Port of my Berth

photo 1(2)It often raises a few eyebrows when I make mention that I was born on an island in the Atlantic ocean off the coast of the continental United States in an old sea port of great and ancient history.  It is somewhat less amazing when I fill in the details and make mention that said island is Long Island, an island so named because… it is long and an island.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the geography of this nation, this island also contains such famous locations as the Hamptons, Montauk, Queens, and of course Brooklyn.  However, people from Brooklyn (either native sons and daughters or the armies of hipsters and yuppies) say they are from Brooklyn.  Same with Queens.  If you go out to the Hamptons or Montauk most state such and don’t make mention that these find vacation areas are at the tip of the most suburban districts in the nation [citation needed] and that the Geography of Nowhere, that is the modern suburb was invented here in Levittown, New York, a town named for Mr. Levitt because he bought some potato fields and built a town and then sold it to people from Brooklyn so that they could escape the crowded streets for a more country air and yet be close enough to the city in order to properly work doing whatever people did before computers replaced them all.
photo 4(1)Port Jefferson is a polite village that has for generations been the launching point for the ferry to Connecticut and a proud North Shore habitat formerly estates of the wealthy and now a mixture of those old manors and sundry other developments including so many beach houses originally constructed in the 1920s and since then modernized and transformed into year-around homes.  Port Jefferson and similarly situated villages were older and wealthier than their southern brethren and of course more storied than those hamlets of the interior since between the shores but potatoes, ducks, and scrub oak grew and those areas were space until the arrival of the teaming masses exploding from he city searching for a better life, a car port, and to ensure they lived with people who looked as much as like them as this modern carbon fueled experiment will allow. By the time my zygotic self took shape and I emerged to be slapped on the ass by some doctor and then handed off to lay in a bassinet as was the medical practice of the time, Long Island had become one unending carpet of human habitat from the city line of New York to at least exit 62 (following the old 20th century exit numeration scheme).  From that point, the road dwindled down from twelve lanes [citation needed] to four and the pavement switched from blacktop to cement.  Toward Riverhead the fields reemerged, towns were distinct clusters, and the road was less populated save for the weekend and the traffic to the beach and regular Hampton Jitney service.
photo 3(2)Port Jefferson today has changed little since I was a child.  In those olde days, we family would come down to take advantage of the play ground known as Rocket Park since in the middle of all the wonderful playground equipment was a large metal rocket constructed in such a way that one could ascend to the cone of the craft and pretend one was about to launch into space… or list over to one’s death since with each gleeful child making the journey the ship would sway just enough to endure some vertigo if not terror especially since in that cone there was always ample sand and a few rocks brought up by some industrious but strange child and under the summer sun the metal would become quite hot and the confined space more one of those punishment boxes they were always stuffing Steve McQueen into during a war movie.  Because not only was Steve McQueen sexy, he was also disobedient.
The escape hatch for this rocket ship was a slide.  A wonderful stainless steel slide that would glisten in the sun and that you could climb up if you held the raised sides and wedged your feet into the corners before Billy came blundering down and knocked you face first into the hot fry pan surface.  There were other metal contraptions too, all of which I am sure would pay for more than enough BMWs for quite a few 1-800 lawyers and for that reason were removed at some point since today Rocketship Park is neither named that nor has a rocketship but appears the same as any plastic-infested overly-safe helicopter parent approved play space, not that children of the 21st century play other than scripted, regimented, supervised activity if at all they are existing other than virtually and among the Intertubes as they lard up with one hand, level up with the other, and stank monkey butt on the couch until their Xbox360 needs upgrading.
photo 2(2)“Oh they fight tooth and nail to prevent any changes,” my cultural informant, a woman of Bronx origin who had settled on the island over forty years prior.  “You can’t so much as move a twig without someone in the village raising a fuss.”  It is little wonder then as to why the streets and lanes remain unchanged since my birth.  Nevertheless, there has been some changes.  The puppy store* is gone, the candy shop vanished, the tee shirt shops don’t seem to have the same level of sh_t as before.  Mind you, they have s_it – real shi but they are not as plentiful nor interesting.  I think it is because they started charging for parking, I was told.  She agreed that the stores were not as interesting that there wasn’t anything good on Main Street but the village comes and goes and soon again it may reascend to the position of sea side attraction it once was.
In the meantime, the village sits quietly, the restaurant that looks like a ship, the hotel by the docks I used to try to push my siblings off of, the traffic that clogs the primary avenues and byways when the ferry discharges its passengers as it has for generations.
The sleepy hamlet was also the location of some of the earliest memories I have of Halloween and the ceremony of trick-or-treating.  This was of so long ago, it is but a flicker, however, I do remember walking the streets of the village and in those days the streets were filled with children with few parents but for those as young as I.  It was the age before the missing children on the milk carton, before the Tylenol scare, the devil worshiping day care directors, the fear and loathing of modern American parenting so other than small tykes like us who were followed by a parent or two, children ruled the day.  Port Jeff was also a slightly higher income bracket per capita from our neighborhood so the candy was sweeter and more plentiful, or so our parent believed.  Port Jeff, at least in those days, still retained strong New England culture and traditions and the accent of the older residents yet retained that nasal almost Bostonian tone rather than the deez,, douze, youze, ain’ts, datz of the more urban accent that melded into what we know today as the Long Island accent, an accent as stereotyped and maligned as that of New Jersey and The Bronx and for which we children would receive a few slaps of the belt if by mistake we took on those affections.

I left the Port again and all those memories behind as we returned to The City. Over the tracks of Port Jefferson Station and to Northern Parkway and then the Long Island Expressway and engaged by traffic and drivers of various humorous and logic.  It was good to visit for a moment, but I was glad to get back to the hustle and bustle of Gotham and leave behind the mean streets of Port Jefferson.  And by “mean”… I mean completely average.  And sometimes, there is nothing better than that.
photo 5(1)Editor’s Note: For more on Rocketship Park and unsafe playgrounds visit HERE and for Port Jeff visit HERE

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