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March 21-27, 2007

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The Bohemian's Best of the North Bay 2007

Culture: Writers' Picks

Best Way to Pretend You Can Still Own Property in Marin

Marin-bred Jason Lewis has worked in many different professions, but being a historian was never even a thought. The job opportunity presented itself through his work as a Frank Howard Allen agent. "When I started, I only knew so much about local real estate, so I thought it'd be interesting to learn about local history for when I show clients around," he says.

So in the spring of last year, Lewis, 32, embarked on the mission that would culminate in Marin Nostalgia, "Marin's first grassroots virtual museum." But don't think of the site as a Wikipedia-like usurpation of chiefly unavailable high knowledge. In addition to family and friends, early supporters were local historical societies, which Lewis hopes one day will utilize the images presented for their own collections. "I'd like to hand it off like a baton to the county," he says. "They don't cover the period of history after the '40s or so, so helping Marin Nostalgia start was an investment in their own future."

In less than a year, the website has grown exponentially, with dozens of pictures from every town in the county, including now-defunct restaurants, bowling allies and drive-in theaters. Needless to say, Marin has changed quite a bit since the dawn of rock 'n' roll.

Most fascinating is the "People" section, which explores the little-known Marin ties of such icons as Robin Williams, Frank Lloyd Wright, Barbara Boxer and Gabrielle Carteris. "That's Andrea from Beverly Hills 90210," Lewis explains of the latter. "I just interviewed her last week."

But Lewis feels the most important people are regular Marinites who have reconnected with friends and even formed a political-action committee via the message boards. "If this keeps going, we will have a history of Marin built directly by the public with a massive number of different perspectives," says the former philosophy major. "I think that if people stay connected to the past, it does preserve a sense of community for Marin's future."

The future of Marin makes Lewis slightly apprehensive, whether pondering what the freeway situation will be like or if any traces of the mom-and-pop stores that used to compose the Corte Madera Town Center will be seen at all. "I'm worried that the chain restaurants are sucking our identity away a little bit," he says. "How strange will it be when people say, 'I remember the good old days when we used to go to the Cheesecake Factory?'"

Commendably, Lewis' real estate website is not prominent on Marin Nostalgia. "If it's just a big commercial enterprise, it's not really fun," he says.

But even with his rapidly growing archive, Lewis has an ongoing message to Marinites: "Don't throw away your old of boxes of photos, because if you do, a little piece of Marin history could be lost forever."

Best Recycling of Stupid Novelty Shirt

Photograph by Elizabeth Seward

Best Recycling of Stupid Novelty Shirt

Say you're planning to drive to L.A. to be a contestant on The Price Is Right and all you want, more than anything in the world, is to get called to come on down. What's gonna win the producers over? A stupid T-shirt, of course. So you and all your friends get some money together and make silk-screened T-shirts that announce "Santa Rosa Loves Bob!" in homage to your game-show hero, Bob Barker. You drive down and line up outside CBS Studios at 6am. You wait around for eight hours until the mid-afternoon filming. Finally, you walk into the theater and feel a flutter at the first sight of its incredibly funky, gaudy stage set. But the best is yet to come: Bob Barker hits the stage, and the crowd full of white-trash debutantes goes apeshit. He runs down the rules, tells a few dirty jokes, gets the show rolling and flirts with 90-year-old ladies during the commercial breaks. It's everything you could have dreamed of, but it's so surreal that time becomes elastic; it's over way too soon. And, of course, despite your hometown's unconditional love for Bob Barker, you don't get to come on down to guess the suggested retail price of Brillo Pads and win a grandfather clock. Once you drive back home to your dreary Plinko-less existence, when are you ever going to wear that stupid T-shirt again? Lucky for you, Bob Dylan announces an appearance at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa a few months later. Time to fish the shirt out of the garage. "Santa Rosa Loves Bob!" takes on a whole new meaning as you sport it to the Dylan concert, and you get just a little tiny bit of extra mileage out of a stupid T-shirt you'd pretty much left for dead. Just don't expect either Bob Barker or Bob Dylan to ever notice, let alone appreciate, your shirt.--G.M.

Best Place Not to See a Movie

Nobody ever comes in. Nobody ever goes out. That's the way it was with Willy Wonka's factory, and we're getting a sinking feeling that that's how it's going to stay at the Uptown Theater. A few years ago, Francis Ford Coppola set about renovating the glammy art deco theater that had been built in 1937 to seat some 900 in one single, cavernous space. Also at the helm of the refurbishment were George Altamura, an unpopular landlord to much of the downtown, as well as the much-beloved Margrit Mondavi, to name but a few of the players.

Best Place Not to See a Movie

Photograph by Brett Ascarelli

The theater had languished over the years; first the large screen was divided into two then four teensy screens before eventually falling into stinky disrepair. In September 2005, the theater's neon sign was lit in a ceremony that began with Coppola and Altamura rolling up in an Aston Martin. The inside of the theater was still gutted, but it was a start. The ambitious plans to refurbish included a possible free-standing box office, restoration of the original art deco motifs and murals, landscaping and an adjoining cafe. Predicting the theater would be open in six to eight months, Altamura told the Napa Valley Register that he and his investors wanted to turn the area into a "super block," and added that Napa's long-neglected downtown would finally get its due.

Shortly after the event, an old-timer, Louis G. Jones, wrote in the Register that the marquee lighting had brought him to tears and that it was "a metaphor for the rekindled spirit of pride in our community and an encouragement for a revitalized downtown Napa we've never seen." And may never see. Since the lighting, the Internet is abuzz with complaints about the theater's lack of progress. One Dr. Baraf writes online listlessly in poetry format: "It looks like a beautiful theatre. / It looks like someone spent money on renovating it and cared for it. / It looks like it is now abandoned. / Please advise."

While Altamura was clearly hasty in dashing out an estimated date of completion, Coppola predicted during the marquee lighting that the renovation would take 18 months. Which would have it ending this month. If people are working on the theater, they are like Oompa Loompas and never leave. Uptown Theater, 1350 Third St., Napa.--B.A.

Best Bad Public Art

Photograph by Brett Ascarelli

Best Bad Public Art

She stands in front of Cole's Chop House in Napa, an anonymous effigy of a Victorian serving wench, with an expression that blends blank uncertainty with a half-assed grimace--as if anyone would actually notice her face. What stands out on this particular piece of (excuse me while I scrunch up and force myself to type this next word) art, are the serving wench's massive, oversized, architecturally and physiologically impossible boobs. If she weren't bolted into place, the force of gravity being exerted upon those things would pull her right over. By comparison, Dolly Parton looks like a boy. And being that she's, you know, a Victorian serving wench, it's not even possible to argue that she's the world's biggest recipient of silicone implants, since she theoretically predates the invention of silicone implants. Now, I have nothing against cartoonishly large bazooms when they are in the right context--in cartoons, for instance. R. Crumb's stunningly buxom scribbles, equally impossible from a structural-integrity point of view, are OK with me, because they are, of course, cartoons. Something about seeing planet-sized ta-tas pasted to the front of a human-sized female, even as a certified, card-carrying fan of the female form, just looks stupid. Makes you question the sanity of the artist, and that of the restaurant owner who thought it was a good idea to stand the thing up in front of his otherwise classy steak house. Cole's Chop House, 1122 Main St., Napa. 707.224.6328.--D.T.

Best Guerilla City Council Campaign

When El Barto started splashing his juvenile drawings of monsters and dragons all over abandoned Sonoma County buildings early last year and a thorough questioning of known graffiti locals yielded no clues as to his identity, we were poised to nominate him as our "Best Elusive Graffiti Artist." But come press time, El Barto (his mom knows him as Saif Azzuz) had disappeared from the urban landscape and the city had painted over most of his rudimentarily charm-filled handiwork. We scratched our heads. What, if not stealthily lurking about with a can of spray paint in the dead of night, was El Barto up to?

Best Guerilla City Council Campaign

Photograph by Elizabeth Seward

Apparently forgetting how to draw, because when his name reemerged with a vengeance months later, not only on city walls but on trees, houses and cars (well-known taboos in the graffiti underworld), his territorial pissings had been downgraded to thoughtless tagging and, it must be said, not very skilled tagging at that. When the local graffiti legend was finally caught and thrown the book by authorities last October during election season, the timing was perfect for a few good-humored sympathizers to launch their own urban-renewal program. While El Barto sat in a jail cell with a preposterous $100,000 bail, a freeway median tagged with "Can't Catch Me!--El Barto" gave his many passing enemies an ironic laugh.

Meanwhile, hijacked city council campaign signs for tourist-trap breakfast honcho Don Taylor appeared around town in altered form to rouse support for the scapegoat victim. "Elect El Barto--Santa Rosa City Council" might have been too simple for some people; its subtext was "We're willing to painstakingly fuck up this dumb campaign sign to show our support for someone who painstakingly fucked up some dumb buildings around town and then was so dumb that he fucked up and landed in jail, but he's still our dumb choice over most of the fuckups in this painstakingly dumb election." You gotta love stuff like that.--G.M.

Best Rag for Those Under the 40-Watt Bulb

The false luster and slick presentation of glossy magazines can wear at a reader's soul. Must everything be about $1,000 handbags we will never buy and 1,000-page Norman Mailer books we will never read? To those who crave heart and grit instead of pretense, the crudely hand-stapled, ultralocal DIY publication 'Nielzine' is an affirmation that big media fluff can't crush the little guys and gals of this world.

While most of its zine brethren have taken flight to the blogosphere, Santa Rosa's Nielzine keeps Xerox going strong. Its artlessly pasted-up features are laden with typos and virtually dripping with cheap beer, but its slapdash content offers an odd beauty--beauty, and as many references to AC/DC and Motörhead as possible.

A man called Nielzine (his last name) began the zine in 2004 hoping to put out six issues. Three years later, issue 26 is on its way. "Not bad for a nut job," Nielzine admits.

Best Rag for Those Under the 40-Watt Bulb

A typical Nielzine includes poems, record reviews and a few drawings of skulls and hot Goth chicks. There are always Nielzine's own ramblings on rock 'n' roll, drinking, small-town life and big-time dreams, which he composes in his basement/cave at late hours. Even so, Nielzine prefers to fill pages with other artists' words and images. "My goal is to have 90 percent unknown faces sharing their wares," he says. "I never fix sent-in items. What you send is what gets printed."

Nielzine prints 50 to 100 copies a month, which he then distributes, for free, according to whim. Recently, Nielzine made its first multimedia foray with Compukelation, a 12-song CD featuring seven bands. It's a sampler of under-the-radar pop-punk, folk, country and space-rock whose eclecticism is thoroughly enjoyable.

"I wanted a zine for the guy and gal under a 40-watt bulb," Nielzine says. "No résumé. No 'I've done this or that'--I could care less. Do you feel it? Do you care? Never heard of you, but I will lay down your word." The Nielzines of the world remind us that you can embrace the domestic quietude of a family life in the suburbs without sacrificing the restless spirit of rebellion we clung to when we were 16 and full of piss.

Find 'Nielzine' at the Last Record Store, Sawyer's News, Gravenstones and miscellaneous coffee shops and park benches in the greater Santa Rosa area or write to Nielzine, P.O. Box 723, Santa Rosa, CA 95402.--S.B.

Best Telephone Poles as Public Servants

A farewell is in order for the five telephone poles in front of Santa Rosa High School that were unexpectedly cut down and removed last year. With their primary job presumably replaced by some sort of underground circuitry, we offer a remembrance of their secondary--and some might claim more important--function: diligently displaying decades of local flyers. Bands and venues may have come and gone, but the poles--the poles!--always remained. Over the years, they hosted flyers for the River Theater, 9th & Wilson, the Druids Hall, the House of Atreus, Club 96, Low Gap Park, the Duck Pond, Higher Grounds, the V.C. Garrett Building, Cafe This, Mudd's, Mr. Fister Studios, Jesse Jeans and the Old Vic. As one of the few legal places to hang flyers in Santa Rosa, the poles endured thousands of puncture wounds from Arrow T-50 staplers and suffered occasional reconstituting burnings by the city. They displayed every type of flyer, from brilliant full-color Xcntrcx 11-by-17's on down to the shittiest photocopied Strictly Roots handbill, and through all their years of reliable service, they stayed put, until they were chopped down and sectioned into pieces by chain saws last year.--G.M.

Best Local Noah on an Ark of Tragedy

It's easy to recount the story of Petaluma's rat hoarder for mere cheap, indulgent chortles at the poor man's expense. But let's just take a moment to observe his dedication to a cause: holding up Petaluma's uncontested title for small-animal hoarding. What is it with that town? First there was the cat lady. Then last year, Roger Dier astonished the nation when 1,300 rats were discovered crawling throughout his rented house. Soon deprived of his scaly-tailed little charges, Dier took to the water in a 29-foot sailing boat on the Petaluma River, where he raised another menagerie of 37 rats and six cats in what the papers described as a small, feces-caked cabin. Finally, bumped out of docking spaces, he set sail early this year for destination unknown. To many, it's revolting; to others, outrageous animal cruelty. Psychologists say hoarders are chronic recidivists, and see themselves as saviors of helpless creatures. Hmm, what do we call it when we crowd thousands of cows or chickens into pens and cages, and lop off parts of them? Animal husbandry. But enough philosophizing. Rat fanatics and Marinites, keep a lookout on the waterfront. But at least our would-be Noah had this going for him: as on the Ark, the cats apparently did not eat the rats.--J.K.

Best Champion of Gender Equality

Have you heard this one? Three guys walk into a gym. Turns out it's a women's gym. Two leave, but the third guy files a gender discrimination lawsuit. Not funny? That's what a lot of women thought when Body Central closed its doors this year. The Santa Rosa gym was allegedly brought down in financial exhaustion after a legal battle instigated by the male-gendered Phillip Kottle, who demanded equal access to the facility. The state Department of Fair Employment and Housing took up his cause with diligence. Not satisfied that he was merely admitted to the gym, the court ordered that they provide separate locker and shower rooms and cease advertising as a gym that makes only women stronger. Later, it found that the sad, painted-over "Fitness for Women" signs were just visible enough to violate the court order. So who is this guy? Could he be Best Fall Guy? (It's rumored that Body Central had been on a downhill slide for several years, with broken machines left unrepaired.) Does he see himself as an avatar of payback for all the times that feminists have used the courts to muscle in on men's domains--like, uh, the workplace and education? Or is he just a dumbbell who now has lost his favorite gym?--J.K.

Best Place to Get Real Butter

Yeah, I have a popcorn problem. Here's the problem: I have to get the XXL size; I must hold it the entire time; and I pretty much always feel ill afterward. And, yes, I will eat rancid fake butter, cursing it aloud throughout the movie, but fergodsake you don't have to eat fake butter if you will only go to the Rialto Lakeside Cinemas. Here's also why you should go: The Rialto consistently shows films that all our big-city friends are talking about. You can actually show up without knowing what's playing, and you'll most likely see something cool. They showed that seven-hour Italian film last year that you had to come back for the second half the next day (The Best of Youth--run, don't walk). They serve decent coffee with real milk, they provide free ice water with civilized-size cups and quality root beer in a glass bottle. They have the little-bit-cheaper Tuesdays, the Jewish film festival, all the Oscar shorts and more. Buttah baby. Rialto Cinemas Lakeside, 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. 707.525.4840--M.T.J.

Best Historical Leftover

Dr. Pierce's Medical Discovery. Those words are painted, in large white letters on the side of an old wooden barn that is highly visible as you drive south on Highway 101, just north of the Geyserville exit. An obvious leftover from a time long past, the mysterious words tend to haunt people, popped out of their wine country road reveries by the sudden suggestion that once, long ago, someone named Dr. Pierce discovered something medical. But who was Dr. Pierce? For the record, here's the story on Dr. Pierce and his medical discovery. He was Dr. Ray Vaughn Pierce and he was, at one point, one of the most famous and controversial doctors in the country. His medical "discoveries" ran the gamut from cures for cancer to treatments for stopping male masturbation to his specialty: menstruation aids. Born in 1840 in Starke, N.Y., he ran a massive patent-medicine empire from his headquarters in Buffalo, where there still stand some of his many buildings and clinics (most with whimsically far-reaching names like World's Dispensary and Invalid's Hotel and Surgical Institute). He was a quack and his medicines were loaded with alcohol, cocaine and cannabis, making him one of the first drug lords in America. His medicines carried such names as Dr. Pierce's Pleasant Pellets, Dr. Pierce's Smart Weed, Dr. Pierce's Favorite Prescription, Dr. Pierce's Vaginal Tablets and the big one, Dr. Pierce's Golden Medical Discovery, which claimed to heal pretty much any disease known to humans. Since actual doctors would have nothing to do with his products, Dr. Pierce sold them by mail order, advertising in magazines and, in one of his more ingenious marketing ideas, on the sides of barns all across America. It was an early form of product placement, getting his name out there any way possible, so that when folks stumbled across his wares later, they were already on first-name terms. The barn alongside Highway 101 was probably painted in the late 1800s. At one point, according to information published by the Historical Society of Buffalo, more than half a million bottles, boxes and bags of Dr. Pierce's remedies were sold every year, and his outlandishly wrong-headed 1,000-page medical book, The People's Common Sense Medical Advisor, went through 11 editions and sold more than 2 million copies by the time of Dr. Pierce's death in 1907. A staunch anti-masturbation crusader, he published reams of testimonials by anonymous men who claimed they were sickly, suicidal and financially unsuccessful until Dr. Pierce showed them how to refrain from all nonprocreative emissions. His regard for the frailty and godliness of women was so high (ahem), he also discouraged them from "self abuse" and from sleeping with their husbands (actually sleeping in the same bed), because the microscopic effluvia he claimed emanated from the bodies of menstruating women could be inhaled by their loving husbands, making them sick. In 1879, after a term as state senator, Dr. Pierce was elected to the U.S. Congress on the Republican ticket, but he resigned a year later citing poor health. By the time he died, he'd made a fortune with his various medicines, books and clinics. Some will find it amusing to learn that he then lost most of his fortune on an ill-advised plan involving tunneling for gold and coal in the mountains of California. So now you know--and that's probably more than you wanted to know--about the strange sign on the side of that barn that you see as you drive down Highway 101.--D.T.

Best Indigenous Coming Attraction

Inside a spacious former warehouse on the northern edge of Santa Rosa, a dream is gradually taking shape. When it is completed, perhaps later this year, the California Indian Museum intends to be a major cultural resource, where the history and culture of the indigenous tribes of California are preserved and presented on their own terms. Established in 1996, the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center was initially intended to be part of the renovated San Francisco Presidio. When those plans fell through, the group acquired their 24,000-square-foot facility in Larkfield in 2001, and have been working toward the public opening of the planned $8 million museum ever since. In the meantime, the CIMCC has presented a series of small-scale exhibits and monthly public lectures on topics such as traditional foods, the Indian Child Welfare Act, basketry and the occupation of Alcatraz and Indian activism. California Indian Museum and Cultural Center, 5259 Aero Drive, Santa Rosa. 707.579.3004.--B.R.

Best Promising Signs of Life

I'm sure I wasn't alone when my jaw dropped upon seeing the name "Sigur Ros" on the Marin Center's freeway marquee last year. The thought that Icelandic avant-garde rockers would visit the Frank Lloyd Wright's blue and pink domes was nearly unbelievable. And when prog-rock band the Mars Volta graced Petaluma's Phoenix Theater with their afro-heavy presence last year, locals rejoiced even as they pondered how much money or blood they'd part with for a ticket. These shockers did spotlight the irony that in an area so rich in musical superstars, they don't play here much. Tom Waits' last Bay Area show years ago was certainly nowhere near his current hometown. Van Morrison's recent Marin Center show was also an anomaly, even with his former Marin residency, but his quasi-nostalgia-act status does give hope that Brian Wilson, instead of Mike Love, may bring his Pet Sounds performance here. The Sigur Ros concert last May is what's known as serendipitous Coachella runoff. Here's hoping their countrywoman Björk stops by this year. Hey, it could happen. And the symphony hall acoustics suit her orchestral and a cappella stylings much more than her festival co-headliner the Jesus and Mary Chain, right?--D.S.

Best Place to Pretend You're Friends with Legends

Mill Valley's Sweetwater Saloon is definitely a saloon, with photos of cowboys and enough wooden, Wild West décor to look like something out of Deadwood--but with far fewer whores hanging around. The posters on the walls of everyone from Bill Graham and the Dead to John Lee Hooker remind you that the area's musical legacy is just as rich. "We get the Radiators, we get Bob Weir to stop in here," says Kevin Pauls, a town native who works the door. "And with 30 years, pretty much any famous person you can think of is on this wall." Local heroes increase your patience for open-mic performers regularly playing at the one-room bar, as do the icons perched on the side benches, like the Talking Heads' Jerry Harrison who recently took in a Jackie Greene and Tim Bluhm show. The living room vibe is certainly accentuated by the low stage, which is no more than a foot and a half off the ground. With all the local talent and their visiting buddies, perhaps a show like the legendary Costello and Friends (featuring Garcia, Weir, Hagar and Lowe) show back in '89 is not too far off. But no matter how cozy you feel, stop yourself from asking a performer to use a coaster. Sweetwater Saloon, 153 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley. 415.388.2820.--D.S.

Best Olio, Live

Those who say Marinites are well rounded may have been checking out the Larkspur Cafe Theatre recently. Right off of Magnolia, the cozy, barnlike venue opened in 1990 as a cabaret house, but hit its stride in recent years with an eclectic lineup of performers. "We decided a more contemporary approach was needed," says Daniel Patrick of Murphy Productions, the group that took over management in 2004. "We began to book current, high-quality acts consisting of music, dancing, comedy and theater." On any given night, locals can be entertained by Dr. Wayne Wallace's Latin Jazz Quintet, Americana fusionists the Trailer Park Rangers, Donna Stevens' one-woman musical revue, or even the Chirgilchin Master Throat Singers from Tuva, a small Russian province north of Mongolia. "We're not generated around a bar or a restaurant, so it's a place where the artist and audience are connected," Patrick says. Customer Bunny Summers of Mill Valley loves the comedy shows. "I think it's great; we needed something like that," she says. "Now we don't have to cross that bridge!" If only the county's exponentially growing crowdedness had more pleasant byproducts like this. Larkspur Cafe Theatre, 600 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur. 415.924.6107.--D.S.

Best Pathetic Display of Has-Been Egotism in the Face of Complete Public Apathy

"All right, I'm gonna need you to come to the front of the stage," he exhorted into the microphone. "So . . . get on up here and dance for me!" Mildly awakened from the day's festivities, the crowd pulled their collective attention away from the beer and ribs just long enough to cast a wayward glance toward the stage--on the other side of a 100-yard abyss of nobody. "Come on!" he yelled, "I'm not used to playing for less than 2,000 people! Get up here!" A few people stirred. One tapestry-clad twirling hippie made her way forward. A few others shuffled hesitatingly. "All right guys, well, I'm gonna letcha know that I've been working hard on my solo album, and you can buy it online, and this is a song off of it called 'I'm Gonna Kill That Red Rooster.'" Thus spake Mark Kendall, the guitarist for Great White, making a hilarious guest appearance at Stumptown Brewery's Beer Revival last August. After a few stock blues riffs, interspersed with increasingly delusional and utterly ineffectual pleading to the crowd, Kendall eventually gave up trying to get anyone to care and sulked back to his Coleman tent. Stumptown Brewery and Smokehouse, 15045 River Road, Guerneville. 707.869.0705.--G.M.

Best Way To Exercise Your Altruistic Inclinations

Who wants to share a Saturday morning jog with thousands of other runners, plodders, strollers, kids, dogs, costumed groups and a local media horde? Just about everyone, it seems. And thousands more who elect not to be a part of the mobile mob write checks to support it. Thus has the annual Human Race become Sonoma County's most visible fund-raising event, generating more than $1.1 million last year. In addition to supporting the sponsoring Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, those funds go to some 450 local nonprofits, as each of the throng of participants gets to choose where to direct the fruits of their efforts. Runners and sponsors are already being rounded up for this year's Race on May 12. Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, 153 Stony Circle, Suite 100. 707.573.3399. --B.R.

Best Good Public Art

Identifying good public art is not an exact science, mainly because there is no such thing as "good" public art or "bad" public art. It's all just art. Even the big-boobed wench in front of Cole's Chop House has its fans, folks who genuinely like it. Even here at the Bohemian, to which many of the North Bay's residents turn for help in dividing the wretched from the sublime, we couldn't arrive at a consensus in regards to which high-profile public art installations, of all the public art we drive, walk, jog or cycle past every day, are the good ones. For example, some of us actually like Three Spheres, by Sebastopol sculptor Daniel Oberti which currently stands in the sculpture garden behind the Hyatt Vineyard Creek & Spa. It is basically a three-pack of large round balls, polished up and set on pedestals. Each of the spheres was built from steel armatures covered with nylon fiber and sand or cement. The sculpture's fans argue that the non-specific balls are vague enough to mean anything, yet specific enough (round, big, tactile) to make description simple. Some of us wouldn't mind having one in our living room. At the same time, others of us, to put it simply, pretty much hate the Oberti spheres, finding them simplistic, jarring, pointless and ugly, no more beautiful or artistically successful than a blob of Play-Doh rolled make a gooey glowing orb. Some of us wish the Hyatt would roll those giant balls away into some warehouse somewhere, and let an artist with true vision have a crack at installing something with vision, with heart, something that isn't just, you know, standing there. Which of us is right? Which wrong? Is Oberti a genius or not? We're going to let you decide on this one. The art is placed behind the hotel on the creek side of things. Hyatt Vineyard Creek & Spa, 170 Railroad St., Santa Rosa. 800.434.6835.--D.T.

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