Monday, October 5, 2009

SueB and Phil

Oct. 07, 2009

SueB and Phil


It is October 2009.

I am alive, which still strikes me as unusual, and both my daughters, T.C. and Colleen, are with me at Abel Conklin’s restaurant.

The, “girls,” (they are 41 and 40—yes, Irish twins—) are taking me out to lunch, and, in Huntington, which almost is more unusual than the fact that I am alive, because they are South Shore girls and never visit the North Shore. (I am an exception, because of my job, wherein Long Island became my entire pencil, as it were.).

I look across the room, and SueB is our server.

Colleen will like that, because she waited tables at Abel’s for a year or so and went to a few parties at SueB’s and Bear’s on the bay in Lindenhurst. TC will like it, too, when she hears my introduction of SueB and the story.

How do I begin to explain the complicated connections.

“I want to tell you a story,” I start, in full anticipation of the unspoken, “Oh, brother’s,” I am to either get or imagine I get, both because I deserve them as well as because every father gets them, anyway, whether he deserves them or not.

(I, of course, secretly know I do not, and by the time I finish, they are going to be amazed not only at the story, but at their part in it, which essentially makes it somehow their story, too. That is my fantasy, anyway, and that is why I am telling it.).

Back in 1973, I begin (cementing the notion that this is going to be a long, arduous, give-me-some-toothpick-to-keep-my-eyelids-open tale), I went fishing (Oh, God!) with five guys from Buddy Toomey’s Pearl Grey Fishing Station and Tavern on the Crick, in Amityville, including Buddy Toomey.

We went, of course, to Montauk.

I would love to say that I went lots of times to Montauk, but if the Speaker of the Assembly of State of New York, Perry B. Duryea, didn’t have a lobster business there, or if the Congressman Otis Pike didn’t make occasional political speeches there, I might remember a small boy’s family trip to the lighthouse, once, and then only vaguely. Otherwise, no fishing trips to Montauk, not much to Freeport or Captree, not much fishing trips at all. I don’t need proof to establish I’m an Islander.

In fact, I remember telling Buddy that I don’t fish, really, and Craig Starke, the clammer, that I really ought to give my seat to somebody more deserving, but Craig Starke said that the more deserving person had backed out; in fact, two of them backed out, and that was how we both got on board.

So, we met at some ungodly hour and drove from Amityville to a Greek Restaurant at Montauk called Salivar’s and loaded our gear on a boat called the, “Dawn,” where we met the Captain, Bob Tuma, and his mate, Phil Lewis, and we set out in the ocean to catch some striped bass, which we most assuredly did. I reeled in so many 20-30 lb. striped bass I tried to hide whenever my turn came up in the fight chair.

“Is this fun!” I finally bellowed, my arms screaming in pain, “Are we having fun yet? Get me back to work!”

It became an annual event, and I became a fan of, especially, the mate, Phil Lewis, who got his own boat, The, “Adios,” a year or two later, when the Drug Enforcement Administration sold it to him in Florida at auction.

Lewis, a quiet, Brooklyn-raised, shaved-head, gold earring (one), monster-fisher, electronic whiz-kid brought me back to his Montauk house a couple of times for dinner with Dina (of the Salivar’s family), and a session of classical tunes on his acoustic guitar, or a showing of his latest watercolors of fishermen, and I felt about as special and as privileged as you could be. While the other customers were customers, I was a guest, once the boat was in.

In later years—well, I’d taught junior high school English, in ’67 and ’68, where I became close to Ron Polacci, who married Lindenhurst art teacher Irene Georgiados, whose sister, Nota, was married to a restaurateur, Tom Violagas, and the four of them founded the Wine Gallery Restaurants in Forest Hills, East Meadow and Massapequa.

That’s a handful of divorces ago.

In East Meadow, once, Tom Violagas asked me if I ever took my daughters fishing, because he had paid for a, “six pack,” fishing trip—six paid guests plus a mate and a captain—and he only had himself and his two sons, and it seemed a waste to not use the other three.

I said, “Where?” He said his cousin Dina’s husband was a captain out at Montauk...
“Whoa…Dina? Dina of Salivar’s? Phil Lewis?”

“Why, yes.”

Well, not only did we go, but Colleen caught her first fish ever—a 185 lb. blue shark—TC (a veteran, having flounder fished with her fourth grade class out of Amityville) caught a 65-lb. blue shark (both of them were cut away), and I got to hang out on the bridge with Capt. Phil Lewis.

“I don’t get it,” Colleen interrupted. “Where’s SueB?”

Well, first of all, SueB is a former married nickname. It really is Sue D’Aleo, though when I was first introduced to her I said, “Suzie,” which I never do, although I learned years later that “Suzie” was her older brother’s name for her, a special name that only he used.

His name was Phil Lewis, and her name, SueB’s maiden name, was Caponigri. He went from Erasmus High School, she, Holy Cross, both in Brooklyn. He was born on 03/3/33. He was 14 years old when she born.

And I found that out here, at Abel Conklin’s, 10 years ago, when somebody mentioned fishing and somebody else pointed out that the funeral for SueB’s brother, which was supposed to consist of one boat, the, “Adios,” sprinkling ashes over a favorite spot for striped bass, drew an ad hoc parade of some 54 mourning boats bearing customers, friends, relatives and strangers, the largest water-borne funeral procession Montauk had ever seen.

“Wait,” I said. ‘The Adios?’ “Did you say the, ‘Adios?’ I went fishing on the ‘Adios.’ My daughters went fishing with me on the, ‘Adios.’ Oh, my God, SueB!”

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