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

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Remembering Chad

From the moment they met each other in 1984 during the first week of freshmen year at Bishop O'Dowd High School, Patrick Scalise knew he and Chad Newhouse were going to be best friends for life.
"He was, as we say in Oakland, 'hella cool,'" says Patrick. "He was one of a kind: stubborn, handsome, eccentric, a perfectionist, loving, sensitive, funny – he was the wittiest person I ever met in my life - and stoic. Maybe too stoic, as it turned out."
They shared a deep love of sports and heavy metal music, and you never met two bigger Raiders and A's fans in your life.
Their friendship continued through college and life in the adult world. When they weren't playing together in an AC/DC cover band, they were keeping in touch every day through phone calls and emails.
But a few years ago Chad started to withdraw into himself, and months would go by before Patrick heard from him.
"He was so dark and isolated. That's one of the signs of depression, but I didn't know it. I'll never live that down."
Then, in the early morning hours of Dec. 2, 2012, Patrick got a phone call from Chad's father. Chad had taken his own life.
Patrick was devastated, and he (wrongly) blamed himself.
"I keep asking 'What if?' You look at this situation and say, 'This guy needs serious help.' But you don't realize that you might have to intervene physically. You don't think it will come to that."
In despair, he traveled to L.A., where he and Chad had many mutual friends, and they drowned their sorrows in hours and hours of playing the music Chad loved.
"Then one our friends said, 'How rad would it be if we created a Raider Nation rock band and played a concert in Chad's honor?'"
They formed an all-star band called The Plunketts, and Patrick created a non-profit called the Chad Newhouse Foundation to promote suicide prevention and mental health awareness.
 "It went from friends trying to heal through music to this silly name to something extremely serious that gives us a purpose."
The first annual Plunkett Fest, a benefit for the Chad Newhouse Foundation, will be held Oct. 18 at the Uptown Nightclub in Oakland, featuring The Plunkets, The Butlers, and Feather Witch.
Former Raiders Cliff Branch and George Beuhler will be there, along with some of the Raiderettes. Tickets are available on Ticket Web or at the door. All proceeds will be donated to San Francisco Suicide Prevention.
And if you can't make the show, you can still send a check to the Chad Newhouse Foundation, 1308 63rd Street, Suite P, Emeryville 94608.
"Suicide is such a taboo subject," says Patrick, who still misses his friend every day. "Look how far we've come with AIDS. We got over that B.S. We have to do the same thing with mental health."
If you are having suicidal thoughts yourself, call the National Suicide Hotline ASAP at 1-800-273-8255. It's open 24/7, and the person on the other end will be someone who's been there, too.
And if you know someone who is wrestling with suicidal thoughts, please don't assume they won't act on it. They will, if nobody intervenes.
"My best friend committed suicide," says Patrick. "It could happen to you, too."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Run Rabbi, Run Rabbi, Run, Run, Run

And now, in honor of the High Holy Days, an update on the Runnin' Rabbi himself, Yehuda Ferris, who, along with his wife Miriam, is co-director of Chabad of the East Bay in Berkeley.

Chabad is the center of local Hassidic life, which means there's always a lot of singing, dancing, joking and, above all, smiling.

Hassidim are followers of a rabbi who lived almost 300 years ago known as the Ba'al Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name).

He taught that a personal relationship with God is more important than book learning. He called that relationship "cleaving to God;" and for his followers, it's an ecstatic, joyful experience.
"Even something as simple as tying your shoelaces or changing your baby's diaper can bring you closer to God, if it's done in the right spirit," says Ferris. "If you stop and think about all the blessings The Lord has given us, it's just overwhelming. All you can do is laugh and sing and dance with gratitude and joy."
So what's Ferris' latest hobby? Running Marathons. He began with his first half-Marathon (13.1 miles) at the San Francisco Marathon on July 27.
"My son-in-law goaded me into it. He said, 'Old man, you're going to run the Marathon' and made me buy a pair of good running shoes. When I put them on I started to feel like a big shot. Ninety percent of running is looking the part.
"Then he bought me an Assics shirt that wicks away the sweat and some spandex pants that looked obscene. So I got myself some running pants that were loose and breathable."
His plan was to get up early each morning and run progressively longer distances for the next three months.
"I started telling people I was in training, but I really wasn't. So one day my wife kicked me out of bed and said, "Go run!" So I jumped into Lake Temescal for a mikvah (ritual bath) – and began training in earnest."
The Marathon was held on a Sunday; so rather than drive on the Sabbath, Ferris and his congregation checked in en masse at the San Francisco Holiday Inn on Friday night and held Sabbath services there.
He was up bright and early on Sunday for his starting time, 5:30 a.m. He was running to raise money for San Francisco Team Friendship, a cause dear to his heart that matches special needs kids with non-disabled teenagers with only one goal in mind: friendship.
"They have everything – therapists, educational pedagogues – but they don't have as many friends as they would like," he says. "So we provide the teens to give them the friendship and socialization that every person craves."
Ferris wore his running gear, plus his yarmulke and tallit (prayer shawl), of course.
"My favorite moment was when another runner jogged over to me and said, 'Excuse me, are you Jewish?'" he laughs.
But he was far from the most picturesque runner in the race.
"I saw a fireman in full uniform and a guy who juggled all the way, but this wasn't Bay To Breakers. People were wearing clothes."
He didn't win the race, of course, but he did finish.
"I got the Crown of a Good Name," he says. "I got street cred."
To find out more about Team Friendship, visit sf.teamfriendship.org.