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D: None of the Above

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Three years and a different world ago, I attended a scientific conference at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on a gene editing technique called CRISPR, or more technically CRISPR-cas9.

I rubbed elbows with some of the many talented scientists at an internationally renowned institution. In a casual atmosphere filled with high-powered talks from people who speak the language of science with accents from all over the world, the grounds at CSHL, with its winding roads and personalized parking spaces, offers a tree-lined backdrop for new collaborations and discoveries.

Back then, I invited one of the conference organizers, Jennifer Doudna (pronounced Dowd nuh), who is a Professor of Chemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, to lunch.

After a talk she gave to a packed Grace Auditorium, she and I strolled to the cafeteria to discuss a gene editing tool that has the potential to change the world.

Indeed, even today, labs around the world are using a technique based on the way bacteria recognize and fight off viruses to combat the effect of SARS-CoV-2, or the virus that causes COVID-19.

During that sunny July day in 2017, however, we were blissfully unaware of the challenges to come in 2020. We sat down at a central table outside, with people passing, nodding and acknowledging my tall and talented lunch guest.

While she responded to an appreciative crowd of casually dressed researchers, she was present and focused on the many questions I’d prepared for an upcoming Power of 3 column (see page B9 for another look at that column).

Like many revolutionary technologies and inventions such as splitting the atom, CRISPR is neither all good nor all bad. Editing genes creates opportunities to cure or prevent diseases and to disarm a range of miniature invaders.

At the same time, gene editing puts the power of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein into the hands of scientists or doctors, offering the kind of tool that requires careful ethical considerations.

Indeed, just last year, a Chinese court sentenced a researcher to three years in prison for using gene editing in unborn babies.

Doudna, who moved to Hawaii when she was seven and is a passionate gardener, is in the third year of a four-year $65 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which monitors security concerns for the intentional or accidental misuse of the technology.

Eating with Doudna on a breezy, bright summer day, I appreciated how ready she was to tailor the conversation to my level of understanding of this technology, offering details about gene editing and making sure I understood her.

While she was impressive and articulate, she certainly didn’t seem as if she were speaking to me from on high. She shared a deliberate and directed intelligence, blending a combination of an explanation of what she’d done and thoughts on the next scientific steps.

Doudna, who lives with her husband Jamie Cate, who is also a Berkeley scientist, and their high school senior son Andrew, shared an appreciation for the history of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where she’d visited at different points in her career.

Back in 1987, she spotted a woman walking towards her. Nobel prize winner Barbara McClintock, whose name still comes up regularly in conversations with scientists at the site, strolled by, giving Doudna a thrill.

The next time someone spots or interacts with the Berkeley Professor at CSHL, they will likely feel the same excitement, as Doudna was recently named a recipient of the Nobel Prize.

Then again, it was clear from the way the attendees at the conference reacted to Doudna three years ago that, Nobel prize or not, she was already a rock star in the scientific community whose foundational work may, one day, lead to the kind of breakthroughs that extend and improve life.

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We are one of the loudest families on the block, and there are only four of us when we’re all home. Well, five, if you count the dog, and you should definitely count the dog.

Every so often, my dog gets on one of his benders where the entire neighborhood has to hear him. He races into the backyard and barks at shadows that my eyes, and the eyes of my son, who runs to the back door and turns on the light, can’t see either.

Every neighbor presents his or her unique challenges to a block where we continue to spend a large percentage of our time. There’s the guy who drives too fast. We all glare at him, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He probably can’t see us because he’s moving too quickly and exists in a different space-time continuum. Don’t you love a word like continuum that dares to have two “u’s” in a row?

Then there’s the neighbor whose house is under constant construction. No matter what season, time of the month, or time of day, construction people are always there, digging, pulling, pushing, installing, removing, re-laying, resurfacing, ripping up, putting back down.

Who needs all that continuous fixing? I don’t even live in their house and I’m exhausted by the constant change. Sure, it’d be nice if that bulb above my wife’s head in our bedroom actually worked, but my arms are too short on the ladder and the bed is in the wrong place. I put my son on my shoulders and he reached up and turned, but the bulb and the fixture kept spinning.

On the other side, we have a lovely neighbor who is so nice that even the people who frown at the bunnies and deer, which prance through our neighborhood as if they were responding to a cue from a Disney director, smile at her. Her smile and laughter seem like a starter’s gun, waiting for a small cue to explode to the surface.

Anyway, the rest of her family is friendly enough, but doesn’t share her ebullience. They do, however, love their cars. The louder the sound, the more impressive the car, or so it seems. Their driveway hosts regular revving contests. Okay, how many columns have words with two consecutive “u’s” and two consecutive “v’s” in them? Revving continuum, anyone?

Somehow, despite the constant cacophony from the driveway, their house attracts an abundance of magnificent birds, even when they use the leaf blower to keep their immaculate backyard free of the few leaves with the temerity to fall on their property.

Then there is the talker. She’s incredibly sweet, insightful and intelligent. The two challenges are that the polite banter doesn’t seem to have a natural end, and she is so soft spoken that I find myself nodding and raising my eyebrows, hoping I’m offering the proper response to questions I can’t hear. I can’t move closer to her because we react to people as if they were porcupines, with six foot quills.

Then there are the adorables. These are the families that have young children who giggle, laugh and play, blissfully unfocused on the pandemic and thrilled that they are out on a bike or that they can identify a bird that passed overhead. They race each other on tiny bikes, ask me why I’m wearing the same sweatshirt again, and skip to the sound of music I can’t hear. They also see the nonstop trucks delivering materials to the construction house as a source of entertainment. One of our young neighbors was on her way to school on a recent morning. Her mother stopped her car and rolled down the window so she could tell me about Mrs. Cathy and Ms. Mary. Those happy adorables are the block winners.


By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

My dog is delightfully imperfect. In fact, as I type this at my home computer, he is staring at me, hoping that I have succumbed to the snack urge and I will either intentionally toss a few morsels his way or that gravity will help him out, causing a carrot to slip off my desk.

Yes, he eats carrots, which isn’t terribly surprising because he also eats cat poop whenever he can get to it. I’m not sure he has taste buds or that he pays attention to them.

I love my imperfect dog and would like to share some of his quirks.

For starters, walking in a straight line is clearly against his religion. As soon as he’s on one part of a sidewalk, he needs to cross in front of me to the other side. He is a canine windshield wiper, swishing back and forth in case there is a scent, a scurrying insect, or a frog hopping nearby that he needs to see or smell.

When he’s not sitting during our walks, because he seems to have the words “walk” and “sit” confused, he turns around every few seconds to see what’s behind us. If he is a reincarnated person, he must have been in the rear guard of a military unit, making sure no one was following him.

When we turn around to go back in the direction he was staring, he then stops to look over his shoulder in the direction we had been walking.

It’s not about what’s out there, but what’s back there that concerns him.

His breath is an absolute mystery. He consumes a bowl of chicken and rice formula twice a day. And yet, somehow, his breath smells like fish. You know how they say you can hear the ocean in a conch shell? Well, you can smell the ocean, and not the good, salty crisp air parts, but the rotting-seaweed-and-dead-crabs-on-an-airless, overheated-beach parts, on my dog’s breath.

Then, there are the neighbors. They are so appealing to my dog that he pulls to go see them whenever they are outside. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that they drop a treat in front of him each time he appears.

Yes, I know I could train him, but I could also go running more often, go to bed earlier, read better books and make better choices for myself, so I haven’t trained either of us particularly well.

You know that delightful foot thing dogs do when you pet them behind the ear, on their stomach or on their chests? It’s the one where they shake their leg as you scratch them. Well, he does that once a month, as if he wants to confirm that he actually is a dog, but that he’s a conscientious objector to flailing his feet in the air regularly.

He treats the doorbell as if it were the starting gun at a race. He jumps up from the floor, ready to greet refrigerator repair people or HVAC workers as if they had come to see him, refusing to let them pass without an ear rub.

Food is the ultimate motivator. He may not particularly want to lie down at my feet and have me pet him while shaking his paws, but he does go back and forth with me to the grill. He always seems to be on the wrong side of our patio door. If he’s outside, he barks to come in. As soon as he’s inside, he barks to go out.

Maybe he’s not actually a dog, but a metaphor.

United States Supreme Court Building

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Republican senators have abdicated their responsibility for vetting a candidate for the Supreme Court.

President Donald Trump (who is a Republican, as if you didn’t know) could nominate a toothpick, a swimming pool, or a face mask and those objects, appealing though they may be, would become the ninth member of the Supreme Court, replacing the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The process was over before it began. The president, who is so fond of calling any event that might not proceed in his favor “rigged,” has exactly what he wants: a collection of at least 50 senators willing to rubber stamp the nominee to the Supreme Court, a lifelong appointment, for myriad reasons, not the least of which is to break a possible contentious election tie if and when the waters are muddy enough in the presidential election.

You have to hand it to them; they know a power grab when they see one, and this is a spectacular opportunity to reshape the court with Trump’s third nominee.

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham didn’t say that his party agreed to consider the candidate when he spoke to one of the Republicans’ favorite publicists, Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

No, he said, “We’ve got the votes to confirm Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg’s replacement before the election,” according to a report in the New York Post.

That doesn’t preclude the infinitesimally small possibility that one or more of them might actually consider the merits of any candidate Trump, who is, in case you missed it, a Republican, might nominate, but it certainly suggests that the game is over well before it began.

Yes, I’m sure many people are as confident that the Democrats will all vote “no” on the candidate as that the Republicans will vote “yeah, hooray, yippee, we won.”

But that doesn’t make the votes from either party, and, specifically, the votes by each individual senator any more legitimate.

The Republicans have so effectively lined up the members of their party that none of them will question the magnificent incredible choice of the justice-to-be-named later.

They have so much confidence that the choice will be the best possible candidate for the highest judicial appointment in the land that they have no real need to consider the merits of her candidacy.

This has become an all out sprint to fast-track their candidate directly onto that important bench, without even the token consideration for her past decisions, her views on the Constitution, or her thoughts on important legal precedents.

If Republican senators have so much faith in the president’s choice, they should forfeit their salaries, go back home and allow the president to vote for them on every issue. I suspect the president wouldn’t object to adding such responsibility to his daily routine.

I understand that we live in polarized and divided times. I get that Senators reflect and amplify the differences that are pulling this nation apart. Each of them has an opportunity, no, a responsibility, to consider the job they are supposed to do, and not the party they are expected to support.

I don’t even need a Republican to vote against the president’s candidate to give me hope that someone in that esteemed chamber gets it. I just need a Republican to ask a genuinely difficult question. The hearings will go something like this:

Democrat: You’re unqualified and here’s why.

Republican: My Democratic colleague is wrong, offensive and disgraceful (see my last column for the search for grace). You’re the best person to protect the legal interests of every American.

Candidate: Was there a question in there?

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

What are we all waiting for? A vaccine ranks high on the list, if you read the newspapers and hear the dialog and diatribes from that epicenter of anger, hostility and finger pointing known as Washington, D.C.

But, really, how much will a vaccine change our lives? If a vaccine were available tomorrow, would you take it? For a vaccine to create herd immunity, a majority (70 percent or more) of the population would need to take a safe, effective treatment.

In an unscientific survey of 18 people to whom I promised anonymity, eight of them said they would take a vaccine if it were available tomorrow, while the other 10 said they would wait anywhere from several months to a year to take it. Several of the respondents elaborated on the rationale behind their decisions.

Jody said she would take it because “absolutely anything that helps us get kids back into school and the world moving again” is worth the effort.

Melissa said she would also take a test. Her husband is currently in a clinical trial and doesn’t know if he received the vaccine or a placebo.

While Sheila suggested she usually waits a month or two after a new vaccine comes out to determine if there are any side effects, she would take it whenever it’s available “as long as the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] backs it.”

A health care worker, Doug explained that his company won’t let him work without getting a flu shot. He wondered whether the company’s policy would be the same after a COVID vaccine comes out. Indeed, a vaccine would create a college conundrum, as schools that require a new vaccine before students return for the spring might cause some students to choose remote learning or to take a semester off.

Stephanie would only consider taking a vaccine if Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it was safe and effective.

Matt would not rush to get a vaccine. He said he doesn’t “buy the first model of a car or wait in line to get the newest cell phone. Let’s see how it works.”

Jacob was much more adamant, expressing concern that the urgency to get a test on the market would create a potential health hazard.

John shared Jacob’s concerns, saying he’s nervous about anything new. “I would consider taking a vaccine a year from now,” John said, but not until researchers and doctors know more about it.

Cindy, who is suffering with several other health problems, said she wouldn’t take a vaccine for a year or more. She doesn’t know if the vaccine might interact with medications she’s currently taking, while she’s also concerned that any change in her body might alter her overall health. Mindy wouldn’t rush to get a vaccine. “Testing takes time and if it were available that quickly, I would not trust the effectiveness and/or safety,” she said.

So if my non-scientific sample is reflective of the overall population, a vaccine, even if it’s effective and safe, would take more than the typical few weeks after it is available to provide a benefit to both the individual and the greater population.

While an available vaccine might be a relief, it also causes concerns about whether the process moved too quickly. Assurances from the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration and Dr. Fauci might help ease those worries. To borrow from the sports world, the population is eager for an umpire to call balls and strikes after the pitch is thrown, and not before, to satisfy a timeline for people eager to return to the life of handshakes and hugs.

METRO photo
Daniel Dunaief

By Daniel Dunaief

A heaviness hovers in the air as we prepare to pack our daughter’s stuff into the car and drive her back to college, an environment fraught with new rules and anxiety. We realize this experiment in campus life, such as it is, might end in days or even a few weeks, as her school may pull the same rip chord it used in March.

While she is returning to campus, all but one of her classes is remote. The in-person class meets twice a week, so she is going back to a restricted college life for two hours a week of in-person learning.

Last year, with its jumble of emotions from taking her to college for the first time, seems so wonderfully innocent and low stress by comparison.

By taking her to college this week, she is already arriving on campus three weeks after classes began and is scheduled to return home before Thanksgiving. That means she’ll be on campus, at most, for two and a half months. That is two weeks longer than summer camp.

We want her to learn, have fun, meet new people and take advantage of college opportunities. Taking these goals one at a time, I’m not convinced that remote classes in which professors record lectures students can watch at their leisure provides the ideal academic experience.

How can they ask questions? How can they turn to the person sitting next to them, or, in the modern world, six seats away, and ask to repeat what they didn’t hear or to see if the professor might have misspoken?

College learning occurs on and off campus. In an ideal world, students not only learn from their professors and teaching assistants, but also from each other. They form study groups where they share notes and test each other.

They could share their screens and form virtual study groups. In these small groups, however, they can and do send private chats to other people and feel freer to respond to the beep or flash of light on another electronic device, distracting them from the group exercise.

The personal connection through the computer is also limited, as people can’t slap each other on the back or chase each other around a library during a much-needed break.

We also want her to have fun, which isn’t the top priority for schools desperate to stay alive financially while keeping the campus community healthy. Even with the most active measures to protect everyone, the virus finds ways to evade detection and to spread.

The virus has become the boogeyman of our childhood nightmares, but instead of lurking under the bed or in dark corners of the closet, it waits on door knobs, in airborne particles and on banisters.

To protect everyone, the school isn’t allowing students to visit other dorms. They are limited in social gatherings outside, where they have to be six feet apart and also need to wear masks.

In a recent email, my daughter’s school told her, “If you see something, say something.” Those words, which became the cultural norm after 9/11, suggest that careless students are the equivalent of viral terrorists. Perhaps a better approach would be to encourage students to model safe behavior and to protect themselves and others on campus.

To facilitate safer social interactions, schools might consider putting up tents, in which they place small circles on the floor that are six feet apart. Students could visit each other in these settings, where they can talk and laugh and see each other in person and wear that great blouse or cool shirt that doesn’t look as good on zoom.

Ultimately, the opportunities they have will depend on the ability of the school, working with students, to figure out what they can do and not what they can’t or shouldn’t. We hope the challenges and adversity of the current reality somehow bring our daughter figuratively closer to her new friends, at a safe social distance.

Stock photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Next week, I invite you to the virtual and completely imaginary People’s National Convention, or PNC. It’s not a Democratic Convention or a Republican Convention. It’s just a fake gathering, virtually and invisibly, in which real people can stop worrying about partisan politics and enjoy the chance to live
each day.

Now, this PNC won’t nominate any one person, because, let’s face it, no singular person is capable of succeeding with the challenges that face our nation in this extraordinarily challenging year.

We’ll keep the speeches to a minimum because we don’t think people listen to most of what others say at these things anyway. Our first speaker will come up with a mask and will start by rolling her large and expressive eyes. She’ll try to convey, without using her mouth or her cheeks, which will be hidden behind her mask, a wide range of emotions. In fact, we might have a “guess-her-expression” game and the person who wins will receive absolutely nothing in the mail.

After that, we’ll launch into a rage presentation. Our speaker will bark, growl, throw himself around the room and urge you, with his arm motions, to get off your sofa and join him. He’ll work his way up to a fevered snarl and then he’ll bang his fists so hard against the TV set that he’ll shatter the screen. You’ll see the cracks on the TV, but don’t worry, the cracks and the blood — we won’t use real blood — are all on the PNC end. Your TV is fine. At the end of his speech, he’ll take a 2020 sign, or one of those 2020 New Year’s glasses with the holes for the eyes in the zeroes, put them on the floor and stomp on them.

After our rage speaker, we’ll have a fear speaker. He, too, won’t use words. He’ll move from left to right, then right to left and then, you guessed it, left to right again, on your screen, afraid of something over his shoulder. He might see a shadow. He’ll be frightened because, as the other conventions suggested, we must feel the need to fear something. He’ll run towards the letters PNC and will smile with relief, knowing that the PNC will protect him.

To offset this potentially overwhelming programming, we’ll offer a counterbalance of kids and pets accompanied by light-hearted music on a harpsichord. We call this portion of the programming the “Awwwww” segment. We’ll show images of toddlers laughing, baby bunnies hopping around a flower-strewn meadow and dolphins cutting in and out of the surface of the water.

We’ll have the icon room, where you can stand up, or not, as you see fit when you see the images. We’ll start with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where the ancestors of so many modern Americans arrived. We’ll add the Grand Canyon, the California coastline, Yellowstone National Park and Niagara Falls.

Then, we’ll have people trip and fall and try to juggle cell phones ineffectively. When the phones land, their screens, which might or might not have images of familiar faces, will crack. Will the entire segment be funny? Not necessarily. No one is always funny, but they promise to try because laughter might be our best medicine.

We’ll have a few actual speakers who use words, who tell inspirational stories about triumph over impossible odds. We’ll talk about people who were told many times that they couldn’t do something, until they went out and did it.

At the conclusion of the PNC, we’ll celebrate our friends and neighbors and the people who enhance every day and we’ll promise each other we’ll be better to them, and to ourselves.

METRO photo
Daniel Dunaief

By Daniel Dunaief

My mother often describes family rituals in her columns, whether they are the way we play baseball, the way we argue (remember the pancakes on my then teenage brother’s cantankerous head?) or the way we celebrate victories and help each other rise off the mat after defeats.

Ever the driven optimist, my mother can turn the most lemony lemons into something much more palatable, often, as Julie Andrews did in “My Favorite Things” with a spoonful, or two, of sugar.

It would be easy this week to lament the fact that, for the first time in decades, my family can’t see my mother on her birthday because of the danger from bringing the virus to her home. We recognize that so many people are enduring so much more challenging disruptions to their routines and that we are fortunate to have each other and can share the events of the week with her
through Zoom.

So, instead of being disappointed by the distance, I will share ways in which my mother, who will celebrate this birthday with my brothers and not me, my wife and our children, has cast a long shadow, all the way to our doorstep.

Well, for starters, my children and I can be, and often are, serious when the moment demands. And yet, a part of us can’t help imagining uproariously funny images or interruptions to a somber and important speech at just the wrong moment. I’m sure part of what was so familiar about my wife’s similarly mischievous nature comes from recognizing the moment when one of us feels compelled to answer a rhetorical question or to laugh during a silence.

My mother also has a keen ear for the words people choose to use or that immortalize them, much the way my children and I do. Of the many Winston Churchill quotes, she has, on occasion, shared this one: “I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”

I suppose that one isn’t too surprising, given her appreciation for animals which likely comes from her father, who grew up lactose intolerant on a dairy farm. Hmm, maybe that’s where she gets her sense
of humor?

Moving along, my family revels in our senses. We smell something wonderful, like baking cookies or the scent of new flowers in the spring, and we take a moment to appreciate the gift of the scent and our senses, which enable us to perceive and process it.

My mother also has a spectacular appreciation for nature. A sudden dark sky isn’t cause for concern or disappointment, but is a chance to appreciate the variety of weather that makes the coldest day warmer and the warmest day cooler.

Now, given the times in which we live, I see my mother in both of our children as they handle the ever-changing rules and realities of a world that hasn’t yet conquered the virus. Our daughter could rue the inequities that are robbing her of a “normal” college education. Instead, she and her resilient friends are staying in touch, supporting each other, and looking forward, as my mother would, to the day when they can return to a campus they might have otherwise taken for granted.

As for our son, despite his dedication and passion for baseball, which is a rite of passage each spring, he kept his head up and took time to train on his own, waiting for the moment when he could return, stronger and faster, to his field of dreams.

We can’t wait to sing to you this year, mom, and to let you know that, even though we haven’t traveled to see each other, we are enjoying the echoes of your joie de vivre in the halls of our home.

A tree fell on a mail truck on Old Post Road in Setauket during Tropical Storm Isaias. Photo by John Broven

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Timing is everything. Just ask the people who bought large blocks of tickets to sporting events and then tried to resell them in the year with empty stadiums or, perhaps, PSEG last Tuesday.

The New Jersey-based utility was supposed to be the savior of Long Island power, bringing corporate muscle, know how and technology to a region that had suffered in 1985 from outages that lasted weeks from Hurricane Gloria and dislocations and gas shortages during Superstorm Sandy.

But then, Tropical Storm Isaias had other ideas. The storm came through Long Island last Tuesday and, within hours, the communications system went down at PSEG, making it difficult for residents to know whether their efforts to report outages, downed trees, and dangling power lines were effective.

The storm caused about 420,000 people to lose power. That is particularly problematic at a time when some residents are still working from home. It also disrupts the angst-ridden end-of-summer period as parents and students prepare for a school year filled with questions about an uncertain future.

Hardened by all the difficulties of an impossible year, some residents chalked it up to the mess that is 2020, hoping that the change in the calendar will allow everyone to return to a normal in which we can hug friends, shake hands, visit extended family and lean in at a crowded restaurant to hear what someone said. If the vaccine Russia rushed to the market for the virus proves effective without serious side effects, maybe that hope will become a reality.

Just before Isaias hit, however, PSEG must have frustrated the entity in control of the disruptions during this haywire year. You see, the company sent out a postcard.

Now, postcards are nice, particularly when you get one from someone vacationing in an exotic location. You might appreciate the magnificent scenery, even if the card makes you wonder why your friend didn’t take you along instead of spending 42 cents to make you jealous of her wonderful life.

But, no, this wasn’t that kind of postcard. This was the kind of message that helps build a brand, that makes you feel as if you’ve landed somewhere between the familiar rhythm of a safe Brady Bunch household and the high-tech, happy future of the Jetsons.

The card, which arrived hours before Isaias in mail trucks that would have had trouble delivering them the next day, had a picture of a man in sunglasses on a power truck, wearing a yellow hard hat with blue skies and intact branches behind him.

The message offered GOOD NEWS! Of course they used all caps and an exclamation point. Then, the card continued, UPGRADES COMPLETED! How nice and promising, right? The postcard went on to suggest, “PSEG Long Island recently finished work to ensure that you and your neighbors will continue to receive safe and reliable electric service for years to come.” The words safe, reliable and years to come were in orange, as if they were highlighting the parts you needed to read closely, emphasizing their comforting professionalism and reassuring skill set.

The last paragraph read, “After careful inspection, we replaced and upgraded equipment that strengthens the infrastructure to better withstand storms and extreme temperatures.” The highlighted words were replaced, upgraded, and strengthens the infrastructure.

The tag line, after thanking customers for their patience, was, “Just one more way PSEG Long Island is working for you.”

Hmm, now, that postcard might have slipped, unnoticed, into the trash bin. But, that’s not what happened here. The postcard and storm arrived the same day and, despite the reassurance that the company had the infrastructure to better withstand storms, it seems that the storm, and maybe 2020, had other plans.

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We will undoubtedly run into times in the next few weeks and months when our kids can’t stay in school. Yes, sure, I understand how and why people want their children in school. Most of the time, they can and will learn more in a conventional classroom setting than they will sitting in their beds in a collared shirt with pajama bottoms, texting friends all over the country with their phones while they pretend to be taking notes.

I also understand the need for schools to provide a structured schedule for each day, offering parents a chance to finish assignments for their jobs, pay bills without a well-intentioned child turning the checks into a coloring pad, or have a few moments when they don’t need to clean up the mess on another floor.

And yet, we aren’t that much further along than we were in March, when schools closed for the first time, in protecting the health of teachers, students, and everyone else who enters or lives with someone in an academic setting.

Sure, the hospitals may have better treatments than they did when they didn’t know about the likely progression of the disease, but there is no cure and most of us don’t have any immunity.

So, given that we’re not likely to do much traveling and our kids are likely to spend some time at home, we can and should develop Plans B, C and D.

Plan B could be a fallback into the kinds of learning our children did in March, when school administrators and teachers tried to educate our children with modified, distance-based lesson plans. Certainly, schools have spent considerable time preparing for either a blended version of in-class and remote learning or an all-remote experience.

Those lessons and the material covered will hopefully be thorough enough to match what they would have learned in the customary in-person setting.

Plan C, however, may involve some supplemental educating and, perhaps, education-driven day care, depending on the age of our children. Where can we find that? In every community, children of all ages may be home. For older teenagers, this may be an opportunity to provide guidance to younger counterparts whom they might drive by on their way to school, soccer practice or a group gathering.

Parents of younger children may want to connect with parents of high school children, either directly or through their schools. After all, these high school students are much closer to learning modern math than parents who may be decades from the same material that was taught in a different way in an earlier era.

Through a voluntary and distance-based teens-to-tots tutoring, younger students can find mentors, tutors and friends in teenagers who can, perhaps earlier than they anticipated, give back to the communities that supported them.

With more time on their hands because so many extracurriculars might be canceled, these teenagers can become an important resource in an educational system, supplementing what the younger students learn in class.

A neighbor recently told me about a family exchange he and his brother managed. His 20-something son became frustrated living and working at home, while his brother’s 20-something daughter shared the same sentiment. He sent his son to live with his brother, while he hosted his niece. The change of scenery has proven healthy for everyone, giving them all a chance to exhale amid the uncertainty.

Disruptions over the next several months to a year seem inevitable. If we come up with creative ways to plan for them, we might contribute to our communities and enjoy the time while we wait for the viral all-clear signal.