It was in the waning days of August 2012 when I noticed the sign. I was cruising down Larkfield Avenue in East Northport. (A bit of clarification: here on Long Island villages are part of towns are part of bigger towns, it makes no sense, please accept the weird fact that the town of East Northport is part of the town of Huntington).
John Walsh Memorial Park, read the sign in big proud letters. I wanted to stop and get a better look, both at the park and the sign but there were people behind me - people who, I'd learned in my first hour in town, didn't stop for stop signs. Plus my car had New Jersey plates. I kept moving.
But I had just decided I would be making my home here in this nice little town within a town along the north shore of Long Island. And I figured I'd have the chance soon enough to come back and find out who John Walsh was. I mean, not everyone gets a park named after him, old JW must have been something special, at least around these parts.
Alas, I'd not find out.
What initially caught my eye about John Walsh Memorial Park was that it had a huge playground. My two young boys were going to love it. Plus it was right there next to the library; my wife was going to love me for it. When I brought them there for the first time I spent a few moments soaking up the boys' excitement and my wife's adoring gratitude. Then I walked over to read the rest of that sign.
And stared. And wondered. And shook my head.
The bottom half of the sign, instead of offering any sort of explanation who John Walsh was and why he deserved a playground, was dedicated to the names of the town supervisor and his inner circle. Yes. Instead of offering the public the story behind the playground's namesake, these people used the taxpayers' money to have their names displayed. To me this meant:
(A) They think they are something special for putting a park here.
(B) They think they are something special for calling it John Walsh Memorial Park.
(C) They think they are something special because they spent the people's money to build it.
(D) They think they are something special period.
And as I found new parks around town for my kids to enjoy I found signs with the same theme. William J. Byrne Park. Heckscher Park. Veterans Park. No explanations, no history, no honorary words for our vets, not even a whimsical quote or an inspiring epitaph. Just a name, followed by all those other names.
(E) All of the above.
And it isn't just these park signs. Down Larkfield Avenue is a sort of billboard announcing a public works project - and again we see nothing but a title and the names of our council members. 'Check it out, we're dipping into the coffers, how cool are we? Oh and don't forget to vote!...'
Look closely at the one name at the bottom left. It's printed on a sticker or something - which leads me to believe old Eugene was not even on the board when they put up the sign but he had his name placed over the name of the person who was on the board when the coffers were opened.
Leave no important councilman behind.
Or maybe they spelled his name wrong - which is clearly unacceptable when you are so flipping special.
There seems no boundary, no limit to the self-serving antics at work here. Check out this recent on-line pamphlet for Huntington's Parks & Recreation Activities. Huge smug faces on the front page and gratuitous photos of all of them inside. One features a council member pretending to familiarize himself with a blueprint of a project his name will go on. Another shows the warrior who refused to rest until his monumental piece of legislation was accepted and adopted so a beach could get a kayak rack. Still another photo shows a council member and some family members enjoying the new ice skating rink - or at least standing on it. Notice the lack of any other people in the background. Ms. Councilwoman was apparently so excited about this new public facility that she had it closed off to everyone except her and her family.
I do wonder if this sort of uninhibited narcissism is typical for this town, or for Long Island, or for town officials everywhere. Maybe there's an ordinance mandating self-aggrandizement. If there is, I'm sure they could change it if they wanted. But why would they? Mr. Supervisor has voted himself numerous raises since he slipped his way into office about 115 years ago. These people have to keep up their self-importance.
If nothing else it's amusing. That piece of tape on that road works announcement board has been retaped on one corner; God forbid Eugene gets any less credit than he deserves for being on the council, no matter what he has or hasn't actually done. And hey, now that we've got a new face and name on the Huntington Star Chamber roster we can really have some fun, start a pool and place bets on how long it takes for her name to go up on John Walsh's sign.
Whoever he is.
2/4/14 - Addendum to the above.
I was back at Veteran's Park two days ago, to let my son and a couple of his friends run themselves ragged in the temporarily warm weather. A close-up of the sign revealed a new trick in the Game of Narcissism: replaceable name plates. Because hey, these council members are important.