Category Archives: Blog / Personal Business

Elizabeth Ann: Long Live The Ferret—and My Sister!

Whatever your views on cloning endangered species (we’re not talking about bringing back the dinosaurs, here, a la Jurassic Park!), I have to admit that both my sister—who is dealing with her share of health issues—and I got a bit of a thrill from this story about “the first of any native, endangered animal species in North America to be cloned.” A black-footed ferret, Elizabeth Ann was born on December 10, 2020, two days before my sister came home from a difficult one-month stay in the hospital.

As it happens, my sister’s name is Elizabeth Ann Sciabarra. My sister has been emboldened by her namesake’s birth. We all hope that her recovery mirrors that ferret’s fortune!

Three Cheers to Two Elizabeth Anns!

Charles Schulz, “Peanuts” — and Hugs!

Twenty-one years ago this month (on 12 February 2000), the famed creator of “Peanuts,” Charles M. Schulz, died. Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the gang still make me chuckle, while also melting my heart. Thanks to my pal, Merlin Jetton (a long-time contributor to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies), for emailing me some “Peanuts” gems this morning!

One of those gems I dedicate to a couple of very special people (family and friends), whom I’ve not seen in a long time. I’m sending this out with a Very Warm Big Brooklyn Hug! I miss you all very much—and hope to see you before too long!

Sending “Positivity, Love and all things Good” to my Friends …
(courtesy of Charles M. Schulz and “Peanuts”)

Song of the Day #1848

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur (“Conflict”) [YouTube link], composed by Oscar-winner Miklos Rozsa for the 1959 Best Picture, which won a record 11 Academy Awards, highlights the confrontation between the Jewish Prince Judah Ben-Hur (played by Oscar-winner Charlton Heston) and his Roman boyhood friend Messala (played by Golden Globe-winner Stephen Boyd), a conflict that reaches its apex in an epic chariot race for the cinematic ages (check out an excerpt here—spoiler alert! [YouTube link]). It’s a tradition of sorts to post a cue from my favorite score from my favorite movie on this date. And today, the Prime #17th Annual Film Music February Meets The Prime #17th of February! I was actually born on this day (Wednesday), on this date, back in 1960. Since it’s not yet 4:27 pm ET (the time of my birth), call me 61*. Either way, I’ll always be younger than this film!

JARS: 20th Anniversary = 20,000+ Reasons to Celebrate!

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies just received its 2020 annual report from Pennsylvania State University Press. This report does not count print subscriptions. But the news is wonderful. As the only scholarly, university-press published, interdisciplinary, double-blind peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the study of Ayn Rand and her times, last year—our twentieth anniversary year—gave us 17,907 requests for articles from JSTOR alone and 4,302 from Project MUSE for a grand total of 22,209 global article requests!

To put this into perspective, this journal began in 1999 with only a couple of hundred subscribers. The collaboration of JARS with Penn State Press began in 2013. That first year, our total electronic downloads were 7,922. By 2019, that total had increased to 14,515. The majority of the requests had come from the United States. Today, a strong 48% of the 22,209 article requests still come from the United States. But the majority of requests now stretch from North and South America to Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania, encompassing nearly 130 countries.

This journal remains a trailblazing periodical, welcoming perspectives from all over the intellectual spectrum. I want to extend my deepest appreciation to everyone who has requested even a single article, let alone over 20,000 to mark last year’s 20th anniversary celebration.

The July 2021 issue will be submitted to Penn State Press in less than a month, to kick off the beginning of our third decade.

The best is yet to come …

Cheering for Ski!

I just wanted to extend my thanks to the many people who keep sending their good wishes for my sister’s recovery. One of her colleagues sent this YouTube video to me—when Ms. Ski (as she has always been affectionately called) was showing how much rhythm she’s got, with the Brooklyn Tech Cheering Squad (at the “40 Years of Cheers” reunion). She’ll be back dancing before too long …

The World is Going to Pot — And So Is Our Car!

Every Wednesday and Thursday in my Gravesend, Brooklyn neighborhood, we have this ritual called “alternate side of the street parking.” You have to move your car (or double-park it temporarily) from one side of the street to the other (or risk a parking ticket), so that a sanitation street-sweeping truck can drag filth from one end of the block to the other. This keeps our streets clean!

Well, last Thursday, I double-parked our car so that the street-sweeper could do its job efficiently; when the time was up for us to put the car back on the Thursday side, I parked the car right back in the same spot, two doors down. I left the car there until this morning, when I got into the car to double-park it again for our weekly exercise.

When I got into the car, it smelled like skunk. I took out the air freshener and sprayed the car. And then I left it double-parked until I had to go back down to return it to its previous parking spot.

The smell was still in the car. WTF? I’m looking around the car, under the car, now starting to wonder if some actual skunk had crawled up inside the car and died or something. I mean, I’ve seen an occasional racoon and even opossum, which were released by government officials some ten years ago to control the rat population! But never a skunk.

No luck. I mean, who am I kidding? This isn’t skunk. It’s the smell of pot! Perhaps somebody had been smoking pot near the car? So I get back into the car. I’m sniffing around, and I look down in the cup holder separating the two front seats. Lo and behold, I see that a $10 roll of quarters has been opened—no quarters left therein—and underneath it is a half-smoked joint. I guess whoever broke into the car (and HOW ON EARTH DID THEY GET INTO A LOCKED CAR WITH AN ALARM WITHOUT US HEARING IT?) was too stoned to finish, and decided to leave it there perhaps for another visit on another night. Too cold outside in the middle of January, after all! Better to be seated in somebody’s car where you can sit back, kick up your feet, smoke a joint, relieve the owner of ten bucks in quarters, which was sitting there to feed the parking meters of New York City.

Ordinarily, I’m a really understanding guy. I mean, it was only ten bucks, right? And I’m on record against the “war on drugs.” I couldn’t care less what you smoke, what you snort, what you mainline! But does it have to be done in our car?

Okay, I’ve been under a little pressure lately, what with having had a few surgeries in the early fall, almost losing my sister to a serious illness in mid-November, and becoming a primary caregiver in the middle of a pandemic, while dealing with healthcare bureaucracies and regulations designed to frustrate recovering patients from getting the after-care they require.

Yearning for a little respite from it all, during my morning stationary bike workouts, I’ve made my way through all those old “Karate Kid” films (I-IV) again, in preparation for the Netflix “Cobra Kai” series, amazed at all the kernels of wisdom that came out of the mouth of Mr. Miyagi (played by Pat Morita). You know, things like: “Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good” and “For man with no forgiveness in heart, living even worse punishment than death.”

So I took a nice deep breath, the smell of Fabreze not quite having erased that other scent, yearning for that balance in a world gone to pot! I forgave the stupidity of whoever broke into our car, a person who obviously needed a nice cozy place to smoke a joint in the middle of the night. I picked the joint up and threw it out the window, making sure to use a little Purell to clean my fingers. Then, I picked up the empty $10 quarter-wrapper and put it in my pocket.

I looked up at the sky through the windshield and simply said in Italian: “Gesù Cristo, Maria, San Giuseppe.” I didn’t yell. I didn’t scream. I didn’t even utter a single Sicilian curse! I simply marched upstairs and wrote out the sign below, came back down, and taped it to the steering wheel of the car.

I decided, last minute, to trim off the bottom of the sign, because to err is human, to forgive divine. Omitted was what I was really feeling, full of grace and forgiveness: “You toucha my car again, I breaka your face.”

Ed. – For the record: I looked on YouTube (and I’m NOT posting that video here), which shows how to ‘break into’ the particular make and model of our car without any damage to the car. [To be clear: It’s listed under how to get into the car if you left your keys inside…] Very nice! At least I know that nobody can drive off with it; they can just use it for, uh, hanging out! 🙂

Dialogue on Home Health Care Or How to Raise My Sicilian!

Having been born with a life-threatening disorder (SMAS) that nearly killed me when I was 13 years old, I received life-saving surgery back in 1974 that enabled me to not merely survive but to flourish, despite some serious complications that required 60+ surgical procedures since that time for a wide variety of side effects (including kidney stones, intestinal bleeding, hernias, etc.).

The condition pretty much bankrupted me and my family; I received generous assistance from caring friends and relatives, but it’s taken a lifetime to get out of debt.

For those who don’t know, there is a serious problem with healthcare in this country. Now is not the time to get into what needs to be done to even slightly improve the systemic problems that have plagued the medical professions and the health insurance industry. Suffice it to say, when you are considered “too well off” according to the government to receive any kind of sustained assistance, but not well off enough to afford long-term care, you’re put in a position of trying to come up with a practical patchwork plan that will carry you to the next level up, rather than six feet under.

As I have written recently, I have become the primary caregiver for my sister, who suffered a life-threatening episode in mid-November that kept her in the hospital for a solid month. Both of us have been familiar with the role of caregiver: We both cared for my mother who battled small cell lung cancer for five years before succumbing to the disease back in 1995. My sister has also been by my side for most of those 60+ surgical procedures, and anytime she’s been sick, I’ve been right there for her.

Having recovered from four surgical procedures myself within a three-month period ending the first week of November, I was prepared to go face-to-face with all of my sister’s caring doctors when she was hospitalized on November 13th. When she came home, I knew that I would have to summon the strength to take care of her the best way I knew how. Fortunately, upon her discharge, she was to get both physical and occupational therapy, and I was told that she’d be getting a home health aide for four hours a day, three days a week.

Well.

The first week, the home health aide services kicked in a little late. She started on Friday, December 18th and was a nice enough person that we decided to keep her on. She returned on Monday, December 21st. But we were told she couldn’t make it on Wednesday, December 23rd, so she returned on Christmas Eve for four hours.

Last week, she came on Monday, December 28th. Wednesday the 30th came and… no aide showed up. I called to complain, and I was told that the aide would return on December 31st; they hadn’t heard from her and couldn’t imagine why she didn’t show up.

New Year’s Eve came and no aide showed up again. I was told that the aide would return on New Year’s Day. New Year’s Day came and nobody showed up.

Well. Having been raised in a Brooklyn household with a mother of Greek descent and a father of Sicilian descent, I learned all the Greek prayers and all the Sicilian curses growing up. All I can say is that every Sicilian curse I knew came flying out of my mouth and every permutation of the F-word was screamed loud and clear as I ranted for about a half hour trying to get a hold of a real live human being on New Year’s Day wondering WTF was going on! Finally reaching somebody, the dialogue ensued:

Me: I was told that we were going to get a home health aide three days a week for four hours a day. The first week, she shows up once. The second week, she shows up twice, but she does not show up the third day. This week, she showed up once, and I was told she was going to be here on the 30th, then the 31st, and then the 1st. Nobody has shown up. What the hell is going on here? My sister needs help!

I take a breath.

Me: This is not directed at you personally, but do you understand: My sister needs help! I am a 60-year old guy who takes care of her but I have my own disability issues; I’ve got a brother and sister-in-law up the block but they are older than me! At some point, something’s gotta give!

Representative: We’re sorry for the inconvenience, sir.

Me: Inconvenience? This is absolutely outrageous! It is unacceptable!

Representative: Yes, I know, it is unacceptable and we will try to get a replacement for you today.

Me: Yeah, right, on New Year’s Day you’re going to find somebody on the fly to come here and to help take care of my sister! What are you kidding me?

Representative: We know that your sister requires assistance and she is going to get it!

Me: Well, right now, my sister is getting stugotz!

Representative: [not knowing what “stugotz” means] … Okay, well, we’ll try to get her some assistance today!

The home health aide never showed up on New Year’s Day. We have been promised a new home health aide today. We’ll see if the new aide shows up or if my sister ends up with stugotz again!

To 2020 (3): Pearls Before Swine III

The third of three “tributes” to 2020 from “Pearls Before Swine” (created by Stephan Pastis, courtesy of The New York Daily News):

🙂

To 2020 (1): Counting My Blessings — But Don’t Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out…

Clichés, by definition, are trite and lacking in originality. But you’ll find more than a few in the following post. This year didn’t lack for originality, but it helped to illustrate more than a few clichés.

This week, I’ll be featuring a few hilarious tidbits from my favorite comic strip, “Pearls Before Swine” (created by Stephan Pastis), all centered on a single theme: What a Miserable Year 2020 Was! Today, it’s best captured by yesterday’s featured strip in the New York Daily News:

Courtesy of The New York Daily News (27 December 2020)


So, before we start counting our blessings, let’s review our journey through the utter misery of 2020. I wrote 29 Notablog installments on the Coronavirus pandemic, not to mention umpteen entries on everything from racism and social injustice to civil unrest and a crazier-than-usual election year. (In-between, there were nearly 100 new songs added to my “Song of the Day” series—because music helped to ease the pain of a year like no other.)

Our social fabric has been drowned in so much sadness—in grief, in fear, in pain, in anger—but somehow, we seem to have made it through to the end of 2020. Then again, there are still a few days left to this miserable year, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it is the truth of that other cliché: “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch!” Or as that old poster for “Jaws 2” once declared: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water …” SLAM! The Great White Shark Shows Up Again!

For me, personally, I experienced more sorrow crunched into twelve months than I ever thought possible. I saw mass death and destruction in my hometown on a scale that, after living through 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy, I never could have imagined. I lost neighbors, friends, beloved local proprietors, colleagues, and even a cousin to a virus that hit New York City like a nuclear blast, with the fallout going on for months on end. I saw the ugliness of racial injustice give way to the agony of civil unrest. I saw political actors and political pundits incapable of dissecting, analyzing or helping to resolve complex social problems with intellectual scalpels, as they approached every issue with a sledgehammer, giving expression to yet another old cliché: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

But there was another side to this tale that reveals how many blessings I truly have.

Professionally, I count my blessings to have been here to celebrate the twentieth anniversary volume of a scholarly periodical that I cofounded way back in 1999: The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. I also helped to organize and moderate an illuminating four-month Facebook symposium with over 100 members, including nearly all of the contributors to The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom (coedited with Roger E. Bissell and Edward W. Younkins; Lexington Books, 2019).

Personally, I count my blessings that I saw compassion manifest itself throughout 2020 as people came to each other’s assistance.

I count my blessings that I have family and even neighbors, who have become like an extended family, offering their love and support through it all.

I count my blessings that I have great doctors who were able to coordinate the squeezing of nearly six months of “elective” surgical procedures into a two-month period, completing (and recovering from) four surgeries by the first week of November.

I count my blessings that I was then able to summon the strength to face a dire medical crisis on November 13th, when I almost lost my sister (to a non-COVID-related illness). In the middle of this, we had to give up our cat Cali for adoption, but I count my blessings that she was adopted by a loving mommy—who had first given her to us!

I count my blessings that I have seen, for months on end, the heroism of first responders, saving the lives of countless people, including my own sister’s life, as EMS workers rushed her to the emergency room on that harrowing morning. After a month in the hospital, my sister returned home on December 12th, brought up the stairs in a wheelchair by a couple of other EMS workers who showed the same depth of care as those who first brought her down.

Through it all, we’ve never lost our sense of gallows humor. When my sister wondered how on earth she would get down the stairs to go for follow-up medical appointments, I told her: “If all else fails, there’s always the Richard Widmark Way!” (For those who haven’t seen the 1947 film, “Kiss of Death,” check it out [YouTube link]!) We have a tough road ahead, but we are here to talk—and to laugh—about it.

I count my blessings that when I wrote about my sister’s ordeal, I saw an outpouring of love and support on Facebook, on email, and elsewhere, attesting to how deeply she has affected the lives of so many people: her colleagues, her friends, and, most of all, those who were her former students.

I count my blessings that at the end of this challenging year, I am here, my sister is here, my brother and sister-in-law are here, my family and dear friends are still here. We are here to lift a glass to the promise of 2021, knowing full well that when we did so at the end of 2019, in the hopes that 2020 would bring greater health and happiness to all, we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into.

We don’t know what lies ahead, but we do know that this too shall pass. Or as my urologist’s office reminded me: “It may pass like a kidney stone. But it will pass.”

Count your blessings, folks. For there is no truer cliché than this one: Where there is life, there is hope. And where there is love, all things are possible.

Brooklyn Business Hard Times: But Bassett Caterers Will Rise Again!

2020 has been the “gift” that keeps on giving.

This year, so many tragic stories have been told by so many beloved local proprietors. First, after 45 years, we lost one of the most gentle souls in our neighborhood: Joe “Pisa” Sanfratello, a founding owner of the great Pisa Pork Store in Gravesend, Brooklyn. Joe died of COVID-related illness back on May 12, 2020, and the store, with its classic Italian delicacies, closed permanently thereafter. Later that month, another Brooklyn staple—this one in Sheepshead BayJay and Lloyd’s Kosher Deli also closed its doors after 28 years.

Today, however, we received horrible news that one of the best caterers in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn was hit by a devastating fire on Christmas Day: Bassett Caterers on Avenue X. A three-alarm fire tore through the establishment, which has been serving the community since 1962. Two minor injuries were reported after 138 firefighters got the fire under control in two-and-a-half hours. The incident started as an electrical fire in the basement; no foul play is suspected.

But Bassett Owner Russell Dantonil has vowed to reopen the Brooklyn mainstay, with its fantastic homestyle cooking that has filled the bellies of so many loyal customers. “Even during the pandemic, we were open every single day,” said Dantonil. “Every single day. My guys had work, they got a paycheck every week. And now, not because of the pandemic, they don’t have their checks. It’s going to be hard on them.”

Our thoughts are with the folks at Bassett—folks such as Russell, Frank, Laura, Deb, Domenic, and others we know and love over so many years. To a better 2021 …