When the plumbing isn’t gender impartial

The sign is only the start; what about the urinals?Liz Hafalia/The Chronicle

First, the most important thing: bathrooms. Leaving the Palace of Fine Arts, after last week’s “Joyous Persistence” event, I ran into a friend — a perfect gentleman — looking upset. There were mostly women at the event. The women’s room sign had been left as is, but “Gender Neutral” had been stuck on the former men’s room sign.

Needing a bathroom break during the proceedings, my pal had stepped into the former men’s room, not even looking at the sign. No one else was there, and when he spotted the row of urinals, he used one. And while he was doing that, a woman came in and gave him hell. “Don’t you know,” she said, “that no one uses the urinals in a gender-neutral bathroom?” He was both embarrassed and indignant; how should he have known?

The very next day, R.H., who’d gone to the de Young to see the Summer of Love show, wrote that he’d used the first-floor men’s room, which — along with the adjacent ladies’ room — had been declared gender-neutral, too. It’s R.H.’s belief, he says, “that a restroom with a wall of urinals being only used by men is not gender neutral. Particularly for children. … When you walk into a restroom to see several men either using the urinals … that is not a gender-neutral restroom.”


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There must be a solution. Fill the urinals with flowers? Or ice, to hold bottled water? Or?

In the penthouse space on top of the UC Berkeley Memorial Stadium on Friday, June 2, the night’s party for the Bay Area Book Festival drew an array of talking/eating/drinking writers, editors and book lovers, fully engaged in timely conversation. “What’s going to bring it all down?” I overheard someone say. “The sex tapes from Russia,” I overheard someone answer.


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More relevant to the occasion, there was the everyday stuff of writers’ talks, even successful writers: the everyday frustrations caused by misdeeds by editors and publishers. Best-selling mystery writer Laurie R. King, with 25 novels under her belt, was upbeat but said some of her books are set in England written in the voice of a British writer, others in the voice of an American. And she described an editor of a British one who had changed just about every one of the Britishisms to an Americanism. Literary license includes the right to a pleasant kvetch.

Festival founder and director Cherilyn Parsons, gussied up in a beaded dress way above the usual literary standards, gave greetings and thanks to sponsors and noted, especially, that her staff was almost all women. As to this year’s festival, she said, “We cannot be anything but responsive and political. We have to express the conscience of the Bay Area. Literature is a force for social change.”

At an event Sunday, June 4, Deirdre English of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism talked with psychologist Dacher Keltner, whose book “The Power Paradox” says that the acquisition of power is aided more by empathy and humility than force and manipulation. The T-word was not spoken, but it was in every molecule of the atmosphere.

There were greetings and thanks to sponsors, the stuff of every such gathering. And then, we turned to more conversation: Guadalupe Nettel, Mexico City novelist and autobiographer, said she was using her time in the Bay Area to visit the places she loves best: “Big into the Beats,” she likes City Lights and Green Apple Books. There are still “lots of indie bookstores in Mexico, but no independent publishers. Printed books are still doing very well.” And after “readers and writers got sick of magical realism,” there’s a “new interest in Latin American literature.” She names names.

It’s a good conversation, we exchange information, we hope to meet again some day. And the party moves on.


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James Patterson reports on the sign outside a bar on Capitol Hill in Washington: “Comey on in. No Russians here!” It was full, says Patterson.

•And in the aw category, Nanook of the North Bay sent along a police blog item from the St. Helena Star. A citizen entered the police station to report “a theft that had been ongoing for the last 11 years.” Its value, he said, was immeasurable. When an officer emerged to take a report, the man “escorted a woman into the lobby and said she was responsible,” because 11 years ago, she had stolen his heart. Whereupon he proposed. She accepted the proposal and a ring.


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“Well, we found out the raccoons love San Francisco French Roast.”

Man overheard in a Brisbane cafe by Tony Press

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