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North Beach Journal

Holiday wishes for my favorite neighborhood characters

As a north beach flaneur, I come across a lot of neighborhood characters who lighten my load. This is especially important during the year-end holidays. Let me tell you about a few of these boulevardiers who have made my past year a little brighter and more interesting.  To all of them — Buon Natale, Feliz Navidad, and Happy Hanukkah.

DANIELLA CRISMANI

I’m a big fan of Daniella Crismani at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store and Cafe. Daniella makes Mario’s a happy place to hang out. She has a great smile and a lot of good banter — good banter is important to me.

ROY VOORHIES

Here’s a tip of my Panama hat to Roy Voorhies, patron of my saloon Gino and Carlo. Roy is a North Beach roustabout who always has time for a chat. One day he and a woman at the bar were hugging. When I asked what was up with the hug, Roy replied, “Just checking for the sake of quality control.”

BERNARDO QUINTANA

From time to time I encounter Bernardo Quintana, the North Beach street haberdasher. Bernie moves briskly about North Beach trailing a black roll-on airline bag. He sells shirts, socks, jackets, and sweaters out of that bag. And I buy them.

THE DUGGANS

Then there are the Duggans (John Senior and Junior, Marie, and Elena) — my hosts at Original Joe’s, experts at making me happy.

BRUCE BELLINGHAM

Bruce Bellingham, whom I sometimes refer to as Bruce “Belling the Ham,” is the prosciutto of North Beach, and a fine writer whose column appears in this paper. We are all lucky to have him.

LISA AMBROZIANI

Or what about Lisa Ambroziani, the career dog walker of Telegraph Hill. Lisa’s in charge of a bulldog named Sparky, who prefers to warm his tush on the sunny sidewalk rather than take a hike around the neighborhood.

FOOK FOOK

And because we’re talking about creatures, great and small, here’s a happy holiday wish to Fook Fook, the deaf, blue-eyed, pure white mouser of Upper Grant Avenue. A joy to the old neighborhood!

JAMES MELLING

In case you haven’t picked this up from reading my columns, James is the Gentleman Trencherman — my frequent lunch buddy who always gets me home before dark.

JOE MASTRELLI

My salami man, Joe Mastrelli, proprietor of Molinari, has everything from antipasto to Zampino — and a lot of charm that he dishes out with those monster sandwiches.

JOHNNY JONES

My friend Johnny Jones, a bartender at Original Joe’s, is a constant in my life. I think he has a book in him. Next time you see him, ask him to tell you some stories.

BRANDY MARTS

It’s a good day when I run into Brandy Marts, Calzone’s marketing guru. She does more to enhance North Beach than most of the posturing pundits who hang out in the old neighborhood.

RENEE SAMMON
Renee Sammon, server at the Original U.S. Restaurant. When Renee lays one on you, you know you’ve been smiled.

LISA POLLARD COPPOLA

I call her Saxlady. She let me play the Chinese gong in her band — the Green Street Mortuary Marching Band, which we all love to watch as they stride through North Beach and Chinatown playing Christian hymns for the dearly departed. Lisa is the band boss and plays tenor sax like Dexter Gordon.

MELISSA LAVELLE

Melissa Lavelle at Sotto Mare — Ah, sweet Melissa, as the Allman Brothers might intone. I like her sense of humor. When I ask for extra sauce for my shrimp Louie, Melissa deadpans, “No more sauce for you.” But then she brings it.

ANGELA ALIOTO

Angela Alioto. A while back, I vowed never to mention her name in my Sketches column again. No matter what nice things I’ve said about her, she always let me have it with both barrels, and that’s tiresome. But in the spirit of Christmas, I’m making an exception here.

AARON PESKIN

Aaron Peskin. The progressives’ progressive on the board of Supes. I don’t always agree with Aaron but when I call him to task, he doesn’t blow up.

THE CENTRAL STATION COPS

And — to all the cops at Central Station — thanks guys and gals.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI

And to that poet, painter, pamphleteer, and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti — soon to be 98 — I have a special Christmas wish — youngster, keep doing what you’re doing.

RON SPINALI

To Ron Spinali, my butcher, who also advises me on books to read — and sells mine along with his incomparable Italian sausage at Little City Market.

HERBERT GOLD

To novelist Herbert Gold who comes down from the Olympian literary heights of Russian Hill to grab lunch at Caffe Puccini with me and advises on my writing. I appreciate it.

SHANICA ON THE 39

I can’t forget my favorite Muni driver, Shanica, who drives me home on the 39 bus when I need to get home.

EARL, SUSAN, JOHN, AND LYNETTE

And a Merry Merry to my Marina Times colleagues — my publisher, the saintly Earl Adkins; editor-in-chief, Susan Dyer Reynolds; executive editor, John Zipperer; and managing editor, Lynette Majer — thanks for allowing me to write all this important stuff.

I wish I could have written this Christmas column in vague traces of skipping reels of rhyme like a recent Nobel Laureate but:

I’m not a poet
And I know it.

If you don’t find your name in this column, there’s always next year.

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E-mail: ernest@marinatimes.com

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