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 6, 2015

Dear Santa

"Dear Santa, Are you real? If you live at the North Pole, how come I can't find your house on Google Earth? Love, Max."
"Dear Santa, How are you, Mrs. Claus, the elves, and the reindeer doing? I would like a Buster Posey jersey for my dog, size XL. Love, Noah."
"Dear Santa, For Christmas I want a computer, find my lost tablet, and make Daddy stop drinking beer." (Unsigned)
Once upon a time, letters like these ended up in the U.S. Postal Service's dead letter office. But for the past 29 years they have gone instead to the consumer affairs department at the main Oakland Post Office on 7th Street, where you are 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 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 – Toni Harmon, Nina Tan, Susan Romance, Janet Ezell, Jodi Black, Regina Paje, and David Tachibana - will call you back.
In the meantime, here's what our kids are asking for this holiday season:
"Dear Santa, Merry Christmas! Thank you for watching us all these years. I really want a new Dell computer with a cool touch screen and turns into an iPad because I really want it and it looks awesome. But if you can't make that happen (but I really want the computer, I want to have the most amazing Christmas ever. I hope to have the most merriest & wonderful Christmas with my family. My family is very important to me; they are my favorite people in the world. I love them. I also hope I am on the nice list. You are the best person ever. Love, Ella."
"Dear Mr. Claus, Please help me find the perfect puppy for my family. Whenever my brother says 'papidog please,' I start to cry. I know you're busy, but one wish I have is for my family can find the perfect pet. I live in two places. My mom and dad are divorsed. Please help. Love, Paola."
"Dear Santa, Hi! It's Mia. I am 9 now! But how old are you? I never knew. Wait – do you remember you're reindeer's name. I forgot. Love, Mia."
"Dear Santa, It's me, Kenya. Never mind the other letter I sent you. I want something different, a Russian hamster. Aren't they cute? It would be great if you could get me the other accessories that it needs, like food and the cage. Thank you so, so, so much! Love, Kenya."
"Dear Santa, I want a whole new cool life, super powers, and 100 wishes. From, Alyssa."
"Dear Santa, My name is Jose and I have a brother named James, 9m and a sister named Allison, 7. We live with mom and we don't have a father. My mom is not working at this time and she doesn't have enough money to have a merry Christmas. With all my heart I appreciate your reading this letter of mine to help us have a very Merry Christmas. Thank you very much and God bless you Love, Jose, James and Allison."
"Dear Santa, I've been pretty good this year. I'm enclosing a list of what I want for Christmas. Oh, you know why I'm sending it early? It's because I want a lot of toys, and your elves are going to have to work hard.  So thag's why. Write yes or no if you understand. Check one box. Yes I understand, or No I don't understand. I need this before Christmas. Love, Valentina."
"Dear Santa, Lots of people at my school don't believe in you because they never get any presents from you. I was going to ask you what your favorite color was and I thought it might be green. That's why I mad a green frame around this letter. Anyways, if you are allowed to, please tell me your favorite color. Love, Rachael."
"Dear Santa, My name is Keysha. I am 9 years old. I have been a good girl. I want a pair of boots and a baby doll. My brother is Marcus, and he is 8 years old. He would like a chuchu train and a truck and a car. Love, Keysha and Marcus."
"Dear Santa, My Nana died. I miss her. I have tried to be a helpful and considerate girl. Love, Charli."
"Dear Santa, I miss you too much. I'm in the (redacted) grade, but you might already know that. Please respond to my note! I want to know how you're doing. Love, the one and only Mia."
"Dear Santa, For Christmas I would like to spend some time with my kids. Please send my husband a job so I can do this. Love, Jessica."
"Dear Santa, I should get a present because I listen to my friends' ideas, I help my family, and I play with my brother even if I don't like the game he is playing. Thank you! Yours truly, Aneesh."
"Dear Santa , My name is Amelie and I am four years old. I have a little brother named Grayson. Your scout elf Snowflake has been visiting my house. She sits on a shelf on the wall and visits our Christmas tree. She is now my friend and I say good morning evey m morning when I see her. I have tried to be very good this year so she will gtell you good things. Marry Christmas! Your friend, Amelie."
"Dear Santa, My name is Grayson. I stay home with mommy and I love my family, especially my sister Amelie. Love, Grayson"
"Dear Santa, I am so sorry to interrupt your cookies and milk break. I am writing for my sister because she is 5 and doesn't know quit yet how to. Neither do I because I spelled 'quit' wrong. You kno what I mean though. My sister is very shy and she was wondering if she could get an American Girl from you. We can't afford one by ourselves, so can you and Rudolf helper get a 'Grace.?' Sincerely, Gloria. P.S. Sorry about the sloppy handwriting."
"Dear Santa, In case you are looking for ideas for gifts for me, here are some ideas. But really, anything you like is fine: 1) My son to do his homework every week so we have more time for family fun. 2) My daughter to remember to eat a snack after school so she doesn't get cranky or bite my head off when I get home from work. 3) My husband to make his super yummy special dinner that I love, even if my dumb kids complain. 4) Izzy – no dead things in the house. Merry Christmas, Yvonne."
"Dear Santa, Can I have my train early? Because it will tke a long time to build it. Love, Jenna."
"Dear Santa, I have been really good this year by listening to my parents and getting to school on time most of the time.I was also kind to my friends and I was really excited when I was Panther star at school the week before my sister was. Thank you, Ada."
"Dear Santa, I love my family and I love you. Please come and eat cookies and milk and let your raindear eat many carrots. From, Tiffany."
"Dear Santa, Please, please, please! Send my Elf On The Shelf really soon! By the way, her name is Shelly. He had brown hair and blue eyes. Please, will you write back to me? You are my most favorite person ever. Love, Zoe."
"Dear Santa, My mom doesn't have any money to buy me anything for Christmas. She is very stressed out. Santa, you are very nice and your always doing something, so please can you bring me something? Please reply to me as soon as you can. Hugs and kisses, Denise."
"Dear Santa, My name is Juan. I'm nine years old. I am a child with special needs. I have autism. I am in the 4th grade. I wish I could have some clothes for the winter. I am a size 12 in pants (large), size lg in shirts and jacket, and size 2 in shoes. Thanks for your support. I wish you Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2016. Love, Juan"
"Dear Santa, This Christmas all I wish for is that all the needy have food, warmth, and something to share. Love, Anghlie."

Pizza To Die For

Whenever New Yorkers get together in the Bay Area, they always complain about how much better the pizza was back home.
That's pretty arrogant, but these are New Yorkers, after all. (You got a problem wid dat?) And in this case, they have a point. If you've never tasted New York pizza, you haven't lived. Jon Stewart is right about that.
Well, I have good news for all you transplanted Gothamites: There is one place that sells the real thing. But it's so tiny, it's easy to miss.
It's an unpretentious hole in the wall called Arinell Pizza, located right on top of the downtown Berkeley BART station. It's so authentic, they serve the slices on waxed paper, just like in the Big Apple.
It all started 40 years ago, when Ron Dermijian, who was teaching elementary school in New York, came out here to visit some friends. One night, they said, "Wanna have some pizza?"
They took him to a well-known local pizzeria, and he was underwhelmed.
"It was very mediocre. They told me, 'This is as good as it gets,' so I thought, 'If I brought authentic New York pizza out here, it could be a big hit.'"
Problem was, he knew nothing about making pizza. So when he got back to New York he made a beeline for his favorite pizzeria, Carolina Pizza at the corner of Nicholas Avenue and 181st Street in upper Manhattan, and made the owner an offer he couldn't refuse: "If you teach me how to make pizza, I'll work here for free."
The guy was wary at first, "but after he finally believed I wasn't going to open up a place right across the street from him, he agreed. He taught me how to make it just like they do in Rome."
On February 15, 1975, Ron and a friend named Larry went into partnership and opened Arinell Pizza in Berkeley. (The name is a phonetic spelling of their initials: R and L.) It was a hit from the start – so much so, Ron was able to buy Larry out within a couple of years, although he kept the name.
"I've never wavered from the recipe, which I was encouraged to do because Californians want their food Californicated," he says. "Pizza is best served plain, with maybe one or two toppings, max."
That means nothing exotic like pineapple (ugh!). "People are constantly asking for it," he says, "and I once gave in and bought a case of pineapple, which is as cheap as pepperoni. But I still couldn't bring myself to put it on the pizza, as hard as I tried, so I finally threw it out."
But even more important than the toppings – or, in this case, the lack therof – is the crust, and Arinell's is sheer perfection: crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, with just the right amount of chewiness. It's enough to make grown men weep. And his grateful customers reward him by coming back over and over again.
"It's humbling," he says. "In New York City, every corner has two pizza places – an OK place and a good place," he says. "All I ever wanted to do was be the good place. Who would have imagined all the attention we've gotten here? We've become iconic."