Noe Valley Voice November 2001

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

KNAVE NEW WORLD: Two ugly incidents occurred last month in Noe Valley, proving that our nice little neighborhood isn't immune from the terrorist mentality that's infesting our planet. The twist here is that it was the American flag under attack. In the old days, it would have been called flag-burning; in police vernacular, it's "attempted arson," or at the very least, malicious mischief.

Both occurrences left residents quite upset.

On Saturday morning, Oct. 6, Meranda Lau opened the door to her dry cleaning business (Meranda Dry Cleaning, 1364 Church Street) and gasped when she saw only the charred remains of the American flag that had been hanging outside her shop. The bottom of the large cloth flag had been set afire, and the lower half had been burnt off some time during the night.

"I was really scared, since the flag was hanging on my garage door, and I live above the shop," says Meranda, shaking her head. She says she can't imagine who would do such a thing.

"I don't think any of my customers would do this. I know all my customers-- they all come by and say hello, and everybody is really nice. I have been working here for five years," Meranda says. "I hope it's only kids.... Maybe they hate to see the flag or anything U.S.A."

Meranda reported the incident to the police, who promised they would step up surveillance in the Church and Clipper Street area. As far as she knows, there have been no arrests. In the meantime, many of her customers and neighbors have stopped by to offer their support.

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THE SECOND FLAG-BURNING happened at Lory and Carol Ratner's house in upper Noe Valley on Oct. 11. They had hung their stars and stripes on a pole in front of their house, like many of their neighbors did, as a show of sympathy and solidarity following the events of Sept. 11.

"I went outside to get the paper that Thursday morning at about seven o'clock when I looked over to the flag and noticed that it had been burnt to a crisp," says Carol. "I was completely shocked that this happened, and then I got really scared and called the police."

Carol is from New Jersey. Her husband is from Ohio. They met in New York, and moved to San Francisco, where they've lived for the past 20 years (Noe Valley the last 16). Lory is a certified public accountant who has had an office in Downtown Noe Valley for five years.

"I honestly did not think this kind of thing would happen in this neighborhood or in this city, which is known around the world for its tolerance," says Carol. "And the shock is, not only did it happen here, but it happened to us! It was an eye-opener to the real San Francisco."

However, the Ratners say they have been very touched by how supportive their neighbors have been. A neighbor from across the street, whom they had never met, gave them his own flag.

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a story about the incident the following Saturday ("Vandal Torches Flag at S.F. Home," by Susan Sward).

"We also got a call from a radio talk show in Birmingham, Alabama, which had read the Chronicle story. They did a 10-minute interview on the air," says Carol. "The radio host asked me a question that a lot of my friends from New York have been asking: 'Did the mayor do anything?' The answer to that is no!"

The Ratners have been displaying their new flag indoors, but say they are going to hang it outside again soon.

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IMAGINE NO HATE: The neighbors around Noe Market, on the corner of 21st and Douglass streets, attended a celebration and mural unveiling on Sunday, Oct. 21. Sponsored by Global Exchange and the Noe Market's owners, Angelica and Saif Ataya, the celebration was held to show neighborhood caring, and to promote healing after the shameful attacks on the Atayas on Sept. 11 and 12.

As you might have read in last month's Voice, the Atayas were verbally assaulted by one of their "occasional" customers on Sept. 11, and then on the next morning found a huge graffiti sign which read "Arab Terrorists, Go Home," plus bundles of garbage strewn over the sidewalk in front of the market.

Angelica and Saif have operated the corner grocery store since 1995. Angelica was born in Lebanon, raised in Nicaragua, and has lived in San Francisco since 1980. Saif lived in Iraq and became a refugee in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Desert Storm campaign. He was brought to the U.S. by the United Nations in 1994.

More than 60 people showed up for the Sunday gathering. There was enough Middle-Eastern food for all, and lots of music. The crowd oohed and aahed over the five-foot-square mural created by Bay Area muralist Mary Nash. You can see some of her other works on Balmy Alley in the Mission.

Supervisor Mark Leno spoke to the crowd, along with several neighbors. The event ended with everyone joining in singing John Lennon's "Imagine."

"I feel so much stronger ties to the community in Noe Valley since all this has happened to us, and I am so proud of this neighborhood," Angelica said. "I only hope we can set an example of solidarity with our neighbors, so others can see we all live in peace."

The Atayas (who are Muslims) say that they have been contacted by many Bay Area newspapers and some local television stations. "There has sure been a lot of media," Angelica notes. She says she feels safe now when she is in Noe Valley, but "now when we go out places, we are followed by security guards, which is very insulting and humiliating.

"If I would say anything to the media now, it would be to stop escalating the hatred towards Muslims in American communities. Everyone should understand that we are living here with you and we're not your enemy."

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THERE WAS BAD NEWS at Good News at the end of September, when Vicki Johnson arrived for work in the early morning to find that a news rack in front of the shop holding copies of the magazine Common Ground had been set ablaze during the night. Police determined that the fire had been set intentionally. They noted that the large tree above the news rack could also have caught on fire. Luckily it didn't, because that would have threatened the whole building.

Three weeks after the fire, Good News owner Sam Salameh reported that he had experienced no other problems at his store--either before or after the incident.

When contacted by the Voice, Andy Alpine, Common Ground's editor and publisher, said he hadn't heard about the fire, but thought it was a random act not directed at his paper.

(Old-timers in the neighborhood might remember that this quarterly magazine, which provides "resources for body, mind, and spirit," was founded right here in Noe Valley in the late 1970s, with its offices on Sanchez Street near the corner of 29th. Back then, Common Ground, and Noe Valley itself, was very New Age. Like so many other New Agers of the time, the publication moved up to Marin County in the early '80s.)

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GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY QUESTION: One of the rules of the new, improved Riddle of the Day at Tully's Coffee on 24th Street is "No Arguing!"

Or maybe you haven't heard -- the daily question has made a comeback at Tully's. The game had been halted abruptly by the manager after too much controversy brewed over the questions and answers.

According to the store's Carlos Lobos, "We had to discontinue the Question of the Day because people used to argue with us about interpretations of the question, and that there could be alternative answers, and who was right and why; it was too overanalyzed and complicated."

The reward for the right answer was and still is a free cup of coffee.

"Now that we have brought the Question back with the new rules, everybody seems to be happy and things are cool," says Carlos. "And we are getting five or six winners a shift, on average."

The new rules are simple: (1) Must participate for the sole purpose of fun, (2) No rain checks, (3) Must answer before paying, and (4) NO ARGUING.

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A COLONEL OF TRUTH: I have to correct last month's rumor that KFC/Taco Bell was eyeing the Star Bakery space, on the corner of Church and 29th streets. The new owner of the property, Leslie Rundel, says there is absolutely no truth to the rumor and that the fast-food chain never even inquired about leasing the space.

Leslie, who has lived in Noe Valley for 15 years, bought Star last year and plans to preserve and upgrade the space, which she described as being "in deep neglect."

"We have gotten about 75 calls in response to our sign, and KFC was not one of them," says Leslie. She adds that she has received lots of queries from restaurants and bakeries, but also a furniture store, a pet store, a dry cleaners, a yoga studio, and a beauty salon.

"One thing that is really a shocker," she says, "is getting through the Planning and Building Departments at City Hall -- what a nightmare."

It looks like all that antique bakery equipment will soon be dismantled and carted off to the junk pile. I wish before its demise they would have an open house to let the public get a glimpse of a bakery that is more than a hundred years old.

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THAT'S THIRTY INCHES, more or less, for this month, folks. Don't forget to vote on Nov. 6. And on 11-11-01, at the 11th hour, please pause for a moment to remember the armistice to World War I, the war that was supposed to be "the war to end all wars." Bye, kids.