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D: None of the Above

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Breaking up is spectacularly awkward, highly charged and, in retrospect, filled with humorous potential. Two people get together for a picnic, where a public scene might be difficult for the recipient.

“Want some tabouli? What is tabouli anyway?”

“No thanks, and I don’t know what it is. You ordered it, not me.”

“Good point, so, I was thinking. It’s probably a good time for us to separate.”

“Um, what, excuse me?”

The lip quivers, the breathing becomes short and erratic and the eyebrows, shoulders and neck all droop at the same time.

“No, yeah, I mean, you’re great and this has been a total blast but, you know, it’s just, I don’t know, it’s not working for me.”

“A total blast? You’d call this a total blast? Besides, nothing is perfect. I know my family can be difficult and I know I wake up with bad breath and I do, on occasion, correct your speech, but we can work around that. Don’t you want to try to make it work?”

“I’m thinking that it’s probably time to do other things. I’m thinking of moving to Vancouver and you hate the cold.”

“Vancouver? Really? Wait, have you been seeing other people? You and my sister get along a little too well. As soon as you start dating her, she won’t be interested. I know I share genes with her, but she’s a horrible person who has ruined my life over and over again.”

“No, really, this has nothing to do with your sister. I wouldn’t do that to you or myself, especially after what you just said.”

“Oh, so, now there’s something wrong with my sister? At least she’s not dumping me.”

“No, no, I think we have a great friendship and I’d like to stay in touch.”

“You’d like to stay in touch? After all we’ve been through, you’re offering me your friendship? You’re not even that good of a friend. You rarely listen and you forget all the important dates in the year and you always want to go to the same restaurants, even though we have so many other choices.”

“Right, exactly, I’m so boring, so maybe you’re ready to be done with me?”

“Why do we have to end it now? It’s not like I was expecting to marry you. I can’t imagine having a younger version of you in the house. You can somehow shoot baskets from all over a gym floor that land in a hoop, but you have no ability to throw the dirty T-shirt you wore to play basketball into a much larger hamper that’s also closer to the ground, even though you roll the shirt into a ball.”

“I agree. You could do so much better.”

“I’m sure there are plenty of better people out there, but we had some fun, right? We were supposed to go to that dinner next Saturday with the Smiths. They’re your friends, so maybe we should see what works between now and then?”

“It’s OK, I already canceled that.”

“What? That horrible person Jessica Smith knew you were going to break up with me before I did? How could you do this to me?”

“Sorry, I didn’t tell them anything. I just said we couldn’t make it.”

“We couldn’t make it because you were going to break up with me today over tabouli. You’re an idiot.”

“Right, well, maybe we shouldn’t stay in touch?”

“Oh, so now I’m not good enough to be your friend?”

“I’m going to be a boring idiot elsewhere.”

“Wait, you’re leaving me?”

“Yes, and I’ve googled ‘tabouli.’ It’s a Lebanese salad with vegetables, wheat and parsley, just so you know.”

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Daniel Dunaief

am in the news business. I also write columns. Today, I’d like to conflate the two, tackling the ubiquitous topic of “fake news.” Don’t run away, figuratively speaking! I’m not going to write about politics or politicians. I’m going to share fake news from my world.

10. I am a Yankees fan.

What makes that fake? It’s accurate, but it’s also fake because I’ve always been a Yankees fan. While the statement isn’t false, it’s not news because news suggests that it’s something new. It’s not fake per se, but also not news and that’s what makes it fake news.

9. I enjoy the time my kids are away.

What makes that fake? The fake element to this is that I enjoy the time they’re home, so I don’t exclusively enjoy the time they’re away. I may have smiled at and with my wife and, yes, I’ve found myself laughing out loud now and then for no particular reason in public, knowing that no one will glare at me, but it’s fake news to suggest I only enjoy this time.

8. I reveled in the movie “Rocketman.”

What makes that fake? While the movie was compelling and it offered details about superstar singer Sir Elton John’s childhood, it was a look behind the curtain at his early pain. I sympathized with him as he dealt with family challenges and personal demons, but I can’t say that I reveled in the biopic. I felt moved by his struggles and I appreciate how much he had to overcome to live the balanced life that he seems to have now. The gift of his musical genius may have been enough for the world to appreciate him, but not to give him what he wanted or needed when he was younger.

7. I have a wonderful dog.

What makes that fake? My dog has wonderful moments, but I wouldn’t characterize him as wonderful. He needs training, chews on furniture, jumps on people and barks at things I can’t see, which isn’t so wonderful when I’m conducting interviews with people in other states or when I’m in the middle of a delicate peace negotiation between children who don’t seem to have missed each other all that much when they were apart.

6. I detest logic.

What makes that fake? I enjoy logic. It follows rules and patterns. It only appears that I detest logic in this column because I’m trying to make a point about fake news.

5. I’m worried about the Earth.

What makes that fake? I’m not just worried about the land: I’m also concerned about the air, the water, biodiversity and a host of other limited resources.

4. I use real words.

What makes that fake? People who rely on a computer spellchecker will find numerous words that appear to be incorrect or that are underlined in red in my science columns. Words like nanomaterials, which are super small structures that hold out hope for future technologies such as medical devices or sensors, don’t register at all. If you asked a spellchecker, my columns are rife with fake words.

3. I use fake words.

What makes that fake? I love the double negative element to this. It’s fake to say I use fake words, because I also use real words.

2. I only use small words.

What makes that fake? I categorically refute the notion that I only use minuscule words. Check out the word “ubiquitous” at the top of this column.

1. I always lie.

What makes that fake? If I always lied, that would make the confession true, which would mean I don’t always lie, which would make the statement fake.

The flexible and logic-challenged fake news has become a tool to dismiss information, opinions and realities that people find disagreeable. It provides a convenient way to ignore news that may have more than a kernel of truth to it.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We pack our cars, suitcases and purses. We bring cameras, camcorders, extra batteries, chargers and cards filled with positive messages and gifts.

At this time of year, we bear witness to the conclusion of one educational course — primary, middle or high school, college or even graduate school — as we and the graduate prepare for the next step.

In between bites from the buffet, we pause for proud pictures with the graduate and we share our admiration for what he or she has accomplished even as we anticipate the next adventure.

Most of these ceremonies involve walking, sitting, standing and cheering, eating and driving. The action takes a backseat to the words and sentiment that mark the occasion. The graduation speakers offer personal anecdotes and words of wisdom, even as they recognize that short speeches, particularly for those eager to fill an empty stomach or discharge a full bladder, are a welcome part of the day.

While we’re milling around, we have ample opportunities to impart our own wisdom, to share encouraging words and to provide the kind of tailwind that accelerates the next phase of life.

So, what do we say? Did we pack our belongings, but neglect to choose from the wealth of words that can fill a sail with air, that can help us feel capable of defying gravity, that can enable us to see through this moment to a magnificent future?

How often do we watch an interview with someone who has accomplished the unimaginable, who doesn’t know what to say or who is it at a loss for words when someone shoves a microphone in that person’s direction?

We have time to consider the right words, to be supportive, and to make our trip to another state or another school meaningful, even if the graduate is too close to the focal point of his or her life to know how to react to the torrent of feelings and thoughts.

We can rely on a Hallmark card, a Thesaurus or a set of clichés to share our thoughts, or we can take a moment to find the right words, in between all our packing, our search for the right gift and our purchasing plane tickets.

Someday, a daughter graduate may be sitting on a plane heading for a meeting in Salt Lake City and may wonder how she got there and whether she can succeed in the next phase. Maybe she’ll recall the moment you took her aside, placed your hand on her shoulder, smiled in her eyes and suggested she paved her own path with perspiration — if she appreciates alliteration.

She may recall how you enveloped her hand in yours when you reminded her that everything, even a moment of weakness, provides opportunities for the next success. Perfection, she’ll recall as she remembers how you accidentally spit on her cheek when you started to speak, isn’t about the perfect achievement but about the perfect effort.

She will recall the moment you told her how much she inspired you with her awareness of the needs of others and with her grace under pressure.

If your graduate is anything like the ones in my family, for whom skepticism and cynicism hover nearby, he or she may roll their eyes and search for a phone to text a friend to ask if the recipient of the message can believe what you just said.

Someday, the graduate or that friend may borrow a word, phrase or idea from the ones you shared, providing fuel to a tank that seemed empty and converting the next impossible task into a reality.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

As I write, we are 530 days away from the 2020 election. It’s nice that so many people want to lead this nation. Notwithstanding William Weld, the former Massachusetts governor who is a GOP challenger, it seems clear that the Republican nominee will be President Donald Trump, while the Democratic nominee could come from any of at least 23 candidates — and counting.

I’d like to ask these candidates a few questions to get the ball rolling.

1. How will you try to unify the nation? Clearly, we are a divided country. We can’t agree on anything from abortion to gay marriage to the job Trump is currently doing. We have become the Divided States of America. That doesn’t sit well with those of us who have enjoyed the benefits of a country pulling together through so many crises and conflicts, and who have appreciated the opportunity to travel from state to state, feeling like a part of something that spreads from sea to shining sea — and to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam. What will you do in the interest of unity?

2. Is there any way to bring the world closer together? If an extraterrestrial force landed today and threatened society, we would set aside our geographic and historic squabbles, and work together to understand this new species and protect ourselves. Why would it take such a threat to unify humans? Is there any way to spread peace, while allowing for differences? If you believe peace is possible, in what turbulent area would you start and how would you bring any two sides together?

3. Can we establish any political rules? It seems that the old days of agreeing to disagree or civil discourse are gone. Were those measured words and polite disagreements a matter of political correctness and do some candidates benefit from attacking each other? Would all of the candidates agree to a level of respect for each other, for the process and for the American populace?

4. What kind of role model will you be as president? Can you lay out any rules you would follow as president, in terms of what you would do and what you wouldn’t, as our leader? What should the penalty be for you if you don’t follow your own rules?

5. How will you measure your own success? It’s so easy to declare yourself a winner and to tell the country and the world what a great success you are. So many of you will run under the banner of bringing change or steering the nation toward a better or, some might say, great future. Don’t just tell us you’re wonderful, give us an idea of how to recognize it. What metrics will you use to know that you’re successful? Are the polls more important, or is the economy, the stock market or anything else a good barometer of your success?

6. What will you offer children that they don’t get now? Parents often care more about their children than they do about themselves. What will you do to make schools, food choices, activities or other options better for children than they are today?

7. How will you protect our elections? It’s clear that other nations feel like they can influence our elections. What can you do to ensure that the process proceeds as it should?

8. What’s wonderful or great about your spouse or partner? What do you admire about this person and what is one of your favorite memories with him or her?

9. Do the ends justify the means? Is it as important to ensure that the journey obeys certain rules and that the country follows a specific compass, or is it acceptable to get to the final destination by any means necessary?

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

As I ponder the next step before my pint-sized daughter leaves the proverbial nest, I recall the incongruities between what we expected, what happened and what we remember. Please find below a list of some magical and not-so-magical moments.

The birth of our daughter

What we thought would happen: We had 40, no, make it 42, weeks to get ready for the birth of our daughter who waited well past her due date to appear. We took Lamaze classes — “breathe honey, breathe, there you go” — we read baby books and we had a birth plan. I figured my wife would let me know “it’s time” when her water broke or when the squint-through-them-and-then-smile-radiantly contractions arrived. We’d jump in a taxi and a wonderfully cheerful nurse would welcome us to the hospital.

What actually happened: Our daughter really didn’t want to come out, so the doctor scheduled an induced delivery. We casually packed our small bags, drove slowly to the hospital and walked up to the entrance. Numerous drugs, two days, almost no sleep and considerable anxiety later, our daughter still hadn’t made her appearance.

What we remember: This is tough, because we recall some of the hours of confusion and anxiety, but the end result was so life altering that one of our recurring memories was of a nurse coming in, to ask how many times we changed her diaper after she spent hours in the room with us. Wait, were we supposed to change her diaper?

Early trips to the doctor

What I thought would happen: He’d examine her and tell us what a wonderful job we were doing, and would offer us timely and helpful advice about surviving without sleep.

What actually happened: She weighed less than she did at birth. Is that good? Is that bad? No, it’s normal, he assured us. Why are you giving her shots already? Can’t she get shots later? She looks so peaceful. Why are you making her cry?

What I remember: That shot seemed so painful. We don’t remember our first shots, but we both felt as if the doctor were stabbing us with a sword when he gently inserted the needle in her arm.

First steps

What we thought would happen: She’d take some steps, we’d clap, and she’d be on her way.

What actually happened: We didn’t take away her walking toy until someone told us it was keeping her from learning to walk.

What we remember: Silly us, we delayed her walking because we let her keep using the toy, but, hey, she did just fine.

First athletic event

What I thought would happen: She’d try to throw or catch and ball and I’d be thrilled with her effort.

What actually happened: She played with dandelions and chatted with her friends.

What I remember: She looked great in that red T-shirt with her mitt turned backward toward her knee.

Going to high school

What we thought would happen: She’d share her daily experiences with us and we’d laugh and offer sage advice.

What actually happened: She grunted, we growled, and now she’s graduating

What we remember: She smiled and waved at us from the volleyball court and she laughed with us while we made cookies for her friends.

Driving 

What we thought would happen: She’d drive slowly and carefully and listen to us.

What actually happened: She told us all the advice we gave her wasn’t how we drove.

What we remember: She passed her driver’s test and can do errands and drive herself around. Thank goodness.

West Meadow Beach at low tide. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

If you ever move away from Long Island, you may find relief and a longing.

The relief could take many forms. For starters, you may find a place with magnificent sidewalks that allows you to walk for miles without needing to step out into the road. Yes, there are such places, although they are mostly in urban environments, where you can watch people, find restaurants and not just bars that are open at all hours, and where you can shift from one ethnic neighborhood to another within a few blocks.

You may also find road relief, as people in other places may allow you to merge readily, may move at a different pace, and may smile and wave at you as you pass them while they are on their lawns, walking their dogs, throwing a ball with their daughters or sitting on a rocking chair on their front porches, appreciating the flow of human and avian traffic that passes by their houses.

You also may not miss the delays at the airports or the train stations, as you wonder if you’ll make it to the job interview, the meeting, the wedding or the date on time when construction, lane closures, accidents, sun glare or road flooding slow everything around you to a stop or a crawl.

You might also find yourself relieved that the delis — if you can find ones you like outside of Long Island — are much quieter, as people in other regions may not be as compelled to raise the decibel level in public to outcompete each other for stories or to place their turkey club orders.

But, then, you might also find yourself missing some key ingredient of Long Island life. There are plenty of landlocked places you can visit that have wonderful lakes, rivers and streams, but how many of them truly have Long Island’s magnificent and varied beaches?

You might miss sitting on a bluff in Port Jefferson and staring out at the harbor or looking through the channel into Long Island Sound. You might miss the chance to visit your favorite rocky beach on the North Shore, where you can walk slowly along, looking for the perfect skimming rocks, recalling the days decades ago when your grandfather taught you how to use surface tension to make a rock bounce its way far from shore.

You might miss the toughness of feet so accustomed to the uneven rocks that you pause momentarily when you see someone struggling to navigate them, remembering that you once found these rocks hard to cross as well.

You might miss the wonderful intertidal zone, which at low tide allows you to wander across rippled and water-cooled sand far from shore.

You might also miss winter beaches, where winds whip along the abandoned dunes and where, if a cold snap lasts long enough, you can see the top layer of water frozen as it heads toward shore.

If you ever took advantage of the myriad cultural and scientific opportunities on Long Island, you might also miss spectacular performances at the Staller Center, lectures and symposia at Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory or Brookhaven National Laboratory.

You might also miss the farms or vineyards on the East End, where you can admire the way rows of vines, trees or grass expand out from the road.

You might also miss the secrets hidden beneath the surface of the water. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to snorkel at Flax Pond or at a beach, you know that magnificent creatures — arthropods that live on yellow sponges and look like ancient creatures under a microscope — populate a completely different world that is within surprisingly easy reach.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Advice is wonderful, unless it isn’t. The giving and receiving of advice is nothing like the process of exchanging gifts around the December holidays.

Often, there is a not-so-subtle subtext to advice that sitcoms have used to relatable comedic effect. 

A comment like, “You’re wearing that to your date?” isn’t advice, per se, although the underlying message is clear: “You could do so much better.” Extending this even further, the speaker seems to suggest that the listener returns to his or her dorm room, finds something that’s not wrinkled and doesn’t smell like the gym, and then go out on the date.

With high school and college graduations on the horizon, it’s inevitable that people will share their thoughts, opinions and ideas with the person they are celebrating. Here are a few pieces of advice and the translation for them:

Advice: “You might want to study a little harder in college than you did in high school. It’s much harder.”

Translation: “You’re probably lucky to graduate from high school and you won’t be so lucky in college, so take this time to start over and get your act together. Maybe you should consider studying more than 12 hours before a test on material you read all night the day before.”

Advice: “The time goes so fast. Take the time to appreciate and seize every opportunity.”

Translation: “I missed out on a lot of things in college and I’d like to go back and take better classes, find different friends and start over again. How about if you invent a time machine while you’re in college and send me back, so I can do it right this time?”

Advice: “Not everything your professors tell you is true, accurate or in your best interests.”

Translation: “Someone told me to major in chemistry. I hated it. I did something else for a living and it would have helped to take courses that made more sense. I could really use that time machine about now. How about if you make that your senior thesis?”

Advice: “Pick your friends carefully.”

Translation: “I didn’t really like your high school friends and I wish social media didn’t exist, so you wouldn’t stay in touch with all those people who steered you the wrong way. How about if you pick the nerdy woman who’s going to start her own company some day or the intellectual guy who plans to open a new school? Maybe, instead of asking me what classes I think you should take, you should send me a list of your prospective friends. That way I can be like a Roman emperor, putting a thumbs up or thumbs down on the relationship.”

Advice: “Pizza and soda are killers for the waistline.”

Translation: “I had the “freshman 20” and it took months to lose it. I blame pizza and soda which, at college, is pretty much 90 percent of your diet. Good luck avoiding the easy sugars and carbs when you’re up late at night, having the conversation of your life and you need energy so you don’t nod off when your friend from New Zealand with the cool accent shares some story you know you’ll want to recall the next day.”

Advice: “Floss your teeth.”

Translation: “This comes from hard-earned experience. Flossing is the best way to prevent root canals and those are among the most painful procedures many of us endure as we age. That is probably the best advice for graduates leaving the nest. If you floss, the older version of yourself will be eternally grateful.”

Young man photographing family at outdoor wedding. Horizontal shot.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Something about a posed picture brings out the prankster in me. I realize, of course, that posed pictures can and do capture a moment when a group of people come together.

In fact, I recently visited the athletic center of one of the colleges that admitted my daughter and stared, for hours, at the faces of athletes over the decades who took time out from their sports games and practices to have a picture taken. Without the uniformity and decorum, these pictures would have been a free-for-all with little structure.

And yet, in my own life, I can’t help seeing the camera and the formal process as an invitation to assert my individuality or, at the very least, to force the formality off someone’s face.

I can trace this back to formal extended family photo sessions we had when my brothers and I were young teenagers. Every so often, the aunts, uncles and cousins would get together. When they did, someone inevitably wanted to capture the moment for people to revisit years later, which, I guess, is around now, given how long ago the younger versions of ourselves forced a smile on our faces for those pictures.

So, anyway, I remember this one picture, when I was standing between both of my brothers, which made sense at the time because I am the middle child and my younger brother hadn’t decided I stopped way too early in the height department. As the photographer was getting ready to take the picture, I reached down as subtly as I could and pinched my older brother’s thigh, causing him to grin broadly at just the right moment, if you’re me — or the wrong moment, if you’re the photographer.

To her credit, my mom kept that goofy picture because, unknown to me, the photographer had taken a head-to-toe shot that clearly showed my fingers pinching my brother.

When my younger brother got married, I recall my father’s extended family all trying to line up for a family photo or, as my aunt said at the time, a fa-mi-lee pho-to, as she enunciated each syllable in a way that would cause poets to cringe. She accented all of the syllables and spoke so loudly that the camera picked up her demand to get everyone in their place.

Later, as we watched my brother’s wedding video, the whole family discovered an unknown treat. At some point, the videographer had clearly asked my uncle, one of the more serious and least playful people I ever met, if he had any marital advice for the newlyweds.

Seated in a chair by himself, with the music playing in the background and plates of hors d’oeuvres passing in and out of the frame, he paused for a moment before looking straight at the camera.

“It’s a sense of humor,” he said, cracking the smallest of wry smiles.

As my daughter and nephew prepare for their high school and college graduations, I can’t help wondering what the young men and women in the photos will be thinking when the many amateur photographers insist that they move a step to their left, lean to their right, stand up straight or open their eyes wider, no, less wide, no, wait, wider.

Hopefully, my daughter and nephew will be able to look back at pictures and see something more than a group of people celebrating one moment as they prepare for the next one. Hopefully, the camera will capture something, small though it may be, that brings a smile to their faces months or years later. Maybe the perfect imperfection will transport them back to the moment someone insisted that they “give us a natural smile” on cue.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Four people get into an elevator together. They kind of recognize each other, but they’re not sure so they smile politely and nod. They’re all going to the 7th floor. On the way up, the elevator gets stuck. Mr. B, the baseball coach, looks at his watch and shakes his head. Ms. S, the soccer coach, paces back and forth, as if she’s blocking a goal. Mrs. V, the violin teacher, closes her eyes, taps her feet and imagines the rhythm of a Mozart concerto. Mrs. Jones tries to text her three children, but the elevator doesn’t get any cell service.

“This shouldn’t take too long,” Mr. B offers hopefully. “I’ve been stuck in elevators, had rain delays and all kinds of problems in the past. We’ll be fine.”

“Oh, hey Mr. B,” Mrs. Jones says, her voice shaking a bit. “It’s me, Joan Smith. I’m John’s mom.”

“Right, right, I knew you looked familiar,” Mr. B says. “Did John have a chance to go hit in the cages like I told him to?”

“No, well, he had a violin lesson, so he couldn’t,” Mrs. Jones replies. “But I know he wants to and he’ll get to the cage this weekend.”

“This weekend?” Mr. B sighs. “By then the big game will be over.”

“So, you’re the reason John couldn’t concentrate during his lesson,” Mrs. V says, as her foot stops and she swivels to face Mr. B.

“Excuse me?” Mr. B says, crossing his arms over his chest. “John has been slumping recently and we need him to start hitting again. He has tremendous potential and we’d like to see how far that will take him.”

“Wait, John Jones?” Ms. S asks, turning to the group. “John is a fantastic goalie and we need him for our club game this weekend.”

“I thought soccer was a fall sport,” Mr. B sighs.

“Right, and baseball is a spring sport and yet during our busiest season, John seems to sneak away for extra hitting and throwing,” Ms. S says.

“Well, he needs to practice all year round. What’s he going to do with soccer?” Mr. B adds.

“You’re kidding, right? You think he’s going to play baseball in college?” Ms. S asks.

“Does anyone have any idea how talented he is on the violin? Have you ever heard him play? He is way ahead of his peers on the violin and could easily play at a much higher level,” Mrs. V says.

“He never talks about the violin with me,” Mr. B says, unfolding and refolding his arms.

“Would you be interested in hearing about it? Do you think he’s figured out that you might not be a receptive audience?” Mrs. V adds.

“Now, come on, think about this: John gets to play soccer, baseball and the violin,” Mrs. Jones says. “He gets to benefit from all of your expertise and he’s passionate about all these activities. You’re all giving him experiences he’ll never forget and he’s fortunate to have these opportunities. That’s a good thing, right?”

“Yes, I suppose,” Ms. S huffs. “But if he really wants to be great at anything, he needs to commit to it year round.”

“I could say the same thing about baseball,” Mr. B says.

The elevator suddenly starts to move again.

“Yes, but he has committed to all of your activities throughout the year,” Mrs. Jones sighs. “I know, because I’m driving him and his sisters everywhere. Please understand that he does the best he can to pick and choose during overlapping events. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to shop for a present to celebrate his 10th birthday.”

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

appreciate the joy of vanity license plates. They are like small puzzles that allow me to ponder their meaning while I await two or three traffic lights so I can turn left.

Sometimes they are like good movies or artwork, allowing readers to come up with their own interpretation.

My wife and I will ask each other what the combination of letters and numbers mean, offering various guesses as if we were on a game show, trying to figure out whether the letters are a message or the celebration of a successful stock that made it possible for the person to buy that lovely car.

They can reveal a car owner’s passions, for skiing, golf or for a particular person. They can also suggest how someone got the car, where the person with the car came from or how many people are in a family.

Recently, I came to a traffic light and read a license plate that suggested a sad story. In an inconspicuous maroon car that I would have otherwise overlooked, the license plate had a message of animosity.

Wow, I thought. Who would advertise an identity linked to hatred? How sad that each time the person got in the car, the license plate reinforced his or her antipathy. What could have happened that made anger so much more important than any other message or than a random collection of letters and numbers?

Then again, maybe it’s the internet’s fault. Traveling along the internet superhighway, people can’t resist sharing their disdain for everyone and everything. Maybe the anger that follows us on roads and on the heavily trafficked internet world has converged, blending into one laser-like beam of focused enmity.

Then again, that’s probably a sociological cop-out. More likely, the car owner, whom I will call Joe, has a life-defining story he’s sharing through this license plate.

Joe may have loved someone deeply and for years. He made plans about where they’d live, how many kids they’d have, what they’d do on weekends and where they’d take this small joy mobile on vacations.

One day, however, she arrived at a prearranged dinner at a diner. She looked different. Her hair was longer and had been straightened. Instead of her worn North Face jacket, she was wearing a designer coat. Her purse, which Joe noticed when she placed it delicately on the table as if it were made of glass, had also changed.

“Hey,” Joe offered. “You look so different. What’s up?”

“I am different,” she smiled behind lipstick someone else had clearly applied. When she refused the bread she usually wolfed down, Joe became nervous.

“What’s different?”

“I won the lottery. I’m thinking of changing everything about my old life.”

“How much did you win?” a suddenly excited Joe asked.

“How much is irrelevant. I’ve decided to give you a parting gift. I’m going to buy you a new car.”

Joe didn’t know what to say. A car wasn’t what he wanted or expected. Then again, he didn’t want to walk away empty handed.

When it came time to pick out a license plate, Joe wanted just the right way to express his frustration over what could have been. He tried options the DMV denied. Finally, he came up with a message that encapsulated a road not taken for his life and his car. Joe regularly drives past the home of the former love of his life, hoping she notices him and the message on his license plate: EVEIH8U.

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