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

It’s a clear indication that you’ve reached a certain age when your social calendar, usually based on trips to the dump or the supermarket, now includes reunions.

By definition, a reunion is a gathering of people who haven’t seen each other for an extended period of time, hence if you attend one you’ve either moseyed on through or are banging on the door of geezerhood.

TIM KELLY

And so it was that I found meself at a very nice home in suburban D.C. last weekend, there to mix and mingle with others once in the employ of former congressman William Carney (R-C-Hauppauge), who represented this fair community from 1979 to 1986. In the summer of ’83 I became the last press secretary of his congressional career (press aide actually, but, hey, press secretary sounds way cooler) and moved up from D.C. to the North Fork just before he retired.

You’ve already heard me wax nostalgic about a 20-something’s life on Capitol Hill so I won’t bore you will all that again. But since the face in the mirror now bears little resemblance to picture on the ol’ House ID, a certain amount of living in the past is to be expected.

I hadn’t seen most of these folks for over 25 years, including the former congressman, the guy who, with the exception of some gray hair and glasses, looks very much like the guy whose image graced the corner of the special paper used in printing — yes, you heard right, printing, as in batted out on a typewriter and run through a copy machine — the various press releases, columns and such mailed out through the U.S. Postal Service.

Tweet? Dude, that’s what a bird does.

I’d attended only one other reunion, that of me high school class. But we’re talkin’ two very different past experiences here. In D.C. I felt like a stranger in a strange land. OK, that was just like high school. In D.C., I was surrounded by great gals, all pretty much off limits. Ah, well, ditto. Was forced to wear a jacket, tie and even socks for pity’s sake. Damn. OK, on second thought, it was exactly like high school, minus the nuns but with Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill.

Ah, remember the fun we had? Like the time the staff counsel and I were having a water pistol duel when a lobbyist came through the office door and I swung around, planted my feet and took aim like a “Law & Order” detective bursting into a suspect’s apartment and the guy threw his hands up in surrender and muttered, “I don’t want to die”?

Or when the congressman would bring all the males into his office, make us each drop a dollar on the credenza for a putting competition that he always — and I mean, always — won?

Then there were the tapeball games; you’d crumple up a piece of copy paper, wrap it like a mummy in tape and swing away with a cardboard mailing tube filling in for a Louisville Slugger. A home run required walloping it past the appointment secretary and out the window onto South Capitol Street. Not as easy as it sounds.

On second thought, this was not at all like high school. Sister Mary Whoever would have cleaned our clocks, and these incidents would have made for unfortunate entries in our permanent records.

OK, it wasn’t always like that. Congressional staffers work long, hard hours, some assisting the member on legislative affairs and others providing constituent service, no small tasks when your district includes over a half-million people. Can’t help it if the wacky times are the most memorable. Unlike the representative, we don’t get smacked around by political foes or friends looking for favors.

As the reunion wore on, it was as if close to 30 years had melted away and we all had gathered at a Capitol Hill watering hole after work on a Friday night. Except, for some, Saturday morning might be a little more uncomfortable than it was 30 years ago.

Like my recent — gulp — 40th high school reunion, a great time was had by all. Except that a hellish ride back north on I-95 followed this gathering.

Recounting the tapeball story during Saturday’s party, I left out the part about one afternoon when the congressman was pitching and I was calling balls and strikes, and I made the strike zone about the size of a business envelope.

“You just won’t give me a break, will you?” he complained.

I thought to myself, keep me late last week before giving me the OK for the friggin’ column, will ya? I’ll show you.

“Nope,” said I, “not at all.”

tkelly@timesreview.com

04/21/13 8:30am
04/21/2013 8:30 AM
Orion in Cutchogue

TIM KELLY PHOTO | Orion constellation as seen from along the Sound shore in Cutchogue.

So there I was, standing on the Sound shore in Cutchogue Saturday night, looking out over the inky sky and black water, minding me own business and freezing me shamrocks off.

Why, in the name of all that’s good and holy, am I out here by myself with a sharp wind cutting right through me? I might have said that out loud, but so what?

There was no one else anywhere near to hear some fool muttering to himself as he stood next to a tripod-mounted Nikon with a camera case on his shoulder to keep it off the coarse sand still damp from the receding tide.

Why? Because I actually bought into the hype that the northern lights, the elusive and eerily beautiful aurora borealis (dawn of the north), would be visible on Long Island thanks to a large solar flare that erupted Thursday.

The northern lights are usually seen, well, in the north — in places such as Alaska, Canada and Scandinavia. The North Fork usually ain’t north enough. But what the heck, the forecast for an awesome aurora was all over the Internet so it had to be true, right?

Yeah, well, no. OK, some basic science. A solar flare is a large release of energy from the sun in the form of electrons, ions and other stuff I never studied in 19th Century Romantic Poets. They go hurtling through space — particles, not poets — sometimes in our direction.

After a journey of 93 million miles, which is hard to imagine unless you’ve ever been stuck in traffic on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, the particles are drawn toward the magnetic north and south poles.

Some pass through the earth’s magnetic field, which shields us from dangerous radiation, and when they interact with oxygen and nitrogen molecules, they produce that weird glow, often in the shape of a billowing green curtain. The sun is always shedding highly energized particles, so aurora displays are common in some parts of the world.

I once witnessed an absolutely mind-blowing display of the northern lights, with a tripod-mounted Nikon by my side, but I have no photographic record of it. When I lumbered down to the Sound in my F-150 pickup Saturday night I did so in search of a possible cover photo, but also, and more important, of photographic redemption.

In 1982, me oldest brother Mike rented a house in Southwest Harbor on Maine’s Mount Desert Island, the home of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. He was kind enough to invite me and the Mrs. and our then 4-month-old son to join his family for a week.

One evening at dinner we talked about things we’d like to do, basically a bucket list long before someone coined that term. My list was pretty mild and did not contain anything like stealing a Rolls Royce convertible, driving out to Las Vegas and running off to Tijuana with a couple of show girls. OK, I may have thought it, but I never said it.

Anyway, I allowed as how I always wanted to see a whale in the wild and witness the northern lights. (Told ya they were mild.) Later as I was reading in bed Mike knocked on the door. You’re never gonna believe it, he said. The guy on the 11 o’clock news said there could be a great display of northern lights — tonight!

I leaped out of bed, threw on some jeans and off we raced toward Cadillac Mountain, some 1,528 feet up.

There, hanging in the sky just above Bar Harbor, I saw the green shimmering curtain. Oh. My. God. Not just there, everywhere. The entire sky pulsed with auroral displays. Overhead, to the east, to the west. I stood, mouth agape like a dead snapper, looking — south — at the northern lights.

I aimed my telephoto lens toward Bar Harbor, and in the viewfinder I saw an image from National Geographic. But it wasn’t to be. There wasn’t a cloud in the moonless sky, but the wind was blowing something fierce, or as they say in Maine, wicked haaaad.

The tripod shook like I did on my first date. When back home I rushed to get the film developed, but alas, there was nothing even remotely resembling northern lights. It was all a blur of street lights. Fudge! When would I ever get another opportunity like that?

On the 13th of Never, that’s when. That’s why this solar flair thing got me going, but with the same disappointing results. Out of sheer boredom I took a few shots of the Orion Constellation with the crescent moon, which in a time-lapse exposure looked like a fuzzy piece of white lint. Yeah, Sky & Telescope magazine won’t be texting me anytime soon.

Hey, when’s Comet Halley due back? 2062? I’ll be 108, but it could happen.

tkelly@timesreview.com

06/09/12 5:59am
06/09/2012 5:59 AM

When most of my high school classmates motored down to Washington, D.C., on the school-sponsored senior trip I was not among them.
Which by itself means absolutely nothing, other than to reinforce the point made here ad nauseam that in my younger days “Good Times” was nothing more than a CBS sitcom.

Dy-no-mite!

Oh for heaven’s sake, Google it if you have to. Damn kids.

But that non-trip has staked a claim for premiere space in my long-term memory, what’s left of it anyway. That’s because in the ensuing years there developed some unseen and unbroken connection between Our Nation’s Capital and yours truly.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I have only a slightly better chance than, say, Herman Cain has of being elected president. Still, no one has yet produced compelling evidence that my “Big Three Questions” approach to governance wouldn’t serve this county, and the world, well.

What’s the problem? How do we solve it? What’s for lunch? Done.

Maybe a fourth and fifth question: Hey, as Commander in Chief, how come I can’t fly this damn helicopter? How tough could it be?
That aside, there’s an ethereal something that brings me and me family back to D.C. No, it’s not I-95, smart mouth. I said ethereal, not concrete.

It dates back to the late ’70s, when a brother-in-law landed a job with the Federal Elections Commission. Come down and visit, said he. Sure thing, said we, and visited all the awe-inspiring landmarks: the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian, the seedy-looking vendor on Independence Avenue next to the hot dog truck where you could have you picture taken with a cardboard cutout of Jimmy Carter. Truly magic.

Five years later, in 1983, a congressman came a-calling and offered his press relations position to moi. Heady stuff for a guy in his 20s, so, of course, I said yes, even though it meant uprooting me young family, the Mrs. and an 18-month-old. Eventually found a neat little townhouse rental, wouldn’t you know it in the same complex as the bro-in-law.

Was quite the experience working for the only elected official east of the Continental Divide who thought the Shoreham nuclear plant was a good idea. Anyhoo, after he retired we returned to L.I. A year and half after that, I returned to D.C. help a niece in grad school find an apartment. Wouldn’t you know it, after she got her MBA a nephew down there for his law degree from the same school ended up in the very same apartment — no small coincidence since in was in the basement of a doctor’s house, not some mega-complex.

Now get this: My once wee son, who often raced down the sidewalks of our Virginal rental on his Kermit the Frog big wheel, has himself returned. He and our new daughter-in-law recently earned promotions at Merrill Lynch and relocated from NYC to D.C. They’re also renting in the Virginia ’burbs — wouldn’t you know it maybe 20 minutes or less from our old place.

We have an old video of the young lad, his mop of copper-red hair fairly glowing in the summer sun, riding the carousel near the Smithsonian Castle. I’ve heard him wax romantic about someday photographing his kids on those same up down, up down carved horses. Of course, by then we’ll probably have high-res cameras built in to our Ray-Bans and telepathically beam images to the old folk, giving a welcome reason to smile and temporarily forget the Facebook stock collapse.

The irony here is that I never became a true Washingtonian, one of the legion of fast walkers infected with acute cases of “Potomac Fever,” the symptoms of which are losing all memory of the real world and its people and embracing the shallow, self-serving drive for power and prestige. (Neither of which is enjoyed by congressional staffers, I’ll have you know.)

Getting off at the Capitol South subway stop each morning in the standard uniform of a three-piece suit, perhaps with a yellow silk “power tie,” briefcase in hand and that morning’s Washington Post tucked under an arm — I know! Am having a hard time picturing that meself — I’d join the herd for the short walk to the congressional offices.

For reasons unknown, most had their heads down. But being a perpetual hayseed, I couldn’t help but stare at that big off-white iron dome (no, it’s not marble) atop the Capitol. Will you look at that thing! Unbelievable. How in the name of Lyndon Baines Johnson did I end up here?

Surprised I never walked right into the back of someone’s Burberry coat.

So what’s next? Will our daughter in grad school find employment somewhere inside the Beltway? Should I revive my presidential aspirations in 2016? I’d be a great commander in chief, maybe get behind the controls of one of those totally awesome choppers and buzz the kids’ office buildings. Oh yeah, who’s in charge now?