11/22/13 7:00am

I still can remember, as if it were yesterday, when our social studies teacher Mr. Bloom walked into the classroom and told us that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Today, regrettably, something like that might come as no big surprise. (“Oh, the president’s been shot. We’ve sort of been expecting that.”) But back then — in the innocent age before Martin and Bobby and John and Columbine and Virginia Tech and Newtown — it struck a real blow to America’s collective gut.

The days that followed were a blur brought to life on the Gustavson family’s 13-inch black and white television set. First there was Oswald’s arrest, followed shortly thereafter by his assassination by Jack Ruby. The president’s funeral followed next, with the iconic images of John John’s salute and Bobby comforting Jackie indelibly etched in our minds.

And now, of course, half a century later, all three of them are gone, too.

I was just 17 on Nov. 22, 1963, but 10 years later I had a chance to revisit the JFK assassination up close and personally when my boss at the time, U.S. Senator Richard S. Schweiker (R-PA), headed up a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigation of the assassination and the Warren Commission Report.

In my capacity as Mr. Schweiker’s press secretary, I worked closely with his chief investigator, investigative reporter Gaeton Fonzi, who was absolutely, positively convinced Oswald did not act alone in killing Kennedy. And those were strange days indeed, with clandestine meetings with spooky and/or weird characters like New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison lurking in the shadows of the assassination. One time Gaeton even had me use a code name for some meeting or other. It would be safe to say some of us got caught up in the cloak-and-dagger nature of the times.

Years later, I found myself referenced in Gaeton’s 1993 book “The Last Investigation,” as follows: “Then there was the matter of the ‘classified Government document’ that Frank Sturgis said I had given him. Actually it was an unclassified memorandum written in 1964 by Al Tarabochia, an investigator with the Senate Security Committee, then headed by Mississippi’s notorious Commie hunter, George Eastland. The memorandum concerned a rumored visit to Cuba by Jack Ruby. (As mentioned earlier, Sturgis himself had also given me a story about a Ruby visit to Cuba, this one a detailed account of a meeting to plot Kennedy’s assassination.) A copy of Tarabochia’s memorandum was in Schweiker’s working files and, one night, Sturgis called me and asked if he could have a copy, saying he had Tarabochia’ s permission. I called Troy Gustavson in Schweiker’s office, Troy got the OK from Tarabochia and a copy of the memo was sent to Sturgis directly from Schweiker’s office.”

Incredible as it may seem — you really can’t make this stuff up — Al Tarabochia was our next-door neighbor in Alexandria, Va., at the time.

After we left Washington for Long Island’s North Fork in 1977, Gaeton went to work for the House Select Committee on Assassinations and ended up being perhaps the committee’s most vocal critic after it issued a final report concluding that the president “was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.” Of course it was a conspiracy, Gaeton said, so why then did the House, and the Senate before it, lack the resolve to fully pursue the truth?

That’s a question that we’re still asking ourselves 50 years later.

And then, of course, there are the larger questions of who really killed John F. Kennedy and why? And something tells me we still won’t know those answers another 50 years from now.

At the risk of belaboring a point, the fundraising drive to replace the football goal posts at Greenport High School’s Dorrie Jackson Memorial Field finds itself less than $3,000 shy of its goal of $8,000. Major gifts by Peconic Landing and Ratsey Construction of Greenport have been matched by a dozen or so smaller gifts, but another dozen or so are needed. So, if you’d like to reward the Porters for their outstanding 2013 season or honor the memory of legendary coach Dorrie Jackson, please consider making out a check to “Gridiron Parents/Porters Football” and mail it c/o Ratsey Construction, P.O. Box 398 Greenport, NY 11944.

08/31/13 8:00am
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck High School graduate Kate Freudenberg won the women's singles final in the Bob Wall Memorial Tennis Tournament at Tasker Park in Peconic Saturday morning.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck High School graduate Kate Freudenberg won the women’s singles final in the Bob Wall Memorial Tennis Tournament at Tasker Park in Peconic earlier this month.

With the U.S. Open getting underway this week at Flushing Meadows on the opposite end of Long Island, perhaps this is an inopportune time to ask if tennis is, indeed, a dying sport. After all, the full attention of the wide world of sports will be on our national championships over the next fortnight, but still there are indicators that the sport is in eclipse, in these United States in general and on this North Fork in particular.

The indicators are numerous. Although American Serena Williams currently reigns supreme among women professionals, only one American man is in the world’s top 20 — John Isner, at No. 17. Long gone are the halcyon days of McEnroe, Agassi, Connors and Sampras. Europeans and South Americans have dominated the men’s game most recently and there appears to be no end in sight to this trend.

Locally, the tennis scene is in even more trouble. Earlier this month, three of the seven divisions of the 35-year-old Bob Wall Memorial Tennis Tournament — women’s doubles, mixed doubles, men’s open doubles — were not contested due to a lack of entries. Again this year, tournament director Jim Christy pretty much had to beg players to enter the mid-summer event. And that was not the case a decade or more ago, when upwards of 75 local players would enter the Wall Tournament.

So, what happened? First and foremost, the population of the North Fork is aging, which means there are fewer young people around to pick up the game. Then there is the reality of there being no tennis-only club, indoor or outdoor, between Quogue and Connecticut. Both private country clubs here, North Fork and Laurel Links, have two Har-Tru courts, but the tennis scenes at both clubs are modest by all accounts.

Old-timers may recall a local effort some 25 years ago to establish an indoor-outdoor tennis club on the Horton’s Lane, Southold, property now occupied by Lucas Ford, but that bid fell through when the Southold Town Planning Board required extensive and expensive landscape screening around the perimeter of the entire four-acre property. So, in the intervening 2 1/2 decades, if you live on the North Fork and want to play tennis in the winter, get ready for the one-hour round-trip drive to Quogue or Westhampton. (Note: When I used to play at the indoor courts in Westhampton during the wintertime, it seemed like every third player on the adjoining courts had driven over from the North Fork.)

There are some exceptions to this trend, of course, most notably the “drop-in” tennis scene at the Tasker Park courts in Peconic, where players of intermediate ability and up, sometimes up to 20 of them, show up daily for some round-robin play.

And then, of course, there is the so-far-under-the-radar bid, about which I am bound to a certain level of secrecy, to establish a South Fork-style indoor-outdoor tennis facility here on the North Fork. All I can say about it is that some legitimate players — in terms of both their tennis and business credentials — are involved in this effort.

And all I can do is cross my fingers.

The return of the U.S. Open also marks the anniversary of one of my most mortifying moments as a columnist, wherein I opined, in this space in 2002, that Pete Sampras was over the hill and should consider retirement. Two weeks later, he won his fifth U.S. Open championship.

I was reminded of the ignominy this week via a New York Times Sunday Magazine piece on Roger Federer, in which East Hampton’s own Paul Annacone, who coached both Sampras and Federer, was quoted as saying: “Betting against aberrations like Sampras, Federer — why do that? You are just setting yourself up to have your own foot rammed in your mouth.”

Yes, indeed: columnist opened mouth, inserted foot.

08/18/13 6:00am

AMC COURTESY PHOTO | The cast of Breaking Bad.

Yes, I know this column is supposed to be local in its focus. And this week’s submission will be, too, insofar as our television set is located in Orient, N.Y.

I have been bitten bad, you see, by the “Breaking Bad” bug. So it’s neigh on impossible for me to focus — this week, at least — on ferry traffic, hot new restaurants or the thrill of watching the North Fork Ospreys win their league championship.

No, this column will be about Walter White, the high school chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine cook who has captured the hearts and minds of millions of TV addicts like myself.

Perhaps more than anyone, the former Joan Giger Walker knows the drill. It begins immediately after the dinner dishes are transferred to the dishwasher. I thank her for the meal, then slink off to the front room of our house, where Walter White and his mates await. Four or five hours later I rise from the couch, somewhat groggily, having gorged on four or five consecutive episodes of this highly addictive AMC maxi-series.

If you, too, have been bitten, you know whereof I speak. If you have not watched, and plan to, stop reading now to avoid any spoilers.

This past Sunday night, Aug. 11, had been marked on my iPhone’s calendar for close to a year. That’s because it was the first of the show’s final eight episodes, and I had to prepare for the occasion by watching most of the 50 some episodes that led up to last year’s finale, wherein Walt’s brother-in-law, Hank, the Drug Enforcement Administration agent, discovers that Walt is the drug kingpin he (Hank) has been searching for all along, said discovery having taken place while Hank is seated on the toilet at Walt’s house. (See for yourself by calling up episode 508: “Gliding Over All” on demand.)

Yes, indeed, “Breaking Bad” is edgy — to the max. But that’s why I (and millions of others, apparently) have fallen so hard for it. It’s unlike anything else on television — in particular “Duck Dynasty” — and not just because the show’s creators have invented dozens of unique methods of “eliminating” characters from the show. (Case in point: a tortoise, carrying the severed head of a Mexican cartel drug lord, explodes and kills several DEA agents.)

Yes, I know, that may have been a little too edgy, but that’s not really what the show is about. What it’s about is the transformation of a highly sympathetic, mild-mannered high school teacher with a diagnosis of lung cancer into a highly unsympathetic, cold-blooded killer and illegal drug manufacturer. And what makes that transition possible, and believable, is the astounding acting of Bryan Cranston, who plays Walter White. He’s won three best-actor Emmy awards over the show’s five seasons and several of his co-stars have been similarly honored in supporting roles.

Simply put, in this self-appointed critic’s humble opinion, “Breaking Bad” has been, is and will be until dethroned at some point in the future, the very best thing American television has to offer.

And if you doubt me, set your DVR for AMC (Channel 43 for Optimum subscribers) at 9 p.m. this coming Sunday, Aug. 18. But first, make 10 pounds of popcorn, empty your bladder, turn off the phones and watch all 54 episodes that have aired to date.

And when you come up for air, give me a call.

tgustavson@timesreview.com