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The Man Who Loved Levittown YOU realize what I had to do to get this place? It was thirtyodd years ago come July. I'm just out of the Army. Two kids, twins on their way, a wife who's younger than I am, just as naive, just as crazy hopeful. We're living in the old neighborhood with my folks four to a room. All along I've got this idea. Airplanes. P-40s, these great big 20s. We're slogging through Saipan, they're flying over it. DiMaria, I tell myself, this war is going to end, when it does that's where you want to be, up there in the blue not down here in the brown. Ever since I'm a kid I'm good with machines, what I do is figure I'll get a job making them. Grumman. Republic. Airborne. They're all out there on Long Island. I tell Kathy to watch the kids, I'll be back tonight, wish me luck. I borrow the old man's Ford, out I go. Brooklyn Bridge, Jamaica Avenue, Southern State, and I'm there. Potato fields. Nothing but. French-fried heaven, not another car in sight. I stop at a diner for coffee. Farmers inside look me over like I'm the tax man come to collect. Bitter. Talking about how they were being run off their places by these new housing developments you saw advertised in the paper, which made me mad because here I am a young guy just trying to get started, what were we supposed to do . . . live on East Thirteenth Street the rest of our lives? The being run off part was pure phooey anyhow, because they were making plenty on it, they never had it so good. 3 THE MAN WHO LOVED LEVITTOWN 4 But hearing them talk made me curious enough to drive around a little exploring. Sure enough, here's this farmhouse all boarded up. Out in front is an ancient Chevy piled to the gunwales with old spring beds, pots and pans. Dust Bowl, Okies, Grapes of Wrath ... just like that. I drive up to ask directions half expecting Marjorie Main. Instead there's this old man climbing up to the top of the pile. He's having a hell of a time getting up there. Once he does he stands with his hand shielding his eyes looking around the horizon like someone saying good-bye. Maybe I'm just imagining it now but it seems to me it was so flat and smooth those days even from where I stood on the ground I could see just as far as he could ... see the entire Island, right across the entire thing. Out to Montauk with waves breaking atop the rocks so green and bright they made me squint. Back this way over acres of pine trees, maybe one, maybe two lonely railroad tracks, nothing else except lots of ospreys which were still around those days. Then he turns, I tum, we look over to where the Jones Beach water tower is jutting up like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Just this side of it the Great South Bay is wall-to-wall scallops and clams. You look left up the other way toward the North Shore there's these old ivy-covered mansions being tom down, pieces of confetti, broken champagne bottles all over the lawn. I have to squint a little now ... I can just make out the shore of the Sound with all these sandy beaches that had "No Trespassing" signs on them, only a man in a yellow vest is walking along now ripping them down . . . not two seconds later the beach is crowded with little kids splashing in the waves. Then after that we both look the other way back toward New York ... the old man tottering up there in the breeze . . . over these abandoned hangars at Roosevelt Field where everybody took off to Europe alone from back in the twenties, then out toward where the skyscrapers are in the distance. I see the Empire State Building ... for some crazy THE MAN WHO LOVED LEVIITOWN reason I wave. Then in a little closer over one or two small vii- 5 lages, acres of potato fields, and no matter which way you look ... Sound side, Bay side, South Shore, North Shore ... there's the sound of hammers, the smell of sawdust, little houses going up in clusters, carpenters working bare-chested in...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
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