With the Putin pandemic raging and the Covid pandemic lessening, two public figures caught my attention in the past 24 hours.
As a journalist, I watched with awe and admiration Thursday evening as Shepard Smith, on live television, reported the ominous news about the nuclear plant in southern Ukraine.
For whatever reason Smith and CNBC were ahead of other TV outlets on my tube. Lately, we have been switching to Smith at 7 PM because it seems more like an old-fashioned hour of evening news.
Shepard is a pro, and he was welcome on Thursday as his station recognized the seriousness of the breaking news about undisciplined and amoral Russian soldiers bombarding the nuclear plant. This has been a worst-case scenario for those of us who can recall the end of World War Two and then word that the Soviet Union also had atomic bombs.
So there was Smith, showing a frozen video of tracer bullets lighting up the night sky, seven time zones away, and flares dropping and smoke rising. Hell on Earth. However, Smith kept his wits and cautioned that this video was already minutes old and much could have changed.
Smith never panicked (that we could tell) and his clearly capable staff backed him up, finding experts who gave best-case and worst-case scenarios. Smith, with his soft southern drawl and experience of working abroad, was clearly reading whatever came across his laptop. and trying to make sense of it.
I have covered coal-mine disasters and city armed standoffs and know how helpless one can feel without solid facts. Yet Smith collated bits and pieces of news and expertise, keeping his wits. I cannot imagine anybody doing better. The network wisely kept him on for a second hour, until they could ascertain that, whatever the Russian thuggery and stupidity – undisciplined boys with heavy weapons – the plant was apparently unharmed. That was good enough, for the moment.
I really don’t know much about Shepard Smith, except that he used to be on Fox, but jumped ship nearly two years ago. His politics? Whatever. They do not get in the way of his news smarts.
Smith reported his way through a fresh crisis. We could breathe, momentarily. I want to send word to an admirable journalist, for excellence in live time. Thanks, man.
* * *
The other person I want to praise is Eric Adams, the new mayor of New York City. I have liked and admired him from afar – his Brooklyn roots, his career with the NYPD, and the way he fought off diabetes and obesity with a professed vegetarian diet. Does he slip in some fish protein once in a while? Who cares?
There are questions about his politics and who supports him, and with how much, but that could be said about most, or all, politicians. As a city kid, I just like him.
On Friday,Adams stood in Times Square and announced that the Covid mandates were mostly gone, given the sharp drop in new cases and deaths in the city. Some of us are not ready to leap into a crowded theater or restaurant, but we don’t have to.
Mayor Adams gave warm praise to Dr. David Chokshi, who stayed on as NY health commissioner in the first months of 2022, to get the city to this point of documented hope. Dr. Chokshi has been a welcome presence on public-service announcements, with his knowledge and gentle smile.
The mayor also praised somebody else – Bill DeBlasio, the previous mayor. Speaking with fervor, the mayor noted that “Bill” had taken a lot of pot-shots from critics, but had made decisions and presided over a terrible time. To paraphrase the new mayor: “It’s not easy. Try it some time. He gave us eight years, and we’re still standing.”
Not every politician, in my home town or anywhere, has the grace to praise a predecessor. I have no way of knowing how the Adams regime will go, but the new mayor showed a heady mix of street smarts and grace. Thank you, sir.
(Mike From NW Queens is a regular reader of this little therapy website, and an occasional commentator. He's been saving it up. The other night, Mike took a health walk and snapped a photo of the moon, and got to thinking, and later he wrote a poem, except he didn't think it was a poem, just the musings of a guy taking a walk. Here it is, unchanged, but arranged in stanzas. Maybe you noticed, this is a New Jersey moon, not a NW Queens moon. They have a different moon in New Jersey. Thanks, Mike. GV.)
Yes, It Is Still There
I took a walk early tonight
Cold? A bit, so what?
As I finished the loop, I noticed
the crystal clear moon in the sky.
Yes, still there.
Still beautiful, our natural satellite
(thank you, Wikipedia)
A site for sore eyes tonight, too.
Sometimes the doldrums set in.
Covid, this or that,
May be more mental than anything.
I know where they are,
but they are dormant, for now.
You heard it, for now.
But the moon caught my eye
and made me grateful,
pushed the cold weather aside,
put the other noise aside for a bit.
Someday, normalcy will be
what normal was.
What’s my point?
Enjoy the moment,
enjoy what is in front of you.
Who you are with.
Your job, a warm house,
a turkey burger on an english muffin!
The little things.......
Not all gifts come wrapped....
being able to choose to take a walk,
headphones, and tonight,
listening to the Rolling Stones’ greatest hits,
tomorrow, free to choose something else.
I am rambling.
Thanks for being my friend.
One day at a time.
--- Mike From NW Queens
Slightly less than two years ago, my wife and I were at one of our favorite restaurants near our home, and she was talking about a virus, emerging overseas.
She was sensitive to infections, having had a dangerous bout with something she picked up years earlier, probably in South Asia.
This is bad, she said. We’re not going out for a while.
Safely ensconced in our TV room a year ago, we watched another virulent invader swarm all over the capitol of the United States.
We were stunned to watch thousands of apparitions materialize with weapons and costumes and banners that proclaimed a war – dare I say a Crusade – against the established order of voting and succession. Democracy.
It was not hard to figure out these creatures meant harm, as they hurled objects at police and smashed doors and windows, and twisted peacekeepers’ faces at close order.
We saw familiar lawmakers huddle below their seats, and scurry to possible sanctuaries below.
We saw the Vice President being rushed downstairs, to avoid a crowd lusting to hang him, or so they proclaimed.
And those of us in front of televisions saw ghouls and zombies like Mark Meadows and Donald Trump, Jr., yucking it up at a rally closer to the White House, and we saw President Bone Spur urge his personal Brown Shirts to take the Capital, to “fight like hell.” He said he'd be right with them, just another lie.
That memory does not go away. My wife is struck by the good teeth of the invaders – paid by corporate America or government (even the military) to prepare these louts for closeups. The costumes and banners and even the shaggy hair styles suggest they are starring in the video of their own life, offspring of the social-media age. Look, I’m a star. They’ve made it onto TV, like the fool with the suit and the office who posed as a business savant for the reality show.
Today, we are still hiding out from the variants at home, watching what is left of the government we knew poke around in the copious evidence of evil.
There is tangible proof that people with access to Trump were beseeching him to call off the beasts, but he would not listen. Whose fault is that? (Somebody we know has pored over the list of businesses that accepted stimulants, well into six figures, and, look here, two are people we know, with theoretically good educations, who are staunch Trumpites – “he’s good for business” -- but not too proud to take a Biden handout for the needy.)
The investigation has uncovered plenty of evidence that shows which Fuhrer the shaggy Brown Shirts were obeying last Jan. 6. Now, the pace and tenor of the government “investigation” reminds me, alas, of vile attorney general William Barr eviscerating poor old Robert Mueller.
The Republicans are killing time with smirks on their faces, empowered by a frightening swath of the country that knows exactly what is going on.
We will watch these sad shenanigans while we are cowering at home, hiding from the latest variation. We know of sons who refused vaccination and endangered their loved ones. We know people who journeyed forth into crowds and proclaimed themselves “safe.” We know people who were extremely careful but somehow tested positive anyway.
We have survived. My wife’s alert has kept us safe, thank God. Our heads are busy, we read and we listen to music and watch good stuff (mostly on PBS) and my wife makes great meals, and we keep in touch with many, many loved ones. We are blessed with security as we try to ride out the double pandemic.
Now we will watch the one-year anniversary of that evil day, when the thugs and the monsters got a pat on the back from their hero, and lumbered forward, to try to take down a democracy, a crusade still very much in process.
Henry Aaron. Tommy Lasorda. Jim (Mudcat) Grant.
Poring over the magnificent two-page spread in the Times, honoring prominent people who passed in 2021, I realized I could write reams about stars I knew from the locker rooms.
I could also recall famous people I met here and there – Colin Powell, streetwise New Yorker ---- Vartan Gregorian, kind Armenian wise man -- and Larry Flynt, seedy champion of pornography, who happened to be a hilarious and incisive interview.
But my heart, at year’s end, is remembering relatives and friends I got to know up close, who have left a personal gap. As Arthur Miller wrote: Attention must be paid.
Aunt Lila. She was my wife’s aunt – helped raise her -- but she also became my aunt, jolly and chubby with a beautiful smile and a generous hug, over the decades, sidling up to me and asking about our children, our work (she had an admirable curiosity), and whether I knew the Lord. Her children and grandchildren cared for her in old age, shuttling her from northeast Connecticut to suburban Long Island, keeping her going, medically and socially. At a reunion last summer at a daughter’s home, Aunt Lila was wan, low on energy, and Marianne sat by her all afternoon, sensing this might be the last time, which it turned out to be. But Aunt Lila’s smiles and hugs and kind acceptance linger on.
Captain Curt. Once a point guard on very good basketball teams at Hofstra, Curt Block became a publicist at NBC and had other memorable gigs. (As a young reporter, he interviewed young Cassius Clay, and had the presence of mind to keep the rudimentary tape, re-discovering it in old age.) When aging baseball and basketball players (and one scribe, me) began to meet periodically at Shaun Clancy’s great place, Foley’s, Curt took the slow train up from Philadelphia and became the greeter, the treasurer, the captain, sitting in the middle, enjoying everybody else’s stories, moving the ball around, as he had against Hofstra’s opponents, back in the day. He quietly alluded to impending heart surgery, and last summer he went to sleep and did not get up. Because of the pandemic, the old boys have not been able to meet since, to uniformly mourn our quiet leader.
Neighbor and Nurse. Ann Schroeder was a nurse in the Bath-Brunswick area of Maine. She got to know my wife’s Uncle Harold (older brother of Aunt Lila) and she became a volunteer guide to his old-age miseries. We got to know her through her detailed emails, explaining Harold’s health problems, what was being done, so we could assure his relatives that he was surrounded by skilled, loving friends in that wonderful area that has become our own sentimental home. After Harold passed, we stayed in touch – via health newsletters Ann sent. She casually alluded to her own breathing issues, and last summer she noted that she was now on hospice, and then the e-mails stopped. In keeping with this understated woman, her service was private.
Mentor to Surly Luddites. Howard Angione was a reporter who somehow wandered into the emerging technology age at The New York Times, in the mid-1970s. With the reserved air of a theologian, he had to introduce temperamental reporters to the bulky Harris terminals now placed around the City Room. Sometimes these terminals would swallow articles whole, provoking profane tantrums from cranky news reporters like, well, like me. Howard’s motto was: “If I can teach Vecsey, I can teach anybody.” Which he could. After his missionary work in the City Room, Howard went to law school and specialized in elder law, until he became an elder himself. The NYT did not note the passing of the tutor who helped modernize the paper, but the Portland (Maine) Press-Herald did.
Zone-Buster Poet. Stephen Dunn was a rather shy jump shooter who could beat down a zone defense. On one road trip, he heard two older Hofstra teammates discussing a novel, and he realized jocks could also be scholars – and later he began to write poetry, ultimately gaining a Pulitzer Prize. His later years were spent fighting Parkinson’s disease, which got so bad that he could not recite his own work. Our friend, once known as “Radar,” was deservedly included in the NYT’s gallery of notables in Friday’s year-end necrology.
My Cousin Artie. From my earliest memories, I admired Art Spencer, my oldest cousin. He was so cool – riding a two-wheeler, driving a car one summer in rural Pennsylvania, with friends who had musty, mysterious barns amid lush corn fields, going to college, going into the military, marrying, starting a family. At family gatherings – some joyous, some sad – I had to practically pry out of him that he and Shirley had a flourishing crafts business, designing house signs – staples at weekend crafts exhibits near Ocala, Fla. The women in his family cared for him lovingly in his final months, and then staged – sign of the times – a Zoom service to honor an understated and artistic life.
Agent and Friend. Philip Spitzer was my agent who negotiated a durable contract with a publisher and the manager of Loretta Lynn – a project in 1974 that turned out to be the book and the movie, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” I can still see Philip -- suave, part French, athletic, sitting on Berney Geis’s rooftop patio in Manhattan, holding his own, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, with two legalistic sharpshooters. We became family friends, his three children, my three children, good memories, even if the guy would never, ever, let me win a tennis set or a basketball game. Even after we did not work together, we stayed in touch, and as his health deteriorated, he passed the Loretta project to his capable oldest child, Anne-Lise Spitzer.
This magnificent seven stands in for all the people in my life who passed in 2021. As far as I know, Covid did not figure in any of their passing – just the inevitable erosion of time, long and good lives, now ended.
Our best wishes to all who read this tribute.
As one often hears in corners of New York: Be Well.
On my daily walk, I pass the end of the line, where trains are idling more than they should be. We live 45 minutes from The City, my hometown.
I hallucinate about getting on the train, masked, at social distance, passing familiar sights I have not seen in 13 months – the high overpass between Manhasset and Great Neck, the tidal inlet between Douglaston and Bayside, the crowds in Flushing Chinatown, the skyline up ahead, the new high rises in Long Island City, the tunnel under the river, and then we arrive in the insulting dump known as Penn Station.
In my daydream, I get off at the front, rush up the stairs to Moynihan Train Hall, which opened this January, the instant landmark that has risen in the poisonous air of fear.
* * *
With one shot in my arm, and another on the way, I dare to dream again.
In the name of sanity, I have repressed memories of things we used to do, back when.
Our widespread family is mostly okay. My wife and I are blessed in many ways, including family and friends and the means to pursue projects and interests at home during this pandemic. This is hardly a lament. She got wise to the pandemic right away and we agreed: Don’t take chances.
But now the urges and the memories come flooding back.
I’ll admit it, I am stir-crazy. My daydreams multiply.
--- My wife and I have been hard-liners, repressing the urges to hug our kids, our grandkids, in a year of elbow bumps, quickie chats in driveways, emails and phone calls, a few furtive visits across a deck or a large living room, the door cracked open for ventilation, even in mid-winter.
We have been united mostly by a chain of eight text-message addresses, known as Family Bigs – snarky politics, music links, family gossip, sports updates. But in my daydream, there is the chance to settle in, tell stories, laugh behind a mask –at long last, hug.
-- I am a realist. I know these daydreams could be destroyed by another surge, brought about by simpleton governors like the guy in Texas who does not seem to comprehend what the scientists are saying. These politicians and their followers want to “open up” the businesses, even at the risk of lives. I understand the urge for normalcy, after the vicious ineptitude of the previous president. Now we are close to being able to imagine the past. We can dare to dream. But don’t screw it up.
-- In this daydream, we are upstate, visiting one daughter’s home in the woods, and I take a walk up the hill, and look out over a long Adirondack ridge. I cannot hear a human sound. Hawks glide below. Way over on the other side, a car pulls up to a house in the woods, but at this distance I cannot tell if it is a modest cabin or a luxury hideaway. I have missed open space; all is mystery, all is serene.
--- In another daydream, we slip into a booth at one of our local favorites, let’s say Gino’s, and order pasta for my wife, Gaby’s salad (fresh farm vegetables) for me, those great chewy rolls, and then one slice of Cheesecake a la Nonna with coffee. Or maybe we are in Diwan down by the bay (Bobby C's amazing roasted cauliflower!) or DiMaggio’s on Port Blvd, or Little Dumpling in Little Neck. My wife has cooked so well over the past 13 months; for reasons of safety, we cannot see ourselves going out for a meal anytime soon.
--- Waiting for the second dose of vaccine (I hear tales of chills and aches), in my mind I start making overdue appointments -- a recall on our car, the dentist, the dermatologist, the optician, maybe even the barber. Then there's the furnace/AC spring tuneup plus a capable carpenter who can fix everything that is falling apart. And what about the telephone company that is threatening to install an “upgrade” on our service. (Or is it really time to ditch our landline?)
--- In this daydream, I am walking around The City, any neighborhood will do. I bet I am pulled to the Met Museum, for a pilgrimage to the Goyas. I also miss my friends from high school, from college, from work. Zoom and e-mail and phone calls have served their purpose but maybe soon, in early spring, I meet one good friend or another on an outside bench, for a coffee, just to encounter a familiar voice, familiar eyes, over a mask.
--- We drive to visit our other daughter in Deepest Pennsylvania -- the ridge of Blue Mountain, on our right, accompanying us for more than an hour. Barns and hexes and old farmhouses alongside I-78. Then a meal on the patio, laughter, gossip, work updates, maybe the grown grandson and granddaughter materializing. Real life.
--- Sometime in the near future, we sit in a den with our son and his wife, rooting for deGrom and McNeil, enjoying the banter of Gary and Keith and Ron, in their cloisters up in the booth. Real life.
----These are just the starters. I daydream about new National Theatre presentations in the revived Kew Gardens Cinema; I daydream about a run up to our late-in-life discovery -- Maine; I daydream about seeing my siblings. Real life.
What do you miss?
How do you imagine it coming back, in some form, maybe soon?
Please feel free to share, in the Comments section, the things you imagine when you close your eyes.
What would Saturday night be like without the great Kate McKinnon? This time, she was Dr. Fauci, demonstrating the national/worldwide roll-em aspect of getting a vaccination. However, to our surprise, in recent days, my wife and I got lucky. This is our updated story:
Until a few days ago, my wife and I were preoccupied with trying to stay alive, with no coherent program from national or local governments.
Every morning, millions of Americans play the game of going online and pretending we have a chance for a Covid shot.
It kills the time, what with the wintry weather.
I know things would be better organized if the cretini who were in charge of the country for four years had any ability to organize, or even read the playbooks left them by the Obama regime. But grifters operate outside rules, outside structure.
Then our luck changed. I got an email -- a "random call" -- from the health powerhouse in our area, saying I was qualified for a shot. Bingo. On Tuesday I got my first jab. But my wife could not find anything even though she has had more contact with that regional mega-chain in recent years.
Then on Friday afternoon, our dear friend Marie called and told us of a program run by the great heart hospital, St. Francis, at a public park only 20 minutes from our house, and after a few clicks with the phone my wife had an appointment for Sunday-- earlier today, as I type this.
Until our double strokes of luck, I would go on line every day and play tic-tac-toe with the local hospital chain and the drugstore chains, and eventually all efforts are funneled into the “system” of Gov. Cuomo. Once in a while, the site says there just might be appointments within the state, like Potsdam or Plattsburgh. (In other words, Canada South.)
What makes it worse is that the New York Times issues a daily advisory that the county where I live has a high infection rate. Gee, do you think it has anything to do with superspreader parties that self-indulgent suburbanites tossed during the holidays?
So we wear double masks and I make quickie runs to the grocery store – people are uniformly masked and polite at the Target Market I frequent. My wife and I get furtive glimpses of our loved ones. You know the drill.
Meanwhile friends my age in the city tell me tales of getting shots at their hospital or the Javits Center. One pal was visiting a medical building and the elevator stopped at a different floor and he saw a sign: “Covid Vaccinations Available.” He doubled back and the lady with the clipboard said they did indeed have vaccine. (It was 3:15 PM.) “How would 3:20 be?” she asked. He said, he thought he could make it.
He tells me that every time we talk, the smartass.
On Thursday, President Biden noted the country had given 50-millon inoculations in his first 37 days, but that progress does not help those with no way to register as seniors, entitled to the drug.
I credit the governor and the mayor -- the odd couple -- for the state’s placement of vaccination centers only for residents of urban centers, including Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn (right where Ebbets Field used to be) and York College in South Jamaica, Queens (where Mario Cuomo’s dad ran a grocery store.) This is called doing the right thing.
* * *
Now I have my own strange little tale of how we lucked into our shots:
Last Sunday, around 4:45 PM, the following message popped onto my phone:
We’re happy to let you know that we have recently received a small quantity of COVID-19 vaccines for eligible Northwell patients. You are currently eligible to be vaccinated, according to New York State guidance.
To book your COVID-19 vaccine appointment, call….
Next morning at 8 AM, I got right through and signed up for a shot. Amazing. Then I inquired for a shot for my wife, saying that nearly two months ago we both filled out forms for appointments with New York State; we have the printouts, with our serial numbers and all.
“It is strictly a random call,” the lady said.
Could my wife get a random call? “She might get one at any time.”
Last Tuesday, I went to a large, clean, brightly-lit room in the Northwell complex in New Hyde Park, where a couple of dozen workers were wielding needles or pens. In 20 minutes, I was out the door.
I felt a surge--not of medication but of love and respect, first for the scientists who jumped into battle while the previous “president” was lying to his country.
I was thankful for all the medical workers who have saved lives and comforted family members; those workers deserved first crack at the vaccination.
The first nurse to get inoculated was an administrator, Sandra Lindsay, who lives in the same town we do.
My left arm ached a bit for a day, but according to the experts, one shot of Pfizer means even if you pick up a stray bit of Covid, you will not go to the hospital, you will not die, particularly if you wear double masks and minimize contacts.
My wife got her shot of Moderna on Sunday; you take whatever they are giving. We are sad for the people without computer skills, without friends who know somebody.
The whole thing sounds like the eminent scientist – Dr. Wenowdis -- on “Saturday Night Live,” last week, played by the brilliant Kate McKinnon, who summed up national vaccination procedure: “Dis we don’t know.”
Don't we all have things we miss in this pandemic -- beyond family and friends?
I miss my home town twinkling on the western skyline.
I wrote about this a few months ago.
On Sunday I did something about it.
With the plague at full blast, I had to deliver something to the NYT plant in the College Point section of North Queens.
It was a cold day, very little traffic. Ideal driving conditions.
My muscle memory told me how to handle the turns and merges and quick decisions of parkway driving in the city,
With every mile, my exhilaration grew.
First stop was the NYT plant; since my retirement in 2011, I have become friendly with the people there.
On a quiet Sunday morning, I dropped off the item and kept going.
The museum had large banners facing the Grand Central Parkway. I remembered one winter in junior high school, when I went ice skating in this building with some classmates. Now it is a vibrant community asset; I thought of my friend who helps run it, and the Panorama of New York City, where we have "bought" our family home in Holliswood.
I drove around to the front of the awesome building on the glacial hill. My mom was in the first wave of students in the new building -- in 1927. She loved the school as much as I do; it was our major bond, She passed in the very nice Chapin Home, a few blocks away, in 2002. The city, in its dunderhead way, terminated Jamaica High a few years ago -- a DiBlasio failure -- but there are several smaller schools tucked away in the building that will last forever.
I drove along Henley Rd., near the house where the worst president in American history used to live, soiling the image of Queens. There was no time for a drive past our old house, where my mom moved nearly 100 years ago; I had to pick up my order of Shanghai dumpling soup in Little Neck.
My Sunday morning excursion temporarily dispersed the miasma of the murderous pandemic.
I'll keep in touch with the many dozens of my Jamaica contemporaries; we are very tight.
Maybe some quiet Sunday morning soon, I will drive into The City (Manhattan, that is) -- just to see it.
The main thing is that thousands of people are dying per day because of the Orange Fool and his little helpers in Congress. (Somebody on MSNBC called them "eunuchs" on Saturday. Sounds about right.)
Americans are dying at a growing rate because he has convinced a horrifying chunk of the nation they can breathe on each other at close range.
Nurses are getting sick, getting demoralized. This is the tragedy. We know that.
The personal side of Covid-19 is the carnage in a region I know well, North Queens, one of the worst-hit neighborhoods in the country. The human side has been caught by the NYT in a special section in the Sunday paper, written by the great Dan Barry. You won't hurt my feelings if you abandon this blog and go read about the very American swath of Queens, the losses of humans who are now real to us.,
Meanwhile, the Orange Fool is trying to break the nation in his final weeks, protesting the election, which he lost soundly. To cover for himself while he pillages, he sends out Rudy the Clown, performing Opera Buffa in the courts of America. We know that, too.
Nothing’s working, and now I am beginning to realize that even the Web-driven delivery system. designed to keep consumers safe from germy stores, is starting to sputter and falter.
For once in my journalistic life,, I just sniffed a trend. After encountering delays on most things I tried to do online, I just read another story in the NYT's Sunday paper: the backup of many items ordered online for delivery. The system is on overload. Plus, it's the holiday shopping season. None of this, I hasten to add, is as bad as Covid-19.
NB: The following is the bleat from the comfortable class, which wants to shop and do business by computer, by phone, by courier.
That "system" breaking down, too.
Most online and telephone ventures are met with a long pause. Banks. Stores. Utilities. Services. People are working from home. Good luck to you. I got this message the other day:
"Due to COVID-19, our carriers are experiencing delays in shipping packages. Thank you for your patience. Please check online for the status of your order."
That message pops up regularly, online or on recorded announcements, from the new masters of the Internet. Even Amazon is having trouble with Covid in the warehouses, and when the workers complain, Amazon seems to be putting the legal squeeze on them, in classic management heavy-handedness:
Here are three personal examples of services wearing down. Bear in mind, this is the whine of somebody (me) who would pay somebody else to do his shopping, to deliver his goods:
*-- Our regional cable company used to have techies available on the phone, some of them quite knowledgeable, in their weary sarcastic Long Island accents, talking Luddites into re-setting their TV sets. Now the company depends on a Chat system with people apparently in call centers working from a script. One of our sets went rogue the other day. and the voice at the other end told me to perform the normal reboot functions. No good. He claimed to run some tests. Nothing. “Your box is broken,” he typed. “I will send you a new box.” In a few weeks. Okay. When he was done, I noticed a little white card in a slot in the box. I pulled it out and inserted it again. The TV set immediately went on. How do I notify the unreachable cable company? Let’s see if they send the box.
*-- Another hurdler for the well-off: We selected nearly 60 grocery items from our favorite big-box emporium but the "system" shuddered to a halt when the store tried to hand off the order to a delivery service. I asked for help online and got a personable bloke at a call center -- in Durban, South Africa. I love Durban! Spent my best three days of the 2010 World Cup alongside the Indian Ocean, smell of curry in the homey little hotel. Great memories. Alas, the agent couldn’t help me, and my food order got blown out during the transfer. I typed it all over again, somehow got the order from a very capable delivery guy. The process? Maddening. But of course we ate well. As I say, indulge me.
*-- We ordered a few basic items from a very good office-supply chain. It was supposed to take two days, but got stuck in a warehouse somewhere. A very helpful agent named Pamela convinced me to wait for the delivery, which arrived Saturday morning, four full days after ordering. But as the saying goes, nobody died.
You know what's efficient? I'll tell you what's efficient: The federal government. Medicare. The very thing our Vandal-in-Chief is trying to break. I went online Friday to finalize the drug programs for my wife and myself in 2021. The process took less than 15 minutes for the two of us. Every step was simple. The same thing is true about ventures into Social Security – real people or website -- smart, knowledgeable, polite, able to solve the problem. Just what we need to tear down, according to angry maskless Trumpites.
Meanwhile, if we listen carefully, there is the crunch of things being broken, on purpose, Trump still trying to harm immigrants while stuffing goodies into his gunnysack. Evidence of pardons for money, pardons for his sweet little kiddies. People are being told not to believe the obvious election results.
After this guy vacates the White House, please, somebody, check the silverware.
This is how bad it got bad at the Mets’ home opener on Friday:
When Edwin Diaz walked into the game, the cardboard mockups of real fans began to head for the exits. I swear.
Edwin Diaz! Aaagh! Not him again!
Cardboard people began checking with the baby-sitter on their phones, began edging toward the rest rooms, began filing out toward the parking lots and the No. 7 elevated train – to get the hell out of there before Diaz torched the place, again.
Eight innings into the first game of this bizarre season -- a season I am not sure should exist, given the pandemic -- I experienced the mini-terror of the fan – with no ticking clock, with three massive last outs to achieve.
This is the same Edwin Diaz who was acquired by the Mets last year and had one of the worst years ever for a so-called relief pitcher. Fans groaned when they saw him flexing in the bullpen.
On Friday, as rigid and lifeless as the fans appeared, they knew a terrifying situation when they saw it.
It was a classic Mets’ game of recent seasons, Before Covid. Jacob deGrom pitched five crisp innings, looking like the two-time Cy Young Award winner that he is, reaching his pitch limit, and turning the game over to the bullpen.
All those vividly-colored one-inch-thick fans recognized the script – the paralysis of the Mets’ hitters whenever DeGrom pitches.
This opener had a subplot – the presence of Freddie Freeman for the Braves, after a terrifying siege with Covid months ago, when he admittedly felt he would not live. Later, he recounted his experience to Nick Markakis, a teammate, who promptly decided to sit out this season.
Freeman is back, one of those admirable opponents that even some Mets fans, in all their bilious loyalty, can respect. He monitored first base, and seemed to greet the Mets’ Brandon Nimmo with a tap of his glove after both of Nimmo’s singles.
This camaraderie would not have gone over back in the day, when an opponent would have fallen to the ground and called for the umpire to eject Freeman for menacing with his microbe-laden glove. In these nicer times, it was good to see Freeman’s hawk-like features back on the field.
The Mets got a post-deGrom run when Yoenis Céspedes clubbed a massive home run, and Diaz induced terror in Mets fans by striding onto the field, but somehow he procured three outs, around a walk (to Freeman), to secure a 1-0 victory, and the Mets remained undefeated 24 days into July.
This patchwork “season” may or may not last 60 games. But on Opening Day, with thousands of faux fans planted in the seats, a pyromaniac “relief” pitcher terrified the fans, in whatever form.
I know it is hypocritical of me to worry about spreading the virus -- (the Mets abandoned all pretense of safety when they greeted Cespedes in the dugout)-- but baseball, in this strange form, is back.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.