Song of the Day #1831

Song of the Day: Happy New Year [YouTube link], words and music by Bill Katz and Ruth Roberts, was recorded by the McGuire Sisters (for their 1958 album, “Greetings from the McGuire Sisters“). It’s not well known, but it’s full of all the joy and promise of the holiday. A Happy and Healthy New Year: Here’s to a better 2021! [And RIP, Phyllis McGuire, last surviving member of the trio!]

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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):

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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):

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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 …

Song of the Day #1830

Song of the Day: Have a Wonderful Christmas Day, words, music, and arrangement by my friend, Roger Bissell, is delivered in a sweet a cappella version, in which his immensely talented grandson, “Super Milesio” [YouTube channel], sings all nine parts! My best wishes to all my colleagues, friends, and family for a wonderful Christmas Day! Check out this wonderful song [YouTube link]!

Song of the Day #1829

Song of the Day: Happy Christmas (“War is Over”) features the words and music of Yoko Ono and John Lennon. Lennon was tragically killed forty years ago on 8 December 2020, but this 1971 Christmas song remains one of the artist’s signature post-Beatles tracks (with the Harlem Community Choir), a quintessential expression of his peace activism—and of this holiday’s message of peace on earth, goodwill toward all. Check out the song on YouTube. Tomorrow, I’ll post a new Christmas song. But today, it’s a Merry Christmas Eve … and don’t forget to check out Santa’s NORAD status across the globe!

Ski and Me: An Update

For those who don’t know Ms. Ski—also known as Elizabeth Sciabarra, my sister—she is one helluva human being.

So, when life throws us a curveball, and suddenly, emails, texts, and phone calls are unable to be answered, it’s not unusual that so many people would begin to worry about her.

Ski was taken seriously ill in mid-November (with a non-COVID-related condition) that kept her in the hospital for a solid month. She was released last Saturday and is currently home; I am her primary caregiver, but I have a dear brother and sister-in-law up the block, tons of family, friends, colleagues, and former students who are all pitching in with their love and support as she moves forward in her recovery.

Anyone who knows my sister knows that she is a fighter and will persevere. But if I didn’t make this public statement to which I can point moving forward, I’d only have to answer hundreds—nay, thousands—of inquiries from those whose emails and phone calls have gone unanswered.

I’ll be happy to post an occasional update as the situation warrants, but rest assured: She’s on the mend and will be able to reply to folks in due course. Even if it takes a Grand Zoom to do so!

I want to express my deepest appreciation and love to all those who have reached out during this very difficult time. Ski wishes everyone a happy and a healthy holiday season and a better 2021!


** For those who don’t know my sister, she began as a teacher, a brilliant educator who influenced the lives of thousands of students, and who went on to continue influencing those lives as a coach, assistant principal, principal, Deputy Superintendent, and Superintendent, before retiring and taking on the job of Executive Director of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation.

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.