Monthly Archives: May 2020

Good News Friday: An innocent man spends 37 years in prison, finally freed, wows on “America’s Got Talent.” A 7-year-old throws a prom for his nanny who couldn’t have one. And a teen math whiz helps millions of kids on TikTok

Happy Friday, y’all. Man this was a rough week for those of use like me who are eternal optimists. More disgustingly racist behavior by a white woman in Central Park to a perfectly-harmless African-American man (at least she got shamed and fired); a brutal killing of an African-American man by a white police officer in Minnesota, and oh yeah, our dear leader wants to sue Twitter for having the gall to fact-check him in real time. And, you know, headlines like this one don’t help me sleep at night.

Sigh. November can’t get here soon enough. Even amid all the depressing stuff of this week, there was still plenty of good news.

First I want to tell you about another amazing “America’s Got Talent” success story. Archie Williams was sent to prison in 1983 in Louisiana for a rape and stabbing he did not commit. Like thousands of other African-Americans who’ve been in prison for decades, the eyewitness testimony was false, the fingerprints didn’t match, and there was absolutely zero reason Williams was in jail.

But finally, thankfully, after decades of trying by the Innocence Project, Williams was released in 2019.

And now, Williams appeared on “America’s Got Talent” this week, singing a beautiful song and telling his story.

He didn’t appear bitter, or vengeful, just happy to be alive and free. What a wonderful story and one I’ll be watching.

**Next up, one of many stories of two people in a great relationship making the best of the current awful pandemic we’re in.

A 7-year-old boy in Raleigh, N.C. named Curtis Rogers really misses his nanny. High school senior Rachel Chapman missed Curtis.

So Curtis, knowing that Rachel wasn’t going to have her Senior Prom, decided to make her one. “I planned it out because Rachel probably wanted to see me a lot,” Curtis said. “She also is one of the best people I’ve known.”

From this great story on ABC-11 in North Carolina:

Said Curtis’ Mom, Elissa: “He was very excited and wanted to make sure everything was just right and get his suit on and pick out his bowtie that matched her dress,” she said. “It was really cute. He was really excited for it to start and make sure he was ready to impress her.”

Curtis had the whole night planned out from their favorite after-school snack — peanut butter and apples — as an appetizer to using a pool noodle to maintain a safe social distance and having Google serve as the DJ playing Rachel’s favorite songs.

“First he was waiting outside when we got there with the pool noodle and then he led me into the backyard,” Rachel said. “He had all my favorite foods and everything. I could tell he put a lot of thought into it.”

So freaking adorable. Go Curtis. A ladies man at 7!

**Finally today, I wish I had a kid like Alexis Loveraz around to help me when I struggled mightily with high school match.

Alexis is a 16-year-old New York City kid who has garnered hundreds of thousands of TikTok followers (for those unaware, TikTok is the video sharing site all the kids use these days) by helping out-of-school kids with their difficult math schoolwork.

“How did you explain it better than my teacher?” one commenter asked. “You explain 1000x better than my math teacher!!!” another exclaimed.

Alexis started making videos before the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily closed schools throughout the country. But during the lockdown, they’ve been a lifeline to students struggling to keep up at a time where education has been turned on its head.

“I was, like, really shocked,” Alexis told CBS2. “Things that they probably forgot like before COVID-19, this is like a refresher of what I’m, like, giving them out. It’s really cool because they understand it even better the way I’m explaining it to them.”

When asked what motivates him to make the videos, Alexis’s response was simple: “The knowledge I have, like, I want to share it to other people.”

Awesome kid. See? The future is going to be all right. Eventually.

I finally finished “The Last Dance” and have some thoughts on MJ and the Bulls. A man teaches kids without a Dad how to do “life stuff.” And Dave Grohl writes a beautiful ode to live music

Because I am usually the last to finish these things, I just only yesterday completed “The Last Dance,” the epic 10-part miniseries about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty that aired on ESPN the last five weeks.

“The Last Dance” was a gallon of cold water to sports fans walking through the desert these past weeks, a chance to gather around the virtual water cooler and talk about actual games and actual sports.

It helped that it starred Jordan, the second-greatest basketball player of all time (LeBron says hi) and a cast of colorful characters, and for a Generation X kid like me, the documentary was a trip through memory lane of 1990s basketball.

We got the thuggish Knicks, the high-flying Sonics, the last gasps of the Bad Boy Pistons… the memories were fantastic.

Some scattered thoughts on the series as a whole, as we wait for current sports to come back:

— So the first thing that must be pointed out is that Jordan is the main reason this documentary series happened, and he had a big hand in the editorial direction it took. In other words, the series made Jordan look as good as possible. His negative traits (being a jerk to teammates, opponents and everyone else) are minimized as much as possible, and he is glorified to the nth degree. The fact that Ahmad Rashad is used so extensively should tell you all you need ot know.

— But that said, the footage was outstanding, and worth it if it took Jordan’s blessing to get seen. The behind-the-scenes stuff in the locker room, on the team plane, in practice… we don’t get to see that stuff, hardly ever. The Bulls dynasty had a ton of interesting characters, and seeing how they related to Jordan in non-game setting was fascinating. In particular I liked seeing how B.J. Armstrong and others gave it back to Michael sometimes.

— If there was a bigger a-hole than Jordan in “The Last Dance,” it was the Detroit Pistons. Wow were they awful as their dynasty came to the end. And hey Isiah Thomas? NO ONE wanted you on the 1992 Dream Team, it wasn’t just MJ.

— The music, as many have commented, was outstanding. Just fabulous throughout all 10 parts.

— The image above all that will stick with me from the whole series? Jordan flying to Las Vegas and pulling Dennis Rodman out of his hotel room to come back to the Bulls from his “midseason vacation,” while a naked Carmen Electra hid in the room. I mean… wow.

— Much more interesting to me than Jordan, who came off as the arrogant a-hole we already knew he was, were the stories of the role players on the dynastic team. The story of Steve Kerr, who was overlooked most of his life as not good enough, then hits the game-winning shot in the 1997 Finals, before giving a hilarious speech at the victory parade. And the stories of how awful the Bulls treated Toni Kukoc at the Olympics, and then when he came to the team, just because GM Jerry Krause loved him and all the players hated Krause.

— Finally, I will say I had my mind changed on one big part of Jordan’s legacy by this movie. I have previously given some credence to those who believed MJ’s 1994-95 retirement from basketball to go play baseball was a secret gambling suspension handed down by NBA commissioner David Stern.

But hearing all the reasons given by Stern and others why this is a laughable conspiracy theory (“the biggest capitalist commissioner in NBA history is going to suspend the biggest star in the sport?”) have convinced me: Jordan was just worn out from being Michael Jordan, and needed a break.

Anyway, if you haven’t watched it yet, “The Last Dance” is outstanding filmmaking. Highly recommend.

**Next up today, I love this story. A man named Rob Kenney saw his father walk out on Rob and his siblings when Rob was 14, leaving them to find for themselves. As such, Rob had to learn how to do a lot of “grown man” things on his own.

Now a father himself, Rob started a YouTube channel where he teaches kids, teens, and adults, basic and practical life skills. The kinds of things you might ask your dad to teach you. He calls it “Practical ‘Dadvice’ for everyday tasks.”

In two months he’s gotten more than 1.2 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. Very, very cool idea.

**Finally today, I’m a week or two late on this but the great Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl has written a beautiful ode to live music, something millions of us are missing right now. Grohl starts by telling readers he was supposed to be in Washington D.C. in front of 80,000 people on July 4th this year, but of course he won’t be.

But his optimistic, fiery tone that live music will return, because it has to, was terrific. Here’s an excerpt from the piece.

Not to brag, but I think I’ve had the best seat in the house for 25 years. Because I do see you. I see you pressed against the cold front rails. I see you air-drumming along to your favorite songs in the distant rafters. I see you lifted above the crowd and carried to the stage for a glorious swan dive back into its sweaty embrace. I see your homemade signs and your vintage T-shirts. I hear your laughter and your screams and I see your tears. I have seen you yawn (yeah, you), and I’ve watched you pass out drunk in your seat. I’ve seen you in hurricane-force winds, in 100-degree heat, in subzero temperatures. I have even seen some of you grow older and become parents, now with your children’s Day-Glo protective headphones bouncing on your shoulders. And each night when I tell our lighting engineer to “Light ’em up!,” I do so because I need that room to shrink, and to join with you as one under the harsh, fluorescent glow.

Jerry Seinfeld’s new Netflix special shows he’s absolutely still got it. Remembering those who died in battle on Memorial Day. And the President is taking an unsafe drug every day, shouldn’t we talk about this?

There are certain celebrities who, when you hear their current age, shock you.

No way that actress could be (blank.). That baseball player who was a young phenom from my childhood is now HOW old???

I had one of those moments last week while watching Jerry Seinfeld’s hilarious new Netflix special, “23 Hours to Kill.”

Seinfeld has been known by my family since the early 1980s, when we went to see him perform at Westbury Music Fair on Long Island a few times and laughed our tushes off, while wondering “why isn’t this guy more famous?”

Eventually, of course, he became the most famous and wealthy comedian in the world, thanks to a little NBC show you may have heard of.

Now, I learned last week while watching his special, that young up and coming comedian is 65 years old. Sixty-five! My jaw dropped when I heard him tell the audience at the special how old he was. Doesn’t seem possible that he’s 65; he’s always seemed kind of ageless to me.

But just because he’s now an AARP member doesn’t mean he’s lost his comedy fastball. The new show is fantastic, with all new material that ranges from him trying to figure out the moment texting started (“one day it just sort of showed up, like it had always been there”) to discussing men and women and how men never seem to know the right answer to the opposite sex’s questions.

In most comedian’s hands, this material would seem trite and uninteresting; but Seinfeld is such a master of the minutiae of life, and looks at life in such a different perspective, that it works.

He does a wonderful bit about how everyone’s life sucks, but “my life, maybe sucks a little less than yours.” He riffs about cell phones a lot, and how “when your phone gets down under 20 percent, your whole body starts to drag, like you’re only at 20 percent yourself.”

It’s a quick one-hour, and it’s fabulous to watch a human being who has perfected their craft perform some magic. There is no doubt that while Jerry Seinfeld may have been born to be a comedian, he’s worked very hard at it for the last 50 years.

Watch “23 Hours to Kill” on Netflix. If for no other reason, it’s nice to see a huge crowded theater of people watching a show.

**Next up today, it’s Memorial Day, always a day to remember the millions of Americans who have died trying to protect our freedoms.

(This year it also happens to fall on my 7th wedding anniversary, and I will once again state here for the historical record that I am the luckiest man ever, and have the most amazing wife.)

There is no amount of thanks that can ever be given to our soldiers, so many of whom were killed in the line of duty trying to protect America’s ideals. And so many of them died in senseless, needless wars, that they were sent into by misguided political leaders.

Anyway, wanted to do a little something different this year: instead of a solemn video with all the images you normally see today, I found this heartwarming video: It’s a compilation of soldiers returning home to surprise their families. Big smiles all around.

**Finally today, I know there’s no way to keep up with all BS that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth, or any way to keep up with all the lies and awfulness that comes out of his administration.

But every once in a while, I like to stop and just look at one thing, in isolation, and realize what an enormous, crazy scandal it would be at any other time in history.
And I ask, “shouldn’t this be a HUGE deal?”

So I want to talk a little about hydroxychloroquine, the drug used to treat patients with malaria that a few weeks ago Trump touted as a miracle cure to help those with Covid-19. He talked it about incessantly for a while, urged people to take it, said it was a good idea. Then, Trump came out and said he himself had been taking hydroxychloroquine every day, despite not having coronavirus. His doctor wrote in a letter that Trump was taking it.

Then this story comes out in the Washington Post last week: “A study of 96,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients on six continents found that those who received an antimalarial drug promoted by President Trump as a “game changer” in the fight against the virus had a significantly higher risk of death compared with those who did not.

People treated with hydroxychloroquine, or the closely related drug chloroquine, were also more likely to develop a type of irregular heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, that can lead to sudden cardiac death, it concluded.

The study, published Friday in the medical journal Lancet is the largest analysis to date of the risks and benefits of treating covid-19 patients with antimalarial drugs. Like earlier smaller studies, it delivered disappointing news to a world eager for promising treatments for the novel coronavirus as the global death toll grows to more than 300,000.”

OK, so let’s review: The President of the United States strongly urges patients to take a drug that’s completely unproven as a treatment for this awful virus destroying the world right now. The same President then says he’s been taking the drug every day. And study after study is now showing that patients taking it have a HIGHER risk of death after taking it.

How is this not a huge deal, that the President has completely, falsely urged millions to take a drug that could help kill them?

I know, I know. It’s Trump, there’s so much manure there that we’re almost numb to it. But this should be a big f’ing deal. And instead, the media shrugs because there’s something worse coming around the bend in 10 minutes.

Good News Friday: Steve Hartman’s story about a restaurant owner doing amazing things during pandemic. Three minutes of pets, happily “working” with their homebound owners. And the hospitalized teacher still giving lessons from his room

And a Happy Friday, all my fellow shelter-in-placers! Maybe some of you live somewhere where life is returning to normal, maybe you’re able to go to your barbershop or a restaurant or a salon. But here on the outskirts of New York City, we are still very much closed for the most part. Although my entire week was made when it was announced that as of May 15, tennis is allowed again in my county! Whoo-hoo! A life without tennis is hardly one worth living, if you ask me.

Anyway, I hope you and your loved ones are safe, and on with Good News Friday. Want to start with a very frequent guest in this blog, Steve Hartman of CBS News. Always bringing us stories with humor and heart, he’s hit one out of the park again with this story, of a California restaurant owner who has gone above and beyond time and again.

Meet Bruno Serato, who owns the White House restaurant in Anaheim, is feeding hundreds of people a day out of the goodness of his heart, helping the incredible hunger problem so many face because of coronavirus.

This is a man who 10 years ago gave away free meals to the local Boys and Girls Club, and now he’s doing it again. Despite being deep in debt, he keeps feeding the hungry.

“How can I stop?” he asks.

Watch this story and realize that, as I always say, there are SO many more good people than bad. This man is on track to donate 300,000 meals this year.

Unbelievable. Bravo, Bruno.

**Next up today, this is a wonderful montage for anyone who has pets right now and is still trying to do work. Or anyone who loves animals, or a good laugh.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re breathing, this will make you smile. Pet owners trying to work from home, and the pets who just want to play all day. The dog who’s insistent about moving his owner’s hand from the keyboard is my favorite.

**And finally, an inspirational story of an educator who’s going way above and beyond.

An 8th-grade math teacher at Albermarle Road (N.C.) Middle School named Wil Loesel is doing a whole different kind of distance teaching these days.

According to this story, in March, just as North Carolina schools shut down due to the coronavirus, Loesel was diagnosed with stage four non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. His is a rare type of lymphoma, called triple-hit lymphoma.

Loesel’s chemo treatments require five-day hospital stays, which he has to spend alone due to COVID-related visitor restrictions.

But he still has some company. Loesel continues teaching from his hospital room, connecting with his 117 students over Zoom.

“There are only so many times you can walk around a nurses’ station without feeling weird,” he says, explaining why he continues teaching. “There’s only so much Netflix you can watch.”

Zoom teaching is another way to stay connected to the outside world, he says.

Instead of focusing on his cancer, Loesel says he gets to talk to his students about what they’re going through during this strange time.

“I get to talk to them and hear their jokes and calm down. One student will say, ‘I love you, Mr. L!’ and another will say, ‘Does it hurt?’ when they see the machines in back of me. Another will joke, ‘You’ll do anything to get out of grading papers!’ It’s great.”

Wow. What an inspirational man. He must be in a lot of discomfort but still is trying to help his students and finish out the year. What a great teacher his students are lucky to have.

A California man “hijacked” a wine truck in a very strange way. The worst grad speech ever was given by Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse. And the brilliant old “SNL” clip that follows me on YouTube

These are strange times we are living in, of that there is no doubt. We have a President happily admitting to taking a drug his own FDA says could be dangerous. We have fools staging protests in Costcos and at high-end shopping malls and getting all pissed off because they’re asked to follow the rules and wear masks.

And we have 50 different states doing 50 different things when it comes to re-opening, as we hopefully see the scourge of coronavirus start to slow down a bit.

But even in these strange times we’re living in, I think it’s my job to call out to your attention truly, truly bizarre behavior, behavior that would be bizarre no matter when it occurred.

Which brings me to Modesto, Calif., and a man named Gabriel Moreno. From the Modesto Bee story, so you know I’m not making any of this up:

“Sometime last Tuesday afternoon, Moreno was driving north on the highway in the Fulkerth Road area, CHP Officer Thomas Olsen said. He pulled alongside a Cherokee Freight Lines rig hauling a tank of wine and caught the driver’s attention, “like something was wrong with the vehicle,” Olsen said.

The trucker pulled to the side of the freeway, with Moreno stopping in front of him. “The gentleman (Moreno) gets out of his vehicle in his underwear only, and runs to the back of the trailer,” the officer said. “That’s when the driver realized, ‘This isn’t right,’ and re-enters the traffic lane. The gentleman jumps on the trailer, which has a ladder on the back, and gets a ride.”

Moreno manages to unscrew a valve to try to drink wine as it gushes from the tank, Olsen said. The driver can’t see this, but does notice that a dashboard gauge shows his truck is losing weight, so pulls over. He’s gone about a mile, to the Monte Vista Avenue area, Olsen said.

Once the rig has stopped, Moreno “jumped down and placed himself beneath the belly of the truck and was just indulging in the wine,” Olsen said. “He was lying on the ground and doing snow angels, basically, as the wine was pouring down on him.”

Moreno then ran a short distance. The trucker already had called the CHP, Olsen said, but a few other reports came in of a man running in the area, covered in blood, which of course was the wine. According to Cherokee, the tanker lost about 1,000 gallons of it, Olsen said.

When CHP officers caught Moreno, he was cooperative, Olsen said, and was booked for felony vandalism and misdemeanor driving on a suspended license.”

I mean… where do you start? So Moreno is driving along the highway, sees a wine truck, and thinks “Hmmm, I’m feeling a little parched, why don’t I get this driver’s attention, the try to jump onto his truck and unscrew a wine valve and get myself nice and drunk!”

Just wondering what his plan was AFTER imbibing 32 gallons of pinot grigio.

**I usually like to highlight great commencement speeches this time of the year, but of course because the world is metaphorically on fire right now, there have been very few to choose from.

What we do have, though, is maybe the worst graduation speech ever. It was given by Nebraska senator Ben Sasse, a “rising star” in the Republican Party, last weekend to some high school students in his state.

I think Sasse was trying to be funny here, but wow, he bombs worse than a rookie comic at the Laugh Factory at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday.

I mean… this is awful. If you’re a high school senior in Nebraska, don’t you come away from this feeling insulted and bad about yourself?

Just terrible.

And finally today, have you had this experience on YouTube, where your search history gets known to the algorithm and certain clips just follow you around, like popping up every few months for you to watch?

That’s what happened for me with this absolutely hilarious “Saturday Night Live” clip from 2015, starring the perfect duo of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. It’s a game show called “Meet your Second Wife,” and it is tears-in-your-eyes funny.

What’s crazy to me is I have no memory of ever seeing it when it aired, but thanks to YouTube having the clip “stalk” me, I’ve now seen it 5-6 times and it kills me every time.

So many good parts, but Kenan Thompson’s face after his presumed second wife walks out and he says “well, she’s a little older, that’s good!” and then finds out the truth is golden.

Enjoy this laugh, I’m sure you could use one right now.

A random movie review from me: “Game Night” was hilarious and utterly ridiculous. Barack Obama’s beautiful speech to the 2020 graduating class. And Snoop Dogg chilling in his car to a “Frozen” song is an awesome minute.

So every Saturday night during quarantine, my wife and I have started a routine. There are so many movies we both love, but we feel like we can always view those. We agreed that during this shelter-in-place bizarre-ness, we should expose the other person to movies we love, that the other person hasn’t seen.

So thanks to her, for the first time I’ve watched “Dead Again” (pretty good, although it kinda falls apart the last 15 minutes), “The Holiday” (wildly exceeded my expectations, and I love Kate Winslet. It was terrific.) and most recently, “Rent,” which was good but of course I’m sure the play was better.

For her part, my bride was finally exposed to amazing movies I love like “Hoosiers,” “Ordinary People” (God that is such a great film) and “Spotlight.”

It’s been very cool seeing the other’s reactions and sharing in the appreciation of movies that your spouse loves (this weekend I am super-pumped to finally, finally get her to watch “Goodfellas.”)

But this past Saturday, we tried something different: A flick neither one of us had seen, but when it came out in 2018 we both said “oooh, that sounds good, we should watch it some day!”

Which led us to the delightful, hilarious and completely ridiculous “Game Night,” starring Jason Bateman, who is beloved by 99 percent of the female population, and Rachel McAdams, beloved by 99 percent of people everywhere.

It was a wildly entertaining film with so many crazy plot holes that you just don’t care anymore, you’re having so much fun.

The premise of the movie (directed by “Freaks and Geeks” alum John Francis Daley) is simple: Annie (McAdams) and Max (Bateman) are a board game-obsessed married couple who host weekly game nights with their friends. One week Max’s rich, successful, handsome brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler, having WAY more fun in this role than he got to as Coach Taylor) shows up, and tells the usual gang that he’s in town for a while, and he will be hosting game night next week.

And so Brooks tells all Max and Annie’s buddies the following week that he’s planned a “murder-mystery” game they’ll all be a part of, and the winner gets his new sports car.

From that, hijinks and insanity ensue. I really don’t want to give away much more than that, because the sheer fun of watching this movie is realizing how insane the plot is, but not caring because the acting, and the script are so great.

There are gunfights, escapes, a miraculous recovery or two, and great supporting performances from Jesse Plemons (Landry back with Coach Taylor!) and everyone else in the cast.

In the nutso last 20 minutes, McAdams and Bateman get to do one crazy thing after another as the plot twists more than a pretzel at Auntie Anne’s.

But truly, if you’re looking for an escapist, fun movie that will totally take your mind off the current state of the world, I highly recommend “Game Night.” Here’s the trailer.

Just please, don’t be like us and spend 30 minutes after the film trying to reconcile the huge plot holes. It’ll just give you a headache.

**Next up today, the last “real” President we had here in America gave a virtual commencement speech to the high school graduating class of 2020 on Saturday night, and it was boffo.

Speaking on all the major networks, Barack Obama used humor, humility and intelligence to give advice, and to offer sympathy, to his group of high school seniors who are living a wildly different world than they were when 12th grade started.

The speech Obama gave was fantastic, and got attention Sunday for the bashing of Trump and his administration without naming any names (that starts at the 5-minute mark of the video above), but I loved this advice he gave:

“So be alive to one another’s struggles. Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us – sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed – and set the world on a different path.”

Man, I miss that guy.

**And finally today, this video made me smile and laugh big-time over the last few days.

I don’t want to say anything about it except to say, watch it: Snoop Dogg, in his car, listening to the famous song from “Frozen.”

Just amazing. And I would be remiss if I didn’t alert you to “Frozen” star Idina Menzel’s response video, which is equally fabulous (shout out to my fantastic friend Valerie for pointing me to it.)

 

Good News Friday: Every employee at an NYC hospital gets a 3-day free vacation. James Taylor and family make a beautiful harmony. And an Alaskan grocer travels 7 hours to Costco to get goods for his people

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR HYATT – NYC Health and Hospitals/Elmhurst nurses celebrate with a standing ovation and cheer, “Elmhurst Strong!” on Friday, May 8, 2020 in Queens, New York. Hyatt and American Airlines surprised thousands of frontline workers at NYC Health and Hospitals/Elmhurst, including doctors, nurses, facilities, food and nutrition and other support staff, with free vacations on Friday, May 8, 2020 (Ann-Sophie Fjello-Jensen/AP Images for Hyatt)

And a swell Friday to my fellow Earthlings! Hope wherever you are, you are safe and healthy and have not suffered the scourge of Covid-19. Here’s hoping the warm weather does indeed help cripple this awful virus, and that all these states rushing to re-open everything (I’m looking at you, Florida) don’t suffer awful consequences.

OK, on with the good news, and I want to start with a wonderful gesture made by a couple of large corporations for the tireless workers at a NYC hospital.

When workers at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens arrived for the weekly staff conference call last week, they got a wonderful surprise: A free 3-day vacation for all of them.

The heads of Hyatt Hotels and American Airlines were on the call and announced that all 4,000 members of the Elmhurst staff would be getting three free vacation days at select destinations in the U.S.

Very cool gesture for some incredibly hard-working folks who deserve it. Now if Hyatt and American Airlines can get PPE for all the hospital workers in America, that would really be something.

**Next up today, some beautiful, soothing music to put a smile on your face on this Friday. The legendary James Taylor, along with his wife Kim, and son Henry, performed an achingly-beautiful song on “The Tonight Show” recently, and the harmonies are just perfect.

Made me long for seeing live music again, though I know it’s probably going to be quite a while before I see it.

Enjoy. Man, James Taylor has STILL got the pipes.

**Finally today, you think you’ve got it bad during the coronavirus, maybe having to to travel a little longer to a different supermarket than usual to get what you need (paper towels and yeast, if you’re like most of us)? Check out this hero in a small town in Alaska.

There’s one grocery store in the town of Gustavus, Alaska, and the village is seven hours by boat from Juneau, the closest “big” city. There are no roads to get in and out of Gustavus; you have to fly or boat.

So in late April, the town’s grocer, Toshua Parker, sailed seven hours to Juneau, to the world’s most remote Costco warehouse (I wonder how bad the traffic is in that store!).  He loaded pallets containing $20,000 worth of eggs, flour, meat, canned goods, produce—and, we assume, toilet paper.

That helped keep his 446 neighbors in the town fed during this crisis. And since then, Parker tallies what the Gustavus residents need, taking orders by phone for everything from washing machines to eggs—before making his weekly 7-hour journey to the Alaskan capital to stock up.

It’s an art form, not a science,” Parker told The Hustle, explaining how he manages to predict the crazy demand week to week.

“The town might have a 100-gallon swing in (its) demand for milk from one week to the next without any explanation of why. One week, nobody wants whole milk; the next week, everyone wants 2%.”

Toshua pretty much saved the town,” says Mayor Casipit. “I really don’t know what we would’ve done without him.”

“It’s like Christmas when the load gets here,” says Parker. “Everyone is waiting for it. Word gets out, and they all seem to know when it’s coming.”

What an amazing businessman, this guy is. The effort to keep his little town fed, just remarkable.

You go, Toshua. Seven hours, just amazing.

PBS looks at the Pulitzer Prizes, and the decline of local newspapers. Another fantastic Joe Biden ad, showing the ineptitude of our current leader. And remembering the great comedian Jerry Stiller

“On Sunday I took a pay cut. On Monday I won a Pulitzer Prize.”

That’s a direct quote from a reporter at the Baltimore Sun named Luke Broadwater last week, when the Pulitzer Prizes were handed out.

Pulitzer day is always a big one in my life every year; not because I ever expect to win one (but I have worked with two people I have! So that makes me excited) but because it thrills me to see great journalism rewarded.

In this day and age when my beloved newspaper industry has been decimated by corporate cuts and layoffs, when a decent-sized segment of the population screams “fake news” at anything that doesn’t flatter the President or his cronies, the Pulitzers are a reminder at how much good, raw, honest reporting and writing is done every year.

I love going through some of the winning submissions and reading the ledes, or just diving into a random section of a great feature story, or investigation, and knowing how that sausage was made.

As a former reporter I was never 1/100th as good as the Pulitzer winners, but I know how many phone calls were made, how many emails were sent, how many doors were slammed in their face, in the pursuit of truth, and a great story. It’s one reason why I love the movie “Spotlight” so damn much: Because it shows how damn hard the work of real journalism actually is.

Anyway, with the coronavirus pandemic crushing newspapers and reporting even more, causing drastic newsroom cuts, I thought it was refreshing to think about the Pulitzers and watch the above PBS NewsHour short piece interviewing two of this year’s winners, both from local newspapers, where so much watchdog journalism takes place.

In this short clip, winners from the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, and the Anchorage (AK) Daily News talk about this strange time in history, and their awards.

I was inspired by it. Please subscribe to your local newspaper if you can.

**Next up today, instead of dwelling on the continued pathetic-ness of our current President, I’m getting encouraged in these dark times by the ads Joe Biden and his Presidential team are making.

In clear, simple, concise language and graphics, Biden is spelling out all the many, many ways Trump has bungled this pandemic. I do hope that as the months go by they attack Trump for many other things, of course, but this is the kind of ad that sticks, because it shows, concretely, how oblivious this President is.

This is another excellent ad, that I hope runs in some form in all 50 states.

 

**Finally today, the great comic actor Jerry Stiller died on Monday at age 92. Stiller was famous for decades, and became known to my Generation X colleagues and younger through his fantastic portrayal of Frank Costanza, George’s Dad, on “Seinfeld,” and then as Kevin James’ Dad on “The King of Queens.”

But Stiller, father of Ben Stiller, was a sensational comedian long before any of that. He and his wife, Anne Meara, used to do fantastic sketch comedy together, on “The Tonight Show” and other places.

In the remembrances of Stiller’s life I saw the last few days, I found this great old skit: Stiller and Meara, as very different lovers Hershey Horowitz and Mary Elizabeth Doyle, trying to figure out how they can get married.

I thought it was hilarious.

A Mother’s Day unlike any other, and one we’ll never forget. SNL’s “Drink at Home” sketch cracked me up. And a truly terrifying look into the insane OAN world of TV

I’ll say this about Mother’s Day, 2020: It’s not one that will be forgotten.

Most years around late April, when my wife and I start talking about Mother’s Day plans and how we’ll celebrate with our creators, I’ll throw out an idea and she’ll say “we did that two years ago. Or was it three? Or wait, was it last year?”

They all kind of blend together after a while. One year we did a planetarium, another year a nice brunch, another time we went to a botanical garden, but you know, I can’t remember one from the next.

But yeah I think this year I’ll remember what we did.  Because as with everything these days, our Mother’s Day celebrations were like none we’ve ever done before.

Saturday we did Mother’s Day with my mother-in-law, and with the temperature in the high 40s in New York (it’s May, right?) we spent about an hour in the parking lot of a school near my in-laws’ apartment. Our boys rode around on their little bikes, we did some running races, and played Simon Says, which we’ve discovered in the last few months is a perfectly fun social distancing game (Simon stands six feet away from all the players, and we can still follow instructions just fine).

That night we played our new favorite FaceTime activity with my in-laws: FaceTime Yahtzee. We each have our own set of dice and scorecards, and my 5-year-old gets to count everyone’s score on the dice (it’s a math lesson AND a game, he loves it!), and Saturday Nate got his all-time highest score. So that was fun.

Sunday we celebrated with my side of the family in the parking lot of a big park near our house (Seriously, I’ve spent so much time in parking lots the last few months, I’ve made up for all the tailgating I’ve missed in my life. For years while walking through stadium lots on my way to cover a sporting event, I’ve wondered why anyone would want to drink beer, outside, next to their car. Now I’m living the tailgating life, but without the drinking).

This time, with my sister, brother-in-law and 15-year-old nephew, and my Mom and stepdad, we sat around talking, ate some donuts, and kept the little ones occupied with bike riding, running races and, of course, doing whatever Simon told us.

All while wearing our masks and sitting far apart. No hugging and kissing, no playful pats on the arm, no touching at all. And posing for that photo (above).

It should’ve felt much stranger, but it’s all starting to feel normal.

We’ve all been acting “distant” from each other for long enough now that it’s becoming routine. And that’s pretty scary.

My mother told me a few days ago that the only gift she wanted this year was to hug her family. I told her that’s the only gift I couldn’t give her.

My son asked Sunday when this will all be over. Instead of lying to him and saying “soon!” we’ve been saying we just didn’t know. Nobody knows.

Nobody knows anything right now. All we can do is make the best of it, have some fun honoring our Moms on Mother’s Day, and plow forward into the unknown.

Hope all the mothers out there had a great Mother’s Day, one I’m sure none of us will ever forget.

Next year, let’s get back to boring brunch in a restaurant, please.

**Next up today, “Saturday Night Live” was back this weekend with another of its’ “at home” episodes, and yeah, it’s not the same as being in a studio with an audience, but some of the sketches are still pretty freaking funny.

This one cracked up me and the wife; it’s certainly something we could relate to these days. “Let Kids Drink,” America!

Really great stuff.

**Finally today, I try really hard to stay away from the truly-insane world of right wing conspiracy theories.

Because sure, they’re entertaining in a bizarre “can you believe some people actually BELIEVE this shit?” kind of way, but they also shine a lot of some truly dark and disturbing stuff. Like, dangerous, completely asinine stuff.

Still, every once in a while something comes across my radar that, even for the right wing nutosphere, is something to behold.

You may not have heard of OAN, the cable news network that’s like a militant offshoot of Fox News, where the craziest and most insane pro-Trump stories live.

John Oliver on “Last Week Tonight” did a magnificent takedown of the channel a few weeks back, and I highly recommend watching it.

But what I want to share is a four-minute piece the network aired last week, concerning Covid-19, George Soros, the Clintons, and well… I really can’t freaking explain it. Just watch it, and realize that there are many people among us who believe this stuff. It’s truly one of the most amazing “news” pieces I’ve ever seen.

Wow. Just… wow.

Good News Friday: An 11-year-old girl in South Dakota touches hearts with her letters to postal workers. John Krasinski’s star-studded graduation party is awesome. And an “SNL” star pays rent for an entire building

Happy Friday, my fellow Earthlings! As I sit here thrilled that it’s spring and that this Sunday is Mother’s Day, when we honor the millions of amazing Moms who help us all through our lives, I have a very special story to share at the beginning of Good News Friday.

I’m usually pretty excited about all the Good News Friday stories I share, because if I wasn’t, well, why would I share them?

But this one… this one moved me a great deal. I love enterprising, creative kids, and I love the United States Postal Service, and those two loves don’t normally coincide.

But I read this week about an incredible 11-year-old girl in South Dakota named Emerson Weber. Her Dad, through a wonderful series of Tweets, talked about how Emerson’s obsession with writing letters, and her kinship with their local postman, led to something amazing happened.

Here, in paragraph form, are all the Tweets from her father Hugh about what happened. Please, please, I implore you, stick with this through the end, it’ll restore your faith in humanity and goodness.

So, so wonderful…

Emerson, my 11-year-old, is on a bit of a wild ride with the @USPS and our local mail carrier, Doug. And, I think there’s a deeper message to it all.

First, the backstory… Em has a serious letter writing habit. She maintains active correspondence with over a dozen of her favorite people. And, if you’ve been the lucky recipient of one of Em’s hand decorated letters and envelopes, then you have a pretty good idea of the joy they bring.

A letter from Emerson is likely to include some art, a joke or two, a mention of her younger brother, confessions of her love for Taylor Swift and enough questions to guarantee a response. 
So, when she decided to thank our mail carrier for the service he provides us, she left nothing out. In went Taylor Swift, in went the little brother, in went the jokes.
Q: Why do you never see elephants hiding in trees?
A: Because they’re really good at it. 
Em wrote, “I’m Emerson. You may know me as the person that lives here that writes a lot of letters & decorated the envelopes. Well, I wanted to thank you for taking my letters and delivering them. You are very important to me. I make people happy with my letters, but you do too.” 
She continued, “The reason you are very important in my life is because I don’t have a phone so how else am I supposed to stay in touch with my friends? You make it possible!” ‘
She put it in the box, smiled when he took it & that was enough.
The next day a package arrived with some stamps and two letters.
Doug had shared Em’s letter with his supervisor, Sara, and they both wanted to share how touched they were by her note.
Sara said that, as an essential worker, Doug might not be able to maintain regular correspondence, but she sure could. Em started writing that very afternoon. 
This is when things get interesting. The next week, we got a letter address to “Mr and Mrs Weber.” It seems that Sara had shared Em’s note as a “Token of Thanks” in the internal newsletter for the Western US and there were some postal folks that wanted to thank her.
Today, we saw Doug getting out of the truck with two BOXES of letters from around the country. We snapped a quick photo through the door as he and Emerson met for the first time. It was a beautiful moment on silent reciprocity.
These letters are so deeply human. They are filled with family, pets, hobbies, community and an overwhelming sense of kindness.

Because Em was fully vulnerable, they were too.

Em shared jokes, so they shared jokes.
Em share her brother, so every gift that was sent came in duplicate.
Em shared @TaylorSwift13 and it turns out that the US Postal service is filled with lots of undercover Swifties. 

One maintenance manager from Minnesota wanted to inspire her to start collecting stamps so he sent along two stamps of his own from the bulletin board in his office to start her collection.
And, they sent stamps to be used as well. Stamps for her to write back. Stamps for her to write others. Stamps, stamps, stamps. (218 by Em’s count.)

But, there was something more in these letters. People felt seen – some for the first time in a long time.

“I work alone in a small rural post office…”
“My kids all live far away…”
“Not a lot of people think about how hard we work…” 

One wrote,
“I can’t tell you how much it means to read your letter…”
Another,“I have a son in Kuwait and if you have a second to send him a letter he would love it.”
And another,
“I know you can’t write back to all of us, but maybe I can drop you a line from time to time?” 
With dozens of new pen pals, Em did what she does best.
She wrote the dad.
She wrote his son.
She assured the secret swifties not to be embarrassed because her dad likes TSwift, too.
She acknowledged that there WERE a lot of letter but that she had time.
She sees them all.
Moral of the story: it’s the small things that matter most, friends. 
Send a letter. Make a call. Practice self care. Take a step of boldness.
For yourself or for others.
And, thank your mail carrier (from an appropriate distance.) They are working extremely hard to keep us all connected. 
And, if any of you are feeling isolated, anxious, scared or depressed, those feelings are valid.

**Next up today, the great John Krasinski web show “Some Good News” struck gold again this week, by hosting a virtual graduation with some very famous friends speaking, sometimes 1-on-1, to graduates.

Spielberg, Oprah, Malala, they’re all here. This was wonderful. (It’s great the whole way, but it gets really special around the 11-minute mark.)

***And finally today, this is a story I’d been meaning to put in this space weeks ago, forgot about, then remembered on Thursday. So it’s a few weeks old, but still fabulous.

Michael Che is one of the co-hosts of “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live.” His grandmother died of complications from Covid-19 in March, and 10 days after her passing, Che announced that he’s doing something to honor his grandma—paying rent for the month for all 160 units in the public housing complex his grandmother used to live in in New York.

In response to a comment, Che explained that his grandmother had lived in the New York City Housing Authority building more than three decades ago, before moving south. But, he wrote, “it’s crazy to me that residents of public housing are still expected to pay their rent when so many New Yorkers can’t even work. ”

Outstanding job, Michael. Your grandma would be very proud.