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Book Review of “Home Baked”

Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, And The Stoning Of San Francisco
by Alia Volz
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 435 pages; April 20, 2020; $27

Poet George Sterling called San Francisco “the cool grey city of love.” Journalist Gary Kamiya borrowed Sterling’s phrase for his book about San Francisco titled Cool Gray City of Love, which offers 49 views of what must be one of the most beloved peninsulas on the face of the earth. In Alia Volz’s new book, San Francisco boasts all the colors of the rainbow. It’s also a city of love between brothers and sisters, brothers and brothers and sisters and sisters. San Franciscans can’t seem to read too much about their hometown, though it has been written about lovingly for more than one hundred years. Home Baked is Volz’s Valentine to San Francisco, her parents, including her father, who might or might not be heterosexual, and to friends and family members. For years, Volz’s mom baked and sold ten thousand marijuana-laced brownies a month. She made real money. Her enterprise was called “Sticky Fingers.” Volz’s mom —”the Brownie Lady”— is not to be confused, the author herself explains, with “Brownie Mary,” who gave away brownies laced with marijuana, most notable during the AIDS/HIV pandemic and who was arrested trying to do good. Probably only in San Francisco could there be two such non-competitive women. Volz takes readers through a familiar landscape with familiar figures, including Dennis Peron, Harvey Milk, Dan White, Cleve Jones, and less well known personalities, too, such as Stannous Flouride who helped create punk San Francisco and who now gives guided tours of the neighborhood known as the Haight.

To call Home Baked pro-pot would not be an exaggeration. It’s also an indictment of state and federal governments, and national and local law enforcement agents who made raids, cuffed and arrested millions of Americans for possession of small amounts of weed.

For nearly a decade Volz and her family lived in and around Willits, where they were often misfits. Her book is mostly gritty and urban with descriptions of the Castro District, North Beach, Finnila’s Finnish Baths, the Condor with Carol Doda’s “neon nipples,” and The Mabuhay Gardens, which appears in these pages as the “heart of an intense demimonde.” The author has pulled off a literary feat. Indeed, she has written a book for people who were there and who did all or most of the things that could be done. At the same time, her book is for those who weren’t yet on the scene.

So, there are explanations of historical events like Jonestown, the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone and groups like the Cockettes. Home Baked is about those who survived, the drug culture, the HIV/AIDs epidemic, police raids and the “sexual anarchy”—to borrow a phrase from filmmaker John Waters—that fueled large swaths of the City.

Volz’s hot blooded memoir honors hippies and hippie culture and reminds readers that for decades San Francisco refused to adhere to the All-American paradigm even as it kept alive the best non-conformist American values and customs.

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