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Editors' Picks: Arts & Entertainment

Best Place to Stash a Baby in a Dark Place
Diaper Days at the Camera 7
The Pruneyard, 1875 S. Bascom Ave, Suite 100, Campbell 408.559.6900
"I have pondered / this thing, and thought maybe / 'Twere better that Baby the First / Had been eagled or condored." Los Gatos' own Ambrose Bierce, writing on the subject of the infant human child, anticipates the feelings of patrons when a squalling crybaby is brought to the movie theater by its mom. Isn't it always some loud ultraviolent R-rated shocker, perfect for little Brittany or Dylan's cognitive development, too? See you at Cabin Fever, punkin'. In the baby-boom days, some movie theaters constructed glassed off sound-proofed "crying rooms," where poor shut-in parents could try to enjoy themselves for a minute, deaf to the outraged wails of their sprat. The long-gone Capitola was one of the last such theaters. However, spurred by some pioneering efforts at the Parkway Theater's "Baby Brigade" in Oakland, the Camera 7 theater has designated the first and third Wednesdays of the month as Diaper Day. Email address for info is [email protected]; management asks that strollers be left at home, but admission for children under 3 is free. (RvB)

Best Freeloader Video Game Scam
South First Billiards
420 S. First Street, San Jose 408.294.7800
Every Wednesday around 4:30pm, an employee from Bill Morgan Amusement Company arrives at South First Billiards to empty money from the cigarette machine and the video games. And he always leaves about 15 credits in the video game that sits on the bar. If you're a Tri Towers fan, this is heaven. In addition to Tri Towers, the machine boasts a wide variety of games for which to use the free credits. There's erotic strip video poker, trivia battles, strategy matchups, sports related entertainment and more. 15 credits can go a long way. (GS)

Best Use of Empty Storefronts
Phantom Galleries
South First Street and Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose; sponsored by Populus Presents and Two Fish Design 408.271.5151
No out-of-towner visits downtown San Jose without scratching his head over the omnipresence of empty storefronts. And every artist here complains about how impossible it is to make a living as an artist here. Well, Phantom Galleries attempts to wipe out these two birds with one stone: Fill up the empty storefronts with funky paintings, murals, installations, displays or whatever local visual artists can come up with. Give passersby something to look at besides decrepit, crumbling storefronts or a botched movie theater complex. Since its inception last year, the Phantom Galleries project has even resulted in a few commissions for the artists whose work graces the storefronts. The artists get exposure and the urban blight gets covered up. Everyone wins. (GS)

Best Outdoor Cinema
Cinema San Pedro
San Pedro Square, between Santa Clara and St. John streets, San Jose
Watching movies outdoors was an idea that never should have gone out of style--I wonder if some local philanthropist feels like restoring an old Skyview to 1955 standards? A regular buffet of al fresco movies expanded this summer; Santana Row's own free screenings of Hitchcock favorites and contemporary films continued what was begun downtown. The Gypsy Cinema, already a San Jose instituion, had a good season showing movies under the the towering palm trees between the San Jose Museum of Art and the Fairmont. But downtown San Jose's Cinema San Pedro has really added the bells and whistles. This year, Cinema San Pedro, co-presented by POPULUS, Giant Creative Services and Cinequest, exposed crowds to free screenings of flamboyant stuff like Hairspray and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, in addition to classics like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Each screening was accompanied by a Maverick short selected from the Cinequest film festival, and audiences were treated to special live theme events geared to each show. (RvB)

Best Place to Shoot Your Boss
Indico Gaming
540 Lawrence Expwy., Sunnyvale 408.245.0262
Price per hour: adult $5, student 13-18 $4, kids 12 & under $3; also membership prices
Obviously, it's dark. Double obviously, it's in Sunnyvale. Indico offers an excellent and legal way to virtually eliminate burdensome individuals--a boss, an ex-boyfriend, a math teacher--without having to confront them with words. This upscale gaming spot, which debuted in February, offers several computer "pods," where groups of "friends" can assume computer game identities and shoot each other up for fun. Indico's murder opportunities include Counter-Strike, Battlefield 1942, Unreal Tournament 2003 and Command and Conquer: Generals, all of them superb forums for uploading one's testosterone, PMS, or nonhormonal bitter resentment toward others. (AG)

Best Must-See Show 30 Years in the Making
San Jose Taiko's 30th Anniversary Concert
Oct. 4, San Jose Center for Performing Arts, San Jose 408.293.9344
In 1974, the first North American Taiko summit gathered at the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin. Los Angeles Japanese drumming group Kinnara Taiko happened to be in the Bay Area for a conference, and San Jose Taiko invited them down along with neighboring San Francisco Taiko Dojo. Dressed in bell-bottoms and scraggly neck warmers, the three groups picked up bachi (sticks) and jammed into the early morn. OK, it was nothing official, but the jam inaugurated a landmark confluence of Japanese-American taiko drumming--each group bound to each other by creativity, community, culture and the skin of the drum. 29 years later, there are 140 taiko groups in America, all direct descendants of this '70s summit. The three original California groups reconvene--minus the fashion faux pas--on Oct. 4 to mark the 30th anniversary of San Jose Taiko. A finale piece composed by San Jose Taiko's PJ Hirabayashi, pioneering activist/performer Nobuko Miyamoto and Kodo's Yoko Fujimoto will feature all three drumming and dance groups bashing away. It's a show 30 years in the making and not to be missed. (TI)

Best Public Art
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, Fourth and San Fernando Streets, San Jose 408.808.2000
After the debacle of the now-you-see-him-now-you-don't Thomas Fallon Statue and the ongoing hilarity of the Quetzalcoatl, one feared the worst for public art at the new library: a curtain of rusting iron by Richard Serra or a huge Oldenburg-style pink slip to represent the dotcom bust. Instead of a single monumental statement, artist Mel Chin, brainstorming with local groups, came up with a better idea: a treasure hunt. "Recolecciones" consists of 33 separate pieces scattered throughout the library. Some of the works confront library patrons directly--like the digital Rosetta Stone at the top of the first escalator. Others sneak up on visitors unexpectedly. One of the reading rooms features a Tweety Bird-yellow easy chair in the corner; examples of censored books sit on glass inserts in selected shelves; pull back a couple of self-help books and you'll see your reflection in mirror. The sense of surprise and serendipity enlivens every trip to the library. (MSG)

Best Way to Hear Local Bands Without Leaving Your House
KSCU-FM (103.3)
The mainstream music industry isn't exactly kind to newcomers, preferring instead to manufacture expensive plastic megastars like Britney and Christina at the expense of talented unknowns. But label-less local bands with a dream and a demo get regular airplay on KSCU-FM (103.3) and are often invited into the station's basement studios in Swig Hall at Santa Clara University to wax poetic about their music and rock out live. It's a chance for performers to have their music played alongside indie institutions and a great way for listeners to discover what could be the next big thing. (AM)

Best Author Reading Series
Major Authors Series
Center for Literary Arts, SJSU,
When I saw Norman Mailer in 1998 say that asking the Army to accept homosexuals is like shoving your member up the buttocks of the Pentagon, I was hooked on the Major Authors Series at San Jose State. That statement had everybody shifting in their seats. Not that every author they bring is over-the-top, but the series is definitely the best one going in San Jose. The list of writers brought here by the Center for Literary Arts reads like a who's who of contemporary literature. This season, SJSU features comic book writer Neil Gaiman, poet Li-Young Lee, and the legendary Studs Terkel. They even went so far as to get Simon Winchester, author of Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded and The Professor and the Madman to hang out for the entire Spring 2004 semester. Bravo! (GS)

Best New Local Author (Short-Story Division)
ZZ Packer
Packer's short-story collection debut, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere (Riverhead Books/Penguin Putnam), contains her knock-out story "The Ant of the Self," first published in The New Yorker. The cover shows a bottle with a message sealed inside it. That's significant because Packer's trying to send a message across the color line of America. "When you lived in the south suburbs of Atlanta, it was easy to forget about whites," Packer writes in the story "Brownies‚" "...everyone had seen white girls and their mothers coo-cooing over dresses; everyone had gone to the downtown library and seen white businessmen swish by importantly, wrists flexed in front of them to check the time as though they would change from Clark Kent to Superman at any second. But those images were as fleeting as cards shuffled in a deck...." Packer's characters might be anyone from a closeted-lesbian college girl at Yale to a drifting young woman who ends up teaching at a school in a Baltimore slum to an undersized mama's boy of a debate-club student. "The Ant of the Self" is about the last, hauled unwillingly to the Million Man March by his conniving, troublesome father. Packer, a Jones lecturer at Stanford, depicts a journey that's both a sardonic comedy and a genuine initiation ritual. Hers is a name that's going to be well known in years to come. (RvB)

Best Local Author (Comic Book Division)
Peter S. Conrad
Conrad, a photographer and playwright as well as a cartoonist, continues self-publishing true-life comics in the Harvey Pekar tradition ("Ordinary life is a pretty complicated thing," as the hero of the film American Splendor puts it). Still, Conrad's style is all his own. Issue No.8, the newest issue of Conrad's Attempted Not Known, tells of used books and badly used houses, and a conversation about the Joabim song "How Insensitive" that occurs at the San Jose Museum of Art. With every issue of Attempted Not Known, Conrad's art (visible at improves, complementing his assuredness as a writer. (RvB)

Best Fringe Stage Company
Pear Avenue Theatre
1220 Pear Ave., Mountain View
A five-play first season might exhaust even the most robust acting troupe, but Mountain View's Pear Avenue, undaunted, has scheduled two more for the upcoming season. Led by artistic director Diane Tasca, the Pear is tackling classics (Chekhov's The Seagull), experimenting with new plays created in workshop sessions and even mounting a musical (And the World Goes Round). All this ambition gets crammed into a theater smaller than the restrooms on Broadway. The Pear holds about 40 seats, fewer if the production calls for a big cast. The close-up nature of the space works to the company's advantage, allowing the actors to speak in conversational tones and express subtle emotions that work even in the back row. (MSG)

Best Alternative to a Parisian Getaway
Rodin Sculpture Garden
Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University, 328 Lomita Dr. at Museum Way off Palm Dr., Stanford 650.723.4177
Stanford University is home to the largest outdoor collection of bronzes by Auguste Rodin outside of Paris. Crunch across the rocky ground cover to view 20 magnificent bronzes, including Monumental Head of Pierre de Wiessant, Meditation Without Arms and Rodin's legendary work, The Gates of Hell. Refuge from the bright open garden is offered by tranquil benches and picnic tables located in the shady grassy areas that surround the exhibit. Inside the Cantor Center stand even more works by Rodin, part of a rotating collection that currently includes two of his most famous bronzes (The Thinker and The Kiss), as well as smaller bronzes of note and a display of his famously expressive hands. Add to the sense of holiday by dining on location at the Cool Cafe, which serves organic soups, salads and sandwiches that can be enjoyed inside or outside under wide, floppy umbrellas. Tours of the Rodin garden and gallery are led by knowledgeable and enthusiastic docents, rain or shine, on Saturdays at 11:30am, Sundays at 3pm and Wednesdays at 2pm. Admission is free. (SQ)

Best Excuse for Laughing in Your Date's Face
The Improv
62 S. Second St., San Jose 408.280.7475
San Jose's branch of the standup comedy franchise the Improv has exceeded all expectations, bringing in headliner acts to perform to sellout crowds. Maybe part of this success is because restoration of the 1904 vaudeville theater coincided with peoples' desperate need for comic relief from the economic downturn and war. Tony Baldino, president of Comedy Club Inc., the company that owns the Improvs, isn't put off by the Silicon Valley's economic downturn. "The Improv has been around for 40 years," says Baldino. "We've done all right during low economies. Maybe a laugh will help them out a little bit." Advice for spendthrifts: head for the seating upstairs. It's a couple bucks cheaper, nobody's head gets in the way, you can pretty much sit wherever you want, and service is always brisk. (TI)

Best Productivity Zapper
Friendster is still in beta mode, and the official launch date keeps getting pushed back, but the 7-month-old Sunnyvale-based website has already split the world into two types of people: those on Friendster and those about to break down and sign up. Friendster is an online community of 1.8 million folks indulging in the website's addictive, time-wasting qualities. It's kinder, gentler networking. Once you log in, you voluntarily create a "profile" including age, occupation, marital status and hobbies. You invite friends to join your "personal network," and they send messages and write "testimonials" about you. The addictive quotient comes in surfing others' profiles. You'll be surprised who's here: ex-lovers, high school buddies, roommates, co-workers, family members. Sound creepy? A little, but while other dating sites are the online equivalent of a meat market, Friendster is the backyard barbecue. You only interact with folks known to you, or just a couple of Friendster degrees of separation away. "I wanted to create an alternative for people who prefer a different approach," says Friendster CEO and founder Jonathan Abrams. "There's a social context. It's collaborative. You do it with your friends, you don't use a pseudonym. It's not as anonymous. My hope is that it works. Whether they make new friends, catch up with old friends, learn more about distant friends or make new romantic connections--that's what I hope they do." (TI)

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From the September 25-October 1, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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