Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Day 19 of Nat'l Emergency: Mah Nishtanah

“Mah nishtanah halielah hazeh mikol haleilot?”

Why is this night different from all other nights?

As they have for decades if not centuries before each seder, briskets will simmer awaiting the conclusion of the first part of the Passover story related in the haggadah. Matzo balls will swim in chicken soup. Horseradish will sit next to slices of gefilte fish. Wine cups await to be filled four times over.

The sweet voice of a grandchild singing the “Mah nishtanah”—what is different—should be lilting through my home next Wednesday, April 8, the eve of the first day of Passover. One of the youngest at the table would recite the Four Questions that distinguish the evening. It is how Jews have marked the seder for generation after generation, for millennia. But not so this year. 

The Angel of Death has upended tradition. Indiscriminate fear of the novel coronavirus will keep families apart. Our children and their families live in Massachusetts and Nebraska. Coming home for the holiday does not qualify as essential travel during a pandemic. Better to seder-in-place than risk contamination on the trip to Westchester from their homes.

Envy is a vice frowned upon by God. But I do envy my friends with year-round access to children and grandchildren who live nearby. Hugs and kisses are not meant to be limited to holiday visits and family vacations. Their absence at the seder table is all the more painful when catastrophic events prevent physical togetherness.

We will Zoom the Four Questions and the rest of our seder liturgy. It is better than nothing. We will see and hear them but won’t be able to touch our legacies. We will miss their frantic search for the hidden pieces of matzo, the afikoman, required to be eaten to conclude the seder banquet, and the squeal of joy when it is discovered. Perhaps we will have each family hide an afikoman in their own homes. Again, better than nothing.

Jews can find humor in almost everything, even life threatening, tradition-busting situations. Coronavirus is no exception. Making the rounds on the Internet—“Biblical Irony: Passover Seder may be delayed by a plague.” Of course, comedy is no match for reality. “Thousands of locusts swarm over Israel, Egypt — just in time for Passover,” headlined The Daily News on March 6. 

Growing up in Brooklyn my parents’ seder attracted 25-40 celebrants depending on how many guests they invited to augment the 18 in our immediate family of aunts, uncles and cousins. Led by my father and his brother, the seder was a raucous affair. Reading from the Maxwell House haggadah, the brothers would drone on in an Eastern European trope that befuddled my brother, sister and me and anyone else who tried to follow along in Hebrew (no English to be heard except for the chattering among my mother and her three sisters which prompted my father’s repeated unsuccessful appeals for them to be quiet). 

The seder back in the 1950s and 1960s was a time of family ingathering. Everyone lived in the New York Metro. By the time my wife and I took over seder chores some 30 years ago, family togetherness had dissolved. My sister had moved to Los Angeles. Her family stays there for Passover. My brother’s family in Maryland kept coming north until about 10 years ago. 

Our seder ritual has become more universal. Over the years, aside from incorporating English, themes covering the emancipation of Russian and Ethiopian Jews as well as the treatment of refugees from all zones of conflict have become integral parts of the haggadah we have fashioned. 

In an ironic way, conducting a virtual seder via Zoom reinforces a central theme of the seder to be kind to the stranger among us. It took Zoom founder Eric Yuan nine attempts to earn a visa to emigrate from China 23 years ago. He spoke little English. He might not qualify for a visa under the current, more restrictive, admission standards. Today, Yuan is a successful technology entrepreneur worth an estimated $3 billion.

As we peer into the Zoom-enabled camera of our computers, tablets or smart phones we must remind ourselves that the Torah admonishes us no fewer than 36 times to treat the stranger fairly because we, our ancestors, were strangers in Egypt. Not slaves. Strangers.

Passover teaches us how ephemeral the status of our existence might be. Originally invited by Pharaoh to live as guests in Goshen in Egypt, the Israelites were considered dangerous aliens by a successor. Though God smote the ensuing Pharaoh and his subjects for enslaving the Israelites, he commanded the former slaves to welcome the stranger, to treat him “as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. “  

It is a lesson to be imparted from generation to generation, in person and, this year, virtually. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Day 17 of Nat’l Emergency: Dispelling Wild Musings on Cuomo, de Blasio, Mt. Sinai, China

The coronavirus is not only spreading fear, illness and death throughout the land but it also is fostering some wild musings. 

Take, for example, the idea that with his daily press briefings New York governor Andrew Cuomo has become the darling of Democratic hopes and should supplant Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders as the presumptive party nominee for president. To take the whimsy to an even higher level, it is being suggested that Cuomo try to unite the country through a fusion ticket by selecting Nikki Haley, Trump’s former United Nations ambassador and former Republican governor of South Carolina, as his running mate.

There is no denying Cuomo has become a media star for those seeking straightforward talk about the pandemic. He can be funny, empathetic, angry, resolved, informed, attuned to science ... all that and more compared to science-denier-Trump. Cuomo reminds us of New York mayor Rudy Giuliani after 9/11. 

Trouble is, Cuomo also has lots of negatives too numerous to list here. Foremost is his belief that only he knows best and, like Trump, he is willing to pick fights with those he disagrees with. All politicians fight, but Cuomo, like Trump, is another in-your-face type of guy and we already have seen enough of that type of leadership. Plus, we’ve also seen how Giuliani worked out. 

As for Haley being part of a fusion ticket, this is not Israel or any other parliamentary government where a no confidence vote can force an election. Haley might be liked for standing up to foreign governments and the Palestinians but she is as right wing as they come when considering domestic issues. She would not be a logical choice for any Democrat as a vice president fusion nominee. 

John McCain might have won the presidency had he chosen Joe Lieberman instead of Sarah Palin as his running mate. The former Democratic senator from Connecticut was less liberal than most Democrats. As much as Republicans and Conservatives would have been angry at his selection they would still have voted for McCain over Obama while independents put off by Palin’s lack of experience and intellect would have been okay with Joe.

Right now there is no Republican who is pro choice that the Democratic Party would accept.

So dream away those seeking a national unity ticket. We will wake you up after November so you can see the carnage Trump will inflict on the country whether he wins or especially if he loses.

First Amendment Cries: Social distancing vs. religious rights. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio ran afoul of the religious police by suggesting that churches and synagogues that don’t adhere to the coronavirus lockdown guidelines could face “permanent” closure of their buildings (https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-n-y-c-mayor-synagogues-that-don-t-comply-with-coronavirus-rules-may-be-shut-down-1.8717453).

Temporary, I can understand and agree with. Permanent? Not so fast. Let’s give Mayor Bill the benefit of the doubt, that in the passion of the moment he exaggerated a trifle. He’s not being anti-religion, nor is he giving Islam a pass, as some of his detractors have suggested by his referring only to churches and synagogues and not including mosques. 

All that said, there have been repeated violations of the social distancing rules by too many faith leaders and their adherents. For God’s sake, don’t these people know plagues have no religious affiliation? In that sense plagues, along with other natural disasters, are truly the most ecumenical misfortune.

Where Are They?: Two top officers of Mount Sinai hospital system in New York City are sequestered in Florida while their staff of thousands battle the pandemic in the Big Apple (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8164043/Mount-Sinai-execs-safely-tucked-away-FLORIDA-vacation-homes.html). Does it matter?

For sure it is bad optics, but shelter-in-place does not preclude staying in luxury quarters. Unless they are directly involved in treating patients there is absolutely no need for them to be on site. Anyone who is not directly involved in patient care or in facilities management to keep the hospital clean and open should not be required to be on site. 

I wonder, before the article on their whereabouts appeared, how many Sinai employees had any idea where their “leaders” were riding out the pandemic storm. Let’s hold them accountable for how the hospital is supplied and functions during the crisis, not from where they are issuing their executive orders. 

For perspective on how other company CEOs are working from home, link to https://nyti.ms/3bmVQeS

The Blame Game: When the pandemic is over, and it will end, sometime, we no doubt will collectively turn to placing blame on those responsible for its spread. Many already are agreeing with Trump that COVID-19 should be called the China Virus. You decide what you will call it. 

On a more serious note, there seems little disagreement that the virus began its devastating journey in China and that the Chinese authorities mishandled its spread and the flow of information that would have aided other countries. 

Some voices are calling for some form of censure of China, perhaps from the United Nations or other world bodies, even as China denies its guilt and is embarked on a campaign to help other populations, particularly in Third World nations, combat the epidemic while continuing to finance infrastructure projects in those countries. 

It appears we have learned nothing from history, past and present, that liars who repeatedly and loudly proclaim their lies as truth are able to convince a large segment of the populace that their lies are truth and that truth is fake news. 

I would venture to say that the vast majority of people in downtown Nairobi or Khartoum or Munich or Rio de Janeiro do not pay much attention to the rhetoric of the UN Security Council but do start believing messages that are bombarded to them by media influenced or controlled by despots and would-be despots. 

The U.S. might claim it has one of the most educated populations but the fealty almost half of our people display toward an incessant, unrepentant liar proves my point that Goebbals, the Nazi propaganda chieftain, knew of which he was talking and acting. 

Perhaps our only hope for the future is to mandate the departure of any American company deemed strategic from China. Yes, it goes against laissez-faire capitalism but our national security is at stake if China is our major supplier of technical, electronic and healthcare equipment and supplies. 

Concurrent with that action must be a concerted effort to educate Americans that their strategic safety is more important than saving a few pennies, even dollars, by buying from the Chinese and instead they should pay more for made-in-America goods. Growing American manufacturing capacity will grow the middle class and, guess what, we will return to the America of the 1950s that Trump trumpets his love for. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Day 15 Nat'l Emergency: Time for Humor and ...

Had enough depressing news? I’ll try not to inflict more on you today.

To help you cope, click on this article from the Harvard Business Review. It explains the emotion many of us are feeling is grief and provides ideas how to deal with it: https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief (my thanks to my sister, Lee, a retired psychological social worker and elementary school teacher in Los Angeles).

Deserving of Thanks: A former colleague at Lebhar-Friedman, Barbara Hochberg, posted this appropriate note the other day:

“After COVID-19 is over, I better NEVER hear anyone trash ‘low end’ workers again. Those people at the grocery store, the Dollar General workers, those fast food workers, the Walmart employees, those people you didn’t even think deserved to have a wage to survive on? They’re some of the ones currently carrying the country through this mess, making sure you and your families have food and essentials to survive on, risking their health to help yours. And most won’t even have the money to go to the doctor if they get sick. I better NEVER see someone be unappreciative or dismissive of them again!”


I overheard my wife and one of her friends talking on the phone the other day. Both said they haven’t put makeup on in two weeks or performed other beauty regimens. Safe to say, if younger females are similarly beautified each day of home coronavirus containment we might not experience the population explosion we did after the two New York City blackouts years ago. Worth checking the level of baby deliveries next December and January. 

Read On?: One would think that given forced confinement one would finally have the time and inclination to read The New York Times from cover to cover, so to speak. One would think so, but one would be wrong. 

To begin with, I can’t think of a more depressing activity than reading and reading and reading story after story after story about the pandemic. Especially given the proliferation of media outlets available on the Web, one could spend every waking hour engrossed in despair. Read a few articles, but for the sake of your own sanity, limit what you read and view. Trust me, you will find out about truly important news, good or bad. 

Just Wondering: With all the extended handwashing we are doing these days, will we experience a water shortage in a few months? 

It is no secret that the availability and supply of potable water is considered by some global strategists to be the next trigger point for conflict between nations and states. Georgia and Florida have battled in court on water from a river, while Western states have long been at odds over proper use of the Colorado River. 

For the dog lovers among you, and even for those who love cats or other animals more, feast your eyes on this collage of pictures taken by UPS drivers: https://www.boredpanda.com/ups-drivers-meets-animals-dogs/.

So Sad: It is almost impossible to ignore our “wartime” president’s war on science and anyone who disputes his authority and expertise. In rejecting New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s plea for 30,000 ventilators for affected victims of COVID-19, Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity Thursday night, “I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be. I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you go into major hospitals sometimes, they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying can we order 30,000 ventilators?” (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-coronavirus-ventilators-new-york-state_n_5e7d651cc5b6256a7a27c911). 

Does Trump think it is a competition between states and governors to see who has the most coronavirus cases and deaths? 

Maybe this mock clip of Trump truly does capture the essence of the man (thanks to my high school classmate Mike Exelbert for forwarding it to me): 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Day 12 of Nat'l Emergency: Trump Wants It Over

Old people. Seniors. The elderly. People with underlying medical conditions. The most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Special early shopping hours for those 60 and older. 

OMG! All those messages are aimed at ... ME!

I am 71. I am diabetic. My wife and friends, maybe even my internist, would say I am a hypochondriac. My eventual tombstone should read, “I told you I was sick” (an old joke but still apropos). 

With the onset of an early allergy season I periodically cough. Into my elbow but otherwise non distinguishable from coronavirus hacking. Trust me on that.   

As baby boomers born between 1946-1964, my generation started rewriting preconceived limitations on aging and what we could do. Fifty became the new 30. Sixty the new 40. Seventy the new 50?

To be sure, some baby boomers are not in the best of health, either because they inherited lousy genes or because they failed to maintain lifestyles that would not compromise their health. Or both. 

Because I retired at 60, I have a 10 year head start on how to successfully stay at home without going stir crazy. I am not as distressed as the vast majority who find the four walls of their abodes closing in on them. Naturally, some of my away from home diversions and activities have been curtailed by the quarantine in place directive. But walks, alone or with Gilda who retired a year ago, are still possible. We glory in the springtime sunshine and air. 

The next two weeks, medical experts advise, will be critical in containing the coronavirus, or in its spread. Donald Trump is betting the former, as he wants “the country opened” again by Easter, April 12. Prolonged closure of businesses will destroy Trump’s reelection argument based on economic strength during his tenure. So he is eager to wager on the resiliency of the public’s health to resist coronavirus.

 Trump went bankrupt trying to run casinos, an almost impossible outcome given that gambling odds are stacked in favor of the house. Now he is tossing the dice in concurrence with conservative policymakers and Fox News commentators who tell him the cure of closing down the economy is worse than the illness that could kill millions if unchecked. On the other hand, healthcare professionals are divided on the best course of action to take (

Only time will tell which option is the correct one. It is also interesting to consider Trump’s decision when looking at the electoral map. COVID-19 is spread more easily in densely populated areas. These happen to be largely in states Democrats won in 2016 and likely would carry in November. These states are among the main economic engines of our country, states such as New York, Massachusetts, California, Illinois, and New Jersey. No, I am not suggesting Trump is trying to kill off voters from those states. But he may be willing to risk the lives of voters from states he probably will not win in order to secure an improving national economy and stock market. 

Of course, Trump may lack the power or authority to reopen the whole country. Each state’s governor may have the final say within their respective borders, much as they have in the last three months. 

So we will wait until Easter to find out if fear of the coronavirus will rise from our depths of despair or if we will be engulfed in a plague of biblical proportion.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Day 7 of National Emergency: Does a Wartime President Have the Power to Delay Elections?

Our fearless, fearful, fear-mongering draft-dodger leader now embraces a self-proclaimed title of “wartime president.” 

As comically absurd as that moniker sounds, it is true, to the extent that we and the world are at war against the coronavirus. So let’s consider what qualities we might want our president to have.

According to UShistory.org, the website of the Independence Hall Association, some common leadership qualities that good presidents appear to have include: 

*A strong vision for the country’s future
*An ability to put their own times in the perspective of history
*Effective communication skills
*The courage to make unpopular decisions
*Crisis management skills
*Character and integrity
*Wise appointments
*An ability to work with Congress

We want someone with character and integrity who can instill in us trust and confidence. Sadly, from day one of his presidency Trump has spouted falsehoods (let’s call his pre-election humdingers as campaign rhetoric) that undermine any hope we might believe him when it matters. 

Wednesday he promised big news from the Food and Drug Administration. Thursday he said the FDA greenlighted a malaria drug for treatment of COVID-19. But shortly thereafter the head of the FDA had to correct him. The drug had been approved for limited usage and further study as it has severe, sometimes fatal, side effects (https://mol.im/a/8131613).

We’d want a leader who can inspire us with calming, motivating oratory, much like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill did during World War II. Or how Obama comforted the nation after several mass shootings. Trump’s communication skills when he isn’t riffing on his standard rally speech are pathetic. He has a hard time reading prepared text, which in itself is anything but inspirational. At the beginning of his presidency Trump made a big to-do about installing Churchill’s bust in the Oval Office. Inspiration is not transferable from a slab or marble. All the more reason to be disappointed by his failure to express compassion for those ill or now unemployed. He is heartless.   

In a crisis we want a leader who recognizes his or her limitations, who can acknowledge his/her imperfections, who can accept the advice of experts, be they generals, scientists or doctors. Trump rated his pandemic response performance a “10,” rejecting his earlier dismissal of the coronavirus as anything more troublesome than the flu. He has repeatedly undercut expert advice. Here are several comments he made about the viral outbreak over the last several months:

“There’s nothing to worry about”
“It’s a Democratic Hoax”
“It'll be over by April”
“It’s a pandemic”
“I take no responsibility”
“I always knew it was a pandemic”

Hail Caesar: Of all the deaths to be lamented from the pandemic, the most tragic may well be to our democratic republic.

I do not mean to be histrionic. But Trump may as president be able to postpone or cancel next November’s election as part of his emergency powers.

I, along with other commentators, have long opined that Trump would not go lightly from the Oval Office if he loses the election. It doesn’t take a genius to reason out his possible move to negate the election if his polling numbers plummet and he and his hard-core advisors believe he has no way of winning November 3.

The COVID-19 disaster provides the “perfect” shield for a power-grabbing play. Though The New York Times last week said it would be near impossible to postpone the election (https://nyti.ms/2U6p3n5 ), it might easily pass constitutional review given the composition of the Supreme Court.

In the midst of wars and economic depressions no president has invoked emergency powers to deny the American people the right choose their leader every four years. But no president has been like Trump. He has upended norms both domestically and internationally. Moreover, he has cowed the Republican Party into such deep submission that it is doubtful any but a handful of elected GOP officials would object to his postponing an election that might very well cost them control of the Senate and with that future federal court nominations. A sign of their anxiety was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s overture to elderly Republican federal judges to retire so Trump would have the chance to fill their seats with conservative judges. 

Around the world we have seen juntas and strongmen dissolve duly elected governments, proclaiming they did so in the interests of national security and even of democracy, couching their treachery with a vague promise of conducting elections when the emergency has passed. Of course they define when that time arrived, if ever.

Trump has acted like a banana republic president. He has teased about serving beyond the constitutionally mandated two terms. A national emergency declaration abolishing the November election would enable his dream to become a reality.     

The rise of an American autocrat would not occur in a vacuum. Trump has witnessed, envied and even lauded Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, India’s Narendra Damodardas Modi, China’s Xi Jinping, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, The Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

He feels more comfortable with foreign strongmen than with any of his recent predecessors who valued America’s leadership and moral standing throughout the world.

How ironic that an acknowledged germaphobe might achieve his ultimate coronation because of a pandemic. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Day 6 of National Emergency, 3 Weeks Till the Seder

Three weeks from tonight, April 8, Jews will gather for the seminal holiday ritual of their religion. Or will they? While for many of today’s chosen people the seder remains a religious experience, for many others it is a secular reaffirmation of their primal heritage. More Jews gather to attend a seder than congregate for any other religious observance. It is so powerful a symbol that even in Auschwitz Jews assembled to observe the Passover seder.

Religious practice—the comforting rituals that have bound parishioners of all faiths to their chosen deity—has been traumatized by the coronavirus. Decades-, centuries-, even millennia-old protocols have been temporarily shelved as clerical and lay leaders improvise alterations to communal customs and religious ceremonies (https://nyti.ms/2vqXY5Y).

Barring a miracle as equivalent as the series of wonders that preceded the Exodus from Egypt, Jews the world over will celebrate the Passover seder in relative solitude, likely not surrounded by the usual numbers of family and friends for fear of viral transmission, unless they defy government and health authorities to gather in numbers larger than ten. 

(As a point of interest and information, the Torah made provisions for the inability of celebrants to attend a seder at the appointed time. Passover could be observed a month later. Of course, there is no surety the pandemic would be tamed by May 7.) 

My earliest memories of a seder are from my pre-bar mitzvah days. In our two floor row house in Brooklyn my parents would convert the ground floor into an open space with a U-shaped dining table that would seat as many as 40 participants depending on my father’s success in adding guests—second or third cousins, friends from Israel or from the “old country”—to the 18 members of our close relatives, aunts, uncles and cousins. 

Even when the seder moved upstairs to our living room after my bar mitzvah and shrank to a more manageable 25, the seder was a raucous affair. Reading from the Maxwell House haggadah, my father and his brother Willy would drone on in a trope that befuddled my brother, sister and me and anyone else who tried to follow along in Hebrew (no English to be heard except for the chattering among my mother and her three sisters which prompted my father’s repeated appeals for them to be quiet). 

Gilda and I took over seder chores about 30 years ago. By then family togetherness had dissolved. My sister Lee moved to Los Angeles 47 years ago. Her family stays in L.A. for Passover. My brother Bernie’s family kept coming north from Maryland until about 10 years ago. 

For more than 3,000 years Jews—religious and sectarian—have gathered from near and far for a seder meal, a symbol of congealed peoplehood.

Our children and grandchildren have joined us from Massachusetts and Nebraska. But will they this year? Is traveling hundreds of miles by car or plane an essential trip during a pandemic? I just don’t know.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Day 5 of National Emergency: Senior Shopping Times, Teaching Children, Impacted Jobs, Theater at Home

Stop & Shop announced exclusive new hours for senior citizens—6 am to 7:30 am—effective Thursday morning.

I’m not sure if the supermarket chain is trying to make shopping easier for seniors by making it less congregated and safer from the general public’s pushing and jostling, or if it is trying to shield younger shoppers from the most vulnerable age cohort. The company, in its press release, gave it a positive spin, saying the new policy for those 60 and older would “protect shoppers considered most vulnerable to coronavirus.”

Either way, my only real objection is having to get up so early. Perhaps some elderly are early risers but the 71-year-old who shares my bed and I sleep late. Our normal wakeup time is considerably later than the cutoff time for exclusive senior shopping. (BTW, for those who do not know, today is Gilda’s 71st birthday. I normally throw a big parade in her honor down Manhattan’s 5th Avenue, but concessions must be made during these coronavirus days.)

When I heard about Stop & Shop’s special hours for the elderly, I was a little concerned Gilda and I could be age-appropriate-challenged by the shopping police as we both are often confused for someone younger than 60. But Stop & Shop says it will not request an ID to enter, relying instead on the integrity of its customers not to abuse the privilege. 

After inquiring through a chat box whether Costco would be implementing senior hours as well, I was informed it is under consideration. My fingers are crossed …

My sister Lee, a retired elementary school teacher, and my cousin Steve, separately reposted the following on Facebook: “It seems a little ridiculous to me that people are so afraid that their children are going to miss a whole month of learning. How about using this month to teach them how to cook, check the oil in the car, do laundry, treat others with respect, sew on a button, deep clean, balance a checkbook, etc. Not all learning is done in a classroom.”


Most of my friends, professionals in various fields, are sequestered at home. Mostly, they can connect via the Internet to clients and documents they may need to conduct business, with the understanding it is not business as usual. 

Take a moment to consider some whose occupations are not transferable to new technologies, workers such as school bus drivers and crossing guards. The average school bus driver earns $34,349, according to salary.com.

With the economy in flux (sounds nicer than free-fall), it’s not a good time to be selling a home. Real estate agents are having a tough time setting up open houses. 

Travel agents are fielding lots of calls. Unfortunately, they’re mostly from clients who are calling to cancel hotel and travel plans.

During our walk today Gilda wondered aloud if house burglars are going through a slow period as residences are occupied virtually round the clock.

Raising two sons and a daughter in the 1950s-1960s while she worked full time with our father, my mother instilled what you might call a sing-for-your-supper ethos in her children. We did not literally sing (except z’mirot—traditional Jewish songs—after Friday evening Shabbat dinners). Rather, she had us augment taking care of our household on weekends when our housekeeper was off.

We had a rotating set of chores. Dusting one week. Vacuuming the next, followed by kitchen duties—setting and clearing the dinette table, loading and unloading the dishwasher and even scouring pots and pans. I learned to use Twinkle when cleaning the copper bottoms of our Revere cookware. I never stopped being amazed at how the greenish-yellow Twinkle paste made the copper shine like new.

We also had a daily assignment to pick up fruit and vegetables at Joe’s, the neighborhood produce store, and to buy a fresh rye bread at the bakery on Ocean Avenue (our father thought bread made any meal taste better. He also castigated Joe from afar for any melon that tasted like a potato). On Saturdays we shopped at our local supermarket, Waldbaum’s, a few doors down from the bakery.

Being the youngest I benefitted from a lighter workload until both my brother and sister moved out, leaving me for several years solely responsible for all chores. 

Bravo, Bravo: Finally, for those who enjoy Broadway musicals but are experiencing some feelings of withdrawal since the Great White Way has been shuttered by the pandemic, here’s a Playbill link to 15 shows you can download for viewing. Enjoy:

Monday, March 16, 2020

Day 4 of National Emergency: Susie Buffett Exposed, Goldman Sachs Takeaways, Energy Savings, and a Female VP

Over breakfast Gilda, who reads the Omaha World-Herald on line to keep abreast of what’s happening where Ellie, Donny and their family live, informed me that Susie Buffett, daughter of Warren Buffett, has been exposed to the coronavirus (https://www.omaha.com/livewellnebraska/health/warren-buffett-s-daughter-susie-exposed-to-coronavirus/article_0008f06b-07f2-5c6c-9571-9cb42b9b7579.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=email&utm_campaign=user-share).

To which I responded, “The virus has no knowledge of your Dun & Bradstreet profile.” (For those not familiar with D&B, it is a longstanding financial rating service of companies.) 

Donny’s brother Rob sent along notes he took from a Goldman Sachs conference call with some 1,500 companies over the weekend. Among the major takeaways:

  • 50% of Americans will contract the virus (150 million people) as it is very communicable. This is on a par with the common cold (Rhinovirus) of which there are about 200 strains. The majority of Americans will get a common cold 2-4 times per year.
  • Of those impacted by COVID-19, 80% will be early-stage, 15% mid-stage and 5% critical-stage. Early-stage symptoms are like the common cold and mid-stage symptoms are like the flu; treatment is stay at home for two weeks and rest. 5% will be critical and highly weighted towards the elderly. 
  • In the U.S. about 3 million die every year, mostly due to old age and disease. Coronavirus might accelerate those deaths because of respiratory issues and may put undue stress on the healthcare system.
  • Though COVID-19 will impact the economy and stock prices, experts predict they will bounce back later this year or in 2021.

Time Out for the Census: With time on your hands it’s a good moment to fill out your family’s census form on line. Gilda did ours earlier today. Go to my2020census.gov.

Energy Savings: Gilda keeps records of our electric energy usage. Here’s what she analyzed today on how we’ve fared since we made several energy enhancements:

In 2013 ConEd billed us for 14,563 kilowatts.

After changing most of our lightbulbs to LEDs the next year, our usage dropped to 12,337 in 2014.

In 2015 we installed solar panels. ConEd-provided kilowatts fell to 5,961. 

In 2018 they fell again to 4,447 after we installed Nest thermostats with an away-from-home factor. 

Even after Gilda retired in January 2019 and was home for more hours, usage dropped for last year to 3,494 kilowatts. 

Grumpy Old Men: There were no knockout blows delivered Sunday night between the last two Democrats—both septuagenarian men—sparring for their party’s presidential nomination. Their debate in a CNN studio in Washington without a live audience resembled trench warfare, lots of skirmishes with shifting positions but no outright victor, unless you applaud Joe Biden, and to a lesser extent the older by a year Bernie Sanders, for standing up for more than two hours without making any gaff that could boomerang back into their faces. 

The big news of the night was Biden’s unequivocal statement that he would pick a woman as a vice presidential running mate. Sanders said he would likely do so as long as she supported his revolutionary agenda. Both said women and minorities would comprise the majority of their cabinet officers. 

They also agreed climate change is an existential threat to America and the world—second only to Donald Trump serving four more years as president—but they differed in their approaches to abating global warming.

Speculation on Biden’s choice for vice president included names most anyone interested in politics would recognize—Warren, Klobuchar, Harris, Abrams and Cortez-Masto, to name a few. Realistically, only the last three would add sizzle to the ticket among Black and Latino voters so necessary for a Biden triumph. Klobuchar would help secure Rust Belt states, the ones Hillary Clinton failed to sew up in 2016. Biden has warmed to some of Warren’s progressive policies, but the public didn’t as evidenced by her failure to win any primary including that of her native state of Massachusetts.

All in all, Biden succeeded in shifting the political discussion and speculation from who will win the presidential nomination to which woman could be a heartbeat away from the next presidency. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Day 3 of Lockdown Since Trump Declared National Emergency

COVID-19 is having a reverse effect on my calendar. Instead of filling up appointments and social engagements in my calendar, I am crossing out commitments and obligations.

With no symptoms of the novel coronavirus, Gilda and I have initiated a self-imposed quarantine, meaning we are restricting visits with friends and family while making only necessary trips to stores. 

I’m supposed to get a haircut on Thursday. I think I will reschedule it. We’ve asked our house cleaners to forego their regular cleaning but have arranged for them to receive their customary remuneration. Those who can afford it, and thankfully we can, have a societal obligation to make sure the less fortunate are not overly affected by the curtailment of daily norms. 

I go to Costco about once a week. Given the huge lines there at present—itself a threat of exposure to the virus—I am taking a break from Costco. However that presents a problem with my monthly purchase for the food bank for the hungry and homeless. Somehow I will manage. 

There will be a corporate toll added to the human toll of COVID-19. Undercapitalized companies are in danger. Unless overwhelming, speedy federal action is taken, commercial landlords will demand rents, as banks will demand loan payments from them. Even with Small Business Administration loans, timing—processing paperwork and receipt of monies—will be a life or death matter for many companies.

Banks will demand mortgage payments from homeowners. Not every mortgagee will work for a company that extends their paycheck when the business is closed or under reduced production.

Line staff in stores, restaurants, assembly lines, you name it, will be most affected as they often have the least socked away in “rainy day” accounts.

In announcing his company’s bankruptcy filing last week, Michael Modell, CEO of Modell’s Sporting Goods, highlighted factors that felled his family’s 131-year old enterprise. They included a shorter holiday selling season, a warmer than normal winter, online competitors, especially Amazon, lackluster records for most New York sports team that inhibited purchases by fans, and, the coronavirus pandemic that kept people from shopping. 

Modell’s wasn’t the first retailer to file for bankruptcy protection. It surely won’t be the last to do so in the coming weeks. 

I’m glad I am retired from Chain Store Age, especially during this time of contraction and upheaval in the retail industry. 

With Gilda also retired we try to take walks most days. Today we passed a house that was disposing of a toy stroller and two-sided easel board with a post-it note saying, “Take me.” We didn’t need them for our grandkids but friends of ours could use them, so I drove back after we came home and tossed them into my trunk. 

I left them on their porch and called. Why didn’t I knock on their door? Good question. It’s because they were under a real 14-day quarantine. 

Last week grandpa took his granddaughter to a music class. Two days later he received a note saying the music teacher tested positive. How stupid of that teacher to carelessly expose children and their parents/grandparents to the coronavirus. There is no way he could not have been symptomatic at the time of class.

The only way we are going to defeat the violent spread of this killer is by being smart and considerate. 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Coronavirus: A Stress Test for Relationships

Prompting the closing of schools, places of work and worship plus venues of entertainment, the novel coronavirus is thrusting partners and families together for extended periods they heretofore did not necessarily endure other than on vacation. To put it succinctly, 24/7 living together has the potential to stress relationships. Or, as my mother said after my father retired, “I married him for breakfast and dinner, not for lunch.”

Some may know my parents worked together for more than three decades, he in the production factory, she in the small glassed enclosed office in the corner of their rented loft on lower Broadway. Mom retired about a decade before Dad. She had gotten used to daytimes without intrusion when she uttered her Garbo-esque “I want to be alone” line.

I can appreciate her position. I retired 10 years before Gilda did 14 months ago. My golden years have been enhanced, but they are different. 

Forced togetherness for couples and families without the luxury of going to movies, plays, concerts, sporting events, museums, even some restaurants and small gatherings with relatives or friends, can strain even the most equanimous of relationships. The uncertainty of not knowing how long togetherness must last is a hidden cost of COVID-19.

Next week’s poker game among my senior citizen friends has been called off. Not as all encompassing as what residents in one Florida retirement complex have to endure: “It is in the best interests of the community to close the social hall, card rooms, aerobics room, arts and crafts, and billiards room as well as the demo kitchen in the clubhouse for 30 days. No HOA (Home Owners Association) or Club events will be permitted,” a notice reads. “… Going forward Bingo, women’s canasta, open canasta, men’s canasta and the March 21 show,  Cove Players, March 30 Board meeting, etc. are all cancelled.” 

Penalty Stroke: Maybe it is because I am bearded, but I have a problem keeping my hands off my face. I am constantly stroking my beard. No amount of coaxing by health authorities advising against it as a precaution against the virus can counterman a habit born half a century ago.

Ah, well, perhaps I’m a little like Trump who repeatedly ignores healthcare advice. He seems to be blasé, even dismissive about professional protocols. A disciple of the Reverend Norman Vincent Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking doctrine, Trump must conduct his life on the theory he is immune to everyday man’s concerns. Exhibit A—his fast food diet, which apart from the girth it has packed onto his body, apparently has not clogged his arteries (or so we must believe absent details on his physical examinations). 

The public has been told not to shake hands. Yet there Trump was during his Friday press conference announcing his declaration of a national emergency to confront COVID-19 pressing the flesh of CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and other executives. You would think leaders of the two largest drug store chains would know better than to shake hands. Most of the assembled team of business and medical leaders did not shake hands (at least in public) with Trump. Only Bruce Greenstein, executive vice president and chief strategy and innovation officer of LHC Group elbow bumped with The Donald. He did it right after the CVS handshake.

Let’s not gloss over Trump’s prior disregard for acceptable hygiene. Despite widespread warnings not to look directly at an August 2017 solar eclipse unless wearing protective eyewear, Trump stared at it with the naked eye even as Melania and Barron wore protective glasses next to him.

And let’s recall porn star Stormy Daniels claims Trump did not wear a condom during their alleged tryst.

Trump’s macho personality and belief in his invulnerability was on display in his initial disdain for taking a test to determine if he contracted COVID-19 after close contact with a Brazilian official last Saturday. Only after repeated questioning during the press conference did he say he likely would be tested at an unknown time when his schedule permits, though the White House physician subsequently said testing was not necessary for him. The test—a swab of the inner cheek—takes seconds to perform. 

Jekyl and Hyde: Trump’s appearances are Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde in nature. He is the latter when reading prepared texts, the former when speaking extemporaneously as evidenced by his dual display during Friday’s Rose Garden statement and press conference.

Answering questions he appeared assured. But as he did Wednesday night during his prime time address to the nation, he seemed boxed in by diction and an inability to comfortably read out loud when making his official pronouncement of national emergency powers. Self proclaimed as a genius with an extraordinary vocabulary, Trump has difficulty reading a speechwriter’s words. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Being Furloughed at Home Is Not Like Retirement

For those furloughed from work or school because of COVID-19, no, this is not what retirement feels like.

Classes have bern cancelled, business travel, especially to trade shows, has been drastically cut back or eliminated, onsite staff meetings have been shifted to teleconferences, production lines have been shut down, sporting events have been played to empty arenas. The government has strongly recommended seniors avoid cruise ships.

All this and more disruptions of everyday life because of coronavirus fear. Tens of thousands die in the United States each year from the flu, yet people avoid annual vaccinations. Likewise, parents withhold inoculations intended to shield children from measles, whooping cough and diphtheria. It makes fear of a coronavirus pandemic rather extreme.

During my almost weekly visit to Costco Monday afternoon I was struck by several ironies. First, upon pushing my shopping cart inside the Port Chester, NY, unit, a staffer eagerly asked if I would like the handlebar wiped down with a disinfectant. Sure, said I, while noting that I had already been exposed to any lingering germs while pushing the cart inside. I was not offered a disinfectant for my hands.

I didn’t go to Costco to buy toilet paper. Good thing, because the recent run on toilet paper had cleaned out the stock, as it has in most stores. Did a panicky public hear something about the virus that I hadn’t? Did the virus affect one’s bowels even as it attacked the lungs?

For an answer I did what most people do these days. I consulted Google. Here’s another oddity: On the search line, after I typed in the word “why,” the immediate suggested query was “Why are people buying toilet paper?” 

The oddities continued: the first article was from CNN. It was written by Scottie Andrew. Anyone else think it peculiar that the writer’s first name conjures up a leading toilet paper brand? (https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2020/03/09/health/toilet-paper-shortages-novel-coronavirus-trnd/index.html)

Seeing pictures of people the world over wearing surgical masks leads to one of three conclusions: There are a lot of sick people out there (sick as in crazy, yes; sick as in ill, nah); the human race really is composed of caring people who don’t want to infect the rest of us (nah, they’re wearing those masks to protect themselves which leads me to the third and most accurate assessment); there are a lot of dumb people out there who do not listen to health care experts who say masks, especially the most common type worn, are not intended or able to keep the wearer safe.

Shopping Costco is one of my favorite pastimes. I especially enjoy sampling all, well, almost all, of the freebies dispensed throughout the warehouse. But Costco has nixed giveaways as a health safety precaution. I have to believe it will diminish sales. I know I’ve brought home numerous items I’ve first-time tasted there (the  kosher ones only, of course).

But Costco’s bottom line was not on my mind as I walked the aisles. Rather, I pondered the fate of the men and women who have lost their jobs, at least temporarily, cooking up and dishing out bite-sized morsels.

The coronavirus has a far larger impact on low income families than on white collar households. The public is avoiding events with large concentrations of attendees. South by South West (SXSW) cancelled, for example. Think of all the workers in Austin—in restaurants, hotels, Uber and taxi drivers, plus other service industry mainstays—who will be adversely affected by the absence of nearly a half million visitors. The lost revenue in pay and tips will be devastating.

Retirement should be a time of relaxation, sans anxiety. Visits to museums, theaters, restaurants. Taking classes at nearby colleges and religious institutions. Seeing the grandkids for a few days. 

Instead, furloughed worker are worrying about the possibility of losing their jobs. With the average person having just about $10,000 in bank savings (much lower for hourly workers), prolonged time off the job will heighten anxiety about how rent/mortgage will be paid, how food and medicine will be bought, how car payments will be made, how credit card debt will be lowered … how long before life will be back to normal, if ever. 

Retirees usually have monthly Social Security checks and, if they’re lucky, some other income from pensions or retirement accounts. Furloughed workers might be eligible for unemployment compensation as it would be doubtful their employers would be generous enough to keep them on the payroll for an indefinite period.

Students usually exult upon receiving an unexpected day off from school, such as a snow day. But multiple, consecutive days at home become boring and counterproductive, not to mention a nuisance for parents to cope with. Teachers, meanwhile, may receive their full year’s pay, but what about school bus drivers? 

Having been retired for more than 10 years, I strongly suggest to those finding themselves at home instead of at work that they limit television viewing time, especially of cable news stations. Nonstop, repetitive reports about the coronavirus and Trump/Biden/Sanders will intensify your blood pressure, a condition that you don’t want once you eventually reach true retirement age.