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D: None of the Above

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Twenty years ago this week, my wife and I got married.

Over the course of the next two decades, we have gone through numerous changes and challenges together, providing a united front for our children, hosting relatives during birthday parties and celebrating landmark occasions.

As I think about the many roles we’ve played in each other’s lives I am grateful for my wife, the teacher. In addition to taking time to help educate our children, she has also been an extraordinary educator for me.

Starting with something easy, she taught me to relax. Before I met her, I felt the need to move, almost all the time. Sitting on a beach, a bed or a rock at the top of the mountain seemed like a waste of time. Over the years, taking a moment to soak in the sun, to observe the trees and birds around us, or to talk and laugh about the events of the day have become increasingly enjoyable ways to spend time and connect.

While my wife has taught me the fine art of relaxing, she has also demonstrated an incredible work ethic, balancing between the needs of our family and the demands of her job. She finds time to respond to work emails, to read work material and to answer important calls, all while supporting our children at everything from sports scrimmages to concerts to graduations.

Neither of us is particularly fond of shopping. She has, however, demonstrated how to speed-shop in a store. She has a gift not only for finding what she or any member of our family needs — a black shirt for a coming concert, a white dress for a party or specific socks that are cool enough for school — but also doing it in the most efficient manner, enabling the four of us to race back to the car and on to other activities.

She has also taught me how to laugh. Of course I laughed before I met her, but the laughter wasn’t as frequent and it didn’t continue to help cement my relationship to someone as well as it does with my wife. The absurd surrounds us, if you know what to look for and how to find it.

Of course, I don’t necessarily cherish every lesson the same way. You see, my wife is a cat person, a trait she shares with her mother and siblings. When my wife was pregnant and during the months when she breastfed, I learned the fine art of scooping cat litter and, once a week, changing the pan. I learned how to do this unpleasant but necessary maintenance task as quickly as possible, leaving me with only a slight scent of cat litter on my clothes. Our young children enjoyed watching me expectorate for a full minute after the process ended.

She also taught me the sheer joy of walking the Earth with someone. Before I met her, I was an avid walker, trekking up and down West Meadow Beach, walking around neighborhoods in Manhattan and crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Ever since then, we have covered thousands of miles in all types of terrain as we share our observations of everything from nature to the events of the day or week. Walking together in stride, I have felt a part of something larger and more meaningful than my own existence.

Ultimately, however, my wife taught me how to turn my dreams into a reality. When I was 13, I read about the Galapagos Islands. When I heard about how all the marine and island life ignores people, I knew I had to visit. Spurred on by my wife, we planned this journey, which in 2013 far exceeded my lofty expectations, just as each year does with the woman I married two decades ago.

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Fear can be a great motivator. Fear of failing a test can lead someone to study harder, to pay attention in class and to do whatever is necessary to learn the material.

In many movies, the lead character has to face his or her fears to accomplish something. Luke Skywalker from the “Star Wars” films had to face his father, Darth Vader, to become a Jedi.

Fear, however, can also bring out the worst in people, especially when that fear is misplaced and misdirected.

Last week, the University of California’s Tang Center, in Berkeley, listed a set of normal reactions to the new coronavirus on its Instagram account. Among other reactions, like feeling anxiety, worry or panic, the school suggested that xenophobia, or “fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia” was also normal. The Instagram post went on to add that having “guilt about these feelings” was normal, too. Chances are, if you’re feeling guilty about a feeling, it’s probably misdirected and uninformed.

Amid an enormous backlash from alumni at the school, whose current freshman class is about 43 percent Asian, the university has since apologized and taken down the post.

The school hopefully learned, and also offered a valuable lesson.

People in the United States are no more likely to contract a virus that currently has a 2 percent mortality rate from an Asian person than they are from anyone else who is sniffling and coughing.

In fact, at this point in the year, someone near you who is sneezing, coughing or looks sick is exponentially more likely to have the flu.

Yes, the vast majority of the almost 25,000 cases of the coronavirus — with about 3,200 critical — are located in China and, yes, many countries, including the United States, have taken strong steps to limit the possibility of turning this epidemic into a pandemic, causing the virus to spread to two or more continents.

Where someone’s ancestors come from, or where they themselves were born, is much less relevant than where they themselves have traveled in the last two weeks.

And, on top of that, even if someone — Asian, Caucasian, African American, Native American or otherwise — has been to Asia in the last month, if that person has been back in the United States for more than two weeks without showing any signs of illness, then he or she falls into the same category as anyone and everyone else with whom we ride the Long Island Rail Road, sit in a movie theater or stroll through a mall. The mandatory quarantine period for people returning from Wuhan, the Chinese center of the outbreak, is two weeks.

Fear of this virus shouldn’t encourage any of us to avoid people with a specific heritage because the virus doesn’t care about the small genetic differences that create races. It only seeks the receptor in our cells that allow it to get inside and cause respiratory infections.

So, how do we manage our fear of the virus? We tackle it the same way we do our fear of getting a flu. We wash our hands regularly, we try not to touch our face, and we don’t shake hands with anyone who has a stuffy nose or is coughing.

We can also boost our own immune system by getting enough sleep and eating the right foods.

The coronavirus, for which there are currently no treatments or vaccines, has generated a steady drumbeat of horrible news, from the number of people infected to those who have died, which has climbed to almost 500 but with more than 1,000 recoveries.

Fear of the virus can be and is healthy, motivating countries to protect their citizens and limiting the spread of the virus. The fear, however, of any group will never be “normal” and certainly isn’t acceptable.

Alyssa Nakken is the first female coach on a major league staff in baseball history.

By Daniel Dunaief

There may be no crying in baseball, as Tom Hanks famously said in the movie “A League of Their Own,” but there is, thanks to San Francisco Giants and Alyssa Nakken, now a woman in baseball.

Last week, for the first time in the 150-year history of the game, a woman joined the ranks of the coaches at Major League level.

The hiring of Nakken, 29, follows the addition of women in the National Football League and the National Basketball Association.

While it may seem past time that America’s pastime caught up with the times, members of the Long Island athletic and softball communities welcomed the news.

“I hope that it becomes more of the norm rather than the exception,” said Shawn Heilbron, athletic director at Stony Brook University.

For Megan Bryant, who has been the head softball coach at Stony Brook since 2001 and has collected more than 870 career wins, Nakken’s new job creates a path that others can follow.

“For the Giants and Major League Baseball and women in sports careers, that’s a big deal and is a step forward,” Bryant said. “It will open other doors for other women.”

Bryant said teams can and should recognize the wealth of coaching talent among men and women.

“If you’re a great coach, it shouldn’t matter the gender of the athletes you’re coaching,” Bryant said. 

Lori Perez, who was an assistant softball coach at Sacramento State University when Nakken played and is now head coach, said the news gave her “goose bumps.”

The hardworking Nakken, a two-time captain at Sacramento State, once asked her coaches to stop a low-energy practice so the team could refocus and flush their negative energy, Perez said.

Nakken’s parents had “high expectations for her but, even better, she had high expectations for herself,” which included doing well academically and helping out in summer camps, Perez said.

Patrick Smith, athletic director at Smithtown school district, believes these first few female hires in men’s sports are a part of a leading edge of a new trend.

“We will see more and more [women joining professional sports teams] as time goes on,” Smith said. In Smithtown, women constitute greater than half of all the athletes at the high school level.

Among the six senior women on Stony Brook’s softball team, three members are considering a career in sports after they graduate, Bryant said.

While the Women’s College World Series softball games have drawn considerable fan attention, attendance at women’s college and professional sporting events typically lags that of men.

The Long Island community can provide their daughters with a chance to observe and learn from role models at the college and professional levels by attending and supporting local teams.

“It’s frustrating that the women’s games aren’t drawing close to what the men’s teams are,” said Heilbron. The Stony Brook women’s basketball team, which includes standout junior India Pagan among other talented players, is currently 18-1. This is the best start in program history.

“I hope people will come” support the team, Heilbron said. “If you come, we believe you’ll come back.”

As for women in high profile roles, Bryant, who is looking forward to the addition of six new players to her softball squad this year, believes each step is important on a longer journey toward equal opportunity.

“Whether it’s in sports, science or politics, we’re making strides,” Bryant said. “But we still have a long way to go.”

Perez, who has two children, is thrilled that “women can dream of things they couldn’t dream of before,” thanks to Nakken and other female trailblazers inside and outside of the sports world.

'Come From Away' on tour

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

You know those thought bubbles artists draw in cartoons, where the reader can see what each character is thinking even as the person might be saying something like, “Bless your heart”?

I tried to imagine possessing that real-life talent when I recently attended the show, “Come from Away.”

The musical, which debuted close to seven years ago, offers a retelling of the story of people diverted on their planes on 9/11 to the small town of Gander on the island of Newfoundland in Canada.

The local folks, with their indigenous
accents, offer support for the sudden influx of thousands of people from all over the world who are stuck in a place where they can’t get to their clothes, pets or toothbrushes.

The world changed dramatically on that day, as people on those redirected planes gained an almost immediate perspective on the inconvenience of their experience compared to the tragedy other families endured.

The people from Gander were incredibly hospitable and heroic, stepping outside their own needs to welcome and support the collection of people trapped with them for an indeterminate period of time.

While I don’t want to spoil the story — and please stop reading if you’d like to experience the show without any specific expectations — the musical also addressed one of the crueler elements that arose in the aftermath of that awful day: Some Americans developed a fear of Muslims.

One of the Muslim men stuck in Gander immediately drew suspicion from his fellow passengers. What, they wanted to know, was he doing and was he a threat to them?

In the days, weeks and months that followed those despicable attacks, many Americans developed an unfounded fear of all Muslims, just as people became distrustful of Japanese-Americans after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

One of the reasons I wished I had a thought bubble as I watched the show was to see and appreciate what the other members of the audience recalled in their own lives.

Indeed, for me, the toughest part of the beginning of the show was immersing myself in the story. While I recognized that I was hearing about the experiences of people in a faraway place, I kept recalling the day when my then 3-month-old daughter seemed to sense our panic, fear and sadness, refusing to sleep or even allow us to put her down.

I also thought about the friends and professional contacts who got up, went to work and never returned to their families that day.

And now, several days after attending the show, I see that President Donald Trump (R) has decided to attack two of his favorite Democratic targets by retweeting images of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York as Muslims, standing in front of an Iranian flag.

The suggestion, perhaps, is that they must be terrorists or be standing with the cruel regime in Iran if they don’t immediately support a president whose explanation for his own recent actions in Iran seems to change by the day.

Moving away from his world view, however, I feel as if we’re still fighting an irrational battle where one group — Muslims — is considered dangerous to “our way of life.” Do we really believe that any one religion could be eager to destroy us? Can we casually allow anti-Muslim fears to return?

Surely, we must have learned something in the last 18 years? The enemy doesn’t wear one set of clothing or practice one religion. We don’t have to wait for tragedy or for extraordinary circumstances to rise to the moment, the way the residents of Gander did.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Amid the delightful sensory experiences of a recent warm-weather vacation, my wife and I enjoyed an unexpected gift: The words other people chose to share on their T-shirts.

The messages weren’t limited to any one age group, as the young and old took time to find phrases they shared with strangers who were enjoying time in warmer weather.

A boy, aged about 12, stood in a line with a white T-shirt with a message in all-capital letters: “Help I’m on a family vacay.” To round out the picture, he had a dour and distracted look as he was clearly waiting for other members of his family to catch up to him in line.

Another boy about the same age strutted around with a colorful shirt that suggested: “You need me on your team.” In a culture where sports plays such a prominent role in the identity of children and parents who drive children they imagine might one day be making six, seven, eight or nine figure salaries on fields all over the country, that shirt was consistent with the belief in the American Sports Dream.

Numerous adults and young adults offered a connection to their favorite sports teams. For one football fan, though, merely sharing the Philadelphia Eagles emblem was insufficient. Near his beloved Eagles logo, he urged his team to “Beat Dallas.” This year, that was especially fitting as the Eagles overtook the Cowboys in the last few weeks of the year to win the NFC East title.

I’m not sure if this coupling was deliberate, but a woman’s T-shirt suggested that readers “Follow your soul,” while her companion wore a Nashville Predators shirt, indicating, at least in the moment, that her friend’s soul may track the hockey team from Tennessee.

A young girl, walking next to her father, wore a shirt that suggested that she’d “Rather Be a Mermaid.” Given how desperately Ariel, the Little Mermaid of Disney fame, sang about wanting to escape the ocean, I couldn’t help thinking about the line from the song “Under the Sea,” where the crab Sebastian admonishes her — King Triton’s youngest daughter — that “the seaweed is always greener in somebody else’s lake.”

An older African-American couple borrowed from the movies as the man wore a shirt that suggested he was “Straight Outta Money.” The message probably resonated for others who may have blown through some of their travel and entertainment budget for time in a warm climate.

Advertising a New England town coupled with a local accent, a woman sported a message that read, “Baa Ha Ba, Maine,” offering a connection to the Bar Harbor tourist destination along the coast of Maine that is a short drive to Acadia National Park.

A young boy urged people on his T- shirt to “Be the Change,” an expression that an actor or actress might borrow to spread a specific message after winning a coveted award for performing their craft.

Offering a take on the fine art of putting off responsibilities and chores, a young man wore a shirt that said, “I don’t procrastinate. I delegate to my future self.” After reading so many variations of the theme that the procrastinators club would be meeting some time next week, I enjoyed a refreshing take on the process of setting something aside for a later time.

An older man with white hair and a thick white mustache and beard brought along two noteworthy T-shirts: The first celebrated his 80 years, as part of a beach tour, and the second promised that “Beneath this beard is a handsome man.”

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Daniel Dunaief

They are called rubber chicken dinners for a reason. Much of the time, corporate events masquerading as social gatherings offer little in the way of flavor, taste or entertainment.

This one, however, had so much potential. A group invited my wife and me to attend a football game. The connection came through my wife, who interacts regularly with our hosts and received the invitation months earlier. When we read the invitation, we knew she could invite our son, although we also knew he had two midterms the day after the big game, which meant that I could escort her.

I have, on occasion, demonstrated a surprising nimbleness in jamming my foot into my mouth. Unintentional and harmless though the effort may be, I have worked hard to pull back on (a) sharing too many details, (b) making too many jokes and (c) asking anything about controversial topics.

We walked into a suite, where our host immediately caught my wife’s eye and shook her hand. I’d met him several times and he graciously welcomed me as well, although I realize my decidedly unimpressive place in the world.

My wife had given me a rundown of the people we’d likely meet, even as I tried to look over some of their shoulders to watch the football game occurring past the tray of appetizers, the plate of sliders, the collection of untouched cookies and the bowl of half-eaten popcorn.

A woman whose name had made the list shook my hand and smiled at me. I waited the usual three seconds to see whether she was planning to bolt to chat with someone more interesting, more powerful, taller, better dressed or more well versed in the world of football. After all, she was wearing a football jersey and, while my son can name the rosters of most teams because of his fantasy football acumen, I’m much more limited in this sport.

She, however, kept looking me in the eye, encouraging further conversation. We described the lives of our children. That generally constitutes safe topics, so I was on terra firma.

When I asked where she grew up, she said California until she went to high school on Long Island. I’m not sure why I asked because Long Island is truly a huge place, but I wondered what school she attended.

She told me it was in Setauket and it was called Ward Melville.

Wow, I replied, I went there, too. She said she was on the tennis team and we both remembered the name of the coach who had been there years ago, Vicki Goldfarb. My new acquaintance’s father, as it turns out, was a fighter pilot who had moved to Long Island to work for Grumman when he became an engineer.

It became a remarkably detailed conversation. She lived about a mile away from me for five years, until I graduated a few years ahead of her from Ward Melville.

When she excused herself for a moment, I figured that I might have overplayed the conversation. At that point, I tried to get a closer look at the football game, until my wife and I started talking with our hosts about their family’s skiing adventures.

As we started to leave, I once again found myself chatting with the Ward Melville graduate. She shared a few more compelling stories about her family and her life, including an adventurous trip to Green Bay, where her husband celebrated a landmark birthday in the snow and cold.

This was, decidedly, not a typical rubber chicken event for me and one that I hope continues if we follow up and get together some time in 2020. And, in case you are wondering, I don’t think I committed any social faux pas.

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

The Democratic hopefuls for the presidency sure seem angry these days, as the election clock counts down to less than a year. Last week, a man in Iowa had the audacity, the temerity, the unmitigated gall to ask Joe Biden, the front runner, about his son Hunter, who is at the center of this Ukrainian maelstrom.

Biden reacted with anger and righteous indignation, calling the man a “damn liar.”

Good one. Or was it? Is that really the best way to react? Biden then nicknamed him “fat.” Yikes! That seemed cruel and disrespectful.

The man was throwing salt in either self-inflicted or Republican-directed wounds. But, hey, Biden’s son did sit on the board of an energy company in the Ukraine, which creates bad optics. It doesn’t mean he or his son did anything wrong.

What’s weird now, though, is that Biden seemed to feel the need — or perhaps the test-marketed driven necessity — to attack the man who dared ask the question. That seems to be taking a page out of the book of the incumbent, who uses anger as a regular tool to define his enemies and keep them off balance, while rallying his troops.

So, what happened to Mike Bloomberg? The billionaire was recently asked whether he was trying to buy the election. Out came the righteous indignation, along with a story about how he made his money, all the great work he did as mayor and how he won’t be beholden to any special interests. Grrr!

What about Bernie Sanders? He’s a cult figure among many Democrats, but his demeanor seems to be one of the angry, older white man. He reminds me of the Howard Beale character, played by Peter Finch, in the 1976 movie “Network.” Beale urges people to get up out of their chairs, go to the window and shout, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” 

Sanders, or the Larry David version of him, could easily be uttering the same line in response to (a) health care costs, (b) the cost of college tuition for people who could otherwise use education to change their lives, (c) climate change or (d) all of the above.

And then there’s the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. I know she’s not running for president, but she finally lashed out at a reporter — does that also sound familiar — and suggested that her religion kept her from hating people. Her tone, method and message had more than a hint of anger, if not toward the president whom she and the Democrats were impeaching than to the reporter.

The words she spoke, as she pointed her finger, were, “Don’t mess with me.” I was reminded of the line Geraldine Fitzgerald, as Martha Bach, said in the 1981 movie “Arthur,” starring Dudley Moore, “Don’t screw with me, Burt.”

If this past week is a preview of the upcoming primary and general elections, we’ve got about 11 months of Beale slogans and Bachs slaps to the faces.

The wrestling match may once again change its tune for “the Ds” and “the Rs” when we know which D will be facing off against the most likely R.

Maybe the Ds host a party for themselves where they describe the hopes, opportunities and promise of the American Dream for one and all.

Maybe the Rs decide counterpunching has been overplayed, and they start hosting their own party, where they celebrate low taxes, low unemployment, a strong economy and their plans for an even better future.

Primal anger, however, seems more likely as we prepare for a testy election. Wouldn’t it be a welcome relief if at least one of the candidates offered civil, calm, graceful and pleasant replies, even to questions he or she found challenging?

Daniel Dunaief

By Daniel Dunaief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daniel Dunaief

By Daniel Dunaief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We select rhyming words that sing like chirping birds. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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