A Long Time Between Drinks: Columnist introduces himself to boro readers

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Several weeks ago, when the TimesLedger Newspapers sent out a call for a columnist, I decided to give it a try. It had been a long time since I did newspaper work.

I was editor of The Queens Post — which was formerly the Post of Forest Hills and Kew Gardens and whose parent company also owned the Bayside Times — before I left to go into government, non-profit work and industry. That was not yesterday.

Before I was the editor, I had worked at the paper and then left to finish a master’s degree at Columbia University. During a summer when I was an idle student, I wrote what I was sure was The Great American Novel.

One of my former newspaper colleagues, Bill Butler, who went on to the Daily News and Newsday, was at the time editor of the Bayside Times. He ordained that if I wanted to have a beer with him once a week, I had to produce a chapter. We met in McElroy’s on Bell Boulevard and his bribe worked.

Of course, the novel was dismal and, thank heavens, never saw the light of day.

I was reminded of all this when Steve Blank, publisher and editor, and Roz Liston, managing editor, decided in a very weak moment that a trial column I wrote in answer to the ad was good enough so we could have a talk. We did, and they asked me to write a column.

It is quite amazing to me that such talented people (you can tell from the awards they have won and from reading TimesLedger Newspapers) could have such a moment of madness.

Headquarters of the papers is on Bell Boulevard, down the block from my very-long-ago stamping grounds. How far can nostalgia go?

So, this is by way of long introduction. I am a New Yorker born and raised. I have lived in Queens since I was 11, went to public schools and managed to get degrees from City College of New York, Columbia and Fordham over the course of time.

The proposed title of this column comes from the first line of an 1860 poem by Walt Whitman, who was born in Huntington, L.I. in 1819, lived most of his life in New York City (especially Brooklyn) and taught school and worked for The Long Island Democrat in and around Jamaica, when he was about 20.

In his prose work, “Specimen Days” he writes about “teaching country schools down in Queen’s and Suffolk counties.” A great poet, but he was not noted for his punctuation.

“I sit and look out” is a short poem and a pessimistic one, I’m afraid. I hope this column will not be that way — at least most of the time. I would like to think that I can adopt the motto of my alma mater, CCNY (translated from the Latin, of course!): “Look back, look around, look ahead.” I’ll try to do that.

And, if you are as crazy as Steve and Roz, maybe you’ll read the column.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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