Long Island

June 17, 1994: The Most Important Day of the Nineties

The cover to the 1994 Regents exam in English.

The cover to the 1994 Regents exam in English.

Had the events of the evening of June 17, 1994 not proceeded the way they did, i am sure that I would have remembered the day anyway.  It wouldn’t have had the national significance that it does; still, it’s not every year that the Rangers get a ticker tape parade because they won the Stanley Cup.  In fact, that day wound up marking the end of two significant periods of my life hours before O.J. and A.C. managed to take the Los Angeles Police Department and every television station in the country up the 405 for 50 miles and a few hours.

At 8:30 that morning in the Sayville High School gymnasium, I sat down to take my English Regents.  This was both the culmination of three years of novels, plays, literary essays, and compositions at the hands of my English teachers as well as the very last Regents I would have to take.  That may not seem like much, especially to people who did not grow up and attend public school in New York State, but those who did know exactly what I mean when I say that I considered the end of my Regents-taking career to be a cause for celebration, if however minor.

Regents were what kept us in school until late in June (well, that an starting after Labor Day and having a week off in February) and were a ritual for high school students since the New York State Department of Education started them way back in the 1930s (a quick look at the archives, shows tests on homemaking in the 1950s and 1960s).  Coming sealed in plastic and bearing titles like “The University of the State of New York Regents High School Examination Comprehensive Examination in English,” the tests were more than a rite of passage–they were one of the most important rituals of our academic careers.  Starting after Easter, our book bags were further weighed down with Red Barron’s books full of old tests, which we’d take and then pore over to see what we were doing right and what needed improvement.

A Barron's Regents review book, courtesy of Amazon.com

A Barron’s Regents review book, courtesy of Amazon.com

And English wasn’t particularly hard, although I’m sure my students would blanch at the sight of it.  Whereas current students in Virginia take SOL exams in reading and writing that are passage-based and have one simple five-paragraph prompt-based persuasive essay, my generation had to endure spelling,  definitions, two essays (a literary analysis piece and a composition), and a listening section.  That’s right–a portion of our test required us to sit and listen while our teachers read a passage and we had to answer multiple-choice questions based on what we heard.  I’m sure that such a concept would send today’s average anti-testing advocate/expert into a blood-vomiting rage.  Personally, I never thought twice about it, but then again I was one of those students they’d accuse of having Stockholm Syndrome or something because I dutifully took my Regents exams and did well in school.

Anyway, I remember chugging through the multiple choice, choosing one of the two literary essay prompts (which have both made their way onto my 10th grade advanced English final in recent years) and writing a composition that I think I titled “Notes From a Rest Stop on the Information Highway.”  It was my attempt at wit, I guess, and it seemed to work because I did well enough to continue on my path to graduating with honors a year later.

A page from the spelling section of the 1994 Regents English exam.

A page from the spelling section of the 1994 Regents English exam.

I wasn’t thinking of any of that while taking the test, of course, because the Rangers parade was going to be on television and the Regents exam was the only reason I hadn’t asked my parents if I could take the train to the city that morning (same could be said for my friends as well because we all had to take the Regents).  So like everyone else, I watched it on television.  To this day, the Rangers hoisting the Cup as they drove through the Canyon of Heroes followed by the presentations at City Hall seem surreal.  I wasn’t wearing my jersey–I had finally thrown that in the laundry after superstitiously refusing to wash it throughout the playoffs–but I was glued to my television set the way I was eight years earlier when my dad taped the 1986 Mets parade for me.

The Rangers hoist the cup on Broadway.

The Rangers hoist the cup on Broadway.

Of course, the television would be more important later that night.  But I didn’t know that; did anyone?

Stone Temple Pilots were supposed to appear on Letterman.  I don’t think that’s why I stayed home, but at some point in the afternoon, I made a mental note to stay up late and turn on The Late Show after I was done with whatever Friday night plans I had made–which, knowing my life in 1994 was probably renting videos and watching them in the basement–so I could see one of my favorite bands.  But of course, that didn’t happen.  Well, the STP performance actually did because Letterman taped his show in the afternoon, but it never aired.

At some point–I don’t remember when–I turned on the television and saw live footage of a white Ford Bronco speeding down a Los Angeles freeway followed by police.  The news reporters said that driving the Bronco was Al Cowlings and his passenger was O.J. Simpson. (more…)

Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 29 — Now I Can Die in Peace

Episode 29 CoverTwenty years ago, the New York Rangers won their first Stanley Cup since 1940.  Join me as I reminisce about that amazing run and talk about my life as a Rangers fan as well as share the memories of some of my friends.

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

And in case you’d like to relive the entire season, here is “OH BABY!” the Rangers highlight video from 1994:



A Banquet, a Song, a Date, a Mug

December_1963_oh_what_a_nightA few months ago, I was doing the dishes after breakfast, and after putting my coffee mug in the drying rack, I heard it crash to the floor.  I sighed and grabbed the broom and dustpan, and while sweeping it up, got annoyed.  I was annoyed at myself for not being careful, but also annoyed that a mug I had owned for twenty years was now gone.

The black coffee mug with a gold rim and “Sayville High School ’95” was the favor from my junior banquet, which took place on April 18, 1994. I honestly don’t know why it was called a banquet and not a prom–I suspect it had something to do with the seniors not wanting the juniors to call our dance a “prom” because my high school was all about that petty sort of crap–but it was the first formal school dance I ever attended.  In fact, if you want to get technical, it was my first date.

It is shocking to absolutely no one that I was an incredibly late bloomer.  Oh sure, I knew as early as elementary school that I liked girls, but at sixteen, I had not evolved socially beyond the awkwardness I had around girls when I was twelve.  I could control my behavior and wasn’t as obnoxious or immature in the presence of a pretty girl, but I still had ridiculous crushes on girls who were way out of my league, and even as late as college it took signals brighter than the average Times Square billboard for me to pick up on the fact that someone found me even marginally attractive.  In fact, at that point, my pursuit of the opposite sex amounted to asking out my crush in the ninth grade (and getting rejected) and getting friendzoned by someone prior to Christmas break, so the idea that I’d actually get a date for a dance was pretty ridiculous.

The junior banquet, though, was the social event of the year–at least for me, anyway–and because of that I felt that finding a date was necessary.  Okay, there was no stated obligation to find a date, but I definitely felt some sort of pressure to make sure I had a companion for the evening.  Maybe it was because my friends were getting dates or maybe because the dance was formal.  Personally, I blame our class’s choice of a theme song:  “Oh What a Night.” (more…)

Bowling, Burgers, and Birthdays

Sayville Bowl Interior

The interior of Sayville Bowl.  Image courtesy of MapQuest.  Year unknown.

I went to a kid’s birthday party a few weeks ago.  Normally, these are held at one of those huge playland places that have ball pits, inflatables, kiddie habitrails, and that have names like Bounce and Play or Adventure Central.  This party, however, was at the local bowling alley, and as I watched my son bowl (well, more like drop the ball in the lane and rush back to the chair so he could see the computer animation), I couldn’t help but think of the number of bowling birthday parties I attended as a kid.

My birthday parties–and most of my friends’ birthday parties–were pretty standard back in the 1980s.  We’d go to the birthday kid’s house, play a few games, eat pizza or hamburgers and hot dogs, drink way too much soda, and finish off with Carvel cake.  Then everyone would go home with goody bags that matched the decorations–cups, plates, paper tablecloths, etc–for Star Wars, He-Man, or whatever the party’s theme was.  Sometimes, the party would be a sleepover and we would put the parents through hell because hours of fun and hours of soda and candy equals no actual sleeping at the sleepover.  The parties were straightforward and always fun.

But bowling parties were a reality and we considered them some of the most memorable at the time, even if they don’t measure up to the standards of today’s epic theme parties and play apparatus.  Bowling at a birthday party in the early 1980s was some of the most fun you could have as a kid for a few hours, and Sayville Bowl was the typical AMF bowling center whose decor would remain so unchanged for years that when I was in high school and college it seemed like 1979-1983 were being preserved for posterity.  I don’t remember being a particularly good bowler–it was a lot of gutterballs and not enough Superman III–but I remember having an enormous amount of fun anyway.

Sigh … it’s never Superman III. (more…)

Show Me That Panarese Smile

The portrait studio section of an unknown Sears.

The portrait studio section of an unknown Sears.

My sister and I cannot smile.

Okay, that’s not entirely true–we have the muscle function that is necessary to smile, but if you ask us to sit for a picture and smile for the camera, it’s likely you won’t get a genuine smile out of either of us.  Instead, you’ll get what we refer to as “The Panarese Smile.”

A smile that is not so much an expression of happiness or delight as it is a grimace of discomfort or pain, The Panarese Smile has been a constant presence in family pictures since around the time the two of us were teenagers.  Any time we got together with our extended family–usually a holiday like Christmas or Easter–all of the cousins would be corralled into one area of the house and have to sit for pictures.  And when those pictures came out, you’d see that nancy and I looked like having our pictures taken was the absolutely last thing we wanted to do.  In fact, in some of the pictures taken when I was in high school or college, I not only look like I’m in pain but my expression is downright hostile, as if I were saying, “You dragged my ass all the way out here and now you want me to pose for a picture?  How dare you!”

I have no explanation as to why I was such a bitchy teenager.  My life wasn’t hard and I had no reason to truly rebel.  But I was just moody and bitchy half the time, and it would be especially so among my family during picture time.  More than likely, I was annoyed that taking pictures meant that I had to put my book down or that I had to stop watching whatever game or movie I’d parked myself in front of to endure what seemed like endless torture at the hands of my mother and aunts.

Until I had to endure the portrait sessions of weddings, I had no idea how painful a photography session could be, but at fifteen or sixteen I wasn’t there yet so there was nothing more annoying than being asked to sit on the front porch of my grandmother’s house with the sun shining directly in my eyes while people with cameras yelled “Over here!  Tommy!  Look over here!  Now over here!”

Actually, that’s a lie.  There was one thing worse than several of those sessions put together.  The Sears Portrait Studio. (more…)

Two Liters With a Pie


The flat remains of a two-liter bottle of Diet Pepsi. Yes, that’s my kitchen in the background.

A couple of months ago, I was at a work function where food was being served.  We had a few tables of fried chicken and some sides as well as a table of two-liter soda bottles.   As I poured myself a cup of Diet Pepsi, I couldn’t help but think of how ubiquitous the two-liter is—it’s a party and holiday industry standard and has been ever since I was a kid.

I suppose that is  not something to get really nostalgic about, especially since it’s a plastic bottle.  It’s not the iconic 6.5-ounce contour shaped glass Coke bottle that is the “nostalgic” Coke bottle and it doesn’t have the personality of the 20-ounce bottle, which is easily accessible and personal, plus it’s shaped like an old classic glass Coke bottle so it calls back to images where people from the 1950s or so pop a top of a glass Coke bottle.  The two-liter has never had that.  When you buy one of those, you twist off the metal or a plastic cap, and don’t think twice about it.

Which is indicative of the area and time period that constitutes my youth.  Having been born in 1977,  I have this attraction to the shopping mall, the multiplex, and everything else in the suburbs.  It is an era that is by and large disposable and I think on some level, even though nostalgia has turned its eye a little more toward my formative years, that nostalgia is selective at best—it’s the music, the movies, the fashion.  Nobody is going to look at suburban life in the 1970s and 1980s with the same rose-colored glasses our culture uses for the 1950s.  Because the decades of my childhood are the rose-colored 1950s’ unfortunate afterbirth:  Levitt homes and small towns gave way to shopping malls, gated communities, and McMansions, especially where I grew up.  You cannot go anywhere on Long Island without seeing shopping malls or multiplexes.

But then, there’s the pizza parlor. (more…)

Being Michael Grates

stillerrealitybitesAbout a week or two ago, I came across a few articles filled with emotional hand-wringing on the part of the generation often referred to as Millenials.  I read about how there is a generational conflict between this younger generation, which seems to be dismayed that the world doesn’t think they are entitled to anything; and older generations, who wish these kids would get over themselves.  It’s accompanied by talk about the uphill battle this generation faces as it enters a very touchy employment situation–the job market, after all, is terrible–and will have an enormous amount of student loan debt.  There is also the sentiment of “You created this mess and we inherited it.”

I found myself thinking about how Millennials need to get over themselves and how they’re all entitled brats, but then I couldn’t help but be reminded of two decades ago when Generation X seemed to be facing the same problems.  I am sure that your average Millennial will tell me otherwise, but it seems that there is something universal here:  the up-and-coming generation takes crap from the older generation. And I also couldn’t help but watch Reality Bites, the 1994 Winona Ryder-Ethan Hawke film that attempted to capture the struggle that particular group of twentysomethings was going through at the time.  Watching it again–and I watch it every once in a while–I knew that I would have a slightly different perspective and perhaps even view at least one of the characters a different way.  Not surprisingly, the character I seemed to sympathize with more than I did when I first saw the movie as a teenager was Michael Grates. (more…)

Amy + Joey 4eva

The_Amy_Fisher_Story_DVDSo I’m not the only person in my generation who is starting to feel a little older because quite a number of the things that I enjoyed when I was in high school are turning 20.  We’ve already passed the 20th anniversaries of Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten and are about a year or so away from the 20th anniversary of the release of Green Day’s Dookie, an album that I have always considered to be very significant in my personal music-listening history.

What we haven’t really noted is a moment that while it is really not much more than a blip in our culture’s history.  On December 28, 1992 and January 3, 1993, three movies about Amy Fisher aired on television.

Yeah, I know that sounded way more epic than it actually was, but you have to understand that I grew up on Long Island and for the last half of 1992 through at least the first half of 1993, and while there were plenty of other probably more important things going on in both the world and in the world of entertainment, this was the most important thing that was going on.  From the moment Amy did her perp walk to when she went to jail, you could not escape her story.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the story, in 1991, Amy Fisher began an affair with Joey Buttafuoco, the owner of the body shop where she had taken her car after wrecking it (and had supposedly enticed him into the affair so that her parents wouldn’t find out).  Fisher was sixteen years old at the time and would plead guilty to statutory rape in October 1992, eventually serving jail time.

But while the affair’s lurid details would capture Long Island’s (and eventually the nation’s) attention, nobody would have cared one bit about Amy Fisher if not for what had happened on May 19, 1992, when she knocked on the Buttafuocos’ door and confronted Joey’s wife, Mary Jo, about an affair her husband was having with one of Amy’s “friends.”  When Mary Jo blew her off, Fisher shot her in the head.  Fisher was arrested and charged three days later on May 22, and her perp walk was covered on the evening news:

Usually with stories like this, I don’t know much about what is going on until it makes such major headlines that it’s hard to ignore.  But believe it or not, I happened to be up late on May 22, 1992 (it was a Friday and being that I had no life I was probably home all night watching movies in my parents’ basement), and for whatever reason watched the 11:00 news and saw her being led away in handcuffs while the on-air reporter gave details about what she had been charged with. (more…)

Memories of Concrete and Asphalt

8088965584_cef7870c35Back in October, my parents came down from Long island to take my son to Kings Dominion, an amusement park just outside of Richmond.  Being that he’s only five years old, he was interested in the animatronic dinosaurs and kiddie rides, one of which was the Peanuts tie-in called “Joe Cool’s Driving School.”  He sat in a little car and drove around a mock streetscape that came complete with traffic lights, road signs, and street lamps, one of which looks exactly like the crooked-style street lamp that I remember being attached to jersey barriers on the Wantagh Parkway.

In case you are unfamiliar with the Wantagh Parkway or any of the other parkways on Long Island, this is one of a network of roads that shuttles passengers around Long Island, especially to and from New York City.  I won’t name and describe all of them, but will say that the two most well-known are the Southern State and Northern State, which run on the south and north shores, respectively, with parkways like the Meadowbrook, Wantagh, and Sagtikos connecting them from north to south.  The parkways were designed in the earlier decades of the 20th Century by Robert Moses (who was parks commissioner at the time and has a state park and causeway named after him) and are passenger car-only roadways with stone-façade bridges, and even some hiking and walking trails.

A satellite view of the Wantagh Parkway, courtesy of Google Maps.

A satellite view of the Wantagh Parkway, courtesy of Google Maps.

But important to me and my childhood on Long Island, these parkways were the way my family traveled from our house in Sayville to my grandmother’s house in New Hyde Park.  She and my grandfather (who passed away when I was in high school) lived in a  typical post-war suburban home that they had moved into back in the late 1940s or early 1950s when my grandfather had returned from the Second World War, living in Brooklyn became tougher, and these homes were becoming more readily available.  My family drove this route more times than I can count, and it wasn’t until I attended Joe Cool’s Driving School that I realized that every trip to my grandmother’s was a history lesson.  I honestly don’t know what prompted it—probably because I have always associated Peanuts with the suburban 1960s of its television specials—and I honestly don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it before.  After all, I have always been interested in the modern history of my homeland (although I have only read Robert Caro’s infamous New Yorker article on Robert Moses and not The Power Broker, which I swear I will one day pick up and read) so you think I would have realized that Long Island has an element of “living history” to it.

Exit W3 in 2009 with the parkway's crooked lamp posts, courtesy of street view on Google Maps ...

Exit W3 in 2009 with the parkway’s crooked lamp posts, courtesy of street view on Google Maps …

Then again, you rarely notice these things when you live among them and the history of suburban Long Island is not designated with historical markers the way the Revolutionary and Civil War landmarks are near my current home in Virginia.  It’s more geologic, in a sense.  When you look at a rock formation or a canyon, you see striations in the rocks and any geologist can tell you how that determines the age as well as what can clue you into that area’s history (for example, the presence of certain elements can suggest that, say, an asteroid hit the Earth at some point).  When you look at the suburbs of Long island, you see that their history is layered.  Sure, Levitt bulldozed farmland and build houses at one point and Moses did the same for the parkways, but that was more than half a century ago and since then, one thing has been built on top of one another, or the old has been repurposed, perhaps several times over.

... and the same exit taken in 2011, accessed on Google Maps.

… and the same exit taken in 2011, accessed on Google Maps.

Starting my trip in my parents’ house in Sayville is perfect for this sort of examination.  My hometown is a good 200 years old and while it has had its fair share of changes over the years (read: something was knocked down in order to put up another bank), there are still vestiges of its former life as a seaside gateway for the turn-of-the-century upper class as well as century-old main street buildings that are more suited to its life a s pre-suburban small town, as are the towns of West Sayville and Oakdale, which we would snake through on our way to the three parkways that would eventually take us to New Hyde Park.

Each seems to have its own personality.  The Southern State, which when I was a little kid still had a few timber post street lamps lining its shoulders, has the feel of what I can imagine was truly considered a “parkway”—a sprawling, twisting, turning road with stone-façade bridges that reminds you that you are, in fact, driving along the south shore.  Even when it becomes the Belt Parkway (the bane of any New York-area traveler), you still feel like you are on a coastal highway.  Contrast that with the Northern State, witch seems to choke its way along the north shore before it becomes the Grand Central Parkway and heads straight for Fitzgerald’s Valley of Ashes, and you have a look at various shades of the past.  On approach to New Hyde Park via the Northern State, there are the North Shore Towers, which is a high rise luxury condo but always seemed like a reminder that we were near New York City.

But not the New York City of the time; a New York City of another era, or the type of city I remembered from years of educational films.  And the Wantagh provided the transition between the more open, even rural Suffolk County and the increasingly urban Nassau County.  Whereas the Southern and Northern States both saw their looks change from years past—lanes were expanded and timber post lights were modernized—for years, the Wantagh still had the same crooked lamp post that were installed in the 1970s and it skirted by towns that at a glance looked like they hadn’t changed in years.  It’s not an extraordinary stretch of road by any means and we were only on the parkway for a few miles, but between those towns and those lights, I always felt as if I were going back in time. (more…)

Just ‘Round the Corner!

If you watch enough television where I live–Charlottesville, Virginia–you will probably see commercials for no less than four furniture stores.  There’s Kane Furniture (with a kicky cool-jazz-with-flute jingle: “At Kaaaaaaaaane furniture, you’ll have a home fashioned just for you”), Under the Roof (which is a montage of modern-looking furniture set to a ragin’ drum solo), Grand Furniture, and Schewels (who always is having a sale.  They had a Friday the 13th sale last month).  I swear they advertise more than car dealerships these days, although it is understandable because in a recession, buying furniture is one of the last purchases on a person’s mind.

The unfortunate thing about all this is that with the exception of Schewels’ Crazy Eddie-like tendencies (“WE’RE GIVING EVERYONE CREDIT!  WE’RE GIVING EVERYONE EMPLOYEE PRICES!  FOR GOD’S SAKE COME IN AND BUY AN ENDTABLE!”), the furniture store commercials in Charlottesville are kind of boring.  It’s like … yeah, there’s a couch with giant arms wider than most morbidly obese people.  Oh, and a glass table with a marble column for a pedestal just in case someone from New Jersey might shop here.  And a denim loveseat.  I’m so excited.

But hey, I consider myself spoiled when it comes to local television furniture store commercials (yes, you can be spoiled in this regard) because I grew up on Long Island and our local TV spots were nothing short of epic.

While I am sure that there were more stores advertising on television, when I think back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, I think of two stores:  Coronet and Room Plus

Coronet was a family owned baby furniture store located in Old Westbury, and probably did good business for quite a while when I was younger because those were the days before the baby superstores.  In fact, nowadays, I’m pretty sure that if you do not register yourself at Babies R Us or Buy Buy Baby, you get a visit from Child Protective Services.

Anyway, the commercials mostly starred the two owners–a couple of brothers with mustaches who looked like your uncle or older cousin–and they’d usually be doing some sort of gag while their mother (“The Coronet Mother”) did the pitch.  For instance, The Coronet Mother pitches with her two boys in cribs behind her: