Bellingham by the Bay

What you see is what you get

As my mentor, Herb Caen, used to say, “gawd, I love this town.”…

For example, here comes the Belli Belles and the great gals that they are. They had a party the other day. Who are the Belli Belles? The women who supported Melvin Belli. And yes, he was a friend to me. This is the old Montgomery Street office. Seems like halcyon days.

Mel was outrageous. But like the King of Torts, he could be outrageous for all the right reasons.

“Are you still on Halcion, Bruce?” No, not anymore. I don’t think my doctor, Samantha Bessega, at the Castro-Mission Clinic on 17th Street would approve.

Dr. B. is one of my favorite persons in the world. After all, she just saved my life. I’m sure that engenders mixed feelings from this readership.

When I played music on Sedge Thomson’s show on KQED-FM, “West Coast Weekend,” Sedge gave me the chance to perform on the the radio regularly with Tom Constanten. Yes, Deadheads. He was the keyboardist with the Grateful Dead. T.C. said to me, while we were driving through Nevada, “Life is unfair, Bruce, but once in a while it is unfair in our direction.”

Halcyon days, indeed.

At this advanced age, I know this difference between infamy and Big Pharma. A small challenge.

The Belli Belles reunion party was at Fame on Broadway. Fame is on the site of the now-disappeared Mabuay Gardens. Known mostly as a punk music club, I once saw a drag show there — years ago, of course — with the obligatory Cher impersonator or two. What would drag queens do without Cher? … Amazingly, the show was hosted by Milton Berle, who was famous for his drag act on Saturday night TV in the 1950s. I mention that for the benefit of readers under the age of 65. … So famous was he that Berle was known as “Mister Television.” Berle came out on stage at the Mabuay, and did stand-up that had all of us falling out of our seats, convulsed with laughter. For the first, and last time, I got to see what burlesque was all about. Berle was one of the best.  …

Burlesque always meant strippers. When I was a kid, I used to read the New York Daily News, and see the ads for Times Square clubs. I recall one: “This Was Burlesque with Ann Corio.” That was at the World Theater on W. 49th Street. I’d think to myself, I can’t wait to grow up so I can see this. But I didn’t. I don’t only mean I didn’t see Ann Corio. I never grew up. … I know; slightly self-effacing. As Maurice Kanbar likes to say, “I do the jokes around here.” … I marveled at the flashy names of the great ladies of the burlesque stage: Lili St. Cyr … Blaze Starr … Tempest Storm, whose signature phrase was, “What you see is what you get.” That could apply to many things in life. Then there was Lotta Topp, who played the old Market Street Cinema. I can understand why she’d find her name professionally useful. What I can’t understand is why Mr. and Mrs. Topp would name their daughter Lotta. Surely she was teased, unmercifully, as a young girl on the playground. … Of course, there was the most famous entertainer in the category — Gypsy Rose Lee. …

I knew Lee’s son, Eric Preminger. Yes, as in Otto Preminger. (I watched Preminger’s Laura again the other night. Brilliant.). Eric would come into the venerable, now-vanished Chestnut Street Grill. He wrote a very good book, Gypsy and Me. Eric told me he did not know who his father was until he was 20 years old. I guess the flamboyant and intellectually gifted Gypsy Rose Lee could be rather circumspect. Or maybe simply protective. Moms can be that way. …

My old friend Cosmo Sostenuto also aspires to a career in music. He wants to be on the self-effacing hit parade. He has a song: “I’m So Loathsome, I Could Cry.” …  Go for it, Cosmo. If you can see it, you can get it. …

And what you see is what you get.

O.K., is my heart broken about the closing of Lefty O’Doul’s?

You bet. After all, Lefty’s first name was Francis. You got it. This is the City of St. Francis. Francis of Asssi was always kind to animals, and that’s all right with me.

Lefty O’Doul’s is the Cooperstown of the West.

We know that baseball stars come from all over the world to pay homage. It’s not a restaurant — not a hofbrau — it is a shrine.

They have barstools made out of baseball bats. What’s the old saying? “You don’t miss the water till the well’s gone dry.”

Let’s hope it is not dry for too long.

Yes, but we will endure. San Francisco is a resilient city. It has survived earthquakes, fires, and evictions. But, all in all, it is still a friendly city. This city will always embrace people of different stripes. Yes, she will always welcome lovers and other strangers.

As time goes by.

But, as my friend, T.C. said, “We will survive.”

Let us slake our thirst at the font of purity.

And hope for the best.

What you see it what you get?

Not always. But it’s worth the trouble to investigate.

Yes, Gawd, I love this town.

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Bruce Bellingham is the author of Bellingham by the Bay. Show him something he should know at [email protected]. Follow the Marina Times on Twitter @TheMarinaTimes and like us on Facebook @MarinaTimes.