08/24/12 12:00pm
08/24/2012 12:00 PM

Back in June, I wrote a column about local businesses, such as North Fork Potato Chips, that have established a national reach. Among the businesses I neglected to mention (Preston’s, Widows Hole Oyster Co., etc.) is one that even has the word “national” in its title: the National Scrabble Association, which, like Preston’s and the oyster company, is based in Greenport, right there in a quaint white building at the southwest corner of Front and Fourth streets.

And if you were paying attention you may already know that the National Scrabble Association and the popular board game it oversees were in the national (and international!) news last week, in a very large way. And that means the executive director of the association, Greenport’s own John D. Williams Jr., was very much in the news, too.

If you missed it in The New York Times, NBC-TV’s “Rock Center,” ABC-TV’s “Good Afternoon America” or one of the hundreds of media outlets that covered the story, it originated out of the National Scrabble Championship in Orlando, Fla., where 342 top players gathered to flex their X’s and O’s. The $10,000 top prize was won, by a scant 13 points, by four-time national champion Nigel Richards of New Zealand, but that news was greatly overshadowed by a cheating incident involving an unidentified — and more on that below — youth who was caught red-handed “palming” both of the blank tiles that can be the difference between winning and losing in tournament-level Scrabble.

By all accounts, the incident was handled properly. The boy was observed cheating by more than one player, questioned by a tournament official, admitted to cheating and was promptly banned from the competition. And the Scrabble judicial process is just beginning. Based on past incidents, the youthful offender is looking at suspension from tournament play for three to five years and probation after that.

In the past, before the Worldwide Web and social media, the Orlando Cheating Incident might have ended there. But that’s not how it went down.

While tournament officials still were discussing the incident moments after it happened, John Williams took a break to check his laptop. And he found that three tournament players — two of whom were not even there in the hotel — had already posted something on the Internet! “We’re talking within 10 minutes,” John recounted in an email message this week.

“I knew then that this thing was probably going to go viral,” John continued. “I had to act fast to both control the story/information and to try to protect the boy’s identity. The Scrabble tournament world was frenzied. Most were demanding blood, a quick and severe punishment. Unfortunately, they knew the kid’s name and were using it.”

What John did then was call a friend who works for the Associated Press, who referred him to an AP reporter in Florida. “He did a great, quick piece based on our conversation,” John wrote — even mentioning John’s own Scrabble book in the process — “and the story was picked up worldwide immediately.”

Within 15 minutes “it was as if the boy had been vaporized, had never been there,” John wrote. “His record was erased, his name and photo removed from all online event materials. His parents were called and they immediately left the hotel, left Orlando.”

It was then that John’s phone began ringing off the hook — CNN, ABC, NBC, New York Times, CBS, Atlantic Monthly, BBC, London Times and a dozen more. And despite the mounting pressure, John refused to reveal the name, age or state of the cheating player because he was a minor.

A network talk show even called to ask what the chances were of getting the boy on the show the next day. “Less than zero,” John told them. “Go back to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.”

To date, the incident has spawned over 500 news stories worldwide.

The great irony, of course, is that the most exciting National Scrabble Championship in the 30-year history of the event was eclipsed by the story of the boy and his palmed blank tiles. John Williams and his Greenport-based staff — most notably his wife and business partner, Jane Williams — get paid in large part to keep the name Scrabble in the news, but they’d just as soon not do it like this.

“Believe me, I know the kid did wrong and so did he,” John wrote in his email. “And he needs to be punished. Hey, I take Scrabble fairly seriously. And, arguably, there are thousands of people who by conventional behavioral standards take it too seriously. But I do not want to be a part of knowingly screwing up a kid’s life.”

[email protected]

09/29/11 7:00am
09/29/2011 7:00 AM

MELANIE DROZD PHOTO | An empty newsstand at the 7-Eleven on Route 58 located in the same shopping center as the Department of Motor Vehicles.

My friend Paul had a pretty good idea when he heard about the folks who went from newsstand to newsstand buying thousands of copies of last week’s Riverhead News-Review and Suffolk Times.

“Why don’t you call them up,” he suggested, “and ask them how many more they’d like you to print.”

I’ve been in this business for 50 years and never have I experienced what we experienced this past week: a run on the newsstands by someone involved in a truly monumental school project; someone really proud of their grandchild on the honor roll; someone with a great deal of precious glassware to pack; or, as I suspect, someone intent on suppressing the dissemination of a particular news story.

Here, in her exact words, is the account provided by Times/Review circulation manager Laura Huber:

“They went all the way from Calverton to Shelter Island to get papers. We figure they started around 9:30 a.m. on Thursday because I received a call from a woman in Riverhead looking for a copy of our delivery manifest because she wanted to know where to get a paper in Riverhead. She claimed that she went to Riverhead 7-Eleven and that there weren’t any copies there. I didn’t give it to her, but told her where she could get them and the types of businesses that sold the paper. I also called the 7-Eleven and they informed me they had plenty of copies.

“Many of the newsstands said that people came in around 5 or 6 p.m. on Thursday, and we figure based on the fact that there were people buying copies on Shelter Island, Aquebogue and Flanders at around the same time that there were at least 2 to 3 teams out at one point.

“I had reports that there were at least two women and two men and they were still out Friday afternoon trying to buy up papers. Apparently what would happen is that two people would go in one car and if one was told they couldn’t buy everything, the other person would go in and try to buy up the rest.

“Initially the story the woman told was that she was trying to move, but I think that sounded suspicious so they switched to a ‘school project’ story. Many of the newsstands believed this story and were willing to give up the majority of their copies.

“One of their last stops was a bagel place in Calverton. I had previously called there to let them know that someone may come in claiming that they were purchasing copies for a school project, but that we believed that may not be the case. I told her in the interest of preservation for her regular customers, she may want to put copies aside and not sell everything to the buyer(s). This was about 1:00. Around 3:30 the woman showed up, attempting to buy all the copies. When she was told she couldn’t buy them all, she offered [to pay] above cover price for them.”

In a Monday update, Laura reported that we printed and distributed 3,000 extra Suffolk Times and 2,500 extra Riverhead News-Reviews prior to the weekend.

So now, dear reader, let us speculate as to who and what was behind this unprecedented run on newsstand copies of your local paper. Please select from one of the following:

A) Proud members of the 125-year-old Southold Fire Department.

B) Proud members of the Shoreham-Wading River varsity football team, which beat Greenport, 19-0.

C) Local political operatives concerned about the opposition’s attack ads.

D) Associates of the Riverhead doctor charged with Medicare fraud.

Alternatively, let’s see what stories appearing in both papers last week might have caused enough concern to prompt this buying frenzy. County accused of wrongfully diverting money from preservation fund? (As far as I know, none of the insatiable paper purchasers sported a Snidley Whiplash-style mustache.) Hey, look! Isn’t that Charles Barkley? (Doubtful.) Feds arrest Riverhead doc? (Hmmm.)

Until we review the security tapes from one of the 7-Elevens where these bulk purchases were made, this statement from Times/Review publisher Andrew Olsen must suffice:

“We do have our suspicions as to who is behind this and if it’s someone attempting to somehow silence our coverage or make an uncomfortable story go away, they’re wasting their time and their money. We will not be silenced.”

[email protected]

07/21/11 4:28am
07/21/2011 4:28 AM

If you had asked me before last week, when the 2010 census data was released, I would have said Fire Island is Long Island’s “gayest” community. But Fire Island incorporates several municipal jurisdictions and thus does not show up in the census as an entity unto itself.

But Dering Harbor (Shelter Island) and Orient do, and they turn out to be the two hamlets with the highest percentage of same-sex couples in either Nassau or Suffolk. (Credit Newsday with first reporting this story in its editions of last Thursday. Go to newsday.com/table-same-sex-couples-on-long-island-1.3023709 to see where your community ranks.)

But wait! A closer look at the data reveals that Dering Harbor’s No. 1 ranking is a statistical aberration. And that’s because one of New York State’s smallest (in terms of population) incorporated villages has only 11 full-time residents living in its 35 households, with one out of the four households with couples living in them indicated as “same-sex.” Thus the census shows 25 percent of Dering Harbor’s “couple households” as same-sex. But with such a small sample, that’s obviously misleading because the village has just one same-sex household.

Orient, however, is another story. It has 21 same-sex households (13 female, eight male) out of a total of 196 households with couples living in them. And that translates to same-sex couples in 2.7 percent of the 772 total households and 10.7 percent of “couple households,” making it the “gayest” community on Long Island, according to the 2010 census.

Having lived in Southold Town’s easternmost hamlet for some 34 years now, I am not surprised. It’s been apparent for years that our lovely little village of 743 residents has a substantial number of same-sex households — and is decidedly the better for it.

Let us count the ways:

Leadership. An inordinate number of our community institutions have been headed by lesbian and gay individuals, and are the better for it. And, to be perfectly honest, the women have significantly outstripped their male counterparts in this regard.
The arts. Theater groups, chorales and cultural organizations here have benefited greatly from the leadership of, and participation by, members of the lesbian and gay community.

Political life. Some of my Tea Party-sympathetic neighbors might not like it, but Orient is arguably the North Fork’s most progressive (and, yes, most Democratic, with a capital “D”) hamlet, and the lesbian and gay community can take a significant amount of credit for that.

Environmental activism. Here, again, leadership by members of the lesbian and gay community has been instrumental in the debates over farmland preservation, ferry traffic, public water systems and the like.

Real estate. Lesbian and gay couples have renovated and improved a significant number of properties here — helping to increase the property values of their straight neighbors in the process — and a statistically significant number of North Fork real estate professionals are openly gay.

So, how and why did Orient specifically, and the North Fork in general, become places where same-sex couples settled?

First, there is the “end-of-the-line” phenomenon, whereby communities like Key West, Provincetown and Fire Island became gay enclaves. Orient is, quite literally, the end of the line on Long Island, and thus its geographic location could be a factor.

Then there’s the Jane Chambers factor. Acclaimed lesbian playwright Jane Chambers was a resident of Greenport at the time of her death at the age of 45 in 1983. And her play “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove” is viewed as a elemental work in lesbian theater history. According to a recent web search, “It is the story of a dissatisfied straight woman who leaves her husband to spend some quiet time by herself and who unwittingly and naively wanders into the midst of a group of seven lesbians at the beginning of their annual beachside vacation.” Some say Ms. Chambers and her play helped identify the east end of the North Fork as a place where gay individuals could find comfort and acceptance.

And let us not forget the pastoral attractions of Orient and the North Fork — particularly when measured against the glitzy attractions of the South Fork — and the comparatively affordable cost of housing here. A lesbian friend of mine said it was largely a function of “word of mouth,” as more and more of her friends opted for the quietude of Orient over the nightlife of, say, the Hamptons.

My voila! moment in this regard first came about a decade ago, when I observed an all-women’s softball game taking place behind the Oysterponds Elementary School in Orient. When I later learned that the majority of players were lesbians, I realized that the face of our little village had changed forever.

Not to mention for the better.

06/02/11 5:49am
06/02/2011 5:49 AM

One can never have too many walking sticks and canes. At least that was my thinking as I collected scores of walking sticks and canes over the years.

Walking sticks from just about every national park we ever visited. Canes from my very favorite shop in the world, James Smith & Sons in London, and from Appalachian mountain woodcarvers who inherited the craft from their Scottish ancestors.

Eventually, I was prompted to enlist a local craftsman — Ray Gurriere of the former One-Legged Chair shop on the North Road in Mattituck — to build a big wooden box to house the collection. And still it grew.

Why do we collect things? Is it, as some psychoanalysts might suggest, to replace something of value we’ve lost earlier in life? Like Blackie, the dog, who was sent to the pound after biting 5-year-old me for the third and last time?

Or perhaps we should ask those serial hoarders who now seem to have their own cable television network.

Whatever the reasons, I recently seem to have reached the point in my life when the need to simplify has superseded the impulse to collect.

It began simply enough with the sale of a vacation home we could no longer afford to maintain (and most likely had not been able to afford in the first place). Thankfully, it sold in less than a month. Which probably explains the frenzy of divestiture that followed.

Next it was the big motorcycle we’d ridden across America in recent years. As Medicare eligibility fast approached, clearly it was time to quit while the quitting was good. That is, before bike, driver and passenger encountered a tree, truck or a rain-slicked roadway. It, too, sold quickly.

Hey, what about the boat? It’s more boat than we really need, isn’t it? It, too, sold quickly, proof once more that if you really want to sell something, price it to sell.

As you may have been able to tell by now, the urge to simplify had descended squarely on the Gustavson household.

The next logical step, of course, was to rent a dumpster from North Fork Sanitation. Into it we dumped 90 percent of the contents of those by-now soggy cardboard boxes that sat in the basement year after year. And the out-of-date guidebooks from trips past.

Next we will turn our attention to those temples of excess — the attic and the garage.

As a lifelong collector, I thought this would be harder than it is. Simplifying one’s life turns out to be liberating. I can even envision the day when the former Joan Giger Walker and I have simplified our lives to the extent that we can fit all our worldly possessions into a VW Vanagon — just as long as there’s a rack on the roof for those walking sticks and canes.

How many years did we drive past Brecknock Hall in Greenport and lament the bygone era when its windows were illuminated with the light of human activity?

Answer: too many.

But those dark days of inactivity and decline are now forgotten, thanks to the fine folks from Peconic Landing and the dozens of volunteers and craftsmen who have meticulously restored the Floyd family homestead to its original grandeur.

Have you been inside Brecknock Hall recently? Not only has it been restored, but it has become the setting for numerous gatherings, parties and even wedding receptions. It is now, arguably, the grandest quasi-public space on the North Fork – living and breathing proof of the inherent value of historic preservation.

Well done, one and all.

[email protected]

05/25/11 11:41am
05/25/2011 11:41 AM

I sometimes get the feeling that I’ve written the same column before — it’s a combination of advanced age and the act of having penned about a thousand of these things since 1977 — and this is one such occasion.

With a twist: I did, in fact, pen the following column last year, and I’ve chosen to reprint it now because its subject, Orient sculptor Robert Berks, died last week at the age of 89.

So, then, as previously reported April 15, 2010:

When I think of people with big brains, our Orient neighbor, Bob Berks, inevitably comes to mind. I’m pretty sure he’s a member of the Mensa Society, the organization for those with off-the-charts IQs. To spend five minutes talking to him (or, more accurately, being talked to by him) at a cocktail party is to appreciate the fact that his intellect operates on a totally different, and higher, plane than the intellects of the rest of us.

And his brain isn’t the only thing that’s big about Bob. He’s also got huge talent, and qualifies as one of the premiere American sculptors of his generation. His monumental pieces of historical figures from JFK to Einstein to Mr. Rogers are at once humane and eminently accessible, and he has remained active and productive well into his ninth decade. (Bob celebrates his 88th birthday on April 26.)

Perhaps his most ambitious project called for installing 1,000 life-size, copper bison on a 370-acre parcel of land owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management near Lander, Wyoming. The project eventually was scrubbed due to environmental concerns. But if you require proof that I’m not making this up, just drive by Bob’s studio on Halyoke Avenue in Orient. There you will see, facing into the wind, just as Bob intended, a prototype of the buffalo he envisioned installing in the back country of west-central Wyoming. All that’s missing in the yard immediately east of his studio are the solitary bison’s 999 compatriots.
And if that particular artistic endeavor isn’t grand enough for you, Bob had a companion vision for the Wyoming project — placing the herd of a thousand bison within the outline of a line drawing of a buffalo carved into a field of grain by harvesting machines — and all on a scale large enough to be visible from outer space. (I kid you not.) Just further proof that Bob Berks thinks big. Very big.

And why have I chosen to write at this particular juncture about Bob Berks and his oversize intellect and talent? One obvious reason is Joyce Beckenstein’s profile of Bob that appears on Page 1A of today’s Suffolk Times. Another has to do with the fact that the month of April has special significance insofar as Bob’s relationship with another North Fork genius, Albert Einstein, is concerned. According to Tod Berks, Einstein first “sat” for Berks on April 18, 1953, and Berks’ statue of Einstein in Washington, D.C., was dedicated 15 years later, on April 20, 1978.

But there’s a third reason, and it has to do with the fact that Bob has “put away his clay,” in Tod’s words, to concentrate on putting in proper order the archives and innumerable documents of his life’s work. And, quite simply, I wanted to say something nice about the man while he’s still around to read it.

So, happy birthday and many thanks for the memories, neighbor.

[email protected]

03/24/11 11:01am
03/24/2011 11:01 AM

The profoundly disturbing images coming out of Japan, coupled with news reports about the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant on the banks of the Hudson River in Buchanan, N.Y., have got me thinking again about what might have been if the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant had been allowed to operate.

In the case of Japan, American advisors have opined that nothing less than a 50-mile evacuation zone would be prudent. Translate that to Indian Point, which was built near two earthquake-prone geological faults, and you’re talking about 20 million people living within 50 miles. No way such an evacuation could ever be successfully accomplished.

The population within 50 miles of Shoreham is something less, because it’s about 65 miles from there to Manhattan, but the evacuation challenge would have been much greater because of the, pardon the expression, dead end that is the East End of Long Island. Transport Fukushima to Shoreham and you’re talking civil disorder and disarray like this nation has never seen.

There have been times since the end of the successful campaign to block the Shoreham plant when some may have wondered if the fight was worth it, particularly considering the generally excellent safety record of nuclear power plants in this country. This is not one of those times.
Oh, yes, Millstone. I almost forgot Millstone, which looms across Long Island Sound just eight miles from the North Fork. If the Millstone plant melts down, our only means of evacuation might end up being the Queens-Midtown Tunnel.

Earthquakes can hit anywhere but tsunamis wreak havoc only in coastal regions. Oops.

And the experts say Long Island is particularly vulnerable because, generally speaking, our shoreline is comparatively low. We have some imposing cliffs on the North Shore, but the South Shore would be steamrolled by a 30-foot-high wave. And if the tsunami originated in the open Atlantic, you can’t help but wonder if East Hampton, Southampton and Shelter Island towns would act as life-saving breakwaters for their neighbors on the North Fork.

If I seem a bit preoccupied this week, it is because I am. With March Madness, also known as the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. Ever since my college days, when I covered the sport for the Philadelphia Inquirer, I’ve been a college basketball nut.

It started out with heroes like Bill Bradley, Bob Lanier and Calvin Murphy and continues more than 40 years later with the likes of Kemba Walker, Nolan Smith and Jimmer Fredette, the most unlikely of hoop heroes from the most unlikely of home towns, Glens Falls, N.Y., whose only other meaningful basketball-related claim to fame is that it is the home of the New York State high school basketball championships.

In my book, college basketball is the No. 1 spectator sport, far surpassing baseball (too boring), football (too violent) and pro basketball, wherein overpaid and travel-weary manchilds dial up the college game’s every-day intensity only during the last minute of regular season games and the last quarter of playoff games.

From Thursday through Sunday of this past week, I ended up watching a portion of at least 20 college basketball games on television. (The former Joan Giger Walker passed salted peanuts and a refreshing beverage from time to time, but she was savvy enough not to attempt any meaningful conversations. All she would have received in return was a blank stare and a few indecipherable mumbles having to do with back door screens and vision-challenged officials.)

This orgy of televised college basketball was aided and abetted by two comparatively recent developments: the advent of digital video recording (DVR) technology, which allows fans like me to record games when our life partners thoughtlessly schedule dinner engagements or other annoying distractions opposite key basketball games; and the NCAA’s unprecedented decision to televise every game live on one of four separate networks, CBS, TBS, TNT and something I never heard of before called TRU.

Originally, there were 68 teams alive in this single-elimination tournament. Now there are but 16. And after this coming weekend, only the Final Four will remain.

Remember, you heard it here first: The aforementioned Final Four will consist of Ohio State, Duke, Florida and, surprise of surprises, Virginia Commonwealth.

And the 2011 NCAA national champions? Why, Duke, of course.

(Columnist’s note: Transmit your Final Four and national champion picks to me at [email protected] no later than 7:15 p.m. on Thursday, March 24, to be eligible for a prize too grand to specify here. Contestants will receive one point for each correct Final Four pick and two points for choosing the eventual national champion.)

[email protected]

02/23/11 10:07pm
02/23/2011 10:07 PM

BEDLAM PRODUCTIONS COURTESY PHOTO | Do you think Colin Firth win best actor at the Oscars this weekend? Enter our contest and you could win a $100 gift certificate.

It pays to have friends in high places. At least at Academy Awards time, that is. And because I know two people involved on the fringes of the movie and entertainment industries, I get to see just about every Oscar-worthy movie just about every year. For free!

These “For Your Consideration” DVDs aren’t really supposed to be passed around, but something tells me they are by just about every member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences who gets to vote on the Oscars.

So, without further ado, following is this avid movie fan’s take on what will transpire in Hollywood this coming Sunday evening. (ABC Television Network, 8:30 p.m. until only God knows when.)

And if you can hang in there until the end of this column, there’s a challenge awaiting that could win you a $100 gift certificate to the Mattituck Cinemas.

BEST PICTURE: I’ve seen nine out of the 10 nominees, with “Toy Story 3” the one missing link. Of the others, “Inception” was the only one I could not force myself to sit through until the bitter end. It was way too frenetic and disjointed for this senior citizen. Besides, in my opinion it doesn’t belong on a list of the top five movies, and I still don’t understand why the Academy extended the Best Picture list from five to 10 in the first place. Couldn’t be greed, could it?

And the winner is: “The King’s Speech” — because Hollywood always has been gaga over the royals. Long shot: “The Social Network” — because the new media is fast becoming the new royals.

And the winner should be: “True Grit” — because it accomplishes what it sets out to do, albeit quite modestly, without missing a beat. PS: “Winter’s Bone” is an outstanding movie, but it’s not going to win because its subject matter is so very bleak. And Hollywood doesn’t like bleak.

BEST DIRECTOR: And the winner is: David Fincher (“The Social Network”) — because of guilt over not having named his movie Best Picture. Long shot: Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) — because he must be really “gifted” to fashion such a bizarre tale. And the winner should be: Joel and Ethan Coen (“True Grit”) — because (see Best Picture above).

BEST ACTRESS: And the winner is: Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”) — because if there’s a lock in this year’s competition, this could be it. Long shot: Michelle Williams (“Blue Valentine”) —  because this probably is the only way this outstanding flick will be recognized Sunday. (Her co-star, Ryan Gosling, should have been nominated for Best Actor.)

And the winner could (not should) be: Nicole Kidman (“Rabbit Hole”). But, once again, Hollywood doesn’t like sad stories, and it doesn’t get any sadder than this. P.S.: Jennifer Lawrence was amazing, particularly in that “Winter’s Bone” was her first ever movie role.

BEST ACTOR: And the winner is: Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”) — because he plays a royal, doesn’t he? Long shot: Jeff Bridges (“True Grit”). Not likely to win because the Academy wouldn’t honor him two years in a row even if he deserved it, would they? And the winner could be: James Franco (“127 Hours”) even though he has about nine lines of dialogue and ends up cutting off his own arm.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: And the winner is: Melissa Leo (“The Fighter”) — because even though her co-star, Amy Adams, gives an equally memorable performance, Leo chews on the scenery just enough to win a split decision. Long shot: Helena Bonham Carter (“The King’s Speech”) — because she plays a royal … and for lifetime achievement. And the winner could be: Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”). She’s another first timer who carries this movie every bit as much as Jeff Bridges.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: And the winner is: Christian Bale (“The Fighter”). Please disregard what I said earlier about Natalie Portman being the most likely lock. It’s Bale, no doubt about it. Long shot: Geoffrey Rush (“The King’s Speech”). You know why.

And the winner could be: Jeremy Renner (“The Town”) — because this highly entertaining movie from director Ben Affleck really does deserve to win something. Besides, Renner should have won Best Actor last year for his role in “The Hurt Locker.”

And now, the chance to claim that $100 gift certificate. All you must do to win is post a comment naming the most winners in the six categories cited above — having done so, of course, prior to the 8:30 p.m. Sunday airing of the Academy Awards broadcast.

Sorry, but in the event of a tie, the value of the gift certificate will be divided by the number of winners. Remember, these are difficult economic times — but popcorn is included.

[email protected]

02/02/11 5:08pm
02/02/2011 5:08 PM

I’m starting to think those Tea Party folks are right: Los Estados Unidos is going to hell in a handbasket.

What other conclusion could I possibly reach after my experience this week with an unnamed cable television company that isn’t Cablevision? (This most unfortunate episode took place in another state, where the former Joan Giger Walker and I are selling a piece of property we purchased some years ago with the proceeds from a small inheritance.)

I sincerely believe Cablevision itself is capable of such consumer-be-damned atrocities, mostly because said atrocities seem to be, increasingly, the rule not the exception with corporate America.

So here’s the setup: With the final sale of the house days away, we scheduled a service call wherein the cable guy would remove his company’s various television/telephone/Internet paraphernalia. (Yes, we, too, fell for the old “triple play” ploy.) He would arrive between 8 and 11 a.m., and he would call my cell phone about 30 minutes prior to his arrival.

That was key, because we’d already moved our stuff out of the house, and we were staying across town temporarily before returning home to the North Fork.

So far, so good. But good turned to not so good when the cable guy didn’t show up or call by the appointed hour of 11 o’clock. When I called the company’s 800 number to inquire about his whereabouts, I was catapulted into a voice mail hell that repeatedly routed me to the “main menu” despite my repeated attempts to inform the machine that the company’s representative had failed to appear for a scheduled appointment.

Finally, I got another recording that said I would speak to a real, live person in approximately a minute’s time. Twenty minutes (yes, 20 minutes!) later, a real, live woman came on the line to inform me that a subcontractor hired by the cable company was the source of the problem, and that he would call me “within the hour” to advise me of his precise, nay, guaranteed, arrival time.
Ninety minutes later, still no call (or visit) from the cable guy. And having now waited some 270 minutes for his arrival, my mind began to wander into some pretty unsavory territory. How about, I wondered, letting the air out of not one but two of his van’s tires while he worked upstairs?

Or how about seeing if a retired attorney friend of mine would help me sue the cable company for breach of (oral) contract and mental cruelty — in return for 50 percent of the proceeds? That might teach the mooks to value their loyal customers, I theorized.

But then I decided to take executive action by disconnecting, removing and re-packing the equipment in its original boxes. (I knew I was not supposed to be doing this, but by this time I was not a man to be reasoned or trifled with.) Then I carefully placed the boxes on the front porch with a note that suggested what the cable guy might do with his company’s equipment — if and when he ever arrived.

Then I chickened out. What if a homeless persons wandered by, saw the equipment on the front porch, spirited it away and sold it for scrap? Would the cable company charge me thousands of dollars or, worse yet, sabotage our credit rating for decades to come?

So I called the 800 number again to let them know what I’d done. Only this time I wasn’t going to go through voice mail hell again because I pressed the “1” key on my phone when the machine asked if I wanted to upgrade my service. Guess how long I had to wait to get a real, live person on the line this time? You guessed it: less than a minute. Which says as much as anything I can think of about how corporate America treats the consumer these days. Call to ask why an appointment has been missed and you’re put on hold for 20 minutes. But call to say you want to spend more money and they could not be more responsive or attentive.

Yes, I know this reads like the ramblings of a grumpy old man who thinks his time is as valuable as the cable guy’s. But that’s because my time is, in fact, as valuable. And I’m grumpy. And old.

[email protected]