Long Island is full of surprises. I’ve been doing house visits for a certain union on Long Island. I’ve been working in Lindenhurst, a town that is mostly known to me from those hypnotic station announcements on the Long Island Railroad (“Making station stops at…Wantaugh, Seaford, Massapequa, Massapequa Park, Amityville, Copiague, Lindenhurst and Babylon; Change at Babylon for the train to Montauk…”), which are stored in the same place in my brain as parts of the Nicene Creed and the pledge of allegiance. I’m not in the habit of spending time in Suffolk county, and it’s easy to forget that we live on an actual island that’s surrounded by water and docks. Lindenhurst feels like one of Maine’s lobster towns, but without all that pesky tourism.
When you get far enough south, these modest, working class houses have dock slips for backyards. When I don’t get an answer at the front door, I nervously look around back to be sure that no one’s escaping by sea. After all, in my rolled-up shirt-sleeves and tie I look a fair bit like a Jehovah’s Witness, and who wouldn’t take the opportunity to put some ocean between themselves and evangelicals at the door?
The great thing about working in a seaport town is the ready availability of fresh, delicious seafood. I finally satisfied my summertime hankering for fried clam strips at Southside Fish and Clam on the Montauk Highway. I momentarily disregarded concerns about a “red tide” and enjoyed the thick, meaty and delicious strips found there. I also enjoyed the terrific, honest-to-goodness oldies radio station heard there. B-103 is now the last oldies station in the New York Metro region after CBS101 was switched to the hated “Jack” format by its evil corporate parent. Unfortunately, its signal won’t even reach to Queens.
What I’ve noticed most often are the strange living situations that Long Islanders are forced into by low wages and high housing costs. Brothers, sisters, cousins, great aunts, grandmas and in-laws all under the same roofs (actually, some are in the garage, others the basement; more, I bet, are living on those boats in the backyard). Most of the Islanders that I meet who are in their 20′s plan to leave New York entirely. This jives with the experience of most of the people I grew up with on the edge of the world, and other people I’ve met along the way.
Long Island, as a housing development and a society, is scarcely 50 years old. Any society that cannot provide jobs, homes and schools for its young is a failed society. If only narrow-minded voters realize this as they vote down school budgets and lobby against apartment developments.