Bellingham by the Bay

Confessions of a paper boy

Once a paper boy, always a paper boy. I still love delivering the Marina Times in scattered fashion — dropping copies off in stores and bars from hither to yon.

Yes, I was a paperboy in New Jersey. The paper was the Bergen Record.

I also had to sell subscriptions.

“Why would I want to subscribe to this newspaper?” asked one irate not-yet-a-customer.

“Because,” I explained, “President Kennedy said, ‘A good citizen is an informed citizen.'”

My good buddy, Danny Riecken, said, “Let’s not make too much trouble, Bruce.”

I love trouble.

I mean the good kind of trouble. Stir it up — but let’s not hurt anyone.

I made the sale. It just takes a little moxie.

The nice man in Closter, N.J., smiled and said, “You really are a smartass, aren’t you? I’ll buy it.”

Once in a while, arrogance pays off. Just look at the White House. My paperboy days preceded an era where “the press is the enemy of the American people.”

Richard Nixon said just that. As usual, Donald Trump stole the line. The difference is Nixon did not say this in public. His tirade was heard on the Nixon tapes in 1972. He was ranting in front of his top advisers, not expecting that the Justice Department would subpoena the materials.

Years ago, I moderated a panel for the Commonwealth Club that included David Harris, who went to prison because he would not participate in the Vietnam War. He could have run to Canada or gotten a college deferment or produced a letter from a shrink. No, married to Joan Baez at the time, he knew his sacrifice would make headlines, and draw attention to the antiwar movement.

George W. Bush was president when I spoke with David. He said, lugubriously, “I never thought I’d miss Nixon,”

I can’t imagine what David Harris is thinking today.

I never thought I’d miss Benito Mussolini. … Channel 4 has been airing reruns of the old show, The X-Files. Seems to reflect the times in which we are enmired. But aliens can’t come here. Immigrants are not welcome. The tagline for the show is “All Lies Lead to the Truth.” Trump would like that. It’s as preposterous as a tweet from Trump Tower. … P.J. O’Rourke describes Trump as “a giant toddler with nothing going on in his head.”

And to think that Bobby Kennedy would quote Aeschylus. President Kennedy and Jackie would host Pablo Casals at the White House, not the stars of Duck Dynasty. I’m reminded of Joseph Goebbels who said infamously, “Every time I hear the word ‘culture,’ I want to reach for my revolver.” It makes me want to cry.

O.K., paperboy, knock it off.

St. Pat’s Day last month was marked by a gathering at the Downtown Senior Center on O’Farrell Street. It was really a tribute to Frank McCourt’s 1996 instant classic memoir, Angela’s Ashes. Frank’s kid brother was Michael McCourt, a well-known figure in Cow Hollow, having poured drinks for decades at Perry’s on Union Street. Michael was a lovely man, and a dear friend. He died last year. He worked behind the bar at innumerable taverns. But he was also a singer and a world-class raconteur. He loved to sing “Home on the Range,” and songs he learned as a kid by listening to Armed Forces Network radio when Mike was growing up in Limerick. No one is more American than an immigrant.

Frank once told me that of all the McCourt Brothers, Michael was the best storyteller.

Michaels’s daughter, Angie McCourt, was the guest of honor at the Senior Center party. She read an excerpt from Angela’s Ashes. It pulls no punches: “Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

Frank’s searing description of the poverty, and humiliation in Limerick garnered death threats. His former next-door neighbor, Richard Harris — yes, the star of Camelot and the singer on MacArthur Park — wrote a letter to the Times of London, vilifying Frank. Bloody newspapers. Poor people do not like to be reminded of the days when they were poor.

Jerry Nachman, my news director at KCBS, admonished me: “Don’t try to be funny when dealing with repressed people.”

Frank and his brother, Malachy, went on tour with a two-man show, A Couple of Blackguards, which included stories that later made their way into Angela’s Ashes.

Angie told me about the time the show was playing on Broadway. Angela, Frank and Malachy’s mother, was in the audience. Growing more incensed by the minute, she could no longer contain herself. “My grandmother stood up in the audience,” recounts Angie, “shook her fist at my uncles, and shouted, ‘It’s a pack of lies!'”

Frank and Malachy had posters made, and displayed them outside the theater. They read: “A Couple of Blackguards – ‘It’s a pack of lies!’ – Angela McCourt.”

Everybody’s a critic.

Yes, that was jazz singer Paula West at the Super Duper Burger joint on Kearny Street, working on a chocolate ice cream cone. Paula looks great. She introduced me to her French bulldog, Satchmo. … “Funny thing,” said I. “I was just listening to Louis Armstrong’s version of ‘La Vie En Rose.'”

“I won’t sing it until I can sing it in French,” she said.

I’ll find the sheet music. …

I’m pleased to know that Kim Nalley has been out singing again, following the birth of her second child. Recently, Kim performed at Biscuits & Blues on Mason Street at Geary. … I’ve been listening to Kim’s tribute CD to Nina Simone, She Put a Spell on Me. It’s a masterpiece. Tammy Hall’s piano work. It was recorded at Kim’s former nightclub in North Beach, Jazz at Pearl’s. Every year, Kim would throw a Scorpio Party — Scorpios only invited. While there, a woman asked me if it were true what they “say about Scorpios.” I pretended I had no idea what she was talking about.

Kim knocked on my door one day on Nob Hill. She had two quarts of chicken soup for me to “babysit” while she and her husband went out of town: “I married a nice Jewish boy, so I am learning how to cook Jewish food.”

What a lucky man.

Stop the press. Somebody’s happy. As a former paperboy, I confess I never stood on a street corner, shouting, “Extree! Extree! Read all about it!”

Say, just how old do you think I am?


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Bruce Bellingham is the author of Bellingham by the Bay. Ask him if it's true what they say about Scorpios at [email protected]. Follow the Marina Times on Twitter @The MarinaTimes and like us on Facebook @MarinaTimes.