A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Grinch Strikes Again

The Grinch was up to his old tricks this Christmas. On December 21 somebody decapitated the large angel and damaged two other figures in El Cerrito's annual Sundar Shadi Christmas Display, and the residents are hopping mad.
I'm going to be charitable and assume the vandals don't understand what they have done, so let me clue them in.
Mr. Shadi came to El Cerrito from India in 1921. Because of prejudice against immigrants, the only job he could get was pumping gas.
But he worked hard, saved his money, made some good investments, and retired a moderately wealthy man at age 50 in 1949.
That's when he began his true calling. That Christmas, his neighbors awoke to find a large star made out of papier-mache in his yard.
He added a fe more sculptures the next year, and the next, and the next, and before long the hillside was covered with the entire town of Bethlehem - wise men, angels, doves, sheep, lambs, shepherds, cows, horses, donkeys, and camels - all lovingly created by Mr. Shadi himself. He kept it up until failing eyesight forced him to call it quits in 1997.
The community quickly took the Christmas display to heart. Little kids grew up and brought their own kids, and then their grandkids, to see it.
Charter busses full of tourists came from as far away as San Jose and Sacramento - more than 70,000 every year.
For many people, Mr. Shadi WAS Christmas. He was a real-life Santa Claus who gave us something more precious than toys: the true spirit of the holiday.
Paradoxically, he wasn't a Christian himself. He was a Sikh. He chose a Christmas display because that was the way he could say, "I love you" in a language we all could understand.
Mr. Shadi died in 2002 at age 101. And then something wonderful happened. The people of El Cerrito refused to let his legacy die.
Under the leadership of former Mayor Jane Bartke, they restored the Shadi sculptures, which had deteriorated badly. That December the Christmas Display made a triumphant return at the corner of Moeser and Seaview. It's been there every Holiday season since, and there's never been a bit of trouble – until now.
So here's a message for the vandals: You may have broken our sculptures, but you have not broken our hearts.
John F. Kennedy famously said, "Don't get mad; get even," and the best way we can get even is to make next year's Christmas Display better than ever.
That's going to cost money, of course. The damage sculptures have to be repaired, and security will have to be beefed up.
 But the people of El Cerrito have never failed to come through before, and I see no reason to expect they won't come through this time, either.
 You can "adopt" the figure of your choice. A Wise Man (camel included) goes for $500, a shepherd for $350, and sheep are a real steal at only $25. Send a tax-deductible check to the El Cerrito Community Foundation, Inc., P. O. Box 324, El Cerrito CA 94530.
But even more than money, what they really want is you. Whatever skills you have to offer, call Bartke at (510) 235-1315, and she'll find a way to put them to use.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Appeasing The Supreme Leader

When Sony Pictures caved in last week to North Korea's extortionate demands to yank "The Interview" from distribution, my thoughts turned to Salman Rushdie.
Twenty-five years ago Rushdie, a British author of Indian Muslim extraction, was condemned to death by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini for writing things that the Ayatollah deemed insulting to Islam in his new, critically acclaimed novel, "The Satanic Verses."
Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering any Muslim who encountered Rushdie to kill him on sight, forcing Rushdie to go into hiding for his life.
How did the publishing industry react? As you might expect, the major book chains, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble, chickened out like Sony and immediately stopped selling "The Satanic Verses."
But Cody's Books, an independent bookstore on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, in the heart of the student quarter, decided to stand up for freedom of speech and stocked the book.
In the early morning hours of May 4, 1989, Cody's owner, Andy Ross, was wakened by a phone call from the Berkeley Police. Somebody had thrown a firebomb through the store's front window.
After the firefighters put out the fire, Ross and his staff started cleaning up. He looked down and spotted a second device – an unexploded pipe bomb rolling on the floor next to the poetry section.
It was too dangerous to move, so he and his staff watched from across the street while the bomb squad blew it up. Though they packed it with sandbags first, it still made the whole building shake.
After it was all over they filed back inside, and Ross told his staff that it was up to them whether to continue stocking the book.
They took a vote. It was unanimous. The book stayed.
"That was Cody's finest moment," Ross said proudly.
A few months later, Rushdie briefly came out of hiding to make a surprise visit to Cody's. Ross showed him the hole in the ceiling from the second bomb. Next to it someone had written, "Salmon Rushdie Memorial Hole."
"Some authors get statues," Rushdie quipped. "Others get holes."
Other independents followed Cody's example, and the writers' community – led by Susan Sontag, Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer  - rallied around Rushdie with petitions, press conferences and full-page ads in the papers.
Compare that to the shameful behavior of the Hollywood community last week when George Clooney circulated a petition urging Sony to call the North Koreans' bluff. He couldn't get a single signature.
Some people are questioning whether it's worth taking even a remote risk for the sake of a dumb comedy like "The Interview."
But, as Clooney pointed out, "With the First Amendment, you’re never protecting Jefferson. It’s usually protecting some guy who’s burning a flag or doing something stupid." We need to defend Seth Rogen's freedom of speech not for his sake, but for ours.
Epilogue: That one firebombing aside, the Ayatollah's threat turned out to be more bark than bite. He died in 1989, but Rushdie is still alive and well. So are Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
I wish I could say the same about Cody's Books. After years of struggling against the huge Internet giants, Ross reluctantly closed Cody's doors in 2006.
The space it used to occupy on Telegraph Avenue is still vacant.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dick Cheney's Tortured Logic

(Above: Lt. Commander John McCain recuperating from his torture-induced injuries)

On September 14, 2001, four days after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, a memorial service was held in Wheeler Auditorium on the Cal campus for Mark Bingham, one of the heroes of United Flight 93 who led the passengers' attack on the hijackers and caused the plane to crash in a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, instead of the White House or the Capitol,
I arrived at Wheeler Hall about a little early, so I decided to use the men's room in the basement.
I was the only one in the room until the door opened and a short man in a dark suite, red shirt and white shirt walked in and stood at the urinal next to me.
I looked at him and then I looked again, hardly believing my eyes. It was John McCain!
After a few awkward moments he stuck out his hand and said, "Hi, I'm John Mc Cain."
He told me he had flown out from Washington for the service in the back of a military cargo plane – remember, all civilian flights were grounded - because he was moved when he heard that Mark had a McCain poster in his office, and he figured the least he could do was say thanks to the man who probably saved his life. (He had been inside the Capitol that day.)
Then we went upstairs. He sat on the stage with the other speakers, and I sat in the audience.
After the speeches the lights were dimmed, and there was a slide show. Everyone was watching the screen except me. I was watching McCain.
While the others on stage turned around and watched, he waited until he thought nobody was looking, then he quietly stepped down the stairs and watched from the audience.
I was puzzled for a while, and then it finally hit me: He couldn't turn his head because of the torture he suffered for five and a half years in the Hanoi Hilton.
Now, I don't agree with McCain about a lot of things, but you can't deny that when he talks about torture, he knows what he's talking about.
So here's what he said last week on the Senate floor about the Intelligence Committee's report on torture during the Bush years:
"I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering."
Then, almost shouting, he added, "The use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights."
In response, Dick Cheney, one of the main architects of the torture program, said, "What are we supposed to do? Kiss them on both cheeks and say, 'Tell us everything you know?'" – as if those were the only two choices.
I don't know about you, but on this matter I'd rather trust a war hero than a draft-dodging chicken hawk.
Muse on that next Thursday, when the world celebrates the 2014th birthday of a man who was tortured to death.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dear Santa

"Dear Santa, My name is Eddie, and I live in Oakland, California. My mom says that oversleeping can get me on the bad list, so I want to say I'm sorry for that. It's just that my bed is really, really comfy!"
"Dear Santa, I am 6 years old. I've been helping my mom every day to clean my room and brush my teeth. I don't like it a lot, but I want to be on your nice list. Love, Alexandra."
"Dear Santa Claus, The jacket was too big. Would you please send me another? The tie was too long. I did not get any doggy treats for Ivory. The buttons on the vest were too big and too tight. I did not get a hat! Or any shoes or socks. Thank you for all my other gifts. Love, (Name excised at writer's discretion)"
Once upon a time, letters like these ended up in the U.S. Postal Service's dead letter office. But for the past 28 years, they have gone instead to the consumer affairs department at the main Oakland Post Office on 7th Street, where the public is invited to read and, if you like, answer them.
"You don't have to send a gift," says MaryGrace Cruz, USPS Consumer & Industry Contact Manager. "The children appreciate just knowing that somebody out there cares."
But, of course, if you're moved to send a present, too, nobody's going to stop you. To get in on the fun, call the Santa's Mailbag hotline at 510-874-8737 and leave a message, and one of Santa's elves will call you back.
In the meantime, here's what our kids want this holiday season:
"Dear Santa, My big brother is writing this because I'm still in my mom's tummy, but I will be out before you know it. I will be born around the first of January, It would be helpful if you could get me some baby clothes and baby shoes and toys if you can. Sinsirely, Cristobal."
"Dear Santa, My name is Emmie. I am 6 years old. Ive been really good this year. I will like to have a dress from the movie Frozen. It’s the blue dress Ella has. I love Frozen things. And if you want to bring my little brother something, you can, but he's not really good."
"Dear Santa, My name is Brianna. I'm 8 years old, but my birthday is December 25, so I'm happy that it's almost my birthday. I'm really happy because I have a new baby brother! He's just 3 months old and I want you to bring him a toy because he does not know how to talk or write. I have really good grades in school, and I am always good at my house. Love, Brianna. P.S. Don't forget about my little brother!"
"Dear Santa, My name is Luis. I am 9 years old. I am visualizing you reading this letter. I hope that this Christmas you can bring me something. I ask my mother, but she cannot buy me anything. Her money won't stretch or is not enough. I would like a tablet to do my homework. Also Santa, you know I love to sing. I would very much like a karaoke machine to sing along with. I also send this letter for my mom. She cannot afford to buy for my big brothers either. So if you could buy something for them it would be very nice. They are in school right now so I can't ask them what they want. Well that is all Santa. God bless you Santa. Love, Luis."
"Dear Santa, I have a question. I saw you last Friday. Was that you or do you send out helpers? (Unsigned)
"Dear Santa, I was wondering if you could do me a BIG, BIG favor. You probably can't, but I was wondering if you could help me. You see, whenever I get something, I lose it. Like my camera. I was hoping you could bring it back this year in its case. I also lost the pocket knife you gave me last year. Can you help me find it? If you do, put it on the bench by my window. Love, Scott."
"Dear Santa, I think I was good this year because I haven't got into trouble that much. An oops slip is a slip of paper that means you didn't do your homework and I haven't got an oops slip this year. I think I deserve presents because I am playing a sport and if I am playing a sport it means I am doing well in school. I am a good brother because I help him when he is stuck with something and help him when he needs help. I am a good son because I help my mom when my dad is not home and I help my dad when my mom is not home. I am a good uncle because I take care of Maddox. I hope you agree I am on the nice list this year." (Unsigned)
"Dear Santa, How are you doing today? I hope everything is great and that you're reading my letter. J I really hope you're reading this and I also hope to hear back from you! Sorry to be bothering you. I know you are busy, but it would be so great if I get a gift this Christmas because my mom isn't working at the moment so it's hard for her to get me something which is fine because I understand her situation. I hope to hear back from you and have a wonderful Christmas! Love, Lupita."
"Dear Mr. Clause, Since you've been watching me I think you already know what I want. But just in case, I'm enclosing a list of what I want. A star next to it means I want it a lot." (No signature)
"Dear Santa, I only want a few things this year. I would like to have the Kaya American Doll, even more stuffed animals, and a book of activities. I wish I could get you a gift in return, but I don't know what you want. Maybe you could send me a note that says what you want on it. Have a good Christmas! Love, Vivian."
"Dear Santa, I'm going into surgery for a tumor on my spine before Christmas. For my present, I would like to be here for Christmas. I know it is an unusual gift, but it would mean the world to me and my family. Love, Maika."

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Topological Toyz

Another distinction for Oakland: It's home to the man who makes the nerdiest Christmas gift in America.
Says who? The uber-nerd himself, Nate Silver, the guy who crunches the numbers and makes those uncannily accurate sports and election predictions.
On Black Friday Silver released his FiveThirtyEight 2014 Holiday Gift Guide. And right at the top, with a perfect "Nerd Factor" of 10 out of 10, is a Klein Bottle made by Cliff Stoll, owner and sole proprietor of the Acme Klein Bottle Company, which he runs from the kitchen of his home in North Oakland.
So what's a Klein Bottle? Well, remember your geometry class in high school, when you took a strip of paper, gave it a half-twist, and taped the ends together?
The result was a loop with only one side, one edge, and other properties that math geeks love. It's called a Möbius Loop after August Möbius, the 19th-Century mathematician who invented it.
In 1882 another mathematician named Felix Klein imagined what would happen if you glued two Möbius Loops together: You'd have a bottle with only one side. Its inside would be its outside, and vice versa.
The only problem with a Klein Bottle is that to properly see it you need to live in four dimensions, and we only live in three.
"But you can represent it in three dimensions," says Stoll, "just as a photograph is a two-dimensional representation of something that exists in three dimensions."
Acme Klein Bottles come in all sizes and prices, from the 3 1/2-inch "Baby" bottle, which sells for $35, up to a 3 1/2-foot behemoth that’ll set you back six grand.
You can also buy Klein swag, including a Klein hat and matching Möbius scarf. To get a Klein Bottle for that special geek in your life, visit kleinbottle.com.
                                   * * *
Finally, do you know a senior – say, 55 or older – who is going to be home alone on Christmas?
Senior Center Without Walls is in between its regular sessions right now, but they're bridging the gap by offering special telephone group chats over the holiday season and beyond to keep everyone's spirits merry and bright. All you have to do is call up and join in. Among the offerings:
December 19: Laughing Through The Holidays.
December 21: Holiday Caroling.
December 25: Winter Holiday Celebration.
January 2: Building Friendships.
January 9: Talent Show
January 16: Eating Healthy on A Budget
January 19: A celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day with Dr. King's lifelong friend, Dr. Jewell Taylor Gibbs.
SCWW will also offer weekly conversations about Bible study, Improvisation, birdwatching and trivia, as well as online chats about art appreciation and the great American songbook.
Then, on January 26, the regular Winter/Spring session, offering dozens of conversations each week on subjects ranging from the silly to the sublime, will start up. I'll let you know more details when the time draws closer.
In the meantime, you can sign up for any of the holiday break telephone conversations by calling 510-444-5974 or toll-free at 1-877-797-7299.
This time of year can be lonely for isolated older people. If you know someone who might be in this situation, please let them know about this wonderful service. And please remind them that it's 100 percent free.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Winston Is Back

Winston Churchill, who would have celebrated his 140th birthday today, was a man who was wrong about almost everything in his life.
He was wrong about India, jeering at Gandhi as "a half-naked Indian fakir" and, when the Mahatma was on one of his hunger strikes, firing off an indignant telegram to the Viceroy demanding to know why Gandhi hadn't died yet.
He was wrong about Ireland, where is name is still a dirty word because of his role in organizing the infamous Black and Tan paramilitary death squads to terrorize the Irish population.
He was wrong about women's suffrage when, as Home Secretary, he subjected hundreds of suffragists to forced feeding (which was like waterboarding, only grosser) in prison.
He was wrong during the abdication crisis of 1936 when he backed Edward VIII's plans to marry his paramour, Wallis Simpson, who was simultaneously sleeping with Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim Von Ribbentrop.
He was wrong about the cockamamie Gallipoli invasion in World War I, when, as First Lord of the Admiralty, he sent thousands of ANZAC soldiers to their deaths in a hopeless military adventure.
He was wrong when, as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924, he put Britain back on the gold standard, triggering a deep recession that mushroomed into a general strike two years later.
And he was wrong about what he called "the soft underbelly of Europe," forcing Eisenhower to postpone the D-Day invasion for a whole year and embark on a bloody campaign up the Italian peninsula instead.
Have you ever looked at a map of Italy? It's crisscrossed by hundreds of mountain ranges and rivers, all horizontal, which provided better natural defenses for the Germans than man could ever build. Some soft underbelly!
In fact, he was right about only one thing in his life: the absolute necessity of standing up to Hitler. But that one thing was so important, it dwarfs all his failures and permanently establishes him as the greatest statesman in British history, and one of the greatest in all of world history.
In the 1930s he was a lonely voice warning about Nazis intentions, but nobody listened. He cautioned Chamberlain not to give in to Hitler at Munich, and when Chamberlain did it anyway, he retorted, "You were given a choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and now you shall have war."
When war came and the bankruptcy of Chamberlain's appeasement was exposed, Churchill was named Prime Minister. But everyone in British ruling circles, including his own foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, wanted to sue for peace on whatever terms Hitler offered.
But despite the enormous pressure, Churchill refused to give in. Instead, he marshaled the English language and sent it into battle with some of the most stirring speeches since Shakespeare:
"We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall NEVER surrender!"
And this:
"Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'"
It was not only Britain's finest hour; it was his, too. And the world was saved.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Just Say No To Ho-Ho-Ho

(Above: Santa Ron and some of the Children's Fairyland Storybook Personalities)

I was chatting with Santa Claus the other day while we watched a little girl, about four years old, gleefully chasing hither and thither after the soap bubbles emanating from Oswald the Bubble Elf's pipe at Children's Fairyland.
"You'd never see that at Disneyland," I said. "Her parents would be scared to let her run free like that."
"Yeah," he laughed, "and even if they did, they'd probably be charged $15 per bubble."
Of course, he isn't the real Santa. (The real one is rather busy at the North Pole right now.) His name is Ron Zeno, and for the past 10 years he has stood in for The Big Guy at Fairyland's annual Fairy Winterland, which will take place from noon to 7 p.m. on December 5-7, 12-14, and 19-23 if weather permits. And you couldn't ask for a better stand-in.
"He's the best Santa we could possibly wish for," says C.J. Hirschfield, Fairyland's executive director. "He's so sweet and gentle with the kids. That rich, chocolaty voice of his instantly puts them at ease."
The secrets of his success: Never say "Ho-ho-ho" ("It scares the bejezus out of little kids," he explains), never promise anything specific, and never make direct eye contact, which can also frighten them.
"I start off by making myself small," he says, no easy task at 6'1 and 260 lbs. "I take my time, stay out of their face, and let them come to me. It doesn't always work; but when it does, it feels great."
Santa will welcome his little visitors every afternoon from 5 to 6 p.m., and every child will get a special treat.
Then, at 6:15, Santa will lead the little ones through the park in the nightly Festival of Lights Parade. It's a rare chance for them to see what Fairyland looks like after dark. Every structure and tree will by festooned with sparking lights, with a snow machine completing the wintery impression. The effect is magical, even for grownups.
On the Emerald City Stage, the Fairyland Children's Theater will present its annual holiday program, spotlighting winter celebrations from around the world including Christmas, Chanukah, Ramadan, Dwali, Kwanzaa, Las Posadas, Chinese New Year and the Winter Solstice.
Meanwhile, actors in animal costumes from Critters Across the Bay will be roaming around the park acting silly, and some of the real-life animals who live at Fairyland will be featured each day as Animal of the Day.
Last but not least, the Puppet Theater will present not one but two productions: "The Midas Touch," written and designed by Fairyland's late, great Master Puppeteer, Lewis Mahlmann, and a puppet production of "The Nutcracker," written and designed by Mahlmann's handpicked successor, Randal Metz, featuring dancing candies, prancing clowns, mechanical toys, Chinese dragons, and a climactic battle between the Mouse King's armies and the toy soldiers.
If your kids are still too young to take to the Oakland Ballet's version of "The Nutcracker," this is a great, no-pressure way to get them started. Nobody will mind if they get up and start wandering around in the middle of the show.
Plus: jugglers, magicians, storytellers – including the Blue Fairy, Jacqueline Lynaugh, as the Snow Queen - and free hot cocoa and cider.
Sounds like fun, huh? Wish it had been around when I was their age.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Remembering That Day

Last year I asked my classmates, all of whom were freshmen at Yale, to remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the terrible news from Dallas. Here's what they said:

Tom Jones was in the library of the Art & Architecture building when he heard the news coming through the window from a transistor radio on the street outside. Richard Nelson was in Lawrence Hall, listening to a song by an unknown band called The Beatles.
George McGaughey was sitting in chemistry class, waiting for the professor, who was unaccountably late.
"As we were getting up to leave, the door to the classroom burst open. A very excited student stepped into the room and shouted, 'The President's been shot!'
"I turned to the fellow next to me and said, 'Now, who in God's name would shoot Kingman Brewster?' We looked at each other and said, 'Holy Christ! He means President Kennedy!'"
It was 50 years ago this month: November 22, 1963, the Friday of what was supposed to be our first Harvard weekend.
As George walked down the hill back to the Old Campus, he saw cars stopped randomly up and down the street. "Not just in traffic lanes but helter-skelter all over the roadway, with doors and windows open and their radios turned way up. I could follow the news reports coming over their radios as I walked back to the Old Campus, all trying to determine whether the President was dead or alive. We soon learned the horrible truth."
Tom Judson was on the freshman football team, playing against their Harvard counterparts. "The people in the stands had known but didn't tell us until the game was over," he says. "I remember walking back to the locker room next to Tim Weigel, who was weeping."
Chuck Lidz was in his Poly Sci 30 class, taught by the great Karl Deutch. "He walked in a couple of minutes late and announced that the President had died. Then he lectured passionately about how we needed to stand behind President Johnson against what he firmly believed was the first step in a fascist coup. I heard that it took him almost a week to stop worrying about it. Apparently, having lived in Germany in the '30s had a significant impact."
Tom Maynard loved President Kennedy. "I grew up in a close Irish Catholic family, and John Kennedy was for all of us more than the President. He was the fourth member of the Holy Trinity. The shock when his death was announced was like losing a family member. Worse."
Bob Leahy loved him, too. "When he died, it felt like something inside me died. Jim Manor and I got together in my room in Bingham Hall and proceeded to get drunk on gin. It was the first time I had ever gotten drunk. Manor and I listened to the 'Camelot' album and tried to sing along. To this day I can't stand the smell of gin, but I still like Manor."
The grief crossed partisan lines. "Some of us were great admirers of the President; others, including myself at the time, were less so," says John Lungstrum. "But that was not the point. This kind of thing just didn't happen in America!"
It was evening when Sten Lofgren heard the news in his native Sweden. "I stood on the balcony looking up at the stars and clutching a portable radio. Slowly, I moved the pointer from one end of the dial to the other, tuning in every major radio station in Europe. Everywhere there was somber music interrupted by solemn announcers speaking many different languages, most of which I could not identify, let alone comprehend. What was instantly clear, though, was that they all used the words 'John F. Kennedy' and 'Dallas, Texas.' All of Europe, and probably most of the world, was in mourning in spite of whatever political differences they might otherwise have had."
Sefik Buyukyuksel was living in his native Turkey when he heard the news. But his future wife, concert pianist Idil Biret, was in Boston that day, about to make her American debut with the Boston Symphony. After announcing the news of the President's death to the audience, Henry B. Cabot, president of the orchestra's board of trustees, declared that the show would go on. It was the only concert in the country that wasn't cancelled that day.
"And so we played Rachmaninoff's Third Concerto for a Boston audience that was in shock," she recalls. "Some of the cellos came in too early before I started the cadenza between the second and third movement. It was probably due to emotion. You can feel the heavy atmosphere in the recording that was made during the concert." (You can hear that recording, including Cabot's speech, on Sefik and Idil's website, idilbiret.eu/en?p+318/)
Some classmates, like Carl Williams, spent the day praying and weeping in Dwight Hall Chapel. Others, including Ray Rahn and Ken Kusterer, hitchhiked to Washington for the funeral. "Chuck Schumer (no relation to the Senator) and I put on our suits and went out to stand on I-95," says Ken. "Before even putting out our thumbs, a large Puerto Rican family picked us up, knowing from our suits that we were going where they were. In D.C. we spent the night sitting on our curb spot, and from there we saw the funeral procession the next day. We got a ride hone from a fellow curb-sitter and joined the throng of cars headed back north."
Randy Alfred, a native Bostonian, was only 12 when he met JFK in person. Randy's junior high class was on a field trip to Washington, D.C. in 1958, and one of their stops was a visit with their state's junior senator. Kennedy spoke briefly to the group and then asked for questions, no doubt expecting the how-does-a-bill-become-a-law variety. Instead, Randy, being Randy, asked a sophisticated question about reciprocal trade agreements.
Kennedy threw his head back and laughed, in the manner we all knew so well, and said, "That's a mighty big question from a little boy!" Then he proceeded to give Randy a serious answer to his question.
"Ever since that trip I'd tried to get a copy of the group photo we took with him, but the teacher had misplaced the only copy, and inquiries to the Senate and the White House had proved fruitless," says Randy. "But a few days after the assassination my mom telephoned me with news that the teacher was rummaging through his attic and finally located the original. As I was the only one who'd ever inquired about it, he mailed it to me. When it arrived, I discovered that Kennedy had autographed it. I hung it on my wall. It's still on my wall."
And for Barry Golson, the Kennedy connection went back to before he was born. "In 1940 my Boston-born mother was at Regis, a small Catholic women's college. There was a mixer, and Mom, who was a babe back in the day, was asked to dance by a skinny guy from Harvard. Jack Kennedy and my mother danced together the rest of the evening and hit it off. They had a couple of dates more and wrote each other letters. It was a very brief romance, and I never inquired about the details. (This is my mother we're talking about.)
"So Jack Kennedy was someone familiar to me as I grew up. In 1956, Mom called me over to the TV set during the Democratic convention, when an absurdly young JFK made a run for VP. 'Watch that man,' Mom said. 'He'll be president someday.' At Exeter, I stayed up all night listening to the election returns of 1960, which was more than JFK himself did. In November 1963, as a freshman like the rest of you, I heard the terrible news in Bingham. It was the first death of anyone I 'knew,' as well as the death of a President. I never really got over it.
"P.S. When Mom got back from her honeymoon in 1943 with my dad, whom she also met at a dance, she returned home while my Navy dad went back to sea. She looked in her bedside table, where she kept things that mattered to her. The handwritten letters from JFK were gone. Crestfallen, Mom asked her mother where the letters were. 'A proper wife never keeps letters from her former beaus,' said my Boston battleaxe of a grandmother. 'I threw them out.'"

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Cat Who Came In From The Cold

                             (Above: Pirate, before and after)

Once upon a time, a light-brown-and-gray tabby kitten lived with an elderly woman in Alameda. He was loved, but, like so many cats, he was never taken to the vet, even though there was something wrong with his left eye that caused him to squint.
When his owner passed away, the kitten was left to fend for himself. So he did what any smart cat would do.
Nearby was an elementary school with a crossing guard. So he took it upon himself to accompany the guard, Cecilia Theis, every time she stepped into the crosswalk to halt traffic for the kids.
They quickly struck a deal: In return for his help, he got two meals a day. He quickly learned that if he showed up a few minutes early, she'd open a can of cat food and let him eat before his shift began.
The children loved him and named him Pirate because one eye was shut, and he realized that if he timed his arrival right, they'd give him neck and belly rubs on their way to and from school. He started to trust people again.
That was two years ago. Two months ago, a wonderful rescue organization called Island Cat Resources and Adoption heard about Pirate, and a couple of volunteers went over to check out his eye problem.
It turned out to be an extremely painful condition that caused his eyelashes to grow inward. But it was curable. All he needed was an expensive operation.
Now, this is usually something ICRA can't handle. They're a strictly volunteer group whose budget is already stretched to the max paying for routine medical care, vaccinations and spay/neuter surgery for the cats and kittens they rescue.
But this was a special case. After all he'd been through already, how could they let him continue to suffer?
So they dug deep into their own pockets and somehow came up with enough money to pay for the surgery.
It was a success. Pirate is not only cured, he's been adopted. He's now living with Theis (surprise!) in his forever home.
But he still makes an occasional visit to his lucky crosswalk for old times' sake. And the children still adore him and pet him.
ICRA has found new homes for 4,500 cats In the last 10 years, as well spaying or neutering more than 16,000. Considering that a single pair of fertile cats and their offspring will produce 65,000 cats in just five years, that's a lot of unwanted kittens that were never born to short, miserable lives.
If you'd like to support ICRA's lifesaving mission, there's an easy way: Buy your Christmas decorations, gifts, cards, wrapping paper, baked items, jewelry and more at ICRA's annual Holiday Boutique, which will take place Friday, Dec. 5, from noon to 6 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 6, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the Alameda Elks Lodge, 2255 Santa Clara Avenue. And if you can't make it to the Holiday Boutique, you can still donate on ICRA's website, www.icraeastbay.org. That's also where you can see pictures of some very adorable kitties up for adoption.
ICRA doesn't have a shelter; and that, paradoxically, is an advantage because all the cats are fostered in private homes, which makes them much friendlier and less timid.
Sorry, Pirate is already taken.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Her Honor, the Mayor!

(Above: Oakland's new mayor. Photo by Cisco DeVries)

A couple of days after her stunning victory in last week's Oakland mayoral race, Libby Schaaf was asked by an interviewer, "How do you plan to change the perception that Oakland is riddled with crime?"
Her answer was revealing. "Change the reality," she said.
Typical Libby: Attack the problem, don't spin it.
I first met her at a fundraising party 30 years ago, while she was still in school, although we have slightly different memories of the encounter.
Her memory is that I was the only grownup who didn't talk down to her like a kid.
My memory was that I spent so much time talking with her because she was the only interesting person in the room.
Right away I knew I had met an extraordinary young person -  smart, wise beyond her years, whose love for her home town was obvious. I thought, "Wow. Wouldn't it be nice if she became mayor some day?"
And now she has. I'm happy for her, but I'm even happier for Oakland, a wonderful town that deserves the leadership I know she will give it.
Richard Nixon – probably not one of her favorite politicians – once said, "Some people want to BE President; others want to DO president."
Libby has never wanted to BE mayor. She wants to DO mayor. And that's going to happen, largely because she follows the maxim of another Republican politician: Ronald Reagan, who said, "There's nothing you can't accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit."
That's Libby through-and-through, too. Even though she was on the City Council for only four years before winning the mayor's job, she already compiled an impressive record of forging alliances,
She has a few other things going for her, too, including a real mandate – unlike her predecessor, she led the ballot count wire to wire – and a reputation for fair dealing.
Most of all, she has the people of Oakland themselves, who have always been the city's greatest asset. Especially her own generation of thirty/fortysomethings, who are trying to be part of the solution, each in his/her own way.
People like Sophia Chang, founder of Kitchener Oakland, a support and resource for new food businesses of every kind.
And Kev Choice, the multitalented jazz keyboardist/composer/producer who is just as likely to be found registering voters at political events as performing up on stage.
And graffiti artist, hip-hop dancer, toymaker and photographer Jessica Sabogal, one of the leading lights of the Oakland Arts Renaissance.
And event producer Sarah Kidder, who runs Oaktown's pride and joy, the monthly Oakland First Fridays festival. When the bands, artists, attendees and cops all agree the event is cool, fun and safe, you know you're doing something right.
I've been waiting a long time for this generation to take charge. Now's their time, and Libby's election is just the leading edge.
So best wishes to Mayor-elect Schaaf and the city she loves so much. I have a feeling this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
P.S. Libby's election is a historic milestone in another way. It's the first time a former Children's Fairyland Storybook Personality has been elected Mayor of Oakland. In 1975 she was Raggedy Ann. And her best friend, Leslie Zimmerman, who later was the maid of honor at her wedding, was Raggedy Andy.