Like many in the throes of COVID-19 pandemic living restrictions, former Steubenville resident Robert Stern binge-watched TV, overate and wondered if life would ever someday return to some semblance of normalcy.
But unlike many, the son of the late Nathan and Rosenetta Stern got “binged out” and “a littly punchy,” turning instead to more productive pursuits.
And that ultimately led to the July 1 release of “Socially Distanced — A Keepsake Journal,” a work dedicated “to all the health care providers and dedicated personnel who have been on the front lines, caring for all of us and ensuring our well being.”
“Socially Distanced” is an all-of 32-page, cartoon-illustrated simple book with an even simpler purpose — to give people of all ages an opportunity to process and pen pandemic perspectives — from the lack of toilet paper to the excess of home confinement.
The back cover, for example, encourages readers to “journal what’s important to you” as part of “an opportunity to laugh a little, and record your thoughts as a keepsake for yourself, your children, and your grandchildren to read years later.”
It continues: “Here’s an opportunity to tell a friend how much you appreciate their support either by buying them a copy to journal their experience or sharing your feelings as a thank-you.
“Perhaps you can record what you did to pass the time. Who were you concerned for? What provisions you stocked up on? How you were hurting economically and what you had to do to survive. Share the activities you missed the most and how your mood changed during the lockdowns.”
A summer mail delivery to the newsroom included a note and copy of the book from Stern. “This pandemic inspired me to write the enclosed ‘Socially Distanced’ journal and perhaps you’d be willing to share it with your audience.”
Contact afterward with Stern, a 1962 graduate of Steubenville High School, brought written responses to e-mailed inquiries, including a request for a biographical sketch.
After graduating from high school, Stern went to Miami of Ohio for three years, then dropped out, returning home “a bit lost and confused about life and really under achieving.” He “sat around for six months before volunteering for the draft and that began my turnaround.”
The Army veteran explained that selection to go to Officer Candidates School followed basic training. “I was commissioned at Fort Knox and went off to spend my years in Germany. I got married at 24 and began a life in Los Angeles. After a while, I returned to Oxford, Ohio, and Miami and took five straight quarters of accounting and graduated with honors.”
Military service had given Stern a lesson in how to achieve.
He began his career in public accounting as a CPA and then became business manager of radio and television stations in Los Angeles.
“Next I went on for eight years to 20th Century Fox in a financial capacity, leading a department in the features division that paid out the contingent compensation to directors, actors, producers and writers who were able to negotiate a ‘participation’ in a film,” Stern wrote. “I learned the entire motion picture business on my first film — you may have heard of it — ‘Star Wars.’ Later, I was promoted to the TV division and became the vice president of finance and was there for the final year of ‘M*A*S*H,'” added Stern, who attended the show’s final wrap party.
“Years later, after creating my own consulting business and running it for 10 years, I became general manager of a Beverly Hills talent agency,” he noted, a venture where he had “many famous clients, from creators of “Cheers,” “The X-Files” and “Two and a Half Men.”
Stern, who retired in 2005, has lived in the Las Vegas area for the last 14 years after spending his working years in Los Angeles. “I have two daughters from my first marriage and a son from my second. I began writing books after retirement,” he added.
In his initial contact with the newspaper, Stern had noted that “As a kid, I would accompany my father, Nathan Stern, on his rounds, which always included the Herald Square Cigar Store or at least that’s what I called it. In 2012, I came back for my 50th high school reunion and was moved by the experience. I never felt more grounded by my roots and my classmates.”
In elaborating on the latter, Stern would expound that he’d never been to a class reunion before and had always felt a bit awkward during his high school years, “always wanting to be accepted but feeling disconnected."
“I was shocked about how well received I was and realized that many of my high school issues had been self-created by my own insecurities and strong personality,” he reasoned. “I guess I had matured and evolved. The connection to the sound values that we all grew up with was reassuring. I felt accepted,” Stern continued.
“I brought along copies of my book — ‘A Legend in My Own Mind and Other Stupid Thoughts’ — and gave them out to classmates,” he added, recalling, “There was a DJ at the reunion and, during my California years, I really got into disco and apparently learned how to dance. When one female classmate said to me with approval ‘You never danced in high school,’ I felt accepted. Being accepted equals grounded. I had some wonderful exchanges with folks that I never really knew.”
So what’s been Stern’s pandemic experience since March?
“Fortunately I do nothing very well from reading the paper, doing lots of jigsaw puzzles and walking the neighborhood as well as overeating from restaurants delivering and binge-watching and binge-watching,” explained Stern, who noted he watched “24” from beginning to end as well as other shows. “24” entails nine seasons — 24 episodes per season — starring Kiefer Sutherland as counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer.
Stern confessed he was binged out and a little punchy. “I needed something to do. There have been two things in life for which I have a passion — one is collecting money and the other is writing silly verse,” he noted.
“In high school, the paper published my first attempt. It was called ‘Pills.’ I don’t remember it all and didn’t save it, but this is what I do remember … ‘There are red pills and green bills and pills of every size, but unfortunately there are not pills that make us very wise. Four score and many years ago men came to our only Earth but maybe way out in space they had them before our birth. So remember this as life goes on, if you should ever get ill, just travel down to your nearest store, they are bound to have a pill!'”
Stern envisions “Socially Distanced” is something for all ages.
“This journal has great therapeutic value for kids when interacting with parents and teachers,” he wrote. “Even just reading it to younger children with the illustrations evokes feelings and opportunities for them to process fears and feel more secure. Parents and grandparents can generate a keepsake that family will appreciate years from now. It’s a great thank-you gift for those wishing to acknowledge those that help us out. Everyone can relate. Libraries are even collecting the journals from willing citizens for historical perspectives.”
Stern identified his main goal in writing the journal as “being engaged in something productive and meaningful — something to be proud of.”
Asked what he would most like to get across to readers about this undertaking, Stern replied:
“Life is a process, and we get the most when we live in possibility with positivity. Helping others with whatever talents you have matters."
“I still remember my grade school teachers from Steubenville and the positive impact they had on my life. I also remember my freshman biology teacher because she had integrity and humor while dedicated to learning. Now how dissecting an earthworm and frog got into this discussion is beyond me. I was terrible at dissecting, but her focus and determination and persistence were qualities that I admired and still do.”