Archive for July, 2007

A Trillin Encounter

The first time I met Calvin Trillin, my guest on tonight's episode (at 7:30), we were both guests on Sedge Thomson's West Coast Live radio program. My wife and son -- who was then but a toddler -- were with me backstage. With his marvelous deadpan, Trillin pointed at my boy and said to my wife and me, "I'll pay you fifty bucks for that kid, cash on the barrel." We politely declined, but from that moment on I knew that this terrific writer was also a man of great taste.

It was thrill to have Trillin on my show this past season. (Tonight's broadcast is a rerun -- you can read my original blog item here.) In the intervening years he had lost his beloved wife Alice, whose somewhat fictionalized character graced many of his best writings. He was on tour promoting About Alice, his lovely memoir of their long relationship. Understandably, his mood was muted, but during our conversation there were many flashes of the mordant Trillin wit.

It was an honor to get to spend some time with him. And -- perhaps because he now has grandchildren to devote himself to -- he didn't even make a follow-up offer for my son. I wouldn't have bitten, anyhow.

1 comment July 30th, 2007

Rhymes with “Academy” …

... which makes sense, as the family name "Tademy" has a deep history in learning. I found out about the Tademys' hard-won education through Lalita Tademy's powerful second historical novel, Red River. She was my guest in an episode that I heard lots of feedback about -- including from the crossing guard at my son's school, whose own family had many similar experiences. (I loaned her my copy.)

You can see my original blog item here.

11 comments July 23rd, 2007


Got out of BART in downtown Berkeley a short time ago. Excited about getting to Half Price Books, which was holding a copy of Romeo & Juliet in the edition that my son and I like best (Signet Classics), because of how they clearly mark which words and phrases are footnoted. (We're going to the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore., this week.)

In front of me, on the sidewalk, an older man, with a cane, moving slowly. Next to him, spread across the sidewalk, a large family (apparently unrelated to the older man), also walking slowly. So I'm stuck behind a wall of slow movers.

I accelerate and sidle around this group, and cross the street toward the bookstore. Coming up on the curb, I trip on something infinitesimal. It all happens in slo-mo: me starting to fall; my full cup of Peet's coffee getting squeezed in my hand, so the top flies off and the coffee starts to pour out; my knee, then my hand, hitting the pavement; the coffee spilling out onto the sidewalk and onto my glasses (though thankfully -- somehow -- not onto one of the beautiful shirts my wife has made for me).

Now everything relating to me is still; I'm on the pavement; my glasses are splattered with coffee. I stand up, feeling somewhat foolish (and a bit sore), and begin to clean off my glasses. At which point that elderly man walks by. As other people stroll on, he stops. "Are you okay?" he asks.

Yes, I am, I tell him. And I hobble into the store to get my book.

4 comments July 17th, 2007

Another Slice of Onion

Tonight's show (at 7:30) is a rerun of an episode that many viewers have told me they enjoyed when it first ran. Featuring interviews with former Onion editor Scott Dikkers and his pal Peter Hilleren -- coauthors of the gleefully irrevernt Destined for Destiny: The Unauthorized Autobiography of George W. Bush -- this program also included my near-fatal attempt to juggle onions, as well as many moments when I was in danger of laughing so hard that stuff might spurt out my nose. Fortunately, no one died and nasal expectorations remained minimal -- which are, as you probably know, the the television industry's two most common benchmarks for a successful broadcast.

Apropos of nothing, but just because I feel like mentioning it, yesterday we went on a family outing to Stinson Beach. I have a difficult time going to places -- even beautiful places, like Stinson -- where I am not sure that there will be a clean and comfortable bathroom available for my use. This applies to camping as well -- also, many great cities of the world. I know I need to get over this phobia if I ever am to become a world-class traveler -- or even just a traveler. Another option is for me to figure out -- how to put this delicately? -- a way to be more, um, efficient in my bathroom visits. Something changed in me in my mid-20s -- something internal, and mysterious -- which led to me doing much more reading than would otherwise have been possible in a day. I've tried everything: Metamucil, dried fruits, trampolining -- with little avail. So the idea of spending some quality time in a stall at the beach while 32 angry surfers chant for me to come out ... well, the thought fills me with a certain amount of anxiety. Which doesn't help. If you know what I mean. And I think you do.

And not apropos of that, I'm also recalling that my father liked to take his time in the can -- especially on Sundays, which called for a careful reading of almost the entire Sunday edition of the New York Times. Though in his case I believe the extended bathroom time was a matter of choice rather than necessity. He liked it in there! Let me also mention that my dad's favorite sandwich was thickly sliced raw onion on white bread, with lots of butter slathered on. My stepmother, Sue, complained mightily, but sometimes a man just has needs, and that's that.

I hope this clears up all your unspoken questions.

4 comments July 16th, 2007

Blanket Powers

My primal image of comfort is of my father tucking me into bed, under the covers, when I was little. Now that I have entered politics, as an energy commissioner for the City of Berkeley, I've begun to experience what it means to be the grown-up, seeing to the little details that preserve and protect the body politic.

It's all details -- that's my take from the first meeting I attended, in a comfortingly drab room at the North Berkeley Senior Center. (The commission meets the fourth Wednesday of every month.) There are Robert's Rules of Order to follow -- a set of rules of etiquette that would be easy to lampoon, but actually allow for the respectful (and relatively efficient) exchange of ideas on a series of topics. There's an agenda to follow. The issues mostly sound dry -- though what they address are often life-and-death matters, especially (but not exclusively) when they deal with local approaches to fighting global warming.

The commission is appointed -- Mayor Bates appointed me. At a recent groundbreaking for a municipally owned wind turbine near the Berkeley Pier, I was excited to be on the list of speakers. By the time I was called up to the podium -- following various electricity and wind-power experts, as well as Mayor Bates himself (pictured here with two young volunteer ground-breakers) -- I was feeling singularly unqualified to speak. What did I know? Well, in truth, not as much as I hope to, as I study these issues. But my tentativeness also struck home to me how singularly different it felt to be in the role of someone who's supposed to think about this stuff -- and not just think, but do.

Later, at the commission meeting (here you can see me being sworn in by Berkeley energy czar Neal DeSnoo), I quickly revealed my (political) greenness. I was quite anxious to participate in my first vote as a political appointee, and I thought the opportunity had come when the commission chair called for a vote to ratify the previous meeting's minutes. So along with the other commissioners, I raised my hand and said, "Aye." At which point one of them gently pointed out to me that, since I hadn't been on the commission at the previous meeting -- indeed, hadn't even attended the previous meeting -- I might find myself on firmer ground by abstaining.

Ah, yes. Of course. I'll get it right the next time.

I did get to vote to adjourn, however (since the meeting had lasted nearly four yours, this vote, unsurprisingly, was unanimous). And I walked out into a delightfully chilly Berkeley night, blanketed in fog, proud to have begun my service.

Today I have to send in my conflict-of-interest form -- required of all California politicians, whether elected or appointed. Since I'm not aware of having any interests, this should go pretty smoothly, I think.

July 13th, 2007

Non-Driving, Defensively

So okay, no, as a matter of fact, I have not yet gotten my driver's license. I know that the "Wandering Josh" segment on tonight's episode (at 7:30) -- a lovingly restored repeat from early in our second season -- would seem to suggest that last summer I was just on the verge of getting a license. But the sad fact is that, despite the soothing instructions I received from Judy Lundblad of Fearless Driver, I neglected to schedule the follow-up lessons that would have prepared me to take the road test.

Planned to, I swear! But here's what happened. I was just about to get on the phone to Judy to schedule those remaining lessons when I happened to be taping a WJ segment with Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates for our Earth Day show. Mayor Bates was about to drive me somewhere in a city-owned hybrid vehicle, and I suggested -- on camera (though we didn't use this part in the show) -- that, since I had a learner's permit, he might let me do the driving. Ever the conscientious public servant, he demanded that I show him my permit -- which I promptly removed from my wallet. The mayor examined the battered document and pointed out that it had just expired -- like, the week before!

I played my reaction for laughs, but I was genuinely appalled, as I realized that I would now have to take the written test again. In other words, back to square one. On foot.

Anyhow, now you have some of the fallout from this program, in which I got to chat with star car designer Vicki Vlachakis and young auto-racing phenom Dane Cameron. But unlike my guests, you will know that -- car-wise, at least -- I am a fraud (well, perhaps they suspected as much ...)!

2 comments July 9th, 2007

Nash Bridges Gulf to History

If you dug tonight's show -- a conversation with UCLA historian Gary Nash -- then I highly recommend that you run out and buy or borrow his book The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America. Reading it has profoundly affected my understanding of American history -- and, for that matter, the American present.

If you have read it -- or any other books by the prolific Prof. Nash -- I'd love to hear your own impressions.

2 comments July 2nd, 2007

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