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Bellingham by the Bay

A muttering instinct

I was wondering what happened to those famous parrots of Telegraph Hill. “They’re gone,” quipped Tony Gantner. “They can’t afford the rents.”

And perhaps they were being choked by the constantly increasing number of cars on the streets of San Francisco. This is really a walking town. Motorists have taken to double-parking as a matter of routine. And, you know, parking is such sweet sorrow. … Speaking of Shakespeare, the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival celebrated the Bard’s birthday on April 23 by presenting a reading of the “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy from Hamlet at the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral. Seven actors, holding cue cards with the essential words, circled the labyrinth, and recited the famous piece. As for “the slings, and arrows of outrageous fortune,” Nob Hill is an appropriate venue. The festival’s artistic director, Rebecca Ennals, reminded me that Shakespeare died on his birthday. Yet another irony, the sort that filled his works. …

More literary items: Reading Partners is a group of teachers, volunteers, and sponsors dedicated to promoting reading in public schools. This, as the government seeks ways to cut back on school programs — even lower standards on school lunches (to the dismay of Michelle Obama). To raise a little money for local schools, Reading Partners sponsored a celebrity spelling bee at Bimbo’s in North Beach on April 27. It was quite a party. Celebrity spellers included Sully Sullenberger (who can teach us how to land an airliner in the Hudson River) … Zander Lurie, the CEO of SurveyMonkey … Ken McNeeley, prez of AT&T California … and Wende Hutton of Canaan Partners. … Some of the words were pretty tough: perspicacious … balaclava (not to be confused with baklava) … abecedarian … Bildungsroman (German? Is that fair?) … collywobbles (that means queasiness, a result of being in a spelling bee) … whangdoodle … and selkie (not to be confused with selfie) … It is acceptable to spell it “silkie” — that’s a mythical Celtic creature that was a seal-turned-human … As I recall, there was a 1960s British group called The Silkie … The evening at Bimbo’s netted $167,000 for public schools in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. …

I was thinking about going back to school – not that I went to class very often in the first place. I’m so old now, of course, I’d have to find someone to carry my books for me. I dropped by the downtown campus of City College to get a catalog. The young fellow there said, “With your experience, you should be teaching a class.” … I’ve got an idea: “Talking to Myself as a Second Language.” …

While I contemplate what “abecedarian” may mean, it seems to me that the aforementioned The Silkie, the British group, recorded a Beatles tune, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” It was their only chartered single. Don’t smirk. I never had a chartered single. The original tune was sung by John Lennon in the film, Help! … Oh, that reminds me. After Lennon was murdered in New York, United Artists rereleased the Beatles’ first movie, A Hard Day’s Night. The studio produced a new print in stereo, and replaced a tune that was cut from the original release. It was John singing “I’ll Cry Instead.” I got an invitation to see the film at the now-disappeared Ghirardelli Square Cinema.

This was in 1982. … Astonishingly, I was the only “media person” to show up at the 11 a.m. screening.

There was an older gentleman seated in the empty house. And there was I, who took my place in the back of the theater.

“Young man,” he turned to me, “come sit next to me.” … It was Walter Shenson, who had produced both Beatles feature films. This gave me license to ask him questions as A Hard Day’s Night (an expression that Ringo coined) rolled.

“Mr. Shenson,” I asked, “when did you know that this movie would be a hit?”

“You have to understand,” he explained in his cultured, patrician voice, “that United Artists — and the rest of us — had no idea who the Beatles really were, and if they would last beyond six weeks. But when my wife and I attended the London premiere, my wife whispered, ‘Walter, they’re having so much fun up there on the screen!’ That’s when I knew we had a hit on our hands.” …

I should say. I will always remember that encounter at the Ghirardelli Square Cinema with the kindly gentleman, Walter Shenson, and that lesson in life that I have absorbed: “When in doubt — have fun!” … Of course, the money helps. …

After many years, the Noah’s Bagels store on Fillmore Street at Sacramento has closed. This depresses me. The death of any bagel shop diminishes me a little. … To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, “A woman is just a woman — but a bagel, well, that’s a nosh.” … Years ago, I met David Margolith, a writer for Vanity Fair, in New York. He told me that he was relieved when The New York Times relieved him of duty as San Francisco Bureau Chief so he could chase O.J. Simpson around Los Angeles.

“Relieved? Why,” I asked.

“Because San Francisco is the most gentile city I’ve ever been in,” he said. And now, we have one less bagel shop. Not a good sign. … Nor is it a good sign to see one retail store after another close down. As I walk around town, I see “Help Wanted” signs in the windows of restaurants and shops on display for months and months. That’s because these sorts of jobs do not pay nearly enough to keep up with the San Francisco cost of living. … Many of us will soon be eating nuts and berries — like the parrots of Telegraph Hill. …

Humana, in all of its inhumane wisdom, informs me that the insurance company will no longer pay for my vitamin D and magnesium.

I imagine that’s because these items can be purchased over the counter (OTC). I was in Walgreens and was stunned at the cost of these OTC products. Massively inflated prices, courtesy of Big Pharma.

As you know, both vitamin D and magnesium are important for heart patients. (The BBC World Service recently did a piece on the newfound cardiac value of both.)

The late Dr. Debbie Brown said to me once: “In all my years in medicine, I have never seen a lower vitamin D count. Don’t you ever go out into the sunlight?”

“Sunlight?” said I. “What the hell is that?”

The problems with Obamacare don’t come from the legislation. They come from the greedy insurance companies.

Humana actually endorsed that preposterous GOP Health Care Bill. Of course. It would profit the insurance industry very well at the expense of 7 million poor people. … Ah, but I rattle on. …

Alyce Bryant doesn’t seem to mind rattling on so much. Rattling like the cable car on California Street, Alyce pours drinks at Zeki’s, a pub on California Street on Nob Hill. She’s also a photographer. This town cultivates creativity. She’s funny, and elegant, with a keen sense of music and of everything around her. Alyce silences me with her wit. As for working on Nob Hill, she says the experience can be summed up in a Stevie Wonder song: “It’s all right, it’s uptight, it’s outta sight.” … The reason ISIS hates us so much is because we have Stevie Wonder — and they don’t. And they don’t have Alyce, either. …

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Bruce Bellingham is the author of Bellingham by the Bay (Council Oak Books) Feel free to torment him at [email protected]. Follow the Marina Times on Twitter @TheMarinaTimes and like us on Facebook @MarinaTimes.

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