The Phone Call

One of the best moments in my life, one that occurs day after day, and year after year is the time when my two grandchildren, Emma and Jake, call me on Facetime before school.  They call from their kitchen, either finishing breakfast or after breakfast, already dressed, ready for school.  Lately they even have their mask around their necks, totally prepared for the day ahead. The calls started many years ago, when Emma first started school.  I don’t remember how it started, but once it did it never stopped, except when there were no classes.  On holidays I miss the calls, and in the summer I miss them the most, but I don’t say anything so that they don’t feel obligated.  Once school starts it continues whether I am in Florida or New York, and the Facetime call is as consistent as the sun rising every morning.  I know the kids also call their grandma in Korea every morning before me, but I don’t know how much they talk, or for how long.  I just know my time with them, and I just know how much it means to me.  No matter how I feel, what my mood is, or what is happening in my life at that moment, I get to have the positive vibes that only grandchildren can give.  I never once got the impression this was an obligation for them.  They never once looked like they wish they did not have to call EVERY morning.  Not once.  That is the blessing.  I know as they get older that attitude might not last but for now, and for the last few years it has not changed. 

So, what do we talk about?  During the year when Lauren would drive them both to different schools, we would be on the phone a total of 45 minutes.  That’s a long time to keep their attention.  Of course, I would ask them questions about school, friends, after school activities, etc. and sometimes they were interested in answering (Emma most of the time, Jake not much), but soon after this started, I realized we needed to have fresh material.  A few years ago, I made a video of me cleaning the spiders out of the lanai in Florida.  Pat videoed taped it and I put on a show while I was brushing all the spiders off the lanai walls.  The kids loved the video so the next morning I printed a picture of a spider and named him Sammy.  I showed the picture to the kids telling them he was real, and he was a new pet of mine.  I created a voice for him, and we interacted with Sammy for very many mornings.  A year later they mentioned Sammy, so I know it was a hit.  Another time I started a game called “guess what this is.”  We would show each other an obscure item from the house and try to guess what it was.  We went over every item in the kitchen and on my desk.  They were always shocked that I knew what everything was.  Their gleeful disappointment made me so happy. 

Emma always went first on the facetime chats, since she went earlier to school.  Jake would sit quietly while Emma would show me first her sneakers, her clothing outfit for the day, her hair bows (JoJo bows were in) and then her schoolwork, projects or current pictures she was drawing.  After hearing Lauren’s loving “Emma get your backpack, the bus is coming, or your ride is here”, she would run out of the house, and it was Jake’s turn.  He would show me his picachu (a pokemon character) shirt, and then he would be a little quiet as he got lost rolling a ball on the kitchen table.  I never mind when he is busy just doing something at the breakfast table.  Just watching him was enough for me.  Being the inquisitive one, then he would stop and would ask questions about something on his mind.   Of course, to find the answer we would google it.  I would flip my phone screen so he would be able to see my computer screen, and we researched things like weird insects, dinosaurs, sharks, or the value of pokemon cards.  So many times, we are both learning things together, and what a joy that is. 

The year that Lauren drove them both to different schools was especially enjoyable for me.  I would ride along with them, in the car, first to drop Emma off and then Jake.  Jake would carry the phone, every morning into the school, through the front entrance where he would introduce me to his friends, and then into the hallway of the school where so often I would say hi to his teachers.  Most mornings everyone who past him by in the hall would have a friendly “Hello Grandpa” for me.  I am so proud of Jake that he doesn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to walk into school talking to his grandpa and letting everyone know it! 

The love the two of them show me every single morning brings tears to my eyes.  I never hang up from them without saying how fortunate I am.  Lauren, their mom and my wonderfully caring daughter in law started this.  I don’t know if she reminds them every morning or if they remind her, but I am grateful nonetheless to her.  They are her and Jon’s creation, and they are perfection.  The call never ends without them both saying that they love me, and that I tell them that I love them.  I feel a part of their life, daily, and am so grateful for this. Emma and Jake have so many years ahead of them, so many adventures and experiences that will be so amazing.  I hope they remember these days when their morning started with a friendly call to grandpa.  I know that these memories will be with me forever. 

A Story from My Past; Out of our Element

My brother Russ was married to a very sweet woman, Karen, who also lived in Brooklyn. We lived across the street from this very large park called Marine Park, and Karen lived on the other side of the park. I’m not sure how they met, but they fell in love and eventually got married.

Aunt Karen had very interesting parents. Dorothy was a very large and tall woman, with an outdated beehive hairdo who never left the house. She was a true recluse, who got all of her food delivered from the local deli. The only time she would ever go out of the house was one evening a week, when she would go to George’s Restaurant and Bar on Flatbush Avenue near her house. She never drove a car so she would take a car service. They knew her well there since she never missed a weeks visit. She would dress in pink chiffon dresses, with jet black dyed hair and being about 6 feet tall she was a true sight to be seen. There was no one nicer, or more innocent than Dorothy. Walter, Karen’s dad was the complete opposite on every level. He was a tough, gruff, ex con who had connections that we, as innocent Jew’s from across the park could never imagine. We knew he had a trucking business, and we knew who ran the trucking industry but that was all we knew.

Now for the story. After Uncle Russ and Aunt Karen were married Walter told Uncle Russ that if anything ever happened to him he should find a guy on the waterfront named Pimpinelli. He knew Dorothy could never handle anything on her own so he gave this task to his son in law. As you can imagine, one day, unfortunately Walter died. Uncle Russ immediately calls me to help him figure out what to do to help the Widow Hannon. (That was Dorothy’s last name)

We knew that Walter had a small office somewhere on the waterfront so we went there. It turned out Walter owned two trucks, and had a desk in a seedy office. When we got there, we found the two drivers that worked for him. The diesel tractor trucks were parked but still running. I asked them why are they running? Are you making a delivery? They said no, that if they turned off the trucks they would not start gain. These trucks are so old that they can’t be restarted so they run them all night. Okay! Now I see what we are working with. Being me, I go right to his desk. I find a stack of checks, and some paperwork, and I can then figure out what kind of business Walter had. His trucks would pick up containers from ships at the docks and deliver them. The containers were the ones you see all the time, and they sit on carriages which the trucks pull. Then he returns the carriages to the dock. He got paid a few hundred dollars for each delivery. How the drivers got paid I have no idea. I doubt there was pay stubs in this picture. Of course, the docks and the entire waterfront was run by the Italian Mafia, so this is where the story gets more interesting. We have to find Pimpinelli!

Uncle Russ and I feel EXTREMELY uncomfortable in these environs. We had to talk to people who know we don’t belong there; about things we know nothing about. But we need to help Dorothy so we push on. We ask around if anyone knows where we can find a man named Pimpinelli. If we didn’t look so pathetic, they probably would have killed us right then and there. We were told that he can be found most days at a certain address in Red Hook Brooklyn. We went to this block in Red Hook and if I tell you, it was all dilapidated buildings, I would be nice to the description. No one was on the block, and it looked like no one could or would live on this street. We found the building and knocked on the door. While we were shaking in our shoes, someone answered the door, and we politely asked if someone named Pimpinelli was there. He said to come in and we did. Inside the place was gorgeous. Expensive wood paneling and very fancy furniture. It turned out that we wandered into a mafia clubhouse, and this guy pointed to a graying, potbellied man, immaculately dressed in a suit and tie, with an apron tied over it, standing at the stove cooking a huge pot of sausage and peppers for the boys. I could not make this up.

Yes, we were out of our element.

We politely asked if we could have a word with him. He took us to the side and we told him the story about how Walter Hannon told us one day if anything happened to him, we should find a man named Pimpinelli and ask him for help. We told him that we find ourselves with this small trucking company and we are trying to sell it so that Walter’s widow, the Widow Hannon could live. He, of course knew Walter, and said he would see what he could do. He would call us in a few days. We thanked Pimpinelli and gladly left this place.

A few days later Uncle Russ gets a call from Pimpinelli to meet him at this other address on the waterfront. We go there, and are led into a large, beautiful and impressive conference room with huge windows overlooking the river. Sitting in this room are younger men, all dapper looking, in suits and ties, but with an air of danger surrounding them. We don’t get introduced to anyone there but are given a chance to plead our case. We explain that we are hoping that they can help us liquidate the trucking company so that Walter’s widow will have money to live on. We know we are totally at their mercy and we say so. We know that Walter had some low-lying connection with them and so we hope for the best. They acknowledge that they heard us and tell us politely to leave. We go outside the conference room and wait for the verdict.

Soon after we are told that they will buy the trucks and seedy desk for $50,000. We are grateful beyond measure. It is the only time in my business career that I didn’t negotiate. Dorothy got her money, and was able to be carefree about cash for the rest of her life. And so that you know that she was such a nice person, she gave me Walter’s aging Cadillac as a thank you for helping. As I always say, as crazy as things might seem, it always works out in the end.

Ed Paymer’s Funeral

This morning I went to Joel Paymer’s dad’s funeral.  I’m friends with Joel for a long time and yet I never met his dad.  I really enjoyed the funeral because I got a glimpse of who this man was and I was impressed.  The son of a rabbi, he was a true giver, in a time when our culture is so self-centered.  There were over a hundred comments on Facebook about Ed, from a business perspective as well as personal, how he positively affected people’s lives.  Gratitude was a theme for many comments.  What a legacy!  People were grateful for having known Ed Paymer.  I pride myself on being able to read between the lines.  There were fewer basic “sorry for your loss” comments, and many more comments about how he changed someone’s life, or was a pleasure to know, or how important he was to someone.  His niece spoke at the funeral about how for many years while she was a child he would take her and her brother to shows and events, and how important he was to her.  I was moved by that.  It’s pretty special for an uncle to make such an impression on a niece like Ed did with his niece.  Ed Paymer must have been a wonderful father to have grown up with.  I can see why Joel and his family has such positive attitudes.  As they were wheeling out the casket, I noticed Joel and Doug talking and they had smiles on their face.  I could see that while they will miss him, because a man of this quality is always missed, they will probably celebrate his life for the remainder of theirs.

I can’t help but think that Ed left so much to so many people.  While it seemed easy for him, for so many of us it is not so easy.  Someone said during the eulogy that he treated everyone he met like a best friend.  In contemplation of myself, I can honestly say that I can use some improvement in that area.  I think many people can.

The impact that Ed Paymer had on everyone who he came in contact with was pretty amazing.  While I never got to know him, Ed Paymer, even in death had a profound effect on me.  It’s extraordinary how goodness, positivity, and love can truly affect the world.

I was moved this morning, and I feel better for having been to my friend’s dads funeral.

Reflections on Thanksgiving 2020

This year, 2020, will go down in history as an incredibly trying year.  Since the early spring there has been much fear in the air, due to a worldwide pandemic.  It has been 8 months already, and there are many more months ahead of us filled with death and suffering before a vaccine should become available.  When thousands die each day from this disease you know it affects everyone.  When millions of people in our country must wait on huge lines at food banks, because of economic hardship, you know it affects so many Americans with even more fear than just getting sick.

During this Thanksgiving holiday it might feel exceedingly difficult to find things in which to be grateful for.  Having the “wisdom to accept the things I cannot change” gives me an opportunity to find my gratitude even during a time like this.    

On Thanksgiving Day my whole family came together in one way or another.  Pat and I are blessed with an exceptionally large immediate family.  Children and grandchildren, significant others, fiancés and even some recently married.  We are so blessed, and I absolutely love them all.  However, COVID has made it that we cannot be with any of them on this most celebrated holiday.  Pat and I, for our own safety must leave them to celebrate on their own.  Sure, I feel terrible that many of them will be together, and we will be alone.  But they are all so beautiful, and I feel such gratitude for having them all in my life.  The adult children will cook the food, take care of our house, and make sure that this wonderful holiday is celebrated as it always is.  Pat cooked so many of the family favorites and left it for them, but they are baking, and cooking also to make sure that our family does not miss a beat. 

Jake and Emma will miss us, and that is a tribute to our close relationship with them, of which I am most grateful.  They know we are travelling by car to Florida, so they made us a snack bag of our favorite candy to eat on the way and wrote the most amazing cards to us to travel safe and enjoy Thanksgiving.  Since we all could not be together, we did the 2020 version of safely getting together.  We did a Zoom.  We had Mike and Mell in Lakeland, Eric and Katie quarantining at home in Queens, Caitlin, Greg, Jon, Lauren, Emma and Jake in Plainview, with cousins Glenn and Brittany, Sharon in Baldwin, and Pat and I in Naples. 

This will be an incredibly positive Thanksgiving despite the pandemic, due to the love our whole family has for each other.   My family is the greatest gift I have been given in my life.  Pat and I created a blended family, and our greatest blessing is that our children see each other as brothers and sisters, with never a “step” mentioned.  This holiday proved to me that it is not the two of us that makes it so amazing, but the 13 of us, and our loving feelings for each other. 

Really, under any circumstances, who could ask for anything more?

Enough is Enough

Today a book by Bob Woodward came out disclosing how Trump knew about the seriousness of Covid-19 in the beginning of February.  He played tapes of Trump’s own voice saying how it was a very serious disease.  He then for the next month told the American people that it was not a serious problem and that one day soon it would just go away.  He did this, downplaying the virus for political reasons.  Now, 200,000 American deaths later I (we) realize that this is proof that he manipulated politics and many American’s died because of it.  I was upset with this disclosure and wrote a Facebook post insulting Trump and anyone who voted for him.  I realized, a short time later, that I might be alienating people close to me, friends and family.  I also realized that I have become part of the “divisiveness problem” in our nation.  So I wrote this on Facebook. 

Note to my Facebook Friends

First of all, I want to apologize if I have offended anyone with my most recent comments about Donald Trump. 

I only have my personal opinions, and they are no more valid than anyone else’s opinion.   During this time in our history so much rhetoric, and politics affect us.  It is hammered into us daily, by both sides, especially so close to an election.  I realize that most likely how we each feel about the coming election will not change, because we have formed our personal opinions based on how we each see the world, and that differs greatly from person to person.  So many people that I love, admire, and respect for things other than politics have different opinions than I.  It would be a sin to hurt those very important relationships. 

Therefore, I pledge to keep my opinions to myself from now until the election.  I pledge to not have inflammatory conversations with anyone regarding these topics, and most important, I PLEDGE TO VOTE ON NOVEMBER 3, and live with the decision the great people of the United States will make on election day.

The Great Divide

There is so much divisiveness in our country today.  Unfortunately, division has become a part of our society.  It hits us in the face constantly, and sometimes it can even be between us and people we love and otherwise respect. Passions arise over everything from politics, to birth control, and gun control. If we disagree with someone, not only do we see different sides of an issue, but sometimes we get angry and try to change the other persons beliefs.  Due to this divisiveness we seem to be losing respect for each other.  There has always been disagreement.  It is this loss of respect and anger for the other side that makes me most uncomfortable.  I think a big reason for this comes from above. Our president reflects anger all the time. He shows anger to reporters whenever they bring up something he doesn’t want to talk about.  He has called politicians who disagree with him ugly and disrespectful names.  Instead of respecting other opinions and other people, he gets angry at anyone who disagrees with him.  Agree or disagree with his policies, his reactions aren’t the epitome of decency.  Great leaders welcome those with different opinions so that the discussion might lead to a solution.  This type of politics leads to an uncomfortable divide in our country.  However, this is not what I am thinking about right now.

There is a difference of opinion today that has valid arguments for both sides.  It’s more important than whether to have more guns, or less guns.  It’s even more important than right to life choices.  The Great Divide is over what to do about our country’s reaction to the pandemic and the situation that we find ourselves in.  We all know the facts.  The deaths from this will exceed 100,000 people in a VERY short time.  How we became the largest victim in the world of the Coronavirus doesn’t really need to be discussed in this moment.  There will be time for that later.  Now we need answers.  The question really boils down to which do we value more, the economy or our citizens lives.  The facts are pretty clear.  If we don’t open up our economy soon there will be more and more damage and it will take a long time to recover. I understand when a person says that they need to work to pay all their bills.  Most working people are not at the risk that older people are.  But if we open up the economy, as we are doing right now in so many states, the death toll will continue to rise, and most of those people who die will be over age 60.  If we don’t open up the economy there could be economic damage that takes years to reverse.  If we do it too fast many of our loved ones will die.

What an insane choice!

As time goes on, and the death toll reacts the way the experts say it will the Great Divide will get bigger.  Already people are saying to older, and more vulnerable people, “If you are worried, stay inside!  It’s your choice, but I have to go to work.”  I get that.  I’m over age 60 and don’t have the financial worries you have, but on the other hand, you don’t have the life and death worries I have.  What a terrible position we find ourselves in.

One thing I hope for is decency and understanding.  This will end, eventually, with either a valid treatment, and/or a vaccine.  In the meantime, let’s find common ground and respect for both sides.  I think we are angry because of the situation we find ourselves in, and not because others disagree with us.  And please believe the scientists, and doctors who are experts in this field.  This is not the first time we have faced a horror such as this.  The experts know what to do.  They don’t deal in opinions.  They deal in facts.  We must reject political answers or self-serving politicians on both sides of the aisle. The experts are all in agreement on how to handle this dilemma.  Let’s be grateful that we have such renowned doctors and scientists and follow their intelligence.

Fear

The world is a scary place right now.  So much of what we take for granted has been disrupted.   Financially, more people are suffering than not.  People are unemployed at a rate that is unheard of since the Great Depression, and that time in history scarred an entire generation.  I remember speaking with my parents and grandparents about money and seeing how no matter how financially stable they were, they feared running out of money or spending too much.   It was the memories of their fear of not having enough to eat, to spend for necessities, or to care for their families during the Great Depression.  If they were working, they knew of ten people that were not working, and seeing them made them fearful.  Today, as in the past people are worried and they have no idea when this will get better.  However, this is not the worst problem.  It’s actually just a byproduct.

Millions of people are either sick or afraid of getting sick.  We are in the midst of a global pandemic.  A worldwide disease, for which we have no treatment, no vaccine, and no inherent defense.  In NY and most other cities, if you aren’t careful, you will get sick.  So we go to the store to buy food, a certain necessity, and everyone is wearing masks.  It’s actually the law!  Most people are wearing gloves.  This sight is surreal.  Previously it was unimaginable.  So many of us know of people that are infected with the virus and became very ill.  Some people know of those who died from the virus.  Those who died were people just like us, in age, and physical fitness.  This leads to fear of our vulnerability and a constant sense of danger.

As if it is not enough to have to worry about finances, and health, we must also worry about the future and the actions taken to solve these problems.  We have elected officials, with a huge structure behind them to try to have a plan to solve these problems.  They (we) need to find a vaccine, and a treatment.  They need to deal with an overrun healthcare system.  They need to help mitigate the financial suffering of so many people and so many companies.

Now I am going to try to avoid politics at this point.

I think these problems we face are bipartisan issues, since the coronavirus strikes blindly at everyone.  We expect definitive action by our leaders.  We expect intelligent decisions by our leaders, because the decisions in this case must be led by science and medicine, firstly and then by sound economic principles.  Not getting into any specifics, I am fearful that this is not happening.  Not on the federal level and not on the local level.  We are the wealthiest country in the world, and yet our country is being devastated at a higher rate per capita than any other in the world.  That scares me.  On a bad day that steals hope from me.  That instills tremendous fear in me.

Usually when things are dark in my life I can find areas of strength to help me get through it.  I always feel that I can find a solution for a problem.  I always see the positive just over the horizon, even if it’s not evident at the time.  But this is different.  This is not a problem that affects only me, or my family, or my friends.  This problem is EVERYWHERE and affects EVERYONE.  It’s about survival on every level, personally and culturally.  Not knowing how we will all come out of this is scaring the shit out of me.  It’s these two layers of fear that make this time of our lives the greatest test of all.

So how are we doing so far?

As usual when things are toughest there are those who step up and with their actions, both protect us, and give us hope.  During 9-11 it was the first responders who showed us how to selflessly act during a crisis.  The police officers and fire fighters ran into damaged burning buildings to save others, never worrying about themselves.  Their ultimate sacrifice was viewed as sacred and allowed us to have hope for the future. A future that was unknown at the time.  Our leaders brought us all together, and with that solidarity we each found strength and hope. Today’s crisis is on such a larger scale, but as crises are, there are parallels.  We certainly have our heroes.  Our healthcare workers are saving us at rates unlike anything seen in generations.  In our country alone with over 1,000,000 sick, (and probably 10X that number if we had more robust testing) we have seen in just over one month over 50,000 deaths.  So many healthcare workers have given their lives for this cause.  They put themselves and their families at risk every single day.  We avoid going to the supermarket because we fear the coronavirus, and yet these healthcare workers, with just a mask and a gown go where they are sure the virus lurks.  They are our heroes during this time.  With their actions they give us hope for our society and ourselves that all will be okay.  Our first responders are heroes as well.  The police and fire fighters go to work every day to keep us safe.  Their infection rates have skyrocketed way past the average.  My own son sleeps out of the house every night so that he doesn’t put his family at risk.

So individuals have risen up to meet the challenge, and I have not heard one person talk politics while they were saving our lives.  I’m sure our heroes during this crisis are both Democrats and Republicans.  Some are Trump supporters and some not and when interviewed you would not know which is which.  But still our country is divided.  People stress differences rather than similarities, even though on any day we have more in common than not.  I think this will be a defining moment for us all.  As individuals we have risen to the occasion.  We are fighting tooth and nail to get through this.    What we have in common defines us, not our petty differences.

I am certainly still fearful how and when this will end, but I have hope.  I can get through this fear with the hope that we will rise as a culture past all our differences just as we are rising above this current threat.  I have hope that just as all the Republicans and Democrats cheer every night for the heroes among us at 7 pm, we will lose our petty antagonism and cling to the beauty that we all have in common…. our humanity.

Just Look in the Mirror

I’m wise to think that happiness comes from inside myself and not from outside.  Happiness, if we are fortunate enough to be happy, is part of who we are and not what we have now or might have in the future.  Looking to the future for our happiness makes happiness a very fleeting feeling, and what happens if we never get that “something to make me happy” thing?  Will I then be unhappy?  No, for me happiness is built inside me.  It’s part of who I am.  I realized this today when I was looking in the mirror.  I thought I looked terrible.  I was unhappy with how my hair looked although it was the same as it is every day.  I saw an unattractive guy looking back at me.  I was internally UNHAPPY.  But then I realized that yesterday I looked at the same guy in the mirror, at the same time of the day, and I was thinking that I was looking terrific.  I was happy to be the guy in the mirror on that day, unlike today where I was not too happy about being me.  It was at that moment I realized that the mirror saw me as exactly the same on both days.  My mood, and my attitude was the difference.  My happiness had nothing to do with how I looked.  It had nothing to do with anything on the outside but did have to do with everything on the inside.  If your happiness comes from outside yourself it can be lost, or taken away.  That seems like a precarious way to live.  If it emanates from within, it is mine, always mine, and I can have it for as long as I have my awareness.

# 67

Yesterday was #67.  My birthdays have come in all sizes and shapes.  One of my first, which I still have the video of, was in apartment 6J on Burnett Street.  It was the 1950’s and my parents had their friends and their friends’ kids there.  A party in our small apartment, with cake, birthday hats and what looks today like very odd clothing. (Do you remember that day, Lloyd?) I never imagined at that time what lay in store for me in those next 66 years.  While I try to live in the moment, when I do look back, I cannot believe the things I have done, been through, experienced, and felt.  I’ve loved, been loved, am still loved, and for this I am so grateful.  I share my life with Pat, someone who if I created the perfect person to be with would be her.  I share my life with children and grandchildren, who give me love and joy to the fullest measure, and who give me so much, that I only pray I can give back to them what they give to me.  And I share my life with friends, from all the corners of my life, who have seen me through trials and tribulations I never imagined I would go through, as well as sharing all the goodness my life has been.

For this I have the highest amount of gratitude.