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November 19, 2010

Avoiding the ‘F’ Word

Don’t call it Frisco.

Or San Fran, SF, The City, The Sco, Bagdad by the Bay, The City that Knows How, Fogtown or anything else but its name: Yerba Buena (good grass?) or the newer name: San Francisco.

Actually, Herb Caen, local gossip and hero, started the anti-Frisco movement in the early 50’s, I believe, so for over 100 years nobody had a problem with the nickname. Here’s an alternate explanation I like:

“Frisco” is, of course, a contraction of San Francisco, but there are other theories about its origin. Some have suggested it is an Americanization of el fresco, a term apparently used by Mexican immigrants coming to Fog City to escape the heat of the Sierra Nevada.
The late etymologist Peter Tamony traced the word all the way back to the Middle English frithsoken, meaning refuge or sanctuary. Shortened to "frisco," the term was apparently used by sailors to refer to any port where ships could be repaired.
So what is a San Franciscan? Immigrants and refugees, of course, like everywhere. But do those of us squeezed in a few blocks between the Pacific and the Bay really have a collective personality? Are the fruits and nuts native? Do those chilly summers cause frostbite patterns in the gray matter? I’m sure the fog, creeping in the ears, scrambles the synapses. Maybe a list would help answer all these questions (probably not but I’m, as you know, a compulsive list-maker).

Notable San Franciscans:
[born and raised]
Ansel Adams
Gracie Allen
Gertrude Atherton
Ralph Barbieri
Bill Bixby
Mel Blanc
Benjamin Bratt
Stephen Breyer
Pat & Jerry Brown
Darius Brubeck
Carol Channing
Donaldina Cameron
Paul Desmond
Bradford Dillman
Dom & Joe DiMaggio
Edward Dmytryk
Isadora Duncan
Clint Eastwood
Dian Fossey
Robert Frost
Jerry Garcia
Danny Glover
Rube Goldberg
Vince Guaraldi
Laird Hamilton
Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket)
William Randolph Hearst
James D. Houston
Shirley Jackson
Paul Kantner
Jack LaLanne
Bruce Lee
Jack London
Anita Loos
Greil Marcus
Jon Miller
Barry Nelson
Lloyd Nolan
Kevin Pollak
Stafford Repp
Pierre Salinger
Rob Schneider
Liev Schreiber
Alicia Silverstone
Gary Snyder
Kevin Starr
Lincoln Steffens
David Strathairn
Jeffery Tambor
Bob Weir
Stuart Whitman
Kate Wolf
Naomi Wolf
B.D. Wong
Natalie Wood

Other famous residents:
[came as adults]
Maya Angelou
Ambrose Bierce
Herb Caen
Joan Chen
Ina Coolbrith
Stanton Delaplane
Barbara Eden
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Makoto Hagiwara
Chet Helms
Lee Meriwether
Harvey Milk
Emperor Norton
Nancy Pelosi
Levi Strauss
Cecil Williams
Robin Williams

As usual, the ‘so-what’ question has no answer. There’s the list, draw your own conclusion. Because I’m too lazy to come up with it or because there is no answer? Every city has a list and character. But I think the thing is that we know what we mean, who we are, it just can’t be put into words. San Francisco, after all, is not a huge city, about the size of Jacksonville FL, but it is the oldest city in the West and a cultural center since the Gold Rush. People came here to escape from prejudice and misery at home. Australian prisoners, Peruvians and the Mormons came early on, the Chinese too, the Beats, Hippies, Gays, Mixed-race couples, Sicilians, Ship-builders, Yuppies, Dot.commers, Radicals and Free-thinkers followed. As Carlos Santana said: More artists than con artists. Yes indeed. Oh, and add him to the list.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: My wife's gone to the West Indies.
Jeff: Jamaica?
Mutt: No, she went of her own accord.
Jeff: My wife's gone to St Petersburg.
Mutt: Is she Russian?
Jeff: No, she's taking her time.
Mutt: My wife's had an accident on a volcano.
Jeff: Krakatoa?
Mutt: No. She broke her leg.
Jeff: My wife's gone on a singing tour of South Korea.
Mutt: Seoul?
Jeff: No, R&B.
Mutt: Y’know, that reminds me. My wife went to a very bad concert in South East Asia.
Jeff: Singapore?
Mutt: Terrible. And the rest of the band was terrible too.
Jeff: Excuse me, Mutt, are you even married?
Mutt: No, you?
Jeff: I had a girlfriend once.
Mutt: Wanna marry me? In San Francisco. They’ll change that discriminatory law pretty soon.
Jeff: I’m tempted. But if we get married, people will think we’re, y’know, flits.
Mutt: It’s San Francisco, man, same-sex heterosexual marriage is the new wave, the future, the giddy-upcoming! Perfect double transgression. So post-post-modern.
Jeff: Count me in, baby. Just don’t let down your avant garde.