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

Friday, January 15, 2016

My Pal Al

A great man died last week. But he was also a very good man.
His name was Al Hart, and for more than 20 years he was the morning drive anchor at KCBS in San Francisco. He won every broadcasting award there was, plus the love and admiration of everyone in the news business.
"He was the guy we all wanted to be," said Tom Newton, the assignment editor at KRON.
"The finest individual I ever met in radio. Invariably kind and gentle, and funny and talented to boot," said Andy Ellis, Al's engineer during the 1980s.
"Here was this broadcasting legend treating me not as some lowly little girl tech who was supposed to make him look good, but as an equal," said Kitty Rea, one of KCBS's first female engineers back in the 1970s.
"He demonstrated through his life that it is possible to succeed without destroying those around you," said Lois Melkonian, Al's co-anchor at KCBS for ten years.
It would take dozens of columns to quote even a fraction of the nice things that are being said about him today, and thousands more to list all his good deeds. Let's just put it this way: Lots of people, knowing that Al and I were longtime friends, have asked me if he could possibly have been as nice as he came across on the radio. And I have to answer honestly: No. In real life, he was even nicer.
When I first met him, he was married to a wonderful woman named Sally. But in the mid-1990s Sally was stricken by ALS – also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease – an insidious killer that left her mind intact but slowly destroyed her muscles, first robbing her of her ability to talk and then her ability to write, cutting her off from the world. It was a living hell, and she hated it.
Al was a saint through all this. He was there for her 24/7, waiting on her hand and foot, talking to her, encouraging her, sharing the ordeal with her. But what else would you expect from Al?
Sally finally died in 2002, and it was a blessing (her word, not mine). Al was devastated.
But a few years later he met another wonderful woman named Pat, and they married in 2010. Unfortunately, a few months after that Al was diagnosed with corticobasal degeneration, a rare, progressive brain disease that robbed him first of that amazing, mellifluous voice that the listeners loved so much and then, step by step, of his mind. It was the mirror image of the disease that took Sally's life.
Now, here's where the karma kicks in. All the kindness, all the energy, all the effort that he put into taking care of Sally, that's what Pat did for him. She knocked herself out, and when she wasn't enough all by herself, she hired round-the-clock nursing care in their home so he wouldn't have to go into a nursing home.
I once marveled to her face at her dedication, and she replied,  "I just love him, that's all."
So on behalf of all of us who loved him, too, I say thank you, Pat. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Now his pain is over. Ours has only begun.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Mind Your Manners

                                           (Above; Emily Post)

Are you dreading the political food fights that seem to be in our future this year? There's not much we can do about them, but how can we make sure they don't spill over into our personal lives and poison our relationships?
I asked one of the Bay Area's premier event producers, Sarah Kidder, who is also an etiquette consultant. Her clients include everyone from corporate CEOs and aging socialites to young children and female ex-cons transitioning back into society.
"First of all, there are some places where you don't want any political conversations at all, like work," she says. "Your job at work is to do your job, not be on a soap box."
But what about family get-togethers?
"That's more complicated. The larger the group, the more difficult it is to have a real discussion about any topic, much less politics, especially in any situation involving alcohol. But if you want to make it through the year with your relationships with family, friends and co-workers in fairly decent shape, here are some tips:
1. Become a master at changing the subject. "The world is full of interesting little distractions that can quickly steer the conversation back to safe territory, like new movies, new TV shows or coffee table books."
2. Remember that people love to talk about their favorite subject: themselves. "If you can't distract Uncle Bob by getting him to talk about the new 'Star Wars' movie, ask him to talk about the first time he saw the original 'Star Wars.' That way, he'll still be the center of attention, which is what he really wants, but he can talk about something less confrontational -- himself."
3. But what if Uncle Bob is insulting other people at the table? "Don't confront him about it. It's rude to call someone out for being rude. It doesn't help matters because it's shaming him, and making him angry makes moving on from the moment even more difficult."
4. Does that mean there's nothing you can do if he keeps ranting about Donald Trump or Barack Obama? "Not at all. In my family, I have found that all the power is not with the rude person; it's with the polite people because they can raise an eyebrow, change the subject or ignore him in a quiet way that shames him into changing his behavior. Never underestimate the power of a grandmother's raised eyebrow."
 5. But what if you really like Uncle Bob and want to set him straight on the facts? "Wait until you're one-on-one. Then you trot out my secret weapon -- the compliment sandwich. First, you compliment him: 'Wow, it sounds like you've really put a lot of thought into that.' Then you say, 'I've recently come across an article on the subject that you might find interesting. I know how much you like to keep informed.' Then you close the compliment sandwich by adding, 'But you've probably already seen that.'"

6. And what about your own behavior? "What we think we're saying, what we're actually saying and what is being heard are often three separate things. Even polite people can get stressed out or sick or distracted. So if you say something rude yourself, own up to it and say you're sorry, even if it's a week later."