August, 2009


In normal times, you can always find last-minute half price tickets for some shows, but now, due to the bad economy I suppose, nearly every play, musical, concert, and cabaret in San Francisco is selling tickets for half price at Tix Bay Area. You used to have to go to their ticket office at Union Square on the day of the performance to get tickets from them, but now you can buy tickets on their web site and print them out on your computer. There is also Goldstar, another on-line seller of half price tickets. Goldstar operates in 8 cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas, Chicago, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. Also, check out Bay Area Half Off, especially if you have out-of-town guests. They always have half price tickets for touristy things, like the Blue & Gold bay cruise.


San Francisco has a lot of great museums but going to the good ones, especially with family and friends, can be expensive. Fortunately, most museums in San Francisco have free days. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art charges $15 admission, but it is free on the first Tuesday of the month. The Asian Art Museum (the biggest and best Asian art museum in the U.S.) charges $12 admission, but it's free on the first Sunday of the month. The Exploratorium, a great place to take kids, charges $14 admission, but on the first Wednesday of the month, it's free.


This is really a great program! I'm surprised that B of A doesn't advertise it. If you have a Bank of America ATM, debit, check, or credit card; you can get free admission to a number of San Francisco museums just by showing your card. The bank pays your admission. The promotion entitles one person per card free admission during the first full weekend of the month to the Contemporary Jewish Museum, de Young Museum, Exploratorium, Legion of Honor, Museum of the African Diaspora, San Jose Museum of Art, and the San Jose Tech Museum. Remaining free days in 2009 include: August 1-2, September 5-6, October 3-4, November 7-8, and December 5-6. You can also get free admission to museums in other parts of California and other states with a Bank of America card. For example, in New York City, showing a B of A card gets you free admission to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bronx Zoo, New York Aquarium, and the Whitney Museum. For more details, go to: Bank of America Museums On Us.


BIG BERTHA. In the late 19th century, San Francisco's most popular female entertainer was Big Bertha, so named because her weight ranged from 275 to almost 400 pounds. Initially, Big Bertha gained fame as San Francisco's most notorious swindler. Bertha claimed to be a wealthy widow searching for a man to marry and manage her fortune. When suitors appeared, she would ask them to give her money as a sign of good faith. These men never saw their money again. After Big Bertha became too well known for her con games to work anymore, she began performing at the Bella Union, San Francisco's premiere entertainment hall. Her act was billed as "Big Bertha, the Queen of Confidence Women. Admission 10 cents." Her act was essentially a long confession, mostly to crimes that she hadn't actually committed, after which, she would sing "A Flower from My Angel Mother's Grave."

Big Bertha and Oofty Goofty. Big Bertha became so popular that the owner of the Bella Union decided to pair Big Bertha with his leading male actor, Oofty Goofty (whom I covered in my newsletter last month) in Romeo and Juliet. Oofty Goofty had been performing his Wild Man of Borneo act at the time. Oofty Goofty covered his body with tar and horse hair and ran around inside a cage, shaking the bars, while shouting "Oofty Goofty!" over and over. That was the whole act. Oofty Goofty and Big Bertha performed Romeo and Juliet at the Bella Union to packed houses. Some scenes in the play had to be changed, such as the balcony scene. The theater's hoist was not strong enough to lift Big Bertha up to the balcony, and the balcony was not strong enough to support Bertha's weight anyway, so the scene was reversed. Oofty Goofty stood in the balcony, and Big Bertha stood on the stage. Oofty Goofty performed Romeo in his Wild Man of Borneo persona, jumping around the stage and hitting and shaking Big Bertha, who emerged from each performance covered with bruises. (Somehow, I don't think this what Shakespeare had in mind.) Although the play was profitable, Big Bertha grew tired of being beaten up on stage every night by Oofty Goofty and eventually refused to appear with him again.

After Oofty Goofty. Big Bertha continued to perform at the Bella Union. In the late 1880s, Big Bertha starred in Mazeppa, an opera by Tchaikovsky. Every night, Big Bertha rode onto the stage in pink tights strapped onto the back of a donkey to wildly enthusiastic audiences. Big Bertha sang the opera in her off-key soprano voice while sitting on the donkey, which was visibly shaking, trying to stand up under Big Bertha's enormous weight. The act came to an end when one night, the donkey carrying Big Bertha fell off the stage, crushing several patrons in the audience below. (There is some disagreement as to how many people were killed, but we do know that both Big Bertha and the donkey survived the accident.) Big Bertha remained popular and made so much money that she was eventually able to buy the Bella Union. The Bella Union was located on Kearney Street, where the Financial District Hilton hotel (formerly the Chinatown Holiday Inn) now stands. For more information, go to Big Bertha.

Big Bertha and Oofty Goofty remind me of this quote - "While many things are too strange to be believed, nothing is too strange to have happened." - Thomas Hardy.


In Berkeley, there are 3 licensed marijuana stores. (They prefer to be called 'medical marijuana dispensaries.') In Oakland, there are 4. In San Francisco, there are 22. In Los Angeles, there are over 700 medical marijuana stores in operation now and an additional 300 are planned, with applications to the city already submitted. That's more than the rest of the United States combined. There are more marijuana stores in Los Angeles than Starbucks or McDonalds. On one square block in Los Angeles, there are 9 medical marijuana stores. How could people in Los Angeles be soooo sick? I guess it must be all that darned smog.


One of the most common travel myths is that if you want to save money while traveling within Europe, go by train. That used to be true, but no more. Discount airlines in Europe are even cheaper than discount airlines in the U.S. A one-way overnight train ticket from Paris to Rome costs over $200 for the the cheapest seat on the train. A one-way airplane ticket from Paris to Rome by Ryan Air costs under $50 including taxes.


Hot Chocolate Mix. Have you ever had a cup of hot chocolate, not cocoa, but real hot chocolate? Probably not. Most people have never tasted real hot chocolate. Every supermarket sells products that look like hot chocolate mix, but they are usually hot cocoa mix disguised to look like hot chocolate mix. I have a box of Nestle's "Rich Chocolate" hot cocoa mix, but after the words "Rich Chocolate", it says (in much smaller type) "flavor." The ingredients label on the back of the box tells the real story. Nestle's "Rich Chocolate" mix contains no chocolate, and cocoa is the fifth listed ingredient. Chocolate and cocoa are both made from cacao beans, but they are not the same thing. Chocolate contains cocoa butter, which is expensive. Cocoa powder doesn't. My hot chocolate mix comes in disk form and contains 33% cocoa butter. To make a cup of real hot chocolate, whisk 1/3 cup of hot chocolate disks into 1 cup of hot milk. Hot chocolate is smoother and creamier than cocoa and tastes like chocolate. If you have never had a cup of real hot chocolate, you are in for a treat!


Laundry Detergent. Last year, I gave away a lot of laundry detergent that I got from a woman I've known for a long time. She is a compulsive shopper who can't resist a sale on detergent. When she moved into a retirement home last year, she had to get rid of hundreds of boxes and jugs of laundry detergent that were scattered around her house. Last month, her son discovered that his mother has been renting a storage building in Albany, and that building is full of laundry detergent as well. I now have more of this woman's stash. This time its all Tide liquid laundry detergent. If you want a few jugs, just come on over and pick it up.

I may be getting more detergent later. They know this woman is still buying detergent and hiding it someplace, but they don't know where. I spoke to this woman about her compulsive detergent buying a few years ago, and here is what she told me. She said: "I spend about $2,000 a year on detergent. I know everybody thinks I'm crazy, but if I went to Las Vegas and lost $2,000 gambling, nobody would think I was crazy for doing that. I enjoy buying detergent, and I've got plenty of money, so what's the problem?" Even though her compulsive shopping is irrational, I'm not convinced this woman is crazy. (She is certainly not crazy by Berkeley standards!)

Mark Tarses

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