Massapequa. Ever heard of it?

For the last 30 years I’ve lived in a city I love, where people take a certain pride in swallowing the last vowel sound of every syllable ever invented. I’ve never gotten the hang of it, though I’ve tried, and even after all this time, I’ll be talking with a stranger here in Baltimore, and the person will say, “You’re not from here, are you?”

Sometimes I say, “I grew up in New York,” but when you say it like that, you get, “Oh, Manhattan?” People think it’s exotic to have grown up in New York City, where you never learn to swim or drive, and you’re all blasé when you see Robert Di Niro strolling around your neighborhood.

Answering “Long Island,” doesn’t always work out down here either. To people south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Long Island may or may not be an extension of New Jersey, and that’s the end of that.

We never really get over where we grew up, or at least I didn’t. I mention it a lot, even if I haven’t lived there since 1973. My hometown has become more and more wrapped in gauzy, rosy memories, and in my head it’s exactly the perfect place it always was.

I love where I’m from. Massapequa.

So imagine my excitement when a whole bunch of people from my hometown all got famous at once. Of course this happened in the late 80s and early 90s, and here I am still talking about it, so you might want to consider the source. I guess I thought all that fame connected to Massapequa meant something about me, which it decidedly did not, but I got a whole decade out of riding coattails and boring the socks off people who innocently asked me where I was from.

Jerry Seinfeld, Alec Baldwin (and his brothers) and Ron Kovic, who wrote Born on the Fourth of July, got famous. Steve Guttenberg and Peggy Noonan, the White House speechwriter who wrote President Reagan’s eloquent words after the Challenger explosion, also got famous. And here I usually take a breath and mention a couple more, but I try to make it clear that Jessica Hahn and Joey Buttafuoco’s fame was not exactly what Massapequa’s founding fathers had in mind.

So for a long time if people in Baltimore found my accent not to their liking, and there was even a hint that I should expound on my roots, I’d say, “Well, actually, I come from Massapequa,” just to see who was up on current events. Back then, most people wanted to talk about Alec, and I would go into my own little rehearsed snippets about any or all of the Baldwins.

And if it went too long, the person would interrupt with, “You knew him?” or worse, “You knew them?”

I had a number of ways of evading this question and going with the broader stroke, shall we say.

On a train to New York last year I sat next to a man who grew up in Huntington, a neighboring suburb, and as we got to talking about our hometowns, he said, “So . . . Massapequa. . . so many famous people from Massapequa, right?”

I perked up. I was delighted by his attention to detail, and wanted to applaud him for keeping up with fading news stories.

I started by telling him that Alec Baldwin’s father was my history teacher. (This has never been true. But saying, “He was my friend Jill’s history teacher” wouldn’t be the same, so I’ve always gone this route.)

And we all called Alec by his childhood name, Xander, I tell the man from Huntington. (I do recall seeing Alec as a little boy with his Dad in the high school parking lot. About 100 yards away. He was blond. Unless it was Danny, Stephen, or Billy, which it certainly could have been. Maybe I yelled, “Hey, Xander!” I can’t really remember.)

I can see I’m not as good at this as I once was. I’m a little out of practice after all these years, and I blame the Massapequa celebs who couldn’t keep it up and no longer needed a publicist by the millennium. And after a while, it got harder and harder even for me to keep the Baldwin brothers straight, except Alec — or as I call him, Xander.

“Carlo Gambino lived in Massapequa, right?” he asks. This man is really working out as a traveling companion.

It’s been a while since I trotted out all my Godfather facts, but I do my best. I tell him that Gambino’s summer house was right on the water in Massapequa, on Club Drive. The fact that I know the name of his street brings me closer to The Don, and apparently, this is the effect I’m going for.

“His house had no shrubs in front — nothing.” I’m not at all surprised that when I say the word nothing, I linger.

“So no one could hide in the bushes?”

“Exactly!” I say. This is going better than it usually does.

“And he kept a boat docked in Oyster Bay behind his house, 24 hours a day, with an armed guard on board.”

“Is that true? Really?”

“I think so.”

I’m not sure why I equivocate here, and right away I can see he was hoping I’d know more details. He seems disappointed that I never saw Gambino in person. Or that I don’t have details about the horse head scene in the movie. Or an answer to his next ten questions, when the best I can do is mumble, “Um, I’m not sure.”

By the time we pull into Penn Station, I feel like reminding him that no one famous ever grew up in Huntington.

26 thoughts on “Massapequa. Ever heard of it?

  1. Guttenberg grew up in N. Massapequa,which is Massapequa,Plainedge community that I think you were referring to is just a school district.

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  2. Love this! We just moved to Massapequa this past summer and it truly has become my favorite town on the Island…and, now I see it was a step up from St. James, as no one famous grew up there,either 😉

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  3. Love this! Massapequa is also a literary reference. I remember – and who knows why – that Massapequa was the home of the detective (or somebody else ) in Bonfire of the Vanities. It was also the home of the murder victim in a little cozy mystery I read this winter… my guilty cold weather pleasure! 😁

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  4. My memory may be fuzzy and while the Gambino house did not have shrubs in the front, I recall seeing the requisite Madonna lawn ornament.

    Alex Baldwin Sr. was not only a history teacher at Berner HS, but he was the Rifle Team Coach at MHS – a fact that Alec probably does not share with his Hollywood liberal pals!

    I am not there any longer, but sure do miss the burgers and fries at All American!

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

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    1. Mr. Baldwin didn’t teach at Berner; he was my History teacher at Massapequa High School (Class of ’65). I met up with him in the Library in the early 80s … where he was writing poetry!

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  5. Baldwin Sr was also the director of the Summer Playground program in the 1960s at RJ Lockhart elementary school. Alec was a camper. Before Alec became Zander, he was known as Little Alexander – and in my mind, he’ll always be Little Alexander. We all loved his dad, too.

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  6. Notable Massapequa people from Wikipedia:
    Brian Baldinger – football player
    Alec Baldwin – actor
    Phil Baroni – MMA fighter
    Matt Bennett – actor
    Peter Brennan – U.S. Secretary of Labor, died here on October 2, 1996
    Joey Buttafuoco – involved in Amy Fisher scandal
    Tom Burke – Major League Lacrosse Player, Boston Cannons, Long Island Lizards; Ireland Lacrosse Player, World Lacrosse Championship, 2014
    Anthony Conway – American Artist
    Candy Darling – actress in Andy Warhol films
    Roy DeMeo – reputed mobster
    Joe Donnelly – U.S. Senator in Indiana
    Michael Dougherty – screenwriter
    Elliot Easton – The Cars’ lead guitarist
    Andre Eglevsky – ballet dancer
    William Gaddis – novelist
    Carlo Gambino – reputed mobster
    Andy Glazer – poker player
    Steve Guttenberg – actor
    Jessica Hahn – model
    Marvin Hamlisch – composer
    Christine Jorgensen – transgender pioneer
    Charlie Kaufman – screenwriter and director
    Sean Kenniff – physician
    Brian Kilmeade – of Fox and Friends
    Ron Kovic – Vietnam veteran, anti-war activist, author
    Brian Langtry – lacrosse player
    Hal Lester – guitarist and graphics artist
    Mark LoMonaco – pro wrestler
    Dennis Michael Lynch – filmmaker
    Joe Maca – soccer player, died here on July 13, 1982
    John Melendez – radio personality
    James Naughtin – aka Erik Rhodes, actor
    Bob Nelson – comedian
    Yvette Nelson – model and actress
    Peggy Noonan – political speechwriter and conservative columnist
    Andrew Paskoff – television producer
    Scott Paskoff – television producer
    Mike Powers – one half of prank call duo “the Stampy Squad”
    Slim Jim Phantom – musician
    Eric Reid – Miami Heat television announcer
    Lee Rocker – musician
    Angelo Dominick Roncallo – U.S. Representative
    Doc Schneider – Major League Lacrosse goaltender
    Jerry Seinfeld – comedian and actor
    Peter Senerchia – pro wrestler and announcer
    Matt Serra – former MMA champion
    Brian Setzer – rockabilly icon, The Stray Cats
    Helen Slater – actress, Supergirl
    Bobby Slayton – comedian and actor
    Dee Snider – lead singer, Twisted Sister
    Robert Sobel – author
    Christie Welsh – former U.S. Women’s Soccer forward

    Great story, from a fellow Pequan!

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    1. another famous person from MASSAPEQUA PARK was Philip Anthony Heald, actor from Boston Public and the Shrink in Silence of the Lambs….Hannibal Lectors Psych. MHS 62…Kal Seinfeld had Kal’s Signs in Massapequa for over 20 yrs…

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  7. Linda, your essay is terrific. I moved with my family to Massapequa in 1968 and lived there 36 wonderful years. What a great place to bring up my three awesome children. I was a teacher at Alfred G. Berner H.S. and M.S. for 33 memorable years. Zander was a student in my Biology class. He was a great kid and had that gruff voice even then. I retired in 2002 and moved upstate in 2004. My fond memories of Massapequa will remain with me for the rest of my life.

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  8. Hi Linda! Loved your article! Just have to say how lucky my family was to live next door and grow up next to the DeMers Family! How I loved Aunt Jean and Uncle Ed!!

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  9. I’ve lived in Massapequa Park since 1950, and Massapequa since 19961, we moved in during a hurricane. Up the street from us was an airport, Fitzmaurice Field, an airplane came rolling down our street. It was a great place to grow up. I went to second grade where the High School is now, my memory of it was a big old house with different grades in it. Third grade was at the Massapequa Fire House on Hicksville Road, then schools were built as the town became more populated. My children and grandchildren also went to the Massapequa schools. We have so much to be thankful for and Massapequa gave us a grand beginning.

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  10. Love all the good times growing up in Massapequa. there was nothing better then playing baseball at Parkside…. Building a fort in the sate park along Parkside blvd……fishing at Alahambra beach……riding our bikes to where as kids ( not having to ask our parents to drive us) go swimming. winter snow storms…snowball fight….. Building snow huts………..and above all….. The excellent teachers and coaches at MHS

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  11. I grew up in Massapequa and like you have moved away. I still reminisce about the shadier sides of growing up in Massapequa. My favorite cocktail party story is, “I taught Joey BUTTAFUOCO’s (you spelled his name wrong in the article) children to swim.” This is true. I was a lifeguard at Biltmore Beach Club in the 80’s and early 90’s his children were my students. I usually end by putting my hand out like the pope offering that people kiss my ring so my fame will rub off.
    Sweet little article. Thanks for writing

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  12. Love this–I grew up in Massapequa as well–in the Harbor Green section where the Baldwins lived–but in the area closer to the water on Sunset Boulevard (not a blvd. really, just a street), corner of Club Drive. Carlo Gambino and fam lived at the end of Club, and next door were the Zappis, one of his captains. My dad did business with Sy Seinfeld, Jerry’s dad–Jerry was our paper boy. It’s a great place to be from–I’ve live in North Carolina for a long time now–but I’ll always be from Massapequa!

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  13. 1 more thing–the Gambinos lived in Massapequa full-time when I lived there. Their children went to St. Rose of Lima church and school and we would see Mr. Gambino and associates leave with driver in the morning to go to Brooklyn each day.

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  14. hahahaha I love your blog so much and have been reading it a lot this week and had no clue you were a Pequa girl! I’m from Massapequa too, and yes it is true the pride I take in announcing “Lawng Eyelind” when asked where I am from is immediately followed with a brief explanation of our towns famous people. Joey Buttafuoco actually lived a couple block away from me.

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  15. i ;MOVED TO MASSAPEQUA PARK BAR HARBOR IN 1960 AT 14 YEARS OF AGE…, 10 TH GRADE IN MASSAPEQUA HIGH SCHOOL. I JUST ‘LOVE’ THAT TOWN AND THE SCHOOL AND MR. BALDWIN WAS THE HISTORY TEACHER BUT I DID NOT HAVE HIM. I AM NOW GOING TO BE 70 YEARS OLD AND STILL HAVE GOOD FRIENDS FROM MASSSAPEQUA HIGH SCHOOL, AND A LOT OF THEM I DID NOT KNOW IN SCHOOL. WE HAVE HIGH SCHOOL REUNIONS AND HAVE THE” BEST OF TIME”S!!! “MASSAPEQUA” IS A “SPECIAL TOWN” WITH A CLOSE KNIT “SPECIAL GROUP” OF PEOPLE AND I WAS SO LUCKY TO GROW UP THERE IN MY TEENAGE YEARS.
    MY MOTHER IN LAW PASSED AWAY LAST YEAR AT 97 AND STILL LIVED IN MASSAPEQUA ON JEFFERSON AVENUE…IN THE SAME HOUSE SHE BOUGHT IN 1961. YES, WE HAD A LOT OF TALENTED PEOPLE IN MASSAPEQUA WHO MOVED ON TO BE IN THE MOVIE AND TELEVISION INDUSTRY..BUT THE BEST PART OF MASSAPEQUA IS “MY WONDERFUL MEMORIES” AND THE PEOPLE!!!!

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  16. I was on the Berner HS Rifle Team in 66′ and 67′. We had matches against Massapequa HS both seasons. Alec Baldwins father was their Shooting coach, our coach was Mr. Cerra. We won all matches as I recall. My HS rifle training served me well in the Marine Corps in 67′-71′. I was an expert shot.

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  17. How funny. I went to Birch Lane and Ames. 1959 to 1973. My dad owned Tower TV. Lived in Biltmore Shores. Ate pizza at Bar Harbour. Sailed on the Great South Bay. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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