2010-01-15 / Columnists

Rock Solid

Commentary By Vivian Rattay Carter

There’s been a lot of discussion at The Wave recently on the subject of blurry vision. Readers who skip or merely scan the “Letters to the Editor” column may have missed it; if you don’t read the letters in The Wave, you are missing out on much more than that. You could deem much of what is written as frivolous or petty, but the truth is that the column provides the best forum for an unvarnished debate among residents who are passionate about our community. How do we see our neighborhood? How do others see us? Based on recent articles, it’s my opinion that New York Magazine and The Village Voice see Rockaway as a quaint little backwater of a small town, and I can just hear their discussions, probably along the lines of: “Oh, how nice, they even have a real local newspaper, too.” Although accolades are always welcome, the condescension of the big city writers who can’t see our community clearly is apparent to me.

Anyone who’s lived here for a good number of years comes to understand that you can’t see our community’s strengths and weaknesses, without knowing some of the quirky people and groups who call this peninsula home. It’s part of the reason I write this monthly column. Since I’m a relative newcomer (less than 20 years in residence), I love learning about the people and groups in Rockaway. I’ve had the experience of meeting, working with, and – in some cases – tangling with these characters over the years. They are the people who make our community meetings (and the letters column) interesting. The late Bernie Blum and Angelo Guarino, Bugsy Goldberg, retired firefighters Palmer Doyle and Joe Hartigan, Joan Mettler, Stephen Wohl, and Alex Wright. People who care passionately, and who, in most cases, are not trying to “cash in” through their connections in Rockaway. Controversial and outspoken folks who give the First Amendment a good name, and sometimes veer close to the fringes of being sued (or have actually been sued — remember Patrick Clark and the Tribute Park controversy?) I have a lot of respect for these individuals.

But there are others who are trying to define or describe our community, not the least of whom are the big city media. It’s happening more and more. Stringers from Time Out New York, “twitterers,” “facebookers.” You know, the ones texting from their cell phones as they cross the street, trying to get the latest Zagat review for The Wharf Restaurant. Their superficial observations of events and places in Rockaway can be misleading, or plainly wrong. A young documentary filmmaker who’s lived in Neponsit for a few years and should know better, based on his family connections, savaged the peninsula’s business community in a November piece in the New York Times Magazine, saying: “there’s like three restaurants, and they’re all pizza.” That is flatly wrong, Brett. There are wonderful, diverse restaurant choices here in Rockaway. I know, because I expend daily efforts working with at least 10 great food establishments who run regular ads in The Wave through me, and I enjoy tasty meals at all of them. Only one sells pizza.

Call me a xenophobe, but I’ve learned to be wary of people who don’t live or work here full time — perhaps they summer here, or take their big bucks out of Rockaway, but they don’t actually live here. In some cases, part-timers or non-residents hold on to power in homeowners’ and other civic groups, churches, and in governing boards that determine how public, private and not for profit money is spent. In my view, the involvement of such individuals should not be discouraged, but they should be taking a back seat and we need to be more conscious of whether they are truly advocating for our best interests as a community.

The novelist Mark Helprin once wrote that “you can’t know Brooklyn.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say “you CAN’T know Rockaway,” but you certainly can’t if you don’t live here full-time. Believe me, it’s hard enough to get to know it even if you do live here.

I’ve learned that the peninsula IS a lot like small town America, in the best ways. Large numbers of people here share very similar values – love of family, love of sports and recreation, strong religious convictions, appreciation of the natural world, and a charitable nature. I include myself in that class, so I’ll say that we have a way of living out our values discreetly, in a manner almost invisible to a casual observer.

A good example of a group that demonstrates this is the St. Camillus Special Olympics, founded over a decade ago by one of Rockaway’s modest giants, Joe Featherston. You may have seen Joe in his day job as assistant principal of Channel View School for Research. He’s the one posted at Beach 101 Street and Beach Channel Drive on weekdays at school dismissal time, helping the students safely cross that busy intersection. Or, you may know Joe through his involvement in the various local charitable running groups and events.

Joe had experience coaching athletes with cognitive disabilities on “the mainland,” and decided to launch a local program that today serves over 50 special athletes from Rockaway, Brooklyn, Howard Beach and Ozone Park with sports training and athletic competition every Monday evening in the St. Camillus Roman Catholic Church gym. Funds raised make it possible for these athletes (ages 8 - 60 years old) to travel to three annual out-of-town weekend sporting events, plus special events held each year at Fordham and St. John’s.

The St. Camillus Special Olympics will be the beneficiary of a “Chili Cook Off” fundraiser this Friday, January 15, from 7-10 p.m., sponsored by the 100 Precinct Community Council. The event will be held at The Knights of Columbus, 333 Beach 90 Street.

Tickets are $10. The event should be a lot of fun, with almost 20 local businesses and firehouses cooking up the chili. Judg ing will be by officers of the 100 Precinct. Call or email Danny or Linda Ruscillo for tickets, or you can get them at the door. If you don’t know how to reach Danny and Linda, you haven’t lived in Rockaway long enough, or you are too high tech for your own good. It’s a retro invention — it’s called a phone book.

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