11/22/13 7:00am
11/22/2013 7:00 AM

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
08/31/2013 8:00 AM
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.

07/20/13 8:00am
07/20/2013 8:00 AM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Congressman Tim Bishop announces his new bill to lift the congressional mandate to sell Plum Island.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Congressman Tim Bishop announces his new bill to lift the congressional mandate to sell Plum Island.

In a strong showing of bipartisanship and environmental activism, a coalition of pols and tree huggers gathered on a rocky beach overlooking Plum Island in sweltering heat Tuesday morning to support Congressman Tim Bishop’s “Save, Don’t Sell Plum Island Act of 2013.” It was an all-around love fest.

Later that same day, the Southampton Democrat filed his new bill in the House of Representatives in Washington. Which is where the love fest, no doubt, will come to a crashing end, given the economic and political forces that stand in the way.

In his favor, Mr. Bishop does boast co-sponsorship from colleagues from Connecticut and Staten Island, and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) plans to co-sponsor in the Senate. And, according to the congressman, New York’s two U.S. senators, Democrats Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, have expressed support for the legislation, which could be key given Mr. Schumer’s new-found political clout following his recent inauguration and immigration coups.

But make no mistake, it will be a long, hard and possibly impossible road from sponsorship to passage. There’s a great deal of money at stake as the feds pursue the sale of Plum Island to help offset the $1.2 billion price tag for the proposed National Bio-and-Agro Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kan. (The Bishop bill simply unhooks the sale of Plum Island from the development of NBAF.) Never mind that it makes no sense to relocate our nation’s animal disease research and prevention efforts from an isolated island off the East Coast to the middle of cattle country. Visions of dollar signs do dance in the heads of the bureaucrats from Homeland Security and General Services, who propose selling the 840-acre island at public auction so it can be developed, they speculate, with 500 luxury homes. Yes, I know, it’s a ridiculous idea, but that’s what could happen if something doesn’t give. And, hopefully, the first thing to give will be the Southold Town Board’s rezoning of the property to take residential development out of the equation. That, in itself, will make the sale of Plum Island much less attractive to any private investor who faces the tens of millions of dollars in environmental mitigation that’s likely to follow.

My personal first choice for the property, if the Plum Island lab’s mission eventually is moved to Kansas, would be to have it become a National Wildlife Refuge. But if that’s not in the cards, how’s this for an idea with an obvious local precedent?: Have the feds gift the island to Southold Town, just as the feds gifted the Grumman property in Calverton to the Town of Riverhead back in the mid-1990s. Yes, I know, the situations aren’t entirely analogous — largely because Grumman paid Riverhead $1.3 million a year in lieu of taxes and Plum Island doesn’t pay Southold a cent — but wouldn’t you rather have the fate of our neighbor to the immediate east in the hands of the town council instead of the mooks in Washington?

And Tim Bishop can start this ball rolling by renaming his new bill the “Gift, Don’t Sell Plum Island Act of 2013.”


05/25/13 8:00am
05/25/2013 8:00 AM

Yes, it’s true. Somehow I’ve become a Grumpy Old Man and my only excuse is the inexorable acceleration of time. This grumpiness might actually have started a few years ago, but I didn’t begin noticing it as a well-ingrained personality trait until recently.

Sometimes it manifests itself first thing in the morning, as I grunt at the barrage of questions fired at me by a highly caffeinated and already-up-for-hours Joan Giger Walker. Other times it doesn’t surface until later in the day, when my personal list of grievances eventually tips the scale.

Last Tuesday was a particularly grumpy day. Following my morning Q&A by my partner in life, it ratcheted up a notch during a bike ride on normally pristine Narrow River Road in Orient. And what did I espy near the headwaters of Narrow River itself but several piles of garbage that had spilled out of bags dumped by some miscreant(s) sometime over the winter months. And here’s a fair warning to said miscreant(s): When I return to Narrow River Road to pick up your trash, as I will shortly, you had better pray that there aren’t any Alice’s Restaurant-type envelopes in there with your name and address on them. In which case your garbage will be returned, sans bag, to your front steps by yours truly.

Is that grumpy enough for you?

Then, later Tuesday afternoon, as I was crossing Main Road on foot from south to north in front of Southold Pharmacy, a speeding (at least 50 mph) silver Land Rover came within inches of sending me to my maker, coming so close that my loosely fitted sweatshirt flapped in the vehicle’s wake. At first, I thought it might be George Schneider (see May 16 Letters to the Editor), but then I saw the Connecticut license plate.

My considered response to this near fatal hit-and-run was to stand in the middle of the Main Road, raising both middle fingers in the direction of the westbound Land Rover, hoping the driver would screech to a halt, giving me an opportunity to express my displeasure face to beet-red face. But he continued on his merry way and I’m fairly certain the several bystanders who witnessed this incident would characterize my response as, yes, grumpy.

Please do not get me wrong. It’s not all darkness with your faithful correspondent (YFC). I still find much joy in our grandchildren’s various athletic events and school concerts, and Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain” never fails to send chills down my spine. But as I approach my eighth decade on this planet, it seems I must work a little bit harder to accentuate the positive.

Which means, probably, that the time has come to begin heeding the sage advice of now-departed French actor-singer Maurice Chevalier, who once was quoted as saying, “I prefer old age to the alternative.”

Further proof that all is not darkness with YFC: Our recent dinner at chef Keith Luce’s new restaurant, Main, on the site of what I still refer to as “the old Cinnamon Tree” in Greenport. It (the meal) was resoundingly outstanding and I predict much success for Mr. Luce and his various enterprises in Stirling Square, including a flatbread pizza/cured meats walk-up window, which must be the first of its kind in North America.

And something I did not know until informed by former Cinnamon Tree/Stirling Square owner May Watson: Keith Luce once worked in the Cinnamon Tree’s kitchen as a 16-year-old assistant to May’s son, chef Adam Watson. That was, of course, before Mr. Luce went on to fame and presumably fortune as a chef at no less than the White House. (Yes, that White House.)