It’s the little differences

In the film Pulp Fiction, there’s a memorable scene where John Travolta’s character discusses the little differences between Europe and America. His character talks about the differences between fast food names and other cultural things. When I recently went on a week-long family vacation in Paris to celebrate my children’s graduation from high school and college, I was constantly reminded of that scene by noting the many little differences between my native city and Paris. These little differences made me want to temporarily forget all of the things that identify me as a New Yorker to explore what it was like to live as a Parisien. Here’s what I learned…

  1. When Parisiens greet each other in the morning, they enthusiastically say, “BON JOUR!!!” as if to state, “I am happy to see you!”. New Yorkers greet each other with a more monotone and less enthusiastic, “good morning”.
  2. Paris provides free public toilettes (bathrooms) dotted throughout the city. Although New York City once tried this years ago, it did not work out. If you have to pee in NYC, you’ll have to either find a Starbucks, hold it in, or find a tree.
  3. The French do not overeat. There are no such things as all-you-can-eat buffets in Paris. Compared to American meals, Parisien meals are small. It’s no wonder why I didn’t see any overweight people in Paris. A number of cafes that serve a petite dejeuner (little meal) also serve an additional American dejeuner (larger meal) just for American tourists.
  4. Street signage in Paris is attached to actual buildings and does not hang on poles. In fact, street signage poles do not exist in Paris.
  5. All subway cars in the Paris Metro have rubber wheels instead of the standard steel wheels that one finds on train cars throughout the New York City subway system. As you could imagine, trains leaving and arriving at the Metro stations were quieter than NYC subway trains.
  6. Wine in Paris is super-cheap. If one shops at a supermarche (supermarket), they will find a wall of wine bottles costing anywhere between $1.00-$5.00 Euro (similar to the American dollar).
  7. There is no tipping at Paris restaurants. The tip is already included in the bill. While there, it was so refreshing for me to get my bill, pay the amount on the bill, and leave without having to calculate what the tip should be.
  8. The first floor of all Paris department stores is numbered “0”. The floors going up are “1, 2, 3, etc” and the floors going underground are “-1, -2, -3, etc”.
  9. Parisiens love their coffee so much that many Metro stations have a Lavazza coffee machine in them.
  10. Paris is a planned city where Napoleon wanted all structures to be built exactly six stories tall. They were all made out of locally-excavated limestone which gave the entire City of Paris a very consistent look. Building uniformity heights are very inconsistent throughout New York.
  11. Also during Napoleon’s rule, Paris was divided into 20 distinct arrondissements (neighborhoods). You can easily see what arrondissement you are in by looking at the top of most street signs.
  12. The street system of Paris was designed in a very disjointed radial format full of irregular street connections. If you are a visiting tourist, you will need a map or gps technology to find your bearings. New York City streets mostly follow a grid system. Many Parisien streets are named after a historical figure. NYC streets are mostly numbered.
  13. I felt a happier vibe in Paris than in New York. I felt this even during the days and hours when many Parisiens were walking off to work.
  14. Although I did not experience this first-hand, my good friend Michel, a native of France, told me that Parisiens are a lot more racist and prejudiced than New Yorkers.

And here are some things that are pretty much the same in both New York and Paris:

  1. Grafitti
  2. Homelessness
  3. Inconsiderate tourists who throw trash on the ground
  4. Major terrorist targets. Like some buildings in New York, the Eiffel Tower is surrounded by a protective anti-terrorist barrier.
  5. Crappy food at McDonald’s

A Father’s Day 33 Years in the Making

For whatever reason, my cousin Jamie never had any children. While his brother Jeff, his cousins Aaron, Rose, and myself all have been enjoying the joys of parenthood seeing our children grow into fine adults, Jamie could never share those same feelings. Now 50 years old and with the regret of not starting a family early in life, Jamie had longed for a child of his own.

A few years ago and 82 miles away from Jamie, a man named Mickey Bennet took a 23andme test that helped him locate some of his distant relatives. Then in 2022, Mickey took an Ancestry DNA test. The results of that test helped Darcy Bennet, Mickey’s wife, find out the identity of his real grandfather. You see, Mickey was an adopted child who never knew who his real father was and wanted to find out. Being a person who loves to investigate things, Darcy thought it was time to know the truth about her husband’s parentage.

This is how she did it in her own words:

“A few years ago Mickey took a 23andme DNA test to learn more about where his family came from. Mickey was adopted at birth and it was a closed adoption because the mother was under 21 when she gave birth so Mickey’s parents didn’t have any information. When he took the 23andme test he learned about his heritage but was also connected to distant relatives (mostly 2nd cousins). Mickey talked to one of his second cousins and they told him that their father had a cousin, Patty Prehall, who lived in Allentown around the time that Mickey was born. At first, we thought that she was his Mom so I did a bunch of research and found some other relatives of Patty Prehall. I got to a dead end at one point and there were no updates until I got Mickey to take the ancestry DNA test. There he was connected to Bill Kulls, who originally showed up as Mickey’s first cousin. I looked up Bill on Facebook and saw that he was older than I expected so I looked up his friends with the last name Kulls. That’s when I found Jamie and I was shocked. So I sent him a message and I found Steve Kulls and sent him a message too. I found out that he was Bill’s half-brother and that Bill had three kids, Jamie included. Since we thought that Bill was Mickey’s cousin we thought Jamie was a 2nd cousin. I wasn’t convinced that Jamie was a cousin so I went back on the ancestry site and clicked on the connection to Bill. It ends up that Bill is Mickey’s grandpa. So that narrowed Mickey’s dad to be either Jamie or Jeff. I did some more research and found out that Jamie graduated high school the same year that Mickey was born, so that lined up with his biological parents being under 21. Then I found out that Patty Prehall is Jamie and Jeff’s mom so I was like “Wow”. Then Jamie replied to me and more things lined up with the timing. He came to visit NY and then we got the paternity test done and he was a match!”

It took 33 years for my cousin Jamie to find out that he was a father. Today is the first Father’s Day in all those years that Jamie can truly celebrate parenthood.

Mickey (middle) finally reunited with his real parents 33 years after his birth.
Mickey and Jamie. They look like brothers, but they’re really father and son.
Darcy and Mickey Bennet

Tarkine Goshawk Running Shoes

A few months ago, I came across an email that was sent to my running club. It was from a runner and entrepreneur from Australia who had just developed a running shoe made almost entirely out of recycled materials. He wanted to spread the word to runners around the world about a Kickstarter campaign that he was about to start in order to get the ball rolling for his new product. As both a life-long runner and a die-hard environmentalist, I was immediately intrigued. I personally contacted co-founder Sam Burke and told him how excited I was about his new running shoe venture. I wasn’t the only one. Within four hours of starting the campaign, Tarkine running shoes met their fundraising goal by selling over $44,000 in inventory.

According to statistics by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Americans throw away at least 300 million pairs of shoes each year. These shoes end up in landfills, where they can take 30 to 40 years to decompose. Ethylene Vinyl Acetate, which usually makes up the midsole of most running shoes, can last for as long as 1,000 years in a landfill. With this in mind, I knew that I had to purchase a pair of Tarkines for the environmental aspect. There were a few exciting qualities that I learned about this shoe that I just had to explore. The Tarkine website purports that their running shoes are made almost entirely out of recycled materials and their life expectancy is 700 miles, lasting almost twice as long as a typical pair of running shoes. Once these shoes reach the end of their lives, they can be fully recycled through a program that Tarkine has set up for their customers.

I purchased a pair of blue training shoes, the Tarkine Goshawks. The box they came in stated, “The world’s most eco-friendly high-performance running shoe”. I was curious to see for myself how well they performed by wearing them for my first official run in them.

Mile 5 – February 9, 2022

I slipped on my pair of blue and white Tarkine running trainers to take these virgin shoes out for their first run. I felt an instant feeling of comfort as soon as I slipped them on. The upper part was both firm and stretchy. As with all other running shoes that have a separated tongue, the Tarkines had no separated tongue and the entire upper section was constructed as one continuous material which exerted equal pressure around my entire ankle. Once they were on both my feet, the front contour of these shoes appeared not to be your typical elliptical shape, but looked more like the asymmetrical contour of a human foot. At first, I thought that this shape looked strange, but I later realized that there was a method to the madness of this design feature. I learned that this duck-like foot shape addressed the issue of foot splay, which is what happens to the toes in our feet every time a runner lands on them after each stride. When our feet land, our toes naturally splay out from one another. The developers of these shoes were well aware of this splaying tendency and designed the Tarkines to account for this natural phenomenon.

I did my first run through my mom’s Staten Island neighborhood and around Clove Lakes Park. I ran up and down hills and through the streets. The shoes hugged my feet tightly but had some give to them. There were no pressure points or any other part of the shoes that made my feet feel uncomfortable. The rubber beneath was bouncy just enough to give me the sensation of being propelled forward as if I were wearing a pair of bouncy springs.

I completed my five-mile run and both of my feet felt great. There were no blisters like I usually get after wearing a new pair of running shoes. There wasn’t even any soreness for the shoes fit my feet like a glove due to their ability to give. With all of these positive experiences, I am looking forward to seeing if these shoes will continue to perform well as I put in many more miles on them over the next few months.

Stay tuned

2021 – A Year In Review

If 2021 were a pile of garbage, I plowed right through it, bravely living my life as if the pandemic never happened.

I usually start the new year off each January 1 with a soul-cleansing plunge into the Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island Beach. 2021 didn’t begin that way since the event was canceled due to COVID. What did happen was an interview I had hosted for the Manhattan public access show Gotta Run With Will. My episode was postponed from the previous November also due to the pandemic. Conditions were safe enough on January 2 where we were able to successfully produce this episode with the help of gifted producer Will Sanchez and his crew. I interviewed my good friends Mark Vogt and Bob Denker who are fellow life-long runners and background actors. You can view the episode here.

As society continued to open up in February due to increased vaccinations, I was able to engage in some fun activities. I portrayed a boom mike operator for the Showtime series Succession, went skiing in Massachusetts with my son at Catamount Mountain, and went snowshoeing in the Staten Island Greenbelt. A call to the community from Senator Andrew Gounardes asked for homemade Valentines Day cards that would be distributed to older adults at local senior citizen centers. Through my Buy Nothing group, I had asked families and teachers to ask their children to make cards for this program.

In March, a single mother of five living in my community desperately needed a new refrigerator. I found a couple willing to donate a fridge that they didn’t need. With the help of my friend and fellow community activist Ajamu Osborne, we wheeled the fridge 1.2 miles to the mother’s apartment house.

My brother and I participated in an anti-Asian hate rally in Coney Island along with Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, Steven Patzer, Ari Kagan, and others.

Mukasa Edward is a teacher, runner, and track coach living in a small village in Uganda. I have known him for a few years. His friend’s baby got an infection from a tainted vaccine and was in danger of losing her life. Mukasa needed my help. At first I didn’t know how I could help, but in time, I was able to begin a fundraising campaign that helped to save the baby’s life. You can read about it here.

Through the efforts of community activists Steven Patzer and Reyna Gobel, we engaged in the second annual Chinese Restaurant Food Crawl. Among dozens of other great community events, Steven and Reyna initiated the inaugural event at the outset of the pandemic last year to help support locally-owned Chinese restaurants in the area.

I had the opportunity to meet Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa as he walked along the Coney Island Boardwalk trying to get support for his mayoral campaign.

My brother and I spent some quality time with my dad. After our visit to his house in West Orange, New Jersey, we took our daughters for a hike on a nearby mountain.

As a background actor, I had the opportunity to portray a dead body for the third time for the show The Blacklist. My role was as a preserved cadaver that was pulled out of a drawer in a medical lab. The medical examiner then inspected me as they filmed the footage.

My daughter is a graphic design and painting major in college. As a dedicated artist, she has been exploring all forms of self-expression from the humorous to the abstract to the downright disturbing. Among many other projects, she created a “Canned Baby” label, a paper-mache mask named Snuffy, and a stuffed-animal-inspired full face mask she calls the Velveteen Vermin.

I had the opportunity to portray a FedEx delivery worker in a Nissim Black music video. Black is an African-American rapper who happens to also be a Hasidic Jew. Check out my attempt at hip hop dancing towards the end of the video by clicking here.

Since the outset of the pandemic a year ago, I worked with other volunteers by helping those most affected throughout South Brooklyn. One of the many things I did was to deliver care packages to over 200 families and hot food and PPE equipment to senior citizens. Local leaders took notice including 46th Assembly District Leader Dionne Brown-Jordan and Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus. They each invited me to events that honored those who stepped in to help during a very difficult and dangerous time. While I never expected to receive any recognition for what I had done, it was an honor to be recognized among other brave recipients.

I lucked out in August when I got hired to be the stand-in and body double for actor David Costabile for a Pepsi commercial. I was the same height and age as David, and I kind of looked like him. It was fun seeing how a commercial was made first-hand as well as meet the actor that I was standing in for. You can view the entertaining ad by clicking here.

One of my greatest memories of 2021 was when I went on a whale watch with an old high school friend and our favorite high school teacher. Larry Parente and I had taken two years of marine biology together with Joel Teret when we went to Sheepshead Bay High School. Our mutual love for Mr. Teret was so great that we brought our families on a whale watch with him back in August. And boy, did we see whales that day!

I was invited to two separate weddings in September. One was the union of Geo Morales and my good friend Eddie Sud. The wedding took place inside an old church on top of a mountain with breath-taking views. It was the first gay wedding I had ever attended and the venue was beautiful.

The second wedding was for my sister Rachel and her new husband Austin. It was such a happy and festive event that included tacos as an appetizer. I got to see so many old family members who I haven’t seen in a long time. The newlyweds looked great together and I wish them many years of happiness.

After hosting the January 2 episode of Gotta Run With Will, I immediately wanted to set up an interview with Mark and David Carles, brothers I know through the Staten Island Athletic Club. A few years ago, Mark was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and was told by his doctor he had only a few months to live. His brother David did not accept this as an answer and went through many doctors to find the one doctor who knew how to save his brother’s life. The interview kept on getting postponed either by the increasing COVID rates that closed the recording studio down or Mark becoming too sick to be interviewed. Finally, in October, we were finally able to get the brothers interviewed. You can see the interview here.

I got the opportunity to run the NYC Marathon for the seventh time. I wasn’t planning on running it this year, but I knew if I signed up for it, it would make me run more and lose weight. I lost 15 pounds, so I succeeded in that area. I ran the first 13 miles of the Marathon too fast and paid the price when I struggled to run the last 13. While this was my second slowest marathon, I was glad that I was able to work through the constant leg pain in the last 10 miles to be able to cross the finish line alive.

Here are some other people and events I attended that helped to make my 2021 memorable.

As 2021 comes to an end, I am grateful for my Mom. Just a few weeks ago, she got hit by a car that ran a red light. Fortunately, she escaped with only a dislocated shoulder and a broken leg which is now almost fully healed. I am also grateful for having good health in spite of having COVID during this last week of the year.

After receiving my first dose of the COVID vaccine almost exactly a year ago, I began 2021 believing that I was a superhero. Now I know better.

My mother Susan celebrating New Year’s Eve at the rehab center with my brother Aaron.

It took a village of runners to save a baby’s life

The following article was printed in the Staten Island Advance on April 28, 2021. In order for readers to avoid a paywall when trying to access it online for those who don’t subscribe, I provided screenshots below. A link to the original article is provided at the end.

I would like to add that runners from other local running clubs such as the Prospect Park Track Club and the Ridge Runners also played a part in donating to the Baby Brenda Fund. Members of the Facebook group Bensonhurst Parents also helped provide donations.

Here is the link to the original article as digitally published by the Staten Island Advance (www.silive.com):

https://www.silive.com/colleges/2021/04/the-gym-bag-siac-webmaster-teams-with-runners-worldwide-to-save-babys-life-slsa-donation-top-college-feats-and-more.html


2020 – A Year In Review

When 2020 began, little did anyone know that a pandemic was less than three months away from hitting the United States and throwing all of our lives into a tailspin. In the weeks preceding the pandemic, our lives were more or less normal. I found happiness in the little things in life. During this time, my attention was focused on my family and my hobbies.

In January, my daughter and I visited Carol Pessin, the wife of Jere Pessin who is a distant relative of mine. She owns an art business called Art Cards, which are hand-painted cards that are sold in many Whole Foods Market locations.

My brother Aaron celebrated his 50th birthday at the World-famous Junior’s Cheesecake Restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn.

In February, my friend Jacky Lee won the Extra Mile award at a holiday party for members of the Staten Island Athletic Club. This was a well-deserved award given how much time and effort she gave volunteering to help pace many other runners in various half marathons and marathons. She also assisted physically-challenged runners from the Achilles Track Club throughout the New York City Marathon.

Jacky would continue her commitment thinking about others by running around the perimeter of Staten Island for 53 miles. This was in honor of my 53rd birthday in June. What a birthday gift!

As I got more politically active in my community with the help of my friend and City Council 47 candidate Steven Patzer, I met up with the mother of Eric Diaz, a young man who was shot in the face by an ICE agent in Brooklyn. At an event that Steven put together, we engaged in a letter-writing campaign that asked local leaders to speak up when many chose to remain silent about this incident.

I worked on a TV gig portraying an aircraft crash victim. It took about an hour to put fake skin on my face and make up my hands to make me look like I suffered horrible burns from a plane crash. When filming was over, it took another hour to remove the fake skin and makeup.

As COVID19 entered our world in March, my attention began to be divided between the needs of my family and the needs of my community. This virus tested me as a human being. At first, due to the uncertainty of the virus and the increasing numbers of deaths across the Nation, I was very fearful that I’d die from it. As time went by and as I saw friends heroically helping the most needy populations in my community, I overcame my fears and bravely went out to join them in their efforts.

I joined Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus as she set out every Saturday afternoon to help residents of Coney Island who were most affected by COVID19. We delivered face masks, protective gloves, and hot food using contactless delivery procedures. Mathylde’s group of fearless heroes included Steven Patzer, Reyna Gobel, Jacky Lee, Jose Gonzalez, Kouichi Shirayanagi, Damien Charles, and Ajamu Osborne.

April was one of the deadliest months for COVID19. While the TV news reported grim statistics on a daily basis, I went out every week to help those in need. I started to volunteer for the South Brooklyn Mutual Aid and Bay Ridge Cares, two non-profit organizations that helped those in need. I made so many deliveries for these two organizations that by the end of the year, I had driven 490 miles throughout Brooklyn. I delivered care packages to 218 families, 199 hot meals to the elderly, 22 toys to children, 326 face masks, and 3,000 PPE face shields to hospital staff at Maimonides Hospital.

I was concerned about the collapsing economy and thought of ways we could help keep local businesses afloat. One business I tried to help was the Flagship Brewery. After getting beer delivered from Flagship, I asked the owners of the company if I could hold a weekly contest to promote their beer. I made up a trivia question each week and posted it on my Facebook account. Those who answered it correctly would be put into a drawing. The winner received a 6-pack of beer delivered to their door. The owners of Flagship loved this idea and supported it. I continued the contest for several weeks.

Working with my fellow teachers at the preschool I work at, I collected about 60 photos of our students posing with their rainbow drawings. With the help of local graphic designer Alex Marmolejos of AM Print NY, we created a dozen “Thank You!” posters with all the children’s photos on them. I hand-delivered them to hospitals, police precincts, and other institutions. Many were grateful to receive them. You can read more about this story in the article here.

In May, I started a used running shoe drive through gotsneakers.com. This organization gives money in exchange for old running shoes. I began collecting running shoes from running clubs and organizations throughout Brooklyn and Staten Island. By the end of 2020, I had collected 756 pairs of shoes and donated $400 to the South Brooklyn Mutual Aid. This amount was enough to feed 13 families for a week.

I continued to spread myself to whereever I was needed. I helped James Raffone, whose son Jamesy is afflicted with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, a rare disease with no known cure. Children with that disease become wheelchair-bound by the time they are teenagers and often don’t make it into their 20s. I volunteered a few hours of my time to help James with a clothing drive that benefitted the Jar of Hope, an organization whose sole goal is to find a cure for DMD.

In June, Coney Island had its own march for racial equality. I joined Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, Steven Patzer, Reyna Gobel, Damien Charles, and others as we marched along the Coney Island Boardwalk.

By the end of June, I had already spent four months teaching my preschool class remotely. For graduation day, I decided to visit the homes of each of my students with my two teacher assistants, Maria Caceres and Malgorzata Michalewicz. We handed them their diplomas and a small gift, then took pictures with each of them. It was a bittersweet day full of happy tears, especially from their parents.

My cousin Jeffrey Kulls got married to a lovely woman named Frances. I attended their ceremony, but I had to be careful due to COVID restrictions. Unfortunately, immediately after exchanging their vows, Jeff had to be sent to the emergency room at the nearby hospital (he was okay after that). I spent the next hour or so getting to know Frances more. She has a very good rapport with people and is also funny.

In July, I wanted to get away from everything. Camping and the outdoors is always a great escape for me and my family. We went to a family campground in Pennsylvania. We rented a small cabin in the woods there. It was what we needed at the moment.

Now that it was August, there were only three more months left until Election Day. My cousin David Greene was preparing to hold a weekly series of remote phonebanking events to help elect Joe Biden for President. Every Thursday, I worked from my desktop computer calling voters living in different states to encourage them to vote for Biden. I worked with about a dozen other callers and each week we’d call voters from a different state. We called voters in Florida, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Nevada. It was an eye-opening experience for me to hear about the many thoughts, feelings, and fears from people across America.

One day, I needed to make a spare house key and decided to support the local hardware store around the corner from where I live. When I gave the owner Mr. Leung my key, he was very excited to help me. I noticed a “For Rent” sign in the window and commented on it. He said that his business is dying due to COVID19. Feeling that I had to do something to help him, I took a picture of his hardware store, then I posted it on my Facebook account asking for everyone reading my message to please support his store. Within a week, my post was viewed by over 4,500 people and shared 6,200 times. On a local level, it went viral. I don’t know how many new customers actually visited Mr. Leung’s store due to my post, but when I passed by his store days after that, Mr. Leung seemed very happy and grateful to me.

After applying to be a Census enumerator in June, I finally got hired and started working in September. Working this job was very exciting and challenging. The challenge was in trying to count homes of people who were never home or who refused to answer their doors. Most people were friendly while others were hostile and belligerent.

During the deadliest part of the COVID pandemic in April, my brother Aaron was the only employee at his job who accepted a temporary job taking care of special needs adults who were in the hospital recovering from COVID. He himself contracted COVID and had to self-quarantine for two weeks. In honor of his bravery to take on this job, he was invited to a special ceremony given by the Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. He was handed a citation for his bravery along with about 80 other brave Brooklynites who went above and beyond the call of duty during this time.

I found a photo of two friends, Andrew Windsor, a Republican and Steven Patzer, a Democrat. They were working together to help clean up the beach at Coney Island Creek. This photo was meaningful to me for it showed members of two political parties working together for a common goal. I added text to the photo and turned it into a motivational meme.

In October, I was asked by Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus to find some teenagers who were willing to distribute and hang campaign flyers for pay to help with her reelection campaign. My niece Emma Gail Pesin and my former preschool student Selvin Ramirez were both up for the job. They distributed promo cards to homes and apartments and hung posters throughout her district. As it turns out, Selvin was interested in politics and wants to become a community leader one day. Working this job was a perfect fit for him.

In the Bensonhurst Parents Facebook group, one parent complained about how dirty Seth Low Park was getting. She posted photos of garbage strewn throughout the park. Other parents chimed in and made similar complaints. When I read their comments, I realized that nothing was going to get done through complaining. I then suggested that we all chip in and help clean up the park ourselves. Parents started to notice my comment and agreed with me. Within a few weeks, I organized a park cleanup. The Parks Department provided the tools and about a dozen families provided the manpower. We got the whole park cleaned up within two hours. Families were grateful to be included in this cleanup. It was a great experience for all. If I ever become a real leader one day, organizing this park cleanup will be a defining moment for me.

I have run the NYC Marathon several times, so I know what it’s like to run a marathon in the greatest city in the world. During the pandemic, all running events were cancelled and became “virtual” races. Runners can still run these races, but only on their own. For those who were registered for the 2020 NYC Marathon, I thought that this was a real bummer. I came up with an idea and David Panza, the President of the Staten Island Athletic Club, immediately approved it. My idea was for SIAC and Lisa Lubarsky, President of the Richmond Rockets (another Staten Island running club) to work at separate aid stations, create a marathon-distance course, then invite runners to run it. We called it the 2020 Staten Island Virtual Marathon, which then became a reality. 26 runners crossed the finish line on Sunday, November 1 with big smiles on their faces. Some even cried tears of joy. It was a great feeling to able to produce a running event that put smiles on so many faces in the midst of a pandemic that tried to destroy our spirits.

2020 began uneventfully, then transformed into a worldwide horror show, and ended with a gesture of hope. In December, I received my first dose of an experimental COVID19 vaccine.

New Friendships

My year wouldn’t have been complete without being inspired by new friendships that I’ve made throughout 2020. Each of the people below have helped make this year memorable for me. They are leaders in each of their respective fields.

Jose Gonzalez has been a member of the Guardian Angels since 1994. I met him while we both helped members of the Coney Island community who were most affected by COVID. Jose, while tough on the outside, was very personable, down-to-earth, and friendly. He shared with me all kinds of stories of how gritty and crime-ridden New York was back in the day and the many crazy situations he went through while patrolling the streets of New York as a Guardian Angel. He’s a great guy to chill with. I can sit for hours and hear his stories.

Steven Patzer was born to be a leader. I met him over a year ago at a Southern Brooklyn Democrats meeting. When it comes to community involvement, this guy is a human dynamo. And he possesses the triple threat of being intelligent, resourceful, and uniting. For the past two years, he has put on over 40 events benefiting our community. Along with his dedicated assistant, Reyna Gobel, he has worked tirelessly addressing the many issues that are unique to our community. I’ve been volunteering with him throughout the pandemic by delivering PPE and food to residents throughout the South Brooklyn communities. Steven is currently running to lead the City Council District 47 seat and has a very real chance of winning it.

Michael Ortiz is an ultrarunner who I’ve heard about, but never met until the end of 2020 while running with him and ultrarunner Phil McCarthy as they attempted a 50-mile run around the perimeter of Brooklyn. Michael had recently completed his “Game of Hundos” by running one hundred 100-mile races over 100 weekends. During the pandemic when all races were cancelled, he ran a loop around his living room that equalled 100 miles. He repeated this many times for he was resolute in not letting the pandemic destroy his goals. Now, when I think of goal-setting, I think of Michael. Michael’s inspiration came from his brother David who died in a tragic accident. Before his death, he told Michael to “live his life”. His brother was training for the NYC Marathon at the time. This was the seed of inspiration that helped Michael achieve his astonishing ultrarunning goals.

Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus represents the communities of Bay Ridge and Coney Island. While I knew of her before the pandemic, COVID19 created a situation where I ended up supporting her office as we helped those most affected by the virus living in the Coney Island community. While I have met other political leaders before, working closely with Mathylde gave me a direct glimpse into seeing a leader’s relationship with their community. I have found Mathylde to be an individual of high principles with great ideas and the willingness to set aside her own ego to improve her community. Mathylde has shown me that there are great leaders out there and that not all of them have self-serving agendas. It saddens me to know that some media outlets have tried to portray her in a negative light through blatant lies about her work.

Within the first few weeks of the pandemic, I came across an organization called South Brooklyn Mutual Aid. Whitney Hu was the SBMA’s fearless leader. She worked day and night to secure volunteers, donations, care packages, and more for underrepresented families throughout South Brooklyn who were most affected by the pandemic. I was one of 40 drivers who came to their warehouse in Sunset Park every Saturday to pick and deliver care packages to these families. Whitney was always there making sure that the logistics for everything were being addressed. From ordering food to diapers to children’s books to free Metrocards, Whitney made sure that every need for these families was met week-after-week. In early December, she announced that she was dropping out of her race to win the City Council District 38 seat so that she can continue to focus all of her energy on helping these families. By the end of 2020, the SBMA had delivered 30,000 care packages to families throughout South Brooklyn under Whitney’s leadership.

I first “met” Tad Cromwell while at a zoom meeting with the Southern Brooklyn Democrats club. Tad is a certified fitness instructor who was a special guest speaker at the meeting. His speech about how we can improve our lives through fitness was very inspiring and it motivated me to join his fitness classes. Tad used to be an out-of-shape unmotivated couch potato. One day, he decided that enough was enough and began his journey towards better health through exercise and nutrition. He now lives a life of fitness and healthy eating. Throughout the pandemic, he has taught virtual fitness classes to hundreds of people. His business, Better Days Ahead Fitness isn’t just a name, it’s Tad’s message to everyone that while things may not be going the way you want them to right now, there will always be better days ahead. His mantra, “Use the body you have to get the body you want” gives hope to everyone no matter what shape they may be currently in at the moment.

It takes a Brooklyn village

Brooklyn is one of the largest communities in America with a population of over 2.6 million. With a high density of people living fast lives full of hustle and bustle, one would think that nobody here has the time or motivation to help their fellow human being. Recently, I experienced an event in my community that made me think otherwise.

While reading messages posted through my community message board on Nextdoor.com, I came across a lady in my neighborhood named Tami. She asked if anyone knew of a free turkey giveaway event that also provided ingredients for a complete Thanksgiving meal. I immediately thought about my friend Steven Patzer, a community activist who was conducting an upcoming free turkey giveaway. I shared his flyer with her and she appreciated it. I continued reading the rest of her request which stated the following:

“…I am a disabled mom of 5 and my food stamps got cut off for November because of covid and not being able to recertify. I’m having difficulty this month. All these months I’ve been holding my own. But now I must put pride aside and ask for help. I’m unable to pick anything up as I’m homebound. My address is xxxxx. If you also have food for a dog, I would truly appreciate it…”

Once I read this, I became compelled to do more than simply share the turkey flyer with her. I added that I would buy all of her Thanksgiving fixings if she sent me her shopping list via email. Within hours, other neighbors read my offer and wanted to help out too. I got offers from two women who were willing to pay for Tami’s grocery bill, one of them willing to pay as much as $150. Another neighbor responded to her dog food request by delivering a large case of dog food directly to her home. The next day, I went shopping for Tami with Laurie, another lady in my neighborhood who wanted to help. That morning when I opened my front door, I found a case of juice boxes delivered from Jenny, another woman living in my neighborhood. Soon, others throughout the community offered assistance to Tami and personally delivered care packages to her address. Some even offered to buy her a bunkbed, something she needed for her cramped apartment. After I purchased her Thanksgiving groceries, Stephanie and Charyn, two local ladies who I didn’t know until now, split my grocery bill.

As I type this, Tami is enjoying a complete homecooked Thanksgiving meal with her five children while Mr. Snowflakes enjoys his dog food. It took a Brooklyn village to help make that happen.

Tami’s latest message to the Brooklyn community that helped her during a time of need

Parenting and the art of banana eating

When my son Hunter was little, he was a very picky eater. It was frustrating to get him to eat anything that was not a hot dog chopped up into small pieces. I had to use a combination of patience, creativity, and perseverance to get him to try new foods. As he got older and began going to grade school, I started packing lunches for him to eat at school. Among the different kinds of snack foods I packed, I occasionally included a banana. He would often not eat the banana and when he arrived home later in the day, the banana was smashed to a sticky pulp inside his lunchbox due to all the heavy books he had to carry in his backpack.

Since nobody eats the skin of the banana, I got creative and began to draw pictures on it. I was hoping he would find these pictures funny which would interest him in actually eating it. Below is my first attempt.

This seemed to get him excited about eating his banana. Since Hunter was a reader, I added text to my next banana creation.

Eventually, I stopped drawing pictures and included only text. I wrote messages that would appeal to his interests. He loved playing the online game Minecraft, so one day, he got a Minecraft banana from his Dad.

Hunter has a wicked sense of humor, so I began writing funny banana messages to him.

I started connecting my humorous banana messages into current events to make my bananas more politically relevant. Hunter and his fellow classmates were following the 2016 Presidential campaign at the time. That is when Donald Trump began his campaign for President. My banana messages reflected that.

My son is now 16 years old. He is now a great eater and he no longer needs his Dad to write him funny banana messages. He eats them all on his own as well as apples, grapes, oranges, peaches, quinoa, rice, steak, Indian cuisine, and just about every other food you can imagine.

My job is now done in this area of parenting. I know that he will continue to become more independent in everything he does and he will need me less. For old time sake, I recently wrote him this banana message to let him know how proud I am of him and what he has accomplished in the area of eating. And as a dedicated and loving parent, why not show him my love through a banana message one last time?

August 2020

While searching for my lost wristwatch, I may have found God

A friend of mine recently lost her wallet. She was pretty distraught over it and seemed to give up all hope over ever finding it again. Her cash, ID, credit cards, and insurance cards were all in it. I was about to loan her some cash when I paused, then asked her if she remembered all the places she was at before she lost it. She contacted the supermarket that she visited and sure enough, they had it. My friend can thank me due to a strong sense of faith that has developed throughout my life in ways that I wouldn’t have imagined.

It all started back when I was a teenager. During the summer of ’84 when I was just 17-years-old, I spent time at Manhattan Beach on a daily basis. One day, I left the beach and arrived back home two miles away. Checking my wrist, I realized that I had left my digital wristwatch at the beach. This watch was expensive and had an actual calculator on it which was the big technology at the time. I had taken it off when I went for a swim and forgot to put it back on my wrist when I left. Instead of giving up all hope that someone had found it and kept it for themselves, a strong dose of faith shot through my veins and told me to go look for it since there was a remote chance that the watch could still be sitting on the beach. I jumped on my bike and about 15-20 minutes later, I ran to the original location on the sand where my blanket was. Sitting there unnoticed by all the beachgoers was my watch!

In 1994, I got married. This time I was wearing a wedding ring. I was working a temp job at the New York Stock Exchange. One day before I left work to visit my friend in Uptown Manhattan, I removed my ring and placed it on the counter of the men’s bathroom to wash my hands after using the toilet. I rushed out and took the subway. As I sat in the subway car, I felt my hand and realized that my wedding ring was no longer on my finger. Again, the faith I had when I found my wristwatch 10 years earlier was still alive and well. I got off the train at the next station, ran to the other side, jumped on the downtown train, then arrived back at the New York Stock Exchange. Since I was only a temp worker, I had no company ID with me. The security guard gave me a hassle when I asked him to let me in. Instinctively, I held up my ring finger and showed him a ringless finger and shouted to him, “I left my wedding ring upstairs in the bathroom. My wife will divorce me if I lose it!”. Understanding my plight, the guard let me back in. Arriving at the same bathroom, that ring was still sitting there patiently waiting for me. You could thank my unfaltering faith for that!

During the Summer of 2019, I took the NYC Ferry to Lower Manhattan with some of my running friends. We got off and ran Uptown towards Central Park. I took the Ferry back on the Upper West Side back down to Lower Manhattan. Eventually, I made it back home hours later. While home, I realized that my Garmin 220 runner’s watch was not on my wrist. I remember taking it off at the Ferry and then I got distracted. Costing me over $200, I was not ready to declare this watch lost. Faith again made me brainstorm for where it could possibly be. In my mind, it could have been anywhere in New York City. I mentally backtracked the entire 10-mile route wondering where I could have dropped it. The only entity that could help me was the NYC Ferry Service since I did use the Ferry that day. I went to their website and clicked on the “Lost & Found” link. I filled out the online form, then patiently waited for a response. I knew my chances were extremely slim that they would have the watch. Hey, this is Manhattan after all where everyone looks out for themselves! A few hours later, I got a response stating that a tourist found my watch and gave it to a NYC Ferry worker. My faith came to the rescue yet again!

After 36 years of losing valuable things, then finding them again, my faith is now stronger than ever. Besides the events mentioned in this writing, there have been many other times throughout my life where faith has brought me to great achievements while getting me through difficult times. These experiences have brought me to one conclusion; that there IS a God. I have become more faithful not just in finding things, but in finding myself through a Higher Power. And it all started with a lost wristwatch.