Important If True . . . : Herb Caen edition

(Two of my heroes, hatch and herb! …@6:45 – promoted by buhdydharma )

Back when I was a kid, I used to look forward every day to reading the San Francisco Chronicle. The Chronicle was a paper that was – how to put this – unique in its outlook and editorial stance. Freed from the stifling journalistic rigor of, say, its distant and uptight cousins, The New York Times or the The Washington Post (and if you’re wondering how I can use the phrase “journalistic rigor” in the same sentence as “The New York Times” or “The Washington Post,” remember: this was when I was a kid, okay?), the Chron (as we called it) practiced a more, umm, Bohemian style of journalism, one that reflected, perhaps, the decidedly less weighty priorities of the residents of Baghdad-by-the-Bay and its environs.

Heh: Baghdad-by-the-Bay. That phrase is so fraught with meaning, especially nowadays. And it is so inextricably bound up with its creator that, much like the “heh” that precedes it in the previous sentence, it probably deserves a “registered trademark” symbol next to it, thus: Baghdad-by-the-Bay®

See, “Baghdad-by-the-Bay” was the creation of an icon of American journalism, a truly unique creature the likes of whom we shall never see again. Herb Caen was the embodiment and no doubt greatest practitioner of what came to be called (by himself, anyway) “three-dot journalism,” an easygoing, chatty, sardonic, self-effacing chronicling of life that perfectly reflected its writer and his milieu. Caen strung together his seemingly off-the-cuff observations and insights with ellipses that gave his columns a stream-of-consciousness feel – but he artfully, effortlessly managed to downplay their careful deliberation and solid underpinnings. In many respects, Caen was perhaps the earliest known proto-blogger.

Here’s a tasty smackerel of Caen-iana from 1967, part of a compendium graciously provided by the folks at (the Chron’s modern-day online incarnation):

I awoke late in the afternoon with the clock-radio playing that fine Duke Ellington tune, “Don’t Get Around Much Any More” (“Missed the Saturday dance, hear they crowded the floor”), and it dawned on me, with a pain sharp and gassy as heartburn, that I HADN’T been getting around much lately. Peace marches, symphony concerts, museum openings and smuggling banana splits out of the Hashberry are all very well, but was I covering The Scene as of Yorick? Alas, no.

Well, no sooner said than undone. Leaping into the shower, I soaped myself thoroughly with Dial (that’s Laid spelled backward — don’t you wish everybody did?) and emerged feeling sticky and itchy. I leaped in again and turned on the water. Better, much better. Then, humming the peerless Anson Weeks arrangement of The Blue Pajama Song (“Why did I wear those blue pajamas before the big affair began?” — ah, Buddy Moreno), I put on my best tuckered bib, placed a carnation boutonniere in my teeth and set out for the fleshpots.

My wife had given me carte blanche and other credit cards for the evening and I felt positively jejune again. In the financial district, I stood at the corner of Dow and Jones, wondering where to begin. I smiled at the pretty girls and they laughed right back. I followed one transistorized model into a bar famed as a pickup (or After Ours) joint and bought her a deep-dish martini. After the first sip, she fished into her handbag and produced a photo of herself with no clothes on. I mean, starkers! “Not so fast,” I protested, thoroughly shocked. “Look, fella,” she said coolly, “Time is money. Let’s cut out the small talk and get down to the nitty gritty.” Hastily throwing down my half of the check, I went away from there as fast as my wedgies would carry me.

Caen’s writing style defied conventional categorization, to the point that the Pulitzer board honored him with a special award in 1996, an honor rarely bestowed. Caen dubbed it – as he had christened similar honors given to others in previous years – his “Pullet Surprise.” After nearly 60 years of writing a column that poked fun at The City and its residents while enfolding them both in a great big ink-and-paper hug, Caen lost his year-long battle with lung cancer in 1997. His funeral was attended by thousands.

So, occam (you might be saying to yourself at just about this time), This is all wonderful stuff, no doubt – fine and dandy and all that – but what does any of it have to with anything? And just what do you mean by your diary title, “Important If True . . . “? And, good god, man, who suggested you wear those pants with that shirt?

Ahh, yes, excellent questions all. And they shall all be answered, dear reader – or, God willing, dear readers – in due time.

Which would be, now. Except for the pants part. There’s no explaining that, sorry.

One of the beauties of Herb-Caen-style three-dot journalism is that it allows the writer to cover a multitude of subjects in a rapid-fire fashion. (It may also, perhaps more pertinently in my case, allow the writer to cover a multitude of sins . . . ). Given that my schedule of late has not often allowed me the luxury of composing a well-researched piece worthy of your attention, dear reader or readers (not to say that I ever have . . . ), I have come to the conclusion that I might instead cobble together on a semi-regular basis a collection of seemingly random thoughts, no single one of which, taken by itself, may be worthy of your attention, but which, when presented en masse in a veritable mélange, a pastiche, as it were, of cerebral offal, shall put to rest any niggling doubts that you, dear reader(s), might have had about whether the effort was worth it. Or, to paraphrase someone, you should waste no time in reading it.

And, in recognition of the fact that a significant proportion of whatever should  appear in these columns might be of dubious veracity, the column’s title: Important If True . . . The precise origin of the phrase is unknown, but a Civil War-era headline in the aforementioned New York Times qualifies itself with the words – a not uncommon practice of the day, used when the accuracy of breaking stories could not be adequately determined before presstime. It is my most excellent intention (a sufficient quantity of which, when properly laid, makes an outstanding thoroughfare to destinations south) to also on occasion fold in half-baked concepts, ankle-deep ideas and tepid calls to action. But no pootie pix – definitely no pootie pix.

So without further ado (and with apologies to Herb Caen), welcome to the inaugural edition of “Important If True”. . .

FIRES. FIRES EVERYWHERE: And wind – where I live, in the extreme northern San Fernando Valley, the wind gusts have been breaking 80 mph. That’s hurricane force. And it doesn’t just gust like that for a minute or two – those gusts have been coming for the past four days. Add to that the single-digit humidity and shade temperatures nearing 100 – fire has an easy time of it. . . The winds are still blowing here. It’s Santa Ana weather. You can walk outside at 6 in the morning and feel the heat of the coming day. We can’t see flames from our house right now, but the smell – like any of those Smells You Can Never Forget – is unmistakable.  It almost smells like a campfire, but it’s missing all of those safe, cozy campfire-memory connotations. It’s more acrid. More hostile. More diabolical and sad.  Even though the billowing smoke clouds that cover the western sky and turn the sunset purple have not come directly over our house, there is still ash on the car windshield in the morning . . . I got a call this morning from one of my sisters in Northern California.  She wanted to know how we were doing.  She said on the news, it looked like all of Southern California was on fire.  I reassured her that we were okay and that even if the fire were to march down the hillsides north of us, we were still far enough removed that our safety and our property wouldn’t be threatened…. But the pall that remains, the cloud that hangs over much of this state today, hangs over all of us.  Adversity binds people together, and Californians are no exception.  Fires, floods, earthquakes, winds – as plastic and superficial as much of Southern California may be, we are never out of reach of Mother Nature’s tap on the shoulder. And when She taps, She taps all of us . . . 

YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH DEPT.: If ignorance is bliss, Republicans are the happiest people on the planet. To add to their nirvana-like state of ineffable ecstasy, NASA will not be releasing the findings from its study of commercial airline safety. Republicans: Keeping You Safe By Keeping You Ignorant . . . Speaking of ignorant fanning the flames: So Glenn Beck (who obviously knows a thing or two about his audience’s demographic) says any Democrat who “hates America” disagrees with him is a fake Democrat? And Rush knows that U.S. combat troops who disagree with him are “phony soldiers,” huh? Ohhhh – I think I know where this is inevitably leading. It’s inescapable, actually; don’t know why no one’s mentioned this before, so I will: All Log Cabin Republicans are phony homosexuals. There, I said it. Let the chips fall where they may. < hilarity ensues > . . .

YIKES: I just realized: Executive Order 13224, under which BushCheney designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “terrorist organization,” included this definition:

the term “terrorism” means an activity that —

  (i) involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, property, or infrastructure; and

  (ii) appears to be intended —

  (A) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

  (B) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion

Wow. Sounds to me like Blackwater must be a terrorist organization, then. And, since the executive order goes on to state that anyone who has been demonstrated to

to assist in, sponsor, or provide financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, such acts of terrorism

shall be subject to all of the penalties laid out in the EO, including freezing of its assets, I guess that means that Congress is about to have its purse strings tied by the administration, n’est pas? . . .

SPEAKING OF BLACKWATER: Since Rush and his caller the other week made it clear that people who join the armed forces for the money are “phony solders,” and not honest-to-god, Amurka-lovin’ Amurkns, that must mean that all those Blackwater guys getting paid all that money to do what real, Amurka-lovin’ soldiers are doing for about one-tenth that amount of money, must not be real Amurkns. Freakin’ librul morans, those Blackwater guys. I knew it . . . Speaking of librul morans: Hey, Sen. Rockefeller! Ya wanna know how “immunity from prosecution” works?  Take a look at Blackwater in Iraq.  Nice model, huh?

POLITICAL CAPITAL ONE CARD DECLINED:  Doesn’t Gee Dubya’s credit line have a limit? Like, say, about three trillion dollars ago? Geez, with the new bankruptcy laws, Georgie might wanna think about headin’ outta the country – like, maybe, to Paraguay or something? – to escape his creditors (also known as the American people – or at least the bottom 99%). And now he’s trying to swipe his Political CapitalOne card through the ATM known as the Democratic Congress? For FORTY-SIX BILLION DOLLARS?!?Sheesh – what kind of idiots would extend that loser any more credit? I mean, really . . .

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  1. Here’s to Herb:

  2. Encore, encore!

  3. http://www.docudharm

    Oh and let’s hope George read the fine print on his gold card and isn’t paying 23%!!!

    I will be putting this on the FP in the next slot after the news….thanks hatch!

  4. to launch this maiden voyage.

  5. Read his column religiously.

    Nice work.

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