Bellingham by the Bay

We can be heroes

Christmas is about music. it’s also about generosity of spirit, whether you can play an instrument or sing. But anybody can sing — as long as you want to sing. The only requirement for membership is a desire to do something sweet for somebody. And make a little joyful noise.

The holidays are traumatic for some. They’re a joy for others. Sometimes the events coincide. That’s the irony of life — a continuing dichotomy. It also marks the end of the year. And some year it was. More turbulence than any bad trip on an airplane could provide. Shouldn’t mention that.

Too many people crowd into the airports this time of year.

It’s also a time to reflect on how this dear, beautiful, beleaguered, battered city of St. Francis keeps us here. Sometimes I think living in San Francisco is like living in a bad marriage. I’m sticking with her for the sake of my own intransigence.

I am heartened as the kids — linked together with innocuous ropes — are trundled through the Tenderloin by dedicated guides. Just to keep the children from all harm. … These teachers, these volunteers, they are real heroes. …

KJ Landis is an angel in her own class. And that is first class. I recall Christmas trees with the dangling angels — all filigree and magic. KJ believes in spreading the word of wellness. She’s published three books on the topic. Her heart is a deep well of beauty.

There’s Ofc. Eric Robinson, assigned to the Tenderloin Police Station. He watches over the children like an adopted dad. Big, tough cop, he loves his kids. …

There’s the sagacious Nicole Huebner at the Hotel Triton on Grant Avenue, who likes to remind me that it’s all right to live in the present from time to time.

Of course, Christmas in San Francisco is about Union Square. It’s about Macy’s  with the kids with their noses pressed against the front windows, and Gump’s, Paul Smith — one of the coolest shops — and about Kate Mosesova. She’s a visual merchandiser. Kate tried to explain to me what that means, but I am, sadly, too obtuse. Oh, Kate runs that little shop downtown called Dolce & Gabbana. Sure smells good in there.

And here’s a new-found treasure. Yes, a gift under the tree. Two gals on Polk Street in Russian Hill. They run a shop called St. Lightning — 1813 Polk Street. That’s Jenni Witt and Sita Lindner. They purvey the greatest stuff. It always smells good in there. So girl. It’s about time women start running the world. We men haven’t done so well.

And there’s Fillipa Simone. Beautiful name. Remember Simone Signoret? Of course you do. Fillipa is a princess on Nob Hill. She’s the Clara Barton for woebegone trustees of the neighborhood. No one looks unhappy when they see her gorgeous face at the Hyde Out on California Street. She’s one of those people who is not afraid to laugh out loud.

On Geary Street, you may find Jessica Dale charming everyone from behind the bar at Lefty O’Doul’s. I often check in to see which great necktie she’s wearing. Lefty’s is one place where I still feel safe in the city. … As I do on Nob Hill and in the ever-changing Marina, which constantly transforms itself before my eyes. …

Back on the hill, Tom Wolfe still holds domain over the Fairmont. I am grateful for that.

One night, Tom and I went out looking for a styptic pencil for an elderly, venerable guest of the Fairmont. If you don’t know what a styptic pencil is, don’t worry about it: You never will. No one else knew, either. So we failed in our mission, but we tried. We were not discouraged. Christmas means one has to hope for the best. … And we had fun. That’s what matters. … Tom is a hero because he keeps San Francisco history, and shares it freely with the rest of us. …

There are the people at the Downtown Senior Center. Peggy Gallagher … Sue Horst … Ione Ishii … Ginger Martin, and Erin Schiller. All give gifts not just for the season, but for all days of the year. The gift is compassion. …

Speaking of compassion, my favorite film this time of year is A Christmas Carol (year-round, I confess.) Of course, we all know it is based on the immortal Charles Dickens novel.

I love that opening line: “Marley was dead. As dead as a door nail.”
Since I was a kid, I wondered what a door nail was. Still not sure. I’ll leave that to the Contractor’s Union.

Yes, Marley was dead. But through Dickens, he came alive. Dickens was hooked on compassion. Christmas is also about coming alive.

We can’t resurrect the dead, but we resuscitate those who feel like they’re close to it. I think of my friends, like Dr. Samantha Bessega, and how they deal with suffering all the time. And do so cheerfully.

The holidays have a suffocating effect on some of us. We feel we can’t measure up to the mirth.

Let’s cheer up. There’s always the notion of redemption.

That’s what Dickens was on about. That’s what Scrooge had to face. In a political season fraught with recrimination, it seems reasonable to fight back with optimism.

And there’s Rachel Russell at Citibank on Van Ness. I keep pestering Rachel about “home lending” — but she still won’t lend me her home. Just for the weekend. Gee, I’ll even do the dishes. … I guess “wealth management” is out of the question.

But when I get that holiday restlessness — as I am wont to do — I head back to Nob Hill, where the friendly ghosts live, and visit my old friends at the Big 4. That’s where David McCullough once told me the Big 4 is “the best saloon in San Francisco.” I’m invariably drawn to Huntington Park across the street. Between the supremely elegant Grace Cathedral and the rusty-looking Pacific Union Club.

Darkness is descending on an exquisite twilight on Christmas Eve. I wander around the park. What catches my eye is a couple on one of the benches. They seem to be trying to keep the world away. With my usual nonchalance, I sit at a nearby spot, and shamelessly listen to them murmur to each other.

“Is it going to be a good Christmas?” she asks him quietly, anxiously. “It’s been such a terrible year.”

“Darling, it’s going to be the best,” he whispers. “We made it this far. We can carry it further.”

She sighs, and rests her head back on his shoulder. …

And yes, they are heroes. They brought their love this far. What can be more heroic than love? After all, it’s a good time to be in love.

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Bruce Bellingham is the author of Bellingham by the Bay. Talk to him about home lending at [email protected]. Follow us on Twitter @TheMarinaTimes and like us on Facebook @MarinaTimes.