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Dog Bites 

Caen and Less Than Able

Wednesday, Jun 28 2000
It's scarcely news (and therefore, of course, absolutely fodder for this column) that ever since Herb Caen died, a number of our city's name-brand scribes have vied, overtly or covertly, to be recognized as his de facto heir. Cheery Rob Morse, thin-skinned Ken Garcia, high-hat-ready Scott Ostler -- we salute them, in our way, and enjoy their occasional, obvious Caen-ward feints as much as the next civilian, which is to say probably less than the editors and publishers of the Chronicle and the Examiner do.

So, Fangs or no Fangs, it was hard for Dog Bites, who is afraid of change anyway, to imagine things wouldn't continue in this comfortable, mildly competitive, sometime Caenish vein indefinitely. (Newsroom gossip at the dailies, incidentally, has it the next important announcement in the whole Hearst-ChronEx mess will come Thursday -- but then, newsroom gossip also has it that some staffers at the Ex are disgruntled they didn't get an exclusive on the story, published first in Us magazine, that Examiner Executive Editor Phil Bronstein and suddenly long-haired movie star Sharon Stone had adopted a child. "If I were married to Madeline Albright, and I discovered that peace was going to break out in the Middle East the next day, that would be an interesting dilemma," a mildly exasperated Bronstein said. "For me, family and the privacy of family, particularly if we're talking about a baby, come first. If it were something earthshaking that might be different.")

Everything had been running along so smoothly in columnist land, in fact, that we don't understand why the Chron had to go and launch its new San Francisco Friday section, in which a more shameless pretender to the Caen Succession has emerged. Yes, we mean Dave Ford, whose Between the Bridges is just the sort of bumptious, guy-about-town column that provides an ideal agar for experiments in Caen-anity which make the efforts of the entrants in the annual Bad Hemingway Contest read like subtle parody by comparison.

Nevertheless, we hate to single out just one writer; last time we did that Ken Garcia complained plaintively, "But I don't understand why you're focusing on me." So we invite our readership to enter our all-new Name That Columnist Contest. The first person to identify the authors of the following dozen quotes (and yes, at least one actually is a Caen-ism) will win -- uh, let's see. Get your correct answers in by Friday afternoon and we'll give you a pair of tickets to that evening's Giants-Dodgers game. After that you'll have to go without a prize, because we don't have anything else lying around here that anyone would want. Oh, and good luck!

Name That Columnist

1) "There is a particular San Francisco buzz, whatever the saloon or restaurant. It's a kind of jazz, with the bass line of a wisecracking bartender, and the mingling riffs of a crowd of individuals who have funny or serious things to say about sex, sports, politics and film."

2) "Gorgeous recent day in North Beach soundtracked by a jackhammer's distant jittery clatter, the wheeze of diesel trucks and the shriek of bus brakes."

3) "Twin Peaks blooming in green freshness at the end of drab Market St., the sun reflecting fiercely on the windshields of a thousand cars filing across the Bay Bridge, the East Bay hills softly golden at the end of a perfect Spring day, Alcatraz looking suddenly like an enchanted isle as it sits and stares dreamily at its own perfect reflection in the still waters."

4) "All through the hot, echoing city, while daffodil blossoms shriveled on their stalks and residents emerged, blinking and carrying straw bags full of bottled water and sunscreen, into the glare of the strangely deserted streets, there was a sense of mild disbelief."

5) "It's nutty. The weather is so mellow, the Giants might bring Stu Miller out of retirement."

6) "We San Franciscans have it made. The sun's shining, the city's burnished bright and the Giants, as of press time, are winning."

7) "As the late Dave Falk used to say, 'Where is there to go when I'm already here?' It's a sweet sentiment but based partly on the insular fear that someplace, somewhere, may be even fairer than this sainted city. Many places are, but take the news like a man."

8) "Joe Alioto used to stop in local bars and restaurants just to shake hands, letting people know that he cared."

9) "And a six-pack of 49er beer -- 49er beer? -- for 49 cents. And that's the way it was, circa 1959."

10) "The San Francisco mantra: Everything was better in the old days, which might have been the day before yesterday, who knows?"

11) "The streets and hills of San Francisco are great, but it's a city that really lives in the small public spaces of saloons, restaurants and coffeehouses."

12) "As I've told the many therapists who have offered me free anger management therapy, what good is a columnist without his anger?"

Tip Dog Bites -- especially if you're disgruntled. Phone 536-8139; fax 777-1839.

About The Author

Laurel Wellman


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