The towns of Massapequa and Massapequa Park combine for almost 40,000 residents. That’s a lot of people and potential neighbors.
When Rex Heuermann was arrested in connection with the Gilgo Beach murders, it brought unwanted national attention to our town. Instead of being known as the home of All-American hamburgers and Jerry Seinfeld, Massapequa is also now the home of a suspected serial killer. Soon after, Heuermann’s quiet and previously obscure street became a tourist attraction, much like Ocean Avenue in Amityville for its connection to the “Amityville Horror” tragedies.
Neighbors came out of the woodwork to declare they didn’t know Heuermann. Other than one next-door neighbor who said he was cordial with him, nobody else would admit to talking to any family members. Heuermann, now 59, lived in that house his entire life, and nobody knew him? Maybe it’s just par for the course in today’s world.
I can’t begin to tell you how many people have asked me if I knew Rex, considering he lived just a few short blocks from me and was in my age group. Know Rex? I don’t even know the people who live across the street from me.
When my family moved to Long Island during the Great Brooklyn Migration of the late ‘60s, my parents took great pains to meet and become good friends with our neighbors. The Codys were on one side and the Angermans on the other. Down the block were the Gattos and the Mulfords. Across the street were the Bagnatos, the Olsens, and the Schneiders. My mother made friends up and down our block, far past the immediate next-door neighbors.
As kids, we were drawn to the neighbors who had kids our age and made it our business to meet and be respectful of their parents. That opened new worlds to us, spreading beyond the confines of our block. Our friends on Westgate Road included the Melos, Boyces, Klesses, and O’Neills.
Over time, those neighbors (and friends) relocated or passed on, and with them, the tradition of knowing your neighbors.
After taking inventory of the houses surrounding ours on Park Lane, it turns out I know very few of my neighbors. My mother lives next door, so that’s an easy one. We’ve known our other neighbors, the Gilligans, for over 30 years. I can also extend one more house in each direction, but I don’t have a clue after that.
The house directly across the street from us was recently renovated and sold. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel like a five-year-old because I rarely cross the street. I met the new owner briefly while sitting on my front porch with Louie the Labrador. We waved and acknowledged each other, exchanging a few pleasantries. But other than that, how do strangers become friendly neighbors nowadays?
I don’t see my wife and I showing up at their doorstep after they officially move in with a casserole dish and a bottle of wine like you see on those old sitcoms. I’m not even sure we even own a casserole dish.
My oldest son, James, told me that many of his friends who have recently purchased homes have no association with their neighbors. Why is that? Why don’t people today take the time to know their neighbors anymore?
I guess people are much more guarded than before. Our generation coined the phrase “stranger danger” and drilled it into our kid’s heads at a very young age. As parents, we may have followed the same thought process regarding our neighbors.
Although some neighbors on Long Island organize “block” parties to get to know everyone on the block, that isn’t always the case. Many congregate with their guests on their property instead of coming together as intended. It seems like a wasted opportunity to finally meet the people with the Blue Honda or the couple with the cute front porch.
So, just to be clear, I never knew the suspected Gilgo Beach murderer. And for the record, I never knew any other celebrities from Massapequa, like Joey Buttafuocco, John Gotti, Jerry Seinfeld, or Alec Baldwin.
But I went to school with and became good friends with comedian Bob Nelson; I just never knew where he lived.