Friday, August 31, 2007

It’s Takes A Labor Day of Love to Fully Appreciate the Summer

Ask Mr. Long IslandBy Michael Watt

Is there a more melancholy holiday than the Labor Day Weekend?

Think about it. Nobody even tries to guilt us into not enjoying ourselves by reminding everybody that the day was originally created to give American laborers a much-needed day off. To many of us Labor Day simply serves as the unofficial, summer-ending bookend to the unofficial, summer-starting Memorial Day weekend. To the thousands of schoolteachers living throughout Long Island it denotes the end of the party, the extended-summer-vacation equivalent of somebody turning the lights up and the stereo off as a signal for everyone to go home – or, in this case, back to work. After having ten-plus weeks with no alarm clocks ringing, that must be one nasty transition.

The Labor Day weekend also serves as a good time to assess one’s summer. I like to look back and ask myself if I accomplished all that I set out to accomplish way back in May. Of course I never do. I’m 47 and I have no recollection whatsoever of ever experiencing a summer where I felt I made the best possible use of my time. This summer, for instance, I spent zero hours with my family at the beach. Not one second frolicking in the sand and pretending to go into the ocean. Shame on me for that. I plead baseballus parentus, but still. What’s the point of living on Long Island if you don’t take advantage of all it has to offer? One little barbecue on the sandy shores of Robert Moses? Is that asking too much?

In the meanwhile, thanks to endless hours on the ball field wearing shorts and a t-shirt I find myself sporting a baseball tan – bronzed lower legs, wrists, neck and face. My chest and belly, however, are whiter than a Love Child produced by Gwen Stefani and Edgar Winter would look should such a human being ever come into existence. I should also point out that because I wore sandals whenever possible this summer I have tan lines that make my feet look like I’m wearing white buck shoes even when I am barefoot.

It was a strange summer, too, in the sense that it never really seemed to get off the ground. I blame the lackluster Fourth of July, and I blame the lackluster on the fact that the Fourth of July took place on a Wednesday. We didn’t get that extended Fourth of July break and, as a result, I never got into a summer groove.

The Yankees never really seemed to get going, either - this past week's sweep of the Red Sox notwithstanding. No long winning streaks, no running away with the pennant. They didn’t completely stink, either, as they have in other summers. Nineteen ninety, for instance, was horrific – one loss after another. If it hadn’t been for the birth of my son Alex that year the summer would have been a total loss.

It’s funny how you remember different summers, and how some summers are more memorable than others.

Since 1999 my summers have been dominated by baseball – Little League baseball initially and now travel team ball. I would not have it any other way, with the possible exception of working in a little more beach time, anyway. The summer of 2007 will be remembered by me as the summer of the weddings: my niece Nadya’s and my sister Ann’s. I have written quite enough about them of late, thank you very much, but it is funny how you spend the days counting down to an event and then the next thing you know nearly a month has gone by since the event took place.

It’s also interesting how certain songs instantly remind you of summers past. Every time I hear any of the following songs my mind is instantly transformed to good times celebrating sand, surf and sunshine: “Heatwave” - Martha Reeves & The Vandellas; “Summer Wind” – Frank Sinatra; “The Girls on The Beach” and/or “The Warmth of the Sun” by The Beach Boys; anything by The Beach Boys, really, and of course, the ultimate summer song, “Summer In The City” - The Lovin' Spoonful.

Which brings us back to Labor Day. I started the column with the notion that it is a melancholy weekend. But there is something pleasant about it, too. Donning a sweatshirt and watching the sun go down on Sunday night is something special. You feel the chill of the autumn onset and you know it is time to get back to work, time for the third act of the calendar year. Ideally you get a chance to play Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” a few hundred times, fire up a stogie, draw yourself a Scotch on the rocks and then reflect back on what was and what should have been. Then you wash the sand off your feet for the last time this year and head back to the house, knowing that the alarm is going to go off the next morning and its back to the grind.

Oh well.

Thank you for reading this column.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Living The Scooter Life

Ask Mr. Long IslandBy Michael Watt

If I could figure out a way to do it, I would walk around with the number 10 sewn onto my shirtsleeves, at least for the rest of the baseball season. That’s how upset I was last week to learn of the passing of Phil Rizzuto, even though his demise was not unexpected. (Does anybody else find it weird that Phil died on the same day – albeit 12 years later – that Mickey Mantle died, and just three days before the anniversaries of the deaths of Elvis and Babe Ruth? It’s just weird is all I am saying.)

Forget about Rizzuto the baseball player, or even Rizzuto the announcer. How about Rizzuto the living representation of how much we should enjoy life?

Even as a kid growing up watching Yankee games on TV and listening to them on the radio (back then announcers did double duty, rotating between radio and television duties), I marveled at the good fortune this man enjoyed. He grew up in Brooklyn and despite his diminutive size played on a string of championship Yankee teams the likes of which may never be seen again. Once his playing days were over – and he was rather unceremoniously dismissed from the team’s roster – he just moved upstairs to the broadcast booth and plied his art there for another 40 years. Forty years!

His success on the field was all the more remarkable because of his size. His “success” – some people would argue that he was a terrible announcer – in the booth was even more amazing because his initial two broadcast partners, Red Barber and Mel Allen, were living legends themselves and non-athletes who resented his lack of formal training and announcing skills. Yet Phil persevered and, as a result, never had to lift anything heavy for the rest of his life.

The man played the game his entire career with a piece of chewing gum on top of his hat for good luck! Can you imagine any of today’s self-important, image-is-everything athletes running around with gum on his hat? Not going to happen – unless, of course, a chewing gum company paid a small fortune for the exposure.

Then there were the games he broadcast. As I mentioned earlier, like many New Yorkers I grew up listening and watching the “Scooter” do his thing during Yankee broadcasts. His voice and persona are as integral a part of the soundtrack of my youth as my grandfather’s – and that’s saying something. Both had a certain way of talking that just could not help but entertain, and both lived and loved to tell a story.

On the night of his death my family and I were watching the Yankees being pasted by the Baltimore Orioles. It occurred to me that I had a copy of a televised Yankee game I recorded – WITHOUT expressed, written consent from Major League Baseball, I might add - in 1996. I had taped the game because my son Alex and I had tickets to it and the tickets were right along the leftfield foul line. I wanted to preserve the game for posterity just in case the camera caught us in the crowd (it did – for a fleeting second or two). Of course I forgot all about it until last week.

I dug out the tape, popped it into the VCR (yes, we still have an operating VCR hooked up in our house) and relished the dulcet sounds of Mr. Rizzuto wishing half the world a happy birthday and thanking the other half for sending fresh pastries. He bantered with his broadcast partner, former Yankee Rick Cerone, about this and that and, oh yeah, occasionally noticed that there was a baseball game going on. His storytelling meanderings notwithstanding, Phil knew the game as well as any of the other pontificating poof-heads working the baseball airwaves today. I had forgotten how much fun it could be to watch a Yankee game.

And let’s not forget the fact that Phil Rizzuto is the answer to one of the all-time great trivia questions: Who is the only American League MVP to earn a Platinum Album award as well? Phil, of course, was immortalized for his “play-by-play” interlude in “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” on Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell.” The story goes that when my man Todd Rundgren (who produced “Bat Out Of Hell”) was told that Phil Rizzuto agreed to be on the album, Todd’s reply was, “Really? What instrument does he play?”

I still haven’t figured out whether so many things worked out well for Phil Rizzuto because of his positive outlook on life or whether he had a positive outlook BECAUSE so many things worked out for him. They just did. God bless him.

So thanks, Phil, for the laughs and the great baseball and, mostly, for being such a fun part of my life. You will be missed.

Thank you for reading this column.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Metro NY Balloon & Music Festival, August 10, 11, & 12th

Photo courtesy of Alida Thorpe
My husband and I went early this morning, sunrise actually, to the
Metro NY Balloon & Music Festival,
being held August 10th, 11th & 12th at Brookhaven Calabro Airport.
Unfortunately, a north wind kept the balloons from flying.
As one balloon owner said, " this wind, nowhere to go but the ocean!"
It was wonderful to watch the balloons fire up and get ready.
For more information, directions and the festival information, visit the
I will tell you that it costs $10 to park and $25 per person to enter, so it is not an inexpensive family activity.
No coolers are allowed but you can bring in a folding chair.
Hope you enjoy your Long Island weekend!

Friday, August 10, 2007

So Many Milestones, So Little Time

Ask Mr. Long IslandBy Michael Watt

Okay, so we’re in the homestretch of what I affectionately refer to as my mini-milestone-marathon.

Last weekend (on Friday), you’ll recall, my niece Nadya got married. This Saturday it’s my sister Annie’s turn. That’s a lot of excitement in an eight-day span. Throw in the birthdays of my two sons (Alex, 17 and Max, 13), the premier of “The Simpsons Movie,” a night out for a rock concert (Todd Rundgren and “The New Cars”), more than a handful of baseball and softball games and – oh yeah, that damn day job - and you have a whirlwind couple of weeks on your hands. Did I mention that we are having the house painted this week? Right now the fumes have me higher than a Rastafarian at a Reggae concert After Party.

Whew! As my favorite rappers like to say, “It’s all good.” But is it amusing? Let’s find out.

As I predicted, at my niece’s wedding my wife Sharon and I found ourselves situated so far removed from the action you could have used a golf cart to get from our table to the dance floor. Not to worry – we were that much closer to the Viennese table at night’s end. Of course being closer to the desserts than to the dance floor probably resulted in my adding a couple of pounds to the mid-section by night’s end, but it was just as well. The DJ, believe it or not, did not have a copy of “Love Shack” to play.

Can you imagine that?

It’s times like these that I wish I could be governor of Long Island. If I were and I became aware of a “Love Shack”-less DJ I would decree – right there on the spot – that all DJs plying their craft on the Island had to be licensed and in order to secure that license they had to demonstrate a willingness and ability to spin the greatest song ever written about a shanty with a rusted tin roof. Being a DJ at a party and not spinning “Love Shack” is like opening an ice cream store and not offering chocolate. Stupid DJs. Oh, and for the record it’s not as if I was the only one asking for the song, either. A hip, vivacious, pretty young lady - in other words, everything I am not – asked repeatedly for the song to be played, too. When she wasn’t tugging on her strapless gown, that is, to make sure the situation didn’t deteriorate from a "Love Shack" request to Love Rack display, if you know what I mean.

Because I like to think of myself as a pro-active, pre-emptive, let’s-make-lemonade-out-of-a-lemon kind of guy, I have commissioned my son Alex to burn a copy of “Love Shack” onto a blank CD and will keep that CD in the glove compartment of my car go forward, so that this tragic situation will never again have to be endured.

Other than the Shack-less blemish the wedding was a blast. The DJs did, for instance, play “Shout.” “The Worm” was performed to perfection by yours truly with many, many others accompanying me. They might not have realized they were accompanying me, of course, but trust me – they were. I bow to no one – with the possible exception of my brothers Eddie and Raymond – when it comes to declaring myself “King of The Worm.”

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Nadya’s wedding was the fact that it started on time. It seems the bride has a thing about punctuality and even the priest was caught off guard. He started his sermon by commenting that in his many years of marrying couples this ceremony marked the first time one had started when it was supposed to.

The priest marrying my sister Ann and her fiancĂ© Mark will not be making such comments. Ann’s just as organized and on top of things as Nadya, mind you, but punctuality has never been a big priority at the Watt household. When my brother Ray got married, for instance, he asked all his brothers to be ushers and as a result we were there, in the back, when the Wedding Mass started. “So this is what the beginning of Mass looks like,” cracked one of my other brothers.

Ann’s getting married in St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, the same church where my parents got married back in 1952 and almost 33 years to the day that my older sister Margaret became the first in our family to marry. In between there have been eight other Watt wedding days. (If you’re keeping score at home, that leaves three brothers yet to be married. Don’t hold your breath; as far as I can tell each is quite happy with their single status. All the more power to them.)

The reception afterward will serve as a family reunion as much as anything else, with brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles coming in from all over the country. Those are always fun, too, especially with every one all dressed up and on their best behavior. I know I plan to don the same pair of red argyle socks I wore to my wedding 22 years ago and to every wedding since (including Nadya’s). I also know that while wearing those red socks I will be the first one (okay, maybe the second or third) out to the dance floor to do “The Worm.”

Hey – you celebrate your milestones your way, I’ll celebrate them with mine.

Thank you for reading this column.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Montauk Point Lighthouse

Montauk Point Lighthouse, Long Island


For more information about the lighthouse and visitors' center...Click here!