Articles by

Pierre Gazarian

09/07/14 5:00am
The sun rising over Orient Harbor in Orient. (Credit: Tim Kelly file photo)

The sun rising over Orient Harbor in Orient. (Credit: Tim Kelly, file)

It all began with my brother Jean’s crazy idea to get on his old Peugeot bike and pedal away from New York City to Eastern Long Island. Decision in Riverhead: North Fork? South Fork? It would be North. Arrived in Orient Village — it was love at first sight. Jean called the family, mother, grandmother, sister, brother. “A beautiful village. I’m taking the train back to get you. You must come to Orient.”  (more…)

11/25/11 2:06pm

“Fred, did you clean the garage like you said you would before Christmas? Fred!”

“I’m busy, Molly. Don’t bother me now. I’m reading the instructions.”

“Instructions for what?”

“I’m building an airplane. I had this idea … ”

“Well, let me bring you back to earth, young man. No one is allowed to build an airplane without first getting his wife’s approval. Did you forget you have a wife? My approval is for you to get rid of the junk in the garage. Give up your airplane project and call the Salvation Army.”

“They ain’t going to save us from nothing. I don’t trust the Salvation Army because the woman at the cash register she don’t speak good English. And you don’t have to remind me I have a wife. You never let me do what I want … ”

“That’s why you’re still alive. Like when you wanted to import snow from Alaska or when you were ready to give a deposit for five flooded acres in some part of Florida we couldn’t even find on the map. A whole evening we looked. But it didn’t exist.”

“If we had looked harder … ”

“No, Fred. It just didn’t exist, not one square inch of land. Let’s get real. Get that junk out.”

“That junk, Molly, that’s what I’ll build my plane with. By the time the plane is ready to fly there’ll be nothing left in the garage. No rusty lawn mowers, no broken toaster ovens, no leaky vacuum hoses, nothing that don’t make sense to humans like you and me.”

“Is this a promise?”

“That’s how America was built. Wild dreams. Who would have thought we’d go to the moon? Crazy idea. But we did it. And Lindbergh! Arrives in Paris and all them French people, they’re waiting, thousands and thousands. Remember, Molly, he took off from Long Island. I can’t call my plane The Spirit of St. Louis. He used it already. Mine will be The Spirit of Orient Point. See, I’ve got ideas.”

“I don’t understand what you are talking about. But I love it. Go with it, Fred. And if your plane can’t fly, that’s fine, too. If it stays on the ground I don’t have to worry about you crashing in a potato field or in some fancy vineyard.”

“Just one thing, I’ll have to go to Riverhead Building Supply or Home Depot for the wings. I don’t have nothing in the garage for that.”

“Do you really know what you’re doing?”

“I do, Molly. This ain’t like riding a bicycle. But trust me. It will be big news. Don’t tell nobody yet. Don’t call The Suffolk Times. Don’t tell your friends at the thrift shop. They like to talk. But you can tell Muffin. She knows. I got her a little aviator suit with goggles. The day before takeoff, then we’ll tell the world.”

“You’ve never disappointed me, Fred. It’s good to have dreams. It doesn’t matter if they don’t work out. At our age if we don’t dream we’re finished. That’s why I love sleep. That’s when I travel, that’s when things happen, discoveries … ”
“Thank you, Molly.”

“But you should take care of your shirts.”

“What do you mean?”

“The buttons. Half the buttons are gone. You’ve seen pictures of Charles Lindbergh? Well dressed. The captain of a plane, you have to make a good impression. Look important.”

“I can’t sew. I can build you anything you want but I can’t sew a button.”

“You must learn.”

“I don’t want to.”

“My hands can’t do it anymore. I loved doing it for you, years and years I did. Look at me now. If you can build a plane, Fred, you can sew a button. No excuses.”

“There’s a young seamstress in town who could teach me … ”

“No, you don’t need a young seamstress. I’m here for that.”

“She’s very nice, Irish, I think, redhead. Maybe it would be easier for you if she helped me … ”

“No need for a seamstress in our life. Especially a sweet redhead. You don’t know what she does in her spare time.”

“She helps the blind.”

“Why do you know so much about her? You think I’m blind?”

“Okay, okay, you teach me, Molly.”

“Tell me, what gave you this airplane idea?”

“It’s just I can’t drive the Mercury, you know. I ain’t got no license, no insurance. It’s not the deer that worry me. It’s the other drivers I worry about, going too fast, tailgating me … So I tell myself, why not fly? You’re free up there. A few miles from here it’s the end of the land, Orient Point. But we can keep flying, no end for me.”

“What about me?”

“Oh there’s room for you and a little jump seat for Muffin. She can bark and howl at the stars, at the moon. Believe you me, when we take off, it will be the most incredible trip ever. Better than our honeymoon … ”

“It can’t be.”

“Yes, yes, Molly. People on the ground will say, ‘Look, there go Fred and Molly circling above us. You can even see their dog Muffin. Did you know he built that plane himself, in one week. A Christmas gift for his wife … ’ That’s what they’ll say, the people on the ground.”

“If only we could leave right now, Fred. I don’t want to wait. Can’t you finish the plane tonight and get the garage empty? To be free, weightless, together. … And meet Santa Claus in the clouds.”

Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. Email: [email protected]

10/03/11 1:16pm

Of course, if you live in Orient, Long Island, it’s not unreasonable to assume that west of the causeway between Orient and the rest of civilization there’s nothing worth discovering. I can run around happily a whole week in the “Village” without a compelling urge to explore the world out west, and that includes hectic Greenport with its crowds of ice-cream-cone-licking tourists.

Days I don’t check my emails. The computer remains idle, fattened with hundreds of incredible offers of cures for baldness or obesity, promises of get-rich scams and ways to transform me into an irresistible gigolo. If that’s not enough, there are the deals from faraway lands. Letters signed by individuals with impeccable Anglo-Saxon names and miserable English grammar who desperately want to share with me their recently acquired millions they can’t collect without my help, or so they say.

My insularity can be wisdom or folly. Quiet walks with your dog is a fine occupation. Missing out on a special event is plain dumb. For instance: I was invited to a reception at the Statue of Liberty on Sept. 22. The host, Mayor Bloomberg, and his guest, Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France. Mind you, I was invited along with members of a group to which I belong. It wasn’t just me and the mayor. I would have loved to attend. The invitation came by email and telephone call, neither of which I had checked. When I did, late on Sept. 21, I heard something about the Statue of Liberty but the recording wasn’t clear. First thing Thursday I called an RSVP number. “Sorry, too late. You had to be at the ferry terminal at 8 this morning …” Will the president be at some other function, I asked, as if meeting with me was on the president’s list. “He’s leaving before noon …” That was it.

Next day in The Times (no, the other one), I read about the gathering at the statue and “a crowd of journalists, cultural figures and various illustrious French expatriates breakfasting in a tent while a jazz band played …” I could have been having breakfast under the tent, too. I was invited, remember? Instead, that’s the time I was walking my dog, Nina, and picking up after her in plastic blue bags, 10 cents each. No mayor or president in sight, no jazz band, just the awful roaring and screeching of traffic up First Avenue. Ah, the gift of the French people to the United States, the island where it sits, the salty ocean winds wrapped around it. The winds of Orient are great, too. But there was no consoling me for days.

We don’t admit it easily: Being in the company of important individuals is exciting. The absurd satisfaction to tell our friends or even a stranger on the street, “Guess with whom I was yesterday?” It feels good to have a chance to brag a little. It doesn’t happen often. So when it does, go ahead, tell the world. To tell my dog, Nina, I shook hands with the president of France, with the mayor of New York, yes, me, your loyal walker, cook, groomer, companion, chauffeur and massage therapist. But I didn’t. You’ll have nothing to tell the other dogs on Willow Terrace, nothing to bark about. It was the 125th anniversary of the statue. I’ll have to wait another 25 years for the next celebration. By then I’ll be a statue myself. If I’m lucky.

I would have liked to blame everyone and everything for my missed opportunity. Why didn’t my sister tell me to check my messages? I was at her house that day. Why did I go to the supermarket to buy “stupid” paper towels, and why did I waste two hours looking for books on Las Vegas? Was it Nina’s fault? Or did the other dogs in my life distract me? Ida Mae, Hilda, Beauty Belle. No, no, no, I was the only one to blame. That’s adding insult to injury. A sense of failure prevailed. Nina was jumping around joyfully, unaware of my misery. Bloomberg, Sarkozy, Robert De Niro … Yes, he was there, too. That hurts. Please don’t show me the complete guest list. It was painful enough to find in the chaos of my emails, but too late, the invitation, “The Mayor of the City of New York cordially invites you to celebrate 125 years of Friendship between France and New York City, with remarks by the President of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, Thursday, September 22, 2011, Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island …”

Peace came with memory of another recent event that neither the mayor nor the president had a chance to attend, no matter their wealth or their power. It had happened on Sept. 16. A few weeks before, I had entered the date in my pocket diary. I would not have missed it even if the president had called. Actually, I’m glad he didn’t … Well, let’s not talk about that.

It was not the Statue of Liberty. It was the Mattituck-Laurel Library. It was at 7 p.m. It was called “A Fine Romance.” It was not Mayor Bloomberg. It was Lauren Sisson, soprano. Accompanied by Patricia Feiler on the library’s recently acquired Steinway. A crowd of nearly one hundred. And 16 songs interpreted with great feeling, humor and sensitivity by Lauren along with witty asides. George and Ira Gershwin, John Lennon, Irving Berlin, Kurt Weill, among others. “Love Is Here To Stay,” “Grow Old With Me,” “Two Sleepy People,” “You Make Me Feel So Young”… One hour of delight, Lauren glowing and elegant in a long dark dress. Lauren Sisson happens to be senior associate editor of The Times (yes, this one). She is a talented artist as well. By the end of the evening everyone in the audience was smiling. And I’m smiling now on this early day in October.

Sorry, Mayor Bloomberg, sorry, President Sarkozy, sorry, Statue of Liberty, you were not invited. But I was.

Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. Email: [email protected]

08/26/11 1:27pm

I love animals. I love them so much that I even like them stuffed. No, I don’t mean “elk’s head on the wall.” I like my elks in the mountains, proud and safe, away from the people down in the valley and their menacing dogs.

I’m talking Gund’s Teddy bears, rabbits, kangaroos. They were born for children’s bedrooms and to provide hugging comfort in good and bad times. I have about 30 of them, not counting a basket of Beanie Babies that do not qualify as stuffed, although some might disagree with that exclusion. I have asked my stuffed friends (no humans involved here) to meet with me this morning for an important discussion. I’m writing about you today, I tell them.

You, the biggest Teddy bear in the house. Yes, you on that sofa, your back turned away from Orient Bay, your eyes larger than half-dollar coins. A red vest and a plaid bow tie make you a bourgeois bear. A retired bourgeois bear, affluent and pleased with yourself. I first met you on Front Street in Greenport. You were sitting on a chair, a sign at your feet: “Yard Sale.” It was noon on a warm day. Not much left in the yard. But you were there, lonely, unwanted it seemed, your size perhaps a handicap. Who wants a bear larger than a human child? The yard sale was over. You, the last witness of things that belonged to the house. What fool would want to take you away? I, said I.

Two years later and you are family now, spending most of your time — I mean all your time — on the wicker sofa I inherited from the old Bay House in Orient years and years ago. Stay right here, Big Bear. The space is yours for as long as it’s mine.

You, my pale pink kangaroo, a yellow baby in your pouch. The baby wears a lace bonnet tied with a blue ribbon. You may not know it, dear Kangaroo, but you have a tag on your bottom, “Kinder Gund” Keepsake, 1988. Your baby falls out of the pouch all the time. Being a mother isn’t easy.

My friend wasn’t too pleased when I arrived home with you, pink French poodle.

“What for?” she asked.

“He smiles,” I said.

“He may smile but they don’t come in pink …”

Feebly I replied, “That’s why I like this poodle. One of a kind.”

My friend shrugged her shoulders, sighed and went back to the book on country inns she was reading, and you could be sure there was nothing on pink poodles in it.

I still love you, Pink Poodle, no matter what anybody says.

Stuffed animals are fantasy. A bear as tiny as a mouse, a mouse the size of a raccoon. That rabbit staring at me for one more carrot. Twenty-six inches tall, ears included. Now that’s a mighty rabbit. Thirty-four-inch waist. You wouldn’t find one in the whole of Ireland. Not even in the whole of Southold Town. But you never know. A lot happens in Southold Town.

I adopted this rabbit from Main Street Kids in Greenport when they were closing down. You were an incredible bargain. But I’m not always sure where to put you. Luckily, you were wise not to multiply.

Now that sweetest face: Snuggle in person. I saw you in the arms of a young woman on a New York City sidewalk. “How pretty, your bear,” I tell the young woman.

“You can have him,” she replies. “Here, take him. It was given to me. I had him for a while. It’s your turn to have him. It’s good karma.”

And so you came into my life, Snuggle. I see you on boxes in the supermarkets. You’re more famous than I will ever be.

You too, Babar, the child of L. de Brunhoff. How did you do it? Here you are next to mother and child dachshunds not impressed by your fame. You, in green vest, red coat and yellow bow tie. How did Mr. de Brunhoff find you at the end of his pen or brush? Millions of children have adopted you under many different skies. Dachshunds, make room for Mr. Babar. Don’t push him off the couch. Might as well ask a bird not to fly. Dachshunds always get their way, with their fraudulent worried looks. This mother and child no exception.

Hand-knit somewhere in Southampton, “Lucille,” says your ID. Was she, is she, real? But you don’t bark.

Oh, yes, the Vermont Teddy bear says, “What about me?” Born in Shelburne, Vt. “Made to love, cherish, and share.” You’re kind of plain looking and I love you for that.

Almost forgot: My Pekingese friend, a gift from my Godmother. The oldest member of the family, me excepted. I’m two years older than the Pekingese. Just one more thing. During the War — the second one, of course — it was illegal to keep gold coins. As you might expect, nobody respected that. They hid their gold. A few years after the war, as I was petting my Pekingese (don’t worry about me, I’m OK), I felt the shape of a bone unknown in the anatomy of dogs. I operated on the dog with all proper precautions so as not to inflict pain. As I dug through a layer of straw-like substance, I pulled out the bones. Two gold coins. United States of America, Ten Dollars, 1899. And Estados Unidos Mexicanos, Diez Pesos, 1907. Never give up on an old dog, man’s best friend, after all.

I hear you. Aren’t stuffed animals for children? Shouldn’t you donate them to a charity? Yes, I will. But we, too, grown-ups, some of us anyway, need the company of huggable creatures that do not bark or yell or bite. I know my menagerie is not alive, reasonably speaking. Yet they live in their own way, stuffed not just with straw or fiber but with the memory of childhood. They come to us, fluffy and soft, with questioning eyes, mute and motionless. And the child in us wakes up.

My dog Nina joins us, puzzled and suspicious. She brings memories, too. She needs to be fed, walked and loved. The Teddy bears, kangaroos, hand-knit dogs ask for nothing. Except they want to be heard today, all of them. Sorry, sorry dear fuzzy friends. Sorry Persian cat, green frog and even you, Muffy VanderBear, who has her own fan club on North Wabash in Chicago.

You’ll have your day, I promise. Your voice will be heard.

Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. Email: [email protected]

07/05/11 7:01am

“You know, Molly, I ain’t stupid, right?”

“Let’s say you’re no intellectual, no Jean-Paul Sartre …”

“Who’s this Jean-Paul? You never told me about this old boyfriend.”

“He’s French …”

“Don’t tell me more. How could you ever go out with some dumb frog?”

“Fred …”

“I’m so angry. I don’t even like people looking at you on the street.”

“Listen to me, Fred, he’s not only French, he’s dead.”

“Well, that’s good news, Molly, and he’d better stay dead or I’ll kill him.”

“And he’s not only dead, he’s famous and I never met him. He was a writer …”

“You mean books?”

“Yes, that kind of writer. Writers write, cooks cook, bakers bake. That’s life. We each have a job to do.”

“And me?”

“Husband, friend, dog walker, caregiver, driver, barbecue engineer, carpenter, plumber, everything …”

“Lover, too?”

“That also. No need to be jealous. I’m your woman. Your old woman, I’m afraid. Nothing I can do about that. Jean-Paul had more than one woman at a time. Don’t do that to me. I couldn’t handle it. You might as well forget the young waitresses.”

“I’m too busy for that. But I need your help. All these years and I still can’t sew a button. How do you explain that? What’s wrong with me? Needle and thread and I’m lost. As confused as a chicken who’s found a knife in the grass. What will I do in the middle of the Atlantic with torn sails? All by myself.”

“You’ll never be in the middle of the Atlantic alone. Have you got secret plans?”

“I’ve been thinking …”

“That’s when you get in trouble. You need action.”

“Yeah, I like throwing them charcoals in the fire, flipping the burgers.”

“Sewing buttons, it gives you too much time to think.”

“What about a one-button shirt? Bet nobody thought of that. One big button, no more needle.”

“Except that one big button needs to be sewn, too.”

“I’ve been thinking about it in my sleep. A young waitress could teach me …”

“NO. No young waitress in my house. I’ve tried to teach you. It’s like having our dog Muffin read the Bible. Hopeless.”

“I built our house and I can’t sew a button. Don’t make sense.”

“But you can change the oil. You’re good with cars. The old Mercury Grand Marquis looks dead in the backyard among the weeds, with stuff growing inside. You sit in it, Fred, for two minutes and the engine shakes and growls, ready to go. I hear it from my bed. I love the sound. It means travel, happy times, the winding roads, from Orient, on to Southold, Riverhead, New York, down South to Florida till you can’t go no further, Key West. You know how to make it happen. Who cares about sewing buttons as long as we can dream.”

“You may be right, Molly, but so many idiots are sewing buttons around the world and I can’t do it! Billions of people are sewing buttons at this moment except me. Billions except for one little guy on the North Fork. Am I smart or what, tell me.”

“Some people build houses, some write poems, some race at Indianapolis, some plant tulips or do embroidery. Everyone has a story and a tune.”

“And some idiot, he don’t know how to sew buttons.”

“I’ll teach you. Tomorrow. All your shirts are missing buttons. I feel terrible. It’s my fault. My hands, my eyes, nothing works.”

“You was good at it, Molly. The quilts you made, the one everybody wanted to buy, but I wouldn’t let it go, even the little winter coat for Muffin. People ask where they can get one for their dog, and I say, my wife she made it, she designed it, not for sale anywhere. Your hands, they’re incredible.”

“Tomorrow I’ll teach you how to sew a button. We won’t quit. Remember the president: “Yes, we can.” You can, too. It won’t affect the future of the world. But it will make your world better. It’s a very peaceful thing to sew buttons. You’ll see.”

“Well, thank you, Molly. It don’t mean much to most people. But my first button, that will feel good. Now I’m taking Muffin out for her walk. Then I’ll flip the burgers.”

Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. Email: [email protected]

06/01/11 12:29pm

Orient village was in New York City. It all began with my Easter Sunday column. I had praised Paul Murray, the young organist at Church of the Holy Family on East 49th Street. In response I received an email. Here’s part of it: “I am proud to say that this 28-year-old you refer to in ‘Memories surface during Easter Mass’ is my dear nephew Paulie. … His mastery of the organ leaves us in awe. … Reading your ‘Memories’ I felt as though I was a member of the celebration that day …”

On May 18 I got another another email: “As an ordinary parishioner of the Church of the Holy Family, I had the opportunity to read your article, ‘Memories surface during Easter Mass.’ I identify with you that you do not fully understand how old you are. I am just really trying not to rush, taste everything, learn from all. Your article gave me the opportunity to open my eyes …”

How did a parishioner in New York City read The Suffolk Times? Easy. All it took was a proud aunt from Long Island who reads The Suffolk Times and sends it to her talented nephew, the organist in the Big City. And, I guess, it also calls for the pastor of the church, the Rev. Robert Robbins, to insert it in the program of the Mass.

I knocked on the door of the rectory. I asked for a copy of the program. Indeed, among a few inserts, there it was, my Easter column on pale yellow paper. There was also a letter from the Archbishop of New York, the Most Reverend Timothy Dolan. The Suffolk Times was in blessed company.

Words have a life of their own. We speak them, write them, sing them. Once that is done what follows is out of our control. They are free. They can pathetically fail or they can change the world, or affect one person only. This is where I come in. I may bring pleasure or sadness, inspire or entertain a few people. With Mark Twain or Montaigne it’s the multitude. Ah well, I’ll be happy with what I get.

At the Orient Service Center a man asked me, “Are you Gazarian? I read your column. I have one taped to my refrigerator.” This was over a year ago but I still remember it. That what I write is on someone’s refrigerator! That’s as good as it gets. And to be read by unknown parishioners, I’ll take that, too. It was totally unexpected. I knew nothing of it until the email arrived. Divine providence, I say! You never know where your words travel. Who will tell whom to read what. It can be a wild ride or a peaceful stroll. Either way it’s mission accomplished. Even for just one little reader.

Every year thousands of books hit the road, written by thousands of lonely authors hoping for best sellers’ glory. The columnist’s trade has no such aim. We enter people’s homes for a brief visit. We’ll be read over scrambled eggs and bagels. Breakfast might be more fun with us or we might provoke anger. But we never know the welcome we get. Unless an email or a reader tells us at the gas station or the post office, “Say, I loved your article last week …” After more than 10 years of writing this column I still get excited when people tell me, “I like your work.” I wish I could say I don’t need hugs and kisses. But we are all hungry for this kind of food. Let’s accept it without vanity.

I don’t know what my next column will be about. I may not know until a few days before deadline. What I do know is that my dog, Nina, will be under my desk lying over the tangle of cords that bring life to lamps and word processor. I also know that Nina can with one motion of her paws disconnect in a second my electronic lifeline and send my words on the screen back to the darkness they came from. And as simple as those words are, it’s always a struggle to find them again inside my head. It’s happened before and it’s not a pretty moment in spite of the dog’s romance-novel eyes.

Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. Email: [email protected]