Watching City Hall #215
Theres a Song in my Saw
(Actual title of a Bob Pritikin album)
Bob Pritikin plays the old fashioned carpenters handsaw as well as anyone in the world. I cant tell you how many times my buddy Jens Nielsen and I have sat down and listened to album after album of juice harp and saw music. Throw in an accordion and the angels listen in.
So, you can imagine how excited I was when I found out that the Felliniesque event Angela Alioto invited me to was at the castle (no shit, it aint a big castle, but it is definitely a castle) the Labor Day event, was at the castle of the same Bob Pritikin whose work on the carpenters saw Id admired for these so many years. I mean, like, like, wow man!
Angela was off picketing with some union somewhere (the big unions are her biggest supporters 30 years of Alioto family support being repaid) Angela was on her way back to her Pacific Heights dwelling (which should be in Architectural Digest) when I arrived at the front door. Adam Reese, who writes a column for someone (I dont do research real facts can get in the way of a good story) Adam led me into the Alioto parlor where Hank Donat of the Independent was already esconced. It was a scene. I tried waiting outside. You know I get nervous in the presence of real reporters. They were perfectly coifed and raring to go, whereas, Id just jogged a half mile or so from the 38 Geary & was beginning to smell. Fortunately, Id anticipated such a situation and had negated the possibility of stress by already being drunk. (Angela doesnt drink, so theres always the possibility shell take me to someplace that doesnt have booze.) A fellow has to allow for these things if hes going to do his best work. Ive never actually taken notes because I cant read my own handwriting and, of course, I dont trust tape recorders because theyre electronic devices and can easily be bugged. Its this kind of forethought and attention to detail that make my column well, what it is.
And, I thought I was weird
Angelas always ahead of everyone. Barbara Mescunas (head of the SF Coalition of Neighborhoods and a great writer herself) Barbara had arrived just before Angela and as we were too many for Angelas coupe, I jumped into Adams little roadster. Dont lose me! called out the legendary North Beach beauty as she did a quick U turn and headed across town toward Pritikins little palace where the sun was beginning to warm the stacks of cartons holding thousands of John Schmidts best chocolates. Ahhhh!
Ever see really good valet parkers work? Well, in this case, they were turning a small school yard into a parking lot for a couple of hundred cars with the kind of laser-vison and geometric prescience found only in certain Rubrick-like parking performance-art savants found only in the worlds most dense urban areas. Say, huh!? They can get 10 lbs of shit in a 5 lb bag is what Im saying here.
There stood big Don Solem!
Later, I stood picking my nose and swilling whiskey as a little circle of my betters talked about whether this years gathering was more: A, B, or (God forbid) C list. Ever helpful, I leaned in and added some information: Im on most peoples shit list Oddly, they quickly dispersed and began to do lots of pointing my way from a variety of safe distances. So, anyway, first thing I see as I emerge from Adams car is Don Solem, (Solem & Associates) whom I immediately greet loudly. He gives me one of these Who let the dogs out? gazes and begins to search the lot for security. Then, noting that Im with Angela, he shakes his head, smiles, shakes my hand and we head for the nearest uh refreshment table. What a walk!
My hero, Bob Pritikin
Now, Ive tossed tents from Mt. Denali to the Alps and The Master of the Saws home is the highest camp spot Ive ever visited. I swear to God, I think I must have appreciated the place more than anyone there. I was like a 60 year old child looking at the toy collection of the rich kid on the hill. Solem and I followed Pritikins winding path through assorted jugglers and fire-eaters and dozens of magnificent copper and brass sculptures of beasts ranging from elephants to unicorns. We paused at the crest of a small bridge under which flowed a crystal clear stream that flowed from a waterfall that cascaded from a curved stainless sculpture. I looked in wonder. Solem just smiled and pointed at the brook: Its vodka, you know. thats all he said, and I believed him. I could imagine Herb Caen standing at that spot every Labor day.
It got better
Of course, there was a pool on the second or third floor (I forget, one gets overloaded in such a wonderland) a pool with a sundeck and sauna above. Huge parrots and other exotic birds (live, thank you!) an imposing Romanesque bust of Joe Alioto flanked the central foyer flanked by Rembrandts Night Watch which we were assured was not the original. I stood in awe. I mean, Rembrandts Night Watch!!? the painting is about 20 feet long and 10 feet high and didnt look like any copy I ever saw. Two equally flabbergasted guests were talking alongside me, as Angela described the technique Rembrandt used to attain the illusion of external lighting to various spots in the work: I dont see how he got this. It was painted by the Dutch in World War II because they knew Goering would send Nazi Storm Troopers after it as soon as they took control of the country. One of the guests commented knowingly to the other as Angela taught her impromptu art class: Some say that this is actually the original and the Dutch have the fake in their national museum. I wouldnt doubt it. I wouldnt doubt it. (On an opposite wall hung the huge salvaged clock from FAO Swartz toy store, with hour and minute hands adjusted to swing at high speed in opposite directions Pritikin the magician Pritikin, the master musician what was real and what was fake? what did time matter anyway? Angela had truly invited me to an afternoon in Oz.)
We hit the roof
Ive met few people in my life who honestly enjoy life as much as Angela Alioto. The woman is an exuberant blurr. She led Barbara Mescunas and I to the roof parapet of the castle and together we watched the crowd of 400 below as the mayoral candidate (is 3 a charm?) as Angela waved like Guinvere from a turret in Camelot and the crowd waved back. We descended for Bob Pritikins centerpiece gift to his guests. The highest of high camp attractions of the day. Mickey Rooney!
Mickey Rooney has 22 years, a few days and 2 wives on me, but everyone has told me since I was a kid that I look just like him. Lucky Mickey, I always say. But, its true, I think. Certainly, people at this party (a real fox, named Scarponetti -?- stands out in particular Thats my girlfriend! offered her date as I stood slack-jawed at the slightest notice she probably expected me to start juggling)
Mickey started singing songs from the 40s that my sisters used to slow-dance to with their boyfriends when they baby sat me. Angela and I mugged for the crowd and sang along:
h.: It seems weve stood and talked like this beforrrre.
Angela: The clothes youre wearing you were wearing then.
h.: (stage whisper) Thats because I slept in them last night.
Some party. Angela left and I hung out and cruised the remaining crowd. Upstairs I found Pritikin sitting at the end of a Kings length table surrounded by a 360 degree expanse of windows that framed 5 of the Citys 7 hills, plus a brilliant view of downtown. He was greeting guests like a slightly bemused Pope. I recall thinking he needed a ring for folks to kiss in gratitude as they left. Eileen Left was sitting next to Pritikin and she winked as I sat at the other end of the table. Tony Hall was at Bobs other elbow. I sipped from my large tumbler of Jack Daniels black and wondered what the poor people were doing that day. It came time to leave and I passed the throne with my own offering: Thanks for the memory. I plagiarized Bob smiled, and it meant a lot. Tony drove Eileen and I back to the Tenderloin where Eileen grabbed her Suzuki and headed off to watch Matt Gonzalez at another Labor rally. A guy could have tougher work than covering this mayoral election.
Be quiet, little one: