Category Archives: Culture

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 2021 (I): Pearls Before Swine Strikes Again!

Well, the New Year has come in. 2021 is real, it is possible, it is yours! Alas, while watching the news tonight, I was reminded of another recent “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip installment that has already captured the spirit of the young New Year (courtesy of Stephan Pastis and the New York Daily News). I don’t care what your politics is because this one seems to capture the very culture of our age!

To 2020 (2): Pearls Before Swine II

Another “tribute” 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…

ClichĂ©s, 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 clichĂ©s.

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 clichĂ©: “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 clichĂ©: “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 …

Song of the Day #1828

Song of the Day: Ode to Joy, composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, constitutes the fourth movement and finale of his Ninth Symphony (in D minor, Op. 125). It is one of the most performed works from the corpus of the great composer, the 250th anniversary of whose birth is being noted this month. The master based the choral sections on a poem by Friedrich Schiller. But it is a theme that has been used by both dictators and freedom fighters the world over, giving it a particularly checkered history [YouTube link]. And yet, it is no coincidence that the great Leonard Bernstein conducted the full symphony as an “Ode to Freedom” on the occasion of the collapse of the Berlin Wall (the finale itself can be heard, triumphantly, in two parts: part 1 and part 2) [YouTube links]. Bernstein embraced the Ninth Symphony [YouTube link], as a jubilant celebration of peace and brotherhood, having recorded it two previous times: first with the New York Philharmonic in 1964 and again with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1979. It has also been embraced by diverse cultures for its exuberant spirit; in Japan, for example, in keeping with the holiday season, it has become a veritable Christmas carol. And it has been used by dissenters throughout the world in protests such as those against the oppressive Pinochet regime in Chile and in those that rocked Tiananmen Square. What better way to end a two-day celebration of this important anniversary!

Song of the Day #1827

Song of the Day: Symphony No. 6 in F-major (Op. 68) was composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, who was baptized on this date in Bonn, Germany, 250 years ago. The piece made its debut this very month in 1808 [22 December] at the Theater an der Wien. Also known as the “Pastoral Symphony or Recollections of Country Life,” there have been so many performances of it through the history of recorded music. Among the most notable are those conducted by Otto Klemperer, Carlos Kleiber, Sir John Eliot Gardner, and Colin Davis [YouTube links]. The symphony has entered popular culture as well through two notable films: Disney’s 1940 masterpiece, “Fantasia,” conducted by Leopold Stokowski [YouTube link] and in an excerpt during a key scene with Edward G. Robinson [YouTube link; spoiler alert!] from the 1973 sci-fi film, “Soylent Green.” We don’t know the exact date of Beethoven’s birth, but his enormous legacy remains among history’s greatest musical achievements.

Song of the Day #1826

Song of the Day: Come Rain or Come Shine, music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, made its debut in the 1946 musical, “St. Louis Woman.” The song first hit the pop charts in a rendition by Margaret Whiting with the Paul Weston Orchestra. Other notable recordings include those by Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, and Barbra Streisand, and among instrumentalists: Bill Evans, Joe Pass, and Return to Forever (with vocalist Gayle Moran) [YouTube links]. But today, I highlight a recording from the 1962 album, “Sinatra and Strings“—to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of the Chairman of the Board. Check it out on YouTube.

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends! Lord knows, we all need a Festival of Lights!

❤

Song of the Day #1824

Song of the Day: Girlfriend, words and music by Jason Kasher Hindlin and Charlie “Perfect Pitch” Puth, who turns 29 today. This is really a fun song with an adorable music video (even with the Old School Tube Socks!). Check out the video single, the Haywyre Remix and a live performance of the song on the The Late, Late Show with James Corden [YouTube links]. Happy birthday to this genuinely talented musical prodigy.