Christopher Caen: Evolving memorial lunch at Moose’s was surreal 

You can pack this away in the box labeled, "Surreal Moments in Life." This last Wednesday was the last gathering of the Herb Caen Memorial Lunch at the venerable Moose's. Much like life itself, this little gathering has gone through some interesting changes over the years. Nine years of changes, in fact. Imagine a memorial service that keeps serving up sequels. Very surreal, my friend.

The first one was the most painful. One yearremoved, and yet, I could not walk down the street without seeing mentions and indications of my father's footsteps. His old articles, cut out and carefully ensconced in frames, hung in front doors of more establishments than you could count. The outside of the Gold Dust bar on Powell is a veritable public library of his works. People wrote into various newspapers and scribbled letters to the editors all starting with "If Herb Caen were still around ..." But, of course, he wasn't.

The first luncheon was packed to the hilt with the people who had to be seen. Every politician imaginable had wheedled their way past Brother Moose to get into the room. Even the ones who never agreed with a single line he wrote. But that was the room in which to be seen for that day, so they smiled for the cameras and felt strong feelings for the microphones. Mayor Willikins was the master of ceremonies and the "Lunchalots," his Le Central dining friends, entertained all. I was always particularly found of Harry deWildt claiming that he lost liars dice to the others so often he listed them as dependents.

Over the next couple of years the crew held the course, telling the same stories, hoping the same hopes and trying to keep the spirit of the column alive. I had mixed feelings about these luncheons. On the one hand, I of course felt pride that my father had made such an impact on so many people. On the other hand, I felt uncomfortable representing a world that was not of my making.

Last year I took the coward's approach: I punted. I ducked out of the whole mess and gathered my own thoughts around me in the safe confines of my own house. Pathetic, yes, but emotionally inevitable, as I seemed to have lost a firm grip on the whole endeavor. I hold myself partially responsible for Moose announcing that this year would be the last edition.

So Wednesday I dragged out the suit, found one of his ties, tucked in one of his handkerchiefs and snapped in two ofhis cuff links. Time to wake up and do it right. Since I had skipped the prior year I had no idea what to expect as we approached. However, humility is always a step away in this town. As I prepared to turn left into Stockton from Union, I was stopped by a meter maid who was blocking the street. She waved me away from the corner with a bored expression. "I need to get to Moose's!" I yelled to her.

After a couple moments of convincing she finally waved me through. I entered the restaurant carefully, but was quickly dragged into the good feeling.

As I circled the room I started to realize something. All the celebrities were gone. Not a single member of the Board of Supervisors was in attendance. And suddenly I realized what had happened over the years, and why Moose kept it going. People weren't coming for the column anymore; they were coming for the man. Somehow along the way the spirit, the hope and the undeniable San Francisco-ness of my father had come back. Hank Donat was in one corner, telling San Francisco stories as he is wont to do. Will Durst was holding down the bar. Jon Eugenio was busy explaining the proper care and feeding of a brimmed hat. It was a little party, not a big event. In other words, it was a room that my father would have enjoyed.

The speeches were more personal this year. My favorite was a story that the Gavinator told about the first time he went to the White House. The pope was in attendance and when he walked out he was in awe of the man in white he had met. Nope, not the pope. Colonel Sanders! Well, he was a young tot after all. When Ann Caen walked up she mentioned how she had gone through my father's desk at their house for the first time since he passed away. And guess what she found? Before she could answer, Charlotte Schultz yelled out quick as a wink, "Checks!"

Suddenly my father's infamous smirk was back in the room. And his slightly altered San Francisco was back, too. Are we going to do itnext year? Gary Hirano and I had a quick huddle and came up with the obvious answer: this world could always use a little more surreal.

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