Reflecting on the Highs and Lows of 2023 in Westchester

Think of this column as an annual holiday letter, the kind that ambiguously begins: What a year this has been!

My major accomplishment in 2023 was losing 35 pounds, though 10 would have been sufficient. I report this with a certain amount of caution because struggling dieters hate it when some skinny guy brags about how all it took was eliminating a major food group — namely Mallomars. You may take comfort in knowing that I now require grandpa-style suspenders to keep my pants from falling.

My wife and I stayed close to home in 2023, while others, seemingly driven by a lemming-like, post-pandemic frenzy, vacationed in Italy during a brain-frying heat wave. (Fun fact: on Aug. 24, Milan suffered its hottest day since 1763.)

By the way, what’s up with Iceland?

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A friend, who is eager to go there, said without a trace of irony, “I hear the geography is interesting.” Equatorial Guinea has geography, I said. Why not go there?

Adobe Stock/ Ondreicka

Word has it that Iceland has become a destination fad for Americans, at least in part, because of cheap airfares. It is so popular that the annual number of US tourists has reached, if not exceeded, the total Icelandic population of 325,000 — and I wouldn’t be surprised if half the tourists were from Westchester. Anyway, the food in Iceland is supposedly awful (“revolting,” said one online critic) but I say, what the hell, give the fermented shark a try.

Speaking of combining international travel with gastric distress, a special nod of appreciation goes to intrepid spelunker Mark Dickey, 40, of Croton-on-Hudson, who made headlines in 2023 when, ailing from serious intestinal problems, was helplessly trapped 1,700 feet deep within a cave in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey. After eight harrowing days, he was rescued.

Reisman Photo by Stefan Radtke

I did my civic bit and squished seven lanternflies in 2023.

Afterwards, Dickey supplied the local Examiner News with what should be Westchester’s quote of the year. Said Dickey: “The places that I go no other human has been before.”

Lewis Pugh can relate to that. Fortified by daily doses of industrial-strength Pepto Bismol, the 53-year-old Brit donned a Speedo and bravely free-styled the 315-mile Hudson River — minus the shallow parts in the north country. It took Pugh a month to swim (and walk) from Lake Tear in the Clouds in the Adirondacks to Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, a journey that, despite the river’s ecological rebirth, included exposure to PCBs, agricultural runoff, and whatever leaks these days from the Indian Point nuke plant.

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Pugh gets the inspiration award for 2023, but for the record his Hudson swim was not a historic first. That honor belongs to a man named Christopher Swain, a Vermonter who accomplished the feat in 2004 — and he too lived to tell about it.

However, history was made in Westchester in 2023, albeit of a dubious sort. On June 8, for the first time, Yonkers schools were closed on account of soot.

The lung-choking smoke drifted south from 250 unchecked Canadian wildfires, blotted out the sun and briefly put us in competition with New Delhi for the worst air on the planet. And so, we learned of PM2.5, a toxic particulate not to be confused with other existential threats of the 21st century that we have reduced to short-hand. ChatGPT, anyone?

The world is closing in on us, inch by troubling inch. Witness the plague of lanternflies — those disgusting bugs that came here from China that were greedily eating our grape vines. The scientists advised, “If you see one, kill it!” Because I follow “the science,” I did my civic bit and squished seven of them in 2023.

True story: Over the summer, thousands of lanternflies took up residence in the machinery of the Double Shot, a popular ride at Playland Amusement Park that lifts thrill seekers 85 feet into the air. A customer told me that his ride was accompanied by a spectacular confetti shower of lanternflies — and that a park employee was tasked with exterminating them with a broom.

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At this point, you may have noticed that I skipped over a lot of things that happened in 2023, e.g., September’s so-called 100-year flood that happened just two years after the last 100-year-flood, but if you lived through it, what more do you need to know?

Truth is, I didn’t want to end this “missive” on a sour note.

So, I’ll finish with this — in 2023 my grandson celebrated his first birthday and got his first pair of shoes. Thus liberated, he runs around like a maniac with no clear mission but to wreak jolly havoc.

And now that I’m back to my college weight, I can keep up with him.

Happy New Year.

The opinions and beliefs expressed by Phil Reisman are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Westchester Magazine’s editors and publishers. Tell us what you think at

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