Dale Says

July 24, 2012

Shadowing Dashiell Hammett

Filed under: Colorful Characters — Dale @ 11:46 am

He looks the part and we could tell who he was from a block away. We had contacted him weeks ago, and he was going to guide us around the parts of San Francisco where Dashiell Hammett lived, worked, and wrote. And there he was, standing in front of the historic Flood Building on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Don Herron looks to be around 60, and the years have made him round and pale. His hair and beard are gray, and his face and hands have taken on a gray tint. His attire is subdued, too: a well-worn tan fedora and open tan overcoat, which partially covered his black shirt, tan slacks and brown shoes.

Don was born in Detroit, moved to San Francisco from St. Louis in the 1960s, and taught literature for awhile at San Francisco State University. He originally started this tour for his college students.

In 1977, he recognized the value of the tour, copyrighted it, quit teaching, and began operating the tour for a living. Since then, he has conducted the tour “hundreds of times.”

Today, Don lives in San Jose, drives a San Francisco cab part-time when he isn’t giving the tour or lecturing to clubs, and manages a website and blog on Dashiell Hammett and other mystery writers.

Don is a wealth of knowledge about Dashiell Hammett, San Francisco, and 20th-century American literature. He talks nearly non-stop throughout the four-hour tour, relating stories about San Francisco, Dashiell Hammett, and Sam Spade. He’s quirky, unique, and (if you like Dashiell Hammett) fascinating!

Today, Don lives in two distinct worlds: the high-tech, instant communication world of the 21st century, and the hard-boiled, shadowy world of Dashiell Hammett’s roaring ’20s. He seems to enjoy both.

July 21, 2012

Saturdays Off

Filed under: Colorful Characters — Dale @ 11:20 am

Denny has this Saturday off, which I’m sure he’s enjoying. He hasn’t had many Saturdays off in his life, but from now on he will have them all off. He will have Fridays off, too, and Thursdays. His hardware store has closed, and all that’s left to do is finish clearing out the store and start having fun.

Denny Giovannoli, whose family owned and operated Tuggy’s Hardware in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood, worked at Tuggy’s for the past 38 years, which means he worked somewhere around 2,000 Saturdays.

Tuggy’s was one of those old-fashioned hardware stores, with wooden floor and staff who enjoyed helping customers find whatever they needed to complete their home-improvement projects. It was one block from my house, and I made good use of it.

Tuggy’s has been a Noe Valley institution for over a century. It opened as Sawyer’s Hardware in 1898, but was renamed Tuggy’s when William Tuggy bought it around 1900. Tuggy passed the store to his son, Gene, who sold it to Denny’s father, Bob Giovannoli, in 1957.

Denny, who along with his three brothers and sister grew up working in the store, said his father’s commitment to people pleasing kept the store going all those years. Denny followed that tradition when he took over the store, and he kept it alive until last week, when he finally shuttered the store.

Denny put in around 70 hours a week, arriving daily at 7:15 AM, and leaving typically around 5:30 PM. And he worked every Saturday.

So what will Denny do now? He’s selling his house in San Anselmo and moving to a condo. He’s had enough yard work for this lifetime. And he plans to pursue his hobby of restoring vintage cars.

Denny has already had a full life, raising a son, operating a neighborhood hardware store, and being a full time neighbor. But now, at age 63, he’s ready to begin another one.

Best wishes, Denny! Thanks for the help over the years. We’ll miss you!

July 12, 2012

Ole Dad

Filed under: Colorful Characters — Dale @ 2:36 pm

Ole Dad was a career officer in the United States Army from 1939 to 1947, and he retired with the rank of major. His decorations included four battle stars, the Purple Heart, and the Bronze Star with “V” for valor. He experienced World War II first hand, including the front lines in the Battle of the Bulge. When asked about it, he says it’s not possible to describe the horrors of war — the only way to know is to have been there.

Despite the muck and mud of the foxholes and the constant noise from artillery and bombs, morale of the field troops was generally good. He remembers, however, that just when things would slow down a bit, “some of your friends would be killed.” A few of the men would get to a point where they didn’t care whether they lived or died.

One rainy day he stopped to talk with such a soldier tramping along in the mud, weary from many days on the front line. During their talk the soldier told him “they (the enemy) will get you. It may not be today, but sooner or later it will come.”

His came on April 18, 1945, less than a month before the end of the war. He was with the 87th U.S. Army Division, pushing the Germans back into their home country. He was in a jeep with four other soldiers, heading to the next village, with the assignment of finding temporary quarters for the oncoming troops. Ordinarily, they didn’t go into a town ahead of the main body of troops, but in this case a tank crew had preceded them and declared the area clear.

As they approached the village a group of holdout German SS soldiers fired on their jeep from a cluster of trees. One of the soldiers in the jeep was shot in the head and killed. Ole Dad was hit in the side, and a bullet pierced his small intestine. The driver somehow got the jeep turned around and raced back to a staging area where a field doctor treated his wounds, then lay on the floor beside him all night, checking him and keeping the pain down with morphine. The next day he was evacuated to a field hospital where six fees of his small intesine was removed. He was alive, but severely wounded. He spent months recovering, first in a London hospital, and later at home in the U.S. The wounds would force him to leave the Army and cause health problems the rest of his life.

Years later, he and his wife visited the military cemetary in Luxembourg, where many of those who died in the Battle of the Bulge are buried. He left her for a few minutes to get something from the information booth. When he returned, she had been crying. He asked her why. “But for the grace of God, she told him, “I could be here today visiting your grave.”

July 5, 2012

Carrying His Own Weight

Filed under: Colorful Characters — Dale @ 3:19 pm

Greg lives in our neighborhood. He’s in his 60s, and rumor has it he is retired from the banking industry. Greg lives in a rented room on the north end of the neighborhood and he spends his days running around the neighborhood, working for food, coffee, or a little money. He dresses the same every day, in a work shirt and jeans with rolled up cuffs. He walks like Popeye, with his arms hanging down and extended behind his body.

Greg is always in a hurry, taking only a couple of minutes to chat. We talk about the weather, or the 49ers, or what’s happening in the neighborhood. Once, Greg smiled and showed me his brand new dentures, of which he was quite proud.

“Oh, how you doin’, Bob?” he will ask me if we run into each other on the street. Bob isn’t my real name, but Greg started calling me that a year or so ago and the name has stuck. I’ll usually ask him if he is busy and he will tell me about a job cleaning up a neighborhood bar after a party and how much he was paid for it. Or, he will tell me that he needs to go because he is getting paid $15 for sweeping up after the farmer’s market.

Greg has money. I saw him in another neighborhood a while back and when I asked him what he was doing there, he told me he was taking his gold to be re-appraised by a jeweler. He says he has 10% of his wealth in gold, and neighborhood merchants tell me he has $200,000 – 300,000 in the bank.

Greg helps Joe each morning at the 24th Street Cafe, unloading food supplies and sweeping up. Joe pays him with a free meal. Then Greg helps Martha at Martha’s coffee take out her trash, and Martha pays Greg with free coffee.

Greg works for a living, and though his work may not save the world, it is productive. Greg nevers panhandles and he takes no government handouts. He is busy, he is happy, and even if he’s a little nutty, he’s carrying his own weight.

July 3, 2012

Healing Minds and Hearts

Filed under: Colorful Characters — Dale @ 3:41 pm

April 11, 1945 turned out to be a very different day than any other in the young life of Private First Class Jim Struthers. World War II was nearing an end and for months Struthers had been part of a platoon of U.S. Army medics whose job was to haul wounded soldiers to aid stations and then to evacuation hospitals.

Private Struthers had seen his share of wounded and dead men, and he had also seen a lot of gore. He was attached to the U.S. Third Army, an armored division, and his job ranged from identifying dead soldiers to treating injured soldiers in the field and transporting them to care units.

But today was different; today they entered the notorious concentration camp of Buchenwald.

The first thing Private Struthers remembers seeing were stacks and stacks of bodies waiting to be cremated. They were piled up 4-5 feet high around this “forced labor” camp.

Survivors were gaunt and desperate, weakly watching as the U.S. soldiers filed past. He saw two prisoners fighting over a blanket, ready to kill each other over something so seemingly trivial.

Prisoners were sent to Buchenwald from all over Europe and Russia — Jews, Poles, religious and political prisoners, gypsies, homosexuals — anyone the Germans disliked. Once there, they were worked to death or executed by bullet, hanging, or medical experimentation. Estimates place the number who died at Buchenwald at around 56,000.

Freeing the survivors at Buchenwald should have been a gratifying day in Private First Class Struther’s life; instead, it turned out to be a turning point. That day, as he stared at the piles of bodies and saw the hopeless looks from the survivors he gave up his plans to be a physician and decided instead to become a minister. Others could heal bodies, he decided, he would spend the rest of his life trying to heal minds and hearts.

Note: Private First Class Struthers did become a minister, caring for minds and hearts for over 50 years. He recently went to heaven, where he is probably healing minds and hearts for God.

A Bit of Well-deserved Glory

Filed under: Colorful Characters — Dale @ 3:34 pm

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

- Confucius

Jim Bolding fell and got back up a lot during his life. Training to run the hurdles involves falling, and Jim must have tumbled dozens of times during the years he competed as a world-class hurdler. Imagine running as fast as you can for a quarter of a mile while leaping over ten three-foot hurdles without breaking stride.

But here’s the thing: each time Jim fell he got up, dusted himself off, and carried on. And he used that approach in his everyday life, too, soldiering on through set-backs with an upbeat outlook. His positive, never-call-it-quits attitude made Jim a hero in every aspect of his life.

Recently, in recognition of his achievements, Jim received a bit of well-deserved glory.

Jim was an outstanding hurdler at U.S. Grant High School in Oklahoma City and Oklahoma State University (OSU), in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where he was most successful in the 400-yard hurdles.

Jim was a two-time All-American, earning seven Big Eight titles, and he was selected the conference’s Outdoor Outstanding Athlete in 1971 and the Indoor Outstanding Athlete in 1972. He was also named OSU Athlete of the Year in 1972.

After college, Jim continued to excel in track.

He was an NCAA Champion in the 400-meter hurdles and the 400-yard hurdles. In 1972, he finished fourth in the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, and he made the U.S. Olympic team in 1976. Jim competed internationally and won his event at several prestigious track meets. The U.S. Olympic Committee named Jim the Sportsman of the Year in 1974.

While competing in Oregon, Jim met Denise Hatfield, a beautiful young lady and the daughter of a track coach. Jim wooed Denise and they married in September 1977 and settled in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where Jim coached track at OSU and then became a partner in a travel agency. Together, he and Denise raised two children, Tatum and Taylor, who live on the west coast.

During his years in Stillwater, Jim was a respected coach, successful businessman, loyal friend, avid golfer and skier, and passionate supporter of the OSU Cowboys. He had a great run for more than 60 years.

Recently, however, Jim had a streak of bad luck.

Denise died suddenly last year while she and Jim were preparing to take a family vacation. That was a hard fall to recover from, but Jim got up and carried on, doing the things he needed to do and the things he loved.

And the cancer Jim battled the past six years came back, and this time it got the best of him. In his typical fashion, most people weren’t aware he was ill – he remained upbeat and jovial, ate a healthy diet of veggies, fruit, and greens (supplemented with good red wine), and ran every day until he couldn’t run any more. He was determined to beat it.

In the midst of those bad tidings, Jim received some good news: he was inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. This is the pinnacle for an Oklahoma athlete and Jim joined a group of sports icons that includes Olympic gold medal winner Jim Thorpe, baseball Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Johnny Bench, and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Troy Aikman.

No doubt a lot of people are happy that Jim received this award. It was a fitting chapter in his love affair with sports, an appropriate recognition of his ability to rise from falls, and a bit of well-deserved glory for an unassuming star.

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