Saturday, March 27, 2021

March Sadness – How Much More Can We Take?



In these waning days of March 2021, I have been inflicted with a deep and abiding March sadness. As someone who usually is a positive person, I feel overwhelmed by negativity. The things that should cheer me up – NCAA March Madness, Mets baseball, spring break, vaccinations, and a turn toward warmer weather – do nothing but make me sadder. I don’t want to feel this way, but there seems to be nothing I can do to feel more optimistic.

I usually look forward to March college basketball and seeing what teams make the Sweet 16, but now the joy is gone for me. Where is the music of cheering fans in the stands? Where are the cheerleaders? Also, knowing that the players and coaches are isolated from family and friends puts a damper on it for me. Basketball in this NCAA bubble is just not the same.

As for MLB spring training games, I’ve tried watching them, but I’m having a similar problem I had with basketball. Cardboard cutouts dominate the stands with only a few real people sprinkled here and there in the seats. I have watched a few games but – just like last summer’s 60-game season – I ended up feeling more depressed. With an impending opening day coming up next week for the regular season, I have no desire to go see some games. The capacity is set at 20% for Citi Field, so I don’t know how much fun that is going to be, and then I’d have to end up sitting next some cutout. Ugh!

Spring break was taken away from so many people this March – including yours truly – and yet when I watch the news, I see all these people in Florida celebrating mask-less on the beaches. Obviously, some schools gave the students time off. There are hordes of them running amok and gallivanting in the streets and filling restaurants and bars to the brim, and up here we’re still walking around the chilly streets in New York wearing these frigging masks. Talk about depressing!

We will soon turn the calendar page to April. With Passover beginning tonight and Easter fast approaching, I grit my teeth and wait to hear the warnings not to gather in large groups. This will be the second year of missing holiday gatherings with loved ones – some of whom are old enough to worry about not being here for the next Passover or Easter. How much more can we take of this?

I’ve heard it said that even after we get the COVID-19 vaccination that we should still wear a mask. There have been warnings that you could get COVID a second time, and the situation will not get better anytime soon. I have even heard that we won’t be able to fully celebrate Fourth of July this year. Thinking about all these things, I looked in the mirror and stuck my tongue out like Albert Einstein in that famous photograph of him taken on his 72nd birthday when he had had enough of the paparazzi stalking him. Like old Albert, I’ve had enough too.

If the warmer weather is not something to look forward to, what do we have left? Anyone who wants to travel outside of the U.S. is out of luck – unless they are willing to face tough quarantine rules when they arrive overseas. Traveling domestically is an option, but states have different rules too, which makes it annoying and frustrating to even contemplate taking a trip.

My March sadness will not go away anytime soon – unless I wake up tomorrow and everything is open, masks are tossed away, and I can go “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks” with 40,000 fellow fans at the old ball game. But I know that’s not happening, so my sadness will linger. It will push into April and probably beyond.

In April 2020, we didn’t know what to expect. We were naïve and thought things would be over sooner rather than later, but 2021 is different. We know what to expect – more of the same – and that grim reality hits me like an emotional sledgehammer.

More of the same? The same lockdowns, shutdowns, and social distancing. Limited capacity. COVID restrictions. Masks! Masks! Masks!

How could anyone not be feeling March sadness?    



Saturday, March 13, 2021

March 2020 – March 2021: The Year of Living Dangerously


As I turned the calendar pages during this past year, I kept thinking that this was the year of living dangerously because it seemed danger lurked everywhere. When I got to this March – specifically March 12, 2021 – I recalled that day a year before when everything stopped and nothing would ever be the same.

On that infamous day, kids were sent home from school with all their books and belongings. I, like millions of other people, was told to go home and work remotely. Department stores, restaurants, bars, barber shops, gyms, clubs, and basically all non-essential businesses shut down. Broadway shows closed – Broadway shows closed! There were no more concerts, operas, or ballets. Every aspect of art and culture in our lives seemed to be taken away from us.

Now, a year later, we are still living dangerously. I still cross the street to avoid people, and I’m still reticent to get on a train or bus. I see less thrown away masks on the sidewalks, but does that mean more people are being conscientious about littering or less people are wearing them? In my mind I keep hearing Dr. Fauci saying, “It’s about the droplets” and thinking that the very act of breathing is what can kill us.

Many people have followed the rules. They wore masks, social distanced, and were not gathering in large numbers. Unfortunately, many do not follow the rules. In the past few months when I take my daily walk, I am seeing increasingly more people without a mask. I have passed bars and restaurants where crowds of people are drinking, eating, laughing, and talking. Talk about droplets!

The problem is that it has gone on too long for some people. They dealt with it at first, but then as time went on it just got too hard for them. They felt trapped indoors – oftentimes with the same few people for months and months – and they had to get out. Once they let their hair (and masks) down, there was no turning back.

I want to cry when I think about all those people who died in hospitals and nursing homes alone. Because of the restrictions, their loved ones couldn’t be with them at the end of their lives. They weren’t able to give them a consoling hug, a goodbye kiss, and find some closure. This is truly a heartbreaking situation, and there is no way to ever make things right for the loved ones of those people lost.

Other problems seem small in comparison to the loss of a loved one, but everyday life changed dramatically and overwhelmingly for us. Kids couldn’t go to school, and we parents had to work from home while trying to help the kids in their online classrooms, all the while hoping we didn’t loose the Wi-Fi signal. Working from home meant Zoom calls and people wearing a suit on their upper bodies but wearing their underwear on their lower ones and sometimes forgetting that fact and revealing whether they wore boxers or briefs while standing up to get coffee. Talk about living dangerously!

There was, of course, the seemingly daily supply runs – consumption of food and drink seemed to double in this house – which were like food runs on The Walking Dead. We put on surgical masks and gloves, carried our reusable shopping bags, and ran outside hoping not to encounter anyone. Small local stores had signs on their doors – “One Customer at a Time” and usually someone standing at the door to enforce the rule.

Toilet paper became the new commodity. It was like “I’ll trade you a filet mignon for two rolls.” I remember in the beginning hearing reports about the national toilet paper supply running low, and then I’d go to the store and see people with shopping carts overloaded with toilet paper. It was a crisis made out of panic, and I felt it myself when I would go down the aisle and see one roll left on the shelf.

It did feel dangerous and frightening as the shutdown kept going on. In those first few in weeks in March 2020, I kept hearing things like “We’ll all be back in April.” Then April came and went, and it was “We’ll all be back by May.” Then May came and went, and you get the idea. We couldn’t go anywhere, do anything, or see anyone for month after month.

The daily briefings – for me conducted by Mayor DeBlasio, Governor Cuomo, and President Trump – started to consume my time. I was waiting and wanting to see and hear something hopeful, but I was only made to feel scared and despondent. I stopped watching them after a week because they kept repeating themselves like a reality version of the movie Groundhog Day. There seemed to be no end in sight and that was pretty hard to accept.

In truth, for me there were some good things that came out of the past year. I became closer with my nuclear family. We talked more, took long walks, and ate home cooked meals that we never had the time to make before all this happened. During the summer, we took a trip to the Lakes Region in New Hampshire and then another trip to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. We just had to get out of New York. Oh, and I wrote a book that was published in November 2020 that I would have never written without the crisis because it was about it.

Now, in March 2021, we are in a different place than a year ago. Back then we were all naïve and thought it would be over soon. Now, we are battle-hardened warriors against the virus; we are savvy and know how to cope with masks, restrictions, and being satisfied with takeout. We don’t like it any better than we did in the beginning, but we understand what’s going on and how to deal with it – for the most part.

The COVID vaccines provide hope, but until everyone gets them, we are still living dangerously if we go into a crowded bar or restaurant, but some people will try to do that anyway. I know it has been so long, so long since life seemed normal, but it is coming. Kids will go back to school full-time in all grades, people will go back to work, and everything will open up again.

A dark Broadway will glitter once again, and theatre goers will frequent restaurants and bars. The doors will be thrown open at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and all other venues and museums. Our cultural lives will be restored to us.

Yes, the year of living dangerously continues for now – continues for more than a year’s time – but we are still here. Those of us who got through this year are fortunate and survivors. Over half a million Americans who died never had a chance to get the vaccine, and we mourn for them.

The time for big crowds at Citi Field, concerts, weddings, and parties is coming. The time to sit at a bar and talk with friends, to eat in a busy restaurant, and push into a crowded subway car is coming. We have a chance to get the vaccine. We’re almost there, so hang in there and be smart. The year of living dangerously is almost over, and then we will all say “Good riddance!” when it is.



Sunday, February 28, 2021

Movie Review: ‘I Care A Lot’ – Taking Elder Abuse to the Extreme



Netflix’s new film I Care A Lot is about the worst nightmare that could happen to vulnerable senior citizens. Writer and director J Blakeson delivers a slick, stylish film that will make the blood of sons and daughters with elderly parents boil.

Rosamund Pike delivers an amazing performance as Marla Grayson, a tough as nails court appointed legal guardian who bilks her clients of their life savings, homes, and belongings as she vapes her way through the day. Her accomplice/lover Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) assists her in this scam along with doctors and nurses in the nursing home.

Once they are taken to the nursing home, the targets are drugged and kept from contacting the outside world. Marla goes to court, gets a legal document, and then she takes over the elderly person’s life. When Feldstrom (Macon Blair) tries to get into the home to see his mother, he is physically restrained and thrown out. It is understood nobody gets in, and nobody gets out. 

Marla keeps pictures of her charges on a wall in her office. After successfully hooking each target, she puts their picture on the wall and uses a colored dot system to categorize them. She likes to go after wealthy targets, and Fran does the research, narrowing it down to people who have little or no remaining living relatives.

One day they drive by a lovely home where they see an elderly woman going happily about her business. She obviously has no infirmities and walks without a cane. Marla asks Fran about her family – there are no relatives to complicate things. They decide that this woman will be the next target.

Marla comes back to that house with a court order. Jennifer Peterson (Diane Wiest, giving a delightfully understated performance) is stunned to think that she is supposed to leave her home. One minute she is boiling tea, and the next minute she is packing her bags for a trip to the nursing home.

Fran comes in to help her pack, and Jennifer looks outside and sees police officers, so she decides to cooperate. When they get to the nursing home, Marla asks Jennifer for her cellphone and confiscates it. She is given an injection and is on the road to being another sedated elderly person watching TV in the common room. Marla delightfully adds Jennifer’s picture to her growing gallery on the office wall.

Marla and Fran go back to Jennifer’s house and begin ransacking it, taking some items and preparing to sell others. Marla goes into her bank accounts and starts depleting them. The life Jennifer Peterson had that morning when she woke up is effectively gone. The way this process unfolds is upsetting and unsettling. A person’s home, treasured possessions, and savings are instantly taken, and Marla’s cruelty and greed become increasingly apparent.

Everything seems to be going according to plan. Fran is working in the house one day and someone arrives to visit Jennifer. It’s a taxi driver who tells her that he used to pick up Jennifer once a week. Fran tells him that Jennifer no longer lives there, and the house has been sold.

Alexi (Nicholas Logan) goes back and reports to his boss Roman Lunyov (a terrific Peter Dinklage) about the situation. Roman is not pleased to hear this news and reacts angrily. With a hulking bodyguard standing behind him as he sits at his desk in a large, expensive looking office with a view, we realize that Roman seems to be the kind of man who get what he wants.

Soon afterward slick lawyer Dean Ericson (Chris Messina) is visiting the nursing home and insisting on seeing Marla. He claims that Jennifer Peterson is his client and that she has been taken against her will. Marla keeps her eye on the prize and doesn’t back down, even after he offers cash and gives vague hints of physical violence.

After the meeting, Fran expresses concerns for Marla’s safety and suggests that they go away for Marla’s safety, but Marla refuses to back down. She vapes as she prepares for the fight of her life.

Will Marla succeed? Will Jennifer spend the rest of her life being sedated and watching TV with dozens of other sedated residents? Will Roman not stop until he gets what he wants by using any means necessary?

The rest of the way is spoiler territory, but the plot takes enough twists and turns to keep you engaged with the story. Blakeson keeps us on the edge of our seats as we wonder if this darkly comic rollercoaster of a movie will ever come down the rails and stop. 

This film is highly recommended but not for kids. It’s definitely 16 and up material because of violence, some sexuality, and its depiction of the horrific treatment of the elderly. This is a serious topic that film addresses respectfully, but this is only us that this is a serious situation and that there needs to be an ongoing process of reviewing treatment of the elderly in nursing homes.

Pike is awesome – Weist and Dinklage are too – and the ending may be the ultimate twist. I never saw it coming.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Review of My New Book 'Love in the Time of the Coronavirus'

 Please check out this review of my new book! Thank you to all of you who have already purchased my book. Please don't forget to leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads when you're done reading it. Thank you!!

This poignant depiction of the multi-generational impact of the pandemic crisis is both universal and intensely specific.  - The Prairies Book Review

Monday, February 22, 2021

Movie Review: ‘Bliss’ – Amazon’s New Surreal Sci-Fi Romance



Bliss, a sci-fi romance now streaming on Amazon Prime, will do as much to delight you as it will to confound you. There is much to-do about crystals, alternate realities, simulations, and a mysterious device called the Brain Box, but at the heart of this story is an unlikely romance between a seemingly homeless woman named Isabel (Salma Hayek) and the recently fired Greg (Owen Wilson). How they come together and what they experience is often surreal and mesmerizing.

Greg works in a company and has a corner office. It is made obvious that Greg has been slacking for some time based on the comments of his fellow workers. When he is called in to see the boss and face the music, Greg continues to work on sketches of a fantasy house and a beautiful woman standing in a portico of that building. A phone call from his daughter Emily (Nesta Cooper) barely registers in his mind as he keeps working on the drawings.

Eventually, Greg gets his act together and gathers his things and goes in to see his boss Bjorn (Steve Zissus). Bjorn wastes little time talking and goes right to the firing part of their conversation. Greg makes an aggressive motion and Bjorn falls backwards, hits his head on his desk, and kills himself. Greg is flustered but thinks clearly enough to hide Bjorn’s body behind curtains and leans him against the window.

Greg quickly leaves telling people that he doesn’t know where Bjorn is, and he rushes outside and across the street to a bar to drown his fears in drink. Here he meets the lovely Isabel (Hayek plays the part perfectly), who seems to know everything about him – including that he was just fired and that his boss is dead. She points to the window in the building across the street, where Greg can see Bjorn’s body against the window.

How did Isabel know about this? There is not much time to think as the weight of Bjorn’s body against the window suddenly opens it, and he falls a few stories down to the sidewalk. Greg’s co-workers who were outside for a cigarette break witness this, and they immediately assume that Bjorn has committed suicide.

Isabel convinces Greg to get out of there to avoid being questioned by the police. Isabel says that he must lay low and not contact his family, selling his phone in a pawn shop and some of Greg’s other possessions to get some money.

She takes him to a tent area under a highway where she lives, which has many amenities despite being a homeless camp, and they get to talk and learn about each other’s lives. She shares a yellow crystal with him, and it has powerful hallucinogenic powers and makes Greg think that he can move objects and people with his hand.

Isabel says they need to get more crystals, and when they go to buy them from her dealer Kendo (Ronny Chieng), Emily sees her father and goes up to him. Emily gives a graduation photo to Greg – reminding him that he missed that day – and puts her telephone number on the back. She begs him to call her.

When Greg wakes up the next day, he sees that Isabel has put up all his drawings under the tent. Greg then looks at Emily’s photo and decides to call her from a phone booth. When he gets her answering machine, Greg returns to the tent and Isabel explodes when she learns that he tried to call Emily. She says that Emily is not real and that they are living in a simulation.

Using a nasal device and some blue crystals, Isabel says that they are going to be transported back to reality. Greg reluctantly goes through with it, and when he wakes up, he finds himself hooked up to a giant computer called the Brain Box. In this reality, Greg learns that he and Isabel are respected researchers and scientists, and Isabel is responsible for creating the Brain Box. It is used to explore various simulations, including the one Greg thought was his life.

In this world they are a couple, and Isabel takes him home to a place that is the fantasy house from his drawings. When she stands in the doorway for a moment, Greg realizes that she is the woman in the picture that he drew. Here they are wealthy, live in a lavish estate, and are well respected scientists.

Greg still vividly remembers the simulation and his daughter Emily, and this reality is vague to him, and he recalls very little of his life as a famous scientist. When they attend a gala to celebrate Isabel’s work, Greg encounters a ghost-like Emily, who begs him to come back to her. Greg must make a choice – stay with Isabel in this idyllic place – or go back to what Isabel says is a simulation and see his daughter again.

The rest is spoiler territory, but it is worth noting that director Mike Cahill – who also wrote the screenplay – takes us through the alternate realities in a compelling way, making either life Greg lives seem rather credible. The cast is terrific, and this is no doubt Wilson’s most impressive film role to date. He and Hayek have real chemistry, so much that when she says that they are a couple in the alternate reality, I had no trouble believing that. 

Big questions are being asked here. Do our dreams reflect another life we once lived? What things matter in our daily lives? Are we who we think we are or who some other force wants us to be? Can love keep us happy or does it tear us apart? And, most importantly, is the life you live one that seems real or is it the reality we want to live?

Yes, all enormous thoughts to rattle around in our heads while watching the film, but Cahill doesn’t leave us guessing in the end. We get to see the story play out and conclude in a way that makes narrative sense for what we have seen taking place, but we also may still have a lingering doubt in our minds – a question or two that will never be answered.

Bliss is highly recommended, but it is not for kids under 13. The implications of some of the story are way too complex and could upset younger viewers.

As you watch Bliss you can’t help but think about your own life and relationships, and you will start thinking about what matters most to you. In the end, that’s the place where you will want to be, and isn't that what bliss is all about?


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

President's Day/Week Kindle Countdown for 'Love in the Time of the Coronavirus'


Just a reminder about the Kindle Countdown for my new novel Love in the Time of the Coronavirus available for 99 cents until February 22. Also, I want to thank all of you who have already purchased the book. Please don't forget to leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. As always, thank you all for your support!

Monday, February 15, 2021

President's Day/Week Kindle Countdown for 'Love in the Time of the Coronavirus'

Today I am announcing a Kindle Countdown for my new novel Love in the Time of the Coronavirus. From February 15 to February 22, my book will be available for 99 cents. Also, I want to thank all of you who have already purchased the book. Please don't forget to leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. As always, thank you all for your support!