A Tip of the Yarmulke to Lou Gehrig

In the entire time I covered the Sonoma City Council, I only took the podium thrice: once to ask for clarification, once to offer my then-employer‘s help with disseminating something of civic importance, and once when the mayor declared 1/17/01 as “Neal Ross Day” when I first left the Index-Tribune. (Geeez.) Tonight will be the fourth:

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Mr. Mayor, members of the City Council and of the public, thank you. I’m Neal Ross Attinson, 21 France St. #1, perpetual part-time rabbinical student and former full-time reporter.

It’s a busy night, so I won’t take up too much time, and anyway I?m more comfortable sitting over there writing than standing up here talking. But I was told that a few people wanted to know where I’ve been for the past few months, and since most of those people are integral to the city in some way it seemed appropriate to address you tonight.

Many of you know I was covering the city and public-safety beats for the Sonoma Valley Sun until incapacitating abdominal pain took me off the job in December. Without going into details (which are available at my blog, metaphorager.net — for the record, m-e-t-a-p-h-o-r-a-g-e-r), suffice to say that after five months, 40 pounds, two surgeries and six hospitalizations there’s no relief and no clear diagnosis yet. But we haven’t given up.

Last Wednesday, my pharmacist informed me that my health insurance had been canceled, and two days later I learned that I was no longer employed by the Sonoma Valley Sun. That being the case, I wanted to thank some people without whom I wouldn’t be here now.

A Yiddish proverb says, “Life is with people.” A reporter has to be (or pretend to be) the dumbest guy in the room in order to learn as much as he can. If he’s not dumb, he soon learns that everyone he meets is his teacher. I was going to read a list of my teachers during the past eleven years … but instead: If I ever wrote anything with any degree of accuracy, compassion or insight — or if, while talking with you, my eyes (or yours) lit up with an “Ahhh…HA!” gleam — I owe you the shiniest of apples. To those people whose tragedy and privacy I invaded in order to tell the public their stories, I offer my apologies, as well as my gratitude for your trust.

Most of all, I thank Ann, my wife and best friend of 20 years, for not giving up — and for not letting me give up. The Talmud says that a man only lives through the merit of his wife; if that’s true, I should live forever.

Thank you, Sonoma Valley, for letting me write about you — and thank you, Mr. Mayor, for letting me speak. Good night.

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I must say that feels very weird to do this. Since a reporter has to know “everyone in town” (as Mark Twain points out to great tragicomic effect near the aft end of Roughing It), it makes sense that people might wonder where he went and why he isn’t coming back. But I don’t usually think in terms of “everyone in town” (rather, the 100 to 200 people who are engaged with it) knowing me. One never knows where the teacher will be next…

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