A Giant Tribute to Vin Scully

(August 8, 2022)  Listen to audio here

I was five years old, already a sporty girl with three brothers and a father who’d been a fan of the L.A. Angels of the Pacific Coast League when major league baseball came to the West Coast, in 1958. I have warm memories of evenings spent listening with Dad to Dodger games broadcast out of a four-foot high piece of living room furniture, the family radio. And on that radio was the voice of the best teacher a kid could ever learn from, Vin Scully.

Scully, who died last Tuesday at the age of 94, was a storyteller. He’d invite listeners to “pull up a chair” and join him for a game of baseball, where he might describe catchers as “wig-wagging” signs out to their pitchers. The game didn’t have to be exciting for it to be entertaining. But when something momentous did happen and Scully was behind the microphone, his call and personal reaction to history were often just as noteworthy: Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series; Hank Aaron’s home run in 1974 to surpass Babe Ruth’s record; Bill Buckner’s error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series; and a call I listened to on the transistor radio under my pillow in 1965, Sandy Koufax’s fourth no-hitter, a perfect game. The transcript of Scully’s call of the 9th inning reads like a perfect first draft, and ended with a signature Vin move: stepping back so the radio audience could hear the cheers from the crowd. He had the timing of a great performer. The broadcast booth was his stage.

I was reminded by the many tributes to Vin Scully that he also worked in television, and sports other than baseball. But to me he was a radio guy—broadcasting for the ear, not the eye. He dignified the sport of baseball for 67 summers as a Dodgers announcer. He’s probably the reason I prefer listening now to my San Francisco Giants broadcasters on the radio—in the kitchen, under my pillow, or at the ballpark.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

Daylight Time vs. Standard Time: Dueling Perspectives

(March 24, 2022) Audio on KQED 

[dd] Hey Cyndi, did you hear that the Senate passed legislation to make Daylight Saving Time permanent?

[CC-L] Yes! I’m all for it. Finally no more fumbling the day of the change. More light!

[dd] Well, we’re definitely seeing more light in the evenings now …

[CC-L] And as our mutual friend Mark says, he can now ride his bike after a day of teaching. His wife’s long commute home after work is safer.

[dd] But winter morning commutes could be in the dark—when people are waking up. If we have Daylight Time in January, it’s nearly 8:30 AM in San Francisco at sunrise. We shouldn’t ask kids to ride their bikes to school when it’s pitch-black.

[CC-L] You have a good point that it’ll be darker on winter mornings, but I still think we’ll have more daylight when people need it. If we stay on Standard Time, the sun sets in January a bit after 5 here. So it would be hard for folks like Mark to bike after work.

[dd] I work from home now, but I still need light to wake up. We tried the “ditch Standard Time” experiment in the 70’s. It was so unpopular, it didn’t last a year!

[CC-L] What bothers me is having to change clocks twice a year. The clock in my car is never right and it’s hard on the whole family when we change. It’s dangerous.

[dd]  It is! The American Academy of Sleep Medicine agrees that the U.S. should eliminate seasonal time changes. But they say to adopt year-round Standard Time. It’s more in sync with humans’ circadian rhythms.

[CC-L] I’m actually okay with permanent Standard Time. Just stick with something! It will make it easier for the rest of the world, too. We confuse our friends in other countries, and meetings have to be adjusted when the U.S. changes time twice a year.

[dd] I hadn’t thought of that. I’d be fine with year-round Standard Time. I hope the House will analyze carefully this so-called “Sunshine Protection Act.”

[CC-L] Maybe Congress will compromise, as you and I have, and settle on Standard Time.

[dd] I hope so too! And I loved our debate. I found it refreshing, especially in this increasingly polarized world. With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

[CC-L] And I’m Cyndi Chin-Lee.

Debbie Duncan and Cyndi Chin-Lee are longtime members of a Palo Alto children’s books writers group.

Talking to Strangers

(October 28, 2021) Listen to audio here

One toasty morning a few months ago I went to the market looking for ingredients to whip up one of my favorite hot-weather dishes: a feta, mint, and olive oil spread for gluten-free toast. I found feta, but where was the mint? I wondered aloud to my husband. “I know,” replied a woman nearby. “What are you making?” I was delighted to tell her about this simple spread we had learned about from Gus, the owner of a Greek restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village, and share with her Gus’s non-recipe recipe.

I left the market happy and with my mint, realizing right away how much I had missed talking with strangers in a year-plus of living through a pandemic. I hadn’t even tried since early on, when a woman in a different market shouted “Get six feet away from me!” as I came around the corner of an aisle. I got it. In those dark pre-mask, pre-vaccine days, I was a stranger who could be carrying a deadly virus.

But now most shoppers in the Bay Area have been vaccinated, and masks are the social norm. Conversations have resumed in lines at farmers markets. When I walk my dog in the neighborhood, I no longer have to do the COVID shuffle to keep a safe physical distance from others in our path. I can stop to let strangers pet her. That makes everyone happy.

Social science research confirms that talking to strangers enhances mood, and makes us more empathetic. People often underestimate how rewarding talking to a stranger can be. Yes, it may push us out of our comfort zone, but that’s a good thing for our mental health and well-being. And as I can see from those who ask how old my puppy-like mini Aussie is, it’s also good for the people we talk with.

One-time strangers may even become friends. I met my pal Firoozeh at the San Jose airport at 6:00 one morning nearly 20 years ago, when my mom and I were sent to the wrong gate. What a fortunate turn!

So go ahead: reach out and talk to a stranger today. I think you’ll be glad you did.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

Three Good Things

(June 19, 2021) Listen to the audio version

When the pandemic hit, lockdown began, and I found myself at home every evening, I decided to be more faithful about writing in a journal. Unlike the diaries I’ve kept off and on since third grade, however, I gave my pandemic jottings a focus, one I learned from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. It’s called the Three Good Things practice: simply write about three things that went well that day. It could be as simple as enjoying the first cantaloupe of the season, or as memorable as receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. What I soon learned was that the practice makes me look for good things as my day progresses, and thus improves my happiness. It also helped me deal with those nights in the past year when I worried about my adult daughters—working on the front lines or out protesting racial injustice, or simply unable to come back inside the family home. We all missed hugs.

Now that everyone in my orbit has been fully vaccinated and California is opening up again, I wondered if I could try the Three Good Things exercise on 15 months of restrictions. With the obvious caveat that I wish COVID-19 had never been inflicted on the planet, are there certain aspects of lockdown life I’d like to see continued?

Well, yes. I hope senior shopping hours join early bird dining in our culture. What a privilege for us oldsters! I’ve gotten to know a few of the workers I see in the 7 AM hour every week. We’ve been through a lot together. Those stores are keeping my business.

I’m also now committed to wearing a mask when shopping indoors or while outside in a crowd. I like not getting colds or the flu. It took months, but I finally have a defogging method for my glasses, and masks that fit and keep me and those around me healthy.

Years ago a friend and former co-worker always asked, “What’s the purpose of this meeting?” Now after months of meeting only online, I know I’ll consider whether a gathering or project must be in person. KQED even makes it possible to record Perspectives from my dining room table. You can’t beat the commute!

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

Update Your Priors!

(May 12, 2021) Listen to the audio version

About a year ago I read an article about a term used by epidemiologists and statisticians: “Update your priors.” As I understand it, update your priors means changing your beliefs based on observed evidence. Since then I’ve watched as the pandemic became a series of updated priors.

Take masks. They were in short supply when COVID hit, so we were advised not to use them unless we were medical professionals or felt sick. I donated a box of N95’s to my local hospital that I’d bought during wildfire season. Pretty quickly, though, evidence piled up showing that wearing a mask is one of the most effective means of reducing coronavirus transmission, especially indoors. Mandates followed. Yet certain Americans stuck with the no-mask advice even during those painful months and waves of deadly infections, and blamed officials for changing guidelines. Now the CDC has decreed that those who are fully vaccinated are free to ditch the mask outdoors … in most situations. Update your priors!

Last May I was afraid to touch the handle on my mailbox and constantly washed my hands. I also took my shoes off after grocery shopping, and felt guilty about not wiping down those groceries. Then scientists concluded that the primary mode of COVID transmission is airborne. Ohhh. Another update was called for when it became clear that a person didn’t have to feel sick in order to have COVID or spread it. Asymptomatic transmission? That was novel!

Updating your priors requires flexibility, an open mind, and a willingness to revise beliefs as evidence warrants. It argues against making judgments that are immovable. Now when I learn more about an issue or a person that makes me feel as if I should change my mind, I say “Update your priors!”

It’s why I’m allowing my environment to become, well, a bit less sterile now that I’m fully vaccinated. It’s safe to be social! And because the outside world has lots of good bacteria that strengthen the immune system, perhaps that handle on my mailbox isn’t so scary after all.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

Every Shot Tells a Story

(April 8, 2021) Listen to the audio version

Hear that? It’s the sound of floodgates opening for Californians ages 16 and up to sign up for COVID-19 vaccines. Just as I’ve been grateful the past year to live where masks are the social norm, I’m delighted we Bay Area residents are second only to metropolitan Seattle/Tacoma in our eagerness to be vaccinated. Yes, that makes it harder to secure a coveted appointment, but it also means we will achieve herd immunity that much faster and be able to climb out of this pandemic.

I’ve been a sucker for vaccine selfies since December, when I cried at a picture of my RN daughter smiling after getting her first vaccine at the Florida hospital where she cares for COVID patients. I also love vaccination stories, especially those that show perseverance.

Storytelling in the face of obstacles is at least as old as the ancient Stoics, who believed that storytelling can help avoid negative emotions to a setback—a setback such as spending hours refreshing a computer screen or returning to a pharmacy night after night for a potential leftover vaccine dose. To do this like a Stoic, think about the story you will want to tell years from now.

Storytelling is useful for kids, too. My vaccination story involves getting the oral polio vaccine after church at a community clinic at my elementary school. I was eight. I’d already had a polio shot, but the Sabin vaccine was on a sugar cube! The only instruction was not to eat for an hour. Lunch wasn’t for a while, but we did stop at the market on our way home. Mom and Dad gave my brothers and me 10 cents for a treat at the drug store. I bought Pez candies. Then I ate one from the Donald Duck dispenser. It tasted just like the sugar—OH NO I WASN’T SUPPOSED TO EAT I’M GOING TO GET POLIO AND DIE. I was horrified.

I never told my parents, who I realize now probably shouldn’t have tempted us with candy money. I never got polio either, only immunity from it. But I did end up with a good story.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

COVID Vocab

(December 11, 2020) Listen to the audio version

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions, but every December I do like to record what I’m grateful to have at the end of the year that was not part of my life in January—say, a new friend, a product, even a recipe. For many of us, 2020 won’t be associated with positivity, though I sure appreciate my new weighted blanket and wonder why it took me so long to discover the deliciousness of shakshuka, a North African/Middle Eastern dish of peppers, onions and tomatoes.

This December I’m thinking about words, and how many new and repurposed words and expressions have become part of the vernacular because of COVID-19, the disease caused by this novel coronavirus. The Oxford English Dictionary couldn’t come up with a 2020 Word of the Year: there are too many! Merriam-Webster settled on pandemic. That term wasn’t new to me—my great aunt Bea told me about the 1918 flu pandemic when I was a child to explain why she developed Parkinson’s disease. I knew the perils of a pandemic before living through one.

How about masks? In Before Times, facemasks were in operating rooms, dentists’ offices, Asia, and perhaps here during wildfire season. Now I have a stack of masks by the front door and in the car. Mask up! say signs on the back of busses.

Yet masks aren’t enough to keep us safe, as we also need to practice social distancing. I prefer to call it physical distancing. Whatever, stay six feet away from anyone who does not live with you, or who is not in your pandemic pod or bubble. These behaviors, and early stay-at-home orders, were supposed to flatten the curve.

Or not, because Americans have shown to be the worst at following advice of public health experts. Some so-called covidiots attend superspreader events. Smaller, community spread has added to the surge we’re now experiencing and the need for more people to quarantine and kids to continue distance learning. Will we achieve herd immunity through vaccine or illness?

Please let it be by safe and effective vaccines. I hope that next year vaccine is the obvious Word of the Year, as it leads us to good health and better living in 2021 and beyond.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

Going Silver

(October 12, 2020) Listen to the audio version

“Whoa!” my hair stylist said when he looked at my reflection in the mirror of his salon. It was the first of what turned out to be only two days in July he was allowed to operate his business. There I was, masked, hair wet from shampooing at home, more than three months after my last cut-and-color. My hair was shaggy and … no longer all brown. “You sure you want to do this?”

“Yep. Just a haircut, please.” I’d been talking with him for at least a year about how to make a graceful transition to the natural hair color of a woman in her 60’s. Though I liked the brown with summer blond highlights I’d had all my life, I also knew I didn’t want to continue that look into my 70’s and 80’s. Female politicians may feel they have to. I sure don’t. I’m afraid brown hair wouldn’t match my face in the coming decades. Why not see what happens? I can always dye it again.

The pandemic offered the perfect excuse. I couldn’t get into the salon. I also wasn’t attending any events to which I’d rather not show up sporting a skunk stripe on the top of my head. My adult daughters and husband agreed I should go for it. Yet I did appear on Zoom a couple of times a week, and I’m not someone who’s always comfortable with change. My stylist offered to whip up color I could grab, go home and apply myself. Friends and neighbors did that, or bought color kits online or at the drugstore, with varying degrees of success.

Nevertheless, I’ve held out. And I’m not alone. Turns out going silver/white/salt and pepper, or embracing natural hair in general is a pandemic trend. Though I’ve stepped away from social media, I’ve heard there’s a Facebook group for those like me. It’s been kinda fun these months to watch what color grows in. I’d hoped for my cousin’s white, but I think I’ll end up with my brothers’ silver. I never did get that skunk stripe. One more haircut and the brown will be history.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

 

Moon Landing in Paris

(July 15, 2019)

I was a depressed, privileged 16-year-old California girl exiled to Connecticut because of my father’s job when I convinced my parents to send me to Europe in the summer of 1969 with a student group from my old hometown. For $800—including round trip airfare from L.A.—I toured and studied for six weeks in five countries with 180 high schoolers. We took classes in the morning and sang Beatles ballads in busses while traversing the continent.

I read American news magazines on those trips, devouring articles about the planned landing and moon walk for Apollo 11 astronauts. I’d been obsessed with space as a kid. Growing up, my favorite books were Rusty’s Space Ship and The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. My father had helped design the guidance system for Ranger, a spacecraft that took pictures of the moon. I told kids in the back of the bus on our ride from Amsterdam to Paris that I wanted to be an astronaut.

That’s when I figured out that the first moon walk would take place during our second to last night in Paris, broadcast on TV worldwide. Our bare-bones accommodations were modest, to say the least. No TVs. I asked the director of our tour, who’d been the principal of my elementary school, about finding a nearby television. “Nope.”

“Even with a teacher?”

“No one will leave the premises.”

That’s what he thought. I did what any other headstrong, formerly rule-abiding teenager would do: I snuck out with a bunch of like-minded students determined to witness history. I’d located an appliance store in the neighborhood with a bank of TVs facing the window that were always on. And indeed they were on in glorious black and white when we stood on the sidewalk at about five a.m., watching with a group of Parisians while Neil Armstrong stepped out onto Earth’s moon. It. Was. Awesome. My instinct was to look up in the sky, to try to find Apollo.

Dawn was breaking as we walked quietly back to our beds. I had to wait until the busses got to Austria a few days later to find a magazine and read what Armstrong had said about “one small step for man.”

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

Me and the DMV

(May 6, 2019) Hear the audio version

Is your driver license expiring this year? Or are you eager to make your license a Real ID, which Homeland Security is requiring by October 2020 for air travel without a passport? Well, fellow Californian, listen up and get in line. Because in order to be issued a Real ID, you have to show up at the DMV in person. Be prepared to wait.

I began at dmv.ca.gov more than three months before my license was set to expire at the end of April. I was offered an appointment early in the month at a near(ish) DMV, so I grabbed it. I was feeling rather smug to have a Saturday slot, as rumor had it that’s the best day of the week to show up, appointment or not. Unfortunately, I neglected to take care of the second step, an electronic application—filling out details such as my hair color, eye color, height, weight, fun stuff like that which goes on the license. So when I arrived at the DMV and made it to the front of the appointment line, I had to admit to the greeter I did not have a confirmation number. Oops. Forty-five minutes later her coworker sent me to wait for a terminal to complete my application. This I could have done from home.

I was more successful assembling the paperwork needed for a Real ID: proper birth identification; Social Security card (or W-2); and TWO proofs of residency. I also brought my checkbook, as I knew the DMV does not accept credit cards. This was news to the young woman I bonded with in line. I wrote a check for her Real ID as well so she wouldn’t have to return. I got back in the terminal queue to pass an online driver test, required because I’d had several renewals by mail.

More Californians interact with the DMV than with any other state office. The “reinvention” Governor Newsom promised should include upgrading technology. Accepting modern forms of payment. Hiring more staff and giving them a raise. How about re-opening some offices? And please, hire a permanent director who will make the DMV the efficient service we Californians deserve.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.