Being a columnist — even for such an august publication as the Marina Times — has its ups and downs. When the going is good and the words flow along in proper order, being a columnist is very, very good. But writers’ block is a hazard, and the search for a story and an angle is ever present.
In Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, he identified columnists as providing a “… substitute for immortality.” My version of the Hemingway quote is this: A mention in this column is a substitute for triviality. If I sometimes balk at writing a monthly column, imagine what Herb Caen did five times a week for almost 60 years.
Of course there’s major trivia and there’s minor trivia that I call trivial trivia. It’s even more inconsequential and obscure — the kind you get in pub pop quizzes with your buddies about long-gone movie idols or arcane sports statistics.
Here then is some recent — and exceedingly important — major trivia, gleaned from the streets of North Beach.
THE EMPEROR OF NORTH BEACH
My buddy Lorenzo Petroni says he’s feeling fine these days. And that’s good news, because he went through a bad patch last year. Now I’m waiting for next Italian Heritage Day — the holiday that many old timers still refer to as Columbus Day. Lorenzo, as he always does, will hold court in front of his North Beach Restaurant on Stockton wearing a toga and a crown of laurel leaves, looking like a cherubic Roman emperor and passing out stickers reading “Hug Me I’m Italian.” And I will hug him just because he’s Italian and because he’s here.
THE COYOTE OF TELGRAPH HILL
A coyote was spotted on Telegraph Hill the other day. What was a coyote doing up there on the hill? “She” was in danger of eviction by the Ellis Act and probably checking with the Telegraph Hill Dwellers to request a conversion of her one room coyote den into a multifamily residence. The spotter said madam coyote looked expectant.
RED SAUCE ON THE HILL
Yes, Coit Tower is closed for a year to spruce up its WPA murals and patch leaks. And I presume the Coit people will replace the giant cauldrons in the tower that pump the Italian red sauce down Telegraph Hill to the neighborhood joints below.
CAROL IS BUSTED
Did you hear that North Beach’s beloved and bedecked Carol Doda got busted? Busted! She clipped a double-parked car in front of a Financial District steakhouse. And if that’s not terrific trivia, I’m not a trivialist in good standing.
AN OSCAR FOR HISTRIONICS
If there was an Academy Award for Histrionics, my nomination for the Oscar would go to that pugnacious Mother Superior of Vallejo Street — Angela Alioto — who proclaimed she would go to the Vatican and tell the pope that the fathers at the Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi are picking on her. Angela chews the scenery but she means well.
AN OSCAR FOR PATIENCE
And if there was an Academy Award for Patience my nomination for the Oscar would go to poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti whose vision for a pedestrian Poets Plaza on Vallejo between Upper Grant and Columbus is always just around the corner. Recently, a promoted “open forum” was to be held at our favorite saint’s shrine on Vallejo to discuss the Ferlinghetti project. It was cancelled at the last minute.
SCANDAL IS TRIVIA
“Sordid scandal brewing at North Beach shrine”: When I saw that headline in the Chronicle recently I thought it referred to the much bandied-about squabble between Angela Alioto and the shrine hierarchy. But no, the good Chronicle’s “sordid scandal” was only a look-alike White House Clintonesque caper — kinky sex in the shrine’s sacristy. You can’t make up stuff like this.
FROM THE GRAPVINE TRIVIA
You will remember Mike Cleary — Michael Patrick Cleary, if you will — San Francisco radio personality in the old days and man about North Beach. He hung out at the Washington Square Bar & Grill and liked his martinis straight up. You may have read his 550-page novel, Spiritual Mischief, a mystery set in London and San Francisco and aboard an Alaska-bound cruise ship. I heard it through the grapevine that Mike is writing another book. It’s about North Beach as it is right now — complicated and a bit sordid.
NOT SO TRIVIAL TRIVIA
Turning up in North Beach liquor stores: tequila in long bottles shaped like AK 47s. What a lousy idea. Booze and weapons don’t mix.
One of the problems with writing a monthly column is that the dailies scoop you. As you may have read, the Duggan family that brought the 75-year-old Tenderloin landmark — Original Joe’s — to North Beach in 2012, is busy renovating another landmark, Joe’s of Westlake out in Daly City. Those energetic Duggans — Papa John, Mama Marie, John Jr., and his sister Elena — have taken over the other Joe’s, shut it down, and promise to celebrate the “new” Joe’s early in 2015 after renovation. Elena will manage it and the menu will remain largely the same.
A belated happy birthday to Seamus Coyle, the celebrity bartender at Gino & Carlo. You may recall that Seamus was rocketed to fame back in the sixties when he served as bartender for Jeremiah Tower’s Stars over by Civic Center.
ORANGE BRIDGE TRIVIA
Art Peterson, former man about North Beach, but now a man about Discovery Bay (Contra Costa County), has written a fine book about our city — Why Is that Bridge Orange? Art not only answers that question in case you were wondering, but also other questions such as — Why is Lombard Street crooked? How does a cable car work? And why are there windmills at Ocean Beach? You, of course, already have all the answers. But you might want to send Art’s book to your aunt in Discovery Bay. Check it out: firstname.lastname@example.org.