A couple of weeks ago, I saw a story here in Los Angeles about an increase of COVID cases in the Pacific Palisades and Brentwood, near where I live on the Westside.
And now there’s an additional story, somewhat related, of COVID cases continuing to rise in Los Angeles County on Thursday – although, happily, the article adds, “albeit more slowly.” And it says that what has been driving the rise have been the more affluent communities including Beverly Hills, Bel-Air on the Westside, as well as, Studio City, Sherman Oaks and Encino in the Valley (though the last three aren’t anywhere near the “affluent” level of the first two.
It’s important to note that the rise is in “cases” and not hospitalizations or deaths. That fits into my theory about the rise in cases in a lot of areas, including locales that previously hadn't been associated with an COVID increase, like white affluent areas.
I suspect that when people get double-vaxxed, many of them feel like they’re totally protected and almost have a defensive bubble shield around them, so they lower their guard and let down many of the protections they were doing before. And so they stop wearing a mask, almost everywhere. They stop washing their hands as often. The get together with groups more often. And they go into more indoor areas with a lot of people – like movies. And so, though they’re safe from serious illness and hospitalization, they’re leaving themselves much more open to getting infected than before. Again, I’m not a doctor, but I’m SURE that that’s at least a part of the reason. And even a sizable part.
It’s sort of like why we read for years stats that say many people in Los Angeles get hit when in a crosswalk because, by law, pedestrians have the right-of-way the moment they put their foot in a crosswalk, and so they think it means they’re fully protected, almost like having a force field shield around them, and so they aren’t as careful and don’t look for oncoming traffic. But since the law says cars have to stop and give way, they believe “By law, cars must stop, so cars will stop, and so I’m safe.” And, of course, cars don't always stop, and it's worse for the pedestrian in the sidewalk.
In affluent neighborhoods, where there’s likely a far-greater sense of entitlement, that probably plays a part in the COVID increase, as well. “We’re double-vaxxed. We’re affluent. We’re protected.” And so, the guards come down.
Again, at least it’s “cases” and not hospitalizations and deaths. But I sure wish it was lowering.
A couple of weeks ago, I read an article about the Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva who is very right-wring and up for re-election in 2022. It seems he's decided to quadruple down and go full-on Trump and be as completely right-wing as possible since, I guess, he sees it working so well for Trump, who lost the election and has had his popularity drop after the election, as he's promoted insurrection and pushed the Big Lie.
There are two especially weird things about Mr. Villanueva .
The first is that he has seemed to have forgotten that he's running for reelection in Los Angeles. Which really isn't Trump country. How "not Trump country" is it? My congresswoman Karen Bass won her election with about 89 percent of the vote. Now, of course, all of Los Angeles is not that much "not Trump country." But in the district north of mine is Ted Lieu, and he won his election with 67 percent of the vote. To the east, that district is represented by Adam Schiff -- he won his last race with 73 percent. And south of that, the district is represented by Maxine Waters, who won in 2020 with 72 percent of the vote
Now again, Los Angeles County is bigger than just that. But those four districts cover a great deal of the area. And most other districts in the county are heavily Democratic, as well. Further, I'm not aware of any that have a GOP representative. So, I think it's all Democratic, and almost all highly Democratic.
Which doesn't seem the great place to decide to go all right-wing Trump fascist.
To be fair, Mr. Villanueva obviously did win his last race in 2018, which is what made him Los Angeles County Sheriff. But there wasn't any controversy about him. He didn't push a fascist agenda, let alone even a far-right one. He was just a law-and-order candidate for sheriff who had a reasonable background, and beat a first-time sheriff who had some problems.
That brings up the second weird thing about Sheriff Villanueva.
He's a Democrat. That's how he won in 2018. It was a big surprise win which make him the first Democrat to be elected sheriff in Los Angeles County in over 138 years!
But for some reason unknown to mankind it's been a U-turn downhill for him since his election. As Los Angeles magazine describes things, "it is the supposed rightward shift that presents the most interesting election-related twist, in part because Villanueva heavily courted progressive voters three years ago.:
And they go into more detail about that shift, starting with -- "Inauguration day may have been Villanueva’s high point, and calling his tenure rocky almost does a disservice to all the rocks out there."
The magazine notes that he clashed with the city supervisors repeatedly over his attempts to rehire a deputy, who his predecessor had fired because of allegations and an investigation of domestic abuse.
Los Angeles County tends to re-elect its sheriff. As in, when Mr. Villanueva won his election, it was the first time in 104 years that an incumbent sheriff had been defeated. But then, despite those 104 years, the most recent "precedent" -- which is his own election -- is that the voters are willing to go against the incumbent sheriff.
Who knows what will happens. He's a Democrat is a highly Democratic county -- who has now seemingly gone all-in right wing Trump fascist. He seems to have been doing himself his own truckload of damage that will be hard to dig out of -- but we'll see.
And as for seeing, here is an interview he did the other day on CNN. I'm not sure the point he's trying to make, though I'm not sure if he is either. He seems to think he's showing how the host Pamela Brown is contradicting herself, except that he is actually supporting her argument which is a pretty easy concept to understand. As in, the meaning of "unvaccinated."
I've mentioned a few times in the past about my cousin Jim Kaplan who is originally from Indiana, but lives out here in Los Angeles now with his family and has a life-long love of boats. Growing up on the Indiana Dunes of Lake Michigan, he worked in the family department store in Gary, a wonderful place called H. Gordon & Sons. (Harry Gordon was my mother's grandfather.) But it was always boats that were his joy, And since moving to L.A., he's worked in the marine industry for decades.
I've told of my first adventure with Jim on a boat in Los Angeles many years ago, a small craft that was affectionately dubbed "Kaplan's Folly," when he agreed to take the tub down to San Diego for a client, and I signed on as one of the four-person crew, leaving port before dawn broke. We only made it about halfway, because the old piece of junk started leaking worse than all the Trump whistleblowers put together, and we happily were able to make it to shore safely.
We ditched the thing, told the owner he was on his own for what to do with it, and called Jim's dear wife Olga to pleased drive down several hours to pick us up. The one good thing is that we did see a school of dolphins when we were at sea.
Since then, Jim has bought a few small sailboat/motorboats of his own, and they've clearly fared much better, which is obvious since he hasn't been drowned. They've each done their duty until the sea and time took its toll on them, and it was time to let them be. And a few years ago, he decided to dive in once more, and got the now-christened Flying Fish III.
Those are mostly the tales I've told over the past 2-3 years, how he's invited to head out to sea with him, and I've joined him on new tales of the high seas maybe once a month -- sometimes more, sometimes less -- and we even made it through inopportune squall back in 2019.
Trust me, this below of the Commodore doesn't do the squall justice, since pouring rain and high winds don't come through photos very well. Though, interestingly they do come through most everything else impeccably, including clothes and one's bones.
Alas, one of the things that had to be cut out during the pandemic were our boat jaunts -- though "Kappy" (about as good a nickname as their is for someone who worked in the marine industry, given to him by his fellow workers) was able to start going out a month or so ago.
Which brings us to the point of this all. Since Jim and Olga have now had their two vaccinations, and I have, as well, yesterday I went on my first sea journey with Captain Ahab in over a year. Not only did we both feel safe to do so on a vaccination level, but we figured that if there was anyplace on earth that would be additionally safe during a pandemic, it would be in the middle of the ocean.
And so, it was a joy to finally do something as active and ethereally wonderful as this. And it was with great pleasure that I, at last, again got to make my traditional request when reaching the dock -- "Permission to come aboard, sir?"
And an equal pleasure to finally hear, "Permission granted."
And to Jim's everlasting credit, he continued not to get annoyed when (as is my own tradition for the heck of it) I asked the same permission each time I got off the boat at the dock when helping set up the sails and then had to get back on board.
And all the better, for this Maiden Voyage of a sort we didn't sink or get hit by a squall.
Happily, that's almost always the case -- but you never know.
I know a lot of friends have been periodically ordering takeout from restaurants during the pandemic. And I understand why, and that they've been safe. And I understand the interest in supporting restaurants. I haven't done so, though. It just wasn't worth the health risk to me. I knew it was likely safe, but I also knew I was fine cooking at home.
I did order takeout once at the very beginning of the shutdown. There's a good pizza place a couple blocks from me, and I wanted to give them my business. So, I ordered a pizza and walked over to pick it up. But I think that was last February, and I haven't eaten restaurant food since, for over a year.
As I've written here, I've had my two vaccinations, and the two week waiting period has ended. And my friend, the inveterate Chris Dunn has had this two shots, as well, and passed the waiting period. And that set up the idea of getting together to order takeout at some place, and bringing it back to one of our homes and eating it there, perhaps outside. Therein lies the tales.
Not long before the pandemic, Chris introduced me to a new restaurant, Hotville Chicken that was one of the leaders of a new style of food being introduced into the Los Angeles area. It's called "Nashville hot chicken," and basically is fried chicken served very moist and with a particular hot and spicy bread coating. Hotville has its direct history in Nashville, coming from the family that invented the style, rather than being just a local restaurant participating in the trend.
And its reputation was high. Los Angeles magazine rated them as the best in the area. And the New York Times even wrote about the place -- very well, noting that "the result is juicy, seasoned to the bone, crisp and crimson.". And yes, it's hot. Hotville has four levels of heat, and double-check that you've been there before if you ask for just the second hottest level. (I think they may have a fifth level that's off the menu.) The New York Times article begins this way --
At the bar, a man insisted on Hotville’s hottest level of hot chicken (“Nashville hot”), though he hadn’t tasted medium or even mild before. The cooks had seen this a hundred times, and when the chicken came out — a large, gleaming quarter of a bird — a teasing call came from the kitchen: “Hot enough for you?”
It was very good. Very friendly, as well. I got The Shaw sandwich, which is a chicken breast in a substantial bun, some pickles, a side of kale slaw -- and a mound of seasoned fries, for $12. I think I ordered it at the second level of heat -- fairly mild but with a good kick. But I also love chicken wings, so I ordered their small portion to take home. And tried the level three head. The "small" is four massive wings, and was absolutely wonderful. And definitely hot, but no uncomfortably so. But good to have water at hand.
The place is a bit of a drive in the Crenshaw district of Baldwin Hills, located in a large shopping mall. But I was looking forward to going back. And then the pandemic hit. Fortunately, Hotville Chicken was able to survive because they have a small outdoor patio, and there's a big park nearby with tables. Plus, it's a food that travels well.
By the way, this is The Shaw. To be clear, the photo makes it look like a small slider, so you get two. In fact, it's a big chicken breast, a bit larger than your fist, and you just get one.
Anyway, after my second vaccination, and as I neared the two-week mark, I wrote to Chris about going back after he had his own second shot and two-week waiting period. His response was, "How about going next Thursday." Hey, good enough for me!
The restaurant inside was blocked off, but they seemed to be doing respectable business. It was slow when we got there early -- which was the point of going early -- but by the time we finished eating on the patio, there were half a dozen people waiting for their orders.
I ordered the same this time -- The Shaw sandwich and chicken wings to go -- although Chris and I both had now graduated to that third heat level (what they call Music City Medium). The heat level was great, it was definitely necessary to have water at hand, but not "burning." That said, Chris discovered one issue worth noting -- while dining on Music City Medium was fine, when you put your face mask back on (which also makes it really hard to drink water...), the lingering heat really kicks in. Fortunately, he finished first, so I learned my lesson from him, took my time, and drank a lot of water after the meal. All was well. For me, at least.
And I look forward to the chicken wings for my next meal at home. (Again, I'm not sure if the photo does them justice, but each wing is about six inches across.)
Anyway, going there -- or anywhere, for my first trip to a restaurant in a year -- was a total joy. On the one hand, it was a weird experience, actually ordering from a restaurant. On the other hand, I just fell right into it, and it seemed totally normal. Even Chris's legendary "four stories" (which he explains are the only four he knows, and so "Stop me if I've told you this one...") were a treat to hear again. And contrary to his insistence, he's added new stories, as well. What helped, too, was that it was delicious – and getting extra to take home.
(Total digression. One new Dunn story came after our conversation moved to Billy Wilder. I mentioned having seen Wilder at a Writers Guild event for a Q&A after one of his movies screened, and I repeated a story he told about Sabrina that William Holden had co-starred in. Chris mentioned tracking down this video from the 1978 Academy Awards.)
I have a few other friends who are also past the two-week waiting period after their second vaccinations, so more takeout is in the future. I know for many people who have been ordering takeout from restaurants the past year, this is no big deal. It was for me.
A couple of weeks ago, my dryer went kablooey, which is the technical term. This is the tale, but there is an addendum at the end about a related matter which is more general for people dealing with such issues. Actually, there are a couple of addendums.
I found an appliance repair shop on Yelp that had an impressive record, 5-stars and almost all the comments were glowing. TJ Appliance Repair is based in West Hollywood, though they service throughout Los Angeles. The owner there, Tony, said that from my description, it sounded like the motor. Also, because I have one of those washer-dryer mini-combos -- and it's set up in a small closet -- they may have to send out two repairmen. And if that's the case and if it's the motor, it might cost about $450. More than ideal, but worth the repair rather than getting a new dryer -- let alone, a new combo, if I decided that. (The units are probably 13 years old or so, they were here when I bought the place.) But he'd send out a single repairman on Monday to checks things out and see what the situation was.
One thing that has been bewildering me ever since I did my dryer went out is that I was missing two socks from two different pairs. I looked and looked, but couldn’t find them. I looked in the dryer bin repeatedly, but it wasn’t there. I’ve kept looking all over, but they’re nowhere to be found. Gone. Perhaps to Cancun.
On Sunday, the day before the repair tech's visit, I still was thinking about those missing socks, and wondered if possibly they could have somehow been sucked into the dryer and caused the problem, as bizarrely unlikely as that seemed, so I checked once again to see if there was any nook or slot or any way they could have been sucked into – but of course there wasn’t.
But on a total whim, since it was the only removable part, I pulled out the lint filter and looked into the compartment. And one of the socks was there!! I have absolutely no idea how it could possibly have gotten into the lint filter, but it did. And I was able to get it out. Still that left one sock that’s missing.
I ran the dryer to see if maybe removing this sock fixed things, but no, it didn’t. But the scraping, rumbling sound it made didn’t sound completely unlike what a sound might be if a sock was caught somewhere.
To be clear, I can’t imagine that a sock was inside the machine. For starters, I don’t see how it would be even remotely possible. Any holes are tiny, and any slots are paper thin. But then, I don’t see how it’s remotely possible that a sock did get into the lint filter compartment.
Anyway, the repairman came on Monday. And it was…the socks!!!!
There had been, as I noted, that one sock that got sucked into the lint filter compartment. But still one other sock that was missing. But without having to call in a second repairman (which would have been expensive), he was able to pull the washer-dryer out by himself, which was impressive ("Oh, this isn't bad, I do this all the time, I've seen worse"), unscrewed things…and found the missing sock. And the dryer ran perfectly after that.
He said it was one of the cleanest dryers he’s seen, and appeared to be in good shape. He also said it was one of his favorite models, an LG Tromme, which would run for 25 years. And said that even if the motor does go out, it’s worth replacing because the model is that good. The whole cost was not $450 to repair the motor. (Or $2,000 to get a new combo). But $180. Much better.
And better, too, because when he first turned on the dryer, it made an awful sound, to which he said, “Not good.” But then I told him the tale of the missing sock. And he thought that that could indeed be the cause.
What’s weird is that he says he has absolutely no idea how socks get sucked into a dryer. “It happens. It’s a design flaw.” But there’s no space for a sock to get sucked through, so how??? “I have no idea. It happens.” I asked what one could do so that this doesn't happen again, and the options are to ball up thin socks when drying them, letting them air-dry, or getting a bag to put your socks in for drying. But totally weird. But hey, if a repairman has no idea at all how it happens, I'm not going to figure it out.
Anyway, it’s resolved. For a whole lot less. And for what it’s worth, the repairman Alex great. As I said, the company TJ Appliance Repair has a 5-star rating on Yelp, and I can see why. I called the owner Tony to let him know how good Alex was – and he was also praising the owner behind his back. (Including that if a customer is clearly struggling financially and in obvious bad shape, the owner won’t charge them but pay for it out of his pocket.) Good customer service may lose you money in the short run, but in the long run it builds loyalty and word-of-mouth and success
Now, for the two addendums.
The first is that when talking with the repairman Alex, it turned out that he was from Uzbekistan, worked in Moscow for a while, knew Odessa pretty well where one of my grandfathers was from, and came to the United States in 2016. (Fun fact: his brother was playing basketball at UCLA -- my grad school,) Alex was able to get fast-tracked for citizenship because he enlisted in the U.S. Army, and served in Afghanistan, though not in combat. (Among other things, they taught him various skills, including how to repair appliances!) The point of this all is that he applied for citizenship in 2016, and the program that he was able to get in under was shut down by Trump a few months later. If there had been just a few months delay, he wouldn't have been able to get into the United States. And serve in the army. And because a terrific addition to the country.
The other addendum concerns those home warranty contract many people have. I had one that comes with the deal when I bought I bought my place a couple years ago. I renewed it the next year, and had some benefit from it, though it may not have covered the cost. But it did cover replacing a disposal unit (which would have been a few hundred dollars) and some small plumbing fixes, and was good piece of mind.
It also covered one other notable expense when my refrigerator went out. However -- that experience was a mess. The short version is that it took three months, and I was out a refrigerator for that long, and had to get one of those small refrigerator-freezer devices so that I could at least keep some food. (The home warranty company did pay $75 towards that, which was about $220 overall.)
The main reason for the three-month delay is that the repair shops they kept sending weren't working out. Either they didn't do the kind of work that was needed, or they didn't deal with those kinds of part, or they had to wait for red-tape approvals to order parts or -- in the most significant case, one of the vendors tried to scam. They explained what part was needed, and that it would cost $250, which would have to come out of my own pocket since it wouldn't be covered by the home warranty company. And I know it was a scam -- not only because I asked some friends who know these things better -- because when the work was done, it did not entail the part the scammers insisted on, but just the basic $40 part my friends said was needed and was covered.
The final vendor did do the work well -- though the had a small screw-up which delayed things another week -- but the reality is that I was without my refrigerator for three months.
Which brings me to the point. When my home warranty contract was up in December, I didn't renew it. I knew there was a risk, though extrapolated over 10 years, it would probably work out well in my favor, even if there were big expenses along the way. But after that three-month debacle with repair shops I didn't know, I just decided that I'd rather pay more money (possibly) for a good repair shop whose goal is the please the customer, not to please the home warranty company and save them money, so they could continue to get referrals.
I have no idea how this will turn out over time. But it worked very well here. When my dryer went out, my first reaction was, "Agghhh, I wish I'd waited before cancelling m home warranty contract." A big repair only two months after cancelling it!!! Of course. But even then, my next thought was -- that's fine, that was my decision. I get to choose the repair shop I want, and they'll fix it fast. And that's what happened. It was a 5-star shop, they did excellent work, and it was repaired in two weeks.
And while I hope I never have to use TJ Appliance Repair again, I'm sure I will -- and I'm glad to have the piece of mind knowing that they're there. Hopefully Alex will be, too.
A little update on my vaccination journey here in Los Angeles County.
As I mentioned on Saturday, I was able to get my first vaccination at Ralphs Pharmacy, which is part of the Ralphs grocery store chain (which is owned by Kroger). It was the Moderna vaccine, which requires a 28-day delay before the second shot, as opposed to 21 days for the vaccine from Pfizer. For the record, the only side effect was that my arms was slightly sore the next day, but not much. I consider this a good trade-off for something that stands a good chance of protecting my life.
It turns out I sneaked in under the wire. The L.A. County Board of Health just took away the doses that Ralphs had and gave them to the mass vaccination sites (like Dodger Stadium). As a result, a great many people had their Ralphs appointments cancelled (include a couple friends of mine) and, as you might imagine, they are extremely upset. I'm not exactly sure why the doses were taken from the pharmacy chain, but one article I read suggested that it may possibly have something to do with how only 65% of Ralphs' allotment was fulfilled by appointments. But to be clear, I don't know if this is true. Whatever the reason, Ralphs has had appointments cancelled.
You can read more about it in this article from the Los Angeles Times.
If Ralphs gets more doses (or if there's enough complaints that the doses are returned) they’ll likely honor the appointments, although at the moment Ralphs Pharmacy is saying there’s no guarantee of getting anything “for a month or more.”
Obviously, on a personal level only, I’m thrilled to have gotten my shot – though not happy about how that might impact getting the second shot. What I have to find out is if any other facilities will give you a second shot who didn’t give you the first one. At the moment, I’ve heard and read “no,” although with some rare exceptions, like perhaps (I've know of one case) for healthcare workers So, I’m hoping (and still expecting, even though the L.A. Times article wasn’t encouraging) they get new doses by then. We’ll see.
But – after that, the news is more positive.
For a reason I hadn't been aware of, I lucked out getting the Moderna vaccine. With one shot, the Pfizer vaccine will be 52.4% effective after two weeks. However, the Moderna vaccine will be 80.2% effective! That strikes me as very high. (Not as high as 95% but not shabby at all. Higher even than the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine that appears about to be approved.)
Also, it turns out that the 21/28-day wait before getting the second shot is more regulatory than scientific. On the regulatory end, during a pandemic the government wants the public to get their two shots as soon as possible in order to be fully protected, and those 21/28-day delays are the very earliest that scientists can recommend for the second shot. But as noted by Moncef Slaoui -- an immunologist who has spent his 30-year career in vaccine development and was also co-head of Operation Warp Speed: “The immune system generally responds better when there's a wider gap [MY EMPHASIS] between vaccinations." It's just that when the risk of infection is high, people are better off being fully protected from the second shot on the authorized regulatory schedule. But that's totally separate from the scientific realities.
Further, the positive news is that the sources I found all say that if you can’t get your second shot within 4-6 weeks as the regulation strongly recommends, this does not mean you have to start the vaccination process all over again. And even more, after just getting the first shot gives it provides significant protection -- if you get infected, for instance, you will not likely get a case serious enough to need to be hospitalized.
All of which I think is good for everyone to know once they've gotten their first vaccination, rather than be overly concerned that they might not be able to get their second shot in 4-6 weeks.
So, though I’d of course love to get the full protection in 28 days from my second Moderna vaccination, if I can’t it seems like it’s absolutely fine on several levels, most importantly having 80.2% efficacy. Which, again, is why I said I lucked up getting the Moderna vaccine. Though the Pfizer still does offer important benefits as noted.
And in the end, I still do expect the Biden Administration to be able to get more vaccine out in 4-6 weeks, including to Los Angeles.
I just wish things didn't get so screwed up with Ralphs Pharmacy. For me, but more for those who haven't even gotten their first shot yet.
Just imagine if a good, effective distribution plan after the first vaccine was approved in early November, three months ago...
I'm not naming any names.
Well, this was a weird experience yesterday.
On Wednesday evening, I got an urgent phone call from a friend saying that Ralphs Pharmacy here in Los Angeles were now accepting appointments for COVID-19 vaccine shots for the group I qualified in. But the slots were filling up really fast, so I should go to their website immediately. He began telling a story about his experience signing up and what went on when he was...and I cut him off instantly without relying on politeness and in his mid-sentence I said, "Goodbye, I'll call you later!" and hung-up.
And it clearly was filling up fast. The first few days were already gone, and when I got a date that was available, but the time I got to the end of the form, that date and time was no longer open. So, I picked another date and time, and the same thing happened when I reached the end. It took four tries before I finally got an appointment for a little over two weeks from now. But huzzah.
I was really surprised to hear about the scheduling, since I hadn't read anything about it on the news, but was very glad for his call. He hadn't known either -- and he's usually on top of most-everything -- but his daughter had called him. And word clearly spread everywhere.
Anyway, yesterday morning, I called Ralphs Pharmacy to find out if they'd be keeping a waiting list in case they got cancellations, since I live walking distance from it -- and it's actually the pharmacy I tend to most use. The person I spoke to said, no, there wouldn't be a waiting list, but then asked when my appointment was for, which surprised me. But I told her, and at this point, the conversation went --
“The appointment’s been cancelled.”
Long pause. “What do you talking about???”
“The appointment has been cancelled. It’s only for healthcare providers. You should be notified.”
Trying to digest this. “What do you mean I should be notified?? Are they planning to send emails?”
“You should get an email about it.”
Taking a deep breath. “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“You should keep the appointment, but right now it’s cancelled. They’ll let you know.”
It made little sense to me, and was a bit disconcerting, needless-to-say. But when it became clear that she didn't actually have information and couldn’t add more than to say that right now they were only giving the vaccine to healthcare workers and that Ralphs might be sending out an email, I knew that there was no pointing in getting upset with her or even arguing. So, as much as I wanted to say, "You handled getting this information across really, really poorly" (after all, if I didn't ask follow-up questions, she would have left it at the perfunctory, "The appointment's been cancelled" -- which it must be noted is also a poor way of phrasing things when you later add, "But keep your appointment") -- I also recognized that they were likely overwhelmed with phone calls and harried, so I said goodbye, ungnashed my teeth, and hung up.
As the day went on, I talked to some people and read articles, and though there was nothing specific to learn, the situation did become a touch more clear and somewhat more comforting. (With an emphasis on the "somewhat.") It appears that Ralphs jumped the gun and wasn’t supposed to create appointments yet. In fact, for that same sign-up form on their website, “Coronavirus” is no longer listed among the options of vaccines that Ralph offers. Press releases from Ralphs as of two days ago, however, say that they are, in fact, now giving the vaccine to healthcare workers.
Equally important to the picture is that a friend in Texas said the exact same thing happened there a couple of weeks ago. There were sign-ups and then it turned out that they didn’t get their allotted vaccine supplies, so everything was put on hold. But what's important to add -- and added to the comfort is that not only did they subsequently get their vaccine supply…but he got his first shot this past Tuesday.
That said, I don’t know exactly where things stand. What I do know is that they said, “Keep your appointment.” And no email has been sent out yet putting anything on hold. Also, most people who signed up have times that are still a week or two weeks off. And the Biden Administration is coming in next Tuesday, so there is probably a big push now to get vaccine out. In addition, we know that Ralphs Pharmacy does, in fact, have vaccine which they are currently giving to healthcare workers. And we know, too, that 30 million doses have been distributed but only about 10 million shots have been given. So…it seems like things should be fine. Though I don’t know.
But also, there is a possible good side to this, at least on a personal level. The screw-up by Ralphs of jumping the gun early may explain why there were no big news stories about it – which in the end helped allow people to sign up for an appointment so early before there was a huge public rush. So, assuming they do get it worked out, everyone who now already has an appointment probably has it earlier (perhaps much earlier) than they would have had otherwise.
And again, it remains comforting my friend in Texas said that this exact same thing happened there, and he not only kept his appointment, but got his shot earlier this week.
Of course, this all presumes that they do get their new allotment. If not, they will have a huge mess on their hands for all the people who signed up the earliest and find their appointments cancelled, pushing them back into the pool.
When I had that phone conversation this morning with the pharmacy it was – as you might imagine – very weird and disturbing and very poorly handled. But knowing more now, while still in a state of uncertainty, I do feel better about it. And I especially feel at least a sense of comfort from being told, “Keep your appointment.” And if and when there is any update – including to say that appointments remain on schedule – emails will be sent out.
Anyway, that’s the news, which I suspect is good to know for other areas when they get their vaccine allotment and start to make appointments.
Thankfully, there is a vaccine. And it will get administered soon. But it's Impressive how smooth and impeccably well-organized everything about handling the pandemic and protecting the country has been by the Trump administration which alas, unlike the coronavirus, did completely disappear last March.
January 20th can't come soon enough.
UPDATE: There is an addendum to all this.
Since writing my column, an article in the Washington Post appeared which may be the explanation for the problem at Ralphs Pharmacy. While Ralphs is at fault for jumping the gun, it will not shock you to learn that what caused the larger problems is probably because the Trump administration was lying. Here’s the opening of the article –
“When Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Tuesday that the federal government would begin releasing coronavirus vaccine doses held in reserve for second shots, no such reserve existed, according to state and federal officials briefed on distribution plans. The Trump administration had already begun shipping out what was available beginning at the end of December. Now, state and local officials across the country are realizing their limited vaccine supply will not immediately increase, dashing hopes of dramatically expanding access for millions of people.”
Y'know, it makes it oh-so much easlier to run your operation at "Warp speed" when you don't have to deliver what you promised.
Hopefully there’s enough time between now and my appointment – and with the Biden Team taking over in five days – for them to get a supply out and I can keep the date. But I’m not holding my breath on that. The next hope is that when they do start rescheduling appointments that Ralphs will keep the current schedule and just move those to the front of the line where they were.
For those interested, you can find the full Washington Post article here.
Okay, it's that time of year again -- go to my pal Mark Evanier's blog and read his tremendous, annual story that he just posted again about crossing paths with longtime popular singer Mel Tormé (co-writer, as well, of "The Christmas Song" -- you know: "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...") at the Farmers Market a couple decades ago. Even if you've read it before, often, it remains a glorious tale and exquisitely told.) And I like it all the more because my mother went to high school with Mel Tormé. And because I worked with him once on Naked Gun 2-1/2, I got the chance to finally talk about it with him.
Anyway, you can find Mark's story here.
Bear with me, this is worth it.
Back around 1995, I attended one of the funniest evenings I've ever had in the theater. If it wasn't the funniest, the others competing with it were pretty special. This wasn't a stage play or musical, to be fair, but basically a group discussion. But it was in a theater, and it was about the world of entertainment, so it counts.
The evening was called Caesar's Writers, held at the Writers Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills. It was a reunion of the writers who had worked on the two variety TV shows lead by Sid Caesar -- Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hours. The series were pretty close to the same: the casts of Caesar, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris were the same, with Imogene Coca in the former having moved on with her own show and replaced by Nanette Fabray in the latter. And the writing staffs were very similar, with a few changes here and there.
And oh, what a writing staff it was. If you put together a list of the staff and showed it to someone without any other information, they'd probably think you had written down your Hall of Fame of comedy writers. And no, I'm not exaggerating. Among those who participated that evening were (and bear with me, because the list is long and the credentials longer...) --
Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, and Larry Gelbart (hey, I told you i wasn't exaggerating -- and I'm even leaving out Woody Allen, because he wasn't there that night).
L-R: Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, head writer Mel Tolkin and Sid Caesar
But those are just the names you know. Others on stage were each impressive in their own right (and write). They included Mel Tolkin (the show's head writer who was later the head-writer for All in the Family), Aaron Ruben (who co-created The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle USMC), Gary Belkin (who wrote TV comedy for three decades, including several years writing on The Carol Burnett Show and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson), Sheldon Keller (whose 30+ years included writing for The Dick Van Dyke Show, M*A*S*H, Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Danny Thomas, and the movie comedies, Burena Sera, Mrs. Campbell and Movie, Movie which reteamed him with Larry Gelbart), and Danny Simon, Neil's older brother, who had his own 30-year career in TV and was considered one of the top comedy writing teachers in the industry.
And this doesn't include some other writers on the show's staff who weren't there, like Joseph Stein (who wrote the book to Fiddler on the Roof, as well as the musicals Take Me Along, Plain and Fancy, Zorba, and the play Enter Laughing, among others). Michael Stewart, who went on to write the books for such major hit musicals as Hello, Dolly!; Bye Bye Birdie; Carnival; 42nd Street, and Barnum. And two of the legendary, ground-breaking women writers in TV comedy, Lucille Kallen and Selma Diamond.
So, yes, again, I wasn't exaggerating. This was an incredible writing staff. And the members who were there that night really were among the cream in comedy writing history.
It will not shock you to learn that the theater was packed. And laughing all night.
L-R: Front row -- Gary Belkin, Sheldon Keller, Michael Stewart, Mel Brooks.
Back row -- Neil Simon, Mel Tolkin, Larry Gelbart.
There were two of these events held -- this at the Writers Guild Theatre, and one previously in New York that I believe Woody Allen may have participated in, though not all the others made it from Los Angeles. I'm told by those who attended both that as good as the the one in New York was, the evening in Los Angeles topped it. And if so, I can see why -- and it's not just because of a more complete group of participants. That clearly helped and was a big deal, but I think something else was at play. In New York, the event was open to the general public. At the Writers Guild Theatre they were in front of their fellow writers, and they weren't just telling stories, they were performing for their peers. And in performing, some of them were clearly competing, trying to "one-up" one another -- mostly, though not exclusively (but leading the way), this was centered around Mel Brooks, who was hysterical all night. But also, and this is is what made the evening so special, it's not just that the stories were so wonderful, and that they were trying to give their best in front of their compatriots, but when a classic sketch would get mentioned, Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks -- and whoever else might have been involved -- who recreate the sketch there on stage. Or a favorite memory wouldn't just be told as a story, but performed like a classic comedy bit.
It was hilarious. It went on for close to 2-1/2 hours, and there was so much laughter and warmth and joy in the room the entire time. And as good a time as the audience was having -- and we were having a great time -- the writers and friends on stage seemed to be having an even better time.
And to put into perspective how remarkable that writing team was, and that it's not just me saying so, Neil Simon wrote a hit play about it, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, which was turned into a pretty good TV movie, that starred Nathan Lane in the 'Sid Caesar' role. (Side note: Before I saw the play on stage, I asked Larry Gelbart which character was based on him. The one named 'Kenny,' he said. When 'Kenny' made his entrance, I almost burst out laughing. I hadn't had to ask. He looked like Larry, he dressed like Larry in the same style sportcoat, and he wore round spectacles like Larry.)
L-R: Mel Tolkin, Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Aaron Reuben, Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks
Anyway, the good news in all this is not just that there's a DVD of Neil Simon's play or that I've described a fun evening -- but that evening was recorded and edited down for a two-hour DVD...and then re-edited down further into a one-hour TV special that PBS ran during Pledge Week. And I have a copy of that PBS broadcast here which I've embedded below.
I told you it was worth it to bear with me.
A few final notes:
The video quality is not the greatest, but it's the material that shines through. Also, it's interrupted a few time with pledge breaks, so you can fast-forward through those. And it's divided into two videos. Also, a reminder that the actual evening was almost an hour-and-a-half longer than this. And it's not that this is The Best Material -- it was all wonderful. This is just the great material that fit best together for a one-hour special.
A word too about why you won't see as much of Neil Simon as you might like. First, he is famously quiet.. If you ever saw the movie, My Favorite Year, which is also based on this group and Your Show of Shows, there is character who is always whispering his joke suggestions at the writers table to the person who is sitting next to him. That character is based on Neil Simon. (Usually he would be seated next to Carl Reiner and telling his jokes to him.) The other reason is more specific. About halfway through the evening, his older brother Danny started feeling unwell and left the stage. A minute or so later, Neil was clearly concerned, so he left to be with him. Happily, he ended up being fine, though the two were gone for the rest of the evening.
Okay, here's everyone at the evening -- a sort of scorecard so you can perhaps follow them on the video.
L-R: Mel Tolkin, Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Aaron Reuben, Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Danny Simon, Sheldon Keller, Gary Belkin
For meaningless perspective's sake, just so that you can have an idea where I was so-thoroughly enjoying myself, as you are looking at the stage, I was about halfway back and off to the left against the wall. My recollection is that I perhaps briefly can be seen, but as a sort of heads-up -- I'll be the one laughing.
Despite all the deserving focus, we take a detour today away from MIchael Cohen and his book to deal with another matter -- though not before making clear that while Cohen is indeed a convicted liar and felon, as Trump and the White House have gone out of their way in releasing statements, his was convicted for lying to Congress about Trump, and convicted for making illegal payment to hush up a witness on behalf of Trump...who is known in the indictment as "Individual 1."
So, yeah, Michael Cohen is a convicted liar and felon, whose illegal actions were taken on behalf of benefiting Trump.
As to the other matter.
Once again, wildfires are raging across much of California. At the moment, there are fires on 2.2 million acres of the state, some of the most devastating in the history of the states. So far, over 60,000 people have been evacuated, 10 lives have been lost and countless property damage and wilderness.
And as far as I can tell, not a word has been spoken by Trump or even tweeted by Trump.
The Creek Fire on September 5 from Huntington Lake, California
(Photo credit: Eric Paul Zamora/Fresno Bee/AP)
Over the weekend, there was a crushing heat wave in Los Angeles. Where I live, temperatures hit 98 degrees. That's hot, but not only a dry heat, it's not the issue.
Where a friend lives, temperatures hit 105 degrees. But that's not the issue either.
Near downtown Los Angeles, a bit north, the blistering temperature reached 115 degrees. Yes, 115 degrees. And no, that's also not the issue.
Woodland Hills is in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County. The Valley is hotter than the rest of Los Angeles. (For that reason and others, a guy I knew once commented that he didn't like to go to the Valley because he didn't think God's fingers stretched that far.) God's fingers didn't stretch that far over the weekend, because the temperature there hit 121 degrees.
That was not a typo. It was 121 degrees. That's an all-time record in the history of Los Angeles Country since such things have been measured.
Make no mistake, this wasn't in Death Valley, 3-1/2 miles away from here. Nor was it even the Mojave Desert to the east. This was in Woodland Hills, in Los Angeles County. About eight miles or so from the ocean. Around 10 from Malibu. Maybe 15 miles from Santa Monica. Maybe 20 miles northwester of where I live..
It was 121 degrees in Los Angeles County. That's oven territory. An all-time record. It was 115 degrees in Los Angeles proper. This lasted for two scorching, blistering days.
And not a word I'm aware of from Trump. Spoken, tweeted or perhaps even thought.
Nothing about this searing heat. Nothing about the killing wildfires, Silence. And there wasn't even a word of "thoughts and prayers" I've heard from any Republican official in Congress or the administration either. In fact, the only thing I heard from Republican officials were a couple of snarky comments about the Mayor of Los Angeles asking residents to not run heavy appliances to save electricity, "quipping" about what it's like living in a third world country run by Democrats. The snarkiest was from Ted Cruz, a Climate Change denier, by the way, who came up with what he thought was a hilarious slogan for Democrats. What I wondered in response to him was whether he thought it was okay for everyone to joke about cute slogan for Texas the next time it's deluged with yet another hurricane and homes are under water.
But hey, at least Cruz and the few other Republicans recognized that there was ravaging heat -- even if they somehow managed to blame it on Democrats. Never mind that heat this oppressive and the rampaging wildfires are both results of Climate Change that so many Republicans want to deny.
Climate Change, for which the United States is the only country in the entire world that is not a signatory to the Paris Accord. Because Trump doesn't believe in it. If only he had been in Los Angeles this weekend, trying to raise money for his failing coffers.
Silence from Trump on all of this. On the the record-setting heat and yet again silence on the wildfires
And yes, I know the response of most people. Of course I know it. California is a Blue State. Trump isn't going to win it, doesn't have a chance. So, he doesn't care about it.
Yes, of course that's his response. My response?
So what? That's not a defense. It's not even a good explanation. It's certainly not a normal reaction from a president, and it shouldn't be normalized as if it was. "Well, that's just Trump" doesn't cut it. Trump is president of the United States, whether he likes it or not, and Americans are being devastated by these disastrous conditions. It is the job of the President of the United States to deal with disasters. And accepting who Trump is doesn't change that. It must be pointed out repeatedly so that it is not taken for granted, not normalized.
Further, even if one does choose to accept it -- whether because you're a Republican and like that Trump will act on behalf of only you or because you just feel you can't fight Trump on everything -- there is another reality. there are 2.9 million people who live in the entire state of Mississippi, one of the most Red States in the country. In California, there are about 4.9 million registered Republicans voters. The point?
Any Republican who thinks that Trump with work on your behalf just because you're a Republican -- you're wrong, he won't. If you're a Republican and your home is surrounded by a wildfire -- if you're a Republican living in stifling, breath-taking heat -- Trump doesn't care about you, if you're living in the wrong state. This isn't a subjective guess. This is reality. Beyond those registered Republican voters, there are about 9.5 million Republicans living in California (while, once again, only 2.9 million people whatever their party in Mississippi). There are Republican districts in California, Republican representatives here both federal and state, Republican candidates, Republican issues. But despite deadly wildfires and massive heat in California, with all those Republicans and Republican matters in the state...Trump was totally silent about them all. Because he doesn't care about them. And by "them," if you're a Republican, I mean -- you.
But ultimately, that shouldn't matter. And we defer back to point number one. There are 39 million people in California. They are all Americans. It is the most populous state in the country. It has an economy which would be the fifth largest in the world. It exports a product from Hollywood which is one of the most successful financially and socially in spreading America to the world. And again, everyone is an American. But then, when there are disasters in other countries, the U.S. often offers its help. But not Trump and today's Republican Party, they not only don't offer help to California disasters, they don't even offer commiseration. They can't even muster their default "thoughts and prayers" that they spit out automatically after a gun massacre.
So, yes, of course I get why Trump is totally silent. Again silent about California, as always. Of course, I get it! And I get why the enabling and complicit Republican Party therefore is, too, following his fascist lead like puppy lap dogs. (Well, silent except for the snarky ridicule as a result of Mother Nature.) But that's no answer. It's not normal. It's wrong. It's a problem. It's unacceptable.
And it should be unacceptable by all parties. Because the next natural disaster may hit a Red State -- like hurricanes with the Red States of the Gulf Coast. And like tornadoes hit the Red States of the Corn Belt. Just like the pandemic hit all states. And in the end, we are all affected, because we are the United States.
As much as Trump wants his fascist view of the country to be otherwise.
It is unacceptable. And must relentlessly be said, so that it is not now, not ever taken as "normal."
And yes, Climate Change is real. Science is not a belief system.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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