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W E E K :

I asked Santa to bring me parents who didn’t drink. [SEE PAGE 19]

Upfront2: Hiroshima, mon amour 12 Single in the Suburbs: Breaking bad 28 Music: Elvis has reentered the building 30

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EDITORIAL Editor: Jason Walsh (x316); Reporter: Samantha Campos (x319); Movie Page Editor: Matt Stafford (x320); Copy Editor: Carol Inkellis (x317); Calendar Editor: Anne Schrager (x330) CONTRIBUTORS Lee Brady, Greg Cahill, Pat Fusco, Richard Gould, Marc Hershon, Richard P. Hinkle, Brooke Jackson, Brenda K. Kinsel, Jill Kramer (x322), Lois MacLean, Joel Orff, Rick Polito, Renata Polt, Peter Seidman, Nikki Silverstein, Annie Spiegelman, David Templeton, Barry Willis. Books Editor: Elizabeth Stewart (x326) ADVERTISING Advertising Director: Linda Black (x306) Senior Display Representative: Dianna Stone (x307) Display Sales: Ethan Simon (x311), Linda Curry (x309); Inside Sales: Helen Hammond (x303); Courier: Gillian Coder; Traffic Coordinator: Amanda Deely (x302)


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›› LETTERS Sheriff-coroner scheme DOA The Marin Chapter of the California Grand Jurors’ Association urges the Marin County Board of Supervisors to abandon its plan to merge the County Coroner’s and Sheriff’s offices. The 2008-2009 Marin County Grand Jury recommended against the merger, raising serious concerns about the likelihood of decreased services and suggesting that, instead of saving money, it might eventually cost more. The sheriff contends that incorporating the coroner’s office functions in his can save hundreds of thousands of dollars. But he has often said that while the supervisors decide how much his office can spend, he decides how to spend it. Once the budget of the coroner’s office is moved into the sheriff’s, he will determine where the money goes. We also are concerned that, for the second time recently, the Board of Supervisors seeks to eliminate an elected county office, again decreasing the checks and balances that have helped assure Marin County residents that their government is functioning correctly. The actions of law enforcement officers can have severe effects on the lives of citizens, through use of force and denial of services to those in custody. When a person dies in the custody of law enforcement officers, questions of objectivity may arise. An independent coroner acts as a safeguard against abuses of authority, protecting both the public and the sheriff. We also worry about a merger resulting in a decreased level of appropriate training. An elected Marin County Coroner concerned with deaths in Marin has, over the

years, shined a light on important societal problems from suicide and elder abuse to early deaths caused by drugs and alcohol. We doubt such issues will be given the same public ventilation by an office whose primary concern is law enforcement. The current coroner, who is planning to retire, and the previous one adamantly oppose the merger. We wholeheartedly agree with them. Catherine D. McKown, President Marin Chapter, California Grand Jurors’ Association

Mall perplexed When I read Samantha Campos’s article on the new Northgate [“Deck the Mall,” Nov. 27] it seemed as if we were viewing two different places. Where she saw a “mini park” I see a huge parking lot where most of the lovely shade-producing trees have been cut down to make room for more cars. She wrote of a “promenade” when I experienced a long hallway that felt like a cattle chute—where I felt numbed by noise blasting from speakers, and in the corridors there were large globes of artificially colored candies and gum to tempt children and drive health-conscious parents crazy. Maybe she read the developer’s brochure? The list of shops seems to be aimed at children and youth, while many people in the Terra Linda and Marinwood areas are midlife and older adults. The food choices are all fast food and the only cafe is inside the mall. We could really use a quality restaurant and a cafe that is amenable to socializing and not just takeout. The only choice now is to get into cars and onto 101 to downtown San Rafael or Novato. A manager at the new Northgate said the architect wanted the mall to resemble a “reclaimed warehouse.” The space fits that description perfectly. While malls are here to



San Anselmo Vision is One Exclusive Community! The potential public-private funded San Anselnmo Vision won’t allow access to its website. I logged in, got an e-mail confirmation with NO way to create a password AND thus... Tiger Woods Well Marinites, what do you think about Tiger and his harum? At first I just wanted him to shut up and repair his marriage. I felt it was none of our business... Grand jury’s clean energy sticker shock The Marin County Civil Grand Jury calls the business plan for “community choice aggregation” too costly and questions “the decision to put the county into the business of...

Your soapbox is waiting at ›› stay, they don’t have to be ugly and dehumanizing. Both the Town Center in Corte Madera and Pacheco Plaza have a mix of fastand slow-food restaurants and a welcoming design. It appears that no one coordinates the businesses in all three Northgates; if there were some coordination oversight, would we have two Starbucks, four pharmacies and Walgreens on the way, and no alternative to Safeway? Samantha wrote that Al Boro joked about increased sales tax revenue at the grand opening and that Chuck Davis of Macerich said, “It only gets better from here.” It’s nice to know that the city and the developer benefit from this enterprise, but so far it doesn’t seem to benefit the people who live here. Barbara Rozen, San Rafael

He’s the Will Shortz of Marin Thought I would let you know that I have been addicted to Howard Rachelson’s Trivia Cafe in the Pac Sun for some time now. I appreciate that he creates a list of questions each week that are challenging but not so hard that I get frustrated and give up; i.e., like the Saturday and Sunday NY Times crossword puzzles! In the new year, I plan to attend one of Howard’s trivia game nights at the Broken Drum. Gwen Mascy, San Rafael

We don’t remember David Attenborough mentioning any of this... The big scandal isn’t that Tiger Woods was discovered to be a fully functioning human male animal with a taste for A prime example of the male strange and homo sapien, as he is found in new sex part- the wild. ners—but that the public thinks he should be ashamed and apologize. Wake up folks...that’s what makes men men. They are a different animal than the female of the species and never mind that his wife is a 10-1/2...she’s not “new and different” to him. Smart men pay the higher priced hookers and the wife doesn’t ever find out. He’s just not sophisticated enough yet. I

hope the wife figures out that she can leave him and get billions and find another man to “cheat” on her. Or she can keep her marriage intact, not screw up the children... and tell everyone to go ‘f ’ themselves. Marcia Blackman, San Rafael

Or worse, if one of the four calling Byrds was David Crosby... I note recently that 2009’s cost to deliver all the gifts offered in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” rose only slightly to $87,403. But what if the “partridge in a pear tree” was David Cassidy? Craig Whatley, San Rafael

Be sure to send him by Marrakesh express mail...

We wonder if Pacific Sunwear ever receives non sequiturs from Craig Whatley... I would like to know why your company is practicing deceptive pricing and sales tactics. I went to your store in the Fashion Outlet Mall at the Nevada-California state line for the Black Friday sale and found merchandise that was marked with sales tags that had a higher price on them than the original sticker price, then the store offered a “sale” discount off the raised price. I plan to report this practice to the proper authorities. Sandra Halsey, Nevada

Great, now we’ve outed Peter... Thank you for publishing my letter [“Sometimes Girls Dance Together,” Dec. 4] about your controversial (gasp) “Someday My Princess Will Come” cover from Oct. 23. Touchy subject. Thanks for giving it the attention it deserves. But whoever put my letter in the Sun added a word, calling Peter Pan a fairy “godmother.” Time to brush up on your Disney characters. In the illustration you ran, Peter is wearing Tinker Bell’s wings. He is a fairy, period. Arisa Victor, Greenbrae

Put your stamp on the letters to the editor at ›› DECEMBER 11 – DECEMBER 17, 2009 PACIFIC SUN 7


24 hour party people In the battle for healthcare reform, Marin’s community organizers answer the call—and make a few as well... by Pe te r Se i d m an


hile cantankerous backroom wrangling over healthcare legislation has been blasting across national headlines, organizers across the country— including Marin—have been working quietly to build a community organizing operation to support the Obama administration’s vision of healthcare reform. The news this week that Senate Democrats of the moderate persuasion, as well as some who are on the more progressive side of the scale, have reached an agreement to create an alternative to the much-maligned public option gives a boost to the possibility of passing a Senate version of a healthcare bill. The House already has passed its version. Both the House bill and the proposed Senate healthcare deal jettison the hopes many progressive Democrats had of creating true comprehensive healthcare reform. And while the White House and some Senate Democrats trumpeted the deal as a major move toward healthcare legislation, some progressives are having a hard time supporting the deal. But they also say they’re willing to wait until the full details of the Democratic deal are unveiled. The Senate compromise is going to the Congressional Budget Office for scoring, the process that determines a best guess for its cost. Early Wednesday morning, White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said, “Senators are making great progress, and we’re pleased that they’re working together to

find common ground toward options that increase choice and competition.” That statement, reported on CNN, lies in stark contrast to the assessment issued by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who said he could not support a healthcare proposal “that would replace the public option...with a purely private approach.” Feingold is one of 10 Democrats working behind those closed doors to craft a healthcare proposal, one that has the support of enough Democratic senators to block a Republican filibuster. Feingold’s comments target one of the provisions of the backroom compromise. Instead of a full-on public healthcare delivery system that would insure all Americans, the compromise would create a nonprofit private insurance option that the federal Office of Personnel Management would oversee. (That’s a plan similar to the one for current federal workers.) The arrangement would, theoretically, allow control over healthcare premiums. But it’s a private model, and it’s far from what many progressives want to see: a public healthcare delivery system like those in other industrialized countries across the world. Some progressive Democrats (if those labels even stick any longer) are a bit more uppity than Feingold. Perhaps the strongest voice calling for constituents to push the party to assert its majority in Congress has been Ed Schultz, who has shows on radio and MSNBC. He’s been hammering 10 >

›› NEWSGRAMS Chilly conditions prompt shelter approval San Rafael matched a record low on Dec. 8 with a morning temperature of 28 degrees—it’s been 37 years since temps dropped to that level. Although the chill is expected to warm slightly—then turn to rainfall—by the weekend, San Rafael officials approved plans this week to allow four city churches to operate temporary emergency shelters for the homeless this winter. Temporary shelters were approved at Christ Presbyterian Church in Terra Linda, First United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church and Unitarian Universalist Church. Those parishes will join about 10 other churches throughout the county that are now offering temporary homeless shelters through the help of a $150,000 grant from the Marin Community Foundation, which also chipped in the required $4,000 perpermit fee for San Rafael churches.—Samantha Campos ‘Peter Pan’not flying at Mountain Play The Mountain Play Association decided this week to give the hook to its originally planned 2010 production of Peter Pan, instead opting for the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls.After four months of work on the J.M.Barrie classic, MPA discovered that the London-based multimedia production of Peter Pan will premiere in San Francisco three weeks prior to the Mt.Tam opening day performance in May.Not wanting to compete with a larger, bigger-budget theater company and further risk losing ticket sales in an uncertain economic climate, Mountain Play organizers decided Peter wasn’t going to pan out.Switching gears, MPA was able to secure the rights to produce Guys and Dolls—which opened on Broadway in 1950, won a Tony Award for best musical, and starred Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando in the 1955 film—as a replacement.—SC Grand jury has energy sticker shock Marin’s move toward renewable energy just felt its first big jolt, as the latest civil grand jury report sternly recommends abandoning the Marin Clean Energy program. In its Dec. 2 report,“Marin Clean Energy: Pull the Plug,”the Marin County Civil Grand Jury calls the business plan for“community choice aggregation”too costly and questions “the decision to put the county into the business of operating commercial power generation facilities.”The energy program is a proposal of the Marin Energy Authority, a recently formed joint powers authority made up of the county and eight towns, with the intent to purchase renewable energy outside what is available through PG&E.To get the plan going would require borrowing more than $6 million for the first year and about $16 million in subsequent years.The benefits of such a plan, continues the report,“would likely be minimal.”The MEA took bids earlier in the fall from non-PG&E energy providers and was optimistic about the numbers—an option for total renewable energy would increase monthly rates by about 6 or 7 percent; a partially renewable option would keep household rates about the same. In addition, say Marin Clean Energy proponents, the clean energy created by the power agency will take Marin two-thirds of the way toward meeting the requirements of AB 32, the state law that requires local governments and businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.The MEA board has scheduled a final vote for Feb. 4 on whether to proceed with the Marin Clean Energy proposal.—Jason Walsh Shorts... A memorial for landscape architect Lawrence Halprin will take place 2-4pm on Sunday, Dec. 20, at Temple Emanu-El, 2 Lake St. , San Francisco. —SC EXTRA! EXTRA! Post your Marin news at ››



From the Sun vaults, December 10 - 16, 1969

The promised land Indians enlist irony, ‘Pac Sun’ in fight for the Rock by Jason Wals h


“One of the things we remember on our land. We remember that our grandfathers paid for it— with their lives.”—John Wooden Legs, Cheyenne

entreaty for the American government to deal honestly with the American Indian. “We seek peace,” it concluded. The veteran Pac Sun reporter had years ago bribed a Sausalito sea dog to ferry her to the dock of the Rock; from there her fate would be left to the starving belligerents. “They made us many promises, but they “What do you want?” demanded the kept only one; they promised to take our dark Mohawk “built like a Green Bay land, and they did.”—Red Cloud, Sioux Packer” who confronted her at port. “I’m with the Pacific Sun and I brought “The only good Indian is a dead groceries,” Yarish barked. Indian.”—Phil Sheridan, U.S. general “OK, come on.” Yarish’s impresRichard Oakes sive gangplank was one good Inwelcoming comdian 40 years ago mittee was none this week. other than Richard It was Day 10 Oakes, leader of of the American the occupation Indian occupation forces; the meof Alcatraz and dia dubbed him the “white” press “chief ” of the was barred from island. touching shore on Oakes, a 27the hijacked key in year-old father of December of 1969. six, was a student So the Pacific Sun The Indians brace for another chilly December night on the at San Francisco dispatched the Rock, 1969. State and had oronly reporter in ganized nearly 100 the country whose persuasions would not like-minded Indian grads and undergrads be withstood by even the most unruly of from SFSU and UCLA to stage the upristribal insurgents—61-year-old assistant ing. Oakes told the Sun that their occupaeditor Alice Yarish. She brought groceries. tion goals were twofold: “Not only do we “Intrigued by the brash and courawant this island, but we also hope our geous action of the American Indians action will call attention to the injustice who have taken possession of that abanwith which our people have always been doned fortress,” wrote Yarish in her story, treated. We are concerned with housing, “Red Men on the Rock,” “I felt impelled education and jobs.” to go out there and see what kind of Public support was largely with the people would undertake such a DavidIndians, though some condemned the ocGoliath thing.” cupation on legal grounds. The Indians, The David-Goliath thing, of course, however, championed their rights under was the occupation of the island by a an 1868 treaty that promised unused loose-knit band of American Indian federal lands to the Indians. Alcatraz had college students and their families who been abandoned since the prison closed issued a proclamation to the U.S. Secrein 1963. tary of the Interior offering to purchase Oakes told Yarish he resented being the island for the sum of $24, some glass called a “vanishing race”; the American beads and bolts of cloth. “We know that Indian would not vanish—from America land values have risen over the years,” or from Alcatraz. conceded the proclamation, “but the “We are here to stay,” he said, “even if $1.24 per acre is greater than the 47 cents they send an army for us.” the white men are now paying the IndiAfter Oakes made his departure to ans for their land.” The Indians, who’d attend a “pow wow” with the group’s fivesailed to Alcatraz Nov. 20 upon a charter member governing council, Yarish helped called the Monte Cristo, promised to an Indian youth unload the groceries in establish a college of Indian culture and the “kitchen”—a set of hibachis and bonhistory on the island and create a Bureau fires surrounded by walls of cardboard of Caucasian Affairs to guide the white boxes and blankets. She asked him what man in religion, education and “lifehe thought of the warning the governways” in order to help them “achieve our ment issued over “the health and safety level of civilization.” It was an irony-laden of the people on Alcatraz”—specifically


by Howard Rachelson

1. It’s considered a model for agricultural land preservation efforts across the U.S.A. The first land trust to focus on farmland preservation was founded in 1980 by a coalition of ranchers and environmentalists here in Marin County. Known as MALT, what is that an acronym for? 2. Newly arrived in Oz, awed by the magnificent beauty, Dorothy says,“Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re...” what? 3a. What body within the Roman Catholic Church elects the pope? 3b. What pope, whose name sounds like he’s a city boy, was the first to call for the Crusades in the year 1095? 4a. Working in the Netherlands in 1714, what German-born scientist invented the first modern thermometer? 4b. What liquid did he first use to record changes in temperature? 5. What actor and actress, seen here in their early years, were known in the 1930s and 1940s as the King and Queen of Hollywood? 6. Earliest writing surfaces: 6a. On what forerunner of paper did the Egyptians write? 6b. Upon what more earthy material did the Babylonians do their writing? #5 6c. What was the common writing surface in ancient India? 7. Identify the two universities and their football team names that will compete on Jan. 7, 2010, for the national championship, and in what city will that game be played? 8. When the countries of Central America are written in alphabetical order, what are the first and last on the list? 9. Which 19th-century British naturalist wrote The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man? 10a. What is the only lizard with a voice? 10b. What company employs such a creature for its advertising? BONUS QUESTION In the spring of 2008, many thousands of people protested in the streets of London, Paris, San Francisco and numerous other cities over the impending arrival of what hot object? Howard Rachelson, Marin’s Master of Trivia, invites you to a live team trivia contest at 7:30pm every Wednesday at the Broken Drum on Fourth Street in San Rafael. Join the quiz—send your Marin factoids to

the lack of food, the rundown buildings, exposed conditions and crumbling walls.  “That’s funny,” the youth sneered. “As bad as this may be, it’s far better than most of us have ever had before.” However insincere the government’s concern about safety may have been, it tragically proved prophetic. Less than a month later, as the occupation dragged on without government interference or negotiation (as part of a federal strategy to bore the Indians off the island), Oakes’s 13year-old stepdaughter Yvonne fell to her death down a dilapidated stairwell. Heartbroken over Yvonne, and disillusioned by tribal infighting, Oakes abandoned Alcatraz early in 1970. Yarish’s parting wish to him that the “tribes would be united” and the “beautiful island [would one day] be their own” would not be realized. A year later, the occupation numbers had dwindled dramatically and in June of 1971, federal agents moved in and removed the 11 adults and four children still holding out on the island.

Answers on page 39

Oakes, meanwhile, had retreated to family and student life—yet remained a strong voice for American Indian dignity and justice. Then on a rainy September day in 1972, Oakes was shot and killed by a man named Michael Morgan during an altercation over Morgan’s treatment of Indian youths. Morgan was cleared of all charges the following year by a Santa Rosa Superior Court jury. In 1998, San Francisco State cut the ribbon on its Richard Oakes Multicultural Center, dedicating the space to the Mohawk son in honor of his “sacrifices in promoting higher education, social justice and human rights.” The Oakes Center resides on a site that was for centuries home to American Indians. < Share your Alcatraz memories with Jason at jwalsh@

Blast into Marin’s past with more Behind the Sun at ›› DECEMBER 11 - DECEMBER 17, 2009 PACIFIC SUN 9

â&#x20AC;şâ&#x20AC;ş UPFRONT < 8 24 hour party people the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate for capitulating to lobbying efforts mounted by the insurance industry, which ďŹ ltered through the Republican legislatorsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; sieve and eventually resulted in the â&#x20AC;&#x153;Tea Partiesâ&#x20AC;? that received so much television coverage this summer. Heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s angry. â&#x20AC;&#x153;When push comes to shove, there ainâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t no shovinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; goinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; on,â&#x20AC;? Schultz said on the air Tuesday. He and others say that unless a healthcare plan includes more of the approximately 45 million uninsured in this country, the chances of forcing the insurance companies to keep a lid on premiums is dismal. The Senate deal crafted this week also raises the possibility of lowering the age for Medicare qualiďŹ cation to 55 for currently uninsured people. But what about the rest of the population? Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the big question Schultz and other progressives are asking. Without a major expansion of the number of people covered under any sort of public option, healthcare legislation will simply deliver more customers to an insurance industry that already engages in unfair practices and is driving up the cost of healthcare. The lines have been drawn since the debate over healthcare legislation began earlier this year. While the so-called â&#x20AC;&#x153;Tea Partiesâ&#x20AC;? went for the visual in a media campaign that revealed rips in the cloth of the American culture, Democratic Party

activists were working beyond the cameraâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s gaze to support an Obama administration vision of compromise legislation. If the Republican Party has been the â&#x20AC;&#x153;party of no,â&#x20AC;? the Democratic community organizing effort has been the party of â&#x20AC;&#x153;can we talk?â&#x20AC;? (to paraphrase a Joan Rivers line). Obama won the election last year using some of the most traditional tools of community organizing. Not surprising, considering his early efforts at community organizing in Chicago. Schultz recently said he wanted to know whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s happened. He supported Obama, he said, because he thought he would see some â&#x20AC;&#x153;of that tough Chicago politics.â&#x20AC;? But the vision of community organizing as a rabble ready to rouse the citizens, to call them to the barricades to force social change, is outdated. A basic principle of the new model of community organizing: consensus. That concept explains many of the strategic moves in the White House during the healthcare debate. When Obama took ofďŹ ce, his campaign organization had amassed a huge number of small ďŹ nancial contributionsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and an e-mail list that included about 13 million names. The question of what would happen to those names and to the community organizing structure that helped elect Obama was answered early in the administration; Organizing for Obama was rechristened Organizing for America to work for the â&#x20AC;&#x153;change we can believe inâ&#x20AC;? that had been the rallying cry during the election campaign.


Organizing for America now has a structure that covers the country, and its ďŹ rst order of business has been healthcare legislation. The organization created what it calls â&#x20AC;&#x153;rapid response teams,â&#x20AC;? whose members have been using a community organizing structure to support Democrats who work for the Obama vision of healthcare. Organizing for America is kind of like a party within a party. Its members call it a special project of the Democratic National Committee, but they also stress that the thrust is to speciďŹ cally support the administrationâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s position on issues. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Our rapid response teams have been active as the bill has been moving through the amendment process in the Senate,â&#x20AC;? says Patricia Ravitz, a community organizer whose turf includes the 6th Congressional District. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We can turn on a dime.â&#x20AC;? Ravitz says that last week, members of Organizing for America were calling Alaska in response to events during the Senate healthcare debate. (Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, has wavered on whether he would support a bill with a public option.) â&#x20AC;&#x153;We may get notice that we need to call Arkansas or elsewhere.â&#x20AC;? Members of the rapid response teams have promised to be available within 24 hours to make calls on behalf of the organizationâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and the administration. Organizing for America has a national structure based in Washington, D.C. State organizations form the next tier. Then comes a regional organization structure, with a Bay Area tier. Finally, thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the tier that includes

congressional districts and counties. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a classic community organizing model. Ravitz says organizing the county structures, like the one in Marin, includes forming neighborhood teams. And those teams are taking shape across the country. Members of the neighborhood teams take a piece of an issue and become the go-to person for action on a speciďŹ c issue. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Eight or nine neighborhood teams already have formed in Marin,â&#x20AC;? says Ravitz, who lives in Novato. Marching ordersâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;telephone talking points, actuallyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;come to the local groups from the national organization, through the state and regional groups, and on to the local teams. The idea is to amass as many telephone calls as possible as fast as possible to representatives and senators who are in sync with the Obama administration. Along with the calls of support, Organizing for America also tries to persuade those legislators not already on board or who are opposed to healthcare reform. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not the primary goal, says Pat Johnstone, a volunteer who lives in San Anselmo, but it happens. When an Organizing for America push nudges against a legislator or constituents who may be averse to the administration position, the group may, for instance, contact members in the legislatorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s district to register an opposing opinion with the legislator. But the support of Democrats who are simpatico is the primary motivation. The group has made waves. â&#x20AC;&#x153;On Oct. 20, there was a big push to make calls,â&#x20AC;? says John-


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â&#x2013;˛ Karen wrote in to tell us about the a-cut-above kindness of the staff at an upscale Larkspur salon. Sonny, a young husband and father of two small children, recently suffered a heart attack and died unexpectedly at age 37. In Sonnyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s honorâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and in an effort to assist the heartbroken family he left behindâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; Rick Cooper and his staff at Cooper Alley Hair Salon organized a fundraiser. In addition to a silent auction with an array of donated gifts, every Cooper Alley stylist and colorist donated their solidly booked dayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s pay, with all proceeds going to Sonnyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s bereaved family. Caring for your community beyond the salon chair: Now thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a â&#x20AC;&#x2122;do thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll never go out of style.

â&#x2013;ź Recently a Fairfax readerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s friendâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s minivan was rear-ended in Fairfax on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. The damage was signiďŹ cant but, said our reader, the driver who hit her was â&#x20AC;&#x153;a nice average Marin mom with her three teenagers in the car,â&#x20AC;? who was â&#x20AC;&#x153;very nice and caringâ&#x20AC;? and wrote down all her information on a piece of paper for her. But when the friend took this info to the police department to ďŹ le a report for the insurance company, she was absolutely stunned to discover that the woman had completely lied and all the information was falseâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; turning the matter into a criminal case of â&#x20AC;&#x153;hit and run.â&#x20AC;? Just as criminal, says our reader, is the example the woman set for her three kids.â&#x20AC;&#x201D;Samantha Campos

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it; our citizens are not going to be able to tolerate it. People go bankrupt because they canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t afford healthcare, and frankly, people die because they canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t afford to pay for healthcare.â&#x20AC;? <

But Organizing for America, reďŹ&#x201A;ecting the Obama administration, says incremental reform is better than no reform at all. â&#x20AC;&#x153;What we donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t want to happen,â&#x20AC;? says Stevenson, â&#x20AC;&#x153;is to throw out the good while trying to achieve perfection. That is not tenable right now. We have to have a comprehensive health insurance reform plan in place right away or the countryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s economy is not going to be able to tolerate


central to creating consensus among groups that might not agree on everything. Ravitz say the push to support the Obama vision of healthcare reform has attracted new members. And the issue of healthcare isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t the end of the road. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re in this for the long haul,â&#x20AC;? says Stevenson. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Once healthcare reform passes, we will take on other issues.â&#x20AC;? Organizing for America plans to mobilize its forces to work on clean energy legislation, education, ďŹ nancial regulatory legislation â&#x20AC;&#x153;and possibly immigration.â&#x20AC;? Working on those issues also will keep a Democratic base invigorated for the election campaigns in 2010 and 2012, notes Ravitz. Keeping people invigorated during the healthcare debate isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t the problem for the Democratic Party or for Organizing for America. Preventing a catastrophic split in the party might be, however. While the administration and Organizing for America have been seeking consensus, the more radical (progressive) elements of the Democratic Party have been calling for an all-or-nothing strategy. Some have suggested progressive Democrats should vote against legislation that fails to include what has been called a â&#x20AC;&#x153;robustâ&#x20AC;? public option. Anything less would be unacceptable capitulation to the insurance industry. Kill it now and revive the attempt later, they say. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s that important for the country. That sentiment, they assert, should carry over into the next general elections. Democrats beware, they warn.


stone. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The next day we heard that on the ďŹ&#x201A;oor [of the House] everybody was buzzing about how many calls they got from constituents behind [healthcare legislation].â&#x20AC;? When the national organization sends out an alert, the statewide and local groups take action based on information coming from the national organization regarding where volunteers should make calls and what they should say. Calls go out to legislators; they also go out to Democratic constituents who in turn can call other Democrats in a phone-tree strategy. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve been organizing neighborhood by neighborhood,â&#x20AC;? says Mary Jane Stevenson, the state director for Organizing for America. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re organizing them into teams to carry on the kind of campaign that we had in the presidential election. This is a little bit different in that we are doing issue-based campaigns where we are reaching out to members of Congress, other constituency groups and allies. We are training people how to organize.â&#x20AC;? In addition to the telephone campaigns, Organizing for America â&#x20AC;&#x153;can make available local volunteers to tell their own compelling stories about how this broken healthcare system is impacting their lives to explain why they are joining the ďŹ ght to bring about change.â&#x20AC;? Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s from a Marin chapter press release. The idea of ordinary people sharing their stories to illustrate social problems is a major tenet in the foundation of community organizing. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s

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The Hiroshima native was 7 when the bomb buried his parents and baby sister in ash. He was among the 2 percent at ground zero to survive.


akashi Tanemori was playing hide-andseek at school with his second-grade friends Aug. 6, 1945, when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The blast killed his classmates, his parents and six family members, burying his mother and baby sister beneath the ashes of their home. Tanemori, who turns 72 this week, counts himself among the 2 percent who were within one mile of ground zero and lived to bear witness to war’s devastation. Over time, radiation from the atomic bomb has blinded him. The day after President Barack Obama called for sending another 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, the Hiroshima survivor, who now lives in Berkeley, and his seeing-eye dog led a group of Marin Academy High School students on a peace march through downtown San Rafael. Before beginning the demonstration, part of the World March for Peace and Nonviolence, Tanemori spoke at a student assembly organized by the independent high school’s Peace and Justice Coalition. Wearing an orange robe and thick glasses and so short that he strained to reach the podium, Tanemori spoke with a heavy accent and humor about lessons he learned from his father. He encouraged the students to choose love over hate. “Americans believe war is the solution to conflicts,” he said. “Physical war is only an extension to the war in our hearts. When I get up in the morning, I can hardly see. So it’s a blessing. I embrace myself. I say, ‘I like you; why don’t we have a cup of coffee? I like you so much I will take you to lunch.’ On special occasions, we have candle-light dinner. “Do you like yourself? The war is going on within yourself. In Afghanistan, in Iraq, it’s only putting a bandage on it. “I want you to love yourself, to invite yourself to dinner.”

Tanemori spent much of his life fighting his own inner war. Already blinded by rage after radiation killed his father about a month after the bombing, being an orphan in Japan left him an object of scorn because he served as a reminder that his country had lost World War II and because some feared he might contaminate them. He describes his heart as twisted by hatred and bent on revenge. Despite his anger, he continued to hear the ghost of his father drilling into him the Code of the Samurai. Though the code was meant for warriors, it pertains equally to peace-seekers and speaks of working to benefit others. Tanemori showed slides of his mixedmedia artwork portraying the horror of war and the possibility of peace as he spoke to some 400 students who filled the bleachers in Marin Academy’s gym last week. “My father said, ‘Takashi, know who you are. Follow the light of your heart. Honor your heart with truth regardless of the consequences.’ That was tough after World War II, living in the atomic ashes. To survive, I looked through the garbage cans for food.” When he was 18, in 1956, Tanemori immigrated to the United States. Engulfed in rage, he spent the better part of his life wishing to annihilate Americans the way Americans had annihilated his family. Then, in 1985, while driving across the Bay Bridge to speak at a rally commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, he saw a cloud formation that reminded him of the explosion that changed his life. In his 2007 book, Hiroshima: Bridge to Forgiveness, Tanemori describes how his eyes flooded with tears and he had to pull over onto Treasure Island. While parked, he writes, he heard the voice of his 10-year-old daughter. “Daddy,” she said, “I know you have been living most of your life to get even with Americans, to deliver your revenge. I understand that you lost your daddy when you were younger than I am. I know it was hard for you to live without parents. But, Daddy, if you get even with Americans, some of them will come back and get even with us... your children. Is that what you want? “Daddy, is there any other way?” Tanemori realized then that hatred begets hatred, and instead of revenge, he vowed to seek forgiveness. During a question-and-answer period, a student asked: “Some people argue that the atomic bomb saved lives. How do you respond to that?” “I don’t think Harry Truman had an answer to whose lives were saved,” Tanemori responded. “Only 2 percent within a onemile radius of the bomb survived. I want you to know I am the 2 percent.”

Tanemori led Marin Academy students on a peace march through downtown San Rafael; it took the 72-year-old decades to abandon thoughts of revenge against the U.S.

After Tanemori’s talk, marchers from India, Spain and Italy joined him and about 75 Marin Academy students and walked from the San Rafael high school to the Court Street Plaza downtown carrying handmade signs that read “Peace Now Please.” When they arrived at the plaza, the marchers formed a circle and listened to a recording of John Lennon singing “Imagine.” San Rafael City Councilman Greg Brockbank talked to the crowd about his disappointment with Obama’s call for an increased military presence in Afghanistan. “He just can’t see his way clear to, in the words of John Lennon, ‘give peace a chance,’” Brockbank said. Ninth-grader Francisco Kilgore said Tanemori inspired him to join the march. “I was really inspired by how Takashi Tanemori was talking about the samurai rules to live for the benefit of others,” he said. “This march is a chance to do something for everyone else worldwide.” While marching, science teacher Mark Stefanski described Tanemori as a friend and “probably the most remarkable human being I’ve ever met.” “His mere presence changes your outlook on life,” he said. Senior Connor Van Gessel said that as one of the co-chairs of the school’s Peace and Justice Coalition he helped organize the rally to show the community that young people have a vested interest in promoting peace. “In Marin,” he said, “there’s an adult Peace and Justice Coalition, but there’s no youth one. We did this to show there’s a youth voice.” Biology and environmental science teacher Diana Cunningham said the demonstration reminded her of marching against the war in Vietnam. “It’s so important that the students feel they have some kind of voice,” she said. “In a couple of years when there’s more world peace,” said junior Hannah Shank, “we’ll be glad we were part of this.” < Contact Ronnie Cohen at

It’s your county, speak up at ››




The author, her son Ryan and ‘his mother’s book.’


by Ronnie Co he n

oan Ryan figured mothering h would ld b be easy. How tough could it be for a woman who talked her way into a professional football team’s locker room as a sportswriter in 1984 to raise a son? Much harder than she ever imagined. The former San Francisco Examiner and then Chronicle columnist and reporter approached the task of mothering the same way she approached her stories. She sought expert opinions and filled three-ring binders with information about ways to treat behavioral problems and learning disabilities. But she never realized that she could not shape her child the way she could shape a column. Then, in August 2006, when Ryan’s teenage son fell off his skateboard and suffered life-threatening brain injuries, she had an epiphany. Rather than trying to mold him into the person she wanted him to be, she needed to love him for who he is. Ryan chronicles the months following her son’s nearfatal accident in her new book, The Water Giver: The Story of a Mother, a Son, and Their Second Chance—and reveals how she learned to be the mother he needed. The memoir describes how a shy young woman became a pioneering sports journalist, eventually marrying Fox sportscaster Barry Tompkins. At times, the book provides an insider’s glimpse into the personal lives of some of the 2,401 residents of the leafy town of Ross—where rock and movie stars mix with money moguls—and how those neighbors came to the aid of Ryan and her family.

While otherr Ross moms had haad cupcakes, Joan Ryan pparented throu ugh more bitter desserts through h book b k critically ll re-examines the h author’s h ’s approach h to The mpkins adoptmothering her only child, a boy she and Tompkins out mothering ed and named Ryan. Mostly, the book is about and how the job comes without operating instructions. nstructions. others and “The book is about me, and it’s about mothers that universal struggle, and nobody knows how to do n the sunny this,” Ryan said during a recent interview in ompkins, their kitchen of the Ross home she shares with Tompkins, still-recovering 19-year-old son and family dog, Bill. The 50-year-old author wears jeans, a light blue cashmere Vneck sweater and wire-rimmed glasses and sits at her pine kitchen table—where everyone, including Bill, commands a seat. “I thought a kid’s a kid, a blob of clay,” she says. “You’re going to take your expert, loving hands and mold them into the child you want. My friend, Erin, once gave me this great image. Our kids are like redwood trees. Maybe you thought you were going to get an oak, a palm tree. But you got a redwood tree, and you are trying to reconfigure that child with a nail file. You are filing away. It’s still going to be a redwood tree. We can get them to shake people’s hands, look in people’s eyes, give them some values, brush their teeth every day. But they are who they are. “What this accident helped me to realize in a really traumatic way is that he’s enough, and I’m enough. He’s great the way he is.” Ryan stops talking when she hears her son stirring upstairs. It’s about 11:30am, and the teenager is waking up.

“ d you take “Did k your pills?” ll ” Ryan calls ll upstairs. “Yes.” “Did you brush your teeth?” “No.” O




THE TEEN, ALREADY Y diagnosed with learning difficulties as a child, suffered brain damage as a result of falling off his skateboard—without a helmet. The week before he was supposed to start 10th grade at the Marin School in Sausalito, he put new bearings on his skateboard and took it for a ride. He had loaned his helmet to the kid next door, so he rode bare-headed. As a result, he spent months in hospitals and rehabilitation, underwent brain surgery after brain surgery, racked up about $2.5 million in medical bills and has no memory of any of it. The 6-foot-4-inch Ryan lumbers downstairs and sits at the table. He describes The Water Giver as his mother’s book and says he has not read it. He recently graduated from the Marin School and enrolled in a tiny college back East. But, his mother says, he was not able to keep track of his medications and his classes. Now he would like to attend the College of Marin’s automotive program. In the meantime, he searches San Anselmo’s antique stores for old tools and reconditions them in his garage workshop. He walks barefoot from the kitchen to the garage and shows off the tools, removing from bright 15 > DECEMBER 11 - DECEMBER 17, 2009 PACIFIC SUN 13

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< 13 The good mother

on Valentine’s Day and Christmas, always wrapped in color-coordinated paper and red walls a 100-year-old tree saw, a hand ribbon. They had left successful careers to clamp, a 1956 Cadillac wrench, a 1920s devote themselves to motherhood. They box opener, a welding torch, one of his were patient and kind. Around them I felt favorite pairs of pliers. He says he started collecting tools about the way I did in press boxes early in my five years ago. He also collects skateboards. career: I was out of my league, unable to grasp how to be as But not the one that good as they were.” almost killed him. While Ryan While other skate- ‘We drive through these beautiful and Tompkins sat boards hang from beside their critithe rafters, that one streets, and we don’t know what’s cally ill son at Marin is hidden out of going on behind those doors.’ General Hospital, sight. “I don’t even their Ross friends ride it,” he says. But he does still ride skateboards, now rallied around them. They brought lattes, food, jokes and occasionally news from their with a helmet, and a bicycle, without one. His mother says he failed to learn the small college-campus-sized town. The son necessity of helmets because he has no of a close friend was arrested for vehicular memory of his accident. “You realize there manslaughter. One of the Good Mothers— are things that are out of your control,” she an attractive, trim, blonde runner who had says. “You put your energy into the things quit working to raise four children—jumped you can control. We have to say it’s his jour- off the Golden Gate Bridge. “I just couldn’t get that image out of ney. We do everything we can to make it a my mind of that safe journey.” woman parkRyan spent her ing her car and son’s first 16 years jumping off of the trying to re-mold bridge,” Ryan says. him into the boy “No one would she thought he ever, ever suspect. should be. She We drive through took him to see the these beautiful Nutcracker, tried to streets, and we get him to read, exdon’t know what’s pected him to engoing on behind gage in intellectual those doors.” dinner conversaRyan’s book tions. “Ryan’s not a offers a peek. kid who’s going to It shatters that sit in a classroom snow-globe image and think about of life lived behind the Ottoman Emmanicured lawns pire,” she says. “But and paints being he’s making this a perfect mother steel sculpture.” as the oxymoron He does have it is. At the same grease under his time, it provides fingernails. It’s hope of learning hard to tell where to become a better learning disabilimother. ties end and brain Immediately injuries begin. But after the accident, Ryan is not the Ryan’s book digs beneath the manicured lawns and perfect while sitting in the academic star his parenting in Ross. hospital waiting mother thought she would raise. And, admittedly, she was room, in part to calm herself, Ryan took not the mother she would have liked to out her reporter’s notebook. She had not yet realized the magnitude of her son’s have been either. “I had in my head this snow-globe vision injury. At the least, she thought she could of a good mother,” she says. “There are good get a column out of it. But she did not return to writing her colmothers, and I’m not a good mother.” umn. Instead, she opted for a buyout from O  O O  O the Chronicle and began work on the book. IN THE MEMOIR, Ryan writes about the “The accident is just the inciting incident,” mothers she saw while waiting to pick up she says. “The book was my journey of her son outside the Ross School. “When I change, how I finally got to be more of the waited for Ryan at the end of the school mother I’d always hoped I would be.” < day, I would study the good mothers. They Contact Ronnie Cohen at were amazing, marvelous, right out of a magazine. They brought cupcakes when Comment on this story in TownSquare, at they were assigned to bring cupcakes. ›› They remembered gifts for the teachers


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n Western culture as we currentlyy know it, there are many significant childhood rites ites of passage, routine coming-of-age experiences ces that most of us hold in common—toilet training, for example, ample, followed by other emotionally complex transitions such uch as losing our first tooth, confronting our first bully and learning arning that our parents have been having sex. Among these rites of passage, for those who grew up with all of the usual Christmas holiday traditions, none is more traumatizing and nd fraught with emotion than the unhappy realization that, literally speaking, there is no Santa Claus. That moment off discovery, whether mildly disconcerting or truly devastating, tating, is something that many of us hold in common. n. For a large number, it marks our first loss of innocence, cence, a loss of faith on an elementary level. For others, it’s the moment we learn that old people lie to young people. For some, it’s merely the moment they aree transformed from one of the people-for-whomomplethe-Santa-game-is-played into one the peoplewho-play-the-Santa-game-for-others. This past October, during the annual m cultural hullabaloo that is the Mill Valley Film Festival, we approached dozens of attendees,, filmmakers and festival organizers with the question: When did you stop believing in Santa Claus? owerful The answers ran the gamut, often eliciting powerful hatever else feelings and tangled mental gymnastics. Whatever nt, one we take from this little journalistic experiment, thing is clear: Believing in Santa may belongg solely to ng, that’s childhood, but the moment we stop believing, heir lives. something many remember for the rest of their “I grew up in an apartment building in Germany,” recalls photographer Annetta Kolzow of Millll Valley. ecific As a girl in Germany, her family had very specifi hnachtstraditions regarding Santa, there called Weihnachtsman, which means literally Christmas Man. She was 6 hristmas,” years old when she learned the truth. “On Christmas,” anta Claus she remembers, “we were always told that Santa was on his way, and that he would be ringingg the doorbell—and when the doorbell rang, we were all supposed to run and hide in another room. We were told to close the door and not to look until Santa Claus left. That was the tradition. While we were


Jolly ol’ St. Nick, taking advantage of youngsters’ naivete since the 13th century.

hiding, that’s when Santa Claus came and left all the presents under the Christm Christmas tree. One Christmas, I was really curious. I wanted to see Santa San Claus, but my brother said, ‘No, don’t open the door.” Kolzow opened iit anyway, and there was her father, with all the presents—not in costume, dressed in his usual clothes, just standing there. “I was so sad,” she sh says. “I was really disappointed, and I thought it was just awful. My whole vision of Santa Claus was shattered at that moment. m I was always excited about Christmas. I loved my vision v of Santa Claus. He was a little bit scary, this authority auth figure, and he had these magical powers, and we w weren’t supposed to be near him when he was there. B But he was also good and wonderful. And all of a sudden, su none of that was there anymore.” Kevi Kevin McNeer, the director of the film Stalin Thou Thought of You, had a somewhat gentler transition from Santa-belief to Santa-awareness. “I was disabused of the Santa illusion fairly ea early, maybe 4 or 5,” he says. “I started having vague doubts regarding Santa, and I rememva be ber that the doubts caused me a lot of anxiety, thinking, ‘Maybe none of this is what it seems.’ That started to stress me out a bit. I was seem an onl only child, kind of a bubble boy, so there was nowher nowhere to go with my exist existential angst. Christm Christmas had been, very mu much, a big deal for me. IIt meant a lot, every ye year.” After coming to the conclusi conclusion, all on his own, th that Santa was more o of a concept than an actual dude, Kevin McNeer suspected foul play from the beginning. McNeer McNeer, as a young boy, found fou himself missing that sense of magic that Santa ha had held. “So I replaced that magic, which had turned out to b be basically a hoax, with thoughts about Jesus. I was able to bring the magic back into my life, to re-infuse some mysticism into the 19 > season, by focusing on the magical baby



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< 16 Santa—The whole shocking story seriously, and said, ‘Listen, my friends are the other hand, it’s representative of life, telling me there’s no Santa Claus.’ She made that this does happen, and it’s a part of born in the manger. ‘Santa is a fraud, OK, a case that she really wanted to know the growing up. For me, it was utterly disapbut there’s this Jesus guy, and he’s very important.’ So I made it work for me. Plus, truth. And my wife, who was caught off- pointing, which is ultimately how I came to feel about religion as a I was still getting my Christmas presents...” guard, didn’t really know what whole. Documentarian William Farley (Shadow to say, so she told her that her friends were right, that there “Lies are lies, and it is & Light: The Life and Art of Elaine Badgley was no Santa Claus. And Linddisgraceful.” Arnoux), of San Francisco, was 5 when his say went into hysterics.” Mary Morrow, producer faith in Santa evaporated dramatically, a “I did,” recalls Lindsay, of Shadow & Light: The moment he still remembers vividly. Life and Art of Elaine Bad“When I was growing up, in Boston in the laughing. “I said, ‘I can’t begley Arnoux, has especially 1940s,” he explains, “my mother and father lieve you lied to me. I’ll never powerful memories of would go shopping every Friday night. This be able to trust anything you Santa Claus, and the day one night, a few days before Christmas, my say ever again! Like, the entire Kringle crumbled at the her parents interfered with parents took me with them. We’d gone to history of our family is a lie! When Fishkin household things got the First National Store, in downtown Bos- Now you’re probably going to ‘intense,’ says the festival director. her efforts to get a note to tell me there’s no the man in red. ton, and afterwards, with tooth fairy, too!’ And my mom “I grew up in New Orleans, the Big bundles in hand, they’d go just stared at me. She stared at Easy, a big boozing town in the 1950s,” down to this place called me, and I realized that the tooth she explains. “My parents were part of the Windham Landing, about fairy was a fake, too. I said, crowd, they were big party animals. Their a hundred yards from the ‘There’s no tooth fairy? What whole lives, our whole house, revolved grocery store.” about leprechauns? No lepre- around parties and drinking, and it made There was a place at chauns?’ I went through the me feel really unsafe. So, as a child, I Windham Landing called entire list, and then I said, as a wrote a letter to Santa Claus, the way you Helen’s, a popular bar, where last effort to keep some of my do when you’re a kid, with your list of Farley’s parents would have a drink and wait for a taxi to Not even a sympathetic bartender childhood beliefs alive, ‘Well... requests—and I asked Santa to bring me could shield Farley from the truth what about the Easter bunny!? parents who didn’t drink.” pick them up. No? There’s no Santa, tooth Morrow, then 5 years old, placed the let“So there we were,” he about Santa’s taste for whiskey. fairy, no leprechauns—and no ter in her stocking, hanging from the fireremembers, “my parent’s place. On Christmas Eve, her parents were hands full of packages, and I’m standing in Easter bunny?” hosting a big party. Morrow remembers “It was intense. I swear to God she front of them at the door of the bar. The waking up, walking out to the banister doors swing open and I step in, and right wouldn’t speak to us for a week,” says overlooking the living room, and seeing there at the end of the bar, there’s this guy Fishkin. “It was a very tough week,” allows Lindsay. her letter being passed around among the dressed as Santa Claus. And the minute I drunken guests. They were taking turns walk in and see him, Santa pulls down his “As disappointed as I was in having all these reading it aloud. beard—the kind on elastic straps—he takes magical things disappear, I hated having “They were all laughing hysterically at a shot of whiskey, slams the shot glass back been lied to. But looking back, as awful as it my letter,” she remembers. “That wasn’t down on the bar, and then the beard snaps was, it was probably a good thing. We can’t go on believing in Santa forever.” the moment I stopped believing in Santa, back up into place. Filmmaker Peter Rodger, director of the though that would come fairly soon—but “My eyes were as big as saucer,” he documentary Oh My God, agrees. it was the moment I stopped believing in continues. “My mouth was wide open. I “Bucking the Santa Claus myth is Ni- my parents. They intercepted the letter, was stunned. The bartender saw the whole thing happen, my parents saw it happen— etzsche for kids,” he says. “In this culture, they stopped it from going to Santa, the it’s part of how we begin to Big Man. So because of that, everyone was horrified. They tried to embrace reality, as painful as Santa was never able to learn distract me or explain it for me. The barthat embrace can be.” what I needed, and to bring tender brought me a Shirley Temple, with Rodger knows from experime those new parents I reall this fruit in it, and the bartender gave ence. ally wanted. Santa was going all these little seals from Cal Star Whis“I was really, really upset to save me, but my parents key, trying to say, ‘Listen, that’s not Santa when I realized that Santa put a stop to that.” For MorClaus. It’s one of his helpers!’—but it was row, her search for Santatoo late. I was in a daze. My belief in Santa Claus didn’t really exist, and that my father, who I loved salvation took her, not long Claus was over, like that.” very deeply, had been playing after, from St. Nick to God. It was, he says, one of the defining moPeter Rodger is still ‘pissed off’ “It’s been a lifelong ments of his life. As he looks back on it, he Santa Claus,” he says. “It’s still about the disgraceful lies. very vivid in my head and my path trying to find some finds that he has retained a great deal of imagination, what I felt about answers,” Morrow says, affection for that anonymous bartender. Santa Claus. The day I realized that Santa was “looking for the one who will take my call, “I think it was kind of sweet that even really only Daddy, that was one of the big who will answer my letter. I never put that the bartender was upset,” Farley laughs. “He just watched a kid’s innocence evapo- stepping stones of growing up. I can still smell together before, but I think Santa was my the stockings, I can still feel the excitement of first God. He was the Man, the one who rate, right there in his bar—and there was Christmas, everything I had as a kid from a had the power to save me, to take my letnothing he could do about it.” British, Church of England, Anglican family. ter and change my life. What I ultimately Lindsay Fishkin, daughter of MVFF I actually caught my dad coming in with the learned is that it was me who had to anfounder and California Film Institute Dipresents. I was really pissed off.” swer the letter, to bring myself a new life. rector Mark Fishkin, was 8 years old when Rodger is now decidedly not a fan of the “In the end, we all have to become our she learned the terrible truth. She was not Santa Claus game. own Santa Claus.” < happy about it. “I think it’s disgraceful,” he says, “that “We’d always made a deal about the Share other lies you’ve told your children with David at talkpix@ holidays and Santa Claus,” says Fishkin, at- we teach our children a lie. I think it’s very tending a mid-festival party with Lindsay. awkward for people, for parents and for For more events throughout the holidays, check our “We celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah. children, when they come to realize that online calendar at ›› One day Lindsay came up to her mom, very there’s a massive dishonesty that exists. On

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ears ago, back in mid-20th century America, there was little, if any, cross-cultural sharing of traditions in public schools. For the majority of elementary school students, “The Dreidel Song” wasn’t performed at the annual Christmas concert; in fact, there was no mention of any other winter holiday besides Christmas. To be fair, in “those days” Kwanzaa didn’t yet exist and Hanukkah—full of candle light and fried foods—was still a minor celebration. One of the most recognizable and enduring symbols of Hanukkah (especially for those with Eastern European roots) is the dreidel, a game of chance—that’s right, it’s a gambling game—played with a spinning top that even the littlest of children can— and do—play. It can be played with just two people, up to as many as can fit around the table or flat surface. Most people who’ve grown up playing dreidel don’t know why the game is associated with this particular holiday. Although its history isn’t well-documented, tracing the probable beginnings of this custom is not difficult. One might wonder just what sort of holiday tradition would encourage gambling (especially among a religious group that has suffered from derogatory stereotypes about money). Though the dreidel may be associated with Hanukkah, according to historian Rabbi David Golinkin and others, it most likely originated in Europe among non-Jews hundreds of years ago. There are those, rabbis and scholars among them, who claim dreidel

was played by Jews under Greek/Assyrian rule even before the Maccabees’ revolt—which led to the rededication of the Temple and the small pot of oil, only enough for one day, which lasted eight days. Under their Greek and Assyrian oppressors, Jews caught studying the Torah were executed. Because of this, the legend goes, Torah-studying Jews would keep a dreidel nearby; should soldiers happen upon them, it would appear that the group was gambling. It’s a nice story, but unlikely. Dreidel is a variation of a German gambling game also played with a spinning top. A similar game, which dates back to the 16th century, was played in England, Ireland, France and Italy as well, generally around Christmas. Jews in medieval France and Italy played a version (with a different name) that was not connected in any way to Hanukkah. The word dreidel is Yiddish, and comes from the German drehen, to spin. (In Israel, it is called a sivivon, from the Hebrew for to turn, sovev.) Each side of the dreidel has a different letter. The Yiddish letters gimel, hay, shin and nun are a sort of acronym for a phrase that means “A great miracle happened there.” Well, it turns out that the Yiddish is a variant of the German top’s letters: nichts, ganz, halb, stell. Each letter indicates a player’s move when the top lands with that letter facing up: nun, the player gets nothing; gimel means the player takes everything in the kitty; hay gives the player half the kitty; and on shin, the player puts one token into the kitty. And so it goes, until there’s nothing




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left in the kitty, or the kids have lost interest and begun eating the gelt (chocolate “coins”—it is just a game, after all. Though some may question the wisdom of teaching little kids to gamble, keep in mind that it is usually played with pennies, chocolate gelt or other small candies—and really, nobody loses (unless your relatives are cutthroats, and have no intention of sharing the winnings with the youngsters). And when candy or money is on the line, most kids pay attention to how much goes into and out of the kitty—practicing math skills while having fun. It’s a game familiar to many children now, being played routinely in classrooms at this time of year. The irony is that Hanukkah celebrates a victory over assimilation, yet the dreidel, which is identified as Jewish, is an example of cultural assimilation. And, though everyone has the freedom to play dreidel whenever and wherever he or she wants, like so many holiday traditions, those dreidels are only pulled out during the eight days of Hanukkah, to celebrate the great miracle that happened there—or to stay occupied while waiting for the much anticipated latkes. <

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Pacific Sun 12.11.2009 - Section 1  

Section 1 of the December 11, 2009 edition of the Pacific Sun.

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