Trying To Find A Few Reasons To Be Cheerful

Trying To Find A Few Reasons To Be Cheerful

Can’t believe it’s been two weeks since NYC’s been on lockdown. Weathering this storm turned out to be harder than I had anticipated. But I am back to my normal crusty self – in no small part due to my friends. I knew I had great people in my life but now I really know it!

One thing I have noticed about being at home (as pictured above) is how comforting it is for me to write while I’m propped up on my couch, especially when it’s a gorgeous day out and sunlight is streaming in from my South-facing windows.

Apparently my home is so comforting because it is Vastu Compliant.

I came across this India Tribune article on Vastu tips for COVID-19.

Vastu Shastra is the science of how we can balance energy at home to bring harmony. It’s like the Indian feng shui and is being promoted as a way to improve our shut-in experience.

  • They suggest facing East while studying, working on a computer, watching television or using other electronics. Why? Because the East is the direction from which you get lots of positive energy as rays continuously pass from the East to the West.
  • Secondly, once you face East, you are more focused on whatever activity you are doing.
  • And guess what? When I’m sitting on my couch (as I am right now), I am facing East.
  • But before you start re-arranging your furniture, there’s more!
Scroll down for the 10 things that have (mainly) cheered me up this week.
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Anybody Else Reduced To Weeping Uncontrollably?

Anybody Else Reduced To Weeping Uncontrollably?

On Saturday Brad called me from AZ to ask me how things were going and suddenly, out of nowhere, I was bawling my eyes out — to the point where I couldn’t even utter a coherent sentence.

Was it just 2 weeks of isolation or something more?

Brad kept asking me to repeat what I was saying because I was babbling through the tears and he couldn’t understand me. I was shocked at the depths of my grief. I am not a weepy person (as all of my friends will attest) so this was really unnerving for me.

What set me off over the weekend was hearing about so many people losing their jobs and livelihoods. In many cases, these are people who have given their all to build small businesses and poof! just like that, it’s all gone.

It brings back vivid, scary memories of how it went down for me in 2010 when I closed my business in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis (and before that having weathered the dotcom crash and the horror of 9/11). However, none of those situations were remotely like this. I was able to survive with some serious belt-tightening. But you can’t tighten your belt when they’ve taken away your pants. What’s happening now will take years to recover from, both for large and small businesses. Millions of jobs lost.

So why am I going out on a limb to write this post?
  1. I’m just gutted about what this shutdown has done to employment and small businesses in this country. I’m retired so I’m not bitching for myself but so many friends who lost their jobs at the blink of an eye now find themselves with zero funds for basics like food and rent. They worked their tails off and to me, it looks like no consideration was given to them and how they were going to survive. It was almost like grandstanding by our local politicians to show us how important it was to them to be able to say they’ve “saved even one life.” And now, double whammy. After it looked like Washington was going to push through a much needed stimulus package for workers and small businesses, we get a big fat NOTHING!
  2. I definitely feel manipulated by people like our mayor (and to a lesser extent our governor) who are going all out to have me buy into their hysteria. And I’m cynical about their solutions. The goal is clearly to terrify people to the point where none of us raise any questions about whether shutting the whole city down is the best solution – especially when they know exactly who will be hit hardest by the virus.
I know I think differently than many of you about these issues.

For example, to me coronavirus is less scary than having a 20-30% unemployment rate. However, that doesn’t mean I’m being foolish. I am self-isolating, social distancing and I am scrubbing my hands dozens of times a day.

And I am 70 so fully aware that I have a target on my back for coronavirus based on the average age of Italy’s victims (78.5) as well as Germany’s (82). Knowing this information actually makes me less anxious because I know I have to be extra vigilant about taking care of myself. I’m playing the odds but with 80% of cases mild, I believe the odds are still in my favor. But it seriously makes me wonder why we aren’t being more strategic about who should be isolated and protected.

Which is why I want facts to balance out the panic.

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NYC Coronavirus Update #3: Now In The Hunkering Down Phase

NYC Coronavirus Update #3: Now In The Hunkering Down Phase

Flatten the curve” made more sense to me than almost anything else I’ve read or heard about this virus. It finally got me to stop whining about how bored I was and inspired me to get busy filling this time of solitude with things that are productive and fun.

What’s life been like recently?

I’ve been quasi-hunkered down ever since I returned from my travels but I was still able to go to the gym every day and go out to eat. I even got beautified with one last pedicure and one last round of hair color before my salons closed (temporarily I hope).

But then last Thursday, the city and the state clamped down. That’s when the mood changed from “OK, really?” to “Holy shit, WTF!” Announcements were released by the hour of EVERYTHING closing, from Broadway shows to restaurants/bars to sporting events. Even retailers like Apple and Nike shut down.

So after being grumpy for the last week, I’m now taking the bull by the horns and creating a new, albeit monastic, life for myself in the age of coronavirus.

I also came across these notes from a recent Goldman Sachs investors’ call that not only provide the best analysis of the coronavirus situation, they also provide perspective and give me hope that this too will pass. Worth reading in its entirety but key takeaways below:

  • 50% of Americans will contract the virus (150m people) as it’s very communicable. This is on a par with the common cold (Rhinovirus) of which there are about 200 strains and of which the majority of Americans will get 2-4 per year.
  • Peak-virus is expected over the next eight weeks, declining thereafter.
  • Of those impacted 80% will be early-stage, 15% mid-stage and 5% critical-stage. Early-stage symptoms are like the common cold and mid-stage symptoms are like the flu; these are stay at home for two weeks and rest. 5% will be critical and highly weighted towards the elderly.
  • Mortality rate on average of up to 2%, again, heavily weighted towards the elderly and immunocompromised; meaning up to 3m people (150m*.02). In the US about 3m/yr die mostly due to old age and disease, those two being highly correlated. There will be significant overlap, so this does not mean 3m new deaths from the virus, it means elderly people dying sooner due to respiratory issues. This may however stress the healthcare system. [Not the best news for those of us over 70 but a strong warning that we need to be particularly vigilant about self-isolation.]
  • There will be economic damage from the virus itself, but the real damage is driven mostly by market psychology. Stock markets should fully recover in the 2nd half of the year.
Scroll down for 10 ways to turn self-isolation into a healthy, entertaining, and educational experience.
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Sights And Sounds Around NYC In The Age of Coronavirus

Sights And Sounds Around NYC In The Age of Coronavirus
Line for the latest Supreme drop. Photo: Sam Schube for GQ

“You Kinda Thug It Out”

Anthony, 29, in the Supreme Line (Per GQ)
I’m 100% “still thugging it out,” BUT the mood of the city shifted on Thursday.

First came the announcements that all Broadway shows were shutting down, then all the museums and even some galleries announced they were temporarily closing (Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth).

Entertainment and sports venues are shut tight until at least the end of March. Madison Square Garden and Barclay Center down for the count (along with the NBA, NHL, MBL and on and on).

Retailers are starting to close too. Apple just announced that all its stores (worldwide) will be closed through March 27, except those in China which recently re-opened. Other retailers will undoubtedly follow suit, especially if nobody is shopping anyway.

Restaurants have been especially hard hit. Jing Fong, the biggest dim sum restaurant in Chinatown (it seats 800) announced it was shuttering for the foreseeable future. Business has been horrid but the city’s mandate that all establishments with capacity for over 500 have to close, left them with no alternative. On Friday, several other restaurants announced they too were closing temporarily, e.g., Oceana in midtown which has seen business plummet by 75%. But the most ominous announcement came from Danny Meyer who has decided to close ALL 19 of his restaurants until further notice. Staff is being paid for the next couple of weeks, but then what?

Bars? an entirely different story. Many have tripled their business.

I heard (secondhand) about two bars in Brooklyn owned by friends of friends that have seen their businesses skyrocket as #WorkFromHome has become a thing. One bar owner said the minute he opens his bar at 4pm, customers are lining up to get their booze on. Another bar owner in Bushwick mentioned that she has been doing over $38,000 per week which is triple her pre-Coronavirus tally.

Scroll down for more including how South Korea and Italy have taken different tacks and gotten radically different results.
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NYC CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: Feet On The Ground Edition

NYC CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: Feet On The Ground Edition
5th Avenue and 51st Street during the morning rush hour

Photo (above) taken on Fifth Avenue during Monday morning’s rush hour. Not many people heading off to work it seems and definitely not much rushing going on.

The NY governor has declared a state of emergency and our mayor has been giving daily briefings on everything from how to do the elbow greeting to how to best wash your hands.

I’ve been out and about a fair amount over the last week. Here are my firsthand observations of changes happening in NYC as a result of coronavirus.

Public transportation

I’ve been on the subway a few times during rush hour over the past week.

  • Far less jam-packed. Plus, riders are standing versus squeezing themselves into every last seat. At least one third of the seats during Monday morning’s rush hour trip from downtown to midtown were empty (although people were standing by those empty seats).
  • Fewer people are wearing masks on the subway. Probably because wearing a mask makes you a target for harassment. Sad but true.
  • Most people, but not all, have got the “cough in your sleeve” maneuver down pat.
  • Hand-coughing, however, is still happening. I noticed one woman as I got off the subway doing a robust hand cough and caught myself thinking unkind thoughts about how thoughtless she was being – and hoped she would not, shortly, be shaking any hands.

Going out to eat is a breeze these days

Had dinner at a fabulous new spot on Saturday night and was shocked to find it half empty. We had an amazing dinner but I couldn’t help but wonder for how long people were going to lock themselves up at home out of “an abundance of caution.” Earlier in the week I had been at another buzzy new spot on the Upper West Side that was also sparsely populated.

However, not all restaurants are being hit by Coronavirus panic. I walked by Thai Diner, the hot new spot from Uncle Boon’s, and it was jampacked. There were also huge crowds gathered outside waiting to be seated. I’m checking it out today and will report back.

Buffets may be history: a victim of the virus

I have been a huge fan of the Soho House Sunday Buffet Brunch. I was there with a big group on March 1st and it was great. Self-serve deliciousness. This past Sunday, on the other hand, was a total disaster. You can no longer help yourself – everything was laid out as usual but when you went to pick up the tongs for a nice helping of shrimp you were told NO, NO, NO. We have to do it for you. This resulted in inordinately long lines and a lot of grumpy people, most of whom thought this was a “portion control” scheme by Soho House. When I explained it was for coronavirus they were a little more calm about it. But it’s a buzz kill. Depending on how long this lasts, buffets may not survive. 😢

Bottom Line.

Strange times. I’m NOT in panic mode, and I’m not hoarding TP (or anything else). But I am clearly in the minority when it comes to being freaked out about coronavirus. One of my friends has even gone full-on HazMat (buying several protective suits from Amazon).

We will have to wait and see how this plays out over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, wash your hands people! And please support your local restaurants!

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Coronavirus Is Deadly But So Is The Flu

Coronavirus Is Deadly But So Is The Flu

This past week – for the first time ever – I spotted non-Asians wearing surgical masks in NYC. The first sighting was at the Converse store in Soho where the cashier was wearing a mask and then Friday night on the subway, numerous mask sightings.

What I find curious is that flu deaths don’t alarm people in the same way – and they should. For example, per year, since 2010 there have been between 12,000 and 61,000 flu deaths in the United States. Most of those deaths are entirely preventable and yet fewer than 50% of us bother to get the flu shot.

But with three confirmed cases of Coronavirus in the United States — one in Washington state, one in Chicago and as of this morning, one in California — people are freaking out and surgical masks are flying off the shelves all around the country.

I am scheduled to be in Shenzhen, China in May. We will see if there are changes made to our itinerary.

In the meantime.

YES! Be careful about this new virus but be equally diligent about the flu. During the 2017-2018 flu season, it killed 61,000 people in the United States alone. Worldwide, 250,000 – 500,000 people die of the flu each year. Flu is the seventh leading cause of death.

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Oscar Health Is A Surprisingly Good Experience (So Far!)

Oscar Health Is A Surprisingly Good Experience (So Far!)

My partner, Brad, is now on his second year with Oscar and of all the insurance companies he’s used over the years, this has been the best so far. Mind you, he has not had any major health issues but compared to the other 5 or 6 companies he’s previously used, this has been an outstanding user experience. Plus, he hasn’t had to switch out any of his doctors – they’re all signed up to Oscar as well.

50% growth both in membership and revenue

Oscar now has 400,000 members and $2 billion in revenue based on the open-enrollment period that just ended.

Three years ago, Oscar had only 70,000 members after pulling out of markets in Dallas-Fort Worth and New Jersey (losing too much money on ACA programs at the time).

However, by the end of this year (2020), they expect to be operating in 29 markets including New York, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco and Phoenix.

So far they’ve raised $1.3 billion to fulfill their vision of providing a more concierge-like healthcare experience. Technology plays a major role and sets them apart from their competitors. Their mobile app is first-rate especially for telemedicine.

They also just announced that they were partnering with Cigna to provide services to small business owners.

Alphabet/Google appears to be their major investor along with Founders Fund.

According to TechCrunch, the company envisions a healthcare industry where employer-defined plans will disappear as more consumers turn to Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Arrangements. 

In that environment, Oscar’s bespoke services — like the recent partnership with the startup Capsule Pharmacy to provide same-day prescription delivery for Oscar’s members in New York — or the company’s tight relationship with providers like the Cleveland Clinic, become competitive advantages.

Bottom Line.

Not cheap but so far, so good. Their tech is beyond par – the whole experience reminds me a bit of Warby Parker – very seamless, helpful, customer-first.

And I believe their excellence stems from the founder’s personal experience at a hospital when he ran into the maze that is health insurance for most people. An experience that ultimately drove him to create Oscar.

And if you’re wondering about my insurance, I’m on Medicare (and that has been the greatest experience of all!!)

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Halfway Thru Dry January: Such a Bore This Year.

Halfway Thru Dry January: Such a Bore This Year.

I don’t know why I’m finding sobriety such a drag this year. I know it’s good for me and I have NOT been tempted to break my Dry Jan commitment. That said, I am finding it tedious and a bit pretentious to turn down offers of drinks because I’m “doing” Dry January (eye roll) . I cannot wait for February 1st to arrive!

Why do dry january?

Last year, which was my first Dry January, was extraordinary. Within a week, I felt so good, so much healthier, better sleep and best of all, my osteoarthritis showed major improvement without all of that alcohol-induced inflammation.

During the course of the year, I also found myself drinking much more mindfully. I’m pretty certain I consumed 50% less alcohol overall.

All around, great experience.

This year, I’m not getting the same lift from going dry. In great part, because I came into Dry January off a much lower alcohol consumption rate. The impact of going dry is not as pronounced as it was last year.

But data shows dry january is increasingly popular

Research group YouGov estimated in 2019 that one in five Americans were spending the month off the sauce.

21% of people “said that they think it’s a good idea and they plan to participate in it.” Sticking to it is the hard part for most people.

But science confirms that taking a break from booze has numerous health and other benefits.

Scroll down for more on the how, why and who of drinking less
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