Herb Caen


From Writer’s Almanac and Wiki:

It’s the birthday of San Francisco columnist Herb Caen. Born in Sacramento, California (1916). He wrote his column six days a week from 1938 to 1991, and he had an established routine: he wrote in the morning, hung out in a bar or café in the afternoon, and attended A-list events in the evening. He wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle for his entire career – with the exception of four years during World War II and an eight-year stint with the San Francisco Examiner in the 1950s. In his inaugural column for the Examiner, he wrote of what he called “the Queen City”: “For years, it has been fun to Chronicle her . it will be even more fun, I know, to Examiner again, and again.”

During the week, he shared concise news items, usually separated by ellipses, which he called “three-dot journalism. “On Sundays, he dedicated his column inches to meditations on the city. From 1971: “The hookers are brazen, the abalone is frozen, and every night is Mugger’s Day. Yet, in spite of it all, San Francisco remains one of the great tourist cities. Most triumphantly, there is life in the streets – raw, raucous, roistering and real.”

Caen published two compilations of his columns in book form: Baghdad by the Bay (1949) and Don’t Call it Frisco (1953).

*     *     *

Part of a column from 1970:

Well, nobody said life would be easy, but for members of my generation, it’s becoming ridiculous. One is reminded of the joke about the psychiatrist’s secretary who says, “In my office, I can’t win. If I come to work early, I’m anxious, if I’m on time, I’m compulsive, and if I’m late, I’m hostile.”

Our group, the over 50s, is in the same boat, and it has sprung a leak. Most of us were born poor and are in danger of dying affluent, drowning in a sea of plastic, non-disposable luxuries none of us really wants or enjoys. Our pockets filled with inflated dollars to spend on junk, we look back on the Depression as a Golden Age: then, a dollar was round, shiny and heavy, and there was that vibrant, confident voice in the White House to give us hope.



About Bruce Louis Dodson

Bruce Louis Dodson is an American expat now living in Borlänge, Sweden with his wife, cat and dog. He is an artist and world traveler who writes fiction and poetry and practices photography in his less than copious free time. His work has appeared in: Barely South Review - Boundaries Issue, Blue Collar Review, Pulsar Poetry (UK), Foliate Oak, Breadline Press West Coast Anthology . The E-buffet, Qarrtsiluni, Struggle Magazine, Pearl Literary Magazine, Contemporary Literature Review: India, 3rd Wednesday, Sleeping Cat Books - Trip of a Lifetime Anthology, Northern Liberties Review, Authors Abroad - Foreign & and Far Away Anthology, The Path, Page & Spine, The Crucible, Sleeping Cat Books -Trips of a Lifetime, Vine Leaves, Pirene's Fountain,Tic Toc Anthology - Kind of a Hurricane Press, Cordite Poetry Review, Buffalo Almanac and mgv2.
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4 Responses to Herb Caen

  1. He sounds amazing, and I’m sorry I missed him… thank you Bruce for introducing me to him – if only briefly… any more coming from him????

    • Many more at: Herb Caen Columnist Archive



      Just foolin’ around, Herb Caen, 1971

      By Herb Caen Published 4:17 pm, Thursday, March 26, 2015

      Herb Caen logo Photo: The Chronicle

      Photo: The Chronicle
      Herb Caen logo

      Out of my skull: Those bumper strips reading “If You Love Jesus Honk Twice” are okay, I guess, if you can believe that Jesus loves noise polluters … Sodden thought while watching a Muni bus shoot a signal: why doesn’t someone invent a signal that shoots a bus? … Far as I’m concerned, the Muni Man of the Month is any driver who stops on the red and starts on the green … Speaking of inventions, I’ve stopped working on a spot remover to remove the spots left by spot remover and am now concentrating on a breath sweetener that will neutralize the breath of people who use breath sweeteners … Hey, Ralph Nader, how much smaller would our phone bill be if Ma Bell, that mother, stopped spending all that money advertising her monopoly? Is she still afraid we’ll take our business to the other phone company? … As for the PG&E, I never pay that bill without thinking dark thoughts about its new building – the one that blocks the corridor down Bush St. to the Bay … Flash: In the town of Frisco, Colo., they get mad at you if you call it San Francisco (I made that up.).

      Don’t go way mad: Jack Coates sums up the Presidential race: “Pacific Heights’ll go Nixon, the Mission will back Kennedy, but the guys on Skid Row will never desert their Muskie.” … One of the big problems in testing the new B-1 bomber, Jerry Burns tells me, was finding a way of accelerating a chicken to Mach 1 in order to test the bird-resistance of the windshield. Here comes Super-hen, faster than a speeding pullet! … Marquee on a Turk St. dirty movie house: “Moneyback Guarantee” — but how do you prove you weren’t satisfied? … Ads showing All-American Girls puffing on cigarettes suddenly look as dated as a wolf whistle …The Katzenjammer Award to the Muni for the signs on the rear of buses reading “Step Back Five Feet.” The Katzenjammer Award is given from time to time for announcements that read like they were translated from the German.

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      Jealousy note: Every time I write about Larry Lewis, the St. Francis 104-year-old waiter, I get blasts from other old waiters who scoff: “I worked with that guy for years and he can’t be a day over 94” (or 85, or 73). Larry, patiently: “Look, I have a Masonic ring for 75 years membership in 1964. You have to be 21 to join. That adds up, doesn’t it? I was born in Mahaturia, Arizona, in 1867. It became Phoenix in 1870. My godfather, Chief Henry Ironshell, who’s 134, still lives there. You can check with him” … I tried but the Chief has an unlisted smoke signal.

      File & forget: Ron Hyde, upon learning that State Senator Walter Stiern is a veterinarian: “Imagine that, a vote getter who’s a goat vetter!” … Lois Snyder Hennessy has formed the Alienation Association for people who want Togetherness together (you okay, Lo?) … Irving Chernev figures Lewis Carroll is alive and writing graffiti in Ghirardelli Sq. after finding this: “It’s crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsky in snide” and you can say that again but don’t bozzer … As long as we’re there, Chumley’s in the Square is so dark, reports Geo. Lemont, that the best-selling drink is a Night Light — a Gibson with two 50-watt onions.

      Bookflash: Straight Arrow, the book-publishing wing of Rolling Stone magazine here, has come up with a heavy one — John Lennon’s Memoirs, to be published Oct. 27. Among John’s ramblings: “The dream is over. I’m not just talking about the Beatles; I’m talking about a whole generation, the revolutionary image and the long hair. It’s all over and we have to get down to so-called reality” — and when a 30-yr-old millionaire starts talking about reality, so-called, I think we’d all better listen.

      Barrel’s bottom: “In Which Room Does Your Spouse Excel?” was the query in The Question Man’s column last Sunday, and the answers ranged as follows: “The kitchen,” “In the family room watching TV,” “In the bathroom doing her hair,” “Working on his car in the garage” and “The dining room” and all I can ask is frevvinsakes whatever happened to the bedroom? … Dave the Barman, demonstrating his undoubted erudition: “The architect who designed Alcatraz created quite a stir” … Great line in Black Times, the nat’l Negro newspaper published in Albany: “Those who practice discrimination soon become bad at it” … First sentence of a fundraising letter from the Florence Crittenton Home Auxiliary: “Can you imagine what it would be like to be a young mother with a newborn baby with no husband?” — to which Innes Bromfield adds, “Can you imagine being a newborn baby WITH a husband?”

      Afterthoughts: “Howard Hughes faces the possibility of jail if he returns to Nevada,” conjectures a news story — and I honestly believe he’d show up there tomorrow if he were certain they’d put him in solitary … Mel Corvin’s nomination for the best TV log listening of the year “Ch. 9 — King Kong (movie, 1933). Gorillas fail to adjust to urban life” … And Bob Orben is hard at work on the song to herald the end of the war: “When the Boys Come Home Again From All Over Canada.”

      This column originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle on Sept. 19, 1971.

  2. Thanks, Bruce. I enjoyed it all!

    • Myrah,

      He was so good. First thing I read every day.
      Always good. He might have invented the word ‘Hippy’ I dqn’t remember.
      The world’s best gig I think. What a fun life that must have been.

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