The Graceland of Long Island

a_teddy_roosevelt-248x300Hearst had San Simeon. Elvis had Graceland. Jefferson had Monticello. Great places, all. But for this Long Island kid, there’s one place that puts them all to shame:

Teddy Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill. There is no better place for a political junkie and lover of this Island to plug in and recharge batteries than TR’s crib.

Last week my batteries were indeed in need of recharging as I continue to bang my head against this recession and face the challenges (opportunities) that lay ahead. Please don’t misunderstand, I don’t work very hard—I work a lot. There’s a difference. My job isn’t back-breaking and doesn’t callous my hands, but it does require a great deal of thought, patience and planning.

I walked out of the office in the early afternoon and caught the 2:30 p.m. tour at Sagamore Hill. A small motley crew made up of three home-schooled kids from Queens and their grandfather, an older couple from the RC (Rockville Centre) and I slowly walked through the home of the greatest public servant to ever hold the office of President of the United States. Our tour guide, Wayne, was knowledgeable and patient, taking time to quiz the children while giving a sly wink to the adults. Sagamore Hill and TR’s story are as familiar to me as an old pair of blue jeans and just as comforting. No matter how many times I visit, they never get old.

Comfort and inspiration were the great motivators behind this brief excursion as it is the season of my discontent—the time when political signs dot the landscape and poorly written campaign literature fills mailboxes. My tolerance pot simmers all year watching the buffoonery of our politicians; it comes to a rapid boil come the fall when they begin touting said buffoonery in their stupid ad campaigns. During the TR tour I found my thoughts wandering, imagining what would be different if Roosevelt were still here today.

The youngest man to hold the office, Roosevelt had a great deal of fight left in him after he exited office. But after being upset in a bid to reclaim the presidency in 1913, a taxing trip to the Amazon shortly thereafter and, finally, the death of his son Quentin in 1918, there was no fight left in “The Colonel.” Thankfully the place he called home and raised his remarkable family, and the place where he himself drew his final breath, has been preserved and maintained for us all. It’s the least we could do to honor the man who preserved more land than every other president combined.

I imagine he would be disgusted at the pace our government moves and how powerful the special-interest groups have become. Certainly he dealt with political acrimony in his day, but his power of persuasion and forceful manner provided cover for a mastery of compromise and negotiation. As an advocate for health insurance coverage in industry and worker’s compensation, we would have already had universal health care. The only difference is that it wouldn’t threaten to bankrupt the nation, because as the most famous trust-buster in American history he would have already broken the backs of Big Pharma and the insurance industry.

A prolific author, orator and raconteur, he would have been tickled by the surge in technology and would be tweeting and blogging like a madman. Sagamore Hill would be completely off the grid—geothermal, solar, you name it. Hell, the guy had his own windmill so he definitely would have upgraded to a turbine by now. I’d like to see the Town of Oyster Bay try and deny that permit.

Sigh. The great TR would have loved this age but feel dismayed and betrayed by the Republican Party of today. With so many conservatives holding what they call RINO (Republican In Name Only) hunts and eating themselves from within, he would no doubt confuse them with the Democrats. Now, more than ever, we could use a little more TR in the world. I’ll trade in RINO’s, donkeys and elephants for the chance to bring back the original Bull Moose.

How My Garden Grows

my-tomatoes-300x199In the early days of summer I embarked on an ambitious crusade to turn my polished white office hands into soiled working hands anchored by green thumbs —to nourish my family with earthly delights from the soil. My friend Johnny Gallo had inspired me to take the leap and put seed to soil and I gratefully dedicated a column to him at the outset of the experiment. I neatly carved an organic vegetable garden into my otherwise manicured lawn, lovingly seeded it and dutifully tended to it over the past couple of months.

As it happens, some organic birds ravaged my organic corn. (First note to self: next year—scarecrows.) Press Content Director Michael Martino warned me in advance that anything Italian takes over everything planted near it, but I didn’t listen. True to form, the tomatoes wound up exerting considerable influence over the rest of the garden, with hulking stalks looming high above the stakes that had long ago given up hope of holding them. The tomato plants rose to shade the onions and the peas, stealing precious nutrients from the ground and sky, condemning them to short, shriveled lives. (Second note to self: Onions and peas require sun.)

At the far end of the garden the strawberries held promise early on. As the season wore on, however, the marigolds—which were planted to provide a natural defense—grew taller than my children, barricaded the entire area and halted any further growth of my fledgling berries. While Johnny Gallo had the first ceremonial strawberry from the garden, it would prove to be one of the last. (Third note: It appears that strawberries require sun.)

I have also managed to grow the stoutest carrots ever seen. (Final note: Turn the soil more next year so they grow vertical instead of horizontal.)

My ambitious experiment largely failed where diversity is concerned, but I have some unbelievable tomatoes. Despite the tenuous weather circumstances that rendered many tomato gardens hopeless across Long Island, mine somehow thrived, albeit to the detriment of several of the other species. The marigolds, which launched a late summer offensive, ended in a standoff like the Sharks and the Jets against the tomato plants.

Nearly everything on our family dinner table has tomatoes in it, and every surface is adorned with marigolds. Regardless, there were several life lessons along the way.

Our kids watched with delight as the garden grew and enjoyed participating in the harvesting rituals—eating cherry tomatoes right from the vine, shaking our fists at the fattened birds nearby, and picking flowers for the table. Not to mention they think I’m a gardening genius and don’t yet read this column, so we’ll leave it at that.

We were religious about composting, and brewed some dirt in a backyard tumbler that Charles Vigliotti himself would approve of. As a result, we noticeably cut down on household waste. There is also an undeniable satisfaction derived from tasting food that travels dozens of feet to the table instead of thousands of miles. Nothing connects you to food like growing it. I get it now. Gardening gives you a higher consciousness about eating and an understanding of what food should really be like. Every generation is slightly more removed from the food supply and it has become a dangerous thing.

I have read hundreds of “the garden as metaphor” statements and now understand more deeply the meaning behind them.

Patience. Love. Nourishment.

We need these things to grow as individuals and as a people. At the end of the day, tending to this garden was never about the food; it was always about family. It was one more thing we could do together that didn’t require a plug-in, download or broadband connection.

It was a great summer. Naturally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changing Amy

Amy_Fisher_cover_shot-194x300Before Robert Moses carefully plotted the lines that divide us, before planners dissected the land, and before power lines were strung and the grid was lit, Long Island was an expansive garden paradise. Our natural resources and beauty were exploited by the earliest people who settled on our shores. It was a haven for farmers, fishermen and bootleggers who made use of the bounty and access the Island provides. It was also the billionaire’s playground, a religious sanctuary and a geographic wonder.

There are few places in this nation that offer as many vistas. Save for snow-capped mountaintops, Long Island has everything a naturalist could desire. Despite our modern-day suburban sprawl, this was the island I knew and identified with. It’s the impression I held in my heart when first taking leave of this place to attend Skidmore College upstate. Only when I left Long Island did I really learn what others thought about us.

“Do you know Amy Fisher?”

If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times. This history of the place I was so proud to represent faded in an instant on the fateful day a young, misguided Amy Fisher appeared on the doorstep of her lover Joey’s house and put a bullet in his wife’s face.

She was dubbed the Long Island Lolita and she became a part of all of us that day.

Several years later I would come face to face with the issue of Amy Fisher. Quite literally, in fact. Our founding editors, Robbie Woliver and Bill Jensen, contacted Amy through an intermediary to see if she was ready to tell her side of the ordeal that had become her life. To our surprise she answered positively to our request and we published the first ever piece authored by her hand. The response, as you can imagine, was overwhelming.

After the deluge of mail, we prodded further and asked if she would consider contributing on a semi-frequent basis. Amy countered with the idea of writing a weekly column of her observances and life experience as an ex-con and now a mother. As a publisher, the obvious win was the coverage we would receive. The downside, however, was huge. We were a new paper seeking to establish a credible voice in a community not all that receptive to new publications, as evidenced by our lack of local media coverage in spite of a substantial population. This could have gone either way.

After weighing the options, I heavily favored publishing her column, but not for the reasons many suspected. This was my chance to rehabilitate not only Amy Fisher’s image and legacy but to write a new chapter in Long Island’s history. To prove our resiliency as a unique people who can embrace our wild and dark side and move forward. The only question was whether or not she could write. Producing a weekly column requires research, dedication and focus. Amy possessed all these qualities and wound up crafting one of the cleanest, least edited columns we have ever run.

Amy went on to write her memoirs with our editor-in-chief, Robbie Woliver. She did the talk show circuit and garnered an enormous following. We had helped script a new ending to her saga—one where she emerged victorious from her follies and tragic youth. I was even pictured in the last chapter of her book and credited with helping her achieve this newfound level of status in her life. She was very grateful and so was I.

After the book-tour hoopla and talk shows died down, the reality of a columnist’s pay became all too real and we parted ways. We got as much as we could from each other and moved on, satisfied with a job well done.

Of course, it doesn’t end there. It never does on the Island. Amy found her way into reality TV pitch land with several near-misses for an actual show. Joey continued to get into trouble and Mary Jo has finally broken her silence and written her side of the saga. Oh, and Amy got into homemade porn and made it big on the Internet. Sometimes I wish they would all just go away but family never does. A good friend of mine describes Long Islanders as “one big family… The Addams Family, but a family nonetheless.”

Oh well.  At least now when some off-Island jerk asks, “Do you know Amy Fisher?” I just smile and say, “Of course I know her. I’m from Long Island.”

Toxic World

Some people are innately tuned to the earth while others see it as a resource to be burned, twisted and manipulated. One person stands at the foot of the mountain, admiring its grace and majesty as it protrudes from the earth and pierces the sky. Another sees the untapped riches beneath its shell waiting to be exploded and used to heat our homes, fuel our cars or dangle from our ears. Is one more environmentally sensitive than the other? Both appreciate the beauty and wonder of Earth but feel differently about its purpose and what it yields.

Is the earth a natural wonder to behold only with the eye and leave untouched for future generations, or a raw material to be pounded by the human hand to serve our purposes today? Can both visions peaceably coexist? I think they can.

This is where I tend to differ from hard-liners on both sides of the green movement. One has to admire the incredible advances humans have made by tinkering with our surroundings. Some are better than others, of course, but overall the last 100 years have been nothing short of a spectacular display of human ingenuity. Unfortunately, we as a species are sometimes too fascinated by progress to acknowledge the potential downside and health risks associated with it. We also don’t know how to stop after things have gone too far in the wrong direction.

If we simply evaluate everything from the vantage point of human health, the discussion comes more into focus. We also have to learn to trust our instincts as people more than we have in the past few decades. But sometimes it’s hard to walk away from something that you have worked so hard for. For example, people stay in toxic relationships longer than they should because it’s difficult to give up on something you have so much invested in. No one enters a relationship with the intention of ruining another person’s life and their own in the process; it just happens that way. The key is to walk away before it kills you and makes everyone around you sick.

Likewise, when a corporation spends billions to develop a product, it too can be difficult to walk away from. Tobacco company executives know their products aren’t safe. But they sure make a lot of money from them. Monsanto executives know their products make people sick, but the cost of settling the lawsuits against them is a lot less than the profits generated from injecting our food and spraying our crops with their synthetic madness.  Do vaccinations and prescription drugs have negative side effects on some people? Yup. Just not enough to dissuade pharmaceutical companies and their lobbying firms from pushing the government to make sure everyone is required to get vaccinated and has access to drugs. Does the president of McDonald’s know that you cannot possibly produce a healthy meal for three bucks? I think you get the point.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there and it’s difficult to sift through and digest. The key is to use your head when evaluating the information presented to you and do your own cost/benefit analysis. From the smallest to the largest detail, America’s environmental balance sheet is better analyzed with common sense rather than dollars and cents.

If emissions from fossil fuel power plants are contributing to killing the planet and have definitively harmful effects when inhaled, it’s probably better not to build more of them. Especially when we know there are other ways to generate clean energy. (And no, there’s no such thing as clean coal.) If girls in elementary school are developing breasts, they’re probably drinking milk and eating food laden with hormones. That’s what hormones do. Therefore, we should probably stop injecting cattle with hormones and antibiotics that are making our children ill.

If we know that certain chemicals from stain-resistant carpeting, dust from drywall materials and fumes from paint can cause respiratory harm, why would we still allow people to build with them? When nearly half of the kids in school have an inhaler it should tell us that there’s something unusual and very, very wrong.

These things don’t require white papers, demonstrations or lengthy debate, just a little bit a common sense. Then maybe our grandchildren too can stand at the foot of the mountain in wonder—because it will still be there.

Wouldn’t we be better served if our government made policy decisions in the context of public health? Rather than being guided by a strict set of ideological standards, every debate should settle on one question: Will this decision negatively impact human health? It’s surprising how disruptive this question can be. Ironically it is the one question missing in the debate that is currently raging over healthcare reform in America. The centerpiece of the discussion thus far has been money; this will inevitably have disastrous consequences.To illustrate this point I want to share a personal healthcare story that opened my eyes to a new way of thinking that is actually a fairly old way of thinking. It’s just that it was new to me.

My wife and I have two girls, 6 and 3. Our eldest came into the world and landed softly in a nest of first-time parent neuroses. A couple of years of over-parenting, a completely sterilized environment and a diet consisting of canned/jarred/packaged “nutrients” more appropriate for an astronaut than a baby and our 21st century experiment was on her way. Except her little adventures kept taking familiar turns toward the doctor’s office, where she was met with more solutions in a bottle concocted by science, sold by drug reps to over-booked doctors being greeted by angry mobs of parents demanding pharmaceutical solutions to the most mundane health issues.As the story goes, better safe than sorry—just take the antibiotic.After being on antibiotics one too many times for the dreaded ear infection, my wife noticed behavior in our daughter that was unsettling. Other children exhibited similar behavior and talk of occupational therapy, pathologists, and early intervention was the norm in our circles. None of this was acceptable to my wife who believed there had to be something we were missing.Looking back on it, so many disparate pieces of the puzzle that is our daughter had to come together that it could only have been fate or divine intervention that interceded on our behalf. Many of these pieces are people who deserve dedicated columns and praise. But this is about the man they all unwittingly conspired to bring us to.Dr. Larry Palevsky is quite unlike any doctor we have ever met. That is, until we met his partner in the practice, Alan Sherr. Together they own and operate the Northport Wellness Center. Larry is the resident pediatrician in the group.Our first meeting was caustic. A total shock to our parental systems that assailed everything we knew to be true about raising a healthy child. After only 90 minutes my wife was reduced to tears and I was left speechless, the latter being no small feat. He deconstructed the ear infection in the simplest of ways and offered the riskiest advice to new parents in today’s world.The lessons he taught me made me resolve to not stay silent for too long.Strip away, if you can, everything you have ever learned about antibiotics, viruses and colds and consider the following logic. An infection, such as common ear infections in children, presents itself in three primary ways—inflammation, pain and heat. Antibiotics pinpoint these symptoms by reducing inflammation, mitigating pain and cooling the body. Problem solved? No, problem masked.It’s at this point in the story I usually lose people, and am pegged as a New Age crazy. This is because my wife and I traveled down the rabbit hole and emerged into an alternate (or, alternative) medical universe that looks amazingly like the 1940s.Larry contends that the antibiotics place the virus in a dormant state, only to return in short order in a slightly more aggressive fashion. After several reoccurrences the antibiotic may even cease to be effective, at which point the prescribed antibiotic is either changed or the dosage is intensified. All the while these foreign chemicals are gradually wreaking havoc on tiny bodies and systematically breaking down their natural immune systems.He was delivering this information very cautiously. He spoke in measured sentences and never changed his tone. He was used to having parents storm out of his office at this point in the initial consultation. But we were transfixed.This is not a new age healer with a wild look in his eyes talking about government conspiracies. This is a board-certified medical doctor who believes the patient holds the key to healing common ailments; a man who believes in logic and common sense and thinks that listening is the most important thing a physician can do. But his words are strangely frightening. I suppose it is because he questions conventional wisdom. As the publisher of an alternative weekly newspaper, I get that and therefore I get him. But it was only after this consultation that I realized I was so busy questioning everything around me that I was blinded when it came to what matters most—the health of my family.Thankfully my wife had the audacity to question commonplace medical practice and seek out other voices who speak so softly that they are drowned out by the chorus of the pharmaceutical industry. Larry’s didn’t have to speak loudly to be heard. His words, absent any outside influences and noise, were so clear and piercing they were all we could hear.The truth has that effect.Larry told us that we had to make up our own minds. He said children’s bodies allow second chances and that we could begin again. Our first task was to allow the next virus to run its course. Do nothing. Let her body retrain itself and do what it is better equipped to do than any human-made drug: Heal.Her fever hit 103 and she was in pain. We held her close, called Larry (what seemed like 1,000 times) and did nothing. During every phone call he told us that this was a choice and that there was no shame in wavering and choosing antibiotics. If we had any doubts, he encouraged us to take her to a conventional doctor.“Conventional doctor.” It was the first time I had heard that term.Needless to say our daughter made it. It has been more than three years now since her last antibiotic. Our youngest has never been on one. Neither of them is sick that often and when they are it never lasts more than 36 hours. All this by caring enough to do nothing. And doing nothing turned out to be a lot more difficult than doing something.Every circumstance is different and no one diagnosis fits all. Doctors should always be consulted and not even Larry has all the answers. The point is that we have become detached from our senses and instincts as parents and reconnecting with them, while painful, is more important than ever.We live in a far more toxic world than our parents and grandparents did, so we need a new way of looking at the world, no matter how old these views may be.

OSI Pharmaceuticals

 

mayorjayleon
We lost to this guy? Jay Leon, Mayor of Ardsley, NY, who stole OSI from LI

Dr. Colin Goddard, CEO of OSI Pharmaceuticals, is taking his ball and going home. Well, not home exactly. He’s going to his new home in scenic Ardsley, NY, in Westchester County. Matt Crosson, head of the Long Island Association (LIA) said it was a “rational decision.” Bruce Stillman, CEO of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, ever the pragmatist, hopes to birth another biotech company that will stay closer to home. New York State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) is just happy they stayed in New York.

Despite these ho-hum reactions, there is no shortage of Monday morning quarterbacks kicking the dirt and cursing our fate as a failed business development region and casting doubt on our ability to attract or retain companies. By now it should come as no surprise that Long Island has too many layers of government that contribute to our high cost of living and inordinate amount of red tape. The usual suspects from government, Newsday and the Long Island Regional Planning Board (LIRPB) have all chimed in, demanding that we do a better job in the future to speak with a single voice.

OSI’s planned and subsequently scrapped expansion to the Farmingdale State College campus required almost herculean coordination between SUNY, the New York State legislature and local government. But New York State Senators Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick) weren’t about to allow SUNY to hand out a no-bid contract to a private company that employs highly paid, smart people.

Didn’t OSI know that such practice is a special prerogative reserved for elected officials to dole out contracts and jobs to people who carry petitions and steal the opposition’s political street signs? LaValle said he didn’t want to do anything “unethical” by allowing a process that wasn’t “transparent to stakeholders.” (That would be us, Long Island.) Perhaps we should be thankful he even had time to comment on this transition, since he was so busy aligning with a corrupt Democrat to overthrow the rules he and Dean Skelos worked so hard to create—resulting in a month-long standoff in Albany while us “stakeholders” paid them to jerk us around.

Yes, Albany is a mess and holds us back. Yes, there are too many layers of government on Long Island. And yes, it is extremely expensive to live here. However, before we give OSI a pass, let’s examine their behavior for a moment. Cold Spring Harbor Labs gave birth to OSI. For more than 20 years Goddard nursed on the teet of DNA discoverer Dr. James Watson until he was fully grown, all the while losing money. Now that they’re finally making a few dollars, they’re too good for LI. Goddard says that Long Island is a lousy incubator for the biotech industry. If 20-plus years isn’t enough, what then is his idea of an incubator? Maybe they have a drug for amnesia somewhere in the storeroom at OSI.

Goddard, in a Newsday op-ed, actually quoted Suffolk County’s “diminished access to the New York City talent pool.”

Oh no he didn’t!

I calculated the distance between the Empire State Building and OSI’s new home of Ardsely, NY, and compared it to the commute to Steve Levy’s office in Hauppauge. The difference is a deal-breaking 24 minutes, or 22.8 miles. There appears to be a threshold where only morons from Manhattan would consider attempting to drive the additional mileage. But let’s get to the heart of Goddard’s argument and call it what it is. Essentially Dr. Goddard thinks that if you already live in Suffolk, you’re stupid. So for all of you Suffolk County residents, feel free to give him a jingle at their (Suffolk) headquarters at 631-962-2000 and tell him how you feel about that.

Maybe you’ll have better luck getting him on the phone than we did.

Save My Ups – Dick

secession-cartoon-300x196I received a doctorate in sociology with a special discipline in Long Island Human Studies from a decade in the catering and restaurant business on the Island. I have come to love this species with a strange and sick fascination and now find it difficult to remove myself from the native habitat for extended periods of time. Perhaps this is why The Daily Show’s recent segment titled Long Island Wants to Secede featuring Samantha Bee didn’t really bother me at all. (What’s that you say? You haven’t seen it? Google it and be sure to e-mail me your reaction so I can update my thesis.)

Note to everyone: When The Daily Show wants to do a piece on you, you’re probably a moron. Granting them access only serves to reinforce this, as evidenced by the skewering The New York Times received last week when they granted them access into the Gray Lady’s lair.  But apparently someone in Legislator Ed Romaine’s office and Senator Carl Marcellino’s office told them that this was a good idea. (I’m begging you, if you haven’t watched this video stop reading now, watch it, then rejoin the column.) Bee was following up on a ridiculous concept that has been batted around the Island forever, which is to become the 51st state.

On the surface it seems like a lovely idea, even when Ed Romaine guffaws at the notion of flounder becoming Long Island’s official state food.  We are indeed the financial crutch of the state and New York City is our anchor; a disproportionate amount of our tax dollars go to support the rest of the state compared to what Albany sends back in state aid and funding. But even though we are a beautiful and unique little snowflake of an island, it is indisputable that part of our allure is our proximity to New York City. We complement one another nicely. Besides, the state would fail without us. What we need is funding and tax reform, not a plan to secede.

What I find so interesting about this video, which included a stunning social studies lesson by three Wise Men from the South Shore, is the reaction it evokes in Long Islanders. My buddy Mike Watt, a.k.a “Mr. Long Island” is imploring everyone to remove the video from their Facebook pages. Our Managing Editor, Michael Patrick Nelson, immediately announced that he himself is ready to secede from Long Island. (Mike doesn’t count, though, because despite growing up here, he has Brooklyn sensibilities.) My wife just covered her eyes and just cringed. (She doesn’t count either, because she’s from Cape Cod.)

Me? I loved it.

The last time I laughed that hard at Long Island was at Jim Breuer’s one-man show at the Vanderbilt. Breuer did a set I have also heard on Opie and Anthony (Long Island boys, both) that could only go over on the Island. He joked about sayings from Little League like “Save my ups, dick!” and the peculiar way we have hung onto the word “mint!” as an expression of pleasure.

Here is my underlying theory about Long Islanders that outsiders don’t understand: We’re just like everyone else, only more pronounced. This is the land of exploding stereotypes. But once you have lived here long enough you become immune to them.  Or as Red explained to his friend Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption, you become “institutionalized.”

Take my mother, originally from Canada, who just returned from a trip to Idaho, for example. She had a terrific time, but when I asked her about the people, she seemed troubled by how nice and accommodating they were. In fact, she thought they were eerily “Canadian.” This is a classic case of being institutionalized. If you have trouble dealing with smiling people who seem to have all the time in the world to give you directions… congratulations, you’re a true Long Islander now.

Am I sorry the rest of the world got a peek up Long Island’s skirt in this video? I suppose. But if it prevents people in New Jersey from moving here, then I guess it worked out OK. In answer to whether or not we should secede…of course not. But we are a unique breed. A family. And like any good family it’s funny when we make fun of ourselves, but when someone else does it—not so much. Unless you’re The Daily Show, in which case, nice job. Dicks.

Home Gardening: Solving the Omnivore’s Dilemma

farmerMy friend Johnny Gallo is pretty old school. He composts and has a vegetable garden. He can also fix just about anything. Weekends together with our families often prove embarrassing for me as I possess none of these skills. John is a soft-spoken and deliberate man with an easy temperament that belies a very quick wit. And given my propensity to shun earthly work such as gardening I have found myself on the receiving end of several well-deserved and good-natured wise cracks.

 Perhaps one of John’s best qualities is his unabashed curiosity. Our families have spent many evenings discussing the benefits of natural food and the shift toward green living in our country. Both of our households have altered our diets due to sensitivities our children exhibited early on and our awareness of the natural food movement has matured as we watch them grow. In our joint family gatherings John might have been the guy who brought vegetables from his own garden, but I was the guy who brought steak to the barbeque—as the proud owner of the first all-natural steakhouse in the country my knowledge of natural and organic food was far greater than my ability to prepare it.

 When my restaurant closed down at the end of the year I was not only heart broken but I no longer brought anything to the table – literally.

 But the closing has given me time to explore organic food outside the confines of four walls—to get in touch with the oldest and most basic of human nature. The Iroquois have long believed that there will come a time when only those who know how to grow their own food will survive. That mankind will have degraded the earth and become so detached from the hunting and gathering instinct that it will no longer be able to flourish as a species.

Perhaps the seminal work on the subject of our food supply is Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It is an eye opening guide that shows just how much the American industrial food complex has ruined the global food chain. It brilliantly illustrates how far food has to travel to get to our plates and painstakingly describes what it goes through to get there. Learning this and witnessing several signs that the Iroquois prophecy is fast approaching reality has led me to the conclusion that the time has come to get my hands dirty and to learn to grow my own food.  Either that or suffer through an entire summer of ribbing from John Gallo.

 The rainy weekend afforded me the opportunity to begin sketching and planning our family garden. A basin for rainwater. Fresh flowers on one side of the yard, vegetables in rows on the other side. Fruit trees lining the back. An area for compost. Any avid gardener or proficient farmer would know that I’m already in over my head and doing too much at once. That’s okay. Every addition made to the sketch brought a flood of memories long forgotten to the front of my consciousness because I had sketched my Grandpa Charlie Morey’s yard in Canada.

 I wish I could show him because he would be quite amused. Charlie was a soft-spoken and deliberate man with an easy temperament that belied a very quick wit. I wish I could talk to him again and introduce him to my friend John.  Charlie would have liked him.

Devil in the Retail

fortunoff1Circuit City, Linen’s N Things, Bombay, KB Toys. And the hits just keep on coming. After extensive research the only common thread I can seem to find is that none of these retailers advertised in the Long Island Press. There must be a link. Okay, seriously. We’re witnessing history as the collateral damage from bank failures and imploding mortgages widens and threatens more than just our consumer existence. But let’s stay in the retail space for a moment.

 

Retail closures are the lay-person’s doomsday harbinger. Every “For Rent” or “Everything Must Go” sign signals the collapse of our dubious distinction as the world’s consumer. It is impossible to escape these images and everyone knows someone who has been affected. Less like a train wreck and more like watching a friend slowly sink in quicksand, retail closings enter our consciousness and give the impression that what lies below the surface must be even worse than what we can see with our eyes.

 

Long Islanders, having witnessed several big box retailers shutter, have been able to sit hesitantly on the sidelines without much skin in the game. The small but steady loss of local retailers has certainly occurred here but almost imperceptibly over time due to the skyrocketing housing, job and stock markets that have warmed us like an illusory blanket of wealth. Now the news is creeping ever closer to home. Fortunoff has long been a mainstay of Long Island retail both commercially and emotionally. For generations this is where families purchased memories in the form of engagement rings and housewares for new families. You didn’t have to ask where the bride and groom were registered – you just had to give the clerk their names. Even the most ardent anti-consumer LI’er would have to admit that this store was a gem and a landmark. A local family made good.

 

It’s important to note, however, that the closing of this institution is still on the periphery of retail failures that are close to home. The family who maintained this venerable institution had already sold the company to a larger concern that lost touch with the values that made the Fortunoff name synonymous with successful retailing. In essence we had already lost Fortunoff. But the message is clear. As a founding member of the kioli movement we have been beating the local movement drum often and unapologetically. When big box stores move in to a community, especially one as large as ours, there are benefits and there are downsides. We’re beginning to witness the downside of gigantic vacant stores and empty parcels of land. The promise of large tax revenue is lost in the wind when these stores go out of business. On the other hand, even a vacant big box still looks better to me than yet another strip mall.

 

Long Island has long suffered from poor planning and a difficult infrastructure complicated by overwhelming automotive traffic. Now our landscape is dotted with vacancies in our strip malls and empty box stores and you don’t have to be an economist to predict what will happen next. As consumer spending and retail margins continue to tighten our local retailers will be further compromised. This is guerilla warfare. We dodged a bullet with Fortunoff as they were already lost and no longer “kioli”. Are you prepared for “Out of Business” signs in the windows of P.C. Richard, King Kullen, or Hildreth’s? I’m not.

 

Kioli stands for Keep It On Long Island. Let’s get to it.

Too Cool To Fail

fonz
Don’t Let LI Do This

Too big to fail. Too small to fail. Too important to fail. Apparently there are several parameters in judging who should and shouldn’t fail. Who knew? Therefore, on behalf of Long Island, the Press would like to throw our hat into the bailout ring with the reason that we’re too cool to fail. Whoever is in charge of the bailout money let it be known that our nation’s cool factor is at stake if Long Island is allowed to sink into recessionary turmoil. 

If Congress needs any proof of this we suggest a whistle stop tour through Cleveland, Wisconsin, Sarasota, Flagstaff—wherever. Then we invite anyone involved in doling out bailout funds to come on a guided tour of Strong Island.

(Disclaimer –If it helps we would be more than happy to partner with sister destinations such as Memphis, La Jolla, and Denver.)

Claiming that Long Island is cool may seem odd considering for years our youth has portrayed Long Island as a cultural wasteland, which has contributed to our growing problem of brain drain. But the issue we have in selling ourselves as ‘cool’ is a geographic one. Because we lack a concentrated downtown area in which to gather our killer resources we have a more egalitarian approach to spreading our wealth of coolness. At the Press we have strategically aligned our staff and partners so that we may personally guide members of Congress through the island as seen through our eyes.

I’ll take Glen Cove. We’ll have breakfast at Henry’s, a vintage breakfast and luncheonette joint where Glen Covers gather and talk politics. I’ll even convince Joe to give you a tour of the basement where he makes the most incredible chocolate that brings all of Long Island together for Valentine’s Day and Easter. Hopefully you can make it on a Sunday so I can take you to First Baptist to experience the brilliance and inspiration of Pastor Roger Williams. After that we’ll meander through the city and check out the old mansions from the turn of the last century where billionaires played. Their mansions have been preserved and maintained by businesses like the Webb Institute of Naval Architecture, Glen Cove Mansion and Conference Center and Glengariff Nursing Home.  There are several stops to make along the way (including a quick game of bocce in the Orchard) but undoubtedly we’ll finish the night with Gus and Enzo at La Ginestra laughing and drinking their signature drink, the Errol Flynn.

The Press staffers come from all over the island so you’ll be in good hands once you leave Glen Cove. Along the way you’ll hit businesses like All American Burger in Massapequa, Whirling Disk, the Rockabilly Barbershop and Willis Hobbies. You’ll spin around on the carousel in Greenport, take flight with our friend “Fresh” at Sky Dive Long Island, catch some rays at Jones Beach and witness Broadway caliber performances at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. You can watch a horror flick with Dylan at the Cinema Arts Centre, tour Borghese Vineyards with an actual Princess, and our columnist Mike Martino will take you deep sea fishing off Montauk. At some point I’ll talk my fellow publisher Jerry of the East Hampton Independent into treating you to a world class meal at his East Hampton restaurant. 

The bottom line is that we all have these stories. In every village within every town, in either county.  Long Islanders may lament our economic situation and be slightly wary of outsiders but when pressed we’ll reveal the magic that is this island of ours. Long Island is the Fonz of this Happy Days nation. Let’s bang on the jukebox and get this island restarted before we jump the shark.

If you would like to sign up to become a virtual tour guide in our kioli effort “Too Cool To Fail” log onto kioli.org, enter the “Shout Outs” section in the café and post something, someone or somewhere you think is cool about LI.