Phyllis
Phyllis Sherman 2010
Phyllis Sherman photo

Phyllis' Findings

The following is a reprint of an article I wrote for the now defunct SF Progress newspaper in July of 1983 (my how time flies when you’re having fun!)

Mother came to visit. For two and one half years I’ve been urging her to come out from the East Coast and see what San Francisco is all about.  “But, I was there, Phyllis. 15 years ago I came out on a tour and visited Fisherman’s Wharf.  I know it’s nice there.”

When I decided to move to California, Mother vehemently protested.  “I know people in California who aren’t happy!  Whoever heard of moving cross-country like that?”  “If you want to move from Hartford, (where I was living), why not try Boston? Remember their great chowder?  At least you’d still be on the East coast.”  Finally, “O.K., so you’re going to California. At least leave your furniture here. It shouldn’t be so hard to come back if you don’t like it there.” You can’t say she didn’t give it the old one-two.  A big E for Effort. So getting her out here to visit was quite a feat.

I took her to several of my favorite restaurants. We tried FUJI, the Japanese restaurant on West Portal. THE HIGHER TASTE, the Indian vegetarian restaurant in the Haight, and PANOS, the Greek restaurant on 24th St. She thought the Miso soup that you drink directly from a bowl was pretty cute in the Japanese restaurant but thought some kreplach tossed in would improve it. The curry concoctions were not sufficiently identifiable for comfort in the Indian restaurant, although the background chanting was quite atmospheric, she agreed. She enjoyed the salmon at PANOS, and especially the “Greek-God-type” waiters.  She raved about the wonderful pasta at PICCOLO PUB on Columbus Avenue in North Beach and though LA ROCA, the Spanish seafood restaurant outstandingly good.  But finally said, “Can’t we go to a REAL restaurant.  So we went to BAGATELLE in West Portal, a “real restaurant,” and she enjoyed every minute of it. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was quasi-French.

A visit to the CLIFF HOUSE and their interesting Musee Mechanique was good fun.  Especially when for ten cents the Fortune Telling Lady in the black booth told her she was “quite sensitive, with master mind, great organizational and analytical powers.”  Also “good money sense and diplomatic skills.” So what else is new? Like we didn’t know!

We watched the seals through telescopes, learned all about the original Sutro Baths, and had delicious sandwiches in their Cafe.  Mother bought a postal card of a 1920’s bathing beauty and sent it back home to a friend.  She inscribed it, “Look how revitalized I look after two weeks in San Francisco!” I know she had a good time and yet when I commented, “Aren’t the views fantastic?  Isn’t this a beautiful city?” she countered with “Central Park isn’t beautiful? Something wrong with Fifth Avenue? Did you forget what it’s like to watch the skaters in Rockefeller Plaza?”

Try as you might, with Mother you didn’t win. It’s been almost sixteen years since I wrote that piece.  In that time, many of the restaurants have either changed hands or gone out of business. And we miss them...but even more, we miss Mother.  Mother has died...even though she downplayed our City...well, that was Mother. She was a good old gal who used to say, “Phyllis, there’s nothing that you can’t do if you want it enough.”  Still, she probably never forgave me for choosing San Francisco over Boston.  In retrospect, I realize that the only things that have remained the same here are the magnificent views. You can’t go home again...although JETBLUE keeps urging me to try.

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     Some unsettling news on the Geriatric front. Report has it that fewer medical students are going into Geriatrics as their specialty. It’s seen as a depressing field and not “glamorous.” A recent survey of physicians, however, said that Geriatric doctors are more satisfied with their work than other specialists. The JAMA said that more standard training is needed across all medical specialties. Residence requires little or no training in Geriatrics and there needs to be more to incorporate this training into all areas of medicine.  By the way, if you haven’t seen SICKO, Michael Moore’s documentary on the Medical Care industry, order it from NETFLIX or wherever you can. It’s a real eye-opener on the horrors going on in the MEDICARE and MEDICAL business. It’s a not-to-be-missed!

December 2010

IS NEWER BETTER? NOT ALWAYS

The good news on medical advancements is undeniable.Doctors can now keep patients alive with improved dialysis treatments while they await a kidney transplant, replace disintegrating hips and knees with artificial joints and spot internal growths with high-tech imaging devices that avoid the need for exploratory surgery.Even costly therapies can end up saving money as well as lives.Studies by respected economists have shown that spending on new cardiac treatments, neonatal care for low-birth-weight infants, and mental health drugs have more than paid for themselves.This is not always the case.Consider the prostate-specific antigen test, widely used to screen men for prostate cancer.Recently Dr. Richard J. Ablin, who discovered prostate-specific antigen, described the test as “hardly more effective than a coin toss” and lamented that the test’s popularity has led to “a hugely expensive public health disaster.”

Each year some 30 million American men undergo the test at a cost of at least $3 billion, and many go on to have surgery, intensive radiation or other damaging treatments that may not have been necessary.

Or consider complex fusion surgery to relieve lower back pain (which I’ve contemplated). An article and an editorial in the April 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, deplored the rapidly rising use of this surgery, which fuses multiple disks in the spine, in patients who would have done better, and faced fewer risks, with simpler surgery that eases pressure on the nerves without fusion.

The explanation for the boom was likely economic.Surgeons were paid 10 times as much for the complex surgery, hospitals were paid three and a half times as much, and manufacturers reaped a bonanza selling $50,000 worth of implants for the complex surgery, compared with the little or no profit from the simpler surgery.

Research that systematically compares the effectiveness of different treatments and drugs in clearly needed. The Obama administration started the process, committing $1.1 billion from stimulus funds to finance comparative studies.The new reform law will move that ahead, setting up a nonprofit, independent institute to organize the work.The comptroller general will appoint a governing board of 19 members, representing patients, doctors, manufacturers and others, including two designated federal health officials. Let’s hope it works. The legislative language is so convoluted that there is no guarantee that even the most credible findings will help ensure that patients get the best and most cost-effective treatment.

The Institute is supposed to make reports of its findings but is carefully restricted as to what it can say.It cannot tell doctors what treatments to use, or recommend how much doctors and hospitals should be paid for any service.It cannot make recommendations to Medicare or private insurers about what they should or should not cover. Critics will howl but if the panel does its job right--and politicians have the courage to make the case---both patients and taxpayers will benefit.

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I’ll bet you never noticed, but there’s a new bank in our midst. Right next to WHOLE FOODS is this small CIRCLE BANK.I asked several passersby where this new bank was, but the only one who knew, was one of the guys outside Whole Foods who help park cars.Not only will CIRCLE take all your jars of coins...even pennies..count them.. and give you back REAL dollars. Manager Carlos Rivera, and Marketing Director Alan Gaul will help you open an account... and even serve coffee and cookies if you don’t.Go in and say “hello.”

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I’ve spent a great deal of time lately reading INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY and they have some excellent rules for investment success.If all 19 rules are carefully followed (not just the ones you like), your investment results can materially improve:

1. Consider buying stocks with each of the last three years’ earnings up 25%, return on equity of 17%+ and recent earnings and sales accelerating.

2. Recent quarterly earnings and sales should be up 25%or more.

3. Avoid cheap stocks Buy stocks selling for $15 to $100 or more.

4. Learn how to use charts to see sound bases and exact buy points. Confine buys to these points as stocks break out on big volume increases.

5. Cut every loss when it’s 8%below your cost.Make no exception so you’ll avoid any possible huge, damaging losses. Never average down in price.

6. Follow selling rules on when to sell and take profit on the way up. Review “When to Sell and Take a Profit” in “How to Make Money in Stocks.”

7. Buy when market indexes are in an uptrend. Reduce investments and raise cash when general market indexes show five days of increased volume distributions.

8. Read IBD’s Investor’s Corner and Big Picture column to learn how to recognize important tops and bottoms in market indexes.

9. Buy stocks with a Composite Rating of 90 or more and a Relative Price Strength Rating of 85 or higher in the iBD SmartSelect Corporate Ratings.

10. Pick companies with management ownershiip of stock.

11. Buy mostly in the top six broad industry sectors.

12. Select stocks with increasing institutional sponsorship in recent quarters

13. Don’t buy because of dividends or P-E ratios.Read a story on the company.

14. Pick companies with a superior new product or service.

15. Invest mainly in entrepreneurial New America companies.

16. Check the companies buying back 5% to 10% of their stock and those with new management.

17. Don’t try to bottom guess or buy on the way down Never argue with the market .Forget your pride and ego.

18. Find out if the market currently favors big-cap or small-cap stocks.

19. Do a post-analysis of all your buys and sells. Post on charts where you bought and sold.Evaluate and develop rules to correct your major mistakes. It’s what you learn after you think you know what you’re doing that’s vital.That’s how to improve your results.

I realize that this information is not of interest to everyone but for those of you with investment portfolios, I think it will be helpful.

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“With a fancy coat and a white tie, even a stockbroker can gain a reputation for being civilized.”—Oscar Wilde

“The safest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it in your pocket.”
—Frank McKinney Hubbard

November 2010

According to reports, most people’s greatest fear is speaking in public. Somewhere on the list, however, is fear of being audited by the IRS. Well, some weeks ago, I received the ominous notice: “We selected your Federal Income Tax return for the year shown below to examine the items listed at the end of this letter.  Please call us at the number shown above to arrange a convenient appointment.” Fear strikes the heart. My return was prepared by a CPA; so, naturally, a call to that office was appropriate.

My call for help was to no avail. I was told in no uncertain terms to please find another accountant. She was busy with other tasks. I called another firm that, at least, helped fill me in after reviewing my return on what supporting data to bring to the audit.  Most helpful of all, however, was Nolo Press’ book, How to Handle an IRS Audit.  I was up until 2 AM the night before my appointment, reading the specifics.  It is quite comprehensive and not at all unwieldy.  Among the many items of advice was “Never attempt to bribe your auditor.” Ha! What shall I bribe her with? An ad in the WESTSIDE OBSERVER?

I arrived with all the data I’d been told to bring. Among the caveats from the book was, “even though they request you bring your return for the year before and the year after, don’t do it.”  So, I didn’t, and fortunately they weren’t requested.  My auditor, a nice young woman from Oakland, attempted to put me at ease and we talked about my return for over two hours. She was amazed at some of the errors considering the return was, ostensibly, professionally prepared. She ate a Tootsie Roll while we were talking and offered me one, admitting she was addicted to them.  Hmm, I thought, and even asked her “Could I bribe you with a box of Tootsie Rolls?” We both laughed.

To make a long story short, I must send in some canceled checks, verification of certain expenses, plus, a healthy amount of money.  Nevertheless, my initial trepidation and anxiety were unnecessary. The anticipation was worse than the reality.  The experience was not as bad as a poke in the eye.  It’s only money.

My advice, if it happens to you: Ask, and make sure your accountant will assist you BEFORE you have your return prepared. Get it in writing.  Secondly, try to keep meticulous records and get Nolo’s book on IRS Audits.  It’s a pretty good read considering the subject matter.

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I notice that Dan Hoyle’s The Real Americans is still playing at the Marsh Theater on Valencia. Dan is telling his story as he travels through rural America seeking country wisdom and fighting ignorance, homophobia, fears of socialism and this 90-minute tour de force is running through November 6. It is worth seeing twice. A don’t miss, hilarious one-man standup. 800-838-3006.

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There was a very funny, topical and poignant production by a group of seniors between the ages of 55 and 75, who produced instructional sex videos for senior citizens. Despite protests from their children and members of their retirement community, they overcome obstacles as they discover a new perspective on themselves, their relationships and their changing social roles. Sex Tapes for Seniors was at the Victoria Theater and may return.

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In the film department, if you haven’t seen Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work at the Opera Plaza is one of the best documentaries about show business life. It follows Joan for a year, as she tries successfully to resurrect her career. Not for the prurient, but for everyone else.  The Kids are All Right is at the Stonestown, and the story about a gay marriage that becomes destabilized when the kids contact their sperm-donor, biological father.  Mark Ruffalo is the sperm donor and Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are both superb as middle-aged lesbians in a long- term relationship.  And, there’s never a parking problem at Stonestown Cinema! Also showing at Stonestown currently is the Swedish film, The Girl Who Played With Fire, with English titles and totally absorbing.

*****************************Phyllis with Carol Channing

Several weeks ago, there were two Comedy Talk Sundays. I met Carol Channing (90 yrs. old next week), Shelley Berman, Dick Little, Will Durst and a couple of other funny guys. An amusing line from Dick Little about Obama: “No matter his politics, you have to admire his not getting involved in anything.”  Carol married Harry a few years ago. She remembered him from elementary school some time back (and they just reconnected a few years ago and got married.)

Photo: Phyllis with Carol

Sept. 2010

There’s never enough time to read everything that comes into the house.  The SF Chronicle arrives Thursdays through Sundays. I like Datebook, Mick LaSalle’s interesting movie reviews and an occasional article but there’s nothing like the NY Times to keep you well informed...so I read it daily...time permitting. I frequently save it for late at night when all is still and quiet and there are no competing things to do.  Occasionally I’m sorry that I didn’t read it earlier because often they’ll review a new TV show that’s on that evening and I’ve already missed it. However, TV can’t compete in my mind with things I learn from the paper. The Tuesday issue has a  Science section which is usually fascinating and keeps readers up-to-date on new developments around the world that you’d miss otherwise. Recently they discussed a new tool for helping heart patients described as a new smart implantable defribullator that monitors heart information and transmits it to doctors and hospitals. They wrote about how tanning sometimes turns into an addiction and how weight lifting injuries, especially for women, are on the rise.  The main news section told all about the unapologetic terrorist who set the Times Square bomb that didn’t go off. The 30 year old terrorist, who spoke perfect English, described his tactics and how he conceived the plot with Taliban help in Pakistan.  He’s sentenced to life. Another article detailed how 800,000 Afghanistan citizens use heroin, opium and other illicit drugs...a jump from five years ago.  90% said they were in need of drug treatment. Apparently, they’re taking drugs against the hardships of life.

     Something else to worry about...a new study from Australia suggests that couch potatoes live shorter lives.  The study followed 8,800 adults ages 25 and older for six and a half years and found that each daily hour of television viewing was associated with an 18 percent increase in deaths from heart disease and an 11 percent increase in overall mortality. Those who watched TV four hours or more a day were 80% more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who watched two hours or less, and 46% more likely to die of any cause. And it didn’t matter whether they were overweight, according to the study. Although it’s possible that people who were already ill watched more TV than those who were healthy, the researchers tried to rule that out by excluding subjects who already had heart disease and by adjusting for differences in risk factors like diet and smoking.  While the benefits of physical activity have been well studied, there is growing interest among researchers in assessing the effect of being sedentary. “For many people, on a daily basis, they simply shift from one chair to another--from the chair in the car to the chair in the office to the chair in front of the television,” said the study’s lead author David Dunstand of the Heart and Diabetes Institute in VIctoria, Australia. “Even if someone has a healthy body weight, sitting for long periods still has an unhealthy influence on blood sugar and blood fats.” The moral of the story...”off your tush!”

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Theatrically speaking, there’s not a great deal going on except for  The TOSCA  Project at  ACT which was delightful...the SF Ballet was involved and the show was dazzling. The San Francisco Playhouse is presenting the 50 year anniversary of THE FANTASTICS. It is re-imagined in a world devastated by global warming to bring new resonance to its theme of hope and of facing the truth before one can grow.  Beautiful melodies, among them the hit songs “Try to Remember” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” sparkle throughout the comedy and evoke the agony and rapture of being young, full of dreams, and giddy with love. It’s directed by Bill English who is consistently top-notch.  It’s scheduled to play through September 4, 2010 so put it on your list. In the film department, I caught JOAN RIVERS..A PIECE OF WORK, which got ecstatic reviews from most reviewers.  I wasn’t quite as thrilled, although impressed with her total openness.  She leaves nothing to the imagination...including details of her numerous face lifts and her impressive sex life.  She was funny, if a bit “over-the top.” If you’re a conservative type, stay home.  On the other hand, if you’re a conservative-type or a liberal-type, I’d highly recommend TOY STORY 3.  It’s smart, funny, poignant, and highly creative .Go, with or without a child. You’ll love it!

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Just an addendum from the SF PLAYHOUSE you should make a note of: On September 28th, they’re having the West Coast premiere of THE SUNSET LIMITED by Cormac McCarthy, directed by Bill English. A startling encounter on a New York subway platform leads two strangers to a run-down tenement where they engage in a brilliant verbal duet on a subject no less compelling than the meaning of life. TV and film star Carl Lumbly returns to the SF Playhouse in the lead role.

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END JOKES;

Out of the mouth of jewish children

A little boy was attending a wedding of a close relative. After the ceremony, his cousin asked him, “How many women can a man marry?”

“Sixteen,” the boy responded. His cousin was amazed that he had an answer so quickly.

“How do you know that?” “Easy,” the little boy said. “All you have to do is add it up, like the Rabbi said: 4 better, 4 worse, 4 richer, 4 poorer.”

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A little girl became restless as the rabbi’s High Holy Day appeal sermon dragged on and on. Finally, she leaned over to her mother and whispered, “Mommy, if we give him the money now, will he let us go?”

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After the circumcising of his baby brother in shul, little Jonah sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, “That rabbi said he wanted us brought up in a Jewish home, and I want to stay with you guys!”

Feedback: phyllis@westsideobserver.com

July 2010

Rumor has it, it’s no longer “cool” to be a Cougar. Don’t believe it. Defenders stand up! Our future depends on it. There are only so many old fogies left. They either died or are senile...neither sounds appealing. So stick to your guns...flirt a little, shake your booty, color your roots, mouth dirty words and watch those Brad Pitt look-alikes come running. In a few years even Justin Bieiber will become available. Hang in there, girl! (“Hey, take it easy Cougar...Justin’s only 13.”)

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On the entertainment front, there’s not a great deal to comment on. Movie-wise, BABIES is probably the best of the bunch...This is a spare and interesting documentary about four babies in different parts of the world, including Namibia and San Francisco, through their first two years. It’s cute and appealing if you love babies, ever had one or hope to, or even if you ever were one. CITY ISLAND is an amiable family comedy about an Italian-American clan living in a little boating village attached to the Bronx. Andy Garcia is Vince, a prison guard whose secret is that he wants to perform: he sneaks off to an acting class where the teacher is Alan Arkin. It’s worth a visit.

I’ve been waiting to read what’s happening in Cannes. Apparently, nothing spectacular. One always looks forward to a new Woody Allen film but his latest “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” has been called a trifle about vexed relationships. Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin star. According to reports, there are no masterpieces, few enthrallments and lots of deadwood. Exceptions include Mike Leigh’s ANOTHER YEAR; CERTIFIED COPY, BIUTIFUL (from Spain), TUESDAY AFTER XMAS (from Romania): THE HOUSEMAID (a sexy thriller from South.Korea) and WALL STREET MONEY NEVER SLEEPS. It’s anticipated that some will be picked up by American distributors.

One of the most hilarious, moving, and provocative solo shows is at the Marsh on Valencia St. Dan Hoyle travels through rural America seeking country wisdom and finding ignorance, xenophobia, fears of socialism, homophobia, and some heart-wrenching underlying connections. Called THE REAL AMERICANS, this 90 minute show is a real tour de force. A real winner and playing through August 8th. Dan’s father, Geoff Hoyle, is also at the Marsh with the GEEZER, called a workshop, (and very poignant) which may or may not still be playing. Geoff is San Francisco’s Marcel Marceau. Check out the Marsh at 800-838-3006.

Susi Damilano and Bill English, directors at the SF Playhouse, are tireless. Their latest show in their Sandbox Series is dedicated to presenting world Premieres in their second stage. The latest show, THE APOTHEOSIS OF PIG HUSBANDRY, opened recently with a stellar cast of three. In the play we find a woman in a slip handcuffed to a bed. A bar that only serves one drink. Windows duck-taped to keep out the smell. Welcome to the Lazy Eight Motel, where sex, revenge, social theory and pig farming mix in an explosive cocktail. Philosopher and social theorist Asuncion “Assy” Boyle drifts into town, buys the derelict motel downwind of the biggest pig farm in the state, and seduces the pig farmer’s wife, Lola. His plan? To put Charles, the farmer, out of business and clean up the pig shit that’s destroying the community and polluting the groundwater. But since Assy blames Charles for his mother’s death, is this really social justice...or naked revenge? By the startling end of the play, Assy learns what happens when you take justice into your own hands. William Bivins is the award winning playwright. The cast includes Keith Burkland, Chad Deverman and Madeline H.D. Brown. Running until June 12 (unless extended), you’ll enjoy this intimate theater production. Beginning June 15 is the 50 year anniversary of THE FANTASTICS, a must-see for comedy and musical lovers. Reserve your tickets now. (415) 677-9596.

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SHIRLEY TEMPLE was the subject of a recent documentary on PBS that showed snips of her early movies. I was a huge Shirley fan! When I was about 8 years old I sat down and wrote a letter to Shirley, telling her how much I enjoyed her films. And surprise, I got a response! A few years ago I met her at the Commonwealth Club, where she was President for some years. I told her about my letter to her and how thrilled I was with a response. I said I think it was “the most exciting thing that ever happened to me!” And she said, “Oh, you poor dear, what a life!” She currently lives in Atherton and had three children with her second husband, Charles Black, who is now deceased. You never read anything about her or her family. Having spent so many of her young years in the limelight with constant bodyguards (to avoid kidnapping), she’s obviously keeping a very low profile about her family. I’d love to know more about her.

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Laura Bush has a new book out in which she relates her support for Gay Marriage and Abortion

*and her further support for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. Some die-hard Republicans and conservatives are questioning Kagan’s nomination...seems there’s a photo of her playing softball and therefore a question of whether she’s a lesbian or not. Also, controversy over her never being a judge. At 50 years of age, Elena Kagan has never married. Reports have it she’s very funny and extremely bright and many guys are fearful of women who are smarter than they are. It’s been suggested that after she makes the grade and becomes one of the justices, Michelle Obama might introduce her to JDate. Just a thought...but maybe a good one.

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Diets, diets, diets...I’ve tried several...even sent for some on-line product which promised a size 12 in twelve days or something similar. The first dose provided a hallucination effect, which was disconcerting to say the least. Now something new on the market...the Baby Food Diet. Have to check that out. They do say it’s a bit of a problem getting the vodka into the juice box.

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END JOKES: Third grade Johnny likes the little girl next door. He tells his father he’s in love and is going to marry her. His father thinks that’s real cute and says “Where will you live?” “Well, her room’s bigger than mine, so I’ll move in there.” The father thinks that’s real cute so again he asks, “What will you do for money?” “Well, we each get an allowance, so we’ll manage.” “What will you do if you have a family?” “Well, so far we’ve been lucky.”

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A magazine, doing research, goes into a rest home and asks a 95 year old lady “What’s the best thing about being 95?” “No peer pressure.”

Questions or comments to phyllis@westsideobserver.com

June 2010

“UP”Marissa Sherman

UP is a wonderful movie about an old man named Carl and a young boy named Russell and their adventurous journey to Paradise Falls in South America.

They are not close friends at the beginning of the movie but with all of the adventures they share they become very good buddies. Carl wants to go to Paradise Falls in South America. This was a long-time dream he had with his wife Ellie. However, unfortunately it doesn’t happen that way as Ellie died without first seeing the Falls.

Instead, Carl uses balloons (thousands of them!) and attaches them to his house and he is now able to float. Once he takes off in the air, he gets a knock on his door and Russell, the neighborhood scout, asks to come in. On their way to Paradise Falls, they meet a dog name Doug and a bird named Kevin. But they also meet Charles Muntz , an explorer who became evil over the years. So evil that Charles Muntz had his dogs all gang-up on Doug, a friendly dog, Kevin, Russell & Carl.

The special effects throughout the movie were terrific. The dogs wore special collars that allowed them to communicate with humans. They could speak to humans!

I thought the movie was great and the characters were funny, especially Doug and Kevin. It was especially cool when the balloons were moving the house and they floated through cities. I would recommend this movie to people that like adventure stories and don’t mind some sad scenes. This movie is probably best for kids over six years old.

Marissa Sherman is the granddaughter of Phyllis Sherman

As you can tell I’m fond of humor. Of course the truth can be sometimes quite painful. Freud once said that all humor is based on pain. Note Laurel & Hardy, poor Laurel always being knocked out by Hardy. Moving the piano and both getting creamed. Groucho Marx: “I wouldn’t belong to a club that allowed me in as a member.” or “My children are only half Jewish, so can’t they get into the pool up to their navels?” Mel Brooks, John Cleese with Monty Python or Woody Allen, about people in the old folks home… “the food is horrible. And the portions are so small!” Then there’s the one about the old folks talking about their aches and pains... “My shoulder is killing me.” “You know... “I can’t move my neck to the right.” and “My glasses don’t fit right any more.” And finally, “What ‘cha all complaining about? At least we can all still drive.” And the one about the 80 year old guy marrying the 20 year old gal....someone asks... “At your age that could be fatal.” The old man says, “She dies, she dies.” Or the classic Borsch Belt line;Q. “Why did God create gentiles?” A. “Someone has to buy retail.”

Then there are the old moron jokes.. “What did the moron say when he found a head on the railroad tracks?” (“Joe, Joe, are you all right?) Why did the moron throw the clock out the window?” “He wanted to see time fly.” Now it’s not okay to poke fun at anyone anymore, so we have blondes...who are at least cute (most of the time...so they’re sort of protected.) I remember a Norwegian joke that made the Norwegians the stupid ones... Q: How does a Norwegian tie his shoes? A: This guy put his left foot on the chair and mimed tying the shoe that was on the floor.

Milton Berle once wrote, “Ethnic jokes won’t go away. If only one or two groups were picked on, the discrimination would be unfair and probably immoral. The fact is that no ethnic group has escaped comedy probing. In parts of China, jokes are made about the “whites.” “Browns in Malaysia make fun of the Chinese. The rich go after the poor, and the poor after the rich. Canada picks on Newfoundlanders, Louisianians on Cajuns and the Southwest on Chicanos. My litmus test for my personal use of ethnic jokes is a simple one. Use only if you’re not angry, seeking revenge, or trying to inflict pain. And you aren’t immune to fun at your own expense.

My one credo...and I think it’s a good one: “HE WHO LAUGHS, LASTS!

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Interesting statistics from all over. A new study from Australia suggests that couch potatoes live shorter lives. The study followed 8,800 adults ages 25 and older for six and half years and found that each daily hour of T.V. viewing was associated with an 18 percent increase in deaths from heart disease and an 11 percent increase in overall mortality. Those who watched TV four hours or more a day were 80 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who watched two hours or less, and 46 percent more likely to die of any cause. And it didn’t matter whether they were overweight according to the study which appeared in January in the online edition of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. Although it’s possible that people who were already ill watched more TV than those who were healthy, the researchers tried to rule that out by excluding subjects who already had heart disease and by adjusting for differences in risk factors like diet and smoking. While the benefits of physical activity have been well studied, there is growing interest among researchers in assessing the effects of being sedentary. “For many people, on a daily basis, they simply shift from one chair to another—from the chair in the car to the chair in the office to the chair in front of the TV, said the study’s lead author, David Dunstan of the Heart and Diabetes Institute in Victoria, Australia. “Even if someone has a healthy body weight, sitting for long periods still has an unhealthy influence on blood sugar and blood fats.” Soooo...get up and take a l-o-o-ng walk!

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According to other statistics, 25 of the nation’s leading newspapers have lost circulation...the only one that’s still gaining advertising (and thus circulation) was the Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper that has lost the MOST circulation, is guess which?......The SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE. Surprise! Surprise!

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Now for a bit about film and food....plays, movies and restaurants....First off...THE JONESES...is a satire of modern consumerism. The Joneses--Demi Moore and David Duchovny are the mom and dad with winsome teenage children..are not a family at all, but rather a team of marketers dispatched to a wealthy subdivision to seduce the natives into buying more stuff. The mysterious company they work for is happy with their successful productivity. They induce the neighbors to keep up with them. The more golf clubs, track suits, cellphonesand high-end prepared dinners that are sold, the happier the company. If you’re into compulsive materialism and you’re even minimally aware of Amway.com types of businesses...this film might appeal as an exercise in phoniness...and it’s good looking, to boot.

I like Steve Carrell and Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live...but couldn’t get enthused about them in the film DATE NIGHT .Not very funny.

In the theaters...Went to a preview performance of AN ACCIDENT by Lydia Stryk at the Magic Theater The entire show takes place in a hospital room and while not really sick it’s pretty mediocre. At the 42nd Street Moon --Eureka Theater, Klea Blackhurst performed the songs of Ethel Merman...she was only there for five days...but she was terrific If you’re old enough to remember Gershwin’s “I’ve Got Rhythm”, “You’re an Old Smoothie” or Irving Berlin’s “Hey, Good Lookin’.”..you’d have loved it. Eureka hosts old Broadway musicals and well worth seeing. Still around and getting standing ovations is Dan Hoyle’s magnificent solo show THE REAL AMERICANS. Wonderful performance. His dad, Geoff Hoyle, from Pickle Family Circus is opening soon in “GEEZER.” A don’t miss!!!

You like restaurants? Try THE RAMP for brunch on the waterfront. NICK’S SEAFOOD in Pacifica. SUSHI ZONE at 1815 Market at Pearl, PEGAN...a Burmese restaurant on Clement Street in the Richmond. All four stars! And if you’ve a few hours to spare, don’t miss the Cartier Exhibit at the Legion of Honor

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

May 2010

THE CASE AGAINST VANITY PLATES

I have this thing about car vanity plates. I’m convinced that the people who invest in vanity plates (and it does cost money)…with their name or profession embossed…are either insecure, egocentric, vain or pretentious. (Maybe all four.) Why else is it necessary to proclaim to the world that “Joe Blow” or “Jay Tooth DDS” is driving his Chevy Blazer or yellow Mercedes, as the case may be. Seinfeld had a funny schtick recently when Kramer (in one of their reruns) ordered vanity plates and the DMV mixed them up with someone else’s and so Kramer had plates that said ASSMAN. Jerry and cohorts spent quite a while until they discovered that they belonged to a proctologist who was glad to get them back.

I had a friend in Connecticut some years ago who was quite a ladies’ man. As a matter of fact he “ladies’ manned” all over town until he realized that his vanity plates caused him untold misery. Everyone knew where he was at all times which was certainly not his intention given his predilection for fun and games.

If you want to have vanity plates, stick to vanity dental plates. Then you only make a statement every time you open your mouth.

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HERE’S SOMETHING THEY DIDN’T TELL YOU IN THE SF PAPERS:

Anyone convicted of a crime knows a debt to society often must be paid in jail. But a slice of Californians willing to supplement that debt with cash (no personal checks, please) are finding that the time can be most bearable. For offenders whose crimes are usually relatively minor (carjackers should not bother) and whose bank accounts remain lofty, a dozen or so city jails across the state offer pay-to-stay-upgrades. Theirs are a clean, quiet, if not exactly recherche’s alternative to the standard county jails, where the walls are bars, the fellow inmates are hardened and the privileges are few. Many of the self-pay jails operate like secret velvet-roped nightclubs of the correction world. You have to be in the know to even apply for entry, and even if the court approves your sentence there, jail administrators can operate like bouncers, rejecting anyone they wish. One 22 year old gal said “I’m aware that this is considered to be a five-star Hilton.” She was recently booked into one of the Orange County jails and paid $82 per day to complete a 21 day sentence for a drunken driving conviction She shopped around for the best accommodations and said from a sort of couch found in a hospital ER and spoke from a jail day room, “this place is clean, safe, and everyone here is really nice.”

Next time the cops pick you up, consider this option, tell them you’ll pay a little extra and ask for the creme brulee.

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On the entertainment front…DEN OF THIEVES at the S.F. PLAYHOUSE is a hilarious spoof about an odd quartet of misfits when they attempt to rip off the mob and are involved in a very funny 12-step program lampoon. Director Susi Damilano has done it again and you have until April 12 to enjoy. By the time you read this, VIGIL with Marco Barricelli and Olympia Dukakis will be at ACT. Written and directed by Morris Panych, early reports have given it rave reviews.

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In the film department, if you’re a depressive type. you may enjoy the hostile Ben Stiller in GREENBERG. He plays a 40 year old man recently released from a mental hospital who spends time writing complaining letters to the airlines about their lack of foot room and to Starbucks about some other deficiency and to sundry other organizations bitching about something. It received good reviews but I left more despondent after seeing this film than when I came in.

Another film that won accolades is the GREEN ZONE. Officer Matt Damon leads his men into worthless empty sites in Iraq in search of the elusive, non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction. Another war movie with two hours of bombings and battles that you may enjoy if you like those things

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ENDJOKES: An elderly woman in Florida is talking to her friend, “Everyone in the recreation room talks about their travels and I’ve never been anywhere.” Her friend says, “Sara, they haven’t been either. They’re just making it up. You make something up too.” So the next day she tells everyone, “You know what? I just returned from Rome and had an audience with the Pope.” “No kidding,” someone says, “what’s he like?” “Well, I was invited to lunch and he was really very nice but I didn’t much care for his wife.”

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A woman came home, screeching her car into the driveway, and ran into the house. She slammed the door and shouted at the top of her lungs, “Honey, pack your bags, I won the lottery!” The husband said, “Oh my God! What should I pack, beach stuff or mountain stuff?:” “Doesn’t matter,” she said. “Just get out!”

April 2010

I was going to write this column on my hand, instead of on paper, in honor of Sarah Palin, but try as I might I just couldn’t get it to fit. Go figure.

But good old Sarah aside, I thought it would have more interest if I just wrote it on my good old Dell Windows 7...so here goes.

Academy Awards nominations are up and running. I watched the BBC British Academy Awards from the London Opera House recently and the winners were probably similar to the American awards. The Hurt Locker was terrific and it, and its director Katheryn Bigelow, won best picture and direction awards.

Up in the Air with George Clooney and The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock were great films as was An Education with Carey Mulligan. Precious with Gabourey Sidibe was in limited release because of its abusive content but very worthwhile viewing. The White Ribbon will probably win best foreign picture award. It’s in black and white and is the German release and though tough to watch, concerning the Holocaust, is also worth viewing. Avatar may win best film award, but I think it should win for Cinematography or Film Editing or Special Effects—but it wasn’t my cup of tea for Best Picture. Also,

If you get a chance you’d probably enjoy the Live Action Short Films which consist of five short movies, several of which are quite entertaining.

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BRING BACK THE SIESTA: It turns out that toddlers are not the only ones who do better after an afternoon nap. New research has found that young adults who slept for 90 minutes after lunch raised their learning power, their memory apparently primed to absorb new facts. Other studies have indicated that sleep helps consolidate memories after cramming, but the new study suggests that sleep can actually restore the ability to learn. The findings which have not yet been published, were presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego. “You need to sleep before learning, to prepare your brain, like a dry sponge, to absorb new information,” said the lead investigator, Matthew P. Walker, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California in Berkeley.

The study recruited 39 healthy young adults and divided them into two groups. All 39 were asked to learn 100 names and faces at noon, and then to learn a different set of name and faces at 6 p.m. But 29 of the volunteers who slept for 90 minutes between the two learning sessions improved their scores by 10 percent on average after sleeping: the scores of those who didn’t nap actually dropped by 10 percent.

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I recently attended an art show at the home of Mark and Helena McMahon to celebrate the official launch of Mark’s oil paintings and the launch of his new business, Mark McMahon Artworks. McMahon, from Ireland, is self taught and has been painting for the past ten years, and works mainly with oil on canvas to create portraits and original works in a range of styles and dimensions. Influenced and inspired by masters such as Monet, Braque and Picasso, McMahon uses vibrant, earthy colors in his modern landscapes and his more abstract, interpretive works alike. McMahon’s portraits were also on display, revealing his ability to capture the essence of his subject with a distinctive modern flair. McMahon is currently working with clients on commissioned pieces for residential and commercial settings. A sampling of Mark’s work and the best ways to contact him can be found on the web at markmcmahonartworkscom. I enjoy art and Mark’s paintings are worth a viewing

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If the name Bertold Brecht intimidates you or makes you think of Shakespeare or Aristotle, fear no more. An updated version of Caucasion Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht (in 1944) has been beautifully updated at ACT and is creatively adapted and directed by John Doyle. Doyle produced “Sweeney Todd at ACT in 2007 launching its national tour. Interestingly staged and beautifully acted by a cast of ten, “Caucasion” is a must-see, running through March 14.

Beginning March 25 and running through April 18 at ACT is Vigil with Olympia Dukakis and Marco Barricelli.Called “wickedly dark” by Variety magazine

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AND don’t miss SAN FRANCISCO PLAYHOUSE’S newest hit comedy, Den of Thieves beginning March 9th and running until April 17. Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by Susi Damilano, this show welcomes you to the world of unorganized crime. Cracking a safe to steal $750,000 in drug money may not be the perfect road to recovery for kleptomaniacs Maggie and Paul. Watch them pull off the perfect crime. Call 415- 677-9596.

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ENDJOKES: A guy goes to a psychiatrist and is very upset. He says “I’m very upset. No one likes me. I can’t make friends. I feel terrible”....the psychiatrist in his most sympathetic manner, says, “Look you have a poor self -image. That’s common among losers.”

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Mabel and Sadie are elderly ladies who enjoy driving. One day they’re out on Main Street and Sadie is driving along and goes through three red lights. Mabel says, “Sadie do you realize you just went through three red lights?” Sadie says, “Oh, am I driving?”

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A little girl loves doing cartwheels. Her mother chides her...”You know, the boys like you to do the cartwheels so they can see your panties!”

“I know,” she responds. “But I fooled them. I folded them up and put them in my back pack!”

March 2010

A STORY WITH TEETH

Here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know. In l8th-century England, straight, white, teeth were a sign of beauty, affluence,and moral fortitude, perhaps because tooth loss was a common result of venereal disease and its treatment with mercury. Wealthy and fashionable citizens engaged in a fad known as live-tooth transplantation similar to the way today’s socialites and celebrities purchase foreign substances, like Botox injections and saline implants to augment their bodies.

At a time when dentistry was still new, ladies and gentlemen had their damaged or rotten teeth pulled out and quickly replaced with teeth taken from the mouths of live donors—indigents who were forced to sell their teeth for cash. Fear of disease transmittal and criticism of the exploitive nature of the practice contributed to its disappearance at the turn of the 19th century.

This bizarre and short-lived dental procedure provides insights into many aspects of late l8th-century life, including divisions between the rich and poor, changing standards of beauty and the rise of consumer culture. Our culture, in which people’s bodies play a key role in their personal and social identities, and where body parts are viewed as commodities that can be bought and sold. Many contemporary trends, such as cosmetic surgery, tattooing, body piercing, and the sale of organs on the black market, can be traced to this strange and largely unknown fad.

I gleaned this information from Professor Mark Blackwell, chair of the Department of English in the University of Hartford College of Arts and Sciences. The article entitled “Extraneous Bodies: The Contagion of Live-Tooth Transplantation on Late-Eighteenth-Century England” earned Blackwell the prestigious James L. Clifford Prize, conferred by the American Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies on an outstanding study of some aspect its culture.

I guess your dentist never heard of this mouth enhancing improvement.

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San Francisco women complain about the male shortage in the Bay Area. Well, there’s a surplus of bachelors in China. Here’s your chance! With no eligible women in his village (X’IN’AN VILLAGE, Hanzhong, China) Zhou Pin, 27 years old, thought he was lucky to find a pretty bride whom he met and married within a week, following the custom in rural China. Ten days later, Cai Niucuo vanished, leaving behind her clothes and identity papers. She did not, however, leave behind her bride price: 38,000 yuan, or about $5,500, which Mr.Zhou and his family had scrimped and borrowed to put together.

When Mr. Zhou reported his missing spouse to authorities, he found his situation wasn’t unique. The first two months, Hanzhong town saw a record number of scams designed to extract high bride prices in a region with an over supply of bachelors.

The fleeing Mrs. Zhou was one of 11 runaway brides--hardly the isolated case or two that the town had seen in years past. The local phenomenon has fueled broader speculation among officials that the fast-footed wives may be part of a scam which is being investigated. China’s rule of allowing abortions of female fetuses is certainly a probable cause of the dearth of marriageable females. Boys are preferred in Chinese families, believing that boys will be able in later years to support their elderly parents.

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The survivors of Haiti’s horrendous earthquake are still numb from the shock of losing everything in their already depleted world. Countries world-wide are attempting to help and it was very difficult to watch CNN’s pictures of death and devastation that they ran continuously on the network.

A few people were rescued alive even a week after the earthquake…truly a miracle. San Francisco knows what earthquakes are but any devastation here can’t begin to compare with Haiti where no building codes exist… I was on a cruise ship years ago that stopped in Haiti and the people were extremely warm and welcoming…I remember purchasing some beautiful carved figures from a local sculptor. Apparently some cruise ships are still arriving there despite the destruction. Four ships are not heading to Port-au-Prince...but to another far flung beach area in Haiti for vacation. The first arriving one, a Holland-American vessel is promising aid to the emergency effort while it’s passengers sun and surf on the beautiful beaches.

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On the movie scene, I enjoyed It’s Complicated. It didn’t get great reviews but Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin will keep you laughing. The Spanish film Broken Embraces is at times confusing, but worth seeing. and Precious is enthralling and has already won a Golden Globe award. At the Berkeley Repertory Theater, COMING HOME by Academy Award-winner Athol Fugard received a well-deserved standing ovation from the opening night audience. It tells the story of Veronika, who ten years after running off to the city to pursue her dreams, returns in rags. Among her meager belongings, she carries a desperate secret—and a determination to plant the seeds of a new life for her son. Roslyn Ruff plays Veronica and she has won several awards around the country. Gordon Edelstein is in his 8th year as Long Wharf Theatre’s Artistic Director, and author Fugard, born in South Africa, has won many awards in US and England. COMING HOME closes on Feb 28, 2010. The Berkeley Rep is just 1/2 a block from BART.

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END JOKE: A man in a hurry was speeding down the highway...60 miles per hour, 70 miles per hour...80 miles per hour..90 and up and then 100. A cop finally caught up with him and said, “Listen, Mister. I’ve had a pretty rough day. If you can give me the one reason why you were speeding like that.I might have pity on you and let you go. It better be pretty good.” The man though momentarily and said, “Officer, some months ago my wife ran off with a policeman. I thought you were trying to bring her back.”

February 2010

The following is a reprint of an article I wrote for the now defunct SF Progress newspaper in July of 1983 (my how time flies when you’re having fun!)

Mother came to visit. For two and one half years I’ve been urging her to come out from the East Coast and see what San Francisco is all about.  “But, I was there, Phyllis. 15 years ago I came out on a tour and visited Fisherman’s Wharf.  I know it’s nice there.”

When I decided to move to California, Mother vehemently protested.  “I know people in California who aren’t happy!  Whoever heard of moving cross-country like that?”  “If you want to move from Hartford, (where I was living), why not try Boston? Remember their great chowder?  At least you’d still be on the East coast.”  Finally, “O.K., so you’re going to California. At least leave your furniture here. It shouldn’t be so hard to come back if you don’t like it there.” You can’t say she didn’t give it the old one-two.  A big E for Effort. So getting her out here to visit was quite a feat.

I took her to several of my favorite restaurants. We tried FUJI, the Japanese restaurant on West Portal. THE HIGHER TASTE, the Indian vegetarian restaurant in the Haight, and PANOS, the Greek restaurant on 24th St. She thought the Miso soup that you drink directly from a bowl was pretty cute in the Japanese restaurant but thought some kreplach tossed in would improve it. The curry concoctions were not sufficiently identifiable for comfort in the Indian restaurant, although the background chanting was quite atmospheric, she agreed. She enjoyed the salmon at PANOS, and especially the “Greek-God-type” waiters.  She raved about the wonderful pasta at PICCOLO PUB on Columbus Avenue in North Beach and though LA ROCA, the Spanish seafood restaurant outstandingly good.  But finally said, “Can’t we go to a REAL restaurant.  So we went to BAGATELLE in West Portal, a “real restaurant,” and she enjoyed every minute of it. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was quasi-French.

A visit to the CLIFF HOUSE and their interesting Musee Mechanique was good fun.  Especially when for ten cents the Fortune Telling Lady in the black booth told her she was “quite sensitive, with master mind, great organizational and analytical powers.”  Also “good money sense and diplomatic skills.” So what else is new? Like we didn’t know!

We watched the seals through telescopes, learned all about the original Sutro Baths, and had delicious sandwiches in their Cafe.  Mother bought a postal card of a 1920’s bathing beauty and sent it back home to a friend.  She inscribed it, “Look how revitalized I look after two weeks in San Francisco!” I know she had a good time and yet when I commented, “Aren’t the views fantastic?  Isn’t this a beautiful city?” she countered with “Central Park isn’t beautiful? Something wrong with Fifth Avenue? Did you forget what it’s like to watch the skaters in Rockefeller Plaza?”

Try as you might, with Mother you didn’t win. It’s been almost sixteen years since I wrote that piece.  In that time, many of the restaurants have either changed hands or gone out of business. And we miss them...but even more, we miss Mother.  Mother has died...even though she downplayed our City...well, that was Mother. She was a good old gal who used to say, “Phyllis, there’s nothing that you can’t do if you want it enough.”  Still, she probably never forgave me for choosing San Francisco over Boston.  In retrospect, I realize that the only things that have remained the same here are the magnificent views. You can’t go home again...although JETBLUE keeps urging me to try.

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     Some unsettling news on the Geriatric front. Report has it that fewer medical students are going into Geriatrics as their specialty. It’s seen as a depressing field and not “glamorous.” A recent survey of physicians, however, said that Geriatric doctors are more satisfied with their work than other specialists. The JAMA said that more standard training is needed across all medical specialties. Residence requires little or no training in Geriatrics and there needs to be more to incorporate this training into all areas of medicine.  By the way, if you haven’t seen SICKO, Michael Moore’s documentary on the Medical Care industry, order it from NETFLIX or wherever you can. It’s a real eye-opener on the horrors going on in the MEDICARE and MEDICAL business. It’s a not-to-be-missed!

December 2010

IS NEWER BETTER? NOT ALWAYS

The good news on medical advancements is undeniable.Doctors can now keep patients alive with improved dialysis treatments while they await a kidney transplant, replace disintegrating hips and knees with artificial joints and spot internal growths with high-tech imaging devices that avoid the need for exploratory surgery.Even costly therapies can end up saving money as well as lives.Studies by respected economists have shown that spending on new cardiac treatments, neonatal care for low-birth-weight infants, and mental health drugs have more than paid for themselves.This is not always the case.Consider the prostate-specific antigen test, widely used to screen men for prostate cancer.Recently Dr. Richard J. Ablin, who discovered prostate-specific antigen, described the test as “hardly more effective than a coin toss” and lamented that the test’s popularity has led to “a hugely expensive public health disaster.”

Each year some 30 million American men undergo the test at a cost of at least $3 billion, and many go on to have surgery, intensive radiation or other damaging treatments that may not have been necessary.

Or consider complex fusion surgery to relieve lower back pain (which I’ve contemplated). An article and an editorial in the April 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, deplored the rapidly rising use of this surgery, which fuses multiple disks in the spine, in patients who would have done better, and faced fewer risks, with simpler surgery that eases pressure on the nerves without fusion.

The explanation for the boom was likely economic.Surgeons were paid 10 times as much for the complex surgery, hospitals were paid three and a half times as much, and manufacturers reaped a bonanza selling $50,000 worth of implants for the complex surgery, compared with the little or no profit from the simpler surgery.

Research that systematically compares the effectiveness of different treatments and drugs in clearly needed. The Obama administration started the process, committing $1.1 billion from stimulus funds to finance comparative studies.The new reform law will move that ahead, setting up a nonprofit, independent institute to organize the work.The comptroller general will appoint a governing board of 19 members, representing patients, doctors, manufacturers and others, including two designated federal health officials. Let’s hope it works. The legislative language is so convoluted that there is no guarantee that even the most credible findings will help ensure that patients get the best and most cost-effective treatment.

The Institute is supposed to make reports of its findings but is carefully restricted as to what it can say.It cannot tell doctors what treatments to use, or recommend how much doctors and hospitals should be paid for any service.It cannot make recommendations to Medicare or private insurers about what they should or should not cover. Critics will howl but if the panel does its job right--and politicians have the courage to make the case---both patients and taxpayers will benefit.

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I’ll bet you never noticed, but there’s a new bank in our midst. Right next to WHOLE FOODS is this small CIRCLE BANK.I asked several passersby where this new bank was, but the only one who knew, was one of the guys outside Whole Foods who help park cars.Not only will CIRCLE take all your jars of coins...even pennies..count them.. and give you back REAL dollars. Manager Carlos Rivera, and Marketing Director Alan Gaul will help you open an account... and even serve coffee and cookies if you don’t.Go in and say “hello.”

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I’ve spent a great deal of time lately reading INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY and they have some excellent rules for investment success.If all 19 rules are carefully followed (not just the ones you like), your investment results can materially improve:

1. Consider buying stocks with each of the last three years’ earnings up 25%, return on equity of 17%+ and recent earnings and sales accelerating.

2. Recent quarterly earnings and sales should be up 25%or more.

3. Avoid cheap stocks Buy stocks selling for $15 to $100 or more.

4. Learn how to use charts to see sound bases and exact buy points. Confine buys to these points as stocks break out on big volume increases.

5. Cut every loss when it’s 8%below your cost.Make no exception so you’ll avoid any possible huge, damaging losses. Never average down in price.

6. Follow selling rules on when to sell and take profit on the way up. Review “When to Sell and Take a Profit” in “How to Make Money in Stocks.”

7. Buy when market indexes are in an uptrend. Reduce investments and raise cash when general market indexes show five days of increased volume distributions.

8. Read IBD’s Investor’s Corner and Big Picture column to learn how to recognize important tops and bottoms in market indexes.

9. Buy stocks with a Composite Rating of 90 or more and a Relative Price Strength Rating of 85 or higher in the iBD SmartSelect Corporate Ratings.

10. Pick companies with management ownershiip of stock.

11. Buy mostly in the top six broad industry sectors.

12. Select stocks with increasing institutional sponsorship in recent quarters

13. Don’t buy because of dividends or P-E ratios.Read a story on the company.

14. Pick companies with a superior new product or service.

15. Invest mainly in entrepreneurial New America companies.

16. Check the companies buying back 5% to 10% of their stock and those with new management.

17. Don’t try to bottom guess or buy on the way down Never argue with the market .Forget your pride and ego.

18. Find out if the market currently favors big-cap or small-cap stocks.

19. Do a post-analysis of all your buys and sells. Post on charts where you bought and sold.Evaluate and develop rules to correct your major mistakes. It’s what you learn after you think you know what you’re doing that’s vital.That’s how to improve your results.

I realize that this information is not of interest to everyone but for those of you with investment portfolios, I think it will be helpful.

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“With a fancy coat and a white tie, even a stockbroker can gain a reputation for being civilized.”—Oscar Wilde

“The safest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it in your pocket.”
—Frank McKinney Hubbard

November 2010

According to reports, most people’s greatest fear is speaking in public. Somewhere on the list, however, is fear of being audited by the IRS. Well, some weeks ago, I received the ominous notice: “We selected your Federal Income Tax return for the year shown below to examine the items listed at the end of this letter.  Please call us at the number shown above to arrange a convenient appointment.” Fear strikes the heart. My return was prepared by a CPA; so, naturally, a call to that office was appropriate.

My call for help was to no avail. I was told in no uncertain terms to please find another accountant. She was busy with other tasks. I called another firm that, at least, helped fill me in after reviewing my return on what supporting data to bring to the audit.  Most helpful of all, however, was Nolo Press’ book, How to Handle an IRS Audit.  I was up until 2 AM the night before my appointment, reading the specifics.  It is quite comprehensive and not at all unwieldy.  Among the many items of advice was “Never attempt to bribe your auditor.” Ha! What shall I bribe her with? An ad in the WESTSIDE OBSERVER?

I arrived with all the data I’d been told to bring. Among the caveats from the book was, “even though they request you bring your return for the year before and the year after, don’t do it.”  So, I didn’t, and fortunately they weren’t requested.  My auditor, a nice young woman from Oakland, attempted to put me at ease and we talked about my return for over two hours. She was amazed at some of the errors considering the return was, ostensibly, professionally prepared. She ate a Tootsie Roll while we were talking and offered me one, admitting she was addicted to them.  Hmm, I thought, and even asked her “Could I bribe you with a box of Tootsie Rolls?” We both laughed.

To make a long story short, I must send in some canceled checks, verification of certain expenses, plus, a healthy amount of money.  Nevertheless, my initial trepidation and anxiety were unnecessary. The anticipation was worse than the reality.  The experience was not as bad as a poke in the eye.  It’s only money.

My advice, if it happens to you: Ask, and make sure your accountant will assist you BEFORE you have your return prepared. Get it in writing.  Secondly, try to keep meticulous records and get Nolo’s book on IRS Audits.  It’s a pretty good read considering the subject matter.

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I notice that Dan Hoyle’s The Real Americans is still playing at the Marsh Theater on Valencia. Dan is telling his story as he travels through rural America seeking country wisdom and fighting ignorance, homophobia, fears of socialism and this 90-minute tour de force is running through November 6. It is worth seeing twice. A don’t miss, hilarious one-man standup. 800-838-3006.

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There was a very funny, topical and poignant production by a group of seniors between the ages of 55 and 75, who produced instructional sex videos for senior citizens. Despite protests from their children and members of their retirement community, they overcome obstacles as they discover a new perspective on themselves, their relationships and their changing social roles. Sex Tapes for Seniors was at the Victoria Theater and may return.

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In the film department, if you haven’t seen Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work at the Opera Plaza is one of the best documentaries about show business life. It follows Joan for a year, as she tries successfully to resurrect her career. Not for the prurient, but for everyone else.  The Kids are All Right is at the Stonestown, and the story about a gay marriage that becomes destabilized when the kids contact their sperm-donor, biological father.  Mark Ruffalo is the sperm donor and Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are both superb as middle-aged lesbians in a long- term relationship.  And, there’s never a parking problem at Stonestown Cinema! Also showing at Stonestown currently is the Swedish film, The Girl Who Played With Fire, with English titles and totally absorbing.

*****************************Phyllis with Carol Channing

Several weeks ago, there were two Comedy Talk Sundays. I met Carol Channing (90 yrs. old next week), Shelley Berman, Dick Little, Will Durst and a couple of other funny guys. An amusing line from Dick Little about Obama: “No matter his politics, you have to admire his not getting involved in anything.”  Carol married Harry a few years ago. She remembered him from elementary school some time back (and they just reconnected a few years ago and got married.)

Photo: Phyllis with Carol

Sept. 2010

There’s never enough time to read everything that comes into the house.  The SF Chronicle arrives Thursdays through Sundays. I like Datebook, Mick LaSalle’s interesting movie reviews and an occasional article but there’s nothing like the NY Times to keep you well informed...so I read it daily...time permitting. I frequently save it for late at night when all is still and quiet and there are no competing things to do.  Occasionally I’m sorry that I didn’t read it earlier because often they’ll review a new TV show that’s on that evening and I’ve already missed it. However, TV can’t compete in my mind with things I learn from the paper. The Tuesday issue has a  Science section which is usually fascinating and keeps readers up-to-date on new developments around the world that you’d miss otherwise. Recently they discussed a new tool for helping heart patients described as a new smart implantable defribullator that monitors heart information and transmits it to doctors and hospitals. They wrote about how tanning sometimes turns into an addiction and how weight lifting injuries, especially for women, are on the rise.  The main news section told all about the unapologetic terrorist who set the Times Square bomb that didn’t go off. The 30 year old terrorist, who spoke perfect English, described his tactics and how he conceived the plot with Taliban help in Pakistan.  He’s sentenced to life. Another article detailed how 800,000 Afghanistan citizens use heroin, opium and other illicit drugs...a jump from five years ago.  90% said they were in need of drug treatment. Apparently, they’re taking drugs against the hardships of life.

     Something else to worry about...a new study from Australia suggests that couch potatoes live shorter lives.  The study followed 8,800 adults ages 25 and older for six and a half years and found that each daily hour of television viewing was associated with an 18 percent increase in deaths from heart disease and an 11 percent increase in overall mortality. Those who watched TV four hours or more a day were 80% more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who watched two hours or less, and 46% more likely to die of any cause. And it didn’t matter whether they were overweight, according to the study. Although it’s possible that people who were already ill watched more TV than those who were healthy, the researchers tried to rule that out by excluding subjects who already had heart disease and by adjusting for differences in risk factors like diet and smoking.  While the benefits of physical activity have been well studied, there is growing interest among researchers in assessing the effect of being sedentary. “For many people, on a daily basis, they simply shift from one chair to another--from the chair in the car to the chair in the office to the chair in front of the television,” said the study’s lead author David Dunstand of the Heart and Diabetes Institute in VIctoria, Australia. “Even if someone has a healthy body weight, sitting for long periods still has an unhealthy influence on blood sugar and blood fats.” The moral of the story...”off your tush!”

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Theatrically speaking, there’s not a great deal going on except for  The TOSCA  Project at  ACT which was delightful...the SF Ballet was involved and the show was dazzling. The San Francisco Playhouse is presenting the 50 year anniversary of THE FANTASTICS. It is re-imagined in a world devastated by global warming to bring new resonance to its theme of hope and of facing the truth before one can grow.  Beautiful melodies, among them the hit songs “Try to Remember” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” sparkle throughout the comedy and evoke the agony and rapture of being young, full of dreams, and giddy with love. It’s directed by Bill English who is consistently top-notch.  It’s scheduled to play through September 4, 2010 so put it on your list. In the film department, I caught JOAN RIVERS..A PIECE OF WORK, which got ecstatic reviews from most reviewers.  I wasn’t quite as thrilled, although impressed with her total openness.  She leaves nothing to the imagination...including details of her numerous face lifts and her impressive sex life.  She was funny, if a bit “over-the top.” If you’re a conservative type, stay home.  On the other hand, if you’re a conservative-type or a liberal-type, I’d highly recommend TOY STORY 3.  It’s smart, funny, poignant, and highly creative .Go, with or without a child. You’ll love it!

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Just an addendum from the SF PLAYHOUSE you should make a note of: On September 28th, they’re having the West Coast premiere of THE SUNSET LIMITED by Cormac McCarthy, directed by Bill English. A startling encounter on a New York subway platform leads two strangers to a run-down tenement where they engage in a brilliant verbal duet on a subject no less compelling than the meaning of life. TV and film star Carl Lumbly returns to the SF Playhouse in the lead role.

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END JOKES;

Out of the mouth of jewish children

A little boy was attending a wedding of a close relative. After the ceremony, his cousin asked him, “How many women can a man marry?”

“Sixteen,” the boy responded. His cousin was amazed that he had an answer so quickly.

“How do you know that?” “Easy,” the little boy said. “All you have to do is add it up, like the Rabbi said: 4 better, 4 worse, 4 richer, 4 poorer.”

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A little girl became restless as the rabbi’s High Holy Day appeal sermon dragged on and on. Finally, she leaned over to her mother and whispered, “Mommy, if we give him the money now, will he let us go?”

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After the circumcising of his baby brother in shul, little Jonah sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, “That rabbi said he wanted us brought up in a Jewish home, and I want to stay with you guys!”

Feedback: phyllis@westsideobserver.com

July 2010

Rumor has it, it’s no longer “cool” to be a Cougar. Don’t believe it. Defenders stand up! Our future depends on it. There are only so many old fogies left. They either died or are senile...neither sounds appealing. So stick to your guns...flirt a little, shake your booty, color your roots, mouth dirty words and watch those Brad Pitt look-alikes come running. In a few years even Justin Bieiber will become available. Hang in there, girl! (“Hey, take it easy Cougar...Justin’s only 13.”)

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On the entertainment front, there’s not a great deal to comment on. Movie-wise, BABIES is probably the best of the bunch...This is a spare and interesting documentary about four babies in different parts of the world, including Namibia and San Francisco, through their first two years. It’s cute and appealing if you love babies, ever had one or hope to, or even if you ever were one. CITY ISLAND is an amiable family comedy about an Italian-American clan living in a little boating village attached to the Bronx. Andy Garcia is Vince, a prison guard whose secret is that he wants to perform: he sneaks off to an acting class where the teacher is Alan Arkin. It’s worth a visit.

I’ve been waiting to read what’s happening in Cannes. Apparently, nothing spectacular. One always looks forward to a new Woody Allen film but his latest “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” has been called a trifle about vexed relationships. Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin star. According to reports, there are no masterpieces, few enthrallments and lots of deadwood. Exceptions include Mike Leigh’s ANOTHER YEAR; CERTIFIED COPY, BIUTIFUL (from Spain), TUESDAY AFTER XMAS (from Romania): THE HOUSEMAID (a sexy thriller from South.Korea) and WALL STREET MONEY NEVER SLEEPS. It’s anticipated that some will be picked up by American distributors.

One of the most hilarious, moving, and provocative solo shows is at the Marsh on Valencia St. Dan Hoyle travels through rural America seeking country wisdom and finding ignorance, xenophobia, fears of socialism, homophobia, and some heart-wrenching underlying connections. Called THE REAL AMERICANS, this 90 minute show is a real tour de force. A real winner and playing through August 8th. Dan’s father, Geoff Hoyle, is also at the Marsh with the GEEZER, called a workshop, (and very poignant) which may or may not still be playing. Geoff is San Francisco’s Marcel Marceau. Check out the Marsh at 800-838-3006.

Susi Damilano and Bill English, directors at the SF Playhouse, are tireless. Their latest show in their Sandbox Series is dedicated to presenting world Premieres in their second stage. The latest show, THE APOTHEOSIS OF PIG HUSBANDRY, opened recently with a stellar cast of three. In the play we find a woman in a slip handcuffed to a bed. A bar that only serves one drink. Windows duck-taped to keep out the smell. Welcome to the Lazy Eight Motel, where sex, revenge, social theory and pig farming mix in an explosive cocktail. Philosopher and social theorist Asuncion “Assy” Boyle drifts into town, buys the derelict motel downwind of the biggest pig farm in the state, and seduces the pig farmer’s wife, Lola. His plan? To put Charles, the farmer, out of business and clean up the pig shit that’s destroying the community and polluting the groundwater. But since Assy blames Charles for his mother’s death, is this really social justice...or naked revenge? By the startling end of the play, Assy learns what happens when you take justice into your own hands. William Bivins is the award winning playwright. The cast includes Keith Burkland, Chad Deverman and Madeline H.D. Brown. Running until June 12 (unless extended), you’ll enjoy this intimate theater production. Beginning June 15 is the 50 year anniversary of THE FANTASTICS, a must-see for comedy and musical lovers. Reserve your tickets now. (415) 677-9596.

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SHIRLEY TEMPLE was the subject of a recent documentary on PBS that showed snips of her early movies. I was a huge Shirley fan! When I was about 8 years old I sat down and wrote a letter to Shirley, telling her how much I enjoyed her films. And surprise, I got a response! A few years ago I met her at the Commonwealth Club, where she was President for some years. I told her about my letter to her and how thrilled I was with a response. I said I think it was “the most exciting thing that ever happened to me!” And she said, “Oh, you poor dear, what a life!” She currently lives in Atherton and had three children with her second husband, Charles Black, who is now deceased. You never read anything about her or her family. Having spent so many of her young years in the limelight with constant bodyguards (to avoid kidnapping), she’s obviously keeping a very low profile about her family. I’d love to know more about her.

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Laura Bush has a new book out in which she relates her support for Gay Marriage and Abortion

*and her further support for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. Some die-hard Republicans and conservatives are questioning Kagan’s nomination...seems there’s a photo of her playing softball and therefore a question of whether she’s a lesbian or not. Also, controversy over her never being a judge. At 50 years of age, Elena Kagan has never married. Reports have it she’s very funny and extremely bright and many guys are fearful of women who are smarter than they are. It’s been suggested that after she makes the grade and becomes one of the justices, Michelle Obama might introduce her to JDate. Just a thought...but maybe a good one.

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Diets, diets, diets...I’ve tried several...even sent for some on-line product which promised a size 12 in twelve days or something similar. The first dose provided a hallucination effect, which was disconcerting to say the least. Now something new on the market...the Baby Food Diet. Have to check that out. They do say it’s a bit of a problem getting the vodka into the juice box.

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END JOKES: Third grade Johnny likes the little girl next door. He tells his father he’s in love and is going to marry her. His father thinks that’s real cute and says “Where will you live?” “Well, her room’s bigger than mine, so I’ll move in there.” The father thinks that’s real cute so again he asks, “What will you do for money?” “Well, we each get an allowance, so we’ll manage.” “What will you do if you have a family?” “Well, so far we’ve been lucky.”

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A magazine, doing research, goes into a rest home and asks a 95 year old lady “What’s the best thing about being 95?” “No peer pressure.”

Questions or comments to phyllis@westsideobserver.com

June 2010

“UP”Marissa Sherman

UP is a wonderful movie about an old man named Carl and a young boy named Russell and their adventurous journey to Paradise Falls in South America.

They are not close friends at the beginning of the movie but with all of the adventures they share they become very good buddies. Carl wants to go to Paradise Falls in South America. This was a long-time dream he had with his wife Ellie. However, unfortunately it doesn’t happen that way as Ellie died without first seeing the Falls.

Instead, Carl uses balloons (thousands of them!) and attaches them to his house and he is now able to float. Once he takes off in the air, he gets a knock on his door and Russell, the neighborhood scout, asks to come in. On their way to Paradise Falls, they meet a dog name Doug and a bird named Kevin. But they also meet Charles Muntz , an explorer who became evil over the years. So evil that Charles Muntz had his dogs all gang-up on Doug, a friendly dog, Kevin, Russell & Carl.

The special effects throughout the movie were terrific. The dogs wore special collars that allowed them to communicate with humans. They could speak to humans!

I thought the movie was great and the characters were funny, especially Doug and Kevin. It was especially cool when the balloons were moving the house and they floated through cities. I would recommend this movie to people that like adventure stories and don’t mind some sad scenes. This movie is probably best for kids over six years old.

Marissa Sherman is the granddaughter of Phyllis Sherman

As you can tell I’m fond of humor. Of course the truth can be sometimes quite painful. Freud once said that all humor is based on pain. Note Laurel & Hardy, poor Laurel always being knocked out by Hardy. Moving the piano and both getting creamed. Groucho Marx: “I wouldn’t belong to a club that allowed me in as a member.” or “My children are only half Jewish, so can’t they get into the pool up to their navels?” Mel Brooks, John Cleese with Monty Python or Woody Allen, about people in the old folks home… “the food is horrible. And the portions are so small!” Then there’s the one about the old folks talking about their aches and pains... “My shoulder is killing me.” “You know... “I can’t move my neck to the right.” and “My glasses don’t fit right any more.” And finally, “What ‘cha all complaining about? At least we can all still drive.” And the one about the 80 year old guy marrying the 20 year old gal....someone asks... “At your age that could be fatal.” The old man says, “She dies, she dies.” Or the classic Borsch Belt line;Q. “Why did God create gentiles?” A. “Someone has to buy retail.”

Then there are the old moron jokes.. “What did the moron say when he found a head on the railroad tracks?” (“Joe, Joe, are you all right?) Why did the moron throw the clock out the window?” “He wanted to see time fly.” Now it’s not okay to poke fun at anyone anymore, so we have blondes...who are at least cute (most of the time...so they’re sort of protected.) I remember a Norwegian joke that made the Norwegians the stupid ones... Q: How does a Norwegian tie his shoes? A: This guy put his left foot on the chair and mimed tying the shoe that was on the floor.

Milton Berle once wrote, “Ethnic jokes won’t go away. If only one or two groups were picked on, the discrimination would be unfair and probably immoral. The fact is that no ethnic group has escaped comedy probing. In parts of China, jokes are made about the “whites.” “Browns in Malaysia make fun of the Chinese. The rich go after the poor, and the poor after the rich. Canada picks on Newfoundlanders, Louisianians on Cajuns and the Southwest on Chicanos. My litmus test for my personal use of ethnic jokes is a simple one. Use only if you’re not angry, seeking revenge, or trying to inflict pain. And you aren’t immune to fun at your own expense.

My one credo...and I think it’s a good one: “HE WHO LAUGHS, LASTS!

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Interesting statistics from all over. A new study from Australia suggests that couch potatoes live shorter lives. The study followed 8,800 adults ages 25 and older for six and half years and found that each daily hour of T.V. viewing was associated with an 18 percent increase in deaths from heart disease and an 11 percent increase in overall mortality. Those who watched TV four hours or more a day were 80 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who watched two hours or less, and 46 percent more likely to die of any cause. And it didn’t matter whether they were overweight according to the study which appeared in January in the online edition of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. Although it’s possible that people who were already ill watched more TV than those who were healthy, the researchers tried to rule that out by excluding subjects who already had heart disease and by adjusting for differences in risk factors like diet and smoking. While the benefits of physical activity have been well studied, there is growing interest among researchers in assessing the effects of being sedentary. “For many people, on a daily basis, they simply shift from one chair to another—from the chair in the car to the chair in the office to the chair in front of the TV, said the study’s lead author, David Dunstan of the Heart and Diabetes Institute in Victoria, Australia. “Even if someone has a healthy body weight, sitting for long periods still has an unhealthy influence on blood sugar and blood fats.” Soooo...get up and take a l-o-o-ng walk!

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According to other statistics, 25 of the nation’s leading newspapers have lost circulation...the only one that’s still gaining advertising (and thus circulation) was the Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper that has lost the MOST circulation, is guess which?......The SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE. Surprise! Surprise!

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Now for a bit about film and food....plays, movies and restaurants....First off...THE JONESES...is a satire of modern consumerism. The Joneses--Demi Moore and David Duchovny are the mom and dad with winsome teenage children..are not a family at all, but rather a team of marketers dispatched to a wealthy subdivision to seduce the natives into buying more stuff. The mysterious company they work for is happy with their successful productivity. They induce the neighbors to keep up with them. The more golf clubs, track suits, cellphonesand high-end prepared dinners that are sold, the happier the company. If you’re into compulsive materialism and you’re even minimally aware of Amway.com types of businesses...this film might appeal as an exercise in phoniness...and it’s good looking, to boot.

I like Steve Carrell and Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live...but couldn’t get enthused about them in the film DATE NIGHT .Not very funny.

In the theaters...Went to a preview performance of AN ACCIDENT by Lydia Stryk at the Magic Theater The entire show takes place in a hospital room and while not really sick it’s pretty mediocre. At the 42nd Street Moon --Eureka Theater, Klea Blackhurst performed the songs of Ethel Merman...she was only there for five days...but she was terrific If you’re old enough to remember Gershwin’s “I’ve Got Rhythm”, “You’re an Old Smoothie” or Irving Berlin’s “Hey, Good Lookin’.”..you’d have loved it. Eureka hosts old Broadway musicals and well worth seeing. Still around and getting standing ovations is Dan Hoyle’s magnificent solo show THE REAL AMERICANS. Wonderful performance. His dad, Geoff Hoyle, from Pickle Family Circus is opening soon in “GEEZER.” A don’t miss!!!

You like restaurants? Try THE RAMP for brunch on the waterfront. NICK’S SEAFOOD in Pacifica. SUSHI ZONE at 1815 Market at Pearl, PEGAN...a Burmese restaurant on Clement Street in the Richmond. All four stars! And if you’ve a few hours to spare, don’t miss the Cartier Exhibit at the Legion of Honor

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

May 2010

THE CASE AGAINST VANITY PLATES

I have this thing about car vanity plates. I’m convinced that the people who invest in vanity plates (and it does cost money)…with their name or profession embossed…are either insecure, egocentric, vain or pretentious. (Maybe all four.) Why else is it necessary to proclaim to the world that “Joe Blow” or “Jay Tooth DDS” is driving his Chevy Blazer or yellow Mercedes, as the case may be. Seinfeld had a funny schtick recently when Kramer (in one of their reruns) ordered vanity plates and the DMV mixed them up with someone else’s and so Kramer had plates that said ASSMAN. Jerry and cohorts spent quite a while until they discovered that they belonged to a proctologist who was glad to get them back.

I had a friend in Connecticut some years ago who was quite a ladies’ man. As a matter of fact he “ladies’ manned” all over town until he realized that his vanity plates caused him untold misery. Everyone knew where he was at all times which was certainly not his intention given his predilection for fun and games.

If you want to have vanity plates, stick to vanity dental plates. Then you only make a statement every time you open your mouth.

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HERE’S SOMETHING THEY DIDN’T TELL YOU IN THE SF PAPERS:

Anyone convicted of a crime knows a debt to society often must be paid in jail. But a slice of Californians willing to supplement that debt with cash (no personal checks, please) are finding that the time can be most bearable. For offenders whose crimes are usually relatively minor (carjackers should not bother) and whose bank accounts remain lofty, a dozen or so city jails across the state offer pay-to-stay-upgrades. Theirs are a clean, quiet, if not exactly recherche’s alternative to the standard county jails, where the walls are bars, the fellow inmates are hardened and the privileges are few. Many of the self-pay jails operate like secret velvet-roped nightclubs of the correction world. You have to be in the know to even apply for entry, and even if the court approves your sentence there, jail administrators can operate like bouncers, rejecting anyone they wish. One 22 year old gal said “I’m aware that this is considered to be a five-star Hilton.” She was recently booked into one of the Orange County jails and paid $82 per day to complete a 21 day sentence for a drunken driving conviction She shopped around for the best accommodations and said from a sort of couch found in a hospital ER and spoke from a jail day room, “this place is clean, safe, and everyone here is really nice.”

Next time the cops pick you up, consider this option, tell them you’ll pay a little extra and ask for the creme brulee.

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On the entertainment front…DEN OF THIEVES at the S.F. PLAYHOUSE is a hilarious spoof about an odd quartet of misfits when they attempt to rip off the mob and are involved in a very funny 12-step program lampoon. Director Susi Damilano has done it again and you have until April 12 to enjoy. By the time you read this, VIGIL with Marco Barricelli and Olympia Dukakis will be at ACT. Written and directed by Morris Panych, early reports have given it rave reviews.

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In the film department, if you’re a depressive type. you may enjoy the hostile Ben Stiller in GREENBERG. He plays a 40 year old man recently released from a mental hospital who spends time writing complaining letters to the airlines about their lack of foot room and to Starbucks about some other deficiency and to sundry other organizations bitching about something. It received good reviews but I left more despondent after seeing this film than when I came in.

Another film that won accolades is the GREEN ZONE. Officer Matt Damon leads his men into worthless empty sites in Iraq in search of the elusive, non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction. Another war movie with two hours of bombings and battles that you may enjoy if you like those things

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ENDJOKES: An elderly woman in Florida is talking to her friend, “Everyone in the recreation room talks about their travels and I’ve never been anywhere.” Her friend says, “Sara, they haven’t been either. They’re just making it up. You make something up too.” So the next day she tells everyone, “You know what? I just returned from Rome and had an audience with the Pope.” “No kidding,” someone says, “what’s he like?” “Well, I was invited to lunch and he was really very nice but I didn’t much care for his wife.”

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A woman came home, screeching her car into the driveway, and ran into the house. She slammed the door and shouted at the top of her lungs, “Honey, pack your bags, I won the lottery!” The husband said, “Oh my God! What should I pack, beach stuff or mountain stuff?:” “Doesn’t matter,” she said. “Just get out!”

April 2010

I was going to write this column on my hand, instead of on paper, in honor of Sarah Palin, but try as I might I just couldn’t get it to fit. Go figure.

But good old Sarah aside, I thought it would have more interest if I just wrote it on my good old Dell Windows 7...so here goes.

Academy Awards nominations are up and running. I watched the BBC British Academy Awards from the London Opera House recently and the winners were probably similar to the American awards. The Hurt Locker was terrific and it, and its director Katheryn Bigelow, won best picture and direction awards.

Up in the Air with George Clooney and The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock were great films as was An Education with Carey Mulligan. Precious with Gabourey Sidibe was in limited release because of its abusive content but very worthwhile viewing. The White Ribbon will probably win best foreign picture award. It’s in black and white and is the German release and though tough to watch, concerning the Holocaust, is also worth viewing. Avatar may win best film award, but I think it should win for Cinematography or Film Editing or Special Effects—but it wasn’t my cup of tea for Best Picture. Also,

If you get a chance you’d probably enjoy the Live Action Short Films which consist of five short movies, several of which are quite entertaining.

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BRING BACK THE SIESTA: It turns out that toddlers are not the only ones who do better after an afternoon nap. New research has found that young adults who slept for 90 minutes after lunch raised their learning power, their memory apparently primed to absorb new facts. Other studies have indicated that sleep helps consolidate memories after cramming, but the new study suggests that sleep can actually restore the ability to learn. The findings which have not yet been published, were presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego. “You need to sleep before learning, to prepare your brain, like a dry sponge, to absorb new information,” said the lead investigator, Matthew P. Walker, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California in Berkeley.

The study recruited 39 healthy young adults and divided them into two groups. All 39 were asked to learn 100 names and faces at noon, and then to learn a different set of name and faces at 6 p.m. But 29 of the volunteers who slept for 90 minutes between the two learning sessions improved their scores by 10 percent on average after sleeping: the scores of those who didn’t nap actually dropped by 10 percent.

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I recently attended an art show at the home of Mark and Helena McMahon to celebrate the official launch of Mark’s oil paintings and the launch of his new business, Mark McMahon Artworks. McMahon, from Ireland, is self taught and has been painting for the past ten years, and works mainly with oil on canvas to create portraits and original works in a range of styles and dimensions. Influenced and inspired by masters such as Monet, Braque and Picasso, McMahon uses vibrant, earthy colors in his modern landscapes and his more abstract, interpretive works alike. McMahon’s portraits were also on display, revealing his ability to capture the essence of his subject with a distinctive modern flair. McMahon is currently working with clients on commissioned pieces for residential and commercial settings. A sampling of Mark’s work and the best ways to contact him can be found on the web at markmcmahonartworkscom. I enjoy art and Mark’s paintings are worth a viewing

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If the name Bertold Brecht intimidates you or makes you think of Shakespeare or Aristotle, fear no more. An updated version of Caucasion Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht (in 1944) has been beautifully updated at ACT and is creatively adapted and directed by John Doyle. Doyle produced “Sweeney Todd at ACT in 2007 launching its national tour. Interestingly staged and beautifully acted by a cast of ten, “Caucasion” is a must-see, running through March 14.

Beginning March 25 and running through April 18 at ACT is Vigil with Olympia Dukakis and Marco Barricelli.Called “wickedly dark” by Variety magazine

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AND don’t miss SAN FRANCISCO PLAYHOUSE’S newest hit comedy, Den of Thieves beginning March 9th and running until April 17. Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by Susi Damilano, this show welcomes you to the world of unorganized crime. Cracking a safe to steal $750,000 in drug money may not be the perfect road to recovery for kleptomaniacs Maggie and Paul. Watch them pull off the perfect crime. Call 415- 677-9596.

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ENDJOKES: A guy goes to a psychiatrist and is very upset. He says “I’m very upset. No one likes me. I can’t make friends. I feel terrible”....the psychiatrist in his most sympathetic manner, says, “Look you have a poor self -image. That’s common among losers.”

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Mabel and Sadie are elderly ladies who enjoy driving. One day they’re out on Main Street and Sadie is driving along and goes through three red lights. Mabel says, “Sadie do you realize you just went through three red lights?” Sadie says, “Oh, am I driving?”

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A little girl loves doing cartwheels. Her mother chides her...”You know, the boys like you to do the cartwheels so they can see your panties!”

“I know,” she responds. “But I fooled them. I folded them up and put them in my back pack!”

March 2010

A STORY WITH TEETH

Here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know. In l8th-century England, straight, white, teeth were a sign of beauty, affluence,and moral fortitude, perhaps because tooth loss was a common result of venereal disease and its treatment with mercury. Wealthy and fashionable citizens engaged in a fad known as live-tooth transplantation similar to the way today’s socialites and celebrities purchase foreign substances, like Botox injections and saline implants to augment their bodies.

At a time when dentistry was still new, ladies and gentlemen had their damaged or rotten teeth pulled out and quickly replaced with teeth taken from the mouths of live donors—indigents who were forced to sell their teeth for cash. Fear of disease transmittal and criticism of the exploitive nature of the practice contributed to its disappearance at the turn of the 19th century.

This bizarre and short-lived dental procedure provides insights into many aspects of late l8th-century life, including divisions between the rich and poor, changing standards of beauty and the rise of consumer culture. Our culture, in which people’s bodies play a key role in their personal and social identities, and where body parts are viewed as commodities that can be bought and sold. Many contemporary trends, such as cosmetic surgery, tattooing, body piercing, and the sale of organs on the black market, can be traced to this strange and largely unknown fad.

I gleaned this information from Professor Mark Blackwell, chair of the Department of English in the University of Hartford College of Arts and Sciences. The article entitled “Extraneous Bodies: The Contagion of Live-Tooth Transplantation on Late-Eighteenth-Century England” earned Blackwell the prestigious James L. Clifford Prize, conferred by the American Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies on an outstanding study of some aspect its culture.

I guess your dentist never heard of this mouth enhancing improvement.

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San Francisco women complain about the male shortage in the Bay Area. Well, there’s a surplus of bachelors in China. Here’s your chance! With no eligible women in his village (X’IN’AN VILLAGE, Hanzhong, China) Zhou Pin, 27 years old, thought he was lucky to find a pretty bride whom he met and married within a week, following the custom in rural China. Ten days later, Cai Niucuo vanished, leaving behind her clothes and identity papers. She did not, however, leave behind her bride price: 38,000 yuan, or about $5,500, which Mr.Zhou and his family had scrimped and borrowed to put together.

When Mr. Zhou reported his missing spouse to authorities, he found his situation wasn’t unique. The first two months, Hanzhong town saw a record number of scams designed to extract high bride prices in a region with an over supply of bachelors.

The fleeing Mrs. Zhou was one of 11 runaway brides--hardly the isolated case or two that the town had seen in years past. The local phenomenon has fueled broader speculation among officials that the fast-footed wives may be part of a scam which is being investigated. China’s rule of allowing abortions of female fetuses is certainly a probable cause of the dearth of marriageable females. Boys are preferred in Chinese families, believing that boys will be able in later years to support their elderly parents.

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The survivors of Haiti’s horrendous earthquake are still numb from the shock of losing everything in their already depleted world. Countries world-wide are attempting to help and it was very difficult to watch CNN’s pictures of death and devastation that they ran continuously on the network.

A few people were rescued alive even a week after the earthquake…truly a miracle. San Francisco knows what earthquakes are but any devastation here can’t begin to compare with Haiti where no building codes exist… I was on a cruise ship years ago that stopped in Haiti and the people were extremely warm and welcoming…I remember purchasing some beautiful carved figures from a local sculptor. Apparently some cruise ships are still arriving there despite the destruction. Four ships are not heading to Port-au-Prince...but to another far flung beach area in Haiti for vacation. The first arriving one, a Holland-American vessel is promising aid to the emergency effort while it’s passengers sun and surf on the beautiful beaches.

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On the movie scene, I enjoyed It’s Complicated. It didn’t get great reviews but Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin will keep you laughing. The Spanish film Broken Embraces is at times confusing, but worth seeing. and Precious is enthralling and has already won a Golden Globe award. At the Berkeley Repertory Theater, COMING HOME by Academy Award-winner Athol Fugard received a well-deserved standing ovation from the opening night audience. It tells the story of Veronika, who ten years after running off to the city to pursue her dreams, returns in rags. Among her meager belongings, she carries a desperate secret—and a determination to plant the seeds of a new life for her son. Roslyn Ruff plays Veronica and she has won several awards around the country. Gordon Edelstein is in his 8th year as Long Wharf Theatre’s Artistic Director, and author Fugard, born in South Africa, has won many awards in US and England. COMING HOME closes on Feb 28, 2010. The Berkeley Rep is just 1/2 a block from BART.

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END JOKE: A man in a hurry was speeding down the highway...60 miles per hour, 70 miles per hour...80 miles per hour..90 and up and then 100. A cop finally caught up with him and said, “Listen, Mister. I’ve had a pretty rough day. If you can give me the one reason why you were speeding like that.I might have pity on you and let you go. It better be pretty good.” The man though momentarily and said, “Officer, some months ago my wife ran off with a policeman. I thought you were trying to bring her back.”

February 2010

Phyllis Sherman articles February '11 - December '11
Phyllis Sherman articles February '09 - December '10
Phyllis Sherman articles February '10 - December '09
Phyllis Sherman articles November '07 - December '08