Long Island is a suburb of New York City. It is known for many things: the alcoholic blitz of a drink dubbed iced tea; pronouncing letters that should be silent, as in Lawn Guyland; the Hamptons, that coveted playground of the rich and famous; Billy Joel (Hicksville); Fitzgerald’s East and West Eggs; Walt Whitman (Huntington) and Thomas Pynchon (Glen Cove). Ron Rosenbaum, before he entered the Shakespeare wars, had some pretty harsh things to say about the place in a New York Times piece called “The Devil in Long Island.” But he’s only from Bayshore, so we don’t have to listen to him.
It is time to acknowledge a special corner of LI: nothing compares with the concentration of talent and infamy that comes from the Greater Pequa area, and by that we mean Massapequa, Massapequa Park, and North Massapequa. I myself am a daughter of Massapequa Park.
What, you ask, is a Massapequa? It is a hamlet on the South Shore, which in Native American means “by the mall,” as Jerry Seinfeld quips. And he knows, because he’s from Massapequa.
So is Alec Baldwin (that brightest spot on 30 Rock), and his famous brothers, Daniel, William, and Stephen. I went to high school with Danny Baldwin (Alfred G. Berner High—-Go bisons!). He’s had some tough times as an adult, but the hometown embraces him still.
Jerry and the Baldwins are not alone in the Greater Pequa annals. So are:
Ron Kovic—-the author of Born on the 4th of July, played on film by Tom Cruise before he went mad
Peggy Noonan—-Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter, prominent Conservative. Her sister was my art teacher in elementary school
Steve Guttenberg (North Massapequa)
Brian Setzer—-founder of the Stray Cats
Dee Snider—-our own Twisted Sister (although he went to school in Baldwin)
Stanley Drucker—-longest tenured principal clarinetist with the New York Philharmonic
Andre Eglevsky—-great ballet dancer, began his studio in his Massapequa basement, before opening on Unqua Road
Jessica Hahn—-does anyone other than Jim Bakker remember her?
Joey Buttafuoco (but please note: Amy Fisher is from Merrick and went to school in Bellmore)
Roy Demeo, and Carlos Gambino—-you could see the Gambino residence from the canal that led to Jones Beach. Can’t say much more about them, you understand.
Christine Jorgensen—landed there later in life
updated 4/20/11: Candy Darling, nee James Slattery--Warhol star, died at 29 from Leukemia.
Years ago I saw Jerry Seinfeld on Letterman, and it happened that the Stray Cats were the musical guests. When Jerry got to the couch, he started with, “Dave, did you know that Brian and I are from the same hometown? What are the odds of that, that we would both be here, on your show, on the same night?” Dave just wasn’t getting Jerry’s enthusiasm at this connection between the hometown boys. But I understood.
The Pequa Ethos reaches beyond specific individuals. Phil Rosenthal worked references to Massapequa into many Everyone Loves Raymond episodes. The outrageous “Frog Woman” who ate flies was from Massapequa (gee Phil, what did we do to you?). And James Mangold, who wrote Girl Interrupted, and Walk the Line, also wrote the lesser romantic comedy Kate and Leopold. The last line of the movie is Meg Ryan saying, in the style of 18th century society, that she is "a McKay, from the Massapequa McKays!"
It’s a midsize town of 22,000 or so souls. And Wantagh, Seaford, Freeport are sister towns, but with no such fame. Pequa is a phenomenon.
And did you know it is the geographical borderline between Nassau and Suffolk County? Our house wasn’t far from 112 Ocean Avenue in the first town over in Suffolk. Have you ever heard of Amityville and something about a haunted house?