Northside SF  

Bellingham by the Bay
By Bruce Bellingham

It’s that time to compile our New Year’s resolutions. I think I will take up smoking. Surely it’s a good form of exercise to schlep all those cartons up the hill.

Capt. Ann Mannix, who attended the funeral of former police chief Alex Fagan last November, told me, “Alex was only 60. He had just quit drinking. So if you’re a drinker, don’t stop.” Spoken like a true cop in the SFPD.

Chief Fagan’s service at St. Mary’s Cathedral was a wildly well-attended service. There was talk about the celebrated story of Fajitagate on Union Street all those years ago involving Alex’s son. Remember that? Apparently two rookie cops tried to shake down a couple of fellows for their Mexican meal. Not exactly neighborhood policing. At St. Mary’s, there was a patina of jocularity as people talked about Alex and his larger-than-life style. …

Where would we be without an occasional scandal involving the police department or the fire department?

Remember the Rathskeller Restaurant incident back in the 1980s? Apparently some police recruit was forced to enjoy the favors of a young lady in the restaurant against his will – to the perverse delight of his older fellow officers. The young fellow complained. The media scarfed it up. The rank-and-file cops seem chronically pitted against the politicians …

I recall producing the coverage of the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco for KCBS radio. That’s right. That was when Walter Mondale selected Geraldine Ferraro as a running mate. He would have been better off picking Dianne Feinstein, who was also considered for the vice presidential candidacy. In anticipation of the convention, Feinstein had the entire cable car system overhauled. She also had the streets cleared of those pesky homeless people. She was not about to be embarrassed while the whole world was watching. That’s why she was so furious when a number of police officers stood outside Moscone Convention Center, holding up placards with numbers from 1 to 10 to judge the attractiveness of the cadre of lesbians who were marching in protest. I saw Senator Feinstein accosted by a Channel 7 television reporter for a comment. She literally pushed the strapping Gary Rebstock against the wall, warning him not to make any more of the story than it was. Dianne is a tough customer. Gary looked a little pale. …

Ernie Beyl, one of our favorite local historians, and his lovely wife, Joan, had a holiday party at his Telegraph Hill digs last month. Ernie suggested that I might write a few words about an old friend of mine, the famed rock photographer Jim Marshall. Jim died last March of a heart attack in a New York hotel room. He was 74. He was also as irrepressible as he was gifted. He cultivated scandals as a way of life. That’s right. Jim took that famous picture of The Beatles leaving Candlestick Park in 1966. It turned out to be the last show the Fab Four would perform as a touring band. He also took that famous pic of Johnny Cash sticking his middle finger at the camera. I used to visit Jim when he lived on Union Street in Cow Hollow. He had the coolest photos on the wall of innumerable rock stars. He not only had pictures of The Beatles, but get this: he had pictures of himself with The Beatles. Jim was also a wild man. One night he apparently threatened a neighbor with a .45 caliber pistol. The SWAT team was called. The cops found an arsenal of weapons and enough cocaine on his kitchen table to resemble Mount Fuji. Years later, I asked Jim whatever happened to that wonderful apartment. “It now belongs to my lawyer,” he said. …

Funny thing, now that I am giving up meat again (yes, another resolution): I seem to detect the fragrance of bacon in every part of the City. I know how dogs must feel. I find myself pressing my nose against the glass at butcher shops. The great Roger Miller (that’s right, the composer of “King of the Road”) once remarked: “Every day is Saturday for a dog.” Wonderful line. By the by, I heard Michael Vick being praised on National Public Radio the other day as the best player in the NFL. I wonder what Susan Dyer Reynolds, the publisher of this paper and a relentless advocate for kindness to dogs, might have to say about that. …

Habits, bad habits. That was in a song written years ago by Grace Slick, when she recorded a solo album in her post-Jefferson Starship days. “I’ve been sober for years now,” Gracie said to me. “But if someone walked into the room with 100 Quaaludes today, I’d say, ‘hand them f---- over.’ ” … Good luck with the resolutions. …

Bruce Bellingham also writes for the Marina Times. Send him a note at

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September 2011 Issue


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