Friday, July 16, 2010

History through Donut-Flavored Lenses

I just finished reading this fabulous little zine called Scam #5 1/2 The Epicenter of Crime: The Hunt's Donuts Story, written by Eric Lyle. It's my favorite kind of zine, which is the kind that tells me about something I never would have known about, especially about a particular place, in a fun and interesting way. In other words, I guess it's history. But history always bored me when I was in school. Now I'm fascinated with the whole WWII era, and I love reading pop culture histories, like Finding Betty Crocker and Something from the Oven, and of course James Lileks' irreverant take on 70's interior design, Interior Desecrations.

But I digress. A little. The Epicenter of Crime is about San Francisco's Mission district, which I know very little about. I once took a vacation in San Francisco by myself and I think I walked through it. I took public transit everywhere, so I'm sure I was there. And I think I even went there on purpose to see some museum or something. But I don't remember it that well, because it was a depressing vacation. Or I should say I was depressed. And I walked my legs off every day, determined to see as many cultural high points as possible.

My mom and older sister lived there for a long time, so I hear about it sometimes. But that was in the late 50's-early 60's, before I even existed. So I sort of inherited this fascination with San Francisco, without ever having lived there or even really visited there much.

Lyle's history in this zine takes place over several decades, starting in the 50's, when the Hunt's Donuts shop was built. It's a political history, really, which would normally bore me to tears. I'm just not a political animal. Oh, I'm sure I am when it comes to certain things. And I always vote. But I grew up after Nixon, when politics became a dirty word. And it's still dirty. I remember I got this board game in the 70's from my San Francisco-living aunt called Lie, Cheat, and Steal. You're a politician, and guess what you do to win the game? I learned new words like graft. I look back now and wonder if this was appropriate for a 10-yr old. Probably not. Of course, this is the same aunt who gave us a dartboard when we were about 6 years old. This wasn't the kind with velcro ends. These were the real deal. Bit deadly for small children. She might have still been drinking then. Mom took it away.

The Epicenter of Crime is about the changes in the Mission district from post-WWII, when it was a thriving center of industry, through the turbulent 60's and 70's, when the old immigrants (Irish) fought against the new immigrants (Latinos) for control of the community, to the 90's, when gentrification came up against decades of crime and finally killed a landmark, Hunt's Donuts. When I read the description of this zine at Microcosm, I have to admit that what attracted me was not the political stuff, or the punk history. It was the donut shop.

Donuts have some special draw, don't they? And the shop that donuts come from? It's a cultural beacon. My Dad used to get us Winchell's every weekend. I think it's what we did instead of church. Every Sunday, a box full of beautiful donuts. Sprinkles, chocolate, glazed, jelly. They were more lovely than jewels. And full of happiness.

So I love that Lyle's history is told from a donut shop. I love how the donut shop owner became a "donut tycoon" and helped get a mayor elected, and did things like sponsor a city baseball team for kids. That's the American dream.

I'd never heard of "Los Siete de la Raza," seven Latino boys who were blamed for the shooting of an often drunk and violent cop who instigated a "raid" on one of the kids' parents' house because he suspected that the furniture that some of the boys were helping move into the home was stolen. These were college kids. Yes, they hung out at Hunt's, where a lot of criminal types hung out. But they were there to recruit kids to go to college!

Lyle is good at making history come alive, because he tells about each of the players in the story, makes them all humans. Fits them into a history they might not even suspect they are part of, like the Cambodian couple who escaped the Pol Pot regime and took over Hunt's in the 90's, unaware of its reputation as a gathering spot for all kinds of criminal types, most notably those selling stolen merchandise.

Librarians, real estate agents, they're all caught up in Hunt's and its history, as Lyle finds out when he interviews them. He gets yelled at and lectured when he least expects it, just for asking about a donut shop. How fascinating is that?

I highly recommend it.

I definitely have a thing about donuts. We got this new picture book for Lily called The Donut Chef. I love it because it's about how these two donut chefs compete for making the most fanciest donuts ever and then this little girl just wants a glazed donut. And everyone is like, "Oh yeah, those were good." I suppose you could say it's political in some way. I think it's against gentrification and the $7 cup of coffee that isn't really even coffee anymore. Some of the messages I get are 1. simple is good. 2. stick with what works 3. kids are smart 4. freakishly different is not better. And of course, Donut Good.


Parabolic Muse said...

Okay, this was completely fascinating. You have sold me on every single thing, from the Epicenter of Crime to The Donut Chef. I sometimes rush through life not paying attention to these little gems, so it's great to read about the zines you love and the zines you've written, and lots of little details one can only find in personal works like zines.

And boy, do I want a donut now!

Parabolic Muse said...

Oops! I went to order his zine and it's out of stock.

How sad!!