Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dinsoaur Tales

by Ed Lowe

Dinosaur Tales

The gathering calls itself, “The Dinosaurs,” a loosely organized group of survivors of an era on Long Island they believe was influenced by what they did—what we did—in our day-to-day, year-to-year, suddenly, decade-to-decade, “work,” lives; chronicling what other people did in their day-to-day, year-to-year, decade-to-decade work and play lives, and trying to make sense of it.

Like, we, with our notebook and cameras, could even guess.

They meet monthly in a diner, these Dinosaurs. I unkindly equated diners with advanced age, for some reason, favoring pub-restaurants. I have described myself as a great fan of age and experience, but my evasion of diners tells a different tale.

I passed this particular diner six times weekly for, maybe, thirty years, and only this summer viewed it from the inside.

I had to use the ramp, too, to gain entry.

Most of those gathered were photographers, either because the founder was one, or because photographers see the obvious before the rest of us do. I got along well with news photographers, especially because of their devil-may-care attitude toward human subjects. The more important the human subject thinks he or she is, the more flippant the photographer’s attitude becomes, until the subject realizes that he has to do whatever the photographer asks him, or in some cases, tells him to do. And be quick about it. And smile.

I decided to join, if they would have me.

I’ve seen scripts and plays and movies about how in the final analyses (whatever that is), chroniclers of a couple of decades or four sometimes render conclusions about to the, “futility of it all.” But I haven’t done that yet. I’m still having fun telling stories, maybe now more than ever. And now, I get to tell old ones.

I thought of two just recently, under the subject heading of, “God, it is easier than spit to make a boss lose it. (Too bad you didn’t know it then).”

A resident of Amityville, the first town in Suffolk County on the South Shore of Long Island, I had just transferred from the Suffolk County desk to the Nassau County desk of Newsday. Though it had divided the Island into the two different counties (I know, there are four.) the newspaper purported to cover both jurisdictions even-handedly. They, “cooperated,” with each other. No territorial rivalries.

Shortly after my transfer, my mother called me to ask if I had heard anything about a murder in Amityville, which now was not supposed to be my concern. I said, “No.” She said the, “Plectron,” a special radio tuned to the police channel my father needed in his role as Lieutenant of the Amityville Police Department, had mentioned not only a murder, which was unusual in Amityville, but a murder of six people, a whole family, in their beds, on Ocean Avenue.

She couldn’t get hold of my father, so, could I just check on it. Besides, it seemed to her (being ignorant of jurisdictional nuances), that I might want to know that this was going on.

I called the Nassau desk and asked them to call the Suffolk desk to ask if they had heard about it, and the Suffolk desk said that, no, and, “What did you say?”

I was close to home and finished my Nassau County work. I said I would check it out.

By the time I reached Amityville, I learned that The Suffolk Editor had issued a public proclamation against my involvement in the reporting of the story (He was not in favor of my transfer. Maybe that was it.).

The story could really be a competitive one, with news reporters from all over the New York area. “We,” had a reporter at Newsday who lived around the corner; who had spent his whole life there; who knew everybody; who was there, already, now.

Of course you wouldn’t want him there. It would be unfair to the other newspapers.

I hung out in a bar, the long-forgotten Henry’s, where the first revelations of the deed were revealed, and I became the prime source for other Newsday reporters, and invited the Newsday police reporter to use my house, my phone (there were no cell phones) and have a sandwich and drink some beers.

I felt no pressure at all, which was nice.

The Ed Lowe column began when the Queens edition began, which was when the Long Island Press folded, and Rupert Murdoch bought the New York Post. “We,” were going to make Murdoch worry about holding onto his subscribers from Queens, before he made, “us,” worry about the Post stealing away Nassau readers from Newsday.

Murdoch evidently didn’t care about Nassau, but that’s just a detail.

The column, meanwhile, morphed to an ROP (run-of-the-press) column as the Queens Edition turned into the New York edition of Newsday, and then into New York Newsday, until a editor who was fiercely opposed to Ed Lowe stories (only thing I can figure) barred it from New York Newsday, and then spent years and fortunes of money barring it from the Newsday magazine, so, it ran in Newsday only (?).

Came a time, maybe 10 or 11 years ago, when a 13-year-old student in a Queens Junior High rescued his entire family.

His principal called to tell me. She lived in Nassau. The boy had come with his mother, looking a little disheveled, for a transfer to another school. Asked why, he said his home in Ozone Park had been destroyed.

One night, the boy awoke because his asthma was bothering him, because his house was burning. He quickly awakened his mother and one sibling, and then ran upstairs to awaken two more siblings, ushered them all outside, where he found a parked car to keep them as warm as he could. He next ran next door and dialed 911, and then, when his mother realized her baby girl was asleep in her crib, he ran back into the now-in-flames house to crawl around and rescue her.

Finally, the sight of approaching Emergency service vehicles freed him to collapse, because, after all, his asthma was bothering him.

I wrote the story, a front page story in the Nassau-Suffolk edition. Readers came with clothing, food and a house in Freeport, and The New York Knicks invited him to a game, because they wanted to meet a real hero.

The story didn’t run in the New York Newsday.

I guess somebody showed me a thing or two.

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