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column

Steve Bellone (D) and fellow Democrats celebrate keeping the county executive position. Photo by David Luces

As election season draws to a close, finally, we are among the many breathing a sigh of relief. 

We heard that a few people were unhappy with our endorsements. That, of course, should be expected. Some points, though, need to be made clear about our process for endorsing candidates.

Starting in late summer, we start gathering a list of candidates for the upcoming electoral season and arrange candidate debates in TBR News Media offices in Setauket. The process is long and grueling and, despite months of effort, sometimes candidates cannot find a time that works for everyone or, as we saw in several cases this year, some people simply never respond or don’t show up. So, we talk with the candidates that do come to the office and conduct candidate interviews over phone or email with the remainder. The better interview is always done in person as a debate in a roundtable discussion.

The last publication date before election day — which for us is a Thursday — becomes the election edition. In that issue, we exclude letters to the editors that focus on local politics, because there is no way for people to respond publicly before the election. Instead, we include our endorsements on the letters-to-editors pages. 

Our election issue contains multitudes of political advertising, but there’s a common misconception that advertising buys our endorsements. The advertising and editorial departments are two distinct entities, and work on two separate floors of our small office space. Advertising is indeed what keeps TBR afloat, but that department has no input on editorial decisions. Of course, there is communication between departments in the newsroom, but that comes down to the placement of ads, and our papers policy avoids placing political ads for candidates on the same page as the candidate profiles that we write.

The endorsements are a product of the interviews, not the other way around. In fact, we are prouder of the debate articles we conduct, which we try to make as balanced as possible between the candidates. We let all sides speak their piece before carefully writing the articles. The debate interviews are conducted throughout October, then written and placed into our annual election issue. These articles range from 500 to more than 1,000 words each for some of the wider-ranging offices. 

The endorsements, on the other hand, are barely more than 200 words each. They represent the collective opinion of editors, along with our publisher Leah Dunaief who moderates the debates. We consider long and hard all that we heard, along with our experience with the candidates on the campaign trail. Sometimes we cannot come to an agreement, or may be on the fence, and meet again the next day to review pros and cons of our choices. The endorsements represent those who we feel might make a better fit for office, but they are also our chance to compliment the person we didn’t endorse or criticize candidates for past performance. 

We at TBR News Media congratulate all who stepped up to campaign for public office but, if we were to be honest, endorsements sometimes have little bearing on future performance. In 2016, we endorsed the opponent of Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) for the office. Toulon won that election, and in 2018 we named him one of our People of the Year. What matters is what an elected official does for the constituents when in office.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

I wonder how the creators of the show “Seinfeld,” Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, would portray today’s world? The answer resides in their approaches to other ideas and conflicts that became the focal point for shows that continue in reruns almost every day.

In one show, Elaine, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is dating furniture mover Carl (David James Elliott). When Elaine finds out that Carl is a pro- lifer, they decide to end their relationship.

In Washington, D.C., and indeed throughout the country, that seems tame compared with the passions people feel when they share their views about the president and about the upcoming election of 2020.

I could imagine an entire modern “Seinfeld” episode dedicated to the efforts people take to avoid discussing politics. Changing the subject, walking out of the room and pretending they can’t hear each other seems like a way these characters might keep the political genie locked in the bottle, allowing them to enjoy the company of anyone and everyone, even if those people disagree with their views on national politics.

We play out that scenario regularly wherever we go, whether we’re looking to date someone or just chat with someone in a line at the deli, on vacation or at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

We are so concerned that we might offend the other person or that he or she might offend us.

When did we become so incapable of speaking with each other? Are we determined to live in echo chambers, where we only listen and speak with the people whose ideas, thoughts and words match our own?

Come on, that’s not how democracy is supposed to work. We can and should be capable of hearing from other Americans whose ideas differ from our own. In addition to the land, the flag, the monuments, the Constitution, the history and so many other facets of American life that we share, we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to be able to listen to each other and to remain open to ideas and opportunities.

Are we afraid that someone who seems rational and reasonable might convince us to change our mind? Are our ideas so fragile and our confidence so weak that we can’t have an informed discussion about our views and our ideas?

Surely, we are better than some homogenized party line. We are a land of rugged individualists, who can and should find a way to advance our local, state and national best interests to give everyone an equal opportunity.

It’s not up to the leaders to tell us what to think, who to be and how to live. We have the chance to make those decisions for ourselves. At their best, those leaders are working to give us a shot at pursuing the American Dream which, last time I checked, doesn’t belong exclusively to one political party or another.

By not talking with each other, we increase the tension that separates the parties and the people who support them. Rather than waiting for a bipartisan detente in Washington, we can and should gather ideas about each other.

If they were still making the show today, the characters from “Seinfeld” might have helped us laugh about how entrenched we have become in dealing with our differences. We, however, aren’t living in a TV show and we owe it to ourselves to gather real information, to listen to other people and to bridge the divide that’s causing the fabric to fray of a country we all call home. 

We can learn and grow from making decisions for ourselves, instead of following the same script with every conversation.

Rovinj

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

All vacations are wonderful in their own way. A chance to get a break from the daily routine, to rest, perhaps to view new scenery, meet new people, learn new things, even just to get a break from the news — these are hoped-for results. We’ve just returned from a trip abroad and, as I have done in past columns, I would like to share some of what we saw and did.

We boarded one of the largest sailing vessels in the world in Venice, Italy, after an eight-hour plane ride from JFK International Airport. I won’t go into raptures about Venice because it would take up the rest of my allotted space and, besides, I’ve done so before. I will just say that there were probably more visitors in Venice than there are on any given day in Walt Disney World. Large ships are not allowed inside the harbor, so our small group was ferried to the Wind Surf by small motorboats lined up waiting for passengers along the Grand Canal. 

Let the adventure begin.

We departed at 6 p.m. and set sail to cross the Adriatic Sea, an extension of the Mediterranean, to land on the Dalmatian Coast the next morning. The first city, in the north of Croatia, was Rovinj, pronounced roveen. Croatia is a country often described as being at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe and one that is exquisitely picturesque with seaside cities and steep limestone mountains. As you might guess, for being in the center of human history, the country has had many invasions, rulers and iterations of government. Now a republic, it has been a duchy, a kingdom, in a union with Hungary, part of the Habsburg Monarchy, part of Austria-Hungary, part of Italy, then remade after World War I into Yugoslavia until that country finally fell apart into six independent smaller countries after the 1980 death of the autocrat, Josip Tito. 

The countries surrounding Croatia geographically are Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. Croatia joined the European Union in 2013. All of that abbreviated history took place over only the past 14 centuries. The area actually has been inhabited since prehistoric times.

Rovinj is a fishing port on the Istrian peninsula. Surrounded by blue-green, startling clean Adriatic water, its pastel houses crowded down to the seafront, the small city offers a tangle of pale yellow cobblestone streets, lots of inviting bistros and a beautiful Baroque hilltop church, St. Euphemia, whose tower is the highest in Istria at about 61 meters and can be climbed — not by me — for a magnificent view.

The Adriatic is only 120 miles at its widest point, separating what was known as the Balkans from Italy. The coastal towns were often under attack and thus encouraged to build fortified walls along the beachfronts. 

We walked the pebbled beach of Rovinj, bargained in the marketplace for native olive oil and truffles, and bought a couple of scarves made in Italy at cheaper than Italian prices. In fact, Croatia is known as a less expensive tourist destination, where a room in a fine hotel for the night during high season may be had for 50 euros (about $55). So far mainly Germans seem to have discovered this bargain, and they visit Rovinj in large numbers.

The eastern shore of the Adriatic is often referred to as the Dalmatian Coast and the name stems from an Illyrian tribe called the Dalmatae, (from their word “delme,” meaning sheep) who lived there during classic antiquity. Dalmatia is even referenced in the New Testament. And, yes, the hardy Dalmatian dogs come from there, whose unique black and white markings make them easily spotted on fire trucks. Dalmatia is one of the four historical regions of Croatia and for a long time was ruled by the Republic of Venice from 1420 until Napoleon of France appeared on the scene in 1797.

One of the frustrations of traveling along the coast by ship is that time spent in any port city is of necessity limited by the schedule of the cruise. After a delicious fish lunch in a sidewalk café, we returned to the ship, with its white sails billowing dramatically in the breeze, then went on to the larger city of Split. More next time.

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We are back to shopping for college. There’s a familiar rhythm to this search that, the second time through, brings a more relaxed pace. Now that my wife and I have taken about a dozen college tours, we’ve noticed patterns. Please find below some observations:

• The library gets quieter the higher its location. Every school we’ve toured has suggested that people will throw visual daggers at you on the top floor if you drop your pencil. Move to a lower floor to cough. In the effort to differentiate one school from another, a clever college ought to invert the quiet pyramid. The logistics would be challenging, with people stepping onto a floor of silence, but it would make clear how serious students were in the library and would defy the usual expectations about noise on each floor.

• Showcase dorm rooms aren’t real. Yes, the rooms everyone sees are, of course, actual rooms, but they have considerably less stuff, no irrational roommates who scream in their sleep, and are better lit than the freshmen rooms most of our kids will occupy. Somehow, the temperature in these rooms is perfect for almost everyone. Many rooms, however, are way too hot or too cold for one, two or the three people jammed into a space that will feel like the garbage chute in the original “Star Wars” as the year progresses.

• Some tour guides will share their food choices, preferences and idiosyncrasies because it makes them charming. We may not have the same aversion to Vegan Tuesdays, but we will undoubtedly remember the school because some lacrosse player in desperate need of a haircut who sings hates vegan food.

• Tour guides are friendly. Yeah, I know, shocking, right? But, while they are talking to us, many wave to friends as they speak. Are they really waving at someone? Is one person walking back and forth? The whole “everyone loves me and I love everyone” shtick seems rehearsed. Then again, maybe tour guides really do have friends everywhere.

• Some information sessions and tours seem to have left something crucial out of the discussion: Who wouldn’t be a great fit for their extraordinary school? Schools might save themselves — and prospective students — trouble if they helped these eager high school seniors and juniors get a better idea of what might not work for them. None of the schools offer an amalgamated profile of the type of student who typically transfers anywhere else. They should, right? Wouldn’t it help to know that the snow which starts in September and ends in May drives some students away? Or that the competitive atmosphere on campus doesn’t work for some students? What have the schools learned from some of their admissions mistakes?

• People on tours generally look and sound tired. Most of the kids seem to be praying that their parents don’t embarrass them by asking too many questions. When asked what they plan to major in, they respond with something like “blobology” or “Idunnonotsure.” The introductory phase of the tour rarely creates cohesion among a group taking turns to hold doors open for each other.

• Tour guides attempt to share college humor by highlighting their personal deficiencies. In between waving to their extended group of friends, these guides point to a chemistry building or a music hall and suggest that they have absolutely no skills in those fields whatsoever and are in awe of their peers, who seem to be speaking a foreign language when they explain their passion for molecular biology.

• These guides pick majors and minors like they’re at an ice cream store: They have one scoop of biology, two small scoops of elementary education and sociology, and a sprinkling of criminal justice.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

There are people who think sleeping is a waste of time. These people go to sleep each night with great reluctance and insist they only need three or four hours of sleep to function well. Maybe they do. There are
others who walk around chronically sleep deprived, nodding off immediately when the house lights dim at a lecture or performance, because in spite of their best intentions, they just don’t get enough sleep. 

I’m here to declare that sleeping is one of the more creative pursuits, that in addition it is enjoyable, and that the end result the next day is to enable one to leap tall buildings at a single bound.

I enjoy sleeping.

Now presumably everyone knows what sleep is. But studies have shown that sleeping is a different experience from one mortal to the next. For example, I readily acknowledge that I am one of the lucky ones (good genes) who lie down in bed and almost immediately drift off to sleep. Indeed, I run out of gas and have to go to sleep, like a child, willingly or not. I understand that some people have a terrible time falling asleep. My husband was one of these. Watching me sleep, he surely had acute sleep envy.

How does that happen? I can tell you how it is for me — a statistical sample of one. As soon as I lie back and close my eyes, something akin to a story or even a movie begins in my head and leads me into sleep. If I am interrupted before I fall entirely asleep, a different story starts up when I go back to bed, even if it’s just a couple of minutes later, and I’m off. 

I have read all sorts of suggestions for people who struggle to fall asleep, hoping to help my husband. Maybe what I’ve learned can be of help to you if that is also your problem.

I do not have distractions in my bedroom. It’s rather sparsely furnished, mostly with pictures of my family and some knickknacks I have carried home from my wanderings. It is one of the best-ventilated rooms in the house, and I like it quite cool and quiet when I sleep. I have an outrageously comfortable mattress that is turned every three months. I also enjoy colorful sheets and a comforter rather than a blanket. My pillows are neither very fluffy nor flat, and they are down-filled.  

I almost never read in bed, nor watch television. I don’t have a desk there, with lots of correspondence to answer, nor a computer. Sometimes I take a bath before bedtime, sometimes a shower, sometimes neither, and I never drink hot milk. In fact, if I have alcohol, I may fall asleep even more quickly, but I am surely going to wake up around 3 a.m., when the effect has worn off. Best of all, I find, is to drink nothing after dinner so one’s bladder is skinny.

I also sleep pretty soundly, getting up sometimes once in the night. I find it tempting, after I return to bed, to pick up a book or newspaper to see what’s happening in the world — I am a news junkie — but I resist that urge and as a result usually fall back to sleep. If I don’t, I urge myself to get up and wash the kitchen floor, and that will generally do it.

There are, of course, different internal clocks for different people. Some are perfectly happy going to bed at 11 p.m. and waking up at 7 a.m. in time to get ready for work or school. Others start whipping around at 11 p.m. and are most productive when the rest of the world quiets down. My mother and father were badly mismatched in that way. My dad was used to living on a farm, where he went to bed at 8:30 p.m. and got up in time for the 4:30 a.m. milking. My mother did her work between midnight and 4 a.m. Somehow they did get together, but it wasn’t easy.

My advice: Find a job that fits your biological clock and you’ll be a happy person.

You might wonder that I find sleep creative. If I have a problem, whether mathematical or any other kind, I will often go to sleep at night with it on my mind and wake up with the solution at hand. Sleep is such a mysterious process. The brain works during sleep, and the body feels so much the better for the respite in the morning. 

Rerun for emphasis from Oct. 19, 2006.

Photo from YouTube

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Looking back at the six-game American League Championship Series, it’s clear that the Houston Astros were the better team. Tough as it is to write that when my fan allegiance is with the Yankees, the Astros had more clutch hitting, better defense, and better starting and relief pitching. Yes, the two teams were fairly evenly matched when it came to runs scored. The Yankees covered up many of their sins — and deficiencies — with a few timely long balls and some standout pitching performances from Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton.

While hindsight is always perfect, because we know who failed and who succeeded, I want to ask an obvious question. Why was our designated hitter doing little more than striking out? It’s clear that our enigmatic catcher Gary Sánchez, who has a talent for crushing balls deep into the night, seems to disappear at big moments.

And, while we’re playing the hindsight game, it seems obvious that closer Aroldis Chapman, who has lost a few miles per hour on his fastball and now relies on an effective slider, should have avoided pitching to José Altuve with two outs, a runner on first and a defensive replacement on deck for Houston.

So, one at a time. Edwin Encarnación was a compelling pickup from Seattle Mariners during the season, offering a few moments of ball-bashing power. Perhaps because of injury, or maybe because he was trying to hit a defining titanic home run, he couldn’t do much of anything in the postseason. The same seems true for the multimillion dollar Giancarlo Stanton.

Given that both can hit huge home runs and are capable of changing the complexion of a low-scoring game, I understand the urge to put them in, but, at some point, if they are not getting it done, why not go with other options? Sure, Cameron Maybin doesn’t hit as many home runs and isn’t as physically imposing. 

If manager Aaron Boone had inserted him into the lineup, would he have taken away the possibility of using Maybin as a late-inning defensive replacement? That’s possible. OK, then, how about using Austin Romine as the designated hitter? Yes, I understand that Boone might also have been saving him to give Sánchez a break in a game where defense takes precedence.

If either of them had become an unconventional designated hitter, would fans be screaming about the panic move if they had failed? Yes, of course, they would. But at least Boone would have been trying something — anything — when he seemed wedded to a script that wasn’t working in a short series.

The same thing holds true for Adam Ottavino. The guy was a great pitcher during the season, but he ran into the postseason twilight zone. It happens. Sit him down and don’t let him affect the outcome of games.

As for Sánchez, he may have hit batting practice pitches into the next county, but that’s irrelevant. He wasn’t getting it done at or behind the plate. Maybe even a single day off would have changed his approach and would have helped. In a short series, managers can’t wait to see if something that’s not working turns around. The team — and its desperate fans — don’t have the luxury of that kind of time.

The question for next year isn’t whether the Yankees will get a starting pitcher who can throw more innings than the present incumbents, or whether Stanton will make a meaningful postseason contribution. The question is: Will Boone buy into the idea of a team game and give other players a chance? After all, the last time the Yankees won the World Series was a decade ago, in 2009.

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It may be difficult sometimes for news consumers to decipher between a news article written by a journalist and a press release composed by a public relations practitioner, especially when the number of the latter outnumbers the former. In an era of websites and social media,  press releases are plentiful and can be easily shared. So, readers should take heed.

No offense to those in the public relations field. These are the people who play a valuable role in working with journalists to alert them about interesting stories in their coverage areas and connect them with important people.

However, during times when newsrooms are short-staffed and websites make it easier to post items, many times press releases may appear as articles, though they adopt a public relations position that aims to promote rather than inform. For many news outlets, the luxury of using a press release as only a starting point and digging in deeper with their own reporting has become more and more difficult. And with one quick posting, a story presented by a PR person is shared as news.

When it comes to some short pieces — say about an upcoming career fair, what’s going on at the local library or what awards students or people have won — sharing a short press release isn’t a bad idea. When applicable and appropriate, these pieces can be a valuable tool, because journalists can’t be everywhere.

But when it comes to articles that take on controversial subjects, such as where taxpayer money goes, or where an elected official or political candidate stands, it would be wiser to look for the pieces written by a bona fide journalist. Why? Simply because a press release is written to present the stance of a person or institution, usually from a positive point of view. News articles written by journalists look to represent the various sides of an issue, and when it comes to hot button topics, to find the information that wasn’t revealed. This information is also vetted and double-checked.

It’s important for readers to pay attention to what they are reading. When it comes to contentious events, does the article include all sides? Does it cite documentation that verifies the stated facts? Does it show different points of view and include the names of people who chose not to comment? Be sure to look for multiple points of view from credible, authoritative people with firsthand knowledge of a situation, such as an eyewitness or an expert.

It can be difficult at times. There are those contacts who are inaccessible — some even hiding behind their public relations staff — and with short-staffed newsrooms, a well-written press release can be a big help. But when it comes to articles about contentious topics and important matters, make sure that article you’re about to quote at the dinner table or party or share on social media has been carefully constructed by someone who attends the meetings, makes the phone calls and asks the important questions.

Sharpen your skills when it comes to interpreting information. The skill is essential at a point in time when the ways of democracy are being challenged.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

I like to play Google games, just to see how many results I can get on certain search terms. I know I’ve come up with something incredibly specific when the list is 100 or fewer.

Now, to play my game, I sometimes use quotes to increase the specificity of a particular search. For example, I might be interested in hamburgers or “hamburger helper.” The former brought up 481 million in a recent search and the latter, as you might have guessed, was much lower, at 1.3 million. Please know that the figures I am quoting are never static.

Given the highly public nature of the 45th president, Donald Trump (R), I thought I’d check to see how a man who was once a TV personality did on Google. And, from what I can tell, he is winning the search war.

The words “Donald Trump” netted 520 million results. For someone who appears to enjoy the spotlight, even when people are raging against him, that number is impressive. That’s well above the 141 million for Mickey Mouse and the 60 million for our first president, George Washington. Granted, he has been dead for almost 220 years and Mickey is an animated creature. It is, however, below the 633 million for Brexit.

OK, so let’s compare Trump to, say, the 44th president. While President Barack Obama (D) did better than Washington, he didn’t climb as high as Mickey, getting 109 million results. He was, however, twice as popular in the search engine as his immediate predecessor, President George W. Bush, whose name, complete with the “W.,” brought 54.6 million hits. Ah, but then “Dubya,” as he was called, was higher than President Bill Clinton (D), who netted only 33.8 million results.

So, what does this mean? Maybe it suggests that presidents are on a Google escalator and that the modern reality is that the internet has become the way people search for news about the men who have led our country. The 2020 winner likely stands to become an internet search winner, too.

Assuming that the Google popularity contest is relevant, what does it say about the Democratic presidential candidates? Well, a front-runner and former Vice President Joe Biden brought 107 million results. As an aside, that’s well above the 37.5 million results from the person who holds the office of vice president today, Mike Pence (R).

Back to the Democratic candidates. Elizabeth Warren stands at 47.1 million. That beats Pence, but she’s not running for vice president, at least not yet. Whoops, bad Dan. Bernie Sanders, who ran an impressive campaign in 2016, brings up 70.2 million results, which is much higher than Warren, despite her impressive political career. Kamala Harris has 18.5 million results, with others, like Cory Booker, at 5.6 million.

But, wait, is this a popularity contest? Well, yes and no, right? These candidates need sufficient visibility to attract votes. People also need to be interested in them, right? Does former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s 90.9 million results mean she’s more visible than some of the people running for president? No, it’s a reflection of her close run for the highest office in the land in 2016. That is pretty impressive for someone who wasn’t elected, but is well below singer Taylor Swift’s 415 million.

Perhaps the president in 2020, whether it be the incumbent or a challenger, will immediately see a spike in results, as people around the world type in his or her name each day to find the latest news related to the country and to his or her policies.

As an aside, I couldn’t help wondering how often the current president mocks someone or something. The term “Trump mocks” brought up 747,000 results. By comparison, “Biden mocks” only had 14,700 results. Then again, “Trump applauds” had 82,500 results, compared with “Biden applauds,” which had 3,090. No wonder Trump fatigue has set in for some people: He’s everywhere on the internet.

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

I speak with a police officer near my son’s school regularly. She steps into four lanes of frantic morning commuting traffic to allow people to maneuver into and out of a school parking lot.

She offers a pleasant, “Good morning,” to people who roll down their windows or who walk past her. As she steps carefully into a heavily trafficked street, she makes eye contact with drivers.

She waves to the waiting parents to make their turns and rejoin the flow of traffic to work or to their next morning destination. She sends them off from school with a pleasant, “Have a great day,” as they drive around her.

Recently, I pulled up to the stop sign and saw the officer holding her stomach.

“What’s happening?” I asked.

“I just can’t stop laughing,” she said. “I see the same crazies every day. I’m used to them. There’s this guy who drives a pickup truck and he cusses at me every time he passes. I’m not sure why.”

“Is that funny?” I asked.

“No, today, a woman looked right at me, clapped, gave me the thumbs up and raised her fist. She seemed so happy that I was here.”

“That’s great,” I said.

“Yeah, she made my day,” the officer said, again holding her stomach. “That was just
so funny.”

This police officer spends her day looking in car windows, hoping people stop instead of running her over or creating traffic hazards for children or their parents near schools. And yet, this driver made her happy by sharing an effusive and appreciative series of simple gestures.

The movements the woman made are the kinds of displays superstar athletes see every time they step on a sports field or tennis court. These expressions of appreciation, gratitude and admiration are so common that many of the players block out the sounds so they can focus on the game.

But for this officer, the show of support was a welcome sight.

A day before, a friend told me that he and his daughter pulled into a parking lot, where a parking attendant asked for $3. When he handed out the money, his daughter leaned across him and thanked the attendant.

The attendant smiled and directed them to a spot nearby.

“What are you thanking him for?” my friend asked. “What did he do?”

“He’s doing his job and I appreciate it,” his daughter said. “Why can’t you appreciate it?”

“He’s taking my money,” the friend reasoned. 

“Yes, and you’re getting a place to park,” she said.

My friend recognized the value of the words. Besides, even if it didn’t make the attendant’s day, it didn’t cost anything and it may have helped the car park collector feel like someone cared that a good job was being done.

In that same vein, I’d like to thank you for reading this column today and any other time you take the time to read it. I know you could be doing numerous other tasks and I appreciate the opportunity to share words, thoughts or experiences with you. 

I realize you don’t always agree with me. Maybe climate change isn’t top of your mind or you have perfect children who never once frustrate and amuse you, or your dog is so well trained that it never jumps up on anyone or consumes a plate full of warm cookies. But I appreciate the chance to connect with you.

Maybe today, tomorrow or next week, you can also pass along an appreciative gesture. Who knows? You might make the day of a police officer, a baker, a mail carrier or a dog walker.

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Daniel Dunaief

We think we know our kids, but really the converse is true.

My son recently told me that he thinks I’m angry every time I swim laps in a pool. At first, I dismissed the observation because swimming brings me peace.

And then I thought about my junior year of high school, when I joined my one and only swim team.

I loved the water, I had a few friends on the team and I was determined to do something different when each day in school felt like a bad version of “Groundhog Day,” long before the Bill Murray film arrived in theaters.

I had several shortcomings. For starters, I didn’t know how to do a flip turn. To the experienced swimmer, that’s as laughable as asking a NASCAR driver how to change gears or a baseball player which end of the bat to hold. It’s a basic skill. I’d approach the wall, gasping for air, roll to my right and kick hard.

Most of the time, I’d slam my foot into the lane marker and, on occasion would kick the poor swimmer in lane 5. I swam in lane 6, which was where swimmers who needed life jackets trained. The best swimmers occupied lane 1. They never seemed to need a breath, had hydrodynamic bodies that made them look like torpedoes and seemed slightly bored after an exhausting practice.

Oh, and they also wore Speedo bathing suits well. For someone accustomed to the boxing trunk bathing suits that I still wear today, Speedos seemed way too small. Besides, I’m not sure the small, colorful lightweight suits allowed me to shave even a tenth of a second off my barge-floating-downstream speed.

Each practice, the coach would tell us to swim 20 laps back and forth as a warm-up. By the end of the warm-up, which I never finished, we started practice. At that point, I was leaning hard on the wall, wondering whether I should climb out of the pool and grab some French fries.

When we dove off the blocks at the start of the race, I must have entered the water at the wrong angle. My goggles scraped down my nose and landed in front of my mouth, which made it impossible to see or breathe. Flopping blindly, I’d zigzag in slow motion across the pool.

Each practice completely drained me. My exhausted arms pulled through the water, splashing where others were gliding. My legs slapped at the water, instead of serving as propellers. And yet, something about the incredible energy required to survive each practice helped me, both mentally and physically.

I’m sure I lost weight. After all, such inefficient swimming burns off considerably more calories than floating effortlessly hither and yon. More importantly, though, I worked out everything that bothered me in my head as I listened to the gurgling noises my mouth made while I wiggled back and forth. Each lap, I replayed conversations that went awry, standardized tests that were like electroshock therapy and the missed social opportunities.

Gnashing my teeth, I worked out frustrations that built up during the day or the week. The herculean effort either removed toxins or prevented them from cluttering my brain. Sitting in my room at home after practice, I felt more at peace than I had at any point during the day.

But what my son must have perceived as I do laps today are the habits I formed during that winter season. My body instantly remembers how to use swimming to release tension. He may see the residual physical manifestations of the cauldron of emotions that I carried back and forth across that icy pool. And, hey, maybe I’d look like a happier swimmer if I ever learned how to do a flip turn.