Is Dat an Island?
by A.P. Wickersty, Production Coordinator
I’m a production coordinator for No Reservations. I spend most of my time in the office either kneeling on the floor in front of half-packed pelican cases surrounded by batteries, rolled up gels and scattered chunks of foam or sitting at a desk typing up logs and transcripts. I love this job, because I get to touch professional equipment all the time. I have the honor of helping talented, creative people make shows I am proud of, and because if Chris and Lydia had not decided to give me a chance, I might very well be working at Shop Rite right now. Or worse, on some really crappy show.
But there’s something else about me that you need to know. Something … unusual. Some have made fun of me for it. Some have pitied me, and some have simply recoiled in horror at the very mention of my condition. You see I am … a Staten Islander.
I was born and grew up in Mariner’s Harbor on the North Shore. I have lived the majority of my life rambling over the Island’s still-green hills and development-cluttered valleys, taking late secondhand buses, and repeatedly explaining to outsiders that Long Island is not the same thing. Staten Island used to be famous for oysters, produce, and the burning of the Quarantine. In my lifetime we’ve been famous for the dump (“visible from space!”), and as the mayor of Belmar recently pointed out, ill-behaved guidos. Everywhere are the traces of a once-fruitful garden, a paradise nearly destroyed — the scent of the once-ubiquitous cedars and cherry trees choked out in the 20th century by that of rotting garbage and car exhaust. To me it has always seemed a place full of stories both beautiful and terrible, waiting to be told.
So naturally, when I found out Tony was coming to Staten Island for part of the Outer Boroughs episode, I was quietly thrilled (partially because someone recognized we are a borough!) — even more so when they asked me to PA on the shoot. Evidently they realized the advantage of having an indigenous guide, perhaps in case any crewmembers were taken hostage by angry natives or contracted obscure island ailments during the trip. Thus one sunny, chilly morning in February I found myself proudly driving our Miss Nari (who was wearing a cute hat) and our illustrious cameraman Mr. Zamboni (who was wearing a monitor strapped to his chest) around the North Shore, picking up B-roll. We cruised around all morning, shooting seagulls, buildings, streets, etc., and trying to avoid injury and law enforcement interference as Mr. Z hung out of the trunk, using the slowly moving car as a giant dolly.
A few hours later, I found myself in the surreal position of standing on David Johansen’s porch and ringing his doorbell. David, a native Islander, also known as both Buster Poindexter and the flamboyant lead of the New York Dolls, had agreed to accompany Tony — and I was picking him up. Sometimes famous people abhor even incidental interaction with plebes like me, so I steeled myself for the worst. With trepidation, I heard the sound of footsteps from inside the house — the door rattled slightly, then opened — and suddenly out strode David Johansen himself, tall and lanky, wearing sunglasses, and dressed in black, his pretty girlfriend Mara behind him. “Ah hello there! I’m David,” he said, his voice gravelly and mellow at the same time. He smiled, deep friendly creases crossing his cheeks, and shook my hand like I was a human being. Rather overwhelmed as I was at his courtesy, I have absolutely no recollection of what I said to them, but somehow I did not fall over backwards from relief, and we all ended up safely in the car.
David was totally wacky in all the best ways. Naturally theatrical, sarcastic, yet chivalrous and kind, he’s the kind of man who calls people “my dear” and tries to make sure everyone has something to eat. As we drove along, he looked out the window with a bemused expression and told stories, quizzed me about life on the Island (to make sure, I suppose that I was a genuine Sepoy as I claimed), made fanciful observations on places we passed, and sang songs with his lady friend to pass the time. In small world fashion, we found that we shared a couple of weird, far-flung connexions — David and I had attended the same high school, and my father’s band had once opened for the Dolls in 1973!
The rest of the day flowed along swiftly and with frequent infusions of weirdness. Tony and David ate together at a Sri Lankan restaurant near the Ferry (David drank a cup of tea to Tony’s bottle of beer) and a tiki bar across the street from the landfill (Tony drank something out of a head and David drank juice from an absurdly huge pineapple). I had occasion for concern only a few times — once when there was something wrong with the crew’s power strip (Mr. Z and dear Jerry managed to carry on), then when a wild-eyed civilian wandered in and stood behind Tony, staring directly into the camera, and finally at night when the driver of the car that was supposed to take Tony home got totally lost in the Island’s heart of darkness and I had to stay on the phone with the dispatcher for half an hour trying to give directions.
I hope something of the quirky character of the Island comes through in the episode. Islanders (especially the minority whose families have not moved here from Brooklyn in the last 45 years) can be rather sensitive. Experienced as we are in being ridiculed, ignored, used, or at best, misunderstood (“prodigal borough?” Did we do something wrong?), I cannot stomach it when people denigrate the Island on the grounds that it is not enough like someplace else. The Island has always been here — Aquahonga, hunting and fishing grounds for the Raritans and their forebears for thousands of years, land of the Dutch, French, and English farmers and the free Black oystermen, British stronghold, Union Army training ground, shores full of shipyards, factories full of linoleum, soap, dye and a hundred other things, beaches and hillsides over whose beauty Thoreau himself exclaimed — and it’s still here, and still unlike anywhere else. When they first met on the windy dock, David spun Tony a number of whimsical yarns about our Island’s (historically rather polluted) South Beach rivaling Kauai and the Island being a natural paradise, etc. Tony was too polite to say, “What the hell are you talking about?” possibly because he recognized that David may not have been altogether pulling his leg — a place you love (much like a person) can be a paradise to you, in a way, because of the happy times you have had there, regardless of its current objective appearance. Or … maybe David was just being absurd and I’m thinking about it waaaay too much.
Watch New York Outer Boroughs on the Travel Channel – Sept. 7 at 10 p.m. E/P