by John Walters

Craze In Arizona

In Phoenix this weekend, people waited in their vehicles up to THIRTEEN hours to be tested for the coronavirus as the temperature soared above 105 degrees (if you own stock in Freon, YOU WIN!). Meanwhile, yesterday the state of Arizona set record-highs for:

•New cases of Covid-19 reported (3,591)

•Daily hospitalizations ( > 2,000)

•Inpatient beds occupied (2,136)

•ICU beds in use

•Ventilators in use

Also, 42 Arizonans died of Covid-19 yesterday.

None of the above, of course, were the TOP story in this morning’s Arizona Republic. The top story was “3 Takeaways From President Donald Trump’s Visit To Yuma And Phoenix.” Well, at least they know who their subscriber base (and that word fits here) is.

An aside: Are you, like me, astounded at how rapidly the health care complex is able to tabulate the data for Covid-19 deaths, cases, etc. It’s almost like they have a data base handy.

Anyway, yes, Donald Trump flew all the way to Arizona yesterday, where it was a refreshing 109 degrees, just so he could have an audience of 3,000-plus true believers at the Dream City Church in north Phoenix. As one of those cable news hosts (who only wears black or navy blue) pointed out last night, there have been two large gatherings indoors of more than 3,000 Americans since the pandemic struck, and both of them have been…. Trump rallies.

As bad as things are in Arizona right now in terms of Covid-19 cases, they’re about to take a quantum leap in the next three weeks. Enjoy your summer.

You Can’t Stay Home Again (But Maybe You Should?)

As one of our readers pointed out the other day, it’s difficult to brace for the “second wave” when the first wave is still climbing. Record numbers of new coronavirus cases in Arizona and Texas yesterday. California and Florida are on the upswing. California, Texas and Florida are the top three most-populous states in the Union and Arizona is 14th.

So, kind of a big deal.

There were 35,000 new cases recorded yesterday, the third-highest total since the pandemic began.

In any other nation, with any other president, someone would look at those figures and think, Well, if we had a lockdown before we should definitely have a lockdown now. Except that Trump and Barr/Kudlow/Mnuchin/Mitch are in full Costanza-taking-Susan’s-parents-to-his-Hamptons-house mode now. There’s no going back (“Two solariums?”).

You wanna get nuts? LET’S GET NUTS!

Say It Ain’t So, Ron

Retired porn star Ron Jeremy (yes, that face belongs to a porn star) has been arrested on charges of having sexually assaulted four women. The 67 year-old nudie thespian apparently trolled the Sunset Strip looking for victims which, let’s face it, is a more intriguing plot than 98% of porn films. It isn’t easy seeing our heroes crumble before our eyes.

Op-Ed Bonanza

The top three editorials in The New York Times this morning took me aback. It’s as if someone had stolen my top three talking points from the group texts I engage in with my high school buddies (a.k.a. “The Gang”) and college pals (a nameless but wickedly funny crew). Did you ever see that episode of Cheers where Cliff Clavin appears on Jeopardy! and it serendipitously seems as if all of the categories were ideally tailored to him? That’s how I felt this morning.

Here are the titles of those three editorials:

The Jobs We Need

Tax The Rich And Their Heirs

Why Do We Pay People So Little Money?

The middle editorial doesn’t strike a chord with me as much as the first and third. As a recent enlistee in the “Essential Workerforce,” I’m frankly gobsmacked at how paltry my after-tax paycheck is. If I weren’t a Phyllis freeloader, I don’t know how I’d make it, even working a 40-hour week.

These are real jobs with real adults doing them, and no one is arguing that they (I) should earn what a trained worker makes, but when you earn little more than what someone sitting on their ass collecting an unemployment check “earns,” there’s something wrong with the system at both ends.

One of my wealthy high school pals always waves this away with, “Oh, they need more training” as if that will magically happen. No. Top-end earners need to stop making $40 to $50 million a year at a company they didn’t even create while most of their work force scrapes past paycheck to paycheck.

As an MIT economist (that’s one of those smarty pants schools) is quoted as saying in the final Op-Ed, “Low-wage workers are doing really badly and this will destroy our society.

I’ve been saying this for years. Because it’s true.

Necromancing The Stone

Finally saw Uncut Gems (on Netflix) the other night and “Wow.” Never mind the plot or whether or not you cheer for our protagonist, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), this film does what films rarely do: it makes you feel the world in which the characters inhabit.

I’ve worked most of my career within two blocks of where Ratner’s little jewelry shop is set (on Diamond Row, 47th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues) and the movie main lines the feeling of claustrophobia, of manic stress, of nonstop chaos and whatever the opposite of peace and quiet are. If ever there were a film that made you feel what it’s like to transfer from the crosstown shuttle train (S) to the uptown 2/3 lines at rush hour, for an entire 134 minutes, this is it.

The reason is Sandler (and the script, by the Safdie brothers, Benny and Josh, who also directed; and Ronald Bronstein). As one reviewer noted, it feels as if the entire film that Ratner is having two conversations at once. Or that if he is talking to someone, he’s checking on someone or something else. He is NEVER present. And one of the reasons this works so well is because that’s what it’s like to be a degenerate gambler. You’re always thinking about the gam that is in play, or the game you just lost that you need to make up for by doubling down on the next piece of action. It’s unremitting.

There’s a sense, particularly in the latter half of the film, that if Ratner can just catch this next big break he’ll have solved all of his problems. But as soon as he does, a new hurdle appears. And often it’s Howard who’s placing that hurdle in front of himself. If you’ve seen the movie, in the final 15 minutes or so, you know exactly what I mean.

One more thing: the performances, some by non-actors, are terrific. The man who works in the pawn shop who takes Howard’s rings as collateral. That’s as authentic a New York character as you’ll ever seen in any film. I doubt he’s an actor, but he nails it (I think his name is Ronald Greenberg. The henchman-muscle guy, Phil (William Keith Richards) is perfect. LaKeith Stanfield, as Demany, Howard’s hustler and also nemesis, is perfect (I worked with a bookie who is exactly this guy). The lonely billionaire who’s a cartoon figure that shows up at the end? Nailed that, too. Even Kevin Garnett (as himself) and Mike Francesa (as a restaurateur/bookie) are ideal.

I served tables of guys who looked like this at the Steakateria all the time. The Steakateria, by the way, is the backdrop for the scene in which Howard is tossed into the fountain pool

I’m not sure if Uncut Gems was enjoyable. It was entertaining. It was pure stress, a turbulent flight, a rumbling roar of the 2 train between 72nd and 42d where you’re squished between humanity and it feels as if the train is about to jump the tracks. But I have not seen a more authentic film, that isn’t a documentary, in years. Bully to the Safdie brothers and Sandler and everyone involved for that.

p.s. If you want to see another film that captures New York City and the stress that people seem to treat as a drug, see The Boiler Room (from 2000). Don’t see The Wolf of Wall Street (which is mostly garbage).

2 thoughts on “IT’S ALL HAPPENING!

  1. No one ever accused the ultra-wealthy of being overly concerned with their fellow man, but you’d think they’d at least consider that if gigantic chunks of their fellow men (and women) can’t afford to buy any of their products, that will keep them from maximizing their long-term gains.

    Then again, perhaps they’ve already done the math and determined bleeding us low-wage folk dry is still more economically rewarding than not.

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