Bellingham by the Bay

The Kvetcher in the Wry

I promised myself a long time ago that I would not use this space to complain about this and a’ that. Really. I can’t be that self-absorbed. (Herb Caen used to say that the first key he’d wear out on the typewriter was the “I.”) … I never wanted to be a pundit. Nor a complainer. But today I feel like kvetching.

“Kvetching?” asks my friend Richelle Raff, who pours drinks at the Hyde-Out on Nob Hill. Richelle, always curious, is a charmer and a true fashion plate. I’m tempted to say she’s a real dish too — but I won’t for two reasons. One, Dashiell Hammett is not collaborating on this column (too bad, huh?) and two, I do not want to be lynched by the enlightened local female populace.

“Kvetching? What’s that?” Richelle wanted to know.

It’s New York slang — meaning Yiddish — for complaining. I guess I should explain.

David Margolick, of Vanity Fair and The New York Times, told me that he was once named San Francisco bureau chief for The Times. At the last minute, he was reassigned to chase O. J. Simpson in the white Bronco.

“That was a lucky break for me,” David said. “San Francisco is the most gentile city in America. I never would have made it there.”

Complaining could have been my favorite indoor sport. But I am not one of those former New Yorkers who like to kvetch about how the pizza just isn’t as good in San Francisco, and you can’t find a decent pastrami sandwich. I’ve been here 41 years. Yes, there are days when I can complain about how S.F. has changed over the years for the worse, now that it’s a real estate speculator’s paradise. Then there are days when I love this town for its playful madness, its beauty and its caprice.

I’ve been watching a lot of late night TV, particularly the new nostalgia network called Me-TV. They run shows I saw as a kid: The Untouchables, Peter Gunn, and my favorite, Car 54, Where Are You? The other night they aired a Mission: Impossible episode filmed in S.F., much of it in Pacific Heights and the Marina. The town looked so clean. There were parking spaces!

By the way, if you catch me saying anything like, “In the old days …,” you have my permission to slap me. But not too hard. I’m a little sensitive lately.

Pat Boone is doing late-night infomercials for bathtubs for the elderly. One out of three people over the age of 65, he explains, get hurt in falls in their homes. Now he tells me — though I’m not quite that old. … The doctor in the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital says, “It will go away.” What will go away? Oh, what goes away (I hope) are the symptoms of a bad concussion — that come along with the fractured left hand and three broken ribs. Just a slip on the wet kitchen floor.

“You have what we call a boxer’s fracture in your hand,” says the doc. But I didn’t hit anybody. I think. The only fight I had was with the linoleum. The linoleum won by a TKO in the second round. No rematch scheduled.

Concussion symptoms include headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, and a paucity of balance. Very unsteady on my feet still. (Maybe I’ve always been like that). St. Francis Hospital did not give me an MRI — but it was the E.R., and they don’t have a lot of time on their hands. They did do x-rays and wanted to refer me to an orthopedic surgeon. Forget that.

I had a big, heavy cast on my arm. It bothered me, so I cut it off with a pair of scissors in the middle of the night. Now I know what a wolf feels in a trap. I first tried to gnaw off the cast with my teeth. Then all that nasty gauze was hanging off me; I looked like Karloff in The Mummy. But it’s better now.

“A paucity of balance,” says editor Lynette Majer. “That sounds like a good title for your autobiography.”

Though unsteady, for all of it, I’m somewhat ambulatory. When people ask me how I’m doing, I only shrug and say, “I can’t complain.” …

Bruce Bellingham is the author of Bellingham by the Bay. Issue him a complaint at [email protected]. He’d love to compare notes.
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