Between you and me

Photo from METRO

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Perhaps the worst is over. With this first phase of recovery for Long Island, suddenly there is hope that the strange pandemic life we are leading will pass into history. Of course, we are far from home free. The virus is still just as contagious and the threat is still real. We continue to ache for those whose lives have been cut short by this virulent disease, and our hearts go out to the families who lost loved ones without even a farewell or proper service. 

But we have, to a great extent, adapted to a coexistence with the virus as we wear face masks, habitually practice social distancing, wash our hands frequently for at least 20 seconds each time and otherwise limit our interactions with family, friends and colleagues to regular Zoom sessions. 

Working remotely, for those who can, has proven not to be so bad and will probably carry over well beyond sheltering-in-place. And for those on the front lines of response, the intensity, if not the fear, may have somewhat diminished.

We are thrilled to see the stores open up, if only for curbside or doorway pick up of items. Some of the establishments have constructed barriers to keep customers safely apart or added ultraviolet lighting to kill the microbes. And perhaps those on unemployment can now be called back to work. 

Some may not return even though they are required to respond to their employer’s call. Ironically, they may be doing better financially by being on unemployment, at least for the short term. The federal government has put itself in competition with small businesses, who can’t pay workers as much, and sometimes the Feds win. Those small businesses that have received the Payroll Protection Plan money are able to call back workers and to pay them until their eight-week period runs out.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who has built up quite a following for his daily briefings and won positive ratings for his down home manner, offered this as he rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday: “Wearing a mask has got to be something you do every day. When you get up, when you walk out of the house, you put the mask on. This is cool.” 

He also admonished people not to be rude to those who might not be wearing masks, that we should encourage them to do so nicely and politely. He did go on to add, recognizing that he was, after all, governor of New York State, “But it’s New York. We have to be careful that nice and polite stays nice and polite.” 

Cuomo met with President Donald Trump (R), a longtime fellow New Yorker, Wednesday, and urged spending for infrastructure as a way to provide many jobs. That goal was mentioned by Trump shortly after he took office in 2017 and is considered one of the few subjects on which there could be bipartisan support. In particular, Cuomo advocated for an AirTrain to La Guardia Airport, a rail tunnel under the Hudson River and a northern extension of the Second Avenue subway.

It is most unfortunate that, along with the deadly consequences of the novel coronavirus, there is an underpinning of highly partisan sentiment in the country. Traditionally, when there is a crisis, Americans pull together. Certainly that was true during Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, for example. But the nature of this pandemic is asymmetrical in that areas of greater density tend to be more stricken, while those more rural or away from the big cities and the coasts are more lightly touched. 

It is hard for those not in the throes of the ghastly metrics of death and affliction to feel the extreme stress of those who are. It just so happens that the divide between red and blue states overlays our map, not perfectly, but remarkably. Suffolk County, considered a red county, yet in a dense area, is an exception with its high casualties. 

So we have those demanding an “opening” of the economy vs. those who are concerned about contagion. We must unfailingly continue to practice what has worked to win us entry thus far into Phase One. 

Cécile Rol-Tanguy with her husband Henri. Photo from public domain

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Here is a script for the next Academy Award-winning film whenever we get back to making and viewing movies. It has all the right elements: white-knuckle suspense, bad guys, good guys, some who were both, Nazis, women of courage, men of valor, Charles de Gaulle, a love story, Auschwitz, a close family, children, heartbreak, resilience and especially a tale that truly happened. 

What’s it about? It is the life of Cécile Rol-Tanguy before and during WWII.

You probably never heard of her. I hadn’t until I read her obit. She died earlier this month at the age of 101 in Monteaux, 130 miles from Paris.  Born Marguerite Marie Cécile Le Bihan April 10, 1919, she was the daughter of Francois, an electrician who served in the French Navy and was a co-founder of the French Communist Party (PCF) in 1920. 

Cécile was raised in a highly politicized family that frequently hosted foreign communist agitators on the run from Italy, Germany and eastern European countries. As a communist, her father was arrested for the second time by the Nazis in 1943 and was sent to Auschwitz, where he died.

Cécile dropped out of school in 1936 and got a job with the Comite d’ Aide a la Espagne Republicaine, an organization helping the Republicans against Franco in Spain, and there she met Henri Rol-Tanguy, who was 11 years her senior and a fellow communist. He volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War, returned wounded in 1938, and they married in 1939 when she discovered she was pregnant. Sadly, she lost the baby girl in June 1940, two days before Paris fell to the German army. Shortly thereafter her father was arrested for the first time, and her husband, Henri, joined the French Resistance (Forces Francaises de l’Intérieur, or FFI).

Cécile too worked for the resistance, and when she gave birth to a second girl, Henri asked her to work elsewhere and leave the baby with her mother in case both of them were arrested. She refused.

They were separated during the war and were forced to hide their identities and their relationship, only communicating using code names. Cécile would adopt disguises and frequently change her hair style. She moved around Paris often hiding guns, grenades and clandestine newspapers in the baby’s stroller. She worked to set up a command post in an underground shelter, from which the couple received and distributed information and orders. Henri continued to move about the city, but Cécile felt confined to the headquarters, sending out communiques.

Then Aug. 19, 1944, the couple published and distributed a pamphlet calling the citizens of Paris to arms for a general mobilization, and, on Aug. 25, Paris was indeed liberated by the French division of the Allies’ army. In the underground, she said she could not hear the bells but she and the other women there celebrated by having a pillow fight.

Her husband went on to become an officer in the French Army, and while she was initially recognized for her efforts, Cécile felt that the many other women who had participated in the French Resistance at great peril to their lives were not. After the war and throughout the rest of her long life, she represented and advocated for recognition of the role of women in the French Resistance.

After 63 years of marriage, Henri died in 2002, and in 2008, Cécile was asked to become the Grand Officer of the Légion d’Honneur. Reluctant at first, she accepted the great distinction in the name of all the women resistance fighters whom she said were too often forgotten by history.

Cécile Rol-Tanguy died May 8, remarkably on the exact day of the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII in Europe, known as VE Day. As she went along, giving lectures and interviews during her last years, she continually stressed the importance of fighting for one’s freedom. She wanted future generations to receive that message.

Fortunately, she lived long enough to see the reopening of the Musée de la Libération de Paris moved, in August 2019, to Place Denfert-Rochereau, the location of the underground from which she and her husband launched the insurrection that helped in the liberation of Paris. 

Photo from METRO

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Zooming has become a verb in the same way xeroxing did many years ago. When a product assumes an important role in daily life, the manufacturer’s name sometimes becomes the name for the process. So it was for many years with photocopying. And now, I don’t know about you, but for those of us who are working remotely even part of the week, participating in calls over the Zoom platform is a regular occurrence.

Who ever heard of Zoom before sheltering in place began? Well, maybe I did, but only as a possible growth stock to invest in, and running at $100 a share, it struck me as too expensive to be interesting. When I googled (another such example) the name, it was described as “an American communications technology company headquartered in San Jose, California. It provides videotelephony and online chat services … and is used for teleconferencing, telecommuting, distance education and social relations.” Until I actually went through “joining a meeting,” it had no relevance to my life.

Enter the pandemic and sheltering in place, and we all discovered that unlike some other high tech stuff, Zoom was easy to use and helpful for work and play. We now have departmental meetings and community board meetings via Zoom, and I enjoy weekly rendezvouses with my children and grandchildren. For now, seeing everybody is free.

Like all technical marvels, however, there are positives and negatives in connection with Zoom. After three Zoom meetings, each for two hours, in one day, I found that I was exhausted and feeling out of sorts. The first such day, I just assumed it had little to do with zooming. The next time, with a similar schedule and the same result, made me realize there was a cause-and-effect taking place, but I didn’t understand why.

Then I read, “Why Zoom Is Terrible,” a column in The New York Times by journalist Kate Murphy, that made a lot of sense. Before I share the particulars, I want to rush to say that I don’t think Zoom is terrible. I think it is what it is, like all new inventions that change one’s life: a miracle. However difficult our lives are today, imagine if there were no video conferencing available to us. Even physicians have embraced telemedicine as a substitute for office visits for now, but surely as a way of communicating with remote patients who cannot get to the office in a life-or-death emergency in the future.

There are, however, some drawbacks, as Murphy’s article explains, and we should be aware of them. The way the video images are “digitally encoded and decoded, altered and adjusted, patched and synthesized introduces all kinds of artifacts: blocking, freezing, jerkiness and out-of-sync audio. These disruptions, some below our conscious awareness, confound perception and scramble certain social cues. Our brains strain to fill in the gaps and make sense of the disorder, which makes us feel vaguely disturbed, uneasy and tired without quite knowing why.”

This explains a lot to me. Just the audio delay alone tends to make me speak more loudly to the screen than I would normally in an unconscious attempt to get my words to the listeners faster and get their responses back more quickly. After six hours of yelling alone, I can feel pretty tired. And when I look at the others on the grid, in a manner reminiscent of the television show, Hollywood Squares, I am not looking them in the eye. There is no eye contact, and often people are actually looking at themselves — checking out their hair and whether their collar is covering their chicken neck.

We are, as the author points out, “exquisitely sensitive to one another’s facial expressions …and [that is] essential to our understanding of one another.” But such subtleties are frozen, smoothed over or delayed on the screen, however hard we might strain to see them, hence our fatigue and even a bit of alienation.

So now you know. And by the way, Zoom is now selling at $164.55 a share. I never bought it.

Stock photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” is a poem written by the great Walt Whitman as an elegy for the great Abe Lincoln, who died around this time in May of 1865. For me, it too honors my mother, whom I also regard as great, as I guess we all do our mothers, if in a more personal context. I think of my mother whenever lilacs bloom because she loved the flower, with its heart-shaped leaves and its perfume fragrance, and because she died right around Mother’s Day when, to me also in her honor, lilacs bloom.

My mother grew up in the earliest years of the 20th century in Corona, a then-countrified section of Queens in New York City. She told us that on her way to elementary school, she sometimes had to wait for the cows in front of her to finish crossing the road, which is certainly a different picture than what I saw of the neighborhood when I was shown the house in which she and her siblings, parents and maiden aunt lived. (That last is an expression from a century ago.) She also lovingly described the backyard as “completely filled with lilac bushes whose scent filled the entire block.”

My mother was the bridge for her parents and older siblings between the Ukraine, from which they emigrated, speaking not a word of English, and America, the repository of their dreams. She was probably 4 years old when they arrived and moved into the house on Corona Avenue, and she was sent off to school where she learned the language and brought it home, along with the ways of the new country. That she was bright must have been apparent to the teachers because she was skipped grades twice during those early years and graduated from junior high or middle school when she was 11. Although she yearned to go on to high school and college, her father had suffered a debilitating stroke, and she, along with her older brother and sister, were obligated to work and support the family of nine. She won a scholarship to what was then called a “business school,” where she learned in record time to be a credentialed bookkeeper and was hired as such by a man named Mr. Mosler, a member of the well-known family that made Mosler Safes and Vaults.

My mother worked all her life, arranging her work hours somehow around the responsibilities of caring for my father and three children. She was well ahead of her time, of course, as a “businesswoman,” but apparently neither she nor my father thought it odd that she should have a work life outside the home. It was apparent to me at an early age that she was different from the mothers of my friends. She didn’t bake cakes or cookies, was a terrible cook — except during holidays when she focused on preparing delicious meals — didn’t knit and didn’t seem interested in stylish clothes. Indeed, it would have been strange had she been restricted to the home for all her adult life since she was both worldly and had a manner that I would today call “commanding,” despite her short stature. She was occasionally asked if she were a lawyer.

For all of that veneer, my mother was generous, warm and affectionate with all of us, had a great laugh, had a close and supportive relationship with my father, and together they provided a safe and nurturing home in which we were raised.

My mother reaches the level akin to sainthood, in my opinion, because of the way she welcomed and raised my younger sister, who had Down syndrome. Despite the prevailing attitudes then, in 1942 when my sister was born, of stigma and institutionalization, my mother insisted that my sister had a right to a “normal” life within the family and to learn and grow to the fullest extent of her capability.

Again, my mother was way ahead of her time. 

Stock photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

“It’s May, it’s May, the merry month of May!”  according to the Elizabethan poem by Thomas Dekker and then twisted a bit to “lusty month of May” by “Camelot’s” Lerner and Loewe. I’m willing to believe them, if you are, and there are a couple of items of good news that we can celebrate in our war against the novel coronavirus as the
month begins.

First is the unexpected progress coming from the University of Oxford toward a vaccine. Despite the earliest hopes for such an effective halt to the COVID-19 pandemic involving a 12 to 18- month timetable, which would suggest toward the end of 2021, it turns out that scientists at Oxford’s Jenner Institute are way ahead. 

They have been holding previous clinical trials against an earlier coronavirus that are proving harmless to humans. Having cleared that major hurdle, now they can go to the head of the international race. They will be holding trials involving over 6,000 people with their new vaccine toward the end of the month. Not only do they want to show that the vaccine is safe but also that it works.

Then, “with an emergency approval from regulators, the first few million doses of their vaccine could be available by September — at least several months ahead of any of the other announced efforts — if it proves to be effective,” according to an article by David D. Kirkpatrick that appeared on the front page of this past Tuesday’s The New York Times.

There is evidence from the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana that this new Oxford vaccine may indeed work. It has been in a limited animal trial there and found to protect against COVID-19.

Other scientists at Oxford “are working with a half dozen drug manufacturing companies across Europe and Asia to prepare to churn out billions of doses as quickly as possible if the vaccine is approved. None have been granted exclusive marketing rights, and one is the giant Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest supplier of vaccines,” according to the Times. The idea of having several is to obtain billions of doses quickly and to avoid anyone making a lot of money from the pandemic.

There are a couple of American companies that are also doing research, along the same lines as Oxford, of altering the virus’s genetic material and conducting small clinical trials. They too must demonstrate both safety and effectiveness. The same goes for a Chinese company.

Another avenue of defense against COVID-19 is the use of blood plasma from the disease’s survivors on other desperately ill patients. Again, according to another article in Wednesday’s The New York Times by Audra D.S. Burch and Amy Harmon, the treatment may work. This involves finding survivors, with the same blood type as the ill patient, who will then volunteer to donate blood. The plasma in that blood, now termed convalescent plasma, is then injected into the gravely ill patient in order to bolster the patient’s immune system with new antibodies, “giving him more soldiers in his body to fight this war,” said Dr. Leslie Diaz, an infectious disease specialist at the Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center in South Florida where there was such treatment administered.

Initially to find such a donor, a frantic search was launched on social media that discovered an appropriate donor some 80 miles away. There is now a national program overseen by the Mayo Clinic, with the approval of the Food and Drug Administration, to use this experimental treatment on 2500 patients in U.S. hospitals. It should be said, however, that it is not clear whether having antibodies that are not their own would ultimately help or harm patients. This is only an experimental treatment under study.

So as we leave April behind, we should salute the American writer, T. S. Eliot, who began his 1922 landmark poem, “The Waste Land” with the words, “April is the cruelest month.” A hundred years earlier, he knew.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

If presented with a decision you do not wish to make, especially if told you have no choice, don’t do it. Don’t accept the unacceptable because you are told there is no other way to go. There is (almost) always another way. I will share with you a true story that recently happened to make my point. It may seem like the telling of a miracle.

A man I know, who lives many hundreds of miles away, was having abdominal pain and his abdomen was somewhat distended, so he made an appointment and went to see his primary care physician. The doctor palpated his distressed area, front and back, and sent him for imaging tests. Of particular concern was the fact that the patient had come into this world with only one kidney. When the results came back, the prognosis wasn’t good. He was sent by his doctor to an oncologist.

At this next appointment the grim news was confirmed. He had a cancerous tumor on the kidney, and the organ would have to be removed. That meant he was fated to be on dialysis the rest of his life. The oncologist then sent the patient along to an oncology team that specialized in cancerous kidney surgery in a big city hospital. The appointment was for four days later, and while he waited, the man did extensive research on the internet, learning everything he could about cancer of the kidney. At that next visit, the diagnosis was repeated and the team urged what they believed to be the inevitable: arrange to have the stricken kidney removed.

Three doctor appointments, and at all three, there was agreement as to the diagnosis and treatment. Realizing that he was about to have his life altered, and determined to make one more try at changing the outcome, he returned to the internet. One physician in particular, the renal department chairman of a research hospital, had been impressively profiled. The hospital was in a different part of the country, and COVID-19 was beginning to close down most airline flights. With little expectation of actually being seen by this specialist, and while he was worried about how he might get there and return, he nonetheless picked up the phone and called the department. He was given an appointment almost immediately. He almost didn’t accept it when he was told that he couldn’t bring his test results with him, that those tests would have to be done all over again. But in the end, he went.

It took three flights before he reached his destination, and together with his family, he checked into the hotel opposite the hospital, as he had been instructed to do.

For the next two days, there were extensive tests, and then the chairman told him the conclusion: the chances were 95 percent that they could save his kidney. He wheeled around and hugged the doctor.

Three days after the surgery, which involved a technique called modelling accompanied by 3500 pictures of the diseased kidney, he walked out of the hospital, holding his family tightly around him. The doctors told him the wondrous news. He was cancer free. The tumor had not yet begun to spread. 

He had found the right person to deal with his problem because he refused to accept the original path laid out before him, even though he had been told there was no choice. He was determined to find another way, creative in his casting about for an alternative and tenacious enough to transcend the obstacles on his way to a successful outcome.

I have known this story for more than a month, thrilled by its outcome yet not wanting to invade the privacy of the principals. So I have not identified any of the people or institutions involved. But I believe it is an experience that must be told to be of possible help for others. And the choices one is presented with don’t have to be life threatening. They can just be part of daily life. The moral is still the same.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

In the crunch of reporting the latest COVID-19 news and working remotely to the extent possible last week, we failed to notice our media company’s anniversary. Last Wednesday marked the 44th year since we offered the first issue of our first newspaper, The Village Times, to the community. 

For me, that is akin to forgetting my birthday; so exciting and memorable were those early days. After incredibly long hours and endless hard work, we had created something that had never before existed and both proudly and nervously had given it to the residents to judge. Would they become engaged or would they ignore our efforts? Would they find what we published to be relevant and important to their lives or would they just go on without us? Such are the thoughts and fears of entrepreneurs.

I was just asked recently why I wanted to start a newspaper. I had to stop and remember what life was like on April 8, 1976, because we were certainly a product of our times. My husband and I had come with our children to live here on the North Shore of Suffolk County largely because of the university. The State University at Stony Brook was just in its earliest years, a medical center was planned, and my husband wanted to practice his specialty, along with a research hospital affiliation, wherever we settled. That’s the way it was then: a physician hung out a shingle wherever he wanted a private practice and began to see patients. 

We were utterly charmed by the picturesque village of Stony Brook, with its quality schools, rich Revolutionary War history, cultural offerings and unending recreational opportunities both on land and on the Sound. After a time, we came to learn there existed a seemingly unbridgeable town-gown split. Thousands of new university hires and students were pouring into the community every year, in some ways upending the peaceful existence of longtime residents, even as they prompted property values to soar. The 1960s were, anyway, unsettling times, with the Vietnam War, assassinations and bursts of protests in the streets. Yet the small villages offered a peaceful and fulfilling existence, it seemed to me, if only there could be better communication between the university and the residents.

I had been thinking, as I worked for Time Inc. in New York City, about what I imagined were the joys of owning a community newspaper: meeting residents, serving their needs for information, providing a “town hall” for dialogue from all points of view, offering opinion through editorials, tracking local accomplishments in the arts, sciences, sports and cultural worlds and strengthening the sense of community for protection and pride.

So when my youngest of three started first grade, I saw my opportunity. I assembled what turned out to be a brilliant and committed team of largely other housewives, sold shares to families in order to capitalize the venture, rented an office on Route 25A in Setauket, and we were off. The thrill and excitement of creating a newspaper to serve a community could fill a book, and perhaps one day it will. There are so many stories, some side-splitting funny, some tough moments, some amazingly stupid mistakes, so many honors and awards for encouragement, and the bottom line: here we are, 44 years later.

Speaking of the bottom line, like so many other small businesses, we are in an unprecedented position now, with our traditional advertisers shuttered and their customers shut-ins. Our revenues have dramatically dropped, yet we feel it is our ethical duty to keep our communities informed of the latest information concerning COVID-19 via print and daily internet, yet our expenses continue. Indeed, we have been designated as “essential,” and we are publicizing every week, at no cost to them, other such businesses that are open, including restaurants and pharmacies.

These are our papers and internet presence. They are also yours. We trust we are serving you well.

Please note last week’s column contained several errors for which I humbly apologize. Please check any information that you might use. My thanks to the readers that pointed out the errors.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

If you are feeling a mite anxious these days, just know that you are like the rest of us. According to a Siena College poll released Monday, New York State residents are “deeply worried,” with 92 percent of those polled saying they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned about coronavirus. That’s as quoted by The New York Times. The poll was conducted between March 22 and 26 and surveyed 566 NYS registered voters by telephone.

Maybe we would feel better if we thought of this time as extended snow days? After all, remarkably we had no snow days this winter. I confess that’s something of a disappointment for me. I enjoy snow days — if they happen to occur on days when no one is inconvenienced. I accept them as a gift of time, like maybe one or two days to be homebound. That’s a chance to answer emails and cook a new recipe. But this coronavirus distancing is too much of a good thing; rather it’s a wicked thing. It’s scary because people are sickening and dying, and the governmental projections of casualties for the next two weeks are pouring oil on the fire.

There are two parts to our fear. 

Health, of course, is the first. We should all do what we are urged to do: Stay indoors to the fullest extent possible, wash our hands, use hand sanitizer when we can’t, don’t assemble in groups of any sort, even neighbors or relatives beyond our nuclear families and stay occupied — with work or entertainment.

The second part is economic. We read or hear that thousands are losing their jobs as business slows to a crawl or stops altogether. Businesses have no revenues with which to pay their employees. When companies like Macy’s and the Gap are furloughing most of their 125,000 and 80,000 workers respectively, how about the small business owner? They are all wondering how they will pay their rents, utilities and vendors. With no rents coming in, landlords worry about how they will make their mortgage, taxes, maintenance and insurance payments. And on and on, it’s a game of economic dominoes.

There are federal loans available, ranging from a maximum of $25,000 as bridge loans for disaster-related purposes to $210 million for disaster loans. These are made possible through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and for more information go to their website, www.sba.gov/disaster, or they can be reached  by phone or email for an appointment and advice. The trouble with loans, of course, is that they have to be repaid and with interest. That is more than most small businesses would be able to do, especially those already hit by the retail downturn.

While this is all incredibly worrisome, it might help to project into the future. How will we live differently? How will we work differently? Even, how will we shop for food differently? The world will change. Can we make it for the better?  

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Hello. Here we are again, one week later and still in the midst of COVID-19. In fact, we are in a lot deeper. I’m sure, even if we here in New York are used to being the center of everything, that it doesn’t make you a little bit happy to know we are at the epicenter of the United States pandemic. 

By the way, have you figured out how novel coronavirus morphed into  COVID-19? It was pointed out to me that the CO comes from corona, the VI from virus and the D stands for disease. The number 19 represents 2019, the year it emerged and flung itself on the unsuspecting population of the world. In fact, this new coronavirus was named by the World Health Organization.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Robert Burns wrote that saying, and well before COVID-19. Only he said it more elegantly in “To a Mouse.” What the Scottish poet wrote was, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft awry.” Well, I suspect you too, like me, are feeling awry or off-balance. 

This past Sunday was to be our 44thth annual People of the Year celebration at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook. There we would have handed out certificates and expressed appreciation to those who had worked to make our lives better during 2019. Instead all such gatherings were shut down for fear of contagion. Breakfast and luncheon appointments were cancelled, meetings were postponed indefinitely, children were home from shuttered schools and colleges, and supermarkets were swept clean of all animal protein and, would you believe, toilet paper.

This whole subject has got to be the dark comic relief of the times we are living through, as I have mentioned before. Who would have imagined that social status could be determined by how many rolls of toilet paper one possesses? Never mind Rolls Royces! Open your bathroom cabinet and let’s see how many rolls you’ve got in there. I’m happily receiving all sorts of cartoons on the subject. The latest one shows a typical family of four: — husband, wife, daughter and son, — in a subterranean room, up to their waists in rolls of the stuff, and the father asking, “Did anyone bring any food?”

There are things I have learned since this all began. I’m not talking about the big stuff, like what’s really important in life. No, more basic things. I never thought, when washing my hands, that I should also be including my wrists. I considered washing my hands to be just my hands. Now I soap up to above my wrist bone for the requisite 20 seconds, then rinse thoroughly. So if you see me and the front of my blouse is a little wet, you’ll know that I was diligent.

But you probably won’t see me, and I won’t see you because of self-isolation and social distancing. From six feet away, you won’t be able to judge the condition of my blouse. 

And by the way, how is your unsocial life going? Under the heading of learning new things, I have participated in my first Zoom session. And my second. And my third. The meetings were with the sales staff, and although we couldn’t share the cookies or pretzels usually brought by sales people to the meetings, we did get to see each others’ faces and hated the sight of our own necks.

All joking aside, I am as worried about the survival, among others, of small businesses in our villages as I am about the virus. That includes our business. It is short-term survival when revenues only trickle in and expenses continue rushing out. 

We know what we do, by delivering the latest news and vital information, is essential for the community. And in fact, so is what the other businesses do, for they make up the hearts of our villages. The government has just offered help for us to survive. We hope it arrives in time. 

Photo from METRO

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Do you feel like you are living in the “twilight zone”? Our current world would make a riveting episode for Rod Serling’s 1960s television series. Here is an example of life imitating art, with our deserted village streets, our closed schools and our shuttered shops. Only residents popping out of restaurants with takeout orders offer signs of normalcy. I keep pinching myself, but nothing changes. This is not a bad dream. This is real.

What to do besides washing our hands? Don’t know about yours, but mine are already chapped from my conscientious response.

For starters, those not in essential businesses or services are asked to stay home. What has been deemed “essential” is interesting: pharmacies, restaurants — takeout only, gas stations, banks and liquor stores. Although we are not on the list, we journalists consider ourselves committed to providing factual information for our communities during these unprecedented times, and we remain at our posts although in a somewhat reduced number to honor the new phrase “social distancing.” For more about how we are functioning, please read the adjacent editorial. We are dedicated to bringing you a regular dispassionate update on the website and of course in the newspapers.

What else?

Certainly don’t check on the value of your stocks if you own any. Better to leave your 401K and IRA out of sight for now. No need to heighten the hysteria. And how long can we bemoan lost work hours, disappearing paychecks or sales revenues that have evaporated, even as our expenses continue unabated? For whatever consolation it may offer, we are all in this together, which means rules will be adjusted. 

The federal government has made some pledges of emergency cash, perhaps within two weeks, to keep the wolf from the door. There may even be subsequent payments. The infusion of such cash should stimulate the economy albeit briefly because it would probably be immediately spent. But for most families, it won’t go that far, which is frightening. Surveys have shown that four out of 10 Americans don’t have enough cash on hand to cover an unexpected $400 emergency expense without borrowing. Since the Federal Reserve has dropped rates close to zero, it is almost painless but always dangerous to borrow. Or perhaps it is an opportunity to renegotiate a loan or mortgage?

It is easy to be afraid. Society, as we have known it, is being altered — by government officials urging us not to touch or even be near each other. We can’t send our children to school, and now child care becomes a huge headache. But perhaps it won’t be because we may not go to work either. At least we can take care of the children. We are advised to maintain in our homes the same sort of schedule as the children follow at school: study hours, physical activity, playtime. More time with our families may be a blessing in disguise. Consider that we are being isolated from each other in the age of the internet, which means access to unlimited educational and recreational sources. The idea of learning remotely and working remotely is now going to be put to the test. There could be opportunity here.

I know this is tough to hear, but being upset doesn’t help anything. If we can calm down and manage the things we do have control over while we wait for the uncontrollable to settle down, we will have a good action plan to see us through these “interesting times.” There are, after all, closets to clean, desk drawers to sort, new recipes to try, books to finally read, movies to watch — even binge on if you have a series like “The Crown,” pleasurable moments to enjoy with family and the certitude that this, too, shall pass. 

This is the time that the Earth slowed down. The frenzy of everyday life is gone. Appointments, lessons, carpools, timelines, plans are all put on hold temporarily. It is a time for us to slow down, too, take some deep breaths, perhaps permit ourselves a nap in the afternoon. The tide has gone out and we can’t pull it back. But it will return on its own and just as strong.

Of one thing we can be sure: There will be a baby boom in nine months.