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We Catch Up With Laurel Wellman, So You Won't Have To 

She always wanted to be a Red Hot Single. And now – finally – she is.

It's been nearly two years since the original Dog Bites -- Miss Laurel Wellman -- abandoned her podmates at SF Weekly for the greater glory of working at the San Francisco Chronicle. We must confess, however, to feeling a frisson of Schadenfreude when we heard later that Wellman's column had been yanked from her coveted Page 2 slot and dumped in the Datebook section, just inches away from the maunderings of Jon Carroll. Which, careerwise, is like falling from heaven to Hades. Or at least limbo.

We caught up with our former co-worker recently when a copy of the Nob Hill Gazette blew serendipitously across our path as we waited for a bus in North Beach. There she was, enshrined in the pages of the high-society newspaper that styles itself "More than an address -- an attitude."

There is irony here. Back in 1998, when Wellman began writing Dog Bites, she regularly led her column with hilarious slams on Carroll ("We Read Jon Carroll, So You Won't Have To") and tongue-in-cheek paeans to the fatuous Gazette. "For several years now," she once wrote, "Dog Bites has devoted long hours to studying the Nob Hill Gazette, hoping to find tips on cozying up to San Francisco society types."

To this end, Dog Bites coyly concocted "Five Steps to Crashing San Francisco Society," which included the sound advice to "trade in current friends for those with better connections," such as Sharon Stone and hubbie Phil Bronstein, whose numerous appearances in the monthly Gazette were reported by Dog Bites with faux bitterness. Dog Bites even telephoned the Gazette one day and inquired what it would take to be listed as a person worth knowing. (She was advised to "look like Sharon Stone.") Over the next couple of years, Dog Bites repeatedly complained in print -- with what appeared to be increasing angst -- that she was not on the Gazette's annual Red Hot Singles List.

Sadly, in the spring of 2001, Wellman traded in her SF Weekly friends for people with better connections, i.e., Stone and Bronstein, who is executive editor of the Chronicle. Yet social acknowledgement by the Gazette still eluded the erstwhile Dog Bites. Nonetheless, she gamely continued her campaign for acceptance, writing in one Chron column: "OK, maybe it's the 11th year running that I haven't made the Nob Hill Gazette's Tote Board, but I can make my own fun ...." She also changed tactics, dropping the phony angst and treating the Gazette with more respect. At one point she even described it as "precedent setting."

Finally, last week, her efforts paid off. She made the list of Red Hot Singles in the February issue of the Gazette, which describes her as the "lively & attractive SF Chronicle columnist." Her fellow Red Hots include Herb Caen's widow, Ann, the Public Utilities Commission president who "loves modern art, music, water & electrical power"; and Malou Nubla, an "attractive TV hostess with a figure you'd kill for." The list of S.F.'s rich and beautiful also features several Junior League members, people who "enjoy Sinatra," even one who "loves to read." There's a "banker with brains" (as opposed to one without brains?) and a few guys who fly helicopters. One lawyer is said to "date well known local beauties but goes home to his cat."

We called Wellman to ask about her reaction to making the list. And she was gracious in victory. Sort of.

"I am wealthy now," she said. "Don't be jealous. Finally being recognized by the Gazette is everything I ever dreamed of. The transformation has been total. My apartment is clean every morning -- without me cleaning it. When I wake up, my hair is perfect. My old junker has been replaced by a luxury car. I don't know what else to tell you: You didn't make the list." -- Peter Byrne

Check Mates

Let's say you're a chess player living in San Francisco. You've beaten all your roommates, conquered your chess software, and solved the daily Chronicle chess puzzle with ease. You know that mastering the game requires a lifetime of dedication and does not permit luxuries like bathing, eating properly, or dating. What's the next step?

You have a few options. If you've got money to spend, you can invest in a year's membership at the Mechanics' Institute at 57 Post St. in the Financial District. More masters than you can shake a stick at, and its got dozens of boards and a whole library of chess books. In the '60s, Bobby Fischer staged exhibitions there in which he played 50 people at the same time.

But let's say you don't want to spend $75 for a Mechanics' Institute membership. Let's say you want to make money. In that case, head down Market Street to a grittier section of downtown. Right above the Powell BART station on any given day when it's not raining you can find a group of mostly homeless men who will play you in the manner you prefer -- either speed chess using a digital clock or the regular, slow-as-molasses variety.

Anyone can play, but the loser has to pay organizer Floro Bagasala 50 cents for use of the board. Side bets are very welcome, but although these players generally aren't of the same caliber as those at the Mechanics' Institute, don't jump into these wagers lightly. The players can really surprise you, especially the Russians.

If you find yourself becoming a little nervous and just want to watch, that's OK, but bear in mind you will likely be assaulted by vendors selling various black-market goods such as frozen frankfurters, eight for a dollar.

If you'd rather just stay home, a third option is to play online. You can compete at Yahoo!,, or numerous other sites, but be warned -- you will encounter some loonies.

We played at recently, and by some minor miracle started beating a guy. There were about two minutes left on our clock, and we had a rook, a knight, and a pawn. Our opponent had only a king. Instead of attempting to checkmate him with the rook and knight -- a brain-knotting task -- we instead began racing our pawn across to get a free queen.

"What are you doing?" he instant-messaged us. The most annoying feature of these online chess sites is the direct line of communication the players have with each other.

"Getting a queen," we typed back.

"What, you can't checkmate with what you have?" he typed.

We ignored him.

"What are you, a pussy???" he demanded. "I can't believe your [sic] so weak. What are you, a fag?"

"How could I be a pussy and a fag at the same time?" we typed back, feeling clever.

"So you're admitting it!" he exclaimed triumphantly.

Even though we won the game we felt we'd somehow lost the argument. So we think we're going to stick to chess with the homeless guys. Though the cigarette smoke and frozen hot dogs can be a little overwhelming, at least we can't understand the insults in Russian. -- Ben Westhoff


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