Thursday, September 16, 2010

Don't Assume

Lefty’s was on a corner on New Highway, which ran north between Republic Airport and the heart and soul of nowhere, now a condominium development.

A two-lane slab-of-concrete road, it had short pitch pine and scrub oak dominating all the land on the west, which it faced, and mainly factory buildings covering the other three other sides.

You wouldn’t stop there unless you worked nearby, and then not until you first watched people walked in, and then walk out. I’m a saloonist, and I drove past every day for years before my curiosity out-wrestled me.

The place turned out to be nice, as most of them are, and a secret hideout for the New York Islanders Hockey Team, as most of them are not. I learned that when a tree fell on my head, so to speak, at the bar, where I was trying to eat a hamburger.

Two young men dressed, I thought oddly, for office work, sat at the deep end of the bar. I sat with them, to their left, rather than make the bartender walk the length of the bar, just to serve me. The rest of the 60-foot bar had been vacated.

They were about to leave when a fourth man entered, and sat at the, “L,” of the bar, to my right. He wore an Argyle sweater.

The two ordered another drink and giggled while the bartender served it. They talked to each other, loudly, and I somehow got the impression that my pants were stained or my shoes were untied, and they were talking about me.

I engaged them in conversation, wherein they gave me information to use on them. My luck, they had been overserved, too, and were easy to entrap into making fools of themselves. Cruelly, I took hold of the situation with information they had provided, and made it advantageous for them to leave, humbly.

I said immediately that what I’d done was cruel and apologized to the Argyle sweater man for having seen me do it. I assured him that I was not, “that,” kind of guy [the kind who made mincemeat out of two slightly-high luncheoneers, as I had just done.].

“Lefty,” behind the bar, who had said nothing, introduced us (“I know who he is,” the Argyle sweater man said): Ed Lowe, meet Denis Potvin.

I hadn’t recognized him.

So, that’s what the joke was: the big shot newspaper columnist has no idea that he’s sitting next to one of the greatest hockey players of all time, the captain of The New York Islanders, which had recently dominated the National Hockey League by winning the coveted Stanley Cup three seasons in a row.

“Pleasure,” Potvin said.

“Well now, I’m really embarrassed,” I said, “because, not only do you know that I don’t follow hockey, you know what an ass I can be when I feel I’m being embarrassed. [He waved me off, as if to say, “Don’t be silly.” But I was determined to be …silly]. And, by the way, I do follow excellence, and I know that you are excellent at what you do, with a group of people I wouldn’t recognize either, whom I also admire…”

“Stop,” he said. “I saw the whole thing, beginning to end, remember?

I stopped. We had a conversation that went on and on and on, until another Islander came in, Bobby Nystrom, who wanted to talk with Potvin. The conversation was about skates, I recall, because it was the height of summer, and I couldn’t even pretend to care about ice skates.

I took the opportunity to talk to, “Lefty,” about his business, and about the few other businesses that attracted the professional athletes on the island.

Pat Calabria, Newsday’s New York Islander’s man, was writing a piece for Newsday’s then-popular Sunday magazine about the team. So, I suggested a sidebar, a piece about, “Lefty’s,” a no-count bar in Melville, where the Islanders hung out, especially since their captain, Potvin, had gotten a divorce, and Lefty had given him the keys to the place, so he could still host the team’s Superbowl party. Nice story.

The walls were festooned with Islander’s jerseys and the ceilings literally covered with hockey pucks and a virtual forest of signed hockey sticks.

At a later date, while I was interviewing Lefty, I felt compelled to ask a stupid, question and introduced it just that way.

“Ask,” said Lefty.

“Well, the place is called, ‘Lefty,’ and you’re called, ‘Lefty,’ and I just wondered if the name…you know.”

Lefty said, “Yeah. It’s named for me.”

A few minutes later, I thought of another stupid question. I said, “Hey, do you mind telling me if you’re left-handed?” He said, “Yes, I am.”

Finally, just before I was to ask him to spell his whole name, I asked, “Hey, are you called, “Lefty” because you’re left-handed?”

He laughed. He said, “No.”


“No. My name is ‘Lefkios Evandrou,’ Anybody who comes to this country from Greece with the name, ‘Lefkios,’ is called, ‘Lefty,’ whether he’s lefty or not. In fact, whether he has left arm or not.”


  1. edlowe note: Les Payne has often used this story in his graduate journalism classes. I'm proud of that.

  2. Hi Ed,

    Just wanted to drop a quick hello. I enjoy reading your blog. Glad dad told me about it.