Between you and me

Debra Bowling, owner of Pasta Pasta in Port Jeff, set up tables outside for Phase Two reopening. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Half a year in, how are things going?

There are signs of normalcy returning. The world outside the home is slowly coming back to life. I just returned from the first general membership meeting of a local chamber of commerce that was held in person for the first time in six months and not via Zoom.

I must say, it was wonderful to see people whom I routinely work with in three dimension. We all felt like hugging, but we didn’t. We stayed apart and we were outside, under a three-sided tent. By having the fourth side open, the meeting qualified as “outside.” So we sat at picnic tables, four apiece, or stood outside the tent, and we wore our masks, which we intermittently unhitched as we sipped our coffee graciously supplied by Starbucks. And we got some real business accomplished even as we enjoyed the new reality of it.

New stores and businesses are opening. Three cheers to those optimists who are starting up during a pandemic-caused recession. Clearly they feel the time is right for them. There were over half a dozen that just joined the chamber, some of them pivoting from their prior businesses that did not sustain them. Owners of established stores in Port Jeff Village were looking better than glum.

Children are receiving some combination of regular education, in person and remotely, which makes them and their parents and teachers a lot happier. Restaurants have largely managed to survive thanks to outdoor dining and curbside pickup, but now their owners worry about the coming colder weather. Outdoor heaters will be allowed, a la Paris, with appropriate permits from local fire department officials to ensure safety. Shoppers with masks and hand sanitizers are routinely grocery shopping. Following medical guidelines, we have learned how to cope in such situations.

A few residents are even taking vacations to destinations mainly within driving distance.

As we wait for vaccines and anti-COVID medicines, we seem to have come to some semblance of equilibrium with the virus. Of course we are greatly helped in this by the low numbers of those falling ill in New York.

That is not to say that we have forgotten the thousands who have died or their families who will suffer the pain of their loss for a lifetime. Nor do we disregard the many unemployed and the men, women and children on food lines. So many people are holding their breaths with rent coming due and monthly bills to be paid, yet there is no Congressional relief funding in sight.

Churches and community organizations have mobilized to offer food. Local governments have stepped into the breach, and to some extent, offered financial help. The U.S. Small Business Administration and regional banks have also provided low interest financing. Nonetheless, for some there is true panic. And for many, salaries, hours of work and budgets have been reduced.

Behind the scenes, we at the newspaper and website offices are busy at work. We believe the latest relevant information we bring to the public and the sense of community that is defined by functioning local media are essential to coping in these unprecedented times.

While our offices continue to be closed to the public, we still maintain our five-day, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. hours. Some of our staff work remotely part or all of the time, and unwillingly we have thinned our ranks. We can be reached by every sort of communication: telephone, email, texting, Facebook and just by knocking on our door. If the purpose for your visit is compelling enough, we will let you in, as long as you are wearing a face mask and that you maintain correct social distancing.

As we support our communities, we offer our resources and help to you, our readers and advertisers. For example, for several months we have run lists of restaurants open for curbside pickup and of other essential businesses open to the public at no charge. If we can help you with our communications platforms, please just ask us. If it is possible for us to do so, we will.

Even as we struggle to survive, we are committed to serving you.    

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Somehow reading about other troubled times makes for good escapism at this weird COVID-19 period of our existence. I just finished a wonderful, non-fiction, carefully researched book by Diana Preston, “Eight Days at Yalta,” and I recommend it for your next page turner.

Even though we all know how WWII came out and how the leaders of the Allies met at Yalta in Crimea to work out the details of the war’s conclusion and the post-war map, the story is still fascinating. The characterizations of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt, their interactions, their motivations and their deceptions make for riveting reading. And incidentally, those decisions still affect us today.

Originally scheduled for the end of 1944, the meeting was postponed until February 4-11 of the following year at Roosevelt’s request. He wanted it to happen after he was inaugurated in January for his unprecedented fourth term. Despite his obvious illness, he agreed to travel thousands of miles in the middle of winter, and he got there via train, ship, plane and limo. He was the youngest of the three leaders, at 63, and would die barely two months later. His fragile condition was noted by many of the participants, and he was accompanied by his only daughter, Anna Boettiger, who tried valiantly to protect her father’s health and help him conserve his energies.

Churchill insisted on first meeting Roosevelt at Malta, where the President’s ship, the USS Quincy, delivered him and his entourage to Europe. Though just 17 miles long and nine miles wide, Malta served as a strategic position in the British supply line. As a result, it was subject to constant air raids day and night by German and Italian pilots. Twice the amount of bombs fell on the rocky island as fell on London during the Blitz. No business was discussed there because Roosevelt did not want to give the impression that the two were ganging up on Stalin.

Churchill, 70 and the oldest, was also accompanied by his daughter, Sarah. The two English-speaking leaders, surrounded by heavy security from both countries, then flew on to Saki, in the Crimea, in separate planes. From there, they set out for the milder climate of Yalta in cars, some 90 miles away. The road was so filled with potholes from bombings that one of the Admirals traveling with Roosevelt complained the ride, which lasted for five hours, “was breaking every bone in his body.”

Stalin, 65, made the 1000 mile trip by rail from Moscow. He disliked flying because his only experience had been a white-knuckled flight across the Caspian Sea to the Tehran Conference, the big three’s previous rendezvous. Both he and Churchill were short and stout, with Roosevelt measuring over six feet when standing. Foreign diplomats were surprised by the dictator’s seeming charm, the softness of his voice and how, unlike others, especially Churchill, he often seemed prepared to listen to what they had to say rather than to speak himself. They concluded the conference liking him. Of the three, he was probably the healthiest.

Roosevelt had two main goals that he wished to obtain from the meeting. He was determined to set the architecture for a lasting peace through the creation of a United Nations. And he desperately wanted the Russian military to join in the fighting against Japan when the war in Europe was won, which happened in April.

The American casualties at Iwo Jima were huge and foreshadowed the terrible cost in lives of an attack on the Japanese homelands. He achieved both but at a loss of Eastern European countries to the Soviet Union. And as it turned out, the United States did not need Russian help in defeating Japan, although as time went on, Stalin hastened to join the fighting, so as to share in the post-war spoils. The President clearly did not understand the coming power of the atomic bomb, which was dropped on Hiroshima only six months later.

There are, according to the author, disconcerting similarities between Stalin and Putin.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This is the beginning of what many call “The Silly Season.” That term alludes roughly to between Labor Day and Election Day and refers to the many charges, counter charges, assertions, braggadocio and hyperbole that will be uttered by candidates and their parties in an attempt to win public favor. This year of 2020 seems like it will be an extreme example of this historic process.

Why this year? Because more than at any point in the memories of those still alive can there be found such partisanship and acrimony in the political arena. And those strongly held opinions and emotions have spilled over into our daily lives and interfered with our closest relationships.

Just ask divorce lawyers. According to one from New York City quoted in The New York Times, “Presidential years are typically very quiet for divorces because of the uncertainty of the presidency,” said Ken Jewell. “This year has been beyond insane.” What in the past might have been reasonable discussions about politics between couples have now become ranting confrontations. “And while people aren’t citing political differences as the sole reason for divorce, the topic is certainly compounding matters,” he explained.

Couples have been known to fight about Supreme Court rulings, the handling of the pandemic, wearing a mask, immigration and the repeal of DACA — the program that protects young immigrants — and even whether to eat indoors or outdoors at a restaurant.

Dating services have felt a similar impact. For example, according to the article by Nicole Pajer in the NYT Aug. 30 issue, 84% of the singles using Dating.com “won’t even consider dating someone with opposite political views.” And within families, feelings can run as high about marrying outside the chosen political party as they once were against marrying outside the family’s religion and ethnicity.

This is ultimate partisanship. This is also such a waste. Giving up on close relationships that have otherwise withstood the test of time merely because of different political opinions, is a decision that needs to be reconsidered. Unless that partisanship is only the straw that otherwise breaks the camel’s back, as the saying goes, in a relationship with more serious problems, those different perspectives can be made into intellectual exchanges and even result in personal growth.

Knowing how the other side thinks in a disagreement is enlightening. It can also be a bottomless well for thoughtful exchanges throughout a lifetime. What must be present, however, is mutual respect. Some couples have been able to bridge and perhaps even enjoy such a divide. The first that comes to mind is the Republican consultant, Mary Matalin, and the Democratic consultant, James Carville.

Matalin was deeply involved with the GOP as a Republican strategist serving under Ronald Reagan, functioning as a campaign director for George H.W. Bush, for whom she was then assistant, and even working as counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney.

James Carville was the lead strategist for the successful campaign of then-Arkansas governor Bill Clinton for president. Carville went on to elections work abroad, including in Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Colombia and Argentina. He was also involved with Hillary’s 2008 campaign as well as media and film efforts and public speaking. He is known for his outspoken style, which includes his comparison of Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama: “If she gave him one of her cojones, they’d both have two.”

Both Matalin and Carville have said they don’t discuss politics at home. Maybe that’s one way for those in a committed relationship to deal with ultra partisan differences. Others have handled the matter differently. Wende Thoman and William Sterns, both 72, of Delray Beach, Florida, sometimes loudly disagree about politics. “But this is the sport we’ve engaged in for a long time,” Ms. Thoman said. Mr. Sterns actually enjoys the banter. “Politics should be fun!” he said.

And yes, differing opinions can add a layer of passion to a relationship. The trick: not demeaning each other. While all’s fair in love and war, I vote for love.

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

An old friend visited, one who had lived here many years, and we used the occasion to have a mini reunion of sorts. The half dozen or so of us wives and mothers, who had come to Long Island in our 20s and raised our children here as our husbands built their careers, are now widows together.

We gathered at the beach, then again over breakfast, then on to another beach over two days to catch each other up on our lives and the progress of our children and grandchildren. It was a moveable feast of personal histories and philosophies.

The good news is that our children and grandchildren seem to be doing pretty well.

Some of the children went into the same careers as their fathers or mothers, others went in different directions. Almost all moved off the Island, although they return for regular visits or Zoom during this unprecedented time. Watching the grandchildren grow and develop their own lives and ideas with little responsibility needed from us is a delight.

Of course, we talked about our various health issues and traded advice, but not too much since there were more interesting subjects. One theme that came up was our appreciation for what life has given us. We all treasure our families and the love among the members. We also deeply rejoice in our friendships, especially those of a lifetime. Old friends cannot be replaced. They remember our parents, they laugh with us over what seemed in the past like serious problems and they bear witness to our lives. They know us for who we are, and best of all, they don’t see us as aged, but rather essentially as we looked when we first met.

Over the years, we swam together at the apartments’ pool, we cooked for each other with late dinners — “gourmet groups,” we called them — after the kids were put to bed in our new homes. We skied together in Vermont, played tennis at the school courts and then in the tennis clubs, we sailed together on the Sound, we cheered as our offspring moved through elementary, junior and senior high schools, we applauded as they went off to colleges of their choice, and we began to dine out regularly with each other. We comforted each other as, one by one, we began to lose our parents. We were becoming the older generation.

Most fun of all, we began to travel with each other. Places we visited, in no particular order and with various combinations of friends, included Canada, Alaska, France, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, Monaco, England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Montenegro, Estonia, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Russia, China, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Bali, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Grand Cayman, St. Thomas, Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Italy, Italy, Italy.

For each and every one of those destinations, we have indelible memories, and always of some combination of us together. And we have the endless number of photographs to remind us of the details.

What are we left with now? We are enormously grateful for our lives, our health, our children and grandchildren, our memories and our future, we hope, to some degree together. We are more mellow now and able to distinguish the minor irritations from the major challenges. We think of ourselves as in the autumn of our lives, grateful for all we can do and aspire to do. And interestingly, none of us has moved to live with any of our children, although some of us have moved to smaller quarters or warmer locations. If we could just get past this pandemic and go back to kicking up our heels, we would look forward to that.

The underlying theme from our gatherings is our profound gratitude and appreciation for life. One friend said she notices birds more, listens to their songs, admires their colors, enjoys nature in a deeper way now. I think she spoke for us all.

2nd Place winner for Spot News Photo by Kyle Barr

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Consider this a big Thank You card.

First, thank you to the New York Press Association for awarding us 17 prizes in their annual Better Newspaper Contest for 2019. Please check them out in the Arts and Lifestyles section of today’s paper or read about it on the web. These awards are normally given out at the spring convention up in Saratoga Springs in March for work done during the preceding year. But we know that there is nothing normal about 2020, and so the good news arrived this past week via — you guessed it — the internet. The physical prizes, wood plaques and certificates, will follow at some future time, but the news of the winners was flashed to us digitally.

The purpose of the contest is twofold: to honor the winners and to help improve the more than 400 weekly and small daily newspapers across the state with examples of good work for the membership to view. It is indeed an honor to be selected by our peers, who are the judges, and we deeply appreciate the recognition.

There is a third consequence of the awards: bragging rights. We are able to share with our communities, whom we serve, the peer-reviewed quality of our efforts. We can do our jobs because you, our readers and advertisers, support us. So please accept this as a report card of sorts, along with our deepest appreciation for your continuing faith in us. We do our best to bring you the latest news and issues in the towns and villages we cover in an honest and unbiased fashion.

We also serve as a sounding board for opinions and analyses, clearly labelled as such. We enable others to have bragging rights too, for their family members and community groups and even pets, by proudly printing their accomplishments. And we like to amuse and entertain you with contests, beautiful photos and interesting stories just for the fun of it. The bottom line there is, Thank You to our communities.

I would like to call your attention to the nature of our awards. We consider our job to be publishing both editorial and advertising content, the two together making up the news and our primary focus. So I am pleased to note that half of our prizes are for editorial excellence and the other half for advertising effectiveness. And for this distinction, I thank our talented staff and salute their commitment, especially during these times of few numbers both in the newsroom and in the art, production and sales departments.

And of course, we have to have the support of the business office to maintain our company and the circulation people to pick up the papers in the middle of the night and get them to the post offices and the newsstands in time for you to read them with the rest of your mail on publishing day.

But even as our staff numbers have shrunk, their work has increased. For we are no longer a weekly newspaper group but a daily and hourly news source, thanks to the internet. We have brought you daily briefings and news stories about the various aspects of COVID-19 since March, along with other news scoops, breaking news and advertising — all for the most part in addition to the content in the newspapers — on our website and also on our social media platforms. This enormous effort was made possible by our overworked and underpaid staff.

So a heartfelt and deeply appreciated Thank You to the following, by departments: Kyle Barr, Rita J. Egan, Heidi Sutton, David Luces, Donna Deedy, John Broven, Ernestine Franco, Bea Ruberto and Daniel Dunaief in Editorial.

To Kathleen Gobos, Kathryn Mandracchia, Elizabeth Bongiorno, Robin Lemkin, Minnie Yancy, Jackie Pickle and Katherine Yamaguchi in display sales.

To Sheila Murray, Ellen Segal and Joann Brady in Classifieds. To Beth Heller-Mason, Janet Fortuna, Sharon Nicholson and Lauren Vohrer in Art and Production, and to Courtney Biondo in Legals and her team in Circulation.

To Sandi Gross, Meg Malangone, Diane Wattecamps and Cathie Kitz in Business. To Sheila Murray again in Business and Subscriptions. To Rob Alfano, for Internet Strategy. And to Johness Kuisel, our General Manager, who is everywhere. Please all take a bow.

Photo from Facebook

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

What’s new?” is a question asked regularly in newsrooms all across the country, as editors and reporters plan for the next edition. During the third week in August, the answer typically is, “Not much.” A lull usually sets in as people realize summer is coming to an end and this is a time to get in “last licks” of vacation before the world of serious work and school returns. But not this year. There has been nothing typical about 2020. This year will go down in the history books as unique.

Here are some of the major themes in the news today: the progress of the coronavirus as it rages across the south and west; the ongoing damage to the economy the pandemic has caused; recognition of systemic racism in our nation and the protests that has engendered; attitudes toward the police; the growing crisis in the postal service alarming voters; the announcement of explicit diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) without first a settlement of the Palestinian question; the immigration issue again in focus with the selection of Kamala Harris as Biden’s vice presidential ticket mate; the changing face of America that nomination reflects; the reopening of schools; the reevaluation of a college degree vs. its costs precipitated by the prospect of Zoom classes and of course the Democratic National Convention held primarily via the internet.

Notice I didn’t even list the damage caused by Isaias; the increasingly troubling relationship between the United States and China; the windstorms that wrecked Iowa’s coming harvest; the abdication of Congress in the face of public desperation for fiscal stimuli; the grand centennial celebration of the 19th amendment concerning women’s right to vote; the defiance of the current recession by the stock market; and the rush of New York City residents to buy houses in the suburbs and settle in for the long haul. And that’s just some issues.

Almost all of these themes to some degree directly affect us here on Long Island. The one I would like to expand on, perhaps because it is the least confrontational and we have had enough confrontation for now, is the rapid change in American demographics.

The last big wave of immigrants, who arrived at the turn of the 20th century, was largely from Eastern and Southern Europe. This time, the surge is made up of second generation Americans — the children of immigrants who came from around the world. In California, for example, almost half of the children are from immigrant homes of Asians, Hispanics and those who are biracial. For the first time in our country’s history, whites make up less than half under the age of 16, according to the Brookings Institute. According to The New York Times, more than a quarter of all Americans are immigrants or the American-born children of immigrants, the latter representing “about 10 percent of the adult population.” About 42 million adults, or one in six of the country’s 250 million adults, are foreign-born.

What are the consequences of this shift in population?

This is nothing short of a transformation of this country’s identity “from a mostly white baby-boomer society into a multiethnic and racial patchwork,” according to The Times. “Boomers are 71.6 percent white, Millennials are 55 percent white, and post-Gen Z, those born after 2012 are 49.6 percent white … The parents of these modern children are from the Caribbean, China, Central America and Mexico” as well as India, Korea and more. They often came with higher education, mainly as a result of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, but it’s their children who are moving into public life. They tend to feel “very patriotic about America,” according to Suhas Subramanyam, born of Indian parents who became the first Indian-American to be elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.

This mix of immigrants brings cultural richness and energy to our society, not to mention great new foods.     

A large tree in front of Emma S. Clark Memorial Library was no match for Hurricane Isaias. Photo by Pam Botway

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

It’s no secret that we are living in chaotic times. The pandemic has changed all our routines and we certainly didn’t need a tropical storm with its accompanying power loss to further churn our existence. But Mother Nature gave us no choice. There we were, in the summer heat and in the dark with no phones, no TV and no internet. On top of that, it was Tuesday afternoon, the height of our production week at the office, and we had newspapers to get to the printer and the latest news for our website and our social media to publish.

But how?

We went home Tuesday night, hoping when we returned there would be electricity. The main event that lasted less than two hours gave us little rain, but high winds, and many days of downed trees intertwined with lots of electric lines to remember Isaias by. It seemed like every other local road was blocked.

While Wednesday morning was clear and beautiful, we were in a frenzy at the office. Normally our six papers leave us in turn via email to meet our press time at the printer, but that surely wasn’t happening. We needed power, and we needed the internet. We also needed at least eight more hours of in-house work by our pandemic-shrunken skeletal crew before we could even get to the printer.

I kept reminding myself, at least we we’re all healthy. And the extreme heat had somewhat abated so that we could keep our windows and doors open. Staff poured in and we threw out various suggestions for how to deal with this crisis that had snuck up on us. Well, it almost snuck up except for one staffer who had asked us on Monday how we were going to deal with the coming hurricane. “What hurricane?” I had responded cheerfully. “It’s only going to be a tropical storm!” Dubious, she returned to her desk, knowing how Cassandra must have felt during the Trojan War. Next time I will listen to her.

After we had parsed all the ideas for how to proceed, the one that made the most sense was to get a generator. There then began a furious round of phone calls on our juice-deprived cellphones to try and find one. Good luck! We tried from Hauppauge to Sag Harbor. There was none to be had.

Just when all seemed lost, our sales director remembered an advertiser called appropriately, Generators R Us by North Country Electric, Corp. Desperately we called. Trish Restucci answered the phone and, in the midst of their frenzied day, sensed our great need and remembered they had a small, old one in a closet that just might work. Later her husband, Frank, arrived with it and a can of gasoline and worked tirelessly to get us going. Now the frantic search for extension cords began until we found one long enough to stretch from the generator outside to our server inside, with stops along the way for the various computers.

By the end of the day, we were hooked up and ready to go. And then the power came on.

We at least had the satisfaction of knowing that we had rescued ourselves and had not waited hoping to be rescued in time. Yes, we were able to reach the printer, who rearranged his tightly scheduled press time to fit us in on Thursday afternoon, and we were in readers’ mailboxes and on the newsstands by Friday.

It was a true miracle. It was also the result of extraordinary help. Our heartfelt thank you to our neighbor, Denis Lynch of Setauket Kitchen and Bath, Dolores Stafford and Mike Vincenti of Stafford Associates, the computer wizards, Astrid at Ace Hardware, the post offices, and our saintly printer, among others. It took a village.

It also took the extraordinary energy and creativity of our most loyal and professional news media staff at TBR: our production and art director and her assistant, the editors, the ad director, the circulation manager and her husband, our drivers, the classified director, the webmaster and our general manager. It is an honor to work with you. You are the best!

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

What’s it like to be a grandparent?

Most of us would say it’s totally wonderful. But it’s not automatic. It’s a club we can’t join on our own. Only through our children’s actions can we be admitted, and for some people, their children are reticent to provide admission. Getting married in one’s 20s and shortly thereafter starting to have children is not the automatic course of events it once was in the last and previous centuries. For others with no children of their own, the surrogate route is available, and that can be deeply satisfying.

I can share with you some of the personal satisfactions. I am grandmother to four, who are in their teens and early 20s. Watching them grow and flower has been as much a miracle to me as their births, and they have expanded my horizons even as they have found their own paths. From my oldest grandson, I have learned a bit about making films since he has become a filmmaker. As you may know, we have even teamed up and collaborated on his movie, “One Life to Give,” about Benjamin Tallmadge, Nathan Hale and the Culper Spy ring.

From my second grandson’s work, I am thrilled to hear how music is made and then distributed to the public. This is his chosen career and our family is enjoying every note. My granddaughter is in college and expresses an interest in psychology, a field in which I have, to my regret, never taken any courses and am eager to learn more about. She is also a marvel to me because she is the first daughter among a team of sons to come along in a couple of generations. And my youngest grandson, still in high school, and I share a passion for baseball. Our only difference: he plays, I watch. And cheer.

Perhaps a less generally articulated satisfaction of being a grandparent is watching our children become parents. They have moved into those roles with the same eagerness and trepidation that their father and I felt. They now know what it is like to put aside their lives for another. As they have done so, they have understood and, I believe, come to appreciate their father and me, which is a nice aside.

Grandparents get to love their grandchildren without any baggage. We can enjoy their development without as much ego and effort as the first time around. We can play with them when they are little, then give them back to their parents when they need some attention. The remarkable thing about that relationship is how much they seem to love us, right from their first breaths on earth.

Grandparents also are the repositories of the culture, origins and values of the family. They offer a link between past and present, and often it is they who bring together families and community with their Sunday dinners and holiday gatherings.

Where are the grandparents now and how are they doing?

Grandparents have been perhaps the most isolated by COVID-19. In the age group deemed most likely to die from the disease, they have been the most careful about staying at home. As a result, grandparents have become almost invisible over the past four months. The only respite for some has been FaceTime or Zoom. If they have the technology, at least they can connect with family and friends digitally.

To honor grandparents and make them more visible during the pandemic, we are producing a special publication in time for Grandparents Day, a national holiday started by Marian McQuade of West Virginia and made official by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. We are inviting residents to send in pictures of their grandparents, and we will print them in the issue of Sept. 10. September was considered appropriate for such a celebration by the Carter administration since grandparents are in the autumn of their lives. And we consider it appropriate to salute them now for their difficult sheltering-in-place.

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Three men in my life, whom I would normally be hugging a lot this third week in July, are missing. Their birthdays line up nicely for a wonderful celebratory period. First comes my youngest grandson, then four days later my oldest son, and then two days after that, my youngest son. This has provided my family an annual occasion to get together with multiple cakes and dinners, noise and fun activities, usually at my home. But in this Year of the Pandemic, it’s not going to happen in yet another instance of how our lives have changed.

The sad news is that we miss each other’s physical presence. The good news is that we live in a digital age. It could be worse. Not only could we not hug each other, we could not even see each other over the many miles of separation. But thanks to Zoom and the other video platforms, there we are, at least in two dimension and we can talk back and forth with only a tiny lag between voice and picture.

Tuesday night my family did even more than that. When my oldest son was asked by his two boys a couple of weeks ago what he wanted for his birthday, he asked for something that they would make rather than buy. They met his request grandly. They pooled their particular talents, along with those of their friends, and created a four-minute full color animated video in which they mentioned many details of their father’s life set to original hip-hop music. It was a highly personal Happy Birthday card, sent through the ether and bathed in love.

For example, the video mentioned their father’s love of sailing — and in the same frame, of fruit. They slyly referred to his disposal of an unwanted shot of beer in the nearest flower pot. They alluded to his passion for tennis — and for peanuts, which he has been known to carry in his pocket on the drive into work. They generously included those who love him the most in the film, and they ended with half a dozen corny jokes that made us all howl.

Needless to say, in joyfully fulfilling their father’s wish, they brought us all together with the requisite laughter and hijinks. My grandsons and their friends, like so many of the young people today, are not working at their day jobs or are working remotely. In a way, this strange new existence made such a present possible because, coupled with the internet, they had the time and resources for such a creative gift. They were able to adapt to our altered existence and flip the messages that typically would have been sent in birthday cards presented at the party to Tuesday night’s video-sharing.

It makes me realize how quickly so many of us have harnessed our new lives. Many meetings and events are now held, in revamped fashion, on the internet. Education, only recently thought of as unusual if taught over the internet, now looks like it has found a home there. Doctors’ visits, requiring an appointment in a professional office, are now being conducted via telemedicine. Shopping, which has been ever creeping onto the internet, has now in just a couple of months become a way of life there — and not just for a book or a patio umbrella but even for food that is routinely delivered.

Will this exclusively two dimensional existence come to an end? Sure it will, perhaps sooner, perhaps later. The virus has been the driver, and whenever humans have figured out how to overcome the contagion, COVID-19 will just be another disease in the annals of medicine. But as far as the internet goes, you can’t put the cork back into the bottle. We will work more remotely, meet more remotely, be entertained more remotely and otherwise permanently embrace convenient exchanges that can be performed digitally.

One thing is for certain, however. Nothing will ever take the place of a hug.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Most of us like to try to peer into the future and see what may lie ahead. That’s one attraction of a world’s fair and of futurist books. One such popular book of half a century ago was “Future Shock,” by Alvin Toffler, which dealt with how people can adapt to changes and even embrace them. During this coronavirus pandemic, the first such in 100 years, consensus seems to be that life will be changed after the disease ends, that this is a defining moment in
our history.

But how will things change?

A columnist for The New York Times, David Leonhardt, tried to provide a few answers this past Sunday in his article entitled. “It’s 2022. What does life look like?” Here is some of what he has to say that you and I can probably agree with, understanding that the timing of a vaccine can, in turn, alter the most clairvoyant of predictions.

Many traditional department stores will disappear. Already weakened by specialty stores like Home Depot or discount stores like Costco, the one-stop of Sears and J.C. Penny have been bypassed by shoppers, who have also embraced the convenience of the internet. Walmart and Amazon are among the world’s richest public companies today. Retailers in general have been stricken by the consumer move to online shopping. As investment guru Warren Buffett has been often quoted, “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.”

Retail stores that have just managed to hang on will now experience a death blow. This could be devastating for shopping malls that depend on retailers’ rent. Of course, after a vaccine frees people to go shopping as something more like recreation, those retailers who provide an “experience” along with their goods for sale will have a better chance of surviving and even thriving. The demise of small retailers will have a huge impact on villages and unemployment, I believe. Many residents across the country work in their local stores.

Another change will be in higher education, according to Leonhardt. Dozens of colleges, private and public, despite being heavily subsidized by government, are in trouble. There are a couple of reasons. While college enrollment has pretty consistently been growing in the United States since the Civil War, in the last decade undergraduate numbers have fallen, the result of fewer births and, I believe, of a reconsideration of the value of pricey college education. Colleges have lost the revenue from summer school, from food service and parking fees. Of greatest concern is the imminent reduction of state aid due to stricken state budgets. The big question now is whether colleges will be able to bring back students for fall classes. If they cannot return, revenue is likely to drop sharply. Remote learning was not as successful or satisfying as was hoped. This could have severe implications for the educational level of the next generation of Americans.

The positive side of the remote coin can be found among white collar workers, many of whom will prefer to work at least part of the week from home in the future. There will be less business commuting, less travel with attendant fatigue, less cost. But that will negatively affect commercial real estate, the airlines and hotels.

The third at-risk industry, in Leonhardt’s view is local newspapers. “Between 2008 and 2019, American newspapers eliminated about half of all newsroom jobs. The virus has led to more job cuts — and could end up forcing dozens more papers to fold … If that happens, their cities will be left without perhaps the only major source of information about local politics, business, education and the like.” To what end? “Corruption and political polarization tend to rise while voter turnout tends to fall,” says Leonhardt. In short, the community begins to shrivel.

The solution, as we see the future, is to embrace change and make it work for us. That is why we here at the local newspapers are also the popular news website, tbrnewsmedia.com with almost 150,000 unique viewers a month. We are the sponsors of several social platforms and the innovators of such valued print products as the 2020 graduation supplement and the TBR Artists Coloring Book released in the last month alone. With, and only with your support, we at Times Beacon Record News Media are here to stay.