Author: Steve Greenstein
Amazing news! COVID Ditty was selected by Best Shorts Competition and Toronto Indie Shorts via FilmFreeway.com!
For New Yorkers, everywhere else is another country.
You might not need two photo IDs and a passport to cross over, but a change in sensibilities is required.
COVID Ditty’s Episode #4 has fun with the imaginary wall that separates the Bronx, NYC’s northernmost borough, and it’s neighboring Yonkers. As the creator of the web series dramedy, actor/producer Steve Greenstein’s unfolding work captures oddities and ironies that we all have been forced to accept.
During the pandemic, different governments decide which people and businesses are essential. Is a major big box retail store allowed to open? Absolutely. A mom-and-pop corner deli? Not so fast.
The stark differences have even reached fan-favorite behavior like dining out. It can seem absurd when a two-mile bus ride north feels like freedom. At this time, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warns about the likelihood of a second total lockdown. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says no unless hospital capacity hits 90%—so that’s a definite maybe.
Meanwhile, Yonkers residents somehow continue to enjoy the small pleasures in life.
“What, is the air different in Yonkers or something?” asks Maria, a new character in the series played by actor Monica Delgado.
A little brogue with your coffee?
McLean Avenue runs across Yonkers from the Sawmill Parkway to the Bronx River Parkway just above the Bronx border. Since the 1980s, swarms of Irish transplants have moved to this city, which has grown to become the fourth largest municipality in the state of New York. The Irish make up one of the largest ethnic groups in the city, second only to the Italian community.
The hard-working, middle-class town has watched housing prices and rent increase while the Irish community has grown into influential roles in trade unions, as well as bar owners, where a part of life for some can be measured by pints. When Gerry Adams, former leader of the Irish Republican Army, would come to town, he always had an audience along McLean Avenue.
To be clear, first-generation Irish Americans also can be found in large numbers in the Kingsbridge section of The Bronx, which is the setting for COVID Ditty. You can find a waitress with a thick brogue at many eateries. On the weekends, you can enjoy Gaelic Park where they play Gaelic Football.
But during the pandemic, that’s where the similarities end. Things are different over the “wall” in Yonkers. Episode #4, entitled “Oh Danny Boy”, takes you on a road trip to a different place.
“It’s rising now,” said Greenstein, who plays lead character Phil, about new business development sprouting up in Yonkers. “It’s still not the City.”
More lockdowns, hope
Remember when we used to shake hands? When we used to socialize?
That was a long time ago. Or at least that’s how it feels.
Episode #4 gives us a tease in a poignant, closing scene. (Spoiler alert: Something special happens indoors.) Through the faces of Maria, Phil and his 12-year-old precocious son Charlie, played by actor Andrew Terranova, you can live the feeling of amazement and the yearning for “normal.”
With one COVID-19 vaccine approved and another one days away, you can start to see the light at the end of tunnel. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first vaccine against COVID-19 from Pfizer and BioNTech. FDA recently approved a vaccine from biotech Moderna. More vaccines from more companies are planning to roll out their own vaccine versions in the coming months.
But Greenstein reminds us that the light in the tunnel looks more like a train right now. He cautions everyone about letting their guard down during the holiday season. Pandemic fatigue is dully noted in this episode. “Dr. Fauci, Dr. Schmauchi,” Phil says. “I’m tired of hearing that guy’s name. We have our masks on. We wash our hands. We should just enjoy ourselves.”
Greenstein says society is in for a rude awakening: “We are very blasé about COVID-19. We live in a move-on culture. They don’t want to see the casualties. They don’t want to grieve. People want their chicken wings and Monday Night Football.
“COVID-19 is the big reset.”
Right now, about 3,400 Americans are dying every day from COVID-19. In contrast, about 3,000 died in the September 11th terrorists’ attacks on U.S soil.
Greenstein plans to continue to do his part, hiring actors and production people as a way to help others during one of the greatest stories of our lives.
“It’s been 20 years since 9/11,” poses Greenstein, about society’s seeming shift to materialism and lack of humanity. “The stock market is up. Did we learn anything? Be kind to one another.”
READ: “Coronavirus-Based Web Series Give New York Creatives an Outlet” ‘The Honeyzoomers’ and ‘Covid Ditty’ focus on life in the city during the pandemic.
Actor Lei Zhou came to the United States for a better life.
After starring in television roles in China, Lei came here on a student visa and attended Brooklyn College. He fought through a language barrier, learned English and was accepted by several high-profile theatre instructors such as Austin Pendleton and multi-Emmy and Tony Award winner Helen Gallagher to quickly earn his chops.
His real passion, however, is comedy. Think about reels of Charlie Chaplin and Three Stooges reruns. Clean, simple, physical funny. The funny bone stuff.
“Joy of comedy is powerful,” says Lei, who has applied for his U.S. citizenship. “It arouses your harmony. It makes you feel more human, more alive.”
So when Lei heard about a new dramedy web series, COVID Ditty, that his friend Steve Greenstein was developing—they met a few years back at a street-theater production—he said sign me up.
What Lei didn’t know, however, was how Episode #3 would really hit home, as in his new home… America.
The episode is an eight-minute microcosm of a crisis, which sets the table for fear of uncertainty that ultimately alters everyone’s behavior, driving some people to do bad things that they would never do under normal circumstances, while compelling others to do nice things that they would never do otherwise.
Playing The Blame Game
During the week of March 15, prompted by President Donald Trump’s choice of words during public events, the terms “kung flu”, “Chinese virus” and “Wuhan virus” spiked on Google Search results, going viral on social media and cable TV like a new deadly strain.
Civil liberties groups warned that such terms would incite racism against Asian Americans.
Stop AAPI Hate, a national group created to address anti-Asian American discrimination during the pandemic, reported 2,583 incidents against Asians Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States from March 19 to August 5, 2020. The data revealed that 70% of incidents involved verbal harassment and 9% involved physical assaults. The racist activity occurred at places of business (38%), public streets (20%) and public parks (11%).
Episode #3, “Me and Mr. Lee”, wraps COVID-19 and discrimination into one real-world snapshot told through Lei’s character who owns a Chinese restaurant in the Kingsbridge neighborhood of the Bronx.Coming out of the first pandemic lockdown, business remains bleak for Mr. Lee although it appears customers have retuned to other eateries along the Bronx’s Broadway. “Trump’s calling it the Chinese