is much more approachable and comfortable and unsterile.”

The store even has its own cat. “It’s been coming in during the recent heat wave to lay on the cool tiles under the fan,” Aldersley wrote. Asked about the cat’s name, he added, “Here’s one, off the cuff: Penelope.”

Berkeley Books of Paris also gets its fair share of visitors from Northern California. “The Bay Area people always seem chuffed with the bookshop,” Cohen wrote. “We named the shop in honor of the great bookshops of Berkeley. I tell them stories about Moe’s and Cody’s, and show them my wall of homage, covered with bookmarks.”

The store also hosts art exhibitions, concerts, poetry readings and lectures, and Cohen said a lot of its patrons are professors, students, artists, writers and musicians.

“Many bookshops have gone under for reasons of real estate — those famous spikes in rent,” Cohen wrote. But, she added, “This is not specific to bookshops. People are still reading, and as far as I can tell, many of them actively miss bookshops that are long gone. Some have closed because Amazon and all that entails, but these shops mainly sold only new books” — unlike Berkeley Books, which sells only used books.

“Good old hand-selling and book swapping,” Cohen wrote. “There are quite a few loyal customers who frequent the place, and who have known me as their bookseller since 1999. Some of them are so attached to the bookshop that they’ve made me promise to stay open forever. Which is sweet, don’t you think?”

John McMurtrie is the book editor of The San Francisco Chronicle. Twitter: @McMurtrieSF

Posted in bookstores, life, Paris, San Francisco, Shakespeare & Co | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

My sentiments exactly

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on July 16, 2015

I haven’t been a fan of SF supervisor Scott Wiener, until this happened. Scott was ambushed by Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor outside his office in City Hall where they demanded a comment from him regarding the recent tragic murder of Kate Steinle. His response was priceless:

Posted in life, San Francisco, San Francisco Board of Supervisors | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Power to the Squirrels!

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on June 11, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO, June 8 (Reuters) – A squirrel knocked out power for some 45,000 energy customers in the San Francisco Bay area on Monday, according to officials and the local Contra Costa Times newspaper.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company said on its Twitter account that service had been restored for virtually all those affected by the outage about 10:15 p.m. local time, but it did not provide a cause for the disruption.

PG&E spokesman J.D. Guidi told the Contra Costa Times that power was down in cities east of San Francisco, including Berkeley and Oakland, on Monday night after a squirrel “impacted equipment” at the El Cerrito substation. He gave no details

The downtown Berkeley station of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system was closed for several hours on Monday due to the outage, the agency said on its Twitter account.

Cities to the south, including San Jose, also suffered outages on Monday that Guidi said were caused by equipment failures due to triple-digit temperatures. (Reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

SundayReview | OPINION
Squirrel Power!

By JON MOOALLEM * AUG. 31, 2013

SOME say the world will end in fire. Some say ice. Some say coordinated kamikaze attacks on the power grid by squirrels.

At least, some have been saying that to me, when they find out I’ve spent the summer keeping track of power outages caused by squirrels.

Power outages caused by squirrels are a new hobby of mine, a persnickety and constantly updating data set that hums along behind the rest of my life the way baseball statistics or celebrity-birthing news might for other people. It started in April, after I read about a squirrel that electrocuted itself on a power line in Tampa, Fla., cutting electricity to 700 customers and delaying statewide achievement tests at three nearby schools. I was curious, just enough to set up a Google news alert: squirrel power. But as the summer progressed, and the local news reports of power outages caused by squirrels piled up in my in-box, my interest in power outages caused by squirrels became more obsessive and profound.

I know: it’s hard to accept that a single squirrel can disrupt and frustrate thousands of people at a time, switching off our electrified lives for hours. But since Memorial Day, I’ve cataloged reports of 50 power outages caused by squirrels in 24 states. (And these, of course, are only those power outages severe enough to make the news.) Fifteen hundred customers lost power in Mason City, Iowa; 1,500 customers in Roanoke, Va.; 5,000 customers in Clackamas County, Ore.; and 10,000 customers in Wichita, Kan. — and that was just during two particularly busy days in June. A month later, there were two separate P.O.C.B.S., as I’ve come to call power outages caused by squirrels, around the small town of Evergreen, Mont., on a single day.

Squirrels cut power to a regional airport in Virginia, a Veterans Affairs medical center in Tennessee, a university in Montana and a Trader Joe’s in South Carolina. Five days after the Trader Joe’s went down, another squirrel cut power to 7,200 customers in Rock Hill, S.C., on the opposite end of the state. Rock Hill city officials assured the public that power outages caused by squirrels were “very rare” and that the grid was “still a reliable system.” Nine days later, 3,800 more South Carolinians lost power after a squirrel blew up a circuit breaker in the town of Summerville.

In Portland, Ore., squirrels got 9,200 customers on July 1; 3,140 customers on July 23; and 7,400 customers on July 26. (“I sound like a broken record,” a spokesman for the utility said, briefing the press for the third time.) In Kentucky, more than 10,000 people lost power in two separate P.O.C.B.S. a few days apart. The town of Lynchburg, Va., suffered large-scale P.O.C.B.S. on two consecutive Thursdays in June. Downtown went dark. At Lynchburg’s Academy of Fine Arts, patrons were left to wave their lighted iPhone screens at the art on the walls, like torch-carrying Victorian explorers groping through a tomb.

One June 9, a squirrel blacked out 2,000 customers in Kalamazoo, Mich., then 921 customers outside Kalamazoo a week later. A local politician visited the blown transformer with her children to take a look at the culprit; another witness told a reporter, “There was no fur left on it. It looked like something from ‘C.S.I.’ ” She posted a photo of the incinerated animal to her Facebook page.

WHEN I tell people about power outages caused by squirrels — and trust me when I say that I tell people about power outages caused by squirrels quite often — I wind up hearing a lot of the same snarky jokes. People say the squirrels are staging an uprising. People say the squirrels are calculating, nut-cheeked saboteurs trying to overthrow humanity. Like the apes in “Planet of the Apes,” or the Skynet computer network in “The Terminator,” the squirrels represent a kind of neglected intelligence that’s suddenly, sinisterly switching on.

Don’t panic, I say. Squirrels have been causing power outages since long before I started cataloging power outages caused by squirrels. (In 1987, a squirrel shut down the Nasdaq for 82 minutes and another squirrel shut down the Nasdaq again in 1994 — a seminal bit of P.O.C.B.S. history that was sometimes noted in coverage of the power outage at the Nasdaq in August, which was a power outage not caused by squirrels. “This is a terrible pain in the neck,” the president of one brokerage firm told The Wall Street Journal in 1994 — which, I’ve found, is still a typical reaction to power outages caused by squirrels.)

Matthew Olearczyk, a program manager with the Electric Power Research Institute, explains that typically a squirrel will cause a blackout by scampering across electrical equipment and touching simultaneously both an energized component, like one of the cylindrical transformers at the top of a utility pole, and a grounded piece of equipment. The squirrel completes the circuit, generating an arc. There is an instantaneous flash of blue light. At its center is the squirrel, combusting. (In one news story, the squirrel was said to make a “popping sound” when it ignited.)

And yet the grid is actually designed to handle this violent interruption. As soon as the dead animal drops to the ground, eliminating the interference, the flow of electricity should resume. But if the squirrel doesn’t fall off the equipment — if its charred carcass is lodged there — the squirrel can trigger a so-called continuous fault, interrupting the restarted flow of electricity all over again. It’s a zombie attack: a lingering, second wave of obstruction. The lights go out when our electrical grid can find no way around this stuck hunk of dead weight that used to be a squirrel.

The aftermath can be gnarly. Often, there are burned-out circuit breakers or other costly, obliterated equipment to clean up or replace. And occasionally, a P.O.C.B.S. will generate an idiosyncratic storm of ancillary mayhem, too. I’ve read about a squirrel that, last February, chewed into high-voltage lines near a water-treatment facility, setting off “a chain of improbable events” that forced the city of Tampa to boil its water for the next 37 hours, and I’ve read about a flaming squirrel that allegedly fell from a utility pole in April and started a two-acre grass fire outside Tulsa, Okla.

Mr. Olearczyk insists that there is no credible way to estimate the number of power outages caused by squirrels nationwide. (He explained that attempting a tally would mean consulting a particular piece of paperwork from every local utility in the country, and that some of those forms might not even have the information I was looking for. Though he told me encouragingly, “You’re after something important, so let us know if you find out!”)

What exists, instead, are only flecks of information, the partial outline of a very annoying apparition. In Austin, Tex., squirrels have been blamed for 300 power outages a year. Other utility companies have claimed that between 7 and 20 percent of all outages are caused by some sort of wild animal, and a 2005 study by the State of California estimated, hazily, that these incidents cost California’s economy between $32 million and $317 million a year. Feral cats, raccoons and birds are also nuisances. Last month, reports surfaced in Oklahoma of great horned owls dropping snakes onto utility poles, thereby causing frequent power outages. Still, no one seems to dispute the disruptive primacy of squirrels.

However, Mr. Olearczyk believes strongly that power outages caused by squirrels are on the decline. For at least a decade, utility companies have been tricking out their equipment with an array of wildlife deterrents to combat the problem, like “arrester caps” and “bushing covers,” the Southwire SquirrelShield, the E/Getaway Guard and free-spinning baffles to make squirrels lose their balance.

The industry has also researched discouraging squirrels by spraying utility poles with fox urine and painting equipment red, though both of these tactics have failed; it’s not even clear whether squirrels can see the color red. Some utilities have installed the kind of plastic owl used to keep pigeons off building facades. However, an industry study notes, “one utility reported that the fake owl was attacked by a hawk which in turn caused a substation outage.”

AT some point this summer — I think it was around July 31, when just under 13,000 customers got hit by a P.O.C.B.S. in Hendersonville, Tenn. — I found myself trying to imagine power outages caused by squirrels from the squirrels’ point of view. So I called John L. Koprowski, a squirrel biologist at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

There have been very few squirrel specialists throughout history. The most accomplished was Vagn Flyger, a University of Maryland biologist who trapped squirrels with a mixture of peanut butter and Valium and then affixed them with radio transmitters; his major contribution to squirrel science was mapping the so-called Great Squirrel Migration of 1968 across the Eastern Seaboard. (Mr. Flyger also liked to eat squirrels.) Mr. Koprowski started studying squirrels as a biology student in Ohio because he needed to study some sort of wild animal and he didn’t own a car.

Essentially, Mr. Koprowski explained, power outages caused by squirrels are the product of a cascade of coincidences — of various forces, including basic squirrel behavior, colliding.

Squirrels chew through electrical wiring because the animals are constantly teething. An adult squirrel’s incisors never stop growing — they can grow as much as 10 inches per year — and the animals must chew constantly to keep them worn down. Squirrels gnaw or burrow their way into transformers for the same reason they enter rotting cavities of aging trees: hollow spaces offer them den sites and safety from predators. Squirrels break into equipment at substations because the seeds and insects they eat get sucked into that machinery by cooling fans, or are pooled inside by the wind. Mr. Koprowski described the flat tops of transformers as perfect spots for squirrel “basking behavior,” when squirrels sprawl out in the sun to warm up, or in the shade to cool down, and also ideal “runways” from which squirrels can start their flying leaps into the canopy.

“Squirrels value many of the same things that humans value,” Mr. Koprowski explained. It’s why they’re among America’s most successful synanthropes, what biologists call species that thrive alongside humans, in the landscapes we dominate. The beautiful, shade-producing, property-value-raising trees that we’ve filled our neighborhoods with, like oaks, walnuts, maples and elms, also produce the seeds, nuts and acorns at the core of the squirrel diet. Thirty-five percent of America’s urban areas are now covered with trees, while sprawl and exurban development have pushed homes further into formerly natural areas. Squirrel habitat and our habitat are increasingly converging. And we are only now reaching what may be peak P.O.C.B.S. season. In late August and September, squirrels are both abundant and most active: skittering around, stockpiling food, hustling to get stuff done before winter — more prone to crossing paths with the path of our electricity.

“People are living in areas with higher squirrel densities now,” Mr. Koprowski said. It’s as simple as that. We’re getting in their way, too. It’s easy to forget that the party most inconvenienced by a power outage caused by a squirrel is the squirrel that caused it.
WHAT has my interest in power outages caused by squirrels taught me, ultimately? Why do I find power outages caused by squirrels so meaningful?

Naturally, I’ve been giving these questions some serious thought.

I’ve come to see each P.O.C.B.S. as a reminder of our relative size on the landscape, recalibrating our identity as one set of creatures in a larger ecology. We are a marvelously successful set of creatures, though. A power outage caused by a squirrel feels so surprising only because we’ve come to see our electrical grid — all these wires with which, little by little, we’ve battened down the continent — as a constant. Electricity everywhere, at the flick of a switch, seems like the natural order, while the actual natural order — the squirrel programmed by evolution to gnaw and eat acorns and bask and leap and scamper — winds up feeling like a preposterous, alien glitch in that system. It’s a pretty stunning reversal, if you can clear the right kind of space to reflect on it, and fortunately power outages caused by squirrels do that for you by shutting off your TV and Internet.

After the city of Fort Meade, Fla., suffered more than two dozen P.O.C.B.S. in a year, a resident told a reporter: “I just didn’t think a squirrel could make the lights go out. They’re just tiny little things.” A century ago, a shrewd squirrel might have been equally skeptical about our ability to make so many lights go on, watching a few little humans raise the first wooden pole.

A contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and the author of “Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America.”


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