Bellingham by the Bay, Features

Altogether, shout it now

This California primary election on June 7 will be the most important in many years. So say the local politicos who are beating the drum for a big turnout this month. That drumbeat is an accompaniment to the old, optimistic rousing tune, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” first used as a signature for FDR’s presidential campaign in 1932. It’s been used by the Democrats over the years. Considering that the Great Depression was just getting started, hopefulness was a real long shot. Herbert Hoover had already thrown up his hands to say, “There’s nothing more we can do.” Roosevelt thought he could do better. … Every time I go to City Hall, I see couple after couple getting married. People still get married? I’d call that “un-bridaled optimism.” …

The Democrats were always the party of hope, of good cheer. No one embraced that more than Hubert Humphrey, the “Happy Warrior.” Few recall that when Humphrey was mayor of Minneapolis in 1948, he passed the first civil rights legislation in the country. Now we revisit another civil rights struggle: the unlikely bathroom law of North Carolina. It harkens back to my childhood, witnessing Bobby Kennedy going after the governor of Mississippi because he would not admit blacks to Old Miss. Ever notice that everything bad always seems to come back? Mumps …yellow fever … Peter Frampton. …

Humphrey’s tragedy was remaining loyal to LBJ even though the Vietnam War was wounding the country deeply. The healing never ceased. The wounds are compounded by a few more specious wars. Not many will suffer the sort of political calamity that Humphrey did. Loyalty is out of date. Ask Donald Trump. I regret invoking the name. He’s not hamstrung by party affiliation. Or any other affiliation. “It’s not about the Republican Party,” he blusters. “It’s about me.” … At the Balboa Cafe, Cosmo Sostenuto sniped, “Trump won’t be happy until he drapes the Statue of Liberty in a white sheet, and covers her head with a pillowcase.” … Trump also had a campaign song, “Start Me Up.” He stole it. Of course. The Rolling Stones told him not to use it anymore. He didn’t have their permission. It’s one of the few times a song was seized through eminent domain. Not to be confused with public domain. …

It’s predictable that this election season may create a lot of divorces, break-ups, turbulence between couples when one votes for Trump, and the other doesn’t. … There’s a story in my family that my grandfather and grandmother had a fight at the breakfast table on Election Day. It was 1936. My grandmother stormed out, and went to vote. She returned to announce defiantly that she had voted for Norman Thomas, the Socialist candidate. My grandfather did not speak to her for weeks. So it’s serendipitous that we have Bernie Sanders around this year. I get so nostalgic. …

Now we take you to Original Joe’s in North Beach. Huddled in quiet conversation, Supervisor Aaron Peskin and political guru Clint Reilly. I’m sure they’re working on ideas for how to seize control of the planet. … “Do you know why God invented alcohol?” asks Maurice Kanbar. “So the Irish couldn’t take over the world.” Gee, where have I heard that before? …

Willie Brown at Le Central to owner Paul Tanphanich as Willie passed a table with three distinguished-looking diners: “Put that on my tab.” “Now that’s how a mayor of San Francisco should act,” I said to Paul. “He puts it on his tab. Not on ours.” … Willie doesn’t miss a good party, such as the 25th anniversary gathering in the Ritz-Carlton’s presidential suite. Yes, we all looked presidential. … Ritz Corporation’s prez, Herve Humler, quietly lamented that he misses S.F. (He lives in Maryland.) “San Francisco always brought me good luck: I met my wife here.” The hotel’s general manager, Bruce Gorelick, has not forgotten how to bus tables. Vicki Liviakis was luminous, as was the elegant Mrs. Joelle Benioff (Marc’s mom). Executive chef Luis Lujan kept a close watch on the table to make sure I didn’t wolf down an excessive amount of caviar. … Kayle Yergensen who is a concierge at the downtown Hilton, offers the definition of a snob: “When you say, ‘We had caviar from breakfast!’, and some pretentious person sniffs, ‘Oh, beluga or osetra?’ … Well, it was osetra at the Ritz. …

The St. Francis Hotel boasts about Al Jolson dying there and Fatty Arbuckle killing his career there — some asserted that he killed a girl during a three-day wassail. Fatty was tried three times. Acquitted every time. But, of course, he was finished as an actor — once the highest paid screen actor in the world. … Kayle says, “I don’t know of anyone famous dying here. But people still ask about What’s Up, Doc.” It was filmed there — including scenes in the then-unfinished tower. …

Corey Fisher’s one-man show, Lightning in the Brain, at The Marsh (1062 Valencia Street), on June 2, is a trip down what’s-left-of-our-memory lane. Corey, a seasoned TV and movie actor, revisits Paris and Hollywood in the 1960s. And driving his rusty Chevy van across the country. … I drove a 1965 Comet Caliente here 45 years ago this month. 45 years. And I still get lost in Macy’s. …

I had no idea that our public defender, Jeff Adachi, is also an accomplished filmmaker. He screened his excellent doc, The Jack Soo Story, at the Tenderloin Museum. You’ll remember Jack was a star in TV’s Barney Miller, and knocked everybody out as a comic, dancer, singer in Flower Drum Song — the first all-Asian major flick. Jack was a teenager when he and his family were forcibly moved to a camp during World War II. … To my surprise, Jeff vividly recalls when I erroneously reported in my Examiner column that he was in attendance at the opening of a North Beach strip club. Centerfolds, I think. I guess it may be unbecoming for the public defender to be depicted rubbing elbows with Sam Conti. What’s the expression? Oh, “a reputed mobster.” Jeff was a good sport about it. …

Drop by the Tenderloin Museum on Eddy and Leavenworth. Supervisor Jane Kim calls the Tenderloin “the heart of the city.” With the occasional arrhythmia. … Speaking of heart trouble, my physician, Dr. Samantha Bessega, put me on diuretics. What are diuretics? “C’mon, Mr. Bellingham,” says Dr. B. “Diuretics. Everybody knows that’s a book by L. Ron Hubbard.” … Say, Doc, I do the jokes around here. …


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Bruce Bellingham is the author of Bellingham by the Bay. Tell him that it’s all water under the bridge at [email protected]

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