It’s increasingly difficult for me to enjoy reading 20th-century columnists, those who made me want to do this in the first place. Their works feel like ancient tomes left by aliens, illustrative of nothing.
It used to be the default profession for the entitled kids in the back of the room, making fun of the hand-raisers, chatting about lunch plans and movies, in on the inside jokes. They came up back when journalism was an actual profession, newspapers set a common discourse, and media was a (sometimes) respected and necessary megaphone used by those who weren’t sociopaths—real drunks can never be sociopaths.
There was hard-hitting Liz Balmaseda, who covered dire conditions for Cuban Americans in the Miami Herald. Sweet Anna Quindlen of the New York Times, who both skewered and sidled up to the political elite and treated the world’s most important metro like the small town of small minds it is.
It was the WaPo’s Jim Hoagland who traced the economic factors that pushed the US into the first of what would be a series of forever wars in the Gulf. It was Jim Murray of the LA Times who was first, faster, and better than anyone. Murray did the thing that sports columnists (especially the white male ones) can’t seem to master even today; he took himself out of the story.
It was the Miami Herald’s Dave Barry who refused to believe he wasn’t funny and Jimmy Breslin of the New York Daily News who struck out swinging so often, it became his art.
For me, it was Herb Caen—who still represents San Francisco in black and white noir errant brush strokes. Caen taught me mistakes are good, necessary even.
To a gimlet-eyed high school kid who read him every morning, he embodied even then a time already passed when you could go partake in a three-martini lunch at Tadich then pour yourself back into that uncomfortable desk chair on 5th and Mission at quarter to deadline and hunt and pack 1,100 words on a Royal Standard Model.
Caen also represents, in hindsight at least, an opportunity missed. For him. For the city he loved. For all of us.
There was no mention of vast wealth inequality or climate change or even much on the goings-on on the actual streets of San Francisco. Caen's drippings were all soap. And his stars were the final generation of SF's elite: the Gettys, the Trainas, Don Fisher, Susie Tompkins, Danielle Steel, Frank Jordan, Walter Shorenstein, Warren Hellman, Chuck Schwab, Dianne Feinstein, and the lot.
Caen wrote delicately about the assignation of mayor George Moscone and activist Harvey Milk. He rhapsodized for years on end about the damage from the Loma Prieta earthquake, which stole 63 lives but also took down the “dambarcadero” freeway, freeing the city’s storied waterfront from its concrete shackles and showcasing the remarkably compact skyline of Baghdad by the Bay once more.
He coined the term “beatnik” and wandered around chronicling the comings and goings of the gentry-class mavens on Nob Hill and Russian Hill, putting on their satin gloves and their Grace Kelly faces and strolling down to check out the Christmas windows at Gump’s and I. Magnin.
He saw it all, and he saw none of it.
So what do we do? What do was say about these folks whose art was ethereal and as temporary as the wind blowing the newsprint across the street like an urban tumbleweed? Surely they made a lasting impression on some folks, me included. Surely their DNA can be found in every column that is filled with sadness instead of outrage, measured tones and verbal stones slung in frustration.
…My inclination is to say that they were luckier then, and leave it at that. None of them would have nobs today, not in what we know as media, at least.
Caen would be struggling, an over-the-hill boozer writing SEO-friendly copy (maybe) for a dying financial district ad firm that just lost its three biggest clients, its 35-year-old owner looking for an “exit."
Quindlen would be teaching comp lit at SUNY Oneonta. Murray would make you a fine double mocha at 10 Speed Coffee in Santa Monica. Old Breslin would be a bartender, spinning yarns while mixing midday elixirs at Skinny Dennis in Williamsburg. Barry, a failed stand-up, would be working the door on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Miami Improv Comedy Club and Dinner Theater.
…Or maybe not even that.
They’d all likely be dropping food off, masked and gloved up, for Uber Eats writing notes to nowhere on their phones about the little bits of life they’d seen.
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Giants vs. Brewers
Suddenly it’s September.
It was mentioned yesterday that Christmas is three months away, and the calendar will soon turn to 2022, which, in case you haven’t been keeping track at home, means the next year filled with dread and disasters is around the bend (new variants! Climate doom migration! An ELECTION YEAR where a fascist party will continue with anti-Democratic zeal a complete takeover over the rest of whatever’s left of our systems while the party in power cries for... bipartisanship (?) Blech.
No thanks. No thanks to all of it. I prefer the constant crisis machine of 2021.
But we still have baseball, a game that probably should no longer exist, or at the very least needs to cut its schedule in half and slice out the crap on the constant travel—just worthless flight after flight.
It’d be one thing if any of the stadiums (or fan bases for that matter) looked different one city to the next, but they don’t. They’re all the same recently giant remodeled kitchen.
But the teams themselves remain compelling, no more so than the Brewers and the Giants—a possible preview of the NLCS if the Giants can get out of their current funk.
The last two nights, the Brewers have taken their starting pitching and absolutely mowed down SF’s venerable batsmen, which three-quarters into the season have proven nothing but well-adjusted and capable of both producing runs and hitting the long ball.
They did neither last night until it was much too late and lost their second in a row 6-2 in one of the more lackluster home field performances of the teams’ last 24 months. Say what you will about the orange and black upstarts coming out of the NL West, but they’ve always stayed competitive game in and game out over the last two seasons.
Barely clinging to their lead in the NL West with the juggernaut of golden arms and All-Star bats in blue chugging along and whoo-whooing behind them in second, the Giants begin their final three-week bid to lock in a division title tonight having lost four of five.
Reliever Jose Quintana, who the Giants got off waivers as the Cubs continue to shed anything in a uniform that can actually throw, run, or catch, bailed out hiccupy starter Johnny Cueto in the fourth. Quintana blew in like a bay breeze and and left both Milwaukee runners stranded to end the inning and then came back for three more allowing a single hit and striking out six of the 12 batters he faced.
A lone bright spot for a listless lineup and a gassed bullpen. Maybe manager Gabe Kapler has one of those closed-door meetings this afternoon before the first pitch, or maybe he doesn’t.
The Giants have been defeated, handily, by the Brewers’ best starters and now can tee off at home against the dregs in Brett Anderson (4-8 4.27) while they themselves have Cy Young candidate Kevin Gausman (12-9 2.45) on the mound. Great teams find ways to turn the calendar page, looking to do better not to atone—a lesson most of us can still learn.
Take the San Francisco Giants (-170) vs. The Milwaukee Brewers (+1.85) 6:45 p.m. Wednesday at Oracle Park