It Happens: Newspaper…Book…National Column.

A story:

Back in 2000, as a freelance writer I was retained by Newsday for a year-long series that was to run in the paper every day.  They were calling it “Names of New York.”  It involved research and history — a perfect love match for my interests.  Newsday provided me with a long list of New York-based streets, landmarks, bridges, highways, and my job was to research and write about their name origins. The articles, which you can find under “Pages” here, looked like this:

Solomon R guggenheim MuseumIt was a sweet gig and you know what made it even better?

One day, while the “Names of New York” series was running, I received a call, out of the blue — an offer to write a book.  On Queens, where I grew up.  The publisher?  Yale University Press.  Seriously.  That turned into an amazing, interesting and grueling four-year project but the result was my first book and two nods by The New York Times — once when it was released in hardcover and later when it came out in paperback.  

The Neighborhoods of QueensFast forward to 2013 and many great assignments in between — I’m now on another fascinating research/writing project, this time for Parade Magazine’s website,  Expanding on my much earlier “Names of New York” work for Newsday, I’m now writing a weekly “Names of America” column.  Research…history…love!

ParadeAnd so kids, the point of this story is clear– yes, freelancing is often a biatch, but once in a while, one plum assignment lays the foundation for future work.  You won’t know it at the time, but it happens.

Parade ContributorAnd now back to your regularly scheduled querying and kvetching.


Where Howard Stern Grew Up…

“This town was a horrible place to live,” Howard Stern said in a 2006 “60 Minutes” profile while revisiting his childhood neighborhood. “It was a nightmare,” is a sentiment he reiterated in his book “Private Parts” and often on the air, where he’s projected his childhood in Roosevelt as a miserable experience.

By the time Stern started high school there, he was just one of a few whites still left.  And he recalls living in fear, repeatedly tormented and beaten up by black students while the teachers turned their backs.  This is in stark contrast to how his old friends remember Roosevelt, at least, the Roosevelt of the early 1960s.

It was idyllic.  That’s how Jerry Dikowitz, currently of Plainview, remembers his Long Island childhood.  Back then, his one-square-mile town appeared to be the quintessential middle-class neighborhood:  neat suburban houses, tree-lined sidewalks.  From his home at 45 Meyer Street, young Jerry would run out and meet up with his friends, including Howard Stern, on nearby Hausch Boulevard and Pennywood Avenue.  They’d play ball, listen to rock and roll records, or walk over to the five and dime on Nassau Road, the main commercial strip, where there were also restaurants, a toy store, supermarkets, a bowling alley and a movie theater.

This was Roosevelt just before the NAACP called for the desegregation of all of the neighborhood schools, two of which at the time were all black and all white.  Soon after that, the ‘hood became a dumping ground for welfare families and blockbusting.  Whites moved out in droves, except of course, for Stern’s family.

It’s a shame, because he’s seemed to black out the good parts of his childhood, which I’ve captured in my Newsday cover story today.

Howard, if you’re reading this, I hope it brings back memories of better days…

Facebook’s IPO. Meh…

If you’re jumping on a couch somewhere due to Facebook’s initial public offering, you can stop reading right now — no offense taken.  But if you’re like me and the IPO just triggers a massive yawn, you might enjoy my op-ed in today’s Newsday.  And by “enjoy” I mean “pass around, share, tweet, pin, digg” and otherwise broadcast to your entire social network.

522 ‘friends’ can’t be wrong

Published: May 17, 2012 6:38 PM

So the world’s largest social network is finally going public today (sounds pretty redundant). For months, the pending initial public offering of Facebook has had investors giddy with excitement — but I get the sense that no one else cares.

Frankly, my friends and I are so over Facebook. By “friends” I mean 522 people I’ve mostly never met, and by “so over Facebook” I mean totally addicted. The hours are marked by compulsive status updates, which revolve around the frenetic creation of cute photo ops accompanied by clever captions. We post these relentlessly on our news feeds and then, vastly pleased with ourselves, wait hopefully for comments. Mere “Likes,” which equate to disengaged nods, are usually a disappointment, but they’ll do in a pinch.

For the rest click here…

Keep Your Chin Up (and Toss in a Stiff Upper Lip)

Just five years ago, when I wrote this cosmetic surgery don’t ask, don’t tell  Newsday feature, the top five surgical procedures for women were:

  1. Breast augmentation
  2. Liposuction
  3. Eyelid surgery
  4. Abdominoplasty (tummy tucks)
  5. Breast reduction

It’s a telling list — with the exception of #1, there was stuff we wanted removed from all parts of our bodies.   Now, we’re into add-ons.  According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, chin implants — or “chinplants,” as we trendsetters refer to them —  are the fastest growing plastic surgery procedures going on, up 71 percent since last year.  Rumor has it that celebubore Paris Hilton had a jaw-and-jowl job recently. And I hear American Idolprentice Clay Aiken has been leading his team by the red hairs of his new chinny-chin-chin.

Aside from chin ups, we’re bloating our lips up 49 percent more than in 2010 and plumping our cheeks by 47 percent.

So what of the rhytidectomy? The good-old-fashioned facelift, increasing by a measly 5 percent, is facing an epic PR crisis.  Who should be the spokesperson…?

Applying the Seat of the Pants…

I’ve been really lucky to have a few mentors throughout my career.  So I want my first entry to my writing blog to be a big shout out to one of those special people that has influenced my work directly.

So first and foremost, Michael Dorman, Boy Reporter.  Mike was working as a longtime editor at Newsday’s editorial department when we first met via email.   Somehow I found his name and sent him a note and some writing samples, as I’d been interested in writing op-eds at the time.  He must have checked my website immediately, because his first response to me was something like, “You’re a real looker.”  Which in turn, led me to google him to find out exactly who I was dealing with.  I mean, who does that in the 21st Century?

Turns out, this was Mike’s style.   In his late 70s,  Mike was an old-school reporter, one who had covered the civil rights movement in the deep South—had been there, in the trenches–written books about it and was pretty well-known by that generation of journalists. He enjoyed answering the phone by singing out, “Mike Dorman, boy reporter.”  Doesn’t that pretty much tell you everything about this man?

In person, he was a sight for sore eyes.   By the time we met, his overall health had been slowly deteriorating for years. Frail and thin, he was just about five feet and walked with a cane. Still, he was a terrible flirt.  We’d get together for lunch, which for him consisted of chocolate milkshakes and stories about the old days.

Mike told me I was a good writer — an accolade that meant the world to me, because it came from him, a seasoned journalist who had seen it all and written it all.  He introduced me to Newsday’s editorial department, which allowed me the opportunity to write op-eds on a regular basis.  He got a kick out of telling people that he “discovered me for Newsday.”   I’d been writing for other departments for years, but I let him brag because it made both of happy to hear those words out loud.

I only had the privilege of knowing Mike for just a few years.  He passed away on August 6, 2008.  I keep his Newsday obituary on my bulletin board in my office, so I can see him smiling down at me every day.   As I do so, I hear his favorite quotation, which he would repeat to me endlessly when I’d moan and complain about lack of motivation.  “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” (Mary Heaton Vorse)

I’m sitting, Mike.  I’m sitting…