Wednesday, October 06, 2004


On the way out to my Dad’s Long Island lair, I decided to indulge my bent for The Good Old Days by making a pass through my old home town.

It has been a long time since I’ve seen the old stomping grounds. Nowadays, when we visit Dad and Toni, we head farther east without any stops on the way. But I had a little time to spare, and I’d been wanting to see what the old place looked like.

The town is Massapequa. This is where Jerry Seinfeld grew up (his father Kal was a well-known sign painter who called his business “Kal Signfeld Signs” and who was a regular presence at our synagogue). Also the base of operations for Jessica Hahn, who famously brought Jim Bakker’s little evangelical empire to its knees when he was caught with his dick hand in the ncookie jar. Also the home of Alec Baldwin and his Band o’ Brothers, who lived one block away from us, hard by the nine-hole Peninsula Golf Course.

And let’s not forget Joey Buttafuoco. Another local boy made good.

On the way into town, I drove past my old elementary school. The school, which had been expanded since I was a student there, nevertheless looked... shriveled. Had everything been that small back then? Distances that once had seemed immense to a walking ten-year-old had diminished, thanks to Adult-O-Vision. And being in a car.

Moments later, I was looking at the house where I had spent my teenage years. The new owners – how many people had owned it since Dad sold it in 1991? – appeared to have maintained it well, with nice landscaping and a slightly remodeled exterior. The lawn was a pretty emerald green. There was the gently sloping 1960’s-contemporary roof – the one Danny Baldwin (yes, that Danny Baldwin) used to climb on at night so he could run around and drive my parents nuts. Lots of cars in the driveway and on the street. Funny…except for parental visits, I had not lived in that house for 30 years, but in a strange way it still seemed like home.

Then down the block. Left turn at the golf course. On the next block, on my left, was what had once been the Baldwin house, still an eyesore. Right turn at Nassau Road, then around Unqua Circle, now nicely decorated with plantings. The goldfish pond that was originally there in the 1950’s was long gone – I’m amazed that I remember it. Now north on Unqua Road.

And there, on the right, is our old house.

Our first one, the one my folks built in 1953, when I was still fillin’ diapers. I’ve bought used cars for more than what they paid for that house.

It doesn’t look much like what it did back then, the exterior having been remodeled. But the makeovers have never been those major-league ones that completely obscure what the original house looked like. No, it still is familiar, this house where I spent most of my first fifteen years.

I can summon up memories of its interior without trying too hard, and I have pictures to help me. The dim basement with the mysterious fuel oil tank that lurked on the west side wall. The one (one!!!) bathroom, with the trap door that led to the basement where the washing machine sat. Hampers? We didn’t need no steenkeen’ hampers! We had the trap door!

The hardwood floors, where Dad would put down newspaper to catch the drips from his trumpet’s spit valve. The kitchen, with its speckled linoleum. The back yard, with the concrete patio and the Spot That Kept Sinking For No Apparent Reason.

There’s a new family there now, and most, if not all, of the old neighbors have either moved or died off. We moved out of that house 37 years ago, and things change.

The street looks different after all these years. A lot of the big, old trees are long gone, victims of the occasional hurricane. Or disease. There’s plenty of sunlight, and new saplings are filling in well. The houses (most of which came along after ours) are mostly in good shape. And my childhood home is no exception.

But that tree stump in the front yard? I remember when it was a tree. A wild cherry tree. We ended up getting rid of it – you haven’t seen (or smelled) anything as disgusting as fifty million pea-size squashed wild cherries, tracked in onto the house’s carpets, along with the tons of guano deposited by the birds that were attracted by the fermenting cherries.

Well, it wasn’t all peaches and cream, eh? Why the hell do you think we moved?

Oh, yeah. One bathroom.

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