Northside SF
Bellingham by the Bay
The season of the witch
I have a feeling it is going to be an extraordinary holiday. A season of contradictions. Splashy ones, lots of color, full of hope and anxiety. The Season of the Witch. The residents of Nob Hill are a little rattled by news that Cala Foods, that mainstay of a supermarket that stays open 24 hours, will be closing for good in the first week of December. Odd time, Christmas, to close down a major food market that serves so many – so many of them are old folks too. It’s also one of the last union food emporia left in San Francisco. Word is that Trader Joe’s will move in. Terrific. Great ketchup. But it’s not likely they’ll be open 24 hours nor have the inventory that Cala had.

“What am I gonna do?” cried a frail, longtime lady resident of Nob Hill. We will all have to figure it out. This is a good time for forbearance – and for all those words you find in Protestant hymns – “bulwark” and “diadem,” though I’m not sure they’re going to apply. Just fun to say them.

Listen. The world was supposed to end not once, but twice this year. It didn’t happen, no matter what that lunatic in Oakland said. Then again there’s the show business adage: bad rehearsal, good performance. And Harold Camping is a showman of the most scurrilous sort.

Meanwhile the downtown stores look terrific, going all out for the holiday pageantry that they are famous for – even if many of the employees are whistling nervously as they pass the asphalt graveyard on their way home after work. Not to worry: We will all be paid in drachmas. Eventually. Or Confederate money. Take it easy, Bruce. Let’s not foment trouble. After all, it’s the holidays. There is sweetness in the air up here on Nob Hill. We can hear the S.F. Girls Chorus in Huntington Park, voices, angelic, warming the night. They bring the season down to the surface of the planet just when we need the light. There’s Simon Harrington, who pours cups of chocolate in the chill; and Michael Rawls and Kep, who are keepers of The Hill; there’s Maurice Kanbar, who makes this town a fortress for the arts; and Michael Wales, who keeps the wind in his sails; and Tom Wolfe, guardian of the glorious days; there’s Diane Weissmuller and Carole Vernier, who keep those days from slipping into the haze; there’s Pat Kelley, who watches o’er the Marina flock; meander it must, but it usually produces a shiver, not a shock. On this paper, here’s to the editorial set:  Susan Reynolds and Earl Adkins, you bet; there’s Lynette Majer, Cindy Beckman, and Sarracuda – fast, sharp, often leading. Yes, some occasional bleeding, it’s part of the gig. We also need Sharon Anderson and Ernie Beyl. Never do they lose their sense of style. Or engage in mistreating. I’ll take care of that. Here’s to Michael McCourt and Joanie; Garry Graham, Amory, and the band who produce the tunes of the day … And to Flicka from Pier 23, and to Flicka von Stade from their grand musical places on the bay.

Here’s to my far-flung artist friends, such as Rod McKuen, the poet of Stanyan Street all those years ago; Debby Boone, who miraculously invents herself from show to show; to Paul Williams, who lets the rest of us fret about rainy days and Mondays, don’t cha know? … And to Kim Nalley, who brings chicken soup to an ailing lad’s door. “Please, ma’am, may I have some more?” I guess we should be asking for less these days. But Sue Gurnee says there’s more in the magic side of the soul … Barnaby Conrad is good at the literary references. I wish a chicken in every pot and a bottle of absinthe in every stocking this Christmas. Lest we forget, well, then let’s forget. But then I remember, as much as I resist.

It will be the same this year. I will look for that elusive couple who meet there secretly. Or so I imagine they meet secretly. Sometimes you just have to invent people’s stories for them. Over the years I’ve come to recognize them. As the California Street cable car rattled by, there they stood again, as they had last year. They never notice me as they embrace near the Huntington Park fountain, that ridiculous Rococo thing with the turtles and dolphins that I’ve come to love so much. In the stiff, western breeze, you can hear the flag flapping noisily atop the Mark Hopkins. The half moon silently shows itself through the clouds.

I overhear her whisper hopefully, anxiously to him, “This is going to be a wonderful Christmas this year, isn’t it? Tell me.”

Holding her tightly he murmurs to her with all the courage he can muster, “Yes, my darling, it will be the best.” She clings to him as she had never done before.
Bruce Bellingham is the author of Bellingham by the Bay. He also writes for the Marina Times. Reach him:

March 2012
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