Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Move Over, Birdman of Alcatraz! Meet Mark Bittner, The Passionate Parrotman of Telegraph Hill

“The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” is a fascinating documentary about a flock of approximately 45 wild parrots that live and breed in the North Beach/Telegraph Hill area of San Francisco. It’s an award-winning film directed by well-known documentarian Judy Irving. For a long time, the movie made its way around the country as an underground sensation, popular with animal lovers, naturalists and people from all walks of life. Folks just seem to be drawn to this amazing story of human beings and animals living together and changing each other’s lives forever. The film is now available on DVD, and is doing quite well in both the rental as well as sales markets.

Every day around this time of year, I can see these wonderful birds through my office window. There is a tree directly across the street where they squawk and eat juniper berries. I love watching them for hours at a time and I’m always quite depressed when they fly off. They’re like neighbors – fun to look at and a little noisy every now and then.

The central character in the film is Mark Bittner, a 40-something free spirit who came to San Francisco from Vancouver, Washington in 1972 in hopes of becoming a successful singer and musician. Things didn’t pan out in SF for Mark the way he had hoped they would, and soon he found himself homeless and living on the streets of North Beach. After squatting in a few places and living on peoples’ roofs, he eventually was allowed to live rent-free in a cottage below the house of a yuppie couple who lived near the parrots of Telegraph Hill. He began to feed the birds several times a day. He learned who the different parrots were and gave them names. Bittner eventually had to move out of the place when the owners of the property decided to renovate it into a high-priced rental property. Suddenly, Mark found himself homeless again and separated from his family of wild parrots.

I recently got an opportunity to meet with Mark Bittner and ask him about the film, his book that preceded the movie, and his life since. We met in North Beach last week and chatted for almost an hour. The man is so cool and just a great guy. I know this sounds clichĂ©, but I feel as though I’ve known him forever. I got a big brother vibe from the guy right off. The movie and his book have completely changed his life in so many ways. The interview will be appearing on my blog sometime this week in a condensed form, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you live in this city, especially in the areas of Telegraph Hill, North Beach, the Marina or Pacific Heights, keep your eyes peeled for these parrots. Their unique personalities are just as colorful as their plumage and markings. They are truly a special part of San Francisco and its culture. We’re an animal-loving city, and one can’t help but fall in love with these birds once you’ve seen them playing, eating, breeding and just being.

To learn more about Mark Bittner and “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill”, visit his web site at: www.wildparrotsbook.com.

To be continued……

Kobayashi: The King of Consumption

Eating contests are something I know a little about. When I was in college I ate 24 plate-sized pancakes in 30 minutes, a fraternity record that still exists today as far as I know. Another time on a dare I ate 68 pieces of sushi. (Not sashimi but nigiri – the kind with the rice, which is much tougher to eat a lot of.) The mistake I made with that feat of gluttony happened when I drank a lot of water with the sushi, causing the rice in my stomach to expand. They had to carry me out of the restaurant and I was sick for three days. Then, of course, there’s the classic thing we do at ballgames called a “Babe Ruth.” This is where you eat one hot dog every inning at a baseball game. If the game goes into extra innings, you’re in big trouble.

In my younger days I could consume a lot of food and actually got 86ed from a couple of those all-you-can-eat buffets. The end result is that now I suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. At one time I actually weighed 355 lbs! Man, was I fat! Now I’m down to around 270 and dieting and eating right with the help of my wonderful fiancĂ©e Angelina. The difference between her and I is that we both love food, but it’s just not as big a priority in her life. Plus, she can go without eating meat, which I find difficult. I still eat well, and I get to have the occasional burger or steak every now and then, it’s just that now it’s a special occasion and not an every day thing. Once in awhile I’ll still sneak some chocolate or ice cream like a little kid, and almost every time Angelina will catch me. One of my favorite places in the world is called Coca Bella, a chocolate store down on Union Street in SF. It’s funny – I never realized how much of a sweet tooth I had until I learned I was diabetic!

This kid Kobayashi is an amazing consumption machine. He doesn’t look like a big eater – He’s a little guy who’s skinny as a rail. But, man can he pack it in. Joey Chestnut from San Jose Calif. is a great eater too, but he will always be in Kobayashi’s shadow as long as Takeru is in the speed eating game. Kind of like when Steve Young was backing up Joe Montana. Young never became a star in the NFL until Montana left the 49ers. Then, he cashed in.

Check out what Kobay-san did recently:

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) - Takeru Kobayashi downed 58 bratwursts in 10 minutes Saturday to set a new record at the Johnsonville World Brat Eating Championship.
The 27-year-old Japanese man, considered one of the world's greatest eaters, won $8,000 at the contest in Sheboygan.
"They're good," said Kobayashi, who won Nathan's hot dog eating contest in July. "I want to take some home."
Defending champion Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas was unable to defend her title, eating only 34 brats, half a brat less than last year. At the time, her performance set a new world record.
Joey Chestnut came in second by downing 45 brats before thousands at the annual Brat Days in Sheboygan.
The 160-pound Kobayashi, of Nagano, Japan, ate 54 hot dogs to win the contest in New York in July.
"Brats are a little bit harder to eat," he said. "With hot dogs, it's more volume. You're actually dipping the buns in water."
If you're interested in finding out more about eating contests, the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE), which is also a chapter of the International Federation Association Regarding Terrible Smells (IFARTS), their web site is: www.ifoce.com.