Bellingham by the Bay

The last refuge of a scoundrel

On the 22 fillmore bus the other day, a very nice lady sat next to me. Her name was Helen. Yes, just like Helen of Troy. Yes, she launched a thousand ships. What is that famous line? The face that launched a thousand ships.

I would not get on her bad side — even if it were on the port side, nor the starboard. Not the one on the bus, nor the one who was married to Agamemnon. You’ve got to love Greek mythology. They sure know how to harbor a grudge, I’m talking about Helen of Troy — gosh, she must have a had a face that Coco Chanel would have envied.

Helen, who declined to give me her last name, wisely, I am sure, reminded me that Dr. Samuel Johnson said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

I got myself into trouble years ago. Nowhere to go. So I lived — quite illegally — on a sailboat in the Marina Yacht Harbor. The boat, a 29-foot skiff, was named Scoundrel. I stayed there for four months. Not as romantic as you may think. No wonder the sailors of ancient times were enticed by the Sirens, and crashed their boats on the rocks of the Aegean Sea. The howling winds through the Golden Gate produce their own music. Just as hypnotic as the days of yore.

A sweet sound. It has ageless grace.

When I hear the concert harp, I think of Clare. That is, Clare Dye. She lived here in Cow Hollow. She had a full concert harp. She studied with the San Francisco Symphony. Clare was staggeringly beautiful. Yes, all the blond hair cascading down her face, Yes, all the vulnerability. That was part of her magic. There was tenderness in her face. It haunts me. You’d want to hug her. But don’t get me wrong: She was a strong lady. When the chips were there, she’d call your bluff.

I went to music school with her. Yes, Music and Arts Institute in Pacific Heights. I hired her to play harp on a record of one of my songs, “Darlin’ Maggie.” Clare played it well — always resilient. Always up to the task. She was always looking for the next best thing, chords included.

I sure hope she found her happiness. Clare and I shared a secured sense of restlessness.

At the beginning of this year, I think of her. And her great friend, Claudia Wu. Claudia still lives here in the Marina. She loves dogs. We got along famously. Claudia has a spirit that most of us would envy. There’s a warmth in her eyes, even on a bad day.

In this new year, let’s not let the bad days outnumber the good ones. Let’s let the good days splash over to the more tempestuous times. We are going to need all the charm we can get our arms around.

There is a paucity of grace in this city of ours. Not to worry: We can get it back. I really believe that. San Francisco is a treasure we can’t afford to lose. Even if many of us can’t afford to live here anymore. Yeah, stick around.

Funny thing. I once wrote that “If you stick around long enough, you’ll disappoint everybody.” But I’ve changed my mind. Just for a moment. The only advance to that sort of comment is perhaps I will not disappoint everybody, and maybe I can impart something encouraging.

Just like Clare. She never disappointed me. She loved her dogs, too. She had two sheep dogs. One of them bit her in the face and scarred her. That wonderful face. Clare showed no bitterness about that hideous assault.

I was angrier than she.

I have a scar under my bearded face. Yes, from a dog bite. Fats Domino has a great song with the lyric, “Baby, don’t let your dog bite me.”

My idea of a bad day is to see Fats Domino doing a commercial for NeutraSystems. Then I will know it’s time to give up the ghost.

But I like my ghosts.

They speak to me, mostly in encouraging ways.  Sure, it is unnerving to get visited by things one would like to forget. But they are reassuring apparitions.

I am lucky enough to know people who spill their charms and their talents in my direction. Somewhat like all those great songs I have come to love over the years. They give me solace in dark times — yes, the people, and the songs — and that has nothing to do with the weather report. Did I ever tell you I used to be the voice of the National Weather Service? I don’t think that improves the weather at all. Perhaps I should have taken requests. If I had, the weather may have improved. In the words of the great old song, “Don’t Blame Me.”

The wonderful Vilma Molina, at the downtown Senior Center on O’Farrell Street, likes to correct me from time to time. Vilma loves music, and she loves people. She also loved the Everly Brothers – and understands why I am still heartbroken about the death of Phil Everly. Don’t blame any of us. I still feel guilty. Why am I guilty? Not sure. But I will think of something.

Do you recall the late, great pub on Nob Hill, John Barleycorn? The owner once castigated me for breaking the jukebox.  I kept playing the Everly Brothers. “On the Wings of a Nightingale.” Yes, written by Paul McCartney. The owner said I played the song over and over. I confess I did. He claimed I damaged the machine and he had to throw the jukebox out. Gee, more junk to toss into the Pacific Ocean.

Sometimes it rains in Northern California. And I like the rain.

You want a weather report? Feel free to call me at home. If you don’t like the weather, don’t blame me.

Bruce Bellingham is the author of Bellingham By the Bay. He will always be close to the water – regardless of the weather. Catch him at [email protected]. Follow the Marina Times on Twitter @The MarinaTimes and like us on Facebook @MarinaTimes.

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