Bellingham by the Bay

Rollin’ and tumblin’ into the new year

Now we are headlong into a great struggle. We hardly have time to make merry for the New Year. Ah, but we can take a stab at it. There will be dancing at the Big 4 atop Nob Hill. The men, elegant, the ladies, knockouts, and enough perfume in the air to raise every dormant soul from its torpid hibernation. The dead will dance with the dead. The comatose living will recover its heartbeat. Everyone will grab someone to kiss at midnight at the Huntington Hotel on New Year’s Eve, with little resistance from anyone, as if it were the last of days, as if the precipice were closer than ever.

The new movie about Abraham Lincoln reveals his affection for Robert Burns, the great Scottish poet of the common man. One of my favorite Burns pieces is when he goes out to the frigid field to address his favorite mule Maggie on New Year’s Eve. Tossing her an ear of corn, Burns declares (in Scots Gaelic), “A guid New Year to you, Maggie, here’s a ripp a’ corn for ye baggie (stomach)!” Maggie surely was grateful, sensing that the fiscal cliff was inches away from her tender hooves, her growling gut, and yet charity was, it seems, still in store, as it is for all of us. Look. There’s the precipice. Just a few steps away. Not far from the rest of our hooves, either. Yes, Maggie was indeed grateful for the snack in the chilly Celtic air. Amazing what a small gesture of kindness can accomplish. And this was years before Guy Lombardo took possession of Times Square. Burns wrote “Auld Lang Syne,” a nostalgic ballad that’s meant to frame the future. Burns, in the Highland Dunsinane darkness, spoke to his animals with patience and with real compassion. Just like Abraham Lincoln. Surely he had great practice while arguing with his cabinet about how human beings should be treated better than animals.

Do you think the so-called fiscal cliff will take its place in American history such as Mt. Rushmore or the Hoover Dam? I think it may be a reminder of how we have survived some really troubling moments in America. Just as those monuments scar the earth, the fiscal drift will leave its mark.

We enter a new year now with Fields Book Store on Polk closing its doors. That’s a blow to the local metaphysical consciousness. The store goes back to the days when Henry Miller, out of Big Sur, would drop by and chat up the owner. The Gramophone is another calamity of modern times. I recall back in the 1970s, when the Gramophone, in homage to the quasi-pornographic Last Tango in Paris and the infamous buttery sodomy scene, stocked the front window with empty boxes of Challenge butter. With Good Vibrations next door these days, it all seems very quaint. Another shock to the sensibilities: the closing of the Lumiere movie house on California.

The doors will open and close incessantly. I guess we San Franciscans will have to roll with the punches.

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Bruce Bellingham is nursing his wounds. But he’ll be back in this space next month. Send him some encouragement at [email protected]