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D: None of the Above

Daniel Dunaief

By Daniel Dunaief

What is it about “The Play That Goes Wrong” that is just so right for so many people, including me?

My wife and I recently went to this farcical show, where my wife informed me that she, the couple attending the performance with us, and just about everyone around us could tell how much I enjoyed the experience. 

In case you haven’t heard about it and can’t figure it out from the title, “The Play That Goes Wrong” is an absurd show where everything goes so wrong — the props, the actors, the staging, the lighting and the music. Indeed, it’s almost challenging to follow the simple murder mystery plot amid gales of laughter, much of it coming from me.

My family has numerous qualities that we have shared from one generation to the next. My late father laughed so hard at the pratfalls and theater-of-the-absurd dialogue of Danny Kaye movies like “The Court Jester” (1955) that I can still picture him gasping for air as he wiped away the tears slaloming down his face, where they joined the muddy sneaker stains, the dirty paw prints and the soda spills on a white carpet that chronicled our active lives.

The current play follows in the footsteps of Kaye, Benny Hill, the Three Stooges and a host of other characters who do anything for a laugh, stepping on rakes that slam into their heads or interacting in nonsensical ways with other actors as a part of a skit. The show makes the sketch comedy of many of today’s late night shows appear pedestrian by comparison. Granted, the plot follows a singular theme and, once completed, can and does create a full length and ridiculous drama.

Now, some people may find the pedestrian antics of the cast too absurd. I agree that the show isn’t for everyone and doesn’t provide life lessons, memorable songs, gritty entertainment or an insightful view of existence.

And yet, it does offer much needed self-parody and perspective on a country thoroughly divided by events in Washington, D.C. The people who run our country seem intent on making their supporters cheer, while their detractors roll their eyes, shake their heads and seek solace from people who share their beliefs.

Fine, but, the actors in a show written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields of the Mischief Theatre Company, seem intent on roping as much of the audience as possible into their shenanigans. 

One of the actors, who plays Cecil Haversham, seems delighted by the presence of the audience. He plays to the crowd so often that he shares in their enthusiasm when he does something well or when the crowd appreciates an ongoing joke.

This intentionally imperfect play isn’t perfectly imperfect, either. Some moments fall flat. The second half of the show, which is shorter than the first, isn’t quite as engaging, entertaining and uproarious.

Knowing the general plot of the story before I attended, I tried to anticipate the wide range of possible intentional stumbles and humorous moments that actors struggling to maneuver through a story might endure. The range of mistakes and blunders exceeded my expectations among numerous welcome and delightful surprises.

A play that delves in the world of funny gaffes takes real work on the part of the writers and the actors. To anyone sick of the political headlines, the conspiracy theories, the name calling, the accusations and counter accusations, this play is a welcome comedic retreat. It’s no wonder it won Best New Comedy at the 2015 Laurence Olivier Awards in London and is now on Broadway.

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Daniel Dunaief

By Daniel Dunaief

Last year at this time, I wrote a column celebrating words. I feel compelled to share another homage this year. This may start a new annual tradition. I hope you enjoy.

Words dart away, just out of reach, like a fish in the ocean, a butterfly in a meadow or a Frisbee lifted overhead by a sudden breeze.

Words emanate from nearby, startling us while we lay in bed, coaxing us to search the house, the closet, the garage for the source of elusive sounds.

Words give strength to our arguments, power to our convictions, and a method to share our hopes, desperation, dreams, fears, needs, wants and cravings.

Individually and collectively, words enable us to invite others to share experiences.

Words form the backbone of a democracy always challenged by new words, concepts, people and ideas.

When we hold an infant, listen to the sound from the air leaving the lungs of a whale surfacing nearby or gaze from the top of a volcano at the rising sun over the horizon, we hope the words we choose to describe what we see, feel and experience bring us back to these magic moments.

Words grow into unmanageable bundles as jargon triggers a metamorphosis that confounds and clutters their meaning, turning them into a sesquipedalian mess — that is the practice of using long-winded, obscure words.

Words tell tales, show emotions and reach out across time from generations long since past, urging us to pay attention and learn lessons from those who came before.

We select rhyming words that sing like chirping birds. 

Words make us laugh, offering a salve to suffering and transportation out of intransigence.

When we can’t understand something, we name it, giving a word to the unknown that allows us to refer to something in the cosmos, in our minds or buried under our fingernails. Ancient Romans used words to construct fantastic stories about the stars, the heavens and the gods, who exhibited a wide range of emotions that seemed remarkably human.

We remember the words from our favorite movies: “May the force be with you” (“Star Wars”) and “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” (“Casablanca”). And from our favorite presidents, such as John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” (1961) or Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (1933).

We carry with us the words that mean the most from our own lives. We don’t need to check them at the airport when we are in group 9, stuff them in an overstuffed backpack when we go to school or keep them from getting waterlogged when the evapotranspiration cycle decides to dump rain, sleet, hail or snow upon us. We remember the person so critical to our existence that he or she “ruined us for all other” men or women.

The words that elevate, inspire and encourage us to do and be our best allow us to stand straighter and taller, enabling us to wear a cryptic smile that those who know us best perceive immediately.

Words give us hope, help us believe in ourselves and allow us to feel connected to someone halfway across the world.

We pause from uttering words during moments of silence, as we pay respect with the unspoken words in our minds.

We are surrounded by paper thin walls of meaningless, angry, spiteful, hateful words. We can combat those messages with words that reflect the best of us and our country. Words fill the toolbox with the parts to build the world as we choose.

As you ponder words that matter at this time of year, I’d like to wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving.

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

I have been working out at a gym, where my routine consists mostly of pushing my body as long as I can on a treadmill, bike or elliptical machine until my sweat has soaked through my T-shirt. I play mind games while I’m running, telling myself that I can take a break once I get to 3 miles, or maybe 4 or closer to 5.

Each time I hit a milestone, I think about how much better I’ll feel if I can go just a bit farther, even as I’m taking an inventory of all the barking body parts, which typically includes my knees and back.

What helps get me over the hump lately, though, is the music I listen to as I work out.

I started with a collection of ’80s songs, hoping, perhaps, that the combination of familiar tunes from my youth would make my body remember the energy that defined this younger period.

As I was running, the songs reminded me of the times I danced with friends at Ward Melville High School, played Uno in a friend’s living room or decorated a Christmas tree with another friend who patiently showed a group of us how to thread popcorn and cranberries through a line.

As I was running, a montage of these images played through my head, making me feel as if my legs were turning back the clock. Fortunately, no one at my gym looks closely at me or my facial expressions, so I could indulge in musical — and life — nostalgia without interruption or without questions from people wondering what I was thinking as I reacted to people who have long since gone their separate ways.

For a few days, I switched to my favorite singer, Billy Joel. Hearing the words from “Only The Good Die Young,” “Piano Man,” and “Movin’ Out,” brought me back to the study breaks I took in high school when I stared out the window between my house and the neighbor’s colorful Santa sleigh down the street, hoping that the snow forecast for that evening was sufficient to close school the next day.

I’m planning to see Billy Joel in concert before too long, so I switched to another genre, playing the soundtrack from the original 1975 version of the musical, “A Chorus Line.” While others rarely cite it as one of their favorite musicals, I know it was the song “Nothing,” in which Diana Morales receives nonstop criticism from her teacher Mr. Karp, that brought to life the magic of Broadway for me. 

I always measured every other performance, including of musicals like “West Side Story” that I supported by playing clarinet in the pit orchestra, against the desperate hopes of each of the cast members in a chorus line to “make it” into the show.

Eventually, I needed a pulsating beat, so I shifted to exercise music, which, of course, included songs from “Rocky the Musical,” as well as other inspirational films. Each time the beat got faster, I found another pocket of energy that helped me conquer the next mile, using the beat as a metronome for my legs.

Music, in all its forms, serves many functions, allowing us to connect with the artist, to travel on an acoustic journey, to remember friends, and to exercise feelings and emotions even as we exercise the rest of our bodies.

I coached many sports when my children were younger. If I could do it over again, I would have added contemporary music to mundane practices to spice up the experience in real time and to inspire me on the nostalgia treadmill.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

You know the face dogs make when they’re taking care of their business? I’m not talking about number one. I’m talking about the big whopper: number two. For many dogs, I imagine that is the equivalent of the human concentration face, as we ponder everything from what we should have for dinner, to the best route home in a traffic jam, to the best use of our time on a Friday night when we’re exhausted but know we could contribute to our area through community service.

My dog must know that I’m watching him closely because every time he finds exactly the right spot to release the contents of his bowels, he turns his back to me. Before he enters his squatting position, he looks back over his shoulder to make sure no one or everyone is watching him. He’s easily distracted in the moment of separation from his solid waste.

I respect his wishes and give him his moment of privacy once he starts the process. Now, of course, much as we might watch them as they relieve themselves, I know that they watch us closely, wondering why we’re so meticulous, or not, as the case may be, about scooping up everything they’ve dropped.

My dog still seems to think that he’s doing sufficient cleanup duties by kicking a few blades of grass in the general direction of his creation. He starts tugging on the leash immediately after that, sending a nonverbal signal from his neck to my hand, as if to say, “I got this one, let’s move to that flower bed where Marshmallow left me a secret scented note.”

As I bent down recently to clean up his mess, he saw one of his favorite couples. That’s not exactly a fair characterization, as almost any combination of two people would immediately rank among his favorites if one or both of them came over to him and rubbed his stomach while he turned over on his back and dangled his paws in the air, as if he were at a canine nail salon. The challenge for me, as he was pulling, tugging and twisting on the leash, was to do the impossible: Chat with his human friends, keep him from knocking one or both of them over with his enthusiasm and politely scoop up his poop.

I waited for a moment to retrieve my retriever’s droppings, hoping that he’d calm down enough to allow me to bend my knees and lift the boulders from the ground. No such luck, as he seemed to be playing twist-the-leash-around-the-human-legs game.

One of the many sensory problems with my dog’s poop is that the longer it remains in place, the more it seems to spread out and sink into the ground. Knowing this, I was eager to bag it and to move on during our walk.

Just as the couple finally disengaged from my dog and his leash, another dog and his owner appeared, causing my dog’s tail to wag so violently that it looked like those whirling propellers on an old airplane. While my dog darted and retreated from his much bigger and more mellow friend, I got farther away from his droppings. In the back of my mind, I wondered whether I could, just this once, leave his biodegradable droppings where they landed.

When the other dog and his owner took off, my dog and I returned to the expanding pile. I’m convinced that my dog watched the entire pickup routine with rapt fascination, knowing he’d succeeded in extending the process into something considerably more challenging for the human scrunching his nose at the other end of the leash.

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.

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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 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.

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.