King Kaufman and Cary Tennis: A bake sale

This is going to be a long blog post. Just in case you don’t get to the end of it, the point of it is to get you to click on two links about an online art auction that’s being held to raise funds to offset expenses related to the recent illnesses of two of my favorite people: Cary Tennis and … me.

The online auction is here.

A blog with a lot more detail about the artists, authors etc. who are donating items, as well as details about the items themselves, is here.

And now, the actual post

So I’ve been sick. Really sick. I’m getting better now, and the doctors say I will eventually, in a few months, get all the way better. This is one of the nicer things doctors can say to you, I’ve discovered. It definitely beats when they snap the one glove on and say, “And if you can lower your pants.”

I had a case of something I’d never heard of before, Guillain-Barre syndrome, described here by the Mayo Clinic. Your immune system attacks your nerves, resulting in weakness and numbness, to the point of paralysis. Stupid immune system. Fortunately, either through time or treatment — the docs and researchers don’t actually know which — the process reverses and you get better.

I was in the hospital and a rehab center for 23 days, and I have been on sick leave since the only day I’ve worked so far in 2010: Jan. 4. I’m slowly getting stronger, almost ready to leave my cane at home when I venture out, and I hope to return to work in a week or so.

Here’s another thing I’ve discovered: My friends and family and co-workers are amazing. They flew in from three different time zones to help the wife take care of the kids and various details of life. They brought food, cleaned our house, took our kids places, visited without becoming a burden, told encouraging tales of relatives who recovered fully from GBS, planned and threw our son’s birthday party. And then they brought more food. These people are astonishing. They could not have been more kind.

Imagine if I were a nice person!

And it hasn’t stopped there. My medical expenses have not been overwhelming, but I’ve missed six weeks of work, and might miss a little more than that. State disability makes up for some, but it’s still a financial hit, a few thousand bucks.

As much as my friends have done, there were more who wanted to do something and didn’t know what to do. And not just for me. My friend and co-worker, Cary Tennis, who writes the great advice column Since You Asked for Salon, has also been sick, even sicker than I. He underwent major surgery for sacral chordoma, a rare form of cancer, just before Christmas, and he too remains out of work.

Cary has been chronicling his illness and recovery when he’s been able. In his latest piece, he writes about how, having cheated death, even a trip to the hardware store feels like a miracle.

Now I have this dazzling friend and co-worker named Mignon Khargie. I call her Dazzling Mignon, is how dazzling she is, because she is, I think, a genius of an artist. She has organized a fund-raiser for both Cary and me in the form of what she is calling an online bake sale. She asked some of her artist friends, some of whom know me or Cary, to donate some art for an auction on eBay. But word got out and more people wanted to participate. Not all of them are artists, so there are now all sorts of things for sale.

There’s a lot of art, of course, such as signed prints of the Zach Trenholm caricatures of Cary and me that have adorned our columns for years. Plus! A personal sketch of the purchaser, or whoever the purchaser wants. And there are paintings and illustrations and comics and photos and signed first-edition books and even actual baked goods by a collection of ridiculously talented people, some of whom are famous, some of whom ought to be, some of whom will be someday, some of whom are friends of mine or Cary’s and some of whom are strangers to us.

So you can buy personalized stuff from the likes of Dave Eggers and Heather Havrilesky and Keith Knight and
Janelle Brown and Kate Moses and David Talbot and Scott Rosenberg and Elizabeth Kairys and Mary Elizabeth Williams and Ruth Henrich and Kirsten Menger-Anderson and Laura Miller and Sasha Wizansky and all I’m doing here is listing some of the people who have worked at Salon.

And I can’t leave out my boss, Joan Walsh, a regular on “Hardball” and similar cable news shows, who will debate that relative of yours who most reminds you of her frequent TV foe, Pat Buchanan — or teach you how to do it over coffee.

You can bid on all these things now through Sunday night. Look them over and make your bids at the eBay store or browse through the items, with much more detail — and “bid” links — at the bake sale blog. Everything starts at $9.99.

I’m sure I speak for Cary when I say thank you, from the bottom of our ailing but improving hearts and other body parts, to the talented friends who have donated their work and time, and also to you for reading this and for even thinking about making a bid.

One housekeeping note: In the event that this bake sale raises more money than is needed to cover Cary’s and my medical expenses and lost wages, we will donate the excess to a non-controversial charity to be determined.

25 random, or not so random, things about me. Not so 25 either

I tend not to do these silly Facebook things but I liked how the 25 Random Things About Me one got people to think and write about themselves in interesting ways, and I liked the challenge of trying to write one that was interesting without, you know, revealing where the bodies are buried.

I also like how 25 Things became a little phenomenon. It struck a chord and became bigger than Facebook. I used it as the basis for my Super Bowl preview and I’ve seen other writers use the same gag over the last month.

And here’s a funny thing. It took me about a week to write it, thinking about it off and on and tapping out an item here and there in between work and other duties, and since I finished, I’ve found myself thinking of other random things about me. In that week my brain seems to have trained itself to spit them out at me once in a while. I’ll be making a sandwich and my brain will go: “I shook President Ford’s hand at an airport once.”

What’s that, brain?

“I shook President Ford’s hand at an airport. I was in the Boy Scouts and they bused us down to LAX to be part of a crowd that greeted him and he came along the fence shaking hands. That’s a random thing. Write it down.”

No, I’m done with that. I’m making a sandwich right now.

“I’ll eat almost anything except American cheese.”

All right, brain. That’s enough now.

Here are my 25 Random Things, by which I mean 35. Maybe I’ll make it a project to post one more random thing every day, see how long that lasts. I’m not that interesting, but I’m definitely random.

– – – – –

Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

1. I don’t really want to know more about you.

2. Once on tour with the Smokejumpers I bought this Elvis Presley commemorative magazine at a truckstop and one of the features in it was something like “Fifty interesting facts about Elvis.” I said that if we ever got famous and there was a magazine feature like that about me, it would have to be “Two interesting facts about the King Teen.” The interesting things were that I really like burritos and I’m very good at parallel parking. I’d forgotten the third interesting thing, which is that both of my grandfathers had the exact same name: Jack Kaufman.

3. I really like burritos.

4. I’m very good at parallel parking.

5. Both of my grandfathers had the exact same name: Jack Kaufman.

6. Other than the people closest to me, I don’t care much what anybody thinks of me. I mean, if you’re going to like me or hate me, I vote for like, but it doesn’t really matter.

7. I once spontaneously came up with an aphorism about that. I was talking to an aspiring singer of my acquaintance about performing. She could really sing but had bad stage fright. So she was my polar opposite. She was picking my brain about feeling comfortable onstage, and I said, “There are only two kinds of people. The ones who love you and the ones who aren’t worth a damn.” I was talking about audiences, but I think it works for the whole world.

8. I hate it when the party ends. Left to my own devices, I’ll always close the joint.

9. I wish I were good at useful things. I wish I could build things and fix things and tune up my car and tie good knots and draw. The best practical, useful advice I can pass on to my children is “Don’t use semicolons.”

10. I’m not good at too many things, and almost none of the things I’m good at — like parallel parking — are lucrative in any way, but anything I’m good at, I’m pretty egotistical about it.

11. As an editor, I’m reasonable and even fairly generous. I treat writers well. As a writer, I’m a shrieking, stomping, hateful prima donna who’s pure hell on any unsuspecting editor who dares threaten to move so much as a precious comma of mine.

12. I was a decent bass player, but I switched to guitar when I was about 30, and I never came close to even passable competence. Still haven’t. I was the least talented guitar player ever to make money with a guitar without hitting somebody with it.

13. I used to say, in press releases about my band and from the stage, that I was “the most Christmas-loving Jewboy since Irving Berlin.” I really like that line. It’s true. I love Christmas. The Smokejumpers did an annual Christmas show, which was a chore for everyone but me, and I made up several Christmas songs. Now I celebrate Christmas with my family. We have a tree and everything. I find none of this to be in conflict with either my Jewish upbringing or my hardcore atheist adulthood. Christmas is a secular holiday to me, and a great one.

14. I never say I wrote a song. I say I made it up. I don’t know why I do that. I guess I think it’s pretentious to talk about “writing” a song. It’s not like I ever sat at a piano with a pad of music paper all Hoagy Carmichael style. I did always just make them up, though of course I’d write the words down at some point. And it’s way more pretentious to purposely avoid saying I wrote it, but there you go.

15. You know how everybody has records in their collection that they’re embarrassed about and can’t believe they used to like, or how everyone looks at old pictures of themselves and says, “Oh my gosh, what was I thinking to wear that?” I don’t have that. I may have moved on, but if I used to like something, I’m probably still OK with it.

16. The only aspect of journalism that I’ve ever tried to do and wasn’t at least halfway decent at was photography.

17. I used to have a great memory. I could hear a phone number once and remember it forever, hear the lyrics of a song two or three times and have them down, that sort of thing. I had a job sorting mail once and my boss commented on how good my memory was. Not anymore. Now I can’t remember your name, never mind your phone number. It’s a struggle to convince myself of this, to get myself to write things down that I used to be able to just recall. I used to be able to jot a phone number on a scrap of paper, for example, and a year later if I came across that scrap, I’d know whose number it was. Now if I find it the next week I’ll be all, “Whose number is this? Damn!” But I can’t break the habit of not writing the name. My kids have good memories. Sometimes I’ll notice them remembering something, the exact words someone said, or the order something happened in, or where we left off the last time we were watching a movie or listening to a CD, and I’ll be conscious that it’s something that 10 years ago I would have remembered, but now I can’t.

18. I would never say to someone that they couldn’t understand what having kids is all about if they’d never had kids, and I’m still not sure it’s true, but now that I have kids, I understand what people mean when they say that.

19. One of the two most surprising things about having kids for me was how much it made me think about what kind of person I am and what kind of person I want to be. This seems obvious, but it wasn’t to me. If I wanted to bring my kids up to be good people, I had to think about what “good people” means. And when I did, gee, I didn’t always live up to that.

20. The other surprising thing was that changing diapers is fun. It gets old when they start getting bigger, but when they’re babies, changing diapers rocks. It’s one-on-one time. My kids and I had a lot of fun and a lot of good conversations when I was changing their diapers.

21. I have a very weak sense of smell. This might be related to the previous item. It generally comes in handy, living in San Francisco.

22. My wife is the only person I’ve ever met who is flamboyant without being self-absorbed. That would be my favorite thing about anybody else in the world, but it’s only about my eighth favorite thing about her.

23. When my kids were babies, I talked to them like they were big.

24. Fairly often in my adult life, people have told me I seem like an East Coast guy. I’m not, and I don’t think I seem like one. I don’t think East Coast people think I seem like one either.

25. I’m a city kid. I like cities. Grew up in one, live in one now, feel most comfortable in them. Sometimes my friends say things like, “I’ve got to get out of the city. I need to see some trees.” I don’t feel that way. I like nature and camping and the outdoors and getting dirty and all that. But I don’t crave it. My favorite thing about camping trips isn’t the camping, it’s the overnight part. See No. 8.

26. I don’t like following rules that don’t serve any purpose.

27. I distinctly remember the first time I didn’t do my homework. I was in fifth grade, and it was spelling. I thought, “What would happen if I just didn’t do this?” I knew the spelling words. I never got one wrong. So I didn’t do it. I don’t remember if I got in trouble, but I was never the same as a student. Still a pretty good speller, though.

28. Also in fifth grade, I got chosen to sing in a district-wide choir at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which is where they used to have the Academy Awards some years. I didn’t want to do it. It seemed like kind of a girly thing to me, and the practice sessions happened when the rest of the kids were getting to have P.E. in the yard. To this day I’ll take sockball or kickball over singing. Not volleyball, though. Anyway, my parents and my teacher all attempted to change my mind by telling me that even though I didn’t appreciate the experience now, someday I would, and I’d be happy I did it. I was never convinced, but I also didn’t have a choice, so I sang with the choir. My parents used the same argument three years later when I didn’t want to have a Bar Mitzvah, which I also don’t remember ultimately having a choice about. It wasn’t true. I never did come to appreciate these things in the way the adults said I would. I wouldn’t say I’m bitter that I was made to do them, but I would be much more appreciative today if my feelings and opinions had been respected. I’m hoping to remember this lesson as my kids get older.

29. As a kid I used to hate it when grownups would say things like, “What do you have to worry about? You’re a kid. You don’t know from worry.” I’d think: Are you fucking kidding me? When’s the last time you were in serious danger of getting pushed around by someone twice your size? How often are there fistfights right around you? How often are you in them? When’s the last time someone tried to jack you up for your lunch money? Does someone with absolute power over you judge every single bit of work you do every single day, giving it one of five grades, at least two of which, and sometimes three, are totally unacceptable to other people who have absolute power over you? Do you have any control over your life at all? What happens if you’re not home when the streetlights come on, anything? If there’s somewhere you want to go that you can’t walk to, can you get there without relying on other people, who by the way have absolute power over you? Do you have the slightest freakin’ idea what the opposite sex is all about? If you need money can you get some? Do groups of your peers sometimes gang up on you to insult you and tease you just for fun, just because it’s your turn that day? When your workday ends, do you have a bunch of work still left to do, work that’s going to get judged by someone with absolute power over you? Do you ever get grounded? This is another lesson I’ve tried to keep with me. Being a kid is hard. Their worries are real.

30. I’m a slow reader but a fast writer.

31. I can’t surf, skate or do anything that’s anything like surfing or skating.

32. I don’t have any specific regrets that I can think of. I’m just not the type. But in the general sense, I wish I’d been more willing to take more risks more often.

33. I’ve met a lot of famous people, mostly because of my work. But my favorite famous person encounter wasn’t work related. It was during an airport layover. I usually don’t go up to famous people but I just thought James Brown, randomly standing there in the Salt Lake City airport — which, after another layover a decade before, I’d made up a song about that became a mini hit on Bay Area college radio — provided the potential for too good a story to tell for me to pass up. I was right. He was standing by while one of his people worked out some logistical mess. I walked up to him and said, just to have something to say, “Can I shake your hand?” He turned to me and said, and you can go ahead and picture that “Ha! Good god!” voice when you read this: “Can I shake YOUR hand?” And we shook hands. I think that’s a hell of a thing to say to some jerk who’s bothering you in an airport.

34. That same day I met James Brown, I met my wife. That was a damn good day for meeting people.

35. The best time I ever had on the clock was spending three days in Detroit with Ernie Harwell during his last season broadcasting Tigers games. I came away from the experience kind of secretly promising myself that I would try to be a little bit more like Ernie Harwell. More generous, more kind, more optimistic and likable and energetic and professional and down to earth. I have not succeeded at any of this, but I’m still 39 years younger than he was at the time.