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Bonsais for sale by the roadside beneath an American flag.
Pamela Ybanez
Bonsais for sale by the roadside beneath an American flag.


Homeless Advocates Stage New Year's Eve Rally Against County's General Assistance Cuts

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 11:42:00 AM

For thousands of Alameda County residents, New Year's eve will be anything but a party. Starting Jan. 1, 2010, the clock will start ticking on a three-month time limit on General Assistance funds received by employable economically disadvantaged people. 

The county Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 in June to approve the cut with the hope that it would bridge the county's massive budget deficit. 

For the majority of GA recipients, these grants are the only source of sustenance.  Some social welfare advocates believe reducing the time limit from 12 to three months would force their clients into homelessness and negatively impact their families and the county. 

A group of East Bay social service providers, including Berkeley's Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency and East Bay Community Law Center, are scheduled to rally outside the Alameda County Board of Supervisors Plaza in Oakland at 7 p.m. today (Jan. 31) to protest the cuts. The group also plans to ask Supervisors Alice Lai Bitker, Scott Haggerty and Gail Steele—all of whom voted in favor of the time limit—to 

rescind their decision. 

Supervisors Keith Carson and Natr Miley voted against the time limit. 

Funded by Alameda County, GA provides a monthly loan to eligible recipients with a $296 maximum per month. To qualify for GA, an individual cannot have any other kind of support and has to take part in employment services. All GA money is considered a loan, and recipients have to sign a reimbursement agreement as a condition of eligibility. The typical GA recipient is a single adult who doesn't have children under 18. 

"One of the reasons why the county is making cuts is because they feel this is a community who are not going to speak up for themselves," said  Luan Huynh, an attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center, which has more than 20 clients on General Assistance. "That's why it's really important for GA recipients to make their voices heard—it will cause homelessness, increase visits to the hospital and make people do things that they would otherwise never do to survive." 

Huynh said that if the proposed cuts took place, one of her clients would end up pushing a cart on the street for no fault of his own. 

"It's a little bit hypocritical—on one hand you see the board asking the state not to cut welfare, and then these are the same people who are cutting GA," she said. "I don't think the budget woes of the county can be solved by cutting benefits for its poorest residents. We need a fair and balanced solution to the problem. Government does itself a diservice by trying to save dollars just to have to spend many more on the fallout from their policies." 

Most of Huynh's clients use their GA dollars to pay rent, buy medicine, shoes and clothes. Food stamps take care of groceries. 

"With the proposed cuts, they will still have food stamps, but previous studies have shown that when their grant gets affected, they loose the stamps as well," Huynh said. "There's less of an incentive to keep up with the paperwork. Sometimes when you become homeless, the paperwork may even get lost." 

Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he worries that the cuts would hurt people who have run out of unemployment. 

"With the economy the way it is, you need temporary assistance for more than three months," Worthington said. "These cuts are really drastic. Now is not the time to time-limit GA." 

Alameda County's unemployment rate was 11.5 percent in October. More than 65,600 people exhausted their unemployment benefits between October 2008 and 2009. 

In a letter to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom warned that the decision would have a "direct impact" on his city and urged the board to explore more humane options to 

reform the General Assistance Program. Newsom said the board's "misguided social and fiscal policy" could affect 70 percent of Alameda County recipients, leaving more than 7,000 people without any kind of income. 

Calling GA recipients the "poorest and most vulnerable in our communities," Newsom said they have little chance to find employment in the current economic climate. 

"Assessing an individual as 'employable' simply because he or she is able-bodied ignores this fact, does little to move these clients into employment and will simply force the majority of these individuals into utter destitution," Newsom said in his letter. 

Frustrated with the lack of response from the county GA department about the state of his grants, East Bay resident Peter Carney recently requested an internal hearing with help from the East Bay Community Law Center. 

"I understand the economic situation and all that, but hello! You are kicking me out of my house here," Carney said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "Nobody bothered to sit down with me and figure out what's going on with my life. I need to get the proper information so that they don't cut me to a point where I have to end up on the streets come spring." 

Carney, who moved to the Bay Area from Brooklyn in 1976, worked as a plumber until he fell victim to arthritis and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. 

"I'd like to change my situation if I could, but I have all these medical conditions that prevent me from working," Carney, 59, said."Nobody wants to give me a job at this age." 

Huynh said that most of her clients faced similar problems. 

"We are not talking about a highly skilled group of individuals here," she said. "Most people don't want to hire old people—you can't teach an old dog new tricks. They want to hire young people who are more savvy." 

Worthington said that because victims of domestic abuse also benefited from the grants, he is afraid that limiting it would force them to return to a "battered life." Other GA recipients are trauma cases or have passed through the criminal justice system, often suffering from mental illeness, drug or alcohol addictions and bouts 

of homelessness. 

"Where will all these people go? If they end up in hospitals, then the county will eventually end up paying for it," Huynh said. "It's a shortsighted way of fixing the budget."

BART to Appoint Interim Police Chief

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 11:32:00 AM

The Bay Area Rapid Transit will be appointing former Berkeley police chief Daschel Butler to lead its police force on a temporary basis. 

BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger announced Tuesday that she had selected Butler to serve as interim chief while the agency conducts a nationwide search to replace BART Police Chief Gary Gee, who will retire Wednesday. 

Butler's appointment will be effective after he clears the state Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) administrative requirements, which Dugger expects will take place in mid-January. 

Butler, who joined the Berkeley Police Department in 1971, became Berkeley police chief in 1991, retiring in May 2002. 

“Daschel served the Berkeley Police Department as its chief for 12 years with distinction and honor,” Dugger said in a statement. “He brings to BART a wealth of knowledge, respect and integrity. I'm pleased he's agreed to lead the BART Police Department on an interim basis until we find a permanent police chief.” 

Gee announced plans to retire in the wake of the shooting death of Oscar Grant by a BART police officer one year ago. 

BART Police Department Commander Maria White will serve as acting chief until Butler is sworn in. 

BART is asking the public to weigh in on the qualities and experience they would like to see in a new chief by completing an online survey at www.bart.gov/policechief.

King Student Sent to Juvenile Hall for Bringing Unloaded Gun to School

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 11:40:00 AM

A Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School student was sent to Alameda County Juvenile Hall for bringing an unloaded gun to school. 

Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Andrew Frankel said Berkeley police received a call from school staff a little after 1 p.m. on Dec. 16 reporting the incident. 

Frankel said Berkeley police arrived at the scene and confiscated the gun. Berkeley police then arrested the student and transported the student to Juvenile Hall. Frankel was not able to give the age of the student. He said that the Alameda County district attorney's office would decide whether to press charges against. Calls to Berkeley Unified School District officials were not returned by press time.

Berkeley Arrest Suspect in Southside Stabbing, Investigate Armed Robbery

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 11:34:00 AM

Berkeley police arrested 32-year-old Hercules resident Dimitar Popov in connection with a stabbing incident south of the UC Berkeley campus last week. 

Berkeley Police Department Spokesperson Officer Andrew Frankel said the victim was walking home with three friends at 2:38 a.m. Dec. 20 when one of his friends got into an argument with Popov on the southwest corner of Telegraph and Durant avenues. 

As they turned the corner, Popov stabbed the victim with a knife and ran off. The victim and his friends chased Popov south on Telegraph and west on Channing Way until he turned and brandished a knife. Popov then continued walking on Channing where he was stopped by UC police and arrested and charged for assault with a deadly weapon. 

Frankel said the victim, a male adult, was treated for injuries at a hospital and released. He said that it was unlikely that anyone involved in the incident was a UC Berkeley student.  

Frankel said the Alameda County District Attorney's office is investigating the case and will decide whether to prosecute Popov. 


Armed robbery 

A group of five were walking on Parker Street east of Hillegass Avenue at 10:49 p.m. Dec. 18, when they were approached by three suspects who produced a shotgun and demanded their valuables. 

“The suspects asked for their wallets, cellphones, whatever they had on them,” Berkeley Police Department Spokesperson Officer Andrew Frankel said. The victims were four males and one female, he said. 

When one of the victims refused to hand over his possessions and continued walking, the others followed suit. Frankel said the suspects fled at this point. 

Frankel said police are still looking for the three suspects, one of whom he said had been armed with a shotgun. All three were dressed in dark clothing, he said, 

Frankel said that the sudden spat of crime on the southside has subsided since these incidents took place. 

Families of American Hikers Detained in Iran Hire Lawyer

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 11:33:00 AM

The families of the three UC Berkeley alums detained in Iran for illegally crossing over the border announced Dec. 27 that they have hired a prominent Iranian lawyer to help bring them home. 

Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal were hiking in neighboring Iraq when they crossed into Iran by mistake, their families said. 

Their families' announcement to hire independent lawyer Masoud Shafii follows statements made by Iranian government officials that the three hikers would stand trial in Iran for their actions. 

“We continue to hope that the Iranian authorities will release Shane Sarah and Josh on humanitarian grounds without further delay or any need for a trial,” a statement released by the families on the website www.freethehikers.org said. “Given recent news reports however, it is essential for our loved ones to have proper legal representation and we are pleased that Mr. Shafii has agreed to work on their behalf.” 

Bauer, Shourd and Fattal were detained on July 31, 2009 and are being held at Evin Prison in Tehran. According to the statement, they are not being allowed to make telephone calls to their families. 

Shafii previously represented two Iranian physicians who were convicted in January for participating in a U.S.-backed plot to unseat Iran's Islamic regime. 


Making the New Year Our Own

By Pamela Ybanez
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:43:00 AM
Bonsais for sale by the roadside beneath an American flag.
Pamela Ybanez
Bonsais for sale by the roadside beneath an American flag.

Looking back on this year, it has been full to say the least. I took my first ever road trip, solo style across three states. I was proud of myself for refusing to believe (yet again) that women should continue to live in fear. I hear so often, “don’t do this” or “it’s not safe to do that.”  

It was due to my artwork that this trip was instigated, as I was in search of flag imagery. It’s even gotten a name, “Flag Hunting,” which is quite fitting.  

What has been most interesting for me this year is learning to listen to myself and trusting that what I want is OK and will not lead me to harm. Maybe this has been helped by my lack of interest in mainstream media or by having a good supportive network filled with inspiring women or by starting my recent meditative daily practice.  

The one saying that I have been talking smack about all year to my friends is the adage, “If you work hard you’ll get what you want.” 

Bullocks to that, it’s a barefaced lie—don’t believe it. I beg all parents out there to end the spread of such a falsity. For a fuller more complete truth (in my opinion of course) it should also include: You should know what it is you really want, go after it, believe in yourself to achieve it, and with some serious determination, it can happen.  

As the year the closes out and as I continue to get older (I say this with joy and not disdain), the sense that I am getting closer to being the person I intend to be in the world grows stronger.  

Whether we are a Japanese man selling Bonsais by the side of the road or working at a bank or teaching a room full of noisy five-year-olds, this is our life and we can make it as rich as we want it to be. It is still a brave new world.  


Grace and Herb, Practical Jokers

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:45:00 AM

Grace Boylan and Herb were the greatest practical jokers I ever met. I met them back in the days before the Interstates homogenized America, in the days when two-lane blacktops traversed the country. 

They lived in a weatherbeaten old gas station in Como Bluff, Wyoming, a few miles east of a wide spot in the road called Medicine Bow. 

Dad and I took innumerable road trips during my childhood, loading up our Nash Ambassador, and later a homemade camper on the back of a Chevy pickup and heading out in whatever direction struck our fancy, looking for interesting things to see and do. 

We went rock hunting, looking for arrowheads, fishing, and exploring over most of the paved roads and a lot of the gravel and dirt tracks in Colorado and Wyoming and up into the Black Hills. 

One summer afternoon we arrived in Como Bluff, and I said, “Hey, we gotta stop here!” So we did. 

What grabbed my attention was a sign saying something to the effect of “See the World’s Oldest Building! Featured In Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Made Of Dinosaur Bones.” 

There were two buildings, a Texaco gas station built in the Craftsman bungalow style, and to the west of it, a small stone cabin—built of what I discovered really were fragments of dinosaur bones. 

I was fearless in those days, and after we pulled over, I leapt out of the car and ran into the gas station, where I encountered a weathered, white-haired woman with a twinkle in her eye and an equally weatherbeaten Native American. It was Grace Boylan and Herb, whose last name I never learned. I had assumed it was Boylan, but it wasn’t. She later told me they were “living in sin,” laughing as she said it. 

I immediately liked them both. Where Grace was voluble and acerbic, Herb was taciturn, though given to wry, shrewdly astute observations, delivered in few words and always spot on. 

We paid our admission fees to the dinosaur bone cabin, which inside contained a small, eclectic collection of fossils and photos. I “uuuhhhed” and “ahhhhhed” and felt a bit of envy that their collection was far better than mine, and Grace grinned. 

That was the only time we paid to see the museum. On future stops, neither Grace nor Herb would take our money, and Dad and I found ourselves spending most of our time in their gas station home, swapping tales and sharing laughs. 

In its day, Como Bluff—the hogback ridge to the north—had been the world’s premiere site for academic dinosaur hunters, the place where paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh of Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History discovered and named such genera as Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, and Diplodocus. 

Grace and her late husband, Thomas (who had been 31 years younger), had built the cabin in 1932 out of a collection of bones originally intended for sculptures outside the gas station. Thomas was nearly a decade gone when we first met. 

Whenever we passed through Como Bluff on our explorations, Dad and I invariably stopped at Como Bluff, spending memorable hours hearing the tales of Grace and Herb. 

One remarkably consistent characteristic of the oldtimers of the Rocky Mountain West in those days was a certain disdain for “prissy” folk, especially those who hailed from parts East, way East. 

When wandering the vast open spaces of Wyoming, where gas stations were few and far between, Grace and Herb, like most of their sort, were used to relieving themselves behind a bush if nothing better was at hand, with the only serious consideration being wind direction. 

Now, their Como Bluff gas station didn’t offer indoor facilities, with visitors meeting their needs in a pair of well-maintained outhouses between and to the rear of the station and the fossil cabin. Westerners didn’t have a problem with the traditional means of relief, but many Easterners, especially women, expressed disdain and even shock at being forced to conduct their business in the traditional way. Some were rather outspoken, which tended to irritate the high plains couple. 

“So we decided to fix them,” Grace explained. “We ran a wire between a microphone we kept under the cash register and a speaker beneath the women’s outhouse [or donnecker, as my father called them, a phrase learned from his Mennonite grandfolks]. 

“Then, whenever one of these prissy Easterners got all uppity about having to use the outhouse, we’d wait until she got all settled in; then Herb would pick up the microphone and yell, ‘Hey lady, move over! I’m painting down here.” 

Then the mischievous couple would head to the window to watch the ensuing show, as the pilgrim came storming out of the outhouse, distraught and horrified. By the time she got back to the station, they’d have composed themselves, listening in mock sympathy to the poor tourist’s plight. The real laughter began as she drove away. 

Cruel, you say? Well, a little bit. But I’m smiling as I write, recalling with a warm spot in my heart two of the most remarkable characters I’ve had the privilege to know. 

Grace and Herb are long gone, and Interstate 34 has replaced the old two-lane blacktop that was U.S. 30, consigning the cabin and the gas station to a lonely plot off an unmarked freeway exit off I-34. On the brighter side, the building has been enrolled on the National Register of Historic Places. 

You can find a picture of Grace here, standing in the door of the fossil cabin. 


Richard Brenneman’s blog may be found at richardbrenneman.wordpress.com.

The Tortilla Factor

By Janis Mitchell
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:45:00 AM

I got a befuddled insight at my favorite Mexican market today. I stood there suspended between two extremes and couldn’t make a decision. I was doing what I so often do, shopping for those special ingredients that turn leftovers into a newly conceived meal. 

The more years I spend getting dinner on the table, the more repetitive my creative repertoire becomes. This dearth of imagination not only occurs in the initial preparation, but continues into the next generation, as my use of leftovers becomes another rotating series of too-familiar menus.  

Since John and I are both from Los Angeles, our default is always Mexican food. This time what I had to work with was baked chicken pieces, breasts and thighs, and who cares if last night’s version was quasi-Asian with soy sauce, garlic and orange juice. It will just make for a more interesting taco, right?  

So I filled my shopping basket with freshly made six-inch white corn tortillas, small manila mangoes, house-made hot sauce, cilantro, and a can of refried beans. This is a meal of leftovers after all, and there is no way I am going to spend hours boiling dried pintos and mashing them into a paste.  

Also salvaged from last night’s dinner was an ear of boiled corn and about a cup and a half of zucchini slices that had been sautéed with onions. I bought a pound of Monterey jack cheese and a can of green enchilada sauce. I have discovered that cold vegetables (especially corn and squash) make cheese enchiladas much more interesting. The small, thin, white corn tortillas are a little more delicate than the heavier larger ones and green enchilada sauce is less hearty than the red ones, so that is a complementary combination, too.  

I picked out some ripe avocados and thought about making guacamole. And that is the moment when my dilemma stuck me. I stood in front of the rack of tortilla chips and could not decide which ones to buy. John likes the thick restaurant style chips and our daughter, Molly, likes the thin crispy ones. Thick or thin? Which kind did I buy last time? Whose turn is it to get the chips of choice? As I mentally bounced back and forth between the two of them I realized, that nowhere in this dilemma was there a preference for me, for The Mom.  

I used to have very definite likes and dislikes. I can’t remember the moment when compromise became my middle name. When it was just John and I in the family I took the position that he who goes grocery shopping gets to choose. Of course, those were also the days when meal planning was a novelty and deconstructing restaurant dishes was a favorite pastime of mine. I actually used to make things like puff pastry, fondant, and pate. Now it is all I can do to get out the oil and vinegar instead of opening a bottle of salad dressing.  

Back in the early days of co-habiting we used to pour over recipes and then spend hours together in the kitchen creating something wonderful. The pressures of family life have altered that completely. Our dinner party menu planning has lost its creativity too. We rarely cook for friends anymore and when we do our dialogue runs more to, “What did we give them last time?” than imagining what our friends would most enjoy.  

I can remember lengthy grocery lists that involved shopping at several different specialty stores to get the freshest-best-most obscure ingredients for a memorable meal. I can still recall some of those dinners with great satisfaction. The food, the wine, the good company all came together in our kitchen. When I look at old photographs of those good times I can see that I was so absorbed in the cooking that I often never bothered to put on make-up or take off my apron the entire evening. There is a vast difference between cooking and getting dinner on the table.  

Nowadays when I run all over town grocery shopping it is because I can’t find the exact brand or version of somebody’s favorite in a single location. Cans of lemon Pellegrino water that Molly loves are only available at Berkeley Bowl, the best prices on basics like cereal are at Safeway, but Safeway doesn’t carry Café Fanny Granola and only Andronico’s has PG Tips English Breakfast Tea. So The Mom runs all over town trying to fill the larder with a variety of individual preferences. This running around is usually done in the window of opportunity between work and dinnertime. No wonder I stared at the tortilla chips like the classic deer-in-the-headlights. I stood there so long that I became an obstacle to the other shoppers at the end of the aisle. I was thinking, “come on girlie, just pick one!” Then I remembered my favorite kind of tortilla chips. I like the ones that are somewhere in between John’s thick and firm favorites and Molly’s potato chip light ones. I like tortilla chips that are just thick enough to separate into layers when they puff up; not the whole chip, not even every chip, just some of them have that thin little bubble on the surface.  

Guess, what? They don’t carry that kind at my favorite Mexican market.  

Planet Puppy

Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 12:07:00 PM
Larry, a rescued terrier mix, spent his early weeks in the Berkeley Daily Planet newsroom, recovering from malnourishment and neglect. Now a lively 9-month old, he enjoys wrestling with other dogs, chewing toys and digging up vegetables in the garden.
Caroline Wagley Pedemonte
Larry, a rescued terrier mix, spent his early weeks in the Berkeley Daily Planet newsroom, recovering from malnourishment and neglect. Now a lively 9-month old, he enjoys wrestling with other dogs, chewing toys and digging up vegetables in the garden.

Rocking at the North Berkeley Senior Center

By Jan Elise Sells
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:46:00 AM

Like me, my new friend Naomi loves to ride her bike around Berkeley. She has a rack on the trunk of her car, so we can take our bikes to explore other places, as well. I appreciate Naomi’s energy, her get-up-and-go spirit, and her self-confidence. The fact that she is 75 years old makes her all the more inspiring! 

“Jan, you should come to my T’ai Chi Chih class,” she suggested one day as we biked along the Bay Trail toward Point Richmond, the screeches of seagulls filling the air. “I think you’d enjoy it. The teacher is terrific. He’s fully accredited. And it’s free!” 

“Where is it?” I asked, breathing in the salt air as I sped to catch up with my friend, whose silver hair reflected the glow of the sun. 

“North Berkeley Senior Center,” she called back, racing ahead to catch the green light.  

When I was in Beijing a few years ago, I enjoyed seeing older people doing T’ai Chi Chuan in the park. It reminded me of dancing in slow motion. But T’ai Chi Chih? Once back in the car, I asked Naomi the difference. “T’ai Chi Chih is a meditative form developed by an American, Justin Stone, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the ’70s,” she explained. “It’s not as complex as T’ai Chi Chuan. The form has only 19 movements and one pose at the end, so it’s much easier to learn. A lot of research has been done on the health benefits of T’ai Chi Chih; apparently, it strengthens the immune system and improves balance, as well as relieving certain other ailments.” 

“Hmmm! I have certain ailments I’d like to relieve—my chronic back and neck aches, my occasional knee pain.” 

“Why don’t you come, Jan!” 

Sounds good, I thought. Approaching 63, I am just starting to feel like a senior. In addition to the aches and pains, I have dry eyes. I too often find myself blocking words. But I’ve had a lot of resistance to admitting I’m “old.” My body still looks youthful, and my hair is a miracle. It’s still the long thick strawberry-blonde “mane’”of my youth.  

Thus, with the exception of certain movie theaters that have senior prices, I had not taken advantage of my senior status. I had never attended any of the diverse free classes—line dancing, drawing and painting, Iyengar yoga, Spanish conversation, Chinese karaoke, Argentine tango, ceramics, ukulele, and many more—offered at the three senior centers in town. Each time I would pass one, I’d see folks going in and out who looked “elderly.” I did not place myself in that category. 

However, I had wanted to study T’ai Chi since my trip to China, and the schedule of Naomi’s class worked for me. I said I would most likely meet her there. When our mutual friend Arleen, a year older than I, told me she’d attended the class and liked it, that convinced me. Taking this T’ai Chi Chih class would give me the opportunity to see these dear friends regularly and woul add to my exercise and meditation practices at the same time.  

Since my retirement from two decades of compelling work doing crisis intervention at King Middle School, I have put time and effort into getting in better physical shape, delighting in dance and spin-cycling classes in my free time. Dance comes naturally to me—I feel free and exuberant when I dance. It makes my heart sing.  

Spin cycling gives me a great cardio workout; it strengthens my heart.  

I thought that the practice of T’ai Chi Chih might complement these activities. I though having recently lost my beloved partner, this form of moving meditation might increase my internal (as well as external) balance. It might help open and heal my heart. I decided to check it out. 

Therefore, a few weeks ago, arriving about 15 minutes early, I parked behind the North Berkeley Senior Center and headed in, passing animated older folks of diverse races and nationalities, their wrinkled hands punctuating conversations in English, Chinese, Spanish, and Russian as they relaxed on the benches outside. Squirrels darted above their heads in the trees that shaded their bent bodies.  

As I entered, I noticed an African-American woman with a gray “natural’”standing behind the front desk. She smiled at me as I inquired about the class. “T’ai Chi Chih is on the second floor. You can use the elevator or the stairs,” she explained. “Please sign in first—right here.” 

I noticed “Today’s Menu” posted on an easel. “Oven Baked ‘Fried Chicken’ with Country Gravy and Mashed Sweet Potatoes—Suggested donation $3.00,” it said. “Served with Collard Greens, Cornbread and Butter, Fresh Fruit.” A deal, I thought, as I bounced up the stairway, the aroma of fried chicken and gravy wafting through the air. 

Passing a small library on the second floor, I noticed an attractive Asian man with a gray ponytail reading a book while peddaling a stationary bicycle. Efficient, I thought. I might actually like this place. 

Behind the next door was a large sun-lit room with a shiny linoleum floor, a piano at one end. A frail dark-skinned woman with an accent was sitting in a wheelchair talking to a spry white-haired African-American woman seated on a folding chair, who introduced herself to me as Sister Makinya. Others were arriving, pulling out and opening folding chairs to create a large circle. Assuming this was the protocol, I opened a seat for myself.  

“Are you all here for the T’ai Chi Chih class?” I asked a woman in a green and yellow sari who was seated nearby. 

“Yeah, dahling,” a new arrival responded as she dragged a cart filled with an assortment of plastic bags to her side. The “bag lady” plopped herself down to my right. “This one’s a beauty!” she called out in a loud voice and pointed in my direction. “Is that yaw real haih?” she yelled. 

“Yes, it is,” I answered, smiling self-consciously. “It’s totally natural. There are some silver hairs among the red and blonde ones.” I noticed I wanted to fit in. 

“I don’t see them,” she responded. “Do you see them, Ruma?”  

“That’s beautiful hair,” the balding man to my left shouted, interrupting the Indian woman. I figured people were shouting to hear themselves as well as each other. 

Finally I noticed that Naomi and Arleen had arrived. They stood together across the room. Saved from too much attention! I ran to greet them. Following right behind them was a tall attractive silver-haired man in brown overalls. “That’s our teacher,” Naomi murmured, as she gave me a hug. “We should put our purses down and stand in the circle.”  

Arleen and I took our places. Others were beginning to rise, although a few remained seated during the whole hour, moving only from the waist up. 

“I see we have some new people here,” the teacher said, his German accent adding charm to his gentle demeanor. “So, for those who come regularly, please forgive me if I give explanations that you might already know. 

“Let’s begin with our warm-up, loosening exercises, checking in with our bodies to see how they respond today. Remember to breathe naturally.” Then he began to demonstrate shifting weight from one leg to the other. For those seated, he pulled a chair in and showed them how to alter the movements in that position.  

“What’s his name?” I asked Naomi in a whisper when the teacher’s back was turned. “Friedbert Weimann,” she replied softly, shifting her weight as he did. I did the same, my attention focused on the positioning of my feet, legs, and hips, as well as my arms, hands, and feet, coordinating them with my breath. 

I enjoyed the naturalness of the motion. I felt the meditative quality as everyone moved together in silence. Using a soft serious tone of voice, Friedbert explained the movements as he demonstrated and led them, his hands and arms floating gracefully through Rocking Motion and Bird Flaps Its Wings, rotating in the center of the circle, so that we all could see him from different directions. 

Friedbert talked about the flow of vital force, “chi—the spiritual energy in every living being” and “the balance of yin—female energy—and yang—male energy. Keep your movements soft, slow, and even. Let T’ai Chi Chih be a form of meditation.”  

He suggested we “concentrate on a spot about two inches below the navel-the T’an T’ien—where the movements are centered.” He went on to demonstrate variations of Around the Platter: “Breathe in and out slowly and deeply as you move. Softness and continuity are the essence of this form.”  

My dance background helped me with balance; yoga helped me coordinate my breath. However, although I practice meditation, I had difficulty getting into a meditative space; I was too busy trying to learn the movements and do them correctly. But I knew this was part of “beginner’s mind.” I tried to stop my inner critic and just let myself flow. There was poetry in the movement—a metaphor of peace and harmony. 

Suddenly, the woman with the cart complained that she still didn’t “get it.”  

“Daily practice is your best teacher,” Friedbert commented. “It might even lead you to a wholesome addiction.” Serenely, eyes partially closed, he went right on with the lesson. 

Over the hour, Friedbert led us through the 19 exercises, one by one. They had picturesque names that described our movements: Daughter on the Mountaintop, Daughter in the Valley, Pulling Taffy, Light at the Top of the Head, Joyous Breath, Passing Clouds. At the beginning and end of each element of the form we were instructed to assume a position of ease and repose. I found myself feeling at once both calm and wide awake. As I looked at my hands, I realized that these were the hands of an older woman who belonged there. 

Before the final pose, we did Six Healing Sounds, moving and exhaling with long drawn-out whispers of “Ho”(heart), “Hu” (spleen), “Szu” (liver), “Hsu” (lungs), “His” (relating to three chakra points), and “Chui” (kidneys). We ended the hour with the Universal Consciousness Pose, holding it for a few minutes. Then we all bowed to our teacher as he bowed to us. 

When the class was over, I felt rested and refreshed. I thanked Friedbert for his excellent instruction. “Have you done T’ai Chi before?” he asked me. 

“No, I’ve seen it many times, even in China, but I never took a class. I dance.” 

“You’re a dancer?” 

“No, I dance for pleasure. I’m a psychotherapist.” 

“Ah,” Friedbert responded. “Well, this is a practice in which you have your own internal therapist and you nurture your own inner child.” 

“I can see that,” I responded appreciatively. “I’ll be back!” 

Naomi, Arleen, and I walked out of the room, down the stairs, and into the crisp winter sunshine, catching up with each other’s lives, as women do. We agreed we’d meet at the T’ai Chi Chih class the following Thursday. 

The next week, traffic was light and I arrived at the Senior Center earlier than expected. I sat outside on a bench for a while, enjoying the chirping birds that helped block the noise of the traffic on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The shady spots were taken, the winter sun was bright, and I didn’t have my sun hat, so I decided to go inside—noticeably more at ease than I had been the week before.  

The woman at the front desk greeted me this time like an old friend. I smiled hello and signed in. A familiar gentleman with wavy white hair and a bushy mustache invited me to ride the elevator with him “to Tai Chi.”  

“No thanks,” I responded. “I like to maximize my exercise. See you at the top!”  

“I’m Charlie. I’m glad you came back. What’s your name?” he asked. 

“I’m Jan,” I called out as the elevator doors closed. He’d obviously recognized me from the previous week. It’s such a welcoming atmosphere, I noted. We both arrived on the second floor simultaneously and walked to the classroom together.  

As we approached the room, there was upbeat piano music ringing in the hallway. “There must be another class going on,” I said to Charlie.  

“Something’s going on!” he laughed. 

As we walked in, we saw the T’ai Chi Chih students, formerly so serious, dancing freely around the room as Sister Makinya swayed on the piano bench to the boogie-woogie she was pounding out to everyone’s delight.  

Charlie and I joined right in, jumping and jiving with the group, each of us doing our own thing in solidarity. I was in my element! It occurred to me that, like me, these folks were mostly baby boomers who had probably gone through the sixties here in the Bay area. Most likely we had all tripped the light fantastic in the Summer of Love, dancing to Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, who played their music spontaneously and “for free” in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. The atmosphere was joyous as we all let loose. Each time Sister Makinya came to the end of a piece, we would applaud and call out for more. 

The T’ai Chi Chih class was due to start in a few minutes, but Friedbert had not yet arrived. I was eager to see how he would react upon seeing his students—this diverse group of seniors—twisting and shouting to Sister Makinya’s full-tilt boogie. Naomi walked in and without skipping a beat, took my hand to be-bop around the floor. Arleen arrived and began laughing hysterically.  

And then Friedbert entered. We all looked up as he put his hands to his face in amazement. Then he joined us, dancing to the last refrain of the Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B. We all hooted, cheered, and applauded with enthusiasm as Sister Makinya rose from the piano. “I was just checking to see if I still remembered the pieces I learned when I was thirteen—seventy years ago!” she laughed. 

“I see you have all found there are other ways of having joy through movement besides T’ai Chi Chih,” Friedbert said with a big smile. “But it’s time to start our class.” After that, I had a new appreciation for my classmates. They no longer seemed old. And I no longer felt separate. We were all in this with Friedbert together.  

But now “Rocking” had new meaning for us. Breathe in; breathe out. 


Jan Elise Sells, a licensed psychotherapist in Berkeley, is writing a book, Lost and Found: True Stories of Hope and Healing from the Frontlines of America’s Teen Crisis. She works with graduate counseling students as Lecturer/Supervisor at Saint Mary’s College.


By Abigail Goldman
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:35:00 AM

What strange Elysium! 

A wintry months’ alluring pageantry. 

A fullest fruit round with obscenity, 

Low-hanging, branch bending, 

Rotten-ripe and dripping. 


How does Death? 

Time out of mind and pacing. 

Living in California under another name.


By Abigail Goldman
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:35:00 AM

What strange Elysium! 

A wintry months’ alluring pageantry. 

A fullest fruit round with obscenity, 

Low-hanging, branch bending, 

Rotten-ripe and dripping. 


How does Death? 

Time out of mind and pacing. 

Living in California under another name.


By Kay Y. Wehner
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:34:00 AM

No matter how we try, 

insisting we have no brother 

and no sister in the universe, 

we all are a part of it: 

brother to the ant, 

sister to the calendula, 

uncle to the kangaroo, 

and cousin to the star... 

relative of the sloth, 

stepsister to the birch, 

keeper of our ancestors 

in the city zoo. 


Deny, embroider, experiment, 

turn the beakers this way and that, 

it all comes out the same again, 

we are embedded, firmly cast, 

just a throbbing part, 

of sea and sand and jellyfish, 

brother to the rock.


By Abigail Goldman
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:34:00 AM

You do not know.  

Being assured you are always, some part of you calculating 

The time and the effort, the cost relative to the payoff  

Didn’t you go higher 

To the eucalypti, where the path is slick with slant and 

Dried leaves perilous on to the point where 


1 mile. It is a rare foothold in the mind. 

And little to see, but the trees, and their buttons and forced to sit and smell for slipping, 

And maybe to take one, or two, and have a display, nay— a collection! No, no, no. 

I was present, but by accident; 

The air was cool and pleasant.


By Sharon Metzler Dow
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:33:00 AM

It’s four in the morning in Amish country  

when the milkman drives his truck home  

past white mists on harvest fields. 

The Amish fathers are in the barns at five 

nudging cows and lifting buckets of warm milk. 


When the mothers pick the apples in the afternoon orchards, 

the Amish children are cozied in black buggies, 

and carried home from school by their fathers. 

Horse hooves on asphalt. 


You Amish sing, “Thee I love more than the buds on the May apple tree.  

I love thee.” 

On this October day the milk truck driver takes a detour 

to the wood schoolhouse and shoots dead five of your young girls 

and himself. 


You give your harvest from your apple baskets,  

grain scythe and horsedrawn plow  

to the grieving milkman’s widow. 


May the silence of early snow bring soft consolation. 

May your deep stores provide until the meadow blooms. 

Across the Digital Divide

By Chadidjah McFall
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:32:00 AM

Digital literacy is a crucial survival skill and many who have tried to remedy their deficiencies in this area have found, as I have, that they are humiliated by those from whom they seek instruction.  

Hannah Chauvet—the instructor for Multimedia Arts 200 at Berkeley City College— has provided exactly the opposite experience: in addition to being extraordinarily knowledgeable, she is respectful and considerate of all students and always willing to answer questions. Her class is, for those grappling with computer illiteracy, analogous to the Writing Workshop that is part of the English department at Berkeley City College in that it meets students at their own level of competence, takes them beyond it, and provides some one-on-one instruction. 

It is also appropriate for students at many levels. Specifically, the class teaches basics of the Macintosh Leopard Operating System, requires no textbook, and provides students who have no computer knowledge at all a good foundation for proceeding to learn to use any computer. 

My reason for writing about MMART 200 (“Digital Media Literacy”) is that shortly after I made flyers for the class in order to share my good fortune in having encountered it with the greater community, I found that it had been taken off the computer system (known as “Passport”—and other less printable names) through which students must enroll in Peralta College classes. 

  The class will still be offered if enough students enroll, but interested parties should enquire about the course or express their desire to enroll it by e-mailing Hannah Chauvet, hannahchauvet@yahoo.com as soon as possible. The original starting date for the class was Jan. 22, 2010, but the starting date may be changed to a slightly later time.


By Sharon Metzler Dow
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:31:00 AM

Dr. Wong, when you looked in the mirror that morning,  

did you know you would save Charles Blue’s life? 


When you woke during the night for that drink of water, 

Charles’ heart was dying on the floor waiting for the ambulance. 


When you walked to your car with newspaper in hand, 

that paper was not so important as the bill-of-sale 

Charles’ great grandfather clutched in his hand when 

he bought himself and his wife out of slavery in Virginia. 


When you drove past the Oakland Library 

on your way to surgery,  

you didn’t know Charles’ father founded 

the first African American library. 


Dr. Wong, you walked into the hospital 

to gown-up as you do every day, 

as Charles used to walk into the southern university 

to instruct his chemistry class -- 

except the day the Dean told him 

if you march beside Martin Luther King tomorrow in Greensboro 

you won’t teach here again. 

Charles walked. 


You went to work that day, Dr. Wong, and tuned another heart,  

and now Charles Blue, classical violinist, 

plays Bach’s In Dulci Jubilo with heart — his.

Why We Need to Take Creeks Out of Pipes

By Carole Schemmerling
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:31:00 AM

When the citizens of Berkeley so generously passed a small—$5 million for five years—bond measure in the late 1970s, to put parks in neighborhoods in which there were none, they created an opportunity to open (“daylight”) a portion of an urban creek for the first time in California, and, possibly, the nation. 

A new park, on an old railroad right-of-way was designed and built by the city and changed the area from a desolate dumping ground to one of the most heavily used parks in Berkeley. Strawberry Creek, contained in a 300-foot cement culvert, bisected the area, and the city staff were opposed to the Parks and Recreation Commission’s proposal to open it. As chair of the commission I set a public hearing so that the community could see what was being planned and comment on it. I invited David Brower to comment on the proposal as well. The staff gave their reasons for not recommending that the creek be opened. They said “it would cost too much” and that “people would die.” They were asked if anyone had died in the open creek in North Berkeley. The answer was no. Mr. Brower then addressed the commissioners and in his very deep and authoritative voice said that commissioners would be “derelict in their duties a guardians of the environment and our natural heritage” if they didn’t vote to the daylight the creek. And so they did. 

On the day that the culvert was removed, the children of this poor neighborhood sat on the banks, on the broken concrete and silently gazed in awe at their first sight of the creek water flowing. (Since 1983-84, no one has died and the cost was well below what was expected.) 

Aside from providing a creek for those kids to enjoy, another outcome was the formation of the Urban Creeks Council in 1982. Since then, five more creeks in the East Bay have had culverts removed. The Urban Creeks Council also restored a number of already open, but trashed creeks. Opening culverted creeks is the most rewarding and thrilling thing we do. And it is often the most difficult and most complicated goal to achieve. The hurdles that have to be overcome are many and somewhat different each time. First is getting the proposal accepted by the community and the politicians. Some of the objections we have met are that it will attract the homeless, or the rats, or become a dump or a sewer, or it will cause flooding and children will drown. The politicians like to invoke the costs of maintenance (which are actually low). Some adjacent property owners might fear that criminals will use the creeks. All of these concerns have to be met. The first rule of doing any project that affects the public is to allow all the objections to be heard and responded to. It takes time, and it must be done so that when the project goes out for funding these issues have been addressed. Then, since these projects are usually done on public land, the planning process needs to be open to the community in order to get their input. There will always be naysayers, but if most people are positive, it can happen. 

The most important thing that has to happen throughout the whole process, from beginning to completion thereafter, is education. The citizens and especially politicians, have to learn how a daylighting project will benefit their community (and will make them look good). Here are some of the benefits: 

• Water quality: When the stream is in a culvert, it is hard to determine what is in the water, and, since a lot of culverts drain the streets and impervious or non-porous surfaces, all organic and inorganic pollutants are carried to the receiving body of water. Once a stream has reached a large river or a bay or the ocean, it is no longer possible to capture the pollutants. Open streams, with lots of riparian vegetation (plants that grow best next to rivers and streams) take up more of any dissolved pollutants than a water treatment facility is able to do. Vegetated small streams are terrific water purifiers.  

• Flood control: Storm water in culverts acts like bullets in guns. Water “shoots” out at top speed and often creates damage and flooding. Most culverts, being man-made, are aging and deteriorating. They leak and break; branches and debris become jammed in the pipes. Then the water backs up and can flood upstream. Or, as it happened in Berkeley at Euclid and Hearst, one very wet winter, the jammed culvert exploded up through the floor of the drugstore above in a huge geyser! Flood control is best achieved with open, vegetated streams that slow the velocity of the current and allow the water to soak into the soil on the banks. 

• Habitat: When a 200-foot portion of Baxter Creek in El Cerrito was daylighted and vegetated with lots of willows, it very quickly became a residence for Black Phoebes—a place where no one had seen them before. The great losses of riparian plants everywhere, not only in the cities, have had a very negative effect on bird and fish populations. In local creeks that we have opened, we are seeing steelhead coming up the stream and spawning. The shade provided by the riparian vegetation in opened and restored streams creates viability for all the levels of the biota, from the micro-organisms to the fish and the birds, which then become our “canaries in the coal mine.” Their presence and health tells us about the water and air quality. 

• Education: In many places in California, schools have been built on or very near creeks. We promote the value of these resources as educational tools. At Thousand Oaks School where we opened the creek, not only was it the children’s favorite place to learn about nature, but it also provided a powerful lesson in civics and the power of citizens working together. The opened stream was plagued with sewage spills, so that the children were not allowed in it. They learned how badly folks used to put towns together in the old days, running sewer lines next to, across, or in the creek, never considering what would happen when they broke or fell apart. Finally the school kids took action. They asked their teacher to take them to a City Council meeting to ask the mayor and the councilmembers to stop the polluting. Within a relatively short time (for the city) an old, unknown sewer line was discovered coming from the nearby business district and was removed. My favorite quote was from a third grade boy who said how happy he was that the creek was clean and he could play in it, but that he hadloved the creek even when it was polluted.  

• The public trust: The Public Trust Doctrine was a concept and policy that once was part of the social fabric, a sharing of resources for the common good. It has fallen into disuse in the last few decades because of intense lobbying for and defense of private property rights over all other rights. In Montana, downstream neighbors on a large creek have no water and no rights to the water because the up- stream ranchers have used an old statute that allows them to keep all the water. Idaho has recently refused to allow the Public Trust Doctrine any standing in court. The state has done away with the doctrine entirely. On the other hand, California refers to the “waters of the state” in its policies and enforcement code. And there is more of a sense that the Public Trust Doctrine is a useful and necessary tool in protecting and enhancing our very valuable and limited resources. 

Daylighting streams is one of the most important and immediately rewarding ways to make positive changes in the environment. The Army Corps of Engineers has stated that the Mississippi River is so heavily polluted that there is no way to clean it unless the tributaries are cleaned. That means preventing pesticides, nitrates, copper dust from the brakes of cars, and myriad other pollutants from getting into the water. The best way to do that is with heavy planting of riparian vegetation to take up the toxins. It won’t happen quickly, but the process needs to be started. And above all, the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts have to be strenuously enforced and strengthened in order to stop and reverse the damage that has been and is being done. 


Footnote: In Contra Costa County the director of the flood control district, a very practical and farsighted public employee, is developing a 50-year plan to remove culverts everywhere possible, in order to cope with the challenges of the future.  


By Roopa Ramamoorthi
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:30:00 AM

Today I am coughing, choking in smoke. I see human eyes peering at me through wide angle cameras where once I’d see children with balloons, lovers soaking in the sea breeze close to the Gateway. Today I hear feet pounding on my head. I hope the commandoes have come. My inside is burning. Gunshots ruining my lovely skin of wall to wall Persian carpets. My skull of chandeliers cracked. A few days and all will be quiet. Images of me burning just a curious click on the web. And the rich folk of Mumbai will return to my caresses of chicken tikka masala served by men and women who lost their colleagues and close friends today.


By John Rowe
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:28:00 AM

Not by chance, I had to take a chance. 

In some respects, I had to take 

a chance on a chance. 

It was a chance I had to take. 

Chances are this was my one chance. 

Not that there won’t be other chances. 

Rather, the chance of having another chance 

exactly like the chance I just took— 

Well, not a chance. 

In other words, 

the chance I had to take 

was the last chance of its kind. 

By the way, the chance I had to take 

involved working something out. 

In retrospect, I never had a chance. 

That is to say: it didn’t work out. 


By Cherrie Williams
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:28:00 AM

She was placed near the corner, 

lit by a kerosene lamp. 


The old house gave shadows of light.  


The doll named Mersa-Dee 

was my grandma’s delight.  


Plastic and pale,  

bright as the night.  


The comfort she brought 

made many things bright. 


Everyone who came in contact knew 

she was a part of Mama Susie’s life.  


Her favorite doll for comfort 

by day and by night.  


She made her clothes 

with scraps and pieces. 


The doll named Mersa-Dee 

will be passed on to her 

granddaughters and nieces.  


Mersa-Dee was found from 

the second hand store. 

Ms. Susie was so lucky to find 

a doll to be part of the gallery 

her family story.  


Thanks, Grandma folk artist, Mama Susie.


By John Rowe
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:27:00 AM

Picture this: 

I’m lying under an apple tree 

either by taking a nap in its shade 

or not speaking truthfully in its shade. 

Whatever the case may be, 

if the time is ripe 

gravity will get the best of me.

Chocolate and Bread and Nowhere to Go

By Roopa Ramamoorthi
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:27:00 AM

Today I came by train, boarded the train without a ticket in Bihar. Somehow managed to get into the second-class train compartment in Delhi. Again ticket ke bina and came vaise he to Mumbai. Same pant shirt for three days. Chatraphati Shivaji station—never seen so many people in my life. English I don’t really know. Learnt some words in my village school. But I wanted to come to Mumbai, become film star like Shah Rukh Khan. Aree Mumbai chalo, film star bano. 

I hadn’t eaten much in three days. Few rupees I had in my pocket, got samosa and chai at train station through the window, when the train stopped. But aree kabhi-kabhi luck comes. Next to me on train, this lady with fat little three-year- old, got out, left chocolate and bread on the seat. I grabbed it. Put it in my pocket for later. 

I step out of the station, so many cars, big buses. Don’t know how to cross, just follow everyone. Somehow I get to the other side. Now what do I do? Marine Drive, Oberoi Hotel, I’ve seen in movies. But I need to go to the toilet. In my village, just went in the grass, in the soil. Covered it up with mud. Here I don’t know. I go to a corner. See one man going number one. Also unzip my pant. Taxis and cars pass by. Everyone seems to be going somewhere. But where can I see Amitabh Bachan and Aishwarya Rai. All filmstars are supposed to be singing and dancing in the rain here in Mumbai. I only see grumpy men in suits, boots and women in saris rushing to office. Sometimes don’t know even if it is man or woman, even women have short hair and wear pants. 

A big red bus comes. I climb in, sit next to a man twenty-five-ish, little older than me with clean pant-shirt. “Marine Drive goes this bus?” 

“It goes close by, near Mantralaya, then you have to walk.” 

“Can you tell me where to get down?” 

“OK.” The man closes his nose and moves away from me. Some small office babu moving files I guess. I get down. Luckily the ticket collector did not come to my seat, so I still have a few rupees left. 

A small boy about seven in torn clothes without chapals is selling Filmstar going between cars at the signal. Most people roll up their car windows when they see him approaching, do not buy magazines. Then the child escapes being hit by cars when they start and comes back to the pavement. I see him do this again and again. I give the child the chocolate that has not melted and we share the bread. He lets me have the Filmstar and points towards Marine Drive. Before I go he shows me the unused water pipe he sleeps in at night.


By John Rowe
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:26:00 AM

Between tips of chopsticks 

I grasp one last grain of 



The bowl is empty 


The rest of my life can now be 



By John Rowe
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:25:00 AM

I start here 

with the intention 

of getting there 


only to discover 

that when I get there 

I’m here 


looking back there 

which used to be 



So the question is: 

if all I’m doing 

is going from 


here to there, 

am I really getting 



By John Rowe
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:25:00 AM

You find yourself trying  

to find your way home 

with a key in hand that has not  

been cut to turn the lock of 

any particular door. Pulling out  

a map you've carried in your  

back pocket, all that shows 

when unfolded is a black dot 

in its center, marked: You are  

here, wherever you are.


By Abigail Goldman
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:24:00 AM

Winds winding  

Tracked and traced 

Step for step and grace for grace, 

By a golden folded folio. 


Spinning in suspension, 

A spider’s minion. 


Fall not fallen, 

Not even falling. 


On gossamer, a pendulum. 

Not keeping time, 

but stalling. 

The Vagaries of Life

By Esther Stone
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:22:00 AM

When I first came to California, in 1957, and was looking for a job, I learned that I met the qualifications to be a social worker. I took the civil service exam, passed it, and in a very short time later, was a bona fide social worker! 

My first assignment was as an old age caseworker. I had had very little contact with aged people at that time, so I initially viewed this with some trepidation. But my fears were soon allayed as I met each of my new clients in turn, and found that beneath their common mantle of age each was a unique individual with a distinctive personality, background and life experiences.  

Before long I developed a good rapport with each of them, and I found it very rewarding to be able to help resolve problems when they arose, and, too, I felt fortunate in being in a position to gain many insights about aging that I would not have normally been exposed to. 

One of the most significant things I noticed was the how differently each person coped with old age. Some seemed happy enough passing their days uneventfully, watching television, being active in their churches, engaging in hobbies like knitting and the like. Others had close relations with their families and enjoyed sharing stories about them with me. Still others seemed lonely and bitter, and would dwell on their illnesses, their losses, their isolation and their children’s neglect of them. While others seemed to merely accept their circumstances with a kind of dull passivity. They seemed to have lost the will to participate more actively in their lives and were mired in the limitations that old age had imposed upon them.  

Among all of my clients, however, there was one woman whose memory has stayed with me all these years. 

Her name was Helen. She was a frail, sprightly woman of 82. She had white hair, a stooped posture and a marked tremor in her hands. Despite her fragility, she always greeted me warmly when I came to visit, and we would have interesting conversations on various subjects of interest to her. She was an avid gardener and took great pride in showing me her garden. I still remember the brilliance of her red-belled fuchsias on lush display.  

When she had occasion to write to me she did so with a stub pen, in purple ink, her letters formed with a wavering left-handed slant. I was impressed by this assertion of her individuality and her indom- 

itable spirit. 

One day, after a routine quarterly visit, I was dictating the results of my contact with her and I used the expression, “she has a zest for life.” When her file was returned to me I noted that the typist had mistranscribed my words into “she has a jest for life.” I liked her version better! Perhaps the secret of aging gracefully was to laugh at the depredations of old age, rather than bemoan them—to acknowledge them, move on, and live one’s life as best one can. 

I have lived many chapters of my own life since that time, and now find myself, quite shockingly, within ambling distance of her age then. She has been an inspiration to me throughout the years, and I hope that I will continue to relish new challenges and to laugh at the vagaries of life, as she did.

Remembering the Christmas of the Missing Robot

By George Rose
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:20:00 AM

When I was about seven years old I figured out that Santa Claus was just something somebody made up. Seven is about the time you realize that there’s just no way one guy in a sleigh can haul all that stuff around the world in just one night. He just couldn’t handle the inventory.   

I don’t think I had a problem with the flying reindeer or the tiny elves or the whole North Pole thing—yeah, that seemed feasible—but I just couldn’t envision ten billion presents stuffed into a sack barely big enough to fit a flannel sleeping bag. What I hadn’t figured out, though, is why my mother always put out milk and cookies for Santa every Christmas Eve, and why she (for it had to be her) always put “from Santa” on the tags of all the gifts we got on Christmas morning. 

It was November that year, and I still hadn’t let on that I knew the whole Santa Claus thing was a fabrication, maybe because I was afraid the presents would stop coming once the cat was out of the bag. My mother had taken me shopping with her that evening, and I was wandering around the aisles, feeling bored, when I turned a corner and saw it.  

There on the shelf was an enormous box, a picture of a giant robot on the front. Red and blue switches stuck out of his chest and arms, and it shot out missiles from its hands and walked and even talked. It must have needed about 20 batteries, the thing was so big, but it didn’t matter. I was in love with it. I had to have that robot. 

I rushed to find my mother and dragged her to the aisle. “Do you think Santa Claus will bring me that for Christmas?” I asked her, straining to control my excitement. It was a dangerous question to ask. I had to tip her off, but what if she said there is no Santa Claus, and there aren’t going to be anymore presents, so stop whining and get on with your life! 

Instead, she said, “I don’t know, dear. You could always send him a letter and ask him.” 

Then she took me by the hand and gently pried me from my new obsession. I thought I saw the robot eyes glare at me disapprovingly as I turned the corner. 

I don’t know how my mother did it, because we seemed to have less money than just about everybody I knew, but there always seemed to be plenty for everybody at Christmas. We never took vacations or got a new car or went out to dinner like other people, but we always had a big tree with piles of presents, and it took us hours to open them all on Christmas morning. She saved up the green stamps that she used to get at the grocery store to buy us presents, and she sent away for free gifts and used all the extra money she got to buy little things to wrap and put under the tree. Sometimes it would be just a pair of socks or a notebook or a pack of baseball cards or something we needed anyway, but we always had a lot of things to open. You had to hand it to her. 

And then there was something we just called the “Big Present.” There’d always be something spectacular waiting for us when we got up, unwrapped, the big surprise. One year it was a bike, another it was a train set, some expensive gift that said, “See! There really is a Santa Claus! Everything you ever wanted will be given to you, if you just continue to believe!” 

It must have put a terrible strain on my mother to come up with all that loot every year, but somehow she managed. 

Almost immediately upon leaving the store that rainy November evening I envisioned that robot sitting next to the tree on Christmas morning, out of the box, fully electrified and ready for battle. I practiced my surprised look, calculated how long I would hesitate before shouting out my appreciation, considered how I would hide my new knowledge that it was my mother, and not Santa Claus, who had procured it for me. It never occurred to me that she had probably already purchased all the gifts for that year (for she always started collecting for next year almost before the current year’s mess was cleared away), or that getting that robot for me would mean that we would have to eat a little less or go with fewer clothes for the next six months. I just knew that I wanted it, and if she were any kind of mother at all, she’d find a way to get it for me. 

I quickly figured out that my mother had to have a hiding place where she kept all the stuff that was supposed to be from Santa. After that, it didn’t take long for me to find her secret cache in the upstairs closet. I started making daily forays up there, checking for signs of the robot. None of the brightly colored packages seemed big enough, and I was starting to lose hope, when one afternoon I peeked in and let out a gasp, my heart pounding. That had to be the box! I retreated, trembling, terrified. Then I moved closer, carefully peeked into the giant bag that held the treasure, and confirmed it. The robot was mine! 

Or rather it was going to be mine. There was still almost a month to go until Christmas, and I was going to have to conceal my secret and live with the agony of expectation for quite a while longer. Not a problem. I could do it. I carefully put the package back in its corner, closed the closet door, and slipped down the stairway like a thief. I couldn’t wait until Christmas morning. 

I don’t have to tell you that those four weeks were the longest of my life. Every minute seemed like a lifetime. I couldn’t concentrate on my spelling sheets and multiplication hand outs in school, so distracted was I by the slowness of the clock. At times I was tempted to sneak back upstairs and check the box again, but I didn’t dare. Someone was bound to suspect, and besides, I liked knowing it was up there, in the dark, waiting for me. 

Finally, after what seemed a dozen lifetimes, Christmas Eve came. I sat through the dinner, the Christmas carols and the sweet lemon punch; I sat through Uncle Spencer’s jokes and Aunt Lorraine’s stories, and when at last I went to bed I lay there as if my eyelids were glued to the top of my head. I was alert to every sound, as though I had super powers. I tried counting sheep, which I had heard helped a person sleep, but I didn’t really know what sheep looked like, so I counted imaginary robots instead, though I gave up when I got to about five hundred or so. Then I rolled around and waited for the sun to come up. 

At last I saw the faint glimmer of dawn out my window, and when at last a lonely bird chirped from the tree in the backyard, I knew it was okay to get up. I crept downstairs in the dark, the only one up at that hour, and tiptoed toward my awaiting prize. I hesitated before turning the corner into the living room, wanting to savor the moment as long as possible.  

At last I advanced to the tree and gasped. Where was the robot? There was the clock radio my sister Kathy had asked for, and the record player for my sister Terry, but there was absolutely no robot in sight. How could that be? Had I just missed it? No. It was the very largeness of it that I was in love with. And yet it wasn’t there. 

For a moment I thought that maybe I had imagined it, but then I remembered seeing it in the closet. There’s no way that I could have made a mistake. And yet a mistake had surely been made. There was absolutely no robot in that room. 

I stood there stunned, as though the world had shifted on its axis. Did Santa know that I didn’t believe in him anymore, and so he had stolen my treasure from me at the hour of my triumph? But how could that be! If that were true, then there really was a Santa, and if he was real, then he would have gotten it for me himself. My head began to hurt from thinking about it, so I fussed with my stocking until everyone else got up, which we were allowed to do under the rules. 

When my mother arrived in her ratty old bathrobe (how could she buy a new bathrobe when she sank every extra penny into Christmas presents for her kids?), I searched her face for signs of a conspiracy. She seemed her usual holiday self, the self she always was on Christmas morning, happy, carefree, relaxed. She never got any presents herself; she got her enjoyment from watching others devour the fruit of her labor, and it infuriated me even more to watch her laugh and act surprised when one of us opened another package “from Santa.” 

After a couple of hours, after all the presents had been opened and the living room was a teeming mass of crumpled paper and half stacked boxes, she turned to me and asked, “Did you have a good Christmas, dear?” She must have seen the look of dejection on my face, because she came closer and asked me what was the matter. 

“Nothing,” I lied. Then I saw the look on her face change to one of sudden surprise. 

“My God, I almost forgot!” she exclaimed, and ran to the back of the couch. With some effort she extracted a giant box—my robot! “Santa must have forgotten it behind the couch,” she said, with a wink that left no doubt that she knew I understood the truth about Santa Claus.   

Instantly, a wave of joy and relief washed over me, and she gave me the biggest hug of my life. When she pulled away, her eyes were moist, either from joy or from some deep sadness our embrace had kindled or wiped clean for an instant, and it was then that I realized that there really was a Santa Claus after all. And that was the gift I received that Christmas, the Christmas of the missing robot. 

Exploring Rusland

By Anke van Aardenne
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:19:00 AM

This spring I went with my Dutch friend Irene to Russia. Russia had 

always intrigued me since my husband’s grandparents had lived in 

St Petersburg before they fled to Leiden because of the Bolshevik Revolution. 

In Moscow we visited the Kremlin Assumption Cathedral with its many hanging candelabras and wall of paintings of saints. We walked along the Red Square and 

were impressed by the distinctive colorful onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral. 


Beside the Church of the Twelve Apostles we were in awe of the enormous 

Emperor Cannon weighing 40 tons. The cannon was never fired because the 

iron cannon balls weighing one ton each were too heavy to load. Children 

had climbed on top of the cannon posing for their parents to take 

their pictures. We rode the underground trains and saw in the stations 

works of art with elaborate mosaics depicting Russian heroes among them. 


Along the Golden Triangle we saw the old town of Zvenigorod situated 

atop a hill overlooking the Moscow River. From a distance we could see 

the golden domes of the white Cathedral of the Nativity built ca 1405. 

The afternoon sun created a reddish light glowing through its oblong 

windows. The Monastery of Savva-Storozhevsky is a treasure which includes 

the 15th century Cathedral of the Nativity decorated with stone carvings. 


St Petersburg is called the Venice of the North with the Neva River and 

its islands, canals and bridges. The light painted the front façade of the 

Pavlosk Palace with a fairy like color illuminating its white Doric columns 

and circular green dome supported by another multitude of columns. In 

Pavlovski Park we walked past ponds, spouting fountains and along Twelve 

Paths adorned with its twelve statues representing mythological figures. 



By Sharon Metzler Dow
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:18:00 AM

They drove South to Carmel’s white sand beach. 

She said her visiting mother had an extra day. 


Doesn’t life fit snug as skin—seamless? 

How would you attach an extra day? 


We circle the Galaxy on cruise control  

500,000 miles per hour. 

No safety belts. No stop signs. No red lights. 

All green and go. 

And going, we meet ourselves returning.  

Is this our extra day? 


Or is it the magenta plum that drops every February twenty-ninth? 


I do know my mother’s surgeon stitched a few extra sunrises to her. 

He said, “She has a few more days.” 

Mother, a Taurus, took the bull by the horns, 

and grasped another 108 days 

like the 108 garnet beads of her Catholic mother’s rosary 

like the 108 seeds of my Buddhist akshamala 

with its final bead stained red. 


When life’s membrane finally tore  

and mother left her badminton, Beethoven, 

mile-long swims and Matisse, 

did time bleed a little? 


It’s Palm Sunday and the breakfast eggs are nearly done. 

The white sand in the minute-timer flows fast — 

a billion shooting stars 

through a thin crystal throat. 

We turn it over 

for a little more time.


By Roopa Ramamoorthi
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:18:00 AM

I got up today with the saffron sunrise. Have been traveling through the traffic jam of Marine Drive and Matunga, going through gullies, veering to avoid hitting children playing cricket in corners. Being jolted by bumps on dug up roads. Yes, I’m just another black and yellow fiat taxi on Mumbai’s roads. I’ve had my morning meal of petrol at the pump. My wheels now running and rolling. Young children in school uniforms, old women in saris and burkhas, men in sharp suits and mullahs with flowing beards all have sat in my behind. These two boys look no different—clean shaven, jeans and Tshirt. One slips a package underneath my seat. The other helps. You ask how I see this? I have eyes in my behind, rear view mirror you call it. Soon other strangers will sit in my back seat and we will go towards Santa Cruz station, complaining about the suffocating sun. I do not know now but soon those strangers and me will be broken to bits. But for now those boys slipping something underneath my seat look like ordinary, clean shaven denim jeans and T-shirt types. 


By Jan Dederick
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:17:00 AM

platinum platter 

splatterings of nightlight splash 

lake’s placid slumber 


winkin blinkin nod 

rock in luna’s sea, dream 

eyelashes flutter 


redwoods at moonrise 

scribe black fractal poems 

on great pizza whiteboard 


November sky proud 

of her grim reaper shroud 

its silver brooch

Meeting Jane Goodall

By Sherry Bridgman
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:16:00 AM

It was my job, when I was working some 30 years ago, to present our membership with speakers about subjects on the natural history of animals, once a month throughout the year. This also included one special presentation of a speaker with renowned recognition in the field of animal behavior.  

One year I engaged Jane Goodall, renowned ethologist, to speak about her continuing research on chimpanzees at Gombe Stream in Tanzania, in east Africa.  

An auditorium was rented that accommodated 1,000 people; press releases were sent out, members notified through our monthly newsletter that Jane Goodall would do a lecture on her ongoing research.  

A biology teacher at Burlingame High called me and said he was bringing 10 of his students to the lecture. He said the kids were very excited as they were studying animal biology. His second question: Could they meet Jane after the lecture backstage for 30 minutes? I knew Jane really liked young people and was then often organizing educational tools in animal study with them in mind. I told him I would send a wire and ask the question.  

Within a week I received a reply that she would be delighted to meet with them for half an hour.  

Jane was flying in from London the day of the lecture. She was staying with a friend in San Francisco, and the friend would also pick her up at the airport. The plane was very late, but they made it to the auditorium about 30 minutes before the lecture. Jane introduced her friend to me as Countess. I took them upstairs to the lounge to freshen up, and for Jane to consult with the projectionist who would be working her slides from the projection booth. She handed him her slides that she had wrapped in rubber band. He then chatted with her, and tried to slip the slides into the slide tray. 

They wouldn’t fit. They were too thick. He told me we needed another type of tray. He said that these are slides they use in Europe. He said to go to Stonestown, which was only a few blocks away, and maybe the camera shop would still be open, and I could purchase one. I rushed over to the camera shop, which was just about to close, and they had one of the European trays. What luck!  

I rushed back with a few minutes to spare. Her friend, the Countess, was with Jane in the lounge; she pulled me aside and started in on me. She said, “You know, Jane is very tired, she just got off the plane after a 12-hour flight from London,” and that I should shorten the lecture. She kept after me about how tired Jane was. Jane didn’t say much, just sort of ignored her. At that moment the zoo director came to take Jane backstage, where she would wait until he introduced her. The Countess followed along still complaining to me. I told her that I could do nothing at this point to shorten the lecture. She then went into the same chatter about how tired Jane was. She also sat backstage while Jane was speaking. The lecture over, Jane took several questions from the audience for about 15 minutes, and then it ended with the enthusiastic sound of applause from the audience. I met Jane backstage and reminded her about the young people with their teacher from high school. She said she remembered and to bring them back, which I did. Jane had neglected to tell the Countess about this saga. She told Jane she did not have to do this because she was so tired that the children would understand.  

By that time the high schoolers were all backstage and were asking their questions, which she affectionately answered with lots of information for each question. She was so sweet, and smiled many times. The Countess had me cornered, angrily protesting. She reminded me, as she had done several times already, that Jane was very tired, just got off the plane, etc.  

Within half an hour, the students thanked her and left, wishing her well in her research. It was over. Whew!  



Postscript: Several months ago a person contacted me who is a friend of Jane’s asking me if I had Diane Fossey’s hardback book of Gorillas in the Mist, and if it was signed. I indicated that it was. He purchased the book to give to Jane. I told him about this story, and he said Jane would like to read it, so I sent this story along with the book. 



By Lowell Moorcroft
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:15:00 AM

Decline and Fall 

We will gather like the lords that were 

Smoke dark tobacco in candelabra light 

And after sad discussion, pass the night 

On our hosts divans, wrapped up in fur. 


Morning will enter the dusty house 

Find Dalmatians whining and the fire dead. 

Dead are we, and a far carouse 

Takes up the hope that we have shed. 



Travel to the village tavern 

Talk with old mates there. 

Drink the thick memories  

Of storm and despair. 

But when you tire of the talk 

And see a maid standing there 

Sail for the pretty face 

Sail for the fair. 


The Golden Few 

I saw the golden few 

They started out supreme  

And happy 

And they grew to be my dream 

I did my best to imitate 

And to appreciate 

Their story and their style 

For it might be true 

It might be worth my while 

To be like them too 

Too bad it was my fate 

I never could substantiate 

Their story and style 

Of their glorious emotion 

I had the simple notion 

They were only passing through 

On their way to heaven 

While I degenerated  

In sorrow and hate 

I couldn’t go too 

I would not see the gate 

Close after me 

While through me light  

Shifted. It was then I knew 

That when the golden few have left 

They leave nothing but sadness 

It’s the only thing that grew 


The Blessed 

Where did they find their strong charm? 

In the channels where the river bled 

Its white gifts, they were bathed clearly 

In the same direction as the water’s run. 

Imagination like a silk shawl sealed 

Their undulating fish-like minds that swam 

In ringed practice horizons to the world. 

Persistent gifts and parties of well-dressed ideas 

Graced around them in a dance 

Of lapping, dipping, paddling, as 

The swarm of eggs and wings of 

Compact splendor demonstrated 

How it would be for them in the coming world: 

A sparkling, cordial bearing, a splashed 

Talk in the evening that designed 

A world apart for their charmed breath. 


Promised Land 

California has its thoughts on light. 

Bleeding along the coast, ghost waters 

Wander for their whales, spread 

Catching quilts for gulls. Is it 

All blue and gray? Will the boats 

Brush only an oiled, angular life 

Into the canvas? It is enlarged, 

It is a West, but is the frame still 

Europe and the East?  

Interpretation’s fish lines reach but 

Can’t dislodge the rocks, volcanoes, sand 

From this last Eden’s deep. Wouldn’t instead  

A house along the Hudson do 

For majesty? Some short climbs 

In the mountains of Champlain and Irving 

Would be all one’s amiable trots 

To wildness. Then back to the blotch 

Urban miscarriage makes on the Atlantic 

Line. And in the night still soft 

With city light, Europe could be heard 

Breathing. It locks its lonely castles 

Back together, whispering an exaltation 

Like an old man claiming prior dreams 

For human thought. But out in California 

The grizzly and the cormorant plod 

Their design. When will the castles come 

To California? And royal eyes 

Sweep the landscape into power’s charm? 


How to Find Me 

I want something of myself: A token, 

A shell from a dim beach, a coin 

With my portrait on it, lucky charm, to redeem 

When they ask, where have I been? Where 

In the dark, paneled rooms that  

Sparse their art in accordance with discretion, 

Will I be found sitting, in a soft chair, 

Telling of myself, as if the mental part of me 

Were a chain of frightened, religious beads, 

Alone with all my thoughts as though 

Taking a ride in a sleigh with writhing 

Dogs, out to a dacha of very distant repute. There 

Find me by the fire, or greet me if you see me 

Outside by a high pine’s furrow of firm bark 

With bristling crown of needles to recommend it. 

Find me in such places, and when you tug 

My arm, my coat away from that fond heaven, 

Let my thoughts spill out like coins or grains of wheat 

From a buried urn or basket, secret coil, 

And count them, one by one, to my forgotten credit. 



You’ve been to yourself. A journey. 

You aren’t certain you are back yet, 

Though the itching turmoil in your limbs 

Aches for its old armor. It is pretty 

To resume the autumn, seeing how it 

Rollercoasters down its own wind 

Into winter. There you are, at the deepest 

Puddle. You are saturated with both 

Ice and sweat. A little boat, unable to float, 

Springs sideways, wasting on its side as though 

Wounded. It is like that with you, in 

The valley of the puddled. Yea though you 

Toddle through the shadow of winter, it 

Is really a suburban farm under your boots, 

A mere skirt of snow keeping the green from rising 

While you are back in dread winter—you  

Could die. But the trip out is waiting again. 

Will it be real this time—or just the Venice, 

The grapeyards of a dream? Your soul isn’t saying. 

It likes the winter of perpetual enigma. 


Red Wine, Gray Prospect 

They will with endless talent pursue 

Coins made smaller by the sun. 

Families can sit at table next, 

In the same wine find eager but remote 

Traveling. I can say nothing, I am 

Silenced by the clouds. Windows are 

Failing their purpose to grow their view of 

Harbors, hills, skies. They have only silence 

To bring. If the wine goes out it will come back. 

A few girls laugh, the generation that is to be 

Runs to the bathroom, or else out the door onto 

The dock. Look at the sails! The future brisk 

Waits in the water to move off. What is there 

To catch us if we fall? They see 

Sky gray like the water. The wind is a face 

Like a giant bird pecking their eyes. 

Already I see their remorse. I will have more of  

That wine. My tongue likes the red of the past. 


Old Roman Family 

You wouldn’t allow a man’s decoration 

Unless you yourself could decorate him. If 

I came to you wearing the pinks or mauves of summer, 

You would tell me I needed to grow a beard 


Just to have your say. Even naked 

I feel dressed in your admonishments. 

My mirror, which once was packed with smiles, 

Seems dark to me now, like old glass. 


If I did stoop to prettify this flesh, 

You know how ridiculous others would think me. 

Who would have us, then? Who would welcome 

Our plain or wrought figures at their door? 


There’s no sense to this, this opening a common gate, 

Driveling in each other’s paradise. I’d rather 

Be alone, read undraped thoughts of an untaught poet 

Who knew when a storm was coming, who could smell the sea. 


The Rocket Scientist (The Fifties) 

Dreaming behind the oscilloscope 

And fountain pen among friends in white shirts, 

I offer attention to the first rocket. At home the wife 

Is a biological experiment, my children want to know 

Where I go in white shirts and black ties and why 

Those thick glasses, and the poignant napkin formulas? 

I tell them there is a country in the sky 

Where the enemy practices—I know him by his 

Hinting articles in rocketry reviews. We are 

Somehow humble destroyers of one another. 

Sally wants me in church more often, she 

Dresses the boys to shame me, they are good 

Boys in black slacks, bow ties, know their prayers. 

The steeple makes my heart freeze. It is 

A holy war, we will launch the whole church 

Of ourselves into the clouds like victory. Sally my 

Wife will go away, the thick glasses finally crack. 


By Lizz Bronson
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:14:00 AM



guardian angels keep close eye citizens of sky angle curve stitch fly  


Revolution a whisper in streets  

Air heavy with dreams deferred  

What is a city without its people  

Guarded by birds  

Doves stitch sunset sunrise sparrows spool whistle quilts  


Berkeley with your  

dissenters nomads derelicts  

Berkeley with your  

circus ring leaders and shopping cart caravans  

Berkeley with your  

tree sitters whale huggers tie dye sky 

Berkeley with your  

protesters handcuff buildings no bomb signs  

Berkeley with your  

Campanile suspends falling sky 

Berkeley with your  

tulip poplars anchoring floating sidewalks  

Berkeley with your  

Nomads slumberbag doorways 

Berkeley with your  

derelict whatever -you-can-spare-- without -hurting---yourself  

Berkeley with your  

echoes of pimps and hoes and people who loved them  

Berkeley with your  

Balls courts hoops brothas eyein’ ghetto goddesses gudunkadunks  

Berkeley with your  

temples of pages that make me dream of griffins  

amid buildings toppled by graffiti 

street people pushing carts  

and students carrying books across a university  

Pigeons carry worries into the sky and plant hope seeds into sidewalks  

Our yellow snapdragon dreams spout pavement cracks  

all these things I’m in and am  

Getting Through the Holidays

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:13:00 AM

As one inclined to be a bit neurotic even under the best of circumstances, I must confess that the Christmas holiday season sends me dangerously close to the brink—not exactly bi-polar, but fairly close.  

This melancholic state descends on me every year beginning with Thanksgiving. I guess it’s all that hullabaloo about “Black Friday,” Christmas carols repeated over and over in markets and shopping malls, with “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” taking the lead, and, of course, evening news coverage of shoppers hauling carts loaded with merchandise. It’s the crass commercialism that I find so offensive. The real meaning of Christmas is somehow totally lost in our age of consumerism. 

This is the season when nostalgia sweeps over me, taking me back to my childhood and the wonder of that very special holiday. I recall the thrill of being in a nativity play when I was in the 5th grade, cast as a very unlikely Virgin Mary. Oh, and the joy of walking to Midnight Mass on newly fallen snow (this was in the Midwest). I no longer attend Midnight Mass, for two reasons—one, I probably couldn’t stay awake and, two, I might very well be mugged walking to Newman Hall on College Avenue. 

The fact that I live alone and have no family undoubtedly adds to my low spirits. Forgetting that I’m not the only one in this predicament, I absolutely wallow in self-pity, completing overlooking that I have a host of wonderful friends. In fact, it’s these concerned friends who have gently suggested that I think of asking my doctor for an anti-depressant. At first blush (I like that phrase), this sounded like a darned good idea.  

But, after considerable research in legal journals on such medication, I had strong reservations. Noting the possible side effects, the blood turned cold in my veins! The two anti-depressants I looked into listed such side effects as nausea, confusion, hallucinations, abnormal dreams, constipation, and, get this—suicidal thoughts! 

Deciding that constipation and suicidal thoughts are not for me, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m better off being depressed. The dreaded holidays occur just once a year so I, like millions and millions of other people, will survive the “season to be jolly.”

Emily and the No. 88 Bus

By Linda Seccaspina
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:12:00 AM

When Emily was depressed she rode the 88 bus. She rode to the east, she rode it to the west. She rode it way too much. But, that was the cure. The cure that cured all. No one should feel sorry for themselves this much. No one indeed. 

One gloomy day she got on the bus and there sitting across her was a physically challenged woman. She was about 36 and partially blind but carried no white cane. She also had a club foot. She went out of her way to be pleasant to everyone. She was even pleasant to Emily, VERY pleasant indeed. She didn’t feel sorry for herself at all. No, not at all. Not like Emily 

She looked at Emily and said, “Hello sad girl, you are a sad looking girl indeed, but smile for me.” she said. “My name is Mini.” 

Mini plopped herself down on the seat next to Emily and started talking to no one in particular. She asked the bus driver her name. The bus driver announced to everyone that her name was Priscilla. So having a first name, Mini began talking in a loud booming southern voice. 

“Miss Priscilla, I don’t have a care keeper anymore.” 

“I noticed that Mini, where is she?” asked Priscilla 

“Miss Priscilla, my mother has made me have home care off and on since 1995, and you wouldn’t believe half of what I would tell you. You would say, ‘NAAA HAAAAAAAAA.’ My Mama and Mr. Jimmy says I’m too nice to people. But Mr. Jimmy has hired these home care workers and I think they are in cahoots. I’m a nice person but I won’t be taken advantage of. NO siree, not anymore.” 

Emily looked at her with sad eyes and nodded her head. 

“God is the only judgment in my life. What goes up must come down like a helium balloon and if Mr. Jimmy keeps up he is going to go down like a helium balloon.” 

Yes, Emily nodded in agreement, like a helium balloon. 

“I never heard my doctor tell my Mama that I was legally blind. I can still move around and if I don’t step in mud one day, then it’s a good day.” 

“Well, your Mama just cares about you darlin” said Priscilla, the bus driver. 

Yes, Emily nodded, her mama cared for her just like the bus driver. Emily cared too. 

Mini started getting a little heated and blurted out, 

“I don’t despair my Mama, but she has faith the size of a mustard seed. If I can cross that street to go to the corner store and not get hit by a car nor mugged by those young thugs then it’s another good day. If I can’t do something then I am going to give it one hell of a try. When you stop this bus if I fall down and bump my head, I’m just going to rub it and keep on going.” 

Yes, Emily nodded, just keep on going. That is what she should do. Just keep on going. Forget all the bumps; forget all those imaginary bumps in her head. 

At this point, Mini noticed that people were listening to her every word. She started to get nervous and twirl her BAD BOY BAIL BONDS key lanyard around her neck. 

“Miss Priscilla, where were you born?” asked Mini. 

“I was born in Alabama, darlin,” said Priscilla. 

“Well, I was born in San Francisco,” said Mini, and she started screaming loudly.  

“You see I am crazy, because I was born there,” she laughed. “Everyone thinks people from San Francisco are crazy so I moved across the Bay to Berkeley to find God.” 

Emily scratched her head. She didn’t know that God had moved to Berkeley or she would have done the ‘drop in’ with some freshly baked cookies. She silently wondered where in Berkeley was God living? 

Emily thought those hippies had it all right when they revolted against Governor Reagan over People’s Park in the ‘60s. Was God living in People’s Park? Was he really? Was he at the Amoeba record store every week, thought Emily to herself. Or was he begging for change on the street with three dogs on a leash. Had she missed him somewhere? 

Surely he didn’t have a vendors table on Telegraph Avenue selling tie dye clothing. Do other people know he lives here? Emily wondered if he marched along side with her during one of those anti-war rallies. She secretly knew what Mini meant, but it was interesting to wonder what God would do or live in Berkeley. After all, it is a haven of peace. Yes a big bubble, a haven of peace. 

Mini was still babbling on, telling the bus driver how she used to go the YMCA in the summer when she was young and how she loved the trampoline. She couldn’t jump because of her foot but she could sit there while the others jumped and she pretended she was flying. 

“I just sat there and closed my eyes and I was flying Miss Priscilla. I was flyinggggggggggggggg in the blue sky.” 

Emily thought to herself and imagined Mini flying in the air as she closed her eyes. Suddenly Emily was flying too. She was flying with Mini into the clouds. There was only sunshine, no gloom, only smiles and no frowns. 

Yes she was flying with Mini, flying hard and flying strong. She was no longer gloomy, nor did she feel sorry for herself. After that very day, when Mini flew into her heart, she worried no more. Feeling sorry for herself was no option. No option indeed. 

For months after that day she looked for Mini on the bus. She looked far and she looked wide. But she no longer saw her and Emily wondered aloud, “Maybe that WAS God. Was God really on that 88 bus that day?” Maybe He was, thought Emily and she smiled broadly. In fact she knew He was and she smiled once again.  

God really did live in Berkeley. Oh yes, oh yes, He did. Because God was everywhere and he did have some rules. He told everyone not to be sad and to love everyone. He said it quite proudly, quite proudly indeed and not on one piece of his body was he wearing tie dye. Now that made Emily smile. Yes, smile more indeed. Even God had fashion rules. Godly Fashion rules indeed. 



By Jan Dederick
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:11:00 AM

apples ripen, apples fall 

to earth’s humescent embrace 

crispness bows to bruises brown 

sugars ferment, cell walls break 


til summer’s pride demises 

into autumn’s mushy slime 

of ovaries overripe 

of decrepitude sublime. 


too soft for pie, these apples, 

for eating  by hand too late; 

with help of heat and pressure, 

sweetest mushiness their fate. 


when I would have my mother 

hold me, by life’s ocean tossed, 

I make do very well instead 

with a soothing bowl of applesauce.


By Irene Sardanis
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:10:00 AM

I entered the inner sanctum 

My office with the smooth black leather couch 


Here is where my giant ego  

had been crushed repeatedly 

by human pain and sorrow 


It took a lifetime to learn to listen 

To just shut up 


Dr. know–it-all 


Now I know I did not know 


I bore witness to countless 

slings and arrows of outrageous mis-fortune 


At days end I was on my knees 


Humbled at being chosen 

To do a job 

I wish 

I had learned to do better

What Is What? Definitions by Joseph Mileck

By Joseph Mileck
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:09:00 AM


• What is reasoning but logical thinking nuanced by emotions. 

• What is greed but life’s survival urge become malignant. 

• What is stubbornness but a self-assertive tenacious refusal to oblige, rightly or wrongly. 

• What is pride but dignity run amok.  

• What is dignity but that self-respect and poise once expected of society’s spiritual and intellectual leaders. 

• What is courage but unwavering self-commitment in full awareness of danger and dire possibilities. 



• What is a nihilist but a skeptic who has found his faith. 

• What is a skeptic but a disillusioned seeker of truth become a relativist. 

• What is an absolutist but a troubled soul who has found an idiosyncratic religion. 

• What is an idealist but a dreamer whose lofty visions have remained unsullied by actuality. 

• What is an agnostic but an informed realistic seeker of truth who has acknowledged that the reach of our human mind exceeds its grasp. 

• What is a religious believer but one who is persuaded in spite of contradictions and notwithstanding contrary argument. 

• What are patriotism and flag but the all too readily abused conceits of nationalism. 

• What is faith but conviction that needs no proof. 

• What are atheists but non-believing theists. 

• What is an agnostic but one who proudly knows that he does not know. 



• What is capitalism but, in theory, an economic system characterized by freedom of the market, and private and corporate ownership and, in its American metamorphosis, an economic jungle of private enterprise, powerful corporations and hard-nosed entrepreneurs with questionable scruples and a passion for money and power, where the rich keep getting richer and the poor, poorer. 

• What is American democracy but, in theory, a government by and for the people and, in practice, a plutocracy in which the faceless many are governed by the financially prominent few. 

• What are wars but adult tantrums. 

• What is an oath of allegiance but a solicited or demanded giving up of self thought-action for group thought-action, dangerous self-diminishing commitment. 


Human relations 

• What is individualism but self-acknowledgment and self-assertion, egoism at its best and egotism at its worst. 

• What is compromise but a necessary meeting of minds, both loss and gain, both troubling and assuring. 

• What is an apology but an effort to undo what cannot be undone. 

• What is remorse but the pain of regret exacted by a conscience pained by a breaching of morality. 

• What is a hero but one who with little self-concern exposes himself to life-threatening danger for another or for the common weal. 



By Dorothy Bryant
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:09:00 AM

Standing on Shattuck Avenue, 

Facing locked glass doors, 

I glance upward at the metal awning, where, 

Between tinny, tiny starfish, 

Silvery octopus tentacles beckon. 


Above the shiny, slithery coils, 

Thin, tin, twisting reeds  

Climb the white walls, 

Three storeys, four, five? 


Between the waving reeds, a 

Giant sea horse prances, 

Grinning metallic cheer at little fish, 

Oblivious to the steely shark 

Rounding the corner of Ward Street. 


The building is sealed, 

All windows covered, 

Water-tight, dark. 


Suddenly I understand. 

We are submerged in 

Underwater lives. 

Treasures we stored for safety (we said) 

On higher levels, 

We can barely remember, 

Having drifted down and down to 

Settle on the bottom, 

So long ago. 

We scurry, crablike, through the 

Restless traffic of senseless debris. 


Once more I run my gaze up white walls. 

A foot or two below the roof, a blue water line 

Marks the beginning of open 


On the roof large birds perch, alert. 

Their wings, spread for imminent take-off, 

Reflect the sun like mirrors. 

Their sharp, arrogant eyes peer downward, 

Pierce through the murky waters, and 

Judge me, 

Prey not worth diving for.

The Sixties

By Andrea Carney
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:08:00 AM

During the Vietnam War my father would put the T.V. next to the dinner table so he could watch the war news while we ate.  

My younger brother, Brad, wanted nothing to do with the war. “I’m not going half way around the world to kill people in a Vietnamese jungle.” His hair was long. He smoked dope on the sly. Jerry, my older brother, would reason, “It is better to stop communism in Southeast Asia than to have to stop it at our borders.”  

My father was a construction worker. He watched a lot of football. 

I, a girl, was expected to assist my mother with the cleaning up. I broke the dishes, slammed doors and told my mother she was crazy.  

My mother prayed a lot. She was a stay-at-home mom. Somehow that gave us the right to call her crazy and weird. Finally she stopped talking to us and talked instead to God, who listened patiently unlike the members of her family. To make it all worse, she refused to go to the white church. She insisted on going to the local colored church. These were the days of separate but equal, which went something like this: “I am not prejudiced. I think that colored people should have the same things that white people have, but they should be separate from us. They should have their own churches, their own schools, their own drinking fountains, a separate place to sit in movie theatres, buses, etc.”  

Brad dragged himself out of bed late one morning and wandered into the kitchen. My mother leaned over a newspaper spread on the floor spraying disinfectant around something he couldn’t see. “What kind of an immoral character are you?” 

“What? What did I do?” he asked. 

“I found this evil thing on the door handle of the car this morning.” 

“What is it?” he asked as he looked around her. On the newspaper was a used condom. 

“Now, I hope that you don’t think that I had anything to do with that,” he said. 

“Don’t lie to me. You were the last to take the car.” 

“Yeah, but I didn’t put that thing there. You know, I bet somebody planted it there to get me trouble. There’s no telling what these idiots around here would do.” 

“Just get it out of here.” Sometimes it seemed like the whole town was against her youngest son. 

My mother once remarked to my father that the two of them were getting older and perhaps they should take out burial insurance. My father took her upper arm and led her to the window over the kitchen sink. Looking at the backyard, he said, “You see that ditch back there?” 


“Well, when I die, just throw me in it.”  

Shortly thereafter my father was transferred to a smaller construction job in Florida. Drifting and feeling lost in Ferriday, I fled to San Francisco. Jerry was now in law school. My mother and younger brother stayed in Ferriday. My father would come home on the weekends. During the week, he stayed in a run-down, lonely motel in Florida. 

In San Francisco, I was sleeping-in one morning, having just hitchhiked back from Mendocino with a boyfriend when the phone rang. 

The voice on the phone greeted me with “Where have you been?” 

“Why?” I asked defensively. I knew it was Jerry. 

“We have been trying to reach you all weekend,” he said. “Dad went into the hospital unexpectedly. He died early this morning.” 

I burst into tears. 

“But he wasn’t even sick,” I said. 

“He caught a cold, which turned into pneumonia, which killed him,” Jerry explained. “He also had cancer of the larynx, which none of us knew about—not even mom. You know Dad, he never talked to anyone much about anything.” 

So my father died without my having ever really known him. We did not throw him into the ditch in the back yard, however. We buried him in Idaho next to his parents. 

Brad took to the open road and, after a few months, showed up in Oregon at Uncle Will’s house. Uncle Will was a logger. Will always said that if one of those tree huggers ever chained themselves to one of his trees, he wouldn’t hesitate to saw him through.  


Dear Brad, 

We are on our way to Oregon. Daddy says that you have to marry me right now. He says that he has the law on his side because I was only sixteen when our baby got started. This trip ain’t much fun because it is so crowded in that old car of ours. It seems like everybody wanted to come along because we ain’t hardly been anywhere outside Louisiana and Texas. Daddy’s driving and Momma’s in front with him and Grandma Cummins, Daddy’s momma. My little brothers and my sister, Gail, are in back with me. It’s so crowded in that car that I can’t tell if the baby is kicking me or someone else. I hope you ain’t mad about our coming unexpected like. 




Will was sitting on the front porch when the faded blue Ford skidded into the driveway blowing up a cloud of dust as it jerked to a stop. Being as Jerry was now a lawyer over in Portland, it was decided to have him come out and see what should be done.  

After complaining about a sister who was a hippie and a mother who was destitute and a brother who got a 16-year-old girl pregnant, he finally advised Brad that he did not have to marry her. At which point Brad insisted that he wanted to marry her.  

So they were married by a Catholic priest in Portland, and a few weeks later their daughter was born. Jerry became a lukewarm lawyer and I became a civil servant for the county of Alameda. Brad’s marriage has been a happy one. 







By Eliot Schain
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:07:00 AM

In front of the university library, nearly 50, 

trees in full bloom, but the tenor of the place  

has gone to ruin—heartless and lean, busily 

recreating the bones of the capital machine,  

though on this ledge beside me, a single 

quiet reading man refrains, and darns the  

universe—lets my beautiful human come 

again, to fly like a dybbuk above the moon. 


By Mark Peters
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:06:00 AM

Do your thing 

Without a frown; 

Take your thing 

Out on the town; 

Roll your thing 

Up nice and tight; 

Hug your thing 

With all your might; 

Send your thing 

On a 10-mile hike; 

Follow your thing 

As long as you like; 

Throw your thing 

Far, far away; 

Find your thing 

In a stack of hay; 

Cast your thing 

Upon the waters; 

Will your thing 

To someone's daughters; 

Raise your thing 

Up to the sky 

Bake your thing 

Into a pie.


By Randy Fingland
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:05:00 AM

enclose tomorrow 

in a dove 

whose flight 

is directly 

to where 

it’s needed 

for each heart 

that beats 


on the planet 

for peace today 

then stays to 

sing it into life


By iris crider
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:04:00 AM

We share the morning coffee grounds— 

me and yellow rose buds 

in October. 

Open skies are grey 

with blueness 

peeking through 

to winter storms 

of California: boding strong. 

And so, 

I move the roses closer in 

to warm and help them blossom 

on the terrace of my home... 

then rest. 

'till gentle April 

touches yellow buds 

and roses open 

in the sun again.

Constructive Anger

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:03:00 AM

In today’s America, a flock of well-to-do scoundrels would have us believe that anger, unhappiness, discontent and rage are mere problems of thinking. 

Change your thinking, we’re told. Think positive thoughts and you’ll attract positive energy. You’re miserable about being poor. Just think prosperous thoughts, you’ll be prosperous. Pay me $500 to attend my introductory prosperity seminar and you’ll be on the road to wealth and happiness ... and if you don’t get showered with pennies from heaven, well, you’re thinking is screwed up and you’ll have to attend my $5,000 weekend introduction to the secrets of wealth revealed.  

A few minutes spent searching the Internet for quotations about anger yield an immense amount of verbiage in their support from folks ranging from Gandhi and Einstein to Marcus Aurelius and Benjamin Franklin deploring an emotion that is inherent in the human condition. Anger, they say, is a condition to be deplored, controlled, smothered. And who can deny that anger can be self-destructive, cloud the judgment, thwart constructive action and lead to regret. 

But there’s constructive anger, a fierce inner fire that can fuel constructive change. It is this anger that the preachers of prosperity would drown with the venial and meaningless mantras of personal responsibility. 

Consider the following: 


A function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purposes when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. 

—William O Douglas 


Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change. 

—Malcolm X 


The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction. 

—William Blake 


The tragedy of America today is that righteous anger has been co-opted by a sociopath, the modern corporation, the most devilish creation of the Western system of jurisprudence. I’ll quote a definition offered by another, earlier San Francisco Bay Area journalist, Ambrose Bierce, in his ever-relevant The Devil’s Dictionary. 

Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility. 

Corporations have sold us lung cancer, poisoned our water, polluted our soil and picked our pockets, all for the profit of their investors. They have corrupted our financial and reduced political systems, and they are reinstituting the feudal system, with a small hereditary aristocracy [thanks to the corporate-backed campaign against "death taxes"] and an indebted mass of serfs [the "service" in service economy has the same root as serf, the Latin servus, slave]. 

We have been witnessing the ultimate corporate malfeasance in the campaign against a public health insurance system, where those who would benefit the most from—dare I say it—socialized medicine have been propagandized into assuming the roles of its most strident opponents. Just look at the crowds at the Fox-sponsored tea parties. Older folks and blue collar workers have been brainwashed into believing that any proposal for a public health system is a plot against their freedom. They speak of the threat of “death panels,” yet fail to recognize that the panels already exist, but inside the offices of the very insurance companies they’ve been mobilized to support. 

The mass media [corporate, naturally] play to the controversy, granting vast amounts of air time to the manufactured controversy, while fewer people each day read the dwindling number of newspapers that devote significant space to considered accounts of the issues. At the same time, partisans of diverging views restrict themselves to partisan information source, fissuring the body politic and rendering the components more susceptible to manipulation, with the media relentlessly pushing the agenda that would hand the victory to the small group of the elite who have cornered an ever-larger portion of the wealth we have all created together. 

One last quote: 


The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere 

The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 

The best lack all conviction, while the worst 

Are full of passionate intensity. 

—William Butler Yeats 


Richard Brenneman’s blog may be found at richardbrenneman.wordpress.com.


By Larry Beresford
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:03:00 AM

It’s titled: Chicken Soup for Assholes 

because, let’s not trivialize their despair, 

we’re talking about a lot of suffering here, 

so many dreams dashed by cruel fate.  

They need solace, too, 

but they can’t accept it 

from anyone they might later need 

to crush like a scuttling bug.  


My First Christmas: 85 Years Ago

By Maya Elmer   
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:02:00 AM

Take the time-line, my time line. The present, the unspent-part stretches to the horizon of infinity. But this end is weighted heavily towards nostalgia—sometimes it takes only the flutter of a martin’s winged dance over the marsh to startle my soul into memory, or a snow-burdened pine bough drooping down ward, or a child’s china tea set. Let me tell you. 

December nights roll in quickly in Michigan’s Christmas season. By 5 p.m. Christmas Eve in 1924, even the room is dark, all but the startling magic of the Christmas Tree with its candle lights flickering and glowing. 

In the small living room the couch and chairs have been turned from their places on the far wall, their backs now form a barricade against the spirits of the night. In the angle in front of them, room for the wondrous pagan tribute to the rekindling of earth’s light—The Christmas Tree! 

I know nothing of this symbolism. However, even at four years of age, I know that these days have a special meaning and excitement. I lean into my mother as we sit together in the corner of the overstuffed couch where I feel warm and protected. The candle flames add their heat to the room, their small lights make for mysterious spaces and shadows beyond my vision. Could this have been like what it was before being born ?  


Stille Nacht...heilige Nacht...einsam wacht... 

Si-i-lent night....Ho-o-ly night...    

Holy infant so tender and mild    


My mother begins to sing the German words, trying to teach me. Perhaps remembering HER Christmas Eves with her mother. But tonight in the dusky dark of a Michigan winter’s eve we sing together, curled together. 

I can never sing “Silent Night” without a catch in my throat, or even hear it sung without tears starting to form. It’s not the memory of my first Christmas which springs to mind. Nor the image of my mother and myself. I’m a sentimentalist. I’ve imbued the Mother-and-Child as a relationship special to all peoples and ages. And every brand new baby born: holy, and tender, and mild. 

That afternoon I had gone along with my mom and dad in their search to find the stores which are still selling the little four-inch, twisted Christmas candles as well as boxes of clip-on candle holders. It is hard to find the clips and candles these days. 

Only those emigres who perhaps want to recall their childhood days, or re-create their memories; or more probably who scorn the new-fangled electric wires —whoever heard of electric lights on a tree! Only they are still buying the small Christmas candles. We go in and out of several of the neighborhood small novelty stores with aging inventories. I recall the dimness of the narrow ethnic store on eastside Jefferson Avenue. The long counter stretches to the back of the store, musky odors, the odd assortments on the shelves behind the man. I cling close to my mom’s skirt, very apprehensive of a new place-in-my-life. I am a little girl. 

That self-same afternoon my dad had wrestled the whispy green balsam tree into the corner near the big front window. Is there ever an X-mas tree that stands straight of its own accord? No matter. My father, a research pathologist, with an eye for the exact, was not above tying it straight with a wire attached to the window catch. Somehow I can see the wire stretching out into the nowhere. It glistens in the light. 

In later times and other Decembers, I find myself anchoring, year after year, tying down a tree that just doesn’t stand straight despite all the sighting and shaking that went on in the tree lot. I guess Dad gave me permission. 

The twisty candles each one in its little cup-like holder soldered onto clips, are carefully placed by Dad on the ends of the branches. Each one far enough apart from the one above to exist in its own space. Each flame flowing up, each a halo of light, the throb of a mystic tale. The weight, ever so slight, still brings the boughs closer downward. At all costs, the candle flames must be kept separate. We sit together watching the glow of the candles. BUT we also watch for the candles that burn down too low. 

“See. Daddy. THAT one.” or “Daddy, the yellow one!” 

Our father then gently puts out the one whose beeswax has melted down dangerously while careful not to dislodge the others still burning brightly. The smell of wax and resin and Christmas Tree. And I remember. 


O Tannenbaum. O Tannenbaum. Wie grunst sind deine blatter? 

O Christmas tree. O Christmas tree.... 


That must have been the Christmas when my grandmother Buettner from Chicago was with us; my baby brother Carl was born early in January, so I am just musing. The women are just figures talking and mumuring in the background of the small dining room across the hallway from the living room. In the morning when I open my presents, in the box from my grandmother is a large china tea set: sugar bowl, and pitcher and the rest. The teapot, about nine inches tall, is decorated with a little-girl figure. 

The cups and saucers have been long gone. Grandmother, too, and Mother also. I must have treasured that teapot, even when its handle knocked against a table and fell off. The teapot, with the piece of handle rattling on the inside, had been with me, in a drawer or closet, shelf or box even when I moved to Berkeley in 1983. It’s disappeared now in a lost frenzy of house cleaning. I hadn’t realized until this writing why I had kept it through the years, even without its handle. Now I see fully the connection between that teapot and my grandmother’s love and that first Christmas of memory. 

There is the orange in the toe of the stocking, too.   




By Abigail Goldman
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:01:00 AM

The moon’s panting frosts the air. 

There is an electric tremor. 


I think that’s meat. 

Me, I think. 

I mean, 

I haven’t had enough to eat. 


A victim of the cold and heat. 

Nervous by night, 

I think with my feet. 

I mean, I walk in my sleep. 



I am unnatural. 

That is, nocturnal. 


The park’s a good spot, 

But just by day. 

And the Credit Union alley. 

A million ways to camp out wrong. 

You will be asked to move along. 

Be invisible. 

Be thin. 

Be flat. 

Blend in.


By Abigail Goldman
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:00:00 AM

Six o’clock in the morning. 

The mothers have the welfare office surrounded. 

They waddle and wail edgily, 

Clutching handlettes, 

Telling stories, 

Talking in voicies of purple horsies. 


And then, tick-tock, 

The gateway brays its opening. 

The men begin to pitch and sway. 

They’ve undergone a loss of vigor, 

And an attendant physical change. 


Their powerful force made its way. 

Hysterical, I tell you, 

Regularly unrestrained. 


A hundred babies rode that day. 

See men to the left of them. 

See men to the right of them. 

Put out to sea on the shoulders of they that bore them.


By Abigail Goldman
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:59:00 AM

Waft and wait. . . 


Waft, and wait. 


Float and flagellate. 


(A balloon makes a break for innate—  

For the vanishing point of space.) 


Carry in colors a community of. . . 

Well, I speak for me. 


My soul shuffles itself free, 

Does the watusi, 


And cracks the layers of the firmament 

One by one by one. 


I am the object,  

twin-sister of it, 


The its are thick-coming. 



There is a tool that is receptive. 

This is what a sense is. 


Sits in stillness. Feeds on experience. 


Eats all the fruit— 


Stem and seed, 

Bruise and worm, 

Mold and germ 


Loves the cockroaches,  

Bloodsuckers and vermin. 

The Welfare of the People Shall Be the Supreme Law

By Sonja Fitz
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:58:00 AM

Prior cuts to Alameda County’s General Assistance loan program and new cuts that will go into effect January 1 represent the worst tendencies of politics and bureaucracy: short-term thinking and scapegoating the poor. A county budget is a public commitment of resources to a list of shared priorities created by the people and for the people, to borrow a phrase—the key word being, People. A humane government prioritizes the basic survival needs of its people above all other concerns: there are other places in the budget to cut, and other sources of additional revenue that can be considered. 

General Assistance (GA) is a loan program, not a handout, that provides a small monthly sum of financial assistance to the poorest seniors, veterans, disabled people, transition-age youth, domestic violence survivors, and people seeking jobs whose unemployment benefits have run out. Without GA, thousands of people would have zero income. Z.E.R.O. As such, General Assistance should be among the most protected line items in the budget, along with public health services, food, shelter, and survival support. Before a community can flourish and grow, its residents must have their most basic needs met. 

Never mind all that high-minded basic needs mumbo jumbo, the county says, and as of Jan. 1 it will provide only three months of GA per year to recipients deemed employable. (Still no firm word on how that will be defined, but you know, don’t bother us with minor details…) Right now, there are thousands of people in the Bay Area who have lost their job in the economic downturn and are spending weeks if not months looking for work. These individuals have solid, up-to-date job skills and recent work histories and still experience a protracted search. Yet the county somehow believes a welfare recipient with lower skills and no recent work experience can be on the job in three months. 

And worse, the looming GA cuts go beyond simple “across the board” redress in an economic downturn—they enter the realm of murky judgment calls on the lives of men and women in need. The county is proposing to slash a recipient’s GA grant for the following reasons: 

• Up to $84 if the recipient lives with a roommate: This leaves the typical recipient with about $250 for an entire month of living expenses, including rent. 

• Up to $40 unless the person receives MediCal, since if the person does not receive MediCal the county is aiming to recoup some of the funds it says it will expend on public health services for that person. 

• And most insidiously, up to $231 if the recipient’s rent is more than the amount of the GA check, since the County deems this to be fraud. Since a person’s rent can easily be more than the person’s GA check ,necessitating a roommate and yet having a roommate kicks in the first tier of cuts, this again leaves a person with z.e.r.o. 

Is your head spinning yet? It should be. Many of us are making do with less these days and living closer to our budgets. In all honesty, most of us haven’t got a clue what it means to make do with less. Or with nothing.  

The GA cuts will increase homelessness, suffering, and destitution for thousands in our community. The trite axiom that balancing budgets is fairest when cuts are made “across the board” is both inhumane (the neediest people in the community suffer) and inefficient (cutting welfare only raises costs to emergency response, police, hospitals, and other public costs)—not to mention patently untrue: many claim a flat tax is more “fair” but the majority agrees that in fact it is more fair to ask those of us with greater resources to shoulder a larger part of the tax burden, and thus our tiered tax system. By the same compassionate reasoning, it holds true that those facing greater hardships deserve a greater share of support—even, and especially, in a financial crisis. To echo the state motto of Missouri, who got this one right at least in principle—“The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.” (By contrast, California’s state motto is “Eureka!” Make of that what you will.) 

Please join us on New Year’s Eve to protest the inhumane cuts that will go into effect the next morning—Thursday, Dec. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Alameda County Board of Supervisors Plaza at 1221 Oak Street in Oakland. This is more than a merely symbolic gathering—already, fighting back has made an impact, and one of the initially proposed cuts has been eliminated (using W-9s to screen out recipients). To get involved, contact event co-organizer (and executive director of Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency) boona cheema at 649-1930 x 225 or visit www.createpeaceathome.org.  




Sonja Fitz is the development director for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), an Alameda County nonprofit organization serving more than 1,500 homeless and disabled people each year, both single adults and families with children. For more information, see www.self-sufficiency.org. 


By Mike Palmer
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:57:00 AM

Lights are strung around the trunks 

of the trees along the Gourmet Ghetto 

like luminous egg sacs  

from giant insects 

or like clusters of tiny pieces 

from a shattered full moon. 


I think this was done 

to remind you when you’re here 

that you’re NOT in the ghetto. 


I think about my friend who 

like the rest of the country 

is declaring bankruptcy. 


And I think about another friend 

whose father 

had a stroke 

and died 

a couple weeks ago. 


This Christmas 

I’ll stay with my father  

in the semi-desert of 

the Inland Empire 

of Southern California 

(whose denizens deny 

they live in a semi-desert). 


No one knows 

how much longer 

he’ll be alive. 

Although the man himself 

has a rough guess 

that no one wants to accept. 


He is ready to give away 

the things he’s accumulated 

for decades; 

the old love letters 

between him and my mom  

written during World War II 

when he was in the Pacific. 

They are stashed in a box and 

stored in the closet. 

He can’t remember where. 


We’ll visit my brother 

and his children 

and their children. 

We don’t know one another 

we never will 

but we’ll act like we’re best friends  

for three or four hours 

on Christmas day. 


At work  

the Christmas Party Committee 

is passing around 

the list of assignments 

for the pot luck and 

gift exchange. 


They’ve been meeting 

for a couple of months 

working on strategy— 

trying to reach a consensus 

on what type of food to offer. 


Everyone is expected 

to go to the party. 


you’ll get a big “X” 

on the “Needs Improvement” column 

in the “Interpersonal Skills” section 

of your next performance evaluation. 


On the way to lunch 

I pass “Magic Fingers Massage Therapy”  

and a homeless man  

pushing his shopping cart 

like a plow 

hauling a giant black balloon 

containing cans and bottles that rattle 

like a drunk orchestra rehearsing 

as he labors up the street. 


At the café I go to 

“The Battle of Algiers” 

is projected on the wall inside. 

The young man who takes my order 

says it’s his favorite movie. 


There’s no sound but  

I can read the subtitles 

just fine. 


I hear the people around me 


it’s colder  

than last year 

much, much colder 

and it’s getting darker  


Earth Crying for Joy

By Conrad T. Greenston
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:56:00 AM

In the longest dark, ensconced in my cozy electrified urban habitat, this Winter Solstice, Year 2009 of the Common Era, alive on Turtle Island, planet Terra, the boob tube just gave me a brief glimpse of a ravaged rain forest segment in Indonesia cleared for palm oil production. I’ve seen this before. Watering this human male’s face, I begin crying for Mother Earth. 

High mountainous, indigenous settlements existing for centuries just below melting glacier lines in the Himalayas, the Andes, and elsewhere will soon have to migrate; water is scarce and gardens are difficult. Nomads and agrarians on the edges of vast deserts, the ribs dominating chest-scapes under their flesh look to the skies for rain without hope. Monsoons in India have lost their gentleness and flood the land, washing away the soil. Hurricanes mount their winds with unheard of strength. Rising waters are threatening to drown island-nations; vast coastal regions and their populations will pack up and go. The Arctic polar ice will soon disappear in the summer, robbing the polar bear of its habitat; the Greenland glacier is melting, dripping fresh water into the North Sea, disrupting the warmth from the Gulf Stream, likely bringing on a mini ice age in Northern Europe whose peoples (according to a Pentagon study) will have to relocate, with many moving to the southeastern United States. Nature does not see the artificial boundaries of nations and private lands. Dignity is not a commodity available for a price. 

Global warming is at work regardless of the propagandistic naysayers of corporate stooges spending hundreds of millions of dollars spinning lies into the minds of the innocent and the ignorant, looking only to the bottom dollar and protecting their turf. The recent gathering of the United Nations of the world in Copenhagen, called to come to an agreement to end the threats of global warming, ended in disarray, and, thus, has created a time delay from which humankind may not recover—we are that close to the end of the human experiment. 

And yet, the Earth, the universe, flora, fauna and the elements are full of grandeur, creativity welling forth with harmony—quelling the violence of the Big Bang, exploding stars, colliding planets, and having sequestered high energy radiations not conducive to life through billions of years of evolution to flourish in the beauty of life on Earth we can still experience today. Yes, there is a poignant joy made all the more precious in our mind’s eye by the contrast between the potential and misery humans have created within their spirits and on the Earth. 

Why do women cry? Is it because they bear our children? Because their relation with the soft flesh of life they bring forth is blissful proof of the grace of humanity, which they witness with a certainty of wisdom, and, yet, they weep when that is laid low? Do they weep in the face of fulfillment of promise because the beauty they manifest is testimony to the falseness of the suffering we continue to inflict on ourselves and the other? Is this not also the same with our Mother Earth? What is this remarkable thing called a flower? Panoramic vistas? The tree of life? 

There is no greater joy in the universe we are aware of but that which we can experience here on this planet, which we now see is made fragile by our human actions. And these scars are Earth’s tears, offering us the realization that at our core is a basic goodness, which we can nourish and actualize out of the ashes of our folly. Yes, the Earth is crying for our joy if we have the courage to experience its bliss, to build a new world that supports human potential in all its glory. 



By Dorty Nowak
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:55:00 AM

I watch the shadows licking at the light, 

His dinner growing cold upon the table. 

Cold nips my fingers and teases at my heart. 

He said that we must talk; will it be tonight? 


His dinner growing cold upon the table. 

No words to break the silence in the room. 

He said that we must talk; will it be tonight? 

What have I done, that he has turned to ice. 


No words to break the silence in the room. 

Cold nips my fingers and teases at my heart. 

What have I done, that he has turned to ice? 

I watch the shadows licking at the light. 




You wake in the night 

with no one to comfort you. 

Can you hear my voice? 

Child, I will sing you the song 

I sang long ago. 



By Mary Wheeler 
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:54:00 AM

On this darkest night 

Shivering birds take flight, 

Flee the bitter cold 

E’er Winter takes hold.  

In our Winter, we 

Too from darkness flee, 

Turn from ceaseless strife 

Seeking hope in life.  

Yet soon the Earth will turn 

The days grow warm and long 

And with their joyful song 

The birds will then return.  

So as the bleak year’s done 

May we with hope now greet, 

Go forth in peace to meet, 

The new with voices one.  

May we wisdom and love, 

Goodwill and caring learn. 

And from our hatred turn 

To seek light from above.  

But first, this darkest night 

Let us be still, let us pause, 

Listen to nobler cause, 

And then go forth renewed, 

Forget battle and feud. 

Emerging from our night 

To seek the New Year’s light.   



By Robert Quintana Hopkins
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:53:00 AM

7:30 A.M. 

I rapidly crisscross  

the street. 

Load my hybrid car  

first with computer, 

then with dry cleaning 

before commuting 12 miles 

across town 

to work. 


12 feet away, 

at the corner of Henry and Rose 

an unfamiliar,  


“S”-curved sculpture 


from the sidewalk. 


Brown, worn  

Doc Martins 

stand bedside.  


Covered chin to toe, 

the red haired woman wrapped motionless in a sleeping bag 

decorates our street 

with increasingly endured 



by wealth. 


Hopkins is the author of Glass Closet, a collection of poems and essays published by AfroChicano Press in 2009. 


Spirit Tree

By Marianne Robinson
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:52:00 AM

The Christmas tree is aglow, even after four weeks. Its presence, soul, spirit fills the living room. It occupies a place of honor on the round maple table by the window. It is short, fat, bushy, full, generous for its two-and-a-half-foot height. 

Before it came into our living room this tree grew in some open space, thrived on air and water and soil, was cut down, hauled to a tree lot with hundreds of others. By some miracle, this tree was passed over by everyone until Tom found it four days before Christmas. 

With love and respect and abounding joy, we adorned the little tree with shiny red and gold and blue balls, silver garlands, twinkly lights, tiny wooden figures, Tom’s tin star, the free-form star Vicki Sue made on another Christmas. We basked in its radiance for many days and nights. 

This tree embodies all my Christmases past—all the family and friends, the season’s cheer, the tree-trimming merriment, the carol-singing, the excitement and suspense building to Christmas Eve, when we trimmed our tree, and (could we possibly live that long?) Christmas morning, when the family gathered to open the presents miraculously spawned by that year’s tree. 

The tree. It seems indecent, wrong, now, to undress this little tree, to see it shorn of its gay trappings, its pungent scent nearly gone, its color faded almost to brown. To carry it out to the curb to be carted away unceremoniously by the recycling crew. I am consoled that it will be recycled, not burned; its life-giving needles, branches and trunk will rejoin the earth and help give birth to another tree. 

So it goes—birth, life, death and rebirth. Back to Mother Earth from which we spring. Tree and human. The same. The sadness is embodied in the joy. All things must end—childhood, mother, father, life. Only the spirit remains—and the earth that gave us birth. 



Before La Dreck

By Dana M. Chernack
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:51:00 AM

I was born on a street without a name, in a world of its own, pushed up against Gravesend Bay by high-rise housing projects and summer bungalows turned into year-round residences for real live gypsies. 

Occasionally a body would wash ashore with his hands tied behind his back; a high contrast photo for the next day’s Daily Mirror. 

I was a quiet little boy, pudgy and soft, often referred to as the fagele because I was so odd. I just never knew how to be. The world was an irritant at best. 

My mom was a showgirl and my dad an entertainer. He had started out as one of the Katz Brothers, Manny, Moe and Jack. My father was Jack, the suave, debonair crooner. Mom’s career was going strong in 1945 when handsome Jack Katz came back from the war. Manny and Moe had tired of show business and decided to become commercial fishermen, trolling Sheepshead Bay for Gefilte fish.  

I was born April 24, 1947. We moved to land’s end Brooklyn. My father made ends meet scaling Gefilte and stuffing ‘em in jars for his brothers although this was seasonal work as the Gefilte swam upstream to the Bronx, to spawn in the summer. Dad’s heart was in show business, though. He did Bar-Mitzvahs, weddings and of course the Catskills. So when the Gefilte headed north, so did we. Me and my mom would travel with him, staying in furnished rooms with the bathroom down the hall and a community kitchen on the first floor.  

My father worked in the Casino, a large wooden structure, with a stage and folding chairs, which was the locus of night life, in the low-end hotels and bungalow colonies, favored by Jewish butchers and cabdrivers and postal workers, the occasional schoolteacher, up from Brooklyn or the Bronx, to escape that primeval humidity, buzzing with mosquitoes, the kind that would bite me, till my arms were red and swollen. Those summers sharing a room with my parents taught me how messy life could be, they were a tempestuous pair, I was so quiet and unassuming they often forgot I was in the room. My parents were good-looking people and were quite beautiful together. 

I graduated Brooklyn College, June ’68, with a major in cross-cultural engineering, only to find that the bottom had fallen out of the cross-cultural market, most of the jobs having fled offshore. I took a job pushing ice cream to the good people of Brooklyn. I would schlep the sandy shore of Coney Island trying to earn an honest dollar. One day startled by the sight of Julius the Pinhead in his Speedo, I tripped over a small child and fell face first onto the commodious behind of Carol Velensky. Needless to say, we were married within the year, Julius the Pinhead, our best man; wearing a yarmulke with red on white polka dots custom made to fit his pointy head. 

I fell in love with Carol’s soul, her face was odd and her body, everywhere. In 1972, Julius was offered a part in a play, all the way out in San Francisco. It was as a family, we hitchhiked cross country. Julius was a wild success playing Doctor Allen Konigsberg, a clueless intellectual; the play was to run two years. 

In 1974 I took a job as a shipper in a windowless warehouse staffed by the tattooed, the pierced and the newly arrived, who even in their strange tongues made more sense to me then the witless ravings of the anarchist hordes who were the real power on the warehouse floor. I worked hard. At 30, I finally lost my baby fat. I was muscled and ripped. I became quite the hunk; women were chasing me with mattresses on their back. 

Feeling full of myself, I became a writer. 

I enrolled in a fiction writing course at Vista College in Berkeley. I was much taken with Ms. Leshinsky, the teacher, moderator, guide to the perplexed and perspiring, aspiring, writers of Fiction Writing 10A thru Z. I pictured the two of us holding hands, giggling over obscure references, discovering we preferred Malamud to Mailer, Brooks to Allan. We’d differ over the Marx Brothers vs. the Three Stooges, till she would say “Why you!” raising her dainty hand in V formation, feigning to poke out my eyes. 

“Nyuk! Nyuk! Nyuk!” I’d reply, my right hand perched perpendicular on my nose to parry, then we would both laugh and collapse into each other’s arms. 

Alas it was not to be. Ms. Leshinsky’s screenplay What up G? about a millionaire’s spoiled son who’s mistaken for a cold killer had been written with a young Dustin Hoffman in mind, but Dusty had opted out to do dinner theater instead, a musical production of Queen Victoria and Murray, co-starring Gina Lolabridgida. In any event the film was to be made, on a more modest scale with Bruno Kirby in the lead role. Ms. Leshinsky took the money and ran. 

Broken hearted I turned to cheap booze and cheaper women. One night, I had a vision. That vision became my first novel, To Lose in La Dreck.  

“La Dreck,” according to Susan Sontag “is a tragi-comic tale portraying the psychic dislocation of crap-shooting Franco–Jewish sewer workers, shunned by a world increasingly alienated from its bodily functions.” 

All of a sudden the eyes of the literary world were on me. I decided to return to New York. It was June 1983, I was 36 years old, at the height of my powers as I walked down University Avenue, a suitcase in each hand heading for the park bench under the University Avenue Extension that served as Berkeley’s only railroad station. 




By Jan Dederick
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:50:00 AM

food dreams come in famine 

  in August, gushing gutters 

     but a misty memory 


cumulus nimbus mirages 

    fogbanks precipitate out 

        only thirsty smog 


my damp Irish DNA 

   spirals round arroyo seco 

         understands how raisins feel 


even poppies peter out 

  even coast oaks want a dusting 

     even blackberries lose their grip 


just then like cherry Popsicle 

  like carnival pinwheel 

     like the Good Humor truck 


naked as Adam’s Eve 

  giggly as Double Bubble 

     leggy as Norma Jean 


beloved Amaryllis 

  leaps from dessication 

     pink-lemonade for dusty eyes

Dinner in the Diner, Nothing Could Be Finer

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:50:00 AM

I posed for my high school Class of 1944 Yearbook picture without my glasses and wearing faux pearl beads my father had handed me— “Here, you can have this”—while clearing out Wife Number Two’s things. I had tweezed my eyebrows. I wouldn’t smile because my teeth were crooked. 

Veterans with G.I. Bill support were already flocking to higher education. In order to apply for grants-in-aid, nonveterans had to shell out for the first term until they demonstrated both need and ability. No Pell Grants or effortless loans in 1944. At least I had the smarts to know there were differences among colleges. I would have to compromise and consider small denominational colleges in the boonies. 

Tennessee’s oldest college was church-affiliated and sufficiently eager to have me come on down! that they provided a partial scholarship, sight unseen. A high school friend who was already enrolled doubtless vouched for my presumed Protestantism and whiteness. Little did they know . . . 

Once part of a pioneer village, four miles outside town, the college began as an elementary school and was chartered as a liberal arts college in 1794. College histories declare that before the Civil War, only men were acceptable as students. During the war, women were allowed to enroll, but it reverted to a men’s school after 1865. 

Student enrollment fell to its lowest in 1944. “A constant stream of boys left school for the armed forces … as did some girls, either to marry or to take up war tasks.”     

The president was also concerned about attracting and holding “the proper type of teacher to maintain our standards. When the drafting of 18 year olds was begun the prospects of the college remaining little more than a girls’ school for the duration became a reality.”   

I got a ride from the depot with a local gent who had picked me up on the train. Out in the countryside the little campus was in turmoil. Food, beds, plumbing and teachers were inadequate. More veterans than could be accommodated had been admitted. Most were there because they too couldn’t get into their first-choice colleges. We were referred to as “the outsiders” and “the no’then students.”  

Some of the G.I.s managed to get in before the food ran out. They claimed there was saltpeter in the pie crust. In his 1946 report, the college president lamented that “their frequent lack of academic ability or social restraint compounded the already difficult situation.” 

I saw no women veterans although they were well represented as both students and teachers at such institutions as Barnard College, where I ultimately matriculated. 

Food, plumbing, and randy males notwithstanding, when classes began, I quickly realized that I was wasting my time and energy if the point was to earn my college education. I had better clear out and not become further obligated. My roommate from New Jersey wept as I packed. She, too, left a few weeks later. The friend from high school wrote that two students had been found alone at night in a classroom “engaged in an immoral act.” 

I managed to get into town to the railroad depot, a one-story wood building on a dusty plot. I purchased a coach seat ticket and sat down to wait in the heat for the daily northbound train. The waiting room doors were propped open, presumably for cross ventilation. Two silent rednecks—men, not boys—loomed outside leaning on the door frame, leering and spitting tobacco cuds in a narrowing circle around me. It dawned on me that I had plopped myself and my luggage down in the Colored Waiting Room. It was very quiet, everyone else silently looking straight ahead.  

Outside, snarling scrawny doags lifted their legs on the cotton bales and other agricultural freight piled by the tracks ready for the incoming train. I hauled myself and my luggage out of the waiting room and over to a location by the tracks where it appeared the passenger cars would be stopping. I figured my best bet was out there in the dust with the doags under the noonday sun.  

A slight Caucasian male in a business suit sidled up and said something innocuous about waiting for the train “north.” I couldn’t be sure whether to welcome the presence of another human being, especially a man, or if this meant more trouble. His clothing and accent suggested that he, too, was from a-way. We stood there a long while. I probably said something about going home to New York after a disappointing experience at the local college, and it’s likely that I mentioned my mother. By the time the train pulled in I understood that he was on a routine business trip throughout the South—something to do with a company that manufactured cotton “linens.” I can’t be certain that he had witnessed my harassment by the gents of Tennessee. The Pullman car porter greeted him—they seemed to know each other. We said good-bye as he headed for the Pullman car and I in the opposite direction, to the coaches. 

The crowded, noisy, dirty coach was just as pictured in movies of wartime America. People sitting on luggage and standing in the aisles, women with wailing kids, enlisted men smoking and gambling. I was prepared to sit right there for the next 21 hours, glad to get a seat, and self-satisfied, having made my own way out of a sticky situation. Perhaps a half hour later, I noticed the Pullman car porter roaming the aisle. He stopped at my seat and with a straight face said that “the gentleman” had made “an arrangement” for me, which could have meant anything.   

The traveling salesman, as I thought of him, had influenced the conductor to discover an unoccupied upper berth, and the porter had been dispatched to collect me and my stuff. I didn’t hesitate to follow him through the other crowded, noisy dirty coaches into the Pullman car. 

My benefactor gave me his business card “for your mother” and invited me to dinner. Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer. It was an expensive glorious meal in a pre-War Dining Car—linen table cloths, big napkins, crystal, silverware, finger bowls with lemon slices, and marvelous food. Then, without a second thought, I crawled up into my wonderfully horizontal berth and went to sleep. Out like a light.   

When the porter woke New York-destination passengers, the gentleman was gone, and he was rapidly making up the berths vacated at Philadelphia. As he stripped one lower berth, he pulled out an empty whisky bottle and showed it to me with a sad expression. My mother wrote to the name and address on the business card in anticipation of two free bedspreads for twin beds, specifying pink or rose. 


Helen Rippier Wheeler is a Berkeley resident; she can be reached at pen136@dslextreme.com.  






By John Rowe
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:49:00 AM

If none of it 

is ever 



then surely 

some of it 

is enough 


at least 




all of it 

just must be 




of the 




of it 



I don’t 

even know 

what it is 


So I ask: 

what is 



Let’s not 




we figure 



HOLIDAY BLUES (A Pantoum Poem)

By Irene Sardanis
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:48:00 AM

Even though I run, it hits me again 

The season of happiness and joy 

Here it comes again 

No place to hide my eyes 


The season of happiness and joy 

Just a lot of images, nothing more 

No place to hide my eyes 

Everyone else is laughing 


Just a lot of images, nothing more 

Here it comes again 

Everyone else is laughing 

Even though I run, it hits me again 

Christmas for One

By James K. Sayre
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:47:00 AM

Have your beloved parents and siblings departed this mortal coil? Have all your cute girlfriends flown the coop? Have your old friends moved far away or become too odd to speak with freely? Do not despair. After all, you still have your memories of Christmases past: your childhood Christmases, your adolescent Christmases, your young adult Christmases and your middle-aged Christmases. 


You can have a nice old-fashioned Christmas morning with nice presents and all the other trimmings. First, in early autumn, pore through all of your accumulated mail-order catalogues and make a list of all the things that you want or need. Second, examine this list with a critical eye and trim it down to a manageable and affordable group. Then mail out or call in your orders. When your self-gifts arrive, wrap them in holiday paper and tie them up with nice ribbons. If you are a senior and thus have your “moments,” when you unwrap your presents on Christmas morning, you may truly be surprised... 

Before Christmas, get a nicely scented evergreen tree. Find your boxes of old tree decorations and put them on the tree. Make some sugar cookies to hang on your tree. If you are feeling ambitious and nostalgic, try stringing cranberries and popcorn. Traditional paper chains are easy to make and quite festive. Then put your self-presents under the tree. And don’t forget to hang up your red stocking after having filled it with fancy tangerines, oranges, shiny red apples, walnuts, wrapped hard candies and other small gifts. 

Try baking some traditional Christmas foods, such as fruitcake or a mincemeat pie. Even batches of home-made bread can be made quite holiday-festive with the addition of some pumpernickel rye flour, raisins, nuts and spices such as cinnamon, allspice, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and fenugreek. My mother used to pit some dates, then fill them with pieces of walnut and roll them in sugar. She put them into replacement check boxes lined with waxed paper: a nice little gift. 

And don’t forget to fire up the VCR and watch a couple of old favorite Christmas-time movies such as The Bishop’s Wife, Holiday Affair, Christmas in Connecticut or A Christmas Carol. 

Merry Christmas. 

The Bingo Cookie Club

By Edith Monk Hallberg
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:46:00 AM

Life changed forever for my family just after Christmas 2005. It was discovered in the next few months that both my then 89-year-old father and his house were deathly ill. The house that my family had lived in since 1959 was filled with mold in hard-to-clean places, and my father was having chronic breathing problems in addition to his asthma and COPD from smoking cigarettes, though he’d stopped decades before.  

As the New Year 2006 started its first months, my father was in and out of the hospital and also lived with my daughter, Helen, while we searched for a permanent place for him, somewhere he would feel free but where there was some care and assistance for his everyday needs.  

  We found Summerville (now Emeritus) at Creekside in San Pablo. There are about 120 residents there, and a good number of staff who are caregivers, a van driver, a registered nurse, kitchen staff, clerical staff, a program director, and, thank heavens, a social or recreation director named Pearl, who is indeed a gem. 

The monthly charge, which includes meals, housekeeping and laundry, is quite expensive but not as high as similar places in Oakland and Berkeley. Personal assistance and levels of care are also provided and include management of medications as well as assistance in hygiene. These are all unionized workers, I must add. 

My father had a bit of adjusting to do. He gave up a lot of independence, and he had to meet new friends and learn how to be taken care of without being bossy and demanding. He’d been used to either bossing family around or doing things his own way, by himself. My daughter and middle sister had to tell him off a couple of times, while I managed to reason with him, and within six months my two sisters had made his room comfortable, sold his house and set up my daughter and her husband with power of attorney over the proceeds. My sisters then went off to their retirement in Texas, from where we converse weekly. 

And this is really where my story should start, for it is in the sharing of the story that lessons are learned. You see, we don’t usually see older people past the time that we know them as those people integrated amongst us, as politicians, doctors, teachers, and workers of all sorts.  

Once we don’t see them at the senior centers we tend to forget about them, and make jokes about forgetfulness, ailments or prune juice. Sometimes we forget about older people until we are invited to a memorial. 

Back at Creekside, my father made a few friends, read a lot of books in the library on the second floor, participated in the morning sit-and-be-fit exercises and cracked jokes with everyone. He drove his car until a year and a half ago. Despite some short-term memory loss and some recurring ailments, he has done well there. My daughter and I have shared visiting, hosting him at our homes, and medical appointments. I was ill for a couple of months last year, so Helen and I have reversed the medical appointment roles and the visiting, or socialization roles. It is now easier for my daughter to make appointments and to transport him while her son is in preschool, while I play cards and bingo with him on Wednesdays and Fridays as well as host him on Thursdays. 

Bingo is a simple numbers game. There are 15 possible numbers under each letter, for a total of 75, but I would guess that at most 45 numbers are called in a game. There are 24 possible bingo patterns ranging from letters like H, M, W, L, and S, to shapes like frames, bowties, six packs or kites. It’s played many different ways and in different places. At Creekside, the old-fashioned cardboard boards with the red plastic slides are used. About a dozen people buy 1 to 4 cards for $1.20 apiece, and these are played for 10 games.  

Pearl is usually the caller and has challenged people to sit beside her. She also provides water, cups, napkins, and sometimes a treat. Joe pours the water; I pass it down the row of tables; Pearl calls the middle number in the Free space and gives the lucky holder a free card for one game; we start. 

When I discovered that my father was interested in playing Bingo and would play with group whether I was there or not, I made every effort to join him. I would often bring the dimes for both of us and would give him my winnings until I started winning amounts over the change that I’d saved up. 

I often brought my lunch and a treat for my father and me to share. We are both diabetic and I’d learned where to find low-sugar treats. Well, if I brought a whole package of cookies, my father and I would either eat too many or I’d end up with stale and crumbly leftovers. I wanted him to associate my visits with something sweet, and now he expected it. And then I noticed a few envious and even hungry looks. Therefore, over the past year or so I have brought a package of cookies every time that I play Bingo. I vary them every other time, and call them the “cookies du jour” as I open them up. They vary from Almondette to Windmill, and I get them at the 99 Cent Store. (I used to buy Anna’s from Andronico’s or Walgreens, until the prices went up.) 

While bingo is being set up and we are having the “cookies du jour,” I’ve learned about the histories, families, and personalities of other residents. Most of the players are ladies, two of whom have been Berkeley teachers. Oh, they do gossip and tease each other. I share tales of my travels with them and news of what’s happening in Berkeley and other places where my friends are. They hang on every word, and when I’ve been gone more than a week, they ask me what happened or how the trip went. They often try to stuff bills in my hand to contribute for the cookies. I refused—until one day I had brought my last pack of cookies from home, and I accepted.  

“We really appreciate you bringing the cookies,” the woman said as she stuffed $2 into my hand. “We can’t go out on our own to get them.”  

It is a joy to be able to share with them also, as I eat lunch with my father, share a travel video, play cards, or sometimes just hang out and see the decorations that Pearl has put up. The banter that goes on during the Bingo games isn’t very lively; sometimes it is wry or sweet if not funny.  

One woman told her friend, “You need to play the pattern this way.”  

“I’ll play this game any damned way I feel like,” she sniffed.  

“Yeah, she’s a former Berkeley teacher” I added, knowing both women were. 

“Go figure” was the retort. Or another said, “It’s hard getting old, but it sure beats the alternative!” 

And the Bingo Cookie Club continues. 




By Cassandra Dallett
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:38:00 AM

A man 

who rose at dawn 

woke his sleeping grandsons 

warmed their bellies 

with grits and bacon. 

Served cornbread and collards 

from his garden patch 

in the neighbors yard. 

A man 

who raised 

nine children 

cared for them 

when they returned 

shell shocked from Nam 

took in their kids 

when they followed 

crack dreams 

fed them, loved them 

into good shoes and good health 

who chuckled at cartoons 

along side three boys 

always showed up at the schoolhouse 

blew his whistle and 

chased them home at dusk. 

Paw Paw 

A man 

true to his wife 

even after she passed. 

Paw Paw’s house 

your one constant 

slips through your fingers. 

From dreams 

you wake screaming 

for Paw Paw not to go 

for his house to stay home. 

But baby, Paw Paw is you 

in your hazel eyes, 

your fidelity, 

and the joy you feel 

feeding your family 

around those old cartoons. 

His voice in your ear 


and calling you to wake up  

before you miss the train.

Art Is Everywhere in New York City

By Matt Cantor
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:38:00 AM
Matt Cantor
Matt Cantor
Matt Cantor
Matt Cantor
Matt Cantor
Matt Cantor

There’s something about New York City. Its hard to put into words. My wife and I have been here for the last week and we were talking about how much Berkeley is like a tiny version of NYC. Surely there are very large differences… geographically, architecturally and in terms of the complex infrastructure of each, but it’s there nonetheless. It’s social, cultural, political and, I would argue, aesthetic. Despite its large scale mechanical features (skyscrapers, subways, the elevated trains and bridges), there has always been and continues to be a love and dedication to the ways in which the built environment touches and moves it’s inhabitants, those lucky New Yorkers. 

A tiny thing, so emblematic of this experience, is the way in which each subway stop is demarked. From the earliest years of the subway, beautifully fonted, colored and arranged mosaics was used to identify each subway stop; but this tradition has been revived as the system has been renewed and repaired with modern artworks in tile, often by new young artists, adding glee to these screeching, dank cavern walls.  

Its amazing what it adds and I can’t stop taking pictures of the lettering, the mosaic craftwork and the signs as wholes. There’s also an inherent message that comes with these installations and this is so critical. When we take the time to make art out of ordinary functionary objects like signs, we tell the viewer that we know that they are capable of appreciating this level of aesthetic sophistication. We also say that we care enough to decorate these otherwise plebeian spaces for their pleasure. 

New York just keeps saying this lots of ways. For one very large thing, there’s Central Park. Now, stop and think about it. Central Park is absolutely huge (over a square mile) and cuts through some of the most valuable real estate in the world. A 2005 professional appraisal placed the land value of the park at over half a trillion dollars! 

If we were designing a new large city today (say, Los Angeles), would we take a square mile of the most valuable part of the city and devote it to ambling, to migrating birds, to Shakespeare in the park? We’d all like to think so but the trend of cities and of architecture in general seems very much to be going the other way. It’s all about economics. But I digress and I’m not done with effusion. 

The International style saw the beginning of the end for detail and decoration in large scale architecture and marries up with the small scale simplicity of Bauhaus, De Stijl and the popularization of what we considered Japanese style to encompass. In fact, all of this was nothing more than the overtaking of economic interests. But prior to this and all over NYC, there are large buildings with nothing less than the most glorious and outlandish decorations imaginable.  

Not unlike the Victorian styling of our own San Francisco painted ladies, it appears that the developers of everything from apartment buildings like John and Yoko’s Dakota to the lowliest industrial structures crowding the hedges of the city, took the time and spend the cash necessary to embellish, frill and amuse the surfaces of these building in order that the viewer and occupant feel special. In order that we stop and notice something beautiful. In order that we consider these places to have significance, place and esteem. That we consider them something more than just…buildings.  

Most of the cost of constructing a building is fairly well established by large scale criteria such as square footage, height, facing material, the need for fire control systems, elevators, etc. Extraordinary architectural feats can add on significantly but these are the rare example rather than being commonplace. Even greening adds only moderate sums. It’s a common misconception that the cost of adding attractive architectural elements doubles the budget. Another 10 percent is probably more than enough to make the difference and 20 percent more can turn an ordinary building into a really pretty one. 

Berkeley’s Bard of architecture, Bernard Maybeck made a career out of proving that cost was not the issue, creating masterworks such as the First Church of Christ, Scientist on a modest budget through the use of ordinary materials used in special ways. He also employed simple castings in concrete that added Corinthian flavor using Medieval tones. This was easy and cheap. The modern answers seem to be to vacuum up anything so maudlin as a decorative frieze or sentimentally romantic as an elaborate column capitol. 

The schools of America have been long suffering the same sort of bad luck. Budget cuts seem always to start with music and as the scythe ravages our humanity, decapitates art, the epics and theater. Our built environment is just the same. Capital, not capitols, seems to rule and square footage is the metric of our architecture today. Were we all, like my friend Harold, to take a good long time building a carefully crafted stone wall with love and patience, how much sweeter might be each of our journeys. How much less hungry might we be for the unnamed. How much more complete our lives. 

The Contest

By Stevanne Auerbach
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:36:00 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Auerbach’s forthcoming novel The Contest. 



Shelly bundles warmly against the unexpected chill falling swiftly over the darkened city, along familiar streets of North Beach, as she walks quickly along Columbus Avenue, she turns left on Vallejo. She stops on the corner of Grant at the door of her favorite respite; The Caffé Trieste. She enters the warm, noisy cafe, and happily greets friends while unwrapping the bright red wool scarf from around her neck, and hurrying to stand in line to order a latte. 

A quiet, winter night settles softly over the narrow streets of North Beach. The holiday shopping frenzy has passed into oblivion. Now, the storied streets are still. 

With only a few days left to signal the end of a decade, Shelly will say “Good-bye” to a difficult year, full of challenges, as most of her years seem to go. 

Balancing the tall, hot, foam-topped glass, wrapped in a napkin, she takes a seat near the door facing outside, before taking a sip to relax and warm her body against the chill, as the cold, dark evening deepens on the outside. 

She smiles at her girlfriend sitting across from her. Mona has been her friend for many years and they have had lots of good times together,   

Quizzically, Shelly asks, “What are you doing New Year’s Eve?” 

Mona laughs, showing the laugh lines around her bright blue eyes that match the soft, blue sweater she is wearing. She says, “Who wants to go out? I’m happy to celebrate at home. Besides, who’s around that’s sexy, satisfying, and safe?” 

Shelly nods her agreement, as she recalls vivid pictures of the past: How many years ago was it that she watched the glowing ball on the New York Times building slowly falling down along with the snowflakes over 42nd Street as the crowd shouted the “countdown” in unison ... 10, 9, 8, 7 ...? 

She remembers all too well the chill of the night, and the “klutz” that made her body feel even colder. A big wet tongue kiss had broken the warm romance of the moment. 

She recalls a party in Washington D.C. close to midnight, as she is given a cold glass of champagne, with a crisp toast wedge of caviar, and a light kiss on the hand, there among beautiful, bright and powerful people. There was some expression of passion, but not much. Those moments flickered out with the candles, along with faded memories of discarded 45-rpm records. 

Mona quickly brings her back to the moment as she asks, “What do you want in the New Year?” 

Shelly, stops, quickly makes a funny face, throws up her hands, and laughs. 

“Something new!” and suddenly she turns to her right. 

She sees a face, but it does not register. She stares quizzically into very familiar eyes. 

“Hello,” says the silver-haired, handsome man smiling back from the next table. 

She looks again, not seeing him. She is puzzled. Then, as she recognizes him, she tries to shield her feelings. How could he be here at this very moment? 

No, he can’t be here. Not this ghost from years past. The Prince of the years she had lived in Camelot and eagerly waited for the dragon slayer. 

The Prince came to her on his white horse, but instead of slaying dragons, his sword had deeply pierced her heart, and never again would the world of Camelot exist. She would not ride away on the back of his white horse or live in his castle. 

Cinderella’s slipper had fit too tightly and shattered along with her dreams of a fairytale existence in a magical land where many believe fairytales really do come true. 

Shelly gathers her courage, as memories of the pass fly in like bats released from a cave, and casting a chill over the already frosty night… 

“Don’t you recognize me?” asks the silver haired man, noting her surprised look. 

He could always read the truth in her face, if he only took the time to look. She catches herself, holding back a tidal wave of feeling, not wanting him to see any of it. 

“Oh! Hello. I was just not expecting ... to see you ... here. How are you, Doug?” 

“Fine,” he replies. “I was just out taking a long walk, and decided to come in. I haven’t been in here for years. It’s a good place to sit and people watch, but I hardly have much time to do that anymore.” 

“No, I guess you don’t.” 

She gathers herself internally into a smooth ball, wanting to remain calm and cool on the outside, but her stomach is churning so much, her mind is blank for a moment. 

As he gets up for coffee he asks, “Can I get you something?” 

“Yes please, a bottle of sparking water. ” 

She hopes she appears calm as a pool of water with not even a tiny ripple shimmering on its shining surface. 

She turns to Mona with a searching look for some support, but her friend is busy talking to a couple at the next table, unaware of Shelly’s dilemma. Doug had happened long before she and Shelly met. 

Doug returns shortly with his hot coffee, and a glass and  bottle of bubbling mineral water. She alternates between sips of coffee and water attempting to maintain a modicum of composure, as she takes quiet, deep breaths. 

Doug smiles as they look at each other, pausing and collecting thoughts. 

Composed and sure of himself, Doug fires the first round. 

Casual conversation passes between them as if volleying balls on a tennis court. The balls include “people, work, children, the city and other casual comments about the cafe, opera music on Saturdays, the mutual friend who plays piano, and how much and how fast the City they both love is changing. They avoid conversation about family or personal matters. 

Finally Doug asks, “Would you like to take a walk?” 

Shelly nods, leans over and tells Mona, “I’ll call you. Have fun. Happy New Year! Hope all your dreams come true.” 

Mona looks up and gives Shelly a wink, thinking Shelly has found someone ‘new.’ 

“Bye!” She says as they turn to the door. 

As they leave the cafe Shelly throws her scarf around her neck wanting to create a soft shield of protective armor, but it is bogus. 

Across the street at the Ace Hardware store Doug searches for an apple cutter. The store does not have one, so they continue down the street to Figoni, the oldest hardware store in the City. They find many household treasures, including the last two apple cutters to be had in North Beach that night. She decides she also needs one, because she just might want to cut an apple into nine even wedges. 

He does not offer to buy her the apple cutter, so she pulls $2 from her pocket. 

She thinks to herself, “This must be the modern version of the consolation prize Eve wins after losing Adam and Paradise. “Yes!” Even Eve is liberated today. The tempting apple will now be cut into perfectly even pieces, but it’s too late because we already lost the ‘Garden of Eden’—she just wondered where this curious unexpected synchronicity of their meeting again would lead. He was the last person she expected or wanted to see. 

They continue up Grant Avenue past familiar, now-closed shops, and quaint, quiet restaurants, to the French-Italian bakery, where Doug buys a loaf of still warm, fresh, sweet bread. He breaks off a piece and offers it to her. 

She thinks, how ‘civilized’ we both are. How ‘generous’ he is with his offerings of ‘bread and water.’ After all the years, all the tears, all the time lost in a dark, painful prison of lost illusions, empty feelings, loneliness and struggle. She mutters her thanks, as she takes a bit of bread, but it sticks in her throat. The clerk hands her a cup of water as she smiles and sips weakly. 

How odd was this chance meeting after all these years, an unplanned coincidence coming just at the end of the year, and the start of a new decade. Perhaps this was a sign, an omen, or finally a chance to let go of old memories, and gaping wounds that had been festering for more than ten years. Precious time was still needed to heal the still tender cuts not at all visible to the naked eye. Now, Doug calmly offers her a ride home, as he opens the door to his late-model dark-gray BMW, and continues chatting. She replies politely and simply “fine” to each question. 

“How is your mother? 

How is your sister?  

How is your daughter?” 

“How are your children?” asks Shelly. 

Doug shares immediately news about his older son, “Andy is now gaining fame as a ‘go-for-the-jugular’ divorce lawyer.” He adds, “Of course, he had the chance to gain all that experience first-hand at home.” 

“Yes,” she replies softly, thinking to herself, “How clever the ‘big-mouthed kid’ was to capitalize on his natural talents of being a slick, obnoxious manipulator, and slide into the perfect readymade profession capitalizing on the undigested decomposition of relationships.” 

Doug continues, oblivious to her thoughts, “He observed, listened, and missed nothing. Did you realize how much fodder we gave him to prepare for his future career?” 

“No, I guess I never thought about it at the time,” Shelly replies, shrugging her shoulders. But, there were Doug’s series of marriages, and divorces, and plenty of feisty drama to learn firsthand about what can be right, and what can go very wrong. 

As they pulled up in front of her apartment, Shelly turned full face to Doug and asked him quietly, 

“Is it true you and Beryl are separating?” 

“Yes, we will be divorced in a few months.” Doug replies, closing his eyes for a moment. 

Shelly actually thought she saw a nanosecond of discomfort. 

“I’m sorry to hear it.” Shelly responds trying to be civil, but inside, Shelly feels relieved. The woman she has hated for years was finally getting what she deserved. Beryl finally was caught in the inevitable Venus flytrap set for her. 

In a barely audible voice, she says as she got out of the car, “Well, a very happy New Year!” then trying to be flippant, she reaches out to shake his always sure, steady, cool doctor’s hand. “May old acquaintance never be forgotten or never brought to mind?” 

He says, “Happy New Year to you, too!” and adds, “Take care of yourself!” 

Then she hurries to get inside before he can see her wet eyes streaming tears. 

Shelly sits quietly in her dark apartment for a long while, to try to regain her composure. She needs to think, feel, and remember. It felt as if ten years had simply dissolved into a recently released feature length full-color film. 

Mentally, she rewinds the reel back to the beginning. She wants to replay everything, all the frames, as if now, after seeing him again, she could finally make some sense of the whole challenging saga. 

The past comes swiftly flowing into her ‘projector of the mind,’ full-flooding her abundant mental reservoir, and overflowing the fragile container. The details are still deeply etched into her memory. Years fall away, as she listens to her mental radio as if hearing her story told by the “Let’s Pretend” radio show narrator. It was after all her strongest childhood memory, living out the lives of princesses’ adventures in days gone by complete with sound effects, galloping horses, and the excitement of anticipation being swept off one’s feet by Prince Charming. 

When did it all begin? How could anything have been different? Could she have somehow saved herself? Could she have known in advance how it would turn out? Why didn’t she listen to her “all-knowing mother” who foretold her well in advance how it was all going to end? Why, if she knew from childhood about wicked spells, dangerous witches, and evil villains, did she not protect her most prized possession, her hopeful and trusting heart, from being broken? How could she have saved her precious dreams from being consumed by fire? 

Shelly watches the film in her mind, but this time, for the first time, without any tears. The “Let’s Pretend” narrator’s voice, the flashes of stored images from the projector, and lack of resistance to recall are flowing into her mind, all running simultaneously. The drama is rewinding, but this time shown in surround sound, with the full cast of characters and in full-blown color. 

Only a few days left to the end of the year, but it would be a new beginning if she could finally forget, or better yet, just let go of the past, and release the spell cast over her memories. She needs to find some magic to break the spell. She had to live it all again this time also from his point of view and hers so she could better and more fully understand what might have been different. Was it a lifetime mistake or merely a life lesson? 

Doug has never said he was sorry for anything, but that was only one of the problems. Shelly is not sorry they met. If only he had stopped the destruction, before it was too late, and not broken her heart. She wishes she had known critical answers before it was too late. It seems, but a few days ago, when the story began. This time she wants a new clear perspective. 

Maybe this time something might be different. “What could have been different?” 

Could she have stopped before burning her dreams? She sits back and closes her eyes and listens as her pretend narrator takes her into the past… 






By Cassandra Dallett
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:36:00 AM

We belong to the flatlands 

where people still struggle, 

there is no revolution 

only the gunfire. 

Love for each other is shown 

in fleeting back-slapping hugs. 

Behind you 

jealous words deadly slugs. 

If you’re not stepping on someone’s head 

you’re not stepping. 

Death comes in many forms 

not just the homicides on TV news. 

Young dead faces 

blaze off t-shirts. 

When we met, 

my man owned nothing 

but a pile of obituaries 

he said goodbye to nightly. 

Cheap food and too many vices 

sweetened known carcinogens 

wrapped and heated in poisoning plastics. 

Overweight hearts 

pumping heartbreak and drama. 

No quiet time-out 

in concrete cells 

caged animals, we shout. 

The line between 

incarceration and freedom blurs 

for repeat offenders. 

We learn to put ourselves in boxes 

and spin our rat wheels off. 

Grind ourselves down to toothless dreamless bones. 

So many things we yearn for. 

White rocks and black tar not the only addictions. 

Pussy you escaped into 

Comes with hungry mouths to feed 

and it all, 

goes through the system. 

Ghosts of Holiday Movie Scenes Past

By M. Habibian
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 12:15:00 PM

Fog Over San Francisco

By Irv Staats
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 12:09:00 PM
The view of San Francisco as seen from Golden Gate Fields.
By Irv Staats
The view of San Francisco as seen from Golden Gate Fields.

Mom and Pop

By Harry Gans
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 12:08:00 PM



Wild Neighbors: Beetles, Mites, and Other New Faces of 2009

By Joe Eaton
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:39:00 AM

I got an interesting press release from the California Academy of Sciences last week. The gist of it was that the Academy's scientists had described 94 new species during 2009. Although most were from exotic places like Yunnan or Burma, there were a few locals in the mix. 

There’s a formalized process for this kind of thing. Normally, you have to designate a type specimen for the new species, although that’s been relaxed to allow photographs and genetic samples for some rare birds. Your description has to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. Your have to make sure the Latin binomial you assign to your critter is consistent with the relevant international code of nomenclature (separate systems for animals, plants, and fungi; not sure about bacteria.) Botanists have the added burden of composing part of their description in Latin. 

This is the kind of science that the molecular guys have derided as glorified stamp collecting-putting obscure creatures in tiny pigeonholes. Taxonomy isn’t glamorous. But it’s essential to any meaningful kind of conservation effort: to strategize about protecting species, we need to know how many species we’re dealing with. And we’re a long way from cataloguing them all. 

So what new lifeforms did the Academy come up with? Some were marine species, collected off the California coast. These included the black ghostshark (Hydrolagus melanophasma), described as having sexual appendages on its forehead. That could be awkward. (I've never thought of sharks as having foreheads.) 

There were also a couple of grenadier fishes and a coral, the latter named after Monterey Bay Aquarium executive director Julie Packard. 

From the land side, the Academy’s botanists published descriptions of two new mosses found in Yosemite National Park. 

It’s surprising to think of an area as well-known as Yosemite harboring new species. However, a new orchid species was discovered there only a couple of years ago. Mosses can be pretty cryptic, at that. 

There were also four new feather mites. Mites, like many parasites, tend to be host-specific. I haven’t read the descriptions of the newly documented species, but their Latin names suggest what their hosts are.  

It’s likely, for example, that Syringophiloidus sialius lives on bluebirds, and Torotrogla cyanocitta on Steller’s jays.  

Sometimes taxonomists catch a species on its way out. That happened with the po’ouli, a songbird from Maui: first described in 1973, extinct by 2004. A beetle named Nebria praedicta, endemic to a single peak in the Trinity Alps, is also on the fast track to extinction. Nebria beetles are found only in the vicinity of alpine glaciers and snowfields, hiding under rocks by day and foraging on the snow at night. They’ve evolved cold-tolerant enzymes that enable them to function at low temperatures and chemicals that keep their bodies from freezing solid. Their adaptations are so fine-tuned that warmer conditions are fatal. When the ice goes, so will the beetles.  

Academy curator Dave Kavanaugh, the senior author of the N. praedicta description, has been searching the American West for Nebria beetles since 1968, with at least 43 new species to his credit. Revisiting his old sites, he’s found some of the beetles only at higher elevations than previously, driven up- 

slope by climate change. The praedicta part of the name of the newest discovery suggests that Kavanaugh expected to find a new beetle species on that peak in the Trinities.  

There are precedents: Darwin deduced the existence of a long-tongued Madagascar hawkmoth from the long nectar tube of the orchid Angraecum sesquipedale. When the moth eventually turned up, it was named Xanthopan morgani praedicta. 

Bit by bit, the catalogue of lifeforms grows: a moss, a beetle, a mite at a time. There have been periodic campaigns for a grand global taxonomy blitz, driven by an increasing sense of urgency about species loss. To date, though, the process remains incremental. Ninety-four down, a few million more to go. 



Arts & Events

Arts Calendar

Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:23:00 AM



“Sing For Your Life” with members of SoVoSó and special guests from noon to midnight at First Congregational Church of Oakland, 2501 Harrison St. at 27th. Suggested Donation $10 and up, sliding scale, no-one turned away for lack of funds. 759-0283. www.circlesing.net  

Kelly Park Trio, and party, at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $10. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Terri Rodriguez and Freinds, jazz, at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

Moodswing Orchestra at 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz. East Coast Swing dance lesson at 8 p.m. Cost is $10-$13. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Montuno Swing at 8 p.m. at Shattuck Down Low, 2284 Shattuck Ave. Cost is $5-$10. 548-1159.  

Erik Spencer at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790.  



San Francisco Chamber Orchestra New Year’s Eve Concert “Double Trouble” at 8 p.m. at First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way. Free. www.sfchamberorchestra.org 

An Evening of Jazz Singers with Robin Gregory, Ed Reed and Anna de Leon at 8 and 10 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $30. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

New Year’s Eve Balkan Bash at 8 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $13-$20. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

High Country with Dix Bruce & Jim Nunally at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $26.50-$27.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Orquestra La Moderna Tradición at 9:30 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center. Cost is $25-$28. 849-2568.  

California Honeydrops at 9:30 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $15. 841-2082.  

Rough Waters at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790.  

Quinn Deveaux & The Blue Beat Review at 9 p.m. at Jupiter. Cost is $10 after 10 p.m. 843-8277. 



Berkeley Rep”Aurélia’s Oratorio” at 2015 Addison St., through Jan. 24. Tickets are $33-$71. 647-2949. berkeleyrep.org 

Shotgun Players “The Threepenny Opera” Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 5 p.m. at The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., through Jan. 17. Tickets are $18-$30. 841-6500. www.shotgunplayers.org 



First Friday Concert Smetana’s Piano Trio in g with Boruvka, Young, Skeen at 11:15 a.m. at St. David of Wales Church, 5641 Esmond Ave., Richmond. 237-1531. 

The Connectors, folk, at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

Turbulence with Jahtory, KingJah, Ras Nolawi, reggae, at 9:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $15. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Jacques Ibula at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. www.beckettsirishpub.com 



“The Frog Prince” Puppet Show Sat. and Sun. at 11 a.m. and 2 and 4 p.m. at Children’s Fairyland, 699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland. Cost is $7. 296-4433.  


“Postal” A show of artists’ postcards Sat. and Sun. from noon to 4 p.m at Garage Gallery, 3110 Wheeler St. www.berkeleyoutlet.com 

Oakland Art Association Group Show on display at the Rockridge Library, 2nd flr Community Gallery, 5366 College Ave., Oakland, through Jan. 30. 597-5017. 


Bay Area Poets Coalition open reading from 3 to 5 pm. at Strawberry Creek Lodge, 1320 Addison St. Park on the street. 527-9905. 


My Life is a Party with DJ Cool Hand, G-Easy and others at 10 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center. Cost is $7-$12. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

Moh Alileche, North African Berber, at 9:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $TBA. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com  

Sotaque Baiano at 9 p.m. at Shattuck Down Low, 2284 Shattuck Ave. Cost is $5-$10. 548-1159. www.shattuckdownlow.com 

David Grisman Bluegrass Experience at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $32.50-$33.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Paul Manousos at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. www.beckettsirishpub.com 

Ash Reiter, The Blank Tapes, Mist and Mast at 9 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $8. 841-2082. www.starryploughpub.com 



KJT Reunion Show, formerly the Berkeley High School Combo A, at 4:30 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $10. 845-5373. www.jazzschool.com 

David Grisman Bluegrass Experience at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $32.50-$33.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Steven Strauss, blues, at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 



Claudio Talavera-Ballón Paintings in oil and ink by Cuzco-based artist on display through Jan. 30 at La Peña Cultural Center. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 


“Eastern & Western Art Similarities” with architect Dien Tseng at 7:30 p.m. at The Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St. Free for members; others $5. 

Poetry Express “Artists’ Night” Poems about art especially welcome at 7 p.m. at Priya Restaurant, 2072 San Pablo Ave. 644-3977. 



Mark St. Mary Louisiana Blues and Zydeco Band at 8:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Dance lesson at 8 p.m. Cost is $0. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 


Berkeley Poetry Slam with host Charles Ellik and Three Blind Mice, at 8 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $7. 841-2082 www.starryploughpub.com 


Whiskey Brothers at 9 p.m. at Albatross, 1822 San Pablo Ave. 843-2473. www.albatrosspub.com 

Tim Eriksen at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $18.50-$19.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Balkan Folkdance at 8:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Dance lesson at 7:30 p.m. Cost is $10. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Sonic Safari, swing, at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

Alma Del Barrio at 8 p.m. at Shattuck Down Low, 2284 Shattuck Ave. Cost is $5-$10. 548-1159.  



The Rubber Souldiers, The Rowan Brothers & David Gans at 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $10. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Dr. K’s Home Grown Roots Revue with Buxter Hootin’, Otto Mobile & the Moaners, TV Mike & the Scarecrows at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $14.50-$15.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Old Californio, Mars Arizona, The Earl Brothers at 9 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $8. 841-2082. www.starryploughpub.com 

The Deep at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. www.beckettsirishpub.com 

Mark Holzinger, jazz, at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 



Berkeley Rep”Aurélia’s Oratorio” at 2015 Addison St., through Jan. 24. Tickets are $33-$71. 647-2949. berkeleyrep.org 

Shotgun Players “The Threepenny Opera” Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 5 p.m. at The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., through Jan. 17. Tickets are $18-$30. 841-6500. www.shotgunplayers.org 


Jesse Beagle and J.C. will read their poetry at 7 p.m. at Nefeli Caffe, 1854 Euclid Ave., a little north of Hearst, as part of the Last Word Reading Series. 841-6374. 


VW Brothers at 8 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $20. 845-5373. www.jazzschool.com 

Stompy Jones at 9:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. East Coast Swing and Lindy Hop dance lesson at 8 p.m. Cost is $10-$13. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Steve Seskin, Craig Carothers and Don Henry at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $18.50-$19.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Roger Brown Blues Jam at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

Country Joe’s Open Mic Celebrates BFUU Birthday with singer/songwriter Zach Sorgen, at 7 p.m. at Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists Hall, 1924 Cedar St. at Bonita. Suggested donation $5-$10.  

The Forest Floor, Birds and Batteries, Winters Fall at 9 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $8. 841-2082. 

The Skin Divers at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. www.beckettsirishpub.com 

Tribal Seeds, 7th Street Band, Luv Fiyah, Binghi Ghost at 9 p.m. at Shattuck Down Low, 2284 Shattuck Ave. Cost is $8-$10. 548-1159.  



Los Amiguitos de La Peña with Derique the high tech clown at 10:30 a.m. at La Peña. Cost is $5 for adults, $4 for children. 849-2568.  


“Postal” A show of artists’ postcards Sat. and Sun. from noon to 4 p.m at Garage Gallery, 3110 Wheeler St. www.berkeleyoutlet.com 

Matt136 A solo show with the artist producing a site-specific mural. Opening reception at 7 p.m. at Autobody Fine Art, 1517 Park St., Alameda. www.autobodyfineart.com 


Jacob Zimmerman and Jameson Swanagon New and improvised music for saxophone and guitar at 8 p.m. at Trinity Chapel, 2320 Dana St. Tickets are $8-$12. 549-3864. 

Fender Cronin at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

Tom Rigney & Flambeau at 9:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $10-$13. 525-5054.  

Cheap Suit Serenaders at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $24.50-$25.50. 548-1761.  

Brama Sukarma Quartet at 8 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $12. 845-5373.  

Gaucho, Gypsy jazz, at 9:30 p.m. at Albatross, 1822 San Pablo Ave. Cost is $3. 843-2473.  

Moh Alileche, Omar Mokhtari in a benefit celebrating the Berber New Year, at 7 p.m. at Art House Gallery, 2905 Shattuck Ave. Donation $10. 482-3336. 

Mortified at 9 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $10-$12. 841-2082.  



Dave Lippman, political satirist, at 7 p.m. at Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, 1924 Cedar St. Donation $10-$15. 841-4824. www.bfuu.org 


Didjeridu Summit with Stephen Kent and Ondrej Smeykal, talk at 7:30 p.m., show at 8:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $12-$15. 525-5054.  

The Josiah Boornazian Sextet at 4:30 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $5. 845-5373.  

John McCutcheon at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $8.50-$9.50. 548-1761.  

Backyard Tarzans, rock, at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

The Shotgun Players Present Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Threepenny Opera’

By Wendel Brunner and Ruth Rosen
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:21:00 AM

For those of you who are Brecht fans, or might be Brecht fans if you knew more about his work, the Shotgun Players in Berkeley are presenting an outstanding production of Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera through Jan. 31. As befitting a piece that is topical as well as timeless (at least timeless so far, but we can always hope), the frame of this 70-year-old play has been updated to include 1970s punk as well as Victorian England. A new translation involves rewriting some of the dialogue and song lyrics, but the effect works even for this fanatic Brecht fan. The classic music by Kurt Weill is well performed by the band, The Weillolators, and the slightly modified lyrics are even darker than the pre-Nazi Berlin original ones, leaving listeners nearly on their own to supply whatever dialectical counterpoint of hope they might be able to muster from their own minds. 

As they did in the play Meyerhoff, the Shotgun Players havecreated a world-class interpretation of the Threepenny Opera. With amazing physicality, unexpected choreography, marvelous musicians and a “Polly” who sings as though she were trained for the London stage, they reinforced our collective joy that we are lucky to have such a world-class community theatre in Berkeley. Bravo! 

And so cheap, even a beggar can afford it. Tickets are $15–$35. 



Community Calendar

Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 08:59:00 AM


“Frozen Seas” A documentary at 7:30 p.m. at Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland. Donation $5. www.Humanist Hall.org 

One-on-one Computer Training Sign up for a free 30 minute session at the Albany Library, 1247 Marin Ave., at Masonic. 526-3720, ext. 5. 

Family Sing Along at 4:40 p.m. at the Albany Library, 1247 Marin Ave., at Masonic. 526-3720. 

Walk Berkeley for Seniors meets every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Sea Breeze Market, just west of the I-80 overpass. Everyone is welcome, wear comfortable shoes and a warm hat. 548-9840. 


Nothing Holding Me Back! Bury dead dreams, dashed hopes, old habits and grudges at a fun funeral sing-along from 3 to 5 p.m. at Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave., Oakland. Tickets are $35-$95. Proceeds will benefit Bay Area organizations dedicated to positively transforming lives and communities. 260 -6279. 

“Dance Like A Star” New Year’s Eve Party from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. aboard the USS Hornet at 707 W. Hornet Ave., Pier 3, Alameda. Tickets are $48-$90. 521-8448, ext. 282. www.uss-hornet.org 


Berkeley Women in Black weekly vigil from noon to 1 p.m. at Bancroft and Telegraph. Our focus is human rights in Palestine. 548-6310. 

Stand With Us Stand for Peace Stand with Israel vigil every Friday from noon to 1 p.m. at Bancroft and Telegraph. www.sfvoiceforisrael.org 


Berkeley Path Wanderers: Aquatic Park Renaissance A level loop walk around Aquatic Park to discover the original Bay shoreline, WPA improvements from the Great Depression, and new community efforts helping to revive Berkeley’s largest park. Rough but OK for wheelchairs and strollers. Rain or shine. No dogs please. Meet at 10 a.m. at Addison St. at Bolivar Dr. 848-9358. www.berkeleypaths.org  

Confetti Day at Habitot Make collages, hats and murals, and listen to stories of how different cultures welcome the new year from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 2065 Kittredge St. Cost is $8.50. 647-1111. 

“Mask Parade” Listen to the story, then make your own mask from 1 to 2 p.m. at Museum of Children’s Art, 538 9th St., Oakland. Free. 465-8770. www.mocha.org  

Winter Delights at Playland-Not-At-The-Beach Sat. and Sun. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 10979 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito. Special tribute to Dave Warren on sat. from 2 to 11 p.m. Cost is $10-$15. 932-8966.  

Free Garden Tours at Regional Parks Botanic Garden Sat. at 2 p.m. and Sun. at 11 a.m. and 2 pm. Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Tilden Park. Call to confirm. 841-8732. www.nativeplants.org 

Lawn Bowling on the green at the corner of Acton St. and Bancroft Way every Wed. and Sat. at 10 a.m. for ages 12 and up. Wear flat soled shoes, no heels. Free lessons. 841-2174.  


Personal Theology Seminars with Helene Knox on “Emily Dickinson’s Spiritual Odessey and Religious Poetry” at 10 a.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, 1 Lawson Rd., Kensington. 525-0302, ext. 306. 

Free Garden Tours at Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Tilden Park Sat. at 2 p.m. and Sun. at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Call to confirm. 841-8732. www.nativeplants.org 

Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized for Peace Peace walk around the lake every Sun. Meet at 3 p.m. at the colonnade at the NE end of the lake. 763-8712. lmno4p.org 

Tibetan Buddhism with Sylvia Gretchen on “Healing Mind, Heart, and Spirit” at 6 p.m. at the Tibetan Nyingma Institute, 1815 Highland Pl. 809-1000. www.nyingmainstitute.com 


“Toxic Legacy: Mercury in San Francisco Bay” with San Francisco Estuary Institute aquatic ecologist Kat Ridolfi at 7 p.m. at Albany Community Center, 1249 Marin, at Masonic. Free. 848- 9358. www.fivecreeks.org 

“Castoffs” Knitting group meets at 7 p.m. at Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave., Kensington. 524-3043. 

East Bay Track Club for ages 3-14 meets at 6 p.m. at the running track of Berkeley High School. For more information call Coach Walker at 776-7451. 


Free Toy Testing Center for Environmental Health is offering free toy testing for lead during drop-in hours, Tues.-Thurs., from noon to 6 p.m. at Center for Environmental Health, 2201 Broadway, Suite 302, Oakland. Free. 655-3900 ext. 310. 

Family Storytime, for ages preschool and up, at 7 p.m. at the Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave., Kensington. 524-3043. 

Tuesday Tilden Walkers Join a few slowpoke seniors at 9:30 a.m. in the parking lot near the Little Farm for an hour or two walk. 215-7672, 524-9992. 


Berkeley Path Wanderers: Park Hills Walk Read Paul Grundland’s history of the Park Hills annexation, and retrace his April 2000 walk. Meet at 10 a.m. at Park Gate and Shasta Rd. www.berkeleypaths.org/walkhandouts/walk_ParkHills.htm. www.berkeleypaths.org 

Native Plant Nursery Workday Volunteers will help to plant 25,000 native seedlings this season while digging into the marshes surrounding our Native Plant Nursery, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Martin Luther King Shoreline Park, between Coliseum and Oakland Airport, Oakland. Space is limited, sign-up required. www.savesfbay.org/bayevents  

“Comparative Spirituality” by Northbrae Pastor Ron Sebring on the uniqueness and similarities of world religions, at 7:30 p.m. at Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda. 526-3805. 

Red Cross Blood Services Volunteer Orientation from 10 a.m. to noon at 6230 Claremont Ave., Oakland. Registration required. 594-5165. 

“Introduction to the Jewish Experience” A series of classes on Wed. eve. at 6 p.m at Merritt College. For information and registration see www.lehrhaus.org 

Walk Berkeley for Seniors meets every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Sea Breeze Market, just west of the I-80 overpass. Everyone is welcome, wear comfortable shoes and a warm hat. 548-9840. 


West Branch Library Project Meet the architects and discuss the rennovation plans at 6:30 p.m. at West Branch Library, 1125 University Ave. 981-6195. 

Native Plant Propagation Join a friendly group of volunteers to propagate and maintain plants for the Regional Parks Botanic Garden’s plant sales. The group meets at the garden in the Potting Shed area of the Juniper Lodge building on Thursday mornings, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Botanic Gardens in Tilden Park. 544-3169. www.nativeplants.org/ 


“Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Mathaai” Film about Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai whose simple act of planting trees grew into a nationwide movement in Kenya to safeguard the environment, protect human rights, and defend democracy, at 7:30 p.m., followed by discussion at Humanist Hall, 390 27th St. Donation $5. 681-8699. www.humanisthall.net 

Windrush School K-8 Information Night Meet faculty, parents, and our Head of School, from 7 to 9 p.m. at 1800 Elm St., El Cerrito. 970-7580. www.windrush.org 

Babies and Toddlers Storytime at 10:15 and 11:15 a.m. at the Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave., Kensington. 524-3043. 

Red Cross Blood Drive from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Kaiser Center Foyer, 300 Lakeside Drive., Oakland. To schedule an appointment go to www.helpsavealife.org 


City Commons Club Noon Luncheon with James A. Martin, photographer and author on ”Islands of the San Francisco Bay” Luncheon at 11:45 a.m. for $15, speech at 12:30 p.m., at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant St. For information and reservations call 527-2173. www.citycommonsclub.org 

“They Killed Sister Dorothy” A documentary of the life and death of American nun, Sr. Dorothy Stang, at 7 p.m. at St. Joseph the Worker Church, Chapel, 1640 Addison St. Free. 499-0537. 

“The Hospital at the End of the World” a presentation by Joe Niemczura on a hospital in Nepal, at noon at Taste of the Himalayas, 1700 Shattuck Ave. Cost is $10, buffet lunch included. 849-4983. 

Womensong Circle An evening of participatory singing for women, with Kate Munger, at 7:15 p.m. at First Congregational Church of Berkeley, small assembly room, 2345 Channing Way. Suggested donatoin $15-$20. betsy@betsyrosemusic.org 

Berkeley Women in Black weekly vigil from noon to 1 p.m. at Bancroft and Telegraph. Our focus is human rights in Palestine. 548-6310. 

Stand With Us Stand for Peace Stand with Israel vigil every Friday from noon to 1 p.m. at Bancroft and Telegraph. www.sfvoiceforisrael.org 


Rabbit Adoption Fair Start the year off right with a new house bunny, from 1 to 4 p.m. at RabbitEars, 377 Colusa Ave., Kensington. 525-6155. 

EcoHouse Workshop: Fruit Trees 101 with Winter Pruning An introductory class from 10 a.m. to noon at EcoHouse, 1305 Hopkins St. Enter via garden entrance on Peralta. Cost is $10-$15. To register call 548-2220 ext. 239.  

New Year’s Potluck Lunch with Slow Food Berkeley from noon to 3 p.m. at Berkeley Adult School, 1701 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley. Bring a dish to share, donation to The Bread Project is suggested. RSVP to events@slowfoodberkeley.com 

“The Fight For Our Very Breath: Some Lessons From The Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change” at 2 p.m. at Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library for Social Research, 6501 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, bet. Alcatraz and 66th. Recommended readings are available at the library. 595-7417. www.marxistlibr.org  

San Francisco Girls Chorus Auditions from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Crowden Music Center, 1475 Rose St. For information call 415-863-1752, ext. 333. sfgirlschorus.org 

Game Day at the Albany Library with board and Wii games from 1 to 4 p.m. at The Albany Library, 1247 Marin Ave., Albany. 526-3720. 

Free Family Dance Class from 10 a.m. to noon at Luna Kids Dance, The Sawtooth Building, 2525 8th St. 644-3629. 

Free Garden Tours at Regional Parks Botanic Garden Sat. at 2 p.m. and Sun. at 11 a.m. and 2 pm. Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Tilden Park. Call to confirm. 841-8732. www.nativeplants.org 

Lawn Bowling on the green at the corner of Acton St. and Bancroft Way every Wed. and Sat. at 10 a.m. for ages 12 and up. Wear flat soled shoes, no heels. Free lessons. 841-2174.  


“Obama’s War” The PBS documentary followed by discussion with Conn Hallinan at 1:30 p.m. at Berkeley Public Library, Community Meeting Room, 2090 Kittredge St. Sponsored by Grandmothers Against the War. 

Old Time Radio East Bay Collectors and listeners gather to enjoy shows together at 4 p.m. at a private home in Berkeley. For more information please email DavidinBerkele, at Yahoo. 

Berkeley Rep Sunday Sampler of winter session classes for children, teens and adults at 1 p.m. at 2071 Addison St. 647-2972. berkeleyrep.org 

Personal Theology Seminars with Barbara A. McGraw on “America’s Sacred Ground and the Market Place” at 10 a.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, 1 Lawson Rd., Kensington. 525-0302, ext. 306. 

Bagel Brunch with Noah Alper, founder of Noah’s Bagels at 10 a.m. at Albany Community Center, 1249 Marin Ave. Donation $7.50-$10. www.kolhadash.org 

Free Garden Tours at Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Tilden Park Sat. at 2 p.m. and Sun. at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Call to confirm. 841-8732. www.nativeplants.org 

Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized for Peace Meet at 3 p.m. at the colonnade at the NE end of the lake. 763-8712. lmno4p.org 

Tibetan Buddhism with Robin Caton on “Emotions, Intellegence, and the Mind” at 6 p.m. at the Tibetan Nyingma Institute, 1815 Highland Pl. 809-1000.