Friday, March 31, 2006

Red Eye For The Traveling Guy

BY MICHAEL WATT Ask Mr. Long Island

While growing up the idea of going on a business trip sounded like a lot of fun – what better way to see the world than by traveling on somebody else’s dime? Might as well add that one to the scrap heap of notions conceived in my youth that did not exactly pan out in adulthood, along with “I’m going to be the coolest dad in the world because I will relate to the music my kids enjoy.” (Oh, I had high hopes for that notion but man oh man who saw Rap music coming?)
It never occurred to me, for instance, that the person putting up the dime might want to part with as few dimes as possible. As a result, when I travel like I did earlier this week to San Diego for a conference related to my day job I turn into a modern day Jack Benny, looking to save money anyway I can.

One such method is to take what is known in traveling circles as the “red-eye flight” from the West Coast to the East Coast. You leave late at night from the West Coast and because of the three-hour time difference you arrive on the East Coast just as everybody else is getting up for the day, usually around six in the AM. Taking this trip saves you the cost of staying in a hotel room and a day lost to traveling.

It also tends to fry your brain, but what are you going to do.

When you take the “red-eye” in a perfect world you sleep the night away on the plane and arrive fresh and relaxed and ready to hit the pavement the following morning once you brush your teeth. Of course the perfect world only exists for the likes of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. For the rest of us the red-eye involves sitting in front of somebody with a cold who hacks and sneezes with amazing regularity during the night. Or sitting across the aisle from a petite little flower who snored the night away like she went to the Ralph Kramden School of Sleeping and graduated Magna Cum Loudly. That’s what I encountered this past Tuesday night / Wednesday morning on my way back from San Diego.

Those two did not bother me as much as the “medical emergency” during the night. The flight attendants never did explain what happened but I wouldn’t be surprised if the passenger pretended to be sick just to get off the plane first. Ironically, there was a “medical emergency” on the way out to San Diego too, and I use the “quotes” because it turned out that guy was hung over and just passed out from being dehydrated. What scared me most, however, was my reaction both emergencies: My first thought was, “Oh, great. Now we are going to have to land at the nearest airport and be delayed for hours.”

My lack of compassion at times can be frightening, but I think it might be a New York thing more than anything else. Take our morning traffic reports, for instance. If there is a traffic accident involving the loss of human life the event is often described in terms of how long a delay might result. “A man was killed in a car accident this morning on the LIE,” the newscaster will report. “Officials expect the morning rush to be backed up for hours.” It’s never, “A man was killed on the LIE this morning. His family is devastated and his co-workers wonder how they will manage to go on.”

My trip had one other unexpected treat. For some unknown reason about two dozen members of a local high school dance drill team had to fly from California to New York. Overnight. Together. Some of them for the first time. As the plane taxied into position for take off one of the female team members called to the others, “I love you all.” And they all chimed back, “I love you, too.”

Now, I consider myself a fairly tolerant fellow but such cheerfulness has no place on an airliner, particularly one that is going to be flying through the night. In fact, the thought occurs to me that there should be some rules specific to overnight flying.

- No cheerful people. Cheerful people like to talk, often in bubbly, excited terms. That’s okay for most of the time but can be detrimental to anyone trying to get some sleep.
- No sick people. Under my rules, the person sitting behind me would have been stopped at security under the “American Right To Travel From Here to There Without Catching Your Disease” Act.
- No one under the age of 21. Young people are not accustomed to the rigors of sleeping somewhere other than one’s bed and as a result they tend to get cranky and require noise-generating attention.
- No one over the age of 65. Older folks are not accustomed to the rigors of sleeping somewhere other than one’s bed and as a result they tend to get cranky and require noise-generating attention.
- No one with a bladder the size of a pea. If I had a nickel for every time somebody bumped my arm (and woke me up) on their way to the bathroom I would have flown for free.

So now it’s Friday and I am still trying to recover, but I was able to get things done on Wednesday and Thursday that I would not have been able to do if I had waited to Wednesday to leave San Diego. Now comes the hard part – filing the expense report and trying to track exactly how many dimes I parted with. That could keep me up all night.

Thank you for reading this column.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Long Island University and College Residency Requirements

Jeroice from Portland, Oregon writes, "I was wondering how long do you have to live in Long Island before you can be considered for residency?"

Answer: Based on the fact that you are writing from a U.S. State (as opposed to out of the country) I believe you are asking this question for the purpose of qualifying for resident discounts on tuition at a Long Island School, University or college or trying to qualify for a scholarshp.

Long Island is part of and governed by New York State. So this question would fall under New York education law. Out-of-State residents attending schools within the State University of New York(SUNY Schools) are charged a higher rate of tuition than State residents. Other universities may offer discounts to NYS residents and have varying requirements for resident status to qualify for this discount. Generally, the term is one year to qualify for residency. Colleges and Universities provide forms and information detailing their specific requirements and may request documentation as proof of residency, i.e . driver's license, certificate of residency, utility bills, etc.

I recommend that you request information from the specific schools where you are applying for details as they may differ for each school.

For more information about New York State University (SUNY) schools, go to:
For information on residency status information for non-US citizens, go to:

Saturday, March 25, 2006

What is a Reverse Mortgage?


The first thing you need to do in order to understand the Reverse Mortgage, is to “throw away” everything you “thought you knew” about mortgages! While a Reverse Mortgage is a lien against your home like any other mortgage, that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

· A Reverse Mortgage is a special, Government sponsored program designed specifically for homeowners over the age of 62. Unlike a traditional mortgage, there are no monthly payments to make. There are also no credit or income checks required to qualify for the mortgage. This can be an important factor for seniors with less than sterling credit or for those living on reduced retirement incomes.

· Rates for Reverse Mortgages are set by our favorite Uncle (Sam). Because of this, “shopping for rates” between different brokers becomes a non-issue. Regardless of who you use to obtain your mortgage, your rates will be the same. This allows you to use the broker or bank that you feel most comfortable with – not the one who simply offers you the “best rate.”

· Under a traditional mortgage the monthly payments pay for the interest and most often, pay off principal on the loan, thereby reducing the amount of the mortgage. With the Reverse Mortgage the amount of cash you receive, together with the interest and other charges, are added to the loan balance. This balance however, never has to be re-paid until you move out of your home. (You do have to keep your taxes and insurance current and you are required to maintain the home.)

· A Reverse Mortgage is a non-recourse loan. This means that no assets other than your home can be attached to pay off the mortgage. This, combined with the fact that the mortgage amount can never exceed the value of your home (regardless of what it could conceivably grow to), provides perhaps the most attractive benefit of these mortgages.

Should the value of the mortgage be less than that of your home, either you or your estate receive the difference when you leave or pass away. Taken together, these features offer what could be considered a “Win-Win” situation.

Your mortgage balance becomes due when you sell the home, when you vacate it for more than 12 months, or when the last surviving senior homeowner passes away. On sale, it is satisfied at closing, as would be any other mortgage. Your heirs will have the option of paying off the amount due and keeping the home, or of simply selling the home.


Frank Miller: Reverse Mortgage Specialist With almost 20 years in Securities and Financial Planning, Frank is passionate about Reverse Mortgages for seniors. He views the Reverse Mortgage as a serious Financial Planning tool that can aid in many aspects of financial planning, making positive changes in the senior lifestyle.

Seniors or organizations interested in learning more about the reverse mortgage option, can benefit greatly from Frank’s broad financial background and experience. He can be contacted at 631-312-3569 or in the office at 866-937-3837.

Friday, March 24, 2006

It's Not TV - It's Repetitive Crap

BY MICHAEL WATT Ask Mr. Long Island

I used to think being New York State’s Lieutenant Governor was the easiest job in the world. Go ahead – try to name the second in command for the Empire State. I’ll give you a hint: It’s not Betsy McCaughy Ross. My guess is it’s Malcolm Wilson, as played by Tim Matheson.

Then I subscribed to HBO. Now I am convinced the easiest job in the world is the head of programming for HBO – or whatever title you give to the person who decides what to show on that channel.

Here’s what I imagine that person’s workload entails. He or she sits down at a computer and writes:

Sunday night: “The Sopranos.”
Monday night: “Dodgeball”
Tuesday night: “Dodgeball”
Wednesday night: “The Sopranos” “encore episode.”
Thursday night: “Six Feet Under”
Friday night: “Dodgeball”
Saturday night: “Fletch Lives.” Then boxing.

Next week: Substitute Tuesday’s “Dodgeball” with repeats of “Deadwood.”

Then he or she goes home.

Now what I know about television programming could fit inside Gary Coleman’s shoes. I do know what I see - or in the case of HBO what I don’t see. And I don’t see a whole lot other than the programming mentioned above and a series of stupid movies I wouldn’t rent from Blockbuster if there was nothing else on the shelf and I left the dog in the car with the engine running.

So why subscribe, you ask? Good question. I got through most of my 46 years without paying for cable, much less HBO. In the six years my wife, Sharon, and I lived in our apartment we got cable and HBO for free. I don’t know how or why, all I know is when I plugged the TV into the wall we had free cable and HBO. The only downside was every time there was a knock on the door we had to turn the TV off, just in case it was a door-to-door cable salesperson. Almost every night we had it I would say to Sharon, “Thank God we’re not paying for this. What a waste.”

When Sharon and I bought our home in 1993, however, I finally had to pay for cable out of my own pocket, which I did so grudgingly. I refused to spring for HBO, however.

Then along came “The Sopranos.” The first season the show debuted I heard dozens if not hundreds of people talking about the episodes, and of course the reviews were mostly laudatory.I made it through most of the season without succumbing to the temptation of subscribing but finally broke down and signed up just in time to see the final episode of the first season, where Uncle Junior sang for about 15 minutes. “What the hell is this,” I remember thinking, and un-subscribed just as quickly as I subscribed.

Over the next couple of years Sharon and I would cover our ears when others spoke of “The Sopranos” while the episodes were being broadcast because we decided to wait until the season came out on DVD. It was hard, to be sure, to hear tales of vanquished villains with their heads in bowling ball bags, but not so hard that we would part with an additional $12.95 a month to see the episodes in real time. Once the season came out on DVD, however, we would race to the video store and gorge ourselves on not one, not two but sometimes three episodes in a row on a Saturday night.

(This is not a practice I would recommend, by the way. Three consecutive hours of the Boys from the Bada Bing is the TV-watching equivalent of eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s at one sitting. It just overwhelms the system).

When they announced that this would be the last season for “The Sopranos,” however, I decided to spring for the HBO so we could watch the episodes right away. Talk about living the dream: We were going to be a part of High Society, freely conversing with all the other La-Di-Das who got to see “The Sopranos” as they were broadcast.

As much as we enjoy “The Sopranos” (Sunday’s episode notwithstanding) however, I still am amazed at the constant repetition of movies and shows I have no desire to see. It’s as if HBO is your buddy’s house where he only has a couple of DVDs. After a couple of days you don’t want to go there anymore to watch TV.

And yet HBO has made millions of dollars over the years. It’s something I have never understood. I should have known from the start, however. When my parents first subscribed to cable in the mid-1970s, for instance, HBO showed a movie called “Report To The Commissioner” like it was the Yule Log on Channel 11. The summer of 1983 it replayed the movie “Eddie and the Cruisers” to the point where a nation of young people were hypnotized into buying music made by something called John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band.

As my friend Darragh is bound to point out, nobody says I have to watch it. And I don’t. But there have been thousands if not millions of movies made over the years. Do we really need to watch the same ones over and over again? I sure get peeved when I think about paying for something that really should be a lot better. Maybe I ought to write a letter to my lieutenant governor.

Thank you for reading this column.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Spring is Here...Hike Long Island!

Connetquot State Park and Preserve, photo by Alida
Early spring, with longer days and warmer temperatures has many a Long Islander seeking fresh air and outdoor activities.
Did you know that the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference offers guided and independent hikes throughout Long Island’s Pine Barrens, State Parks and local Preserves?
The Greenbelt Conference, non-profit and volunteer supported, builds and maintains hiking trails throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
Ever wonder what our native Long Island must have looked like, before suburban development?
Many of these hikes are through pristine and undeveloped sections of our Island.
Contact the Greenbelt for information regarding this personally enriching outdoor experience.

Kermit wasn’t kidding

BY MICHAEL WATT Ask Mr. Long Island

Kermit the Frog once opined that “it ain’t easy being green,” or something to that effect. Never were those words more true on this, the dumbest of all holidays: St. Patrick’s Day.
Green beer. Green bagels. Green plastic hats with cheap rubber bands to hold them in place. Green sweaters dragged out of the closet for their once-a-year appearance. Green signs saying, “Erin Go Bragh,” even though nobody knows who Erin was or what Bragh is. Someone, somewhere, at some point today will make the joke, “too bad Erin doesn’t go bra-less,” and everybody will laugh, except for those unfortunate souls named Erin.

The only thing worse than all this nonsense are the whiny opinion pieces suggesting that St. Patrick’s Day would be better spent if the nation as a whole celebrated true Irish Culture and hosted poetry readings and song and dance recitals. That ain’t going to happen, of course, and even if it did I wouldn’t go.

The fact is I enjoy a party as much as the next person and, truth be told, I have had my fair share of fun on St. Patrick’s Day. There were the two St. Patrick’s Day (1982 and 1983), for instance, where I got to experience the day as a recent college grad working in Manhattan. In 1982 my friend Larry and I hooked up with a busload of our former fellow University of Scrantonites who were in New York City for the day. One of them, a walking talking Irish stereotype named Brendan who had a mop of flaming red hair and cream-cheese-white skin flecked with freckles, assured Larry and me that he “discovered” this great bar along the parade route where we would get the best Irish food and drink. We met him at the appointed intersection and he directed us toward a Blarney Stone that was on one of the corners.
Larry and I laughed our “been out of college almost a whole year and therefore much wiser to the ways of the world” Irish butts off at his college-student naiveté. Saying you “discovered” a Blarney Stone in Manhattan in those days would be like saying you “discovered” a McDonald’s in a food court in a shopping mall, and is just as rewarding from a culinary and quaffing point of view. Nonetheless, we parked ourselves at the corner of the bar and spent the better part of the day right there, with the rest of our former classmates. If memory serves, when it was time for the bus to go back to Scranton it was all they could do to get me off the vehicle. I was a little boy trying to crawl back into the womb of college living.

Things were definitely much more sporting the following year, 1983. Forsaking my Scranton compadres for newly-minted New York friends, I found myself in a party in a loft apartment somewhere in Manhattan. To this day if you put a gun to my head and said, “Take us to where this party was,” I would not even know which direction to head in, other than remembering it was south of 34th Street (oh yeah, that narrows it down). The party was hosted by “somebody somebody knew,” and it was wall-to-wall sweaty drunk people. But it was in a loft in Manhattan and therefore cooler than any party I had ever been to, before or since. I don’t know how we got in. I do know that we showed up empty handed.

At least I did not make a complete ass of myself at the party, as far as I can remember.
I can’t say as much for my St. Patrick’s Day performance a few years prior, 1978 in fact. During the spring semester of my freshman year at the aforementioned University of Scranton I decided to give up drinking for Lent, neglecting to consult a calendar and therefore realize that St. Patty’s Day fell on the weekend just prior to Easter. I was dry for a month or so leading up to the day, a very, very long stretch if I recall. So despite my desire to abstain – or perhaps because of same - I was quite eager to participate when someone in my social circle suggested that the lot of us head to Binghamton – where the drinking age was 18 at the time - to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

We went to this place called “The Downtown,” I think. It was an abandoned warehouse that was converted into a nightclub because, quite frankly, there is not a whole lot you can do with abandoned buildings in Binghamton. Not only did I fall off the wagon that night, I fell off and rolled around as if I were tossed out of a speeding Astin-Martin by James Bond himself and went rolling down an embankment. At some point I staggered back to my friend’s car and decided to sleep it off in the back seat. Of course I neglected to tell anyone this, leaving my friends to form a drunken search posse of sorts. Most of the guys were perturbed that they spent so much of their big night out looking for me – especially when I was in the car the whole time – but one of the savvier posse members used my milk-carton status as pick-up line. “Have you seen my friend?” he would ask the more attractive female members of the crowd. “He’s about six-four, 180 pounds and has enough acne on his face to pass for a war-room map.” Somehow this worked – my friend said he made the acquaintance of a number of young lovelies, all of whom were quite touched by his concern (and, apparently, oblivious to the fact that he was so “concerned” that he took the time to conduct extended conversations with total strangers while I was still “missing.”)

We made it back to Scranton in one piece, although you might say I woke up green with guilt for not making it through the Lenten season sans alcohol. The only consolation, I suppose – given my drunken condition the night before – is the fact that I did not wake up next to Miss Piggy.
Thank you for reading this column.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Fire Island Lighthouse

When was the last time you made a visit to the
Fire Island Lighthouse?
Do you know that they have winter hours and special events?
There will be a special event on Saturday, March 18th. Have tea with the first lady of the lighthouse, Marilyn Mahler.
She and her husband were stationed at Fire Island Light Station from 1948 until 1954.
Marilyn will tell stories of life on the barrier beach and about her experiences with raising her family at the lighthouse.
Date: Saturday, March 18, 2006 at 10 AM
Fee: $10.00 per person
Reservations: Required 631-661-4876
For more information about the tea, click here.
Why not visit soon and enjoy one of the most beautiful spots on the south shore?
Do you need more information?

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Antioxidant Life

BY MICHAEL WATT Ask Mr. Long Island

Antioxidants are the new black.

At least it would seem that way. You can’t swing a toxic substance in the supermarket without hitting some product that promises to rid you of every horrible thing in your body, with the possible exception of that worm at the bottom of the Tequila bottle you were introduced to freshman year in college. From the Green Tea to the blueberries to the red kidney beans, seemingly everything on the shelves is designed to expunge deadly toxins that are clearly the cause of every bad thing that has happened since the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped.

It didn’t used to be that way. We used to be proud of the toxins we consumed, bragged about them like some badge of honor. I have a friend, for instance, who says he has a picture of his mother when she was pregnant with him. She has a lit butt in one hand and a tumbler of Scotch in the other. If she did that today she would be brought up on charges. Even our daily existence was toxin-oriented. There was a time when the ideal breakfast was slices of bacon flanking fried eggs, pieces of white-bread toast slathered in real butter, washed down with a cup of strong coffee (made slightly more palatable with a splash of Half & Half). If you invited people over to your house or to a catered affair you made sure you put plenty of ashtrays about to accommodate the smokers in the crowd. Some people even put out bowls of cigarettes.

I know I used to be the Toxin King of Long Island. When my older brother and I were kids and hit the beach with our parents, for instance, we’d sneak off to the concession stand and help ourselves to the packets of sugar that were there for the coffee drinkers. Packets in hand we would then take off as if we had just committed the Crime of the Century and pour the White Powder into our mouths. What a glorious high. Of course this may explain why my teeth have more fillings than the back room of a Dunkin’ Donuts and also why to this day I can consume a bag of jelly beans in one sitting.

But I don’t, not anymore. Now I drink Green tea. Decaf Green tea. My favorite soup is Lentil because, well, let’s just say if you have Lentil soup for lunch you best not have anything important planned for the afternoon. When I read a menu in a restaurant the words “dark, leafy lettuce” cause my heart to pound the same way “I never believed the letters in your magazine until this one night when…” used to back in the day. I can’t help but think that if somebody told me dirt was full of antioxidants I’d probably sprinkle it on my oatmeal in the morning.

I’m not sure why or when I became so obsessed with ridding my body of God knows what. I enjoyed my toxins as much as the next guy and on occasion reminisce about the good old days of chowing down a microwaved Bean Burrito from 7-11 after a night of imbibing and otherwise engaging in dance of the single peoples at a local pub while cloaked in the smog of cigarette smoke and barroom BS.

Even the bar scene isn’t the same anymore. The other night I was invited to consume a few pints with some other fine fellows from the neighborhood. The men comprise a group called the “Saint Mary's Men's Monthly Reading Club,” or SMMMRC – so named, I guess, because rare is the male who went through Catholic school without being told to “wipe that smirk off your face” by a well-meaning but clearly tortured Woman of the Cloth. It is not a Catholic group by any means – it is so named because they meet at Mary Carroll’s Pub – nor is there much reading involved, at least judging by the meeting I attended. A considerable amount of drinking takes place, however, as it should be.

What struck me as odd – besides the fact that it had literally been years since I spent a Friday night in a bar – was the lack of smoke in the air. All the smokers, God bless them, were forced outside to indulge their habit. In my toxin-consuming prime, on the other hand, if you spent any extended time in a crowded bar the next morning your clothes smelled like Morton Downey’s pillowcase. Now, of course, by law the only toxic substances allowed inside a bar are the alcohol served and the Barry Manilow songs on the jukebox.

Which brings us back to trying to explain the popularity of the antioxidants. I have a theory but it is somewhat paradoxical: We love them because we love our toxins even more. We know that if we don’t counteract every Pastrami Reuben with a three-bean salad eventually we’re either going to learn more about the concept of the compacted colon than anyone outside of the medical profession should ever know or die.

The benefit to dying, of course, is that we will never again have to worry about detoxifying. And our loved ones get to wear black, regardless of whether it’s old or new.

Thank you for reading this column.

Winter in March on Long Island

Park by the Bay
It is March 10th and winter is coming to an end.
Most of us are looking forward to the warmer weather and longer days. On Long Island, this is a beautiful time of year.
We have four wonderful seasons on this beautiful island, and at this time the promise of spring and summer takes us through the last stages of winter and the cold.
The photo above is Sayville; a park near the bay.
The trees are bare and the air is cold. Yet, the sun feels warm against uncovered skin.
Long shadows are cast against the dormant grass fields. This is a favorite spot for most Sayville residents to walk, jog, ride a bike or just sit and enjoy the beauty of the Great South Bay.
There is always something to see. Birds are everywhere...not just seagulls, but ducks, grebs, coots, pigeons...just to name a few.
Occasionally, a boat or two will pass by. Whether it is a ferry or fishing boat, its sprint across the bay is fun to watch.
Today the sun is warm. We will enjoy the outdoors and wait for spring.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Where to go bowling on Long Island, New York

Wendy from New Hyde Park, NY asks, "Can you give me the names and addresses of bowling on Long Island?"

A very popular question asked by people looking for things to do. This list is pretty comprehensive covering Long Island bowling alleys in Nassau County and Suffolk County, New York.