North Beach Journal

I was so much older then, and I’m younger than that now

This month, April 11, I’m celebrating my 90th birthday. I hope you agree I’m getting younger all the time. Remember the Bob Dylan line from “My Back Pages”? “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” That’s me.


Original Joe’s is hosting a birthday bash for me and combining it with the launch of my new book — Stops Along the Royal Road: Adventures from a Lifetime of Travel. As a kid, I was an inveterate reader of travel books. As an adult, I was able to get out of the armchair and go on the road.


The new book has chapters in which I visit Shanghai before it fell to communists, photograph Japan’s Emperor Hirohito on the Imperial Palace grounds, climb an Andes peak overlooking the Inca citadel Machu Picchu, and watch famous matador Antonio Ordonez as he is gored in the bullring.


Other chapters deal with comic adventures: partying with Ernest Hemingway and Gary Cooper at Sun Valley, drinking tequila shot-for-shot with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Puerto Vallarta, and attending a swank party at the colonial Hong Kong governor’s residence with my date dressed fashionably as a gorilla.

The party is Wednesday, April 11. Elsewhere here in the Marina Times there’s an ad that will tell you all about it.


No, you don’t have to be a nonagenarian to attend, but if you are you’ll probably be in good company. San Francisco’s ace novelist Herbert Gold says he will be there. He’s a nonagenarian (94) and still spry and foxy as a fox. Photographer Fred Lyon promises to show up and help me sign books — many of the photos are his — Fred’s 93. I’ve asked Lawrence Ferlinghetti to drop by. But I’m giving him a pass — he’s 99. And when you’re 99 you’re entitled to sit back and put your feet up.


Let there be music. There will be at my party. Do you know about the Irish Newsboys? The group is led by Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan, who plays guitar and sings. Fagan describes the Irish Newsboys as “a bunch of newspaper types from the Chronicle, the former Oakland Tribune, Bloomberg News — and a few of our famous pals.” Besides Fagan, there’s Chronicle reporter Steve Rubenstein, who plays mouth harp and banjo; and some former Chronicle types like Ellen Huet, flautist (now with Bloomberg News); Jay Johnson, singer; and Josh Zucker on bass. Oakland Tribune veteran Robert Loomis plays pennywhistle and mouth harp.

Fagan’s reference, “a few of our famous pals” is Barry “The Fish” Melton of Country Joe and the Fish and Peter “Four Strings” Albin, a veteran of Big Brother and the Holding Company.

So what we’re expecting at the Original Joe’s party is some rowdy folk music and a bit of San Francisco rock ’n’ roll.

Good reasons for you to drop by and say hello.


People ask me what it is that keeps me young. I love clams. I think eating clams is what keeps me young — the fountain of youth. Whatever works! I always have a shot or two of clam juice at the Old Clam House. I go for the fried clams at Sam’s Grill and Seafood Restaurant. Clams with black bean sauce at the R & G Lounge are a winner.

And then there’s linguine con vongole at Sotto Mare. That’s something special. Sotto Mare’s linguine with clams (yes, “vongole” is Italian for clams) is sublime. What’s so special about it? Well, let’s start with the clams. They are tiny. Found from British Columbia to Northern California, the tiny bivalves are originally from Japanese waters but were introduced to the Pacific Coast about 1920. These babies are cooked briefly in white wine (they will open and are ready to eat within a few minutes). Minced garlic and chopped parsley are added. Then comes the linguine. A few swirls in the pan and this dish is ready. And you don’t have to be 90 to eat this.


I have noticed the older I get the more advice I get on how to stay young. Some of this comes in spritely aphorisms.

The other day my buddy James Melling looked at me and quoted honest Abe Lincoln: “In the end it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.” Thanks buddy.

And here’s some wisdom from Sandy Walker: “To ascertain your real age make an educated guess and divide by two.”

One day at the North Beach saloon Gino and Carlo (where everybody thinks they’re young), I asked the guy on the next stool how he stays so young looking. “The secret is to lie about your age,” he responded.

My wife, Joan, a youngster, laid this one off on me when I recently complained about aches and pains: “They say the older you get the better you get — unless you’re a banana.”

But the best advice I’ve received came from my doctor: “Whatever it is you’re doing, keep on doing it.”


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