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.”

tgustavson@timesreview.com

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.)

tgustavson@timesreview.com

05/11/13 8:00am
05/11/2013 8:00 AM

An outfit named CareerCast recently released a list of the “worst jobs” for 2013. To earn a spot on the list, a job had to feature “low pay, high stress, challenging work requirements and a poor employment outlook.”

The top 10 list included such jobs as lumberjack, enlisted military personnel, oil rig worker, dairy farmer and meter reader. And can you guess the very worst job of all? Newspaper reporter. Yes, newspaper reporter.

To borrow a phrase from comedian Steve Martin: E-x-c-u-s-e me!

[Click here to read the complete list from CareerCast]

Having been in and around the newspaper business for some 50 years now, I would agree that the job of reporter is challenging and often unappreciated and under-compensated, but the very worst job? Verily, I must demur.

Just off the top of my head I can think of plenty of worse jobs — like garbage collector or tunnel attendant or president of the United States. And I also suppose it’s now up to me to defend the newspaper industry and the job that is its most fundamental building block: reporter.

Here’s the basic challenge: Attend a three-hour Zoning Board of Appeals meeting at which dozens of applications are debated, taking notes while trying to stay awake. Stop at 7-Eleven for a 16-ounce cup of java on the way back to the office. Sit down at your computer, sift through what’s important and what’s not and, in the space of an hour or so, transform those notes into a compelling, informative and succinct 500-word story, posting it to the newspaper’s website before bedtime.

That requires a skill set, I would argue, that 99.9 percent of the population does not possess. Nor do about three-quarters of the candidates who walk into a newspaper office thinking they can do that job. It requires raw intelligence, astute powers of observation and organization and, of course, writing ability. Again, it’s something very few people can do at all, let alone do well.

I would also argue that it’s very important work. Whether it’s exposing the Watergate scandal or trying to make sense of a pending school budget vote, the work newspaper reporters do is fundamental to our essence as a nation. And if someday, as some naysayers suggest, there’s no such thing as a newspaper, as we presently know it, then reporters will be doing this vital work via platforms beyond our imagination.

Back when I was working as a newspaper reporter, I do remember thinking from time to time that I was under-appreciated and underpaid. (How does a starting salary of $112.50 a week in 1969 translate into 2013 dollars?) But never did I consider the work trivial or unimportant. Each day (for I worked on a daily newspaper back then) I could look at the work product with a sense of accomplishment and pride — and a sincere belief that it made a difference.

That was back in the days of hot lead and manual typewriters, but little about the fundamentals of the job has changed in the ensuing five decades. And as long as that holds true — no matter how hard the work, no matter how the pay scale compares to other industries — being a newspaper reporter will remain one of the best, not one of the worst, jobs.

04/13/13 7:00am
04/13/2013 7:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Joe and Roe Czaluda's memorial to the Sandy Hook victims on their front lawn on Sunrise Avenue in Riverhead.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Joe and Roe Czaluda’s memorial they created in December to the Sandy Hook victims on their front lawn on Sunrise Avenue in Riverhead.

Yes, it’s true: I’m a crybaby. I cry at movies (“Shane,” “Cast Away,” etc.), I cried for two weeks straight as an 11-year-old at summer camp and I cried again Sunday night as we were watching “60 Minutes.”

But I wasn’t the only one crying Sunday night. Many of those being interviewed by CBS News correspondent Scott Pelley were in tears, too. And for good reason.

They were the parents and loved ones of the students and teachers who were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012.

You remember Sandy Hook, don’t you? That’s no wisecrack; it’s a legitimate question as the days, weeks and months begin to pile up in the wake of yet another mass shooting for which our nation has become so well known.

And, as one of the Newtown parents so eloquently stated Sunday night, it will happen again, because it always happens again, particularly if the National Rifle Association has anything to say about it.

At this point in the discussion, I would like to yield the floor to my fellow columnist, Carl Hiaasen of the Miami (Fla.) Herald, who recently took to task the NRA in general, and its executive director, Wayne LaPierre, in particular, as follows:

“LaPierre insists that background checks will lead to a ‘national gun registry,’ which will then lead to mass confiscation of firearms by the government.

“Oh sure. The same government that can’t afford to deliver mail on Saturdays is poised to send armed agents to every single house in the country to search for weapons.

“The notion is ridiculous, and Wayne’s well aware of it. The NRA isn’t aiming for the mainstream support. The fringe is what they’re after — the spooked-out guys who were lining up to buy assault rifles after the mass shooting in Newtown.”

I know from reader comments on my previous columns in favor of more stringent gun control measures that I stand accused of belaboring the subject. And to that charge I plead guilty, and furthermore vow to keep writing about guns until we as a nation wake up to these inescapable truths:

• No one should be allowed to purchase a gun without undergoing a background check.

• No one but military or law enforcement personnel should be allowed to have an assault rifle.

• No one but military or law enforcement personnel should be allowed to have an ammunition clip that holds more than 10 rounds.

Period.

Word this week out of Washington is that an increasing number of our esteemed members of Congress are beginning to lose whatever resolve they may have had for meaningful gun control reform immediately following the Newtown tragedy. Apparently the NRA and Americans’ collective short memories are conspiring to prolong, once again, our national shame.

And to that reality I can think of no more powerful rejoinder than these exact words of Newtown parent David Wheeler on “60 Minutes” Sunday night:

“I would like every parent in this country — that’s 150 million people. I would like them to look in the mirror. And that’s not a figure of speech, Scott. I mean, literally, find a mirror in your house and look in it and look in your eyes and say, ‘This will never happen to me. This will never happen in my school. This will never happen in my community.’ And see if you actually believe that. And if there is a shadow, the slightest shadow of doubt about what you’ve said, think about what you can do to change that in your house, in your community, in your school, in your country, because we have an obligation to our children to do this for them. It’s gonna happen again. It is going to happen again. And every time, you know, it’s somebody else’s school, it’s somebody else’s town. It’s somebody else’s community until one day you wake up and it’s not.”

tgustavson@timesreview.com

03/30/13 12:00pm
03/30/2013 12:00 PM

TROY GUSTAVSON PHOTO | 8-month-old George Hazard Boardman.

This is one of those columns that’s pretty much going to write itself, I think. Sometimes I struggle to find a worthy subject (and sometimes I don’t find one), but this week there’s just one thing on my mind: the continuum of life.

That subject is unavoidable due to the confluence of two events: a long-awaited family vacation combined with the death of a family member who was our family’s last representative of the pre-Depression generation.

My wife, the former Joan Giger Walker, lost her 86-year-old stepmother on Sunday. Ann “Rusty” Walker lived a long and fruitful life. She was orphaned early in life, raised by a loving aunt and uncle and instantly became the mother of five when she married Joan’s father, a widowed doctor, at age 37.

As you might imagine, that was no easy assignment.

Rusty dropped in from outer space, so to speak, and it’s safe to say there was a period of adjustment for all concerned. But that adjustment period was a distant memory by the time of her passing, when her stepchildren opted to remove the word “step” from the obituary submitted to her former local newspaper.

Joan and I visited Rusty in her home recently, and her mind was as sharp as ever. It was her body that was failing her, and she had come to accept the reality of her condition. She knew her time was near.

And now that it’s come, we can celebrate her life with comparatively little regret. What’s more, her passing is softened by the close proximity this week, during the aforementioned family vacation, of the youngest member of our family, 8-month-old George Hazard Boardman.

Can the passing of Ann Walker really overwhelm our spirits when we look into the pure blue eyes of baby George? Speaking personally, the answer is no. George and his brother and sister and cousins, also on vacation with us this week, bring undiluted joy and hope into every day of our lives.

Yes, one generation passed from the scene this week. But it is generation next that makes us so hopeful about the future.

This week also marks the passing at age 77 of Orient resident and S.T. Preston & Son owner George Rowsom. We’ve known George since we first moved to Orient 35 years ago, and I’ll always remember him as one of the first Greenport business owners to truly accept us as the new owners of The Suffolk Times. In fact, he was a key member of an informal management group that helped advise us through those first shaky months (or was it years?) running the paper.

I’ll always remember him as a soft-spoken gentleman who was nevertheless firm in his convictions, and Joan and I extend our deepest sympathy to his wife, Andrea, and the entire Rowsom and Preston’s families.

tgustavson@timesreview.com

01/20/13 8:00am
01/20/2013 8:00 AM

Football

The former Joan Giger Walker and I have not been seeing too much of each other recently. She’s been in one room reading books and doing crossword puzzles; I’ve been in another gorging on the NFL playoffs.

And let’s get one thing straight from the get-go: Football is a dumb sport that probably deserves to be supplanted by books and crosswords. It’s indefensibly violent and, at the professional level at least, populated mostly by muscle-bound, overweight, tattooed millionaires. It often seems to be a sport wherein the outcome of games depends largely on the skills of the medical personnel who treat the legions of bone-crushing, brain-deadening injuries that result from every game. (Recently, in upstate New York, I saw an entire broadsheet newspaper column devoted to the “NFL Injury Report,” all in 7-point type. That’s a lot of injuries.)

And yet … And yet I remain a fan of the sport some 47 years after I walked away from it in college. Then, it wasn’t a case of rejecting the violence or the coaches’ obsession with winning. It was a question of not being good enough to make the team and of having discovered an alternative sport, rugby, where beer drinking on the sidelines was allowed — nay, encouraged. (Rugby was, you see, a club sport at my college, and thus not overseen by the intercollegiate athletic department.)

But I remain a football fan with reservations. Surely, the excitement, athleticism and, yes, the violence attract, but no longer is it possible to sit on the sidelines and observe this sport without acknowledging the mounting evidence about football-related head injuries.

Just last week there was a report about the suicide death at age 43 of Junior Seau, the former All-Pro linebacker with the San Diego Chargers. According to ABC News, “A team of independent researchers who did not know they were studying Seau’s brain all concluded he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease typically caused by multiple hits to the head.” And then he shot himself in the chest, leaving behind his wife and four children.

And it’s not an isolated case. More and more former football players are being diagnosed with CTE — and even the NFL has started to take notice, slowly adjusting its rules to forbid helmet-on-helmet collisions, below-the-knee cut blocks and other actions deemed likely to cause serious injury.

ANOTHER TAKE ON THE ISSUE

 

There’s even been talk of modifying or perhaps even eliminating punt and kick-off returns, the two football plays that result in the most serious injuries. And there’s another type of play that causes me to cringe every time I see it, whether it’s in a professional or college game, wherein a wide receiver runs over the middle of the field, keeping his eyes on the incoming pass, and is blindsided by a 220-pound free safety running at full speed in the opposite direction. It is precisely the sort of “hit” that turned New England Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley into a quadriplegic when he was tackled by Oakland Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum on Aug. 12, 1978.

Several years ago, I wrote in this space about my 9-year-old grandson’s decision, seconded by his parents, to give up Pee Wee football after two years. By the time he quit to concentrate on less violent sports like baseball, basketball and soccer, he’d already suffered a concussion that sidelined him for a game or two. And the only dissent expressed about his decision came from coaches and other parents associated with the youth league.

Assuming football — even in a modified, less violent form — is here to stay, I would advise parents to keep their children away from the sport at least until they’re in junior high school. By then, their bodies have matured to the point where they’re better able to withstand the punishment. And before then, they can learn the fundamentals of the game by playing touch or flag football, neither of which allows tackling.

So, OK, by this point you’re probably asking yourself how I can remain a football fan at the same time I’m decrying the violence and dangers of the sport.

That’s a very good question. Can I get back to you on that after the Super Bowl?

tgustavson@timesreview.com

09/23/12 10:00am
09/23/2012 10:00 AM

A confession: I recently drove a car when I shouldn’t have.

It came at the end of a long and beautiful day of showing off the North Fork to friends visiting from out of town. It began with a midday vineyard tour and ended some eight hours later at a dinner party at our home in Orient. In the process we consumed more glasses of wine than I care to count.

Under normal circumstances, I would not have gone anywhere near a steering wheel after a day like that. But our out-of-town guests insisted on getting back to their boat in Stirling Harbor, Greenport, and they doggedly declined our invitation to spend the night in our spare bedroom. So, here are the keys to our car, I said, drive it yourself. Oh, no, they responded, we’ve had too much wine to drink.

Now I’m a big guy — Refrigerator Perry size, as faithful readers of this column may recall — so presumably I can handle more alcohol than most others without ill effects, and I honestly did not “feel” intoxicated at the time. Still, I should have called a taxi for our friends, but instead I drove them to Greenport and returned safely to Orient.

Without incident. At no time during the drive did I consider myself impaired, but if I had been stopped by the police I do not know if I would have passed a Breathalyzer test.

The recollection of this dubious round-trip to Greenport came to mind recently when a friend challenged me about this newspaper’s policy of publishing the names of all persons arrested for driving while intoxicated. (Even a Suffolk Times police reporter once had to include his own name in the weekly police report after he was arrested for DWI. At another time, an editor ran the account of his own son’s DWI arrest.)

Even though there’s a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and the paper routinely publishes a disclaimer to that effect, my friend thinks there’s an unfair stigma attached to the publication of the original arrest. What if the cops were mistaken, he asks, or the court reduces the charges or issues a verdict of not guilty?

I, as you might expect, beg to differ. If I had been stopped and arrested during that recent ill-advised drive, my name would have appeared in this paper just like everyone else’s. And the inevitability of that publication, I believe, has a deterrent effect.

If for no other reason than the certainty that your name will be published if you are arrested for DWI, I believe the majority of drivers would surrender their car keys to someone else. That’s what I should have done after that recent dinner party, and I solemnly vow that’s what I will do if I ever find myself in that position again.

So, what do you think, dear reader (other than the fact that I’m an idiot for drinking too much wine, getting behind the wheel, then publicly admitting it)?

Should the newspaper publish the names of all those arrested for DWI? Does the inevitability of that publication have a deterrent effect that keeps drunk drivers off the roads? Or does publication prematurely and unfairly stigmatize those who have been arrested?

To answer any or all of those questions, please send an e-mail to tgustavson@timesreview.com, or, please add a new comment below.